Thursday, 29 September 2005


If someone says they're going to do something I expect them to do it. How silly of me! Only little children would expect people to be true to their word. How could one possibly expect adults to think things over, come up with a decision and then stick to it? What does it matter if naïve, childish people like me are disappointed? What does it matter if they think that those adults are changeable, untrustworthy, undependable, etc. etc.? What does it matter if it leaves us children feeling let down and foolish for believing them? They never meant it in the first place, did they?

I get it from my father. He was a man of his word. When I was a child, whenever he told me he would bring me back a small toy from his travels, he did – without fail. (At least he had the good sense never to promise not to argue with my mother: his nose would have kept on growing until his death if he had. Noses and ears do carry on growing anyway, but that’s beside the point.) He was rather rigid mentally and I probably take after him. Children need to know where they stand and so do I. I will accept a reasonable excuse for a breach of promise, but I cannot countenance capriciousness and wanton inconsistency. I do not like to be made a fool of nor do I like being strung along.

A slap to all unreliable people out there!

Tuesday, 27 September 2005

What do you want from me? Blood?

I've just filled in my tax return. It takes three days to gather all the figures and about 20 minutes to actually write them down on the form. It has to be sent before September 30th if you want those nice people at the tax office in Cornwall (could my tax office be any farther from where I live?) to calculate the amount of money you need to send them by January 31st (great date that: you have hardly anything left after Christmas!).

My tax affairs are very simple: I earn peanuts (I only work six months of the year). Yet I have to fork out masses of dosh because the personal allowance is so incredibly low. (I’m particularly annoyed at the amount of Class 4 Insurance I have to pay. Don't ask: it’s really complicated – lots of long divisions). Everyone agrees that no one can live in London on my income before tax so how come I still have to pay tax on it? Doesn’t make sense to me.

I don’t resent paying tax as such – I’m a good citizen and the mediocre services we get have to paid for somehow; I just think there should be a lower rate for very small earners. What is one to do? Earn no more than the allowance (currently £4,745) and then go on benefit? It’s preposterous.

I'm quite frugal; I don't spend spend spend; I know the value of money, unlike some people… What was it Catherine Zeta Jones said in that courtroom? Something like (cue weird transatlantic-Welsh accent) “One million may seem like a lot of money to some people in this room, but to us it’s nothing.” Or, on a smaller scale, a little while ago, someone wrote about a range of outrageously priced make-up, “Soixante-dix euros de plus ou de moins ne rendront personne plus riche ou plus pauvre.” (No, I won’t translate it: you understand what it means.) Shades of bird-brained Marie-Antoinette and her “Let them eat cake!” I should have got myself a rich hubby.

Feeling depressed now. Too depressed to slap anyone – not even those two silly women above or Mr Brown.

Update: Sorry about all that kvetching. I’ve now had a good night’s sleep; I feel refreshed and strong enough to slap anyone: so I’m slapping Gordon Brown (and those two arrogant women).

I’d like to clarify a couple of points:

When I say, “I only work six months of the year”, I mean it’s not from choice: I was quite ill a few years ago and couldn’t carry on having deadlines every two or three days, so I had to let go of a big portion of my workload. There is nothing available for me to do to replace that lost income.

When I say, “I earn peanuts”, I mean I earn less than twice the personal allowance before tax (you’ve got the amount, you can work it out).

In France, there is a super-super high-rate tax, called “Impôt de Solidarité sur la Fortune”, which hits people earning over £500,000. In the UK, whether you earn over £500,000 or over £31,400 you're liable to the same tax rate. In France, Inheritance Tax starts around £25,000; here it’s £263,000. There's no mystery, is there? No wonder there's more money in the French kitty.

