Thursday 3 December 2009


Things have actually been a bit pants lately, hence the radio silence. I know a blog is supposed to be a wonderfully therapeutic space in which to share good and bad, but I have absolutely no talent for confessional writing. I wish I did – I’m sure it would make me feel better, but try as I might to escape from my terribly buttoned-up conditioning, I’m afraid my DNA appears to be woven from very hairy Harris tweed. I’ve drunk an awful lot of tea and muttered duck-billed platitudes like ‘Mustn’t grumble’, and ‘Really, one has an awful lot to be thankful for’, and ‘at least the children are all right’, before taking refuge in clichés - ‘it will all come out in the wash’ is one I particularly want to give myself a slap for.

So it’s all been the tiniest bit Vortex of Despair, and I’m really rather resenting the fact that the Studio appears to have brought in Orwell and Kafka to rewrite my original screenplay, excising all the charming feel-good, lovely-you-lovely-me bits, sacking Richard Curtis and putting Ingmar Bergman in to direct the picture instead.

Really, this wasn’t what I had in mind for 2009 at all, and my stiff upper lip is occasionally getting rather quivery. On occasion, I become rather spineless and behave like Chicken Licken.

Try as I might to be stout-heartedly brave about everything, and give it my best Mrs Miniver, lovely colleagues at work have noticed that it’s not all as ticketty-boo as it might be. The signs that they’ve noticed are subtle - the British are particularly good at sensing when one just can’t bear to talk about something, and rather than manacling you to a couch and bludgeoning you into a furious, forensic psychoanalysis, they offer up quiet acts of love. It is these mute yet potent tropes of friendship which sustain and nurture you through difficult times.

It was as a result of one of these rhetorical touches that I found myself yesterday lunchtime running with one of the team around St James’ Park, wheezing past the enormous pelicans, trying not to trip over squirrels and lunching tourists, as we ran in comradely silence round the periphery and on into Green Park.

Getting me running has been a labour of love for my colleague – I think it has taken her three weeks of nagging to get me to bring my kit in, and another three weeks to get me to put it on, but she has persevered, quietly and doggedly determined to effect a cure before the illness takes a firm hold. The unspoken truth hanging between us is that she knows I need digging out of a pit of gloom, and if I am unable to change the situation I find myself in, she can at least help me change the way I deal with it. Running is nature’s prozac: I’m sure it’s utterly useless as a therapy in extremis, but when things are mild to moderate grim, the endorphin boost suddenly gives one the courage to face things head on. Like any treatment, it needs to be taken regularly to be properly effective, but for the first time in weeks, as I was belting back to the office to beat the rain, I found the strength to believe that things will get better, thanks to a friend who knew I couldn’t talk, but had her own way of listening.

And this is what I think about when I think about running.

Monday 16 November 2009


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.

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 B&B 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' at B&Q on a Sunday morning: Taurus - loves tools, but isn't one
...spoil you: Leo - loves to impress with expensive gifts a body fascist: Libra- break out the steamed vegetables a good dancer: Pisces - clear the dance-floor 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 his mum more than you: Cancer - she's the most important woman in his life, and don't you forget it

Sunday 8 November 2009


Hanging in the wardrobe at my parent's house is an aged dinner jacket. Smart, yet unostentatious, with grosgrain lapels and an elegant pleat to the trouser, it's the sort of dinner jacket worn by those in the habit of dressing for dinner. I imagine its owner enjoying a cigarette and whisky with water, perhaps a little hesitant in the company of women, and particularly shy of one, more dear to him than the rest, of whom he has hopes. I imagine him as diligent; modest about his successes and rueful of failings. I imagine him likeable; with a diffident charm. I imagine him with quiet ambition and irreproachable manners. I imagine him indulging his dreams for the family business, newly joined; his expectation of preferment and of Getting On and Going Far.

I may imagine all I like: the man for whom the dinner jacket was made, Lieutenant Bertie Brocklebank, a cousin of my grandfather, died on 31st July 1917, commanding No.4 Company, 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards. It was the first day of the campaign that came simply to be known as Passchendaele. He was twenty-five. Age shall not weary them.

The main offensive of the 3rd Battle of Ypres - Passchendaele - began at zero hour (3.50 am) on 31st July. By 9.30, Lt Brocklebank was dead.

