Saturday, 31 December 2005

My hand is itching... but...

Happy New Year to you all!

Friday, 30 December 2005

No slap today

I know. Try not to be too disappointed. It’s still the season of goodwill (still!) and I’m taking part in a hit parade (that dates me, doesn’t it?) of the best perfumes and beauty products of the past year. Well, I’m not in the running. You know what I mean. Not so easy peasy as I thought when I foolishly agreed to do it. I don’t try everything that comes out and I’m not sure I even tried ten perfumes/cosmetics in the past twelve months, let alone liked them.

Best of 2005

Cèdre by Serge Lutens
I don’t know how well it went down in France, but this hasn’t been a great success in the US, among my pals at MakeupAlley anyway. The fools! LOL!

For me it was love at first sniff. It reconciled me with tuberose, which until then had made me gag. I was even tempted to retest Tubéreuse Criminelle, also by the Divine Serge and his acolyte Chris Sheldrake, and found I did like it after all. Cèdre doesn’t have the mentholated opening of Tubéreuse Criminelle, which is a bonus really since you get to the ‘nice’ notes that much quicker. It doesn’t have much cedar either, in spite of its name – it’s not Black Cashmere, for instance, but too much cedar can be boring – like in Black Cashmere, for instance. It’s just a soft and complex mix of flowers and spices. I would wear it if I weren’t wedded to Fleurs d’Oranger, which is the best of last year, this year, every year. I’m the faithful kind.

Climat by Lancôme
My own personal fairy godmother sent me a whole bottle of this ‘60s perfume, recently relaunched by Lancôme. Everything about it is beautiful: the bottle is the epitome of chic; the juice is a lovely green; the scent is classic, fizzy (it’s the aldehydes); it lingers nicely. It’s ‘old-fashioned’ in the best possible way (please, no jokes about ‘old-lady’ perfumes!); it’s elegant. “Just what a perfume should be like,” said my partner about it. Yep!

Parfum Sacré by
I’d always thought Caron and I didn’t agree. I was wrong. I think I'd dismissed the whole line because I’d only smelled Fleurs de Rocaille and Nocturnes and hadn’t liked them. Then, a couple of years ago, I received a small decant of Parfum Sacré from an American pal and became rather besotted with it. I kept it on my desk and sniffed it constantly. This year I decided to take the plunge: I bought a bottle of PS from a delightful French eBay seller – one of those bottles with small glass knobs dotted about and a big gold top: very baroque, just right.

I’m so bad at describing perfume (I’m on MakeupAlley on sufferance, you know)! I can never detect all the notes like my friends the real perfumistas. Parfum Sacré is peppery, incensey, powdery, flowery… I’m running out of adjectives ending in ‘y’… it’s warm, soft, comforting… and I adore it.

Divinora Cupidon Lip Pencil by Guerlain
I’m cheating a lil’ bit here: I discovered it late last year, but it’s so good… It’s a shiny, pale, flesh-coloured pencil that restores what I found out yesterday is called the ‘milk line’ in English: that whitish line one has along one’s lips when one is young – it disappears with age, as lips themselves vanish (where do they go?). Line your Cupid’s bow with it and your lips look instantly younger and plumper. Better than collagen injections and surtout less painful.

Correcteur d’Hydratation pour le Visage (remember, light ‘a’ not ‘â’) by
Samuel Par
I found this wonderful face oil on the shelves of my local TK Maxx, which is invaluable for clothes and accessories, etc. but pathetic for perfumes and cosmetics… except that time. I would never have bought it full price but it was drastically reduced for some reason and I grabbed it, because Samuel Par is a great skincare brand. This is a light oil, packed full of delicious-smelling essential oils: lavender, savory, geranium, sage and red thyme. Can you imagine the gorgeous smell? I use it before going to bed. It’s beyond scrumptious.

Lotion nettoyante pour peaux intolérantes by Avène
I developed some kind of allergy to one of my skincare products a few months ago and decided to change my routine – starting with my cleanser. Boots sells the Avène range, which contains spring water from the spa of the same name (the French love spas). The whole range is meant for ‘sensitive and irritated skin’ and this cleanser is different from anything I’ve used before. It’s a light, creamy gel that removes make-up and grime in one fell swoop and doesn’t require the use of a toner. I’m sticking with it.

Rosé Granati Soothing Hand Lotion by
Molton Brown
I was bequeathed a sample of it (don’t worry the giver is not dead: I just like the word ‘bequeath’) and that was it: search no more; thou hast found thy hand lotion hg (‘holy grail’ for the ignorant among you). It smells delicate; goes in beautifully (although, when I want to massage my nails while watching the telly, I use an oily cream that takes an age to go in) and it makes your hand soft soft soft. The best.

Rêve de Miel Lip Balm by
Years and years ago, when N. Kinnaird, the founder of SpaceNK, was on the lookout for original, preferably foreign cosmetics and skincare products, I wrote to her and told her about that brand, which was on sale in the parapharmacie departments of supermarkets in France. I remembered it from my childhood and I knew it was good quality. I never heard from her (she later asserted she’d never received my letter), but within six months Nuxe was on the shelves of the original SpaceNK shop in Covent Garden (it was soooo small!). Do you believe in coincidences? Anyway, I think SpaceNK do not stock Nuxe any longer, now that the products are sold in Boots (a snob, moi?). The only Nuxe thing I use is the lip balm: it does not contain petrochemicals; it tastes of grapefruit and honey, and lasts forever (careful, it does go off: no preservatives, you see). I apply it at night and, in the morning, my lips are as smooth as … (the words ‘baby’ and ‘bottom’ come to mind, but …) Although, yesterday, I received a small tube of Lip Balm by Durance en Provence from a French friend. It's also almost all natural and tastes lightly of honey. My lips, this morning, were as smooth as... so maybe next year, when we do this again, I will have another product to rave about.

There you are! How many is that? Seven. Sorry. Can’t think of anything else. For more recommendations, please visit the perfume mavens listed below (better cut up your credit card now).

Update: I’d like to add a wish for 2006 – a heartfelt wish: I want lip-glosses and shiny, glittery lipsticks to go back to where they came from. I want a return to creamy – or matt – proper lipsticks. Gooey, sticky doesn’t do it for me!

Many thanks to K of Scentzilla! for the beautiful logo above, and to A of Blogdorf Goodman and R of Now Smell This for organizing the whole fun thing!

Tuesday, 27 December 2005

Ok, truce over!

All year I look forward to what the TV schedulers have planned for us over Christmas and the New Year. Programmes are usually very exciting, with lots of film premieres and specially commissioned comedies and dramas.

Not this year!

It’s been absolutely dismal so far: nothing but repeats repeats repeats. Films one has seen so many times one can quote huge chunks of dialogue from; old comedies that weren’t even funny the first time round. Nothing, but nothing worth staying home for.

A few years ago I sent the Christmas TV listings to a friend of mine in Paris, who’s a real movie buff. I think there were something like 25 new films being shown over the period. She was suitably impressed and from then on always believed me when I assured her we had the best TV in the world.

I suspect we owe this new state of affairs to the advent of satellite and digital TV. We who rely solely on the five terrestrial channels for our entertainment are left high and dry. We only get the dregs. Subscribing to those new channels is getting more tempting by the day, but I know that too much choice can also be disheartening. (Actually, I’ve just looked at what was on offer on those channels and it wasn’t that good either.)

I adore films, but rarely go to the cinema. I used to go all the time when I lived in France, but got out of the habit when I moved to London: smoking was still allowed at the time and I found it unbearable to watch films through a haze and come out reeking of cigarette. Also, London cinemas didn't show the wide range of films I was accustomed to being able to watch. These days I’m usually in no hurry to see the new releases and until now I hadn’t felt the need to rent out films since I knew that more or less everything that had come out in the previous two years was bound to be shown at some point over the holidays.

I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much: the wonderful BBC adaptation of Bleak House ended just last week and we’ve been able to see several recent films in the past few months, but this is the time I want to see them, not earlier in the year.

I’m slapping the TV schedulers! Very hard! Slap!!!!

Sunday, 25 December 2005

The first candle has been lit

Happy Hannukah!

Saturday, 24 December 2005

“Grrr!” “Ssshhhh!”

This grumpy old woman has been told she could not be grumpy just now (she wishes she could stop being ‘old’ so easily) so today she will use someone else's cynical words:

“Do not pick up other people's rubbish. It looks a bit obsessive/eccentric... We are suspicious of people who do good things for no reason. Anyone who departs from the principle of overt self-interest is simply weird.” (Lynne Truss in Talk to the Hand)

Let's hope there are lots of ‘weird’ people in the world!

Merry Christmas to All!

Wednesday, 21 December 2005

Skincare for the careless

You can always tell when an ad isn’t meant for you. There’s one at the moment for some product from the Nivea Visage (visage, not visâge, btw: light, cheerful ‘a’, not dark, ominous ‘â’) range where a woman says, in one of those raucous voices, “You’ve had a juicy past and the future looks even brighter.”

The word ‘juicy’ makes me uneasy. They’re obviously addressing ladettes. Are they saying that Nivea Visage will repair any damage done to the skin by endless drinks and fags so do carry on with your unhealthy lifestyle, dears? Or are they advocating promiscuity? (If there is such a thing as promiscuity these days.)

I’m not sure I understand the meaning of that ad. As I get older the number of those ads increases and so does my puzzlement.

I feel I should slap Nivea for delivering an ambiguous, potentially dangerous message and for making me feel so out of touch with what’s going on. Slap!

Sunday, 18 December 2005


I moved stuff around my flat yesterday and overdid it a little bit - I'm exhausted right now - so I thought I'd offer you some entertainment.

Here are two short video clips I took the other day - with my tiny digital camera (hadn't realized I could do that before: I've only had it for a couple of years so what do you expect?). If you don't have broadband, don't bother: they'll take about 20 minutes to download - each - and you'll lose the will to live. But if you do - and it works, you will feel as if you're in the middle of Piccadilly Circus, which is exactly where I was when I took them (strange or what?).

London at Christmas

Have fun!

Wednesday, 14 December 2005

Ye Olde England

My mother never understood it. None of my French friends understands it. I myself don’t understand it (in the sense that I don’t understand how it can still exist).

What is it that’s so puzzling?

The leasehold system, of course. That legacy of feudal England. So quaint, so ridiculous, so unfair!

I’ve owned my flat for over 10 years, but if I lived another 70 years I would have to hand it back to the landlord – the holder of the freehold, the owner of the land on which my block of flats is standing – and I would find myself homeless at the age of 127.

How preposterous is that? When I buy something I can normally assume it belongs to me – for good. Can’t I?

The leasehold system in London (it’s mostly Londoners who are affected by it) means that, although you may have forked out hundreds of thousands of pounds, you only own your flat for a limited period of time, decided in advance. You have to be aware of it at the time of purchase. If two identical flats are on the market, the one with the longer lease is usually the more expensive and certainly the more desirable: mortgage lenders don’t offer loans on flats with short leases and cash buyers don’t want to purchase them either. When the number of years left on a lease gets dangerously low and the flat becomes practically impossible to sell, you can have the lease extended, but, of course, you have to pay the landlord (again!!!) quite large sums of money for the privilege.

My particular block of flats is run by a firm of managing agents: we pay service charges to cover staff salaries, maintenance, heating, etc. The accounts are audited once a year and no one really argues about how the money is spent. A few years ago residents of blocks of flats acquired the right to buy the freeholds and manage themselves (if the required number of people agreed), but being at the mercy of other owner-occupiers, who may or may not care whether the building they live in is kept in good nick, is a frightening thought. Luckily, others feel like me and would resist any such move. It’s bad enough trying to get things done through an official body; I can’t think how we would fare if, for instance, people living on the upper floors had to beg the ones living on the ground floor to pay for repairs to the lift. The latter might say, “We never take the lift; we couldn’t care less if it never works again.” (I’m on the second floor and I hardly ever take the lift, but I know we all have to contribute.)

Best case scenario:
1) you know your lease will outlive you
2) you have no intention of ever moving
3) you have no heirs and don’t care what happens to your property after your death

What gets me is that we have to pay the landlord ‘ground rent’. ‘Ground’ rent!!! I don’t live on the ‘ground’ floor; why do I have pay that person for the use of his ‘ground’? Furthermore, not all the residents pay the same amount: how can the ‘ground’ be worth a different amount of money if you live on a different floor? There are over 100 flats in my building and the landlord gets ground rent from each of them – that’s a nice tidy sum for absolutely nothing. On top of that, it goes up every 25 years: in 2001, my share went from £100 to £200 a year, i.e. a 100 per cent increase. I was livid.

The whole thing makes me mad anyway so I’m slapping whoever let that feudal system carry on into the 21st century. It's not on. Slap!

Saturday, 10 December 2005

Ugh! Get off my face!

Ok, now that I’ve got Christmas out of my system I can gripe about something else. Phew!

I tried to remove my make-up last night (I’m a good girl, I am: I try to always cleanse my face before going to bed, although, you know, leftover eye make-up is really nice in the morning – you look good without ‘obvious’ help, but, no, I don’t do it deliberately) and I ended up with bits of white tissue all over my face, like a man who’s nicked himself shaving. Blech!

Kleenex has always been the Rolls Royce of tissue – the brand name didn't replace the generic name for nothing. But not any more it isn’t. I use the Ultra Soft ones. They’ve changed the look of the box and I spent a little time searching for that familiar blue box in the supermarket – it's now pale grey with drawings of hands and other parts of the body, but, ok, not much hardship there. However they’ve also reduced the size of the tissues – drastically. They’re now tiny. Still, they’re big enough for most tasks.

But but but they don’t work as make-up removing tools: they stick to the face instead of absorbing the cleansing milk or cream and gliding over the skin. They break up and disintegrate straightaway and you’re left with damp mush in your hands and bits of fluff here and there. It’s disgusting.

They’re not good for blowing one's nose either. The same unpleasant thing happens – only worse. Nasty.

The blurb on the back of the box reads: “Kleenex Ultra Soft tissues are simply a pleasure to touch. Specially soft, they feel lovely against your skin. Kleenex Ultra Soft tissue, the difference is in the touch.” Don’t make me laugh! (And, by the way, shouldn’t it be ‘especially’?)

I’ve already slapped manufacturers and other companies for cheating consumers by offering them products or services that are below par after getting them hooked with good stuff, but usually it’s done over several months or even years. In the case of Kleenex it seems to have happened overnight: the last time I bought a box of those tissues – just a little while ago – they were absolutely fine. Back to scritchy-scratchy ‘big’ and ‘strong’ own-brand tissues, I expect. Oh well, I won’t have to exfoliate any more.

Slapping their un-cleansed corporate face!

Wednesday, 7 December 2005

More money than sense

Apparently, people spend an average of £137 on each of their children at Christmas (still harping on it, sorry). That is a huge amount, isn’t it?, even if you only have the requisite 2.4 children (don't bother to fish out the calculator; I've done the sums for you: it's £328.80). And I believe it’s the poorest people, those who can’t afford it, can’t manage to pay the mortgage or the rent, are already in debt who spend the most on Christmas presents for their kids.

Why is that?

Hype? Peer pressure? Children nagging their parents for the latest toys and gadgets? G-d forbid a child should go back to the playground after the holidays without the desirable play station or mp3 player or whatever! What are parents to do? After all, they do want to stay at least on speaking terms with their children. Ok, I’ll slap the companies making those ‘indispensable’ artefacts. Slap!

Hang on, though, isn’t there something else going on here? Could it be that parents lavish money on their kids because they feel guilty for not ‘being there’ for them? Aren’t they trying to buy their love? I’ll slap the parents too, I think. Slap!

Sunday, 4 December 2005

Tête à claques V

I’ve never met my previous Têtes à claques, but I knew Rupert Everett when he was a young boy. These photos were taken in Stratford-upon-Avon, in 1977: Rupert was 18.

He was tall and thin as a beanpole (an asperge in French – we’re a little more refined in our choice of vegetables). He was gangly, not quite coordinated; he could be bitchy and waspish, but also very very cute.

I first saw him in Stratford in 1976; he used to hang around the theatre day and night and , as I was on holiday, I used to hang around the theatre day and night. That year the RSC had decided to transform the theatre into a replica of Shakespeare's Globe and there were seats at the back of the stage. This young man was annoying me a lot by pacing up and down at the back of the seating area; I kept wondering why he was allowed to disturb the paying public in that way. Then, one morning I saw him with Ian McKellen outside my B&B. They looked very ‘friendly’ with each other. That was ten years before Sir Ian came out of the closet; he was a matinee idol rather than a gay icon and female fans used to mob him at the Stage Door (one of them even threw herself into the Avon to attract his attention). Anyway, who was courting whom, I couldn’t possibly say.

The following year I bumped into Rupert again in London: he was working as an usher at the Warehouse (the RSC’s studio theatre) and already charming his way to fame. He recognized me and we started chatting. We met up a couple of weeks later in Stratford: we were both attending the Shakespeare Summer School and we had great fun together. He was always on the lookout for mischief and together we behaved outrageously (one night we were even thrown out of a very respectable Chinese restaurant). He returned to London at the end of the week and we didn’t see each other again for another year.

Then, one afternoon, in Paris, I got a phone call from him, “Please come and bail me out. I’ve crossed the Channel without a passport. I’m at the Hôtel Meurice, on the Rue de Rivoli. I'm hungry. I've got no money. I'm going back tonight. I don't know what's going to happen.” By chance another actor friend was staying with me. He knew Rupert too, by sight. He was extremely amused and agreed to go with me to rescue him. We found him lounging on a sofa in the beautiful lobby of that most luxurious of hotels, writing a letter with a pen and a pad lent to him by one of the commissioners. He stood up languidly to greet us and, on the way out, offered to return the writing implements, but the commissioner told him to keep them with a huge smile – totally under his spell. We took Rupert to Angelina (a very posh tearoom) next door and plied him with tea and cakes. We had a whale of a time. Later, he borrowed money from us (“Rupert, you still owe it!”) to pay for the fare to Gare du Nord, and he left as nonchalantly as he had appeared. No doubt he charmed passport control too, later that evening.

In 1981 I went to see him in Another Country, at the Greenwich Theatre (before the show transferred to the West End). He was the same old Rupert. He entertained me with stories of the other actors in the play (one of whom was Kenneth Branagh). That was the beginning of his rise and rise to stardom.

I’ve seen him a couple of times since then, but not recently and if I had I probably wouldn’t have recognized him. He’s had plastic surgery: a brow and eye lift, and cheek implants, they say. He doesn’t look like himself any longer.

Rupert, I’m slapping you for spoiling your good looks – even more than a few wrinkles would have.

Thursday, 1 December 2005

The worship of Mammon

Some years ago a romantic comedy changed the face of a whole area of London. Notting Hill triggered the gentrification of Notting Hill Gate (by the way, there’s no such thing as Notting Hill). I lived in that once-bohemian neighbourhood for 16 years. At the time it was known for its antique shops: they were everywhere (Portobello Road, Ledbury Road and Westbourne Grove especially were lined with them). I once took a cab from the West End; when I told him where I wanted to go, the driver said, “Oh, I know that road [it was a very tiny one]: there’s an antique shop on the corner.” We both hooted with laughter.

I went there this afternoon and some of those antique shops – as well as other businesses – have been replaced by branches of famous designer stores or chichi boutiques and art galleries. Westbourne Grove is still a mixture of high- and low-end retailers, though. There is an extraordinarily luxurious jeweller’s – its frontage is so grand! – next to the Oxfam Shop where I used to take my unwanted belongings. A few landmarks are still in place: the small post office that I used to visit every other day to mail my translations, before the advent of the email, is still there next to Tom’s delicatessen, which was an old-fashioned beauty parlour when I first settled in the area, in 1979 (it was one of those apparently jinxed shops, until Terence Conran’s son turned it into a successful café and posh grocer’s). The road gets steadily grottier as one approaches Queensway, although an expensive Italian traiteur has taken over the Pakistani grocer’s where I used to be welcomed like a long-lost friend on the rare occasions I went there to buy a loaf of bread.

I try to stay away as much as I can because it hurts: I could have made a killing and retired early, had I sold my flat in 1996 instead of 1995. Every time I go to the area I discover new weird things, some less pleasant than others. Today I came across a church that was renovated fairly recently: it's still a church (albeit an ultra modern one), but part of it houses a boutique and an art gallery, and I think there are flats on the upper floors. The last time I’d walked past it I hadn’t noticed how outrageous that was – perhaps because it had been in daylight: I hadn’t suddenly come upon the incongruous spectacle of a church building with brightly lit shop windows on one side. It seems to embody all that is wrong about that area now.

A little while ago I discovered that the nearest synagogue (in Brook Green) had been turned into a Chinese temple. I can just about accept that – although it saddens me, but the transformation of a place of worship into a shop I find truly shocking.

Notting Hill Gate has lost its soul.

A slap to the makers of that film – their influence has been an evil one.

Sunday, 27 November 2005

28… 27... 26... 25...

The countdown to Christmas has started in earnest. I can’t stand it. Every year I get so stressed by it all – and I don’t even have a huge family to cater for or a gigantic circle of friends to buy presents for. I can’t help it; I get caught up in the hysteria and end up feeling like a nervous wreck.

This year I have decided not to take part in it at all. All right, go on, call me a Scrooge and a Grinch. I don’t care. I want to retain some of my sanity.

Christmas is a Christian festival and I am not a Christian. Do you celebrate Hanukkah if you’re not a Jew? I don’t think so. Give me one good reason why I should celebrate Christmas?

We never celebrated it when I was a child. I went to school in a district of Paris mostly populated by Jews and we were taught about nos ancêtres les Gaulois and we used to draw Christmas trees and sing chants de Noël. Fine. If you live in an overtly Christian country (the separation of Church and State is written into the French Constitution, but it's still a Catholic country and it was very much so then, even more than now) you have to conform – when you’re at school or at work. But that’s as far as it should go; what you do in the privacy of your home and within your family is up to you. I remember being asked to write about “How I spent Christmas” one time too many, when I was about nine years old. My Jewish friends’ essays were works of fiction. Mine was a true reflection of what had taken place in my home around that time and was entitled “How I spent Hanukkah” instead. My little rédaction was read out in class and praised for its originality. But, then, I've always lacked imagination.

My parents would have felt they were betraying their origins if they’d brought a Christmas tree into our home. They came from Eastern Europe, where traditionally Christmas and Easter weren't complete without the Christian populace starting pogroms and attacking the Jews in their shtetls. Why should I celebrate a festival that has such unsavoury connotations for me and my coreligionists?

Of course, the true meaning of Christmas has got more and more lost over the years so, to a lot of people, it has just become an excuse for eating and drinking too much, and getting into debt. Unbridled consumerism and greediness now reflect the true spirit of Christmas. I don't want to take part in that either.

Who knows, maybe I just need a little break and will be singing carols with everyone else next year. (I wouldn’t hold my breath, though, if I were you.)

In the meantime, I want to slap the whole cynical “Christmas industry”.

Wednesday, 23 November 2005

The vultures among us

The UK charity Crimestoppers has launched a website, where you can learn how to protect yourself from crime, look at the photographs of the most wanted criminals in the land or find out what crimes have been committed in your area (this doesn’t seem to be working that well at the moment: I put in my postcode and returned some incidents committed in Hertfordshire… still, the website’s very new and I’m sure these are just teething troubles).

We keep hearing about identity theft, viruses, bad things like that, which originate on the Internet, but it’s also being put to good use (apart from making Christmas shopping easier). There is no doubt the Crimestoppers website will help the police track down at least some nasty people.

There are also now websites that post photographs of stolen goods. I so wish they’d existed at the time my mother became the victim of two clever crooks, back in 1995, in Nice.

Early one sunny morning in June, the doorbell rang and my mother was confronted with a charming young woman who told her she’d been her nurse. My mother didn’t recognize her, but she’d spent a few days in hospital recently so she pretended she did remember her and was quite happy to let her in. It was very warm so they went out on to the balcony and had a nice chat. About 15 minutes later, the doorbell rang again and a man was let in: he proceeded to tell my mother a cock-and-bull story about a robbery being planned at a nearby bank. He said he was an undercover policeman and asked her if she had a deposit box at that particular bank. Yes, she did. He told her she should go and remove everything she had in it straightaway, for the police knew the robbery was to happen that very night and they intended to catch the robbers in flagrante delicto and arrest them. It would be safer for her possessions to be here, at home with her. She could take them back to the bank as soon as the whole thing had been wrapped up.

My poor flustered mother got dressed – the woman helped her – and went with them to the bank. The man waited outside, while the woman made sure my mother didn’t speak to anyone. My mother had been warned not to say a word. She wouldn’t have anyway: she was so scared of making the “operation” fail. She’d been with that bank for over 20 years and people knew her well there. A couple of clerks asked her whether she was all right. She didn’t let on. She went down to the vault, while the woman waited in the lobby, and put everything that was in the safe deposit box into an innocent-looking plastic bag. If she’d asked to take all her money out, the bank would have been suspicious, but what you do in the vault remains private so no one queried anything. They walked her to the flat, where the man looked on as she placed the plastic bag on the top shelf of her wardrobe. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief and congratulated themselves on a good job done. The “nurse” and “policeman” left soon after.

Still feeling shaky, my mother sat down and had a cup of coffee, then went to check the plastic bag in her wardrobe. It contained huge pebbles (I subsequently discovered they came from a plant display in the lobby of her block of flats). She called the police straightaway and reported the theft, but it was too late. A sympathetic policewoman took down her account of what had happened, but had to tell her there was very little chance of anything being recovered. The pair had stolen stuff from masses of pensioners in the area and were probably already on their way to Italy.

The safe deposit box had contained most of my mother’s jewels (luckily she wore a few favourite pieces every day, so they escaped unscathed); among them was a beautiful brooch, which I’d always wanted to wear – from age three, I think. It also contained her father's cigarette case, my father’s signet ring (a present from a beloved member of his family) and a Patek Philippe watch that had belonged to his father.

But it’s that brooch I miss.

It’s quite possible that, if a Crimestoppers-style website had existed then, that particular incident wouldn’t have happened.

I want to slap all those heartless villains who prey on helpless old people and rob them of some of their memories, not to mention their dignity. My mother never recovered from the shock and the feeling that she’d been made a fool of. She also felt she’d let me down, I think.


If anyone has seen the brooch above, please let me know.

Saturday, 19 November 2005

You’re sharing my life; what shall I call you?

In recent years it’s become fashionable for young, unmarried French women to refer to their boyfriends, partners, companions, etc. as “mon chéri”. It means "my darling" and, if you’re talking to the person, it's fine, but, if you’re talking about them to someone else, it becomes something like “my sweetie”. They’ll say, “J’ai demandé à mon chéri de venir avec moi.” (I asked my sweetie to come with me.) “Mon chéri does this.” “Mon chéri says that.” Ugh!

It’s cute in the worst possible way; it’s twee; it’s much too intimate for everyday use (it’s a glimpse into the bedroom) and it's so smug. It's not possible to adequately convey how silly it sounds. It makes me bristle.

The men don’t do it, of course. And therein lies my main objection to it. It’s the little woman talking about “her man” and somehow stressing the fact that she has got a man. In the past, some women would say “mon homme”, but it was usually ironic, or, if it wasn’t, it was the preserve of lower-class women (think of Piaf and that song).

I want my relationship to be based on equality and what I call the other person in that relationship should reflect it. But, then, I’m an old feminist. These young French women already belong to a different era: it’s again ok for them to define themselves in relation to a man and they see nothing wrong in being a simpering female, constantly looking up to her “chéri”.

A slap to those misguided women! It might rebound on them some day.

PS. By the way, heterosexual French women do not call each other “chérie”. Not ever!

Wednesday, 16 November 2005

A modern shopping saga

A friend of mine has promised her mother a DVD player and a DVD for her birthday (mostly because her mother resents giving her the free DVDs she gets with the newspaper she reads – and there was me thinking all mothers were selfless creatures who gave everything to their offspring and never knew envy).

This should be quite easy to achieve, you might think, but it hasn’t been going very well.

She did her research and found that the cheapest and best player was a Toshiba at under £40. It was available from Amazon, so she ordered it a couple of weeks ago. Ok, one DVD player on the way.

Mother expressed the wish to own a copy of Pretty Woman, although it seems to be constantly shown on TV (at least, I feel like I’m constantly watching it; I feel compelled to watch it every time it’s broadcast and it seems to me I’ve seen it a lot over the past few years). Still, my friend is a dutiful daughter and, what Mother wants, Mother gets. According to an ad in the paper, HMV had it at £6.99. So all she had to do was to go and buy it there.

Except that the nearest brick-and-mortar HMV didn’t have it. It only had a special edition at £15.99. Same price on Amazon. Drat! Why should one pay over the odds? Luckily, WH Smith, next door, had a copy of it for £12.99. Good, no need to worry about it any more.

However, the next day, my friend discovers that Pretty Woman now costs £6.99 on Amazon. I know she’s already bought it, but can one help checking things out? ’course not. So, she orders a copy from Amazon and decides to return the other one to WH Smith. She doesn’t get around to doing it for a couple of days and, in the meantime, guess what!, Pretty Woman appears at HMV at £6.99, as originally advertised. Fearing that the Amazon DVD might arrive later than the DVD player (Mother is now clamouring for her pressies: her birthday’s been and gone), my friend buys another copy of Pretty Woman at HMV and returns the WH Smith one. She knows she will have to return the extra copy to either Amazon or HMV, but that shouldn’t be a problem.

The DVD from Amazon hasn’t surfaced yet, but it should be here anon, and next weekend Mother should be able to watch her favourite film on her new DVD player. (If she can operate it, that is. She can’t use the VCR. What are the chances of her being able to fathom the mysteries of the multiple-choice menu? Never mind, she wants it, she can have it.)

Well, she should have been able to watch it. This morning my friend received an email from Amazon: the DVD player is not available right now; there is a delay of at least two weeks.

Two DVDs and no player! It used to be so easy!


Update (1st Dec): yesterday my friend received an email from Amazon informing her that there was now a delay of 4-6 weeks on the DVD player. She has cancelled her order, but has just found that the player was sold out in Dixons. It doesn't get easier. She only has one DVD now, though.

Saturday, 12 November 2005

The National Theatre



You don't want to know.

Thursday, 10 November 2005

The customer used to be always right

A couple of years ago, I opened a savings account with a great big bank that spends a lot on advertising and, because they’re normally quite good, I recommended them to a friend of mine. My friend and I were talking about our bank yesterday and she said en passant she’d just received a present from them – a calculator. The accompanying letter read, “Happy Anniversary – and thank you for your loyalty! It’s been a year since you first opened a savings account with us and to celebrate we’ve enclosed a particularly apt gift.”

Hey, hang on! I’ve been a customer much longer. I like to be treated fairly, me. Let me have a tantrum. So I get on the phone to them and the man at the other end says, “We send calculators to a small selection of people every month – about 20,000 customers [doesn’t sound like such a small selection to me, but what do I know?] and I’m afraid your name didn’t come up.” I make some disappointed noises and he goes, “Hold on, Mrs So-and-Such [no one can ever pronounce my name properly and, as we know, banks do not recognize Ms], I’ll go and ask my supervisor.” He goes away and keeps me waiting for several long minutes. When he comes back, the answer is still negative. I say, “This is bad business practice, you know. In a case like this, the response should be, ‘Yes, of course, Ms So-and-So, I will make sure you receive a calculator as soon as possible. Don’t worry, I have your address and please accept our apologies,’ not disappearing for ages and then saying, ‘No, sorry, we can’t send you this calculator that’s costing us 5p.’ You don’t expect your customers to talk to each other, do you? That’s a big mistake.” He goes, “I will pass on your comments.” “Please do. This call has now become a complaint.”

It’s not the calculator; it’s the principle of the thing. Well, it’s the calculator as well: it’s very nice, with soft, rubbery keys and big figures, easily legible – just right for older eyes like mine. (What can I say: I like freebies.)

It’s the same with banks that give better rates of interest to new customers and forget about their older ones. It’s not fair. There’s nothing much we can do about it, except phone up and demand the same benefits.

Bad business practice can be found everywhere. Some years ago, tired from an afternoon spent traipsing around shops, my partner and I felt like having a little sit down somewhere. It was before the advent of Starbucks and other Cafés Rouges. We spotted a Pizzaland and asked whether we could have a pot of tea. The place was absolutely deserted, but the answer was, “No, we’re only open for meals now.” Pizzaland wasn’t exactly a chain of posh restaurants where tables were set with white damask tablecloths and napkins, which would have taken ages to change. This kind of thing would have been inconceivable in France and I expect in the US too. You do not turn a customer away when it takes so little effort to accommodate them.

Once I was in Debenhams, on Oxford Street, not long before closing time. I spotted a jacket I liked and tried it on; it fitted me and I took it to the cash desk. The sales assistant was about to start putting things away, but she hadn't closed the cash register yet. Instead of spending all that time telling me that she couldn’t let me have the garment, she could have taken my money (I was paying cash) and wrapped the jacket up in several layers of tissue paper and put a ribbon around it. But, no, she wouldn’t budge. I had to go back the next day (the jacket was that nice). Now, my parents had a shop and my mother would never ever ever have sent a customer away, whatever time it was: even if you’d turned up at 9pm (we used to have our meals in the back room), she would have served you. I expect that Debenhams sales assistant wasn’t on commission, otherwise she would have cared about a lost sale (she couldn’t know I’d be coming back).

How difficult is it to satisfy most customers?


Monday, 7 November 2005

Catch me if you can

Earlier this year, the charity ActionAid found that South African women labourers who grow fruit sold in Tesco had to put up with poor wages and unacceptable working conditions.

Of course Tesco deserve to be slapped for that. We all want cheaper food, but not at other people's expense, surely.

However, something else bothers me: a representative of Tesco was interviewed the other day on You & Yours, on Radio 4. He was asked why all the points raised by ActionAid had never come to the attention of Tesco before. His answer was that he deplored it, of course, but they had inspected those farms and found nothing untoward. Asked whether Tesco did those inspections unannounced, he said, “No, we usually tell the farmers that we’re coming.” Duh!

How can they be expected to have a clear picture of the situation if they warn the owners of those farms they’re coming to inspect their premises and the workers’ quarters, etc.? Also, is anyone working there likely to tell the truth about how little they earn (not even the South African minimum wage) if their employer’s standing next to them while they’re being interviewed? It’s preposterous. It’s criminal. And it’s not the first time this kind of thing has happened.

On 23 June 1944, two Swiss delegates of the International Red Cross and two representatives of the Danish government visited the Theresienstadt ghetto. As soon as they’d announced their visit – six months earlier, the Nazis had undertaken a huge programme of “beautification”, which involved turning the place into a fake Jewish town, complete with bank, café and other shops. And guess what, the Red Cross liked what they saw and gave them a glowing report. (You can read a concise account of the background to that visit here) They visited it again on 6 April 1945 and again were happy with what they saw.

The Red Cross also visited Auschwitz, again not unannounced, and this time failed to notice that the shower rooms were in fact gas chambers. According to them, everything was hunky-dory. There are no words….

So, to all those so-called inspectors: the ones who announce their arrival with a fanfare, and then avert their eyes and choose not to see – SLAP!

Thursday, 3 November 2005

Tête à claques IV

Anne-Sophie Mutter was back in town last month. I didn’t go to her concert. She's stood me up twice in the past. There is a limit!

Back in February 1999, when I was peacefully waiting for death, she played Beethoven Violin Sonatas, over three nights, on BBC2 – like an angel. It was moving, soothing, life affirming. I vowed to go and listen to her live at the first opportunity.

She came to London in June 2001. I’d recently had the flu (the real one; the one that would stop you from getting out of bed and picking up a £50 note if there was one just outside your door and it meant you had to get out of bed). The stupid flu had triggered a bad bout of cervical arthritis and I could hardly sit with my head straight for any length of time, but she was going to play the Korngold Violin Concerto and the combination of Anne-Sophie Mutter and Korngold was too attractive to miss.

I staggered to the Barbican Concert Hall only to find that she wasn’t going to play the Korngold but some composition by her new beau, André Previn. I was livid. The piece was unremarkable and unworthy of her talent. By the end of it, I was livid and feeling dizzy. Still, ok, I’d heard Anne-Sophie live. I’d seen her and could testify that the beautiful strapless dress she wore (she always wears stunning strapless dresses) stayed on whatever she did with that lovely instrument of hers.

The arrogance of the woman, though! Did she assume people would come and listen to her, whatever rubbish she played? She did, didn’t she? Well, she was wrong, in my case: I’m not a groupie; I wanted to hear her play one of my favourite pieces of music (I have a recording of Jascha Heifetz playing the Korngold and I love it). I wanted to hear it, not something else.

Two years later she was back. Again she was going to play the Korngold. Again I booked a ticket. Again she didn’t play it. She didn’t play at all. They said she was unwell. I was warned by email from the Barbican and decided to return my ticket. What they didn’t say was that the great Maxim Vengerov would step in and play some other beautiful piece wonderfully, so I’d cut my nose to spite my face by not going at all, but it was the principle of the thing. Oh, and I didn’t believe she was ill, by the way: some better offer must have come up.

I've learned since that she's not only arrogant, but very very greedy. This is what Norman Lebrecht wrote about her in the Evening Standard, last month:

“At 42 she makes well over three million dollars a year from sixty performances, which is more than the combined income of players in a symphony orchestra in Britain or Scandinavia.

Ahead of next year's Mozart jamboree – it's the 250th anniversary of his birth – Mutter astutely organised a world tour of the violin concertos and sonatas. The LSO booked her sonata cycle, three nights at £30,000 each – breaking the budget rules, but just about justifiable in terms of a warm long-term relationship and virtual exclusivity.

Then Mutter decided to play the concertos with the London Philharmonic at an earlier brace of concerts, and record them for DG. By the time she reached the Barbican a fortnight ago, whatever musical curiosity London felt about her Mozart had been thoroughly exhausted and only sixty percent of the tickets were sold. The Barbican echoed with empty spaces and the LSO, which paid for the series, was left with a substantial loss. Mutter, I hear on the grapevine, was asked to reduce her invoice and bluntly refused.”

Lebrecht is asking for her to be banned from the London music scene. Apparently, she was banned 12 years ago, for two seasons, because she would not drop her £10,000 fee.

She deserves to be slapped. And, while I’m at it, I’m slapping all the female performers (actresses, musicians, etc.) who insist on working more or less exclusively with their hubbies. It’s yucky. It’s ridiculous. There are quite a few out there (and, yes, that includes Susan Sarandon & Tim Robbins). Slap!

Tuesday, 1 November 2005


This is the state of my bathroom now!

Friday, 28 October 2005

It’s all my mother’s fault – a tribute (of sorts)

In 1959, my mother went to Poland to visit some cousins of hers and to bring them part of the money they needed to bribe officials in order to be allowed to emigrate to Israel (btw, in your dreams, Iran, in your dreams!). She should have been a spy, my mother; she took dollars rolled up inside a couple of emptied toothpaste tubes and sewn into the lining of her clothes. A year later, they managed to leave Poland and move to the city of Ashkelon, where, at the time, you could bend down and pick up bits of Roman artefacts in the road (and where the word ‘échalote’ – shallot – comes from: isn’t this more fun than Wikipedia, eh?).

Now, earlier on, those cousins of hers, they had sent me a traditional costume from one of the Polish provinces (see pic). I was about eight or nine at the time and I blame it (and my mother) for my dislike of fancy-dress anything, because, for the next several years, I was paraded in the streets of Paris, wearing that costume, on Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras, pronounced “mahrdee-GRAH”, in French; btw, “coup de grâce” is pronounced “coo-duh-GRASS” not “coo-duh-grah” – drives me nuts). I was a very very shy little girl and there I was, saddled with a mother whose middle name was “gregarious”. She embarrassed me all the time and never more so than the day she pushed me on to the stage of the Alhambra theatre and forced me to join a whole lot of poor little red-faced kids, all wearing fancy dress, just before a live programme presented by a guy called Jean Nohain, who looooooved little children. No, no, I’m sure he was all right, but he was so unctuous that, even then, when I used to watch his programmes, I felt like throwing up, so you can imagine how I felt on that stage. When the show started, we all filed in front of him and said our names into the microphone and what costumes we were wearing. I was a big hit, although what the viewers thought of it in black and white I have no idea. Within a minute I found myself in the wings on the other side of the stage and vowed to never ever put on that costume again – or any other costume, for that matter.

That’s why I will not take part in any Halloween celebration (I wouldn’t anyway: Halloween’s nothing to do with me) and I absolutely hate dressing up.

Today is the 9th anniversary of my mother’s death; I shouldn’t really slap her, but she won’t mind: we had that kind of relationship. No, no, I don’t mean we hit each other all over the place, but it was, shall we say, “robust”. (You can start rowing again, Mum!)

The Dead
The dead are always looking down on us, they say,
while we are putting on our shoes or making a sandwich,
they are looking down through the glass-bottom boats of heaven
as they row themselves slowly through eternity

They watch the tops of our heads moving below on earth,
and when we lie down in a field or on a couch,
drugged perhaps by the hum of a warm afternoon,
they think we are looking back at them,

which makes them lift their oars and fall silent
and wait, like parents, for us to close our eyes.
Billy Collins

Thursday, 27 October 2005

“Smoke gets in your eyes” - no more

So, at last there is to be a smoking ban in public places in England. Not before time. It’s been a bit of a shambles in the last few days: at one point, it looked as if MPs wouldn’t be able to come to an agreement, but it should be finalized by now. It will probably allow smoking in private members’ clubs, and pubs that don’t serve food will be able to choose whether they allow smoking or not. A total ban would be much better, but this is not a bad compromise.

I was reminded today that I only smoked for about a year (when I was a student at the Sorbonne, in the 60s) and only “blondes” or menthol cigarettes. When I started getting migraines I stopped and never took it up again. Cigarette smoke still gives me a headache.

Who would have thought twenty years ago that smoking would be banned from restaurants? I remember an occasion when I dared to ask a couple of work colleagues not to smoke while we were having our meal (it was a birthday party; we were in a basement with a very low ceiling) and was berated for being a spoilsport. I had to endure having smoke blown in my face during the entire meal and, of course, ended up with a splitting headache. It made me very angry.

The consequences of smoking are now well known and there is no excuse for lighting up. I’m sure it’s quite difficult to quit if you’re a heavy smoker, i.e. an addict, but it can be done if you’re strongly motivated: my father stopped smoking overnight after having a heart attack at the age of 65, and that was before patches and other chewing gums.

And remember: “Kissing a smoker is like licking an ashtray”. Blech!
I’d like to slap those people who made me feel like a freak and a killjoy on that particular day (I think I deserve an apology from them, actually) and anyone who’s ever imposed their antisocial habit on those of us who wish to breathe clean-ish air. Slap!

Wednesday, 26 October 2005

I thought I'd suffered enough

This is the state of my bathroom! Do I care about anything else right this minute? Er, not much, no.

The plumber was wrong (see Jericho! post): the tiles had nothing to do with the downstairs wall being damp. The culprit is (because it's not repaired yet) a pipe under my bath. Since it wasn't causing any damage to my own flat, I couldn't alert anyone.

The plumber turned up this morning (I don't do mornings!); tutted an awful lot; make a great deal of racket (the cat is, fortunately, safely ensconced with my partner across the walkway); swore quite a lot; tried to take the bath out of the bathroom, but had to give up; cleared up some of the mess that was left by the lazy people who put the bath in 15 years ago, and then left to get some "parts".

He's coming back tomorrow morning. I DON'T DO MORNINGS!

Sunday, 23 October 2005

A Tale of Two Titties

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month – still for a few more days. I am aware. Are you?

There’s no history of breast cancer in my family. That might be, of course, because many female members of my family didn’t live to an age when they might have developed it – thanks to rampaging Cossacks and assorted Nazis, but, for nearly the whole of February 1999, I believed I had it. I’d had cancer of the eye nine years before and I was sure it had caught up with me again. It went like this:

Thursday 28th January: Noticed a strange stain on my T-shirt, level with my right breast. Saw my GP straightaway, then later a consultant at the Cromwell Hospital (I will not apologize for going private: that specialist was seeing me after working all day in the NHS). Mixed messages: it’s absolutely nothing – probably a papilloma; you must have an ultrasound and a mammogram first thing tomorrow morning.

Friday 29th January: First mammogram. The most excruciating pain I had ever endured so far (and my pain threshold is very high). Mammograms save lives, but don’t let anyone tell you they’re painless: they’re not if you’ve got very small breasts and the machine doesn’t have much to squeeze; mine kept popping out and getting squashed in the wrong place. Of course, I misread the signs again (like, nine years earlier, when the person doing the ultrasound on my eye had suddenly stopped chatting): this time the young nurse went out of the room and came back with an older one; they told me some fib about lunch break. Yeah, right!

Saturday 30th January: First thing in the morning, the consultant announced they’d found multiple calcifications in my right breast and, according to the Marsden, it was most probably cancer, but, not to worry, he would remove those calcifications with a wire hook while I was having a mammogram and…. I heard the word “mammogram” and said, “Wouldn’t it be easier to just cut it off?” “Erm, yes, of course, but there’s no need…” I stopped listening after that.

A little later, after he’d explained – and drawn on my breast – how he would cut me up, I left the tiny consulting room on my own. My partner was asked to stay behind on some pretext and was told that, in fact, they believed I had cancer in the other breast as well. I managed to find out a few minutes later: my brain wasn’t working very well at that point, but I wasn’t that stupid!

Mr L. was going on holiday somewhere exotic so he wouldn’t be able to perform the mastectomies until the end of the month. Did I want someone else to do it? No. I think they probably expected me to change my mind in the meantime, but I didn’t. From the moment I knew there was something the matter with them, i.e. on the way to the GP’s surgery, two days previously, my breasts had become the enemy; things that might kill me and I didn’t want anything to do with them any longer; I could never feel the same about them; I didn’t want to be constantly afraid of them.

I spent three weeks on Valium, very calm and contented, planning my death. I had a double mastectomy on 26th February. Two days later, Mr L. turned up brandishing a sheet of paper: it was the histology report. It said there was no trace of cancer anywhere. They call it a false positive. I call it a miracle.

I have never regretted my decision to have mastectomies. Sure, it would have been nice if I hadn’t had all those lymph nodes removed from both armpits, which makes me vulnerable to lymphoedema at any time in the future, if I’m not careful, but apart from that, no, no regrets.

I saw a documentary recently about Marsha Hunt, who's had breast cancer. She’s amazingly resilient, but she was criticized for being so relentlessly upbeat. They said other women might feel guilty for not being so strong and so optimistic. There’s some truth in that. People go on about “battle” and “fight”. Yes, you’re fighting a disease. Yes, you’re fighting for your life, but there is no shame in not being strong; there is no shame in giving up or losing that fight.

Anyway, I want to slap anyone who doesn’t advise women properly and clearly; anyone who tells women what they want to hear rather than the truth. How many women have died because they weren’t told, “If you only have a lumpectomy, the cancer will probably come back and you will have to have a mastectomy anyway, but by then the cancer will be more advanced and therefore more difficult to eradicate.”?

And what’s with reconstruction? It so often leads to complications. You’ve got cancer; why would you want to subject yourself to more – unnecessary – operations? I just can’t understand it. I won’t even say what I think of women who take the opportunity to increase their bust size.

By the time cancer is diagnosed, your body has to get rid of one billion cancerous cells. If, g-d forbid, it happens to you, don’t say, “I’d rather die!” That’s what you’re saying if you’re not doing your utmost to eradicate the cancer from your body – with the most radical means you have at your disposal.

[I owe the title of this post to the most hilarious show on BBC Radio 4: I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue. I hope it doesn't offend anyone.]

Wednesday, 19 October 2005

What's in a name?

So your surname is Davis and you have a son in 1948; what do you call him? Why, David, of course! It has a certain ring to it – David Davis. Not.

I was born in France, the same year as the man who wants to be the next leader of the Conservative Party (as if I care) and my parents gave me the two most popular names for girls that year. They weren’t aware of that fact: they arrived at those two names through a long and complicated process involving the Bible, French translations of Hebrew names, dead grandmothers, etc. Still, thanks to them, I have two nice (and patriotic) names, which suit me; which have never sounded ridiculous and which I've never been ashamed of. They never will sound silly either because, although popular in 1948, they were not “fashionable”; they are old and have stood the test of time.

If you’re a responsible parent you owe it to your kids not to burden them with preposterous-sounding names. You do not call your daughters Fifi Trixiebelle or Peaches Honeyblossom, for instance. Or even Apple or Lourdes. You just don’t. Those names are ok for babies and toddlers, not for grown-ups. You don’t give them the name of the latest pop idol, whom no one will remember when you’re long gone and your kids are themselves grandparents.

If you’re not French I don’t expect you to be able to “sense” how utterly stupid the name “Ninette de Valois” sounds to my ears. “Ninette” is a diminutive and, combined with the aristocratic “de Valois”, it creates a weird picture. It’s impossible to take it seriously. Ok, that was a made-up stage name, but it’s never a good idea for the name on the birth certificate to be a diminutive. Let it be the full-size version and let the person shorten it later if they wish to do so! By the way, Minette, as in Minette Walters, is a traditional kiddies' name for a female pussycat.

What about Ruby Wax, who gave her three children names beginning with the same letter? Must make finding your school stuff in the morning easy, mustn’t it? Does she have a fetish for a certain letter of the alphabet, or what? I find it moronic.
Same thing with punning names, like the BBC's Jo King. And if your surname is Shakespeare, please don't call your son William.

Tonight I feel like slapping selfish and ultimately cruel parents, whose children will be mercilessly bullied because of their lack of foresight. Slap!

Sunday, 16 October 2005

Please ask someone else

I’ve already slapped my flat for refusing to grow; I could slap it today for refusing to get clean by itself, but I won’t because I have another slappee in mind.

In the past three days, I’ve been tidying up and dusting, etc. with the TV on. I find most boring tasks become less boring with an afternoon film on the box. Actually, sometimes watching daytime TV leads to witnessing more important things, like on a certain afternoon in September 2001, when, waiting for something to start on TV, I went to the kitchen to make myself some lunch and halfway through turned around to see if the programme had started and instead saw two towers, one of which was sprouting smoke. Puzzled (the sound was off), I got closer and never left that spot again for the next two hours.

Television has always played a big part in my life: I remember the Coronation of our Queenie in 1953; the Hungarian uprising in 1956, etc. When I say to people that I was watching TV when I was two, they shrug “so what”: they were watching it in the womb. Ah, but I was born in 1948 and the number of TV sets in France in 1950 could be counted on the fingers of one hand, more or less. My father was mad about gadgets: he bought one of the first Polaroid cameras available in France; the first transistor; the first portable tape-recorder, etc. He would love all the new technology on offer these days.

Anyway, when I’m at home I often watch B-movies in the afternoon, mostly on Channel Five: I love stories about babies snatched at birth and reunited with their mothers twenty years later. I like a good cry. But yesterday I was suddenly struck by the kinds of adverts that are shown during those films. I understand the ones about health insurance; the ones about foods that no yuppie would ever eat; the ones about weird kitchen gadgets, but I don’t understand why there are so many ads for charities. Apart from me, who watches TV in the afternoon? The old, the unemployed, mothers with babies, i.e. people with not much money. Why are they the target audience of those ads? Ah, I know: an old person is more liable to be touched by a short film showing a poor little kid crying in its crib with a voice-over saying that no one will answer its cries, or a tiny puppy yelping as it's being thrown out with the rubbish, or an emaciated African baby gasping for air in its mother’s arms. They tug at your heart and it’s almost impossible to resist calling the phone number on the screen and donate your whole meagre pension there and then. It’s cynical and cruel.

So I’m slapping those charities and the programmers: they are targeting the wrong people. Well, obviously not the wrong people because it works, otherwise they wouldn’t carry on doing it, but those ads should be shown in the evening, when people in full-time employment are back from their offices, where they probably earned enough money to donate to others less fortunate, but probably don’t because they’re not given an easy phone number to call there and then. Slap!

Wednesday, 12 October 2005

I've been tagged

My friend Mireille of C'est Chic has tagged me: I don't know whether I should slap her or give her a hug.

Anyway, here are 20 random facts about me:

I hate hairdressers (I’ve cut my own hair since 1969)
The only musical I truly love is Les Misérables
Oysters and artichokes are two of my favourite foods
I’ve never been really drunk
I bit my nails for 25 years and then I stopped (more or less overnight)
I hate flying, but I hate sailing even more
I believe “a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle”
I wear cardigans – that’s how uncool I am
I should get myself a pair of reading glasses
I understand Russian swear words
I was friends with Rupert Everett when he was 16
I once had a guinea pig that had three babies a few days after I got her
I was 37 when I found love
Je suis soupe au lait (hee hee!)
I’ve tried very hard to get a crush on Gary Sinise in CSI: NY, but I can’t
I love sunlight, but I always feel better once the curtains have been drawn and the electricity switched on
I can still translate from the Latin – after 35 years
I believe actors have the best psychological insights
I haven’t read Harry Potter and have no intention of doing so – ever
I can remember the ‘60s – and I was there

Now comes the fun part. I'd like to tag:
still life of dancing in place
Tania of
Brain Trapped in Girl's Body
The Great She Elephant
Katiedid of
Seldom Nice Nowadays
Urban Chick

Monday, 10 October 2005

Thou shalt not annoy thy neighbour

Apart from a few months in 1974, I have never lived in a house, always in flats – from day one. I know how to live in shoe boxes, surrounded by other people.

I’ve had quite a few problems with noisy neighbours in London: one young boy played the drums “on my head” for a year; a couple of Italians rebuilt their bathroom, next door to me, from 8pm to 11pm for a whole month; a restaurant chef had parties and machine-washed her dirty working clothes in the middle of the night, every night, for six months; when I first moved to my current block of flats, I found myself confronted with two brothers from hell, whose favourite pastimes were watching A Clockwork Orange with the sound on full and making animal noises (it got so bad I had to sell that particular flat and move to another one in the building).

I am very quiet: I never listen to loud music and I watch TV with earphones. In the middle of the night, when all is still, any TV sound – however low – can be heard through our paper-thin walls. Yet, lots of people who live in my building never give that fact a thought. They also talk very loudly on the telephone, on the walkways. (Have you noticed how much noisier the world has become? Before the advent of the mobile phone, a person on their own wouldn’t have made any noise, would they? Now they do and they add to the ambient cacophony.)

Today I saw someone on the 4th-floor walkway throw the dregs of the coffee he’d been drinking over the railing, without even looking down to see if there was someone in the communal garden. A lot of prospective tenants lie to landlords when asked whether they smoke and later have to resort to smoking on the walkways: their cigarette butts usually end up in the garden too.

I always wonder where those kinds of people have been brought up. The word pigsty comes to mind.

What about that couple who’ve been throwing their baby’s dirty nappies over their balcony? That’s been happening in a council block somewhere else in London – unbelievable, isn’t it? Or is it?

My upstairs neighbour left about ten days ago and the owner has been redecorating the flat. Someone new is bound to move in soon. I’m dreading it.

Tonight I’m slapping all bad neighbours, all those who only care about themselves and show no regard for the people who live next door to them. Slap!

Friday, 7 October 2005

And what will Madam have for afters?

There’s this restaurant on the King’s Road. It’s called Big Easy and it’s been around since 1991. I’ve never eaten there, but I’ve just read a review of it by Toby Young (not my favourite person in the world, but he seems to know his stuff). Apparently Big Easy has “always been renowned for its huge portions, but at the beginning of this month they went one better and introduced the Lobster Challenge. This is a plate of food that includes a 2lb steak, a 1lb portion of chips and a 4lb lobster, making it Britain’s most calorific meal. If you can finish it in one sitting, your name goes up on a board in the basement.”

What on earth do they think they’re doing? I love America, but there are a few things we shouldn’t emulate and one of them is the amount of food its inhabitants consume. There is already a problem with obesity in this country, especially among children. Who in their right mind would encourage people to eat more?

Ok, the food served by Big Easy is not junk, but it only makes it marginally better. What about the junk people shove down their throats on a regular basis?

Enter Sir Jamie Oliver! (He’s already got an MBE, but he deserves to be knighted ASAP – don’t you just love acronyms?) You know, you hear about this programme on the telly, about how Jamie Oliver tried to change school dinners and stop kiddies eating crap and you go, “Yeah, yeah! Another one of his antics!” But you watch it anyway because it’s been trailed to death and you know everyone will be watching it and you want to be able to discuss it with your mates and – BAM! – it’s a revelation. The guy is amazing. And what he’s done is incredible. He’s forced the government to take action about the problem. Unheard of!

Hey, my American friends, Jamie is landing on your shores very soon. He’s determined to tackle your junk food problems. I wonder if you’re prepared for him.

We in the UK have just had a wake-up call. I’m slapping Big Easy and all the other promoters of force-feeding out there. They’re like drug peddlers. They have to be stopped. At least the red-and-yellow people with the arches never got to impose their supersize portions on us here.

PS. Who said I didn’t like celebrity chefs. *grin*

Tuesday, 4 October 2005

Tête à claques III

I know Nigella doesn't quite qualify as a “tête à claques” – she doesn’t look like a sheep, doesn’t keep her mouth open all the time (only some of the time) – but she annoys the hell out of me nonetheless.

She’s such a bad role model.

From serious journalist to celebrity TV cook – what kind of a career is that?

She used to write a column in the Evening Standard: she had a lot of common sense and I remember agreeing with practically everything she said at the time. It was grounded; there was no bullsh*t.

Was it marrying John Diamond (who was probably cleverer than she)? Was it getting children? What happened to her brain? It went mushy. And she developed an insatiable thirst for fame (perhaps it was dormant before: the Lawsons are a very competitive family).

Her cookery programmes were always an embarrassment, verging on the pornographic as they were (“Please put that tongue away!”), but what made them absolutely unbearable by the end was the knowledge that her husband was at home, dying of throat cancer and incapable of tasting any of those marvellous dishes she was preparing so lovingly for the rest of the nation. She became famous for her cooking just as he was obviously getting worse. That was the most cruel thing ever.

But, wait!, that’s not all: minutes after her husband’s death she took up with millionaire Charles Saatchi (“So, tell us, what attracted you to millionaire Charles Saatchi?”) and became a party girl. She went to live with Saatchi in Mayfair, but not before she unnecessarily dissed the area where she used to live with JD – my area, Shepherds Bush! She did the whole place a lot of harm (you know how suggestible people are). She gave millions of interviews in which she asserted her “right to be happy”– regardless of the circumstances. I could take it from a brainless chick, but she’s an intelligent woman (although I’m beginning to wonder about that; perhaps she’s just “shrewd”).

Anyway, she now appears in magazines everywhere – not in the editorial sections, in those pages where they show what silly celebrities get up to at the latest parties. Always smiling; always “happy”. That’s what she wants to be, after all.


Monday, 3 October 2005

While you wait...

I'm chasing my tail today so I haven't got time to be annoyed by anything much. Thought you might like to ponder on these two fascinating facts (well, I find them fascinating) while you wait (with bated breath, I'm sure) for my next post:

1) Doctors always deliver babies from the right-hand side of the bed.
2) Women use both sides of their brains to process sounds.

See you later...

Saturday, 1 October 2005

Never pay retail

I went to TK Maxx (TJ Maxx in the US, go figure!) earlier today; I was looking for more cashmere to satisfy my new-found obsession with goat hair. I came across a strange garment: a kind of knitted tabard, i.e. a sleeveless, collarless, rather charmless nothing piece of clothing. It was originally on sale at French Connection for £50. TK Maxx was selling it for £16.99. And even at that price it was too expensive.

I was brought up in the rag trade district in Paris, aka the Marais – pre-art galleries and bijou boutiques. My father was a confectionneur de vêtements imperméables (he made raincoats) and we never bought any garments in shops: we bought everything at wholesale prices. It was great but it also meant that I never had any interest in clothes. They were things that my parents’ friends and acquaintances provided, and choice was limited to what those people could offer.

But those people, who had workshops in the area, also supplied famous labels. I’ve always known that even prestigious prêt-à-porter garments are made in less than prestigious surroundings. In the ‘70s, I lived just outside the Marais, in a quiet back street, next door to the workshops where Louis Vuitton bags and accessories were being made: every night, dustbins full of scraps of that horrible plastic LV-stamped material would be put on the pavement outside. I smile when I see people queuing to be admitted into the Louis Vuitton boutique in Selfridges and see the prices those bags are sold for.

In 1962, my parents opened a shop in Nice and started selling not only raincoats, which my father no longer made, but leather and suede garments, and I learned to recognize quality. I know what good leather should look and feel like. And, more to the point, what it’s worth.

Today, in TK Maxx, faced with that ridiculous piece of knitwear, I wanted to slap retailers who charge outrageous mark-ups so here goes: slap!

PS. I bought a lovely purple sweater (not cashmere), from some American label: it’s beautifully cut and finished. The original price was ludicrous: £146. It was reduced to £12.99 and probably worth around £30. A real bargain.

Thursday, 29 September 2005


If someone says they're going to do something I expect them to do it. How silly of me! Only little children would expect people to be true to their word. How could one possibly expect adults to think things over, come up with a decision and then stick to it? What does it matter if naïve, childish people like me are disappointed? What does it matter if they think that those adults are changeable, untrustworthy, undependable, etc. etc.? What does it matter if it leaves us children feeling let down and foolish for believing them? They never meant it in the first place, did they?

I get it from my father. He was a man of his word. When I was a child, whenever he told me he would bring me back a small toy from his travels, he did – without fail. (At least he had the good sense never to promise not to argue with my mother: his nose would have kept on growing until his death if he had. Noses and ears do carry on growing anyway, but that’s beside the point.) He was rather rigid mentally and I probably take after him. Children need to know where they stand and so do I. I will accept a reasonable excuse for a breach of promise, but I cannot countenance capriciousness and wanton inconsistency. I do not like to be made a fool of nor do I like being strung along.

A slap to all unreliable people out there!

Tuesday, 27 September 2005

What do you want from me? Blood?

I've just filled in my tax return. It takes three days to gather all the figures and about 20 minutes to actually write them down on the form. It has to be sent before September 30th if you want those nice people at the tax office in Cornwall (could my tax office be any farther from where I live?) to calculate the amount of money you need to send them by January 31st (great date that: you have hardly anything left after Christmas!).

My tax affairs are very simple: I earn peanuts (I only work six months of the year). Yet I have to fork out masses of dosh because the personal allowance is so incredibly low. (I’m particularly annoyed at the amount of Class 4 Insurance I have to pay. Don't ask: it’s really complicated – lots of long divisions). Everyone agrees that no one can live in London on my income before tax so how come I still have to pay tax on it? Doesn’t make sense to me.

I don’t resent paying tax as such – I’m a good citizen and the mediocre services we get have to paid for somehow; I just think there should be a lower rate for very small earners. What is one to do? Earn no more than the allowance (currently £4,745) and then go on benefit? It’s preposterous.

I'm quite frugal; I don't spend spend spend; I know the value of money, unlike some people… What was it Catherine Zeta Jones said in that courtroom? Something like (cue weird transatlantic-Welsh accent) “One million may seem like a lot of money to some people in this room, but to us it’s nothing.” Or, on a smaller scale, a little while ago, someone wrote about a range of outrageously priced make-up, “Soixante-dix euros de plus ou de moins ne rendront personne plus riche ou plus pauvre.” (No, I won’t translate it: you understand what it means.) Shades of bird-brained Marie-Antoinette and her “Let them eat cake!” I should have got myself a rich hubby.

Feeling depressed now. Too depressed to slap anyone – not even those two silly women above or Mr Brown.

Update: Sorry about all that kvetching. I’ve now had a good night’s sleep; I feel refreshed and strong enough to slap anyone: so I’m slapping Gordon Brown (and those two arrogant women).

I’d like to clarify a couple of points:

When I say, “I only work six months of the year”, I mean it’s not from choice: I was quite ill a few years ago and couldn’t carry on having deadlines every two or three days, so I had to let go of a big portion of my workload. There is nothing available for me to do to replace that lost income.

When I say, “I earn peanuts”, I mean I earn less than twice the personal allowance before tax (you’ve got the amount, you can work it out).

In France, there is a super-super high-rate tax, called “Impôt de Solidarité sur la Fortune”, which hits people earning over £500,000. In the UK, whether you earn over £500,000 or over £31,400 you're liable to the same tax rate. In France, Inheritance Tax starts around £25,000; here it’s £263,000. There's no mystery, is there? No wonder there's more money in the French kitty.

Saturday, 24 September 2005

I’m menopausal; I must be a frump too

(as well as a moron, of course)

Big Brother is not only watching us but keeping lists of all our birthdays: as soon as I hit 50 – some years ago now – I started receiving catalogues full of strange, loose-fitting, shapeless garments, edged with ruffles or crocheted borders, in yucky, neither-fish-nor-flesh colours. Of course, they’re in man-made fibres because “machine washable” are the two most important words in the language for us “oldies”, aren’t they? I must be a freak: I prefer natural fibres.

My sartorial style doesn’t make the headlines but there is a limit.

There’s also a lovely choice of comfy slippers in super-wide sizes to accommodate one’s bunions. Oh, and bra-fastening extensions. The only items I quite like are the big knickers – thongs are not for me: I don’t wear cheese wires on my bottom.

Those catalogues also feature useful implements to cut one’s toenails without bending over too much and, look!, “real eau de colognes” (sic) in “violet, rose, lily of the valley, honeysuckle, lime or jasmine”. What am I doing drenching myself in a very expensive Serge Lutens fragrance every day? I’m obviously mutton dressed as lamb perfume-wise as well as fashion-wise.

Of course, the models smiling at me on the pages of those catalogues are all young women – not a grey hair in sight. It's just like those stick insects in catalogues for bigger women. Who are they kidding? These women would look good in potato sacks: they look very good in those machine-washable clothes, which come mostly in very large sizes because it’s also assumed that all 50+ women are huge even if, like me, they’ve been very thin all their lives. I have acquired a pair of love handles and “monster thighs” in the course of the menopause (that’s where my last reserve of oestrogen is stocked apparently so I shouldn’t get rid of them), but I’m still a UK size 10.

Thirteen years ago, when I stupidly decided to stop dyeing my hair, I went from being a fiery redhead to a silver-haired “invisible woman”. I aged twenty years overnight. I wouldn’t make the same mistake now and I certainly wouldn’t dream of adding to my handicap.

A slap to the manufacturers of clothes most of us wouldn’t want to be seen dead in, let alone spend 30 years wearing!

Thursday, 22 September 2005

Poor little rich girl

Apparently, I should feel sorry for Kate Moss.

I should feel sorry for this multimillionaire who’s led a charmed life from the age of 14, when she was discovered by the boss of a famous modelling agency. Since then she’s pranced around on the catwalk; been photographed by the greatest photographers and has generally led a life of partying and fun. (Please, please, please, don’t tell me that modelling is hard work!) Cocaine is not the drug of choice of the unhappy: it's the drug that enables the happy to enjoy themselves even more.

She’s now been dropped by several fashion houses that can’t be seen to be condoning drug abuse, even if it is rife in their midst. She brought her downfall on herself. She was arrogant – she thought she could get away with everything. She behaved very stupidly and she’s getting punished for it. She may be a scapegoat, but, hey, tough! It was bound to happen sooner or later to someone.

I feel sorry for the millions of people who are starving in Niger; I feel sorry for the victims of hurricane Katrina; I feel sorry for anyone who’s ill and can’t afford to be treated; I feel sorry for little children who’ve lost their parents; I feel sorry for anyone who’s being mistreated and can’t call for help…

I feel sorry for lots of people, but Kate Moss is not – cannot be – one of them.

I don’t care what you do as long as you don’t ask me to bail you out: you may smoke yourself to death, but don’t ask me to contribute to your treatment when you get lung cancer; you may practise dangerous sports, but don’t ask me to come and rescue you if you get stranded on top of Mount Everest, or on a savage sea off the coast of Cornwall; you may take drugs until your brain goes mushy, but don’t ask me to pay for your rehab. At least Kate Moss won't be a burden on the taxpayer: she will, if she really wants it, get the best treatment, in the best clinic… and then she can do it again, can’t she? Ditch the seedy boyfriend first, though, Kate! He’s bad news.

I’m not slapping her – she’s suffered enough, the poor dear; I’m slapping those who think they can tell me who I should waste my sympathy on. Slap!

Tuesday, 20 September 2005


When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed…

There were no trumpets this morning, but the people – my partner and I – did shout. Not just one loud shout – several. And the wall didn’t collapse, thank goodness, only the tiles in my bathroom. Not all at once, burying us under a ton of “fired earth” or enveloping us in a cloud of plaster dust, but one by one, gently, nicely, in a well-behaved way. It didn’t help with the nightmare, but at least it didn’t make it worse.

Flashback to last Thursday: I got a note from the caretaker (yes, the one whose daughter is still alive in spite of trying to ride my old bike), saying that they, that is the builders that have been bothering us all day long for several weeks, and himself, had noticed a damp patch level with my bathroom on the external wall : there was a leak somewhere.

Panic in Shepherds Bush.

A plumber was summoned. He discovered that some of the tiles in my bathroom, which is tiled from head to toe, were coming off the walls. Oh, that! That’s not new; they’ve been hanging by a thread for several months. I’ve been very busy; I was waiting for the “right time” to do something about them. They didn’t bother me; I was very careful not to splash about when I had my (hand-held) shower.

The plumber’s verdict: there’s no leak anywhere; the wall’s damp because water has been going behind the loose tiles. They have to come off. The nightmare begins. Visions of all the tiles crashing down, etc. etc.

Back to the present. The loose tiles have been removed. I still can’t have anything done to the walls (I’d rather have them painted: you can see what’s happening at any given moment) because the outside wall has to dry up first.

I find it all very distressing. I like to do things myself. I feel powerless in front of those semi-bare walls.

Oh yes, the slap! I suppose I should slap myself for not dealing with the problem earlier. And I’m slapping my tiles for hiding the problem in the first place. So there!