Friday, 24 December 2010


It's a long time since I was this obsessed by a dress. You know how it is - you see something in a shop, and you can't stop thinking about it. Every time you open your wardrobe, there's a great glaring hole where the coveted item should be, but isn't, because it's still in the shop. Every time you get dressed, even your most favourite outfit is diminished by not being the dress. And so it is with this scarlet frock from Bastyan. Red isn't a colour I usually wear, having very much a Ford Model T approach to fashion - any colour you like as long as it's black - but there's something immensely Christmassy about this particular shade of vermilion. Quite marvellous for Christmas Day, and New Year's Eve, and my sister's birthday, and, and see what I'm doing here? Fashion maths. Fashion maths means you divide the price of some gorgeous object of desire by the number of occasions you think you might wear it. It always comes out as £1.22 per wear, and so it is that your brain says '£1.22? You can't even get a cappuccino for that' and it instantly becomes a complete steal.

It's not even especially expensive - it's currently reduced from £225 to £125, both on the Bastyan website and in House of Fraser, and it's silk too. What's more, Bastyan makes the most fabulously flattering frocks on the planet - Tonia Bastyan, the label's owner and designer, understands perfectly that when one is over 35 one doesn't want to be tugging things down to cover a less than perfect knee, or pinning a neckline to conceal the fact one can't get away with bra-less anymore. She uses luxurious fabrics and clever draping to drift gently over the difficult bits and enhance the parts that aren't quite yet completely disastrous. She's that all too rare thing, a designer that designs for, rather than against, all the idiosyncrasies of a woman's body, without sacrificing a strong design edge, and the net result is a collection which flatters, and is yet still completely on trend. The scarlet silk georgette goddess dress is a really good example of this, but there are many more. I could start to develop a small addiction.

Oh, see how I'm longing for it? Should I wait to find out if I get any money for Christmas? Should I brave the ghastliness of Christmas Eve at Westfield to see if they have one left in my size in case the yearning gets too great and I have to have it?

Addendum; Writing this post made the craving worse: I couldn't live without the dress. And not only did they still have my size at Westfield, my mother said that she'd get it for me for Christmas: evidently it was meant to be mine. I can't wait to unwrap it and put it on. Happy Christmas everyone.

UPDATE: October 2011 - I've just heard a whisper that the next Harper's Bazaar party is to have a black and red theme - guess what I'll be wearing? That's another nice thing about Bastyan - it's fashionable, but not so achingly on trend that you can't wear it for more than a season

Thursday, 16 December 2010


Two terrific books to enjoy over Christmas


Clara Dunphy, Comfort and Joy's laugh-out-loud-funny fortysomething heroine,is  determined to have the perfect Christmas - 'It's not that I want it to be perfect in the Martha Stewart sense,' she says, '- I don't even own any matching crockery. I just want it to be...nice. Warm. Loving. Joyous. All those things. Christmassy.' 

As the novel opens, Clara is battling with the last minute Oxford Street crowds, on the impossible search for the most perfect of perfect presents for two of the most wonderfully drawn characters in her book, her mother, Kate, and her fabulous mother-in-law, not to mention the topping up of presents for the children, in case there's not quite enough - and immediately one is drawn in. One of India Knight's great talents lies in the way she very quickly establishes vast swathes of common ground with her reader, and Comfort and Joy is empathy central.

Comfort & Joy is set on a series of Christmasses, past and present, and is about, amongst other things, that very modern phenomenon, the blended family. It's India Knight's first novel, 'My Life on a Plate', ten years on, and I liked it so much I immediately had to re-read 'My Life on Plate' to remind myself of her characters backstories, and to get more of the witty, self-deprecating heroine and her extraordinary family. I read 'My Life on a Plate' aloud to my sister on a long car journey, like a kind of bonkers low-rent talking book, and we were screaming with laughter so much that once we'd arrived at our destination, my sister wouldn't let me out of the car until I'd finished reading. I think she's hoping for a repeat performance with Comfort & Joy.

Comfort & Joy is available from Amazon - although it's still in hardback, it's an extremely bargainacious £7.75


Another delicious book is Daisy Goodwin's 'My Last Duchess'. Set against the backdrop of country house life at the end of the nineteenth century, it's a wonderful tale of the tensions between love and money, and between class and wealth. Cora is the beautiful daughter of an extremely socially ambitious and super-rich American mama, keen to get her daughter married off in Vanderbilt style to a title and Ivo Maltravers, the dashing yet broke Duke of Wareham, fits the bill perfectly.
If one were trying to sell-in the mini-series, one might say it's Wharton's The Buccaneers meets Downton Abbey - hugely enjoyable, glamorous, and a terrific comfort read to curl up with on Boxing Day.

