Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The Perfect Negroni

Few cocktails are quite as perfect as the Negroni. The classic champagne cocktail comes close, but only when made at Claridges where the smell of (other people's) money possibly adds to the taste. I've had Daiquiris worthy of Hemingway in The Ivy Club and an amazing if mysterious something made with lemon, honey and three different kinds of whisky that the bartender at Hawksmoor once prescribed to cure my laryngitis (it didn't but I felt immensely better), yet nothing beats the aromatic,  alchemical combination of equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari (& the oily twist of orange peel).  God bless old Count Negroni for being the marvellous kind of lush that would think 'bugger soda, use gin instead'. 

Maybe it's because Campari is one of those things, like oysters, that sound unbearably, alluringly sophisticated when one is young but is utterly disgusting to an unsullied palate? One trains oneself to like it in adulthood and the faint sense of one's own daring never quite goes away. Or perhaps it's that it's such a low-effort, high-reward cocktail, one can make and drink it at home and feel almost as if one were in Cecconis. Sort of. With a good imagination and some decent olives. And without an eye-bleedingly extravagant bar bill.

I make mine in a wine glass - for no other reason than all my decent tumblers have been broken (life expectancy of glassware chez Trefusis, about a fortnight - clumsiness not 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf' temper). I also measure the booze out with a tablespoon: the usual proportions are 25ml of each spirit, but this makes me completely sozzled, and in any case, I've lost my booze measuring thingy (is it a jigger?). 

The Trefusis Negroni (much like anyone else's Negroni)

Fill a nice glass of whatever kind is as yet unbroken (yet one with a fine edge, tastes better) with ice. Home made or from Co-op, who cares, it's the chill that counts.
A tablespoon of the gin you find in the cupboard (ignore anyone who tells you it must be this, or that, gin, the kind you must go to some secret distillery for. They are wrong.)
A tablespoon of Campari
A Tablespoon of Martini Rosso
Swirl it all around with the other end of the tablespoon
Pare an orange over the glass and drop the peel in the glass. Do not be tempted to add a whole slice of orange, it messes with the alchemy.

Swirl and sniff. Drink before ice melts. On no account have three. 

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Stir Up Sunday

“Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people.”

Father K may well have preached on that at this morning's service but I'm afraid I overslept and didn't get there. I only learned it was Stir-up Sunday from twitter and was already in the middle of making my cake. Stir- Up Sunday is when one is supposed to make one's Christmas pudding - it probably has some special date in the church calendar like Mothering Sunday - the fifth Sunday before the new moon before Christmas, or something  - no one really eats Christmas Pudding chez Trefusis because we're always too stuffed after lunch so all we bother with is a teaspoon each of a 'Christmas Pudding For One' from Waitrose for tradition and for the larks of setting fire to it. 
So, anyway, going to the bother of making a proper pudding would be a terrible waste of effort - so I make the Christmas cake on Stir-up Sunday instead, which is so full of brandy by the time it's time to ice it, it would probably last til Whitsun.

The Tiniest Trefusis decided to help me this year. She likes to get into character for serious things like Christmas cake making (don't put your daughter on the stage, Me's Worthington) and so she is dressed as a 'Christmas Kitten'. Her approach to measuring ingredients was as full of whimsy as the costume might suggest - I'll have to move the photos around when on a proper computer but at least two of these feature the Tiniest Trefusis' 'wishing face'... It looks so focused and devout she must be wishing for a miracle.


'He's not all fur, is he ?' Back in February the vet mentioned that Marmalade was a little on the robust side. Now, nine months later, Marmalade weighs as much as an adult fox - at home, he is fed the right amount of food, but he has a well-developed network of friends in the neighbourhood and is canny enough to charm treats from each of them. 
The vet recommended getting a collar for him with 'Please don't feed me, I'm a diabetic' printed in it (not diabetic yet but will be if he carries on like this).
How on earth does one put a cat on a diet?

Tuesday, 18 November 2014


In Your Prime; Older, Wiser, Happier by India Knight, a copy of Harper's Bazaar and Prestat's delicious chocolate - ready for guests to take home.

'The charm of your writing' Evelyn Waugh once wrote to Nancy Mitford, 'depends on your refusal to recognise a distinction between girlish chatter and literary language.' The same could be said, I think, of the appeal of India Knight, whose considerable intellectual clout is effortlessly tempered by the warmth, wit and generosity of her writing. 

Guests drank ice-cold Nyetimber - not for nothing has it outclassed the big brand champagnes in blind testing - and went home with a goodybag containing a copy of In Your Prime, December Harper's Bazaar and a delicious bar of Prestat chocolate. I went home without my copy of In Your Prime (I think a guest may have inadvertently picked it up. Tant pis...) but with a renewed sense of purpose and in my full pomp - very much in my prime.

India has an uncanny ability to produce a book at precisely the moment I need her most  - From Pig to Twig  [more properly known as 'Neris and India's Idiot-Proof Diet'] arrived when I realised that the avoirdupois I'd acquired whilst pregnant with The Tiniest Trefusis wasn't going to shift itself. Thrift turned up - helpfully - in time for the Great Trefusis Economic Crisis, and her four novels have endlessly consoled and amused me (& once, when I was reading 'Comfort and Joy' aloud to my sister as she drove us up the A303, she became so hysterical with laughter she had to stop the car). And of course, India's weekly comment column and newish beauty feature for the Sunday Times seem to connect exactly with the collective zeitgeist (one has no sooner thought, 'God, my legs are the colour of skimmed milk' than a column appears recommending the ne plus ultra of fake tans). Now, when the face that stares back at me in the mirror shows the relentless march towards middle-age, India's latest book 'In Your Prime; Older, Wiser, Happier,' appears, oasis-like. It's full of India's trademark drollery and shrewd, sensible advice - not all of which must be followed prescriptively - my blissful friend Belgian Waffling and I were paralysed by wardrobe anxiety before the launch party for In Your Prime, after reading in its pages that after a certain age one must never wear black, it being so funereal and 'draining'. Obediently, both of us cast off our nightly colour only to discover India resplendent in a super-sexy black sparkly number, looking for all the world as if she'd had her DNA blended in a centrifuge with Gina Lollobrigida's and Sophia Loren's. Nor do I think we should worry too much about getting  'on top': as suggested, I put a mirror on the floor, straddled it, and looked down. Admittedly,  the view wasn't delightful but I think one's partner is probably too busy in the throes to pause for much thought (also, if similar age, will probably be quite grateful to you for taking weight off his ageing joints). 

