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The Guardian Weekend — 13 January 2018

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13 ee
.0 k
1.1 en
8 d
and me:
inside his
West Wing
t it?
e wi
my 2018
Co a r t
nt e r s
5 Hadley Freeman
6 Tim Dowling Plus Bim
Adewunmi’s First take
10 Your view Plus
Stephen Collins
12 Q&A Jenny Agutter,
15 Experience I took
my mother to Dignitas
43 Blind date When
Helen met Robert
44 All ages It’s a wrap
46 Jess Cartner-Morley
Corduroy: the
intelligent choice
47 Beauty Sali Hughes
picks affordable night
creams. Plus Road test
Food and drink
16 Ditch that itch Six
busy people attempt
a digital detox
28 Not black and white
Why racial prejudices
die hard when it comes
to sex. By Afua Hirsch
36 ‘I was running on
fumes’ Obama’s
right-hand man on
their final year in office
48 Yotam Ottolenghi
The joy of fresh sage
53 Thomasina Miers
An easy, comforting,
one-pot pasta bowl
55 The new vegan
Meera Sodha’s sweet
potato and aubergine
massaman curry
57 Restaurants Felicity
Cloake enjoys joyously
weird food at Sorrel in
Dorking, Surrey
59 The Space edit Ten
of the best pale pink
home accessories
61 Alys Fowler
Heated propagators
63 Let’s move to
Louth, Lincolnshire.
Plus All the places
I’ll never live
that hurrying can slow
you down. Plus What
I’m really thinking:
the secret smoker
Berger & Wyse
69 Howard Jacobson
Plus Crossword
and Quiz
70 That’s me in
the picture
Body and mind
65 System upgrade
Zoe Williams tries out
running shoes. Plus My
life in sex: the 70-yearold with no sex
67 This column will
change your life
Oliver Burkeman finds
The Guardian Weekend | 13 January 2018 3
I’ve spent my life waiting for permission, to try this or risk that. Not any more
don’t believe in New Year resolutions,
but I do believe in becoming so fed up
with doing – or not doing – something
that you realise something has to give,
whatever the date. It just so happened that this
came to me on 2 January, when I realised I’d been
researching a long-planned book for (the dates
on the files do not lie, as much as I wish they did)
14 years. As a teenager, I dreamed of growing
up to be like Dorothea from Middlemarch, all
spark and goodness, but it turns out I am actually
Casaubon, her creaky husband, who rots away as
he spends decades researching his magnum opus,
The Key To All Mythologies.
I have spent a frankly bizarre portion of my
life researching early 20th-century Poland and
France (hey, we all get our kicks somewhere). But
when I went through my crate of notes last week,
I discovered something rather unsettling. I hadn’t
just been researching for 14 years, I’d been
researching the same things for 14 years. Like
an archaeologist digging through strata, I went
through my files going back over a decade, and
the same information kept recurring: this fact,
that figure, these statistics. I wasn’t Casaubon,
after all; I was Jack in The Shining, allegedly
writing a book, but actually just recording the
same things again and again.
The truth is, I realised, I hadn’t been
researching – I’d been waiting: waiting for
someone to give me permission to start writing,
perhaps via a coded message in one of the
books I now know far too well, with titles such
as On The Edge Of Destruction: Jews Of Poland
Between The Two World Wars (and you won’t
find any positive messages in that book, I can tell
you). Until that permission came, I trod water.
I have spent so much of my life waiting for
permission – to try this, to risk that. After all,
when you don’t take yourself seriously, when
instead of having a firm internal scaffold, you
are underpinned by self-doubt and anxiety, how
can you ever know if you’re good enough unless
someone else tells you? Instead, I would turn to
my girlfriends: “Will I be enough?” “Did I do OK?”
“What do you think?” And they didn’t mind,
because they did the same to me.
I don’t know if this is a specifically female
quality, but I have yet to meet a man who has
worried he’s not good enough for a job he’s been
offered, whereas I have yet to meet a woman who
hasn’t. It is, for example, impossible to imagine
a female Toby Young: perennially mediocre,
untouchably arrogant, and eternally gifted with
opportunity and protection by the establishment.
It also seems a safe bet that the similarly hapless
Boris Johnson doesn’t agonise for a decade about
whether he’s good enough before tossing off
another biography.
I’ve often heard that Young and Johnson’s
arrogance is less a product of their gender than of
having gone to Oxford. Well, I also went to Oxford
and, no question, I watched a lot of men there
being rewarded for their laziness and confidence,
bullishly knocking out essays at the last minute
and getting firsts. But the women I knew reacted
differently. Instead of becoming more arrogant,
they became more certain they didn’t deserve
to be there; so they grew more diligent, more
cautious and, as a result, less garlanded. While
my male friends from university charged off to
achieve their dreams, my female friends hung
back in the shadows, taking a decade at least to
get to the starting block.
And who can blame them? While this selfdoubt rings within, it doesn’t originate there.
After all, we still live in a world in which Lily
Cole is sneered at for being “just a supermodel”,
when she was invited this month to be a creative
partner in the Brontë Society, even though she
got a double first from Cambridge. By contrast,
no one has ever complained about the various
opportunities thrown at Stephen Fry, from
being invited to deliver the 2015 Oscar Wilde
lecture to receiving various honorary
doctorates, even though, for the record, Fry got
a 2:1 from Cambridge.
Similarly, senator Kirsten Gillibrand is one of
the Democrats’ few hopes, yet she is already
being dismissed as a potential presidential
candidate because she is, apparently, “too
transparently opportunistic” – words no one
used about a male politician, ever.
No matter how much progress is made by
#MeToo campaigns and the like, a woman
will always be too young, too old, too this,
too that, in the eyes of others. But my hope
for the next generation is that young women
stop internalising these messages, and stop
holding themselves back. The time to tread
water is over.
he first half of January doesn’t feel like
the beginning of anything. It’s more
a drizzly, twilit interruption; a chance
to fix broken things before moving on.
Some of the broken things are emotional, some
infrastructural. One of them is the oven.
“It’s not the fuse,” I say, peering into the
blackness beyond the glass. “The clock comes on.”
“I’m buying a new oven,” my wife says.
“This is a new oven,” I say. “It’s new to us.”
“I’ve already found one,” she says. “Same size.
And they’ll install it and take this one away.”
“I think it might be just the dial,” I say.
“I don’t care,” my wife says.
Another problem is a staggering backlog of
rubbish: bags of bottles and tins and paper;
Styrofoam exoskeletons from unboxed appliances;
Christmas detritus. It’s all out there in the dark,
getting rained on. In the January interregnum, the
bin men come on different days, as if to surprise us.
“We’ll have to go to the dump,” my wife says.
“Why are you making a face?” I say. “You love
the dump.”
“I do love the dump,” she says. “But I don’t like
the man.”
“You love the man, and the man loves you,” I say.
“Tomorrow,” my wife says. “Early.” On the day
of the dump I find myself with an early deadline,
so I head to my shed first thing. Anyone looking
into our garden on this freezing morning would see
a woman dragging wet rubbish to a car, while a man
in a cardigan sits in a warm glass box and types.
“Right, I’ve done everything,” my wife says,
sticking her head through my office door. “Let’s go.”
“You’re letting the cold in,” I say. “Five minutes.”
We drive to the dump, which is busy. We have
to wait for a bay.
“There he is,” my wife says, nodding toward the
man who runs the dump. He sits in a lawn chair in
a high visibility vest, barking orders.
We pull into a bay. I climb out and open the back.
“Not in there!” the man shouts at
‘It’s like going to the
dump with Princess
Margaret,’ I say. ‘Shut
up,’ she says. ‘Let’s go
to the supermarket’
6 13 January 2018 | The Guardian Weekend
someone else. “That’s the wrong sort of plastic!”
Our rubbish has been bagged for collection
rather than dumping and now, I realise, will have
to be re-sorted by hand. I pull open a bag of mixed
glass, and grab the greens.
“We don’t accept paint here!” the man shouts,
generally. My wife holds up a mirror in a busted
frame, tilts her head and raises an eyebrow.
“General waste, madam,” the man says. I grab
a stack of flattened boxes and head for the
cardboard container, getting about halfway.
“Cardboard goes in general waste!” the man
shouts. I stop and turn, boxes held high for an
overhead throw.
“But it’s cardboard,” I say.
“Cardboard is full!” he shouts. Back at the car,
my wife is displaying a torn lampshade.
“You can leave it just over here, madam,” the
man says, pointing. I hold up a sack of tins.
“Metal?” I say.
“Metal is metal!” the man shouts, with
righteous fury.
Eventually the car is emptied of everything,
including some stuff that has lain under the seats
for a year, and we drive off unburdened.
“That was quite satisfying,” I say. “We should
bring some motor oil next time.”
“It’s better when the man isn’t there,” my
wife says.
“What are you talking about?” I say. “You’re
his favourite.”
“I’m there a lot,” my wife says.
“It’s like going to the dump with Princess
Margaret,” I say.
“Shut up,” she says. “We can go to the
supermarket, now I’ve got you.”
An hour later I’m home, staring at a chicken.
“I completely forgot about the oven,” I say.
“What’s wrong with the oven?” the oldest
one says.
“I’m buying a new one,” my wife says.
“I guess I could spatchcock it and cook it on the
hob,” I say.
“Spatchcock,” the oldest one says.
“New year, new oven,” my wife says.
“This oven is fixable,” I say. “Make do, or do
without.” My wife looks out into the darkening
back garden.
“And then,” she says, “I’m getting a pony.”
First take
Bim Adewunmi
In the early days of a new year,
walking feels more purposeful.
You feet are weighed down by the
excesses of the festive period just
past – there are only so many roast
potatoes a body can hold, after all
– and the mere act of being outside
gives you a feeling of discovery,
even if the patch you are walking is
as familiar as your own face.
On those walks, it’s easy to feel like
clarity is entering your body along
with the frigid air, and Bad Thoughts
are emptying out. It’s a powerful
image, so we cling to it, but the truth
of the matter is, it’s merely very cold
and so your face is probably numb
and also, three cheers for exerciseendorphins. Yeah!
In New York – which I have found
to be less accidentally green than
London, much to my dismay – my
new year walks are mostly on
concrete and granite. Hard walks
on unyielding surfaces, which
matches my mood. In January,
I always feel like death warmed
over (the only other month that
matches this wretched feeling is
February, ugh) and the walks that
take me to the train station for my
work commute and back again are
sometimes the only exercise I get.
So I make it count; my time to set
new resolutions, if that’s how you
roll, is now. Like any procrastinator
(regional champion, 1986 to date),
I balk at the formalising of my
intentions at the best of times, and
doubly so in a new year. But one
of my
m loosely formed objectives
to frame it this way) is to
((II prefer
walk a lot more, and in new spaces,
wherever possible.
Time to dig deep, and refind the
urge that led me to the Duke of
Edinburgh award scheme almost
20 years ago. My lungs may thank
20 ye
me for it.
It’s time to fix broken things – some of them emotional
Small data
Last week,
Zoe Williams wrote
about walking
herself fit. You said:
57% Don’t overcomplicate
it, just go
36% Walking has changed
my life
7% Get a dog and you’ll
walk more
Letters, emails, comments
I applaud Decca Aitkenhead’s
achievements, but for most of us the
luxury of a personal trainer and food
delivered in boxes is out of reach.
Good health, like so many issues,
has a lot to do with class and wealth.
Jan Garrill
By email
I thoroughly enjoyed Decca
Aitkenhead’s candid account of her
foray into a cleaner existence (5am:
Take A Cold Bath, 6 January). It’s so
tempting to get caught up in current
dietary trends, which is why I think
she is correct in her assessment that
a vegan diet is the easiest and safest
choice. When your aim is to reduce
animal suffering, everything else
seems disingenuous.
Loula Columbus
New York, US
Stephen Collins
10 13 January 2018 | The Guardian Weekend
As a yoga teacher, it’s annoying to
see incorrect practices put out to
the public. In the excerpt from Ira
Trivedi’s book (Yoga For Lazy People,
6 January), the instructions for Surya
Bheda are incorrect: it’s actually
practised by breathing in through
the right and out the left nostril.
Jane Dancey
Eastbourne, East Sussex
Editor’s note: apologies, the breathing
should be done right nostril first. The
mistake was ours, not Ira Trivedi’s.
I laughed out loud at the transcripts
of the lunatic-in-chief’s tweets when
his account was shut down for 11
minutes (How Can You Laugh At
A Time Like This? 30 December).
We should give that former Twitter
employee the Nobel peace prize.
Maria Kelly
Pasadena, California
Just wanted to say bravo to Hadley
Freeman. Her final column of 2017
(30 December) hit the spot yet again,
when she commended Jo Brand for
her response to Ian Hislop regarding
sexual harassment. Try being
kind: it’s a much nicer place to be.
Christine Swann
Leigh on Sea, Essex
Surely it’s time to salute My Life In
Sex, the gift that keeps on giving.
My emotions each week oscillate
between envy and pity, coupled
with admiration for the honesty of
your contributors.
Nigel Woodcock
Chorlton, Manchester
At last, a face to the man I can blame
(What Does It Take To Be A Great
Quiz Writer? 23 December). I was
on Fifteen To One in its first week,
but went out after not being able to
say whether Flipper was a dolphin
or a porpoise. Four million people
saw that show, and I must have
met every single one: neighbours
yelled at me, people called out at
traffic lights, in the supermarket, at
the school I’d just started teaching
in; everyone told me. It was hell for
a day or so. Trouble is, I still can’t
tell you what Flipper was, so thanks
very much, Thomas Eaton.
Jenny Watts
Thomas Eaton reverted to type last
year: our 2017 quiz stats reveal an
average down to 7, with a single
glorious high mark of 11 in May.
Stephen Bibby
Silchester, Hampshire
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Jenny Agutter, actor
orn in Somerset,
Agutter, 65, made her
first film, East Of Sudan,
aged 11. At 14, she was
cast as Roberta in the television
adaptation of The Railway Children
and, at 17, starred in the 1970 film.
Her other movies include Logan’s
Run, The Eagle Has Landed, An
American Werewolf In London
and Equus, for which she won a
Bafta. Since 2012 she has starred in
the BBC’s Call The Midwife, which
returns for a seventh series this
month. She is married with a son
and lives in London.
When were you happiest?
Last night, having dinner with my
husband, John, my son, Jonathan,
and his girlfriend, Maude.
What is your greatest fear?
Dying painfully or with Alzheimer’s.
What is your earliest memory?
Wanting to be the starfish in a school
What is the trait you most deplore
in yourself?
Lack of patience.
What was your most embarrassing
I once ran on stage to make my first
speech and slid across the floor,
ending up at the footlights looking
at the people in the front row.
Property aside, what’s the most
expensive thing you’ve bought?
A £400 Zandra Rhodes dress for
the royal premiere of The Railway
Children. More recently, a Wurlitzer
jukebox for my husband’s birthday.
What do you most dislike about
your appearance?
If I haven’t slept enough I don’t like
the baggage under my eyes.
Which book changed your life?
The Railway Children.
What did you want to be when you
were growing up?
When I was very little, I thought it
might be possible to be an angel.
12 13 January 2018 | The Guardian Weekend
What is the worst thing anyone’s
said to you?
On a train, 15 years ago, someone
said, “You’re Mary Whitehouse,
aren’t you?”
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Watching The Apprentice.
What does love feel like?
Very warm and slightly giddying
What was the best kiss of your life?
Not telling.
Have you ever said ‘I love you’ and
not meant it?
Never. Sometimes I haven’t said
“I love you” when I’ve wanted to.
Which living person do you most
despise, and why?
Nigel Farage, for lying so much.
What has been your biggest
When I was 14 I went up for Juliet
with Zeffirelli and I was hugely
disappointed that I didn’t get that.
If you could go back in time, where
would you go?
The Elizabethan period, but
with dentistry
What single thing would improve
the quality of your life?
Finding a cure for cystic fibrosis – it
would change the life of my niece.
What do you consider your greatest
Work-wise, joining the National
Theatre when I was 21.
What keeps you awake at night?
Things that I didn’t do during the
How would you like to be
As a good friend.
What is the most important lesson
life has taught you?
That it’s not a rehearsal.
Tell us a joke
This is an aural joke – you have to
say it with a German accent.
Q: What did Freud say is between
fear and sex?
A: Fünf.
Rosanna Greenstreet
Who do
I most despise?
Nigel Farage,
for lying so
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For full terms, visit
Offer ends 31st January 2018.
By Rail
By Coach
By Ship
Nights in hotel
Sestri Levante
always called my mum
“Sandy”. Once, as a kid,
I asked, “Can I call you
Mum?” And she said,
“Of course, and I’ll call you
Sonnypie.” From the age of six,
after she split from my stepdad,
it was just the two of us. There were
lots of rude words and giggling,
listening to music and dancing,
and she was proud of me when
I became a musician. When my wife
and I had our first daughter, she
became Grandy, but she never met
our youngest.
In May 2016, she started getting
bad headaches, and the next month,
we had a diagnosis: a brain tumour.
