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The Observer Magazine 03 December 2017

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BUMPER
GIFT
GUIDE
03.12.17
LIFTING
OUR SPIRITS
A buoyant Graham Norton sets the scene for our special Christmas issue
Barbara
b Taylor
l Bradford
df d Muslim
l foster
f
ffamilies
l Lenny Bruce Perfect
f ribs
b & mash
h
COVER: PHOTOGRAPHER BY PAL HANSON; SUIT STYLIST’S OWN; SHIRT, TIE AND POCKET SQUARE BY GRESHAM BLAKE;
SHOES BY MR HARE; GROOMING BY JOHN MULLAN USING MR MULLAN’S AT STONE HAIR; STYLIST LINDSEY MCLEAN
This week’s issue
GRAHAM NORTON fronts up
our Christmas gift guide special
issue, telling Eva Wiseman that
getting celebrities to laugh and
enjoy themselves on his sofa
often reveals more than asking
any number of hard questions.
Overwrought stories about
a Christian child being fostered
by a Muslim family hit the
newspapers earlier this year.
Sarfraz Manzoor visits three sets
of FOSTER PARENTS who share
the faith and talks to them about
their difficult but fulfilling role.
Struggling for GIFT IDEAS ?
We offer a whole variety of
suggestions, based on the events,
sporting achievements and other
moments that may have inspired
your loved ones this year.
BUMPER
GIFT
GUIDE
16 GRAHAM NORTON
COVER
STORY
31 CHRISTMAS GIFT GUIDE
BARBARA TAYLOR BRADFORD
offers her life lessons in
This Much I Know, while
LENNY BRUCE is remembered
by Spitting Image’s Roger Law
in a Brush with Greatness.
In FOOD , Nigel Slater cooks
perfect ribs and mash, and Jay
Rayner hates an overpriced
Indian restaurant in London.
We visit a couple in Canterbury
with a strong sense of colour in
HOMES , and James Wong plants
“true” shallots in GARDENS .
Martin Love falls for an Alfa
Romeo in WHEELS , while in
TRAVEL Emma Cook is amazed by
a family friendly French eco lodge.
Finally, MARIELLA FROSTRUP
deals with a mother who thinks
her daughter needs plastic surgery.
24 MUSLIM FOSTER PARENTS
64 NIGEL SLATER
63 LENNY BRUCE
8 WE LOVE…
12 BARBARA TAYLOR BRADFORD
81 WHEELS
74 HOMES
82 TRAVEL
GEMMA CORRELL
Editor Ruaridh Nicoll Deputy editor Alice Fisher Art director Jo Cochrane Commissioning editors Eva Wiseman, Shahesta Shaitly,
Emma Cook Assistant Juliana Piskorz Fashion editor Jo Jones Menswear editor Helen Seamons Chief sub-editor Martin Love
Deputy chief sub-editor Debbie Lawson Sub-editor Kate Edgley Deputy art director Caroline McGivern Picture editor Kit Burnet
Advertising managers Molly Johnson, Guy Edmunds Colour reproduction GNM Imaging
Printed in the Netherlands by Roto Smeets Group BV, Hunneperkade 4, NL-7418 BT Deventer (+ 31 5 7069 4900; info@rotosmeetsgroup.com)
The Observer Magazine, King’s Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU 020 3353 2000 magazine@observer.co.uk
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@ObsMagazine
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THIS PRODUCT IS MADE FROM SUSTAINABLY
@ObsMagazine
MANAGED FOREST AND CONTROLLED SOURCES
Get in their
good books
Eva Wiseman
@EvaWiseman
Email Eva at e.wiseman@observer.co.uk or
visit theguardian.com/profile/evawiseman
for all her articles in one place
WE SHOULDN’T SCROLL BACK
TOO FAR IN THE TWITTERSPHERE
I
t’s like one of those fill-inthe-blank name games,
where you find, say, your
hipster pop-up restaurant
name by taking the way
you’d least like to die
followed by the meat you’d
like to try least. Except
in this case, you take
a celebrity you hate, and
then search their social
media for the most offensive
words you can think of.
Last week we saw
YouTuber Jack Maynard leave I’m a Celebrity
Get Me Out of Here! after the Sun published
tweets from 2011 to 2013 in which he’d used
the words “niggas” and “retarded”, Zoella (the
beauty vlogger who earns £50,000 a month)
apologised for mocking “fat chavs” in 2010
and grime star Stormzy apologised for tweets
sent between 2011 and 2014 which contained
the word “faggot”. The week before, the newly
hired (now newly fired) editor of the Gay Times
Josh Rivers had been found directing hate
towards, among others, transgender people,
Jews, Asians, Africans, and the homeless in
tweets sent between 2010 and 2015.
Except while the headlines are similar and
the words are foul, the stories are difficult to
compare. To do so properly would require
spreadsheets that collate not only the age
of the tweeter at the time of tweeting, and
the frequency, focus and weight of the abuse
tweeted, but the person’s professional status in
relationship to the politics of abuse, too. Rivers,
for instance, could no longer be taken seriously
as a promoter of LGBTQ rights when people
had read his historical thoughts on how “The
creepiest gay men are short, old Asian men
with long nails.” And it would have seemed
unwise, wouldn’t it, to have kept Labour MP
Jared O’Mara as a member of the women and
equalities committee after the public saw the
homophobic and misogynistic comments he’d
posted online between 2002 and 2004.
But had these men not been pursuing jobs
in the equalities industry, would they still have
deserved to have their horrible histories stapled
up on the internet like this, for everybody
to spit at? These hate-dives into decade-old
transgressions are sold to us as a modern
necessity, as if conmen have been defrauding
the British public behind masks of decency and,
in the spirit of progress and transparency and
all that, they must be exposed.
On one hand I think shitty language is a good
indicator of the true bigotry of a person – when
John Galliano said he’d only used antisemitic
words because he’s an alcoholic, well, like vomit
on a night bus, drunkenness only allows you to
boke up what you’ve already digested inside.
But on the other, the context of shitty language
is important. “The homophobic language I used
was, embarrassingly, a part of my vocabulary
when I was younger,” tweeted Stormzy. I can’t
help but wonder about the direction of these
shamings, too. Why choose Stormzy? Why
type his name into that little search box, over
any of his white contemporaries? There’s
a pointedness to this news-gathering. These are
celebrities that the Sun thinks need bringing
down a peg or six. We forget so fast, the words
we were immune to in our youth.
In 2006, the BBC backed Radio 1 DJ Chris
Moyles when he said he’d used the word “gay”
to describe something as “rubbish”. Matt Lucas
looks back awkwardly at the characters –
including a transvestite who said, “I’m a lady”
– he played on Little Britain, 15 years ago.
“Society has moved on a lot since then… Now
I think it’s lazy for white people to get a laugh
just by playing black characters.” Which is
easy to snort at, to reply: “You reckon?” But it
bears repeating, if only because it makes white
audiences question whether we are really
simply disgusted at those shamed, or disgusted
at ourselves for our complicity.
People have been saying stupid and offensive
things forever, and to look back on these
comments from the distance of decades is
uncomfortable, in part because the public
has learned the implication of homophobic
language, of abusive words. These new
exhumations of old internet graves have
occasional use in weeding out those perhaps
unsuited to a career in “equalities”. But like
a mirrored lift, where a thousand yous stretch
out for miles, more often their only value is in
showing a reflection of our own sticky pasts. We forget
so fast,
the words
we were
immune to
in our youth
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
7
We love...
THE LIFE AQUATIC
UATIC
Celebrate the season
eason
with a cetacean..
Whale tree decoration
ation
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TRES JOLIE
Djeco is a classy French crafts
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ldren. Check out
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p
to en
ntertain the kids
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holiday and hang these
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Paper decorations
£5, crafts4kids.co.uk
crafts4kids.co.u
CUDDLE UP
These soft and
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They also raise
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Gingerbread.
Tootsa x
Noodoll
Gingerbread
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£29, tootsa.
com
ROCKING ROBINS
The nation’s favourite bird, handcarved from
limewood using an axe and knife by Mikael Nilsson,
each with its own personality. No worms required.
Wooden robins £85 each, twentytwentyone.com
8
MAGAZINE | 03.12.17 | THE OBSERVER
We love...
WHAT THE
PAPERS SAY
British Fashion
Council and
SHOWstudio have
collaborated with
Covent Garden
market to make
your wrapping
paper very chic.
Choose from
limited edition
patterns created by
fashion designers,
including Holly
Fulton, Fyodor
Golan and
Marques’ Almeida.
Designer wrapping
paper From £4,
noelpopup.com
MAGIC TOUCH
Alexander
er Girard was a
master off postwar American
design. His ornaments work
ut could decorate
on a fir, but
me all year round.
your home
Girard Ornaments
aments
£15 each, selfridges.com
ZIGGY
CHRISTMAS
CHRIST
If you’re not into
the idea o
of angels
and Santa Claus
hanging o
off your
Christmas tree,
then why not go
for anothe
another type
of otherwo
otherwordly
being and
decorate w
with
David Bowi
Bowie?
Ziggy Stardust
Stardus
decoration
£16, shop.
nationaltheatre.
nationaltheatr
org.uk
STOCKING/TUMMY FILLER
What’s Christmas without a raging sugar high?
Merry’s Sweet Shop’s Festive Feast Bag should do the trick.
Festive Feast Bag £5.95, polarpost.co.uk
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THE
HE O
HE
OB
OBS
OBSERVER
BS
B
SERV
RVER
RV
R
This much
I know
CAMERA PRESS
Barbara Taylor Bradford
The only way I can work is to keep to a proper schedule. I try to be at my
desk by 6am and work for two hours before breakfast and then work again
until 4pm. I spend half the day thinking and half the day writing. I don’t
know how writers who don’t have a routine get anything done.
Encouragement is the greatest gift you can give your child. My parents
always told me I could do anything. My mother told me I could write.
My father bought me a typewriter.
When I wrote A Woman of Substance I didn’t sit down and think, I’m
going to write about a woman warrior who conquers the world and
smashes the glass ceiling, but I did want to write about women in a positive
way. At the time there were a lot of very sexy books out there but the
women didn’t come out of them very well.
Human nature hasn’t changed since the Roman times. We’re still all doing
the same things to each other. We still have the same emotions, the same
sorrows, the same hatreds and desires.
The most dangerous place to be is in the middle of a very large family.
I know that’s true even though I’m an only child.
A novel is a monumental lie that has to have the absolute ring of truth if it’s
going to succeed.
I don’t waste my time on something I’m not enjoying. Recently I went with
my husband Bob to see a play and we both fell asleep after half an hour,
we were so bored. At the interval I turned to him and said: “Bob, this is the
most boring play I have ever seen,” and he said: “Let’s go.”
I’d have liked to have had children, but I didn’t let my lack of them define
me. If you keep regretting what might have been, it becomes hard to bear.
Most successful people have known what they wanted to be since
childhood. I sold my first story at the age of 10.
Sometimes I look through my list of books – I’ve just handed in the
manuscript for my 32nd – and think: “I can’t remember writing that at all.”
I recently came across one about a journalist in Sarajevo at the time of the
Balkans war and didn’t remember anything about it. So I started reading it
again. It turned out it was a really good book.
Writing today is a funny business. You do wonder how long we’re going to
have books. I still tell young people with the imagination to go for it. Just be
sure that if it doesn’t work out, you have something else you can try.
The first thing I do when I finish a book is think, now I have two weeks
when I can do anything I want. What do I do? Not much, go out and shop
for pantyhose and try on shoes, probably.
The Secret of Cavendon by Barbara Taylor Bradford out now (HarperCollins £16.99)
Interview SARAH HUGHES Photograph CIRCE
Novelist, 84
Sometimes
I look through
my list of
books and
think: ‘I can’t
remember
writing that
at all’
To read all the
interviews in
this series, go to
observer.co.uk/
this-much-i-know
Paint
the
town
red
He’s had his struggles, but is successful beyond his wildest dreams. Now Graham
16
MAGAZINE | 03.12.17 | THE OBSERVER
Photographs PåL HANSON
Norton tells Eva Wiseman why he’s definitely sticking around for ‘the third act’
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
17
Graham Norton
he joy of the Graham Norton
Show can be summed up for
me by one small interaction
that aired in 2013. There’s
Dame Judi Dench on the
sofa, next to Sir Elton John,
of course, against that backdrop like too much sugar,
and Graham asks her if she
misses her clubbing days.
“Do you know, I’ve never,
ever been to a club,” she
says, primly. And Graham’s
eyebrows climb a mile as
he says: “Judi Dench! You
lie like a rug, I bumped into you in Heaven.” As
the audience cackles and Elton hoots, Dench
is shocked to remember: “Oh yes, they took us
in through the back door!” Graham can’t help
himself, “Well wouldn’t they?”
