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Fashion and fun

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As I mulled over the ins and outs and ups and downs of buying a grey T-shirt – I’m short of cool T-shirts as my clothes are still packed up in my old school trunk, (few people know what these are nowadays) where they’ve been since we moved to the forest. We’re building onto the little cabin we inherited when we moved here, and I’m still, as it were, existing on the iron rations I put into a small suit case when we came here. Somehow I hadn’t envisaged managing without my extensive wardrobe for months.

There’s a word for Foodies like me – is there also one for clothes maniacs… clothies? If there is, that’s me. But my frivolous machinations ground to a halt when I stumbled on an article about the latest exhibition of Diana’s clothes.  Everyone knows who Diana is, don’t they? The ingenuous teenager who married her Prince, and discovered on their honeymoon that he was still in touch with his long- term married mistress? The anorexic skinny beauty who blossomed into a glorious woman, who wore heavenly clothes throughout the various stages of her life? She’d have been fifty-six  this year.

The exhibition seems to chronicle the trajectory of the Princess’s life, from the ingenue soft blouses and dresses worn by the young bride, through to some of the ravishing evening dresses she began wearing as she gained her confidence. Then come the dresses which showed off her figure and astonishing beauty… and with the clothes, all those photos showing her a step away from Prince Charles, with symbolic distance between them, as they arrived together with her wearing these beautiful clothes.

She found her confidence when she embarked on her affair with her riding instructor, Guards officer James Hewitt, the man who’s since earned the well-deserved name of ‘Love-rat’. He wrote several books, and made millions out of publishing her letters and detailing their affair, which began when a miserable Diana had discovered that Charles had re-newed his affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles.

The legions of Diana’s admirers (I was one of them) were furious that, as the Guardian once put it: ‘an older woman with no dress sense and birds-nest hair had trounced the people’s fairy-tale Princess? Who did she think she was?’

The story goes that some of her infuriated supporters even pelted the hapless Camilla with bread rolls when she went shopping in her local Wiltshire supermarket. Which reminded me of a previous Charles and his mistress, the much more attractive Charles the second. His witty lover, Nell Gwyn, was subjected to much the same abuse, only verbal as her carriage passed. The angry citizens thought this was the carriage of Charles’ French Catholic mistress. Nell pulled down her carriage window, and smiling at the hostile faces confronting her, uttered the immortal words: “Good people, I am the Protestant whore.” Which dispersed the crowds.

There’s no record of Camilla’s reaction to the bread rolls – in fact, throughout the years, she always remained silent.

But back to our muttons–or moutons in French. The dresses chart Diana’s life, but don’t, I think, include the famous little black dress she wore the night Charles admitted adultery on television. The tall, slim ravishing blonde with legs to die for, stole his thunder effortlessly in the sensational black dress, which she had had in her wardrobe for two years and never worn before.

All her dresses had built-in bras, so no bra straps showing – and they were also designed so there was never the dreaded ‘visible panty line (VPL). Disappointingly to me, the red jacket and purple skirt she wore when sitting in front of the Taj Mahal, alone and making a statement, is not in the exhibition. Red and purple – who else would wear such a brilliant combination?

That was one of the things I missed after Diana’s tragic and devastating death, the fun of filling my eyes with her gorgeous outfits. And then the jewels –  costume brooches worn in unexpected places, dancing with a priceless emerald necklace turned into an American Indian type head-band worn across her forehead, faux pearls slung backwards and knotted over a plunging backless velvet dress…

Diana’s successor, the ex- Kate Middleton, or Katherine as she is known to her family, often seems a careful, rather dull dresser, except on grand occasions when she looks wonderful.  So I’ve become an afficionado of other less well known royals on the world stage, though apparently doted on in their own countries.

The most flamboyant is Queen Maxima of the Netherlands, former business woman and daughter of a minister in one of  Argentina’s murderous and tyrannical regimes. She overcame this hurdle to marrying the heir to the Dutch throne, and has now evolved an interesting style of dressing. I marvel at her huge hats, ponchos, and daring colour combinations.

The Belgian Queen Mathilde, born a noblewoman in Belgium and formerly speech therapist and psychologist, is another blonde beauty with a great sense of style, and great legs too. She wears bright colours and elegant matching hats… the Royal way of dressing Queen Elizabeth has pioneered and perfected. Queen Letizia, the ex-television anchor and newsreader on Spanish TV, who also captured a Crown Prince, has a severe, solemn beauty. Her exquisite clothes have the same rather austere, elegant quality, but I don’t feel the joyfulness of Diana’s style – which for me was the benchmark of fun and fashion.

Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, the former Australian PR consultant, who spent three years learning Danish before marrying her Prince, is an attractive brunette like Kate, and they look like sisters when seen together. She always looks stylish, poised, and wears interesting clothes. But somehow with all these lovely Royals, there’s none of the excitement and joie de vivre that Diana projected in her gorgeous clothes. Queen Maxima comes the nearest to projecting that excitement while doing her round of good works and international visits like all the rest of them – shaking hands with popes, presidents, sovereigns and sheiks.

Needless to say, all these women sport magnificent jewels and glittering tiaras when required. I doubt that the latest fashionista to loom on our horizon owns a tiara – but then again – her extraordinary husband may have bought one to demonstrate that he can mix it with the best of them! If so, it’s hidden away at the back of a wardrobe in Trump Tower – or more likely stashed away at the bank.

When Melania Trump appeared at her husband’s inauguration in that delicious, pale blue outfit, I thought, aha, another glorious clothes horse in the mould of a previous beautiful First Lady. But we see so very little of her. When we do, her clothes are gorgeous… yet there’s so much controversy swirling around her, that rather like Carla Bruni, President Zarkozy’s beautiful model wife, it’s hard to enjoy the spectacle whole-heartedly.

‘The apparel oft proclaims the man,’ Polonius advised his son Laertes, and like everything in Shakespeare’s famous speech, it still rings true. So how does my grey T-shirt stand up to all these gorgeous outfits worn by glamorous women?

I want to wear it with grey trousers brought from Marks and Sparks in Plymouth, Devon, over ten years ago when flares had come back briefly, and with flat, grey lace-ups which assist my broken leg to walk – a special offer from a mail order catalogue – two pairs for fifteen dollars – how could I go past them? I’ll wear a grey, black and red scarf to brighten up the grey – I’ve had it for twenty years – it was a Christmas present from a Dutch friend who told me she’d found it on a second- hand stall at the local market. And of course – red dangly earrings – all so appropriate in a remote forest far from the fashion centres of the world. But as you can see, I never give up!!!

Food for threadbare gourmets

Caught on the hop when invited to an impromptu lunch tomorrow by a bachelor neighbour. Can I bring something I foolishly asked? Yes, something sweet, was the prompt reply. We don’t want to go into town to shop for another few days and I haven’t bothered to keep all my stocks of goodies since we are staying of sweet stuff, and I only cook the barest minimum since my game leg finds it hard to stand.

I finally remembered my emergency store –  tiny pastry tartlets in a sealed pack, and lemon curd in the fridge. I usually serve them with crème fraiche, and am leary of whipped cream separating. So will just have to bite the bullet and whip the cream with icing sugar which helps it to stay stiff. I simply use two tablespoons to a cup of cream… so much for giving up sugar!

Food for thought

Lift up the self by the Self.

And don’t let the self droop down

For the Self is the self’s only friend

And the self is the Self’s only foe.

Bhagavad Gita   Chapter 6, verse  5

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Ordeal by wardrobe

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There will not be many people wearing soft fuchsia coloured leather gloves in the North Island of New Zealand this winter, but I will be one of them.

They were a gift from my daughter last Christmas. She brought forward the present giving ceremony, and insisted that I open my presents first before anyone else opened theirs, because she wanted to see the look on my face when I saw them. She’d brought them back from London months before. I hoped my face showed everything she hoped when I unwrapped them. I can’t put them away. They sit on my dressing table – a symbol – of many things.

But her solicitude for my wardrobe doesn’t stop at leather gloves. This weekend she pounced, and said that the following day we were going to go through my clothes, and I was going to sort everything into keep, store and throw away! I had a friend who had also undergone this ordeal by wardrobe, when her daughters dismissed all her lovely clothes as ‘tragic,” so I knew what I was in for.

I had to agree that something had to be done, as I was always losing things in the muddle of too many hangars on the rail. As the morning wore away, it got easier and easier to let go.

“You’ve got too many white T-shirts.” was the first pronouncement. “There are five days in the week, how many do you think you can wear?” Resisting the temptation to correct her arithmetic I feebly tried to think why I would want more than a dozen white T-shirts, but nothing came to mind…

“No more brown, or dull sludgy colours” was the next diktat. “They don’t suit you. You need bright clear colours.” No arguing with the considered opinion of an expert… so out went two thirds of my wardrobe.

I tried to salvage a few comfortable jumpers and slide them into the store –and- second- thoughts pile. “No,” said the arbiter  – “how long is it since you bought that? – fifteen years?  – Well it may have looked nice then, but it’s hopelessly out of date now – anyway, it’s got moth holes”…

No, that’s worn, no, that’s got pilling, no, that’s the wrong colour … gradually the wardrobe emptied, and the to-keep pile was pitifully small. The throw- out pile (for the womens’ refuge) was huge.

“No, you have to give up labels”, she pronounced. “But I always cut mine out,” I protested… “Yes, but look – you just said ‘but that’s a Jaeger, ‘when I tried to throw away that jumper.”

“Okay, I get it”, I sighed. “I can’t believe you’d have bought this,” she exclaimed, holding up a black and gold embroidered evening coat.” “No, I can’t either,” I agreed, “so I’ve never worn it”. “Right, Trademe”, she said. “Anything with tags you haven’t worn we can sell and just think, even if you only get five dollars each for all this stuff you’ve never worn, it’s all money towards a new wardrobe!”

By now she’d found various un-worn shirts I had had made that had never worked.“I hope by the time I’m your age, I’m not making these sort of mistakes,” she muttered…“What are these?” she cried, holding up a pair of well tailored tartan pyjamas beautifully piped in red. “What on earth have you got these for? How long have you had them?”

“Exactly nineteen years,” I replied truthfully. “I saw a picture in a magazine of a model wearing pyjamas like these, cuddled up in front of a log fire with a cup of hot chocolate, looking so cosy and glamorous.” She looked at me disbelievingly. “Have you ever worn them, have you ever done that?”“Not yet”, I admitted, “but I might.” She opened her mouth to say something withering, but then took pity on me –“OK, you can have your dreams,” she said, and dropped the pyjamas on the to-keep pile.

By now we had descended into the bottom of the wardrobe to the shoe department. While I sat on a small stool scrabbling around in the darkness, she took the opportunity to tweet her friends. “Sorting my mum’s wardrobe” went the message – “keep, store and throw.” Back came a flutter of twitters from people who obviously had time on their hands that morning. The opinion seemed to be unanimous – too hard basket for them… I thought to myself, now at least one third of Auckland knows I’m throwing away my clothes.

There had been a time when my daughter needed a whole cupboard for her shoe fetish, but no more, it seems. “If I buy a new pair, I gash another pair,” she lectured me… so out went shabby oldies,  Moroccan slippers, shoes that pinched, boots that had the wrong sort of heel… the good news was that I found a pair of beautiful black suede indoor shoes that I’d never even worn and had lost about seven years ago. Needless to say a whole harvest of handbags was dissipated. “But you know I’m a bag lady,” I whimpered….

At the end she shook her head in a tolerant and kindly way.  ”I’m proud of you, I never thought you’d do it so quickly and easily – now don’t you feel better?” she coaxed…” A lot lighter?”  “Definitely a lot lighter”, I answered, looking at the giant pile destined for the womens’ refuge… a smaller pile that I could have second thoughts about and store, and then the  emasculated line of shirts and skirts, trousers and jackets hanging on the rail.

But as I looked, I had to admit she was right. She’d even hung them so I could see what to wear with what. Best of all, I’d found the three jackets she’d lavished on me last year that I’d forgotten about – one Jaeger and two Ralph Lauren… labels, I said!

Yes, there is nothing like a daughter… and thankfully, they keep you on your toes, as they can always see room for improvement. I do hope she approves of what I choose to wear with the fuchsia pink leather gloves when winter comes. Maybe I‘d better get her advice – after she‘s finished stacking the three metres of fire-wood sitting in my garage…  there really is nothing like a daughter!

PS. She checked out this story, and said she could add a few more items – what about that lost evening bag you were so thrilled to find under a pile of jumpers? Enough is enough, I said firmly.

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

Our neighbours have a banana tree which is weighed down with small sweet bananas, and they don’t eat them. This largesse comes our way, and I use this recipe when we have too many to eat.

Mash a cup of bananas, and melt 150gms of butter. Put both in a dish and add two eggs and a cup of sugar… I often use brown for the taste. Mix them together and then add two cups of self raising flour. Dissolve a teasp of baking soda in 3 tablspns of milk, and stir that in too. Beat lightly, before tipping the mixture into a greased 20cm cake tin, the base lined with baking paper. Bake at 180 degrees for 50 to 55 minutes. It’s cooked when the cake springs back when lightly touched. Lovely with thick lemon icing.

Food for thought

Comparison is the thief of joy. Anonymous

 

 

 

 

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The fun of fashion

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What to wear has occupied many happy  hours and years of my thinking life. So though some research has claimed that little girls and boys are conditioned to be male and female… pink versus blue…  I’m not convinced!

I don’t think any little boy could have felt the bliss that I did at three when I finally got to wear a sun-suit that had been too big for me. I remember the day I was allowed to wear it, I shall never forget the pattern of navy, pink, yellow and blue tiny flowers all over it. It was linen, it had tiny buttons down the front, and was the most beautiful thing I’d ever worn. I remember the glory of running to catch up the big girls next door, skipping through long fine grass that grew beneath the pine trees, and the shafts of sun-light beaming down between the rough trunks. And above all, the rapture of knowing that I was wearing such a wonderful thing.

Not quite the same rapture over my white petticoats trimmed with broderie anglaise, and the smocked pink dress and the blue dress, made of ninon – a fine muslin type fabric with soft little bobbles sprinkled all over it – but I still enjoyed them. A year older, and winter, I revelled in the Fair Isle berets and matching gloves my mother bought me and my sister.

I stood and watched with some disapproval as she preened herself in the two new coats she had just bought, one a black fluffy material with gold buttons, the other a smooth jade green wool with green and gold buttons. She had said she couldn’t resist them. I remember precociously thinking that there would be no more clothes coupons left for us.  I was five, and in war-time we had an allowance of coupons for the year, which once used, meant no new clothes until the following year.

School uniform was a treat then too, with beautiful quality velour hats with big brims and a wide ribbon round it for winter, and a Panama hat the same shape with another big ribbon round it for summer.

When my Victorian grandmother came to care for us after my mother had gone, she dressed me according to her firmly held notions. I went to school one day in an anguish of embarrassment, wearing soft leather full- length gaiters right up my legs with hundreds of tiny leather buttons. We needed a button hook to do them all up.  But I couldn’t get them off for PT (Physical Training), so she abandoned those, thank goodness. She spent hours at her treadle sewing machine making me pink satin, lace- trimmed dresses and the like, and sent me off to church in a new brown tweed coat which was agony every time I sat down. It turned out she had sewed up the scissors into the deep hem.

Worst of all were the bright purple fluffy mittens she got hold of – warm – but hideous. It lacerated my fashion- conscious soul every time I put them on. At my best friend’s seventh birthday party I left them behind at her house, hoping that that would be the end of them. But further humiliation ensued when my grandmother made me go back to get them, and so then every-one knew that these frightful objects were mine.

Bundled off to my new parents at nine and a half, they threw away all the clothes my grandmother had lovingly made me, and took us shopping in London, where we were equipped with little tweed velvet- collared coats and matching berets, pretty dresses, and best of all, check shirts and shorts, just like the girls wore in Enid Blyton’s books. Fine feathers indeed.

But they had to last… that was the last time we enjoyed such largesse. When I grew out of them, there were no replacements, and I had to manage on various hand-me-downs, and odd birthday presents. So when I started earning, the best thing about it was never again having to wear clothes that embarassed me. But though I wanted fine feathers, I had also learned the lesson we all did on reading ‘Little Women.’

The scene in which Meg, also humiliated by her worn clothes, allows her frivolous friends to turn her into a fashion plate for a party, and overhears some older women commenting, what a pity that that pretty modest girl had spoiled her appearance with frills and flounces, and crimped curls, had struck deep. Meg feels overcome with shame for not being true to herself.  So I wanted fine feathers, but not fashion overkill!

Oh, the lovely cut of winter clothes, the fabrics, the wool and tweed, the gabardine and mohair, the lambs-wool and cashmere, the knits and jersey, velvet and corduroy; the colours, rich plum reds and pine greens, the russet tones, and mustards, the navy blues and chocolate browns – breathes there a woman with soul so dead – to paraphrase Sir Walter Scott – whose heart doesn’t leap when confronted with these riches?

And for summer, we had linens and cottons and seersuckers and silk, the muslins and tulle, taffetas and brocades for evening. We’d never heard of denim then, and nylon was something for parachutes and stockings. Fashion for a teenager earning money at last, meant a circular felt skirt, a wide elastic waspie to nip in our waists, over a frilly starched cotton slip and worn with  a Marilyn Monroe sweater and flat pumps. In this get-up, we twirled and swooped, dancing to rock and roll, and skiffle, though we could still waltz and do Scottish dances at formal balls, in long romantic evening dresses accessorised with long white gloves. And then there was the mini!

But times have changed of course. I’ve just read a survey which claims that women’s waists now are seven inches bigger than they were in nineteen-fifty. The average woman’s waist then, they claimed, was twenty- seven- inches, and it’s now thirty-four. I think they’ve got it wrong – my waist was twenty-five then, and I envied the possessors of twenty-four inch waists. The research also says that women are square and waistless now, and that the old hour-glass figure has gone. I had noticed how waists are disappearing, and have wondered how anyone could wear a waspie any more, while circular skirts would not do much for expanded hips these days.

So it seems to me that women are not so much the slaves of fashion, as that fashion is the slave of women’s diet. And now that spartan war-time food, not just in England and Europe but probably in other parts of the world too, is no longer on the menu,  fast food and tampered- with food, and Too much of everything, seem to have re-shaped the female figure. And fashion in the shape of towering platforms and spiked heels seems to have hobbled women quite as successfully as bound feet in China.

So give me beautiful clothes, but not haute couture, fine feathers but not high fashion… and I will probably still be planning what to wear when I’m on my death-bed – maybe I should write a book about clothes – what to wear from the cradle to the grave. And I haven’t even mentioned hats!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

That apple cake! It was scrumptious, but so crumbly that we needed a fork to eat it with. So maybe a bit less apple and a bit more flour would hold it together. And whipped cream lifts it to another level!

Tonight, roast lamb, which rarely crosses this threshold, but it’s a special occasion. So along with all the usual trimmings, I’m making onions in white sauce. Peel and chop several onions, and boil with salt and pepper until cooked. In another saucepan melt two ounces of butter, and add enough flour to make a stiff roux. I pour in about a cup of milk, and then a cup of the onion- flavoured water, and stir briskly. Put it back on the heat and bring to the boil, stirring all the time until thick. Add nutmeg to taste, salt and pepper and the onion. You might need more milk, though I like the sauce quite thick. I usually add a dollop of cream…

Food for Thought

Beauty is a choir of singers, a chorus of dreamers, a concert of aspirations, an orchestra of goals, a symphony of ambition and a ballet of productions.

Glenda Green  Born 1945. Artist and author of ‘Love without end. Jesus Speaks’

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The Queen!

100_0205This post has been re-blogged for the reasons in my latest post The Tragic and Hilarious Life of a Blogger

I’ve just seen a photograph of this radiant elderly woman coming out of hospital, her immaculate white hair shining against the bright red, exquisitely tailored coat which she wore adorned with a simple diamond brooch( if any diamond brooch is simple). Her eyes were shining and her smile sparkling.

She’s eighty-six and the most photographed woman in the world, one of the busiest and most active, and these days, one of the best dressed women in the world too. Once Bobo, her Scottish nursery maid from childhood -who became her dresser – died at 89, Angela Kelly, the new dresser arrived. Suddenly instead of the frumpy clothes chosen by the un-imaginative Bobo who was the despair of all the couturiers who dressed the Queen, the vibrant and now beloved Angela, has transformed the Queen’s clothes and her image.

Angela, who has a broad Liverpool’ Scouse’ accent, and was the daughter of a crane driver, is a creative and vivacious woman with a wonderful sense of colour and design. She designs most of the Queen’s clothes now.

So the once dowdy but beautiful Queen has now blossomed into this stunning looking woman who wears clear jewel-like colours – purple,  primrose, turquoise and leaf green, bright red, and pure white with the matching hats that define her inimitable style. Her see-through umbrellas have a matching coloured handle and are edged with the matching colours.

She wore white decorated with sparkles like her predecessor Elizabeth 1, on her Jubilee cruise down the Thames, gold to echo the gold statue of Queen Victoria at the Buckingham Palace Jubilee concert, shamrock green to go to Ireland, and a smashing pale primrose for her grandson’s wedding, each outfit beautifullly cut and tailored. And of course black with diamonds to Diana’s funeral. (I’ve wanted some fabulous diamonds to wear with black ever since) Her eyes are still as blue as when she was young and her complexion still as clear, though she’s lost her tiny waist and elegant legs in old age – haven’t we all?

But nothing much else has changed. She still walks her corgis every day and feeds them herself, cutting up their meat and dishing it out. She still rides her favourite horse, though not as energetically as she did, and still refuses to wear a hard hat, preferring her trademark  head-scarf.  She still breeds her racehorses and gundogs (black Labradors to you and me) and goes to the races. She still  adores her ninety-two year old husband. She still performs investitures and receives ambassadors, foreign sovereigns, dignitaries, heads of state and travels on Royal tours.

She still carries out between four and five hundred engagements a year; she still spends hours every day reading and signing all the documents in her red boxes, and she still receives her prime ministers every week for an audience to bring her up to date. Actually it’s usually the other way around. She’s so well informed that both Churchill and Wilson left discomfited after their first audiences, having assumed it would be a walk in the park, not a penetrating inquisition.

She’s had twelve prime ministers, and they all loved her – even Maggie Thatcher – and valued her support, knowing she was the one person who really wanted them to succeed for the country’s sake. Rab Butler, often described as the best prime minister England never had ( like the late Adlai Stevenson in the US ) often had audiences when he was acting prime minster.

No mean intellect himself, he was impressed by her intelligence, and also said that she never tried to behave as anything but a woman. He was fascinated by her constant anxiety over inflation as prices began to rise, saying it struck him as “inconsistent in someone who did not do her own shopping.”  But this was the frugal mother who sent her small son Charles back to the garden at Sandringham to look for a lost dogs lead – saying “ Leads cost money.” This was also the little girl whose nursery maid Bobo taught her to unwrinkle and fold the wrapping papers on Christmas presents, and re-use the paper and ribbons – in the depths of the Depression.

When she came to NZ for her 25 year Jubilee tour in 1977, a hard-boiled cynical anti -royalist was assigned to cover her visit to Auckland, the thinking being that there would be no sickly sycophantic reports. He came back to the office a shaken man. “I’ve just stood in the crowd as they walked up Queen Street and felt wave after wave of happiness,” he marvelled. He was amazed and mystified by the joy and excitement of the people overflowing the pavements on both sides.

On board the Royal Yacht Britannia I stationed myself at the end of the line of guests being received and was fascinated to watch the Queen. The first impression was one of innate shyness being overcome with a huge effort of will. She began shaking hands with a long line of people she would probably never see again in her life. As each person bowed or curtseyed, she gazed penetratingly at them, and followed them with her eyes as they moved on, before giving the next in line the same full attention. It was a simple act each time, but she gave it her total concentration. It made it a special moment for each person she met.

Later, as she circulated, chatting, and joined the group I was standing with, she was asked how she had enjoyed drinking kava, the Fijian fermented drink in a huge wooden bowl. She and the Duke had just come from Fiji. She laughed, and started to say: “Oh it tasted like” – when she stopped, remembered she could be reported and it would hurt the feelings of the Fijians, and ended mischievously – “like a nice cup of tea”.

Those who know her say she has a wicked sense of humour and is a brilliant mimic. Angela Kelly, who has become one of the people closest to her, says she’s very good at mimicking her Scouse accent. Nobody knows what books she reads, or what music she likes, and she hides her boredom at what must be excruciatingly boring banquets, lunches, receptions, concerts, parades, factory and hospital visits, and she never tries to be charming or popular.

She sees herself as the servant of her people, so along with presidents and prime ministers, she’s also had to entertain crooks and clowns – including the late and unlamented Romanian dictators, the Ceauscescus, who were preceded by a phone call from Paris where they’d been staying, warning that they’d steal everything, including the gold taps – and Berlusconi at a conference, who she ticked off when he was loudly showing off, asking why he had to make so much noise.

The one thing we do know is that she loves things to go wrong… and then the routine is disturbed, the pomp and ceremony are disrupted,  people become real, they stop being formal and become spontaneous, and she really enjoys herself!  She’s a countrywoman, who is happiest living in her country houses enjoying picnics and field sports (stalking deer, fishing, shooting and generally killing for fun) in the Highlands like all her ancestors before her; and riding and presiding over shooting parties (perish the thought) in Norfolk. She dotes on her grandchildren and is a devout churchgoer..

She’ll be 87 this year, and it’s hard to imagine a world without her… which was how people felt about her great- great- grandmother Victoria. Informed sources comment that she’s fitter than her mother was at this age, yet her mother lived to a hundred and four. So it looks as though she’ll probably outlive me, and I never will experience the world without her. God Save the Queen!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I read an article about sandwiches in the paper yesterday, and it had all my taste buds twitching. But to my mind all the mixtures and combinations people said were their favourites just didn’t compare with a simple egg sandwich. So while my husband chomped through his chicken salad for supper, I made myself the perfect egg sandwich.

It has to be fresh soggy white bread! Thinly sliced. Buttered right up to the edges so that the butter acts as an impermeable layer between filling and bread. Hard boil the eggs, chop and mash them up with salt and pepper and enough good bought mayonnaise to moisten them. Spread this mix over the bread, cut off the crusts and cut into four. (soak the crusts in water to give to the birds) Some people would add lettuce, but that’s a different sandwich – this is my comfort food, what we always ate on childhood picnics.

Food for Thought

Close your eyes and you will see the truth,

Be still and you will move forward on the tide of the spirit,

Be gentle and you will need no strength,

Be patient and you will achieve all things,

Be humble and you will remain entire.              Taoist meditation

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Diana

Diana died on 31 August fifteen years ago. Those old enough to remember, know where they were at the moment when they heard that John Kennedy had died, taking with him the hopes and idealism of people all around the world.

And most of us I think, also know where we were when we heard of the death of Diana – there’s only one Diana. Her death left a huge hole in the consciousness of the world. For fifteen years we had gloated over her clothes, admired her beauty, shared her children, followed her travels, marvelled over her commitment to others,  felt her pain at her failing marriage, hated her rival, regretted her lapses of judgement in men and other things, and always loved her.

Who can forget the pictures of her kneeling at the feet of an old blind lady just after her engagement – no Royal had ever knelt to their adoring audience before? Who doesn’t remember those pictures of her on her knees again, arms open wide, love blazing from her face as she greeted the sons she hadn’t seen for a few days? Can anyone forget that picture of her mastering her fear and courageously walking through a minefield to show the world what wars do to women and children?

Do people remember those pictures of her holding the hands of a leper, and another of her sitting with an Aids patient with his hands in hers? These pictures flashed a message around the world – no-one should ever be an outcast. We should include the old and the sick and the pariahs.

And then there were those unforgettable ones of her in a Bosnian cemetery where she came on a grieving mother, and with no common language between them Diana put her arms round this stranger and held her. Being available to her grief, no words necessary. And the shots of her carrying a little Black American girl in her arms to take her for a ride in her limousine, the one wish the little girl had expressed.

There were other pictures – the woman who went to hospital to collect her husband with his broken arm in a sling – the same husband who then, unbeknown to the world at the time, took his mistress up to Scotland to convalesce with his grandmother. Meanwhile, Diana continued to visit the young man she’d befriended in that hospital, and then to visit his family when he got back home.

She went to a childrens’ hospital every few days to paint a little girl’s finger nails pink. She wrote so many comforting handwritten letters to people, that after she died, and the stories were told, people could only marvel.

She did so many kind things in private, and as her marriage broke down, some foolish things in public. But in many ways she lived out all the archetypes of women, and maybe that’s why some people loved her, and some didn’t- if they were repelled by the archetype. So she personified Persephone, the shy goddess of springtime, who in her dark moments refused to eat; she personified Ceres, the mother and good friend, with compassion for all; Hera, the angry, vindictive, jealous and rejected wife of Zeus; Minerva, the career woman who was meticulously briefed and organised in contrast to her husband’s chaotic office, and all the other goddesses. (I wrote of this in depths in my book ‘The Sound of Water’).

She also had that much misused word – charisma – hardened journalists felt her presence, watched her love in action, and melted. She was down to earth- talking to a mayor on an official visit, she had him eating out of her hand when she asked him how much money he gave his children for pocket money!

She had courage. As a shy twenty-one year old on her first tour – in New Zealand – she emerged from a hall to greet the waiting crowds, and was met by a barrage of placards and yelling protestors shouting about Ireland. For a moment she stopped, shocked, and then stepped straight up to the other people standing in front of the protestors and greeted them, all the while enduring the barrage of insults. That took grit. She had courtesy, refusing to shelter from the rain under an umbrella, unless the mayor’s wife standing with her shared it too, the mayor’s wife told me.

In psychological terms, the first relationships people have with their parents shape their later lives. Diana, as the third daughter, was initially rejected at birth by her father who wanted an heir. That sort of emotional shock would have stayed in her psyche, and projected an unconscious fear that she would be rejected by the men she loved. So she was. Her husband rejected her, and then the Pakistani surgeon who she loved for two years and hoped to marry – until he couldn’t face the hullabaloo which surrounded her.

Her last fling on the rebound was unlikely to have lasted. Dodi Fayed simply didn’t have the intellectual and emotional depths that Diana would have needed. She called herself as thick as a plank, because she had failed her school exams. But it’s a given that strife at home blocks children’s progress at school. They can’t concentrate on their lessons when they have emotional trauma going on, and Diana was always torn between her warring parents. On the other hand, people who knew Diana encountered a lively mind and wit, a phenomenal memory, and a musical talent that meant she was able to plunge into the notoriously difficult Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto without any music, when asked to play.

Like all un-integrated people she had many flaws. Who does n’t? That’s no reason to denigrate her, as it’s become fashionable to do in the years since the world wide grief at her death. Her gifts to the world outweighed her private problems. And what were those gifts, apart from her two sons? She left us with a memory of a beautiful soul who wasn’t afraid to love and act spontaneously; who gave compassion- and acceptance – to all who crossed her path, and whose example has given others the courage to open their own hearts and express their feelings.

Her motto was ‘compassion in another’s troubles, courage in your own’. Her acts of random kindness were legion. Her life, her mothering, and her work were an inspiration, while fashion has never been the same since she went to Paris and died. I, like many, still miss Diana’s presence on this earth, and wish I had seen her grow into the magnificent mature woman which was her potential. She was only thirty-six when she died.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

A friend recovering from a major operation came for supper last night, so I made a bit of an effort. Whole chicken legs, slashed at intervals and the slashes stuffed with chopped garlic and grated lemon rind and juice, marinated for some hours before hand. Before popping into the oven, I sprinkled them with flour mixed with ginger, salt and pepper, and sprinkled with some olive oil. Then into a hot oven for about an hour or until cooked. The skin is crisp and tasty. I’d made some of the cream potatoes from the recipe other day, and we had them with Brussels sprouts and little spring carrots.

Not bad. I experimented with a pear and almond tart for pudding – the pastry a wonderful quick easy recipe for another day – the frangipane didn’t taste as almondy as I would have liked… so a bit of jiggling to do there.

Food for Thought

So precious is a person’s faith in God… never should we harm that.

Because He gave birth to all religions.            St Francis of Assisi 1182 -1226

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Passion in Provence

Just back from seeing The Well-Digger’s Daughter for the second time, but not for the last time!

I see it’s called an art house film… so a film that has no violence or sex pictured in it, seems to be an art house film apparently. Good for art. So I didn’t feel like a voyeur having to watch heaving bottoms, and listen to other people’s orgasms, and I didn’t have to feel like an accomplice watching fighting, stabbings, shooting, and mayhem.

Instead I watched a story of life and death, love and birth, human pain and human greatness. It was set in the magic countryside of Provence, harsh, rocky, grey mountain ridges giving way to long stretches of olive groves, long avenues of ancient poplars, clear pebbly streams with dappled water beneath the branching pale green trees, and empty, dusty white roads. The well-digger’s farm house was the dream of most westerners, a weathered stone house with faded green shutters at each window, stone sinks and arched door-ways inside, pottery jugs and big old- fashioned soup plates for the cassoulet for dinner. Old barns, a stone parapeted well, and views over empty country-side completed the dream. Long shadows lay across green meadows, and grasses swayed in the evening breezes.

 It was that time before telephones, so children ran errands, and felt useful, people wrote letters which were kept and treasured, instead of e-mails quickly deleted, everyone walked miles for lack of public transport and was fit and healthy, while children got enough sleep every night without TV or computer games to keep them awake. It was that time before sprays and pesticides, wind farms and traffic fumes, tourists and agribusiness had changed the old ways, the old beauties, the centuries-old peace.

The music – some of it from old twenties and thirties recordings – pulled at the heart strings the way those wistful plangent sounds of old records always do. And the clothes! – old fashioned thirties summer dresses, elegant coats and hats and shoes. A green crocodile pochette that matched a shapely green coat… a clotted cream coloured cardigan edged with wine dark ribbon, matching the thin maroon stripe in the girl’s cream dress… the scalloped collar on a simple black dress, embroidered round the edge of the scallops in dull red and green.

But these were the delicious details. The people were the story -the well digger- implacable and generous, warm hearted and narrow minded, honest and angry all at the same time; the other father, weary, hen-pecked, dignified and distant; the possessive, petulant mother; the spoiled only son; the well-digger’s troubled, tragic daughter. The emotions of love and lust, anger and unrequited devotion, shame and guilt, grief and joy, swirled round these people as the Second World War broke out. And the birth of an unwanted baby brought together all these warring people and humbled their pride, softened their grief, opened their hearts, melted their anger, dissolved their arrogance and dispelled their petulance. 

There were some lovely lines. The rejected lover, prepared to marry the girl he loved, who was carrying another man’s child, is told by her angry, bitter father: “Felipe, you have no honour”, to which Felipe replies, “I have no honour, but I have plenty of love”. (How much pain and grief men’s honour has brought to women, and still does, as we read of so-called honour killings, and women strangled, stoned and even shot by machine gun, so as not to diminish this strange concept of murderous egotism, false pride, and cruelty wrongly named honour.)

When the possessive grandfather tries to claim authority over the baby, his new son-in law says, “He doesn’t belong to you. You belong to him.” And the other grandfather replies, “That’s right, the old can only serve the young”, like all grandparents, putty in the hands of his grandchild.

No doubt everyone who sees this film will understand it differently, depending on their age. But as a grandparent, it reminded me of the days when my grandchildren were small, and I discovered for the first time the bliss of giving unconditional love. The sort of love which accepts the loved one as a perfect and beautiful soul, knowing that all the foibles and  problems that parents see, don’t really exist; the sort of love that  knows with perfect certainty that their grand-children will grow up to be strong and good even if they don’t eat all their vegetables!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Padding is what families need in cold weather, and these two puddings fill the bill. They are hot plain puddings, but also delicious, and old-fashioned puddings are becoming fashionable again. They both need sultanas, washed and then soaked in boiling water to plump them up and make them juicy.

The first, batter pudding, needs the same ingredients as Yorkshire pudding, eight ounces of self raising flour, two eggs, and enough milk and a little water to mix to a pouring batter, plus a pinch of salt. Beat the eggs into the flour and salt, and add the liquid gradually. Leave in the fridge for half an hour. Heat a baking pan with a knob of fat until smoking, and pour in the batter, which you’ve just beaten again. Add the drained sultanas, and bake in a hot oven for an hour, or until risen and cooked. Serve immediately with knobs of butter and brown sugar sprinkled over. A hot and homely pudding.

Bread and butter pudding is the same. You need six slices of good bread – not white supermarket pap. Slice them, butter them and cut them into squares or triangles. Arrange them in a two pint pie dish. Sprinkle over the drained sultanas, and then beat three eggs with three to four ounces of sugar. Add the milk, and pour it over the bread. The pie dish should only be half full. Leave to soak for at least half an hour, before baking in a moderate oven (about 350degrees) for about an hour, or until the custard is set. Eat hot.

Food for Thought

Some day, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity we shall harness the energies of love. Then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.

Pierre Tielhard de Chardin, 1881 – 1955.  Jesuit, philosopher, eminent palaeontologist and mystic, who was banned from teaching, preaching and writing by the Catholic church, his books denied publication, and his most important book, ‘The Phenomenon of Man’ only published after his death. He is still persona non grata with the church fifty three years after his death.

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Dedicated Followers of Fashion

One of the things I missed most when Princess Diana died, was that all the fun seemed to go out of fashion.  Suddenly there was a vacuum, which wasn’t really filled by the celebrities who dressed to get attention – Royalty doesn’t have to dress to get attention..

But now we have another beautifully dressed woman to enjoy. Diana’s daughter- in- law, her son’s new wife.  And Kate Middleton has assumed Diana’s crown with elegant ease. For the last year, frivolous empty- headed women like me who enjoy looking at exquisitely dressed, beautiful women, have had a feast for our eyes. The Queen’s Jubilee has actually been a banquet, because the Queen too, has looked a picture in the most wonderfully coloured clothes designed for the most part, by her dresser, Angela Kelly. Angela Kelly is a fashion story in herself, having been a housekeeper at the British Embassy in Germany. When she was introduced to the Queen on an official visit, when a gap occurred later, she invited the housekeeper to become her dresser. An amazing relationship has flowered between them, there is always laughter when the two are together, and Angela, rescued from organising embassy dinners and counting other people’s tea-spoons, took to fashion to the manner born. She has now started her own design house, with the Queen as a walking advertisement for her taste and flair.

The once infamous Camilla, second wife of the heir Prince Charles, has also blossomed this year, appearing in a succession of wonderfully over- the- top hats, and elegant unfussy clothes. Even notoriously under-dressed Princess Anne has taken the trouble to appear in some delicious pale pinks and eau de nil, and even some pretty hats during this time of national rejoicing for the Queen’s 60 years on her throne. The Royal women have looked like a bunch of pretty spring flowers, with their petalled hats, soft clear colours, and pale shoes at the various events where they’ve clustered together.

But Kate takes the biscuit. With her long dark hair and long slim legs, killer heels and cheeky hats, she always looks ravishing in the understated little dresses, coats and suit she chooses. Some of them are couture, some of them are cheap as chips. But it doesn’t matter who makes them, she always looks wonderful. It cheers up the morning when I Google UK newspapers and see Kate once again beaming across the front page, dimples flashing, slim, leggy, gorgeous.

It also cheers me up to know what she achieves in the way of style – not exactly on a shoe string, but shopping wisely and well. I do the same myself! There’s not a factory sale or a charity /opportunity shop I don’t know the inside of in various parts of the world. A real silk cream shirt in a Plymouth op-shop has taken me to various weddings and dinners, teamed with black velvet trousers bought in a factory sale in Auckland, and black shoes from the local Chinese import store. So cheap and comfortable I bought three pairs, which cost less than one good pair of shoes, and which lasted for three years – I was bereft when I had to ditch the last pair this year. However, I was able to replace them with a natty black patent pair found in a half- price, end- of -season sale.

So Kate and I have a lot in common! I used to think that thinking about clothes was the mark of empty-headed frivolity, but when I was 17, I had the good fortune to live with my step-grandmother for six months, and she lent me her favourite book. It was Vera Brittain’s ‘ Testament of Youth’, and I cried all the way through. It was about her fiancée and friends killed in World War One, and I felt I understood my grandmother much better after reading it. But the bliss of it was that Vera, a solemn, somewhat humourless early feminist, described her clothes in detail – I still remember the terra-cotta coloured hat and dove-coloured outfit she described wearing, when she went to meet the boat-train and the man she ended up marrying. It was a Eureka moment. I realised it was possible to love clothes and still think intelligently. Thank you, Vera.

So I continue to drool over Kate and her clothes. Today it was Kate and her sister, the famous bridesmaid, whose elegant derriere practically caused strong men to weep all over the world, and sitting together at Wimbledon they were an unbeatable combination. In the eighteenth century two similarly beautiful sisters, also from an ordinary background, took London by storm with their beauty. Crowds gathered wherever they went, and they needed bodyguards. The elder, Elizabeth Gunning, married one duke, and when he died, married another. Her sister Maria married an earl and died young. Probably from lead poisoning from the makeup she loved to wear.

The Middleton sisters remind me of this glamorous pair, and when Kate and Pippa sat in the Royal box at Wimbledon, the one in white, the other in a pretty blue and white flowered dress in a somewhat eighteenth century style, they looked as captivating as the  legendary sisters. Beauty and fashion are still a fascinating phenomenon and still draw crowds.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets.

The cold weather and the longing for comfort food goes on. Soup warms us up, but sometimes it’s not a meal in itself, and that’s when a pudding comes in handy. Good old rice pudding is one of those standards that’s always welcome in this house, but it must be made properly, with the rice really creamy, and a good nutmeg topping to it.

You need two ounces of short grain or pudding rice, and a pint of boiling milk. Grease a pie-dish, and pour the boiling milk on the rice in the dish. Stir in two to three ounces of sugar, and dot the top with butter. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Cook for an hour to an hour and a half in a slow oven, until the rice is soft and creamy. This can be eaten on its own, or with a spoonful of raspberry jam as we did during the war, or with some stewed fruit – plums are good.

Food for Thought

In the overabundance of certain things I find vulgarity. Thus I object to an overcrowding of furniture in the sitting room, to a whole bunch of writing brushes beside the ink-slab, too many images of Buddha in the chapel, too great a profusion of stones, trees, grass in a garden…  Things that I feel can never be overdone are books in book receptacles and rubbish on the rubbish heap.

Yoshida Kenko, 13th century Japanese hermit monk, who was a soldier before retiring to his hermit hut.

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