A Helluva Week
‘Turning down Andrew Neil at eleven at night was probably a mistake because Esther Rantzen became my body double and lectured me resoundingly on what Britain has done for me’
By any measure it was a helluva week. I went viral again, had an e-fight with Esther Rantzen, bopped with the Waterboys live on Radio 1, dined in the House of Lords with a Tory peer, attended a Holocaust memorial in Westminster Abbey, had physio for my dislocated facet joint, and prepared Friday night dinner for eight — all while rehearsing the play Harvey, exhaustingly from 10am to 6pm every day in a freezing cold barracks by Putney Bridge. Oh, and I became a grandmother again.
The viral bit occurred when an LBC journalist called me at home on Tuesday, Holocaust Memorial Day, to talk about the services, and asked me whether I was concerned about rising anti-Semitism in Europe. During my reply I said that most Jews in the UK would be thinking about a second home — as I often do — in New York or Israel for the eventuality that the hate crimes, already up by 128 per cent, got worse. “When the going gets tough, the Jews start packing,” I quipped. The following day I awoke to hear I was leaving the country.
I don’t tweet or twitter or Facebook so I haven’t seen the extent of the “good riddance” letters, but “Don’t go, the country won’t be the same without you,” said to me by a Protestant cleric in white robes and a red sash in Westminster Abbey, was a real boost, I can tell you. The phone rang off the handset with requests to explain myself on every news show in town and I said no to them all. “I have to learn my lines!” I bleated pathetically. Turning down Andrew Neil at eleven at night was probably a mistake because Esther Rantzen became my body double and lectured me resoundingly on what Britain has done for me and how I should be grateful. At which point the argument which never was took a new twist. I went from being a fearful and prescient minority to being an ungrateful immigrant.
“Thanks for the attack, Esther,” I texted my old friend. I thought of asking if the lure of a television sofa was so addictive that it was impossible for her to resist, even if it meant insulting a friend, but didn’t. Her reply was terse: “Not an attack,” she wrote, “a passionate argument. Ever yours, Esther.”
“Shame on you,” I replied. Sheepishly she texted back that she had followed up the interview with a thousand-word article about the “passionate debate” in the Daily Mail, the paper which announced my age as 71 on their front page for pure spite. (I’m 68 and have never lied about it.) Gleefully they set up a large photo of me as Beattie in the ads which last went out 23 years ago and headlined it with “She should be grateful.”
Esther’s article wasn’t bad. It was, true to form, all about her. Her childhood, her scholarships, her grandparents and her achievements. It didn’t occur to her that her Britain was a very different country in the 1940s and ’50s when we grew up. It had problems, but not the ones we face today from radicalised extremists. In those days “we” were the good guys. We’d given already, if you take my meaning. There was virtually no anti-Semitism when I grew up in Hull. My family had been British since the mid-1800s. We were grateful for the good life that we had and the freedom from persecution we enjoyed. In return we kept our heads down, worked very hard, and contributed in every field.
The last email I sent Esther bounced back with the words “This sender is not liked.” Fair enough, I thought; the feeling is mutual. With some synchronicity, that weekend I had praised Esther for the Silver Line helpline for the elderly, in one of those articles Private Eye calls “My favourite spoon”, as the person I most admired in 2014. Heigh ho.
Still, the Chris Evans show gave me a 24-hour buzz after my bop with the Waterboys; the Abbey reassured me that I can leave my passport in the drawer for another year; the Tory peer showed me how much I can admire someone with differing views from mine; the back only hurts when I’m carried upside-down in the play; the play, through chattering teeth, is slowly improving; the Friday night dinner has restored my soul; and Sacha Jack Rosenthal, born on January 31 by caesarean section after a premature dash to UCH and a night with a hot mobile pressed to my ear is very beautiful, very calm and reminds me that the future is his and must, without resentment, be treasured and protected.
Note: Since writing this, Ms. Rantzen and Ms. Lipman have reconciled, citing the old Jewish joke: “Two Jews, four opinions.”