Long letter from the High Mistress of St Paul’s Girls’ School, addressing me as ‘Dear Old Paulina’ (I thought we were never ‘Old Paulinas’, merely ‘Paulinas’ till the bitter end, but I will let the solecism pass). It informs me that fellow former pupils have been in touch to report sexual abuse when I was there ‘between the 1970s and the 1990s’. The letter invites #metoo to name and shame teachers — who must be well into their dotage if not dead — while insisting that the numera una assoluta girls’ school in the world is now a sterile, predator-free zone. The letter is spattered with every compulsory clunky current buzzword and phrase, such as ‘safe, intellectually-stimulating and challenging environment’… ‘safeguarding is not confined to school hours’… ‘we have a whistleblowing policy’ and on and on. This world of ‘appropriate’ and ‘compliance inspections’ is a far cry from my happy school days in the 1980s when girls in the grip of uncontrollable pashes used to flit across Brook Green after dark in their nighties to shade like cats into each others’ bedrooms, and there were only three rules: no high heels on the marble, no jeans, and no smoking on school grounds. O tempora, etc!
Thinking of my school days brought back bittersweet memories of my English teacher Miss Gough (she also made it to High Mistress), whom I worshipped, but appeared immune to my charms. When I bumped into her with her female partner in the street just after I’d published my first book (it was a diary as it happens) I was filled with pride. I waited for her to congratulate me. ‘When are you going to write a proper book, Rachel?’ was all she said about it, before dilating on the superior qualities of another Paulina. Her special pet, as she never left me in doubt, was ‘Vicky’ Coren. That was in 2005. Still haven’t got over it.
I have to admit, I feel a bit sorry for Damian Green about the porn found on his work computer. What if someone else had downloaded it? What if it had been planted as kompromat via some Russian malware? Especially as what’s on telly can be far more alarming. I was sofa-side on Monday night, crying through Gabriel Gatehouse’s Newsnight package on the massacre of Rohingya Muslims, which showed dead babies and interviewed their mothers and widowed fathers. I was so distressed that my husband changed to Channel 4 for relief. On our wide HD flatscreen were close-ups of no fewer than six hairless adult female pudenda. It was his turn to scream, and he bolted from the room. Later I found him lying motionless on the bed, staring at the ceiling. ‘You can’t have a lady garden if you pull up all the plants,’ he said, dully. ‘It’s like shaving cats or dogs.’ Producers of Naked Attraction, take note. Gentlemen of a certain age who grew up before the age of porn passim still prefer ladies au naturel and are traumatised by what they see on screen. Plus we need a new warning for when something is so explicit that it’s not merely NSFW — ‘not safe for work’, even Damian probably knows this by now — but ‘not safe for home’, either.
The requests to comment on my male relations have been coming at me even faster this week. Will I do a package for This Week, a late-night politics show, about ‘whether I think Boris will make a great prime minister?’ He would, but no. Next! My father has signed up for I’m a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!, so would I appear on Good Morning Britain to give an interview ‘in support of my dad entering the camp in Australia?’ No. Will I chat to BBC Bristol’s Points West show — as Stanley has a hill farm on nearby Exmoor — about a Johnson in the jungle? No. At the time of writing I am fending off requests from my own features editor to pen a 1,500-word ‘affectionate portrait’ of my own father for this Sunday. Thanks for asking — I know you have to do it — but no.
Having said that, the woman who got my father to do the show in Oz, Micky Van Praagh, is a piece of work. I turned down her offer to do the jungle last year, but she very nearly got me over the line. She knows which buttons to push. She never gives up. She knows that everyone has their price, and what it is. If Mrs May is serious about us leaving the EU on 29 March 2019, the day of doom/destiny (delete as appropriate) she should hire the bookers of I’m a Celebrity… straight away as Brexit negotiators to do the dirty deal.