A few years ago, my father went to the Guards museum to see if he could find further details of Bertie's death, and copied long-hand the operations report of the day. The 1st Guards Brigade (2nd Coldstream and 2nd Grenadier Guards), who were in support advanced at 8.50am to take their objectives but were held up by heavy machine gun fire, barrage and shelling and had to dig in 80 yards short of their objective. This is what the operations report has to say:

At 9.30 am the two parts of the Battalion began to consolidate and a contact aeroplane flew over the position. Flares were lit.
Unfortunately, at this moment, a German flew very low - about 100 feet - over the Battalion in a captured English aeroplane with a black cross painted very indistinctly on it. The position of consolidation was thus given away to the enemy and came under very accurate artillery fire.
There were many casualties. Lt.B.V.Brocklebank commanding No 4 Coy was killed and Lt. A.W.Kirk commanding No 3 Coy was wounded. 2nd Lt.L.C.Leggatt of No 3 Coy was killed leaving Lt.G.R.M.Caldwell as the sole surviving officer. By later on in the day, all the Sergeants had been killed or wounded.

Bertie was but one of 32,000 Allied casualties on 31st July, for an advance of around 2000 yards. I say a special prayer for him every Remembrance Sunday, not because he was especially heroic, or even a particularly close member of my family, but because every time I think of him, or see his dinner jacket, hanging there, I imagine what he, and every soldier killed in every conflict, might have become.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.

Wednesday 4 November 2009


The November issue of Harper's Bazaar featured a selection of exquisite portraits of Claudia Schiffer, created by some of the great and the good of contemporary art. In a unique and wonderfully ambitious venture, Bazaar commissioned Jake and Dinos Chapman, Gillian Wearing, Jason Brooks, Marc Quinn, Dexter Dalwood, Chris Bucklow, and Keith Tyson to offer their own interpretation of this platonic ideal of female beauty.

The pictures looked pretty extraordinary on the pages of the magazine, but begged to be hung and displayed properly in a gallery. So this Monday, Bazaar hosted a private view of 'Capturing Claudia' at the Colnaghi Gallery, attended by the muse herself, the artists who represented her according to their own particular vibe and vision, and vast amounts of wildly glamorous people from the art and fashion worlds, all of whom looked vaguely famous but who I was too dim and uncool to recognise.

Helpfully primed by all the pictures of her staring back at me from the walls, I did manage to recognise Claudia Schiffer. She looks so robust and statuesque in fashion shoots, yet she's rather fragile looking in real life, albeit very tall in an etiolated kind of way, like a plant that has been nurtured in the dark and grown lanky in search of a light source.

I'm afraid that when 'Capturing Claudia' myself, I used my iPhone, hardly the world's best camera, hence the rubbish blurry quality of this shot of her in front of Marc Quinn's flower portrait.

Here she is, slightly closer up. Not as close up as the Marc Quinn picture, which, though idealised in its composition, is un-retouched, and bears witness to her flawless skin. God, how few of us at thirty-nine could stand being scrutinised in close-up and displayed at such magnification?

Jake and Dinos Chapman's Hammer-Horror-meets-Hitchcock series is easily the least disturbing of anything Chapman Bros have ever produced, but no less stunning for that.

Jason Brooks' double-portrait appears at first to be the most conventional of the seven pieces, yet this starkly beautiful pencil drawing of Claudia's un-made-up face, in all its unflinching, photo-realist simplicity, relies on nothing other than the precision and skill of the artist for its power. It's a bold contradiction of the heavily re-touched, idealised and perfected images of celebrities we're used to.
I didn't get to take any iPhotos of Claudia in front of Keith Tyson's enormous seven-headed portrait. I was standing in front of it, muttering like a bag lady about how little I understood why he'd represented her as a beautiful Hydra surrounding what looked like a golf-course, when I realised I was standing next to the artist himself. Gutlessly, I turned and fled, only to be pursued by a sense of l'esprit de l'escalier: turning over in my head a dozen conversations in which I had the courage to ask him about his thinking behind the portrait, without the attendant anxiety about appearing stupid or uncool.

There is something about contemporary art that always makes me feel deeply, deeply unhip, like a Friend of the Royal Academy that's accidentally wandered into the Turner Prize. I won't say I didn't feel overawed in the company of art made flesh, and flesh made art and I'm wise enough to leave the art criticism to those that can fashion a coherent opinion but, by 'eck, they were lovely pictures, and that Claudia Schiffer's right pretty.
PS: I've just been told that if you're quick, you can pop into the gallery and see Capturing Claudia for yourself

Colnaghi Gallery
15 Old Bond Street
(opposite Gucci)
Free Admission
10am - 6pm
But be quick - it's only on until this Friday, 6th November.

