Glass Houses. July 2011.

Dear Rowley,

Don’t you despair of British newspapers sometimes? I’m not a reader of the News of the World or the Sun but do glance at the headlines when buying my morning Telegraph to read in the steam room of a morning. Will ‘our Cheryl’ get back with Ashley? Now I’ve got a lot of sympathy for Cheryl Cole because I think she basically sold her soul to Nosferatu (Simon Cowell) and was immolated by the US X-Factor sacking. But whether a TV talking head albeit pretty gets back with her serial philanderer of a football playing husband bothers me marginally less than the answer to ‘who put the ding in the rama-lama-ding-dong?’

The papers are terribly good at peddling moral outrage. So when a newspaper such as the News of the World becomes embroiled in a phone tapping scandal targeting murder victims, war widows and bereaved parents one can’t help but think of glass houses and people who lob stones. It is rather ironic that the final film in the Harry Potter franchise is released today when the Lord Voldermort of the newspaper industry, Rupert Murdock, is in serious danger of being hexed by the wickedness of his own employees not least his very own Bellatrix LeStrange Rebecca Wade. I cannot wait for the next issue of Private Eye: the only truly credible forum for investigative journalism and whistle-blowing in Britain today.

I must say I feel rather relieved not to be in the world of newsprint any more. Though I do work at full gallop on my Thames & Hudson books, the pace is still statelier than hourly deadlines and the result brings entirely different rewards. For example, Laura called me from T&H to say that they’d put together a window display for Fashion at Royal Ascot: Three Centuries of Thoroughbred Style and would I like to come down and have a photograph taken with it? Would I? Bears and woods came to mind.

Gary England at Ascot had arranged to deliver a set of Victorian wrought iron jockey scales to London for the display and though Laura’s wish to have them hanging from the ceiling proved impossible, the display looked truly superb. The whole reception desk was also lined with copies of Fashion at Royal Ascot. I’ve enclosed some snaps because I am so damned grateful to T&H for giving my book such a push. The launch party is at Heywood Hill on Curzon Street next Tuesday and I am looking forward to the evening. The book came out over Ascot Week and you know I was not feeling particularly chipper at the time. So now I think I can feel a sense of job well done.

This feeling never lasts particularly long. I’ve finally got my teeth into the research for my new T&H book Handmade in England. The research started at Turnbull & Asser’s archive off Park Lane with a chap called Martin Wise who has been working for years to put the house’s history in order. He showed me the most remarkable order books with fabric swatches clipped to pages recording orders from Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Lord Snowdon and Princess Margaret and Picasso. Martin also has various pieces from the wardrobe of the Duke of Windsor such as silk evening scarves and stiff dress shirts. For anyone interested in sartorial history, these pieces are the equivalent of the Holy Grail.

The next step in the research for Handmade in England is a road trip to the Aston Martin HQ because we’re going to include bespoke car interiors in the book. You know I’m marginally less adept behind the wheel of a car than Isadora Duncan but it’s good to broaden one’s horizons, no? This year does feel like a transitional period. It’s not been without its dramas (what else is new?) but I think by the end of 2011 life will look very different. As Fagin sang, I’ve been reviewing the situation and feel the need to calm down, dear.

The biggest calming influence at present is my weekly massage with Santiago who is something of a seer. Whether you believe in star signs or not, he practically reads my mind apropos the psychological make-up of the Scorpio. Apparently the Scorpio is symbolised by two mythic creatures: the phoenix and the beast. A Scorpio can create or destroy. He can be your most loyal friend or mortal enemy. Reminded me of an observation by Truman Capote that became horribly true of himself: ‘the only thing that can destroy a writer is himself’. Perhaps this is the transition this year. Maybe I’m not going like Elsie after all…

I am really motoring with the Henry Poole & Co ledger restoration and cataloguing project. Earlier in the week, it was scolding, boiling hot in London so I snuck into the Poole’s archive in the basement, whipped out a couple of Measure Books from the 1850s and took them out into Heddon Court behind Savile Row where I commandeered a table outside the Ice Bar, ordered a Spritzer and worked my way through the books. I counted about 400 names of eminent ladies and gentlemen in one book alone that merit further investigation. I also felt something of a frisson to find a Mr Sherwood in the Measure Books. Is this destiny or am I turning into the Madame Arcati de nos jours?

After the ledger work, I popped in to Hamley’s to buy my new-born niece Georgina a birthday gift. I found a card with world landmarks on it – the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State, the Pyramids etc – and wrote wishing that she sees all of these places…preferably taking Uncle James with her. I also bought a cuddly monkey that caught my eye. I had one (still have her) for my fifth birthday and christened her Judy after the chimp in the Tarzan movies not after Garland as is now family lore. Until next time…