The past week has been something of a family affair. I’ve just returned from Derbyshire where we celebrated my father’s 70th birthday with the circle of trust invited to lunch on Sunday in Bakewell that resembled nothing so much as a Mafia wedding with Father as Don Corleone. The week previous was the annual Tweed Run for which my brother and the Derbyshire chapter of the Sherwood Massive descended on London dressed in dashing fashion to ride-out with the dapper chaps and ladies in jungle red lipstick.
I haven’t ridden a bike since my niece Ella persuaded me to ride astride one sunny afternoon in Surrey and I wobbled like a ageing belly dancer covering the late shift at Chez Mustapha in downtown Istambul. But it was rather a thrill to cheer the runners and riders off. Guy ‘Dashing Tweeds’ Hills was at large on his four seater with a music stand strategically poised so he could strum his ukulele. Guy’s off to Rhode Island next week for the Artist, Rebel, Dandy exhibition opening for which I wrote an essay about La Vie Dashing. It was rather marvellous to be serenaded by Guy with These Boots Are Made For Walking adapted as a two-hander for ukulele.
It is the Tweed Run’s compliment that it hasn’t been hijacked by the dark forces of corporate sponsorship so more power to their mudguards as t’were. Speaking of elegant summer sporting events, it’s about this time of year when people start asking if I’m going to ride again as the fashion commentator at Royal Ascot. All’s to say is that I suspect Channel 4 will want an all-new fashion team for its debut broadcast of the Royal Meeting but I’d snap my sock garters with joy if asked to polish-up the silk top hat again. Of course Suzi is flying round the world as the BBCs face of Formula 1 so won’t be at the Royal this year. It was always Suzi who made Royal Ascot the highlight of my year. As they say, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
Though my father’s birthday lunch was a hoot – particularly with my fabulous Auntie Lynda seated between Simon and I – the most touching day was spent on a road trip with my brother around all the old haunts in Sheffield where we were born. We went past my favourite house of all time Casa Feliz - the only Spanish hacienda in Sheffield – that worked wonders for a 12-year old with delusions of grandeur. Casa Feliz was a long white stucco bungalow with plantation shutters and wrought iron balconies that ran the length of the house surrounded by exquisitely landscaped gardens that really belonged in the Hollywood Hills.
I spent many happy hours in the drawing room of Casa Feliz beating seven bells out of a baby grand and shadow waltzing on the parquet floor in the hall polished as bright as a conker. Glamour wasn’t even in it. I suppose spectacles are rose tinted because the early teens were a period when troubles are (in retrospect) utterly inconsequential, family surrounds and the head is brim-full with ideas on how to spend what then seems like a limitless future. We also passed my grandmother’s house – now developed by ‘two gentlemen sharing’ – where one of my horcruxes would be kept should I be so inclined. It was all terribly Proustian darling but leavened by the company of my niece Georgina: a gorgeous creature of not yet two years’ old.
Not being a natural Maria von Trapp, I find engaging with infants rather testing. You live in fear of the porcelain doll face collapsing into an agonising yowl and take it personally when the child looks up enquiringly, blinks the baby blues and runs in the opposite direction like a Munchkin fleeing the Wicked Witch of the West. So it was quite a moment walking in the Peace Gardens with Georgina holding a hand each between my brother and I. I think she and I were perhaps equally frustrated that we weren’t able to speak. As soon as Simon’s niece Ella began to speak we were in business and as a consequence inseparable.
I do take my hat off to parents. It is relentless, no? I am not and never will be tempted to go to Malawi and bring back a couple of little ones. Look at the thanks Madonna got. Give me a pack of Cavalier King Charles spaniels and I’d be in heaven. I always come back from Derbyshire with dog envy. A hound is just enough responsibility for a city sybarite, keeps the bed warm and offers unconditional love without the payback of school fees and student loans.
On that note I’m off to Harry Fane’s rooms in St James’s to photograph a little bit of vintage Cartier for the new book. Time is ticking now before we need to submit the first couple of chapters, lay them out and get them to the bosses. Until next time…