Am at Nashville airport waiting for a night flight back to London. Spent four days here and, in a nutshell, what a city. Do you watch the TV series Nashville? You probably have more sophisticated tastes, but I’ve loved it for years and so my friend Katie and I decided to come on a trip here. We ate 974 tacos, drank margaritas, visited the Jack Daniel’s distillery, screamed at a Kelly Clarkson gig, belted out Wagon Wheel multiple times in the bars lining Broadway (where live music starts at 11am every day), gawped at Elvis Presley’s gold Cadillac in the Country Music Museum (gold paint job, gold TV and fridge inside and the thing was the length of a truck), got ID’ed in every single bar we went to (‘God’s country,’ a barman told me last night, thus they’re especially strict about IDs here) and learned that American biscuits aren’t actually biscuits, they’re scones. Also, it’s the friendliest American city I’ve ever been to and I’ve had long discussions with every Uber driver about their band/drumming/singing career etc. Apart from last night when I got in and confidently asked the driver ‘You in music?’ and he told me no, he was in air-conditioning.
Anyway, enough of this because we’re about to take off and MIRACULOUSLY I’ve been able to download Line of Duty on iPlayer, when I assumed I wouldn’t be able to because I’m out of the UK. So I need to watch that. Although my mother has already accidentally sent me a WhatsApp, intended for my sister, which said ‘We thought it was him all along.’ If the baddie turns out to be Hastings I be as vexed as Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
Here’s your starter for ten: what do Oprah Winfrey and Richard Madeley have in common? Time’s up. It’s book clubs and I cheated because technically it’s Richard and Judy’s book club but I thought it would be too easy otherwise. Look to alternative Sunday newspapers for the lowbrow stuff.
It’s not only Oprah and Richard and Judy, however. Should you be unable to choose a book to read by yourself, you can seek help from Emma Watson, Reese Witherspoon, Zoe Ball or Florence Welch, that flame-haired Florence + The Machine singer. Celebrity book clubs are big business right now, and I blame them entirely for the reason that I belong to something called Shakespeare Club.
If this club sounds highly intelligent and cultured then that’s because it is. But I’m not (really), which makes me the least brilliant participant. It started when several ex-Tatler colleagues, all Oxbridge classicists, decided to read Richard III and have a dinner party to discuss it afterwards. It wasn’t all dukes and dachshunds back then you know.
I was invited to join and said yes please since I love the other members and, thanks to Oprah and Richard, belonging to a literary club is practically the law.
My first couple of meetings were alright. Not because I’d read the plays beforehand (I hadn’t), but because I’d studied them at school and so could just about hold my end up when it came to Othello and Lear. Much Ado About Nothing was a struggle because I failed to read it again. Luckily, Kenneth Branagh’s film helped me out.
Then came last week’s club: Henry VI Part One. I meant to buy a copy. I really did. It’s just that there’s so much to watch on Netflix and my heart doesn’t absolutely skip at the idea of collapsing into bed with Shakespeare. So I arrived at my friend Francesca’s house on Monday not having read a single line, although I’d listened to half a podcast about the play on the journey so I knew it was about a fat man called Falstaff.
Oh, the agony. I sat mute while others debated the masculinity of the play and cackled over a line of Tudor ribaldry about penises.
I should have known better, too, since a couple of years back I attended a book club run by my then-boyfriend’s sister. My homework was JK Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy but and I didn’t read that either. I merely scoured the Amazon reviews half an hour beforehand and found a line which I thought worth repeating. ‘There’s not one likeable character in it,’ I announced loftily, sitting around the table. I was shouted down and contributed nothing for the rest of the night.
To me, book clubs seem to be about showing off and full of snobbery, yet another platform where one has to voice a strident opinion, one way or another. They don’t allow for the simple, unhurried pleasure of reading something simply because you fancy dipping into it. Join a book club and you’ll always have a chore hanging over you when, actually, you might just want a bath with a thriller and not have to dredge up an illuminating observation about the main character’s inner struggles.
The trouble is, such clubs are tricky to leave without causing offence, like abandoning a WhatsApp group. I broke up with my boyfriend which solved the problem last time. But Shakespeare Club is made up of my mates, so I’m stuck with it. Although next month’s dinner presumably won’t be quite as disastrous because it’s Henry IV Part Two, and at least I now know who Falstaff is.
Hurrah! The pashmina’s back, or so says the Telegraph’s head of fashion Lisa Armstrong. I spent my late teenage years drifting about with one of the scarves permanently wrapped around my neck, a pastel-coloured python. They were all pastel – pastel pink, pastel yellow, pastel blue (to match my eyeliner.) I didn’t leave the house without one until I interviewed What Not To Wear queen Trinny Woodall and she told me they were ‘tragic.’ Ashamed, I stowed my pashminas in a bottom drawer where they have remained ever since, although I never understood the hatred. They’re soft and practical, easy to stash in a bag if you get too hot. What’s wrong with that? Emboldened by this major fashion news, I plan to bring out these Sloaney turin shrouds and go proudly forth. Please join me (please).
A couple of years ago, I was sent a box of crisps purporting to be the poshest crisps of all. Flavours included Grouse and Whinberry (what even is a whinberry?), Smoked Pheasant and Wild Mushroom and Wild Boar and Apple. I mention them because the crisp world is in uproar this week after Channel 5 crowned Britain’s favourite three brands as Walkers, Doritos and Pringles. ‘What sort of monster votes Pringles or Doritos as their favourite crisps?’ demanded one upset viewer on Twitter. I have to agree. While posh crisps are silly (have you ever come across those caviar and truffle-flavoured crisps? Deary me), Channel 5 has made a poor choice and snubbed my own personal favourite: McCoy’s Salt and Vinegar. They’re ridged which makes them very strong and excellent for scooping up dip. Don’t tell me we never tackle the important issues on this page.