Esther Coren's bedside table, grown-up marshmallows and glass milk bottles
Welcome to issue #9 of Nesting
I made a massive error the other week. I watched a film called Songbird on Amazon Prime. It’s set in 2023 and the world is still in lockdown thanks to a new, more lethal strain of covid. Why I would choose to watch this and not stick to Married at First Sight is anyone’s guess – but I did, and in doing so, I realised I had broken the most important rule of covidy times: I had thought about the future.
Looking to the past is equally dangerous. My phone has got into the cruel habit of hounding me with photo memories, usually when I am at a particularly low corona ebb. ‘Here you are, on a beach in Cape Town in 2017!’ ‘Here you are in January last year, piled into a restaurant for your friend’s 40th. Ha!’ I will then enter a scrolling wormhole where even a photo of an average meal out from 2016 has me almost sobbing with nostalgia.
When looking to the future prompts a vague sense of terror and looking to the past has you pining for the good old days (including things you never even enjoyed, like hen dos or the Northern Line), where does that leave us?
Should we – whisper it – be ‘living in the moment,’ like those tired Instagram quotes told us all along? For a while there, I tried it. I became a (daily) walking cliché of taking things day by day. But, it didn’t work. Why not? Because living in the moment, it turns out, is not going to work if, at that moment you’re having an existential crisis, you’re cleaning the toilet, or you’re watching the news – all three of which I find myself doing more than ever.
But – but! – I think I’ve found a sweet spot – and although strictly speaking, it’s in the future, it’s just a couple of steps ahead of right now, as opposed to months or years. Like tonight, when the next episode of Married at First Sight is starting. Or tomorrow, when you’re meeting your friend’s new puppy. Or this afternoon, when that thing (another thing!) you ordered on Amazon is arriving.
Unlike the bigger-picture future, the near-ish future is usually nice, a tiny bit hopeful and not at all scary. See you there.
HOME COMFORTS WITH… ESTHER COREN
I always look forward to reading ‘Staying in with the Corens,’ a lockdown column that author and journalist Esther Coren writes for The Times with her husband, Giles. In last week’s column she wrote about the lure of her front door, “all cosy and beaming with maternal benevolence” and I knew I had to track her down for Nesting.
Where do you live and how would you describe your home in three words?
I live in Tufnell Park in north London. My house is a work in progress. It is relaxed, undone, occasionally catastrophic. Sorry that wasn’t three words.
Who is at home with you?
My husband Giles, my daughter Kitty who is ten, my son Sam who is 7 and my Burmese cats Iris and Mo Tenzing.
Current Netflix/Amazon obsession?
Lupin! OMG I loved that series. Now plodding through Call My Agent when we can be bothered. I secretly watch A Discovery of Witches when the rest of my family are occupied elsewhere because they’re really judgy about it.
Best home comfort meal?
Anything that I haven’t had to cook myself – my husband makes a great puttanesca or this elaborate fish soup that sounds disgusting but it’s super delicious.
Best section of the Sunday papers?
I always read every word of Sunday Times Culture for new books and also to get my weekly dose of raging envy at all the writers who are on the bestseller lists. I also always check in with Style and give myself a point for everything I am doing Stylishly that week, even though I occasionally get zero points.
Currently on your bedside table?
My Kindle, on which I have just finished Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason, which was a masterpiece, I loved it. My bedside table is otherwise a hideous jumble of handcream, old water glasses, last night’s camomile tea mug and probably a pencil and a torn-out bit of paper with reminders written on it. It’s not a pretty sight.
Background noise in your house?
From May until October we can hear the Spanish nursery up the road making the most ginormous racket. I think it drives some of our neighbours potty but now I’ve had my own children, I’m not remotely bothered by noisy children, I sort of tune them out. Giles works in the room next to the room I work in and I often hear him talking to the cats in a ridiculous voice. My husband is extremely chatty just generally, as is my son, so one or other of them is usually trying to talk to me. Sometimes it’s both at the same time and that never ends well. There will also be the dun, dun, dun, dun, dun of my daughter Kitty pacing around in her room, thinking.
Bath or shower?
I almost always have a shower, with hard Dove soap and a shampoo bar from The Solid Bar Company because like everyone I’m always trying to use less plastic. I then have to use a 4-step skincare system from a brand called Decree because otherwise I break out horribly. Once a week I have a bath with some Olverum bath oil and put on a Phillip Kingsley elasticizer hairmask and a clay facemask, which is key for keeping breakouts at bay and also freaks the kids out. At the moment I’m working my way through one from Sand+Sky, which does the job but is ridiculously overpriced.
Favourite house scent?
