September is my time of year. Summer is all very well if you’re one of those golden-haired, long-limbed types who looks heavenly in a sarong and a waist chain. But for me it’s just an endless battle against heat, direct sunlight, corpulence (chiefly my own) and biting insects. Besides, there’s nothing quite like that back-to-school feeling, the promise of a new term — and a chance to catch up with friends who have been off gallivanting all summer.
Hence one of my favourite dates in our social calendar, an annual ‘end of summer’ party in Henley. It’s a bit of a schlep on a Saturday night, but always worth it, not least because the fish and chips are excellent and the hostess divine. The Prime Minister was in attendance — not that I actually saw her. But the two shifty-looking men standing next to the buffet absorbing mini quiches and muttering to themselves were unmistakably of the security persuasion. Bless them: short of having ‘Secret Service’ tattooed across their foreheads they could not have been more obvious.
My husband being absorbed in a conversation about bees, I wandered off to find my friend Simone, who introduced me to Baroness Ruth Deech, the crossbench peer. A former principal of St Anne’s College, Oxford, she is that rare thing: an academic in favour of Brexit. This has not made her too popular in liberal circles. ‘Telling people in Hampstead you voted Leave is a bit like coming out as gay in the 1950s,’ she says. ‘Even some of your oldest friends suddenly want nothing more to do with you.’ I couldn’t have put it better myself.
One of the guaranteed highlights of this autumn is bound to be the opening of the American smash-hit musical Hamilton in November, at the Victoria Palace Theatre. I was lucky enough to see this in New York in the spring of 2016, thanks to the generosity of a friend of a friend who had two spare tickets. I must confess I had no idea what to expect; but both my husband and I were blown away by it. It wasn’t just the sheer originality, musicality or stagecraft; it was also the fact that back then we were in the run-up to the EU referendum — and I remember being struck by the (unintentional) parallels. A rag-tag bunch of rebels standing up to an entitled and unelected elite; the fury and disbelief of the losing side; and the struggle — against forces desperate to hang on to power — to stop the project from being derailed. Above all the idea, so resolutely unfashionable, that politics is not a popularity contest. ‘I’d rather be divisive than indecisive, drop the niceties,’ Alexander Hamilton tells Aaron Burr, not long before the latter puts a bullet in him. I’m stealing that one for my gravestone.
The happiest event of the autumn so far has been seeing my old friend Nick Boles looking so well. As some readers may know, Boles, who is the MP for Grantham, has been suffering from cancer. After about a year of aggressive treatment, he is still not quite 100 per cent, but notably stronger than he was. One of the side effects of his therapy has been significant weight loss — a situation that his girlfriends (we are a coven) have undertaken to remedy. Thus he is clucked over by various mother hens, all of whom compete to see how much we can get him to eat. My weapon of choice: roast chicken with all the trimmings, followed by apple pie and custard.
The problem is that while he has a good 15 kilos to gain, I do not. In fact, the opposite is true. For years the needle on my bathroom scales has hovered between ‘chunky’ and ‘whoa there’, and since I turned 50 this year I feel it’s now or never. Hence my plan this month to visit the Mayr clinic in Austria.
As the fatal day draws nearer, the mind conjures up all sorts of excuses to duck out. Work, family, dogs, the prospect of my daughter surviving on nothing but Nando’s for ten days. Then my youngest asks over lunch, as I reach for a roast potato: ‘When are you off to the fat farm, Mum?’ My fate is sealed.
My husband is resigned to our small menagerie (bichon Snowy, lhasa apso Muffin and Cersei, a calico rescue cat) that steal food, tramp muck through the house and stink up his favourite chair. For the most part, he is tolerant of their excesses. The only time he’s lost his temper with me over the animals was when one of the dogs (the actual culprit has never been established) chewed its way through two pairs of his smart Crockett & Jones shoes. For months the shoes have languished in a cupboard, too nice to chuck but unwearable. Every cobbler I’ve taken them to has sucked his teeth and said, ‘no-can-do-luv’. Then I found a brilliant outfit called The Restory, which specialises in repairing vintage clothes and accessories. You book a collection online, they take the items away, and a few days later deliver them back as good as new. The service isn’t exactly cheap; but neither are good quality shoes. But then you can’t put a price on a happy husband.
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