Archive | July, 2013


26 Jul

There is news from New York that my ex-boss is dead,  a major influence on my life in the 1960s when I went over there on spec as a humble typist.    I was straight off the boat (and wearing white gloves – it was roughly the start of the MAD MEN era) and he was the founder of Basic Books, a publishing house that concentrated on science and serious non-fiction that won many prizes.    We had a brief chat then he hired me to start on Monday.    

“Is there a job?” I enquired.

He said:  “We shall see.” 


They stuck me in the accounts department, typing royalty statements, as boring as hell, and nobody uttered a word all day because they were concentrating.    Arthur had gone away for a month I was told; it was August and hot.    On his return he hauled me in, told me he’d had good reports from his  staff so promoted me to being his P.A., having fired the one who had been there eighteen years.   My brief was straightforward.   “As long as you answer my phone you can do what you like.”   And when, two years later, I came home to London, having worked in virtually every department, it was he who suggested I become a literary agent, thus setting the course of the rest of my publishing life.


Arthur Rosenthal – what a man, brilliant, dynamic and always inspiring.    Thank you for teaching me all I now know about books.  




17 Jul

Seriously hot so I decamped (for reasons not yet divulgable) to Carluccio’s, only one block away, to continue with my research.    And it was heaven..on a day this hot it had all its windows and sliding doors open plus air conditioning and muted music playing.   Only one other customer (another writer?) seated alone at the opposite corner.   I sat there in bliss over two glasses of chilled wine until the Kensington shriekers arrived and I decamped back to my own hot penthouse where, at least, I can hear myself think.

But, Carluccio’s, I shall be there tomorrow.    Especially if this hot weather continues.   It is the cafe society I always dreamt of when I first moved to Kensington High Street.  And thanks, Antonio (once my client)  for having set up something like this.   x


11 Jul

The architect said that I must move out because of the major structural work they were planning to do to my beautiful Kensington flat. They were knocking down walls and renewing the pipes, ripping up floorboards, opening up a skylight.   All I possessed had to go into store.   For six months minimum, possibly more, no-one could live in the place.   My immediate thought was a Tuscan villa for a lazy convivial summer with friends.   I had a book to complete and could use a break.  But the older cat was newly bereaved and the kitten had only just left its mother.   I couldn’t uproot them and take them abroad, nor would I dream of farming them out.    So instead I rented a house on Dartmoor where I hadn’t set foot and knew no-one at all, having never been even remotely attracted to rural life in the raw.   But it filled a gap and was worth a try.    Who knows, might even inspire another book.

Having always lived in the centre of towns I never needed to learn to drive.    Nor did I ever have kids to ferry around.  One thing learnt after six months there, Dartmoor without a car is a definite no-no.    The nearest shops were three miles away and local buses sporadic and rare.   My principal preoccupation was simply surviving.   In London I live in the centre of things with Marks & Spencer across the street, Waitrose close by and Tesco on the next block.  If I find, while cooking, there is something I lack, I simply turn down the gas and pop out.    Failing that, if it’s belting with rain or I’m halfway through Coronation Street, I have congenial neighbours on either side.

Not so on Dartmoor.   Acquiring food was a far more daunting manoeuvre.   It involved a rugged cross-country hike, wearing weatherproof jacket and sturdy shoes, down the overgrown path through the woods, across a field full of threatening cows, over a stream by means of a plank and into a farmyard defended by snarling dogs.  Then along the lane and over a stile and another plank bridge leading into more woods and from there a leisurely riverside stroll to a very steep hill leading finally up to the village.  All my shopping went into a backpack since I needed both hands to negotiate gates and thrash my way through waist-high nettles and bracken.    I made that round trip at least twice a week and again on Sundays to pick up the papers (which the friendly postman delivered the other six days.)    The entire expedition took over two hours though I pared down the time the fitter I got.   It also helped if I stopped for a drink before facing the mammoth trek home.

Wednesday was early closing day when the only shop open was the SPAR, a fact I found out the hard way in torrential rain.   Eventually, after I’d been there three months, news reached me of Tesco in Newton Abbot who would deliver the heavier stuff – cat food and litter, potatoes and booze – while I kept my faith with the market stalls for fresh produce.

My cats, who had only been indoor pets, adapted with ease to the outdoor life.   They bolted their food then scratched at the door and shot off into the wilderness, returning home for supper at six on the dot.   Though, being the pedigree creatures they are,  they still popped back to make use of the litter tray.

Time passed and I started to make new friends;   country people are, in the main, more convivial.    I visited local beauty spots and became quite a fixture in the pub.   I was also making progress with a new book.   A dribble of guests came down at weekends or met me in Exeter for extravagant lunches.   The journey there took almost an hour and the last bus home left at 5.15. When the clocks went back and the night closed in, I found myself too scared to venture outside. This wasn’t the city; there were no lights nor traffic clamour nor passersby.   Only the moor where the threatening gloom pulsated with sinister things.  Several times the power failed and once the phoneline was down for ten days.  When it rained the water seeped under the door and flooded the downstairs cloakroom.

Back home my flat was still full of builders, months after the promised completion date.   Two weeks off Christmas,  I finally put down my foot.   The romantic notions were long since fled.  The thought of a solitary winter down there appalled me.   I have lived alone most of my adult life, in solitary silence in order to write, but am still a social animal to the core.  My Kensington neighbours are a lively mix of international bankers and lawyers as well as the writers and publishing folk that are my more intimate friends.    We meet for drinks and occasional meals and generally socially inter-react.   The Albert Hall is just blocks away as well as Harrods and the major museums.   Buses stop right outside my front door;  the tube is across the street.

Dartmoor could not be more different.   The only sounds were the gale force winds, the rattle of hail on the windowpanes or the anguished screams that heralded sudden death.    I informed the builders I was moving back and a friend obligingly picked me up.   The flat was a tip but I didn’t care;  the only thing that mattered was that I was home.   It was warm and safe with its opened up rooms and panoramas across the roofs plus the heart-warming rumble of traffic from Kensington High Street.   The Christmas shoppers were out in force and the Barkers building  ablaze with light while a steel band belted out carols beneath my window.   Noisy but nice, a far cry from lonely Dartmoor.

I will never go back though they beg me to.   The cats may miss it but I do not.  Though I did get a another idea for a creepy book.