Monthly Archives: August 2013

A Woman a Week

Gisele Bündchen, the glamorous Brazilian fashion model, has at the age of thirty-three secured the top spot in Forbes’ annual list of the most minted models for the seventh year in a row.

The much-in-demand model and busy mother of two got record returns from contracts with H&M and Chanel, in addition to her own lingerie line.

Last year she made a whopping £26.8 million, six times more than the second-place model Miranda Kerr, who made a respectable £4.6 million. Kate Moss, by contrast, at the age of thirty-nine – and still going strong with campaigns for Rimmel and Versace – earned £3 million.

The gap at the top of the list of great earners is astronomically sensational.

Gisele, who is an occasional film actress and producer and also a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme, is according to Claudia Schiffer and Naomi Campbell the only true remaining supermodel.

Since 2004 she has been the highest-paid model in the world, and is the sixteenth richest woman in the entertainment industry as of 2007.

As these pictures clearly demonstrate, she can be likened to Lady Godiva who rode naked through the streets of Coventry, according to a legend dating back at least to the thirteenth century.

Hopefully, however, no Peeping Tom who looks at Gisele riding a white horse will, as a later version of the legend indicates, be struck blind or dead.

And before any raving feminists accuse me of salivating over Gisele’s beautiful assets, may I remind them that women today are as sexually attracted to their own gender as men – and in some cases even more. So let’s do away with the hypocrisy that men are unique in celebrating the exquisite feminine form, and in so doing allegedly demeaning women in general. This is poppycock of the worst kind.

Women have always been a breath of fragrant air, without whom the concept of beauty hardly exists. Gisele has proved that she is endowed with an astute business brain, as well as a God-given gift of a sublime external radiance and a body that captivates her environment.

For these heavenly fairings and at my own peril, I name her my woman of the week.

Jeremy Clarkson: A Man on the March

Jeremy Clarkson is obviously a man who wants to live his life to the full, without the constraints of established morality – which, as a married man, society demands of him.

The Top Gear presenter was seen this week with the former beautician and masseuse Phillipa Sage, enjoying an intimate kiss, which leads us to believe that their relationship, contrary to previous denials, is more conjunct than meets the eye.

Or, to give him the benefit of the doubt, he was simply showing his companion his appreciation for a full-body massage she must have given him and felt the need to express his contentment through a full-blown kiss – which the press must have misrepresented.

The reaction of Miss Sage was equally liberating.

Spotted with friends on the Greek island of Mykonas on Thursday, they were seen romantically engrossed in full view of other holidaymakers.

Sitting down at Nammos restaurant in Psarou Beach, a well-known resort surrounded by exclusive hotels, restaurants and tavernas, Miss Sage affectionately placed her hand on Clarkson’s back and head.

He cut a relaxed figure in floral shirt, blue shorts and driving loafers, without a single worry in the world, while Miss Sage wore a striking striped bikini and later changed into a white sun dress. The whole scenario was that of a couple enjoying a romantic tryst, unaware of the attention it might provoke or, for that matter, deliberately not caring at the publicity it will certainly invoke.

That, in itself, is an indication of the contiguity of their relationship.

Clarkson’s wife, Frances Cain, appeared not to be around and the apparent intimacy between him and Miss Sage raised serious questions over the status of his marriage.

Clarkson and Miss Sage, who met at the BBC Motoring Show, have previously denied claims of an affair. Last November, pictures appeared in a tabloid newspaper of the two during a ‘romantic city break’ in Rome, where they reportedly stayed at the £650-a-night Hotel De Russie.

Moralising in such bizarre cases is hard, but all I can say is love is blind, and its consequences are sometimes hurtful to so many. With love, you cannot be wise. It transports you to No Man’s Land, and often turns into a calamitous end. But those who risk all for its sake derive a certain pleasure, for love is a sweet torment. It is a kind of sensual flagellation that, once addicted to, is infernally difficult to evict.

Clarkson must know what he’s risking. Family considerations and loyalties are at stake here. I wish the man happy landing.

The Lebanon Agonising

Lebanon, the most cultured and civilised Arab nation in the Middle East, is in the throes of a calamitous internal strife – the result of a backlash to the uprising in neighbouring Syria, and its extraneous consequences.

The war of attrition between the Sunni and Shia is escalating due to the involvement of Hezbollah in the fighting, alongside the allies of the Assad regime – whereas the Sunni are in sympathy with the instigators of the rebellion.

Hezbollah’s intervention on the battlefield has enabled Assad to score some notable successes against the rebels, who have suffered a downturn in their ability to make any sizeable gains ever since.

The Sunni in the Lebanon are agitated by this turn of events and it is alleged that some elements within their ranks have been targeting the Beirut stronghold of Hezbollah in retaliation.

The latest act of terrorism in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city, causing great loss of life, is now threatening the stability of the whole country – and some observers believe that it might herald the prelude of a bitter and deadly conflict between the two Muslim factions. If this were to happen the consequences would be much too grim to contemplate.

The Lebanon, which not long ago had endured a civil war lasting over fifteen years, has yet to recover from the wounds of a destructive struggle that nearly obliterated the very fabric of its society and institutions. A country known for its cultural heritage and civility, and for the thrust and ambition of its sons and daughters – who scour the world for advancement opportunities in every conceivable field – is no longer prepared to lose such a sublime identity through dissension and harbouring grudges of a religious and racist nature.

Lebanon has shown the world that tolerance and compromise can work in a weird sense of the word. Their political system is so complex as to defy every analytical process. Yet, to the amazement and wonder of the many, it is a country where people’s improvisation against the elements has made little Lebanon, with a very small population, an influential voice in the international arena.

It would be catastrophic if at this crucial time in its history she were to find herself lacking in wisdom and falling into the abyss of self-mutilation.

As a great admirer of the country and its people, I pray that the concept of the blind leading the blind is never applicable in this case again – as ultimately both shall fall into a ditch.

Brevity Can Often Impede Fluency

Reading the weekend FT of 17th August, I came across an article with the heading ‘Lunch with the FT:  Carolina Herrera’.

Over pasta in New York’s West Village the seventy-three-year-old, Venezuelan-born designer talked to Vanessa Friedman about success, defending Victoria Beckham and how women can have it all – but not at the same time. Carolina says she stands for glamour, and I quite believe her.

Dressing the likes of Caroline Kennedy, the new US Ambassador to Japan, and a coterie of wealthy women known as Martha’s Vineyard’s Summerers she has built a billion-dollar business empire and remains at the top of her profession.

She has made the Best-Dressed List multiple times, was elected to its Hall of Fame in 1980 and, in 2011, named by Vanity Fair as one of the best-dressed women of all time.

Reading the interview, I was presently surprised to note that she had become more eloquent since the time I interviewed her in New York, in 1987, for my book, Women.

She had insisted then that her husband be present during our encounter for assistance purposes, should the English language prove a barrier in expressing herself more lucidly. I had no objection whatsoever for her husband, as it turned out, proved a most engaging fellow who only butted in to emphasise a specific point without being intrusive. Nevertheless, she opted for brevity and I found her responses in general to be lacking in the analytical flow of thought which I expected.

To one of my questions about the advantages and disadvantages of gender, she replied: ‘I don’t think I would like to be a man.’ And she added, ‘I don’t want the boredom of all the responsibilities men have to take. Regardless of what Women Liberationists say, men still have more responsibility than women.’

On the subject of feminism she emphasised the fact that she was not a feminist, but believed that for equal work women should have equal pay and rejected the notion that women are self-sufficient. ‘Women need men around. That’s why you don’t find many women wanting to live alone. Some pretend, but they always end up looking around for a man. And they always end up getting married. The ideal of a woman is to be married. It is also flattering to have a man around, next to you when you go out, when you go to a restaurant, get into a car; they open the door and all that. I am very feminine – I love it.’

On sexuality she said: ‘Men have more responsibility in the sex act than women, therefore a woman can fantasise, but a man has to be thinking about what he is doing. He doesn’t have time to fantasise. If he fantasises, his performance is over.’

But the strangest, yet perhaps the most liberal response I got on relationships was the following: ‘If you see that your husband was having an affair with a very good friend of yours, you don’t behave the way women used to behave. You don’t stop her coming to the house because she’s having an affair, she just becomes very good friends with you, and the man gets tired of seeing the woman every day in the house, being very friendly with the wife.’

I thought to myself at the time that Herrera must have been ahead of her generation in wisdom and practicability, or a woman of noble aspiration towards the friend who in theory betrayed her.

However, her view on differences is spot on: ‘Men are the most irrational people in the world. It’s absolutely out of this world how they react, and how they can be manipulated by women.’

She carries on: ‘I’m not afraid of getting older and I never lie about my age. I’m not afraid of being alone either. That is another difference between men and women. Men are not accustomed to being alone. They do not know how to be alone. They have to have someone in the house or they have to be out.’

For the benefit of the FT readers, my interview with Herrera will complement the more substantial article written by Vanessa Friedman, in as much as it gives it an added measure and a deeper insight into a woman whose talent is without doubt a beacon of light that shines so brightly in the fashion hemisphere.

Unearthed: The Sinister Origins of Sayings

I’m totally fascinated by the English language, although it is not my mother tongue.

This fascination grew as I began to realise that I had a certain affinity with words and, having read extensively during my youth, the need to learn more about the richness of the language and its application became more of a hobby than a desirable task for loquacity improvements.

It now transpires that some of the sayings have a sinister origin, while others are simply misused with the passage of time. They are nevertheless some of the most well-used phrases in Britain.

‘Paying through the nose’ and ‘pulling someone’s leg’ have a more sinister history than many people may have thought, research has found.

The English language is scattered with phrases that have dark origins stemming from hundreds of years ago. While in modern times they have seeped into everyday conversation, in the nineteenth century many of the sayings were used to describe some of the most violent practices of the day. Researchers from Genes Reunited, the family history website, tracked the origins of the phrases by looking at old newspapers from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Examples of common phrases with dark origins include ‘gone to pot’, which was coined when boiling to death was a legal punishment; ‘meeting a deadline’, which refers to a line drawn to stop inmates escaping during the American Civil War – they would be shot in the head if they crossed it.

‘Applying a rule of thumb’ suggests practical approach-solving, but it was actually a violent way to settle marital disputes. According to an 1886 edition of the Glasgow Herald, a judge, Francis Buller, ruled ‘a man was entitled to beat his wife with a stick provided it was no thicker than his thumb’.

‘Paying through the nose’ was a Viking punishment where anyone who refused to pay tax had their nose slit from tip to eyebrow; ‘pulling someone’s leg’ originates from a time when London was rife with ‘grab and run’ thieves who attacked their victims by pulling them to the ground by their legs.

Rhoda Breakenn, head of Genes Reunited, said: ‘The English language is peppered with unusual sayings. We wanted to look back though old newspapers, now fully searchable online, to discover where they came from and what they really mean. It’s fascinating how different our modern interpretations are to the origins of these phrases. It goes to show how the lives of our ancestors have influenced our day-to-day lives in ways we don’t even realise.’

The researchers combed newspapers including the Herald (1901), Evening Post (1904), the Western Daily Press (1949), Glasgow Herald (1886) and the North Devon Journal (1896).

A recent survey highlighted how many phrases are misquoted. ‘A damp squib’, a term for failure named after a dud nineteenth-century explosive mining device, is often mispronounced as a ‘damp squid’. ‘One fell swoop’, uttered by McDuff in Macbeth, is often mistakenly repeated as ‘one foul swoop’.

I find the exploration of all this historical analysis of language usage intriguingly absorbing. Words and phrases and their provenance are a subject which has of late consumed a great chunk of my time giving me no end of satisfaction in discovering what one would have wrongly assumed to be a monotonous academic chore. Instead, and to my utter surprise, my engrossment in the whole exercise turned into a pleasurable habitude while at the same time bolstering my understanding of the language. It is a hobby I find worth pursuing.

August is the Devil’s Month

The month of August, when almost everyone you know is on holiday, is a miserable month for those compelled to stay behind for one reason or another.

The telephone at work hardly ever rings or, if it does, it is perhaps chasing an unpaid bill or enquiring, if you are a publisher, about the fate of a manuscript which is too ghastly to consider.

For the publishing world, like almost everywhere else, it is hibernation time, especially now that the book trade is in a dire state of impairment; when book sales are almost non-existent and bookshops clamour to send back unsold stock for reimbursement.

Paranoia becomes a daily occurrence as you try to make both ends meet with little success. You borrow money in the hope to repay it when trading conditions improve and you pray for a bestseller to get you out of your misery and save your imprint from a lethal dose of despair.

For an independent publisher of limited means it is invariably a struggle for survival. It’s fatal to weaken when adversity strikes. Your armoury is to keep your wits about you and have a good night’s sleep which will help you repel the odds stacked against you in the durability game.

My wife, however, is relaxed about the whole situation. She maintains that I have always lived on the edge of disaster which she alleges is the source of the adrenalin that keeps me going and without which I become a boring old fart, not worth knowing or bothering about. Perhaps she knows me better than I know myself.

There are times when I’m elated and times when darkness overwhelms my enthusiasm, only to be swept away in a matter of hours by an improvised hope that disperses the pessimistic clouds that give way to unexpected sunshine. Thank God that depression has never invaded my domain of realistic optimism that has rescued me every time the vagaries of fate tried to cause havoc with my life.

The month of August will soon depart and my spirit will again be elevated to an ironclad resolve to fight another day, and win hands down where the feeble-hearted might surrender for lack of faith.

My Italian Serenade

I love Italy and the Italians.

I love their food, their lifestyle, their exquisite fashion, their majestic architecture, their great painters, their cathedrals and their women.

I love their cities: eternal Rome, the magic of Venice, the incomparable Florence and the breathtaking Naples. Who can wish for better?

The Roman Empire was legendary. It ruled the world with its might, its powerful armies, its enterprising generals, and often, its mad and cruel emperors. However, they created the senate and were in many ways great innovators from whom modern democracy evolved.

And yet with such rich heritage, Italy finds itself today politically castrated, unable to form a workable government to lift the nation from an economic and social hiatus – crippling its ability to move forward and bring back the stability that it needs.

Where joy was once the Italians’ great innate gift, it is now replaced by a stern and miserable view of the world around them. Even their bunga bunga ex-long-serving prime minister has found himself in a real pickle he can hardly ignore, despite his immense wealth and influence.

The prospects facing Italy are almost insupportable. Corruption in the judiciary is rampant while the rich are now in fear of what lies ahead in the months to come.

Europe can ill afford to write off a country as illustrious as Italy for its demise will reverberate across the whole EU and risk wrecking the Community for good.

The Italians need to pull their fingers out. They must discard their political differences; show the world that when trapped they can rally and compromise; confound the cynics by regenerating an Italy that is forever the land where the summit of great things reside, and where men continue the habit of pinching women’s bottoms as an act of homage.