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Olivia de Havilland, who I interviewed in 1986 for my tome Women, has become the oldest recipient of a damehood at the age of 100, in the centenary of the honour itself. The actress, who is approaching her 101st birthday and lives in Paris, said she was extremely proud to be made a dame for her services to drama, in recognition of her glittering Hollywood career.

13-2.jpgWith her daughter Gisele at the Golden Globe Awards in 1979. Giselle was her only daughter to husband Pierre Galante.

The Gone with the Wind star, a double Oscar winner who will celebrate her birthday in July, is 11 months older than the Order of the British Empire itself, which was founded in 1917 by George V. ‘I’m extremely proud that The Queen has appointed me a Dame Commander of the British Empire,’ Dame Olivia said last Friday. ‘To receive this honour as my 101st birthday approaches is the most gratifying of birthday presents.’
She joins an illustrious group of older recipients, with Dame Vera Lynn last year made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour at the age of 99.

Dame Olivia is known for her on-screen collaborations with Errol Flynn in films including The Charge of the Light Brigade in 1936 and The Adventures of Robin Hood in 1938. She was born to British parents in Tokyo, but moved to California when she was young. She won Oscars for To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949).

When I met her for the first time I was enchanted by her warmth, her straight talking and somehow, unexpectedly, we hit a common chord. She then introduced me to her daughter Gisèlle Gallante, born in 1956, who I interviewed at length for the same book and was much taken by her frank exposition of her relationship with her mother in the early days of her childhood.

Needless to say, I still hold a nostalgic memory of my encounters with both mother and daughter and would like to wish them all the contentment that the future will undoubtedly hold for them, and to Olivia my congratulations on her damehood.


My office was so hot last week that I felt as if I was in a sauna at the wrong time of the year, sweating profusely and almost gasping for breath. To make matters worse, my air conditioning unit which has served me well for the past 10 years suddenly conked out and refused to work, after many attempts to start it. It suddenly decided to no longer oblige me and go on strike.

On Monday this week, exasperated, I came to my office as usual at 6.30 am and decided to try again to see if the machine would respond and give me the comfort I was desperately seeking. I took the remote control and pressed the usual buttons, but to no avail. I decided to coax the machine, by begging it to open its legs so to speak, and stop giving me a hard time.

After my third request, the machine suddenly began churning over, rushing out cool air with such a gusto that it knocked me out, like the relief of a frustrated lover who gains an orgasmic high when he least expects it.

It goes to prove that the language of love can miraculously work, even with air conditioning machines. The Lord be praised is all I can say, and leave it at that.



She came to try to make up for her mistake, but it only served to enrage this close-knit community even more. Theresa May provoked widespread criticism and anger last Thursday after failing to visit the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire when she visited the Westway Road – staying for 15 minutes and swerving any contact with locals.


Friday afternoon, however, word spread she was due to come back, this time to visit St Clement’s Church, where volunteers had been boxing up donations. It wasn’t long afterwards when a crowd had gathered, filling the street outside the church. As they waited, the people became increasingly hostile, shouting at her to come out and face them. One man began shouting ‘Get her out!’ while another screamed at police barring the door of the church: ‘Why have you brought her here? If she cared she would have come yesterday.’

Forty minutes passed and still nothing, then one of the waiting riot vans started up and began to move forward parting the crowd. The Prime Minister’s Range Rover rounded the bend. ‘She’s come out the back,’ a woman shouted. As the car began to speed away the crowd rushed towards it. Around 70 people were running after her as police attempted to barricade the vehicle, creating a human barrier between the crowd and the Prime Minister’s car, shoving people off as they tried to bang on the windows.

People screamed ‘Shame on you!’ and ‘Coward!’ as the car sped away. What a calamitous visit! It seems Theresa May can do nothing right. Her image has deteriorated to such an extent that it is making her position untenable. The sooner she goes the better is the view of the majority of people in Britain, who have now come to their senses and regard her tenure as prime minster as a subject of derision not only within our shores, but worldwide.

How can she expect to carry on when the nation is in a shambolic state and where the division is not only within the ranks of the Tory party but has spread to the nation as a whole? We can no longer afford to be ridiculed by the international community who now regard the present Tory administration as a motley of second-rate individuals, whose main objective appears to be self-elevation rather than the nation’s interest as a whole.

Britain is in crisis! The Tories must close ranks and save the country from falling apart. Time is not on their side. We must all rally and face reality. Theresa May has gambled and lost. It is time she accepts the impuissance of her situation and bids us a swift farewell.

The Indomitable Lesley Blanch

Lesley Blanch was a remarkable lady who elevated the women of her generation by encouraging them to follow her example and adopt and harness a spirit of adventure, rather than confine themselves exclusively to the management of the home.


A Londoner by birth, she spent the greater part of her life travelling the remote regions, her twelve works of biography, memoir and cookery record so vividly.

Savvy, self-possessed and very successful, she established herself as a bold and free-spirited writer who dared to be different and became renowned for her astute observation of places and people with their quirks, habits and passions.

Her storytelling is underpinned by a vivid imagination and scholarly research as her book edited by her goddaughter Georgia de Chamberet clearly unveils.

Waterstones in Gower Street is holding an event on Wednesday 5th July at 18.30 where Georgia will celebrate the publication of Far to Go and Many to Love: People and Places, hopefully to an enthusiastic audience, who will no doubt take the opportunity to remember the tremendous legacy that Lesley Blanch has left as an inspiring writer and an advocate who urged woman to seek a new way of life, and in so doing enjoyed the surge that such diversity of knowledge would impart.

Her book is certainly a gem  worth buying and her memory worth preserving.


It’s good news to hear a study has found that new super-strength antibiotics could be developed to kill drug-resistant bacteria in minutes. Modifying existing antibiotics could make them much more powerful and able to rip apart germ cells to stop infections in their tracks, said scientists.

Until now most antibiotics can take up to a day to be effective. But modified super-strength antibiotics could do this in an instant and boost the battle against superbugs such as MRSA. Few new antibiotics have been developed in the last two decades while drug-resistant bugs have become a major problem. By 2050 it is predicted more people will die from untreatable infections than cancer, but scientists from University College, London believe these strains could be killed if drugs are able to push hard enough into bacteria.

Dr Joseph Ndieyira said: ‘Antibiotics need to bind to bacterial cells to kill them. Antibiotics have keys that fit locks on cell surfaces, allowing them to latch on. When a bacterium becomes resistant, it effectively changes the locks so the key won’t fit. Incredibly, we found that certain antibiotics can still force the lock allowing them to bind to and kill resistant bacteria.’ The study examined Vancomycin, a powerful antibiotic used as a last resort for MRSA, and a modified form of it called Oritavancin.

The academics used state-of-the art equipment to measure the mechanical forces the medicines exerted on drug-resistant bacterial cells. They found that the two antibiotics worked in different ways. Vancomycin disrupts vital processes so the bacteria stop functioning and die. But Oritavancin was much more brutal and powerful. The UCL team’s study published in Scientific Reports said: ‘We found that Oritavancin pressed into resistant bacteria with a force eleven thousand times stronger thanVancomycin.’

Dr Ndieyira said the Oritavancin molecules were good at forming clusters which dig into a cell, then push apart to tear the surface and kill it. Oritavancin can kill bacteria in just fifteen minutes but Vancomycin takes six to twenty-four hours. ‘Our findings will help us not only to design new antibiotics but also modify existing ones to overcome resistance,’ said Dr Ndieyira.

I believe that research is always needed to discover more effective medicines than are used today for bugs develop resistance in one form or another with the passage of time. Antibiotics seem to be a case in point as they become less effective against infections when their constant general use creates unexpected problems. Hence the latest study paves the way yet again for a most welcome, innovative answer.

Boisterous Life at Geraldine Road (Continued)

A diversion was brought about in Geraldine Road by the arrival of another guest at the house my uncle had purchased for £1,000. He was called Fouad and was a distant relation from the Holy Land. I had known him as a kid when we both lived in the same neighbourhood of Haifa.

Fouad had come to London for medical treatment for a condition that was causing his eyesight to fail. There was a real fear that he might eventually go blind. He was an amiable character of medium build who never stopped laughing, with an unusual gusto for life despite his predicament. It was a contagious laugh, loud and resonant, that endeared him to everyone he met. He took over my room while I had to share with Stinous, my friend in crime.

For a reason that I myself never understood, liking Fouad as I did I nevertheless felt compelled to tease him whenever the whim drove me to it. There was no specific cause that triggered it off; simply a wild compulsion to get a rise out of him. The teasing escalated to torment and in the middle of the night I would get up and creep in on Fouad who slept deeply and tie him to the bedpost. To do this I used anything available including shoelaces. Fouad would then wake with a jolt from his heavy sleep and start screaming.

This, in turn, roused my uncle who slept in the room below and he would come rushing upstairs to untie him. My uncle would be frothing at the mouth with fury. He could hardly contain his anger, his complexion turned white and he shook uncontrollably. These extremes of rage were not at all in keeping with the image he displayed to the outside world. It was as if all the time, there was a violent streak in him just dying for the chance to manifest itself at least within the confines of the house.

My uncle would admonish me, shouting in my face that this was cruel and thuggish behaviour and pushing me roughly to one side. My protests that I was merely having a bit of fun, as I termed it, to keep Fouad on his toes, went to make matters far worse. My uncle was unable to appreciate the funny side of the situation.

With his limited vision, he could only see things as black or white and could never settle on any of the intermediate shades; it had to be one or the other; there was no room for compromise.

Fouad meanwhile took it all in his easy-going stride. It was as if he was immune to such silly games. When his medical treatment was over he left with his sense of humour still intact.

Soon after our initial encounter in London he emigrated to Australia, where he had ultimately a family of his own. He rang me a few years ago from Australia and was joyous to hear my voice and to recall the good times he spent at Geraldine Road where, he said, the mirth we had together was overwhelming and, as he put it, unforgettable. I was moved to tears.




Risk Factors for Dementia

Scientists have recently identified the three major factors for dementia and disability. Keeping blood pressure down, exercising regularly and maintaining good lung function through not smoking were found to have the most impact on staying physically and mentally healthy in later life.

Previously other factors such as low fruit and vegetable consumption, high alcohol intake, poor sleep, depression, obesity, body mass index, high cholesterol and high glucose levels had been linked to poor cognitive and mobility function in later life. But scientists found that they actually had little impact on overall health.

Dementia is the leading cause of death in Britain with around 850,000 people affected. To find out what were the most dangerous health risks researchers from UCL, the Economic and Social Research Council and the British Heart Foundation looked at data from the Whitehall II study of more than 10,000 people in Britain who have been followed since 1985.

At age 50, all were checked for twelve risk factors of dementia and disability and followed for 18 years when they were again tested for physical and cognitive functions. Of the twelve risk factors, physical activity, high blood pressure and lung function were the three most important predictors of poor functioning around age 70.

Researchers say policies to encourage a healthy lifestyle in older age should aim to tackle those three risk factors above all others.

It all makes sense. I believe keeping the mind alert is also an important issue and moderation in everything else will certainly keep us as immune to dementia as humanly possible.