There’s nothing else like the Graham Norton
Show, a programme that’s been running in various forms since 1998, a show where the remit is so
clear – everybody must have a laugh – that they literally edit out moments that standard chat shows
pull teeth for. Viewers, for instance, never saw Jon
Voigt cry. That’s not what they’re for. The Graham
Norton Show exists to present, less the fantasy
dinner party, more the fantasy brunch: a collection of cheery show-offs giggling about bums. But
if you think the programme is all dildos and dog
poo, you’re not wrong – merely out of date.
The day we met, Norton came from having
interviewed Hillary Clinton. He and his audience had waited five hours for her arrival, and
eventually she arrived with her foot in a cast,
having fallen down the stairs. She’d cancelled
This Morning and Woman’s Hour but, of course,
ham. In some ways
she’d limped on for Graham.
erview for Norton:
theirs was an atypical interview
fa, for one thing,
she was alone on the sofa,
eren’t given the
which meant viewers weren’t
ential banter
opportunity to see the potential
between her and Jack Whitehall ,
easingly
but in other ways it was pleasingly
inning
familiar. With his award-winning
hings
curiosity Norton asked her things
like, had she tried to wriggle out
p’s
of attending Donald Trump’s
ce
inauguration? Yes. But once
there, she told him, Georgee
W Bush turned to her said::
“That was some weird shit.”
No r t o n l i ke d H i l l a r y
er
very much, he tells me after
he’s wiped his make-up off,
me“because there seemed something democratic about it. We
hatwere just two people chated’.
ting. But I wasn’t ‘overawed’.
hat’s
And maybe on some days that’s
hers
a strength for her, on others
ointed
a weakness.” He was disappointed
w, but
that she didn’t really thaw,
PREVIOUS PAGES: (LEFT) SUIT STYLIST’S OWN; SHIRT, TIE AND POCKET SQUARE BY GRESHAM BLAKE; SHOES BY MR HARE. RIGHT: VELVET JACKET BY ALEXANDER MCQUEEN;
TURTLE NECK BY J LINDEBERG. GROOMING BY JOHN MULLAN USING MR MULLAN’S AT STONE HAIR. STYLIST LINDSEY MCLEAN. THIS PAGE: IAN WEST/PA WIRE; FAMEFLYNET.UK.COM
T
My
mother
saw I was
ripe for
bullying.
She said
if people
picked on
me, never
to react
when he looked at Twitter afterwards, he understood a part of her reticence. His timeline was
alight with people calling her a murdering monster. “I thought, ‘Is there a single male politician
you hate this much? It’s misogyny,” he shrugs.
“She’s being held to a higher standard than men.”
He knows a little about the benefits of a thick
skin. “My mother saw I was ripe for bullying and,
when I was four, told me if people picked on me,
never to react. It worked. I sat over there, and I still
do that. I let horrid com
comments online go off into the
ether.” He flutters hi
his left hand, like a bird, gone.
In the flesh, though,
t
everyone’s a fan.
“I was at Blackpool
Blackp
once,” he says, “and it
happened to be
b the opening weekend of
the plea
pleasure beach. All rides were
£1. And there was a family, where
every single one of them was broken – they even had a dog with
thr
three legs. So they asked for a
pict
picture and I said sure, and they
gath
gathered around. And then we
just w
waited,” he chuckles kindly.
“And eventually
e
they said: ‘So do
you ha
have a camera?’ They thought
I was o
one of the attractions!”
He is that famous. As well
as the
th weekly BBC chat show,
and a Radio 2 show on Saturdays
days, Norton is the Telegraph’s
agon uncle, and has written
agony
two bestselling memoirs along
with a well-received novel (“It’s
a yarn,”) about murder in an Irish
a yarn,”)
commu
community.
He’s currently writing his second, and while he’s
‘There seemed
something
democratic
about it. We were
just two people
chatting’: (above)
with Hillary Clinton
on his show in
October. Left:
with his mother
Rhoda Walker
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
19
Graham Norton
Club confidential: (from left) Elton John with Judi Dench on the show’s sofa in 2013; and appearing on Father Ted in 1996. Below: collecting a TV award in 2001
20
MAGAZINE | 03.12.17 | THE OBSERVER
celebrity. Instead of interrogating them individually,
he jams everyone on there together, whether Lady
Gaga or June Brown, and lets them get on with it.
The thing is, he says: “Everyone is a version of
Hillary Clinton; everyone has the thing they need
to say, a question they’re geared up for. But it’s not
my job to ask tough questions – it’s to make sure
people have a nice time, and to reveal that person
to the audience through the process of being on
the couch.”
He groans lightly, explaining the problem with
chat shows. “When Richard and Judy went prime
time they spent a fortune bringing over OJ Simpson after the trial to be their first guest. Why? They
think he’s going to admit to murder? Because that’s
all we’re interested in hearing him say.” So what
does that tell us? “In the end people are revealed
not in their answers but in their responses. Ryan
Gosling, for instance, really laughing at Greg
Davies telling a story – you actually see him. A man
on a couch laughing like a drain. I prefer that to
trying to poke someone with a stick. There’s
a place for those kind of interviews, but not on my
show. Piers Morgan’s Life Stories we’re not.”
His favourite thing is when one guest asks
another a question. “When they have some curiosity left. Sometimes you see it’s alllll gone. They just
sit there waiting for close-ups of themselves on the
monitor, and you feel sorry for them. I always tell
young actors: ‘You’d better find a way to enjoy this
bit of the job, because otherwise your life will be
hell.’ The clever ones relax into it, and one way is to
stay curious. On our show the audience helps: the
‘wanting to be liked’ gene is strong in performers.”
A couple of years ago, after splitting up with
his boyfriend (on the radio he said he’d rather be
alone for the rest of his life “than live with towels
that were folded incorrectly”), the Sun discovered
his Tinder profile. Always there to help, the paper
drafted a Dear Deidre letter for him. “My relationships always seem to end with the guy leaving
I’m nearly
55 now,
and there
are whole
forgotten
decades
that it
turns out
played no
part in the
narrative
of my life
YUI MOK/PA WIRE; HAT TRICK PRODUCTIONS; RICHARD YOUNG/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK
struggling to find time, he feels nothing of that
writers’ dread. “When actors talk about vomiting in the wings with terrible stage fright I always
think: ‘Don’t do it then.’ You never hear about
someone with a phobia of buses becoming a bus
driver, do you?”
No, he loves it, especially compared to writing
memoirs. With those, he already knows the stories, from the university breakdown during which
he refused to leave his room and collected dead
flies in a saucer, to the years in a San Francisco
commune, to his Edinburgh drag act as a tea towelclad Mother Teresa of Calcutta and his role on
Father Ted, or the seven Baftas for his chat show.
“It’s quite an odd task though,” he says,
“Because I’m nearly 55 now, and there are whole
forgotten decades that it turns out played no
part in the narrative of my life. Which is, really:
struggle, and then success, which is a bit of
a plateau. So I suppose the next bit is
hurtling downwards. The third act.”
When Norton presented prize-giving
day at his old school, he largely ignored
the winners, turning instead to the people
who’d lost. “I told them, school’s not that
important – even if you fail your exams,
life goes on. It’s a different life, sure.
But it’s not over. And the great
thing about being young is you
have so much more time than
you think.”
His chat show career began
on Channel 4, with the Graham
Norton Show launching on the
BBC in 2007, replacing Jonathan Ross’s Friday night slot
two years after “Sachsgate”, in
2010. Its success lies not in Norton’s
easy innuendo or even the star power
of his guests, but in the way he uses that
red sofa to expose the human beneath the
Graham Norton
22
MAGAZINE | 03.12.17 | THE OBSERVER
opinions to myself,” he admits. “And often I feel
like a coward. I don’t do the Gary Lineker thing,
sharing my opinions on Twitter. And maybe that
makes me a spineless dick. As the world hurtles
towards the alt-right, yes, I worry about that.
But , who’d listen to me? Would retweeting
Guardian articles really help?” He thinks. “What
I see when I do that, rather than change, is a real
wheelbarrow of shit being pushed on top of me.
And it turns out I care about that more than I do
about ending fascism. Yeah, I’ve weighed it up. I’m
good, thanks.”
When bad things happen, he says, he soothes
himself with the idea that he can always “go
back to Ireland and grow some tomato plants on
the windowsill. I’ve achieved more than I ever
thought I would. After I became a standup, able
to pay the rent, that was all my dreams met. Everything else is just icing on what turned out to be
a very small cake. So why hang around? Why take
part in this struggle, why not just wave my white
flag and go back to Ireland and watch the tide?
“It’s enough, I suppose, just to know I could.
A strategy like that means you can do anything –
I like to imagine the worst case scenario. That’s
what I did when I published a novel. If it was terrible, then what? It would be a bit humiliating, none
of my friends would mention it, and then life would
go on. It’s an interesting time to be alive, isn’t it?
You literally cannot imagine the future. London in
a post-Brexit world might be a ghost town.”
He searches for a silver lining, as is his way.
“I suppose… traffic might improve? Did you see
the orange skies a few weeks ago?”
When the dust from fires in southern Europe
swept north, turning Britain the colour of
peaches? “Yes. I thought: ‘This feels like the end
of the world.’ And then I thought: ‘But doesn’t the
end of the world look beautiful?’” Couch surfing:
(above) with
Jennifer Lawrence
and Eddie
Redmayne for
2016’s New Year’s
Eve special which
attracted 4.47m
viewers. Left:
holding one of the
seven Baftas his
show has won
IAN WEST/PA WIRE
You
literally
can’t
imagine
the future.
London
in a postBrexit
world
might be
a ghost
town
me as he can’t cope with my success,” their version of what Norton wrote, echoing the tabloid stories that swirl around his break-ups. “Well, if Elton
John can manage it, I’m sure you can,” replied
Deidre. “Rather than looking for hot dates, think
where you can meet guys who rate things like
helping others and saving the planet… It means
not relying on your fame to pull, but then what you
long for is someone to fall for the ‘real’ Graham.”
He’s laughing noisily as I read it out. It’s clear
that when we bestow a man with national treasure status, in return we expect some ownership
of their life.
“I always feel people in relationships want me
to be in one to validate their life choice. It’s taken
me time to get to grips with that. But life goes on!”
he says. “I’ve failed all my relationship exams, and
yes it’s a different life, but I’m still living. You’re
far better off finding ways to enjoy the life you’re
living than mourning the life you’re not, which
is a double whammy of unhappiness. And if you
want someone to share your life, well, no one
wants to share a miserable life. Look like you’re
having fun, and someone might want to join the
parade. A funeral cortege? Not so much.”
The “real” Graham though, that’s something he
does consider. “The Graham Nortons – real and
on TV – are getting closer the older I get. That’s
a good thing. In Channel 4 days I’d just come off
the standup circuit, where you need your armour.
That was a more cartoonish version of myself. It’s
pointless to wonder who I would have been had
I not been on telly for 20-odd years. Isn’t it?” None
of his questions are rhetorical.
The show gets its highest ratings on New
Year’s Eve (4.47m for 2016’s special with Jennifer
Lawrence and Eddie Redmayne). “And that’s
because of the relationship the nation has with the
BBC. We trust it to get midnight right; ITV will
show the same firreworks, but everyone comes to
the BBC to see them.”
He’s prou
proud to work for the BBC (he’s their
biggest ent
entertainment star, with a salary of
£2.5m), but often finds it frustrating. “They
don’t defend
defen themselves robustly enough.
They’re so intent on being above criticism
by offering ‘‘balance’, but sometimes there
isn’t a balan
balance to be had! Like in the Brexit
refere
referendum – every argument needs
equ
equal time? Actually no: one opinion from a lad in Bristol compared
to 16 Nobel prize winners – that’s
no
not right. And everybody, both
le
left and right, thinks the BBC
is biased. Which to me is a sign
it’
it’s succeeding. If you fuck up,
th
the BBC will point it out. I worry
tha
that’s being undermined, because
they
they’re so cautious and defensive,
tryin
trying to avoid criticism. It should be
more co
confident.”
I’m not surprised to hear that this
is what he feels, but I am surprised to
hear him say
sa it. “Yes, I do tend to keep my
‘We’d never
seen that kind
of happiness
on a child’s face
before’: Sajjad and
Riffat at home
24
MAGAZINE | 03.12.17 | THE OBSERVER
Photographs KAREN ROBINSON
‘It’s been such
a blessing’
News that a Christian child was ‘forced’ into Muslim
foster care caused a furore earlier this year. But,
despite the challenges, these families play a vital role
in bringing up vulnerable children. Sarfraz Manzoor
hears why it can be the best of both worlds
bout 100,000 young people go through the fostering system every year. In
recent years an increasing number of these
have been child refugees
from Muslim-majority
countries such as Syria and Afghanistan, many
arriving here traumatised and in need of care.
“We estimate there is a shortage of 8,000
foster carers,” says Kevin Williams, chief executive of the Fostering Network, “and there is
a particular shortage of Muslim foster carers.”
