This week… under lockdown (nine)

This week has been up and down with a little more emphasis on the down. The good news though is that I recognise the triggers. The conflicting reports in the news, rampant negativity online and grocery deliveries that have senseless substitutions. And who ordered Branston pickle, for heavens sake! (Too sweet for my taste). Oh, that would be me I guess. This week I take control of Me Inc. and actively seek out positive news and activities. Enough wallowing, get a grip.

Self leadership. “…To re-establish ownership of your body and your mind of your self.” Peter Walker, M.D. and author.

I stop watching the Number Ten daily press briefings, well, some of the media questions at any rate, and take more breaks from the vitriol on Twitter. The new, improved exercise routine is going well and I can now do lunges with the best of them. I make a vegetable curry with creamy coconut milk which lasts me three days!

I work on my Instagram account which sorely needs some TLC, testing out colours, captions and more. I’ve a lot to learn. I enjoy the creativity though which is something I’m missing from my daily work.

Running out of new images to post, I resort to scanning anything lying around at home. I post a photo of Jean Shrimpton which quickly gathers Likes in the hundreds (including from The Shrimp herself!). “Add the personal to your feed” say the Insta gurus, so I post one of me I actually like, which gets none.

Hay Making

I spend an enjoyable hour at a ‘gala performance’ celebrating poetry as part of Hay Festival Digital 2020. It’s 250 years since the birth of English Romantic poet, William Wordsworth. It’s also been some years since I read the Romantics at University. Wordsworth 250: A Night in with the Wordsworths featured Simon Armitage, Margaret Atwood, Benedict Cumberbatch, Monty Don, Lisa Dwan, Inua Ellams, Stephen Fry, Tom Hollander, Toby Jones, Helen McCrory, Jonathan Pryce and Vanessa Redgrave. It’s reassuring that nobody has dressed for the occasion, except for Helen McCrory’s cute hat. Toby Jones, one of Britain’s best, looks as though he hasn’t combed his hair or shaved since lockdown began. It’s all very reassuring and I stop fretting about my own unruly hair.

Tom Holland reads The Solitary Reaper by William Wordsworth

Monty Don has a deep, resonating, voice and his reading of Three Years She Grew in Sun and Shower was absolutely delightful. Tom Hollander’s reading was a moving performance of both voice and facial expression, and brought a few emotional tears. That’s Wordsworth for you too. Hollander’s range is wide. The unorthodox parish vicar in the successful sitcom Rev (co-starring with the equally talented Olivia Colman) was genius, and equally his role as the intuitive and slightly sinister “Corky” in The Night Manager.

Hay Festival Digital 2020 runs until 31 May

In my inbox

What is British style?

A thoughtful piece by David Evans, of Grey Fox Blog, caught my eye. The word ‘style’ on its own has morphed into a badge of quality. “If we say that someone ‘has style’ we mean that s/he dresses, acts and moves, in a way that exudes… well, something that’s hard to define but that we all recognise,” writes David. “What is The Essence Of British Style?” he asks.

“The UK has been a melting pot of ideas that have influenced every area of design, from art, engineering to fashion – and these factors are at the heart of British style.” David Evans, Grey Fox Blog.

David says that growing up he breathed in “British heritage, manufacturing and design” through his parents interest in “art, antiques and a love for industrial archaeology”. It’s a winning combination.

I grew up in an environment of literature, art, music and manufacturing. My dad was a respected textile chemist. As a child I would visit the busy factories where he worked his alchemy of colour during the sixties, to produce stunning textiles for the fashion industry. He passed on to me a love of beautiful fabrics and design. I was a child model for Pasolds Limited, where he worked early in his career. The clothing company, now defunct sadly, dated back to the seventeenth century in Bohemia and opened in the UK in 1932. Most famously it created the Ladybird childrens’ clothing line, and I remember squirming in embarrassment walking the ‘catwalk’ in a pair of pyjamas.

Jean Shrimpton, 1960s. Photo John French.

British style branding

In 2001 the new Rolls-Royce Motor Cars was formed and the PR team was tasked with telling a new ‘Goodwood Story’ about the iconic British brand now under BMW ownership. (I set up the first new, temporary, RRMC office in Chichester, pre-planning permission. It was a tiny room in a local college… but that’s another story).

Building the new brand was to be carried out entirely through PR and great editorial stories. The prestigious Goodwood location was chosen especially to lend elegance and a sense of history. We developed media stories around the innovative architecture (by English architect Nicholas Grimshaw, designer of the Eden Project). We highlighted the traditional skills used to hand-build the cars and the crafts people recruited from the regional boat-building industry and elsewhere. The luxurious wood and leather materials used for the bespoke interiors was an important element. Over the next eight years, I hosted so many media and VIP tours, I knew the car making processes almost as well as the manufacturing team. RRMC was an early champion of sustainability and implemented ‘green production’ processes, including a living roof to the factory, and a corporate responsibility programme. Added to that over 100 years of tradition and you have a successful British brand.

Travel with style

This inherited love of ‘style’ is my motivation in writing. When I’m travelling my eye is caught by stylish elements all the time. I’m as excited as a child at these little moments of discovery. They build a picture and continue to exist alongside memories of the bigger experiences, a part of the whole.

Whever I go in the UK and beyond my eye is naturally attracted by a beautiful object, a stylish bystander, an ornate window in a building, a particularly fine linen napkin or sophisticated lighting. Traditional wooden signposts in a field, a fine red ivy clad building and a fisherman cleaning his catch are all part of my memories of a trip last autumn to the Yorkshire Dales. Similarly, the art bottle labels in the Rothschild wine cellars at Waddesdon Manor all made an impact as much as the fairytale house.

In Florence, I marvelled at the architecture and art but the most memorable moments were spent in the tiny, underground Museo Salvatore Ferragamo admiring the exquisite shoes. Outside, I remember noticing a beautifully dressed older woman who epitomised Italian style. I cannot recall now what she was wearing, but I remember the essence of her style and it has become part of my memories of the magnificent city. Successful branding lasts over time and style endures if branded in the right way.


Fjords in Norway. Photo Magnetic North Travel.

The travel industry is working hard to predict the future of travel in order to adapt. Predictions are rife and one of the anticipated trends is the rise of the ‘Isocation’. While it will no doubt be true that some people will want to escape the crowds, many will be craving company. After all, we’ve just spent nine weeks in isolation, and discovered it’s not all its cracked up to be.

Who doesn’t love a snowy log cabin scene? Photo Magnetic North Travel.

The destination, of course, makes the difference. Specialist tour operator, Magnetic North Travel, a UK-based boutique company, caught my attention this week. Norway has long been on my travel wish list and I had the opportunity to go earlier this year. Magnetic organise escapes to wild corners of Scandinavia and the Nordic countries where you can stay in a remote fjordside cabins, secluded forest retreat, glass igloo or treetop house. The Nordic countries benefit from low population densities and there’s plenty of space to maintain your distance. Outdoor adventures generally involve small groups of people so I imagine these will be popular worldwide. I wrote about out-of-the-way learning holidays in the UK in a feature for Travel Begins At 40.

The Bentley Bees

The Bentley Bees’ illustration.

May 22 was World Bee Day. These little beauties are under threat and yet they are essential to human life through their pollination of plants. Most vineyards keep bees too! I admire Bentley Motors for installing additional beehives at its Crewe plant, with more to follow and an additional 180,000 British Apis Mellifera honeybees. The area borders the Cheshire countryside and is surrounded by bee-friendly wild flowers. Eventually, there will be a total of five beehives and 300,000 flying bees. It’s supposedly the largest collection in the UK automotive industry but strangely I haven’t checked other car plants. Bentley plans to ramp up production to produce more than 200 jars of honey by the end of the harvest season. Each hive can apparently create 15kg of honey. That equates to around 200 jars to be shared with staff and visitors. I hope they use it as a recruiting incentive, I would certainly be swayed.

That’s this week in a nutshell. I must dash now as I’m off to Glyndebourne. for the premiere of The Marriage of Figaro. I’ll leave you with this very stylish hat from the 1950s.

Photo shoot circa 1950s. Photo John French.

Have a good week, stay safe and well.

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