Editor-At-Large: Look who's worst off in recession – women, of course

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The Independent Online

Here's my advice on how to cope with the cascade of bad news on the economic front: pour a drink and eat a bar of chocolate. The Daily Mail is so concerned that it has taken to printing daily offers and bargains – but who is making these selections? There's a deluxe shiatsu massage chair reduced, by £20 to £179.99 and a set of drinks coasters for just £3.40. Most of us could save more money by rolling around on a couple of golf balls and standing our drinks on a bit of newspaper. There's redundant advice everywhere – a book on how to combine work and family talks of paying for home visits by a manicurist. Has the writer heard of Marie Antoinette?

Hundreds of workers are losing their jobs every day and the International Monetary Fund reckons we're facing the worst recession of any industrialised country. But those dispensing life coaching in books, newspapers and magazines don't seem to have realised that you can't have a work-life balance without having some work. And you can't economise if you don't have any money at all, and bargain hunting requires time to shop around without a bunch of kids hanging on your sleeves. The new life skills of thrift and economical time-management have been appropriated by the middle classes in order to keep the lower orders in their place, i.e. underachieving.

Good taste was devised by the upper and middle classes so the poor would feel excluded. Now, in an economic downturn, the same socio-economic group that foisted the notion of taste on us has taken over advising us how to live on a budget. You can't open an upmarket paper without hearing the collective bleating as these mums contemplate taking their kids out of private schools and sending them to the local comp. Private coaching is being cancelled, tennis lessons swapped for a trip to the local baths. Recycled old envelopes are used instead of Post-it notes. Yesterday, one posh newspaper offered a book full of money-saving tips, while another lists "desperate discounts" – such as that for a tilting parasol for the garden – every day. We've gone voucher mad, eagerly handing them over at the checkout, where once it was only the elderly and single mums who unashamedly produced carefully hoarded coupons.

As the recession bites, some women are taking a long time to get to grips with the new reality. Former PR Julia Hobsbawm, who teaches part-time and runs a networking business called Editorial Intelligence, has written a smug tome entitled The See-Saw: 100 Ideas for Work-Life Balance. She's lucky enough to have a house-husband who looks after the kids, unlike most women I know. Julia seems unaware that the sisterhood, who make up the bulk of part-timers in the UK, will feel the recession first as they are the cheapest workers to lay off. She witters on about flexible working, using buzzwords like "telephone tea" (a short meeting on the phone). Julia, you want to scream, how about devoting your considerable intelligence to helping the women who will be unemployed and whose partners may also be in the same boat?

Last week Honda shut down its factory in Swindon for four months. Workers will receive basic pay for two months and then a reduced number will be paid 60 per cent until production resumes, when they will be making just half as many cars as before. Work-life balance? Sounds very hard on just over half of your wage packet. Let's hear less about £10 off when you spend £120 at Nike, and more about real financial help.

Shock and awe: Joe Orton, the Russell Brand of his day

Don't miss Matthew Horne in the new production of Joe Orton's black farce 'Entertaining Mr Sloane' at the Trafalgar Studios in London. You couldn't imagine a character further removed from the lovable Gavin of 'Gavin and Stacey' fame and he gives a mesmerising performance.

Mr Sloane, Orton's first full-length play, is the story of a beautiful con man who ends up being shared between a simple middle-aged woman and her sexually repressed brother. The first act climaxes with Mr Sloane and Kath (played with real pathos by Imelda Staunton) going at it on the carpet, and the second features a sadistic murder.

Back in 1964, Orton was considered shocking, and even today the play is a brilliantly bleak piece of writing. You are sucked into a world of utter perversion. Luckily for Orton, both Harold Pinter and the establishment playwright Terence Rattigan supported 'Mr Sloane' and it transferred to a theatre in the West End shortly after it opened. Three years later, Orton was beaten to death by his lover, cutting short an extraordinary career.

Orton's take on sexual frustration and verbal and physical cruelty is gripping, and you can easily see why the establishment might find it threatening. The library books that he was sent to jail for vandalising (substituting pictures of naked men on the covers) are now the most valuable in Islington library service's collection.

In a bizarre twist of fate, the playwright is now studied at schools and universities. So will Russell Brand still seem so shocking in 10 years' time? Like Orton, he sets out to shock – and I think he will still be a big star.

Oh yes it is ... that wig again

My second theatrical experience last week was the opening night of my village panto – 'Hansel and Gretel' at the village hall in Middlesmoor in deepest North Yorkshire (a sell-out, capacity 72).

Things really livened up in the second act with a couple of local chaps in frocks playing the witch and a damsel in distress – although I am sure I saw the same sequinned top and blond wig on Widow Twanky in last year's production of 'Aladdin'. I might have to donate some of my cast-offs for the next show.

Don't ask me why they always stage a panto at the end of January. It's unmissable.

Bring back the trouser press

A new hotel opens this month in Soho, backed by the heavy metal band Iron Maiden, and pitched at musicians. Security will keep out fans and paparazzi, the bar will be open all hours, and staff will wear black. Sounds pretty unappealing.

I've just spent a night in a trendy hotel in Dublin described as "the place where all the big stars hang out". I couldn't switch off the iPod in my room and was terrified of being electrocuted by the plasma TV over the bath. The lighting was so atmospheric I couldn't find my black trousers on the floor and there seemed to be no phone, till a polished twig by my bed started bleeping at 6am.

Remember those halcyon days when all you got was a candlewick bedspread and a Corby trouser press?

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