She had three months to live, at 66.
It was crushing, but seeing Sandy
ask her sister Norah to look after me
was also beautiful. That night, she
texted me about a drive we’d been
on together in ridiculous rain, when
she’d parked up and we’d lain in the
road and the rain just hit our faces.
I cried and cried.
Sandy didn’t want hospitals, pain
and palliative care – she just wanted
to die. It was so intrinsic to who she
was that, in a funny way, none of us
was surprised by her decision. But
while you spend your whole life
worrying about dying, when it
comes to wanting to do it you realise
how difficult it is. She found a load
of morphine from when her sister
was dying of cancer, and decided
to take it. But the attempt failed,
and that’s when she decided to go
to Dignitas.
We spoke to someone who had
travelled to Dignitas with their
loved one and was happy to speak
to us about their experience.
Sandy emailed Dignitas, letting
them know she had a deadline of
less than three months. Then she
started the process of collecting
letters and documents, and
transferring money – it would cost
£12,000 all in.
The next weeks were precious.
I’d spend half the week with Sandy
at her home in Oxford, the other
half with my family in London
while Norah took over, and every
weekend we would all have a big
Sunday lunch together. She didn’t
have any other visitors: she didn’t
want to be at her funeral before she
died. We danced in the front room,
drove to the country listening to
playlists of her favourite music,
watched films like Die Hard and one
awful Adam Sandler movie. She sat
in her bed in an opiate high with the
sun beaming down and a breeze
through the window.
She got the green light from
Dignitas and Sandy, Norah and I flew
out in August. The doctor came to
our hotel and asked her, over and
over, “Is this what you want?”
She bit his hand off.
The next morning, I remember
Sandy, Norah and I laughing at the
word ausfahrt in the cab, before
the building came into view.
Volunteers welcomed us, then there
were more interviews and more
documents to sign. Sandy took the
first vial of liquid to line her
stomach, then we walked around
the garden to wait the half hour
before she could take the next step.
We had tea and a biscuit, and
Sandy sat on the sofa between
Norah and me and we hugged,
before she took the final vial.
When she turned to me, I did
an over-the-top wave and said a
cheery “Goodbyeeee!” and she
giggled. Then she went to sleep in
our arms and died about an hour
later. It’s only supposed to take
10 minutes – that’s how strong her
body still was. Driving back from the
airport next to an empty seat,
I thought, thank God she got
there in time.
Throughout it all, I was writing
music: I recorded a song on my
phone in the car park after the
diagnosis; on all the drives to
Oxford; and lying next to her when
she was asleep. It was very
therapeutic, but also sad because
she wanted to listen to the songs:
I couldn’t play them to her without
leaving her for a few weeks to
record them. Now it’s an album
she’ll never hear. What shocks
me most is that the thing I was so
scared of throughout my childhood
ended up being a moment of such
freedom; that the experience of
Sandy’s death brought so much
good into our lives.
Joe Wilson
Do you have an experience to share?
The Guardian Weekend | 13 January 2018 15
I took my mother to Dignitas
Broadcaster Gemma Cairney
Photography by David Vintiner
16 13 January 2018 | The Guardian Weekend
Off the leash
Are you addicted to your phone?
Then it’s time for a seven-day
digital detox. Martha Hayes gets
six busy people to unplug
e Gu
r ian
n Weekend
W e
k nd
d | 113
3 Janu
a ary 20
8 17
hat’s the first thing you do when
you wake up? Read the news? Check
your emails? Scroll through social
media? Now, imagine your phone’s
not in the room. If that makes you feel aimless or
uncomfortable, it may be time for a digital detox.
This doesn’t have to be about giving up the digital
world altogether, says Tanya Goodin, founder of
digital detox specialists Time To Log Off and author
of Off. “It’s about becoming aware of your own
personal challenges around screens, gaining an
understanding of what will help you overcome
them, and learning to live with technology in a way
that’s healthy. People are always amazed by how
different they feel after not being on their phones
and that motivates them to want to keep going.”
Goodin has devised a seven-day detox, to fit in
with a typical week of work while still enabling
improved sleep, productivity and mood. She
recommends downloading a tracking app such as
Moment (free on the Apple store) which measures
how much time you spend looking at your screen
and how many times a day you pick up your phone.
“Some of the challenges make use of the
functionality of the device itself, others are about
physically removing yourself from it. They build up
over the week from those that involve still keeping
your phone on you, to those that involve separating
yourself from it. Going cold turkey is daunting, so
the week eases you in gently – from cutting down
on particular aspects of your phone use to getting
used to leaving it behind from time to time.”
We asked six busy people to do just that.
The broadcaster
Gemma Cairney, 32 (previous pages), is a broadcaster
and author who presents the Leisure Society, BBC
Radio 6 Music’s podcast series. She lives in Margate.
Daily phone screen time before: 4 hours 6 minutes
Number of pick-ups a day: 57
My relationship with tech is a tug-of-war. Having
a public profile can lead to paranoia. I constantly
ask myself: “What should I be putting out there?”
– in terms of responsibility, what other people
care about and how much love I have for my real
life. I fantasise about not having a smartphone;
just getting a landline and a lovely little chair to
sit on. But could I do it? Would people feel let
down if I was harder to get hold of?
Writing my first book, Open, in the summer of
2016 was a life-changing experience because I shut
The digital
rules for
the week
• Delete all social media apps from your phone;
check these only from a desktop computer.
• Turn all banner-style/pop-up/sound
notifications off all other apps (keep the badgetype notifications where you have to visually
check the app).
• Leave your phone in your pocket or keep
it out of sight for meetings/get-togethers/
conversations/meals involving other people.
• Keep your phone out of sight during your
• Don’t take your phone with you into the
bathroom or toilet.
Day 1 Leave your phone outside your bedroom
overnight; get an alarm clock or turn up the
volume on your phone so you can hear its alarm
easily from your bed through the door. Continue
this all week.
Day 2 Put your phone in a central place when
you return home and go to the location of the
phone (rather than carrying it around with you) if
you need to check it.
Day 3 Take work email off your phone (notify
everyone in advance that you’re doing this).
Day 4 Go out to dinner, lunch or to an evening
event/gym session and leave your phone behind.
Day 5 Keep your phone on airplane mode as
default all day; take it off this mode only when
you need to use it.
Days 6 and 7 Your complete digital detox: keep
your phone switched off and put away from 7pm
Friday to 8am Monday.
‘I realise I haven’t
worn makeup
all week, which I can
only put down to
not posting selfies’
myself away from everyone. I went to a remote
part of Greece, wrote every day and had dinner
on my own each night. I’m a hippy, and enjoy
putting myself in certain situations where I won’t
want to use my phone. I definitely use my phone
less in Margate than I did when I lived in London.
I felt pretty good deleting my social media apps,
but miss Instagram because it’s like having my own
TV channel. I’m not interested in how many likes
I get; I don’t let that drive me. I’m single for the first
time in ages but won’t use dating apps where I live
or be Facebook friends with someone I date. There’s
something toxic about deciding what you think
about someone when it’s not based on their soul.
Not reaching for my phone means I wake up
more naturally and think, “What do I want from
today?” I relish leaving my phone in a central place
on day two; I think it’s scary we have our phones
permanently attached to our bodies. I’m touring
universities for Book Week Scotland and having
a brilliant time, but by day three I’m dying to post
online. I decide to write in my notepad every time
I get the urge. I feel more present and it feels less
rude to be using pen and paper in front of other
people than having my head stuck in a phone.
I come to the conclusion that phone screens are
a serious stimulant, because every time I travel in
the back of a car without my phone, I feel sleepy
when I’d usually be chatty. I decide to call my mum
instead of messaging her on WhatsApp. By day
five, I’m feeling nomophobia [phone separation
anxiety] – what if someone needs to speak to me?
I realise I haven’t worn makeup all week, which
I can only put down to not posting selfies. At the
weekend I go out for a friend’s birthday to see
a Bob Marley tribute act and have more fun because
I’m in the moment and not taking pictures. I feel
calmer and more at ease; not posting online feels
good when there are real conversations to be had.
And, yes, I’m still fantasising about getting a brick.
I couldn’t cope with… travelling without a phone.
I was bored and sleepy.
I can now do without… waking up to my phone.
I felt calm and more like my true self rather than
giving in to addictive behaviour.
Daily phone screen time after: 3 hours
Number of pick-ups a day: 17
The Leisure Society is on BBC Radio 6 Music on
Sundays at 1pm. Gemma Cairney’s new book, Open
Your Heart, is published by Pan Macmillan. →
The Guardian Weekend | 13 January 2018 19
‘I panic that if the Queen
drops down dead
they won’t be able to get
hold of me, and I’d
quite like to keep my job’
Journalist Clive Myrie
The journalist
Clive Myrie, 53 (right), has worked for the BBC as
a news presenter and foreign correspondent for
more than 30 years. He lives with his wife in London.
Daily phone screen time before: 45 minutes
Number of pick-ups a day: 11
It’s very difficult when you’re a journalist to turn
your phone off. My job can be unpredictable – for
example, being sent to Las Vegas to cover the
worst shooting in American history. I get a phone
call and I’m on the next flight out.
I’m not a tech fiend, I only really use WhatsApp
and Twitter. There’s a whole world of apps out
there, but I don’t feel as if I’m missing out. I don’t
sit on the tube frantically playing games on
my phone. I have an iPad for reporting abroad,
which I use like a typewriter, and my iPhone
is mainly for reading newspapers and getting
information for stories. It’s a 15-minute journey
to my office and I’ll have already read the
newspapers – including the New York Times and
the Washington Post – online at home, so I’ll just
flick through the Metro.
I remember when there were no mobile phones.
Pagers in the early 90s freed you up as a journalist
because people could message you; you weren’t
tied to a landline. Then I got a Nokia brick, which
I used for work. They weren’t the kind of things
you took to restaurants, they were simply for
communicating. I always compartmentalised
my life, so I didn’t have a personal phone until
I got an iPhone. I was very luddite in that regard.
A scene in the first Sex And The City film springs
to mind, when Samantha hands Carrie her iPhone
to call Big and Carrie says: “I don’t know how to
use this.” I remember when the BBC got rid of
their cuttings [research] department; that was
when I realised I could do all that on my phone.
Putting my phone to one side in the evening
feels absolutely fine. If you asked my bosses
they would say I’m lousy at answering it anyway.
Reading reports on Manchester City is probably
my guilty pleasure, but the bottom line is, if
I wasn’t at work, I could live without my phone.
When I go out for dinner with my wife and
leave my phone behind, it makes no difference
because it would absolutely not be on the table
– ever. I get a little irritated if I’m in a group and
someone is scrolling through a phone. I don’t say
anything; I just quietly get wound up.
At the weekend I’m working from 1pm until →
The Guardian Weekend | 13 January 2018 21
after the News At Ten and without a phone it’s
tricky to get a heads-up on the stories before
work. I feel like a spaceman untethered from the
mother ship. I consider going out and buying the
papers but part of the attraction of the phone is
you don’t have to go out in the cold, so I turn my
phone on and go through the papers. I panic that
if the Queen drops down dead they won’t be able
to get hold of me, and I’d quite like to keep my
job, so I resolve to keep my phone on, I just won’t
look at it.
I’ve come to realise I use my phone more than
I thought. By the end of the week, I’m using it
more than when I started. I’m the first person at
a dinner party to say: “Social media is just for kids
and idiots stuck in their bedrooms”, but it’s a bit
like people who don’t like paying the licence fee
not realising how much they use the BBC. I still
like to think I prefer talking face-to-face, but
I have missed not being able to pick up the phone
when I want to use it. And I’m more of a social
media fiend than I thought.
I couldn’t cope with… not being kept in the loop
with friends on WhatsApp. There were group
messages I couldn’t read or respond to.
I can now do without… being such a luddite.
I have my reservations about social media but
you have to play along with it to a point because
this is how the world works.
Daily phone screen time after: 50 minutes
Number of pick-ups a day: 16
The personal trainer
Roger Frampton, 33 (right), is a personal trainer
and Instagram influencer who specialises in
bodyweight exercises. He lives in Hertfordshire
with his girlfriend.
Daily phone screen time before: 8 hours 5 minutes
Number of pick-ups a day: 95
I update my iPhone each year because I feel they
slow down when a new one comes out. It’s a big
work tool because I don’t have an office, so I carry
a battery pack to keep charging it. From waking up
scrolling through social media and checking train
times to reading my book and ordering coffee on
the Starbucks app, I use my phone for everything.
I don’t need to speak to another human on my
entire commute into London.
I coach three or four 90-minute sessions a day,
and I’m back on my phone during breaks and
mealtimes. I’m not just scrolling for the sake of it,
22 13 January 2018 | The Guardian Weekend
Personal trainer Roger Frampton
‘Deleting my social media
apps feels liberating,
like squeezing back into
pre-pregnancy jeans’
there’s always an element of research – I’ll be
watching YouTube or looking up other
influencers to collaborate with. I want to utilise
my time, I can’t just sit there and be bored.
On day one, my phone alarm goes off at 5.15am
and I jump out of bed because it’s on charge in the
hallway. I usually check Twitter, Instagram or my
two Facebook pages under my duvet but instead
I jump straight in the shower.
The next evening, I enjoy putting my phone in
a drawer because my girlfriend and I spend much
more time together. Stupid things make me want
to pick up my phone, like when we decide we
need a bread bin. I reach into my pocket, before
telling myself I can do that another time.
On day four, I go to a fashion party and leave
my phone in the cloakroom when I’d usually
post what I’m wearing on Instagram. I have the
best night ever; I actually feel great without my
phone. It makes me feel a bit torn. Social media
is important for my work because it makes it
possible to interact with people, but sometimes
I hate it. Instagram can put me in a crap mood.
I try to use it in a positive way, but it depends
on your mindset. Looking at an image can make
you feel either inspired, or not good enough,
so I try to be aware of when that switch in my
mind happens.
On day five I keep thinking, “I need to use my
phone.” I find having it with me and not being
able to use it is harder than not having it with
me at all.
I hate being without my phone all weekend
because I’m working and feel as if there’s so much
I could be doing. If I’m in a conversation, or have
a book to read, it doesn’t bother me so much,
but sitting on my own, cradling a coffee between
clients, I feel awkward. I realise I don’t know how
to do nothing.
I couldn’t cope with… alone time. It gave me
a newfound appreciation for being able to contact
someone at the touch of a button.
I can now do without… reactively replying to
messages. Turning off notifications gave me
a completely different mindset. Now I get back to
people at a time that suits me.
Daily phone screen time after: 5 hours 42 minutes
Number of pick-ups a day: 69
Record company boss Rebecca Allen
(interviewed overleaf)
The Flexible Body by Roger Frampton is published
by Pavilion. →
The Guardian Weekend | 13 January 2018 23
The record company boss
Rebecca Allen, 44 (previous page), is president
of Decca Records. She lives in London with her
husband and two daughters, aged five and nine.
Daily phone screen time before: 4 hours 13 minutes
Number of pick-ups a day: 32
I love gadgets that make my life easier; I don’t want
to get left behind. The way we consume music
now is so different from 10 years ago and I need
to understand each person’s experience – and the
device they’re using – in order to market it to them.
Some people view being on email constantly as
a negative thing, but my life depends on flexibility.
I’m out and about all the time, meeting managers
or artists, I travel two hours a day, and I pick up
my kids when I need to. From food shopping to
organising the family calendar, I do everything on
my phone. Without it, I feel out of control.
Deleting my social media apps feels liberating,
like squeezing back into pre-pregnancy jeans, but
I am concerned how I’ll keep on top of work. I am
used to using my phone every spare minute of my
life, on my commute and even on the loo.
On the train on day one I diagnose myself with
“twitchy hand syndrome” because of the natural
reflex to pick up my phone. I’m wondering what
to do with myself when it dawns on me that when
I’m not working, I’m being a mother, and when I’m
not with my children, I’m working. I decide
I’m not going to think about anything, I’m just
going to look out the window and it’s really nice.
After 24 hours without Facebook, Twitter or
Instagram, I worry what I’m missing, and my
hand is still twitchy. I’m horrified to discover (via
the Moment app) that I typically rack up between
four and five hours a day on my phone. The next
day, I’m not so smug, just grumpy, like the only
person doing dry January in December. No one
wants to hear about my digital detox, but I’m like
a reformed addict and can’t stop talking about it.
On day four, I have a night in on my own. I drink
a large glass of red wine in front of Stranger Things,
then start to feel anxious that something important
has happened at work, or my husband is trying
to reach me. After three glasses, I decide I’m
allowed to check my emails. The following day
I have a wobble thanks to Black Friday and use
my phone to bag some bargains before work, and
at the weekend, when I take my girls to see Little
Mix, I couldn’t not take pictures on my phone.
By the end I’m feeling reflective, about social
24 13 January 2018 | The Guardian Weekend
media in particular. On Instagram or Facebook
I blankly peer into the lives of people I don’t even
know, but in the last week I’ve dedicated that
time to me instead. Ultimately I’ve learned that
it’s OK, when you’ve got a free minute, to be still;
to not feel like you’ve got to be doing something.
