Public Man is no longer master of his mistress

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AN AWFUL lot of rubbish has been written about Lady Buck, 'the bitch on the make', as one of the more flattering commentators described her last week. Yet again we've heard that the British are obsessed with sex, have the world's most prurient press, and ought to be more like the French, drinking wine and having loads of mistresses. All of which overlooks the crucial point about Bienvenida, which is not that she went to bed with a couple of old men (though the sex is a vital ingredient, allowing for endless pictures of Bievenida revealing her - retouched, surely? - famously pink nipples). What really shocks people is that she has upset the proper power relations between a man and his mistress.

It's perfectly all right to have a mistress so long as she knows her place. In a more than usually smug edition of The Moral Maze on Radio 4 on Thursday, the panel kept referring sententiously to the persecution of a Public Man, as if Public Men were somehow beyond reproach, had earned their bimbos on the side. Public Men, it was implied, should be protected from uppity girls and their friends in the press. Unfortunately, this isn't always possible, as the seasoned philanderer Alan Clark recognised: he was careful to be candid about his lovers, and sure enough, when his book came out, nobody was particularly bothered that he'd had extra-marital affairs. What shocks people is the mistress who is allowed to get above herself. A certain amount of naughtiness - lying about her antecedents, spending vast amounts of money - is thought to go with the territory. But too much, and she's a scrubber.

The British press - I think happily - refuses to accept that Public Men are entitled to their mistresses or that the women must always remain quiescent. This means there's always a market for girls who want to kiss 'n' tell. (Those who deplore this - The Moral Maze's panel, for instance, who referred to Bienvenida as a scrubber and her publicist Max Clifford as 'that debased person' - are often those who most enthusiastically support the market economy elsewhere.) Public Men of advancing years and much experience should be capable of protecting themselves, and serious questions must be asked about an old man who can think that a beautiful young woman in bras and silk wraps is interested in him for his sheer gorgeousness. Such a man is clearly suffering from blinding vanity, and poor judgement. One can only think that becoming a Public Man can turn the head.

IT IS a relief, after all those years of hearing that the love letter was about to be killed off by the telephone, to find that it is, after all, alive, well and being enthusiastically written by MPs and Chiefs of Defence Staff. Admittedly, the examples we have been privileged to see recently are not exactly the apogee of the form (for that see Keats and Byron, as quoted by my colleague Isabel Wolff elsewhere in this newspaper). Hartley Booth's poems to Emily Barr were execrable, and Sir Peter Harding's efforts less than startlingly eloquent, or even grammatical: 'You are all in a woman I love or hope for, on top of that, is you Bienvenida, the person.' But maybe clarity isn't the point of love letters - whatever these lack in elegance of expression, they more than make up for in fervour.

I am a big fan of the love letter, especially as written to me. Mine are the thing I would rescue from a burning building; they're so much better than the telephone, where there are such terrible misunderstandings to be had in the pauses. And I'm pleased to report that this is a hopeful moment for us love letter enthusiasts. The fax machine has helped (though there are great worries about fading), while E-mail enables people actually to meet by letter, without even having to be in the same country. All this technology is rather like being transported back to 19th-century London, when there were postal deliveries every hour, 12 hours a day; really keen lovers can once more have a complete correspondence between getting up and going to bed. And E-mail has such a vibrant demotic language all of its own that I have high hopes of a whole new erotic form.

MY NEIGHBOURS were such unassuming people. Very occasionally they played their music loudly on a Sunday afternoon, which I feel is unacceptable even in the inner city, but when I asked them to turn it down, they always did, without grumbling or rudeness. The teenage boys looked smart, said hello in the street, and once organised a small barbecue. Their mother rarely went out: I assumed this was because she was Turkish and had complicated cooking to do. Last week the police arrived at 6.30am and removed pounds 8m-worth of heroin from their house.

This would have been very exciting if I hadn't slept through it. It would have been even more exciting if our family of journalists had spotted that there were large amounts of drugs next door ('Ho, ho,' said the police, 'you could have had a scoop]'), or if we'd been able to look other than blank when the regional crime squad asked us about their comings and goings. The truth is that they were model neighbours, who kept themselves to themselves and avoided any kind of trouble. Given a choice, I would always opt for drug traffickers as neighbours.

ARE THERE any women in the North-east of England? And if so, why do they have so little impact? It is most curious that the only famous woman to emerge from the North-east (at any rate since Catherine Cookson a long time ago), is Huffty, presenter on The Word. I have a soft spot for Huffty, because she is so brazenly amateur-night-out.

The North-east has given us the Likely Lads, Spender, Gazza, and Viz: thick, puerile and aggressively male the lot. And now there's beer-swilling, chip-gobbling Huffty, who's shaved her head and pretends to be a yobby bloke. If Huffty is the nearest thing the North-east can produce to a woman, is it entirely surprising that north of the border they know Geordies as 'Scotsmen with their brains bashed in'?