You might think Schitt’s Creek is just a show about a wealthy family who lose everything and have to move to a motel they refer to as a “vomit soaked dump”, but I’m here to tell you that it is also a show about fashion. Not since Absolutely Fabulous has a programme used clothing with such humour and precision, deploying a drop-crotch trouser or a dramatic epaulette with the meticulous timing of an exquisitely crafted punchline.
The Rose family’s luxurious wardrobes are the last vestiges of their former lives, their outfits a continual source of hilarity for their checked-shirt-clad small-town neighbours. All four family members are overdressed throughout but it is Moira and David who make it an artform. Nothing says “fish out of water” like the Helmut Lang mohawk hooded sweater David (Dan Levy) wears to a Mennonite farm, or the $3,000 (£2,400) Alexander McQueen frilled mini dress Moira (Catherine O’Hara) wears to waft about in her mouldy motel room.
Moira’s identity is painstakingly curated through her clothes, combining attention-grabbing clashing patterns with armour-like jewellery. There is a sense of studied eccentricity which she adopts even at night, with only her husband as her audience, wearing tailored waistcoats over her pyjamas.
By day she dresses like a collaboration between Cruella de Vil and Balenciaga. A typical outfit might comprise a undulating Marni neoprene shirt decorated with silver swallows, paired with fingerless gloves and silver Wonder Woman-style silver cuffs and necklaces. It’s the opposite of Coco Chanel’s edict about elegance: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” De trop is never enough.
Even weirder still is her vast collection of wigs, with which she will suddenly transform herself – with a pink Zandra Rhodes bob or a headful of orphan Annie curls – at moments of stress, the way the rest of us might smooth down our clothes before an important meeting.
Even the storage of these wigs, affixed to the walls in a corner of the Rose family’s small motel room, feels loaded. When she was wealthy, Moira would no doubt have had a walk in wardrobe for her headpieces; now they are permanently on show, like a collection of taxidermy guinea pigs or a macabre art installation.
But while I respect, and fear, Moira, it is David who has my heart. His wardrobe is a faithful recreation of a very idiosyncratic kind of fashion fan, dedicated to gender-fluid, streetwear-influenced shapes by cult designers such as Rick Owens. I can’t think of a sitcom character who dresses with such high fashion accuracy. He looks excellent in kilts and cargo skirts and is partial to directional hoodies with so many layers of complex folds that the uninitiated may not know which part to put their head in. Even David’s jumpers are funny. He has a ridiculous number of them, with many OTT knitwear moments include Givenchy dobermans, Valentino panthers, a giant hand print by Dries van Noten, and slogans such as “Icon” and “Nonchalance”.
It’s no surprise to learn that Levy is a real-life fashion nerd, who spent much of filming stalking resale sites to source the designer clothes within his limited budget, or that O’Hara based her character’s wardrobe on Daphne Guinness – the fashion icon best known for working with Alexander McQueen.
These people know fashion inside out, and their show celebrates the power of fashion and its futility. Their mad clothes are a constant reminder of their struggle to adapt to their reduced circumstances. In this town, their refined taste is not going to protect them. And yet, in ruched lamé Isabel Marant, and sequined Dsquared2, Moira and David continue, regardless of the derision of their neighbours, to dress doggedly for the life they once had and hope to reclaim.
It is a spirit we may find useful to channel in lockdown 2.0 – during the period formerly known as “party season” – as we dress to raise a glass of mulled wine with friends over Zoom, hoping for the best. Perhaps channelling Moira, and putting on a fancy frock, will help. Surely anything is worth a shot at this point? In any case, I can’t think of a pair of style icons more fitting for 2020.
People think that cats can’t be trained. They’re wrong. Through careful coaxing and iron patience, I have drilled my cats to stop taking bites out of my mashed potato. They no longer wake me up at the crack of dawn by leaping on to my face. And thanks to my persistence, they are regular, enthusiastic users of the cat flap. Particularly at night when it’s locked and they bash their paws against it like amateur feline bongoists.
But this is where my cat-training prowess plateaued – I couldn’t manage to take things to the next level. I did buy a tedious 700-page book that promised feats such as teaching your moggy to sit. I tried random websites’ impressive-sounding tutorials on high-fiving, vaulting and convincing cats to happily don a harness and be walked like a dog. But, invariably, my cats would stray from the plan and I’d be left scouring 800 words of text for a solution. What did my efforts actually teach them? That there’s no better time to steal snacks than when your confuddled owner is staring at his or her phone or into a book. So I gave up.
