Some Thoughts on Reusable Cups and the ‘Latte Levy’

I’ve been a bit quiet so far this year both on this blog and on social media, as I’ve had other priorities both at work and in my personal life. But it would have been hard to miss the UK House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee’s recent report highlighting the problem of single-use coffee cup and proposing a 25p ‘latte levy’ on their use. We throw away 2.5 billion coffee cups in the UK annually, and the report proposes a complete ban if a system for recycling them is not developed. Some years ago, I was guilty of misguidedly putting such cups with their plastic lining into recycling bins and was then cross with myself for not looking into this sooner.

Photo: my primary KeepCup in Byron Bay, Australia.

As for the report, there are some excellent, well-written and thoughtful analyses of its proposals and potential consequences, including from United BaristasBrian’s Coffee Spot, James Hoffmann and cafespaces. The report has certainly got those who work in and/or follow the speciality coffee industry talking about the issues on social media, which is also good, although unsurprisingly, no total consensus, even if many of us ultimately want the same outcomes, on a basic, ideal-scenario level, at least.

Various alternative ideas, nudges and solutions have been proposed, and I’m sure many more will follow. It’s certainly challenging to find ways to drastically reduce such an out-of-control environmental footprint without impacting the independent coffee shops who may not be able to withstand the financial consequences of a latte levy or a disposable-cup ban. (If, like me, you know very little about planning laws in the UK and how this relates to a coffee shop’s takeout vs drinking-in ratio, this United Baristas’ primer is very informative.)

For a long time, I wasn’t overly concerned about my own disposable-cup footprint. That’s not to say that I never use them, but for me, a cup of speciality coffee is a treat — a pleasure to be savoured while spending some time in a café — so I almost always drink in. If I know I will be going to a coffee shop to get a drink to take away, I will take a reusable cup with me — I have two 8oz KeepCups, one plastic and one glass and cork, and a tumbler from Coava in Portland. It’s very rare that I spontaneously decide to buy a coffee from an independent coffee shop and don’t have time to drink in, so carrying around a reusable cup at all times is a pain, given the low usage it would get. The main exceptions to this are a) when I get coffee after running and have nowhere to keep my KeepCup — about 1–2 times per month — and b) when I travel for work and have to squeeze an unexpected coffee shop visit in between meetings.

Although the reusable-cup offering has improved in recent years (Brian has a great guide on his blog), there still isn’t a perfect cup for me. I tend to use my plastic KeepCup the most because it’s lightweight, fits underneath my Aeropress and comes in pretty colours. The lid has occasionally come off in my bag, allowing my coffee dregs to leak and I don’t like the ‘taste’ of drinking coffee from a plastic cup. Glass cups, however, like my KeepCup Brew, are heavier and more fragile. The Frank Green cups were retailing all over the place in Australia when I visited last year, and I love the design and functionality — except the cup doesn’t quite fit under an Aeropress and thus is useless for my travel needs. There are collapsible cups available, which could solve my running problem, but the ones I’ve seen are too large for my 4–8 oz drinks (and my pockets) and unattractive. Yes, I’m shallow but yes, shallower drinks can be served in reusable cups too and people use products more when they take pleasure in using them.

I visited a lot of coffee shops in Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland and Wellington last year, and in many of them, most takeout customers were queuing patiently with their reusable cup. It was the norm, rather than the exception. I’ve also seen multiple examples there of ‘KeepCup’ being used as a generic noun for a reusable cup — the other brands may not be too fond of this, of course, but it is a sign of how commonly they are used.

Photo: my KeepCup enjoys a rooftop view over Sydney Harbour (and the Aeropress-brewed Proud Mary coffee it holds).

Just over a year ago, Brian published a post on the Coffee Spot calling for an end to the use of disposable cups. I didn’t commit then to never using another disposable cup then and I’m not going to now either. Nobody is perfect, especially not me. In the past year, though, I have cut down my already minimal use. For example, rather than getting a filter coffee to go and rushing off to my meeting, I try to order a piccolo in a ceramic cup and drink it at the bar (trying not to get in the way of staff or other customers). There are also times when I just haven’t bought a coffee I would have done otherwise because I don’t have a reusable cup with me and don’t have time to drink a filter coffee in the shop. This makes me sad, because I love to support and write about independent coffee shops (a number of ‘reusable cup’ discounts have already been springing up; I thought Caravan’s was particularly interesting).

Of course, the onus is on me to find a way to continue to give these small businesses my custom without adding to the coffee-cup mountain, whether it’s by carrying a reusable cup with me more often, planning better to make sure I have time to drink in, ordering a drink-in piccolo instead of a hand-brewed filter coffee to go…or holding out hope that someone will invent an attractive collapsible coffee cup, suitable for use with petite beverages. I suspect the inventor may well find a market!

How To Pack for a Two-Day Business Trip in a Laptop Backpack

Last year, I ended up taking a lot of two- and three-day overseas trips, some for work and some for pleasure. One of them was at such short notice — four hours — that I was glad I keep a bag packed with most of the key essentials at home. Regular readers will know that I also love to travel light, especially on short trips, and my rediscovery of the humble backpack last year help me to reach new (weight) lows.

I’m heading to Toulouse on Thursday for a one-night work trip and I thought I’d show you what I packed for two days of meetings in a cool, rainy European city. I pack almost exactly the same things for most two- or three-day trips, though, with a few small changes.

The backpack

My parents bought me the Tumi Voyageur Halle backpack as an early birthday present last year and it has replaced Longchamp’s Le Pliage large shopper as my carry-on or personal item (if I’m also taking a suitcase) when flying. I also use it for work, particularly if I am transporting my laptop or other heavy items. There is a laptop sleeve inside, which fits a 12-inch laptop and although only lightly padded, it’s fairly well-protected when the bag is full. There are also lots of pockets, which are great for compulsive organisers like me. When I’m flying, I tend to keep the main front pocket for my toiletries and Kindle so that I can remove them easily when flying. The top zippered pocket on the front is useful for storing sunglasses or headphones. The bag is made from nylon, with a leather handle and gold hardware, which means it’s lightweight and the padded sleeves make it very comfortable.

The handbag

I used to be a big-handbag woman, but I’ve been trying to coax myself into downsizing. Buying a new compact camera (the Canon G7X mark II, which I’ve been very happy with) helped with this and I finally bit the bullet and bought Madewell’s crossbody tote during a Black Friday sale. It fits: my (very small) wallet, phone and earbuds, passport, Kindle or notebook, camera, pen, keys and lipbalm. It’s also small enough to slip under my coat should I be on a ‘strictly one bag per person’ Easyjet flight. I can also use this smaller bag for dinners or meetings where I don’t want to bring my backpack with me.

The tech

  • Laptop and charger. When I’m travelling for pleasure, I can take my MacBook Air, for which I have the international adapter kit. My work laptop is quite lightweight but its charger is bulkier and requires an adapter. This still fits in my backpack with the other kit.
  • Kindle Paperwhite. Even short trips involve some downtime and I usually have a range of novels downloaded and ready to go.
  • Headphones. I always have a pair of Apple earphones with me (they’re the only in-ear earphones I can wear) and depending on the trip, I sometimes also take my Bose SoundTrue headphones (updated version here), which pack down small but are comfortable and have great sound quality. I’m toying with replacing them with some noise-cancelling, bluetooth headphones but I’m not sure I have room in my backpack!
  • Compact camera. Unlike my beloved but bulky Canon 100D DSLR, my new compact G7X camera is so small that I take it with me almost everywhere. I also bring a USB SD card adapter to transfer the photos to my computer; the G7X also allows me to transfer photos directly to my phone, which is great for Instagramming on the go. The battery usually lasts for at least three days of shooting but the camera can also be charged via USB, so I bring a cable just in case (which also works for my Kindle).
  • Cables and USB charger. I usually have a couple of Apple USB cables and at least one micro USB cable with me to keep all my gadgets happy.
  • Portable charger. I bought an Anker PowerCore+ Mini charger last year. It is indeed ‘lipstick-sized’ and I get more than one full iPhone 7 charge per recharge. At home, I only need to charge my iPhone every other day but I use it a lot more when travelling, particularly now that Three’s Feel at Home package means that I can use my data for free almost everywhere I travel.

