Diary of an Acclimatised Beauty: Partying

I’m back at my childhood home in St John’s Wood but have been checking the Covid map of the states—although mostly out of habit these days. I’ve finally concluded that with less than one-half of 1% dead, I’m just torturing myself. I had called my housekeeper in Los Angeles on more than one occasion, just to ask her to pop round and check on things but still no reply. Her mobile always seems to work when she’s running late or needs to cancel but not so when I want to reach her. 

I was starting to get a bit down when Judith suggested I have some friends round for a small (under six) garden party. Under six guests of course, because the world has gone mental and we are led to believe that six is a party… and seven equals death. In some small way I thought she (mummy) might just be wanting to gloat about how much better the garden looks without the compost that got us into so much trouble. Or rather the compost I insisted upon that got them into a literal heap of trouble, but I’d like to think that nasty bit of business is well and truly behind us.

For added measure father planted a rather established Japanese maple in its stead and assured me that in time, it would all be forgotten, like a bad dream…an expensive bad dream he reminded me, but forgotten nonetheless.

No composing necessary.

I rang up nearly everyone I could think to invite and ended up with a whopping two. Both friends from Cheltenham, both somehow not married, or working. Food would have to be managed by delivery as there was no one to do the cooking and washing up. Sadly I was just going to have to let go of the massive amount of plastic containers this will require. And perhaps too, I can find a post-consumer plastics stock in which to invest.

A minute after speaking to her, Jane rang back asking if she could bring a friend round to meet me. “WHO? I asked. “Who are you bringing round? Do you mean a boy??”

Well she did mean a boy, someone named Christopher, which didn’t narrow it down but she promised me he was not only keen on all things green… he was committed to capping the earth’s temperature at not greater than a 3-degree rise. Points for specificity! This did make it awkward though, three girls and a boy… so I’d have to ask my parents to join us. Alas.

And no sooner did they say yes than I was told Patrick (my ex and father’s colleague) was needing to “rest” here as he didn’t feel well enough to take his flight or to make his way back to Wiltshire.

“Rest here?” I asked. “As in quarantine?”

“No of course not.” Father insisted, “he just mentioned…and I offered.”

“You said, by all means, do come rest with us?”

“No, I said we… and I did mean WE wouldn’t hear of anything else.”

“Well yes, of course…we wouldn’t but it just seems so Jane Bennett-esque—getting sick and having to recover at Netherfield Hall.”
“Netherfield Hall—yes well. Some riveting Jane Austen reference I assume, but let’s just keep that to ourselves, shall we?”

Jane would approve.

Ugh. Of course, yes. Note to self: despite not being an annoying Jane Austen fan, one reference and you sound like one.

I must have been in the shower when Patrick arrived because sitting on my bed in my towel I heard the zip, zip, zip of his carry-on from the next room. And it didn’t sound like the zips of a very sick person either. Then Judith popped in to alert me that Patrick was here, because apparently I needed to be told twice. Three if one counts the zipping.

“Yes, thank you. Poor lamb…” was all I could get out. After all the whole luncheon party was her idea. And I was now its hostess. I so wanted to wear a crisp navy dress I’d just purchased but it was the last bit of summer and I really needed to wear something summer-y. So it was me, Jane, Emma, Jane’s mystery introduction—Christopher -- Daddy, and Judith. Three girls one boy and my parents as chaperones. Riveting. On the bright side daddy would serve as bartender.

Christopher, as it turns out, is third generation green! And was part of the environmentalist club dating back to high school. I was ready to gush that we had so much in common when Patrick appeared, looking fit as a fiddle.

“Sixty-minute bug must’ve been,” was all he had to say for himself as he beamed to show his wellness. “I didn’t mean to interrupt…Karl, is it?”

“No, it’s Christopher, he replied.

“So... Karl would be…”

“My father.”

“I thought I recognised something," said Patrick. "He spoke to my graduating class at Duke, on the heels of having given a small fortune to Climate Works. But you were talking about your high school club when I so rudely interrupted.… I'm Patrick by the way, I work with Mr. Kennedy.”

“Mister…?”

“Jenny’s father, James Kennedy. The gentleman to your right.”

“Yes, of course, lovely to meet you, Patrick.”

Father got up to get Patrick a drink and smartly Judith suggested we eat. I for one was famished but Patrick was just getting started. I thought about digging my heel into his foot under the table but for a boy who had just been sick, he now looked like a million bucks, and began again. “So after high school…? he asked.

“I did an internship with the Swiss Embassy in Nairobi.”

