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.

Thursday, 1 July 2010


I'm so sorry, the minute I wrote that heading, I planted a Barbara Streisand shaped ear-worm in my head (misty water-coloured memories of the way we were tra la la) - I don't even particularly like the song, but there it is, firmly embedded, and so, like this Meme, I'll pass the ear-worm onto you too.

Anyway, I have the beginnings of six blog posts in my draft folder, half of which have become obsolete since I started them, and since Real Life is conspiring against me getting any of them finished in the foreseeable, I thought I'd take the opportunity to do the lovely Foxymoron's meme, since she was generous enough to tag me.

What experience has most shaped you, and why?

If one allows oneself to be shaped by experience, one gets into all sorts of trouble - it implies one might learn by one's mistakes, which doesn't half take the fun out of things. I always say, if a mistake's worth making, it's worth making again, and again, and again.

However, that's no kind of an answer, is it, so I suppose growing up as an army brat is the defining formative experience. I used to envy people who'd lived in the same town all their lives and had friends they'd been at nursery school with, but there are advantages of moving every few years: it teaches you to make friends easily, and to be incredibly self-sufficient in the gaps between making those new friends - a skill I'm failing to pass on to Trefusis Minor and his sister, who won't play on their own at all. My parents also had to do vast amounts of entertaining, and my sister and I were always on peanut and crisp passing duty before we were scooted off to bed, and had to make lightly intelligent small talk with Generals and Colonels and their wives, and to be able to start a conversation with someone one has never met before. Curiously, this turned out to be incredibly good training for my career, but more of that another time.

If you had a whole day with no commitments, what would you do?

I'd write something moderately entertaining for this blog, and try to store up a stash of posts for when the gaps between work and life close down once more.

What food or drink could you never give up?

Cocktails, naturally - I'm devoted to a classic Daiquiri, which is one of the few cocktails that it's easy to make at home if you get the quantities right (recipe here). I also find the way Claridges make a champagne cocktail very cheering. It's a great restorative, and a lovely treat. I can't remember what they cost exactly - I think it's £12.50 - obviously not cheap, but infinitely better value for money than four Starbucks frappucinos, say.

Food? Well, I'm very fond of the marachino cherry in the champagne cocktail.

If you could travel anywhere, where would that be and why?

Venice is my favourite place on the planet, not least because one of my favourite people on the planet lives there and I don't get to see nearly enough of her, so if I could travel anywhere, it would always be there.
I've also a longing to go to Istanbul, so I can straddle two continents (ouch).

Who do you have a crush on?

Ha, I thought, I don't have crushes, how juvenile. I haven't had a crush on anyone since I had a massive crush on Julian Cope when I was fourteen, and kept the photo-set I tore from The Face under my pillow. And anyway, obviously, I'm far too devoted to Mr Trefusis to have a proper moony crush on anyone.

But then, what about Gene Hunt? Fictional character, very unprepossessing, makes me quiver with lust every time Ashes to Ashes is on the telly. Crushes on fictional characters don't stop with D.I. Hunt - there's Gabriel Oak from Far from the Madding Crowd [pictured above], James Bond, Maximus Decimus Meridius, Oliver Mellors, William in Flambards, Beowulf, Carrisford from A Little Princess, and, erm, Dracula. The list is a bit longer than that, but I don't want to get a reputation for being that sort of girl.

Lately, though, I realise my crushes run to the gerontophile: David Dimbleby, Bryan Ferry, Melvyn Bragg, A.C Grayling, even Jeremy Paxman. No one needs a doctorate in psychology to analyse my devotion to clever old men.

I also have a mammoth crush on my art teacher, who looks just like a superannuated Lloyd Cole. So consuming is my passion for him I am even able to overlook his horny toenails and Jesus sandals.

If you were leader of your country, what would you do?

Oh God, I don't know. Even David Cameron didn't know, which is why the last election in the UK was the one none of the candidates wanted to win.

I asked Mr Trefusis instead, it being his kind of question. This is what he'd do if he were your Prime Minister

Economics: pay down the debt and make Europe accountable [long tirade about corruption in the EU and subsidising european farmers.... I shall spare you the full version]
Education: pay teachers more, sack bad teachers, insist on higher standards in teaching colleges, allow people to open more schools.
Foreign Policy: work out what the hell we're supposed to be doing in Afghanistan, do it, and leave.
Culture: make sure there are tangible, long-lasting benefits from the money spent on developing the London Olympics. Remove all arts subsidies [I'm afraid there was a long pause whilst we had a mini row about that one...]
Immigration:"If you want free markets, you have to allow free movement of people. Any kind of immigration control is complete lunacy"

[There was more... I distracted him with a television programme about the Romans in Britain before he made me write him a Manifesto].

Give me one easy savoury recipe that doesn't include cheese.

Take one Boots Advantage Card, go into the shop and select a large packet of salt and vinegar crisps, open and serve.

Only joking.

Tagliata in the Nigella manner:
Put olive oil, the juice and zest of a lemon, a couple of handfuls of thyme or oregano, two crushed garlic cloves and salt and pepper into a deep sided dish.
Show a large rump (or sirloin - whatever's in Waitrose) steak to a searingly hot pan, longer if you like.
When you've given your steak a couple of minutes each side, put it in the lemon/olive oil/herb mixture and leave it to rest for at least five minutes each side.
Slice it into strips.
Put it on a generous pile of rocket salad, pour some of the marinade over it and season.
How many it serves depends on how big your steak was in the first place. Mr Trefusis complains if I don't offer him some kind of carbohydrate to go with it, preferably cubes of potato roasted in the oven with olive oil, garlic, rosemary and a lot of sea salt.

What did you think you were going to be when you grew up?

A Prima ballerina. Stop sniggering.

If you could spend just one day in someone else's body, who would it be?

Anna Wintour. With an option to morph into Grace Coddington if I can't keep up the froideur past elevenses.

Now, the way this meme works is that I have to add a question of my own, and tag three other bloggers.

Which woman writer - living or dead - do you most admire and why?

And my three bloggers are


The Knackered Mother's Wine Club:


Perfect Welcome: