Liz Hoggard: Who are we to poke our noses into other people's marriages?

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The Independent Online

Now I am no apologist for pornography – don't you just love a column that starts with those words? – but could we please just lay off "shamed" former home secretary, Jacqui Smith? OK, her husband, Richard Timney, watched two X-rated pay-per-view films (her business, not ours). It became our business when he submitted it as part of the couple's joint Commons expenses.

Rather unhelpfully he managed to submit the receipt three times, as revealed in new documents released this week. And bloody hell he got reimbursed three times for the £10 films on his Virgin Media bill. What a cheek. Especially since we also paid for the 32-inch telly he was watching the films on – even though it was in the couple's Redditch home, not her designated main London flat.

But in my view that makes him a lazy or meretricious accountant. A man not used to caring about the fine print. It does not make him a sexual criminal. Nor does it give us any right to cast aspersions about the state of the couple's marriage.

Ever since the scandal first blew up back in March, Britain's right-wing busybodies have had a telescope trained on the Smith/Timney bedroom. From day one, the accusations flew thick and fast. Jacqui's gone ballistic. Richard is now sleeping on the lounge sofa, the dirty dog. Clearly there are "intimacy" issues. What sort of woman wants a husband who orders in filth while she's away on business?

Please people, can't we all just be a bit more grown up? Are you, quite frankly, so confident about the state of your own relationship that you can afford to cast the first stone? Do you know exactly what adult pleasures (erotic novels, hot chocolate, lavender-infused pillows?) your partner uses for self-soothing when you're away a lot? And Jacqui was away a lot.

This is a marriage that has had to accommodate a lot of absences. Not every man can cope so well with being the beta partner to a Top Girl. Richard even became her assistant, and took care of all her paperwork to make the union easier. OK, so he watched an adult film, but he didn't have an affair. One only has to watch the Tiger Woods story unravelling in epic style to see the level of deceit that goes on in many high-profile marriages.

Off the record, I know for a fact that several of the high-profile columnists who poured scorn on Smith are either playing away themselves, or have a partner who is.

Let's face it, we're all sexual creatures. We get lonely; we have a few sherries. Some of us go home with people we shouldn't. (The Speaker's wife, Sally Bercow, can't be the only student who experimented sexually when younger.) Others watch blue films or dial up the internet.

It makes me sad that we still have issues with proper human intimacy. I'd prefer a man who wants a relationship with a real-life 3D woman, one who can answer back, rather than relying on virtual imagery (and you should talk to psychotherapists about the rise in men addicted to internet porn). But we also live in a society that claims to be grown up about sexuality. And I can't help feeling appalled that, in the political arena at least, it's still women – their bodies, their appearance, their taste in husbands – that attracts the most excoriating criticism. Remember all the fuss made about Jacqui's revealing top when she was first appointed?

Porn is not a fun industry, especially when it comes to working practices. It's all about money, not sex.

Smith is on record as a feminist. During her time in office, she tried to reform the law on prostitution and crack down on City firms entertaining clients in lapdancing clubs. That's an honourable thing. But she is not accountable to us for her husband's private fantasies. We can make our choices about what constitutes acceptable behaviour in a relationship, but we can't police each other's heads.

And we certainly can't be proud of a situation where Smith's two children were teased in the playground over salacious media reports about the state of their parents' love life. Her eldest son was doing his GCSEs, for heaven's sake. If you care about family values, you need to care about the welfare of the family as well.

The Smith-Timneys certainly need a decent financial adviser. They owe us – the taxpayers – an apology. But they look like a pretty sexy couple to me. They have two sons. They have lasted 22 years. If the occasional blue movie has kept that marriage alive, maybe that's a compromise worth making.

Something wickedly funny this way comes

I've had Christmas and New Year's Day already. And it was hell. Delicious, subversive, rib-splitting hell. There are still a few tickets left to Michael Wynne's wicked new play, The Priory, at London's Royal Court theatre, starring Jessica Hynes, Rupert Penry-Jones and Rachael Stirling (daughter of Diana Rigg) and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Set among a group of thirtysomething professionals who gather for a New Year bash in an Agatha Christie-style rural pile, it's part of the Court's current assault on the middle classes. And my God it skewers all our pretensions mercilessly – from the chunky single woman desperate for love to the techno geek who is almost physically attached to his iPhone, and the young gay man who has a choice of older lovers on tap at swanky Landmark Trust properties around the country.

The critics have been slightly sniffy about this production (too much fun: not enough substance is the subtext) but this is the very best sort of adult pantomime. You laugh, you cry, you scream. (There's definitely something behind you, and it's wearing a dark hood.)

Where else are you going to see a play where a Bafta-winning head of Children's BBC TV gets off her head on valium and cocaine. And, frankly, you're on her side.

They should have told me about the frocks

My name is Liz and I'm an X Factor refusenik. I have never seen a single episode since it first hit our screens in 2004. (Even when a dear friend halted her wedding festivities for an hour to watch the final, I refused to join in.)

Reality talent is not my bag. Every Saturday night, I've trolled off to the cinema or out to dinner without a care in my silly head about the fate of Leona or Alexandra or Stacey. You can't help knowing about it, of course. Through osmosis (and the next day's tabloids) I am up to date on the bitching and rivalries and Simon Cowell's waxing habits. But secretly I've been utterly smug that I haven't been wasting valuable time on third-grade popular culture. The Cheryl Cole factor has passed me by. A soft Geordie accent, and more visible hairpieces than Madame de Pompadour, do not a national heroine make.

But now I realise how terribly wrong I was. Why did no one tell me it's Britain's cutting-edge fashion catwalk? Forget London Fashion Week: the frocks sported by Cheryl, and Dannii turn out to be by my heroes Giles Deacon, Christopher Kane and Richard Nicoll. According to Henry Holland (he of the witty, deconstructed T-shirts), Jedward are gay icons.

This weekend's final will be watched by the crème de la crème of the couture world. Interior designer to the stars, David Collins will even be glued to that appalling set. "It's refreshing that 'cool' people admit to loving something so mainstream and generically uncool," Holland says. "The bottom line is, it's hugely entertaining, whether it's cool or not."

When the hiperati finally capitulate to The X Factor, I know my place.

It's worth spending a penny on this new app

Thank God for the iLoo, the latest on the iPhone that will help you locate the nearest WC in town. Stop sniggering at the back. It's a serious issue. According to a study by City Hall, there's been a 40 per cent decline in provision of public lavatories in London since 1999. For those of us without a permanent work base, the iLoo will transform our lives.

Let's face it, these days the public loo is the new office. Places like the Powder Room at Fenwick's on London's New Bond Street, or the swanky WCs at the Tate Liverpool, are works of art. We should treat them with more reverence and make them easier to find. The iLoo costs 59p. Enough of the Carry On-style puns: our bodies deserve the best.