Wednesday 24 February 2010


First published in 1935, Nancy Mitford’s third novel, Wigs on the Green, was never reprinted in her lifetime. Although its plot - like all of Mitford’s novels – is essentially an exploration of love and marriage, and has all the trademark Mitford wit, brio, and strong autobiographical detail, it’s also a satire on British fascism.

Mitford wasn’t the only novelist to poke fun at the British Union of Fascists – I’ve always loved Wodehouse’s parody of Mosley, as Roderick Spode in The Code of the Woosters (1938), which makes him as ridiculous as one could possibly wish.

“The trouble with you, Spode, [says Wooster] is that just because you have succeeded in inducing a handful of half-wits to disfigure the London scene by going about in black shorts, you think you're someone. You hear them shouting "Heil, Spode!" and you imagine it is the Voice of the People. That is where you make your bloomer. What the Voice of the People is saying is: "Look at that frightful ass Spode swanking about in footer bags! Did you ever in your puff see such a perfect perisher?"

Whilst the satire is rather gentler in Wigs on the Green, Wodehouse didn’t have sisters who were infamously and intimately involved with the Fascist cause, and its publication went particularly hard with Diana, who was married in all but name to Oswald Mosley, for whom she’d left her husband in 1932. Although Mitford removed the three chapters that most obviously lampooned Mosley as Captain Jack, the leader of the Union Jackshirts, Wigs on the Green caused a rift between her and Diana that lasted almost until the end of the war. “But I also know your point of view,” wrote Nancy to Diana shortly before its publication, in an attempt to mollify her, “That Fascism is something too serious to be dealt with in a funny book at all.” In fact, Nancy later took her sister’s commitment to fascism extremely seriously, warning MI5 that she was "far cleverer and more dangerous than her husband" (Diana had married Mosley in a secret ceremony in Berlin in 1936).

Yet it’s not Diana who is caricatured in Wigs on the Green, it’s Unity, who at twenty-one was already under the spell of National Socialism, albeit some years from becoming the Hitler obsessive who shot herself in the head the day war broke out between England and Germany, with a pistol given to her by the Führer himself . In Wigs on the Green, Unity is Eugenia Malmain, ardent supporter of Captain Jack and his Union Jackshirts, and one of the richest girls in Britain, a perfect target for the attentions of the fortune-hunting Noel Foster and his disreputable pal, Jasper Aspect. It’s the adolescent aspects of the Jackshirt movement that seem to appeal to Eugenia most– the dressing up, belonging to a gang and rampaging around on her spirited horse, Vivien Jackson, with the faithful Reichshund at her side. The politics are full of fabulous rhetoric, bombast and nonsense – I’m particularly taken with Eugenia's definition of Aryan:

"Well, it's quite easy. A non-Aryan is the missing link between man and beast. That can be proved by the fact that no animals, except the Baltic goose, have blue eyes."

“How about Siamese cats?” said Jasper.

Every joke – even a clever if light-hearted satire – has its moment: by the time Mitford’s publisher asked for permission to reissue the novel, in 1951, the world had changed. As she wrote to Evelyn Waugh, “Too much has happened for jokes about Nazis to be regarded as…anything but the worst of taste”.

And so it remained out of print for nearly seventy five years. Next week, Penguin publishes Wigs on the Green alongside a new edition of Mitford’s finest novels – The Pursuit of Love, Love in a Cold Climate, The Blessing and Don’t Tell Alfred. It doesn’t have quite the same marvellousness of the post-war novels, which are so captivating one can’t help but read them again and again and again until the spines fall apart with love and delight– my first ever copy of The Pursuit of Love is now more sellotape than novel, really – but it is still a tremendous read. Wigs on the Green has sufficient Mitford hallmarks to have you roaring with laughter, but with the added fascination of having elements of a roman à clef.

Wigs on the Green, by Nancy Mitford, is published by Fig Tree (Penguin) on 4th March.

