Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky: OMG clothes

The Yorkshire Grey in Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky

Grange Langham Court in Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky

Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky by Patrick Hamilton is hands down the best book I’ve read this year, and I’m really sad that it has taken me so long to read it. Wasted years.

It’s actually a trilogy of short stories all revolving around a pub called The Midnight Bell and, spoiler alert, it’s really bleak. Anyone who has read this blog and monitored my reading habits will roll their eyes to hear that the first story in the trilogy was published in 1929, when Patrick was just 24. Two more stories followed in 1932 and 1934 and here they’re all bundled together – you’d never guess they weren’t originally published as one story – the mood and tone just flows so perfectly.

This is, perhaps, because it’s basically Patrick’s own story. The trilogy follows barman Bob, pub waitress Ella and ~~lady of the night~~ Jenny and while Patrick might not have been a barman, he was hopelessly in love with a prostitute and spent a lot of time loitering in Fiztrovia pubs observing life’s comings and goings – and getting his heart broken.

I’m not sure if it’s because I used to live in that area – and work in a pub there – but after about ten pages I became obsessed with the idea of a film adaptation of the books. My potential screenwriting career didn’t get very far though, because the BBC beat me to it. The TV adaptation was broadcast in 2005 with Bryan Dick as barman Bob, the beautiful Zoe Tapper as Jenny and Sally Hawkins as Ella.

I really urge you to read the book but you should also watch the adaptation beacause it’s absolutely brilliant and completely true to the original. By which I mean, again, it’s really bleak. On the plus side, the clothes are dead good – so here they are.

(First things first – the TV adaptation sees one of my favourite London pubs, The Yorkshire Grey, stand in for The Midnight Bell. Check it out above – and the beautiful Grange Langham Court opposite.)

Sally Hawkins as Ella in Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky

Ella is my least favourite of the three characters because the tragic elements of her story feel a bit more her own fault, although I guess it’s down to her insecurities more than anything else. She’s played by Sally Hawkins in the adaptation which caused a bit of grumbling online – Ella is supposed to be quite unattractive; you understand why she has reached her late 20s and is single and sorry for herself, whereas Sally is obviously quite attractive. Here she is dolling herself up in the opening scenes, ready for a day in the bar.

Sally Hawkins as Ella in Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky

But wait, what’s this? We pan out to see she has a glossy black bob. I didn’t really have Ella down as a flapper, despite the era. The fact she’s a bit dowdy and uncool definitely didn’t lead me to expect this snazzy hair, so interesting move BBC. All we get from the book is that she has short hair – “her hair was dark, and, to be ‘in fashion’, she had it shingled” – and that her regulars at the bar berate her for it. I kind of imagined her to have more of a frizzy helmet like this than something so sleek.

Sally Hawkins as Ella in Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky

Pleased to see, however, that they hadn’t fallen down the Gatsby route of making her an all-caps FLAPPER with pearls and fringing and all that jazz. She’s wearing a lovely, non-fussy, 1930s dress with a relatively dowdy print and girlish lace collar. This is quite clearly not a sexy outfit, which I guess helps to mask some of Sally’s natural prettiness and make her more Ella-ish.

Sally Hawkins as Ella in Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky

Uh-oh, it’s creepy Mr Eccles! I’m not going to spoiler this little plot device, but this dress that Ella wears on their visit to Lyons is another pretty, serviceable number…

Sally Hawkins as Ella in Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky

… as is this one she wears on another visit. It’s almost tragic how girlish all of these dresses are – Ella’s a grown woman and all she wears is overgrown toddler outfits, all with lace collars and floppy bows. OH ELLA. I like the fact she’s wearing the same hat though; she’s supposed to be a fairly broke barmaid in a backstreet pub and yet she’s in a different dress every day. And it’s not like she’s the kind of gal who’s frivolous with her spending. Maybe she just invests in classic pieces like hats and coats and fills in the gaps with cheap and cheerful bits. Am I overthinking this?