The other kit

  • Clothes. If I’m travelling for business, I usually pack one change of clothes per day, which means packing one or two dresses respectively for a two- or three-day trip (wearing the other, along with my cardigan, coat or jacket and scarf), or sometimes just two tops, which I will wear with a black skirt. I generally wear black boots — either ankle or knee, depending on the weather. If I’m going away for a long weekend, I usually wear jeans and my Nike Pegasus trainers, and bring two extra tops. 
  • Toiletries. I keep mini versions of all the essentials — shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, face cleanser, moisturiser, eye cream, deodorant, toothpaste and a few make-up items — in a transparent travel pouch. I also keep a toothbrush here and have a travel-sized Wet Brush.
  • Passport. Obvs.
  • Wallet. I use a small Tumi cardholder as my main wallet both at home and when away. I keep a couple of credit cards, my driving license and a few business cards inside. I only use cash when forced, but there’s room for a couple of notes and even a few coins in the zip compartment. I also have a coin purse where I keep dratted coins and less commonly used cards. When I travel, I tend to remove all the excess cards and use it to keep coins and any receipts I acquire.
  • Notebook and pen. My wonderful friend gave me a Empire State Building-clad Smythson notebook for my birthday, which is beautiful but compact.
  • Compact umbrella. I sometimes substitute this for my sunglasses but rarely have to bring both.
  • Klean Kanteen water bottle (18 oz). I drink a lot of water and the neon pink colour of this bottle cheers me up even when I’ve had to walk half a mile across an airport to find the one place it’s possible to fill up my bottle.
  • Other essentials. The striped pouch contains a few other bits and bobs, including ibuprofen, ear plugs, plasters and hairbands. I need total darkness in order to sleep so I always take my sleep mask when I travel. I’ve tried many of these over the years, but Lewis N. Clark’s remain my favourite. I also keep a reusable bag (Baggu’s baby size is my favourite) in all of my bags. I sometimes use it to keep things clean or more protected even if I don’t use it as a bag.

The alternates

  • Coffee kit. I don’t usually take coffee-making kit with me on a two-day trip. I usually seem to end up in destinations where there is good coffee available (in which case, I’d like to try that rather than brewing my own). If not, I make sure I have two big cups before leaving home on day one; I can live with having one bad or mediocre coffee on day two (sacrilege, I know). For three- or four-day trips, I sometimes take my trusty Aeropress. I also have a Made by Knock Aergrind, which I’ve been very pleased with, but it’s fairly heavy, if small, so I would probably only take it on four- or five-day trips where there was little chance of any good coffee.
  • Running kit. Depending on the weather and how much free time I will have, I sometimes bring my running kit; if I’m travelling for work, I can only do this if I also have space to bring a pair of ballet flats, in which case I’d wear my trainers.

Lessons from Nature

"Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience."– Ralph Waldo Emerson
The speed of modern life makes it easy to overlook mysteries and magic in my own backyard. But when I bend close to the rock wall, I am amazed by the pluck and perseverance of moss. It is rootless, yet it grows in the most inhospitable places, on rocks and rooftops, impervious to the elements. Continue Reading »

The Caffeine Chronicles: TAP Coffee, Russell Square

I was pleased to hear when TAP — the speciality coffee company formerly known as Tapped & Packed — opened a fourth location across the road from verdant Russell Square late last summer. It’s relatively close to my office in King’s Cross — definitely doable on a lunch break — but it took me until last week to visit. The second TAP, a small, quirky coffee bar at the northern end of Tottenham Court Road, was an early favourite of mine as both London and I began to discover speciality coffee. It didn’t quite make my first London coffee guide, but I did include it in the second version in 2012.

Aesthetically, the Russell Square branch is very similar to Tottenham Court Road, albeit on a larger scale. The spacious café has a long wooden table with stool seating that cuts the space roughly in half, and there is further seating along the far wall. The lovely pendant lighting and other design features — the COFFEE sign, vintage teaspoons and repurposed Lyle’s black treacle tins, for example — will be familiar to anyone who has visited any of the other TAPs (including the Wardour Street branch).

It was late in the afternoon on a cold, grey Thursday so it wasn’t too busy and I was in the mood for a pourover. There were three single-origin coffees on offer and I was about to ask the barista for advice, but then interrupted myself to order the Ethiopian Shakiso (£3.75; more expensive than both the Guatemalan and Rwandan varieties on the menu). I couldn’t resist the sound of the sloe gin and blueberry flavour notes in the Ethiopian coffee.

As I poured myself a glass of water using the rustic-looking tap by the brew bar, the smell of the freshly roasted Shakiso reached my nose and I could tell that it was going to be a really good cup of coffee. The coffee arrived promptly, complete with a cute Llangollen teaspoon. The sugar was also available in its Lyle’s tin holder, but I just used it as a prop and did not, of course, add any to my coffee. The coffee was indeed excellent. The barista had prepared it very well and the flavours came through very nicely, particularly after the coffee had cooled slightly in its Acme cup.

My coffee was so nice that I almost bought the last remaining bag of Shakiso beans (£10) but I still had a lot of coffee to use up at home, so I decided to hold off for the time being. It was great to see a veritable rainbow of retail bags of TAP coffee beans available for sale, the prices ranging between £8.50 and £10. The usual espresso-based drinks are on offer too, as well as various teas, cakes and sandwiches.

