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The Guardian Weekend 25 November 2017

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.17 n
It’s a wrap:
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I regret
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Spicy winter
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Co t a r t
nt e r s
Christmas gift guide
Food and drink
5 Hadley Freeman
6 Tim Dowling Plus Bim
Adewunmi’s First take
8 Your view Plus
Stephen Collins
10 Q&A Dan Stevens,
13 Experience I am
a kayaktivist
59 21 pages of perfect
presents… 60 Stocking
fillers 63 Jewellery
64 Women’s fashion
67 What Jess CartnerMorley buys her sister
68 Men’s fashion
71 Beauty 75 Sali
Hughes’ stocking
76 Small kids 78 Big
kids 81 Meera Sodha’s
best present 84 Food
and drink 86 Homes
and gardens 89 Fitness
98 Yotam Ottolenghi
Lovely lentils
103 Thomasina Miers
Veg soup with chilli oil
105 The new vegan
Meera Sodha’s
pineapple love cake
106 Restaurants Does
Felicity Cloake rate
Rambla, London W1?
16 Lady in red Will Emily
Thornberry be Labour’s
next leader? Decca
Aitkenhead asks her
28 Terminators Are
robots killing our jobs?
43 ‘I feel ashamed’ The
Brexit voters who’ve
changed their minds
53 Why I don’t drink
By Candida Crewe
Fashion and beauty
91 Blind date Will Alice
and Gareth get it on?
93 Jess Cartner-Morley
Lessons in leather
95 Beauty Sali Hughes’
favourite facial oils
110 Gardens Harlow Carr:
a winter wonderland
112 Alys Fowler How to
grow herbs indoors
113 Let’s move to Hereford
115 This column will
change your life Plus
What I’m really thinking
Berger & Wyse
117 Howard Jacobson Plus
Crossword and Quiz
118 That’s me in
the picture
Weekend goes live!
Join us next Saturday
for a mini-festival in
London. Speakers
include Hadley
Freeman, Yotam
Ottolenghi, Sali Hughes
and Nish Kumar; go to
Body and mind
114 System upgrade Plus
My life in sex: the man
with the small penis
Interactive gift guide
Top present ideas at
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 3
It wasn’t feminist theory that cured my anorexia – it was having something to eat for
rather sweet news story emerged the
other week, in which it was claimed
that studying feminist theory could
help anorexics with their recovery
by teaching them how “cultural constructions of
femininity” can lead to “body distress”. Now,
I am of the opinion that feminism is the answer
to pretty much everything, so the idea of bell
hooks and Kate Millett swooping in to save the
day where all those medical professionals failed
certainly has its appeal. So, like I say, sweet –
but also a teensy bit annoying. I would never
dissuade anyone from reading feminist theory,
but the suggestion that a mental illness can be
treated by argument feels a mere skip from
saying its causation is similarly straightforward.
Gender influences, like cultural influences
(fashion models, women’s magazines, all the
usual suspects), play a part in anorexia’s external
manifestation, but the causes are as deep and
knotty as a tree root. Mental illness, by its very
nature, defies logic.
Since I first wrote about my own experience
with anorexia in this paper many years ago,
I’ve received, on average, an email a week from
parents, siblings and teachers about someone
they’re worried about. Over a period of 17 years,
that’s a lot of fear and love and pain in my inbox.
The stories vary – a mother who has fainting spells,
a sister with legs so thin, you can circle them with
your thumb and forefinger – but the last question
is always the same: “How did you recover?”
I’ve been thinking of writing about my recovery
for a while. Not, alas, because I think it is
a universal cure – every anorexic’s experience
is utterly individual, which is part of the reason
I query any mooted general solution – but
because you hear so few happy endings to
experiences such as mine.
Between the ages of 13 and 17, I had six longterm stays in psychiatric units, plus an emergency
admission to a general, and of all the girls, women
and men I met in those stays, I know of only three
who recovered. The others, at least those I know
about, are either still stuck in the narrow twilit
world of anorexia, or dead. There was Nicola,
who slept in the bed next to me in the Maudsley
hospital for six months, whose death from organ
failure I learned about from the Daily Mail 10 years
after we hugged goodbye. And there was Fritha,
whose grace and kindness made me idolise her
when we were in the Priory together, who later
killed herself. Why did I recover and not them?
Luck and timing, mainly. I was extremely
lucky to have found – after many false prophets
and worse – a wonderful doctor, Professor Janet
Treasure, who was the first medical professional
I encountered who understood me and who
I couldn’t outsmart. That she was a woman was,
for me, a bonus, and I felt more comfortable
talking to her about body image and sexuality
than I had with previous male doctors. After
I left hospital for the seventh time, I was offered
a place at university, but I was losing weight
again; Prof Treasure said if I lost any more, they’d
tell the university I was too sick to go. I’d worked
so hard to keep up with my school year – doing
my GCSEs in three months while in hospital, my
A-levels in a year – that the thought of falling
at this final hurdle was too much: at last, I had
something to eat for. My ambitions for myself
had, finally, become stronger than the illness.
I understand why some doctors tell patients
to cut themselves off from their outside life and
focus on their recovery – one doctor dropped
me because I refused to quit school. But, for me,
having a connection to the world outside was
my lifeline out of the land of sickness. I was also
lucky to be young, so I only had to slip back into
schooling when I left hospital, as opposed to
trying to find a job.
The biggest motivator for me was not reading
feminist theory, or any other academic idea, but
seeing the painful reality of the alternative.
In hospital, I met women who had been sick for
more than 30 years. At some point, I was able to
swim to the surface, look at them in suspended
animation beneath the waves, and think:
“That is not going to be my life.” And it wasn’t.
But it so easily could have been. I was lucky
in my specifics, but when you recover, you are
scarred for life. Even now, when I go out to eat
without studying the menu obsessively for days
before, the illness is there, just below the ice.
Every year the ice gets thicker, but going through
something like that sucks out a little bit of your
soul. You know how easily you can slip past those
who love you into a dark night that they can’t
reach. It also means I’m always standing a little
to the side of myself, looking at the life I have,
and thinking about the one I didn’t.
am sitting at my desk, which is still in
my bedroom, hard at work. A voice
somewhere nearby says my name
softly. Or maybe it doesn’t. I was
concentrating; the window is open. It could have
been anything.
A voice says my name again, possibly. I look
behind me. I stand up and open the door, where
I find Chris the painter sitting on the top step.
“Oh, well heard,” he says. “Just to say, I’ve
painted the middle of the stairs to here, so you
might want to walk on the sides.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” I say.
“I’ll leave the landing until tomorrow,” Chris
says. “So you can escape.”
“No need,” I say. “I’m working. Paint me in.”
“If you’re sure,” he says.
Fifteen minutes later, I develop an overwhelming
urge to drink coffee while standing in the kitchen.
I try to ignore it, but my concentration deserts me.
I waddle down the stairs, feet spread wide, until
I reach the landing. It’s unclear whether it’s been
painted yet, but the stairs below it have only had
their edges done. I grip the bannister spindles
tightly and jump from step to step, bypassing the
landing altogether. At the bottom, I find Chris
painting the floor outside the kitchen door.
“Sorry,” I say, tiptoeing past.
“Not at all,” Chris says.
In the kitchen, I notice that my palms are a
tasteful shade of dark grey, a perfect match for the
bannister spindles. I wash them and make a coffee,
which I’m drinking while staring out of the window
when my wife comes round the corner and through
the garden door with two bags of shopping.
“Busy day?” she asks.
“I’m trapped down here,” I say. “Surrounded
by wet paint.”
“He’ll be done by tomorrow,” she says. “This is
the worst bit.”
“I can’t work like this,” I say.
“You can take down that mirror,” she says.
The painter’s industry
and politeness have
been making me look
bad for three weeks
6 25 November 2017 | The Guardian Weekend
“What mirror?” I say.
“There,” she says, pointing out of the window.
An old mirror in a metal frame, left by the
previous owners, hangs from the back garden
wall. It looks very well secured.
“I like that mirror,” I say.
“It’s going,” she says. The cat walks in, trailing
little off-white paw prints.
“Fine,” I say.
My wife follows me to the end of the garden.
The mirror is held in place by a single rusted bolt.
I wiggle it from side to side, then wrench it
upwards. I pull backwards, twisting one way,
then the other.
“Do you need a ladder?” my wife asks.
“I don’t know,” I say. “It might just…” The mirror
suddenly comes free, with me holding it over my
head. “Holy shit,” I say. “It’s incredibly heavy.”
“Put it down then,” my wife says.
“I can’t,” I say. “My back is going.”
“Just drop it,” she says.
“It’s glass!” I say.
“I’m getting rid of it!” she says.
I crouch very slowly, until I can rest the lower
edge of the mirror on my knees. Readjusting my
grip, I lever myself out from under it and lean it
against the wall.
“Just out to the skip,” my wife says.
“I’m not lifting that again,” I say.
The next day, I return from running errands to
find Chris and my wife settling up in the kitchen.
Wrinkled paint receipts are spread across the
table. I pull off my shoes. “I should be out of your
hair by the afternoon,” Chris says. His industry
and unfailing politeness have been making me
look bad for nearly three weeks, but the place will
seem empty without him.
My wife turns to me. “Chris carried that mirror
all the way out to the front this morning,” she says.
I look at my wife, and then at Chris. “Heavy,
wasn’t it?” I say.
“It was quite heavy,” Chris says. “And you
were busy.”
“I’m a businessman,” I say.
A brief silence follows.
“Yeah, right,” my wife says.
“If you’ll excuse me,” I say, leaving the room.
Chris says something I don’t hear, but I take his
meaning as soon as I feel the wet paint soaking
through my sock.
First take
Bim Adewunmi
There are, on average – depending
on the briskness of the wind or the
lethargy in my bones – 156 steps
between my apartment building
and my nearest laundromat. When
the air is summer-thick, I take
smaller steps and let my feet go
slow. But now that it’s colder, I can
make it in 150 easy, urgently looking
to get back inside. (Side note: I can’t
believe the number of people who
live in the US, the land of fetishised
convenience, without an in-house
washing machine.)
I started counting things in
childhood. I still remember how
many steps it took to get to the
bathroom from my bedroom:
five (fewer in the middle of the
night). I recall the number of
rungs on my bunk bed in boarding
school (three). I know there are 48
stairs from the ground floor to the
fourth floor of my building, plus
an extra six steps to my front door.
I count when I walk to the shops,
to the subway station, to the post
office. Noting the exact number of
steps between the lift and my desk
(61, on average) is pointless, but
I do it anyway. It’s something
between compulsion and comfort.
Counting is a form of quiet
therapy; at the very least, a sort
of breathing exercise. It’s Lamaze
without a bump.
Right now, I’m counting in
another unit: days. I’ve booked
a flight home to England for
Christmas and sent out the requests
for people’s time (including my
dentist). Counting these days, after
another year away from home, is
therapeutic. So much has changed.
But there will still be 14 stairs
between my sister’s front door and
her living room, and three steps
between her kettle and the
cupboard with the mugs.
I crouch slowly in the garden, the mirror on my knees
46% People should be
Small data
Last week, a reader wrote
about how other people
treat her ‘dangerous’
dog. You said:
more careful around
rescue dogs
38% You should train your
staffie to behave better
16% All dogs should be kept
on a lead in public
Letters, emails, comments
While I look forward to spending
Saturday mornings with Tim Dowling,
Zoe Williams and Oliver Burkeman,
it’s Simon Hattenstone’s post-Grenfell
analysis that reminded me why I put
my hand in my pocket every week.
The call for revealing, investigative
journalism has never been stronger.
Carl Beetham
Sunningdale, Berkshire
By simply sacking Damore, Google
missed an opportunity to start a
conversation – one sorely needed,
because he isn’t the only [person
with autism] who helps make the
technology industry go. Unless we –
the institutions in which we work,
and those we work with – learn how
to communicate with each other,
there can be no end to these
interpersonal and political snafus,
punctuated by angry disputes that
leave everyone hurt.
Matthew Belmonte
Wymondham, Norfolk
Like James Damore (Google Alert,
18 November), I was diagnosed as
autistic while a postgraduate student.
Unlike Damore, I have never felt
the need to circulate a manifesto
denouncing my colleagues for their
gender. Being autistic often makes
social conventions difficult to
navigate, it’s true, but it does not
make one a misogynist, and nor is it
remotely an excuse for his behaviour.
Name and address supplied
Jenny Kleeman’s article on male
fertility (It’s Not You, It’s Me,
18 November) struck a poignant
chord. Nearly 40 years ago, I and my
then wife went through a similar
experience: she was fertile, I was
not. IVF was not available and sadly
our marriage did not survive. I did
remarry, and although I have no
biological connection, I am the
doting grandad of two wonderful
little boys. I now get to enjoy the
from healing. Your article was very
truthful and well-written.
Natalie Oxford
London W10
Thank you for the amazing article
featuring many of my neighbours
in Whitstable House (After The Fire,
18 November). My daughter and I live
on the 13th floor. On June 14, she
woke me not long after 1am in panic
because she could hear the fire. We
then watched the whole thing.
She was diagnosed with PTSD and
has therapy every week because of
what we witnessed. Seeing the tower
from our windows, and passing the
condolence wall, is stopping people
Stephen Collins
8 25 November 2017 | The Guardian Weekend
delights of children denied all those
years ago.
Dr Thomas Rathwell
Daventry, Northamptonshire
As a black woman in my 50s, I was
fascinated to read Hadley Freeman
on the new editor of Vogue (18
November). How refreshing it would
be to have a cover or article featuring
successful black women who are not
famous, but good role models.
Denise Tavernier
London EC1
“Local caviar” in Leeds (Restaurants,
18 November)? I’d love to know when
a sturgeon was last seen in the Aire.
Jeremy Muldowney
Email or
comment at by noon
on Monday for inclusion. Submissions
are subject to our terms and conditions:
Dan Stevens, actor
orn in Surrey, Stevens,
35, starred in the TV
adaptation of Alan
Hollinghurst’s The Line
Of Beauty in 2006 and played
Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey
from 2010. This year, he starred in
Disney’s remake of Beauty And The
Beast and he plays Dickens in The
Man Who Invented Christmas, which
opens in cinemas on 1 December.
When were you happiest?
My wedding day, eight years ago.
What is your earliest memory?
Trying to close my front door in the
great storm of 1987 – I was five and
we were living in Essex.
What is the trait you most deplore
in yourself?
Inability to make decisions.
What is the trait you most deplore
in others?
Lack of empathy.
What was your most embarrassing
Giggling like a fool on Good Morning
Britain when I was promoting The
Guest. Susanna Reid was surprised
that a Brit was playing the role and
said, “Did you have to beat off a lot of
American men to get the part?” My
response was to laugh hysterically.
What is your wallpaper?
My kids, Willow, Aubrey and Eden,
who are eight, five and one.
What would your super power be?
If you could bring something extinct
back to life, what would you choose?
My cat Timmy from when I was a kid.
Who would play you in the film of
your life?
Bill Milner from Son of Rambow.
What is your favourite smell?
My kids when they were babies.
What is your favourite word?
Which book changed your life?
Leaves Of Grass by Walt Whitman. It
woke me up to the power of poetry.
What did you want to be when you
were growing up?
Jobs that I saw on television, until
I realised they were all played by
actors – then I wanted to be an actor.
What is the worst thing anyone’s
said to you?
What is top of your bucket list?
Yosemite national park.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Vegan cheesecake.
What do you owe your parents?
A great deal and probably quite a bit
of money.
To whom would you most like to
say sorry, and why?
Downton Abbey fans for ruining
Christmas in 2012.
What does love feel like?
Like somebody’s painted the world
a different colour.
What was the best kiss of your life?
With my wife, Susie.
If you could edit your past, what
would you change?
When did you last cry, and why?
At the end of Professor Marston &
The Wonder Women.
How do you relax?
I go for walks in Griffith Park in LA.
What is the closest you’ve come
to death?
Probably on a Los Angeles freeway.
What single thing would improve
the quality of your life?
One of those robot vacuum cleaners.
What do you consider your greatest
My three kids.
What keeps you awake at night?
My three kids.
What song would you like played at
your funeral?
Always Look On The Bright Side
Of Life.
Tell us a joke
Why did the baker’s hand smell?
Because he kneaded a poo.
Rosanna Greenstreet
10 25 November 2017 | The Guardian Weekend
To whom would
I like to say sorry?
To Downton Abbey
fans for ruining
Christmas 2012
y first political epiphany
concerned the world
trade protests in 1999.
I was 17 and had a feeling
globalisation was a good thing – until
I realised it was about money and
economics, not people and culture;
so in the early 2000s I joined some
anti-globalisation protests in Quebec.
Several years later, I heard about
kayaktivism. I’d kayaked before, and
been an activist, but never married
the two. My first kayak protest was
in Quebec’s Saint Lawrence estuary
in 2014. TransCanada wanted to build
a supertanker port in a beluga whale
nursery. Our mission was to kayak to
a boat doing seismic testing, unfurl a
banner and take a picture. It wasn’t
about stopping the boat, but drawing
attention to what was happening.
Later that year, though, a group of
Pacific islanders took to canoes to
block coal ships in Newcastle,
Australia, to protest against coal’s
impact on climate change; they’d
seen coastal erosion and a rise in sea
level on their islands. It was largely
successful: they were moved on, but
delayed a bulk carrier and got a lot
of press. That’s when I realised that
water-based action could be a great
way to protest injustice. I’m now
part of a collective of kayaktivists in
Vancouver called the Sea Wolves.
There’s excitement when you’re
getting ready to paddle across the
water, but also nervousness; there’s
a confrontation looming and you
don’t know how it’s going to go. That
day, it went smoothly and we got
some powerful images, which were
picked up by the Canadian press.
My most recent protest, on
28 October, was much more risky
than the first. We weren’t just raising
a banner: our plan was to disrupt a
pipeline extension in the port of
Vancouver. We wanted to use kayaks
and canoes to create a “wall of
resistance” against the operator,
Kinder Morgan, and show the banks
financing the project that there are
risks associated with this kind of
investment. The extension would
mean a tripling of the production
of tar-sands oil, one of the most
C02-intensive fuels on the planet.
There were at least 60 people on the
water and I was near the front.
Kayaktivism can be dangerous: we
get close to moving supertankers. It’s
like David and Goliath. Then there’s
the worry about how private security
will react. Security companies are not
held as accountable as police, and
there was even nervousness about
how the police would respond. We
had medics on the water, in case
anyone got tired or injured, and
a couple of motorboats for safety.
I hoped everyone would keep a
level head. Before we paddled
off, we were welcomed on to
Tsleil-waututh First Nation territory,
and there was a briefing where we
acknowledged we might be putting
ourselves in an arrestable position.
In the water, everyone grouped
together before crossing the bay.
As we approached the construction
barge, we noticed they had placed
buoys in a circle around it. Someone
in a Kinder Morgan security boat
kept shouting, “You’re moving to a
construction zone. This is private
property.” The voice was becoming
more irate, creating tension. We
noticed police watching, but we
ignored the warning and carried on.
I was live-streaming the protest for
Greenpeace as the kayaktivists made
their way to the barge and circled it.
All work on board stopped and the
kayaks stayed where they were.
After about six hours on the water,
I started paddling back to shore. But
the police intervened with some of
the kayakers who remained close to
the barge. They pulled each kayaker,
with their kayak, on to a police boat
and charged them with criminal
mischief. But we were able to disrupt
Kinder Morgan’s work that day and
send the message that people would
stand against this project.
This is just the beginning of
on-the-water resistance. The days
can be long, and there’s a lot of
setting up and tearing down gear,
battling the elements. It’s
exhausting, but incredibly rewarding.
There’s something profound about
being on the frontline. You have
a real link to what you’re trying to
protect. On the water, you look at
the coastline and the mountains,
you see seals and bald eagles, crabs
and starfish: everything we know is
being put at risk. Charles Latimer
Do you have an experience to share?
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 13
I am a kayaktivist
Enter stage left
She was forced to resign three
years ago. Now Emily Thornberry
is in pole position on the Labour
frontbench. Is she the tonic politics
needs? Decca Aitkenhead meets her
Portraits by Steve Schofield
16 25 November 2017 | The Guardian Weekend
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 17
mily Thornberry was seven when her
life went horribly wrong. Her father
walked out on the family, leaving
her mother to bring up three small
children alone and penniless. They lost their
home, were raided by bailiffs, and had to survive
on free school meals and food parcels. Too poor
even for pets, her mother had the family’s cats
put down.
“The biggest thing was the cats, you know.”
Thornberry isn’t joking. “I was so upset about it.
But she just said, ‘It was all too much. It was all
too much.’ She was suddenly on her own with
three kids, and she had to start claiming benefits
and move us into a council house.”
One unexpected consequence of the family
crisis, however, was a solution to a conundrum
Thornberry would encounter in her career. Her
mother signed her up to an after-school choir
– probably, she thinks, just to give herself one
less child to worry about for an hour a week. But
as a young chorister, Thornberry was trained to
control her voice, breathe from the diaphragm
and thus overcome a problem that has beset
every female politician from Margaret Thatcher
to Hillary Clinton. Women in public life have
always been accused of sounding either too shrill
or too robotic to be taken seriously. But when
the shadow foreign secretary talks, the star of
the show is her voice. Rich and smooth, like
salted caramel, it pulls off the trick of sounding
simultaneously authoritative and informal.
Thornberry is a spellbindingly assured speaker,
so much so that it’s easy to forget that only three
years ago her political career looked as if it might
well be over.
