After 50 years, I’m out of the agony-aunt business

Also in Virginia Ironside’s diary: why Putin’s facelift is so obvious; camouflage; saving a park; when to visit the doctor

9 April 2016

9:00 AM

9 April 2016

9:00 AM

It’s clear that Vladimir Putin has had a facelift, which might explain why Wendi Deng would take an interest in him. But a friend who met him was surprised enough to ask his translator why it was so obvious. ‘Surely he has enough money to get a better one done?’ he said. ‘Oh yes,’ she replied. ‘But here in Russia, a facelift is a status symbol so everyone has to be aware that it’s been done.’ I wonder if the reason American women continue to go for the wind-tunnel effect favoured by Joan Rivers isn’t based on the same social pressure. Wealth and power have their own looks.

After nearly 50 years of giving advice, my career as an agony aunt appears to be at an end. There’s no room at the Indie for me — either on the i or in the online version. Love you, they say, but no cash. It was flattering to be part of agony-aunt history — from Marje Proops, Claire Rayner and Anna Raeburn to Evelyn Home. The job was a wonderful way of riding the journalism wave and doing a bit of good at the same time. And the letters! Most were heartbreaking, but there were some memorable cries for help. ‘Dear Vagina,’ wrote one reader. ‘I have a problem with my Virginia.’

An exhibition on camouflage to be held in the Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum this summer has prompted me to rummage through my father’s archive. He served as a camouflage officer in Leamington during the war and I have several photographs of him and his team (wearing suits and ties, of course) painting away at models of factories, trying to disguise them as fields of sheep, housing estates or patches of scrubland. They used paint, netting and seaweed — and sludge, the residue of oil from ships’ tanks, which could darken all kinds of surfaces from roofs to runways.

He had once visited a factory that had carried out the camouflage unit’s instructions to disguise its works. At the end of the tour, the managing director suddenly said: ‘One thing puzzles us.’ And he pointed to the side of a building on the edge of the factory site on which a drip of paint had been painstakingly enlarged and reproduced. Thinking on his feet, my father replied: ‘Top secret, old chap. My lips are sealed.’

Feeling dreadfully ill last weekend, I decided to do what the NHS advises. I rang 111, and was told I would be called back within the hour by a doctor. I was indeed rung back by a charming woman who said she would make an appointment at a walk-in clinic nearby. I went along and was seen, before I could even take off my coat, by another delightful doctor. Clearly, if you want to see a doctor quickly, go at weekends.

I’ve given up arguing about the existence — or nonexistence — of God with my religious friends, but I couldn’t help gloating when one of them described his wife’s beliefs. ‘She doesn’t believe in Jesus or any of that stuff,’ he said, sorrowfully. ‘But she does believes in telepathy, the spirit world, communicating with the dead and so on. I’d say she was superstitious rather than religious.’ I nearly said ‘I rest my case’ but bit my tongue.

For the past two years I have led a campaign, along with Harry Audley of the White City Residents Association, to save half of our local park from being leased to private developers for 35 years. It was a Conservative council that initiated this ghastly plan and it was only delayed by two judicial reviews that I’d taken out, one of which had been resolved and the latest of which was not quite as strong as the first anyway. We were prepared for the worst. But Labour had a surprise victory in the elections and, with the help of an amazing Labour councillor, we managed to reach a compromise. The park is now still in the hands of the council and the developers have been left with a seven-year management contract of a much smaller area for football pitches, some of which can be used by the community.

The turning point came when the developer himself agreed to meet us. He faced 150 furious residents, from black lawyers in wheelchairs to women on benefits, old Etonian bankers, special- needs children, and a gang of heavies from White City yelling accusations of corruption and worse. He was dead before he entered the ring.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Virginia Ironside’s new book, No, Thanks! I’m Quite Happy Standing!, is out on 21 April. Virginia Ironside was the Independent’s agony aunt. Her book No Thanks! I’m Quite Happy Standing! is out later this month.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments
  • davidshort10

    Nice of you to tell us twice that her book is out later in the month. We might be a bit old and forget the first time….