Zoe Tapper as Jenny in Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky

Here’s Jenny before she goes off the rails. How presentable! Not too into her hat and weird collar coat, but that’s a personal thing – she certainly looks like a respectable 1920s young woman who doesn’t have a drink problem, doesn’t she? If I was the lovely old ladies who hired her as a maid, I’d be just as delighted as them with her cheery presence.

Zoe Tapper as Jenny in Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky

Life going wrong for Jenny step one; waking up in a strange man’s house. Still, she’s still in her old gear and looks quite at home and presentable in her red paisley dress – that sailor bow collar almost looks like something Ella would wear. See also (except you can’t in this picture, soz) her big drapey cardigan.

Zoe Tapper as Jenny in Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky

Fast forward a few months and Jenny is now working on the streets in London. On one of her first dates with Bob she wears this dead nice optical print snug-fitting jumper and a little hat. Note the difference in hair colour; peroxide = fallen woman, that’s how telly works.

Zoe Tapper as Jenny in Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky

Zoe Tapper as Jenny in Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky

Here’s Jenny and one of her mates winding up Bob in the pub. I am crazy about this outfit, which looks like something I’d like to wear right now; the tight-fitting gold top, the giant bracelets, the wavy blonde bob, the sulky face. Also into her mate’s pink dress and hat combo – exactly what I want to be wearing right now, as per my previous post.

Zoe Tapper as Jenny in Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky

Zoe Tapper as Jenny in Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky

Zoe Tapper as Jenny in Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky  

I have less of a hard time with Jenny’s multiple outfits, fur coats and fancy hats; she often refers to clients buying her nice outfits so there’s none of the mystery of Ella’s giant wardrobe. This hat in particular is a dream, isn’t it? I don’t know if that’s supposed to be a bunch of grapes or what but it’s suitably attention-seeking regardless.

Bloody love Zoe Tapper as a bombshell blonde – here she is with natural hair. Babely, sure, but not such a knockout as with the peroxide barnet.

Sorry for the lack of focus on Bob; my lack of interest in menswear even extends to 1930s stuff.

Have you read Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky? Have you watched the TV series? I’d love to know your thoughts if so, my @furcoat bookclub might only exist online for now, but I’m all for discussion.

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Lyons Corner Houses in Literature

lyons

I read so many books about the interwar period that Lyons Corner Houses have become part of my day to day life, despite the fact that they ceased to exist in the 1960s. For those that don’t lead such a thrilling life as me, let me fill you in.

Lyons was a tea and food manufacturer that opened up a series of tea shops in the 1800s. They had their fingers in many pies (and sold many pies too undoubtedly) but most exciting of all were the Lyons Corner Houses that infiltrated London’s West End. Slightly more upmarket than their cafes and canteens, the first golden temple of tea and cake opened in 1907 and the last one shut its doors in 1977 – you can see a map of where they once stood on this excellent fan site.

Designed in the art deco style (*FurCoat bingo*) these Corner Houses sprawled over multi-storey buildings throughout the West End, housing food halls and bakeries as well as several restaurants and cafes. Some of them were 24 hours and pretty much all seemed to feature live orchestras to make your cheap and cheerful snack a bit more of the latter even though it was definitely the former. Staffed by the infamous Nippies, they seem entirely romantic to me – despite the fact they were probably an interwar equivalent of Starbucks in terms of their presence and pricing. I’m afraid to say that this takes none of the romance away from their gold deco interiors and cheap cake and sausage rolls to me.

The exhibition that’s just opened in Eastbourne looks at Lyons lithographs – art that was comissioned by the chain when wartime austerity meant that they couldn’t kit out the restaurants in quite the same grandeur as previously. Read more about it here – I hope I can squeeze in a visit.

I can’t pretend to know much about Lyons Corner Houses (thanks Wikipedia for your help on the above), but once I started reading all of this interwar fiction it became apparent that they were being dropped in to just about every book I picked up. I had meant to start a list but that never materialised and it wasn’t until I started reading Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky recently – where Lyons pop up liberally – that I thought about the idea again.

