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Joan Didion, American journalist and author, dies at age 87

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Joan Didion, the eminent journalist, author and documenter of contemporary America, has died at her home in Manhattan, New York, the New York Times has reported. She was 87 years old.

The cause of death was Parkinson’s disease, according to an email sent to the newspaper by Paul Bogaards, an executive at Didion’s publisher Knopf.

Known for her pioneering blend of the personal and the political in her journalism and essays, Didion became a household name with her writing on US society. A standout female figure in the very male New Journalism movement alongside Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote and Gay Talese, Didion cast her precise eye over American society and her own life in writing that was collected in books including Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album.

She was famous for her detached, sometimes elegiac tone, but returned to alienation and isolation throughout her career, whether she was exploring her own grief after the death of her husband John Gregory Dunne in the Pulitzer-winning The Year of Magical Thinking, the emptiness of Hollywood life in the novel Play It As It Lays, or expats caught up in central American politics in her novel A Book of Common Prayer.

‘Nervous’ child

Didion was born in Sacramento in 1934 and spent her early childhood free from the restrictions of school, with her father’s job in the army air corps taking the family countrywide. A “nervous” child with a tendency to headaches, Didion nonetheless began her path early, starting her first notebook when she was five. While her father was stationed in Colorado Springs, she took to walking around the psychiatric hospital that backed on to their home garden, recording conversations that she’d later work into stories. In a 2003 interview with the Guardian, she recalled an incident when she was 10: while writing a story about a woman who killed herself by walking into the ocean, she “wanted to know what it would feel like, so I could describe it” and almost drowned on a California beach. She never told her parents. (“I think the adults were playing cards.”)

From reading Ernest Hemingway and Henry James, she learned to dedicate time to crafting a perfect sentence; she taught herself to use a typewriter by copying out the former’s stories. “Writing is the only way I’ve found that I can be aggressive,” she once said. “I’m totally in control of this tiny, tiny world.”

In 1956, after majoring in English literature at the University of California, Berkeley, she won Vogue’s writing contest when she was 21, which led to a seven-year stint working at the magazine’s offices in New York. There she met Dunne – married when she was 29 – and between New York and Los Angeles, she began to mix with many famous contemporaries who would become friends, colleagues and rivals: Sylvia Plath, Roman Polanski, Janis Joplin (who crashed a house party), Christopher Isherwood (who called her “Mrs Misery” in his diaries), Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood (who shared her clothes with Didion).

Slouching Towards Bethlehem

In 1963, her first book was published: the novel Run, River. In 1966, Didion and Dunne relocated to Los Angeles and adopted a baby girl, Quintana Roo, named after the Mexican state. Her first collection of essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem was published in 1968: with its title essay about Haight-Ashbury’s hippy community, the collection established Didion’s voice as exceptional; in the New York Times’s review at the time, Dan Wakefield called Didion, “one of the least celebrated and most talented writers of my own generation”. In the book, Didion famously rubbished her own skills at interviewing and reporting: “My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does.”

Joan Didion, with Abigail McCarthy and Quintana Roo, Didion’s daughter, in 1977. File photograph: New York Times
Joan Didion, with Abigail McCarthy and Quintana Roo, Didion’s daughter, in 1977. File photograph: New York Times

Didion followed it up with her novel about life in Hollywood, Play It As It Lays, which she later adapted into a screenplay with Dunne; the couple often worked together on screenplays, including the 1976 film A Star Is Born. A smattering of fiction would follow over the next two decades – A Book of Common Prayer (1977), Democracy (1984) and The Last Thing He Wanted (1996) – but non-fiction dominated. Her second essay collection, The White Album (1979) contained her most famous line: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” In 1983 came Salvador, a book-length essay about a trip she took to El Salvador with Dunne; Miami (1987), about the city’s Cuban expat community; After Henry (1992), a collection dedicated to Didion’s editor Henry Robbins; and Political Fictions (2001), which spanned the elections of US presidents George HW Bush, Bill Clinton and George W Bush.

‘Permanent political class’

Over decades, the diminutive Didion built her own mythology; more than one journalist, when interviewing her, noted her quietness and frail frame with surprise. Her elegant style and interest in fashion, fostered at Vogue, also meant she was revered as a a symbol of “cool”; at the age of 80, she became the face of French fashion house Celine.

From the 1980s onwards, Didion focused on politics, coining the term “the permanent political class” to describe the fraternity of media, politicians and strategists that shape the US’s self-image. After Clinton’s impeachment, she wrote: “No one who ever passed through an American high school could have watched William Jefferson Clinton running for office in 1992 and failed to recognise the familiar predatory sexuality of the provincial adolescent.” Among Washington journalists, she wrote, “what ‘fairness’ has often come to mean is a scrupulous passivity, an agreement to cover the story not as it is occurring but as it is presented, which is to say as it is manufactured.”

“For me, writing is a kind of exploration,” Didion told the Guardian in 2003. “I’m not sure that I have a social conscience. It’s more an insistence that people tell the truth.”

When Dunne died of a heart attack in 2003, Didion began writing The Year of Magical Thinking, an exploration of her grief at his death while, at the same time, their daughter Quintana was severely ill in hospital. Unsparingly documenting her resulting strange habits, such as keeping Dunne’s shoes for when he “came back”, the book won her a Pulitzer prize. Months after it came out in 2005, her daughter Quintana died from acute pancreatitis aged 39, which Didion would write about in her 2011 reflection on ageing and parenting, Blue Nights.

In her later years, Didion wrote less; her most recent project was as the subject of Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold, a 2018 Netflix documentary made by her nephew, Griffin Dunne. Her final book, South and West, was a collection of her notes while travelling around Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana in the 1970s; when it was released in 2017, it was marketed as a prescient take on the then newly elected president Donald Trump’s base of voters.

Talking to the Guardian when it was released, Didion said: “I suppose the crisis in American politics was behind everything I was thinking, whether or not I knew I was thinking it. These things have a way of creeping in. I think we currently are living through the scariest of times.” – Guardian

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Liverpool ONE welcomes Tessuti (GB)

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Grosvenor has announced that designer retailer, Tessuti, has opened its new global flagship store at Liverpool ONE, demonstrating the brand’s ongoing vote of confidence in the destination. The new location on Paradise Street follows Tessuti’s consistently strong performance at Liverpool ONE and spans two floors measuring 22,000ft². Boasting Tessuti’s biggest store to date, this is four times the size of the previous Liverpool ONE site. The store interiors have been styled with a subtle nod to classic Italian architecture whilst incorporating state-of-the-art technical features, combining classic design with an industrial-chic colour palette and cutting-edge digital screens. Working with local Liverpudlian digital and production agency Liquid, the new Tessuti store has exclusive instore stills and videos showcasing exciting campaigns; the first of which is rumoured to feature Liverpool stars Stephen Graham, Abbey Clancy, Miles Kane and Chelcee Grimes.

 

Aligning with Liverpool ONE’s community ethos, Tessuti’s new global flagship will also support the vibrant community in the heart of Liverpool, championing local businesses through collaborations, pop-ups, and in-store events.

 

Alison Clegg, Managing Director, Asset Management, Grosvenor, commented: “Tessuti’s commitment to Liverpool ONE, through its relocation within the destination and decision to make the new store its global flagship, strengthens our position as one of Europe’s leading retail and leisure destinations. The impressive growth trajectory of Tessuti within Liverpool is a great indication of the potential for success and expansion of other brands that join Liverpool ONE.”

 

Chris Rowan, Director of Brand & Customer Connection at Tessuti, added: “The opening of our global flagship at Liverpool ONE is a huge moment for us. Liverpool is an urban hub for international fashion retailers, so upsizing and relocating within the city’s leading retail and leisure destination was a natural next step. We feel confident that it is the ideal home for our flagship location, and are excited to offer Liverpool ONE’s visitors our most stylish project yet.”

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What you need to know about having a home swimming pool

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This summer, it’s not just sales of rosé wine and ice cream that have rocketed during the heatwave. Interest in swimming pools has also surged.

‘This sweltering summer has undoubtedly inspired people to install swimming pools,’ says Sallie Leslie-Golding of the Swimming Pool and Allied Trade Association (SPATA). 

‘There are now 270,000 in-ground pools in the UK, with about 65 per cent of them in the southern half of the country.’

There is something incredibly glamorous about a Hockney-blue pool. But how does the reality match up to the imagery?

