A tribute to ‘9’ – Debo Mitford, 1920 – 2014

It seems strange to mourn the passing of a public figure like Deborah Mitford, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire who died today, aged 94. How can you feel upset over the loss of someone you didn’t really know? But if you admire someone’s work, or the way they carry themselves, then it does feel like loss. I admired Debo because she seemed like an ordinary person who lived through extraordinary times, surrounded by colossal personalities. By ‘ordinary’ I don’t mean banal or uninteresting, but rather human and relatable.

Because of the family she was born into and the man she fell in love with and married, her path crossed those of some titanic Twentieth Century figures, from Hitler and Churchill to JFK and Evelyn Waugh. But she wasn’t crushed by the historic events and personalities who often overshadowed her own private life, which included pain and loss just like anyone else. Beautiful and clever (despite the nickname her sister Nancy gave her – ‘9’ – denoting her supposed mental age), she was also a realist who pragmatically coped with any situation she found herself in.

debo

Eminently practical, when crippling death duties threatened the very existence of Chatsworth – the house that came with the husband (Andrew, Duke of Devonshire), she simply rolled up her sleeves and set to work devising a way to save the estate – kickstarting the great British pursuit of visiting stately homes and buying produce in their farm shops. From her writing and her rare filmed appearances you could discern a dry sense of humour and a quirky streak – as evidenced by her obsession with Elvis Presley and lifelong affection for chickens.

I would recommend reading In Tearing Haste – a collection of letters between Debo and Paddy Leigh Fermor, edited by Charlotte Moseley. While Paddy’s letters are lyrical, poetic sketches of exotic places, Debo’s are fabulously gossipy, often prosaic, dashed off in a hurry – and all the more entertaining for it. She reveals the highs and lows of managing her estate, her family, their eccentric and enormous circle of friends and because this is correspondence between two lifelong friends, between the in jokes you get real insight into their personalities.

It has been said that Debo was one of the last of her kind – an aristocrat who lived her life on the world stage and had great responsibilities on her shoulders, yet somehow stubbornly retained a sense of freedom and independence. It’s not only that she was born into a world of privilege and had access to famous figures and great wealth – she was much more than her title and her background, as anyone who ever met her will attest.

She belonged to a generation that endured loss through war but didn’t complain. Generous, thoughtful and dignified, Debo was the last of the (in)famous Mitford sisters and by going her own quiet way and being that rarest of things – a thoroughly good egg – her legacy may well endure longer than any of her controversial, colourful siblings. She earned the respect and affection of everyone who knew her and many who didn’t, including me.


Take my shoes off and throw them in the lake

kate bush ticket

Sitting in my seat admiring the art deco splendour of the Hammersmith Apollo, I really had no idea what to expect from Kate Bush’s return to the stage after 35 years. As she walked onto the stage the emotion in the audience was palpable and she was clearly delighted by it and responded graciously and gratefully. Any worries that she might be nervous or stiff performing were soon dispelled as she launched into an energetic and evocative rendition of Hounds of Love, note-perfect and immediately, amazingly bringing back all sorts of happy emotions from my childhood – a kind of musical muscle memory.

Kate Bush

I found myself wondering, how did she get to be so confident? This woman who was writing songs like The Man With the Child In His Eyes and Wuthering Heights as a teenager and bringing them to life with such fearless vision. Where does that imagination and absolute conviction come from? All the snide comments about how she’s – gasp, clutch skirts – grown older makes my blood boil. No, she isn’t a teenager anymore, she’s a grown woman with a teenage son of her own (who performs with terrifying confidence, he is truly his mother’s son). But you can easily see the ghost of that eerily precocious, creative girl in the woman today – there’s the same strength and sweetness in her face and that haunting, unique voice remains pure and clear as a bell.

kate bush live

**I didn’t break the ‘no photos’ rule btw, this is an official pic!**

It also struck me that Kate Bush is totally, absolutely English and this performance – right down to the ever so slightly am-drammy bits – could only ever happen in England. You could’t imagine Kate Bush shakin’ her booty ‘in da club’ – she’d more likely be striding across bleak grey fells in a stout jersey or hamming it up in a unitard. She’s goofy, eccentric, never cynical or arch and I think that’s part of the reason people are bewitched by the music she makes – her lyrics and those dreamy soundscapes are often challenging, sometimes downright weird, but because she offers them with such honesty, you have to respect her. That and she writes a bloody good pop song.

In that respect she makes me think of other ‘out there’ female artists – the likes of Bjork, Tori Amos, Paloma Faith – they charm their fans because they are unselfconscious, there’s no pretension. They couldn’t care less about being ‘cool’ or ‘sexy’ – and by virtue of that fact (and because they are insanely talented) they are infinitely more attractive than any sad pop puppet. It’s not about age, size or whether someone is or isn’t conventionally attractive – it’s an innate quality, some charisma that you just can’t manufacture or fake.

