On Monday my husband Giles and I filmed Gogglebox. What could be nicer than being paid (a small amount) to watch television in your own cosy home with a crackling log fire and a Tibetan Spaniel? “Working” at home means there is no opportunity to lose your hat, gloves, keys, phone or wallet, or take a tumble on the escalators of the Tube while trying to wield two stones of hand baggage of the sort of generalised papers and equipment I need when I come to London for a business meeting with my PA Luciann.
It’s always a surprise when we eventually watch Gogglebox on Channel 4 on Friday nights as I have no idea what “capture” the editors will have harvested from their lengthy hours of surveillance. Nor have any of the other families. We are all just being ourselves as there’s no way you can keep up an act for 12 or more hours in your own sitting room when the cameras are virtually invisible.
But the key to my being able not to think about the 3.4 million viewers at all is to remember that once we come off we’ll be nonebrities again in a couple of weeks. And never to read Twitter.
I live in an isolated Wiltshire village and can’t drive. It’s beautiful but lonely for someone whose father was a Northern Irish GP with a surgery in the house and who grew up accustomed to having at least 12 conversations a day. Hence my excitement at being invited to the lunch on Wednesday to celebrate the Catholic Herald’s inaugural book awards ceremony, generously given by Sir Rocco Forte in his own Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair.
It was one of the best lunches I have attended in years. Why? The other guests. I think the general palate, in both senses of the word, was unjaded. So both the food and the company were a genuine treat. And without wishing to be excellentist (as Barbara Pym might put it) there were excellent people present. “Our greatest living UK philosopher, Sir Roger Scruton – in fact, probably the greatest living philosopher in the world” would have been present to receive his prize for Where We Are in the Current Affairs section, except that, as his publisher Robin Baird-Smith informed us, he was completing a course of chemotherapy. “But the good news is that he is on the mend.”
It continues to baffle me that the New Statesman journalist who traduced Sir Roger by publishing half sentences of his to make him look homophobic and racist was not punished by losing his job. How Sir Roger’s supporter Douglas Murray managed to get hold of the unedited tape of the interview (the culprit refused to give it up) and publish it on YouTube remains a mystery. Perhaps Alexa had it?
Sir Roger got his job back (he had been hastily sacked by the government from his job as “Beauty Czar” to suck up to the Twitter mob). But what misguided instinct made the young man do it in the first place? What was so noble about Sir Roger was that he did not crow in triumph when the fraud had been unmasked. He simply forgave the youth.
I made two new friends at the lunch, I hope – I could tell that at least one of them liked me, the other was more inscrutable. I sat between Fr Dominic Allain, the Catholic Herald columnist, and Tom Harper, who had been nominated for an award in the Travel and Illustrated section for his work Atlas. Harper is in charge of maps at the British Library and he told me he would be happy to show a hunt obsessive neighbour of mine around his historic hunting “countries” collection.
A country, in hunting terms, simply means the land over which the hunt is allowed to pursue the fox. My neighbour is tingling with excitement at the thought of seeing the ancient territories.
Meanwhile, it would be a real feather in my cap if I could attract Fr Allain to a cocktail party in Kensington Square where I have an indulgent friend who lets me entertain there. The scarcity value of a moral compass among the guests!
While not a Catholic myself, I have a family connection on my grandmother’s side to William Temple, allegedly the best Archbishop of Canterbury since St Anselm. Is it name dropping to say this?
I’m afraid I started in journalism as a typist to Hugh Massingberd (famed for the brilliant Telegraph obituaries that are still coming out despite his having died over 10 years ago) and on the Tatler. I can’t help it. Name dropping is a short cut. My favourite William Temple quotation is “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.”
Well done to the Catholic Herald’s head of events Constance Watson who did the seating plan.
Mary Killen writes The Spectator’s Dear Mary column
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.