Saturday, June 26, 2010

I Capture The Castle

Dodie Smith
Indulge me this week – it’s my birthday, and I’ve always wanted to read I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith but have never been able to find it in bookshops, not even second hand bookshops… Happily, Virago Modern Classics have realised its worth and re-released it with an enchanting, whimsical cover.
I Capture the Castle was first published in 1949. It’s the story of Cassandra Mortmain, a seventeen year old girl, who through her diary entries describes an eccentric bohemian upbringing, 1930s style. Cassandra’s father is a famous author whose seminal work Jacob Wrestling brought him fame and fortune; the family moved to live in a castle, complete with turrets and swans on the moat. But that was years ago. Now Mortmain suffers from writer’s block, all the money is spent, all the good furniture has been sold; there are so few towels ‘on washday we have to shake ourselves’ and everybody is always hungry.
Cassandra has a romantic soul, she bravely embraces her uncomfortable circumstances, but her older sister, the beautiful Rose is very bitter with life – she does not enjoy ‘being shut up in a crumbling ruin surrounded by a sea of mud’. She is so desperate for money she says, “... for some time now I’ve been considering selling myself. If necessary I shall go on the streets.”
Fortunately for Rose, and in true Pride and Prejudice fashion, the local Big House is inherited by a wealthy, eligible bachelor – Simon from America. Simon and his mother are literary buffs; they are Mortmain’s Number One fans; Simon studied Jacob Wrestling at college. When he calls to visit his hero, Rose swiftly decides she must marry him, in spite of his horrible beard. She employs her most cunning and determined wiles and soon they are engaged. Simon’s mother whisks her away to London to shop for a £1000 trousseau, leaving behind a heartbroken Cassandra who after a stolen kiss to the strains of Sheep May Safely Graze has fallen in first love with Simon.
There’s a wonderful timeless quality to Cassandra’s agonies of unrequited love. She could be any young girl in 21st century Britain pouring out her heart into a diary. She writes: ‘Waking are the worst times – almost before my eyes are open a great weight seems to roll on my heart.’
In an effort to regain her equilibrium Cassandra experiments with religion, good works, strong drink and kissing another before deciding ‘a great luxury is letting myself cry... But it is difficult to arrange times for it as my face takes so long to recover.’
Cassandra also bravely records her less generous thoughts - when Rose admits she does not love Simon, but is nevertheless determined to marry him she spits at her sister: “Oh go and sit in your bathroom and count your peach coloured towels... They’ll cheer you up – you lying grasping little cheat.”
At the start of the Second World War Dodie Smith, a successful playwright, and her soon to be husband Alan, a committed conscientious objector departed England in a pale grey Rolls Royce with Dodie’s Dalmatian Pongo. They settled in Hollywood where Dodie worked as a screenwriter. She made loads of money but hated every minute of it. She wanted to be in war-time London, having the time of her life. Homesick, she wrote and rewrote this nostalgic story of England – and when it was published it sold over a million copies.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Saturday, June 19, 2010


In the 1980s I wore green wellies and a wax coat but only because there were no shops selling Madonna-esque fishnets and lace in my corner of rural Ireland. Last night Nick and I got tarted up for a 40th birthday party - the theme was the 1980s. I didn't know Nick in the 80s but he swears this is almost how he looked.
"Why almost?"
"I was two stone lighter and didn't have to wear a wig to have black hair."

Monday, June 14, 2010

Three Frocks

Please ignore the face in these photos, it's currently under construction.
Instead concentrate on the frocks, I bought them at the Sheikha's Sale - each one cost less than a tenner. Now I can't decide which one to wear to the Rugby Club Ball on Thursday -

