The news that the novelist Jeanette Winterson is to appear on the platform at the Tory conference next week marks a first in my life. Never before, as far as I am aware, has an old friend addressed a Conservative conference.
OK, I mean old friend in the sense of friend from some time back: I haven’t seen her since the launch of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, her first novel, more than 20 years ago, and I still think of her as Jan. But at university and for a while afterwards we were good mates. I shared a house with her, her then partner and a couple of others in Crotch Crescent (after Mrs Crotch the hymn writer, I believe) off Marston Road in Oxford in 1979-80, and I have fond memories of going to Staithes, near Robin Hood’s Bay, with her and another friend for a holiday.
She also gave me a bit part in a student production of Cabaret she directed, which ended up on the Edinburgh fringe (without me, I hasten to add).
For this spectacular, which as I remember was very poor apart from the singing of the lead characters, I had to do a dance in drag in a gorilla suit while peeling a banana.
Well, actually, it wasn’t a gorilla suit, because we couldn’t afford more than the mask: I had to fake an all-over suit by sticking black fur to an old pair of wellies and making a rudimentary pair of arm-length black furry mittens. (The dress covered up the rest.) The problem was that it was impossible to peel the banana with the mittens on – which I discovered only on the first night, as the audience howled in derision.
But I digress. The point is that the dancing gorilla in drag was being set up for something nasty. As I pranced like Walter the Softy and desperately attempted to peel the banana, the MC sang a song that started: “If you could see her through my eyes, you wouldn’t wonder at all…” and ended: “If you could see her through my eyes, she wouldn’t look Jewish at all!”
This was the cue for Nazi stormtroopers to invade the stage, rip off my gorilla mask and kill me. I then had to play dead while everyone else got on with the show, for what seemed like a lifetime.
I hope Jeanette has better luck with the Tories next week.