Saturday, 24 September 2005

I’m menopausal; I must be a frump too

(as well as a moron, of course)

Big Brother is not only watching us but keeping lists of all our birthdays: as soon as I hit 50 – some years ago now – I started receiving catalogues full of strange, loose-fitting, shapeless garments, edged with ruffles or crocheted borders, in yucky, neither-fish-nor-flesh colours. Of course, they’re in man-made fibres because “machine washable” are the two most important words in the language for us “oldies”, aren’t they? I must be a freak: I prefer natural fibres.

My sartorial style doesn’t make the headlines but there is a limit.

There’s also a lovely choice of comfy slippers in super-wide sizes to accommodate one’s bunions. Oh, and bra-fastening extensions. The only items I quite like are the big knickers – thongs are not for me: I don’t wear cheese wires on my bottom.

Those catalogues also feature useful implements to cut one’s toenails without bending over too much and, look!, “real eau de colognes” (sic) in “violet, rose, lily of the valley, honeysuckle, lime or jasmine”. What am I doing drenching myself in a very expensive Serge Lutens fragrance every day? I’m obviously mutton dressed as lamb perfume-wise as well as fashion-wise.

Of course, the models smiling at me on the pages of those catalogues are all young women – not a grey hair in sight. It's just like those stick insects in catalogues for bigger women. Who are they kidding? These women would look good in potato sacks: they look very good in those machine-washable clothes, which come mostly in very large sizes because it’s also assumed that all 50+ women are huge even if, like me, they’ve been very thin all their lives. I have acquired a pair of love handles and “monster thighs” in the course of the menopause (that’s where my last reserve of oestrogen is stocked apparently so I shouldn’t get rid of them), but I’m still a UK size 10.

Thirteen years ago, when I stupidly decided to stop dyeing my hair, I went from being a fiery redhead to a silver-haired “invisible woman”. I aged twenty years overnight. I wouldn’t make the same mistake now and I certainly wouldn’t dream of adding to my handicap.

A slap to the manufacturers of clothes most of us wouldn’t want to be seen dead in, let alone spend 30 years wearing!

Thursday, 22 September 2005

Poor little rich girl

Apparently, I should feel sorry for Kate Moss.

I should feel sorry for this multimillionaire who’s led a charmed life from the age of 14, when she was discovered by the boss of a famous modelling agency. Since then she’s pranced around on the catwalk; been photographed by the greatest photographers and has generally led a life of partying and fun. (Please, please, please, don’t tell me that modelling is hard work!) Cocaine is not the drug of choice of the unhappy: it's the drug that enables the happy to enjoy themselves even more.

She’s now been dropped by several fashion houses that can’t be seen to be condoning drug abuse, even if it is rife in their midst. She brought her downfall on herself. She was arrogant – she thought she could get away with everything. She behaved very stupidly and she’s getting punished for it. She may be a scapegoat, but, hey, tough! It was bound to happen sooner or later to someone.

I feel sorry for the millions of people who are starving in Niger; I feel sorry for the victims of hurricane Katrina; I feel sorry for anyone who’s ill and can’t afford to be treated; I feel sorry for little children who’ve lost their parents; I feel sorry for anyone who’s being mistreated and can’t call for help…

I feel sorry for lots of people, but Kate Moss is not – cannot be – one of them.

I don’t care what you do as long as you don’t ask me to bail you out: you may smoke yourself to death, but don’t ask me to contribute to your treatment when you get lung cancer; you may practise dangerous sports, but don’t ask me to come and rescue you if you get stranded on top of Mount Everest, or on a savage sea off the coast of Cornwall; you may take drugs until your brain goes mushy, but don’t ask me to pay for your rehab. At least Kate Moss won't be a burden on the taxpayer: she will, if she really wants it, get the best treatment, in the best clinic… and then she can do it again, can’t she? Ditch the seedy boyfriend first, though, Kate! He’s bad news.

I’m not slapping her – she’s suffered enough, the poor dear; I’m slapping those who think they can tell me who I should waste my sympathy on. Slap!

