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The Observer Magazine 10 December 2017

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An exclusive interview with the Hollywood titan, by Tim Adams
Bill Bailey The art of apologising Princess Diana The ibogaine dilemma Cool knits
This week’s issue
JODIE FOSTER knows more
about storytelling than almost
any other actor. Now 55, she has
been in show business since
she was three, and in that time
has made some of the most
memorable films of our times.
Tim Adams meets her as she
directs one of Charlie Brooker’s
latest Black Mirror films.
“No regrets, no apologies” is no
longer an acceptable stance. But
as a slew of famous names have
had to show public contrition,
Jay Rayner looks at the much
IBOGAINE is a plant found in
Gabon that heroin addicts use
to conquer their cravings. Is it
effective and are the risks it carries
worth it? Alex Hannaford reports.
BILL BAILEY tells us he’s
much more dynamic than people
think in This Much I Know;
remembered in a very candid
Brush with Greatness.
In FOOD Nigel Slater flours up
and gets baking; and Jay Rayner
cries over spilt gravy at Simpson’s
on the Strand. We also look at the
best art gallery restaurants.
FASHION showcases statement
knitwear. In HOMES we visit
a remodelled farm in Hay-onWye; and James Wong hangs
plants on the wall in GARDENS .
advises a man who wants to
invite his girlfriend’s best friend
into their bed. He may soon be
learning the art of apologising…
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
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Eva Wiseman
Email Eva at or
for all her articles in one place
reta Gerwig’s directorial
debut Lady Bird has become
the best reviewed film of
all time. Until now, Toy
Story 2 was number one on
Rotten Tomatoes, which
aggregates critics’ reviews,
but since its release in the
US, Lady Bird – a film about
a teenage girl who wants
more – has leapt ahead.
Which pleases me. Not that
I wish ill on an animated
sheriff or his thick space
mate, but this film is a sort of heaven.
As well as a perfect portrait of an imperfect
girl, it’s an exquisite example of one of the
least appreciated genres of film – the motherdaughter drama. The ma-dra, if you will. The
mo-dau mystery, perhaps. Personal highlights
include: Mermaids – Cher bringing up Winona
Ryder and Christina Ricci on a diet of canapés
and girl group songs, with death and religion
humming away in the background; Carrie –
whose mother punishes her for having breasts
and also being a witch, she has to die; Mommie
Dearest – the very fabulous biopic about Joan
Crawford’s abusive relationship with her
adopted daughter; and Grey Gardens – two
women raging against fading beauty in a house
that crumbles before our eyes. Lady Bird is
right up there with them, with Saoirse Ronan
in the title role (yes Lady Bird is her character’s
given name, she says, in the sense that “It’s
given to me, by me”) and Laurie Metcalf as
Marion, the mother who loves her in a way
that makes it feel like war.
There’s a scene in a charity shop, Thrift Town,
where in the same breath of an argument about
the mother’s ability to be lovely to a virtual
stranger, but monstrous to her daughter, the
two come together over finding a perfect dress,
50s, sleeveless, peach. This, says Gerwig, was an
illustration of “How mothers and daughters are
with each other. They fight and they love really
hard.” Though there’s nuance and tenderness,
tears and slapstick, each moment of softness
is pierced with a stalactite. At times Marion’s
criticisms are so relentless, so pass-agg they
make you wince and hold yourself. Lady Bird
asks if her mother actually “likes her”. Marion’s
reply is: “Of course, I love you.” “But do you like
me?” she repeats, and her mother, what a cow,
refuses to answer. She’s drawn by Gerwig as
a woman who again and again is shocked to hear
how bitter she sounds, but is trapped behind too
many windows to do anything about it.
I came out of the screening sort of dazed –
the first thought was how hard it is to be
a decent mother, after being a woman for so
long, and the second was: “I should call my
mum.” At what point does a woman stop being
a daughter and become just a mother? It was
a shock to leave that velvet dark and emerge
into the afternoon all full of questions about life,
full of feelings that I was on a breaking bridge
between this and that. Newly 37, I feel like I’ve
spent my adulthood studiously learning how
to be a really excellent 17-year-old. And at the
same time I’m mumming furiously, one eye
always on incoming traffic, one finger always
pointing out planes.
I continue to be fascinated by the expectation
that once you become a mother you have
completed the level before, as if childbirth is
the final boss to be conquered before you move
on to the next game. Whether it’s a career to be
brushed aside in favour of a job that’s organic
and linen-based and will fit around school pickups, or friendships exchanged for new, local
co-dependencies like unwanted gifts at M&S,
or your daughterhood – your girlhood, your
identity – lost, there is little acknowledgement
that a woman continues to be and want
a multitude of things when also a parent.
And with that, inevitably, are the horrors of
personality, pitted with experience, that mean
even if you decide, as a project, to be a good
mother, there is the obstacle of yourself, there,
saying mean things about ambition and shoes.
Though this is a film about a teenage girl
growing up, the real coming-of-age story is that
of her mother, forced to be better. It speaks
in a voice we’ve learned to shush, about the
trickiness of our formative relationships, ones
soundtracked by the slamming of doors. But
these are the type of characters, questions and
relationships many women crave more of, and
the kind of film that deserves to break records.
I loved it; it helped. Newly 37,
I’ve spent
how to be
a really
At the same
time I’m
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This much
I know
Bill Bailey
There’s something about hearing the audience when you’re offstage and
about to go on that I really live for. I’ve never done a bungie jump, but
I imagine it’s similar, you edge out on to a ledge and someone says: “Ladies
and gentlemen”, and there’s no going back. I love that.
My earliest memory is feeling soil between my fingers when I was around
three years old. I grew up in a little town between Bath and Bristol with my
parents and grandparents in the same house. It was rural and idyllic. I’m
grateful for that experience, but I’m realistic about how quickly I’d be bored.
People perceive me as this kind of hippy intellectual, reflecting and
communing with nature or in a pyramid somewhere chanting. Really, no.
I love speed, fast things, quad and road bikes, and bombing down a mountain.
You’d think a walk in the countryside with me would be relaxing, but it’s
not. It’s obsessional – I want to know about everything, the names of trees,
beetles, bugs and grasses so I can tell my son, Dax.
The lessening of my wits bothers me. Dementia, forgetfulness… I think
being in that place where you’re in and out of lucidity would be torture,
where one minute you’re aware you’re forgetful, the next you’re in the dark.
I knew almost immediately university wasn’t for me. I went to a lecture on
meter and thought, gah, flipping iambic pentameter – we did this already. It
was real arrogance of youth. I wanted to work and to travel and so I didn’t
carry on with it. I would have loved to pursue an academic career.
We’re an island race and no wonder we feel antipathy towards Europe.
It’s innate, part of our national psyche. It’s not surprising where we are.
We might not accept it, but we have to understand it and move on.
I like to vent and relax. If you’re angry, it’s a good thing. A temper can make
you very articulate; you can suddenly find out what you really think.
My mum baked like no one I’ve ever known. It’s a shame she’s not around
to see Bake Off, she’d have loved that. She’d bake while she was talking to
you without breaking eye contact and then a sponge cake would just appear.
Fatherhood made everything more straightforward. I was relieved that
no longer did I have to agonise over what meaning I had in my life. You’re
responsible for this human and you have to provide. It’s very simple.
My wife, Kristin, is my best critic. She can be quite sharp, but I respect that.
Dax is 13 and I run my work past him, too. I don’t perform for the two of
them, but I’ll slide in the odd line at dinner and see how it goes.
The world is in a cycle of disruption, but we’ll come out of it. I was recently
standing near Ivinghoe Beacon, looking out over quintessential England,
and I thought, we’ve endured for centuries and all this will endure.
Bill Bailey’s Christmas Larks! is at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London on 23 and 27-30 December.
Larks in Transit is touring from 29 January ( )
Interview EMMA COOK Photograph PAL HANSEN
Comedian, 53
perceive me
as this kind
of hippy
But no. I love
speed, fast
things, quad
and road
bikes, and
a mountain
To read all the
interviews in
this series, go to
What lies beneath
What lies beneath
Directing a new Black Mirror film gives Jodie Foster the chance to reflect
on her own upbringing.
By Tim Adams
ast week Charlie Brooker
was recalling for me the
moment he learned Jodie
Foster would direct an episode of Black Mirror , his
inspired series of one-off dramas about the ways our gadgets are colonising the idea of
“human”. Brooker had written a script for the new series
in which a neurotic single
mother uses technology to
spy on her young daughter
and keep her safe from the
world. The Netflix people suggested they tried the
script out on the two-time Oscar-winning actor.
Brooker has had considerable global success
with Black Mirror but still, the thought of working
with Foster, “an actual icon”, made him come over,
he says, “all British and starstruck”. He turned to
his co-showrunner for the series, Annabel Jones.
“We were like: ‘You’re kidding, right? You are
going to try Jodie bloody Foster? Yeah right, of
course you are.’”
The script was given to Jodie bloody Foster,
though, and she came back immediately and said
she wanted to do it. Brooker had a Skype chat
with her in which it became clear that as a mother
and a daughter, and as someone steeped in issues
around privacy, she had a strong feel for all the
script’s themes. “And then also,” Brooker suggests,
“on a practical level the film involved dealing with
child actors, which I guess Jodie Foster probably
knows more about than anyone alive.”
Through the course of the film-making – the
shoot was in Toronto, the editing in London –
Brooker says Foster could not have been more
engaged or engaging. And for his own part, he
says, as long as he repressed the thoughts that
went: “Christ, she was in Taxi Driver, she was in
The Accused, she was in The Silence of the Lambs…”
he was fine. Otherwise, obviously: “You got a bit
of vertigo.”
I met Foster to talk about he
her film earlier this
year when she was over in Lon
London working with
Brooker on the edit of “Arkang
“Arkangel” [her episode of
Black Mirror],
r and experienced
experience just a bit of that
vertigo. It would be fair to say that the actor,
now 55, is not the most ent
enthusiastic of interviewees. Having been first
fi put in front of
cameras aged three, and
a subsequently
having suffered w
traumas with stalkers, Foster
has long be
been wary of talking
about he
herself beyond her
work. Sh
She is determinedly
but radiates
the same
intense and
you know from her
mo famous roles,
w as a profound
as well
of being
quo out of context.
‘I have always
wanted every
movie I have made
to be in some
way the story of
my life’: (right)
visiting London in
1965 and, below,
winning an Oscar
for The Accused
in 1989
A mention of Trump at one point in our conversation brings a curt: “You’ll understand I never
discuss politics, I leave that to the experts.” Stray
a little too far into personal territory and you
immediately feel like a tabloid hack with a back
pocket stuffed full of grubby tenners. One of the
reasons Foster has taken a break from acting for
a while – a decision she announced in an uncharacteristically frank speech at the 2013 Golden
Globes in which she came out both as single and
as a director (she assumed everyone already knew
she was gay) – was, she says, to avoid any of this.
She still loves the idea of acting, but she finds all
that goes with it, the junkets and the photo shoots
and the interviews, “absolutely soul crushing”.
With that idea hanging in the air we sit in
a hotel room sipping Earl Grey tea and talk first
about how the Black Mirror offer came about. Foster was at lunch with her agent, and “moaning as
ever about the feature film industry,” she says. She
was and is nostalgic for the three-act beginning
and middle and end of 90-minute drama. “Much
as I love this renaissance of episodic series,” she
says, “characters are not in service of a single story,
and I miss that.”
As she grumbled along these lines, her agent
stopped her – “I think I have something you
should see” – and told her about Black Mirror,
Brooker’s series of standalone “indie” films. Foster went away and binged on the first two series.
(“Friends had told me about it a million times, but
I hadn’t tuned in,” she says.) And then she read the
script. “I was like: ‘How did you know?’”
Part of that affinity was the fact that having
“made movies for some 50 years” Foster was
deeply aware of how few stories out there “are
told by women, through women’s eyes, and with
a female director”. (She has made no formal
comment about the Weinstein revelations, except
to observe tangentially that in her early career
“for 15 or 20 years, every single script I read,
the motivation for the female character was that
they had been raped or abused as a child… Is that
the only thing [men] think about us that feels deep
or something?”)
The other thing she liked about Brooker’s script
was its believably human drama. “What was
interesting,” she says, “is that though all of the
shows are about technology, none of the shows
are really about technology at all. All of them
are about relationships and the emotional damage
we all carry, which is highlighted by the Klieg light
of technology.”
In her notes to Brooker, Foster had quite a lot
of thoughts about the dynamic between mother
and daughter. He went away and rewrote parts.
She wanted the feel of the film to be more blue
collar and lived in, to depict a slightly bruised
small-town American world.
I guess Foster made those changes because
she wanted to bring the story closer to home.
She agrees to a point. “This show goes back
to mothers and daughters,” she says, “and it
brings you back to your own mother. I have been
Jodie Foster
thinking about her in the edit suite this week.”