I couldn’t cope with… not being able to shop online.
I love Amazon. Every year I build a wishlist of things
I want to get people and buy it all on Black Friday.
I can now do without… social media apps. Not
worrying about what’s going on in other people’s
lives is really nice. It makes me realise I should
keep in touch the old-fashioned way.
Daily phone screen time after: 2 hours 33 minutes
Number of pick-ups a day: 28
The entrepreneur
Anisah Osman Britton, 24 (right), is the founder of
23 Code Street, a coding school for women. She has
lived on a boat for the last five years with her dog.
Daily phone screen time before: 3 hours 50 minutes
Number of pick-ups a day: 88
I was eight when I got my first phone, to keep in
touch with my parents when I was at school, and
by 14 I had a smartphone. I use a Google Pixel now
and rely on it for everything; I leave my laptop at
work as there is no wifi on the boat, which can be
moored in Haggerston one week and Watford the
next. I rely on Citymapper to plan my daily route
to my office in Shoreditch from wherever I am.
I started 23 Code Street in 2016 because,
working in the tech industry, I could see the lack
of women was a problem. They weren’t part of
the decision-making. I’d see stuff being built and
think, “A woman’s never going to use that.” For
every paying student here, we teach a woman
digital skills in Mumbai.
My top four apps are WhatsApp, Telegram,
Instagram and Twitter, and when it comes to
deleting them, I think, “I can do this!” I substitute
Instagram with reading books and finish two by
the end of the week, which makes me cringe at
how much time I must waste on my phone.
I struggle with insomnia and often wake up at
4am and scroll through my phone. I’m amazed
that without it to hand, I simply go back to sleep.
I set the alarm on my old-school Casio watch now
and stay asleep a lot longer.
By day three, I’m feeling left out of my family’s
WhatsApp group, but I welcome taking work
emails off my phone. I’m good at batch emailing:
Entrepreneur Anisah Osman Britton
‘I’m not worried about
switching my phone off at
the weekend, but I haven’t
thought it through.
By Saturday lunchtime
I have a meltdown’
I set aside a couple of hours in the morning, plus
half an hour each afternoon and evening.
Things take a turn for the worse on day four
when I’m sick and have to stay home. I decide
there is no way I’m doing without my phone, I need
it in bed with me to check work emails. I spend
the rest of the time WhatsApp-ing my family and
watching dog videos on YouTube.
I’m not worried about switching my phone off
at the weekend. I tell my family and my business
partner, Tom, that I’ll speak to them on Monday.
I’m about to move home, so I figure I’ll use the
time to pack my life away. But I haven’t thought it
through. By Saturday lunchtime I have a meltdown.
It’s so dead and quiet; I can’t even listen to music
as my only source is my phone. I don’t see a single
person until my neighbour knocks on my door on
Sunday morning with some chocolate. I almost
cry. Later I walk to the Co-op just so I can speak to
someone. This is the worst weekend of my life.
Without a phone, I notice how much everyone
else is on theirs. We have a rule in my family, and
at work, of no phones when eating, and that’s never
felt so important. I find it fascinating that when I’m
not using my phone, the people around me don’t
check theirs. It alerts them to how much they rely
on their phones and makes them self-conscious.
I couldn’t cope with… not being able to take
photos. I missed that so much.
I can now do without… flicking through social
media in bed before getting up. I’ve given myself
an extra hour in the morning.
Daily phone screen time after: 3 hours
Number of pick-ups a day: 70
The scientist
Dr Kate Devlin, 41 (overleaf ), is a scientist
specialising in AI and human-computer interaction.
She lives in London with her daughter, aged seven.
Daily phone screen time before: 6 hours 23 minutes
Number of pick-ups a day: 57
I’m not into tech just for the sake of it. I use good,
solid gadgets – an iPhone and a MacBook. In my
work, I look at how society’s reactions to tech
influence the development of it. I have a terrible
work/life balance, which is typical of academics,
but I do enjoy time out – running, walking or
reading; I’m a stickler for proper books.
My radio alarm wakes me up with BBC Radio 4’s
Today. Not being able to look at my phone,
I discover a new routine: watching the sun →
The Guardian Weekend | 13 January 2018 25
‘I feel a sense of panic –
like losing your child
in a supermarket –
every time I realise my
phone’s not on me’
Scientist Kate Devlin
26 13 January 2018 | The Guardian Weekend
come up. It’s lovely. I miss my phone more when
I go to bed. Reading a hardback of The Outrun by
Amy Liptrot [a true story about alcohol addiction]
leaves me on the verge of tears; I wish I was flicking
through something more superficial on my phone.
I feel a bit lost on my 12-minute overground
journey to work the next morning. It’s too short
an amount of time to read a newspaper, so I’m
itching to get my phone out. I normally check my
emails and set myself up for the day, so I arrive at
the office feeling as if I’m on the back foot.
I’m a big social media fan. I use Twitter a lot, as
well as WhatsApp and Telegram to stay in touch
with people. In the evening I put my phone next
to the landline in the hall and I feel a sense of
panic – like losing your child in a supermarket –
every time I realise my phone’s not on me.
On day four, I take my daughter for pizza without
my phone. We have a rule of no reading when we’re
eating, so instead we argue about who would win
a fight between a badger and a giant chihuahua.
I get annoyed because there is no such thing as
a giant chihuahua, and I can’t Google it to show her.
I’m wary about the weekend because I’m
coordinating a hackathon and need to drop in on
my students. It’s an event sponsored by various
sex-toy companies and I’d normally be taking
photos and tweeting. I find myself walking around
carrying my open laptop as if it’s a giant phone,
using WhatsApp and Messenger. My friend
messages me to say: “For someone on a digital
detox you sure do text a lot.” I don’t think I’m
entering into the spirit of it as much as I could
and soon discover my laptop can pretty much do
everything – bar calling my mum – my phone does.
Technology isn’t a bad thing if we’re using it
effectively and efficiently. I’ve learned that not
having my phone on me isn’t going to kill me, I’ve
reclaimed my mornings and feel a sense of relief
in responding to things on my terms, not because
I feel compelled to. The hardest thing is the fear
of missing out on messages, but if something is
urgent people will get hold of me. I have a landline.
Though I’m not sure anyone has the number.
I couldn’t cope with… not using WhatsApp. I’m
part of a community of single academic mothers
and we are there for each other round the clock.
I can now do without… notifications. Without
them, I’m less of a slave to my phone.
Daily phone screen time after: 2 hours 24 minutes
Number of pick-ups a day: 40 •
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In a Bedfordshire nightclub, white couples queue to have sex with black men.
Meanwhile, black women are routinely snubbed on dating sites. Is racism alive
and well in the bedroom? Afua Hirsch visits a swingers’ night to find out
28 13 January 2018 | The Guardian Weekend
Illustration by Natasha Law
The Guardian Weekend | 13 January 2018 29
Nights in hotel
By Coach
By Rail
By Rail
By Coach
t’s past midnight, November 2016,
in Dunstable, a small town in
Bedfordshire. My friend Miranda has
accompanied me here for moral
support. We scale a no-frills metal staircase at the
end of an alleyway behind the high street, where a
weary blond woman is ruling a domain of coats,
cash and lists. She has a defeated manner, like the
only sober person at a party when everyone is
drunk. I’m wearing a too-big red dress stitched
together by a very mediocre tailor in Senegal more
than a decade ago. I have no idea why I decided to
make myself look so dowdy. Miranda is doing
much better; she has obediently put on a basque,
along with a skirt much shorter than mine, and
boots that elongate her long legs. She’s calmer than
me, too. I’ve given the organisers fake Jewishsounding names. It was the easiest way of
manipulating our actual names without revealing
the fact that we are both black. Had we sounded
black, I’m not sure we would have been allowed in.
As it’s our first time, Eddie – a solid black man,
dressed in the standard-issue suit and a bouncer’s
armband – has been asked to show us around. His
presence is comforting; he seems like an island of
sanity in a sea of grotesque chaos. The first thing
I see, once Eddie has led us past the dancefloor
and the bar, is a shaven-headed black man on his
knees on a large bed, with a white woman on all
fours, doggy-style. He is wearing an unbuttoned
shirt, and nothing else; she is in a basque,
suspenders and boots. Another man is kneeling
next to him, waiting his turn. To the left, on the
same sateen mattress, a woman is kneeling with
her back to us, naked from the waist down. A man
has his hand on her ample butt cheeks. Other
men hover around the bed, beers in hand,
watching. “This is one of our playrooms,” Eddie
says helpfully. “It’s not too bad now, but it gets
very busy later on.”
Arousals is like no place I’ve ever been; part
nightclub, part seedy brothel and part all-out orgy.
As Eddie continues his tour, we pass endless private
rooms – locked, for couples who aren’t in the mood
for an audience – and toilets, a shower, a cinema
where five white men are half watching porn.
‘Black men
have bigger penises.
It’s not a stereotype.
We are built differently.
Black men have better
rhythm in bed. That’s
also a fact. And
thirdly, we are more dominant’
Soon we are in “the dungeon”. There is a gold
throne and a series of skulls that belong in a child’s
Halloween party. In pride of place is a swing.
“The sex swing is very popular,” says Eddie.
Welcome to the Black Man’s Fan Club –
a monthly swingers’ night for white women who
want to have sex with black men, and their white
husbands or partners who want to watch. In the
ethnically undiverse world of swingers, the BMFC
is marketed as a community of people who
“appreciate the extras black men bring”.
Tonight’s flyer features an intensely fake-tanned
white girl wearing briefs that read, in large letters
across her crotch, “I heart black”. Members of the
community – both white women and black men –
are active on Twitter, where they share pictures
of exceptionally large black penises and rough sex
in which a black man clearly dominates.
BMFC, the punters tell me, is one of a kind, but
the sentiment doesn’t end in Dunstable. In an era
of mass porn consumption, black male porn
actors having sex with white women is a popular
subgenre, and BMWW (black man white woman)
erotic novels specifically cater to the fantasy of
crudely stereotyped black male aggression
and sexual domination. It’s as if the online
commercialisation of sexual fantasy has globalised
racial stereotypes and sent them freewheeling
backwards; it doesn’t take any imagination to
surmise exactly what swingers mean when they
say they appreciate the “extras” black men bring.
“There are three reasons why the women come
here,” explains Wayne, one of the black men who
are here to be “appreciated”. Wayne has just come
out of a playroom, and has barely bothered to put
his clothes back on – his flies low, shirt open, and
tie hung nonchalantly around his neck. He’s
a good-looking guy, with a toned physique and
neatly twisted locks. “One [reason is], black men
have bigger penises.” That’s a stereotype, I argue.
“It’s not a stereotype!” he replies. “Black men are
built differently. You have to acknowledge nature.
Number two,” Wayne continues, “black men have
better rhythm in bed. That’s also a fact. And
thirdly, they are just more dominant. You know,
a lot of these women are not satisfied by their
husbands, who want them to do all the work.
They want to feel a strong man inside them,
dominating them. They want an alpha male. That’s
what they get here,” he smiles at me, knowingly.
Wayne is leery, drunk, and has a tendency to
lean precariously towards me. I can see Miranda
looking similarly unnerved.
She’s speaking to Wayne’s friend Darren,
who – she later relays – works as a carer for
elderly and disabled people in a nursing home.
He describes himself as “a freak” and says BMFC
is where he comes to indulge his sexual fantasies.
Both men are surprisingly happy to answer my
increasingly probing questions. I knew there
would be older, suburban white couples. But I
assumed the men would be sex workers,
strippers, or otherwise incentivised guests, whose
role was to perform the required services. But
I assumed the
men at the club
would be sex
workers or
strippers. But
these are
black men
these are unremarkable, middle-class black men.
When I ask if they feel fetishised because of
their race, they vigorously deny it. “I come for the
sex,” Wayne says. “Where else can you go and
have sex as many times as you like? Plus, there
are no pretences. Everyone is here to get laid,
have a good time, it’s really friendly. It’s not like
a normal club where everyone has a poker face
on. No one’s judging.”
Swinging is not my thing, but I couldn’t care
less what consenting adults get up to behind
closed doors. It’s not the sex at the Black Man’s
Fan Club that bothers me, it’s the racial
stereotyping. It feels as if it’s just the latest
chapter in a history of sexual stereotyping
towards Africans – a history so long and loaded it
stands apart from other contemporary fetishes,
such as blondes or particular body types.
Why are black men willing to embrace the
myths of hypersexuality and abnormally large
endowment? “The number of things that have
been said about black men in this country for the
most part have been about as negative as you can
possibly get,” says professor Herbert Samuels, an
American expert on sexual desire. “If someone
says that you are good at sex, or that your penis is
bigger than anyone else’s, that’s about the only
positive you can get out of all those negatives.
And I think some black men have bought into the
myth that they are hypersexual, that their sexual
prowess and the size, the physicality, is greater.”
This is what really unsettles me about the Black →
The Guardian Weekend | 13 January 2018 31
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Man’s Fan Club. Not just the fact that black men’s
self-esteem could be so low that this would be a
welcome boost, but the fact that everyone in
Arousals is, one way or another, unquestioningly
complicit in a set of beliefs that have ancient and
horrible roots.
When Europeans first came into contact with
the African continent, they indulged in an
imaginative riot of fantasy. Elizabethan travel
books contained a heady mix of fact and pure
invention, which confused English readers and
popularised wildly fictional versions of the place
and its people. “Like animals,” one account
reported, Africans would “fall upon their women,
just as they come to hand, without any choice”.
African men had enormous penises, these accounts
suggested. One writer went so far as to claim that
African men were “furnisht with such members
as are after a sort burthensome unto them”.
Stereotypes about the sexual prowess of black
people have an equally illustrious presence in
literature, journalism and art. Even a left-leaning
British publication like the Daily Herald ran frontpage stories with headlines such as “Black scourge
in Europe: sexual horror let loose by France on the
Rhine”. The author of that 1920 splash complained
that the “barely restrainable bestiality” of black
My friend
Sarah is a keen
she and her
husband notice
an intake of
breath when
they arrive.
thinking: will
I get a chance
with them?’
troops stationed in Europe after the end of the
first world war had led to many rapes, which was
particularly serious because Africans were “the
most developed sexually” of any race – a “terror
and a horror unimaginable”.
Black men are still unfairly portrayed as rapists
– not least by US president Donald Trump, who in
1989 called for the death penalty for five black
teenagers, the so-called Central Park Five
convicted of raping a female jogger in New York.
Their convictions were later overturned and the
miscarriage of justice these young men had
suffered exposed. But in 2014, Trump still refused
to accept their innocence. He told a journalist this
stance would help in his campaign for the
presidency, and he found many receptive
audiences for his racially loaded claim that
Mexico was sending its “rapists” to America.
Stereotypes of black and other ethnic minority
men as sexually threatening on the one hand, and
sexually desirable on the other, are two sides of
the same hypersexuality myth. The former
continue in inaccurate data spread virally on
social media, pointing to false statistics about the
prevalence of sexual assaults by black men. The
latter have filtered into popular culture, such as
the sayings, widespread when I was at school and
university, that white women who have sex with
black men have “jungle fever”, and that “once
you go black, you never go back”. They are
implicit in the belief, internalised by Wayne at the
BMFC, that black men have “extras” in bed.
My friend Sarah has no time for anything like
BMFC. She knows a lot about the swinging scene
because, together with her husband, she has been
a keen swinger for a decade. If there is a stereotype
of your average British swinger, Sarah is not it.
She is black, as is her husband, in a scene that is
known to be predominantly white. Throughout
their years of marriage, they have frequented
swinging parties, and as their age and earning
power have increased, they’ve developed a taste
for high-end events which require expensive
annual memberships and rigorous vetting of
one’s appearance, income and background.
Sarah loves these parties. She describes the
pleasure of slipping on expensive underwear and
a cocktail gown, looking and smelling exquisite,
knowing that every ounce of effort will be
explored and appreciated by numerous partners
of both sexes. She talks about arriving, and the
breathtaking impression of the venues – imposing
stately homes in landscaped gardens, her
husband in black tie by her side, being
served champagne and oysters, and meeting
other like-minded and often impressive
couples. Then, she explains, the lights are
dimmed, and people begin retreating to a series
of decadent playrooms.
Sometimes Sarah and her husband notice, when
they arrive, a sharp intake of breath. “We don’t
tend to have issues with people of our generation
– the ones who went to the same schools as us, and
‘As a black
woman I am
always going to
be fetishised. They
think we’re all
sensual, all of us
are Rihanna’
probably had girlfriends who were black or white,”
she explains. “But when it comes to the older
generation who are probably racist by day – the
CEOs, the managing directors – we have walked in
and literally felt them, looking at us and thinking,
‘Will I get a chance with them?’ It’s gross.” Sarah
shakes her head. “We are not here to be fetishised.”
But a risk of being fetishised is a hazard of the
hobby. “We have had weird experiences,” Sarah
admits. “I remember there was this one French
couple; the woman was writhing against the wall
in her Agent Provocateur underwear. And her
husband was the one who found people for her.
