Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Minnie Love

Although technically my children's names are Sholto and Esmeralda, those names don't actually get used by many people.  Mostly, the children answer to Puffin and Minnie Mouse.  I didn't intend to have children with such ridiculous names, and I frequently find myself explaining that "he's not actually called Puffin." (But then again, nobody can ever remember Sholto.  "How's Shiloh?" I get asked, as if we had named him after one of the Jolie-Pitt's offspring.)  Minnie is marginally better, I suppose.  I get a lot of "Oh, like Minnie Driver."And since she became Minnie Mouse, I've found myself becoming increasingly fond of her namesake.  So I was utterly thrilled to discover that she is on the cover of the new issue of Love:

She's not the only cover star - she's joined by an impressive line up of young beauties:  Cara Delevigne (why oh why did I pluck my Frida Kahlo slug into such submission that it now won't grow back?) Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley, Georgia May Jagger, Edie Campbell - all shot by Mert & Marcus, and all wearing specially commissioned Minnie Mouse ears.  According to the Editor's Letter, Katy Grand was inspired by the Herb Ritts image of Madonna:

And who can ever forget the amazing Irving Penn image featuring Minnie ears:

It's clear that my Minnie needs to accessorise up, although I'm thinking maybe not from Louis Vuitton, Gucci, or any of the other major fashion house that collaborated on the Love covers.  Clare's Accessories will do just fine.  And I'll start saving up the cash difference in order to one day buy her an Iriving Penn print.

The Autumn/ Winter issue of Love is out now.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Portmeirion's Place in Britpop History

I've been remembering the Britpop days.  And not just because of the current Liam Gallagher love child  scandal.  I recently interviewed the musician Jess Mills, whose album is coming out early next year - it, incidentally, will be amazing: just listen to her previously released single, Fighting Fire - see, amazing!  (Incidentally, my estimation of Tessa Jowell went up about three hundred fold after chatting to Jess, who is the daughter of Jowell:  despite heading up the Olympics Committee, Jowell made her children apply for tickets through the ordinary ballot.  It transpires that not all of New Labour favoured nepotism.)  We were talking about when Blair's government came to power, which was just as I finished school, and one of the songs that was still being played on repeat that summer, even two years after release, was Supergrass's Alright.  The video was filmed in Portmeirion, in Wales. Which is one of the weirdest things I've discovered since finding out that one of the album shots for Pulp's Common People was taken in my parents' local bus station, in Thirsk, North Yorkshire.  

Well, we're just back from Wales, and I have just taken great delight in unpacking my latest acquisitions:  Portmeirion storage jars.  Before I went on holiday, I would have told you that I don't like Portmeirion.  It transpires that, faced with wall to wall examples of it, I manage to find beauty in certain aspects. . . 

It all started innocently enough.  On discovering that Portmeirion was literally just up the road (we were staying in Barmouth, which, incidentally, is heaven - indeed, so heavenly that my husband and I started looking at houses there) we decided to visit.  I hadn't done any research, and thought that we were going to see a pottery in a pretty village.  I was, therefore, totally unprepared for this:

It's a neo-Italianate village, built between 1925 and 1975, and it is bordering on hilarious, while being truly brilliant.  It's hardly Britpopy - I certainly didn't feel young at all - if anything I felt like I was walking around a television set for a Poirot; I kept expecting David Suchet to appear, stroking his moustache.  Should I ever decide to host a murder mystery weekend, Portmeirion is where I'll do it (and I could, too - the whole place is a hotel/ self-catering accommodation.)

There's also a pottery, or rather, a shop.  But I didn't buy anything 1.) because Andrew was with me and 2.) because I still thought I was going to visit Blodwen (read about it here) and that I was going to invest in a Welsh blanket.

Well, I tried to visit Blodwen.  As in, Andrew drove us the entire way to Cardigan - which took about three and a half hours because the one problem with Wales is that everyone drives at 40mph - to discover that Blodwen is only available online.   Ho diddly hum.    So a couple of afternoons later, my mother and I found a shop in Barmouth selling Portmeirion and I invested in that instead.  So now we own this:

Sholto loves Sweet William.  It's one of the only flowers that he recognises, along with daisies.

And this:

Esmeralda was wearing a dress with pansies on it that day.

Incidentally there are flowers everywhere at Portmeirion.  Just look at these hydrangea.  Heaven, no?

