I have been writing this column for an astonishing 11 years – ever since I bludgeoned the then editor Mike Pearce, into giving me a corner of my own – in which time I have singularly failed to be head-hunted by Fleet Street. (Or even Wapping).
Do not misunderstand me dear readers – I love writing for the Isle of Thanet Gazette. I love the invitations, the occasional letters of praise, the fulsome abuse and the helpful suggestions for gripping subject matter to propound on next. (Thank you, Dora of Westbrook, I can see that your neighbour’s brother’s cat doing its business in your garden is annoying – especially when your husband’s bedroom slipper was involved – and yes, the wool shop should stay open till six.)
It is always gratifying to be able to give vent to one’s small rages and know that there’s an outside chance that the object of your griping will get to hear about them, but how much more satisfying it must be to p*** off the Prime Minster himself rather than just irk TDC’s head of planning.
How exciting, I have always thought, to be the Sunday Times’ India Knight, or the Guardian’s Lucy Mangan, there to make free with opinions, or the Weekend Guardian’s Tim Dowling, charged with sharing with the nation, the minutiae of his family life each week. What a fab job that must be!
So you can imagine my thrill and delight at finding myself on stage with all three columnists at the marvellous Chipping Norton Literary Festival last weekend, at which I got to ask the questions…
Was it a stress finding things to say every seven days, I enquired of Mr Dowling, reflecting how my own domestic bliss might err on the repetitive. (Got up late, listened to husband summarise entire country’s shortcomings, stared at largely blank computer screen for eight hours, picked up towels after son, opened wine…) Did he stalk the house demanding his spouse and offspring utter something amusing? It seems he has two or even three ideas on a Sunday night (THREE! I am usually scraping the inspiration barrel around the time the editor’s third e-mail arrives, demanding copy) and it’s all done and dusted in a couple of hours on a Monday morning.
India was eloquent on the continuing role of the professional journalist amongst a sea of bloggers and tweeters, and Lucy was graphic when describing her fondness for being rude about David Cameron. This was greeted by a slightly stunned silence from the good people of Chipping Norton. Which was no great surprise to me.
Earlier I had interviewed our one-time MP for Thanet South, Jonathan Aitken, about his book on Margaret Thatcher. There was a time when the late PM was in opposition, he explained, when some felt that she was “divisive”. “And they were probably right…” I added mildly, feeling an immediate ripple of disapproval run round the theatre.
Feedback on the event was good – JA is nothing if not entertaining – despite, as one watcher wrote, “the lefty interviewer”.
This, I felt was an achievement, having never before progressed beyond Mike Pearce’s description of me as “dangerously pink”. (Possibly because I once admitted to a crush on Ann Widdecombe.) Lefty’s got to sound more cutting edge than wishy-washy liberal. Could the call from on high come any time soon…?