When women go into battle, strong men grow wobbly

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MEN ARE wimps. I am more than ever convinced of this following Baroness Thatcher's encounter at the Scott inquiry last week with Presiley Baxendale, QC. Men respond in similar hot-and-bothered ways to both former Prime Minister and barrister, clearly finding their steely confidence and almost-

girlishness alluring but scary all at the same time. 'The finest chief, the most resolute leader, the kindest friend that any Member of this House could hope to serve,' gushed the late Ian Gow of Lady Thatcher, while Alan Clark waxed lyrical over her wrists and ankles. 'Sugar-coated steel,' they sigh now over Presiley.

It was always noticeable that men bred in resolutely male environments - at public schools, and in politics - had a particularly hard time grappling with the fact that Thatcher looked like an ordinary woman, got tearful and talked about housekeeping, and then knifed them. It was thrilling for them, and it was the key to the mythic proportions she came to assume in male imaginations.

Women could always see through this, which is why she kept them out of her Cabinets. Her worst public drubbing came on Nationwide from Diana Gould of Cirencester, who was unfazed by her patronising tones and the absence of an anxiety to please, and harried her over the sinking of the Belgrano. Miss Baxendale has not only been talked about in similar terms to Lady Thatcher, she has a similar, perhaps even better command of detail. She refused to be cowed by Thatcher's hauteur at the Scott inquiry, responding to the supercilious question 'Is there more paper?' by giggling and saying yes, lots more. There must, I feel, be useful Tips For The Top for women here somewhere.

THE dollars 2.6bn (about pounds 1.7bn) profit that the American investment bank Goldman Sachs is sloshing around among its staff in bonuses could buy seven and a half teaching hospitals, three space-shuttle missions, or my house 11,300 times over at its pre-negative equity price. I hope the recipients will think carefully before spending.

Goldman Sachs is paying 70 London-based executives bonuses of dollars 1m or more; 26 partners will get dollars 5m apiece. Staggering as this is to those of us with normal jobs, it is not unique: staff at another investment bank, Salomon Brothers, are said to have doubled their (hardly minuscule) salaries with bonuses. More rich people, at Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley, are expected next month.

Yet the Joseph Rowntree Trust reported last week that the number of people with negative equity in Britain (a subject in which I have a large and unfortunately persistent interest) has risen by a fifth in the last year. It would be nice to think that the boom times in the City would do something to change this. But I fear my house is out of the Goldman Sachs employees' price bracket, in a downwards direction. And like mobile phones and Porsches, homes are probably something they've got enough of. Economics has never been my strong point, but what is going on? Are we supposed to be booming or bust? It is all very perplexing.

NICHOLAS Soames insists that the nation should not be discussing his friend the Prince of Wales's fitness to be king. Egged on, it is said, by the Prince, Mr Soames sought out reporters at Westminster and told them: 'To be king is not an ambition - it is a duty. That duty will pass at the appropriate moment to the Prince of Wales.'

I am glad he has reminded us of the important part duty has played in Charles's life. Duty governed his upbringing by nannies, ensuring that he could cheerfully postpone seeing his parents for a couple of days when he came home from boarding school. Duty dictated his choice of a manifestly unsuitable (though virginal) wife, when he appears to have been in love with someone else. Duty has prevented him ever having a clearly defined, rewarding job. Duty accounts for the rather stiff, formal relationship with his sons.

Duty has also, of course, forced him to stick by Diana, because he is head of the Church of England, a body that wouldn't appprove of secret salacious calls to girlfriends, or anything to which they might lead. Besides, were he to break one set of vows made before God, there would inevitably be a question over any he might make in the future - at a coronation, say. Duty will prevent him from ever divorcing, or contemplating remarriage, especially to a Catholic.

Ah, well, perhaps duty in this case is a more complicated concept than Mr Soames was thinking of. One way and another it seems either to have been impossible for Prince Charles to fulfil, or else to have pretty comprehensively mucked up his life.

I AM feeling very guilty about a tree. I went to see it on Friday, but by then it was just a stump, tinsel fluttering on it in the cold. It was 250 years old, and on a piece of ground where I used to bunkoff school, and loiter with boys. Soon it will be the M11 extension, a pounds 230m, three-mile stretch of motorway, filling up with filthy cars ever-greedy for yet more road. I failed to worry about the Wanstead chestnut tree, but when they try to widen the M25, I will think of its stump, and get in front of the bulldozers. There have to be better things to spend money on than pulling down houses and covering pretty suburban greens with


I HAD breakfast with a lot of achieving women last week, as a (purely observing) guest of Cosmopolitan, which was honouring them with awards. Ignoring the blown-up front cover outside the room, the first coverline of which described oral sex (again]), we were a thoroughly respectable group. The overall award was deservedly won by Pragna Patel, who has rescued a lot of women from domestic violence. But I realised why I am not an achieving woman myself: I was halfway through a conversation with the company secretary of Hanson plc, when I felt a curious bulge about my inside thigh. This wasn't something to do with a Cosmo coverline, but an extra, screwed-up pair of tights which I had somehow managed to put on inside my leggings.