There are also tree stumps with money buried in them:

There's a completely fake boat:

A random Buddha:

And a shell grotto which Esmeralda loved so much we could barely entice her to leave:

(Andrew had dressed her that day.)

I still think that it is very weird that Supergrass filmed in Portmeirion.  I also still don't like any Portmeirion aside from the storage jars, and maybe the mugs.  But whatever your reasons for visiting, go.  Truly, it's brilliant.


Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Wild Swimming

Looks heavenly, doesn't it?  Especially on a day like this.  Sadly, we can't all be members of Hurlingham.  And even if I were to persuade my various friends who are members to invite me and the children every single day, Fulham is actually quite a long drive from Notting Hill when you've got a Sholto and an Esmeralda.  Put it this way, you can listen to The Wheels on the Bus a lot of times.  (I so thought that my children would be different, that I'd bring them up listening to The Beatles and The Kinks and there'd be no need for 'children's' music.  Ha.  The minute we get in the car Sholto demands "Mine songs.  Mine special songs.")

However, there's always the Serpentine.  And there's nothing quite like swimming in a lake for making one feel cleansed - even more so than one does in a pool, because there's no chlorine.  Of course, there is pondweed, but contrary to popular belief there is no swan poo because the swans get out before they go.  I know this because I've watched them intently, for hours, just to make sure.  And it's not freezing (unlike the river by my parents' house.  "Come on in, it's boiling," my mother lies.  It's heart-stoppingly cold.  Always.  Whatever she says.)

My favourite time to go is first thing in the morning, having walked there so that I'm feeling sufficiently in need of cooling down by the time I take the plunge.  Then one can have a coffee and a croissant at the cafe, while sitting in the sun and waiting for one's swimsuit to dry out before walking home again.  It is literally the best start to the day.

If you need any more convincing, read Vikram Seth's An Equal Music (though personally I draw the line at swimming in mid-winter.)  For those who live further north, there's always the ponds on Hampstead Heath (read Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty.)  The only downside to wild swimming is that I don't feel that I can allow the children to join me yet, as I don't trust them not to drink the water.  While I'm sure that a little bit of the Serpentine would be fine, Sholto has a tendency to drink gallons, whether he's in a pool or the bath.  So he's going to have to continue to get his kicks in the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, at least for now.  Even if it does make him cross.  "But I can swim, Mummy!" (He actually can.  Though he hasn't yet mastered breathing at the same time as swimming, which is obviously a bit of a problem.)

For more wild swimming across the UK, check out www.wildswimming.co.uk

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Perfumes of Provence

I really really want to go to the South of France this summer, mainly because I want to go to MAMO (the Marseille Modulor) - the new art space that has opened on the roof of Le Corbusier's Cite Radieuse, where the gym used to be (well, actually, still is - just it's now been converted.)  Seriously, how amazing does it look? Also I want to go because I've got a thing about Utopian Architecture in general, and Le Corbusier in particular.  

And it would be but a short journey from Saint-Tropez - or Saint-Maxime or Saint-Raphael - where we could rent a villa and languish by a pool and hang out on Pampellone Beach and shop for endless baskets and bottles of lavender water in the market (I actually used to ship lavender water back to London and, pre-children, genuinely always ironed my sheets with it.  I blatantly had too much time on my hands) and eat sea food and look at Picasso's ceramics and shop for very expensive clothes in those heavenly backstreet boutiques and try on fur coats in the scorching heat of the summer.  But we're not going to Saint Tropez.  We're going, as previously mentioned, to Wales - where I may well be driven to wear a fur coat, so at least the two different destinations have got something in common.

But we've still got another ten days at home first, and I have got a mountain of work to get through, and  London is hot and humid and not conducive to clarity of thought.   The stickiness of the air makes me feel claustrophobic and panicky, and I don't sleep well.  However, I've recently had a revelation: I've decided that the only way to get through it is to work it like I would in Provence.  And that means Marseille soap, which is how my latest obsession, Branche d'Olive, started:

There's something about washing one's hands with really good soap.  I always totally understood Lady Macbeth's compulsion.  I also think she would have been much happier, and potentially less murderous, if only she'd had Branche d'Olive soaps.  They also do the most amazing shower gels and hand and body moisturisers, and, my personal favourite, scented candles and oil diffusers (oh, and they're much better value than either Jo Malone or Diptique, which means that I don't feel at all guilty about burning several at once.  Rose in the morning, Green Fig while I'm working, Lavender at night . . . . It's heaven.)