Too late now, and I don’t really ever re-read books, but here we go – it’s a start. If you come across any Lyons Corner House references in your books any time soon, holler at your girl!

A-LYONS-NIPPY-MISS-HIBBOTT-1939-1-C28124

I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith

“… I remembered that there is a Corner House close to Piccadilly and that Topaz had once told me it keeps open all night… I drank cup after cup of tea – the last one was so weak that I could the lump of sugar sitting at the bottom of it. Then the waitress came and asked if I wanted anything more. I didn’t feel like leaving so I studied the menu carefully and ordered a lamb cutlet – they take a nice long time to cook and only cost sevenpence each.

“… Then the lamb cutlet arrived surrounded by a sea of white plate and looking smaller than I believed any cutlet could. I ate it as slowly as possible, I even ate the sprig of parsley they threw in for sevenpence. Then the waitress put my bill down on the table and cleared away my plate in a very final way, so after a long drink of free water I felt I had better go.”

wolfgang suschitzky lyons corner house tottenham court road london 1934 another london limited

Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, Patrick Hamilton

“They were seated opposite each other at a table for two on the basement floor of Lyons’ Coventry Street Corner House. The time was about half-past nine. The orchestra was playing, drowning Mr Eccles’ voice; and nearly every table in this vast, marble, subterannean Versailles for London’s hungry and teeming nondescripts, was engaged.

“Ella had at first been a little disappointed that he should have brought her to the Corner House; for she had been before of an evening, and after the terrific splash he had made at the theatre, and with Army people and one thing and another, she had somehow got it into her head that when he spoke of Dinner he had in mine somewhere a little more intimate, original and exciting – one of those little restaurants in Soho, say, which she had so often wondered about. But she at once reproved herself for greed in pleasure, and was in a way relieved to be on her own ground, where she knew how to behave and where she was suitably dressed.”

Allinson_Drawing-580x600

The Winds of Heaven, Monica Dickenson

“… Louise, who could not afford to buy clothes for herself, had then walked about and looked in shop windows, until the truculence of the untiring wind had driven her into the universal haven of Lyons.

“It was that hour in mid-afternoon when those who are on the early lunch and tea break come forth among the exhausted shoppers to get themselves a bite of something to keep them going until five-thirty. When she had stood in line and paid for her cake and cup of tea, Louise could not at first see anywhere to put down her tin tray. Being a Londoner, she did not mind holding a tray among a crowd of people with similar trays laden with unlikely food for the hour of day, and women stacking dirty dishes and wiping off tables with damp cloths.”

[Pics: After You’ve Gone; Chris Beetles Fine Photographs; Persephone; Persephone]

Books and booze for sunny days

1930s sunbathers

The Sun Also Rises is probably my favourite sun-soaked book, but my favourite book about summer in England is definitely The Fortnight in September by R. C. Sherriff. It’s something of  a slow burner – although it’s about a family seaside holiday, they don’t actually get to the destination until page 106.

As with all Persephone books (because, of couse, it’s one of their lovely grey editions, it’s gentle and lovely and thoughtful. If you’ve ever been on a British bucket-and-spade-brigade holiday with your family, I’m sure much of it will ring true.

Although the weather isn’t quite so glorious as Hemingway’s hot ‘n’ heavy action in The Sun Also Rises (it is Bognor, rather than Basque country), The Fortnight in September captures our unique, somewhat panicky take on those surprise summer days so perfectly;

There is a feeling about the beginning of a cloudless day; an excited rustling as if invisible hands were rubbing together in anticipation over the roof tops: a droning murmur that seems to come from crowds of people collecting together buckets and spades, magazines and bath towels: all trying to assure themselves that there is no need to hurry – but trying frantically all the same to free themselves from the petty little things that hold them within the shade of their rooms.

Heartily recommend it for your summer reading lists – if you can handle a seriously slow pace, you’ll be rewarded with painfully lovely character profiles and perfectly observed detail. You can buy it in my Amazon bookshop, of course!

