Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Handsome is as handsome does?

Sit down and take a Valium, folks for I am about to make a few bizarre and, to some, unwelcome suggestions.

Don’t you think that we’re getting just a little bit too obsessed with appearance?

Phew! I feel a lot better having got that heretical thought off my chest.

It’s SuBo again – with the release of her new album it seems that every idiot and his dog Spot is having a pop at her appearance. The main thrust of these arguments seems to be that, even after a makeover, she isn’t quite up to snuff diva-wise, as if not looking like J-Lo or Beyonce somehow rendered her voice less effective. I’m not entirely convinced that she has any lasting talent, but nonetheless if I don’t include her on my “Albums I Must Have For Christmas” list I’d like to think that I’m motivated solely by her vocals.

The received wisdom on Susan Boyle appears to be that she’s a minger, every article commenting on her dumpy figure and plain face. So, just to make things a little more interesting, I make the following observation: SHE’S NOT UGLY!

Unless you live in Hollywood I would suggest that you probably bump into a number of people every day who are physically less well favoured than SuBo. Yet – another astonishing fact – they have meaningful lives and usually have husbands, boyfriends, lovers who find them perfectly attractive, children who love them, family members and close friends who don’t mind being seen walking down the street with them. In other words, their lives have not been made any less meaningful or rewarding by the fact that they lack the type of looks that made Brad Pitt fall for Angelina Jolie.

That’s not to say that it’s wrong to make the best of yourself; if you turn up for a job interview looking like a sack of potatoes tied in the middle, then more fool you. Obviously it’s important to look your best. Even I have been known to put on a few inches of slap when doing nothing more socially taxing than visiting the local supermarket, but I know where I stand in the pecking order of beauty; like most people I can be located roughly at the mid-point between needing to put a paper bag over my head when I leave the house and so fantastically gorgeous that men bump into lampposts when I walk down the street.

I’m quite happy there, too. It seems like a perfectly decent place to be. I don’t waste unnecessary time snogging the mirror, but neither do I projectile vomit every time I happen to catch my face in a CCTV camera. Not anymore, anyway. Perhaps in youth not cutting the mustard supermodel-wise is a more depressing prospect but I’m over that now and I am beginning to find the parade of women – and, increasingly, men – who waste precious time allowing a couple of wrinkles to lead them into an obsessive quest for eternal youth more than a little bit annoying.

Philosopher Roger Scruton argues that beauty is important to the general wellbeing of humans and I see no reason to disagree with him. Since prehistoric times we have held firm ideas on what is visually appealing and what is grotesque and certainly science has proved the link between living in terminally unlovely surroundings and depression. We all have our individual ideas of what is attractive and consequently make decisions based on this.

The primacy of Hollywood in the pecking order of what constitutes true beauty is long established. I remember as a child how my mother and her friends would “ooh” and “aah” over stars like Elizabeth Taylor in their prime. What I fail to recall, however, is any particular sense of regret that they might not have quite matched up to these lofty heights of attractiveness. It was generally acknowledged that they had more than enough to fret about in their everyday lives. In any case, what was the point of looking like Elizabeth Taylor when your days were spent helping to run the family business or lending a hand on the farm? These days it seems that women are expected to spend most of their spare time obsessing over pictures of Charlize Theron in Heat magazine and calculating how much surgery they would need to duplicate the effect.

That's not to say that women of my mother's generation didn't have aspirations. Improvements were temporarily effected via slimming groups and evening classes. However, the main objective of these outings was largely social. The two pounds carefully lost over the past week would usually be put straight back on during the post weigh-in scampi and chips at the local pub.

The eternal quest for physical perfection increasingly involves emaciation, a factor that generally has ruinous consequences for the face. While the more generously upholstered of us remain relatively unravaged by time (as Eammon Holmes says, there ain't no wrinkles on a balloon), the size zero fashionistas frequently find their faces turning into scale models of the Grand Canyon. Given their determination to maintain standards that would give Karl Lagerfeld conniption fits, the next stage is a course of rigorous cosmetic surgery that, once embarked upon, must be regularly maintained at huge expense.

So my final question is why, if you're going to spend all that time and dosh on self-improvment, why not go the whole hog and put something IN your head instead of just rearranging what's on it?

Further education has never been so accessible and there are hundreds of charities who would be delighted to take your mind off your physical inadequacies.

I have vague memories of various elderly members of my family being fond of using the old saying, “Handsome is as handsome does” and, at the risk of sounding desperately Victorian, shouldn't we think about resurrecting this philosophy?

Is being a bit wrinkly REALLY worse than being vacuous and self-obsessed?

Monday, 26 October 2009

It's official – we lardies need to be a protected species

When I first started this blog I swore that it wasn't going to be devoted to any one issue and it certainly wasn't going to be a platform from which I could rail against the myriad indignities visited upon the obese. Hannah Jones's blog, Diary of a Diet (an off-shoot of her Western Mail column) already does this brilliantly, with real humanity and humour.

What I wanted was the freedom to comment on any issue that interested me, whether that was some new artistic creation or a political issue. Yet increasingly I find myself drawn back towards the issue of fattism.

Fattism. It's a word that's difficult to say without an ironic inflection. Even I can't think of it without recalling the Not the Nine O'Clock News sketch in which an indignant Mel Smith claimed that he was going to “squeeze out of the closet” to stand up for his rights.

Still, it's difficult to find anything very funny about the violence experienced by 53 year-old Marsha Coupe, a London-based marketing manager, who was recently beaten up during a train journey by a woman whose central philosophy seemed to be that lardies shouldn't be allowed on public transport. Coupe reported that her attacker, obviously a Rene Descartes de nos jours, opened the bidding by shouting, “Hey fattie! You shouldn't be on the train, you need two seats.” Coupe sustained extensive bruising to her face and neck and at one point worried that she would lose an eye.

Unpleasant as Coupe's ordeal was, one could perhaps dismiss the incident as the actions of a lone nutter. If it hadn't been her size that provoked violence it might have been her race, religion, accent or the size of her nose. That's the way I'd have viewed it, anyway, if my mate Gwilym hadn't sent me a link to the report on the Daily Mail website, advising me to read the comments afterwards. The incident itself was nauseating enough, but the readers' opinions were far, far worse. I would estimate that at least three-quarters of them considered that Coupe had provoked the attack by being fat. The general tone was that perhaps she would now care to take stock of her life, acknowledge how repulsive she is and take this opportunity to reduce her size in order to avoid future violence.

The invective employed by some readers was so hateful that I actually laughed out loud in disbelief. It is outrageous that a middle-aged woman, guilty of no more than being overweight and using public transport to travel home from work, should be set upon by some kind of vicious, violent chav and then subjected to a second round of abuse via the equally dull-witted readers of a tabloid.

It's almost as if, denied the chance to beat up Jews, Muslims, gays and the entire Asian and Afro-Caribbean populations of Britain, the great unwashed are focusing all their pent-up aggression on the obese.

At this point I must confess that I have been dismissive of attempts to have the obese classified as a protected group. It seems absurd to imagine that being a bit lardy might put you in the same category as vulnerable people who really need the assistance of the law, yet this incident has changed my mind. A group of overweight women is now lobbying Boris Johnson to make London a fat-friendly city in the manner of San Francisco.

Coupe says, “London prides itself on being diverse yet there is almost a zero-tolerance on anyone of size. You cannot walk the streets without being verbally or physically assaulted.”

