Laura Mvula


Intrigued by the newest commissions in the National Portrait Gallery. Part of me loves the bold stars and colourfulness of this portrait of Laura Mvula; part of me is a little bored by the imitation of an early Lucien Freud or a Stanley Spencer piece, whilst also thinking that this 50s/60s vine is very on trend right now and therefore still representative of the late 2010s.

More fantasy shopping


As I don’t have pierced ears, and have no intention of changing that either, this set of earrings – like all the others I feature – are pure fantasy shopping, and none the worse for it. These are from The Adventurine.

This might be even worse

I didn’t realise then that my father frightened everyone, not just me.

The room was filled with an Awful Silence so I looked about me wondering if he had found out about my overdraft, or the fact I had been in late from the local coffee bar last night.

“I think you should know”, he said, drawing on his cigarette in his oddly elegant way, and speaking just as slowly as he always did, “I think you should know,” he repeated, “certain facts.”

I thought I was about to pass out with the horror of what was to come. Some months before he had given me a long and very serious talk about the internal combustion engine; this might be going to be even worse.

“The facts are rather delicate,” he continued, “and you must promise not to pass them on.”

I stared at him. My best friend had told me some Facts on Bognor Beach last summer but of course I hadn’t really believed her because, quite honestly, they didn’t seem very nice, and certainly not the sort of things that people should be doing in their spare time. I actually said to her: “If you believe that, you will believe anything.”

“I work for MI5.”

Charlotte Bingham’s MI5 and Me is the perfect Mitford-esque summer read and I’m also quite fond of it because I’m pretty sure that my mum was a ringer for the woman on the front cover in her Yoof.


From yellow packet adorned with an elephant

I began to play a game with myself…Picturing myself in a dacha surrounded by prickly gooseberry bushes, I’d mentally preserve and pickle the tastes and smells of my Soviet socialist past in an imaginary three-litre jar.

In went the Order of Lenin Red October chocolate bars with a mirthful kid on the wrapper. In went the scarlet-wrapped Bolshevik Factory Jubilee Biscuits, the one’s that dissolved so poignantly when dipped in tea from a yellow packet adorned with an elephant.

Anna von Bremzen’s Mastering the Art of Soviet Cookery is a fascinating and increasingly melancholy look at the development of Soviet Russia through Anna’s family history and her and her mother’s food memories. Starting with a Czarist feast of blinis “as plump as the shoulders of a merchant’s daughter” (Chekhov) and running up till the vodka rebellions of Gorbachev’s final years and splintering of the USSR its a total page turner.


I’d no idea that Stalin – in a brief moment of generosity – sent his food minister to 1930s America, with the result that the socialist dream in late 30s Moscow was for every child to have a hamburger, ketchup and Pepsi, and that Khrushchev’s obsession with corn was also a legacy of Prairie dreams. Nor that the Russian emigrees to 20s Paris created a new kind of French cuisine. This book came via a recommendation on The Captive Reader blog, so go and check that out for more goodies too.

Mothers Before



@mothersbefore is an Instagram feed full of daughters’ love for their mothers, for the strong and independent women they were before having families and for carrying that sense of self through with them. As someone with a mother like this, I really enjoyed it and related to the daughters.


Stories of immigration, education and adventure show how much women’s lives have changed in the past half century (and how recent that change is! So many of the mothers married at 19.)


My favourite is this one, where the caption explains how her mum built her own house whilst also working her way up the tech industry in the 80s. All stairs were built for her size 7 feet and none of the sinks had shaving mirrors.

Hitting the road


Fare is a magazine that’s published twice a year about cities and their food culture. I thought I’d waited too long to buy their first edition about Istanbul, but the Aberdeen shop “Curated Stories” still had copies and posted me one so quickly that I got it the next day. Having read it and also some of the Charleston edition I’m now quite intrigued by their choice of Helsinki as a second destination.

Are you tempted too?

Day trips

Day trips are possibly my favourite kinds of escape. You’re still home in your own bed (revelling in cool, clean sheets for added summer pleasure) at the wnd of the day, you’ve had a pleasant and slightly special breakfast before setting off and you’ve still had a whole day of fun and exploration.


Lyme Regis, Kings Lynn, Oxford or (my latest set of plans) the Kent Coast are all perfect for this from London. Enter Bleak House, a shop with a sideline in recommending both walks round London and day trips out of it. Both Ightham Mote and Hambledon on their list sound good – and also remind me that I want to get to Bateman’s as well before the National Trust season closes.