NB: If you are new to Mitford, you should definitely start with The Pursuit of Love - as A Whirl in London says below, it is to Mitford what Pride and Prejudice is to Austen.

Monday 22 February 2010


On Friday, I had the good fortune to go to a cocktail party thrown by Lancôme and Harper's Bazaar to celebrate the BAFTA's and British fashion talent. Hosted by star guest, and face of Lancôme, Kate Winslet, and packed full of the great and the good of fashion and film, plus a lot of rising British talent, it was as glamorous an invitation as one could wish for.

I arrived seconds before Kate Winslet, and I was right next to the logo-board as she did her obligatory five minutes posing for the cameras - I took it as a perfect opportunity to have a really good stare at her, safe in the knowledge that she was too busy being photographed to notice me gawping like a star-struck teenager, something that I knew I'd be far too well-brought up to do when in the throes of the cocktail party itself. The photograph below is taken on my iPhone - hence the appalling quality.

I confess I scrutinised her very carefully -I don't know whether I've been corrupted by a lifetime of reading gossip magazines, but now find I can't look at a celebrity without thinking 'has she had work done?' or 'bonkers food regime, or nutty workout schedule?'. Kate Winslet has always come out strongly in favour of women accepting the way they look - she spoke out in 2003 against GQ's heavy handed retouching of hercover image, and last year successfully sued the Daily Mail for alleging that she'd, ahem, underplayed her exercise regime: having now seen her at close quarters, she's as much a poster girl for 'normality' as one could hope from an international film star. She's neither too thin, nor too worked out - I'd put her at a UK size ten, certainly no smaller: She obviously takes care of herself, but her slender shapeliness has a refreshing touch of achievability about it. I don't know why I'd expected her to be less luminously beautiful in the flesh - perhaps one's expectation is that Hollywood glamour owes an awful lot to good lighting and the art of the re-toucher - but she was utterly gorgeous. Her skin, particularly, could have sonnets written about it, and she's a wonderful asset for Lancôme. Mr Trefusis has always maintained she has fat ankles: I spent quite a lot of time at the party trying to take a surreptitious pic of her feet on the iPhone so I could prove him wrong, but failed miserably. He'll just have to take my word - and the images here - that her ankles are every bit as perfect as the rest of her.

Of course, film and fashion is an irresistible combination: the BAFTA's run slap in the middle of London Fashion Week and the combination of the two simply piles glamour upon glamour. It was a heady, scented mix of beautiful actresses in exquisite outfits, from Westwood to Temperley and Berardi to Christopher Kane, cheek by jowl with scions of fashion, from Testino to Bazaar's Lucy Yeomans.
Sam Taylor-Wood was a little more dressed down than most, but beautiful in a way that doesn't quite come over in photographs - in the flesh she looks at least ten years younger, and he a good five years older - and she and Aaron Johnson are so clearly wild about each other that only the most stony-hearted could fail to be moved by it or wish them every happiness.

There are much better pictures, particularly of the frocks, on the Harper's Bazaar website - I was struck by what a riot of colour it was - for a fashion party, very few people were wearing black, other than Kate Winslet, in Alexander McQueen, and Emilia Fox - reds, corals, purples, and golds were very much in play. I'm afraid I couldn't get my head round the dress code - 'cocktails and canapés' can mean anything from smart workwear to full on party frocks - I was too broke to buy anything new, and borrowing something was out, being too much on the wrong side of cake and chocolate for a sample size, so ended up in an unobtrusive black silk chiffon empire line dress that has nothing to commend it other than the way it allowed me to blend into the background so I could observe the beautiful people unobserved, and tweet away to my heart's content.

Bazaar's Lucy Yeomans wearing Berardi, with Kate Winslet and Harold Tillmans, Chairman of the British Fashion Council.

Sunday 14 February 2010


I am practising household economy.

