Sunday, December 8, 2019

Diana Holman-Hunt - Slightly Foxed with Champagne

I’ve been reading Diana Holman-Hunt’s memoir ‘My Grandmothers and I’ by way of research and bought my Slightly Foxed paperback edition cheaply secondhand. It looks like there’s been a bit of a rush on it since, the only copies I see listed now are quite pricey - which means if you want it you might as well go for a handsome Slightly Foxed hardback (they gift wrap too).

Diana was the granddaughter of the Pre-Raphaelite painter, bought up on stories of the great man and his friends. ‘My Grandmothers and I’ very specifically recounts episodes from her life from the age of 5 to 17 as she’s passed between the two matriarchs. Her father is in India, her mother never mentioned (we can only guess dead). Most of the time Diana lives with her mothers parents (Grandmother Freeman) but there are visits to Gran H-H, who lives a life of miserly eccentricity in a house that’s more or less a shrine to her dead husband.

What makes this book fun is the mix of anecdotes about life with Grand, and the sense that Diana is getting her revenge, or at least the last word, on her family, who seem to have richly deserved it. If you like Elizabeth Von Arnim at her more acerbic, Nancy Mitford, or Evelyn Waugh (who was her cousin) then this book will definitely appeal.

Slightly Foxed are also more generally a good place to look for presents for book lovers. A subscription to their Quarterly Journal has been my Christmas present of choice to me for a good decade now. The books they produce are lovely to handle, and conveniently pocket sized. I recommend the podcast too.

Champagne features a couple of times in ‘My Grandmothers and I’ - first with a rare appearance from her father when she’s 15, and after Grands funeral - both times she gets horribly drunk very quickly. As drinks go it perfectly evokes the spirit of the book. Moët et Chandon is name checked so this seems like a good time to talk about the best way to buy champagne.

If you have a good wine merchant take their advice on what they have, they should know where the best balance between quality and price is to be found. Otherwise supermarket own label champagne is generally a good buy and a safer bet than an unknown name with a heavy discount. That said, much of the appeal of champagne is in the associated glamour that comes with the grand marques. If you can, it’s worth buying these by the case when you see something at a good price and keeping it.

There are a few reasons for this - case discounts are one, another is that a lot of champagne like Moët is very young when it hits retailers shelves, and you can taste it in the acidity. Six months to a year somewhere cool, with an even temperature, and reasonably dark (in my case the back of a wardrobe) will allow it to mellow a bit. If you have a slightly better arrangement than the back of a wardrobe then a non vintage champagne will happily develop for 5 years or more before you really need to think about drinking it. Do Not keep it in a fridge for any length of time - it goes flat.

Other advantages of keeping a bit of champagne on hand is that you always have an excellent emergency present, something for a celebration, or a well earns treat for yourself. Half bottles are brilliant for 1 or 2 people. Crémant de Bourgogne is an excellent budget alternative, and so are some of the new world fizzes that use traditional grapes and methods, plenty of which are made by the big Champagne houses.


  1. I have very fond memories of this book and your lovely review reminds me I'd like to reread it. It's Gran H-H who really has stuck in my mind, I can't recall so much of the other grandmother except that she had a little dog or dogs and there were a lot of cushions and rules.

  2. It’s an interesting book, fascinating and not always comfortable- which is probably the highest praise for a memoir I can give. Grandmother comes out as a cold woman, Grand H-H as something rather worse. Looking forward to reading her book about her grandfather next.