Friday, July 25, 2008

George W. Bush (had anyone suggested that they couldn't?)


Last week I celebrated my birthday (no, I am not going to tell you which one, but it wasn’t a decade or particularly significant, but it is in double figures) and I was given some wonderful books as birthday gifts.

Among these was The Bolter by Frances Osborne, which is a biography of her great-grandmother Lady Idina Sackville.

Idina Sackville was born in 1893 to very rich aristocratic parents. Whilst still a child her father, the 8th Earl De La Ware (after whose family the city of Delaware in the USA is named) ran off with a can-can dancer (or two) and his independently wealthy wife took the extraordinary step of divorcing him. In Victorian society divorces were rare and very much disapproved of. This in part seems to have started the pattern for Idina’s own life, as she married and divorced no less than five times, and had innumerable lovers, before during and after her marriages. She scandalised 1920’s society, was estranged from her three children, and was the inspiration for Nancy Mitford’s character ‘the Bolter’ in ‘The Pursuit of Love’.

It is hard to comprehend just how laissez-faire upper-class sexual morals were, provided one was married, as the pictures we see of the men and women of the time are very starchy and proper. But Idina’s behaviour went way beyond the accepted norm, and at the end of the First World War, when her first husband Euan Wallace (the author’s grandfather) divorced her; she set off with husband number two – leaving her two small sons behind -

to make a new life farming in British East Africa, soon to be re-named Kenya. Of course, she didn’t really make a ‘new’ life, but continued as before, having affairs with other men, and after only two or three years, getting divorced again and returning to England. There she met the 21 year old Josslyn Hay, grandson of the Earl of Erroll, and despite the difference in their ages – she was nine years his senior – married him and swept off to Kenya once more. There they bought a farm and built a house, and both of them began to have affairs with all and sundry. Here she had her third child, a daughter, about whose parentage there were many rumours. This marriage also ended in divorce, and yet again Idina returned to England where she met and married husband number four, a very wealthy American, to whom, despite resuming her usual behaviour with other men, she managed to remain married to for eight years – a record for Idina!

Idina was the lynchpin of the so called ‘Happy Valley’ set whose bed-hopping, wife-swapping behaviour in Kenya gave rise to the joke doing the rounds in upper-crust English society “Are you married, or do you live in Kenya?”. Happy Valley came to international prominence in 1941 when Idina’s third ex-husband and father of her daughter, Jossyln Earl of Erroll, was found shot dead in his car and the husband of his current mistress, Sir Jock Delves Broughton was tried for the murder. The whole scandal, and the lives of the Happy Valley set were documented in the book ‘White Mischief’ by James Fox, which was later turned into a box-office success starring Greta Sciacci. In fact Idina was portrayed in several films, the most notable being when Greta Garbo played the character based on her in ‘A Woman of Affairs’.

Selfish, sexually voracious and dissolute, Idina comes across as a thoroughly unpleasant woman, even though she must have had a great deal of charisma. Far from being committed to a life in Africa, she treated it as her personal playground, and other people and her own children as toys which could be dispensed with when she didn’t want them any more. She appeared to lack any concept of loyalty or duty.

Latterly she tried to establish contact with her by now adult children, but this was only partially successful. Indeed the author’s own mother – Idina’s granddaughter – deliberately blanked her out of the family history until a newspaper article made it necessary for her to tell her own children who Idina was.

As a slice of social history and as the portrait of completely amoral woman, The Bolter makes eye-popping reading.

Rated 4*


There is a new craze slowly beginning here in the UK (and in Germany too) if the press is to be believed, it is the Cuddle Party. These are events which have a ‘facilitator’, which you pay to attend (£30 is the going rate in London I’m informed), and which is:

A structured, safe workshop on boundaries, communication, intimacy and affection. A drug and alcohol-free way to meet fascinating people in a relaxing environment. A laboratory where you can experiment with what makes you feel safe and feel good.”

Yep, you pay money to meet a bunch of strangers and cuddle them. Bletch!!! What a weird, creepy idea.

This ‘concept’ was dreamed up by two Californians – need I say more?

Not that I think all Californians are doolally, I’m just saying that some Californian practices seem rather off-the-wall to non-Californians.

If any of my family and friends read this, and feel that they are in need of a cuddle, come right on over and I’ll give you one for free – with a glass of wine or a Gin & Tonic thrown in as a bonus.

Cherries are one of my top ten favourite fruits, but most of the cherries sold in the UK come from Turkey, France or the USA, and though they are delicious it is a great shame because England used to have some of the best cherry orchards in the world. There is a move to try and get more English cherries into the supermarkets and greengrocers, and if you want to save the wonderful varieties of English cherry click on CherryAid. As last Saturday was National Cherry Day, I decided to do my bit by buying some English cherries and making a cake.


Serves 6-8

500g cherries (stoned)
150g soft brown sugar
75g butter
3 large eggs, lightly beaten together
150g self-raising flour
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Pre-heat oven to 180°C

Butter and flour a 20cm cake tin, and line the base with baking parchment.
Arrange the cherries over the bottom of the tin, and sprinkle 50g of the sugar over them.
Beat the butter and remaining sugar together until pale and fluffy then add some of the egg, beating it in well before adding some of the flour and more egg and continue beating. Add the remaining flour and egg alternately beating each addition in well before adding the next; add the vanilla essence with the last addition of egg.
Pour the cake mixture over the cherries and sugar, and smooth it level with a spatula if necessary.
Bake in oven for 25-30 minutes until risen and golden and just beginning to come away from the sides of the tin. It may not need quite as long if it is in a fan oven.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a couple of minutes.
Place a large serving plate over the tin, and carefully invert it.

Serve warm or at room temperature with crème fraiche or with whipped cream.


Nick said...

The cuddle party sounds like a relaunch of the encounter groups that were all the rage in the 60s and 70s. Probably quite positive if they're properly run and really teach you something about yourself and your relationships with other people. But if they're just a bit of pointless touchy-feely stuff, someone's laughing all the way to the bank.

Teuchter said...

Kent cherries available now in W****ose.
That cake looked fab, btw.

Bybee said...

[standing ovation for the cherry upside-down cake!]

Jeanne said...

If I say I need a cuddle, can I pop over for a G&T too?? ;-)

And oooooooh, cherry upside down cake! I've recently discovered that I have a slight obsession with upside down cakes, so I am definitely bookmarking this one...

herschelian said...

nick - I can't imagine learning anything new about myself from paying to snuggle up to complete strangers.

teuchter & bybee - it tasted pretty damn good too, mind you I only had a sliver, the family wolfed down most of it - just to check it was ok to put on the blog!

jeanne - you're welcome to a G&T anytime, just come on over...

Ash said...

I've been told I have a Happy Valley accent and that I should have a g&t in one hand and someone else's husband in the other :)

Of course, that means I have to read the book.

Douglas said...

Quite helpful piece of writing, thanks so much for this post.
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