I ran into Sam Cam (as her mates call her) the other day, with a lumpy looking beige piece of leather hanging from her arm – apparently it's this season's must-have bag, the £950 quilted "Nancy". The smocking is a bit like the kind you see on posh little girls' frocks and the shape is reassuringly retro – kind of Grace Kelly meets HMQ.
I always thought nancies were old-fashioned poofs, Kenneth Williams being the prime example, but they are now arm candy as well. Sam Cam is presiding over the successful rebranding of Smythson, the royal stationers, that made its name with exquisitely soft leather notebooks and diaries, embellished with small gold lettering and whose pages are the finest blue you could imagine. You can tell that I love stationery – in fact I worship it – and there's nothing more seductive than a hand-written crunchily thick card as it slides out of a stiff white envelope lined in tissue.
But I digress. Sam Cam has dragged Smythson into the 21st century, introducing a fashion diary, adding lime green and pink calfskin and red alligator hide, and coming up with cheeky little books called Seduction Notes and Little White Lies to add to a range which previously included Menus and Shooting Notes – clearly aimed at the discerning landowner.
Given that we write less and less, Sam Cam has done extrem-ely well to make stationery, and wallets that have morphed into Nancy bags, so desirable. And it's not surprising that it took a top Tory's well-connected wife to do this. Stationery is a key way for the British to define class – like coming out with the word lavatory. Basildon Bond means you're utterly naff, floral pastels are beneath contempt and the use of lined paper more or less means you're one up from a convict. As the Sloane Ranger Handbook is updated and launched at a big party tomorrow night, another branch of the British class system has been dominating the headlines. Postal workers. Their strike action had all the hallmarks of a classic British trade union dispute – the kind we thought had gone out of fashion with Arthur Scargill.
I loathe the unctuous words of the Royal Mail bosses – the people who failed to get the Government to support rural post offices, the people who've just announced the closure of 2,500 branches which will cause the old, the poor and those who live in the countryside a lot of grief. I like postal workers – they are cheerful uncomplaining, always ready to help when you go to the sorting office. But this strike sorely tried my patience.
Last Friday, Royal Mail went to court and had the strikes planned for this coming week declared illegal. Later that day, the two sides in the dispute reached an agreement, the details of which are being kept secret at present. Hopefully it will be accepted by the 16 members of the union's executive tomorrow, bringing an end to this fractious and damaging affair – but the long-term future of the Post Office is far from clear.
The problem is that the service we need differs in rural areas and towns. It can never compete in cities with cheap delivery options, the internet and couriers. In villages and small towns, the post office and postal workers are the hub of the community. During the strike, Adam Crozier, the Royal Mail's chief executive, did a lot of whingeing about "Spanish practices" and antiquated shift patterns – but has he really justified being paid a whopping £2.7m?
The strikers were worried about their pensions and claimed that their bosses want to emasculate the service. The sooner the Government separates the Post Office from Royal Mail – which should be sold off – the better. Post offices serve a valuable function. Urban branches will pay their way and rural offices should be subsidised and not expected to deliver a profit. Deliveries are declining, in spite of booming sales of swanky stationery. The Royal Mail should be privatised and run in a modern way with an end to arcane working practices and postal workers paid properly – perhaps Sam Cam could redesign their sacks.
Frieze – a jolly good art show
The Frieze Art Fair in London, which ends today, is the modern version of the Ideal Home Exhibition. Instead of mini Hovis loaves or samples of tomato ketchup and fabric swatches, you can pick up posters of up-and-coming artists from Korea to the Congo. Dealers hawked their wares as waves of serious-looking skinny visitors (collectors, dealers? It was all so incestuous you couldn't tell) weighed down by catalogues, swirled past. The hot people went on Tuesday, the day before the VIP opening. By 7pm on Wednesday it was packed, and experts swapped marked-up floor plans with lists of hot favourites. Jake and Dinos Chapman had a two-hour queue of fans waiting for them to draw on bank notes until they retired exhausted. My favourite stand, run by Gavin Brown's Enterprise from New York, consisted of a series of table tops where artists sold their jumble. Rejecting cast-off Manolos belonging to the 1960s socialite Baby Jane Holzer, I chose a badge with the slogan 'Totally Fucked Up' and two classic soul 45s – all for £12.
What do builders know about cutting-edge design?
How can the Eden Project be voted the best British building of the last 20 years?
I've nothing against Nick Grimshaw's giant greenhouse, but at the end of the day it is nothing more than a geodesic dome, a design invented by the visionary Buckminster Fuller way back in the 1950s. You wouldn't wear utility clothing, or eat horrible Black Forest gateau and tinned tongue – both Fifties taste sensations – so why honour such retro architecture?
Mind you, the award was given by the British Construction Industry – and since when have builders been interested in cutting-edge concepts?
Just because something looks vaguely space age, it doesn't mean that it's any more futuristic than an old copy of the Eagle comic featuring Dan Dare. Surely the "Gherkin", the 40-storey glass-clad Swiss Re building in the heart of London, or Piers Gough's green bridge over the road at Mile End are more interesting than the Eden Project.Reuse content