Anyway, if you're tempted to punch people when they ask you what you're going to do for 'your big birthday', this book is for you. If you're about to ask one of your friends, or your mum, or any other woman in your life what she plans to do for her 'big birthday', please button your lip and buy them 'In Your Prime' instead. 

 'In Your Prime' has my favourite appendix of all time - a list of more than fifty comfort reads, alone quite worth the price of the book. Uncle Matthew, one of the glorious characters in India's first Books That Built Me choice, Nancy Mitford, The Pursuit of Love, says "My dear Lady Kroesig, I have only read one book in my life, and that is ‘White Fang.’ It’s so frightfully good I’ve never bothered to read another.”. I'd go so far as to say these fifty are so good one would never have to bother to read others, though one should definitely add these, below. So, here are India's Books That Built Me

1. The Pursuit of Love, Nancy Mitford. A novel that can be read again and again without it ever losing its charm. 
(Regular guests at TBTBM will know that Penhaligon's always perfume the room with a scent to match something in one of the books - this time they chose their new gentleman's cologne, Bayolea, based on a traditional recipe and gorgeously manly with citrus and cedar, lavender, musk and moss, absolutely the essence of Linda's great love, Fabrice de Sauveterre.) The Amazon link is to the Complete Novels of Nancy Mitford, because India wrote the foreword, and as India said at TBTBM, everything Mitford wrote is worth reading, not simply the novels but also the hugely entertaining and well-researched biographies - Madame De Pompadour, Frederick The Great, The Sun King, Voltaire in Love, and so on.

2. An Omelette and a Glass of Wine,  Elizabeth David. India's mum sent her off to university with this book, but India said she mostly read it for the beauty of Elizabeth David's writing and ate Pot Noodle. David not only transformed how the British Middle-class art after the war (as India said, even as late as the early seventies, her mother was horrified to discover that olive oil was sold in tiny quantities from Boots, for medicinal purposes, quite insufficient for dressing a salad) but was also a very literary food writer, much published in newspapers and magazines (Harper's Bazaar published her first ever piece, about rice, in 1949). An Omelette and A Glass of Wine is her anthology of her journalism and, I quite agree with India when she says it's also the perfect description of the perfect meal for one.

3. The Man Who Watched Trains Go By, Georges Simenon. All writers are tremendous readers, says India, and as a child in Belgium with her grandparents, she devoured books - everything she could lay her hands on, including Tin Tin and Asterix and detective stories like Simenon's The Man Who Watched Trains Go By. It's not a Maigret novel, but a bleakly gripping thriller about a petit-bourgeois official who is so tired of being who he is he commits murder. John Banville calls it 'insouciantly gruesome ... A superb and polished work of art masquerading as pulp fiction', and I wonder aloud if India has unconsciously absorbed Simenon's ability to pen a page-turner yet not stint on intelligent writing, as with Mitford. I think the truth lies in India's response -'What was it Dolly Parton said? 'it takes a lot of effort to look this cheap'' 

4. India's fourth book choice is by fellow Belgian Albert Cohen's Belle Du Seigneur (often translated in English as 'Her Lover'). Cohen is hugely celebrated in Belgium but little known in England and, published in 1968, Belle Du Seigneur, has sold over a million copies on the continent. It's a story of a doomed love affair between Solal, a handsome Mediterranean Jew who has risen to become  Under Secretary-General of the League of Nations and Ariane, the beautiful, aristocratic Swiss wife of one of his underlings.  
Belle Du Seigneur is an epic tale of adulterous passion in the Paolo and Francesca mode, two legendary lovers doomed, in Dante's Inferno, India's penultimate book, to float perpetually on the wings of love, always reaching for each other, always missing each other's embrace.
Belle Du Seigneur is also the reason I know India, but that's for another time.

5. Speaking of Paolo and Francesco, who occupy the Second Circle of Dante's Inferno (quite unfair, really, adulterous get away with only the second circle of hell, whilst fortune tellers and tarot readers get the 8th, India's fifth book is The Divine Comedy (Inferno) by Dante. India read modern languages at University, and first discovered Dante in its original Italian, which must have been wonderful (I can say Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate, but that's the only Italian I can muster, soI'm all about the English translation). 

Delicious Nyetimber

6. Barbara Pym - all but in particular Excellent Women and Some Tame Gazelle. James Thurber once wrote that the difference between American and English humour is that the former makes the extraordinary, ordinary, and the latter turns on transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary, and the quiet pleasure of Pym's writing is quintessentially English. Wistful, witty and wise, Barbara Pym's novels are marvellous about all the quiet details in the lives of the middle-classes and much of the joy of her as an author lies in the way one recognises one's own life in her pages - in her novels, as in life, it's the small, seemingly inconsequential details that have the most power. I have some recollection of India saying that she could never quite love anyone who didn't like Barbara Pym - if I've misquoted that, forgive me and ascribe the sentiment to me instead. 

Guests drank ice-cold Nyetimber - not for nothing has it outclassed the big name champagnes in blind testing - and went home with a goodybag containing In Your Prime, a copy of Harper's Bazaar and a bar of Prestat's gorgeous cardamom and orange chocolate. I went home without my copy of In Your Prime (I think someone must have inadvertently picked it up, tant pis) but, having spent an hour or so talking to India, I think I absorbed by osmosis the essence of what she means by being in one's prime, and off I went, full of confidence, vigour and very much in my full pomp.

The next Books That Built Me salon is on 8th December with Justine Picardie, author of several books, including the best-selling Coco Chanel; the Legend and the Life, and Editor in Chief of Harper's Bazaar

Friday, 14 November 2014


Brilliant, inventive, utterly delicious; reports of Simon Rogan's culinary genius have not been exaggerated. Set lunch menu is £30 for three courses, an absolute steal for cooking of this quality in such a fabled setting - quite makes me want to turn into one of those deeply eccentric people who eat their lunch at the same restaurant every day until the table becomes known as 'X's table' ... But I'd need deeper pockets for that.
Anyway, Fera is blissful - book for lunch.

Thursday, 23 October 2014


What is literature for? Bibliophile as I am, I'm not sure that I've ever asked myself the question - but as so often, The School of Life has the answers....

