Flowery sentiments wilt as Secretaries Day gets the cash message

WASHINGTON DIARY

YOU WILL appreciate the vital significance of Secretaries Day in the US when you recall that one of the chief claims made by Paula Jones, who alleges you-know-who did you-know-what to her in a hotel room in Arkansas seven years ago, was that she did not receive flowers on Secretaries Day - an omission she interpreted as punishment for non-compliance. Whether she did or not (get flowers, of course) is actually the subject of intricate legal argument: one witness said the non-bouquet was a simple oversight, another - that flowers were sent, but she was away, and a third - that she had given specific orders for any flowers to be left without water to wilt.

Well, Secretaries Day fell last week and I regret to say our office assistant (not secretary, please) did not get flowers, perfume or lunch at my, or the Independent's, expense. This was not because of anything she had done or not done - but because I was meeting my deadline, and anyway, I regard the whole business as a commercialised and condescending charade, designed to make up for what is still, even in this land of aggressive equal opportunity, a distinctly unequal male-female relationship.

To my amazement, there are others of like mind. As a certain Joanna Torrey said in a letter that day in USA Today: "Floral tributes instantly mire the secretary-boss relationship in an uneasy emotional context presuming an intimacy that neither exists nor is invited. At the risk of sounding ungrateful ... what secretaries really would like is money."

IT MAY BE coincidence that Secretaries Day is followed by Take your daughters to work day, but I doubt it. More likely it is a male conspiracy to ensure a continued supply of loyal and comely Fawn Halls and Betty Curries for the next generation of erring Ollie Norths and Bill Clintons. But wait: it wasn't only Secretaries Day that felt a backlash this year. Sons are apparently feeling left out, so some parents rebelled and took their boys along, too - and they got all the publicity. Isn't that just typical? Now you know affirmative action is really on the way out.

THE US media are working themselves up into a lather of indignation about the imminent appearance of Teletubby toys in US shops. Reporters are digging out all manner of lobbyists and "concerned" parents to condemn what they see as the immoral, reprehensible and regrettable targeting of a "gap market" of one-to-two- year-olds. Aren't the innocents exposed to commercial pressures early enough (two onwards), they wail; is nothing sacred? As though these "innocents" were not already planted in front of the television half the day, as though child-targeted commercials between children's programmes were something new, as though American schools were not selling their souls to give Coca-Cola and other companies "exclusive" marketing rights on campus in return for a new sports hall, computers or text books. Hello-o-o, as they say here with a particular curling inflection, what are these people talking about? Could their sudden distaste for raising the consumer consciousness of toddlers have anything to do with the fact that Teletubbies are "foreign", and already a runaway success?

AT THE RIPE old age of 60, Jane Fonda is still as refreshingly disdainful of tact as ever. At a recent UN round table she had less than kind words for her adopted state of Georgia, where she lives with her media millionaire husband, Ted Turner. There were parts in the north of the state, she said, that resembled a Third World country, with children "starving to death" and "people who live in tar-paper shacks with no indoor plumbing". The Governor, Zell Miller, who felt slighted by this slur, objected, accusing her of seeing everything from her penthouse apartment in Atlanta, where "maybe the view is not as clear as it needs to be".

Ms Fonda offered a generous apology: "I was wrong; I should not have said what I said. My comments were inaccurate and ill-advised." At which point a cavalier rushed in to rescue her - former Georgia governor, US president and peanut farmer Jimmy Carter. In a letter to the Atlanta Journal- Constitution, signed jointly with his wife, Rosalynn, he said that "having worked with her on issues of concern to Georgia's least fortunate, we know that she does not deserve the vituperative condemnation she has received".

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