I’m a journalist and author. From 1994-2004, I was BBC Arts Correspondent after which I was Arts Editor and Theatre Critic at the New Statesman. I did the main News Review interviews at the Sunday Times for six years. Now I vary the mix between writing comment pieces, interviews and features in papers and magazines, doing stuff on TV and chatting on the radio. I’ve just co-produced a documentary on the YBAs presented by Gary Kemp for ITV, which sort of came out of my book about why the British finally fell in love with contemporary art (The Tastemakers). I’ve also tried to explain why I went on a bonkers family trip around the French overseas empire (Bonnes Vacances).
I do have special skills. I am very good at fancy dress costumes. I am great at parallel parking. But I am maddeningly intolerant of a few things. Litter is one. When I walking around the streets of Islington, I have a tendency to remind people who drop litter that there are several bins within easy reaching distance, and would they very much mind utilising them.? Carelessly dropping rubbish on the streets just makes my blood boil.“Could you please pick up that bag/Kitkat wrapper/newspaper that you have dropped,” I start off, while my blushing children run to jump into in the nearest hedge. “I think you’ll find there is a bin just over there.”
I have actually been known to post Coke cans back into car windows, from whence they have been hurled. I insisted a boy pick up some bag he had dropped the other day. Very satisfying it was, too. “He will never forget that,” I said to my horrified offspring as the furious child was obliged to drop the object into a bin. “Nor will we,” they wept. I know where all the bins are, of course, because I am a dog owner. Don’t get me started on dog poop and the need to bag it and bin it, and woe betide others who are not as virtuous as I. Yes, to add to littering announcements, I also shout at naughty dog owners who don’t deal with their dog stuff on the streets of N1. Perhaps I am not alone in yelling “Pick it UP!!” at irresponsible owners. At least, I seem to have acquired much less dog mess on my trainers of late. It’s a bit like drink driving, or seat belts – public disapproval has done much more than straightforward law and order. Leaving poo on the pavement is simply unacceptable these days, probably thanks to phalanxes of annoying citizens such as moi who start jumping up and down if they see a dog squatting without the accompanying satisfying rustle of a plastic bag in the hand of its owner.
So that’s litter. The other thing is behaviour in auditoria. I just can’t help it. People around me have got to behave. I was at King’s Place the other day, listening to Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier played by the concert pianist Daniel-Ben Pienaar. Truly great. Not, however, very interesting to the couple beside me who started writing, and passing notes to one another just after the famous C Major opener. Five minutes later this was still going on. “Guys!” I hissed, loudly, giving them one of my death stares. It worked. Rather too well, actually. They didn’t come back in the second half.
Once I got my comeuppance. Turning round to shout at an elderly man who was actually eating a large cheese sandwich in the Queen Elizabeth Hall during a recital of Bach (yes, him again) by the wonderful Feinstein Ensemble, I was later introduced to him backstage by leader and soloist Michael Feinstein. “Please meet my father,” he said. I was speechless. “Actually a little part of me was rather happy,” confessed my husband later as I wept to him about my shame. “Serves you right.”
It used to be so easy. When one’s children were sitting on your knee, waving their chubby hands. Bit like Prince George.
Now, however mine have long past the christening gown stage. They are, by turns, stroppy, needy and stubborn. This weekend, one refused to go to ballet. One refused to go to Mandarin. One ditto concerning playing his guitar. These are all things, dear reader, which I only agreed to facilitate (ie pay for) after EXTREME pleading from said child. With promises of practice, and undying enthusiasm. Yesterday the street was greeted to the highly unedifying view of yours truly dragging a child along to ballet. Awful. Today, I sat down ready to hear a piece on – oh I don’t know, some orchestral instrument which I have bought at great cost etc. “Am I in the right seat?” I said indulgently. The child turned a withering look on me. “Frankly I just don’t care,” she said. Didn’t Rhett Butler say the same sort of thing, only a bit ruder?
And so it came to pass that decent coffee arrived at last in my part of Islington. And lo! The multitude did flock to the little cafe and ate of the sourdough bread and drank of the Americano and knew that it was good. And it was good. And neighbour said unto neighbour; “It’s just as well that we didn’t have a huge row about that noisy party you had recently, because otherwise that would have been a very embarrassing cup of coffee.”
This is the queue outside the Palace of Versailles today, July 30. About one kilometre long, should it be unwrapped from the court of the Palace. I counted 12 coaches outside, too. Versailles is a mass experience. Is this a bad thing? People barging through the Hall of Mirrors, tripping over the ropes that cordon off the Royal Bed of Louis XIV, taking photos by the door through which Marie Antoinette fled with the young Dauphin when the Revolutionary mob were baying at the gates. Read More…
How many feminists does it take to relaunch a magazine? None, it seems. I was excited when I heard that the radical feminist magazine Spare Rib was going to be relaunched with the respected journalist Charlotte Raven at the helm. Not just as a magazine, either, but also as a ‘campaigning grassroots movement’, which presumably means a website and digital sharing etc, all impossible back in the 70’s when Rosie Boycott and Marsha Rowe had their big idea. Read More…