Sunday, 19 October 2014


A blow dry will do more for you than a new dress any day of the week - no wonder Anna Wintour reputedly has her hairdresser come by at 6.30am every morning to do her hair (though seriously, how hard can that bob actually be to do yourself?) and it's the one thing I rely on to transform how I look if I'm going to an event, or have to look especially soigné for some reason. For a proper rug rethink or for colour, I go to the genius Graham (Tilley & Carmichael), but he is to the quick fix blow dry what Le Gavroche is to Pret á Manger, too marvellous for everyday. Not being Anna Wintour, of course, I have to leave the house for my blow dry, but then I'm on my own money, not Condé Nast's.

The rise of the blow dry bar has put A-List grooming within the sights of ordinary mortals: there's the blow dry menu at Headmasters (though it's irritatingly restrictive to be offered only six styles), my go-to salon, Feel, on Berwick street, reliable and an accessible £22, and Hershesons, which suffers from the same menu-itis as Headmasters.  

None of these quite passes the Wintour test: I've yet to find one that can get you back on the road in under 40 minutes, and not do they open early enough. If I want to pretend I'm an intergalactic business empress, I want to give good hair at a breakfast meeting, not skulk around until a lunchtime appointment: I like to maximise the hair-miles.  However, I recently stumbled upon Blo by Real Hair -both the Elizabeth Street and Cale Street salons open at 7.30am and guarantee to take no longer than 30 minutes, all without shoehorning you into a menu card, but giving you the hair you want, your way, double quick and for £25. -the result is below. Utter bliss (slightly worried it might be habit forming...)

Blo By Real Hair
Opening hours, 7.30 am to 7.30 pm Monday to Wednesday, 7.30 to 8pm thursday friday, and 9am to 8pm Saturday (also open Sunday)

18 Cale Street Chelsea, SW3 3QU or 36 Elizabeth Street SW1W 9NZ 
telephone number: 02030219050

A word about lipstick
My passion for red lipstick is well documented on these pages - in my head, scarlet lips offer instant screen-siren glamour and, like a blow-dry are one of my default style upgrades when the occasion but not necessarily the time demands. This, Lipstick Queen's Jungle Queen, was designed to work with animal print (which it does) because it's an orange toned red rather than blue. However, since I turn all red lipsticks too pink, the slightly orangey thing is a Godsend for me - and at £20, it's nearly half the price of my previous favourite, Tom Ford's Wilful, almost saving me the price of another blow dry at Blo.

Saturday, 18 October 2014


The Tiniest Trefusis, wearing a Ralph Lauren Varsity blazer, as Roald Dahl's Matilda
Last thursday, Ralph Lauren celebrated their children's literacy programme and their collaboration with Book Trust with a Matilda themed tea party at the Bond Street store.

Ralph Lauren believes that 'books open windows to the world and have the power to transform lives' (absolutely true, of course) and are helpfully putting their money where their mouth is by donating 25% of proceeds from their literacy collection and 10% of the purchase price of the children's fashion show collection to Book Trust.

The Tiniest T would like to say thank you very much to Ralph Lauren for inviting her to such a lovely tea (tiny cakes! apple juice in miniature milk bottles with stripy straws! games with Sharkey and George!). And, as someone who very much believes in the transformative power of books for children, I would like to say an enormous and heartfelt thank you to Ralph Lauren to supporting Book Trust's incredible work.

Saturday, 11 October 2014


'Look,' [says Lizzie Vogel, ten year old narrator of Nina Stibbe's Man at The Helm, to her sister]
'I know about the plastic parsley - but, in real life, she's got plenty of friends and acquaintances and so forth who will all rally round and do their utmost.''No, they won't, that's not what happens,' says my sister, sounding horribly grown up at only eleven years old. 'That only happens when someone dies and even then not for long. If a lone female is left, especially if divorced, without a man at the helm, all the friends and family and acquaintances run away.''Do they?' I asked.'Yes, until there's another man at the helm.' She said.'And then what?' I asked.'Then, when a new man at the helm is in place, the woman is accepted once again.'

Nina Stibbe at The Dorchester
Man At The Helm is the 'semi-autobiographical' novel Nina Stibbe began to write in her twenties, and at one point shows to Alan Bennett in Love, Nina, her first book, an epistolary memoir of her years as the nanny to the editor of the London Review of Books, in which the cast of walk-on characters includes the great and the good of London's literary scene, Bennett included. He thought it was funny, and rightly so: more than twenty years later, Man At The Helm has emerged fully formed, its humour fulfilling the promise Bennett identified, scorchingly honest, and underpinned with that especially British pathos, the kind that keeps you laughing through the tears. After her parents split up, Lizzie Vogel and her siblings move to a village where they're ostracised for their lack of the eponymous man at the helm. Anxious when their mother turns to booze, pills and  - most worryingly - play-writing, Lizzie and her sister make it their business to find her a new husband and produce 'The Man List', of all the men they consider eligible in the neighbourhood and then send them notes on peach writing paper, purporting to come from their mother inviting them to a drink, in the hope it will lead to 'sexual intercourse and possibly marriage.'
Few things nicer for the tube journey home
 than an excellent novel and a bar of posh chocolate

It's hard to think of a more enjoyable guest for The Books That Built Me than Nina Stibbe, every bit as entertaining in real life as she is in print: dry, droll, charming, clever and generous. In fact, I enjoyed talking to her so much, I quite forgot to look at my watch, and only realised after an hour and ten minutes how far we'd strayed over time.

Anyway, before I share with you her books, I must not forget to do my thank yous, being an exceptionally well-brought up person, particularly to The Dorchester for hosting the salon, to Nyetimber for the delicious pre-salon drinks reception, and to Prestat for the chocolate treats in the goodybag to eat on the way home.

The Books That Built Me: Nina Stibbe

1. Jill's Gymkhana. Ruby Ferguson
In the first in a long series of Jill books, published in the fifties, lonely Jill Crewe makes friends with a neglected pony. She decides to buy Black Boy, but she can't even unsaddle him, let alone ride him. And girls like Susan Pyke are very scathing that she doesn't have the right riding clothes. But her friends show her the ropes, and encourage her to ride in the local gymkhana, where she has a few surprises for the unpleasant Susan Pyke.
 'Horsey but more interesting than most horsey books because Jill wasn't as posh as most horse people or as well off and secure as the rest of her family (and had horrid posh cousins who thought her a bit of an oik).. and felt continually slightly out of place and  had a writer mother and tragic absent father (deceased).' wrote Nina when I asked which books she wanted to talk about at the salon,  'Jill's stories were first person narrated and involved lots of straight to reader talk, and tiny mundane detail ('I washed the carrots under the tap'). Jill was tough and worthy and nice. I loved Jill and loved her story telling style.'
There's a marvellously recalcitrant pony in Man At The Helm called Maxwell who goes inside the Vogels house and climbs the stairs.

2. Black Beauty. Anna Sewell
Black Beauty tells the story of his life in his own words.  'This story stunned me as a nine year old. I couldn't believe it was narrated in the first person. By a HORSE. I was very interested in the horse-voice and fascinated by Black Beauty's slightly judgemental tone on things (such as alcohol) that he couldn't possibly have known about (him being a six year old horse)....' Black Beauty enjoys a rather idyllic life with the Gordons until he's sold to Lord Westland where he's ridden hard and horribly whipped by drunken groom Reuben Smith, then sold into quite a different life pulling a London cab - he's treated well, but the hours are long and it's terribly hard work. Like Man At The Helm, it's the story of changed circumstances -
 'My sister and I and our little brother were born (in that order) into a very good situation and apart from the odd new thing, life was humdrum and comfortable until an evening in 1970 when our mother listened in to our father's phone call and ended up blowing her nose on a tea towel - a thing she'd only have done in an absolute emergency.'
There's also a sense in which Lizzie's mother is Black Beauty - one minute being driven around in a Daimler by Bernard the Chauffeur, the next in a relationship with an unsuitable plumber called Charlie and living off whisky and anti-depressants.

3. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged thirteen and three-quarters. Sue Townsend
Adrian Mole reminds Nina of her 'Love, Nina' years with Mary-Kay Wilmers' children, Will and Sam,  in Gloucester Crescent. Published in the early 1980's, Adrian Mole is a much more political novel than I remember it - it's not simply its backdrop of Thatcher's Britain (and Townsend herself endured great privation), but the things that one forgets like the SDP. I think I'd also forgotten what a comic tour de force it is.
What was endlessly fascinating for me (and probably the reason I lost track of the time) is that in all the books Nina chose, it's possible to track the things that speak to her as a writer, that have built her craft and made Man At The Helm into such a finely honed and brilliant novel - first person narration, the effortless ability she shares with Townsend in particular to inhabit the voice of a child, bringing to a story a tremendous combination of naiveté and knowing.

4. The Country Girls, Edna O'Brian
Edna O'Brian's first published novel tells of innocence eventually lost. Narrated in the first person (see the theme emerging...), it's the story of Caithleen, who at the beginning of the novel is a 14 year old girl living in an Irish village, and at the end, an 18 year old in Dublin, abandoned by her first lover.
'I read this as a teenager and was thrilled,' wrote Nina, 'Very excited that someone who lived in the country (as I did) was so thrilled to move to a town. Also, I loved the nothingness (yet the hugeness) of her relationship with Mr Gentleman until the very end when she compares his penis to an orchid (an orchid of two different purples). At that point I rushed around looking for pictures of orchids and got quite freaked out. Loved her relationship with best-friend Baba. Who was a total bitch and yet a loyal friend at the same time. Which can happen'

5. Jane and Prudence. Barbara Pym
'I picked it up in my teens,' said Nina, 'and couldn't believe how utterly dull it was. My mother was a huge fan and claimed Pym was hilarious. I finished the book and thought I'd avoid Pym in future. For some reason, I came back to her via Some Tame Gazelle, and then re-read Jane and Prudence and fond it joyous and funny.'
One of the great delights of Pym is how she captures life's mundanities in great detail. It's a style which creates a particular intimacy with the characters, who stay with you long after the novel is finished.  I came across a review of  Love, Nina in which Kate Kellaway wrote, 'What makes the book special is her understanding that it is often in the most inconsequential details that people reveal themselves most fully.' and this is absolutely something that she and Pym share.
Nina, with Diary of A Nobody, George and Weedon Grossmith's comic novel

Nyetimber English sparkling wine
(if you haven't tried it, do: it consistently beats the biggest name champagnes in blind tests)
& Nina's Books That Built Me

6. Diary of a Nobody. George and Weedon Grossmith.
Pooter, the 'hero' of Diary of a Nobody is one of the great literary comic creations. A City of London clerk, he and his wife Carrie have moved to their new house at 'The Laurels', Brickfield Lane, Holloway and he begins to record the minutiae of his daily life. With every small vexation, often arising from his unwitting pomposity, the humour quietly builds.
"I told Sarah not to bring up the blanc-mange again for breakfast. [writes Pooter in his diary]. It seems to have been placed on our table at every meal since Wednesday....In spite of my instructions, that blanc-mange was brought up again for supper. To make matters worse, there had been an attempt to disguise it, by placing it in a glass dish with jam round it...I told Carrie, when we were alone, if that blanc-mange were placed on the table again I should walk out of the house."
One of the things Nina nails so brilliantly in Man At The Helm is the pooterishness of little England, the sneaky censoriousness, the self-importance of villagers like Mrs Longlady at the Village Fete

"Mrs Longlady, our almost neighbour, was one of the judges and seeing her there ... she seemed tall and important like her name and she kept saying Thrice which seemed important too 'The Entrants will be viewed thrice,' she announced to the entrants and their mothers in her echoey mic voice, 'walking, standing and close up before we adjudge who is to be awarded the prizes."  

I hope I haven't made the salon sound like a forensic examination of a writer's style - all lit crit and no wit. Although I always intended The Books That Built Me to describe how an author's favourite novels must inevitably reflect the kind of writing they respond to and admire - that lovely quote of Sarah Churchwell's 'how the books you love meet the books you write' comes to mind -  I hadn't expected Nina's to give me quite so much insight into Man At The Helm. Perhaps it's because I too adore first person stories, and those in which the 'inconsequential details' create a conspiracy between author and reader, that I find myself so captivated by her journey as an author. Man At The Helm is a triumphant achievement - incredibly sad and incredibly funny as all the best books are, and I feel quite sure that, like Adrian Mole, Jane and Prudence, Diary of a Nobody, et al, its appeal will endure.

