Of all the gobby rubbish spoken by the contestants on The Apprentice this year, most outstanding was Stuart Baggs’s claim to Alan Sugar that, “I’m not a one-trick pony. I’m not a 10-trick pony. I’ve got a whole field of ponies”. If I were Sugar, I would pay Baggs a salary just to offer visitors similar gnomic gems as they wait in the lobby.
The winner, Stella English, was also capable of blathering clichés about passion and commitment, just in a less entertaining way. After she won, though, Stella admitted that her drive to succeed wasn’t only because “everything I want, I get” (as she’d said, somewhat unpleasantly, in the boardroom) but also because she wanted to provide for her two young children. With an improved six-figure salary now in her pocket, “hopefully they will have a much more settled life”. Even Lord Sugar, who doesn’t strike me as a feminist, acknowledged that Stella’s dedication to supporting her family was a sign of grit, rather than a reason to reach for the firing finger.
If you believe that women are capable of both having a career and raising children, you had about 10 minutes on Sunday night to enjoy the moment of sanity. Then along came Catherine Hakim, a sociologist from the London School of Economics, with a big bucket of slurry to promote her new study on women and work.
Hakim’s paper, as it was widely reported, concludes that government shouldn’t bother trying to close the gender pay gap in Britain, because the difference in income is simply a result of women’s lifestyle choices. With less commitment to the workplace than men, less hunger to work full time, and less desire for financial independence than the evil feminists would have us believe, women actually earn 17 per cent less than men because they want to.
That’s cleared that up, then.
The topic of why the gap persists, and how it can be addressed, is a fascinating and complex one. What’s frustrating is that Hakim does indeed make some conclusions that bear repeating: it’s true, for instance, that the price for success at the top for either sex is long hours and total dedication to the job. No public policy can change that. Every hard-working mother like Stella English will feel guilty, and tired – but who’s to say she’s wrong to try? Hakim’s hokum even extends to describing the children of such women as “nominal families”.
And to argue, as she does, against the introduction of more family-friendly working arrangements to the antediluvian British workplace is simply mean-spirited, Daily Mail-courting controversialism. Or, to adapt a Baggsism, it’s not just pony, it’s a field of ponies.
I’m dreaming of a sludge-free Christmas
It’s here today, but will it be gone tomorrow – and more crucially, gone on Saturday? Yes, yes, I know it’s causing Chaos and Treacherousness and Nightmares around the country (somebody fling the newsreaders a Thesaurus, please), and it could yet hinder my own reasonably short train journey home on Christmas Eve. But still, I notice that a knot of childish hope and enthusiasm forms in my stomach every time I think of it. This year could be a White Christmas!
Why does the notion of snow falling on 25 December – or even better, starting the night before – have such power in our popular culture? Until the mid-19th century, long, hard, frozen winters in Britain were far more common, yet somehow the inherited traditions of the Victorian Christmas have included snow falling outside the window just as the children hang up their stockings.
As with much of our shared imaginations, the influence of Hollywood can’t be overstated. Not just Bing Crosby in 1954’s White Christmas, but endless movies, from Trading Places to It’s a Wonderful Life, have ensured that, even when there aren’t flakes outside, its all over the Christmas TV schedules, not to mention our Christmas cards and wrapping paper. No nativity play is complete without a roof-insulation of cotton wool “snow”, despite the unlikely occurrence of a flurries in Bethlehem (current temperature, 22c).
I think we return to the fantasy of a White Christmas because it seems to make the day more special, and separates it even further from the drizzle and partly-cloudiness of real life. But will it feel quite as dazzling on Saturday if we wake up not to fresh-fallen snow but six centimetres of grey slush?
A dazzling editor’s reign comes to an end
I’d seen her at dozens of fashion shows, but it was only when I stood behind her in a queue in a shop in New York that I heard her marvelously breathy, squeaky French accent. Carine Roitfeld, who has just announced her exit after a decade in the top job at Paris Vogue, was my favourite Vogue editor. Her appearance gave no hint that she possessed that tiny little voice.
Always towering in borderline vulgar platform sandals, her brown, bony, bare legs were naked in every weather. An enormous cloud of real fur or feathers often covered her top half, giving her the silhouette of an atomic mushroom cloud. Her face was fearsome, strongly androgynous with eyes like a creature who shouldn’t go out in daylight.
Her magazine was pretty fierce too: the intimidating, sexually voracious older cousin of ditzy, uptight US Vogue and earnest posh girl British Vogue, it was a must-read for art-directors, designers and photographers.
I couldn’t decipher the articles, but no matter (I think they said little more than “Coat by Louis Vuitton, €8,000”). Rumour has it that Roitfeld is off to work with her friend, the designer Tom Ford. Sadly, it won’t be a speaking role.