Foster and her mother, Brandy, had a famously
intense relationship. Brandy was divorced from
Foster’s father, Lucius, a former lieutenant colonel in the US air force, before Jodie, the youngest of four, was born. In order to help support the
family Brandy put her infant daughter forward
for casting not long after she could walk. Foster
was the breadwinner before she went to school
and the pair of them were inseparable in her early
movie career. Some years ago now, Foster began to
lose her mother to dementia. Again at her Golden
Globes speech, she addressed her directly: “Mom,
I know you’re inside those blue eyes somewhere
and that there are so many things that you won’t
understand tonight,” she said. “But this is the only
important one to take in: I love you, I love you,
I love you. And I hope that if I say this three times,
it will magically and perfectly enter into your soul.
You’re a great mom. Please take that with you
when you’re finally OK to go.”
With those words in mind it is hard, when you
watch Foster’s unsettling Black Mirror episode,
not to think a lot of that relationship was running through her head when she made it. Foster
insists it is not directly autobiographical – it was
Brooker’s script, after all – but does allow that,
“as a director I have always wanted every movie
I have made to be in some way the story of my life.
Otherwise how am I supposed to commit to it?”
She suggests Brooker’s parable has a universal
theme, about the fears any parent has about raising children, and the understanding that at some
point you have to let them go. “In a weird way our
children have become our favourite form of entertainment,” she says, talking more widely of the
trend for “helicopter parenting ”. “We live vicariously through them and rediscover the world
through them. There is something wonderful
and healthy about that – and something also
suffocating and sad.”
Does she recognise that dichotomy from her
childhood? “My mother used to say she was
always scared and she didn’t know why,” she says.
“She said she would wake up in the middle of the
night thinking: ‘How am I going to take care of my
children?’ It wasn’t a given. It was very important
to her to give that opportunity to me, and yet there
was always that contrary sense of, ‘You’ll never
take care of yourself without me!’”
None of us can choose our childhoods. I wonder how Foster feels about hers now. “I am very
grateful for it,” she says. “Whether you are raised in
monastery in China or a farm in Nebraska everyone
has their singular childhood. I travelled, and I got
to be taken seriously, I got to learn a craft I loved.”
Her mother must have been immensely proud.
“She was, but she was a part of it. We were a team
that made movies together. We went to little
towns together and stayed at the Ramada Inn
and made dinners on hotplates. It was like
a travelling roadshow.”
In some ways Foster has always seemed like
a slightly reluctant movie star. She argues
Jodie Foster
I make
there are
I have
to say in
order to
figure out
who I am
that’s not really the case: films were all she ever
wanted to do; it was the fame part that hit her in
her teens after Freaky Friday, Bugsy Malone and
particularly Taxi Driver, that made her uncomfortable. She read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers
recently, she says, and the notion of successful
people being those individuals who are lucky
and committed enough to get in 10,000 hours of
practice in a chosen field first, resonated with her.
“When you are 18 and you have already made 30
movies you know quite a lot about storytelling…”
One way of reading her subsequent career has
been as an effort to change that insistent “we” she
talks about of her mother, to a definitive “I”. In
her 20s, she rejected acting for a while to study
English literature at Yale, and graduated with
honours (after befriending the subject of her
dissertation, Toni Morrison). When she went
back to films she began a run of extraordinary,
drawn-out success with The Accused, and then
The Silence of the Lambs. In 1991, the year she won
her second Oscar for the latter, she started her
own production company and directed her first
film, Little Man Tate. There was a sense in which
she could put her talent to anything.
She doesn’t feel the need to do that any more.
“I think what happens when you get a bit older is
that you are very clear about what you want to do
and what you don’t want to do,” she says. “When
I was young, I thought: ‘Yeah, I can do cartoons!
I can do musicals!’” The pressure of being a prodigy, of living up to her mother’s expectations, was
hard to shake.
In recent years she decided the best way to
fulfil that might be behind the camera rather
than in front of it. Was she a frustrated director
all the time?
say it was more just how it turned
She says
“Sad I never worked out how to be
out. “Sadly
a a director and have a career as
prolific as
an actor, and also raise children and run
a company.
It was the directing that
alway went on the back burner. But
i the time.”
now is
It is easier for her to commit to
the total immersion that directing
she suggests, now that her
two sons, aged 19 and 16, are more
She raised her boys with
her former partner, Cydney Bernard
(the met on the set of Sommersby
in 1993
and separated in 2008). In
Apr 2014, Foster married actor and
Alexandra Hedison.
She has no interest in revealing how
her marriage
has affected her working life,
but you h
have the sense, talking to her, that
it has coincided
with a greater self-confitha she is a bit less tough on herself
dence, that
than she once
was. When she stepped back
actin she says she felt a new freedom.
from acting,
“I didn’t
didn’ want to be the most successful
o the highest paid, I just wanted
director, or
to be somewhat
of an auteur,” she says. “If
that meant I made two movies my entire life and
I loved them, then I was fine with that.”
Though she has recently accepted her first acting role for five years (as the lead in the thriller
Hotel Artemis), she is doing so very much on her
own terms, out of curiosity rather than necessity.
“I think the thing that has made my work different than a lot of actors is that I don’t have an actor’s
personality and I never did,” she says. “I wasn’t
born with that. Would I have made a better lawyer?
Possibly. My personality is made for other things.”
We talk a little more about children fulfilling
the ambitions of their parents, the way tennis and
music prodigies feel about their childhoods.
She insists that movies are never “just tennis”.
“Through movies I learned about astronomy, the
First World War. It is continually walking into
other worlds and getting to the bones of them.
What other life can offer that?”
What once was chosen for her, now is very
much her choice. “Some directors love cranes and
CGI and spectacle, but that is not why I make movies,” she says. “I feel like I make movies because
there are things I have to say in order to figure out
who I am or my place in the world, or for me to
evolve as a person. But until you get to the end of
your movie you don’t always realise why you were
obsessed with that particular thing.”
And then she heads back to the editing suite to
once again make doubly sure. ‘We were a team
that made movies’:
(above) with her
mother Brandy
in 2007. Left: with
Alexandra Hedison
– the couple
married in 2014
Black Mirror season 4 launches on Netflix 29 December
‘I came of age in
the 60s and 70s when
all the rules about
behaviour and workplaces
were different. That was
the culture then.
I’ve since learned it’s
not an excuse’’
‘I honestly do not
remember the encounter.
But if I did behave
as he describes, I owe
him the sincerest
for my deeply
drunken behaviour’
The sexual harassment scandal has added extra layers of absurdity to the art of
n 2 0 Nove m b e r t h e
American journalist and
writer Dana Schwartz
launched a new website.
It was called the Celebrity Perv Apology Generator, and it did exactly
what it said. At the click of a “try again” button it generated new apologies for lazy celebs,
accused of appalling sexual misdemeanours,
who couldn’t be fagged to get their publicists
to write one for them. “As a person who was
born in an era before women were ‘people’,
I am deeply ashamed (but not ‘sorry’ because
that means I’m guilty of something),” read one.
Or: “As the father of daughters the allegations against me are troubling. I imagined
that any woman would have been thrilled to
see a tiny penis peeking out from below my
pasty, middle-aged paunch like the head of a
geriatric albino turtle moments from death.”
Click try again once more, and: “I feel tremendously guilty now that the things I did have
been made public… I will get the help I so
badly need because this isn’t actually my fault.”
It has been just two months since the New
York Times published its first report alleging
that film producer Harvey Weinstein was
a serial harasser of women, with a history of
assault, intimidation, exposure and unwanted
touching; just two months since the appearance of the #MeToo hashtag and the accompanying dam burst of emboldened women
coming forward to tell their dreadful stories;
just two months in which the world’s crisis
management professionals have been forced
‘At the time,
I said to myself that
what I did was OK
because I never showed
a woman my dick
without asking first,
which is also true’
‘I acted
towards Ms Burton
and I sincerely
the apology. Jay Rayner reveals why so many public figures get it so wrong
into overdrive, advising the likes of comedian Louis CK, NBC news broadcaster Mark
Halperin and, perhaps most notoriously, the
actor Kevin Spacey on the best way to do that
thing your mum taught you to do: say sorry.
The problem is they had all done a lousy
job. Dana Schwartz’s apology generator is
hilarious, but it can’t match the jaw-dropping,
buttock-clenching awfulness of the real ones.
Witness actor Ben Affleck, accused of groping an actor he had worked with, announcing
that sexual harassment was “terrible” and
was “happening on a scale that I don’t think
anybody except maybe women understood”.
That’s anybody apart from half the world’s
population, Ben. Or the veteran American
broadcaster Charlie Rose, who concluded his
apology for decades of harassment with the
line: “All of us, including me, are coming to
a newer and deeper recognition of the pain
caused by conduct in the past, and have come
to a profound new respect for women and their
lives.” Well it may all be shiny and new to you
Charlie, but some of us have been across it for
quite a while. Josh Rivers, the short-lived editor of Gay Times, sacked for a history of abusive tweets, hoped that we could “all” use his
offences as an opportunity for growth, and,
confronted with the news that he had assaulted
a then 14-year-old Anthony Rapp, Kevin
Spacey shouted: “I’m gay!” Like it was news.
Or, more importantly, in any way relevant.
There is only one conclusion: for a certain
type of power-crazed, predatory, sexually
dysfunctional man, “sorry” isn’t just the
hardest word, it’s a nonstarter. The simple
The art of apologising
business of modern apology is in abject crisis.
According to showbiz agent Jonathan Shalit,
who represents a sizeable roster of British
celebrities, the problem is intent. “Sorry is one
of the most powerful words,” he says. “It moves
the story on. The challenge you’ve got with
the apologies from people like Weinstein and
Spacey is that it appears they’re not sorry for
the behaviour. They’re sorry they got caught. If
you’re going to say sorry you’ve got to appear
to mean it and be sincere.” As he says: “Most
people mess up. What matters is how you deal
with it afterwards. Most things you can come
back from.” Though not, he adds, if you cross
a moral line. “Kevin Spacey crossed that line.”
The curious thing about #PublicApologyfest2017, a brilliant hashtag literally no
one has used, is that the political realm had
already offered up more than enough examples of how to not do it. That’s a subject I know
a little about. In 2004 I published a novel, The
Apologist, about a man who becomes so good
at apologising to the people he has offended in
his own life that he’s appointed Chief Apologist to the United Nations, tasked with apologising for sins like colonialism and slavery.
It came complete with its own fictional academic, Prof Thomas Schenke, and his doctrine
of Penitential Engagement (Point 1:
Never apologise for anything for
which you aren’t sorry.)
Since its publication,
a genuine academic literature around public
apology has sprung up. There are studies with
titles like The Age of Apology: Facing up to the
Past and Official or Political Apologies and
Improvement of Intergroup Relations: a NeoDurkheimian Approach to Official Apologies as
Rituals. Academics all over the world are interrogating the word “sorry” and how best to use it.
Not that it’s really improved things. It got off
to a good start. The general consensus is that the
modern age of public apology began with German Chancellor Willy Brandt who, in December 1970, fell to his knees before the memorial to
the Warsaw Ghetto, as atonement for the Holocaust. It was regarded as a genuine and profound gesture of penitence. It took the arrival
of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair on the world
stage to screw everything up. They’d both concluded that, where the old-fashioned politician
depended for their survival on huge oratory
skills that would go over at the back of the room,
modern politics was in close-up. You needed to
be seen as an authentic emoting human being.
What more authentic human gesture was
there than to apologise, especially if it was for
something you hadn’t done? In 1997, a month
after winning his first general election, Blair
apologised for Britain’s role in the Irish potato
famine. In 1998 the Monica Lewinsky
affair gave Clinton ample practice;
enough indeed to prove that
whatever your political
experience you could still
come across as a fibbing
scumbag. That same
‘My party made
mistakes in the
past with respect to
relations with the
ANC and sanctions
on South Africa’
year, Clinton stood on an airfield in Rwanda
and apologised to the TV cameras for the failure of the US to act over the country’s genocide four years earlier. It played beautifully to
the world, though perhaps less so in Rwanda
itself, where the percentage of the population
that owned television sets was in single digits.
David Cameron made both of them look
like lightweights. Cameron adored apologising, lived for it. He apologised for the way the
Tories had called Nelson Mandela a terrorist, for Section 28 of a 1988 Tory education bill
which banned the promotion of homosexuality
to children, for British collusion in the murder
of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane, for failures to
protect the victims of the Hillsborough disaster and even for an ageist remark to veteran MP
Dennis Skinner. The latter was notable because,
unlike the others, it was something he’d done.
Philip Collins was a speech writer for Tony
Blair, and is the author of The Art of Speeches
and Presentations: The Secrets of Making People
Remember What You Say. He was involved in
many conversations over apologies in Downing Street. “We had a long discussion about
whether or not to apologise for slavery because
there was some pressure to do so, but the gap
between responsibility and words was so big we
felt it would have been hollow,” he says. What,
then, about the Iraq war? “We talked about that
in detail, but in the end the reason Blair didn’t
apologise for it is because, amazingly, he isn’t
sorry. He says he regrets the consequences, but
he still thinks what he did was right.”
