Author Archives: Editor
Charlie Chaplin, Groucho Marx or Cara? What’s the link between Charlie Chaplin, Groucho Marx and supermodel Cara Delevigne? Big eyebrows are today’s equivalent of 80′s power shoulder pads: they say “Don’t mess with me.”
Lost your identity? Still, there are men looking under sofas for their lost identity. But the only thing that’s happened is that women no longer feel inferior. However, women are too reluctant to step forward, too timid, too self-deprecating and in this, a woman can be her own worst enemy. So remember, if you have no regrets, you haven’t taken any risks.
Who do you trust?
I asked around, “Who do you distrust?” Answers were hurled at me, “Politicians, bankers, estate agents, hairdressers, the police.” The usual suspects.
I asked, “Who do you trust?” There was a thoughtful silence. Eventually, people said, “The Queen… John Lewis… bus drivers… doctors… nurses.”
Top of my own trustable list is The Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. It’s as reliable and as British as tea time, Tower Bridge and double-decker red buses. So no wonder celebrities from stage, screen and the House of Lords swarmed to the champagne gala opening of the new Good Housekeeping Institute: Emilia Fox, Kirstie Allsopp, Jane Asher, Kathy Lette, Arlene Phillips, Baroness Margaret Jay, Baroness Floella Benjamin.
Fellow guest, Caroline Shott, Head of the Learning Skills Foundation, is used to spending her time with professors who study the brain and teachers who want to know how that affects their pupils. Afterwards, Caroline gasped, “That was like being shot into the middle of THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA. Everyone so beautiful and exquisitely dressed, so many blondes in black.”
However, what impressed us most was seeing the test rooms: rows and rows of gleaming dishwashers, ovens and washing machines, attended by white-coated, glamorous testers – just as you imagine.
Can you imagine a schoolboy dreaming at night that he’s in the middle of a battlefield? Of course you can. Now, can you imagine a schoolboy waking up in a real battlefield, with a real enemy really trying to kill him?
This was the nightmare of my Polish brother-in-law, Andrew, an eleven-year-old schoolboy in short pants when the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, and so started World War II. As the Nazis conquered much of Europe – slaughtering Jews and abducting able-bodied men to work on German farms – underground resistance groups in occupied countries waited to support an invasion by the Allies.
When he was fourteen, Andrew ran away from home to join the poorly-equipped Polish underground army. Fighting the well-equipped Germans were poorly-equipped locals, often old men and boys like Andrew. Within a short time Andrew had supplied himself with a rifle, ammunition, boots and a uniform, by snatching them from dead bodies.
Andrew was taught how to strip and reassemble a sub-machine gun, how to make and throw homemade grenades. By the time he was fifteen, Andrew had lobbed a homemade grenade from the high window of an apartment block onto German troops below and had used his sub-machine gun on enemy soldiers.
It is strange to think that my gentle, charming brother-in-law was – as a child – a killer as well as a victim; and that he stoically accepted the fact he might be killed before bedtime.
In June 1944 the Allies invaded France and, shortly afterwards, the Warsaw Uprising took place. As the city was blown up noisily by bombs and shells, Andrew writes, “Sometimes I helped remove civilian bodies from bombed buildings. This was essential work. We had to find the bodies before the rats did.”
For two months, Andrew – still only fifteen – fought in the streets and in the disgusting Warsaw sewers, as the city was torn apart, until he was wounded in the leg and so taken prisoner by the Germans.
Andrew’s story of defiance, bravery and survival has an understandable strain of melancholy and sorrow. But look on the bright side. Firstly, Andrew managed to escape, and eventually reached the USA where he became an influential journalist. Secondly, Andrew’s new book Warsaw Boy – much of it scribbled during the war – is a real-life Boy’s Adventure Story for all the men on my Christmas list who will always be fifteen on the inside. Eat your heart out, Indiana Jones.
Warsaw Boy by Andrew Borowiec costs £16.99 and is published by Penguin on 3 July 2014.
From Downing Street to Oxford Street
Friday, 27 June. Meeting with Edwina Dunn in her sky-high, glass boardroom. I wore new peach jacket – Wallis sale.
Elegant blond entrepreneur Edwina and her husband revolutionized retail sales when they started a maths-based data analysis business in their back bedroom in 1989 and sold it in 2011 for reputedly over £90 million.
Edwina and I both hope to attract girls to a maths-based career. “Just as nursing is a passport/travel ticket around the world, the same is true of maths-based careers, which are much better paid with more opportunities,” said Edwina. (Incidentally, nursing students need a maths qualification.)
Three good speakers: Education Minister Elizabeth Truss – scarlet dress – said that maths is a feminist issue. Edwina Dunn, looking classy in figure-fitting blue (Victoria Beckham?) was followed by Charlie Stripp, Chief Executive of MEI.
I left early – supper with my sister – and passed David Cameron charging up the stairs. We exchanged guarded smiles. (Do I know you? Better smile in case.)
Thursday, 3 July. Today my brother-in-law published his horrific memoir of being a child soldier (details in Shirley’s World). I would never have suspected the gentle Andrew of being a killer, and certainly not as a child.
Friday, 4 July. Visit from Lauren Davie, with yellow spring flowers. Lauren is about to switch from “helping rich men make money” to the educational sector, where she’ll make less money, but have a more rewarding job.
Lauren designed a test course of MONEY STUFF for maths strugglers in Year 9 (see it here).
Friday evening. During my work on MONEY STUFF, my work gradually spread over my entire flat. (At one point I had a young mathematician in my kitchen and another in my bedroom). Had enormous clear out. Flat now feels my own again.
Saturday, 28 June. Long-planned shopping expedition with 15 year old goddaughter Zephra – six foot, red-gold hair, forget-me-not blue eyes – and her mother Zenna, former Chair of OFSTED and currently on the Board of the Royal Navy.
Gave Zephra an envelope containing £200. Bought at Topshop: black jeans, leather jacket (black natch), crazy-coloured socks and 1940s Hollywood tortoiseshell shades. Bought at Zara: one black leather tote bag, one white cricket boyfriend sweater, one daisy-sprinkled day top, one turquoise chiffon evening top. Ran out of time. £46 left towards purchase of black ankle boots with Cuban heel next week from Topshop.
Zenna – who didn’t own a hat – asked if she had to wear one to meet HM The Queen at a Royal Naval luncheon. “Absolutely, yes,” I said. What sort? “Think of her hats and get one like that, only smaller.” In John Lewis, we found a small, squashed-top hat in black and white with white bow. Perfect.
First Time Publisher
Writer Muriel Spark once told an interviewer that before she started to write, she had a life. She travelled, she entertained, she went to the theatre and she met interesting people. Now, she said, I just write in a room, so there’s nothing to talk about
When my first novel became a hit, writer Anthony Burgess told me not to allow myself to get distracted. “Don’t go to parties, get away from people,” he advised. “Get your head down and write”.
Anthony’s second bit of advice was, “Don’t be tempted to become a publisher, it takes up too much time and money.”
Last year I became a publisher, to self-publish my interactive ebook Money Stuff. The drawback to being a publisher is that you need to be several people, all at the same time: the business person, the financial director – money disappears at an astonishing rate – the editor the line editor, the proof reader, the art director (I liked that), the marketing department, the publicity department and the secretarial staff.
I’ve skipped schizophrenia in favour of multi-personality disorder. As Anthony warned, since I became a publisher I’ve had no time to write.