Those featured here were nervous that
their stories would be misreported, an issue
highlighted recently in the story about a white
Christian girl supposedly “forced into Muslim
foster care”. The story was cited as emblematic of a greater clash between Islam and
Christianity. It has also provoked fears that
the media storm could deter Muslims from
fostering at a time when the need for a more
diverse pool of carers has never been greater. A
Sajjad and Riffat
Just before Christmas seven years ago, Riffat
and Sajjad were at home when the phone rang.
It was the foster agency letting them know
that three children they’d never met would
be arriving shortly. The children – two sisters
and a brother – were in urgent need of shortterm care. Sajjad and Riffat had been approved
as foster carers only two months earlier and
these would be their first placements. “We were excited, but I was also a bit nervous,” recalls Sajjad, 50. The couple had tried to
start a family after they married, but fertility
problems led to six failed cycles of IVF. They
considered adopting, but eventually decided
to sign up as foster carers.
Both are observant Muslims of Pakistani heritage. Riffat, 46, was wearing a headscarf when
we met, and prays five times a day. How did
they cope with the arrival of three white English children raised in a Christian household? “I will never forget that day,” recalls Riffat,
who grew up in Pakistan and moved to Britain
after marrying in 1997. “It really was like being
thrown in the deep end.” They bought chicken
and chips from the local takeaway for the children and the support worker told the couple
about the children’s bedtime routine.
Once the children were asleep, Sajjad
headed out on an urgent shopping mission. “We are Muslims and we’d never had
a Christmas tree in our home,” says Riffat. “But
these children were Christian and we wanted
them to feel connected to their culture.” So
he bought a Christmas tree, decorations and
presents. The couple worked until the early
hours putting the tree up and wrapping
presents. The first thing the children saw the
next morning was the tree.
“I had never seen that kind of extra happiness and excitement on a child’s face,” remembers Riffat. The children were meant to stay
for two weeks – seven years later two of the
three siblings are still living with them. Riffat has grown used to surprised looks
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
25
Muslim foster parents
from strangers and people asking if the
reason she has such fair-skinned children
is because she married a white man. But she
focuses on the positives – in particular how
fostering has given her and Sajjad an insight
into a world that had been so unfamiliar. “We
have learned so much about English culture
and religion,” Sajjad says. Riffat would read
Bible stories to the children at night and took
the girls to church on Sundays. “When I read
about Christianity, I don’t think there is much
difference,” she says. “It all comes from God.”
The girls, 15 and 12, have also introduced
Riffat and Sajjad to the world of after-school
ballet, theatre classes and going to pop concerts. “I wouldn’t see many Asian parents
at those places,” she says. “But I now tell my
extended family you should involve your children in these activities because it is good for
their confidence.” Having the girls in her life
has also made Riffat reflect on her own childhood. “I had never spent even an hour outside
my home without my siblings or parents until
my wedding day,” she says.
Just as Riffat and Sajjad have learned about
Christianity, the girls have come to look forward to Eid and the traditions of henna. “I’ve
taught them how to make potato curry, pakoras
and samosas,” Riffat says. “But their spice levels are not quite the same as ours yet.” The girls
can also sing Bollywood songs and speak Urdu.
“I now look forward to going home. I have
two girls and my wife waiting,” says Sajjad.
“It’s been such a blessing for me,” adds Riffat.
“It fulfilled the maternal gap.”
Shareen
A British Pakistani, Shareen (and her husband
Asif, 47), began fostering three years ago after
three failed rounds of IVF. She has looked after
children from many nationalities including
Afro-Caribbean, Syrian, Egyptian and Pakistani.
When she first used to read the background
reports about the children she looked after,
Shareen, 48, was shocked at what they’d been
through. “I just could not believe that there
could be children so deprived of love,” she
says. “I was exposed to so much pain.”
One 12-year-old boy she fostered, who had
been diagnosed with ADHD, couldn’t sleep
each night. “He would break the lightbulbs
and chuck them in the neighbours’ garden.
Whatever he could find in the room he would
open up and unscrew and he would not come
home at curfew time,” she recalls. “I would
have to call the police every evening.”
The key to coping, she says, was to try to
understand the reasons behind the challenging behaviour. “You have to look at the person’s
history,” she says. “No child is born to take
drugs or join a gang. It has happened because
nobody has cared for them.” The boy ended up
staying with Shareen for eight months.
Shareen’s longest foster placement is a young boy from Syria: ‘He was 14 and had hidden inside a lorry’
I couldn’t believe
there were children
so deprived of love.
I was exposed to
so much pain
She has also fostered children of Pakistani
heritage and says there are some advantages.
“Two Pakistani children fitted right into the
house because they understood our culture;
we ate the same food and shared the same language, but when I had white children and I was
out with them, people gave me funny looks.”
Shareen’s longest foster placement arrived
three years ago: a boy from Syria. “He was 14
and had hidden inside a lorry all the way from
Syria,” she says. The boy was deeply traumatised. They had to communicate via Google
Translate; Shareen later learned Arabic and he
picked up English within six months. She read
up on Syria and the political situation there to
get an insight into the conditions he had left.
“It took ages to gain his trust,” she says.
“I got a picture dictionary that showed English
and Arabic words and I remember one time
when I pronounced an Arabic word wrong
and he burst out laughing and told me I was
saying it wrong – that was the breakthrough.”
The boy would run home from school and
whenever they went shopping in town, he kept
asking Shareen when they were going back
home. She found out why: “He told me that
one day he left his house in Syria and when
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
27
Muslim foster parents
‘We thought we had done well and it was time we paid something back to society’: Homayun and Parvin
he had come back, there was no house.”
Now he’s 18, speaks English fluently and is
applying for apprenticeships. He could move
out of Shareen’s home, but has decided to stay.
“He is a very different person to the boy who
first came here,” she says, “and my relationship
with him is that of a mother to her son.”
Fostering has, she says, helped her to be
more resilient, patient and confident. “I used
to worry about who was doing better than
me or earning more money,” she says. “But
after meeting these children, those things
just don’t matter to me anymore.”
Homayun and Parvin
Two years ago Homayun, who came to the
UK from Afghanistan in 1979, was watching
the news when he saw the footage of a threeyear-old Syrian boy washed up on a beach in
28
MAGAZINE | 03.12.17 | THE OBSERVER
I know what
it’s like to live in
a country without
freedom or
human rights
Turkey. “I thought to myself that we had done
well in this society. We had been educated, got
jobs and we also had a spare room. It was time
we paid something back to society.”
So he and his wife, Parvin, 44, applied to
become foster carers. The process took 12
months and, at the start of this year, they
welcomed two boys from Afghanistan and
Kuwait – now 15 and 12. “We would have
welcomed children from anywhere, including
Britain,” says Homayun, “but I was especially
interested in caring for children from war-torn
countries because that was the experience
I had been through.”
Homayun, 51, owns a garage business and
the couple have their own son, 16. “My father
was an activist and he was under house arrest,”
he says. “We fled to Britain a few months
before the Russians invaded the country.
I know what it is like to live in a country that
doesn’t have freedom, human rights and a right
to education – I had that in common with the
boys we were fostering.” His Afghan foster
son had travelled from Afghanistan to Iran
and then to Turkey, where he had boarded
a boat to Greece. From there he travelled to
France before finally reaching Britain. His
Kuwaiti foster son had been smuggled on to
a plane using false identification. When he
first met them Homayun was struck by how
quiet the children were.
“They would not speak and it took a few
months to bring them out of themselves and
get them to open up.” The boys did not speak
each other’s languages and relied on Google
Translate. “It was very challenging and
difficult at first,” says Homayun. “But now the
younger boy goes to school on his own, and
uses public transport.”
Although they share the same Muslim background, he would never force his own beliefs
on his foster children. “If I had a Christian
child and they wanted to go to church, I would
take them to church. If I had a Jewish child
who wanted to go a synagogue, I would make
sure they go there.”
Homayun also encourages them to talk to
their families back in their own countries. In
Afghanistan the parents talk to their son regularly via Skype. “They want him to receive
something here that he never had there – an
education,” he says. “Leaving Afghanistan is a
gamble; sometimes it pays off and other times
it doesn’t and parents can lose their children. ”
Both boys now call him Uncle or Baba and
are starting to speak English well. “If they can
leave my house and go and achieve something
in their lives,” says Homayun, “something that
they could not have done in their own countries, that would be a satisfying job done.”
Homayun chose to foster as a way of giving something back to society, but in fact both
he and his wife found that the experience has
enriched all of them in ways they could not
have predicted.
Their son, who has autism, is now learning
to share and communicate, and has started
speaking in sentences. “He enjoys having the
two boys in the house and they go cycling and
play football,” he says. ‘“Fostering has done
the whole family so much good.” Yk¾É
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THE
GIFT
GUIDE
For him, for her, for them, for you… Unwrap our festive
ake
bumper issue of brilliant ideas for presents to ma
make
everyone feel special this Christmass
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
31
Edward
Enninful
THEY’LL
LOVE...
Bags of style
Crossbody zip-up, £290, marcjacobs.com
Thought for the day Notebook,
£55, libertylondon.com
On the scent Calvin Klein CK
One Gold, £36, debenhams.
Flower power
Dress, £66, warehouse.co.uk
Setting the agenda
Book, £8.99, bloomsbury.com
Trunk call Elephant purse,
£275, loewe.com
COVER STORY
Western express
Cowboy boots, £495, uk.coach.com
32
MAGAZINE | 03.12.17 | THE OBSERVER
Your own collection of classic Vogue images through the ages
Y
Postcard set £13.79, whsmith.co.uk
Arm candy Signature bangle,
£225, monicavinader.com
PREVIOUS PAGE: ETSY.COM. THIS PAGE: GETTY IMAGES
IF THEY
READ
THE NEW
VOGUE
La vie en rose
Watch, £95.50, shopswatch.com
Easy, tiger iPhone 7 case,
£150, Gucci (netaporter.com)
Make my dahlia Pyjama set,
£140, yolke.co.uk
Warm and toasty Wool coat,
£175, cosstores.com
IT’S A WRAP
Go for gold
Pen set, £22, katespade.co.uk
ides by famous photographers
City guides
£42, uk.louisvuitton.com
An understated floral kimono for wearing inside and out.
Style it over jeans for casual festive outings
Kimono £65, marksandspencer.com
Top tassels
Earrings, £12.99, mango.com
Tooty flutey Top, £85,
Mix/Rejina Pyo (next.co.uk)
Bit of fluff Turkey feather
sandals, £50, topshop.com
Into the red Clutch,
£69, whistles.com
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
33
IF THEY
WERE
BLOWN
AWAY
BY
No more lost baggage Raden
trackable case, £250, selfridges.com
Pearly whites Sonic
toothbrush, £129, foreo.com
Blade
Runner
2049
THEY’LL
LOVE...
Lighting up time Cycling gilet with
LEDs, £180, metiercycling.com
Bright ideas Lighting panels,
£179.99, uk-shop.nanoleaf.me
Pooch power Dog tracker,
£49 + £59 a year, kippy.eu
WARNER BROS/AP
Lost then found Bluetooth
tracker, £30, thetileapp.com
Bounce back App-enabled
robot ball, £49.99, sphero.com
All hands on deck Bluetooth turntable,
£189, urbanoutfitters.co.uk
I’M WITH THE BAND
Spark mini drone Guided by your
hand, £449, store.dji.com
Lofelt’s Basslet delivers bass straight to your body,
and silently to the rest of the world
Personal subwoofer £119, uk.lofelt.com
Future shock Philip K Dick’s classic SF
novel, £7.64, guardianbookshop.com
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
35
IF THEY
WERE
KNOCKED
OUT BY
Anthony
Joshua
THEY’LL
LOVE...
Boxing clever Classic
gym bag, £6.99, lonsdale.com
Take it on the chin Beard oil, £45,
Le Labo (libertylondon.com)
Go for gold Metallic trainers,
£140, Nike (office.co.uk)
It’s a wrap Pinstripe scarf,
£14, topman.com
Warm up Sweatshirt, £56,
Russell Athletic (ln-cc.com)
Looking sharp
Tie, £28, next.co.uk
LORD OF THE RING
Second to none T shirt, £34.95,
Champion (harrods.com)
36
MAGAZINE | 03.12.17 | THE OBSERVER
Look like a champion in a smart blue suit
Recycled wool-blend suit £149, marksandspencer.com
Blue velvet
Bow tie, £22.99, zara.com
FLOAT
FLOA
FL
OAT
T LI
LIKE
KE A B
BUTTERFLY
UTTE
UT
TERF
RFLY
LY
LEVON BISS
Seventies workout Track suit,
£72.50, sergiotacchini.com
Relive the best moments in the life of the world’s most celebrated boxer
A Tribute to Muhammad Ali: Greatest of All Time £99, taschen.com
Toe hold Socks, £17, Paul
Smith (matchesfashion.com)
Early bath Soap on a rope,
£18, twentytwentyone.com
Ring master Leather phone
cover, £90, shinola.co.uk
Flash your cash
Wallet, £45, arket.com
Smell of success Fragrance, £57,
Tom Ford (harveynichols.com)
Base layer Warwick under
top, £95, castore.co.uk
Rehydrate Sigg bottle,
£25, mrporter.com
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
37
IF THEY
WORE THE
FENTY
MAKE-UP
RANGE
Neat feet Fenty socks,
£19.99, stance.com
Beauty sleep Eye mask,
£145, oliviavonhalle.com
Rihanna
THEY’LL
LOVE...
