Archive for November, 2010|Monthly archive page

Batteries not required

In Child on November 30, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Here’s another one from the archives, just for fun – and to remind you please to tell anyone who might be interested that they can now find my column on here. If you subscribe it will plop into your inbox each Saturday.

This column dates back to 2007 and there’s a neat circularity linking forward to right here right now: the wooden doll’s house mentioned below is currently for sale on eBay.

Looking back at the Christmas pics from that year I can’t believe what a baby Peggy still was; the shift from five to eight years is exponential. Here she is, as she was then, with her friend Sacha Murray-Threipland.

‘Tis the season to be anxious tra la la la la etc. In my case this year’s Christmas shopping stress is concentrated on one topic: what to buy my five-year old daughter for her ‘main’ present.

It is, you might say, a sweet problem. She has so much already in real terms, she’s lucky to be getting anything else at all, on top of such taken-for-granted privileges as nutritious food, clean running water, education etc etc.

But putting that aside – and I don’t think she is horribly spoiled by current Western standards – it is a conundrum. Do I buy her what she wants, or what I want her to want?

I’ve mentioned before the vintage baby doll’s cot that I have left gathering dust up in the attic, after facing up to the fact that I like it a lot more than she would. What she likes is plastic. Preferably pink, glitter an advantage. What she would really like this Christmas is a Bratz doll styling head, which comes with glitter lip gloss, glitter hair clips, glitter eye shadow etc.

She’s not getting one – and I’m just glad she doesn’t know about the Bratz Party Wagon I saw in a toy shop this morning, with its Primping Parlour, Hot Tub, and Chill Out Zones, not to mention the gaggle of little whore dolls that come with it, because she’s double not getting one of those. Barbie I can just about bear, but Bratz dollz are foul.

But there is part of me that wonders whether I shouldn’t just give in and get her one of those monstrous objects. It would almost be worth it for the look of joy on her face when she unwrapped it. However, this tiny triumph would be swiftly expunged by the collective look of horror on my mother, sister and husband’s faces, so I won’t go there.

I just need to find a middle way between the tasteful wooden dolls’ house I bought her last year and which she put up a valiant attempt to look excited about, while clearly disappointed. (My husband’s not keen for a repeat of such a purchase either; it took him all of Christmas Eve-ening to build the bloody thing from the flat pack…)

She’s spent the past year customising it with stickers and scribble in an attempt to make it look more like the Princess Glitter Fairy Ballerina Tinkerbell Dream Castle she really wanted. Now I consider it ‘ruined’, she thinks it’s bearable (and quite a useful cupboard).

But then, on the occasions when I have given in and bought the cacky tacky present, after the initial excitement – and inevitable insertion of a gross of batteries – she seems to tire of them pretty quickly. I haven’t seen much play action with the walking, neighing, rearing Barbie horse she had for her birthday (clip clop clip clop, neeeeeeeigh, crash, as it falls over).

So I have made one decision, nothing with batteries any more, which is not as easy as it sounds – toys have gone mad with battery-powered special features.

Singing Troy Bolton dolls (really, I saw one today…), wise-cracking Shrek toys and amplified Barbie guitars seem hilarious at the time of purchase, but quickly become intensely irritating. Especially to adults who have of alcohol previously partaken.

Even worse than living with these chirping tchotchkes is that landfill sites are choking up with the discarded batteries and the toxic metals (cadmium, mercury and lead) in them can leak out and contaminate soil and ground water. So I’m recycling any the batteries we do use and not buying anything else that needs them.

So what to get? I still don’t know, but another factor I should take into consideration is choosing something I wouldn’t mind playing with myself. Because I know the greatest gift I could really give my daughter this Christmas would be more time down and dirty on the floor playing with her.

No batteries required.

PS This is what she might be getting this year…

More is more

In Shopping on November 26, 2010 at 6:20 pm

I hope Kate Middleton is taking her folic acid. She needs to get right on it, because once she’s done her I Do on April 29th she has only one purpose in life and that’s to procreate.

Her vocation is no longer to sell personalised party balloons on her parents’ website, but to produce at least two sons. The Heir and a Spare.

I love that phrase. It’s from the same school of posh British pragmatic wit as Hatch, Match and Despatch, meaning birth, marriage and death, the three main things upper middle class people are supposed to take seriously.

It goes like this. Hatch: being born the heir to something substantial, and then producing your own heir. Match: marrying first yourself and then them off appropriately. Despatch: inheriting the goods and property and then passing it on efficiently, rather than just as a horrendous tax bill.

It’s almost Sicilian in its efficiency of keeping it in the family. The last thing you want is some frightful mess with it all disappearing off to a dodgy distant third cousin who went to the wrong school, or a gold digger bride. So you need an Heir and a Spare for efficient Hatch, Match and Despatch. Shall we play sardines? Oh, do let’s.

