Wednesday 9 September 2009

Thank you, Liz Jones

Back to school. Eventually the interminable summer holidays ended and James returned for his last year at primary school. Trousers too long and baggy, hair amazingly neat after the wild mop of summer. New bag, new pencil-case, new school shoes, new (well, new to him) blazer.
Of course the sun came out and laughed at us. It always does.
I’ll miss summer: the lie-ins, louche time-keeping followed by late nights to hit looming deadlines; sitting by the river watching the boys bodyboarding down the Barle while we sip Moscow Mules; dashing off to the beach at the faintest hint of sun. But I also love September, that crisp new start.
New Year doesn’t really do it for me but Autumn ticks all the boxes for a fresh beginning. And it does feel like that, this year, it really does.

As regular readers know, it’s been a tough year, following on ten tough years, if I’m honest. When mum died in December, I plunged into yet another depression and the world felt very bleak indeed. If I’m brutally honest, there were days when there just didn’t seem any point to anything and only the thought of my little family kept me going.

But now it feels as if I’m slowly, cautiously, emerging from the sludge. My detox has segued into healthy eating (rather than binge retoxing) and I’m planning to get back to aerobics, fitball and circuit training. I’ve been playing squash again and, while I’m hopelessly unfit, it’s huge fun. I’m going to get sociable and have friends round again (I’ve neglected them for far too long). Above all, I’m going to get everything in perspective and be grateful for everything I’ve got.

Two events really rammed the message home in the last week. Firstly a good friend told me she was going into hospital for what would be a life-saving operation. If she didn’t have it, she would be dead by the end of October. Now that really does concentrate the mind.
Secondly, and I barely like to put the two people on the same page, let alone paragraph, I recorded Woman’s Hour in a head-to-head with the Daily Mail writer Liz Jones. To cut a long and exceedingly boring story short, I had written about LJ in the Telegraph in response to her columns in which she kept running down Exmoor. Apparently we’re a bloodthirsty lot; our farmers are negligent; our men are toothless and decrepit; our teenagers are feral; our pubs are crap and the people who work in the local Co-op all have special needs. I suggested that maybe this wasn’t the most tactful way to ease oneself into rural life. Liz objected, implying she was singlehandedly supporting our local economy with her expensive lifestyle and we should be damn grateful. So we went on Radio 4 to debate how best to make the shift from city to country.

It was supposed to go out live but the producer said that, having spoken to Liz Jones the day before, they would have to pre-record as Jones was seemingly incapable of keeping calm and holding a rational conversation when it came to me.
Sure enough a large part of the recording was unusable as Liz just ranted and poor Jane Garvey could not stop her for love nor money. Most of it was just silly, such as asking why, if I cared about Exmoor, I didn’t employ twelve full-time builders (er, because I can’t afford to). But one point was really interesting.
‘I’m the best thing that’s happened to you in ten years, aren’t I Jane?’ she spat.
At the time I was so flabbergasted I couldn’t have replied, even had she given me the opportunity.
But it made me think. What IS the best thing that’s happened to me in the past ten years? My son, James, is the obvious first answer. Followed by moving to Dulverton. Followed by meeting and becoming friends with some fabulous people. Yes, I suppose I should include Asbo Jack and the mad, crazy, still half-finished Bonkers House. And the fact that I still love my husband to pieces and have a hugely happy marriage (even if he does bore for Britain on the joys of beer).

And, at that point, I felt sorry for Liz Jones, I really did. Poor little rich girl who says she has spent £400,000 on clothes, who has a drop-dead gorgeous farmhouse (albeit NOT on the moor where she claims it is) and feels the need to preface every household and item of clothing with a designer name. I suppose she thought that going on Woman’s Hour was the pinnacle of my career but, to be honest, I work to live rather than live to work. My career is certainly low-key nowadays but that’s the way I rather like it. I’ve done the newspapers and the glossy mags, I’ve sat at fashion shows and been flown first-class and interviewed rock stars. I’ve been on TV and radio. It was fun at the time, it was a hoot but it was just a job (albeit a very privileged one). Would I want to do it now? No, I wouldn’t, because it would mean being away from my home and my family.

She doesn’t have that. I know you will say it’s her own fault; that if she stopped writing about everyone she meets and didn’t dismiss everyone who isn’t gorgeous and rich and young and vegan, then she could probably find happiness (and even a man) relatively easily. But I still think it’s sad.

So, back at the Bonkers House, I’m counting my blessings on this lovely autumn day. Would I change my life for all Liz’s trappings of wealth? Would I want to see my face plastered over the dailies? No, not in a month of Sundays. Would I even want to be that thin (had to think about that one for a moment but, um, well, not if it meant cosmetic surgery and a vegan diet). She’s certainly not the best thing that’s happened to me but she has reminded me very forcefully of what the best things really are.
So, for that, thank you Liz.