Until today. Now, I am armed with the teachings of School for Cats – a series of TikTok videos, each one around 20 seconds long, making it easy to refer to while training my two beloved feline companions. There’s Mochi, a three-year-old tabby and highly strung madam. Also Poirot, an elaborately moustachioed and insanely rambunctious five-month-old kitten. They’ll be taught separately, though, because – to put it mildly – they are not the best of friends, and it’s difficult to conjure up an informative educational atmosphere in the middle of a fist fight.
Day one of training starts well as a super-keen Poirot turns up wearing an elegant tuxedo (which, admittedly, he always does thanks to his black and white fur pattern). But I quickly learn that some of these skills might well be beyond my cats. I’d thought that “lay down” would be the ideal trick to teach a pair of cats that border on narcoleptic. However, when I try gently pushing Mochi into a lying position, she stares balefully at me – her sad, wide eyes dripping with betrayal. Poirot thinks we’re roughhousing, so uses my hand as a scratching post.
However, when I find the right trick, I am genuinely astonished by the results. The 360-degree turn that is “spin” is a hit with both of my cats. Not only do they quickly comprehend that they’re meant to follow a treat around in a circle but, after a couple of sessions, they even start following my empty hand in the hope of being rewarded afterwards. Which is the first time I have ever managed to get my cats to do anything without food-based bribery. I mean, if I’m honest, it’s also one of the few times I’ve managed to make them respond to instructions with anything other than a sarcastic narrowing of the eyes. So it’s a double win.
What’s more, the training for a trick called “sit pretty” genuinely becomes one of Poirot’s favourite things in the world. Apparently, standing up on his hind legs to reach for a treat is the absolute pinnacle of exciting playtime for a kitten. Hours after one training session, my wife inadvertently points at Poirot during conversation, causing him to leap four feet into the air on to her finger. So successful it is, I’m tempted to rename the trick “fly, my pretty”, or “rocket launch”, or “TAKE COVER! INCOMING CAT!”
I’m chuffed. Initially, because the training exercises are a lot of fun. They’re simple to follow, easy to refer to during training and perfect for a creature that has a five-second attention span. Plus, they suit the cats.
But, eventually, I come to appreciate them for something I hadn’t anticipated. They’ve had lovely consequences for my relationship with my pets. It was fairly predictable that Poirot would take to it, given that he’s an excitable, pliable kitten. But Mochi’s response has been a revelation. She has spent the past two hours sitting next to me on the sofa, just watching me operate a Word document. She’s even begun hopping on to my lap for a snooze – something unheard of since the honeymoon period of her moving in with us. If I’d known that teaching her to spin in circles would make her this content, I’d have done it months ago.
Frankly, there’s only one small disappointment in this whole process. No matter how much I scroll, there is one thing I can’t find. Seemingly, School for Cats has no lessons on how to stop your pets playing your cat flap like a bongo.
Explore the world of TikTok and discover the joy of learning new things in shorter bursts. What will you #LearnOnTikTok?
As we stare down the barrel of winter with the added pressure of new lockdown restrictions, there’s never been a more pertinent time to focus on our wellbeing. For many, the unprecedented nature of this year has had a negative effect both physically and mentally, but with the end of the year fast approaching and the promise of a fresh start in 2021, now is a great time to give mind, body and soul a much needed overhaul.
“This year, few of us have looked after ourselves the way we deserve to be looked after,” says personal fitness and strength trainer Matt McCormack (@mattmccormackpt). “Due to no fault of our own, we’ve neglected to give our bodies what they need, and anxiety and stress levels for many have been understandably sky-high. The temptation may be to put off making changes until the new year, but now is actually the ideal time to toughen up our bodies if we want to face the winter and life’s next chapter in the best possible shape.”
So whether your aim is to feel trimmer, stronger or happier, the time is now – and yes, whatever the weather.
1 Give booze a break If that sounds like a ridiculous suggestion with the festive season just around the corner, you don’t have to go completely dry as a bone, but a more mindful approach to how much – and what – you’re drinking could make a huge difference to your physical and mental health. “We all know that drinking to excess isn’t great for our bodies, so implementing some small changes to your drinking habits is really beneficial,” says nutritionist and founder of LunchboxDoctor.com, Jenny Tschiesche.
“Try swapping some of your weekly alcoholic drinks for something like kombucha, which still feels special, treat-like and is very on-trend.”
When choosing a non-alcoholic drink, keep an eye out for the sugar content – check the label and choose those drinks that are green for sugar when you can. It’s also a good option to aim for some entirely alcohol-free days throughout the week, so try downloading Public Health England’s Drink Free Days app, which can be found on the Apple App Store and Google Play.