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Artistic Temperament

I am cursed with artistic temperament. Either that or I'm very thick-witted. For six months I've being trying to write a frothy young novel for Little Black Dress. As you can see from the website the books are marketed at young, single women so my central character Cait was also a young single woman - an airstewardess based on a tropical island with unlimited access to sun, sand, sea and... storytelling.
Except Cait and I could not get along. No matter that she was pretty and fun, and got up all sorts of amusing antics - I thought she was boring. "Good morning you dreary girl," I would say when I dragged myself to my desk.
She'd flick her ponytail and say, "Oh pull yourself together. Aren't you getting paid to create me? You're getting paid to like me..."
But I hated and despised her so much I even killed her a couple of times; it gave me such satisfaction.
Then on Friday Little Black Dress emailed to tell me they've decided to temporarily put the imprint on hold; they will not be commissioning any more books.
"Sounds like they've sacked you," said Nick.
I know I ought to feel cheated or something but instead I'm thrilled to bits. I drop kicked Cait out of the window and immediately started to write the story I've been itching to tell for six months - the story 40 year old Jackie Diamond, the cabin crew manager at Cait's airline. Already I have the structure decided and the synopsis written. Yesterday Jacks and I went shopping together to the Sultana's Designer Clearance Sale, we both liked a stunning black evening dress with heavy beading on the bodice and clever corseting at the waistline -but Jacks said her cleavage had far too much sun damage to wear such a plunging neckline so I bought it for me instead... She's very impressed with my laser skin resurfacing treatment, she says already she can see all the open pores have gone and she might be tempted to indulge herself... In fact the only thing we disagree on his her soft spot for Commander Andrew Cunningham the senior captain at Ex-Pat Air. I think he's a randy old goat, she says "We're just good friends."
"If a man and woman say they're just friends, at least one of them is lying," I told her.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Joseph O’Neill
For an older generation, the dinner party question de jour was always: “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” My generation ask: “Where were you when the Twin Towers fell?”
Well, I was living in Botswana. I had two children under the age of two. We had one children’s television programme every day; Teletubbies at 3pm. My friend Jenny was visiting with her son Angus, the children were lined up in a row on the sofa drinking UHT milk out of sippy cups...
A scream went up.
“No Teletubbies!”
Instead: “We interrupt this broadcast to bring you breaking news,” and the most extraordinary footage of aircraft flying, crash bang wallop, into the Twin Towers, New York.
Netherland is a book about the post traumatic stress suffered by Rachel and Hans, a European couple, who were in New York, living and working, that fateful September day.
Phlegmatic Hans remains stoic, but Rachel’s response is emotional; she’s too frightened to live in New York anymore; she’s convinced the city will be attacked again; she takes leave of absence from her high powered career and flies back to England with their son. But discourages Hans from following her... He must stay in dangerous New York, earning mega bucks as an equities analyst while she sleeps safe at her parents’ house. Oh, and he’s welcome to visit on alternate weekends.
So, Hans has been dumped by his wife. He gives up their loft in Tribeca and moves into the Chelsea Hotel, where he’s surrounded by eccentrics and artists. He eats out in cheap ethnic cafes. On his New York weekends he plays cricket with other immigrant New Yorkers; it’s a game he played as a child in the Netherlands, unlike his team mates who ‘had grown up playing the game in floodlit Lahore car parks or in rough clearings in some West Indian countryside.’
These are not lifestyle choices one would expect from a rich man like Hans but the alternative, he assures us, is that he spends all non-working moments lying prostrate on his hotel room floor staring at the ceiling, in a depression.
Instead cricket becomes his passion; everything else must take a back seat. He flies less often to England; he ducks out of important work dos.
He says, ‘Nobody understands better than I that this was a strange and irresponsible direction in which to take one’s life. But I’m reporting what happened.’
Through cricket he meets Chuck Ramkissoon, a dodgy business man who dreams of building a cricket stadium and establishing a New York Cricket Club. They strike up an unlikely friendship; Chuck offers to teach Hans to drive; Hans is not so naive as not to know ‘it gave Chuck a measure of cover, maybe even prestige, to have a respectable-looking white man chauffeuring him while he ran around collecting bets all over Brooklyn.’
No surprise then, when Hans leaves New York for England, that Chuck ends up dead and his body dumped...
Joseph O’Neill is an Irish barrister. Netherland is his third novel. He says he likes to start writing ‘as inadvertently as possible. Then I continue as accidentally as possible.’ This is the genius of Netherland, that we’re dropped straight into the action – so unusual in such a literary novel.
VERDICT: This is only the second book I’ve ever read about cricket (the first has the unlikely title ‘Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man’.) Both central characters, Hans and George Sherston, are very nice blokes, careful and philosophical, do you think that’s because they play cricket?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Ten Minute Tingling?

It's now almost 24 hours since my laser skin resurfacing treatment. And finally the terrible pain in my face is starting to subside. I've had three short cat naps in 24 hours, the rest of the time I've been reading Georgette Heyer, eating Mars Bars and holding icepacks to my cheeks. I tried sleeping under an AC fan, and standing in a cold shower but neither worked to cool the burning. Nick suggested painkillers but I couldn't find any in the house, then he suggested strong drink and tempted though I was to self-medicate with a long cool Gin and Tonic I resisted incase the urge was too great to throw it over the burning skin as opposed to throwing it straight down my throat.
Now the skin is still tender to touch but the furious redness has faded and I'm covered in brown freckle- like spots. I gleam with the grease of two creams - antibiotic and hydrocortisone. The doctor most certainly knew what he was talking about when he advised I choose an evening on the eve of the weekend to have the treatment done. But I think he might have been somewhat cavalier with his assurances that the 'tingling' would abate after only ten minutes.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Suffering to be Beautiful

The laser skin resurfacing treatment took about 20 minutes. I lay on a table in my everyday clothes; gauze was placed over my eyes. The laser machine made 'put put' noises - it sounded a bit like a cap gun. There was a disgusting smell of flesh burning but it wasn't particuarly painful - a nurse cooled each area with ice, after the doctor had finished with it. I tried to relax and think beautiful thoughts about never having to wear heavy duty foundation again.
Then the doctor said: "I'm going to up the ante on the acne scars," or words to that effect. The gentle 'put put' noise disappeared, instead my cheeks were strafed with molten machine gun fire. Even through the gauze I could see the flare of the laser - it was very, very painful. So painful my life flashed in front of my eyes - hugging my husband, the children holding my hand, and how it feels like flying when you jump a horse very high...
The gauze was removed, the procedure was finished. With effort I opened my eyes. I resisted the impulse to say "I can't believe I'm not dead!"
The doctor gave me four tubes of cream with instructions how to use them.
"The tingling will last for ten minutes," he told me. Then it was time to go home.

Soft Focus

I asked Flor to take a photograph of me before I went for my laser skin resurfacing treatment. I'd hoped this would be the last photograph taken of my face with acne scars. But the poor child was so worried something would go horribly wrong and the doctor would leave me deformed her hands were shaking as she held the camera; this is the charming result.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sex and the City

For years I didn't see Sex and the City, because we were living in Africa, and we didn't have a TV. Then my sisters gave me the box set as a birthday present.
And do you know what hooked me?
Not one of those fabulous New York ladies is perfect! They're funny, smart, well groomed and successful but look closer and Miranda has terrible teeth, Charlotte has heavy legs, Carrie's hair cries out for conditioner and Samantha's clothes are frankly awful...
This is of course the reason we love them and why the show is such a success - because Miranda, Charlotte, Carrie and Samantha are real ...