  • Dr. Heath

    Pootler’s up for a part as a psycho Russian mafioso in the next Bond film. Naturally, the artwork on his fizzog has to appear as though it was carried out by a Lada repair operative to make him plausible.

    • Scradje

      Stephen Mangan on HIGNFY last night: ‘the rumors that he and Wendy Deng are an item won’t be confirmed until she turns up dead in a hotel room’.

    • Once upon a time I had a Lada. It did what it was supposed to do without fault for sixty thousand miles. I had no complaints about it at all. It did what it said on the tin. Was it sophisticated or posh? No. It never claimed to be. It never let me down. Not once in 60,000 miles. Would that I could say that for some of the other cars I have owned that were supposed to be something special.

      • Smedley Butler

        You could say the same about women but I bet you still go for the pretty ones.

        • As I found with my Lada back in the 1980s, beauty is only skin deep. In the lada’s case that was about half an inch of steel plate. It was the thickest steel I ever saw on car bodywork. I forgot to put on the handbrake once and it ran off down the street and demolished a wall. I only needed a new bumper, but the wall was a mess.

  • Nick

    Facelift or no facelift,Mr.Putin is a better leader than weak and wimpy Mr.Cameron.

    • jeffersonian

      Are those two cretins our only choices?

    • Pedro Rabaçal

      Yeah, Cameron didnt invad as many countries as Putain (Georgia, Chechenya, Syria, Ukraine).
      And that weak Cameron never killed any critic like Putain! Look how that
      strong leader´s critics ended: Litivinenko, Ana Politovskaya, Nemtsov,
      many many more!

      How great he looked in Panama Papers!

      • Nick

        Mr.Putin didn’t invade any of those countries that you mention.He went there to help them.

        Regarding the Panama Papers,it seems that Putin is merely guilty by association instead of having a dodgy account.

        • Pedro Rabaçal

          Putain wasnt KGB officer nor russian either. LOL

          Keep being gullible.

          • Nick

            And you keep on making it up as you go along.

          • Pedro Rabaçal

            Guess you can´t understand sarcasm. 😀

          • Nick

            Of course I can.That’s why I giving it back.;-)

          • Pedro Rabaçal

            Yeah, that´s why you parrot Putain´s gibberish like a good gullible fanboy.

            “That jet was not shot down by the Russians in the way that you have explained.In fact,it is common knowledge that the Ukranians did it.” The world you live in is definitly not the real one! 😀

          • Nick

            Yeah I most definitely live in the real world.I just have my own opinions and I don’t believe everything that the western press print.

            You’ll probably find that there are hundreds of millions of people world wide who share similar views to mine.And your as well.

          • Pedro Rabaçal

            Considering your opinions are the same of Putain´s propagandistic media, guess your gloating was involuntary comedy. LOL

            I prefer to believe in human right groups thanin your precious state-controlled propaganda.
            Funny how you are gullible enough to praise Putain.
            Prasing a ruler these days is for sheep, not for free-minds! 🙂

          • Nick

            I have a question for you Pedro.Do they have coffee where you are?

          • Pedro Rabaçal

            And books, and schools and free minds, etc., we have lots of things beyond your wildest dreams.

          • Nick

            I say this in the politest of ways,you need to wake up and take a sniff of that coffee.

            And what are these things beyond my wildest dreams? Do you have an unlimited supply of free Cornish Pasties at your disposal?

            If not,then you have nothing I dream of.;-)

          • Pedro Rabaçal

            I had a cappuccino today and, guess what, reality didn’t changed and I still describe it as it is, despite you hate it! 🙂

        • Ha ha ha ha – He should have stuck to doing those h o m o photo shoots wrestlng bears and riding horses half naked. He really helped all those Ducth people that were shot out of the sky on their holiday flight over Ukraine by drunk Russian irregulars supplied with AA missiles by Putin…. Do you think we are all stupid Nick. How are you spelling that name of yours by the way? Is it Коля (Kolya), or Николай (Nikolai)?