In November 2014, the then shadow attorney
general tweeted a photo of a house in Kent
draped in flags of St George, with a white van
parked outside, for no discernible reason her
critics could identify other than snobbish
mockery. In the febrile Twittersphere,
Thornberry was damned as the worst sort of
sneering metropolitan elite – snooty Lady Nugee,
a “champagne socialist” married to the high
court judge Sir Christopher, looking down on the
riff-raff from her multimillion-pound Islington
house. It wasn’t a good look, and Ed Miliband
forced her to resign.
Three years on, Thornberry is credited as a key
architect of Labour’s comeback, and widely
tipped to be the party’s next leader. She deputises
for Jeremy Corbyn in PMQs and, as one political
commentator put it, “certainly gets how to
dominate the session: she’s theatrical, clearly
enjoys herself, can think on her feet and has a dry
wit.” Her relentless attack on the government’s
impression of “sleepwalking” towards no deal
on Brexit has been credited with making that
a significantly less likely outcome, and she
recently had Boris Johnson on the ropes over
his carelessness concerning Nazanin ZaghariRatcliffe’s imprisonment in Iran.
“If Boris is going to stay in post, then he has
With Jeremy Corbyn at this year’s
Labour party conference in Brighton
Was Ed Miliband
right to fire her?
‘When you know
my background,
you know I’m
not looking down
on people’
to start to pay attention, and start taking the job
seriously,” she says. “And start understanding
that what he says means something. When
you’ve made a mistake, you have to admit you’ve
made a mistake, and correct it. What was it,
12 days? And then to have [Michael] Gove
appearing on television. What was he playing at?
He was trying to be loyal to Boris, but how can
you do that when there’s a young mother
languishing in jail. How could he not know?
Surely he must know what the true situation is.”
As for Priti Patel’s off-piste adventures, “It just
shows a lack of discipline, because there’s no one
around to discipline. All the leading people in the
Tory party are looking further than Brexit, to their
individual futures and their chances of becoming
leader. Theresa May is the titular head, but it’s as if
she’s crashing around depending on who puts the
most pressure on her.”
It is a remarkable turnaround for Thornberry,
and part of the explanation is, of course, political.
As one of the few frontbench Corbynistas
reassuringly familiar to Blairites and Brownites,
she cuts a unifying figure within the party.
After a 20-year career at the bar as a criminal
barrister, she brings a heavyweight’s experience
to frontbench politics. But if her resignation
ultimately came down to optics – the elusive
power of public perception – it seems very clear
to me after spending time with Thornberry that
optics also play a big part in her success.
We meet at a hotel in Blackpool early one
Saturday in early November, where she is about
to make a speech to the North West Labour
conference. As she is one of the headline names,
I expect her to be sequestered away in a room
until she is due on stage, but instead find her
in the lobby amid the crush of lanyards and
polystyrene coffee cups, nursing a hangover after
the previous night’s gala dinner.
She opens her speech with a joke about
needing aspirin, pays playful tribute to senior
colleagues’ karaoke skills and gets a big laugh
for calling Donald Trump an “enormous asteroid
of awfulness”, before moving on to Brexit,
Boris and the currently perilous reputation of
British foreign policy. More conversational than
oratorical, she finishes to rapturous applause,
with large sections of the audience on its feet.
Afterwards, she tours the lobby stands, chats to
delegates, submits to a frenzy of selfies and gives
a TV interview, during which she is asked about
everything from the northern powerhouse to
sexual harassment.
The interviewer looks amazed when she tells
him she’s been groped and flashed at in the street.
Thornberry finds this bewildering, if not surprising.
She later tells me she was once assaulted in the
lift of a tower block, and “I remember saying
to the police, ‘Well, this sort of thing happens,
doesn’t it?’ I started reeling off to the cops, ‘Well,
this has happened to me, and that has happened
to me, and this’, and I could sense them getting
increasingly uncomfortable. I began to realise
that they thought I was a little bit crazy and must
be making all this up. And yet, when you talk
to women, you know it happens to everybody.”
She experienced plenty of sexual harassment on
arriving in parliament in 2005. “But I just ignored
it. It’s about power, and it’s about misogyny. It’s
about putting you in your place.”
We catch a train to Liverpool, where she
addresses a Labour Students conference,
takes questions and poses for a million more
selfies. Night has fallen by the time our train
arrives back in London; the following morning,
she will be up early and back on duty again,
doing the rounds of the Sunday politics television
shows. The last time Thornberry took a weekend
off was in June.
It is the long, unglamorous slog of opposition,
fuelled by KitKats and leavened by the occasional
moment of The Thick Of It farce. There is
a minor dress emergency before her Blackpool
speech, when gaping cleavage sends an aide
scurrying for a needle and thread. No dark
cotton can be found, so the black dress is hastily
stitched up with bright purple thread, which
preserves Thornberry’s modesty but looks a little
surprising. “Oh well, it was that or bright yellow,”
she shrugs philosophically. There is another brief
panic before the TV interview begins, when →
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 19
the aide spots that Thornberry’s cardigan has
obscured her poppy and dives in to rearrange the
outfit and spare her boss the Daily Mail’s wrath.
Our photoshoot takes place in her Westminster
office on another day; she arrives immaculately
groomed in a beautiful silk dress, but before the
shoot is over, she is clambering on to a chair and
out of the window to smoke a fag on the roof.
All politicians must wrestle with the mysterious
and conflicting rules of an electable public image.
I have encountered few, if any, however, who
find this less problematic than Thornberry.
Strikingly tactile and relaxed, when she talks,
she leans in closely, her body language almost
conspiratorial, creating an instant impression of
intimacy – yet her stride is heavy and purposeful,
commanding authority without grandeur. When
she laughs, which is a lot, her eyes crinkle
almost until they close – the very opposite of
Clinton’s wide-eyed beam that US voters found so
unnerving. The version of herself that Thornberry
presents on stage or camera is indistinguishable
from the one I see chatting with cab drivers, and
she talks to me in the same easy register whether
or not the Dictaphone is running. In a political era
that prizes authenticity above all else, Thornberry
is a natural.
When we meet in her office in Portcullis House,
Thornberry’s media adviser, Damian McBride
– the infamous spin doctor forced to resign by
Gordon Brown in 2009 for plotting to smear
senior Tories – is nowhere to be seen. Given the
current shadow cabinet’s distrust of mainstream
media, I’m surprised when the only aide in
evidence leaves us alone.
Thornberry sits at a little table away from her
desk and pours tea from a china set. She is heavy
with dismay at the government’s belligerent
approach to Brexit negotiations. “If I had a row
with my husband, it’s not going to work my
saying, ‘Right, if you don’t do what I want, I’m
‘I would not be
fine holding
Trump’s hand.
I would have
pulled my hand
away. His wife
can do it’
going to walk out.’ It doesn’t work on any level.
What you do is you go in and you say, ‘I have
a problem. You have a problem. Let’s try and sort
this out together.’ You don’t come to an agreement
with people who you’re falling out with badly.”
Like most of her colleagues, the MP for
Islington South & Finsbury was a passionate
remainer. Why doesn’t Labour reposition itself
as the anti-Brexit party and promise to reverse
Article 50, if elected, before time runs out?
“I don’t think we should be undermining our
democracy. I think there are people who came
out to vote in that referendum who hadn’t voted
for literally decades, because they thought they
weren’t listened to. And then we, the political
establishment, turn around and go: ‘Oh, you’re
too stupid. We’re not going to listen to you. We’ve
actually got a better idea – we’re going to stay’?
You just can’t do it. You just can’t do it.”
Labour could, I suggest, offer the country
a second referendum once the terms of Brexit
are known. “But there isn’t that great shift in
the polls, is there?” Thornberry says. “So we just
have to look after the country as best we can.
We have to look after our democracy, we have to
look after our economy, we have to leave, and we
have to get the best possible deal. And I certainly
hope we have a general election before any more
damage is done by this government. We can do
things differently and that’s the hope that the →
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 21
Emily Thornberry,
photographed outside
her office in Portcullis
House, Westminster,
last month
Labour party offers. There is another way.”
As foreign secretary, she would pursue a very
different kind of diplomacy, she says. “I think that
Boris’s temptation to show off and make jokes
is not helpful. I don’t think you negotiate with
people by going around telling them that they’re
like Nazi guards or it’s all about prosecco. It’s all
good fun and so on, but this isn’t a dinner party.
This is representing your country and looking
after the country’s interests. I mean, people don’t
take him seriously. People I’ve spoken to say that
they laugh at Britain. I hate that.”
She would certainly take a different approach
towards the current White House. “What I’m
trying to do is make our friendship closer with
America, but not necessarily Donald Trump.
We’re capable of independent thought in a way
that the current government doesn’t seem to be
in relation to America.” Had she been in Theresa
May’s shoes when the president held the prime
minister’s hand, “I would have pulled my hand
away. His wife can do it,” she chuckles, “why can’t
anybody else? But, seriously, yes, I would have.
“I would not be fine being seen holding his hand,
because I don’t want to hold his hand. I don’t want
anybody to think that I have any agreement with
him, or any sort of close relationship with him.
I think that he’s a danger and I don’t think that
he’s temperamentally suited to be president of
the United States. The thing that worries me most
is that he has a nuclear button. How do we make
sure that there are checks and balances to make
sure that he doesn’t, in a fit of pique at three in
the morning, decide: ‘That’s it’?”
She genuinely worries about Trump blowing up
the world? “Yes, I do.” As a real and present
danger? “I think it is. I think it would be
complacent for us to think otherwise.”
To hear a shadow foreign secretary talk about the
US president in such terms is without precedent.
“I agree, but he is not the United States. I don’t
have a problem with America, but I do have
a fundamental problem with Donald Trump.”
Does she think he will be impeached? “It’s
part of the complete uncertainty. We don’t know
whether he will serve the full term. Will he just
decide one morning he doesn’t want to do it any
more? I mean, who knows?” I suggest Trump’s
vanity would rule out walking away. “I don’t
know. His vanity might also say, ‘Well, if you
don’t want me, I’m off.’”
I put the question another way: does she
hope he is impeached? She looks conflicted.
“I do want America back in the mainstream. But
then, obviously, the other side of it is that the
American political system can seize up if there’s
an impeachment. It can suck all the oxygen out
of the American political system, just like Brexit
does in Britain.”
Thornberry says she spends a lot of time
building relationships with both Democrats and
Republicans in Washington, “so that they know
where we’re coming from”. Yet I’m struck during
our visit to the north-west by how few people in
‘He loved me unconditionally, and he has
done for 35 years’: with her husband, the
high court judge Sir Christopher Nugee
‘His family were
quite surprised.
His grandmother
said the name
Emily was a bit
below stairs’
this country appear to know who she is. Inside
the conference venues, her presence ignites
a flurry of celebrity thrill, but the moment we
step outside, she becomes anonymous. Only once
does anyone appear to recognise her. “You look,”
a ticket conductor tells her, “like that Labour
politician.” At first I take her invisibility to indicate
she still has a long way to go, but I change my
mind as the day wears on. It’s quite a skill to blend
in seamlessly on a rickety old train to Preston,
and look equally congruent amid the lofty
splendour of Westminster.
This ambidextrous class identity is probably not
a coincidence. When I ask if Ed Miliband had been
right to fire her for the England flags tweet, she
points out that her own brother was a van-driving
builder. “When you know my background, if you
think about it, I’m not looking down on people.
I was brought up on a council estate in a house
that was very similar.” She often cites the poverty
of her childhood in her defence against the charge
of snobbery. But although very real, this hardship
is not quite the full story.
Thornberry was born in Guildford in 1960,
the eldest of three children, to middle-class,
politically active parents. Her father was an
Oxbridge-educated barrister, academic, foreign
correspondent and international human rights
lawyer, before later joining the United Nations,
where he became assistant secretary general.
When he left the family for another woman,
Thornberry was plunged into an unfamiliar new
life of domestic distress and free school dinners.
“We had to queue up for lunch separately, with
different coloured tickets. It was shaming.” In
photographs of her and her two younger brothers
taken around the time their parents split up, “our
eyes are very, very deep. Sort of black eyes, big
rims under them. We were quite badly disturbed
kids.” She remembers sitting at the back of the
class one day, “and the teacher stood behind
me throughout the lesson, while she taught,
and combed my hair, because my hair was such
a mess.” It doesn’t sound as if her mother could
cope. “She used to sit up late with me and drink
whisky and talk to me about how terrible my dad
was and how unfair things were.”
Thornberry failed her 11-plus and went to the
local secondary modern, where she “didn’t really
fit in” and was badly bullied. “The school was
on the edge of our estate, and I used to go home
through a hole in the fence, and they used to
wait for me. It was in the days when kids wore
platform shoes, and I used to get really quite
badly beaten up. They tried to force a sanitary
towel down my throat.”
Sometimes she would visit her father, who had
moved to west London with his beautiful new
partner. “I remember there was a photograph that
my dad had taken of her nude, which was a lovely
picture, but I was quite shocked.” Was his world
bewilderingly bohemian for a Guildford council
house girl? “Yes, yes. He was terribly glamorous.
But he wasn’t terribly interested in us.”
He was, though, ambitious for his children.
“From Dad, there was, ‘You’re bright, anything is
possible, get on with it.’ From Mum, it was much
more kind of taking the mickey out of us, you
know, undermining our confidence.” The mixed
signals were confusing, and she became an angry,
lonely teenager.
As she grew, though, so did her father’s
influence. “I was going out with a squaddie and
he said, ‘Don’t worry about all of this. When you
get to 16, we’ll get married.’ And I just thought,
oh my God, no. A lot of my friends from school
were thinking in those terms. But there seemed to
be a big disconnect between my dad and the way
we lived.”
At 15, she fell out with her mother and went to
live with her father; but when she was 17 he went
to New York “for the weekend”, joined the UN
and never came back. Alone in London, she resat
her O-levels, took A-levels and won a place at the
University of Kent, followed by bar school. “I was
poor, but I was ambitious and driven and chippy.”
She and her husband met at bar school while
playing bridge. Public school-educated and
unambiguously posh, “he just loved me. He
loved me unconditionally, and he has done for
35 years. I seriously think the big turning point →
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 23
in my life was meeting my husband. To be fair,
his mum has said that his meeting me was the
making of him, too.”
Were there cultural or class tensions? “There
was quite a lot of that when we first met, and it was
a challenge,” she chuckles. “His family were quite
surprised. What did his mother call me? A prickly
little thing.” His grandmother was even doubtful
about the name Emily. “It’s all very well,” she told
her grandson, “but a bit below stairs.”
“So it was a bit intimidating, yes. But they
were so kind to me and so welcoming and
affectionate, they really were, always.” A smile
spreads across her face. “It must have been a
bit of a shock for them, you know.” In her early
career, working for a firm of solicitors, she spent
six months sleeping on a friend’s sofa before
being rehoused in an east London council flat.
“It was on the top floor, faced north-east, and it
was freezing. We had a shallow end and a deep
end in the lift, because people used to piss in it.
His parents came to visit, and it must have been
a bit of a surprise for them.”
There is a dauntless quality about Thornberry
that she attributes in part to the security of her
happy marriage. Her husband is “very protective”
and finds the bruising intrusions of her public
life much harder than she does. He “loathes”
journalists, she says, which I see for myself when
he greets her off the train at Euston. He accepts
my hand reluctantly, won’t meet my eye and
She was the third
most abused
politician online
this year. ‘But
I want girls to
look up to me, not
feel sorry for me’
coldly turns his back; I am not so much greeted
as dismissed. In a subsequent phone call, she
apologises for his hostility, but says the years of
being doorstepped in the family home, where
they live with their three grown-up children, have
taken their toll.
Thornberry herself is so inured by now to the
rough and tumble of political life, she says she
barely notices when anyone is rude to her. She
was the third most abused female politician
online in the country this year, after Diane Abbott
and the SNP’s Joanna Cherry, “But I don’t talk
about it. I don’t want to be a victim and I’m not
a victim. I have other things I want to talk about.”
Does she worry about her personal safety? She
shoots a meaningful look. “Oh, yes. But I don’t
talk about that. I want young girls to look at me
as a role model – someone they might want to be.
I don’t want them to feel sorry for me.”
The only thing that does intimidate her,
Thornberry says, apart from “very cultured,
well-read people – you know, intellectuals”,
is standing in at PMQs. “Yes, that does make
me a bit nervous,” she laughs. But I suspect she
secretly loves it, and I find her self-confidence
mesmerising. It’s very rare for an opposition
politician who has never held office to look
so convincingly like a minister in waiting, but
then, as she says, “The government could
collapse literally any day now. And it could be
on something that nobody anticipates – and
that will be it.”
The one and only time I see Thornberry look
uneasy is when I ask if she shares the view of many
of her colleagues that the next Labour leader must
be a woman. She evades the question repeatedly,
and I think I can guess why, but ask anyway.
“Oh, God,” she sighs heavily. “I don’t want to
open this whole stuff up. I don’t want it to be that
I’m quoted in the paper saying, ‘Oh, the next leader
of the Labour party should be a woman’ and then
there’ll be all this, ‘Oh, why’s she saying that?’
Jeremy is the leader, and I really hope that I will be
the next foreign secretary. That’s what I want.” •
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 25
So what
time do we
clock off ?
These orange
bots sprint miles
through Amazon
slashing the time
it takes to complete
a shopping order.
What does that
mean for their
human colleagues?
John Harris reports.
by Ben Quinton
ext to the M56, on the outskirts of
Manchester, the future has landed.
A cluster of huge distribution centres
sits at the heart of Airport City,
a new development part-funded by the Beijing
Construction Engineering Group (two years ago,
it was visited by president Xi Jinping of China).
Among the biggest buildings is one of Amazon’s
self-styled “fulfilment centres”. Known within
the company as MAN1, it opened in September
last year, but everything inside, from the chairs
to the wall-mounted screens, looks as if it has
just come out of a box. Deeper within the centre,
beyond the reception area and meeting rooms,
there is something else just as new: a great
expanse of space behind a metal cage, where
dozens of robots, finished in Amazon orange and
each emblazoned with its own number, glide
across the floor, gracefully avoiding collisions and
sprinting to their next task.
Amazon employees call them “drives”, but to all
intents and purposes these are droids, summoned
from the dreams of science fiction and put to work.
In some Amazon warehouses, workers – or, in
the company’s parlance, “associates” – still pace
up and down huge aisles, picking out goods and
preparing them for shipment; these shifts are said
sometimes to involve hikes of 11 miles. But here
everything moves much more quickly. The humans
in charge of the process known as “picking” now
remain in closed workstations, built around
a screen that tells them what they need to get next,
while the robots bring the shelves – reinvented
as four-sided fabric towers, full of pouches that
contain everything from DVDs to dolls – to them.
The robots lift the towers using their most
obvious feature: a big black cylinder that can
withstand a serious amount of weight and which
locks on to the shelves using a corkscrew action.
They navigate by following barcodes stuck to
the warehouse floor, and have a front-mounted
camera that ensures they don’t collide with
each other. They will pause for five minutes of
recharging every hour, and get their instructions
from software that runs on a cloud server.
Today, these robots are under the command of
Sean McFadzean, a 26-year-old with a background
in electrical engineering. He has worked here for
a year: his corner of the building is effectively
a robot garage, replete with a mixture of screens
and tools. “The whole thing has just gripped me,”
he says. “It’s fascinating.”
Does he have a favourite robot? “I actually do.
64117. There’s a kind of leaderboard system that
tracks each drive unit, and I follow them all. 64117
has travelled only 164 metres the whole time it’s
been here. It’s the laziest drive we’ve got. It’s got
the work/life balance worked out.”
The introduction of robots to Amazon
warehouses in the US and Europe has released
huge amounts of space once taken up by the
storage facilities built around people; it is also
said to have cut the time it takes to complete
an order from more than an hour to 15 minutes.
An Amazon ‘associate’ in Manchester checks shelves that robots transport to their human co-workers
It has been estimated that when Amazon
customers now receive a package from a centre
such as this, its preparation will have involved
no more than a minute of human work. A great
deal of Amazon’s nitty-gritty operations are
increasingly done by software and machines –
and the company is by no means alone.
In his bestselling book Homo Deus, the Israeli
historian Yuval Noah Harari makes a simple
point about why the future of work may differ
drastically from its past. Since the Industrial
Revolution, he writes, “As old professions became
obsolete, new professions evolved, and there
was always something humans could do better
than machines.” People in developed countries
went from “fields and flocks” to industrial jobs,
and then into service industries. “Yet this is not
a law of nature,” he points out, “and nothing
guarantees it will continue to be like that in the
future.” With many jobs in service industries on
the verge of being automated away, what new
work will there be for the millions of people who
currently do them?
There are two broad schools of thought about
what is happening to paid employment in the
21st century. One is essentially optimistic. The
optimists cite the way that, although technology
always does away with some jobs, it usually
creates others. If the Industrial Revolution was
bad news for weavers, it also led to millions
of people working in hitherto unimagined
occupations, from train driving to rocket science.
With some justification, the optimists also tend to
evangelise about the liberating prospect of people
being freed from some of the most monotonous,
soul-destroying work.
The other view is more downbeat, and points
to the possible dawn of what Harari describes as
“the useless class”: large numbers of people who
will have no economic value. In this view of
things, we need to accept that if paid employment
will soon be in much shorter supply, we have to →
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 31
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Amazon robots have
cut the time it takes
to complete an order
from more than an
hour to 15 minutes
There are tasks only a human can do, such as the careful packing of boxes. But for how long?
