Thursday, 8 December 2011
But those days are long gone. Shopping in the sticks is chicer than chic. Here in Oxfordshire we’ve got the amazing Bicester Village a few miles away – complete with Anya Hindmarch, Mulberry, Joseph and every other designer you can think of. Emma Bridgewater and Cowshed have recently opened so that's Christmas sorted and when you need an energy boost you can dive into Carluccio's (above) for a plate of pasta.
So just to prove there are fantastic shops in the country, here are my current top three.
The Hambledon in Winchester is my favourite shop in the world. I’ve known owner Victoria Suffield since she was a teenager and she has an eye for design and detail that’s second to none. Her stunning three-floor emporium overlooking Winchester Cathedral sells a dazzling mix of clothes, china, books, children’s things and vintage furniture. The website, which boasts designs by Rob Ryan and a brilliant Christmas gift guide, is definitely worth a look too.
Next up is Carole Bamford’s amazing Daylesford Farmshop and Café, just the other side of Chipping Norton. Critics mutter that it’s like Harvey Nichols in the middle of the muddy Cotswold countryside but it’s great for organic food, china, flowers and the most stylish clothes this side of the M40.
Third on my list is the Bettys Café Tea Room chain. There are six branches of Bettys – one in Ilkley, one in Northallerton and two each in Harrogate and York – plus an excellent mail order service. Despite countless pleas from customers, the company has resolutely refused to open any outside Yorkshire. Their elegant cafés are open all day, with charming waitresses in starched white pinnies serving everything from Bettys famous Fat Rascals (a sort of giant scone with cherries and almonds) to lunch and afternoon tea. And on the way home, you can stock up with freshly-baked bread, cakes, chocolates, coffee and tea. Perfect.
Wednesday, 7 December 2011
Bearing all that in mind, it seemed perfectly reasonable to ask my son whether he planned to wear a coat to school this morning.
“No,” he growled, hardly glancing up from his bowlful of Frosties. (At least he eats breakfast – a survey published this week said only one in two of us eat before leaving home in the morning.)
But teenagers’ aversion to coats is a mystery to me. My daughter was exactly the same when she was at school. Even on the coldest, wettest days she’d head for the bus wearing a threadbare jumper and short school skirt and insist she didn’t feel cold at all. “I’m fine,” she’d mutter, “really warm” – oblivious to the fact that her chattering teeth and blue lips gave the game away.
My son can’t protest he hasn’t got a coat either. I’ve spent a fortune on the blooming things. Last year I figured that if I bought him an ultra-chic Superdry one that he really liked, it would do the trick. My plan worked for a few days but then he met up with friends at a pizza place near Magdalen Bridge and carefully hung his coat by the door. When he went to retrieve his coat at the end of the evening it had gone. In its place was a flimsy cotton jacket – obviously left by the person who’d nicked my son’s lovely, warm coat. The following day the temperature dropped to minus degrees so, worried he was going to freeze, I went out and spent my week’s earnings on an identical one. An identical one that he never wears.
I just hope that he’ll eventually follow his big sister’s example and wake up to the wonderfulness of coats. One day my daughter announced out of the blue that she was off to Topshop to buy a winter coat. She came back a few hours later with a stylish navy number that she still loves. Result!
PS. I mentioned last week how I can’t wait to see Steven Spielberg’s War Horse when it opens here in January. But considering I cry at anything (apart from that John Lewis ad), I was worried by the Times reviewer’s verdict on the New York premiere. “If you don’t cry in War Horse, it’s because you have no tear ducts,” he wrote. We have been warned.
Monday, 5 December 2011
It’s certainly why an article by Kira Cochrane in today’s Guardian caught my eye. Back in June, Cochrane had the gnawing feeling that she hadn’t seen a female byline on newspaper front pages for weeks. So along with a colleague and two researchers, she decided to put her hunch to the test and started counting them.
The results were alarming – well, women journalists will think so, anyway. As Cochrane writes: “There wasn’t a single day, on a single newspaper, when the number of female bylines outstripped or equalled the number of male bylines.”
When the team averaged out its figures after a month, the results were as follows: Daily Mail - 68% male bylines, 32% female; The Guardian - 72% male, 28% female; The Times - 74% male, 26% female; Daily Telegraph - 78% male, 22% female; Daily Mirror - 79% male, 21% female; The Sun - 80% male, 20% female; The Independent, 84% male, 16% female.
It's pretty damning stuff, but the trouble is that Fleet Street doesn’t make life easy for women journalists. When I started out as a reporter on the Evening Standard, I was one of six women reporters in a news team of around 24. Twenty years later, only one of us works in Fleet Street, the Guardian’s brilliant Caroline Davies, while loads of the men are still there. And of the men who aren’t, the vast majority continued to work as reporters till they retired.
There’s no doubt that working as a news reporter isn’t compatible with having young children. When I worked for the Standard, I was rung in the middle of the night once or twice a week and told to get to Manchester or Calais or a crime scene round the corner from my Clapham flat – like, er, NOW. So if you’re the mother of young children but haven’t got a live-in nanny or a saintly husband, it’s just not workable. I’m sure it's why so many women leave Fleet Street in their thirties. That’s certainly what happened to me.
Once women reporters take career breaks to look after their children, very few ever return to their old staff jobs. A few turn to feature writing, columns or reviewing but most work as freelances, with no job security whatsoever.
