Monthly Archives: April 2011

Finally, a dining table

We have been hunting for a new dining table for, ooh… about 1,000 years now, ever since I sold the old one on Ebay on grounds of having always hated the thing. Anyway, replacing it turned out to be harder than I’d anticipated, because dining tables cost a ton of money, are frequently hideous and did I mention the cost? Since we’re trying to maximise space, we specifically wanted a square or rectangular one that extends, which we could shove discreetly against the wall when we’re not having people over.

I’d searched everywhere, from Kempton Park antiques market (the biggest bi-monthly market in the country, and brilliant if you can be arsed to get up at 5am to get there) to your Habitats/Heal’s to obscure websites like this one. Then I saw Pearl Lowe boasting about her new Somerset home in Grazia. I like her flea-market style and she mentioned having bought furniture at places like 88 Golborne Road, which made me think, ‘Ah! Golborne Road!’

Because, having not been there for ages, I’d quite forgotten it was chock-full of antiques/junk shops. It’s off my usual patch – the truth being that we tend to be a bit ‘grrr’ about West London. Partly because it’s full of tossers, and partly because we have ginormous chips on our shoulders, the East having been traditionally seen as the inferior side of town. The shop she mentioned was closed, but there were plenty of others to check out, Les Couilles du Chien being the best-known. But my favourite was Phoenix on Golborne, which stocks antiques, along with pretty vintage, painted and shabby-chic furniture. It’s straight out of the Harry Enfield sketch I Saw You Coming, which made me reluctant to pay £430 for this scrub-top pine table, even though it’s lovely:

We ummed and ahhed and took a walk up the road to decide, whereupon we stumbled on this table, lurking on the market.

Not as pretty as the other one, perhaps, but only £60! Which is a big fat improvement on £430 (which would actually come closer to £500, once you factor in paint, delivery charges, etc.) We decided to paint the legs, because wooden table + wooden floor = neverending expanse of brown. Some people (my mother-in-law, my best friend) see painting old things as sacrilegious, a crime akin to adding ionic columns and a hot tub to the Pyramids. But I think it looks nice:

We used Annie Sloan chalk paint, a brand I hadn’t heard of before (which we bought at Phoenix on Golborne – the woman in there suggested painting the scrub-top table in Annie Sloan’s Paris Grey, so we basically stole her idea and used it on the cheap table, which I felt terrible about because she was so nice, but 400 quid is 400 quid). The initial effect was a bit, well, chalky, so we gave it a coat of Liberon liquid furniture wax. And, lo, this is the result. We may coat the top with Nitromors to get rid of the varnish, but that may equally be another job we never get round to.

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Lunchtime at the Hoxton Grill

As much as I love Shoreditch, it has a colossal hang-up about Not Being New York. You can see it everywhere, from the clubs given names like ‘East Village’ to the relentless exposed brickwork to the second-hand shops that call themselves thrift stores. Occasionally some ambitious estate-agent type will try to force a New York-style nickname on the area, like ‘Sosho’ for South Shoreditch. These never catch on and are frankly just embarrassing for everybody.

The Hoxton Grill in the Hoxton Hotel is more upfront about its love of Americana, serving steaks, shrimp cocktails and mac’n’cheese-type fare. My husband thinks it’s a bit naff, but I really like it, not least for its pretty outdoor space, which doesn’t draw the crowds you’d expect for the simple reason that not many people know about it. The restaurant is owned by the Soho House people, which means you get nice Cowshed products in the loos.

The Hotel is supposed to be excellent value, too. It regularly offers promotional £1 rooms, which is such a good deal I’ve tried to book them several times myself, despite living two minutes down the road. It’s impossible, in any case. During the last sale, 100 rooms were booked within ten minutes. I suggest you give it a go though. Let’s face it, it could be the Devil’s own shitheap and you’d still be chuffed if you’d paid a pound.

