I like to start the week talking about breasts – and thus it was that I did. There we were Monday morning, ten women sitting around a table at University College Hospital, talking about breasts. Our breasts, your breasts and, more specifically, breastfeeding: the most emotive subject on earth. One woman pulled out a knitted breast to show how to express milk and we all fondled it fondly. We were there to talk policies: UCH is intent on becoming more breastfeeding-friendly, something I feel passionately about and support fully. The levels of ignorance and misinformation about breastfeeding are scandalously shocking, and women are lied to daily. Someone – cough, cough – high up in government needs to address this, because breast milk is truly magical and should be promoted with the same aggression as artificial milk. Even though it is illegal to advertise or promote infant formulae for babies of less than six months, the milk companies get round it in all sorts of sly ways. That night I squeeze my F-cup cleavage (I am still breastfeeding) into a Diane von Furstenberg dress and go out. One has to spread the word however one can.
It is said you are never more than ten feet away from a swinger in London, and in Primrose Hill it seems they are within even easier grasp. If the gossip columns are to be believed (and I believe very little else), all the celebrities in “Promiscuity Hill” have been at it. But the basic problem with swinging is that one person will always be disappointed, surely. I mean what is the chance of you and your partner both finding another couple attractive? What happened to just copping off solo? This reminds me of the time my boyfriend and I were cruised. The signs were all there: an extensive tour of the house that hovered around the bedroom, an insistence that we stay the night, and five minutes into dinner the subject of sex was raised and there the conversation stuck. Then a tour of the garden and their children’s playground. “If you ever fancy a go,” said the wife coyly, pushing back and forth her child’s swing . . . “just swing by.”
I do worry about the word “fuck”. Once upon a time it had real imperative clout. You said it and waited for the gasps of shock. And how delicious it was to say: more tension-releasing than putting a picture of your most hated enemy on a pillow and repeatedly punching it. But “fuck” is being stripped of its status as the mother of all swear-words. First, the naff French Connection ad campaign titteringly declared: FCUK (the one and only time I’ve agreed with the late Lynda Lee-Potter, who slated it). Now, we have Meet the Fockers, the sequel to the excellent Meet the Parents, and where the protagonist is called Gaylord Focker. If “fuck” goes soft, we may end up with more prescriptive phrases of the sort you find in France or Italy, which are a poetic four syllables long and involve another part of the body entirely. Neither is anywhere near as cathartic to say.
Tony Blair was kissed this week while visiting a Manchester community centre. The British are so awkward with the social kissing of relative strangers, and yet they will insist on doing it. The problem is that there are no guidelines: do you kiss once or twice, and which cheek do you go for first (no such dilemma for Blair’s fan; she went straight for his lips, which she described as “soft as a baby”). What happened to the hearty handshake?
The Whitechapel Art Gallery is currently showing an exhibition called “Faces in the Crowd”, to which I went on Sunday. As with 99 per cent of art exhibitions, the notes by the side of the pictures were rubbish. I hate this about art, the way there is so little offered in explanation. I remember once being shown around a new exhibition by the curator of another gallery. The stories she told were fascinating and made the whole thing come alive, detailing the history behind and links between all the paintings. “Why haven’t you put any of this on the notes?” I asked her. Apparently, it’s not the done thing. Some years ago, I saw the “Fabric of Vision” show at the National Gallery. It was one of the best exhibitions I’ve ever been to, precisely because the wall notes were so inclusive. A curator friend of mine told me that, in “their” world, the exhibition was being slated. “The notes are way too friendly,” she explained. Art can be such a bitch.
First published in the New Statesman.