I heard from Brian of Brian’s Coffee Spot (who visited in November) that TAP Coffee is now owned by the Department of Coffee — I was surprised to hear this as there was no evidence of this inside the Russell Square café; however, this newest location is listed on the Department of Coffee website but not on the TAP website. For now, at least, the Russell Square location seems to be retaining its more rustic, quirky TAP identity.

TAP Coffee. 72 Russell Square, London, WC1B 5BA (Tube: Russell Square). TAP website. Department of Coffee website. Twitter. Instagram.

For many more London speciality coffee recommendations, check out my London speciality coffee guide

Restaurant Review: Flour & Grape, Bermondsey

I met a friend for an early supper at Flour & Grape the week before Christmas. Bookings are only for an hour and a half, even at dinnertime, but we had a lot to catch up on and although the restaurant was busy, it wasn’t full, and the kind staff gave no indication of wanting to hurry us along. As I’m less interested in the ‘grape’ part of this restaurant (Flour & Juniper would be my first choice), I ordered the Bermondsey G&T (when in Bermondsey…), with my favourite Jensen’s gin and Bermondsey Tonic Water (a reasonably priced £6), while my friend went for one of the other cocktails, a spritz (£6.50).

We then devoured the food menu, which consists of a variety of small plates (priced from £2 for olives to £7 for the salumi plate) and eight different pastas (£7–10). We decided we would share three starters and two pastas, and then order a third pasta if we were still hungry. Had we skipped the starters or been hungrier, we would definitely have gone for three pastas — and don’t get me wrong, our plates probably would have been cleared in any case.

To start, we shared the burrata, salumi and the baby gem salad, all of which were tasty and came in generous portions. The burrata was particularly creamy and although ‘baby gem salad’ sounds a bit boring, this one came with a tart dressing and plenty of parmesan.

Then came the main event. We went for the bucatini cacio e pepe, which, like at Flour & Grape’s competitor, was the standout dish for me. Oodles of pepper, copious cheese and perfectly al dente pasta. A close second was the rich, flavoursome beef short-rib ragu, served with pappardelle. I thought the two pastas made a perfect pair. Our third choice (or mine, at least) would have been the roasted pork shoulder tortelloni — one for next time!

We did, however, find room for a scoop of hazelnut gelato each, which we enjoyed greatly. The special gelato of the day was tiramisù, but I generally prefer to keep my coffee and sweet treats separate.

Although it was a busy night at Flour & Grape, the service was excellent and there was a lively atmosphere in the restaurant. The Bermondsey Street Italian is dead. Long-live the Bermondsey Street Italian!

Flour & Grape. 214 Bermondsey St, SE1 3TQ (Tube: London Bridge or Bermondsey). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

When One Door Closes

Note: If you are looking for Foodie Friday and Everything Else, the link party has been permanently retired. Thanks for all of your support over the years.
I’ve been dancing around this door for years, wishing it would close on its own, sparing me from making a hard decision. But the time has come to put my big girl panties on and close the gate at Rattlebridge Farm and Foodie Friday/Everything Else. I’d planned to do this last week, but I was derailed by a flu-like illness. During that time, I was plagued with doubts. Maybe I could opt for slow blogging? No, I’d already done that since late 2015, and a relaxed approach had not helped. 
It was time to let go. I couldn’t leave this door open another year. Reaching this decision was unbearably hard, mainly because the blog has been a huge part of my life for a decade, bringing joy, friendships, and merry adventures. Thank you for enriching my world. I will miss you all like crazy.You know what they say about doors. If one closes, a window flies open. That’s the nature of doors and windows. They need closure. Until then, you can always find me on Instagram and Pinterest

My Top 5 Books of 2017

After my mammoth — but not always enjoyable during the home strait — effort to read 200 books last year, I decided not to strive for any particular total this year. Inevitably, though, as I neared the 150 mark, I did my best to reach this figure, although ‘only’ managed 148. Here are my five favourites, as well as five more that almost made my shortlist (some of these also featured in my summer reading list).

1. The Unseen World by Liz Moore. Meticulously plotted and researched, moving and thought-provoking, Moore’s novel follows 12-year-old Ada Sibelius as her father David — a brilliant but eccentric pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence and a director of a computer science lab in Cambridge, MA — begins to develop signs of dementia. The race is then on for Ada to discover the secrets locked inside his mind, but it’s more of a marathon than a sprint, as the novel edges through the 1980s to the present day, with a few hops back to the 1920s and 1930s. As someone whose day job involves the communication of science — including recent developments in computer science and AI — I found the themes covered here most interesting, but at its heart, The Unseen World is a complex, richly portrayed family drama with a fascinating mystery at its core.

2. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. Quinn’s novel weaves together the stories of two women connected through the real-life Alice Network — a network of about 100 female spies posted by the British Army and MI6 in northern France during World War One — in a compelling work of historical fiction. In 1915, Eve Gardiner is recruited into the network and posted in a small town in northern France. Eve is trained up by Lili — based on the real-life Louise de Bettignies, the so-called ‘queen of spies’ whose code name, Alice, gave the network its name. Her assignment is to gather as much information from the occupying Germans as possible and feed it back to her handlers, a perilous job in a town where collaborators and spies abound. Thirty years later, Charlie St. Clair, an unmarried, pregnant American student, comes to Europe with her mother, but takes off to search for her beloved cousin Rose, who went missing in France during World War Two — a search which soon connects her with Eve. Both Eve and Charlie make flawed but courageous heroines and once I got into The Alice Network, I was gripped by both stories.

3. The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo. Set mainly in the first decade of the 20th century in New York City, Santopolo’s novel is a beautifully written, intense and often devastating love story. Columbia students Lucy and Gabe meet on 9/11 and, after a couple of false starts, fall in love. But Lucy soon struggles to compete with Gabe’s all-encompassing desire to become a photographer, forcing her to make some very tough decisions. With convincing dialogue, and believable, if sometimes frustrating, central characters, The Light We Lost is a fantastic debut novel.
4. Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito. I read a lot of legal thrillers and Persson Giolito’s story about a teenage girl awaiting trial for her involvement in a mass shooting at her exclusive prep school was smart, gripping and satisfyingly twisty. If you enjoy novels with unreliable narrators, this fast-paced novel will keep you guessing as to whether our intelligent, knowing narrator Maja is indeed as innocent as she claims or whether we should believe a word she says.

5. Sourdough by Robin Sloan. A young woman from the Midwest — Lois, a gifted programmer — takes a job at a San Francisco-based robotics company but before long, finds herself becoming an obsessive sourdough baker in her spare time. So far, so standard. But if you’ve read Sloan’s previous novel, you won’t be surprised to find that the sourdough, and the novel itself, have been proved with a hefty dose of quirkiness and magical realism. Sourdough is a delightful, clever and unpredictable novel, which is particularly enjoyable for those who have lived in or visited San Francisco.

And now, here are five more books, which didn’t quite make my top five this year but which I enjoyed a great deal:

  • Startup* by Doree Shafrir. A darkly comic, smart and keenly observed cautionary tale set in New York’s fast-paced, social-media-saturated tech startup world.
  • The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter. An intelligent, well-plotted thriller about a small-town lawyer who is caught up in a violent crime that drags up memories of the violent crime that tore apart her own family almost 30 years earlier.
  • This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay. Often funny, sometimes sad and always keenly observed and thought-provoking, writer and comedian Kay’s memoir of his former career as a junior doctor is an absolute must-read.
  • The Lying Game by Ruth Ware. Ware has a real knack for producing tense, twisty psychological thrillers and her latest, in which four women who were once inseparable during their boarding-school years reunite to prevent past secrets from becoming present-day nightmares, is no exception.
  • Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. One of the few non-fiction books I’ve read this year, Stephens-Davidowitz’s work is an eye-opening dive into big data — and particularly the behavioural insights that can be gleaned from online search engines — making it essential reading for anyone who uses Google.

My full 2017 reading list is as follows (re-reads are in italics):

