Sounds of the Harbour


To help you escape from the rumble of traffic and the squelch of your shoes filling with floodwater again, here are some sounds I recorded in a Cornish fishing harbour, before the weather turned apocalyptic.


A near miss by two little dinghys leading to some fisherman banter:




Birds and gentle waves:


and mysterious gurgles:


Sea swirling in the cauldron of rocks next to the harbour:



The sounds of people at work: loading boats, vans and the coastguard’s helicopter going over:


Packing a huge net and chains into a crate with the help of a forklift truck:






And peace on the cliff path above the sea, with distant waves below:





How to dress as the Suez Canal


I defy anyone to read Fancy Dresses Described or What to Wear at Fancy Balls, 1887, without hurrying off to run up one of these costumes immediately.

To dress up as Air: “A white tulle or gauze dress… the lower skirt is dotted about with silver swallows, the upper covered with a variety of insects. Head-dress, a gold weather-vane.” You should also find room on there for a windmill, a bellows and horn.

Queen of the Beetles involves “Short black skirt with horizontal stripes of red and yellow; a black pointed cap, the whole covered with ever-moving toy beetles.”

The Suez Canal is easier: “Long flowing robe of cloth of gold, with waves of blue satin bordered with pearls…”

I think my favourite is Dusk: “Dress of dull grey, muslin or gauze, silver ornaments and smoked pearls, a bat on shoulder.”

Express sounds challenging: “Miniature steam engine in flowing hair… wheeled skates for shoes.”

These are sweet: Glowworm: “Evening dress of light brown satin with an electric star in the hair.” Bullfinch: “Grey shoes with red heels and grey stockings with red clocks.” Amphitrite: “Silver tunic with shells, coral and seaweed.”

You can also dress as Night on the Bosphorus, A Basket of Violets, The Cotton Trade, Etruscan China, The Post Office – “On the skirt the different rates of postage, times of posting, names of several mails” – and The Family of the Vicar of Wakefield. Winners, all of them.


Male partygoers don’t come off too well, unfortunately: they can wear “Evening dress of the future”, ie white instead of black, or dress like “an Irish car-driver” – patches – or “the tall gamekeeper in Pickwick” – corduroy trousers. Hard cheese.

Slug Spectacular

Current reading: Shell Life: An Introduction to the British Mollusca by Edward Step. If you want the full information about plumed slugs or hairy sea lemons, or just a picture of some whelk teeth, then this is the place to come:

Garden design for future robots

Now that you can buy garden pods in John Lewis, it’s definitely the future. Some of us may have fallen behind and be living in the past with old-fashioned flowerbeds etc. In which case you need to catch up quick by updating your garden design.
I’ve pointed out before that you’ll need an invisible shed.
Here are some other super-modern solutions to common problems.
1. Tiny plot
City gardens tend to be small, so consider extending upwards or downwards. You could try an underground lake, or planting vertically. Take a structure like this:
Plant strawberries laterally up the sides. Then slide down the chute with watering can in hand for efficient and fun irrigation.
2. Long, thin garden
Normal swimming pools simply waste space with unnecessary widths. If you’re someone who only swims lengths, consider installing a Swimming Trench.
However thin your garden is, you’ve room for one of these. And for all weather swimming, the addition of a polytunnel over the trench will mean you can grow tomatoes along the side.
3. Shady beds
Make the most of what you’ve got. If a dominant tree eg a leylandii is casting a shade over your plot, just use it to your advantage to add an extra ‘garden room’:
4. No garden at all
Don’t worry – in the future, even if you live in a tower block with no access to a lawn, you can still go camping:

Save the date

Never mind Easter or street parties – don’t forget that April 24 is St Mark’s Eve, where if you sit in the church porch from 11pm to 1am you’ll get to see the rotting corpses of all the people who are going to die in the area in the coming year. Fun! Although it only works if you do it three years in a row, so you have to be pretty dedicated.
Or alternatively you can see your future husband’s face in your smock. All good info!

Regarding Thomas Rowlandson

Fans of Georgian London, bawdy satire or fun in general will want to get hold of Regarding Thomas Rowlandson, an account of the rambunctious life of the great graphic satirist and watercolour artist, as quickly as possible. New facts! Colour illustrations! A few of them quite rude! (But 18th century, so it’s all fine.)
(Declaration of interest: the authors are my father and brother. But don’t let that stand in your way.)

Strolling along

Flicking through the NYPL’s fashion plates reveals that for pretty much every era up until now, the Walking Dress was the most appealing garment in a woman’s wardrobe. I’m worried that we may have let these standards slip: some people even make the same costume do for Morning and Afternoon walking. The slatterns. Don’t forget an umbrella to peep out from beneath; if you are French you’ll need a dog.

Memo: New Year’s Eve is Postponed

New Year’s Eve, most sane people agree, is unsatisfactory, and I put it to you that this is because, as celebrated in Britain at least, it’s at totally the wrong time of year. It’s far too soon after Christmas, and only marks the beginning of the dreariest part of winter. What’s so great about starting January? Nothing. The sales are plenty to be getting on with.
The ancient Babylonians had the right idea: New Year started on the first new moon after the vernal equinox, which in 2011 I make April 3. Perfect! Spring is springing, buds are budding etc. So can I take it that we’ll all be implementing that change this year?
(And we won’t have any of that Hootenanny nonsense either: there’s no way Nebuchadnezzar would have stood for marking the new year by watching Jools Holland and friends milling about a studio on some Tuesday evening in September.)

The Flying Wombat

The Young in Heart, 1938, as well as being a satisfying comedy about a family of spongers meeting their match in an innocent old lady, also features possibly the world’s best car showroom:
The Flying Wombat was actually the 1938 Phantom Corsair, a futuristic prototype designed by Rust Heinz, the ketchup magnate. It’s a beautiful-looking thing, but turned out not to be the car of tomorrow after all.
The film is bursting with up-to-the-minute Thirties style: a couple even have a date at Lubetkin’s modernist penguin pool at London zoo, which had opened four years before.