Why I have had to cancel my upcoming appearance at the Russian Hospitality Show.
I would like to apologise to anybody who was hoping to see my Ten (Food) Commandments show at Russian Hospitality Week in Moscow, over October 17/18. I have had to cancel my trip for reasons breath-takingly beyond my control.
Although I was due to be paid for my work, the company that had booked me believed it would be entirely fine if I slipped in to the country on a tourist visa. As someone who has both written pieces critical of the Putin government, and expressed concerns in public over the current state of democracy in Russia, I considered it less than wise of me to enter the country on anything other than exactly the right visa. Lying to Russian border officials has never exactly been high on my bucket list. By doing so I would also have risked causing major problems for my journalist colleagues on the Guardian and Observer working within Russia. I tried to get the organisers to deal with the issue, but they responded in an extremely half-hearted manner, and made scant effort to supply me with even the most basic information I needed to apply for the correct visa.
This is a long explanation for why I won’t be in Moscow, but I did not want anyone thinking it was a decision I took lightly. All I can say is that if you happen to be travelling from Russia to London at any point in the future do keep an eye on my Live Shows page where you’ll find details of my performances here in the UK.
Landlord that’s trying to rob state primary school of playing fields sees assets rise in value by 20 times rate of inflation.
At some point over the past couple of weeks The Dulwich Estate, the vast south London landowner with charitable status which gives 85% of its expendable money to three highly exclusive private schools, published its accounts to March 2016. The most revealing detail is the graph above, with its accompanying narrative. It shows that in the preceding calendar year the value of Dulwich Estates assets went from £262.5 million to £293.2 million, a rise of £30.7 million or, more importantly 11.7%. That’s almost 20 times the current inflation rate of 0.6%.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I live in the neighbourhood impacted upon by The Dulwich Estate. I have pointed out that its business practices as a landlord, with tax free status, have done huge damage to the local community. You can read my first piece about it here. I focussed on the fact that the chief beneficiaries of the estate are privileged fee paying schools; ones which proclaim a commitment to the local community in which they are located, but which seem incapable of doing anything to stop it being damaged by the charity which keeps hosing them down with cash.
More recently I described how The Dulwich Estate was working to take outdoor space from a state primary, the Judith Kerr School in Herne Hill. I made the point that their only justification for doing this was the commercial imperative of working their assets to the full. You can read that piece here. It inspired a letter to the head teachers of the beneficiary schools, launched by a former Alleyn’s pupil, which has since been signed by nearly 200 pupils and parents, both former and current. You can read that here.
TIME FOR THE RUBBER MALLET: just how bloody wealthy does Dulwich Estate need to become? If its assets are appreciating by nearly 12% a year – or £30 million – does it really need to cash in by robbing a state primary school of its playing grounds? Especially to fund exclusive independent schools? I keep asking the head teachers of those schools what they think about all this but they refuse to comment. Tomorrow is A’ level and AS’ level results day. All three head teachers will be present. Perhaps current pupils and parents would like to ask the question.
Those wishing to defend The Dulwich Estate will point out that the appreciation in the asset is mostly down to rising property prices, over which they have no control. There are two points to be made. Firstly, by ramping up rents they are directly influencing those property prices. And secondly, even if we accept they have nothing to do with it – which I don’t – the fact still remains that their assets are up by 11.7% across the year. No one could ever accuse them of not having worked in the commercial interests of the charity, regardless of whether they take away the play area from the Judith Kerr.
Anyone wishish to look at the accounts for themselves will find them here (PDF). The graph is on page 6 and a detailed breakdown is on page 13. If anyone with a bit more accounting knowledge than me notices anything else of interest please do get in touch.
Headteacher of Alleyn’s gets lesson from his own former pupils, as they rally to the cause of the Judith Kerr Primary
Last week I explained how the Judith Kerr school, a state primary in Herne Hill, South London, was threatened with losing its outdoor playing area in a deal which was designed to benefit three prestigious fee paying schools, Alleyn’s, Dulwich College and JAGS. You can read that piece here.
I wrote to the head teachers of all three schools asking for their response but none bothered to reply to me. Well perhaps they might want to reply to the letter below. It is addressed to Dr Gary Savage, head teacher of Alleyn’s, and is signed by around 100 former pupils (plus a few current pupils and a handful of parents).
The letter makes its case exceedingly well. Meanwhile… if any current or former pupils (and teachers; well why not) of any of the three schools want to add their names to this letter, feel free to use the comments section on my site.
