Updated: Jan 1, 2020
It’s 2020 and how this decade has hurtled past! I have navigated it like the delusional skier I once was, standing at the top of a red slope in Val D’Isère after only a handful of lessons, pushed into descending it by someone impatient and goading and not terribly bothered about my safety. At first, skis parallel, turning confidently, thinking « Ah yes, I’m good. I can do this. It'll be great fun, just like that blue slope, only a bit faster ».
Then, when the building momentum of speed, inexperience and fear resulted in the inevitable, crashing fall, skis and poles were hoisted onto my shoulder, boots loosened, and my bruised legs and pride took me down the last metres of the slope. Everyone else swooshed past me, immaculate, managing, enjoying, as I hobbled home, vowing never to ski again. I have not.
In 2015, at full tilt and terrified, halfway down the decade's red slope, I remember reading a long profile piece about one of my idols, Ina Garten. Ina too, had changed careers in middle age, starting small with her Barefoot Contessa food store and like me, had more or less fallen into cookbooks and TV - though that was later in her life, once the store was famous, and on a massive scale compared to mine.
In the early noughties, I had bought and loved her book, ‘The Barefoot Contessa’, and properly fangirled her one day as we were both shopping in La Grande Epicierie de Paris, as she had an apartment in Paris then. Perhaps she still does ? We didn’t stay in touch. The Great Ina Garten has better things to do with her time than correspond with loony fans who ambush her at the cheese counter.
I’m sorry to say that my feeling towards Ina, reading that piece in 2015, from the place of psychological chaos in which I had found myself, was not so chummy, but mainly one of injustice and envy. Her path seemed to have been so smooth compared to mine, when we had both had a similar, safe start.
It was, and is, ridiculous and fruitless to identify this much with famous strangers, to draw easy comparisons, to balance up any life with another at such a remove. But I had not completely learned The Lesson then, the vital one about everyone’s personal burdens feeling just as heavy and real to them as mine did to me. Who knows what Ina was going through ? (For her sake, I hope not much more than a shortage of whipped cream.) What I did find hopeful, however, was something more abstract. Ina agreed with the interviewer that her life seemed to work in twenty year cycles. She was in her sixties and her career had only really started accelerating at fifty. Twenty years !Marvellous news ! Considering life in chunks of twenty, with one starting at fifty, where fate had a large rôle to play, was a wonderfully comforting notion and one which made time slow down, somehow. So thank you, Ina, in the end that was my takeaway, not the misplaced, useless jealousy.
In 2009, with no idea then how it would become part of my (almost) daily life, I joined Twitter. I started posting photos of my breakfast, lunch, dinner and every chouquette in between online in little boxes, accompanied by writing containing fewer than one hundred and forty characters. I started wishing « Bonjour » and « Bonne Nuit » - often with a plaintive, folksy song video attached - to a list of names, most of whom I had never met. I did « Follow Friday ». I bored the pants off my French work colleagues about how brilliant and funny everyone was on my ‘timeline’, how connected I suddenly felt to food around the world and how inspirational I found all the images and connections. Eventually, I became less of a zealot, and spread my cake pics over to Instagram which now I love most as much as the beginnings of Twitter. Having mostly avoided weird, ugly Facebook, social media has been a creative, positive force for these last ten years, and one from which many new friendships have sprung.
Towards the end of December 2009, the author Jojo Moyes, whom I had met through shared Twitter daftness, sent me a tweet with a link to a French Vogue article saying « Trish, have you seen this ?! ». I hadn’t. To my complete shock and joy, French Vogue had included me in their list of the ‘Forty Women of the Decade’. I clicked and there I was, amongst so many of my heroines, my portrait above a ten line profile text. It felt as odd as it was uplifting, having ten years of your life framed in that way, and, I have to say, it significantly added to the energy needed to throw myself headlong into the next decade.
Over the years, I’ve regularly checked in on my thirty-nine listmates. Sofia, Beth, Michelle, Amy, Anna, Adeline, Carla, Garance, Kate, Sophie, Ingrid and co. They became my own secret, imaginary women’s club, because, come ON, it’s not like we meet every first Friday of the month for coffee and traybakes. Sadly, most tragically in one case, a few of them are no longer alive, some have fallen from grace spectacularly, others have changed course, many have gone from strength to strength.
But what unites all of us, on or off that, or any subjective, ephemeral, clickety list, are the personal failures and triumphs of which no one else might ever hear. The ones that, privately, bring us down and then let us stand up again. I’m glad the decade is over. It has been gruesome in so many ways, but looking back, I realise that most of what happened to me was out of my hands, and anyway, there's very little I would have changed. Besides, it’s too early to judge properly, as now I count in Ina time, and more importantly, I decide when the clock starts.
Happy New Year ! And here's to the next twenty years.