He came up to me and was like, ‘Your husband…
can we? My wife loves black men.’ And I was like,
‘No, he’s not available.’ When people say to me, ‘I
love black men’, instead of saying that they just
love men, that tells me it’s a fetish.”
In contrast to the Black Man’s Fan Club, at Sarah’s
high-end swinging parties, black women have just
as much exotic appeal. “They look at me as if they
are thinking, ‘Oh my God, what’s she gonna do,
backflips?’ I keep telling people, we all have the
same anatomy. I have a vagina, you have a vagina.
What, do you think it’s got a flipping motor in it?
“These people are so repressed,” Sarah laughs.
“You just have to talk to them sometimes, and
they’re shaking. I know as a black woman I am
always going to be fetishised to an extent – and
the darker you are, the more you are. “They think
we are naturally very sensual, all of us are
Rihanna.” She laughs at the absurdity. “They are
very threatened but secretly, they want to be with
us, they want to be like us, they want to taste us
and touch us. If they could, they would have one
of us in their houses in a room, just kept there, for
when needed. That’s exactly what they did not
that long ago! And they’d love it again.”
It’s strange to hear an educated British person
speaking in such crude racial stereotypes, “us” as
these forbidden black fruits that “they” are
salivating over. But then sex and relationships
are one of the last remaining bastions of
unreconstructed racial prejudice.
But it’s not just about sex. Sex is, in some ways, →
The Guardian Weekend | 13 January 2018 33
a very tangible expression of the deeper currents
of prejudice in this country. As a brutally selfconscious mixed-race teenage girl in suburban
London, one of my earliest experiences of having
a black identity was the way boys behaved
towards me. Teenagers from the neighbouring
boys’ school – one of the most elite private schools
in the country – were among the most merciless.
They made jokes about rumours they’d heard,
that black girls “give good head”, and have “more
pussy”. It was a lot for a 14-year-old girl, just
waking up to her sexuality, as well as her
increasingly confusing racial identity, to bear.
These boys and I had more in common than any
of us probably realised. We were all living out –
albeit in very different ways – the complex and
painful legacy of slavery-era sexual ideologies.
They manifest in a number of surprising ways.
Take dating, for example. The vast majority of
people, in all countries and from all cultural
backgrounds, enter into relationships with people
from the same racial, ethnic or cultural-linguistic
group. But in Britain, black people are far more
likely to enter into interracial relationships than
other people of colour. However, it’s not a case of
black people entering into a rainbow of interracial
relationships; the statistics show it’s black men
entering into relationships with white women.
That creates, in simple terms, a shortage. For
black women, doing what most people do and
seeking a partner of the same ethnic background
as them, the odds are not in their favour. One
consequence is that there are many black women
in Britain with no prior experience of interracial
relationships, now seeking them, only to find their
newfound open-mindedness is not reciprocated.
One anecdotal example of this is my friend
Yvonne. Frustrated at being single in her late 30s,
Yvonne invested several thousand pounds in an
expensive matchmaking service. She’s a
strikingly attractive black woman, impeccably
groomed – hair and nails always freshly done –
with a well-paid job in banking. She decided it
was an investment worth making to find a partner
who, like her, works in the City and would share
of the men on
one matchmaking
database was willing
to date a black woman.
Some were open to
casual romance, but
not a long-term
her ambition. With two black parents, and a
mainly black social circle, she had always
imagined herself with a black partner. But the
paucity of single black men with similar lifestyles
led her to consider dating someone of a different
race. The problem was, she never received any
expressions of interest from the single white men
she knew. Perhaps she wasn’t giving off the right
vibes, she told herself.
In the hands of a bespoke matchmaking
service, which spent hours eliciting intimate
details about her personality, interests and views
on relationships, a good deal of time-wasting
would be stripped away. At least, she thought
that’s what would happen. In the end, the service
ended up refunding her money because, they told
her apologetically, they could not find her a date –
not one single match. None of the men on their
database was willing to seriously date a black
woman. Some were open to casual romance, but
had stated that they would not consider a black
woman as a long-term partner. “Most of the men
have homes in the country and do rural activities
at the weekend,” the matchmaking company had
told her. They were matter-of-fact, as if it was
somehow obvious that a black woman might
dissolve when exposed to a non-urban
environment, like Dracula in sunlight.
Studies suggest that this is happening on a
wider scale. Data drawn from 25 million user
accounts on the dating site OkCupid in 2014
found that black people face a unique penalty in
online dating – with men of other races rating
black women as up to 20% less attractive than
average. “[It’s] no coincidence,” says OkCupid
founder Christian Rudder. “Beauty is a cultural
idea as much as a physical one, and the standard
is of course set by the dominant culture.” The
content of these ideas is familiar – a previous
study found, for example, that single men regard
black women as “too bossy”.
The problem with these kinds of stereotypes –
other than that they originate in racist ideology –
is that they both repel and attract people for the
wrong reasons. Yvonne didn’t want a boyfriend
who would feel hostile to a fictional, perceived
“bossiness”, based on her race, any more than she
wanted a boyfriend deliberately seeking it. Many
black women are aware of being seen through this
stereotype-laden lens, in turn making them feel
suspicious of the men who do approach them.
I remember this suspicion as a teenager, feeling
that white boys and men, for whom I was often
the first black woman they had ever met, did not
see me, but whatever it was that they were
projecting on to my blackness: I was exotic,
freaky, strong, supernatural.
It’s an experience that has transcended
generations. Women who arrived in Britain as
part of the Windrush generation of Caribbean
migrant workers, recruited by the government
to work in the public sector after the war, were
met with hurtful sexual expectations. “The white
men in Cambridge didn’t want us as girlfriends,
The boys at
the elite school
next to mine
made jokes
about black girls
– a lot for
a self-conscious
waking up to her
own sexuality
to bear
they just wanted to sleep with us,” Barbara
McLeod, who arrived in Cambridge
from Jamaica in the 1950s as a 17-year-old nurse,
told the Guardian in 1999. “[They] would say:
‘I’m sure you’re good in bed’, because there was
this false assumption that black women were
sexually voracious.”
Those remarks seem almost innocent now, in
our era of race-based porn for mass consumption,
and “race play” – humiliation-themed, racially
based sexual fantasies, which some claim is the
fastest-growing trend in the American swingers’
scene. If the Black Man’s Fan Club is anything to
go by, they are gaining ground in the UK, too.
Fifty years ago, the sinister beliefs that underpin
these fantasies would have shocked the people
who had suffered from them most; now, they’ve
been normalised.
At the Black Man’s Fan Club, I keep asking
Wayne the same question, searching for an
answer that makes sense. “Why do you come
here?” I repeat.
“Black men do have extras,” he laughs.
Brit(ish): On Race, Identity And Belonging, by Afua
Hirsch, is published on 1 February by Jonathan Cape,
priced £16.99. To pre-order a copy for £13.99, go to or call 0330 333 6846.
The Guardian Weekend | 13 January 2018 35
Ben Rhodes (centre) with President
Barack Obama and senior adviser
David Axelrod in the Oval Office, 2010
Me and Mr President
Ben Rhodes spent 10 years
as Barack Obama’s foreign
policy speechwriter and
right-hand man. Will Trump
dismantle everything they did?
As a new film puts him in the
spotlight, he tells Julian Borger
about life in their West Wing
n his final foreign speech as president, Barack
Obama spoke to a crowd in Athens. “As you
may have noticed,” he said, “the next American
president and I could not be more different. But
American democracy is bigger than any one person.” More
than a year on, with that proposition tested daily, Obama’s
decision to make his last trip abroad to the birthplace of
western democracy looks prescient.
The person Obama turned to just before taking the stage
was a trim man with thin, close-cropped hair and a furrowed
brow who had been at his side on almost every foreign trip he
made, and who helped write this and just about every other
foreign policy speech the president delivered. Ben Rhodes, the
longest-serving member of Obama’s foreign policy team, at
the age of 40, has been a permanent fixture in his close orbit;
inside the Obama camp, Rhodes was routinely said to be so
close to the president that their minds had melded.
“It happened relatively quickly,” Rhodes says, attributing
it to the fact that he had joined Obama at the start of the
presidential campaign, before his own ideas about the world
had solidified. “If you are a speechwriter, you have to know
what the person you’re writing for thinks. A lot of foreign policy
advisers are thinking: how can I get my proposal into this guy’s
speech? I was just thinking: what does he want to say?”
As deputy national security adviser for strategic
communications, Rhodes was intimately involved in every
consequential decision of that era, from the Iran nuclear deal
to the restoration of the Cuba-America relationship. But for
someone who has played such an important role in the past
decade’s geopolitics, his voice and face have been largely
unknown. Now, he has a starring role in a new documentary
about the last days of Obama’s presidency, shot behind the
scenes. The Final Year follows the Obama foreign policy team
through the warren of the West Wing (dilapidated, cramped,
home to cockroaches and rats), the corridors of the United
Nations and on their valedictory foreign trips. Watching it now,
knowing the result of the 2016 election and the ferocity of the
backlash to come, gives the film a whole new significance.
“Unfortunately, it’s probably better because of the ending,”
Rhodes tells me when we meet in Washington DC, less than
half a mile from his former place of work. He is now able to laugh
at it, albeit tentatively. “It would have been a nice movie about
people working hard on foreign policy, but it acquired this tragic
sensibility. It’s a horror movie when you know the twist ending.”
The Final Year focuses on Rhodes and Samantha Power, the
former US ambassador to the UN. Both joined Obama’s team
from the moment he announced his candidacy, and are the
two – sometimes duelling – young guns. Secretary of state John
Kerry, the national security adviser Susan Rice and Obama also
Top: Ben Rhodes and
Obama, 2014. Right:
on board Air Force One,
en route from London
to France for the 2011
G8 summit
38 13 January 2018 | The Guardian Weekend
play major parts, reflecting on the sunset of the administration
as the action shifts from the UN headquarters in New York to
Austria, West Africa, Vietnam, Laos, Japan and Greenland. Along
the way, we see the big set-piece moments – the important
speeches, the tense negotiations with other diplomats; we
also see the anxieties, disappointments and arguments in back
rooms. Above all, the film is a study of the sheer, relentless slog
of diplomacy, and its frequently meagre rewards; in September
2016, for example, the team’s hopes of a US-Russian ceasefire
in Syria rise with each passing day of relative quiet, and then
vanish in a new, entirely senseless wave of violence.
The film is directed by former American television journalist
Greg Barker, who has made documentaries about the hunt for
Osama bin Laden and the life and death of Sergio Vieira de Mello,
a Brazilian UN diplomat killed in Baghdad. The latter was based
on a biography written by Samantha Power, a former foreign
correspondent, who was Barker’s way into the Obama sanctum.
“She [Power] had probably agreed to do this even before
checking with anybody,” Rhodes laughs. “We gave Samantha
a pretty free run to make her own decisions.” But the president
gave Barker’s crew more access than he ever envisioned; the
Obama team – nearing the end of the administration – wanted
the film to showcase its foreign policy accomplishments, prizes
that they fully expected to hand on like polished batons to
friends and colleagues in the Hillary Clinton camp.
But as the summer of 2016 turns to autumn, the film shows
Donald Trump turning up with increasing frequency, on
televisions in airport departure lounges, in conversations with
perplexed foreigners. We see blithe certainty turn to niggling
doubt, and then, on election night, to devastation; Power and
Rhodes, caught on camera at would-be festivities, look as if
they have been punched in the gut. (Power hosted a women’s
event with Gloria Steinem and the 37 women ambassadors to
the UN including Madeleine Albright, who wore a shatteredglass badge in anticipation of Clinton’s achievement.) Rhodes,
the wordsmith, has tears in his eyes and struggles to complete
a single sentence.
“There was a feeling of, this is not the end of the story that
I wanted,” Rhodes recalls. Now, he says, when he looks at the
film, “the main thing I think about myself is: you look just tired.”
At the time, he was father to a two-year-old; since leaving the
White House, he and his wife, Ann Norris, a former senate
foreign policy adviser and state department official, have had
a second child. He does not miss the adrenaline of negotiating
through global crises. “Eight years really was too long. I was only
running on fumes the last two or three years. What happens on
21 January [when the Trump presidency began] is that all the
adrenaline drains out of you. You cannot get out of bed.”
The 10 weeks of transition from one presidency to the next
turned into a painful wake as the seating stands were erected
outside the White House for Trump’s inauguration. Today,
Rhodes likens it to a scene from a William Faulkner novel.
“It’s almost like in As I Lay Dying, when they are building the
coffin in front of the mother’s house.”
That feeling dogged Rhodes for the best part of last
year, as Obama’s foreign policy record continued to come
under ferocious attack. Trump lampooned the Iran nuclear
agreement as the “worst deal ever”, hobbling it and constantly
threatening to destroy it. Meanwhile, the administration was
criticised by both left and right for keeping US forces out of the
Syrian civil war, leaving the field to Bashar al-Assad and his
Russian and Iranian backers, who flattened entire cities.
During the presidency and since, Rhodes has been a lightning
rod for criticism, because of both his combative defence of
Obama foreign policy and his closeness to the president. It’s
something that clearly still rankles. “I wasn’t even particularly
responsible for Syria policy, and I don’t say that to absolve
myself. My role was to communicate it. But I was the only one
who was willing to go out and defend it. It’s a hard thing to
defend when the circumstances are so poor.”
Rhodes joined the Obama team in late 2006, just days after
the senator first hinted he might run for president. The 9/11
attacks had persuaded Rhodes to give up his hopes of a literary
career five years earlier, and to do something more practical.
Jobs as a congressional speechwriter, and spells working for
the 9/11 commission and the bipartisan Iraq Study Group,
fostered a deep scepticism about the use of US military might
as a panacea. In Obama, a resolute opponent of the Iraq war,
he found a candidate and a cause.
During Obama’s second term, Rhodes spent a significant
amount of his time engaged in secret negotiations with Cuban
officials in a house laid on by the Canadian government outside
Ottawa. There, he and the White House’s Latin America expert,
Ricardo Zuniga, launched an ambitious attempt to end a halfcentury rift with Cuba. “If somebody relatively senior didn’t
say, ‘OK, I’ll take this on’, I knew it wouldn’t happen,” says
Rhodes, who takes responsibility for the subsequent deal.
“I basically said, this is what I want to do in the second term.”
Over a series of eight encounters, the talks expanded from
the initial goal of a prisoner exchange to a comprehensive
agenda of restoring diplomatic, travel and trade ties.
The parties travelled discreetly to Rome for the Vatican’s
endorsement as a guarantor, before Obama and Raul Castro
revealed the agreement on 17 December 2014.
In the last days of the Obama administration, Rhodes and the
Cuban government worked feverishly to broaden their bilateral
ties in order to make the rapprochement harder to dismantle. But
a year on, the agreement is under siege. Trump has reintroduced
restrictions, and there has been an outbreak of mysterious
ailments among US embassy staff in Havana, including hearing
loss, dizziness and headaches, which Washington has described
as an attack. It has stopped short of accusing Havana of carrying
out the attack, but holds the Cuban government responsible for
failing to protect US diplomats. All but a skeleton US embassy
staff have been withdrawn from Cuba and most of the Cuban
diplomats in Washington have been expelled. The cause of the
health issues afflicting the US diplomats remains unknown.
Rhodes, however, suspects the work of spoilers opposed to
the US-Cuban detente. “I really do not believe it is the Cuban
government,” he says. “Whether it’s a third party like Russia,
or whether that is some harder-line faction in Cuba, to me it
is someone with a motivation to kill the relationship or set it
Portrait by Stephen Voss
back. And unfortunately, they’ve succeeded.”
At the heart of The Final Year is the dilemma that has
haunted every US administration: under what circumstances
should it use its overwhelming military might abroad? Both
Libya and Syria were “wars of choice”: that is, where there was
no direct threat to the US population or homeland, but where
long-term global security, the use of chemical weapons and the
mass slaughter of civilians were at stake.
In Libya, the administration opted to go to war, albeit in
an ancillary role. But Obama decided not to send US forces
into battle in Syria. That decision nearly tore the Obama team
apart, putting Power, a passionate advocate of humanitarian
intervention, at odds with Rhodes, who channels the president’s
innate caution. On screen, the strain is clear. “The two powerful
threads in American history – the costs of action and the costs
of inaction – come together,” Rhodes says, defending the
decision to allow this tension to play out in front of the camera.
“I thought it was relevant to show there were different points of
view, and I say that with no certainty that one point of view is
right. Samantha – I won’t speak for her, but her whole career has
been about the ghosts of those who suffered when there was not
intervention.” Power declined to comment for this piece.
Rhodes believes Obama was held back by other phantoms, of
those killed in previous US military adventures abroad. One of
the trips the president chose to take in his valedictory year was →
‘A lot of
foreign policy
advisers think:
how can I get
my proposal
into this
guy’s speech?
I was just
thinking: what
does Obama
want to say?’
The Guardian Weekend | 13 January 2018 39
to Laos, which the Nixon administration devastated in its
cross-border pursuit of its Vietnamese enemies. “Laos is the
ghost of American military interventions past,” Rhodes says.
