Lately, my mind has been deeply unsettled by something I read in the paper. It has conjured images which I find both disturbing and haunting. Worse, they seem ineradicable. Like a cavity in a tooth that the tongue constantly explores, this affliction is constantly felt.
The author of what I read and my subsequent discomposure was Esther Rantzen and this is what she wrote: “My gynaecologist surprised me the other day. I was climbing back into my clothing after an examination and she said, ‘It’s all in excellent working order. Don’t waste it!'”This evoked two images, the horror of each being so profound that it is impossible to determine which takes precedence. On the one hand, there is in the mind’s eye Ms Rantzen pulling on her knickers while the lady gynaecologist, rinsing her hands at a washbasin, looks over her shoulder and, with a wink, delivers her bon mot. On the other, there is, inevitably and inescapably, the image of Ms Rantzen’s pudendum, made no easier to contemplate by being imagined either in a state of dereliction or in excellent working order.
That Ms Rantzen chose carelessly to toss these images into the public arena without a thought to the mental anguish they might occasion suggests a degree of self-absorption, not to mention a coarse immodesty, that would be worrying were it not the result of an ego inflated by many years of exposure to TV cameras. It is a malaise she shares with many others of her kind, more of which later.
In any case, my mind was in a fevered state and remained so for several days; but, just as I was beginning to think I had exorcised the spectre that stalked my inward eye, something as dreadful as it was eerie befell me. I was pottering about my local Morrisons supermarket in a distracted sort of way, wondering whether to purchase three or six bottles of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord ale when I was awoken from my reverie by a sudden announcement over the public address system. “Hello,” said the voice, “Esther Rantzen here.”
For a moment, reason tottered on her throne. Was I really in Morrisons supermarket or had I been swept into the vortex of some dreadful Kafkaesque nightmare? Was my consciousness destined to be forever in thrall to mental pictures of Esther Rantzen and her wedding tackle, functioning with the gaudy precision of a cuckoo clock? Was there no escape?It transpired that her voice was recorded and she was appealing to shoppers to donate unwanted mobile phones to charity. But it was a nasty shock all the same. More to the point, was it necessary? What persuaded the charity concerned that its message would carry greater credibility if stamped by the imprimatur of Esther Rantzen?Have we become so besotted by tawdry celebrity that it is only at the urging of someone famous for being famous, someone who, in the words of the late Kitty Muggeridge, has risen without trace, that we may be persuaded to buy?My Esther Rantzen experience, ghastly though it was, was not a solitary occurrence. Admittedly, it was exceptional but truth to tell by no means unique. Not a day passes without some figure from Britain’s bulging gallery of grotesques imposing itself on the consciousness. They are assisted in this grisly business by a legion of agents and PR persons whose task is to find new opportunities for a clientele whose hunger for publicity is boundless. They push against open doors. Newspapers, television, book publishers, all offer a sweeping, low bow when gimcrack celebrity comes to call.
I suppose it must work. There must be people eager to worship the plaster god of réclame and to be taken in by the endorsement of celebs. I like to think I am not the only one who is often deterred from watching an otherwise promising TV programme by either the obtrusive mugging and posturing of the presenter or simply by his or her rebarbative persona.
I could not, for example, view anything presented by the increasingly ubiquitous Tony Robinson. Much the same goes for Griff Rhys Jones, Rory McGrath, Anne Robinson, Richard Hammond, Nick Knowles, Fiona Bruce and dozens more. And I am up to here with celebrity chefs, men and women who should go back to their hobs and stay there.
Often, it’s over-exposure that cloys what little appetite existed. If I see or hear anything more of either Helen Mirren or Kate Winslet it will be too soon. Even when they retire, these people never go away. Michael Parkinson, who outstayed his welcome years ago, now pops up on TV ads. But thus far, mercifully, he’s had the decency to keep news of his private parts private.