Clean sweep Ethical soap dish
trio, £41, thesoapco.org
Shu sh
shampoo Shu Uemura x Super
Mario Bros, £33.60, lookfantastic.com
Gold standard Victoria Beckham Aura
Gloss, £30, esteelauder.co.uk
Fabled beauty Concord
gift set, £45, aesop.com
F your eyes only
l Kenzo
K
f
For
fragrance
set, £63, houseoffraser.co.uk
Top tips Wearable nail polish holder,
£12.50, tweexy.co.uk
REUTERS
TAKE A BOW
Now you can look like the star you know you are,
in Rihanna’s own range of make-up
It rocks L’Alabastre scented
stone, £24, buly1803.com
Fenty Galaxy palette and Starlit Hyper-Glitz lipstick
£39 & £16, harveynichols.com
Pucker up Mini Hot Lips Charms,
£29, charlottetilbury.com
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
39
Lewis
Hamilton
IF THEY
WERE
DRIVEN
CRAZY
BY
In a spin Exercise bike,
£279,99, yorkfitness.com
It’s a date F1 art calendar,
£9.99, calendarclub.co.uk
THEY’LL
LOVE...
Podium
P di
finish
i h
£30, honestgrapes.co.uk
Practice laps Driving experiences, from £170,
mercedes-benz.co.uk
Every second counts Morecambe
watch, £120, shoreprojects.com
Take a deep breath Personal
breathalyser, £99, alcosense.co.uk
Cap it all Sports hat,
£22, fanatics-intl.com
CONSTRUCTORS’ CHAMPIONSHIP
Cramp followers Vibrating muscle
relaxers, £89.99, pulseroll.com
Head to the pit lane with your car in pieces, before
emerging as a race contender
Wind-up race car kit £3.50, halfords.com
Smart packing Roll up your
suit, £195, henty.cc
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
41
IF THEY
WORE
Ear candy aHead headphones,
£85, oliverbonas.com
Feeling fruity Clutch bag,
£26, topshop.com
Millennial
pink
THEY’LL
LOVE...
Smarten up Skinny-fit jacket,
£90, topman.com
On the decks
Otherness skateboards, £64.99, slamcity.com
In the loop Fitbit bangle,
£55, johnlewis.com
Great catch Fisherman beanie,
£10.97, nike.com
Change your stripes Adidas
hi tops, £85, jdsports.co.uk
IT’S PLASMATASTIC
Catch the moment Everything Now
by Arcade Fire, £7.98, store.hmv.com
Let sparks fly this Christmas with a classic red plasma ball
£14.99, maplin.co.uk
Capital idea Scatter cushion,
£12.99, newlook.com
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
43
Blue
Planet
IF THEY
ARE
WATCHING
Load up Rucksack, £45, Handmade
at Amazon (amazon.co.uk)
Film frames Snap Inc camcorder,
£129.95, johnlewis.com
Beneath the surface Blue
Planet II, £8.85, nhmshop.co.uk
THEY’LL
LOVE...
Clean break Eagle Creek wash bag,
£24.99, safariquip.co.uk
Make a splash Waterproof Olympus
camera, £399, jessops.com
DAVID PARRY/PA WIRE
Pure and clean LifeStraw water filter,
£35.44, bigtree.eu
Whale of a time Phone case,
£12, skinnydiplondon.com
Somefin cuddly Shark toy, £9.99,
shop.wwf.org.uk
ALL POINTS NORTH
In the deep Cressi diving watch,
£99, divingdirect.co.uk
Keep on track with this classic pocket compass
Voyager compass £49, dalvey.com
Wallet tool Victorinox SwissCard,
£25.99, victorinox.com
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
45
IF THEY
PLAYED
WITH
Fidget
spinners
THEY’LL
LOVE...
Sleep tight Night light, £26,
couvertureandthegarbstore.com
Flap happy Catimini hat,
£28, melijoe.com
Rocketwomen Lego women of Nasa,
£19.99, shop.lego.com
She sells Mermaid trinket tray,
£8, danicastudio.com
Our kid Kevin by Rob Biddulph,
£12.99, harpercollins.co.uk
Catch it if you can Boppin
Bugz, £12.99, jmldirect.com
Star quality Night sky
projector, £15, nhmshop.co.uk
Build it Architecture activity kit,
£49.99, the3doodler.com
48
MAGAZINE | 03.12.17 | THE OBSERVER
Bored of unicorns and mermaids? Try a yeti
Yeti teddy £16, fatface.co.uk
Tell us about it Junior Describe It,
£6.99, talkingtables.com
ALAMY
ABOMINABLE SNOWCHILD
Sparkling smiles Glittery face
paint, £7.50, birdkids.co.uk
Take your places World map
tablecloth, £20, eatsleepdoodle.com
Monkey nuts Quentin Blake bag,
£10, houseofillustration.org.uk
LITTLE MISS BIG HIT
Trice as nice Foxrider tricycle,
£150, cottage-toys.co.uk
Ahoy there Thornback & Peel T-shirt,
£16, thornbackandpeel.co.uk
LOL Surprise! Dolls are the best-selling toy in the UK.
An unexpected hit in this age of high-tech
LOL Surprise! doll £9.99, smythstoys.com
Lessons on the move Teach N Tag
Movi, £49.99, argos.co.uk
Curiouser Cheshire cat cushion, £45,
mrs-moores-vintage-store.co.uk
Megabot Build your own robot,
£9.99, clockworksoldiershop.co.uk
Solar system Planet storage hooks,
£34.99, prezzybox.com
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
49
Nigella
Lawson
IF THEY
COOKED
WITH
Sharp practice from £100,
togknives.com
Pass the port Wine and cheese gift
set, £70, lafromagerie.co.uk
Chew it over Nougat in tins,
£12.95, linastores.co.uk
THEY’LL
LOVE...
Dine in style Nigella’s new
book, £26, waterstones.com
Posh pasta Benedetto Cavalieri
orecchiette, £4.25, h-h-shop.com
orage jars,
Bottled up Palet storage
from £35.95, skandium.com
You can Toucan Salt and pepper
shakers, £15.99, englandathome.com
Fancy a nip? Stellacello grapefruit
liqueur, £25, themodernpantry.co.uk
JAY BROOKS
EXQUISITE ESPRESSO
Ready for work Risdon + Risdon
apron, £75, souschef.co.uk
Inspired by Sicily this coffee machine collaboration from
Smeg and Dolce & Gabbana got us swooning
Smeg x Dolce & Gabbana £399, smeglondon.com
Heavenly pies Jansen + Co bakeware,
from £36, anewtribe.co.uk
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
51
IF THEY
NURTURED
Little squirt Plant atomiser,
atomiser
£14, labourandwait.co.uk
Time to unwind Row marker,
£14.99, shop.nationaltrust.org.uk
Succulents
THEY’LL
LOVE...
Take a gander Father Goose watering
can, £47.99, chelseagardener.com
Take a load off Outdoor chaise longue,
£1,440, twentytwentyone.com
Shelf life Succulent in a pot,
£8.50, ikea.com
Two-pronged attack Hand
tool set, £11.99, argos.co.uk
In the pink V&A flower seeds,
£2, vam.ac.uk
PRICKLY PAIR
Give a hedgehog a home
£49.99, rspb.org.uk
For instant colour and texture, these vases are
perfect partners for festive flower arrangements
Cactus vases from £40, conranshop.co.uk
Monkey business Outdoor light,
£190, grahamandgreen.co.uk
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
53
Ettore
Sottsass
THEY’LL
LOVE...
Bright spots Table lamp,
£109, heals.co.uk
Little gems Fukukan charms come with a gift voucher
in a lucky can, £20.18, muji.com/uk
Wall art Orange Chair by
Hi Cacti, £35, etsy.com
Reflected glory Fritz Hansen
mirror, £550, nest.co.uk
Sewn up Cushion by Laura Lees,
es, £185,
themightystitch@outlook.com
com
Glass class George bottle,
£15, magpieline.com
A
And relax… Om sign bowl,
£10, monki.com
GOING ROUND IN CIRCLES
Floral display Memphis vase,
£318, thekairoscollective.com
56
MAGAZINE | 03.12.17 | THE OBSERVER
A unique piece of art you can walk on
Pop rug POA, deadgoodltd.co.uk
Do the twist Talisman swivel chair,
POA, annaburnsobject.net
ALAMY STOCK PHOTO
IF THEY
LIKED THE
MEMPHIS
REVIVAL
OF
Facial recognition
Apollo vase, £11, okla.co.uk
A WORLD IN MINIATURE
The landmark Art Deco delight in west London in a size that fits on your windowsill
Hoover building model £195, chiselandmouse.com
Picture perfect
Frames, £4.95, ikea.com
Wardrobe workout Coat and accessory
stand, £178, mydothome.com
Sound and light JinGoo light and
speaker, £249, aram.co.uk
Favourite dish Tamagroute bowl,
£20, edit58.com
Daily grind Ettore Sottsass
pepper mill, £90, alessi.com
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
57
LIFE & STYLE
JOURNEY BACK TO THE PAST IN 2018 WITH AN
ANCIENT ADVENTURE UNLIKE ANY OTHER...
spain & portugal
jordan
Experience a journey from the coast of Lisbon through
truly beautiful countryside, where we can see prehistoric
tombs, Roman tombs and the many sites of the 19th
century Peninsular War. See the haunting Chapel of Bones
in Évora & pore over ancient artefacts along the way.
Nothing can prepare you for the magnitude of the rose-red,
rock-cut city of Petra, and it’s not until you stand before
it that you can truly appreciate its scale and grandeur.
Explore traces of biblical tribes, take a dip in the legendary
Dead Sea and take in this promised land of archaeology.
We have arranged for the opening of the Basilica of Santa
Lucia del Trampal. This tiny jewel of a building is the only
standing example of Visigothic architecture in southern
Spain. This fantastic church was originally designed for
7th century Spanish-Gothic liturgy.
On this magnificent tour, we enjoy a special tour of the
British Institute in Amman along with an introduction
by one of its members. One of the UK’s most prestigious
overseas research centres, the BSA has been conducting
archaeological excavations for many years.
Dates throughout 2018
Prices from £2,175
25th Mar - 5th Apr & 9th - 18th Oct 2018
26th - 4th Mar 2019
Prices from £2,450
lose yourself in the stories of our hand-picked destinations as the passion
of leading experts, special access & culture illuminate them...
Contact us for more information:
www.andantetravels.com | 01722 713800
sales@andantetravels.com
5249
5009
IF THEY
QUEUED
FOR
THE ART
SHOW
Pop art Andy Warhol: Seven
Illustrated Books, £150, taschen.com
Stirring stuff Cocktail needle, £45,
thegentlewoman.co.uk
Basquiat
THEY’LL
LOVE...
Give us a cheer Pompom paperclips,
£12, shop.nationaltheatre.org.uk
Can it! Kobra LP Spray Paint 12
pack, £39.99, graff-city.com
Let’s party 80s style
Book, £22.99, waterstones.com
GETTY IMAGES
Bob and Roberta Smith Notebook,
£8.99, shop.whitechapelgallery.org
Proper brew Seletti kettle,
£90, shop.tate.org.uk
Two of a kind Earrings,
£52, milktoothldn.com
LET US SPRAY
Give
Gi me a B Letter
L tt jumper,
j
£160, hades-shop.co.uk
Enjoy a slice of art pioneer Jean-Michel Basquiat’s
extrao
extraordinary work with this colourful self-portrait
Jean-Michel Basquiat Self-portrait, 1984 £6, shop.barbican.org.uk
Limited editions Tracey Emin
print, £500, countereditions.com
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
59
LIFE & STYLE
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Call centre opening hours: Monday to Friday 8.30am - 6.30pm and Saturday 10.00am - 3.00pm
A brush with
greatness
To read all the articles in this
series, go to observer.co.uk/
a-brush-with-greatness
CORBIS/GETTY IMAGES
LENNY BRUCE
BY ROGER LAW
In 1961, my
friend Peter
Cook opened the
Establishment
nightclub in Soho.
It was a dark
and labyrinthine
place; full of stars
and artists, gangsters and rascals.
