We suburbanites are quite used to being sneered at

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FATHERS often tell their daughters never again to darken their doors, but John Osborne is the first I've come across to do it because she likes the suburbs. Osborne's grown-up daughter Nolan surfaced this week, having been cast off at 16 by a fat her whocalled her smug and "devotedly suburban". Why is it that some people seem to think the suburbs are fair game, intrinsically comic? The Times last week claimed loftily (huh! it thinks) that the dumping of the truly terrible Anderson Country by Rad io 4 was a victory for "the vociferous minority that fires handwritten missives at the BBC from the depths of middle England". Apparently there's now something impossibly declasse about handwriting.

I grew up in the suburbs, uneasily aware that if I was going to be an artist or famous actress or any of the other things I fancied turning into, I would soon have to get embarrassed about my background. The difficulty was that the suburbs were really very nice. Good Tube access into the city, trees outside the back gate and knowing the butcher. Of course, like all suburbanites, I dreamt of living in a village: it wasn't until I did that I realised the class system still runs through country lanes like lettering through a stick of rock. Only in villages do you get lectured by the lady from the big house on the merits of ironing wrapping paper: in the suburbs we consider it insulting not to use new wrapping paper, and worse than insulting to make patronising assumptions about other people's material position. Now I live in the inner city, where you are either in work, and an object of class hatred, or out of it, and an object of class terror.

I am glad to be able to report that Nolan Osborne is about to move into a what we suburbanites know as a magnificent detached house with lovely garden. That's what happens to the devotedly suburban: they better themselves. So they should care if people make fun of them and their fountain pens.

HAPPY smiling people are vanishing from the high street, according to a new survey. Researchers who visited 2,500 stores nationwide, including branches of Marks & Spencer, W H Smith and John Lewis, found sales staff who were efficient rather than friendly, snooty instead of helpful. No more Mr Nice Guy wrapping up your parcels and wishing you a good afternoon modom; now they whip away your credit card and slap the receipt down on the counter and, according to one of the team of investigators, do not even seem pleased when you make a purchase.

They evidently didn't visit my local branch of Marks & Spencer Foods, where the most friendly young man in history has recently been employed. He starts grinning even before you get to his checkout. "Good afternoon!" he says breezily, as you shift your "next customer please" barrier thing out of his way. "And how are you?" He even prepares your bags for you - not just throwing them at you in the usual manner, but fluffing them out.

To the urban shopper this means only one thing: this guy is an axe murderer. I try to avoid his checkout, but so does everyone else, so every now and then I think I'll endure the frightful breeziness in order to get home a few minutes earlier. I'm skewe r ed with embarrassment by his bonhomie even before I reach him, and when he turns his horrible cheerfulness on me, I hang my head, go red and mumble. Then I imagine that everyone is wondering how a grown woman can be reduced to a sulky adolescent jelly by a friendly boy, and go redder still. "Thank you very much madam," he trills, "now have a safe journey home!" I know what he means. I understand the point of all that eye contact. He means have a nice journey this time; another time I might just be outw ith my axe.

ASTRONOMERS have discovered that we're all reading the wrong horoscopes. Instead of the 12 star signs we thought we knew, it turns out there are 13. Anyone born between 30 November and 17 December gets an entirely new sign, Ophiuchus, the man with a coiled snake; the rest of us move round to accommodate him. I hope this will put a stop, at least temporarily, to all those tedious oh-you-must-be-a-Pisces conversations, which always make me want to hit people (how can they reduce my complex and interestingpersonality to three lines from their handbook of astrological tat?) A lot of people, I suspect, will be feeling a bit sheepish - especially those who have paired off on the basis of star sign compatibility and now find themselves happily married to someone they're supposed to loathe. Not to mention that astrologer to the Reagans, who seems to have had a hefty input into geopolitics for much of the Eighties. Looks like we were lucky to escape relatively unscathed.

WHEN I started writing this column, I wondered what to call a person with whom you are intimate when "boyfriend" sounds as though you're trying to pass yourself off as a pre-teen and "partner" feels drabby. This week I think I may have found the answer: Camilla Parker Bowles was referred to on the news as "Prince Charles's friend" and in the Daily Telegraph as "a close friend of the Prince of Wales". So now I've solved the conundrum, it's probably time to move on - from the column, though n o t from thepaper.

It has become a cliche for departing columnists to thank all those people who have written to them. I was going to go quietly, but I find now it comes to it I can't. Writing a column you expose bits of yourself without even realising, which would be humiliating (especially where you expose a bit that's unbelievably banal) if it weren't for the generosity with which people enter into this rather intimate relationship. So, cliched as it is, thank you to all the people who have bothered to write, even the ones who have told me I am a whingeing old bag.