Hand stamped vintage cutlery, perfect for the spoon thief in your life.

£7.50 from Goozeberry Hill’s etsy shop.

I also want the “Mrs and Mrs” forks and “Everything stops for tea” spoon.

 

The ourangutan sits slumped at the walnut dining table. It’s obviously been a bad night. There are broken plates everywhere, stuff spilling out from the slack-hinged cabinet against the wall. The geese – they’re fucking huge, the sort of thing that could peck your eyes out just by looking at you – are still partying hard. No one knows who invited them. The camels are so high they’re eating the house plants, and the lapdogs have fashioned robes out of some cashmere scarves. There’s talk of karaoke.

Drug-fuelled hallucination? Perhaps. This was the scene in one of the windows at the newish Hermès Rive Gauche store near the Lutétia. I love me a good Hermès window. I think that if I were horrendously rich I would want to live like this, in a riot of thick woolen carpets, taxidermy and leather saddles. I’d move from room to room swaddled in silks and cashmere, rinse my teeth in Champagne, and get minions to strew dead leaves and black pearls the size of my fist on my path. I would be, in fact, Leila Menchari, the designer who has been doing Hermès’ windows since 1977.

In my unspent youth I worked at Hermès, in the flagship store on the Faubourg St Honoré. Several times a year the blinds would be drawn, the windows shielded from the prying eyes of the public. “She’s here”, we’d whisper, and there was an unspoken rule that She should not be disturbed. Apparently when Leila came she would lie in the window displays, behind the closed blinds, reclining languorously with a glass of champagne in one hand. She would say:

Je cherche ma muse.

I’m looking for my muse.

This newer store is really quite lovely, a bright open space moulded by large yurt-like structures, set against the mosaic walls of the swimming pool it used to be.

There’s a florist so you’re greeted by the sweet smell of fresh flowers when you enter, a café (completely empty when I went, cakes looked delicious from afar) and a book section that featured this gem:

Bestiaire du Gange, a ridiculously beautiful bestiary screenprinted by hand in India on thick grainy paper. More pictures here and here. I wants it. I needs it. I lusts for it, still, 10 days later. It will be mine. Oh yes. It will be mine.

Where: Hermès Rive Gauche, 17 rue de Sèvres, Paris 6ème. Métro Sèvres-Babylone

Tip: The Hermès stores are a little bit intimidating from the outside, but  the staff is always unwaveringly friendly. If sweaty American tourists in shorts with bumbags full of crumpled euros can shop there, anyone can.

Back in 2009, which seems like an eternity and three lifetimes ago, my imaginary friend Emma and I decided to have a go at selling rude teatime treats at Craftacular. We sold out and yet didn’t make a penny, thanks to our complete lack of economic sense.

However! Cruel Tea is now back, this time thanks to the busy knitting bees at Cambodia Knits, a fantastic social enterprise working with marginalized communities near Phnom Penh. They provide paid training in knitting skills and believe that employment is an empowering way out of poverty, especially when that employment is fairly paid and works within the constraints communities face.

I’ve been working with them over the past few months to produce some new cosies, which you can now buy at the Cruel Tea Etsy shop. I hope it’s a success – I’d love to continue supporting Cambodia Knits with more orders.

Also check out Cambodia Knits’ own range of hand knitted monsters and animals.

There’s an ongoing joke in this household that no visit to Siem Reap is complete without a visit to Psar Krom. World renowned temples? Been there, done that. Floating villages? The Tonlé Sap is just a glorified pond. Happy Ranching, quad biking, microlighting? Pshhh. Adventure is for losers. Psar Krom is where it’s at.

Of course, you’re unlikely to ever see a tourist near Psar Krom, because Psar Krom looks like this:

It’s a dusty, scrappy, thronging labyrinth of a market. In my opinion it’s the best place in town to see the fantastic produce Cambodia has to offer, and to experience food shopping the way locals do. Much more airy than Psar Chas or Psar Leu, Psar Krom has whole sections in the semi-open. Admittedly, my standards are lax to say the least, but it’s also relatively clean, and if you go early enough you may not even notice the smell of the lively fish section: baskets of fresh fish, most still wriggling and alive, deftly dispatched and cleaned by the vendors before they can make a jump for it.

It’s also an excellent place to observe the very best of Cambodian pyjama fashion:

Although you should be prepared to be pushed and shoved around by the crowd, it’s a pretty friendly market, with no hard sell. Look out for fresh spice mixes for soups and curries, chunks of orange pumpkin, sticky doughnuts coated in caramel, large vats of fresh palm sugar, and delicious smoked sausages hanging from the rafters. There’s a dried fish vendor for all your breakfast needs. The waffle stand, if it’s open, is particularly worth the detour, because there is nothing more satisfying than a Cambodian waffle straight from the wood-fired iron. To find it, just follow the delicious smell.

Before you go, take a minute to look up a the old metal structure, with holes like stars shining through the cobwebs. It’s really quite beautiful. In your face, Ta Prohm.

