The Spike


August 2016

Best Garlic/non-garlic salad

Sorry I only thought to take a photo after I’d eaten most of it

I must share with you this marvellous salad I did for myself the other night. I did a thing that I’ve been meaning to try out for a while, which was to flavour the salad with garlic, without actually ingesting any garlic. Raw garlic hasn’t agreed with me for a while, but I do really love it. You may have the same problem.

Anyway what you do is rub the cut face of a big clove of garlic all round the bowl you’re using and then put the big halves in with the salad and toss it around and then leave it for ten minutes to flavour the whole thing. Then you can either leave the garlic halves in (for fun and to add an element of danger to proceedings) or fish them out.

This worked so well. I am so pleased with it.

Best Garlic/non-garlic salad

For 2

2 handfuls cherry tomatoes

large bunch of green beans, or runner beans

1 big clove of garlic

2 glugs of white wine vinegar

2 glugs of olive oil

salt and pepper

1 Trim the beans and drop them into boiling water for exactly 5 minutes, then drain and run some cold water over them.

2 Halve the garlic clove and rub it round the interior of your salad bowl. Toss the garlic into the bowl.

3 Put the olive oil and the vinegar into the bowl with the garlic

4 Halve the cherry tomatoes and toss these in. Then shake in the beans. Sprinkle over a good, big pinch of salt and about 8 or 9 turns of the pepper grinder.

5 Toss this together and then leave for maybe 5 or 10 minutes for the garlic to do its work.




New Joggers

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H&M joggers, £29.99

I try very hard not to buy things from H&M. It’s too easy, they fall to bits when washed and smell. They’re not special. It’s also all a bit of a moral moot point. NOBODY SAY SWEATSHOP!

But they do, so often, just do things so well.

For example, these new season joggers, which are a step on from the old tapered-leg “tailored” joggers, which didn’t really suit me. They are a homage of sorts to the Adidas Firebird tracksuit trousers, which are impossible to get hold of at the moment. Plus I think wearing actual Adidas branded stuff is too much. It’s for the kids, not for us.

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Adidas Firebirds: a step too far

But these trousers are excellent. Nice slippy flippy material, good length – very odd to be wearing trousers again that go all the way down to the floor – amusing racy red stripe down the side.

If the weather ever evens out I will be wearing these with a white shirt and some Arizona Birkenstocks. When it gets colder, with a grey or navy crew neck sweater.

Wearing them with a t-shirt and a pair of Stan Smiths gives entirely the wrong message.  Just, you know, in case you were considering doing that.

Sizing: I am 5’6″ and a 10-12 and a size 10 fits me. If anything a teensy little bit snug at the waistband, but that’s being a fat old mum of 2 for you…

More on shirts

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Palmer/Harding boyfriend shirt with large cuff

I’m on a mad shirt riff now, and this is a tasty one from Palmer/Harding. Just beyond the edge of affordable at £235 (unless you love it in which case, fuck it get it) and also very uninspiring styling here. Are we really expected to wear it like that? I  tweeted them to ask if the sleeves can be easily turned up and they said that they can either be rolled or folded back once to show off the deep cuff.


I always assume that I am alone in not especially liking summer – that’s my solipsism in action for you – but in fact whenever you talk to anyone about their favourite time of the year, or favourite season, it’s almost never high summer. Some people seem to enjoy summer more than others but given a clear, free choice, almost no-one says that they like summer the most. They always say “Spring” or “those cold but bright winter days” or “autumn”. I asked Twitter and probably one person of the 40 or so who replied said summer. Nigel Slater – NIGEL SLATER!!! – said “Whenever it snows”.

So we’re all just slogging through it, it seems. We’re all just getting it done – although I’m not especially hating summer this year the way I have done previous years.

It helps this year that we’ve had some doses of sunshine, a couple of heat waves. Because when you have a shit rainy summer like we had last year, you look forward to Autumn simply because you’re so fed up with the disappointment of terrible summer weather. But when you have a good, hot, sweaty summer you can think: right, done that. And really look forward to Autumn for what it is.

MAN my Autumnlust is bad this year. I like Spring, but I love love LOOOOOOVE Autumn. And this year I’ve gone insane for it, since about June, like in the way that some people talk about wanting a baby. I’ll be wandering along, minding my own business and blam into my head will pop a vision of an apple pie, some autumn leaves, plaid curtains, a log burner.

I occasionally put “Autumn” into Pinterest and my feel my pupils actually dilating at the search results like a teenaged boy in front of YouPorn.

Anyway I have no conclusion to draw from this. But I do think it must be an excuse for some marvellous pictures:

Pie crust

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Ruffled neckline shirt, £40

We all agree, I think, don’t we? that Alexa Chung’s pie crust frill shirt for M&S this year was an unmitigated disaster, BUT. Pie crust collars when done with restraint and sense are actually perfectly alright, if not even welcome. It just mustn’t tip over from pie crust to Elizabethan ruff.

So I rather fancy this frilled-neckline sleeveless blouse thingy from Stories. The CEO of Net a Porter when I met her – (I promised I’d stop mentioning this encounter but I can’t) -may or may not have been wearing a white, discreetly pie-crust collar shirt under a grey crewneck sweater. And it looked very lovely, modern and non-mad. God I really hope she doesn’t find out how fully I have dissected every part of her outfit and disseminated it here.

Eye for shirting

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Ann Demeulemeester (yes that really is her name) for Net A Porter, £435

It’s a funny thing, how trends in fashion can seem laughable, awful and wrong at one moment but then 3-6 months later you find yourself going “Ooo, actually that looks fabulous.”

So it is with this “shirting” lark. Months and months ago I went “wear a big shirt, yeah?” and none of us really did. Not even I did. We all just went on wearing our sweaters and check shirts of a normal size and ignoring crazy street fashion psychos who went about with their shirts on backwards like desperate loonatiks.

And as for reconstructed shirts (i.e. shirts with wonky seams, one arm longer than the other, different patches zig-zagged together) well, that was just too much. People are dying in Syria – how can we think about wearing a cut-n-shut shirt?

But now September is on our doorstep, hopping from foot to foot going “let me in ffs I really need a wee” and in the moments when we are not donating to Save The Children we are thinking that actually we quite fancy a wonky shirt.

For example, I love this one (above) from Net A Porter; at £435 I will obviously not be buying it. But this sort of look, once repulsive and abhorrent to me, now seems lively and modern.

Anyway don’t worry about this too much, but all I’m saying is that don’t be surprised if in about 6 week’s time you have a sudden craving for a mad shirt. I’m sure there will be some nice ones in Zara?


Kids outerwear

As it happens, outwear generally for children is a thing that it is quite hard to get right. I am now no longer at the stage where my children scream like banshees and run off when you try to put their coats on – thank god – but there are still other problems.

For the last five years, I have been surprised every Jan-March by how cold it suddenly gets. And then how wet. Then how cold and wet. And then there I am, scrabbling around in the sales at the start of April, buying up leftover warm things, which my children only need to wear for 2 months before it warms up again and then they grow out of them and it’s all been a hideous waste of money.

So this year finally, finally, I am going to get my act together and I think I have hit on the perfect combination of outerwear items that will see children from November – end of April ’17.

1 The first item is an excellent raincoat (see the John Lewis Zinfandel of previous post)

2 Next, one of these super-lightweight parkas from Uniqlo. They are so light and so warm that the child barely feels them on, and then can dash about unhampered by binding puffa. You can put them in the washing machine and they dry almost instantly. Not especially windproof, but for very cold-wind days you can layer this under the windproof Zinfandel or over a fleece (q.v.).

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3 For mild-to-nippy weather, (i.e Oct-December, early May), and for layering under the raincoat on cold + wet days I have also got this sleeveless puffa, also from Uniqlo.

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4 A good fleece, which my kids have never had. By that I mean a light, close-fitting one that zips all the way up the front, so you don’t have to jam it on over their heads. Is there any man-made material better than fleece when it comes to children? Unbreakable, light, non-sweaty and supremely washable.

