Wimbledon. Music. A pop of colour. Ordering lobster. Podcasts. The Northern Lights. Driving. Festivals.
What unites these disparate things? Why, they’re all things that Nicky Haslam, interior designer, thinks are common, The great man has just issued his fifth tea-towel with a list so magnificently arbitrary as to be absolutely worth the £40 the tea towel costs — the perfect gift for the socially insecure.
This year’s list has the perennial and the transient, the big and small irritants which made previous tea-towels so compelling. Bear in mind that this is a man who could decree that “hydrangeas” and “loving your parents” are equally common; we hope his devotees haven’t taken the second to heart.
The joke on us is that actual grand people, especially the old, don’t give a hoot about what they’re meant to like
So we get “music” in this year’s list — the perennial — plus “podcasts”, which are transient. There’s “110 per cent”, which is an insanely irritating turn of phrase which Haslam may help see off, and “strawberries”, which will take more than one feisty interior designer to kill.
“Driving”, is very good: it may be that having a car is boring or you could speculate that he’s coming over all Greta Thunberg. He never explains.
This is a list that really could only be possible in England. It is in the fine tradition of Nancy Mitford’s Noblesse Oblige, a book of essays she edited in 1956 which caused a sensation as people struggled to drop the word “mirror” in favour of “looking glass” and learned to despise those who called a “lavatory” a “toilet”. It was linguistic apartheid.
Britain is a hundred times more egalitarian now — see the reports last week about the death of Received Pronunciation in favour of Standard Southern English — but there remains a stubborn worry among the middle classes that they’ll be found out. The joke on us is that actual grand people, especially the old, don’t give a hoot about what they’re meant to like; they don’t have to bother about what people think. If they like strawberries, it’ll take more than an interior decorator to change their mind.
All hail to Nicky Haslam, then. He has added to the gaiety of many a London gathering. And with a bit of luck, he’s killed off “moreish”. What a man.
Melanie McDonagh is an Evening Standard columnist