Philip Hensher

Give me a break

Philip Hensher was rude about Tracey Emin. Now, he suspects, she is ordering incontinence pads for him

It started with some junk mail. I threw it out: I gave no consideration to the fact that it was addressed to a Miss Phyllis Henshaw. I put it down to some glitch in the address-sharing industry. But then the telephone calls started. The first one was from a business I’d always been rather unhealthily intrigued by: the photographic makeover studio. ‘Could I speak to Miss Phyllis Henshaw, please?’ the voice said. ‘I think you’ve made a mistake,’ I said. ‘This is Philip Hensher. There isn’t a Phyllis Henshaw.’ ‘Ah,’ she said, before starting on her scripted spiel. ‘I don’t think you understand,’ I said, in the manner of the Cardinal Archbishop of Lima refusing to dance with George Brown. ‘In the first place, I’m not a woman. In the second place, I am not in need of a makeover, or, being ginger, possibly beyond one. And in the third place I rather object to being phoned up like this.’ ‘But you asked us to,’ the woman said. ‘You filled out a form.’

It appeared that she was right. I started looking at the letters to Phyllis. She had ordered a new hearing aid, a regular supply of incontinence pads and, very generously, had offered to give a home to a retired racehorse. ‘I am afraid I live in a flat in Battersea,’ I said when this last lot phoned. ‘I’m not sure it could manage the stairs, to be honest.’

Phyllis liked tat too: soon I was being sent china figurines of Peter Rabbit, the sort of thing advertised in the back pages of colour supplements. Someone, clearly, was deliberately persecuting me with rabbits in knickerbockers. The bizarre aspect of this malicious revenge was that it was one of my own invention. In an old short story of mine, a woman revenges herself on an ex-lover in exactly this way.

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