Sunday, 28 May 2006

Off with their heads!

The French Revolution has always been my favourite historical period. After years of learning about the Merovingians (oh, yes!) and about this or that war mostly against la perfide Albion, I remember it as a refreshing change to be taught about exciting events actually taking place in France and not involving military strategy (I could have told soldiers what to do – in Latin and French – at the age of 15). It became even more fascinating when, after we all took the Gaston Berger personality test in class, I discovered I was Robespierre’s alter ego. His nickname was L’Incorruptible so he was a hard act to follow (as if!). And I don’t have the time right now to even hint at the influence Marat has had on my life.

Anyway, however flawed those revolutionaries may have been, they were instrumental in having Marie-Antoinette guillotined. And for that I have to applaud them. Although, I suppose, she and that ninny of a husband of hers, could have been sent away into exile somewhere, if they hadn’t had so many supporters abroad. They did try to escape, but were caught and brought back to face the music.

Marie-Antoinette was a silly woman. She was sent to France from Austria as a very young girl and did nothing but spend spend spend. She was the Queen and it wasn’t in her remit to bother about her subjects’ welfare so she didn’t. The people got fed up with her and with all the other freeloaders who were making their lives a misery, and executed them all. End of story.

Unfortunately, that airhead pops up again and again, and now there’s a new film about her. There’s also a new book about the perfumes she used. I love perfume but I couldn’t care less about her tastes in that respect. I want to know about truly great women. Women who have achieved something; who have done something for humanity; who are role models; whose lives are uplifting. Spare me the aristocrats and the courtesans: they have nothing to teach us.

I don’t know why Sofia Coppola’s film was booed at Cannes. Let’s hope it’s because it’s a bad film not because the tide is turning and the French are getting all misty-eyed about Marie-Antoinette again and resent anything disparaging said against her. I don’t keep up with those things but I expect there still is a Comte de Paris (the so-called heir to the throne) waiting for the monarchy to be restored in France. So far, luckily, he’s been a figure of fun, but who knows?

The Tsar and his family had a similar fate. Tough. The Romanovs never showed any mercy towards anyone, why should they have been spared? (Even today I can hardly bring myself to call St Petersburg by its old name: it conjures up so many horrific pictures).

Forgive me for not shedding tears over tyrants. Those people were bad. And the fact that they died in terrible circumstances does not make them better. Given half a chance they would have become even worse and their heirs would have followed in their footsteps.

A slap to anyone who romanticizes and mythologizes oppressors!

Wednesday, 24 May 2006

In my next life…

I will get a menial job, marry a multimillionaire, remain a trophy wife for a few years, then divorce my husband and claim what’s ‘rightly’ mine. Because I have now an ‘expected standard of living’ I will be awarded £5m.

Or… I will have the ‘promise’ of a very good career, marry a multimillionaire, raise children, then divorce after a long time and get £250,000 every year for the rest of my life.

Wonder what the better deal is. Where’s my calculator?

On a smaller scale, I could just be an ordinary woman, marry an ordinary man working all his life for a caring company, raise one quiet daughter, have plenty of time to pursue my hobbies, become widowed around the age of 75 and live on my husband’s very good pension for many years.

I got it all wrong.

Slapping myself!

Sunday, 21 May 2006

Tête à claques X

I’m sure everyone’s been asking themselves why I haven’t nominated Scarlett Johansson as a Tête à claques before. What was I thinking? Look at her!

I'm slapping her for keeping her big mouth open all the time. It’s supposed to make her look sexy, right? Wrong! It makes her look gormless.

Obviously, she’s been told she's the new Marilyn Monroe. Not a chance! The big difference between Marilyn and Scarlett is that even at her most tarty Marilyn looked innocent, whereas even at her most innocent Scarlett looks like a tart.

She’s not a bad actress but she’s not all that. And being Woody Allen’s pet these days isn’t such a great recommendation, is it?

Slap slap!

Wednesday, 17 May 2006

Just because you don't know...

I was listening to Matthew Parris’s programme Great Lives on Radio 4 yesterday. He began like this: “I don’t choose whose great life to explore, I only choose my guest, and when she told me this week she’d nominated an obscure Hungarian doctor of the mid-nineteenth century, whom you’ve probably never heard of and I certainly hadn’t, I did wonder whether it might have my listeners lunging for the off switch….”

