Monday, 19 January 2009


5865858575 is a telling sequence of numbers in my DNA.  It does not on the face of it throb with emotion.  Yet it is Abelard and Heloise, Romeo and Juliet - name any of the great stories of star crossed lovers.


Those numbers speak of guilty passion, secret fumbling, lies.  They are the telltale numbers that differ from the rest of my family in a line that stretches back 15,000 years to a small colony of tribesmen in the Pyrenees.  It includes a cousin of Elizabeth I, a duchess of Norfolk whose husband had never had a wash: she went mad on the church steps at her wedding.  The line includes Sir John Skidmore, Spenser’s parfait gentil knight Sir Amoret.  Not so parfait as it turns out.  In real life whenever he left their home he chained his wife to a wall.


The DNA numbers 5865858575 don’t sound much fun.  Yet they are a confession of adultery.  Somewhere along the line in the 19th century one of my female ancestors had it away with a man not her husband.  It is there in black and white.  Published in all its shame by the Genealogical Institute, acting the role of a sort of statistical Sam Spade, as played by Humphrey Bogart.


Was it 586 whose roguish smile attracted a neighbour?  Or her neighbour 585 whose naughtn in ess behind the lace curtains blotted my copybook?  Or was it the exotic sounding 857 who lured the young stags of Staffordshire - and is 5 the result?


Our indefatigable family historian Linda Moffat has narrowed the culprits down to two generations. Though my record in my second marriage is unblemished, there was a time…and a little bit of me thinks it’s slightly unfair on the poor woman.  All that subterfuge, the meticulous lipstick removal, the lies and the evasions.  All in vain.  Two hundred years later you get found out.


I do know about the goings on of one distant ancestress Lady Frances Scudamore, a great heiress with estates in Herefordshire, Monmouthshire etc.  Even for the Duke of Beaufort she was a good catch. However, when he tried to divorce her on the grounds of her adultery with Lord Talbot, she enmeshed him in the most sensational trial of the century.  When a court upheld her claim that the Duke was impotent, he agreed to copulate behind a screen until the climax when he would knock on the screen and a distinguished panel of doctors and diarists, including Horace Walpole, would watch him ejaculate.




My favourite quotation, which I had printed on the matchboxes given to guests at my wedding. is from Goethe: " The wedding march always reminds me of soldiers going into battle."

As a fully paid-up chauvanist pig, I was delighted to find this couplet from the Chinese 6th century classic, The Book of Songs: "My lord is all aglow. In his left hand he holds the reed pipe; with his right he summons me to make free with him. Oh, the joy."

That, I think, sets the right tone.  But to balance I suppose I must include Germaine Greer at her most lyrical: "If women are to effect a singular amelioration of their condition it seems obvious they must not marry."

A Kafka like note.  And talking of that merry man, he wrote to the fiancee he twice jilted: "My health is only just good enough for me; it is not good enough for marriage, let alone fatherhood."

I much prefer the robust advice of William Cobbett: "Never mind the pieces of needlework, the tambourining, the maps of the world made with her needle.  Get to see her at work on a mutton chop, or a bit of bread and cheese; and if she deal quickly with these you have a pretty good security for that activity, that stirring industry without which a wife is a burden instead of being a help."


It’s easy, really.




The ninth century Tao scholar Huang Po wrote:


All the Buddhas and all sentient beings are nothing but the One Mind, besides which nothing exists……………………………….


………………………………..If an ordinary man, when he is about to die, could see the five elements of consciousness as void, the four physical elements as not constituting an I, the real Mind as formless and neither coming nor going, his nature as something neither commencing at his birth nor perishing at his death, but as a whole and motionless in its very depths, his Mind and environmental objects as one – If he could really accomplish this he would receive Enlightenment in a flash.




The eulogies of John Mortimer – and I am prejudiced because he told my producer that my interview with him was the best he had ever done- were well deserved.  Rumpole is a comic figure to stand besides anything of Dickens.

But it is worth remembering that it was Mortimer’s eloquence in defence of pornography that made Russell Brand possible and Jonathan Ross inevitable.

In fact he did almost as much harm to our quality of life as that liberating home secretary Roy Jenkins.