Thursday, 26 March 2009

Hail, The Lady and Private Eye.

A week of literary socialising has left me shivery of limb and sniffing of nose and taught me that March weather in London is not to be trusted. It hailed on me yesterday afternoon in Covent Garden, hailstones that were large enough to hurt on impact, sent people scattering into doorways for shelter and shattered onto the roads and pavements like little, glassy grenades.

Tuesday marked the putting to bed of the beautiful new re-launch of The Lady magazine as the longest continuously published magazine for women has for the past few months been undergoing a quiet facelift. No longer the rather dated, monochrome-dominated source of adverts for household staff, its renaissance sees a glorious, full colour magazine with some rather good editorial hit the newsstands on Monday the 31st. It will still be the source of choice for quality nannies, drivers, cooks, cleaners, holiday cottages and the like, a sort of Fortnum and Mason for domestic and catering staff, but now boasts a more modern, sleeker image, some great, interesting new writing (I must here confess that I will be the author of some of its content) and an overall look that brings it right up to date.

A family owned business, the Great Grandfather of the current publisher established the title in 1885 as a weekly periodical for gentlewomen, having already founded Vanity Fair for gentlemen in 1868. It still holds the same values of tradition, quality, manners, politeness and grace that have always been its watchwords but now does so in a manner more fitting for the twenty first century.

If you haven’t picked a copy up in the past few years then do have a look. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the changes and the content.

On Wednesday I had the rare honour of being lunched by Private Eye. Ian Hislop, the editor, who very kindly graced the microphones at Oneword Radio on a number of occasions, was in Dubai at the Emirate Airline International Festival of Literature with his wife Victoria, author of The Island, and as we sat chatting by the pool was so horrified to hear that since the demise of the radio station I have been unemployed that he invited me to lunch to discuss possibilities. On returning to the UK three weeks ago an invitation was extended, although sadly not to me but to another of the same name, a motorcycle journalist, who on arrival announced himself to the gathered throng only to be told by Ian and Francis Wheen “no you’re not!” The confusion having been explained he duly tucked into the Eye’s generous hospitality, as of course he should. So it was, two weeks later than planned, that I pitched up at the Soho landmark venue and enjoyed a rather good fish and chip lunch with a fine selection of bright and erudite representatives of the worlds of letters, law, broadcasting and thinking. There was much talk of the parlous state of the British press, how print journalism is being hammered by the free content available on the net, how good investigative journalism is suffering and suchlike. There was talk of the state of Dubai, of freedom of speech and of the law. It was all that one might wish of a lunch with luminaries.

An unexpected pleasure was meeting an old friend, a rather good BBC journalist and writer, who I was at school with and as I sat at the table I wondered what our rural childhood selves would have made of it if told that a quarter of a century later we would be having lunch with movers, shakers and household names.

Ian was on fine form as our host and as he, the well-known daughter of a major literary family and damn fine author in her own right and I were nattering away, an image kept popping into my mind which I hope he won’t mind me telling you. Whilst we were all in Dubai, he heard about a water park that boasted a magnificent flume, or water slide, and came over all excited. Sadly I was working too damn hard and couldn’t indulge but I heard tell that he, Anthony Horowitz –author of the Alex Rider series and good man - and Louis de Bernieres all packed their Speedos and went off on a boys outing to flume with impunity. I wish I’d been there, I’d like to have seen those three men of letters giggling their way down a huge water flume, hell I wish I’d been able make up the four.

I leave you with that rather glorious image and as the rain continues to batter the poor daffodils in the garden into submission I say “Hail" to The Lady, “Hail" to Private Eye and “Hail” to Mr Hislop for a fine lunch and for a very kind and well received offer of hope.



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