Diary - Joan Bakewell

Since the story of my love affair with Harold Pinter was published, journalists have been asking if

As I tentatively embark on a tour to promote my autobiography, The Centre of the Bed, I'm suddenly aware of how much the world loves writers. Literary festivals sit cheek by jowl right through the calendar year. People like to see what writers look like and hear their voices. I had an example on Sunday evening, when a sell-out audience came to the Almeida Theatre in Islington to hear David Hare, Ian McEwan, Bonnie Greer and Alan Bennett reading their own work. The event was in support of the British Institute of Human Rights, and I, giving a hand with the organising, had inadvertently upset Alan Bennett. He had phoned to ask what sort of piece he should read. "Well, human rights issues aren't exactly thick on the ground in your work, are they," I said, and suggested the audience would rather be entertained than preached at. "Hurtful", he called it, as he told them the tale. More than that: it was wrong, too, I now realise. Alan's work may not be crusading stuff about the disadvantaged, but the humour and humanity that inform all his work also underpin a real concern for human justice.

I have already managed to see a performance of Betrayal at the Duchess Theatre without too much of a song and dance about my going. A song and dance not by me but by journalists who, since the relevant extracts from my book were published - those about my 1960s love affair with Harold Pinter - have been on the phone or nudging my elbow at receptions, asking whether I was going to the first night. Best, I thought, to catch a preview.

Seeing it is two experiences for me: pleasure at a brilliant and amusing play, among the finest of Pinter's work; and heartache at the retelling of events from my own life that make up the superstructure of Harold's drama. I have seen many productions. Sometimes the experience has been painful, sometimes chilling. This latest is wonderful: warm and funny and beautiful. Sexy, too.

This owes much to the brilliant playing of its three actors, Aden Gillett, Hugo Speer and, most especially, the delicious Janie Dee, who plays Emma, the woman who gives her love to both her husband and his best friend. Over dinner with Janie afterwards, I was at pains to point out that the Emma in the play is not me; she is a creature in her own right, bringing to the triangle of relationships her own lightness and generosity. Peter Hall, writing in his diary of 1978, called her "the best woman's part Harold has ever written", and it's good to see her acted now with such beauty and warmth. I feel I am finally liberated by this new production to see Betrayal as the masterly play it is and not as any part of my own life. And I'm glad about that.

I can't say I've ever thought much about textiles. Aren't they those huge bolts of cloth that once bulged out of Manchester's warehouses in the days when the city was Cottonopolis? And I remember the thrill, in the days when I used to make my own clothes, as the scissors sheered through swathes of velvet or silk or tweed, the first bold stroke on the way to my own dresses, shirts and even suits.

Now textiles can be something else. I know because I spent a long weekend this summer with Ann Sutton. Mention her name in craft circles and people swoon with rapture. Ann is the doyenne of the craft of textiles, something she has been practising since the 1950s. There's even an Ann Sutton Foundation near Arundel where weavers and designers from around the world come to study.

I learnt all this only gradually. Ann, though not exactly a shrinking violet, doesn't proclaim her distinction. We were two of a goodly gathering of enthusiasts taking the well-worn path on the gallery owner Angela Flowers's arts pilgrimage in Cork. And slowly her story emerged. She was once married to John Makepeace, famous for his inspiring furniture workshops at Parnham House (now, alas, moved elsewhere). But Ann had struck out on her own and, over decades, remained fascinated by the craft of textiles. Now there is to be a retrospective of her work at the Crafts Council Gallery. If the work is anything like she is - strong on style and confidence - it should be worth seeing.

This article first appeared in the 13 October 2003 issue of the New Statesman, The awakening of liberal England