“We definitely felt those ghosts as we made decisions.”
Obama came under great criticism over Syria; for declaring
that the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons would be
a “red line” for US military action, and then failing that test by
not striking after a mass-casualty chemical attack in August
2013. Rhodes argues that the conditions for effective action –
congressional and allied support – were not there. The British
parliament’s vote against taking part in airstrikes was “huge”,
he says, when it came to taking a final decision.
The question hanging over the current administration is
whether they have rational discussions about any of these
issues at all. As I sit down with Rhodes, Washington DC is
consumed by the revelations in Michael Wolff ’s new book Fire
And Fury, depicting chaotic scenes inside the Trump White
House, with rival factions consumed with infighting, and even
close associates calling the president an “idiot” or childlike.
I ask Rhodes what he made of it, having been in those rooms
himself. “There are a very limited number of people in senior
roles at the White House, and time is their most precious asset,”
he says. “Distractions like this book consume people’s time,
focus and emotional energy. Every minute spent responding
to, meeting about or thinking about a controversy like this is
time not spent on something else.” He adds that the Trump
administration has yet to confront a major international crisis
not of its own making. “You cannot respond to a crisis without
a good process, and I have read and seen nothing that suggests
the Trump White House – even under General [John] Kelly
[Trump’s second chief of staff ] – has a process that is suited to
deal with something like, for instance, Ebola.”
But it is possible that, while the Obama administration
upholds Athenian ideals of democracy, the outlook of much of
the electorate has more in common with Sparta. “It’s difficult to
make diplomacy sound as attractive as taking out a dictator with
our military,” Rhodes says.
He points out that the wisdom of the Iran deal, in which
Tehran accepted strict curbs on its nuclear programme in
return for sanctions relief, was unquestioned in other signatory
countries: the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China.
“Talking and diplomacy is often seen as a concession in
America, in a way that it is not in other places,” Rhodes says. It
has also been argued that the Obama administration was much
better at winning hearts and minds abroad than it was in the
American heartland, where the president’s professorial mien
came across, or was easily caricatured, as aloof.
In an interview with the New York Times in 2016, Rhodes
said of the American press that they “literally know nothing”
and described the Washington foreign policy establishment as
“the Blob”. Today, he says he regrets making dismissive remarks
about the press, but stands by his use of “the Blob” to describe
the thinktanks along Massachusetts Avenue in Washington,
which he believes still err on the side of military force. Trump’s
scaling up of the military presence in Afghanistan and bombing
of a Syrian airfield have been welcomed there, he argues.
Today, Rhodes continues to work for Obama, travelling with
him on all his many foreign trips in the fading afterglow of the
presidency. A secret service detail still flies with them, Obama
is still addressed as president, and heads of state make a point
of meeting him – often with pointedly more enthusiasm than
they offer to his successor. For an embattled liberal world,
Obama remains the king in exile, trailed by crowds nostalgic
for happier, more hopeful times.
‘You can’t
respond to a
crisis without
a good process.
suggests the
Trump White
House has
a process
to deal with
like Ebola’
“What’s weird about Obama is that he’s so popular,” Rhodes
says. “There will still be hundreds of people in front of the
hotel. The demand for him to be visible and to offer hope and
consolation is extreme, and his capacity to do so in the role of
former president is inherently limited.”
But he insists that the former president remains unruffled
by the wrecking ball Trump has taken to his legacy, from
walking out of the Paris climate accord and a trans-Pacific
trade partnership, while threatening (though not quite killing,
as yet) a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Progress does not follow
a straight line, Obama has frequently observed, always adding
that it trends upwards. “He is a pretty disciplined person,”
Rhodes says. “He is this guy who takes a sweeping view of
history. He has a serenity that I don’t have. I get more exercised.”
Like his boss, Rhodes is hopeful the political pendulum will
swing back after straying into the territory of the hard right,
but he admits to doubts. “I do worry that the basic standards
of how the presidency operates are being eroded. The pace
at which the state department is being gutted – I really worry
about that. I don’t know how you train multiple generations
of diplomats.” If Trump stumbles into a war in the Pacific by
miscalculating his personal brinksmanship with Kim Jong-un,
talk of pendulum swings in US politics might be beside the
point. As Rhodes says, “We would be in a different reality.” •
The Final Year is in cinemas and on iTunes from 19 January.
Clockwise from top:
Rhodes is helped with his
tie by Obama, personal
aide Ferial Govashiri,
and director of Oval
Office operations Brian
Mosteller; Obama
and Samantha Power,
US ambassador to the
UN, 2013; in the Oval
Office, 2012; on Air Force
One, 2011
The Guardian Weekend | 13 January 2018 41
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fashion beauty
food mind
space gardens
Blind date Helen, 62, deputy headteacher, meets Robert, 70, landscape designer
Robert on Helen
Helen on Robert
What were you hoping for?
Someone who was happy
in their skin and had
experience of raising a family.
First impressions?
Positive. Conversation flowed
and nothing was forced.
What did you talk about?
Our pasts, family, music,
politics and walks we have
done both here and abroad.
Any awkward moments?
No – no disagreements,
no egg stains on my tie
(probably because I wasn’t
wearing one).
Good table manners?
Best thing about Helen?
I knew within a few minutes
that she was an honest and
direct character.
Would you introduce her to
your friends?
Yes, I think she would slot in
straight away.
Describe Helen in three
Kind, caring, easygoing.
What do you think she made
of you?
I hope she found me a good
person to hang out with and
the evening was as pleasant
for her as it was for me.
Did you go on somewhere?
No, we walked to the
And… did you kiss?
We parted with a kiss.
If you could change one
thing about the evening,
what would it be?
No changes could improve
the evening.
Marks out of 10?
Would you meet again?
We shall meet again,
hopefully for a good walk.
What were you hoping for?
To fall in love. But on a realistic
level, good company.
First impressions?
Rob came across as warm
and personable.
What did you talk about?
Dancing, Brexit, past loves.
Any awkward moments?
We are too experienced in life
to get embarrassed easily.
Good table manners?
Yes, though we chose desserts
to share and forgot.
Best thing about Robert?
Easy to talk to.
Would you introduce him
to your friends?
Some of them, yes, though that
is not a prerequisite for me.
Describe Robert in three words
Interesting, easygoing,
What do you think he made
of you?
I hope he thought the same.
Did you go on somewhere?
And… did you kiss?
No, just a goodnight hug.
If you could change one thing,
what would it be?
I’d have fallen in love.
Marks out of 10?
Would you meet again?
Yes. It feels as if we could be
good friends. Who knows
what the future holds?
We’re both too
to get
I knew
a few minutes
that she was
a direct
Helen and Robert ate at Galvin
at The Athenaeum, London W1,
Fancy a blind date? Email blind.
If you’re looking to meet
someone like-minded, visit
The Guardian Weekend | 13 January 2018 43
Button up this season in a shirt dress:
it’s the kind of clothing that gives the
time-poor woman pulled-together
style in a flash. A classic shirt palette
such as Pam’s blue and white number is
updated with sporty jeans, while
Tawan’s wraparound is a modern take
on power dressing, especially when
worn with a don’t-mess trench. The
shirt dress has a fun side, too, as Kelly’s
polka-dot design and Agustina’s orange
dress demonstrate. Bring a bit of offduty cool by experimenting with layers:
Chizoba’s padded jacket, denim shirt
dress and knee-high red boots make
a 2018 combo that works hard 24/7.
Melanie Wilkinson
Photographs: David Newby for the
Guardian. Stylist: Melanie Wilkinson.
Fashion assistant: Melina Frangos.
Makeup: Lisa Stokes using L’Occitane.
Hair: Shukeel at Frank Agency using
Fudge Professional. Models: Pam at Ugly,
Kelly at Mrs Robinson, Tawan at Storm,
Agustina at Premier and Chizoba at Milk.
Shirt dress, £54.95, Coat, £389, Heels, £215,
Polo neck, £24.90, Shirt dress,
o s, £395, lkbennett.
n e
om. E
ngss, £5
o .
4 13
1 Jan
1 | The
Th Gu
i W
Shirt dress, £219,
Jeans, £40, topshop.
com. Shoes, £225,
Dress, £39.99,
Jeans, £46, topshop.
com. Boots, £169, Earrings,
Denim dress, £59,
Padded jacket, £76,
Boots, £175,
ll a
he Gu
dian Weekend | 113
3 JJanuary
n a
y 20
18 45
What I wore
this week
Corduroy: the educated choice. By Jess Cartner-Morley
The Measure
Going up
46 13 January 2018 | The Guardian Weekend
Smizing while sashaying We’re not
sure rumours of an ANTM and Drag
Race mash-up are true, but we’re
practising this party trick in case.
Peanuts x Essentiel Antwerp Kind
of irresistible. The pleated skirt is
a grown-up take on cartoons.
Penélope Cruz Her turn as Donatella
is revealed this week with the
Gianni Versace: American Crime
Story debut in the US; UK viewers
can see it on the BBC later this year.
Miniature bouquets Power flowers
in 2018 is a posy in a water glass.
Buy your bijou bunch at the Aoyama
flower market when it pops up from
Tokyo at Selfridges this spring.
Cats Don’t be put off by the cat person
story. Cats don’t signify intimacy
issues and poor texting skills. K?
Rixo The brand you’ll want in 2018.
Grab the Chrissy midi dress for £315
at Net-a-porter next week.
Going down
Jess’s four best
1 Jacket, £66,
2 Midi skirt, £35,
3 Top, £320, by Isabel Marant, from
4 Culottes, £25.99,
Jess wears cords, £45, and polo neck, £24, both Heels, £175,
Pink hair The shabby red dip-dye
shade à la Ladybird is just too much
millennial pink.
The self-important OOO “I am away
from my desk purchasing a hot
beverage, in emergency contact...”
Chill babes, the Earth doesn’t fall off
its axis every time you go to Pret.
Subtlety We’ve changed our mind.
See Zendaya in gold on the day of
the Golden Globes nominations.
Cindy Crawford’s hair Sorry, but
Kaia’s in the Versace campaign
outdoes the 1980s.
After-work exercise Make that
lunch hour workout instead.
Demi Lovato’s denim suspenders
We love red carpet experimentation,
but fear this is a step too far.
n case you’re wondering, the look
I am going for here is east-coastliberal-arts-lecturer-hosts-brunch.
That is how I like my corduroy: a
bit campus dreamboat, a bit arthouse cinema.
Accessorised with a strong scarf game, and maybe
an elbow patch; some reading material (either
news or fiction but printed on actual paper) and
deep conversation peppered with hand-gesture
quotation marks.
In other words, nothing to do with Jeremy
Corbyn. No offence, Jezza, but I’m thinking more
along the lines of Ali MacGraw in Love Story
crossed with Diane Keaton in Annie Hall crossed
with Tina Fey. There is a whole late-70s-staffroom
piece that happens around corduroy in Britain
that I choose to ignore, because I prefer what’s on
my moodboard.
Corduroy is the postgraduate degree of the
fabric world. It adds letters after your name. It
makes you look smart, in the brainy sense. Even
when it is in fashion, like it is now, it looks more
high-minded than fashion-victim. At least, that’s
how it works in my head. The trouble with what
you wear, of course, is that other people see it,
too. And judge it according to what’s in their
heads, which can sometimes be quite different.
(I know! So meta today. It’s the corduroy talking.)
You may have noticed that I am wearing not
just corduroy, but pink corduroy. An unexpected
colour is one way to nudge people into realising
that you are wearing corduroy in a soulful-andcultured sense, not in the grumpy-and-outdated
sense. Black looks great, cream is fabulous. If you
must do brown, make sure it’s a rich butterscotch
caramel; if you go for burgundy, make it crimson
and regal rather than dingy uniform-shop blazer.
Go up a size: when tight, corduroy has a tendency
to lumpiness. It looks best when it is generous.
Also, go luxe. Wear with a silk blouse rather
than a cotton shirt. Or choose a lush knit, instead
of a scratchy cardigan. Cable knits, smooth
textured merino or groovy ribs all work well. This
is not the moment for Guccified maximalism:
sleek and uncluttered works better. Robert
Redford in his treacle-toned cord suit in All The
President’s Men is never not a good look. George
Clooney as the nattily attired Fantastic Mr Fox is
the best of all. Corduroy may not be foxy. But it
looks fantastic to me.
A decent night cream needn’t break the bank
his was meant to be a column on
overnight face masks, but it didn’t
work out like that. Over two months,
I tried 45 examples (costing from
under a tenner to 100-odd quid) and found not
even three I could bring myself to recommend.
A shame, because I love the idea, ease and great
promise of a transformative bedtime potion that
leaves skin soft, glowing, dramatically smoother
and firmer by morning, but in practice I couldn’t
see how they brought any more to the party than
a decent night cream, and frequently, much less.
So let’s talk about my favourite night
moisturisers instead. Controversially, I’m of the
opinion that they needn’t be expensive. A night
cream’s primary function is to keep skin moist,
balanced and supple without breakout. It doesn’t
need to underlay makeup or protect from the sun.
Liken caring for skin to caring for yourself when
poorly, and think of serum as the curative
medicine and your night cream as the comfy, cosy
blanket under which you sneeze through Homes
Under The Hammer. Marks & Spencer’s
(vegetarian, mostly vegan) Formula skincare is
quite brilliant for the price (they’ve got a big-deal
cosmetic scientist at the helm,, but are shy
y about
Try these
1 Naturally Radiant Renewing
newing Night
Cream, £5.99,
2 Ultimate Sleep Cream
m, £22,
3 Jeju Overnight Moisture
Superinfusion, £9.69,
saying so), and arguably the best product is
Ultimate Sleep Cream (£22 for 50ml),
a scientifically sound moisturiser with a soft,
buttery texture that leaves my face still
comfortable and bright come the morning. I use
it often on my dry skin, though oilier types
should swerve it.
Newer and more versatile is Beauty Pie’s
superb Jeju Overnight Moisture Superinfusion
(£9.69 for 50ml to Beauty Pie members), a
hydrating, Korean-made whipped balm for all
skin types, from dry to oily, that contains no
mineral oils or animal derivatives. I’m so
impressed by the dewy, non-greasy texture, and
immediate perkiness of my skin, that I’ve
managed to get through an entire jar – pretty rare
when I have a pile of luxury creams to test.
Also nailing skincare right now is Superdrug.
Every one of its own-brand lines has at least one
fantastic product: Naturally Radiant Renewing
Night Cream (£5.99 for a bumper 75ml tub) is as
great a buy as its stablemate liquid exfoliant. Light
and fresh, it contains fruit acids to smooth away
dull, rough textured skin without irritation. I’ll let
you know if I ever strike gold on the mask front.
The beauty roadtest
Fig fragrances
By Weekend’s All Ages model
Sylviane Degunst
To me, figs are the fruit of the gods.
That’s why I was excited to test
these fragrances: just the idea
is heaven.
Miller Harris’ Figue Amère (£75
for 50ml, has a
strong scent, a potent mix of tree,
soil and fig. I’d say it’s quite
masculine, though. Then again,
I sometimes betray my beloved No 5
(Chanel) for Habit Rouge (Guerlain),
which is supposed to be for men, but
no one ever complains. So let’s say
it’s a unisex, sophisticated perfume.
Fleur de Figuier, by Roger & Gallet
(£39.50, is sugary,
fruity, flowery, like a touch of spring.
And why not, especially in the depths
of winter? The problem is, this light
scent barely lasts a second. I sprayed
it on again and again, in my hair, on
my wrists, nape and toes (yes, I like
having perfumed feet), but it always
vanished. God knows where.
Diptyque’s Philosykos (£34,
D is a solid
perfume that looks like a black
lacquered precious pebble. But open
it, and
a there is the most subtle and
refined scent trapped inside, like fig
leaves blowing in the wind, all woody
and delicately spicy. The marvel of
the solid fragrance means that, if
you fancy, you can spread it on your
eyebrows or the tip of your nose,
which is impossible with a spray. In
Greek, Philosykos means friend of
the fig tree, but I adore this so much,
I’d rename it “My friend”.
Finally, Fresh’s Fig Apricot (£76,
F lives up to its name. There
pretentious about this
is nothing
fruity perfume. The apricot comes
through clearly, too, and reminds
me of an eau de cologne my mother
used to rub into my back after a bath
when I was little. It’s a rewarding bit
to enjoy in winter.
of summer
The Gu
Guardian Weekend | 13 January 2018 47
Sage advice
et’s hear
hear it
it for
for one
one of
of the
strongest h
erbs iin
n tthe
he ccook’s
ook’s aarmoury.
Photographs: Louise
Louise Hagger
8 113
3 Ja
ry 2
Celeriac and ricotta gnudi with
sage butter
The gnudi can be made a day ahead
and kept in the fridge. The sauce,
however, should be made just before
serving, so it stays fresh. This
involves a fair amount of effort, but
it’s worth it for the sophisticated
result. Makes 12 gnudi, to serve four
as a first course or two as a main.
