Homage from Catalonia

Hola from Spain. I am here for a few days trying not to burn my appendix scars while eating my 63rd croissant of the morning from a sunbed. Yesterday, I was busy pouring Piz Buin over my stomach and briefly lifted the waistband of my bikini bottoms to find several pastry flakes loitering down there, poor things. I bet that never happens to the girls on Love Island.

Anyway, my Sun Tel column below and HERE is a link to my Evening Standard one from last week which includes a ludicrous story about my sister and Pavarotti.


Do you remember the first dance you went to? I was 10 and it was in a village hall in the Scottish borders. I wore blue eyeliner and a hessian sack that was apparently working night shifts as a dress. Mum plaited my hair. The overall effect was Saturday Night Fever meets Little House on The Prairie. I loitered on the sidelines of the village hall, wondering how to join in with the throng in front of me, then I plunged in towards Douglas, the class heartthrob. I barely knew what a crush was but I understood that dancing with Douglas, standing close to him while shaking my hands as if trying to dry them, was weirdly desirable.

‘Douglas, do you want to dance?’ I squeaked, when I finally reached him.

‘I’m busy,’ he replied, nodding his head towards the prettiest girl in our year, Jen, who he was already dancing with. My sack and I slunk away to a plastic chair where I drowned my sorrows with orange squash and waited for Mum to pick me up.

Dancing has been a source of fear ever since, which is why I was so dismayed to read this week’s headlines about Snowball the cockatoo and his dance moves. According to a study in the US, Snowball’s ability to flap his tail in time with Queen and Madonna shows that anyone – or anything – with a brain and ‘certain cognitive capacities’ should be able to dance. It’s a marker of ‘developed socialisation’, apparently, whereas scientists had previously wondered whether dancing was an activity which humans had invented and finessed over the centuries (these scientists had presumably never studied folk dancers).

For those of us who shrink from dancing, who dread the moment at a wedding when everyone’s summoned to move in time to Stevie Wonder and you haven’t quite had enough wine, it’s unhappy news. There is no longer any excuse for our belligerence towards the dance-floor. If a small feathery creature with a brain the size of a walnut can dance, so should we, says the study.

Except, sorry, but I think it’s nonsense. Some of us are just no good at it. After that first episode in the village hall, I went on to observe the strong correlation between those who were good at dancing and those who snogged at teenage parties. It was deeply unfair, I realised, but those who could confidently swayed their hips and jiggled their shoulders were simply more alluring than those of us who couldn’t. And so it proves through life. Look at Mick Jagger and Carlos Acosta – absolute sex gods. But Mr Bean and 2010 Strictly Come Dancing competitor Ann Widdecombe? Not so much.

I have tried. Goodness I’ve tried. You’re deemed a stick-in-the-mud if you don’t dance. A prig. Too self-conscious and uptight. So every now and then, I sashay on to the chequered floor and point my fingers in the air as if warning everyone it’s about to rain. I rotate my shoulders like I’m at the chiropractor. I smile and mouth along to ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ even though my actual idea of fun is a cup of tea with my shoes off. And yet I still feel as awkward as I ever did, as stiff as a brick. I’m slowly making my peace with it. Twenty-four years on, I’m almost over Douglas and that scarring episode in the Scottish village hall. Just please don’t tell me that a parrot with a mohawk is more ‘socialised’ because he knows the moves to the Macarena.


It’s been a dramatic week. I went into hospital last weekend with a stomach ache; they took my appendix out on Sunday. ‘When and what did you last eat?’ asked a concerned doctor as I was writhing with agony in A&E. The previous night I’d taken a friend to Orasay, an excellent new restaurant in Notting Hill, and we’d begun with barbecued duck hearts. But I couldn’t bring myself to tell the doctor that. It seemed too preposterous, too bourgeois to be throwing myself on the mercy of the NHS while declaring I’d feasted as if Henry VIII the night before. So I admitted to hake and cauliflower but left out the hearts (very delicious they were too). My mother ticked me off for withholding crucial medical details but as luck would have it, it turns out it was my appendix and nothing to do with the hearts. Phew.


Did you see Diana’s sister, Lady Jane Fellowes, at Archie’s christening? You couldn’t have missed her – she was the one in the panama with an air of Inspector Clouseau about her. There’s a terrific nonchalance to wearing a panama to a Royal christening, or any christening or wedding. An expensive hat is yet another item that women are expected to shell out for on top of dresses, shoes, bags and jackets, and often these hats make us look, frankly, silly. I once bought a panama for a tenner from a beachside stall and wore it proudly to Royal Ascot. Who wants a head that looks like a chrysanthemum, anyway?