No winners in the war of the erogenous zone

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The Independent Online
WOMEN in New York have been riding the subway naked from the waist up. Collectively known as Top Free, they say they're testing out a little-known law, passed a couple of years ago when the Court of Appeals ruled that an anti-nudity law decreeing that only men could bare their chests in public was wrong because it discriminated against women. Top Free insist female breasts are no different from male ones. (Oh no? When did you last see a man's breasts swell up and spurt milk at the bathroom wall from 10 paces?) And if we could only see enough of them they would no longer be considered erotic.

Rosita Marandula, 49, a leading Top Free activist, has walked bare-breasted down Fifth Avenue, through a housing estate in the Bronx, and her own Brooklyn neighbourhood with only a knapsack on her back, and stood on the steps of City Hall. Breast baring shouldn't stop with the subway, she says - though she's certainly found it useful, since people keep offering her a seat. Unfortunately, the public has yet fully to grasp her message: she has to carry a water pistol to deter persistent gazers.

Top Free may be acting legally, but its influence could hardly be more pernicious. Its campaign is not only unfair to Elizabeth Hurley, who would no longer be able to cram her body into Versace (and we wouldn't be interested anyway, if her breasts were around all the time); it is an attack on a womanhood, which has already lost the ankle, the calf and the thigh as objects of veneration. We haven't got many bits left. In The Age of Innocence, Daniel Day-Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer managed to make a kiss on the wrist erotic. Fat chance of anyone getting excited about wrists now; wave them around as much as you like. These feminists who have burnt not only their bras but the rest of their clothes as well, should bear in mind that Page Three breasts are already on show every day in Britain. Though technically excellent, they are rarely erotic, being too silly and vulgar when placed so pneumatically on display. Civilised pleasure demands that breasts remain mostly concealed.

LOLICIA Aitken, wife of the new Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is said to be one of London's most important society hostesses. She has a nine-bedroom house just around the corner from the House of Commons and a dining room that seats 40. So it came as no surprise that she was at a Buddhist retreat on a remote Scottish island when news of her husband's preferment came through. Going on a Buddhist retreat has become extremely fashionable; if you haven't got a few Buddhist retreat anecdotes you can scarcely be considered part of smart society. In that sense, they are the Betty Ford Clinic of the 1990s; and they offer similar attractions: there's always the possibility of meeting the rich and famous - Richard Gere in the next cell, or Roberto Baggio over the lentils. (Right now the odds on meeting Roberto Baggio over the lentils must be high, at least if he's got any sense.)

You might spot Koo Stark, John Cleese, or the ex-model Rebecca Tisbury, who, at the age of 23, has embarked upon a three- year retreat to get away from the drink and drugs and meaninglessness of life on pounds 1,500 a day. Not that anyone's suggesting it's easy: Mrs Aitken will have been sleeping sitting up, in a sort of plywood pram. She will have had to renounce readable books and writing materials, and do a lot of chanting in Tibetan. But apparently, if you can get past the intense feelings of irritation with other people present, a Buddhist retreat can do wonders for subduing the ego.

IN THE Seventies, workers who refused to go on strike could be drummed out of their unions - and because of closed shop agreements, also lost their jobs. The blatant injustice of this (one case involving three British Rail workers who refused to join the union and were dismissed went successfully to the European Court on Human Rights) may well have contributed to the election of Mrs Thatcher, and certainly fuelled her trade union reforms. Now, in a curious inversion of those incidents, railway inspectors say they're being threatened with the sack if they refuse to operate signal boxes during the rail strike. In this dispute, the unions are widely seen as the responsible force, worrying about proper training, taking care of the passenger; the mood of the country might at last be changing.

ANNE MARIE Fergusson, who made a fortune with her husband from sales of WordPerfect software, is suing her solicitor and former lover for the return of pounds 389,400 plus interest, money she claims she lavished on him in the course of their 14-year affair. It is hard to credit her stupidity.

We are used to men parading their infidelities: Prince Charles with (we must assume) Camilla; Michael Aspel with Irene Clark; Chris de Burgh with his children's nanny; and now Phil Collins with his childhood sweetheart, Lavinia Hudson. They've no sooner kissed some girl than it's all over the papers and they're making confessional TV programmes about it. Women used to behave with a bit more decorum. A friend of mine thinks this is because infidelity matters more to us: we tend to face up to its consequences and leave our husbands. If we don't leave, it's because the whole thing was a ghastly mistake, in which case we never want to think of it again.

Mrs Fergusson seems to be a highly successful businesswoman: it is to be hoped this incursion into male territory hasn't given her a masculine, clodhopping approach to relationships. But I fear the worst. By issuing this writ, she has revealed that her lover divorced his wife in the middle of their relationship, then married someone else; that she married someone else as well; and that she gave him a lot of money that she would have been much wiser to keep, especially as a lot of it went straight to his wife. But giving presents is what you do when you're in love, and it is extremely churlish to ask for them back later. It's not as if she couldn't afford the money. She should sit back and enjoy her pounds 2m mansion in Jersey, and never think of Andrew Collins again.