Not coming from noble lineage or large amounts property myself, I have another take on it. I like to have a Wear and a Spare. Which means if I find a basic garment that I love, I buy two of them.

Or in the case of the Country Road pants of utter day-to-night segue perfectness I recently sourced, four. A Wear and a Spare in black and a Wear and a Spare in grey.

What a trouser finding that was. Having tried on every pair of pants in London prior to setting off on my Australian book tour and finding nothing that wasn’t either baggy on the rear or python tight at the ankle, or both, I’d given up on the whole genre. I packed eight dresses.

But then I saw a woman in Jersey Road, Paddington wearing the perfect pant. Mid-grey with a slight sheen, narrow of the leg, a casual crispness.

Some inner shopping instinct told me they were from Country Road, so I dashed into the first branch I saw and claimed them in grey, without even trying them on. When I did, they were perfect.

So, at my earliest opportunity I raced back in and tried the same style in black and khaki. The black were also terrific, the greens made me look like a park ranger. I bought two pairs of black and another of grey.

Does this seem profligate? Well, it isn’t. It’s not the same at all as Jackie Onassis buying the same thing in every colour. Buying the same thing in the same colour means you will get much more wear out of each of them. If one would have lasted six months of heavy use, two will last 18 months.

They won’t get clothing fatigue from overuse and overwashing which maddeningly condemns your most favourite items to having the shortest lifespan in your closet. You need to rest fabric between wearings, like shoes.

Having a Spare locked down also means I can actually wear my perfect trouser whenever I damn well please, knowing I still have the other for best. And to be moved over for general trousering operations when the Wear pair is relegated to low key round-the-house duties. At ease.

I know the system works because I’ve been doing it for years since the pain of wearing a perfect black Helmut Lang ribbed t shirt into a grey rag in a few months of daily use. Since then when I’ve found a perfect basic, I’ve bought two. At least two.

And that is the key word: basics. Don’t operate this system for witty little numbers, on-trend must-haves, and high-fashion statements. Wear and Spare is for the daily underpinnings of your wardrobe.

Which for Ms Middleton will soon be tiaras.

Another teaser to get you in the mood for Saturday’s launch…

In Youth on November 25, 2010 at 6:42 pm

This one is from 2003. I’m delighted to report that the subject of it just sent me an email from New York where she is now working as a stylist. She’s just done a big shoot with Annie Leibovitz.

Sometimes life is so beautiful.

The Swan Moment
I have written several times in this column about the terrible misfortune of being 14, but now I have a happier tale to tell. I have recently observed at very close hand a wonderful thing that happens to people shortly after they are 14 – let’s call it the Swan Moment.

A dear friend of mine is 15, very nearly 16 and I swear her Swan Moment happened over night. I watched it like one of those pieces of delayed action photography where they show you a rose unfurling. Except this was a Lily, which is the name of my friend.

When I first met her she was 14 and she was, well, she was pretty gawky. Although she had a lovely face and enviably long limbs, the face had spots on it and the limbs were sort of put on wrong. You know how Michael Caine’s arms can look? A bit back to front. That’s how Lily’s long legs were.

Then one day I opened the door and this beautiful young woman was standing there. She didn’t have spots and she had wonderful slinky legs in a groovy denim mini, her hair was sleek and soigné and I swear I did a real double take, like someone in a cartoon. It was Lily.

I didn’t say anything at first, as I didn’t want to embarrass her, but in the end I just had to blurt it out.

‘Lily,’ I said. ‘You’ve changed.’

‘I know,’ she said.

‘You’ve got all beautiful,’ I said.

She shrugged. ‘It just sort of happened over the last few months and suddenly everyone’s noticed. My spots have gone.’

But it was much more than the spots. It was like the spots moved out and the glamour fairy moved in. Just like that. Ever since I have thought of that evening as The Night They Invented Champagne, as the whole thing was pure ‘Gigi’, although not so pervy (that film has always totally given me the creeps).

I still see Lily most days as she lives on my street and helps me out with stuff like filing, but really because I just like having her around, and the amazing thing is the Swan Moment just keeps on going.

Every time I open the door she looks more lovely. There’s a gloss going on now, an added enhancement that is more than just an absence of spots. It’s like living in a fairy tale watching it all.

When I think about it I have observed later stages of the Swan Moment before, when young girls have come to work with me on fashion magazines. They arrive already fashion aware, or I wouldn’t have given them the job, but still a little gauche, a touch raw and provincial.

It always used to delight me to watch the magic of being surrounded by some seriously sophisticated and stylish people do its work on a new recruit.

A new haircut, done by a world-famous cutter on a fashion shoot was often the start, then a different make up look, a few designer clothes passed on by a kind fashion editor and then, after some exposure to press discount and sample sales, you would see the duckling move into full fashionista mode and off she’d fly. A superb swan.

And in retrospect I can remember it happening to me too, although I don’t remember a teenage Swan Moment, like Lily’s, as I was always too obsessed with how ugly I was.

What I can clearly recall, though, is lightbulb moments of understanding about how to dress and shop like a grown up, from when I first started working on magazines. In fact, I think I am still learning all that, it’s a never ending process, but I am all too aware that I no longer have the rest of the package to fully showcase the new revelations.

The juncture of youth and sophistication that is the Swan Moment is truly a glorious thing. And as fleeting as a summer.

A little taster…

In Beauty on November 25, 2010 at 10:06 am

To get us all in the mood, to introduce new friends from countries apart from Australia to what I do – and to make sure I know what the feck I’m doing on here – here is a column from my archives.

I wrote this in 2002 – and I can now reveal that the secret meeting I was being so coy about was my National Childbirth Trust group.

I have read several times and with great interest about ‘research’ which scientifically proves that both partners in a couple tend to be of the same attractiveness rating. I love it when something so airy fairy is scientifically proven, don’t you? Makes me feel better about writing about handbags for a living.

Anyway, this fascinating fact was tested by ‘researchers’ using a very cunning method. First they got a load of psychology students to agree to take part in the experiment in return for some free instant coffee and a cheap biscuit. Then they gave them photographs of individuals which they were asked to rank according to babeliciousness, on a scale of one to 10.

These scores were then added up by the cone heads and divided by the number they first thought of to give them each person’s bonkability rating, which presumably went from phwooooooar to pass the sick bag.

The next stage of the experiment was the cunning bit – because the people in the photographs were actually all halves of couples and when the researchers paired them up again it turned out the they all matched on their bonkability scores. So the phwoooars were all with other phwooooars and the vommie bags were all with other vommies.

Or when I say ‘all’, I mean close enough to send the researchers off to the nearest bar for a big piss up to celebrate. This is called a ‘statistically significant’ result and it means much more likely than just ‘chance’.

To find out what the chance rating for an experiment like this is you have to do a really ghastly statistical calculation which will make you sob into your calculator, until you find a stats nerd willing to do it for you in return for a packet of rolling tobacco and the odd hello in the quad.

I found this out in my second year of studying psychology at university and as a result was very relieved to be able to switch my honours subject to History of Art, where the most stressful part of the course was deciding what to wear to present your slide lecture to the class.

Anyway, I was reminded of this ‘study’ the other night when I was sitting in a room, in a circle, with my partner and 10 other couples between the ages of 23 and 45. Don’t ask what we were doing there, we were just there, OK?

Of course there is nothing more fascinating than having 20 total strangers to sit and perve and as I sat there gawping at them all it struck me how perfectly matched they all were on the pashability chart.

There was one rather plump couple – OK, they were total lard arses – who clearly enjoy nothing more than a night in front of the telly with pizza deliveries on a relay. I’m afraid I would have marked them as 4/10 in the study. Not nice to judge people, I know, especially on appearance, but this is science, OK?

Anyway, so they were fours, but the majority of the couples would have scored five or six had I been studying their photographs in a booth while eagerly anticipating my Nescafe and custard creams, but even within those scores they fitted together into sub-groups.

There were the straight down the line five out of ten couples and then there were two couples who could have scored higher had they not had frightful beards and helmet haircuts.

But most fascinating was the pair who were clearly the nines of the group. He was a very handsome banker with black hair, blue eyes and high colour in the cheeks (divine). She was his quality blonde consort, with plump lips, big blue eyes and a glossy bob. They were both taller than the rest of us.


Anyway, having sat and obsessed on this for an hour or so something awful occurred to me. There was every possibility that other members of the group were sitting there doing the same thing. Where – I wondered – were my partner and I ranked?

Actually, I really don’t want to know.

The former Mr and Mrs Lloyd Webber

My column every Saturday just like you’re used to…

In Uncategorized on November 22, 2010 at 12:34 pm

…just on line, rather than in a newspaper magazine. Well, that’s the plan, anyway.

I’ll do my best to have it waiting for you each Saturday morning, but there may be some teething problems as I get my head round a new deadline, the time difference and – most crucially – remembering to put the post up after I’ve written it.

I’ve had a legendary team of subs (hi Ros! hi Cindy!) to do that part of it for me for the past twelve years, so I’ll have to get on top to the extra discipline.

And, over time, as that becomes a reflex in my working life, I’m hoping you will be able to make reading this online part of the delicious weekend routines and rituals that so many of you have told me about on my other blog, when you heard the column wasn’t going to be in the paper anymore.

Ah, yes, the other blog. I am going to keep that one going, as the reading record it started off as . I also have plans for a third platform, on more general topics (it’s a full life…) and the idea is to bring it all together in one website, which should be ready to fly in the New Year.

I’m rather excited about properly engaging with the brave new world of blogging I find myself thrust into. I’ve wanted to do get more active on line for a couple of years, but held back for fear it would stop people buying the paper.

Now I am free of such trifling concerns (so last century…) and hope that you will hop aboard the flume ride with me.


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