Editor-At-Large: I won't hear a word against Thatcher (Carol, that is)

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The Independent Online

However much one is tempted to gloat at the news that the preening male chauvinist pig Mark Thatcher was bumped down to earth when his shoes, jacket and mobile phone were nicked from a prison cell in South Africa (all over Britain one could almost hear the collective cry "RESULT!!!'), let's spare a thought for his extremely nice and

However much one is tempted to gloat at the news that the preening male chauvinist pig Mark Thatcher was bumped down to earth when his shoes, jacket and mobile phone were nicked from a prison cell in South Africa (all over Britain one could almost hear the collective cry "RESULT!!!'), let's spare a thought for his extremely nice and long-suffering sister, Carol. Besieged by journalists seeking her reaction to the news that her brother was facing serious charges that could result in a 15-year jail sentence, she supplied the pithy quote, "I'm not a big fan of Africa and I'm not a big fan of my brother", proving that there is one member of the Thatcher family with some moral scruples.

Carol has always worked hard as a journalist, whereas her brother has mysteriously arrived at a large fortune in a series of clandestine business deals. And he's been bailed out of trouble by rich mates, mum, and anyone impressed by his surname. And because Mrs Thatcher loved her long suffering husband so much, and wanted to reward him for all he sacrificed for her, the hereditary peerage Denis was awarded subsequently bestowed an obscenely unwarranted honour on her son.

If ever there was a case for abolishing the honours system, Mark Thatcher personifies it. As for poor Carol, she is living proof that some mothers dote too much on their sons and don't reward their loyal daughters enough. I realise only too well how dreary it is being the sibling of someone even remotely well-known when year after year tabloid journalists descend on my sister and pester the living daylights out of her. God knows, my opinions about my mother and the rest of the world shouldn't be my sister's problem. And so we shouldn't bug Carol about the horrible man she unfortunately is closely related to, just celebrate the fact that she is such a good sport.

The bad book guide

The Thatcher family also figures indirectly on the list of nominees for the Man Booker literary prize. One of the hot favourites is Alan Hollinghurst's novel The Line of Beauty, set in London between two Tory election victories in 1983 and 1987. Like many of you, I choose my holiday reading based on those round-ups of what the great and the good say their "books of the year". Having paid £16.99 for this massive tome, I spent a week in Spain ploughing through it. At the end I was exasperated, unfulfilled and uninspired. I have now revisited the bookshop where it was purchased and complained vociferously. I begrudge spending about four hours a day of my hard-earned holiday reading utter bilge and, believe me, Alan Hollinghurst is the Sebastian Faulks of the moment. Last year, in a poll, I dared to contradict popular literary opinion and chose Mr Faulks's feeble novella On Green Dolphin Street as one of the most overrated books I have ever read. I subsequently received a heartening number of letters in agreement. I put it to you that Mr Hollinghurst is a member of the same literary luvvies club, where no one within the cosy coterie of reviewers and fellow authors will dare to criticise the golden boy of the moment.

OK, Hollinghurst is gay, and has a nice line in well-observed satire, and his first novel The Swimming Pool Library was highly praised. But - and this is a bloody big BUT - in The Line of Beauty he spends hundreds of pages chronicling the world through the eyes of his central character Nick, a limp Oxford graduate staying in the house of a new Tory MP in Kensington. Far from providing any exhilarating critique of the impact Maggie's policies were having on Britain, he gives us endless waffle about coke-taking and gay sex, pretentious upper middle-class house parties in France and irritating Tory badinage around the breakfast table.

Nick's black, working-class lover Leo is described in an unbelievably patronising way, and when Mr Hollinghurst calls Mrs Thatcher's face "a fine if improbable fusion of the Vorticist and the Baroque" you can feel a clever writer trying way too hard to impress. Hollinghurst was compared to Scott Fitzgerald by the Daily Telegraph and the novel was described as "exquisitely written" by The Sunday Times. For my money, go and read Cyril Connolly's The Rock Pool. That is satire; this is flabby, pseudo-fashionable bilge. Both the Thatcher years and the story of London's gay community facing the Aids epidemic in the 80s deserve a better social historian.

¿ Tennis is like sex; you work like mad at it for short intensive periods, and then wonder why, when you pick it up a year later, you're rubbish. Tim Henman crashed out of the Olympics the other day at the very moment I started the annual quest to rebuild my game. Since the prehistoric era when I was in the school tennis team, not a year has gone past when I don't try to crank my tennis back up to some semblance of respectability. I've forked out for coaches in three continents over four decades. From the Florida Keys to Bermuda, from Sardinia to Beverly Hills, from west London to eastern Australia, I've chucked the ball up at "one o'clock", I've swung my racquet in a series of kung fu-style sweeps, and I've bent my knees and dropped my shoulders. And the end result? Like thousands of other Brits, I pick up the racquet on day one of my summer holiday only to discover a fresh aspect of technique has mysteriously gone missing. Over the next week or two I drag myself out of bed each day at dawn, throw cold water over my head while downing two painkillers to deal with the previous night's vat of alcohol (who says the new wine of the moment, rosé, doesn't produce hangovers?) and then submit to sweltering hours of ritual humiliation on court.

At the end of it, I will be soaking wet and, like an ageing spaniel or labrador, I will have assimilated one small movement in response to an order issued by my temporary master. He'll not be sweating at all, and will be clad in matching navy blue Nike kit, effortlessly swatting back my weird assortment of shots, always patiently praising, offering small nuggets of advice: "Knees. Follow through. Drop that shoulder. Keep that racquet head up."

A week later I will leave the court ecstatic. The Williams sisters have nothing to fear, but I'm pleased to report that, although you can never reclaim your virginity, it is at least possible to resurrect your forehand. So, until next year, hoorah!

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