John Walsh

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Alerted by Peter Luff, Tory MP for Worcester, and his Periodicals (Protection of Children) Bill, I lately resolved to keep a look-out for egregious displays of sexy material around the home. Lots of these disgusting "teenage" magazines, Mr Luff informed us, have readers as young as eight. As the proud father of eight-year-old Sophie, I could take no chances. So I stole into her room and within minutes found her magazine du choix. It was called Girl Talk - one of those deceptively innocent titles, like The Girlie Show - and I trembled as I studied the contents.

It was (oh, no) the Valentine's Day issue. It promised "Cute posters" (Oh, God - visions of Boyzone with nothing on filled my head). Stuck on the cover, as a shameless inducement to buy, was a tiny "Girl Talk Notebook" in lurid colours, doubtless proffering smutty advice to the pre-pubescent. Inside, a dangerously smiling (probably drugged) individual called "Gill", clearly some kind of procuress, hinted at shady goings-on: "Hello! We hope you love the free gift! Just think of all the secrets you can put in there!" [Hah!] "As Valentine's Day approaches, why not show your favourite person how much you care with one of our suggestions on page 16 ..."

Just what kind of suggestions would these be? Golden showers? PVC manacles? Ribbed condoms? I rushed to page 16, but the article was couched in some emollient patois ("Try your hand at sweet-making. Cook up a sugary treat for a friend") that defied comprehension.

The photo-strip story was similarly disappointing, featuring two small girls in matching pyjamas talking about nightmares ("Oh Liz, it was horrible. The monster was chasing me" - maybe an instance of Freudian pre-cognitive sexual paranoia?) and the "Really Wild" section was about polar bears. I gazed in vain at the gatefold pin-up, but could find no trace of male buttock among a lot of fluffy kittens.

It was with something like relief that I found the Problem Page, conducted by the sinister "Dear Sian". The jig was well and truly up at last. Would it confine itself to French kissing, or go the whole hog (fellatio? ejaculatio praecox?)? Hmmm. It must have been a quiet week in Lolita-land. The only problem was a little girl who was worried that her mother might have started smoking again.

Hopeless. No boys, no beds, no virginity traumas, no contraception. In fact, nothing to read at all.

Ms Jean Aitchison, holder of the Rupert Murdoch Chair of Language and Communications at Oxford University, was on Radio 4's Start the Week, talking about her rather unusual habit.

A lady of sophistication and argumentative rigour, Ms Aitchison turned out to be one of those people who Talk Funny when they meet someone from outside their socio-economic class. "Obviously I speak differently to people in Hackney market from the way I speak to you," she informed her interlocutors brightly. Why? asked Melvyn. "Because I don't want to be thought a toff," she replied pleasantly. What would be wrong with that? asked the dazed Bragg. Oh come now, said the prof, like a dowager smiting a beau with her fan, "we hardly speak the same way to babies and taxi- drivers, do we ... ?"

Far be it from me to call Ms Aitchison a raging snob; but how odd it must seem to the costermongers of Dalston Junction when a smartly dressed middle-class academic approaches them with the words, "Werl, f*** my old boots if Oi dahnt 'ave a pahnder kiwi fruit, please." And when she attends, say, a linguists' convention, what does Ms Aitchison do when interrupted, in mid-cocktail-party chitchat, by the arrival of a West Indian waiter? ("Whass happ'nin', bro'?")

Ms Aitchison's instincts are probably in the right place. She wishes, through a kind of glottal manipulation, to put everyone at their ease when they meet her. She'd rather risk sounding idiotic than sound posh, for fear of making someone else feel inferior. She is fundamentally sound. But really, what a klutz. (And what did she say when Rupert Murdoch told her she'd got the job? "Strewth ... ")

What tragic news about the Duchess of York being pestered by her mercenary ex-boyfriend for a cut of the $3m deal she has struck to merchandise that irritating helicopter in America. But I can't think about the Duchess's fluctuating fortunes without recalling the time I met her, when she launched the Budgie books in a Chelsea restaurant. Effortlessly commandeering the conversation after dinner, she told us she was due to speak at a literary luncheon the next day. What, she asked, should she talk about? I suggested that she told them the books she had enjoyed when she was a child. "Good idea," agreed the Ferglet. "What sort of books should I say?" How about the ones she remembered enjoying? "Yes, but which? Give me some titles." Did she read Winnie-the-Pooh? Or Jill Has Two Ponies? Or Treasure Island? "They all sound fine," said the Duchess. "Any more?" Around the table all the guests joined in, suggesting the books that Fergie should pretend to have read, to impress the diners the following evening.

It wasn't the barefaced mendacity that impressed, as much as the certainty that everyone would go along with it. She and the smiling Mr Bryan deserve each other.