Simply put the word ‘Signed’ and then your name. I’ll get them up as quickly as they come in.
Dear Dr Gary Savage,
I am writing to you as a result of an article I have read which explains how the outdoor space at Judith Kerr Primary School is being threatened by Dulwich Estate (you can read the article here). Open spaces are such an important part of life for growing children, with play contributing so much to effective learning.
At Alleyn’s we were afforded the privilege of having ample space at our disposal. I am distressed to read that our former school could financially benefit from the same charity that may deny other children this right. I am therefore writing to urge you to publicly support the Judith Kerr Primary School Green Space Campaign and to challenge Dulwich Estate’s plan to offer this space to Dulwich Almshouses.
Though I absolutely recognise the value of the Almshouses, I strongly believe that the Dulwich Estate’s considerable property portfolio could offer alternative solutions. Alleyn’s, Dulwich College and JAGS nominate 2 Dulwich Estate trustees each, so out of the 11 nominated trustees in total, the 3 schools nominate 6. If the schools worked collaboratively I am clear that they would have a significant influence over the Estate’s decisions.
Failing that, Alleyn’s should release a statement in opposition to the actions of the Estate. As former Alleyn’s students we feel strongly about the impact our school has on the wider community, and believe it is our duty to ensure that the privileges Alleyn’s students are fortunate to receive do not hinder others’ opportunities.
I look forward to your response,
Asha Verma (School Captain, Duttons, 2011)
Samuel Bailey (Ropers, 2011)
Peter Morton (Duttons, 2011)
Katie Laurence (House Captain, Cribbs, 2011)
Cecilia Clark (Tysons, 2011)
Liz Laurence (House Captain, Cribbs, 2010)
Andy Laurence (Parent)
Nina Anderson (Cribbs, 2010)
Daniel Watson (Browns, 2011)
Lizzy Kinch (Spurgeons, 2011)
Jonathan Mayes (House Captain, Duttons, 2011)
Luke Clayton Thompson (Tulleys, 2011)
Crispin Kenney (Tulleys, 2011)
Martha Day (Hockey Captain, Browns, 2012)
Sam Allen (Senior Prefect, Ropers, 2011)
Phoebe Praill (House Captain, Spurgeons, 2011)
Calum Montell-Boyd (Senior Prefect, Bradings, 2011)
Ania Muras Struglinski (Ropers, 2011)
Tommy Emrich-Mills (Vice House Captain, Tulleys, 2011)
Daniel Forde (Senior Prefect, Football Captain, Cribbs, 2011)
Sophie Wyburd (Tulleys, 2012)
Anouska Cope (Senior Prefect, Vice Netball Captain, 2012)
Jamie Baptiste (Browns, 2011)
Zephyr Penoyre (Tysons, 2011)
Sophie Collis (Senior Prefect, 2011, currently a teacher at a state school who sees the need for green spaces)
James Aylward (House Captain, Tulleys, 2011)
Naomi Garratt (Vice House Captain, Tulleys, 2013)
Aaiza Ali (Senior Prefect, Ropers, 2010)
Ben Stephens (Ropers, 2011)
Fola Evans Akingbola (Sports Scholar, Tulleys, 2012)
Thomas Morton (Duttons, Current Student)
Claire Hall (Cribbs, 2011)
Faith Locken (House Captain, Ropers, 2011)
Jonah Calkin (Cribbs, Current Student)
Angeli Jeyarajah (Spurgeons, 2009)
Maya Peilow (House Captain, Browns, 2010)
Jamie Miller (House Captain, Tysons, 2011)
Jono Anderson (Ropers, 2011)
Ella Shanks (Spurgeons, 2011)
Jenni Le Pard (Senior Prefect, Cribbs, 2011)
Yasmin Jeyarajah (Vice House Captain, Spurgeons, 2011)
Samuel Young (Cribbs, 2009)
Rosemary Harris (House Captain, Duttons, 2010)
Chris Harris (Parent)
Annie Harris (Parent)
Daniel Unwin (Spurgeons, 2010)
Gabriella Russell (Tulleys, 2010)
Claire Charnock (Tysons, 2010)
Charlotte Sandberg (House Captain, Tulleys, 2010)
James Lawton (Vice Swimming Captain, Lower School Prefect, Bradings, 2010)
Camilla Craker-Horton (Lower School Prefect, Browns, 2011)
Ben Browett (Sports Captain, Spurgeons, 2011)
Hattie Smart (Browns, 2013)
Shadi Brazell (Vice School Captain, Browns, 2011)
William Bissett (Cribbs, 2011)
Jude Mack (Senior Prefect, Ropers, 2013)