And, because you’ll want something to drink while you read your book in the sun, here’s a nice summer cocktail. For once, it’s not from Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book – this time it’s the Cafe Royal’s 1937 edition.

Excitingly, while browsing it for summer-sounding recipes, I found a contribution from F. Scott Fitzgerald! Well, we know how much he liked booze and he was certainly a supporter of other authors, so I reckon he’d be into R. C. Sherriff.

Well worth investing in some curaçao – although apparently triple sec is a fine and dandy substitute.

The Hot Night, invented by Fitz

1/3 gin

1/3 rum

1/6 orange juice

1/6 curaçao

Shake and serve over ice.

[Picture by Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1938 via the Art Deco Blog]

Furcoat Christmas: Book bonanza

This year’s Christmas gift suggestions are based around the varying facets of my personality – because I’m sure that everyone can find a bit of @furcoat inside them if they look hard enough.

Yesterday it was all about embracing your inner, and indeed outer, goth. Thanks for the nice comments and tweets about it!

Today it’s one of my main loves in life – and something that I definitely don’t need any more of, really – books.

You can buy any of the books below through my Christmas Amazon bookstore and don’t forget that you can also buy my all-time favourites here and see what I’m currently reading here.

These are mostly 2012 releases, but there’s a few sneaky extra things in there too that are kind of relevant. Enjoy and stay tuned for more pieces o’ me this week.

books-rule

Top row, left to right.

1. Kate: The Kate Moss Book, £42.50 – millions of pictures of the Mossatron. I hope this one is included.

2. The Persephone Book of Short Stories, £14 – I’ve never met a Persephone I didn’t like and this new anthology is basically guaranteed to be brilliant.

3. The Glitter and the Gold by Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan, £6.29 – I read this week that Julian Fellowes’ next project is The Gilded Age – a book about the millionaires of 1880s New York. Read up on the real world of high society American heiresses with Consuelo Vanderbilt’s totally fascinating autobiography which was published in 1953, but republished recently.

4. French Riveria: Living Well Was the Best Revenge by Xavier Girard, from £30 – I’ve been after a book on the history of the American exodus to the French Riviera in the 1920s for ages and even though this one seems kind of hard to get hold of, it looks like it might do the job. I can’t find much about it, but I’m hoping it’s full of tales of the real life Dick Divers of this world.

Middle row, left to right.

5. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, £4.89 – speaking of Dick Diver… Obviously I own this already, but Alma Classics have given it – and the rest of Fitzgerald’s books – a jazzy new cover which makes it look rather nice.

6. Daughter of Empire by Lady Pamela Hicks, £11.80 – I always like an old aristocratic lady’s biography and this one from the Queen’s BFF is apparently full of lols. I read a great interview with her recently and she seems like a jolly old raconteur so I’m sure it’ll be a good Christmas book – the kind of one I read in bed when I’m dozing off the cheese and port and don’t really need to concentrate.

7. Vidal Sassoon: How One Man Changed the World with a Pair of Scissors by Vidal Sassoon and Michael Gordon, £19.20 – we lost a good man in Vidal this year and this book seems like a good way of remembering him. Amazing graphics too.

8. Dressed to Kill: Virgina’s Jazz Age Fashion by Daisy Bates and Virginia Bates, £28.80 – it’s a book about 1920s fashion. Say no more.

Bottom row, left to right.

9. Polpo: A Venetian Cookbook (of Sorts) by Russell Norman – mmm Polpo. Asparagus with Parmesan and anchovy butter; crispy baby pizzas with prosciutto and rocket; scallops with lemon and peppermint; mackerel tartare; linguine with clams; soft-shell crab in Parmesan batter with fennel salad; walnut and honey semifreddo; tiramisù; fizzy bellinis. I mean…

10. Dracula by Bram Stoker (Penguin English Library Edition), £4.79 – going to Whitby for new year, so it seems only right to re-read this and the English Library Editions all look pretty good as an added bonus.

11. Lost World: England 1933-36 by Dorothy Hartley, £9.60 – talked about this back here and would love to get hold of this new edition. Nice cover, eh?

