Sweden will host a women-only music festival in the summer of 2018, after a successful crowdfunding campaign raised more than 500,000 Swedish krona (£47,000) for the venture, from 3,300 people.
Statement festival, which forbids cis men, comes in the wake of a series of sexual assaults at Swedish music festivals such as Bråvalla and Putte I Parken. There were four rapes and 23 sexual assaults at this year’s edition of Bråvalla, leading the event to be cancelled next year.
The organisers of Statement have railed against “year after year” of unsafe events for women. In their plea for crowdfunding, they wrote: “Help us to create a safe space for the people who want to attend a festival without feeling scared for their personal safety.”
Statement will allow cis women, trans women and those who identify as non-binary to attend. An update on the project’s Kickstarter page said the crowdfunding revenue would secure an as yet undisclosed venue for the festival.
The festival is being organised by Swedish comedian Emma Knyckare, who originally wrote on Twitter following the Bråvalla attacks: “What do you think about putting together a really cool festival where only non-men are welcome that we’ll run until ALL men have learned how to behave themselves?”
My husband and I both studied and lived abroad for many years, and we can honestly say what we find in supermarkets here [in Romania] is not food. Lots of people become vegetarians only because they fear the quality of the meat and meat products available. Many say certain products contain no meat at all. The taste is horrible, the texture questionable, and the cats and dogs refuse to eat it.
Frozen pizzas are smaller here and don’t taste as good, orange juice has less real oranges in it, and nobody touches the fish fingers. It’s scary when even the fruit available is obviously full of hormones. We had a grapefruit for a while and it became an experiment to see if it would ever go bad. After four months we gave up and threw it away – but it still looked fresh.
It’s like they can deliver whatever product and call it food, because we don’t know any better. Check out life expectancy in Romania and why it’s so low. We feel like less than human when we can’t choose to eat healthy food. As to the claim that brands adjust their products to the local taste, I would like to comment that here in eastern Europe, we don’t prefer to eat garbage. Ana, Romania
‘Spitting in the face of consumers’
Visit the border towns in Burgenland at the weekend and you’ll see shops in this once dead-end part of Austria packed with shoppers from Slovakia seeking good-quality products, even for a higher price. The argument about “different local tastes” is spitting in the face of all consumers here. If companies are so sure of this argument, I challenge them to offer both types of products and see how sales go. But the monopoly is something they fear to lose, so unless forced, they won’t. Oliver, Slovakia
‘There is no issue with these products’
As a market researcher, I used to work at different companies in Hungary. There is simply no issue with these products. These companies want to serve the local communities: they produce different varieties, test these on customers, and find out which is the best one they can sell with profit. If it tastes a bit different so be it, as long as this difference doesn’t cause any harm and the products are still considered edible. I think it’s simply [Hungarian prime minister] Viktor Orbán and his spin-doctor’s attempt to blame the EU and the west for something that is the result of globalisation and cultural differences. Imre, Hungarian living in UK
‘The yoghurt contained flour’
There have been rumours about food and product inequality for many years here [in Hungary]. In Geneva I bought a yoghurt, and the consistency was entirely different to the same product I bought in Budapest. Later I learned from a friend in Hungary who had flour intolerance that he was not allowed to eat this brand of yoghurt in Hungary because it contained flour! Another example: the liquid detergent I bought in Budapest is less thick and more transparent, as if it were a diluted version of the same brand we bought in Geneva and Zurich. Anna, Hungary
These practices have a more dangerous consequence. It has turned many people in this part of the world against “Europe”, and allowed the authoritarian president to whip up “anti-western” sentiments. These companies are to a large degree responsible for the poor relations that now exist between the different countries in Europe. David, Russia
‘Dumpster of the EU food market’
I visit western Europe once or twice a year. The same products, marketed under the same name, are of inferior quality in Romania than in Germany or France or the UK. Not just prepackaged foods but fruit, vegetables and meat as well, when comparing brands available from the same chain of supermarkets. When I hear the excuse of catering to “local tastes”, I start to hyperventilate. Nobody has an appetite for inferior food – and the solution is, most of the time, “add more sugar”. If you add to this the fact that food is generally more expensive in Romania, you get a clearer picture of why Romanians might think they are considered the dumpster of the EU food market. Dorin, Romania
‘Only their hypocrisy upsets me’
How convenient “local tastes” are: more sugar, lower percentage of fruit, lower percentage of meat; never vice-versa. But it makes sense. People want to buy western brands because it makes them feel good – but if western companies delivered their standard products, they would be too expensive for local consumers. If these companies wanted to be honest and create a sub-standard local brand, then advertising would be far more expensive than just adapting the existing brand. The natural solution was controlled damage to their standard brands. It’s only their hypocrisy, pretending that this is the “local taste”, that upsets me. Mihai, Romania
‘Inferior comfort food’
I have one particular product that triggered my (amateur) research on the topic: frozen pizza. It was my favourite comfort food. Suddenly it looked and tasted different, definitely inferior. I also noticed that, for the first time, the cooking instructions were not in German, Dutch, English or Spanish. Instead, they were in the languages of central and eastern Europe. Years later I lived in the Netherlands, and noticed the same pizzas looked like the old versions I loved. Comparing the boxes, I noticed the “western” pizza contained seven slices of cheese, compared to five in the “eastern” version. The eastern pizza weighed less, but contained more saturated fats and sugar; hence also more calories. Lara, Slovenia
‘Laundry will never smell as good’
In Poland you can find shops reselling goods bought in Germany, especially cleaning products and chocolate. My uncle in Germany still brings washing products for my mum. Your laundry will never smell as good and for as long if you use Polish versions of washing liquid brands. My cousins were always jealous of my nice-smelling clothes (now they get their washing products from Germany too). Roza, Pole living in France
‘Salmon is a disgrace’
One of the biggest culprits is fish – salmon is a disgrace in the Czech Republic. It is usually cooled to a point before it freezes, then thawed before being passed off as fresh salmon. The cooling data and thawing is written on the side of boxes – but the retailers take advantage of the fact consumers cannot generally read English-language storage instructions. Savvy buyers know to buy goods where labels on products have Czech language labels stuck over the original text. This means the product that is sold in western markets is identical to the Czech market product. Nigel, Czech Republic
‘Cling film doesn’t cling’
We’ve known for years the goods here are of lower quality, but are sold at greater cost. Well-known brands of wine that are “bottled” in the Czech Republic taste rancid compared to their UK counterparts. Toilet paper is rough, flimsy and will actually give you paper cuts. Cling film doesn’t cling, stock cubes add no flavour. Maie, Czech Republic
‘Capitalism hasn’t delivered’
We are used to buying basic groceries in the west and transporting them to our home countries. The tediousness of it contributed to the end of communism. However, it seems capitalism hasn’t delivered “what we paid for” either. Sandra, Slovenia
Food industry statement
We take the accusations of alleged “dual quality” very seriously. Consumers are core to our business, and equally important wherever they are. It must also be stressed that whatever the recipe, our food always meets European standards and remains the safest in the world. The companies currently in the spotlight have rigorous quality management systems in place to ensure consistent quality across their brands, all over the world. The composition of products may sometimes be slightly different between countries for various reasons, but this does not necessarily imply “dual” or “inferior” quality between east and west European markets. For example, differences in composition can also found between the UK and France, or between Italy and Sweden. Florence Ranson from FoodDrinkEurope, the industry’s lobby group in Brussels
From the sky, the Stockholm archipelago looks benign. More than 30,000 islands spread off the Swedish coastline in the Baltic Sea. In the Summer, they’re the islands of love, packed with holidaymakers. Today, it’s early September and the weather is a little rough: winds, swell and constant rain.
I’m on a safety boat, following the progress of one of the world’s toughest adventure races, the ÖtillÖ (“ö till ö”, or island to island), where participants racing as a team of two must run and swim across 26 of the islands, from Sandhamn to Utö. A total of 75km, if you manage to navigate the currents and rocks in a straight-ish line.
They call this a swimrun. A race that alternates multiple times between swimming and running. You can’t stop and change kit during the race, which means running in your wetsuit – usually cut above the knee – and swimming with your shoes on. It might sound odd, but the chance to race across rugged and often wild landscapes easily makes up for this inconvenience.
Six years ago the sport didn’t even exist. There was just the ÖtillÖ race, invented by a group of Swedes on Utö looking for a challenge. But as word of the annual event spread, it picked up imitators and, through one of its early competitors Erika Rosenbaum, the name swimrun.
Now it’s one of the fastest growing endurance sports in the world, with more than 100 events in Europe alone. The world’s best teams still come back to the ÖtillÖ every year, either through qualifying events or a lucky ballot, for what is classified as the swimrun world championship.
I had tried out a shorter version of the course two days before the race with one of the ÖtillÖ founders, Jesper Andersson. The race had originated as a challenge between Andersson, his brother and two other friends, competing in pairs, to beat each other to reach the island of Sandhamn. That spirit of camaraderie and teamwork, as well as safety, is the reason the majority of swimrun events continue as team-only races.
The other tactic most teams use is to keep a line between each other. Under race rules, competitors can’t be more than 10 metres apart at any point in time. For the swim, especially on a day of rough seas, this makes sense as an elastic rope keeps you from drifting apart and also allows one to draft the other, saving energy.
But being in a pair doesn’t stop things going awry. A large chunk of our time watching the race was spent chasing after competitors swimming in the wrong direction. The problem point for many was the so-called ‘pig swim’. A mile long stretch of open sea from the islands of Mörtöklobb to Kvinnholmen notorious for its difficulty. With winds of 20 knots, countless teams were thrown off-course by waves and currents. They look startled and disoriented as Andersson shouted at them from the safety boat.
The harsh weather did not relent from dawn to dusk. We could only watch in sympathy as teams coming off a later swim beached themselves on rocks. Tired from their exertions in the sea, they had aimed for the first rocky outcrop. It was a false hope. They faced either a slippery time-wasting traverse to the shore, or jumping back into the sea and trying to fight their way through waves to an easier exit point closer to land.
“These are good athletes, but they are getting stressed as things don’t go to plan. That’s the challenge of this sport,” said Andersson, “It’s not just about how fast you can run or swim, but about how you deal with the elements and manoeuvre into and out of the water.”
I’d had my own lesson two days earlier after confidently taking the lead on a shorter swim section. I was roughly following the direction of a team just ahead before losing sight of them. As I neared the shoreline rocks on the other side, I heard laughing behind and a tug on the rope. I’d taken the wrong route around a tiny rocky island outcrop and was now engaged in a futile attempt at swimming against a current to get to a shoreline less than 20 metres away. Andersson pointed to the nearest rocks and said we had better exit there and make our way back to the course.
Back on land wasn’t the easy part for competitors. The longest run was just under 20km, with the terrain a mix of rocks, woodlands and hills. There were directional markers on the course, but sometimes you had to pick your own route over sections. Mistakes can quickly lead to an argument for the team that ends up in bog or making an unnecessary detour.
Given the ordeal that faced them, it was surprising to discover later that only 30 of 148 teams starting the race had failed to make the finish, missing cutoff times or pulling out on the course. The winning team – a pair of Swedes whose men and women dominate the sport – made it home in under eight hours. A record despite the hostile weather.
After them the real story of swimrun was taking place, with teams crossing the finish line locked in an embrace, tears of joy and relief. It was near darkness for the final team, home after almost 14 hours of racing, a gentle hand on the lower back helping to propel a clearly exhausted teammate to the end.
It’s that time of year when thousands of fashion buyers, press and “digital influencers” decamp to London to take in the catwalk shows that will shape what we wear come spring.
On Wednesday, the Polish brand Reserved put on a show of its own, hiring Kate Moss to draw the fashion crowd to its debut store on London’s Oxford Street, where 120 million shoppers pass by each year.
Billed as Poland’s answer to Topshop, the retailer is ploughing an initial £50m into breaking the UK market, paying a high price for the cavernous former BHS department store it believes will, literally, provide it with a shop window to the world.
“London is a bridge to a new world of very competitive fashion for us,” says Marek Piechocki, who co-founded the fashion brand in the days after communist rule ended in Poland in 1989. “It is a mirror for the whole world and will prove whether we can stand strong alongside our biggest competitors.”
But gaining a foothold in the UK high street is not without risk. High shop rents and intense competition make the big prize of the £36bn that Britons spend each year on clothing elusive. After trumpeting their arrival three years ago the US chain American Eagle threw in the towel this summer. Gap-owned Banana Republic quit the UK last year. Another US brand Forever 21 has also been closing stores after setting up shop in 2010.
The big successes of recent years have been online specialists, such as Boohoo and Asos, which are going from strength to strength.
“I know, I know,” sighs Piechocki, reacting to the list of failures. “But when you look at these American companies they are offering a classic look with a college style that is more or less repeating forever. The European customer is completely different. I believe we are one of the European leaders in fashion forward clothing.”
Reserved has signed a 10-year lease worth £42m to secure its prized spot on London’s most important shopping street. If the retailer is Poland’s Topshop, then Piechocki must be its de facto Philip Green, albeit a tall, slim, uncontroversial version with a degree in civil engineering from the Gdańsk University of Technology.
“During communist times we were having coupons for everything,” Piechocki explains. “There was nothing in the shops. There was big demand for everything, particularly garments.
“In 1989 when we got a container load of 20,000 shirts, customers would be queuing up and paying cash,” he says. “Then we were having a whole table of cash and the next day we could go and buy more.”
Around half of parent company LPP’s 6bn zloty (£1.3bn) annual sales hail from Reserved stores with the rest rung up by its four other brands: Mohito, House, Cropp and Sinsay. Reserved’s pitch is to 20- to 40-year-old British shoppers with “accessible and affordable on-trend pieces” such as the £40 faux leather jackets and £20 skinny jeans among its autumn ranges.
Piechocki describes its women’s fashion – its also offers men’s and childrenswear – as “more feminine” than the likes of H&M with an “eastern European twist” on current trends. Its in-house designers use graphics inspired by Poland’s famous heritage in poster art to give the brand a point of difference.
Against all odds …
It is easy to forget that international retailers such as Sweden’s H&M and Spanish export Zara, which are now a ubiquitous presence on the British high street, also got lost in translation when they opened their first stores.
“The Zara sizing was quite wrong – because we are much bigger than the Spanish or the French,” says Maureen Hinton, a retail analyst at consultancy GlobalData. “But because the company takes a lot of feedback from its store managers it was able to adapt.
“American Eagle and Forever 21 were not different enough to what is already here. Zara and H&M are much stronger brands … there’s a lot of competition and you’ve got to stand out from the crowd.”
After touring the Reserved store, another GlobalData analyst reported back that it was a “bit hit and miss” in style terms, with strong casualwear and workwear ranges undermined by what she viewed as the damning presence of “snoods and waterfall cardigans”.
H&M opened its first store in 1976 and now has 280 stores including new brands Arket and Weekday, which opened their first stores in London last month. Inditex-owned Zara now has 110 stores including sister brands Massimo Dutti and Pull & Bear.
“Zara doesn’t advertise so when the store opened on Regent Street nobody knew the brand and it struggled to recruit staff,” explains one fashion insider. “Shoppers didn’t understand what it was offering because the stores looked upmarket, which frightened people off. When the next stores opened in Bluewater and Reading the sales figures were shocking.
“I think Reserved will succeed or fail based on quality and price points of product,” the experienced fashion executive added. “I have experience of fashion retailing in eastern Europe and to my mind it’s a very specific taste that doesn’t necessarily work in the UK.”
Reserved has created the 150-piece Redesign specifically tailored to UK shoppers and the Oxford Street store will be receiving new drops of clothing twice a week. Bestsellers can be repeated in its Polish factories within three weeks.
Today LPP is one of Poland’s biggest listed companies with 1,700 shops covering swaths of eastern Europe. Once the retailer has honed its UK formula, Piechocki says more stores will follow – he is still a firm believer in the power of bricks and mortar, even in a digital age.
Despite the odds seemingly stacked against Reserved, Piechocki is quietly determined to conquer the British high street. “We have never withdrawn from any market in 25 years,” he says, before citing the phrase “never, never, never give up”, borrowed from Churchill.
“This is such a crucial step for the company because if we can succeed in London there is no other city in the world where we cannot be successful.”
The appointment reflects a wider trend on the high street. A walk down London’s Regent Street quickly shows exactly how Swedish our shopping streets have become – and how they are dominated by the H&M Group. A large branch of H&M stands at Oxford Circus and if shoppers were to walk south stores owned by H&M group proliferate: there’s & Other Stories, the high street home of wearable quirk, and Cos, which has been the destination for affordable minimalism for 10 years. Monki is around the corner on Carnaby Street, selling slogan T-shirts and quirky prints to the Instagram generation.
Weekday opened last Friday with denim and understated streetwear aimed at millennials and this week shoppers will get another taste of Sweden with the opening of Arket on Regent Street. The new brand from H&M is grownup fashion to which Cos customers can graduate. The price points will be slightly higher than Cos – up to just over £100 according to industry website Business of Fashion – while the store will work like a market, with homewares and a cafe expected. Arket’s creative director Ulrika Bernhardtz says the brand aims to be about “timeless, crisp quality and warmth”. Another H&M-honed brand is expected next year and H&M Home standalone stores are planned.
Graeme Moran, the head of fashion and features at Drapers magazine, says there’s a commercial appeal to the clothes that these brands typically produce. “At the end of the day, I think it’s popular because most people want a nice simple navy jumper or a well-made white shirt,” he says. “It’s wearable fashion without the capital F.”
Sweden has long sold its look to other countries, says Moran, and that might be why Arket is launching in London before Sweden. “It’s harder to sell that [the Swedish aesthetic] back to the Swedish people. It appeals to us because it’s clean, pared back.”
This plays into the Swedish concept of lagom which loosely translates as “just enough”. The high fashion Stockholm-based brand Acne, which now shows at Paris fashion week, is a leader in this field. It could be credited with starting the millennial pink trend in a typically understated way – the bags into which staff slip your purchases are in that ubiquitous shade.
Adrian Clark, the style director of Shortlist, also points beyond fashion to show how all-pervasive the Swedish philosophy of design has become: “There’s a deep-rooted idea, in companies like Ikea, that design needs to be fit for purpose and modern.” Ikea, of course, is having a fashion moment of its own, with a homage to its 40p Frakta bag sold by buzzy catwalk label Balenciaga for £1,365.
The appointment of Hagglund could be Topshop realising that he might bring a point of view that is more sellable in different territories. “Topshop have always had that really British girl image so maybe this is about a more international handwriting,” says Moran. “It’s really well-timed anyway because Scandinavia is having a moment.”
Thought to be worth up to £12bn, Swedish rival H&M is now 70 years old, and its main shareholder and chairman is Sweden’s richest person, Stefan Persson, who has a fortune of £28bn. It began in 1947 with one store, Hennes – Swedish for “her” – in the central Swedish city of Västerås. It expanded in the 1970s, and the first store outside Scandinavia opened in London in 1976. It now has more than 3,000 stores across the world.
Clark sees the growth of a portfolio of stores from the group as a way for it to keep its relevance across demographics. “The H&M Group is almost unique in the way they think, ‘which niche have we not covered in regards to consumer profile?’” he says. “They are very clever at identifying not just the trends in fashion but how we’re living our lives and how we shop.”
Some see the launch of Arket as a way for H&M to diversify. The H&M Group has had disappointing financial results. While sales were up in the first quarter of this year, profits fell by 3.5%.
A phrase really jumped out at me from a newspaper last week. The Times said a recent survey into Spanish attitudes to Britain, conducted by the tourism agency Visit Britain, “found that only 12% of Spaniards considered the UK to be the best place for food and drink”. That, I thought to myself, may be the most extraordinary use of the word “only” I have ever seen.
Has its meaning recently flipped? Has it been warped by an internet hashtag or ironic usage by rappers? Is it like how “bad” or “wicked” can mean good, and actors receiving awards use the word “humbled” to mean “incredibly impressed with myself”? Because, if “only” still means what I think it means, the paper is implying it expected more than 12% of the people of Spain to think Britain was “the best place for food and drink”.
That’s quite a slur on the Spanish. How delusional did it expect them to be? What percentage of them would it expect to think the world was flat? I know we’re moving into a post-truth age, but 12% of a culinarily renowned nation considering Britain, the land of the Pot Noodle and the garage sandwich, to be the world’s No 1 destination for food and drink is already a worrying enough finding for the Spanish education system to address. It would be vindictive to hope for more.
But it seems that’s what Visit Britain and the Foreign Office are going for. Last week the British ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley, donned a union jack apron and went on the hit Spanish cookery programme El Comidista to advocate British cuisine and try to change the perceptions of the 88% of the Spanish population still currently in their right minds. It was his second appearance on the programme: the first was last year when he was “summoned” to explain Jamie Oliver’s heretical addition of chorizo to paella. He responded with a recipe for roast chicken with mustard.
This is all very jocular and a welcome distraction from Gibraltar, but I hope Visit Britain doesn’t get carried away with this food push. I really don’t think the 12% figure is one it should be disappointed with, even if, on closer examination of the survey, the respondents didn’t actually say they thought Britain was “the best place for food and drink”, just that sampling the food and drink would be a motivation for choosing the UK for a holiday.
Maybe some of the 12% are enthusiastic food anthropologists whose motivation for going anywhere is to try the food and drink. They’ve consumed everything from yak testicles to locust wee, so fascinated are they by humankind’s huge range of nourishment techniques. A bit of academic interest, and the memory of a disappointing white ant egg soup or crispy tarantula, might really help soften the blow of a first baffled visit to the salad cart at a Harvester.
You may say I’m talking Britain down, and I’m certainly not talking it up. I would argue, though, that I’m talking it along. Food here is OK. Or rather, it’s sometimes terrible and sometimes delicious but usually neither and it averages out as fine. Lots of us are really fat now – that’s got to be a good sign.
I think the host of El Comidista, Mikel López Iturriaga, got it about right when he said: “For many Spaniards, British food is the ultimate example of bad international cuisine…” – and there are many outlets on the Costa Del Sol that work tirelessly to recreate that flavour for British visitors – “…but I think that everything has improved substantially in recent years, and today it is much easier to find decent food.” So decent food is now available. That’s not a reason to pick Britain as a holiday destination – but it’s a reason not to be afraid to.
And our ambassador betrayed weaknesses in our cooking, even as he spoke up for it: “The idea is to combat the stereotype about British food and drink and promote the idea that we take ideas from around the world and we adapt them for this cosmopolitan cuisine we know today.”
What does that mean? Despairing of our grim native fare, we steal dishes from other countries and slightly ruin them? Put chorizo in the paella and cream in the bolognese and make baguettes with the consistency of sponge? Or was he saying that our comparative dearth of culinary excellence has allowed us a greater open-mindedness to other cultures’ food traditions, which has now dragged our own food standards slightly closer to par?
If you work in the catering industry, you may well be screaming at me for unjustly perpetuating this country’s no-longer-deserved reputation for shit grub. I’m sorry, and I almost certainly don’t mean you: there is, as I say, brilliant food to be had in Britain. There always has been, I suppose, but I’m sure there’s more of it now.
But the stereotype bemoaned by the ambassador has its basis in truth: delicious food has never been a cultural priority. In our collective national soul, we don’t believe that the niceness of meals is that important. Perhaps on special occasions, but not every day. So we get more crumbs in our keyboards than European neighbours such as France and Italy, which the 12% of Spaniards looking for gastronomic holidays would be well advised to visit first.
The fact that food has improved in Britain is a sign, not of a major change in those cultural priorities, but of two other factors: how international we’ve become and our competitive spirit. The food has been brought up to standard, for the same reasons that we’ve put in proper coffee machines and wifi – to show we’re keeping up. We proudly note how highly the restaurants of chefs like Heston Blumenthal come in international rankings even as we peel the film off our microwave dinners. In food, as in cycling, Britain can now win.
As most Spaniards noted in the survey, there are better reasons to go to Britain than the food: the history, the castles, the stately homes, the museums, the countryside, the coastline, the concerts, the theatre, the cities. We have an interesting country, an interesting past and we’re an interesting people: no nastier than most and hard to ignore. And, for better or worse, what we are, what we have, and whatever it is that our culture represents, comes from centuries of working through lunch.
With Boris Johnson busy comparing traditional Māori greetings to Glaswegian pub fights and Liam Fox venturing into the chlorinated henhouse, the task of restoring the reputation of Britain’s diplomacy and cuisine fell to the UK’s ambassador to Madrid.
Simon Manley hit on a novel solution: why not build bridges by meddling with that most sacred of Spanish dishes, the tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette), on Spanish TV?
After all, things had not gone so badly for Jamie Oliver that time he decided to add chorizo to paella, had they?
Appearing on the late-night Spanish cooking programme El Comidista, Manley, 49, boldly dismissed suggestions that some formulas should never be messed with.
The show’s host, Mikel Iturriaga, who had entered the ambassador’s residence “on a diplomatic mission to defend Spanish omelette”, was having none of it.
“You do some pretty awful things with Spanish omelette over there,” he said. “And it’s an emblematic dish for us.”
Not for the first time, the worst transgressors were deemed to be Oliver and those who “commit atrocities” by adding chorizo, cheese, raw onion and, perhaps most egregiously, coriander.
To settle the matter, Iturriaga offered to cook Manley a tortilla in the ambassador’s kitchen. Before he could get through the door, however, he was politely force-fed a selection of premium cheddars washed down with beer from Cornwall and Suffolk.
“Don’t worry,” said the ambassador, “the beers aren’t really warm”.
In what only a cynic could imagine was a scripted remark, Iturriaga posited that beer was being served because there was no decent wine in the UK.
Al contrario, replied the ambassador, without missing a beat. “Thanks to climate change and some important investment, we’ve got some really great wines right now, especially sparkling wines,” he said.
Had Manley been an Italian diplomat, he would have been juggling Ferrero Rocher and well into the second verse of O Sole Mio by now.
Once finally in the kitchen and issued with a regulation union flag apron – “revenge for the Spanish Armada?” wondered Iturriaga – the demonstration began.
Potatoes were sliced, eggs gently cracked into a bowl and a terrifying quantity of extra virgin olive oil decanted into a frying pan. A few minutes later, Iturriaga turned out a perfect, pale golden tortilla.
And then, out of nowhere, came the bombshell. “I’ve made a tortilla too,” declared Manley. “A British tortilla using the recipe from our famous Jamie Oliver.”
The Spaniard’s eyes fell on the edible interloper with all the enthusiasm of a foreign visitor being pressed to try Marmite for the first time. Iturriaga’s hand flew, reflexively, to his brow.
“¡Madre mía! That really doesn’t look like a Spanish tortilla,” he said.
“Looks good, though, doesn’t it?” asked Manley.
“I’m not prejudiced. Let’s try it. Man, it’s got chorizo in it. How weird,” the host commented.
“Tasty, no?” said Manley.
Iturriaga glanced at the camera to deliver an extraordinarily non-committal “very tasty”.
With that, they adjourned to the dining room to solicit the opinion of a Spanish chef who managed to spot the difference between the two men’s efforts in a millisecond: “One’s a cake and one’s a Spanish omelette.”
The only truly awkward moment in the episode had come moments earlier when Iturriaga stressed the importance of slicing some of the potatoes more thinly than others.
“That’s easier if you have a mandolin,” said the Spaniard. “I bet the French embassy has a mandolin.”
Like Gaudi’s modernist architecture or the stunning view to the Mediterranean, the hundreds of unlicensed sellers flogging a range of pirated luxury goods on street corners are a sight visitors to Barcelona cannot fail to notice.
Known as “top manta” because of the blanket (manta) they lay their fake designer wares on, most of the sellers are African men who made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean, and scratch a living illegally by selling knock-off handbags, clothes and sunglasses to well-heeled tourists.
This week, however, the manteros announced they had created their own fashion label called Top Manta in an attempt to leave the forgeries behind and remove the stigma they have suffered. Their logo is, of course, a blanket.
“We also wanted it to look a bit like a canoe, which is the form of transport by which most of us arrived in Europe,” Aziz Fayé, a spokesman for the recently formed Union of Street Sellers, said at the label’s launch at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies cultural centre and museum this week.
Fayé said the union was still running quality control tests on T-shirts and was looking for a supplier, but sourcing trainers for the label was less of a problem; the label will buy exactly the same pirated Nike and Adidas trainers sold in the street now but with its own logo.
The sellers would like to add bags and mobile phone covers to the collection eventually, but in the meantime they are seeking financial backing.
“We’ve more or less sorted out the suppliers,” said Fayé. “What matters is that the manteros start selling Top Manta products instead of the shoes and T-shirts they’re selling now.”
Of the 400 manteros estimated to be operating in the city, around half have said they will begin selling the products within weeks. They also hope to sell their goods in markets, rather than on street corners.
The union was set up two years ago in an effort to improve the fortunes of manteros – largely undocumented migrants from Senegal, Sierra Leone, Mauritania and Mali excluded from the mainstream labour force – and try to legitimise their fundamentally illegal trade.
“Things have improved since the union was created but there’s still a lot to do,” said Fayé. “We’re still persecuted by the police who prevent us from selling but if we don’t sell we can’t survive.”
Though they are pursued by police and local authorities throughout Catalonia, there is a grudging respect for manteros among many of Barcelona’s residents.
Piracy is rife in Spain and little frowned upon. The manteros buy their supplies from warehouses run by Chinese importers in Badalona, a few miles north of Barcelona. Copies of Nike and Adidas trainers are imported but without logos, thus evading charges of piracy. Manteros buy the so-called “white copies” and the logos separately, which they attach themselves.
Barcelona’s leftwing government has had a contradictory relationship with the group. On the one hand, they have responded to police demands for a tougher clampdown on the illegal activity, partly fuelled by fears that that the spectacle of hundreds of poor African street merchants is bad for the city’s image.
On the other hand, this year the city council committed €800,000 (£700,000) over the next three years to establishing Diomcoop, a cooperative selling artisanal and recycled goods established by 15 former manteros.
Ndaye Fatou Mbaye, the Senegalese Diomcoop president, said he hoped it would help make manteros visible and demonstrate that “there are values and dignity behind the blanket”.
By first organising themselves as a collective and now producing their own merchandise, Faye said the traders were fighting prejudice and inequality.
“What was once an act of discrimination, calling us ‘top manta’, no longer is. Now we’re reclaiming and dignifying the concept. For us it’s a term of solidarity, struggle and acceptance,” he said.
“I’d like the T-shirts to carry our slogan – survival is not a crime – on the back.”
Madrid’s transport authorities are taking a stand against seated male selfishness with a campaign to tackle the social scourge that is manspreading.
Fed up with men whose thighs fail to respect the boundaries of bus seats, the Spanish capital’s Municipal Transport Company (EMT) is to put up signs discouraging the practice.
The EMT – which explains that “el manspreading” is “an English term that describes the posture of men who open their legs too wide and take up neighbouring seats” – said the new signs are intended to remind people of the need to respect the space of all bus passengers.
Their petition, which has more than 11,500 signatures, says: “All public transport has stickers explaining that room needs to be made for pregnant women, people with buggies, older people and those with disabilities, but there’s something that affects all of us practically every time we use public transport: manspreading.”
With reference to Barbara Hanley’s letter (Not German enough to become a citizen, 14 June) let me give you an idea of how the British government handled women’s citizenship claims. In 1969, as a 19-year-old, I came to the UK from Poland hoping to join my British-born mother. My father was a Polish pilot who fought with the RAF during the second world war. At that time British female citizens could not pass on their citizenship to their children, and I was only allowed to stay in the UK because my mother’s second husband, who was a British citizen, signed some form of guarantees.
I found all this funny because I was 19 and he did not know me at all. But he and his brother duly traipsed off to the local police station, where he signed something that made me his responsibility. I have no idea what this document was, but the experience petrified the living daylights out of him. He certainly believed he had become responsible for something akin to live ordnance. I still was not given citizenship rights, but was allowed to stay with my mother. Prof Anita Prazmowska London
• This article was amended on 16 June 2017 to remove a mistaken reference to James Callaghan being prime minister in 1973.