          • Nick

            Even though your reply is rude,I like it and I like you.So I’ve given you an up vote.

            First of all,he wasn’t riding around half naked as you put it.He was riding a horse with his shirt off.A lot of people do that when it’s warm.

            That jet was not shot down by the Russians in the way that you have explained.In fact,it is common knowledge that the Ukranians did it.

            No,I don’t think you are all stupid.

            And finally,I spell my name like this N-I-C-K.;-)

          • Look Nick, your charming response to my provocation makes me want to be polite to you, but come on…. On the matter of the Dutch aircraft shot down over Ukraine, you CAN NOT BE SERIOUS!!! As McEnro used to shout. There is obviously no way I can convince you, but I’ll just say I am aghast that anyone could even begin to make the response you just did.

          • Nick

            Arthur read the news.Read non western articles which are full of anti Russian propaganda.

            Do you really think I’m the only person on planet Earth who thinks this way?

            Throughout my life I have believed that everything we did in the west regarding foreign policy was the right thing to do.But as I became older and with the advent of the internet,my mind gradually changed to such an extent that it became clear to me that a lot of the trouble caused in the world was caused by the Americans and us the Brits.

            Don’t get me wrong,I’m British and very proud of it.But I am disgusted with our government and previous ones.

            And regarding the aircraft downing over Ukraine,I wouldn’t believe the US government if they told me my name was Nick,let alone believe their version of the downing of that plane over Ukraine.

          • Cyril Sneer

            Well said Nick.

          • Nick

            Thank you Cyril.

      • Anna Bananahammok

        cough cough ‘Arab Spring’ cough cough

        • Pedro Rabaçal

          besides Syria, what his connection to Arabian Spring?

    • Are you a Putin paid troll in that place in St Petersburg? Is there a pension? Do you get paid on time? If I wanted to contact a paid assassin, can you help connect me with one? I’m sure that working for Putin you must know some of them. I have a few people I want to sort out. Hoping you can help me here. We could form a relationship profitable to both of us.

      • Enoch Powell

        I don’t think he’s a Putinbot. Putinbots are very very obvious. Besides which, what he’s saying isn’t wrong. He’s using the word better instead of stronger, but in that context he’s quite correct, right now Putin is the strongest leader on the planet and he defends Russia (and himself) with an iron fist.

        And who’s to say that isn’t better than our metrosexual leaders who are destroying our countries as we speak with lily livered nice ‘multicultural’ policies and the complete inability to deport fake refugees and illegal immigrants in case we hurt their feelings, or fight ISIS in case we accidentally kill someone.

        Putin’s a b*stard, but he’s Russia’s b*stard and I suspect Russia wouldn’t have anyone else.

        • Interesting and some of it is true, but frankly, I draw the line at leaders that murder people who criticise their actions and so should you unless you are a fan of fascists and dictators. I really wouldn’t like to see Cameron having Skinner poisoned or shot down in the street like a dog by paid assassins. How about you?

          • David Beard

            Very noble and good Arthur. That’s what separates us from the mad dogs.

          • Enoch Powell

            Well I do and I don’t.

            For instance, one of my best friends lives in Harare. She’s happy to live under Mugabe because, although there’s corruption and murder of his opponents, the streets are safe for anyone else to walk at night, but she doesn’t enjoy having to go to ‘democratic’ (I know it’s hardly that) South Africa, because there’s no authority in control and so terrible violence everywhere in the townships and hundreds upon hundreds of random murders. She said, during the Ebola crisis, if Ebola comes anywhere near here, Mugabe will just order the borders shut, and they’ll shut, regardless of other consequences. Which of course we were unable to do resulting in Pauline Cafferkey and others returning home while infected. Parliament would never have worn it.

