16 August 2010

Best laid plans

Rain. Rain. Rain.

Where has the summer gone? And not just weather-wise – where has the summer gone time-wise?

Alas, dear Reader, I sit here on a rainy Saturday morning, one that feels more like autumn, wondering what has happened to all the grand plans I had for the summer. My hopes lay as dashed as my morning glories being pelted by the rain. *Sigh*

Of course, I exaggerate.

But, I do feel a great sense of disappointment in this moment. And, I fear my DEB feels somewhat deprived, as we have not been as sociable this summer season as we had intended.

I’d promised, once we were settled in our new home that we would entertain regularly. Heaven knows, I have more than enough blue and white china to do the job!

By chance, I even found a wonderful old book to support my efforts: The Perfect Hostess by Rose Henniker Heaton.

Published in London in 1931, The Perfect Hostess, is a delightful compendium of recipes, poems and words of wit and wisdom that makes one long for the days when ladies and gentlemen ‘dressed’ for cocktails and dinner, wore tiaras (the ladies that is) and had servants to tidy up after them!

The tone of the book is very, very tongue-in-cheek (just my sort of thing!). Imagine Emily Post, with a very wicked sense of humour.

For example here is Rose’s suggestions for entertaining when “The Woman your Husband Nearly Married comes to Lunch”:

Order of Procedure

Engage a charwoman the day before to come in and rub up the brasses, clean the silver, etc.

Make special efforts over the flowers.

See that a fire is burning cheerfully.

Interesting magazines lying about.

Volume of Proust, complete with paper-cutter, in a prominent position on the table.

Children on view in their new and spotless smocks.

Numerous invitation propped up on the chimney-piece.

Wear your most becoming frock and your husband’s latest present.


Dry Martini with Olives


Lobster Cream en coupe

Fried chicken à la Marengo

Merveille aux Marrons

Cheese Wafers

Coffee and Cigarettes

I’m intrigued not only being Rose’s intricate attention to detail, but also by the social interaction of “serving the competition”.

While there is more than a bit of showiness and “one-up-(wo)man-ship” transpiring here, much of Rose’s advice is about hosting—and living—with grace and tact. Such as, in one section, she advises the great care and graciousness with which one should host relatives who are less well off.

I love her recommendations for hosting international visitors: “Mamie and Silas K. Huskinson of Ohio, U.S.A come down to Breakfast”:



Fried Eggs and Bacon





Never try to make Americans or foreigners feel at home – had they wished to feel at home, they would have remained in their own country -- Be British.

Making people feel cared for, loved and respected is central to Rose’s arguments; and this triple-headed theme is key to the recommendations Rose provides on marriage.

“Things a Wife Ought to Know”

How to cook at least six simple things (i.e., Boil potatoes, roast a joint, grill a cutlet, fry bacon and sausages, make a good white sauce and scramble an egg).

How to iron a tie properly.

How to play a good game of tennis, and a fair hand at bridge.

How to mend socks (and occasionally do so).

How to drive a car (but not how to clean it).

That a perfectly run house can be the most uncomfortable spot on earth.

That an untidy, badly run house will ruin any marriage, and is a disgrace to any intelligent woman.


“Things a Husband Ought to Know”

How to repair the electric light when it fuses.

How to put a washer on a tap.

How to mend the electric bells.

How to mark-out the tennis court.

How to find your keys when you lose them.

How to mend things.

How to make excuses for you over the telephone.

How to garden.

How to be nice to you when you have made a perfect fool of yourself.


“Things Women Forget”

(1) That there is a limit to every banking account.

(2) The precise hour of any appointment.

(3) That a man is still a man even if he happens to be their husband.

(4) That the most trivial unkindness is capable of immense hurt, and a man has no power of retaliation.

(5) Last, they do not remember that they are generally loved vastly more than ever they love.

Although much of this is a bit dated and old-fashioned, I think there more than an ounce or two of wisdom here.

10 August 2010


Dear Reader,

You will, I hope, forgive my absence.

The past few days have been difficult to say the least.
My beloved Lucy is doing well; and I am slowly, but surely, writing myself better.

A return to form is imminent.

Sneak preview: My column for October

"A Girl's Best Friend"

Super Model Lucy, on location in NYC

My dear friend, Katie Doyle, once joked: “If there’s such a thing as reincarnation, I want to come back as a dog. Not just any dog, I want to come back as Lucy.” To be sure, my beloved pooch has had a remarkable life for a canine – or otherwise.

From her humble beginnings as an abandoned pup in small-town America (Lucy’s mother was a prize-winning collie, guilty of an indiscretion with a neighbouring chow), Lucy has been a constant companion in my adventures. She’s had a few adventures of her own: from being an extra in a production of Strindberg’s Miss Julie; to cheering the elderly as Santa’s reindeer – complete with costume antlers. The old girl definitely has talent and heart.

When we moved to NYC in 2003, Lucy became toast of the town. (Our corner of it, at least.) Everyone loved Lucy. Residents in my apartment building all knew Lucy by name, I was just an extra in her show. On walks in Washington Square, we were routinely stopped by children desperate to pet her. Once, when my Darling English Boy came to Manhattan for a visit, we went for a walk along the Hudson River. That day, Lucy became an accidental model, when a photographer became captivated by her. She has a passport – one that’s arguably better used than the average American’s. She’s played in the Irish Sea, and scaled the heights of Pembroke Castle. Now living in Warwickshire, life has led Lucy to a quieter place, with a more gentle pace.

There are approximately 10.5 million dogs in UK households. To say that Britain is a nation of dog lovers is an understatement. Spike Milligan surmised, “the English Dog Cult now vies with Christianity in top ten religions.” I’m thankful to have been living here when Lucy was faced with a serious ailment recently (NB. This past Thursday). I believe that she received more caring and compassionate care on this side of the Atlantic. Although non-life threatening, her illness was quite severe, and required an enucleation of her right eye.

The process left me anguished and distraught. Lucy, however, has soldiered on. In her characteristic plucky way, she is undaunted and irrepressible. This experience illustrated for me how much more brave and resilient than humans dogs are.

We’re drawn to dogs because they are the uninhibited creatures we might be if we weren’t certain we knew better. They fight for honor at the first challenge, make love with no moral restraint, and they don’t for all their marvelous instincts appear to know about death. Being such wonderfully uncomplicated beings, they need us to do their worrying.
George Bird Evans

Worrying is a small price to pay for the companionship and unconditional love that dogs give. Warwickshire writer George Eliot said it best: “We long for an affection altogether ignorant of our faults. Heaven has accorded this to us in the uncritical canine attachment.” I’ll gladly do the worrying and more for Lucy, she’s a diamond. And, diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

Serenely surveying the flocks on Burton Dassett, 2008

The Dogs Trust is the UK's largest dog welfare charity, helping thousands of stray and abandoned dogs find a happy home.

Dogs Trust, Honiley, Kenilworth, CV8 1NP tel. 01926-484398 www.dogstrust.org.uk