Highgate Mums, page 1
FOOD & DRINK
NEWS & CONFLICT
SHOPS & STYLE
FINANCE & POVERTY
ARMY OF EARS
Don’t be fooled into thinking Highgate Mums (HM) has much to do with Highgate, or indeed mums. In a recent straw poll I asked whether our heroes could be found in other parts of London. The answers came speedily: Putney, Earlsfield, Dulwich, Balham, Notting Hill and Barnes (‘If you don’t own a child there’s an actual law to prevent you living there’).
Then the London portion of my question fell by the wayside, quickly yielding:
• Cotswold-ville – Tetbury or Chipping Camden
• Harrogate (‘from one end to the other’)
• West End of Glasgow (‘although maybe not so much now the Steiner School’s burnt down’)
• Roath and Cathays, Cardiff
• Most of Bristol
• Chiswick and Guilford
• Jesmond in Newcastle (rich students ‘slumming it up North
but at least there’s a Waitrose’)
• Deansgate, Manchester
• Cobham, Weybridge and Esher
And then the responses went wonderfully global:
• Hong Kong (‘full of tai tai mums who don’t work, drink coffee and complain about their Amah maids wanting a day off every month!’)
• Ninety percent of Los Angeles
• ‘Don’t even get me started #Singapore’
• ‘Duuuuuude. PERTH. So. Much. Perth.’ (Australia)
• Brooklyn (‘Williamsburg to be precise.’) (New York, America)
• The whole of Melbourne. (Australia)
• ‘Posh Potomac’ (Maryland, America).
So it was true! The unique breed of HM was not so unique after all. It wasn’t unique to London, to the South, to England or even to Europe. The HMs and their massive buggies were everywhere. And we loved it.
When HM first began we were accused of finger-pointing and bordering on misogynistic. It’s an accusation that I found hard to disagree with. But something wonderful happened. Once we hit about 7,000 followers the expression ‘Highgate Mum’ stopped being about mocking the Other, and began to be used just as much as an adjective to laugh about oneself. Followers announced with shame their HM moments, or reported their kids and friends.
This delighted me and gave HM a kindness that I felt was lacking in many of the other overhear accounts that run on Twitter. We were appalled and disgusted, but if we were honest we saw more than a fleeting shadow of ourselves. It reminded me of a poster for Star Wars: Episode I in which a boy, Anakin Skywalker, walks through the desert, his cast shadow showing the unmistakable form of the adult Darth Vader that he would become. Laugh at the silliness, the selfishness and the peculiar narrow-mindedness, but when you find yourself sneering, look at your shadow and you’ll see a huge shoulder bag and a buggy the size of Westminster Tube station.
During the writing of this book, the attack took place on the world’s LGBTI community at The Pulse nightclub in Orlando. In the immediate aftermath Dan Savage spoke movingly on his Savage Lovecast podcast. I’d like to thank him for helping to ease sadness and anger. From a stranger across the ocean, to all of you affected, I send utmost love.
What this book doesn’t contain (because it’s not funny) are the moments when the HM proved themselves fantastic. After the Paris shootings in 2015 there were discussions about changing holiday plans and visiting Paris instead to show their support. They can’t abide Katie Hopkins or her politics, and as a gay man I’ve applauded their apparent total support for gay marriage. This isn’t the stuff of comedy quips on Twitter, but is a key part of the HM psyche. And they should rightfully be applauded.
There’s many people to thank for encouraging HM. My lovely extended family (Guy, Sam, Jo, Jamie, Issy, Evye, Jollie and Marcus) and my ever-loyal flatmate and pup, Moray Laing. There are also the wonderful early adopters Wendy Gordon, Elaine Blanchard, Morwenna Lawson, Lisa Shearon, Pablo Muñoz, Catherine Catton, Rebecca Parker, Tash Baylis, Glen ‘Bruce’ Oldershaw and Johann Knobel. It was they who initially persuaded the overhears to be taken from the privacy of Facebook and into the public realm of Twitter thanks to this tweet:
‘The problem with poor people is they don’t realise chorizo sausages are better value than sausage rolls’.
I’d heard this in a café up in Highgate Village, a leafy and pretty area of North London where I lived. The group was a team of mums sat at a round table having an excited and friendly discussion about the ongoing recession. But there was was one voice that I noticed above all others, which was steadily growing louder. ‘The problem, the PROB-lem, THE PROBLEM...’ she persisted until she had everyone’s attention, and then the above about chorizo was delivered to silence, except for the squeak of a rocking buggy.
Within five minutes @Highgatemums had been registered, and friend and broadcaster Zeb Soanes suggested the fantastic tagline: ‘Overheard words of wisdom from the ladies who brunch’.
I have never publicized the account. Across five years the rise on Twitter from zero to over 45,000 followers (at the time of writing) is purely due to word-of-mouth. To those people who cheered, re-tweeted and pulled in more followers I also offer a big thank you.
At intervals I am accused of making these up. And to some extent that’s true. Few of the quotes in this collection came out of mouths as perfectly formed tweets. Rather they’re paraphrased content taken from longer statements or general conversations condensed into bite-sized ideologies. But the listens, the moods, the lattes are all very real. And how do I know? Because I love coffee life. I love cafés. Best of all, I love being an appalling hypocrite.
A big professional thank you to the team at Atlantic Books for showing faith in the project. And to my main man at Atlantic – James Nightingale – who has been a brilliant editor and ambassador since day one. To Stephen Emms and Tom Kihl at London Belongs To Me who were instrumental in building North London momentum behind the project via their fantastic newspaper Kentishtowner. And finally to my literary agent David Luxton and published author chums Richard Moore and Patrick Gale, who have always been on-hand to help me through the unknown world of book publishing.
If you want to go on your own HM safari, you could do worse than visiting Bread and Bean (37 Junction Road, London N19 5QU) or The Spoke (710 Holloway Road, London N19 3NH). Both are dangerously close to the nearby Montessori school and provide a delightful seam of chatter. More importantly, they also serve the best coffee in North London. There’s also Côte Brasserie, Caffè Nero and Le Pain Quotidien on Highgate High Street. All these places have been at the heart of inspiring this book.
And a final thanks to my very own Highgate Mum, Sue Hall. In so many ways she brought me here in the first place. Thanks, Mum!
DAN HALL, JULY 2016
FOOD & DRINK
‘Well, porridge can be for anyone. Not just the poor.’
Although the posts of others form the backbone of the HM Twitter account, not everything gets a retweet. This category flags the most ‘faker!’ klaxons when my editor’s eyes look at the list on our feed. I’m often sent cut-and-paste apparent overhears regarding kids with silly names complaining about extra virgin olive oil or some obscure fruit from Venezuela. The HM is far beyond such transparent social superficiality, as cited recently by a smart mum saying with a sad sigh:
‘Specialist oils are as common as Corn Flakes now.’
What are the expectations of the HM kitchen table? For there is arguably no better place than this to showcase the effort
I spilt chia seeds all over the breakfast bar this morning. That stuff gets everywhere. (@mango_ruby)
‘Pesto’s no fun since fresh basil became so affordable.’
I’ve just been offered an ‘artisan crouton’ in a restaurant. (@Sparklyboy1)
‘... just a quick homemade snack of a lime crush blend and fresh chilli-roasted nuts.’
‘My… I just LOVE heritage tomatoes.’
We have to bow to Food & Drink, as the chorizo overhear (see Introduction) was where it all started. And the needs of a TV-lifestyle kitchen (without, of course, a TV) means the HM-isms of the household are quickly absorbed by the young:
My seven-year-old (Hampstead) son tells me: ‘The teachers asked how they could improve school dinners. I said “king prawns”.’ (@debstewart)
‘Mum can you not put so much algae in my smoothie, it tastes of Japan.’ (@LadyKilligrew)
Tesco, Highgate. Child aged about four: ‘Daddy, I can’t find the risotto rice.’
