Why you should forget ‘nutraceuticals’ and focus on a healthy diet instead

Nutraceuticals … do they work?

There’s no evidence that the father of modern medicine Hippocrates ever said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Some debate whether he’d even have agreed with the sentiment. Nevertheless that Facebook-friendly quote has become the motto for a whole industry of what’s become known as “functional foods” or “nutraceuticals”.

By now most people are aware of the cholesterol-fighting stanols and sterols that are added to margarines and yoghurts, plus the omega-3, the “friendly bacteria” that, according to their manufacturers, can do everything from make us cleverer to boost our immune system. In the last five years, though, two seemingly contradictory movements have swept through the functional food industry. One is that ever more nutraceuticals have emerged. Everything from beer laced with collagen (it’s supposed to be good for your skin) to burritos with added probiotics. Yet, at the same time, European food authorities have restricted the claims that manufacturers are allowed to make. Do any of these so-called miracle foods, then, actually work?

“Nutraceuticals is a marketing term but there are undoubtedly foods with active effects,” says the British Dietetics Association’s Duane Mellor. “You only have to look at coffee, with caffeine, which has a very obvious effect. There’s good evidence that stanols reduce cholesterol and you can get far more of it when it’s added to margarine than you would from food.”

Japan, where the probiotic drink Yakult was invented in 1935, is regarded as the homeland of nutraceuticals. Thanks to a lighter legislative touch than in Europe it’s also relatively easy for food manufacturers to claim special powers for their products. It’s in Japan that you can buy a beer called “Precious”, which is laced with two grammes of collagen and marketed to women as a beauty treatment with the slogan: “Guys can tell if a girl is taking collagen.”

“I don’t think collagen beer would meet the standards required by the FSA (Food Standards Agency)!” says Dr Mellor. “The trouble is it’s a long way from your gut to your skin. Collagen is a protein and the enzymes in your gut are going to break it down.” Nutritional therapist Lucy Patterson is equally dubious about the idea of drinking yourself beautiful. “I use collagen mostly for gut health,” she says, “but you’re better off adding it to smoothies and shakes rather than alcohol. Alcohol is dehydrating and a toxin in other ways so it’s not the best thing for your skin.”

In Japan you can also buy a fizzy drink, Mets Cola, which contains added indigestible dextrin which is supposed to stop you absorbing fat. Mellor argues that many of these products, even if they do what they say, merely have a “health halo”. Selling an unhealthy product such as cola for its supposed health-benefits might do more harm than good.

Patterson, though, thinks there is something to be said for products such as the burrito with probiotics. “Probiotics often have a tangy, pickly flavour,” she says, “which can be strange if you’re not used to it. Anything that encourages people to eat it is a good thing.” But only if probiotics actually work. In 2010 probiotic market leader Danone withdrew its claims that Actimel and Activia boost the immune system and aid digestive health, after EU scientists disputed the claims. The NHS in the UK accepts that probiotics might have benefits for treating diarrhoea and digestive problems but not much more.

Proponents, meanwhile, continue to claim much more impressive effects. Most recently a study suggested that consumption of fermented foods, such assauerkraut and pickles, can reduce social anxiety in young people. “It is likely that the probiotics in the fermented foods are favourably changing the environment in the gut, and changes in the gut in turn influence social anxiety,” said the author of the study, Professor Matthew Hilimire. The standard of proof required in the EU, however, is higher than that provided by individual research papers. “To be accepted, the product has to contain a molecule that’s been proven to work, proof of cause and effect and success in clinical trials,” says Dr Mellor. But he says that his own research into the alleged mood-boosting effects of chocolate is a good example of why it’s hard to make definitive claims about specific, targeted health-benefits of food. “There is some evidence that polyphenols, which can be found in chocolate, may improve mood,” he says. “but it didn’t work in my study. When I gave people chocolate their anxiety levels went down, but that was because I was giving them bags of chocolate, which is a nice thing to do.”

Clearly “nutraceuticals” can work, in some circumstances, for some people. Explaining why they work, though, is extremely difficult. Even omega-3, although generally accepted to be an important nutrient, has its limitations according to Dr Mellor. The much publicised research into its effects on children’s concentration is still heavily debated.

“There have been some successful trials but is it the omega-3 itself that has the effect?” he says. “There’s evidence that sitting down for a social meal and having a healthy diet works better.”

One reason that food is not really like medicine, then, is because there’s more to eating than just its chemical effects. “We need to go back to a traditional family meal,” says Dr Mellor. “It might not sound very exciting but we’ve lost the social aspect of food. That’s just as important. We’ve pinned too much on functional foods.”

Fashion duos: “I believe that I have the better taste. I think she would say the same”

Public School

Public School NYC

Public School are Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow. Both native New Yorkers, they met in 2003 when Chow, a former journalist, was marketing director of Sean John and Osborne was an intern. They launched their own label in 2007; since then their minimal, mainly monochrome streetwear with a high fashion twist has been a retail hit and won them several fashion industry awards, including the first International Woolmark prize for menswear this year. The pair are based in New York’s garment district and as well as running Public School, they were recently appointed creative directors of DKNY.

Maxwell Osborne
I don’t remember the first time I met Dao-Yi but it was an easy transition to working with him. We had the same aesthetics, the same references, almost the same groups of friends. He quit Sean John and opened up a clothing store in Miami. He was starting a line for the store and asked me to take part in it. Then around fashion week one year, we were talking about what brands we were excited to wear as consumers and we were stumped. That was the beginning of Public School.

We disagree, who doesn’t? But since we’re coming from the same place, it becomes an argument about who’s putting out the most passion. The louder voice wins. If you really believe in something, then cool, let’s do it. It’s like a relationship: if you’re open and communications are strong, it all gets worked out. I love it when we get hit with a big decision that really lets us put everything on the table – you can talk it all out and cleanse your soul.

When the company was just Dao-Yi and me, we worked on every stitch of every jacket. Now we have a bigger staff and more on our plate. So there might be things I don’t see until the sample stage, but the trust is there.

Dao-Yi’s good at setting things up and he’s an amazing creative writer, good at getting his point across. I learned a lot from him about how to be a manager, how to not sweet-talk someone but be very diplomatic. When we’re pushing the envelope in terms of fit, he’s great. In my head, I’m thinking, ‘Oh shit, will we need to make it again?’ but it always comes out really good.

Outside work, he has a wife and two children, and I’m a single man. I might go out and have some drinks and dinner. But if it’s a barbecue at his house, we’ll hang out.

He hates the way I eat sometimes, but we were in Tokyo recently in a sushi restaurant. It was really quiet and he was taking a sip of wine. He’s not a big drinker and he was going like this [slurps and sighs]. You know when you’ve known someone for so long and it’s like a new thing? Him drinking wine… It was so weird.

Dao-Yi Chow
I remember meeting him really clearly; he came to drop something off in my office. Max has a really good spirit and it was infectious. I remember saying to myself, “Ah, that kid’s got good energy… and what the hell is he wearing in the back of his pocket?” It was a tie.

When we first started, we did pretty much everything together – design, branding, we shipped our first two seasons by ourselves from a friend’s warehouse. Now as the business has got more complex, we’ve learned to divvy up our roles. Max oversees men’s, I oversee women’s, then we’ll collaborate on everything else, from marketing to sales strategy.

Most of our disagreements come because of the difference in age and lifestyle – I think that impacts us most in terms of where we are in our lives, what we want, and our responsibilities outside the business. Ultimately, because we’re seen as a unit, we affect each other’s outcome, so all those decisions you make together, it’s like being married. It gets heated but we both know that the intent is always coming from a good place. You never have to worry about a hidden agenda. Going into business with your friends is probably not the best idea. It weighs on a relationship for sure, but we figure it out. I smacked him once with spit in my hand – he didn’t enjoy that.

Max is good at making people feel included and welcome – something in my old age I probably could do more of. There’s a good yin and yang. Max is calm; I let my emotions get the best of me. I’m more proud than Max is. Sometimes we’ll make decisions based on whether we’ve been fairly treated by someone outside the company; Max will try to see it from their point of view or he’ll be a little hesitant to pull the plug just yet – he’d rather figure it out. I’m more impetuous.

I think Max is good at the finer details, like an idea for a pocket shape or a flange on an armhole, which is his favourite detail of all time. He can look at a little thing and make it feel like a big thing.

Casely-Hayford

Joe Casely-Hayford, OBE and his son Charlie

Joe and Charlie Casely-Hayford are the father and son behind the Casely-Hayfordmenswear label, launched in 2009. Joe has worked in fashion since the 1980s, on his own label, on stagewear for musicians including the Clash and U2, and as creative director for Gieves & Hawkes. Charlie, who joined the family business after finishing his studies, has also styled musicians such as Nas and the xx.

Joe Casely-Hayford
When Charlie was growing up, I recall actively discouraging him from coming into fashion. It’s a notoriously hard industry and I didn’t want this for my children. But now he works with me, and my daughter is editor of a fashion magazine – the best way to get your kids to do something is definitely by telling them not to do it. Charlie did a foundation course at Central Saint Martins, before studying history of art at the Courtauld Institute. While there, he showed an increasing interest in my work – I was consulting at Gieves & Hawkes and had started work on launching the Casely-Hayford brand. He would often offer his opinion. I remember the pivotal moment: he called in sick at the Courtauld and came out to Tokyo on a work trip with me, and we have not looked back since.

It’s hard to stop being Charlie’s father and become his business partner, though fashion is unique in that it’s accepted that young ideas can carry more weight than they would in other industries. Sometimes I will propose a random fabric that my experience and intuition tell me will work. This process has been known to give Charlie palpitations – until the orders start coming in.

The success of our partnership is in that, though our inspirations are similar, we bring different things to the table. There’s a unique level of understanding between us. We believe that at Casely-Hayford we have created our own sartorial language which reflects our very particular vision and history. This would not have been possible in a regular working relationship.

Charlie is very considered in his approach. I like the way he thinks about a long-term strategy. Timekeeping isn’t a strong point, but he is very kind and respectful to others. Running a family business is a 24/7 affair. My wife forms the third part of the triumvirate and she’s definitely the boss.

Charlie Casely-Hayford
I’ve been surrounded by fashion since I can remember. It was such a constant in my life that over time I think I became oblivious to it. Until I was in my late teens, the art world was all I wanted to do. It took an outside source to my family, in the shape of studying at Saint Martins, to make me see what was in front of me. It was then that I began to think about clothing in terms of identity and perception.

I moved out of my parents’ house as soon as we started working together. It’s important for us that there is some separation between work and home, otherwise it becomes unhealthy.

I don’t feel we disagree at work, really, more that we often bring in disparate elements, then convey to the other why they feel relevant. It’s a process that provides constant exchange, often through experiencing the same things differently. And anyway, my mum is the boss. End of. She is the rock behind our business.

My path into fashion was pretty old school – I apprenticed under my father in a very traditional way. That was the best education. My admiration for him is limitless. When I look through his archive, I can’t help but feel he has been relevant in different guises in every decade of his career. He has such willingness to be open to change and adapt with the times. That’s something I really admire, particularly in an industry built on transiency.

My dad understands me more than I know myself, and in many ways is more of a youthful spirit than I am in his approach to engaging with culture and translating that into design.

Loquet London

Loquet London

Luxury jewellery label Loquet London launched in 2013, with a modern take on old-fashioned lockets. It is a collaboration between writer and environmentalist Sheherazade Goldsmith and model Laura Bailey. The label specialises in bespoke lockets personalised with charms and birthstones. From its beginnings as a London-based concept jeweller’s, it has rapidly expanded and its creations are now sold in countries from Japan to the UAE and the US.

Sheherazade Goldsmith
Our paths have been crisscrossing since we were about 18, but it wasn’t until our late 20s that Laura and I became really close, finding we had more and more in common, and starting to spend more time together.

It’s lovely to have a friend like Laura. She is so warm, so vivacious – and such a feminist, always on your side, standing up for what you need.

I had been writing columns for various newspapers for 10 years but was on a sabbatical when I came up with the idea for Loquet London. My son bought me a little Perspex container with dried flowers in it, at a funfair. I wore it all the time, because he had given it to me, and thought about how nice it would be if you could open and close it and personalise it. Of course, lockets have been around for centuries – in Victorian times they contained teeth and hair and all kinds of scary things – and they have stood the test of time. My idea was to give them a contemporary twist. I ran the idea past Laura and she loved it so much that we decided to partner up.

I didn’t know very much about fashion but Laura knows the industry well – she diversified out of modelling to have a fascinating career. We design the pieces together, but whereas I work on Loquet every single day of my life – from the wholesale distribution to the website – Laura’s role is to oversee, for example, styling the look books, knowing which photographers will be brilliant and how to make it look interesting. I trust her views and I trust her to make decisions, and she trusts me. Aesthetically, our tastes are very similar.

Of course, I worried about the impact that working together might have on our friendship, but actually, being friends offers huge advantages. We’re both very busy and have the same priorities in our lives; that understanding allowed us to build the business very quickly. The hardest thing is to remember to find time for a chat over a glass of wine – to consciously be together and talk about life, not business.

Laura Bailey
Our relationship was a slow flirtation. We had been in each other’s orbit for a while through mutual friends. I remember being so in awe of the fact that this slip of a girl could be the mother of three young children, alongside her writing and everything else she did. Something clicked around the time I was pregnant with my son and our lives came into sync. Now we are great friends and so are our kids.

We were at dinner one night two years ago with a mutual friend, Thandie Newton, when Sheherazade told me about Loquet. Initially, I said, “Use me as a sounding board if you want to explore this”, without any business ambitions of my own, but gradually the idea of working together collected between us. Things went very fast. I was so impressed by her research and ambition – a few weeks later she had a business plan; a whole world dreamed up.

It was nerve-racking going into business with a friend, but we have always been very open and honest about our other commitments, which is one of the reasons it works. We are not over-promised to each other. I have a very freelance, on-the-road life, so we knew our time together would have to be disciplined, but I’m used to that. There are many conversations, going way into the night, by Skype and email.

What’s brilliant about working with a friend is that we have an emotional shorthand and an understanding of the way each other works. It has been important to know to disagree and bash things out without conflict, through open communication. Both our lives are very full, we don’t have time to let things stew. Our friendship is more important than the business; we are really protective of it. There are times when we have so much to catch up on in “real life” but there are deadlines looming and we have to leave that aside and get on with the work. That’s a discipline we have had to learn. But it works. It’s a smooth ride.

Justin O’Shea and Veronika Heilbrunner

Justin O'Shea and Veronika Heilbrunner, photographed at the Soho Grande Hotel in New York.

Justin O’ Shea is buying director of mytheresa and Veronika Heilbrunner is a fashion editor, founder of hey-woman and star of the latest Sportmax campaign. They met in an Acne Studios showroom in Copenhagen in 2010 and became a couple three years later. Since then they have worked together at mytheresa and become the street style darling duo of the fashion show circuit. It’s an industry fame neither sought out but both embrace with cheerful reluctance. Though they no longer work together, they remain the first couple of fashion week.

Justin O’ Shea
I remember looking around the corner and I saw a tall, beautiful German girl standing there wearing a black leather jacket, white T-shirt, high-waisted Levi’s denim shorts and a pair of Acne pistol boots. I was hungover, so I had the confidence to go over to her. I was like, “Do you want to go to the pub?” and she agreed and we sat drinking beer until 9pm. She had a boyfriend so we didn’t get together immediately.

I believe that I have the better taste. I think it will sound super cocky but I think she would say the same. When we first met she wanted to wear the most colourful, craziest stuff, but I’m not into looking like a circus. I was like, “You are six foot one and a half, you are beautiful, you don’t need anything else except for just you. You’re enough.” Maybe it was all the compliments I gave her when she dressed more simply that have had an effect.

There hasn’t been a lot for her to influence – not because I don’t listen to her, but because I don’t change much. She was with me when I shaved off my beard. I basically didn’t exist before the beard – I was driving trucks back home in Australia before I worked in fashion. I didn’t want to get rid of it on principle because everyone else was growing one and I didn’t want to I look like I’d been trying to be trendy. When I shaved it off, I couldn’t look in the mirror and I went over to Veronika and she was really happy. She likes that she can see my expressions. She was like, “I always just felt you were really unhappy! “

At first with the street style pictures, I didn’t like having my girlfriend and private life in public, but the photographers are so nice, they made it fun. My favourite picture of us is outside a Valentino show and we are dancing, being stupid, Veronika is really smiling and very happy. I find a lot of street style very wanky when it’s all posey-posey. People might think we are a posey couple but it’s just not really like that. It’s more real. I don’t want to be serious fashion people, that wasn’t ever the point – it’s just that you have to get from A to B and all the photographers are in the way, so…

Veronika Heilbrunner
The day we met we spent the whole day in a pub which was very funny. It’s not what I usually do. He wasn’t in his suit phase yet, so he was wearing black jeans and a black T-shirt with a shaved head and a two-week beard. He didn’t look how you would imagine a fashion buyer would dress. He looked pretty badass. That’s his thing – he is very charming, with good manners, but he didn’t look like that and I found him super interesting.

In the beginning it was easier for me with the street style photographers. I would smile and find it funny. He was stiff and looked unhappy, but he learned quickly; now he finds it funny, too.

I haven’t changed my overall look since I met Justin but thanks to him my look is more refined. You can end up wanting it all when you work in fashion but he helped me work out that simpler is better for me. Ages ago I was wearing a beautiful white Valentino dress to the shows. I was on the Metro and I was wearing sneakers for speed with high-heeled pumps in my bag. I wanted to change before the show and Justin told me it looked cooler with trainers. I was like, “Really? It’s Valentino.” He was like, “No, no, trust me, it looks cooler.” From then on I always wore them. I really trust him.

I don’t think I influence the way he dresses. I really liked him with a beard, but I was curious to see him without because I couldn’t really remember how he looked before. I prefer him without it now. I personally like him in jeans and a T-shirt – he looks younger and more casual. He sometimes asks me which of those eight ties he should wear and then wears another one. When I didn’t know him so well, I bought him a vintage Hermès tie but it was a boy’s tie, not a man’s. It was pretty embarrassing. I know the difference now.

Justin is very decisive and quick with everything, I spend time thinking and often change my mind, but he is done in a second. When we worked together he was very direct and straightforward, and that worked really well. That’s also how it is in private life with Justin.

A shed of one’s own: how women are reclaiming the garden

Louise Allen in her shed

Think of a shed and you’d be forgiven for imagining shears, wrenches and the heady scent of oily rags – typically “blokish” pursuits. However, in the last six months, Homebase has reported a 50% growth in women buying sheds and the rise of the “She Shed” has made way for Facebook groups, Pinterest boards and even books dedicated to a place for women “to retreat for some quiet time, to create or grow, to write or paint, or just to contemplate the view”.

As the number of people working from home in the UK now makes up almost 14% of the workforce – and the number of self-employed women has increased by 34% since 2009, we meet five female “sheddies”, who have created business HQs from the bottom of their gardens.

Emma Mitchell
43, jewellery maker in Reach, Cambridgeshire

Inside the shed workshop with Emma Mitchell, who makes nature-inspired jewellery at Reach in Cambridgeshire.
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Inside the shed workshop with Emma Mitchell, who makes nature-inspired jewellery at Reach in Cambridgeshire. Photograph: John Watts Robertson

When I walk up the garden, I’m going to work. I am leaving the house behind, even though it’s only about 10 metres away. I’m able to separate the rest of my chaotic, stay-at-home mum life and go. We live in a little cottage and we’re quite child-focused. It’s good to get up here because I can then be an artist rather than a mum.

It was my husband’s shed at first – I’d just had a baby so it was to let him have some time to work. We were inspired by the Southwold beach huts that we’d seen on our first date, back in 1998. I had never seen such a thing before because I’m a northerner. I loved the curtains and kettles.

Emma Mitchell's shed.
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Emma Mitchell’s shed. Photograph: John Watts Robertson

Then our daughter Evie got a bit poorly and I wasn’t able to be as good a business technology consultant as I wanted, or as good a mum as I wanted. We had to watch her like a hawk when she got a cold – she used to have febrile convulsions. I’d been making jewellery and selling it at craft fairs as a hobby, so friends asked: “Why don’t you just do that?” Becoming a full-time jewellery maker fitted much better with being a bit more of a vigilant mum. Dealing with the stress of Evie being poorly, plus the stress of the job, was too much anyway.

I’ve made it into an inspirational space. I have made it as beautiful as I can, even though it’s not that big. I take inspiration from my collection of postcards, pebbles, shells and botanical reference books. I’m reluctant to use the term “branding”, but it’s a real part of it for my business – I am actually making up there. People are aware of it and often tweet to me saying: “It’s lovely to think of you sitting in your shed in your garden, among the birds and things.”

The jewellery I make is inspired by nature – I use the leaves from the garden to print into silver. I work a lot to commission and people request tiny narcissi and gerberas and daisies – lots of the flowers that people want in tiny silver versions are in the garden. The shed also acts as a hide. There are blackbirds, wrens and warblers – because it’s such a wild and woolly garden, it’s packed with robins, too. Perhaps I don’t have as much money for fancy trousers, but it’s about allowing myself to have that smaller life.

Louise Allen
Mills & Boon novelist in Cley, Norfolk

I find it easy to access my imagination in here. My husband Alan can thump about in the house and I can cut off completely – I can’t tell you what it’s like trying to write a passionate love scene set in 1810 when Formula One is on in the background. But I sit here and I look at the weeds and I daydream a bit.

Author Louise Allen in her shed with her historical book collection.
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Author Louise Allen in her shed with her historical book collection. Photograph: Si Barber

I don’t have internet in here – that’s on purpose. I took all the games off my computer so I can’t play Solitaire. I am tempted to put a kettle in here, but then I’d need the loo. I was a librarian when I first started to write. I thought: “Any idiot can write Mills & Boon – they go out by the armful.” I tried and discovered that I was the idiot – it wasn’t easy at all. It took me eight or so rejections, but now it’s a full-time job. I average three historical romances a year.

When we moved up to Norfolk, it was obvious I wasn’t going to shoehorn my thousand or so books about 18th- and early-19th-century history into the house. It was lose the books or lose my husband, so we got a local craftsman to build a shed. Every year when I put it on Shed of the Year, I get emails full of shed envy. People love it; all my writing friends want one.

When we were having it built, the workmen were falling off the roof laughing because Alan kept referring to it as “the shed” and I kept saying: “It’s my studio.” As far as they were concerned, sheds were for blokes to have a keg in the corner and play with something greasy. The walls have a rustic Scandinavian vibe; the pictures are all Regency or Georgian. I have a board of some of my foreign covers, including ones from Japan, Italy, Spain and Lithuania. They’re rather fun – I love this quite sexy one with an elegant corset slipping off. There are lots of old road books – for when I’m planning journeys in my books – complete with original notes such as: “Unfortunately there’s a very high wall around this property so you can’t see in.” There’s a shelf full of original cookery books. Sometimes Alan takes one and cooks a recipe from it for unsuspecting guests. “Have an 18th-century biscuit.”

Then there’s the massive replica Regency period dolls’ house that we made. I gaze at it and imagine that some of my smarter characters might live there. I bought this mobile of an Indonesian frog for Alan years ago with unkind references to his tummy. He bought me the Indonesian dragon in retaliation.

Charlie Le Rougetel
44, founder of Circus PR in Harlesden, north-west London

Charlie Le Rougetel oustide her shed workspace in north-west London.

My clients know I work from a shed. Whenever I meet them, they always ask, “How’s the ‘shoffice’?” So far, nobody’s ever been here for a meeting, but I still made an effort to stamp the company identity on it – there’s my logo and circus-themed artwork. It’s just to give me a sense of purpose and ownership: it’s branded.

The decor is indicative of my slightly obsessive traits; I’m ridiculously organised. Pretty much everything is Ikea, just super cheap.

Yesterday I was on a conference call and the man next door kept popping out of the window to smoke [from the flat above], as he does six times a day, like a cuckoo clock. I just think: “This is really bizarre, I’m running a business out of my garden and he’s sat there with his makeshift ashtray.”

It’s very different to working in an office. I worked in PR for about 20 years until I took voluntary redundancy last year. I was travelling to Holborn every day – it was pretty much bang on an hour door to door. I worked out that I could even run in the same amount of time as it took me to get the train. At first, I was working from the spare room, but it was hellish. I would get up in the morning and stay in my pyjamas or go for a run and sit in my – it’s horrible to admit – sweaty training gear. Then I’d just sit there until 11 o’clock at night, trying to set up a website, talking to Companies House, talking to the tax man. At the time, my husband was working from home as well. We would shout “Tea!” – it was just the most awful existence, neither of us really went out.

Charlie Le Rougetel runs her PR firm from her shed.

I think the fact that the journey from the kitchen to the sitting room meant passing the spare room-turned-office, as it were, made it far too easy to pop back in there. Now the difference is that I unplug my laptop every night – work closes at 6pm. Next year, I’ll be in a good position to take someone on and I worry what that will mean for me and the shed. The idea of having to give it up and maybe move into an office makes me sad. There’s plenty of room for two people, but one of the reasons it works really well is because it is your space. I’d be very much involving someone in my home life as well – you have to pass through the house to get to the shed. What happens at lunchtime?

I had the conversation last week: “What if the best candidate was male?” I think that would be weird. I have no idea why. I think there’d be more camaraderie … I just think it would be nice to work with another woman in the shed.

The fact that there are women working from sheds is indicative of women in the economy at the moment. There are a lot more female start-ups, a lot more female entrepreneurs; there was a thing last week that “mumpreneurs” were generating £7bn for the economy each year. Women are setting up proper businesses that are making proper money and contributing to the economy. It’s not something you can belittle with, “Oh, the little woman in the shed.” Sitting in the spare room did feel a bit like playing, pretending at running a business. Now I feel like I’m sitting here and running a valid operation. It’s something to be proud of.

Laura Worgan
25, founder of Laura’s Lodge beauty salon in Glastonbury, Somerset

Laura Worgan, who runs a beauty salon from a shed in her back garden in Glastonbury.

It’s a miracle in this day and age to have a new successful business. The shed has played a big role in that – it’s different, people love it and they feel safe in here. I’ve been in the beauty industry since I was 16. I worked in salons over the years but I decided to go self-employed because I like to do things my own way. At first, I turned the spare room into a makeshift beauty room, but I have a chihuahua and a pomeranian who bark when people enter the house and sometimes I work late so my husband couldn’t really cook himself a curry because of the smell – it wasn’t great.

With the shed, you’ve got the luxury of working from home, but you’ve got the luxury of being away from it, too. I can lock the door and that’s it, I’ve finished work.

'With the shed, you’ve got the ­luxury of working from home, but you’ve got the luxury of being away from it, too.'

My husband built it from scratch. He just came out here one Sunday and started digging holes. It’s basically a glorified summerhouse, so we didn’t need planning permission. He would finish work and come out to the garden until it got dark every night and all weekend. We started it in March last year and it wasn’t finished until December. I based it on natural beauty therapy (my parents own the Glastonbury Natural Health Centre) and it’s in my garden, so I have a green theme. The colour on the walls is called “dried rocket”. Most people think it’s a Farrow & Ball colour, but it’s just from B&Q.

I’ve got a massage couch in my relaxation corner, where I do facials, waxing and massages; there’s a nail bar area and then a wet room for spray tans.

It sounds very Glastonbury, but we did use feng shui techniques when designing it – it’s just to make sure the energies are all in the right place so you come in and feel really grounded. I mainly have female clients. I do have a couple of men that come here, but they’re people I know. It’s not that I’m sexist, but I don’t meet people before they come here so it’s more of a safety thing, plus my husband didn’t really like the idea.

I explained to my grandad that I would be working out of a shed and he was like, “What, so you’re going to keep your garden fork in there as well?” And I said: “No, just my cuticle clipper!”

Annemarie Fitzsimons-Keogh
44, founder of Awards 4 All Occasions in Eggleston, Country Durham

Annemarie Fitzsimons-Keogh, managing director of  Awards 4 All Occasions, in her shed workshop in Eggleston, County Durham.

I don’t have children and I live here on my own, so I don’t have the need to separate work from home in that way. But, for me, it’s my playground – it’s where I go and play with my tools. I work in steel, pewter, copper, brass, aluminium, mild steel glass, acrylic and wood. The likes of Sir Alan Sugar, Dame Shirley Bassey, Westlife, Jonny Wilkinson, David Tennant and Billie Piper have all received awards I’ve made. I did work from a rented workshop for years, before moving to my shed 11 years ago. I wanted my own space to be able to do things in my own time, to have my two Staffordshire bull terriers, Bonnie and Clyde, pottering about.

'A woman's shed is her castle.'

It’s a lifestyle business that I have. I do it in my time, but I work very hard and that’s the convenience of it – if I want to work overnight, which I often do when I’m engrossed in a project, I can do that because it’s just next door. I’m a bit of a workaholic – I find it hard to sit and do nothing, I’m always tinkering with something.

I have four horseshoes on the door for good luck. I’ve got quite a few other charms about the place – a Chinese waving cat plus two Hindu gods, Krishna and Ganesha, for prosperity.

I’ve got signs around that just give people a bit of a tickle when they come to see me: “A woman’s shed is her castle”, that’s a good one; “To you it may only be a shed, but to me it’s a sanctuary”; “Female welders always keep it hotter”; and “Yes, I’m a girl – I’m a quick-ass welder”.

Some people are pretty taken back when they first meet me, but people generally just say: “What a lovely place to work from, I’m really envious.” I suppose people see a shed with tools and they think it’s a man’s shed – I’ve proven that wrong. It’s definitely my shed!

Why red is the oldest colour

The cave paintings of Lascaux

If any colour can stake a claim to be the oldest, it is red. We’ve been seeing red (an expression which turns out to be more than just metaphorical) since our neolithic days. It is the most primary of primary colours – the very blood in our veins is red. Except, of course, when it’s blue.

On the earliest daubs of our remote human ancestors, red stole the show. In the caves of Lascaux in France, or Pinnacle Point in South Africa, can be found paintings in an earthy, dusty red. This pigment – along with other colours used – was made from ochre, a family of earth pigments whose name is now, confusingly, most associated with the yellow-brown pigment found in art shops and painting sets. These paintings date back perhaps as far as 15,000BC. Red is ancient indeed.

Many Stone Age graves, too, have been found to contain red ochre. Some experts theorise this was simply to mark the grave, so no one mistakenly dug it up. Others believe it was used to colour the hair, skin or clothes of the buried – either way, it clearly had important ritual significance.

Unsurprisingly, red appears as a symbolic colour in many a warrior setting. In Roman mythology, it was associated with blood, of course, and courage. It was the colour of the god of war, Mars – and the colour of the army. Roman soldiers wore red tunics, while gladiators were adorned in red. Generals wore a scarlet cloak, and to celebrate victories would have their bodies painted entirely in red. Brides at a Roman wedding wore a red shawl, called a flammeum. Red was the colour of blood – but blood was a symbol not just of death, but of life – of fertility and love.

Through the Middle Ages, red was utterly dominant. The emperor Charlemagne painted his palace red, wore red shoes and is even rumoured to have had red hair. In Christian art, it represented the blood of Christ and of Christian martyrs – and became (as it still is) the colour worn by Catholic cardinals.

From the 16th century, a new way of making red appeared in Europe, fromcochineal beetles imported by Spanish merchants from the new world. This, naturally, made red terribly fashionable. Don’t hold that against it, though. It passed.

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A traditional Chinese wedding in Dong’an, Henan province
Photograph: Carlos Barria/REUTERS

Today, even the most painfully fashionable western bride would be unlikely to walk down the aisle in red. This, though, is the tradition in China, where brides still wear red wedding gowns, and are carried to the ceremony in a red litter. In China, red has always symbolised good fortune and joy – and as a colour of happiness is even banned from funerals. In Greece, Albania and Armenia, too, brides still wear red veils.

Chinese brides also walk down a red carpet. Sound familiar? Not an invention of the Oscars ceremony or the film industry, as you might think. In fact the earliest reference to walking down a red carpet is said to be in the work of Aeschylus, from 458BC. When the eponymous hero Agamemnon returns from Troy, he is greeted by his wife Clytemnestra, who offers him a red path to walk upon. This is no mere coincidence – the meaning is clear:

Now my beloved, step down from your chariot, and let not your foot, my lord, touch the Earth. Servants, let there be spread before the house he never expected to see, where Justice leads him in, a crimson path.

The red carpet treatment, indeed.

Inextricably linked with its association with brides, flowering and fertility, comes reds shadier side – and the reason those western brides would be unlikely to marry in it. But has the (possibly) oldest colour always been linked with the world’s ‘oldest profession’ and those red light districts? Perhaps not – in fact yellow has been more commonly associated with prostitution. In classic Greece, prostitutes wore saffron-dyed clothes, while in Rome they might dye their hair yellow. It is really a specific shade of red – scarlet – that must carry the can. And that association comes thanks to the bible, and Revelations 17, verses 1-6, where “the Great Harlot” comes “dressed in purple and scarlet”. Purple clearly had a better PR team than poor old scarlet.

A choir sings ‘red songs’ on stage to mark the 90th Anniversary Of The Communist Party Of China on June 30, 2011
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A choir sings ‘red songs’ on stage to mark the 90th Anniversary Of The Communist Party Of China on June 30, 2011 Photograph: ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images

That PR team should have sprung into action the minute red started associated with revolutionaries. Long before McCarthy started hunting for “reds under the bed”, the colour started hanging out with some dodgy types. During the French revolution, revolutionaries began wearing red caps and carrying red flags. Red become the colour of the worker’s movement – from the French revolution of 1848, the Paris Commune in 1870 and of socialist parties across Europe. By the 20th century, it was the outright color of revolution – whether Bolshevik or Chinese, adorning flags from Russia, Cuba Vietnam and more.

So red can be both happy, honourable, brave and virginal and, well, quite the opposite – it’s all about the cultural context. But whether you see its innocence or its corruption, it turns out that red actually enhances women’s attractiveness to men. It even enhances the value of a painting – though this is down largely to its symbolic significance in Chinese culture affecting the international art market, rather than anything more, well, primitive.

A detail from self-portrait as an artist, by Vincent Van Gogh

And though it is hardly rare (it is the most popular colour on national flags, for a start) there is one area in which red is a distinct minority: only 1-2% of the human population has red hair. The colour is produced by the same pigment,pheomelanin, that makes our lips red. Those beautiful redheads have a higher level of that, and less of the dark pigment eumelanin.

In 1888, Vincent Van Gogh wrote that he “sought to express with red and green the terrible human passions”. Ancient, complex and representing extremes – red is nothing if not passionate. Perhaps Van Gogh would have seen red, should he have lived long enough to see the reds in his paintings starting to fade away.