I have always wanted my house to smell like clean laundry or washing powder. You get some people’s houses that really smell strongly of that and I wish mine did, I’m working on it. Persil in an essential oils burner? It’s a thought. Otherwise, the smell of toast and/or coffee is pretty unbeatable.
My garden is….
… nothing to do with me, it’s my husband’s project and domain entirely. As it’s north-facing for most of the year it’s effectively a cold, damp, soggy patch of land full of dead things, but it’s very nice in June. At which point Giles turns into BBQ Man and will be out there, shirtless, holding tongs, glaring at the Weber and shouting to himself about coals and flames and cooking times until September.
How well do you know your next door neighbours?
I know them very well and always have done. They’re all pleasant and reasonable, which is a godsend. At one stage all the families seemed to have teenagers, who could be a bit of a nuisance, but they’ve all grown up now. Naughty neighbours make life hell and would do particularly at the moment.
Your favourite home from home?
There are lovely places I visit regularly that I love – Zighy Bay in Oman, Babington House in Somerset, my friend Charlotte’s house in Kent – but nowhere else actually feels like home. You know that line from the song “Wherever I lay my hat that’s my home”? That’s, like, the complete opposite of me. I can be somewhere else really nice having a lovely time, but I know that when I walk through my own front door I will feel a huge rush of relief. Even if I’ve just been at the shops.
Much as I still love a Flump (not a euphemism), I’m a recent convert to The Marshmallowist. The founder, Oonagh, trained as a chocolatier in Paris before setting up shop on a market stall in Portobello Road. Her grown-up mallows (raspberry and champagne flavour, anyone?) have since featured in Wallpaper and Vogue and she’s also had a recipe book published by Penguin. Beats making banana bread again.
Milk and More - There’s something reassuringly retro about glass milk bottles, don’t you think? This app delivers them to your door, just like the old days, but with the added bonus of loads of other stuff: fresh sourdough, cinnamon rolls, peanut butter, Tom Parker milkshakes, granola and more. Stand down, Sainsburys.
One Second Every Day - If you feel like you’re living in Groundhog Day, can I recommend this video diary app to prove otherwise? Of course there’s always the chance that it will reveal in visual form that you have spent the last 12 months looking maudlin in a muddy park, but chances are, you’ve done more than you think.
I am finding it extraordinarily difficult to read whole books at the moment, so I’ve stacked a few on my bedside table that I can dip in and out of. I can heartily recommend them if your attention span is also suffering.
The Conversations - Lockdown chat leaves a lot to be desired at this point, but this book will help. Olivia Fane writes essays on topics like happiness, vanity, jealousy and sex and ends each chapter with questions designed to get you talking (or prompt the sorts of debates that might end in divorce). Here are a few to get you started…
When you have an argument, is it more important for you to learn something or to win? (Ha!)
If you had one need that could be met in the next five minutes, what would it be? (Ha ha!)
Are you intuitive about your partner? (Ha ha ha!)
God speed, guys.
The Examined Life - I love these short stories recounting encounters between the psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz and his patients. Alongside all the brilliant (and real life) case studies, Grosz’s therapeutic insights mean we might even learn a thing or two along the way.
AA Gill is Away - I am finding extra joy in reading about the late AA Gill’s travels, now that we’re all stuck at home. And his writing acts as a reminder that holidays don’t automatically equate to happiness. In one chapter, as he peers over his balcony in LA, he finds the man swimming in the hotel pool “disproportionately, fantastically annoying – I have a barely containable desire to drop the television over the railings.” Genius.
I wouldn’t normally take fashion cues from a serial killer’s girlfriend, but Monique from The Serpent made me feel I should up my sunglasses game. Mango has a brilliant selection for winter, including this 70s-inspired pair.
This article on Esther Coren’s site about homeschooling was so good and miles more practical than any of the other generic articles I’ve read. I sent it to everyone I know with school age kids.
Useful round-up of the best London restaurants currently doing takeaway or delivery.
I know a few people who are helplessly addicted to Diet Coke. Sirin Kale, who used to drink seven cans a day, tells the story of what happened when she tried to quit.
Heavens to Betsy, Married at First Sight has already started – I must dash. See you next time!
Who on earth is Dominique Afacan?
A very good question. Dominique (that’s me) is a writer, sausage dog owner, and solo mum, based in London. The idea for the Nesting newsletter came about because after ten years as a travel journalist, I wanted to share my new-found excitement about hanging out at home. I am also the author of Bolder –Life lessons from people older and wiser than you – a great birthday present, if I don’t say so myself – and available to buy here. You can follow me on Instagram here or Twitter here.
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