Again it's on special offer at Amazon for £7.17 (what is this £7.17? I keep trying to work out the percentage discount off the list price but my tiny, sleep-deprived brain can't cope with it)

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


'He wasn't born bad,' said Trefusis Minor of the arch-villain and unlikely hero of Megamind, 'He just ended up in the wrong place.' It felt like a curiously philosophical observation for a six year old, but in Megamind's case, it's literally true.

Megamind is, apparently, Trefusis Minor's 'best film ever ever', and I thoroughly enjoyed it too - Dreamworks see it as a technological breakthrough because it's the first time anyone's ever managed to make a cloak look convincing in a cartoon, but I think Trefusis Minor and I liked it for its super-hero vs super-villain derring-do, and the way that the good end happily, and the bad end - well - having learned in the nicest possible way that crime doesn't pay.

Megamind is on nationwide release.

Friday, 26 November 2010


The Archers Years are nearly upon me. I can hardly bring myself to say that without a moue of regret, but I think the evidence is irrefutable: I made a Christmas cake at the weekend, using the handy ‘Delia Smith’ bag of ready-measured ingredients from Waitrose, and this fit of middle-aged-middle-class domestic activity came hard on the heels of making jam to use up the plums from my parent’s garden. And whilst I can still concede a quiver of enthusiasm for Gavin Henson’s six pack on Strictly Come Dancing (oh God, I've been watching Strictly - pass the humane killer), the sight of Mr Trefusis loading the dishwasher or wielding the vacuum cleaner is far more likely to get my superannuated sap rising. 

I'd love to reach for the glamour of 'Middle-youth' but it sounds a bit tiring, as if it requires me to do daily pilates, and take on a vigorous campaigning role on the PTA, and buy Cath Kidston or Boden. I'm feeling too past it for that kind of re-branding: my mental wireless is permanently tuned into Radio 4, my favourite iTunes podcast is 'In Our Time' and Marks and Spencer has suddenly reappeared on my radar as an interesting place to shop. I daresay that if I were to tune into the Archers, I'd completely relate to the storyline. 

I suppose there are some benefits to the The Archers Years - I care an awful lot less about what other people think of me. I've almost stopped pretending to like stuff on the offchance it might make me look big and clever. I give up on books that are too worthy, dreary or gritty without a shred of guilt. I'm even prepared to wear comfortable shoes.  I'm not sure whether it's increased confidence or being too exhausted to mind, but the net result is that I'm a little better at knowing what makes me happy -  probably much the same kinds of things as anyone else - not that I intend to admit any of it when the government come round to measure where I am on their happiness index. Reading makes me happy, of course, and  I no longer edit the books on my bedside table to try to reflect a more intriguing, intellectual, adventurous me - the first time Mr Trefusis stayed over (hem hem) he didn't even notice the casually placed copies of The Second Sex or Delta of Venus, or The Unbearable Lightness of Being, or The Four Quartets, and eight years later I suppose it's a great relief he doesn't judge me for replacing them with Bernard Cornwall and Ken Follett.

But the regret is still there, nagging away as I line my cake tins with a double layer of baking parchment. Middle-age might be desperate to claim me as one of its own, but I'm not ready to go without a tiny struggle. It's a quiet kind of mid-life crisis I suppose. I wish I could buy a Harley Davidson, or dye my hair an extraordinary shade, or start wearing inappropriate clothing and talking self-consciously about going to 'gigs', which at least would acknowledge the whole damn thing as a rite of passage.  But I can't, and instead the whole thing becomes internalised as mild disappointment and missed opportunity. 

Anyway, it's time to feed the cake its brandy. I might have a cheering tot myself whilst I'm at it.

Sunday, 14 November 2010


'I like dragons,' says Trefusis Minor, 'They can throw fire, they're quite like snakes and lizards and they can fly. And they're really quick. And they have armour. The most important thing about a dragon is its wings, its fireballs and its teeth.'

Trefusis Minor is obsessed by dragons. I'm sure many more experienced parents will nod wisely and tell me that dragons are simply the next turning on the left after dinosaurs on the map of boyhood. Mr Trefusis and I are not experienced parents - it's a case of the blind leading the blonde as we struggle to keep up with each new enthusiasm as best we can - though I think we're both secretly relieved we no longer have to remember that a compsognathus was the smallest of the carnivores, or struggle with the pronunciation of Pachycephalosauria.

Anyway, I asked Trefusis Minor why he thought dragons were so popular. 'It's because of St. George,' he said sagely, 'And St. Michael. Everyone likes dragons, even the bad ones.' And, really, that was as much as he'd say on the matter. But everyday he draws pages and pages of them: some have two heads and look ferocious, some are equipped with a terrifying arsenal of weapons, some look amiably bovine, but no two are identical.

Actually, I think the dragon fascination started with a trip to see 'How to Train Your Dragon', a film full of adventure and beautifully realised dragons in exhilarating flying, swooping, gliding and fighting scenes. The hero, Hiccup, is a young and appealingly useless Viking living on the beleaguered island of Berk, who defies tradition when he befriends one of his deadliest foes — the ferocious dragon he calls Toothless.

The film is inspired by Cressida Cowell's book of the same name, subsequently a huge hit at bedtime with Trefusis Minor, though he maintains he prefers the film - I hope his review, which I took down verbatim, makes up in enthusiasm what it lacks in coherence.

'Hiccup is brave and very, very intelligent, he likes the dragons and wants to be friends with them. He didn't want to kill them. In the book he can speak Dragon Language: he can't in the film but he captures a Night Fury which is the best dragon there is and he calls it Toothless and he does find out by himself how to train dragons really well and he saves everyone from the Red Death.
In the book no one actually flies on a dragon but they do in the film and it's amazing when Hiccup flies on his dragon. In the book Toothless doesn't look very scary and he's a bit pathetic but in the film he's beautiful like a black flying snake with green eyes.'

Dreamworks 'How to Train Your Dragon' is out
on DVD and Blu-ray tomorrow, Monday 15th November. It will almost certainly find its way into Trefusis Minor's Christmas stocking, and I shan't be sorry to watch it again either - I'm a sucker for films with unlikely heroes, and there are few as unlikely as Hiccup the Useless (later 'Useful') and his beautiful dragon Toothless.

And, as Trefusis Minor says, 'Dragons are actually in Real Life. they're different from ones in the films because they're Komodo dragons who can't spit fire or fly but they do have armour and they are dangerous because they can spit poison and they are big and scary and strong and can defend themselves'

Thursday, 21 October 2010


As a child, we celebrated Hallowe'en in a curiously pagan way - the spooky shrunken heads of the swede lanterns were only the half of it: most of the rest of the entertainment seemed to involve apples. We'd peel apples, trying to get the peel off in one long ribbon, and then throw it over our left shoulders - it's supposed to land in the shape of the initial of the man you'll marry. I've never gone out with a man whose name begins with 'S', let alone married one. We did a lot of apple bobbing too - I told Trefusis Minor about it: he looked horrified and told me sharply that it was too dangerous and someone might drown. He is still the health and safety officer in this house. And there was also a game involving hanging apples on pieces of string from the door lintel - your hands were tied behind your back and you had to try and take a bite.

I've forgotten most of the witchy stuff now - it was pretty tame, I'm sure, and probably involved yet more apples and some candle magic. We weren't allowed pumpkins - if they were even available in the north of England of the late seventies - and although we had heard of 'tricky treating'[sic], the idea was considered 'American'. Nothing more needed to be said for us to understand that it wasn't something we would be able to do. Looking back on it with the distance of thirty years, I take my black pointy hat off to my mother and aunt - it takes some genius to keep a houseful of the under tens occupied for a whole day with nothing more than a large bag of apples and a few wrinkly swedes.

The Trefusis Hallowe'en is a little more commercial - these days pumpkins are more easily available than swedes in West London, and an awful lot easier to deal with. And if the children want to dress up and go next door to beg for sweets, then it's perfectly all right with me, possibly because I know they have no interest at all in the 'trick' part of the equation. It also offers a brilliant hook for keeping the children entertained for a whole day without them once uttering the vile words 'I'm bored'. I may not be much cop with apples and root vegetables, but I'm a dab hand at making spooky soup, and spider cake, and playing games like 'let's turn Daddy into a Mummy', though this is, of course, a terrible waste of a roll of white loo paper.

The Tiniest Trefusis has already had a fabulous preview of Hallowe'en fun, albeit not of the home made variety. She and I were lucky enough to go along to the press preview of Harrods' Hallowe'en programme, which runs over the Hallowe'en weekend. Activities on the fourth floor (toys, children's designer boutiques, Junior collections etc) include Fiendish Face painting (not terribly fiendish in the Tiny T's case - she wanted to be a butterfly), Creepy Crafts (we enjoyed making a bespoke witches hat), and Marvin's Magic's Freaky Body Illusionist (12-2pm in the Toy Kingdom). There's also delicious frozen yoghurt with spooky sprinklings available at the new YooMoo frozen yoghurt bar just near Way In, not that Trefusis Minor or The TT are ever to be fobbed off with frozen yoghurt - they think it's a terrible swizz and won't accept anything other than proper ice-cream.
For children between 5 and 8, Waterstones at Harrods is hosting a series of readings of Terrifying Tales (sessions at 2, 2.30 and 3pm) with tricks and treats for all and for grownups, my lovely friend Michael Korel is giving personal Tarot readings, also at Waterstones. For more information see the Harrods website.

