Category Archives: Diary

Do what’s urgent and leave the rest till later


Recently I attacked  the final knotty problems to prepare the Money Stuff international $ edition, which is metric, for readers in the USA and the rest of the world. This is only available outside the UK because of Apple’s copyright situation.

The last problems are always the ones that take three times longer than you expect. Because I was dreading them, my son Sebastian said that I should take five of the problems, put them in any order and do the one at the top!

I’ve always worked in businesses where priorities change constantly and many find this difficult to deal with. My mantra has always been “do what’s urgent and leave the rest till later” – this week ‘later’ came, and I’ve been sorting out my office – all the filing and even organising the pens!

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M is for Money

M is for Money

Megan Powell Vreeswijk

Megan Powell Vreeswijk


Megan Powell Vreeswijk, the entrepreneurial advisor at Loughborough University, she is also as one of Nesta’s accredited Creative Enterprise Trainers for the British Council. Megan runs the very exciting project at Loughborough called The Studio.

Loughborough is a designers’ university and its students are inventors. Megan advises students on how to make the most of their inventions: how to commercialise them, market them and how to set up their own companies.

Megan offers an online weekly consultation for students. This will lead to an e-book,for first-year students on how to help them to look after their money. It will be called ‘M is for Money’. It’s part of a series of student ebooks, the first of which was called ‘U is for University’.

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A week free of interruptions

A week free of interruptions

Cannizaro House

Cannizaro House

Last week I left home and went to Cannizaro House in Wimbledon to a place recommended by my taxi driver. It’s an utterly wonderful 18th Century house with grounds open to the public and I could see children of two or three with their mothers tottering around on their way to the park. This was to give me a week free of interruptions in order to finish the international dollar edition of Money Stuff. I had a good rest into the bargain.

Evelyn Waugh's Scoop

Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop

I took quite a lot of books with me. Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop – something light that would make me laugh – and Michael Frayn’s Towards the End of the Morning. I  took Jane Austin’s Mansfield Park, which I didn’t read.

I also took a book by the mother of my school friend, politician  Shirley Williams, Testament of Youth, by Vera Brittain.

She was an early feminist and pacifist. She had a job persuading her parents to let her work.

Vera Brittain

Vera Brittain

I also watched Kate Adie’s Women of World War One on BBC Two which was about women taking up men’s work during the war. We owe a lot to those women – when taking on a mortgage, for example – they paved the way for us.

I had a long email from a Jewish friend in Australia about the situation in Gaza. We had a long email correspondence and I thought afterwards that both sides have grievances but it’s about time it was defined as a modern, not a medieval matter. Killing doesn’t get you very far but destroys too many young men and families.

The troubles in the Middle East and the Balkans, as it was known, are all caused by the indiscriminate carving up of countries after world war one, by drawing lines on a map without taking any account of natural land boundaries, the language spoken or what Gods they prayed to.

I came home to find all my in trays full again.

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Dr Samantha Callan, stayed overnight. She’s an anthropologist and a director of the Centre for Social Justice. She says that staying with me is “like going home to mum”. I try to give her breakfast in bed when she stays, but she starts work at 5am!

Samantha is a joy to work with and worked with me on Money Stuff. Samantha was the first person I contacted – I was interested in understanding body language. I would take her to meetings with ministers. Before we went in she would tell me what physical signs to look for, to see if they were interested. At the first meeting I almost collapsed with laughter as the minister did everything Samantha predicted!

Tuesday .

Caitlin Moran generously gave me and my friend,  design writer Janet Fitch, free tickets to her last gig at Union Chapel in Islington. Caitlin was her usual amazing self. She held the stage for two hours, and was very funny. It was such an impressive performance. I felt privileged to be there in the second row. Afterwards, the queue for her book signing went round the church and outside,  around it.

Wednesday .

I had my monthly talk with my M.E. mentor, Alex Howard. He has had M.E. since he was 18. When you have M.E. you have to do what the virus wants you to do. It’s always unexpected and no one can predict where it will strike you or when. My life, at the moment, is on a danger line – after the Maths Anxiety Trust launch I had to deal with huge amounts of attention, plus talk to education people. There was no question of putting it off.


  Treat of the week was lunch with Antonia Fraser who has recently been made a Companion of Honour by Her Majesty The Queen. I said that it was a pity that Harold wasn’t here to see this, and she replied that she didn’t think Harold would care but her mother would have.

Antonia was looking very pretty in mauve, an Edwardian colour that has fallen out of fashion, but is very flattering. We talked about what authors generally talk about: agents, tours, publishers. But also online publicity, which is just as important these days.

Antonia is is very disciplined – she had to be,  with six children – and she can only work from order.  She has a big,  beautiful  QUIET  work room in which she writes  but she does all her housekeeping work at a desk in  a niche from her rose-patterned bedroom.



Worked with Caroline Shott, Chair of the Learning Skills Foundation. The Foundation is working to introduce teachers to scientists who are making discoveries in the brain. Neuroscientists can work with teachers to look at ways to make learning better geared to their needs. It sound boring but it explains why teenagers – previously normal human beings – can’t get up before 11am.



I’ve booked my yearly trip to The Abbey in Penzance, run by the first  international model- and still turning heads – Jean Shrimpton. She has exquisite taste and the hotel is stunning,  with views of Penzance Harbour on one side, and the blue walled gardens with its privet hedges on the other side.

Each bedroom suite is individually furnished with beautiful pictures and antiques:  The Abbey is more luxurious and comfortable than many a stately home.

