My not-very-exciting anecdote about Germaine Greer is completely true.

While I was working there, I started and was Secretary of the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) Reading Group. It was embarrassingly successful—not because of me, but because the words “Institute of Cancer Research” have magical powers. Upon hearing them, black cab drivers will not only get you to the laboratory door in double-quick time (telling you about their grandmother’s struggle with the big C on the way) but lop great chunks off the fare. Once, when I came up from London to visit Cambridge on Institute business, a local guest house owner reduced my (already small) bill as she read how I signed myself in.

We had Esther Freud come to speak to the ICR Reading Group about her Hideous Kinky (I only called her “Emma” once). She was accompanied by people from Penguin and a sound person from the Beeb who recorded the event for broadcast on Radio 4. Thereafter Penguin started sending us more free books (most strikingly a crate full of chunky copies of White Teeth—I still haven’t finished my copy) and we got invites to Radio 4’s Bookclub where we made the bulk of the audience for the appearances by Joanna Trollope (I was surprised to enjoy Trollope’s book hugely) and Martin Amis (ferociously, mercilessly intelligent—even when wrong). We also had Helen Dunmore come to discuss Talking To The Dead. In a too perfect twist we wound up in a book ourselves [PDF sample chapter—search for “Counsell”] as a model bookclub in the Oxford University Press’s monograph on reading groups.

Drunk with our pulling power, I invited the members to have a vote to choose our next potential star guest and promised to invite whoever won our poll. To my horror, the (mainly female) membership wanted Germaine Greer. So I had to write to the irrational, erratic bint. I received a spectacularly rude reply from her office. (Some scholars have academic rigour; Germaine Greer has people.) In my personal, legally careful opinion, it combined arrogance, pomposity, ignorance and money-grubbing self regard in bucket-sized quantities. I’d have turned us down too; I’d have done so without the fatuous nastiness. Sadly, just as I promised to follow the mandate of the reading group members in asking Greer to meet us, I promised the reading group committee that I would never release the letter to the public.

Let’s just say I’m not surprised that she’s now on Celebrity Big Brother. Their offer no doubt included a substantial up-front fee, enough money to cover her driver‘s evening overtime rate (as he sits outside the Big Brother House, doing a crossword and idling his engine), and a great big non-returnable wedge for expenses. Now, whenever I pass her own local house, I take the opportunity to flip her the bird.