There was comedy on stage, jazz
in the basement, and dreamers and
drunks everywhere else. You’d get the
odd MP in there, too.
I was a 20-year-old cartoonist new
to London, dividing my time between
freelancing for various newspapers
and the more important business of
afternoon drinking. So, when Peter
asked me to be the club’s artist-inresidence, it was a dream. There was
a 14ft wall opposite the main bar and
I filled it every week with topical
cartoons: political rants, scandal,
whatever got a reaction.
Which is why, one afternoon,
I happened to be backstage – looking
for the accountant to get paid –
when I walked into a room to find the
legendary American comedian Lenny
Bruce. He was alone, kneeling on the
floor, cutting out newspaper pictures
and sticking them on a mirror. He
looked like a degenerate matinée idol.
Which I suppose he was.
He was playing a series of shows
at the club that week. It was the
hottest ticket in London and, when
you saw him on stage, you knew
why. He was a genius. He stood
spraying profanities like confetti,
riffing on whatever was in his head.
No sketches, no punchlines, certainly
nothing approaching a script – just
biting and obscene satire. It was
comedy as social attack. I realised
I wanted to do art like he did standup.
Even now, I’m still not sure why
that afternoon he was creating
a collage on that mirror. I didn’t
inquire. He was a drug addict. He
was probably out of his mind on
meds. I just asked if he wanted
a hand. When he said sure, I kneeled
down and got cutting.
Offstage, he was different – not
angry or vulgar, but soft-voiced.
I don’t exactly recall what we spoke
about: his work, mine, London. I was
in awe. He asked if I’d noticed how
newspaper pin-ups always wore
white heels. He said they looked
like Minnie Mouse. I nodded along.
I never did find the accountant.
A couple of nights later we met
again. Peter and his wife Wendy
threw a dinner party and invited me.
She’d cooked rabbit stew, and Lenny
put marmalade in his, which seemed
pretty exotic. All night, he kept
disappearing to the toilet. Apparently,
he’d raided the bathroom cabinet and
taken some laxatives by accident.
No one mentioned it. We’re English.
It didn’t seem polite.
I never saw him again after that, but
those brief meetings had a profound
impact on my thinking: Lenny Bruce
taught me there should be no taboos,
that an artist should never self-censor.
I lived by that ever afterwards. When
Peter Fluck and I created Spitting
Image two decades on, it was the
driving philosophy. Roger Law: from Satire to Ceramics is at
the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, UEA,
until 3 April 2018 (scva.ac.uk)
He looked
like a
degenerate
matinée
idol. Which
I suppose
he was
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
63
Food
&
drink
Nigel Slater
@NigelSlater
TICKLE MY RIBS
The stock
introduces
a deep,
sweet-sour
note and
a shiny,
sticky glaze
Marinated and slow cooked, a row of
thick beef short ribs and mash will add
cheer to the grimmest of winter days
It’s wet and cold, and the wind is
rattling down the chimneys. I need
meat on the bone. Flesh to usher
towards tenderness in stock and
aromatics or maybe something to
roast slowly and sweetly.
I wrap up and head out to the
butchers, where there is oxtail and
64 MAGAZINE
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| 03.12.17
| THE| OBSERVER
THE OBSERVER
pork belly on the counter and a fine
double rib of beef with creamy fat
and a hefty price tag. Tucked away,
almost in hiding, are two rows of
thick beef short ribs, strips of meat
and a wide ribbon of fat still on its
bones, at a decent price, and that fits
my needs like a sheepskin glove.
We haven’t had beef for ages, and
the idea of a reasonably priced cut
appeals. I could marinate it, roast at
a high temperature then lower the
Email Nigel at nigel.slater@observer.co.uk
or visit theguardian.com/profile/nigelslater
for all his recipes in one place
heat and let meat and bones do their
own thing for an hour or two – that
is how I would usually cook a row
of short ribs. Instead I decide to
brown the meat first, quickly, over
a sprightly heat, and only then, when
its fat is singing loudly in the pan,
do I marinate it (red wine, garlic,
peppercorns, some woody sticks of
rosemary) and leave it in a cool place
for a few hours.
Later, the oven on a fairly low heat,
I pour the marinade into the roasting
tin, balance a rack on it and place
the ribs on top, then cover the lot
with foil. I put the ribs and wine into
the oven and leave them to get on
with it. What emerges, 90 minutes
later, is meat that has cooked in its
own deeply aromatic steam, the flesh
almost ready to tear from its short,
thick bones.
The liquor in the base – a mixture
of wine, herbs and the juices from the
beef – is too good not to use, so I pour
it into a wide, shallow pan and reduce
it over a high heat to something
approaching a dark and intense stock,
dare I say jus, then sweeten it with
pomegranate molasses. The point
of the thick fruit syrup (basically
concentrated pomegranate juice and
pulp) is to introduce something of
a deep, sweet-sour note and a shiny,
sticky glaze.
The beef goes back into the oven,
brushed generously with molasses
and marinade that slowly forms
a deep glossy sheen. We sit around
the table, slipping the meat from its
bones, scooping up mashed, buttery
golden roots, abandoning knives
and forks and happily, joyously,
resorting to our fingers.
BEEF SHORT RIBS WITH
POMEGRANATE MOLASSES
The ribs can also be marinated raw.
Should you take that route, then
you will need to set the oven to
220C/gas mark 8 and roast them
for 20 minutes before lowering
the heat to 160C/gas mark 3 and
continuing as suggested.
Photographs JONATHAN LOVEKIN
Bones to pick:
(above and left)
beef short ribs
with pomegranate
molasses and two
root mash with pine
kernels and parsley
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
65
Food & drink
Nigel Slater
Slice the
row of ribs
into smaller
sections,
making
sure
everyone
gets some
meat and
bone
WINES
OF THE
WEEK
Independent
wines from
Catalonia
David
Williams
@Daveydaibach
To read all
David’s columns
in one place, visit
theguardian.com/
profile/davidwilliams
Serves 5-6
For marinade:
red wine 750ml
rosemary 5 sprigs
garlic 3 cloves
black peppercorns 8
bay leaves 3
beef short ribs 2 kg
pomegranate molasses 100ml
Directions
Get a roasting tin hot over a moderate
heat, then add the ribs, letting the fat
brown nicely on both sides. If they
stick, add a little oil.
Make the marinade: pour the wine
into a jug, add the rosemary, the
garlic, bashed lightly to flatten, the
peppercorns and bay leaves. Place
the ribs in a strong plastic zip-lock
bag then pour in the marinade. Seal
the bag and place it in a tray in a cool
place overnight.
To roast the beef put the oven on
at 160/gas mark 3. Pour the marinade
into the roasting tin, place a rack on
top of the tin then place the ribs on
top. Wrap loosely in a dome of foil
and roast for 1 hour and 45 minutes.
By this time the meat will have
Albet i Noya Curiós Xarello,
Penedès, Spain 2016
(£9.99, Vintage Roots)
It will come as little comfort
to Catalonia’s jailed leaders,
or to the hundreds of
people beaten up at polling
stations in October, but the
brutal suppression of the
independence referendum
has had at least one small
positive local effect: piquing
interest in all things Catalan.
That curiosity extends to
the region’s wine industry
which, contrary to the
sometime stereotype,
is not solely concerned
with cheap Mediterranean versions of
champagne. Cava from Gramona, Juvé y
Camps and Recaredo, among others can,
in fact, be magnificent, but such bottles are
only part of a vinous story that includes
such delicately aromatic, vibrantly citrusy
and mineral still dry whites as Albet i Noya’s
take on the local grape xarello.
shrunk a little away from its bones.
Remove and discard the foil dome.
Carefully remove the ribs on
their rack, pour the marinade into
a shallow, wide pan and bring to
the boil, letting it reduce until you
have 100ml. Stir in the molasses and
remove from the heat. Put the ribs
back on their rack, over the empty
roasting tin, then brush generously
with the reduced wine marinade
and molasses mixture. Roast for 20
minutes, brush over more mixture
then continue roasting, checking
their progress carefully. You want it
to be glossy, chewy, dark and sticky.
Directions
Serves 6
parsnips 600g
carrots 700g
pine kernels 75g
parsley a small handful
butter 80g
Peel the parsnips, cut them into
large chunks then bring them to the
boil in a pan of deep, salted water.
Do the same with the carrots, but
peeling them only if they have thick
skins. Turn the heat down to a lively
simmer then leave to cook for about
20 minutes until they are soft
enough to mash.
Toast the pine kernels until golden
in a dry pan then set aside. Finely
chop the parsley. When the parsnips
are tender, drain them, add half the
butter, then mash until creamy, using
a stick blender, food mixer or
vegetable masher.
Drain the carrots, add the
remaining butter then mash until
smooth and creamy. Fold in the
chopped parsley. Put the two mashes
into a warm serving dish, then fold
the two together, gently, so they
are lightly mixed. Scatter with the
toasted pine kernels.
To serve, slice the row of ribs
into smaller sections, making sure
everyone gets some meat and bone.
Serve spoonfuls of the parsnip and
carrot mash alongside. Vinyes de l’Albà Sumoll,
Catalunya, Spain 2014
(£14, Red Squirrel Wine)
One of the trio of grapes
usually used to make
cava, xarello is for me the
star white Catalan grape
variety, with Celler Credo
Miranius, Alt-Penedès
2014 (from £12.50, Joseph
Barnes) a cleansingly pure,
herbal example. Another
of the cava triumvirate,
macabeu, is generally at its
still best round these parts
in a supporting role in dry
white blends, such as the
fabulously rich, luminous,
scrubland herb-infused Acústic Blanc,
Montsant 2015 (from £12.48, Cambridge
Wine), where garnatxa blanca takes the
lead. When it comes to reds, the most
distinctive local variety is the relatively
rare sumoll, from which Vinyes de l’Alba
fashions a deliciously dusky, tangy, vivid,
plum and cherry-juicy style.
Frares Priorat,
Spain 2015 (£14,
Marks & Spencer)
The grape varieties used
in the darkly brooding
reds of Catalonia’s most
famous red wine region,
Priorat are familiar
throughout Spain and
southern France. But
there’s something special
about the interaction of
grenache and carignan
with the local llicorella
slate soils that gives
them a really distinctive
mineral character that
freshens and quickens
the heat, spice and dark, brambly fruit.
Try Morrisons’ chewy, liquorice-scented
The Best Priorat 2014 (£10) or M&S’s
intensely black-fruited Frares – although
for the full, multilayered expression of
stone, black olive, liquorice and black
fruit, splash out on Mas Doix Salanques
Priorat 2014 (£30, The Wine Society).
TWO ROOT MASH WITH
PARSLEY AND PINE KERNELS
The pine kernels introduce what
I feel is an essential element of
crunch, but breadcrumbs, tossed in
a little melted butter till golden, are a
fine, and indeed cheaper, alternative.
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
67
LIFE & STYLE
Cashmere’s
not just for
Christmas
Just £69
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Food & drink
Nigel Slater
NIGEL’S
MIDWEEK
DINNER
THREE
REE ONION SOUP
P
The recipe
Put the oven on at 200C/gas
k 6. Peel 2 large banana shallots
ts,
mark 6.
shallots,
edium red onions and 2 yellow
2 medium
ones.. Roughly chop them all and
hem in a roasting tin with
put them
p of olive oil, the needles from
5 tbsp
shy sprigs of rosemary, 2 bay
3 bushy
es and a sprinkling of salt and
leaves
k pepper. Roast for about 45
black
utes, moving them round the
minutes,
pan from time to time.
hen the onions are soft and
When
er remove
remo e the bay
ba lea
es and set
tender,
leaves
half the onions aside, then put the
other half into a blender with 600ml
of vegetable stock, pour into a large
saucepan and bring to the boil. Stir
in the reserved onions then bring to
the boil and leave to simmer for about
10 minutes. Check the seasoning,
adding salt and pepper to taste.
Photograph JONATHAN LOVEKIN
Grat
Grate
G
atee 15
150g
0 o
off
firm
fi
che
hees
esee – I us
u ed
rm cheese
I used
aa farmhouse
a f rrm
fa
mho
hous
u e Ch
Ches
eshi
hire
re
Cheshire
– and
an
nd mi
m
x it w
ith
it
h2
finely
ly
mix
with
2 fi
choppe
ed sp
spri
r ng o
ri
nion
ni
ons. S
licee
li
chopped
spring
onions.
Slice
a small baguet
ette
te in h
alf
al
lf ho
hori
r zo
ri
zont
ntal
nt
ally
al
lyy
baguette
half
horizontally
and then into 4 pieces, pi
ile tthe
h
he
pile
cheese and onion on top and place
under a hot overhead grill until the
cheese melts.
Ladle the hot soup into bowls
and serve with the toasted cheese
baguettes
3
baguettes. Enough for 2
2-3.
The trick
Let the onions roast until they are
truly soft and deep gold in colour.
