How to lift your (blithe) spirits through Lockdown 3

How to lift your (blithe) spirits through Lockdown 3: Our experts’ guide to the most bingeable new boxsets, perfect podcasts, crafty cookery tips and wonderful winter wines could make the latest shutdown a bit less miserable

FLIGHTS OF FANCY 

Paul Thomas, Mail cartoonist and birder

Despite the winter chill, our feathered friends can be a great consolation. The robin, one of the few birds whose song can be heard in January, is the star of many a garden — but my favourite is the redwing, a winter-visiting thrush from Scandinavia.

If you take a trip to the supermarket, you may well be rewarded by the sight of a flock of the much more exotic waxwing (above) feasting on cotoneaster berries, which tend to grow around car parks.

Keep an eye out for the nuthatch, the only bird that can walk down rather than up a tree trunk, thanks to the ways the claws on its feet are arranged. But perhaps the star attraction is the green woodpecker, famed for its ‘laugh’. If that doesn’t lighten your mood in lockdown, nothing will!

The robin, one of the few birds whose song can be heard in January, is the star of many a garden — but my favourite is the redwing (pictured), a winter-visiting thrush from Scandinavia

TOP TELLY TREATS

Christopher Stevens, Mail TV reviewer

Here comes Lockdown Season 3. The good news is that, by telly tradition, the third season is always the best. Game Of Thrones, The Sopranos and Breaking Bad are all proof.

The less good news is that terrestrial TV schedules are struggling. There are some great shows planned for this year, but many have been delayed by Covid restrictions.

So if you’ve been contemplating a plunge into video-on-demand, with a subscription to a streaming TV supplier such as Now TV, Amazon Prime, Apple+, Britbox or Hulu, there will never be a better excuse to indulge.

Netflix has the best shows, including the raunchy costume drama Bridgerton, starring Jonathan Bailey and Julie Andrews, and the chess thriller The Queen’s Gambit, with Anya Taylor-Joy.

Here comes Lockdown Season 3. The good news is that, by telly tradition, the third season is always the best. Pictured: Jeanna de Waal in her role as Princess Diana in Diana: The Musical 

BritBox, the online library of classic UK shows set up jointly by ITV and BBC, regularly adds more material. There’s plenty of glossy recent serials such as Belgravia and Sanditon, as well as stacks of first-rate crime drama: Endeavour, Des, Baptiste, Shetland and much more.

But it’s the old favourites that BritBox subscribers really seem to love. The service’s most popular shows over Christmas were Dad’s Army and Only Fools And Horses.

BBC iPlayer offers a generous selection of boxsets for free, with both modern classics such as the love story Normal People, and shows that are still airing — including Jenna Coleman in the Seventies crime docudrama The Serpent, and Traces, the forensic science thriller.

Among the shows coming up on ITV this month is The Pembrokeshire Murders, a true crime story starring Luke Evans as a Welsh detective hunting a beauty spot killer.

And Keeley Hawes will star in Finding Alice, with Nigel Havers and Joanna Lumley as her parents.

Keeley plays a woman who finds her husband dead at the bottom of the stairs — and then discovers he was leading a double life with horrendous debts to some unpleasant people.

The biggest and strangest spectacle of the year promises to be a Broadway musical based on the scandals of the Royal Family — Diana, Princess Of Wales (Netflix).

Originally scheduled to open last March but postponed when the pandemic closed the theatres, the show stars Jeanna de Waal as Princess Di. Filmed without an audience at the Longacre Theatre in New York, it is expected to air in May. But life will be back to normal by then . . . won’t it?

FEELGOOD READS

Gyles Brandreth, wordsmith and broadcaster

Books are our best friends and we need them now as never before. Go on, re-read Pride And Prejudice. For feelgood comfort reading, Jane Austen really is best.

If traditional detective novels appeal, Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club has all the spirit of Agatha Christie

But if you want something just a tad sharper, I suggest Thackeray’s masterpiece, Vanity Fair, or my favourite novel, Arnold Bennett’s The Old Wives’ Tale.