Amazon now runs an annual competition to invent a robot that can do this
come up with radical answers – starting with the
introduction of a universal basic income.
In March this year, a report by the consultancy
firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) found that
more than 10 million workers in the UK are at
risk of having their jobs rendered obsolete by
automation in the next 15 years; 2.25m of them
currently work in retail and distribution. “For
those with just GCSE-level education or lower,
the estimated potential risk of automation is
as high as 46% in the UK,” said the report, “but
this falls to only around 12% for those with
undergraduate degrees or higher.” Clearly,
automation is tangled up with inequality, and
if we’re not careful, the gaps that increasingly
separate different kinds of worker will soon get
even bigger.
Amazon’s senior staff tell me the company now
employs more than 500,000 people around the
world (up from just over 300,000 a year ago, and
a figure that excludes seasonal workers). They
also insist human beings will always be central to
what they do. Further up the hierarchy, software
engineering, machine design and all kinds of
innovation depend on human ingenuity and hard
graft. Meanwhile, plenty of tasks in fulfilment
centres, they say, are still too complex for
robots: checks on quality, the quick assembly of
cardboard boxes, the careful packing of items.
But for how long? For the past three years,
the company has organised a competition, the
Amazon Robotics Challenge, in which entrants
have to come up with a robot that “identifies
objects, grasps them, and then safely packs them
in boxes”. This year, £60,000 in prize money
was won by a team from the Australian Centre
For Robotic Vision in Brisbane, who invented
Cartman, which uses “suction cups and a twofingered claw to grasp and manipulate items”;
one of the team was swiftly hired. Meanwhile,
Amazon’s experiments with drones are well
known (it officially launched a drone-based
delivery method called Prime Air in 2013, though
it is unlikely to become a reality until 2020 at
the earliest). The company is also said to be
researching the use of driverless vehicles.
“We’re taking the kinds of techniques and
processes that have been long established in
manufacturing and applying them to a service
industry,” says Roy Perticucci, Amazon’s
European vice-president for customer fulfilment.
“That causes a reallocation of resources, and it’s
really a third or fourth wave of industrialisation:
it started in manufacturing, and it continued
through to everything else.”
Amazon got its droids, Perticucci tells me, by
paying $775m for the acquisition of Kiva Robotics,
the Massachusetts-based firm that invented
them, in March 2012. “We were so excited by the
idea that we bought the company,” he says. The
system they sit at the heart of is now in operation
at 25 US distribution centres, along with a handful
in the UK, Poland and Germany.
It is all about the elimination of waste and
“dead time”, Perticucci explains, and the
importance of flawless customer service. He
traces what Amazon is doing to the kind of
factory automation with which we have all
been familiar for years: robot arms picking and
prodding at assembly lines, while human beings
see to the tasks that require a bit more thought.
Like Harari, Perticucci uses the example of
the Industrial Revolution, but with a positive
spin: “In the end, almost everyone involved was
far better off, and the quality of whatever was
being provided was better than what had been
there before.”
Clearly, though, if I now buy a book or a record
from Amazon, rather than a shop, there is much
less human effort involved.
“Er, I would say that, in the most valuable
portion of their creation, which is writing the
book or making the music, I think that’s about
the same.”
Of course. But what about production, and
getting the book or the record to people?
“Sure. There are probably fewer people →
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 33
involved than there were before. But this is not a
zero-sum game. And industrial history over the
last 100 years or so has proved that this creates
more opportunities, not fewer.”
What does he make of the increasingly
influential idea that a great wave of robotics,
artificial intelligence and automation is about to
make millions of us unemployed?
“Look, let’s go back,” Perticucci says. He
mentions “the thresher rebellion”, which I think
is a reference to the Swing Riots of the 1830s,
when farm workers in the south of England
violently protested against the mechanisation of
agriculture. “They taught me all that in history
class,” Perticucci says. “There were people who
would no longer be threshers because they
invented the threshing machine. But those people
ended up doing other things. And by the way, in
the process, instead of dying at 35, they made it to
45 or 55. I think that’s true now as well. Very few
of us are still manual workers. What is happening
now is just a natural continuation of something
that’s been happening for a long time.”
In Hatfield, the online supermarket Ocado runs
two very different operations on either side of
a ring road. One is a vast distribution centre, where
many of the workers seem to arrive either on foot
or by bike, dressed in voluminous clothing to
guard against the elements. The other is the HQ
of Ocado’s tech division, staffed by people in their
20s and 30s dressed in casualwear, who clutch
takeaway coffees and fidget with their phones.
As well as its own brand, Ocado manages
orders for Waitrose and Morrisons. A lot of online
shopping is still based on distribution centres
designed along the same lines as a conventional
supermarket, so workers pace up and down
endless aisles and fill trolleys. Here, things could
not be more different. The systems that run the
centre have been in operation since 2012 – and,
as with Amazon, have steadily moved towards
a model in which human “pickers” stay put, and
machines move everything around.
“We are better than a supermarket,” reads a sign
on one of the walls. “We have no stores. We have
no limits.” Everything is based around a labyrinth
of conveyor belts and storage towers, which ferry
three different kinds of crate around the building.
Green and yellow crates contain the “ambient and
chilled” products that makes up most of Ocado’s
stock (frozen items are dealt with by a completely
different system in which humans take items out
of huge freezers). Red crates contain customer
orders. The software that keeps a great deal of the
system running works through machine learning:
it draws conclusions from mistakes, and also
notices if particular manoeuvres speed things up.
Most of the pickers, who are paid between £8
and £10.65 an hour, are women. I meet Ophelia,
from Romania, and watch her work; she rapidly
takes items – Schwartz spices, Rich Tea biscuits,
Colgate toothpaste – out of green and yellow
crates, and transfers them to red ones, following
‘It’s better than before,’ says one worker at Ocado’s automated Hatfield HQ. ‘Less walking’
orders that flash on to a screen. She tells me she
started work today at 4.45am and will knock off
at 2.45pm. What’s it like working here, I ask her.
“It’s OK,” she shouts over the sound of the
machinery. “It’s better than before. Less walking.”
This is not the most advanced of Ocado’s
distribution centres. In another building in
Andover in Hampshire (where journalists are not
permitted), the company has launched a new
system in which products are kept in a huge, floorto-ceiling “hive”. They are pushed to the top
as required, and robots not unlike the Amazon
droids scoop them out and ferry them to pickers.
The impact on efficiency is remarkable: whereas
Hatfield starts and finishes the average customer
order of 50 items in around two hours, the
Andover system can do it in around 15 minutes.
All of this is explained to me in a meeting room
by two senior Ocado employees: Alex Voica, the
head of technology PR and communications,
and Matt Soane, general manager of the tech
division, who has been central to most of Ocado’s
innovations. We talk for 90 minutes, and the
conversation is regularly interrupted by Voica
turning to his laptop and showing me videos and
photographs of cutting-edge inventions. The
system in Andover is particularly mind-boggling:
everything looks so pristine and smooth-running
that it appears to be a computer simulation but
is actually a film, shot earlier this year by a drone
flown through the warehouse.
In partnership with a British firm called
Oxbotica, Ocado has trialled driverless delivery
vans, which earlier this year did two-mile loops
around Greenwich in south London. Together with
the Disney corporation, the company is involved
in robotics work aimed at approximating the
dexterity of the human hand – trying to crack the
same problem Amazon has: how to automate the
job of picking, particularly fruit and vegetables,
without causing damage. Its robotics teams have
worked on a suction-based picking robot that →
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 35
Conveyor belts ferry
crates to human
pickers at Ocado
People like the ritual of an Ocado driver knocking at the door. ‘If you remove that,
you lose some of what makes us human.’ But the company is now testing driverless vans
can move tins, boxes and other products that
have a uniform shape. “It uses a camera to look
into the bin and figure out what and where to
pick, and then where to place it,” Voica says. “It
can do part of our range, and it’s ready to be
In September, in an analysis of Ocado’s prospects
aimed at potential shareholders, financial services
giant Credit Suisse looked at the patents Ocado has
recently filed and concluded that the company was
pushing into “an automated future”. Half of its
staff, it said, could be gone within a decade. What,
I wonder, did Voica and Soane make of that?
Voica exhales. “I think what we’ve tried to
show you is that robotics and automation and
humans can coexist and work better together.”
The human element, he insists, is crucial,
as evidenced by some people’s emotional
attachment to the ritual of an Ocado driver
knocking at their door. “For some customers,
those interactions are incredibly important,”
he says. “If you remove that completely, which
I think is what they’re suggesting, you lose some
of what makes you human, as a company.”
“The change is fairly incremental,” Soane says.
“You’re not going to do all of your picking with
robotics suddenly.”
We very quickly arrive back at the same
question highlighted by my visit to Amazon.
36 25 November 2017 | The Guardian Weekend
Clearly, in the supermarket business, there is
a big shift under way. The amount of human
effort it takes to get goods into people’s homes
is dwindling as machines take over much of the
work. That’s incontrovertibly true, isn’t it?
“But I still believe that automation gives the
possibility of people doing other things and
providing those as part of the service,” Soane
says. “It’s not that the robot replaces the person.
New possibilities open up.”
What form those possibilities will take,
however, and exactly whom they will be
open to, is a question that consumes Swedish
academic Carl Benedikt Frey. Working at Oxford
University’s Martin School, which describes itself
as “a world-leading centre of pioneering research
that addresses global challenges”, Frey has been
intensively researching the relationship between
automation and human employment since 2011.
He now spends 90% of his professional life
working on the subject, and his findings do not
make for comforting reading.
Four years ago, he co-authored a watershed
paper titled The Future Of Employment: How
Susceptible Are Jobs To Computerisation?,
which put the proportion of US workers
threatened by technology at 47%. An update will
be published next year, and among Frey’s recent
pronouncements is the claim that “retail is one
industry in which employment is likely to
vanish, as it has done in manufacturing, mining
and agriculture”.
Frey tells me the lack of manufacturing jobs
in the UK, relative to the US, puts the share of
British jobs that could be automated at around
35%; but he gives the impression that this is
cold comfort. Automation, he explains, first hit
manufacturing. Then it began to affect
secretaries and bookkeepers in the “white
collar” parts of the economy, where AI and new
digital innovations are now advancing even
further. Although the technology is only just
starting to be implemented, the same effect is
set to tear through unskilled or semi-skilled
work in services.
This, Frey insists, may not entail mass
unemployment. “There will always be jobs if
people are prepared to work for sufficiently
low wages,” he says, matter-of-factly. “But the
big question is whether people are going to be
better off as a result of automation in the future.”
He pauses. “Some will. Some won’t.”
His research points to widening inequality. “A lot
of people who are highly skilled will gain from
automation. Lower-skilled workers are likely to
lose out.” In time, he says, generations with more
tech skills and an adaptable attitude to work
may ease the birth pangs of this new world; but →
Helping you create the
perfect Christmas feast
Visit your local Dobbies or
shop online at
if you’re a 55-year-old who has lost their job to
a robot, things are likely to be bleak. There may be
work in fields that require “complex social
interactions” – he mentions fitness trainers,
beauticians and carers – but it may well be poorly
paid and not suited to everybody.
When is the kind of disruption he predicts?
“I think when we have autonomous vehicles
on the road, then we will know,” Frey says. This
may not be as far off as it sounds: transport
minister Chris Grayling said recently that the
first autonomous cars will be commercially
available in 2021.
Aviva insurance has 33 million customers spread
across 16 countries. Its future is being planned
from what it calls “a digital garage” in Hoxton
Square, one small part of the expanding cluster
of tech businesses centred around Old Street,
London’s Silicon Roundabout. It is, inevitably,
not a garage at all, but a wood-lined warren of
desks, benches, meeting rooms and cafe spaces
populated by young people in casualwear.
I meet people working on insurance advice
that will be piped through the Amazon Echo (ask
it, for example, what a pension annuity is, or how
to take advantage of a no-claims bonus, and an
answer instantly comes back). Others are busy
automating the way Aviva pays the companies
that fix the cars and do the household repairs
that insurance pays for. I’m also introduced to
Neil Dodd, the man in charge of the visual side of
Aviva’s online operations, notably its MyAviva app.
Until recently, he worked for Activision, creator of
such games as Call Of Duty and Guitar Hero.
Walking around, you get a clear sense that the
human/machine balance in insurance, pensions,
banking and other financial services is changing
fast. Software can now process routine insurance
claims and spot probable fraud. Aviva’s big idea
is called Ask It Never, built around a vision of
people applying for insurance and not having to
be asked a single question – because software will
do most of the work, finding out who you are and
what risks you might present from the huge trail
of data we all create.
Obviously, this is not the kind of automation
you can see. It is based around an endless array
of computer applications – in Aviva’s case, as
many as 40 – which crunch numbers and process
information behind a wall of apps and websites.
Most of us tend to think of the insurance industry
as being awash with forms, bills and people
processing applications and claims, but that is not
how the future is going to look at all.
This year’s PwC study found that 32% of UK
jobs in finance and insurance might soon be
automated. In Frey’s 2013 study, top of the list
of roles ranked susceptible to automation were
claims and policy processing clerks, claims
adjusters, examiners and investigators, insurance
underwriters – jobs central to this industry.
Aviva’s chief digital officer is Andrew Brem:
a floral-shirted fortysomething who talks about
A robotic crane picks crates from towering shelves at an Ocado warehouse in Hatfield
the future with a breathless zeal. Sitting in
an alcove near Aviva’s meeting space – where
it also hosts yoga sessions – he explains how
he and his teams want insurance to work.
Automation, he says, holds out the prospect of
dealing with your insurance policies or pension
plan in a much more agreeable way, but that
requires a top-to-bottom transformation. “We
talk about being 2% done. Partly because our
aspirations are really far ahead. We want the
experience of engaging with Aviva to be as good
as Facebook, or Amazon, or Airbnb.
“Fifteen years ago,” he continues, “if you
wanted insurance, you would still have gone to
talk to someone, probably in a branch. They’d fill
in a load of forms, compare a load of prices, get a
quote, and eventually make it all happen. How
do you do it today? We’ll have to ask you a few
questions, but we’re literally getting it down to
two or three. I don’t know why I get asked what
kind of house I live in, because I only need to
look at Google Street View to know that. There
are lots of different places to get information in
an automated way. We want to make it totally
The company, he says, has investments in tech
startups which are using AI to speed up how
Aviva might amass information about people.
He says he can’t give away the details, but one
of them is working on the application of AI to
selfies. “From the selfie, the software can, for
example, make judgments about your body
mass index,” he says. “So you don’t have to get
someone to measure you. These are experimental
things, but we want to experiment.”
This kind of talk will jangle some people’s
nerves. Might automation extend to software that
trawls people’s Facebook profiles? “Not yet, no.
We’re not doing that at the moment.”
What about a newspaper report in February that
Aviva planned to ask each of its 16,000 employees
whether their job could be automated? →
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 39
“Employees who answer ‘yes’ will be retrained
for another role at the firm,” the report suggested.
The scheme was reportedly discussed at the
highest level of the company.
“I do remember hearing about that,” Brem says.
“I never found out what was said to whom.” A later
exchange of emails does not result in any official
denial or confirmation; the company line is that
“conversations are taking place – and encouraged
– at all levels across Aviva… If there are parts of
roles that can be automated, it’s important that
we identify them and look at whether this could
enable colleagues to spend more time putting their
skills to better use.”
What will all these changes mean for the kind
of jobs the company can offer people, I ask Brem.
“Repetitive, menial tasks are less relevant,
right?” Brem says. “Here, we’re talking internally
about the organisation of the future and what it
means for work: the gig economy, and all that
kind of stuff. My view is that, let’s face it, we’re all
going to have many careers and jobs over our long
working lives now. We’re going to be employed
and self-employed – that distinction’s going to go,
I think. But the important thing is to have really
good basic education, plus some cultural traits
like resilience, curiosity and adaptability… and at
various points, we’re all going to have to retrain.”
There are echoes here of the future mapped out
by Frey and his colleagues. Clearly, a lot more
‘We’re all going to
have many careers
over our working
lives now. The
important thing is to
have good basic
education, plus
cultural traits like
resilience, curiosity
and adaptability’
demands will be made of people.
“I don’t know if it’s more or less demanding,”
Brem says. “To me, it’s a lot more interesting.”
It may well be, but in an industry traditionally
as labour-intensive as insurance, all this means
fewer jobs, doesn’t it?
“Everybody seems to say that of every industry,”
he says. “The truth is, generally speaking, what
every company is trying to do is grow their
business and have people doing different jobs.
What I do has got nothing to do with job
reduction. That is not the big prize here.”
But will it be the end result? Upstairs, in a loft
space at the top of the building, is the cramped
HQ of the Aviva offshoot Quotemehappy, an
online-only insurance operation that sells itself
on the promise of low cost. On one wall is
a plasma screen that tracks the number of people
referred to it on a minute-by-minute basis by such
online services as Moneysupermarket and
Comparethemarket. On a nearby shelf is
a collection of toy meerkats.
“We test new things here,” says the run
manager in charge. These include automated
chatbots on Facebook Messenger, which entice
people into buying insurance by engaging them in
algorithm-enabled conversation, and software
that processes claims with no need for human
work. An in-house “fraud guru” keeps watch over
everything – but, I’m told, “the data identifies
claims that don’t require intervention, and we
pay them”. These are tasks that once required the
labour of whole departments; now, digital
processors take the strain.
Looking around, I get the same feeling of
future-shock I experienced at Amazon and
Ocado: a sense of hardware and software whirring
away, and all those people clutching phones and
coffee cups planning more of the innovations that
are disrupting the world of work as never before.
Some of Quotemehappy’s operations are dealt
with by Aviva staff in Perth and Norwich, but to
all intents and purposes, it is run from here. It has
one million customers, and is growing fast. Its
workforce totals 25 •
we’ve had
a few...
Changed your
mind about Brexit?
Dorian Lynskey
meets the leavers
who wish they’d
voted differently
Weekend | 25 November 2017 43
Craig Hopson
n the morning of 23 June 2016, Rosamund Shaw
still wasn’t sure if she wanted Britain to leave the
European Union. During the preceding weeks,
she had been in turmoil. She absorbed a stream
of negative stories about the EU in the Daily Mail, but wasn’t
sure they were reliable. She trusted Boris Johnson, but loathed
Michael Gove. Her family was divided. One daughter, who
worked abroad, was a staunch remainer; the other an adamant
leaver. Upending the usual age dynamic, her younger relatives
complained of eastern European migrants costing them work,
while her mother, who had lived through the second world
war, felt that the EU had guaranteed peace in Europe. In the
voting booth, Shaw finally made her choice: she voted leave.
“To be quite frank, I did not believe it would happen,” she says.
“I thought I’d put in a protest vote. The impact of my stupidity!”
As soon as Shaw saw the result the following morning, her
heart sank. “I was in shock,” she remembers. “Even though
I voted leave, I thought, ‘Oh no! This is terrible!’ Then all hell
broke loose. The texts started flying. There was a massive fight
on Facebook.”
Rosamund Shaw is a pseudonym. If she was identified,
she says, it might inflame the bitter family row that has been
raging since last June, and she still hasn’t told her remainer
daughter the truth about how she voted. In the weeks after
the referendum, she found herself feeling apologetic around
EU migrants. “I feel I need to smile and talk to people who are
waiting on me in pubs and cafes and say, ‘I’m really glad you’re
here. I don’t want you to go.’”
A few months ago, Shaw was hospitalised after an accident.
“That was the catalyst that brought me over strongly to
remain,” she says. “Ninety per cent of the people who dealt
with me were immigrants. I thought, what the hell are
we doing? This is wrong on so many levels. We’ve opened
Pandora’s box and that distresses me beyond measure.”
How does she feel now about her decision on 23 June?
“I feel horrified with myself that I was so gullible,” she says
heavily. “I feel ashamed.”
Seventeen months after the referendum, the regretful leave
voter is the dog that hasn’t barked. Since the result came
through, remainers have anticipated a significant U-turn for
many reasons: the protest voters who didn’t expect leave
actually to win; the ones who felt misled by the promise of
Humans do not
enjoy changing
their minds.
Admitting that
you were wrong
is a destabilising
that the brain
tends to resist
‘To be quite
frank, I did
not believe it
would happen.
I thought I’d put
in a protest vote.
The impact of
my stupidity!’
£350m a week for the NHS; the ones spooked by the plunging
pound and, more recently, the faltering negotiations. Surely,
they felt, enough voters would see the error of their ways to
weaken the mandate for hard Brexit at the very least.
In fact, the figures have remained stubbornly static. In
April, the British Election Study surveyed almost 28,000
voters and found that 11% of leave voters expressed regret
– but so did 7% of remain voters. While opposition to Brexit
is hardening among remainers – according to YouGov, the
number who believed the referendum result should be
honoured plummeted from 51% to 28% between June and
October – movement from leave to remain is slow. In October,
the proportion of voters who felt that Britain had made the
wrong choice reached a new high of 47% versus 42% (the rest
weren’t sure). But that’s not yet enough to change the political
calculus. However the question is phrased, the level of regret
remains consistent with that following the 2015 election. The
people featured in this article are a minority.
“It’s not that nobody is changing their minds,” explains Joe
Twyman, co-founder of YouGov. “Very few are, and when they
are, they’re cancelling each other out, so the aggregate level
change is very small.”
For experts in voter behaviour or cognitive science,
however, this is unsurprising. Humans do not instinctively
enjoy changing their minds. Admitting that you were wrong,
especially when the original decision has huge ramifications,
is a painful and destabilising experience that the brain tends to
resist. Research into this kind of denial has given us concepts
such as cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias.
“When you have a strong view about something, you’re
likely to reject information that’s contrary to your view, reject
the source of the information and rationalise the information,”
says Jane Green, professor of political science at the University
of Manchester and co-director of the British Election Study.
“We select information that’s consistent with our views,
because it’s more comfortable and reaffirming.” In fact, it’s
physically pleasurable. Some recent studies of confirmation
bias indicate that consuming information that supports our
beliefs actually produces a dopamine rush.
In the case of the referendum, there are additional factors
that make it even harder for people to change their minds.
For one thing, the decision in the voting booth feels irrevocable.
Someone who regretted, say, voting for the Liberal Democrats →
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 45
in 2010 could choose another party in 2015, but someone
who feels bad about voting leave doesn’t (yet) have a second
chance. This makes life difficult for pollsters. While they can
ask voters how they would vote if there were a general election
tomorrow, a question about a hypothetical second referendum
is controversial. Brexit opponents, including Nick Clegg and
Alastair Campbell, have argued that another referendum on
the terms of the deal would be legitimate, but many voters see
this as a devious attempt at a do-over.
Then there is the tribalism, which is intense. The referendum
formalised a deep cultural divide. “We know that party
identification is in decline,” Green says. “It could be the case
that leave or remain is a more important identity.” In many
cases, the vote manifested beliefs that had been entrenched
for decades. “The campaign mattered, but it revealed divisions
with deep roots,” she adds. “When people have held a view for
a long time, that’s harder to change in the short run.”
To admit that you now believe you were wrong requires
unusual honesty and courage; publicly to admit it takes even
more. I contacted dozens of leave voters who had expressed
regret on public forums. Many didn’t reply. Some agreed
to talk, and then got cold feet at the last moment. A few,
fearful of stoking tensions with relatives and colleagues, or of
attracting abuse from Brexiteers, would only be interviewed
anonymously. Others wouldn’t risk even that. “I have too many
related family and business issues to deal with around this
subject,” one told me. “Any hint would damage me even more.”
In politics, like many other spheres, we tend to valorise
certainty and stigmatise ambivalence. A politician who sticks
to their guns (even if they’re rigid, incurious and dogmatic)
will fare better than one who vacillates (even if they’re honest,
open-minded and justifiably cautious). “This is why undecided
voters drive us crazy,” writes Kathryn Schulz in Being Wrong:
Adventures In The Margin Of Error. “They think hard about
something that most of us don’t have to think about at all.
What these voters represent, however, are possibilities the
rest of us often foreclose: the ability to experience uncertainty
Serviceman Mark
Olive: ‘We were
deliberately misled’
‘When I went to
the cafe, I felt
very bad straight
away. There
are Europeans
working there
and I hadn’t
even thought
about them’
about even hugely important beliefs – the ability to wonder,
right up until the moment that the die is cast, if we might be
wrong.” And, in some cases, the ability to admit, after the fact,
that they made the wrong call.
Mark Olive is a 30-year-old serviceman who lives in Berkshire.
Before the referendum was announced, he had never thought
much about the EU, so he tasked himself with reading as
much information as he could from all sides. “I was just
getting a negative feeling about the EU, like it didn’t serve the
interests of our country,” he says. The main reason that he was
undecided until referendum day was the tenor of the leave
campaign. “When I saw Nigel Farage and his Breaking Point
poster, I thought, actually, I don’t like any of the people who
want to leave the EU.”
Nonetheless, he went for leave. “I went to sleep thinking that
we weren’t going to leave and in the morning I was shocked.
I remember when I went to the cafe on camp, I felt very bad
straight away. There are Europeans working there and it
occurred to me that I hadn’t even thought about them during
the campaign. All these issues started popping up. I hadn’t
thought about half of them.”
Many regretters report experiencing a visceral emotional jolt
when they heard the result. “From the moment I watched the
results revealed live on television that night and my vote for
leave played a part, I didn’t feel joy,” says “JC”, a 49-year-old
former NHS worker from Manchester. “I felt dread and fear
over what would unfold for our country. Then it transpired that
the leave campaign backtracked on the £350m NHS ad. I knew
we’d been fed BS.”
People are more likely to change their minds when they’re
presented with new information than when they’re asked to
reassess what they already knew. For the regretters, it’s often
not that key facts were unavailable at the time; rather that the
complexity of the issue meant they were too easily overlooked,
or the leave campaign misrepresented them, or the remain
camp failed to make them unignorable. While most voters,
having done their democratic duty, moved on, regretters
continued to weigh the evidence.
Olive has done a lot of soul-searching. He did his research,
yet still feels that he missed many important factors. The
experience has made him more cynical about politicians (he has
since switched from Conservative to Labour) and the media. →
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 47
“I think a lot about how the media shaped my views,” he says.
“Would I have voted differently if I’d gone about it a different
way? I definitely resent the way some of the campaigning was
done. I think we as a nation were deliberately misled.”
Graeme Berry, a 48-year-old carer from Livingston, Scotland,
came to the leave camp via the leftwing strain of Euroscepticism
known as Lexit, persuaded that the EU was “a big-business
dictatorship that prevented true socialism from being
implemented”. “I had misgivings from the morning the result
was declared,” he says. “The most enthusiastic leavers appeared
to be on the right. I thought: what have I done?” Before the
referendum, Berry had emailed the EU requesting clarification
of the rules on certain issues. The reply, sufficiently thorough
enough to demolish the arguments that he had believed, arrived
a few days too late. “I feel that, compared with the Scottish
referendum, not enough time was given for ordinary people to
learn all the facts. To be honest, I didn’t know anywhere near
enough to make such a monumental decision.”
Some leave voters U-turned months later, based on
subsequent developments and revelations. John Chalmers, 60,
runs a guest house in north Lincolnshire, a region that voted
leave by a 2:1 margin. Although he was aware of the economic
risk, he was swayed by his friends and neighbours, the rapid
influx of eastern European migrants to Lincolnshire and the
promise of more money for the NHS. He is now a staunch
remainer. “I think we’re aware of a lot more now than we knew
during the campaign,” he says. “What to do with this new
information? Do we act on it or say no, sorry, the decision’s
been made? I think we should act on it.”
Paul Hartley, a 37-year-old mechanical engineer from
Lancaster, describes himself as centre-left and instinctively
pro-EU, but was turned around at the last minute by his father,
who argued in favour of sovereignty and taking back decisionmaking powers. “That resonated with me,” Hartley says. “I spent
weeks convincing my partner to vote remain only to spend the
last few days convincing her to vote leave!” (She didn’t.)
He felt regretful as soon as he saw how the victors were
framing the result. “Every time I hear a politician talking about
immigration and the will of the people, that is not what I voted
for at all. The leave vote has been completely hijacked by the
extreme right. I thought that common sense would prevail,
but that hasn’t happened.” As for his father’s sovereignty
argument: “That’s a bit of a red herring. We’ve always had the
‘I’m quite
with making
mistakes and
changing my
mind. I don’t
lose too much
sleep over it’
48 25 November 2017 | The Guardian Weekend
‘There was not
time to learn all
the facts. I didn’t
know anywhere
near enough
to make such
a monumental
power to make decisions anyway.” Still, he is sanguine about
his error. “I’m quite comfortable with making mistakes and
changing my mind. I think that’s important. I wish I’d voted
the other way but I don’t lose too much sleep over it.”
Meanwhile, David Towne (not his real name) has literally
lost sleep over his decision. A thirtysomething “moderate
Conservative” who works for a non-profit in London, he
describes his guilt as a kind of psychological crisis. Despite
being a longstanding Eurosceptic who preferred a European
Free Trade Association-style agreement, he remained openminded but was turned off by the remain campaign. “I reverted
back to my gut feeling, because there was a lot of shit-throwing
and smearing,” he says. “I don’t think the remainers I knew
were looking to convert anyone to their cause. It was just: let’s
denounce you all as Ukippers and racists. This caricature of the
angry, immigrant-hating leaver doesn’t ring true for me at all.”
He was “shocked and panicked” by the result. “Nobody in
London was happy about it, and it suddenly dawned on me
that I’d voted against the interests of my city.” It was a dark
time. “I was taking too much responsibility on myself. In
retrospect, I’ve realised it’s disproportionate and others are
far more responsible. I am just one tiny dot in the electorate.
But I just felt totally fucked. I’d done something to harm my
country, which I love.”
The gravity of the decision to switch from leave to remain
means that regretters tend to take a hard line on Brexit. When
I presented them with various scenarios, some chose a second
referendum, but others wanted the process stopped in its
tracks. “If I could wave a magic wand,” Olive says, “I wouldn’t
want us to leave at all, because I honestly don’t think it would
do anyone any good.” Towne agrees: “I’d love to call the whole
thing off. It’s been head-in-hands awful, watching the lack of
vision and Theresa May’s ridiculous culture war soundbites.”
Most people I spoke to felt that holding a referendum to
decide policy, rather than to gauge public opinion, had been
a disastrous decision in the first place. “They should have
measured feelings so they could go back and negotiate,”
Chalmers says. “A company doesn’t run that way. You’d need
a quorum to make a decision like that.”
Hartley has been disturbed by the surge in aggressive
behaviour towards people in Lancaster who aren’t white and
British, including some friends from Lithuania. “It’s almost
like it’s now OK to be racist. People aren’t afraid to show →
Get in their
good books
those feelings. Even if for some reason we don’t leave, I worry
about the impact on the country.”
“For me, leaving the EU has cast a huge cloud of gloom and
anxiety,” JC says. “The Tories put this mess in the hands of the
British public, and for that I will never forgive them.”
Anyone who follows the Brexit debate via the news, Facebook
or Twitter could be forgiven for thinking that both sides are
inflamed with righteous passion. But Rosamund Shaw has
encountered complacency and detachment among her leavevoting friends. “They won’t talk about it,” she says. “They have
this Pollyanna attitude: it’ll be fine. I can’t decide if they’re
being ostrich-like or if they believe it.”
Olive has also encountered a reluctance to discuss Brexit.
“A lot of people who voted leave are very casual about it. They
don’t think about it that much. The feeling I get is people have
their minds made up, and they want to be left alone to move
on to other things.”
For most Britons, Brexit is a phoney war that barely touches
their lives. “From a personal point of view, things haven’t
changed, so there’s no reason for them to change their minds,”
YouGov’s Twyman says. “It’s like Vietnam during the Kennedy
years. It’s this thing that you watch on TV but you think doesn’t
affect you, and it won’t affect you until it’s your son getting
the draft papers. I’ve been doing this job for 17 years and I’m
never surprised by the lack of attention that most people pay
to politics. We know that a lot of people voted to leave the EU
so they wouldn’t have to discuss Brexit again, little knowing
that we’re going to have to do nothing but that.”
Individually, regretters are powerless. In sufficient numbers,
however, they could be extremely influential. Even when 64%
of voters in YouGov’s latest poll think the negotiations are going
badly, Brexiteers can shoot down criticisms by invoking “the
will of the people”. But what happens to their mandate, and
the perceived validity of a second referendum, if the will of the
people shifts decisively and MPs begin to fear for their seats?
“The mainstream media is slanted towards leave,” Berry
says. “There is no recognition of people changing their minds.
I have been very active on social media to spread the truth
about the EU and what we will lose. I have been accepted by
the remain side. I have also made friends on the leave side, with
those willing to listen. Many have changed their opinion, too.”
“It bothers me that remain politicians and public figures
‘Things will
have to go
badly wrong for
people to change
their minds.
you just can’t
rationalise away’
50 25 November 2017 | The Guardian Weekend
In sufficient
regretters could
be extremely
influential. What
if the ‘will of the
people’ shifts, and
MPs start to fear
for their seats?
aren’t talking to regretters,” Towne says. “If you want to stop
or dilute this thing, then you should be appealing to us. My
friends and family who voted leave can all see it’s a shitshow,
and we all wish we hadn’t voted for it. I’m talking about dozens
of people. I think there are a lot of shy regretters who don’t
show up in the polls. I think if the polls start to switch, then
slowly but surely the discourse will change.”
Green says it would take a seismic event significantly
to move the needle. She cites Britain’s ugly exit from the
Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) in 1992, which hammered
the Conservatives’ reputation for economic competence.
“People change their minds when something shakes them
out of their resistance,” she says. “Symbolic events that are so
politically salient that you have to adjust your opinion. I think
with Brexit things will have to go badly wrong. Something that
you can’t rationalise away.”
Twyman expects to see serious movement only when a final
deal is presented to the public. “Seventy per cent of people
believe that in theory we should leave the EU,” he says, citing
a recent poll in which only 32% actively wanted to thwart
Brexit. “But what if that’s 10 groups of 7% or 20 groups of 3.5%,
each group with its own particular requirements? And what
if the deal that’s struck appeals to only one of those groups?
There’s huge potential for change.”
Until that happens, a straight leave/remain binary won’t
reflect the more subtle changes unfolding beneath the
surface. “I think people can see that it’s not going well, but
is that enough for them to say they would have voted in
a different direction?” Green says. “I don’t think it is just yet.
People are more likely to say they don’t know than they are
to switch sides. That’s the destination for a lot of people who
have reservations.”
Far from being a dead zone of apathy, the category of Don’t
Know – ranging from 10% to 15% in polls – may therefore
contain some of Britain’s most thoughtful, self-questioning
voters. Chalmers proposes that we think differently about the
value of changing our minds and view regret as a virtue, rather
than a vice.
“I don’t feel like you have to be weak,” he says briskly. “You
can apologise, pick up the pieces and make yourself stronger
out of it. If you’ve made a mistake, realise it, undo it and move
on. Not everybody can do that.” •
Some names have been changed.
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mine a
Everyone else in her life loves a drink, but Candida Crewe
has barely touched the stuff. Is she missing out?
Portrait by Pål Hansen
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 53
wish you’d bloody drink, get some
colour into your cheeks,” my father
grumbled one day. I was 12, maybe 13.
Then, and for many years afterwards,
I shrugged it off. Now I wonder if I should have
listened. My father was a restaurant critic for
Queen magazine, Vogue and the London Evening
Standard in the 50s and 60s, and a travel writer
even though in a wheelchair; he was a bon vivant
who loved booze. Good wine, of course, but also
whisky, which he called “electric soup”. And
always before lunch, in restaurants at least,
Campari with fresh orange juice. On his drinks
table at home in the 60s and 70s, there was
a glamorous array of bottles, which stood sparkling
next to something unthinkable these days (not
least because of the vast expense): a huge ceramic
bowl full of unopened packets of cigarettes, from
which guests were expected to help themselves.
In one of my dad’s bottles was a niche spirit
called marc de vipère. He had picked it up while
on a trip round France to write a book about
Michelin-starred chefs. Inside was a stiff dead
snake, which had been cruelly drowned in the
alcohol and, in its death throes, spewed out its
venom. The murky liquid was said to be
a traditional balm for the menstrual pains of the
ladies of Lyon. My father said it tasted like a bird’s
nest, and encouraged visitors to try it. The odd
brave one did. Never me.
But it wasn’t the sight of that viper that put me
off drinking. It was more that whenever my father,
in his continental way, encouraged me to taste
beer or wine, the stuff assaulted my tongue. The
feel of it to a six- or seven-year-old more used to
Ribena was alien, bitter, like licking a cattlegrid.
When I was still unconvinced at 14, he was
disappointed: he thought I was a goody-goody
and a lightweight.
I think he wanted me to enjoy, as he did, one
of life’s great pleasures. Maybe to learn about
good wines as he hoped I might learn about,
say, good literature. He advised my ex-husband,
before we got married, to get me to relax a bit.
I guess he thought I was a control freak, and that
getting pissed occasionally and behaving badly
would do me good. He may have had a point but,
unfortunately for him, one of the messages he
had drummed into me, from the moment I was
born, was that you should never do anything just
because everyone else is. If ever I argued that
I wanted to give up an O-level subject because
Kate was going to, to go to a gig because Tom
was, or to put a safety pin through my nose
because some band had, his look of disdain
would wither me.
It was a general message, but it had a lasting
impact on my drinking or, rather, my notdrinking. While my friends were hating the taste
but persisting because everyone else was, I was
too busy trying to be true to myself. At 53, I think
that decision was a mitake.
It is a truth that habits are so, so hard to kick,
and my heart goes out to those struggling to
escape the barnacle grip of vodka, cigarettes,
heroin, sugar. But it is an another
unacknowledged and curious truth that where a
lifetime habit does not exist, it is perhaps almost
as hard to create one.
In my teens, it never troubled me that I was
a teetotaller, and I have never judged anyone for
drinking. It wasn’t about them; it was about me.
Sometimes I felt a bit uncool, but I took up
smoking and the odd drug so as not to appear
tragically square. People pressed me, and put
my refusals down to the fact I was young or prim.
In my teens,
sometimes I felt
a bit uncool,
but I took up
smoking and the
odd drug so as
not to appear
tragically square
My early 20s were spent working in Fleet Street,
being taken by day to El Vino, the journalists’
famous watering hole, and at night, in Soho,
largely to the Groucho or the Coach & Horses
and endless bars and nightclubs. The much
older, mainly male reporters thought nothing of
six double whiskies at lunchtime. In the
evenings, pints of beer, flagons of wine and
various cocktails were drunk with gusto by
everyone except me. On the whole, no one really
noticed that I was on tap water. Even men I went
on dates with.
Every so often, someone would interrogate
me. I went through a stage of telling them I was
on medication, or a recovering alcoholic, but
those explanations just led to further inquiry.
So I learned to bat off their questions – “I just
don’t like the taste, like you might not like
beetroot or liver” – so we could get on to more
interesting things.
Three reactions have nonetheless come up
again and again over the years, and still do. First:
how can I bear the boredom of being surrounded
by drunkenness when stone-cold sober? Well,
I’m clearly not very observant, because unless
someone is on the floor, it barely registers with
me. I just think people are garrulous, exuberant,
flirtatious, and making me laugh. Far from
finding them tedious, I am buoyed up by their
merriment. The phrase “drunk on atmosphere”
sounds a bit sad, but a mood can lift me – or
bring down – just as alcohol can others. In my
wilder days, I would give bring-a-bottle parties
in my one-bedroom flat. Over a hundred people
and even more bottles would squeeze in, and
sobriety didn’t entirely preclude me from the
usual dramas.
The second response is to tell me how “noble”
I am. But there is nothing noble about it. Noble
in the context of alcohol is the man or woman
who struggles with an addiction and overcomes
it. There is no struggle, no admirable denial in
my case. I just didn’t take to it.
Third: “Oh, lucky you. I wish I didn’t drink!”
In the past, up to about 10 years ago, before not →
Dry run: our critic’s pick of the best non-alcoholic drinks
The challenge when you
don’t drink is not so much
to find something
refreshing, but to find
something that’s not
sickly sweet. Happily, the
seemingly unstoppable
gin craze has kickstarted
a corresponding boom in
flavoured tonics. My
current favourite by a
long chalk is FeverTree Clementine Tonic
Water (£1.69 a 500ml
bottle from Waitrose
and Ocado), which is as
good on its own (with ice
and a slice of clementine)
as it is with gin.
If you’re craving gin
itself, the nearest
equivalent is Seedlip
an alcohol-free
right down to
th premium price
retails at about
£28, though Frazier’s
Wine Merchants has
it for £20.99), plus it
has a spicy clove
flavour that suits this
time of year.
54 25 November 2017 | The Guardian Weekend
Fermented drinks such
as kefir and kombucha are
another option. At 1.6%
abv, Pioneer Kombucha
(£3.20 Planet Organic)
isn’t alcohol-free, but
pretty well as near as,
and has the refreshing
quality of a good lager.
Shrubs and drinking
vinegars are also set to
make a splash in 2018.
Make your own (see
below), or try the
newly launched
Nonsuch, created
by Henry Chevallier Guild
of Aspall Cider. Available
initially at Borough Wines
for £2.50 a bottle,
I especially like the sour
cherry and mint.
If you’re a fan of tomato
juice, those clever Isle of
Wight tomato people
have a range of naturaltasting juices that don’t
taste like passata. I like
the original (£2.65
a 500ml bottle,
thetomatostall., but they
do a yellow tomato
juice as well.
How to make a shrub
A shrub is a mixture of
macerated fruit and
vinegar, and has a tart
freshness you don’t
find in many soft
drinks. They make
them at my local
Bristol bar, Bellita,
where they macerate fruit
(eg, berries, plums, ripe
pears and apples) and
sugar (1kg fruit to 750g
sugar) for 24 hours,
then add a litre of cider
vinegar and leave to
infuse in a cool place
for a week or two,
tasting often to see
how it’s coming on.
Strain into sterilised
bottles and keep in the
fridge for up to two
weeks. To serve, put
a handful of ice in a tall
glass, add a tablespoon or
two of shrub and top with
soda or sparkling water.
Fiona Beckett
drinking had crystallised into a regret, I always
used to let that remark pass and just smile. Now?
Not so much. I ask people whether they really
mean that. I am, of course, talking about people
whom we think of as “normal” drinkers, probably
the majority of the adult population, who drink
the limit most evenings, go in for the occasional
binge, but for whom, getting older, that feels too
much the morning after. Would they really want
to have missed out on the symphony of vanilla/
blackcurrant/clove/chocolate notes of a great
bordeaux, which I have never appreciated? The
sparkle of champagne at your own wedding?
(No, I didn’t even drink at mine, magical day
though it was: it would have been a waste.)
Never to have been saved by that vital pick-me-up
after – or before – the children’s bathtime? Not to
have relished what my mother calls “the
silvering of the mind”? Or to have known fun and
joy and passion elevated, during an evening of
possibility, by moonshine? I have only ever
glimpsed these things.
Of course, these regretful drinkers hesitate
a bit, but then turn to the appalling hangovers,
the detriment to their waistlines, the foolish or
unkind things they said and did years ago and
only yesterday. To which I reply: I’ve never had
a hangover, but I still feel terrible sometimes;
my waistline suffers from a superfluity of cake
instead; I’ve said foolish things when sober,
Drinkers refer to
the foolish, unkind
things they have
said and done. But
I’ve said foolish
things when
sober, which is far
worse (no excuse)
which is far worse (no excuse); and the natural
high is elusive, never a given.
On the handful of times in my life when I have
drunk vodka (which very much does have a taste,
incidentally, and ruins a good orange juice) or
a Pimm’s (a grown-up fizzy drink), oh my God,
I have had the best times ever. How come my
friends never told me it was that good? The
metallic, edgy feeling in the blood, quickening
through the veins; the exuberance and unshackling
of the trussed-up self; the degrees of inhibition
and laughter. An evening with friends round
a table with pasta and a few bottles is enhanced
and made all the more colourful, surely, than the
monochrome infinity without? That excruciating
date suddenly imbued with a smidgen of
pleasure, and an unlikely, less constrained
outcome? Recently I went to a bar with a much
younger man. We drank vodka – we both needed
to – and the tailing off of that particular night will
never be forgotten.
I still don’t drink – the one-offs occur once
every three or four years – even if I have
experienced its wonders. I am still not 100% sure
why. Partly it’s the calories: a lingering, mild
eating disorder dictates that if I can do without
those particular ones, why add them? My
relationship with my car, the luxurious freedom
of non-negotiable driving? Maybe it’s an
unconscious fear of getting to like booze a bit too
much? But I suspect it is more because it’s a habit
I don’t have, like long-distance cycling or
trainspotting. Being a non-drinker has become
part of my make-up, my DNA. Easier just to carry
on living without the devil I don’t really know.
But Frank Sinatra’s famous words do give me
pause: “I feel sorry for people that don’t drink,
because when they wake up in the morning, that
is the best they’re going to feel all day.”
I guess I still have time. But another year has
passed, and the season of parties is upon us,
hailing another Christmas. Not getting younger;
how many more have I got left? If I’m not careful,
I could be in danger of becoming maudlin while
sober. Perish the thought. Pass the port •
What do you get for that special person in your life? Meera Sodha likes surprises,
Jess-Cartner Morley loves her little sister’s taste, and Sali Hughes saves her
stocking for last. Our columnists share their tips in a bumper 21-page gift guide
All wrapped up
Meera Sodha with her husband, Hugh
Gift guide photography:
Aaron Tilley. Gift guide
styling: Emily Blunden.
Portraits: David Yeo
Stocking fillers
1 Folk x Conran Shop waffle socks, £20, 2 Editor’s pick: these brass model kits will keep someone busy over Christmas “Mini-onaire” helicopter
kit, £9, 3 Mr Happy And The Office Party (grownups only), £5.99, 4 Wooden card holder, £35, 5 Mini Tamagotchi,
£9.99, 6 Prestat Christmas stocking chocolate boxes, £7.50 each, 7 Editor’s pick: for the Corbynista in your life For The Many pin
badge, £2, 8 Lord’s cricket ground turf glass paperweight, £38, 9 Countryside Safety Match vintage-style matchbox, £5.95, 10 Editor’s pick: a notebook for all your favourite cities Debossed notebooks, €12.95 each, 11 “Mini-onaire” globe kit, £9, another-studio.
com. 12 Chocolate lollipops, £5 each, by Le Comptoir de Mathilde, from 13 Christmas biscuit tin, £32.50 for a box,
14 Superfin soap, £24, 15 Brass pencil, £15, 16 Sushi mini notecards, £3, 17 Chocolate sprouts, £9.99,
60 25 November 2017 | The Guardian Weekend
18 Radio 4 noteblock, £14, 19 Lip balm, £15 each, 20 Letters To My Future Self set, £10.99,
21 Design letters neon crayons, £16, 22 Socks, £9.95, 23 Reindeer crackers, £18 for a pack of six,
24 Origami animal notepaper, £12 a set, 25 How To Be A Perfect Husband, by W Heath Robinson, £9.99 (The Bodleian
Library); buy it for £8.49 from 26 Toadstool nightlight, £3.95, 27 Chocolate Santa, £7.50, hotelchocolat.
com. 28 Pick-up-sticks game, £14.50, by PrintWorks, from 29 London skyline tape, £6.50, 30 Socks, £12,
31 Editor’s pick: what can you get done in quarter of an hour? 15-minute timer, £15, 32 Coin purse, £12,
33 Vintage bird postage stamps, £5, 34 Little Ways To Live A Big Life series of How To... books, £8.49 each,
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 61
1 Editor’s pick: style your ears with a festive bow to add Christmas cheer to any outfit Ribbon-wrapped earrings, £24.50, 2 Ru Paul brooch,
£45, 3 Iridescent bubbles necklace, £150, 4 Lemon grove necklace, £65, 5 Heidi’s beans necklace,
by Bug, £125, 6 Zodiac pendant (18ct gold), £168, 7 Editor’s pick: Battersea Dogs & Cats Home gets £3 from
each sale Lurcher brooch, £40, 8 Erin multi-bead necklaces, £32, 9 Bodrum necklace (18ct yellow gold and 18ct rose
gold), both £165, 10 Lorus mesh watch, £59.99, 11 Whirl round earrings, £9.50, 12 Saturn earrings,
£59, 13 Elo textured resin bangle, £9.50, 14 Watch, £56.60, by Timex, from 15 Spider plant earrings,
£40, 16 Karina bangle, £22, 17 Mirage earrings, £75, 18 Editor’s pick: a glam brooch will jazz up the
plainest T-shirts and jumpers Eye brooch, £19.50, 19 Panther head ring, £25, 20 Drop earrings, £12.99,
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 63
1 Jess Cartner-Morley’s pick: just what the chic woman in your life needs for her Boxing Day walk Fair Isle jumper, £80, 2 Necklace, £39, 3 Earrings, £10, 4 Card holder, £5, 5 Sandals, £36, 6 Snakeskin print jumper, £99, 7 Diary,
£27, 8 Koala eye mask, £10, 9 Sequin bag, £20, 10 Slippers, £38, 11 Pyjamas, £130, 12 Bobble hat, £12, 13 Jess’s pick: socks aren’t just a gift for uncles: an elevated sport sock is the modern
take on a posh pair of opaques Socks, £30, by Les Boys Les Girls, from 14 Jess’s pick: the dream, right? Expensive for a phone case. But a
snip to have Gucci in your life iPhone 6 case, £125, by Gucci, from 15 Rhinestone eye brooch, £45, 16 Leopard bag,
64 25 November 2017 | The Guardian Weekend
Women’s fashion
£110, 17 Jess’s pick: a gleaming update on the practical winter shoe Hiking boots,
£99, 18 Stripe onesie, £70.95, 19 Jess’s pick: the softness of
this fabric has to be stroked to be believed. A treat to wear Check shirt, £145, by Rails, from 20 Bra, £15, and pants, £15, both 21 Jess’s pick: an It bag
you wear on your wrist Velvet bag, £330, by Manu Atelier, from 22 Initial coin
purse, £20, 23 Belt, £12,
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 65
Jess Cartner-Morley and her sister, Alice
Jess I have always thought that I enjoy buying presents for Alice mainly
because she is a pure joy of a human being and she deserves them, plus a
little bit because I am nice. Looking at this photo, it strikes me that there
is probably another reason I love shopping for her: we look similar and we
have a similar aesthetic. So, when I shop for her, I get to buy stuff I really like.
I don’t remember buying presents for each other as children. I do remember
identifying strongly with the big-sister badger in Russell Hoban’s A Birthday
For Frances, who spends her pocket money on chocolate for her little sister’s
birthday, but ends up eating it herself. But since we were teenagers, I have
always loved spending money on her, even when I didn’t have any. I have no
idea how I afforded the Stella McCartney dress I bought for her 21st.
I’m fussy about clothes, funnily enough. Almost no one other than Alice
would dare buy clothes for me sight unseen (and that’s the way I like it) but
she never gets it wrong. Often, she buys me classic pieces: monogrammed
pyjamas; for my 40th, a vintage art deco J on a gold chain. But her fashion
taste is slightly more adventurous than mine. My birthday is in June and she
once bought me a summer dress in chambray denim with a rope halter neck.
When I opened it, I wasn’t sure at all. But that was eight years ago and I’ve
never been on holiday without it.
Alice For my 21st, Jess gave me a Tiffany heart necklace – this was the 1990s
– and a red, silk Stella McCartney slip dress. That set the bar for gifting
between us. She is my favourite person to buy for, which is partly about
showing how much I love her, but also because I know her taste. Because I am
confident I will choose things she likes, shopping is exciting. It helps that
she is a magpie, rather than a minimalist, so she is always excited by a new
set of salt and pepper shakers or another insane tasselled earring. She’s the
only adult I know who gets as overexcited as I do about Christmas.
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 67
1 Scarf, £18, 2 Menswear fashion editor Helen Seamons’ pick: fashion editors swear by Uniqlo’s minimal basics. This pouch holds a super
light and toasty warm gilet Quilted gilet, £39.90, 3 Helen’s pick: keep up with the 90s trend and make this heat-change Game Boy mug your
secret Santa present Mug, £9, 4 California hoodie, £25, 5 Watch, £100, 6 Camera, £250, 7 Trainers, £140, by Nike, from 8 Washbag, £15, 9 Marvis aquatic mint toothpaste, £5.50, and wooden
toothbrush, £7, both 10 Razor gift set, £30, 11 Socks, £25, by Chup, from 12 Helen’s pick: keep
screens and keyboards free from turkey sandwich crumbs Laptop brush, £15.50, by Iris Hantverk, from 13 Collar stiffener, £10,
68 25 November 2017 | The Guardian Weekend
Men’s fashion
27 14 Free-cut raincoat in pouch, £14.95, 15 Ballpoint pen, £35, by Paul Smith + Caran d’Ache, from 16 Helen’s pick: a
good pair of boots will be the gift that keeps on giving on cold February days Boots, £120, 17 Jo Malone English Oak fragrance, from £45, 18 Pyjama trousers, £35, 19 Tie, £10, 20 Recycled wool beanie, £19, 21 Rucksack, £59.95, benetton.
com. 22 iPad mini sleeve, £25, 23 Sekonda leather watch, £79.99, 24 Helen’s pick: forget the lolz flashing reindeer
novelty knit and instead opt for this useful (and stylish) russet jumper Jumper, £49.99, 25 Belt, £18, 26 Treehouse handmade
scented candle, £45, by Byredo, from 27 Travel set, £50,
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 69
1 Silk pillowcase, £79, 2 Sam McKnight Easy-Up Do texture spray, £25, and styling mist, £22, both 3 Sali Hughes’ pick:
perfectly curated (and inspired by Man Ray) Glass Tears eyeshadow palette, £32, 4 001 Woman eau de parfum, £65,
5 Personal fragrance, £45, 6 Sali’s pick: one of my new favourite brands Lixirskin Electrogel cleanser, £25, 7 Dirty Unicorns
Shake That Tail nail polish, £11, 8 Sali’s pick: powdery, sexy, the most intriguing perfume launch of 2017 Une Amourette, £82, rolandmouret.
com. 9 Campagne candle , £53, 10 Clinique Take The Day Off cleansing balm, £23, 11 Sali’s pick: this eye wrinkle treatment is
a must for gadget-lovers Dr Dennis Gross SpectraLite, £168, 12 Sali’s pick: it makes me smile. Isn’t that what a gift should do? Tonymoly apple
hand cream, £10, 13 Sali’s pick: all killer, no filler Snow Ball mini lipstick kit, £85, 14 Laura Mercier almond coconut
milk honey bath, £33, 15 Aesop room fragrance, £37, and Hwyl eau de parfum, £83, both 16 Jurlique Nourishing Hand Ritual
gift set, £25, 17 Pomelo fragrance paintbrush, £40, 18 Bamford botanic body oil, £38, 19 Sali’s pick: I love
the stylish bottles, plus the fair wages for workers with visual impairment or learning difficulties Black Poppy & Wild Fig hand duo, £22,
20 Silent Night orange and ginger candle, £16 (£1 donation to Pandas Foundation), 21 Hollywood contour duo, £51,
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 71
Sali Hughes and her friend, Julia Marcus
Julia I met Sal in the early 90s, when she landed in London from south Wales.
She was in her teens and I was in my late 20s, and we bonded over a shared
love of Madonna, Billy Wilder, Clinique lipsticks and rubbish catchphrases.
She moved into my flat in Paddington about 27 years ago, and the stockings
began. The first exchange would have definitely included an avocado or
mango Body Shop body butter. My all-time favourite item from Sali was a
Brenda from Beverly Hills 90210 action figure; we were obsessed with the
show, and with Brenda in particular, so this was a massive score. It’s not about
being grand and spendy. My biggest thrill is finding some gorgeous three-quid
lip balm that has flown below her radar. That is the ultimate achievement.
Sali We exchange stockings in early December, but open them last thing on
Christmas Day. My children know that my stocking from Auntie Julia (my
eldest’s godmother) is to remain untouched until everyone else is snoozing
in front of the telly. Then we’ll text each other and enjoy “our” moment.
We peel off the wrapping slowly, then have a full and grateful debrief on
what we liked best, where the treasures were found, and laugh at the
occasional duplicates. Often, the contents and its wrapping are themed: kitsch,
music, the colour red. There’s always a mug (we’re both tea fanatics and
exacting in our requirements). There’s always an unusual decoration or bauble.
We enjoy the challenge of finding things the other hasn’t spotted (Julia is
obsessed with discovering a lip product I don’t know about). I never go
anywhere without keeping my eyes peeled for something quirky to surprise
her with. Last year, I got her a beautiful tin of nappy rash ointment in Berlin.
The joy for me is in the bonding ritual. It’s a closeness we alone share, and
the stockings reflect our changing lives, interests and circumstances. When
one of us has been hard up, it’s never an issue. Life ebbs and flows, but our
love for each other is constant, comforting and dependable.
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 75
Small kids
1 Deuz numbers banner, £13.50, 2 Spitfire glider, £5, 3 Bloomingville doctor’s set, £35, 4 Lion pillow, £26, shop. 5 Christmas tree hair clips, £6, 6 Shark pencil case, £6, 7 Swan slippers, £32,
8 Crochet baby rattle, £10, 9 Editor’s pick: does your child own a scooter? (Is the Pope Catholic?) Pack their gear in this Rocket scooter satchel,
£75, 10 Editor’s pick: the sublime, dark new picture book from the author of The Storm Whale The Grotlyn, by Benji Davies, £11.04, 11 Mini pastel highlighters, £8.78 for a set of six, 12 Noah’s Ark pencil case, £5, 13 Tiger hat, £29.95, 14 Personalised play cheeseboard, £15.99, 15 Tutti Frutti purse, £9, 16 Hootie owl eye mask, £6,
76 25 November 2017 | The Guardian Weekend
28 17 Bowie Bolt babygro, £16, 18 La Coqueta baby romper, £46, 19 Red/Baltic bobble hat, £16, 20 Editor’s pick: it’s never too early to learn how to tell the time Lorus children’s watch, £19, and Flik Flak Cool Party Watch, £23,
both 21 William Morris 123/ABC children’s books, £6.99 each, 22 Ice lolly bath sponge, £2.80, 23 Dinosaur
excavation kit, £1, for stockists. 24 Editor’s pick: gorgeous sheepskin mittens for the little hands in your life Ugg mittens, £32.50, 25 Cub panda playsuit, £51.45, 26 Little Horrors radar barrel bag, £60, 27 Wooden pushalong penguin, £10, 28 Cottage Toys silver night light, £39.95,
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 77
1 Editor’s pick: with 3D augmented reality and constellations night mode, this is perfect for budding explorers Smart Globe Starry, £29.99,
2 Necklace, £75, 3 Slogan candles, £12 each, 4 Polaroid Pop camera, £199.99, 5 Diana F+ camera, £79, shop. 6 DIY neon sign (twist to shape your message), £15, 7 Matryoshka kit, £16, 8 Headphones, £99.99, 9 Trinket dish, £9.50, 10 Emoji charger, £30, 11 Backpack, £55, by Someday Soon, from
12 Editor’s pick: personalise with their year of birth/graduation/when they’ll clean their room Sweatshirt, £34, by Rock on Ruby, from
78 25 November 2017 | The Guardian Weekend
Big kids
13 Bike bell, £14.99, 14 Socks, £9.99, 15 Tin Can Alley game, £19.95, 16 DIY synth kit, £24.99, techwillsaveus.
com. 17 Slippers, £16, 18 Record player, £89, by Crosley, from (7” single, on turntable, £5.99, 19 Boomerang,
£4.95, 20 Fortune bath bombs, £10.95, 21 Switch console, from £279.99, 22 Editor’s pick:
for ethical beauty queens Vegan nail polish, £12.50 each, by Kester Black, from 23 Metallic Fade skateboard, £130,
24 PJs, £45, 25 Beanie, £12, 26 Editor’s pick: drone with light-up mode Angler Attack drone, £54.99,
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 79
Meera Sodha and her husband, Hugh
Meera When you start going out with someone, establishing the rules of
engagement around Christmas is an important hurdle. Luckily, we started
dating in January, so I had 11 months on the run-up before taking the plunge.
We both splurged in that first year: he bought me a Paul McCarthy artist’s
edition from the Whitechapel Gallery and I bought him a nice watch to replace
his Casio F-12.
Each year, we agree to tone it down. But, as November creeps into
December, the nervous conversations start. I find him tricky to buy for;
he doesn’t like to have many possessions, so I tend towards buying him
experiences. We’ve agreed limits when it hasn’t felt appropriate to splash
out, such as in the year we got married. That year, he printed a hundred
photos from our five years together and stuck them in a notebook with little
captions and in-jokes . It was perfect, but wildly antisocial, because I sat
by the Christmas tree for half an hour laughing (and crying) by myself.
I have a notebook of drawings: what my perfect suitcase might look like;
what rooms my theoretical social club might have; clothes I’d like to wear.
Last year, Hugh chose material from Liberty and asked me to design an
outfit, which he then had made up. It will be hard to top that.
Hugh It’s the same pattern every year. I start relaxed, knowing that
somewhere out there is something that will brighten her world and she will
cherish for years to come. Then I slink into a cold sweat; I’ve got nowhere.
However, I remain loyal to one rule: I must surprise her. My favourite
present was the photo book I made a couple of years ago of our time together.
Seeing her thumb through the pages, champagne glass in hand, smiling
and giggling, is something I will never forget. Life is often a blur, but in that
moment we both stopped and realised the sheer wonderfulness of our two
worlds colliding in 2010.
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 81
1 Lucille apron, £28, 2 Yotam Ottolenghi’s pick: a classy way to start the day Leach pottery eggcup, £9, 3 LA
Brewery kombucha, from £2.56 for 300ml, 4 AnySharp knife sharpener, £9.99, 5 Thomasina Miers’ pick: in case someone’s
feeling super-generous… Haru Petty chef knife, £110, 6 Meera Sodha’s pick: a Sri Lankan classic Coconut grater, £20, store.thelocalscookbook.
com. 7 Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering The Elements Of Good Cooking, by Samin Nosrat, £30 (Canongate); buy it for £25.50 at 8 Üllo
wine purifier (it removes sulphites), £69.99, 9 Harry The Hedgehog Swiss grand cru milk chocolate, £15, 10 Italian extra-virgin olive
oil in terracotta bottle, £32.50 each, 11 Conker Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur, £30, . 12 Chocolate-covered stem ginger, £16.9526.95, 13 Hibiscus, by Lopè Ariyo, £18.99 (HarperCollins) – the rising star of African cooking. Buy it for £16.14 from 14 Chocolate box (designed to fit through a letterbox), from £10, 1 5 Brass inlay marble cheeseboard, £42, anthropologie.
com. 16 The introduction to British cured meat tin, £29.95, 17 Thomasina Miers’ pick: who needs a fancy spiralizer? Multi Peel
Julienne, £8.95, by Joseph Joseph, from 18 Ki no Bi sake (45.7% abv), £46.25, 19 Marble salt and pepper shaker set,
84 25 November 2017 | The Guardian Weekend
£55, 20 Microplane elite boxgrater, £39.76, 21 Japaneasy, by Tim Anderson, £20 (Hardie Grant); buy it for £17 at 22 “Wine is sunlight held together by water” notebook, £15 (plus p&p), 23 Hand-painted chocolate Christmas Nutcracker
figure, £32.50, 24 T2 Sleep Tight loose-leaf herbal tisane tea, £8.50 for 50g, 25 Squat fluted mug in yellow, £19, conranshop. 26 Herringbone two-hob griddle pan, £145, 27 Bon Appetit 125 table knives, £50 for a set of four, 28 Yotam
Ottolenghi’s pick: the snappy way to dry dishes Lobster tea towel in orange, £19, 29 Fiona Beckett’s pick: two obsessions in one bottle
Glenfiddich malt whisky in IPA craft beer casks (43% abv), £44.95, 30 Meera Sodha’s pick: for curry leaves on demand Indian curry
leaf plant, from £29.95, 31 Kaukasis: A Culinary Journey Through Georgia, Azerbaijan & Beyond, by Olia Hercules, £25 (Mitchell Beazley);
buy it for £21.25 from 32 Pierre Marcolini Box Of Planets 36-piece praline chocolates, £39, 33 Kadode pepper The
Tricolor, £13.50, 34 Cast-iron oven casserole, £120, Plus, go to to buy our columnists’
latest books: Sweet, by Yotam Ottolenghi; Home Cook, by Thomasina Miers; Fresh India, by Meera Sodha; and Wine Lover’s Kitchen, by Fiona Beckett.
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 85
1 Royal Doulton Pacific dinner plates, £48 for a set of six, 2 Ceramic dog planter, £19, 3 Pomegranate salt and pepper shakers,
£14, 4 Editor’s pick: a tray for the full-English lover in your life, from photographer Martin Parr English breakfast tray, £42.50, by Plinth x
Magnum, from 5 Jiggle-O tea infuser, £11, 6 Geometric teapot, £58, 7 Ernesto scented candle, £78, by Cire Trudon, from 8 Editor’s pick: a modern sculpture from a team of craftspeople in the UK and Italy Frank the French Bulldog sculpture, £149,
9 Dip indoor hanging planter, £9.99, 10 Penguin cocktail shaker, £15, 11 Pink stone coasters, £34 for a set of four, 12 Alys Fowler’s pick: this copper hand trowel is my all-time favourite. I also covet the border spade Mira trowel, £33,
86 25 November 2017 | The Guardian Weekend
Homes & gardens
13 Children’s kitchen utensil set, £9.50, 14 Christmas bird seed box (three mixes and a scoop), £18, 15 David Hockney Bigger
Splash coaster, £4 each, 16 Editor’s pick: stopped writing letters? Revive the art by gifting this elegant letter opener Crocodile letter
opener, £45, by Nach Bijoux, from 17 Tree vase, £49, by Richard Woods, from 18 Porcelain sugar spoons, £12 for a set of six, 19 Theo slow-brew coffee maker, £52.95, 20 Bird calls set, £73, 21 Collective Nouns calendar, £4.99, 22 Toucan lamp, £125, 23 Oiva Hortensie plate, £16, 24 Editor’s pick: a charmingly lo-fi way
to play 21st-century tunes Resound phone amplifier, £79, 25 Springerle & Speculaas biscuit moulds, £4.50 each,
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 87
1 Sports bra, £19.99, 2 Vibrating foam roller, £49.99,
3 Carrera Hellcat mountain bike, £330, 4 Fastskin KickFin, £49, 5 Women’s running socks, £15, 6 Zoe Williams’ pick: the
front shines white, the back shines red, and there are indicators you control from
the handlebars Lumos bike helmet, £159.99, 7 Travel yoga mat (in
blue and green), £85 each, 8 Set of three medicine balls, £26.99,
9 Zoe’s pick: if you want to walk more, breathe more deeply, count your calories, or know
how you slept, you need this Fitbit Blaze, £159.99, 10 Boxing gloves, £22, lonsdale.
com. 11 S’well Ultraviolet Ombre water bottle, £45, 12 S’well 17oz Spectrum
water bottle, £42, 13 DeFeet touchscreen-compatible cycling gloves, £16, 14 Funkita swimsuit, £37.50, 15 Men’s running shoes,
£149.95, 16 Cycling cap, £12,
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 89
fashion beauty
food mind
space gardens
Blind date Gareth, 32, marketing manager, meets Alice, 25, digital strategist
Gareth on Alice
Alice on Gareth
What were you hoping for?
Good company, some nice
food and a fun experience.
First impressions?
Lovely blue eyes: could melt
a heart.
What did you talk about?
Books with a twist, books I’d
never heard of, our desert
island discs and the ethics of
soya beans.
Any awkward moments?
Only me trying to eat with
Good table manners?
The best. She had the skills
to eat edamame beans one at
a time with her chopsticks.
Best thing about Alice?
Her use of English.
Would you introduce her
to your friends?
Of course.
Describe her in three words
Intelligent, personable,
What do you think she made
of you?
The best Star Trek fan she’d
ever met.
Did you go on somewhere?
To a bar around the corner.
Someone was beat boxing as
we walked in. To me, this
was the best part of the date,
not because of the beat boxer,
but because I think we both
felt more comfortable.
And... did you kiss?
Nope. Well, on the cheek as
we left. Does that count?
If you could change one
thing about the evening,
what would it be?
Knife and fork.
Marks out of 10?
A solid 8.
Would you meet again?
Absolutely, if only to tell her
my last two discs.
First impressions?
Hair. Height. Nose.
What did you talk about?
Leftwing rant topics.
Any awkward moments?
I said I couldn’t understand
why a vegan would want to eat
a “fake” burger, then realised
how ignorant I sounded.
Good table manners?
Impeccable, though we both
had a bit of an issue shelling
the edamame with chopsticks.
Best thing about Gareth?
He let me pick the wine, didn’t
steal any sashimi and endured
my abstract views on things
I should learn more about first.
Would you introduce him to
your friends?
I wouldn’t hide him from them.
Describe him in three words
A good egg.
What do you think he made
of you?
Not vegan.
Did you go on somewhere?
To a pub with prematurely
Christmassy decor.
And... did you kiss?
No sir.
If you could change one thing
about the evening, what
would it be?
I wouldn’t have had those
pesky beans.
Marks out of 10?
Would you meet again?
Probably not.
Her eyes
could melt
a heart
What did he
make of me?
Not vegan
Gareth and Alice at Cubé,
London W1,
Fancy a blind date? Email
If you’re looking to meet
someone like-minded, visit
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 91
What I wore
this week
Jess Cartner-Morley finds leather needn’t always be black
The Measure
Going up
Disco Marilyn Aka Donna Jordan,
the Andy Warhol star whose
bleached eyebrows and general
levels of awesomeness clearly
inspired the new look at the
new British Vogue, judging by the
cover. Into it.
100 Denier M&S tights
Essentially a cheat’s guide to
getting the Balenciaga shoeboot
on the cheap. Starting a petition
to get M&S to make them in highshine purple.
Dressing like a plate See
Mulberry’s romantic crockeryinspired spring/summer 2018
collection for details, and
Zimmerman’s next season florals.
Ankle-crop trousers We’re all
over a stunted hemline met
with a statement boot. The new
high-low combo.
Going down
Jess’s four best
1 Dress, £35.99,
2 Skirt, £195, by Topshop Unique, from
3 Trousers, £39.99,
4 Jacket, £50,
Jess wears polo neck, £55, Vinyl skirt,
£32, Heels, £195,
Power sleeves No longer the way
to zshush up an outfit. Now it’s all
about arm warmers, a sort of
detachable sleeve, as seen in the
new issue of Vogue.
Free weekends As is customary at
this time of year, we are fresh out of
them until March 2018.
Clumpy eyelashes It was a trend
on the catwalk, courtesy of
Jeremy Scott and MSGM, but in
the rain and cold, doesn’t fare
that well IRL.
Losing your password Scientists
at the University of Washington
have developed a fabric that
stores data in your clothes. It’s
washable, too.
Sofa searches Not fun now old pound
coins are no longer legal tender.
n fashion as in life, there is nothing
wrong with making mistakes, you just
have to try not to keep making the
same ones over and over again.
A telltale sign that you are doing this is that you
have a wardrobe full of clothes, but nothing to
wear. Sound familiar?
In fashion, you pay for your errors in actual
money, so boo-boos quickly add up. I have
learned this the hard way, through being
a leather idiot. It has taken me two decades to
stop buying leather skirts and dresses that I don’t
wear. That time I bought a leather jacket and
realised I looked like Dennis Waterman rather
than Debbie Harry was a bit of a downer, but not
nearly as much as it was the time I did the same
a year later. I did realise a long time ago that
I can’t wear leather trousers, full stop, which is
a blessing, because that would be a total money
pit, as Theresa May’s £1,000 chocolate, flared
PR hell testifies.
I finally feel as if my learning curve with
leather (and fake leather, I’m not fussy)
skirts might be headed in an upward
trajectory. What I’ve learned is that a leather
skirt works only in two ways. One option is
to go all in: choose a va-va-voom leather skirt
and wear it when you are going out-out.
The other is to go against type, and wear
a leather skirt that plays down the sauce.
By which I mean a leather skirt that is as
far away from the perched-on-a-bar-stool
school of leather skirt as you can imagine.
My most successful leather skirts have been
a not-too-tight, below-the-knee pencil (good
for tucking cotton shirts into as stiff leather is
great for keeping a smooth line with a tucked-in
shirt) and an A-line black midi, which is
pleasingly dramatic with a polo neck
and earrings, while also warm and sturdily
practical (the Breanne by LK Bennett, that one
was – half price in the sale, last time I checked).
Last, but not least, it has dawned on me
that fashion doesn’t need to be black. Or red.
And that when you wear a leather skirt in, for
instance, lilac, the leather becomes less of a Thing
and the skirt becomes more wearable. I am no
longer destined to make the same fashion
mistakes over and over. Now I get to make new
ones, which is much more fun.
When you’re tired or ill, facial oils work wonders
here’s a plague over my house. I’m ill
while I look after an ill child, and the
last thing on my mind is the
prettification of anything, least of all
my face. But I do mind that everything feels sore,
dry, rough, my nose is flaky and red, my cheeks are
tight and grey, my lips are chapped. And it’s during
times of ill health that I invariably turn to facial oil.
When one has neither the energy nor the
inclination to do much more than lie with a hotwater bottle wedged into the foetal bend while
a poor-quality, made-for-TV biopic flickers in the
background, a rich, soothing, calming oil, rubbed
haphazardly into the face, is just what the doctor
ordered. It’s extremely low maintenance and
highly effective on most outward signs of
common illness and fatigue.
I have several favourites in my bathroom
cabinet, lined up like apothecary tinctures, and
will thoughtlessly reach for any one of them in
times of need. I adore any oil by Darphin, and its
Chamomile Aromatic Care (£40) seems to suit
everyone, even those with skin made very
sensitive by extreme weather or ill health. It sinks
in swiftly without rubbing, gives a healthier look
and, most im
provides cushiony comfort
y, p
Try these
1 Chamomile Aromatic
matic Care, £40,
2 The Ordinary 100%
0% Organic ColdPressed Rose Hip Seed Oil, £9,
3 Votary Super Seed
ed Facial Oil, £70,
to a sore, tight complexion. It also takes down
angry blotches and other redness.
A newer favourite (and a bargain, too) is The
Ordinary’s 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip
Seed Oil (£9). It’s light and silky, rather than thick
and lardy, and great for restoring glow to sickly,
housebound skin. It softens beautifully and
contains not a single extra ingredient, making it
dependably kind to inflamed, sore areas (such as
around the nose during flu or cold).
If you’re so miserable that only an extravagant
self gift will ease the malaise (though that’s
possibly just me), then look no further than Votary
Super Seed Facial Oil (£70), a gorgeous-feeling
concoction of grapeseed, pumpkin, carrot, borage
and other skin-saving oils that immediately makes
skin feel soothed, comfy and looking more alive.
Greedy by nature, I lock it down with a cocooning
layer of moisturising cream.
Aside from a gentle cleanser, I dispense with
pretty much all other skincare until the storm has
passed. Active ingredients such as retinol or highconcentration vitamin Cs, and exfoliants such as
AHAs and BHAs are too strong, and must wait
until you’re feeling more robust.
The beauty roadtest
Hair oils
By Weekend’s All Ages model
Marc Goldfinger, 29
My hair has a natural curl that can
be a pain to control. When I started
modelling, my hair was dried and
changed several times a week,
which made it worse. A few years
ago, I was introduced to hair oils,
and they changed my life; no more
wearing a cap post-shower to keep
the volume under control. However,
I have yet to find an oil that strikes
the right balance between
nourishment and greasiness.
When I first read the instructions
on Kiehl’s Magic Elixir (£29 for 125ml, I was dubious: you’re
supposed to leave it in for 10
minutes before rinsing out. After
day four, I really noticed a reduction
in frizz and my hair was softer. Even
after days of not shampooing, I still
use the elixir, and my hair and scalp
feels cleaner.
Schwarzkopf Got2b Oil-licious
Tame & Shine Styling Oil (£4.19 for
50ml, was pretty
heavy and gave my hair a glossy
sheen. It did calm the frizz, but
whenever I touched my hair I could
feel it on my fingers. It was good
value, however, and its size makes
it great for travelling.
Macadamia Healing Oil
Treatment (28.99 for 125ml, went through my
hair evenly and made it feel light.
I could style the curls, and my hands
didn’t get that weird oily feeling.
The Ordinary Marula Oil (£8.10
for 30ml, is
incredibly light, and absorbed into
my skin and hair immediately. My
hair looked shinier, but it didn’t
tame my wild frizz. I thought it
would be a vitamin smörgåsbord for
my hair: it didn’t quite deliver.
Next week: All Ages model Leah
Alexxanderr-Caine on toners
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 95
Pulse point
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to a boil, turn down the heat to
medium and leave to simmer gently
for 25 minutes, until the lentils are
soft but still hold their shape.
Divide the soup between four
warmed bowls, drizzle over the
remaining coconut milk, scatter the
coriander leaves on top and serve
with lime wedges for squeezing over. A
Curried lentil and coconut soup
Serve this with lime wedges for
a welcome citrus kick. Serves four.
2 tbsp coconut oil or sunflower oil
1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced
1 tbsp medium curry powder
¼ tsp chilli flakes
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
4cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and
finely chopped
Puy lentil and aubergine stew
The ingredients here are very
familiar, but the result is a bit magic
and unexpected – a little like
Christmas, in fact. Serve as it is, for a
light meal, or bulk it up by spooning
on top of slices of grilled or toasted
sourdough. It’s at its best served
warm, but is also very good at room
temperature. Serves four.
Yotam Ottolenghi
150g red lentils, rinsed and drained
400g tinned chopped tomatoes
25g coriander stalks cut into 2cm
pieces, plus 5g picked leaves, to garnish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
400g tin coconut milk
Lime wedges, to serve
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan
on a medium-high flame, then fry
the onion for eight minutes, stirring
often, until soft and caramelised.
Add the curry powder, chilli flakes,
garlic and ginger, and fry for two
minutes more, stirring continuously.
Add the lentils, stir through for a
minute, then add the tomatoes,
coriander stalks, 600ml cold water,
a teaspoon of salt and a very
generous grind of pepper, and leave
to heat through.
Pour the coconut milk into a bowl
and gently whisk until smooth and
creamy. Set aside four tablespoons –
you’ll use this when serving – then
tip the remaining coconut milk into
the soup pot. Bring the mixture up
4 tbsp olive oil, plus a little extra
for serving
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
1 medium red onion, peeled and
finely diced 4 tsp picked oregano leaves, roughly
Salt and black pepper
2 small aubergines (about 420g in
total), cut into 5cm x 2cm chunks
200g cherry tomatoes
180g puy lentils
500ml vegetable stock
80ml dry white wine
100g creme fraiche
1 tsp urfa chilli flakes (or ½ tsp regular
chilli flakes)
Heat half the oil in a large, highsided saute pan on a medium-high
flame. Add the garlic, onion, half
the oregano and a quarter-teaspoon
of salt, and fry for eight minutes,
stirring often, until soft and golden,
then tip into a small bowl.
Put the aubergines and cherry
tomatoes in a separate bowl and
season with a quarter-teaspoon of
salt and plenty of pepper. On a
medium-high flame, heat the two
remaining tablespoons of oil in the
same pan (don’t bother wiping
it clean) and, once it’s very hot, fry
the aubergines and tomatoes for 10
minutes, turning them often, until
the aubergine is soft and goldenbrown and the tomatoes are
beginning to blacken.
Return the garlic and onion
mixture to the pan, then add the
lentils, stock, wine, half a litre of
cold water and three-quarters of
a teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil,
turn down the heat to medium and
leave to simmer gently for about
40 minutes, until the lentils are soft
but still retain a bite (after this time,
there will still be some liquid at the
bottom of the pan, but that’s fine).
Serve the stew warm topped
with a spoonful of creme fraiche,
a drizzle of oil, a sprinkling of the
urfa chilli and the remaining
chopped oregano leaves.
Sweet potato and puy lentil
While making these, you’ll need to
freeze the mix a couple of times so
that the croquettes are easier to
shape and coat. It’s a bit of an effort,
admittedly, but well worth it for
the lovely light texture of the end
results. Serves six as a main course.
2 large sweet potatoes (800g)
170g puy lentils
1 large onion, peeled and cut into
2cm-wide wedges
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp picked thyme leaves
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp smoked paprika
30g parsley, roughly chopped
10g mint leaves, roughly shredded
Salt and pepper
200g feta, crumbled into 1-2cm pieces
3 eggs, gently beaten
80g plain flour
150g panko breadcrumbs
Sunflower oil, for frying
2 lemons, cut into wedges, for serving
Heat the oven to 200C/390F/gas
mark 6. Put the sweet potatoes on
an oven tray and bake for about an
hour, until cooked through and soft
inside. Once the sweet potatoes are
cool enough to handle, peel off and
discard the skins, then put the flesh
in a large bowl (you should end up
with about 530g). Mash roughly,
then leave to cool. →
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 99
day after Black Friday
and with just a month to
go until Christmas, now
is a time I turn to lentils.
Lentils are, for me, the culinary
equivalent of the calm before the
storm, a simple, clear and perfect
moment before the party kicks off. For better and for worse, the next
four weeks are a marathon that we
all forget properly to train for.
Diaries are packed with plans and
wallets are emptied, with little
heed paid to how much of a toll it’s
all taking. It’s irrational, of course,
but somehow hard to resist the logic
that sees the need for more stilton
sparking the need for more wine,
which sparks the need for more nuts
(and then yet more stilton, wine
and nuts).
We’re all pretty defenceless in the
face of this annual onslaught, but
what we can do is prepare. And
cooking a batch of lentil soup is my
way of battening down the hatches;
doubling the quantities and freezing
half makes me feel ready for the
storm ahead. Then, when my internal
SOS call goes up in a couple of weeks’
time – a need for the exact opposite
of that stilton-wine-nuts combo –
I’ll know that the solution is within
quick and easy reach. Today’s
lentil and aubergine stew and the
fritters are comforting and frugal
antidotes to the month-long
spending and social spree that
began yesterday. In Italy, oddly enough, little black
beluga lentils are traditionally eaten
when the party is in full swing, on
New Year’s Day. These hold their
shape when cooked and don’t
collapse, which is why they’re said
to look like tiny coins and are
traditionally eaten to herald a
prosperous year ahead. So much for
my association of lentils with
frugality, then: turns out they’re as
good a way to see out the party
as to protect us from it.
first in the flour, then the egg and
finally in the breadcrumbs, to coat,
then leave at room temperature for
an hour, until partially defrosted. It’s
essential they defrost, or they won’t
cook through before the crust starts
to burn (if you don’t want to fry
them at this point, store them in the
fridge for up to 24 hours, so they’re
ready to fry when you are).
Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas
mark 4. Fill a medium frying pan
with enough sunflower oil to come
2.5cm up the sides. Put the pan on
a medium-high flame and leave to
heat up for five minutes, until the
oil is hot. Turn down the heat to
medium, then fry the croquettes
in batches for about four minutes,
turning them once, until golden
brown on both sides. Transfer to
an oven tray and bake for eight to
10 minutes, to cook through. Serve
hot with the lemon wedges •
Bring a medium saucepan of salted
water to a boil, then add the lentils,
onion, garlic, bay leaves and thyme.
Turn down the heat to medium and
simmer for 30 minutes, until the
lentils are cooked and starting to fall
apart. Drain, discard the bay leaves,
then tip the lentils, onion and garlic
into the sweet potato mash. Add the
cinnamon, paprika, parsley, mint,
a teaspoon of salt and a good grind
of pepper, mix well, then gently stir
in the feta so it’s incorporated but
remains in chunks.
Divide the mixture into 12 balls,
put these on an oven tray lined with
greaseproof paper, then freeze for
30 minutes, so they stiffen up. Shape
each ball into a round, 7cm-wide x
2cm-thick patty, then return to the
freezer for at least two hours, to firm
up (at this stage, you can also cover
the croquettes and keep them in the
freezer for up to two weeks).
Put the eggs in one bowl, the flour
in another and the breadcrumbs in
a third. Take the patties from the
freezer and one at a time roll them
Yotam Ottolenghi is chef/patron of
Ottolenghi and Nopi in London.
Wine France is your best bet for festive reds, says Fiona Beckett
3 Glazed ham
Serve with
2 Roast beef
the rich, spicy Domaine Lou Fréjou
Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2015 (£15.99
Aldi; 13.5% abv, 1). If you don’t want
to spend that much, Aldi also has a
Côtes du Rhône, Domaine de la Belle
Estelle Cairanne 2016 (14.5% abv),
for £7.99 that punches well above its
weight (it’s the usual southern
Rhône blend of grenache, syrah and
mourvèdre). And if you really want
to impress, try Guigal’s gorgeous
Brune et Blonde Côte Rôtie 2013
(13% abv, 2), which Waitrose has at
£29.99 instead of the usual £39.99.
Expensive, yes, but a fabulous
showoff wine to put on the table.