If you do one thing this week … play barefoot bowls

A Barefoot Bowls event

Lawn bowls is the latest sport with a somewhat stuffy reputation to get an informal makeover (see also golf). Barefoot bowls is an Australian spin on the traditional game, with added music, drinking and chatting – and, as the name implies, minus the shoes. Now one group has brought it to the UK. The third London event takes place on Friday in Finsbury Square, with teams of four competing (in a laid-back way) on the grass. Craft beer, street food, DJs and palm trees provide distractions for those who aren’t taking it too seriously; expert help is at hand for those who are.

Street food and cider at Barefoot Bowls
Street food and cider at Barefoot Bowls

It isn’t just a bit of fun. The organisers, Will Goy and Sam Parton, hope to change perceptions of the sport and highlight the fact that most bowling greens in the UK face closure unless they can find new members. This year’s London events are test cases; Goy and Parton’s ultimate goal is to roll out this version of the sport nationwide. Next year, there will be a series of events in Bristol, and there has been interest from bowling greens all over the UK, from Scotland to Anglesey to Gloucester. Other, smaller bowls groups have tried a similar concept, but Barefoot Bowls is the only organisation to partner with Bowls England to grow the sport. They have even signed up double Commonwealth champion Ellen Falkner to give tuition.

“Barefoot Bowls completely challenges the stigma and perception around lawn bowls,” says Parton. “It’s great because it is inclusive, low-cost and there are plenty of places to play it all over the country which badly need a new audience.”

But this isn’t the only casual bowls-related fun on offer. In London, there are lots of options: Roof East, a bar in Stratford, east London, has a popup rooftop petanque pitch (today is the final day of play). Baranis, a cocktail bar in central London, has a free indoor court; L’Entrepot, a restaurant in Dalston, east London, has a temporary basement pitch; Hay’s Galleria, an arcade on the Southbank, has a permanent covered pitch; and there are pubs offering outdoor boules, such as the Prince of Wales in Kennington, south London. There is even an annual international tournament, the Londonaise in Islington, north London, where fancy dress is encouraged.

Informal bowls – or boules, or petanque – is available in other parts of the country, too. Plenty of seaside towns have pitches, such as the seafront one in Brighton. Lots of country pubs have them, including the Plough Inn in Wrington, Somerset; the Anchor Inn in Oldbury-on-Severn, Bristol; the Gate Hangs Well in Syston, Leicestershire; or the Tollgate Inn in Holt, Wiltshire. If you get the bug, you can find a club to join at petanque.co.uk. And even if there isn’t a proper pitch near you, you could always buy a cheap boules set (John Lewis has one for £8), head to the park and enjoy a game. Shoes optional – and don’t let the endless rain stop play.

Kitchen gadgets review: Shy Herb Chopper – the Rafa Nadal of the herb-prep game

Rhik Samadder using the Shy Herb Chopper

What?

The Shy Herb Chopper (£23, clippings.com) is a semi-circular blade, fastened at its extremities with pivoting handles that double as connective sheaths.

Why?

Being cutting edge doesn’t mean being a show-off.

Well?

Is there a more beautiful word in the kitchen than mezzaluna? It sounds as if it is describing an operatic singing range or a bout of mid-afternoon nostalgia. It makes me melt more than a silver-haired couple renewing their wedding vows in the rain. I’m less keen on the English equivalent, “herb chopper”, which has no more poetry in it than “scouring pad” or “salad spinner” – and actually less, because it contains the word chopper. This one is by an Italian company, Vice Versa, which has a habit of putting inane mottos on its packaging. “If you can’t convince them, surprise them,” declares the box. I can think of 10 scenarios in which that is catastrophic advice, but I like it anyway.

Then there is the name, expressing a level of anthropomorphism I’m completely on board with. The device’s “shyness” relates to its handles – when folded closed, they enwrap its sharp edge like hands in a muff. That’s not all they do. This thing may be shy, but it has seriously impressive arms (essentially making it the Rafa Nadal of the herb-prep game). Rotated fully back, they form an excellent grip for single-hand use. They also open halfway, for double-handed choperation. I love this technique, a see-sawing pump action reminiscent of a railroad handcar. It’s fun, and chops with satisfying crunch. Most mezzalunas (mezzalunae?) have bulbous grips; these are flat-ended, so the device can sit up on them. This reduces its footprint, but more importantly makes it resemble a headless being throwing its arms wide. It’s quite cheering, and less horrific than I’ve made it sound.

Shy guys … Rhik and his herb chopper

“But really all you need is a knife!” I hear from the back. It is an objection so standard I’m giving it an acronym, Brayniak. It is valid – herb choppers aren’t strictly necessary. But if you want one, this one, with its smooth opening action and tiny locking magnets, is a classy bit of kit. What is it they say about the quiet ones? If you’ve got it, hide it.

Any downside?

Cute name aside, the price is far less modest. Shyness is nice, and shyness can stop you chopping all the herbs you’d like to.

Counter, drawer, back of the cupboard?

On the counter. But don’t look at it! 4/5