½ celeriac, peeled and cut into 2cm
cubes (280g net weight)
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (ie, 1 tsp)
½ garlic clove, peeled and crushed
80g ricotta
30g pecorino, finely grated
1½ tbsp finely chopped basil leaves
80g fine semolina 1 large egg, beaten
For the sauce
3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to serve
25g unsalted butter
10 sage leaves
150g cherry tomatoes, quartered and
crushed lightly with your hands
20g pecorino, shaved
1½ tbsp basil leaves, roughly torn
½ tsp celery seeds Put the celeriac in a large saucepan,
cover with salted boiling water and
Yotam Ottolenghi
simmer for 20-25 minutes, until very
soft. Drain, transfer to a plate lined
with kitchen paper and lay another
sheet of kitchen paper on top. With
your hands, gently press down on
the celeriac, to help draw out as
much liquid as possible; if need be,
repeat with fresh paper. You should
end up with about 200g cooked
celeriac. Mash the celeriac in a bowl
– try to get rid of most of the lumps,
although a few small ones won’t
cause an issue – then refrigerate for
15 minutes, until cool.
Add the lemon zest, garlic, both
cheeses, the basil and a pinch of salt
to the cooled celeriac and mix to
combine. Check the seasoning – you
may need a bit more salt, depending
on the saltiness of the pecorino –
then refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Now organise your work station.
Put the semolina on a large plate and
out the egg in a bowl next to it. Line a
tray with greaseproof paper. Divide
the celeriac mixture into 12 pieces
and roll each one into a ball that’s
slightly smaller than a golf ball,
pressing the mixture very tightly
with your palms as you roll. Dip each
gnudi in the egg to coat, letting any
excess drip back into the bowl (use
a fork for this stage, if you prefer to
keep your hands clean), then roll in
the semolina until very well coated,
pressing the semolina into the gnudi
ball with your palms as you roll. Put
the prepared gnudi on the lined tray,
then refrigerate for 20 minutes while
you get on with the sauce.
Put the oil, butter, sage and an
eighth of a teaspoon of salt in a large,
nonstick frying pan and place on
a medium-high heat. Gently warm
through the mix for three to four
minutes, until the butter is foaming
and the sage is starting to colour,
then stir in the cherry tomatoes and
take the pan off the heat.
Fill a large saucepan with water,
add a tablespoon of salt and bring to
a rapid boil. Turn down the heat to
medium, so the water is gently
simmering, then drop in half the
gnudi. Wait for them to rise to the
surface – this should take a minute
or two – and once they’ve bobbed
up, leave to simmer for three
minutes more. Scoop them out with
a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate,
and repeat with the rest of the gnudi.
Once all the gnudi are cooked, add
them to sauce and put the pan back
on a medium-high heat. Gently swirl
around for three minutes, spooning
the sauce over the gnudi as you go,
until everything is hot. Divide
between four plates, making sure
each portion gets some sage leaves,
and serve with the pecorino, basil,
celery seeds and a final drizzle of oil.
Roast salsify, jerusalem artichoke
and apple with hazelnuts
The sweetness of salsify root pairs
wonderfully well with the earthy
artichokes and sage, but it can be
hard to find (your local greengrocer
may be able to get some for you).
A good alternative is an equal
amount of celeriac, peeled and cut
into batons roughly the same length
as the artichokes. Serve this on its
own or with roast chicken or pork.
Serves six as a side dish.
550g salsify, peeled, rinsed and cut into
7cm-long pieces (400g net weight)
500g jerusalem artichokes, peeled
and cut into 5cm-long pieces
(450g net weight)
3 tbsp olive oil
5g sage leaves, roughly chopped
Salt and black pepper
20g caster sugar
2 red eating apples (royal gala or
pink lady, say), cored and cut into
1cm-wide wedges
60ml dry white wine
1 tbsp lemon juice
50g blanched hazelnuts, toasted and
roughly chopped
10g parsley leaves, roughly chopped
5g tarragon leaves
Heat the oven to 220C/425F/gas
mark 7. Mix the salsify and
artichokes with two tablespoons of
oil, the sage, half a teaspoon of salt
and a good grind of pepper. Spread
out on a large oven tray lined with
greaseproof paper and roast for
25-30 minutes, until soft and golden
brown (some of the artichoke pieces
may need five or so minutes more,
in which case leave those in but take
out the rest), then leave to cool.
Put the sugar and two teaspoons
of water in a medium frying pan
and cook on a medium-high heat
for two to three minutes, until the
sugar has melted and is starting to
turn golden brown. Add the apple to
the pan and cook for four minutes,
turning once halfway through, until
caramelised. Stir in the wine, cook
down until the liquid has reduced to
about two tablespoonfuls, then take
the pan off the heat.
Put the vegetables in a large bowl
and toss with the apples and syrup.
Add the remaining tablespoon of oil,
the lemon juice, hazelnuts, herbs,
a quarter-teaspoon of salt and a
good grind of pepper, stir again
gently to coat, then spoon on to
a platter to serve.
Swede, bacon and walnut gratin
Pictured overleaf: this works both as
a side dish and as a main course
with a crisp green salad alongside;→
The Guardian Weekend | 13 January 2018 49
lizabeth David, one of
the great sages of food
writing, was no fan of
sage: “It deadens the
food with its musty, dried-blood
scent,” she wrote in Summer Cooking
(Penguin, £9.99). Sage is a strong
herb, true, so it can elicit a similarly
strong response, but I’m pretty sure
David was talking about dried sage,
which can indeed be very powerful
and musty. Fresh sage leaves, on the
other hand, all felt-like and smooth,
have a glorious, lemony scent and
tend to enliven whatever they’re
paired with. They retain that power
and slightly musty notes, but do so
in a way that works harmoniously,
rather than dominating a dish. Sage works best, then, with
strong-tasting ingredients that can
hold their own against it, which is
why anchovies, liver or lemon are
the classic pairings. For a quick,
simple yet hugely satisfying meal,
I often add a few leaves to a small
pan of melted butter or hot olive oil,
then drizzle it over stuffed pasta.
This always feels like a very wise
supper decision indeed.
Good health
starts with a
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the sage, the cream, stock, mustard,
swede, half a teaspoon of salt and
plenty of pepper, bring to a boil,
then turn down the heat to medium
and leave to simmer for five minutes,
stirring every now and then.
Spoon the swedes into a highsided, 20cm x 30cm ovenproof dish,
and pour all the pan juices and
bacon bits over the top. Press the
swedes down into the dish, and if
need be move the slices around, so
they’re evenly layered, then roast
for 40 minutes, basting and pressing
down once more halfway through.
While the gratin is cooking, mix
the cheddar with the walnuts and
remaining sage. When the 40
minutes are up, sprinkle the cheddar
mix all over the gratin and bake for
a further 15-20 minutes, until the
gratin is dark golden brown and
bubbling, and leave to rest for 10
minutes before serving •
it also works without the bacon, if
you want to make it vegetarian
(you’ll just need to up the amount of
salt a fraction). Serves six as a main
course or eight as a side.
25g unsalted butter
1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced
(200g net weight)
200g smoked bacon lardons
10g sage leaves, finely shredded
300ml double cream
400ml vegetable stock
1½ tbsp dijon mustard
2 large swedes, peeled, cut in half and
then into 3-4mm-thick slices (1.4kg)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
40g mature cheddar, coarsely grated
40g walnut halves, roughly chopped
Heat the oven to 200C/390F/gas
mark 6. Put the butter in a large,
28cm-diameter pot on a mediumhigh heat. Once it starts to foam, add
the onion and bacon, and fry,
stirring frequently, for seven to eight
minutes, until the onions are soft
and the bacon is cooked. Stir in half
Yotam Ottolenghi is chef/patron of
Ottolenghi and Nopi in London.
Drink Is whisky the new gin, wonders Fiona Beckett
3 Walnut tart
Serve with
2 Aged gouda
a brand to make cocktails or toddies.
Lidl is in on the whisky party, too,
with its 25-year-old, sherry-caskaged blend called Glenalba (£29.99;
40% abv, 2). Given the age, there’s
a fair amount of wood on it, but the
warm, spicy sherry character shines
clearly through.
At the other end of the scale,
wine merchants are starting to
push whisky in much the same way
as they’ve been bigging up craft
beer. Berry Bros & Rudd has always
done its own bottling, but it’s only
since moving to a swanky new St
James’s shop that they’ve featured
quite so prominently. They’re
1 Smoked salmon
udging by the hoo-ha
about gin in the past two
years, you’d think we
drank nothing else, but
it turns out that’s far from the truth.
And its main rival is not up-andcoming rum, as is generally touted,
but good old whisky.
Aldi recently revealed that, in fact,
it sells more whisky than gin: 9,500
bottles a day, according to figures
released just before Christmas, a
trend the store attributes to the cult
TV series Peaky Blinders. Of course,
those findings might also have had
something to do with the fact that
the supermarket had a premium
range of whiskies to promote at the
time, including two medal-winning
single malts under the Glen Marnoch
label: a delicate, heathery Speyside
(1) and a characteristically peaty
Islay (both 40% abv). I marginally
prefer the Speyside, but they’re both
brilliant value at £17.49. The same
store’s Highland Black (40% abv),
which I’ve recommended before,
also does consistently well in
competition, and is a good buy at
£12.99, particularly if you want
bottled in very small quantities,
though. So much so that the 2008
Ardmore I fell for, a beautifully
subtle peated malt from the
mainland, had disappeared between
the buyer Rob Whitehead giving me
a taste and me trying to buy a bottle.
(Whitehead suggests the 2007
Glenlossie as an equally gratifying
dram; £49.50, 46% abv)
Good whisky doesn’t come cheap,
of course, so getting hold of a
miniature as a taster makes a great
deal of sense, which is where, a new subscription
service, may come in handy. It
sends subscribers a monthly dram
in (shock, horror!) a pouch, and
points them to a YouTube video
about the bottling. The most recent
mailout was a 2000 distiller’s
edition of Royal Lochnagar (40%
abv, 3) aged in a muscat cask. While
exotically floral, it was a bit sweet
for my liking, but then the whole
point is to discover the kind of
whisky you most enjoy. You can buy
a single sample for £7.95 or take out
an annual subscription for £84.
The good mixer
Calming bee’s knees
Summer may be a distant memory,
but that’s no reason to give up on
some of our favourite flavours. We
use Bloom gin here, because its
botanicals include honeysuckle and
pomelo, which lend welcome citrus
notes. Serves one.
25ml gin (Bloom, ideally)
25ml lemon juice
20ml honey
Prosecco, to top
1 pinch dried lavender, plus 1 sprig
to garnish
Hard shake everything except the
prosecco in a shaker, then strain into
a flute. Top with fizz and garnish: for
a flourish, singe the end of the
lavender sprig and put it burnt side up
in the glass, all smoking and aromatic.
Powderkeg, London SW11
The quick dish
Beat the January blues with an easy, comforting one-pot pasta bowl
ow very British it is to
doom ourselves with
all this chat about the
coming Monday being
the gloomiest day of the year. Yes,
January is a bit bleak, which is why
this whole resolutions business seems
so crazy at a time when we need all
the help we can get. And yes, give
booze a break, if you wish – but why
not do so in February, which is not
only a shorter month, but doesn’t
have the post-Christmas comedown
to deal with, either? Plus, detoxing
(a terrifying prospect at the best of
times) is surely much harder after
weeks of feasting? Why not just eat
more vegetables and run around
a bit more?
In a month when everyone is
recovering from the financial outlay
over the holidays and when winter
has barely started, let’s make things
easier, rather than harder. Ape the
world’s hibernators, tuck yourself
up at home and, most of all, get
yourself into the kitchen, turn on
the stove (to heat up the room, if
nothing else) and cook delicious and
affordable comfort food. Today’s
wonderfully warming and rich
one-pot pasta dish is so simple to
pull together, and creates so little
washing-up, you could even kid
yourself that you had called it in,
if the taste didn’t give it away.
One-pot penne with lentil, tomato
and kale sauce
I used Hodmedod’s British-grown
lentils to make this nourishing
bowlful, but any variety will do.
Leave out the pancetta to make it
meat-free. Serves four to six.
½ chile de árbol, toasted and crumbled
(or 2-3 dried chilli flakes; optional)
3 tbsp olive oil
75g pancetta or lardons, cut into cubes
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and cut into small dice
½ fennel bulb, trimmed and finely
chopped (reserve any fronds to garnish)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
200g tinned plum tomatoes (ie, half
a can)
1 bay leaf
1 sprig rosemary, picked and chopped
200g puy or castelluccio lentils
1.4 litres chicken or vegetable stock
250g short penne (or rigatoni)
150g kale, finely shredded
100g single cream
1 big handful flat-leaf parsley leaves,
roughly chopped
Parmesan, to serve
Extra-virgin olive oil, to serve
Warm a large, deep pan over a
medium flame, then gently toast the
chile, if using (much as you would
dry spices), for 30-40 seconds, until
aromatic. Remove from the pan,
then add a tablespoon of oil and,
once that’s hot, the pancetta. Fry,
stirring, for a few minutes, until the
pancetta releases its fat and starts to
colour, then add the onion, carrot,
fennel, garlic and toasted chile, and
season generously. Cook gently,
stirring occasionally, for eight to 10
minutes, until the vegetables are
soft. Add the tomatoes, herbs, lentils
and remaining oil, stir for minute or
two, so everything is well coated,
then pour in the stock and bring to
a gentle simmer. Leave to cook for
15-20 minutes, until the lentils are
done but still have some bite.
Stir the pasta into the pot, add
a little more salt, then cook for 10-12
minutes, stirring often so the pasta
doesn’t stick together; add the kale
to the pot after five minutes. When
the pasta is just al dente and the
liquid has reduced to a sauce, stir in
the cream and bring to a boil. Stir in
the parsley, check the seasoning and
transfer the pasta to shallow bowls.
Scatter over some grated parmesan,
drizzle with a little extra oil and
serve at once.
And for the rest of the week…
Health-boosting chile de árbol also
helps speed up the metabolism, so
shake up the winter fug by making
a batch of chile oil with any excess
(árbol is widely available online). It’s
really simple to make, too: toast a
handful of de-stemmed chiles in a
dry frying pan, then blitz with two
or three tablespoons of toasted
sesame seeds, a handful of toasted
peanuts and some toasted garlic
(toast them all in a frying pan, but
don’t peel the garlic until afterwards).
Use your chile oil liberally in stirfries, on eggs and in pasta.
The Guardian Weekend | 13 January 2018 53
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54 13 January 2018 | The Guardian Weekend
The new
Thai curries don’t have to be complicated,, especially
if you cut a few corners
½ tsp ground cloves
1½ tbsp galangal paste
1½ tbsp tamarind paste
2½ tsp sugar
1½ tsp salt
For the curry
2 x 400ml tins coconut milk
400g aubergine, cut into 2cm x
2cm chunks
800g sweet potatoes, peeled and cut
into 3cm x 3cm chunks
1 handful dried coconut slices, to garnish
1 Balfour Declaration.
2 Constantinople. 3 Odysseus.
4 Mumsnet. 5 West Bengal. 6 Battle
Hymn Of The Republic. 7 Atomic
stes can be
made in a blender
without a signifi
dent to flavour.
Today’s recipe is just such a dish.
According to Thai food guru David
Thompson, massaman curry has “all
the hallmarks of southern Muslim
food – rich with coconut cream and
redolent of spices”. There are many
variations, but it’s usually sweet,
sour with tamarind and made using
spices, peanuts and coconut; it also
often features a starchy vegetable
such as potato or sweet potato.
Ordinarily complex to make, I’ve
taken liberties by using as many storecupboard ingredients as possible.
clock. 8 CIA. 9 Sylvia Plath poems.
10 Bismarck: islands in B Archipelago;
capital B; B battleship. 11 Smallest SI
metric prefixes. 12 Hearts in #1 hits:
Elvis; Blondie; Fergal Sharkey; Jason
Donovan; Bonnie Tyler. 13 Le Carré
title characters: Spy Who Came
In From The Cold; Honourable
For the paste
5 red bird’s-eye chillies
4 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 lemongrass stalks, tough outer leaves
removed, then roughly chopped
50g bunch coriander, leaves picked and
set aside, stalks roughly chopped
100g (4½ tbsp) smooth peanut butter
1½ tsp ground cumin
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
Put all the ingredients for the paste
in a blender, add 100ml water and
blitz to a paste.
Put a large pan for which you have
a lid on a medium heat and, once
hot, fry the paste, stirring constantly,
for five minutes, until dark and
glossy; take care it doesn’t catch and
burn. Add the coconut milk little by
little, stirring it into the paste as you
go, then throw in the aubergine and
bring the lot up to a bubble. Add the
sweet potato, cover the pot, turn
down the heat to a whisper and leave
to cook for 20 minutes, until the
aubergine has collapsed and the
sweet potato is very tender.
While the curry is cooking, toast
the coconut slices. Put a small frying
pan on a medium flame and, once
hot, toast the coconut for a couple of
minutes, until golden brown on both
sides, then tip out on to a plate.
