It’s been too hot for much I’d be this summer to really want to cook, and I suspect I’m not the only Londoner who’s reverted to copying other cuisines (Mexican, US Southern, Turkish) for short cut ideas instead of meals. However as the heat wanes and nights start to shorten, the idea of wanting to eat and eat outdoors begins to seem nice and not hellish. This is where Hilda Leyel’s 1930s guide comes in…

Some surprisingly modern flavour combinations and menus sit alongside the grouse and mulligatawny.


Republished a few years ago, there’s bound to be copies still online. I was given a further nudge in this direction by the excellent Edward Bawden exhibition at the Dulwich Picture (on till September 9th), which includes his many book covers fornthe equally eccentric 1930s food writer Ambrose Heath.



Havana from @tulipbooks, a splendid and rather Philip Tracey appearance from “Queen Anne of Bohemia and Hungary” in 1520 by Hans Maler von Schwaz, and David Lebovitz’s snap of French butter.

A modern Mrs Miniver

The Mrs Miniver columns – a series of gentle musings on a new notebook or whether to buy a bunch of chrysanthemums – were hugely popular in the late 1930s, even though, as the author’s granddaughter has now detailed they were also a definite wish fulfilment exercise for the writer that also camouflaged her far more complicated, not quite as glamorous, life.

Reading a recent article, the house tone at Vogue doesn’t seem to have changed much since then; there’s still a local celebrity to be “thrilled” about, a little dialogue about all the visitors and their dogs who are renovating a house, and a dependable, cheerful husband who is straight man to all the endless whimsy:

I opened a box sash window above the front door and said good morning. It’s a habit I have developed since living here, which makes me think of people behind battlements with vats of oil…

My husband Andrew came down the stairs to open the knock. “Please stop popping out at people from that window. It’s eccentric, bordering on impolite.

Pieces like this are a guilty pleasure to read, because it’s so twee and safe it’s as soothing as a bowl of mush, but I can also rather unfairly have a good time rolling my eyes at the Marie Antoinette smugness of it. Or how about:

there’s a mustard-hot rumour that Ptolemy Dean, the architect in residence at Westminster Abbey, will be in charge of the renovation. Andrew and I discover that we were just as thrilled by this as everyone else. I joined the residents association.”

In fairness, it’s very hard to write columns based on your life (Nora Ephron in Heartburn talks about feeling like she’s living with a cannibal with her second husband who is always making their life into 850 words, syndicated.) and also to get the right balance and style so that your readers feel that nothing’s changed since 1933 and a silk dress will sort all ills, but I can’t really read too much before wanting to scream at the smugness of it all.

Much better stick with The Real Mrs Miniver and read all about the real character’s scandalous second life in wartime America.

Harriet would have dined out on that name for a week


Katy MacScott (@katymacscott) walked from Holland to Istanbul last year in memory of her late friend Harriet, with hops on trains to keep time, as she didn’t have as much time as Patrick Leigh Fermor did on his original journey. Now she is posting memories of her encounters on Instagram, and I particularly loved her encounters with feisty pensioners in Holland. On the first day she encountered Map and Henkel:

Map – a derivative of Margaret – approached me with a pot of jam, as I sat on a bench in the rain, in the village of Zuillichem. When she offered me a cup of coffee by the fire, I didn’t have to be asked twice…Her husband, Henkel, returned from his errands and they proceeded to tell me, in halting English, about their travels. They were now in their late 80s, but had travelled all over the Middle East in their retirement.

Henkel revealed that like many Dutch children he was sent to England after the war to recover from years of malnutrition. After another hot meal, Map and Henkel passed Katy on to a local photographer Cor de Cock (“Harriet would have dined out on that name for a week”) and eventually to Jet, a former piano teacher, with a “wicked bark” of a laugh:


She confessed that she’d put away her wine and cigarettes before I arrived, because she thought that someone doing a trip like mine would have ‘high morals’. I quickly put her straight and we enjoyed these vices for the rest of the evening.

Over asparagus risotto and radishes Jet and Katy discussed the audio books for the blind that Jet narrates, Jet garden, Chekhov and Harry Mulisch, and her brother’s paintings.


Double pairs

Another trip, another set of time twins. First up: Roger van der Weyden’s saints and Lucian Freud’s Kitty:

next a Bronzini portrait from the 1520s/30s, with a type of fashion silhouette that wouldn’t be seen again for another 400 years:


and finally, a piece of 1760s porcelain (top) that looks like it could have come straight out of the Bloomsbury studios.


Pieces from the Genoa palazzi on the Via Garibaldi, photos April 2018.