2018 – The Year of Women? (it’s OK we’ve only been waiting for millennia)

If all facets of the media are to be believed, 2018 is set to be the Year of Women. The ‘we’re not poking up with this crap any longer’ movement has been turbo charged by the crowning of Donald Trump, who is unquestionably the greatest thing that has ever happened to feminism. Now an array of toad-like males in positions of power are being exposed for everything from rape to donning a white bathrobe and asking for a massage. The only people who are surprised by the ubiquity of any of this are most men.

For some, the whole sorry mess presents a different kind of tragedy for gender relations. Who doesn’t love watching poor, beleaguered Dave from Basildon bemoan the fact that a bloke can’t pay a woman a compliment anymore without someone calling the police?  I mean it’s ridiculous. What’s the world coming to?  If things continue like this it might significantly alter the dynamics between men and women forever and the current status quo is so convenient.

But Dave, we shout.  You can pay us as many compliments as you like!  Yes you can!  Pile them on.  Lay’em on with a trowel.  The only teeny weeny difference is in return WE OWE YOU ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.  We might say thank you if we’re feeling polite, but we don’t have to be grateful, flatter your ego, agree to spend time with you or perform any favour on the sexual spectrum.  Is that OK, hon?

For those of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s, we find ourselves on fairly familiar turf.  The recent sabre rattling is like Jim Davidson’s nodded off in front of Grandstand for a few decades and is gobbing off because it’s 6 o’clock and his tea should be on the table.  When I was growing up we were surrounded by this kind of mentality and there was nothing subtle about it.  It was blatant on the television, in the newspapers, walking down the street and in every other place, that you were up for grabs.

Becoming a beautiful young woman and coming of age should be a free-flowing, pleasurable experience, right?  Wrong. What it is instead is a deeply uncomfortable and rather brutal awakening where you realise the attention you’re going to get is rarely the type you dreamt about.  It’s nearly always the unwanted variety, emanating from a reptilian older man who thinks that he’s entitled and you’re responsible.  And the biggest kicker in this whole grubby scenario is that everyone around you is reinforcing the idea you have to put up and shut up.

Abandoning the put up and shut up mentality, not just on the subject of unwanted sexual attention, but on everything from equal pay to who’s doing the hoovering, is going to take some gumption. After all, standing up and being counted is terribly unfeminine. Someone might accuse you of being a bloody difficult woman or unlovable or a shrew.

In my opinion, New Year’s Resolutions are for people who are amateurs at life.  However, here are a few aspirations for the female cause in 2018:

  • Mansplaining gets an on the spot mandatory fine. Repeat offenders are sent to the Mary Beard Correctional Centre because you don’t know everything and we are tired of being patronised.
  • Harvey Weinstein is crowbarred out of his sex addict spa (he just wants to wear a bath robe) and forced to work as a runner on an all-female movie franchise that has three sequels. He’ll probably have to do it in a gimp suit because that’s only fair.
  • So-called Liberal men who say things like ‘Hilary Clinton was a bit past it’ do an entire summer on the strip at Magaluf with Dave from Basildon and all his mates. They might own a bread maker, but this is really their tribe.
  • Women everywhere stop signing the invisible contract that says they’ll do an unfair share of the domestic labour and always put themselves and their needs last when no one else in the family has to. You know this is unacceptable horseshit, so why are you still doing it?

Sisters (and brothers), it’s time to start roaring.

Home Sweet Hell

And this is where I'd LIKE to live.

And this is where I’d LIKE to live.

A well-known theatrical agent once told me the world is divided into two types of people.  Those who are boring and those who are not.  There are all kinds of bores out there just waiting to be endured, usually at a North London dinner party.  There’s the baby bore who graduates onto being the ‘competitive school place’ bore; there’s the ‘but I love him’ bore with her latest narcissistic nightmare; the spiritual bore with his platitudes and polished stones; there are brides endlessly discussing bombonieres and there are out of work actors endlessly discussing themselves.  But on the spectrum of tedium there is one genre who currently reigns supreme. Anyone else trying to buy a flat in London and can’t stop harping on about it?

Looks like its official then.  I’m boring.

Just three weeks into wading through the reptiles and detritus of the London property market and I’m numb with it.  If the ubiquitous high street estate agent regards me with lizard eyes as I drag my weary soul through the front door it’s only because he can’t be bothered to blink.  He can’t really be bothered to do anything much.  Like tell me about the service charge, or the state of the boiler or how many years are left on the lease.  A request to see an up to date EPC certificate is tantamount to asking if you can bake his first born in a pie.  Who do I think I am?  A paying customer?

A year ago most estate agents were filing their shellac nails and staring at phones that never rang. Now they’ve got more attitude than Vicky Pollard on detention.  Such is the current London lunacy, there are people prepared to pay top dollar for this kind of shoddy service, buying blindly at artificially inflated prices from someone who’s sole qualification for the role is being the proud owner of a driver’s license.  And as we all know, any spotty faced, seventeen year old eejit can lay claim to that.

