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ALEXANDRA SHULMAN’S NOTEBOOK: I want a nice tea towel, not a thumping woke lecture

So many properties in the care of the Trust are treasured because the experience of visiting makes us feel good in a simple way, writes Alexandra Shulman (pictured above)

As part of therapy for panic attacks some years back, I listened to a relaxation tape. Imagine, the soothing voice suggested, you are visiting a place where you feel calm and happy. 

For reasons I still can’t quite understand, the spot I visualised was a grassy bank in the gardens at Stourhead in Wiltshire looking over the beautiful lake and temples. It was a place of peace and simplicity unconnected to the frazzle of the world and my brain.

Stourhead is one of the many National Trust properties that are treasured for this kind of escapism. A haven of quiet and splendid beauty.

The other day at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, I met a curator for the National Trust who had been discussing ‘Britain’s hidden heritage’. 

I asked whether the audience had been largely sympathetic to new interpretations of our national treasures in the light of post-colonialism and the legacy of slavery. She said they had been, but maybe were ambivalent about hearing it from the National Trust itself.

This was not surprising. I’m no expert on the subject but suspect that many of us who love visiting National Trust properties do so in a similar way to sinking into a deep, reviving bath.

We like the familiarity of the experience. We like the comforting aspect. We know what we are going to get. We’ll be asked not to sit on the chairs, wonder why the four-posters are often so small, marvel at the upkeep of the gardens and – highly importantly – scour the gift shop for William Morris print notebooks, tea towels and perhaps a pretty tray. That’s the point.

We probably don’t visit to immerse ourselves in the thumping 115-page National Trust report which categorises Stourhead as one of the many properties funded by ‘a history relating to expansion and settlement into countries resulting in the displacement and injury of people or creation of unequal economic benefit’.

This is not to say that re-examining our cultural legacy is irrelevant, but I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be thinking about it while pottering around the Palladian follies of Stourhead.

So many properties in the care of the Trust are treasured because the experience of visiting makes us feel good in a simple way. The National Trust undoubtedly has a role to play in keeping us informed about its relationship to our colonial past, but I suggest it doesn’t give up yet on offering cream teas and souvenir tea towels.

Stourhead (pictured above) is one of the many National Trust properties that are treasured for this kind of escapism. A haven of quiet and splendid beauty

Stourhead (pictured above) is one of the many National Trust properties that are treasured for this kind of escapism. A haven of quiet and splendid beauty

It’s time to get cosy with an Aga saga

As autumn moves in, National Trust properties are not the only places where we seek a reassuring familiarity. Cosiness, even. Nasty dark evenings and bleak skies have to be combated. The Scandi notion of hygge – made into retail nirvana with the bulk-buying of candles, twinkly fairy lights and sheepskins – may be a cliche but getting out the blankets, making hearty stews and lighting fires is a crucial part of dealing with the gloom of winter.

However, stylish modern interiors don’t exactly lend themselves to this snug ideal. All those kitchen extensions with plate glass leading on to dark gardens, the concrete and stone floors, those marble and Corian-topped islands… all are wonderful in the summer when flooded with light, but come winter? Well, not so much.

Last week, in her TV review, my colleague Deborah Ross cleverly coined the term ‘kitchen island thrillers’ as a current TV genre. The vast and sparse kitchens of ITV’s murderous Hollington Drive and domestic abuse drama Angela Black are the backdrops to terror.

I speak as one who knows – having a beautiful, white-walled minimalist kitchen. But with the clocks about to change next weekend, I crave an old pine table, an Aga and some curtained sash windows. At least, though, I didn’t give in to a kitchen island.

Yoga fans lose their sense of inner peace

An unlikely pairing has come about in the drive to vaccinate against Covid. The alt-Right has united with the yoga and wellness fraternity. Yoga and alternative therapies have traditionally been considered more appealing to the Left-leaning. But in their ferocious belief in anti-vax conspiracy theories and all that my-body- my-temple stuff, there are many practitioners displaying an aggression more often found in shaven-headed, National Front pitbull owners. Not what you want when you are just trying to perfect the flow of your sun salutation.

Kate’s influencing a new generation

Putting on the style: The Duchess of Cambridge at BAFTA in London last week. It¿s been many years since the Royal Family have been thought of as fashion leaders, says Alexandra Shulman

Putting on the style: The Duchess of Cambridge at BAFTA in London last week. It’s been many years since the Royal Family have been thought of as fashion leaders, says Alexandra Shulman

There was once a tale – no doubt apocryphal – about fashion designers placing a mannequin of Anna Wintour in their studios, complete with immaculate bob and dark glasses, so that they could make sure they designed clothes that would suit her personally.

I was reminded of this story the other day as I flicked through some catalogues and magazines, and realised how many fashion companies seem to have a showroom dummy of the Duchess of Cambridge in mind when putting together a collection. She’s become a great model of her own style. 

Fashions grow popular in a variety of ways. Sometimes they are completely new ideas, but more often they are looks adopted by famous people that trickle into the mainstream.

It’s been many years since the Royal Family have been thought of as fashion leaders. Probably not since the Edwardians. Certainly, I doubt the Duchess considers herself one. But an influencer? That’s different. An influencer is not someone who comes up with new ideas. They don’t rock the boat. They just show what’s out there in an attractive manner. And few people do it better than Kate.

My lost card was an ideal gift for thieves

I dropped my wallet in the street the other day. By the time I’d contacted my bank and other card providers, the person who had picked it up had already used it to make 12 purchases. 

The recent contactless spending limit rise to £100 made it their happy day. Thankfully, my bank is bearing the cost, but surely it’s senseless to make it so easy for someone to steal.


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