It’s ironic really, because I reckon that I’m a better journalist now than when I was young and green. I know a hell of a lot more about life, not to mention interviewing and writing. So could my generation of women reporters make a difference in news rooms these days? You bet we could.
Sunday, 4 December 2011
But apparently what we should be doing in these cash-strapped times, and especially in the run-up to Christmas, is haggling. Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which? magazine, says: “Christmas doesn’t have to be cancelled. Savvy shoppers can save money with online deals, discount days and pre-Christmas sales. You should compare prices between stores and don’t be afraid to haggle to get the best price.”
Apparently everyone is doing it, including Sun columnist Jane Moore, whose husband got £3,000 off her new car by haggling. Well, lucky her, but the trouble is that in order to get a great deal in the shops you have to be a very cool, confident customer. Not only that, I reckon that shops dishing out discounts probably have a cut-off price they’d sell the goods at anyway. You only have to look at the zillions of on-line offers around right now to realise that. I’ve currently got emails giving 15 per cent off at Cologne & Cotton, Emma Bridgewater, the Conran Shop and more arriving by the day.
When it comes to haggling, though, you’ve either got what it takes or you haven’t. I remember my mother giving it a go at Covent Garden market years ago. Browsing at a clothes stall, she spotted some trousers for £15 and a top for £10 and asked the stall-holder “can you do the two for £30?” He clearly couldn't believe his ears. “Yep, I think I can,” he said, quickly wrapping the items up.
I’ve clearly inherited her bartering skills. Looking for an outfit to wear to a wedding, I spied a chic straw boater at a posh Battersea milliner’s. The price tag next to it said £75 so I went in and tried it on. It was perfect. “I’ll have it,” I said. “That’ll be £70,” said the assistant. “Er, shouldn’t it be £75?” I queried and duly paid the more expensive price. When we got outside my husband rolled his eyes in despair. “You are the only person I know who manages to barter the price up,” he said.
PS. It wasn’t just the Paperchase offer that made me buy the Observer this morning. As I mentioned a couple of months back, I’m a huge fan of Laura Marling. So I could hardly believe my luck when a Laura Marling CD featuring ten live and studio tracks (some from her recent tour of English cathedrals) came free with today’s issue. It has quite made my day. And I didn’t even have to haggle to get it!
Saturday, 3 December 2011
House With No Name Weekly Digest: From the world’s worst au pair (me!) to Pippa Middleton’s party planning book
Every Saturday the House With No Name blog features a few of the week’s highlights – and with Christmas fast approaching, there have been plenty during the last seven days.
As I staggered downstairs this morning there were two lots of mail on the doormat. One was the gorgeous January issue of Red magazine (my favourite monthly right now) with party girl Zoe Ball looking stunning on the cover, while the second was (aaagh) my very first Christmas card. It came from a lovely school friend, but had the effect of making me feel even more chaotic than usual. I’ve got as far as buying my cards but there’s no way I’ll get round to sending them for another two weeks. AT LEAST!
House With No Name goes to the BBC
House With No Name on the art of being the world’s worst au pair
House With No Name puts up its advent calendar
House With No Name on how to throw a non-Pippa-Middleton-style party
House With No Name Book Review - Sheena Byrom’s Catching Babies
PS: The National Blog Posting Month challenge (or NaBloPoMo for short) finished in style on November 30 – and da-da-di-da, I made it. A big thank you to everyone who read and commented on my posts. I had great fun posting every day and met loads of lovely bloggers along the way, some of whom have thrown caution to the wind and are blogging right through December too. They are made of sterner stuff than me!
Thursday, 1 December 2011
A long, bumpy track led to the house (which we rented from a charming, aristocratic landowner) and I vividly remember the day the community midwife drove up to check that my son was doing fine. In most areas midwives visit new mothers and their babies for the first ten days and in my experience, they are a brilliant source of help and advice.
Out of the car stepped Sheena Byrom, the community midwife for the Ribble Valley. Dressed in a navy-blue uniform, she was smiley, ultra-supportive and compassionate. She seemed like a friend from the instant I met her and we stayed in contact for years afterwards. Sadly we eventually lost touch – mainly, I reckon, because of the crazy number of times I've moved house.
Anyway, idly scrolling through Twitter this week, I suddenly spotted a mention of a new book called Catching Babies: The true story of a dedicated midwife. It was by, yes, Sheena Byrom. I was so thrilled that I dashed out and bought a copy straight away.
As I expected, Catching Babies is a cracking read about Sheena’s 35-year career as a midwife, from her close-knit Lancashire upbringing to her nursing training at Blackburn Royal Infirmary. The chapters I enjoyed the most were about Sheena’s decision to move from a hospital-based job to work as a community midwife. I loved her descriptions of driving “through the most fabulous scenery, rippling green hills and groups of ancient, majestic trees” to check on babies and their mums. Just reading it took me back 17 years in a flash.
Sheena’s story, which has its share of heartbreak, is a fascinating account of how midwifery has advanced over the years. If you’re interested in babies, children and a woman who's dedicated her career to helping women in childbirth, then you’ll definitely enjoy this. As Sheena herself says: “Midwives are in a really privileged position and I believe that if a woman’s birth is positive then they will go on to be positive mothers. It helps women to be better mums.”
Catching Babies by Sheena Byrom (Headline, £6.49)