Go on, admit it. Are you too thin-skinned to take criticism at work?
Ceri Thomas, the editor of the Today programme on Radio 4, is rightly under fire for claiming that female journalists do not have a thick enough hide to cope with the demands of a morning news show. Women can be just as terrifying as men. Look at the doughty Joanna Lumley defending the Gurkhas. Or Kate Adie. Or Helen Mirren. Former BBC royal correspondent Jennie Bond, who stood in as a presenter on Today for three years, has also condemned the claim.
But you know, I think Mr Thomas has raised an interesting point. Some human beings (men and women) genuinely find the cut and thrust of the workplace more wounding than others. Speaking as a professional in my forties, I have very thin skin. I've sobbed on the stairs, lived in fear of that bitchy rejoinder. I open emails gingerly, fearing the worst. So, yes, guilty as charged.
I don't think being oversensitive is anything to boast about. But nor do I think it's a crime. In a modern workplace that prizes emotional intelligence, does it all have to be so gladitorial? Sometimes there's a different way of getting to the same goal – without aggro or confrontation.
As I get older I love people who are telling the truth. On last weekend's Desert Island Discs Emma Thompson defended talking about her miscarriage and her battle with depression because it empowers other people, makes them feel less alone and inadequate – "I think it's part of the activist in me, because it's a shared problem somehow". It also, she added wisely, helps calm down those awful internal voices that tell you you're too fat or unpopular or a bad mother.
Women can change the world. But if you grew up in the mad, bad 1970s (which was often like one long episode of Life on Mars) we really were reared differently. In contrast to today's helicopter parents, our mothers and fathers were frightened to praise their children in case we got "too confident". Little did they know just how big a slap the real world would administer.
And girl children just had a harder time. Male relatives were absent or taciturn. Mothers were forensic when it came to advice – care too much about your appearance and you were vain. Care too little and no one would love you. We were indoors doing homework in our National Health glasses, while the world was out going to discos. As for being ambitious. Very. Bad. Idea. No one likes a show-off.
For some women it was the spur they needed. Today they're running multi-national companies or treading the boards at the National. But sadly the rest of us are still living with an inner critic – who reminds you hourly you have no willpower, and will never have thinner thighs.
I'm not asking for special pleading for the class of 1973. Work is simply too busy to get tangled up in people's egos. Looking at the new generation of women in their twenties, I'm thrilled they're far from shrinking violets. But Ceri baby, we're dealing with a complex legacy here.
I promise not to cry in public. Or crumple when the editor swears. So please could you cut us some slack? In the words of the gender campaigners: we're equal but different.
Drew certainly knows how to please everyone
God I love Drew Barrymore. Behind that ditzy rom-com persona, she's an astute producer (the Charlie's Angels franchise had grossed trillions). And now she's directed her first film, Whip It. Instead of a flashy Hollywood vehicle it's a proper indy, coming-of-age story – set in the hilariously unpicturesque town of Bodeen, Texas.
Ellen Page plays a bored small-town girl who finds herself through the medium of "roller-derby" (competitive roller-skating). Not only does Barrymore treat her ensemble cast with wit and sensitivity, she gives herself the least glamorous role, as roller derby tough girl, Smashley Simpson. She says the last thing she wanted was to be worthy: "I guess I tend to shy away from that kind of angry woman syndrome: this is a film about wimmin. For wimmin. Only for wimmin." But the brilliance of the pitch is: Whip It will appeal across the board.
Straight women love tales of female friendship and tricky mothers (and will swoon over the actresses' astonishing calf muscles!). Straight men will, let's face it, enjoy a film about girls in very short skirts, filmed from every conceivable angle. And gay women? They'll love female sport being taken seriously – there are some scary, bruising pile-ups to rival new male blockbuster Clash of the Titans. But also presumably they'll enjoy the short skirts too. Like I said, Barrymore's an equal-opportunities genius.
Chocolate, a pleasure you can't measure
It's snowing, stamp duty's soaring, Sandra Bullock's fairy-tale marriage has collapsed. So little wonder they've rushed out a heart-warming story before Easter. It's official: scientists say chocolate is GOOD for your heart. In a 10-year study of 20,000 volunteers, the risk of heart attacks was 39 per cent lower for those who indulged. I'm not surprised. Chocolate has more flavour and complexity than any other food. It's the only food substance that melts at body temperature. There's the Proustian interplay with memory, perception, fantasy.
The bad news is: we're only allowed 7.5g a day – a small square. And it needs to be dark chocolate (the flavanols in cocoa help blood pressure and heart health). Bang goes my babyish bar-a-day habit. But trust me, chocolate is the reward you give yourself when life is going badly. It's the perfect way to cancel out a bad date, calm down a hangover, grab supper on the run. As Tim Richardson, author of Sweets: The History of Temptation, points out, confectionery is the first thing you are able to buy, own, give, trade and consume of your own volition. It makes you friends – and takes you out of yourself.
These days hand-made chocolate is everywhere. It's like wine in the Eighties. A new wave of high priests such as Paul A Young and William Curley cook up extraordinary flavours – chocolate with chilli, pineapple confit with ylangylang – in their labs. And the rivalry among chocolatiers is fierce: like the Montagues and the Capulets all over again.
So goodbye Dairy Milk, hello jasmine tea truffles – £4 each. Maybe drugs are cheaper.
*David and Hillary, snapped in a break from the G8 summit – truly a Photo Love story. Remember those Jackie magazine shoots that came back to haunt former teen models Hugh Grant and George Michael? I think David has a new career.Reuse content