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He could afford it

Jenny Diski, 7 April 1994

Howard Hughes: The Secret Life 
by Charles Higham.
Sidgwick, 368 pp., £16.99, September 1993, 9780283061578
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... This is the story of a man who insisted on having precisely 12 peas on his dinner plate every evening. He threaded the peas all in a row on to his fork and ate them, but if one of the peas was too big to fit on the prong with the rest, it was returned to the chef to be replaced by a pea of standard size. Once you know this everything else follows. Howard Hughes’s life is a series of obsessions, each overridden in its turn by a bigger and better fixation ...

Not Enjoying Herself

Jenny Diski: Princess Margaret, 16 August 2007

Princess Margaret: A Life Unravelled 
by Tim Heald.
Weidenfeld, 346 pp., £20, July 2007, 978 0 297 84820 2
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... And now for the other princess: the one who failed to stop all the clocks in Kensington Palace and Mustique, and grew old.1 In doing so she became sick, fat, grumpy, drunk and unloved. This, you might think, is the fate of many people who leave dying to their later years. But in a princess these flaws, if not the necessary concomitants of age then surely an entitlement of age, are particularly disappointing ...

Short Cuts

Jenny Diski: Mary Whitehouse’s Letters, 20 December 2012

... I’m not good at forgiving. It’s always been one of the worst aspects of my character, and now that I am old, there’s no chance it’s going to get better. I won’t have a warm retrospective feeling about Margaret Thatcher. I don’t see Reagan or Nixon in a new perspective with the passage of time. And I still loathe my wicked stepmother. This last is what needs acknowledging, because as I read Mary Whitehouse’s letters, everything about her, except the trim tailoring, reminded me of my wicked stepmother ...

Diary

Jenny Diski: In Praise of Older Men, 6 June 2013

... There’s a joke going round on Twitter that ‘they are arresting the Seventies.’ The ‘Seventies’ they are arresting is the decade rather than the mean age of those being rounded up by Operation Yewtree, though 73-year-old Jimmy Tarbuck is the latest entertainer from the period known to have been questioned about historical sex abuse allegations ...

Diary

Jenny Diski: Back to School, 30 April 2009

... It has been my habit, since I was very young, to keep easy sentiment, nostalgia, optimism even, in a secure box, and to forget where I left the key. This isn’t a confession, as it might seem to be in these emotionally overindulgent days. It’s simply a strategy; I’m a non-believer in the recuperative power of easily expressed instinctive feeling ...

On the Sofa

Jenny Diski: ‘Happy Valley’, 3 July 2014

... I can​ take more than my fair share of crap TV cop drama. Formulaic is good: I haven’t seen True Detective yet, but I fear from what I’ve read that it might be less rigidly structured than I’d like. Two of the Law and Order police procedurals, plain old Law and Order and Law and Order: Criminal Intent, provide the perfect sort of thing. Intro: a kid’s dog comes out of the bushes in Central Park wagging its tail with a hand in its mouth, a couple having frantic stand-up sex next to a dumpster are brought short by one of them noticing a mangled body on the ground beside them ...

Bingeing

Jenny Diski, 21 August 2014

... There was a flurry of excitement when the second series of Orange Is the New Black arrived fully formed on Netflix. People set out their binge snacks to binge watch. I was feeling bitter at not having seen True Detective, as everyone had who was either American or hadn’t set their face against giving Rupert Murdoch another sou to get Sky Atlantic, on which most of the things I like to watch are now shown ...

Diary

Jenny Diski: Three Whole Weeks Alone, 28 May 1992

... the Zoo for 26 years. Again, I feel a fraud. I’m planning to write about a talking orang called Jenny. He’ll think me frivolous. Cautiously, I tell him I’m just a fiction writer. I need some facts, but I make things up, too. Do I know, he asks without prompting, that the Malays believe orangs can talk, really, but they don’t because they think ...

Diary

Jenny Diski: On Knitting, 21 November 2013

... I thought sat well with what I wrote – or anything about me. I feared in the minds of others a Jenny version of ‘Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia knits!’ But not long ago, Julia Gillard, then prime minister of Australia, was photographed in a chair surrounded by balls of wool, with a dog at her feet, knitting a toy kangaroo for the new royal baby. And then a ...

Queening It

Jenny Diski: Nina Simone, 25 June 2009

Nina Simone: The Biography 
by David Brun-Lambert.
Aurum, 346 pp., £20, February 2009, 978 1 84513 430 3
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... her: She spat out ‘My Way’ with a new ferocity over a racing hand-drum pulse, and ‘Pirate Jenny’, one of her most spine-tingling interpretations, with an edge that rolled back the years. She then progressed to the front of the stage, smile slowly spreading in elation. ‘Since you’re all standing,’ she said. ‘I’d like you to join me in ...

Who’ll be last?

Jenny Diski, 19 November 2015

... her death a surprise except to the few who knew. So Clive James (announced May 2011 – ?) and Diski (announced 11 September 2014 – ?) still battle it out for third place. In the other kind of race, last man standing, James and Diski would be meandering towards first and second place, Sacks and Mankell having already ...
... The thought came to Ellen in the middle of one night. First she was asleep and then she was awake with a single question in her head, as if it was asking itself so urgently it couldn’t wait until morning to have itself thought about. The question was this: does Mount Rushmore exist? And then, in answer to her weary: Well, of course it exists; a supplementary question: How do you know? Got her! That was the end of the night’s sleep ...

Don’t

Jenny Diski, 5 November 1992

Sex 
by Madonna.
Secker, 128 pp., £25, October 1992, 0 436 27084 6
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Sex and Sensibility 
by Julie Burchill.
Grafton, 269 pp., £5.99, October 1992, 0 00 637858 7
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Too hot to handle 
by Fiona Pitt-Kethley.
Peter Owen, 134 pp., £15.50, November 1992, 0 7206 0875 9
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... There are really only two things people want to keep from public scrutiny: their real, private self; or the fact that they have no private self of any particular interest. Now, my instinctive guess is that everyone is nursing the fear that the real them doesn’t amount to very much worth knowing. The famous fear it most, but everyone, I think, suspects that they might not really exist in any interesting way beyond their public and superficial selves ...

The Synaptic Years

Jenny Diski, 24 June 1993

And When Did You Last See Your Father? 
by Blake Morrison.
Granta, 215 pp., £14.99, May 1993, 0 14 014240 1
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Eating Children 
by Jill Tweedie.
Viking, 314 pp., £15.99, May 1993, 0 670 84911 1
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... It’s a race against time, but, as this century totters to its close, we might, in the final few years, catch up with the arithmetic and discover that it’s the 20th century we’ve been inhabiting, and not, after all, a dreamlike prolongation of the 19th. We’ll feel bereft, of course, as we pack away the old Middle-European 19th-century philosophies – we’ve played with them for so long there appears to be no alternative ...

Diary

Jenny Diski: On Palm Island, 22 April 1993

... It’s six-thirty, I’m wide awake and all fired up to go to Palm Island. As I’m about to run the bath, a sudden silence breaks over the flat. An electricity blackout. A little urban catastrophe and a personal disaster: no hot water. How can I start the day, let alone go off lotus-eating, without a cup of tea and immersing myself in hot water? I assess my resources, and in the spirit of pioneering self-sufficiency (pre-desert island practice) put three large saucepans of water to boil on the gas stove ...

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