Man at the Helm is published by Penguin, priced £12.99

The next Books That Built Me is with India Knight on 12th November at The Club at Café Royal.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014


A little over six years ago, in the days before blogging and tweeting and all the rest of the social media folderol, I sat in a black cab, clutching a copy of Mrs Dalloway, staring out into another London, thinking of Septimus Warren Smith as we drove past Regents Park, 

Men must not cut down trees. There is a God. (He noted such revelations on the backs of envelopes.) Change the world. No one kills from hatred. Make it known (he wrote it down). He waited. He listened. A sparrow perched on the railings opposite chirped Septimus, Septimus, four or five times over and went on, drawing its notes out, to sing freshly and piercingly in Greek words how there is no crime and, joined by another sparrow, they sang in voices prolonged and piercing in Greek words, from trees in the meadow of life beyond a river where the dead walk, how there is no death.

Six years ago, in that cab, I was only idly thinking about writing a blog - everyone had a blog then, why shouldn't I? - I didn't know what to call it, but there was Mrs Dalloway, not Clarissa Dalloway but Mrs and it seemed to me, newly returned to work after maternity leave, that nothing had changed in in the intervening eighty-five years; women were still defined by their relationships with men.

And as the taxi carried me up and over the Westway towards home, I felt that I, too, could make my own kind of quiet comment on that; choose Mrs yet append it to a surname that was neither my father's nor my husband's, but one that tangentially reminded me of Woolf. So there it was and I was, Mrs Trefusis Takes a Taxi; my own, odd, homage to my literary touchstone, and my acknowledgment of the debt that every woman writer owes to Woolf.

Mrs Dalloway is a book that pays with repeated re-reading: every time one comes back to it there is a new book inside, waiting to be unwrapped. I've spent every Tuesday evening this September at Wendy Meakin's literary salon at The Club at Café Royal, reading Mrs Dalloway with a group of fierce, clever, interesting people, teasing out its secrets, listening to other Mrs Dalloways, attempting to articulate answers to Wendy's incisive, provocative questions about the text - how long it is since I heard a book called a text - hoping the friction might conjure sparks in long-dormant synapses. It was a bootcamp for the brain: six weeks on and I feel intellectually fitter than I have since university. It can't last - I will ruin myself again with vampire books and Jilly Cooper, but just for a bit I felt I could cut it in a conversation about Freud and Saussure and Barthes. I bluffed my way through when Lacan and Foucault came up, but I was never that hot on lit crit, even as an undergrad.

Anyway, this year, my Mrs Dalloway was Septimus Warren Smith's Mrs Dalloway - in no small part, I'm sure, because we're all so immersed in the centenary of the Great War. I'm not sure I'd stopped to think before how well Woolf articulates the unhealed and unheal-able wound the war had left upon Britain in the early twenties - soldiers returned from the war, alive but 'in rats' alley, where the dead men lost their bones', and her own experience of mental illness allows her to portray the sufferings of shell-shocked Septimus and the hopeless inadequacies of treatment - isolation, enforced inactivity, over-feeding, with extraordinary insight and compassion.

Septimus was one of the first to volunteer. He went to France to save an England which consisted almost entirely of Shakespeare's plays and Miss Isabel Pole in a green dress walking in a square....
He had gone through the whole show, friendship, European war, death, had won promotion, was still under thirty and was bound to survive. He was right there. The last shells missed him. He watched them explode with indifference....
He looked at people outside: happy they seemed,  collecting in the middle of the street, shouting, laughing, squabbling over nothing. But he could not taste, he could not feel. In the teashop among the tables and the chattering waiters the appalling fear came over him - he could not feel. he could reason; he could read, Dante for example, quite easily ('Septimus, do put down your book, ' said Rezia, gently shutting The Inferno), he could add up his bill; his brain was perfect; it must be the fault of the world then - that he could not feel.
Woolf begins Mrs Dalloway in 1922 (it's set in 1923), the annus mirabilis of 20th century literature, the year in which Joyce publishes Ulysses, and Eliot The Waste Land. Reading the pages in Mrs Dalloway in which Septimus goes to war with Shakespeare (Antony and Cleopatra, which he picks up again, post-war, 'That boy's business of the intoxication of language - Antony and Cleopatra - had shrivelled utterly') and returns with The Inferno. The war has left him in hell without a Virgil to lead him out; he sees the ghost of Evans, his commanding officer, everywhere and
In the streets, vans roared past him; brutality blared out on placards; men were trapped in mines; women burnt alive; and once a maimed file of lunatics being exercised or displayed for the diversion of the populace (who laughed aloud) ambled and nodded and grinned past him, the Tottenham Court Road, each half apologetically, yet triumphantly, inflicting his hopeless woe.
Eliot, of course, also uses Dante and Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra in The Waste Land - but, since Wendy's next deep dive into the sacred texts of modernism begins on 21st October with a two week salon on The Waste Land, it will wait for another time.

[the Wendy Meakin Literary Salon: The Waste Land is 21st and 28th October, 7pm to 9pm at The Club at Cafe Royal, price £30 for both sessions, or £41 to include a copy of TS Eliot Selected poems. If anyone is interested in joining me there, email me on mrstrefusis@gmail.com]

Sunday, 28 September 2014


Chiswick Buzz filmed The Books That Built Me with Sasha Wilkins (AKA Liberty London Girl) at the Chiswick Book festival: click to see the video here

Sasha chose wonderful books to describe her life as a writer -

Madhur Jaffrey's Eastern Vegetarian Cooking - her bible at University, Madhur Jaffrey's brilliant recipes taught her the joy of cooking for friends and set her on the path to writing 'Friends, Food, Family'.

Alison Uttley - A Traveller In Time

Georgette Heyer - all of them, of course - we talked about Venetia, Frederica, Arabella, Sprig Muslin, and The Grand Sophy, amongst others

The Group - Mary McCartney

Alison Lurie - Foreign Affairs

A Discovery of Witches - Deborah Harkness. Sasha loves this trilogy for what it says about the importance of being brave enough to recognise yourself for who you are.

Friends Food Family; Recipes and Secrets from Liberty London Girl is published by Quadrille, price £18.99

Saturday, 30 August 2014


The Books That Built Me with Liberty London Girl 13th September 2014
On Saturday 13th September at 7pm, Sasha Wilkins, founder of LibertyLondonGirl.com, and I will be at the Chiswick Book Festival for a special Books That Built Me salon to celebrate the forthcoming launch of her first book, Friends Food Family.

