Thursday, 2 March 2017



So this is how it all began.

If there was one thing His Excellency would never have encouraged me to do, and he may well have been right, it was to place my diplomatic tongue firmly in my diplomatic cheek and describe my diplomatic experiences. So when I was asked to do just that for a magazine, there was no stopping me and I've been hooked ever since. There was just one proviso at the time: I was not prepared to name names because, after all, we would quite like to finish the rest of our career with dignity. I was given a page entitled "Ambassadress" in an erudite Swiss publication full of in-depth interviews with dignitaries of world renown. My task was, I suspect, to encourage them to take themselves a little less seriously.

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.

I began by describing a typical Embassy dinner party. An unlikely juxtaposition of a newly arrived desperate housewife, a monosyllabic but very smiley Chinese couple and a High Ranking Gentleman of the Cloth. Being a lapsed Prot, these latter always throw me. It invariably takes me half an hour to work out whether to address them as Your Eminence or Your Excellency. I know it has something to do with the colour of their skull caps, but after a couple of glasses of the white and bubbly I can never remember which is which. I can, however, do better than the chap sitting opposite me at a Tiaras Will Be Worn occasion one evening, who wanted to know to which royal families all the ladies with crowns belonged.

Anyway, there I was that night doing a Wimbledon: left, right, left, right and across the table to keep them all in the conversation. The problem was that the lady to the right was intent on informing the company at large about her three children, whereas I wanted a straight-from-the-horse's-mouth opinion concerning the Vatican's decision to declare Limbo a no-go area. Prior to working up, possibly, according to reactions, to the gay priests and holocaust denial problems, you understand. By the time I'd turned to the Chinese to explain about limbo, I'd lost my audience back to the Problems of Secondary Schools and potty training. No, not in that order, obviously.

Eating and drinking for one’s country has always been one of the requisites for a successful diplomat. Ability to consume vast quantities of food and alcohol without incurring permanent damage to the arteries, to the liver or to one’s ability to make a coherent speech or semi-intelligible conversation should be taken as an inherent part of the training. There was a time when new entrants to the Italian Corps were invited to a formal meal during the course of which the aspirant would be encouraged to demonstrate his prowess at wielding a knife and fork whilst simultaneously sustaining rational conversation in a minimum of three languages. A career could be truncated before it even began by a single strand of wayward spaghetti. A high ranking German colleague once confessed to me that ultimately he owed his success to having unflinchingly pursued an argument on macro-economics in fluent Mandarin despite his Foreign Secretary having inadvertently spiked a Chicken Kiev with excessive fervour, thereby releasing a stream of hot liquefied garlic butter all over his new suit. *

It was immediately blindingly clear to his masters that he was destined for the highest echelons of The Service.

According to the country to which it has been assigned, your diplomatic digestive tract is expected to deal with all manner of culinary horrors: eye of camel, trotter of pig, tripe of cow, leg of frog, tail of ox, crackling of grasshopper. The hair of dog is manna from heaven after such abuse and every so often there comes a moment when the thought of food palls. When if you see just one more dish of Nigerian Piri Piri or Russian dumplings or Belgian waffles and fresh cream chocolates you think you might just go on a diet. When you wake up in the morning and your liver groans almost audibly and begs for mercy. This is when your diplomatic spouse should start applying pressure for a new foreign assignment, for however hard one tries, those calories are out to get you if you are doing the cocktail and dinner party circuit on an almost daily basis for the glory of the parentland. On an average evening you are expected to attend anything up to three farewell cocktail parties and/or a National Day celebration. The procedure is as follows: get tarted up in a flimsy frock and a pair of ridiculously high heels, (catching bronchial pneumonia for my country), identify Ambassador or host, commiserate or congratulate, hook a passing waiter for a glass of fizz and make way discreetly to nearest exit, if necessary through the kitchen. Head off to next bash and repeat procedure. Such a glamorous life.

A friend of mine was discovered one morning close to tears because, after a mere six months of doing the social round, she was unable to fit into her newly acquired expensive and extensive wardrobe. It was not a new situation for her: she had a constant running battle with her figure and would look at me with horror as I knocked back the Mars bars and cocktails. Life was just unfair, though on the other hand, as I endeavoured to console her, she had every excuse to ask her husband for some new clothes. And as everyone knows, when one puts on a bit of weight one’s shoe size goes up proportionately, which somehow makes the handbag look all wrong too. Not many men realise the crosses we women have to bear. Our lives are one constant struggle.

She should attempt to lose a couple of kilos and request some new outfits. What’s a couple of missed lunches and a glass or three less than usual compared to a whole new wardrobe?

The jewellery will be the wrong colour too.

Never forget the details.

     Ok guys - you can find all the blurb about who the hell I am on

and that took me about a week to sort. Technologically challenged me, but here is the more immediate reason as to why I am blogging. Or hope I am.

Broke a foot. A rather large and surprisingly heavy horse saw fit to go beserk in the middle of a forest last weekend and subsequently fell on top of me. I proceeded, obviously, to haul myself back into the saddle and hack the hour and a half back to the stables, thereby transforming what had probably been a simple fracture into something a little more complicated. I then opted for being nailed together and wearing a boot for a month, as opposed to having to spend far longer scratching the inside of a plaster cast with a knitting needle. This former solution, I am assured, will have me back in the saddle and lobbing tennis balls over a net (or, more frequently, into nearby car parks,) in double quick time, though in the meantime I am discovering that I am total rubbish at manipulating a pair of crutches without falling over backwards.
Working on this skill. And blogging and preparing my next book. And sending bags of carrots anonymously to above-mentioned animal who, I am thrilled to report, is fit as a fiddle and galloping round her field with an expression which clearly says
"Who, ME?"

“Call me,” I messaged my girlfriend.
“Let’s talk, since I’m not really going anywhere. For the next week or so.”
She’s housebound and hobbling around on crutches too. 
“Good idea,” she types back.
“Let’s chat over the weekend……..what is a weekend? Same table, same chair, same sofa, same bed.”
So right, I thought. So I accepted an invitation out to dinner and it rained.
So what, you regular bipeds out there will be thinking. Yawn. Is she going to turn this into a weather forecast? Let me tell you why this meteorological fact is so important to an amateur crutch user. I was invited to dinner next door. This merely involved getting out of the front door, hobbling down my path and up their identical path. Piece of cake.

Terracotta. Wet.

When my six month old Beagle puppy first set eyes on ducks in the park, she couldn’t believe her luck. They didn’t even fly away, just waddled unconcernedly straight back into, or rather onto, the pond. It was midwinter and frozen solid. Puppy flew straight onto the ice in hot pursuit and went SPLAT! All four paws pointing to all four points of the compass, tummy flat on the ice. Look of total bewilderment, and believe me, Beagles don’t often do bewilderment. Guilt yes, not bewilderment.

So there I am, negotiating with grace and precision my front door step when I hit this wet terracotta. Left crutch skids off to the left, right one in the opposite direction. Me left hanging on to the doorknob by my chin. Another 250 steps to go and the pasta is congealing. It is not in the best interests of neighbourliness to allow pasta to congeal in Italy.

Working on having a better relationship with that table, chair, sofa and bed until the rain dries up. Not with the crutches, though. I know when something is out to get me and am relegating them to WMD status.

Back to writing. Much less dangerous

*plagiarised from my own fictional autobiography: "Sorting the Priorities - Ambassadress and Beagle survive Diplomacy"