UP & DOWN CANARY WHARF

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The fearful strain of having to stick an additional "1" into the dialling code of all telephonic communications has, predictably, plunged the nation into a mood of despair. Acres of newsprint have revealed us to be so intellectually enervated, so impatient and acutely intemperate of change, that this tiny adjustment in our lives has made us all hysterical. But I think I can understand why we've become so sensitive. It's not the minor fag of having to remember that it's now 0181 to ring your friends in East Sheen; it's the voice of That Woman who chastises you when you forget to do so.

Since the invention of the gramophone and the wireless, each era has had a voice which somehow symbolised it: the clipped tones of Nol Coward, the stentorian growlings of Winston Churchill, the suburban sneer of Johnny Rotten. Now it's the genteel, but persuasive admonitions of the Lady from the BT Advisory Service. The one whose clipped, "Sorry! The number you have dialled has been changed to..." always leaves you feeling obscurely dissatisfied with life. The same voice can be heard elsewhere, pointing out that the number you have dialled does not exist (listen carefully and you can hear her mouthing the words, "...you ignorant pillock" under her breath). I'm not sure if it's she or her mother that was drafted in by the answering-machine fraternity to supply the maddening Sybil Thorndike voice you hear on every multi-line system, saying (none too encouragingly), "The otha parson naose yor waiting. Please haold the laine whahl we tray t'connict yaw"; but I long ago decided they must be the same person, and have borne a grudge against her ever since. Who could she be? A resting Lady Bracknell understudy? A BT employee who has spent a lifetime trying (and failing) to break into the Rank Charm School?

Not quite. She turns out to be a 57-year-old Telecom babe called Faith Hammond, who lives in Suffolk with her family; but, enragingly, she is not some harridan spinster in galoshes. Judging by her photograph in the Sun, she's a handsome, flame-haired Raquel Welch clone in a Herms scarf.

Bang goes another illusion. I do think one should be allowed to nurse one's idle prejudices, undisturbed by the intrusions of reality. I want my hate-figure back. In the meantime let us give thanks that BT has not succumbed to any Birtist mania for "non-Establishment" "non-metropolitan" voices. Some of BBC2's continuity announcers don't bear hearing more than once, let alone the four million times an hour that Ms Hammond is said to be doing her stuff. Let us hope that she's on a royalty.

H H H

How I sympathise with Ms Emma Nicholson, MP for Torridge and West Devon, whose back garden was invaded last Sunday by a group calling themselves the Lesbian Avengers. Ms Nicholson did not, sadly, enquire what precisely they were avenging (it seems they were incensed because Ms Nicholson had voted for the age of homosexual consent to be 18, not 16; but since neither age-limit applies to lesbians, their vengeance is beyond me) but she did complain about the presence, among her azaleas, of a Channel 4 camera team, filming a documentary about the aforesaid Avengers. I sympathise because I know (don't you?) the feeling - that of being surrounded by lesbians on all sides.

Television viewers now take it for granted that every second programme on any channel will now feature scenes of Sapphic rapture. In soap operas, meanwhile, it's become mandatory: no soap from Brookside to Emmerdale, from EastEnders to, I don't know, The Bill, is now free of multiple-bosom embraces and mutually longing glances from mascaraed eyes. And at about the time when the Lesbian Avengers were triumphantly climbing back into their charabanc last Sunday, the nation at large was treated to a full- blown lesbian romance, in the shape of Joanne Trollope's A Village Affair.

It was extraordinary. From the start it was clear that the whole village was pullulating with Radclyffe Halls and Sister Georges. The lady of the manor strode around in Beryl Reids (rhyming slang for "tweeds"), barking orders at her sheepish husband. The local women's-group busybody signalled her seductive intent by talking in updated RAF slang and saucily promising the heroine, "I'll whip you over a programme". A pinch-nosed antiquarian, kitted out in a scoutmaster's hat, manifested herself every 15 minutes to utter fearful warnings. Even the local pub featured a coven of mannish female shop assistants, with grog-blossomed faces and Chubby Brown hairstyles. I got the message. This was a variant of The Stepford Wives in which an entire village (The Stepford Dykes?) was threatening the virtue of the lamb-faced Sophie Ward. But blow me down, I was wrong. The only echt lesbian around was the daughter of the manor house, who dressed in a flighty-Sloane style (dangly earrings, bobbed hair, chain-mail blouses without any sleeves) you would assuredly not have seen in Emma Nicholson's back garden. The whole mise-en-scne was designed so as to make heterosexuals look gross and the illicit lovers as pretty as a Timotei commercial.

The curious thing, of course, is how much the main (non-Avenger) lesbian community dislike this stuff, however much it shows them in a sympathetic light. The gay women I spoke to after A Village Affair hooted with scorn at how coy and prettified the central relationship had been. And about the new Hollywood film Thin Ice, in which a ice-skating lesbian couple features centre-stage for the first time in a mainstream release. And about the cavortings of Fem 2 Fem, the omnisexual girl group. But it seems to be the nature of the sex to scorn all attempts to portray them in any light. I remember speaking to a Sapphist of mature years after a screening of Go Fish, last year's militantly right-on lesbian classic. Was it, ah, authentic? "Absolutely fine, darling," she told me, "apart from the sticking plaster". Come again? "You wouldn't know about this," she said, "but really active lesbians always have sticking plaster on their elbows. Lesbian sex involves an awful lot of elbow work, and one gets these terrible callouses..." Some people are never satisfied.

H H H

Once, every visit to the shops was like a game of Happy Families: you'd visit Mr Bunn the baker, or Mr Snips the barber, or Miss Shears the haberdasher and if you wanted anything else you'd go to Woolworth's. All that is gone. Mr Bunn is on the dole but hoping to get a job in Tesco's in-store bakery. Mr Snips is doing unisex hairdressing from a van. Miss Shears's shop is now a branch of the Halifax Building Society. And Woolworth's no longer seems to have anything you actually want. What's odd is how some existing shops seem keen to take over one another's businesses. For instance, Woolworth's now sells newspapers and magazines, which it never used to when it was successful. It's only a matter of time before WH Smith starts selling cup hooks and lengths of 13-amp fuse.

But this cross-fertilisation is as nothing compared to what's happening opposite the top-secret headquarters of MI6, on London's South Bank. There you find a petrol station that has somehow been merged with a fully functioning branch of Pizza Hut.

You can see the advantages, of course. The location has a useful captive market. After a hard night's spying, you can see why the trusty guardians of our society and its values might want to order in a medium deep-pan American Hot with extra mushrooms (or, security being what it is, send someone to go and fetch it).

But where is the logic of merging this temple of gastronomy with a petrol station? One process involves loading up the family motor with fuel which emits an odour guaranteed to turn the stomach; whereas takeaway pizza... Well, perhaps there is some logic to it after all.

In the same vein, it seems the Post Office is to go into the travel agency business. Far be it from the Weasel to scorn any commercial enterprise, but customers might be advised to consider the Post Office's celebrated vagueness about such little matters as times and destinations before braving the queue and placing an order. "Yeah?" "I'd like two weeks for two in Benidorm, please." "First or second, surface or air?" "I'm sorry?" "Do you want to go by air or surface?" "Oh, by air." "And first class or second class?" "What's the difference?" "First class is where we guarantee to deliver you when we say we will, at least seven times out of ten, providing you are correctly packaged, your address is prominently displayed and there are no circumstances outside our control." "And what's second class?" "Second class is where we lock you in the terminal for 24 hours to make absolutely sure you don't arrive before first class..."

H H H

Despite the odd unfortunate death-related incident, the rise of Prozac continues unabated. Not only is it a sure-fire cure for depression (if you survive it) and beneficial in eating disorders (it didn't get that "By Royal Appointment" tag for nothing), it also does wonders for compulsive licking, chewing and tail-biting.

Of course, to gain those benefits it helps if you are a dog, as Steven Melman, a celebrated New York vet has discovered. Astonishingly, the happy pill has proven more successful than canine psychotherapy, previously the cure of choice for the depressed pets of the wealthy Manhattan-dweller.

It does not, however, work with cats. It is said that they lack an enzyme necessary to metabolise the drug. Back on the couch, Tibbles. The Weasel

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