12. Gatsby Cocktails by Ben Reed, £5.24 – looks a bit cheesy maybe but this new cocktail book features a good selection of 20s and 30s recipes, including some less-known ones. Mine’s a gimlet.

Dorothy Hartley’s Food in England

My favourite posh historian lady, Lucy Worsley, is back on the BBC with a documentary all about Dorothy Hartley and her iconic book, Food in England. Hurray!

I’d vaguely heard of the book before, because I like old cookery books from slightly posh people, but I didn’t know anything about Dorothy at all until I read this interview with Lucy in the Guardian at the weekend. Not only was I pretty gleeful at having someone new to obsess over, but the piece told me there was also a TV show to go with it. GLEEFUL, as I say.

Food in England hasn’t been out of print since it was first published in 1954. It’s not just a cookery book either; it covers everything from foraging and seasonal eating to sheep shearing and butchering and general advice about  all the interesting things you can find to eat and look at and enjoy in this green and pleasant land. Dorothy may have been the daughter of a private school headmaster but she wasn’t averse to going and sleeping under a hedge to get a real feel for the natural world and all its wonders – she just had that kind of level of interest in what she was doing.

I highly advise you to read Lucy’s profile on Dorothy here – I mean, how can this not entice you in?

She saw off would-be suitors with talk of Viking burial customs, and had a life-long habit of signing letters “D Hartley (Miss)”, to draw attention to her single status…

… Much more than a recipe book, it also covers fire, magic, fungi, Elizabethan households, salting and “tracklements” (sauces). “Overheard in Wigan market” is a not uncommon source for a recipe.

That was all it took to sell the book and the show to me. I guess I’m a soft touch and fairly predictable, but I also think there’s a lot to be said for having knowledge of mushrooms that you’re safe to eat and knowing how to gut a fish and light a fire in the rain all that good stuff. We could definitely all do with a few more of those skills, right?

Not entirely sure how many of the recipes you would want to eat today, but I’m pretty taken with Stargazey Pie and the kids on Lucy’s showed like it too so it can’t be all bad. A traditional cornish fish dish, it’s said to date back to pre-16th century and gets its name from the lil fish heads poking out the pastry. Here it is – might give it a bash this weekend?? Hmmm….

Stargazey Pie

Ingredients
6 tbsp breadcrumbs
150 ml milk
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
3 tbsp lemon juice plus zest
1 onion, chopped
6 pilchards/mackerel/herring, filtered with heads left on (EWWWWWWWW, get over it)
1 rasher of bacon, chopped
salt and pepper
150 ml good cider
225g puff pastry

Method
Soak the breadcrumbs in the milk and leave to swell a little then add the parsley, lemon juice, lemon zest and onion and mix well.  Divide the stuffing between the fish, spreading it over the flat fillets.

Fold them over then put them into a round ovenproof dish, tails downwards with the heads poking over the edge. Put the bacon, seasoning and cider all around and in between the fish.  Roll out the pastry to fit the dish. Press on, leaving the fish heads exposed on the rim.

Bake at 220°C/ gas 7 for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven to 190 °C / gas 5 and cook for a further 25 minutes.

The show was broadcast on Tuesday but you can watch it here and you can buy the original book here.

[Pictures: BBC]

Furcoat favourites: buy my books!

Furcoat Amazon bookstore!

I bang on about books an awful lot and while I’m sure that most of the time most of you roll your eyes and wait for something better to come along, I know for a fact that some people are interested because they’ve said so. So there.

I document most of my reading on Good Reads but now, in an exciting turn of events, I’ve collated some of my favourites in an Amazon store.

This is an idea copied directly from Twin but it does make sense really – all the books I talk about, in one handy place. Oh and I guess I get a cut if you buy them through the link too, so you’ll also get a warm feeling inside knowing that you’ve helped me buy another pair of sunglasses from ASOS/Jeeves & Wooster book/pint of Wandle.