Jacob Rowe (Vice House Captain, Cribbs, 2014)
Jaleh Brazell (Senior Prefect, Browns, 2016)
Khalil Thirlaway (Vice House Captain, Cadet CSgt, Browns, 2007)
Vera Vorobyeva (Current Student)
William Damazer (Head of Politics Society, Duttons, 2008)
Laura Kelly (House Captain, Spurgeons, 2016)
Anna Broughton (Senior Prefect, Cribbs, 2016)
Connie Castle (Lower School Prefect, Ropers, 2016)
Lucy Peters (Vice House Captain, Ropers, 2016)
Louis Knight-Webb (Bradings, 2016)
Alice McKimm (House Captain, Tulleys, 2016)
Penny Young (Lower School Prefect, Duttons, 2016)
Justin Mann (Tulleys, 2011)
Isabella Robertson (Vice House Captain, Duttons, 2016)
Theo McCausland (Vice House Captain, Bradings, 2012)
Joe Wilson (Vice House Captain, Tulleys, 2016)
Clara Collyns (2011)
Millie (Lower School Prefect, Tysons, 2016)
Ruby Welton (Vice House Captain, Ropers, 2016)
Sophia Dembitzer (Tulleys, 2011)
Alexander Marshall (Cribbs, 2016)
Kim Stallard (Senior Prefect, Browns, 2012)
Joshua Keeling (Senior Prefect, Hockey Captain, Bradings, 2016)
Anna Mymus (Tysons, 2016)
Holly Gimson (Senior Prefect, Spurgeons, 2016)
Audra Chukukere (Parent)
Andrew Mackenzie (Parent)
Lucie Davidson (Duttons, 2014)
Phil Morton (2014)
Josh Bailey (Ropers, 2014)
Lauren Meisner (Lower School Prefect, Tulleys, 2014)
Alabama Calkin (Lower School Prefect, Cribbs)
Haroun Hameed (Vice House Captain, Spurgeons, 2014)
Noah Forbes (Ropers, 2014)
Leo Dutton (House Captain, Duttons, 2014)
Claire Noble (CCF RQMS, Cribbs, 2014)
Emma Waldegrave (Lower School Prefect, Spurgeons, 2011)
Sam Hoiles (2014)
Lucy Morton (Parent)
Sylvie Markes (Vice House Captain, Duttons, 2014)
Brittany Johnston (Spurgeons, 2014)
Catherine Hindmarsh (Senior Prefect, Ropers, 2014)
Rachel Everitt (Bradings, 2011)
Adam Heaton (Bradings, 2009)
Charlotte Ody (Senior Prefect, Tysons, 2011)
Why a state primary school may lose its playing fields to fund Dulwich College (and Alleyn’s and JAGS)
Back in February I wrote about the impact of Dulwich Estate, the huge South London landlord with charitable status, upon the neighbourhood in which I live. It is in the process of ripping the heart out of my local community in pursuit of commercial imperatives that enable it to pay millions of pounds to three well-known and well heeled private schools, Dulwich College, Alleyn’s, and JAGS. I pointed out the irony that all three schools claim a commitment to the local community on their websites. You can read that piece here.
In that piece I briefly mentioned the plight of the Judith Kerr School, a relatively new state primary, which looked like it would be the next to suffer greatly at the hands of Dulwich Estate. That situation has reached an acute stage and is worth looking at in detail.
The Judith Kerr, named after the brilliant writer of The Tiger Who Came To Tea and (many other titles) was established in 2013 on land and in buildings in Herne Hill owned by Dulwich Estate. The landlord has since ‘offered’ a massive slab of the school’s paying fields to another local charity, The Dulwich Almshouses, which wants to build new sheltered housing for the elderly. Dulwich Almshouses, which currently has buildings in Dulwich Village, say they have been looking for a new site since 1931, a mere 85 years.
I have put the word ‘offered’ in inverted commas because it’s quite difficult to work out where the Almshouses end and Dulwich Estate begins. Dulwich Almshouses, which receives over 40% of its funds from Dulwich Estate, operate from the same building as them. Their administration is dealt with essentially by officers of Dulwich Estate. Certainly it was Dulwich Estate who suggested that the land currently occupied by the Judith Kerr be the site of the new Almshouses, should Southwark Council give planning permission. The kids at Judith Kerr currently have only 50% of the recommended minimum outdoor space. If this plan goes ahead it will reduce the amount of open space to just 19% of that minimum.
