Table Plan

A period mansion and full staff aren’t prerequisites to hosting a right proper-grown-up dinner party. We've been chitchatting with Natasha Johnston — the interior designer at the new OKA store in Edgbaston — to get advice on how to expertly style three very different types of dinner party. Invites to follow.

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Light Lunch

Desk-side lunching has upped its game, allowing you to do the same. Our top six, day-enhancing, lighter lunches can be delivered anywhere in the city centre, by that clever Deliveroo lot.

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Seasonal Layering

We're in meteorological limbo. A weather-dicey No Man's Land that can swing wildly from Siberian to Iberian from one day to the next.

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In

Chocolate

Cocoa connoisseurs, this is your moment. Easter bunny, you'd better be taking copious notes.

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Barcelona

Clearly this isn't an inaugural itinerary but, having checked in with our first foreign love a fortnight ago, this is where you want to go on your next trip. Because with Barca, there's always a next trip.

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A Week in Lunches

While we're pretty good at making lunch to cover off the beginning of the week, by Wednesday we're lacking in both appropriate fridge-fodder and combos that keep our interest. Cue your adeptly balanced shopping list and menu for the week, courtesy of dietician and food-worshipper, Deirdre Fagan

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Sleeves

Bell-shaped, trumpet, frills and ties, sleeves are having a moment. Up your officewear game with dramatic details to achieve enviable arm action. 

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In

Power Dressing

Feminine styles don't deplete strength. But a strong suit can have the cerebral effect of donning an infantry's worth of war paint.

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In

Affordable Art

Okay, we’re not talking originals here. And we're fine with that. Prints and posters can have a load of impact without the associated financial strife.

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In

Lifestyle Books

Sometimes a glossy magazine just doesn’t cut it. These beautiful pages deserve to be treasured. Flick through them at leisure for covetable visuals or leave on the coffee table to admire from afar.

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In

A Drink with Jess Phillips

“My husband said in bed last night: ‘I don’t think it’s a willingness to work hard that you have, Jess. It isn’t that. You’re driven by the desire to keep going. You’re wired differently to most. Your end goal is to push yourself to your absolute limit."

Jess Phillips hasn’t reached her limit. Not even close. With International Women’s Day on Wednesday, we’re sitting in the Old Joint Stock with an MP who two years ago was managing domestic abuse refuges for Women’s Aid. She’s done more for women than most ever will and she’s only just got her sleeves rolled up.

“Universal free childcare. Equal paternity pay. These are the things we need to take on.” She says, eyes wide with the rush of the challenge. “I want men to be as big a pain in the arse to employers as women. That's how we get equality.”


It’s hard not to get swept away with the passion, but this is more than soapboxing. This is a woman who’s going in search of her own limit and making it look easy. Switching from sexual inequality to Spider-Man quotes with the realness and warmth that only the most Birmingham of Brummies can.

“I’m reading Harriet Harman’s book. Have you read it? Thirty-five years she’s been an MP. Thirty-five. She’s shown such incredible patience.”

We’ve not read Harman’s book, but we’ve read Phillips’. And she doesn’t portray herself as a patient person. Entitled ‘Everywoman: One Woman's Truth About Speaking the Truth’ it had us wholesale sobbing on the train last week with its thumpingly honest accounts of her childhood in Birmingham, and her traumatic tales from Women’s Aid. But just as with Jess, there’s an overriding theme of hope to every chapter. And a wry humour. “I am a hopeful person, I guess. Which must be a good thing because things are quite shit really, aren’t they?”

Jess talks with such openness and candour that you’d be forgiven for thinking she’d spent Harriet-levels of time in the House. Not so. She first entered the Commons in 2015 and set her stall out pretty quickly. “I nailed my colours to the mast so heavily early on that I don’t think people would mess with me in the same way they might others.”

Her unconventional style might not be to everyone’s taste, but it works. Being herself, being bold, being normal in a parliament where normal seems so abnormal has pushed her not only into the political landscape, but has even had her addressing a UN congress on violence against women.