‘I made the
decision in good
faith. I acknowledge
the mistakes and
accept responsibility
for them’
‘Everyone who’’s
been hurt should
know my sorrow
w is
genuine – my family,
my friends, my staff,
Monica Lewinsky’
The art of apologising
On this point, Collins agrees with Shalit.
“An apology needs to be sincere to function,
it’s the act as well as the words that matter.”
The problem with the post-Weinstein apologies, he says, is that: “People now apologise for
the consequences, not the act itself.”
Eli Attie is uniquely placed to comment. He
was a speech writer both for Bill Clinton and
Al Gore before moving to Hollywood to write
for, and later produce, The West Wing. In politics, he says, the political consultants advised
against apologising – “Because the media
would just want more.” The entertainment
business, he says, is a different matter entirely.
“I’ve been amazed at how careers have been
ending here in Hollywood in just minutes,” he
tells me. “I think we’re in a transition point in
our culture where a certain kind of behaviour
that was once acceptable no longer is. The
instant condemnation of people is a way of
saying: ‘We get it!’”
What, then, does he think is the secret to
a good apology? “It involves absolute grace, no
bitterness and no withholding of anything.”
I wonder what he thinks of the current crop.
“I’ve read some of them. In one sense none of
them fly. People who own the question quickly
own the problem, but that doesn’t mean
anyone will ever want to employ them
again. Some of these people might
be able to come back in five or
10 years. But those whose
apologies are much more
grudging, for them it’s
the end of the road.” And Weinstein and
Spacey? “For them there is no redemption.”
I ask whether, given his political experience,
he has been consulted by any of those called
upon to apologise. He declines to comment.
I turn instead to my fellow restaurant critic
Giles Coren. He knows a bit about apologising.
He’s been called upon to do it countless times.
When I first text him to suggest we discuss the
issue he replies: “The biggest crime is never
to write anything that needs no apology.”
Nobody who has read Coren will be surprised
by this. Likewise, when he says: “I mostly don’t
say sorry. But it’s true I sometimes do.”
Indeed, when we talk, it turns out he has
just apologised. He recently wrote a piece
for Esquire magazine, fat shaming his own
four year-old-son. He hadn’t apologised for
that. Heaven forfend. For Coren, his entire
family is grist to the mill. If therapy was good
enough for him it will be good enough for his
kids, given time. However, in one line, he had
referred to his son as looking “retarded”, an
obviously offensive word which brought him
absolutely everything he deserved.
“I was writing for Esquire and turning up the
laddishness,” Coren says now. But he says he
wasn’t even aware he’d used the word until it
was brought to his attention on social
media. “I write thousands of
words a week and sometimes… Anyway, I went
back and looked. I was
just beyond gutted I’d
‘There’s more
I want to say, but the
first and most
important thing – and
if it’s the only thing you
care to hear, that’s fine
– is: I’m sorry’
written that word. There was no excuse.” He
got the magazine to change it online and then
tweeted the disability charity Mencap to apologise. “They didn’t tweet me. I tweeted them.”
So does “sorry” work? “It does for me, but only
if I mean it. And that’s why I mostly don’t say
sorry because I usually know exactly what I’m
saying and what the effect will be.” God, but it
must be exhausting being Giles Coren.
The problem for all those who have sinned
in public life is the nature of modern media.
Clinton and Blair worked out the importance
of the TV camera close-up. But now it’s more
intimate still: we read apologies from the
screen in the palm of our hand. If it’s on video
we sit eyeball to eyeball, which leaves no wriggle room for insincerity at all. Try watching the
2016 video of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard
(heading towards an acrimonious divorce)
apologising for breaching Australian rules by
illegally bringing in their dogs, as if a revolver
was pointed at their heads just out of frame.
Actually, don’t. We’ve all suffered enough.
Will #PublicApologyfest2017 eventually
blow over? Will high-profile people eventually stop saying sorry? Only if they run out of
crimes and misdemeanours. Because if there’s
one thing recent events have taught us, it’s
that no one is too big and powerful not to be
called out for their behaviour. The incidents all
these men are admitting may have required an
aplogy. And the apologies they’ve made may
have been laughable. But that, at least, has to
be a good thing. ‘I didn’t grope
anybody. I might have
kissed somebody on the
cheek to say goodbye
and then licked them...
I’m not trying to sexually
harass people’
‘I fully recognise
that I have tested
certain boundaries,
which I am working
hard to correct’
The ibogaine dilemma
t the age of 12, Jay was
smoking cigarettes
and weed; by 16, he
was snorting coke;
two years later he was
taking heroin and
crack – but he says by
the time he left university he was a “functional drug addict”, able to
get up in the morning, put a suit on, travel from
his parents’ home in north London to his job as
a banker in the City.
Then his marriage broke down; his health
deteriorated; he got hooked on the powerful
painkiller Tramadol following an unrelated
operation on his stomach; and when doctors
stopped that dose, he replaced it with heroin.
Jay checked into a £10,000-a-week rehab
centre in Thailand in 2016 which kept him
clean for a while, but then he started using
again. A friend had told him about ibogaine,
a drug from an obscure African plant that
he said would enable him to come off heroin
without the lengthy, painful withdrawal – and
stay off. It would help him understand why he
was an addict, his friend insisted, that he’d
“Talk to God.”
Curious, Jay began to research ibogaine
on the internet, but as he dived down a rabbit hole, he found horror stories: he read
that it slowed the heart to dangerously low
levels; that it was unregulated, dished out by
unscrupulous providers, most of them former
addicts; there were tales of people who had
heart attacks. Then there were the deaths.
Last summer, ibogaine’s use was restricted
in the UK when the Psychoactive Substances
Act came into effect – sweeping legislation
designed to address the public panic surrounding synthetic marijuana, or so-called
“legal highs”. But for Jay, rehab hadn’t worked
and he refused to try methadone (“a horrendous drug. I’ve seen what it does to people
and I didn’t want to replace one addiction for
another”) so he booked a flight to Durban,
South Africa, to seek treatment at an ibogaine
clinic that he thought seemed genuine.
A day before he flew, he stopped taking
drugs as per instructions from the clinic and
at the airport began to suffer the symptoms of
withdrawal. “It’s like the worst flu you’ve ever
had,” he said. “Your bones inside are hurting. You shiver and you’re cold, then you’re
ibogaine. “The next thing I knew,” he told the
New York Times in 1994, “I was straight.” But
it remained banned in the US even as, by the
late 1990s, it was being touted on the nascent
internet as a miracle drug.
This September, an ibogaine conference in
Vienna saw 20 experts – some with medical
backgrounds, others providers or activists –
gather to increase awareness of the drug and
to encourage more research in Europe. But
is it the magic bullet that some claim? Or is
ibogaine restricted in the UK and banned
outright in America for a reason – a dangerous
drug, administered by charlatans with little or
no medical knowledge?
Bitter medicine: Dr Anwar Jeewa with Howard
Lotsof at an ibogaine conference in Washington
hot, you’re sweating, you can’t eat, you’re
throwing up – out of both ends.”
Ibogaine, Jay believed, was his only hope.
T H E T A B E R N A N T H E I B O G A plant grows
in the rainforests of Gabon. It’s a leafy green
shrub with fruits that look not unlike fat,
orange jalapeño peppers, but it’s the bark of
the root from which you extract ibogaine. For
centuries it has been used to induce visions
in participants in the bwiti ceremony, a traditional, days-long tribal coming-of-age ritual
where hallucinogenic visions are understood
as a death and rebirth. They believe that iboga
enables them to commune with their ancestors (bwiti is roughly translated as ancestor).
According to the Global Ibogaine Therapy
Alliance, which publishes research and information on ibogaine, this ancestor worship by
Gabonese tribes holds that by learning the
language of the spirits of things it is possible to
communicate with God.
In the mid-1800s researchers brought
a specimen back to France and, 60 years on,
ibogaine was being marketed there under the
name Lambarène for use as a stimulant. In
1985 a man called Howard Lotsof was awarded
the first US patent for its use in treating opioid addiction – two decades earlier Lotsof had
himself been an addict when he’d first tried
I M E T J A Y one afternoon at a café near his
home in north London. He’d initially found
a clinic in Mexico online and Skyped with
the owner, but was quickly discouraged. He
showed me email correspondence he’d had
with the facility. The cost of the seven-day
addiction programme was “normally $8,000
[£5,900], however I would be able to credit
$1k of that towards your airfare,” one email
read. “I would need a $500 refundable deposit
on a credit card. The remaining $6,500 can be
paid via wire transfer, or a cashier’s check.”
The man added that his nurse could do the
health screening over Skype or email. “I just didn’t feel comfortable,” Jay said.
“There are lots of retreats in Costa Rica and
places, but it feels like they’re trying to make
a quick buck, whether it’s from a hippy that’s
trying to have a life experience, or an addict.”
Eventually, Jay found someone he
thought he could trust – a man by the name
of Dr Anwar Jeewa who ran a clinic in South
Africa. Jeewa, “a chap in his mid-50s, with
a white beard”, was waiting for Jay at Durban
airport when he arrived, and he immediately
gave him a dose of morphine for his withdrawals. “He was very relaxed. He’d clearly done
this a few times,” Jay said.
On the Monday morning Jeewa gave Jay
a test dose of ibogaine – a brown plastic capsule to swallow, with a glass of water. An hour
later Jay felt like his withdrawals had disappeared. The next 12 to 18 hours were a blur,
but he recalled a nurse administering more
pills – eight in total. “I lay there not being able
to move, almost paralysed. And every time
I closed my eyes I started thinking and
Don’t just stroll
The ibogaine dilemma
dreaming.” He remembers one vivid dream
in particular: “I could see a lady, almost like
Mother Mary, shaking a finger at me. She was
offering to take me to wherever she was going,
and I was saying, ‘No, no, no.’”
Jay now thinks it was a sign: “I have
a co-dependent relationship with my mum.
We love each other to bits, but I need her
validation and I’m not getting it, so I take it out
on other people.” That, he told me, was one of
the reasons he kept turning back to drugs.
In the 24 hours following treatment, those
who have taken ibogaine talk about experiencing what they term a “grey day”. “You feel
sluggish and shitty and your legs aren’t really
working,” Jay said. But a day after that, “you
experience pure elation. You discover you’re
no longer addicted to anything. Even a cup of
tea with sugar tastes horrible.”
Jay flew back home and in the 10 months
since he hasn’t had a single relapse. “I went to a
stag do recently and all my friends were taking
cocaine and I didn’t. Back in the day I wouldn’t
have been able to say no. I’ve developed a new
sense of confidence. I’ve got a new job, got a
new girlfriend. I feel like I’m an actual functioning member of society.”
Jay has become an ibogaine evangelist,
but there’s a caveat. Just ahead of his flight
home he began having palpitations, and once
he was back in England was rushed into hospital and diagnosed with a congenital heart
problem – something he said could have been
exacerbated by taking ibogaine.
A review of medical reports of heart issues
associated with ibogaine published in 2015
notes that “alarming reports of life-threatening complications and sudden death cases”
associated with ibogaine had been accumulating. The review found that in addition to lowering the heart rate, it interacts with the heart’s
electrical signals – which probably explains
“ibogaine’s potentially life-threatening
cardiotoxicity [damage to the heart muscle].”
It’s estimated that one in 400 people die
from taking ibogaine, because they have
pre-existing heart conditions, from seizures
due to acute withdrawal from alcohol or other
drugs not recommended for treatment with
ibogaine, or else from taking opioids while
under the influence of ibogaine.
Jay told me he wasn’t given an ECG to
check for any heart problems before his treat-
Root of the problem: a Gabonese man with an
iboga shrub from which ibogaine is harvested
ment and that Jeewa had “kind of skipped
something he shouldn’t have”. An ECG
could have revealed his heart defect, and if it
had, there’s a chance he wouldn’t have gone
through with it.
From his clinic in South Africa, Jeewa told
me that what happened with Jay “only happens in 1% of our cases. That’s why I don’t let
it stress me out. I always believe if you have
a heart or liver problem, you’ll know about it
before you get to me.”
Jeewa, who insisted his protocol is safe, said
he usually asks patients to arrive at his clinic
a day early and that he now has an in-house
doctor in the clinic and is installing ECG monitors in each room. He said he’s concerned about
non-medically trained ibogaine providers. “Exaddicts take ibogaine and afterwards they need
to save the world and help people,” he told me.
“That’s where the problems are coming. These
guys don’t have any medical background.”
Jeewa, who trained as a dentist and is
himself a former addict, said: “We have had
ibogaine deaths but this is because of charlatans and because people are treating themselves at home with ibogaine they’re buying
from the net.”