And why are Dulwich Estate pursuing this plan? They have always been clear that everything they do is designed to realise the greatest commercial return from their assets. They say they are obliged to do so. In short they want to give the land to the other charity to build upon because the financial return is better than leaving it in the hands of the Judith Kerr. And where does that money go? As explained in the first piece, 85% of it goes to fund three private schools.
So just to thump the message home: the plan is to deprive a state primary school of its playing fields to fund three fee-paying schools. Delightful.
Obviously the schools argue that the Dulwich Estate money goes to fund bursaries and scholarships for those who can’t afford the fees. Chapter and verse is in the original piece but a) funding a charitable good is not an excuse for depriving others and b) at least two of the schools use the money for other things.
In June 2016, Joseph Spence, head teacher of Dulwich College, put his name to a letter to The Times, defending schools like his from charges of elitism. The letter claimed that ‘almost all independent schools work with their local communities in a wide variety of ways, sponsoring academies, creating free schools, sharing teachers and facilities, and running programmes in maths, science, languages, sport, music and drama that enrich lives and raise aspirations.’ All very noble, but somewhat at odds with benefiting from a charity that is depriving a state primary school of outside space.
I wrote to the head teachers of all three schools asking them whether they thought the plan was okay, and whether they had expressed their opinion directly to Dulwich Estate. None of them replied. The cruel assumption is that they simply don’t care about the welfare of state-educated children on their patch. Given the silence, the unwillingness to engage, let’s go with that. The alternative is cowardice: they can’t bring themselves to challenge Dulwich Estate because they want the dosh. Maybe you think I’m being unfair. Perhaps I am but nowhere near as unfair as Dulwich Estate trying to deprive the Judith Kerr of its outdoor space. If they do decide to contact me in response to this piece I’ll let you know what they say.
For their part Dulwich Estate claims that they are doing nothing illegal; that the rights to give the land to another body for development were enshrined in the 2013 contract when the Judith Kerr was established. This is true. The Department of Education and the bodies that founded the school did an awful job of negotiating the contract with Dulwich Estate.
This is not a defence. Just because you got away with shoving onerous clauses in a contract doesn’t mean it’s okay to do so. It doesn’t make everything fine. Arguably Dulwich Estate should have seen providing the nascent Judith Kerr with land and buildings as part of its corporate social responsibility. Dulwich Estate are not just landlords. They are custodians of a whole corner of London. They have a responsibility to think broadly about everybody on their land. They shouldn’t just wander off shouting: ‘we are within the law; we can do what we like’.
What of the Dulwich Almshouses? Surely that’s a deserving cause? Well yes, of course, but it’s not as if there aren’t alternatives. Indeed, there is a site in the centre of Dulwich, close to shops and amenities. The S G Smith site behind the car showroom already has planning permission for a bunch of town houses. They could develop that site and leave the school playing fields alone.
But then Dulwich Estate wouldn’t make so much money, would it. And the three private schools would, in turn, get less. And that would never do.
Jay Rayner, SE24
Newbury: an apology.
Tomorrow night I bring my show about lousy restaurants, My Dining Hell, to the Corn Exchange in Newbury. I am very much looking forward to it. Tickets are available here and at the link below.
While ticket sales are now well into a healthy three figures, I understand some potential audience members may have been put off by what are regarded as disobliging comments I made about Newbury in an article published on the Guardian website in 2011. Newbury does not forget.
The piece was actually an appreciation of the Swiss cheese, Emmental, which I described as ‘The Newbury of cheeses: it’s solid, workmanlike, but very, very dull. Everybody knows it’s there but few think they have any reason to visit.’ This did result in a few newspaper headlines at the time, and a certain outrage online. Or as my agent put it recently, when they came to marketing the current show, ‘Why the hell couldn’t you just have been rude about Slough? They’re used to it’.
You can read that original article here. I want to say now, and for the record, that the article was not meant as an insult to the kind and interesting people of Newbury. I can also see now that using the word ‘dull’ to refer to Newbury – a bustling cosmopolitan metropolis, with a cultural life to challenge that of Renaissance Florence – was completely and utterly wrong.
I apologise unreservedly.
Apart from anything else I was clearly out of date, a terrible failing for any journalist. As Jeremy Holden-Bell, chairman of the Newbury Society, told the BBC at the time: ‘Historically possibly Newbury was dull, but it’s changed a lot in the past two years. We have our Parkway development opening next month which will bring a lot more shops to the area. We don’t think Newbury is dull at all.’