I first came across Sasha when I had just begun to write Mrs Trefusis Takes A Taxi and Sasha's legendary blog was the, then anonymous, account of the ex-pat life of a British magazine editor, working, living, dining and dating in New York. Liberty London Girl became a synonym for smart, single, stylish and savvy - insights into the arcane world of fashion mixed with amusing anecdotes about the New York dating scene alongside musings and meditations about food and friends. Above all, it was Sasha's warm, wise and generous personality that made her a star in the brave new blogging firmament.

A little over six years later, the online world has evolved: Sasha has left the traditional world of magazine publishing and anonymous blogging behind to build a successful dotcom business in LibertyLondonGirl.com, with a powerful social media voice and readers in 139 countries world-wide. What's more, her love of bringing people together over food and good conversation has resulted into what promises to be a best-selling cookery book: small wonder You magazine has pounced on the exclusive serialisation rights (I think this starts a week Sunday). Sasha is living proof that following one's passions is the secret to success.

In those early days, when blogging was quite new, and twitter a minority interest, Sasha and I bonded over our love of books - a mutual, raging passion for Georgette Heyer, obsessive re-reading of I Captured the Castle, and so on. Her online support for Mrs Trefusis, and her subsequent actual Real Life friendship, is something I value very highly. It's also fair to say The Books That Built Me wouldn't exist without Sasha - the idea has its seeds in a long conversation she and I had on a wet and windy day in 2012  about the way books bring women together, and how childhood favourites sustain one in adult life.

Anyway, having watched Sasha's extraordinary trajectory from fashion editor of The Wall Street Journal-AKA-anonymous-blogger to a bonefide dotcommer and author of a brilliantly useful book, I'm absolutely delighted she's going to share her thoughts about her journey with the help of the books that have inspired her and informed her along the way.

Sasha Wilkins, of LibertyLondonGirl.com, talks about the books that have built her on 13th September at the Chiswick Book Festival. Tickets are available here and include a copy of Harper's Bazaar and entry into a prize draw to win fabulous treats from Nyetimber, Ralph Lauren and Le Creuset.

Also at the Chiswick Book Festival is previous Books That Built Me guest, Andy Miller, author of The Year of Reading Dangerously, in his hugely entertaining one-man show, 'Read Y'self Fitter'.

Friends Food Family, by Sasha Wilkins is published on 25th September by Quadrille, priced £18.99

Saturday, 16 August 2014


Andy Miller & I at The Club at Cafe Royal and his chosen 'Books That Built Me'
The last Books That Built Me salon with Andy Miller, author of The Year of Reading Dangerously, went so delightfully well, I'm ashamed it's taken me so long to write the experience up. I have no excuse for my tardiness, other than reading Andy's book so rekindled my own  
 passion for books, I've have had my head stuck in a succession of novels ever since, some improving, some not so much.

Andy Miller's Books That Built Me took place, as ever, at The Club at Café Royal, which has welcomed the great and the good of London's literary set since Oscar Wilde was a regular in the Grill Room. In a lovely coincidence, I discovered Wilde (reputedly) wore Hammam Bouquet, the first scent created by Penhaligon's, who support The Books That Built Me and give the lovely fragrance libraries that guests get in their goodybags. I have a deeply superstitious side, and in the spirit of making a kind of burnt offering to the ghost of Oscar Wilde, willing him give the salon his benediction from the other side, Penhaligon's very kindly gave me Elixir candles to scent the room, a decadent contemporary take on Hammam Bouquet, all exotic spices, incense and old libraries with leather bound books.

The Year of Reading Dangerously is about a man whose life has been built of, and on, books. It's all about the beautiful truth every book lover understands: books not only have the power to open up the world, but they also have a magical ability to open up one's understanding of oneself. They heal and nourish, delight and entertain. Yet as every bibliophile will also understand, the acquisition of books is an addiction - ownership of these enchanted objects leads inevitably to a large pile of unread books reproaching one from one's bedside table - as Miller writes in The Year of Reading Dangerously

“Books, for instance. I had a lot of those. There they all were, on the shelves and on the floor, piled up by the bed and falling out of boxes. Moby-Dick, Possession, Remembrance of Things Past, the poetry of Emily Dickinson, Psychotic Reactions and Carburettor Dung, a few Pevsners, that Jim Thompson omnibus, The Child in Time, Six more Ian McEwan novels or novellas, two volumes of is short stories…. These books did furnish the room, but they also got in the way. And there were too many I was aware I had not actually read. As Schopenhauer noted a hundred and fifty years ago, ‘It would be a good thing to buy books if one could also buy the time to read them: but one usually confuses the purchase of books with the acquisition of their contents.’
These books became the focus of a need to do something. They were a reproach – wasted money, squandered time, muddled priorities. I shall make a list I thought. It will name the books I am most ashamed not to have read – difficult ones, classics, a few outstanding entries in the deceitful Miller library – and then I shall read them.”

And so he did, as you'll discover if you read his book. But for the Books That Built Me, Andy and I talked about books he had already read and loved: here are the six Books That Built Andy Miller.

1.Moominpappa at Sea

“One afternoon at the end of August, Moominpappa was walking about in his garden feeling at a loss. He had no idea what to do with himself, because it seemed everything there was to be done had already been done or was being done by somebody else” Andy says Moominpappa perfectly describes his existential angst, his innate Eyore-ishness, what one of his favourite writers, Douglas Adams, calls 'the long dark teatime of the soul'. It's "a chronicle of a mid-life crisis foretold, for readers of nine and over.” I say, Andy Miller is a lot cheerier than he believes himself to be.

2. Absolute Beginners

"Absolute Beginners gave me an exit strategy, a teenage identity I could relate and aspire to. In the process, it liberated and liberalised me – awaked in me the nervous excitement of being young, on the brink, in the same way that great pop music does." 

3. The Whitsun Weddings
I wondered if Andy had chosen The Whitsun Weddings because Larkin is another self-confessed pessimist, like Moominpappa and Andy Miller. Perhaps there's some truth in that. Andy read Larkin's Arundel Tomb - and talked about how its most famous line 'what will survive of us is love' was entirely misinterpreted by Julian Barnes in A History of The World in Ten and a Half Chapters. Bold but fair, I thought.

