March 30, 2005
Mink Earring Case
Center divider to keep your earrings separated and individually cosseted.
Comes in white, pink or brown.
3" x 4".
The price? Who knows? If you have to ask you probably can't afford it.
But you can make an inquiry here.
Stylish storage and stowage for serious sirens.
What you put in it is up to you.
But please, be careful: I cannot afford to lose even one reader for any reason, much less a self-inflicted one.
TravelPost.com — Interactive travel diaries and maps
Interesting concept, still in beta: you post stuff like reviews, where you've been, where you'd like to go, etc.
Keep it private or share — it's your call.
Read what others say about places and things, ask for help or advice.
Sort of like a bulletin board, actually.
Launched in December of last year.
'Can a Dead Politician Sell a House?'
In this case the politician is Winston Churchill and the house is where the great man lived just prior to becoming prime minister during World War II.
Rachel Halliburton wrote a most interesting story for the March 26 Financial Times about how the association with Churchill does not seem to mean a whole lot in Britain as far as increasing the value of the property.
James Taylor, who as sales manager for the Chelsea branch of estate agent Jackson Stops & Staff is marketing it, said in the article that "a famous name might add 5% to a flat or house price, but certainly not 20%."
That is the opposite of the case in the U.S., at least when it comes to movie and television stars.
I have read story after story over the years reporting on the sale of unremarkable homes in ordinary settings for much, much more than they would have brought if Elvis hadn't lived there, or Marilyn Monroe.
I guess the British just aren't as star-struck as los Americanos.
Here's the Financial Times story.
- Can a Dead Politician Sell a House?
The discreet gentility of Morpeth Mansions belies the fact that it was the setting for one of the most dramatic moments in 20th-century politics.
The elegant red-brick Victorian block is hidden on a quiet street behind Westminster Cathedral.
A short walk from Buckingham Palace in one direction and the Houses of Parliament in the other, the flats have long attracted leading politicians and international businessmen.
But one is of particular historical importance: it is the place where Winston Churchill formally opposed prime minister Neville Chamberlain's disastrous policy of appeasing Hitler.
An electric storm was raging when a small group of rebel Conservative politicians gathered at 11 Morpeth Mansions on September 2 1939.
All were outraged that in spite of the Nazi advance through Poland, Chamberlain had made a speech in the House of Commons arguing that Hitler might be persuaded to withdraw his troops.
Churchill had until recently been exiled from government, but for more than a decade he had been predicting the dangers of allowing Germany to build up full military strength.
A thunderclap shook the flat as he read out a letter he had written to the prime minister that evening, urging him not to shrink from declaring war.
How much would you pay to be associated with such a moment?
The flat is on the market for £2m, and James Taylor, sales manager of the Chelsea branch of estate agent Jackson Stops & Staff, does think potential buyers will be interested in the Churchill element as well as the bricks and mortar.
"We've had quite a lot of Americans looking around who've been interested in the historic connection," he reports.
"There have also been a serious numbers of enquiries from politicians.
I'm not at liberty to say who, but two are former Cabinet members, and one is in the House of Lords at the moment."
Peter Sheppard, a designer, chairman of the Catholic Herald and present occupant of the flat, thinks that living in a home owned by a famous historic figure is "like lineage".
It's like having a posh father or ancestor - you may not have known Churchill, but you definitely are connected to him. This is the most important place he lived, apart from Chartwell - he went from 11 Downing Street to here, and from here to the Admiralty and 10 Downing Street. This is where he would have walked from to see Edward VIII for the abdication crisis in 1936. He would have taken calls from the President of the United States in the room that is now my dining room."
Of course, both Taylor and Sheppard are realistic about how much these associations will amount to financially.
In the past Taylor has been involved with the sale of the Earls Court flat where Princess Diana was living when she met Prince Charles, and the house in Flood Street where Margaret Thatcher was based when she became Tory leader.
From both experiences, he concludes that while a historic connection "helps enormously with our job of getting people to see the property, it's not like selling a work of art".
Because something's signed, for instance, by Damien Hirst, you can add a nought to the price - but that doesn't work with property," he adds.
A famous name might add 5 per cent to a flat or house price, but certainly not 20 per cent. In the hard day's business of buying and selling a property, people just won't pay a premium."
Churchill has certainly dominated Sheppard's time in the flat, even if his decision to buy it 10 years ago had more to do with the property's intrinsic value.
Biographies of the politician and memorabilia (including a cigar) fill the study, and the house bubbly is Pol Roger because it was Churchill's favourite champagne.
Ranged over two floors, with close-up views of Westminster Cathedral, the flat covers 2,758 sq ft, and now has three interconnecting reception rooms.
