Jocasta Innes: Cookery and design writer who transformed our approach to home-making
At one point she lived on the £20 a week she could make translating bodice-rippers from the French
Friday 26 April 2013
Jocasta Innes was a writer whose glamorous appearance belied the titles of her 1971 Pauper's Cookbook and her 1976 Pauper's Homemaking Book with its emphasis on lost rural crafts such as making damson cheese, parsnip wine and curing hams. Following up the DIY thread of these, in 1981 she published Paint Magic, which sold more than a million copies all over the world.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that she was such an avid homemaker, publishing dozens of books on the subject, because as a child she rarely had a place to call home. She was the eldest of three daughters of an executive working for Shell Oil, and when she was born in 1934 he was in Nanjing, China. Her mother came from an Argentine-Irish family who had been wealthy; she described her mother as "an action woman" who ran a small school for other expatriate children, never had to do housework, and brought her children up totally innocent of domestic skills.
His job meant the family moved to Australia, Africa and America, and Jocasta could boast she had lived in every continent except Antarctica. During the War she was sent to a Coptic Convent in Egypt, until in 1949 she and her sisters were despatched to board at Bedford High School, living in a seaside boarding house in school holidays.
She won an exhibition to Girton College, Cambridge to read Modern Languages. Though she subsisted on an allowance of only £5 a week she was often squired by equally glamorous beaux such as Mark Boxer. Following Cambridge she worked as a deb-ball-crashing journalist on the Evening Standard diary column, then married the film producer Richard Goodwin. They had a daughter, the writer and television producer, Daisy Goodwin, in 1961. Innes said this was the spur to domesticity: "Before that I was a kind of party girl."
In 1964 she had a son, the writer Jason Goodwin, with John Michell, the old Etonian New Age mystic who exemplified the Sixties for many of us. The brief relationship with Michell ended before the child was born, and Richard Goodwin adopted him.
When she was five, Innes left, Daisy Goodwin later wrote in a memoir of her childhood, "to live with a novelist from Newcastle, who was six years her junior. Always a trend-setter, my mother had found a man who summed up the late Sixties: young, working-class, dirty, rude and sexy, She found him irresistible and promptly left her marriage and two small children… to live with him in a bedsit in Dorset."
Goodwin was given custody of Daisy and Jason when Innes married the novelist, singer, songwriter and spiritual healer, Joe Potts; but his bedsit in Swanage was not large enough to accommodate the visiting children, so they moved to a cottage where they could stay. They survived on the £20 a week Innes could earn by translating books that included "five French bodice-rippers about a tedious girl called Caroline."
She and Potts had two daughters, Tabitha and Chloe, and this was the period when she learned to feed her family on the pulses, cheap offal and foraged food that led to her first cookery book. And it was also when she learned a bit about making clothes from scraps of fabric and decorating rooms with stencils cut out from cereal packets. At the time, however, remembered Daisy, "I don't think my mother even owned an iron."
In 1979, having left Potts and taken the two daughters with her, Innes used her earnings from her how-to-smoke-your-own-meat-and-make-cheese Country Kitchen for the deposit on an 18th century house in a derelict brewery in Spitalfields. She had made her way through a boarded-up window, and the wonderful interior captured her imagination. Though it took many years to restore it completely, this was both her refuge and her laboratory for decorating experiments.
In the 1980s she learned the techniques of ragging, stippling and marbling with paint. Paint Magic started a cult, led to a Channel 4 series, and in 1983 she became home editor of Cosmopolitan. She created a business selling her decorating kits and paints; though it lasted only 10 years she had become a considerable authority on decorating and the domestic arts.
In 1981, she was working on her house – "I went to the pub covered in plaster and looking like a ghost" – and struck up a conversation with the man living in the next-door house. He was the Modernist architect, now Sir Richard MacCormac, and 18 months later they began living together, via an upper floor door connecting the two Regency houses. Active in promoting the renewal of Spitalfields, Innes and her partner also had a weekend place, a converted chapel in Somerset, where she could swim, paint and display her collection.
Though Innes exemplified the bohemianism of the late 20th century, she became an advocate of teaching girls to snap on the rubber gloves, pick up the duster and wield the broom. In her last book, Home Time (2002) she wrote: "So now we have this quaint situation: a post-feminist generation without ideological hang-ups about housework as such, but all adrift about how to begin, what is entailed, how to get the best results in the least time and with the least effort."
She summed up her new approach, as: "It's like the Jesuits, just get them cleaning by the time they're seven and they'll be doing it for life!"
Jocasta Innes, cookery and interior design writer: born Nanjing, China 21 May 1934; married 1960 Richard Goodwin (divorced 1967; one daughter), one son (by John Michell, adopted by Goodwin), 1967 Joe Potts (divorced 1979; two daughters), partner to Sir Richard MacCormac; died London 20 April 2013.
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