4. A Rebours (Against Nature)
Oh, Andy Miller, mon semblable, mon frère....how fabulous to discover someone else who's actually read this marvellous book. Against Nature is a now rather obscure late nineteenth century novel about Des Esseintes, a world-weary, filthy rich, fin-du-siecle French aristocrat who leaves town for an isolated country house where he can indulge in a kaleidoscope of extreme sensual experiences – he has a black feast in which everything is ....black, he fills his house with symbolist art, he grows a garden of poisonous plants, he spends days trying to make the perfect perfume – he has exhausting sex with a lady athlete called Miss Urania – and there’s the tortoise, of course, which he encrusts with astonishing precious jewels so it can crawl exquisitely over his carpet. It expires under the weight of its beauty, logical conclusion of an aesthete's life.

Andy says it's one of the funniest books he's ever read, I say it's one of the most tragic: the truth is somewhere in between.

5. Anna Karenina 
Andy describes Anna Karenina as the perfect union of art and entertainment. I'm ashamed to admit that I'd owned a copy of Anna Karenina for nearly thirty years without ever having read it, thinking it might be enormously hard work. It isn't. I read it whilst swotting for Andy's Books That Built Me and it's every bit as miraculous as he says it is, gripping and nourishing in equal measure.

6. Tigers are Better Looking
Jean Rhys will be known to most only for her Jane Eyre prequel, The Wide Sargasso Sea, read by Andy during his reading odyssey for TYoRD - there's something immensely satisfying about discovering an author you love and then going on to read everything else they've written too.

Andy and I talking about Against Nature - in honour of the famous tortoise passage, I'm wearing Livyora's beautiful Tartarucha earrings, smoky quartz surrounded by diamonds in the shape of a tortoise
Like Andy Miller, I seemed also to have ..."forgotten the parquet floor, the boy sitting in the back seat, or stretched out on his bed on a summer’s day, lost and found in a good book… So far the List of Betterment had offered me glimpses of something bigger and better. It was up to me to keep looking for it, to push reality aside until I relocated the magic of reading." - hosting Andy's The Books That Built Me helped me completely relocate the magic of reading: for this, and for being such a marvellous and entertaining guest, I owe him quite a debt.

Guests went home with a goodybag containing a copy of Andy Miller's The Year of Reading Dangerously, a copy of Harper's Bazaar, a Penhaligon's Scent Library and a delicious bar of Prestat chocolate. 

Andy Miller's solo show 'Read Y'self Fitter', a ten step programme to cure yourself of bad reading habits (like not reading at all) is at the Chiswick Book Festival on Saturday 13th September. Tickets on sale now.
The Books That Built Me is also coming to the Chiswick Book Festival in a special salon with Sacha Wilkins of LibertyLondonGirl.com, in advance of the launch of her gorgeous book Food Friends Family:  tickets will be on sale next week.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014


As I was saying to a friend of mine at the weekend, the problem with men is that one can't often tell very much about them from first sight - really, they should be bar-coded like biscuits, and one should be able to scan them for quality and (emotional) price.

I expect someone inventive will soon have something like that for the iPhone, but in the meantime we'll have to make do with the tried, tested and trusted advice of the planets: here's what I think you can tell about a man from his starsign.

Obviously, this post isn't for astro-sceptics (bugger off Richard Dawkins - Aries, incidentally - we'll never agree on anything) or, probably, men....

How to spot one: Always at the centre of the room, holding court. Tells anecdotes. Aspires to being a raconteur. Usually has good hair
Good at: Making you feel like the sun just came out. Bask in the warmth of his personality
Worst habit: Not noticeably liberated. Very keen that he’s the actor and you’re the audience
Most likely to say: ‘Oh yes, I’ve been there, but I stayed at the [insert name of eleven thousand star hotel]. I hear the [insert name of the crummy BandB you went to] is very nice though’
How to play him: Flattery will get you everywhere
Reliability rating: ***** Extremely loyal
Romance rating: *** Generous and keen to impress. Good at fancy cocktails in smart bars and pretty trinkets
Sex rating: *** Very performance orientated – don’t forget to applaud

How to spot one: Neat creases ironed in his jeans, bitten fingernails from all that worrying. Concerned look. Organised wallet. Nice manners
Good at: Evolving – he’s very big on self-improvement. You can train him not to leave the loo-seat up in less than twenty-four hours
Worst habit: Will also try to improve you. It’s quite tedious when someone wants to change you, particularly when they say it’s because they can see your potential
Most likely to say: ‘I’m only saying this for your own good’
How to play him: Listen to his advice and look like you’re taking it seriously. He prefers practical presents and gestures
Reliability rating:** Changes his mind as often as the weather
Romance rating: *** Very good at remembering when he said he’d phone. One of the very few men to believe in putting things in a diary
Sex rating: *** Ultra-fastidious, so not for the unwaxed. Someone who remembers that the devil’s in the detail. Expects you to write a letter thanking him for having you.

How to spot one: charming and good-looking. Often to be found acting cool and cultured in chic restaurants and art galleries
Good at: long-term relationships rather than brief flings
Worst habit: Refuses to argue, which is plate-throwingly infuriating
Most likely to say: ‘If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?’
How to play him: Hire a stylist and a personal trainer, and always get up before he does to put your makeup back on. Libra men can be a little too appearance conscious
Reliability rating: *** As long as it doesn’t put him out of his way, and as long as you don’t let yourself go, you’re fine
Romance rating: *****Deeply, deeply smooth. The man for whom candlelit dinners were invented
Sex rating: ** Lazy, so makes you go on top, which then gives you massive anxiety about droopy boobs and remembering to hold your stomach in.

How to spot one: His X-ray eyes strip you to the bone: he doesn’t know it’s rude to stare
Good at: Sex – he’s very talented
Worst habit: Jealousy and possessiveness. He may be cool on the outside, but don't flaunt old - or current - flames
Most likely to say: Not much. He’s the strong, silent, staring type (no, don’t call the police)
How to play him: He’s into power-games – let him think he’s in charge
Reliability rating: **** Exceptionally loyal, but if you break up, he’ll never forgive you
Romance rating:*** Big on brooding intensity and drama. Is it just me, or does that sound the tiniest bit tiring?
Sex rating:***** Oh dear. He’ll spoil you for everyone else. Too rude, too fabulous.

How to spot one: An endearing combination of optimism and clumsiness, he’s the one who knocks his glass of wine all over you
Good at: Adventure – he’ll encourage you to do mad things you’d never do off your own bat
Worst habit: Doesn’t know the difference between honesty and tactlessness
Most likely to say: 'Er, yes, actually, your bum looks enormous in those jeans'
How to play him: Respect his independence
Reliability rating: * A risk-taker who may not think twice about gambling with your heart
Romance rating: **** Even the most basic model is generous, cheerful and impulsive
Sex rating: *** Values quantity above quality. Enthusiastic, yet lacking in technical merit.

