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2-3 September

The great escape

Sacré bleu! The French have it better than us

According to the “enshrined belief system” I grew up with, says John Sturgis in The Spectator, the French are “work-shy layabouts” who never turn up on time as they’re “too busy drinking wine for breakfast”. But I’ve recently had cause to doubt this. While staying in the Languedoc a couple of weeks ago, I texted a plumber about a leaky loo. He arrived the next day 10 minutes early, did the whole job, clean-up and all, in 45 minutes, and charged only €20. “I can’t recall a plumbing job in the UK costing anything less than £200.” Could it be that not only are French workers not lazy, but that the “protectionism around their work culture” might even protect consumers against rip-off pricing?


People often ask me what constitutes top-tier customer service, says Kate Reardon in Times Luxury. So here’s one example. When I was appointed editor-in-chief of Tatler 12 years ago, I met each of my future colleagues for tea or coffee at Claridge’s. As I returned from one trip to the loo, a waitress began walking alongside me, “rather closer than I would have anticipated”, saying nothing and making no eye contact. Just as I was wondering what on earth she was doing, “there was a smart whipping sound and she promptly veered off again”. I suddenly realised what had happened. “I’d been striding, editor-in-chiefly, through the lobby of Claridge’s with my skirt firmly tucked into my pants, exposing my not-very-editor-in-chiefly M&S knicker-clad bum for all to see.” This “sainted” waitress had spotted my predicament – and “solved it with absolutely no fuss or need for red-faced thanks or acknowledgement”.

Quirk of history

We often think of excessive self-grooming as a “frivolous” feature of modernity, says The Economist. But as Jill Burke describes in her new book, back in the Renaissance no beauty treatment was considered too extreme. To fix bad skin, women were advised to drink the blood of a red-headed man “no older than 25 or 30”. Eating nettles was a trick for rosier cheeks; a paste made from marble, wheat and the “poisonous plant” bryony could whiten skin. The elaborate concoctions also had a more sinister purpose: getting rid of your enemies. Giovanna de Grandis, a laundress in Rome, was hanged for selling women poison disguised as a blemish remover, which was thought to have seen off some 500 husbands.

How to be a Renaissance Woman by Jill Burke is available to buy here.


quoted 2.9.23

“When you’re in love it’s the most glorious two and a half days of your life.”

American comedian Richard Lewis

The country house

This Grade I listed five-bedroom home is on the edge of the pretty village of Ditchling, East Sussex. Extending over 4,200 sq ft, it boasts two magnificent oak staircases, a kitchen with vaulted ceilings, and a panelled library. Outside, a large, south-facing terrace sits above the garden with striking views of the South Downs. Hassocks train station is a five-minute drive, with direct trains to London in an hour. £2.25m.

The townhouse

This one-bedroom maisonette in Clapton, east London, has an airy kitchen-diner with large windows, a mezzanine-level snug in the bedroom, and colourfully painted accent walls. Outside, a communal terrace enclosed by mature greenery offers plenty of space to entertain guests or read a book. Clapton train station is a few minutes’ walk. £475,000.


quoted 2.9.23 Churchill

“Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.”

Winston Churchill


Bill Edgar may be the world’s only “coffin confessor”, says Vice. For 10,000 Australian dollars, he’ll crash someone’s funeral and say what they couldn’t, or didn’t want to, when they were living. His first client, Graham, had terminal cancer, and his best mate – or, “who he’d thought was his best mate” – was trying to seduce his wife as he was dying. So at the funeral, Edgar got up during the friend’s eulogy and told him: “Mate, sit down, Graham in the coffin’s got something to say.” Graham scarpered the minute he opened the envelope. He has since done almost 70 more funerals, and sometimes carries out house sweeps too. For one 88-year-old gentleman who was going into palliative care at hospital, Edgar dismantled his home sex dungeon before his three sons found it.

The great escape

Condé Nast Traveller has compiled a list of the world’s 50 most beautiful small towns. They include the pink and orange Albarracín, in Spain; Bocas del Toro, a nine-island archipelago in Panama filled with houses on stilts; Castle Combe in Wiltshire, where no new homes have been built since the 1600s; Kaikōura, which sits on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island; and Gokayama, a UNESCO-listed settlement tucked in the mountains of central Japan. See the full list here.