Tuesday, 20 September 2005


When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed…

There were no trumpets this morning, but the people – my partner and I – did shout. Not just one loud shout – several. And the wall didn’t collapse, thank goodness, only the tiles in my bathroom. Not all at once, burying us under a ton of “fired earth” or enveloping us in a cloud of plaster dust, but one by one, gently, nicely, in a well-behaved way. It didn’t help with the nightmare, but at least it didn’t make it worse.

Flashback to last Thursday: I got a note from the caretaker (yes, the one whose daughter is still alive in spite of trying to ride my old bike), saying that they, that is the builders that have been bothering us all day long for several weeks, and himself, had noticed a damp patch level with my bathroom on the external wall : there was a leak somewhere.

Panic in Shepherds Bush.

A plumber was summoned. He discovered that some of the tiles in my bathroom, which is tiled from head to toe, were coming off the walls. Oh, that! That’s not new; they’ve been hanging by a thread for several months. I’ve been very busy; I was waiting for the “right time” to do something about them. They didn’t bother me; I was very careful not to splash about when I had my (hand-held) shower.

The plumber’s verdict: there’s no leak anywhere; the wall’s damp because water has been going behind the loose tiles. They have to come off. The nightmare begins. Visions of all the tiles crashing down, etc. etc.

Back to the present. The loose tiles have been removed. I still can’t have anything done to the walls (I’d rather have them painted: you can see what’s happening at any given moment) because the outside wall has to dry up first.

I find it all very distressing. I like to do things myself. I feel powerless in front of those semi-bare walls.

Oh yes, the slap! I suppose I should slap myself for not dealing with the problem earlier. And I’m slapping my tiles for hiding the problem in the first place. So there!

Sunday, 18 September 2005

First a secret, then a lie

Secrets and Lies by Mike Leigh is one of my favourite films: one of those I can watch every single time it’s shown on TV (there are a few others that never cease to delight me). It’s wonderful: funny, profound, heartbreaking, delicate. The acting is superb. You care deeply for the characters: they are real people with real emotions.

It’s the way Mike Leigh develops his projects: he chooses a subject; selects a handful of actors and tells them to go out there and work out their characters. The scripts evolve through research and improvisation. Very often the actors don’t know what the others are actually playing. In Vera Drake, for instance, only Imelda Staunton, who plays the title role, knew that her character was an abortionist, so when the police come to arrest her the look of utter horror on the faces of the other characters is absolutely genuine.

So, considering what gems Mike Leigh can create (there were also Abigail’s Party and Nuts in May, among others), what was it my partner and I saw last night at the National Theatre? What was that lightweight, banal, lazy, superficial, cliché-ridden play? We bought our tickets ages ago; at the time, of course, no one knew what the play was about – not even Mike Leigh himself. It was announced as “A New Play by Mike Leigh” and it sold out within minutes because… well, because of what I said above. We all trusted him to produce something exhilarating.

It now has a title – it’s called Two Thousand Years – but it’s not worth seeing. It was fascinating while it was a mystery. Now it’s as interesting as listening to a trivial conversation at a party.

Some critics are already saying it deserves to transfer to the West End, after its run at the NT (btw, if you hate E M Forster and love this play I can't be your best friend; don't bother) : it makes me wonder whether we saw the same play. But, then, I didn’t like David Hare’s Amy’s View and Alan Bennett’s The History Boys either (to name but two), and they were hailed as masterpieces.

A slap to Mike Leigh for disappointing us!

Friday, 16 September 2005

Is this your idea of fun?

I love animals. That, as I wrote in a recent post, doesn’t necessarily make me a better person, but the people I saw the other night on the TV are evil.

I wouldn’t have deliberately chosen to watch a revolting programme about taxidermists, but it was very late and the choice was between that Open University programme about autism, which I’ve seen so many times, on BBC2, or a hockey match on Channel Five. So I chose the one where horrible, macho men and women (women can be macho too) were shown shooting innocent creatures just for fun, just to skin and mount them in weird, so-called “natural” poses.