Yapp Brothers, a merchant that
1 Roast turkey
he fact that most wine
merchants offer a
subscription scheme
suggests a fair few
people don’t want to think too hard
about wine and just receive regular
cases of the style they like. I suspect
this applies even more to Christmas,
so I’m going to save you any hard
thinking and suggest one type of red
for the holiday season. And that’s
wine from the south of France,
especially the Rhône and Languedoc.
Why? Well, they’re particularly
well suited to festive drinking: vivid
and powerful, they act like a sort of
liquid cranberry sauce. They should
keep older members of the family
happy, while being fruity enough for
younger ones, and they hit the spot
at practically every price point.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is probably
the one that will go down best – as
I mentioned a few weeks back, 2015
was a cracking vintage in the south
of France – so snap up the likes of
Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference
Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2015 at £14,
especially if you catch it on one of
those intermittent 25%-off deals, or
specialises in the Rhône and the
south of France, always has a good
selection, including the substantial
Château Milhau-Lacugue Saint
Chinian Les Truffières 2014 (£14.95,
13.5% abv), which looks like claret
but has that opulent, exotic warmth
of the south – that would be good
with all kinds of Christmas roasts,
from beef and lamb to goose.
You can obviously find similar
syrah/grenache blends in other
countries these days, and Australia,
South Africa and even Chile are
notably good hunting grounds. For
a crowd-pleasing all-rounder, load
up with the ripe, juicy Sainsbury’s
Taste The Difference Azana Red
Blend (£9; 14.5% abv, 3), from the
Bosman Family Vineyards in South
Africa (that’s shiraz, grenache and
mourvèdre with a smidge of
primitivo). Or Vina Tabali’s luscious,
ripe Syrah Gran Reserva 2014 (£9.49, £10 Booths;
13.5% abv), from Chile. There are
other options, of course, but syrah/
shiraz and syrah blends will save
you a lot of dithering.
The good mixer
C’est la vie
There’s a reason vodka’s so popular
in northern Europe – it’s the perfect
antifreeze to help us through the
cold winter months. You’ll need to
freeze some grapes in advance, for
the garnish. Serves one.
40ml vodka (I use Ciroc)
25ml fresh lime juice
15ml sugar syrup
7.5ml pear eau de vie, to finish
Frozen grapes, to garnish
Stir the vodka, lime and syrup over
ice in a shaker, then strain into
a coupette or martini glass. Pour
the eau de vie on top and garnish
with a few frozen grapes.
Luca Missaglia, Aqua Shard,
London SE1
The quick dish
Pep up a winter vegetable soup with a warming slug of chilli oil
n this age of sexy street
food and fast living, we
sometimes forget the
pleasures to be found in
a bowl of soup. In Mexico, however,
where the food culture is ancient,
soups are still celebrated and found
on almost every restaurant menu,
from thick, vegetable-based ones
fragrant with wild herbs or humming
with tender pulses, to beautiful clear
broths made by simmering bones for
many hours to extract every ounce
of goodness. Twelve years ago,
I helped put together a book of soup
recipes to raise funds for Centrepoint
and other homelessness charities.
It was called Soup Kitchen, featured
recipes from just about every chef
you could think of and ended up
selling more than 100,000 copies.
I was thinking about the book
while working on this week’s recipe,
which is both simple and tasty. The
chickens at my local farmers’ market
come with giblets attached (yay),
which make excellent stock, but this
dish also works with vegetable stock
or even water. The gently earthy,
velvety soup is pepped up by a slug of
smoky chilli oil to give it cojones –
and to warm us in this colder weather.
Potato, leek and wild mushroom
soup with chipotle oil and
creme fraiche
Use dried chipotle chillies for the oil,
or jarred chipotles en adobo (which
are already rehydrated), or indeed
any dried red chilli. The creme
fraiche supplies a lovely, acidic
backdrop to the heat. Serves six.
75g butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large leek, washed, cut in half
lengthways, then into thin half-moons
1 celery stick
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
600g maris piper potatoes, peeled and
cut into slices
15g dried porcini, soaked in 200ml
boiling water
250g mixed wild mushrooms (girolles,
oysters, chanterelles, trompettes de
mort), cleaned and roughly chopped
200g chestnut mushrooms, cleaned
and roughly chopped
1.25 litres chicken or vegetable stock
75ml creme fraiche (or single cream)
For the chipotle oil
2 dried chipotle chillies
2 large cloves garlic, peeled
300ml olive oil
Make the oil first. Tear open and
deseed the chillies (wear rubber
gloves or wash your hands
afterwards). Heat a small frying pan
and, when hot, toast the chillies for
20-30 seconds a side, then tip into
a bowl, cover with boiling water and
leave to soak for 15 minutes (or use
two tablespoons of chipotles en
adobo from a jar, and skip this stage).
While the chillies are soaking, get
on with the veg. Put half the butter
and the oil in a casserole, add the
leek, celery, garlic and a few pinches
of salt, sweat gently over a mediumhigh heat for five minutes, then stir
in the thyme, bay and potatoes.
Strain the soaked porcini, reserving
the liquor, then finely chop the
mushrooms and add to the pot with
100ml of the liquor. Cover and leave
to bubble gently for 10-12 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a large frying pan
on a high flame, add the remaining
butter and, once it’s sizzling, stir-fry
all the fresh mushrooms for three to
four minutes, until coloured and soft.
Tip two-thirds of the mushrooms into
the pot (you’ll use the rest to garnish)
and pour in the stock. Season the
soup, simmer for 20 minutes, then
blitz smooth with a hand blender (if
you prefer a more rustic soup, leave it
a bit on the chunky side).
Once the chillies are soft, drain
them and put in the small bowl of
a food processor with the garlic and
half a teaspoon of sea salt. Blitz to a
paste, then, with the motor running,
slowly add the oil until incorporated.
Transfer to a glass jar and seal – the
oil will keep for a month or two.
Taste the soup for seasoning, then
spoon into warmed bowls. Top each
portion with a teaspoon of cream,
scatter over the reserved mushrooms,
add a trickle of chilli oil and serve.
And for the rest of the week…
Use the chilli oil on fried rice,
avocado toast or a baked potato
stuffed with cheese (Ogleshield is
a favourite in our house). It’s also
glorious on mushrooms on toast.
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 103
1 ST D E C 1 7 - 3 1 ST J A N 1 8
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Excludes Classic and Discontinued lines. Cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer.
104 25 November 2017 | The Guardian Weekend
The new
hen I was growing up,
our oven was used as an
extra cupboard to keep
outsized frying pans and
exiled chopping boards. This was
largely because my Indian parents
were of a place and time (1950s
Uganda) where no one had ovens at
home: all breads were stove-baked
flatbreads and all cakes were bought
in or baked at the village bakery.
As a result, any cake that merited
the annual clearing of the Sodha
oven had to be incredibly special.
The search for a worthy cake
became a quest akin to Columbus
in search of the Indies, and then,
one day, I found it: the mighty Sri
Lankan love cake, whose origin
dates back to the 15th century, when
the Portuguese ruled Ceylon. It has
all my favourite cake characteristics
at once: dense, floral, and full of
nuts and spices. It was the one.
It is not naturally vegan, but it was
the first cake I wanted to “veganise”.
Although there is no single
ingredient in vegan baking that can
perfectly replace egg (which binds,
stabilises and allows a cake to rise),
ground flaxseed works very well,
although it makes for a crumblier
cake. The butter is easier to
substitute: I use a pure sunflower
spread that can be whipped or
creamed to add bounce.
The overall effect with the fresh
pineapple is a cake with a totally
tropical taste, but with the warmth
of your favourite blanket – a cake
worth clearing out the oven for.
Quiz 1 Bulgakov’s The Master And
Margarita. 2 Fulmar. 3 Bathing.
4 Sheryl Sandberg. 5 Fabian Society.
6 James Alfred Wight (James
Pineapple love
This recipe is
a collaboration: my friend Henrietta
Inman, who bakes using natural
ingredients, helped me turn the
original recipe vegan; and the
pineapple upside-down bit was
my friend (and head chef at Palatino
in London) Rich Blackwell’s idea.
Serves eight.
4 level tbsp milled flaxseeds
180ml almond milk
1 small pineapple, peeled
1 orange, zested and juiced (to
make 60ml)
260g light brown muscovado sugar
Herriot). 7 Mecca. 8 Subtopia.
9 Jazz/blues biopics: Billie Holiday;
Miles Davis; Bessie Smith; Charlie
Parker. 10 Rivers flowing into the
Baltic. 11 Place names from “red”:
Alhambra, Arabic; Colorado,
Spanish; Baton Rouge, French;
Eritrea, Greek. 12 Had twins.
125g sunflower
spread (eg, Pure),
plus extra for greasing
2 tbsp rose water
1 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon
100g ground almonds
150g fine semolina
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp baking powder
Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas
mark 4. Grease the base and sides
of a 23cm cake tin with sunflower
spread. Line the base with
greaseproof paper, making sure it
13 Fictional badgers: Prince Caspian;
Watership Down; Rupert Bear;
Sam Pig; Farthing Wood. 14 French
republican calendar month name
derivations: Vendémiaire; Brumaire,
etc. 15 English kings with two reigns.
Crossword See right.
comes at least 3cm up the sides of
the tin (so the juices don’t leak).
Make the flax “eggs” by mixing
the flaxseed with almond milk.
With the pineapple lying on its
side, cut six round 0.5cm-thick
slices off the bottom and put in
a saucepan. Add the juice of one
orange and 60g of the sugar, bring
the mixture up to a boil, then turn
off the heat and set aside.
In a bowl, use a spatula to cream
the sunflower spread and the
remaining sugar, then mix in the
rose water, vanilla extract, lemon
and orange zest.
In a second bowl, whisk together
the dry ingredients (ie the almonds,
semolina, cinnamon, nutmeg,
cardamom and baking powder).
Add the flax “eggs” to the creamed
sunflower spread and sugar mixture,
then fold in the dry ingredients until
just combined.
Layer the pineapple slices, one
over the other, at the base of the tin
to form an inter-locking circle with
no hole in the middle, then pour the
pan juices over the top. Spoon the
cake batter into the tin over the
pineapple, and spread out with the
back of a spoon to level off.
Bake for 45 minutes, until a skewer
comes out clean, then remove from
the oven and leave to cool in the tin
for 20 minutes. To turn out the cake,
run a knife around the sides, put a
plate on top of the tin and turn over.
Voilà. Serve with coconut yoghurt
or oat cream, or eat just by itself.
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 105
All my favourite cake characteristics in one: dense, floral, full of nuts and spices
‘Italy stand down: Catalonia wins at cannelloni’
e nearly don’t get to eat at
Rambla at all. After a fatfingered mistake with the
online booking process,
I call 95 increasingly desperate times
to try to snag our table back. And
when my friend resorts to travelling
to the restaurant in person, they’re
amused by her tale of woe: “Yes, the
phone’s been ringing all afternoon!”
the friendly front-of-house lady
laughs as she pencils us back in.
Our panic is sparked by the fact
that, since my original reservation,
this latest opening from Barcelonaborn chef Victor Garvey has received
a glowing review in the London
Evening Standard, but though
agreeably buzzy on a Friday night,
the atmosphere remains as laid-back
as the staff. We don’t even have to
fight our way through a hungry
crowd at the door, unlike at
Barrafina just up the road.
All this bother – really, nobody
has it harder than me – means we
arrive more than ready for a vast
Spanish gin tonic, only to be offered
the boring British sort instead. (Talk
about hitting a woman when she’s
down.) Wine, says our charmingly
apologetic waiter, is more their thing:
thankfully, this doesn’t translate to
a long list of obscure and vowel-less
varieties, but an uncluttered sheet of
A4 with a few cavas and sherries and
a handful of Spanish whites and reds,
many available by the glass. Our
cortisol levels, however, demand
a bottle, plus a plate of whatever
the table next door is tucking into,
please, because it smells amazing.
This proves a stroke of luck. I doubt
I would have ordered the braised
oxtail canelones otherwise (though
this only proves my ignorance:
apparently the independently
minded Catalans are well-known for
their love of pasta), but I’d guess it’s
the most pleasure you’ll get in Soho
for a fiver these days. Stuffed with
soothingly velvety meat and topped
with a bubbling mass of outrageously
cheesy sauce, we diligently scrape
the baking dish of every last crusty
morsel. Italy stand down: Catalonia
wins at cannelloni.
The same big, rich flavours are
evident in a generous bowl of clams
and mussels (£7!) festooned with
strips of serrano ham and sitting in
a white wine and spider crab butter
sauce so delicious that, after a small
difference of opinion concerning
the acceptability of drinking from
serving bowls in public, we end up
using the empty shells as spoons to
scoop up the remainder. Indeed,
it’s hard to believe the same kitchen
could turn out a dish as exquisitely
delicate as the cod sashimi with
sweet red pepper, tomatoes and
black olives that arrives at the
same time: pretty as a picture,
but infinitely nicer to eat, this is
definitely a polite knife, fork and
tweezer for the microherbs job.
Rambla does the classics, too:
jamón de Bellota, which seems
ridiculously expensive compared
with the rest of the menu. Twenty
106 25 November 2017 | The Guardian Weekend
pounds is an awful lot for a plate of
ham, however long it’s been aged,
but Déu meu, this is good, and we
eat it so slowly, with frequent breaks
to rhapsodise on its complex, nutty
sweetness, that, costed at price per
minute, it almost feels like good
value. Considerably cheaper, but
nearly as enjoyable, are plump,
cured anchovies that turn out to be
deeply satisfying company for robust
sourdough toast and chilled butter,
a simple combination elevated to
greatness by a single sliver of pickled
shallot. The only slightly duff notes
are pan con tomate, usually a good
test of a kitchen’s mettle, which
features fridge-cold and woolly fruit
Food ★★★★☆
Atmosphere ★★★☆
Value for money ★★★★★
64 Dean Street, London W1, 020-7734
8428. Open all week, noon-midnight
(last food orders 11pm). About £25
a head, plus drinks and service
(serves me right for ordering it in
November), and some creamy,
nutmeg-spiked spinach croquetas
that, though pleasant enough, taste
underpowered in this company.
The sole dessert (they’d run out of
torrija, though our waiter spends
some time lovingly describing it
anyway, so I can at least tell you it
sounds good) is a bullseye, too:
a warm, oozy apricot and almond
pudding with some louchely liquid
frozen yoghurt that pairs brilliantly
with figgy Pedro Ximinez, the only
sweet wine on offer. (At this point,
having eaten our way through an
absurd number of plates, frankly it’s
a bit of a relief not to have to make
any more decisions.)
As we roll out, still raving about
that cannelloni, I spy a rather lovely
Italian greyhound sitting politely
on a cushion at one of the tables
and feel momentarily guilty about
leaving the dog at home – before
realising this gives me the perfect
excuse to return for second helpings.
I just won’t bother ringing ahead
next time.
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 107
110 25 November 2017 | The Guardian Weekend
Cold comfort
Jane Perrone takes a stroll along
Harlow Carr garden’s winter walk, which
is full of interest as the days shorten.
Photographs by Andrea Jones
s the daylight hours
shrink and the
temperatures drop, it
takes something special
to get us outdoors. Harlow Carr in
Harrogate, north Yorkshire, provides
just the right lure; its winter walk
runs alongside 400 metres of path
that snakes through the centre of
the garden, planted with all kinds of
delights to see and sniff.
The walk was created to add
a new dimension to this RHS-owned
garden, bringing six months of
interest, from the fiery foliage of
November through to the spring
bulbs of April. It is designed to
run on an east-west axis: aspect is
important in winter, because the
low angle of the sun’s rays lends
plants a different perspective,
lighting up bare stems and trunks
that are obscured during summer.
This produces two very different
views depending on which way you
are walking, explains horticulturist
Russell Watkins, who heads the
team managing the winter walk.
“If you go one way, you benefit from
the light shining through things,
so we have lots of plants such as
honesty [Lunaria annua] that we
allow to seed through,” he says. “The
seedheads pick up the light and glow
like little lanterns. Walk the other
way, and it’s fiery and vibrant.”
One key species providing vibrancy
is dogwood: a pedestrian plant when
in leaf, but at autumn’s end, the
foliage falls away to reveal a tangle of
brightly coloured stems. Bold blocks
of red and orange Cornus sanguinea
‘Midwinter Fire’, yellow-green
C. sericea ‘Bud’s Yellow’ and scarletstemmed C. alba all catch the light.
Along the walk are deciduous trees
chosen for their textured bark and
strong outlines, such as paperbark
maple (Acer griseum), Persian
ironwood (Parrotia persica) and
silver birch, or bright berries such as
mountain ash ‘Copper Kettle’.
Left: paperbark maple
glows amid clumps of
heather ‘Ann Sparkes’ and
Hebe ‘James Stirling’, with
Mediterranean spurge (on
left) and dwarf mountain
pine (on right). This page,
clockwise from top: stems
of dogwood ‘Midwinter
Fire’, red osier dogwood
and scarlet willow
surround west Himalayan
birch; Mahonia × media
‘Winter Sun’; mountain
ash ‘Copper Kettle’
That’s all very well on a sunny day,
but what’s to recommend a visit in
fog and drizzle? The dogwoods glow
even in the gloomiest moments,
Watkins says, but he also rates the
cryptomerias, or Japanese cedar
trees. “The best one, for me, is
C. japonica ‘Elegans’. Its foliage holds
on to water droplets so it shimmers
as if it’s covered in diamonds.”
Any winter walk worth its salt will
offer plenty of scent. At Harlow Carr
there is lots; the citrus shades of the
witch hazels (hamamelis), spidery
white winter box (sarcococca),
yellow sprays of mahonia, and the
pink and white daphnes all make
their presence known via wafting
perfumes, their strategy for attracting
the few pollinating insects venturing
out on milder days.
It’s possible to achieve a winter
display in more confined spaces. Pots
that can be moved in and out of the
spotlight depending on the season
offer a great solution for smaller
gardens. “Even if you’ve only got a
container, all you need is a dogwood
or two, some heather and some
spring bulbs and you’ve got a longlasting combination,” Watkins says.
Heathers haven’t yet seen the
same kind of revival that other oncereviled plants such as dahlias have
undergone, but Watkins argues that
the winter-flowering types, such as
the pink-flowered, bronze-leaved
Erica carnea ‘Ann Sparkes’, have
earned a place in the winter garden,
both for their long-lasting colour
and for their role as a magnet for
early-emerging pollinators. “They
can look a bit dull on their own – try
them in among other plants, at the
front of paths,” Watkins says.
And grasses? Despite their current
popularity in horticulture, there are
just two that have proved suitable
for the winter walk, chosen for their
ability to stand up to a hard frost and
snowfall. “In some awkward spaces
under trees where it’s shady and dry,
I’ve got evergreen Carex morrowii
[Japanese sedge], which is brilliant for
difficult situations as a background
plant. I also use Miscanthus ‘Little
Kitten’, which doesn’t do that thing
a lot of miscanthus do – dropping
leaves and making a mess; it flowers
well but only gets to 1m tall.”
Watkins knows when visitors are
enjoying the winter walk, because
their brisk steps slow to a crawl. “You
see people power-walking in the
summer, but in the winter people
slow as the scent catches them.”
Harlow Carr (
harlow-carr) is open daily except
Christmas Day
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 111
Why it pays to grow herbs at home – even in winter
What to do this week
have nothing against potted
supermarket herbs, other than the
plastic pot, plastic sleeve, peat,
transportation costs and landfill
implications – but they are a better buy than the
cut versions. I have bought plenty in my time,
splitting the masses into individuals for a longer
shelf life than their best-before date suggests.
However, herbs are easy to grow; all you need
is a windowsill. And, unlike in supermarkets, you
get to choose from 40 types: the tiny leaves of
Ocimum basilicum ‘Pluto’ pack a mighty punch;
O. basilicum ‘Mrs Burns’ is by far the best lemon;
and O. basilicum ‘Dark Opal’ is the best purple,
with spicy, warm flavours.
Basil is my favourite indoor herb, but parsley
and coriander can be treated in the same way.
A packet of seed will cost around the same as a
shop-bought plant and, sown judiciously, will
last a year. You will have to buy compost and find
a pot, but even with these costs you will save
money over the year. I make no bones about being
in love with the peat-free SylvaGrow compost.
It also comes in manageable 15-litre bags.
Your recycling bin will have any number of
suitable growing containers in it, from takeaway
trays to yoghurt pots: all you need to do is punch
in some drainage holes. However, a windowsill
propagator kit is well worth investing in; Sarah
Raven offers a great one for less than £20.
At this time of year, annual herbs need to be
grown as microgreens (baby leaves harvested
when they are a few centimetres high), since the
light levels are dipping drastically, so growth will
be very slow. Using just a few inches of growth
from seedlings may seem wasteful, but the flavour
is impressive and growth is fast at this stage.
Sow the seeds liberally across the surface of
your pot (you want them roughly 1cm apart),
water in well and cover with the propagator lid
or a clear plastic bag. Within a week, you will
have the first signs of growth. I never cover basil
seed with compost, but coriander and parsley
will need a thin sprinkling. Once they are 1cm
tall, start aerating the plants by removing the
propagator lid and brushing the leaves gently
with your hands to force them to grow stronger.
Cut the leaves when they are 5cm or so high.
You will get only a single cut, but it’s easy enough
to sow successionally, so there’s always another
pot ready.
You can reuse the compost – just add a new
layer of fresh compost and resow. You will be able
do this at least three times – that is, unless you get
mould or compost gnats (if the soil is too damp),
in which case ditch the batch and start again.