As little as six months ago I would have pooh-poohed this attitude - but now...?

In the same week, the media carried the story of an overweight couple who saw one of their children taken into care because it too was overweight. While I would argue that perhaps British social services might be better employed preventing abuse cases like the notorious Baby P and Victoria Climbie debacles or taking care of sprogs whose parents' addiction to drugs and alcohol meant that they were temporarily or permanently incapable of being in charge, the media predictably disagreed. India Knight even went so far as to posit that “allowing” your child to be obese is “a form of child abuse.”

I'd love her to meet my mum. My money would be on Knight being KO'd in the first round.

Of course, if one's offspring is overweight there is only one explanation: you're force-feeding it. Like a goose being readied for the foie gras market my parents strapped me to a dining chair and stuffed vast quantities of pie and chips down my cavernous maw and then carried me from my chair to bed so that I wouldn't use up any calories on even this pitiful bit of exercise.

Actually the truth is that, like most children of my generation brought up in a safe, rural area I was encouraged to spend as much time as possible out of doors. Unlike my classmates, however, my food intake was carefully monitored and pies, chips and cakes were a rare treat, not a daily staple.

Funnily enough, many of my friends existed on a diet that would have reduced my mother to tears, yet miraculously remained as thin as greyhounds.

The narrator of John Banville's The Sea (admittedly a ferociously unpleasant individual) states that he finds it impossible to imagine that anyone could be fat, yet not stupid. Stated baldly, this sounds shocking, yet the ladies and gentlemen of the British press seem to hold such an opinion as gospel.

We're not asking for much, we lardies. We know that we'll never make it onto the cover of Vogue (even the redoubtable Oprah Winfrey was obliged to lose some weight before being afforded that dubious honour) and we know that we'll never be photographed falling out of a nightclub at three in the morning with our celebrity partner (most London nightclubs ban obese people anyway).

We'd mostly be quite happy being clever and waspish in the background. Yes, quite a lot of us are clever. Very clever. Obviously not quite as mentally gifted as towering intellectuals like Cheryl Cole, Alesha Dixon and Victoria Beckham who seem to have no problem in gaining maximum exposure, but we do our best.

All that we ask is for the right to roam the streets without being assaulted and told it's our own fault.

For some, maybe, it will seem absurd to place the obese in the same category as homosexuals and racial minorities, but if it's no longer safe for us to venture out of the house without fear of a beating, then perhaps it is finally time that we acknowledged that we need the full protection of the law.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Roman (“make mine a teen”) Polanski

First, a confession; I rate Roman Polanski as one of the all-time great movie directors. He might not move and obsess me quite as much as David Lynch, Ken Russell or Lindsay Anderson but he's one of the biggies of the cinema, that's for sure. Polanski on a really bad day is still several thousand times better than just about anything that is currently being puked out by Hollywood and when he's good he's practically angelic.

But do I think he should be let off his statutory rape charge with a slapped wrist? Er, no, actually and I don't think that the cavalcade of luvvies (which sadly includes David Lynch) who signed a letter requesting clemency have done themselves any favours either. Polanski, like many in the movie business, has a moral compass that clearly needs realigning and boasts a casting couch with more stains and threadbare patches than most. Now in his seventies he is a calmer, more serene individual than he was in his youth, but even a trial presided over by a dodgy judge doesn't excuse his inability to face up to his punishment.

I am all for the attitude of one of my friends, a big-time Benjamin Britten fan, who was outraged by Humphrey Carpenter’s 1992 biography of the composer in which Carpenter argued that Britten’s genius excused his paedophiliac tendencies. In my friend’s eyes genius is no free pass to criminal behaviour, nor should it ever be. But will Britten’s private life stop him from buying tickets to the next London production of The Turn of the Screw? Definitely not.

Yet there is a bigger villain in the Polanski case, namely the mother of Samantha Geimer who put her daughter in jeopardy by encouraging her to meet Polanski in the first place. Old Romek's penchant for young girls was well known and the fact that the meeting was to take place in the home of that renowned sleazeball, Jack Nicholson should have set her maternal alarm bells ringing.

Just look at the keywords here: teenage girl, modelling aspirations, Roman Polanski, Jacuzzi, Jack Nicholson, photography. Does it look anything other than salacious to you?

If a mother takes her baby from its crib and leaves it on the motorway the motorist who hits it is in a practical sense the person who killed it, but is he more culpable than the mother who left it in harm's way in the first place?

I think not.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

This bullying must stop!

Q: When is bullying not really bullying?
A: When it's being done FOR YOUR OWN GOOD!

This is a philosophy with which I'm painfully familiar. Blame seven years spent in a girls' boarding school in the 1970s.

Every so often one would encounter a fellow pupil, sometimes but by no means always older than oneself, who would feel morally obliged to point out in a spirit of concerned frankness that one was a fat, useless, boss-eyed freak. This information was offered merely in a spirit of concern that without intervention this state of fat, useless, boss-eyed freakiness would extend to adulthood. However, armed with the knowledge of one's mental, physical and spiritual inferiority one might feel moved to effect improvements.

This is pretty much what one might expect of a group of bitchy teenage girls. Yet this week cancer campaigner Lynn Faulds Wood revealed that she has begun to approach lardies in the street and ask them whether they are aware that their vast bulk will shorten their lives by 10 years. I am loath to have too much of a go at the otherwise wholly admirable Faulds Wood, but there is something of the school prefect about her and I can well imagine her treading the streets of Edinburgh or Glasgow to upbraid innocent passers-by with her brisk schtick.

My first thought was that she had chosen her victims carefully. My experience of my fellow lardies is that we are generally quite a meek and shame-faced bunch, ground down by a lifetime of being bullied at school and thereafter absorbing quite horrific abuse from family members, ersatz friends and various members of the medical profession, not to mention the constant bombardment of unattainable – or at least unsustainable - media images. No doubt Faulds Wood considers us to be a burden on the NHS, but most lardies that I know (myself included) would sooner die quietly at home than go to a doctor's surgery. One specialist to whom I was referred in the 1980s (for a suspected kidney infection, in case you're wondering) suggested that I seriously consider a stomach-stapling operation, a procedure which at that time had already resulted in the deaths of several women by septicaemia. When I pointed out its dangers he said, “But surely it would be better to be dead than to look the way you do.”

So, Faulds Wood, I know your game. You are picking on the already ground-down and dispirited rather than tackling people whose lifestyles really are harming their communities. I note that she is not promising to hang out with street gangs in South-East London to warn them of the folly of using guns and knives, or approaching lairy teenage girls falling out of pubs and suggesting that they give up the booze that could well result in chlamydia, unwanted pregnancies and exploding livers by the age of 30. Why doesn't she spend her time sorting out the drug addicts that keep local dealers busy and also do a roaring trade for the neighbourhood pimp, whose “girls” are obliged to sell themselves to pay for their heroin habits? This would really be doing a valuable service. I could also name scores of families whose lives have been ruined by the troops of feral youths that roam inner-city areas and create havoc. What about rounding them up?

The truth is that Faulds Wood's cojones ain't that big. She might have the chutzpah to collar Tracy Turnblad, but I bet she would blanch at the thought of bearding Wayne and Waynetta Slob.

On a more positive note I think that this is a campaign that we could all join; just choose your special interest group and start doorstepping. I'm thinking of tackling the appalling problem of mingers on the street. I'll hang around until I see someone who looks like Jimmy Nail or Mick Hucknall, then I'll go up to them and say, “Did you know that with looks like yours you could probably get cosmetic surgery on the NHS?”

So here's my challenge: why not come to Estepona, Lynn? I can promise you that if you try any of your evangelical crap with me I'll cut your life short by considerably more than 10 years.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Menu madness

This week I’m pleased – no, proud – to report that the story currently exercising the population of Wales isn’t the forthcoming retirement of First Minister Rhodri Morgan but the lunch menu of Flintshire County Council in Mold.

It is truly impressive to note that, after a tedious morning spent shuffling papers and combing through planning applications, some of the workers at Flintshire CC still feel sufficiently frisky to flirt with the catering assistants over the desserts section.

It was alleged that some of the workers were making risqué comments about the Spotted Dick and one or more of the dinner ladies complained. Yes, you did hear that correctly. Can you imagine being that dedicatedly humourless and politically correct? God, they must lead sad and lonely lives.

Anyway, the powers that be gave the go-ahead for the Spotted Dick to be pulled from the lunch menu to avoid embarrassing the poor dinner ladies and this incident made it onto BBC Wales Today (much to the obvious amusement of Jamie Owen), following which Flintshire County Council received a mountain of abusive letters, presumably by irate Welsh people aggrieved by being portrayed as a nation of miserable boot-faced old trouts.

Not surprisingly a u-turn was undertaken and Spotted Dick is back on the menu in Mold. One can only hope that the workers continue making lewd remarks, although I feel obliged to point out that the “Dick” in Spotted Dick has absolutely nothing to do with Richard and still less with penis. It is a corruption of “dough” which leads me to suggest, after a period in which alternative names such as Sultana Sponge were mooted, that the authorities might consider an alternative.

My writing partner’s grandmother was from Yorkshire and used to call it Spotted Dog, a name also quite obviously derived from “dough” which at least evokes nothing more suggestive than Dalmatians.

Reports that another favourite is to be remarketed as Bakewell Whore are said to be entirely false…

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Caster and b******s

Poor Caster Semenya! As if she wasn't having enough trouble with the medical issues regarding her gender, she now has the ANC Youth League piping up on her behalf.

To get an idea of how bad that is, just imagine how you'd feel if you confessed to your best friend that your love life wasn't all that it could be and then discovered that she was setting up blind dates for you with Hannibal Lecter, Peter Sutcliffe, Beelzebub and the Pope.

It's like a joke: “Which would you like first, Caster: the good news or the bad news? Well, the good news is that someone is speaking up in your support. The bad news is that it's Julius Malema!”

I am obliged to my long-suffering ex-boss and friend, Shaun de Waal in Johannesburg, for the following corker from the ANC Youth League: “Even if a test is done, the ANC YL will never accept the categorisation of Caster Semenya as a hermaphrodite, because in South Africa and the entire world of sanity, such does not exist.”

Isn't it great to know that the future of South Africa is in the hands of such lofty intellects?

At this point I must admit that, as far as I'm concerned at least, the ANC Youth League has form. In the very early 1990s, when apartheid was crumbling faster than a block of cheap Caerphilly cheese, one of my university friends - let's call him Kurt to protect the guilty - was a loyal member of the ANC YL. Acting under instruction from some controller or other he was persuaded (God knows how, since he was a very bright boy and didn't suffer fools gladly) to throw a hand grenade through the windows of the Johannesburg office of the Conservative Party. Undoubtedly the CP espoused some pretty loathsome ideas, but at this stage of the game they were a spent force, their leader Andries Treunicht was dying and the release of Mandela was just around the corner.

Kurt was arrested on suspicion of treason, placed under house arrest with his parents in some godforsaken dorpie in the Northern Transvaal and I was left with the task of faxing him cultural First Aid packages from the university's Comparative Literature department, whereupon my phone was tapped by the SA Police.

Tell people that your phone is being tapped in the real world and they'll start rolling their eyes and making the universal gesture which means, “This one's lost it” when your back is turned, but in South Africa at that time it was pretty common. My friends took great delight in phoning me and whispering phrases like, “The eagle has landed”, which at least had the effect of riling Kurt's unwanted minders.

The whole point of this tale is that during this time I didn't notice the ANC Youth League, who were at that time under the leadership of Cyril Ramaphosa who should have known better, being exactly helpful of or supportive towards Kurt or his accomplices.

Now, with Semenya's medical condition being splashed over the front pages of the world's papers, it seems that they are back to their old tricks.

Julius Melema has already made himself look like a violent dope with his 2008 statement that the ANC YL would take up arms in support of Jacob Zuma if necessary, so this latest piece of idiocy shouldn't come as any surprise.

Not that the rest of the South African population has exactly helped Caster. Pictures of a makeover designed to make her look glamorous were published on the front pages of You magazine, a publication which, at least when I was living in Jo'burg, used to feature such deathless National Enquirer-isms as “The Hairy-Faced Children of Mexico” and “The Woman Who Married a Penguin”. Hardly the type of journal to persuade readers of their golden girl's normality.

Stories have already emerged of Semenya's sexual identity being questioned within South Africa, not surprisingly given that this is a society which has always taken quite a conservative approach to gender issues. A black lesbian friend of mine once told me that she was constantly fearful of attack by men enraged by her lifestyle. Homosexuality was as loathed by the black population of South Africa, who deemed it decadent and European, or “un-African”, as it was by the conservative (or verkrampte) white population, who thought it ungodly.

Caster's teacher allegedly said that he had always thought her a boy, while witnesses at a service station reported that she was refused access to the women's toilets because of her masculine appearance.

Truly, this is not a condition that one would wish on even a worst enemy and the fact that, at only 18 years old, Semenya has had to witness her future being played out in the most public way possible must be excruciating. This has not been a case of steroid abuse or cheating at any level, but if her testosterone levels give her an unfair advantage, her athletics career is clearly over.

So please no more statements of support, Mr. Malema – this unfortunate young woman has suffered enough.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

We need to talk about paedophilia

One day – sooner rather than later – we're going to be forced into having a serious discussion about paedophilia.

Now there's a sentence guaranteed to end a few friendships, but just stop and think about it for a moment. Rather than reverting to our default setting, which appears to be finding some minority group (witches, Catholics, the Irish, Muslims, lardies) and blaming all the ills of the world on them, would it not make more sense to detect which group is the most likely to harm children and focus on deciding what should be done to stop them?

The way things are at the moment a 16 year-old boy who persuades his 15 year-old girlfriend to have sex with him runs the risk of being placed on the same sex offenders' register as Ian Brady, Ian Huntley and Gary Glitter, which scarcely seems a sensible solution to the problem.

Of course children should be protected from the unwanted attentions of the friendly neighbourhood paedo and of course adults who volunteer to work with youth groups (whether professionally or via a voluntary organisation) need to be checked, but do we really have to treat every person who might come into contact with kids as a perv-in-waiting?

It reminds me of the old feminist slogan, “Every men is a potential rapist”. In one sense that is true; all of my male friends have the physical equipment necessary to be a rapist (unless there's something that I don't know) but I would suggest that none of them are remotely mentally capable.

A few years ago the American actor Jeffrey Jones (best known for his roles in Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Amadeus) was placed on America's sex offenders' register after he was found guilty of photographing a 15 year-old boy in a series of erotic poses. Clearly Jones is a sad old queen with a rather unsavoury interest in beautiful youths, but does he really merit the same kind of censure as someone who absuses and tortures eight year-olds? There was no question of Jones's photographic subject being anything other than willing and saw the assignment as a way of earning some extra pocket money. Yet onto the sex offenders' register went Jones and, presumably, is still recorded there, along with truly depraved individuals guilty of the most sickening acts of abuse towards tiny children.

I can imagine what it must be like to be a concerned parent – if we can't trust our children to the care of the Roman Catholic Church, then who can we rely on? – but this “guilty until proven innocent” stance is doing nothing but harm.

As of writing I am not sure what the fate of the mooted new system will be, but the author Philip Pullman has already stated his opposition to the new £64 clearance required of all adults who visit schools to give talks: naturally enough he objects to being considered a potential threat. This I find especially appalling, since it is so obviously counter-productive to the education system. It's hard enough to enthuse children at the best of times (and I speak as someone who has lectured at university level) without depriving them of the chance to meet adults who might be positive influences.

When I was a teenager Ted Hughes visited our school to give a poetry reading. This was before his tenure as Poet Laureate, but he was a huge name in the world of creative writing and I was determined not to miss the experience, even though the only time he could visit was during the summer holidays. I was obliged to my Dad, who volunteered to drive me the 100 miles to school to hear him speak and I was not disappointed – he was like Heathcliff on steroids!

Maybe I'm exaggerating, but I feel sure that Ted Hughes was partly responsible for my decision to become a writer. It's certainly a pretty momentous experience to meet someone like that, especially someone who was the epitome of what a teenager thought a poet should be – tall, broad across the shoulders, good looking in a rugged sort of way. He would have made a great Mr. Rochester if he'd ever been cast in a movie of Jane Eyre.

After reading The Bell Jar the previous term I had tormented my poor English teacher by threatening to ask Hughes why he thought that Sylvia Plath, his late wife, had killed herself but having heard him read his poetry and seen him in the flesh, tormenting him was the last thing on my mind – unless it involved handcuffs and a whip!

Meeting Ted Hughes is still one of the high points of my professional life and actually being able to shake his hand and talk to him was a treat of the highest order; in my fevered brain it was like being given permission to be a writer. In truth, he had far more to fear from a roomful of hormonal teenage girls than we ever had from him.

Wouldn't it be stupid if we deprived a generation of children of such an experience just through fear?

Are we really so paralysed by terror, or mentally bankrupt, that we can't see the difference between a paedophile and a role model?

Monday, 14 September 2009

Annie, get your coat!

Every so often a news report creeps through on the BBC about how the IRA (and various rebel offshoots thereof) has put its guns “beyond use”. They're still there – nobody has melted them down for scrap or anything. It's just that they are no longer capable of hurting anybody.

Wouldn't it be great if we could do the same thing to Anne Robinson? Knowing that she has various family members who presumably feel some affection for the old bat, I have no desire to deprive them, but it would be so comforting to think that she would no longer darken our TV screens with her alarming botoxed boat-race.

The immobile face is bad enough, but the mouth is truly a thing of horror. Dear old Annie has fallen into the same trap as many women of a certain age (and often much, much younger) by injecting so much collagen into her gob and its environs that her lips stick out horizontally, lending her an unfortunate resemblance to Scrooge McDuck.

It's not her attitude towards the Welsh that bothers me either (“The Welsh – what are they for?” she once famously asked) because it seems clear to me that the young Annie, as a schoolgirl in her native Liverpool, was probably trounced in every exam by some transplanted North Walian (or Gog, as we prefer to call them) and has since bitterly resented the Welsh. Don't worry, love – your seal of disapproval merely spurs us on to even greater heights.

I also couldn't give a fig about her bossy schoolmarm routine on The Weakest Link; as La Robinson has frequently alleged, contestants would be disappointed if she wasn't rude to them and I completely believe her. I just reserve the right to watch it as infrequently as possible. I have to admit, though, that when a member of my family was a contestant on a celebrity edition of the show, I cheered out loud when he was as rude and patronising to her as she was to the other contestants.

In the days when I used to watch The Weakest Link I couldn't help noting the rabbit-caught-in-the-headlights look that possessed wee Annie when expected to read out perfectly standard English words; I couldn't recreate, even if serious money depended it, what a complete mess she made of 'spherical', for instance. Yet, she's supposed to be a trained journalist. A journalist who doesn't do big words, presumably.

No, my complaint about the Ginger Witch, as she is not so affectionately known by the tabloid press, is that she is a poorly educated quarter-wit who is an excellent example of the contemporary disease that infects the talentless, gittish and crass, leading them to imagine that not only are they mentally adequate, but possess the rapier wit of Oscar Wilde, the intellectual heft of Jacques Derrida and the looks of Brigitte Bardot (before she started to look like a leather handbag).

Much fuss has been caused over the past couple of years about the vast sums of BBC money raked in by Jonathan Ross, yet I would much prefer it if both Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand phoned my mother daily and sexually harassed her, than Anne Robinson be given one solitary quid of anyone's licence fee. And – guess what? - so would she, being even less fond of the Great Taffy Hater than me. By comparison, I don't begrudge Wossy one crude, crapulous on-screen moment. He might have the public persona of a sex-obsessed adolescent, but behind that facade he's had an education. Unlike Robinson, his gurning ignorance is merely an act, while Annie's frequently cretinous proclamations are entirely genuine.

Have you ever seen the Ginger Bitch on a chatshow? She behaves like a foxy version (in her demented dreams!) of Lady Bracknell, taking over the broadcast and putting the host in his place. Just imagine inviting your bossy history teacher from high school to visit your home? Now multiply this by fifty and you're just beginning to evoke the full horror.

If the show is hers it's even worse. When she presented Watchdog in the 1990s I clearly recall her criticising one of her female assistant's hairstyle on air, although there were many other examples of her super-confident attitude. Her daughter, Emma, admits that when she travels with La Robinson one of her jobs is to protect her from involuntary contact with fat people, another of her pet hates.

As if this wasn't bad enough she has an unsavoury habit of becoming nauseatingly flirtatious when presented with hunky young men. How would you feel if you brought a bloke home and your granny started to flutter her eyelashes at him? If Terry Wogan tried this he'd be suspended straight away and sent on some kind of sexual behaviour reconditioning course.

Why is it that, from a distance anyway, the British media seems full of people imbued with a confidence way beyond their ability?

Sky News's Kay Burley is another example of an inadequate presenter with a seemingly boundless belief in her very limited worth.

Inexplicably given her own show (presumably length of tenure means more to the Dirty Digger than actual talent), La Burley just can't keep it buttoned, either. She knows slightly less about sport than my tabby cat, yet the footie news always becomes a dialogue between the poor beleagured sports reporter and our Kay, with the latter constantly revealing how little she knows about anything.

However, she's equally out of her depth with hard news. Recently conducting an interview with a Middle East correspondent about the release of a Western journalist in Afghanistan, he offered some detail about the dramatic rescue and La Burley said, “Wow!” as if she were a 12 year-old being told that her mate from school had snogged one of the Jonas Brothers.

It's all very frustrating; so many intelligent, talented, able women in the world, yet so few on our screens.

I'm trying to work out whether it's all part of some cunning plan on the part of male broadcasting chiefs to make us look like dimwits, or merely a coincidence that so many female presenters aren't up to the job.

Whatever the truth is, I can't help feeling that decommissioning Anne Robinson would be a good place to start.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

I Love the Smell of Rhod Gilbert in the Morning or “Good Evening Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyndrobwll-llantisiliogogogoch!”

Most of us can point to an area of personal ignorance that provides hours of social embarrassment and I'm no exception.

Try living in Spain for 15 years and still not being able to speak the language. Obviously I can manage a few useful phrases ( I can ask telemarketers whether they can speak English because my Spanish is rubbish with a fluency that never fails to cause confusion), but when it comes to holding a decent conversation I'm way out of my depth.

This doesn't fit in with any personal philosophy, by the way. Thanks for pointing out that I reflect the absolutely worst type of Brit overseas. All it would take to complete the happy picture would be a pair of socks with my Birkenstocks and a loud cry of “I'm not eating that foreign muck!” when asked whether I´d like some tapas. I frequently feel like screaming, “BUT I'M NOT LIKE THAT!” Yet how are the locals to know this?

The trouble is that I suffer from a linguistic ham-fistedness that has dogged me since my schooldays. My brain is a steaming porridge of semi-digested languages: French, German, Afrikaans, Spanish, a few words of Zulu. It's all in there – somewhere. The only language I have managed to speak with any degree of proficiency is Welsh. It's a beautiful, poetic language that is a joy to speak and listen to. Yet, if you stray beyond the confines of Port Talbot or Patagonia, it's of limited use. Additionally, having lived outside Wales since 1982, I'm now having to rely on Pobol y Cwm to keep me up to date with the latest lingo.

Yet this private shame would remain just that if I didn't keep bumping into people who collect languages the way that Posh Spice collects Hermes Birkin bags. At university my friend Michael ripped through the Romance languages at top speed, conquered Cyrillic and, by the time I met him, was learning Lakota (which is only spoken by about 6,000 people worldwide) to stave off terminal ennui.

At parties I always seem to end up stuck in a corner with some Nigel or other, who has made it his life's work to study the language of the Booroo-Booroo people of the Amazon.

“They don't actually HAVE a language as such, more a series of hoots and whistles. Fascinating stuff!”

Nigel will insist on telling me the reason for my linguistic idiocy.

“All languages have a logical structure. That's your problem – you don't have a logical mind.”

Yet we Welsh people can always call on our secret weapon. Eventually Nigel will ask me where I'm from and when I tell him he begins to look impressed.

“Welsh!” he will say. “Now that's a language to conjure with! Don't suppose you can speak it at all? God knows how you pronounce it. All consonants and no vowels.”

Then he remembers that one of his grandmothers was born in Wales. He wonders if I know the place. Oh no, there's no way he will even try to pronounce it.

“Tell you what, to avoid embarrassing myself I'll write it on a piece of paper for you.”

After several minutes of frantic scribbling and crossing out he passes it to me.

“Apologies if I've messed up the spelling,” he adds with an apologetic grimace.

I take the piece of paper from his hand. Look at it.


Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Just a thought...

Has anyone ever got through to the Boot Camp phase of The X Factor by singing anything other than a power ballad?

I'd hate to think that they'd ever promote someone with an iota of originality.

Why don't they just call it The Power Ballad Factor and have done with it?

Monday, 7 September 2009

The semantics of Semtex

One Welsh word that never fails to make me laugh is “carcus” (pronounced carr-kiss). Unfortunately it means “careful” so I can't help worrying that one day I'll be walking on the maes at the National Eisteddfod and someone will shout, “Carcus!” at me, meaning don't fall down that hole/step in that gargantuan cowpat/walk slap bang into the Chief Druid and I'll be laughing too hard to avoid disaster.

Yet the English spoken in Wales can also throw up some brilliant words. I'm especially fond of “tamping”, which means incandescently furious.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am tamping.

This situation can be blamed on a pusillanimous British government that chose not to pursue the Libyans for compensation after they sold Semtex to the IRA just in case it interfered with trade – specifically oil. The Americans were compensated, but for the Brits who lost relatives or experienced members of their family being maimed in the IRA's decades long campaign of terror – nada.

I have no desire to annoy my American friends by claiming that the attack on the Twin Towers was anything less than appalling, but what they don't seem to realise is that many countries in Europe have experienced years and years of terrorism. Spain has the ongoing problem of ETA and Germany had to deal with the Red Army Faction during the 1960s and 1970s, to name but two examples.

In Britain we had to battle the IRA; I attended school with a girl whose boyfriend was left a paraplegic after the Guildford pub bombing. The IRA hung over our lives like a noxious cloud in a way that I can easily recall. On the day of my graduation from Mountview Theatre School (July 20th 1982), London was in lockdown after an IRA bomb exploded in Hyde Park. Courtesy of that nice Colonel Gaddafi, no doubt.

Yet, it's not just the Libyans that are to blame; the IRA was able to continue its campaign for as long as it did with the assistance of American money. How many of Boston's Brahmins were encouraged to part with hundreds of thousands of dollars after being seduced by a Sinn Fein charm offensive featuring a load of sentimental old tosh about “the auld country”? The Kennedys alone probably funded at least a decade of murder and mayhem.

Putting it crudely, wealthy Irish-American families like the Kennedys paid for my mate's boyfriend to be permanently confined to a wheelchair. Pity they couldn't have stumped up a bit extra and paid for a state-of-the-art wheelchair.

Now, I know that I am to political comment what Katie Price is to gentility and good taste, but once every few years an issue emerges that is so outrageous that even I feel equipped to stand up and be counted.

Americans, you are not the world authority on terrorism or its tragic results. In fact when it comes to pontificating on the issue I have one very well chosen word for you.


Saturday, 5 September 2009

Justifiable Homicide

A woman in Barcelona has been sentenced to two years in prison for stabbing her boyfriend at a family reunion after he told her that she was too fat.

Just as well it wasn't Justice Paellataffy presiding or it would have been the boyfriend looking forward to a couple of years of porridge.

Leave him, love - you're too good for him and your aim's obviously crap as well.

Friday, 4 September 2009


Apparently Edward Kennedy claims in his final memoirs that he wasn't having a sexual relationship with Mary Jo Kopechne, who he left to suffocate after driving off the bridge to Chappaquiddick Island, a death which experts reckon was most likely slow and agonising.

So that's all right then! I was really worried that he might have been shafting her...

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Goodbye, summer – you won’t be missed

Yes, I am aware that summer isn’t really over, but for those of us who live in Spain September 1st marks a cutting off point between the perils of the unbearable heat and the hope of something more manageable. It also means that the holidaymakers go home and we can once again enjoy the benefits of living in a place that, for most of the year, is pretty close to ideal.

Summer on the Costa del Sol brings with it three basic drawbacks, the first of which is the temperature. Many people ask me, quite reasonably, why I live in Spain when all I seem to do from mid-June to September is whinge about the heat, but if you haven’t braved the Marbella area at this time of year, you don’t know how we suffer!

It’s bad enough normally, but at least your Spanish friends let you know that you’re being a wimp. Try complaining about the way your shoes sink into the tarmac as it melts under the assault of the sun and all you’ll normally get is an irritated shrug and a sharp exclamation of, “Es verano!” It’s the summer, idiot! If you don’t like it go back to your own stupid country where the sheep wear vests and the sun shines once a year.

This year, however, it’s been so hot that even my Spanish mates are saying that their grandparents are claiming Summer 2009 as the hottest in living memory. As the temperature shoots up into the forties centigrade it has been difficult to concentrate on anything. It’s all very well if all you need to do is slump on a sunbed by the pool but if, like me, you have to work it’s not quite so jolly.

Then there’s the noise factor. Again, if you need to get up for work at 7:30 it’s a bit galling to be woken in the middle of the night by revellers returning from their tour of duty of the local nightclubs, singing Kylie’s greatest hits at full volume and pausing only to deposit a Technicolor yawn into the flowerbeds.

And that’s just the nocturnal din. During the day the pool area is taken over by a posse of parents dedicated to abdicating responsibility for their appalling brats. These can be divided into the Brits and the madrileños, down from the big city for their vacaciones. The noise levels are virtually identical, but you can always identify the sprogs from Madrid by their frequent cries of “mira!” Look at me, folks. What a bona fide genius I am. If Jack the Ripper’s victims had managed that level of vocal exhibitionism he would have been nicked and bang to rights seconds after laying his evil mitts on his first prostitute.

Yet the factor that most Costa del Sol locals find most challenging is the overcrowding that occurs during July and August.

It’s bad enough braving the Carretera Nacional 340 (aka The Highway of Death) during the winter, but the summer brings traffic overload that makes the M25 look like Brands Hatch on a Sunday in January. Now, with the road works around San Pedro de Alcántara (which my mate Giles refers to as “the chicane” for the way it’s abused by boy racers trying to impress their 16 year-old girlfriends) it’s even worse. You have a choice: extreme tailgating (undertaken in the bits where the traffic is still unaccountably moving, normally by birds with “Baby on Board” signs in the back of the car: if there’s a baby on board, bitch, stop driving like a loon!), or the amazing tailback caused by cars overheating and breaking down in the searing temperatures.

And as for a trip to Gibraltar, the only place in Europe to have an actual border, with real policemen asking to see your passport (or at least requesting that you flap it out of the car window at them), the queue is always far, far worse, thanks to the army of buses that take British holidaymakers to Gib, a place so packed full of history that I’m surprised it doesn’t actually explode, where they will visit Marks & Spencer, BHS and Morrison’s, shops that they regularly visit when they’re back in Godalming or Glasgow, or wherever else they come from in the UK. One lives in hope that one day that they will actually bother to have a look at some of the things that are worth seeing, but I ain’t holding my breath.

Still, it could be worse. I live in an air-conditioned apartment and travel to an air-conditioned office in an air-conditioned vehicle.

It’s September and the cooler weather is on its way very soon, even if it’s not actually here yet and all we expats are waiting for our favourite time of the year which we’ve been trying to keep a secret.

You know in December, when it’s freezing and it gets dark at about four? Well, it’s still warm enough here for us to sit outside in shirtsleeves most of the time and it only gets dark at about five-thirty in the depths of winter.

Occasionally we like to sit and enjoy a café sombra outside our favourite café and imagine all of you freezing your bums off in Ice Station Zebra.

Sometimes it’s almost enough to get us through the summer…

Monday, 31 August 2009

Why I hate that BT advert

We're not friends, adverts and me. Considering that I grew up during what many consider the heyday of advertising jingles (“A Double Diamond works wonders”, “Nuts, whole hazelnuts”, “Naughty but nice”, “Go to work on an egg”, “T'were 'ard work getting to t'top o' hill” etc.) my experience has been a painful one.

I blame Fruity Pops. Hopefully none of you remember these disgusting sweets, but whenever I hear hysterical mummies babbling about the dangers of E numbers I think of Fruity Pops and feel far more sympathetic. The Fruity Pops ad was so much better than the product it advertised because I can still remember, all these years later, one of its central images. A bespectacled girl with lank plaits (horribly old-fashioned even in the 1960s) opens a bag of Fruity Pops and drops one in her mouth. Presumably on contact with her saliva the Fruity Pop makes a noise that sounds like a farting Clanger and her plaits fly up, almost meeting over her head. This was completely enchanting to me in a way that is comprehensible only to children.

One day my cousin arrived home from school with a small bag of Fruity Pops, presumably having stopped off to buy them at our Auntie Mary's sweet shop on the way. In the manner of Pete Doherty concealing a baggy of heroin he slipped me a sweet under the table. I surreptitiously pushed it into my mouth and waited for the Clanger-breaking-wind noise and...nothing happened! Admittedly my hair was more Prisoners of Cell Block H than long and plaited, but I was hoping for something. Oh, and they tasted vile as well. That was the end of the brief love affair between myself and the world of advertising.

Yet even the Fruity Pops ad wasn't quite as unbelievable as the BT ad. You know, the one where the happy couple break the news of their mended realtionship/forthcoming marriage to their parents and friends. Such unconfined joy! Such happy optimism! Have you EVER known a situation like that in your life? Isn't it usually more a case of the parents putting down the phone, looking at each other with grim faces and saying, “Well, he's got to live with her, I suppose”? And the friends retiring to the pub to pick over the relationship and decide that he's way too selfish to have a dog, never mind a woman with twelve kids, or however many the bint in the advert has? Isn't it just the most unbelievable thing you've ever seen?

Compared to that scenario, Fruity Pops are indeed gorgeous, Maltesers are a chocolate-covered health food and the Abbey National really does employ a flying Ninja squirrel.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

My sixteen months of tears

So scientists have worked out that women spend 16 months of their lives crying; well, you can add an extra two months to that for pet owners, obviously.

I've never had much patience for the weird female compulsion that induces otherwise sensible women to hire a copy of some cheesy old movie like “Now Voyager” so that they can spend the evening snivelling into a growing pile of tissues. Any film that sets itself up as a tearjerker gets very short shrift from me.

Bereavement apart, the thing that reduces me to tears most often is anger. You know, the situation that winds one up beyond endurance, to the point at which a sort of red mist of inarticulacy descends and words stick in the throat.

The last time I experienced this was at my last job, working for an international property company.

It was great at first. The entire workforce was shoe-horned into a tiny space and a pioneer spirit prevailed. We all had the same aims and a commission system that was passed on to every employee secured our loyalty.

Then we moved to a massive office in a glitzy building and it all went decidedly Pete Tong.

The corporate mind-set must be one of the most unpleasant phenomena in the world, something that is so female unfriendly that the new-look company featured only two women at the highest level: one who was promoted through hard work, application and real dedication to her job, the other who was appointed late in the day and maintained her position through a technique that can best be described as horizontal. I refused to believe this until practically the entire staff (male and female) assured me that the stories that were circulating were not scurrilous rumour but the truth.

In the 1980s I worked for a South African retailer called OK Bazaars. Grand and petty apartheid was still in full swing, but there was less of a gap between the salaries of the lowliest shelf-stacker and the CEO than there was in this company between the average skilled worker (I was employed as a copywriter) and middle-management.

There was a clear divide – if you were a bloke (a key issue, this) with a good grasp of jargon you could start on a salary that was about four times more than a female employee could expect, however poor your basic education. This situation was maintained by a transparently unfair process whereby female workers were dubbed “not high-fliers” and told that their lack of value to the company was such that there was no way they'd ever be considered for a raise. This wasn't the case for the men who could expect to take home a pay packet five or six times larger than all but two of the women. Worse, the commissions that allowed us to bolster our salaries were withdrawn.

Since so many women have commitments outside their professional lives and find it difficult to stay late, this was another stick with which the male managers beat us. Most of the female workers had similar hours: I worked from roughly 9:15 until 18:00 every day and took less than an hour's break. It simply wasn't necessary for us to stay late, seeing as we didn't fritter away our days on unnecessary meetings.

And as for the times that an idea presented by a female staffer was ignored, but later adopted when suggested by a male manager – don't get me started.

This is just one woman's personal experience – I know there are millions of women in similar situations and far, far worse.

Given that our status in the workplace is so low, with female salaries still lagging way behind that of our male colleagues, while magazines and tabloids tell us that feminism is dead, long live post-feminism, have you seen the dress that Cheryl Cole wore to that premiere and wouldn't you just LOVE to have a pair of Louboutin's like Victoria Beckham's, is it any wonder that we need our sixteen months of tears?

Sunday, 23 August 2009

I'm literally furious!

As my friends will attest, I have a tendency to sound off like a bargain basement Lynne Truss (she of “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” fame) and I have an inkling that this blog will eventually disintegrate into a platform from which I can bemoan the death of the English language.

My current obsession is the omnipresence of “literally”. It's reached the point that I find myself skidding away from using it, even when 'literally' is, er, literally the most logical choice.

My mornings are already occupied with playing my favourite game which I call, with mind-boggling originality, the Literally Game. It's easy to learn the rules and it's suitable for one or more players. Just tune in to the news channel of your choice, whether it's Radio 4 or Sky News and count the times that it appears in any half hour period. It's one point for a 'literally' that is redundant (i.e. merely used for emphasis) and two points if the offender has used it erroneously (that is, when it is used in a figurative sense). There are some wonderful examples of the latter: “I am literally DYING for a cup of tea” and “I was so happy – I was literally over the moon” are two of my favourites.

I have been reprimanded by some fabulously misguided people who have claimed that this situation has been instigated by immigrants, for whom English is often a second, third or even fourth language, but this is obvious nonsense. If I want to hear English spoken well I'll ask an Indian or African friend. Now they speak PROPER English.

It's the locals who don't know their literal arse from their figurative elbow.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

(Processed) meat is murder

You've got to feel sorry for parents these days. Not only do they have to worry about the possibility of little Gwyneth or Guto suffering some life-threatening injury in the playground, but they must negotiate the usual battles of teaching basic manners and social skills, only to find that their offsprings' education is being retarded while the teacher instructs a battalion of junior cavemen and cavewomen that stabbing them with their knives is not the way to eat peas.

Just when they're giving themselves a much deserved pat on the back for not raising the next generation of Liam Gallaghers they're told that, yet again, they've made a complete horlicks of the job.

When I was an ankle biter all my Mum had to help her was a battered copy of Dr. Spock and her common sense, an attribute that is in short supply these days. What she didn't know was that forty-odd years later she would have run the risk of having me taken into care (An overweight child? What a disgrace! Clearly she doesn't have the brains to cook nutritious meals!), while the contents of my lunchbox would give social workers conniption fits.

Morrissey, bless his twisted little heart, will be ecstatic; a bowel cancer action group has been given maximum press coverage to air its new campaign, advising parents not to put ham sandwiches in their children's lunchboxes. Like heroin, early exposure to the evil that is processed meat will result in the nipper becoming addicted, which in its turn raises the chance of bowel cancer later in life. Fact.

Or is it? These infernal food warnings do tend to be a bit of a swings and roundabouts lottery. Admittedly some foods are best avoided altogether, but even so-called healthy products have been exposed as potential killers by scientists. Grapefruit, for instance, is allegedly good for my arteries, but not so fantastic for avoiding breast cancer.

So, no ham, no chorizo, no salami (I can just imagine the howls of derision from my much more sensible Spanish and Italian friends). We already know that sending your children off to school with crisps and chocolate biscuits is the nutritional equivalent of wishing them dead, so what do the experts recommend?

Chopped vegetables. No, don't laugh. As we all know, cooking vegetables removes their nutritional value and, in any case, cold cooked vegetables? Even adults would find the idea pretty nauseating. So raw vegetables – we all know how well they'll be received. In the summer you could substitute salad items I suppose, but since most schools don't provide refrigeration facilities it's unlikely that a piece of cucumber will be quite as inviting at one o'clock as it was at seven-thirty in the morning, when it was cut straight from the fridge.

Any more ideas? Well one bowel cancer action group member posited processed cheese as an acceptable alternative. Processed cheese. Dairylea Cheese Triangles and Slices. Presumably she wasn't in the country when another food expert stated that if you feed your rugrats processed cheese you might as well empty an economy size tub of Polyfilla into their arteries.

Maybe I'm getting old, but surely I can't be the only person who longs for the time when what constituted a child's packed lunch was a personal choice and nobody else's bloody business?

Monday, 17 August 2009

Don't disrupt the status quo, Status Quo!

September 10th is Gibraltar Day and, as anyone who lives there or is a regular visitor will know, it's an opportunity for the locals to wear their red and white gladrags and reaffirm their national identity.

After a few political speeches the rest of the day is dedicated to entertainment as numerous bands take to the stage and, as anyone who loves Gib knows, there are more budding musicians per square metre in Gibraltar than anywhere in the world – and this coming from someone who was brought up in Wales! Honestly, considering that the place is the size of a gnat's bottom, the locals should give themselves a pat on the back. In fact, there are so many bands brushing up their skills every night that rehearsal space must be at a premium.

However, this year someone had the brilliant idea of turning September 10th into a fabulous commercial opportunity and booked Status Quo to perform at night in the car park in Ocean Village. While the practical side of my brain is thinking of the trade that will flow in to Gib's numerous cafes, pubs and restaurants, the hopeless old romantic part (yes, I do have one!) is thinking that this could be very bad news for local bands.

No question that The Quo is a pretty good choice - they've been around long enough to appeal to the oldies, are loud and lairy enough to appeal to the youngsters and are apparently terrific live, but is this really a good idea for Gibraltar Day? How are the Melon Diesels of the future going to reach a large live audience if a huge chunk of their one annual shot at the big time is being handed to the wrinkly rockers?

What do my friends in Gib think? Answers on a postcard, please...

Monday, 10 August 2009

Bitch Wars: The Fatty Strikes Back

So Amanda Platell has finally come out of the closet and admitted that she's fattist. Mein Gott! I haven't been so amazed since Herr Hitler admitted that he wasn't terribly keen on gefilte fish.

Still, you have to hand it to La Platell, she's consistent. A dedicated gym bunny she's probably the sort of woman who would block the aisles in Waitrose for hours, reading the contents on every item before deeming them sufficiently healthy to grace her shopping basket. Her steadfastness on the subject of physical fitness does her credit, unlike dear Sue Carroll who regularly lambastes the obese in her Daily Mirror column before ranting about the draconian anti-smoking laws that make it difficult for her to enjoy a fag.

And we all have our little irrational prejudices, don't we? In the course of my life I have met people who have admitted their hatred of poodles, Irish accents, Geordies (they sound thick and common, allegedly), bald men, men with beards, hairy chests (the same woman, for whom matters of hair distribution are obviously key), kilts, outie navels, teetotallers and pineapples.

It's differences of opinion like this that make the world go round. How wonderful to think that, for every person who cringes every time Jayne Middlemiss opens her mouth, there is another who swoons at every cry of, “Away the lads!”

And all of these people at least confess that there is no rational explanation for their dislikes.

Admittedly, most of these personal Room 101-isms are eccentric rather than harmful. These days many groups are thankfully protected from more Hitlerian censure. Should I harbour a hatred of – for instance – Hispanic people or homosexuals they would be shielded by law from any attack by me. I certainly wouldn't be paid by a national tabloid newspaper for an article in which I explained why I disliked gay men, offering a series of spurious rationalisations (they prey on straight, married men, they all lurk around Hampstead Heath looking for casual sex, their strict regime of personal grooming has led to the general feminisation of men) concocted to legitimise my prejudice.