At the moment people with no medical
qualifications account for the lion’s share of
ibogaine providers. I spoke to another man
who, like Jay, had researched ibogaine treatment on the internet before settling for one in
Europe. Aden, who lives in Luton, paid €5,000
(£4,400) to send his brother to an ibogaine
detox centre on the continent, but he says his
sibling nearly died. His brother, who is in his
early 30s, flew there with their mother. When
he arrived at the clinic he was given a cup of
magnesium and told it would clear his stomach out. “They asked Mum to leave, and locked
him in his room,” Aden said. “He was left there
defecating and urinating on himself all night.”
The next morning, his brother was experiencing stomach pain and told the staff at the
centre that the ibogaine wasn’t working and
that he was still suffering withdrawal.
“By the next evening it was the same – he
wasn’t responding and was having really bad
hallucinations. In his mind he kept seeing our
uncle, who had taken his own life, and it was
freaking him out. So they started giving him
THC oil [the active ingredient in cannabis]. It
was a really unprofessional, bodged-up place.”
Aden said his brother was given more and
more ibogaine because they couldn’t work out
why he was still withdrawing. On the fourth
day, his mother told the clinic they had to
take Aden’s brother to a hospital. “When they
got there the doctors were livid with Mum,”
he said. “They knew the clinic because its
patients were admitted to that hospital all the
time. They gave my brother charcoal to clean
him out of all the junk they’d put in him and
started him straight back on methadone.”
Aden said his brother, who had trouble breathing, was diagnosed with chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD or
lung disease) and a stomach ulcer on the verge
of perforating. If his brother had undergone
a proper medical assessment beforehand and
been treated by medical professionals, he said,
this wouldn’t have happened. The ibogaine
clinic returned half the money before the
people running it stopped responding to
Aden’s emails altogether.
“Ibogaine, I believe, is only successful if
a lot of factors are met,” Aden told me. “But
I now realise why it’s so heavily licensed and
prohibited in some countries.”
Anwar Jeewa, the Darwin-based provider,
told me ibogaine works with short-acting opiates like heroin, morphine and opium, but that
it doesn’t work with synthetic opiates, like
The ibogaine dilemma
methadone or buprenorphine. He said the
quality of ibogaine varies, too, and he’s even
seen fake iboga bark being sold. “There’s no
quality control, no consistency,” he said.
Jeewa insisted that ibogaine would not have
made Aden’s brother’s COPD or ulcer worse,
but that as he was a drug user before he took
ibogaine, his body was compromised. “When
you use heroin it takes a toll on your body –
and some people end up with stomach ulcers
because of the damage caused by opiates.”
He said opiates are essentially painkillers so
you may not feel the symptoms of those stomach ulcers (or other conditions), but that once
you stop taking them – and then take ibogaine
to treat the addiction – those ulcers can flare up.
I N T H E U S ibogaine is a Schedule 1 substance
which, like heroin, is described as a drug “with
no currently accepted medical use and a high
potential for abuse”. It’s a similar situation in
a handful of other countries, but in most it’s
unregulated – neither illegal nor officially
sanctioned. In the UK the situation is a more
complicated. According to the Home Office,
if ibogaine is administered for its psychoactive effects, a supplier can be prosecuted (with
a maximum sentence of seven years) under the
2016 Psychoactive Substances Act. But the act
includes exemptions for approved scientific
research “and for healthcare professionals
acting in the course of their duty”.
The General Medical Council, which sets
standards for doctors in the UK, recommends
that if they prescribe unlicensed medicines,
they should be satisfied that there is sufficient evidence of their safety. Professor Colin
Drummond, chair of the Addictions Faculty
at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said
that while it would be technically possible to
prescribe an unlicensed medication, such as
ibogaine: “It is an experimental drug so is not
recommended as a treatment.”
Jeremy Weate, a British development consultant whose own experience led to him helping organise the latest ibogaine conference in
Vienna, believes the hysteria over the war on
drugs led to a blanket-ban approach in the US,
while in the UK the Psychoactive Substances
Act has failed addicts who could benefit.
Weate, who is not an addict but is interested
in the healing properties of plants, wanted to
experience ibogaine for himself, but through
‘I saw faces from the past’: Jeremy Weate, who
took part in an eight-day bwiti ritual in Gabon
the bwiti ritual in Gabon. Last year he paid
€3,000 to fly to Libreville to take part in an
eight-day ceremony. It consisted of ritual bathing, inhaling the smoke from burning herbs
for several hours and consuming iboga bark
(“It tasted worse than sawdust”) after which
he said he was in a dreamlike state for more
than a day and saw “photographic-quality
faces that seemed to be from the past, in conversation with a female higher spirit who
seemed to know everything about me.”
“There are risks with ibogaine,” he said,
“and you have to take it very seriously, but it’s
the most successful drug to treat opioid addictions. This is a chance for the government to
get a step ahead of the game.”
Not everyone is convinced. Edward
Conn, a counsellor now based in the north of
England, used to administer ibogaine at his
house in London before the Psychoactive
Substances Act left the drug in a sort of legal
limbo, and today he is far from the cheerleader
he once was. “Treatment-wise the scene is a
shambles,” he told me, adding that ibogaine
was vastly over-hyped, risky, and pursued by
extremely vulnerable individuals. “There is no
shortage of people wowed by reports of ibogaine cures; I’ve seen it for 20 years. How many
official clinics exist? None. Ask yourself why.”
Ibogaine, Conn said, was now being offered
for every malady under the sun “from low
mood to bereavement to anxiety to ADHD to
pure self-interest”. He takes particular aim at
those who believe it somehow teaches people
about their addictions, giving them a deep
dive into their psyche, saying: “Ibogaine is
a chemical, not the embodiment of an anthropomorphic spirit,” which, he said, is “the
position taken by pre-rational new agers and
their magical thinking ”.
But, Conn said, in the best of cases, ibogaine
can change the direction of an individual’s
drug-using behaviour and that it gives the
user a window of opportunity to get clean.
“For some, ibogaine does work. It’s most effective for individuals who have stopped their
drug-using lifestyle and are stable on low-dose
methadone, and least effective on individuals
still engaged in drug use.”
So what’s the answer for people like Jay,
who see ibogaine as the only solution? One
American pharmaceutical company thinks it
might know. Savant HWP has begun developing a drug that replicates the effect ibogaine has
on addiction, but without its hallucinogenic
properties or dangerous side effects: 18-MC
is due to undergo human trials early next year.
“When we did the first in-human testing
there was no evidence of the psychoactive
effects or arrhythmia,” Savant’s CEO Stephen Hurst told me. He said they chose Brazil
so they didn’t have to deal with the red tape
involved in testing a Schedule 1 drug. But what
about the addicts I’d spoken to who doubted
18-MC would work because, as they said:
“Ibogaine without visions is like wine without alcohol”? Hurst said that in animal trials
18-MC appears to reverse the underlying brain
disease that is at the heart of addiction.
“No treatment approved today does this,” he
told me. “All treatments today are substitution
therapies – methadone substituted for heroin,
for example.” But, he said, 18-MC displaces
dopamine in the reward-pleasure centres of the
brain. In other words, your brain will tell you
that you’ll get nothing pleasurable from a fix.
“It’s completely novel, and this is critically important. We’re still working at raising
money and all my retirement has gone into the
programme,” said Hurst. “We have the potential here to make a big difference. I just wish
patients didn’t have to keep waiting.” Some names have been changed
A brush with
To read all the articles in this
series, go to
It was the
summer of
1990 and I’d
been having
a dispiriting lunch
with a publisher
in Le Caprice,
the classic
restaurant round the corner from
the Ritz in London. We’d been
perched at the bar, so it wasn’t until
after he left that I looked round
and there, sitting discreetly in
the corner, was Princess Diana.
I watched, transfixed, as she stood
up and made her way towards the
stairs down to the ladies’ loo.
Like the rest of the world I’d been
entranced with her from her Shy
Di days, but had never seen her in
the flesh and, without pausing for
breath, I followed.
There was no plan, I just acted
instinctively, and as I shot into
an empty cubicle, my heart was
thumping. What on earth was
I doing? I was in such a state that
I laddered my tights.
Summoning up my courage
I emerged to see her washing her
hands and found myself blurting out:
“I’ve just had a depressing lunch and
now I’ve put my finger through my
tights!” No “Hello”, no “Ma’am.” But
she wasn’t fazed.
“What bad luck,” she said. “I’ve
got trousers on today – makes life
easier.” White trousers and tee,
navy jacket. Perfect. And then she
added: “I’m sorry, I don’t have any
nail varnish, that would have done
the trick.”
“No worries,” I said: “I’ll try
some soap.”
I was thinking: “I can’t believe
we’re having this girly chat!” But
we were.
As she put on her lipstick (Chanel),
she confided: “My problem is
I’ve eaten garlic, and I’ve got an
event later. I don’t want to breathe
fumes over everyone.” She rolled
her eyes and fanned her face.
“Don’t worry, you could paint-strip
a wall with your breath and nobody
would mind,” I said, somehow
emboldened by the casual intimacy
of the encounter. She giggled.
“Have you thought about parsley?”
I asked.
She tilted her head. “Parsley? Do
you just chew a sprig of it?”
“Give it a go,” I said, getting a bit
skittish. “Or you could try sticking
a sprig behind your ear. People
would be so busy wondering why
you had a sprig of parsley behind
your ear, they wouldn’t notice the
We both giggled again.
As we started to go up the stairs
together, I felt bold enough to add:
“These stairs are a bit steep aren’t
they? Treacherous! Better for lunch
than dinner. A few glasses of wine
in the evening and that would be
the end!”
Laughing uproariously, we parted
at the top of the stairs, and I never
saw her again. I didn’t know then
that the next time we’d have some
sort of connection I’d be standing
outside Kensington Palace the day
after she died, broadcasting live
to Richard and Judy in the This
Morning TV studio and weeping. My problem
is I’ve eaten
garlic and
I’ve got an
event later.
I don’t want
to breathe
fumes over
Nigel Slater
Email Nigel at
or visit
for all his recipes in one place
cold winter afternoon. Almost out of
reach (I have to stand on tip-toe) it is
home to forbidden sweet stuff – golden
caster and icing sugar, dark and light
muscovado, treacle and maple syrup,
and a green and gold tin of golden
syrup. This is the shelf that brings
warmth and hygge to this house, the
scene of many a happy hour in which
biscuits are baked, and a kitchen that is
fugged up with steam, little rivulets of
sweet joy running down the windows.
You will need a little more maple syrup
to serve with this. Oh, and a small jug of
double cream.
Serves 6
butter 150g
golden caster sugar 80g
soft brown sugar 70g
eggs 2
pecans 60g, shelled
self-raising flour 150g
salt a pinch
For the topping:
maple syrup 4 tbsp
fresh breadcrumbs 4 tbsp
Cookie monster:
maple and pecan
steamed pudding.
Facing page:
chocolate ginger
To serve:
cream and maple syrup
It’s a scene
of a kitchen
fugged up
with steam,
rivulets of
joy running
down the
Sugar and spice and all things sweet
and comforting… a pudding and biscuits
to make your home smell of happiness
There is a little wooden cupboard in
the kitchen we refer to as “the baking
cupboard”. The door sticks. You gain
entry only with a firm punch from the
side of your clenched fist.
As the door springs open you are
greeted by a whiff of vanilla and sweet
spice, and the sight of white shelves
MAGAZINE| 10.12.17
| 10.12.17
stained with the tell tale rings from
where the black treacle has sat. There
is a shelf for flour: plain, self-raising,
rye, baking powder and rice flour; and
another with vanilla pods and a bottle
of extract, candied peel, crystallised
roses and violet petals. Then there are
the tightly stopped jars of “bun spices”
– cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and
half a nutmeg that smells warm and
old fashioned, like a custard tart.
It’s the top shelf that beckons on this
You will need a lightly buttered
1.5 litre pudding basin.
Cut a piece of baking parchment or
greaseproof paper to fit the bottom of
the mixing bowl, then place it neatly in
the bottom of the bowl. It will stop the
pudding sticking.
Dice the butter, place it in the bowl
of a food mixer, then add the sugars.
Beat for a good 5 minutes until pale
and creamy. Mix the maple syrup and
breadcrumbs together, then put in the
bottom of the buttered mixing bowl.
Place a large pan of water on to boil.
The water should be deep enough to
come at least halfway up the basin.
Break the eggs, beat them lightly
Food & drink
Nigel Slater
As each tray
comes from
the oven,
bang it on
the work
surface to
help the
with a fork, then add, a little at
a time, to the butter and sugar, beating
continually. Process the pecans to fine
crumbs in a food processor, then add
them to the flour together with a pinch
of salt, then fold lightly but firmly into
the cake mixture.
Spoon the mixture into the pudding
basin, smooth the surface, then cover
the basin first with greaseproof paper
or baking parchment, and secondly,
with kitchen foil. Secure firmly with
string or rubber bands.
