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Diary

Diary

21 July 2012

6:00 AM

21 July 2012

6:00 AM

A few years back, Julian Maclaren-Ross was a forgotten writer. Today his wonderful books, such as Of Love and Hunger, are back in print, and on Monday, along with his biographer Paul Willetts, I took part in a centenary celebration of his life, with film of the man himself and of many of his contemporaries, most of them now dead: Alan Ross, Joan Wyndham, John Heath-Stubbs. J.M-R., a renowned Fitzrovian bore, was, as a friend of his put it, ‘better on the page than on the pavement’. True of so many writers one knows.

•••

One perk of taking my one-woman show round the country, if you can call it a perk, is the glimpses I get of the north of England. Crikey, it really is grim up there. Accrington, South Shields, Middlesbrough… in most towns all the shops are boarded up and covered with graffiti and the streets are lined with obese young men, lounging around with equally obese dogs, because there’s nothing to do. Occasionally someone putters by on a mobility scooter. A carer might accompany a dilapidated group of the super-elderly to a broken-down day centre housed in some decaying, pillared Victorian building, once a sign of the town’s huge wealth, with the words ‘Labour, Thrift, Dignity and Diligence’ carved into the crumbling pediment. It makes you want to weep. ‘Have any Westminster politicians come up here?’ I asked one local. ‘Do they know what’s going on?’ Well, apparently they do make visits — but invariably they’re taken to the brightly lit new art gallery, one of those white elephants that are now a sure sign of a town in distress. How people survive up there I have no idea. We may whine about being made prisoners of our own homes during the coming Olympics, but in London we live in a prosperous bubble. And has anyone been to Gainsborough? Oh dear oh dear oh dear.

•••


Very chuffed (does anyone say ‘chuffed’ these days except me?) to hear from Peter Boughton, the curator of an exhibition of my uncle Robin Ironside’s work in Chester this September, who has promised to keep the lights turned up during the show. This may sound obvious, but it’s a breakthrough. Most curators turn the lights down, slavishly following conservation guidelines which recommend that all exhibits should be shown in semi-gloom in case they fade. It’s understandable when they’re on permanent display, but since the eyes of people over 60 (most museum and gallery-goers) absorb 30 per cent less light than younger people’s, most of us oldies need a torch to see anything at all. Surely better that the colours fade a fraction during a month’s display and we can see them, than that they be shown in such gloom that no one can make head or tail of them? I saw a collection of New Look clothes at the V&A a while back. They were all gorgeous bright garments celebrating Dior’s new dawn after the war. Sadly they all appeared a sludge grey as they were shown in a light reminiscent of the blackout.

•••

A friend who has nothing better to do has just sent me, in view of the success of what he refers to as ‘Sixty Shades of Shite’, a list of classics renamed so they’ll sell in even more millions. Among them: ‘Pain Eyre’, ‘Anna Caningarear’, ‘Crime and Lots of Punishment’, ‘Swish Family Robinson’, ‘Ouch of Africa’, ‘Put Out More Flagellants’ and ‘Mrs Beaten’s Book of Household Management’.

•••

Spotting an argument in this magazine about the word ‘feisty’, I looked up its origins. I always bristle whenever anyone calls me feisty. The word’s meant as a compliment but I’ve discovered I’m right to have the heebie-jeebies. ‘Feisty’ comes from the German ‘feist dog’ (which, as Dot Wordsworth recently pointed out, itself derives from the old English word ‘fist’ — to break wind). It describes anything small, irritating, yappy, belligerent and full of nervous energy. Like a lot of our MPs, in fact.

•••

Friday: just booked tickets for the Albert Hall, where the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain is playing in September. It’s amazing to look back on the day in the mid-1980s when my son and I first saw this brilliant group in the upstairs room of a pub in St John Street, Islington. At 15, he was too young to buy a drink. Eventually he joined the band. I briefly became an impresario when I put them on at a few venues; now it’s world tour time. Sydney Opera House, Carnegie Hall, the Albert Hall, nearly sold out, and the North Pole (or as near as anyone can get to it). I notice that Gainsborough isn’t on their itinerary.

Virginia Ironside’s one-woman show, Growing Old Disgracefully, is at the Gilded Balloon in Edinburgh throughout August.


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