Looking at the Princess of Wales's meaningful stare at the cameras during a heart operation in Middlesex, it was, of course, quite clear why she has become so keen on this new spectator sport. It's nothing to do with experiencing "life on a knife-edge" (isn't that the pay-off line of a Pepsi Max commercial?), nor with compassion for carved-up children. It's the yashmak.
After years of self-revelation, Diana has discovered concealment. With her face behind a theatre mask and her hair tucked under a paper hat, her enormous, hurt and mesmerising eyes can shine in a disembodied, contextless way, like a Tuareg concubine's. (The hair, which any good Muslim woman would have brushed out of sight for fear of inflaming male lust, was carelessly left peeping across the Princess's forehead; no sense in blowing your chances with the senior registrar, is there?)
I've attended a few operations in my time. While working as a porter in Queen Mary's Hospital in west London one summer, I often found myself standing in an operating theatre, trying not to faint. The burns cases were the worst, but I usually left those to the head porter, Geoff, to supervise.
Once, as I watched through the porthole in the door, the surgeon took a skin-graft cutter, like a giant spokeshave, and started to run it across the ruined landscape of the patient's torso. The next thing I saw was Geoff calmly wiping his spectacles, because some unimaginably horrible bit of flying human goo had just hit him in the eyes. I wouldn't for the world wish such a thing to happen to the Princess; but it might wipe that look of exquisitely painful compassion off her face for just a moment.
The perils of near fame are eloquently demonstrated by Quentin Crisp in his new book, Resident Alien (published soon by HarperCollins), a marvellous collection of faux-naif anecdotes from his encounters in Manhattan, whither he decamped, if that's the word, from London in 1982.
Crisp tells of the time when, sitting on a Third Avenue bus, he found a young man crouching beside him, asking for his autograph, which he duly gave. A nosey woman on the other side of the bus immediately demanded: "Well, who are you?", to which Crisp demurely replied: "Who indeed?" The woman refused to be put off. "I thought," she said witheringly, "he was asking for your autograph." He was, said Crisp. "Well, why?" said the woman. "You must ask him," the blue-haired epicene shyly riposted. The youth was beyond any such inquiry, so the woman demanded generally, of the whole bus, "Well, who the hell is he?" Nobody seemed to know. Quentin wasn't telling. It was a perfect impasse. Then Crisp rose to get off the bus and, as he drew level with the woman, said with magnificent aplomb, "I'm sorry I wasn't anybody."
What a charmer.
Nice Timing Award of the Week goes to David Irving, the historian and chronic controversialist, once reviled by his peers for apparently siding with war commentators who denied that the Holocaust had taken place. Irving has just published a new biography of Joseph Goebbels, drawing on the great propagandist's diaries, and last Friday night he launched it at his home in Duke Street, central London; as one or two guests noticed, it was the eve of Adolf Hitler's birthday.
A score of Irving's chums drank champagne and, as appears to be customary at such events, chatted grimly about whether or not Churchill ordered the assassination of Mussolini. To lighten the mood, Irving told the company that he'd discovered a family connection with a strangely non-Aryan name, and that consequently he has been waking up in a muck sweat after dreaming he was Jewish. Uproarious, eh? But at least the gregarious Irving - unlike Hitler in his bunker - allowed people to smoke.
Strange goings-on in cartoon circles at News International. First the Times's Weekend magazine signs up Cummings, an artist that Goebbels himself might have found a little over-conservative. Cummings' heyday was at the Sunday Express in the Sixties, where his thick black lines and round-eyed characters offered a feast of elementary symbolism: anyone holding a Union Jack or resembling a bulldog or Winston Churchill would be a "British voter", invariably ranged against a craven foreign Johnny from Brussels or Strasbourg, easily identified by the string of onions round his neck or the goose in his fist. For the exceptionally slow, Cummings would festoon his cartoon characters with
name-tags indicating their function; most ubiquitous was the "Trade Unionist", with his dungarees and back-pocket copy of Marx. Last time I saw his stuff was in the press material put out by the extreme right-wing Aims for Industry organisation, run by Michael Ivens. The fact that Ivens' son, Martin, was recently made deputy editor of the Sunday Times has, I'm sure, no relevance here.
Meanwhile, another legend is about to walk out. Tom Johnston, the chief cartoonist on the Sun and the News of the World, is off to California to do song treatments for the Muppet people. The Ulster-born Johnston (who was always being pointed out in the Groucho Club with the words "Guess how much that guy earns", followed by a mention of a six-figure sum and the explanation, "He gets it for drawing Rock Steady Eddie ...") is unhappy with the way his work has been treated lately - but also offers an interesting study in amour propre. "I've had a bit of a personality change," he tells me. "I'm fed up having to explain to people that I'm not a tabloid journalist, and that if they say something I will not be writing it down." How grand we are.Reuse content