Monday 29 September 2014

An audience with Jojo and Daisy

Notes from the Henley Literary Festival... 

A few years ago an editor friend of mine at Headline Review sent me a copy of My Last Duchess because she thought I would enjoy it. She knew my tastes well: this tale of an American heiress who marries into the English aristocracy was right up my street. It has been described as Henry James without the boring bits. Today I got to meet the author, Daisy Goodwin, who has now written a second book, The Fortune Hunter, about the 19th century Empress Elisabeth of Austria.

Lucy Cavendish interviews Jojo Moyes and Daisy Goodwin at the Henley Literary Festival
Jojo Moyes is a regular guest at the Literary Festival
Daisy was joined by Jojo Moyes, the bestselling author of Me Before You, and between the two of them, they kept us riveted with a discussion of their characters, their craft and a few homey snippets. 

In her latest book, The One Plus One, Jojo writes about a single mother Jess who ends up embarking on a road trip with Ed - a man she barely knows - to enter her daughter into a maths Olympiad in Aberdeen. Inevitably love blossoms, although there are of course a few twists in the road.

Monday 15 September 2014

In a bit of a pickle...

I have done things this weekend that I would never have dreamed possible a year ago, including trying to foist a pair of underpants onto a panic-stricken labrador in the dead of night. Why? you ask. 

Pickle, the black labrador
Feeling a bit cheesed off...
Why indeed. After months of agonising, we decided last week to have our dog, Pickle, neutered. The live sex-shows outside the school gates (involving a hapless golden retriever) finally pushed us over the edge. So I booked him in for the snip. The course of true love never did run smooth, Pickle.

It's a straight-forward op, the vet told us. Hmm... no mention of having to apply frozen peas four times a day to swollen doggy privates, or of smoothing steroid cream onto itchy patches down under. (When there is a wriggly, under-exercised dog involved, such applications require the accuracy of a surgeon's hand and the patience of a saint.) All the while, Pickle showed a gentle stoicism in the face of his tribulations that made us feel like evil, torturous humans. Only the Elizabethan collar - designed to prevent him from licking his stitches - proved a step too far. On the night we left him in his basket looking like robo-dog, we were roused from our beds by pathetic whining. Hence, plan B: replace said collar with a pair of protective pants.
Pickle in an Elizabethan collar
The ultimate humiliation

First, we tried a frilly, white pair from my own knicker drawer, but alas these proved too capacious. So then we resorted to a rather natty purple pair daubed with yellow stars that belonged to my son. Despite the fun colour scheme, Pickle was not impressed and spent the next ten minutes chasing his star-spangled bottom round in circles, while my husband and I collapsed in hysterics (again: evil, torturous humans). 

I am, however, happy to report that after a week of such ministrations, Pickle's privates are finally on the mend. He remains grateful to his various well-wishers, including several of my father's work colleagues, who have been sending kisses via email and notes of condolences for his lost parts. (They met Pickle earlier in the summer and have become loyal friends.)

The happy climax of this whole debacle was an unexpected confession from my husband the other night: "I think I am actually quite fond of the dog now and enjoy having him around." This is gushing indeed, coming from a man who told me last year he really couldn't see the point of having a dog.

So there you go, Pickle: no more one-night stands for you, my darling, but at least your daddy loves you. And when you're properly better, I'll take you out for a nice, long walk. It's simple pleasures from now on...


My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
An account of the author's childhood in Greece, growing up in 1930s with a bohemian family and a procession of pets.

Monday 8 September 2014

Fragrant dreams

People watching: 
Roja Dove, Master perfumer

I was walking through a National Trust garden the other day when I stooped to smell a rose. The delicate, quintessentially  English scent transported me back to my grandparents' garden when I was a little girl. There I was cavorting under a weeping willow in a frilly frock with brown ribbons in my hair. Magic! 

Roja, Dove, master perfumer
Roja: "Choose your scent wisely"
Such is the power of scent. Frangipani does it for me too. Only this time I'm a teenager in Oman at dusk, full of tempestuous emotions. I long for my freedom and yet I am also frightened of what the world has to offer. For me, the sweetness of frangipani is fraught with danger and temptation.

As the master perfumer, Roja Dove, told a rapt audience last week at Henley's Phyllis Court club: "Unstopping a bottle of scent transports you to a different place. It's like releasing a genie from a bottle."