Only my most select circle call me Van, but actually I like the name Van, it smacks of “Pleb” which is all the rage at the moment. Constantly shown lack of respect by my impertinent family they refer to me with a variety of terms of endearment, one of them is Vanratty when I lose my cool, which is most of the time. I am also referred to by some of them as Sweaty Betty .Now truthfully I like that because it never does to take yourself seriously . Now here is the thing which made me a little ratty, it’s this business about this bloke called VINCE. Vince has been saying a lot of things recently which strike me as odd ….. but I am told by people, this particular Vince is really “not half bad” to use the vernacular. Well the question is which half, and is one of his halves a lesser man because he went to a Grammar school, now let me tell you about this Vince, I said yesterday that he was a Toff in Plebs clothing and went to a public school. This is a delightful opportunity to join the other rage bandwagon apologeknciks (correct spelling for new word required), you see if you want to be en vogue you must apologise all the time. I am well trained in this because apologies trip off the tongue round her (from moi of course ) but we won’t go into that now. So thank you Vince’s’ defenders for giving me this opportunity to practice my skills in the public arena where plebs in Roman times were important spokes persons for common people, that’s the dictionary speaking. Sorry Vince, got it wrong you are a good guy and you went to a Grammar school… but does that entitle you to call yourself a Pleb? The Sainted One went to a grammar school and he is definitely does not answer to the description of Pleb, he leads the life of an eighteenth century gentleman and it is a beautiful thing.
Talking of toffs, we went out to dinner last night, an elegant hostess served delicious food and great company. Of course I knew I was with the Heavy Hitters when one of them (actually a smashing fellow ) asked me if Virginia Bottomley was “upstairs” , we were in a single story apartment, but thank heavens I quickly caught on because one doesn’t want to be thought to be out of the loop. He meant of course had she been elevated to the Lords! I tried to keep up and offered my bit about shale in the U S of A and then one of them started talking about fracking the excellent wine flowed but I did find the Common Agricultural Policy had limited appeal and ran out of legs
You may well ask what the connection is. I have experience with whips, important ones actually because they have much influence upon the affairs of already disrupted parliamentary families. The Sainted One always got along well with his whips and there was quite a selection during twenty seven years (of course you will all have got the double entendre) ….one of the reasons was because they all seemed to me to have a great sense of humour and were not at all up their….. well you know what I mean…. Here is the thing, it really is difficult to think highly of a bloke who rides a girls bike (that’s what it looked like anyway with a fancy basket on the front) and then loses his rag with a policeman who is just doing his job calls him that dreaded thing “working class” at least that’s what he meant I suppose. There were other choice words of course, but those are hotly contended, the worst and really dumb thing was of course asking him if he knew who he was? … I bet the policeman wanted to tell him what he was , but he didn’t did he? The policeman gets my vote.
Now while we are on the ridiculous subject of class which basically seems to me to be a ubiquitous sobriquet, with politicians it would seem a case of “if the cap suits wear it” . I mean anyone who is called Vince has a bit of a start I would say , so there is this bloke Vince at the first of those gatherings of weird groupies who pop up at political conferences telling us he is a “pleb” what on earth does he mean? Actually he is a toff who is public school educated so believe me he is not the real thing!!!! …. Well someone once called me an Essex Woman I was so pleased but not so pleased when a man called me the C word, from the safety of his white van I might add , I refused to move in my Vauxhall until he apologised, the traffic built up, and he reluctantly said he was sorry he had called me a C—,feeling vindicated I started to drive of . But he had the last word, he would wouldn’t he, because he was a man? “Well you are one anyway “ he screamed as he drove off tossing a bag of malodorous rubbish out of the window.
Well just so that you know, according to the wonderful Alice Thompson in the Times, who is always right. The Sainted One and moi are now officially “working class” because, when the Sainted One drives a car on an excursion with two of our friends who happen to be male and female, the blokes go in the front and the girls ( I say that laughingly of course) go derriere. It’s more fun that way.
