Tuesday 23 October 2012


I struggle with handbags. I mean, I'm prone to packing my handbag so full of everything but the kitchen sink that I literally struggle with it sometimes and long for a Sherpa to come and lend a hand.

However, the real struggle is to find something that's chic enough to carry a look at work yet big enough to be able to stuff  in it an iPad, a book and the seventeen lipsticks, three biros, a pair of ballet flats and a blackberry charger that I habitually lug around with me. I have a beautiful Gucci bag, bought in a sale in the boutique in Venice about twelve years ago, but frankly, it fits a credit card, a door key and iPhone 4 and nothing else. I have a very pared-down Gladstone-type bag in a dark brown suede that has a Mary Poppins-like ability to contain seemingly endless amounts - I quite expect to discover a hatstand in there one day. I have tiny evening bags and strangely coloured and shaped bags acquired in a fit of over-enthusiastic sample-sale shopping. But you know, I'm not wedded to any of them - none of them says '"This is who I am. This is what I stand for"' as Anya Hindmarch* says the perfect handbag should. None of my handbags has that kind of totemic quality, I'm sorry to say.

However, whilst I'd come to accept that I wasn't the kind of person who wanted a bag to be a metaphor for me, I hadn't quite relinquished the quest for one which properly ticked the 'useful and beautiful' box. And when What's in My Handbag asked if I'd write something about books and beauty, I went slightly into overdrive in my search for the perfect bag - it's all very well showing what's in your handbag, but what of the handbag itself?

What you see in the holding shot of my WIMH  piece is as near to the platonic ideal of handbags as it's possible to get (for me, at least): it's 'The Claudia', a black patent leather tote with 'cavallino'sides which was created by Strenesse to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of stylist and boutique owner Claudia Sebire. Her style signature of wearable modern luxury is perfectly embodied by the bag and it looks as elegant crammed full of all my rubbish as it does when I've been kinder to it and filled it with nothing more than mobile phones and housekeys. Cleverly, it works as hard for post-work cocktail events (with the sides pushed in to create a chic kind of bowling bag) as it does for meetings when it needs to double as a briefcase.

'The Claudia' - Claudia Sebire patent leather tote bag. £675 (I know, I know, but it is really very lovely and as I keep telling Mr Trefusis, the cost per wear over time is almost certainly going to end up being about 20p)

*quoted from The Telegraph, Bags to Riches, Justine Picardie interview May 2012

Saturday 20 October 2012


"I really, really need Botox", I wail to Mr Trefusis, hauling my brow up into my hairline where it belongs. "Then have some Botox", he replies, logically, if a little less flatteringly than I'd like.

On this note, I have some advice for all men: when women start to pull their face about and talk about cosmetic intervention, it's merely the grown-up version of 'does my bum look big in this' and your response should never be truthful. A little polite protestation about the years not having taken any kind of toll is appropriate, before steering the conversation to safer waters. If you don't feel it's laying it on too thick - and only you know the fragility of your beloved's ego in these matters - then a suggestion that she could give her similarly aged friend a few years can also go down well. If you're the poetic sort, I can recommend some cheesy hand-holding accompanied by quoting John Donne - "No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace/As I have seen in one autumnal face...". But gentlemen, you must do this with conviction and without crossing your fingers behind your back.

Of course, the older one is, the less likely one is to ask anyone if one's bum looks big - as the fabulous Catherine Deneuve is supposed to have said, after a certain age one must choose between one's face and one's behind, a few kilos can work wonders to plump out the lines and wrinkles. Callipygian women who look like hags from the front impress no one. The last word on the face Vs arse debate must go to Nigella Lawson: she's 52 and is ravishingly beautiful. I've seen her several times at The Wolseley and notwithstanding its gentle lighting, she could give most 35 year olds a run for their money. And for all women faced with this choice, I give you Sara Blakely, the inventor of SPANX, who was deservedly named in TIME 100 this year as one of its 100 most influential people in the world.

But as ever, I digress. I haven't exactly chosen the most tactful moment for railing against the aesthetic ravages of the passing years: Mr Trefusis's birthday is in a couple of months and if anyone should have the floor for a moan about getting older, it's him, particularly as it's astonishing how much older than me he is since I gave up having birthdays myself. But he doesn't seem to mind the years. In fact, he's always telling people he's older than he is: this is a strategy that hasn't really occurred to me - perhaps the idea is that people are always seriously impressed by how young you look if you're always claiming you're into the next decade. It doesn't really work for me. I prefer to be vague or dodge the question. After all, as Oscar Wilde once said 'A woman who will tell you her real age will tell you anything'. And I've always liked his idea that 'London is full of women who've been 35 for years'. Quite right too.

But lately, I've been having something of a mid-life crisis about the affect of age and gravity on the looks. I know that it's merely a metaphor, and I'm simply displacing a vast amount of angst about age vs accomplishment (youth being wasted on the young blah blah blah) onto my obsession with my appearance. I know I should get over it. But I don't want to look my age. At least, not until I've reconciled some stuff and at the moment the years are sliding past as easily as nails down a blackboard.

I do wonder whether I'm going to end up like Corinna from Swift's poem 'A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed' - it's all available to the modern woman - £200 anti-wrinkle creams, hair highlighting, chicken fillets for your bra, teeth whitening, eyelash extensions, false nails, fillers, not to mention the Botox...though I hasten to add I haven't indulged in all of these. I still look more or less the same after I've got ready for bed as I do beforehand. 40 watt soft tone bulbs help.

I make some idle protest to Mr Trefusis about Botox being a terrible waste of money and that I should get to grips with what's really behind my inability to proudly announce my true age. I believe I even offered some rubbish about my wrinkles being lines of experience, wisdom and character. Of course, he believes me a lot less than I believe myself when I'm offering up this kind of nonsense.

I've dabbled in botox before - I had a couple of sessions a few years ago with the beautiful Preema Vig, whose skill with botox and fillers is the secret behind many a well-known face and at the beginning of this year I went to Dr Rita Rakus, who was also very good and whose clinic is strategically placed near the back of Harrods so one can look as if one's in the market for a spot of upscale shopping and then exit through the Laduree tea room for 'rejuvenation' hem hem..... I confess I liked my three run-ins with botox very much indeed - it fixed my annoying Roger Moore-style eyebrow raising habit and made me look like a fresher, happier, less wearied version of me: it's gratifying how much better people respond to you when you look peaceful and friendly rather than suspicious and cross.

Botox may have replaced beautiful shoes as the thing I long for most, but since the Great Trefusis Economic Crisis kicked in, I can afford neither. And perhaps that's good for me. Perhaps I have to learn to live with the face that time and experience has given me and be grateful for it, rather than gazing mournfully at myself in the mirror like a superannuated Narcissus and seeing nothing but the sand running ever more rapidly through the hour-glass. Just because a little light cosmetic intervention can give the appearance of having turned back the clock, doesn't mean the years aren't there. Hmmm.

And on that note of solipsistic existential angst, I'll go and see what I can do to spruce myself up with makeup.

Anyway, if you can afford botox and so on and would like a recommendation, Preema Vig can be contacted on 07939560247 and Dr Rita Rakus is on 07000400321. 

Saturday 13 October 2012


In twenty years time I know I'll be watching one of those Channel Four '100 Funniest Comedy Moments of the 21st Century' and there will be Max and Ivan. 'Ah, Max Olesker...' I'll say to the current Mr Trefusis, 'I knew him when he was the Assistant Editor on Esquire, long before he was the intergalactic mega-comedian on the telly. Very funny chap, even then, Max...'. and it's true, he is, even in the office on a deadline, and he's even funnier when in tandem with long-time comedy partner Ivan Gonzalez (apologies to Ivan for omitting the various impressive accents in his name: my blogger skilz don't run to them).

Anyway, hot from yet another Edinburgh Festival success (Max and Ivan were the Edinburgh Comedy Festival Panel Prize winners in 2011), their latest show, Con Artists, opens at the Soho Theatre, London, on 15th October. To quote The Guardian's Brian Logan, who puts these things better than I ever could, "Max and Ivan Are … Con Artists is a drum-tight parody of an overfamiliar genre – in this case, the heist movie – whose script is packed with scrambled cliches and flights of absurdist fancy....The Oceans-Eleven style set up sees Max Olesker's East End conman Jim ringing his old accomplices one by one, to assemble them for a final job. These include ace hacker Lavinia ("I've completed the internet on its hardest setting"), explosives ace Tim and his doting getaway driver Raoul, and a camp cat burglar called Graham. The plan is to infiltrate a Las Vegas casino run by Russian oligarch Dmitri, Who lurks in his lair listening to an audio book of Fifty Shades of Grey read by Alan Bennet"

All the characters are played by Max and Ivan who manage to switch between them in a feat of breathtakingly sophisticated comedic legerdemain. I can think of few better (or cheaper) ways to shake off the wet-weather blues than to grab a couple of tickets to the show. 

Max and Ivan are...Con Artists runs from 15th to 20th October at the Soho Theatre: the show starts at 8.30 on Monday and 9.30pm thereafter, leaving you ample time to grab a spot of pre-theatre something at the hip Burger & Lobster just a few doors down further along Dean Street.