Science Fiction. July 2017.

Dear Rowley,

Technology does have a nasty habit of creeping up on you, doesn’t it? I didn’t even know that drones existed a year ago. Then I saw the wretched things on sale in Tottenham Court Road. So picture the scene this weekend. I’m lying on the divan in Bloomsbury Square on Sunday afternoon with the sash chord fully open watching Now Voyager.

I hear a buzz and, like Patsy Stone, think ‘Is it a bee?’ ‘Is it a bee?’ Then suddenly hones into view a drone that hovers staring at me like the Creature from the Black Lagoon for a good ten seconds before buzzing off again. Firstly, it felt like robot rape of my privacy and I don’t want to hear a word from the PC lobby about that bon mot. It did.

Well, after ten minutes the flying spy was back. I lent out of the window to see the Chinese students living in the basement beaming and giggling up at me holding the controls. I believe what I bellowed out of the window would have done an irate fishwife in Billingsgate Market proud. If I ever see that thing hovering at my window again I shall shy one of my Amber Balls at it and, failing that, have a tin of car spray handy to blind the little fucker.

As you know, I am not a cheerleader for robots or artificial intelligence becoming commonplace in my lifetime. Who the hell wants the skies over London thick with drones rather than starlings and nightingales? Not me. Neither do I want my post delivering by a robot on wheels. The postie in WC1 happens to be a total hottie on whose dimples I dote.

And another thing! I still haven’t got used to the self check-out at Waitrose and nor will I because it deprives me of my daily chat with the charming kids who work there not to mention the Matron Mama Morton of Waitrose Holborn who always shares a laugh with me. The banter usually goes along the lines of ‘How are you?’ ‘Off suicide watch’ ‘Ooooh don’t!’ When there was a particularly juicy sex and cocaine romp scandal of my newspaper she looked me dead in the eye and said ‘Chance would be a fine thing!’

But back to the march of the machines. I’m going to rage against them with every breath in my body. I was born in the early 1970s and never in a million years thought that the technology on Star Trek would be placed in practically every human hand. I know we can’t teleport (yet) but Skype is the stuff of Star Trek. What new technology does is to push us justified and ancients into a state of dependancy on the kids for whom it was designed.

Hopefully I will snuff it before a tyrant such as Trump or Kim Jong Un finds Logan’s Run on Netflix and decides we are overpopulated hence compulsory euthanasia over the age of thirty. I think the trouble is that we of a certain age are on a ride we never wanted to get on in the first place. Sure I prefer a MacBook Air to a manual typewriter but I do weep for Google replacing the quest for knowledge between the pages of books written by trusted authors.

I have worked with fashion students recently and have come to the conclusion that if something isn’t on Google or YouTube then they actually don’t believe it exists. Isn’t that extraordinary? Never mind fake news, there’s an awful lot of fake history that’s been taken from an erroneous source and repeated a million times. I still predominantly use books to research but will get editors with Wikipedia-happy fingers contradicting facts laid down in first person narratives.

Rowley, I’ve tried to talk myself into thinking we’re so fortunate to live in such times but all I can do is mourn for black tie, gin martinis, the foxtrot and Cole Porter. We can’t stop hearing from the gender neutral and transgender lobby about body dysmorphia. Well, I know me and my tribe in London have time dysmorphia. We don’t want to be in a world where twenty year olds become billionaires thanks to apps that don’t make profits. How can this be?

Neither are we best pleased with ‘computer says no’ culture where the machines truly do have intellectual superiority to the people on the other end of the telephone. We don’t like fat people in jeans so shredded there’s more flesh than denim. We don’t warm to tattoos that the Victorians would pay a shilling to look at in a freak show. We’re also rather fed-up with the ignorance, ill-manners, selfishness and piggish behaviour of adults on the streets of London barging into us because they’ve got their noses pressed to a mobile phone and ears covered by Dr Dre headphones.

I know I sound like I was born in the 1920s (if only!!!) but even in the 1970s and 1980s I think the British were a decent lot not perma-tanned, pierced, tattooed, botoxed dumbos of the Love Island ilk who think Cosi Fan Tutte is a prophylactic. I don’t think we can underestimate how dumbed down Britain is today. My evidence comes from my favourite question on The Chase. When a lady was asked which ancient civilisation built Fosse Way and Watling Street in Britain, she replied, ‘Is the the Apes?’

I rest my case. Well, I’m glad I got that off my chest! The next time someone launches a drone attack anywhere near Bloomsbury Towers it will be a declaration of war.

 

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Mother Love. July 2017.

Dear Rowley,

The Princes William and Harry have been criticised in the press for speaking candidly from the heart about the death of their mother, Diana Princess of Wales twenty years ago. The concern seems to be about the Royal Family letting too much light in on the magic; that William, Harry and Kate are leaning towards the confessional school of fame.

I saw a little of the ITV programme last night that the princes made about Diana and feel that it was their duty as sons to have their say. It was terribly depressing that the Andrew Morton biography of Diana was re-issued with direct transcripts from the tapes that she sent to the author. With a complete absence of filter or an editor’s pen, Diana’s words were repeated and told a heartbreaking story.

Like Marilyn Monroe, every human being who had any kind of relationship with Diana has written a memoir. Rather than elucidating the character, every point of view adds to the mystery. The nature of Marilyn and Diana’s respective deaths only fan the flames of conspiracy and tragedy. With this in mind, I thought it admirable that Prince William and Prince Harry decided to speak on behalf of their mother.

God only knows how two sons feel about what’s been printed and reported about their mother. I recall a Countess telling me after her death that Diana was mad. I loathe the word anyway and restrained myself from questioning how any nineteen year old virgin such as Diana would feel becoming not only a member of the Royal Family but also a star. What happens after happily ever after? Diana had to find out.

I believe that the Princes William and Harry went on record on television as a point of honour. There’s an awful lot of prurience about wallowing in Princess Diana’s unfortunate history so it was only right that her sons stood up and said she was a marvellous, mischievous, funny, totally loving mother and an inspiration to both.

There’s a precedent for what William and Harry did on the anniversary of their mother’s death. Whenever Liza Minnelli and Lorna Luft talk about Judy Garland they are both keen to say that Judy was one of the funniest women on the planet, the most caring mother and was always there for them. What the interviewers want to hear is the tragedy, the drugs, the booze, the comebacks and the waste of talent. What Judy’s children give is their mother in her best light. Bravo them!

The parallels between Diana Princess of Wales and Marilyn Monroe are legion. They were the two most famous blondes in the 20th century. Their lives were prematurely cut short. Their love lives were not without sensation and they achieved a level of adoration from their public that even death couldn’t deflate. So when I see pictures of Diana with her boys – always smiling, always touching – I do think how different Marilyn’s life would have been had she had children.

In Marilyn’s last uncompleted movie Something’s Got To Give there are touching poolside scenes of her and her character’s children. You can see how Marilyn connects to children. She always did even though it wasn’t to be with any of her three husbands or rather more lovers. All’s to say is that it would have been nice for Marilyn to have children to speak for her as Diana does.

Then again, there are countless horror memoirs by Hollywood children about strong, glamorous, admirable mothers such as Joan Crawford, Bette Davis and Marlene Dietrich to make one wonder whether a child of Marilyn’s would not have lived in resentment rather than had affectionate memories. In Diana’s case, she has two champions in her sons who thus far have negotiated praising her memory while not offending the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.

One would imagine that Prince Charles and his second wife were dreading the 20th anniversary of Diana’s untimely death. This might explain the publication of Penny Juror’s authorised biography of Camilla. From the extracts I read in the newspapers, I would say it was a huge mistake of Juror’s to trash the memory of Diana in a book about her successor.

It seems that Princes William and Harry have a happy relationship with their stepmother, aided I am sure by the fact that Camilla makes the Prince of Wales a happier character than he was when married to and upstaged by Diana. I am particularly impressed by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry setting up their Heads Together mental health charity that has done much to shine a light on a dark corner populated by so many of us. Diana did much the same thing for HIV and AIDS.

I suppose the fundamental question about the Royal Family expressing emotions that could be kept private is whether openness runs contrary to The Queen’s ‘never complain, never explain’ approach to the monarchy. As it happens, I would agree that for the entirety of her reign Her Majesty has behaved in an exemplary fashion. She has adapted as times have changed. But public opinion has overtaken the monarchy as the reaction to Diana’s death proved.

What was correct for The Queen’s reign is not necessarily what will be for her successors. It seems to me that the Princes William and Harry are on the right track. Diana deserves recognition for her positive effect on the British monarchy and her legacy is assured in the shape of two admirable sons and a daughter-in-law she never knew.

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Because We’re Worth It. July 2017.

Dear Rowley,

If there’s one thing the British public loathe above all else, it is hypocrisy in high places. So when the BBC was forced to list its top earners this morning, the howl about Auntie’s breathtaking mendacity could have woken the dead. For what did we find? The Left-leaning, gender neutral-loving, equal opportunities-peddling behemoth funded by license fees nationwide pays women a fraction of what they pay men. There isn’t a black face in the top twenty earners and only one woman – the walking mascara wand Claudia Winkleman – in the top ten.

Now, I am not really qualified to comment on the top five because I rarely have time to appreciate their work. Shouty Chris Evans tops the pile earning well over £2 million for a morning show on Radio 2 that I don’t listen to. I’ve only seen Gary (£1.79 million) Lineker gurn and eat crisps so have no idea whether he’s worth all those shekels as a football pundit.

Graham (£900,000 and counting) Norton I have seen. If there’s one thing Gogglebox heroine Scarlett Moffatt has taught us, there are thousands of very funny men and women on sofas all over the UK just waiting to be discovered by reality TV and Vlogs. This gives the lie that the BBC is paying the market value for their talent who could earn more elsewhere. I don’t see ITV paying a million to the chuckling tipsy pixie, do you?

For all the stars who have graced Graham Norton’s sofa, can you recall one profound revelation out of all the boozy buffoonery? No, me neither. I would imagine Michael Parkinson is spitting feathers to see Norton’s pay grade compared to his golden age of celebrity interviews. If I were Clare Balding I’d be firing my agent. She made the list – unlike Women’s Hour’s Jennie Murray and Jane Garvey – but only to the tune of £150,000.

Clare’s fees are dwarfed by Alex (£400,000-449,999) Jones who is famed only for execrable babble in a regional accent on The One Show and Tess (£350,000-399,999) Daly who isn’t a fraction as funny as a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race and looks infinitely worse in a frock and heels. Radio DJs Vanessa Feltz, Zoe Ball and Lauren Laverne also earn over double Clare Balding’s going rate for spouting off-the-cuff nonsense in between records. It seems intelligence is as little regarded as equality in the BBC’s finance department.

The biggest embarrassment for the BBC is seeing two people doing precisely the same job like BBC Breakfast’s Dan Walker and Louise Minchin – ergo reading from autocue at an ungodly hour – with the former earning £249,000 and the latter under £150,000. Walker apparently has further onerous duties as a sports reporter – i.e. doing what fifty percent of the population does for free round a pub table every Saturday – but this simply doesn’t wash.

Being a Strictly  fan, I know Bruno and Len do the US version but this doesn’t excuse their £200,000 plus pay packet for doing exactly what Darcy and Craig do for £50,000 less. I think the questions we have to ask go beyond equal pay for women even though the BBC have an awful lot of egg on their faces over that one.

If these people are the BBC’s assets, I would question why more of them aren’t tempted to walk away when poached by commercial channels. The answer is that the few who do forsake Auntie invariably bomb on ITV or Channel 4. There were a few surprise ommissions on the BBC’s list that suggested to me some posteriors were being covered. There wasn’t an Attenborough or Dimbleby or Berry or Hollywood in sight presumably because their money is siphoned through production companies and not paid directly by Auntie.

Personally, I think judging any salary against the Prime Minister is a fair assessment for pressures of work against pay. Ninety-six stars on the BBC highest paid list earn more than Theresa May. Now, whatever you think about Mrs May, her days are marginally more taxing than a three-hour stint on a morning news programme, a season of Strictly Come Dancing or filming a soap opera.

As with the BBC so with society in Britain. I don’t see many of the sisterhood standing up for Mrs May as only the second woman Prime Minister in British history. And yet if a new mother gets criticised for breast feeding in the National Gallery or some such you’ll find a tsunami of support on Mumsnet, Twitter and Facebook with headline news on Today and an hour-long special on Women’s Hour. Feminism is terribly selective, don’t you find?

I happened to be watching Gentlemen Prefer Blondes starring Marilyn Monroe the other night with H. Marilyn was, as Ella Fitzgerald observed, ahead of her time and she didn’t even know it. Marilyn was the first female star in Hollywood to set up her own production company and insist on director/script approval. This from a woman 20thy Century Fox head Daryl Zanuck considered a dumb blonde.

Well, Marilyn wasn’t dumb and she wasn’t blond. She also didn’t earn a quarter of what her Blondes co-star Jane Russell earned. Marilyn is a prime example of a unique human being. Nobody has or can replace her. Can anyone on the BBC Rich List confidently say the same?

 

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Weak in the Presence of Beauty. July 2017.

Dear Rowley,

It is ten years since Cartier last launched its high jewellery collection, L’Inde Mysterieuse, in London at Lancaster House. That was one of the most glamorous parties of my life, crowned when legendary beauty the Rajmata of Jaipur made one of her final appearances. So it was with great pleasure that I accepted the invitation to Résonances de Cartier at the Reform Club last week.

Though there is an avalanche of money in London right now, I maintain that true glamour is elusive. There’s plenty of flash but little old school elegance. But when Cartier host a party you can guarantee that every detail is considered, that the guests rise to the occasion and the evening goes as smoothly as a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost.

For Résonances de Cartier, one entered via the Reform Club’s candle-lit gardens where a harpist played and Cartier bellhops in pillbox hats and incredibly tight trousers served champagne. The first person I bumped into was Vogue jewellery editor Carol Woolton who was speaking to  a goddess in a floor-length sapphire blue silk siren dress.

The goddess was model-du-jour Arizona Muse whose beauty was quite simply breathtaking. Photographs don’t do this lady justice. Her skin was absolutely flawless and her hair styled into 1950s Grace Kelly curls. These women are as rare as natural pearls: genetically blessed to the point that you go weak in the presence, gay or straight.

I’d popped out my grandmother’s faux diamond and jet 50s Dior brooch to wear with a silver-flecked bouclé wool DJ tailored by Sir Tom Baker. Arizona thought it was cool to which I could only reply ‘yours aren’t so bad either’ pointing to Cartier earrings marginally larger than the chandeliers in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

Lady Woolton, Lisa Armstrong and I toured the 600 piece Cartier display with the curator of the archive collection. For the most part, this was a selling collection of Résonances de Cartier high jewellery but there were also antique pieces on display.

You know that I am a pushover for provenance. One of the star pieces bar none was a large Romanov sapphire set as a Deco diamond bracelet. The stone was one of a matching pair of sapphires that had belonged to the Grand Duchess Marie. I also adored a rock crystal and diamond cuff reminiscent of the Sunset Boulevard bracelets made for Gloria Swanson and an amethyst demi-parure made for Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan, Duchess of Marlborough.

There was in fact an embarrassment of riches in the white room-within-room display cases that sprawled over two floors of the Reform Club. The house had already hosted receptions for their high-rolling clients many of whom fly in specially for the high jewellery sales. To be honest I would walk over hot coals to see the black pearl Cartier had on display large enough to rival Mary Tudor’s La Peregrina.

Cartier is almost entirely responsible for seducing me to the dark side of watchmaking. The Mystery clocks are pieces of great beauty and I do think that Cartier is unique in getting the ‘bracelet that tells the time’ balance of art and craft into jewelled watches.

My favourite Cartier watch on show was a diamond and onyx panthère with emerald eyes draped around a watch face concealed by a cabochon ruby. One dreams of being sufficiently flush to point at the diamond and ruby Panthère watch and instruct a white glove to place a ‘sold’ dot next to this rare beauty. If my Jewellery for Gentlemen book sells well next year I might treat myself to the Cartier Panthère pin on show at the Reform.

Speaking of Jewellery for Gentlemen, I do need to get a little investment going for the antique jewellery stock I want to sell at The Wedding Gallery at No 1 Marylebone. My career to date has pretty much been about selling words. I think it is high time I trusted my taste in jewellery and sell something three-dimensional.

I’m talking to the lovely Mr Loxton at Lucas Rarities about signed antique jewellery by the big guns Cartier, Van Cleef, Boucheron, Flato, Belperron and Verdura. The jewellery I’d like to buy is unsigned precious pieces such as stick pins, tie studs and cufflinks that will retail for the hundreds not the thousands.

But back to the Cartier party. As an amusing touch, Cartier set up a studio for photographer George Harvey to photograph guests wearing pieces from the Résonances collection. Ordinarily I would have wrestled the other guests to the ground for the opportunity to be photographed in a Cartier bandeau diamond tiara but sadly it was pumpkin time because I had an 8.30am meeting at Armani the next morning.

Could this possibly be a sign of growing-up I wonder? The talk of the party was all about the mass exodus of the old regime at Vogue and former fashion director Lucinda Chambers’ Mommie Dearest interview about Condé Nast. All one can say is that she managed to grin and bear it for nigh on four decades so it can’t have been all bad.

Until next time…

 

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La Dolce Vita. July 2017.

Dear Rowley,

I am getting about a bit these days! H and I had three days in Rome over the weekend where we had the privilege to swim through herds of tattooed wildebeest in spray on shorts marauding round the Coliseum with their wheelies. If only it were the Circus Maximus, I could have felled one or two with my trident.

Is the world now entirely inked from neck to ankle? I had to reach for the sal volatile on several occasions. The vogue for women of every age to have the palest blue, pink or green washes put in their hair is equally bewildering. I blame Disney.

But Rome – Rome! – was quite simply majestic. My happiest hours were spent on a roof terrace overlooking the Coliseum slurping Aperol Spritz and chowing down on risotto for the Gods. For Italians, food is a religion. The world turns around the mangiare. I fully endorse the three hour lunch, don’t you?

My favourite day in Rome began with a walk to the Palatine Hill and a ticketed tour of the Imperial Palaces. A surprisingly large footprint of Augustus and Livia’s palaces survives though in the shape of thin, flat, red Roman brick that would once have been smothered in marble. If you imagine the Pantheon and project the marble mosaics onto the Palatine Hill you can picture the glory of the Augustan age.

As Augustus said, he found a Rome built in brick and left it in marble. My Roman history comes more from I Claudius than Tacitus but it was truly thrilling to see the servants’ corridor where Caligula was stabbed to death and walk on remnants of marble pavement upon which Livia trod silently en route to the fatal herb cupboard.

The views from Augustus’s palace over the Circus Maximus were spectacular as was the bathhouse complex which must have looked like St Paul’s Cathedral with water features. On the first night in Rome H bought tickets for Carmen in an open air arena situated in what was the largest public Roman bath. The production was themed to Mexico and was rather heavy on political commentary about asylum.

However, what’s not to like about a red sequin-clad Carmen pole dancing or a chorus dressed in Day of the Dead skeleton costumes? The orchestration was sublime even though interrupted once when H wrenched the cork out of a mini bottle of prosecco in a moment of calm. About twenty big swarthy Italians hit the deck presumably mistaking it for a Mafia hit.

One of my favourite scenes in Minghella’s The Talented Mr Ripley was when Jude Law’s character takes Matt Damon’s Ripley to the Jazz Festival in San Remo. This we tried to replicate on the banks of the the Tiber where there was a string of pop-up, tented bars one of which contained a trad jazz band. Said breathtaking band  ambled through an old school great American Song Book repertoire with voices that made Tom Waits sound like Kathleen Battle.

One of the highlights was the Air B&B run by a salty old Nonna and her dog Bella. The single-storey dwelling on the fringes of Rome had the prettiest rose, herb, lemon and lime tree garden at the front and a draped conservatory. It was built like a cuckoo clock: one door for Nonna and Bella and the other for H and I. It was rather like a Roman remake of Allo Allo and none the worse for that.

The best exhibition in Rome was a major retrospective of Belle Epoque master Giovanni Bellini. Bellini painted sublime portraits of grandees in all their splendour describing the garments and jewellery in such detail that he’s the reference for a lost age of elegance. His faces evidently paint in the best light but that was why he was so popular amongst the beaux and belles of the age.

The exhibition was set over several floors of King Vittorio Emmanuele II’s white marble Wedding Cake facing the Palatine Hill: a monument to the unification of Italy and a new golden age for Rome that never quite materialised. I also enjoyed pieces from the largest Marilyn Monroe memorabilia collection belonging to an American collector.

Marilyn is a specialised subject and I had seen a blinding collection of MM’s film costumes, personal wardrobe and shoes in the Ferragamo Museum in Florence a couple of years back that I thought would be hard to beat. This exhibition presented pieces from the various sales such as the Chrisite’s MM sale in 1999 and a more recent Julien’s Auctions sale of David Gainsborough-Roberts’s collection.

There were star pieces – the Prince and the Showgirl white silk evening dress, the purple satin How to Marry a Millionaire evening gown and a whole collection of MM film scripts – but there was an equal amount of objects that were in more questionable taste: prescriptions for uppers and downers, pieces of lingerie and objects from MM’s kitchen such as a melon scoop that were presented like religious icons … as I suppose they are to collectors.

These short breaks to hot countries have been totally life-enhancing and made all the more pleasant for returning to London in the throes of a heatwave. It sweetens the pill somewhat. What else is new on the Rialto? Much to tell about The Wedding Gallery at No 1 Marylebone, a meeting with the Bedford Estates and the feedback from Royal Murder Mysteries on Yesterday. This will all have to wait until the next missive. Until next time…

 

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