“So as to immerse yourself in a corrupt mining economy?”

Not an ounce of corruption.

“Actually, all matters concerning diplomatic relations between Switzerland and Kenya.”

“Which didn’t include mining?”

“Well, actually the most corruption is surrounding the gold.”

“ONLY the gold—which Switzerland has no need of. I see.”

“And niobium…”

“…Formerly known as columbium. Still, an odd place to find an environmentalist."

I flashed father a look who I must say deserved an Oscar for not smiling but my look said DO SOMETHING. Which he did—in the form of a toast to mummy, and then to me, and to great friends, and then he told every single detail of my having once secured interest-free loans for women in India, who over the course of their lifetimes, would otherwise have spent the equivalent of $12,000 paying down the interest on a $300 sewing machine. Subject changed—crisis averted!

But I’d had a second glass of prosecco and was comfortably relaxed, not terribly stimulating, and certainly not alert enough to steer the conversation to what few social or artistic events were happening in the world. Patrick however, was in fighting form.

“So yes, Bravo to our lovely Jenny,” Patrick began, “because truly one hundred percent of those loans helped women support themselves and their families for generations to come. She is lucky in that. Whereas I was reading that, with climate philanthropy, only 2 percent of donations go to fighting climate change head-on. So cheers to you mate, for sticking to it.”

“And what is your line of work?” Christopher asked.

“Oh sorry mate, thought I’d mentioned I work with Jenny’s father. I’m an engineer and in a sense, we too operate from a deep and abiding respect for the planet. Our very existence depends on it. That is to say from a business standpoint, we cannot exist if we do not continually find and prove we have found better ways of supporting human life, and we are self-sufficient; meaning lacking the generous funding of our detractors, we have to run a ship so tight that it actually supports itself. Although you might call that profit, the economic scientists would call it sustainability.”

It was clear that if I didn’t spirit Christopher away and fast—the prospect of our green union was doomed. Alas, I doubted even without Patrick’s arrival I’d have found him the least bit attractive. Just now he was babbling on about his family having cleverly used a pseudonym -- the name of a tree -- for their philanthropic foundation so as to take the focus off the family and make it all about the work. Yes, how utterly clever. All I could think of was how similarly clever Nicholas Coppola was to have changed his name to Nicholas Cage thus proving nepotism had no hand in his success despite appearing in his uncle’s films.

I gave Jane the look that asked…What about you two? She returned the answer—Just no. I mouthed to my father “help,” which Judith caught and promptly announced she’d make coffee. It’s what she does when it’s time for people to go. Hearing Ray Charles’ Till There Was You, playing, Patrick asked me to dance.

And while I knew it might be a mistake I just closed my eyes and placed my head on his shoulder, hearing the faint tinkling of coffee cups… and soon enough they were gone. Try as they might, neither this pandemic nor the Christophers of the world could keep us down forever.

Diary of an Acclimatised Beauty: Scarfing

I’m not really sure who Hermés is marketing to if not me. I mean not only do I buy a fair amount of new things, I’m forever bringing new life to Judith's (mummy’s) vintage pieces. Honestly, they should fête me. But instead, what I get is attitude. And with all this Covid madness I’m needing more scarves as masks, not less. And dry cleaning is taking seven times longer than it has my whole life.

Ok, maybe I can’t remember back as far as my whole life but I think you get the picture. Their website was extremely limited…nearly everything was either a jungle theme, or Maori, or African, or the Amazon, or Inuit or some civilisation that clearly doesn’t shop on Bond Street. And everything blue??? Ugh! So I popped into Harrod’s because—leave it to the shop that started by selling us tea to still know what we want today.

And I was right, everything was so much more suited to what anyone would wear but with the addition of so many stupid small sizes, I had to keep asking --is this one the real scarf size or the Barbie size? And then I had a flashback to the snipey clerk in the states who had admonished me by saying that a $2,000 Collier bracelet was “only fashion jewellery,” and I shouldn’t take so much time deciding. Clearly Hermés clerks are rather well compensated.  But no chance I’d have a similar problem here, the experience of shopping at Harrods is really... an experience.  And for a moment I didn’t miss my life in Los Angeles at all.

Seitan -- it's what's for dinner!

Soon however, I was starting to go mad by so many patterns and colours and I needed a cup of tea to set me right so I popped out, promising to return. And I meant to—really I did, but two glasses of bubbly later I still couldn’t understand why, with four dozen instruction books over the years on how to tie any scarf —we needed smaller sizes. Oh how I wished Judith were here. She’d have picked out the best of the lot and we’d be eating yummy roast beef…or  222 Vegan if I had the patience to re-explain seitan strips and cashew cream.

I pulled out my phone and googled silk’s impact on the environment… so much fresh water used…energy for air-conditioning and humidity control of the farms, hot air to dry the cocoons and, maybe even coal-fuelled factories. None of this had been depicted in any size. Maybe it was environmental responsibility that accounted for the loss of silken inches? One more search led me to Ferragamo, who was making a silk-like fibre from oranges—not even orange wood, but used oranges! This I had to see. A few paragraphs later l learned it was actually citrus by-products, so my leftover breakfast squeeze could have avoided the compost and made its way to a fabulous scarf!

Amazing what they can do with fruit these days.

I doubled back over to Bond Street, this time to Ferragamo. The whole store smelled like a delicious new leather snaffle bridle, but it was citrus I was after. Pretty much no one in the store knew what I was talking about until I thrust my phone forward showing them the WWD piece detailing “the contemporary way to construct an ethical lifestyle”, that “everything was possible with the fashion world now having joined the sustainability train”, and the “commitment to bringing sustainable practices to the fashion industry set the example for waste reduction and organic repurposing”. Surely all this hadn’t been lost on them, but apparently their commitment had ended—with one collection.

I bought the pink peony scarf and a viva slingback in bone. It was getting late and I didn’t feel like carrying too many packages so I made my way back to St John’s Wood just in time to find daddy and Judith setting up for cocktails. I had been craving an orange for some reason and settled for a Tesco orange juice with bits.

I had wanted to complain to them about my day—to tell them that Hermés had gone all indigenous on me, that the five different sizes were dizzying, and that silk itself was… hmm, better forget the sad-planet bit as I’d bought one anyway. And now that I thought about it—champagne, Harrod's, Bond Street and a large expenditure on accessories didn’t seem likely to engender much sympathy, nor would including the misleading WWD article.

“Remind me where it is that you live in California?” Father asked. He knew very well where I lived, but I decided best not to huff.

“Sherman Oaks… nearly Beverly Hills as you may recall”, I said.

“Yes, of course. Sherman Oaks, I had just been reading about fire season out there”.

“Fire… SEASON??” I asked, knowing I wasn’t up for the banter.

“Never mind that”, he said, “I was really just referring to black-out season, which seemingly always coincides with fire season”. He was gaining, just as Judith asked to see what I’d bought.

“I don’t know that it’s fair to say… always coincides", I ventured, knowing I’d landed a blow, he was forever preaching the ills of superlatives.

“Well in this case, I would say it is indeed fair, millions of acres of land burning, millions of homes without power… and both sharing the same catalyst, we can’t argue they aren’t related”, he went on.

Ah, how little he knew his own daughter. Certainly I could argue, but not when I was crashing from the sugar of the orange juice. Or the big lunch. Or both. And I knew he was correct. Failure to harvest dead trees had provided the fuel for the fires, and the money spent fighting fires was now not available to tuck the power lines underground, so yes, he was right, and yes he would make me admit this was another failed green policy so I just smiled and said:

“We can all agree the larger season is summer, yes?”

“Indeed” was his only reply.

Indeed. It was almost a victory lap.

They were heading out for a curry and invited me but I said I’d catch up on my emails and anyway the roast beef was a generous portion.

They neither toil  but they sure do spin.

I headed up to my childhood room and flopped on the bed with my laptop. Another web search brought up silk’s praises… its byproducts are integrated back into the local ecosystem, the mulberry fruits are eaten, the wood is used for timber and fuel, the foliage fed to cattle, the extra waste used as fertiliser; and Sericin—recovered from wastewater could be added to food, textiles, and pharmaceuticals.

Net-net, silk is virtually a zero-waste textile. I’d have to go back to hating cotton. And cheeky clerks.

Diary of an Acclimatised Beauty: Composting

It’s finally spring, even here in the British Isles! And Judith (mummy) has arrived back to London for the Chelsea Garden Show. Except there is no Chelsea Garden Show and she already knew it. Says she: we need to keep to routine as much as possible even in shutdown. I didn’t push but since when is it routine to turn up for things that are not even happening? And turn up a week late at that?

I just looked at her for some sign that wasn’t likely to come. She’s always played her cards close to her vest and believes it her due not to be pressed. Why she'd chosen to sit out this plague-demic in the country would remain a mystery. It is, however, very clear as to why she’s made her way back—ME! Who else was going to colour her hair with all the shops closed?

She’d arrived wearing a hat and immediately floated up the staircase so as not to be seen by Father. They’ve been married longer than they’ve ever been apart but still she goes on with this pretense. I have a vision of them in their old age—sharing a bed with a curtain between them for modesty sake.

With her a captive audience for forty minutes, I took it upon myself to express how very, very unhappy I was that she and father had abandoned the compost I’d set up for them. Clearly she had failed to grasp just how critical such an undertaking was, and in typical Judith fashion she said it was really Daddy’s doing and I needed to discuss it with him. Hopeless, the pair of them, and as if our planet was just going to take care of itself?

All she wanted to talk about was Patrick this, and Patrick that, and I said, you know perfectly well that during this shutdown everyone has loads more time than they otherwise would have… take the Chelsea Garden Show, for example, and I explained all of this extra time is the only reason he stopped in—nothing to discuss! The flowers… well that’s just very Patrick.

It soon became readily apparent that it was I myself who was being held captive as she managed to find and broach every single thing I didn’t wish to discuss. Rather risky on her part, as I was only halfway through applying the boxed colour to her virgin roots. With the now obvious perfume-y/chemical smell very likely wafting downstairs, Daddy called up asking if we needed anything…tea…fire extinguisher… anything.

Judith remained unruffled and responded in the placid, collected voice befitting a woman of her upbringing, “Thank you darling we’re just getting settled…” But before she finished I'd heard the back door slap shut. Daddy had guessed her response and was now likely headlong into the garden, and having a chuckle at our expense. I'd finished up with “Beige Flirtation” and left Judith to marinate.

Tiptoeing into the backyard, I met Daddy just shy of the potting shed… at last he would answer for the reckless abandonment of the composting system I had so painstakingly researched and established! What had he to say for himself? He was a man who’d made his very career out of extracting composted matter (eventually becoming petroleum) from the ground. He was not likely to make a case against giving back— even if it was only a tiny bit of giving, and wouldn’t be given for fifty million years. STILL, he had to be in favour.

But in favour he was not, and a scowl settled into his forehead. “Bad bit of business, that,” was his only response. And I wondered how high his hopes could have been for what was literally a rotting biomass.

Who can resist?

“Bad… what exactly?? I persisted, “You can’t just do that.”

“Can’t I?” He countered. (Good God he really was serious!)

“Well no, you can’t .” I said, “you just…can’t.” He was quiet as he rummaged for just the right rusted spade.

“It was Nicholas actually, and…”

“Nicholas our gardener?”

“Yes, Nicholas our gardener,” he said, making it very clear he was going to drop the subject, but then added, “You needn’t get all broke up about it, our public liability insurance covered the lot of it.”

What could Nicholas have done? Surely he didn’t get into any sort of trouble taking my advice and actually peeing on the pile of mulch? Or having been confused with exposing himself? Men can be so careless at times.

Remembering Judith's hair was about to go nuclear, I raced back upstairs to declare her officially “done” and sent her into the bath to rinse out. There would be no rummaging around in mummy’s diary for clues  to any fatalities. Which left me with no choice but to text Patrick.

Perhaps…perhaps he’d have heard something from Father over some long trek to the literal center of the earth. He texted back, “Hello Beautiful. How are you?”

“Hi, so…they found him face down—his face covered in…well it seems he took in a lungful of mould spores…and nearly died.

“Died?? ” I asked, shocked out of my gourd.

“Right, and I’m afraid that wasn’t the whole of it, someone actually did die at the composting plant—the two were not determined to be connected but rather unfortunately somewhat earlier in the season…an arborist contracted some rare form of meningitis—papers went wild. This was also never connected to your parent’s yard but they did determine it was likely from some mulch or compost and well… poor Nicholas did nearly die.”

"I killed Nicholas?"

“Nearly darling, as I said only nearly. No hard feelings. They settled out of court, all very civilised, Nicholas was really a sport about it and he’s obviously retired a bit earlier and quite a bit better than he otherwise might have done.”

“Better…I…” was all I could get out. “Thank you Patrick, thank you so much.”

“Of course…are you all right??"

“Yes, thanks, thanks so much I…unfortunately I have to finish up something, I’m in the middle of a bit of science here.”

“Of course” Patrick said. “But I’ll see you a little bit later—your mother’s invited me round.”

“Yes, of course, see you later.”

I gulped down the water on my dressing table and stared at my own image—incredulous. What magic elixir might I concoct to to remove utter shock from my face? I think this calls for a bright coral lipstick and a tropical escape. Preferably one where I won’t have to think about saving the planet. Just wow.

Diary of an Acclimatised Beauty: Unmasked

I’m not sure what I expected when I came back to visit mummy and daddy but to be sure—Mummy and Daddy! That, however was not to be.

Other than referring to my mother as Judith for almost as long as I can remember, they’ve been pretty normal as parents go. And one could generally expect to find them home—Judith organising something or other, and Daddy reading or shuffling papers. As Judith never took breakfast they usually didn’t see one another until evening cocktails, but that ritual was truly sacrosanct. So when I arrived—on time and as promised, I in turn, expected to find them—drinks in hand and nibbling curry-spiced cashews and paper-thin slices of salmon on rye. What I found was most of the lights off and a half- melted bucket of ice at the bar.

I went up to my room to find mail that had been deposited over the course of the last several weeks, and half a dozen tulips placed into a vase—but no note. I must’ve slept for a good hour before I heard my father call from downstairs. No Judith. She’d decided to remain in the country in the interest of “essential” travel strictures. I never got a straight answer about how they got separated in the first place but how could she not bother to turn up when her only child had traveled halfway 'round the world to see her? Father gave me a look as though I was getting unnecessarily agitated so I just fumed inside and let it go.

Seriously though—who were these people? Quarantine-panicked and cowering like two pensioners who’d lost their house, their livelihood and their only child to a single incendiary. And who was this man sitting in front of me? I’d expected the reluctant RAF hero who took nothing too seriously and above all refused to give in, especially when those around him did. This was far too depressing after leaving a US that had likewise all but flown the white flag. Defeated as well, I went back upstairs, nicked a moisturising mask from my mother’s bathroom and fell asleep a second time.

Day Two: awoke to find father knocking about the kitchen only to soon learn we were out of milk, bread, eggs and, as he added 'soon enough…toilet roll'. On our way to Tesco we weren’t steps from our home when we were stopped by a policeman…yes we live in the same house, yes this is an essential trip but apparently we weren’t convincing enough—as we got a stern warning. Lovely. Two bagfuls later, we headed back—sharing a ham and pickle sandwich only to be met by a second officer. 'No it isn’t compulsory to wear a face mask,' she explained, 'but the mayor strongly urges you to do so'.

And with that, the father I used to know returned—and in full force I might add. 'Was this warning compulsory?'and, 'Does the mayor have any suggestions for eating while simultaneously wearing a mask'? Shocked, I rustled the paper wrapper of my half sandwich to underscore the fact that we were in fact eating, and to plead our case that we should be be spared the £30 fine. It worked, and the officer turned to look for her next scofflaw. Still ,I was quiet.

'You do realise that in London alone there were a hundred domestic violence arrests yesterday'? he said to me with pain in his voice. 'I hadn’t' I responded, and added, 'Clearly nobody’s having cured salmon on rye' and he stifled a smile. Seeking to change the subject fully, I began regaling him with the very positive effects of the global shutdown on the environment only to find myself once again at seven years of age, having been patted on the head and sent back to the nursery. 'No appreciable benefit', he corrected. 'The planet is still getting hotter, smog has decreased somewhat but no appreciable benefit. And I need not remind you of the year you lobbied me, and anyone who would listen to you, that we needed to buy property on the equator— just to survive the impending and unavoidable ice age'?

He wasn’t wrong. I had done, and thankfully they hadn’t listened. But it wasn’t ever likely my father was going to make any substantive change based on the opinions of a seven-year old climate scientist. For her part, Judith had asked him to 'buy something small… just to appease her' -- and to keep me from having night terrors. But he wasn’t having any part of it.

So dear reader, with the planet heading to either heat or ice, depending on when you tuned in and whom you follow, I think I should address the issue of the mask. Do choose something stylish, there’s no way of knowing how long this will last, and frankly do you want to be remembered as a sloppy bandit? Or join the millions of women who have decided just not to colour their hair or look presentable? Of course you don’t.

And while many of you have written about adding a coffee filter to boost the filtration aspect, I think it important to remember, no matter where you are on the mask spectrum— just like dressing for dinner—you are wearing the mask to make others feel comfortable. Touting how 'comfortable' you are in sweats or some lumpy dress while a savvy maitre d’ seats you in Siberia is nothing to be proud of. You are dressing to make others feel more comfortable around you. And the same holds true for a mask. Even if like me, you know your immune system will fight off nearly any virus… you wear the mask so that others feel comfortable around you. It really is the only thing befitting a well-bred gel.

Laters.