Category Archives: House and home

Upcycling: how not to do it

Of all the recent interiors trends, one in particular stands out as seeming a total wheeze: upcycling. This is where you take a knackered piece of furniture, cover it in paint/a jaunty fabric and either a) sell it on at vast profit, or b) keep it and smugly tell anyone who’ll listen how little it cost.

Naturally I thought I’d give this a go myself. So I found a bunch of old café chairs in need of TLC, bought some overpriced paint in a fashionable shade of grey and set about transforming them.

It wasn’t long before I was thinking, I could make this a business. I could get a market stall and sell pieces I’ve picked up for a song at far-flung auction houses and charity shops. I’d be giving new life to old junk. It’s sustainable, productive, creative, potentially lucrative: who could ask for more from their work?

Misha pissed on my parade by asking where exactly I was planning to store all this stuff, and pointing out that getting up at 4.30am in January to flog furniture might not be something I’m cut out for.

In any case, painting them took FUCKING AGES. I mean, like, weeks, because first you have to wait for the weather to be nice enough to leave them outside. Then there’s the whole tedious undercoat process. When finally you’ve finished one, you have to muster the enthusiasm to paint another, and another, until if you see another fucking half-painted chair you think you’ll scream with the sheer, aching repetitiveness of it all.

Problem two: they look crap. Rubbish. Like a classic botched DIY job. You need to be a more skilled painter than me to avoid drips, patchiness and just plain forgetting to do bits. Problem three: it turns out that paint is a terrible surface for dining chairs. Food is a bitch to get off them, which is a problem if you’ve a toddler, as your chairs end up with an extra coat of congealed porridge. Later it turns out that the café chairs you bought were so useless, they start falling apart. The final insult comes when the bastard paint you spent forever applying, flakes off.

Six months on, I need new dining chairs. This time I may be going to Ikea.

In this photo it looks (almost) OK. Trust me, in real life it’s much, much worse.

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The friendliness of village life


Though small and unfathomably old (the pub dates back to 1450, the church to 1100), this isn’t one of those villages where you need three generations in the churchyard before you’re considered a local. In fact it’s reassuringly full of DFLs, as we’re known (Down From Londoners). Fortunately they’re all very friendly, in the way that you are when you haven’t a large pool of friends to choose from.

Next door (moved down from Battersea last year) turned up to welcome us bearing homemade malt loaf. I was impressed, not least because I didn’t know malt loaf could be homemade, having just assumed it always came in those little packets with the grapes on from Sainsbury’s. I also like that people turn up without calling first, which no one ever does in London.

Having a dog and small child helps on the meeting-people front, though meeting so many at once has its drawbacks. The woman who runs the toddler group keeps getting my name wrong, which I now know is something you need to nip in the bud immediately. Through a combination of embarrassment and laziness, I didn’t, and now it’s too late and is going to look really weird when I pluck up the courage to tell her that my name isn’t Anna.

Anyway, it’s as well people are friendly, because apparently we’ll be snowed in with them for the best part of the winter. Which isn’t something you appreciate when you’re smugly contemplating how nice it is to be away from the main road. So next time you’re driving through one of those villages on an A road, thinking, ‘This village would be so pretty if it wasn’t bang in the middle of this massive A road,’ remember that they’re the lucky ones, the people who, come January, will be considered worthy of gritting. Meanwhile we will rot here, with all-night Whistlestops and other walkable amenities but a distant memory.

** Am now feeling enormously guilty because about 45 kids and their parents have turned up to trick-or-treat, rendering my single family bags of KitKats and Maltesers woefully inadequate. I had no idea there’d be so many of them – it’s the first time I’ve ever had trick-or-treaters. They don’t come to Shoreditch; or if they do, you don’t want to open your door.

Actually, the reason I’m feeling so bad is that I’d eaten half the Maltesers before any trick-or-treaters even arrived.

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Country creepy crawlies

No one told me about the insects.

It turns out country houses are full of them. We arrived to find the aftermath of World War Woodlouse in the kitchen, their corpses strewn everywhere, the remaining survivors cowering in corners or fleeing for refuge under the stairs. Everyone I’ve mentioned this to says, ‘Oh, they’re perfectly harmless, they don’t carry disease or anything.’ Like that’s the point.

Meanwhile there’s a great chunk missing from the back door, where something has tried to force its way in. I kid you not – look:

‘Probably a fox or badger,’ the estate agent said breezily. Now we were no strangers to foxes in Shoreditch. But at no point did they try and force their way into my flat.

But worst of all are the spiders. Or should I say this particular beast, which has been staring at me through the living-room window since we got here. Never trust a spider with skeletal markings, I say. Or a belly that fat:

Ugh. I’d evict the fucker, but I also like knowing where it is. But they’re everywhere, too, the spiders. We’re massively outnumbered. On opening the pantry door, my first reaction (well, second – after, ‘Ooh! A pantry!’) was, ‘It’s a spider house. Nice.’

People talk of being ‘close to nature’ as if this is a good thing. When we were in Shoreditch, people from less urban climes would make slightly sneery comments about the lack of wildlife. But we had wood pigeons and squirrels and blue tits and surely that’s enough? You want more, go to a petting zoo. But the difference with urban wildlife is that it respects boundaries. I’m not sure I saw a spider in the 12 years I was in Shoreditch. And definitely, definitely never a woodlouse. And you know what? That was just fine.

On the plus side, the garden is nice. Lots of this sort of thing:

It’s an upgrade from the scrap of decking we had before.

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An Edwardian clothes pulley

We’re letting (rather than selling) the flat, so the past few days have been taken up with viewings. These are no fun, because a) keeping the flat immaculate is such a ball-ache, and b) the process basically involves inviting in a bunch of strangers to judge your belongings. As the world’s worst saleswoman, I tend to follow them round the flat, apologising for everything and pointing out flaws they might otherwise not have noticed.

