Do people still use pencils?

Well I certainly do, and the best, my favourite, the cream of the crop, is the wonderful Mitsubishi Hi-Uni Pencil. It is available in at least 15 different lead grades, is solid and reliable. I was introduced to it by a most wonderful friend of mine, the late architect, artist and professor Cyrus Jhabvala. These pencils were good enough for him. Need I say more?


So far, I have only found these pencils on the brilliant website – which I thoroughly recommend to anyone with a penchant for stationery – that most affordable (and practical) of luxuries.

At £2.40 a shot, you know you’re worth it.

Wash Your Face

Our grandparents may have washed their faces with soap and water for seventy years and had great skin, but theirs were simpler times (or so we think). Despite pea-soupers, they did not have to deal with as much pollution (or advertising) as their grandchildren contend with. And many of us use something more fussy than soap to wash away the grime of a hard day.


The question is, how do you distinguish snake oil from the really good stuff when it comes to cleansers?

First off, please note that the right cleanser is probably worth far more than the face cream you use. I admit that finding one that suits you is a very personal matter, and may need the advice of an expert facialist (AKA Abigail James) or dermatologist.

Vagaries aside, there are certain rules of thumb.

  1. Read the ingredients label. Ingredients are listed in order of how much of a particular ingredient is in the product.
  2. Avoid paraffin (aka Vaseline/Petroleum Jelly). It does not remove much, and being as cheap as chips it shouldn’t really find its way into some of the most expensive cleansers around. Shall I name and shame?
  3. Don’t pay top dollar for cleansers the primary ingredient of which is Aqua (AKA Water- as if the Latin did anything to mitigate the oldest scam in the book – see also coin clipping and the watering down of gin).

For me, Live Native Cleansing Balm is miles ahead of any other balm or cream cleanser I can find (I’ve never monitored exactly how long a large jar lasts – at least 3 months being used twice a day, possibly 4). I also rate Dr Alkaitis’s Face Wash. You will notice that both products hail from very “natural” brands – in part because I like small companies and products that are ethically made. Also, being married to a chemist, I am well trained in reading labels (please don’t buy beauty products without doing so), and am happy with the ingredients that go into these goops. Both these cleansers have the virtue of being highly concentrated. In fact, none of Live Native’s products is watered down or emulsified to nullity and Dr. Alkaitis designed his whole range with his wife in mind because (as a chemist) he was irritated by the emperor’s new creams that she kept bringing home.


If you want a list of the products I’ve been through before reaching this point, I’d happily share. I would also be glad to learn about the products you love and find effective, so do comment below with refutations and recommendations. Thanks!

Wedding Dress

I had my wedding dress made by Elise Rodolphe on Boulevard Raspail in Paris. Her shop is called Au Fil D’Elise. Elise is lovely, as is her dressmaker Ander. Before starting her couture line, Elise collected and sold vintage clothes and fabrics, so there’s a real sense of history about her designs.

My dress was made to measure; I had three or four fittings, and Elise still has my toile should I want to have a replica made in the future (provided I defy the way of all flesh…). The dress itself is made of red Calais Lace with a red silk lining. (A picture of the dress itself will follow soon…)

Even if I include the three trips to Paris, the whole enterprise was excellent value compared to anything I could have found off the peg or had made with equal skill in London. Definitely a worthwhile adventure!

Elise has a range of dresses in her collection. All of them are very elegant and classic.


Thanks Mariam for the picture!



Shall I write a hymn to Postcard Teas?

I would if I had a poetic bone in my body.

Instead I’ll just say that this calm little shop on Dering Street is a delight. And as long as I can afford it, I will devote myself to their Earl Grey and Bold Breakfast teas.

I’m not a snob about greasy spoon tea or PG Tips, but this is a different drink altogether and puts me in mind of how precious a commodity tea was in earlier times. And reassuringly enough, you can make a very satisfying cuppa from certain of the brews available here.

They also have a wonderful selection of accessories and green teas etc. I’ve never been a fan of green tea… But maybe one day, I’ll branch out.

The owner and staff are thoughtful and helpful too.

Hot Chocolate

There are a lot of nonsensical products out there, that promise a good hot chocolate.

Don’t do it.

And I’m not going to recommend taking out a mortgage so you can buy Valrhona or unicorn tears. Instead, I’m just going to recommend that you use Green and Black’s Cocoa powder (no sugar added).

I’ve used it for almost 12 years now, and it goes down well.

One spoon of Cocao and one spoon of lovely soft brown sugar for every cup of milk. Obviously, you need to make a paste before adding most of the milk but it’s not rocket science and barely more complicated than tipping boiling water into a sickly powdered milk drink.



Shepherds (who have branches on Gillingham Street and Curzon Street as well as Rochester Row) make the most attractive and best value diaries on the market in London.

They come in two sizes and each diary is covered in lovely hand made chiyogami paper and hand bound. At £24 and £30 a go, I think they blow their near competitors out of the water. In my mind, aesthetically, and in terms of quality, only something from Smythson’s or Pineider would really compare, but you can have one of these for a fraction of the price. And if you want to treat yourself, you can also get a matching pencil (I’ll write elsewhere about pencils) or some origami paper….