In Cotswold pub offering complimentary cucumber and mint water, my nine-year-old, ‘It tastes like drinking Tzatziki!’ (@CotswoldVillan)
On the Tube, my almost three-year-old, ‘What’s that lady eating? Maybe it’s goji berries!’ (@cathredfern)
‘That guacamole looks good.’ ‘It’s mushy peas, darling.’ (@stuartctaylor)
Occasionally, the true dining desires of the kids seep out. The devil inside their impish little souls escapes, dreaming of Monster Munch and boiled sweets with the flavour of petrochemical factories. But brand HM is ever-present to snap things back into place:
Portsmouth train to London, ‘Mummy, can I have a biscuit?’ ‘They’re oatcakes, darling.’ (@KCMANC)
‘No, Darling. Don’t pick from the Prix Fixe. Those dishes are always full of fat.’
‘We’ve been OVER this. You KNOW how to take the pips out of grapes.’
‘If you change your dairy to soya I’ll let you have a pastry.’
‘Don’t tear the croissant with your teeth, darling. Tear a bit off like this.’
Leaving the safety of home can be treacherous as caring eyes are no longer able to scrutinise raw ingredients. Who knows what acerbic cleaning materials have been used in restaurant dishwashers? Or one’s vital – possibly FATAL – need to avoid wheat? It’s comforting therefore to see that serving staff (like teachers – see Chapter Two) know their place:
A woman in Starbucks just asked for room temperature water… At the request of her seven or eight-year-old daughter. (@Bradleyzread)
(to waitress) ‘What types of fresh black pepper do you have?’
‘Is the hot chocolate cocoa-heavy, or does it tinge towards the sugared and the saccharine?’
‘No, Milo. Lollipops are for aeroplanes, darling. You can have some edamame instead.’ (@1scrummymummy)
(ordering) ‘... and the poached eggs with soldiers. But could she have toast and bread soldiers laid out alternately.’
(girl, about eight, to barista) ‘I only want a brownie if it’s horse-coloured. I don’t WANT THOSE ONES.’
‘Would you mind turning off the music so my daughter can sleep?’
Me to 4-year-old in cafe: ‘Would you like some of this cake?’ 4-year-old: ‘No Mummy, I’d rather have that baklava.’ (@phanellafine)
‘Do you have any sort of flatbread for kids?’
Cafe in Tufnell Park: Savannah, the six-year-old vegetarian, only wants avocado on toast if it’s organic. (@SianySianySiany)
Sometimes kids are complaining or longing for things that are a mystery to me. But with impeccable taste developed from the nipple, is it any wonder that they’d shame even the palate of delicious local Giles Coren:
Was laughing at @Highgatemums until my mum reminded me I used to take bok choi and smoked mackerel for my packed lunch in primary school.
Five-year-old eating an old school iced bun, ‘Mummy, this brioche with icing is lovely.’
My 10-year-old just moaned because we have no brie in the fridge at our caravan. (@fifi_manson)
Child playing at mine (SW London) when I offered her kiwi: ‘Is it GOLDEN kiwi?’ (@PetrovaFossil71)
Four-year-old sister just asked for olive oil on her salad. Thought of you immediately. (@BenSadler17)
‘Mummy, Ribena tastes different when it’s in a plastic cup, doesn’t it?’