Refreshing: Church House in Potterne, Wiltshire, is on sale for £1.95m. Interest in swimming pools has surged with the hot weather

Refreshing: Church House in Potterne, Wiltshire, is on sale for £1.95m. Interest in swimming pools has surged with the hot weather

‘It’s been wonderful to be able to take a swim at the end of a long day,’ says Felicity Cooper, 55, who in 2006 installed a 12m x 6m pool outside her country house in Potterne, near Devizes, Wiltshire. 

‘It has also been great for the children, Lily and Ryan, who learnt to swim here.’

Felicity stresses the importance of finding the right setting for a new pool. 

She ensured hers was west-facing to catch the evening sun; then she went to the trouble of digging out a mini-amphitheatre so that the displaced earth formed a windbreak around the pool itself.

‘The pool is the optimum distance from the house, being not so near that it detracts from the garden and not so far away that anyone in trouble would not be heard by those inside.

‘It is far from trees so few leaves blow into the water and, with the children in mind, it has a top quality safety cover. Felicity’s six-bedroom Jacobean stone house standing in 1.7 acres is for sale for £1.95 million.

Opinions vary as to whether an outdoor pool helps or hinders a house sale. Some think that the hassle of maintenance may be off-putting to buyers. However, the property buying agent, Jonathan Harington, disagrees.

‘I have had many clients come to me with a pool on their wishlist of luxuries,’ he says. ‘But I have never had anyone say they wouldn’t buy a house because of the pool. If they felt strongly they could easily fill it in anyway.’

Yet owning a swimming pool is an expensive hobby. An above-ground pool — like a giant paddling pool — costs from £1,500 to £15,000. These pools may not quite cut it in terms of glamour, but their lower water capacity means maintenance costs are more reasonable.

For those looking at a more substantial in-ground pool, one with a liner finish of PVC will cost about £75,000. A concrete pool, finished with mosaic tiles, marbled plaster or paint will be about £125,000.

Larger projects can easily cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. 

You may opt for an infinity pool — a pool designed with an edge that gives the illusion that the water is overflowing. 

Those who want to improve their fitness may have a counter current device installed; the equivalent of swimming on a treadmill.

Many pool owners are interested in sustainability and heating the pool with solar panels is popular, as are covers that help heat retention.

Maintaining an outdoor swimming pool is expensive. The cost of heating and chemicals has increased so buyers should budget for at least £8 to £10 a day, dependent on the weather, according to SPATA.

Anyone fancying a workout in their own home may be interested in Ivy Cottage, Grendon, Northamptonshire.

Outside, the four-bedroom cottage is a 10m x 5m pool neatly positioned in the north-west corner to catch the sun.

‘After swimming in the pool, you could go running, riding or cycling on the countless trails nearby,’ says Ian Denton, of Jackson Stops. ‘It’s a lifestyle amenity in your own garden.’ Ivy Cottage is for sale for £825,000.

On the market… splash out 

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Radisson launches new resort in Greece

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Radisson Hotel Group has launched its latest Greek resort in Skiathos. Skiathos, the westernmost of the Sporades islands, is known for its stunning coastline of more than 60 beaches with soft sand and clear blue waters, as well as sea caves, impressive rock formations, and hiking trails on the tree-covered hills along the north shore made famous as the location for the filming of Mamma Mia. The island’s Byzantine churches and monasteries, Venetian-style Bourtzi fortress, and Papadiamantis House with its typical architecture are important parts of the island’s rich history.

 

The resort’s 84 rooms and suites are decorated in a modern, minimalist style, and most of them offer views of the hotel pool or the sea. Private balconies or terraces are available in select rooms, and the resort’s biggest suites feature private whirlpools for ultimate privacy and relaxation. The resort is ideally suited for weddings with its own on-site orthodox chapel and versatile outdoor pool area that offers receptions with stunning views. The main all-day dining restaurant celebrates Greek and Mediterranean flavors on its lunch and dinner menus. The poolside bar offers breakfast treats and late-night snacks as well as a wide selection of drinks and an extensive wine list. For guests looking to keep up their fitness routine, a well-equipped gym is available.

 

“We are excited to offer our guests a fantastic resort experience on the beautiful island of Skiathos, as we continue to expand our Greek resort portfolio. Radisson Resort Plaza Skiathos allows guests to switch off and relax surrounded by stunning natural beauty,” said Yilmaz Yildirimlar, Area Senior Vice President at Radisson Hotel Group.

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