Katy Guest: Why don't men take a stand against wearing a tie?

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The Independent Online

The recent photograph of the four ex-prime ministers meeting the Queen showed a particular example of the British idea of dressing for summer. With the slight exception of Tony Blair, in a midnight-blue tailor-made number, the men wore ill-fitting black suits and shoes, with their hair slicked and their ties done up tightly. As temperatures reached an annual record high, even the Queen left behind her usual ugly, square coat-dress, and instead wore an ugly, square jacket with white gloves and a swingy skirt. But the men dressed exactly the same as if it had been -5C outside.

The four ex-prime ministers belong to a class in which men must wear ties, that uniquely pointless instrument of male oppression, and can all get to work in air-conditioned cars. Those who must walk, bus or Tube to work have to come up with more practical solutions to the heat. Even more inappropriate than men in woollen suits are young women who come to work in teeny tiny hotpants and thin white polyester tops that show the washing instructions on their bras. Or cyclists who wear their sweaty Lycra to meetings.

In the literary set in which I often mingle, crumpled linen is the summer solution. At the Hay literary festival in early June, a navy blue linen suit is obligatory, and creases are a badge of honour. An old rule of journalism states that a reporter must always dress as though she might at any moment be summoned to court/Lambeth Palace/an interview with a grieving parent. But as a literary editor, my clothing must also be suitable for emptying dusty Jiffy bags, hoicking around crates of hardbacks and glamorous book launch parties. That's why I am always dressed wrong.

Nonetheless, at the end of a sticky Tube ride home, the summer dressing dilemma makes me relieved to be a woman. Men of Britain, you have my sympathy, and if ever you want to borrow a floaty cotton frock you only have to ask.

Use your loaf

A friend recently took me to his favourite posh café, where there was a cockroach on the al fresco table, a hair in the pizza bianca, and it cost a fiver for a bit of old bread with bits in. It's for people like him that Tesco is boosting its "artisan" bread range, having sold three million more specialist loaves this year than last. This hard bread, like couscous (aka the sweepings from under the fridge), is eaten only by the very posh and very poor people who can't afford real food. I prefer a sliced loaf with cheese and Branston and absolutely no beetles.

Marked for life

Judy Steel, the wife of Lord Steel, has revealed she had a tattoo for her 70th birthday. The chatterati are alarmed, but I'm not sure why. Lady Steel is old enough to know her mind, and has followed all the rules of How Not to Regret a Tattoo: make it small, make it personal, have it somewhere that won't sag with age and is usually covered by clothes, don't choose it from the tattooist's window (you'll regret it when Samantha Cameron turns up with the same unimaginative design) and don't, whatever you do, make it anything that reminds you of a current, ex or future boyfriend. Since you ask, mine is a lizard, on my toe; it reminds me of my best friend from school and I haven't regretted it once.

Secret success

An old friend of mine used to hang out with the beat poet Allen Ginsberg, who apparently told him that "a secret is something that you only tell one person … at a time". I'm a big fan of the Ginsberg philosophy, but get a warm feeling from Danny Boyle's "save the secret" plea to the 60,000-strong audience at the Olympic opening ceremony rehearsal. In the age of Twitter, when it is easy to tell a secret to a million people, keeping one is a more appealing challenge. Unfortunately, newspaper columnists have no secrets (you know about my tattoo), but if I ever hear one, I promise I won't let you know.

Name that tune

As a relatively new oldie who is baffled by most of the modern hit parade, I am grateful to scientists from the Spanish National Research Council who recently proved that all modern music really is just horrible shouting.

Or, as Joan Serra put it after analysing 55 years' worth of songs from the Million Song Dataset, "We found evidence of a progressive homogenisation of the musical discourse", while "intrinsic loudness" has steadily increased.

This is nothing new, as shown by the band The Axis of Awesome, who can demonstrate that "all the greatest hits from the last 40 years just use four chords." That includes "Let It Be" (The Beatles), "No Woman, No Cry" (Bob Marley), "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" (Elton John), Lady Gaga's "Poker Face".

Ah, but those songs are all about the words, say the oldies. Whereas this week's Top 40 songs have only about four words between them.

House of fun

J K Rowling has submitted plans to Edinburgh council for two tree houses for her back garden. They will cost £150,000 and I'm sure her children will be thrilled.

But I thought that the point of tree houses was that you build them together, out of a few splintery orange crates and bits of old curtain. The most fun thing is the adventure of building it, and after that the novelty soon wears off.

The Rowlings are lucky boys and girls, but I bet the cost-per-play analysis of their aerial Hogwarts will be almost as high as the tree it's in.