hello from the unfashionable side of bayswater


we’re HERE!

and being ever-so-prudent with the Lodgings so we’ve found a Charming (former butler’s pantry next to the back kitchen perhaps?) room with a single bed and a small window looking out onto drainpipes of the next door similarly appointed 1800s listed building in an unfashionable side of Bayswater.

and it’s glorious.

we just took a walk at Dusk and the grown-up camera was Thrilled to be back in London too.

the Most Amusing thing about London (when one has lived Abroad for almost Thirteen Years) is that it feels strangely reminiscent of a film starring Mr. Colin Firth and Mr. Hugh Grant in that everyone is speaking with a Jolly nice accent, slightly diffident and bashful when crossing the road to the local hostelry and buying the Daily Telegraph (printed form seems to be popular in the unfashionable side of Bayswater near Hyde Park still it seems) or while weighing bananas (we are eight hours behind everyone else here so it’ll be curious to see whether we can sleep through the night or might require a mid-night-or-thereabouts snack).

luckily there’s a kettle and Tetley’s tea bags and small packets of UHT milk on a small white plastic tray (not shown) in the room by the power adaptors.




we’re not that tall so it was hard to zoom in or get near enough but safe to say – this was the front door that MR CECIL BEATON walked through in the late 1920s after a day languishing in the hot studio lights with grande dames and duchesses who desired a kinder lens and the chance of a spot in Vogue.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand one hopes he Never fastened his bicycle at 223 Sussex Gardens to the railings either or it surely would have been removed as he clicked away upstairs, age 20 or thereabouts, in his first photographic studio at Home.


whenever one travels, it is always good to look up and observe the blue plaques – one can then Imagine the footsteps on the pavement – with a purposeful stride – heading to the Tube – and follow in their wake, a cloud of cologne on the breeze still clings.

and we’ve only just arrived.


tomorrow – Brighton!

to the Seaside!


#howtostaysaneinacrazyworld having a delicious book tour – works well with small people and friends-with-fur


this is the MOST fun that one could have on a book tour – while staying at home in one’s satin slip.

firstly – a note from the Old (Boys – and now fully co-ed) School:

We’ve ordered a copy for the library!  You must sign it next time you are here!! x

*blush* Rather! *throws_beret_in_the_air*


so that’s Brighton, England.

where else has the book appeared this week?

let’s see



gosh, well, everywhere!


diego had a moment by the fireside after reading his copy. dublin

Just Add Attitude gave us the 1st sighting in DUBLIN, IRELAND!georgesighting

George even took a copy to La Belle France on his recent trip to keep a copy of his own novel company (3rd in the series, we are not-so-patiently-waiting-for-the-4th)jamieequinox

the book got a workout with a Top Trainer at an undisclosed (although quite clearly overlooking the Ocean) Location here in Tinseltown.


because it slightly overindulged in a delicious High Tea at The Marguerite beach hut in Whitstable, created by sophiekarina_judithARoss_sighting

and then took a nap with Katrina at Judith’s house on the East Coastsightinginportugalwithapricotblossom

while Xana (the lovely stepmother to who-we-are-in-RL) held up a copy in a rural part of Portugal while shaded by the apricot blossoms. sightingMsDebb

we’re also very popular (it being mostly a Picture Book you see, and we did think of That when we made it) with small children – this small child is a delightful Resident of the East Coast too and her full name (because we were given permission to share it – is Marlo Paige Knowles and she is scrumptious. 

and here it is in Switzerland today where it just arrived on a Cross-Continental Flight wearing dark glasses and a suspiciously expensive overcoat and just hand luggage because it has a full set of clothing duplicated in the cedar-lined wardrobes over There.

What an incredible world tour the book is On!

sometimes (because who-we-are-in-RL has one of those “familiar” faces) she gets asked:

are you somebody?

and the other day she smiled (sweetly) and said:

no. but I play someone online.

we Preened in a rather ego-puffed-up (but still pretty) way.

Back to the Post for today.

In Other News!


there has been a bit of gazing-out-to-sea and dreaming-of-the-future going on….OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand being silent at sunset. 


mixed with some Deeply Practical work sending out (100 to date) handwritten cards for The Digital Check UpOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand actually walking (not fast, but meaningfully) to the postal receptacles (there are two side by side not far from teamgloria towers and we split the pile into two each time, just for luck or something like that).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand then our latest article on Tara Kolla and the Silver Lake Farms came out in Los Angeles, I’m Yours which was ever so nice and well, fragrantly beautifully.

there you have it.

a world tour while we stay safely in Los Angeles (until April 3rd when we fly to meet it in London, Deia/Majorca, Ibiza and London again with Whitstable – yes, with William on the Way Back) when we go to Meet the book and see how it is enjoying the world.

the world is a very lovely place.

is it lovely where you are today?

do. tell.

and is the book happy in your house?

it likes ribbons.

just so you know.

and close proximity to roses.

