SCANDALS AND THEIR AFTERMATHS

The recent death of Christine Keeler brings the whole sorry story of what came to be known as the ‘Profumo Affair’ to a conclusion of sorts. She was the last survivor in a saga which brought down a government, gripped the nation’s imagination and still remains a benchmark for sleaze, corruption and betrayal.

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I always thought of Christine Keeler as one of the victims of this sordid affair overplayed to the detriment of all concerned: the other, Stephen Ward, was even hounded to death for in essence doing his job – unlike their comrade-in-arms, Mandy Rice Davies. After developing a chain of clubs and restaurants in Israel, Mandy settled back in London where she appeared in films, wrote some books and lived the rest of her days as a much loved survivor from what came to be seen as a gilded age. I interviewed her for my book Women. Perhaps to be expected, her views on sexuality were her most revealing:

‘In my twenties, I had very very little sexual urge. In my early thirties, it was a little more interesting, and from the age of about thirty-four, much more – funnily enough, in what people would term a more masculine way. I mean, I never used to walk along the street and suddenly think about something sexual from the night before or whatever. But as I got older, that happens to me quite frequently. I enjoy it more, much much more. It might be something to do with relaxing. As you get older, you’re becoming happier with yourself, there’s less pressure.

‘If women could have orgasms as easily as a man has an orgasm, then, what a world we’d be in! I suppose women can have multiple orgasms every now and again, but what really turns a woman on is love rather than lust. That is the major difference. A man can be almost instantly turned on by flashing a pair of breasts, or a bit of leg or something like that. A woman is much more difficult. I think when you are really turned on by love then you have a most incredibly sexual relationship. If it’s pure lust, you’re just left in the desert again at the end.’

MEASURE OUT THOSE COFFEE SPOONS

For a long time the medical profession believed that drinking coffee is a stimulant which had to be contained before it inflicted health problems. However, it is now suggested that coffee helps to prevent a multitude of conditions, including ever-rising heart disease, diabetes and cancer, a major UK study has found. Around three cups a day also reduces the chance of an early death by 17 per cent, as well as warding off liver disease and the dreaded dementia, say scientists. The University of Southampton researchers, whose report was published recently in the British Medical Journal, found that drinking coffee in moderation is ‘more likely to benefit health than harm.’ The scientists believe the antioxidant plant compounds in coffee are responsible for the benefits.

Decaffeinated coffee has a similar impact to the standard version, they found, suggesting it is not the caffeine that helps to prevent disease. ‘Roasted coffee is a complex mixture of over 1,000 bioactive compounds, some with potentially therapeutic anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatories, antifibrotic or anti-cancer effects,’ they wrote. The research team, which also included experts from the University of Edinburgh, reviewed all the available evidence for coffee consumption, combining the findings of 201 published studies. They found it had a major impact on heart problems, cutting the risk of developing cardiovascular disease by 15 per cent and slashing the chance of a cardiovascular death by 19 per cent. It also cuts the risk of liver cancer by 34 per cent and bowel cancer by 17 per cent. Coffee drinkers had a 36 per cent lower chance of developing Parkinson’s disease, and a 27 per cent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s, they found.

The research team wrote: ‘Coffee is highly consumed worldwide and could have positive health benefits especially in chronic liver disease. Coffee consumption seems generally safe with usual levels of intake, summary estimates indicating the largest risk reduction for various health outcomes at three to four cups a day, and are more likely to benefit than harm.’

But they stress their findings do not mean it is good for everyone. For example, coffee seems to increase the risk of leukaemia, lymphoma and lung cancer. And pregnant women are at greater risk of losing their baby if they drink too much of it. The researchers also found that those who drank more than three cups a day did not tend to see any additional benefits.

The European Food Safety Agency advises drinking no more than four cups a day. In an editorial published in the BMJ, Eliseo Guallar, of the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said: ‘People should not start drinking coffee for health reasons. While overall it may be beneficial, some people may be at higher risk of adverse effects,’ he said. He added that coffee is often drunk with sugar, milk or cream, which may independently contribute to adverse health outcomes.

What it all means is that moderation in drinking coffee is a safer bet to remain healthy, but nothing is guaranteed. Like everything else in life, what’s good for one might be poisonous for somebody else, which proves that luck can never be underestimated!

A Man’s Best Friend

For Dog lovers, here is a book where man and his dogs intertwine to form a common dotage. Only Brian Sewell could make this work in reality.

These were for the most part dogs discarded and left to fate-tied to the railings of Kensington Gardens, found with a broken leg in the wilds of Turkey, adopted from an animal rescue home, passed on by the vet-but there was also a whippet of noble pedigree and three generations of a family of crossbreeds in which the whippet strain was strong. They were not pets, but indulged friends and companions, with all of whom he shared his bed, and who richly rewarded him with loyalty and love.

This book is like no other. At £12,50 you will enter a world in which man and his animals form a bond that will intrigue you as well as give you much reflection to ponder upon.

Brian Sewell, a master of his craft will no doubt mesmerise the reader and educate him to the affinity that exists between man and beast.

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CHINESE CRACKERS

Every time you open the newspapers over the weekend these days you are likely to read about some progress taking place in China, which denotes that this great nation is forging ahead in every sector possible in order to become a leading world light to compete with others on a grand scale. One hundred years after Russian aristocrats fleeing from the Bolshevik revolution brought caviar to the haute cuisine restaurants of Paris, the Black Gold has found a new home in China – a country more known for food scares involving exploding melons and fake eggs.

The famed salt-cured fish roe, which is traditionally extracted from wild sturgeon in the Caspian Sea, has for centuries been a symbol of status and opulence – not to mention a source of power and wealth – for Europeans monarchs, ruthless smugglers and more recently, leaders of the Soviet Union. Now China has also been seduced and local producers are battling to overcome a reputation for shoddy food production standards to become one of the biggest players on the global market.

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It has been a short but arduous journey for China’s new sturgeon farmers and many continue to be discrete in naming the country of origin on products. ‘Most of the labels are in Russian,‘ said Su Shunquing, a fish trader at Beijing’s cavernous seafood market. ‘It’s because people always think China’s caviar is fake or inferior.’ But while consumers – both domestic and international – are yet to appreciate Chinese caviar, it has become a key ingredient for the world’s greatest chefs. Kaluga Queen, China’s top caviar producer, supplies 21 of the 26 restaurants in Paris to have been awarded the maximum 3 Michelin stars. The caviar was also served to world leaders at last year’s G20 summit in the Eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou.

Kaluga Queen’s journey to the dining table of Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin began with a government-backed scheme to breed Russian and Iranian wild sturgeon in China from the late 90s. Beijing was more interested in boosting fish supplies than developing an industry which had earned valuable revenue for the Soviet Union. But the scheme helped Kaluga Queen produce its first tin of roe in 2006 – a landmark event, which was followed by 5 years of pain as the company sought to transform positive reviews into sales said Xia Yongteao, the company’s vice president. ‘The general distrust in “made in China” food stood in the way of our development,’ Mr Yongteao said in an interview at the company’s processing plant in Quzhou, about 120 miles south of Hangzau. But its opportunity came when strict quotas in fishing in the Caspian Sea were enforced, following concerns that stocks were fast becoming depleted.

Kaluga Queen made its breakthrough in 2011 when Lufthansa choose its caviar to be served in the airline’s first class cabins. It has since become the world’s biggest caviar trader, producing more than 60 tons a year with 5% of sales arriving in the UK. It’s most expensive caviar comes from Beluga-sturgeon and costs £460 for a 100 gram tin. Company officials claim the roe’s freshness is a result of the crisp, clear water of the man-made Qiandaohu – or Thousand Island – lake where the sturgeon are found. ‘You can see through the water for 7 metres ‘Mr Xia said. ‘And you can drink the water directly from the lake, no problem.’

But while Chinese producers are confident the caviar industry is facing headwinds, due to the rise of eco conscious consumers in the West who object to depleting fresh stocks and the killing of female sturgeon for the contents of their ovaries, Kaluga Queen are now targeting domestic five-star hotels and high-end restaurants in the hope that China’s new rich will be the next in the long line of wealthy elites to fall for caviar’s enduring charm.

China is on the march again. This time it plans to control the caviar market world-wide and reap the benefits that Black Gold will enrich its bulging economy.

THE PIGS HAVE IT!

I’m really fascinated to find out eating five mushrooms a day will keep the doctor away. It seems this habit is likely to ward off heart disease, cancer and dementia. The fungi contain key anti-oxidants which combat ageing and boost the brain, scientists in the US say. Their research, published in the journal Food Chemistry, found that countries, in which consumption was high, such as in France and Italy, had fewer cases of Alzheimer’s disease than those that ate less, such as the US.

The average difference in intake is only 3 ml. a day, the equivalent of 5 button mushrooms. The fungi contain the antioxidants Ergothioneine and Glutathione, which destroy harmful chemicals released by the body. Robert Beelman, a professor of Food Science at Pennsylvania State University, said Porcini mushrooms were the most beneficial.

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Since I am every fond of risotto with mushrooms, and during the season garnished with a generous measure of Italian or French truffles (when one can afford them), it’s good to know that such a bonanza is beneficial for one’s health.

What more could one wish for in a political climate that triggers off depression and discomfort?

Baria Alamuddin In Focus

Words of wisdom from Baria Alamuddin, the mother-in-law of George Clooney, when I interviewed her for my book Women, published by Quartet Books in 1987. Here’s what she told me under the following headings:

THE EARLY INFLUENCES
Baria Alamuddin: My farther and my mother divorced when I was one year old, so the biggest influence in my life up to now has been my mother. She’s the image I always try to follow, because she was among the very few educated women of her time. She was a Palestinian Jordanian, and when she came to the American University in Beirut she was the first Jordanian woman to study there. I was always influenced by her beauty, her charm, her intelligence, everything she did. I don’t know that I still try, but I copied her for a long time, and I always stop and ask, would my mother like this, would my mother like that? There was no other person in my life.

ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES
Baria Alamuddin: Sometimes I feel emotionally disadvantaged because I feel things differently from the way a man does. Sometimes I lie awake all night because of one word that’s been said to me, and the man doesn’t even notice what he’s said.
I always tell my daughters to enjoy their souls and their bodies, because I think at the base of all this repression of women in the Middle East are a lot of sexual and soul problems. The women in the Middle East are not sure of what they want to give, and what they have to give. Many people of my age who went to university with me wanted to have lovers, to have sex, yet inside was this tremendous struggle: what would society say, what would my aunties say, what would the man I love and marry say? There is a very strong struggle, and not everybody in the end wins, and this is why you see lots of complexes in our society. In the West, I see this to a great extent, too, because women are basically the same all over the world.

FEMINISM
Baria Alamuddin: I am not a feminist. I don’t want a woman to be a fighter, or to rule the life of a man. I would still like the man to ask the woman to marry him, not the woman to ask the man to marry her. I still would like him to buy a rose and call her and tell her I love you. I don’t like the roles to be switched. In general, I think a woman is much more emotional, she is a softer person, she can live her emotions and her feelings a lot deeper, by the nature of her own being. Why do we want two creatures exactly the same? The world would be a very boring place to live in. But, to have a productive society, we should have equality between men and women. You cannot run the world with half its powers. In the West, I think it is slowly improving, although sometimes in the wrong direction, but in the Middle East, it’s taking longer because of different factors, basically the wars. People are not busy educating women at the moment. In Lebanon now, there is a whole new generation of boys and girls who have nothing to do with education and refinement or culture, and the same is true in many other Arab countries.
I think a liberated Western woman is a woman who can easily shed all the social factors and just walk away from them and go towards whatever she wants as a completely liberated individual, regardless of tradition. This is something that people in our part of the world can never do. I have often felt I am a pioneer of this in my society, because, even as a child, I always wanted to do things differently. I remember wanting to hurt society, to attack society and do things just to spite society because I felt it interfered in every single detail in my life. My God, society in our countries can even marry you off! There will always be a difference between the woman in the West and the woman in the East. A woman in the East has femininity which the woman in the West never had maybe, and will never have. Basically, I like the evolution in the Middle East, in the Arab countries, better than in the West.

SEXUALITY
Baria Alamuddin: Needs are basically the same in men and women, and sex is a matter of education and culture, upbringing and training. In our society, a man is brought up to be aggressive, to look for it, to go and get it; whereas a girl is not. She also has the need, but the application is different. Application is a very individualistic thing. I don’t think any two people can make love like any two other people. I always have the feeling that there is a misconception about sex in the world, both in the East and the West. I have personally interviewed people about marriage, and to some women it is just a means to get children. I interviewed one woman who had never even been kissed. I know women in the Middle East who hate sex, who think sex is dirty and not something you talk about. I am sure in the West, too, if you have a father attacking a daughter, then this girl’s perception of sex will never be the same. There are many elements involved in the application of sex. To me, sexual relations only make sense in the context of love. Any other time it is just like eating; you can go and get it in this restaurant or another restaurant. And I don’t believe a man can make love to another woman if he loves his wife.

RELATIONSHIPS
Baria Alamuddin: I feel most comfortable with men by far. There is no comparison. Most women actually bore me, and most women I find unsure of themselves, especially in the Arab countries, and that really upsets me. They are not in control of their destinies or lives, and I feel they are just souls floating around waiting for things to take them away, here or there, and I find it a waste of time.
Marriage has all the disadvantages the world has. It is a very difficult institution. I think most people are married because they are scared of society, because it is convenient and they have a car, and they carry a name and the children are there. I know of hardly marriages that are there by virtue of love. I’m not talking about my marriage, because that’s another story. I look at my marriage differently. I work very hard at it and yet I am always afraid. Not of losing the marriage, no, but of losing me in the marriage, or of losing the marriage to me. I am scared.
For the world to be straightened out and for us to be able to have a peaceful, strong, productive society, the woman has to change her attitude towards life, and the way she expects things from herself. I think she controls society since she brings up the child. For example, my husband has two boys from a previous marriage, and I brought them up. It was a beautiful experience as far as I am concerned, and I think for them, too. While they were growing up, they started coming and saying to me, today I kissed her, or I did this and that to her. I used to say to them, it takes two to kiss, it takes two to make love, it takes two to love, to build, to bring up a child. Anything not done together with the same intensity is not done properly. You can kiss a wall.

 

 

Last night marked the launch of Mother Anguish at the Ritz Hotel Piccadilly to an enthusiastic audience and here is what I said on this memorable occasion.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, please lend me your ears.

Basia Briggs could well be described as a woman for all seasons. Her endurance and fighting spirit are hard to describe, for she has survived against odds that defy normality and yet she has lost nothing of her vivacity for life and the determination to remain true to herself and the ideas that drove her on, no matter what the circumstances foretold.

An inner force led me to believe that this gorgeous lady has a lot that we all can learn from and the more I got to know her, the more I realised the potential endowed in her frail constitution was worth pursuing. It was then that I persuaded her to write this book, whose publication we are celebrating today.

Having said that, writing it was not an easy task; her reluctance at first was understandable. Her story defies credibility and can only be told when the courage to reveal every aspect of it could be hard to muster throughout and required a steely determination to tell all, despite the pain of recollection that would ensue.

My admiration for her, as the story unfolded, grew day by day and I felt I had truly encountered a woman whose determination and solidity, in the face of a traumatic environment, ensured she never failed to abandon her goal to survive. Her chronicle of events leaves nothing to the imagination.

Told with a rare honesty seldom experienced in a memoir by a socialite, Basia is never afraid to break that tradition of silence in order to avoid controversy which may follow her stark and painful revelations.

In this address I’ll let the book speak for itself and restrict this short message by asking everyone present here today to buy a few copies of her remarkable and touching memoir, to illustrate their appreciation for a woman’s story that will touch your hearts, oscillating from the comical to the tragic as you have possibly never experienced before.