Thursday 29 October 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 23 October 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 6 October 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 1 October 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @polposoho

Polpo on Urbanspoon

Friday 18 September 2009


Last saturday's Guardian came with a free copy of Jackie magazine. As a teenager I was an avid reader: I loved the ads for Miners makeup and for Rimmel- which then seemed the height of cosmetic luxury- and the photo-love stories, and pictures of hearthrob pop stars, but most of all I loved Cathy & Claire, Jackie's resident agony aunts (AKA the subs desk). 

Nowadays it seems that we're all too deeply sophisticated and grown up to be allowed agony aunts in glossy magazines - I suppose there's the wonderfully facetious Mrs Mills in Sunday Times' Style magazine - but really, Jackie magazine may have long ceased publication but has the angst disappeared? Or is it simply that the questions have changed. 

Anyway, imagine how much more fun Vanity Fair, Harper's Bazaar, Vogue and W would be with a column devoted to solving reader's problems? I was idly pondering the kind of questions that might crop up most often in the postbag when, in a spooky wiggle of Jungian synchronicity, the dilemma you find below pinged into my inbox. Some are born agony aunts, others merely writhe in agony: I'm not sure what I am, but have attempted to answer the question to the very best of my ability. 

Dear Mrs Trefusis
I am about to divorce my husband, but it's his fortieth birthday in a few weeks, and I feel I should really mark the occasion with a suitable present. How does one celebrate the 40th birthday of one's soon to be ex? What kind of present is appropriate?

Hmmm. It's difficult, isn't it. What does one buy the man who has everything.... except, um, his wife. For a fortieth birthday, one naturally wants to get something someone can keep, but then, if you're sidling out of someone's life, then the idea of proffering a permanent reminder seems to lack a modicum of tact. What one really wants to give him is a subscription to a good dating agency, so one can get him off one's conscience as soon as possible, but I can see that this solution may not offer the finesse you're looking for. 

I'm assuming - from the rest of your email - that you're parting on good terms and so I'd take a neutral but lavish approach: forty is still something of a watershed in a man's life - a time to put away childish things and shift gear from dilettante up to connoisseur. This is my round up of great gifts for a discerning chap on the eve of his, ahem, fifth decade.

Clothes: There are classics every man should own once he's old enough to look after them properly: Turnbull & Asser Sea Island white shirts, for example, Hermès ties - particularly the ones with the distinctive animal patterns on them, an Hermès belt, a decent jacket from Gieves, a cashmere v-neck. Non-comedy cufflinks. A pair of shoes from Loakes or Church's. A classic Burberry or Aquascutum trench. A good winter coat.

A watch: If he won't be troubled by a present that will show him how quickly time zips past once you're in your middle youth, a watch is a particularly appropriate fortieth birthday present. A man should own three watches: sports, work and dress. Remember, it's better to buy a good Timex than a fake Rolex.

Distinctive accessories: Every man should have something suave to carry his laptop around in, rather than one of those ghastly IT black things. Bill Amberg do the nicest, and they come in several sizes - the smallest works for a laptop, the largest for a weekend bag. The Medicine Bag is particularly good, offering a modern twist on the traditional Gladstone. 

Art: Signed lithographs don't have to be expensive. Photography is also becoming very collectable, and oddly, it's slightly less emotionally nuanced than art. I love this Terence Donovan print of Julie Christie, available from the Chris Beetles Gallery, who specialise in illustration but have a burgeoning photographic side.

Wine: After forty there's no excuse for not knowing your way round a wine list, and building your own wine cellar is an elegant refinement that doesn't have to be an expensive hobby. Berry Bros & Rudd do a terrific wine course as part of a cellaring package. 

Food: Men seem very keen at the moment to adopt some of the more traditional female skills - sadly this never seems to involve a taste for emptying the dishwasher, or cleaning up when the children have been sick in the middle of the night - if they want to do some cooking it seems to involve a trip to Borough Market in search of some rare vegetable or artisinal cheese which will then be presented at the dinner party with a flourish and its full resumé. Anyway, the using of every single pot and pan in the kitchen will soon no longer be your problem, so you can feel free to indulge his latent Gordon Ramsay without any qualms about having to spend decades clearing up afterwards.  Leith's do wonderful cookery courses ranging from week long intensive cheffery to high tech specifics: I'd hesitate to give Knife skills as a present to someone I was breaking up from, but it's apparently hugely popular with men.