The exact timing will vary according
to the variety of onions. They must
be soft enough to crush between
finger and thumb. To balance their
sw
wee
eetn
tness, choose a good, sharply
sweetness,
flavoured farmhouse cheese. Use
a homemade or good commercial
vegetable stock.
The twist
Roasting imparts a particularly
particularl
deep flavour to the onions, but you
could cook them on the hob if you
prefer, stirring them regularly until
they are soft and sweet. You could
make the soup more cosseting
with the addition of cream, stirring
a few tbsp in once the soup is
being reheated. Email Nigel at nigel.
slater@observer.
co.uk or visit
theguardian.com/
profile/nigelslater
for all his recipes in
one place
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
69
Restaurants
Jay Rayner
Gul and Sepoy, 65
Commercial Street,
London E1 6BD
(020 7247 1407).
Meal for two, including
alcohol, £120
INDIAN MUTINY
GUL & SEPOY
Harneet and Devina Baweja’s first two
places were rapturously received, and
their reviews have been good. Until now
A whole
sea bream
is slapped
around
with a chilli
paste then
roasted in
the tandoor
and served
with a heap
of pickled
radish
Sometimes it just doesn’t matter how
good individual dishes are. It doesn’t
matter if there are things that sounded
the trumpets and made the angels
sing. If, at the end of the meal you feel
baffled or let down or short changed
– or worse than that, all three – you
know you won’t be back. So it is with
Gul & Sepoy, a new, modish restaurant
in London’s Spitalfields, offering
a clever menu of dishes from the
Indian subcontinent which isn’t quite
as clever as it thinks it is.
Perhaps it’s the difficult third
album syndrome. Until now Harneet
and Devina Baweja have had only
hits on their hands. Their two other
places, both nearby, have been
greeted with rapturous applause
and dribbling. There’s Gunpowder,
which features family recipes and
70 MAGAZINE
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| 03.12.17| THE
| THE
OBSERVER
OBSERVER
Madame D, which majors on the
cooking of the Himalayas. They have
investigated regional Indian food
with gusto and lack of ceremony.
Gul & Sepoy is meant to be a more
upmarket offering than its siblings.
That only makes me wonder how
basic the other two are. The décor
here is so distressed it needs a really
good hug. The plaster is raw and
rough, as if waiting for you to scrape
your knee on it; perhaps they fell out
with the builders before completion.
A downstairs door marked
“washroom” is obstructed by a pot
plant, to suggest it’s not in use, which
is a blessing. It’s never a good look
when the entire dining room knows
you’re off for a slash. Efficiently, on
a cold November lunchtime, the open
front door channels chilly air right to
the back corner. We ask for it to be
closed more than once.
As to the menu, it’s meant to be
a game of two halves. One side, listed
as Gul, represents the food served in
the royal palaces of northern India.
The other side, headed Sepoy, is the
food eaten by soldiers patrolling
India’s coastal regions. It’s so specific
it’s verging on the nerdy – though,
to be fair, you have to be a total
restaurant nerd to find out about it.
I’m the sort of tragic individual who
searches the web for this kind of
vital intelligence. The waiter didn’t
explain any of it beyond inviting us to
order five or so dishes between two.
We found seven does the trick.
On balance I’d rather be a soldier
than a prince, but only just and only
if you don’t look at the prices.
I enjoyed the unashamed punch and
heat of burnt achari cauliflowers
and new potatoes, smeared in fiery
pickles and then roasted to within an
inch of their lives, alongside a dollop
of cooling yogurt to soften the blow.
For £6 you get three new potatoes
and two large cauliflower florets.
NEWS
BITES
SOPHIA EVANS
@jayrayner1
Don’t calculate the raw ingredient
cost because it will drive you nuts.
Then again, sometimes the profit
margin is just too stark. Cubes of
chicken thigh have been drenched
in a livid green wild garlic purée
and grilled to dark and smoky. It is
a noble, pungent end for two chicken
thighs. At time of writing the website
says this will cost you £6.50 which is
a fair price. The printed menu in the
restaurant will tell you they cost £11,
which is – forgive the vernacular –
bloody outrageous.
It’s a similar deal with their royal
guchi pilau rice dish (£14 online, £16
if you want to eat it) and their potted
pig with masala onions (£8 online,
£11 in real life). Why is it never the
other way around? Why is it never
more expensive online than in the
restaurant? The potted pig brings
strands of slow cooked pork under
a “top soil” of onions cooked down
in masala wine, all of it served in
a mini-plant pot. The surface
has been studded with fronds of
green, grass-like herbs. Hurrah! It’s
twice potted pork! I can live with
whimsy, but not when the pork is
underseasoned, the onions oversweet
and the surface scattered with bits of
crisped pig skin that are so hard you
fear for your middle-aged teeth.
The escargot with moong daal
and spinach kichdi is less baffling
than troubling. It’s a pool of deep
green stewed down pulses, scattered
with black snails and topped with
pearly white pickled and shaved
fennel. Have a look at the picture
then Google an image of Heston
Blumenthal’s famed snail porridge.
I hope to God it’s an homage,
because they look exactly the same.
The problem is, against the thrill of
Blumenthal’s garlicky, pow and crack
of oats supercharged with a strident
persillade, this is just ho hum. The
daal is dreary, underpowered and
relentless. It did indeed remind me
of snail porridge: how much better it
was than this.
A mutton fry, served in a tiny hot
pan under a plug of rubbery beaten
Email Jay at jay.rayner@observer.co.uk
or visit theguardian.com/profile/jayrayner
for all his reviews in one place
egg, is also bizarrely bland. At which
point I’m afraid I have to go all
wistful and mention the Pakistani
grill houses just down the road in
Whitechapel and their brilliant dry
mutton curries; dishes of darkness
and power, akin to a deep tissue
massage that makes you grunt with
effort and purr with delight.
From the royal list the
three-bird Awadhi korma is
extremely pretty to look at.
Boned out chicken, pheasant
and pigeon have been formed into
n
a cylinder, simmered, sliced and then
seared. It is laid in a deep puddle of
korma sauce, an embarrassment of
cream, almonds and low-key spice.
The sauce is great, the meat less so.
We stare around the table for a little
salt. There is none. The best dish off
the lot comes from this side of the
menu. A whole sea bream, slapped
around with a chilli paste then
ly
roasted in the tandoor, miraculously
boned out and then reassembled,
alongside a big heap of crunchy
pickled radish.
For dessert there is a dark
chocolate ganache which is simply
too rich. It manages to make the
other dessert, discs of rum soaked
un,
sponge, like a grown-up gulab jamun
d
with whorls of spiced, overwhipped
cream, seem light. It isn’t. Only at
the end, when they bring the bill, do
they mention it is the penultimate
y,
day of their soft opening. Normally,
I would hesitate before reviewing,
but the soft opening discount is onlyy
10%. Given both the differences
between online and real pricing,
and pricing generally, I’m not
pulling this punch. That fish is
a joy. I like the chicken skewers.
I enjoyed the cauliflower. But none
of that justifies a whacking bill
of £98, both with a discount and
without any booze. The price isn’t right: (from top) achari
cauliflowers and potatoes; chicken
skewers; escargot with moong daal;
mutton fry; three-bird korma; tandoori
sea bream; and chocolate ganache
■ If you’re
not interested
in anybody
reinventing the
wheel, head
to the Needoo
Grill just down
the road in
Whitechapel.
There’s nothing
artful about
it – they just
serve generous
platefuls of
Punjabi food,
including a dry
meat curry of
uncommon
depth and clarity.
The proposition is
basic and so is the
price, with £20
a head seeing
you right (needoo
grill.co.uk).
■ West London
is to get Europe’s
biggest Japanese
food hall with
the opening of
Ichiba, part of the
740,000 sq ft
expansion
of Westfield
London. The new
17,400 sq ft
superstore is
a collaboration
between the
Japan Centre
Group and the
Cool Japan Fund.
It will include both
food stations and
a supermarket
and will open in
March 2018.
■ For the past
two years chef
Ben Churchill,
aka the Food
Illusionist, has
been wowing
fans with online
videos of his
whimsical
dessert
creations:
think the edible
washing-up
sponge, or beans
on toast cake.
Now they’re
available as a
self-published
book, Food
Illusions Vol 1,
via Amazon.
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
71
Homes
For more inside tips, advice and ideas, go to
theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/homes
SINGING THE BLUES
An 18th-century house in Canterbury
has been given a wonderfully colourful
update, finds Jo Leevers
There was
a massive
bulge on the
bedroom
ceiling.
We gave
it a gentle
poke and
water
gushed out
74
This narrow townhouse is on one
of the winding streets close to
Canterbury cathedral, all doubleyellow lines, fudge shops and
shuffling tourists. From the outside
it mirrors its upright Georgian
neighbours, with bowed windows
and a fanlight over the door. But
inside, Kelly Simmons and William
Durrant have given it a colourful
wake-up call.
A punchy, uplifting shade of blue
sets the tone from the front living
room, partnered by vivid artworks
and the odd curious creature.
A Seletti monkey lamp dangles from
the cornicing and a parade of plastic
jungle animals, actually the property
of their toddler son, Freddie, are
lined up across the mantelpiece. “We
moved here from Gillingham in Kent
MAGAZINE | 03.12.17 | THE OBSERVER
and love the historic setting, but for
our interiors style, we’re not ready
for antimacassars and carriage clocks
just yet,” says Kelly, who works as a
health service manager.
The three-bedroom house, spread
over three floors, dates back to at
least 1790 and is Grade II listed,
so the exterior was never going to
change. The inside, however, had
already been messed about with
by a succession of landlords. “It had
been rented out to students since
the 70s, with the small rooms
divided into bedsits for maximum
rental income,” says William.
“Rooms had a partitioned bathroom
or shower cubicle in the corner,
making a crazy network of pipes
running through the house, plenty
of which were leaking.”
Then there was the matter of
the roof. They knew it was in bad
shape, but discovered just how bad on
the day they picked up the keys. “We
walked into the top bedroom and
saw a massive bulge on the ceiling,”
remembers Kelly. “We gave it
a gentle poke – as you do – and water
gushed down. It had been slowly
dripping in through the roof and
layers of lining paper were all that
had held it in place. We realised
then that this was going to be
a full-scale renovation.”
The roof was shored up and retiled.
“At one point, you could stand in the
kitchen and gaze up at the stars,”
says Kelly. The original windows
and floorboards were restored or
replaced. The shower cubicles were
ditched and a family bathroom was
created at the back of the house.
On the ground floor, they removed
two internal doorways, so that
the front living room, which you
enter from the street, flows into the
kitchen. The room was panelled,
as a homage to its historic roots,
and then given several coats of that
punchy shade of blue. “It took more
coats than it says on the can,
Photographs RACHAEL SMITH
Canterbury tales:
the living room
(above) has been
panelled and
painted a striking
blue; views of the
bedroom, garden,
hallway and front
of the house, with
its bowed windows
and fanlight over
the door
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
75
LIFE & STYLE
Homes
GET THE
LOOK
For more inside tips, advice and ideas, go to
theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/homes
Code light £270,
lightingcompany.co.uk
Ultra Blue matt emulsion
£52.67 for 2.5 litres,
littlegreene.com
Making history:
the colour theme
continues into
the bedroom and
kitchen; the family
bathroom is a new
addition at the
back of the house
Pure Elvis framed screenprint
£650, Pure Evil (lilfordg
(lilfordgallery.com)
Isosine cushion
£45, quirkand
rescue.c
com
rescue.com
Na
Napper
N
bed
£795,
£7
loaf.com
loa
that’s for sure – four, maybe even
five. We did it in the evenings after
putting Freddie to bed. Wine helped,”
says William. Artworks from a local
gallery add to the impact.
The kitchen is a gentler shade
of blue, with flooring made from
slabs of Silestone quartz, which
is more usually used as a worktop
surface. William designed the kitchen
(he runs Herringbone Kitchens)
and Kelly sourced the vintage eastern
European bar stools on eBay. William
also constructed their bedframe and
the family’s marble dining table.
“Kelly gave me a welding torch for
Valentine’s day, so I created a metal
base and mounted an offcut
of marble on top. And they say
romance is dead…” he jokes.
As elsewhere in this couple’s
home, a creative approach has paid
off. “We love being in a house that
has a history, but the style inside
now feels much more like a reflection
of us,” says Kelly. Kelly gave
me a welding
torch for
Valentine’s
day. And
they say
romance
is dead
Pimlico
armchair
£499,
atkinand
thyme.
co.uk
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
77
Gardens
James Wong
@Botanygeek
To read all James’s columns in
one place, visit theguardian.com/
fille/james-wong
/
/j
profi
Their
complex
flavour is
like night
to day
compared
with the sad
supermarket
varieties
As we head toward the shortest day
of the year, much of the vegetable
patch might seem fast asleep.
