Thursday, August 09, 2018

Morning swim

I think if everyone started their days this way, with a swim in the Oslo fjord, in the cool blue water, when there isn't a sound but the birds, all would be well. No boats, no other people, very little breeze, just you and the salty water, washing it all away; all the angst, the worries, the self-doubt. Sea water cleanses the mind. I am going to say that boldly. Yup. 


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

An Orange

An orange (9.14.04)
A simple Valencia orange, unwaxed, with mottled yellow skin, moled with brown, when cut into revealed the most juicy, succulent flesh. With a glistening sharp knife I imagine to be a dagger, I pierce the skin and quickly sliced it into seven wedges and shoved each piece into my mouth in quick succession, ripping the flesh from the pith, spitting the pips ferociously onto the little green plate, and sucking down the sweet juice. A red Moroccan bowl on the kitchen counter holds seven more orange, each a little shrivelled, but now I know the secret. I am staring at the bowl longingly, trying to clear the fog from my mind. I can smell the zest on my fingers and can feel little bits of flesh in my teeth, reminding me that today, in the deepest of hollow moods, that little round orange saved me. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

English things abide

Good morning.

I'm not sure if the hot weather has broken, but there are clouds today, interspersed with the sun, bringing hope of rain. The rain is desperately needed. Fields are brown and corn is ripening at an alarming rate. The countryside looks more like September than July. And the hedgehogs are thirsty and coming out to look for water. A sweet little thing was in the driveway last week, so I've put out water.

English summer things abide. We've been to a party in the garden of a house in Norfolk, with Pimms and white wine, and heels sinking into the lawn. And I was worried I was dressed too loudly. And that my heels may have been too high.  It's hard to find the balance. DM's ex was there too, just for added angst. So what do you do but drink too much sauvignon blanc and dance just a little too enthusiastically at the silent disco? The following day we floated out to sea on the North Norfolk coast. The sea was warm and sandy and inviting, and it was all washed away. I am not sure much beats swimming in a warm, gently rolling sea with the one you love, while English holiday-makers frolic with colored beach umbrellas and throw tennis balls for their black labradors in the background. And England had won their game, so everyone was happy.

And driving around the Norfolk countryside, along tiny lanes with arched hedges that practically meet in the middle, by families walking with dogs, bike riders in their lycra, staring intently at the road, cattle lazily flicking away flies, groves of horse chestnut trees in large, formal fields, eccentric little bridges, and crazy Queen Anne architecture, and found objects. My friend has a large iron cart wheel, just the rim of it, ancient and rusted, hanging in the tree above their pond, like an Anthony Gormley sculpture, providing a specific and site-specific view. The essence of the land in one little circular piece of metal.

A friend I haven't known for years and hardly knew as a child really, but someone I oddly felt connected to, is an artist, and we were surprised and delighted to go to the arts fair she helps run. Serious work. Good work. Strong work. Nothing like what you'd expect in a sleepy little country village. A lovely surprise. But best of all to know you have found your people. "I feel like myself when I'm with her" I said to DM. It's true. We laugh as if we're 12. We're children. That's a very good feeling. Seek out those with whom you feel childlike.

The dogs, I'm unhappy to report, are still very very naughty. At a little birthday in Hyde Park last night, they rushed enthusiastically at every other dog - a lurcher and a rather gentle Weimeraner - with the ferocity of storm troopers. The Weimeraner, uncharacteristically named Scooby, fell in love with Bean, and as you do when you're in love, followed her everywhere and wanted to do everything she was doing, including stealing chicken bones from the trash bag under the table. Old and young, human and canine, on the grass, with blankets and rosé and tiny cupcakes, until it was dark and we realized it was time to go home. A lovely way to celebrate a birthday.

English things abide. A nice man is boxing in our bathroom cupboard so that the mice no longer congregate there for group therapy and potluck suppers. His name is Neil and he lives in Tring and he has told me that it will cost between 600 and 800 pounds to replace the windows in the house. I am worried that they won't last another winter. He agrees, which makes me feel slightly less OCD.

