It's hard to take time out with a toy boy

Vanessa Thorpe on a priggish publication
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The Independent Online
SINGLES NIGHT in a Covent Garden function room and eyes are darting about lasciviously. "It's simply a biological fact," reasons 61-year-old divorcee John Peerman, wine glass in hand. "Older men are naturally attracted and attractive to younger women, whereas an older woman who wants to meet a younger man is just being immature."

Around him, women of all ages roll their eyes. Yet, this week, such views - put forward in this case by a man who was, strictly speaking, too old to comply with the door policy at the party - have won support from a very young and trendy organ.

Time Out, the famously politically correct London listings magazine, has refused to print an advert inviting older women and younger men to a "Toy Boy Party" on St Valentine's Night.

The magazine turned down the small ad, aimed at women in their 50s and men in their 30s, because it was ageist and struck the wrong tone.

"If we set a precedent, people would want to use expressions like this in all our lonely-hearts listings," said Nigel Tradewell, Time Out's advertising manager. "Our policy on these things is very strict and we just think a phrase like toy boy is a bit tacky."

The party, which will go ahead on 14 February as planned in an hotel near Leicester Square, is being organised by Active Introductions, a company set up last year by Ian Benson.

Time Out told him the ad had been rejected because "relationships between older women and younger men are not the norm". The sales team then showed their distaste by asking Active Introductions not to forward any details of the Toy Boy party to anybody who had previously replied to their other regular adverts inside the magazine.

Mr Benson is outraged by Time Out's apparent attitude to relationships of the kind recently made glamorous by actors Ralph Fiennes and Francesca Annis.

"I think it is an outrageous decision. The lack of a sense of humour and fun is amazing. Of course relationships are going to be ageist, in the same way that they are bound to be sexist and sometimes even racist. It is all very proper for job advertisements - but it can never be part of the way that couples get together."

"I think that is appalling," said feminist writer Camille Paglia of Time Out's veto. "It is political correctness gone mad. How dare they censor a private ad like that? It is absolutely totalitarian. Anyone has the right to hold whatever kind of reception they want whether it is for drag queens, people of small stature or people in zebra-skin mini skirts.

"I think we should say this decision is extraordinary. We should ridicule it because it is so prim." It was very distressing, she added, that a magazine "as good as Time Out" is should do this.

Mr Benson first decided to hold the Toy Boy evening because he had noticed how often older women were getting together with younger men at his singles' evenings. At an Active Introductions party held on Thursday evening, Irene Maxwell, 43, was appalled both by Time Out's decision and by the views of some of the older male guests.

"I have never ever been out with an older man and, when I was 41, I actually went out with a 22-year old," she said. "It was nothing to do with being immature. I am just looking for fun and so are they."

In her experience, she said, many British men aged 40 and above were pompous or narrow-minded.

"You don't go out looking for younger men. In the end it is all about a look across the room, isn't it? You just know when someone is snoggable."

Older men on the singles scene, according to Irene, are usually looking for a young woman to give them an ego boost and make them feel younger.

"I am quite happy about my age, though," she said. "If someone asks me I will tell them straightaway." She did, however, admit to getting a kick from telling her friends when she was seeing a 22-year old.

Despite Time Out's censorious stand, Mr Benson believes he will have little trouble finding 500 guests for his Valentine's party. "Every personal ad they carry mentions ages, so it just seems silly." Unrepentant, he is now planning a Sugar Daddy party.