Monday, 11 October 2010


Autumn is easy to love: I think it's the slight faded quality the pale ochre light gives everything, as if in a thoughtlessly hung picture, colours all bleached in the sun. I like the quick sharpness in the air, and the hint of bonfire that uncurls itself the minute dusk falls.

Most of all, I love the way autumn is packed with oddly pagan rituals, so deeply embedded in the folk memory it doesn't matter they've long since lost their meaning - Hallowe'en in our family involves chiselling out swedes rather than pumpkins for lanterns (try it - you can't get a fabulously Papua New Guinean shrunken head look with a pumpkin), drowning for apples, and candle magic, and much as I grew up in the country, there's an odd disconnect between celebrating Harvest Festival in West London and your actual proper 'plough-the-fields-and-scatter' harvest. Don't even get me started on Guy Fawkes - much as we've reinvented it as bonfire night, scratch the surface and it's hardly the most ecumenical of celebrations, as anyone who's been to the November 5th activities in Lewes will attest.

But anyway, my delight in autumn lies not so much in the big events but in the tiny quotidien joys - the glorious scarlet of rosehips against a miserable grey sky, finding a recipe for rowan jelly on this lovely website, making jam with the glut of plums in my parents garden, and laughing and laughing with my children, whirling around trying to catch leaves falling from trees to make a wish.

And of course, there's the endless trips to the park to collect conkers: they're so pointlessly beautiful - the gorgeous burnt sienna glossiness lasts about four hours before they start to lose their lustre. Every year we bring a bagful home and put them in a bowl to admire them - only a few every find themselves strung on a string for a conker fight - and within days they're all shrinkled. It's a shame.

This year, I've started to over-identify with the poor conker : the notion that I'm now autumn, and no longer ripe with the bloom of summer, has hit me rather hard. I seem to have developed a deciduous quality and I don't like it at all: One minute I was all shiny, happily passing for thirty seven, then I woke one morning to discover a chill in the air, my bloom dulled, and I looked every one of my forty three years. I do love Donne for writing 'No spring nor summer hath such grace, As I have seen in one autumnal face' but I stare at myself in the mirror and think he must have been blind.

And it's not just about railing against the physical changes that age brings, or at the invisibility of no longer being exactly young, it's also about the way my head won't adjust to being a proper grown up. And where does this idea come from that one's possibilities contract as one's days shorten? There are still twenty four hours - they are simply differently apportioned - and longer nights mean more flattering lighting, after all - but somehow the idea has taken root. I urgently need to find the notebook in which I wrote the list of people who had come up to the boil after forty, after a long and interminable simmer. I don't want to always be the watched pot.

As I look at the conkers gathering dust on the kitchen table, and at the autumn-hued leaves and berries Trefusis Minor has gathered for his school project, I try to summon up a sense of resolve: Autumn, with all its small pleasures and curious celebrations, must become my favourite time of life, as well as my favourite season..

Friday, 3 September 2010


"If it all gets a bit much, don't be too proud to cycle on the pavement" says Mr Trefusis, kindly, rapping me on the top of my helmet as if to test its strength, and waving me off on my inaugural bicycle ride to the office.

Well, I say inaugural, but I do have form for cycling, albeit in the dim and distant past. Eight years ago, in the middle of a tube strike, I wobbled off to work on my monstrously cool yet entirely impractical Kronan, and I only did it because I had no alternative. The Kronan was developed in the Second World War for the Swedish army, weighs as much as a tank, and was once selected by Tyler Brûle as one of the most stylish design objects of the twentieth century. A bicycle less suited to a commute from West London to Carnaby Street, I can't imagine. Quite apart from its heft, it has no gears and only a back pedal brake, a distinct disadvantage when pedalling up and down the aptly named Notting Hill. As brutal as it is beautiful, I keep expecting to find it used as a murder weapon in an episode of Wallander. Anyway, it was a one off experiment and the Kronan has long since been retired, due to the hassle of getting spare parts shipped in from Sweden, as well as its other disadvantages. Until now, cycling to work has remained nothing more than a latent aspiration.

However, the ongoing Great Trefusis Economic Crisis, and the onset of incipient middle-aged lardiness has put commuting by bicycle firmly back on the agenda. Could I save money and get fitter at the same time, ideally without finding myself squashed between the 148 bus and a John Lewis delivery van on the Bayswater Road? I'm not convinced enough to invest in a bicycle of my own – and of course, that would hardly tick the money-saving box - so I borrowed an old one from my parents instead and bought the sort of luminous waistcoat that people on building sites wear. I figured that if I was to cheat death on two wheels, it was best to make my lack of cycling proficiency really, really visible.

On paper, or indeed by car/bus/tube, the journey to work is simple – turn right out of our road, turn right again, and keep going straight until one gets to Oxford Circus. But on a bike, going along Holland Park Avenue and then down Oxford Street feels like a route mapped in one's own blood. I plugged the postcodes into TFL's planner which came back with a route so circuitous and complex that it went on to two pages – God only knows how one is supposed to memorise a route like that, but I tried to keep it in my head by earmarking the familiar. It's roughly straight on West to East – how hard could it be?
Anyway, I set off, went straight, turned left at the Rug Company, ran behind Holland Park Avenue and Notting Hill until I passed Le Cafe Anglais, and then, not quite a third of the way into the journey, I promptly forgot the route, found myself back on the main road, inches from the thundering juggernauts. I remembered Mr Trefusis's pavement advice, but the pavement was, rather inconveniently, full of pedestrians, so I crossed at the lights and went into Hyde Park – what could be nicer? Trees, no cars, squirrels, loveliness and Parks Police. "Cycling is not allowed" shrieked the Parks Policeman, "can't you see the sign?". 'No Cycling' is written in two foot high letters at intervals along the path so I was definitely caught red-faced and red-handed. All I could do was dismount and walk my bike, head held as high as I could muster, to the nearest exit. Not being able to cycle in the park, parallel with the Bayswater Road, seems to me to be the most enormous swizz – Hyde Park is huge, with much wider pavements than the street, and could easily accommodate a small cycle lane. Boris should have fixed this at the same time as planting all of his bikes all over London. I overtook two Boris Bikes after that, just to get my pride back.

Actually, the journey from then on was relatively uneventful – I took a slightly idiosyncratic route north of Oxford Street, and then down through Hanover Square so I could 'wave' cheerily, hem hem, at Vogue House before arriving at work rather earlier than usual.

Cycling is moderately terrifying, I must admit, but the greatest dangers seem to be from other cyclists – those wearing earphones to cycle seem to lack an appropriate respect for their own personal safety – and Professor of Traffic Psychology (and God, who knew there was such a thing), Dr Ian Walker's insights seem to work, cars/buses/cabs and vans give you a wider berth if you're obviously a bit rubbish, your mum's bike and long blond hair worn loose are as essential a part of your Cycling Safety kit as a helmet and lights. As I write this, I'm about to don the fluoro waistcoat and swirly-girly helmet for my newly mapped route home, past Estee Lauder's head office, over Park Lane and straight on until I get to the cup of tea Mr Trefusis promises he has waiting for me at the other end.

Friday, 27 August 2010


Is there anyone who can face this wretched weather with equanimity? Trefusis Minor is the only person I can find who's not complaining. He likes rain, idiosyncratic child that he is, and moaned loudly on holiday about wanting to be back in England because he was too hot and he missed the rain. Yes, I did explain to him that the Isle of Wight was actually England, but his personal universe appears to begin and end in West London. There are many who say that the current Prime Minister would agree with him, discounting little offshoots of his empire in Oxfordshire or Cornwall.

The British are by nature an optimistic people - we're the biggest market in Europe for convertibles, for example, which after second marriage is the most wonderful demonstration of the triumph of hope over experience. Despite all evidence to the contrary, we still expect our summers to be dry and balmy, full of days which have a nice country walk with a pub at the end of them, and perhaps a bit of messing about on boats if we're lucky. Every year, when the heavens open, the British mutter noisily about climate change and go around turning off the lights as a kind of totem against global warming-induced rainfall. We badly need to adjust our expectations and recognise that we get a few nice days in April, and a few more in September and as for the rest - well, it's worth investing in a good umbrella.

A little delving around the stats on the Met Office website -and some roving around the internets - suggests August has always been pretty rank, weather-wise. The August bank holiday was, apparently, moved back to the end of the month to give it a fighting chance of decent weather. If you take the years 1971 to 2000, August has a similar average rainfall to March, at 72mm, and who'd plan a barbeque for March? I couldn't find any aggregated stats for the last nine years, but I can't think it's improved any.

If this last week's weather has felt foully inclement, it's by no means untypical. What's more, it's hardly the worst August has thrown at us over the years. In 1912, seven inches of rain fell in one afternoon in Norwich, leaving it marooned in mud and flood detritus. The summer of 1956 was also one I'm relieved to have missed - a few years ago, Paul Simons wrote about it in The Times as being "an assault course of monsoonal rains, big floods, giant hail, houses set ablaze by lightning, howling gales and miserable cold". That August was the coldest and wettest on record.

