Editor-At-Large: There's more to life than a shiny U-bend

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The Independent Online

Housework - woman's work or a male conspiracy to keep us in our place? After all, it's pretty hard to be taken seriously if you're wearing Marigolds and clutching a duster. How I loathe housework. It reminds me of my teenage years when my parents refused to give me any pocket money unless I had ironed all the sheets each week, cleaned the bathroom and vacuumed the carpets. By the way, I was studying for exams, working as hard as my father, but somehow housework was never considered part of his script for life. The minute I got a job, I got a cleaner.

So when I read in the Daily Mail that housework can reduce the likelihood of women getting breast cancer, I was hugely cynical. Like, not having breasts could reduce the chances of me getting breast cancer. Having a willy and a pair of testicles would lower my chances of getting breast cancer even more.

Are we really expected to believe that squirting bleach at the bath, whisking a brush around a mucky lavatory bowl and several back-breaking hours loading and unloading the dishwasher, the washing machine, the oven and the groceries from the car boot, will lessen our chances of contracting the disease that attacks 40,000 women a year in England and Wales - an 80 per cent increase over the past 35 years?

Are more women being struck down with breast cancer because we are employing cleaners, insisting our partners get off their backsides to help or, sin of all sins, deciding that there are more important things in life than a sparkling U-bend or a gleaming ceramic hob? Things such as reading for pleasure, going to the gym, having a glass of wine, yacking to your mates on the phone or cuddling your kids. All pastimes my parents' generation didn't exactly place at the top of their list of essentials in life. To them, women were judged by the dust on their sideboard.

So, if the Daily Mail is to be believed, we may not develop tumours, but we will get slipped discs, back strain and fatigue, as we combine a full day at work with the necessary anti-cancer stint of housework. What a joke!

In fact, the study in question looked at the health of more than 200,000 women in nine countries over a six-and-a-half-year period. Almost 3,500 developed breast cancer. Research found a correlation between moderate exercise and good health. Not exactly hold-the-front-page news: we've known for years that gentle, regular exercise is just as beneficial as going to the gym or doing more strenuous activity on an infrequent basis. These researchers claimed, however, that women who did the most housework - over the average of 18 hours a week - were 19 per cent less likely to contract breast cancer than those who did not.

How do people manage to spend more than 18 hours a week cleaning their own homes? Do they live in palaces? Or are they professional cleaners working in hotels and offices for slave wages under the EU minimum (which is frequently the case these days) - in which case they won't be getting breast cancer, but they will be suffering from malnutrition, living on junk food and coping with chronic fatigue from travelling huge distances to work in the small hours of the morning on public transport.

As far as I'm concerned, there is no correlation whatsoever between being house-proud and evading cancer. Eating the right food, being of the lucky genetic type, not smoking and living a relatively stress-free life may all contribute. But don't patronise me with crap about dusting my way to better health.

I look forward to the day when a house cleans itself. Electrolux is on the way: it has developed high-tech shoes called Dustmates that vacuum-clean your floors as you walk around your home. How fabulous! Sadly, this life-enhancing concept is still a prototype, but I expect it will be in the shops long before anyone has come up with a vaccine for breast cancer. In the meantime, plan on doing even less housework in 2007 and you'll be making a decision you won't regret.

Fun, modest and well balanced. How come Zara got an honour?

The honours system has long been a joke, in spite of the Government telling us that every effort is being made to make it more egalitarian, more female and more reflective of our rainbow society. I guess that's why ageing crooner Rod Stewart, turkey king Bernard Matthews, Corrie sleazeball Mike Baldwin (actor Johnny Briggs) and the former chief executive of the Football Association David Davies all got gongs. It would have been fairer just to give every white male over 50 in showbusiness and sport a certificate thanking them for living so long. It really is Buggins' turn, a bit like the last days of that telly classic This is Your Life, when they got so desperate for people to "do" they resorted to musicians of yesteryear such as Bert Weedon. But at least Zara Phillips deserved her MBE- and she's fun, well-balanced and modest about her achievements. A great advertisement for sport, unlike most of the male suits who run organisations such as the Football Association.

100 not out: Us seniors just wanna have fun

I've managed to fill in the 16-page form devised by Gordon Brown in order to claim my pension (and he's surprised pensioners don't claim their fuel allowances - they probably can't face ploughing through the requisite paperwork). Although I am assured I don't look a day over 40 (especially if the light is good and I haven't been partying the night before), I am now officially a senior citizen. So I start 2007 inspired by Rose Albutt, who has turned 100 and decided to start a new life with her son and daughter-in-law on the remote island of Yell in the Shetlands. After a long journey from Birmingham via Aberdeen, Rose (below) went out to look at the local wildlife the minute she arrived. That's the spirit!

Good riddance: to the fry-up firm that pretended it had chefs

It's last orders for Little Chef, the fast-food chain where a full English breakfast was available all day long. The idea of giving what was essentially a fry-up café a name that implied a fully trained cook created tailored meals there was a particularly English conceit. What catering skills were required exactly to reheat baked beans, fry eggs and microwave bacon? Then there were the strange triangles of fried bread, the brick-shaped potato croquettes and the laminated menus which ensured uniformity the length and breadth of dual-carriageway Britain. As M&S expands its outlets in motorway service areas, expect to see more fast-food chain casualties. We live in the age of the crayfish and rocket sandwich or the chicken Caesar wrap and I'm not the tiniest bit sentimental about the demise of Little Chef.

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