Britain is still a monarchical country. Even as the ruler’s power diminishes, the subjects’ eyes are still on King Tony What will it take to make him to abdicate? When will he decide that the ungrateful peasants no longer deserve him and cross the oceans to the more respectful courtiers of America?
Our future still seems to depend on him. But perhaps people would do better to think about the Queen. Husbands listen to their wives when they say it is time to move on and vice versa. Tony Blair is far more likely to take notice of Cherie than the Cabinet.
I confess to rather admiring her. In part, it is sympathy. The wife of the Prime Minister is subjected to the cheapest bitching about her clothes and appearance, which are nobody’s business but hers. She gets all the insults that come with living in 10 Downing Street but none of the power. A picture editor once explained to me that she was cursed with a mobile face. If you were talking to her, you would see only an animated and handsome woman. But if a newspaper wanted to do her down, all its photographer had to do was freeze the frame while she was in mid sentence and readers would get a picture of what looked like lunatic in mid gibber.
She shouldn’t only be pitied. To her credit, she talks a great deal of sense when she isn’t giving turgid lectures on the history of PMs’ wives. Her speech on torture for Human Rights Watch earlier this month deplored the barbarism seeping into the Western anti-terror strategy while dismissing the wilder demands of civil liberties lawyers. It was the best attempt to get a difficult subject right I’ve heard.
For that, I can forgive the fact that she is a sucker for every snake-oil selling quack, New Age gobble-de-gook peddler and iffy estate agent with overvalued property to off load.
Assuming she’s in her sensible mode, what’s she going to be thinking now? From her point of view, she’s burned her boats, or rather Tony has burned them for her. She was a brilliant lawyer who might have gone to the House of Lords. But the English law has no place for celebrity judges, and I can’t see her picking-up much of a legal career once Blair’s gone. The life of a Prime Minister’s wife is all she’s got now. She’s become a career ‘swanner’ with little else to do but swan round the receptions at important events, saying the right thing and talking to the right people.
It shouldn’t be that way. We should be a mature enough country to accept that the PM’s wife or husband can have a career of his or her own. But we aren’t and I can’t see Cherie telling Tony to give up what he and the media have given her for the sake of little or nothing in return.
A thousand actors have launched into Cole Porter’s These Foolish Things with that aching line, ‘A cigarette that bares a lipstick’s traces…’ But no longer. Cigarettes with or without lipstick traces will be banned from the West End.
In Act One, Scene One of Look Back in Anger John Osborne instructs Cliff to complain about Jimmy’s pipe and light a cigarette in retaliation. From now on Jimmy and Cliff will have to begin at Act One, Scene Two.
‘You can, um, light my cigarette, if you’re of a mind to,’ says a nervous Martha to George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. ‘No,’ bellows George. ‘I will hold your hand when it’s dark and you’re afraid of the bogeyman and I will tote your gin bottles out after midnight so no one can see but I will not light your cigarette.’
George had the right answer as far as Patricia Hewitt was concerned. The rest of us can look in wonder at a theatrical world that fought for decades to end political censorship but now allows the bossy boots in the health authorities to tell audiences what they can or can’t see. The gin bottles will be next.
I can’t vouch for the truth of Belle de Jour: The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl but the rise of the ‘blook’ – books which come out of weblogs – should make conventional authors worry about our standards of accuracy.
For Blogs have one huge advantage over dead-tree publishing. Make a mistake in a book and you have to wait until the next edition to correct it – if there is a next edition, that is. Make a mistake on a well-read website and dozens of busybodies with nothing better to do with their time point it out and force you to make amends. It’s not a pleasant experience, but in the end it produces better writing.
To the new Arsenal Emirates Stadium and to my surprise it is nearly up. They only began construction in 2004 and now the builders say it will be ready for football in August.
The contrast with the overdue and over-budget Wembley stadium is striking to put it at its mildest. I suspect the difference between the two projects is that Wembley had to cope with the Football Association, Sport England and Tessa Jowell and Ken Livingstone sticking their oars in while the Arsenal did not.