You can’t get out to meet people during lockdown. Read a good biography and you can encounter the most amazing people in the comfort of your own home. I have just finished Margaret Thatcher (by Charles Moore), Stanley Baxter (by Brian Beacom) and Oscar Wilde (by Matthew Sturgis). Imagine having those three around for dinner. That would be quite a pandemic party.

If traditional detective novels appeal, Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club has all the spirit of Agatha Christie. Lovers of P. G. Wodehouse will relish Ben Schott’s second Jeeves & Wooster novel, while fans of William Boyd will be gripped by his latest, Trio.

It’s important to keep those little grey cells working. Learning poetry by heart is a satisfying way of keeping your synapses in condition and if you simply learn two lines a day, you can memorise a sonnet in a week. The one I am learning now is by the great Derek Mahon: Everything Is Going To Be All Right.

FASHION THRILLERS 

Liz Jones, style expert

Feeling gloomy you have nowhere to go? Think again! There is so much great fashion out there that will lift your spirits, and remind you that you will, one day, be venturing back to the office, out on a date, or to a far-flung clime.

Loungewear Lockdown THREE: It’s more important than ever to be comfy at home, but please do it stylishly, or depression beckons.

Avoid rhino grey, unless you want to be ground into Chinese medicine. And please no cashmere: lounge pants will sag at the knee and bobble quickly. Ditto, ditch sweater dresses and sweatshirt dresses: too draughty and slobby. Forget too, velour by Juicy Couture: too Towie.

The most wanted lounge label for spring is Les Tien, from LA. A hoodie is from £195, bottoms from £185, and everything is lined in fleece, so you feel you never left your bed.

The investment Undoing coat: Off for your mandatory walk? A big, heavy wool coat can be a little overwhelming, and hot, but if you really want to channel Nicole Kidman, why not buy the olive trench from Simply Be, for just £45?

Equally fab but cheaper brands include Iris & Ink and Cos.

Slippers are the new stilettos: The new slipper for the new lockdown is the comfy slide: no backs to tread down, and easy to put on, so you can believe you are tightening your buttocks while padding round the kitchen foraging for food.

Best of all is the chunky sock, scrunched round your ankle like Meg Ryan in Sleepless In Seattle: best by far are Irish wool socks for under £10, from Etsy.

Sweaters: No one to hug? Married to a man who keeps turning down the central heating? Sweaters have never been cosier, or more on trend. Reiss knitwear is great quality: I love a chunky polo neck with a pink border. You can scroll the neck over your head if he opens a window.

By far the best knitwear brand is Smedley: made in Britain, machine washable, never bobbles, from £110, sale now on. Runner up is Navygrey: all sloppy and relaxed, the wool is traceable, and not cashmere but just as soft and more durable, from £150.

The investment Undoing coat: Off for your mandatory walk? A big, heavy wool coat can be a little overwhelming, and hot, but if you really want to channel Nicole Kidman, why not buy the olive trench from Simply Be, for just £45?

Or how about a pea coat? Less weight, and just as warm. I love a wool-blend pea coat by Reiss, £325. The cream is lovely, but navy is more practical if you have dogs.

The puffa coat: Too depressed to leave your duvet? Take it with you! Padded coats are very Val d’Isère, but the good news is, you won’t break a limb. The duvet coat from Next, £85, has a viscose lining, so is feather- and down-free, which is vegan! Fashionable and doing Veganuary, all in one fell swoop.

BLOCKBUSTERS FROM YOUR SOFA  

Brian Viner, Mail film critic

Even though silver screens all over the country have gone dark, our living-rooms have never had it so good. As more and more films go straight to streaming platforms, here are a few crackers to enjoy these next few weeks in the comfort of your home . . .

■ Blithe Spirit (Sky Cinema, from January 15)

Noel Coward’s comic play about the supernatural was turned into a marvellous 1945 film, directed by David Lean and starring the magnificent Margaret Rutherford, jowls all a’tremble, as eccentric medium Madame Arcati.