I can get to a romantic beach without the horrors of an airport that can exhaust me before I start a trip.  Then there’s no jet lag.  I simply get on  train at Paddington Station,  have a good read and get off at Penzance,  where Jean whisks me of to a strawberries tea with clotted cream-and-scones in the quiet of an elegant drawing room .

The Abbey is available to rent – and it’s the perfect place for a family occasion.

The Abbey , Penzance

The Abbey, Penzance




I visited Sophie Conran’s charming new website. I see Sophie as a more-sophisticated Cath Kidston with good taste – I ordered some raspberry linen napkins, knowing that they would be the right shade of raspberry. My connection with Sophie is that she’s part of my extended family – the half-sister of my sons, Sebastian and Jasper,  and the daughter of my first husband by his third wife.I hope that’s clear.

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Why no progress in 50 years?

Why no progress in 50 years?

The Palace of Westminster. Photograph by Eleanor Bentall

The Palace of Westminster. Photograph by Eleanor Bentall

I seemed to spend recent months head down, at my office being a first-time publisher, but my diary proves there was plenty of fun.

My maths course, MONEY STUFF, was successfully tested at Loughborough University, which has a reputation for being ahead of the trend. Then dynamic Nicky Morgan MP for Loughborough, invited me to the House of Commons for the launch of Loughborough University’s extension leap into London, at the Olympic village. Student displays of their work were impressive. I particularly liked a new take on the life belt – a tiny, light, engine-powered raft that a lifeguard can use to tow a swimmer in distress. Turn on the engine, point it at the beach and up to four people in danger of drowning can be safely towed ashore.


I spent a magical evening in the Orangery of Kensington Palace, hosted by Justine Picardie, for Harpers Bazaar UK magazine. All went as smoothly as a royal function. Also present was Lucy Worsley, TV historian with the mischievous schoolgirl grin and the ability to make history sit up and chat to you. When talking to you alone, Lucy (pictured below) is just as witty and entertaining as she is on TV.

Lucy Worsley

While we drank champagne and nibbled, Lucy and Justine sat on bar stools – difficult to do with elegance – and talked about the fashion collection from royal wardrobes, housed at Kensington Palace. Then we all walked over to the Palace to see some of the 1950’s clothes of H.M. The Queen and her sister, H.R.H. Princess Margaret.

Many of the exquisite gowns were made by Normal Hartwell who, together with photographer Cecil Beaton, created the fairy-tale-but-cosy family brand of George VI who hurriedly replaced his brother, that naughty King Edward VIII who couldn’t do his duty without a hard-boiled, American divorcee, Mrs Simpson, to hold his hand, etcetera, so abdicated.

Cecil Beaton brands the Royals

Cecil Beaton brands the Royals

Eleanor Bentall dropped by for coffee and to show me her brilliant photographs. My favourite was this portrait of Beryl Bainbridge (see below). We agreed that at sometime, Eleanor will photograph me, but she’s currently booked for months ahead.

Photograph by Eleanor Bentall

Photograph by Eleanor Bentall

It was sad at the funeral of 83-year-old Patrick Seale, the foremost expert on Syrian history, past wars and the present ones. After Patrick’s funeral – standing room only in the chapel – I felt energyless and depressed. I kept telling myself that I had been lucky to know him, but that didn’t help, so I remembered our adventures.

I met Patrick when he was European editor of The Observer and I was fashion editor. Back then, you were only allowed to take £50 a year out of Britain, unless you were going abroad on business. My French cash for the trip didn’t come through in time, so I caught the plane to Paris with a weird collection of cash – francs, lire, kopeks, zloty – that the accounts department hurriedly produced. Once in Paris (see below), Patrick sorted out the money and proved the ideal companion.

Eiffel Tower, Paris

A couple of years later, Patrick became a literary agent, around the time I was forced to leave Fleet Street because of a chronic illness. Now unable to earn, I could no longer afford home help and found that books on housekeeping were stodgy, often unhelpful and sometimes wrong. So I chatted to plumbers, electricians, house painters and butlers, in order to learn how to do it from the horse’s mouth.

One evening Patrick phoned; his voice always sounded as if the two of you shared some fantastic secret. He said, “I’ve sold your book!”

I said, “What book?”

“Your book on housework!”

“But I’ve only written notes for myself.”

“I have the cheque in my pocket.”

“I’m writing a book.”

And that is how I came to write Superwoman, a book on how to minimise housework. I was attacked both by feminists and women who felt I was depriving them of their purpose, and so their identity, leaving their life empty and meaningless. So I wrote another book on what to do with the time you save by minimising housework.

Suffragettes in an early Equality struggle with the Law

An early Equality struggle with the Law

Later, remembering those feminist attacks, I phoned my close friend Peter York. Peter is the boss of Social Research Unit, and I had a social question for him. “What’s happening to feminism?” I asked, “It seems to be advancing all over the world but in Britain, where the Equal Pay gap is widening.”

Nearly fifty years ago, I sat with four other journalists in somebody’s bedsitter as Anne Sharply [Evening Standard] collected 50p from each of us to start Women in Media, with the Third Wave of Feminism.

I was responsible for all British Media coverage. Quickly, Women in Media grew to 300 journalists lobbying for equal opportunity and equal pay for work of equal value – and soon this became the law.

But fifty years later women still do not have equal pay or equal opportunity – even at the BBC, which is a public institution paid for by our equal taxes. Sexist behaviour and speech is still condoned as ‘laddish’ or ‘banter’ – whatever that is – that women should take as a compliment. We don’t need such compliments: we need equal pay. People normally get fined or put in prison for disobeying the law: why is this not happening to all directors of Footsie 100 public companies?

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