Friday, 28 February 2014

EQUINOX MADE ME DO IT

I have a great admiration for people who enjoy a good excel spreadsheet and get pleasure out of serious exercise, possibly because I am hopeless at both those things. My attempts at excel  look like the Tiniest T's attempts at knitting, and have to be unpicked and reworked by someone more competent, and my idea of exercise is walking a little faster than usual to the tube whilst listening to another installment of The Forsyte Saga (still going, it's a jolly long book).

So I'm not at all sure how I've managed to get myself signed up for six weeks of a thrice-weekly state-of-the-art 'training camp' at uber-luxe gym, Equinox, on High Street Ken. It must have seemed like a jolly good idea at the time and now my main objective is surviving the experience. 

It is something of an experiment: I'm curious to find out if exercise is as addictive as they say. I'm also interested to discover what might be accomplished in just six weeks - the programme has apparently worked marvels for many a high-profile US celeb, although I suspect they're probably in better shape than me to start with. It's certainly not for the faint-hearted. What it is, is highly-scientific: it's all metabolic cardio whatsit, designed for super-demanding Manhattanites and professional athletes. Fitness was never this sophisticated in the days of step-aerobics and I will confess to being a bit daunted by the prospect - everyone else in the class seemed awfully fit and lissome - I felt like a rescue donkey that's accidentally wandered into the Epsom Derby.

Fortunately, ETC requires determination rather than self-motivation: all you need to do is show up at 6.45 am, Monday, Wednesday & Friday, and do exactly what you're told. Or a version of what you're told, since there's no way on earth I can do two minutes of press-ups. Or even one press-up. At least not yet. I am planning to win the 'most improved' prize, or failing that, the prize for pluck.

Anyway, my lovely friend Henry and I are keeping an online diary to track our progress at harpersbazaar.co.uk: this is our first piece: http://www.harpersbazaar.co.uk/beauty-health/reviews/equinox-boot-camp-part-one

Visit equinox.com/kensington; 0207 666 6000 99; Kensington High Street, London, W8 5SA


Tuesday, 25 February 2014

STONEHENGE

'The Gods are angry.' yelled the TT into the tearing wind as we walked as fast as we could towards the stones, coat collars turned up against the hail, shuddering with cold, the day suddenly as dark and icy as it had been bright and warm not ten minutes earlier. 
All Trefusis Minor said was that it was bloody freezing, and he felt we'd seen enough bloody stones. I didn't reprove him for saying 'bloody'; the hail was pelting too fiercely at my face to want to open my mouth to speak, which is possibly why he said it twice, and anyway,the rest of my energy was focused on keeping the TT from being blown off her whippetty legs by the force of the storm sweeping across Salisbury Plain, up and over the stones.   

Neither of the children had had any enthusiasm for a trip to Stonehenge, and visiting in foul weather had killed what tiny shred of goodwill remained toward the place. It was my idea to go and the weather was unfortunate. Knowing how I love the place, they tried to kindle in themselves a spark of interest, only to have it extinguished by the drenching we received in the short distance from the Land Rover to the stone circle and back again. 

Stonehenge rouses a dormant Pagan sensibility in me; I can feel a touch of the old magic crackle out from the bluestones, feel the smoothness of the Sarcen stones, cool as snakeskin, without even touching them. It's an ancient place and I'm fanciful enough to feel greatly awed by it, to find it easily as sacred as Salisbury Cathedral, directly south of the stones themselves. It is much nicer on a rare fine day, but you do feel its power when it's brought a tempest down on your head.

Possibly, I said as we got out of the rain, the Gods were angry and sent the storm because Grandad called the new visitor's centre 'an abomination'. If I were an ancient God whom no one but a handful of Druids bothered to worship anymore, I think I'd be rather pleased with a development that cost £27million - I'd think it a fitting tribute to my majesty. But my father remembers the times he used to bring us here when my sister and I were even younger than the Infant Trefusii - when one could leave one's car at the side of the road and clamber all over the stones, lie on one's back in the centre of the circle, staring at the clouds moving in the sky, lean against the towering Sarsens and wonder at leisure on the impossibility of how they arrived there. Now, it's roped off, you have to admire from a distance, try to get close to the belief of the people who made it by means of an exhibition, rather than touching and imagining and letting your unconscious collide with more than four thousand years of mystery.

Anyway, I can wax all lyrical about having been able to play in and on the stones as a child, but I'm sure that in 2014, English Heritage is right to put the public back at one remove - I don't think a million people a year came here from all over the world in the 1970's, and I daresay the stones might suffer if people were still allowed to touch. I think my father is wrong about the new visitor centre and new way of approaching the henge - it's a huge improvement on what was there until recently, and the exhibition is thoughtful and interesting. 

The Chief Druid is, apparently, unhappy that there are actual skeletons on display, rather than resin replicas - part of me thinks he is right and the originals should be buried back in their mounds, but then I slightly feel like that about the mummies in the British Museum and poor Pete Marsh and the petrified remains at Pompeii. Though, let the dead bury the dead.

So, go to Stonehenge. Go on a fine day. Do not take reluctant children if you want to quietly commune with the ancient religion. I am going to book for one of the special dawn tours, make some offering to the Gods in the hope of kind weather, and sit and stare at the stones, pondering on the questions of four and a half thousand years.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

INTERLUDE: THE PRINCESS AND THE GARDENER

The Princess and the Gardener (by the Tiniest Trefusis, as dictated to Trefusis Minor)


There was once a lovely king and queen carring for all there kingdom .The beautiful queen sadly died for when the birth of an adorable dauther  there comes sickness and horor.20 years after the trajik accident the king full of sadness  married
Viola Marsh the duchess who for one was a beautiful  though such a mean and nasty women.
The king’s only reason to marry Viola was money. The Queen ordered the princess Georgina to rub all the plates, to polish and clean all the Royal kitchens. The Princess couldn’t help herself, she wanted to say ‘no’ but if she refused an order from her mother her father would not be proud and he would get cross. And so all the servants every night wouldn’t do their job, they would sit down at table and eat three meals a day and so Georgina would have to do all the work herself and keep rubbing and rubbing all the plates with her hands and one day when she was twenty one she didn’t even get to celebrate. One day because her hands were so red and sore of rubbing, she ran out into the garden where she met John the gardener and John the gardener said ‘It’s ok come and live in the garden with me.’ And then when the Queen found out that the princess wasn’t rubbing the plates, she ordered at once the gards to arrest them and throw then in the dungeon. But then John’s friend Tom the Shooter told Georgina and John the Guards were coming and so John and Georgina sailed away and got married in Corsica and became the King and Queen of the island. The End.

Friday, 21 February 2014

21st FEBRUARY


Off to the Nespresso shop to buy more capsules with which to slake my thirst for good coffee. With the exception of The Wolseley (reopened, thank God) and an obscure caff in Fulham, I find it hard to find a cup that completely hits the spot and Nespresso is at least consistent and doesn't taste burnt. 

Sometimes I think the only really useful thing I've achieved as a parent is to teach Trefusis Minor to use the nespresso machine. It might not turn out to be such a bad life-skill, judging by the number of letters I've had this week from students asking if they can intern for me, all of whom say they're willing to work for nothing. I won't take people on for 'nothing' because I expect something in return. I will offer a fortnight's work experience on £60 a week for tube fares and lunch, and make an effort to make sure that, having offered work experience, we actually deliver on both counts. I've also brought graduates in on minimum wage for short periods of time to be runners on specific projects - in return for their labour they get a grounding in the nuts and bolts of the magazine business, their byline on an online piece if that's one of their objectives, introductions to all the people doing the jobs they see themselves doing in a few years time, sixty pounds a day and, hopefully, something tangible for the CV that helps secure the big job.

There's been plenty in the press recently about the evils of internships, all of which I agree with and which I won't reiterate here. I do have one piece of advice though, for would be interns and the parents of would be interns. It's what the legendary ad man Paul Arden called the PG Tip: if you've managed to get your foot in the door of the industry in which you want to make your career, make tea. Make tea often and make it willingly. Senior people like it and will remember you. Senior people, when presented with a cup of tea, will assume your tea-shaped willingness means you're a personable person of some initiative, and they're much more likely to share what they're working on with you. It works. It makes you memorable, without a great deal of effort, and it gets you liked. It works: blessed are the tea-makers.

So perhaps teaching Trefusis Minor to barista me an espresso,  or make me a nice cup of Fortnum's Smoky Earl Grey, when I'm too idle to get my own, will stand him in good stead in 11 or 12 years time if the graduate job market is as bad as it is now.  

It's important to know you don't have to conjure rabbits out of hats to impress people: it's the  little thoughtful things that get you noticed. 

Sunday, 16 February 2014

LUCKY ST JAMES, AND WEST LONDON FASHION WEEK

Lucky St. James, my nephew, all of five years old, arrives with my sister for tea. He is sporting a bow tie, braces, a checked shirt, lace-up shoes and a tweed jacket.

'Goodness, you do look smart,' I say.

Very much on his dignity, the infant pulls himself up to his full height and, whipping a sonic screwdriver from his pocket says, 'I am the Doctor'.

'We painted a large cardboard box blue so he could have his own tardis,' adds my sister, following him into the kitchen.