A selection of extended family
The signing pan controversy and the hole in the lawn both happened yesterday. They have been sensational in their own way. Let’s take the first thing ….I have taken to snucking in little errors here just to keep you typo detectives on your toes, because to be honest some of you can be rather pedantic and annoying .. after all as I often say to all the people who live here, including the four legged ones “ you know perfectly well what I mean”. This is usually greeted with a certain sort of eye rolling thing which has been perfected to an art form by the Sainted One… others present are invited to join in with adept synchronised movements, including a rather unattractive head jerk such as actors do on the TV to indicate sexual pleasure… not that it has anything to do with that of course .
Well this mention of the signing pan was one of these little cunning traps which I mentioned yesterday . I informed you all that I took a signing pan to my book launch. One of you has asked in veiled terms of course, at least I think that’s what they meant, (because you are actually very nice people) if this is some sort of aid to incontinence that all older authors should take with them to events of this kind .. as I told you I took two, it was perhaps assumed to be a his and hers kind of thing.
I am not saying so here it is “TYPO GATE” and the best of luck .
Now for the hole in the lawn, the Sainted One has developed a dreadful kind of trumpeting noise which occurs frequently when anything moves in our suburban garden, Sandy my delightful and intelligent fox comes in for a lot of this, but he is well able to cope because he is regularly provided with nourishing food. The lovely black and white pigeons have learnt to recognise the sudden opening of the study window and don’t hang about to listen to the vile words that are hurled at them. The squirrels fair well because the air gun was confiscated after there was mention of the possibility of peppering the neighbours, and the Sainted One’s accomplice in squirrel loathing has moved a block away!! Cats don’t come here because of Beatrice and Mollie the four legged residents .
All this is containable except there is a new development, Beatrice has a phobia about a particular spot on the lawn because Mollie told her she might uncover delights beyond imagination if she concentrated all her efforts on digging various holes; one such was discovered yesterday. The bellowing reached Wagnerian levels and got all the occupants immerging from their rooms their rooms, which is unusual except at meal times….watch this space . Mollie smiled sweetly and slyly secreted the old bone her friend had uncovered, she has learnt all this from me . Life is a constant learning curve isn’t it .
So last night was the launch of Flora’s Glory. The previous night had been anxious and disturbed . The wonderful Italian cousins plane from Rome ran into flock of birds shortly after take-off and had to make an emergency landing . As a result he got here in the small hours and the Sainted One waited up for him, sensibly deciding that the household would be better served if the authoress had a decent night’s sleep, upon arrival he was offered the banana which has travelled across the Solent three times. Of course I had the anxiety dream again but rather worse. Before lunch I went to the hairdresser, Keith was very complimentary about my hair saying I had a lot of it, but for the rest of the day I must remain rather still and not empty steamy dishwashers. I repeated this to one of the household who agreed but said this was true but I had never quite worked out what to do with it but chose to ignore the dishwasher thing. Anyway it did look very nice and I remembered the two signing pans and the thank you speech and my beautifully dressed son took a day off from being a fashion icon at Hackett’s to be my PA and I felt like the Queen . I wore a shortish black skirt which had a slit in the back which another person pointed out was not in the right place.
The wonderful thing is that all these lovely friends turned up, and all the family and extended family actually most of us are rather over extended I would say but we brushed up very well , and as for birds …. Well so many lovely young creatures, daughters, granddaughters and their friends and then the blokes, grandsons sons in law cousins from all over the place and various in-laws and outlaws. We had a family photo which illustrated a most deliciously eclectic mix of cultures which was the source of much admiration.
My publisher Naim Attallah is an extraordinary man, he is a dear and loyal friend and a sharp business man, he knew by osmosis exactly who in that room had not purchased a book and I kid you not, no one got past him, he is the kind of person, who would make anything successful just by being there. He gave a wonderful speech in which he described moi as being many things including, sweet natured, easy to get on with , relaxed , uncomplaining cooperative and more in a similar vein, I watched the Sainted One’s face as this description of moi was delivered and it was rather strange, I have not mentioned this . The book shop was very pleased and so was the wine shop and Jonathon at Daunts has a knack for making everything seem easy, actually the kind of person you would want to be with in an emergency.
There were no emergency’s and the event went seamlessly and I hope this might be a template for future family celebrations, perhaps the fabulous team at Quartet could give me some tips on management , we have a history of eccentric gatherings to say the least which is why I write historical books … my own life would be far too stressful a palette upon which to draw. Writers of contemporary fiction inevitably delve into their own Pandora’s boxes for their material.
The evening which left me with a sense of awe as to how nice ones loyal friends actually are and reminded me of the great Doctor Johnson’s remark that “Friends like shoe leather must be kept in good repair.” I Dedicated my book to the memory of Shirley Ekcapa, a great Quartet writer and my dearest friend whom I miss every day. But always feel she is there with her wise and sometimes wicked take on life. Last night we shared her memory with her divine family in one of their homes with a most exquisite dinner came home glowing…..no bad dreams .
Quom volt pedere dementat! So you Latin scholars check that for spelling , my spell check won’t have it at all and there are angry red lines all over the place. Well those of you who are not familiar with the succinct little gem, just a clue is to say, there is a lot of that going on here at the moment, and some of it revolves round my aversion to skirts. They simply don’t work for me. I used to wear them and the shorter the better but that was when I had thin legs. Now mine look a bit like those ones you find on village hall pianos so I avoid displaying them. Whenever I do wear one it ends unhappily…. Take for example the time I wore one to the Portuguese Embassy for dinner, this was because I had written a book in which the great Catherine of Braganza featured. I dressed with care, a double layered black net skirt and lace shawl, which my grandmother said she wore when she met the pope. I don’t think that was true because she was not a Catholic and came from Texas so moving on. When I got up from dinner I leant to pick up the shawl, which of course I had dropped on the floor… I struggled a bit because I could not get it to go round my shoulders only to find it was the skirt which was now draped gracefully above the waist. The Ambassador was very polite and pretended not to notice but a week later I met a man who had been there he came beaming across the room mouthing the word SKIRT and creasing with laughter. There are other incidents but I won’t bore you with them, but all in all perhaps it is not surprising that I am having an awful recurring dream that tomorrow at my book launch I will not only be alone but without a skirt.
Yesterday as part of the “dementat” thing I was bailed three times the arrangements had included travel cots, trips on the 452 bus to acquire birthday presents, clean sheets on lots of beds and a large dinner, it was none of their faults actually, they were the victims of other peoples inability to use their brains ….. at six o clock I thought what the H…. and poured the sainted one and moi an enormous vodka. He got quite jolly and then read the first chapter of the book I have just started out loud, which he always does quite beautifully with a well modulated expertise acquired after years of addressing people both in the work place and the domestic arena. But I did notice he had trouble with the word Portsmouth, it was the Vodka of course. But today has not begun well because The Sainted One has decided to do the accounts! That always creates a dark miasma of gloom followed by suggestions for draconian economy do I think the timing is deliberate ????? no of course not I have got to stop being so paranoid. It looks like another vodka tonight but I have just seen that the bottle is empty also the gin bottle …..
Slugs or testacles which would you rather eat? This was discussed at luncheon because a neighbour of ours in London was invited to a wedding in China; having been very kind to a Chinese girl who looked after a friends children. The invite to the wedding was an illustration of Chinese manners, always mindful of repaying a kindness. But this was no ordinary trip and our neighbour was treated like an honoured guest, and saw a china that few Europeans ever see. She went to a lot of banquets and frequently had to eat some of the above. Now that I could not do, not under any circumstances.
I don’t want to go about dropping names, and some people have urged me to tell them who the cough sweet eater was …. I will never ever do that. Not even if I am made to look at myself in the three way mirror at Peter Jones! Actually another thing I want to mention is this matter of punctuation. I am Dyslexic and so I can’t, or more particularity don’t, get my head around punctuation, this you will all have noticed . This was also discussed at lunch by some very amusing people but I won’t mention their names because that would also seem like social scoring, so you can all let your imaginations run riot . Actually I did my Latin quote which I will also do next week and then I did that two others ,but I can’t remember them now but they were definitely impressed, so here are a few semi colons for you fanatics out there just to keep you going;;;;;;; actually I think semicolons sound rather medical and not in a good way, and truth to tell I think split infinitives are very useful tools. I use them a lot. Many writers seem to be Dyslexic, I went to a talk by one last week at a gathering of clever people and she forgot her speech , she adlibbed for fifteen minutes and it was very good indeed. The last time I gave a talk it was to the Isle of Wight Conservatives. I did it because I thought they wanted to hear about my brilliant writing career and would buy some of my books. But all they wanted to talk about was Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands and then you may well ask….. did I sell lots of books? The Sainted One, with infuriating accuracy told me not to take many of them. I shot him down in flames and flew off the handle, and took twenty which were very heavy in a wheelie suitcase but of course…… ?? Well not only did they fail to laugh at any of my best jokes; but I sold one book, I kid you not, ONE, and that was paid for with a torn ten pound note which I was bossily told, I could stick together with cello tape. I passed it on to my psychotherapist, she was very good about it, but then she is very good about everything.
