Saturday, 13 February 2010
The US edition will be published by Scribner on 20 April. You can pre-order from Amazon.
Please note, this is not a collection of posts from this blog or previously published newspaper articles but a work in its own right conceived and commissioned before the blog and for which the blog was a research tool.
For my much-missed regular readers, I'm sorry for my prolonged absence but I've been working hard on a new novel to be published in January 2011.
Posted by Linda Grant at 14:51
Thursday, 22 October 2009
My piece from today's Guardian
As I walked down Oxford Street a couple of weeks ago, my eyes slid to the left and I noticed a window full of sensible shoes, and they were quite nice in a modest sort of way. But in despair I saw the sign above the entrance: Clarks, the home of regulation school sandals, the shop where I was taken by my mother to have my feet measured and x-rayed with an exciting machine that could see through to the bones.
Yet peering further, I noticed that the shop was crammed with fashionable young people trying on footwear with low heels and rounded toes. Venturing inside, this startling vision was confirmed. All around were rows and rows of shoes that looked comfortable. My feet sighed with pleasure at the sight of them. They had nice straps to hold them on and the soles were airy cushions of padded leather. There was not a single pair of what the magazines call "fierce heels", shoes inspired by Chinese footbinding, designed to cruelly entrap the toes in sharp points and elevate the heels to such heights that walking becomes a hobble. There were no bondage shoes at all. Nor were there many ballet flats, those flimsy little numbers with papery soles, sending shock waves up your spine every time your foot hits the pavement, making your calves scream.
The shoes in Clarks had low, stumpy heels. They were visitors from a strange world. But were they in fashion again now? Not a single magazine article had proclaimed the death of the uncomfortable shoe. At London fashion week, models continued to wobble along the catwalk in vertiginous platforms and there had been no reports in the financial pages of the decline of Manolo Blahnik (who refuses even to make wedges) or Christian Louboutin. Yet the shop seemed to be minting money. I sat down next to an exquisite Italian woman in the kind of skinny jeans that are artfully folded around the ankle, requiring the centuries of visual acuity only granted to a country of people who can wear beige without looking like a geography teacher. She carried a Prada bag, and dozens of shoes lay all around her as she kept trying on more and more pairs. Every time she cast one off, I moved them towards me.
Friday, 16 October 2009
Mimi Weddel and I shared a birthday. I'm always fascinated by the lives of those born on February 15. She was a New York model who breezed into Manhattan from North Dakota in 1941. According to her obituary, (she just died at the age of 94,) 'What she had wanted since the age of 16 was to put her foot on the bar of the Hotel Astor, to drink Brandy Alexanders on the St Regis hotel roof garden, to admire hats in Peacock Alley in the Waldorf Astoria.'
She was still going our on calls for modelling and acting jobs at the time of her death. She had a small part in an episode of Sex and the City. She went to the gym to stay fit, despite curvature of the spine but decreed that hats maketh the woman:
She shared an Upper East Side apartment, which she had bought cheaply in 1970, with her daughter Sarah, son-in-law, grandson and 150 or so hats, boxed and not, from the 1930s to the couture present. The film director Jyll Johnstone decided to follow Mimi around with a camera intermittently over 12 years, and called the resulting documentary, released in 2008, Hats Off. Hats On would have been more accurate. "Rise above it" was Mimi's motto, and she could rise to any headgear, however unlikely. There's a sequence in the film, in between Mimi's punishing gymnastics, tapdancing, singing and casting calls, when she takes a ride on the back of a motorbike, cool in jodhpurs, huntsman's jacket and boots. She's as elegant as Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, and almost as youthful, and she wears her visored helmet with elan. "Hats give you a frame," she said. "However dreary you feel, if you put on a hat, by golly, you've changed everything. I keep telling my daughter, my granddaughter, everybody, if you don't wear a hat, you're missing it. "
The full obituary is here
Posted by Linda Grant at 07:09
Thursday, 17 September 2009
Apologies to all of you who have been missing this blog. The fact is, I've been in another world, the world of writing a new novel, and clothes have been less on my mind. 'Harry Fenton' aka Nigel is battling various institutions of the state to get compensation for his son (we hope there will be some good news very soon).
Meanwhile, I have permission to share with you an email I recently received from Georgia, USA from a reader of the book, The Thoughtful Dresser:
I'm in the process of packing for a move to a retirement home (I'm 83) and came across your "The Thoughtful Dresser" as I was packing books. I read it not so long ago, but glancing through it I became engrossed again - a most unusual thing for me.
Being in the throes of decisions on what I can take, your writings have endorsed my desire to have with me so many of my clothes, whether practical to my new environment or not. Having my clothes, pants, jackets, shirts, shoes, boots, bags, dresses, hats, even evening wear, will make me happier, and you confirm the wisdom of what others see as imprudent.
Some of my favorite things are 40 years old, but I'm a size 6, and can still wear them should I wish to. (Actually,I was a size 8, but the fashion industry has reduced the size structures to flatter all women, so my newer clothes are 6.) But ability to wear them is not really necessary. I have shawls and scarves, belts and baubles which I never wear now, but like to admire and try on, and they give me pleasure.
A friend says, "Carol, all you need is four pairs of shoes" I told her I've packed forty pairs, and mourn those I must leave behind. I need sandals, straps, slides and boots, all in varying colors and heel heights to go with chosen dresses, skirts and pants of varying lengths. How could I possibly be content with four pairs of footwear, though they might be the ones I;d wear most of the time? I have gvien away all high heels, not because I think they're imappropriate at 83, but because they are no longer comfortable.
I think I was born to love clothes, just as I was born to love literature and learnng. At age 6 I was trying to choose my own clothes. I was a tomboy, and loved to dress in my brother's pants and shirts, but I also loved girl's things, always stressing my poor mother by choosing the most expensive classic designs that she hadn't the money to buy for me. I didn't realize I had a "fashion sense" until I met an employer who recognzed my potential and insisted upon hiring me to teach a New York department store teen "Beauty Workshop" which led to a career in fashion promotion and commentary. Later i got serious and went into health agency administration, but my love of clothes never failed.
There were periods when I couldn't afford many clothes, and other times when I could but didn't like anything in the stores. What I own now is the aggregate of many years of acquisition and carefull culling. I've gotten rid of mistakes and whims and hope now to be able to hang onto what's left. I think shopping opportunity will not be so near at my new abode; all the more reason to bring as much of what I like with me.
Please accept my plaudits for your book; it's informative, wise, amusing,well-written, and even when I disagreed, plausible. Congratulations!
Posted by Linda Grant at 08:22
Wednesday, 15 July 2009
Friday, 19 June 2009
In 1979 I went to a meeting Vancouver and heard thrilling accounts from Iranian socialist feminists about how they donned the chador to organise the revolution and depose the Shah. One cynic asked if they would be able to take the chador off again and was quickly shushed. I wonder where those Iranian feminists are today.
In 1996 I visited Iran on assignment for the Guardian. One small detail of life there I observed was that it was women in their forties and older , women who had been in their twenties and up before the revolution, who had managed to tweak and subvert the dress codes and were the most fashionably dressed. Invited to attend a wedding in Isfahan, where there were two, segregated receptions, the women without their black cloaks were dressed in a riot of colour, spangles and low bosoms.
A doctoral student at the University of Tehran who was working with the team that was bringing the internet in Iran told me that the internet would be the undoing of the regime.
The Guardian has been doing a fine job of providing live rolling coverage of what is going on which you can read here
In the same paper, Azadeh Moaveni writes of the Ahmadinejad era:
Late that summer, authorities launched a full-scale campaign of intimidation against young people they accused of un-Islamic appearance. Within a few short weeks, police detained 150,000 people, and all the women in my life went out to buy the shapeless, long coats that we had worn back in the late 1990s. Though the campaign targeted young men as well, authorities singled out women with particular brutality. The government's disdain for women increased by the day. Though Iranians fretted about the impact of western sanctions, the government turned its attention to a bill that would facilitate polygamy. Soon after, it announced a plan that would supposedly solve Iran's marriage crisis. It called the scheme "semi-independent marriage", and it amounted to a hollow version of the institution that would secure men legal and piously sanctioned sex, while denying women the security and social respectability of conventional marriage. On internet news sites and newspapers, women reacted scathingly. A girlfriend of mine, whose English classes had recently been segregated by gender, complained the government was imposing seventh-century rules on modern women
Posted by Linda Grant at 08:44
Tuesday, 16 June 2009
Amongst the recent frenetic media coverage of the juvenile behaviour of some of Gordon Brown’s former cabinet members The New Statesman has recently given us a first rate interview with the new Home Secretary , Alan Johnson.
I was aware of Mr Johnson’s working class West London roots, and his rise through the union ranks following his career choice as a postman.
But I wasn’t aware that he had been in not just one, but two, rock and roll bands.