My four-year-old daughter, whilst eating Haribos: ‘Daddy, this one tastes of papaya.’ (@rulitos14)
With the HM dinner table inspiring the child to try the best food that money can buy, it comes as no surprise that their foodie light shines bright, even away from the home:
‘There is far too much truffle oil on my pizza’ (@charliestarlie)
Did HM have a trip to Foyles today? Eight-year-old boy in the cafe: ‘Mummy, what’s the best country for *white* wine?’ (@vicky_walker)
‘Excuse me? Excuse me? Hello? Yes, please could I have this babycino heated up? It’s a dash too tepid.’ #lattedad
Children at Sainsbury’s overheard discussing relative merits between Pad Thai or Udon noodles. (@Bernard_Collier)
Kid in Waitrose, looking at a display of plums, ‘Mummy, are these damsons?’ (@trellism)
Our two-year-old when given a breadstick to avoid hunger tantrum in car: ‘Where’s the hummus?’ We have joined the ranks of HM. (@MrAColley)
With my six-year-old daughter in McDonalds, she asked for sparkling Elderflower as her Happy Meal. (@katstheone)
Kids telling me about the balsamic vinegar at school dinners. ‘You can put it on your bread.’ (@wotclaire)
I’m never short of food reports from our followers, and this set below are a bunch that have tickled me when compiling this book:
Berkshire child, ‘There is a fantastic Waitrose next door. They sell dried mango.’ (Tash, friend)
Eight-year-old in small pub in Devon, ‘Could I please have a gingerbread latte?’ (@MaddyHowlter)
Daughter asked favourite sandwich filling by violin teacher, replies ‘Smoked salmon’. (@craggyliz)
ME: ‘I’m off to the supermarket, any requests?’ 5-YEAR-OLD: I’d like brioche, mummy.’ (@Annabel_C_Price)
But it is when we catch ourselves or our friends that the seam of HM is at its most pure. Those beautiful moments of self-realisation, and forehead-slapping:
The other day I was screaming, ‘I just can’t find a fucking croissant for Eddie anywhere on the high street!’ (Gennie, friend)
I found myself saying, ‘When we order-in oriental takeaway an Arab-type man delivers it. That doesn’t do anything for the Asian experience.’ (anon)
HM, My friend just became middle class, ‘I finish in an hour and I’m dreaming of pesto and calzone, and prosecco of course.’ (@Ad_Smart)
I snapped at my son in Le Pain Quotidien, ‘Darling, darling, darling. Just chose from the pastries. Don’t digress to savouries.’ (anon)
Stood in Waitrose, just heard myself thinking, ‘Well this is a very disappointing selection of granola.’ (@bodhmall)
And being the coffee snob that I am, I absolutely agree with this:
‘I won’t drink a coffee anywhere that serves syrup.’
And this chapter comes to a close in The Spoke on Holloway Road, with its rusted, reclaimed furniture taken from what appears to be a school. As a reward breakfast shall be ordered, likely ‘Polly’s Porridge’. And while I shamefully enjoy the ‘fresh fruit, cinnamon and almond flakes’ that come with it, I’ll munch away happy that this poshed-up peasants’ food is being served in a cafe that’s a million times nicer than the smoky shithole of a pub that was previously on this spot.
‘We’re paymasters to the teachers and guardians to the kids. It’s about time they remembered that. ALL of them!’
The war zones of the world have nothing on the politics and posturing in the HM education system. There is a constant disappointment at the quality of service delivered by teachers and pupils alike:
It is a most perfect foil against which the HM can protect their brand: a failing teacher is responsible for an underperforming child; a disruptive child cannot be held accountable for lessons that don’t engage them. And all the time the HM rests regal, knowing that grades would have been just that bit better if only everyone else had listened to them:
‘The trust of the parent is far more important than that of the pupil.’
‘I’m frankly aghast at the school’s inability to think first of parents.’
‘No thought is ever given in the curriculum for us.’
‘I’ve learned that you need to see the bad in every school in order to push them to the next level. It’s vital. See ONLY the bad.’
These overhears tend to come in clusters. A local teacher and friend noticed that these outbursts come at the first coffee of term, or the morning after Parents’ Evening. The HM brand is under attack from teachers, pupils, the government. And the defensive roars begin:
‘I’m hauled in regularly about her behaviour, as if I’m somehow responsible!’
‘Yes, mine’s in the lowest tier, but I’m convinced she’s being used to be an aspirational focus for her less-abled classmates.’
‘I’ll get my girls as quickly and safely as I can to the school gate, but if North Road is blocked WHAT – CAN – I DO?’
‘My kids are horribly influenced by the playground. The latest is wanting to watch TELEVISION.’
‘And her bedroom. Her BEDROOM! Since she met those Finchley girls, everything is posters and pop culture... and all of it in English.’
‘Okay, hands up — MY FAULT! Yes, for wanting my girls to be wanted in the employment market. Not having to beg in bloody job interviews.’
‘The teaching staff act like they’re in charge.’
The fire and fury against those in loco parentis is outside of reason and sense. From what I hear all underperformance is the fault of teachers, other (possible fat) pupils or an inability to understand that the entire education system is there to service the one child: