George Osborne ruined my yoga retreat | Charlotte Higgins

There’s no escaping the budget – not even when you’re halfway up an Italian hill with a bunch of highly literate yogis

I just came back from my annual yoga retreat high up a forested Italian hill. All there is to hear in this delightful spot is the onomatopoeic call of the hoopoe and the oddly strangulated cry of whatever raptor it is that likes to swoop over the valley. The most fascinating things to watch in the languid afternoons were the swallowtail butterflies soaring through the garden (like miniature hang-gliders) and by night the dart of innumerable fireflies.

Also: the retreat was not so retreaty that there wasn’t a great deal of delicious cheese to eat and red wine to drink at supper, plus the possibility of smuggled-in Campari for post-yoga aperitifs. It was into this idyll that I crashed – I and my mobile phone and my urgent hackish need to redraft a very long article on the state of the BBC, a redraft necessitated by George Osborne’s decision in the 8 July budget to land the corporation with the cost of licence fees for the over-75s, previously footed by the government.

I reckon I totally misaligned everyone else’s chakras, what with my state of anxiety and my having to stalk around the hilltop holding my phone at a variety of angles to receive “important” messages. In short, I became exactly the sort of person with whom no one would ever want to be on a yoga holiday. Luckily yoga, according to my teacher, makes you not only bendy but kind (though I have far to go in both regards). The proof of this was in the tolerant attitude of my comrades, who bore my un-yogic attitude with great grace. As for the chancellor: downward dog to you too.

The yogis’ prize goes to …

A feature of the retreat is that every year there is one book everyone seems to have brought with them. In the past, Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies and The Goldfinch have featured as the yogis’ summer book of choice. This year it was How To Be Both, Ali Smith’s gorgeous, warm, formally intriguing story in two parts that won the Goldsmiths prize and then the Baileys women’s prize for fiction earlier this year. Seven out of 15 yogis were engrossed in the novel, at my count, and there was very nearly an impromptu book club session – which, thankfully, collapsed owing to a very proper sense of holiday inertia.

Time travel at the BBC

On my return, there was a treat in the post: Richard Marson’s Drama and Delight, his biography of Verity Lambert, one of the great BBC pioneers – determined, super-clever and almost unspeakably glamorous. When she joined the BBC in 1963, aged 27, she was the first female – and by the far the youngest – member of the new TV drama group, and it was she who brought to the screen the early series of Doctor Who, riding roughshod over reluctance by writers and directors to work in sci-fi, and for children (an attitude that seems foreign now, in the era of Russell T Davies and Mark Gatiss).

She also had to withstand a great deal of sexism. Marson quotes her as saying, “Meeting me was a shock to a lot of people. I would be introduced to someone and I could see horror flit across his face before he rearranged it into a sort of smile … I am sure they thought I was sleeping with the head of department. People did ask me.”

On Doctor Who she had a stormy working relationship with a director, Richard Martin, who once forgot himself, he told Marson. “She had enormous boobs and once, by mistake, I called her ‘Very-titty’ to her face.” In that special English way, both Martin and Lambert “froze” and his slip (“to her face” being the telling part of this anecdote) was never mentioned again.


Charlotte Higgins

The GuardianTramp

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