Wednesday, 26 July 2017

MINDING THE Ps AND Qs


 
 

 
 One very important aspect of diplomatic etiquette is, of course, the bread and butter thank you letter. Also known as the day after letter. Ideally this should be written (for the English) on deckle-edged personalised notepaper in a subtle shade of white, pale cream or something equally uncontroversial, with matching and lined envelope. Of necessity, one should mention how warm and charming were one’s hosts and their beautiful residence, how intellectually stimulating and extraordinarily witty the conversation, how innovative the menu and succulent the food, how wonderful it was to meet old friends and make some new ones, how fortunate one had considered oneself to be seated next to two such enthralling conversationalists as those to one’s left and right……You get the picture.
Traditions, however, differ greatly.
Italians, for example, rarely bother to set pen to paper at all. They prefer to express their thanks via a phone call. Thus, if you are an Italian hostess and wish to achieve anything at all the day after giving a dinner party, you are well advised to Be Unavailable for the entire 24 hours and just leave the answering machine on.
I was feeling particularly grateful for this solution just the other day for it permitted me to leave a succinct but hopefully elegant little thank-you message for a particularly voluble friend who had been using me as a sauf-douleur for her matrimonial woes for the past six months. Her temporary absence saved me, at a conservative estimate, a good forty minutes of sympathetic listening. I had reckoned without her most kindly ringing me back to say thank you for my thank you.
The call came just as I was applying my left shoulder, (the one with the torn ligament), to a rusty gate in an attempt to get through it without letting three large and very excited thoroughbred horses escape to the freedom for which they were fighting. Underfoot was a puddle the size of Lake Ontario and a muddy bog which needed some careful circumventing if I were to remain upright and capable of heaving and shoving gate and horses out of my path.
I was also having one of those coughing fits where your eyes stream, your voice disappears and you need to get to a glass of water immediately if you are not to die. A howling north-easterly was blowing a gale across the fields and a recently stitched finger - mistaken for a carrot by afore mentioned over enthusiastic animals,  (memo to self: abandon horse riding for less dangerous sport), was aching in the freezing cold without a glove because in that particular hand I was holding the damn cell phone. I mentioned some of this in passing to my voluble friend and some of it I guess she could have figured out for herself by interpreting the various noises hitting her down the phone line.
Did that stop her?
No. She went on for a good half an hour about her recent divorce settlement and I was reduced to saying “I do think you should appeal,” about one hundred times because what else do you say when she isn't really listening to you anyway? And besides, I had a gut feeling she wouldn't dream of appealing because, know what? I suspect she realises she's pushed her luck over the years and doesn't stand a chance of squeezing another penny out of the poor sod.
But times are changing and etiquette has moved on.
Nowadays the younger generation, even at diplomatic level, resort to dashing off an email at any time of day or night to say “thank you for dinner last night/last week”. Or worse still, they actually REFUSE  invitations from their own Ambassador  (aka God in my generation of dip wives, since his word was most certainly law and his invitations were most certainly not to be refused should he be so magnanimous as to extend one to a mere underling). To add insult to injury, these young whippersnappers do so with the frailest of excuses  such as that their mother in law just died, or they have a child in bed with meningitis or can’t get a babysitter.
Can’t get a Babysitter? What do you DO with the taxpayers’ money, for heaven’s sake? What’s £30 an hour compared to an evening basking in the presence of such an august personage as that of His Excellency your very own esteemed Ambassador?
In my day we would have been shipped off pronto as Third Secretary to Ouagadougou on a one way ticket.






 

