Why tatting gives me the needle

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ONE CAN only sigh at the news that Woman's Hour listeners have made a quilt, described as 'the brainchild' of its presenter, Jenni Murray. Teresa Gorman MP has organised an exhibition called Women in Politics of which the quilt is supposedly 'the main attraction' (hard to imagine what the others can be - postcards of Philadelphia perhaps) and warbles: 'I look at this marvellous quilt, sewn with such loving care, and it brings tears to my eyes.' Well mine too, Teresa, but probably for different reasons. It seems superfluous to have to spell it out but since it has eluded the great brains of Teresa Gorman and Jenni Murray, I will: women who choose to spend their time making quilts are not very likely to succeed in politics.

The difficulty for women in politics or indeed any other career is that if they also want to raise a family (and I hope they do) they are going to have to work incredibly hard and not waste their time tatting. How many wife-knitted sweaters does Denis Thatcher own? Not too many I would guess.

Qua quilt, it is an extremely beautiful object, and the good ladies who embroidered it must feel proud of their handiwork. But when I see that one of the squares is a picture of a pen with the text 'Over the past 75 years thousand of women have taken up the pen', I long to scream, 'Yes, the pen, you dummies, not the embroidery needle.' I hate this soft-in-the-head feminism that pretends that women can 'have it all' and be simultaneously sirens, wives, mothers, career women, jam- bottlers, quilt-makers and, God help us, mystic healers with special knowledge of the arts of midwifery. You can't be a squaw and a chief executive at the same time (well maybe you can if you're Anita Roddick but she's a dodgy role model) - and most career women recognise early on that all the fancy bits of 'home-making' are going to have to go by the board. If Jenni Murray and Teresa Gorman really want to help the cause of women, they should start with some hard thinking and a frank admission that making quilts and making a career in politics are not compatible.

OFF THE WALL, the BBC2 series in which Muriel Gray led a party of people from the Byker estate in Newcastle to borrow art works from galleries to mount their own exhibition, has been a joy. From the art point of view, it only served to confirm what we knew already: that newcomers are always more impressed by craft than by art ('Look, you can see every separate blade of grass' etc) and also by realism, because they can test it against their own experience. What was impressive about the Byker people was how quickly they 'came on' and began appreciating more adventurous works. But what was less impressive - in fact deeply depressing - was how quickly they changed into television monsters. At the beginning they were an unaffected and likeable bunch; by the end, bloated with stardom, they were developing Magnus Pyke mannerisms and buttonholing total strangers. The moral was clear: give the masses art by all means, but for heaven's sake don't give them television crews.

WHY DOES nobody ever take my advice? A couple of months ago, when Buckingham Palace press office announced that it was looking for new staff, I urged Charles Anson, the Queen's press secretary, to recruit someone with experience in tabloid journalism, ideally a retired editor. I could actually have suggested names if he had asked me to but he obviously regarded my advice as a cunning Trojan horse plot to plant a fifth columnist in the Palace. Yet I spoke with honestly helpful intent. Buckingham Palace desperately needs someone who understands how tabloid newspapers work instead of the present bunch who wring their hands at the idea of there being such things as tabloid newspapers at all. So now the appointments are announced and what do we find - three green-as-grass bumf-handlers fresh from the Government Information Service whose total journalistic experience amounts to one of them having spent two years on the Grimsby News. Brilliant. When I asked Charles Anson how the Palace found them (ever thought of advertising?), he said they were discovered by 'the usual trawling process'. One can imagine, all too readily, what the usual trawling process entails: a net stretching, ooh] at least as far as Whitehall by way of St James's. Did they try trawling Wapping or the Mirror building? Did they heck. The Palace has been keen to insist that these appointees are not 'spin doctors' but 'information officers'. Unfortunately this is precisely the trouble. Journalists are not usually very excited by the sort of 'information' that PR officers see fit to feed them, and go out and find their own stories. So in the absence of any Palace dialogue with the tabloids, we will continue to get pictures of Prince Charles playing polo and looking ever more sorry for himself, contrasted with pictures of the Princess of Wales visiting lepers and looking ever more saintly. This does the future of the monarchy no good at all. But such is the Palace's death wish that in future I shall save my breath to cool my porridge.

THE FIELD has alerted me to an important sporting event of which I was hitherto ignorant: the World Tramping Championships to be held at Glen Isle Sands on the Solway Firth on 31 July. Tramping, I learn, is a traditional Cumbrian and Scottish sport and consists of catching flounders with your feet. It requires iron thighs for wading through deep mud, combined with unusually sensitive toes for detecting flounders underfoot. The drawback is that the toes might also encounter eels, thornback skate and the poisonous weever fish, and, according to the Field, 'crab scars are an inevitable consequence of the activity'. But the really worrying part is that 'some entrants, whether for speed, security or an obscure sexual pleasure, keep the catch inside their swimming trunks'. I trust the Sun to investigate.

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