ALEXANDRA SHULMAN’S NOTEBOOK: A cream tea and ginger beer… that’s real England
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been holidaying in Egypt, gratefully escaping the chaos in the real world.
Our guide to the temples and tombs was Ahmed, married to an Englishwoman who spends some of the year with her family in Shropshire.
He loves England, and has a special fondness for the historical buildings of the National Trust.
We compared the attitudes of our respective countries to our history. I explained that in Britain, there is now a great questioning of elements of our colonial past – several statues have been removed and the people who run the National Trust are placing a new focus on the origination of the wealth that was accumulated to build many of the great houses in its collection.
Ahmed was genuinely anguished. ‘Oh no!’ he exclaimed. ‘That will change everything. I go out to a National Trust garden with a scone and Devon cream and a ginger beer and I think, “This is England.” That’s all I want.’
Others may well sympathise.
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been holidaying in Egypt, gratefully escaping the chaos in the real world
How do I choose the right refugees?
Back to the real world and I’m getting emails titled: ‘We have found a new family matching with your criteria.’
Yes, I am one of the more than 100,000 people offering to share our house with Ukrainian refugees.
But, gosh, the system is complicated and that’s before the challenges and complexities of having traumatised strangers to live with us.
Making the decision to be a sponsor for the millions fleeing their homeland was not difficult.
My grandmother Ethel lived in Zhytomyr, a town about 100 miles from Kyiv. She left, my family estimate, in about 1907, escaping from the escalating Jewish persecution and making a new life in Toronto, where my father was born.
My siblings and I were brought up to consider her and our grandfather to be Russian. She was from what is now Ukraine. And we think, although again we aren’t sure, that he came from what is now Belarus.
We have no living family or connections that we know of remaining there, but three years ago we all visited the city of granny’s childhood.
This year’s Cheltenham was a rather reassuring reminder that even when the world is chaotic, some things remain the same
So why wouldn’t I want to help people in an even more desperate situation than her generation were? So far the experience has been impenetrable.
I had imagined that registering on the Homes For Ukraine Government website would enable one to find someone who wanted a home. But that is not the case. You have to find the person to sponsor via another method, and once you manage to do that, the Ukrainian somehow needs to be linked to the Government website. But quite how currently defeats me.
So I have joined a number of websites to find a person who might be comfortable in our house and who we might be comfortable with.
This is oddly disturbing. The listings are full of men, women and children fleeing from the most terrible conditions – and here am I, choosing who I want to take in. It’s rather similar to finding an online dating match.
Do I swipe right or left for Sergei, the tech designer, and his girlfriend, Julia; Anna and her mother; the friends Katerina and Nadezhda; or, as my partner David rather fancies, the young model Svetlana?
I’ve been quick to criticise Liz Truss for almost everything she’s done, so time to give her credit for getting Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori home
They list their Instagram handles, allowing you to peer into the normality of their lives before they were shattered – the family parties, the beach holidays, the filtered selfies. They briefly explain their situation and skills and hope to sound attractive by offering household help.
It feels brutal to dismiss any of them but at the same time momentous and somewhat nerve-racking to accept someone.
I’m not naive. I know this is not about the warm glow of do-gooding but the reality of living with strangers, refugees from war who will necessarily change the way of our household routine.
I am self-aware enough to know that I am too busy and too selfish to take care of them on a day-to-day basis. But that won’t stop me worrying about them.
How will I feel if the sound of a crying child wakes me in the middle of the night? Am I, as I originally thought, looking for a mother? Or would it be better to have a young couple who might find it easier to make their own lives and support each other?
The questions are endless. The answers few. Am I really going to do this?
Making a comeback, it’s peacocks in skirts
The traditional man’s two-piece suit has dropped out of the inflation basket, now that more people are working from home. Few people get togged up in a suit for Zoom.
It’s easy, though, to forget that suits are a relatively new concept, well, only a couple of hundred years old. This somewhat drab invention of matching jacket and trousers was a by-product of industrialisation, big cities and the growth of the middle and professional class.
Before that, men were glorious peacocks, their clothing far more exotic than women’s.
The current V&A exhibition, Fashioning Masculinities, shows just how various men’s dress has been in the past, with satin breeches, silken gowns, skirts and reams of lace
The current V&A exhibition, Fashioning Masculinities, shows just how various men’s dress has been in the past, with satin breeches, silken gowns, skirts and reams of lace.
I’m not sure we are going to see all men’s wardrobes return to such exuberance but it’s definitely true that menswear now is more colourful and fabulous than it has been for ages.
Harry Styles may be one of the few so far who’s comfortable rocking a dress, but give it time. Men in skirts may be making a comeback.
Seeing silly hats at the races is a cert
Usually I think people look ridiculous in their silly hats at the races. But this year’s Cheltenham, with the traditional show-offs posing in ludicrous headwear for the cameras, was a rather reassuring reminder that even when the world is chaotic, some things remain the same.
Liz deserves credit for Nazanin release
I’ve been quick to criticise Liz Truss for almost everything she’s done, so time to give her credit for getting Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori home.
Certainly it wasn’t the Foreign Secretary’s actions alone that achieved this long-awaited result but she clearly took this cause on as a matter of priority at a time when she must have had countless other issues demanding immediate attention.
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