I'm staring out of the office window at a lowering sky, and at an iPhone app that promises a fine afternoon, and wondering whether to fold this season's wardrobe staple, the ineffably chic Cagoule-Burkha, into its handy handbag-sized pochette, or just to put it on, ready to brave the journey home. Such is my desire to stay dry and avoid damp knees - the curse of a British Summer - that I really don't care what I look like. The rain has completely quashed my vanity and I suspect I'm rapidly turning into the kind of woman who will wear purple in the not too distant future.

However, my real issue with the bloody rain is that it works for me like a reverse pathetic fallacy - the weather doesn't reflect my mood, it dictates it. A little sunshine means outrageous fortune's sharpest arrows just bounce off me, but when it rains, the smallest slight pierces my armour and makes me dreary and depressed, as if life from now on was going to be one long wait at a bus stop in a downpour. I can't even default to my usual cheer-up option, a blowdry, because the merest hint of drizzle undoes the best hairdressers work. Shamefully, on re-reading what I've written I realise that the rain also elicits in me the most appalling self-pity.

Someone needs to start a bad weather self-help blog, or at least suggest some strategies for sloughing off a rain-induced fit of the glooms. Who's going to start the ball rolling? There's a YSL lipstick and a Dolce and Gabbana mascara (lovingly photographed by me on my iPhone) for the suggestion that cheers me up the most.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010


'I've turned into my parents, haven't I?' I said to Mr Trefusis halfway through our holiday, as I tuned the car radio into Radio Four and suggested we might stop to have a look at the view. I found myself parroting phrases like 'Just in case' and 'You can't trust the forecast' as I packed cagoules and cardigans, sunhats and suncream, and insisted on the children getting out to the beach even when it was far from warm for 'a bit of a blow'. Worse still, every time anyone yawned, I said 'Tires you out, all this sea air'. It's true: it does.

The piéce de résistance of my search for early eighties authenticity was dragging the tirelessly good-humoured Belgian Waffling down to the beach in a howling gale so we could enact the time-honoured British Tea Ceremony, Holiday Edition. I think we managed one cup each from the outsize thermos and a scone, crunchy with wind-whipped sand, before the charm wore off, but it evoked the requisite nostalgie de la boue. The only way we could possibly have trumped the experience would have been to drink the tea in the car whilst watching the sea and the lashing rain. But I think you have to be in Filey for it to work properly. I spent several summers as a child on the North East coast, and apparently I used to go swimming quite happily - God knows how I avoided hypothermia.

Even Mr Trefusis - who, like the Bromsgroves, came from a family that went Abroad for their holidays - fell for the charms of lovely Ventnor, even if he spent most of it pretending to be Alain Delon, hanging out in a fishing village somewhere on the Cote D'Azur.

Steephill Cove, our nearest beach, is the Petit Trianon of the British seaside. Tiny as it is, and accessible only by foot or by boat, it manages to boast not only the kind of rockpool action beloved of the Cappuccino Classes but also two of the best fish restaurants on the island, and café-cum-shop selling a mean espresso, Minghella's ices and cool retro sweets like Starbars, Fry's Mint Cream and Sherbet dibdabs. I muttered something about it being the new Dorset, and took Trefusis Minor and The TT down to the shoreline to build sandcastles and swim in the sea, leaving Mr Trefusis to 'watch' us from his favourite table, whilst simultaneously reading one of those 'The Girl with ..' novels and taking surreptitious peeks around his sun specs at the pretty girls coming in and out of the café.
Yet it wasn't all about trying to recapture the holidays of my childhood - as The Waffle's charming brother said as he took us all out on a boat, it's about making new memories too, even if some of them are inspired by old ones. 'I'll never forget the first time my dad took me fishing.' he said, as the mackerel lines were passed around. Fishing for mackerel off the coast of the Isle of Wight is infinitely more satisfying than catching crabs - the little blighters jump with lemming-like enthusiasm onto your hooks, and even The Tiniest Trefusis caught three, first time she dropped her line over the side. Trefusis Minor was less successful - he's more likely to remember his valiant attempts not to be seasick. We caught twenty-five mackerel in about ten minutes - and took them back to the lovely holiday house and baked some en papillotte with cider and onions, and froze the rest to take home after the holidays.

This morning, before leaving for the office, I made Mr Trefusis some mackerel pâté with the last of them (not as goddessy as it sounds - it's an insanely easy recipe, involving nothing more trying than mashing the ingredients together with a fork). I took the cooked fish off the bone by hand and as I sat on the bus on my way to work, I couldn't help noticing how appallingly whiffy my fingers still were, despite washing them several times. Ick.
Mackerel-scented fingers are too prosaic as a memory trigger and can hardly compete with Proust's madelines for romance, but all the same, I spent the whole journey wrapped in the comforting memories of a blissful fortnight spent in wonderful company, rediscovering simple pleasures.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010


As a child I was deeply envious of friends who holidayed abroad, particularly the Bromsgroves who, every summer, would pack up their Volvo and drive off to the South of France, returning relaxed and happy, tan marks livid against Piz Buin bronzed skin. I wanted to be one of those families, off for a fortnight on a beach in Spain or France, the children left to their own devices way past their usual bedtime, whilst the parents got mildly wasted on Rosé or Sangria. But no. We went to Norfolk, or Dorset, or Devon. Our entertainment came straight from the pages of a Ladybird book, digging endless sandcastles and dragging shrimping nets through rockpools, punctuated by the odd trip to a National Trust house or the treat of a coca-cola and a packet of crisps in a pub garden. The sense was that there was something decadent - slightly degenerate even - about the Foreign Holiday: we were above such things, in the same way we were above having a pumpkin at Hallowe'en, and instead if we wanted a spooky lantern, we had to spend an entire afternoon hollowing out a turnip with a dessert spoon.

But now I'm a bona-fide grown-up and can choose my own holiday destination, do Mr Trefusis and I bundle the infant Trefusii into the Audi and head off for the fleshpots of the Midi? We do not. The early programming was too effective. Holiday heaven for me means the Great British Break and doing my best to repeat the highlights of childhood summers of the nineteen seventies. If there's a tea room to be visited, so much the better. 

It means a spot of unspoilt coastline, preferably with a proper beach café. We have yet to try the crab tea, but I'm longing to.

My childhood memories are, like everyone's I suppose, all shiny and golden, full of endlessly balmy summer's days. I tell a lie, there was a holiday in 1982 which was mostly full of thermos flasks, anoraks and windbreaks, but mostly there was sunshine - I promise you it's a myth that the weather in England is unremittingly and uncharitably wet.

This year's holiday is no different. So far, we have honestly had very nice weather, well, mostly - today decided to be the exception that tested the rule and indeed, it was like this, and I wasn't the only one who was glad I packed the waterproof bhurka-style pacamac. Anyway, here is Mr Trefusis, the day after we arrived, trying his best to pretend it's thirty five degrees as he reads his copy of The Week.

Why is it that fathers can read the newspaper - every section, even the Review and the motoring bit - whilst also 'supervising' the offspring. I have to start breathing into a paper bag if I take my eyes off them for an instant: He's entirely unconcerned that the children are hurtling into the sea fully clothed.

We get on with the lovely business of poking at rockpools: half afraid, half hopeful a crab might nip our fingers, but ready to settle for finding a whelk or an untethered limpet.

And then spend the rest of the afternoon trying to execute an over-ambitious sandcastle

before working out that the water is actually really lovely after all, perhaps not quite lovely enough to swim in, although people were, but definitely perfect for paddling.

(with very many thanks to Belgian Waffling)

Friday, 16 July 2010


I am shockingly bad at writing prompt thank-you letters. I always mean to, and yet, I came across one loitering unfinished in my handbag the other day that really should have hit the post-box in early January. I've come round to the idea that a text or phone-call the next day is actually better than a letter that never gets sent, but still, you see, the guilt dogs me. It doesn't feel proper, somehow.

The reason I'm feeling twitchy about gratitude is that the ever inspiring Tania Kindersley has given me an award, an honour I'm quite sure I don't deserve, but for which I'm none the less touched and incredibly grateful, and I know that if I don't say thank-you now, it may well be months before I get round to it. Tania is the co-author of one of my favourite books of last year, Backwards in High Heels, a consoling and deeply satisfying book about 'the impossible art of being female'. It's a book one dips into again and again, coming away with fistfuls of gems that go on glittering at you throughout the day. It covers everything from developing a signature style to what it means to be a feminist, and if you don't have a copy I urge you to buy it (it's a complete steal at Amazon - less than six quid). Tania is working on a new book, but in the meantime you can find her terrific blog here.

The award, like all good inheritances, comes entailed with conditions - passing the award onto six other bloggers is the easy bit (see below) but I think another seven things about me hot on the heels of, um, nine things about me, might just end up being Too Much Information.

I'm going to offer you Seven Poems that Saved My Life instead. Coincidentally, the day before Tania told me she'd tagged me for the Beautiful Blogger, I'd found my old commonplace book tucked away at the back of a drawer. It's full of no end of nonsense - old vaporetto tickets, quotations, restaurant receipts and whatnot - and I'd written nothing in it since Trefusis Minor was a tiny wailing infant, but at one stage in its genesis I went through a phase of copying poems into it. They're mostly from a time when I was not very happily single, so if there's rather a relentless theme to them, do forgive.

