During one of the interminable lockdowns I mentioned that I didn’t care if I never went to another launch party again. Not only did I say it, I think I wrote it. Well, that will learn me, as my mum used to say. The launch for Julie Bindel’s book Feminism for Women was held in Conway Hall and it was anything but the usual turps and vol-au-vent affair. Bindel is a polarising figure and a fabulous friend. What’s really polarising about her, I think, is that she doesn’t pose on Instagram in ‘Smash the patriarchy’ T-shirts — she actively does feminism. It was an enormous relief to hear her say that the things that make men feel better — pole dancing, surrogacy, sex work — are not feminism. It was particularly uplifting because it is currently controversial to put women at the centre of our own liberation movement, and because the publishing industry is peopled by wusses who have never fought for a thing in their lives but get ‘hurty feelings’ if the women who have speak up.
My youngest is a film buff, so the next day we went off to see director Quentin Tarantino speak about turning his film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood into a novel. I wanted him to talk about Harvey Weinstein, foot fetishism and Uma Thurman. You can’t always get what you want. Interviewing Tarantino was Kim Newman, critic, horror writer, film obsessive. They were in nerd heaven. They could have been two guys talking about stamps or carburettors. Then Tarantino read from his novel and his genius for dialogue was immediately clear, just superb: the swearing and the pacing of the swearing. That’s art. The passage he read was all about Cliff (Brad Pitt’s character in the movie) thinking about being a pimp but realising it was too much like hard work to sleep with all these women. My daughter nudged me in the ribs. ‘See, Mum, he is a radical feminist.’ Julie Bindel texted me: ‘Is Tarantino as badass as my panel?’ ‘No,’ I replied.
Before Covid, Warren Ellis of the Bad Seeds told me that he wanted to write a book about a piece of chewing gum. It sounds strange, but this is a very particular piece of gum, one Nina Simone put on a towel on the piano before she played at Nick Cave’s Meltdown festival in 1999. She was in ill health and demanded cocaine, champagne and sausages. As you do. Nonetheless she gave a transcendent performance. After she left, Warren sneaked on to the stage, took the gum and kept it for 20 years. For Warren, the gum became a holy relic — something without value that had now been imbued with infinite preciousness.
Warren is an amazing multi-instrumentalist — but could he write? I sent him stories about stuff that I thought might get him going. He confided to Nick Cave that he finds writing overwhelming. Nick told him not to worry, and that he too gets anxious when staring at a blank page. Warren said he struggled with Text Edit. ‘What the hell is “Text Edit”?’ Nick asked. It was some application from the 1990s, but Warren still used it. Nick’s first bit of advice: ‘Use Word.’ So I worried about the book, but I needn’t have. Last week I saw him ‘in conversation’ in Piccadilly, talking about the actual book, Nina Simone’s Gum, a joyous work full of love, connection, creativity and gratitude. My daughter picked up the book and said: ‘I think I need to listen to some Nina Simone.’ Don’t we all?
It’s not often that the real poet laureate calls me up, partly because he doesn’t have a mobile or do emails. I mean of, course, the wondrous Dr John Cooper Clarke, whom I have been trying to arrange to see for ages. Carrier pigeons would be quicker, but I love him. We agreed a time and a place: 1.30 p.m. ‘Can we move it to maybe one o’clock?’ I asked. ‘No kid,’ he said, ‘I don’t want to get up that early.’
Grayson and Philippa Perry kindly invited me to the Royal Academy summer do. I usually find the art world exasperating, a mix of money, vulgarity and women reduced to what I call ‘flight attendants’. The place was packed with celebs in between the wafty women and their ancient boyfriends. For me there was only one celebrity there: Sarah Gilbert, who came up with the AstraZeneca vaccine. I asked her about anti-vaxxers. She was not bothered. Some had once tried to disrupt an event she was supposed to be at with a protest, but in fact she hadn’t even been there. She was safely away at another event with Prince William. I had only one thing to say to her: ‘Thank you.’ Because of what she has done, I can actually go to the parties that I like to complain about. Whether I am invited to any more after this remains to be seen.
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