WRITING

Spectator Diary

February 1998

This has been a week of early rising. As a rule, I try to limit the number of times I see 7am to once or twice a year. One of the few perks of being a dancer is that we generally don't start work until 10.30am - a godsend for me as I don't really do mornings, and certainly not mornings of the dawn chorus variety. (The downside of this is of course that we don't get home from work until around midnight.)

But this week I have been forced to break all my rules and on three days out of seven I have been up at silly o'clock. Friday was the first of the dawn risers, and it came at the end of a very busy and tiring week. The company is officially on its 'mid season break', a welcome chance for them to recover from the Christmas season and recharge before the Dance Bites tour. Despite the fact that the holiday coincided exactly with my boyfriend's two week trip to Hawaii, I have been stuck here in London doing the publicity rounds in preparation for the launch of The Vitality Plan. I even made my debut on the chat show sofa, dressed, I am embarrassed to admit, a la Jane Fonda - not exactly what I recommend in the book, but admittedly more eye catching than the clashing gore-tex and cycling trousers I usually wear when I exercise. Yet despite doing my best to look like an all-singing, all-dancing fitness expert, even in a skimpy coral two-piece I had to face a barrage of questions on arts funding. Get me at my most vulnerable, I would. But I survived, and added another millimetre to the learning curve that is public relations. Anyway, it was the final throes of publicity before I jet off for a brief holiday, and I should think the nation will be as glad as I am to have a week's reprieve.

I did take last Friday off to collect an honorary doctorate from the University of Derby and commune with the city's ghosts. I was born there, but my parents left the city and moved down south before I had my second birthday. I don't feel very much like a local girl, but then come to think of it, I don't feel particularly at home anywhere. Nevertheless, as I stepped off the train just at that point when afternoon turns into evening, I was unprepared for the rush of emotion. I was all of a sudden extremely conscious of the fact that this was the city where my parents had lived their dreaming years - you know, the years where everything seems possible and heady plans are laid down for the future. Many, many years on, some of those plans are realised and inevitably, many of them have turned to dust. But every new baby inevitably brings with it a fresh set of dreams and hopes, and it felt very strange that being back there to accept public recognition for some of the things I do might just be the fulfillment of one of those hopes.

Wednesday morning was the first of two consecutive early starts. I spent the entire day in Crewe, with my new best friends at Rolls Royce. They are currently hatching all sorts of plans for the future and I am more than delighted to be involved. Our relationship has gone way beyond the mere commercial and evolved into a mutual love affair. I think they are wonderful and they are pretty fond of me, too. Long may it continue, as strange to say, I do feel quite at home in a Rolls Royce...

Third, and I hope, final lark ascension finds me en route to Portland, Oregon, effecting once again my miraculous transformation from ballet dancer and (now) published author to rock chick. There are many people who would not believe this was possible, but it's amazing what a bit of black lycra can do. When you have a boyfriend who tours with a rock band and a job which doesn't let you plan further ahead than a week at a time, you take your opportunities to meet up as and when they arise. For ballet dancers, a long weekend is one which doesn't have a show on the Saturday evening. If you wait for the four day break which normal people can enjoy, you'll find yourself waiting a very long time. So, Hawaii didn't work out: no matter, I'll go to Portland. As it turns out, it's a great place; large enough to be vibrant, yet small enough to retain a human face. Of course, it is infamous right now for having been the venue of another of Monica Lewinsky's alleged affairs. Personally, I can think of several other reasons which make it worth a visit, not least being the fact that there is no sales tax here.

It's hard to get a grip on just what the public feeling is regarding this latest upheaval in the White House. I should think an entire forest is felled daily to print the myriad American newspapers, with their weird and wonderful titles. But because there isn't a truly national title, many publications tend to give precedence to local issues. Here in Portland, for instance, the big stories are the death of Colleen Waibel, the first ever Portland police officer to be killed on duty, and last night's Stones concert at the Rose Garden. The band hasn't played here since 1966, and the Oregonian yesterday reprinted two reviews of those shows. Their own critic at the time wrote that the band would get half of a guaranteed $30,000 from seat sales and 60% of anything over $30,000. 'They should get about $18,000 from this performance', she reported. Plus c'est la même chose, plus ça change.

I am gradually working my way through Richard Hoggart's 'The Uses of Literature'. Written in 1957, it is shocking to see how pertinent it remains today, with its lucid and persuasive discussion of popular culture. Details have changed; the thrust which is changing them has not. When Hoggart wrote this book, the tendencies he was detailing were bubbling away under the surface, sensed by a few yet undetected by the majority. Hoggart wrote about them in the sort of incisive and un-pandering fashion which was permitted then. In today's stifling atmosphere of political correctness, you have to be one of a small and select band of cantankerous old men to get away with it. Nowadays, the tendencies Hoggart exposes are well and truly to the fore, welcomed by some and feared by others. Yet the manner in which they are written about and discussed, in numerous column inches - oh, the trees that have died - is so PC, so focussed on the personal rather than the absolute, that it is tantamount to no discussion at all

A prime example of all this was on last Sunday's BBC 2 panel discussion about the state of the arts in this country. The talking went on and on, intelligent and wide ranging, yet it seemed that Sir Peter Hall (probably not cantankerous, but certainly idiosyncratic) was the only person prepared to speak with real passion and say things which may be unpopular, but which I believe to be true. The arts may not be vote winners, but we let them decline at our peril. Whatever their public image, they have precious little to do with glamorous first nights and gala performances. As Oscar Wilde famously replied, when asked why American society was so violent, 'it's because you have such dreadful wallpaper'. A century later, we have pretty appalling wallpaper too, and we need art more than ever to counter it. It opens our minds, deepens our understanding of others and broadens our vision of the world we live in. It makes for better people, and better people make for a better society. To quote Howard Jacobson, 'when did you last see a thug waving a copy of Middlemarch?'

A couple of months ago I was having dinner in The Ivy, along, so it seemed, with the rest of London. The prime minister was there, and I distinctly overheard him say to one of our leading contemporary composers, 'what you do is more important than what I do'. If you really believe that, Mr. Blair, say it in public. I dare you.