20 October 2007: Guardian

One Week in September

Friday, September 14 Went to see Dutch Portraits at the National Gallery before it closed. Lovely. I particularly liked the clothing, setting and accessories, which spoke volumes of the sitter's personality. Sadly, we seem to have lost such charming coded language in modern portraiture.

I have noticed the older I get, the bigger my appetite for learning. I can't swear to retain everything, but discovery, in itself, is a pleasure. I am not alone in this as the large number of people of mature years taking college or university degrees stands testament. Stirling University, where I am in my tenth and final year as chancellor, was one of the first to open its doors and ease the path for such people. A couple of years ago I was privileged to cap an 84-year-old who had gained a degree in psychology. Approaching me on the platform, his smile was even brighter than the many campaign medals on his shoulder.

Good show tonight [Almodovar's All About My Mother] but props missing, which made me cross. You look such a fool reaching for something that isn't there.

Saturday Two shows today, so I must conserve my energy. It's a perfect autumn morning and I long to hit the park with my Jack Russell, Mabel. She lives for her walks and hangs around me while I dress until I tell her, "Not today", whereupon she creeps away, giving me her maltreated dog performance. Luckily I have friends who take her.

The audiences were appreciative - if only they could see the chaos backstage. The wings are a hive of activity as actors struggle into or out of costume. Meanwhile, the sights in the corridors are even more bizarre - butch actors donning padded bras, high heels and Barbie wigs. My brother, Hugh, came. He is ex-RAF and the strongest expletive I've ever heard him use is, "Good God", so I was rather nervous about his reaction to a play littered with the f-word, let alone being introduced to the complexities of transsexualism. At dinner afterwards he was suitably complimentary on my performance, but about the play he sweetly said, "I'll have to go home and think about it." I rather hope he doesn't.

Sunday "Such a day of welcome show/Eye and knocking heart may bless./Find the mortal world enough" - Auden said it all, and my merry dog and I took to the park, loving every minute. Had a date to see Rachael, my daughter, but she's been called away on location, so I'll have to do without a cuddle. We both give good cuddles. I am a great believer in cuddles. Rating people on their cuddlability is fun. I reckon Gordon Brown is a good cuddler, but his mind wouldn't be on it, and one can always tell. David Cameron - too brisk and efficient for comfort. Sir Menzies? Forget it. Zoe Wanamaker, I know, gives good cuddle. I sometimes think of all those OAPs stuck away in homes. How they must long for warm human contact. Dogs, since their beneficial effects have been recognised, are taken to visit; why not a kindly person to dispense cuddles?

Monday Wake up with a cold. Dammit. Every time I sneeze Mabel leaves the room. It's hell performing with a streamer and trying covertly to wipe the drip from the nose. Luckily the part is not too vocally taxing, so I'm in no danger of damaging the voice. Playing Medea with a cold years ago in New York I tore a cord. The specialist had me swallow a minuscule camera and I was able to see the jagged rip. Fascinating.

Tuesday Annual visit to the gynaecologist. I have a very big BONE to pick with gynies. Medical breakthroughs are a regular occurrence, but in certain areas nothing changes. Quite apart from the indignity and discomfort of this particular examination, is it really necessary to suffer what feels like an iceberg shoved up one's jacksy? Is it too difficult to sterilise and warm the instrument beforehand?

Wednesday Two shows again. It's a long day, added to which my dressing room is several flights up. I calculate I will have climbed a Munro by the end of the run. Dinner with friends afterwards, delicious pasta. I don't work well on a full stomach and am always starving afterwards. Medical wisdom has now declared that eating late does not harm the health. I could have told them that years ago.

Thursday Bought fresh weed for my goldfish, Jonathan, named after Jonathan Kent, the director, who gave him to me 15 years ago. I have considered releasing him to join other goldfish in my pond in France, but am afraid they would fight or, worse still, eat him. When I moved there, six years ago, the villagers appeared to accept me wholeheartedly, but as my social circle widened I began to see why so many British expats are unpopular. A large percentage, particularly the men, never trouble to learn the language and are loud and unhesitating in their criticisms of the French. I cringe.

Friday Home late after dinner with friends. Walking home had to step around large puddles of blood on the pavement with a crumpled brolly abandoned beside them. My street has a cross-section of society, student accommodation, council flats, long-term leaseholders, plus some ritzy houses where millions have been spent. In the past three months police have twice been called to sort out bloody incidents involving knives, a pensioner fell or threw herself out of a window, and a dead body, killed elsewhere the police said, was dumped two streets away. We are the most surveyed nation in the world, hammered with laws that purport to improve our lives, but the happenings on our streets tell us otherwise.

Saturday Yesterday Mabel was happily playing in a park nearby when Neanderthal Man walked in with two bull terriers, unleashed and unmuzzled, who chased Mabel out of the park and under the wheels of a passing car. She was killed instantly.

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