All this fuss about Fifty Shades of Grey! I wonder how many people have actually read all three books? Sado-masochism is only half the story. When you’ve waded through the entire oeuvre, if such appalling writing can be dignified with that term, you discover that the whole story is one of redemption. The ostensibly wicked, but aptly named, Christian is actually a tormented man who was cruelly abused by his mother and re-enacts this cruelty towards his lovers. But with a good woman (and a baby), pervy dungeons vanish and love conquers all. Pure Mills & Boon.
These days I don’t go to films. I watch the trailers instead and I’ve saved myself hours of misery. Wild, Birdman, Whiplash — I listen with schadenfreude as friends describe the torture they’ve suffered watching films like these. Were there a trailer for the new Stoppard play I’d watch that to confirm that I don’t want to go. Not that there’s any need. Years ago I was taken by Barry Humphries to the first London run of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. As we walked out before the interval, accompanied by the sniggering knowingness of the audience, Barry remarked: ‘It’s said that Stoppard turns the English language on its head. He does. But why?’ (I hope I remember that quote correctly. I was recently approached by a shining-eyed woman who clutched my sleeve and confided: ‘I have to tell you! Years ago you changed my life!’ ‘How?’ I asked, flattered. ‘You told me to follow my heart!’ Really? Me? Follow your heart? I think not!)
But last week I had a much more interesting theatrical experience. I saw Kim Noble’s one-man hour-long show You’re Not Alone, at the Soho Theatre. He appeared for much of the time in nothing more than grubby underpants. A chap from the audience was stripped to the waist and then dressed in clothes belonging to the performer’s old dad. There were some startling film clips of Noble dressed as a woman, grooming hapless sex-starved men on the internet; more film of him pretending to work at B&Q and Ikea. It was all harrowing, worrying, disgusting — and touching. And there was a real horse involved. I’ve never seen anything like it before and I wouldn’t mind seeing it again.
Last weekend I joined campaigners outside Speigelhalter’s in the Mile End Road. This rather dismal little wreck of a shopfront is more than it appears — it’s a symbol of East End pluck and bloodymindedness. In the 1920s this family of German jewellers held out against the development of the big Wickham department store, ‘the Harrods of the East End’. The architects had to build around it and the result is a marvellous visual joke. Now the Save Speigelhalter’s campaign is trying to rescue it once more from the encroachment of a hideous new development and defend it against corporate bullying. Over the years I’ve been instrumental in preventing a tramline along the Uxbridge Road and the building of a café on Shepherd’s Bush Green, and now I’m trying to prevent half — yes, half — a local park being privatised. So many people despair of making a difference, but it only takes a few good men and women (like David Collard, organiser of the campaign) to galvanise the public to wield their power and get things done.
A stranger stopped me as I left a drinks do last week. ‘Before you go,’ he said, exuding what he thought was the utmost charm. ‘I must say that you remind me so much of Judi Dench.’ As JD is more than ten years older than me, entirely round and half my height, I didn’t know how to respond. Marilyn Monroe? Yes. Juliette Binoche? Yes. Judi Dench? No. (Anyway, what is it with these people, like Jenni and Judi and Jodi, who spell their names with an ‘i’?)
Last week Rod Liddle wrote here that it was only Guardian subs who insisted on political correctness in his copy. He could get away with anything everywhere else. But recently when I mentioned, in a Daily Mail article about hair, that I’d once sported an Afro, I was told that only African people can have Afros. My text had to be changed to ‘then I copied the singer Marsha Hunt’s Afro’.
Splendid do recently at my friend Colin Brewer’s fab 17th-century residence on the Thames, slap-bang next to the Globe theatre and overlooking St Paul’s, to celebrate publication of the brilliantly titled I’ll See Myself Out, Thank You, a collection of essays to which I am proud to have contributed, endorsing the right-to-die movement. Not a bad place to die, actually. The house, I mean, not the book launch. Or perhaps I do mean the book launch. That would certainly be a way to go.
Virginia Ironside’s latest book, Yes! I Can Manage, Thank You! is published next week. She writes an agony-aunt column, ‘Dilemmas’, for the Independent.