The curious lack of knick-knacks on my mantelpiece

Click to follow
The Independent Online
I'VE been worrying this week about knick-knacks. Why don't I have any? The only objects on my mantelpiece are a clock, an Eastern Orthodox icon from Syria (reproduction) and a book carved from a length of old railway carriage by an artist friend who's experimenting with recycled materials. Oh, and a pair of earrings I took off after a party and forgot to put away.

None of these are exactly what I'd call knick-knacks: no brass horse- shoes, china cart-horses or winsome porcelain infants. Maya Flick, on the other hand, whose household expenditure was revealed in a court case in London this week, apparently needs pounds 5,000 a year just to spend on such objects - "knick-knacks in the home" as they were described in the Times, hinting at the existence of another category reserved solely for outdoor use. Does this mean that the super-rich are in the habit of surrounding themselves with Capo di Monte figurines on the beach? Taking china dogs for a walk?

Not, it seems, in the case of Mrs Flick, former wife of the heir to the Mercedes fortune. Even her pet labrador has running costs of pounds 4,000 a year, one of several sums queried by the judges even though they granted her leave to appeal for an increase in her pounds 9m divorce settlement. They also questioned the pounds 100 a week she spends on stocking a drinks tray for "casual visitors" - an amount which makes one wonder how much she spends on topping up close friends.

Mrs Flick brought the case in spite of a pre-nuptial agreement signed in Germany which would have limited her annual income to an amount roughly the same as a retired judge. The German agreement carries no weight here and in October the Family Division of the High Court gained her a pounds 1.9m country house, pounds 300,000 for a pied a terre in London, pounds 750,000 for a holiday home in Switzerland, pounds 300,000 of jewellery and pounds 585,000 to equip the country house with "high quality beds and Howard-type sofas" (I believe they're made by Allen Jones and give you the opportunity of sinking into a perfect replica of the Home Secretary).

Mrs Flick, who is clearly an old-fashioned girl, asked the court for leave to appeal on the grounds that these trifles aren't enough to keep her in the style to which she is accustomed. There could hardly be a better illustration of my argument last week that marriage, stripped of its camouflage of romance, is really about property rights: who gets what or, as Marilyn Monroe nearly sang in that breathy voice, knick-knacks are a girl's best friend.

BACK on Planet Earth, meanwhile, an articulate 11-year-old, formerly known only as Child B, talked about her struggle with leukaemia on Panorama and in the Daily Mirror. Jaymee Bowen described how she would react if she met Stephen Thornton, chief executive of the Cambridge and Huntingdon Health Authority, which refused to pay for experimental treatment in March after experts gave her only a minimal chance of making a full recovery: "Thank you for nothing. Now look at me. I'm fine. You could have paid for it. You had the chance and you blew it."

Jaymee's story may turn out to have a happy ending. But it's a savage lesson in the new economics of health. What if the patient who was refused treatment in March had been old and inarticulate and didn't have relatives willing to make as big a fuss as Jaymee's parents? Would newspapers rush to pay for life-saving treatment for a 72-year-old widower or an unemployed gay man? NHS rationing, as critics have pointed out, turns access to treatment into a species of beauty contest. Anyone whose health is a bit dodgy might be well advised to take a crash course in PR as well as subscribing to private health insurance.

AROUND this time of year, when I lived in the country, I used to go on excited excursions into fields and woods in search of wild mushrooms. "There are whole clumps of chanterelles," someone would tell me, giving a rather vague location spotted from the back of a horse. On one occasion I did manage to track them down and filled my ecologically-sound willow basket - the kind with holes so that spores fall to the ground as you walk and produce more mushrooms - with luscious apricot-coloured funghi for Sunday lunch.

They certainly looked like chanterelles but they also, when I got out my mushroom book, looked a lot like the false chanterelle. Antonio Carluccio, author of A Passion for Mushrooms, insists that "this poisonous lookalike of Cantharellus cibarius (the chanterelle) is fortunately rare in Britain" but would you risk it? The same problem arises with my favourite mushroom, the porcino or Boletus edulis. "Not strictly poisonous," says Carluccio of its near-relation the bitter bolete, but "so terribly bitter that including a single specimen in a dish will spoil the whole thing." No wonder we ended up driving to the nearest city for lunch at Pizza Express.

Fortunately, by moving to west London, I have solved the problem. My local deli is bursting to the seams with porcini, pieds de mouton, chanterelles, trompettes des morts - and the butcher across the road makes his own wild boar sausages. Friends get to eat my "home-from-the-hunt" lunch - char- grilled sausages on a bed of sauteed porcini and garlic, surrounded by potatoes roasted in olive oil and rosemary - without ending up like the victims in a 1920s detective novel.

ANOTHER great joy of moving to London is dancing - salsa is the current favourite although I'm beginning to hanker after lessons in lambada. It's great exercise and I was puzzled this week when a tabloid hack, peeved by something I'd said about Kingsley Amis, laid into me for being "by no means an unshambling or svelte figure". For the record, I'm a reasonably agile size 12. Who said women were bitchy?