Trefusis Minor went through a prolonged period of dressing like Spiderman, which was quite sweet, but now wears whatever he discovers in his chest of drawers. The Tiniest T was open to being dressed in what I chose for her until about four months ago when, overnight, she developed her own very dubious sense of style. I admitted defeat this weekend and sorted through the clothes she will no longer wear - a beautiful tana lawn Liberty print frock with an eau de nil sash, a hand-smocked dress in raspberry corduroy, a blue velvet pinafore dress from a very bcbg French label - and took them round to a friend for her daughter, The Laughing Baby, named because, when she was a tiny thing, the Infant Trefusii were very taken with her easygoing nature they used to tickle her and pull faces to make her giggle until one day they were so successful she laughed herself sick. At four, she is still immensely good humoured and young enough to love pretty dresses for their own sake.

Anyway, The Tiniest T now seems to have taken her fashion cues from Alexa Chung - her outfit du jour is an orange beanie hat, a blue sequinned vest, navy leggings and a pair of scarlet plaid shorts. The leggings-with-shorts has become her signature look, and the beanie promises to be the defining thing of her Spring/Summer '14. She's six - if she's like this now, I'm a little afraid of what awaits when she turns thirteen.


Tuesday, 4 February 2014

4th FEBRUARY: FAT CATS & PAYWALLS

In which the Infant Trefusii and I take Octavian & Marmalade to the vet, and I try an iPad newspaper.

If one were ambitious socially on behalf of one's cats, one might call Marmalade and Octavian red tabbies, but we are not, so to us, they're simple ginger mogs. No one appears to have told them of their humble status; on the contrary,  their mother, who claimed kinship with a British shorthair on the distaff side - despite the evident bar sinister running through the rest of the family tree - appears to have given them ideas above their station and they lord it over the mews as if to the manor born, dividing their time between a number of properties - particularly between ours - town - where they snooze in a favourite chair, paws draped over the edge with the elegance of a weary fl├óneur, and the house opposite - country - whose tree-lined garden is their hunting lodge. 

We only ever had dogs in my family, so getting inside the mind of a cat has been challenging - I always thought of cats as disloyal creatures compared to dogs, but cat 'ownership' (for whoever truly owned a cat?) has taught me they're not really bright enough to entertain sophisticated notions of loyalty or disloyalty, they're simply arch pragmatists - they go where it's most convenient, or warmest, or where they're least likely to be disturbed, or where there is some food. One learns a lot about unrequited love with a cat.

Anyway, the annual check up at the vet is due, so the Infant Trefusii call in at all their properties to try to track them down, squishing them, undignified, into cat carriers before they can escape again. The vet gives them their inoculations, prescribes the usual worming treatment, and then pops them on the scales to get the right dose of flea ointment. 'Gosh,' she says, hauling Octavian and then his brother onto the scales, 'they're not all fur, are they?' 

Indeed, they are far from all fur; Marmalade is over five kilos, and officially portly, Octavian a well-covered 4.7. Leaving the vets £200 lighter, armed with six month's supply of flea treatment 'for the larger cat', I put them in the back of the car, and they sit in their carriers, purring contentedly for all the world like two fatcat businessmen being chauffeured about in a Bentley after a very good long lunch.

                                                 ****************************************************

Seduced by a special offer, I subscribe to The Times' digital pack, quite forgetting that reading the tree-ware version makes me utterly rageous. Despite an admiration for the glorious quality of their columnists, and the fact my father-in-law was the Executive Editor for many years,  there's something about the brand that, when taken as a whole, makes me froth at the mouth in righteous indignation. 

Fortunately for The Times' finances, I am in a tiny minority, but only twenty four hours into having it on my iPad etc, I know that the frothing is unmitigated by the paper coming in digital form, and I ring the call-centre to cancel.

'Can you tell me why you're cancelling?' Comes a warm, motherly sounding Yorkshire voice.

'I'm so sorry,' I say in a 'it's not you, it's me' way, 'I'm afraid I just really don't like it.'

'Eh, that's a shame. Have you thought about the Sunday Times? We've a lovely offer on that at t' moment.'

'No, no, I'm really most awfully sorry, I don't like that one either. I'd completely forgotten how much I don't like it, which is why I subscribed, but I now see it was the most frightful mistake.'

I'm suddenly a little panicked: I didn't read the small print - perhaps one can't cancel, or worse, perhaps there's a vast cancellation fee? Or perhaps the nice lady on the phone will be penalised by the call-centre gang masters if she fails to sell me back into my subscription, or into another product.

'If it's any consolation,' I'm reduced to clutching at straws, 'I can't stand the Telegraph either.'

'Don't you worry pet, you're within the seven day cooling off period. I'll cancel it for you now. At least you tried it, eh.'