Sheppard admits that the distinctively modernised property looks very different now to the way it did when Churchill was there.
The hallway resembles a Venetian street, complete with pillars and stonework; the compact kitchen is a foodie's delight; and a new stairway at the end of the entrance corridor is a distinct improvement on the small spiral staircase that Churchill used to squeeze up to his study.
But he thinks innovation is appropriately Churchillian: "there's an anecdote that when he was at Chequers, someone found him painting over a Rubens. His explanation was that he didn't think Rubens had got the foot quite right."
Dawn Carritt, who works with the Mayfair branch of Jackson Stops & Staff, points out that it's now quite rare to find a property owned by a famous historical figure in London.
Of course, others do exist; for example, Elizabeth Lord, a Knightsbridge-based private property consultant, is currently selling a family house in Brompton Square where the Symbolist poet Mallarmé lived.
But many have been turned into museums, and, says Carritt, "a lot of properties owned by affluent people would either have been bombed in World War II, or have been deemed impractical for modern living, and converted into flats and offices."
It would seem, therefore, that while historic links cannot be precisely quantified in terms of money, they are both a qualitative and an emotional investment.
Buying a flat with a prominent story is - to a degree - to gain intimacy with the past.
"Often when you go to a country house," remarks Sheppard happily, "people will say 'This is the room Churchill slept in.' And I want to say, 'Well I sleep in his bedroom every night.'"
MorphWorld: [The voices of] Taffy Nivert and Kate Pierson
Taffy Nivert (above and just below)
Last night, while I was listening to R.E.M.'s "Me in Honey" about a hundred times — can you tell I must really like the song? — I decided to really make an effort to find out who the female singer is on the song behind/beside Michael Stipe, as she's got such a great voice.
And on that song she sounds exactly like Taffy Nivert did singing harmony on "Take Me Home, Country Roads."
I mean, I knew it couldn't possibly be Taffy Nivert, but who was it?
So I told the crack research team to drop everything and find out.
The answer, obtained on a cached Google page from USA Today in 2001, in an online chat conducted by the paper's "Pop Candy" columnist Whitney Matheson: Kate Pierson (below).
Here's how big my ignorance is: only by further research did I learn that she was one of the B-52s.
How dumb is that, I mean?
Is there anyone else on the planet still able to fog a mirror who doesn't know that?
Anyhow, that explains the big, vibrant voice on "Me in Honey," and of course it's only logical since both R.E.M. and the B-52s hail from Athens, Georgia.
See, my ignorance is great, but not limitless.
Another mystery solved.
Net-a-Porter.com — Real fashion goes virtual
Nearly every great designer on the planet is featured on this very stylish and nicely done website.
You order it, and they'll ship it – anywhere.
And I mean anywhere.
Your purchases are delivered in an elegant, beribboned black box.
The site was created in 1999 by Natalie Massenet, a former fashion editor who "wanted to create an interactive fashion magazine."
She's succeeded, big-time.
From Chloé to Calvin Klein to Christian Louboutin, this site has it.
Oh, yeah, one more thing — better bring plenty of money when you visit, 'cause it's gonna cost.
[via Agnes Greenhall and the New York Times]
Khushwant Singh — India's Living Treasure
Yes, I know that India doesn't formally recognize such people as does Japan but if India did, Khushwant Singh (above) would be in the initial group of those so designated.
For those of you who may not recognize the name — and if that is the case you are certainly not Indian — he is, at age 90, India's most celebrated man of letters.
Every week the author of "The Train to Pakistan,"
considered by many the best novel ever written about the terrible partition of India in 1947, writes his celebrated newspaper column: "With Malice Towards One and All."
In the past five years, since turning 85, he's brought out four books, including his gripping autobiography.
Edward Luce of The Financial Times recently interviewed the great man at his home in New Delhi.
The hugely moving and amusing result appeared in the March 19 issue, and follows.
- Memory Man
I had twice confirmed my appointment with Khushwant Singh, India's most celebrated man of letters.
But I still paused for a moment after reading the sign outside his door: Only ring the bell if you are expected.
We were to meet for lunch.
But New Delhi's most mischievous nonagenarian instead asked me to come to his home one evening, since he had been in and out of hospital all week with bad knees and other ailments.
I poked my head gingerly around the door.
An old man, wearing a woolly hat in place of the traditional Sikh turban, was sitting beside a crackling log fire.
There was a tartan blanket covering most of his body.
"Ah - do come in, I was expecting you, do pour yourself a whisky," said Khushwant, indicating a drinks tray.
"I've had a terrible week," he continued.
