A modern Mrs Miniver

The Mrs Miniver columns – a series of gentle musings on a new notebook or whether to buy a bunch of chrysanthemums – were hugely popular in the late 1930s, even though, as the author’s granddaughter has now detailed they were also a definite wish fulfilment exercise for the writer that also camouflaged her far more complicated, not quite as glamorous, life.

Reading a recent article, the house tone at Vogue doesn’t seem to have changed much since then; there’s still a local celebrity to be “thrilled” about, a little dialogue about all the visitors and their dogs who are renovating a house, and a dependable, cheerful husband who is straight man to all the endless whimsy:

I opened a box sash window above the front door and said good morning. It’s a habit I have developed since living here, which makes me think of people behind battlements with vats of oil…

My husband Andrew came down the stairs to open the knock. “Please stop popping out at people from that window. It’s eccentric, bordering on impolite.

Pieces like this are a guilty pleasure to read, because it’s so twee and safe it’s as soothing as a bowl of mush, but I can also rather unfairly have a good time rolling my eyes at the Marie Antoinette smugness of it. Or how about:

there’s a mustard-hot rumour that Ptolemy Dean, the architect in residence at Westminster Abbey, will be in charge of the renovation. Andrew and I discover that we were just as thrilled by this as everyone else. I joined the residents association.”

In fairness, it’s very hard to write columns based on your life (Nora Ephron in Heartburn talks about feeling like she’s living with a cannibal with her second husband who is always making their life into 850 words, syndicated.) and also to get the right balance and style so that your readers feel that nothing’s changed since 1933 and a silk dress will sort all ills, but I can’t really read too much before wanting to scream at the smugness of it all.

Much better stick with The Real Mrs Miniver and read all about the real character’s scandalous second life in wartime America.

Achille Castiglione

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An Italian designer who would have been 100 in February, his studio in Milan is one of the most fascinating things I’ve seen.

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He collected objects endlessly, getting a sense of how they worked, of how they could be stretched or improved and what the most practical next steps would be.

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All photos April 2018.

Overheard in Oregon

Listening in on conversations around me is a bit of an addiction of mine, and whilst the home turf provides plenty of gems, travel always throws up a good few oddities too. In this respect, I can only say that Oregon has delivered gold. Here’s the latest crop, with thanks to the Saint of Soho for extra reporting:

“He turned up in a fur coat and was being very aggressively flirty.”

“So then they decided to swap partners, but they all kept their own shares, and a month later Mikey arrived. I think it says a lot that he loved you enough to give you more shares.”

“I just really want Franco to have something for himself like that and then everyone will love him for it.”

“He’s a millionaire, and not a prisoner.”

“Isn’t that the most beautiful door? I might have to take a photo of your door. Is it real?”

“We’ve got about an hour to kill so we can go home and phone the coastguard, I want you there with me when I call.”

“The only reason I stole from you is because I thought you weren’t looking.”

“He was super-helpful, so I had this laxative fish”  “And Mario was ok with that?”  “He wanted to help.”

“I’ve had super good birthday cakes whenever I’ve come up here.”

”So then I ruined his birthday and we were totally not friends for a few years” (N.B., despite my raging curiosity and some vague mentions of a glittery finger, I have no idea what the birthday-ruining act was. Sorry. And if glittery finger is some kind of euphemism, I don’t want to know.)

“I think I’ll just see what jobs are going.” “So what are you gonna be? A sous chef?!

“I don’t know your nuances bruv; I need ALL your nuances.”

“It’s the empathic life, it’s hard being fucking intelligent.”

(Guy speaking to his dog, whom some girls had stopped to admire.) “Thanks buddy, you helped me out today there. I was gonna buy a toupee or something otherwise.”

Grand ambitions

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There’s something magnificently crazy about writing a book on accordion playing round the world (useless fact – Haile Selassie had an imperial accordion troupe), but what great illustrations to fit the joie de vivre of such a project.

Perfume: go, go

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I was pretty sceptical when I heard that Somerset House was putting on a show about perfume, and even more so that it would be done in the manner of a contemporary art installation. Well that’ll show me – it was actually great fun, very well thought out, would be perfect to do either on a date or with friends, and is actually both non-intimidating and witty, a real achievement for a craft that is second only to wine-making for jargon, history and insiders’ snobbism.

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As the notes to the show said, self-taught perfumiers are now breaking the mould, getting away both from the stuffiness of some schools, and the idea of scent as a marketing product. I won’t tell you too much about the perfumes in this exhibition as the whole point of the showing is to have a guessing game / voyage of discovery of your own, but you can see from the pictures above how inventive the sets were. In other rooms you smelt white cotton scarves or brilliant liberty-style print pouches, whilst the room with “paint pots” inspired this response from some other visitors:

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I didn’t get so creative myself, but enjoyed the game of hide and seek, and the weekend I went there was also an interesting series of presentations from perfumiers at the end in the testing lab.

PS in the first room you smelt the bowling balls…it felt quite James Bond, actually.

Blog of the week & Mexico City

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I’m still completely absorbed by Sybille Bedford’s A Visit to Don Otavio, and these passages (dinner; setting up a hotel) show why. If it fuels your fever, you really must see Ben Pentreath’s blogs here and here. Normally I dial in to Ben’s pastoral idylls on Mon mornings, but these posts from his travels carry some heat.

False Chronicles! BAD.

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A twitter account that relocates Donald Trump to Anglo-Saxon Mercia, satirising his wilder utterances. The name Donald the Unready is particularly witty since, as all historians know, Unread was the Anglo-Saxon word for ill-advised. Here are a couple of gems:

Twisty lying monk Bede writes his History of the English-speaking peoples IN LATIN. HYPOCRITE! Can’t trust the mainstream Chronicles. Sad.

 

Sad loser monks saying I’m unstable. Total lies. We’ve got the greatest stables in Mercia. They’re HUGE. All the horse, so many. Clip clop.

 

Sad false Chronicles and mainstream bards keep lying. Gonna set the tapestry straight. Court wenches will embroider THE TRUTH. Gonna be great!