Male achievers do it with their jackets on

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The Independent Online
I AM very concerned about the havoc that will be wreaked in my life when all the men I know have read Presenting Yourself, A Personal Image Guide For Men by Mary Spillane. Ms Spillane, founder of an image consultancy, provides men with much useful advice along the lines of: 'Stray hairs between eyebrows make the tidiest chap look grubby. Pluck or hot wax the unsightly hairs to look more polished' and informs her readers that disposable pens are for temporary secretaries only: their pen 'is an important accessory which should project success and style'.

One of the more restful things about working with men has always been their failure to become attuned to such things. Men don't constantly expect compliments on their new hairstyles, or judgments to be made about them on the basis of whether they wear single or double-breasted suits. Having read Ms Spillane's book, I won't ever be able to see a single-breasted suit again without thinking: 'Ah, a manager of a smaller company wanting to look more approachable yet successful.'

Unhappily, at the same time as introducing men to the most time- wasting aspects of girliedom, Ms Spillane is also keen to promote the worst aspects of machismo. 'Even the most informal brainstorming meeting is a battleground for status and recognition,' she announces, warning men not to take their jackets off in meetings on any account, even if their colleagues do. Ms Spillane, I think, is a pernicious influence on office life. I am really not looking forward to the prospect of meetings with sweaty men who refuse to take their jackets off in case I no longer feel intimidated by them, while their cover stick ('use to conceal spots') dribbles over their plucked eyebrows.

SINGLE parents cost an enormous amount of money, so it is a marvellous idea of the Government's to get rid of them altogether. The Cabinet has been discussing plans to cut benefits to lone parents and send them home to live with their mums, to deter people from failing to use contraceptives properly, or from getting divorced, or being widowed. Quite right too, and a slap in the eye for sanctimonious types who protest that bringing up the next generation is socially useful, and that single parents stay in at night changing nappies in the interests of all of us.

This scheme seems bound to work, and has set me wondering what other expensive groups we could deter from getting into a high-cost state. Ha] Old people] They cost a lot of money, falling over and breaking their hips, needing home helps. I was just about to write to the Government about it when I picked up the papers and realised Michael Portillo had got there first. 'Old-age pension faces axe,' read one headline.

OK, then, I thought, what about sick people? They cost a fortune. But I was disappointed again: when I started looking at the ways the health service could be thrown into chaos, it seemed that the internal market was making a pretty good job of it already, especially in London, where no hospital seems sure if it will still be here next year.

In the end I had to scale down my social engineering plans, and devise laws against people who play loud music on Sunday afternoons, sprawl over your seat on the Tube, or rev stationary cars, which I suspect isn't quite the point, since what the Government really wants is to save money. My brave new Britain was coming along nicely until I heard Sir Norman Fowler speechifying last weekend, outlining what I presume to be his party's vision of a society shorn of single mothers and similar undesirables: 'There is more sense in Hampshire than in Hampstead, in blue rinse rather than in Bloomsbury,' he said.

This seriously worried me. Clearly the Tory vision of what constitutes an upstanding, acceptable member of society is rather narrower than mine. I have never even contemplated a blue rinse, let alone had one. And I have barely been to Hampshire (though it has always seemed perfectly nice when I have). But if the Government has decided it can legislate to affect people's personal behaviour, perhaps I am going to have to get used to a new look?

WILLIAM HURT'S divorce from his second wife Heidi Henderson has brought to light their prenuptial agreement, which reportedly established at the outset that alimony would depend on their each staying off drink and drugs throughout their marriage. The prenup is now big business in America - Donald and Ivana had one, so did Jackie and Aristotle - and I sincerely hope it isn't about to make its way over here. In the States, couples increasingly use the prenup to thrash out in advance who's going to do the dishes, who'll walk the dog, even how often they'll have sex. No wonder they flock to see films like Sleepless in Seattle, The Age of Innocence and Mr Wonderful, and then rush out to buy The Bridges of Madison County. There can't be much romance left in real life if they start marriage with the premise that the one they love is just a big bundle of faults, all of which have to be controlled. Anyway, it would be a very dull marriage if you couldn't have a drunken row from time to time about who was going to do the dishes. William and Heidi probably split up from boredom.

THE Government seems unable to launch an initiative nowadays without calling it a partnership. Last week English Partnerships replaced the Urban Regeneration Agency, and the partnerships virus rages through government departments. John Gummer at Environment has claimed that 'partnership is the key to London'; John Patten at Education that the home-school partnership is critical to pupils; David Hunt has talked of 'a new partnership for a new century' at Employment.

This is all very different from the language of the 1980s when every initiative was an enterprise - zones, allowances, councils. Before long, no doubt, Tory governments will have taken all this to its logical conclusion, and be talking proudly about their new unions, communes and collectives.