In my defence, further on in the article I went on to point out that my use of the word was just a first impression and wrong both for Emmental and, therefore, Newbury. While some misguided fools might regard them as lacking a certain glamour, both are industrious work houses, where real work gets done. In Newbury’s case it is a hub for the British tech industry. That, after all, is why Vodaphone has made its home there. In the case of Emmental, it is the ballast upon which that brilliant Swiss dish cheese fondue is built. Without Emmental, a fondue would be nothing.
And so, to say sorry to Newbury, I am today publishing here my recipe for fondue from my forthcoming book, the Ten (Food) Commandments, which will be published in June.
I’m not a total idiot. I don’t think a fondue recipe can really make amends for the great hurt I have caused the good people of Newbury over the years. But I do hope you will take it as a token of my respect and regard. Can I also encourage you to come to the show. As well as taking you on a journey through truly awful restaurant experiences, I will offer the audience a number of opportunities during which they can call me a self-regarding, up-him-himself, snobby, London-centric tosser to my face. Indeed, I would welcome it.
More than anything, I’m just so bloody sorry. Newbury, please forgive me.
RECIPE FOR CHEESE FONDUE
One clove of garlic
300ml good dry white wine
1tbsp kirsch (or other white firewater like Poire William. You could, at a push, use vodka. But DON’T use gin. That would be a terrible thing to do.)
Dijon mustard if wanted
One egg (for later).
Bread cut into pieces.
- Cut the garlic clove in half and rub the cut side around the inside of the fondue pot.
- Gently heat the wine in the fondue pot. Turn down to a low simmer.
- Slowly mix handfuls of the cheese into the wine, pausing to stir until each batch is melted. This could take 10 or 15 minutes.
- In a small glass mix the cornflour into the spirit so it forms a paste. Dollop all of it into the fondue mix, and continue to stir over a low heat. After five minutes it should have thickened. If by any chance it hasn’t, add another half a teaspoon of corn flour (in another half tablespoon of spirit).
- Get a lackey to light the fondue burner on a medium flame.
- Time to season: you can do this with just salt and pepper to taste, though a teaspoon of Dijon mustard (or more if you fancy) will punch it up. It’s your call.
- Transfer immediately to the burner, and eat by spearing lumps of bread on to the fork and dredging. We generally eat it standing up. It’s so much easier to see what’s going on over the rim.
Announcing: The Ten (Food) Commandments
I am delighted to announce the forthcoming publication of my new book The (Ten) Food Commandments, which will be published by Penguin Books in the UK June. It’s available for pre-order here. At the same time I am announcing my new live show, based on the book. The very first performance, under the auspices of Guardian Live, will be at the Royal Institute of British Architects on June 24. You can get tickets for that here. It will then go on tour through out the UK.
The Ten (Food) Commandments
The prophet Moses was many things: rebel leader, font of morality, poster boy for dodgy orienteering. On the tricky matter of your dinner he was less helpful, at least if the original Ten Commandments are anything to go by. Assuming they really were dictated by God and not something he cooked up when he was alone on the mountain top after having stomped off in a huff, the first four reveal the maker to be a touch self-absorbed. It’s all ‘You shall have no other gods before me’ and ‘You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God’. Really! Some people!
That’s followed by boiler plate stuff prohibiting murder, theft and lying before you get to the only one which in any way pertains to ingredients: the instruction not to covet thy neighbour’s oxen. Always tricky; there are some damn attractive oxen out there. This is the great failing of those Ten. They really don’t offer those of us located in the 21st century much in the way of guidance when it comes to thinking about our relationship with our food. And Lord knows we need it.
The fact is we need a new set of hand-tooled, subject-specific food commandments, custom engineered for the modern food obsessed age. Which in turn means we need our very own culinary Moses; someone with the scholarship, dignity, insight and teeth to stand in judgement on everyone else.
I know just the man.
Oh come on. Who else could it be?
I have a beard flecked with grey. I have shaggy hair and, though I say it myself, I look super hot in flowing robes. (They rather flatter the more generous figure). And yes, I really do have all my own teeth. I wouldn’t mind having someone else’s teeth but I’ll settle for mine. They’ve seen me this far.
So come with me as I lay down the law; as I deal once and for all with the question of whether it really is ever okay to covet thy neighbour’s oxen (it is), the importance of eating with your hands (very important indeed) and whether you should cut off the fat (you shouldn’t).