Mr Trefusis made an utterly delicious Five Hour Roasted Lamb for a supper party we had on Friday evening, and we've been eating what was left all weekend. This evening, in a fit of 'Make do and Mend', I made a proper shepherds pie with the leftover meat, and made enough soup for a week by liquidising the remaindered the vegetables and stock.

It's not simply that it all tasted incredibly good, thanks to Mr T's initial effort, but I can't begin to tell you what a lovely smug sense of satisfaction I got from recycling the left-overs. It made me feel like a cross between Mrs Miniver and Barbara Good- not only had I saved money by making a meal go an awful lot further, I'd used up food which might otherwise have been thrown away.

So now I'm all fired up by a personal war on waste, I'm keen to visit an exhibition that's just opened at the Imperial War Museum, The Ministry of Food, showing how the British public reacted to the stringent rationing that was introduced in 1940 and which continued for another nine years after the war had ended. My paternal grandfather worked for The Ministry of Food during the war, helping implement rationing in the north of England and so I've always known that wasting food in wartime wasn't just frowned upon, it was actually illegal. Unfortunately, I don't seem to have inherited a wartime talent for frugality.

Lately, however, some slightly more challenging economic circumstances encourage me to consider if I could be more thrifty when it comes to the weekly shop. I'm neither about to implement my own version of rationing, and nor am I ready for Lidl, but by heck, I can definitely do what my mother used to, and make the sunday roast do for more than just one meal.

I could probably do with extending my repertoire beyond Shepherds Pie, soups, risotto and chicken curry, though - any tips?

Tuesday 9 February 2010


Everyone is immensely bah humbug about Valentine's Day - it's just something invented by marketeers to flog product, it's for kids, the increase in the price of roses is usurious, isn't it ghastly how couples book 'romantic meals' in restaurants only to sit there in uncompanionable silence etc etc etc.

But much as it's fashionable to moan about it, it's hard to avoid, and if you're in a relationship it's even harder to ignore. Mr Trefusis pretends not to set great store by it, but woe betide me if I've not made the effort to even get some kind of fancy card.

However, I do think that great romantic gestures involving complicated combinations of mystery journeys and treasure hunts and boutique hotels and flowers and handwritten poetry and specially devised champagne cocktails are best reserved for the bigger occasions - I'm happy to make a big deal out of a birthday or of a particularly notable anniversary, but Valentine's Day? Well, I think it's enough to mark the occasion. Or perhaps that's just me, comfortably taking Mr Trefusis for granted after nearly seven years of marriage.

I'm not alone in not really having a clue what to buy - I think men are quite hard to buy for at the best of times. Anyway, here are a few things that answer the brief of those who have asked me for my opinion on the subject....The images should click through to the online retailers and all items should be available for delivery on 13th February (if you're quick).

For Foodies
A friend of mine knew he'd met the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with when she bought him a copy of Larousse Gastronomique for their first Valentine's together. It's the ultimate encyclopedia of gastronomy and one no enthusiastic amateur chef should be without. The 2009 edition is available from Amazon for £33 - not exactly a snip, but it is the foodies bible.
I thought this box of treats from Rockett St George has a heart shaped cheddar cheese and cheddar and rosemary crackers and vintage beetroot and apple chutney. It's unashamedly romantic but without being mimsy or twee. £30

I've written about Ormonde Jayne, the Bond Street perfumery before - their signature scent, Ormonde Woman is a thing of utter deliciousness, and uses rare and unusual ingredients to create a scent that's as compelling as it is individual. The partner scent, Ormonde Man, is every bit as good as its female counterpart - it has many of the same intriguing notes, but in a more masculine composition. I think it's undeniably sexy, whilst still being very subtle.
Ormonde Man Eau de Parfum 50 ml spray £68

Described by Luca Turin as ‘soft and rasping like stubble on a handsome cheek’, Guerlain’s Habit Rouge has, for me, all the potent appeal of a man who means business, in all the rugged senses of the word. It's an enduring fragrance classic: masculine, yet reserved – I think it smells exactly like the kind of man who would take you to J. Sheekey's for dinner.
Guerlain Habit Rouge. Available in most department stores. Priced around £39

