Howard Jacobson: Prescott, his mistress, and the world snooker champion - this week I feel sorry for everyone

It isn't easy being a bloke, and it isn't easy not being a bloke either
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Been feeling very sorry for my sex again this week, what with one thing and another. Rooney, Prescott, Clarke, Dott, even Zacarias Moussaoui denied the satisfaction of being executed by his enemies and having to face his own angry company for the rest of his life instead. It isn't easy being a bloke.

It was Dott who started me off. It's possible not every reader of this column knows who Dott is. Only some of us sat up until the early hours of Monday or was it Tuesday morning watching Dott grind out the World Snooker Championships. Seems a lifetime ago now. The year dot. And that's why I am sorry for him, having the name Dott when a dot is exactly what he looks like. Wee Dott they call him in his native Scotland where all the snooker players come from who do not come from Wales, and he is truly the weest of men.

I gave up watching snooker on television four or five years ago precisely because of Dott. His name, his wan appearance, his fragile self-esteem, the way he barked like a seal before every pot, blowing chalk from his cue tip - my life was ebbing away and there I sat in the familiar telly snooker-stupor for hours on end, watching a dot. Enough. And then last week I got hooked on him again. Don't ask me why it's him I'm sorry for. He's just become World Snooker Champion. The person I should be sorry for is me, staying up to will him on, counting every frame, the attention of my soul concentrated on a dot.

And while I'm worrying for the dot my mother-in-law is fretting over Rooney's metatarsal. She rang me the morning after the dot's triumph to say she believed Rooney would be well advised to abandon all efforts to get fit for this World Cup and to conserve his strength for the next. She had broken a metatarsal herself a few years earlier and knew that the best cure was rest. "But the nation wasn't hanging on your fitness," I reminded her. She didn't see the relevance of that. "Never mind the nation," she said, "it's the poor boy I'm sorry for."

Me too. Poor Dott. Poor Rooney. Poor Charles Clarke even. I know, I know, but there's something about Clarke's face that has always appealed to me - that look as of a very rare breed of sheep, conscious, as rare breeds are often conscious, of the burden of their rarity, and of course lonely because no other sheep anywhere looks like them. And what has he done wrong anyway? Allowed a few criminals who shouldn't be here to disappear into the community, when it was only a few weeks ago that we were accusing him of not allowing a few criminals who shouldn't be here to disappear into the community.

Did I read that one of the prisoners who has been let back into the community to re-offend was not sent home to Somalia because Somalia was not considered safe? Is that possible? Though I'm sorry for anyone who has to bear the burden of being a bloke, I am not so sorry for a Somalian thug that I think we have a moral obligation to protect him from his own.

"I call that the fanaticism of sympathy," says Will Ladislaw in George Eliot's Middlemarch. He is talking about Dorothea's inability to enjoy anything she feels others are excluded from. But he could be referring to our concern for the welfare of impenitent foreign criminals when we return them to the bosom of their culture. Myself, I see something shapely in their having to fear back home (assuming that they in honesty fear anything) the very violence they inflicted on us. Is that not the beauty of deportation when the deportee is a rapist and a murderer and the country to which we return him is similarly inclined - that we expose him to the brutality of values he recognises as his own? Is that not just?

Which brings me to John Prescott, or rather to John Prescott's mistress Tracey Temple for whom I am invited on all sides to feel sympathy. Not enough my heart bleeds for Dott and Rooney, I am now - though her metatarsal is, as far as I know, undamaged and no one, by way of comment on her stature, calls her Tiny Tracey - required to bleed for her as well. She has, in the words of Labour MP Geraldine Smith, been "taken advantage of". Droit de seigneur and all that.

A boorish, fat old Labour goat reached out his podgy fingers and what they groped for, Wee Tracey in her toothy, cream-skinned innocence had no option but to give. "She was but poor but she was 'onest ..."

Remind the outraged that she is a professional woman in her 40s who chose to work for a boss by all accounts notorious for his lechery, who looked willing enough, in the photographs for which she plentifully posed, to be seen canoodling and otherwise galumphing with him - an equal party in whatever you want to call it, a modern liberated woman exercising her right to fornicate where and with whom or what she pleases - and they think you're advocating harassment in the workplace.

It is poor sociology to suppose no woman in a subordinate position ever chased her boss or saw securing him as a step up the ladder to her own preferment. And it is poor psychology to read sex only as a story of the strong taking advantage of the weak; or to think that because a man is not Orlando Bloom, or even Graeme Dott come to that, a woman will surrender to him only under duress and with the lights out. Not all women like to roll around with uncouth men, but some do.

Poor Prescott - there, you've heard it! Two words you never thought you'd see conjoined. Poor and Prescott. We employ him to be an incorrigible old Labour sort of chap but when he gets embroiled in an incorrigible old Labour sort of escapade - a bit of groping but also, let there be no mistake, a bit of being groped - we suddenly stop seeing the joke. What's he to do - turn New Labour overnight?

But yes, I am sorry for Tracey Temple too. I'm sorry for everybody. It isn't easy being a bloke and it isn't easy not being a bloke. You can't control your fate either way. That's the lesson of snooker: it's all to do with how the balls lie.

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