Hag Sameach! Wishing you all a very happy Hanukkah.
For the first time, JBW was invited to celebrate in style, at no less than 10 Downing Street. I discovered than this was the second year the celebrations took place at the Prime Minister’s residence as opposed to the Foreign Office, an interesting change in itself. Does it mean that Jews have finally been accepted in the UK and not considered foreigners any more? As we know Cromwell turned a blind eye and never formally accepted the return of Jews to England…
David Cameron was too busy trying to make another miracle happen and get the World Cup to the UK to be there but George Osborne did the honours. A friend of mine had told me his real name was Gideon and that he was Jewish after all but I doubt she was right. He said that, growing up, Hanukkah was that festival which meant his friends got 8 presents 3 weeks or so ahead of him. He was perfectly charming and welcoming. The overall spirit was all very jolly and loving, the Chief Rabbi beaming at his friend Tony Bayfield and the other rabbis present, kids singing Hanukkah songs, mulled wine flowing with plenty of fishballs, smoked salmon and doughnuts.
I can’t say I knew too many people and there were probably 10 men to 1 woman but I had a lovely chat with Martin Bright, the non-Jewish literary editor of the JC who still enjoys his job after a year there. We’ve asked him to chair our session on the community at JBW -with Keith Kahn-Harris (author of Turbulent Times), Melanie Phillips, Miri Weingarten (editor of JNews) and Jon Boyd (JPR)- and I’m sure he’ll do a great job. He gave me quite a scare at JBW 2010. He was supposed to chair a session on democracy and five minutes before going on stage, still had not appeared. John Kampfner has already graciously offered to chair as well as speak and we had made our way downstairs to the auditorium to find Martin waiting for everybody there. And, as a true pro, with just a couple minutes of preparation, he was fantastic and did the most excellent wrap up at the end. The session on the community might be a bit trickier to handle but I know he’ll bring the best from everybody.
I also got to present an idea I have to George Osborne and his principal private secretary (apparently he is the important person to talk to). Charities have a hard time competing for services with the corporate world. But after all, why should a designer, a printer or a caterer give us discounts when they could use the same time and energy to work for a better pay? There is no other incentive than feeling good. So to help the supposedly big society and at time of cuts everywhere, why not give an incentive to those people who do give discounted rates to charities and not tax them the same way on those jobs? Alex Brummer was quick to say this would open the way to too many abuses (thank you so much!) but I was promised the idea would be pondered upon. If it ever comes to pass, remember you read it here first.
Then back on my bicycle to the V&A for the Guardian 1st Book Award. I must confess I knew a lot more people there, publishers, publicists and journalists. There was a bit of grumbling as apparently, for the very first time, publishers had had to pay to enter books for the prize. There were only two ways to resist the unheated hall (and how could you heat up the beautiful entrance to the V&A?): hot Pimms (my choice) or putting your coat back on. Ned Bauman (Boxer Beetle, one of the short listed titles) was drinking from a hip flask. I learned a bit more about prizes: at the Booker, publishers can only enter one title per imprint. Bloomsbury had not entered Howard Jacobson’s Finkler Question because they knew the judges would call it in. Imagine if the gamble had not worked…
The winner yesterday was the delightful Alexandra Harris for her Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper. So to all of you out there plodding along with a PhD, do not despair, it could take you places you hadn’t dreamt.