Take me back to the good old daze

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WE'RE ALL sick of hearing presidential candidates going on about 'traditional family values'. The country is utterly schizophrenic on the subject.

On the one hand, we all have rosy memories of a simpler, happier time - of homemade apple pie and gingham curtains, when Mom understood everything and Dad could fix anything. 'Let's get those fabulous traditional family values back]' we murmur. On the other hand, the country is teeming with damaged humans who swarm into 12-step programmes where everyone sobs about how they were sexually abused by their fathers while their mothers looked on in a drunken stupor.

My theory is that those rosy memories have nothing to do with our actual lives but are instead memories from our favourite television shows. We've confused our own childhoods with episodes of Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best and The Brady Bunch. In real life, Ozzie had a visible mistress for years, Bud and Kitten on Father Knows Best grew up to become druggies, and Mom on The Brady Bunch dated her 15-year-old fictional son.

DAN QUAYLE is such a hapless cretin that he's become a delight to all America. We wait in breathless anticipation for his next inanity. First it was his war on the fictional Murphy Brown for having a pretend illegitimate child. We all slapped our thighs and guffawed. Then, before God and television cameras, he told a sweet little schoolboy who had correctly spelled 'potato' to 'add a little something to the end'. We jumped up on tables and did happy little jigs.

And now he's put his silver foot in his mouth by saying that if his daughter ever got pregnant, he'd support any decision she made, even abortion. The poor idiot was just letting a glimpse of humanity peep through his usual clouds of cliche, yet he managed to undermine a cornerstone of the Republican Party platform. Tears of hilarity were shed throughout the land.

Dan's wife, Marilyn, is made of sterner stuff. She stated that their daughter, no matter what, 'will take her baby to term': 50 per cent of Americans suddenly believed that little Corrine Quayle was pregnant. I know that it's having to wear that awful hairdo that makes Marilyn Quayle so vile.

I'M COMING to Britain in a month or so, and I don't want any of you blathering on about how horrible America is. Here's what happens. I go into a pub to have a quiet lemonade, and some git hears my accent and starts. 'Americans, pah] Never been there, never want to go. You think you own the world. And what about that bastard George Bush and his thieving son? You call Batman Returns a movie?'

And I spend the evening explaining that many of us are not the typical ugly American; many of us hate George, and his son, too; we know American movies suck, and some of us are really nice, really.

And then I think, 'Why am I making excuses for a country whose morals and policies I despise?' I don't know. But I do know that the next git who tries it will get a punch in the mouth.

I admit that most Americans I see abroad should be stamped 'for export only'. Normally in the US, one never sees booming-voiced, Bermuda-shorted, camera-wielding couples with whining, hyperactive, candy-gobbling brats. But there they are, stampeding through the West End, infesting the Cotswolds, storming Windsor Castle.

Another irritating American is the type who goes all tweedy and cultured the moment he hits English soil. He goes into a twee tea-shop and astounds the waitress by softening his Rs and speaking with fractured gentility. 'Would it be at all possible, when you have a moment, to give me the, uh, bill of fare?' asks this resident of Brooklyn, who would normally say 'Yo] Menu]'

What kind of American am I? An annoying little snot.

AT EVERY freeway exit in Los Angeles stands a homeless person holding a sign which reads 'Will work for food. Thank you and God bless you.' Except for June. She has no sign. She sits and reads a paperback novel with Joe, her huge 17-year-old Labrador retriever, stolid by her side. She used to have a tiny yorkie, but it was stolen.

'Joe used to love that yorkie,' said June, 'he'd carry her around in his mouth and lick her all over just like he was her mama. Joe's been real depressed ever since she's been gone.'

Many people know June. We give her money, especially for Joe's medical bills. But some people think she has an attitude problem.

'She just sits there and reads,' said a woman at my bank. 'She doesn't seem at all eager to thank you.'

'She doesn't need money, I've seen someone pick her up in a big car,' said the guy at the deli.

Humans have amazing powers of rationalisation.

MY SON is in the shower again. He spends the bulk of his life in the bathroom; applying 12 versions of gel to his hair, meticulously rolling and unrolling the cuffs of his jeans, studying his pores. If he's not in the bathroom he's blasting rap music. If he's not blasting rap music he's taken my car.

And to think that five year ago, when he went to university, I fell apart. I took to my bed. Occasionally I'd manage to get up in the late afternoon and totter into the kitchen where I would burst into tears because there were no dirty dishes on the counters, no one had finished the milk, no gym socks were soaking in the sink.

It took me a year or so to get used to being alone: to enjoy knowing exactly what I'd find in the fridge; walking around the house naked; talking to myself. The kid would come home during vacations and I'd feel vaguely invaded. Now he's graduated and moved in with me becaue of course he can't get a job, nobody can. He's been here for a couple of months, and the plan is that when he gets work he'll find his own place.

Which seemed fine when he first got here, but now when he mentions it my heart stops.

Lynn Barber is on holiday.