Thursday, 29 October 2009


I can no longer pretend to be young. I celebrate my birthday in tacit agreement that no one will be so ill-mannered to enquire as to the particular anniversary, and Mr Trefusis has kindly taught Trefusis Minor to tell everyone that I'm thirty-five. But then, as Oscar Wilde once wrote, 'no woman should ever be quite accurate about her age. It looks so calculating'.

I've been gazing at my aging navel lately. Time slips through my fingers, yet winds itself around the body. I find I can no longer defy the signs of aging, despite the exortations to do so from the Olay adverts. Some of it is insidious, like the slow contagion of reading glasses amongst my closest friends: our book group has been meeting for more than fifteen years, yet in the last six months, I've noticed that as soon as we start talking about the latest book, seven pairs of spectacles are simultaneously repositioned on noses. Some of it is merely the inevitable triumph of comfort over style: no one my age ever bothers to try and walk anywhere in taxi shoes - we simply adopt a large enough handbag in which to hide the spare flats, and hop back into the heels round the corner from the destination. The list of aging evidence is seemingly endless. Oh, God - everything - modern music is just TOO LOUD, particularly in clothes shops, and I wore all the fashions the first time round. I even found myself looking longingly at a KitchenAid mixer in the John Lewis catalogue - the last time I looked longingly at anything in region of four hundred quid, it was a pair of killingly high raspberry-glacé Louboutins. Actually, I'm not dead yet: they're much nicer than a KitchenAid, and just as inaccessibly priced.

Until shamefully recently, I was rabidly anxious about getting older: I loathed the creeping lines on my face, and my white, skinny, Ancient Mariner hands. I hated myself for both being absurdly perked up by a shout of 'Oy! Darlin'!' from White-Van-Man and for resenting the fact that I was no longer the woman at the party the men wanted to talk to. I felt the missed opportunities of youth too keenly: I longed to get back the time when life was all potential, when it was still a rehearsal. I wanted to smash something when Kazuo Ishiguro said that it dawned on him that most of the literary masterpieces had been written by people under forty. So I pretended to myself that it wasn't happening: I grew my hair defiantly long. I had vats of botox pumped into my forehead. The effects were superficial: I was still the same person inside.

But lately, there has been rather a change. I am, for the first time in my life, genuinely bien dans ma peau.

What happened? Well, on the vanity front, money got tighter and so I gave up Botox. My self-esteem didn't fall the same distance as my brow and it made me ponder a while on the current vogue for a one-size-fits-all ideal of grown-up beauty (yes, Nicole Kidman, Madonna, Kylie Minogue et al, I'm talking about you), particularly after visiting an eminent cosmetic dermatologist for work and hearing about an experimental rejuvenating treatment involving sucking out your own fat, harvesting the stem cells from it and then reinjecting it into your face at a cost of nearly eight thousand pounds. Is it just me, or does that sound really quite horrid? It sent me scuttling into google to look at images of beautiful ancients. Lauren Bacall (above) is no stranger to sun and cigarettes, yet still manages to look rather fabulous. The face I want at seventy is one which reflects the wisdom and character that time has built, rather than the skill of a cosmetic surgeon.

Yet, it's not just about conquering my besetting sin: I think the revolution about the way I feel about myself has had an awful lot to do with the therapeutic qualities of writing this blog (and lovely twitter, to which I'm still addicted). It's not only that it's given me an identity outside the - admittedly lovely - ones I already occupy as wife, mother, career-kind-of-person, but it's also introduced me to the whole glorious world of the internets - the burgeoning blog-roll down the side of Mrs Trefusis is testament to the quantity and quality of fascinating minds out there in the ether.

And most of all, I hear the words of Virginia Woolf echo in my head - 'One of the signs of passing youth is the birth of a sense of fellowship with other human beings as we take our place among them.' - and feel reconciled and content.

Friday, 23 October 2009


The shoot that came to be known as the ‘Last Sitting’ was photographed by Bert Stern for US Vogue over the course of three days, a fortnight before Marilyn Monroe died.
In the first session Marilyn posed almost nude (see colour images below), but Jessica Daves, then Editor of US Vogue, feeling that the pictures were too risqu é for the magazine - and could hardly be described as fashion - had Stern reshoot. Fashion editor, Bab Simpson contributed elegant black dresses, floor length chinchilla coats, pearls, hats, veils and sequined gloves, and as the news of Marilyn’s suicide hit the headlines, the September 1962 issue was already rolling on the presses, featuring the 8 page fashion feature, of which this exquisitely sombre, sophisticated, portrait was the lead shot.
They were the last pictures to be published – indeed to be taken - of Marilyn, and the Last Sitting became part of the cultural mythology of Marilyn Monroe.

The Bert Stern sitting is the backdrop for Marilyn, Forever Blonde, a new one-woman play that has just opened at the Leicester Square Theatre. Marilyn, played by the extraordinary Sunny Thompson, confides her life-story to the unseen photographer. The script is scrupulous in using only Monroe's own words, with the occasional voice-over quote from, say, Joe DiMaggio, or Arthur Miller, to construct its compelling and necessarily tragic narrative.

I went to Marilyn, Forever Blonde last night, as the guest of Sarah Churchwell, author of 'the most comprehensive life of the iconic movie star' - The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe, and an exacting critic.

It's difficult to write a successful, intelligent play about a cult figure, particularly one which seeks to offer its audience a portrait of the real Marilyn, yet Marilyn, Forever Blonde succeeds, largely due to the astonishing skill of Thompson, who does more than play Marilyn, she inhabits her.
Overlook the slightly naff title of the piece and go and see it: even if you're interested in, rather than captivated by, the Monroe myth, it's worth seeing for Sunny Thompson's performance alone - it's rare to see something so authentic, or so full of integrity and depth: It even passed muster with Sarah.

Yet, when it comes to a notion of a 'real' Marilyn, I can't help but think Truman Capote, quoted in Sarah's book, had it best.

I said well, she's a little bit like you, she wears her heart
on her sleeve and talks salty and Marilyn said fuck you
and said well, if somebody asked me what Marilyn
Monroe was like, what was Marilyn Monroe really like
what would I say, and I said I'd have to think about that.

Marilyn, Forever Blonde is at the Leicester Square Theatre until 18th November
0844 8472 475

* "Hollywood is a place where they'll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss, and fifty cents for your soul" Marilyn Monroe.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009


Dubbed 'The Black Trinity' by Norman Parkinson and the 'Terrible Three' by Cecil Beaton, Terence Donovan, David Bailey and Brian Duffy redefined British photography in the 1960's, with their iconic portraits and revolutionary approach to fashion photography. Wildly successful and hugely glamorous, they also became a by-word for cool, swinging, sexually-liberated London - Bailey was even said to have inspired the character of Thomas in Antonioni's cult classic, Blow Up.

But it was Duffy who remained the most intriguing of the three, 'the mystery' as Terry O'Neill put it or, in the words of John Swannell, 'Donovan was the wit, Bailey was the creative one, Duffy was the intellect'. Yet after more than fifteen years at the cutting edge of the new British photography, he vanished out of sight, giving up stills photography completely to devote himself to big-budget, high-drama commercials. A rumour began to spread that he had burned his negatives.

The rumour was true: in 1979, Duffy decided to set fire to the photographs that had made his reputation. Fortunately, as he says, "The thing with negatives is they don't burn as fast as you think they will. I'd thrown them into this fire bin and I just had to stoke them and I was pouring white spirit in to try and keep it going. It was, to be honest, making pretty stinking black smoke." The smoke prompted a neighbour to complain to Hackney Council, who forced him to put out the fire, and the surviving negatives languished unharmed and uncatalogued in shoeboxes.

Nearly thirty years later, and after almost two years of painstakingly archiving the surviving images, Duffy will display his photographs for the first time at the Chris Beetles Gallery in London. The exhibition will contain sixty virtually unseen portraits, including this of the incandescently beautiful Grace Coddington, now Creative Director of US Vogue and co-star of the documentary film The September Issue,

and fashion photographs from agenda-setting magazines, like this of Verushka - the extraordinary model and star of Blow-up - for Queen

Emblematic sixties fashion figures - Jean Shrimpton, as seen at the top of this page, for example - and personal portraits of the famous and infamous are all Duffy classics from the 1960's, yet it was in the seventies, a few years before he quit stills photography altogether that he created one of his most celebrated works - the cover shot for David Bowie's 1973 album Aladdin Sane.

With such an pivotal part to play in documenting British culture, it seems fitting that, at 76, Duffy is not only the subject of a new BBC film and involved in a major new show, Beatles to Bowie: The Sixties Exposed, at The National Portrait Gallery, but has his own exhibition at the Chris Beetles Gallery where his works will be available to buy for the very first time. As Duffy himself says, "What's happened over the last twenty years is that photography, which was a trade, has now become art."

The show is on at Chris Beetles from 14th October until Saturday 7th November: The images are for sale in limited edition runs of fifty, signed by Duffy.

Chris Beetles Gallery
8&10 Ryder Street
London SW1Y 6QB
020 7839 7551

Images courtesy of Chris Beetles Gallery. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Thursday, 1 October 2009


I'm hardly alone in being beguiled by Venice. I fell in love with its tenebrous beauty long before I ever visited, when I first watched Nick Roeg's eerie and terrifying film 'Don't Look Now'.

To see Venice at its best visit in Winter, between the middle of October and before the claustrophobic squalor of Carnevale in February. The days are short, and you have to plan carefully to catch the Titians or Raphaels or Carpaccios in the churches, often closed for restauro, and in which the light is appalling at the best of times. But the compensatory magic of dusk falling to meet the fog rising off the lagoon, the poetic, mystical wilderness of Torcello and the lapping lull of the canals as you fall asleep make up for any inconveniences of winter opening hours, or the occasional acqua alta, and the weather is mostly kind enough to let you enjoy the real beauty of Venice, which lies not in its museums or churches but in walking and walking and walking, deliberately allowing yourself to be lost in its unnavigable calle and canale.

I admit to a preoccupation with Venice, bordering on obsession. Before Trefusis Minor and his sister were born, I would visit a great friend of mine there at least once a year. But Venice is hopeless with small children - at least, the Venice I enjoy - and it's hard to negotiate a Bunbury there without them. So I dream and I read anything from Peter Ackroyd to Donna Leon and sometimes the longing for the place gets so bad that even a whiff of bad drains is enough to transport me back to a favourite square in Cannareggio, bordered by narrow washing-line festooned alleyways.

But now I've found something to alleviate all of this hopeless yearning, somewhere that evokes Venice so beautifully it's a source of deep consolation. What's more, it's so close I walk past it every day on my way to work. Polpo, on Soho's Beak Street, is modelled on a Venetian bacaro - the kind of place tourists leave to the real Venetians, where people go after their passagiata for a Spritz or an ombra and a plate of cichetti, a kind of Venetian tapas. Polpo is more than a bacaro really - I assume one can pop in after work and sit at the terribly inviting zinc-topped bar for a glass of one of their carefully sourced wines (mostly from the north of Italy, with a proper emphasis on the Veneto) and a plate full of delicious bits and pieces - but Polpo is more about the current vogue for restaurants which serve small plates of things to share at lunch and at dinner.

The team behind Polpo have an impeccable pedigree: it's the first independent venture for Russell Norman, previously Operations Director for Caprice Holdings and its head chef is Tom Oldroyd, previously at Bocca di Lupo, who has worked closely with Russell to create a menu of simple and authentic small plates and cicheti. Classics like Salt Cod, Bigoli, Polpette and Cuttlefish in its ink sit alongside some of Tom’s own dishes, like Roast Belly of Pork with Radicchio and Hazelnut Salad, and Mackerel tartare with cucumber, horseradish & carta di musica.

Curiously, unlike anywhere else in Italy, it's possible to eat abominably badly in Venice and pay handsomely for the privilege: there's a very clear delineation between restaurants designated for tourists and those beloved of locals. If you're visiting, avoid anything within striking distance of San Marco, or the Rialto, and move further afield to Canareggio where there are some gems near the Strada Nova as well as some good, if unprepossessing looking restaurants on the Fondamenta Misericorda. Or to the area around Campo S.Barnaba and the Frari. But in the Venetian enclave that is Polpo Soho, you need have no such fears. Not only is Polpo exceptional value for the quality, it's somewhere that will charm locals and incomers alike. Its reservations policy is refreshing too - the bar and around half of the tables are available for those who lead more spontaneous lives, but one can also book in advance to avoid the ghastliness of arranging to meet a group of friends and arriving to find there's no room at the bacaro.

41 Beak Street, London, W1F 9SB
Telephone: 020 7734 4479

Twitter: @polposoho

Polpo on Urbanspoon