Dig for victory Harry...

Wise words for a royal - and advice for a rainy day

Dear Marina,

Thanks to the effects of global warming we are all having a terrible wet and unsummery summer. Is it worth planning summer holidays in November time now and, if so, where would make a good destination?
Clare, Portsmouth

I am on record as taking umbrage with those who would say climate change is great if it means it’s getting warmer.

Not that many are saying that right now. And if you’ve had your home or business flooded, with all the stress and devastation that brings, you will rightly be angry beyond words at this summer’s torrents.

But can the rest of us address our attitude to rain please? If it is climate change that brings the monsoon season to Blighty, we can change our ways and help slow climate change and learn to live with the changes in the meantime.

Having always holidayed in England I was brought up never to allow the weather to dampen holiday spirits.

I cherish the hours of childhood spent stuck in a car, chomping on fish and chips, windows all steamed up, listening to the sound of rain lash the north Norfolk coast.

I still laugh at my mother who encouraged us to remove our clothes and sit on them when caught in a downpour without waterproofs.

But most of all I cherish summer rain for the sensual experience beyond the wildest imaginings of those whose only outdoor experience is the distance between their front door and their car, plus the annual trip to a foreign swimming pool with food and drinks included, where they read a book, get drunk and shagged before returning home hungover, diseased and burned to a crisp. And that’s just the pensioners…

Next time the heavens open strip off and give yourself over to the pounding on your naked flesh. Spread your arms, lift your face to the heavens, open your mouth and drink.

If your heart races off into ecstacy and you’re without a loved one to cling to in such a delicious deluge, hug a tree. Easy now, I said hug it.

Rain also plays intricately with light on the landscape. I’m no artist, but I do appreciate the way many places can look more beautiful, and have more character on rainy days as opposed to hot dusty ones. Sites popular with visitors are also less crowded in unsettled weather. No queues for ice cream. Bliss.

But where to holiday? I love the Lake District, the Peak district, Somerset, Cornwall, Devon, Norfolk and Sussex. DO NOT, REPEAT, DO NOT FLY TO FOREIGN CLIMES.

And when? According to the long range lunar forecast (I kid you not) we’re in for a dry September. This is good news for me as I’m running my first three-day festival (outoftheordinaryfestival.com). If you can get to Polegate Station in Sussex lift shares can get you to our site. Tickets are selling fast so get buying now.

Dear Marina

Despite being a babe magnet with endless squillions of pounds to my name and a noble ancestery, I’m constantly bullied by my colleagues for having red hair. When I was unable to join them for a tour of duty in Iraq they all went out and bought red wigs. I guess this could be to fool the insurgents who will give away their positions as they eagerly and mistakenly attempt to blow me up. But I still feel bullied.

I’m so depressed I just want to go clubbing, drink too much, smoke that extra strong cannabis that’s going around the cabinet and pick up unsuitable girls.

But Dad says it’s not on while the regiment squares up to death on a daily basis. What can I do?
Harry, Gloucestershire

Oh Harry, as I said to your grandmother just the other day: “Gardening is its own reward, don’t you agree?” She agreed.

Your father has many acres to toil, so do what the girls did when forced by tradition to avoid combat: they dug for victory. With your help, despite the impending crisis caused by the growing of too many biofuels instead of food crops, we shall never have to face rationing on Duchy Originals.

And don’t worry about being called ginger nut (a lower class of biscuit altogether). It’s just their way of avoiding calling you genuinely hurtful names, like “upper class twat”. Please remind your Granny she’s expected in Lewes to help with the revolution. We’ll book her a room at the White Hart. If she’s worried about being lynched by the Headstrong Club we can loan her the disguise of a red haired wig. Snigger!

Marina Pepper is a former glamour model turned journalist, author, eco-campaigner and Lib Dem politician. A councillor and former Parliamentary candidate, she lives near Brighton with her two children.
Why not e-mail your problems to askmarina@newstatesman.co.uk?
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I hate musicals. Apart from Guys and Dolls, South Pacific, Follies – oh, wait

Every second is designed to be pleasing, so that by the end my face aches from all the smiling.

I always thought I hated musicals. Showy, flamboyant, and minutely choreographed, they seemed to be the antithesis of the minimalist indie scene I grew up in, where a ramshackle DIY ethos prevailed, where it wasn’t cool to be too professional, too slick, too stagey. My immersion in that world coincided with the heady days of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s triumphs in the West End – Evita in 1978, Cats in 1981 – neither of which I saw, being full of scorn for such shows.

From then on I convinced myself that musicals were not for me, conveniently forgetting my childhood love of West Side Story (for which I’d bought the piano music, bashing out “I Feel Pretty” over and over again in the privacy of the dining room, on the small upright that was wedged in behind the door).

I was also conveniently forgetting Meet Me In St Louis and A Star is Born, as well as An American in Paris, which I’d been to see with a boy I was actually in a band with – he somehow finding it possible to combine a love of The Clash with a love of Gene Kelly. And I was pretending that Saturday Night Fever wasn’t really a musical, and neither was Cabaret – because that would mean my two favourite films of all time were musicals, and I didn’t like musicals.

Maybe what I meant was stage musicals? Yes, that was probably it. They were awful. I mean, not Funny Girl obviously. When people ask “If you could go back in time, what gig would you most like to have attended?” two of my answers are: “Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall, and Barbra Streisand in the original 1964 Broadway production of Funny Girl.” I would, of course, also make an exception for Guys and Dolls, and South Pacific, and My Fair Lady, and… oh God, what was I talking about? I’d always loved musicals, I just stopped remembering.

Then one of our teens took me to see Les Misérables. She’d become obsessed with it, loving the show so much she then went and read the Victor Hugo book – and loving that so much, she then re-read it in the original French. I know! Never tell me today’s young people are lazy and lacking in commitment. So I went with her to see the long-running stage version with my sceptical face on, one eyebrow fully arched, and by the time of Éponine’s death and “A Little Fall of Rain” I had practically wept both raised eyebrows off my face. Call me converted. Call me reminded.

I was late to Sondheim because of those years of prejudice, and I’ve been trying to catch up ever since, keeping my eyes open for London productions. Assassins at the Menier Chocolate Factory was stunning, and Imelda Staunton in Gypsy (yes, I know he only wrote the lyrics) was a revelation. Here she is again tonight in Follies at the National Theatre, the show that is in part a homage to the era of the Ziegfeld Follies, that period between the wars that some think of as the Golden Age of Musicals.

Although, as Sondheim writes in his extraordinary book, Finishing The Hat, (which contains his lyrics plus his comments on them and on everything else): “There are others who think of the Golden Age of Musicals as the 1950s, but then every generation thinks the Golden Age was the previous one.” How I would have loved to have seen those shows in the 1970s, when they were new and startling.

They still are, of course, and this production of Follies is a delight from start to finish. A masterclass in lyrics – Sondheim’s skill in writing for older women is unmatched – it is also sumptuously beautiful, full of emotion and sardonic wit, switching between the two in the blink of an eye, in a way that appears effortless.

And I realise that what I love about musicals is their utter commitment to the audience’s pleasure. Every second is designed to be pleasing, so that by the end my face aches from all the smiling, and my mascara has somehow become smudged from having something in my eye, and I have already booked tickets to go again. So sue me.

Tracey Thorn is a musician and writer, best known as one half of Everything but the Girl. She writes the fortnightly “Off the Record” column for the New Statesman. Her latest book is Naked at the Albert Hall.

This article first appeared in the 21 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The revenge of the left