A bracing dip in Majorville

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MAJORISM has made it into the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, so now everyone wants to know what it is. The daily Independent has invited readers to send in suggestions; reporters have been dispatched to Brixton to see if they can spot it. But I can tell them that they are looking in the wrong place.

I discovered Southwold last week, and I shall be back this bank holiday, basking in Majorism. Southwold is a seaside resort which stopped in 1962, before sexual intercourse began. In Southwold, children play purposefully on the beach with buckets and spades, in knickers and cardigans, while their parents huddle cheerfully behind windbreaks or brew tea in beach huts. When you undress for your dip in the sludgy-brown sea, you do it beneath a home-made towelling beach robe with an elasticated neck.

Southwold is time travel in Suffolk: a town of warm beer and cold sea, where mums, dads and children walk along the front in the evening, the Methodist hall offers improving talks on local history, and householders fly Union Jacks in their front gardens. It is not twee, nor is it tainted by ghetto blasters, louts or post-modern confusions. It is a place of utter respectability, run according to lower-middle-class values of self-improvement and not annoying your neighbours. For me, it is a return to blissful childhood. It is where John Major should be holidaying, rather than letting down Majorists by fleeing to a villa in Portugal. He would have been perfect as the Mayor of Southwold.

UNHAPPILY for him, he is Prime Minister of Britain - a place rather more bewildering than Southwold. We came back on the train from Bologna a couple of weeks ago with lots of other British families and their Volvos: you wouldn't have thought it was possible to collect so many people in smart casuals all in one place. There was nothing written on the MotoRail tickets which barred you from travelling unless you had an estate car and at least two alert- looking children, so I can only presume they must have checked us out privately. 'We're not like this, are we?' we hissed, frowning at our alert-looking children.

We pretended we were more radical than the other families. We muttered about how we were only ever doing this again with a really unsuitable sports car. We ostentatiously let the children go to bed without washing. Most subversively, I went to collect the car when it came off the train, because there was another rule that only men were supposed to do that. Women were supposed to supervise the children and mind the bags, but the children were so well-behaved and the other families weren't the thieving type, so this was kind of boring.

Then we got on the ferry, which was a completely different class of transport experience. The ferry, unlike the train, allowed people on it wearing shell suits: fatter, louder, heavier-drinking people, with estuarine accents. Nothing wrong with that, oh no: I often wish I'd hung on to more of my own Essex Girl screech. But I sat there looking at the different Britain represented by the ferry: ruder, more insecure and frantic, less at home with the rest of Europe, more at home with the awful food served on the ferry. And I thought that if I had to choose (and you do, these days, all the time), well . . .

HERE'S a nasty new hurdle for people aiming to pass themselves off as a member of the chattering classes: have you a) heard of, and b) read the article about Sylvia Plath in this week's New Yorker? (I am told it is increasingly imperative to have read the New Yorker). It's 70,000 words long, so not actually an article at all, but a small book. I spent two hours waiting to see my doctor about the ankle I've destroyed falling off my platform soles, and hardly got started.

If you have not fallen off your shoes recently and so have to get on with life, you will not have time to read it. So . . . the most useful dinner party fact in it is that a woman once found Plath's husband Ted Hughes so devastatingly attractive that she had to leave the room to vomit.

THE reason I never smoked was all that hanging around behind bike sheds: much too cold. I've always imagined that for most people, the main point of growing up must be not having to get covered with goosepimples every time they want a fag. But wandering around the City this week, I was staggered by the number of people reliving that bike-shed experience: smoking in doorways, banned from buildings.

One management had thoughtfully provided ashtrays on the pavement, which was just as well, because there were 5,000 people inside, but no smoking room. A steady stream of smokers trooped out, lit up, and hung around looking self- conscious. At another, a dealer said shiftily that, no, of course it wasn't a very good idea for him to be away from his desk, and he hoped someone was covering.

I am amazed that anyone ever thought this doorway smoking was an intelligent arrangement. It clutters up the pavements with cold people; to get into office foyers, you first have to negotiate a lot of embarrassed, shivery staff. There also seems something absurd about beautifying buildings with expensive arrangements of lobelia and Busy Lizzie only to have the flowers compete with doorways ankle-deep in fag ends.