            I’ve taken the view of the Romans now. Democracy is all very well and good. But it is also very weak. If you have to get consensus for anything; that takes time and involves intractable arguments, and in a war that means you’re dead. It’s why soldiers are trained to obey orders whatever. Strength comes from Dictatorship. When the Romans (Under their Senate system) faced war or disaster, they appointed a Dictator. That’s how they survived while Democratic Athens did not. Their last Dictator happened to be Julius Caesar who refused to give up power after the crisis ended.

            In a way we affect that too. Winston Churchill took pretty much absolute power when required.

            I respect Democracy, but I also understand why people will not necessarily oppose strength, if it protects them and is not actively engaged in attacking it’s own people and they have more to lose than gain by fighting for it. Yes Putin has murdered his way through his leadership, but outside of politics and Chechnya, the people of Russia, like the (black) people of Zimbabwe, are not actually especially oppressed, and therefore have little reason to care and if push came to shove and Britain needed leadership in a time of strife to save itself from annihilation, I would not oppose retaining a Dictator. I would like one like Winston Churchill, but sometimes you have to accept any port in a storm.

          • Enoch Powell

            Also Skinner wasn’t censured by Cameron, he was censured by Parliament for breaking the code of conduct.

      • Nick

        Another up vote for you Arthur.Good post.

        If it helps,this June me and the missus are going on a Baltic cruise where one of the stops is St.Petersburg.

        Whilst there,I’ll try and make contact with ‘you know who’ and perhaps after that,I can help you out.

  • If that horrid face on Putin is the result of a face lift, I bet the surgeon is lying in a shallow grave. Putin has murdered the people who discredit him, he who makes him look like a freak is certainly gone from this life already.

    • Cyril Sneer

      You seem awfully het up about this guy. He’s a solid guy as far as I’m concerned. Oh and I also look outside the western MSM to get to the truth.

      I await the usual accusations of putinbot etc etc you know all that jazz

      • No I don’t think you’re a Putinbot, just an @ r s e who likes to wind people up. If you mean ‘solid’ as opposed to liquid or gas, I’d agree, but without a doubt, he is a murderer and a despot. He changed the constitution so he could stay on. He should have been gone in 2008 according to the law, but he is still there. He has siphoned off billions of dollars and has it hidden around the world.

        • Cyril Sneer

          Aw diddums.

          He’s stuck one on the eye of the neo-libs and stopped them in their tracks in Syria and Ukraine.

          He is also very popular in Russia more so than Davey boy and that nutbag in the whitehouse.

          It’s not really up to you who leads Russia but it seems that Russia has the most capable and talented of leaders in Putin. He has run rings around Obama… I know I know that isn’t difficult to do.

          As I said, you seem awfully het up over him. Did your wife run off with a Russian or something…

  • SalmondFishing

    Why did the surgeon not opt for a trimmed Brazilian Oberlippenbart?

  • mikewaller

    With time on her hands, VI should publish an updated version of her brilliant “The Fiery Chariot”.

  • Frank

    Pity your gang were not about to prevent all the hideous tower blocks being built along the Thames near Vauxhall.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    You can’t help feeling sympathy for Justin, and even more for his dear Mama. Indicating once again that what is of interest to the public is not necessarily in the public interest.

    But pull back and see the big picture. Didn’t the founder of the branch of the religion that Brother Justin ascribes to have same experiences? His teenage mother gets knocked up by the handsome Roman soldier billeted across the street, so is quickly married off to an older man who can’t believe his luck. Which means JC’s brothers and sisters were in fact half-brothers and sisters.

    Impregnated by the Holy Spirit? Gimme a break. Isn’t it far more likely that a pregnant teenage Jewish minx would spin a fiction in a region where the wrong type of carnal knowledge was a stoning offence.

    Yes, I know. Off topic. But what can you do when the Blockheads block you!