“Within the space of three years, I left school, played in two bands, cut a record, got married, had two kids. That’s a lot to do in a short time. It was just a buzz, a real buzz, a really exciting time. I’ve never [recaptured] the excitement of playing in a band. Nothing has re-created that for me ……“it’s been kind of downhill all the way from there”.
He has an articulate take on the current political scene, and given the shenanigans that the media are so obsessed by his words and opinions are refreshingly to the point.
And how often, I wonder, does a man in a suit, let alone the Home Secretary, answer a question about his tie.
Not for him the embarrassed response of ‘oh, I don’t know where I got it / the wife gave it to me / clothes aren’t important to me. But,…..
‘Today, he wears a patterned Kenzo tie, although he insists it is “just a cheapo one. The Vivienne Westwood’s my favourite.”
Monday, 8 June 2009
Saturday, 6 June 2009
Because life has been unstructured of late, what with hospital visits and live televison appearances ( a slight exaggeration) I missed another social event the other week.
It was Mick Kidd’s birthday. I met Mick last year. He is one half of the incomparable cartoon duo ‘Biff’, who have been going for a long while , and never cease to entertain me.
Their cartoons often suggest that they have been eavesdropping on conversations and dinner parties that I might well have been at ( or pleased not to have been at).
If you are not familiar with their oeuvre then there is a treat in store.
I was especially delighted to find on their website that they appear in a rather recherché magazine called The Chap ,and reveal a rather astute awareness of the finer points of menswear which I never before suspected. As it has strong literary associations I feel compelled to share it with the discriminating readers of this blog.
Sunday, 31 May 2009
My Greek Cypriot hairdresser warned me yesterday that if I even thought of not voting for Stavros Flatley in the final of Britain's Got Talent, I could look forward to green highlights on my next visit. But why would anyone not vote for them? They reduce me to helpless giggles.
Posted by Linda Grant at 12:27
Thursday, 28 May 2009
It was raining heavily on Tuesday morning and I was going to the gym. And the umbrella stand in the hall was empty. And there was no umbrella in the boot of the car.
And I didn’t know where they had got to. And I couldn’t remember when they had last been used, or when I had last seen them, or who might have borrowed them. And I couldn’t remember, for that matter, when it had last rained.
On Tuesday it was the six month anniversary of the fateful night in Mumbai when Will and Kelly were threatened with their lives. And said their goodbyes to one another. And I was intermittently on the end of a phone in London and at one stage did not know if my lovely son was alive.
It has been a long time. It has, in a sense, been one long extended event. And Christmas and New Year have been and long gone. And snow has happened and spring has arrived and public holidays have occurred and friends have gone away and come back and Rosie is coming to the end of her second year at university. And Will is still in hospital undergoing rehabilitation.
He is a star . Kelly is a star.
It does sometimes happen in life. A disruption to the normal flow. Of events . Of habits . Of time. When something prises you into a parallel world that runs alongside the familiar one. When what used to be important preoccupations are now barely recognised irrelevancies. You look across to the old familiar life and wonder when the tracks will intersect. ( I’m talking for myself here)
Three weeks ago Will and Kelly decided to go public with their story. They had absolutely no desire to , but they acknowledged that they needed to as they get no compensation from the UK government. And now the real world has been engaged, but in a kind of ultra way. Interactions with journalists and politicians,. Seeing images and stories in print and on TV. And messages coming in from the ether. From complete strangers and from long lost friends. Offers of help. Expressions of support . And many heartfelt greetings.
And they have been very gratified by the support that has been forthcoming.
And now that they have engaged the outside world it is sort of time for me to. And I hope I will have the kind of energy that allows me to get back to doing some of the things I enjoy. Like writing occasionally for this blog. About less important things like the disappearance of tab collars and , now that the warmer weather is here, the ghastly re-appearance of cargo pants. Or buying an umbrella.
Thank you one and all for all your kind thoughts.
Wednesday, 13 May 2009
Yesterday, there was a half hour interview with Will, Kelly and Nigel on Radio Five Live, which you can listen to here, and which gives a graphic account of what happened in Mumbai that night. Later that morning Tess Jowell, the minister responsible, came on and under tough questioning from the news presenter, conceded that there was an anomaly in the law and that the government was looking into changing it. Will's website will be campaigning to hold her to hger promise.
Sunday, 10 May 2009
For several months this site benefited from the insightful analysis of 'Harry Fenton' in real life, my friend Nigel Pike. Last November Nigel's son Will was caught up in the terrorist atrocities in Mumbai. Attempting to escape with his girlfriend Kelly Doyle from their third-floor hotel room, Will fell, sustaining serious injuries. He is facing the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
At every stage in in this cruel calamity I have been shocked by the incompetence and indifference of the Foreign Office, parts of the National Health Service and the British government which has abandoned Will, offering him a one-off payment from a Red Cross fund of a meagre £15,000. Had he been injured in a terrorist attack on British soil he would have been compensated. Had he been in a car crash, he would have been compensated. Had his injury taken place at work, he would have been compensated. But because he was the victim of a terrorist attack abroad, the government says it will give him nothing. Not a penny.
Will was a target because he was British. The terrorists went from room to room looking for British and American guests to execute. Since he returned to London from Mumbai five months ago, the British government has preferred to pretend he does not exist.
In today's Observer the full story of what happened after Mumbai is told. You can read my account here, and a report by the chief political correspondent here, and a leader here.
This morning Will and Kelly launched a website, a public appeal for a change in government policy and for funds to help them though the years ahead. You can read that here. Please do.
You can also listen to a radio interview with Will which went out this morning on BBC Radio Four's Today Programme
Monday, 20 April 2009
Back in the day, there was an amazing magazine called Nova, the intelligent woman's guide to life, fashion, politics and the rest. I adored it when I was a teenager.
A former journalist on the magazine, Brigid Keenan, has just emailed me with this gem, apropos the piece I wrote last week about the Queen as fashion icon:
It was in the days before you could change images on the computer, so what could have been done in a few minutes now, was an incredibly expensive and complicated affair. Basically, we had to find out the Queen's measurements and exact height (we did this at Madame Tussaud's) and then find a model of those proportions. I asked Andre Courreges to design a suit for the Queen - he made a very snappy navy and white outfit, then I got Alexandre, who was the world's top hairdresser then, to design her a hairstyle, and someone else to design the makeup. The Queen-sized model was photographed in the suit, and the hair and makeup superimposed on the image and it all ended up with the Queen looking like herself but some sort of continental, soignee version! (Apparantly she herself thought we'd made her look like Queen Fara Diba!) There was an awful hiccup at one stage because Courreges had insisted on making the skirt above-the-knee length, and when the finished pictures, which seemed to show the Queen in a mini skirt, arrived from the US (where the retouching was done) the Customs siezed them and we only got them back by negotiating with the Palace. The skirt was lengthened to an appropriate length and that was it.
Posted by Linda Grant at 12:58
Saturday, 18 April 2009
I'm sure that there are many readers of this site who are better dressed than Susan Boyle, better looking, with better figures and more lively romantic histories. And perhaps you too (I know I do) long to step in front of Simon Cowell and belt out a number that would cause his jaw to drop. But in my case that will never happen. It will not happen because however much I dream that dream, however much I spend on the right dress, however much botox I had, I can't sing, and Susan Boyle can.
I now read that Piers Morgan is now planning to take her on her first ever date. Can no gallant man offer himself, in Morgan's place? George Clooney, please step up.
Tuesday, 14 April 2009
What size was Marilyn Monroe? A Times journalist tries on her clothes.
As I tentatively tried to coerce my way into the Some Like It Hot dress, Valerie Nelson, the woman charged with caring for the pieces in the Jersey exhibition, talked me through Monroe’s body shape. Monroe was 5ft 5in (I’m an inch shorter); just over eight stone (I’m ¾ of a stone heavier); she had a respectable BMI of 21 (don’t ask). She had an incredibly narrow back and rib cage but big boobs, so if she were to pop into Rigby & Peller for a bra fitting today she would probably be a 30E.
She didn’t have a long body, and although her legs were a lovely shape (beautiful bony ankles and knees) they weren’t particularly long. She had a very short rise (the distance from waist to crotch), but what made her body so extraordinary was the 13-inch difference between her breast and hip measurements and her waist. In her younger years her vital statistics would have come in at 36 23 35, and although her weight fluctuated throughout her career, she always maintained that out-of-this-world body ratio. A real life Jessica Rabbit.
Nelson tells me that they had to get a special mould made for the corset and swimwear dummies in the exhibition because Monroe was such an extreme hourglass shape that no off-the-peg dummies existed in those measurements. The Some Like It Hot dress just about zips up on me – which is pretty mortifying, considering I had always thought of her Sugar phase as a gloriously plump one.
Posted by Linda Grant at 07:50