Monthly Archives: December 2014

Delving into the Past

The beautiful Julia Lemigova and her girlfriend, the tennis supremo Martina Navratilova, tied the knot recently in New York in a love match that dazzled their closely-knit circle of friends, who wished them well and a longevity of heavenly bliss.

For both had to cope with tragic events in their own life that seemed to blight their ordered existence and yet managed to recover and find each other in a relationship of rare closeness that reflects a true unsullied love and commitment.

Julia and I, under a genuine platinum umbrella, in 1991

Julia and I, under a genuine platinum umbrella, in 1991

I first met Julia in London after she was crowned Miss USSR in 1990. As CEO of Asprey, Garrard and Mappin & Webb at the time, I asked her to model a twenty-four carat gold dress in conjunction with the World Gold Council during a promotion Mappin & Webb undertook jointly. She readily accepted.

Julia looked stunningly attractive and we became friends ever since.

Then she left to live in Paris, and apart from seeing her briefly on two occasions when I accidentally bumped into her in Avenue Montaigne, we lost contact until two years ago when a reunion took place in my office in London during the Wimbledon tennis tournament.

I never met Martina but what I have heard from Julia was enough to convince me that she’s a very nice person whose loyalty and love are beyond any doubt.

For those who haven’t seen Julia in all her glory, here she is in the gold dress which she wore in 1991.

Martina is very lucky indeed to have bagged such a gorgeous and intelligent creature. She will be the envy of all who have the good fortune of knowing Julia, even if fleetingly.

Marlen Haushofer

There is a three-page spread in the December issue of The London Review of Books discussing the extraordinary talent of Marlen Haushofer.

‘She shall be nameless’
Nicholas Spice

Among the leading Austrian writers of the postwar period, Marlen Haushofer is an unobtrusive presence. Where Bachmann and Bernhard, Handke and Jelinek all in their time achieved international recognition, Haushofer hung back, failing to take the chance, when it came, to break beyond Austrian borders, and, at her untimely death (she died of bone cancer in 1970, three weeks short of her fiftieth birthday), left a miscellany of work that has neither fallen into complete neglect nor settled into general acceptance.

For German language readers, Haushofer’s claim to fame has always been her 1963 novel Die Wand (The Wall), a cult book in some quarters, made into a dutiful movie in 2012, with Martina Gedek, star of The Lives of Others, in the role of a woman who finds herself stranded in the mountains, cut off by a limitless invisible barrier from a world in which everyone appears to have died; alone, except for a dog, a cow and a cat.

In Britain, the publication in 1990 of the first and only translation of Die Wand passed unnoticed, and its reissue last year, along with Nowhere Ending Sky, Haushofer’s remarkable novel about her childhood, has been met with silence, as was also the case with The Loft, which Quartet brought out in 2011. The current availability in English of Haushofer’s three most accomplished novels offers a chance to get to know this subtle and unusual writer. Haushofer didn’t wish her work to remain obscure, but that this has been its fate is all of a piece with her character. Anonymity answered to something in her nature. Being cut off and unknowable was also what she wrote about best.

It’s said that the reclusive French composer Charles-Valentin Alkan rented a house in Paris with two front doors, so that whenever someone called at one of them, he could claim he had been in the other part of the house and hadn’t heard the bell. Haushofer divided her life after the war between Vienna and Steyr, a small town south of Linz, on much the same principle: she avoided notice in one place by being in the other. It allowed her to be two different people: in Vienna she moved in fashionable literary circles, discussed books and ideas, had affairs; in Steyr she played the biddable housewife, married to a dentist and mother to two boys. In Vienna she was known for being reticent, in company moving to the margins, from where she could listen and watch. From Steyr she wrote to a friend that the effort to remain inconspicuous was taking up half her energy. No one in Steyr knew that she and her husband had divorced (they continued to live together), or that later they’d remarried. When in 1968 Haushofer was diagnosed with terminal cancer she kept the truth to herself, telling friends and family that she had a form of curable bone tuberculosis. When she died, her neighbours were surprised to learn that she had been a writer at all.

Haushofer possessed neither the confidence nor the sense of entitlement to impose herself on the world as a writer. She doubted at times not only her own abilities but the superior claims of literature itself. She thought it was difficult to be a good person and a good writer, and she was certain that, if it came to the crunch, she would prefer the interests of her family over the demands of her art. The pram in the hall is usually thought of as getting in the way of the male writer as he tries to leave the house; no one makes allowances for a neglectful mother – not now, and certainly not then. A more suffocatingly conventional society it would be hard to imagine than provincial Steyr in the 1950s. Women were expected to keep house, while the men – described by Haushofer in a letter to a Vienna friend as ‘former-still-and-always Nazis’ (‘ehemalige Noch-immer-Nazis’) – did pretty much whatever they liked, which mostly meant boozing, hunting and screwing each other’s wives.

Register with The London Review of Books for free and read the full article here. Quartet Books published The Loft, The Wall and Nowhere Ending Sky.

Get your copies today!

The Rising Stock of Abbey Clancy

Abbey Clancy is a well-known lingerie and catwalk model as well as a television presenter.

Born in Liverpool in 1986 and married to footballer Peter Crouch, she has of late been catapulted to become a highly-prized commodity after winning series eleven of the prestigious BBC extravaganza Strictly Come Dancing in 2013.

I can still remember how she danced so gracefully, like a cheeky rose undulating in a gentle summer breeze. I could not but marvel at the sight of a young woman blessed with good looks and a fine frame who was not a professional dancer and whose control of every limb of her body surpassed all expectations.

Her nimble movements saturated with an irresistible sexual tempo were a joy to watch and a master class of entrancing playfulness. I was hooked every time she appeared on the screen, as her dancing skills never faltered and seemed to gain momentum as the competition reached its final stages.

In her latest photo shoot she turns her back on all that glitters and demonstrates how she is shaping up for a black midwinter.

In her no frills Ultimo undies and lacy stockings, she proves once again that her sexuality has no boundaries and has yet to scale new heights.

However, Clancy will be at her fancy best when she appears in this year’s Strictly Christmas Special where she’s expected to score a perfect 10. I can’t wait.

The Engaging Miss E

Miss E is my favourite waitress in a French restaurant close to my office that I have adopted as my eaterie of preference, where the food competes with the service and the ambience that this amalgam generates is hard to beat.

Not to say that the rest of the girls are less efficient or lack the charm of my chosen one, but in life you feel a certain frisson to a particular maiden who electrifies your own private space and whose absence when it occurs creates a void which is not easy to decipher.

Every time she comes to my table to greet me I feel a sense of contentment and my food seems to taste better, as if my palate gets a refinement and my appetite engenders a boost that defies psychological scrutiny.

Perhaps the secret of it all is less strange than it seems. It all began when one day at random, being served with some delicious home-made chocolate with my usual espresso, I called her to open her delicate mouth discreetly and gently guided a piece of chocolate between her parted lips.

I felt then the compulsion to share something exquisite to heighten my own gastronomic sensation to uncharted domains that only dreams can create.

It’s odd that such an incident can perpetuate a bond from its infancy to maturity in a short period of time, for the perception of food and sensuality are interlinked. Women who eat are more likely to be sexually active than those who do not.

I once lived the experience in my bachelor days with a beautiful woman who buried her sexuality in a lettuce leaf. She horrified me to the extent of repulsion and I felt no longer able to touch her.

Food can be a slow killer but lack of it is a libido destroyer, a fate worse than death.

On reflection, however, the dreamlike incident could be attributed to a fecund imaginative process rather than a factual adventure – for the mind can sometimes fail to differentiate between reality and fiction.

Could it be perhaps a journey of creative proportions that beguiles the reader but fails to manifest itself in more mundane fashion?

That’s my quiz for the day.

Venus: An Aphrodisiac of Refinement

Venus, by Grace Vane Percy, is receiving the kind of acclaim that photographic books hardly ever collect.

The reason, if I were to make a wild guess, is due to her clear and defined skills in presenting the nude female form in a perspective where elegance enhances its impact and the surrounding environment gives her photographs an artistic edge that propels them into a class of their own.

Shot in black and white, in country homes noted for their fine art treasures, Venus becomes a dreamlike compendium of a coterie of beautiful young maidens whose innocence and sensuality shine through as if the angels have willed it.

The author, endowed with a lanky frame, infuses what one may call a prototype of her own art. She combines femininity with a visual dimension that inspires the very fabric of her work.

Venus is a book that will remain an outstanding objet d’art and will certainly outlast the vagaries of fashion.

As Christmas is the festive season, why not celebrate with a gift of substance at a price you can afford? £50 in today’s money is a bargain for what you are getting. Hurry and don’t leave matters hanging in the air. Time is not on your side now that the bells of Christmas are about to toll merrily.

So be bold! Defy the misers who think otherwise with a gift that may even give a boost to your love life…

The Pig that Nearly Flew

Pigs are animals that are rarely pampered, looked upon as dirty and with a pungent smell most people consider revoltingly off-putting.

Yet curiously enough some adopt them as pets despite their stink and seem not to mind the strong smell that their close proximity ravages on the human nose.

Passengers were mortified over a pig that was allowed on to their plane recently. An American woman was eventually forced to disembark after bringing a seventy-pound pot-bellied pig on board for ’emotional support’, a term often used for the wrong reasons.

She carried the swine on board – which is apparently legal in the US – and sat down, cradling the creature. So far, so good…

However, it was not long before the pig, which was on a leash, went out of control pacing around the cabin in a disruptive manner that other passengers objected to. In addition, it was also making the cabin smell.

Jonathan Skolnik, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, who was sitting next to the unnamed woman and her pig, said he initially thought the farmyard animal was a large duffle bag. ‘It turns out it wasn’t a duffle bag. We could smell it and it was a pig on a leash,’ Professor Skolnik recalled. ‘She tethered it to the armrest next to me and started to deal with her stuff, but the pig was walking back and forth. I was terrified because I was thinking, “I’m gonna be on the plane with the pig,”‘ he told ABC News.

US Airways confirmed that the woman and her pig were then asked to get off the plane before it took off from Connecticut. She was allowed through security and on to the plane at the discretion of airline staff because the animal was classified as an ’emotional support animal’.

Can you imagine the world going bonkers with psychological mania? They now claim emotional support for the weirdest of things. Could it be rats next?

Monkeys, cats and miniature horses can all reportedly qualify as ’emotional support animals’ under 2012 Federal Law. Pigs are a popular choice in such cases for people allergic to cats and dogs because they are tuned into their owners.

Pigs may fly; but they are very unlikely birds.

Cara at the Peak of Everest

On the face of it Cara Delevingne’s sexual capacity knows no limitation if our imagination were to run wild in line with her public manifestation of a serial bigamist, having had a string of high-profile ‘wifeys’.

She appears to play the field and although the novelty of every relationship she has so far is self-consuming in a honeymoon context she nevertheless succumbs to the eternal sin when a new temptress rears her beautiful head and bids her a passionate embrace.

Cara has certainly made her dramatic impact on the glamorous world of fashion, and is now trying to conquer new grounds in acting and singing. The girl has a multitude of talents with a personality that veers from the comic to the sublime, with her eyes constantly focused on the next challenge to come her way.

She has developed a sense of pinpointing the next opportunity that keeps her firmly in the public arena, and has with very little practice mastered the art of keeping herself in the headlines.

Her latest escapade, or we might call it her new love, is the model Kendall Jenner, the young sister of Kim Kardashian – who is noted among other things as the girl with the great protruding behind, the object of desire to many a frustrated male hunk who fancies a fleshy overblown carnal bomb-like object.

Cara’s roving eye has this time hit the jackpot. It is now reported that she and Kendall will share a love nest where they can freely pour out a torrent of passionate sexual embracing that will eclipse any past or future relationship.

Cara and Kendall have been seen cavorting at parties together for a few months but recently they took their photogenic union public with a high-profile double spot at Chanel, and the leaking of a new joint LOVE magazine cover – ‘Kendall on Cara’ – conceived by the magazine editor-in-chief Katie Grand.

cara-delevingne-topless-in-love-magazine-9-08-675x900kendall-naked

The new meaning of togetherness

The issue of LOVE with its sensational cover is due on 9th February next year and the signs are that its raunchy cover and the photo shoot inside will propel the pair to a drone-like explosion that in its wake the media will have a lightning bonanza to keep its readers mesmerised for more.

Well done, Cara. No one can say that you haven’t made it big. Keep going, girl – for the world is your oyster and sin is your energising body supplement.

Torture is Never the Answer

Tony Blair never fails to hit the headlines.

His long tenure at 10 Downing Street and his warmongering have become a talking point which still remains the subject of controversy to haunt him for the rest of his days.

Whether it be his disastrous war in Iraq, his warming up to Gaddafi, his subordinate role to George W. Bush, his scandalous connections with tin-pot dictators all around the globe, his money-making greed or his refusal to admit his participation in many of the political ills he left behind, all these things prove an absence of dignity and a bad spirit.

A man who seems unrepentant for his misdeeds and claims to be a God-fearing convert to Catholicism, is anything beyond that which words can describe.

Nothing to him is sacred and his brash approach to humanitarian issues is often punctuated by sheer hypocrisy, for his actions invariably prove the contrary.

Take the death toll in Iraq of innocent people during the invasion and the subsequent butchery that followed, and is now worse than ever before.

The latest barbaric scandal about CIA torture has left the world in a frenzy of shock and is unlikely to go away until questions are asked and honest replies are given.

Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, has said: ‘Tony Blair should give a full account of what he knew about the CIA’s torture and rendition programme during his time in Downing Street.’

In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Fallon intensified the pressure on Mr Blair and Jack Straw – the then foreign secretary – over their knowledge or otherwise of the US policy.

In a further swipe at Mr Blair and his support for President Bush, Mr Fallon called for the urgent publication of the findings of the Chilcot Inquiry into the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The Sunday Telegraph‘s own investigation can disclose the following: how a highly critical parliamentary report expressing concern that MPs were apparently misled over the UK’s role in torture was suppressed by the Labour government – that the secret report also alleged MI5 withheld information suggesting the intelligence services knew about the torture of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident, and that Britain had its own interrogation teams working in at least three US detention centres, where torture by US agents took place – a disclosure that raises questions over British claims they did not know about the US torture programme.

Tony Blair’s government was known for its double standards and its evasive answers when caught bending the rules and telling lies to justify its actions.

I hate to think what the future will reveal. It is certainly murky, but the extent of its betrayal of the principles of a free democracy and its disregard for Parliament has never been properly dissected – merely glossed over, perhaps, to avoid a serious crisis of trust, the very foundation of our political ethos.

The US is at least brave enough to concede their joining the ranks of barbarians. Maybe the horror of their practice will persuade them to return to civilisation and make amends.

My Own Legs are Not for Dancing

Dancefloor anxiety has long been associated with the troubles of adolescence but the tendency to be a ‘wallflower’ emerges at the age of four, a study suggests.

Researchers claim a child’s fourth birthday marks a turning point when he or she senses that peers may view their dance technique with a critical eye.

While more than half of children aged three and under eagerly take to the dancefloor, their enthusiasm apparently wanes after their fourth birthday.

By the age of twelve, just twelve per cent are willing to dance in front of strangers.

‘This unwillingness to perform likely perpetuates beyond school dances, affecting the willingness of adults to engage in such playful behaviour as well,’ say the researchers at Harvard and Illinois Universities, where the study appears in the journal Child Development.

They have identified a point at which a child begins to interpret human behaviour and understands social norms.

One side-effect is increasing sensitivity to criticism and a realisation that one’s own behaviour – such as dancing and singing – could be viewed critically.

To prove the validity of their research, children were asked to choose two activities to carry out in front of researchers from a list of four, involving colouring, writing, singing or dancing.

Results showed fifty per cent of three-year-olds chose to dance, down to thirteen per cent at eleven and twelve per cent at twelve. Not one child aged eleven or twelve chose both singing and dancing.

‘Our results may explain why adults aren’t willing to dance. And some may secretly like to dance but may not be willing to move and groove in front of others because they know their moves will be viewed critically by others,’ says Dr Lan Nguyen Chaplin, who led the study.

I can well understand the reason behind embarking on such a study, but since I’m an avid viewer of the BBC television programme Strictly Come Dancing, where a number of participants are selected because of their lack of dancing abilities and put through a rigorous regime of dance tutoring by professionals, I have come to the conclusion that some adults unbeknown to them, once put to the test, can discover a latent talent that was bursting to reveal itself – and what a pleasant surprise when it does.

Would I by any chance include myself in this category, where revelation can manifest itself when called on by circumstances? Not on your nelly, is my short answer.

Hamid & Zahra: A Love Story out of Arabia’s pre-Spring Innocence

This book has been a long time coming: a risqué love story and Bildungsroman, interwoven into the complicated political, social and religious fabric of an Arab Gulf kingdom.

It is a tale which reveals the fragility, innocence and tenderness of its chief protagonist, Hamid, a privileged young Gulf Arab in search of love and a sense of his life’s purpose.

For anyone who has ever lived and worked for any significant length of time in the Gulf, for those who developed friendships with its oft misunderstood and misrepresented people, who are distinct from the region’s governing regimes, this story has an unmistakable ring of credibility and uncomplicated honesty about it.

The truth is often very simple, and it is precisely that simplicity which makes this novel hard to believe, but also makes it a compelling read for anyone looking to learn more about this complex region and its people.

Hamid is a composite of many characters, I suspect. He is a young man, a member of the Qatari ruling family, privileged, loved by the Emir and his family, unsettled, eager to learn about his country’s past and discover its place in the world as well as his own.

‘Privilege and power are given [by the Almighty] for a purpose.’

With these words from Hamid’s internal dialogue in the novel, the reader is invited to engage with the developing, often radical ideas that increasingly seize Hamid’s imagination.

Following a tragic episode in his life, he begins to think deeply on matters, explore his country’s past, dare to plan its future, question and inquire, all in an environment that implicitly encourages unquestioning acceptance.

Hamid is representative of a whole generation of Qatari youth, and indeed, one could argue, of Gulf youth in general, all newly empowered, unlike their parents’ and grandparents’ generations, with a wider knowledge of the world and a lightning fast communication system that helps shorten geographical and ideological distances.

But still, Hamid’s generation, like all generations that preceded it, share one common aspect of youth, a desire to rebel with radical ideas, thoughts that are deemed almost taboo, to explore possibilities that the established orthodoxy, both political and religious, frowns upon and rejects as subversive.

Indeed, it is Hamid’s wealth and position that may even have served to embolden him to embrace ideas deemed so seditious in his country, as he courts the attentions of the ‘wicked infidels’ as this involvement serves to further educate Hamid about the often-misunderstood, one-dimensional Westerner.

Hamid’s awakening coincided with great changes in his country, great opportunities realised and hope for better and greater things to come for the country.

Qatar wins the bid to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022 with Hamid a front-row witness to that euphoric moment, being among the first to congratulate the Emir.

His awakening also coincided with the first embers of disaffection emerging in the wider Arab world that seemed to portend the devastating upheavals to come.

The doting Emir, sending him to meet with the Syrian Head of State, passing on messages and friendly warnings from the Emir, thrusts Hamid into the crucible of Arab politics. A big mission, no doubt, albeit the trip was intended to give the young man much needed experience in such matters.

For Hamid, it is also a time of emotional growth, as he pursues a romance with a beautiful, passionate, intelligent, courageous and outspoken young woman who captures his heart: Zahra, a Shiite Muslim from Saudi Arabia’s eastern region.

Zahra soon consumes his every waking moment as well as his dreams. It is in those dreams that his aspirations for his country, his image of himself as a pivotal character in his country’s progress, and his wish for marital bliss with Zahra merge and emerge in his mind.

We are transported from a moonlit night atop the Barzan Towers in Qatar to a weekend meal at the Presidential Palace in Syria, to the Trevi Fountain in Rome, and from the banks of the Nile to Istanbul’s magical Bosporus. The opulent surroundings that often reflect the privileged and detached life that is Hamid’s lot and that of so many of his class, belies the multiple crises and conflicts that are tearing apart the fabric of his world.

The novel’s final tragic twist, the courage and unflagging hope and vision of its central characters in the face of the storm, is cathartic. Although the Arab Spring was yet to take place in the period of time depicted in the novel, a spring of sorts, the novel seems to suggest, has already taken place in the hearts and minds of Hamid’s generation.

One can only hope that this personal awakening of a generation can serve to create a better world for the next.

In the present political upheavals in the Middle East, this gripping story of love and morality will give the reader a much wider, telescopic view of the real dangers that encounter the whole region.

Buy this book and make your own judgement. Whatever this may turn out to be, you will certainly be the wiser.