Summertime, and the living is wheezy

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The Independent Online
PHOTOCHEMICAL smog shrouded south-east England all week, and my family complained of sore throats and itchy eyes. If the figures are to be believed, we're lucky we don't all have asthma as well. Summertime, and the living is wheezy. And then Arrid Extra Dry released a survey which revealed that one in four men wears the same pair of underpants more than once before washing them, and 20,000 men across England haven't washed for seven days.

So now there are all those smelly underpants to avoid on buses and trains, on top of everything else you have to worry about in summer. What to wear, for a start. My wardrobe, like those of most Englishwomen, is divided between clothes that are Sensible, but no use at all when temperatures are higher in London than they are in Beirut or Barcelona, and Beach, which are unsuitable when moving around in public. I am afraid Beach won out for most of last week. Beach clothes have an unpleasant habit of showing your underwear, which is all right if you are Elle MacPherson, who seems keen to encourage discussion about what underwear she's wearing, but not if you're anyone else. Then you have to remember to choose dark clothes only, not summery white, which reflects the light on to other parts of your skin and increases the risk of skin cancer. Though if you're going to worry about skin cancer, you shouldn't really be in beach clothes at all.

I have also read instructions to put out water for dehydrated hedgehogs. I haven't done this, but I rationalised it on the basis that hedgehogs don't live in the inner city. They don't now, anyway, because they're dead of dehydration. I also seem to remember something about putting sun-cream on cats because so many are having their ears amputated because of skin cancer. If it's hot next week I think I shall just stay in and inspect my moles for changes. Though even that sounds a bit energetic: one of the key things in photochemical smog is not to use too much energy because it encourages the smog into your lungs and brings on asthma.

THE LAST time I went to see my doctor, she lost interest in my ailments very quickly and was much keener to talk about how all her patients were really suffering from stress. With the poor ones, it was because of cockroaches in their kitchens and mould in their sitting rooms. With the middle classes, it was having to work so hard in jobs they could lose at any minute, and the state of schools, and hospitals, and politeness, and the fact that they were likely to be mugged if they went out.

But the group I really feel sorry for at the moment is the upper classes. It is no longer fun being privileged. You can't expect a sinecure in the City because the City is dominated by thrusting American investment banks that only want to hire Brazilian PhDs in maths, and frankly don't care who your father is. And now the defence cuts are about to remove another repository of the rich. Time was when upper-class youths could be packed away in the Army for a decade or so, until they were safely socialised, so keeping them out of society, and the streets clear for the rest of us; by the time they came out of the Blues and Royals or whatever, they were too old to do much harm and could be retired to the country. Now, I fear, the peace dividend is about to release hordes of Tim Nice-But- Dims on to the streets, looking for something to occupy them. We will be tripping over them on underpasses, and in shop doorways in what used to be the smarter parts of town, and the breakdown of society will be complete.

IT WOULD be nice if this also led to the end of Glyndebourne-as- we-know-it, although in truth this is unlikely, as Glyndebourne has become less about the upper classes than about corporate money. Transformation into an arm of commerce has not, however, led the people there to lose their airs and graces.

In the course of trying to obtain an interview with Deborah Warner last week, I had the misfortune to deal with the Glyndebourne press office. They turned down an interview on her behalf, which was fair enough. But then a photographer, who had worked with her in the past and knew her reasonably well, called to find out whether she would at least do a picture. The next thing I knew, I had a woman on the line asking me, in a way that I can only describe as most supercilious, to 'call my photographer off'. I pointed out (mildly), that he was not my photographer, and that this request sounded a little peremptory if she didn't mind my saying so. She replied (grandly) that this was because she didn't normally deal with photographers, only picture editors. Our picture editor thought all this might have something to do with an incident a couple of years ago when a photographer from this newspaper took a picture of a Glyndebourne picnic. A senior executive of a large company could clearly be seen in one corner, all over his girlfriend. Unfortunately, he also had a wife.

SOMETIMES you can feel quite sympathetic towards the Royal Family in their ineptness at public relations. Damage limitation must be difficult when members of your family go around having their toes sucked by men to whom they aren't married, or complain about their in-laws on mobile phones, or tell Camilla Parker-Bowles they want to be a tampon. But sometimes Buckingham Palace's hopelessness in matters of publicity is truly astonishing. Last week the Royal Family achieved something remarkable. For the first time ever, a black woman was a bridesmaid at a royal wedding. And was anything made of this? Not at all. Tara Noble Singh might as well not have been there for all the attention that was paid to her. She got her picture on the front page of the Daily Telegraph, it's true, but only from the back. I have no idea what she looks like, or anything else about her. Who is she? All the tabloids could talk about was whether the Princess of Wales was in a corner looking miserable. What does the Palace employ all those staff for? Holding the silver stick, presumably.