The gooseberries are doing extremely well. We've decided to harvest them this week, for jam and crumble and fool and vodka.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018


Inspired by Tilly Culme-Seymour's book Island Summers - Memories of a Norwegian Childhood, I'm including this piece I wrote about my grandmother (Mormor literally means mother's mother in Norwegian) in 2004. She was a phenomenal woman, both glamorous and groovy, and I miss her:

That's my glamorous grandmother, cigarette in hand, on the right.

Mormor, my grandmother, lived in the house just up the hill from ours in the summer, along the sometimes treacherous stony path, where you had to hop from rock to rock in your bare feet so that you wouldn't stub your toe or step on a thistle. Half way up the hill was a little oak tree with happy green leaves and a little bell which hung on a branch extending over the rocky path. To this bell, someone had tied a piece of muslin that read RING. Brilliant that it meant the same in English and Norwegian. Brilliant especially for my father who was irritated beyond belief when a conversation went on in Norwegian when he was in the room, despite the fact he was the only member of the family who couldn't speak the language. 

Every morning at about half past seven, we would see Mormor in her yellow towelling robe, large black cat-eyed sunglasses, hair wrapped in a colorful scarf, toothbrush in hand, walking through the trees and the dappled sunlight on her way to the sea for her morning swim. Sometimes we'd go with her, in our bare feet and our bathing costumes, down the sandy little road with the little stones in it, past the shoemaker's house with the ugly bronze deer, past the little red house where we'd turn left onto the rough sea grass which paved the way to our jetty. Or brygge. Mormor would walk up onto the little wooden deck, kneel down and pull up the thermometer which was dangling on a string into the ocean, lift up her glasses so that she could scrutinize it and announce to everyone "seisten grader." It was always sixteen degrees (which is about 62 degrees fahrenheit) but sometimes on good days she'd shout out with glee "uff o mei, nitten og hal" ("oh my goodness, nineteen and a half" - 67 degrees) because that was hot! Mormor would disrobe and disappear down the steps that led into the ocean, flinging herself into the cold sea, putting her face in the water and splash splash splashing her legs both to propel herself out and, i think, to warm her chilled bones. She'd then turn round and with a brisk breast stroke come back to the jetty to grab her toothbrush and do a quick seawater gargle. She swore by this "I never have a cold," she would say in her ridiculously upper class English accent, "because I gargle in the fjord." She would never wear a bathing suit either, only if there were lots of people around. My whole Norwegian family love to be naked; it's probably where I get it from.

My brother and I were never as brave as my grandmother, preferring to deliberate until the very last minute before dipping a tenuous toe into the cold sea. We used the cold as an excuse, the jelly fish, everything we could, but, as we didn't have a shower or a bath in the summer house, this was the only "wash" we'd get and, we were told endlessly, it's the way it's done in Norway. My father told us the only way to do it was to dive in, thus rendering the shock more quick -- total imersion as opposed to one tortured body part after another. I remember the shock of hitting that icy water and the immediate frantic swimming and then the sense of incredible triumph as one's body became acclimatized.

Later we would walk up the hill to see my grandmother and she'd be sitting out in the sun, usually in a brightly colored bikini, halter neck tied behind her back, for maximum tanning, her feet in a footbath a large cup of strong tea and a piece of toast and marmalade on the table next to her, barking instructions to Bestefar, my good-natured grandfather, who was usually up some tree or other, cutting off branches to her specifications. I just adored my grandmother. She was the coolest woman I'd ever known. Chic and well-educated, with a penchant for wonderfully eccentric clothes ("It's the summer house!") she could speak at least five languages fluently, and would quote great gobs of Shakespeare when given half a chance. She could fish, she could sew and she made the absolute best beef stroganoff I have ever tasted in my life. To this day I remember the way her secret ingredient, tomato puree, mixed with the sour cream and the beef juices to create the most incredibly delicate flavor. In fact, at my cousin Mathilde's christening, Dee and I snuck into her kitchen at least ten times before lunch to steal small teaspoonfuls of that delicious liquid.

