An unlikely juxtaposition of proposed industrial action this week is giving the nation pause for thought. Four new strike threats from workers at British Airways, British Gas, the British Civil Service and the shambles formerly known as British Rail have given rise to a phenomenon that is already being referred to, feebly, as the Spring of Discontent. (It's like the Winter of Discontent, only warmer and tidier, with daffodils instead of refuse in the streets.) This most un-British state of affairs is becoming embarrassing.
Consider the dispute between GMB union members and the allegedly "bullying" bosses at British Gas, for instance. It sounds like more of a sulk than a strike. The union has voted for action, while the director of heating services is sticking his fingers in his ears and going "la la la" until it's over. "The GMB has still not told us the grounds for this dispute, even though we have asked for this information several times," he pouted. "We are disappointed..." Perhaps he should send them to their rooms to think very hard about what they have done. Meanwhile, unionised engineers are threatening to bring the corporation to its knees by refusing to turn up to fix people's boilers on time, or at all. No wonder nobody seems to be despairing; for most British Gas customers, it's business as usual.
It's no more organised over on the railways, on the other hand, where RMT members have threatened to withdraw their labour over the Easter weekend. But everybody knows that Bank Holiday weekends are when the least chaos is caused to passengers – sorry, customers – when rail services are suddenly and brutally suspended without reason. That is when rail bosses always schedule their "planned engineering work", after all. Next thing we know, the RMT will be apologising to rail users for any disruption that "may" have been caused. And as for the Unite union grounding the aeroplanes ...well, anyone who ever watched The A-Team knows that BA never liked flying in the first place. (Sorry.)
It will be interesting, however, to see how the PCSU strike pans out. How do civil servants man/woman/person a picket line, anyway? Mill around Westminster chanting, "What do we want?" "I couldn't possibly comment." "When do we want it?" "Within a reasonable timeframe to be determined by a cross-party working group bearing in mind the cost-benefit analysis within parameters laid out in the 1972 Act (paragraph 47A)"? And the Government isn't helping to make this feel like a huge, us-and-them battle that all right-thinking people should engage with, either. During the lorry drivers' strike of 1979, James Callaghan dismissed all the hysteria and went for a swim in the Caribbean; in the 2010 Spring of Discontent, by contrast, some Labour MPs promised to join the Civil Service pickets on a little Thames cruise. How are we supposed to pick a side, when one side is warming its Thermos on the other side's brazier?
If the British used to be good at striking, we have certainly lost the knack for it now. Once it was donkey jackets and righteous fury and shouting "Scab!" at your neighbour. Now, it's more like a nice little queue, with placards. But one tactic might rouse the slumbering anger of the complacent British public, and the striking cabin crew might have put their fingers on it. Announcing a new, four-day strike starting on Saturday, Unite threatened that BA's attitude will deny passengers hot food or alcohol "for the rest of the month". The Great British traveller? Refused a G&T after take-off? Now that is enough to rouse anyone's mettle. Strike! Strike! Strike!
Sorry Sophie, but your show really is half-baked
I'm afraid I won't be going back for seconds of The Delicious Miss Dahl – the BBC's latest contribution to the healthy eating debate from a woman who is most famous for losing half her bodyweight in three and a half minutes and who admits to having nightmares about being chased by scary men made of mashed potato.
The programme is clearly the BBC's bid for a bite of Channel 4's Nigella cherry, and the doe-eyed Miss Dahl tries valiantly, wafting about in her sumptuous kitchen trying to convince us that she likes nothing better than omelette Arnold Bennett (which involves three eggs, crème fraîche, haddock and cheese) for breakfast. As if British women didn't have enough food issues already.
No, for me it is back to Channel 4, where Heston Blumenthal's new series is about to start. On 6 April he will recreate a Willy Wonka feast inspired by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the beloved book by Sophie's grandfather, Roald Dahl. The chocolate rivers, taffy trees and three-course dinner chewing gum that are likely to result may be more ludicrous than anything Dahl junior has to offer. But at least the Dahl senior team will admit that it's all a fantasy – unlike Sophie with her everlasting humbug.
A giant step forward for womankind
You can tell a lot about a woman by how she refers to her lovely lady floo floo – as an online poll has discovered. There's the practical: the place of business. The tribute: Lady Gaga; Virginia Wade; Ladybird Johnson. There's the cute (toot; smoo; fa-lulu), the distasteful (which we'll gloss over) and the frankly scary (Sonic the Hedgehog? The Temple of Doom?) So I question the thinking behind the latest catchy ad campaign.
Women commuters cannot fail to have spotted these giant billboards. One reads, simply, "fru fru", in big fluffy letters. Another spells out "lady garden", in flowers. They all direct observers to www.loveyourvagina.com , which advertises a new form of sanitary protection. The Mooncup (please don't ask me) appeals to a certain kind of woman, however, and she is not the kind who talks about her Myfanwy in infantilising girlie euphemisms.
In matters sanitary, there are two types of woman: the type who butchly gets to grips with avant garde, medical-grade silicon items; and the type who says "fru fru", occasionally "has the decorators in", wants Hallmark cards on Valentine's Day and buys polyester nighties with little pink bears on them. To appeal to the former, one must say it loud. Say it proud. Say a word that probably won't be printed on a billboard any time soon.