Friday, 30 November 2012

Escaping on The Orient Express

I always find that the closer it circles to midwinter, the more myself and friends meet up, perhaps to let the warmth of our friendship alleviate the chill air and darkness. We gather in bright circles, in houses with fireplaces, in pubs with flickering candles, in cosy tea shops with china cups, in plush department stores where artificial lights bounce from each polished surface. We all whoosh into each others’ life in a flurry of scarves and hats like we’ve used one of Harry Potter’s port-keys, filled with stories from Away. It doesn’t matter if Away has been for a year or a week; each conversation will pick up from the last and expand to cover all corners. Every familiar voice is a boon and a blessing, the light of companionship a talisman to ward off the night.

And yet, perversely, the call of hibernation is loud. The gloomy days make me want to tuck inside and draw the curtains, turn on the lamps. I want to escape into books and time-travel to see Victorians in London, to follow action heroes tackling twisty crime thrillers in Miami, to listen to sharp-talking mods in Brighton, to dream about lazy days in Georgia, to wonder what life would be like on a boat with a tiger. I want to look at art, to lose myself in the contours of oil paint, the flat expanses of acrylic. I want to trace the outlines of faces in photographs, to memory-gather, to rejoice in all I love. I want to reflect upon the year and plot for spring. I find myself making lists (and checking them twice), and squirreling away buttons and fabric, ribbons and sequins. I flick the pages of recipe books and contemplate cakes, delicate iced flowers, spun-sugar butterflies. And in-between it all, back and forth I go to work, a piece of shiny glass being endlessly washed upon a shore, corners rubbed away by commuter-tough elbows and shoulders, until I am smooth, quiet, and uniform.

Unless I rebel, of course, a secret thought that often springs to mind when squished into an armpit on the Victoria line. One-day I shall trudge past St Pancras train station in my conformist clothes, and then I’ll fling off the dull overcoat, revealing a purple tutu and a red mohair jumper. Then, waving my passport, I’ll run away on the Eurostar to Paris. Paris! The idea also morphs into Venice! (said with exactly the same breathy exclamation-mark passion), and, also, sometimes, most-daringly, into The Orient Express! (Said with even more breathy passion, if at all possible, without degenerating into an all-out saucy pant.) Oh, how I’d adore to travel on the Orient Express. Let’s see, what would I need to take with me...


If I’m on this luxury train then I’m assuming that I have a wardrobe budget to match. I’ll drip in art deco. I’ll shimmer in sequins. I’ll Charleston it up from sunrise to sundown. I’ll not step foot out of my cabin without an ostrich feather fascinator, and two small *chihuahuas named Fifi La Chew and Philippe La Mew.

Prabal Gurung at Harvey Nichols
Alexander McQueen at Selfridges
The Orient Express

Reading material

By my bedside, on a satin display cushion, will be a first edition of Agatha Christie’s classic book, Murder on the Orient Express. I’d read it wearing silk gloves, every so often discreetly sniffing the pages. Mmm. Book dust.

Both books pictured can be found via


If not delicately dabbing my wrists in the finest book dust, then the deciding factor in perfume shall be whether the bottle looks either like a) the ‘Drink me’ bottle in Alice in Wonderland, or b) the bottle the White Witch uses to make Turkish Delight appear, as in the original text. In the film I believe she uses a wand – yawn. Wands are so passé.

Alice illustration by John Tenniel
Vintage Perfume Bottles via Dee Devine, Pinterest


My handbag on the Orient Express shall be a giant ball of exquisite fluff, hand-gathered from the back of Buckingham Palace’s sofas and settees. Should this prove unavailable, I’d go for either something vintage-inspired and chic, such as Diane von Furstenberg’s Fetish Box Clutch, or something that looks like a bling-covered Fisher Price toy for adults, such as Judith Leiber’s Carousel Miniature. Inside this I shall carry a compact silver mirror, a red lipstick, and a Liberty print silk handkerchief.

Diane von Furstenberg’s Fetish Box Clutch at Harrods
Judith Leiber’s Carousel Miniature at Harrods


This has to be a 1930s brown case of battered, but good quality, leather. The sort that muscular train porters can carry for me, considering the bastard bollocking thing has no wheels. *Note to self, never ever swear like my Auntie Shirley on the Orient Express*

The Dog and Wardrobe


Diamonds are a girl’s best friend... although of course a diamond is no good at texting ‘lol!’, sharing cupcakes, and gossiping at sleepovers. However, a diamond won’t also nick your first boyfriend, to put it in context. Moving on from teenage life, if I’m on the Orient Express, I’d like my fingers to be adorned with something sparkly, please. And my ears. And my neck. And my wrists. I might stop there. Maybe. (I have actually gone all Small and Solemn at the prices.)

Tiffany & Co

Fifi La Chew and Philippe La Mew

La Chew and La Mew are Chihuahuas that fiendishly disguise themselves as cats. Did they fool you? They are the ginger master and tabby mistress of illusion.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Things to remember in November

Autumn days when the grass is jewelled...
November is traditionally a time of remembrance. We have Remembrance Sunday where we wear poppies, observe a two-minute silence, and think about the people who were killed during the wars. People like to say these brave souls ‘gave their lives’ but that sounds so graceful, like a present exchange. Romancing the world wars (or any war) glosses over how bloody awful they are for everyone. I always wear a poppy... and then realise halfway through the day that I’m wearing a pin... and then buy another... and lose it. Poppies are up there with pens, cigarette lighters, and umbrellas. They are all part of the grand Lost Item Shuffle.

In the UK we observe another act of remembrance in November, which is Fireworks Day. Here we traditionally burn an effigy on a bonfire and send fireworks into the sky, a custom held to remember that Guy Fawkes did not manage to blow up Parliament in 1605. We are basically having a nice evening out remembering a loser, folks. Don’t forget the jacket potatoes.

November is also that time of year when you must remember to pack your bag with all manner of warm items as the temperature plummets and sunny days prove a thermometer mirage. So far each day I have forgotten one of the following: hat, gloves, scarf, extra layer, umbrella (which classes as a warm item in my world as rain is cold). Forgetting a glove is particularly annoying. One hand is like a well-pampered Victorian, the other a shivering pauper.

I often find myself, after happily living off salads throughout spring and summer, trying to remember if I can indeed cook during November. You’ll see me in the supermarket, eyebrows in a knot, quizzically hefting a butternut squash, or prodding a pumpkin. There’ll be all manner of soup experiments and enthusiastic forays into recipe books – some meals successful, others bequeathed with love and best wishes to the cats.

The 11th month of the year is generally the time when I remember things that all year have been forgotten, such as dry-cleaning coats and wondering why I don’t yet own a pair of fluffy pyjamas, or slipper boots, or one of those enormous Snuggie Slanket things. Like a squirrel hoarding nuts, I take stock of all I’ve achieved (anything?), and launch tentative plans to finish This by December and That by January, vowing in the manner of Del Boy, that this time next year I’ll be a millionaire.