“The other day Jeremy Hunt was making a statement on how he had basically lost 700,000 pieces of NHS correspondence,” she says, “And to every woman who asked him a question, Hunt would be so patronising. Sarah Olney, the Lib Dem MP who hasn’t been in the House for long, asked a completely valid, well thought through question and he responded in this awful: Oh you’ve not really done this before, have you? sort of tone. I don’t think you understand. It was so patronising. He never would have spoken to her like that if she were a man. And all Labour female MPs rallied. “No mate, you don’t understand. You’re the one who’s lost thousands of cancer results, pal.”

A woman first and a Labour MP second, Jess is not the only female in the Commons who can set political agenda aside to level off gender imbalance. Olney was elected on a ‘Remain’ ticket and Jess, a vocal Remainer, knows all too well the vitriol that can come with that outlook. “On her first day in Parliament I sought Sarah out and said: “You are on not on your own. Do not hesitate to come and find me if you’re finding anything difficult. Particularly on social media. We will fall in behind you. We will back you up. The women across the House — Labour, Tory, Lib Dem, every party — the women stick up for one another because there’s a common agenda.”

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We can’t help but think Phillips will be of particular help on the social media element of her pledge. Parliamentary patronisation is one thing, rape threats on Twitter are another. She’s so used to 140-character hate that her stance has had to become utterly resolute. “These days the Twitter abuse is more trying than it is terrifying,” she says. “It’s relentlessly dull. I’m desperate for the trolls to come up with a new angle.”

The fear, for a seemingly fearless woman, is more offline than on. “I don’t feel I can’t walk around Birmingham and be exactly the person I am. I can go to the shop in my pyjama bottoms and buy a pint of milk and feel completely safe. In fact I feel like Brummies who know who I am actually look out for me. But there are moments in my office where I’m sat under a massive sign that says JESS PHILLIPS — I have an open office because I want people to walk in and be able to seek help — there are times when I feel like a sitting duck. I feel like someone could just come in and hurt me. And since Jo [Cox] died that feeling has, I think, got worse. And I know I’m in no more danger than I was before we lost Jo, and I know the rational thinking is that I’m loads more likely to be hurt by someone I know. But it doesn’t stop me feeling at risk. It can unnerve me.”

With that level of pressure we wonder if Jess ever sleeps. “I don’t sleep, but that’s not entirely out of worry. It comes from being a mom and wanting some bloody time to myself once they’re in bed. I work instead of sleep, particularly when I’m in London. I won’t go to bed until 3am and I get up at 7am.” Like Thatcher, we joke. “Exactly like Thatcher,” she responds. “She had two kids too. And that’s where the similarities end.”

If Jess Phillips were a poker player, we get the impression she would go “all in” on every hand. We can't help but wonder if she dialled “the Jess” down by about 10 percent, she might get 30 percent more done. “Yeah I would,” she agrees without missing a beat. “But that’s not a natural characteristic of mine. I’ve never been able to dial it down. It’s not a skill I have.

“But I have learned that there are moments when you don’t need to unleash hell. I’ve learned to pick my battles. I’ve developed the foresight to be able to predict if an argument I’m about to have can possibly result in an outcome I can be proud of. And if I decide it can, then I’ll unleash hell.”

You can buy 'Everywoman: One Woman's Truth About Speaking the Truth' for £14.99 in bookshops or right here.

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The Art of Business Travel

It may have been said (by us) that we’re experts when it comes to travelling. Work trips abroad probably sound like the whole reason you got your degree but the reality is noisy hotel rooms and irons that are a certified crime against humanity. Our gift to you? The critical pack list — learnt the hard way.

Packing

It's already 11pm, and your taxi — which you've totally booked — is arriving in seven hours. You've rolled (never folded) the essential items but making hotels bearable is all about the home comforts for us.

These Desmond and Dempsey cotton pyjamas are based on the shape of a man's shirt — with a comfy long cut body. We favour their shorts pairing for battling over-officious heating.

These Desmond and Dempsey cotton pyjamas are based on the shape of a man's shirt — with a comfy long cut body. We favour their shorts pairing for battling over-officious heating.

Dispense with the need for hold luggage, and any reliance on the products offered by your hotel – decant your faves into Muji's travel bottles. Conditioner is key.

Dispense with the need for hold luggage, and any reliance on the products offered by your hotel – decant your faves into Muji's travel bottles. Conditioner is key.

