When an 81-year-old showbiz legend was rushed to hospital on Thursday, nobody cracked any tasteless jokes. Not out of a sense of decency, but because the only comedian with the balls to do that is Joan Rivers, and this time Joan Rivers was the one attached to the ventilator.
This is the woman who called our beloved Adele "fat" and described Kim and Kanye's baby (a baby!) as "desperately in need of a waxing". Nor does she restrict her sharp tongue to celebrities. In a television interview Rivers complained about staying in her daughter's guest room by saying, "Those women in the basement in Cleveland had more space!" In the midst of the most recent bombings of Gaza she said Palestinians "deserve to be dead". There's no two ways about it; Joan Rivers is awful. But she's also wonderful and I think, not in spite of but because of the fact that she's forever saying appalling things.
As a bona fide survivor of 50 years in the biz and a pioneer for women, Rivers would be a prized addition to the feminist icon hall of fame, if only she'd allow herself to be inducted. But as she recently told an interviewer, Rivers finds the gushing praise of bright young fangirls actively repugnant: "I'm still breaking barriers and I can still take you sweetheart, with both hands tied behind my back." She saves her meanest barbs for other women, particularly other women in entertainment. It's telling that one of her fiercest feuds is with Chelsea Handler, a US comedian whose career path closely matches that of Rivers.
When I saw Rivers live last year (packed room, sold-out show) she was marching up and down the stage, telling jokes which made the audience laugh and gasp in equal measure. The closest she ever got to sisterly supportiveness is also a fair summation of her comic worldview: "Think like a second wife. You grab and you take. You grab and you take. And when you die, whatever you got out of him you have buried on you. If the next bitch wants it, make her dig for it."
Rivers makes you dig for it, all right, but underneath, there's a heart of gold. It's there in her 1997 memoir-cum-self help book Bouncing Back, in which she discusses how she overcame the suicide of her husband, bulimia, bankruptcy, public humiliation and industry sexism, and chucks in a few jokes for free. For people going through difficult times, it's a full of empathy, but as for sympathy? Forget it.
As Rivers herself would say, screw kindness, here's the truth instead. Women are so often, and in so many ways, told to be polite and nurturing that it's still a thrill to see a women who isn't polite or nurturing, who always misbehaves. I hope Joan Rivers gets well soon, lives to 110 and never stops saying mean things to people who definitely don't deserve it. That woman is an inspiration, whether she likes it or not.
The writing's on the wall
Senior police officers aren't known for their contemporary art critiques, but Sir Stephen House, the Chief Constable of Police Scotland, is different. "Social media in some instances has replaced graffiti as a way of making your views heard," he told the Scottish Police Authority. "My view is that 10 to 15 years ago, that would have been sprayed on the side of a building."
If Twitter is the 21st century's toilet wall, will tweets follow the same trajectory as "street art"? Transforming from public nuisance to private investment? I encourage you all to bid quickly on my tweet-piece dated July 31, signed @MsEllenEJones: "In Costa Coffee. No almond croissants :( #BreakfastFail". It can't be long before Saatchi wants to add it to his collection.
The value of investments may go down as well as up. Fashions can go out as well as in, but when all the Banksys have been cut down and sold off by the council, what we're left with is the really timeless bit. The obscene scribbles, inarticulate anger and nonsensical boasts of graffiti are as old as human nature. Ask the archeologists who discovered 300,000-year-old hand prints in the Chauvet caves in France. Or the historian who found a 400-year-old picture of some boobs on the wall at Hampton Court Palace. Or ask Sir Stephen, the senior police officer. Whatever the forum, it seems people will always have the urge to go public with their private grumbles.
At the centre of trouble
This week a judge awarded a five-figure sum to an ex-operations manager at EE's Darlington call centre, who was unfairly dismissed following an incident in which one employee was kicked unconscious by another. But here's what everyone really wants to know; how is it that an ordinary day at the office could end in a brawl?
It really was just an ordinary day at the office. In fact, as the judge observed, that's the issue. Work in the call centre was "somewhat mundane and repetitive" he said, resulting in "occasional incidents of banter" (the targeted employee called it "bullying") which eventually turned violent.
If you've worked in a soul-sucking office environment, you'll know prank culture is not unique to EE's Darlington branch. It's common in any workplace where being bored out of your mind is part of the job description. The more boring, the more "banter". Still, it's come to something when "bored to death at work" is no longer a figurative expression.
Watch this space
Isn't it great when an idle whinge conveniently aligns with a noble cause? There I was, wishing and hoping that my favourite celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, would make a programme with more pizazz than his current Jamie's Comfort Food series, when along came the Government with another "woefully inadequate" attempt to improve hospital meals. Good nutrition is a basic requirement for good health – that much is obvious to everyone – and yet the health department has persistently failed to bring the NHS up to the standards requested by campaigners. Jamie, turn your concerns into a campaign will you? Your country needs you. And so does my TiVo planner.
The vow wow
Kimye spent a reported $2.8m turning their wedding into the ultimate glamorous shindig. How galling, then, to be outdone in the style stakes by Brangelina's secret marriage. How was this feat of chic achieved? By holding it in France and not releasing a single picture to the public. Quel raffinement!