This is exactly what Platell has done.

Those who know me will suspect that I have a very personal interest in her recent article (“My Visit to Fat Central”, Saturday, August 8th 2009) in The Daily Mail. I am a woman who is not big-boned, not Rubenesque, not cuddly, but definitely (and, these days, defiantly) FAT. In fact, this blog should be called A View From a Broad Broad – or even A View From a Broad Broad Abroad. I have always been fat and, given the fact that my main hobbies involve sitting on my lardy Welsh arse reading, writing or watching movies while drinking copious cups of tea (semi-skimmed milk but no sugar, thanks for asking), I probably always will be. I admit that this is hardly the most mature or responsible response to life but it's my choice and I really don't need the Social Tourette's brigade crossing the road to ask me whether it's my glands (no, it bloody isn't!) or reminding me every whipstitch that I currently enjoy the least fashionable body shape in the history of Western civilisation. If I fancy a biscuit, I´ll have a sodding biscuit but, as far as so-called junk food goes, I'd sooner eat the container in which it's served than tackle a greaseburger and fries.

Get this Platell, I don't spend my days sitting in a darkened room eating clotted cream and butter in order to maintain my fighting weight. I have no idea who ate all the pies, but it wasn't me. Lack of exercise is my downfall. As Vanessa Feltz once memorably said, the reason that I am what I am is that most of my hobbies involve reclining on a chaise longue reading poetry rather than hitting the gym. I'm not blaming the government, a difficult childhood, my pet cat or anyone else.

That said, I don't drink alcohol (the recommended weekly units for a female would last me at least 18 months), I have never smoked and the idea of taking drugs makes me feel quite queasy. I have friends that happily indulge in a combination of all three. That is their choice and I certainly don't think any the less of them for doing so; it just doesn't appeal to me. It's a matter of personal choice, no more and no less.

The main problem that we fatties have to contend with is that our shape immediately gives us away. I'm sure that we all know several normally proportioned people who present a relentlessly professional front during the week but, come the weekend, like nothing better to down so many pints and/or shots that they spend most of Saturday night lying on the street in a puddle of their own wee and vomit. So long as they maintain their sobriety at work, their weekend revelries can remain a secret.

When living in South Africa I met a Human Resources Manager who refused to employ anyone remotely obese on the grounds that “they have no control over their lives”. At the same time – and in the same place - an acquaintance of mine maintained her size 8 figure on a combination of cocaine and bulimia. No question of her life being thought out of control, obviously.

Platell confesses that her main objection to lardies is that she doesn't much like the look of them.

I think that we can all admit to finding some people more attractive than others; even the less than physically perfect are entitled to a say in the matter. For instance, I tend to find people who are smallish, stocky and dark (i.e. the classic Celtic or Mediterranean type) far more attractive than tall blondies. That's not to say that I feel that Scandinavian stringbeans have any less right to exist on the planet, which is what Ms. Platell is implying in her toxic article. Wander too far along the path that privileges the rights of one physical type of person over another and ultimately one enters the gas ovens of Auschwitz and Dachau.

However, Platell is far too intelligent not to offer some justification for her prejudices.

Fat people have no self-discipline, apparently. Well, it depends on what you mean by self-discipline. I might have a backside the size of Greater Manchester but, as a features writer, I know how much self control is needed to meet a deadline.

We also have no self-respect. This is a dubious claim, but were it true, it's good to know that we're receiving so much help in rectifying this matter by the tabloid Monstrous Regiment of Glenda Slaggs who simply can't resist reminding us how loathsome we are in body, mind and spirit.

We're a menace on public transport, taking up too much room. Now, that I cannot deny. Obviously someone who shops at Evans is going to take up more millimetres than someone who can fit into the latest basque from Agent Provocateur. However, most fatties that I know would sooner squeeze themselves into an unfeasibly tiny space in order to avoid being accused of bagging too much room. Unlike the curious breed of über-macho man who likes to sit with his legs wide apart, presumably in the desperate hope that the birds on the bus will imagine that he's packing the biggest tackle since King Dong. Or the businessman who takes up two seats on the train with his laptop, briefcase, Blackberry and assorted bits of technology. Or the woman with the enormous pushchair and assorted screaming toddlers. Or the troop of hoodies that clear the bus or train with a single collective glare. Need I continue?

Then, we are the products of uncaring parents who shovel junk food into our gaping maws and are far too unintelligent to see the damage that they're doing. My parents were very careful about my diet. I was brought up in a rural area where most of the food I ate was local and most of the vegetables I consumed travelled from my Grandad's veggie patch at the bottom of our garden direct to my plate. I was taken to see a specialist in obesity at Cardiff Infirmary when I was eight and, when I went to boarding school at the age of 11, the headmistress offered to oversee my weight loss. I played sport sometimes three times a day, a plate of stewed tomatoes on toast was considered an adequate meal at the end of a winter day when I'd just spent almost an hour outside playing hockey or lacrosse and, as a special treat, I was summoned before the school doctor once a term who told me how fat and disgusting I was and how I would never find a university place, job, love etc. if I failed to mend my ways. And – guess what? When I left school I was still fat.

Finally, Platell delivers her coup de grâce; fat people are a burden on the National Health Service. This is where fattists normally adopt that infuriatingly smug expression that says, “There! You can't argue with that, can you?” Admittedly I don't have access to any figures, but I would have thought it unlikely that the obese were any more of strain on the poor old NHS than Saturday night binge drinkers or the growing ranks of the elderly. In Platell World death and decomposition can be delayed by frequent vigorous exercise. If this is true then we can possibly look forward to an era when the post-Fonda Workout brigade all reach 90 and gum up the NHS or its successor with their old age complaints, while we fatties (if the same theory is to be believed) have had the good grace to drop dead in our comparative youth.

Perhaps the argument that posits that the obese have no right to health treatment is the most troubling of all. When medicine loses its sense of compassion we're all in for a rocky ride. Consider the growing list of illnesses and diseases that are considered self-inflicted. Lung disease? You shouldn't have smoked, it's all your fault. Been a drinker? No liver transplant for you then. Overweight? Well, the world's your oyster when it comes to illnesses that you could have prevented.

Self-inflicted? How about attempted suicides? No point in treating those selfish bastards, is there? Had a car accident after driving too fast? Sorry, we're only treating injuries that we can prove were inexplicable acts of God today.

If this sounds stupid to you then speak up, because this is the way we're heading.

I'd like to reclaim the word “fat”. I have no problem with it being used to describe me in its pure form. Obviously I'm fat. I'm not medium sized and I'm sure as hell not thin. It's the associations that I dislike: fat and stupid, fat and slow. Slow physically, perhaps. I narrowly avoided lamping an acquaintance once who suggested that, “You probably drive your boss mad because you're slow”. Since I wasn't at the time employed as a postie, I can only assume that she thought that my shape means that I'm mentally slow. Come closer to me and say that again, bitch. You'll soon find out how slow I am. Me and my M.A.

So this is the fat woman's burden. Having people ask you what your “excuse” is (I don't have one, still less one I'd care to offer you – what's your excuse for being crass and rude?) or whether any man has ever found you attractive (yes, and oddly enough not all of them had white sticks and guide dogs).

Still, it has its compensations. It opens your mind up to a new world where sometimes being human is more important than being right.

Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Platell.