I can’t really put into words how I felt seeing songs that are such a part of me performed live before my very eyes. Kate Bush has been an icon in the truest sense since I was small, reassuring me that it’s not only ok to be a bit weird and to stand apart from the mainstream, it’s actually something to embrace and celebrate. I will remain forever grateful to her for that knowledge, which I clung to like a lifebelt through choppy youthful waters, and for giving me a truly unique experience to treasure one night in Hammersmith.

Oh and some thoughts on gig-going etiquette:

If you have to go to the toilet three songs into a show maybe don’t drink so many pints?

And if you really need a drink so badly you have go to the bar in the middle of a once in a lifetime show you paid good money to see rather than wait til the intermission then you definitely have problems. FFS.

Also, please don’t ‘sexy dance’ at the Kate Bush concert. Or anywhere for that matter, but definitely not ever at the Kate Bush concert.


A midsummer night’s dream: style crushing on Puck

Have you seen BBC4’s newest Skandi crime drama Crimes of Passion? As is my way I’d decided I didn’t like the look of it based on the trailer, then caught the second episode and sheepishly had to admit that it is Really Rather Good. And the best thing about it is Puck Ekstedt and her amazing wardrobe. Yes the detective hero Christer Wijk looks like a smiley Don Draper and granted his best pal Eje is also a swoonesome Swede, but its Eje’s fiancee Puck who had me at hallå.

I’ve been a bit fed up with my style recently and Puck has saved me from the fashion doldrums. I didn’t want a total makeover you understand – that’s never advisable, both in terms of budget and just because the results are never entirely convincing (think of Tai in Clueless). No, I mean more of a refresh – using stuff I already own, just styled in a slightly different way, with a fresh silhouette. When you encounter a woman – whether real or fictional – whose look you really admire, it can help you rediscover the essence of what makes a good outfit – whether it’s the length of a trouser leg or the way a shirt sleeve is rolled just to the elbow – and even if you have a totally different style or body shape, you can incorporate that tiny detail into your own look and reboot it.

crimes of passion puck

Puck is an English lit student (like me!) Independent, brave, intuitive and emancipated (um, like me!), with piercing blue eyes (ok, not like me) that seem to burn into the soul of every suspect, ferreting out secrets large and small by intuition alone. And she wears the coolest clothes, in the most amazing way. High-waisted cigarette pants, crisp blouses with wide, flat collars and nippy little cardigans are perfectly suited to the fresh Swedish summer.

Her trademark outfit is clean, simple, elegant, chic – Katherine Hepburn with an indie twist. While the other women in the show are wafting around in full-skirted summer frocks or slinking about in pencil skirts, Puck can run, jump and bop aggressive men on the head in her boyish threads. She is the ultimate gamine crime fighter.

puck

Puck reminds me of Agatha Christie’s intrepid heroines – Tuppence Beresford (married to Tommy and foiler of Nazi plots and poisoners) and the stars of her spy novels like They Came to Baghdad and The Man in the Brown Suit. People sometimes think Agatha’s work begins with Poirot and ends with Miss Marple, but she wrote all these other amazing crime novels with some properly kickass young women running rings around international criminal masterminds, serial killers and the like. And chic, tomboyish Puck is just as fabulous.Christer-Dina-Puck-Einar

I’m definitely going to be watching the rest of this seriously good-looking series (if you have a thing for mid-century-modern Skandinavian furniture and quite frankly WHO DOESN’T? you will love it.) Crimes of Passion is on BBC4 on Saturday nights at 9pm.

REVIEW: Clothes, Music, Boys by Viv Albertine

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine

Note the chant of that title and how long it takes to type: that’s just the beginning of the uncompromising life story that Viv Albertine shares in her new book. Guitarist in The Slits, Laura Ashley model, musician, director, actor, artist, mother – she has had a fascinating fifty-nine years and there’s a lot more to talk about than being a girl in the punk world (but that’s a good place to start).

In CCCMMMBBB (Faber, £14.99) she scrapbooks her vividly recalled memories together and tacks on a helpful appendix at the end detailing the most crucial bits of her biography – what she was wearing, listening to and who she was seeing during each of her eras. Her unconventional path through creative careers, various lovers and finally motherhood makes for compelling reading and her story illuminates some of life’s joyous feminist contradictions.  It’s also worth mentioning that I haven’t read a book which so unashamedly and refreshingly reveals the secrets of the female bedroom since Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman, bedsheets, wardrobe, dressing table and all.

Albertine laments the fact that she had no female role models as a would-be guitarist in the late seventies, but luckily for us with this book she’s shown why she should be a heroine to every music-loving, clothes-obsessed, outsider girl out there.


Win a copy of The Well of Loneliness

CD1603 The Well of Loneliness COVER AW.inddThe reissue of Radclyffe Hall’s seminal lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness (£9.99, Hesperus Classics) is one of our March picks on our book blog over at Twin magazine. We have three copies of this new edition to give away so for your chance to win one, just email your name and address to [email protected] and we will pick three winners at random!


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