I’d never asked myself where taxidermists got their animals from; I’d certainly never thought they actually killed them themselves, but it seems that most of them do, at least in America. The taxidermists interviewed for that programme were all American and were planning to compete in the World Championship.

One woman was looking for a coyote. A man went to Africa and shot a beautiful leopard. He insisted on being photographed with his foot on it, like in the bad old days of big game hunting. Laughing, he said, “We got to have a little bit of fun.” He was wearing a necklace from which hung fingers, ears, testicles that had belonged to a monkey he’d previously shot too. Another man had killed a curlew and had some problem balancing it on the stand once he’d stuffed it. One taxidermist was accompanied by his 9-year-old daughter, who kept saying, looking at the corpse of a lovely deer lying in the snow, “Cool!” As her father was removing the animal’s heart, all she could say was, “Cool!” She had herself shot another deer and was going to mount it herself.

One of those barbarians summed up their philosophy, “I get pleasure from taking something lifeless and bringing it back to life.” Lifeless? Lifeless! It wasn’t lifeless until you killed it!

I was reminded of what I’d seen, at the meeting of the Residents’ Association, the other night: one of the members is a young man whose flat is full of bits of dead animals, some killed by him. There used to be two fox tails hanging from the curtain rail (he’s now removed them). He proudly showed us a stuffed cat sitting on a chair. It made my skin crawl. I expect he belongs to the Countryside Alliance and opposes the ban on hunting with dogs. He seems a nice young man otherwise, but I feel I’m not even from the same planet.

I know a slap is inadequate. What else can I do?

Tuesday, 13 September 2005

On yer bike!

I have a folding bicycle. I bought it on eBay last year. I don’t know why I got it since I’m scared of using it on the roads and riding on the pavement is not allowed. I sometimes think I acquire things just to see if my minute flat can accommodate them. And to my amazement it usually does. So this lovely silver bike, which I hardly ever fold or use, sits in my tiny corridor, getting dusty and glaring at me when I go past. Four times I inflated the tyres this summer, with the intention of taking the cute machine out, but I got too busy and, anyway, I couldn’t run the risk of having an accident and breaking my arm, for instance, so the tyres are once again flat.

I used to have another bike (I love bikes, what can I do?). I sold it to our head porter. It was also foldable, but it had a tendency to collapse from under you without warning. Not a good thing in a bike. I was going to try and flog it to the owner of a bike shop, who said he might take it on a sale or return basis, when the porter expressed an interest in it. He offered me a reasonable price for it so he took it away. I couldn’t swear I didn’t half hope the bike would cause him an injury – there’s bad blood between us. In fact, he wanted it for one of his daughters. I think she’s still alive.

Since the events in July, we keep seeing ads on the TV about how cycling is enjoyable and good for you. A lot of folks have abandoned public transport and cycle to work every day. London roads are incredibly dangerous and sometimes cyclists are part of the problem. You know what they’re like: they don’t care about regulations; traffic lights don’t apply to them. I have yet to see a cyclist stopping at a light and waiting there patiently for it to turn green: they always zoom through. As a pedestrian, it really annoys me and I probably should slap them, but I have a nagging feeling I would do the same if I ever took my bike out – which I don’t.

We’ve just had a meeting with the managing agents of the block of flats I live in (my partner and I belong to the Residents’ Association’s Committee) and the question of where to put our bikes came up. Bikes are not allowed in the communal parts, of course, and there’s currently nowhere they can be parked, so most residents keep them in their flats (see, I’m not the only one). But, a little while ago, the managing agents threatened to ban them from everywhere. They said one wouldn’t be able to even cross the communal parts carrying or pushing one’s bike, in case it damaged the walls or something. The lifts shouldn’t be used either in case the wall covering of those lifts got scratched. Outraged, we asked them to find a space to put racks in. Somewhere secure and preferably protected from the elements. They said they would think about it.