But I have had trouble finding a good, functional fleece from the usual outlets (Boden, John Lewis, Lands End kids) so I went straight to the top, to North Face, and bought each child one of these little jackets.

At £45 each, they are not cheap, but I bought both a size too large so they will last us at least two years. And I feel like a really technical piece of winter kit is what’s been missing all this time. I may in fact have gone too early on these in a fit of neurotic hoarding – so perhaps wait until new stock comes in around October and there’s more choice of colours and sizes if you want to follow suit.

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5 A snoody. This is a tubular scarf, also made from the sacred fleece, purchasable only from Trotters. It protects fragile little necks from cruel east winds and can be pulled up over the ears in emergencies. You went mad for it last year and crashed the website in a buying frenzy, so you’ve probably all got one. For those who missed out, they aren’t available yet but I will post a link when they go on sale. Essential winter wear for the whole family – but especially for the under-10s.

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I’m on holiday next week so no Spike for a bit, but I’ll be back soon xxx


My dad has spent a fair amount of his time in academia, specialising in economics and politics. (You can buy his must-read on Marx here). He is very interested in that stuff and sometimes I like to say to him things like “What will happen with Brexit?” or “Who is going to win the election?”

He will look up from his book, cross his eyes and hang his mouth open, then say “It’s not a good idea to try to predict the future.” Another favourite phrase of his is “It’s too soon to tell.” For example: “Dad, how has the suffragette movement affected social mobility?” Answer: “It’s too soon to tell.”

It took twenty or thirty years for me to understand in particular his shyness when speculating about the future. Don’t clever people always strut about all over the place saying “The housing market it going to crash” and “Trump is going to win – and get us all killed” and “If you drink the rest of that bottle of wine you’re going to regret it, Esther”?

Why would you not, if you knew a lot about these things, make predictions? What’s not cool about being an oracle?

But maybe what he meant by this is that second-rate clever people strut about making these sorts of predictions. First rate clever people stand to the side placing bets on both outcomes, looking to lay off their bet for a profit when the result becomes more clear.

Which brings me to skinny jeans – and cross-body bags. But mainly skinny jeans.

Fashion people have been trying to kill off skinnies for a long time. And I, too, a few months ago went “Oh, skinnies are over, cross-bodies are over” – but I kind of knew even at the time I was wrong.

Skinnies and cross-bodies are just too handy, they’re too practical, like wearing flats. The minute fashion allowed women to free their hands, run about in flat shoes and keep their jean hems dry, it was like we were let out of prison. We finally experienced life – work, parties, travel – the same way that men did: with our hands free and painless feet. Why would we ever want to go back?

Fashion people this winter would like you to wear this sort of caper from Zara, re-formed jeans with an asymmetric hem.

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And that’s fine if you live in a warm, dry place. But we don’t and this winter, in this country, it is going to rain. And then it’s going to be cold. And then it’s going to rain, and be cold and then it’s going to be windy. And so what we really need to do is wear some trousers that we can tuck into some boots to keep our ankles and feet from going blue.

Personally, I’m bored with seeing these sorts of jeans in magazines and I would feel like a horrible try-hard wearing these. But I’ve also yet to find a skinny jean that doesn’t send me into a rage by 3pm.

What’s the answer? I’m afraid it’s just too soon to tell.


Kids raincoats

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Zinfandel raincoat, £32

Okay look look I know it’s insane – it’s August, it’s actually quite okay weather at the moment – but if you want to get your hands on this very good Autumn rain mac for your kids, you’d better get it now; this is one of those things that goes fast.

It’s made of that superb rubberised material that really properly keeps the rain out and it’s one of those items that’s just, you know… normal.

It’s just a normal, longish navy raincoat (it also comes in a jaunty yellow). It’s not neon or plastered in rotating dinosaurs. Just a boring navy raincoat – at a reasonable price as it’s John Lewis own brand and not Polan O Pyret or Joules: much harder to find than you think, hence the fact it will be sold out by the end of September.



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