Basil hates to go to bed with wet feet, so
always water it in the morning. Coriander often
grows leggy in very poor light levels. Parsley
is notoriously slow to wake up, so be patient
with germination.
Plant this Sweet box (Sarcococca
hookeriana; above) is just coming
into flower: its small, spidery white
and pink blooms aren’t up to much,
but they have a knockout scent. They
love a shady spot and evergreen
foliage means you never have to
look at bare soil. Choice cultivars
include ‘Purple Stem’ and ‘Winter
Gem’. Height and spread: 1.5m x 1.5m
(eventually; they are slow growers).
If you are tight for space, opt for the
cultivar ‘Ghorepani’ at 1m x 1m.
Prune this If your blackcurrants
have put on a poor show this year,
check your bushes. Younger stems
produce the most fruit, so judicious
pruning of older shoots is vital to
regenerate the plant. Older stems
are darker and thicker, so remove a
third of these as close to the base as
possible, using secateurs or loppers,
as well as any damaged shoots.
Visit this For fiery autumn
foliage, Westonbirt arboretum in
Gloucestershire is hard to beat.
Everyone can enjoy the show: if
you use a wheelchair or mobility
scooter, there’s a shuttle service on
Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends
from the Welcome Building to the
main facilities. The 13m-tall Stihl
treetop walkway is fully accessible,
Jane Perrone
move to
Hereford: its heyday is yet to come
hat’s going for it? There’s a marvellous
carving in Hereford Cathedral of actual
pigs in actual blankets. Pigs in blankets!
I wish I could show it to you. I mention
this only to demonstrate that Hereford is a city that
hides many treasures. First, it is a city, although it
does sometimes betray a whiff of provincialism.
Nonetheless, its relative isolation out towards
the Welsh border, and the independent character
and wealth that have grown over the centuries,
have given the city a fine – if not beautiful – bone
structure of civic architecture in ruddy stone.
Recent decades, though, have not been quite so
kind to Hereford: ring roads, economic sagginess
and ill-advised paving schemes or public art, many
attempts have been made to “improve” the city;
they have not. There are glimmers of revival,
though, the barest inklings of an understanding of
its fine, unique character: the cattle it has bred for
centuries, say, or the hidden beauty of some of its
streets. Hereford’s heyday, I feel, is yet to come.
The case against Distance (especially from the
sea). Needs more confidence in itself.
Well connected? Trains: hourly to Worcester (40
mins) and Birmingham (90); at least hourly to
Leominster (13), Ludlow (24), Shrewsbury (45-60)
and Abergavenny (22); Cardiff is just over an hour
away. Driving: just under an hour to Worcester,
90 minutes to Cardiff or Birmingham.
Schools Primaries: many good, and St Paul’s CofE
and Marlbrook are “outstanding”. Secondaries:
less good, though Whitecross is “good”.
Hang out at… The beginnings of a culinary revival.
Tandem Bakery is nice. Sensory & Rye even nicer,
despite calling itself an “urban eatery”.
Where to buy There are some lovely streets
of historic property (not all of which have
been turned into solicitors’ offices) close to
the cathedral. They extend eastwards along
the river cliffs to Hampton Park, especially
Hampton Park Road along the Wye. It’s also
worth looking between Aylestone Hill and
Ledbury Road for good semis and detacheds.
Plus Kings Acre Road out west. Fine Victorians
and Edwardians. Large detacheds and town
houses, £350,000-£650,000. Detacheds and
smaller town houses, £200,000-£350,000. Semis,
£140,000-£400,000. Terraces and cottages,
£120,000-£350,000. Flats, £85,000-£300,000.
Rentals: a one-bedroom flat, £400-£625pcm;
a three-bedroom house, £700-£900pcm.
Bargain of the week A lovely interwar three-bed
semi, needing modernisation, £175,000, with Tom Dyckhoff
From the streets
Clare Stevens “Artisan burgers are big in this area of
Hereford cattle: try the Beefy Boys or Rule of Tum.”
Tom Cutler “You’re never more than 10 minutes
from stunning countryside: the Black Mountains
to the west, sensational views to the east.”
Ian Morris “Too remote for commuters, Hereford
has a real identity and a lot going on culturally.”
All the places I’ll never live
Coco Khan
I come home to find a parcel on the
kitchen table wrapped in parchment.
“There goes the neighbourhood,”
I mutter to myself, knowing what
terror lies within. A spelt loaf.
This isn’t any ordinary spelt loaf.
The sticker sealing it tells me it’s from
the new store a few doors down. For
weeks we’d peer in at the builders,
wondering what the shop might
become. A butcher? A phone shop?
We could understand those. Instead,
it sells artisan bread and skateboards.
My worst nightmare is coming true:
the neighbourhood is gentrifying.
“You should save your money,”
I tell my flatmate, the buyer of the £7
loaf. “You’ll need it for the rent hike.”
He says I’m being paranoid and
implores me to “enjoy the nice things”,
but when a flyer arrives announcing
a cocktail bar that also sells ukuleles,
we know our fate is sealed: soon,
we’ll need to move somewhere
more affordable. Again.
One way to avoid the rising cost of
living is to reside somewhere so eyewateringly pricey that costs are
already at peak – such as a place on the
UK’s third most expensive street, the
Boltons in London, an address so
prestigious it sounds like a dynasty
rather than a road. The nearly 10,000
sq ft palatial property, advertised on, has a wine cellar,
basement cinema, four receptions
and a marble-floored master
bathroom. It’s nearly £50m, but if I
start bringing my own lunch to work,
I could maybe achieve it by, oh, never.
Do you live in Bexhill, East Sussex? Do you have
a favourite haunt or a pet hate? If so, please email by next Tuesday.
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 113
Zoe Williams tries taking a deep breath
sther Nagle is teaching me to breathe by
Skype ( If
you breathe properly, filling your lungs
from the belly to the throat, it will
improve everything: skin, sleep, digestion, even
impending Christmas stress. First, you must
concentrate. “It’s not meditation – that has
a precise meaning. We call it quiet sitting.” Right. I
should be able to sit quietly.
Sit up straight. Clasp your hands, right hand
dominant, thumbs touching, put them in your lap.
“Don’t change the way you’re breathing, just focus
on it. Is it through your mouth or nose? Deep or
shallow? Really think about what’s happening.”
I can breathe, but I can’t think about breathing.
I am thinking about revenge. “When your mind
wanders, bring it back gently.” How could she see
my mind wandering, over Skype, with my eyes
closed? “No recriminations. Don’t judge yourself.”
In fact, I’m judging the man who cycled into
my dog, not an hour ago, then floated his intent
to call the police. “You hurt a dog, playing in a
park, and you want to call the police?”
“It is ze English law – ze dog must be under
control.” Pollution mask. Cycling 20 miles an
hour through a park. Hates dogs. Obsessed with
authority. Plainly, I had slipped into a Ukip
anxiety dream.
“We’ll start with sukha pranayama, easy
breathing.” Yup, sorry, right, I can breathe, I can
do this. Start with three long breaths, taking four
seconds to inhale, four to exhale. “If you can
manage it, we’ll move to six seconds. But don’t do
114 25 November 2017 | The Guardian Weekend
it if it’s too hard. I’ve hurt my lungs before trying
too hard.” How do you hurt a lung? “I was
experimenting with different ratios of breath.”
We go to six seconds. It is no longer easy.
We move on to vibhagha pranayama, lobular
breathing, where you segment your lungs into
upper breathing, mid-chest breathing and
abdominal breathing, then work one at a time. To
breathe into your abdomen, place your hands flat,
just below your ribcage, with your middle fingers
touching. Do a six-second breath to separate those
fingers, then exhale to bring them back together.
Then place your hands on your side – aim for the
feeling of your ribcage opening like an accordion
– then flat against your spine. Repeat this for midchest – hands on your boobs and upper chest,
hands just below the hollow of your throat, then at
corresponding heights at the side and the back. By
the end, you’ve had 54 seconds of quality breath.
“How are you feeling about the cyclist?”
“Much better. I no longer want vengeance.
I merely want the world to know that a bad man
exists and he has a bike.”
“How do you usually cope with stress?”
“I sublimate, then drink through.”
“Breathing is brilliant for addiction recovery.”
“Wait, what? I don’t want to recover!”
She smiles. “And breathe.”
This week I learned
A common mistake is to take a deep breath and then
hold it. Make sure you keep your flow.
My life in sex
The man with the small penis
I was born with a few disabilities, at
a time when surgery wasn’t as good
as it is today. Some are obvious
(spinal curvature, no functioning
bladder), others not so; I had no penis
to speak of. At puberty, they gave
me something approaching a short
(under 2in) but functional penis.
At school I was bullied, but not
hugely – I avoided confrontation and
did my best to be likable. But I never
dated for fear of ridicule. My first
sexual adventure was as an 18-yearold man with a lovely woman in her
40s. She was shocked when she
realised that she had taken my
virginity. She was perhaps the safe
option: mature, experienced, caring.
Once I had overcome that huge
hurdle, I went on to explore with
more confidence. Over the next 10
years, I met a handful of women.
I learned to be a compassionate and
skilful lover, because I had to. I’ve
had a few serious relationships and
sex was never a problem. In this day
and age, when so much importance
is placed on genital proportion and
physical perfection, I fear some
have missed the trick.
I’m settled in what I hope is my
last major relationship. She tells me
it’s the best sex she’s had. I grew up
terrified that I would never have a
proper relationship; I’m grateful to
have met so many wonderful, nonjudgmental women who have shown
me my fears were unfounded. It was
never about the disabilities, always
about the abilities.
I try to make a woman feel loved
and wanted, and to take her to the
edge and back in ways that someone
who hasn’t had those fears growing
up might never understand the
need for.
Each week, a reader tells us about
their sex life. Want to share yours?
This column
will change
your life
Highbrow diversions are fine, right? By Oliver Burkeman
hroughout history, people who like to
think of themselves as high-minded
have sneered at the masses, frittering
their days away on “mindless
entertainment”. The definition of “mindless”
keeps changing: not so long ago, novels were
considered a frivolous indulgence; then
broadcasting took their place, and novel-reading
became something that high-minded people did.
For years, I told myself I wasn’t like the Average
Person who watched four hours of TV a day (my
average must be more like 15 minutes), because
I was doing something much more brainy: surfing
the internet. Recently, largely thanks to social
media, it’s become impossible to ignore the fact
that this is often mindless, too. So now, on my
more self-disciplined days, I stay off social media,
and feel slightly superior about it. And what do
I do instead, since I’m far too smart to waste my
life on rubbish. Now, I listen to podcasts.
So, naturally, I was intrigued by a recent essay on
New York magazine’s website The Cut, by Sirena
Bergman: “I listen to 35 hours of podcasts every
week. Is that… bad?” Her conclusion: yes, partly.
The brain needs silence, and the trouble with
audio – like mobile internet, too – is that it doesn’t
simply replace other forms of entertainment;
rather, it seeps into the gaps (commutes,
housework, exercise) that you might previously
have used to be alone with your thoughts.
Podcasts improve my daily life immensely and I’ve
zero intention of abandoning them; but Bergman
draws attention to an important truth about the
content we incessantly consume: it’s quite possible
to get addicted to stuff that seems edifying and
intellectual, as well as to brainless nonsense.
Indeed, for a certain kind of person, it’s probably
easier. You know it’s a distraction to compulsively
seek updates on reality shows hosted by Ant and
Dec. It’s harder to remember that political news, or
fascinating tales from the frontiers of science,
might be serving the same function.
The point is that what makes something
a distraction isn’t necessarily that it’s stupid or silly.
It’s the role it’s playing in your life. If it’s helping
you numb out, or put off important but scary tasks,
or avoid asking tough questions about how you’re
spending your time, it’s a problem, whatever the
details. Seemingly productive work can easily be
a distraction, if it’s not the work that counts. Even
deeply meaningful activities can be distractions.
That’s the logic behind a suggestion attributed to
the investor Warren Buffett: first, write down
your top 25 goals for life; then identify the most
important five, focus on them, and avoid the other
20 like the plague – because they’re the seductive
ones most likely to distract you, precisely because
they do matter. They just don’t matter most.
From this perspective, “mindless entertainment”
really isn’t the main danger. Yes, obviously, it’s
a waste of time to watch four hours of (most)
television a day. But that very obviousness means
it’s hard to do by accident. It’s when you catch
yourself feeling smug that you’re immune to that
sort of thing that you really need to start worrying.
What I’m really thinking
The new resident in
a retirement home
Why am I here? This is awful. What’s
happened to me? I don’t like it. Why
did I have to leave my little old
cottage and beautiful garden, and the
neighbours who were real friends?
I was so happy there, and now I’m in
a flat in an ugly modern building
that calls itself a retirement home.
Friends visit and say, “It’s so clean
and warm! And it’s all on the level!”
Well, my house was warm (in parts)
and cleanish. And I loved walking
up and down in my hilly town.
There are a lot of other women
here, and a handful of men. Every
day in the entrance hall there is
a pile of newspapers ordered by
residents. I saw that most of them
were the Daily Mail and I shuddered.
One fellow resident, smiling kindly,
said to me, “Everyone here dresses
so nicely.” I looked down at my
trousers and well-worn, comfortable
cardigan, and thought, “Oh God,
I haven’t even got a single dress!”
I have been invited to join the
bingo group and the crochet circle.
In both cases, I declined – graciously,
I hope. But then, the worst moment:
someone publicly expressed her
outrage at the way we are being
invaded by refugees. My hackles
rose immediately, but feebly I let
them fall again. It required too much
courage, just then, to give vent to
my own passionate and contrary
feelings on this subject. But the
time will come.
Another friend, visiting, asked
“What do you like most about living
here?” I thought long and hard, and
then answered truthfully: “I can’t
think of anything at all.”
Later, I realised that my scattered
children won’t need to worry so much
now. I am safe and warm and clean.
It can’t be that bad, can it?
Tell us what you’re really thinking
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 115
116 25 November 2017 | The Guardian Weekend
‘In pre-weather app times, later was a terrifying concept. Later was all you didn’t know’
am standing in a hail
storm reading a weather
app that says the day
will stay clear and
sunny. Nil precipitation. I wipe the
pellets off the screen to be sure.
Yes, nil precipitation. A pleasant
16 degrees. Might even feel, in
places, like 18. Air quality good,
the app says. I have a mouth full
of diesel.
That was written this morning.
This evening I’m wearing my
heaviest overcoat, a Siberian fur
hat and arctic gloves. It’s going
to be freezing, my app warns.
Not the previous app – I’d be
a fool to go on with that – but
a new app. Already there’s
to wrap up warm. Which is exactly
what my new app has told me to
do. The trouble is, it’s not in the
slightest bit cold and I can barely
move for all the clothes I’m wearing.
I encounter a friend who’s in
a light linen jacket and has the top
three buttons of his shirt undone.
He wants to know why I’m dressed
the way I am. I show him my app.
He shows me his. I want his.
I’ve been asked why I bother
with weather apps at all. Why don’t
I just look out of the window?
That’s a dumb-ass question. What
you see when you look out of
a window is now; what an app is
meant to help you with is later.
In pre-weather app times, later
something about this new app that
I like. It seems to sense the weather
I want it to be. And I want it to be
a freezing night because I’m
watching skaters on the rink
at Somerset House on the Strand
in London.
I haven’t come to skate myself –
the days when people gathered
at Derby Street Ice Palace in
Manchester to watch my butterfly
jumps are over – but I love the
atmosphere of the ice still: the
salty hissing of the skates, the
memory of all the ice-skating
scenes in Russian literature, which
are invariably a prelude to adultery.
Against such a bracing tang of
ice-driven excitation, one needs
was a terrifying concept. Later
was the sum total of all that you
didn’t know. Our mothers
prepared us for later by making
sure we didn’t leave the house
without a pullover under our
shirts, a scarf under our pullover,
a folded pac-a-mac in our back
pocket and a woman’s umbrella.
Technology is meant to put an end
to all that. Technology is the future
in our hands.
Apparently there’s a new weather
app for couples that enables one of
you to walk in the snow while the
other is enjoying a heatwave. We’ll
be downloading ours tomorrow –
which promises to be
o be
fine, by the way.
Puzzles Crossword by Sy and Thomas Eaton’s quiz. Answers on page 105
7/4 The ...... ..
....., 1939 novel
by John Steinbeck
8 Generic term
for bean, especially
in Mexico and
the south-western
US (6)
9 Lily Allen hit from
2009 (3,4)
10 An alternative
name for lady’s
fingers (4)
11 Slang term
for credit in
a company or
military store (5)
12 A form of capital
punishment that
is also known as
lapidation (7)
15 Ingrid .......,
star of Casablanca
(1942) and Notorious
(1946) (7)
16 Cuban music
and dance
form (5)
18 The leader
of worship in
a mosque (4)
20 Wine from central
Tuscany (7)
21 See 17
22 The software
company that was
co-founded by Larry
Ellison (6)
1 Red wine 7 that
are used to make
2 ITV satirical
show that ran
from 1984 to 1996
3 One of the three
Abrahamic religions (5)
4 See 7
5 Purcell opera that
was first performed in
1689 (4,3,6)
6 A genre of
crime fiction –
or a description of
17 7? (4)
13 A variety of
red 7 from
Piedmont (8)
14 ....... And His
Sons, ancient
Roman sculpture
on display in the
Vatican (7)
17/21 A variety of
7 known in German
as Grauburgunder
19 Andrew ....,
BBC presenter and
journalist (4)
1 Which novel begins
with a decapitation
by tram at Patriarch’s
2 What bird is named
from the Old Norse for
foul gull?
3 What takes place at
a Japanese onsen?
4 Who is the chief
operating officer
of Facebook?
5 Which socialist
society is named
after a Roman
6 Which vet’s
practice was at 23
Kirkgate in Thirsk,
North Yorkshire?
7 Mount Arafat is
a sacred hill outside
what city?
8 What term did
Ian Nairn coin
for drab suburban
What links:
9 Lady Sings
The Blues;
Miles Ahead;
Bessie; Bird?
10 Oder; Vistula;
Neman; Daugava;
11 Granada palace;
capital at Denver;
Louisiana capital;
broke from Ethiopia?
12 Cleopatra;
Margaret Thatcher;
Angelina Jolie;
Julia Roberts?
13 Trufflehunter;
the lendri; Bill;
Brock; Shadow?
14 Grape harvest;
mist; frost; snowy;
rainy; windy
(and six others)?
15 Ethelred the
Unready; Henry VI;
Edward IV?
The Guardian Weekend | 25 November 2017 117
me in the
Chris Mazeika sits with Steven David in the Broderip HIV ward, London, 1993
teven and I were neighbours
S in Deptford, south London;
although he was never my
partner, he was, in a way, the love of
my life. Every time I got home and
switched on the lights, my landline
would ring: “Why am I being
neglected?” he would say, in his
strong Belfast accent.
The Broderip ward at the Middlesex
hospital was the first dedicated Aids
ward in London. It was opened in
1987 by Princess Diana. In 1993,
before effective medications were
available, gay men were dying of
Aids at a terrifying rate. There was
a lot of hostility and fear about the
disease; families of young men often
rejected them. Broderip and its sister
ward, Charles Bell, became places of
warmth and love for the patients, and
the nursing staff were like their family.
The rooms were home-like, with
‘Steven never
got really ill
there. It wasn’t
unusual to turn
up for a visit
only to be told
he had gone
shopping or
been clubbing’
118 25 November 2017 | The Guardian Weekend
subdued lighting and duvets. The
nursing staff greeted patients with
hugs. It was a new way of nursing,
and incredibly forward-thinking
for its time. I worked there for five
years as a shiatsu massage therapist,
supporting the nursing team.
Steven was there on and off for
a sequence of treatments. He had
a private room, which he’d furnished
with a fish tank. He never got really
ill there; he wasn’t one of the living
skeletons you saw. It wasn’t unusual
to turn up for a visit only to be told
he was shopping over the road in
Heal’s, or had gone clubbing the
night before and hadn’t made it back
yet. His room became a convenient
West End pied-à-terre. I once went
to a club to find him; he told me he’d
taken five ecstasy tablets. I think he
was trying to die dancing.
In this photograph, he’s wearing
my Birkenstocks with socks (pretty
fashion-forward for 1993) and
three shirts and his jacket. He was
losing weight and they padded
him out. We often lay on his bed
in each other’s arms, and would
fall asleep like that, whatever time
of day. I don’t remember Gideon
[Mendel, the photographer] taking
the picture. He took a whole series
for a 1993 book – and Photographers’
Gallery exhibition – called Positive
Lives, a project run with the
Terrence Higgins Trust.
To walk down the street back
then was a forbidding prospect: you
never knew who you would bump
into and discover who was recently
diagnosed, who was sick, who was
already gone. Sometimes it was
enough to pass strangers ravaged
by this disease to set the ticking
fear in your head. Yet we held out
a hope that we would triumph
over this thing.
Steven died on 1 October 1993.
I can still remember his mum
lifting him from his coffin to hug
him for the last time.
Around 1996, the wards started
to empty. People I’d known who
looked as if they had days to live
suddenly got better. Steven and the
other patients were the unlucky
ones who got sick just before
treatment became available. Only
last month, the Centre for Disease
Control declared that people
who are HIV positive and taking
medication cannot pass the virus
on through sex. We live in such
different times.
The Ward, by Gideon Mendel, is
published by Trolley Books. An exhibition
of the book is at the Fitzrovia Chapel,
London W1, Wednesdays and Sundays
until 3 December (
Interview: Hannah Booth
Are you in a notable photograph?
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