Save us from the men in sandals

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The Independent Online
WOULD YOU let your daughter marry one? Do you form a negative impression of a person as soon as you learn that he/she is one? These are the tests of prejudice and, by these tests, I am prejudiced and becoming more so by the week. My particular form of prejudice is not racism or sexism or homophobia or ageism, but a brand new one which I hereby christen - whoops] sorry, name - 'socwism'. Socwism consists of a deep and, some might say, irrational hatred of social workers which means that one can barely read a word about them without frothing at the mouth.

This week's socwist mouth-frother is the case of Jim and Roma Lawrence, the Norfolk couple of mixed race who were refused a child for adoption because of being 'racially nave'. Their mistake apparently was to say that they had never encountered any racial prejudice in Cromer, and their punishment was to be told they could not adopt a baby ever, even though there is a general shortage of mixed-race couples to adopt mixed-race children.

Is it very socwist of me to suggest that the Norfolk social workers, presumably for political reasons, seem intent on finding or even fomenting racism where none exists? If Mrs Lawrence, who is of Guyanese origin, has not encountered any racism in Cromer the sane response would be to say well, fine, bully for Cromer. But of course that is not on the agenda. The social worker who interviewed the Lawrences (and told them that 'blacks are exploited by the capitalist system') is described as white, in his forties, wearing a beard, earring and sandals. No doubt it is socwist stereotyping to say that one gets the picture. So be it.

THIS WEEK I have had the curious experience of reliving what used to be my daily life a decade ago and finding it all changed utterly. My sister-in-law went into hospital to have her second baby, so I looked after my four-year-old niece for a few days. I used to be quite good at this game - not very good, not the sort of mother who would actually suggest making things out of papier mache, but a halfway good one with a reasonable tolerance of Play-Doh and Silly Putty and Lego underfoot. Alas, I am older now. Coincidentally, my washing machine broke down so when I wasn't schlepping to the hospital or to nursery I was schlepping to the laundrette, which was inhabited by a curious gang of Irishmen who spent the day drinking Special Brew while folding laundry with snail-paced, ladylike care.

Taking my niece to feed the ducks in Waterlow Park, which used to be one of my regular treats, ended in tears when a flock of killer pigeons, obviously honed by combat with the local killer squirrels and killer Canada geese, whooshed out of the sky and started clawing at her head. We were lucky to get out of there alive. We went on to Whittington Hospital to see her mother and, picking our way through the nests of cardboard in the grounds where the local winos retire after a heavy day's laundry-folding, we came face to face with two men carrying rifles. 'What are you doing?' I squeaked. 'Extermination,' they said, pointing to a pile of dead pigeons.

In the maternity ward, the first sight that greeted us was three uniformed policewomen sitting on a bed. They were guarding the Holloway prisoners who are having babies, a nurse explained. (Memo to the Home Secretary: why not use Group 4 for this duty and save everyone a lot of heartache?)

The hospital seemed even more run down than I remembered it, but I noticed some improvements - first, disposable nappies that actually fit newborn babies. Other inventions are more questionable: it is depressing to observe that many visitors' first reaction to a newborn baby nowadays is to start filming it with a camcorder. Heaven knows what this new form of imprinting will produce. The real horror, though, is the new generation of 'baby gifts'. In my day the worst you got was a basket of flowers with a fluffy duckling on top, but nowadays you can get a 2ft-high plastic stork holding a blue balloon saying 'It's a boy]'

RAINE SPENCER'S sprint to the altar was a nail-biter all the way and I had several productive bets on the outcome. Would she stick to her French count, despite discovering that he is not quite a count, is said to be in debt, has an ex-mistress who claims he still loves her, and rents out his chateau for making blue movies? Luckily my faith in her grit paid off. But the bigger question is still undecided: who will pick up the tab? Hello] covered the engagement party at the Paris Ritz but that still leaves the register office ceremony, the wedding breakfast and the church blessing up for grabs, not to mention the honeymoon. Hello] has reportedly offered pounds 100,000 for exclusive rights, but Raine is holding out for twice that and has meanwhile sold the wedding breakfast to Point de Vue for pounds 75,000.

Anyway, Hello] has quite enough weddings already. This week's cover story was Julia Roberts tripping up the aisle in her nightie but there was a much better wedding inside - that of David Niven Jnr to 'beautiful actress Barbara Alexander'. Mr Niven is 50 and described by the magazine as previously a 'confirmed bachelor' (a surprising use of the term - I always thought it meant homosexual). He told Hello] that his wedding 'had a decidedly English flavour'. It was hard to see how, since it took place in Beverly Hills on an Astroturf lawn laid over a swimming pool, and began with Mr Niven dancing up the white carpet to the altar singing 'I'm Getting Married in the Morning' while his bride glided behind carrying Miss Maggie, a Jack Russell terrier, wearing a veil (and, yes, I do mean the dog wearing a veil) before a bagpipe band played 'Scotland the Brave' and dozens of doves were released. 'The only problem,' Mr Niven recounted, 'was that Miss Maggie got terribly excited and wanted to eat them and a couple of guys wished they had brought their guns.' Now, why didn't Raine think of that?