Today, perhaps only those great dames Maggie Smith and Judi Dench could give us a comparable turn — and in Edward Hall’s remake it’s the latter, with Dan Stevens in the old Rex Harrison role as a novelist who hears the voice of his dead wife during a seance.

Stevens’s breakthrough role was Downton Abbey’s wholesome, frankly rather dull Matthew Crawley, but he was the funniest thing by far in last year’s spoof, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga, and here, again, he proves himself as a winning light comedian.

Blithe Spirit: Noel Coward’s comic play about the supernatural was turned into a marvellous 1945 film, directed by David Lean and starring the magnificent Margaret Rutherford, jowls all a’tremble, as eccentric medium Madame Arcati

■ The Dig (Netflix, from January 29)

Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan are both superb in this charming film, set in the Suffolk summer of 1939, a time even more racked with uncertainty than our own.

But it’s not for that reason that Simon Stone’s film offers perfect lockdown escapism. It’s the compelling true story of how an Anglo-Saxon ship burial, together with treasures of incalculable value not just in monetary terms but also to historians, were discovered by local archaeologist Basil Brown (Fiennes), after wealthy widow Edith Pretty (Mulligan) insisted that strange mounds of earth on her estate, Sutton Hoo, were worth investigating.

■ News Of The World (Netflix, from February 10)

Nothing to do with the defunct newspaper, this is a Western co-written and directed by Paul Greengrass, the Brit much better known for contemporary action thrillers such as the Bourne films. So it should be fun to see what he does with the Old West.

Early reports are that it’s jolly good. And Tom Hanks stars, which is another encouraging sign. He plays an army veteran who earns his corn reading newspapers to illiterate townsfolk, only to find himself at the heart of a major news story concerning a white girl abducted by the Kiowa tribe.

■ Promising Young Woman (likely to stream from Feb 12)

Carey Mulligan again, this time in a provocative contemporary thriller. Here, she plays Cassie (pictured left), who tries to deal with her emotional baggage by getting blind drunk and having dangerous one-night stands. Making her feature debut, the writer-director is Emerald Fennell. As for Mulligan, the word is that she’s brilliant.

■ The Burnt Orange Heresy (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, February 22)

A complex thriller set in the art world and, while no masterpiece, well worth a viewing.

As the sexy American girlfriend of an urbane critic (Danish actor Claes Bang), Elizabeth Debicki gives a splendid performance. It’s also a pleasure to see that old master Donald Sutherland on typically fine form. 

There’s nothing like a song to lift the spirits, and there’s going to be plenty of great music to stream from home in the tough months ahead.

Bee Gee Barry Gibb revisits the greatest songs of his six-decade pop career on a new duets album, Greenfields, out this Friday, teaming up with country stars Dolly Parton, Keith Urban, Olivia Newton-John and others.

For those who prefer the volume a little louder, February brings records from two U.S. rock gods. The month opens with Medicine At Midnight, a new Foo Fighters album, and finishes with veteran rocker Alice Cooper paying a high-octane tribute to his hometown on Detroit Stories.

Fresh from her celebrated lockdown live streams, Sophie Ellis-Bextor also delivered her career-spanning Songs From The Kitchen Disco compilation

February also sees a new album by Sia. The record is the soundtrack to her forthcoming film, Music, and will feature typically theatrical ballads, not to mention some of the catchiest choruses in pop.

One album available on streaming services already is Taylor Swift’s Evermore. The singer’s second surprise album of 2020 arrived in December, and it found her in contemplative mood with subtle songs played on acoustic guitar and piano. An ideal soundtrack for your more reflective moments.

Fresh from her celebrated lockdown live streams, Sophie Ellis-Bextor also delivered her career-spanning Songs From The Kitchen Disco compilation. All perfect pop pick- me-ups for those home workout fans.

PERFECT PODCASTS

Rob Waugh, Mail Plus head of podcasts

Try one of the millions of podcasts on offer — short, radio-style shows, available free on any smartphone or tablet via apps such as Spotify or Apple Podcasts.

■ Left Behind: The Afghan Translators Spotify, iTunes, mailplus.co.uk/radio

This inspiring story tells how a Daily Mail campaign helped save Ricky, an Afghan translator who had been left behind in his native country, facing death threats, after 18 years working for the British Army. Narrated by Jenny Longden it tells the story of how the Government turned a blind eye to the plight of translators and how they were saved.

This enthralling story tells of Dr Ruja Ignatovam (pictured) a cryptocurrency evangelist who promised millions of followers that they would become rich — and then vanished with $4 billion (£3 billion) after hosting an event at Wembley Stadium

■ The Missing Cryptoqueen Spotify, iTunes

This enthralling story tells of Dr Ruja Ignatovam a cryptocurrency evangelist who promised millions of followers that they would become rich — and then vanished with $4 billion (£3 billion) after hosting an event at Wembley Stadium.

■ No Such Thing As A Fish Spotify, iTunes

The researchers behind hit TV quiz QI bring a favourite ‘fact’ to this podcast to discuss — including the bonkers idea that there is no such thing as a fish (some scientists support this, based on how different lifeforms are classified).

■ Grounded With Louis Theroux Spotify, iTunes

Louis has a lively chat with celebrities ranging from Ruby Wax to Rylan Clark-Neal and Helena Bonham Carter. The stars reveal frank details of their lives.

Louis has a lively chat with celebrities ranging from Ruby Wax to Rylan Clark-Neal and Helena Bonham Carter. The stars reveal frank details of their lives

■ Palace Confidential Spotify, iTunes, Audible

Presented by You magazine editor Jo Elvin, this podcast and video series peers under the bonnet of the Royal Family with help from experts such as the Mail’s Richard Eden.

■ True Crime

Spotify, iTunes, mailplus.co.uk/radio

Award-winning crime reporter Stephen Wright explores some of Britain’s most notorious crimes in this powerful, enthralling podcast.

FORGET THE SOURDOUGH TRY SOME WHIM WHAM!  

Prue Leith, Bake Off judge 

If I’m feeling blue, baking something sticky and fattening is the comfort I seek. And using leftovers creatively makes me feel smugly virtuous.

But even if you don’t usually cook, producing something nice to eat can be surprisingly satisfying. Even if you’ve only yourself to please, these simple ideas are worth a try.

Instant Indulgence: Serve warm ginger cake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a sauce made by heating mincemeat with a dash of booze (rum, brandy, sherry, port, liqueur).

Prue Leith: Cooking is my natural cheering-up activity. If I’m frustrated and cross, there is nothing like pummelling the b’jasus out of bread dough

Savoury bread pudding: Fry a large chopped tomato and a chopped red onion with a crushed clove of garlic in a couple of tablespoons of oil until soft and jammy. Chop about 100g leftover cheese (blue, goat, Cheddar, anything). Spread about 250g of any kind of stale, sliced bread with shop-bought pesto sauce.

In a buttered pie dish, layer up the pesto bread slices, the cheese and the tomato mix. Season with lots of black pepper and a little salt as you go. Make a herby custard by whisking together 300ml milk or cream or a mix of the two, three eggs and a handful of chopped fresh herbs. Pour over the bread and leave to soak for half an hour. Then bake at 200c/gas 6 for 25 mins until puffy and brown.

Raspberry Whim Wham: My niece and co-author of The Vegetarian Kitchen, Peta Leith, found this in a National Trust book about old English desserts. It’s heaven.

Savoury bread pudding: Fry a large chopped tomato and a chopped red onion with a crushed clove of garlic in a couple of tablespoons of oil until soft and jammy. Chop about 100g leftover cheese (blue, goat, Cheddar, anything). Spread about 250g of any kind of stale, sliced bread with shop-bought pesto sauce

Dip a few Savoy biscuits (ladies’ fingers) in sweet sherry and lay them in a glass serving dish. Whisk 300ml double cream with 1tbsp sugar, 4tbsp white wine and the grated zest of an orange until stiff enough to just hold its shape.

Spread half of the cream over the biscuits, add a handful of fresh raspberries and/or dot with small blobs of raspberry jam. Repeat with another layer of sherried biscuits, the rest of the cream, a few more raspberries and/or blobs of jam, and a scattering of toasted, flaked almonds.

DRY JANUARY BE DAMNED!  

Jilly Goolden, wine buff extraordinaire

Before I extol the virtues of glorious consoling tipples, I want to celebrate the fact that I have finally found a very nearly non-alcoholic drink I really enjoy.

Like loads of others, I drank a bit more during the first lockdown, so for ‘days off’ I turn to a beer — pale ale to be precise. Adnams Ghost Ship (0.5%) is the first ale I’ve ever had that tastes like the real thing without the kick. Gorgeous straight from the fridge in its hoppy, malty way. Waitrose, £1.90.

Jilly Goolden: Before I extol the virtues of glorious consoling tipples, I want to celebrate the fact that I have finally found a very nearly non-alcoholic drink I really enjoy

So much for halo burnishing, more often than not you will want something with a little more to it. Call me a lush — but for me bubbles hit the spot more accurately than anything else. For the best fizz at an affordable price Cava is the go-to — superior in every way.

Cava can be very traditional and Spanish or more international with chardonnay in the mix, such as the ultra-dry, grown-up Sainsbury’s Cava Brut Nature (£9), smooth and delicious.

Another brilliant sparkler is the elegant Crémant de Jura, 100% chardonnay with its peachy notes and a slick of mille feuille (£8.49, Aldi). So good! But not as good as English fizz.

There may well be days ahead that feel even more locked down than others, when you really need a pick-me-up.

I suggest having a stash of English sparkling wine such as the delicious Chapel Down (£22, M&S) standing by — classic recipe, classic notes of toast and soft fruit. Salivating just to think of it.

Last lockdown, those lazy hazy days of spring, rosé and very cold, very dry white did an excellent job of spirit lifting, but this time it’s altogether more brooding and overcast, and calls out more for a comforting red.

And there are few more comforting reds than Portuguese Douro and Spanish Priorat. Both come in a huge range of prices but presumably you will not want to invest massively in shaking the blues.

Douro red wine is made from port grape varieties and is sumptuously aromatic and fruity and rich without being so alcoholic. Crasto Douro red 2013 (Majestic, £10.79) is singing with rich, dark berry fruit, as is the more modest Tesco Douro red at £6.

Priorat is the fanciest little-known treasure from Spain. You can have a taste of bliss for £14.95 from Jeroboams with Petit Pissares 2017.

GARDENING PUTS A SPRING IN YOUR STEP  

Constance Craig Smith, green-fingered guru

It may not feel like it — but now the days are getting longer again, all sorts of interesting things are happening in the garden, a sign that spring isn’t that far away. Here are a few things you can do over the coming weeks:

  • It’s not too late to plant tulips. Get them in a pot now. They will be in flower by late April of May.
  • Now is a good time to order the seeds to sow from early March. Choose easy-to-grow hardy annuals such as sweet peas, nigella, marigolds and larkspur. Good seed suppliers include chilternseeds.co.uk, higgledygarden.com and thompson-morgan.com.
  • Don’t beat yourself up if your garden is untidy. Piles of leaves and old stems make great shelters for insects. Wait for a warm spring day to have a big tidy-up.
  • Winter is one of the best times for fragrance, thanks to the flowers of viburnum, mahonia, witch hazel and the winter honeysuckle. Plan to make room for them in your garden.
  • If you want something flowering indoors, invest in an amaryllis bulb for beautiful flowers in shades of red, pink, white and orange. In supermarkets or online at peternyssen.com.

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