The Oslo fjord is dotted with little granite islands which extend the length of the coast line. South of Oslo and Drammen is Norway's oldest town, Tonsberg and off the coast just south of this little shipping town is a small group of islands, the largest being Tjome. About 12 miles long and three miles wide, this is the island where many Oslo residents spend their summers, and it is dotted with little red and yellow and white wooden summer houses, each with a lovely Norwegian flag outside. It seems that the whole of Oslo comes to Tjome in the summer, rather like the Bostonians and the Cape. Every morning a whole flotilla of little boats goes out fishing, or sunbathing or for a picnic on one of the little islands and this is where we spent all of the nostalgic summers of childhood.

God Bless America

It's the Fourth of July and I've been humming "God Bless America" in the car, unironically. I think this is the time that America needs as many blessings as possible. I'm thinking of my American children, my American family and friends, and of the happy, happy day that this is. Los Angeles is filled with families grilling up a storm in the local parks, playing ball, going to the beach, eating corn and watermelon and potato salad, hanging at the beach, dressing up their dogs in red, white and blue (well perhaps it's just me that does that). My daughter is in Martha's Vineyard with her closest friends; my son is in Aspen with his girlfriends family, and is sending photos of jumping into mountain lakes and paddle boarding down gorgeous lakes, the mountains framing them from behind. And we're in the Chiltern Hills, my American girls and me, thinking about Springsteen, and the Hollywood Bowl, and fireworks at the beach at Marina del Rey, of red plastic cups, and Sousa marches, and carnitas. We have artichokes, some corn to grill, hamburgers and some lovely sweet peaches for a cobbler.

I have watched with dismay as this untruthful, uncurious, narcissistic idiot of a leader we have unleash all the ugliness in the land. He has brought out the worst in us, no better angels, just our most base and fearful instincts. He relishes his divisiveness. He likes to turn people against other people. He disrespects the press, our constitution, basic human values. He only cares about the bottom line. We have an environmental crisis that cannot be reversed and a humanitarian crisis and a rise in fascism that has not existed since pre-WWII. There has never been a better time to stand up and be counted. I am becoming an American citizen. Finally. I've filed my paperwork and I will use my vote and and my voice to stand up for what I and most of the people I know care about.  I don't think this is about politics any more; it's about basic human rights. America is better than this.

So my wish for this Fourth, beyond potato salad and corn, is that we stand together, arm in arm, all colors and creeds and genders, and unite the country with love again. Love is the only way.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Blast from the past - July 14, 2006

Sometimes a walk is just a walk, and sometimes, passing through a field of happy cows or by a neighbor’s redcurrant bush, resisting the urge to steal, the words “beacon of light” lodge themselves in one’s brain.  I was contemplating death, as one does, walking down the little road towards the sea, looking at the old house where Nilson used to live, the appletrees in the garden belonging to the Finneruds, the people that set sail each weekend on their sturdy yellow boat, and wondering what had happened to them all.  Year after year we come back to the island, to our insulated little house, and we slowly lose track of all of them.  As I passed the actors cottage with the beautiful flower garden, I thought about Mrs Finnerud and her bright white hair, her smile, her hellos, and the words “beacon of light” appeared front and center.  Our purpose in these few sparse years we have on this earth is to spread light and happiness, like little shiney beacons, instead of waiting for it to come to us.  I’m not sure what that means but I’m sure All Will Be Revealed.

Sometimes if you squint your eyes at the sun in the right way, either early in the morning, like now at a quarter to six, or in the evening, you can see the pillar of light that Munch puts into many of his paintings.  Often they are just sunsets, but at other times, the way the light particles spit all over the canvas makes me believe there is something else going on.

‘Don’t shut out half the possibilities in the world” said my brother to my son who’d just spent ten minutes describing why he did not believe in nor would allow for the existence of God.  His argument was morality based.  He doesn’t believe in a doctrine which will not allow for gay marriage or the distribution of condoms in AIDS-riddled countries.  My brother’s point was that science won’t tell us the whole truth and neither will religion.  It’s the whole picture that’s needed to start to understand the Big Mystery.  Half of me is thrilled that Jumby’s not here yet, as we enjoy our beer and akvavit and talk about these things.  He would surely be Riled Up by now.  And the rest of me wants to sink into a heavy, relaxing sigh, as if I’ve suddenly bumped up against the other half of me that went missing years ago, somewhere on the way to Chicago.  Finally, I think, there is someone that sees this stuff the way that I do.  Finally.  I shove a pencil into my hair, twist it into a scholarly knot, and continue to listen.  My mother says, rather endearingly, “Who do you think made all this?” and I wonder how many times this “argument” has been used by her.  It’s the kind of thing you hear at the age of seven in primary school.  All Things Bright and Beautiful and all that.  I love her.  This is enough for her.  But not for the rest of us.  Certainly not for Noony who all but rolls his eyes. 

Listen to the tranquility.  Certainly this morning that’s all there is, that and the squawking gulls, the breeze in the willow trees and that pillar of light shining right across the fjord and into my window.

I fight myself to ignore the CNN Breaking News stories which deliver themselves, fast and furious, to my handheld.  I know that Israel and the Hezbollah are blowing themselves to bits just as I sit here, drinking in all this beauty.  It’s incongruous. 

A scented cardamom bun is not an easy thing to ignore.  There are two bags of them perched on top of the refrigerator.  If there’s one recipe that we should bring home from Norway it’s the recipe for bolle, the plain kind without raisins.  That would be a heavenly way to start each morning.

We share this house with a very large extended family of fat brown slugs.  The only difference is that we live on the inside of the house.   Our friends are as fat as a breakfast sausage link and about that length, chocolate brown and slimey.  Norwegian slugs (sluggicus norvegicus) are some of the plumpest and most healthy I’ve seen, no doubt due to the careful attention paid to their diet, much to the delight of the seagull community.

One other thing I love about Norway: we always forget to bring music and so we rifle through the old tapes and cds that have been left here for years.  Last night we were serenaded by the Gipsy Kings.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

Monday, July 02, 2018

This present

I do not ever regret rising early in the summertime. I woke to the wind blowing through the hazel leaves, and as I made my tea, watched the blackbirds hopping about on the grass looking for grub. I've learned that the days will be too hot later on, and so this morning I ride at 6. There are no cars on the roads and the woods are still waking up, shafts of sunlight glittering through the beech trees and the sound of the breeze in the paper green foliage. It's mesmerizing, this early light, the birdsong, the enormous blast of both optimism and smugness for being the first one up. I do not ever regret it. It's the time that we're trying to stretch, this English summertime, reminiscent of childhood, the constant feeling of not sleeping enough but not wanting to miss out on the light. I think of my father who walked his dogs at five or six when the light was still pink and the flies had yet to start irritating the cattle, who lay in puddles on flattened hay. It's the magic hour, when we are bound neither by time nor space, but somehow we float in it, absolutely bulging with possibility. This is what I want to capture. There is no regret or past or future, just this breezy, pink present.


This is what life does. It lets you walk up to 
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a 
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have 
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman 
down beside you at the counter who say, Last night, 
the channel was full of starfish. And you wonder,
is this a message, finally, or just another day?

Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological 
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old 
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
There is movement beneath the water, but it 
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.

And then life suggests that you remember the 
years you ran around, the years you developed
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
become. And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.

Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
you are lucky. (It won’t give you smart or brave,
so you’ll have to settle for lucky.) Because you 
were born at a good time. Because you were able 
to listen when people spoke to you. Because you
stopped when you should have and started again.