However, even in the dark days of
December there is one unusual,
exotic vegetable that is just aching
to be planted. This rare crop is
much prized by French chefs for
its depth and complexity of flavour
and though it’s rarely to be found in
even the fanciest UK supermarkets,
it is a real cinch to grow.
Brave the cold for 15 minutes this
month to go and plant them and, in
exchange for little to no extra effort,
you’ll be rewarded with masses
of an “unbuyable” harvest come
summer. What is this mystery crop?
The real shallot: an ingredient that
you probably think you know, but
almost certainly don’t.
If you’re a Brit, what you know
as a shallot is nearly always merely
a small variety of onion (Allium
cepa var aggregatum), which has
been traditionally selected for its
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MAGAZINE | 03.12.17 | THE OBSERVER
diminutive size and for a slightly
milder flavour. As often happens
with plant common names,
these “shallots” aren’t actually
true shallots at all. They have
just been traditionally labelled
as such because of their passing
resemblance to the real deal, despite
being a totally different species.
True shallots (Allium oschaninii),
usually known in Britain by their
French names ‘Eschalote Grise’ or
‘Griselle’, hail from southwestern
and central Asia. In fact, it was
their route across the Silk Road to
Europe that gave them their name –
a corruption of the French echalote
which is in turn a corruption of
Ashkelon, an ancient city in modern
Israel. This is where the vegetable
was once thought to originate.
Unlike most other “shallots”,
true shallots are not modern,
highly bred varieties, but plants
that remain almost identical to the
wild species which still grows in
the mountains of Afghanistan and
Iran. This rugged, wild constitution
means the plants are tolerant of
some seriously tough growing
conditions, and able to withstand
drought, cold and a range of pests
and diseases. They do this by
producing a cocktail of natural
chemical defences, many of which
contribute to their wonderfully
complex flavour – one that is like
night to day compared to the sad
supermarket staples to which we
have become familiar.
If you want to grow your own,
the sets (baby bulbs) are easy to
find online right now and can be
grown exactly as you would normal
shallots, burying them just enough
so the tip of pointy end is above the
soil’s surface in a sunny spot. The
only work I ever do is keeping the
weeds down and watering if it gets
very dry in spring. Harvest when
the foliage yellows and dies down
in July – and thank me on Twitter. GETTY IMAGES/ISTOPCKPHOTO
GROW YOUR OWN TRUE SHALLOTS
Ethical
living
Lucy Siegle
@lucysiegle
Email Lucy at lucy.siegle@observer.co.uk
or visit theguardian.com/profile/lucysiegle
to read all her articles in one place
THE ECO GUIDE TO...
GREENER VEG
Leeks, potatoes and
onions are not vegetables
you’d usually associate
with a soup that could
harm you. However,
recent UK government
data on pesticides and
mainstream crops shows
that they could create a very
concerning cocktail effect.
The number of different
active pesticide ingredients
used on these crops has
increased between six and
18 times since the 1960s.
Toxicologists refer to
a cocktail effect because
while safety certificates
are issued to individual
pesticides, their cumulative
effect is not tested.
The advice is therefore
to swap conventional for
organic. In the organic
farming system, certified
by the Soil Association,
only 15 pesticides are
permitted (derived from
natural ingredients
and used under heavily
regulated circumstances).
In conventional agriculture
there are around 320.
But as Wendell Berry
reminds us: “Eating is an
agricultural act.” While
I don’t expect you to plant
your own crops, we have
to admit swapping in a few
organic veggies won’t cut it
long term for the health of
the planet, or for us.
Other studies show that
fruit and veg is becoming
less nutritious with
a decline in iron, calcium
and magnesium. This is
attributable to farming the
same higher-yield varieties
at increased pace, so we’re
producing crops that
deliver fewer nutrients.
That means we need to
be more inquisitive about
fruit and veg. We need to
know about the farming
system, the variety and the
impact – all the questions
that no one has time to
ask on a weekday winter’s
evening in the supermarket.
I’m putting my faith in
technology. The Soil
Association has linked up
with Provenance to create
an app that gives you the
entire supply chain story
at the touch of a button.
A wider rollout can’t come
soon enough. THE BIG PICTURE
PICTURING A FAIRER WORLD
Bonnie Chiu is the founder of Lensational, which shares women’s
stories through photography, and trains women in some of the
lowest-wage economies. She also stars in this year’s Lavazza calendar,
championing gender equality. Activists from across the globe have
been shot by photographer Platon for the coffee brand’s 26th calendar,
focusing on social and environmental change.
PLATON
WELL DRESSED
CASHMERE CRAFTED IN MONGOLIA
Mongolian
cashmere
Oversized jumper
£350, and pleated
jumper £405, both
mandkhai.com
Sweater politics are
not discussed enough.
For starters, there’s
a lot of fake cashmere
about where the
famous ‘diamond
fibre’ is blended with
other hairs and plastic
fibre. Then there’s the
fact that cashmere
production has been
debased over the
past 20 years. Herds
of cashmere goats
which were once
raised in sustainable
numbers and driven
across the Alashan
plains of Mongolia are
now often farmed in
intensive numbers.
Designer Mandkhai
Jargalsaikhan inherited
her parents’ cashmere
business and her label,
Mandkhai, has roots
that date back to postcommunist Mongolia.
This means the fibre
and production are still
carefully controlled,
from the freeroaming goats to the
dying process to the
creation of the yarn.
If you’re in the markett
for cashmere this
winter, don’t look any
y
further – this is the
real deal.
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
79
LIFE & STYLE
Wheels
Martin Love
@MartinLove166
ROMANCE IS NOT DEAD
ALFA ROMEO GIULIA
In the spreadsheet world of executive
transport, the ravishing new Giulia from
Alfa Romeo offers a blast of passion
Price: from £28,979
Top speed: 143mph
0-62mph: 7.1 seconds
MPG: 67.3
CO2: 109g/km
Let’s pretend the midsize executive
car market is, in fact, a sweaty
freshers’ disco. Everyone’s necking
cheap wine and shouting over the
dreadful music. Over in the corner
you can see three expensively dressed
third year students. They’re sipping
champagne and tossing their blonde
hair as they laugh among themselves…
You aren’t allowed near them. In car
terms those three are BMW 3-Series,
Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4.
They’re the queens, the untroubled
and undisputed rulers of their sector.
You have to be bold and possess
a real sense of purpose to demand
a seat at their top table. Step forward
Alfa Romeo Giulia – a saloon that’s
been created almost specifically
as a counterpoint to anyone bored
with the usual Teutonic triumvirate.
Even its name sets out its mission.
The others are just joyless numbers
and letters, but the Alfa has gone all
romantic. Graceful lines flow from
the shield-shaped grill past the
unusual rimless headlamps and make
the car appear elegantly stretched.
At the back the wedged tail is topped
by a curvaceous lip and flat-topped
Email Martin at martin.love@observer.co.uk
or visit theguardian.com/profile/martinlove
for all his reviews in one place
lamps, which save it from being just
another boring rear end. The aerospoke wheels and glintings of red
brake blocks hint at its lightness and
power. But looks only carry you so far.
This Alfa is built on a new rear-wheel
drive platform, and the Giulia is the
first to benefit from a range overhaul
that will boost the performance and
handling of the full line-up.
The engine choice is from a pair
of 2.2-litre diesels with either 148 or
178bhp, a 2-litre turbocharged petrol
with 197bhp, and a range-topping
twin-turbo V6 Quadrifoglio version
with 503bhp. All come with an eightspeed automatic gearbox as standard
– you can’t go for a manual even if
you want to. I drove the turbocharged
petrol version. Words like supple,
balance and fluency are often bandied
about in car reviews, but they’re hard
won here. The Giulia is a lovely drive
– brawny yet sweet-tempered.
Inside the car is generously
luxurious. To beat the Germans, the
Italians know they can’t just offer
a slightly cheaper car – it has to
punch above its weight in terms of
spec and tech. The rotary controlled
infotainment screen fits neatly into
the sweep of the dash. Other standard
inclusions involve a host of driver and
safety aids. The one that will make
you smile is the warning the car emits
when you unexpectedly switch lanes:
three baritone honks from a tuba.
A muted beep would have been far
too German. Looks like someone new
is about to clear the dance floor. BICYCLE OF THE WEEK
BULTACO ALBERO
Price: £4,265
Frame: aluminium
Engine: 250W
Top speed: 25kmh
Range: up to 100km
Charge: 3 hours
Weight: 42.2kg
bultaco.com
Much more than a bicycle,
yet not quite a motorbike…
a new breed of highly
engineered electric ‘moto
bikes’ is revolutionising the
way we tackle both the city
and the countryside on two
wheels. Bultaco, a Spanish
firm which specialised in
motorbikes before going
out of business in 1983,
has bounced back with this
unique concept. Two years
ago it introduced the Brinco:
a tough and striking electric
scrambler designed for
the big thrills world of offroading. Now we have the
Albero, an urban-focused
sister model. It’s a hybrid
combination of pure electric
ctr
tric
whizz controlled by a twist
wisst
grip throttle, and pedalling,
ng,
allowing you to adjust the
he
level of effort you want to
make. It has a top speed
d
of 25kmh and a range off
up to 100km per 3-hourr
charge. It’s zero emissions
ons
but maximum fun…
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
81
Travel
For more inside tips, advice and holiday
ideas, go to theguardian.com/travel
MAGICAL KINGDOM
FRANCE
A cottage for four
starts at £62 pppn.
The Cocoon VIP
apartment costs
£139 pppn based
on two sharing. For
more details, visit
villagesnatureparis.
co.uk. Eurostar from
London St Pancras
to Disneyland Paris
starts from £38 (£27
for children) one way
(eurostar.com)
“I keep forgetting we’re in France,”
says Evie, my 14-year-old, sitting
outside our apartment enjoying the
view. I don’t blame her: everything
around us is distinctly un-Gallic.
From our terrace we can see
a wooden pagoda in the middle of
a lake fringed with maples. There
are palm trees, rockeries and exotic
foliage to our left, glass lakeside
apartments and rural woodland
ahead of us. If we’d been kidnapped
and dropped here, I’d struggle to
guess between a resort in east Asia
or a campus university in Surrey.
Welcome to the strangely
disconcerting world of Villages
Nature, 20 miles east of Paris and less
than three hours on Eurostar direct
from St Pancras, London. All of this
was once disused farmland until
Disney and its partner, Pierre et
Vacances (which owns Center Parcs
Europe), transformed it into a 300-
acre eco-resort; a “haven where
guests can disconnect and feel at one
with nature”. In other words, the
polar opposite of the offering up the
road – Disneyland Paris. Their hope
is that families will be curious to try
both these different worlds. It’s easy
to see the appeal: when the children
are done with Hyperspace Mountain
and Pirates of the Caribbean, you can
escape back here to the serenity of
your Scandi-chic apartment, a
gloriously Disney princess-free zone.
Although it depends how you
define escape. The Disney vision still
lurks in the DNA of Villages Nature,
partly because it all still feels so brand
new and not quite real, but also
because the look of it is largely down
to Joe Rohde, lead designer and
“imagineer” behind Disney’s Animal
Kingdom in Florida. He has helped
to create five “immersive” worlds,
including the Extraordinary Gardens
behind our apartment – a sprawling
expanse of wooden walkways, trailing
plants and grasses that, once they’ve
matured, could easily give Kew
Gardens a run for its money.
Nearby is faux-rustic Bellvie Farm,
suspiciously gleaming and mud-free,
but it does offer plenty of ingenious
ways to keep the children occupied,
from a kids’ club and crèche to
stroking donkeys and riding ponies,
beekeeping and breadmaking classes.
Just like Center Parcs, the idea is
scheduled fun with a dizzying
number of classes and activities.
We start with a guided group run
through the woodland that frames
Villages Nature, all ancient French
oaks and winding mossy paths. After
that it’s Aqualagon, the star attraction
overlooking the lake, with indooroutdoor pools, waterfalls, slides and
a spa. Even though it’s a chilly
autumn afternoon, the water outside
is sublimely hot (30C all year round
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MAGAZINE | 03.12.17 | THE OBSERVER
LUDOVIC LE COUSTER
An eco-resort deep in the French
countryside offers a chance to escape
nearby Disneyland, finds Emma Cook
French connection:
(clockwise from below)
eco lodges for guests;
and views of three of
the park’s ‘immersive
worlds’, including
the Aqualagon
thanks to geothermal energy that
heats the whole site), and we swoosh
and glide through tubes of frothy
azure water. As befits an eco-resort,
more than a third of the water in
Aqualagon is purified naturally, then
used to water the plants and fill the
lake. Rainwater is also collected from
the holiday cottages’ inverted roofs.
You can’t fault the design,
especially when it comes to the
state-of-the-art changing rooms –
gleaming and cavernous, and not
a soggy plaster or stray hair in sight.
You can access all areas with one
electronic wristband, from your
apartment to the restaurants and
cafés, and even your locker – so no
fumbling for spare coins.
