People used to stand up for each other on buses and trains all the time. I still make my children stand up for anyone who looks as though they may be over 50, or who is carrying heavy shopping, or holding babies, and I stand up myself if people look deserving. I am beginning to feel I'm the only person still doing it, at least in London. It might be different in Russia, where I recall once being jabbered at by a busload of people for taking up a seat while a babushka teetered under several parcels beside me. The bus was packed, and when I finally caught on and stood up I knocked three people flying. There were bodies all over the aisle. It looked a bit like an orgy, or would have done if Russians didn't wear so many clothes.
I know it's a patriarchal gesture, men giving up their seats for women, and if a girl wants to work she's got to learn to dig her elbows into people on the Tube and acquire that umbrella-jabbing-in- the-calves technique that men have evolved over generations of commuting, and what are Doc Martens for if not to kick people so you get to a seat first? But it's hard to summon the enthusiasm when you're only really interested in how soon you can get to a bowl. I stood feeling faint on the Underground last week while children sat stolidly beside their mothers as I turned green in front of them. After two stops I resembled Jim Carrey in The Mask (though without his magical powers, or I'd have had the vile infants strap- hanging in seconds). Young men sat put uninterestedly while I made my Beast-of-Bodmin-savaging-a-sheep noises. I also stuck out my stomach in an effort to look pregnant, but they must have thought I was fat, and possibly demented. They should consider that women going a funny colour and emitting strange sounds could be suffering for the future of the human race, and need to sit down. Otherwise I may stop trying to be polite and throw up in their laps.
ONLY 12 per cent of housewives (you can tell this is a story of marketing folk, because only they still believe in housewives) think that new Persil Power rots boxer shorts, but then on the other hand only 16 per cent of them think it doesn't. The rest don't believe what anyone's telling them and couldn't care less anyway. Marketing Week had to carry out research to discover this, but any old housewife (do they mean mothers? people who manage homes?) would have told them for free that the soap wars are only of interest to the soap warriors, those marketing men who think women spend their lives in each other's kitchens admiring towels, or discussing dirty PE kits with their kids. I have never had a whiter-washing conversation with anyone, and if I attempted to engage my children in a discussion about detergents, they'd stalk off and play their Wet Wet Wet tapes very loudly.
I really don't care if Persil Power is likely eventually to rot clothes and sap their colour, as Procter & Gamble claims. My children do that already, much faster than any plastic ball of soap ever could. My highest ambition for the washing is that it will be obvious I've made the effort. I have no desire for Danny Baker to burst into my kitchen offering to make the grass stains more muted. I wouldn't believe him anyway, now that one independent institute, acting separately for Procter & Gamble and Unilever, is in the embarrassing position of having to come up with contradictory conclusions about Persil Power.
This is what chiefly sticks in my mind from the soap wars, and will do when those ridiculous comparative ads come on the television, and no amount of telling me that I'm a housewife, when I am not and never have been married to a house, is going to turn me into a woman who talks about towels.
CHEMISTS' shops must soon draw up protocols specifying how particular medicines should be sold and when pharmacists must talk to patients. I fear this means I'll no longer be able to nip into the chemist's for a bottle of Calpol without facing a lengthy discussion about my motives with men in white coats. It's unlikely it will be accompanied by any great freeing up of dispensing, so it'll mean more nannying, not less: it will still be necessary to go to the doctor for repeat prescriptions, or antibiotics to treat familiar minor ailments. In Italy, Greece and India (three places where I happen to have done it) it's possible to take your symptoms to the pharmacist and come away with the medication you'd get on prescription from a British GP, and often very good advice as well. The British way of using pharmacists as glorified shop assistants costs a packet and leads to many tedious hours hanging around dingy waiting rooms full of germ-infested people.
THOSE who are disposed to punish parents for their children's delinquency should bear in mind that even the most tenderly brought-up children are capable of thwarting their parents' desire for respectability. My seven-year- old son makes a habit of humiliating me in front of professionals. I took him to the optician recently: he's a bit vague, and I was half- hoping there might be an explanation, beyond an ability to ignore me when I bore him, which is often. He was so excited about the possibility of getting glasses, he pretended he couldn't see the sight-test letters. Even the foot- high one at the top, which was a bit of a giveaway. The optician said through gritted teeth that I should bring him back when he might be more co-operative. Last week, it was the dentist. How often, the dentist asked him kindly, did he brush his teeth? He looked hard at my tell-the-nice-man-how- well-brought-up-you-are smile, returned it sweetly, and said: 'Just before I come to the dentist.'Reuse content