Monday's book: Can You Have It All? Nicola Horlick (Macmillan pounds 16.99)
Monday 03 November 1997
I was eating a sandwich at my desk while working. "Nibble, nibble mousekin at your desk. You'll get fucking nowhere. You go out and get yourself a dinner with gravy on it, like a man, or you'll get nowhere."
I followed this excellent careers advice and only my dilatory nature has prevented me from rising to the giddy heights of Nicola Horlick.
I pass on Stan's advice because, after wading through this desperately dull, self-absorbed tome, I have been unable to glean any useful tips on 'How to succeed in a man's world', as offered in the subtitle.
Nicola does have something useful to say about Christmas trees, though. When you go to buy your tree, she advises, take your Christmas tree stand along with you. Then the tree seller can, with a few sure blows from his trusty axe, trim your chosen tree to the correct size.
Now the Christmas tree in question was for a little do that Nicola was giving for her team at Morgan Grenfell. They were all feeling pretty demoralised after the manager of the European unit trust, Peter Young, had "bought a number of unsuitable investments for the fund and had been dismissed from the company".
That's putting it with rubber gloves. Despite the well-fitting Christmas tree, the bonding benefits of the party didn't last far into the new year. Morgan Grenfell gave Nicola Horlick the keys to the street on 14 January. They claimed she had been about to take her successful pension fund scheme to the Dutch bank ABN Amro.
She's one of those pretty, doll-like women who get just what they want, steamrollering through life and being a little vague where the facts don't quite fit.
When the girl playing Elizabeth Proctor in Nicola's Oxford production of The Crucible doesn't come up to scratch, guess who takes over her part? Later, residents in a building find the place reduced to a nightmare of dust and builders because Nicola has decided that extensions will add to the value.
Still, it's not been easy. They lived in terrible poverty, forced to survive on mushroom risotto and stuffed peppers and do without curtains in their South Kensington flat. Even when things were good they had to go without at times. Whole weeks would pass between holidays in hotels in Rome or villas in France.
She has that marvellous lack of self-awareness and ability to re-edit awkward facts that is the key to success in this life. Nicola has run a home, earned a lot of money and given birth to five children thanks to these qualities and the fact that she's very, very clever.
But life can turn nasty on anyone. For the Horlicks it happened when their daughter Georgie's health started to decline. Eventually, leukaemia was diagnosed.
Although she managed to keep working on and off throughout her daughter's traumatic treatment, Nicola Horlick didn't cope with the dreadful experience any better than anyone else. She just gropes along like the rest of us and, for these chapters, you like her and want to read what she has to say. Thankfully Georgie, who sounds a fine, brave child, is now cured.
Profits from this volume will go to the Great Ormond Street Hospital - which, apart from the Christmas tree advice, is the only reason for buying it.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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