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Pubs for parents

Easter weekend was mostly spent in pub beer gardens, which was a treat, and painting chairs, which wasn’t. On Saturday we went to the Florence in Herne Hill, a fairly unremarkable pub except for the genius addition of a dedicated kids’ playroom, which allows parents to eat, drink and chat, while keeping an eye on their shouty offspring through the glass wall that separates playroom and pub garden. It’s brilliant, and I wish more pubs would adopt the idea, because Herne Hill is frankly a shag to get to.

The three pubs we went to – the others being the Stag in Hampstead and the Albion in Islington – all had one thing in common: shit food. When did pubs revert to serving deep-fried brie and overcooked roasts? I thought we’d gone beyond that one. I blame the annoying trend for British nostalgia food, but that’s another story. Anyway, we spent a lot of time eating food we could have made better ourselves, which is always a pisser when they’re charging £15-plus a main. The worst was the Albion, not just for the food, but for the service, which was downright poisonous. Never before have I seen I barman respond, “I don’t care” when a customer (rightfully) complains that he’s been waiting 15 minutes to be served. The waitress made us start a tab and, when my friend was overcharged to the tune of £25 on hers, stropped as if she was asking for the refund purely to inconvenience her. It was beyond cheeky, and not the first time I’ve had a bad experience there. It’s so annoying when pubs think that a nice garden and splash of Farrow and Ball gives them the right to behave like total arseholes. Grrr.

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Filed under General rants and moans

Poison tree

Isn’t this a cool tree? I think it’s a cool tree. It’s called Spanish Bloom, and it’s a whole lot nicer than the gaping piece of nothingness that was there before. Anyway, it turns out it’s highly toxic, which is less than ideal when you have a toddler and dog, both of whom like to stuff their mouths with anything they can fit inside.

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Parisian style

I have a soft spot for those style guides written by slightly bossy, self-appointed taste arbiters, such as Rita Konig. So after hearing 80s supermodel Ines de la Fressange talk about her new book Parisian Chic on Radio 4 Woman’s Hour, I’d bought it before you could say, ‘Hmmm, Amazon One-Click: not a guaranteed great idea.’

For a start, it’s a style guide to Paris. Which, since I’m not going to Paris, makes it almost entirely redundant. There are, however, substantial chapters on what to wear, along with the usual tips on how to have a chi-chi dinner party, etc. Much of the advice is of the crashingly obvious kind (‘Nowadays, red and white wine are fine for everyone… For non-drinkers, water and fruit juices are perfect.’) But it’s hard for books to offer fashion advice because they’ve dated before they’ve left the presses. (‘Who would wear a pleated skirt?’ she scoffs. Well, everyone who tried – and failed – to get their hands on this one, for a start.)

In fact I was surprised at how cliche some of her style tips were. Trench coats get a big plug, for instance, as do ballerinas, straight-leg jeans and even Breton tops. You wonder why she didn’t go the whole hog and recommend berets and strings of onions.

Not bad for 54 though, huh?

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The Holiday – bad film, great idea

Yesterday I joined a home-exchange site, as we’re looking for somewhere to stay in Los Angeles this summer and thought this might be a cheap’n’cheerful option. Anyway, I can’t believe I haven’t done it before. I’ve already had offers of places to stay in Valencia, Florida, Bordeaux and Carcassonne, as well as a definite LA possibility. Admittedly it helps living in central London, as people know how much they’re going to pay for hotels round these parts, but it seems that for the price of a cheap flight (admittedly not that cheap any more), you can have an amazing holiday and live like a local, rather than being ripped off at some skanky hole that fake-reviewed its way to a decent position on Trip Advisor.

In fact, the one possible glitch is the boy. It hadn’t occurred to me that he might be a problem, but it turns out there are people in the world who don’t want gammy porridge hands on their walls and their favourite crockery smashed to oblivion. I thought about offering a hefty toddler deposit, which would cover any possible damage, or pretending that small boys are well behaved really and never cause mayhem at all. But actually, do I want to do that? Spending two weeks breaking into a cold panic every time he lurches towards some irreplaceable lamp doesn’t sound like a holiday to me. So I guess it’s back to Trip Advisor, depressingly.

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Mother-son matching shoes

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Filed under The bits I can't think of a category for