Your blackout curtains aren't going to fit in the case. Make like Holly Golightly and take matters into your own hands with this super soft white waffle eye mask.  

Your blackout curtains aren't going to fit in the case. Make like Holly Golightly and take matters into your own hands with this super soft white waffle eye mask.
 

Hotel tea-making facilities won't include Prince & Sons. Take your own stash of camomile — the queen of calming herbal teas, and mint to ease the obligatory late suppers.

Hotel tea-making facilities won't include Prince & Sons. Take your own stash of camomile — the queen of calming herbal teas, and mint to ease the obligatory late suppers.

Flying

Armed with nuts, seeds and fruit for snacking purposes (when have you ever had good food on a plane?), pick up that book you haven’t got round to reading yet, or hide your trashy mag in something highbrow. We won't tell. 

Spray on moisture from thisworks hydrates your thirsty visage with plant oils and organic aloe vera. It also smells great.

Spray on moisture from thisworks hydrates your thirsty visage with plant oils and organic aloe vera. It also smells great.

Over 20 million hold bags are mishandled each year. This four-wheeled carry on is ergonomic, strong and lightweight — perfect for dashes between terminals.

Over 20 million hold bags are mishandled each year. This four-wheeled carry on is ergonomic, strong and lightweight — perfect for dashes between terminals.

Queuing and airports are a thing. Accept this fact and have your travel docs ready at all times in this slim, leather Smythson travel pouch.

Queuing and airports are a thing. Accept this fact and have your travel docs ready at all times in this slim, leather Smythson travel pouch.

Fill a water bottle as soon as you pass security. Bobble's range are dishwasher safe and filter the taste of chlorine from tap water less exceptional than Birmingham's.

Fill a water bottle as soon as you pass security. Bobble's range are dishwasher safe and filter the taste of chlorine from tap water less exceptional than Birmingham's.

Wearing

Opt for classic items that are versatile and can easily be worn together to create different looks. Darker colours are always wise when away from a washing machine or wardrobe full of alternatives.

Charcoal wool with a longline silhouette, this tailored Whistles blazer looks presentable straight off the plane.

Charcoal wool with a longline silhouette, this tailored Whistles blazer looks presentable straight off the plane.

Court shoes are universal workwear. This grey pair from Carvela update the staple with a block heel and are comfortable as well as professional.

Court shoes are universal workwear. This grey pair from Carvela update the staple with a block heel and are comfortable as well as professional.

Add interest and colour with this ochre and blue graphic print scarf from Hobbs and use it to cover up if the flight gets chilly.

Add interest and colour with this ochre and blue graphic print scarf from Hobbs and use it to cover up if the flight gets chilly.

Polyester sounds awful but this Cos shirt looks and feels like a silk blend and best of all — zero ironing. Goes rather well with a tailored blazer too.

Polyester sounds awful but this Cos shirt looks and feels like a silk blend and best of all — zero ironing. Goes rather well with a tailored blazer too.

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Land and Water

A melange of ideas, research and culture — this year's Arts and Science Festival traverses land and water, in the form of talks, exhibitions, screenings and workshops. Sign up for the largely U0B-based events from March 13 to 19.

Talk — A Journey Through Deep Time: Plants, Rocks and CO2.

Talk — A Journey Through Deep Time: Plants, Rocks and CO2.

Talk — Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Identity, Inclusion and the Politics of Immigration.

Talk — Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Identity, Inclusion and the Politics of Immigration.

Talk — Secrets of Trees with Professor Alice Roberts (pictured).

Talk — Secrets of Trees with Professor Alice Roberts (pictured).

Exhibition — Where Lands Meets Sea, by scientist and photogapher Dr Richard Greswell.

Exhibition — Where Lands Meets Sea, by scientist and photogapher Dr Richard Greswell.

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Spectacles

Götti Switzerland specs are the ultimate in Swiss-ness: traditional craftmanship meets timeless design and functionality. Brittain Opticians are having a Götti trunk day, in-store on March 4. Here's our wish list from the collection:

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In

Statement style

We’re logophiles. We can’t get enough of the written word and hey, sometimes that crosses over to our apparel. Since Vivienne Westwood’s game-changer God Save The Queen tee, countless brands have embraced typography. But text doesn’t have to mean shouty, or kitsch. Here’s our fave in wordy womenswear.