One recent purchase people do seem to like, however, is the Edwardian clothes airer we fitted in the bathroom. I’m pretty pleased with this too, and would recommend one to any of you who live in flats where space is limited and Nazi management companies don’t let you hang laundry outside. Fitting it was a shag*, but I like that I’m not falling over the old fold-gate clothes airer any more.

You can buy one here www.pulleymaid.com/ for £39.99.

*I should mention here that I played no part whatsoever in fitting it. I went out for the day and returned to find it done, but I hear that fitting it was a shag.

** These are really terrible photos I’m supplying, aren’t they? Sorry. Must sort out a proper camera.

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Gwyneth Paltrow: Notes From My Kitchen Table

Instead of endless insights into the author’s tedious dilemmas, some blogs provide useful information, such as recipes. I haven’t offered any recipes up here, largely because I’m a shit cook. And I’d only be lifting them from Jamie or Nigella’s websites anyway, which frankly you can do yourselves.

But recently I’ve been trying to address the whole being-a-crap-cook thing, because, like every other guilt-ridden mother, I feel bad stuffing Emilio’s face with fish fingers and baked beans and want to give him sepia-tinted memories of home-baked cookies and Sunday-morning pancakes.

So I’ve been buying cookbooks and following the recipes with my finger, like a remedial seven-year-old. But recently it struck me that the books I’ve been buying are not by professional chefs, but pretty celebrities. I’ve got Gwyneth Paltrow’s, Sophie Dahl’s and the other day nearly bought Fay Ripley’s (OK, not quite in their league looks-wise, but still attractive, and not best known as a cook.)

The Gwyneth Paltrow one I’m really into, actually. People give her stick about her aspirational and slightly wanky website, Goop, but I like that, too (except for the boring cod-spirituality section). When we moved to LA I tried all her restaurant recommendations in the low-to-mid price bracket and there was only one dud. So I knew I’d like her cookbook because we have a fairly similar approach to food: She is neurotic about white sugar and industrially produced meat; I am neurotic about white sugar and industrially produced meat. She has kids; I have a kid. I mean, it’s like we’re the same person.

I’ve now made her banana-walnut muffins and basic tomato sauce (I told you I was a shit cook) several times, and can confirm they were a hit. Her turkey ragu, chicken Milanese and take on crumble also worked for me.

In general the book isn’t as mental and health-obsessed as you might expect – there are recipes for French toast and fudgy chocolate brownies, along with a lengthy burger section – but let’s just say it helps if you’re the type inclined to spelt flour and agave nectar. If you’ve ever found yourself trawling the ‘free from’ section of the supermarket, this one’s for you.

Anyway, yesterday I saw it knocked down to £8 (from £20) in House of Books on Moorgate, which I think is a bit of a bargain. I suspect it’s floundering about in loads of discount shops, because people think that she’s a bit of a tosser and they’re better off buying recipe books written by, y’know, trained chefs. More fool them, I say! But seriously, her food is pretty good.

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Filed under House and home, Kids, parenting... Non-mums may want to move along, Yum... Food

Moving to the country?

So we made a lowball offer on the Sussex place, which has been accepted. You’d think this would be cause for celebration, but I’m now fretting about whether or not this is a terrible idea and I’m going to spend my life weeping into the laundry with only a two-year-old and the Archers for company.

The advantages are: it’s a proper, grown-up house, double-fronted and everything, with a massive garden and enough bedrooms that Misha and I can have an office, and we can invite friends (plural!) to come and stay for the weekend. Having spent about six months studying Rightmove, I know we’d never get anything like that in London for the price.

Emilio would have masses of room to play and do all the baking/art-type activities I currently pretend don’t exist because they’re too messy. And if we did stay down there, I could send him to the local school and know he’d get an education. No 13-grand-a-year fees, no renting an overpriced shoebox next door to the school, no pretending to find Jesus. Just sending him to the nearest school, like normal people.

BUT with the exception of my Mum, who is admittedly a draw, I don’t really know anyone in Sussex. And I don’t know if I can face hauling my arse around playgroups trying to latch onto other mothers. It all sounds a bit bleak, like the rural landscape in winter. And although the countryside boasts lots to do with kids on sunny days (petting zoos, steam railways, that kind of thing), I’m not sure what you do with them when it rains, when you don’t know anybody.

I don’t know *sigh*. I should probably mention that we’d be renting this place, not buying, and only for six months at that (the short lease is the reason it’s so cheap). Which makes it not so much moving to the country as taking a sabbatical there. An extended holiday, really. But just thinking about it makes me miss the Tube and Topshop and Ottolenghi and other people and…

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Tokyo Bike

So I already own an expensive bike I never use:

Say hello to the Pashley Princess, a product bought largely by urban women who picture themselves in Supergas and some kind of floral tea dress, cruising down country lanes, a baguette and perhaps a small dog propped jauntily in the basket. What they don’t realise about this bike is that it is in fact fucking heavy and if they so much as approach a hill, they will be sweating like Pavarotti on a stairmaster. If there is any kind of stair in your flat/house, forget it.

So bye-bye, Pashley Princess, you are last week’s cycle crush. This week’s is…

Tokyo Bike!

Simplicity at its prettiest, if you ask me. It comes in a range of colours to make Farrow & Ball weep and, because the brand is fairly unknown, lacks the smug, nick-me aura of the Pashley. Although it will be stolen in about ten seconds, because it’s lovely.

I only came across these the other day at Tokyo Bike’s pop-up shop in Rivington Street. I’m sick of pop-up shops. They get your hopes up, kidding you that your area is getting interesting and then bugger off, leaving nowt but a desolate shop front. And now there’s a whole pop-up mall coming…

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