Friday, 30 June 2017

IF THE CAP FITS

IF THE CAP FITS




There was a group of Americans down in St. Jean Cap Ferrat doing the Alphabet Tour.
It was Friday. Friday was France. Saturday was Spain and Sunday was Sicily. Thursday had been The U.K., which I thought was pushing it a bit, but they didn’t seem to mind. Monday would be Malta. I was slightly worried about Tuesday and Wednesday but they assured me with some excitement that the former was To Be Announced and the latter was Wherever. It was an Adventure Tour. They actually thought they were in Cap d’Antibes but the tour operator had muddled up the two Caps, an easy mistake since both locations have luxury hotels of the same name, so they were being shuffled up and down the coast in an overly large coach which was contributing dramatically to the snarling up of the already snarled traffic all along the Corniche. They didn’t seem to mind that either. You got better pictures that way, apparently.
We had been slightly worried about turning up at the Party of the Year in a dusty rented Fiat Punto smelling of stale tobacco and, by now, splattered with road kill - albeit of the six-legged winged variety. Himself wanted to put it through a car wash but I demurred. Let them think we had just driven up from a Safari, said I. Much more glamorous. I also pointed out that it was 8.00 pm which left us precisely half an hour to get showered, dressed, made-up and out the door.
There was a little note attached to an exquisite flower arrangement in our room welcoming us and informing us that we would be picked up in front of the hotel at 8.15.  Right.  Good news bad news. Saved from the dirty Fiat dilemma, at least.
We scrub up something lovely the pair of us after a lifetime of doing it against the clock, but it does require a good twenty minutes to achieve the required effect. Twenty-five if a bow tie is involved, which of course it was. Wrestling a bow tie single-handedly into submission is not something Himself has ever managed to achieve during his lifetime and it is invariably presented to me with a request for assistance just when I have two finger nails left to varnish. Purple. To match the toes.  I do hope you have been following. We are nothing if not colour co-ordinated. Or anal, as some would have it. There is nothing I can do about that: I belong to a generation which still matches its accessories. When I remember to pack them.
We shot out of the hotel lift and through the revolving glass doors in the manner of a brace of dervishes on their way to the carnival.
There were a dozen or so extraordinarily elegant couples standing in the forecourt checking their Audemars Piguets as we tumbled out at their feet. The men were all uniformly dressed in impeccably tailored white dinner jackets, the ladies in full length ball gowns and drooling with jewels. I regretted having omitted to pack a wonderful diamond cuff which a friend  had bought me from the local street market in Rome just before we left. I endeavoured, none too successfully since it was required for balance, to keep my left hand – the one carrying the uncoordinated handbag - out of sight behind my back whilst shaking hands with my right. I was making insignificant small talk in three and a bit languages about the weather and the non-appearance of the minibus when this sleek, highly polished black Rolls came purring to a halt at our feet and a sleek, highly polished, colour co-ordinated driver stepped out, consulted his list and read out our names. Leaving the rest of them standing there wondering who the hell we were. We smiled apologetically to the waiting hopefuls and slid gracefully into the padded leather upholstery. Awfully sorry.
Well, how were they to know our surname begins with an  A?



Bet the Americans would have twigged it, though. Americans are hot on things like that.



(...and don't forget there are more Ambassadress Trying to Behave episodes in





 


Sunday, 11 June 2017

DIARY OF A DIPLOMAT’S WIFE: DEMOCRACY AT IT’S MOST DEMOCRATIC


DIARY OF A DIPLOMAT’S WIFE: DEMOCRACY AT IT’S MOST DEMOCRATIC


There are ways and means of clouding the issues, of course. First and foremost you need to phrase the questions in such a manner that your average voter won’t understand what is being asked of him. Her. Other. The first time I voted in Italy was in a popular referendum in the summer of 2011. The difference between a popular and a constitutional referendum is that in the former you vote Yes to abolish the law under discussion, whereas in the latter you vote Yes to support it. So if you really wanted to say NO to Berlusconi and his favourite laws, you had to put YES on your ballot sheet. Also, ideally you should have been aware of the name, number, paragraph and subsection of whichever law was being referred to. The papers had been full of diagrams and explanations for weeks, but there was so much other more riveting news to absorb that one had tended to skip the legal stuff and head for the juicy bits.
Where Berlusconi was concerned, there was never a lack of juicy bits.
(...now read on.....  http://impakter.com/diplomat-wife-democracy-democratic/

(...and don't forget the book, "Sorting the Priorities - Ambassadress and Beagle Survive Diplomacy":
available on Amazon :

Just what you need to read on the beach this summer.

 

Monday, 29 May 2017

Less than Popular



 
EASTER EGGS

We are endeavouring to be on our best behaviour at this time of the year. We have disturbed memories, you see. Last Easter weekend saw Beagle and me qualifying for Guests From Hell status. On the Sunday morning we had gathered together our bi-national offerings (Italian olive oil and Cadbury’s Easter eggs), rounded up the dog and tripped lightly downstairs  to stuff it all into opposite ends of the Chelsea tractor.
Trip was the operative word. A litre of  olive oil goes a horrendously long way on a marble floor and takes the best part of half an hour and most of the Sunday Times to mop up.  Hound was subsequently inserted with some difficulty behind the dog-proof iron bars, having picked up the scent of the eggs at 100 yards. I might also mention at this juncture that Beagle’s personal vision of Paradise consists of a large meadow dotted with rabbits (real, imaginary or chocolate,) and laced liberally with fox poo.
We were thus a little late starting out on the requisite trek to the country for the traditional Easter Egg Hunt.
Technologically Impaired husband watched with some scepticism as I deftly programmed my girlfriend’s postal code into the GPS and then turned on the radio. Soothed by the dulcet tones of Ms. Sat Nav, however, he relaxed sufficiently to obey her instructions for once, instead of arguing furiously with her disembodied directions at every crossroad.  I sank back to listen to the chewing-gum-for-the-ears braying of the Omnibus Edition of the Archers. Something about the combined effect of these two acoustical elements  must have dulled our already waning critical faculties. We had the motorway to ourselves and had made up for nearly all our lost time as we swung triumphantly through the gates and up the drive to our hosts’ magnificent residence. Blindly obeying our front and rear sensors, we parked expertly between a Land Rover and a Bentley and began to unload.
Realisation hit the pair of us more or less simultaneously. It was the wrong host. Wrong lunch party. Wrong girlfriend. Wrong post code. Clearly there was an Easter lunch in progress here too – witness the cars all over the drive. But not the one to which we had been invited.
It is not an easy feat to back a 4 x 4 silently out of a gravel drive with a Beagle howling to get out for a sniff at one’s non-host’s lurchers’ backsides, but we managed it. Except that having scrunched back up to the main road spitting gravel to left and right, somehow the main gates had closed on us…..
The good news was that I had, at least, chosen the right county, and after a highly apologetic phone call to explain in graphic detail the tremendous traffic jams we were encountering on the M20, we finally reached, as Ms. Sat Nav sexily remarked, our destination.
Our real host had been obliged to open an additional bottle of fizz which had clearly not overly amused him. His guests were starving and pie-eyed. The cook was threatening to resign as she watched her succulent pink lamb turning to strips of grey leather. Beagle had an immediate fight with the house Labrador about who had territorial rights over the last remaining smoked salmon canapé left on the plate for Miss Manners. The children sulked throughout lunch refusing to eat anything at all because they had been deprived of their Sunday morning egg hunt.
I slipped out into the garden as soon as coffee had been served and started to hide the eggs in as many Beagle-proof places as I could find. This, I realise in retrospect, also rendered them completely invisible and unattainable to anyone under the age of 15 or below 6ft in stature. The oldest child was four and a half, though with the lungs of a thirty year old coloratura.
The score at the end of the day was as follows:
2 yr old girl………..three daffodil heads and a peony.
Older brother……....two shiny flat stones, three pellets of goat droppings, one fir cone, two lost golf balls,
Black Labrador……. look of extreme guilt, four remaining mauled eggs. Estimated eight swallowed whole complete with silver wrappings.
Beagle………………nowhere to be seen. Later found in hen house consuming a raw omelette having rolled in all the fox poo.

Him and Me………… a fragrant ride home.
 
More Beagle anecdotes in:
 

 
 
 
 