So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And 
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland, 
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel, 
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.

-- Eleanor Lerman

Many things

Many things. Many, many things.
First, for my friends Pilar & Jessica: We Are Here. MissWhistle Lives!

Dateline: July 2, 2018... Chiltern Hills (rural Bucks.)

Sultry, sweaty, sexy weather. Weather for crimes of passion. Today, some respite. A breeze that blows through the hazel tree.

Since I've been gone the land is turning brown. No rain since the thunderstorms at the end of May. Full moon, jet lag, lack of sleep. These are the things that make me slightly nuts. He says I'm mercurial, and I know that's an understatement.

I've come back from LA buoyant, puffed up with optimism, sure of who I am and where I stand in the world, full with knowledge of who loves me and why and why I should love the people I love, and how important these things are. My mother likes people who don't complain. I know it makes life easier to not complain, to remain stoic, to tamp things down and smile and move on and say "oh everything is going to be fine," but by some trick of genetics, I seem to be Italian. I want to shout and scream and cry and talk about bloody everything.

Los Angeles is a bubble that we love, filled with like-minded Lefties, died in the wool Democrats, socialists who believe that their wealth is to be shared and that every man deserves dignity and civility and access to health care. Los Angeles not by mistake is filled with tall, dopey palm trees that sway gently on the side of the road, their Limahl-inspired heads in the clouds. Los Angeles is full of people who smile and seem genuinely excited for you. And it's also filled with angst-ridden A-type personalities, over-achievers and humorless ass-kissers. I spent hours doing something I never do, sitting in my pyjamas with one of my best girlies discussing in obsessive detail interpersonal relationships. Why we behave as we do. What people want. Why millennials suck (I'm kidding). Why you need a great team around you at work. Why 101% is the only acceptable amount of effort you can give at work. And why it works -- and doesn't work-- to be a Brit in Hollywood. I've threatened before to write a book about being a brilliant assistant and I still think I should do it. (Let me be totally clear: I was NOT a brilliant assistant. But I have had brilliant assistants and I know how to train one. Gone are the days we suffered through where it was completely okay for your boss to have you on call 24-7, to abuse you, throw things at you, yell and scream, where there was no room for sensitivity of any kind. We considered it boot camp and we believed in order to Get Ahead In Hollywood, this was The Price You Pay. I sat with two of my friends who worked closely with Harvey and we laughed about how good he was to us, and how awful simultaneously (none of us were victims of his toxic masculinity, however -- we were not abused sexually, just yelled at, frequently and loudly.)

Los Angeles is for me as an adult the same as I felt as a child going into the sweet shop in Little Gaddesden with my 5p to spend. It's filled with pretty, sweet things, things that you want, presented in the most flattering and well-merchandised way. It's Dylan's Candy Bar on Ecstasy. There I find my favorite man in the world (my son), lots of supportive, funny, smart girlfriends, ideas (so many ideas), the best sushi. Ever. (Matsumoto on Beverly and Orlando.) The din of work. The noise is a good sound. Ideas. Everywhere. Even from people you don't like. And more than this: people willing to connect. People willing to put aside differences and prejudices and are ready to engage. It's enlightened. Enough people do therapy and yoga and meditate and chant and drink green juice that it has pierced the zeitgeist. It's its own cloud. Just reach up and grab it. Take what you need. It's all here. A Garden of Eden for the botoxed, Frenchie-wielding, Gucci-slide-wearing elite. And I say this with full-on love. These are my friends: men in white suits wearing them unironically (and unironed), women with small dogs that never leave their sides, killer filler and no lines around the mouth, and understanding, and the knowledge that Everyone Carries Something Difficult, despite the trappings that suggest ease and wealth and breeziness. No, no, no. People are wrong about LA. There is loveliness here. Great swathes of loveliness, like the huge, heart shaped fuchsia bougainvillea on the 101 Freeway, and the great fat blue-green aloe which springs somehow from the parched earth. It's here, all around.

And then we come back to the optimism. Everything is Possible. I think this should be a t-shirt. Everything is Possible. It's just a puzzle you have to figure out. You have all the pieces and they all fit together but you just have to find out how. And maybe that will take a while, but magically, they all fit together. 5000 piece Eiffel Tower? No problem, mate.

Okay, back to my desk, my work, the heat, the dogs laying flat out on the floor to keep cool. I hope you have a most excellent Monday, and happy early 4th oh my lovely American friends.

Monday, June 18, 2018

What the World can be

Hello, dear reader.

I am absolutely obsessed with Daphne DuMaurier. Obsessed, I tell you.

We spent the last week in Cornwall with DM's charming adult children, in the most beautiful little stone house with big grey windows overlooking the St Austell Bay. A tiny harbor had been created with large slate rocks, and so at high tide, you could dive into a balmy turquoise lagoon. It was cold, I suppose, but then again, I'm not half Norwegian for nothing. We brace ourselves, we Vikings, and we pound our chests, and we dive straight in. "Wait for the glow! Wait for the glow!" said DM. "It will come!" He is referring to the numbing sensation that overcomes you when you are in cold seawater, when suddenly your whole body begins to tingle with warmth. The house is big with lovely old wide panels of wood on the floors, heated stone tile in the bathrooms (I mean, how spoiling!), Egyptian cotton sheets, big fluffy white towels and more than a splash of Farrow & Ball. The sitting room contained huge grey linen sofas with pale blue velvet cushions. So comfortable! There were cupboards full of games, and shelves full of books, and a little lawn area just to the south of the house where you could take advantage of the sun after it had gone behind the hill. The trek down to the house from the little lane where we parked the car was about 10 minutes, so you can imagine, there weren't a lot of people about. A little barbecue was built into the slate cliff in the walled garden, and we spent many lazy evenings grilling and drinking pinot grigio.

The best part was the morning. The sound of the waves and the sun blazing in the bedroom window at 4.30am, an orange ball of light reaching out towards us like an illuminated runway; a Munch sun, I thought. That magic time that only comes at this time of year, right around the solstice, when every creature is marveling and no-one gets enough sleep because they cannot bear to close their eyes when the light is so beautiful.

And Charlie has the most amazing knack of finding the best walks. Up and down the South West Coastal Path we went. The first day was best, and I suppose it always is, because everything was new. We walked from the house up and down steep hills and cliffs in the woods and emerged on a path that followed a hay field, overgrown, blowsy, full of nettles, foxgloves, bindweed, tiny pink flowers I still can't identify, hanging oak branches, the end of the gorse, still yellow in parts. The path is a narrow channel and you have to watch your feet. Thistle did best because she's closest to the ground, but I can't imagine it must've felt very nice to be whipped in the face like that (she's only about half a foot tall). And on the left of us was the sea. Dramatic and turquoise and big and crashing. Above us, blue skies, no clouds, seabirds. And to the right cattle, big fat heifers with long eyelashes and lazily inquisitive. The path took us to Black Head, past a plaque commemorating the life of Cornish historian and poet A.L. Rowse and then up a hill laden with blue and pink flowers, clover, buttercups, wild cornflower and on to the cliff top. There we stopped and marveled. There is no other word for it. The wind was blowing us, the sun was shining down of us, the seabirds were calling, and two fisherman were balanced on a rock far below us, their picnic satchel propped up next to them, a flask of tea on a flat pad of grass. It was a place of communion. A place to rejoice and give thanks, to pray, to meditate, to tune in, to feel at one with the world. He said something like "With all the tumult on earth, this will still be here. The sea, the flowers, the wind blowing through it. It reminds us of what the world can be." There was so much beauty that I cried.

But then I discovered Rebecca. And, dear reader, I could not put it down.

I am happy I have a plane journey on Thursday, because I shall be starting Jamaica Inn.

Love to you all, and apologies for being such a sporadic writer.