1. Past One O'Clock. Vladimir Mayakovsky

Past one o'clock. You must have gone to bed.
The Milky Way streams silver through the night.
I'm in no hurry: with lightning telegrams
I have no cause to wake or trouble you.
And, as they say, the incident is closed.
Love's boat has smashed against the daily grind.
Now you and I are quits. Why bother then
To balance mutual sorrows, pains, and hurts.
Behold what quiet settles on the world.
Night wraps the sky in tribute from the stars.
In hours like these, one rises to address
The ages, history and all creation.

When I was half-sick with unresolved love for that scoundrel Vronsky, I used to find the line 'love's boat has smashed against the daily grind' extremely helpful. See also Carol Ann Duffy's 'Words, Wide Night', and - later - 'The Art of Losing' by Elizabeth Bishop.

2. Celia, Celia. Adrian Mitchell

When I am sad and weary
When I think all hope is gone
When I walk along High Holborn
I think of you with nothing on.

I got that on a text once from Mr Trefusis' predecessor. It made me roar with laughter, which wasn't entirely appropriate since I was reading it under the desk in the middle of a hugely dull corporate boardroom love-in at the time.

3. Bloody Men. Wendy Cope

Bloody men are like bloody buses -
You wait for about a year
And as soon as one approaches your stop
Two or three others appear.

You look at them flashing their indicators,
Offering you a ride.
You're trying to read the destinations,
You haven't much time to decide.

If you make a mistake, there is no turning back.
Jump off, and you'll stand there and gaze
While the cars and the taxis and lorries go by
And the minutes, the hours, the days.

Few poets are as cheeringly witty as Wendy Cope, and this one was such a solace in the internet dating days.

4. Mrs Icarus. Carol Ann Duffy

I'm not the first or the last
to stand on a hillock,
watching the man she married
prove to the world
he's a total, utter, absolute, Grade A pillock.

It's a matter of public record that I had a very short-lived 'starter marriage' when I was as young as I was stupid. The last time I wrote anything about it, he tried to sue me, so I shall draw a veil over the details. In any case, Carol Ann Duffy's poem says all that needs saying.

5. To His Coy Mistress. Andrew Marvell

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love's day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Should'st rubies find: I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Til the conversion of the Jews.

[text continues here - it's too long to scribe out on this post]

A terrible rake once seduced me by quoting this poem in its entirety. I don't think I've ever quite recovered.

6. He wishes for the cloths of heaven. W.B. Yeats

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams:
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

My lovely sister read this at my wedding to Mr Trefusis. We all cried. It's one of the few poems I know by heart.

7. Child. Sylvia Plath

Your clear eye is the one absolutely beautiful thing.
I want to fill it with colour and ducks,
The zoo of the new

Whose names you meditate -
April snowdrop, Indian pipe,

Stalk without wrinkle
Pool in which images
Should be grand and classical

Not this troublous wringing of hands, this dark
Ceiling without a star.

This is the very last thing in the notebook. I must have written it in the anxious, uncertain nights of new motherhood, when - if Trefusis Minor wasn't wailing - I'd send Mr Trefusis upstairs three times an hour to check he was still breathing, or, if he was bawling in the unrepentant way of newborn babies, I'd be out, pacing the twilight streets with him in a baby sling, in a futile attempt to march him into sleep.

And now it's my turn to have the very greatest pleasure in passing on the Beautiful Blogger award to the delicious blogs below - it's an edit of some of my favourite aesthetes.

She hasn't posted for a while, but this presents one with all the excuse one could ever need to investigate the back catalogue of She writes so beautifully, and she loves AS Byatt, Molly Keane, Mary Wesley and 'obscure early twentieth century female authors' (isn't it funny how much one instantly likes someone who shares the same taste in books?). I also suspect her of once doing a very similar job to mine.

Do look at the blissful box of delights that is There are always exquisite pictures, and she loves Virginia Woolf, and Edith Sitwell, and Diana Vreeland, and Oscar Wilde - reason enough to point you in her direction)

I'm greatly in favour of - his latest post on the importance of 'distinguished' and 'dignified' says it all. What's more, he quotes one of my favourite lines from Baudelaire 'Luxe, calme et volupte'. Wonderful. is such a lovely mix of culture and fashion, and always a treat to read. Christina tagged me in a fabulous meme about shoes, which I will do when Mr Trefusis goes away in a couple of weeks on one of his expeditions (I can't quite face justifying to him quite why I'm photographing all my favourite pairs of shoes, though I really want to and I keep making little jottings about the stories of those I plan to feature). is my friend in Real Life, despite the fact that I am old enough to be his mum, so I hope it's not cheating to nominate him. He has the nicest manners of just about anyone I know and his blog, albeit new, always offers a fresh perspective. is about France, and about fashion, but above all it's about the kind of elegant, classic style that comes with confidence and self-knowledge, and which never goes out of season. She mixes opinion with observation and includes terrific images. A paradigm of effortless chic.