Miss Vickie Lester has the right idea

about so many things, actually.

recipe for a sunny day when one would prefer to languish in naughty navel gazing instead


we take our Role here very seriously (with a great deal of light-heartedness-and-whimsical-Joy) of showing Bright Things.

because (truth now) we Often don’t feel like it in the RL aspect.

but when we come here, to write, and share photographs, and wait for the laundry to finish its cycle in the dryer, and take a thirty minute walk to the postal receptacles and hope the email communications come in thick and fast later with commissions and people requiring our services, stopping to pat a dog (black lab mixed with something a tiny bit more ferocious that gave it such spirit – name? Kennedy – love that) or two (small terrier called Romeo) and nod to the others taking a morning constitutional behind dark glasses (all of us), hair unbrushed (or hastily pinned up and smoothed back – all 3.5 genders here, some with caps, again non-gender specific on the usage of a hat), and then the Editors respond with notes (so we can chew a pencil and Think on a Different Way of Saying That – always fun and rather Intellectual as a pursuit)……….

(gosh, that Was a long paragraph without a Culmination point….)


where were we?

ah yes.

when we come Here…..none of that (awful hideous panic inducing worry) matters…..because we pick some lovely Pictures from the day before and some completely Charming Wedding music (love the music, not that keen on the Institution, but the Ceremony is very pretty if both people at the front of the church or local village hall are somewhat Attractive themselves – if not, good to look around the church to find someone who Is, to then flirt withsuch occasions lend themselves to naughty Hugh Grant type diversions)…..then All That Worry evaporates like bubbles in a very deep hot yummy bath.

shall we do that again today (it might be a good idea, you see)?

Firstly, we shall need some music:

and then a Quote or two from a much beloved (fellow Pisces) author:

It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? for the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone. That is where the writer scores over his fellows: he catches the changes of his mind on the hop. Growth is exciting; growth is dynamic and alarming. Growth of the soul, growth of the mind.
– Vita Sackville West

and now for the piece de resistance – a Visual Feast (one hopes, said *modestly*)


I look back as through a telescope, and see, in the little bright circle of the glass, moving flocks and ruined cities.

CUE SOUND: ping of alarm on digital device


the dryer has finished its cycle.

we must continue about our day and bid you adieu – in, like, a totally Modern way of course.

with a few more delicious SIGHTINGS!


1st Sighting in SEATTLE!

this one is very special – it’s nestled on the Shelves of our Cousin Amanda at the Royal Central School of Speech & Dramasightingbrooklynlisa

this copy is enjoying a nap at our Literary Agent’s house (such a lovely phrase). VickieLesterStudioBungalow

this copy is helping with the tea ceremony mid-writing-session over at Miss Vickie Lester’s Bungalow on the Studio Lot

and of course we have our own copy with its special lilac ribbon here at our house….

ourhouseoh we DO feel so much better now.

thank you for listening.

you see Action is very much the key, really.

now we must empty the dryer and get back to writing more cards and generally being Rather Productive over here.

Keep Calm and Carry On (beautifully).

it’s how we stay sane in a crazy world (did you not see that coming? *chuckling*)

gosh! 인증샷 ! #sightings #howtostaysaneinacrazyworld #london ! #southafrica ! #austria #silverlake !


the 인증샷 are pouring in now (yes, we had a quick vocab lesson from Our Contact In KOREA, the lovely Seoul Flâneur).

what’s that?




인증샷  = #sightings (or more correctly in KOREAN “evidence shots”)

shall we proceed?




@_coeurdepirate – who also writes beautifully at herzpiratenblog ordered the book and had it sent (parcel post) all the way to AUSTRIA and, in a little correspondence after we admired the setting-with-ballet-shoes, said (in an excerpt below):

oh yes…*blush* straight from austria these days but with the good intention to spread the word not only in the “Alpenrepublik” but taking it even further up north to Norway with me on my next trip back up there next week. And jetsetter as we are, we might even take it further and let it see the rest of Europe, too. ;-)

isn’t that glorious? The ALPS!

doesn’t that remind you of the Chalet School? *shivers* (there’s a nice essay here if you’re not familiar with this reference of hearty sports and snow-bound teen angst in pinafores and woolly caps).

back to (the United States of) America now for our 2nd 인증샷  of the day.



#howtostaysaneinacrazyworld appears to be a Biker Chick.



the book is also going to slip into a bubble bath with one of the young gods of mobile technology….SA

and is already languishing wantonly on a bed of grapes in SOUTH AFRICA (thank you Colleen!)silverlakeand Rosie in Silver Lake is protecting her copy from potential invaders.

you may recall that Rosie is one of our favo(u)rite silent screen actresses, along with her late companion Jake. 

and in other news.

let’s see.

we went to sip mineral water with Doree Shafrir for Los Angeles I’m Yours.


there’s been a lot of (nice) driving east and west in the past few days (today is the one day a week where we do NOT get in the car – happily keeping who-we-are-in-RL company as she completes the edits on her piece for ELLE CHINA).


one of the trips *saidvaguely* was all the way over there to the virtual bungalow on the Studio Lot to visit Miss Vickie Lester (who has a wickedly funny post on her site that Just went Live *smiles*) as who-we-are-in-RL was doing a digital check up (we curled up quietly on the lovely chaise looking out through the picture window and flicked idly through a vintage copy of Variety of course).

we digress.

because En Route we stopped for a little breather at a Most charming Armenian cafe where we saw this poster for a hopefully not-forgotten rock band.

armenianow THAT’s a moustache and no mistake.

the men sitting in the cafe drinking harsh coffee (the sort in tiny cups with grounds at the bottom that probably are very bitter unless one adds sugar and we hear people still do that in certain parts of the world) looked Up as we gazed with curious smiles at the poster and got chatting (because we always stop to find out someone’s story) as the kind cafe owner made our skim latte-to-go but did not meet our eye (we have a feeling it was a male refuge of a cafe for men to talk about the Old Days in Armenia so we did not interrupt).

but there was one chap with a moustache and he looked slightly shy as we looked back at the poster so you never know (ever, actually, which makes everything So Refreshing).

and then, later that day, we ended up somewhere we have not been for a while.


it was a regular check up.

but still, we are Not Fond of these places having spent far too much time there while researching the book, if you know what we mean.

the Charming part (because if one looks carefully and diligently enough there is Always a charming part to every situation) was that we followed the (rather Viking-like) lab technician into the room with waiting test tubes and before he could say anything, we slipped into the (quite comfy actually) seat and pulled down the arm rest and rolled up the slim-fit-black-ballet-teacher-like-long-sleeved-top (almost mesh but not quite) and offered the left (slightly dotted with freckles) arm.

you’ve done this before

he smiled, a tiny bit tinged with sadness.

hell, yeah.

we said.

pointing to the scar (which Adores a mention from time to time).


got it.

he said, nodding (with some respect we feel, which was Ever so nice because if one is going to carry a slain-across-the-throat-scar, one Does enjoy Respect for one’s inner Russian gangster circa 1941 soul).

and so we proceeded to carry on with our day.

while the scar preened.

more Sightings Please!

we’re Ever so excited over here (if you couldn’t tell – *ironic_moue*)

in fact we heard the book is going to take a few Flights (in the cabin and not inside a mr. amazon box in the Hold this time).

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 9.01.13 AM

we’re not sure the book drinks, but it probably enjoys a contact high and if placed by the window, will be Thrilled to see the View.

because the View from here is certainly glorious.

3.31AM meltdown at JFK


it had to happen.

one flight too many (flight 10 of 10 is due to leave LATER THAN EXPECTED but at least it is DUE to leave….bear with us)……


(this was flight 9 of 10)

an arrival in Manhattan (well, JFK is strictly nowhere near manhattan but we digress) at 10.25PM last night.

and a flight due to leave (as we said, DUE TO LEAVE) at 7AM this morning.

so – what to do in the meantime?

it looked awfully cold and d e p r e s s i n g to wait at the airport (and everything was closing).

we *thought* about the movie Jet Lag (which we like very much) and so walked over to the Hotels Information Desk just to see if the interweb had been wrong – that there was actually a hotel close enough to buy a room, have a shower, something to sip in the way of hot tea, perhaps an hour’s sleep and then back to the airport for the flight that was DUE TO LEAVE at 0700 hours.

plus (if you recall the Plot of Jet Lag) the opportunity to reassess one’s life while talking intently with foreigners is always interesting (although the days of fickle youth are long gone with the idea of sharing a hotel room with one, despite the promise of free Clarins products and a lovely swimming pool – neither of which looked on the menu at the Days Inn which was either 5 mins away by taxi or 15 mins by something-called-a-shuttle).

so we thought we’d have an adventure instead.

because we like those.

and we are trying to be a bit prudent with cash flow so we took the A train from Howard Beach and curled up on top of our Manhattan messenger bag (luckily the left luggage at JFK stays open all night – which was lovely as we’re Very Tired at carrying around the silver samsonite now).

arriving in Manhattan on the A train and getting out at West 4th at midnight is sort of fun.

especially when one remembers that the Washington Square diner is open 24/7 as the americans close it (or all night, if you’re european or antipodean).

it was fun to sip coffee and write and read a slim tome.

and then – well – it wasn’t so fun – because we were Awfully Tired – so we decided a Walk was in order and then (almost an hour later) we found ourselves in Times Square (gosh).

a134611450e811e386050a9537b7ccc0_8that was fun.

but it was still only 1AM and we had until (well, you get the idea)……….and then we checked the Boarding Pass that the lovely people at Virgin Atlantic had given us in London to “check us through to Los Angeles” (yes, they said it in an English accent – ange-elle-ease which was sweet – at the time) and saw that the flight had been changed to 9AM instead of 7AM and didn’t appear to be under the care of Virgin Atlantic anymore despite that being the brand on the ticket and – well – that’s when we started to feel quite droopy-in-spirit.

more walking didn’t change our now quite dispirited mood so we got a yellow cab (the concept of the A train after midnight is Not A Good Idea) and arrived back at T4, JFK (it takes about 50 mins in good traffic – of which there is never any in manhattan).

as our ticket said “Virgin Atlantic” we waited at the Virgin Clubhouse which was advertised as opening at 4.15AM (no, we were not flying business class on this leg – sadly – but we thought they might be helpful with the snafu with flight times/carrier changes).

not to put too sharp a point on a very pointy sharp feeling of despair – They Did Not.


9AM is not that far away now (it’s 5.32AM over here).

you were Very kind to listen to all that.

and the cafes just opened so we’ll grab a non fat latte and a banana and all will be well.

fresh clothes also helped. as they invariably do in these circumstances.


to turn the whole thing around.

may we show you our photographs from our intensely delicious last few hours in London yesterday (was that only yesterday?) because we had the most Loveliest time.


a London park is Most Lovely with a chill in the air and a cloche hat on the head. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

we *always* pop into Heywood Hill whenever we’re in town because Nancy Mitford worked there and it’s a most splendid bookshop.

as we were about to leave (yes, there’s a little bell on the door or perhaps there was purely in the imagination – that does happen) we stopped, fished around in the manhattan messenger bag and took out a postcard for The book and said “quite casually” –

oh! we almost forgot…..Hay House is publishing this in February….

and they took the card (a little gingerly but kindly in that Very British – let’sjustseeifsheisaweirdpersonorOneOfUs sort of a way) and smiled at the cover and then nodded (briskly) and we ran likethewind.

not fast enough to hear crisply modulated tones chuckle:

Splendid. Good for you.

which we’re sure were Entirely in our Imagination.

or not.


then there’s always Fortnums. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

and a chandelier on St James’OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

and beautiful weepingly lovely statues. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

close up of weepingly wonderful statue (near Buckingham Palace)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

one definitely needed to pull the wood coat closer at this point. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


the sad beauty of the Princess Diana memorial walk is rather lovely. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

and then there was a Mad Dash across town and we caught the tube and then a train and then a plane and finally ended up in Manhattan (or as near as JFK can get to the actual island).

it’s 6.59AM now and we appear to have been BUMPED *shudder* by Mr. Expedia *grrrrrr* from Virgin Atlantic (which is why they could not help us despite their brand being on the ticket) and we wait for the 9AM flight back to Los Angeles.

which, yes, will be flight 10 of 10 in the past 16 days.

but it has been the most MARVEL(L)OUS experience. 

simon, tea, nancy mitford and the soothing sound of a ticking clock in the drawing room.


the last few hours in London are passing Most Pleasurably.



of the Very Intelligent narrowed eye expression. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

and a great *lookofftocameraTwo* gaze. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

a splendid slump and a purr when finished writing in his moleskine. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

we made tea (simon demurred in favo(u)r of a small sip of water for himself)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

and gazed out into the very nice garden. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Thrilled to see some good friends. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

simon enjoyed bits of cold comfort farm being read out while he snoozed. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAseriously – if one HAD to travel all the way to South Africa (although it is a glamorous proposition, we’re Aware), there is Not a nicer way to spend the last few hours with a simon, tea, nancy mitford, stella gibbons and a ticking clock.

we’ve known a few simons in our time but this one has to be the absolute Best.

just saying.


so we’re about to leave.

don’t expect to hear from us until we LAND in Cape Town sometime around teatime on Friday.

mainly because we managed to break *sighs* the US-to-UK electrical adaptor which means we are r u n n i n g out of j u i c e as the Americans say and won’t be able to re-charge until we can plug in the (hopefully more sturdy) US-to-SouthAfrican electrical adaptor device.

travel does broaden the mind but sometimes threaten the intellect.

see you below the Equator*

*right, non?

Most Excited.

loveliness in london town.


it’s After Midnight here *saidvaguely* (we are not in earls court now – but with Friends in a beautiful Farrow and Ball painted house).

we must s l e e p.

but first pictures.

it’s been a busy but beautiful 24 hours or more….





thank you to LC who posed with his hand on Oscar Wilde (that didn’t sound quite right). OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

doesn’t London look so 1930s and glorious still with its lettering of Places to Go and People to See (we did a LOT of both yesterday and today). OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

thank you to IB posing with cuff slightly exposed here. nice job.


and thank you to Mr. Nigel Slater who helped us rehearse at Blackwells (or was it Waterstones?) for the Book display – we spent this morning with our Publisher talking about international rights and so on (such a gorgeous thing to discuss). OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

happiness really is a fresh magazine and a hot cup of builder’s tea in a caf’ off Piccadilly. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

but a set at the Albany would be equally divine. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

as were the windows at Fortnums this evening (we have to say that London is Awfully Festive!)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

what’s not to love about an Edwardian Arcade?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

and a re-commissioned Routemaster bus.

just like in the old films.

Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 12.22.45 AMwe almost forgot to share this with you…..

and now we s l e e p. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAhopefully tomorrow we can introduce you to Simon.

he lives here too.

clue: *purr*

you’re right.

not hard at all.

jetlag, baby, jetlag.

hello, london.


we’re here!

and quite MAD (in a funny way) from the overnight flight from NYC to London in 51H (don’t ask) with probably not-exactly-2-hours-sleep but the Virgin Atlantic staff were splendid – all perky british essex voices and a kindly way about them – especially when dispensing tea or hot chocolate (nobody was allowed coffee as we were all supposed to Sleep) and then the Lights Went Out and we all did, duly, sleep (sort of).

now we’re here!


London looks lovely in the rain.

but there again, it always did….


we braved the Tube (must not call it the Subway) because, well, getting a taxi is just Foolish with London Traffic.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

we had a little snafu before we left Manhattan – our hostess for tuesday night suddenly got STRUCK down by a Flu Virus *shudder* and so we decided we had better NOT get sick as we’re en route to South Africa to do some important work (well, we’re not doing it, who-we-are-in-RL is doing that bit, but we’ll be reporting in Here).

so we had to ask Mr. Expedia if he had a last minute room and he did but we couldn’t check in until 2PM and the flight arrived at 7AM so we had an adventure (see pictures).

this is the only thing that still annoys us about England – the private worlds of the privileged.

yes, yes, we *know* Los Angeles has many a gated community – but one doesn’t know about them unless one does know about them – here the private parks are on full display and one presses one’s nose up against the railings to no avail. *sigh*. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

but this cheered us up immensely. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

as did a breakfast at the Troubadour. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

that’s been on site since 1951 (which is not actually that long for an English Establishment but now we live in L.A we practically reeled with excitement.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

so many marvel(l)ous Mews around our hotel (Earls Court – decadent and threadbare but utterly perfect gentry-wise). OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

more up-against-the-railings-shots. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

ah – a sweeping Georgian Terrace. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


and the sort of places Vita Sackville-West would have visited when In Town. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

this is our little room in the eaves.

isn’t it sweet?

sort of Student Nurse in size. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

one could almost be in paris with a rooftop view.

and now we take a short nap.

before heading out into the night to thrill to the lights of soho and Beyond.

ta dah!

crazy with lack of sleep but remembering to use a Proper English Accent, darlings.


a short story: Glitz no Glam: inspired by the new exhibition @V_and_A


we just heard that the splendid institution and cultural treasure trove known as the Victoria & Albert Museum is having an exhibition about 80s clubland in London.

and – well – we used to be there – in the Clubland of the late 80s and early 90s in London – as well at the V&A, of course.

what’s that?


why yes………..

we *did* write a short story about Those (were the) Days.

would you like to read it?



you are Most Kind.

Glitz, no Glam. 

It was a crucifix: a full-scale be-jeweled-encrusted rough-hewn wood inlaid with ruby red glass beads crucifix. Annie took a lollipop from the large jar on the hall table and pointed it at the crucifix as it came through the door.

“Can I ask why?” she said.

Amanda did not answer. She was frowning at the top of the door in case the artwork nicked the paint. “Careful!”

With the crucifix safely in her bedroom, the door half-closed behind her in the breeze, leaving a cloud of vintage YSL. Amanda pointed to the fixing on the wall, waiting for the artwork. The workmen got paid and got the hell out.

Annie put the kettle on and sat down at the kitchen table to wait for an explanation. None came. She realized Amanda was taking her nap before heading out to the club by nine. By now she would have popped a couple of tranquilizers and slid under the purple satin coverlet, curtains drawn, veiling the sun from her newest addition to the baroque boudoir.

The kettle squealed for a few seconds and Annie snapped back to reality. She made a cup of tea and opened the fridge but the milk was off and smelt bad so she threw the tea down the sink, the milk in the bin and took the bottle of red wine from the table back to bed instead.

She needed to sleep. The red wine would be her tranquilizer. For the hundredth time that month she wished she had a TV in her room. It would nice to watch old Bette Davis movies while getting plastered. She stared up at the ceiling counting the cottage cheese indentations until the bottle was empty and she slid into the abyss.

When she woke up the flat was full of burning candles and Amanda – or Miss A as she was known after nightfall – was into her pre-club ritual.

Annie grabbed a Chinese silk robe and padded into the living room; still sleepy. The room was ablaze with candles, some blowsy French 1960s movie projected onto the wall, bouncing off the reproduction full-size Vogue 1930s prints over the fireplace. Miss A was in full drag: a sharp vintage dress suit, corset and wedge cork sandals, her short crop slicked down, her cigarette was being lit by an androgynous beauty.

Annie took a Gitanes from the pack on the table and looked around for a lighter. No one from this crowd would light her cigarette in her current state of disarray. Miss A was in full swing, building up to a night running the hottest night in London since that Fashion Director held his end of the decade party in the depths of Leicester Square.

Several pairs of limbs became entwined on the sofa and a third person fell onto the floor. They stayed there and no one helped. Annie exhaled and realized the movie was Godard’s Breathless with the gamine beauty Jean Seberg.

