Summer 2010

Have been struggling to get into writing my next book, which will be a memoir. Not an autobiography, please note. I would have to tell the truth, get the dates right, do research, with a biog. But a memoir is a memory as you remember it, is it not? And if what I remember has been embroidered upon, or dreamt up, well, that’s what I remember. I am very nervous about it. There’s a danger of just rambling on as I do in these blogs. There does not seem to be the discipline of a novel, and discipline is what I need. Actually discipline is what I need in everything: my nature is to talk to much, eat too much, write too much, work too much, just do too much altogether.   One suggestion for the title of the book reflects the idea of too much appetite for everything: “Relish”. Any comments? I am not sure about it.

Have you read Wolf Hall? I’ve struggled a bit with Hilary Mantel in the past but this is un-put-downable. It’s huge, which it has to be since it is based on the life of Thomas Cromwell who had fingers in so many pies he makes my life look like that of a gnat. The book is panoramic in scope and bubbling, if not festering, with larger than life characters. Anne Boleyn is both exotic and terrifying, Henry VIII endearing, enraging, admirable and laughable.  Other rattling good reads are The Three of Us, by Julia Blackburn which is a touching and harrowing tale of growing up with her sex-mad bohemian mother and drunken father. Then A Feast of Freud is a collection of some of Clement Freud’s funniest writing. And Lionel Shriver’s So Much for That is a tale of love and loss with a background of the American health service that makes the NHS look like very heaven.  I wish I wrote as well as any of the above.   

But since I am never likely to write like Mantel or sell like her either, and I am no longer much of a wage earner, we’ve decided to sell our London house, in which we all have flats. I find to my astonishment that I don’t really mind. Son Daniel and his wife Emma want more room for their fast growing (but still delicious) baby son Malachi, now nearly six months old,  and,  for (I hope but dare not ask) future siblings for him.  

Daughter Li-Da doesn’t mind where she lives as long as it’s on the central line and within reach of an airport. Abroad is what she likes.  And as I hope to spend more time in the Cotswolds, I don’t really need a London flat and so am trying to wheedle my way into the Chelsea Arts Club. I like the idea of propping up the bar with interesting bohemians and staying the odd night in London without crippling hotel costs.

Of course they might not have me. They used to take non-visual artists like singers and pianists and writers, but are pickier now.  Does a cookery-writer-turned novelist qualify as an artist? I expect not. I would argue – I will argue – that cooking is an art anyway, but that may not wash.  To be certain of membership you need to be a painter or sculptor, and a damned good one.  Every year they produce a diary that the members contribute gratis to, and, although I don’t use a paper diary anymore, I still want one – every page a treat. 

So currently there are agents tramping through our Notting Hill Gate house, bringing women who look askance at the bathrooms and kitchens, imagining, I am sure, paint being replaced with marble, chrome with gold plate, showers with “wet rooms”, cookers with chef’s ranges.   Very rich people seem to want kitchens that a professional chef would kill for, and then never cook in them.  I asked the agent if we should repaint the house to sell it better, but he said don’t be silly: anyone buying this house will rip it apart anyway.  

With luck the value will have risen a bit in the five years we’ve owned it because we could do with some lolly to spend on what the government calls my “principle private residence” aka my Cotswold house which, after 34 years, could do with new insulation, plumbing, electrics, the lot.  I have a grand plan: as soon I’ve finished refurbing my barn as my old-age home, I’ll move into it, and start on the main house.  

I like building projects, though I’m not brilliant at them. I’ve never yet come out on time and on budget, and am hoping that the barn will be a first. I have converted or built restaurants, catering premises, cookery schools, houses and flats, every one coming in late and costing more than planned. But I have hopes. Derek Skeats, the so-far-brilliant surveyor who is overseeing the barn conversion, is reassuringly chirpy.


Have just got back from Brazil where I went for a board meeting of Orient Express hotels in our newish acquisition, the Hotel das Cataratas at the Iquassu falls. It is just amazing, the only hotel in the National Park and overlooking the falls, which are astonishing.

The park is open to the general public from 9 am to 5 pm but before and after that the hotel guests have the place to themselves. I walked the length of the trail along the river’s edge and both times (once at sunset and once at sunrise) I had the place to myself. Completely awe inspiring. The falls are deafeningly loud and terrifying in their power. You can go out on a wooden platform built between the upper and lower sections of waterfall, and look up at million of tons of water crashing towards  you and below to a giddying drop with more tons of water crashing to rocks below. The falls stretch in a half mile horseshoe across the river.  

We went up in a helicopter too which scared the hell out of me. Spent the time alternatively gasping at the view, or praying for the trip to be over.  

I’ve also had a great few days fishing on the Spey. I was invited by James and Jocelyn Carr and it was bliss in spite of failing to catch anything other than a small floating log. But my host got a couple of sea trout and dutifully put them back in the river, to the dismay of his wife and me. We’d hoped for a fresh fish supper.

Have to stop this blog now and re-engage with the post office telephone run around in which all buttons lead to more recorded messages telling you to go to the website, or press another button, which tells you to go to the website, or ….I don’t think any recorded message is going to tell me what to do to recover my inadvertently posted spectacles. I need a human being to grovel to, and admit that while answering the phone and simultaneously putting on my make up in the back of a taxi, I removed my specs (to apply the eye shadow you understand) and put them on the pile of letters to post. When the driver stopped at post box I gathered up the letters and, blind as a bat without my glasses, shoved the lot into the post-box.

The driver said it was typical of the old. Oh dear!