I wonder at the integrity of the average high street estate agent.  It’s like being a third rate promoter, flogging crap acts on the comedy circuit. You know they’re not funny and they’ll get booed off stage eventually, but people are so desperate to hear a joke they’ll turn up for anything.  And the laughs you get certainly aren’t cheap ones.  A tawdry flat near a railway line, single-glazed and smelling of gas is going for £200K in the East End. There’s other, better stuff around if you’re fast enough and can deal with the sealed bids and the 2% plus VAT fee for the agent who’s done nothing more than drive his Mini Cooper down the road and not be able to tell you where the thermostat is.

So apart from plugging away, what are the options?  Well, there’s always Bexley Heath. Play your cards wrong and you could become Scandalised of Sidcup and having ventured down to Zone Five of late, it’s not appealing.  There’s a whiff of English Defence League in the air and far too many homogenised shops selling man-made fibres.   And anyway isn’t the point of being in London, well, being in London? 

So where is this all going to lead; this unsustainable situation that’s fuelled by the worst kind of triumvirate of fear, greed and opportunism?  What might calm things down is if people stopped behaving like Quentin Crisp panic-buying henna in 1939.  Estate agents think they’re powerful only because that’s how they’re being perceived.  People are paying above the odds only because they’ve bought into the idea of shortage and believe it’s now or never.  I’m not sure that’s true.  There’s thousands of flats on the market and more being built all the time.  What we really need are long term secure rental leases so people don’t feel they have to purchase to feel safe.  What’s really required is for buyers to hold their nerve and not invest in the hype.

And in the unlikely event that any of this will ever happen, I’m going to pour myself a glass of wine and get back onto Zoopla.

Words Are Things

Sophia-Loren-The MillionairessRod Liddle doesn’t know much about philanthropy, does he?   As if I’m not still taking the vapours over Jim Davidson’s recent Big Brother win, fellow enlightened chap and ‘tell it how it is’ columnist Rod, has been wildly pontificating in the Sunday Times today about the recent SodaStream vs Oxfam debacle.  The nub of the article – aside from dribbling over the luscious Scarlett Johansson – was that SodaStream gives Palestinians jobs and ‘rolling-in-it Oxfam with its annual income of £376 million’ should stop hand-wringing and moralising and do something useful with its enormous cash reserves.

‘Do you ever worry that this charity business is getting out of hand?’ he gripes.

Not really, Rod, no.  Not when 85 members of the global elite have accumulated as much cash as 3.5 billion of the world’s poorest.  Not when together they have enough financial clout to eradicate much of the world’s suffering and still have enough left over for handbags and blow dries.  And certainly not when most of the super-rich don’t donate to charity at all.

The idea of Oxfam sitting back and puffing on a big cigar whilst millions die from hunger, thirst and conflict is as incredulous as the double decker bus analogy they brought to the table last month at Davos.  (Davos of course, being the ultimate cocktail party for the ultra-high net worths.   Where else can you get fondue, Goldie Hawn and the opportunity to network your little cashmere socks off, all on expenses?).  The wider the chasm grows between rich and poor, the more we need philanthropy to bridge the gap.  What we possibly don’t need are cynical remarks from a columnist who understands as little about fundraising as he does about the power of words which is after all, an odd failing for a writer.

I’m referring here to Rod’s second clanger of the week, his article in the Spectator entitled Why I’m On Board for the Homophobic Bus.  The premise behind the Spectator piece – the idea that everyone (even the gays!) has the right to be offended and preferably everyday – hails from the Jim Davidson School of Charm and belongs in a latter day world that’s best left down the back of the sofa with the last of the Tutti Fruitis.  Shall we go back to laughing at ‘Chalky’ on prime time television?  Roll out a few sexual stereotypes about nagging wives and vacuous blondes?   Or maybe lampoon the odd mother-in-law because can these people still not take a joke?

Maya Angelou says it best when she talks about words:

‘Words are things…they get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally in to you.’

To compare charities to the titans of big business is risible.  To imply that negative words don’t lead to negative actions is flippant and belongs to a throwback world we’ve surely grown out of.

Talking of throwback worlds, I’ve been giving  Jim Davidson and his current renaissance the ten seconds of attention it deserves and have come up with UKIP candidate for Goring-on-Thames.

Stranger things have happened.

Give Me a Break

Elizabeth and Richard.  Probably not in need of a £1K tax break.

Elizabeth and Richard. Probably not in need of a £1K tax break.

I am about to make you an offer you literally can’t refuse.  Who wants to marry me for four quid a week?  Yes, you heard that right, readers.  Four whole English pounds. (Actually it’s more like £3.85, but what’s 15p between a government-endorsed, recession busting couple like us). Seriously, it’s a bargain.  I scrub up well, I make a mean lamb tagine and I’ll even tolerate you leaving the seat up.  Plus, on the proceeds we could cement our togetherness once a month with a sharing platter at All Bar One.

According to our friends on the right at Westminster, marriage is the bedrock of society from which all good things spring, an interesting viewpoint to have considering of the 100 people who get married today, 42 will be living separate lives in ten years’ time.  As of April 2015, you will be able to add a new marital adhesive to the list of love, children, lifestyle, convenience and fear of the unknown – the dangling carrot that is 200 quid a year.  That’ll get you a couple of tickets to a West End musical and a tub of Loosely ice cream to share in the interval.  Very bonding.

So what’s it all about then?  What is all this harking back to a fantasy 1950s family that doesn’t really exist anymore except in the minds of certain Tory MPs who haven’t got past the notion that Fanny Craddock is no longer on our screens for  a reason.  With tax breaks most benefiting stay at home mums and women who work part time, god forbid that this is a socially engineered pat on the back to celebrate one life choice over another.  Not only does it infer the superiority of being coupled up, but also suggests that not working full time is some kind of nirvana to which us girlies should all be aspiring.

Yes, once again the single, professional woman is being told her lifestyle is inferior and destabilising to society at large.  Enter the Daily Mail to wheel out the binge drinking statistics, because clearly most single women are lying at home in the foetal position right now, cradling a bottle of Gordons like the child they never had.   And let’s not forget how this also marginalises single parents, widows, widowers and divorcees of both sexes who, along with single property occupiers, make up nearly 50% of our population.

I have, over the years, been faced with numerous patronising assaults on my sporadic single status.  People with no manners pointing the finger at my ‘failure’ to pair up; my ‘inability’ to fall in line with the expected trajectory of life.  If only I did a bit more of this and a bit less of that, then everything would be different.  Well actually, no.  It wouldn’t.  Anyone who looks around for more than five minutes will see that life is an inexplicable place full of random encounters and treacherous possibility, not all of which point towards the altar.  This isn’t a meritocracy with a checklist of do’s and don’ts, people.  Look at all the married idiots, YOU know.  The new marriage tax allowance is the equivalent of being the only single person at the dinner party.  Just as you’re about to tuck quite happily into your starter, some smug, unexceptional bore to the left leans across and doesn’t think it’s too rude to say: ‘So, what are we going to do about finding you a husband, Missy?’

Like a lot of things in life, making it or not making it in the marital stakes is pretty arbitrary.  It’s also not the direction in which modern lives are leaning and, whilst it’s wonderful that marriage is now a universal right, it shouldn’t be held up as a shining example of domestic perfection or a panacea for social ills.  It’s a personal choice and one that is about love not legislation.  What is clear from this latest unveiling  is how much the Conservative Party adore marriage.  In fact, they love it so much they’ll even pass on congratulatory tax breaks to the ‘much married’.   Men on your third wife?  Step up and claim your prize!

Sadly, the two wives you abandoned to bring up your children alone, will not be eligible. Like I said, none of this is a meritocracy.





Go Home

Image by Norman Parkinson

Anyone else loving the ‘Go Home’ migrant vans recently seen touring six boroughs of London? I hear one of them was driven by Alf Garnett and the other by a cast member of ‘Love Thy Neighbour’, neither of whom had worked for a while and were grateful for the gig. This Cameron-backed pilot scheme may have ended on Sunday, but already there are cries of ‘let’s roll it out across the nation’ and ‘I’ll cover the petrol’ from outraged middle englanders everywhere.

What I’m really enjoying about it is it’s all so very cheap.  £10K cheap to be exact.  It’s the Home Office equivalent of a Snappy Snaps leaflet drop delivered by a 13 year old boy on the minimum wage (British born and bred, naturally).  The only trick that was missed was they didn’t have them playing the theme tune to ‘Mind Your Language’ like some deviant ice cream van.  And look at all the column inches it’s reaped! Our own Boris described it as ‘blunt and uncompromising’, Vince Cable labelled it ‘stupid and offensive’, even Dave the Rave conceded that it was attracting ‘a great deal of interest’. Yes, and so do multiple pile ups on the North Orbital.

This bargain basement PR stunt has divided the opinion of the usual suspects.  It seems it’s too nasty for Nigel Farage, although Daily Mail readers have helpfully suggested the van be translated into Urdu and Hindi so it can really target the right people.  But do they think such a scheme will work?  If you are an illegal immigrant are you going to see the van, read its threat and say to yourself, that’s it then.  I’m getting on the blower and I’m handing myself in to Theresa May. Yes, that’s right. The scary looking woman who looks like she feasts on raw meat.  Don’t let the kitten heels fool you, boss, this woman is FIERCE. (please do feel free to alter the vernacular to ‘foreign’ for greater effect).

But we shouldn’t blame Theresa.  The ‘Go Home’ campaign is actually the retarded brainchild of one Mark Harper, MP for the Forest of Dean, a delightful little pocket of Gloucestershire where there are refreshingly low numbers of black people.  In fact, there are refreshingly low numbers of anything, apart from trees.  Mark Harper, an almuni of Brasenose College, describes the campaign as ‘an alternative to being led away in handcuffs’ which to an Oxbridge educated Tory minister might sound like something of a raw deal.

So here’s the High Heels deal on immigration:

One.  We are a bastard nation built on and hungry for cheap labour.  If we didn’t want cheap labour we would have done what the Australians do and charged £40K for a permanent visa or else, no dice.

Two. Undiluted English blood (if indeed you could ever find such a thing) is not superior, it’s boring.  It looks boring and it sounds boring.  If it wasn’t for the Celts and their beautiful eyes/skin/hair, the English would have melted into their own beigeness back in the 4th century.

Three.  Living in the UK for most people is hard.   It’s hard if you were born here and you’ve got the right papers, let alone if you’re living under the radar. The weather is mostly lousy, no-one celebrates your success and no-one lets you do anything apart from mouthing off on Twitter about how much you hate it all, which is precisely the reason people flock to live here.  The glorious freedom to speak.

Personally, I think ‘Go Home’ vans are a wonderful idea.  I think they should be franchised and extended to other members of our community.  Here are some of the people I’d like to see ‘Go Home’. How about the Royal Family? (Germany)  Or the Super Rich and their nefarious accountants taking over and ghettoising Central London (Russia, China, Saudi Arabia).

Now that might really rid the country of a few parasites.

A Class of Your Own

Image of Givenchy hat by Frank Horvat 1958

True to British form, I was all over the BBC Class Calculator this week and was horrified to discover I am an ‘Emergent Service Worker’.  What could possibly be drearier?  The definition of the term emergent is to ‘rise above a surrounding medium, especially a fluid’.  The word service puts me in mind of pasty-faced maids in mob caps or the act of cleaning public conveniences.  So far, so delightful, but what does it all mean, because I haven’t done servile since 1978.

Roughly translated, this category comprises of people who can knock about with dukes or dustmen, don’t have a mortgage and are quite partial to a bit of Alan Bennett.  Which is interesting because I was at an Alan Bennett play last night and he succeeded in defining class far better than any BBC commissioned sociologist ever could.  According to our gentle and retiring national treasure, it’s something to do with social awkwardness.  It’s about embarrassment and what you’re embarrassed about, which makes sense when you think about it.  Broadly speaking, working class people are embarrassed if they don’t have the right trainers, middle class people are embarrassed if they don’t have the right career and upper class people are embarrassed about absolutely nothing.  Not even Prince Philip on a public tour of Uganda.

The trouble with this particular survey is it’s really all about property. Like you, I went back in and clicked on the option for owning my own gaff just to see if I couldn’t socially mobilise myself and before Nicky Haslam could say ‘How Common!’, I was propelled four rungs up the ladder to ‘Established Middle Class’.  Just one notch down from ‘Elite’, if you please.

Not that ‘Established Middle Class’ doesn’t give me the vapors, conjuring up as it does,  visions of my school friends’ mothers I’d sooner forget.  Secret afternoon drinkers in headscarves, reeking of palomino ponies and looking down their nose at me as they puffed on a cheroot.  Or worse, the kind that held Tupperware parties and were comfortable with being given ‘housekeeping money’ because when I was growing up being middle class meant something quite different.  Olive oil was something you got from the chemist to unblock the wax in your ears and if you left your child in a pub garden with a bottle of coke and a packet of crisps for company and it was all PERFECTLY OK.

So, what if you don’t fit comfortably into any particular category?  What if, like me, you have been a sometime council house dweller, privately educated woman who knows how to get out of the back of a Bentley, but isn’t adverse to a pork pie?  Do you think satellite dishes are an abomination?  Do you roll your eyes whenever you hear someone in Waitrose saying, ‘No Joshua, that’s Mummy’s Boden catalogue, now eat your Yakult’?  More importantly, do you disapprove of them packing their sobbing child off to boarding school at the age of seven, but could quite handle their private box at the Opera House? This readers, puts you into the best category of them all.   You are an exotic.  You wear the invisible cloak of a good education and although you can hold your own in a room full of bankers and socialites, ultimately you’d rather blow it out for some subversive cabaret and a hip flask of Armagnac.

As ever, Alan Bennett gets it right.  ‘I’ve never been very good at belonging’.

* Untold Tales by Alan Bennett is currently playing at the Duchess Theatre and is rather good.