The offer was, to someone of my age and culture, irresistible. Madonna was touring with a show in her old, grand style. I'd always kicked myself for not making the effort to see the great Blonde Ambition tour, nearly 20 years ago now. She was coming to Zurich with a show called Sticky and Sweet. Forget the off-putting title; for once, we were going to get on the train and go and see the woman Rupert Everett calls the Funny Little Thing do what she still does best.
She's been going for a quarter of a century now, and we've stuck with her through thick and thin. I would never quite trust somebody of my age who didn't have a ready answer to the question of what their favourite Madonna track was. Mine – this really dates me, I'm afraid – is "Vogue", from way back in 1990. I'm not wild about her rock-chick phase; we honestly didn't care much for the whole Cockney geezer nonsense; and she should just give up trying to make films. Who cares? We were going to see Madonna.
I hardly ever go to rock concerts – I could just about count the ones I've been to on one hand. Photographs of rock concerts have started to look odd to me. Whenever the crowd was caught by the camera, what it caught was hundreds or thousands of camera lenses staring back. It always looked, from some photographs, as if George Michael, or whoever, was throwing himself into the whole experience on the stage. What the audience was mainly doing was concentrating on staying very still to take exactly the same photograph, in hundreds, later to post on flickr.com. But that had to be an illusion.
It turns out not to be. Afterwards, we made rather merry with the nature of an almost incredibly slow Swiss crowd. "Look at me," I said to Zav afterwards, pulling a Protestant face. "I'm a Swiss accountant at a Madonna concert." It was certainly disconcerting to be the only two people for dozens of yards in any direction dancing to "Vogue". On reflection, it probably wasn't because they were Swiss. It was mostly because they were taking photographs.
Nothing really prepared me for the culturally mediated nature of the modern rock concert. The tiny real figure, the size of your smallest fingernail, interacts with video screens, both reproducing and instigating the performance. The audience plays its own part by not abandoning itself to the Dionysiac, but transferring it, in the first instance, into a machine. From there, a bespoke record of what you never responded to in the first place may be uploaded or downloaded on to the appropriate website. I'd rather dance.
Anyway, Madonna was terrific, and I look forward to telling anyone who will listen, in 20 years' time, that I saw her in what still looks like her prime. Of course, people may say in 20 years that they know, they've seen the bootleg footage. There are, as I write, 2,540 films on YouTube of the tour, which started only a week ago. Can anyone explain what it really added to anyone's enjoyment of the evening, to film it?
Taylor's novels cursed by film
Anyone who loves Elizabeth Taylor – no, madam, not the actress, the novelist Elizabeth Taylor – will have heard the news of a new film of her 1957 masterpiece, Angel, with mixed feelings. It stars that always interesting actress Romola Garai, left. It is directed by one of the most intellectually engaging of French directors, François Ozon. What could go wrong?
Angel is an almost perfect novel, a really clever blending of tones, a mixture of irony and fascinated sympathy as it portrays the long career of a trashy Edwardian novelist. When you read it, you reflect how difficult it must have been to bring off, how easily it could have gone wrong. For it to succeed once, in print, is more luck than we really have any right to expect. To hope that it could succeed a second time, in a different medium, is just tempting luck, and a failure might very well put one off a much-loved book.
There seems to be a bit of a curse falling on films of Elizabeth Taylor's books. A film made as long ago as 2005 of her wonderful Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont with Joan Plowright, no less, in the lead, has never found a UK distributor.
Ozon's film, alas, has had some very unkind reviews, so I might spare myself that one. Could I recommend to filmmakers in search of less intractable material Taylor's beautifully balanced 1968 novel, The Wedding Group, about a rebellious grand-daughter of a barely disguised Eric Gill?
Don't clean your lawnmower while smoking
An unusual but perfectly genuine story came my way this week. A lady from an Australian backwater called Mount Gambier was cleaning her lawnmower when it burst into flames. On being questioned, she revealed that she had been cleaning her petrol mower while smoking.
On being further questioned as to why it was that the worst damaged occurred to her bedroom, she admitted that she had been cleaning the lawnmower in that unexpected place. This allowed the local newspaper to begin the story with the unforgettable sentence: "A Mount Gambier woman has warned the community against cleaning lawnmowers in bedrooms while smoking."
Lauren Goldsworthy's experience has, you see, been of use to the wider "community", and an unusual health and safety breach seems unlikely to occur again in these exact particulars.
The happy ending is, however, being questioned by some people in the Mount Gambier lawnmower-cleaning community, who have unkindly pointed out that Ms Goldsworthy has a conviction for arson. "I swear," she said, "this time I did not do it. I was convicted of arson when I was 18 because I set fire to a curtain in the house to get help." This column believes her. If you seriously wanted to burn your bedroom down, there are, surely, easier ways to do it than by lugging a petrol mower upstairs, lit fag in mouth.