Tokens and keepsakes
On Valentine's Day of all days it's perfectly acceptable to go with the whole heart thing - this keyring from Ettinger comes in a range of colours, including red, but I think even a very blokey bloke could get away with this (Mr Trefusis will no doubt contradict me). Heart key-fob, £30

And this tiny photograph frame is also rather sweet - again it comes in several covers including a more masculine tan or black. A little bit schmaltzy to give it with a photograph of the pair of you already in it, but hey, it is Valentine's Day. Double heart frame £45.
A Love of Luxury
Bill Amberg creates some of the most beautifully crafted bags and briefcases around - I've written about his fabulous medicine bag before, but this simple, elegant and practical laptop case strikes me as being a thoughtful gift. The picture doesn't really do it justice - I think it looks very much better without the shoulder strap.
According to the website, it's on sale too - usually priced at £445, it's available between £134 and £267 depending on the style.

This uber-cool skull pashmina from Alexander McQueen wouldn't do for Mr Trefusis at all, but it would definitely float my hipster brother in law's Valentine's Day boat. McQueen's skull signature has become something of a design icon, and whilst the pashmina isn't cheap at £220, it's not something that will be a one season wonder.

If your inamorato is bookish, one or other of these leather-bound Penguin Classics is sure to suit - The Great Gatsby or Brideshead Revisited would be my choice, but there are six to choose from, each priced £30. Love poetry is a Valentine's Day classic - you don't tend to find much Pablo Neruda in the anthologies of love poetry, but I think his lines are amongst some of the most beautiful written, even in translation. Isn't 'Twenty love poems and a song of despair' a wonderful title for a collection of poetry?

For intellectuals and classicists, Ovid still cuts it. It's also very quotable - 'Love will enter cloaked in friendship's name' and 'if you would marry suitably, marry your equal' still ring true today.

Unashamedly romantic
Don't eschew the hearts and flowers stuff - this print from Bianca Hall 'Life would be rubbish without you' looks pretty wonderful framed (also comes as a card, or as a ceramic tile). £40

And if you live in the kind of house that is made only more comfortable by the addition of more cushions, these from Graham and Green are rather nice. Jan Constantine cushions from £65

Thursday 4 February 2010


In the days before personal trainers, Madonna and Rachel Zoe-inspired no-sugar, no-wheat, no carbs, no-food diets, it seems actresses simply sucked their stomachs in for the camera.
I like it. Ursula Andress would've been in danger of asphyxiating herself if she'd continued to hold the pose, but she looks sensational, and frankly an awful lot sexier than half the lollipop-headed hard bodies that seem to be de rigeur in Hollywood today. Take a look at the picture and think about how it makes you feel about the one-size-fits-all, identikit take on female beauty that we’re all being sold these days.

The image is taken from a new exhibition of Terry O’Neill’s photography at Chris Beetles Gallery, Ryder Street, St. James. Between 17th February and 6th March, Chris Beetles will show a collection of unseen images from the iconic photographer. It’s also the very first time Terry O’Neill has made his vintage prints available for sale.
One of the many wonderful things about the work is the extraordinary access O’Neill was granted: From the semi-nude Ursula Andress above (pictured, aged 43, on the set of The Fifth Musketeer in 1979) to Michael Caine posing with his ‘Get Carter’ shotgun or Audrey Hepburn taking a dip in a pool between takes, O’Neill charmed his way into taking shots that would give today’s celebrity publicists heart failure.

Look at the images online here, but if you’re in London, don’t miss what promises to be one of the year’s great photography shows.

Chris Beetles Gallery, Ryder Street, St James, London SW1

Opening Hours: 10am - 5.30pm, Monday to Saturday

Image: copyright Terry O'Neill.

NB: An apology... the second part of the On Beauty makeup post will come... I'm just being slow and distracted.