The American Library Association keeps two lists of 100 books most ‘challenged’ by those who would ban the sharing of ideas. One list covers the 1990s, the other the 2000s. There is some overlap, of course. Looking through the list, I am inspired to set Annabel the subversive challenge of reading each before she’s 18.
My family love living in the Chew Valley in North Somerset. We also travel widely, so it was surprising that when we spoke about it the other day, there are only a small handful of places to which we would consider moving instantly. My list is:
- Wimbledon Village – I loved it the first time I visited, and every time since. It’s like an upmarket country village hitched on to the wonder that is London. You can catch the train or tube to the City, or go riding across miles of Common. I’d leave tomorrow.
- Barcelona – A city of diversity and culture on the edge of a beach that comes with beautiful people and fantastic food.
- Innsbruck – A charming, cultured city in the middle of untamed mountains, yet easy to reach. Winter sports, summer sports, and fantastic cafés.
- Edinburgh – History, culture, and the reassuringly gentle Scots burr.
- Oxford – A fantastic balance of heritage and forward-focus. Culture. Brains. I am biased.
So I guess I am pretty Euro-centric. For Helen, the list is the same, but you swap Pasadena for Edinburgh for climate reasons.
I read The Tiger Who Came to Tea to Annabel before her bedtime, in rotation with Each Peach Pear Plum, Goodnight Moon, and The Gruffalo. I was interested in this BBC News piece on its author, Judith Kerr. I had always thought that there was something sinister about the uninvited dinner guest.
I also felt proudly patriotic reading this part:
“My parents still spoke with a German accent. But there we were in the Blitz, people being killed every night, and nobody ever said anything nasty to them. I couldn’t wait after the war to become British and belong here.”
I hope we still are and remain a nation of civility and welcome. Long should it be so.
Having recently read Felix Salmon’s Dionysian promotion of wine as a method of repeatedly and reliably buying happiness — which I whole-heatedly endorse not only a practical guide, but also as a corrective to the banality of many self-help recommendations — let me offer an addendum.
This evening I came across the 2014 list of Michelin-starred restaurants in the UK (and Ireland). I will consider my life well-lived in the first year in which the list is released and I can say I’ve eaten in each restaurant it contains. On the basis of the 2014 list, my record so far includes:
- Sketch, Mayfair (double-starred) – I found it a bit gimmicky
- L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Covent Garden – for drinks only, unfortunately, although I have heard good things
- Hakkasan, Mayfair – fantastic, atmospheric and lively
- Chapter One, Farnborough Common, Kent – our regular when we lived in London, affordable everyday excellence
- The Pony and Trap, Chew Magna, Somerset – our new local, very adventurous menus but excels in some of the simpler dishes
- The Bybrook (listed as Manor House Hotel & Golf Club), Castle Combe, Wiltshire – wonderful village setting, great food, but inattentive service when we had the tasting menu
- The Black Rat, Winchester, Hampshire – food okay but cold and rather austere
On the list for the next couple of months, perhaps:
- Wilks, Bristol – new to the list this year, and offering a vegetable tasting menu
- Casamia, Bristol – although it looks outrageously expensive in comparison to many others in same league