I will give you guidance on worshipping leftovers and why you should not mistake food for pharmaceuticals which can cure you of all known diseases, especially cancer. (A quick heads up: there is not a single foodstuff the eating of which will protect you from cancer. Not even a little bit.) I will insist that thou shalt cook while also not running from the stinkiest of foods even if they smell of death. The best foods in life smell lightly of death.
I will insist that thou shall honour thy pig. Or anybody else’s pig for that matter. Because everything is improved by the application of a little pig.
Obviously, there’s a chance this will make you hungry. Don’t worry. The book comes with recipes, for things to eat with your hands, using the stinkiest of foods, that honour thy pig and much more besides.
So come with me as I lead you to the culinary promised land.
My Dining Shame… (or, the one where I confess to eating KFC)
People assume that, as a restaurant critic for the The Guardian, and working on MasterChef and The One Show I spend my entire life feasting on roast swan, being pelted with truffles and hosed down with champagne. And obviously there is a quite a lot of that.
But really I’m just a greedy man with an expense account. On March 3 I bring my show about lousy restaurant experiences, My Dining Hell, to theThe Alban Arena. I’ll take you through the things that drive me insane, both in service and menu language, and list six restaurants that annoyed me the most. In the second half, I’m joined by my jazz quartet for songs of food and agony, and I’ll tell you a few (filthy) stories of life growing up with a mother who was a sex advice columnist.
Ahead of that I thought it was only right that I share a few of my dirty food secrets with you, to prove that my life really isn’t all roast swan and Krug; that I’m just the same as everyone else, assuming everyone else is a greedy swine with no shame. So… three things I have eaten.
1. A sausage from one of those food trucks in London’s Trafalagar Square after midnight at the weekend before a night bus home. It smelt of festering onions and fat and desperation. But I was drunk. And hungry. AND NOTHING ELSE WAS OPEN. DON’T JUDGE ME.
2. KFC – well of course. Though not often. Each year my family goes to Center Parcs. There’s a KFC at the service station en route. I get my wife to buy it so I’m not spotted in the queue, and then hide in the corner. However my son has a photograph of me eating it on his phone. He’s threatening to release it on to social media. Coughing to my crime here is my way of neutralising my son’s filthy attempt at blackmail.
3. The Pizza Hut mini-cheeseburger pizza. It is what it sounds like: a pizza with 12 mini cheeseburgers set into the crust. But I do have an excuse. I was researching an article about ludicrously calorific items. This item, at 2,880 calories, easily won. And I didn’t finish it. I gave most of it away. I’m a good person.
For info on all my live shows, go here
Meanwhile what are your guilty food secrets?
How a toy shop closed to pay for pupils at Dulwich College (and Alleyn’s and JAGS)
A couple of weeks ago a few hundred people gathered in Herne Hill, close to where I live, to demonstrate against the behaviour of the Dulwich Estate, a local landlord. The Estate owns 1,500 prime acres of Dulwich and the surrounding area, including the freeholds on 600 flats and maisonettes and the vast majority of the shops and pubs as well as local amenities. The focus of the demo was the closure of a much-loved toy shop, Just Williams, forced out of business by a 70% rent rise combined with a more general concern about the threat of similar rent rises forcing out other shops. They are likely to be replaced by ones which, to pay those increased rents, will be prohibitively expensive to shop in. The Estate has also proposed selling off a piece of land used as a play area by children at the local Judith Kerr Primary school for flats, and left a popular pub, the Half Moon, closed and empty for over two years. Now that they finally have a proposal for the pub they seem set to accept, it does not include a live music room, which has been a part of it for decades and which locals want re-instated.
The glib response to all this is ‘first world problems’. Boo hoo! for the middle classes of Herne Hill and their closed toy shop. And yes of course, in the face of, say, the migrant crisis and the Syrian war, there are clearly more acute life and death problems. But the existence of those issues doesn’t mean we simply forget about those that seem more banal. The ability of rapacious landlords to clean up financially without any regard or respect for the local community must be challenged. Otherwise our cities will simply become unaffordable places to live for all but those on the biggest incomes.
The Dulwich Estate was established in the early 17th Century, to give an education to poor scholars and the children of Dulwich. Today it is a registered charitable trust and has a number of beneficiaries, including some maintained schools and a chapel in South London. But the vast majority of their revenue after costs – over 85% – goes to three, very expensive fee-paying schools in Dulwich: Dulwich College, Alleyn’s and James Allen’s Girls’ (or JAGS). Between them they shared £5,815,840 of moneys from the Estate in the most recent year for which there are figures (to March 31, 2015). These are also registered charities.
Given that a year’s boarding at Dulwich College costs £38,000 – it’s £18,000 to be a day pupil – that charitable status is somewhat controversial. Certainly, to maintain their charitable status these schools are required to show that they provide a ‘public benefit’, something of which they are acutely aware. As indeed they make clear on their websites.
The ‘Master’ of Dulwich says in his welcome message that, ‘We are committed to nurturing a supportive community which encourages a sense of social responsibility.’ Likewise, one of the Governors’ objectives at Dulwich College is ‘to promote partnerships between the college and local community’. At Alleyn’s the vision underlying the School Development Plan includes that the school should be ‘recognised within the local and extended community as a force for the public good’. JAGS describes itself as a school ‘with a heart and conscience and one which reaches out beyond its own community’.
So I sent the same email to the three head teachers, Dr Joseph Spence at Dulwich College, Dr Gary Savage at Alleyn’s and Ms Sally-Anne Huang at JAGS. I wanted to know how they squared their pronounced commitment to the local community, with the fact that the Dulwich Estate, of which they are massive beneficiaries, is set on a course which is doing extreme damage to it.
All three gave exactly the same response: that the money from the Dulwich Estate enables them to provide bursaries and scholarships to pupils who would otherwise not be able to afford to attend.
There are two issues here. The first is the implicit assumption that there is a moral or practical good provided by these highly exclusive fee-paying schools. For what it’s worth I went to exactly that kind of school. I hated it and I do not see it as a model to which we should aspire. That said I accept this is a difference of political opinion.
More striking is the assumption that it’s okay to force viable shops out of business if it pays for the bursaries. The bursaries and scholarships are a charitable act. You don’t pay for charity by taking away people’s livelihoods. What’s more, the vast majority of the recipients are not getting 100% bursaries or scholarships; they come from families with the wherewithal to pay the majority of the fees themselves.
I wrote to all three head teachers asking why all this was okay. None of them replied to that point.
It’s also worth considering the detail of the finances. All three schools say the Dulwich Estate money enables them to pay for bursaries but, certainly in the case of Alleyn’s and Dulwich College, they use it to fund other things too. In its accounts to 2014 Alleyn’s reveals it spent £1.293 million on bursaries. However it received £1.624 million from the Dulwich Estate. Dulwich College received £2.176 million from the Dulwich Estate but spent only £1.78 million of that on bursaries (they spent more, but it came from their Bursary Appeal Fund). The picture in 2012 was even more striking, because the schools received significantly more from the Dulwich Estate, presumably because of the sale of assets. Dulwich College spent £1.662 million on bursaries but received £5.617 million from the Estate. Then again, they are building a new £21 million science block so they do have things to spend it on. For sake of doubt, they are legally entitled to spend this money as they wish. Whether it is moral to do so given how it is raised is a different matter.
The head teachers of both Dulwich College and Alleyn’s also told me that they had no authority over the trading methods of the Dulwich Estate. Dr Spence, Master of Dulwich College, said they have a once a year meeting with the Estate where they can express an opinion to its commercial practices, but that the Estate is not obliged to take any notice of their opinions. It’s perhaps worth noting that the Estate has 11 trustees, and that the three Dulwich schools nominate two each. So, between them they have six trustees; a majority. Again, Dr Spence tells me the schools have no influence over those trustees once they are appointed. That being so they could issue public statements declaring themselves opposed to the way the Estate is behaving. All three have stayed silent.
The Dulwich Estate and its Chief Executive John Major (no, not that one) can point to Charity Commission rules which require them to get the best financial deals they can, and therefore argue that they are merely performing their legal duties by pricing out the toy shop. Except they’re not doing so consistently, because, for example, they’ve left the Half Moon Pub empty for over two years, when it could be earning them rents. They don’t even seem to be applying their own policies as laid out in their Scheme of Management drawn up in 1995. That requires them to behave in such a way as to have ‘a positive impact on the community, is attractive to the public and thus stimulates local businesses‘. There is nothing attractive or stimulating about their current behaviour. Indeed, the Charity Commission also requires trustees to consider ‘reputational damage’ caused by their trading policies. Right now they are doing themselves enormous reputational damage. So much so that there are many of us who question why a body like the Dulwich Estate, with property worth hundreds of millions, should be a charity at all, given the tax benefits that status brings.
After my first email exchange with Dr Joseph Spence of Dulwich College I asked whether I might quote directly from our correspondence. He refused the request because he said it was clear from what I had said that I was determined to divide the local community rather than unite it.
One of us is the head teacher of one of the most expensive schools in the country benefiting from a trust that’s putting toy shops out of business. The other is a concerned local resident. I’ll let you decide who’s dividing the community.
Jay Rayner, SE24
Mind your language
Obviously food is about taste and texture. But it’s also about the language used to describe it and, more to the point, the way language is violated and trampled upon in the service of a tiresome agenda. On March 3 I bring my show about awful restaurant experiences to The Alban Arena. During My Dining Hell I talk about many things, including menu language (before being joined in the second half by my jazz quartet for songs of food and agony). Ahead of that I thought I’d share a few words used around food – on menus, in its marketing – that really drive me nuts.
- Clean Eating – Where do I start? Food isn’t clean, or dirty. It’s just food. It doesn’t have morals. What matters is whether you eat a balanced diet or not. Having a kiwi, kale and avocado smoothie every morning doesn’t make you clean. And it doesn’t make you a good person. It just makes you rather annoying.
- Proper – as in a ‘proper pie’ or a ‘proper hamburger’. So help me here. What’s an improper pie? One that tries to put its hand up your skirt while you’re eating it? It’s a meaningless word. What you’re trying to say is that your pie is better than everyone else’s. But presumably you’ve always thought that your pie was better or you wouldn’t be trying to sell it.
- Honest food. Another utterly meaningless term. Again it’s an attempt by the food manufacturer or the chef to claim virtue for themselves. As in ‘All we serve is good, honest food’. So tell me: what is dishonest food? Is that the carrot on your plate which keeps you occupied while the rest of its mates nick your car? Tell me about the dishonest salmon. Does it have a criminal record? Arggh.
There are more, many more, and I’ll go into that during My Dining Hell. In the second half it’s time for my jazz quartet, with songs of food and agony. And some truly filthy stories of life growing up with a mother who was a sex advice columnist. What’s not to like?
See you in St Albans on March 3.
(Also at Kingston Rose, Feb 23: http://www.rosetheatrekingston.org/whats-on/a-night-of-food-agony-with-jay-rayner)
In the meantime what food words do you hate?
These are a few of my most hated things.
Being a restaurant critic teaches you to hate. Right now it’s teaching me to hate whacky serving plates. On February 23 I bring my show about appalling restaurant experiences to the Kingston Rose. Ahead of that performance of My Dining Hell, part of my night of Food and Agony, I thought I’d share with you my top five most hated ‘inventive’ serving items. These are generally pressed into service by chefs and restaurateurs who think that using one of them will distract from the fact that the food isn’t actually very good.
And so, in reverse order:
- No 5. Cocktails served in old jam jars. Apart from the fact that it’s unpleasant to have your lip locked around something with a lid groove it’s an absurd pose. When the drink inside costs anywhere from £7 to £14, posing as some poverty stricken joint that can’t afford proper glasses is just plain annoying.
- No 4. Chips served in mini-chip pan fryers, both round and square. Stop it. JUST STOP IT. I am not four years old. Dolls-house sized versions of big things do not improve the quality of the chips. It certainly doesn’t fill me with glee.
- No 3. Bread served in flat caps or slippers. Yes, really. I’ve experienced both of these. The flat cap thing was at a restaurant in Yorkshire, ‘cos of course all people in Yorkshire wear flat caps. All I could think was ‘who’s head has been in my bread basket?’
- No 2. Buckets for anything. I’ve had chips served in teensy weensy buckets. I’ve also had spare ribs served in small versions of a household galvanised dustbin. Because, you know, it’s dirty food. Food isn’t dirty. It’s just food.
- No 1. Anything at all served on slates. Roof slates are brilliant on roofs. They keep out the rain. They are nasty to eat off. Sauce dribbles off the edges. Your cutlery makes a hard scratchy sound against them. They are terrible at retaining heat. And they make life hell for poor waiters. Oh, and they look absurd. Please just serve food on nice round plates, with rims. They function brilliantly.
Blimey, but I feel better for that. If you want to join the campaign for normal serving items you could follow @WeWantPlates on Twitter. Meanwhile I’ll be talking about all of this and more in My Dining Hell. In the second half I’ll be joined by my jazz quartet for songs of food and agony and telling a few filthy stories of life growing up with a mother who was a sex advice columnist. We’ll sing the blues. Given the things that sometimes happen in restaurants, there’s lots to sing the blues about.
In the meantime, am I wrong? Are these serving items just a bit of fun or the devil’s work?
Add again, if you want tickets click on the link below: