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Saturday 30 October 2010

Sexy. Fancy. Dress. Or Not.

There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who would have sex with Piers Morgan and those who would only have sex with Piers Morgan in the hope that they would meet Simon Cowell. No, hang on, that's not right. Well, it's true, but it's not what I'm trying to say.

Oh yes! I know! There are two kinds of people in this world, people who do sexy fancy dress and people who don't.

I learnt this as a mere stripling acting as an unpaid skivvy at my Mum and Dad's fancy dress parties. The door bell would ring and there would be Mrs Anderson*, rouged cheeks, ringlets and cleavage like the San Andreas fault line.

Just as you're breaking into a sweat thinking "Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" you notice the basket of satsumas and realise she's Nell Gwynn. If Nell Gwynn had been a thickset 53 year old dentist's receptionist with elephantitis. But still there she was, one sniff of a costume party and her sexy, sexy head was on. What a trooper.

Actually, it was much more disturbing when your parents' friends were really proper sexy. Like Mrs Frances*. She was some ancient old bird of 33 that you babysat for and if you slagged her off for having rubbish biscuits your brother would go red and say things like "I like her. She smells nice." but normally she was just in a Simon shirt and a pair of Wranglers and clogs so you would think, "Well she's no Victoria Principal, but she is quite slim, I'll give her that."

But then she turns up at your parents fancy dress party in harem pants and a bikini top with a belly chain and "Blimey!" for once you really sympathise with your brother who is having to chat to her with only a tray of stuffed eggs to hide his discomfort.

Suffice to say I am not a sexy fancy dress person. I learnt this from my mother who, despite being lovely and having what they called in the '70's "a smashing figure," NEVER did sexy fancy dress. My Mum was always Fidel Castro or Groucho Marx or something and was funny and cute like Judy Garland in Easter Parade and never had to worry abut whether her bosom was about to dip in the chicken vol au vents.

So having learnt it at my mother's knee I know my fancy dress mojo, but for those of you who don't, here is a short guide to fancy dress archetypes.

1. The Jordan

This is easy. Think "common prostitute in Hammer House of Horror. " Synthetic fibres only, particularly for your hair extensions, frilly pants like Chris Evert or at a push simply knickers with days of the week on them, but ALWAYS on show. Ladies, this is not the time for mystery. Make- up is classic, applied half-cut in the dark over a thin base of creosote.

2. The TV Chef

At it's simplest its just comedy lips and a hair net for Jamie. Or you could do Nigella but that does require full frontal nudity save for fairy lights draped over your pomegranates. Finally, if you can take a lot of pain, you could do Gordon Ramsay by wrapping twenty elastic bands around your face, putting two pain aux raisins up a tight white t-shirt, and shoving a Le Creuset milk pan in your underwear.

3. The Politico

Fidel Castro, Che etc. Just some basic camo left over from that survivalist's convention and a tache. The tache can be finest plug hair if you can come by it, if not any old merkin you have lying around the house will do just as well. If you want to do right-wing just hollow out a large ham, stick a wetsuit and sunglasses on it and put it on your head like Monica did with the turkey in the Friends Thanksgiving episode. You are the PM natch. (NB: Of course the Cam-Gamm thing is Trademark Caitlin Moran of The Times.)

4. The Fop/Aristo/ Historical Clergyman

18th century aristo with powdered periwig and knee breeches. A word of caution, unless you are Elton John there is a strong chance that wearing this means you are a complete tool. (See Conrad Black )

There endeth the lesson.

*All names have been changed or the entire story fabricated.

Wednesday 13 October 2010


Today is my 43rd birthday. It is no understatement to say I have waited all my life to be this age. If Simon Cowell were here I would cry and tell him that this is my last chance at a 43rd birthday and that it means EVERYTHING to me.

Cos it does actually, mean the world to me to be 43. Even though, to all but the most deluded, I am middle aged, and middle age is not supposed to be something one celebrates. How do I know I'm middle aged? Well apart from the maths, which you can do if you wish, the signs are all there.

I read the warning notices on fairground attractions; I find aerial photography quite fascinating; I worry about listed building regulations. And then there is the physical deterioration, not catastrophic as yet admittedly. An extra crow's foot or two, a shade more wobbly round the jowls, a smile which is becoming, literally, 'long in the tooth'.

Am I delighted to face the inexorable signs of ageing in the harsh morning light of the mirror each day? Yes and no. No, because I am a bit vain and sentimental and it would be just lovely to think you could stay young and pretty forever. Yes, because you can't.

Five years ago my cousin Dawn died having been diagnosed with breast cancer two years before. Unfortunately, by the time she was diagnosed the cancer had already spread and she was told there was no chance of remission.

Dawn was a fearless child. One who would jump hollering from the highest diving board while I practised a safe, neat little dive from the side of the pool. I always envied her that. And she had the most beautiful strawberry blonde hair.

She was only in her early 30's when she died, leaving not just her little boy but her husband, mother, father, brother, sister-in-law and tiny new-born nephew. And a whole host of friends. I never knew how many till the day of her funeral.

So if I feel sad at the onset of another winter, I remember that I will celebrate Christmas with my family on 25 December. And I think of Dawn who died in December and celebrated her last Christmas early so she could watch her son open his presents one final time.

If I look in the mirror of a morning and feel a little maudlin, I think of Dawn and the way she bore her illness and I determine again not to be sad at the passing of the years but grateful for them.

Seeing what happened to Dawn may not have turned me into someone who treks in the Himalayas and watches the dawn over Macchu Picchu, frankly that's not really my cup of tea. But it has made me determined never to regret another birthday.

So believe me when I say I will enjoy today, my 43rd birthday, and I shall raise a glass to Dawn who never got to enjoy hers.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Benefit Reform: Behind the Scenes

The Chancellor of the Exchequer's grace and favour country mansion, Dorneywood.

INT: Elegant drawing room. Chancellor George Osborne is lying on the sofa, flicking through "World of Interiors". He is dressed casually in smoking jacket, cravat and velvet slippers bearing the monogram CofE. A knock at the door. George leaps up and grabs a large sheaf of papers from his red box. He moves to the fireplace and, resting one elbow on the mantelpiece, begins to study the documents intently.

GO: Good God, come in! There's no time to waste!

The door opens and Sir Humphrey St. James, Permanent Secretary to the Treasury enters with his PS Barnaby Sumpthwaite.

Sir H: Good morning, Chancellor.

GO: Honestly, you public sector namby pambies with your door knocking and your "Good mornings". You've no sense of urgency. You wouldn't bloody last two minutes selling wallpaper in my shop, you feather bedded egg-heads.

Sir H: (smiling urbanely) You wished to see us?

GO: I've been reading this submission on plugging the ruddy great deficit, (thrusting papers at Sir H). Some of the options are ludicrous! Raise taxes!? You bunch of unreconstructed socialist morons. It's ludicrous! I suppose you'll be suggesting workers' communes and nationalising the banks next.

Sir H: Please accept my apologies Chancellor. Now, if I may be so bold, you wished to see us?

GO: Christ man, why hell else would you be here? You're like that useless bitch pointer of mine, kept returning the bird to the wrong bloody gun!

Sir H: Indeed. I wonder however if now would be an appropriate time for you to sketch out your thoughts on why you wanted to see us?

GO: Benefits Hump. Cutting the old benefit bonanza for all the numpties that haven't the gumption to get themsleves born into a successful painting and decorating business. Bloody workshy idiots. But I don't want that jumped up geek Miliband accusing me of having it in for the working classes. So bloody unfair. My beater had two weeks in Majorca last year courtesy of the Osborne dollar. So we have to take the benefits from the middle classes Hump old boy, and I've the very one, Child Benefit. Ruddy ridiculous. All these nappy valley yummy mummies blowing it on cupcakes, own brand chablis and clogs. That's not why we're fighting overseas.

BS: Actually, I'm not sure that the clogs trend ever really translated beyond the catwalk Chancellor. They're very unforgiving on a chunky ankle....

Sir H: Thank you Barnaby. That is an interesting proposotion Chancellor,(pressing fingertips together and pursing lips). If you will permit, I would like to explore some of the questions of both principle and practice which arise were such a policy to be pursued.

GO: (Stifling yawn) Oh, knock yourself out you goggle-eyed dweeb.

Sir H: Child benefit is a universal benefit. As such many see it as totemic, as an indicator of the State's commitment to a welfare system which reaches out not just to those on the breadline, but also to those on modest and middle incomes. Universalism is, after all, also a central pillar of the NHS and of our education system. Many would argue that it is important that we have policies which reflect a shared sense of citizenship, that make manifest our shared commitment to the welfare state. Removing child benefit, even from the better off, will therefore be seen by many as a direct attack on the founding principles of the welfare state.

GO: (Making 'yak yak yak' gesture with both hands) Ooooh, ten out of ten!

Sir H: As ever, the Chancellor's comments are most apposite. However, set against that, we find ourselves in uncharted fiscal territory. The structural deficit must be tackled and removing child benefit from the better off, whilst potentially unpopular amongst the middle classes, could mean less stringent cuts for those on very low incomes. And so we come to the practical difficulties. I am sure Chancellor you will have considered the difficulties in introducing an efficient, effective and equitable system of means testing. It strikes me that if removal of a universal benefit is pursued, then it must be executed in a way which is, and is seen to be, scrupulously fair. (Where are the jokes? - Ed)

GO: Oh here we go, (in whiny voice) "It's so complicated. We've tried and tried Sir but we've run out of biscuits so now we need to stop." FFS, JDI you great DODO! Well you can thank your lucky stars that I've brought a bit of private sector interior design experience to bear on this problem. Do you remember those adverts for Prize yoghurts where the yoghurts were "The Prize Guys"? Well that is me. That is me and Dave. We are the Prize guys and we have fixed it. Anyone on top rate of tax gets it whipped off 'em. Tough but fair. Endov.

Sir H: Hmm, I do wonder Chancellor whether that approach, though it does have an admirable clarity, might not lead to some unfortunate anomalies.

GO: (Fingers in ears) La, la, la I'm not listening. TOUGH BUT FAIR, FOUR EYES!

Sir H: If I may seek your indulgence a moment longer. Is there not a concern that, due to the fact that the the higher rate of tax is applied to individuals and not to households, some couples earning up to £86k a year would keep the benefit, whereas households with one person earning in excess of £44k would lose it?

GO: And?

Sir H: Well Chancellor does that not strike you as, er, somewhat problematic? Let me give you an example. Do you see those cows in the field out there, a big one and a small one? Would it be fair do you think to take the hay away from the little cow, but let the big one keep its hay?

GO: Aha! No you don't. I've seen this one before. It's not a big cow and a small cow, it's just one of them is further away.

Sir H: (rubbing temples) With respect Chancellor, this is not in fact a matter of perspective. One cow really is almost twice the size of the other. £86k really is almost twice £44k. I would humbly submit that your solution is somewhat challenged in relation to matters of equity.

GO: I would humbly submit that my foot will challenge your bony arse if you keep raining on my parade you badly dressed speccy beanpole. The big cow needs twice as much as the little cow so of course it can keep the hay. I mean if you're at the Wolsey with Fatty Soames you're hardly going to give him half portions are you?

At that moment the door bursts open and in bursts a wild eyed Samantha Cameron, baby Flora on hip, wearing clogs and brandishing large glass of Tesco's "Finest" chablis.

SC: Where's the bloody decorator? There you are, you horrible little tradesman! What the hell is this I'm hearing about the kiddies' fund? First Dave takes a pay cut, and I've had to bloody go part time. What's going to keep me in Wolfords and cocktail Sobranie now you simpering lady boy?

As Samantha lifts the poker from beside the fireplace, Sir Humphrey and Barnaby beat a hasty exit.

Barnaby: I am rather concerned about how these proposals are going to play Sir.

Sir H: Christ boy, I couldn't give a rat's arse, I'm out of here in six months and my pension is bomb-proof. At least this one's not a bloody Jock....