Christina Patterson: If you don't like food, you don't like life

Click to follow
The Independent Online

I have never met Alexandra Shulman, but I think I'd like her. Not, alas, because of a shared interest in haute couture (I think £49.99 is rather a lot to spend on a handbag), but because of two much more important things. The first is that as editor of the fashion bible, Vogue, she has dared to bite the hand that feeds her. But only (since no one in fashion eats anything) in a metaphorical way, of course.

She has recently written to leading fashion houses, complaining that sample sizes are now so "minuscule" that they force fashion editors to use models with "jutting bones". Vogue, apparently, has to retouch photographs to "make the models larger". Make the models larger! You practically need a microscope to see them now. In real life, they must be like those poems engraved on grains of rice.

Which brings me to the main reason I like Alexandra Shulman. She is not like one of those poems engraved on grains of rice. She is like a poem written in calligraphy on a fine piece of parchment. Beautifully turned out, and also solid. She looks as though she might recognise rice, might even have eaten it with a Thai green curry. She does not look as if she would order an egg-white omelette that she would then bury under a pile of rocket.

While I wouldn't go quite as far as Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in wanting "men about me that are fat", I share his suspicion of anyone with a "lean and hungry look". Anyone, for example, like Victoria Beckham. The poor girl looks as though she might buckle under the weight of her sunglasses. She looks, in fact, as if a single bean sprout would have her bursting out of her size-of-a-seven-year-old jeans.

My friends, like me, and like every woman in the Western world, would mostly like to be thinner. We'd like to be thinner in the way that we'd quite like to win the Booker Prize, or marry George Clooney, or bring about world peace. We'd like to be thinner in the way that once had me devouring The Atkins Diet in the bar at Waterstone's, Piccadilly, with a nice glass of Sauvignon and a bowl of Kettle Chips. I read You Are What You Eat in a hotel lounge with a cafetière and a plate of home-made shortbread. I read French Women Don't Get Fat in a café with a banana muffin and a latte. French women don't get fat, if I remember rightly, because they're neurotic, miserable creatures who would rather look like a clothes horse than get a life.

Because that's what it's about, this thing called eating, it's about life. Food is fuel, of course, to keep the body functioning, the heart beating, the blood flowing and the brain alert – but it is so much more than that. It's about the tastes and smells and textures of life itself. For me, sharing tapas, or mezze or a smorgasbord with people I love feels like a kind of communion.

Last week, the columnist Liz Jones confessed she had "never eaten a whole banana" and spent her entire life wanting to be "like the women in the pages of Vogue". It hadn't made her happy, she said, but she would "rather be thin than happy". She was flooded with responses, she wrote this week, from people who felt the same way.

How very, very sad that so many women – not pre-pubescent teenagers, but adult women – are wrecking their lives in pursuit of such a silly, life-denying goal. And now we know even the "women in Vogue" don't look like the women in Vogue. And neither, thank God, does its editor.

A royal study in quiet dedication

At a time when Prince Charles has given us a taste of the kind of monarchy we can expect in 10 or 15 years, it's good to be reminded of his mother's more traditional approach to the rule of her realm. Luscious in lemon at Ascot on Wednesday; pretty in pink yesterday. Elegant, dignified – and silent.

The woman who has made more small talk at more tea parties than anyone else on the planet has learnt that the point of small talk is that it's small. It is not an opportunity to foist your eccentric opinions on captive subjects. It is not an opportunity to wreck their plans with a (we-royals-must-stick- together-in-protecting-the-world-from-monstrous-carbuncles) quiet, coded word.

The Queen may not be known for public expressions of enthusiasm, but it's certainly not a quality she lacks. She loves horses. She loves dogs. She loves Michelle Obama. We all love Michelle Obama, but the Queen has her to tea.

Some years ago, at a Buckingham Palace reception for a poetry competition for the Queen's Golden Jubilee, I was talking to the Guyanese poet, John Agard, when Andrew Motion approached with the Queen in tow. She was fantastically pretty in the flesh. She was charming and she was charmed. She was flirting, in fact. She was, in the words of West Side Story, "pretty and witty and gay". None of which you'd know, if you hadn't met her. Which is probably as it should be.

If we have to continue with this ludicrous system (and President Sarkozy et al are quite an incentive to) then please may we have figureheads who understand that they're figureheads. No amateur meddling, please, we're British and we quite like this last, lone, silent voice of the British stiff upper lip.

Sexual truths cause the real stir

In all the can-women-write-well-about-sex? hoo-hah this week (answer no, but nor can men) the assumption has been that writing about sex exists purely for titillation, purely, in fact, for the 0.000 something per cent of the population who might buy a publication with a name like The Erotic Review. The title – sub university mag with happy memories of Emanuelle – gives some idea of the target audience. And no, I don't want to write for them, but I wouldn't, according to its new owner, Kate Copstick, be allowed to anyway.

But one woman who's been writing about sex has created quite a stir. Her name is Wedad Lootah. Unlike previous editors of The Erotic Review (who have been photographed in very little) she preserves her modesty with a full-length black niqab. Her book, Top Secret: Sexual Guidance for Married Couples, just published in Dubai, celebrates the female orgasm, and also acknowledges that the first sexual experience of many men in Saudi Arabia is homosexual. They "want the same thing with their wives" says Lootah "because they don't know anything else".

Lootah has had death threats. The UAE government has offered to protect her, but she has declined. For real power, Ms Copstick, you need taboos.