Like leaving a job, it's always satisfying to exit on such a high note that your successor will find it hard to live up to your standards. This may not be the last present you'll buy your ex, but ideally, it will be one that will help him remember the relationship with fondness, and irritate the hell out of the next incumbent.

Tuesday 8 September 2009


"What should I say to the new French CEO - it's a breakfast meeting so nothing too formal, but you know - something that might make an impression," I asked Mr Trefusis, whose proficiency with the french language still gives me the Fish Called Wanda feeling, even after six years of marriage.
"Tu peux les toucher," he offers, somewhat idly.

"Hang on - he's the CEO - I can hardly 'tu toyer' him, can I?"

"Well, it might sound a bit odd if you used 'vous' when inviting him to cop a feel."

"Oh, yes, very bloody helpful. In fact, a brilliant career move, asking one's new boss if he fancies a quick grope. I doubt that's what he means when he says we should get down to business. Try again: I want to make a good impression, not listen to the rungs of the career ladder snapping loudly beneath my feet. "

After some arguing, mostly about Mr Trefusis's lack of confidence in my ability to steer a conversation away from difficult linguistic waters, we agree that he'll coach me to say 'Veuillez excuser mon français exécrable' with a perfectly patrician parisian accent, and then I'll switch back to English, leaving Monsieur le CEO with the idea that I am wonderfully fluent but deeply modest. It'll do. It's not a one-on-one, anyway, so I'm pretty sure I won't have to show off too horribly.

But actually, I'm fairly nervous about the meeting - as one ever is, I guess, when spending time with someone who has your livelihood in their hands. And, of course, in more affluent times, no one tried too hard to impress. These days it's different: staying in one's job isn't just about being good at it - with the spectre of redundancy looming over everyone, working is like a hideous game of musical chairs - you can dance and dance only to return to your place to find the chair is gone. I know very little about Monsieur le CEO, other than his recent career history. I know he must be pretty posh, the 'de' in his name being a dead giveaway. I know he likes cars, though I shan't attempt to add my five pence worth here since the workings of the internal combustion engine are a piece of spectacular magic to me and I can just about tell a BMW from an Audi. Other than discussing the business, I'll have to conjure conversational topics from nowhere and hope he doesn't ask me anything difficult. I'm not aiming for anonymity, however. I need him to know who I am.

I do know he likes pretty girls. It might not be an original manoeuvre, but one may as well attempt to be easy on the eye. I'm no Claudia Schiffer, obviously, or Carla Bruni, but you can't have everything and with an exhausting amount of effort I can scrub up fairly well. Unless you're a super model, good looks are 10% what you were blessed with and 90% good grooming. Look at any of those makeover shows on the television, and it's all about the hair. Get that sorted and you're most of the way. Add decent, subtle makeup and a flattering dress and you can hold your head up with the best of 'em. At the crack of, um can't be dawn, it's still dark, Mr Trefusis finds me in the bathroom wearing beige spanx and a push up bra, blowdrying my hair. To add to the ineffable beauty of the picture, the top half of my hair is in curlers (it's not just my breasts that deserve a boost). It's terribly hard on husbands - seeing one's wife get ready must be like going on set at a film lot, discovering that the beautiful buildings in the movie are just plasterboard façades, held up by scaffolding. But at last I'm ready, as soignée as I'll ever be, with an elegant little black dress so tight it immediately gives me indigestion and a pair of taxi shoes high enough to induce vertigo. I spray on some Mitsouko in an attempt to smell expensively sexy, yet sophisticated. I think I probably just end up smelling like my mum.

I arrive at breakfast - my peers have all had the same idea - every last one of us is LBD'd and blowdried to within an inch of our lives. Monsieur le CEO compliments me on my perfect pronunciation of exécrable and the meeting passes off without incident. And in these dark days, who can ask for more?

Monday 24 August 2009


I can never resist a gauntlet, well, not when it's thrown down by someone I admire. So when the Illustrious Waffle put out the challenge to write about first love in all its gory detail, I seized the chance to tell the story of how I unwittingly put someone off worldly relationships for life.