The front page takes you straight to my all-time favourites, then in the links on the right you can browse other categories. I’ve opted for the things that I get asked about most, so there’s 20s and 30s biographies, social history and then just other general fiction that I enjoy. Also worth noting that I get through books at a fairly swift rate of knots so the store will be growing…

I will be putting the link in a more obviously accessible place soon, but for now you can just click here and buy my books. Enjoy!

[Real Gabinete Portugues De Leitura Rio De Janeiro, Brazil via Bookshelves]

36 hours with The New York Times

I’ve had the New York Times travel book 36 Hours: 150 Weekends in the USA & Canada on my Amazon wishlist for months and still no-one’s bought it for me. Selfish. Very selfish.

Still, I won’t allow the fact that I’ve never seen book one put me off also adding the follow-up, 36 Hours: Europe.

I mean sure, it might be the worst book ever written, but as I’ve never read the first one I wouldn’t know.

Look at them though! Look at them!

How could they be anything but totally brilliant?

Much like cookery books, I like my travel books to look the part. I mean sure, you’re not going to be lugging these bad boys around in your suitcase on your lollydays – little on the beefy side, so I read – but I’d still like to sit and stare at them and wipe the drool from my face and dream.

Packed with photos and illustrations, both of the books feature interesting and unusual places to spend the weekend – with all of the expertise you’d expect from the team at the NYT.

They have COLOUR CODED TABS AND RIBBONS!

Sicilian mummies dressed in their Sunday best, a dry-land toboggan ride on Madeira, a hotel in Tallinn with a KGB spies’ nest on the penthouse floor. World capitals, ancient nations that once ruled wide domains, tiny countries with big personalities—it’s all Europe, and all fun to read about (whether you actually go or not) in this handsomely designed and illustrated book.

Precisely. You don’t even have to be going anywhere to sit and enjoy it. Mmmm dreaming about a trip to Tallinn. Or Corsica. Or Kiev. Or any of those awesome places I haven’t been yet.

The American edition is out now and the European one is coming in October. To me.

Furcoat favourites: birthday book bonanza

I didn’t get quite as many books for my birthday as I did at Christmas – probably for the best – but I did get a few nice things that I’ve been mulling over this week.

1) Mapp and Lucia, E. F. Benson – You may recall that I was recently ranting about not having read any Mapp and Lucia. I’d never even heard of them! I wanted to get this intro for a really long time, but was forcing myself to read all the serious books I got at Christmas first before I treated myself. Still sloggigng through one last epic, but hopefully I’ll be ready to start on this just in time for my holiday next week. Because frankly, it looks like holiday reading. This one came courtesy of my brother.

2) The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, Carson McCullers – And after I’ve read some jolly Mapp and Lucia, back to the miserable books I like best. This was a gift from Laura, who as a fellow former employee of Waterstone’s and avid reader of awesome things, is a trusted source of reading material. I can’t pretend to know anything about this compilation of short stories but I see the words ‘haunting’ and ‘brawling’ and I figure it’s got to be good.

3) Hairstyles and Fashion: A Hairdresser’s History of Paris 1910-1920, Steven M. Zdatny – Perhaps verging on textbook, but you can’t deny that I don’t take my job seriously, right? This book covers an interesting time in hairdressing, when the bob was invented (well, in a fashion sense, obviously the cut had been around for years) and when hairdressers were celebrities, who got taken on holiday with their clients so that they could look marvellous at all times and got paid ridiculously sums of money for doing so. This educational tome comes from my step-dad, who clearly pays attention.

4) A Privileged Life: Celebrating WASP Style, Susanna Salk – Recommended to my by Natalie, this fashion book is a salute to a very specific sector of American style. Loads of beautiful pictures of preppy style and ridiculously beautiful houses in fantastically-named places like Fire Island, it makes me want a veranda and a boat more than ever. Proper highlights of this book to come soon in a blog post. Another one from my bro here.

