July 23. Dear Diary: C’est moi , Phyllis Stine. C’est moi . Remember you read it here first: The Eurostar is not for ladies with heavy baggage. Finalement , am on board and settled down enough to scribble thusly, but what an ordeal! Who knew you can’t check your bags at the Gare du Nord? Your bags stay with you! Escalators! There are a few porters, but it takes paperwork to get one, and lots of francs; the French love francs. Well, 18 Louis Vuitton bags and one Paris couture week later, here I am speeding through the French countryside en route to England, the land of all those generations. Told it is cold and damp there, am wearing black Chanel suit and fox and rabbit headpiece from recent Dior show.
The whole of Europe waiting for trains in the station. As I am a firm believer in the adage “If you pay peanuts you get monkeys,” I buy ticket for first-class carriage. Instead of monkeys, I get gorillas. British and American investment bankers in their mid-to-late 30’s, suit jackets off, dull neckties. Each and every one screaming down cellular telephones like they were calling in bids at a bachelor party.
“When’s the floor show?” I asked the banker sitting across from me.
You could have a field day mining the information you overhear if you understood business better. Something about an elf named Aquitaine driving a Ford? Goldman Sachs having a yen for Nestlé?
Yes, yes, Dear Diary, still “listening” for Hillary Clinton but also figured I could squeeze in a few days in England. Remember when I met the certain British aristocrat at the bar at the Ritz in Paris and he told me, “The way things are going in England even you, Phyllis Stine, could become a lady.” My mother always wanted me to become a lady.
July 24. Red alert, red alert: nothing to wear. Confusion about my reservation at Claridge’s when I arrived last night–no room at the inn–then I remembered my old pal Mr. Pepper was staying with his people outside London. Mr. Pepper’s people, all huge WASP’s from just about the oldest hive in Philadelphia, rented a suite of cottages through England’s National Trust for two weeks at nothing less than Hampton Court Palace. Called Mr. Pepper on his cell phone and he said come right over, there was plenty of room. Next thing, I was entering the gates of the former home to Henry VIII, under the conditions of an almost full moon, about 45 minutes in some direction from London along the Thames River. You never saw a place where you would want to hang your new Dior fox and rabbit hat more.
Woke up early. Put on Jean-Paul Gaultier lace sweater and tweed ostrich-feathered skirt and five-inch brown alligator Manolo Blahnik heels and proceeded to breakfast, thinking I looked more Stella Tennant than Stella Tennant. And Pepper’s people, including five enchanting children under the age of 9, looked at me aghast, as if I was naked. Big deal: The National Trust forbids you from wearing high heels as they worry about scratched floors. And they mean business. I’ll die if I wear flats, I said. They give me low blood pressure. But a rule’s a rule, especially at Hampton Court Palace, enriched with a history of beheadings.
Borrowed a pair of Pepper’s gym shorts, a T-shirt that read “I’d Rather Be Reading Jane Austen” and a pair of rubber flip-flops from his sister and hoped no one would see me. Piled into a car and went sightseeing in the countryside. To think 30 years ago I was bumbling in a Volkswagen bus to Woodstock. Now here I was piling into a Mercedes with five children dressed practically exactly the same. What a great mandala life is. Of course I adore children, but I didn’t know what to say when one of them asked about the little scars behind my ears.
“Oh, just some still slightly red badges of mother’s courage,” I fudged.
July 25. Everyone went off in different directions and I couldn’t stand another day in flats so have stayed in bed at the palace with books and magazines and lots of cuppas (cups of tea).
Yesterday we visited Painshill, an 18th-century garden with amusing grotto and, next, a wonderful country house called Polesdon Lacey, most recently owned by Mrs. Ronald Greville, a noted Edwardian hostess, but what’s the point? Nothing was for sale.
July 26. Rose early and headed right to the shops in London. Between Harvey Nichols and Voyage, by noon I was outfitted for the duration of my stay at Hampton Court Palace. Arrived at Manolo Blahnik’s shop on Old Church Street to find annual sale going on and long line. Sorry, but I had to do it: yelled “fire.” That worked. Bought seven pairs of low-heeled mules. Visited the Victoria and Albert Museum for exhibition of Victorian photographs by Clementina, Lady Hawarden–not for sale–and, then, went up to the Serpentine Gallery for exhibition of optical paintings by Bridget Riley, also not for sale. Told Pepper I thought it was a waste to spend time in a museum or art gallery when I could be “listening” for Hillary. Concerning art, sooner or later Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis will own everything, so I’ll see it there.
July 27. Bedtime. What a day. Began with long ride into Surrey and Sussex for more country-house tours because I wanted to be with the children, frankly. Wore a little shirt and short Ann Demuelemeester white skirt and low Manolo Blahnik mules. As far as I can tell the whole of Surrey is trying to be posh like Beverly Hills. Pepper a little cranky today and in big rush. Our loo break involved scampering into field beside the road where I was stung by slings and arrows of cruel nettles. And I just waxed in Paris!
Arrived at Arundel Castle just as Duke of Norfolk was having a walkabout. He’s a hale fellow, well met. Castle groaning with tourists. Midway through crammed picture gallery–nothing for sale, again–I became disoriented. Reached for helpful hands of Pepper’s people’s children and found myself surrounded, instead, by five offspring from another clan. Rising to the occasion before anyone started to cry, I instructed the children to sit in a circle around me and I would tell them a story.
“Once upon a time,” I began because it’s a very good place to begin with, “there was a little girl named Wallis …”
Billy’s List: Quiz time!
1. “Fir” is:
a. Prince Charles’ nickname for Prince William, who just started shaving.
b. Gallic for “man” and also name of Daryl K.’s first men’s wear collection.
c. the title of Björk’s new CD with cover photo by Pablo Alfaro.
2. Next for choreographer Matthew (Swan Lake ) Bourne is an all-male production of Bizet’s Carmen , who in this version works as which of the following?
a. A Paris fashion designer.
b. A British soccer player.
c. An American garage mechanic.
3. Who is Webbie Tookay?
a. The Beverly Hills cosmetologist who has perfected a system for hair replacement.
b. A digitally composed virtual fashion model represented by Elite in Europe and created in Sweden to resemble a cross between Tyra Banks and Isabelle Adjani.
c. He runs the canteen at Talk magazine.
Answers: (1) b; (2) c; (3) b.