Monday, 15 May 2017

Ambassadors Do It After Dinner



AMBASSADORS DO IT AFTER DINNER

Now as all we Diplomatic Bags know to our constant frustration, the term Ambassadress shouldn't exist. And even when one uses the cumbersomely correct terminology– Wife of Ambassador – it still doesn’t carry much weight. Partner? You have to be joking. Equality doesn’t come into the equation here. We are at best an appendage and at worst a liability. A ticking bomb to be kept on as short a rein as humanely possible, if I may be forgiven a mixed metaphor or two.
We take a four hour train journey into the middle of nowhere for His Excellency to deliver a speech about European Matters. As the train pulls out, I asked him precisely which aspect of E.M. he would be addressing for the improvement of his public’s edification, insight and comprehension. The reply was non-committal, but I was made to understand that he would be giving the matter his most profound consideration throughout the trip. I therefore stopped talking and confined myself to listening to our fellow travellers ringing every one of their respective friends and relatives to reassure them that they were, indeed, on the train.
H.E. fell asleep.
After a couple of hours, worried about the possibility of a hired restaurant full of diners living out the rest of their lives in European Ignorance, I gave him a gentle nudge. He half opened one eye, swore gently in two languages and assured me that he could wing it. I went back to glaring at my fellow passengers in three languages as they continued to regale the carriage with their tales of woe or joy or just their latest recipes for quick and inexpensive suppers.
Upon arrival, we were met at the station by the President of the Society in Question, a perfectly charming gentleman in his mid-eighties. A former Ambassador. We recognised him immediately because, as promised, he was wearing an electric blue E.U. baseball cap. The summer version, with the see-through fish-net crown. The rain was coming down in sheets.  At some stage in his diplomatic career, however, he must have been posted to Moscow, for as soon as we had identified each other, he quite understandably exchanged this for a Siberian wolf Davy Crocket number though without, fortunately, the tail. Beagle would have gone wild with delight and shaken it to death right there on the platform. Fortunately Beagles are not an option when Ambos are addressing the after-dinner crowd on Matters of International Importance. The rain turned to hailstones.
Indifferent to the fact that all the Society members were already seated in the restaurant awaiting the arrival of their after dinner speaker whilst drinking themselves to a stupor trying to keep warm, we requested a five minute stop at our hotel to leave the luggage and freshen up.
For “freshen up” read:  “jot down speaking points.”
Whilst we were thus employed, our octogenarian Davy Crocket decided to turn the car around in the limited space of the hotel forecourt whilst waiting for us to re-emerge, painted and coiffed and, more especially, bearing indecipherable squiggles on the back of an old envelope. When we did just that, 6.5 minutes later, we found him standing out in the sleet looking shamefaced.  It had taken him a mere 3 minutes to rip the back bumper off the car whilst backing into an attractive hydrangea bush and a not so attractive immovable concrete pillar and a record 3.5 minutes to stuff the entire offending article into the boot. We were politely requested to pretend we had seen nothing unusual.
A very jolly crowd was awaiting our arrival inside the restaurant. Most mellow. We were slotted into our respective places at table and plied with vast quantities of alcohol: it seemed we had a lot of catching up to do. Food duly arrived and was duly despatched at everyone’s leisure. A musical interlude followed after which various worthies were inspired to hit their wine glasses with a fork until an unruly silence was achieved. The Chairman staggered to his feet to introduce Mr. Ambassador who was to address us upon Matters of Universal Interest and Importance. Except that the Ambassador in question was nowhere to be seen, since the upper half of his torso had disappeared under the table whilst he searched in vain for a) his table napkin and b) his speaking notes, both of which had by then been reduced to a pulp by his neighbours’ wet shoes. 
Some Speakers’ wives manage to buy themselves whole apartment blocks, of course, on the proceeds of their husband’s lecture tours. I don’t know where I go wrong, really. Even the hotel freebies were rubbish. I went around smelling like a tart’s parlour after using the shower gel that night and H.E.’s hair was standing on end for two days after he had ill-advisedly washed it with their organic shampoo. Or perhaps that was just the result of having to answer half an hour of decidedly incoherent questions at the end of a decidedly awful meal.
One certainly sings for one’s supper whilst eating for one’s country.

 



.....and if you like this, try the book from Amazon:
"Sorting the Priorities - Ambassadress and Beagle Survive Diplomacy"




 




Wednesday, 19 April 2017

BIG BUSINESS



BIG  BUSINESS






Had house guests this weekend - old friends who had overtaken us in the earning stakes years ago and were still managing  to make a highly respectable living  despite the current economic climate.  They were hot back from London where they had booked a table for some business acquaintances in a certain  rather exclusive and dreadfully pricey Italian trattoria  nestling in the very heart of Mayfair.  Well you would, wouldn't you, if you were trying to hook a mega deal with an oil-rich country?
Mr. and Mrs. Oil-Rich were resplendent in traditional floor length robes and had omitted to mention they would be bringing their ten month old baby in a very large and cumbersome pushchair complete with all the frills and jingly bits. And a pre-prepared bottle with which to feed it upon arrival.   Okaaay.
Somehow they managed to get the buggy through the lines of Ferraris and Bentleys, Rollers and Maseratis double parked as usual outside. Fine so far.   9 pm on a Saturday night.  Not exactly empty.
In they wheel.
Baby sets up a wail. Well they do, don't they? Bottle is produced, heated and inserted in the correct end. Three minutes peace ensues whilst kind waiters endeavour to make cumbersome pushchair as invisible as possible. Not an easy task.  Starched napkins and over-large menus are flapped open all round the table. Niceties are exchanged in a variety of foreign languages, none of which are particularly relevant to the mother tongue of anyone present, but salve the combined conscience as being evidence that all those seated around said table were making an effort to be international.  Wide smiles make up for any deficiency in communication skills.
Atmosphere warming up nicely.
Baby chooses this moment to throw up.  All over nice white starched  Michelin starred table cloth and nice white starched and starred waiters. Mopped up with tail end of headscarf, prior to flustered exit to ladies loo bearing infant screaming for having been deprived of its dinner.
Out of respect for their guests' religion and their own personal budget, they had omitted to order anything from the restaurant's famous wine list and were sticking to mineral water, so I suspect they might not find it quite so easy to get a table on a Saturday night next time around. 
 I noticed, too, that they were making up for lost time at the expense of our rapidly dwindling wine cellar over the weekend, and can only surmise that the hoped-for big deal remained stuck in the pipeline.

More international anecdotes in :

 Sorting the Priorities - Ambassadress and Beagle Survive Diplomacy










  

Monday, 10 April 2017

THE GREAT ITALIAN BAKE OFF




T.V. CELEBRITY OF THE YEAR


You might possibly have noticed that basically, (ooooh, everyone’s favourite word. Don’t even THINK of giving a radio interview without inserting it at least once per sentence. Also begin each sentence with “So….”.    Not “Err…” or “Um…”    Times have changed.
So, as I was saying, basically this column is a poor excuse for flogging my book. See below. Please.
Now the book in question first appeared in a rather iffy Italian translation (pace Sperling and Kupfer, but the exact translation of “ midday”, amongst thirty odd other howlers, is actually “mezzogiorno.” Not “mezzanotte,” as your translator suggested, and the Ministers were “signing” important papers in the Ambassador’s private office. Not singing.) The idea of publishing in Italian was an attempt to avoid ruining my husband’s career. He was Italian Ambassador to the Court of St. James at the time, and I was endeavouring to be on my best behaviour. I did, however, obtain permission to publish and promote in Italy.

                                                   So this is what happened. 


I was standing in the middle of a muddy field just outside Rome with a Beagle straining at the leash in one hand (trying to resettle a passing cat in the upper branches of a nearby tree where she thought it would look more attractive….) and in the other, a very excited horse trying to leap a fence in order to rejoin its pals on the other side where the grass, as is the habit with grass the world over, was greener, when the mobile phone started ringing. Nothing new so far. Jodphur pockets are notoriously small and it all took some time and a fair amount of pretty colourful language before I managed to extricate the phone, by which time Ms Highly Pissed Orff My Time is Precious was chafing at the bit on the other end of the not very clear line.

Would I agree, she asked, to do a T.V.programme where I would show the viewers how to prepare a meal suitable to serve in an Embassy whilst we discussed My Book?

Beagle takes advantage to disappear over the skyline in hot pursuit of an imaginary lizard or wild boar, horse practices standing on various combinations of two legs and Ms Famous Writer (me) explains in no uncertain terms that, given the option, I would much prefer to be shot from outer space, head down, in a follow up attempt to break the sound barrier. Thank you.

Oh, says Ms H.P.O.M.T.I.P., somewhat snootily, then I'll call back tomorrow and we'll discuss it after you have given it some thought.

So the next day I am standing on the outskirts of the 5yr old's athletics class with 5 yr old in question clinging like a limpet to my trouser leg because he is having a bad attack of Mummyitis, except that unfortunately Mummy in question is in Amsterdam for a conference so he's having to make do with the substitute, me, instead, and the phone goes. Would I prefer to spend three minutes just talking about the book on TV, or do the half hour cookery programme as mentioned?

Does this remind you of that bit in Doctor Spock where it explains that you never ask a toddler whether he would like spinach for dinner? What you should ask, as everyone knows, is "would you like spinach or Brussel sprouts for dinner?” “Darling?”

For various reasons, most of which I consider to be blatantly obvious, I did not care to mention that the last time I had achieved anything resembling serious cooking was somewhere around March 3rd 1978, since when I had employed someone else to do it for me. That my well known culinary speciality was burnt everything. That for the past ten years of my diplomatic wanderings, we had employed professional cooks, most of whom were quite rightly reluctant to allow me within sniffing distance of the kitchen. That my idea of haute cuisine these days was a tuna fish sandwich and a banana consumed, mostly, whilst waiting for the traffic lights to change.

I cannot, I said with some conviction, pretend to teach the Italians how to cook Italian food. The most I could offer, I said, is my patriotic version of Coulibiac.
Puff pastry, (ready- made), risotto, (Knorr), (left over) cooked salmon, (frozen) shrimps, (M&S ready- made) Hollandaise sauce (imported from London and microwaved to within an inch of its life.......) When you have piled it all into the pastry case and cooked and sliced it, you get layers of red white and green, if it doesn’t collapse on you first. The Italian flag. Eat your heart out, Berlusconi, famous for his Pasta Tricolore and strawberry, vanilla and pistachio ice-cream combinations.
Stupidly I left out the bits in brackets, and I could hear her salivating all down the phone.




The things one lets oneself in for just to flog a book.

Writing a weekly blog, for example.



Sorting the Priorities - Ambassadress and Beagle Survive Diplomacy