I have to slap them for looking at the problem the wrong way:
1) you allow and even encourage people to own bikes, because they’re good for the environment, for health, etc.
2) you create a space for them to keep those bikes
3) then, and only then, you worry about the potential damage to the building and find reasonable solutions to the problem

Who gives more importance to a wall covering than to people’s health or the environment? Slap!

Saturday, 10 September 2005

Disleksia doezn’t eggsist

I watched a fascinating programme the other night – about poor readers. I don’t know why I’m so interested in such topics since I don’t have children and I managed to escape being a teacher, but I am. (I know lots about autism too, for instance: there’s this Open University programme that’s on at 3am from time to time; I keep catching it – I must have seen at least three times; it’s from the ‘70s and everything's brown.)

Anyway, it’s been known for several years that there is no such thing as dyslexia: all poor readers – low-IQ ones as well as high-IQ ones – suffer from the same minor neurological defect. They said it was like being a bit colour-blind.

Children who’ve been diagnosed as dyslexic are currently given coloured spectacles to wear or put through exercises to improve their coordination, or whatever. But poor reading has nothing to do with poor eyesight or poor coordination, therefore improving those can’t help in any way.

Contrary to what most people think, they said, reading is not a high-level intellectual skill (lots of otherwise mentally handicapped people can read perfectly well). It’s just a question of decoding tiny speech sounds. The bit of the brain that doesn’t work properly is not involved in anything else and has nothing to do with intelligence. We know about that now, thanks to brain scans.

The causes of poor reading can be genetic or environmental: these days, a lot of kids don’t hear spoken language around them. Parents stick them in from of the TV and don’t sing them nursery rhymes, for instance – probably because they don’t have the time or have themselves poor language skills.

At a young age poor reading has no effect on the IQ, but it very rapidly does, because reading, and therefore the learning of new vocabulary, increases the IQ, since vocabulary is an indispensable learning tool. Poor reading leads to poor spelling to poor writing to poor thinking, etc. (What puzzles me, by the way, is how apparently avid readers can be such diabolical spellers and whether that impairs their thought-processes. But that's beside the point.)

Ultimately, those poor spellers/so-called dyslexics give up on the school system and the system gives up on them.

Even the Dyslexia Society in this country acknowledges the scientists' findings. Yet school authorities are resisting the advice of those scientists and continue to do nothing about the problem except sending children to be diagnosed with something that doesn’t exist. Parents are, of course, a big obstacle: they don’t want their kids to be labelled “poor readers” – “dyslexic” sounds so much better. It makes the kids feel “special” too.

I want to slap them all because it only takes eight weeks of intensive tuition to produce amazing results. All they have to do is to follow a pioneering Recovery Programme developed by New Zealand. Only two local authorities in the UK have introduced it – with great success. Shame on the others!

Thursday, 8 September 2005

Tête à claques II

This is turning into a gallery, or one of those funfair whatchamacallits, where you throw leather balls at people’s heads.

Today’s Tête à claques is Keira Knightley. I shout at the TV whenever she appears. That's a sure sign.

When I heard that she was filming Pride and Prejudice, I thought, “Nah, can’t be! No one would be so stupid! She can’t be playing Lizzie Bennet!” But she is! You’d have to pay me to go and see that film, and, even then, I might find something better to do with my time. The last TV adaptation of P&P was absolutely superb – you know, the one with the wet shirt and the delightful Jennifer Ehle – and I have no intention of spoiling my memory of it with this new rubbishy one.

I can’t stand KK: in profile she looks like a sheep (and that’s being nasty towards sheep) and she can’t act. She’s so wooden. She was appalling in a recent TV remake of Dr Zhivago (there again, who in their right mind would try and replace the wonderful, luminescent Julie Christie?!). I can't believe anyone takes her seriously as an actress.

And the way she “smoulders”… Ugh! Shrimps are not sexy.

Slap slap!

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”

From my desk – to which I am chained all day – I can see a big tree. It’s beautiful and very leafy. Because of it, in summer, I don’t get as much sun as I might if it wasn’t there – but I forgive it.

In spring, I sometimes catch a glimpse of a single bud or leaf suddenly falling down and I know a squirrel is having a feast up there. If I’m lucky I then see the little furry beast leaping among the branches. Delightful!

Today, I saw leaves falling – and no squirrel in sight. Autumn is around the corner.

I'm not Keats; I don’t like autumn (especially in the city). By the time winter arrives I’ve got used to the gloom and I can bear the cold too, but around now I get depressed by the waning of the light.

I’m slapping summer – my favourite season – for always being temperamental here, in London; for never living up to my expectations; for always being my busiest time.

And for not staying around long enough.

Tuesday, 6 September 2005

Hey, I haven’t had a holiday for a week!

How many holidays do you have a year? One? Two? What about 26? If you’d like to have a week’s holiday every two weeks get a job with the BBC.

I’m currently translating two programmes for BBC Radio: they’re being entered in a competition in Spain, in November. I’ve done this job for 18 years. I used to have two months to do the work; this year, they’ve given me 11 days (I managed to get a two-day extension , but still… it’s crazy).

So I was already going to slap the BBC for drastically reducing my deadline every year. It’s not like those competitions land on the BBC unannounced. They take place every single year, at more or less the same period. It’s like when British Rail comes to a standstill if a flake of snow or a leaf falls on a railway track: it’s winter, for G-d’s sake!; couldn’t you prepare for it? BBC producers have a whole year to select programmes to enter and what do they do? – they wait until the very last minute.

Anyway, I got the scripts, but I also have to translate synopses and biographies for those programmes. Last Friday, I asked the person in charge of supplying me with them to get his ass off his chair and get them for me asap (oh, I so wish I could actually say that!). Rephrase: I left a polite message on his voicemail. He obviously wasn’t there (why should anyone work on a Friday: it’s gonna be the weekend in a minute). There was still no sign of anything yesterday so I left another message and sent him an email. Silence. Today I called his boss. Within fifteen minutes, I got an email from the guy, saying “Sorry, I have been on leave for a week.”

What sort of excuse is that?! I’ve been working for a week – for you! You knew I needed that stuff; why couldn’t you get it for me before you went away? Years ago, I practically stopped going on holiday: I worked in a publishing house, where no one else could do my job, which meant I had to think of everything that might need to be done while I was away and do it before I left. It was incredibly stressful.

The BBC guy is never stressed. When he has a week’s holiday coming, he just takes off. I know someone else who works for the BBC. He too has multiple holidays all through the year. I’m telling you: that’s the kind of employer you want.

But you don’t just need to choose the right employer; you also need to work full-time, because, as a freelance, you lose on all counts. When you go away on holiday, not only are you not earning but also you’re using your savings. As for getting paid to have fun, forget it.

Actually, come to think of it, it’s my money they’re using (through the licence).


Monday, 5 September 2005

Spammers, be gone!

I've just had three spam comments in quick succession (deleted two of them). I expect there will be more so I'm turning on the word verification function. Please don't let this deter you from commenting and slapping, if you feel like it. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Those random mixes of letters can be a lot of fun.

Sunday, 4 September 2005

Wow! Thanks!

Would you rather be insulted or patronized?

Some compliments are worse than insults.

I was talking to an acquaintance the other day: she's French too and has lived in the UK for 11 years, i.e. a b***** long time. For years she worked in the language department of a prestigious publishing house in Oxford; she's currently the managing editor of another publishing house in London. You'd think she wouldn't have to prove her credentials as an English speaker any more. Yet, she complains, every time she meets someone new the first thing they say to her is, “Your English is very good!” Then they ask when she's going back to France.

It drives her nuts.

I've lived in the UK for 26 years; before moving here permanently in 1979, I spent two whole years in the country (in 1970 and 1974), not counting long holidays in between. I also studied English at school and at university. I worked as a production editor in a London publishing house for five years. I've been a literary translator for 30 years. Yet, on first meeting me, even those who are aware of my background go, “Your English is very good!”

It drives me nuts.

In 1974, I worked as a dresser at the Aldwych Theatre, which was the London base of the Royal Shakespeare Company. In between costume changes I used to go to the Green Room to chat or read. I remember I was reading The Once and Future King, when a young stagehand I'd known for several years and who probably had never read a whole book in his life came up to me, looked over my shoulder and said, “Wow! You're reading an English book?!” I was speechless. I'd had long conversations with that young man: what language did he think we'd been speaking together? I felt insulted and patronized at the same time. The following day, I handed in my resignation and a few weeks later returned to France. I’d suddenly seen myself as others saw me.

If someone insults you, you can retaliate and insult them back. How do you react when you're being patronized?

Take this older person I know. She's a member of my partner's family; she wants to be friendly, but the last time I had a conversation with her she informed me that “The Jews are really clever, aren't they?” Hmm… “clever”. In what way are we “clever”? If we’re so “clever”, as someone said once, how come six million of us managed to get slaughtered so easily? She means “cunning”, “crafty”, “wily”. She’s being racist and she doesn’t know it. She thinks she’s being nice to me. Thanks, but I don’t need you to reassure me that the Jews are “okay people” – especially not in those terms.

A slap to all patronizing people out there!

Friday, 2 September 2005

“I shall be acceptable.”* “No, you won’t!”

Apparently, a third of European cancer patients are turning to alternative therapies.

What on earth can they be thinking of? Do they really believe that a few lotions and potions, or a few massages or whatever are going to be enough to fight cell division gone berserk?

I’ve had cancer: a very rare ocular melanoma (why can’t I be so lucky with the lottery?!) that had taken seven years before revealing itself completely (I’d had badly understood symptoms before) and would have killed me very rapidly (melanoma is the most virulent form of cancer) had I not had drastic treatment for it. Fortunately, I was in the right country at the right time. Had I still been living in France I would be sporting an eye-patch now, but I was able to benefit from a very new treatment: Cyclotron proton therapy. Only three countries in the world offered it and the UK was one of them. After an operation, during which tiny titanium clips were implanted in my eye, I underwent that amazing treatment in a prefab lab, in a small hospital outside Liverpool. The place smelled of new wood and didn’t inspire much confidence. But, here I am, 15 years later, not quite looking like Mr Squeers (touch wood!).

A few days after I came back from Liverpool, I received a phone call from a dear friend. She suggested I might want to go and have some kind of complementary therapy. I told her that I believed in the cutting-edge treatment I’d just had; that I had put all my energies into it and didn’t want to somehow “dilute” it. Wanting to spare her feelings, I didn’t actually tell her I didn’t have money to give to charlatans.

Poor John Diamond, Nigella’s former and better husband, used to rail against those people who kept telling him he wasn’t getting well because he didn’t have complementary therapy, when the doctors had had to remove his tongue and G-d knows what else and he couldn’t speak or taste any of the wonderful dishes his heartless wife (here’s someone who deserves a slap) was cooking for the public. So much of his precious energy was spent fending off those silly people.

Recently, homeopathy was shown to be no better than placebo in curing illnesses. It is thought that patients think it works because they feel they’ve been listened to properly by their homeopath. The results also show that you have to believe in it very strongly to get any effect from it.

I could have believed all I wanted in homeopathy, or Reiki or spiritual healing or whatever, when I was diagnosed with cancer; it wouldn’t have done any good. I would still be dead today. If you have a serious, life-threatening illness, get yourself to the most high-tech establishment you can find, as quickly as you can, because erratic cell division will not respond to a dilution of arsenic or sulphur. And then you can have all the massages you want if it makes you feel good. Or, even better, leave all that (expensive) hokum to the worried well.

A slap to those snake oil peddlers, who cynically take desperate people for a ride and endanger their lives!

* “placebo” in Latin.