I guessed who he was talking about and mouthed ‘Semmelweis’* and then slapped this supposedly educated man for not being familiar with the name and for assuming that no one else would be either. I thought for a moment he was just being ‘British’, i.e. he didn’t want to appear to know too much, but he genuinely didn’t have a clue and I'm sure the word ‘obscure’ was his, not his guest’s.

If you’re ignorant, it’s not such a good idea to assume that everyone else is too – especially on a supposedly ‘intellectual’ radio station. It makes you look stupid and patronizing.

It’s not a good idea to do that in writing either. A little while ago, someone who discusses translation on his blog wrote an excited post about how he’d discovered – after over ten years in the UK – the meaning of a fairly common word. It made him sound so silly!

It’s always better to overestimate the knowledge and intelligence of your listeners/viewers/readers. It makes you look generous and it makes them feel good.


*If, by any chance, you don’t know who Semmelweis was, look him up: his story is absolutely fascinating. Women owe him an awful lot.

Friday, 12 May 2006

Condemned to live

So the Lords, who are not elected by us, have rejected a Bill that would have legalised voluntary euthanasia – under strict conditions.

I would have voted ‘yes’. If, god forbid*, I become terminally ill and in unbearable pain, I want the right to be helped to die by a doctor. A couple of months ago, the vet who gave my pussycat a lethal injection, less than half an hour after it was revealed she was hopelessly ill and in pain, said he considered it a ‘privilege’ to spare her more suffering. I want to be treated with the same compassion we show animals at the end of their lives. If they could speak, they would thank us, I’m sure.

Some of the most vocal opponents of the Bill were, of course, religious groups. I’m not a believer; I don’t thank god everyday for my being alive. I don’t see life as the best thing since sliced bread, as it were. Not being alive wouldn’t bother me. I just hope I won’t have to travel to Switzerland any time soon…

On a related subject: interviewed the other day about that 63-year-old pregnant woman, a medic said that this was not the time to fulfil everyone’s desire for a child; that the Earth’s resources were already getting scarce. Pressed further, he even agreed that the number of resuscitations would probably have to be restricted too. Especially since they are so seldom completely successful. Someone else said, a little while ago, they only knew of one successful resuscitation in 25 years. It was, he said, the fault of programmes like ER, where people are routinely brought back to life and assumed to go on living totally unscathed by the experience, when, in fact, they suffer all sorts of indignities afterwards. He – a professional – said he wished for a fast and painless death. A fatal heart attack was the best, he said. That’s what I would wish for me and mine.

If I am ever hospitalised with any kind of serious illness, my chart will have a big DNR on it.

I think we need a referendum on euthanasia. I believe the majority of reasonable people would be in favour of it. I’d like to slap the Lords for bowing to minority pressure groups. Slap!

*not a believer, but superstitious nonetheless.

Saturday, 6 May 2006

Small pleasures from small favours

Since I’ve already denied women the right to make fools of themselves by taking up pole dancing as exercise and learning it at public classes, and thereby contributing to the backlash against feminism, I thought I would now deny women the right to have children at an age when they should be playing with their children’s children or enjoying retirement. But too much has been said about that 63-year-old mother-to-be and the subject has gone stale on me.

Instead, I want to slap people who, having acquired a little bit of power, suddenly take themselves seriously and refuse to do other people small favours, when it’s no skin off their noses.

My partner and I went to Stratford-upon-Avon for Shakespeare’s Birthday (April 23rd, in case you’ve forgotten when it was): the Royal Shakespeare Company had planned masses of events and we thought it would be good fun.

We hadn’t booked for anything (we’d learned about it too late), but we managed to attend two very interesting events (one about playing Cleopatra – with Harriet Walter and Janet Suzman; the other about the Sonnets – with Patrick Stewart and my beloved John Barton). There had been a few tickets left for the first talk, but the second one was booked up. Nevertheless we thought there might be some returns so we queued anyway. There weren’t, but just before the start we were let in, together with four or five other people, because there was space and because they took pity on us. We stood, or sat on the floor, at the back of the room, and spent a wonderful, stimulating two hours.