  • The Parrots — Alexandra Shulman
  • Big Brother — Lionel Shriver
  • America’s First Daughter — Laura Kamoie and Stephanie Dray
  • The Couple Next Door — Shari Lapena
  • Selection Day — Aravind Adiga
  • Bloodline — Conn Iggulden
  • Arctic Chill — Arnaldur Indriðason
  • Geek Love — Katherine Dunn
  • 4 3 2 1* — Paul Auster
  • Midnight’s Children — Salman Rushdie
  • Hypothermia — Arnaldur Indriðason
  • Any Human Heart — William Boyd
  • Almost Missed You* — Jessica Strawser
  • When She Was Bad — Tammy Cohen
  • Seven Days — Deon Meyer
  • The Memory Keeper’s Daughter — Kim Edwards
  • Cell 8 — Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström
  • The Carrier — Sophie Hannah
  • See Jane Run — Hannah Jayne
  • The Three — Sarah Lotz
  • High Crimes — Joseph Finder
  • A Separation — Katie Kitamura
  • See Jane Run — Joy Fielding
  • The Kite Runner — Khaled Hosseini
  • Lasting Damage — Sophie Hannah
  • Little Deaths — Emma Flint
  • Always a Bridesmaid (for Hire) — Jen Glantz
  • Outrage — Arnaldur Indriðason
  • Little Face — Sophie Hannah
  • The Other Half Lives — Sophie Hannah
  • The Truth-Teller’s Lie — Sophie Hannah
  • Everything You Want Me To Be — Mindy Mejia
  •  The Point of Rescue — Sophie Hannah
  • A Room Swept White — Sophie Hannah
  • Kind of Cruel — Sophie Hannah
  • The Telling Error — Sophie Hannah
  • The Narrow Bed — Sophie Hannah
  • Snow Flower and the Secret Fan— Lisa See
  • The Idiot — Elif Batuman
  • The Lake of Dreams — Kim Edwards
  • Did You See Melody?* — Sophie Hannah
  • The Death of Lucy Kyte — Nicola Upson
  • Black Skies — Arnaldur Indriðason
  • Kiss Mommy Goodbye — Joy Fielding
  • The Mind’s Eye — Håkan Nesser
  • Half of a Yellow Sun — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The Longshot — Katie Kitamura
  • See How They Lie — Sue Wallman
  • Now You See Her — Joy Fielding
  • Flowers for Algernon — Daniel Keyes
  • Japanese for Travellers — Katie Kitamura
  • Missing Pieces — Joy Fielding
  • Startup — Doree Shafrir
  • East of Eden — John Steinbeck
  • Five Star Billionaire — Tash Aw
  • New Boy* — Tracy Chevalier
  • Into the Water — Paula Hawkins
  • Everybody Lies — Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
  • Quicksand — Malin Persson Giolito
  • My Husband’s Wife— Jane Corry
  • Strange Shores — Arnaldur Indriðason
  • Woman No. 17 — Edan Lepucki
  • Fingersmith — Sarah Waters
  • The Burning Girl* — Claire Messud
  • Good Intentions — Joy Fielding
  • The Rules Do Not Apply — Ariel Levy
  • The Keeper of Lost Things — Ruth Hogan
  • Borkmann’s Point — Håkan Nesser
  • The First Time — Joy Fielding
  • Don’t Cry Now — Joy Fielding
  • The Weight of Lies — Emily Carpenter
  • Testimony — Scott Turow
  • Camino Island — John Grisham
  • The Edge of Lost — Kristina McMorris
  • Tell Me No Secrets — Joy Fielding
  • Life Penalty — Joy Fielding
  • The End We Start from — Megan Hunter
  • The Light We Lost — Jill Santopolo
  • She’s Not There — Joy Fielding
  • The Dry — Jane Harper
  • Sunday Morning Coming Down* — Nicci French
  • He Said/She Said — Erin Kelly
  • The Lying Game — Ruth Ware
  • The Power — Naomi Alderman
  • The After Party — Anton DiSclafani
  • Place of Execution — Val McDermid
  • Scienceblind —Andrew Shtulman
  • Blood Sisters — Jane Corry
  • Little Boy Lost — J.D. Trafford
  • The Girlfriend — Michelle Frances
  • The Informationist — Taylor Stevens
  • My Brilliant Friend — Elena Ferrante
  • Sometimes I Lie — Alice Feeney
  • Don’t Close Your Eyes — Holly Seddon
  • Charley’s Webb — Joy Fielding
  • The Unseen World — Liz Moore
  • The Good Daughter — Karin Slaughter
  • The Good Widow— Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke
  • If I Die Before I Wake* — Emily Koch
  • Beautiful Animals* — Lawrence Osborne
  • The Locals — Jonathan Dee
  • Lies — T.M. Logan
  • Gather the Daughters — Jennie Melamed
  • The Missing Ones — Patricia Gibney
  • The Deep End — Joy Fielding
  • The Alice Network — Kate Quinn
  • Every Last Lie — Mary Kubica
  • Close to Home* — Cara Hunter
  • The Child in Time — Ian McEwan
  • The Diplomat’s Daughter— Karin Tanabe
  • Lost — Joy Fielding
  • Sourdough — Robin Sloan
  • The Blackbird Season — Kate Moretti
  • Never Let Me Go — Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Her Every Fear — Peter Swanson
  • Heartstopper — Joy Fielding
  • Bluebird, Bluebird — Attica Locke
  • The Last Tudor — Philippa Gregory
  • Prague — Arthur Phillips
  • City of Friends — Joanna Trollope
  • Mad River Road — Joy Fielding
  • The Vegetarian — Han Kang
  • The Sparsholt Affair — Alan Hollinghurst
  • Amsterdam — Ian McEwan
  • Snow Falling on Cedars— David Guterson
  • The Girl Before — JP Delaney
  • The Dying Game — Åsa Avdic
  • The Good Guy — Susan Beale
  • Bonfire — Krysten Ritter
  • Reykjavik Nights — Arnaldur Indriðason
  • Saints for All Occasions — J. Courtney Sullivan
  • In Between Days — Andrew Porter
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle — Shirley Jackson
  • Two Kinds of Truth — Michael Connelly
  • Still Life — Joy Fielding
  • The Vanity Fair Diaries: 1983–1992 — Tina Brown
  • The Vanishing Season— Joanna Schaffhausen
  • The Ice House — Laura Lee Smith
  • Ferocity — Nicola Lagioia
  • The Secrets She Keeps — Michael Robotham
  • The Marriage Pact — Michelle Richmond
  • The Foster Child — Jenny Blackhurst
  • This Is Going To Hurt — Adam Kay
  • Good Me Bad Me — Ali Land
  • Are You Sleeping — Kathleen Barber
  • Since You Fell — Dennis Lehane
  • Persons Unknown — Susie Steiner
  • The Kitchen God’s Wife — Amy Tan

* Disclaimer: I received pre-release review copies of books marked with an asterisk from NetGalley. Receiving a review copy of a book influences neither my decision to review it nor my opinions of it in any reviews I do write.

A Winter’s Day in Bath

As I mentioned in my recent Bath coffee guide, I’ve been wanting to return to the city for several years, but the expensive train fares (often over £75, even off-peak) from London — no matter how far in advance I tried to book — have always discouraged me. Finally, though, I secured a £29 day trip ticket and headed off on the Friday before last for a wintry day in the city.

The train takes just 90 minutes from London Paddington, making Bath a great day-trip destination. This is lucky because accommodation can be quite expensive, particularly if you are travelling alone. I took a 9:00 am train from Paddington, which got into Bath just after 10:30 am. My return journey was supposed to leave Bath at 8:45 pm and arrive back in London at about 10:15 pm, but delays on the line meant we got back closer to 11 pm. Nonetheless, I had a full day in the city and managed to make the best of it.

Things to do
The Roman Baths
As I’ve visited The Roman Baths, on Abbey Churchyard, at least twice before, I decided to give them a miss this time, but the historic site and museum is a must-do if it’s your first time in the city, particularly if you are a history buff. Adult tickets are currently £15.50 (going up to £16.50 in January), but there’s a lot to see and the museum is interesting and well-run.

Thermae Bath Spa
I wanted to do something to make the most of the natural thermal spring while I was in Bath, and my recent visits to the Polynesian Spa in Rotorua, New Zealand, and the Blue Lagoon in Iceland convinced me that the Thermae Bath Spa was the way to go. Located in Hot Bath Street (of course!), the Thermae Spa consists of a rooftop pool overlooking the city and an indoor ‘Minerva’ pool, both fed by naturally warm, mineral-rich thermal waters, and a wellness suite including various sauna and steam rooms. Access for two hours costs £35 (£36 from 2018), and you can also book various treatments.

I arrived just after 4:00 pm and had to wait about 30 minutes to get in, as the spa was already full. It’s right next to the Christmas market and so was very busy just two weeks before Christmas. As part of the entrance fee, you get a robe, towel and flip flips; once you have these and a wristband you can use to control your locker and pay for any refreshments or upgrades, you can proceed to the changing area. It was busy inside although not so much that it detracted from my enjoyment. I was hoping that the pools might be a little warmer — they were warm but not hot, and this was particularly true in the rooftop pool where I was trying to hover near a hot jet. That said, that view over the city from the rooftop pool was lovely and it even started snowing while I was in there, which made it feel wonderfully festive. Unlike in Rotorua and the Blue Lagoon, cameras and phones are banned, which was nice, although a lot of people were having quite loud, raucous conversations, which meant it didn’t feel especially peaceful or relaxing.

The Royal Crescent and the Circus
Bath’s city centre is quite small and easy to explore on foot. The Royal Crescent, a pleasingly curving row of 30 terraced houses dating to the 18th century is about 20 minutes’ walk north of Bath Spa train station, but there are plenty of excellent coffee shops on the way if you would like to stop off for a drink and/or a warm. You can go inside No. 1 Royal Crescent (£10) to learn more, or just stroll the length of the crescent and enjoy the view. Capturing the whole crescent in a photo without panorama mode on is a bit tricky — you’ll probably need to head down to the park below.

