Wednesday, 5 August 2015

LIMA BRAVO BRAVO AT GEORGE MAYFAIR




A little over a year ago, I founded a breakfast group called Lima Bravo Bravo. 

The idea behind it was to bring together bright, brilliant, like-minded women from a wide variety of backgrounds and industries and create a space where we could talk, share ideas and experiences, and generally do that thing that women are particularly good at; being nourishing and nurturing and generous with each other. 
I didn't want it to have a specific agenda, or a theme, or a formality, or even any outcomes other than going away with a spring in one's step, and feeling like one had had a really tremendous conversation. 
I had in my head a kind of eighteenth century salon for twenty-first century women - and a calm antidote to the white noise of the digital world - and so Lima Bravo Bravo was born. 

The group has grown fast over the last twelve months -  small numbers meet about once every six weeks and it's a source of endless joy.  I'm fond of quoting one of my favourite editors, Justine Picardie - 'when you bring women together, they do incredible things' and Lima Bravo Bravo lives that thought every time we get together.

Yesterday, one of Mayfair's most elegant private member's clubs, George, on Mount Street, hosted Lima Bravo Bravo for a delicious breakfast. I had conversations about digital detoxing, about story-telling, about A Little Life and Booker Prize Longlists, about the challenges of setting up a business and about the right place to drink Martinis (and whether drinking them at all was a good idea) and about how tiny a dachshund needed to be to qualify for the soubriquet 'cocktail sausage'. I heard other conversations going on about me about art and books and business and fashion and entrepreneurial collaborations, about lavish weddings at Castle Howard and about living and working in Paris. And there were many more involving and enriching conversations going on.

A huge thank you to Zoe Haldane at  George, and thank you to the members of Lima Bravo Bravo - what a privilege to know such women.

George created a delicious and perfectly pitched menu. George also is one of the rare places that makes perfect coffee, bliss for coffee addicts like me.

Sasha is completely right - eggs and avocado is the hipster breakfast of choice and particularly delicious at George

Lima Bravo Bravo - everyone intent on sharing stories and ideas
Sasha brought the show-stealing Lettice: she's definitely a cocktail sausage
George's mascot is a dachshund - and there are lots of Hockney pictures and prints of Dachshunds hung on the walls

I don't think tiny dogs like avocado and eggs on toast
More scene stealing from Lettice, safe in her mistress's arms - here with Sarah Churchwell and Nicola De Burlet
George coffee cups - Lettice might have posed for the illustration herself.

Avocado and poached eggs so perfectly executed, they deserved a second, more detailed picture

A lovely going home present of scrumptious chocolate and Annick Goutal (thank you very much to Nicola De Burlet of Kenneth Green) - Eau D'Hadrien is one of my favourite summer scents.

Monday, 3 August 2015

THE BOOKS THAT BUILT HELEN LEDERER, 28th JULY 2015

Helen Lederer at The Books That Built Me, with huge thanks to Tatler, Prestat chocolate, The Club at Cafe Royal and to Champagne Bollinger
I feel as if I've known Helen Lederer all my life. Possibly, that sense of intimacy is driven by her innate friendliness, coupled with exceptional warm-heartedness and generosity of spirit - five minutes in her company and it's as if the sun has come out on a cloudy day and is shining just for you. But it's also that, since before I was at university, there she was making me laugh, firstly at the Comedy Store, where she was part of the breakthrough group of women comedians back in the eighties, and in the Young Ones, and subsequently in Bottom and French and Saunders, all five series of Ab Fab and many, many more programmes after that.  

Helen has been a consistent presence on screen and on stage, and has only now published her first novel, Losing It, shortlisted for the Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman Prize for Comic Fiction this year. 

Losing It tells the story of Milly who, rather down on her luck, and pursued by bills and bailiffs, agrees to front a miracle weight-loss programme with her progress followed ounce by ounce in the magazine. The fee for the job is very attractive - the only snag is that it only pays out if she gets the weight off. It's extremely readable and an absolute hoot, and, encouraged by the success of her first, Helen has nailed the first three chapters of a second novel, which I can't wait to read. I know it will only confirm how deftly her quick, self-deprecating wit has translated from stage to page.

I'm going to write a little more about each of the books Helen Lederer chose for her Books That Built Me in a future post, because I think they say something insightful and intriguing about her as a writer, but in the meantime, here are the books we discussed over a glass of Bollinger at the Club at Cafe Royal

1. Enid Blyton, First Term at Malory Towers
2. CP Snow, The Conscience of the Rich
3. John Fowles, The Magus
4. Muriel Spark, The Girls of Slender Means
5. Philip Roth, Portnoy's Complaint
6. David Nicholls, Starter for Ten
7. Emma Henderson, Grace Williams Says it Loud

Thursday, 30 July 2015

GLORIOUS GOODWOOD

Goodwood racecourse has such exquisite views over the Sussex Downs; you half expect the band to strike up Jerusalem at regular intervals. It was wonderful watching the horses race - at about this point they move up several gears from an average pace of thirty miles an hour to over forty as they near the finish line, every sinew stretching, their coats gleaming in the sunshine, their long, elegant legs carrying their jockeys past the finish. I can quite see why Diana Vreeland thought the horse was the definition of beauty. But then again, she also thought one ought to wash one's children's hair in left over champagne to bring out the blond highlights "as the French do". The French don't.
The day began with drinks at the house - which I nearly didn't make. My train was late, and so missed my car at the station but hopped on the double decker shuttle bus taking everyone to the racecourse. Very grandly, I persuaded the driver to let me off at the house on the way, and skipped over the gravel to the beautiful porticoed front, which the driver thought was hilarious. It was a marvellous moment. Ladies Day at Goodwood is more relaxed than other race meetings - one doesn't see quite such extravagant hats as one does at Ascot, and there aren't the same dress codes. I was having a Carolina Herrera moment, and wore a cream silk shirt with a satin floral skirt, a hat I'd made myself (which wasn't quite enough of a hat, so I will redesign it for next year.) and some wonderful Schiaparelli pink glace kid flats (a great sale bargain, and much as I love heels, they have no place at the races.) A quarter of the people who go to Goodwood are very county, straight from Jilly Cooper, another quarter are, like me, down from London and so dressed as if for an informal wedding. The other half are on the double decker bus. 
Tracey Greaves, of Goodwood, has a brilliant talent for bringing together really interesting women - I made lots of new friends amongst those she'd invited, and was absolutely delighted to discover there were old friends there too - Jacquie Greaves, Publisher of ELLE (centre) and Jacqueline Euwe, Publisher of Harper's Bazaar and Town & Country on the right, both looking wonderful in proper hats (see what I mean about my hat not being quite enough of a hat, though, I hope it was not so small as to class as a fascinator.) There seem to be several glasses of left-over champagne - perhaps I should have saved it to bring out the gold in  Trefusis Minor and his sister's hair? 

Friday, 5 June 2015

The Loro Piana Superyacht Regatta

I worked at Harper's Bazaar for nearly ten years before going out on my own and miss everybody because it's a magazine I love and I had great friends. However, I'm doing lots of work for a company called Boat international Media who have the leading magazine for Superyacht owners, and also do lots of amazing events so life after Bazaar has its compensations. One of their annual events is the Loro Piana Superyacht Regatta in Porto Cervo - it's a series of races for big sailing superyachts and it's incredibly competitive but also enormous fun. I followed the racing today on a lovely hybrid tender - the electric motor makes it incredibly quiet as you pull out of the marina and into the open sea and we watched the start of racing before going off to a beautiful quiet cove for a picnic. We watched the end of the race, then joined the owners back at the yacht club Costa Smerelda. One of my favourite yachts is called Marie - looks like a nineteen twenties ketch on the water but below the waterline it's built like an America's cup racer and it slices through the water incredibly fast - it also has a baby grand below deck and the owner likes to play Mozart in light seas and Wagner if the conditions are heavier. He also fires a shot when he crosses the start and finish of a race from a canon that was built for the Anglo French wars in the West Indies in the beginning of the nineteenth century.
It's enormously glamorous and huge fun and such a privilege to be part of it. The day ended with a party at Phi Beach, watching the sun go down on a perfect day.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

ADVICE FOR WRITERS

 Writing requires great selfishness and great focus - it helps if you're so burned up by the words trying to burst out of you that you can do nothing else but sit and write. I am not like that. I have no self-discipline at all.  I started writing a book in 2009 and I'm still writing it, not because I've endlessly tinkered with every line in pursuit of some Flaubertian marvellousness, but because I've had to prioritise the business of earning a living - not so much the pram in the hall as the spectre of the bailiffs in the street.

 Anyway, six years have gone past and every day I don't finish it I berate myself more for my failure to finish anything, it becomes a symbol of a wider laziness, of failure.  It's also, partly, because whilst I'm still writing it, it could still be brilliant - I'm still a contender - and I'm scared of the spirit-crushing defeat if I gaily write 'The End' only for everyone to find it so terribly wanting. 

The longer I spend writing it, the more the fear grows. The more time I invest in it, the more afraid I am of it coming to nothing. 

Various things have happened over the last few weeks that have made me think it's time to get over myself and just bloody finish it. I lost a big piece of business, and the sensible thing would be to fire up the selling cylinders and get on with replacing it at once. But, Mercury being retrograde, I'm committing to a different approach - I will give myself until August to write the rest of the book. A writer isn't a writer unless they write. I'm not trying to write a whole book in ten weeks, but a quarter of one. I must try to be more scared of not finishing it than of finishing it. I must allow myself some ambition. 

Anyway, I'm reading Hemingway's A Moveable Feast - I'm making slow progress because there is something so apposite on each page, I keep stopping to write it down. Maybe it's the iChing for writers ...

"I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day. but sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, 'Do not worry. you have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. write the truest sentence you know.'."

Thursday, 21 May 2015

PRESTAT AT THE BOOKS THAT BUILT ME

Reading is an intensely pleasurable activity. 

At least, it should be - I suppose if one is cramming for exams or ploughing one's way through a book one hates out of a sense of duty, then it's less of a treat and more of a chore. I remember trying to cram A La Recherché du Temps Perdu and a pile of other massive 19th century novels for my finals and it so ruined reading for me, I don't think I read anything but Jilly Cooper and spy thrillers for a whole year after graduating.  Contrarily, if someone presses a novel on me, earnestly or otherwise, it can set me against the book forever.  My refusal to read The Sheltering Sky was once the straw that broke the camels back of a relationship - apparently, it was a potent metaphor for my habitual privileging of my own tastes, and my disengagement with his. Its also tricky when someone gives you a book because it 'will tell you everything you need to know' about them. A boyfriend of mine once gave me a copy of I Heard The Owl Call My Name  and to this day I have no idea what a story about a terminally ill vicar living with native Americans in a village in British Columbia had to say about an actor from East London. I'm not saying that people's favourite books say nothing about them - that would make a nonsense of The Books That Built Me - but I do think that the book one generally believes to reveal great truths about oneself probably doesn't. Books are more of a window into one's bookshelf than into one's soul.

Ive taken myself right off topic - this was supposed to be a post about self indulgence being good for one. I read lots of books that are recommended to me -  and love them and recommend them to others. At the moment I'm reading Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, on Alex Preston's recommendation. And it's an intensely pleasurable read - in a world driven by social media, of digital overload, the act of reading books needs to be fetishised a bit, one should wallow in the luxury of time spent in someone else's imagination, treat it as a mini holiday, revel in the pleasure of print in a digital world. When I conceived the idea for the salon, I wanted to make it as hedonistic as I possibly could- so, there is champagne,  a beautiful setting, and there is chocolate, possibly my second favourite thing after books - and delicious Prestat has been an essential part of the salon since it began. Prestat and I always try to pick up something from the author's books, even if it's very oblique, and match the choice of the chocolate the guests are given. So on 2nd June, for Alex Preston's salon, we have chosen an Earl Grey flavoured milk chocolate from the Art Deco collection - Esmond Lowndes, the hero in Alex's book In Love And War, is British in rather a Rupert Brooke kind of way, and he mixes with an aristocratic bunch of British ex-pats in Florence - at least in the first part of the novel - and one can imagine them having Earl Grey sent from Fortnum's   In Love and War begins in 1937, hence the Art Deco bit. 

So you see, there is rhyme and reason. 

The Books That Built Me - for literary sybarites....