5) What to Cook and How to Cook it: Fresh & Easy, Jane Hornby – Jane Hornby’s first book – What to Cook and How to Cook it – is one of my favourites, based entirely on how it looks. The recipes are great, but they are definitely quite simple and probably not anything you hadn’t thought about cooking before. But my god, it’s beautiful. All the ingredients are lined in up satisfying straight lines, like something from Things Organised Neatly. This latest book has an emphasis on seasonal eating and fresh ingredients and again, while there aren’t too many challenging dishes it’s sometimes the simplest dishes that I forget about. Already cooked a couple of things and can give it a big double thumbs up. Thanks Aunty Anne!

Book club: Arabella Boxer’s Book of English Food

This week I received an unexpected treat in the post, in the form of a book from my dear friend Harriet. Love books, love cookery books and especially love cookery books that are related to the 1920s so thumbs up, Reuter Hapgood, for ticking all of the boxes.

Let’s take a minute to breathe in the press release:

If you were Wallis Simpson and had a king coming round for supper, what would you have cooked? Or if you had a stunning estate in the country and were throwing a party for all your friends, what might you have served as canapés? Which cocktails would you have sipped?

That’s EXACTLY the kind of thing I spend my time thinking about!

Arabella Boxer’s Book of English Food: A Rediscovery of British Food from Before the War was first published in 1993 and is a celebration of English food in the 1920s and 30s – a pretty interesting time for food, actually. At one end of the spectrum you had Edwardian-style dinner parties and stately home nursery teas still very much in abundance, but there was also the added excitement of the American influence (from people like WALLIS!), French influence (from smart society deciding that’s where the best chefs were from) and more exotic influences from the Bloomsbury set who liked to travel, a lot, and bring their new-found tastes back with them.

I haven’t had the chance to make anything from the book yet, but here’s the jist. There’s a really interesting opening section which I have read, which covers a bit of history of the era and how food fits into that. It’s then broken down into sections by courses, with the all-important ‘Picnics and Shooting Lunches’ as well as, obviously, ‘Drinks’. Each of these sections opens with a bit of context about that specific course and how it fitted into life and social occasions, what was popular and why, and who was responsible for its popularity. The answer should always be: Wallis Simpson.

You’ve then got a bunch of recipes, which have been compiled from all sorts of sources ranging from country house cooks’ records, family memories, old issues of things like Vogue and lots and lots of historical recipe books.

As I said, I’ve not had the chance to cook anything just yet, but here’s a delicious-sounding cocktail instead;

Wine Cup

This recipe came from Justerini & Brooks, one of the leading wine merchants in the inter-war years, by appointment to King George VI. Justerini & Brooks were established in the 1750s, and are still going strong. This is a most delicious cup, pale pink in colour. It is slightly too sweet for drinking at a meal, but perfect for a pre-lunch drink, or at a party, on a summer day.The original recipe called for maraschino as well as brandy, but this is very hard to find nowadays, so I leave it out.

1 bottle of good vin rosé

75ml brandy

450ml fizzy lemonade

450ml soda water or sparkling mineral water

a few slices (unpeeled) of green apple, oranges and lemons

a few strips of cucumber peel

Serve very cold.

This isn’t the only book I own that covers historical cooking, and cooking for high-society. Clearly it’s something I do regularly, so I like to stock up. Arabella Boxer’s Book of English Food has an utterly fantastic bibliography too, so I’m sure there’ll be plenty more to add to the list. However;

The Duchess of Devonshire’s Chatsworth Cookery Book is the most famous of this genre, I guess. Famously she opens it with the words, “I haven’t cooked since the war,” but should you fancy salmon gravlax and cheddar terrine with beurre blanc sauce for 48 people, this one’s your best bet. Sticking with Chatsworth, I also love Rachel Green’s Chatsworth Cookery Book which isn’t quite so ridiculous and mostly covers cooking quick and easy meals with seasonal ingredients – but it mentions Chatsworth so it must be a bit fancy, and plenty of the recipes are historical. Finally, another new(ish) addition to my collection: Kitchen Essays by Agnes Jekyll. A Persephone publication, it rounds up Agnes’s recipes and food writing from the 20s with such categories as ‘entertaining bachelors’ and ‘dinner before the theatre’ – a delicious slice of inter-war life, for a certain sector of society anyway.