And it's occurred to me that there is actual real proof that these scents help creativity to flow:  Edith Wharton wrote The Age of Innocence at a villa near Hyeres; F Scott FitzGerald wrote most of The Great Gatsby and started Tender is the Night while living in Saint-Raphael.  And that's before I've even mentioned the obvious artists - Picasso, Braque, Cezanne et al.  

You can buy Branche d'Olive products either online, or at Liberty (where I was yesterday and where I accidentally fell in love with Portrait of a Lady, from Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle.  I've realised that:
1.) I need to persuade my husband to buy it for me, and 
2.) I'm in the mood to re-read Henry James's Wings of a Dove.  And perhaps also The Ambassadors, part of which is set on the French Riviera.  SEE:  MORE PROOF.)


Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Crazy Rich Asians, And Other Holiday Reads

Don't you love the Hermes-esque design of the hardback?

One of the things I love most about my Kindle is that one can pre-order books.  I can not tell you how excited I was when I woke up yesterday morning and remembered that it was the UK release date for Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan, of which an excerpt was published in Vogue US, and on which I am so hooked that the newly arrived box set of Wallander is still languishing unopened next to the DVD player (and there is no genre I am more addicted to than Scandinavian crime.)

The other great thing is that one can get books that haven't yet been released - at least in book format - in the UK.  I read Kirstie Clements' memoirs of her time at Vogue Australia months ago, and gripping they were too - and not just because of the stories of models on drips, but because they're an absolutely riveting account of working within the fashion industry in Australia.

Incidentally, Revenge Wears Prada, Lauren Weisberger's follow-up to the obvious, was disappointing. So disappointing, I'm not going to bother including an image. The characters are barely even two-dimensional, and I wasn't sufficiently enamoured of any of them to want to keep reading.   But, if you're super bored on a lengthy plane journey, it is more entertaining than staring at the seat in front of you.  Just.

However if you are looking for more ideas for holiday reading, the following newish releases (in no particular order) are, in my opinion, totally worth buying:

Big Brother, by Lionel Shriver - the author of We Need to Talk About Kevin broaches another contentious subject, this time compulsive eating.  But this is not just a novel about obesity and dieting; it is about family, love and forgiveness - drawing heavily on Shriver's relationship with her own brother - and as ever, brilliantly written.  The Observer described Shriver's style perfectly when the reviewer referred to her 'peculiarly uncompromising brand of emotional noir.'

Sisterland, by Curtis Sittenfeld - I think I'd read anything that Sittenfeld has written, having first discovered her via Prep, which was set in an exclusive Massachussets boarding school. Reading it, I almost felt myself returning to being an awkward and unsure teenager  (I am occasionally so relieved that I will never be that young again.)  Then Man of My Dreams, and finally American Wife, a fictionalised account of the life of the former First Lady Laura Bush, which, while full of the seemingly trite minutae of daily existence, I found literally un-put-downable.  Sisterland, while on the surface a novel about the possibilities of psychic power, is far more about the relationship between twin sisters.

The Woman Upstairs, by Claire Messud - I'm just going to give you the quote from the book which explains the title - seriously, I don't need to do more.  You'll totally know, just from reading this, if the book is for you, or not:  "We're not the madwomen in the attic - they get lots of play, one way or another.  We're the quiet woman at the end of the third-floor hallway, whose trash is always tidy, who smiles brightly in the stairwell with a cheerful greeting, and who, from behind closed doors, never makes a sound.  In our lives of quiet desperation . . . not a soul registers that we are furious."

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn - which I only include in case you've been trapped in a cupboard for the past six months without access to newspapers or magazines and haven't seen any of the many, many reviews.  Fascinating, gripping - the perfect beach read.

I've just realised that everything I've suggested - with the exception of Crazy Rich Asians - is by a female writer.  This is purely coincidence.  I do read male writers too, and just to prove it, I'll be packing Salman Rushdie's Joseph Conrad, which has been sitting next to my bed - in book format - since it came out, along with Jeffrey Eugenides' 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex (The Marriage Plot was my favourite holiday read of last year).  I have to do this, of course, because I've already accidentally read all the books above which I initially earmarked as holiday reads.

(Well, I haven't quite finished Crazy Rich Asians just yet, but I'm returning to it right right now . . . )