2 Keep a journal Move over meditation, there’s a new tool in town to achieve a clearer, happier mind: writing. According to some mental health professionals, keeping a journal is one of the best ways to release mental blocks, understand your feelings and attain your goals. You may have kept a daily gratitude list to remind yourself of things to feel thankful for, but trying a more expressive approach to writing can be a way of hacking into the deepest parts of the brain, helping us recognise our needs.
Invest in a nice notebook and aim to write for 10-15 minutes each morning. Think of how you’re feeling, what you’re worried about, someone you’re angry with, hopes for that day – and see what comes out.
3 Download a fitness app Sometimes we all need a helping hand, so why not lean on an app? Whether it’s to track your diet, plan a workout or record your daily physical activity, checking in with your phone or smartwatch is a great way to help you keep on top of your health and fitness goals – and set new ones when the time is right. “I see it all the time with my clients, especially during this time of the year,” says McCormack.
“They lose track of what they’re eating or drinking, which then spirals into bad choices and habits, quickly followed by negative thoughts. But using a fitness app is a brilliant and simple way to regain some control and keep your health and fitness in order.”
Apps such as MyFitnessPal are free to download and can help you keep an eye on what you’re eating, the number of steps you’re doing, and even make everything feel more manageable, which is often half the battle.
4 Get a flu jab With the spread of Covid-19, it’s easy to forget that it’s also important to protect yourself against the flu – especially so if you’re in a high-risk category for coronavirus, as research has shown you’re more likely to get seriously ill if you get the flu and contract coronavirus at the same time.
The good news is that by getting a flu jab, you’ll help reduce pressure on the NHS and social care staff who may be dealing with the pandemic. Changes including social distancing, hand washing and wearing protective equipment have now been made to ensure it’s safe to get your flu jab at GP surgeries and pharmacies, so go and book one in for peace of mind.
5 Seek out support Winter can be lonely. Anything from weather conditions to potential restrictions due to the pandemic could keep us from loved ones this festive season. Plus the reduced sunlight can reduce our body’s production of serotonin, potentially making us feel low and more alone.
Kate Lucey, author of Get a Grip, Love, says that right now we need to make the effort to talk to each other – but with our voices and not just a WhatsApp or text message.
“We’ve become a bit scared of phone calls,” she says. “Don’t plan it, just dial. Send a voice note if they don’t answer, and even if you have to play phone tag you’ll get there eventually. Voice action is so much more nourishing than a message.”
Conversation keeps us feeling connected so make a list of three people a day that you could contact – and make it happen. If you’re not able to get in touch with someone, or you’d just like to find out more about managing your mental health and wellbeing, head to nhs.uk/oneyou/every-mind-matters.
6 Invest in supplements It’s that time of year when we can’t make vitamin D from sunshine. To keep your bones and muscles healthy it’s best to take a vitamin D supplement every day between October and early March. This is especially important as many of us have been indoors more than usual this spring and summer.
“The majority of us don’t get the sufficient amounts of vitamin D through our diet, and with sunlight limited at this time of year, in my opinion, we should all be supplementing,” says Tschiesche.
You can get vitamin D from most pharmacies, and supermarkets and other retailers. Just 10 micrograms a day is all you need – it’s the same for the whole family.
7 Stop smoking Thinking of knocking smoking on the head in the new year? Why wait? By quitting now, you’ll reap the rewards almost immediately. Longer-term benefits include reducing your risk of lung problems, heart problems and various types of cancer. In the short term, if you stopped now you would be free of nicotine, finding it easier to breathe and have a pocket full of surplus cash by the time you’re singing Auld Lang Syne. Plus, you’ll have the hard bit out of the way.
“Quitting smoking is always a fantastic idea,” says Dr Catherine McCullagh, a trainee GP. “But people don’t realise that you can feel the benefits immediately. Contact your GP or pharmacist about the various options available to help you quit – often they can refer you to a smoking cessation clinic where you will receive specialist advice.”
8 Get outdoors The great outdoors might be wet and wild right now, but a winter walk (find one near you at walkingbritain.co.uk) is the best way of blowing away the cobwebs. Fresh air has higher levels of oxygen than indoor air, so getting outdoors for a brisk 20-minute walk each day is good for your lungs, blood pressure, circulation and heart rate. Plus, more oxygen is thought to result in greater brain functioning, improving energy and concentration skills – perfect for anyone working from home.
Entice your kids out with a homemade scavenger hunt. Make a checklist of 10 things – such as acorns, feathers, yellow leaves – and head to the woods, only returning when you’ve found them all. Not close to woodland? No problem. Even a walk around the streets with a list of items to spot – a black cat, three buses, Christmas trees in windows – can turn exercise into a fun, and free, game.
9 Light a scented candle Burning a scented candle doesn’t just achieve peak winter ambience, it can also do wonders for your wellbeing. The combination of essential oils in some aromatherapy candles – such as lavender, rose or lemon balm – can relieve anxiety and reduce stress.
And there’s more … stuffy noses and congested chests can be eased by burning peppermint or eucalyptus. Sleep can be helped by a chamomile or sandalwood candle – just remember to blow it out before your head hits the pillow – and energy may be boosted by the scent of bergamot, cinnamon or ginger.
10 Treat yourself When it comes down to it though, 2020 has been hard enough. For long stretches of this year, we haven’t been able to enjoy a sit-down meal at a restaurant or the comforts of a Sunday roast at the pub. While it’s important for us to take care of our bodies, this winter really isn’t the time to start feeling guilty and deny ourselves a little taste of the good stuff. We’ve missed out on enough this year, thank you very much.
So have a treat and reach for the chocolate when you want to, whether it’s milk chocolate, or dark chocolate – which is generally a bit lower in calories and sugar – just enjoy. Of course, moderation is key, but as Francesco Petrarch said: “A little bit of sweetness can drown out a whole lot of bitterness.”
This advertiser content was paid for by the UK government. All together (Keep well this winter) is a government-backed initiative tasked with informing the UK about the Covid-19 pandemic. For more information, visit gov.uk/coronavirus
We can’t eat the spiky-coated horse chestnuts scattered all over the piazza. Nor the mushrooms that suddenly billow like bald umbrellas at the base of the nearby trees. Both, however, are daily reminders that now is the time that their sweet and edible siblings can be bought at the market and in shops. Then there is Augusto’s cabinet at his restaurant La Torricella, filled, as it is every year, with chestnuts from trees on his land in the neighbouring region of Abruzzo. Only this isn’t every year.
Once I have seen them, chestnuts call out to me at this time of year. Maybe because I know that a kilo, scored around their curve and roasted until the nut tries to escape, a bottle of red wine and a bar of chocolate is such a balanced meal, with no washing up. I might be contradicting previous columns in being undecided as to what is best – roasting chestnuts in a frying pan (which requires a lot of shaking) or in the oven (which requires moderate shaking) – so I swing between the two. Either way, I tip the hot, roasted chestnuts into a brown paper bag, then wrap it in a tea towel for 15 minutes, in which time the heat turns to steam, which eases the shells away and makes them easier to peel.
Red wine also makes chestnuts easier to peel. Red wine for the peeler to drink, that is (though there are, in fact, several recipes for chestnuts boiled in red wine from Abruzzo). The enthusiasm you can summon for peeling nuts when they are for immediate consumption is quite incredible. As is the speed at which one can do so: it’s similar to what one friend calls the pistachio race – don’t stop until the bowl is empty.
It is hard to summon anything near the enthusiasm, or speed, for chestnut peeling when they are for a recipe, however. Which is where vacuum-packed chestnuts step in. Resembling tiny brains pressed against tight packets, they are the most brilliantly useful thing – for soup, stews, stuffings, cakes and puddings. Chestnut flour, too, is a brilliant store-cupboard ingredient, for adding (cautiously) to pasta dough, cakes and bread.
Today, though, a soup inspired by a chestnut, mushroom and potato soup we ate in Abruzzo several years ago (at the same meal, incidentally, as the mystic cherry liquor). Chestnuts function like beans in soup – that is, they are soft and substantial, but also floury – which can be turned up a notch by blending them, or some of them, to thicken the consistency. Porcini bring two things: their rich, leathery flesh and a well-flavoured broth, both a great match for chestnuts (what grows together, goes together). Porcini also love potatoes, which themselves are rarely a bad idea in soup.
You could add some pasta to this soup in the last minutes of cooking – orzo, broken tagliatelle, or maltagliati (offcuts of fresh egg pasta), though the exact cooking time will depend on the shape. Otherwise, croutons fried in a mix of butter and olive oil, or toast rubbed with garlic and zigzagged with olive oil are also good. As is a bottle of red wine.
Chestnut, porcini and potato soup
20g dried porcini 3 tbsp olive oil 20g butter 1 small onion, peeled and diced 1 large potato, peeled and diced 250g peeled chestnuts (use vacuum-packed ones, for ease) Salt and black pepper
Soak the porcini in 500ml warm water for 30 minutes, then drain, reserving the soaking liquid, and roughly chop the porcini.
In a soup pan, warm the olive oil and butter, then fry the onion gently until soft. Add the potato, chestnuts and a pinch of salt, and cook for a minute more.
Make the porcini soaking liquid up to 1.2 litres by adding warm water, then add to the pan, along with another pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and leave to cook for 20 minutes.
If you want, take out half the soup, blend smooth, then return to the pan, to thicken. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking, and serve with toast.