There was one more event we ‘didn’t mind’ attending: an interview with Judi Dench. It was to take place in the big marquee that had been erected in one of the theatre gardens (and where we’d heard the two Cleopatras earlier that day). For this too tickets were unnumbered and the queue to go in was unbelievable: it went round and round and round… We, and a very small group of other unfortunate, ticket-less people, waited for everyone to be seated. We had money in our hands; there was plenty of standing room on the side of the seating area and there didn’t seem to be any reason why we couldn’t be let in. That’s when I noticed her – Bronwyn Robertson, the most officious woman ever, and I more or less knew we were waiting in vain.

She could have said to us, “You’ve been waiting so patiently; there’s only a few of you; this is the last event of the day; I cannot deprive you of the pleasure of listening to Dame Judi, who’s come specially today – a Sunday – to give this interview. Please come in!” But she didn’t say it and everyone wandered off (one person was in a wheelchair – you’d think she would have allowed them in), disappointed. We did hear the interview for a while, because we discovered that, if we positioned ourselves in a special spot, behind the marquee, and listened closely, we could hear every word. Unfortunately, the questions were so lame and banal and so unworthy of her talent that we gave up halfway through. But that's not the point.

It would have been so easy for Bronwyn to make us all happy. But, no, it was in her power to deny us and she did. I wonder if she got any satisfaction out of it.

I first met Bronwyn in 1974, when I lived in Stratford and needed a job. She was secretary to one of the directors; she was obstructive and annoying. She was then put in charge of something or other and she carried on being unhelpful. I must have been introduced to her a dozen times. She always forgot who I was. It requires a special kind of person to ‘forget’ completely someone they see practically every day.

While I’m slapping people who deserved it in the past but who only got the utmost courtesy from me because I was still hoping to have a career with the RSC at the time I might as well mention Diana Minchall. We met in 1977, when we were both attending the Summer School and were staying in the same B&B. She knew no one; I knew everyone. By the time she went back to London she knew everyone too. Two years later, when she got a job with the RSC (in the Publicity Department), she had a head start. I had told her about the vacancy so she could apply for it and when she got the job she promised to return the favour. Yeah right!

Not only did she not help me in any way but, within a few weeks of her taking up her new post, one might have thought she was the RSC’s Artistic Director, judging from the way she started behaving. I stopped being in the secret of the gods because my contacts assumed she was giving me lots of info and I didn’t need to be told anything.

She was there for about ten years and I never got another chance to get a job with the RSC. Instead of being a help she was an obstruction. I’ve been wanting to slap her smug face for a very long time. There!

When I used to work at Penhaligon’s I had access to perfumes that everyone valued immensely. I was in a position to give my friends a few samples from time to time. And why not? My mistake is that I’ve always expected others to derive as much pleasure from doing (or returning) favours as I have.

I’m sure Judi Dench would have been very sad to know that half a dozen people were turned away that day – for no good reason whatsoever – because of some self-important official.


Tuesday, 2 May 2006

Guest Slapper of the Month IV

Tania of Brain Trapped in Girl's Body took part in NaNoWriMo last year and wrote over 50,000 words in 30 days (in between waxing lyrical about rare vintage perfumes – her other passion) so my little assignment must have been child's play for her. Here's her Slap:

The Commuter's Slaphappy Haiku

In response to Bela's invitation to be her guest slapper for the month of May, I offer you this brief percussive piece: small slaps delivered on my way to work.


Train in the station:
Were tokens so bad?


Thump of busker's drums
marshals citizens to war:
no dollar for you.


Young nonchalant man
embracing the subway pole,
how can I hold on?


The perfume you wear:
white flowers pile close like snow.
Next time put on less.


The small, tinny cry
of your headphone discothèque—
aren't you embarrassed?


Poor immigrant man
sells "battery, one dollar!"
Of course, it's worth less.


It's true man must eat;
fried chicken is delicious.
Just not on the train.


Bright as a rainbow,
Dr. Z's fruit acid peels.
Why do I read this?


Small mouse trapped among
the stampeding elephants.
Don't you see me here?


Single salmon fights
downstairs, blocking upstairs hordes:
You could wait a sec.


Impatient lady,
Jostling like trash in the tides,
You're not important.


Slow elevator:
Yes, I find it annoying.
Do not talk to me.