People are still asking ‘So, how was your summer’ and mine was nice as far as it went: I didn’t ‘go away’ but spent long weeks rambling on Exmoor in the drizzle, baking scones and making and remaking beds for the various guests who came and went, supplying them with endless free hot meals. Then I was sacked on the spot by the new incoming editor of my paper. I always regard it as a badge of honour to be sacked. It’s business. In fact, most national newspaper editors have sacked me and then forgotten and tried to rehire me at least once, so I try never to take it personally (just as my then boyfriend Ivo dumped me in an Italian restaurant in Notting Hill but was so blotto he had no memory of the occasion and we married a few months later). I was holding up, I promise, but then Ivo broke his right hand playing tennis on my birthday, which meant my ‘lovely surprise’ was… hosting and clearing up a secret dinner for myself for 14 plus a miniature Schnauzer puppy belonging to my brother Jo, which has since been deported to Wales (that’s another story) by his wife. Oh well, things can only get better — as Labour said in 1997.
I went to the Big Tent Ideas fest — aka the Tory Glasto — in Cambridge at the weekend partly to bounce on the bed of the revamped University Arms. Michael Gove gave the keynote at the shakedown i.e. donors’ dinner. Afterwards I was asked what he’d said. Something about far-right populism being a reaction to the financial crash as well as uncontrolled immigration… er… something about post-liberalism… and democracy being either anti-fragile or fragile, and that’s it. Sorry.
Penny Mordaunt was there and, keeping my intellectual end up, I asked her if she’d ever do reality TV again. ‘Not unless I had a lido to refurbish,’ the Splash contestant answered, then told me that as a result of her red swimsuit ‘even now, the high diving boards are going up in Portsmouth’. I am keeping a file of all the wacky reality requests I get. Recent favourites include an offer to put on prosthetics and go to rugby clubs and pubs to live, Tiresias-like, as a man as well as a woman; and an invitation to don lederhosen to live as a shepherd in Bavaria for several weeks, with ‘scraping out hooves’ as entertainment (I flipped this to my friend Camilla Long who replied, ‘If you do not do this one I will never speak to you again’). Last week I was asked to live off only junk food for three weeks to flag up the obesity crisis and the addition of 1,000 new fast-food outlets onto the streets every year. ‘For the show, we will follow a cast of famous faces as they discover the effects fatty food has on their bodies and brains.’ The email ended: ‘We thought you’d be a great person to be part of this project!’ I can’t think why. I know many men (some of them my sons) who have been on this ‘fast-food fast’ forever and seem fine.
Which reminds me: one guest found conditions while embedded in our farmhouse in the Exe Valley challenging (he’d had prior warning his room boasted no ‘ensuite’ and also that our water supply off the hill had dried to a trickle). He managed no evacuation at all for the duration of his stay, a lack of progress the house party monitored with schoolboy amusement. We were, as you can imagine, both thrilled and relieved to receive an email entitled ‘Update’, reporting that the facilities at Sedgemoor Service Station on the M5 had been the eventual recipient of his four-day restraint. Harry Mount, the editor of the Oldie, was proud to suffer no ill effects — indeed, I was very tickled that he was the only guest ever to have left a tip (let alone a large one of £30) on the bedside table as if we were a mini-stately with hot and cold running staff rather than a modest dwelling with almost no water supply at all.
At the Oval on Monday I witnessed Cook’s productive last partnership with Root — happier and longer than most marriages — while lapped in golden Indian summer sunshine. All around normal-sized men sat eating pork pies, sausage rolls, and crusty pies with chips, supping pints of ale, but they sprang to their feet and cheered and wept for minutes when the handsome Boy’s Own hero captain made his final century for England, and the Indian team formed up to clap and pat him off the pitch. Whenever Root made a boundary the crowd went ‘Roooooot’ like cows in a difficult labour. After he was out, the crowd chanted, ‘Jonny Bairstow, you are the love of my life, Oh Jonny Bairstow, why don’t you shag my wife?’ as Bairstow came in to bat. When Bairstow was out all too soon my husband observed: ‘Oh well, at least he can go back and shag their wives now.’ What a day. It helped explain to me why English men don’t do feelings — they choose the communal experience of sport for raw emotion instead.