Our first potential disaster is
discovering that Evie has forgotten to
pack a swimsuit, but we needn’t have
worried. There is a vending machine
in reception selling 50 different
types in dinky plastic pouches. Yours
for £20. Nothing is left to chance
here, especially if you can pay for it.
We walk back along Lakeside
Promenade, lined with restaurants
and shops and even a local estate
agent – guests invest in a profitsharing property scheme; places here
start at around €250,000. Ours,
I suspect, might cost a little more:
we’re in the Cocoon VIP apartment
– a cosy and insulated capsule with
two double bedrooms, an ensuite
bathroom and Jacuzzi bath, an
open-plan kitchen and sitting room.
Afterwards we stroll along the
waterfront until we find Vapiano, an
Italian-style restaurant where our
dish is cooked in front of us in a large
wok; shallots, garlic, cream and
mushrooms bubble away and take an
age to cook – that’s risotto for you.
There is a long queue of people
behind us, but no one seems to mind
and it tastes delicious. Our meal the
following evening is less successful;
a takeaway pizza with chewy dough
covered with chunks of sweaty
pepperoni as pink as kitten’s tongues,
as Nigella might say.
However, the next day we’re in luck.
In search of something more authentic,
we venture out of our “cocoon” and
find a nearby café. There we sit in the
autumn sun sharing a plate of classic
charcuterie, oozing cheese and
cornichon, fig jam and jambon, and
we feel we’ve arrived. Close our eyes
and we could almost be in France. The pools
are 30C
thanks to
geothermal
energy, and
we swoosh
and glide
through
the frothy
azure water
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
83
Inner life
To read all the articles in this series,
go to observer.co.uk/inner-life
There are ways to ward off dementia
and the ill effects of brain ageing, say
Alexis Willett and Jennifer Barnett
A back-up
‘reservoir’
of cognitive
function
can protect
us from
the effects
of brain
damage
Sorry to break it to you, but there’s
bad news. Your brain is shrinking
(probably). None of us is getting any
younger and time is increasingly
taking its toll on our brains; our
neurons are getting smaller and we’re
losing connections between them.
But should we accept this pattern of
degeneration as inevitable? Is there
anything we can do now to optimise
our brains and protect them against
the ravages of ageing?
When we talk about healthy brain
ageing we are really discussing one
of two things: how to minimise
ongoing damage to the hardware of
the brain, mostly by keeping its blood
supply as good as possible; or how to
improve the operation of the brain’s
software. Many ways of doing this
have been suggested, but few have
scientific weight behind them. There
is currently no magic bullet to protect
the brain, but one area that has been
best researched, and about which we
can say with reasonable confidence,
“this will help”, is mental activity.
There is plenty of evidence that
older people who stay mentally
active, by learning a new language,
doing crosswords or taking part
in other intellectually challenging
activities, preserve full cognitive
function for longer.
However, we need to be careful
about the direction of causality.
It may be that people who are
cognitively intact get more pleasure
from cognitively challenging
activities than people whose faculties
are starting to fail. For this reason, it’s
difficult to run rigorous studies to test
the effectiveness of brain-training
programmes, which use increasingly
challenging but enjoyable puzzles
or games designed to build up
cognitive function. People will
choose and adhere better to a regime
of activities that they find more
enjoyable, so it is tricky to determine
scientifically whether any particular
brain training package or cognitive
pursuit is really actively supporting
healthy brain function.
What is clear is that people
who have spent more time doing
cognitively demanding activities
over a lifetime are, to some extent,
buffered from the physical effects
of brain ageing and degenerative
diseases. We call this buffer
“cognitive reserve” – a back-up
reservoir of brain function that can
protect from the consequences of
brain damage, allowing us to continue
to perform well. For example, people
with a higher IQ, longer education or
cognitively challenging employment
have been found to have a lower
risk of developing dementia. This
is despite the fact that their brains
actually show normal amounts of
age- and disease-related damage. In
fact, postmortem studies have found
that people with higher cognitive
reserve who do get dementia exhibit
less severe symptoms even when they
have more brain damage than those
with lower cognitive reserve.
Yet there’s still much to discover
about the potential of cognitive
reserve for optimising the brain’s
resilience. The more we understand
about its role in protecting our brain
and how to boost our reserve, the
more effective we will be in designing
interventions to keep the human
brain healthier for longer.
The good news is that cognitive
reserve isn’t exclusive to those who
have the IQ of a genius or who’ve
devoted their life to theoretical
physics. We think it can be built up
throughout life, so taking part in
cognitively challenging activities,
learning new skills and continuing to
“use it or lose it” probably applies no
matter how old you are – crucially,
it’s never too late to start. How Much Brain Do We Really Need?
by Alexis Willett and Jennifer Barnett is
published by Constable & Robinson on
7 December at £13.99. To buy a copy for
£11.89, visit guardianbookshop.com
A NEUROSCIENTIST EXPLAINS
D
DANIEL
GLASER ON THE MAGIC SIDE OF EVERYDAY PERCEPTION
Th headmaster of our local
The
primary school performs
pr
magic show at this time of
am
year, but the parents aren’t
ye
invited. This child-centred
inv
approach is exactly what you
ap
would want from a school even
wo
though it’s frustrating for
th
neuroscientist because
an
magic is a really interesting
m
84
MAGAZINE | 03.12.17 | THE OBSERVER
way of studying the brain.
Optical illusions have given
us very useful insights into
how perception works. Tricking
the visual system into thinking
things are different shapes or
colours than they actually are
tells us how the brain works in
everyday situations as well. Our
nervous system is really about
filtering out rather than relaying
information - if we were aware
of all of our sensory inputs all
the time, we would rapidly be
overwhelmed. Attention is the
way we direct the spotlight,
ignoring the background and
focusing on what matters.
Magicians rely on this to
misdirect our attention. For
example, there are basic circuits
in the primary visual cortex that
are tuned into where a pair of
eyes are looking. Very handy
when you’re trying pull a rabbit
from a hat, or control a couple of
hundred screaming kids - now
that’s real magic.
Dr Daniel Glaser is director of Science
Gallery at King’s College London
ALLSTAR/FOCUS FEATURES; GETTY IMAGES; LANMAS/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO; TRUSTEES OF THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM, LONDON
HOW TO STAY CLEVERER FOR LONGERER
PERSONALITY QUIZ
BY BEN AMBRIDGE
You’ve heard of your IQ (Intelligence
Quotient) and your EQ (Emotional
Intelligence Quotient) but what
about your NQ (Neanderthal
Quotient)? A new study from
the State University of New York
analysed 200 Homo sapiens to see
which personality traits they shared
with our distant cousins Homo
neanderthalensis. So, what about
you? How often (never/occasionally/
often) do you…
(a) Fantasise about sex with someone
other than your partner? (b) Avoid
talking to people you don’t know very
well? (c) Feel so nervous that nothing
could calm you down? (d) Show a lack
of imaginativeness in new situations?
Mind games:
Jim Carrey
in Eternal
Sunshine of
the Spotless
Mind (2004)
NOW’S THE TIME TO…
Know your belladonna from your veratrum viride.
The Natural
History Museum is hosting a killer new
N
exhibition
examining the uses and dangers of venom.
exhib
Pop along and encounter some of the world’s most
venomous
creatures and the miraculous cures they
ven
often
ofte provide for modern medicine. Highlights include
the head of a Bitis gabonica or gaboon viper – the
species
with the biggest known venomous fangs
sp
– and a box jellyfish, whose sting can kill humans in
under
five minutes. Venom: Killer and Cure is at the
u
National
History Museum until 13 May (nhm.ac.uk)
N
If you mostly answered never/
occasionally, then you have a low NQ.
If you mostly answered often, you
have a relatively high NQ. At a glance,
this looks crude: we Homo sapiens
are monogamous, sociable, calm and
imaginative, while Neanderthals
were promiscuous and brutish. But
when the researchers took DNA
samples from the participants and
looked for correlations between
their personalities and their
genetic overlap with Neanderthal
DNA, the correlations were small
but statistically significant. Since
generally the evidence for heritable
personality traits is strong, it is not
so far-fetched to imagine a future in
which our personalities are measured
not with questionnaires, but by
sequencing our DNA. Order Are You Smarter Than a Chimpanzee?
by Ben Ambridge (Profile Books, a£12.99) for
£11.04 at bookshop.theguardian.com
THE OBSERVER | 03.12.17 | MAGAZINE
85
Dear Mariella
@mariellaf1
If you have a dilemma, send a brief email to
mariella.frostrup@observer.co.uk. To have your say on this
week’s column, go to observer.co.uk/dear-mariella
MY DAUGHTER NEEDS PLASTIC
SURGERY, HOW CAN I TELL HER?
That’s the least of your
worries. As a parent I know
only too well how random
and irrational the worries
you have for your children
can be. I appreciate, too,
that as a mother you only
want what’s best for your
daughter, but on the basis
of what you’ve written it
sounds to me like she’s
moved on while you’re
still fretting.
Your daughter has
travelled, worked,
had relationships
and embarked on an
independent life. Maybe
it’s time you started
celebrating those
achievements rather than
perpetually drawing her
back to her shortcomings.
It certainly appears as
though you’re the one still
hung up on her facade.
You mention her masculine
appearance, but in a world
of gender fluidity where
we are thankfully deemed
to be more than the
sum of our individual parts you’ve seriously
downgraded your daughter. There is no
feminine “ideal” any more and we are a richer
culture and happier society for dispensing with
our arcane filing system for humankind.
I’m wondering if your own worth was
similarly index-linked to your sex appeal.
Nowadays we like to think such attitudes are
a thing of the past rather than focusing on how
to banish them from our present. I admit the
values I’m espousing are the opposite of those
displayed in almost every magazine rack, TV
show and mainstream movie, but pretending
we’ve won the good fight for a society where
men and women are judged equally on the basis
of who they are, not how they look is better
than admitting we’ve failed!
It seems to me you’ve given your daughter
every reason to believe that only physical
My daughter
looks very masculine and not in
a good way. In childhood she was
badly bullied. In her 20s she moved
to different countries, underwent
therapy and overcame her social
anxiety. She is a changed person,
but still spends most evenings alone
on the phone with me. She’s had
many relationship attempts with
men, but I gather they have all
failed due to lack of interest on their
part. In the past I encouraged her to
undergo plastic surgery to pin her
ears and she was very pleased with
the result. When she was 18 I paid
for a rhinoplasty, but this surgery
went horribly wrong. She was left
awfully disfigured with most of
her nose bridge gone and her nose
tip as bulbous as before. I want to
encourage her to undergo another
rhinoplasty, but worry that if I keep
on talking about it, it will hurt
her confidence. I’m her only close
confidante and can tell she is rather
lonely. I dread to think how lonely
she’ll be when I’m gone.
THE DILEMMA
86
MAGAZINE | 03.12.17 | THE OBSERVER
perfection is of any worth. There are plenty of
people who don’t have film star good looks and
are nonetheless leading happy, fulfilled and
purposeful lives. Indeed, I’d go so far as to argue
that the less blessed you are on the beauty front,
the more likely you are to develop as a character
and it’s that, rather than nose shape, which
forges enduring friendships and relationships.
Your daughter may not resemble a Barbie doll,
but only a scattering of the world’s population
fits that rigid mould. You have certainly done
a good job of ensuring that she’s aware of her
deficiencies. The result is that even if she’d
never looked in a mirror, her awareness of her
imperfections has been heightened beyond
measure. Couldn’t you just have told her she was
great? Encouraging her to surgically enhance
her features before she was out of her teens
won’t win you any parenting awards, either. As
for helping her maintain a relationship, are you
truly saying that the only way to keep a man is
by modelling yourself into an acceptable form
of womanhood? Perhaps if she valued herself
more, she wouldn’t feel compelled to seek out
worthless men who don’t stick around.
Before you start your daughter’s next phase
of physical makeover, my advice to you would
be to embark on your own mental one. You are
so far out of step with what makes for a happy
life that I’d be surprised if I was the first to point
it out. Good looks are no guarantee of future
happiness. Physical attributes aren’t the only
currency available, or the most reliable one to
invest in. Neither is plastic surgery a magic wand
that erases all woes. There are breath-taking
beauties who suffer depression, loneliness, selfharm and much more and for exactly the same
reasons as those you worry about with your girl.
Low self-esteem is an epidemic even more
widespread than our newfound penchant
for cosmetic contouring. So build your girl
up, focus on her assets and set aside your
ambitions to surgically enhance her. That
way she stands a chance of making better
choices. She needs to know that you love
her unequivocally and appreciate what she
uniquely has to offer. Who knows, without you
highlighting her deficiencies she might
even grow in confidence and be able to start
having a social life of her own. You are
so far out
of step
with what
makes for
a happy life
that I’d be
surprised
if I was
the first to
point it out
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