Things we love to loathe

BBC2's hit series Grumpy Old Men reveals the bilious psyche of modern British maledom. But what about the nation's female curmudgeons? Don't they deserve a say? Meet our panel of Victoria Meldrews...
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Yasmin Alibhai-Brown Independent columnist

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown Independent columnist

I'm so bored with this fad of people who never stop talking about their diets. What's shocking is not the brainless little girls who keep talking about them but that some of the most intelligent people I know and respect today talk to me about nothing else. And they are men as well as women, old as well as young. We're not talking about healthier diets, it's just how much they've lost and how much they're going to lose and how it gives them a sense of worth that their own brain and own achievement don't seem to have given them. It's completely disproportionate; they are great achievers and yet they're so delighted because they've lost a stone.

Sue Arnold writer

I hate it when you ask someone to do something and they say "whatever". It used to be "Whatever you'd like mother, dear." I hate that sort of talk and I also hate people's inflection going up at the end of a sentence as if they are asking a question. I hate everything to do with Tolkein and being told to go and watch The Lord of the Rings. I hate the fact that I can't buy things I used to buy in the old days. Yesterday I was trying to cook a piece of pork and my supermarket just hadn't heard of crackling. There isn't a butcher for hundreds of miles. When I first came to live in Chelsea there was a fishmonger, a butcher and a baker. Now it's all in the supermarket, so you really have to poke about and find a butcher who knows that a leg of pork has a bone in it.

And why have some things become so expensive? I used to give a child a pound to get a key cut; they were always losing their keys when they were at school and a pound would easily cover it. Now an ordinary Yale key costs nearly £10. I thought that was extraordinary. We live in a cottage and have a great big key, and I went to get it cut the other day and they said it would cost £45. In the old days I probably could have bought the house for £45...

Joan Bakewell writer and broadcaster

As you get older certain things irritate you. iPods, for instance. How could anyone need so many songs at any one time? It's hyper-technology: soon they will have a million songs and be the size of a dot. Piercing and tattoos. Oh dear. All parents feel this. They give birth to an exquisitely soft, peachy-skinned baby who grows up into a gorgeous child who then wants to laser parts of their body or cut it open and put things through it.

I hate television channels chasing a young audience. Teenagers shouldn't be watching television: they should be out taking drugs and getting pregnant. The older population, which likes more staid programmes, sits there wondering why they are having to watch endless gaudy nonsense. I hate politicians claiming Churchill to authenticate what they do. Mrs Thatcher did it. Tony Blair has done it. George Bush has done it. Let's get this straight. Churchill was a great war leader, but he had many faults.

Four-wheel drive vehicles should be banned from cities: we all hate them and they get in the way. They are secular tanks. I hate the updated C of E liturgy. I want to commit trespasses, not sins. Does it make more people devout? I doubt it. Counselling: it's gone too far. Of course you need it if you have been in a traumatic situation. But you have a minor burglary and you're offered counselling; it stops you developing a strength of character of your own.

Bea Campbell writer

Very rich people being very, very silly, such as Madonna, Britney Spears and Prince Charles. Just being perfectly pointless and daft and being a waste of space and a waste of time. They have no excuse. And those of us who are not rich have them thrust in front of us all the time. The polarisation between the rich parts of the world and the pauperised parts of the world, and the endorsement of that state of affairs by our own Government. The willingness to go to war to sort out problems that we created in the first place. The accelerating decline of my own industry, journalism, and the commitment to trivialisation which we see both in journalism and broadcasting.

Terrible traffic. Irradiated strawberries at any time of the year. And finally, grumpy old men. They are very, very irritating. They enjoy being irritating, they enjoy being politically malevolent and cynical, they enjoy being seen and heard, they enjoy wasting everybody's time. They enjoy their power and they do nothing very useful with it.

Jilly Cooper writer

What really irritates me is the way we are crucifying people, like poor Prince Charles. The media have got to leave people alone. It's frightening what they are doing. The fun has gone out of society. I can't bear the idea of air marshalls and this terrifying move to violence. I don't want John Prescott building houses all over the countryside, either. Everybody slags off the poor police but they work so hard. I can't bear that terrible laboratory they are going to build in Cambridge where monkeys are going to have their brains torn apart. Nobody has proved that animal testing does any good at all for humans. I think television is getting bitchy. We seem to have got into a gladiatorial age when it's a public spectacle to see people being torn apart either on the page or on television. I would like a bit more friendliness, a bit of joy. I can't stand intellectuals who get above themselves and start ranting on about history on the television. They suddenly become celebrities, these terribly ugly men. But it's a wonderful world to live in, particularly if you look out of the window. It's so beautiful.

Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour MP

Apart from toilet seats and too much football on the television, number one is miserable old men. They are so full of themselves. They haven't got enough to do and they think they know it all. The next is head waiters who assume that women can't be of any importance and should be hidden by the lavatories. Equal pay. Why should women - who are usually better than their male equivalents - not have the same rate of pay?

And finally, trains that run round middle England when I'm trying to go directly somewhere else. I think people are increasingly irritated with trains that cost more and more, that are uncomfortable and late and you're told you're getting a better service. Women fundamentally object to the assumption that men make about them, and they are summed up for me in the train conductor when he collects a ticket from a man and says sir and to a woman says duck. And the assumption that somehow or other running a home and looking after children also should somehow entitle you automatically to return to work. I think occasionally women feel it would be nice if they could just reduce four jobs to three.

Meredith Etherington-Smith 'Dinner Party Inspector' and writer

I loathe traffic wardens. They have something of the night about them even at 8.30am. It is unspeakable that the Government plans to extend their powers. They rule over my little cul-de-sac with a rod of iron - at 8.15am everyone's out of their houses moving their cars around so they don't get nicked. I hate them.

I also hate that upward inflection at the end of a sentence that came from Australian soaps. When they say, "I'm going to uni", they squeak the last word. Also, I can't stand university being called "uni". It sounds like some kind of cleaner. I abhor any Australianisms, really. Euurgh. And when young people say, "I so hate that" or "I so don't go there", it makes my toes curl. It's not grammatical. It's just silly. I don't even respond when someone talks to me like that.

Lastly, I can't stand double-glazing salespeople who ring you at 7.30pm or, even worse, at 8.30am. I hate them. I feel very sorry for them, locked away in call centres but when you are at home expecting a call from a friend for a jolly chat and instead they call you to ask, "Erm, have you um ever thought of having your kitchen redone?", it makes me so angry. Any irritation at 8.30am - be they salespeople or traffic wardens - is just uncivilised.

Ann Leslie broadcaster and journalist

Telephones. I absolutely loathe that every time I'm on hold, Vivaldi's Four Seasons is played relentlessly. I also detest the phrase "please hold - your call is very important to us". Well, if it's that important, why not hire more call centre people to answer my call? I don't care if they're in Bombay or Timbuktu as long as they answer.

And I hate all the options you get which are never the ones you want: "Press 1 for septic tank, press 2 for fold-away exercise bikes, press 3 for disposable fish pellets." What they should really have is "Press 1 for a human being, no matter how daft". Also, while I'm a peaceful person by nature, I get trolley rage. When someone who has a trolley filled with 19 tins of Whiskas and 33 bags of cheese-and-onion crisps pushes in front of me, I get a red mist of murderous rage and want to stab not only the fat cow with the trolley, but the cashier who allowed her through. And I hate packaging that purports to be child-proof. It not only defeats children but also grumpy old people like me who are as fit as a flea. I got a can of foie gras for Christmas that took half an hour to open: and it took two adults, two spanners and finally a hammer to do just that.

Bel Mooney writer

I try to fight the middle-aged tendency to grumpiness, and I do love life but I do find myself irritated by how sloppy people can be - about everything from spelling, through bothering to give their children decent meals, to old-fashioned good manners. I'm tough-minded about the excuse culture that means nobody is allowed to say, "You just don't cut it, so get out of here!" Sometimes this nation seems like one great collective "sickie", and still New Labour bleats abut 50 per cent of people getting degrees. Meaningless. Trains from Bath to London are far worse than they were in the Eighties, and I'm dumbfounded that we allow life to get so much worse in terms of detail - like no longer being able to ring one number for

Directory Enquiries. Do you remember how one could send a telegram? Aaaaagh! Oh, and what about reality TV, the brain-dead obsession with celeb-and-pop culture that infects even quality newspapers; porno-chic; the silly notion that fashion can be art; and conspicuous consumption in the form of "must-haves"? The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are alive and well and listening to Victoria Beckham on their iPods.

Deborah Ross Independent columnist

I hate telephone cold-callers, based in Bangalore or wherever, who want to know how many windows you would replace if you could. Try saying: "Well, as it happens, I'm a mole, so windows are of no interest to me whatsoever. However, I am thinking of extending my burrow. Do you do home improvement loans, by any chance?" That usually gets rid of them. I hate all supermarkets apart from Waitrose, which at least gives the impression of quite liking food. In particular, I can't stand the way they sell "ripe and ready" produce at a premium. Isn't that what they should be selling anyway? I hate pizza leafleters. I could repaper our entire house in pizza leaflets. I hate Ikea, largely because I always miss the turning off the North Circular and end up in Wembley, which has very little going for it. I hate those indoor play centres for children called things like Clowntown and The Pirates Playhouse because they smell of Monster Munch and pee and you can't have a fag. I hate Mp3 players because we bought one for our son for Christmas and we can't work it. I hate instruction manuals, especially the one that came with the Mp3 player and might make sense in the original Korean, but loses something in translation: "Now you are at shortly, stop." Lastly, I hate anyone who is prettier or cleverer than me, which is just about everyone. I'm so grumpy I can't even remember what I like anymore.