To serve, transfer the curry to
a serving bowl, scatter the coriander
leaves and coconut slices on top,
and serve with plain rice.
Schoolboy; Tailor of Panama;
Night Manager. 14 Piano pedals.
15 Feature in modern political myths:
Michael Foot, never worn; David
Mellor, never worn; Mandelson,
never mistaken for guacamole;
Cameron, never hugged.
Crossword See right.
Sweet potato
and aub
massaman curry
Feel free to pla
play around with the
vegetable element: potatoes,
broccoli, carrots and radishes would
all be at home here. Serves four.
The Guardian Weekend | 13 January 2018 55
omething from the
cupboard” was a regular
meal when I was growing
up. Our family home
was in the countryside and a good
distance from the shops, so going out
in January to buy something fresh
meant de-icing our old Nissan
Bluebird that was so full of holes,
eye-stinging wind would whip
around our necks and freeze ourr
fingers blue. The thought of
something from the cupboard, then,
was a source of great comfort, and
nd a
foil to our laziness, because it meant
we didn’t need to leave the house.
Naturally, we spent a lot of time
with our noses in the kitchen
drawers, wondering how best to use
tins of this and pots of spices,
alongside stalwarts of the vegetable
basket, and turn them into meals.
Most of the time, this resulted in
the same old things: spinach and
sweetcorn saag (makai palak), plum
tomato and chickpea noodle curry
(sev tamatar) and dal dhokli
(chickpea pasta poached in dal).
But now that there is easy access
to a more varied and global pantry,
I tend to push the boat out and cook
my way around south-east Asia on
a regular basis: pad thai, laksa,
penang curry and massaman curry
share many ingredients in common
– coconut milk, nuts, tamarind and
galangal paste – as well as spices
that keep for months, if not years.
All are also forgiving enough to
absorb most of our seasonal
produce, while many of the base
It pays to go private
etired teacher Hazel
Lewis used to have to
stand at the front of her
Tai Chi class so she could
hear what the instructor
was saying.
Now, though, she says she feels
empowered – and it’s all thanks to
global hearing specialist Amplifon.
“I used to feel shut out but
I’m absolutely astonished by the
difference with Amplifon,” says Hazel,
now 65. “I feel empowered and more
confident now I’ve overcome my
hearing issues - they don’t rule my
life anymore.”
Like many people who encounter
issues with their hearing, Hazel
says others were first to notice. She
frequently had to ask people to repeat
themselves, struggled to listen to
music and missed the punchlines of
jokes. During a phone call with her
mother, she realised she needed to
seek help.
“I hadn’t heard the phone ringing
and when I finally picked it up she
was annoyed,” Hazel says. “Other
people were becoming frustrated
because of this hearing problem I
didn’t think I had.”
There had also been struggles in
her working life as a primary school
teacher, although she admits she had
developed coping mechanisms to deal
with them.
“If a child was reading a story out
loud from the back of the classroom
I’d ask them to come to the front and
then look over their shoulder to see
the text,” she says.
After an initial test 25 years ago,
she was given NHS hearing aids,
but said they did little to improve
the situation. The over-the-ear aids
were bulky and uncomfortable and
made her feel self-conscious, while the
volume control was not designed for
her high-frequency deafness. She
went through two other sets of
aids until she walked past the local
Amplifon branch and decided to go in.
“I’d been having problems with the aids
I had so I thought I’d go in,” she says. “I
was pleasantly surprised when they said
they could test me there and then.”
Immediately, Hazel says she could
see how thorough and accurate the
testing process was. “What astonished
me was my audiologist was able to
show me on a screen what the inside
of my ear looked like and a complete
“Thanks to Amplifon
I can now pick up
every sound”
breakdown of all the consonants I
couldn’t hear properly,” Hazel says.
“It was the first time a hearing
specialist had actually shown me the
sounds I couldn’t hear and it gave me
a much better understanding of my
Although she was offered a free
trial, Hazel says she knew straight
away that these were the hearing
aids for her. “It was like seeing a
picture in colour for the first time,”
she says. “They enhanced the quality
of the sounds I was hearing and the
audiologist said he could see the
difference in me when they were
switched on.”
She soon found she was hearing
noises she had not experienced for a
long time. “I was having a coffee in a
café and discovered I could eavesdrop
people’s conversations,” she laughs.
With her iPhone, Hazel can easily
adjust the settings of her hearing
aids to suit different situations, such
as busy restaurants. It means if
she can’t hear what someone is
saying she can simply turn down
the background noise so they
become clearer. When her phone
rings, the sound goes straight to
her hearing aids, which also act as
headphones if she wants to listen
to music.
All in all, the effect has been
life-changing. “I don’t have to use
subtitles on TV anymore, which is
really beneficial for my family, I
can hear my husband when he’s in
a different room and I’m enjoying
listening to the radio, which I
couldn’t do before,” she says. “My
son, who lives in Australia, got
married recently and I was able to
cope really well with lots of people
The aftercare service offered by
Amplifon was also a huge bonus
and Hazel says she would not
hesitate to recommend others to
seek help.
All in all, her life has been
transformed thanks to Amplifon
and she would not hesitate to
suggest others to seek help. “I
would definitely recommend
Amplifon to others,”
Why wait?
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56 13 January 2018 | The Guardian Weekend
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Hearing. It’s all we do.
‘Two meringue sandwiches filled with liver pate turn up, a joyously weird idea’
omfort seems to be
a dirty word in restaurant
design circles these days,
but after a long, damp
trek from the railway station (you
try getting a taxi in Dorking on a wet
Friday evening), it’s pure pleasure to
collapse into Sorrel’s plump, velvety
banquettes and be spoiled rotten
for a couple of hours. “I don’t think
anyone else walked,” my friend
whispers, eyeing up the frocks
and ties on neighbouring tables.
I suspect she’s right – not in those
heels, anyway – but whether they
came by bus or Bentley, everyone
seems genuinely excited to be here,
quizzing the waiters on ingredients
and techniques with such frequency
and enthusiasm that I begin to fear
for our chances of catching the last
train home. Either they’re all really,
really interested in food, or I’m not
the only one writing a review here.
While Jay and Giles do have
a tendency to blend into the
woodwork, my money’s on the
former: chef Steve Drake kept locals
and Michelin men alike happy for
over a decade at his previous place
in Ripley, and reports suggest this
new joint is already booked up
three months ahead, despite the
London prices. Then again, this is
Surrey, and it feels like it, too: all
thick carpets and tastefully exposed
beams; even the open kitchen is
politely tucked away by the loos.
I could get used to this, I think, as
no fewer than three amuse-bouches
appear before us – “to keep you
going while you look at the menu” –
though I’m not sure I’d say the same
about a broccoli mousse with kiwi
and green tomato that seems an
unnecessarily provocative start to
proceedings. Apart from a similarly
unsettling pairing of blue cheese
and rosewater towards the end, it’s
one of the few missteps in a meal
that otherwise proves as highly
polished as the silverware.
Some online reviewers have
grabbed a kebab on the way home
(“The portions wouldn’t satisfy
a supermodel on a diet!”), but though
dishes are indeed dainty, they’re also
exquisite, and so intensely flavoured
and texturally complex that they
demand what’s no doubt known as
“mindful eating” in the big smoke.
Basically, you can’t just stuff it in.
Highlights of the nine-course
tasting menu include a yolk-yellow
warm pumpkin mousse studded
with sweet, crunchy praline that
packs a glorious parmesan punch;
a yoghurty goat’s cheese and
beetroot dish that’s so clean and
fresh, we’re momentarily silenced
(though I regret polishing off the
accompanying polka dot of douglas
fir mayo without stopping to consider
if it tastes of trees); and, perhaps
best of all, a plate of duck from
nearby Leith Hill. Having slogged up
that particular unforgiving hummock
more than a few times on two wheels,
I wonder if it’s all the exercise that
gives these birds their fabulous
flavour; their lacquered fat, sticky
with a spiced date glaze, speaks to
our most basic taste for sugar and
fat, even in this most refined of
settings. Two meringue sandwiches
filled with liver paté turn up
alongside, the kind of joyously weird
idea that makes you grin inanely in
surprise and delight.
Dessert is equally startling.
I certainly wouldn’t have chosen the
“blackberry waldorf” had I known
the main element was celeriac and
walnut parfait, but it’s a triumph of
autumnal flavours: pickled berries
brighten the earthy sweetness of
that poor, ugly root, and are helped
in their task by an astonishingly
good sorrel sorbet that ought to be
Food ★★★★
Atmosphere ★★★★☆
Value for money ★★★★☆
77 South Street, Dorking, Surrey, 01306
889414. Open Wed-Sat lunch and dinner
(one sitting). About £35 a head; tasting
menus £60/£90, plus drinks and service
a permanent fixture on Sorrel’s menu.
The rest disappoints only by
dint of being delicious rather than
downright extraordinary: a scallop
in mushroom milk (the waitress
tells us that no one’s ever asked
how they milk a mushroom before)
with garlic and parsley puree
tastes fab, but the truffle shavings
on top turn as dank as wet leaves
the moment they hit the milk;
a fabulously tender venison tartare
with bitter orange and smoked egg
yolk needs no such tarting up.
Restaurants operating at this
level often strive to justify the price
by sending diners away groaning
with protein, but Drake has the
confidence to give vegetables equal
billing (the things that man can do
with a cabbage). Sorrel isn’t cheap
(thank God the cheery sommelier
alerts us to the half-bottles hidden
at the back of the wine menu) but,
I reflect, huddled on the frosty
platform at Dorking Deepdene
waiting for the 00.38 to loom out
of the darkness, it does make you
feel very special.
The Guardian Weekend | 13 January 2018 57
58 13 January 2018 | The Guardian Weekend
The edit
Pale and interesting – perk up your home with blush p
1 Editor’s pick: handmade in Nottinghamshire, in a plush Designers Guild cotton velvet: what’s not to like? Le Cocktail velvet footstool, £295,
2 Stammen speaker, £299, by Urbanears, 3 Ventura table lamp, £180, 4 Elevated vase, £89, by Muuto,
5 Coral handprinted star quilt, £185, 6 Editor’s pick: stackable, modular storage trays in a gradient of colours – change the height on a whim
Cairn bedside table, £199, 7 Jemima rocking chair in chalk pink, from £485, 8 Jolly table, £103, by Kartell, 9 Design
Letters children’s melamine mealtime set, with Arne Jacobsen typography, £34, 10 Nude suede cushion, £50,
The Guardian Weekend | 13 January 2018 59
Steal a march on spring with a heated propagator
o own a heated propagator is to
steal spring’s best hand and play it
out in winter, to trick seeds deep in
dormancy into thinking the weather
outside is not furious and fierce because the soil
inside is deliciously warm, and the air is moist.
Germination is fast if soil is a constant
temperature. It’s fairly easy to achieve this in
the day by starting seeds off on a windowsill or
somewhere sunny indoors, but even indoors,
the temperature will drop considerably at night.
Steady, even germination comes when day- and
night-time temperatures do not fluctuate wildly,
and this is most easily achieved with a heated
propagator. Basic heated propagators are pre-set
to 15C-21C, which is the preferred germination
temperature of many tender garden plants. More
sophisticated propagators have a thermostat and
a soil thermometer to check the settings. Most
propagators require a background temperature of
about 5C, but preferably 10C in order to maintain
a compost temperature above 15C.
You can pay anything from £40 to over £400. In
the middle, at £140, the Vitopod Heated Propagator
is a great bit of equipment and small enough that
it can be used in the house if there’s sufficient
light. If light is an issue, you could up the game
with a Vitopod with grow lights. At £214.49, it’s
an expensive way to raise a handful of plants,
but if money is no object for fine tomatoes or the
fieriest chillies, it’s a bit of a dream machine.
Windowsill propagators (about £40 each) are
ideal for those who have no greenhouse and
cramped conditions. I have two, from crocus., both about eight years old and still
going strong. They don’t have a thermostat,
but add somewhere between 5C-10C on
ambient soil temperature. At night, the seedlings
are kept at a snug 15C-18C and this is what
matters most.
Windowsill propagators need to be on a well-lit
surface but out of direct sunlight, otherwise, on
a sunny day, tender seedlings will easily scorch.
A watertight base means you won’t have to remove
the trays to water elsewhere. Another option is
a warming mat, at about £30 – try
This is plastic mat with a heating coil inside that
can be rolled up for storage and will add 5C-10C.
The best propagator systems come with
clear lids with ventilation. Seedlings like high
humidity, but also good ventilation to prevent
rotting. Look for tall, UV-resistant, shatter-proof
lids. All heated propagators need electricity
and there’s an environmental consequence
to that.
Growing your own food, particularly organically,
is a radical act: you are stepping outside the
system. I haven’t done the maths, but I think
a heated propagator uses less energy than an
imported refrigerated tomato. However, using
a 100% renewable energy supplier makes even
more sense; it won’t negate the cost of making the
propagator, but balances the equation a bit better.
What to do this week
Plant this Cyclamen coum (above),
common name sowbread, is one
tough customer. When all else is
hiding from the cold, this hardy
groundcover plant produces
pretty pink flowers above a cluster
of silver-scrubbed leaves. Plant
en masse with ferns, snowdrops and
hellebores in fertile, well-drained
soil under deciduous trees and
shrubs for a display from January
to March.
Sow this Kickstart your gardening
year by starting off some sweet pea
seed. Save up cardboard toilet roll
centres, fill with damp seed compost
and nestle into a seed tray – tie
around the whole lot with twine to
keep them upright. Place two seeds
per roll into seed compost, cover
with another centimetre or two
of compost and top the trays with
a wad of newspaper. Place in a cold
frame or greenhouse and remove
the paper once they have sprouted.
Record this If you’ve noticed
bumblebees bimbling about on
winter-flowering plants, the Bees,
Wasps & Ants Recording Society
wants to hear from you. This
volunteer group is gathering data on
when, where and on what buff-tailed
bumblebees are feeding in the coldest
months. Submit your observations at Jane Perrone
The Guardian Weekend | 13 January 2018 61
move to
Louth, Lincolnshire: it’s avoided the ills of modern life
hat’s going for it? Unless en route for
Mablethorpe (and, let’s face it, most
of us aren’t), one rarely passes by
Louth. You have to make the effort.
Pack sandwiches and a flask. Crawl behind
tractors, caravans and lorries laden with potatoes,
past squelchy fields and countless villages ending
in -by. Twist and turn and rise and fall through
the Lincolnshire wolds. And then, just when you
have abandoned hope of ever seeing another
living soul, there it is: the fabulous spire of St
James’ church rising over the dashboard. After all
that, you’d fall upon Crawley as if it were Venice.
But Louth is worth the slog. It’s one of those justwonderful places. Trust me. Relative isolation
and feisty locals mean many of the ills of modern
life have been kept at bay. Eve & Ranshaw
department store still sells antimacassars. The
Playhouse cinema still has intermissions. Only
Aldi has breached their defences. That’s not to
say the place is a museum: Louth is beautiful, but
it’s a working market town with few airs and
graces. And a damn fine cheese shop. Told you it
was worth it.
The case against All on its lonesome ownsome.
The one-way system drives me to insanity each
time I come.
Well connected? Trains: you’ll be lucky. Driving:
half an hour to the coast at Mablethorpe, 45 mins
to Lincoln, an hour to the A1.
Schools Primaries: St Michael’s CofE and Lacey
Gardens are both “good”, says Ofsted, with
Kidgate “outstanding”. Secondaries: King Edward
VI Grammar is “outstanding”; the new Louth
Academy has just opened.
Hang out at… A Tipsy Toad by the fire at the
Wheatsheaf is what you want. The newly
reopened Masons Arms, with its cocktail bar,
might shake things up.
Where to buy A simply delightful town centre,
mostly a conservation area listed up to the hilt
with brick Georgian townhouses and cottages its
speciality. Some pleasant roads heading out of
town, like Horncastle Road. The usual suburbans.
Large detacheds and townhouses, £300,000£800,000. Detacheds and smaller townhouses,
£130,000-£300,000. Semis, £130,000-£250,000.
Terraces and cottages, £100,000-£250,000. Flats,
£70,000-£150,000. Rentals: a one-bed flat,
£400pcm; a three-bed house, £550-£650pcm.
Bargain of the week Well, it is £450,000. But then
it is a five-bedroom Georgian detached with 250
square metres to play with (masons-surveyors. Tom Dyckhoff
From the streets
John Cullinane “Great cheese shop, and lots of
good pork products (haslet, chine) if that is your
thing. Narrow pavements are tricky with a double
buggy. Very isolated.”
Amanda Turner “A real foodie’s paradise:
Lincolnshire poacher cheese, Lincoln red beef,
and plum bread – perfect with a cuppa.”
All the places I’ll never live
Coco Khan
When I started this column, I thought,
“Any month now, I’ll get on the
property ladder.” I imagined sharing
the tribulations of house-buying: the
estate agents who say “compact”
when they mean “claustrophobiainducing”, and psyching out the
competition at open viewings
(“I hear they’re opening a sewage
works near here,” I’d say loudly).
That was a foolishly optimistic
period. I thought my partner and
I had enough for a deposit (we didn’t),
and we viewed nearly 50 homes. We
quickly learned we couldn’t afford to
buy where we wanted, so started to
move our search. Eventually, we
were looking at homes on the very
streets I grew up on, near the blustery
council house that defined me.
We can’t afford those, either. It
turns out that I still have lots more
to do before I can realise my
property dream. I’ll need to save
some money, pick up some DIY
skills and learn to drive (if I’m
leaving London). I’ll need to become
a proper adult, which is why I’m
moving to a new column,
Adult Learner, from next week.
So for this, my final All The
Places…, I’m choosing a house from
my childhood stomping ground,
which is now so expensive that I can
never live there. It’s funny: for
years, I hated my neighbourhood
and wanted to live in “proper
London”; now I can only dream of
a house in Dagenham. Let’s see what
adulthood has in store instead.
Do you live in Chipping Campden? Do you have
a favourite haunt or pet hate? If so, please email by next Tuesday.
The Guardian Weekend | 13 January 2018 63
Is it hard to buy running shoes? Zoe Williams finds out
good way not to go running when you
hate running is to decide that you can’t
really start until you have the perfect
shoe. It wasn’t even as simple as
wandering round the shops: I had to get my gait
analysed, which can happen one of two ways, on
a running machine or, in one very special
specialist shop in London, running down the road.
Dipika is the owner of Run And Become, which
was established in the 1980s by her parents. She
looks like an advert put out by an interwar
government on the benefits of exercise, serene
and zesty, deeply plausible. We walk out to a side
street and I run 50 yards while she watches: at that
moment, still in my regular shoes, which we’ve
established are a size too small but otherwise
functional. If you are familiar with the oeuvre of
Noel Streatfeild, imagine a ballet mistress
observing a new pupil for the first time: keeneyed, warm, yet dispassionate.
Obviously, I felt a complete fraud. “Heel-striker”,
“neutral gait”: these are words you’d use about a
person who did marathons. I have been running
four times and pretended to go running a further
three. The longest stint I’ve done in one go is 90
seconds, yet Dipika was talking me through the
respective benefits of a variety of shoes for long
distance. The only way I could have felt more like a
trickster is if I’d stolen some socks on the way out.
The benefit of being analysed in the real world
is that this is where most people run; you can
tell more about the depth of your gait – the angle
at which your foot hits the ground – and see
tendencies and weaknesses better. Just by looking
at me standing in front of her, Dipika noticed that
I very slightly favoured my right leg over my left
and asked if I had an old injury. I broke my left leg
in 1978, which was before she was born.
Anyway, the overview of this analysis is this: if
you pro-nate, your foot rolls inwards; if you’re
a serious pronater, your arches will flatten to
accommodate it. The opposite is supination, or
under-pronation. I’m neither, I’m just passing
this on for you: I have a neutral gait, and a pretty
standard heel-strike. I need no particular support.
I can wear some basic Basics.
On a running machine at the Saucony Stride
Lab, my results are exactly the same, only the
process is much more painful because it involves
being videoed from every angle. This rams home
the full amateurishness of my running style:
exhaustingly long strides, head at a strange angle,
like a person who that very second has decided to
start running for the first time only because they
are being chased.
But this is where I pick up tips – the main one
being, shorter strides, which are more efficient
and easier to control. I also get some trainers: chic
white Sauconys with snazzy neon laces. They’re
not the perfect shoe, so much as shoes so techie it
would be inexcusable to wear them and not run.
This week I learned
Save time and start by trying the size above your
regular size
My life in sex
The 70-year-old with no sex
I depend on memories for a sex
life. Ten years ago, not long after
my 60th birthday, a belated present
appeared in the shape of small lump
within my penis. I went to a doctor,
who diagnosed Peyronie’s disease
– a buildup of plaque in the penis. It
was a tiny lump and he didn’t seem
concerned. But about three months
later, I noticed my penis becoming
misshapen when erect. It sort of
tilted to the left. Very soon after
that, my erection was not strong
enough for penetration. I remember
being shocked; that part of my body
was suddenly disabled.
A specialist put me on a course of
tamoxifen and Viagra. When these
didn’t work and my erection was
still soft, I tried reducing the plaque
via a vacuum device. After that
failed, the consultant recommended
an implant. It’s a balloon-type object
inserted into the penis, which I
could pump up when I felt the urge.
I couldn’t imagine it; nor could my
wife. We’d been together about 20
years, and now our sex lives were
over. Mine at 60, hers at 50.
The consultant was astonished
that I didn’t go for the implant. I told
him we found it repulsive, about as
non-sexy as you could get. And the
Peyronie’s has left me embarrassed
about my penis.
Of course, sex is always there. It
creeps into my thoughts and, I know,
into my wife’s. It spices our dreams.
And often, it depresses us both. Now
70 and 60 respectively, we haven’t
had sex for over a decade (we don’t
do “heavy petting”: I don’t think
I could stand the frustration). If
there’s any consolation, it’s that our
life and love has survived. But god
we miss it.
Each week, a reader tells us about
their sex life. Want to share yours?
The Guardian Weekend | 13 January 2018 65
66 13 January 2018 | The Guardian Weekend
This column
will change
your life
Stop racing. You’ll still get there, says Oliver Burkeman
leasingly, a new study endorses one of
my favourite insights about writing,
or getting any creative work done –
though I’m pretty sure that wasn’t
intentional, since the researchers were actually
studying traffic jams. Jonathan Boreyko, an
American engineering professor, was crawling
along in his car one day, observing how drivers
naturally bunch up at red lights or other
stoppages, leaving mere inches between vehicles.
Their motivation isn’t a mystery: the closer you
are to the car ahead, you’d assume, the better
your chances of squeezing through before the
light goes back to red, and the sooner you’ll reach
your destination, even if you also increase the risk
of rear-end collisions.
But you’d assume wrong. When Boreyko and
a colleague recreated the traffic-light scenario on
a special test track, they found that drivers who
bunched up made no swifter progress. True, they
stopped slightly closer to the light. But it also
took them longer to resume moving safely, and
these two factors cancelled each other out.
“There’s no point in getting closer to the car in
front of you when traffic comes to a stop,”
Boreyko concluded. Not quite a case of “more
haste, less speed”, but certainly “more haste, no
extra speed”. And probably more crashes.
If you’re wondering what this could have to
do with writing or similar work, it’s just more
evidence that impatience almost never pays. This
includes the kind of impatience we celebrate in
people we call “driven” or “obsessed”, those who
never rest in urgent pursuit of their goals. Yes,
it all looks impressively hyper-productive. But as
the psychologist Robert Boice argues, racing to
get a task completed generally imposes a cost that
offsets or even outweighs the benefit, so you may
end up completing it later, or doing it worse. You
tire yourself out, so you can’t shine the next day.
Or you neglect so many other duties that you’re
forced to take an extra admin day to catch up.
Or you start damaging work you’ve already
produced – which is why the novelist Gabriel
García Márquez said he gave up writing in the
afternoon: he wrote more, but he had to redo it
the next morning, so the overall effect was to
slow him down. (That’s also why Boice insists
that, when you’re writing on a schedule, it’s as
important to be disciplined about stopping as
starting, even if you’re on a roll.)
Clearly, this is all a convenient way to feel
superior to people who put in more hours. But that
doesn’t mean it’s untrue. Indeed, it’s scary to ask
what role impatience plays in your life in general:
how much of each day we spend leaning into the
future, trying to get tasks “out of the way”, always
focused on the destination, metaphorically
inching closer and closer to the bumper of the car
ahead. None of it gets us anywhere faster. It’s also
no way to live. Essentially, it’s the attitude of the
driver stuck in traffic: “I just want this to be over!”
Which is fair enough, when you’re stuck in traffic.
The trick is not treating the whole day like some
aggravatingly tedious commute.
What I’m really thinking
The secret smoker
If anyone ever offers me a cigarette,
I always reply: “No thanks, I don’t
smoke.” But I’m lying.
I started smoking at 16. I thought
it made me look grown-up, but I was
shy so I’d do it on my own. I would
go into the woods near my home, or
occasionally “bravely” have one in
the house if nobody was else in.
Even when I went away to
university, I kept my smoking
secret. Now I’m in my 30s. If I was
ever going to come out, I should
have done it when I was younger,
instead of appearing to be someone
who started smoking for the first
time at an age when most people
are trying to give up.
I wish I could go outside with
the public smokers at work or
in the pub. I’m jealous. I think
they’re cool, and honest. But it just
doesn’t fit with how I see myself,
and I worry I’d smoke too much.
Instead, I wait until I’m alone, take
out my packet (I keep it hidden in my
car with mouthwash and mints) and
have a crafty two or three.
There have been a few close calls,
though. I once left the pub early
and had just lit up when a friend
came around the corner. Luckily,
it was dark and he walked straight
past me. Another time, my lighter
fell out of my pocket – I said I’d
picked it up from a table at a cafe.
And I was mortified when a shop
assistant once asked if I’d come in
for my cigarettes; I now try to buy
each pack from a different place.
It’s stupid, I know, but it could
be worse. I’m not harming anyone
but myself and it’s legal; I could
be a secret heroin addict. Plus I’d
smoke more if I did it in
public. I will stop soon. But of
course, no one will ever know.
Tell us what you’re
really thinking at mind@
The Guardian Weekend | 13 January 2018 67
Live life in luxury.
03333 201 801
Beautiful beds & Mattresses
68 13 January 2018 | The Guardian Weekend
‘The Meyerowitz Stories is an excruciating watch for anyone who aspires to great art’
f he isn’t a great artist,
that means he was just a
prick.” That contribution
to the art versus morality
conversation is delivered ungoofily
by Adam Sandler, playing Danny
Meyerowitz in Noam Baumbach’s
Netflix film The Meyerowitz Stories.
The great artist who is otherwise
just a prick is Danny’s father, Harold,
played by Dustin Hoffman with
considerable insight into just what
a prick an artist can be. A prick not
only unto others, but unto himself:
every appraisal of his work either
the promise of recognition or an
insult; every encounter an occasion
for a tiny triumph or an unbearable
repudiation; every mention of his
work an impossible excitation or an
injury to skin so thin, you could
blow bruises on it.
The Meyerowitz Stories is an
excruciating watch for anyone who
aspires to make great art, whether
they succeed or not. There is a little
or a lot of him in every artist. Don’t
ask me why; it must have something
to do with the will to creative
exposure: the strange, contradictory
impulse of the over-sensitive to offer
themselves up on the altar of
judgment to people for whom they
have no regard.
Compare and contrast the film
Maudie, which is also about an
artist. Maudie recounts the real-life
romance between an awkward and
arthritic painter and an ill-tempered
recluse who has never knowingly
looked at a painting in his life. This
film also has its excruciations, but
they relate more to the gaucheries
of love than to aesthetic ambition.
In fact, no two artists could be
more different. Harold fabricates
sterile, abstract sculptures that reek
of secondhand modernist selfconsciousness. It might be a tragedy
for him that he can’t get a major
exhibition, but he doesn’t deserve
one, the prick. Maudie (Sally
Hawkins, wonderfully beguiling as
the Canadian folk-artist Maud Lewis)
is as far removed from high-art
pretensions as it is possible for an
artist to be. “The whole of life,
already framed, right there,” she
says, looking out of a window at her
inspiration: pussy cats, leaping
Bambis, red cottages in green fields.
Given the choice, I’d rather have
a Maudie on my wall than a Harold
on my desk. Her work might be
simplistic – barely art at all, if you’re
a curator at Tate Modern – but at
least it is not the airless, selfimportant thing of blighted dreams
that Harold’s is. If that’s an
abrogation of critical seriousness,
receive it as my parting gift on this
final page of my stint as stand-in
diarist. I don’t think Clive James,
in whose immense shadow I have
written these last six months,
would take my preference amiss.
Puzzles Crossword by Sy and Thomas Eaton’s quiz. Answers on page 55
7 14 of Equatorial
Guinea (6)
8 14 of the
Gambia (6)
9 A type of
shortfin or longfin
shark (4)
10 14 of
Chad (8)
11 Andrés .......,
classical guitarist
(1893-1987) (7)
12 14 of
Morocco (5)
15 Seaport on
the Isle of
Wight (5)
17 14 of
Cameroon (7)
20 US state, whose
14 is Jefferson
City (8)
22 Confectionery
brand of
round chocolates
with a caramel
middle (4)
23 14 of
Rwanda (6)
24 City in
Tanzania, though
not its 14 (6)
1 14 of
Zimbabwe (6)
2 14 of
Botswana (8)
3 Card, flower
and gift company
based in
London (7)
4 14 of
Nigeria (5)
5 One in
Latin (4)
6 14 of
Angola (6)
13 One of
the oldest
constellations and
the 11th sign of
the Zodiac (8)
14 Marx’s critique
of political
economy? (7)
16 ...... Attwood,
reality TV’s
queen, following
Love Island
2017 (6)
18 Ancient Greek
city, sacred to
the god Apollo,
built on the slopes
of Mount
Parnassus (6)
19 14 of
Tunisia (5)
21 Acronym for
a ministerial
adviser of a sort
much disliked in
Whitehall? (4)
1 What was contained
in letter of 2
November 1917 to Lord
2 What city was known
to the Vikings as
3 Who fooled
Polyphemus by
saying his name
was Nobody?
4 “By parents for
parents” is the tagline
of which website?
5 Which state of India
has a compass point in
its name?
6 What did Julia Ward
Howe write to the
tune of John Brown’s
7 Caesium fountain
is a type of what
measuring device?
8 Whose HQ is the
George Bush Center for
What links:
9 Ariel; Daddy;
Lady Lazarus;
Tulips; The
Colossus; Morning
10 New Britain
and New Ireland;
North Dakota;
sunk in May 1941?
11 Pico; Femto;
Atto; Zepto; Yocto?
12 Wooden; Glass;
Good; Broken;
13 Alec Leamas;
Jerry Westerby;
Harry Pendel;
Jonathan Pine?
14 Soft; sostenuto;
the sustain, or
15 Donkey jacket;
Chelsea kit;
mushy peas;
The Guardian Weekend | 13 January 2018 69
me in the
Benn Keaveney escapes a CS gas attack in Derry, 1971
ear gas is awful – it gets
you in the back of your
throat and burns your
eyes. It drifts quickly,
and even when you think it has
disappeared, the wind then changes
and it’s back. As soon as you see it
coming, you run.
This CS gas attack had taken place
seconds before this photograph
was taken, in a burnt-out sorting
office in the Little Diamond area
of Derry. We were jumping off the
wall to get away from it. There had
been a riot, and I remember we
were trying to help some older
people get away. I was 14.
I was aware of someone about
500 yards away, taking pictures.
The photographer Don McCullin
was dressed in a combat jacket
with a big camera; he looked very
different from the local press,
‘There had
been a riot,
and we were
trying to
help some
older people
get away’
70 13 January 2018 | The Guardian Weekend
who were always in suit jackets.
McCullin was on assignment for
The Sunday Times Magazine, and
this image was first published in
December 1971, as part of a story
called War On The Home Front.
It’s now part of the Tate and
National Galleries of Scotland
collections. I first saw it in McCullin’s
book Sleeping With Ghosts, which
was published in 1994.
I had moved to Derry a year
earlier, from Portrush, a seaside
town. It was a bit of a shock to
be in a city, and the place was alive
with politics: everyone was
interested in it. I remember how
dark it was, too – there were hardly
any streetlights. There was barbed
wire, helicopters hovering, soldiers
on patrol and a lot of tension.
I would go to listen to speakers
such as the civil rights leader and
politician Bernadette Devlin: as a
boy, to hear her speaking was one of
the most mind-opening things I had
ever heard.
The following January, I was a
steward at a protest march when
British soldiers shot unarmed
civilians: the Bloody Sunday
massacre. The soldiers blocked the
march, attacked and a riot started.
I ran when the shooting began, but
I witnessed what happened. That
day traumatised most people in
Derry, and it set the Troubles back
10 years. I was a witness at the
Saville inquiry; I could provide a
timeline of events, because I had
been right there. I still have the civil
rights armband I wore on Bloody
Sunday, in a frame at home.
Later, I was one of the original
staff members at London Lighthouse,
one of the first care centres for
people with Aids. One of the men
I worked with there was a former
soldier who had been there the day
of the massacre. He apologised.
I’ve written a book based around
that encounter, and hope to get it
published one day. I’m now chief
executive of a mental health charity
in London.
Looking back at this photograph
now reconnects me to those civil
rights days, when we thought peace
and non-violence would prevail.
I went to the Photographers’
Gallery in London in the 1980s to
see a show of McCullin’s work, and
he was there, surrounded by
people. To my regret, I didn’t go
and talk to him. I would have liked
to have told him how much his
work had influenced me, how
much I admired his views on war
and his approach to humanity in
taking photographs in conflict
zones – and, of course, how our
paths once briefly crossed.
Interview: Hannah Booth
The Guardian Weekend | 13 January 2018 71
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