This morning the puppy Beatrice found a pill on the floor of the bedroom, of course according to The Sainted One this was my fault. I pointed out at once that there have been eighty tenants in this house this summer God bless them (not all at the same time of course) AND MANY THINGS ARE FOUND UNDER THE BED AND ON THE FLOOR ….. EVEN MOI WITH MY WELL KNOWN ATTENTION TO DETAIL WILL NOT DISCLOSE EXACTLY WHAT, I pointed this out but it did not wash. The Sainted One hates waste of any kind, it has something to do with the war, well he was most insistent that it was mine and even that I should take it.
Now I have not had time to send it to forensics and any way that would incur cost which is greatly disapproved of here. So I threw it away and that caused a long argument about the rubbish. But the whole point of it is that I then went for the most glorious walk on the beach where very often I have time to fester paranoid feelings. So it suddenly occurred to me that under the simmering layer of disapproval something darker looms on the domestic front …is this some sort of sinister murder plot? I mean you never know do you…. But then I thought the dog is universally admired so that could not be the case so I went back to the house and made my own coffee.
But actually that is not the only story about pills this week. Two nights ago we went to the opera with some musical A list and the woman one down from me had a most annoying dry cough. Poor thing it was awful for her and she was busy stuffing handkerchiefs down her throat and quietly choking. Now I always cough at the opera it is a matter of principle I am also well known for the arsenal of medication I have in my handbag ,I know longer have the condom one of my children gave me fifteen years ago “just in case” . So I nudged the bloke on my right and gave him my one of my delicious black currant cough pastilles to give to her and guess what he ate it ! The dog looks all right by the way. But dog number two just ate a sack of sea weed but she will eat anything, more about that tomorrow.
Actually I may tell you later about the pretentious programme notes at the opera which say more about the person who wrote them that the opera. I wish people would not do that, music was written for ordinary people like me to enjoy and most do not have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Grove Musical Dictionary . The young singers and musicians were however inspirational Judith Weir must be a genius I was not looking forward to A Night At The Chinese Opera but it was a delight.
You may ask what the connection is ? Well I think there is and this is the first time I have confided this to anyone! You have seen a picture of Anna now but I have not put one of the Queen because you all know what she looks like and you know a lot about her. So now I will tell you about this little girl. Anna is thirteen she had a catastrophic epileptic fit when she was fourteen months old shortly after she had her MMR vaccine. Six months later she had another fit. After many years she is able to walk well and can do a lot of things but her mental age is that of a five year old. She is currently funded at a special school where her needs cannot be addressed. She has to spend over two hours a day travelling and is in constant pain. Her mum, shall we call her the tigress saved up for her to have a four day assessment at a wonderful residential facility Called St Mary’s in Bexhill on Sea. She adored it and they loved her and are confident that they could change her life for her … they found out that she had Scoliosis and Kyphosis of the spine and that without expert care physiotherapy daily she will probably be unable to walk and be wheel chair bound . Now here is the problem the local authority will not fund Anna for this move and effectively they have denied Anna a decent life . Now that’s where the tigress and the Queen come in Ali because that’s her name will do absolutely anything for her child and she is determined to make a sponsored Parachute Jump to pay for a brilliant firm of solicitors to fight Anna’s case with the council. We are all begging her not to do this … there must be another way … the thought of Ali ending up injured with two other children and sods law she probably would. Now here’s the thing The Queen did it at the opening of the Olympics .. only the thing was she didn’t it was a substitute and very fetching he look in frilly knickers . Watch this Space