How to spot one: he’s the sign most likely to wear a jacket: even if he doesn't look like a Captain of Industry, he'll have a distinct air of gravitas
Good at: Getting serious. Capricorns are rarely commitment phobic
Worst habit: Career will always be his priority – he treats his blackberry as if it were a tamagotchi that has to be kept alive with constant attention
Most likely to say: ‘Darling, I’m afraid I’m stuck in this meeting’.
How to play him: Don’t look too enthusiastic – he’s the one who you should treat mean to keep him keen
Reliability rating: ***** Accept his work comes first and you couldn’t wish for a more constant consort
Romance rating: **** If he sets his sights on you, he won’t give up until you’re his. Buys extremely decent presents
Sex rating: ***** He’s determined to excel in every area of his life, including you.

How to spot one: He’s the one keen to get inside your head, rather than in your pants. Slightly odd fashion-sense – either out-there trendy or, well, just badly dressed
Good at: Creating a truly equal relationship – he genuinely wants you to be yourself (as long as your true self isn’t clingy and emotional)
Worst habit: Emotionally illiterate. Even Mr Spock had more EQ
Most likely to say: ‘You’re just being irrational’
How to play him: Be challenging and ballsy, always phone when you’ve said you will. Never, ever cry or sulk
Reliability rating: ** Does what he likes, when he likes.
Romance rating: ** Doesn’t expect to have to treat the relationship like some kind of kitten that needs nurturing and fluffy ickle babba talk. If he’s said he likes you, he likes you – why do you need to hear it twice?
Sex rating: ***** Inventive. Experimental. Unshockable. Don’t let him near the fruit basket.

How to spot one: Acts tough with the guys and sensitive with the girls, merging chameleon-like into his environment
Good at: Being sensitive and romantic – he’ll give you a spritz of Eau d’Empathy at every opportunity
Worst habit: Escapism – loves a romantic fantasy, not always troubled by telling the truth
Most likely to say: ‘I’ve found this poem that describes exactly how I feel about you’
How to play him: Trust him as far as you can throw him – Pisces is ruled by Neptune, planet of deception
Reliability rating:** Just as you feel the relationship might be going somewhere, he’ll drift away
Romance rating: ***** If you’re cynical, you’ll think he’s watched far too many soppy films. Otherwise, expect to be carried away by the sheer force of his poetry
Sex rating: ***** His imagination would make a Swedish porn movie seem tame. Book the chiropractor – he’s bound to put your back out.

How to spot one: Hunt one down at the gym, preferably playing some kind of competitive sport
Good at: Winning – once he feels you’re the prize, he won’t stop til he’s got you
Worst habit: Appallingly impatient. Won’t wait, even for five minutes. Not even during a tube strike
Most likely to say: ‘I love you’. Ten minutes after you meet.
How to play him: He loves the thrill of the chase, so always leave him wanting
Reliability rating: **** As long as you make him feel he’s number one, he’ll come back for more
Romance rating: *** Fantastic when he’s in pursuit, pretty pants once he’s made the conquest
Sex rating: *** Aries men will try anything once. And twice if they like it.

How to spot one: Looks strong, handsome, manly. Rarely badly dressed.
Good at: Creating an entire shelving unit out of some mystery IKEA flatpack, unblocking the lav, cooking dinner, sex
Worst habit: Pedantic. Stubborn. Mulish.
Most likely to say: ‘I can bring my toolkit round if there’s anything you need fixing’
How to play him: Cook for him at the earliest opportunity – the way to a Taurean’s heart is through his stomach
Reliability rating: **** Oh God, so reliable. And tenacious. Taureans are like porridge – easy to make, nutritious, but a devil to get off the pan once you’ve done
Romance rating: ***** Believes in men being men, women being women, and is good at buying presents. What’s not to like?
Sex rating: **** A sexual gourmet with an insatiable appetite and earthy tastes. But once he’s discovered what works, he’s reluctant to alter the routine.

How to spot one: Simultaneous use of iPhone and Blackberry. Fidgety. Outrageous flirt. Constant checking of Twitter.
Good at: Making you laugh and being terrific company. Gives good email, and sends saucy texts.
Worst habit: Gemini men always manage to look single. Especially at parties.
Most likely to say: ‘What are you thinking?’
How to play him: Be cool and amusing. Avoid laying any heavy emotional trips on him. Keep him guessing
Reliability rating: ** Forget it. Learn to love his unpredictability
Romance rating: *** Great at Cary Grant-style flirty quips and compliments. Always texts to say he misses you.
Sex rating: *** All gong and no dinner. Unless there’s an App for that too.

How to spot one: By his kind look and shy smile. Loves his mum. Thinks animals are cute. At work you’ll find him sulking in the kitchen
Good at: Hugging, stroking, getting in touch with his feminine side. He’s sensitive, sympathetic and understanding
Worst habit: Extreme moodiness – one minute it’s raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, the next he’s giving you the cold shoulder
Most likely to say: ‘If you don’t know, I’m not going to tell you’
How to play him: Look after him – deep down he’s quite needy
Reliability rating: ***** A real catch (whatever you think of the above) – he’s the best starsign for commitment
Romance rating: *** Sentimental rather than romantic – but wouldn’t you prefer a great husband and father to a tough action hero?
Sex rating: *** Exceptionally good at the post-coital bit: think plenty of cuddling followed by a nice cup of tea.

...cross dress: Aquarius - he can take his belief in gender equality a little too far
...commit: Scorpio - tops in the loyalty stakes
...jilt you at the altar: Sagittarius - 'they can't take away my freeeeeedom'
...be at B&Q on a Sunday morning: Taurus - loves tools, but isn't one
...spoil you: Leo - loves to impress with expensive gifts
...be a body fascist: Libra- break out the steamed vegetables
...be a good dancer: Pisces - clear the dance-floor
...do the housework: Virgo - bathrooms don't clean themselves, you know
...keep you in style: Capricorn - compensation for another dinner in the dog
...insist you watch the match: Aries - can't understand why you're not turned on by all the aggression
...take you for granted: Gemini - you're there to provide the entertainment, not him
...love his mum more than you: Cancer - she's the most important woman in his life, and don't you forget it