John Walsh: Tales of the City

Think of Peter Andre as an innocent young knight and Jordan as a shrivelled virgin...
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The Independent Online

Did you know that, in December this year, the words "bachelor" and "spinster" will no longer be used on marriage certificates in the UK? How extraordinary they've been allowed to hang around in popular (if quasi-legal) documents for so long. For they're terribly unfair, are they not? They both mean "unmarried" but one is loaded with positive energies and the other is weighed down with dismal negatives.

A bachelor used to mean "a young knight who follows the banner of another because he's too young to display his own". How charming that is; I think we can all picture this gilded youth, apple-cheeked, fair-skinned, slender, impetuous in battle, desperate to prove himself to the ladies and acquire his own banner?

The word also means a chap who's got a first degree at university, and also "a young, unmated bull seal", so a composite picture builds up. We now have in our heads a 21-year-old knight with golden locks, a shiny breastplate and a BA (Hons) in History, who is also a wonder of nature slithering along the seashore, virginal but hugely potent, desperate to mate. Quite an appealing thought, if you take the smell of fish out of the equation.

"Spinster," on the other hand, doesn't do anyone any favours. It means an unmarried woman, but more specifically an "old maid", and derives from woman-who-is-only-good-for-the-spinning-house - a place where, in less enlightened times, elderly virgins were sent to be least trouble to the community. Pinched of face and wizened of hymen, they could sit there for ever, spinning yarns both literal and figurative and dreaming of the gorgeous young knight (with a faint resemblance to a bull seal) whom they once met but failed to get off with.

You see how unfair this is to women, married or otherwise? The word for "unwed" male offers you a matinee idol like Heath Ledger, all flaxen and bulging; the one for "unwed female" makes you think of the old crone in Snow White, eternally parked at a spinning wheel, a Sleeping Beauty with whom nobody wants to sleep. Why is one young and one old? Why were you allowed to be a bachelor gay (the title of a song from the 1916 musical Maid of the Mountains) but never a spinster gay - although in the 1930s, some young and attitudinous professional women were patronisingly deemed " bachelor girls."

It's pretty obvious why the terms are being quietly dropped. "A bachelor," my father used to say, "is a man with no children to speak of." I am now a man with three of them to speak of, but still no urgent intent to marry. Among my female acquaintances are women who've had long, passionate affairs for years, and possibly more sex than anyone in history, and none is fit to be consigned to any spinning-house. They and I, chronically and happily unmarried, looked with amazement at the shocking outbreak of marriages at the weekend and thought: what is it they think they're getting (outside the £2m wedding from Hello!)? But if you ever thought the terms bachelor and spinster had lost their relevance, try to think of Peter Andre as an innocent young knight, and Jordan as a shrivelled, virginal garment-weaver ...

Extra time, anyone?

Random thoughts while watching the Test match:

1. Why does the skinny umpire signal "Out" by extending his index finger crooked into an R shape? Is he signifying "Return to the pavilion "? Or saying "you're Rubbish"?

2. Have you noticed that, while the England Test team used to look like Hampshire vicars (David Gower) or Oxford professors (David Steele), they now resemble either Lancashire squaddies (Flintoff) or Cornish ploughboys (Hoggard)?

3. Why does Pietersen insist on having that white stegosaurus hairstyle (so 1980)? Is he afraid he's insufficiently noticeable at six feet four, with an earring and a lot of zinc lipstick?

4. Is it not a little spooky, the way Shane Warne, walking to his run-up, idly tosses the ball in the air and catches it without ever looking at what he's doing?

5. Is an in-swinger the same as a nip-backer? And is either connected to a reverse swing? And doesn't anyone do reverse sweeps any more?

6. Who are the better supporters? The England fans who cheered the bad light that stopped play on Sunday? Or the Australian fans who took off their shirts and basked theatrically, to try and persuade the umpires there was tons of bloody light available, mate?

7. Don't you love those little boxes on the TV screen, which subtly trash players while pretending to offer Wisden-ish facts? Like the one they did for Piedersen: "Yet To Make a Catch in Test Cricket (Has Dropped Seven)".

8. Don't the fast bouncers from Harmison - the ones that go straight for the batsman's head - count as "bodyline bowling", the kind that led to accusations of unsportsmanlike conduct in 1932?

9. Given the amount they recently spent on tarting up the seating and the roof, would it have killed the Oval administrators to returf the pitch and make it look less like a parking lot?

10. Given the excitement of the finale, was there nothing in the rules to extend the batting by another day? Has the MCC never heard of extra time?

Goofy smiles

Among the many cross-cultural delights reported from the arrival of Disneyland in Hong Kong (like the fact that environmentalists vetoed the serving of shark fin soup), one detail stuck in my head. It was the customer relations staff (called Doris, Edmund and Twinky) being sent round the park by supervisors to practise smiling and waving to children. They weren't sure how to do smiling. They weren't used to waving. They were a bit at sea with laughing, too, I expect. But soon Disney will have trained them so well, they'll be smiling fit to bust all the time. And that's when the trouble will start with the customs people...