Someone call the tooth fairy…

It all starts with a phone call.
“Mummy,” Olivia yells. “It’s an emergency, I came off my bike and my tooth has come out. There’s blood everywhere.”
It is impossible to work out from the hysterical rant where she is but we rush out of the house at 11.30 at night in the general direction of Headington. By the time we are half way there Olivia has taken control, called an ambulance and is being looked after by paramedics. We arrange to meet at the A & E unit of the John Radcliffe hospital.
“We’ll probably be here until four in the morning,” I half-joke to Rupert as we walk in.
Soon afterwards Olivia gets there. She looks awful. Swollen lips and blood on her face and hands.
“I have the tooth,” she tells me proudly. I want to weep.
The ambulance lady tells us to go to the waiting room while she sorts out the paperwork with the admin staff. An hour and a half later we are seen by a nurse who takes Olivia’s temperature, does some blood tests and runs an ECG.
“You’ll have to wait to see the doctor,” she says.
“How long?” asks Olivia, who is by now in pain and terribly uncomfortable with ECG plasters all over her and a needle in her arm.
“Well, there are nine people in front of you. Probably about an hour and a half.”
I look at my phone; it is just after 1am.
“Why don’t you go home?” I say to Rupert in true Swedish masochistic fashion. “There’s no point both of us waiting.”
Rupert leaves quicker than you can say Zlatan. Olivia and I settle back into our chairs in the waiting room.IMG_0337
Happily there are no horrific injuries. In fact with some people it’s tough to determine who is the patient and who is the carer. Opposite us there is a mother there still wearing her Oratory School overall with her two red-haired sons who look like they are in their late teens. To our left an elderly woman is huddled up in the corner using a nylon onsie as a pillow. I have no idea what’s wrong with her, apart from her onsie that is, and some rather dodgy slippers. Olivia offers to help her open a carton of orange juice she is struggling with, but she firmly refuses. A boy in white football kit sits on the other side of the room, the initials LM on his shirt, just like the pros. He is barefoot so I assume something has happened to his feet. To the right of us, almost hidden by a coffee machine that invites us to “relax with a long milky latte” on a small screen, is what I think must be a homeless man by the look of him. He is snoring lightly, clutching a green plastic bag with ‘Patients Possessions’ written on it in black. He wears thick red and white socks and no shoes.
An elderly man arrives and plonks himself next to us. He immediately offers Olivia an orange juice from a white paper bag. Olivia shakes her head.
“The snack packs you get at this time of night are not up to much,” he tells us helpfully. He must be a regular. Olivia groans in pain and looks for her headphones. They’re covered in blood from the fall. I wipe them with a tissue.
“I’m diabetic as well,” says the regular to no one in particular.
“Philip,” we hear a nurse raising her voice from a treatment cubicle not far from the waiting room. “No spitting.”
“I’m from AFRICA,” shouts Philip in defiance. “From Uganda.”
“That’s great,” says the nurse. “We need to rehydrate you Philip, you’ve had too much to drink. I need to put this needle in.”
The regular burps or farts, I can’t tell which. “Pardon me,” he says smiling at us. “Does your friend want some orange juice?” he asks Olivia, nodding towards me.
Olivia removes her headphones. “She’s my mother.” Then she lies back in the chair and closes her eyes.
“How long did it take you to do your nails?” asks the regular in his warm Oxfordshire tones. Olivia doesn’t respond.
“I think she’s asleep,” I say.
“Oh,” he replies. “I thought she was just dozing.”
There is a loud crash. Philip has thrown something at the nurse.
“You’re the devil,” he shouts.
“I’ll call security,” she threatens.
There is an alarm coming from somewhere that never ceases. It is made up of two beeps, one low sonorous one and the other shorter and sharper on top. A rather repetitive hospital concerto.
The regular huffs and puffs and tries to strike up a conversation with the lady with the onsie, she’s not interested.
“Liam Mulligan,” calls a blonde nurse. The young footballer gets up and follows her on his shoeless feet.
“Philip do you know why you’re here?” asks the nurse in the distance.
Philip grunts.
“Your neighbours found you collapsed in the lift and called an ambulance.”
Everyone is here for a reason. Obviously most people come because they’re ill or hurt. But the regular just seems to be looking for someone to talk to. I wonder how often he comes here. He still bears the marks of a normal human being, for example his blue check short-sleeved shirt is immaculately ironed. But he wears filthy slippers and his hair is dirty. His manners though are impeccable. The regular was obviously a man of discipline and rules before he fell into this circle of hell that is the A&E unit. Now he can’t seem to get out. I imagine him there night after night with his inferior snack pack trying to strike up conversations with people who don’t want to talk.
As it gets later (or earlier depending on which way you look at it) the circles of hell get more sinister. After 3 am we are getting to the business end of the night. A fat drunk person of indeterminate sex and more tattoos than clear skin walks in, glares at the woman with the onsie for a few minutes as if they are about to murder her (or maybe steal her onsie), then lies down on the floor and falls asleep.
In the distance the alarm churns out its monotonous symphony. It has now penetrated my head to such an extent that I think if I will hear it for hours after we leave, rather like you sway after getting off a boat.
The tussle with Philip is finally over. He must have fallen asleep.
It is now almost 4am. Olivia is still asleep. Three young students come in; one of them so drunk he can barely move. He sits down next to the Oratory school mother who moves seats immediately in case he projectile vomits. He doesn’t, he just leans forward onto his arms and falls asleep, his head hanging like a heavy pendulum from his neck.
His two friends sit close by: a boy and a girl. They are formal with each other, almost shy. The girl, who has blonde hair scraped back into a ponytail, has brought some studies with her. Very sensible.
A nurse comes and calls the name Thomas. The pendulum sways slightly.
“Thomas, can you stand?” she asks, approaching him. Again there is a sign that he has heard her, but barely any movement. The nurse and Thomas’s friends heave him to his feet and take him off to a cubicle.
Oratory mother’s son comes back from his check-up and they leave. So now it’s just us and the nutters. The regular has fallen asleep, an unopened orange juice in one hand.
The homeless man is called. He moves unsteadily, obviously drunk as well. As he sways past us I see a tattoo all the way down his left arm. Carpe Diem it reads. He clearly didn’t.
It is half past four. Olivia wakes up in pain. “I just want to go home,” she wails. I ask the nurse how many more until we see the doctor. Two more. The bright neon lights now feel like an instrument of torture. Everything hurts and I’m not even injured.
Thomas is wheeled past. His friends get up to follow the bed. They stand a respectful distance from the cubicle, but close to each other. They talk about Thomas, just to keep the conversation going. They smile a lot. I wonder if they were at a party and about to start snogging before Thomas lost the plot. Maybe they will joke about this night on their wedding day.
A nurse comes in and wakes up the regular. She gives him a small plastic pot.
“No rush,” she says. “But when you can.”
The regular looks at her and then the pot. “If I don’t want to widdle I don’t want to widdle. It’s as simple as that,” he says.
Another drunk arrives. He sits down for a minute then gets up, his frayed, dirty jeans covering his bare feet. He shuffles up and down the corridor opposite the waiting room like a tiger in a cage. Does anyone wear shoes in this place?
At 5 o’clock a doctor finally comes for us. He is neither McDreamy nor McSteamy. In fact the closest we have had to any lookers is an orderly with a fleeting resemblance to Eden Hazard.
“Hello,” says the doctor brightly. “And what brings you to A&E this morning?”
“Actually we arrived last night,” I tell him.
He examines Olivia, asks some questions and then we are free to go. My neighbour who is a doctor thinks they might have kept us in to check for any signs of concussion, but they might have told us that. It feels like an extremely long wait for not much.
The ambulance lady from earlier reappears.
“Have you come to drive me home?” asks Olivia sleepily.
“You wish,” she smiles, giving her a hug.
We walk out into the broad daylight.
“You go in when it’s dark and come out when it’s light,” I say to Olivia. “It’s the opposite of going to the cinema.”
We see Rupert driving towards us. I can’t wait to get home. “And I thought the film went on a bit.”

What happened to Hugh?

My husband’s and my reaction to the images of Hugh Grant doing a great impression of a beached whale in Mallorca were very different.
“How disgusting,” I said, pushing away my breakfast. “There’s no excuse for that.”
“How marvellous,” said my husband. “The pressure’s off. Pass me another sausage.”
Up and down the country men of a certain age not only breathed a sigh of relief, but allowed themselves to breathe out properly and let it all hang out for the first time in years.
Here was Hugh Grant, cinematic icon, sex symbol and floppy-haired hero looking worse than them. I can imagine them admiring themselves in the mirror thinking ‘I haven’t even got moobs, I’m a stud’.34DA342400000578-0-image-m-11_1464907508168
Hugh is a classic example of a middle-aged man who has decided that for him the war is over. By war I mean the battle to stay in shape, to remain young looking, and meet the ageing process head on. He has decided to slide into middle age in comfort (and rather dodgy looking swimming trunks).
I have lots of friends who have done the same. They have vast bellies, their shoulders seem to have vanished, they are jowly and look, well, old. Their wives on the other hand don’t. They take care of themselves, stay trim and dye their hair. They are starting to look ten, even 20, years younger than their frumpy husbands.
There really is no excuse to look like Hugh Grant. While I know men who are heading inexorably towards a flabby future, there are those (much rarer) who have taken charge of their destiny. They exercise, they don’t drink a bottle of wine a night and they watch what they eat. I have one friend who at 40 is younger than Hugh but he has the body of a 20 year old. I can’t imagine that by 55 he will have let it all go.
Staying in shape becomes a habit once you start. It’s the starting that’s tough. Especially when you’ve sunk as low as Hugh has. But the amazing thing about getting in shape is that it really doesn’t take very long. Start now. Do some exercise every day. Cut alcohol down to weekends. Try not to eat bread every day, or carbs at night. There are tiny tweaks you can make to your life that done together will add up to a new, rejuvenated and reinvigorated you. Who looks like Hugh Grant used to. I feel a sequel to Smart Women don’t get Wrinkles coming on. Yep, you guessed it. Smart Men don’t get Moobs.

Smart women don’t get wrinkles

My new book is out. It all started with a flourish this weekend when the Daily Telegraph serialised it (link below).
Publishing a book is a bit like having a baby. There is a long gestation period, followed by the new-born phase where you have to help them along. After a while you just have to let them go and hope for the best.
The good news is, they are unlikely to rebel in their teenage years and the worst thing they can do is refuse to sell.image1
So my new baby is out there, and if you do buy it, I hope you enjoy Smart women don’t get wrinkles. Of course we do get wrinkles, but the point of the book is to minimise them, and also to meet ageing head-on as opposed to just letting it take us over.
I think this is a great time to be ageing. A friend of mine suddenly has a 70 year-old boyfriend and said yesterday “well, of course 70 isn’t old any more”. Imagine saying that even 10 years ago? Look at style icon Iris Apfel gracing our TV screens at 90 in a car ad. Or that Swiss billionaire having twins aged 54. On a more negative note, Japan is suffering from a ‘grey crime-wave’.
If 70 isn’t old any more and you may be called on aged 90 to advertise a car your great-grandchildren will be driving, you need to make sure you are ageing well enough to enjoy life once you get there. And this is what the book is about, not just wrinkles. It’s all about how to stay young, when you get old.
Happy reading!

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/beauty/tips-tutorials/how-to-look-10-years-younger-secrets-of-an-anti-ageing-aficionad/

The wrong message

I read with dismay that Germany is about to introduce single-sex carriages on the underground due to the amount of sex attacks on women by migrants.
What kind of message does this send? It sends a message that we are willing to accept this outrageous behaviour and are taking steps to incorporate it into our society and way of life.images
This is entirely the wrong message. Just as it was entirely the wrong message to let a man in the north of England get away with molesting a young boy due to “cultural differences”. So while a football player is sentenced to six years in jail for “grooming and molesting” a 15 year old girl, another man gets off with raping someone who really is a child.
These “cultural differences” should not be accepted in our society. In our society it is neither acceptable nor legal to molest young boys. In other parts of the world it is considered almost the norm. Remember that horrendous story about sex-slave boys being chained to the beds of officers serving in the Afghan army? Our army would, quite rightly, imprison someone who did that. In our society you can’t just grab hold of a woman because you like the look of her. In others, men are all-powerful and get away with murder, literally.
I no longer dare let my 12 year old son Leo go to a public loo alone. I have insisted the girls download rape alarm apps. Never mind terrorism, Europe is less safe because of the appalling life in so many other places, which means literally millions of people who don’t share our values want to live here.
Quite what we thought would happen when we opened our borders to people who have in some cases been badly damaged by war and\or others have a very different concept of right and wrong, I don’t know.
What I do know is that by introducing single-sex carriages, we are doing exactly what the terrorists who create such hell in our usually peaceful cities want. We are turning our liberal, safe and democratic society into one resembling theirs. Which means they are winning. And that is the wrong message.

Me and my Santé magazine column

It must  be more than 10 years ago that I received a call from an editor at the French magazine Santé. I was on a train at the time, heading from our home in the south of France to London, and I remember the line being rather bad. The editor asked me if I would be interested in writing a beauty column for them entitled ‘Me and my…..’ I had to double check that I hadn’t misheard. “But I can’t write in French,” I protested. The editor suggested I find a translator. They wanted something with “typical British humour”. They had seen my column in the Sunday Times and decided I was the woman for the job. The Santé column is still going, with my lovely friend and translator Jacques Kuhnle translating every one. Over the next few months I am going to publish a selection here, starting with this one about Japanese skin care.

Me and my Japanese skin care regime 

It was at the Viva Mayr Clinic in Austria that I first heard about Japanese skin care. I was there to research a book about ageing the Viva Mayr way. The clinic, situated on the shores of an Austrian lake, is the go-to place for those who can afford the time and the cost of taking the “cure” as they call it, which basically means cleansing from the inside out. I have neither time nor money, but one of the perks f being a writer is that you get invited to all sorts of places you could never afford to go to in order to write about them.

These retreats make for interesting social dynamics. For a start you end up wearing nothing but your dressing gown in front of strangers. And the first topic of conversation is usually (at Viva Mayr anyway) about your digestive system. I met a lovely woman called Kendal on my visit there. Once we had compared our digestive systems we moved on to skincare. Kendal lives in Japan and told me how Japanese women look after their skin. This is something that has always fascinated me, as you don’t really see many Japs who have aged badly. I assumed it was due to all the fish they ate, and in part it may be, but they are also dedicated to caring for their skin extremely well. Kendal gave me some of her Japanese products to try, along with a sheet of instructions for the facial massage that is at the centre of any Japanese cleansing ritual. I have since run out of the lovely products she gave me but this is where my ‘layering’ method of skincare was born.

Scan 4It is more or less the same regime morning and evening, although in the morning I don’t remove my make-up and I use a day cream with SPF instead of a night cream.
It begins with removing my make-up. I use a lotion, usually Clarins Cleansing Milk with Alpine Herbs. If I have been wearing eye make-up I use an eye make-up remover too. Next it’s the deeper cleansing and massage stage. This is what the Japanese refer to as the ‘cleansing the pores’ stage, where you go beyond the superficial and get deep down into your skin. Here I use my favourite cleanser, Eve Lom Cleanser. You need a cleanser that is thick and creamy because this is also where the massaging comes in. The Japanese, as you would imagine, have an extremely precise set of instructions on the massage. I started by following them on the sheet of paper Kendal gave me, but now I just improvise. The idea of the facial massage is of course to deep cleanse, but also to relax the muscles, thus smoothing away wrinkles and eliminating toxins. Focus on your jawline, cheeks, forehead and the area around the eyes. I usually massage for between one and two minutes.

Once I have removed the cleanser, I tone. Following that I layer skincare products on my face and neck. I always start with a serum to nourish my skin; my advice pick one with active ingredients such as hyaluronic acid or vitamin C. Following that is the oil, and finally a night cream at night or a day cream for the day. And don’t forget the eye cream, another good excuse to gently massage your eye area.

The future is definitely not orange…

“This isn’t a scam isn’t it?” I asked Laura from Orange Models. “I mean I know people do lure young girls in with the promise of an illustrious modeling career and all they’re really doing is selling them a portfolio.”
Laura assured me it was not. Several times. And as I normally do when someone answers a direct question, I believed her.
The reason I was talking at Laura at all was that my daughter Olivia had spotted an ad online. ‘Models needed’ it read. And gave an email address and instructions on how to upload pictures. Olivia has had some modelling experience. Well she did one job, for Centrepoint, a charity that helps homeless young people. So she figured she would give it a go. Minutes after the sent them her picture, Laura was on the phone to her. And then she had to talk to me, as Olivia is a minor.
“We really like her look,” she gushed. “She’s quite mature looking isn’t she for her age? She’s got a really interesting face. We think she’d be perfect for High Street brands like Top Shop and Zara and catalogues.”
Laura continued for about 15 minutes, telling me all about how the High Street brands are looking for new, young faces, girls aged 15 or 16.IMG_0568
“But she’s too short to be a model,” I said. “She’s only 5 foot six.”
“Oh there are no height restrictions for that age group,” Laura assured me and then proceeded to tell me what the procedure was.
Olivia was being invited for a four-hour assessment, where there would be people on hand to do her hair and make-up, a stylist to dress her and a photographer to take pictures of her.
“But this must be a scam,” I said. “You can’t possibly provide all that for nothing. What is this going to cost me?”
Nothing at all I was told bar a £50 deposit to secure the studio and staff. This would be refunded as soon as I showed up on the day. “We make our money by passing models on to agencies who get work for them.”
I asked her again if it was a scam or if we were going to be asked to buy the images. Not at all I was assured. They were simply assessing Olivia’s potential to become a model.
“So if you think she has potential you will take her on without me buying a portfolio?”
“Yes of course.”
Olivia was very excited about her future as a model. She recently dropped out of school and was facing the prospect of one mundane job after another. The thought of becoming Kate Moss was incredibly appealing.
I had by now started to believe Laura. She really did talk a good game and she seemed genuinely keen on my daughter, telling me again and again how interesting her face was and what potential she had.
As the day drew closer though and I was faced with the prospect of trekking up to London for it I thought I ought to just double check. So I called Orange again. Laura was out but her colleague asked if he could help me.
Again I repeated my scam question. Again I was assured Olivia was there for a genuine assessment, and that if she were successful she would become a model.
Olivia and I arrived at the studios of Metro Photography at the allotted time with her vital statistics listed and a bag full of clothes for her to change into for her various “looks”.
We were greeted by a girl called Gisela and her stylist Pedro. Gisela painstakingly filled out a form with us, all about Olivia and what sort of model she could become. Then came the photo shoots. Five different looks, involving five locations (outside in the freezing cold, in the studio etc), makeup and hair five times and so on. The whole process took hours. I had to dash off to a meeting so Olivia’s father had to come and take over while the team “assessed” her pictures and decided if she had a future as a model. You can see a selection I took here.IMG_0574

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Olivia said it was lucky I wasn’t there for the so-called assessment. A man with a rather annoying lisp droned on for ages, keeping them in suspense as to whether Olivia had “made it” until the last minute. They looked at the photos, apparently she looked great, and then EUREKA! She had made it, she could be a model, she could be the next Kendal Jenner. Olivia of course was utterly thrilled. Rupert was happy too, until they told him he would have to buy a portfolio. For £700.

So they had repeatedly lied to me. I wonder how these people can sleep at night knowing they make their living giving innocent punters false hope. How could Gisela (if indeed that is her name) go through all this all day, day in, day out knowing it’s all a lie?
I have to hand it to Orange “models” as they call themselves and their partners, Metro Photography. The whole process was meticulously thought out, every detail made you think they were actually serious until of course they slap you with the bill.
By that stage of course there will be people who have been so overwhelmed and seduced by the whole “modelling” experience that they just can’t say no. And heaven knows what lengths they will go to in order to come up with £700 for something that will be of no use to them whatsoever. We saw two other people fall for it while we were there; one very sweet girl who was about the height of my 12 year old son so is never going to be a model and another woman who was even older than I am.
At best what Orange and Metro are doing is preying on people’s vanity, at worst on their insecurities and their need to be loved.
Whichever it is, they need to be stopped.

My books of the year

I have been meaning to do this for days and I guess it’s now or never. Having read a lot of fairly dreary lists of books of the year I would like to share my own hopefully not so dreary list….

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben McIntyreimgres
Utterly brilliant read, a bit like a thriller in fact, totally unputdownable, extremely well written and researched, made me want to d0 nothing but read about spies for months.

Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh

imagesOne of the funniest books you are ever likely to read, it follows the downfall and eventual redemption of the unlikely hero Paul Pennyfeather. It was Waugh’s first novel but contains some of the most memorable characters in literature such as the public school man Grimes who is irresistible, irrepressible and appalling all at the same time. Worth reading just for the prep-school scenes, which are laugh-out loud funny and scarily close to the truth….

We are all completely beside ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
imgres-1This is such a clever book. It manages to combine tragedy and comedy perfectly, as well as telling a really moving and compelling story. One of the few contemporary novels I read this year and really enjoyed. If you haven’t read it then do so immediately.

 

 

 

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
images-1One of those books I first read as a teenager and reread this year. I’m so glad I did. It is hysterically funny. Some of the one-liners are reminiscent of Dorothy Parker in their brilliance such as the following: “There are some things (like first love and one’s first reviews) at which a woman in her middle years does not care to look too closely.” Hear, hear!

imgres-2Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
And talking of brilliant one-liners…in fact read anything by Nancy. She is the female equivalent of Waugh, just as sharp, perceptive, snobbish and entertaining. I devoured all her books this year and will probably read them again next year. Unforgettable touches such as the “Hons” club her heroine belongs to. A lightness of touch coupled with incisive perception. Just perfect.

Finally the book of the year NOT to read….

How to be both by Ali Smith
Incomprehensible, pretentious drivel. Parts of it are nicely written but rather like Alice laments a book without pictures, I can’t see the point of a book with no plot. I wanted to know how to be neither by the end. In fact I couldn’t even bear to get to the end.

The runaway parents’ club

There are several stages of parenting, and you tend to share them with your girlfriends. The excitement of the first pregnancy scan, the birth, followed by the toddler stage, comparing first steps and first words, the funny things they say, the adorable things they do. Then comes the (mainly) harmless pre-pubescent stage and finally the bit we all dread that bridges childhood and adulthood. Yep, the teenage years.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but as the mother of a couple of girls who were nicknamed the ferals by a close friend back in 2008, I predicted it wouldn’t be easy.
It is not, but as with the other parenting stages, I am not alone. A lot of my friends are going through similar (and worse) things than I am. One friend had her car stolen, driven all over the county and dumped in a field, filthy and rather predictably out of petrol. Another left her daughter staying with friends while she went abroad for a few days. When she got back the daughter had hosted an enormous party, trashed the house (including a broken floor, I mean how the hell do you do that?!), drunk everything that even resembled alcohol and even managed to damage the next door neighbour’s place.
As I lay in bed last night fuming over the injustices linked to being the parent of a teenager and wondering if I could run away from home, I had an idea.
As my heroine Nora Ephron was fond of saying: “Everything is copy.” There was a film in 1996 starring Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton and Bette Midler called The First Wives Club. imgres
It tells the story of three friends whose husbands have all left them for younger women. The first wives plot their revenge with hilarious consequences. How about a similar film about three friends whose teenagers have ritually abused them, trashed their homes, flunked out of school, stolen from them (I could go on) plotting how to finally get control of their offspring?
I imagine something like a kidnap where the three teenagers are whisked off to some awful boot-camp in Wales by the mothers all wearing cat-woman type disguises, armed with whips and Taser guns.
Here the adolescents are subjected to the kind of things they subject their parents to on a daily basis, as well as some rigorous exercise, hideous arithmetic and French verbs thrown in for good measure, possibly even the odd (fake of course) life-threatening situation. When they eventually “escape” (also part of the mothers’ plot) and get home they are so grateful to be there they are utter lambs.
And at any sign of dissent the mothers have only to drop the word ‘Wales’ into the conversation to trigger terrible flashbacks…

Happy Birthday dear Biologico

24598_101777316529563_3127801_nToday is my father’s birthday. Or at least it would have been, but he died in January 2014.
I didn’t really know him until I was a teenager. My mother and he split up when I was two. She and I moved to Sweden then England and we had no contact with him until we went back to Italy over ten years later. When he first met me after all that time, he was disappointed. I didn’t speak Italian, I had no idea who Dante was, and my hero was John Travolta. “I see you have inherited my looks and your mother’s brains, a most unfortunate way for things to have turned out,” was one of the first things he said to me. It seemed too late to call him ‘daddy’ so he became ‘biologico’ for obvious reasons.
He was not the most patient man, and this was before the days when children had any say in their upbringing whatsoever. Our first few years together were spent battling . Him battling to make me more intelligent, me battling to remain in the mediocrity I felt comfortable with. I am now struggling with a similar situation, trying to stop my own teenage daughter from being as stupid as I was.
At the time of course I was sure he was wrong, that how one spoke was irrelevant, that learning Dante was utterly ridiculous and that there was no real reason to read books or stop smoking. But now on his birthday I look back on all his efforts as a kind of gift. I never did learn the Divine Comedy off by heart (as he did) but I am glad that he at least opened my eyes to a world above John Travolta, smoking cigarettes and ghastly pop music.
I guess that is all you can do with children, show them what’s out there, and hope they pick up on it. Even if it takes several years for the message to get through. Sometimes it probably doesn’t even get through.1008974_655292077863679_1983957060_o
As Dorothy Parker put it so well while on a quiz show trying to use the word horticulture in a sentence: “You can lead a whore to culture, but you can’t make her think.”
I wish he were here today of course, I would phone him up and wish him Happy Birthday, he would immediately be able to tell if something was bothering me and give me some advice on how to deal with it, then he would say “grazie per la chiamata”, hang up and get back to his writing.
The best way to remember him will be to spend the day writing. He was a firm believer in working every day, and not letting too much nonsense get in the way. Of course sometimes as far as he was concerned I was the nonsense, he did constantly remind me of how stupid I was, which at the time felt kind of harsh, but looking back on it now seems fair.
Happy Birthday dear Biologico, and thank you.

We’ll always have Paris

People go to Paris to be happy. They go to drink champagne, to eat delicious food, to sit in cafés discussing philosophy, to shop for matching underwear and to make love.
Paris is not a city you go to if you’re on a diet, metaphorically or literally. It is a city of excess, of abundance, beauty and glamour.
I’m sure that’s why the terrorists picked Paris on Friday night. There is no city on earth that is more symbolic of everything they hate. As the writer Alan Furst once said: “Paris is the beating heart of Western civilisation. It’s where it all began.”
On Friday night, a gang of murderous thugs tried to end it. They turned a fun evening out for hundreds of people into their worst nightmare. They targetted young people, people who had just started out in life, men and women who had everything to look forward to, who should have had years and years to live, not minutes, or seconds. A concert was turned into something resembling Dante’s lower circles of hell.
The stories and images to come out of the Bataclan theatre and other parts of central Paris where the terrorists rampaged will stay with us forever. Who will ever forget the man whose wife was murdered promising the terrorists that every day their 17-month old son will “insult you with his happiness and his freedom”? Or the hero who threw himself in front of a woman in a restaurant to save her from the terrorist’s bullets? Or even the BBC newsreader who broke down in tears? Something we have all done, some of us several times a day, since it happened.imgres
I don’t understand what those murderers think they are going to achieve by killing and maiming people. I’m not even sure they do. But picking on Paris was a mistake. Paris is everyone’s favourite city. Most people who have visited Paris have happy memories. Those who haven’t yet been dream of going and walking over one of her bridges, or exploring her museums. Paris is beautiful, elegant and, as we have seen, vulnerable. She is a bit like a stunning woman, whom no one wants to see violated.
It was wonderful to see the whole world light up monuments in the tricolor as a tribute to Paris, and of course the Eiffel Tower itself, standing tall, like a giant ‘doigt d’honneur’ or middle finger saying an enormous f*** you to the terrorists.
Vive la France.