"They forced me into a wheelchair in the hospital and everyone ogled at me. It was terribly humiliating. Now I am on a heavy course of antibiotics. Would you be so kind as to pour me a very stiff whisky?"
I laughed and said only if I could have a large rum.
I held up the crystal tumbler so he could stop me when I had poured the right amount.
"It's a complete myth about not mixing alcohol with antibiotics," he said with authority.
The Black Label was approaching the halfway mark.
"No, a little more, if you please," said Khushwant, with a faint hint of remonstration.
"Yes, that's more like it."
There was still room for a drop or two of soda in the glass.
Thankfully, there is still plenty of room in India's newspapers and on New Delhi's bookstands for the Khushwant Singh byline.
Although he is 90, and suffering from "a declining body, impaired vision, impaired hearing and soon, no doubt, mental degeneration", Khushwant's output, both written and spoken, remains uninterrupted.
Every week the author of "Train to Pakistan" - probably the best fiction to come out of India's terrible partition of 1947 and one of the most moving novels I have ever read - writes his celebrated newspaper column: "With Malice Towards One and All".
In the past five years Khushwant has brought out four books: a gripping autobiography; a political tirade against Hindu nationalism; the sixth in his popular series of joke books; and a collection of obituaries he has penned over the years, some of them highly irreverent.
"I have never been reverent," Khushwant explains, as we nurse our tumblers.
His homely flat, which is on the ground floor of a redbrick complex, was built by his father, Sir Sobha Singh, a builder commissioned by the British in the 1920s to construct much of imperial New Delhi.
"If you're born irreverent you don't worry about what people's reaction will be. You can tell them to go to hell. You either write what comes out of your genuine self or you don't write at all."
Khushwant's writing is rarely free of sex and sometimes even borders on the smutty.
Yet it is never, even now, anything other than crisp, to the point, well crafted and thought-provoking.
There is probably not a judge or cabinet minister in the country who doesn't read his column.
It contains an inimitable mixture of serious politics, rank gossip, risque jokes, Urdu poetry and the occasional character assassination - often fatal.
Will he ever lose the impulse to write, I ask?
Although he was briefly, before Partition, a lawyer practising criminal law in Lahore (having studied at the Inner Temple in London), and also a diplomat posted in London and Ottawa for several years after independence, Khushwant pleads poverty of attributes.
He also misunderstands the question.
"I don't know what else I can do," he says, looking wistful.
"I have no other skills. I have to do something. I can't cook and I can't garden. I can only scribble."
But even now, I say, in an attempt to shift back to his age, you fall out with friends over what you write.
"Oh, always," Khushwant says.
He tells me to pick up the next issue of a magazine in which he has reviewed a book by Shobha De, a glamorous Mumbai-based columnist and author of steamy novels.
I tell him you can text- message a Shobha De number on your mobile and receive an endless stream of "love tips" in return.
Khushwant lets out a full- throated, prolonged chuckle.
"Oh you must read the review," he says.
"I have made fun of her in the most merciless way."
I did. He has.
But Khushwant is also living proof that you can combine the serious with the frivolous, without one contaminating the other.
Although Partition was 58 years ago and it is 20 years since thousands of Sikhs were massacred after the murder of Indira Gandhi, India's prime minister, by her Sikh bodyguards, Khushwant's hatred of communalism and religious intolerance is as sharp as ever.
I ask him if he is feeling more optimistic after last year's general election, in which the Hindu-nationalist BJP was unexpectedly ejected from office.
Khushwant tells me about a little-known episode in the 1960s when he was persuaded by L.K. Advani, the BJP's deputy prime minister until last year, to sign his electoral nomination papers.
Khushwant did so because he saw the young Mr Advani as "clean, honest and able".
Nowadays Mr Advani is Khushwant's bete noire, as the chief architect, in his view, of India's most recent phase of communal hatred.
A few years ago, Khushwant confronted Mr Advani in public.
"I said, 'Mr Advani, I will never get this chance again. You remember I signed your nomination papers? I did not understand your real agenda. You sowed the seeds of communal hatred in this country. You are a puritan: you neither drink nor womanise. Such men are dangerous.' There were gales of laughter."
Our chat is interrupted by the entrance of Naina, Khushwant's twenty-something granddaughter, whose birthday it is the following day.
Khushwant creases into an affectionate smile.
"Your present is on the mantelpiece," he says.
"Go on, it only comes around once a year," says Khushwant.
Naina picks up the cheque.
"Well I suppose it's extravagant by your standards," she says, struggling to conceal a smile.
I felt an urge to ask Khushwant about Delhi, the ancient city in which he grew up before the British (assisted by Khushwant's father) built the new one.
In those days Delhi's population was fewer than 200,000.
Today it is 15 million.
Khushwant used to bicycle the 10 miles from what is now central Delhi to the ancient monument of Qutb Minar without seeing one person.
Now he would pass three or four million.
Most 90-year-olds have an odd relationship with time, I supposed.
But yours must be unusually perplexing.
"It is fresh in my memory like yesterday," Khushwant said.
He mentioned Sunder Nagar, a pleasant housing estate round the corner.
"I remember in what is now Sunder Nagar, I used to see herds of deer, occasionally a leopard or a tiger, and wild boars," he said, his voice softening.
"Every summer in Delhi after the first monsoon shower, the night was alive with the croaking of frogs and fireflies. They are all gone. And moths, the whole place there was an absolute cloud of moths. All gone. And snakes. I think the last snake that I saw in Delhi was 10 years ago."
But this is inevitable, I said.
Delhi is the capital of a continent-sized country.
"I just sit back and watch," he said. "This is for the next generation, not for me."
And what is in store for Khushwant?
Usually I would be reluctant to ask someone about their mortality, but Khushwant has never been shy of asking anyone about anything.
Khushwant was also a founder member of India's Die with Dignity, a lobby group for euthanasia.
Earlier, we had briefly been interrupted by Heidi, a German friend, who, before leaving, held Khushwant very closely, as if saying goodbye for the last time.
He told her: "If it reaches the stage where nurses are putting bedpans under my bottom, I am not going to hang around."
Did you mean what you said, I asked?
Khushwant looked solicitous.
"I have been trying to find out where people buy cyanide capsules, where terrorists get them - as soon as the police catch them they swallow them. I don't think you can go to a chemist and ask for cyanide. Do you know how to get some?"
I did not.
Nor was I entirely sure that he was joking.
But he was enjoying the topic.
"Somebody told me the thing to do is use gas: is that the quickest? But where do you get the right gas?"
We were both, by now, laughing over his conundrum, although the humour, I felt, was a mask.
He continued: "If I became totally dependent, I wouldn't want to live. A time will come when you think enough is enough."
I felt we had also given enough to the topic.
And it was nearing 8pm, when all visitors, expected or otherwise, are required to leave Khushwant in peace for the rest of the evening.
But I had to slip in a final question.
Apologising for the cliche, I asked what moments in Khushwant's life he dwelt on most?
This is a man who has befriended and made enemies of prime ministers.
He has edited distinguished newspapers and received honorary doctorates the world over.
Khushwant did not even pause.
"Oh that's easy," he said.
"I think about all the opportunities I missed of seducing women because I didn't have the nerve. Some of them were more than willing, as they told me later: 'You are such an ass,' they said. 'I was waiting for you to do something.' They tell me now because I can't take advantage of the opportunity."
Helpless with laughter or rum, or both, I bade Khushwant goodbye.
His parting comments - I had no doubt - were made in total earnest.
Not a fictional superhero, but a real person.
And it could be you.
Look at the pictures above.
They depict ordinary people like you and me climbing vertical walls without ropes, without pitons, without assistance, in real life.
How are they doing it, you ask?
What is GekkoMat?
It is an invention that mimics the gecko's style of clinging to vertical or overhanging walls.
I find it fascinating.
Many companies, among them Dupont and 3M, are pouring tons of money into research attempting to create a commercial adhesive product that works using the same principle.
Scientists at the University of Manchester have succeeded in producing what they call "Gekko Glue", a liquid which they characterize as "Velcro without the need for an opposite," but it's not ready for prime time just yet.
How to become a 'secret shopper'
Barbara Whitaker wrote an interesting article for the March 13 New York Times Business section on this specialized niche of retail.
"Secret shoppers" do just that: they go to businesses and act like ordinary customers, but they're actually gathering data to compile into a detailed report for the company that employs them.
A secret shopper can make $25,000 to $35,000 a year working full-time, based on a reimbursement rate of $7 to $30 a visit, plus a stipend to cover the cost of purchases.
Cathy Stucker, who has written a book on mystery shopping and has a free internet course at IdeaLady.com, said in the Times article, "You don't get rich as a mystery shopper. It's a way to make money doing something we enjoy."
It seems to me that there is a small group of individuals who would be perfect candidates for this job.
They would have the following personality characteristics:
• Don't mind crowds
• Tending toward obsessiveness: detail-oriented
• Enjoy being secretive and knowing something others don't
• Like being critical
• Possess a goodly amount of self-control
• Prefer not to interact too intensely with others
• Would rather make their own schedule; self-directed
• Don't take orders or direction very well
If you have a number of these traits you might want to look into trying this: after all, you don't have to quit your day job or anything to see if it suits.
Here are places to find out more: