So who gets the kids, Solomon, her or him?

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THE CASE of Sharon Prost has reduced British feminists to unaccustomed silence. Prost is the American woman who has been denied custody of her children because she works too hard, rendering American feminists furious.

What future is there for working women, they want to know, if they're damned as unfit mothers the minute they take a full-time job? It just goes to show to what dreadful gender stereotyping we are all prey: where a man with a good job who did a bit of nappy- changing would be regarded as an absolute paragon of fatherhood, a woman who goes out to work is somehow considered to have rejected her children.

This is a load of rubbish. The reason British feminists feel so muddled about Prost and would rather not have to defend her is that she's indefensible. She should have given her husband the amicable divorce he wanted, shared out the CDs quietly and decided who had the kids on Wednesday nights. Instead, she's cut back his access from eight days a month to two and spent dollars 1,300 on legal fees to stop him seeing them on Father's Day. As Solomon might have pointed out, these are not the actions of a devoted mother.

In the dignity stakes, Prost comes closer to Stephanie de Sykes (who has taken the tasteless tales of her break-up with Angus Deayton to the Sun) than is quite suitable for the chief legal counsel to the Republicans on the Senate judiciary committee.

And the question isn't, actually, whether she's a fit mother; she's not a fit parent. It's not sensible for men or women to work such long hours that they regularly eat dinner alone, especially on the kitchen floor with the phone clamped to their ears, as Prost is said to have done. It's not good for children to have to watch television in order to recall who their parents are, as hers allegedly did. Men may think this kind of behaviour is normal, but it's demented. There is a strand in feminism (especially American feminism) that defines achievement purely in terms of corporate success, and holds that being able to get home occasionally, especially if you then bake cookies, is ultimate victimhood. The truth is that women won't be able to make proper career choices for as long as crazy hours remain the norm - which prompts two questions: why aren't men screaming and kicking, protesting about being denied the opportunity to be parents? And how can anyone think Sharon Prost is some kind of feminist cause when the exact opposite is true?

I AM not very good at supporting charities, and I'm hopelessly disorganised about Christmas. So it seemed a happy coincidence when a Save The Children catalogue fell out of my newspaper, offering me the chance to get the cards and crackers well in advance and feel noble as well. But no sooner had I sent off my order form than Save The Children dropped Sandi Toksvig from its 75th anniversary celebrations on the grounds that she's a lesbian parent, and would have been 'distracting'. I can't believe that the officials at Save The Children didn't know she was a lesbian parent beforehand, because it was an open secret; so to drop her just because she'd said so in a newspaper interview seemed hypcocritical, to say the least. I met her once, and she was funny and incredibly nice, and made the effort to go back to her old school to introduce me to her headmistress (who obviously adored her, although she'd been terribly naughty) for a feature I was writing. So I felt outraged, almost as if she'd been a personal friend.

Rather less high-mindedly, I wasn't sure I wanted to be seen supporting such a stupid bigoted organisation. The box of Christmas goodies arrived and sat balefully in my hall. I thought about sending it back in protest, but the idea of trailing round the shops looking for charity cards that weren't hideous, or tracking down another catalogue made me feel exhausted. Save The Children has now publicly apologised, and I've opened the box. This year I'll send the cards. But Save the Children has had it for next year.

ADVERTISEMENTS have recently been appearing in newspapers demanding: 'Vinegar can be used for WHAT?' and then proceeding to tell us, in short, self-important paragraphs: 'banish dandruff, dissolve chewing gum, shine chrome . . . did you know, without vinegar, Hannibal's march over the Alps may not have been possible?' It's hard to believe that anyone could be that interested in vinegar, but the company behind the ads, Carnell plc, invites readers to buy a book revealing more. The ads must be costing a fortune, so I was keen to find out how many vinegar books they were shifting.

Unfortunately, Carnell plc isn't available through directory enquiries, so I sent off my pounds 12.95 and got back what I can only describe as a crudely produced booklet, badly written and punctuated, advising me that vinegar is 'king to the planet and it protects the environment', and that 'the most marvellous tonic for the feet' is to paddle in (surprise, surprise) vinegar.

There were lots of offers for more 'books' but still no sign of a telephone number. Carnell has also been advertising heavily (for pounds 15) a book called How to Make Money Writing Short Paragraphs. Emulate Carnell plc, presumably.

IT IS hard to believe that anyone will ever again put down their child's name for Gordonstoun. One former pupil, Paul Macklin, was jailed for eight years last week for pointing a loaded shotgun at four policemen, hijacking a car at gunpoint, and conspiracy to rob a wages van. Another, Jamie Petrolini, is on trial for murder; he has admitted manslaughter and claims in his defence that he thought he was involved in some sort of initiation rite for the SAS. And Prince Charles has appalled the nation with his stories of being thumped with pillows and generally ridiculed in the dormitory. Since then, there's been a good deal of discussion of how troubled and immature the heir to the throne is. It seems now that things could have been far, far worse.

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