Arabella Boxer’s Book of English Food goes on sale 26 July and will be priced at a very reasonable £20. The above is clearly a review copy, hence the spiral-bind. For your twenty quid you’ll get a lovely hardback.

FUN FACT! Arabella Boxer’s grandson runs Frank’s Campari Bar in Peckham.

Thames & Hudson release Cycle Chic by Mikael Colville-Andersen

Every time I see an adult on a bicycle I no longer despair for the future of the human race. -H.G. Wells

You only need to take a cursory glance at most street style blogs to know that bikes are as ubiquitous as the knock-kneed stance and centre-parted fringe. The perfect accessory, bikes have the added advantage of actually being useful – YSL Arty rings might look the part, but you can’t type wearing them and Wang bags might be  dreamy but they are also heavier than a wet dog, and that’s without having anything in.

Still, being popular is no bad thing – the abundance of bicycles on blogs is hopefully encouraging more people to get on their bikes and ride which can only be for the best. Personally, I failed my cycling proficiency test and can now only be tempted onto two wheels when I’m in the middle of nowhere – but that only serves to make me admire these ardent, stylish, savvy cyclists even more.

While the likes of The Sartorialist and Hel-Looks sneak in the odd cyclist, Danish photographer Mikael Colville-Andersen has gone above and beyond the call of bicycling duty, launching a street style blog dedicated to the cause. Cycle Chic is now something of a blogging empire with ‘copycats and collaborators’ in cities across the world, but it all started life in Mikael’s hometown of Copenhagen – apparently, the cycling capital of the world.

Tomorrow, Thames & Hudson is launching Cycle Chic – a comprehensive collection of some of Mikael’s best pictures organised by themes including Colour, Pattern & Attitude, Dress Me Up, Dress Me Down and the delightfully charming Vélo à Deux which features double the style in every picture. And before you barf, don’t for a minute think that each couple is made up of people… there are plenty of dogs on bikes for us animal-obsessives to behold.

Mikael isn’t convinced by the street style tag and to be honest, I prefer his description – even if it isn’t accurate for everyone in the book: “bicycle advocacy in high heels”.

He goes on to say:

This book is a selection of photographs of beautiful people who are adding to the social fabric of our cities by choosing to ride a bicycle. Cycle Chic is just a way of describing how citizen cyclists have used the bicycle since it was invented in the 1880s. Fashions and fabrics have evolved, as they always do, but the simple imagery of people using bicycles in our cities is timeless. It is my sincere hope that these photographs, taken in the now,  not only reflect the past but also allow us a glimpse into our future – a future in which bicycles are accepted and respected, and are a truly feasible form of transportation.

Ride on!

Inspired by these awesomely style-conscious cyclists? Here’s the Cycle Chic Manifesto;

  • I choose to cycle chic and, at every opportunity, I will choose Style over Speed;
  • I embrace my responsibility to contribute visually to a more aesthetically pleasing urban landscape;
  • I am aware that my mere presence in said urban landscape will inspire others without me being labelled as a ‘bicycle activist’;
  • I will ride with grace, elegance and dignity;
  • I will choose a bicycle that reflects my personality and style;
  • I will, however, regard my bicycle as transport and as a mere supplement to my own personal style. Allowing my bike to upstage me is unacceptable;
  • I will endeavour to ensure that the total value of my clothes always exceeds that of my bicycle;
  • I will accessorize in accordance with the standards of a bicycle culture and acquire, where possible, a chain guard, kickstand, skirt guard, fenders, bell and basket;
  • I will respect the traffic laws;
  • I will refrain from wearing and owning any form of ‘cycle wear’.

For that last reason alone, I mean… I’m a convert. Cycle Chic by Mikael Colville-Andersen is out on 7 May and for now, you can check out the original Cycle Chic blog here.

[My copy of Cycle Chic was a gift of Thames & Hudson]