Where: Psar Krom Road, Siem Reap.

Tip: Go early, most of the action will be done by 11 am.

It’s easy to find most things in Singapore. Good bread? Cedele or Marketplace. Large bags of pecans or giant tubs of ghee? Mustafa. Chanel or Gucci anything? Just turn around. Theeeeere you go.

But where does one find more unusual, useful things, like, say, nails, floor polish, or specialist light bulbs? The Handyman Centre, that’s where. Tucked on the 4th floor of the desolate Shaw House Shopping Centre on Orchard Road, it’s Singapore’s answer to Home Depot or B&Q. In miniature. And a bit messy. With terrible lighting.

Still, it was comforting to find a place for people who still know how to do things with their hands. Things that don’t involve swiping at an iphone or voucher collecting. The husband and wife team were super friendly and helpful, and within minutes I was happily clutching a non UV light bulb in my febrile hand. Success!

A little notice on the window said they were moving premises at the beginning of 2012, so if anyone knows where they’re headed, do let me know!

Where: 1 Scotts Road, #04-07 Shaw Centre, Singapore, 228208, Tel +65 737 9592

Tip: If it’s still at this location, it’s a bit tricky to find… walk through the main entrance of Isetan at Shaw House. Look for the blue sign to Shaw Centre and follow the yellow brick road arrow.

Knitting isn’t the first hobby that springs to mind when you live in sticky, sweaty Singapore, but towards the end of my stay there I got a real urge to knit, triggered by my flatmate bringing home some beautiful soft skeins of ivory wool yarn from a trip to the US. Spotlight has a decent enough selection: lots of acrylics and cottons, some pure wool, mostly Australian, and that awful novelty yarn that knits up to something that looks a little bit like Animal from the muppets. Hippy grossness.

What I really wanted was cashmere, soft heavenly cashmere, to make something beautiful that could last a lifetime. I’d salivated at the online selection at the Wholesale Yarn Store, where a kilo and a half of cashmere goes for a measly $400, but my needs were more immediate. I needed yarn, stat, like a granny going through withdrawal. So one drizzly afternoon, my flatmate and I headed off to Bukit Merah, where I’d heard tales of a mystical yarn warehouse with a range unsurpassed by anything else the island has to offer.

We looked at each other anxiously when the taxi dropped us off at Kewalram House, in front of one of these gloomy light industrial estates that suburban Singapore is dotted with. We eventually found Ondori, past some loading docks and abandoned pallets, on the ground floor of the building. At first the welcome was a bit icy – what were we doing there? What did we want? But the sales assistants soon mellowed out and were pulling out samples and accessories for us and enthusing over the various types of needles on offer.

We spent a good half hour rummaging through the shelves and boxes. Most of it was weather appropriate: acrylics and cotton mixes, some bamboo yarns, some wool, most of them in a light weight most suitable for baby projects. There was some chunkier, brightly coloured wools on one shelf, and lovely pure cashmere yarn on offer but at over $200 for a box of 10 balls, it was a bit more than I wanted to spend. The bargain boxes had some really good deals if you aren’t looking for anything specific – my flatmate walked out with a big bag of deep green pure wool for $40.

A trip out to Ondori may not be worth it if you just want to browse, but it’s one of those enchantingly surreal little pockets of oddball Singapore that I loved discovering towards the end of my stay.

Where: Kewalram House #01-06, 8 Jalan Kilang Timor, Singapore 159305. The number 14 bus goes there from Orchard Road – catch it at the bus stop behind H&M.

Website: Not in stock.

Tips: Bring plenty of cash as they don’t accept credit cards. And combine with a trip to Ikea down the road to justify the trek!

 

 

 

 

Avert your eyes from the bandaged finger. Also, don't cut butter with a ceramic knife

Yes, yes, I know, Kinokuniya isn’t exactly a secret destination in Singapore. It’s a huge happy place filled with books, books and more books, on everything from macaron making to Bali gardening to lino printing. All exhorbitantly priced, but if you’re a dirty book perv that’s hardly going to matter, is it?

The branch at Ngee Ann City, however, has an excellent French section. There’s a very decent selection of new releases and classics, probably edited by the very French libraire who will happily talk you through the merits of any book. Best of all is a surprisingly huge section (comparatively) reserved to comics. There are classics (Spirou, Tintin, Lanfeust etc.) and a carefully thought out shelf of more obscure editions, many relevant to the region, like L’Annéee du Lièvre or Chroniques Birmanes from my favourite author Guy Delisle. *Rubs thighs, counts pennies*

Where: Several branches around town, the largest is at Ngee Ann City (Takashimaya shopping centre).

Website: http://www.kinokuniya.com.sg/

Tips: The Privilege card gives you 10% off year round for the modest (cough) price of $21.40. Or you could just get a kindle, dude. You can spend all the money you save at the Paul bakery that’s about to open right next door.