Gainfully employed once more….

Yes, I know I have been annoying you all by smugly describing my life as a lady of leisure and telling you all how I was planning not to work until at least September BUT….I have a job. In fact I have a dream job. I am editorial director of (and partner in) a gorgeous, glossy, high-end fashion magazine based here in Abu Dhabi called Masquerade magazine. Check out the website www.masquerademag.com.
The job came from the most unlikely of sources. A few months ago, before the demise of M magazine was even a twinkle in management’s eye, Leo’s favourite football coach, an Arsenal fan (poor thing) called Andrei told me he had a friend in Abu Dhabi who had set up a fashion magazine. I didn’t think much of it because most of the magazines here are hardly quality products. And I couldn’t imagine that I would not have seen it if it were. Then I met Andrei’s friend and he showed me the mag. I was bowled over by its professionalism, quality and also by his ambition and vision. “I want to set up the Condé Nast of the Middle East,” he told me. I was sold immediately.
I have brought the lovely Jemma who used to work with me at M along with me and together we are plotting the next few issues. At the moment Masquerade is quarterly, but it will go bi-monthly from next year and monthly from 2014.
It is strange, much as I loved having time off and being a lady of leisure I could see, even after only a couple of weeks, how dull it would eventually become. I am really enjoying coming up with feature ideas, planning the future of the magazine and working with freelancers I had to let go unceremoniously when M was closed.
So no more lady of leisure, but I am a happier lady, and very much looking forward to helping to create the Condé Nast of the Middle East.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2012

All in a day’s work

I have always wondered what it would be like not to work. I have literally not stopped since university. I never had maternity leave (I was making calls from my hospital bed) and although I worked from home for a long time in France, I had at least three jobs at any given time.

The first thing I have noticed is how quickly the days go now. I thought I would have so much time and instead I seem to have almost less. Never again will I look askance at mothers who don’t work and secretly think they should get on with something useful rather than grumbling about their husbands. When you don’t work, there is a world of stuff to keep you busy. I was “let go” over three weeks ago, that’s almost my entire annual holiday, and I haven’t even noticed it go.
Lunch, for example, keeps me busy. This week I have truly been a lady who lunches, with lunches every day. Tomorrow I have one that is work related (more on that if it comes to anything), but thus far I have been lunching with other ladies who lunch. It’s been a bit of a learning curve. First of all I had no idea lunch has to start early so that said ladies can get to school on time to pick up their children. So far since my release I have managed the school run a total of four times. I kid you not. I have been too busy doing other things to do the one thing a non-working mother should do. Happily Stanley has been on hand to collect them from school.
Of course once the kids are home there is no possibility of achieving anything much. The girls are revising for exams, then there are activities, piano practice and before you know it, it’s apero time.
And I haven’t even started on looking after the husband. This of course is now my main aim. No admin chore is too large, no trip downstairs to get a cup of tea too onerous. Seriously though, there has been an imperceptible shift. Basically anything to do with the kids or the household is my responsibility. At first I was slightly irritated, but it’s fair enough really. If one person earns all the money, the other one should look after things at home. One thing I used to loathe about non-working mothers was how they would make their working/commuting/stressed-out husbands take on as much at home as they did.

I feel a little bit like a perfect wife in Mad Men, a sort of ideal woman from another era, calmly running my household and making sure everyone in it is happy, well fed and well rested. To be honest, it’s not a bad job. And I do at least get on well with my bosses. Although I can see how it could turn one into a Stepford wife after a few months.

But, my 1950s alter ego might argue, what’s wrong with that….?

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2012

My gap year

Exactly a week ago today I was made redundant. I was called up to an office in the HR department (never a good sign) and “let go” along with two of my colleagues. We were told they were closing the magazine as a result of a focus group investigation into the company.
You might wonder why on earth it has taken me so long to inform you of this dramatic development. Surely as I now have no job I have nothing to do and should be writing a blog daily. I have often looked at non-working mothers with a certain amount of disdain and wondered what their excuse is for a chipped nail, when they don’t have the tyranny of the office to keep them busy.
Now that I am one of them, I have only the greatest admiration. When you’re not working the days whiz by faster than a ride on the Leap of Faith. By the time you’ve kissed the kids goodbye, been nice to your husband, come back from the gym, planned lunch and answered some emails, it’s time for an afternoon kip and then the kids are back again.
I have to say my redundancy could not have come at a better time. I had been panicking about what to do in the summer. I had a total of about 10 days holiday but want to be in Europe, at La Belle Maison, for at least 60. Added to which, we have a lot of very important football matches coming up. Tomorrow Leo, Rupert and I fly to London where we will be going to Stamford Bridge for Chelsea v Newcastle followed by Wembley for the FA Cup final. Then there’s Munich for the Champions League final.
So there is plenty to keep me busy. Added to which I am on the final edits of one book and have just started another.
I have yet had anyone ask me what I do though. Never in my life have I had the luxury of saying “nothing” or “I look after my nails, sorry, my children” and I wonder if I will feel uncomfortable admitting that I have no ostensibly useful role in society any more? Especially somewhere like here, where you are defined by your career and the amount of money you earn.
I might just tell people I’m on a gap year. It sounds less drastic than “redundant” and a lot more like fun. Whatever else there is an enormous sense of freedom as I look forward to an office-free spring and summer filled with historic footballing victories, tennis and long walks in the Savoie. And what better day to write about it on than May 1st, the day that commemorates the working man, or woman (poor blighters).
Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2012

What next?

I know I only just finished the latest novel, but I am thinking about the next one. There are a few options I would love your thoughts on.
Option One: Ciao Bella in novel form, modelled on Bonjour Tristesse, obviously not the same as Ciao Bella, but with similar themes and of course the central character of my Dante-reading, opera-obsessed and womanising father.
Option Two: Another chick-lit, this time with a strong tennis theme. Central characters include Rafa and Roger types but they hate each other, think Jake the gypsy and Rupert Campbell-Black in Riders.
Option Three: A novel based here called The end of Mahara, which is a comment Olivia came up with while describing the coming-of-age of a friend of hers, meaning that for Mahara her carefree childhood days are over now she has to cover herself. Three central characters; one expat wife, one housemaid, and one Emirati whose lives somehow intertwine. Will probably also end up being chick-lit as any fiction I try to write tends to turn into chick-lit.
Or none of the above, suggestions welcome….

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2012

Retirement plans

Rupes and I were discussing football managers this morning, like you do…. Obviously changes are being planned at Chelsea, yet again. One of the reasons we are lagging behind Man U is that we lack the consistency they have achieved in part by holding on to the same manager for 25 years. WE have had six in eight years.

I asked Rupes if he thought Sir Alex might retire now he has overtaken Liverpool’s premier league record of 18 wins.

“To do what?” he replied. “He loves it.”

He has a point. Which got me thinking about our retirement. Of course with everyone living to be about 100 and five children between us, we probably won’t retire until we are 80. But when it happens, there is at least one thing I really want to do. I want to follow the clay-court tennis season from Monaco to Barcelona to Madrid to Rome and then Paris. Can you imagine a more perfect trip? Think of the food, the wine, the shopping, and of course the tennis.

The only downside is Rafa, of course, will no longer be playing. But perhaps his son will?

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2011

Going, going, gone…..

Because I use this blog in part as a diary, I am going to post a speech my deputy made today and show you the glorious cake the magazine team had made for me. I just don’t want you to think I am trying to show off. But it was too lovely a gesture not to keep…obviously I cried.

Here is the cake

Here is Rick’s Speech:
Helena, you wear us out.

You are a whirlwind.

We don’t know how you do it.

You’re a wife, a mother … a tennis player, a yoga practitioner … a
beauty spy, a trier and a tester … a fashion and style icon with
your signature leopard print and pink … a writer, a ghostwriter, an
editor …

We don’t know when you sleep.

Your unflagging energy and tireless commitment to excellence inspire,
ennoble, charm, delight … and only occasionally infuriate us.

We congratulate and celebrate with you on the publication of your
latest novel — and we tell you that our relationship with you is one
of:

Love in a Warm Climate.

Here I am with the cake:

And this is what is left of it now….

Let’s hope book stocks are depleted as fast…yum.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2011

Ladies who lunch

Last week I joined the ladies who lunch brigade. Our lovely housemaid went off to Sri Lanka on holiday and so I decided to become a housewife for a few days. The plan was slightly complicated by the fact that I had to finish final edits on Love in a Warm Climate but other than that I behaved pretty much like those women I sometimes slightly despise, but mostly envy.

My days were not hard to fill. Making school lunches, cooking, playing tennis, washing, going to to beauty salons and, of course, having lunch. It’s amazing how quickly time goes when you are out of the office, it’s almost like the day takes on a whole other dimension. I can see how they call themselves “busy”. I mean a facial can take an hour and a half for heaven’s sake….

I wondered if the kids would be nicer/calmer/more like 1950s Mad Men ideal we all aspire to. They were no different really, although at one point Leo did ask me why I couldn’t work at home all the time.

The main difference was me. Even though I was getting up at 6am to do the lunchboxes and running around like a mad woman finding all those things Nerosa magically conjures up at any given moment such as rugby socks and swimming costumes, I felt so much calmer and looked forward to the day with relish because I looked forward to just hanging out at home so much. I love my job, but it was so nice to feel like I had less responsibilities for a few days.

It is now the weekend and I have a slight ‘going back to school’ feeling about next week. But I think once I get stuck in I’ll be fine. And if the book becomes a best-seller I can always try becoming a lady who lunches for a bit longer……..

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2011

This Devil wears Zara…..

One of the first conversations I ever had with Rupert was at the business magazine we both worked at when we were starting out in journalism.

“Why aren’t you working at Vogue or some other woman’s magazine?” he asked.

I remember being terribly insulted. OK so I didn’t want to be a business reporter, that was just a way in to journalism. But I wanted to be a foreign correspondent, or maybe a Pulitzer Prize winner who had changed the world, and I certainly didn’t want to write about this season’s shoes or Brad Pitt’s love life.

Now, far too many years on, I finally find myself where I belong; on a woman’s weekly mag. I spend my days happily editing articles about designers, make-up, Zac Efron, but also more serious issues such as the everyday lives of Gazan women and inter-religious marriages.

I started off on the magazine as a staff writer two and a bit years ago. In April I became deputy editor. Yesterday it was announced that I will take over from the editor when she leaves on Thursday. I couldn’t be happier. I have already cut my hair a little shorter and am considering the full Anna Wintour bob. I still can’t afford any Prada, but I find Zara a great substitute, especially the shoes, you can get four pairs for the price of one Louboutin.

During one of my interviews for the job the Editor-in-Chief asked me what I would do if I didn’t get the it.

“Would you be interested in one of the other sections?” he asked.

I thought about it for a minute.

No was my answer, and thankfully I don’t have to think about it any more.

Just imagine, I might have ended up back on the business desk…..

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2010

Miss Dep-Ed

When I took on the job of staff writer at The National, I thought I would never want to do anything else. It seemed a perfect role; roaming around asking questions and not having any real responsibility. I hadn’t worked as an editor since I edited a magazine called Central European for Euromoney many years ago. The only person I edited was Rupert; not that he needs it.

All this has now changed. Mo, my friend and deputy editor of the magazine, was promoted a few weeks ago. I put myself forward for her job and was asked to do a trial. I found editing enormous fun. And what is even more fun is coming up with good ideas that you then don’t have to write, and having some say in how the magazine is run.

From not really wanting to be an editor, I suddenly wanted it more than I had wanted anything in a long time. I worked hard, tried to make things run smoothly and made an effort to learn all I needed to. I had an interview with Rachel the editor.

D-day came on Sunday. I was a bag of nerves. Rachel went in to see the big editor. When she came back she took the other leading candidate outside for a chat.

‘Is that good or bad?’ I texted Rupes.
‘Good,’ he replied.

I could barely breathe. I had a Yogi tea to calm my nerves. ‘For every loss,’ read the message, ‘there is an equal gain’. I’m doomed, I thought, it’s a sign. ‘For every gain,’ it went on, ‘there is an equal loss.’ OK so whatever happens I’m doomed.

After what seemed like a year Rachel came back and took me outside. My heart was beating so fast I was sure she would be able to hear it. We stood opposite each other.

“I’d like to offer you the job of deputy editor,” she said. I threw my arms around her. Possibly not the most traditional response, but she took it well.

So now I am planning ideas to commission. I am onto a piece drawing on our correspondents from the region about women to watch in the Middle East.

I am a very happy ‘dep-ed’ as Rupes calls me. Story ideas welcome…..

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2010

Sorry for the long silence

It has been a very hectic week. I am on a two-week try-out for the job of deputy editor so suddenly have masses to do at work. I am loving it though, I feel totally energetic and excited about it. Editing is just like writing but with a lot less running around. And I love coming up with ideas (that I can then tell someone else to write…)

It’s been a very hectic time on the old social scene as well. Olivia and went to an amazing piano recital a few days ago. I was half-dreading taking her but she LOVED it, in fact she was mesmerized, totally in awe of the young blind Chinese pianist (whose name escapes me). It was one of those times I had been so looking forward to and that worked out even better than I could have imagined, I think she will always remember it.

Last night I went to the farewell dinner for the British Ambassador to the UAE. I love all the ambassadorial events here, they make me feel like I am in an Edith Wharton novel set in Paris in the early 1900s. Or in that book Madame De by Louise de Vilmorin. The British ambassador could easily be in it too, he is charming and smooth and has a voice that could melt frozen butter. He supports Manchester United, but nobody’s perfect.

Rupes has been to Japan, he will go to any lengths to avoid social functions. He comes home tomorrow I hope laden with Laura Mercier lip glosses.

Happy Easter to you all and i finish with a top tip from my yogi teabag this morning: Don’t sleep counting sleep, count blessings, then sleep. Advice I will take if I ever get the job…..