The Circus, another of Bath’s iconic sights, is just three minutes’ walk to the east of the Royal Crescent. Also dating to the late 18th century, it is an impressive sight and worth the short detour from the Royal Crescent.

Bath Abbey
Bath’s impressive abbey dates to the 7th century, although it has been rebuilt a number of times since then. I popped inside only briefly, admiring the gothic architecture, but also enjoyed it from the outside, both by day and by night.

Bath Christmas Market
I hadn’t appreciated before I came quite how big a deal Bath’s Christmas market is. Running for just over a fortnight from late November to mid-December (this year’s market has, sadly, already finished), it takes over a large area of the historic city centre. You could easily spend a couple of hours exploring all of the stalls — many local shops, cafés and bars run stalls — and enjoying the many food and drinks on offer. It had a lovely, festive vibe and because it was quite spread out, it didn’t feel oppressively crowded, even though there were a lot of people there. Do note that Bath is even busier than usual while the market is running, so try to book trains and accommodation in advance, and be prepared to queue at some attractions.

As I only had one day in the city and as I was spending a large portion of it visiting coffee shops, I didn’t have time to visit any of Bath’s other museums, but you can find more inspiration from art and Austen, to the Masons and medicine, on the Visit Bath website.

Food and drink
I’ve already written about the best speciality coffee shops in Bath (if you just have time for one, I consider Colonna & Small’s to be one of the best coffee shops I’ve ever visited in the UK). Here are some of the other food and drink recommendations.

The Green Birda cosy café on Margaret’s Buildings that makes a great lunch spot. I had a very avocado toast but there are lots of sandwiches and salads on the menu.

Sally Lunn’s — a café so historic it has its own bakery museum, which paying customers can visit for free. Sally Lunn’s is famous for its ‘Bunn’ — a sort of cross between a very light, large teacake and a brioche. You can choose from a variety of sweet and savoury toppings and I chose the coffee and walnut butter — half a toasted Bunn cost the very precise £4.58, which seemed a little steep. It did taste very good, though, and I really liked the coffee and walnut butter.

The Scallop Shellwell, I did visit on a Friday, so fish and chips was traditional. I had a great and reasonably priced meal at this attractive, well-run restaurant on Monmouth Place. I started with the scallops (when in Rome…or near Roman Baths) and then had the haddock and chips. The food was tasty and the service very good.

Three places I didn’t go to but would like to:
Acorn — this vegetarian restaurant was recommended by the staff at the Green Bird. The set menu looked delicious even to me — despite being vegetarian for a decade and eating little meat at home, I tend to eat meat when I eat out — but by the time I got out of the Thermae Spa, there wasn’t a spot left for me. Try to book in advance if you’d like to go here — Bath seems to cater less well than London for walk-ins.

Henry’s — a small, welcoming modern restaurant on Saville Row, Henry’s has some fantastic-looking set menus. If I’d been visiting with someone else or wanted to celebrate a special occasion, I would definitely have booked in here. I think the vegetarian set menu would have won me over!

The Canary Gin BarI really wanted to indulge in a drink at the Bath Gin Company‘s bar before catching my train home but it was really busy and I was feeling quite under the weather. Instead, I bought a bottle of their gin, proudly displaying a winking Jane Austen, to take home. I’ve been enjoying it with Fever Tree tonic and a slice of lime.

Bath has some excellent independent shops, many of which are located on and around Walcot Street and the Paragon, to the north of the city centre. Here are a few that stood out to me.

Article — beautiful homewares, gifts, cards and flowers, located on Bartlett Street.

Bath Old Books — antiquarian and old books store (surprise!), located on Margaret’s Buildings.

The Fig Store — plants and homewares store, located on Walcot Street.

Found — very well-curated selection of homewares, clothing and lifestyle goods, located on Argyle Street, next to Pulteney Bridge.

Homefront — small shop with interiors, art and gifts, located on Margaret’s Buildings.

Magalleria — excellent stockist of independent and specialist magazines, located on Broad Street.

Meticulous Ink — beautiful letterpress stationery shop, located on Walcot Street. Great for cards, gifts and custom orders.

Resident — minimalist, Scandinavian-inspired homewares and gifts, located on Walcot Street. Resident dog is particularly friendly!

Topping & Company Booksellers — superb independent book store, located on The Paragon. The shop is attractive and well-stocked and the staff are very welcoming and helpful.

My haul included coffee from Colonna & Small’s, gin from the Bath Gin Company, cards from Meticulous Ink, and some chocolate, lip balm (not pictured) and a mini Baggu (not pictured) from Found.