Summer nights Referencing French street art found in Île de Ré, this Clare V hand-lettered, bright blue print on a clean, white top is lightweight enough to wear on your next trip to warmer climes. Or for layering.

Summer nights

Referencing French street art found in Île de Ré, this Clare V hand-lettered, bright blue print on a clean, white top is lightweight enough to wear on your next trip to warmer climes. Or for layering.

Netflix chic Embroidered pink text emblazoned over a boyfriend style, black jumper makes for a casual, but statement look. Dress up with skinny jeans and heels if you’re so inclined — but works just as well for lounging at home.

Netflix chic

Embroidered pink text emblazoned over a boyfriend style, black jumper makes for a casual, but statement look. Dress up with skinny jeans and heels if you’re so inclined — but works just as well for lounging at home.

Post-work out brunch The incredibly named Selfish Mother celebrates motherhood with slogans such as ‘winging it’ and ‘hurrah for gin’. This sweater is made from organic cotton and the particularly super part — £10 from each sale goes to charity.

Post-work out brunch

The incredibly named Selfish Mother celebrates motherhood with slogans such as ‘winging it’ and ‘hurrah for gin’. This sweater is made from organic cotton and the particularly super part — £10 from each sale goes to charity.

Hard-working hues Switch up your winter work wear and girl-boss it in beige, with this understated take on a slogan sweatshirt. The big-thinking team at Monki have gone for an organic-mix cotton for added comfort.

Hard-working hues

Switch up your winter work wear and girl-boss it in beige, with this understated take on a slogan sweatshirt. The big-thinking team at Monki have gone for an organic-mix cotton for added comfort.

Retro all-rounder And who doesn’t love him? The light-hearted bouclé-embellished slogan adds personality to an otherwise classic, crew neck black sweat from Hush. That we want to wear on Sunday, Monday... Hush imagery source

Retro all-rounder

And who doesn’t love him? The light-hearted bouclé-embellished slogan adds personality to an otherwise classic, crew neck black sweat from Hush. That we want to wear on Sunday, Monday...

Hush imagery source

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In

The Edgbaston

With more heritage than your family tree, The Edgbaston launched its new cocktail menu last night and their resulting elixirs are full of lovely nods to the great minds, crafts and artists of the city.

Hobbits in Manhattan —inspired by Tolkien's Lord of The Rings. Johnnie Walker Gold Label, Guinness Byrrh, cherry brandy

Hobbits in Manhattan —inspired by Tolkien's Lord of The Rings. Johnnie Walker Gold Label, Guinness Byrrh, cherry brandy

Hooch and Nut — an ode to Bournville. Bacardi 8 YO Rum, Pusser’s Rum, tonka bean, burnt sherry, chocolate, almond milk

Hooch and Nut — an ode to Bournville. Bacardi 8 YO Rum, Pusser’s Rum, tonka bean, burnt sherry, chocolate, almond milk

99 Problems — but a Flake ain’t one! Tanqueray No 10, rhubarb and raspberry liqueur, lemon, ice-cream tincture, Cadbury Flake

99 Problems — but a Flake ain’t one! Tanqueray No 10, rhubarb and raspberry liqueur, lemon, ice-cream tincture, Cadbury Flake

Watercolour Summer — for landscape painter David Cox. Bombay Sapphire Gin, elderflower, vodka, pea, grass and magnolia

Watercolour Summer — for landscape painter David Cox. Bombay Sapphire Gin, elderflower, vodka, pea, grass and magnolia

Daiq-O-Matic — dedicated to local pop artist, Peter Phillips. Bacardi Carta Blanca, bubblegum bitters, lime, raspberry and rose, sherry

Daiq-O-Matic — dedicated to local pop artist, Peter Phillips. Bacardi Carta Blanca, bubblegum bitters, lime, raspberry and rose, sherry

Striking Gold — think Staffordshire Hoard. Sipsmith VJOP, Tanqueray Rangpur, Visa Mezcal, blueberry shrub, mint

Striking Gold — think Staffordshire Hoard. Sipsmith VJOP, Tanqueray Rangpur, Visa Mezcal, blueberry shrub, mint

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