To find the tale's beginning, we must return to the time of tory boys, and fire up the Ashes to Ashes soundtrack. Matthew Fitzgerald, as we shall call him - naturallyI have changed the names to protect the guilty - was my first foray into the tory boy type, though he was much more rebellious and less tweedy than later examples. He had the requisite wedge haircut, nice manners and the wherewithall to buy a gin and orange, but with added Bad Boy qualities - a shocking reputation for breaking hearts and being unrepentantly late with his homework. Usually, tory boys were bard boys, given to slipping scrolls of tortured adolescent poetry into your pocket at the bus stop, but with his brooding way of turning up the collar of his Crombie against the rain, and of curling a sneering lip around a Players No. 6, Matthew had swallowed the anti-hero manual. His name was doodled on every exercise book, girls missed several buses home trying to catch the one he was on, most break-times were spent discussing what it might be like to be kissed by him. Truly, he was the Byron of Birkenhead.

I wouldn't say I was immune to his charms, I was just more realistic: I'd seen him loitering in cool record shops with a copy of The Face. He wore peg top trousers like David Bowie in his 'Let's Dance' phase, and winklepicker shoes. Rumour had it that he'd even been to London to hang out at The Wag Club. Not in my league, I thought. I'd content myself with the mild literary flirtation of the bard boys at the local library.

But as chance would have it, and after not very long at all, we ended up on the same dancefloor of some sticky carpeted nightclub in a forgotten corner of Birkenhead, gyrating to New Order's Blue Monday, the longest danceable tune ever to chart in the UK. Prevented from close physical contact by the outrageous pointiness of our respective winklepickers, the synthpop-fuelled tension built between us until, close to the six minute mark, we lurched into a fierce, compulsive embrace, the braces on his teeth bruising my lips with the force of his passion, my long hair catching painfully on the parallel rows of buttons on his shirt. By the time Blue Monday had given way to Duran Duran, we were off the dancefloor and snogging for England. In the argot of the day, we had 'tapped off'.

Reader, I'm sorry to disappoint, but this great lothario kissed like a carwash. So drowned in spittle was I, I kept having to break off to rub my face affectionately on his shirt. Did I let this put me off? I did not. I was filled with all the exultant triumph of a 100 to 1 racehorse romping home against all expectations in the Grand National. He could have had the breath of Baal and the personal hygiene habits of a Gruffalo for all I cared. The prize longed for by my entire class was mine: Love might be a drug, but victory is more potent and addictive. I let him wait for me outside school on Monday and contrived to appear chilly so he'd put his blazer around my shoulders. I let everyone see his self-consciously romantic gestures like lighting two cigarettes and passing one to me. He bought me Joy Division's Love will Tear Us Apart in 12 inch vinyl and I'm ashamed to say I didn't hesitate to bring it to school to parade in front of everyone.

But I'm afraid that Mr Fitzgerald was a better trophy than he was a boyfriend, so quite how he was so prefixed with mystique, I have no idea. His dating M.O mostly involved coming round to mine on the pretext of helping me with my latin prep but I never saw him get Cicero out of his satchel before he pounced. I can't say that I was immune to pouncing, being young and extremely curious, but his brand of pouncing was so horribly inept, featuring more carwash kissing, and vigorous rummaging under my school shirt, all sweaty palms, doggy tongue and orangutang arms. Within days he was pressurising me to 'go all the way', making so many irrepressible assaults on my virtue I knew exactly how Clarissa felt fending off Lovelace. Actually, scratch that -there is no literary analogy worthy of his persistence. I felt like a leg to which an amorous dog had become attached: he was unshakeable. Had the technique been more honed, and the execution more adroit and less enthusiastic, perhaps I would have succumbed, but at last, bored by my rebuffs, he decided to finish with me.

The Conversation took place on the platform of Hamilton Square tube station in Birkenhead after a visit to Probe, an incredibly trendy record shop in Liverpool run by Pete Burns of Dead or Alive, who looked rather different in those days. He'd been silent for the whole journey, and hadn't launched himself at me once, which was welcome, if unusual.

'We need to talk' he said, in that fabulously original way that such conversations always start.

'Ok' I replied, refusing to be drawn and having read enough Cosmopolitan to know what to expect from such an opener.

'I don't think we should see each other anymore. You see, I've got my exams coming up and I really need to get some work done. Oh, and I'm entering a seminary in September: I'm going to train as a priest.'

'Like, as in Catholic priest?' God I was slow on the uptake.

'Um, yes. I've been called.'

'Well, I can see that having a girlfriend might be a little surplice to requirements.' I regained my composure as best I could, taking refuge in silly puns. I left him on the platform, thinly disguising my high dudgeon, and took the bus the rest of the way home.

But really? I must confess [snigger] that I was a little put out. What can one make of it? That I was so fabulous that only God would do next? That my failure to acquiesce to his base desires confirmed his vocation? To this day, I've not really managed to get to grips with it, and would be grateful for any theories offered.

And as for Matthew Fitzgerald, he didn't become a priest, but a monk, tending the apple orchards at Ampleforth, teaching and such like, or so I'm told, but I didn't trouble too much with keeping up with him. I'm hardly likely to make him my friend on Facebook.

First love? Pah. Overrated. Get it over with for practise. Romeo and Juliet is just a story, and I think there was a dodgy monk in that too.

Wednesday 19 August 2009


I'm not one for memes. I am really quite a tiresome person, so the idea of a questionnaire in which I let you know even more dreary drivel about myself than I already write here fills me with dread.
However, what are rules if there are no exceptions? And so, when one of my all time favourite bloggers, Mothership, tagged me in a meme, it felt only courteous to follow her request.

As if to add insult to injury, I've taken terrible liberties with the original meme. I hope that Motherhood the Final Frontier will forgive me for having bent the rules. It's probably an enormous sin in the blogosphere and I'll have to go to confession. But not this one, I hope.

Anyway, here's the meme. Or, ahem, my version of the meme....

What's your favourite piece of writing?
I'm afraid you'd get a different answer to this question every time it was asked. Writing is a little like clothes, so much depends on your mood. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford made a great impression on me when I first read it at eighteen, and I must have read it at least every decade since, possibly because it has one of the boldest opening lines of any book - if you start your first chapter 'This is the saddest story I have ever heard', you're setting the bar very high.
But there's a passage within it that struck a chord with me then, and it still resonates, for reasons I'm not prepared to go into, not being a confessional blogger.

We are all so afraid, we are all so alone, we all so need from the outside the assurance of our own worthiness to exist.
So, for a time, if such a passion comes to fruition, the man will get what he wants. He will get the moral support, the encouragement, the relief from the sense of loneliness, the assurance of his own worth. But these things pass away; inevitably they pass away as the shadows across sun-dials. It is sad, but it is so. The pages of the book will have become familiar; the beautiful corner of the road will have been turned to many times. Well, this is the saddest story.

What's the favourite thing you've ever written?
Ha. I can hardly go from Ford Madox Ford into hopelessly amateur Mrs Trefusis, can I? Worryingly,I am still quite pleased by 'THE DUST ON A BOWL OF ROSELEAVES', though it's horribly pretentious. But the four part love story, in which I meet Mr Trefusis is rather better and infinitely more readable. It begins with LOVE IN THE TIME OF INTERWEB, but continues into Espresso Bongo, Love's Labour's Lust, and finally, Love in a Foreign Language.
What blog post do you wish you'd written?
Just about anything by Belgian Waffling, but particularly this gorgeously dark Stella Gibbonsesque post from earlier this week. The Waffle is a genius and can turn 200 words about house dust into something compelling and meaningful.

Choose a favourite quotation
'I like people better than principles, and people without principles best of all'

Oscar Wilde. It always is, isn't it.

Three favourite words
Lambent, idiosyncratic, tenebrous.

Just like the way they sound. But I also like velleity, a word I hadn't heard until yesterday, when Sarah Churchwell mentioned it on twitter. It means 'a mere wish, unaccompanied by an effort to obtain it.' I think I suffer from velleity more often than I'd like.

Do you have a writing mentor, role model, influence or inspiration
Hmm, I'd like to say it's someone very grand, like George Eliot, but it's not. I'm ready to confess that my greatest influences are probably Nancy Mitford and Jilly Cooper. The highbrow stuff is mostly me showing how unbearably affected I am.

What's your writing ambition?
To avoid very obvious spelling mistakes, and to always use the apostrophe in an appropriate manner.

And now I'm supposed to send it onto three people.

I choose Joad Raymond, who writes a very good blog called Miles to Go Before I Sleep , but now he's unable to run, he needs something new to write about, and it may as well be this since he's one of the best read people I know.

And The Age of Uncertainty. This blog, mostly about antiquarian books and the stories they unconsciously tell, gives me such enormous pleasure: I urge you to seek it out so you can discover its delights for yourself.

And last but not least, Helena Halme, an ex-pat Finn whose wonderful story about her English sailor is serialised on her blog. Start at the beginning and I'm sure that like me, you'll be hooked, and desperate to follow it to its conclusion.