Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Black tie on the tube

Went to the Walpole Luxury Awards last night - well, to the drinks beforehand. Award ceremonies are only fun if they are stuffed with famous faces, or you're up for one yourself. Being neither, the BF and I snuck out after two glasses of champagne and a mini hamburger (exceptionally good). It was held in the noisy antechamber of the Banqueting Hall - you could hardly hear a word anyone was saying. But that's OK because at the moment there's only one conversation doing the rounds: "How's it going for you then?" "Oh, OK - it's tough you know - waiting to see what happens next year...". No one talks of anything else. Anyway - it reminded me of the time I saw on the tube just a few weeks ago two middle-aged men in black tie travelling from Holland Park to Liverpool St. At one point a ticket inspector came round and they asked him what time the last tube was. Would there be one at around 2am? Of course they didn't know - they've always been able to take taxis from their houses to the City for their bank's shindigs and now they have to get public transport. Rather like the judge who, presiding over a case for which the setting was on the bus, decided to take one home himself to see what it was like. When asked by the conductor where he was going, he replied: "Number 42 Eaton Square, please."

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Past Imperfect

My uncle Julian's novel, Past Imperfect, was launched on Tuesday night. As the book is set in 1968 and 2008, we were invited to dress accordingly. In the end, his wife Emma had the best outfit of the night (as I knew she would), with a bright pink bobbed wig and a pink and black chequered PVC mini-dress. I wore a black and white pop-art dress, had my hair done up a la Amy Winehouse and stuck on huge false eyelashes that make one feel as if curtains are half-drawn across the eyes. There was a big turnout - Christopher Cazenove and his lovely girlfriend Isobel, Hermione Norris, Harriet Walter, Princess Michael of Kent, Freddie Windsor, Cristina Odone, Lady Apsley (who I had interviewed the day before for the Telegraph, oddly enough) and lots of old friends whom I hadn't seen for ages, which was a delight. Blue Strawberry did the yummy ca-naps, and we drank every drop of champagne. Afterwards, a few of us went to supper at the Sloane Square Hotel and I sat opposite J's publisher, apparently a legend of Wiedenfeld & Nicholson, and now semi-retired. He's just finishing a biog on Alan Clarke and I have a feeling he told me some really good stories but I can't remember them. I don't know what it is about me - whether my conscience is just too good for keeping secrets but the next day all I can ever remember is someone saying: "You mustn't repeat this to anyone but...." and then my mind goes blank. Damn.

Last night was upstairs in the "petting room" of new members' club at Quo Vadis. Huge sofas and tv, brown shrimps on toast and endless glasses of crisp white wine. We watched the election special and I wanted to throw my shoe at Jeremy Paxman and his patronising interview with Dizzee Rascal ("hip hop won the election"). JP said, "well, why don't you run for office then?" and SMIRKED. Git. But aside from that - total, absolute happiness at Obama's election. It's a JFK moment for our generation.

Owner Eddie Hart came up and had some fish pie with us and later, when we snuck out for a cig break, Eddie introduced me to my distant cousin Robert, Lord Fellowes. Isn't life marvellous?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Country Life bigs up da Mud


From mud to tarmac

A little bit ironic that as soon as my book is out - MUD & THE CITY: DOs AND DON'Ts FOR TOWNIES IN THE COUNTRY - we have decided to give up the country house. It was just too blimming cold (see blogs passim) and so expensive to heat (oil tank) that buying a new fur coat every week would have been cheaper (and warmer, probably as fur coats tend not to have draughts coming from above and below).

So. Now I'm hunkering down in the London flat and will continue to blog on City stuff. We're still venturing to the country now and then (staying tonight in the very lovely Stapleford Park hotel in Leics). I'll report back on any rustic sightings.

In the meantime, enjoy a couple of links and attachments I'm posting up here. And do get a copy of the book - at £9.99 it's a great stocking filler!!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Run, pheasant, run, run, run

The Man clipped the wings of a young cock pheasant last Saturday night and dutifully finished it off quickly (he doesn't shoot, so easier said than done). Got it home and plucked and gutted it immediately. I roasted it (salt and pepper, streaky bacon on the top, with potatoes and parsnips in the tin too) and served it up with buttered curly kale and steamed carrots. It was delicious. I don't particularly love pheasant, but as this was younger and hadn't been hung, the meat was plump and tasty. Roadkill, who'd have thunk?

Party on

We had the book launch last week - at Julie's in Holland Park. What you might call a rip-roaring success. All three authors launched in one night (Mud & The City, plus Cupboard Love by Laura Lockington and The Tail of Augustus Moon by Melanie Whitehouse) and the publisher, Book Guild, supplied plentiful bellinis and kir royales to keep us bubbling. Daily Mail gave it a mention on the Richard Kay page the next day. And now we just hope that word -of-mouth spreads the good, muddy word...

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Radio ga-ga

Huge fun going on the radio yesterday. Only problem was I forgot to say why country people should buy the book. So just to clarify - the reason is: to give to your townie friends! Keep a copy in the spare bedroom so your townie cousins can fit in better and not step in the cowpats.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

BBC Radio Suffolk

Very exciting. Am going on Luke Deal's show on BBC Radio Suffolk at 2.20pm today - will update later on how it went. Plus am being interviewed for East Anglia Daily News next week! Local author fame at last!!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Fourth day in the Big Brother house

...well, not quite -but fourth day in the Cottage. I came down here on Saturday - it's now Tuesday - and I've been very happy. Rearranged the bedroom, cleaned everything up, made a proper desk for myself in front of the dining-room window. Thinking I might set up a little bird table just outside so that I can enjoy the distraction of their twitters. Been hanging out with the kids, cooking and playing. I have barely left the drive, bar for a couple of short walks.

So this afternoon I thought I'd better go to town and get some shopping (and send off the postal order for my ebay Jimmy Choo boots - yayayaya!). I said to S: "I haven't been out of the house since Saturday." He looked at me. I was wearing: red moon boots on my feet (it's cold inside), bright blue jeans, pale grey cashmere mix hoodie, which is moulting on to my brown vest top and the final flourish - a tape measure around my neck. No make-up, mad country hair.

He said: "It looks like it."

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Scruffy toffs or just scruffy in the country?

V amusing piece in the Mail today by the wife of the F***ing Fulford. It's a response to the pic of Rachel Johnson that has apparently caused outrage around the country - she was photographed in her country home in a supremely scruffy sitting-room, with wellies on indoors, unhoovered rug by fire, sleeping bag as a 'throw' on armchair (itself with stuffing threatening to burst out any second), old LPs haphazardly on the shelf etc.

Mrs Fulford (Lady Fulford? Whatever) defends this position and explains that toffs love scruff - it's more comfy, it's nicer for the dogs, it's less work and why would you ever take your boots off when you're going to go outside shortly anyway?

I can testify to this - I think it's less about being toff than country though. In my flat in London, I polish the bathroom mirror and the glass sideboard at least every other day, I hoover as soon as the carpet needs it (ie almost every time I look at it), I make the bed beautifully even when it's only me that's going to see it, washing up is never left in the bowl and cushions are fluffed and magazines, tv remote controls etc put away every night before going to bed. If I feel the slightest bit of chill, the heating is whacked on and I have an immersion boiler so that I can have as much hot water as I want, whenever I want it. I have an electric blanket on my bed and if I want to switch it on in July, I damn well do. When I go out, which is most every night, I am dolled up to the nines with freshly washed hair and clean, ironed clothes.

In the country there is no heating on between May and October and even then it's on as little as possible, Him-Indoors (country and quite toff) would rather we just huddled closer to the fire (see blog passim for notes on being scorched on one side, frozen on the other). Anyone who complains of the cold is told to put on another jumper. He positively relishes a cold bed with maybe just the feel of burning rubber from a hot water bottle on snowy nights. I never take my wellies off if I can help it. The hoovering is done when I feel like it (ie almost never). It only really comes out when the cobwebs threaten to obscure the walls completely and we have to suck up all the spiders.

My bath in the morning is always 'grey' - I go second (my bf likes it hotter than me so he goes first) - which saves time and water. We don't use the timer for hot water as that might heat up more than we need and uses up the precious oil - we just switch the immersion on for an hour (and boil kettles to do the washing up). Needless to say, there is no hot water to wash your hands at any point in the day. I never dust - don't be silly. I once bought special cloths for cleaning mirrors and was asked "what fool spends money on this sort of thing?" and they have consequently only been used once.

Dogs come to the house and are welcome everywhere - especially on the sofa (but I say no to the bed). The favourite house game is indoor cricket. The same clothes are worn for at least three days in a row - my bf even favouring the shirt/jumper-in-one combo for dressing with ease. Socks are maybe given an airing overnight - hanging out of the bathroom window - but still worn the next day. My hair is unruly and far too curly and I have no inclination to iron anything worn beyond the M25. We never go out anyway.

I wouldn't have one without the other - they are both bliss in their own way. But there's no question that my life in the country is much more 'green'. We are considering a permanent move....watch this space.

Blackberries and carnivals

Not to be smug - just a tad, perhaps - but had one of those idyllic weekends: long walks in the sunshine through a beauteous village and its surrounding woods. Then blackberry picking - collecting a haul big enough to attempt Ramsay's blackberry meringue pie (not picture perfect result but still delish). Even made home-made beetroot soup too. Lazed, ate, read the papers. Finally reached the end of being on holiday or even wanting to be. So got the train back to London on Monday night. Couldn't have come home to a greater contrast: the tail end of the Notting Hill Carnival. We waded against the groups of revellers wendin their own way home and felt quite left out without a joint in one hand and a can of Stella in the other. An impromptu disco was taking place on the pavement by my flat and I had to push past a crowd of Japanese tourists sitting on the front steps. By 11pm the party was over, bar a few stragglers shouting drunkenly and the odd tooting horn. The next morning the streets were cleaned, although there was a broken bottle of wine and a thousand fag ends on the steps. Ah, home sweet home.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Aristo outrage

Update on the below. Since that bbq, I wrote a piece for the Telegraph on sex and horses (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/portal/main.jhtml?xml=/portal/2008/07/30/fthorse130.xml) and mentioned the Happy Valley story.
Turns out, someone in the village emailed the story link to EVERYONE and they all know it's me. I'm half expecting to find a cross painted on the front door. Actually, apparently they all find it pretty funny....apart from the local aristo who is apparently furious with me. So I don't think I'll be asked to cut the ribbon for the local fete anytime soon....

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Happy Valley

On a rare night out in the country, l'homme and I went to a neighbourly bbq. It was classically British - we stood outside holding umbrellas and a makeshift cover for the fire was made with a stepladder and golf umbrella balanced over it and the back door. The best bit for me was meeting our fellow neighbours - the men talked to each other and the women stood under a tree chatting. The women were great - very strident and clearly the ones in charge. One said to me, "So, you're from London?" I looked aghast and said, "Oh no, have I given myself away with the wrong clothes? I thought I'd got it right!" (I was in brown boots, white loose jeans with pale blue stripes - which sounds revolting, but think OshKosh - and an old jumper.) Anyway, they were chatting about horses, as they do, gossiping about the pony club mothers who boss everyone about and I said that I really must get back to riding - I keep seeing streams of riders go past our door. Where do they all come from I asked? Is there a riding stables nearby I could go to for lessons? At this, they gasped, and one said: "You really don't know where you're living, do you? You're in Happy Valley." What's that? Is everyone on Ecstasy pills? No, apparently, our little corner of Suffolk is the meeting point for three hunts and the reason they are all so happy is that they have lots of wife-swapping parties and gossip about it ferociously afterwards. (No, I haven't been invited yet.)

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Wife in the North

Am rather heartened this weekend - a townie in the country has just published a book, Wife in the North, about her own trials and tribulations for being a, er, townie in the country. She started off with a blog, which became an enormous hit, and now has a book and is in 'talks' about a tv drama being made out of it. Shows there's an appetite. As for my own book - the jacket has now gone to the printers. Not long, I hope, before I have the actual hard covers in my hot little hands. We've found a venue for the joint-book-launch party - the v lovely Julie's in Holland Park - and set a date for the launch. (I'd like to pretend otherwise, but really, the party is the best bit of publishing a book.)

Meanwhile...we're in the country. After weeks of procrastination we've finally cut the lawn (well, I say lawn, it's more of a steep bank of bumpy ground overrun by nettles, knotweed and some brown grass). A long walk this morning included one glorious narrow path cut through long fields of corn that is just beginning to turn gold. A single biplane flew overhead, making us feel as if we were in a film that had spliced together the Wizard of Oz and North by Northwest. I shall roast a chicken later and then draw the curtains on the blooming, bird-singing countryside in order to watch Wimbledon.

Country comes to the city

This has been around for a while....but it still makes me laugh:


Monday, June 16, 2008

Another wedding and a bit of polo

I feel proper country-like today. It's too cold to work in the house (aka The Freezer), and not quite warm enough to sit outside, although it's sunny. So I'm working today from the back of the Land Rover. Praise be to WiFi. Great weekend. Went to another country wedding - proper from-the-country this time. Beautiful tiny church with every inch of pew bedecked in summer flowers. Speeches that had us all sobbing. Supper was served by what appeared to be the local school dinner ladies (we all got told off for trying to have a bit of coronation chicken AND lasagne) but was hearty and delicious. And then a lot of bad dancing to the local mobile disco outfit. The only tricky bit was the annual perilous event of walking across country lawns in high heels - I decided you have to approach it a bit like a run across hot coals - never landing too heavily to bear the consequences.

Yesterday was the Vivari Queen's Cup at Guard's Polo Club. In the Royal Box, natch. Well, only to help set the table. Then a very exciting match between Sumaya (with one of the infamous Leguy brothers playing) against Ellerston (with legend Kerry Packer's son, Jamie, in shirt no.4), who won 10-9. The Queen was there in fetching raspberry but I was more distracted by Chris Evans sitting behind me and canoodling with his very attractive wife. Celebs. In the country. I know!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Shoot 'em up

I spent yesterday in the company of 180 bankers, all loaded up with guns and rally driving around an extremely muddy Highclere Estate. There are some for whom walking into a room full of tweedy testosterone is life at its most perfect. They were all carted round the five different drives to compete in the City Shooting Championships, sipping soup and scoffing flapjacks in between, before sitting down to a game pie and potatoes lunch. They're were all jolly good fun. Not a scrap of denim or slick dance move between them, I expect, but plenty of woollen socks and outrageous stories. My favourite, told by a peer of the realm, involved a Swiss restaurant up a mountain, a challenge to split a cork in two with an axe, all his clothes coming off and 50 gobsmacked French people watching ("my children didn't talk to me for two days!" he roared).

Friday, May 30, 2008

Book update

Jacket now approved! (After some unseemly to-ing and fro-ing over the 'author photograph'.) And now I'm about to sign off the final proof - which is terrifying and wonderful, all at once. When that's all in the post I can start getting on with the best bit about publishing a book - planning the launch party. September 25th - get ready!

Country Weddings

Spring has sprung, the lambs are bounding (I even went to a Masterclass on Sheep Keeping), the flowers are blooming and the country is one big festival of....weddings. Sorry I've not been on this lately, but I've been too busy trying to kiss my fellow wedding-attendees. This is harder than it sounds when you're both wearing hats with outsized brims and Posh-tribute sunglasses. Add to that the tribulations of pulling high heels out of the soft lawns at every step and eating a puff-pastry asparagus ca-nap (no-one says 'canapay') while sipping/glugging too much free champagne. Ah, it's life at the coal face, I tell you.

I've been lucky enough to have gone to two wonderful examples of country weddings - both of which were fairly 'townie in the country' (or 'TIC'), which made for style and groove but no pretension, which made them both as enjoyable as fresh peonies in a milk bottle in the kitchen. If you know what I mean.

The first was set on an extremely blowy cliff, with large yurts set up in between the ruins of Hastings Castle.'If the winds get higher than 45mph,' said the tent-erectors to the bride's parents, 'you'll need a Plan B.' There was no Plan B, so there we all stayed, freezing but jolly happy and warmed by the fire in the smaller yurt, or dancing in the bigger one. The bride looked fab in a short and floaty white chiffon Amanda Wakely number and the groom looked extremely relaxed.

The second was by the Norfolk Broads on one of those perfect May days that makes you wonder how you could ever even think about living in any other country. The marriage blessing was by the river, and the priest sat at a trestle table, covered with a white cloth and candlesticks and in his dark sunglasses looked thrillingly like a member of the Mafia. The couple exchange grouse chicks instead of rings, and the children - who seemed to reproduce in numbers and certainly noise and overexcitement as the day wore on - played with unashamed, unsupervised bliss. You could hear them splashing into the river, running into the woods or playing a game of 30-a-side football. We ate hot jacket potatoes and cold beef and danced to the groom's teenage son's band. We gave thanks and praise.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


A little quiet lately as I had to recover from 'skiing' in Courmayeur. I don't know the technical term is for my antics on the top of a mountain, but hysteria and sliding down on my arse is probably the kindest. Back in Blighty, we had Easter in the country, which felt just like Christmas as it snowed (I staved off the phobics by staying inside). The olive oil is still cloudy but at least four days of the heating being on meant that by the end of Bank Holiday Monday I could feel my toes and fingers again.

Mud & The City is beginning to feel like a book now. I've been checking over the editor's marks and even caught myself laughing at one of my own jokes - which must be a good sign. And I found my mother's engagement ring, which I thought I'd lost (it was in an egg cup) - perhaps another positive omen. Now it's my last week at Country Life before I fling myself into the abyss of freelancing. Very exciting. If anyone's watching........keep your eye on this space.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Cough, cough

I've been a bit distracted from my laptop by the incessant coughing, sneezing and general wailing emitting from my own self for the past fortnight. As I don't really believe in illness, I've been casting around for the suspect that inflicted this misery upon me. Was it that dodgy sniffer on the tube? The red-faced baby who came to brunch? Sick-building syndrome? In the end, I think it's just pure cold. Cold in our house that is. Apparently, we live in the coldest house in the country. The frost in the garden in the morning is beautiful, but less enticing when it is still there at lunchtime – especially when it has melted in every other garden around us. If I left the butter in the fridge it would be easier to spread on my toast. I know that our kitchen never even approaches the accepted 'room temperature' because the olive oil is permanently cloudy (read the label at the back). We light the fire, which is bliss, but requires a Hansel & Gretel forest to keep it burning. Plus you can only warm up (even scorch) one side of you at a time. Hot water bottles just mean that you either have a lump of scalding plastic on your legs or on your stomach, while the rest of you tries to thaw out. I'm going skiing next week. I think this is my version of a holiday in the sun.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Bump in the night

Being a proper fey town mouse, with a strong strain of sympathy for Buddhism, I am especially squeamish about killing things. After a few months of regular country weekends, however, I began to learn that you just can't be this way in the hinterlands. First it was the spiders, sucked up by the hoover. I don't mind spiders but I do mind their sticky webs coating every nook and cranny in the house. Not long after that, I ordered poison to be poured onto the wasps' nest – it was just too close to my favourite picnic spot in the garden.

But Friday was the night of the first big kill. Driving back to our house from the station in our heavy Land Rover we saw a rabbit run out. Too late, it hesitated and too late we braked. There was the unmistakable bump of a newly squashed Peter Rabbit beneath the tyres. I am sorry, but we left it for dead. I have been reassured that rabbits die quickly (they easily get heart attacks) and perhaps a fox would eat it, so its life wasn't entirely without purpose. Not to mention that there are more rabbits breeding than even Brangelina can manage to adopt – we can spare one or two to the tarmac.

