There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.
The first day that I ever spent with M was a beautiful one. We started, I can see looking back now, as we meant to go on. The day wasn’t particularly planned out but we were lucky enough to amble from one gorgeous, relaxed experience to another, talking all the way. The good fortune that would characterise our relationship began when we got the best seats in the house for our lunch at the Suffolk Food Hall, on the balcony overlooking the Orwell Bridge. Then we went for a walk through the beautiful tranquility of Pin Mill and had a beer at the Butt and Oyster. The late afternoon saw us having coffees on the Ipswich Waterfront, then we went back to my house to sit shyly on separate sofas while we ate Thai green curry and watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious.
Ah, now there’s a film. Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman both look absolutely luminous as they play characters who define the word “notorious”. Ingrid Bergman is Alice Huberman, whose German spy father has committed first treason against the USA then suicide in prison. Alice drowns her shame and sorrows in alcohol and affairs and is then recruited by Grant’s gorgeous government agent Devlin to spy on her father’s Nazi mates in Rio de Janeiro. The film features espionage, elicit love, poisoning, affairs, alcoholism, betrayal, a moment of violence and a very famous kissing scene. Those are things that could justifiably end up making a character notorious, and the film was subtly and appropriately named.
Many of us in 2014 like to think of ourselves as fairly progressive. We like to imagine that our attitudes are moving forward and that we’re becoming more open-minded and less easily shocked. And sometimes that’s true. But it occasionally becomes apparent that there are funny little glitches in the topics to which we’re willing to open our minds. Ingrid Bergman’s Alice had to go some to achieve notoriety in Hitchcock’s 1946 film. But all Eve Ensler had to do to ensure notoriety for the play that she wrote in 1996 was put the word “vagina” in the title. Aw! Look at us and our blushing, puritanical attitudes!
Watching people’s reactions when you mention that you’re going to be in a play called The Vagina Monologues is interesting. M told his mum on the phone that I was going to be in a play but then studiously avoided mentioning what the play was called. A 32-year-old Irish woman blanched and said, “That’s disgusting. There are some things that should never be talked about.” A 72-year-old British woman said, “I can’t wait to come and see it but I won’t tell my 43-year-old daughter about it because she’d be too shocked.”
John Wilmot, the real-life historical character that Johnny Depp played in The Libertine achieved notoriety by drinking and debauching his way through 17th century society. And yet whatever notoriety I might have achieved in my own tiny circle in 2014 is from standing on a stage and saying, “Vagina”.
Really, all I can say to our shyness and naivety is, “Aaaw!”