First of all, she is not just maligned in print, she’s maligned in pictures too. First and main impression of Heather – she is much, much prettier than she looks in the photos, really lovely features and also a gorgeous, soft Northern accent. And the other thing that doesn’t come across in the acres of newspaper coverage is how fantastically chatty she is. She has that Northern gift of the gab – I’ve met it before in Terry Deary, actually, the author of the Horrid Histories, and also, very many years ago, with Harold Wilson when I interviewed him for a sixth-form magazine – great talkers, Northerners, fluent and fast and funny.
We were at Manna, for Heather is deeply vegetarian of course, but however vegan you may be, you cannot compete with a kosher-keeping body for knowledge of ingredients. Long before the panics over mad-cow disease, we kosher people knew exactly which sweets are made with gelatin, and the cochineal in Smarties, not to mention (though this has nothing to do with what makes wine kosher, in fact) that there can even be gelatin in wine, a little-known bit of information that bemuses our little vegetarian table. So while I didn’t before last night know that there are 27 different varieties of soya milk, I was able to hold my own on the subject of Swedish Glace ice-cream and whether “pareve” can ever match up to the real milk product. (for the record Swedish Glace vanilla is pretty good.)
Mr Gul, our local mini-cab driver dropped me off at the restaurant, talking about Saddam’s hanging on the way down. “I am not for Saddam, you know that,” he said. “But they made him a hero. He was a zero and they turned him into a hero, with that hanging. Why did they do it on the first day of Eid – it’s the biggest holiday, and now every year, everybody will remember that was the day Saddam was hanged, and they will tell all the children. Nobody can ever forget it now, they make him into a martyr.”
A funny thing, the process of vilifying people, or sanctifying them. Heather is vilified in our papers – no question about it, it permeates even the Observer and the Telegraph, never mind the tabloids, with snide allusions to wicked stepmothers. She’s just a girl, really, who lost her leg, and she’s being made to carry a whole weight of stereotyping and chauvinism, and she finds it a bit bewildering I think. Who wouldn’t? But because she’s feisty, she fights back, and such is the nature of the beast, her fighting back just feeds the frenzy. It’s a bad business.