Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time?

Russian WinerAh Christmas!  Season of over-crowded dining rooms bursting with low level resentment.  What is it about Christmas that we all feel we have to congregate in a critical mass and irritate the bejesus out of each other?  Even the TV endorses it. If life was a Lidl ad, you’d think having twenty seven smug faces round the table pontificating on the price of a prawn ring was de rigueur.  Far from being wrapped in the saccharine arms of a supermarket commercial, my festive fantasies are far more high-end and rather less populated with annoying people.

In this glittering world, there is no Slade assaulting my ears as I crowbar myself into a sweltering shop, the onset of other people’s flu shuddering through my bones.  Here there is only the gentle tinkling of sleigh bells and the cold, dry whoosh of air as I set off to another masked ball.  On my alternative festive planet, I’m wrapped in ermine like a Romanov princess, gliding gracefully around a twinkling ice rink.  I’m climbing into a horse drawn troika and dashing off through the snow, sipping mulled cider from a silver goblet with someone who looks and sings a bit like Hugh Jackman. Then of course there’s the three days of feasting, the ice palace, that cheeky not-so-little diamond winking at the bottom of my stocking…..too over-indulgent?  But isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

Well, no not really.  If like me, you’re a merry and practical pagan, you’ll see it as a Festival of Light designed to brighten up the Winter Solstice.  You get to fatten up on the fruits of the year and take stock of where you’ve been.  It’s certainly a time to do nice things for others, but if you do find yourself spending Christmas Day alone watching The Chaser with your thumb in a bottle of Baileys, this is perfectly acceptable.  I would advise you invigorate this scenario with more stylish accoutrements (It’s a Wonderful Life and a bottle of Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque as a little suggestion) but Christmas is what you make of it and if you’re a grown up unshackled by domesticity, you can make it exactly how you like.  This freedom is something worthy of celebration.

If you’re depressed and lonely though, it’s hard to be upbeat when you’re attacked on all sides by images of togetherness and faaairmily.  Christmas becomes a trial; something you just have to get through because you’re staring into the snow globe of someone else’s seemingly perfect life and finding yourself wanting.  Only nobody’s life is perfect.  If you’re lucky you may even experience some perfect moments, but once these too have passed, you’ll still wake up feeling bilious with your face in a bowl of pretzels.  This is probably the best analogy of Christmas I can come up with.

Because if this really is the most wonderful time of the year, how come so many Brits are being peeled off the paving slabs by overworked paramedics up and down the country?  How come our fellow citizens are so desperate to blot out the fresh hell of Chrimbo, they find themselves nine parts Jagermeister by half past eight?  According to official statistics, this weekend will see us collectively reaching Peak Pissed and this only proves my point.  Nobody loves Christmas. Only Michael Bublé, who frankly should take it up the aisle and make an honest woman of it.

People have often said that Christmas has more meaning when you have children and I’ve no doubt that this is true.  However, when you are the proud owner of your very own Casa High Heels, it’s also quite exciting.  Whatever you’re doing this year, whomever you’re doing it with – whether it’s a cast of thousands or with your own fabulous self – Merry Christmas!

Casa High Heels Gets A Little Man In

Image by Helmut Newton

Image by Helmut Newton

As a doyenne of shopping, I wasn’t really expecting to have to purchase ‘door furniture’.  Six months ago who knew that ‘door furniture’ even existed, but now, as a home owner, I find myself paying someone to rearrange mine.  I catch myself pointing to pipework; uttering phrases like ‘new riser’ and ‘taylor valve’ in the hope no-one will notice I’m a domestic div who’s never been responsible for so much as a hamster.  In the words of Aladdin, it’s a whole new world.

The wheels turn slowly at Casa High Heels.  So far I’ve done battle with an assortment of utility companies, painted a chest of drawers and got Tony, my carpenter of choice, to revamp the front door.  My world is now awash with Tonys, and not the bronze statuette type I once dreamt of clutching.  Last week Tony Number Three came round to look at installing the central heating.  Currently all-electric, I have a fake fireplace that looks like the offspring of Darth Vader and has all the potency of someone blowing on you.  It’s a 1960s flat and there’s kit in the airing cupboard that hasn’t been upgraded since Germany equalised in the World Cup.  I do, however, have a heated towel rail in the bathroom that Tony Number Three got very excited about.

Once the messy work is done, it’ll be time to get Terry in.  Terry’s the decorator and I’m hoping he can relieve me of my feature wall as it’s not a feature I care to be staring at.  I don’t adhere to the Kelly Hoppen seven shades of taupe and a fig candle school of décor, but I do dislike a pattern.  I don’t wear them and I don’t want them on my walls.  I didn’t notice the wallpaper so much when I first viewed the flat.  I was too aghast at the life size photograph that was hanging off it. People who blow up their wedding photos to this terrifying extent, please just stop it.

I love having my own place, but I do mourn the lack of a porter in the block.  After all, what can be more annoying than waiting in all day for the bookcase you ordered six weeks ago and realising it’s arrived in a flat box?  Shouldn’t this be assembled, I bark?  Do I look like the kind of woman who knows how to use an alum key?

Monday will see me waiting in for a purple velvet armchair I ordered in August and Friday I’ve got a date with National Grid, but whatever the inconveniences are, it sure beats dealing with letting agents.  It beats shovelling money into the black hole of someone else’s mortgage and being told, with two months’ notice, that it’s time to go.  When my last flat was rented out, there were eight viewings in twenty minutes.  It was snapped up for an additional £90 per month by someone who was offering to fit a new kitchen for free.  Who wouldn’t want to be a London landlord?

Not me.  I won’t be renting this place out any time soon.  I have a huge window in the living room that stretches almost the length of the wall and gives an uninterrupted view of ancient trees and sky.  Behind the trees is a cemetery and far from being creepy, for the first time in my adult life I have an outlook that will never change.   So what if every time I watch Downton Abbey I get lampshade envy?  Who cares if I’m never going to know my way around a tool box?   I can always find a little man to turn up with a power drill and sort stuff out.   Thank god, Tony’s local.

The Unkindest Cut

1950s sunbathingIf there’s one thing you really don’t want to hear two weeks before a holiday to The Algarve, it’s a dermatologist telling you there’s a skin cancer on your nose.   After a two hundred quid misdiagnosis on Harley Street a couple of years back, I thought I was in the clear, but it seems the lesion on my schnooz has turned toxic and needs removing.  My favourite, I’m thinking after the cancer truck has hit me and I’m out in the hospital car park. Facial surgery.  I mean it couldn’t be on my backside, could it?

I love the sun.  Lain like a lizard in it, although never without plenty of sunscreen.  Only once did I break this golden rule, back in the early 90s on a beach in the Isle of Man where I burnt so badly my face blistered with lilo-like outcrops so volcanically hot when you touched them they felt like ice.  I probably blew my UV quota right there amongst the Kiss Me Quick hats.

My dermatologist offers me Mohs surgery which is the gold standard for skin cancer.  It’s tissue saving microsurgery, although the extent of the scarring is impossible to predict until they’ve removed all the layers.  Each layer is carefully examined under a microscope until it comes back negative and then they stop digging and the repair can begin.  This can be a graft, a flap or worse, a two stage process that leaves you in the interim looking like a cyborg.  What’s super-fun is you’re awake for the whole party.

I strike lucky and am referred to the lead consultant at St Thomas’ hospital, Dr Raj Mallipeddi.  I google the bejesus out of him and see he’s got plenty of media coverage; Evening Standard, Telegraph, BBC news, he’s even been on the This Morning sofa with Phil and Fern.  In spite of these reassurances, I’m having a real problem with the scarring and what it’s going to do to my self-esteem.  I look up what the Greeks have to say about it.  The word scar derives from the word eschara meaning ‘place of fire’.  Good to know the etymology O’Neill, but as far as my anxiety is concerned it’s barely touching the sides.

The Monday morning clinic at St Thomas’ is busy and varied with all ages and skin types.  It’s D-Day and I’ve brought my mother and a pack of cards.  I’ve braced myself for the worst, although the Irish woman sitting next to me clearly hasn’t and is attempting a stand-up comedy routine in her regulation blue gown.  After the first session she quietly comes back into the waiting room and her hands are shaking.  An old lady is then wheeled out in a chair, half her head in bandages with only one eye showing.  She takes up the mantle and starts cracking jokes like she’s just been winched to safety from a bombed out shelter.  Why do British people feel compelled to do this?  I pity any elderly person who has to go through this kind of trauma.

Soon it’s my turn on the slab and Dr Raj, who is a likeable, uber-confident type, asks me if the music is to my taste.  ‘It’s Smooth FM’, he adds by way of explanation.  ‘Fabulous’, I reply.  ‘I’m feeling very relaxed now’.  As the first needle goes in, Lionel Ritchie is telling me I’m his destiny.  Right at this moment in time, Lionel, I’m more concerned what mine’s going to be.

The worst thing about Mohs is the waiting around for news.  The TV in the waiting room only plays BBC1 so we’re all stuck with Homes Under the Hammer.   An attractive, pixie-ish woman in her late fifties has lost the tip of her nose and is crying on her son’s shoulder opposite me.  I numbly nibble the edge of a custard cream.  It’s all rather depressing.

Dr Raj brilliantly manages to get the cancer out in two goes and the relief I’m feeling is palpable.  The repair and its outcome, however, I’m dreading.  Eight injections into open tissue later and I feel as my skin is being pulled cartoon-like across my face.  It’s like Dr Raj is stitching the Bayeux tapestry right up to my eyebrows, but in fact he’s keeping it pretty small and multi-layered.  He says the needle is too thick and there’s some shredding, so he’s got to re-thread a new, finer one and go back in.  Do I have to hear this?  Can’t someone turn the radio up?  Even The Lighthouse Family is preferable to this torture.

As we leave the hospital, my nose heavily bandaged and fat with anaesthetic, I decide from now on I’ll be doing a Joan Collins.  This will involve a big hat, some over-sized sunglasses and a slathering of Factor 50.  Fortunately, I’m soon to be moving closer to Essex, so the outlook for spray tans is also looking favourable.

The initial recovery time for Mohs is about ten days so although I’d like to be out in the world, instead I’ve been at home with the World Cup and a collapsed nostril.  The side of my nose has been rebuilt along the crease and it looks brilliant, although any accidental knocking of it is excruciating.   Like I’ve said before, this ol’ face of mine might just have nine lives after all….


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.

Musings of a Middle-Aged Woman

Marlene 1935Next Sunday I’m lucky enough to say I’ll be another year older.  Getting older has never bothered me.  True, I may have swum in a good gene pool, but that’s nothing more than an accident of birth.  The point is I’ve never thought that being young was really all that.  Spare me the shared house horrors, the dead-end temping assignments and the terminal student loan because whoever said youth is wasted on the young got it bang on the money.  The only saving grace of the whole shindig is the peachy-faced pertness of it all, something that is actually entertaining mostly for other people.

Hands up how many of us didn’t realise how potent our currency was until our stocks started to fall?  Of course, I’m talking mainly to women and gay men here, as the archetypal straight male still believes he’s a prize at any age.  Sorry everyone, but when was the last time you read an article where a male celebrity bemoaned the fact he was getting older?  They’re filed in the same place where men fret over juggling their work and family life.  Nowhere.

Twenty years ago I weighed eight and a half stone, had hair down to my waist and was known to stop traffic.  So what did I do with this good fortune?  Did I play the field like a seasoned pro, dating with discrimination and racking up more gifts than a John Lewis’ wedding list?  No, I did not.  Like most of my peers, I went out with every greasy-haired, weed-toking loser in the neighbourhood, waiting in for phone calls that never came because it’s hard to ring someone when you’re off your tits in a field in Hampshire and your left Filo boot is stuck in the mud.  Like I say, we didn’t do dating in the Nineties.  You went to a club and if someone gurned at you, you went and talked to them.   It wasn’t what you might call aspirational.

Think of the larks you could have had then with a twenty year old face and a forty year old brain.  You’d have been dangerous.  They’d have had to slap a public health warning on you to say this person can seriously affect your ability to function because their inside matches their outside.  It would have been you now, without the crow’s feet and the baggy knees; you then, minus the bad judgement and the disease to please.

Warming to my theme, I type ‘ageing’ into google to see what comes up and what comes up is Calista Flockhart jogging in a tracksuit.  Yes, lovely human lollipop and wife of Hans Solo, Calista Flockhart, does battle with ageing by pounding the streets of LA in a pair of sneakers.  Am I to be driven to exercise then?  I thought the idea was you choose your face over your arse and sit down a lot.  I can run with that.

Fellow age-a-phobic, Sharon Stone pops up predictably on page two to say she’s given up alcohol entirely in her quest to maintain a youthful, non-puffy visage.   ‘I haven’t dealt with ageing very well’ breathes the Basic Instinct star as she straddles the front page of a dieting magazine air brushed within an inch of her sixty year old life.  I’m not suggesting the woman doesn’t look phenomenal, but isn’t the joy of getting older having license to stand at the bus stop swigging gin from a hip flask in a funny hat and a pair of patterned tights?   Who is Sharon really doing it all for?  Herself, or for the truffle pigs who run the studios?

We all have visions of life twenty years from now.   We all want the inside to match the outside, only it probably never will because nature is a cruel mistress with a dark sense of humour.  In the very unlikely event that any twenty year old would take advice from me, I would say this:

  1. Never get a tattoo
  2. Never follow anyone who leaves you
  3. Stand up straight.  Nobody ever took anyone who slouched seriously.
  4. It’s very inelegant to smoke or eat in the street
  5. Fleece belongs on a sheep.  Don’t wear it. 
  6. Cleavage or legs.  Never both.  Not at any age.
  7. Unless you want to look like a turtle later don’t forget to moisturise your neck
  8. People who tell you they’ve changed are usually just singing the same song in a slightly different key.
  9. The older you get, the more you realise you don’t know anything.
  10. It’s difficult to say what constitutes mid-life, but Shirley MacLaine probably sums it up best in Postcards from the Edge when she leans theatrically across to her daughter and says, ‘I’m middle aged’. To which Meryl Streep replies: ‘How many a hundred and twenty six year old women do you know?’

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.

The F Word

Image by Frank Horvat

Image by Frank Horvat

Google the words Spare Rib and, amongst the barbecue recipes, you’ll find details of an iconic feminist publication that’s about to be taken out of mothballs.  The online magazine, promising ‘life, not lifestyle’ is set to be the antidote to the vacuous pout of Grazia and at its helm will be Charlotte Raven, the disaffected journalist  forever saddled with the unfortunate moniker of being Julie Birchill’s lesbian lover.

The first edition of Spare Rib came out in June 1972 when On the Buses was considered entertainment and I was just a twinkle in my mother’s womb.   Founded by Rosie Boycott and Marsha Rowe, the publication was banned for sale in WH Smiths and caused no end of furore for its frank sexual content and uncompromising attitude to gender politics. So shocked were the establishment that Rowe herself received a letter from the Home Office requesting that she left the country forthwith.  These days you need to be Abu Qatada to get mail this radical.

The Spare Rib launch party will feature ‘costumed penitents’ (among them the ubiquitous George Galloway), serving up cocktails and performing pointless and repetitive tasks, like sweeping up and worrying about work/life balance.  This ‘turning of the patriarchal tables’ is a one night only, high energy event which, we’re told, will finally bury the myth that feminists can’t dance.  Whatever the Third Wave of Feminism might be, it isn’t niche and it definitely doesn’t do lentils.

But do we really need Spare Rib?  We’re not Afghanistan, or Saudi Arabia.  We can drive cars and ride bicycles, vote and be educated.  We can walk around unchaperoned without the need to wear a shroud as if we are the living dead.   Doesn’t it all feel a bit angry, now we have equality?  After all, women, if they have the courage and tenacity, now have as many choices as men and can live exactly as they choose without fear of ridicule or reprisal.

You wouldn’t think so if you followed @EverydaySexism on Twitter.  The Everyday Sexism project was set up to ‘catalogue instances of sexism experienced by women on a day to day basis’.  Anyone who has been subjected to discrimination at work or found themselves on the receiving end of the kind of unsavoury remark that made them want to go home and exfoliate – yes, that’s you, Ms Female with a Pulse – you are encouraged to tweet your tawdry experiences here.  Nothing is too major or too seemingly trivial because Everyday Sexism is all about exposing the niggling undercurrent of chauvinism to which we have all become anaesthetised.  From the opportunistic leering of the workman to the glib remarks of the narcissistic boyfriend hell bent on denting your self-esteem, Everyday Sexism is a murky cave you can shout into and listen to the echo coming back, all from people who’ve had experiences just like yours.

I signed up to it for approximately three days.  The deluge of depressing 140 digit revelations that poured into my twitter feed like so much effluent made me want to don a wimple and plot the downfall of the male race.  And speaking as the daughter of a man whose idea of female liberation was having a flask of coffee put by his bed each night, so my stepmother didn’t have to get up at 5 am to switch the kettle on, I thought I was impervious to the dark arts of the misogynist.

If the 23,500 tweets to date don’t convince you that we’ve still got a long way to go, the hate mail received by Everyday Sexism founder, Laura Bates, might.  Since the project’s conception only one year ago, threats of violence, rape and even death have filtered into her inbox with alarming regularity.  Add to this the fact that we still live in a world where phenomenally successful women feel the need to pander to their husband’s egos (Beyonce’s current ‘Mrs Carter’ tour really makes me want to throw my hands up) and you wonder if it isn’t time for a new mouthpiece for feminism.

Our newsagents’ shelves desperately need to offer a real alternative to the mainstream triumvirate of celebrities, cupcakes and childcare, but let it be something that is witty and fearless and entirely devoid of cliché.  MP’s serving Bloody Marys in Bunny Girl outfits might not say equality, but it’s not timid and it makes for good satire.  Haters are going to hate, but I hope the newly revamped Spare Rib becomes the kind of All Girls’ Club I can get on board with.  One that punches its own weight, knows how to let its hair down and is inclusive to everyone.  Even men.

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.