Oddly, the thing I was surprised to note was that I didn't cry or even get too upset. I must be more country than I thought...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Out to lunch

We had a rare bit of fun on Sunday - a friend came to lunch, with her younger sister and a tiny baby boy. Both my friend and I are townies and we found that arranging a lunch in the country is not as easy as looking at the tube map. There were complicated instructions on the phone, then she downloaded more instructions off a route planner. She got almost to the house and then asked someone the way, but they sent her in the wrong direction. Several phone calls later (bad signal in the country means the phone keeps cutting out) my slightly harrassed friend arrived. We wolfed down our lunch (farm chicken, roast potatoes, farm shop carrots etc - all had to be planned early the day before because nothing open on Sunday and most of the good stuff gone from the shops by 1pm on a saturday) and then it was time for her to head off again. Still, she appreciated the log fire in the dining room and her baby was particularly taken by a brass candlestick holder we removed from the piano for him to play with. Ahhh.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Conquer the Castle

Just discovered today that Sky TV are doing a series about six 'dedicated city slickers' attempting to learn some country ways. I can't believe that two weeks at the beautiful Atholl Castle is as 'gruelling' as they promise but apparently someone who has a pet rabbit has to skin one for lunch (not the actual pet, I'm assuming). Anyway - check it out: http://www.stv.tv/content/tv/conquerthecastle/episodes/1
I'm going to see if I can't wangle a visit on behalf of the book.

Friday, February 1, 2008

And it's in!

The MS has been delivered. Phew.
All fnigres nad tose crssoed.....

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Welding and fabrication

One of the joys of being in the country, at least as far as my bf is concerned, is the machinery. More specifically, driving around in a completely knackered Land Rover. At the moment, our passenger door won't open, we've snapped the key to the door locks, so can't lock the driver door, the steering wheel won't go straight, the rear view mirror has only just been glued back up after weeks of lying on the car floor and the radio aerial is - what else? - a bent coathanger. But there is something heartening in dodging the myriad rules of health & safety and other busybody bureaucrats. After we failed the MOT and were threatened with an £800 bill to fix the car, we remembered a mechanic who operates out of a garden shed. He duly fixed the car for £200 and even slipped the MOT inspector a fiver to turn a blind eye to the stuck door. I couldn't help but laugh when I saw his business card: 'Gary - For all your welding and fabrication needs'. Only in the country....

Monday, January 28, 2008

Small Matters

Another beautiful weekend in the country. Winter sometimes brings the best days - blue skies, bright sunshine, crisp air. The fields are freshly ploughed, tiny intensely green shoots are springing up, alongside the clusters of snowdrops. After a bracing morning walk and several hours slaving over a hot typewriter, I sat by the spitting log fire. An idyll, of sorts. I know there are drawbacks to being in the country (the least attractive of which being the two rats I nearly ran over as I drove to the station) but for these two days they were firmly at the back of my mind.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

'I'm on the train...'

Travelling up on the train from Liverpool Street to Colchester yesterday, I was able to make some more observations for my 'Commuting' chapter of Mud & The City: Dos and Don'ts for Townies in the Country. A young guy sitting opposite me chatted until Manningtree Station (a good 40 minutes) to his mate, describing in great detail the plans he had for carpets, building works etc for a new house he was moving in to with, apparently, seven other blokes. None of the rest of us could even think, let alone, read the paper or concentrate on some work while he was banging on. But we couldn't help smiling when at the end he was heard to say into his handset, with some force, 'But look, mate, don't tell ANYONE about this, yeah?'.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

My horse has broken down

A taxi journey with one or two of my fellow Country Lifers is never without a surprising revelation. One girl was telling me that she was missing her riding – she couldn't go anymore because: 'My horse has broken down.' I thought this was a pretty callous way to talk about a living beast, but it turns out that this is an old, well-worn phrase amongst countrymen that was most likely reappropriated when people started driving cars. It merely means that the horse is no longer fit for riding and will now live out the rest of its days pottering about in a field. I've seen that happen to a couple of cars, too.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Getting started.....

The book is now one week away from the publisher's deadline. Last-minute first-book nerves are thrashing about in my daydreams and my nightmares. Who was the fool who said, 'writing is hell, editing is bliss'?