“She met an unhappy end,” murmured a voice from the couch.

“Yeah,” said Annie, taking a drag and considering Miss A’s outfit with interest, “Such a sad story.”

Amanda took a closer look at her lodger, “Aren’t you going to get dressed?” she snapped, “You can’t go out like that – we are so over tousled geisha,” she said pointing at the Chinese silk robe.

Sometimes Annie wondered who denoted what ‘we were into’. She could not understand where these fashion forecasters of the underground club scene hung out. And if Miss A and her crowd were the pinnacle of the London night creatures, influencing style later reflected in Camden Market and, eventually, in the magazines, the question was: who were these observers? Those unseen creatures taking note of their every whim? Or was it, as the psychologist Carl Jung said, merely a collective unconsciousness, a sea of style in which Miss A swum before most dared.


“I knew her,” said the woman on the couch.

“Jean Seberg? Really?” Annie was tired, she was not interested in pointing out that Godard’s movie was shot quite a long time ago.

“In another life,” the woman said, earnestly.

“Right,” said Annie and headed to her room to rustle up an approximation of Miss A’s East Berlin Cabaret ensemble. She didn’t have to dress like Amanda, but it helped. She had done so ever since she first saw Amanda gleaming on stage as she MC-ed the opening night of the Valentina Club.

It had been one of those freezing cold London February night where despite a layering of fake fur and scotch, the cold gripped her bones threatening to crack them in two. The waitress-life lost whatever glamour it had once possessed. Her debts were mounting and there was that unused photography degree for a passion she had once vowed to give up sex for. Flickering through stolen copies of Cropped at a friend’s house she decided to start a project and send layouts in.

To have her days free, she would need to work by night. The Valentina Club was hiring – but you had to be a redhead. So she took the bus to south of the river. Her friend Stephen looked at the packet of hair dye.

“The trick to a great Flame Red is stripping the hair to white first,” he said, as he tried not to scar her scalp with bleach. They waited for the color to take, and sat draped in towels, drinking vodka and eating crumpets slathered in unsalted butter while watching “The Killing of Sister George”, Stephen’s favorite film.

“I’m tired of London. Should we move to New York?” said Annie, toweling her hair dry. She looked in the dusty mirror and realized she would have to buy a whole new make-up kit.

Stephen considered Annie’s new look, “You’d do much better in Berlin,” he drawled. “Besides how could you leave your practically perfect basement, er, garden flat?”

“Ah, well, they sort of objected to me not paying rent for the past two months.”

He looked across at her suspiciously over-stuffed bag and patted the sofa with a sad smile. “Once more, my sofa is your castle. Plus you know how much I hate drinking alone. Now let’s get some slap on that face and get you out the door to audition for this crazy night-club.” Annie was grateful – grateful and desperate.

So that was the night she met Miss A. Although she had read about her before in the club pages of The Face and I.D. long before. She was notorious with her sharp green eyes, heavily fringed and mascara-laden gaze, always the same half-profile shot, lips slightly pursed as if she had unexpectedly swallowed the lemon slice in her G&T. There was a scent of danger about her and a dark back-story.

Later Annie would find out that Miss A never touched gin; always preferring a vodka gimlet. “Like in the movies” she purred but never specified which ones exactly. The moue look was to make her cheekbones more prominent.

But that night, the night of the auditions for new redheads at Valentina Club, Miss A was stone cold sober and very calculating, giving a swift up and down to the hopeful parade of flamed beauties looking for a job at her club. The one before Annie was summarily rejected with a curt, “Sweetheart, those thighs were not meant to be seen in fishnets.”


Annie was not concentrating. It was so cold, she had not eaten since yesterday and she was terribly nervous. The line snaked slowly around Covent Garden’s less salubrious alleyways. Then there it was, the cavernous mouth of hell that Miss A had created to make her creatures of the night feel right at home. Miss A stood at the door scanning the crowd. She spotted Annie reading a book, innocence radiated out of her. Miss A was slightly taken aback.

The book was Cecil Beaton’s wickedly funny memoirs of working at Vogue during the late 20s. Annie pulled the pages closer and tried to imagine she was somewhere warm and well fed and already had the deposit for a flat somewhere nice for a change.

“Oh!” screeched Miss A, “what do we have here -an INTELLECTUAL?” And she flung out her arms encased in black satin gloves to the elbow to stop Annie passing. The book went flying and Miss A’s eyebrow rose when she saw it was Beaton. She loved Beaton.

She had never actually read any but the covers promised a life of late Jazz Age glamour and that was her theme de jour so she approved.

Later, at the late night coffee shop, Annie sat with thirty other newly-hired redheads as Firebrand Brown, the former cheer-leader from Texas and “head bitch” as she called herself, proposed a toast.


“Girls,” she smiled wickedly, “you are in for the ride of your life at Valentina. We intend to have fun, create fun and just BE fun!”

Annie was tired but relieved. She would make enough to get by this month. Hell, she’d do a lot more if she could get a double page spread of her photographs in Cropped. She fumbled in her tiny black sequined purse for her tube pass and hoped Stephen was still up. Her hands touched on the disposable camera she carried everywhere with her.

As she stood up to go, she quickly took a shot of the assembled group. Everyone was so high, drunk or tired they did not notice. Firebrand’s head whipped round towards the door as she tried to process what the sudden flash had been but Annie had slipped out the back door and made a run for the last night bus.

A few weeks later Annie was stacking up the glasses on the bar when Kara, a classical ballet dancer from Essex, looking for a break into West End musicals, told her that Amanda’s name was not really Amanda; or Miss A, for that matter. Annie thoughtfully wiped down the bar with a dirty rag and threw it in the bin. Kara sighed and pulled it out and placed it carefully in the laundry basket behind the swing doors.

“But if you are going to change your name, why choose something as posh and establishment as Amanda?” Annie asked. Kara shrugged and jerked her head towards the little table by the DJ booth where Amanda was frowning over the accounts with Mr. Herne the accountant. Handing Annie a new dishcloth and pointing out the wet glasses in the sink, Kara whispered, “I heard it was homage to Noel Coward.”


“Gosh! Private Lives – a classic,” Annie looked over at her boss and rested her chin on her hands. Amanda looked up from the accounts and did her famous moue. Annie sighed and went back to wiping up the glasses.

After the shift that night Annie went back to Kara’s flat in Tavistock Street. Kara was sub-letting from a Foreign Office friend of her uncle’s and it was walking distance from Valentina. They climbed out of the casement window and lit candles and cigarettes on the roof. “Can you imagine what it was like here during the war? Watching the East End burning and planes flying overhead?” said Annie.

Kara took a long sexy drag of her cigarette. She was considering seducing Annie who was horribly naïve but very pretty. But the non-sequiturs of her conversation really stumped her sometimes (that and the fact that Miss A was swiftly colonizing Annie herself, not that the sweet one noticed).

Annie yawned and stretched out her arms. They were covered in scratch marks from catching her elbows on the jagged side of the bar. Kara reached into her bag and took out some ointment and rubbed her scratches until they were no longer red. Annie kissed her on the cheek and stayed silent. Kara’s intensity scared her somewhat. It was not as scary as Miss A’s heightened passion and ferocity for life but it was close. All the redheads in the bar tried to ape Amanda’s aura and, at times, it was less a nightclub and more of a flame-haired copycat cult.

The next week Annie moved in to Miss A’s place just over the River Thames. Nestled behind what used to be the high street circa Shakespeare’s time, the house had once been grand but was now split inelegantly into flats of varying sizes and odd layouts. Miss A owned the entire building apparently and took possession of the ground floor with very high ceilings and French windows that opened out onto an unfinished courtyard. Miss A was not what one would call a gardener or landscaper. She barely went out during the day as it happens.

It was less of an offer of somewhere to live and more of a command, Annie reflected, as she unpacked her bag and tried to feel at home. The room faced a brick wall but plenty of light came through the double height windows. The wall opposite had once shown an advertisement for hot cocoa. Now faded and sad, it was a remnant from the wartime propaganda in its “us-against-the-enemy” fireside scene. Two tousled curly headed children could still be seen, sipping cocoa, mugs in both hands.

Annie got to know every inch of the advertisement over the next few months and even named the children. Miss A – who never knocked – stood in the doorway once and demanded to know whom Felix and Jemima were. Without turning round, quite dreamily, Annie pointed at the 1930s moppets outside her window.

She tried to understand why Miss A asked the workman to come by and whitewash the wall so soon after.

Kara knew. “She’s jealous,” she whispered, as they stood waiting for Miss A to inspect them before the club opened. Usually Firebrand did the dimply thigh and roots that needed touching check. But for the past twenty-eight days, Miss A had done it – and not with good grace – while Firebrand was in the Detox unit in Charing Cross hospital again.

She smoothed Annie’s bob, making it fall into line. Kara strained to hear what she whispered as Miss A made a kiss curl on Annie’s forehead.

“Cats,” said Annie, as they set up the bar later, “she bought two cats today.” As Annie walked away to tidy her area she overhead Miss A tell another Valentina girl that Felix and Jemima were perfectly flame-colored.

Kara wondered if she picked them out like that or if they got their fur dyed at the feline beauty parlor. Sadly she shared this witty observation with one too many people. When Firebrand was released, Kara got fired.

“So what’s the crucifix for?” asked Annie for the hundredth time as she teased the new kittens with a piece of cold spaghetti.

Miss A did not answer. She was staring out of the French windows onto what would have been a verdant terrace if either of them bothered to water the plants.

“Are you religious?” she persisted, determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.

She wound the cold spaghetti through her fingers and considered eating it until Miss A snapped, “No carbs, you’re getting fat.” It stung and it was meant to.

Annie reached across the table and pulled the cigarettes towards her, carefully selecting the one turned upside down in the middle of the pack. It was a small act of rebellion and it thrilled her. She walked away and locked herself in the bathroom and stared at the wall until she felt nauseous from too many cigarettes and not enough supper.

Stephen was not sympathetic. “You chose to work there and then you chose to move in with the boss. You are asking for it. I hope the sex is worth it.”

Annie knew enough not to tell him anything more. He would disown her. There was nothing sexual about her relationship with Miss. A. But she could not tell Stephen that. He was her one stable influence, as crazy as that might appear.

Once he dropped round to get Annie to go bowling (“It’s the latest craze,” he promised her. It wasn’t.) Miss. A had greeted him and then exited swiftly. “She’s a Vampire,” he exclaimed, with admiration in his voice befitting one who owned many of Anne Rice’s early works.

But Annie had not mentioned the crucifix. She felt it unwise. Perhaps it was art, she thought brightly, in her more relaxed moments at home. Or shock value. But when you thought about it, a crucifix was not that strange to someone so deeply fixated by ritual and a love of candles and incense.

A waft of vintage YSL came through the door. Amanda was home. “For you!”


She was standing in Annie’s room holding a beautiful jacket.

“For your interview, I thought.” Her eyes were smudged. She was drunk, or worse; probably high on shopping perhaps.

It was impossible to keep a secret in this town. So Annie had told her about the go-see at Cropped, the achingly hip photography magazine in North London. Just a go-see: five minutes with the section editor to show her portfolio. Amanda had not asked to see the pictures. Annie, by now, knew she wouldn’t.

But it wouldn’t stop her looking when the portfolio was lying around. So the pictures of Valentina were hidden behind the harshly captured night scenes of Leicester Square, the back streets of Chelsea, a Saturday late afternoon among the detritus of Camden Square market, the stallholders wearily packing up as teenagers ran for the last bus to suburbia for their tea.

At the Cropped offices, the Valentina shots were pounced on. No one had been allowed to take pictures inside the club – Miss A forbade it.

“You must have faded into the background,” said the art director, as if that were a good thing. Annie stayed quiet. She was terrified of being here in the supernaturally bright studio lights of the magazine’s editorial offices at the top of the Angel, Islington. Unimaginably wan young men carrying black boxes of prints swung through the reception doors and the most glamorous art students on work experience made endless cups of strong black coffee.

Mari, walked by, carrying a small valise. She was the Editor-in- Chief and on her way to her house in Brighton for the Bank Holiday weekend. The art director stopped her with a seemingly casual “Worth a look”, nodding at Annie’s 10 x 8 prints on the table.

The jacket felt itchy. It was beautiful, a brocade, almost cut like a riding jacket with tiny mottled buttons. But it was not what Annie would have worn. It was clear that head to toe black was the uniform here. She blushed against her too-red hair and felt out of place. Wrong: too fat, too much, just too much.

Mari took each print in her hand and considered it with a practiced eye before moving onto the next. Finally, she put a hand through her straight black hair and found a marker behind her ear. She put crosses on five prints and crop marks on four more.

“Print these – like that” she said and gave a half smile to Annie. No money was discussed; there was no need. Other people did the money. Mari was the inspiration, not the bookkeeper.

Annie looked at the crop marks and saw what Mari had done. They were too close: too intense.

What had once been wide shots of club scenes – reportage, in effect – of a night at Valentina’s: the girls getting ready, Firebrand taking a cigarette break on the roof, Miss A adjusting a tabletop and removing a smeared glass, a full ashtray – these were hidden moments originally. But Mari had made these snapshots of a night the focus and, as a result, revealed, exposed the exhaustion, the repetitive nature of the work and, tellingly, the utter lack of glamour.

When the prints came back from the darkroom Annie realized how she lived. The pictures she had taken revealed a bunch of girls in their very early 20s trying to look like creatures of the night from a Berlin cabaret. They looked horribly young and very tired.

Mari brought in a man called Max who sneered at Annie as he handed her an envelope to pay for her work. Annie took the envelope and stumbled down the white stairs and out into the gray London afternoon.

The art students queued up for teas and iced buns for a shoot at the greasy spoon cafe downstairs and snuck white paper packets into the pockets from the bus boys smoking on the steps. Mari emerged from Cropped’s doorway, her black hair hanging like a crisp sheet from a perfect parting. She opened the taxi door and saw Annie looking bewildered. Pausing, she remembered the pictures and realized Annie had talent, so she might be useful.

“Get in,” said Mari. Annie took a deep breath and got into the back of the black cab.

Miss A was not at home when Annie packed. She placed the kittens in a straw basket like peaches at a market and slung her other bag over her shoulder.

Opening the door to Amanda’s bedroom, she stood and considered the crucifix glowing in the half-light. Carefully hanging the jacket on the outside of Miss A’s wardrobe, she folded her Valentina outfit on the chair by the bed.

Then she pinned her favorite shot of the club onto the crucifix with a silver drawing pin, put her keys in the lollipop jar and ran all the way to the train station catch the 5.15 to Brighton, a box of black hair dye nestled between Felix and Jemima.

ENDS 3,613