Editor-At-Large: Humility - you can't knock it up in a blender

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The Independent Online

Role models - who needs them? Women can certainly do without that self-righteous diva of domesticity, Martha Stewart. On leaving court on Friday, facing five months in jail followed by the same period under house arrest and a couple of years' probation wearing an electronic tag, what did this icon do? Say sorry in one sentence and then beg us all to carry on buying her magazine and all her products in the very next breath. We can "show support" by pouring cash into the coffers of the company she set up and has earned a fortune from. Martha cleverly taps into our guilt by mentioning that 200 people have lost their jobs in this billion dollar business since she was found guilty, a result of lost ad revenue and poor sales. Tune into any one of the "save Martha" websites and you are implored to spend, spend, spend on Martha's merchandise to prevent the Hallowed One from going bust.

Martha is cleverly portrayed as an "ordinary" girl from a large working-class family who did well at school and then built up her business all by herself, fulfilling the classic American Dream. From lavatory seats to lobster recipes, wedding gifts to flowers, she dispenses advice to the anxious, the lonely and the socially needy with all the subtlety of a tank. Martha has cleverly tapped into ordinary women all over America. Log on to her website and read some of the 170,000 emails of support Martha has received since she was accused of using insider knowledge to dispose of shares and so avoid making a rather large loss. Since she was convicted in March of making a false claim about that sale, lying to investigators and obstructing justice, Martha Stewart's PR machine has gone into overdrive. She still thinks that her conviction was the result of a witch-hunt and that it relates to a small matter blown out of all proportion.

You and I are unlikely to move in the kind of circles where we would be telephoned and told privileged information relating to any shares we may hold. We are not going to be party to dynamite news such as that the owner of a particular company is planning to sell all his shares the next day. Martha sells herself as an "ordinary" woman, but nothing could be further from the truth. She is an arrogant, hard-headed greedy businesswoman who operates behind a carefully constructed image. Plenty of people fall for it, as those emails of support demonstrate: "I have benefited from you in countless ways" ... "you have made me more organised" ... "making a house more beautiful and comfortable is something to take pride in" ... "If someone picks up just one thing from your shows a week their life will be so much better" ... and, most revealingly, "I am alone with my pets and just seeing Martha doing her cooking and gardening is a great comfort".

Hang on a minute. We are not talking about a spiritual guru but a woman who sells stuff, be it teapots or loose covers. This is a multimillionairess who is wildly out of touch with the "real" world if she is willing to risk her whole reputation to save a measly £30,000. The ordinary people who have invested in her business, bought her fabrics, her magazines and her stationery don't have that opportunity to swindle. Any stocks and shares they may own have been purchased with hard-earned cash; when those shares drop, they lose.

Martha used everything to evade conviction - a "sentencing consultant" to mould her image and reduce the damage, PR experts to choose her court wardrobe, and a high-powered legal team including Walter Dellinger, a former White House legal adviser in the Clinton years. And when all her efforts failed, and she was sent to prison by a female judge, her admirers still bleated that "everyone lies about shares". I think you'll find that in Biloxi, Memphis and Tallahassee, this is not a crime the average poor working-class American has an opportunity to commit.

So, I've enjoyed the fact that 14,000 signatures on a petition had no effect, that hundreds of email prayers didn't reach the Almighty, and the begging letter to the President from 14,000 people was resisted. Like many "icons" Martha is not quite as impressive when you meet her: a small woman with a rather large rear. We were introduced at a fancy-dress birthday dinner a couple of years ago. There was a tropical theme, which she ignored, preferring unflattering white Capri pants and a girly pink and white gingham shirt. She looked over the shoulder of anyone who engaged her in conversation in case anyone more important or titled should appear on the terrace, and then stalked off imperiously to inspect our hostess's place settings, which clearly fell somewhat short of the required MS benchmark.

So I shall enjoy the five months when Martha is locked up performing domestic duties for 12 cents an hour in a prison where only 4 per cent of the inmates are white and the vast majority are serving sentences for drug offences. If nothing else, perhaps she'll learn something that you can't knit, knock up in a blender or stencil on a bathroom wall. It's called humility.

Driving me crazy  

For once Ken Livingstone has the right idea with his proposal to charge four-wheel drive vehicles double to enter the congestion charging zone in London. I owned one of these gas guzzlers, a top-of-the-range Discovery, complete with huge bull bars on the front, for six years. It was like driving around in an empty ballroom waiting for dancing partners to arrive, and when I finally encountered a dangerous blizzard, I had no idea how to engage the off-road gearbox. Over the years I've cured myself of an addiction to flashy cars, progressing from a Daimler to a BMW to a classic Mercedes SLC. These days I don't drive in the city. I keep the world's most dreary car, an ancient Corsa, in Yorkshire. It has emerged that more people own 4x4 vehicles in London than any rural area - since when did children need to be driven to school in vehicles the size of a small bedsit? As status symbols they simply announce you're both stupid and selfish.

¿ My only beef about the new Countryside Code is that it seems to be aimed at walkers and dog owners. By far the biggest threat to anyone in rural areas are the gangs of high-speed motorbikes driven by middle-aged men trying to recapture their youth. A huge increase in accidents has been directly attributed to the growing number of 45-year-olds on expensive motorbikes. Our village resonates with the thunder of throttles from 8am every Saturday and Sunday as dozens of these greying Barry Sheenes roar past. Every peaceful bridleway over the moors has been discovered by more men on motorbikes, intent on ploughing up the ground and making as much noise as possible. I don't know why landowners are so exercised by the Countryside Code and the right to roam - these berks on two wheels pose a far greater threat to their land and the wildlife on it.

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