Lower the basin into the hot water,
cover with a lid and leave to steam for
90 minutes until the pudding has risen
and is lightly firm. Remove from the
water. Leave to settle for 10 minutes,
then unwrap and slide a palette knife
between the pudding and the bowl to
loosen it. Place a plate on top of the
bowl, turn the basin and plate upside
down and shake firmly. The pudding
should slide out on to the plate.
Serve with double cream and, if you
like, more maple syrup.
You could dip both sides of the biscuits
in chocolate if you wish. You will need
a further 50g.
Set the oven at 175C/gas mark 3-4.
Place a piece of baking parchment
on a baking sheet.
Put the plain flour, baking powder
and the sugars in a large mixing bowl.
Add the ginger and mixed spice
together with a good pinch of salt.
Cut the butter into small pieces and
rub into the dry ingredients as if you
were making pastry, until it looks like
soft, fresh breadcrumbs. Alternatively,
bring to crumbs in a food processor.
Warm the golden syrup in a small
saucepan then pour into the dry
ingredients. Mix everything together
with a wooden spoon, or your hands,
until you have a ball of dough. Divide
into 24 small pieces, then roll each into
a ball. Lightly flatten each one then
place, a good 5cm apart, on a baking
sheet (you will almost certainly need
to bake one or two trays at a time).
Bake for 10 minutes. The biscuits will
seem soft and pale at this stage, but
remove them nevertheless, as they will
firm and crisp as they cool.
As each tray of biscuits comes from
the oven, firmly bang the tray on the
work surface, it will help the biscuits
to crackle attractively. Let them rest
for 5 minutes, then transfer with
a palette knife on to cooling racks.
Break the chocolate into small
pieces. Put a small pan of water on
to boil. Find a mixing bowl that will
sit neatly in the top of the pan,
without touching the water, and
add the broken chocolate to it.
Let the chocolate melt, without
stirring, occasionally pushing any
unmelted pieces into the molten
chocolate with a spoon.
When the chocolate is liquid,
switch off the heat. Dip each biscuit
into the chocolate, coating one or
both sides as you wish. Place on
a parchment covered rack. Chop the
pistachios and put a small pinch on
each biscuit then leave till set. Kopke Colheita Port,
Douro, Portugal 1999
(£32, Waitrose)
Because it goes so well
with two of my favourite
things – cheese and
chocolate – port is not
just for Christmas at my
house. But its charming,
warming ways do make it
the quintessential festive
drink, with or without
the stilton. Candidates
include the plump
fruitiness of M&S Finest
Reserve Port NV (£12);
the silken, forest-fruited
Quinta da Romaneira Late Bottled Vintage
2011 (£19.95, Lea & Sandeman); and the
fruit-and-nuttiness of Morrisons The Best
10-year-old Tawny Port (£12).
In my stocking, meanwhile, I’d be delighted
to find Kopke’s colheita port, a wine from
a single year aged for the better part of
two decades in large oak barrels giving it
a complex but mellow intensity.
Château d’Aydie Maydie
Tannat, Southwest
France 2013 (£13.95,
The Wine Society)
It may have a monopoly
on British Christmases,
but Portugal’s Douro
Valley is not the only
place where you can find
sweet red fortified wines.
There’s a long tradition for
similar, if slightly sweeter
and lighter concoctions in
the south of France, with
Roussillon’s Banyuls and
Maury appellations being
the most famous names.
Waitrose has a nice example of the latter
in Domaine Pouderoux Grande Reserve
Maury (£11.49, 50cl). Made from grenache,
it tastes of plums, figs and cherries both
fresh and dried. Further north, meanwhile,
in the Madiran district of Gascony, better
known for ruggedly dry reds, I loved
Château d’Aydie’s fortified tannat for its
inky dark, finger-staining style.
Bodegas Emilio Lustau
Vermut Blanco, Jerez,
Spain (£18.95, Berry
Bros & Rudd)
If port and the various
red French vins doux
naturels work best
after dinner, sherry has
no such restrictions.
It can play a late-inthe-evening sipping
role in the case of the
stunning Bodegas
Tradición 30-year-old
Amontillado (£60.67,
Master of Malt), while
a bone-dry fino,
such as Majestic’s Pedro’s Almacenista
Selection Fino Sherry (£10.99) is an
aperitif par excellence. Sherry also works
as a base infused with herbs and spices
for a pair of superb vermouths from Jerez
producer, Bodegas Emilio Lustau. The
Vermut Roja (£18.95) has an orange peel
and incense character, while the blanco is
floral and fragrant, for sipping with olives.
wines for
To read all
David’s columns
in one place, visit
Makes about 24 biscuits
plain flour 225g
baking powder 2 tsp
caster sugar 55g
soft brown sugar 55g
ground ginger 3 tsp
mixed spice 2 tsp
salt a good pinch
butter 110g
golden syrup 110g
dark chocolate 150g
pistachios 2 tbsp, shredded
Food & drink
Nigel Slater
A roast wild duck for two with a sharp
fruit sauce.
The recipe
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6.
Place the mallard on a chopping
board, then, using strong kitchen
scissors or a heavy knife, cut the bird
down its backbone into 2 halves. Place
the halves side by side in a roasting
tin, skin side up, trickle over a little
oil, tuck in a small handful of thyme
branches, and roast for 35 minutes.
While the bird roasts, cut 2 large
Bramley or other sharp apples into
segments, discarding the cores as
you go. You don’t need to peel them.
Put the apple in a saucepan, squeeze
over the juice of half a lemon and add
2 tbsp of water. Place the pan over
a moderate heat and leave to
simmer, covered with a lid, for about
10 minutes, until they are completely
soft and fluffy.
Tip 150g of blueberries into the
apples then mash with a fork, so the
juice from the berries ripples through
the apples.
Serve the duck with the apple and
blueberry sauce. Enough for 2.
The trick
Baste the duck a couple of times as it
roasts (there is less fat on a mallard
than the average duck so it will
appreciate this). I find it best to make
the apple sauce with a sharp variety,
such as a Bramley or a Granny Smith.
You need the acidity to balance the
sweet fattiness of the duck.
The twist
You could use purple figs instead of
the apple sauce. Slice each one in half
(you’ll need 2 per person) then toss
them in a little maple syrup or honey
and a squeeze of lemon juice. Add
a few thyme leaves, salt and pepper,
then the figs to the roasting bird
about 10 minutes before it is due to
be ready. Email Nigel at nigel.
slater@observer. or visit
for all his recipes in
one place
Jay Rayner
Simpson’s in the
Strand, 100 Strand,
London WC2R 0EW
(020 7420 2111).
Meal for two,
including drinks and
service: £200
After serving Londoners for 189 years,
Simpson’s needed a makeover. But did
they have to change the menu, too?
A baked
seems to
have been
left in the
freezer to
the last
Email Jay at
or visit
for all his reviews in one place
There is a great difference between
wanting to love something, and
genuinely loving it. I want to love
Simpson’s in the Strand. I want to
adore it, in the way I once did; as
you might a dotty elderly relative
who can be infuriating, but is still
a wonderful person to have in the
world. I last ate here a few years ago,
when it was firmly set in its ways.
The huge, high-ceilinged room – the
Grand Divan – smelled like a stately
home, on the edge of having to let the
National Trust in to make ends meet.
It was that intoxicating mixture
of boiled cabbage, damp dog and
dust being burned off by the cranky
central heating. The food was very
brown, and the staff mostly quite
senior and rather cross.
The place opened in 1828, as one of
London’s great chess rooms. Roasts
would be wheeled round to the
tables under shiny silver domes, so
the games would not be disturbed,
and are wheeled still. Some of the
food back then looked like the best
kind of leftovers – a ham hock fritter
with a fried duck egg and capers,
for example – and the rest was what
school dinners hope to be when they
grow up.
The old Simpson’s laughed in the
face of modernity. I didn’t love it back
then because it was totally brilliant.
I loved it because it had a sense of
itself, and did what it did very well
indeed, especially those roasts, with
their accompanying vats of gravy.
I talked then of veteran waiters who
were there not to please you, but for
you not to disappoint them.
A couple of years ago the owners of
the next-door Savoy hotel, of which
Simpson’s is a part, announced their
intention to refresh the old war
horse. As the hotel had been through
a multimillion-pound makeover, this
made sense. They talked about giving
it over to a big-name celebrity chef,
and the sort of diners who care too
much about the consistency of their
gravy shuddered.
In the end they decided to keep
the operation in house, closing in
April for the refurb. And now it’s
reopened. It no longer smells of old
food. The saggy seating has been
replaced with genuinely comfortable
booths and banquettes. The staff are
polite. For comedic effect I could
now declare it a disaster, but these
are, of course, the good things about
the relaunch. A cheery, enthusiastic
waiter is a delight, and the new
Simpson’s is full of them.
The problem is the food. They’ve
worked exceptionally hard to
revive and refresh it and in so doing
have lost everything that made the
place what it was. They talk on
Jay Rayner
their website of chefs cooking
“with the hand of history on their
shoulder”. It would have been
better if history had been standing
over them shouting: “Stop it! Stop it
now! For God’s sake, just do it like
they always used to do it!”
Steak tartare is pointless if the
texture is wrong. Here, the beef
hasn’t so much been chopped as
puréed. The smoked egg yolk is
a nice touch, but one that’s lost to
something that could be sucked up
through a straw. Accompanying
grey splodges are described
as Gentleman’s Relish, which
should be a big powerful rush of
anchovy. This is a toned down,
mild- mannered condiment which
needs a testosterone supplement.
A ham hock terrine is served far
too cold and far too dense. It comes
in Minecraft-style blocks, under
artful curls of pickled carrot and
radish. The accompanying pease
pudding fritters are blunt nuggets
of deep-fried something. They beg
you to call back the menu, run your
fingers down the list and mutter:
“Oh, that’s what it is.”
The best dish is a main of bonedout lamb rack, wrapped around
black pudding with a fritter of
the confited shoulder. It’s a nice
enough roast dinner, as it should
be for £29. The other main, their
beef Wellington, is calamitous. Beef
Wellington is tricky. It’s all about
moisture: putting layers between the
beef and the pastry to make sure one
does not leak into the other. If you’re
going to charge £42, you’d better
get it right. Here, the pastry at the
bottom was practically raw, which is
unforgivable. At the end the pastry
was left uneaten. Nobody asked why.
So what was really good? Beef
dripping roast potatoes were
excellent. They had the authentic
tang of a northern chip shop. (Old
Leeds hands may recall the smell
outside Bryan’s of Headingley back
in the day. That.) The peppercorn
sauce with the Wellington was also
deep and powerful. So that’s chips
and gravy, at a place where the bill
came in at £271.
Did we spend a lot on booze? Yes,
because we had to. The wine list
used to be punishing. Now it’s just
one long maniacal laugh in the face
of sanity. A nice enough Fleurie costss
£52. Simpson’s was never cheap. It
was priced for those who weren’t
going to look at the bill. It’s definitelyy
not cheap now. In 2014 fish cakes
were £12.50. Now they are £15. The
beef from the trolley was £31.50 and
is now £35 (though an extra slice
has dropped from £12 to £9.50). The
problem for Simpson’s is that they
have real competition in this market.
Rules is just across the road, doing
what they’ve always done very well
indeed at two-thirds of the price.
The Game Bird at the Stafford is
executing the same proposition with
more grace and style and appetite.
Dessert is a moment to mourn.
A baked Alaska seems to have
been left in the freezer to the last
moment then suddenly blowtorched.
It is hard and unyielding, and
comes surrounded by a puddle
of something as sour as we have
become. Cranachan, which should
be a luscious mixture of honeysweetened thick cream with
bountiful raspberries and oats, is
rough and undersweetened. It’s less
blissful gift, more misplaced warning.
So no, I can’t love Simpson’s any
more, however much I try, however
much I want to. On the plus side
the Knight’s Bar upstairs is an
extremely comfortable space run
by very welcoming chaps who mix
good cocktails, and may well recall
what you had from one visit to the
next. On the downside Simpson’s
used to be famous for its breakfast
and particularly it’s Ten Deadly Sins,
the ne plus ultra of the full English.
The new Simpson’s is no longer even
open for breakfast. Says it all, really. New tricks: (from top) steak
tartare; lamb rack; beef
Wellington; ham hock terrine;
baked Alaska; and cranachan
■ Like
old Bibendum
site in L
m has
l been
under cchef
e Bosi.
It too in
a carvi
n trolley
and a w
the end.
bill at th
But the cooking
is terrific. Star
items in
Cornish crab
the Cor
apples and
with ap
the tripe
lime, th
and cut
gratin ((a tribute
tto B
i’ mum)
and the chocolate
soufflé. It’s a class
act (bibendum.
■ I’m convinced
the best veal jus
product on the
market is the
one produced
by TrueFoods.
Which is indeed
used by many
Until now, the
only place I
knew to get it
was Fortnum &
Mason. So rejoice.
The high-quality
online butchery
Farmison has
added it to their
pantry section.
Yours for £4.95
( .
■ A quick
the brilliant
It’s a
sim idea aimed
at tthose on a
tight food budget:
if you spot an
instore food
bargain, tweet
them the offer,
then hashtag
the store name,
the area and the
postcode, and
they’ll retweet it.
Follow them at
10.12.17 | MAGAZINE
Food & drink
To read all the interviews in this series, go to
Expectations of gallery food are
constantly changing, from fine dining
to a Benugo brownie. This year
saw a wave of museum and gallery
restaurateurs, whose modern food –
seasonal, hearty, delicious – reflects
the contemporary art around them.
Hepworth Café
at the Hepworth, Wakefield
We went from running
a coffee shop, House
of Koko, in Leeds, to
a 90-seat café here,
in the museum of the
year, so it’s been a huge step up for
us. The Hepworth Gallery is only
six years old and it’s still really fresh
in its outlook, so they’re willing to
take more risks than other museums.
People who go into the gallery are
looking at striking pieces of art that
challenge them, and we want the
food to live up to that.
The most popular thing has been
our full vegan, which is like a full
English, but we don’t buy into that
whole quorn-sausage malarkey.
This is avocado with fritters and
homemade baked beans using
different types of pulses, plus
a spinach salad and dressing.
I’d never be so clichéd as to try
to replicate the art in the food but
people eat with their eyes and all our
dishes have always been aesthetically
pleasing. We work on a dish until we
get it exactly right. We know when
we have, as it’s all over Instagram.
This recipe, by our chef Chris Hale,
is really simple and one of our most
successful dishes.
avocado 1, large and ripe
lemon zest and juice
black pepper
rapeseed oil a drizzle
wholemeal sourdough 1 thick slice
feta cheese 20g
spinach a handful, sliced into ribbons
smoked salmon optional: a slice or 2
Cut a thick slice of the wholemeal
sourdough and toast it. Slice open the
avocado, take out the stone and scoop
out the flesh into a mixing bowl.
Drizzle some rapeseed oil into the
mixing bowl with a fair squeeze of
lemon juice and a healthy grind of
black pepper. Chop and mix together.
Once the bread is toasted pop it on
to a plate, lay the salmon over it if you
are using it. Then scoop the crushed
avocado on top. Don’t smear the
avocado, just place it on the slice.
Place the spinach on top, crumble
the feta over and sprinkle some of
the lemon zest over that, according
to taste. Finish off with more black
pepper and another drizzle of
rapeseed oil.
The Whitechapel Refectory
at the Whitechapel Gallery
We’ve always made
elevated food and
used the best-quality
ingredients at our other
restaurants [10 Greek
Street and 8 Hoxton Square], so this
is an ethos that we brought to the
Whitechapel Refectory. Food is as
much a part of culture as art is and
being twinned with an iconic gallery
like the Whitechapel is exciting for us.
If you go to an art gallery or
museum, whether it’s for a cup of
coffee or a biscuit or something more
substantial, it should be as good quality
as the art. That’s what we’re aiming for
– to mirror the quality in the gallery.
We have lots of freshly baked
pastries and sandwiches in the
daytime, then in the evening when
it becomes the wine bar we serve
charcuteries from Italy and Spain,
and cheeses from around the world.
The gallery takes us on a regular
guided tour because it’s essential
to know what the exhibitions are
about, as you get people asking what’s
going on. No day is the same when
working in a gallery. It’s exciting.
A new wave of gallery restaurants
is creating their own visual feast for
visitors, finds Juliana Piskorz
Study in green:
lemon avocado,
spinach and feta
on wholemeal
Facing page:
orange syrup
cake with berry
compote and
People eat
with their
eyes and
all of our
dishes have
always been
Photographs ROMAS FOORD
Food & drink
Still life
with cheese:
cheddar and
chutney toasted
For the cake:
oranges 5
eggs 8
caster sugar 200g
baking powder 2 tsp
almonds 300g, ground
orange juice 150ml, fresh
caster sugar 300g
berries 300g, frozen
icing sugar 300g
almonds 100g, flaked
Pre-heat the oven to 170C/gas mark 3.
Boil the oranges for 2 hours on a low
heat until they are soft then blitz
them to a pulp. Whisk the eggs and
sugar together, then add the baking
powder and almonds. Spoon the
mixture into cupcake tins and cook in
the oven for 45 minutes, until spongy.
Next boil the orange juice and caster
sugar for 20 minutes until reduced
to a syrup. Make holes over the cakes
with a toothpick then brush them
with the syrup allowing it to seep in
(not too much or it will go soggy).
To make the berry compote, stir the
frozen mixed berries with an equal
weight of icing sugar and cook to
a thick consistency on a low heat.
Place the flaked almonds on a pan
lined with foil then roast in the oven
at 170C/gas mark 3 for 3-4 minutes.
Spoon the compote over the cake and
add the toasted almond flakes.
Rochelle Bar & Canteen at the ICA
Our style is simple, tasty
peasant food. I don’t like
fussiness, I don’t like too
many ingredients and
I don’t like too many
mushes: texture and ingredients
speak for themselves. Our braised
fennel and ox cheeks are a favourite,
and the pickled walnuts are also great
for this time of year.
We always had a connection with
the art world from the French House
restaurant I ran with my husband
[Fergus Henderson], where we’d do
dinners for the galleries, White Cube
and Sadie Coles. I found that the
artists liked simplicity – they got us
and our style from the beginning.
It’s a joy to go to work every day in
an environment like the ICA
because a restaurant is very much
the people who come, and all the
creative people add a wonderful
atmosphere: they’re not big
complainers. Making people happy
through their food and wine is
a two-way thing – if they’re enjoying
it then we’re enjoying it… and it
makes for a happy day of work.
We have a beautiful light
installation by Cerith Wyn Evans in
the ICA restaurant, but I think the
people who come in and hang their
coats on the hooks and talk, well,
they’re the real art, aren’t they?
A toasted sandwich – what a joy!
I come from the land of toasties: New
Zealanders will toast anything, often
popping in pineapple or beetroot.
There is always the right moment
for a toasted sandwich as long as you
have the right ingredients: good bread,
butter, chutney and a fab cheese.
Neal’s Yard Montgomery is a favourite.
sourdough bread 2 slices
Montgomery cheddar 80g, grated
chutney 50g
butter for spreading
Slice the bread and butter on both
sides. Spread with chutney and
cheese. Put in a toasted sandwich
machine until brown and the cheese
oozes. Slice in half. Enjoy! A restaurant
is very
much the
who come:
and all the
people add
a wonderful
Frills and tassels, sparkles and
stripes… This season’s knitwear
has its own personality – and
we’ve got it all wrapped up
Fashion editor JO JONES
This page Lim wears Hat
£15.99, Jeans
£40, Yellow
jumper £59,
Green jumper £39.99,
Facing page Lauren wears
Dungarees £390, Paul & Joe
( Jumper
£320, Philosophy Di Lorenzo
Serafini (
Sandals £59,
MAGAZINE| 10.12.17
| 10.12.17| THE
Above left Alina wears
Pink jumper £395,
Facing page Natasha wears
Drawstring jumper
£200, self-portrait PVC trousers
£275, browns
Above right Cami wears
Striped jumper £310,
Angel Chen (urbanoutfitters.
com) Leather skirt £590,
Isabel Marant Etoile
Above left Sara wears Jumper
£49.99, Faux leather
trousers £240, Beret £12,
Above right Lim wears Frilled
jumper £34.99,
Hat £16.99,
Facing page Cami wears Jumper
Belt £17.99,
Cords £79, Scarf
from a selection,
MAGAZINE| 10.12.17
| 10.12.17| THE
Hair and make-up Helen Walsh
at S Management using Sisley
and Kerastase
Models Lauren Scott,
Alina Bukina, Cami Amarantes,
Lim Lee, Natasha Pereira
and Sara Ribeiro, all from
Wild London (
Photography assistant Lee Grubb
Fashion assistant Bemi Shaw
Inhale. St Giles fragrances explain
how the scent will make you feel,
with a wardrobe of perfumes
for every mood. The Actress is
sensual, The Writer is uplifting, The
Mechanic is sexy. £130, Selfridges
For more advice and tips,
Your skin hates winter.
It hates dry air, central
heating, the alcohol you
swill at festive parties and
the icy walk home, too.
The joy of this is, though,
that you can enjoy the
luxury of an old-fashioned
face cream, morning and
night, along with a little
massage of your favourite
oil. It’s a chance to feel
like you’re feeding your
skin, nursing it back to
the glossy glow you have
evidence of in selfies
from June. EVA WISEMAN
Beauty Pie
Super Retinol
Serum £12.11
for members of
Votary Clarifying
Facial Oil £65,
Clarins SOS Mask
Lixir Skin Vitamin C
Paste £32,
Decléor Prolagene
Lift Flash Mask
IT Cosmetics
Confidence in a Cream
Tata Harper Creme Riche
e Ordinary Natural
Tom Ford Radiant
Moisture Soufflé £70,
For more inside tips, advice and ideas, go to
Escaping the capital for rural Hereford,
offers the chance to bring an old farm
back to life, finds Serena Fokschaner
Way out west:
(clockwise from
main picture) the
converted hayloft;
the sitting room
with woodburning
stove; ceramics on
a windowsill; the
kitchen; antique
glassware; and
the exterior of
the house, with
adjoining barns
There were moments when Adriaan
Koppens doubted the wisdom
of restoring a rundown farm in
Herefordshire. Winter nights were
the worst as gales whistled down from
the Welsh mountains and branches
rattled against the caravan where
he sheltered during the project.
But the next day, when the clouds
lifted, revealing frosted hawthorns
and sheep-speckled fields, Koppens
remembered why he and his partner,
Stéphane Girod, an economist, had
chosen to leave London: “This is
a special place. Because it’s been
isolated for centuries it still feels
unspoilt, not overgentrified.”
Trading city comforts for the
Welsh borders was never going to be
easy. But Koppens, a Dutch-born art
historian, had taken on a particular
challenge. The 18th-century house
and its ramshackle outbuildings
needed a new lease of life. So did the
surrounding landscape: the softly
spoken Koppens becomes animated
when he reveals how he has
gradually transformed the 70-acre
setting, near Hay-on-Wye. “We’ve
planted over 6,500 trees with the
Forestry Commission, and repaired
the hedgerows. It’s been rewarding
to see wildlife returning: kites, pine
martens, buzzards. In spring you can
hear cuckoos, which is rare now.”
Koppens, who has devoted years
to studying “nature and building”,
also took a conservationist’s approach
to the house. “I’ve always admired
the way the British restore old
buildings. There’s a respect for
materials and the patina of age. It’s
very different to, say, in Germany,
where everything has to look spick
and span.” Inside, damp-ridden walls
were painstakingly rebuilt by local
stonemasons. Instead of leaving
them modishly bare, Koppens used
traditional limewash, in upbeat pink
or green based on original colours
discovered beneath the sandwich of
wallpaper. “The lime is coloured with
natural pigments which allows the
stone to breathe,” he explains.
Authenticity also stretches to
the new oak beams, joined with
pegs – not screws, and the original
flagstones gently lifted and levered
back in over underfloor heating.
A new hand-forged balustrade glides
upstairs to the bedrooms. In the boot
room, where guests swap wellies
for slippers, excavation revealed the
original bread oven. “For centuries
these houses were self-sufficient; they
baked bread, reared their own meat,
grew their own vegetables.” Koppens
admits that his own produce only
stretches to a decorative herb garden,
“but at least we buy our food locally”.
While the architecture is local the
decoration fuses urban sensibilities.
“I lean towards a minimalist style,”
muses Koppens, a former lecturer
at Birkbeck College in London. “But
Stéphane’s passion is for French 18thcentury design. It’s an interesting
dynamic.” You might think that
a Louis XV console gleaming next to
a Philippe Starck chair or the Ingo
Maurer Campari light (“everyone
thinks I made it myself”) would
For more inside tips, advice and ideas, go to
Campari light
£231, twenty
who painted the naive artwork in
the sitting room. “The joyfulness of
his religious art was an escape from
the strict Calvinism of Holland.
My appreciation of art comes from
him. It was my protest against the
suburbia of Amsterdam where I grew
up. I’ve been rebelling ever since.”
Koppens’s uncle, Geert Jan Visser,
was a prescient art collector: part of
his collection is now in the KröllerMüller museum near Amsterdam.
One of his paintings hangs in the
barn where paying guests stay.
Suppers are served in the barn of
the neighbouring farm; a sauna is
housed in an industrial-look building.
In summer, you find visiting writers
from the Hay Festival breakfasting
on terraces or stargazing into the
black skies at night.
They might also catch a glimpse
of Corsaire, the French bulldog. “He
settled in immediately, tearing into
the fields.” But rural communities
take years to form and Koppens has
no illusions that it will take time for
a pair of European academics to
shrug off their incomer status and be
fully accepted. In the meantime he
has traded the city saloon for a 4x4
and trainers for sensible boots. But
he has no plans to don tweeds: “I’m
not a country squire,” he smiles.
Country life:
(above) original
beams restored
and combined with
paint colours based
on traditional hues
found behind the
wallpaper. Below
left, a bedroom
with green and
pink limewash
Beaumont stove
Margot bed
£225 for a pair,
look wildly out of kilter in a stonewalled farmstead. But the mix works.
“You can combine almost anything,
as long as the pieces have integrity.”
There is more evidence of divergent
tastes in the converted barn, where
shelves are lined with books on
economics and art history. The music
stand is where Koppens practises
the recorder; the strains of Telemann
drifting towards the old hayloft: “The
acoustics are great.”
He traces artistic leanings back to
his grandfather, Ari Visser, an artist
James Wong
To read all
all James’s
J es’
s’s columns
olumns in
one place,
c , visit th
a es-wong
This is a sort
of a playful
version of
of a dead
animal, why
not mount
a living
A few months ago I began
experimenting with a traditional
southeast Asian technique for
mounting living plants on slabs
of timber to be hung like pictures
on a wall. A novel way to display
houseplants that naturally grow on
trees in the wild, I thought, and sort
of a playful protest to the newly
on-trend revival of taxidermy.
Instead of a dead animal, why not
mount a living plant? Surprisingly,
many of you on social media
have asked for a “how to” on my
“plantidermy”, so here it is.
First, pick your plant. I have
tried everything from speckledleaved pepper plants (Peperomia)
to dazzling moth orchids
(Phalaenopsis), but any plant that
naturally grows on trees (what us
botanists call an epiphyte) will do. In
my experiments, however, without
doubt the easiest so far have been
the epiphytic ferns, in particular the
fuzzy, light brown creeping stems of
the hare’s foot fern (Davallia) and
the striking, antler-like leaves of the
stag horn fern (Platycerium).
Take the plant out of its pot and
tear off the bottom two-thirds of
the compost. This may seem brutal,
but these plants are adapted to have
very small root systems, and will
soon recover if kept well watered.
With the small amount of remaining
root-ball, gently tease away as much
compost as possible, so you are left
with a bare root plant.
Take your piece of natural cork
bark, this can be bought really quite
cheaply online or in pet shops,
where they are sold as naturalistic
backdrops for the tanks of exotic
pets, from dart frogs to iguanas. Place
a small pile of wet moss in the centre
of this, about the size of the root ball
of your plant. I tend to get my moss
from my driveway and garage roof,
but it is also sold in florists’ shops.
Pop the plant on top of this pile
and finally cover the roots entirely
with a layer of more damp moss. You
should have a sort of moss sandwich,
encasing the roots of your plant, all
sitting on a piece of cork bark.
Now here’s the tricky bit: using
nylon fishing line, secure the mosscovered root ball in place. I do
this by simply winding it round
the whole slab of cork as many
times as it takes before tying it off.
Although simple in theory, it might
take a couple of goes, as moss has
a frustrating habit of falling out of
place while you are doing this.
When you are happy with your
creation, dunk the whole thing in
a sink filled to the brim with water
and let it soak for 10 minutes. Fish
it out and let it drain for a couple of
hours until no longer dripping and
you can hang it just like a picture on
any wall near a bright window.
After an initial 30 minutes of
fiddling to set up, my mounted ferns
only need a weekly dunk in the sink
to keep them thriving. THE OBSERVER | 10.12.17 | MAGAZINE
Lucy Siegle
Email Lucy at
or visit
to read all her articles in one place
This year I’m going real.
Given the plastic pandemic,
my goodwill doesn’t extend
to manufacturers of
oil-based fake trees
shipped across the globe.
From an ecological point
of view, all cut trees are
imperfect. Three-quarters
of the trees put up this
Christmas in the UK will
be grown here (this at least
cuts down on tree miles).
But these trees are raised
on plantations that are as
quick growing as possible.
They are not carefully
calibrated forests for the
benefit of the future.
A standard UK forestry
guide I came across
cheerfully recommended
to growers that they apply
glyphosate in summer
(this is the weedkiller that
controversially just had
its licence renewed in the
EU) and a spritz of another
pesticide in the winter.
There are few agronomic
studies of Christmas tree
growing. But one from US
researchers reports that
pesticide residues are not
found on harvested trees
by Christmas. If that offers
cold comfort, seek out
a certified organic tree.
Christmas trees are
grown from seed held in
cones and stored in the
crown 30m above ground
– these are then collected
by cone pickers. The seeds
for our plantations largely
come from Georgia. Here,
campaigns on the human
cost of the industry have
uncovered exploitation
and dangerous working
conditions. In 2010
a Danish company started
to produce fair trade
Christmas trees grown by
workers paid a fair wage
in decent conditions.
Of course, by Boxing
Day it is hard to remember
that the disco ball in the
corner is a forest product
at all, let alone that it needs
returning to the earth
as mulch via a recycling
scheme. But this is your
chance to claw back some
eco advantage. Better still,
if you’ve got a good-quality
potted tree, shake the
tinsel, replant and nurture
for the next 12 months. THE BIG PICTURE
Advanced drone technology in the form of the Parley SnotBot was
recently sent on an expedition to study whales in Alaska. Finds
included the identification of a whale from a past expedition and
a confirmed pregnancy in another, all discovered without the need to
leave the boat and disturb the whales. It has been described as the
new frontier of non-invasive marine research.
Gloss cycling
helmet From £170,
To wear or not to
wear? As the debate
over cycling helmets
and whether they
should be mandatory
rumbles on, the idea
of designing better
helmets seems to have
been eclipsed.
But Catherine
Bedford has been
quietly getting on
with designing a small,
lightweight carbon
fibre helmet. Bedford,
with a background
as a designer of
accessories for luxury
brands, has transferred
values around premium
craftsmanship into her
helmet design.
The carbon fibre
shell is hand-finished
by a family-owned
factory in Cornwall
which manufactures
helmets for the military
and marine industry,
and the harness
webbing is sourced
from Derbyshire.
Already featured
as ‘an accessory of
the future’ at last
year’s Cycle Revolution
exhibition at the
Design Museum, the
Dashel helmet has
now arrived.
Martin Love
Renault’s fully revamped large
SUV looks handsome and drives well…
So why give it such an ugly name?
Price: from £27,500
Top speed: 125mph
0-62mph: 9.5 seconds
MPG: 47.9
CO2: 156g/km
In the beginning there was the
Espace. Built by Renault in 1984, it
revolutionised family travel. It proved
that by creating enough leg space
and elbow room, you could instill
harmony on the road. It was futuristic
and stylish… But over the years, the
wondrous MPVness of the Espace
devolved into the ugly SUVness of the
dreadful old Koleos (the word means
“sheath” in Greek, which seems an
odd choice for a family car – could it
be a contraceptive rebuke?)
But we now have an all-new Koleos
(same horrid name, sadly) to enjoy –
and it is remarkably accomplished.
It arrives at a time when Renault
has thoroughly regained its mojo.
The Megane and, particularly, the
Scenic are scooping up awards
wherever they go. And earlier this
year, a world-beating alliance was
created between Renault, Nissan
and Mitsubishi. This auto triptych
was formed to focus on electric cars
for the 2020s, but it also allowed the
coalition to become the biggest car
maker in the world. In the first six
months of 2017, it shifted 5,268,079
vehicles, beating VW into second
Email Martin at
or visit
for all his reviews in one place
place by a mere 112,488 cars, while
Toyota lagged just 26,591 behind that.
As with so many Renaults, the
Koleos has style in spades – but it
wears it lightly. At first glance it
appears to be just another large SUV,
but let your gaze linger on it a while
and all sorts of attractive details begin
to catch your eye, from the chromelined face to the elliptical LED
outlines on the rear lamps. Inside
it’s roomy, and premium materials
have been used generously. Renault
claims it has the biggest boot in its
class, but it’s one of the few that don’t
offer a third row of seats – a strange
omission when you consider it’s
based on Nissan’s seven-seat X-Trail.
Up front, the Koleos has a portraitformat touchscreen, as used by
Volvo in its XC90. It is available as
a standard 7in or as a poshed-up 8.7in
unit and it controls everything from
the satnav and the audio to the car’s
myriad safety systems.
The UK line-up is exclusively
diesel, either 1.6-litre or 2-litre.
You can choose between two- or
four-wheel drive and manual or
a CVT X-Tronic gearbox. I drove
the 2-litre dCi 175bhp 4WD with
automatic shifting. It was a pleasure:
smooth, strong and with buckets
of acceleration. Light steering also
made it very manoeuvrable even at
low speeds. All told, it’s an impressive
package, but the absence of a petrol
alternative and the lack of a sevenseater means it’ll never match the
Espace as a genius family motor. BICYCLE OF THE WEEK
Price: from £3,495
Frame: carbon
Weight: 6.9kg
Gears: Sturmey
Archer X-RF4 hub
Bikes that you can ride,
fold and then carry
have an Achilles heel:
their weight. Even the
Brompton, undisputed
king of collapsible cycles,
weighs in at an armstretching 9-12kg. But the
Hummingbird has been
engineered to change all
that. It’s the world’s lightest
folder, a featherweight
champion tipping the scales
at just 6.9kg – the minimum
weight for a Tour de France
bike is 6.8kg. It’s the
brainchild of designer Petre
Carcium who, together with
Prodrive (better known
for the work it does on
rally cars), has dreamed up
a bike of uncompromised
functionality matched by
eye-catching form. It boasts
a simple three-step system
that allows it to be folded
in five seconds, and comess
in a choice of four zingy
colours. Urban riding has
never been easier…
For more inside tips, advice and holiday ideas, go
For an authentic Christmas market,
Tallinn is hard to beat. But it’s not the
only reason to go, says Louise Roddon
Easyjet has flights
from London to
Tallinn from £147
return (easyjet.
com). A double room
at the Three Sisters
hotel ( starts
at £139. For more
information, go to
Snow is falling in Tallinn’s Town Hall
Square and at its dinky Christmas
market a blonde woman in furs sits
beneath a food stand, tucking into
black pudding and fried potatoes.
Dean Martin’s White Christmas
echoes over the wooden chalets, and
at the grog hut there’s a queue for hot,
rum-based Vana Tallinn liqueur.
Christmas market season is here,
and for authenticity Tallinn pips its
European rivals. Added to that,
tourists are thin on the ground –
though maybe not for long: Lonely
Planet recently tipped Tallinn as the
best-value destination for 2018. Then
there’s the appeal of its impressive
Christmas tree – a tradition that goes
back to 1441 when the city’s was one
of the first trees to be displayed in
Europe. The setting is fabulous, too:
a pastel-toned wrap-around of gabled
houses dominated by an impressive
town hall.
Tallinn is among the oldest capitals
in northern Europe with one of the
best-preserved medieval town
centres in the world. Even the Town
Hall pharmacy is wonderfully intact.
Wood-beamed and low-ceilinged, it
was opened in 1422 and is full of
old-fashioned dispensary drawers
and medicine bottles. In an adjoining
room, bell jars chart the pharmacy’s
history: a horror movie collection of
preparations spanning woodlouse
infusions and dried deer penises.
The city’s reputation for good value
extends to boutique hotels and
cocktails, too (in hip bars, they
cost around €4), while in a clutch
of great restaurants young chefs
are producing innovative and
surprisingly affordable menus. But
Frosted fancies:
(clockwise from main
picture) the Christmas
Market in Town Hall
Square; a view of
Kadriorg Palace in the
centre of Tallinn; a sentry
on duty; and one of the
city’s trams
right now, I’m after some unusual
gifts, and reindeer jumpers don’t
quite cut it. For Estonian stuff that
reflects their Nordic eye for design,
try Rode on Pikk Street, where you
can find anything from bright, felted
slippers and exquisite pine bowls to
bow ties fashioned from leather.
Pikk, or “Long Leg”, Street runs
downhill from Toompea castle, where
guild houses with steep gables recall
a miniature Stockholm – remnants,
our guide explains, of Estonia’s time
under Swedish rule. “Everyone’s
invaded us,” she tells us. “Danes,
Germans, Russians, the Soviets… It’s
because we’re basically lazy. Even on
Independence Day [which next year
marks its centenary] it is too cold to
turn out and watch soldiers parade.”
Past spindly St Olav’s gothic church
is the Three Sisters hotel. It’s
a gorgeously snug place with a strong
medieval footprint, all thick wooden
pillars and ancient stonework, and,
for us, an A-frame timber-clad attic,
located in one of the hotel’s gables.
The hotel is perfectly placed for
exploring this tiny old town. And it’s
just 15 minutes away from Tallinn’s
boho Kalamaja district. Here,
reimagined Soviet-era factories now
house the Telliskivi Creative City
complex, where textile design studios
mix with vintage stores. There’s
a Russian flea market nearby where
you can pick up portraits of Lenin,
Soviet toys or a fur hat for €12, then
lunch on burgers, soups or salads at
neighbouring scruffy-chic F-Hoone.
We discover a completely different
scene at Kadriorg, an upmarket
residential district split in two by
attractive parkland. Peter the Great
set up a summer estate here after
conquering Estonia, and the
surrounding streets and villas evoke
St Petersburg’s Italianate elegance.
Yet equally appealing for us is the
sleekly contemporary Finnish
designed Kumu Art Museum whose
excellent German Expressionists
exhibition runs until 14 January.
On the edge of the Kadriorg Park
we stop at Mon Repos for lunch,
housed in a dainty 1920s summer
villa. In its heyday, our waiter tells
us, a bartender from London’s
Savoy hotel served cocktails to
raffish locals, while upstairs
concealed moonshine production
and illicit gambling.
Today, Mon Repos exudes pared
back calm, and chef Vladislav
Djatsuk’s cooking is noteworthy. As
with many of Tallinn’s talented chefs
he employs a lighter twist on Baltic
favourites, all of which carry
a reasonable price tag, with main
courses from €13.
Foodies are spoilt for choice in
Tallinn: roasted Atlantic cod with
ash-baked potatoes, for instance, is
perfect at Kaks Kokka just outside the
city walls; while Noa offers stunning
views over both the old town and the
sea, with small plate dishes from €7,
and plenty of vegetarian options.
There’s free stuff to enjoy as well.
The guided walk offered daily by the
tourist office, just north of Town Hall
Square, gives a lively overview of the
capital. Inspired by our walk, I return
to the city walls mesmerised by the
skyline: onion-domed churches and
Soviet apartments with the steel-grey
harbour beyond.
Icon-stuffed Alexander Nevsky
cathedral in Toompea is worth
a detour, if only to enjoy what is
a blatantly blingy symbol of Russia’s
stronghold over its tiny neighbour.
Or you could opt for an oddly
relaxing hour-long session of
marzipan painting at Maiasmokk –
the town’s oldest café. Kick off with
a hot chocolate in the glass-ceilinged
café, then head next door for your
lesson, which costs a modest €6.40
and is fun, too. My painted cat will
definitely be in someone’s stocking
this Christmas. Estonia promise:
(clockwise from
above) Alexander
Nevsky cathedral
at night; a mural in
Telliskivi; shopping
for memorabilia;
the Christmas fair;
and a room in the
Three Sisters hotel
The iconstuffed
cathedral is
a blatantly
symbol of
over its tiny
Inner life
To read all the articles in this series,
go to
Face-to-face conversation reaps
rich rewards, but it’s a dying art, says
Celeste Headlee. Here’s how to revive it
Don’t try
to educate
the other
prove them
wrong or
their mind:
it won’t
It seems that we’re talking more
than ever. And it’s true that we have
more platforms for connection and
communication than ever before.
But what feels like conversation is
actually just talking. Conversation –
the exchange of ideas and thoughts
between two people in which both
understand one another and respond
to each other – is disappearing
underneath the mountains of tweets
and posts, texts and emojis.
It’s that conversation I want to
revive, the kind that stimulates
critical thought and increases
empathy. That’s the kind of bond
that builds bridges and crosses the
political divides splitting us apart.
Can you still have that kind of
conversation? Of course you can.
The first barrier is the phone that’s
either in your hand or close enough
for you to reach. Research shows
it’s distracting, as part of your grey
matter is occupied thinking about
whether it will ping.
It also distracts the person you’re
speaking to. A study in the UK a few
years ago showed that the mere
presence of a phone, even one that
didn’t belong to the people talking,
made those involved in a chat more
likely to see the other person as
unfriendly and untrustworthy.
So, the first step is not to put the
phone down, but to put it away.
Next, stop avoiding conversations
you think might lead to an argument
and instead learn to have the
discussion without arguing. You do
that by choosing to learn from the
conversation instead of teach. Don’t
try to educate the other person, prove
them wrong or change their mind,
because that probably won’t happen.
Instead, make it your goal to learn
more about their perspective and
their thought processes. This is an
excellent way to increase your own
empathy and stimulate your mind
with new ideas. You may disagree
with what they’re saying, but you’re
doing a lot of good for yourself in
listening to them with respect.
Ask questions, hear new ideas. It’s
OK if you don’t approve or agree.
And that brings us to the next
step: listen. Listening is a skill and
we aren’t born knowing how to do it
well. Most of the time, we don’t hear
everything a person says. Often we
hear just the first few words someone
speaks and then start crafting our
response. That’s a common habit and
it’s hard to break.
In order to listen effectively, you
have to allow thoughts to enter
your head and then let them flow
right back out so you can return to
listening. That’s a discipline and an
exercise in mindfulness. It’s not easy,
but it’s necessary if you hope to really
hear and understand what another
person is saying.
We have all become very adept at
expressing our own thoughts and
feelings, and social media gives us
endless methods for publishing them.
But in all this talk, we aren’t listening.
Talking teaches you nothing, and
so it’s no surprise when we learn
nothing about each other and find it
hard to empathise with those who
disagree. We’ve stopped listening and
therefore stopped learning.
While this all may feel like
a homework assignment that
you dread, learning to listen is an
intensely rewarding experience.
The people around you, even
strangers, have secrets and hidden
talents. If you haven’t heard them,
you’ve missed out on a lot of
fascinating stories and helpful advice.
So, put your mobile down and
look at the people around you. Take
a chance and ask someone a question,
and then really listen to their answer.
You might be surprised by the change
in your perspective. We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations
That Matter by Celeste Headlee is published
by Piatkus at £13.99. To order a copy for £11.89,
go to
I’ve been laid up with flu and as
I return to full cognitive function,
I’ve been pondering the
neuroscience. A fever’s tweak
to your temperature regulation
circuits triggers not only
shivering, but also indirect loops.
‘Feeling’ cold can make you
turn up the thermostat, grab
blankets and take to your bed.
It’s not clear whether it’s the
bug or your defences that are
in control, but using your body
as a laboratory, it’s fascinating
to wait for the paracetamol to
work. When it hits you suddenly
start sweating and kick off the
covers as your hypothalamus
catches on to the actual
temperature of your body.
Researchers have been
looking at external signs, too.
Evidence suggests the walking
patterns, sweat and facial
expression of sufferers can
reflect their infection before
even they are aware of it. This
may help others to steer clear.
Internet activity is a promising
avenue, too. The ‘Google flu
trends’ project is currently
suspended, in public at least,
pending improvements.
But within the rich mine of
subconscious information we
reveal through our searches, we
perhaps find the earliest traces
of infection. Keep well, everyone.
Dr Daniel Glaser is director of Science
Gallery at King’s College London
Acquiescence – as in going along with
something, even if you know it’s not
right – is an important personality
trait, so let’s measure the extent to
which you acquiesce to your intuitions,
even when you know they are clearly
faulty, with a test based on the work
of psychologist Jane L Risen. Answer
yes or no to the following:
1. You have two bowls of sugar, and
write “sugar” on one and “poison”
on the other. Would you now avoid
taking sugar from the “poison” bowl?
2. You are gambling on a dice with
four red faces and two green. It has
just come up red five times in a row.
Do you now bet on green?
3. Are you more nervous in an
aeroplane than a car, even though you
know the former is statistically safer?
The way I see it: Jesse
(Ethan Hawke) and Céline
(Julie Delpy) meet up in Paris
in Before Sunset (2004)
Put down the mince pies and take a deep breath.
Christmas is upon us and while for some this stirs warm
memories of mulled wine, hearty dinners and riotous
cocktail parties, for others it triggers an overwhelming
sense of dread. For those in the latter camp, Karuna,
a former Buddhist monk, is running a mindfulness
workshop. Combat the stress of relations, present
buying and festive overindulgence through meditation
– and cultivate kindness and gratitude instead.
Mindfulness at Christmas, 17 December, Imperial
College, Chaplaincy, London SW7 £30 (
4. To win a game you must pick a red
marble blind out of a bag. Would you
prefer to pick from a bag containing
10 red marbles and 90 black marbles
(10% chance of winning), rather than
from a bag containing one red marble
and 8 black marbles ( just over 11%
chance of winning)?
How many yeses did you score?
0 = Mr(s) Logic; 1 = generally pretty
logical (it was the flying one, right?); 2
= about average; 3 = on the irrational
side; 4 = Mr(s) Acquiescence.
If you scored 0-2, congratulations.
Studies show that people who are
able to choose logic over emotions
are generally more intelligent, do
better at school and earn more. But if
you scored 3-4, don’t beat yourself up.
If you know that, for example, flying
makes you anxious, it’s more rational
to reduce this anxiety by driving. Order Are You Smarter Than a Chimpanzee?
by Ben Ambridge (Profile Books, £12.99) for
£11.04 at
Dear Mariella
If you have a dilemma, send a brief email to To have your say on this
week’s column, go to
Imaginatively, like the rest
of us? In these literal times
it’s often overlooked that
some of the best sex you’ll
ever have takes place in the
space between your ears.
Just because you fantasise
about something doesn’t
mean you have to do it –
or there wouldn’t be
a long-term union left
intact. But if cerebral
adventures aren’t enough,
then prepare yourself to
make some compromises.
I really don’t think
your dilemma is the same
as being gay. If you’re
homosexual, personal
choice doesn’t come into
the equation, whereas what
you’re describing here is
a lifestyle option. You may
not be a swine, but you
definitely want to have your
cake and eat it. A sense of
humour on your girlfriend’s
part may not be enough
to facilitate your pleasures. In fact, showing
interest in her freewheeling best friend is
more likely to entirely wipe that smile off her
“beautiful” face.
Before we get to the nitty-gritty, though, I’d
like to congratulate you on bothering to ask.
The season of inappropriate behaviour is upon
us and there are plenty of people out there
using alcohol and the festivities as an excuse for
random acts of infidelity. It would barely raise
an eyebrow if a Christmas party were to lead to
one of your fantasies springing to life and, such
is our dysfunctional relationship with booze,
you’d find plenty who’d see that as perfectly
understandable. “Knee-tremblers” and “bog
snogs” reach their highest incidence levels as
we embrace our most conspicuous religious
festival with an orgy of less-elevated behaviour.
If it’s an excusable indulgence you’re after,
the run-up to 25 December couldn’t offer
better scope, but it won’t solve your longerterm dilemma. That’s why pausing to consider
I’m in a sweet,
monogamous relationship with
my girlfriend. We’re in our early
40s. She’s beautiful and we have
a happy sex life. But I’m also
fascinated by her friend, who leads
a libertine lifestyle. I keep thinking
about threesomes and other kinky
games. I love my girlfriend, but
I find other women attractive, too.
I’m loyal and I’d never cheat,
but my promiscuous imagination
is hard to repress – it comes out
in pillow talk and in jokes and
innuendos. My girlfriend has
a good sense of humour and says
it’s just the nature of my sexuality,
the same way it would be if I was
gay. But it hurts her feelings and
it’s coming between us. My old
Catholic sensibility says it’s a sin
and I should fight it. What do you
think? Am I a male pig trying to
have his cake and eat it? How do
I pursue my happiness without
hurting the woman I love? THE DILEMMA
your potential actions and asking advice are
both admirable steps. Could it be that you’re
with the wrong girl? You make being part of
a “sweet, monogamous relationship” sound like
a personal compromise, so perhaps you need to
consider whether she’s the one for you. Perhaps
you’ve wound up with Samantha Bond’s Miss
Moneypenny when Famke Janssen’s voracious
Xenia Onatopp would be the better match.
There’s nothing wrong with monogamy, but
if you’re lusting for further stimulation and your
girlfriend doesn’t want to partner you down
that road it’s time to reconsider for both your
sakes. There are plenty of women around who’d
enjoy a role in your sexual adventures. Whether
they’d also provide you with a “sweet” and
“happy” relationship is another matter.
Further steps toward realising your sexual
desires will have repercussions. As a Catholic
you’re programmed to feel guilty and easily
let off the hook, but I don’t think you want to
make deception your modus operandi. You also
don’t want to become some sad old salacious
pleasure seeker, never sated and always on the
look out for further adventure.
There’s nothing wrong with your fantasies –
they’re pretty pedestrian by today’s standards
– but you need to be comfortable with your
desires and with a willing playmate. Freud was
adamant that individual sexual desire is at the
heart of who we are, but often, instead of being
celebrated as an imperative component of selfdiscovery, it’s relegated to hobby status. Only
you can gauge how imperative it is to you to
physically explore your erotic dreams, but the
answer needs to inform your choice of partner.
We all have red lines in our relationships
and monogamy isn’t always where the buck
stops. Establishing individual boundaries is an
important part of getting to know each other
and learning to live together. Accepting that
living out your fantasises requires a partner who
wants to accompany you is the baseline here.
What you shouldn’t do is betray your girlfriend,
proposition her best friend and exonerate your
choices by blaming them on unavoidable urges.
There is no right or wrong here, it’s all about
making a mature decision about what you value
most. But “having it all” in the field of desire is
the most delusional fantasy of all. If you’re
lusting for
and your
isn’t, it’s
time to
for both
your sakes
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