Tom Hodgkinson: 'Do women consider the ukulele sexy?'


Twitter is a terrible distraction for writers and journalists. The deadline is hanging over you and all you can do is waste time scrolling through hundreds of unsatisfying attempts at aphoristic wit.

As I write, Twitter is dominated by comments from feminist columnists declaring that they are going to pursue the newly single Johnny Depp. I was tempted, by way of response, to tweet my intention to leave my family and jump on the Eurostar in order to hunt down Vanessa Paradis. But then I reflected that I'd probably be tried at the High Court of Male Chauvinist Piggery.

Maybe there is hope at hand, however, as one witty female tweeter, known as Ministry of Mum, last week made the comment that my book The Idle Parent is her Fifty Shades of Grey. I've been puzzling my bonce with the implications of this compliment, if indeed it is one, ever since. Does she mean that she finds the book darkly, disturbingly erotic?

That's an exciting conclusion but I think unlikely for a work that deals with the trials and tribulations of living with three small children.

Perhaps she meant that the book produced a sensation of guilty pleasure? After all, I counsel mothers to lie in bed for a month with their newborn baby, eat chocolate and delegate all household tasks to baby-father and friends. I also praise wine, sleep and poetry as essential aids to motherhood.

Of course, what I hope is that her feelings will be shared by millions of other women around the world and that the book will top the bestsellers' lists. This will lead to the sort or riches that will make me attractive to Vanessa Paradis. And that's one thing that niggles about Fifty Shades of Grey: the male hero Christian is filthy rich and, despite 40 years of feminism and whatever women publicly declare, most of them appear to secretly covet a wealthy protector. And to have their hands bound together with a grey silk tie. If only I'd known that before, I might have taken a different path through life.

Another conclusion could be that Ministry of Mum's comment is not a compliment at all. She may well be making the point that The Idle Parent is a badly written pile of escapist nonsense.

If that is the case then I comfort myself with the fact the book has been a surprise hit in the Czech Republic, where 10,000 copies have been sold. Some of the Czech mothers are such fans of the book that they have written to me saying they are jealous of my baby-mother Victoria for living with me.

Victoria certainly doesn't see things like that. She is probably vaguely disappointed by her choice but feels it's a bit late to change her mind. So the thought does occur that I should announce a split in the Czech media and get on the next Ryanair flight to Prague.

The book is also taken seriously in Sydney, Australia, from where this piece is written. I have come Down Under to speak on parenting at a conference called Young Minds. They have put me up in the Novotel, an extremely shiny monolith that overlooks the skyscrapers and monorails of Sydney Harbour. The view from my window is like some sort of HG Wells fantasy.

While here, I decided to check out the Sydney ukulele scene and on my first night I took a taxi to the Gladstone Park Bowling Club, where a ukulele jam was being held. About 60 of us crowded into the brightly lit bar and enjoyed an extremely good-natured evening of performance and tuition.

The uke club was highly teched up: a tiny camera was mounted on the neck of the performer's ukulele, and the image was broadcast on to a giant screen, in order for audience members to play along and pick up new tricks.

The ukulele has taken off in a big way here over the past four or five years. What is so wonderful is that these clubs break down the barrier between audience and performer: with the uke, music is truly in the hands of the people. I can't think of another musical instrument where this is the case: have you ever seen a room of 50 guitarists, violinists or trumpeters playing and singing together?

The great thing about the uke is that you could travel the world and always find a friendly group of people to play with. It was the same in the Czech Republic: while there I hooked up with the Ukulele Orchestra Jako Brno, a very amiable bunch.

I'm not really sure, though, whether the ukulele is considered sexy by women or not. Could the ukulele be the new grey silk tie? Please say it's so.

Tom Hodgkinson is editor of 'The Idler'