Column from 372 weeks ago31st May 2019
Fiiiiiiiinally having a quiet moment so below is my Telegraph col from a couple of weekends ago…
In the old days, it was quite posh to have a maze, plus an Italianate garden and perhaps five or ten thousand a year. Now it’s about household appliances. James Brokenshire, the Tory MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup, has inadvertently revealed that he has four ovens. This revelation has created some fuss online, as if the housing secretary is hosting Romanesque banquets on the weekends, he and his guests lolling about on chaise longues while harried staff retrieve doormice dipped in honey from one oven and baked songbirds from another. James has tried to quell the opprobrium by insisting that he doesn’t have four ovens, merely ‘two double ovens’ but given that is the sort of clarification Bill Clinton would go in for, it hasn’t much helped.
Four ovens is fancy indeed. James’s wife, Cathy, has said they’re to ensure there’s enough space to cook everything come Christmas. It must be nice, too, to be able to eat baked potatoes that are soft in the middle because they haven’t had to share their space with anything else. On closer inspection, however, James’s quartet are made by Bosch, which makes them substantially less grand than other kitchens which boast an Aga and another range. ‘We simply adore our Aga but we turn it off in the summer,’ you will hear someone say if you kick about Gloucestershire or Oxfordshire for long enough. Agas unquestionably remain the poshest cookers of all. My mother once kept an orphaned barn owl chick alive on the top of ours, housed in a laundry basket. So they’re useful for animal husbandry as well as making Mary Berry cakes.
But you won’t winkle your way into Debretts these days simply by having two or more ovens. Oh no. Your kitchen should also have at least one dishwasher. James Not-Remotely-Brokenshire has two of these himself but this fact was rather overlooked what with all the screaming about his cookers. Two full-sized dishwashers imply not only that you have one of those kitchens the size of a tennis court, but also that you’re terrifically popular and throw constant dinner parties. There are long, anguished threads on Mumsnet devoted to this very topic ‘I’ve only just acquired Dishwasher 1, but Dishwasher 2 is my new aim,’ writes one romantic. ‘There will be times when both need emptying. Nightmare!’ laments another.
Fridges are a further signifier. One fridge suggests parsimonious vicar. If you want to be a contender, you need a separate ‘drinks fridge’ and at least one freezer for unidentifiable bits of lamb, Seville oranges for marmalade-making purposes when they’re out of season and milk. I don’t mean to boast but I know a family that has five fridges, including one reserved purely for dog food. Similarly, I recently stayed in a Scottish lodge that had four washing machines, stacked in a square like a Battenberg. I was so awed by this set-up I took a photo. Infinity swimming pools are all very well but how many Mieles did your last holiday home have?
The only problem with so many white goods is the environment. Although let us hope that our Tory MP friend offsets his extreme oven usage by sharing the bathwater, still a startlingly popular pastime among some grandees. ‘Do you want the first bath, darling, or shall I?’
As part of new plans to tackle food waste, Defra will encourage British restaurants to hand out doggy bags so punters can carry leftovers home. Smashing. I’ve never understood why we don’t do this more in the UK, when in America and certain parts of Europe it’s de rigeur. Say you’re feeling peckish here one evening and order the côte de bouef, why does it feel so shameful to ask if you can take the unfinished hunks of it with you for a midnight moment at one of your fridges later? Or for Fido? You’ve paid for it. It’s yours. The only thing you need to remember, which I failed to after a lunch in Spain recently, is to remove the bag of bones from the boot of the car when you get back so it doesn’t hop out by itself a few days later.
I don’t often have fashion news but I think I’ve spied what they call ‘a trend’. It was while watching the Baftas last Sunday. Up sprung Phoebe Waller-Bridge with her Killing Eve pal Jodie Comer both with swooping, cape-like elements to their dresses. Doctor Foster star Suranne Jones was at it, too, in a caped blazer. Apparently Yves Saint Laurent and Dior are doing them this season but I’d have to flog my flat to afford one. So what I’m wondering is whether it’s the moment to dig out my old school cloak, complete with purple, felt hood (the colours were dictated by which house you were in – deeply uncool if it was Airlie because their hoods were a nasty brown). Would that make me part of the fashionable cape gang? Or would I look like an adult who’d just escaped Hogwarts?