The Spike


April 2017

Cheap bag love

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Zara, £19.99

I have a rule about no cheap bags or shoes. And no fakes. When you have a problem with “stuff”, like I do, very quickly you can just have way, way, way too much. And then you have to confront the fact that you buy things because you are mental, and that’s not nice. There is enough evidence that I’m mental without it physically cluttering up the place, too.

So my rule is no cheap bags – nothing under £500 – and no cheap shoes – nothing much under £100. Then you don’t really buy anything because your husband will notice you can’t afford it. And you make do with what you have, which is how it ought to be.

This doesn’t apply to clothes, because clothes have to fit and suit you, which cancels out quite a lot of them. But bags and shoes – fuck it! Who can’t fit into a bag? Or a shoe? What bag “doesn’t suit” you?

But today I made an exception for a Zara bag, which has been on my mind for 3 months. “I mustn’t buy it,” I kept saying, despite it being a) perfect, a Mansur Gavriel-ish bucket in  in a Celine yellow and b) only £20 – NO-ONE SAY SWEAT SHOP!! – because of my no cheap bags rule.

But then I was in Zara – I just kind of came to in there, it happens a lot – and I saw a girl taking the bags down off the shelf and I said “What are you doing! What are you doing!” and she said “Oh, this is old stock, I’m just moving it to the back,” and I said “No wait wait I’ll just… take… this one….” and zoinked it out of her hand and bought it, panting.

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Mansur Gavriel. Beaut.

I love my cheap bag so much. I love it with the kind of spleeny jolt that happens when one of my kids looks at me with their bright little beady, birdy eyes and no-one has been a little shit for about half an hour and they’re looking at me and then they smile and then wave and go “Hi mum.”

I love this bag that much. And for that kind of love, rules can be broken.


Hampton Canvas

£25 each

“Can we send you some shoes to say thank you for your kind coverage of Trotters?” said Trotters.

“Oh no,” I said. “Thank you so much, but I don’t take freebies.”

“Oh go on,” they said.


And here they are!! But only for the kids, you understand. I got none for myself, to sort of balance out the moral quandary of taking freebies.

I’m so not a millennial neither in fact nor in attitude.

Hampton Canvas are a range of shoes that used to be sold only in Trotters stores or on the Trotters website, but they are so popular that Trotters have given the shoe their own website, which is here.

Next-eldest sister always used to deck her kids out in HC and every time I said “God where did you get those cute posh little plimsolls for the boys?” and she said “Trotters” and I went “Ugh but it’s in Chelsea, I never go to Chelsea.” Then I noticed them more and more on other people’s kids – they always looked so cute, chic and yet practical. And yet… there was always that journey to Chelsea, or the rather unknowable task of buying childrens’ shoes online that got in the way – plus they were very often completely sold out.

I particularly like the “Nantucket” which has a Mary-Jane style strap but Kitty picked out the bright pink pair, naturally, and Sam vaguely stabbed at the screen and went “Dose,” at what I took to be the navy blue ones.

Of course, my children have got such weird-shaped feet, (Sam’s are square and Kitty’s are long and slim like wading bird), that they might not technically fit, but I will just cut holes in the relevant places and stuff newspaper down the sides so that they can wear them anyway.

Tan 2017

Last year I used Clarins’ impossibly-named Golden Glow Booster to dye my legs the requisite brown colour I regard as being socially acceptable. This year I have switched back to the St Tropez Gradual Tan mousse because… well, I’m actually wondering why.

The Clarins stuff was good, you add a few drops to your normal moisturiser, mix it in, spread it on, rub in and off you go. But there was something about the mixing in, the drops… it felt messy and unappealing by late August.

I recall thinking back fondly to the supremely user-friendliness of the St Tropez mousse. It is a white mousse that won’t stain your entire house brown, you can do it without needing gloves – (are you listening, James Read?) – and it dries in about half a minute and you can get dressed and scamper off.

So I went to Superdrug last week and bought myself a can and slapped it about with relish.

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About £9

Of course, for times when you need brown legs RIGHT NOW because a few hundred people have died and so you suddenly get an invitation to the opening party for The Ned tonight, Lancome’s Flash bronzer for legs is good, although you have to be careful about brown rub-off and it smells pretty strong. It has tiny little gold sparkles in it, which is quite Seventies and rather now.

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About £28


And I hear great things about Perfect Legs Skin Miracle, (which always makes me think of that bar in East London called Dream Bags Jaguar Shoes), from This Works. Anyone tried that? I think it gives you a brownish sheen immediately, which transforms into an actual chemical-reaction tan over time.

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About £37, so it had BETTER be a freaking miracle…


Desperately seeking skirt

I am in a rage because I saw a photo of a girl the other day, wearing a really smart embroidered skirt and I cannot find the skirt. Usually I aminsanely good at tracking down things like that. Either I see it and simply know where it is from or I go looking. And I don’t stop until I have found it. I tracked down a husband using the same skill-set.

I don’t even want to buy that damned skirt! I’ve got nowhere to wear it. But I must know where it is from.

It was a knee-length embroidered jobby, last seen on Sarah Michelle Gellar during the later series of Buffy. The girl was wearing it with a camel coat and, I think, a shirt and looked fantastic.

The closest thing I can find is this from Alice + Olivia on the Outnet. Was it this one? My head says yes but my heart says no.

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About £300

It definitely wasn’t this Valentino one, but it was this kind of thing.

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Things on the Outnet are often future massive trends on the high street – I got a black and white gingham shirt from there about 6 months ago and now gingham is everywhere and I can’t wear it for fear of people thinking that I’ve only just got it. So keep a sharp eye out for early embroidered skirt pieces in, e.g., Zara. I think it’s the next thing. Or just buy the Alice + Olivia skirt. Someone’s got to have it and it can’t be me.

Anyway it all got me thinking about floral skirts and I really fancy this one from

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Newlily via asos. About £120

Or something cooler, a bit less literal, from OtherStories:

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I love the combination of the dark purple and the very now-ish pink. So lovely with a white t-shirt. That’s all.


Hormones/skin update

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Some of my more diligent readers might remember that I started off the new year with horrendous skin that was on a constant outbreak. It was so bad I got little flutters of panic about it.

It stopped me from writing about the brilliant organic essential oil-based beauty brand Votary because not even a brilliant organic beauty range can help when spots are waging war on your social life. AGED THIRTY SIX.

I self-diagnosed the problem as hormones and went along to the London Hormone clinic. I saw Dr Annaradnam, who was a dynamo of ideas and suggestions, (which you don’t often see in the medical profession), and sent me off for a blood test. She also gave me a topical cream called Duac to slap on the affected area (chin left-hand side) in the meantime.

The results came back inconclusive – although I have to lowest Vitamin D levels Dr Annaradnam had seen in someone actually alive – but she put me on the blessed progesterone cream anyway. You apply one pump to the inside of your forearm every evening, rub in and leave.

That was a month ago. Six months after my skin went totally haywire, it has now calmed down. It’s not perfect, though I never strive for perfect, I only ever strive for not completely awful. It’s very hard to say exactly what has helped. It wasn’t a very scientific experiment, in that I didn’t try just one thing consistently. I have also now stopped with the progesterone cream because my friend Sarah told me that it might clear up your spots but it gives you a belly (“Progesterone,” she said gravely, “is not your friend.”) and my face continues on an even keel.

So what I would say about the London Hormone Clinic is – they are good people who will try their best for you. But don’t go unless you are absolutely convinced beyond all reasonable doubt that hormones are the problem because it is fucking expensive. I haven’t really added up all the numbers because I’m too scared but I reckon all in it was about £400.

Most useful summer shoes

I am so pleased that it’s okay to wear espadrilles again, after a few years in the style wilderness. I have just returned from four days in Corfu, which was fine except little Sam sort of spiralled off into some kind of mad psychodrama (plus ca change).

(By the way, if you were the reader who I was chatting to at Pizza East, having dumped my husband and children at home fresh off the plane on the pretext of getting the kids some tea, while I was literally demented with end-of-school-holidays madness I am really sorry. I saw the panic in your eyes. You were kind.)

Anyway while in Corfu I found myself reaching for my espadrilles at all times. Mine are these pale pink pair from Seven Boot Lane that for the last two summers I have treated like they are holy relics, only getting them out for special occasions, spraying them and brushing the suede, keeping them in the box.

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£80, from Seven Boot Lane

But alas you cannot put off the inevitable knackering of an espadrille, (although new generation espadrilles are more sturdy than their tatty, squelchy ancestors), and I have vaguely got my eye on what my next pair might be. My one requirement is that it has a platform sole, which has marvellously leg-lengthening and ankle slimming properties (possibly only to me, in my head, but that’s all that matters).

I like these from Office.

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£67.99 – how did they arrive at this random price, I wonder?

and these , also from Office. A bit mental, but I think they would look nice on.

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I worry that these, with the sparkly bits on the front, might be a bit Temple Fortune mum. I grew up in Temple Fortune and I can say that and it’s not racist.

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If you are thinking that it is insane to spend north of £50 on an espadrille, just remind yourself that they are more sturdy that their forefathers and so worth it. You are still allowed to wear your flip flops! Just not for best.

Ottolenghi’s spiced squash


In my continuing quest for interesting vegetarian cookery I made this thing last night.

It was really good, I recommend it. If you were doing a vegetarian-only spread, this would work well alongside some kind of fresh and zingy slaw or cucumber and chilli salad as the squash is quite rich and sticky.

Very good in large quantities for any big crowd you’ve got coming. The whole thing can be done in advance and then assembled at the last minute. Best of all, you don’t have to peel the bastard squash, which is always a low point for me in any week.

From Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi

1 butternut squash

1 tsp ground cinnamon

olive oil

bunch coriander

1 small garlic clove

large handful pumpkin seeds

3 tablespoons yoghurt

some sriracha

salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C

1 Cut the squash in half lengthways and chuck out the seeds. Then cut into 2cm-wide slices. Leave the skin on!!!!

2 Toss the squash in a bowl with some glugs of olive oil and the ground cinnamon and a good grind of pepper, then lay out on a baking sheet and put in the oven for about 35 min. This is now ready – you can leave it to cool in whatever bowl you are going to ultimately present this in.

3 Turn the oven down to 160C and put a tray of pumpkin seeds in for 6 minutes until they are cracked and popped and puffy. These are delicious and worth doing, just in case you were thinking about not bothering.

4 Put the coriander, more olive oil, a big pinch of salt and the small garlic clove into a food processor and whizz until you’ve got a fragrant herby oil.

5 Swirl together the sriracha and yoghurt

Assemble by dropping blobs of the yoghurt over the squash, then the herb oil and then scatter the pumpkin seeds on last.

I also made a cucumber and broccoli salad thing from Anna Jones, but it was less successful so let’s just pretend I didn’t.


Navy knitted dress

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I am very pleased with this knitted dress from – only £32 but looks quite Celine, don’t you think?

(That is of course a trick question, designed to freak you out. Anything you buy, just say to someone “quite Celine, don’t you think?” and they will be so frightened that they will say “Yes” and scurry away.)

With a dress like this, your accessories are everything. Your smartest bag. Your chicest gold hoops. Your cleanest shoes.

The sizing on this is quite generous – I got this in a 12 and it is pretty loose on me and I’m not in especially great shape right now.

Anna Jones’s courgette and chickpea thing

Sorry what a dismal photo


So of course I have never gone anywhere near Anna Jones, being as she is successful and popular and “everywhere”, I just think Buh, fuck off.

But then my dear friend Annie gave me her cookbook and I had a flick through it and still thought Jesus what is all the fuss about.

But THEN feeling inspired and living life slowly at the moment – both kids are off school and Sam has had such uncontrollable runs I had to put him back in a nappy for two days – I bought all the ingredients for and made her courgette and chickpea thing.

(I am also always on the lookout for good vegetarian cooking because I reckon come the apocalypse, if I survive, if you have a really good repertoire of vegetarian cooking, life will be better. You think I’m joking.)

Anyway it was great! One of those dishes where you look at it when it’s finished and think “What a dismal heap of hedge clippings” but it wasn’t, it was absolutely terrific. Giles loved it. “This is wonderful,” he said, which he doesn’t always.

Also one of those ones where the first time you make it, it’s all a bit of a hassle, but subsequent times you can do it without thinking and it would be a breeze.

Anyway here we go.

Sweet roasted courgettes with crispy chickpeas from Anna Jones

For 4, or for 2 if it’s all you’re eating

4 medium courgettes

olive oil

1 red onion

1/2 bunch thyme

1 jar roasted red peppers

500g cherry tomatoes (I don’t think I used 500g – just “some” will do)

2 cloves garlic

1 tin chickpeas, rinsed

1 unwaxed lemon

1 Preheat your grill to absolute full bongoes and grate your courgette into a baking tray. Chuck over a lot of salt and pepper and some drizzles of olive oil then put the tray under the heat while you do everything else. Give it a stir and a shuffle every now and then.

2 Put a frying pan with some olive oil on a medium heat. Thinly slice the red onion and put it in the oil with picked thyme leaves. Cook gently for about 5 minutes.

3 Chop up the red peppers, garlic and tomatoes.

4 When the onions are cooked and tangly and the courgette is browning at the edges and looking a bit cooked, (don’t worry if they seem a bit sloppy), put in the red peppers, tomatoes and the onion and put back under the heat.

5 Without bothering to really clean the pan from cooking the onion, put in a bit more oil and then put in your chick peas, salt and pepper and the zest of the lemon. On reflection I would add the lemon as a garnish to finish it as my lemon zest just got stuck to the bottom of the pan and burnt.

I think “crispy” chickpeas is a bit of a reach as a description for this – what the chickpeas do is go brown. That’s not a bad thing, but don’t think you’re getting “crispy” chickpeas, that’s all.

Anyway, cook the chickpeas in the pan reasonably hot, shaking them about and paying attention to them until they look crispy, (without necessarily genuinely being so), and then shake them over the courgette-and-pepper thing under the grill. Crumble over some feta too if it’s all just too stoic without it. Jones suggests halloumi or ricotta but it’s up to you really.

To my mind this is kind of crying for that fresh lemon zest sprinkled over the top at the end, with some chopped mint – after all, it’s not the apocalypse yet.



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