Mates, Romans, countrymen…

Suddenly, I’m everybody’s friend.

No, I haven’t unexpectedly expanded my social circle (that’s as narrow as ever). It’s just that everywhere I go, I’m called ‘mate’.

It’s such a small thing – but it’s recently got very, very big. I’m sure there are rules, but I haven’t yet worked them out. I don’t want to ask people, because that’s like a naturalist telling bears where to shit. It’s just not natural. Instead, I have to proceed cautiously, observing the rituals of mateyness:

  • It’s related to class. Yes, I know we’re supposed to live in a classless society, but we don’t (sorry Polly). The fact is, posh people don’t call you mate. But the further you slide down the hill of social privilege, the more common (in all senses) it becomes.
  • It’s related to age. Older people are less likely to be called ‘mate’. Obviously, I haven’t yet crossed the line.
  • It’s related to class and age. Now this is where it gets a bit complicated. A young man will call an older man ‘mate’ if he senses that he’s an older version of himself. But if he thinks he’s above him in the social scale, he’s less likely to use it. And the older, the better. So an old vicar or tweedy baronet is highly unlikely to be called ‘mate’ by anybody.
  • It’s related to sex. Gender, that is. Women call men ‘mate’, though far less frequently than men do. And when women call each other ‘mate’, watch out. Better still, run.

OK, mate?

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

If my life wasn’t so perfect, and if my work wasn’t so endlessly fulfilling, I’d work for the BBC. But not in any old job. I’d be Business Editor.

The reason is simple: as BBC Business Editor, you can do whatever you like. You don’t have to be serious and schoolmarmish (Margaret Gilmour), earnest (James Lansdale) or ominous (Orla Guerin, Fergal Keane).

You can be jolly and playful, irreverent and blokey. And nobody gives a toss.

Take Jeff Randall (actually, I’d rather not). He’s now an editor-at-large for The Daily Telegraph. But before that, he was BBC Business Editor. And he made his own rules. Economic news too boooring? Never mind, guv’nor. Uncle Jeff’s a bit of a geezer. He’ll give the boring stuff the old heave-ho and Bob’s your uncle. Nuff said, luv.

He was particularly alarming in the morning on the Today programme. One minute, you’d have the soothing tones of Charlotte Green or Harriet Cass. Next thing you know, gor blimey, it’s Uncle Jeff, the chirpy Cockney sparrow.

So I was delighted to hear that he was moving on to Canary Wharf, to spread his shtick across the pages of the DT.

My delight didn’t last long. He’s been replaced by Robert Peston, whose true spiritual home has to be chidren’s television.

Inflation? That’s when prices go up, up, up. And that, boys and girls, means that people have less to spend, because things cost more. If wages (that’s what people earn) don’t keep pace with inflation (remember what that is?) then we have – yes, that’s right, a big, big problem. Well done!

And yesterday, Radio 4 outdid itself. The 7am news had a report by Robert (lovely, lovely Robert) about Michael Grade’s defection to ITV. The interview that followed the news picked up the story. And the interviewee? Jeff (awight?) Randall, of course.

It was excruciating.

What is it about business editors? Do they have a secret they hand down from generation to generation (a la Da Vinci code) that gives them leverage? Is it some deep dark secret about Lord Reith that only they know? Or the true nature of the bowels of Broadcasting House?

Perhaps we’ll never know. In the meantime, we’re lumbered with lovely Robert, with the occasional intervention from Uncle Jeff.

Until the job is up for grabs again, of course. I’m already buffing up my CV.

Terminal bore

It started as the train pulled out of Cambridge station.

“Hi. How are you? Do you live in Cambridge? I don’t. I was just here for the weekend.”

The voice from behind was like the whine of a slow-turning angle grinder. One question followed another, with barely a pause, let alone time for an answer.

His victim was a student. Medicine, she said. Six years. Very long, he said. Yes, she said, and…

But he was off. In his fresher year (meeja studies? football studies?) he went to a night club in Leicester Square, and saw Atomic Kitten before they were famous. He worked for a hotel chain. He was in Cambridge on a freebie weekend. He lived in West London. He spoke German and Spanish. He liked football. He had a Brazilian and an Albanian flatmate, who went out with each other. The thing was that they would never socialise with him. Not even a quick drink. Wasn’t that strange, he said?

No, not really, I thought.

When he spoke French, he said, somebody said he sounded like a girrrrrrrrrrrrrrrl. And he pronounced it like that, as if it was some some strange species. As if he wasn’t sitting next to one.

He’d spent two nights in Cambridge, hitting the local pubs and looking for ‘action’. Needless to say, he hadn’t found any. He came through the front door and action made a quick exit round the back.

He droned on and on. And on. I tried to concentrate on my book. Chapter 7: “She returned home in the early afternoon, with her chicken, and wondered what to do next.”

So like, it was quite close to Uxbridge, and Richmond. Now that was nice, Richmond. On the banks of the river, in summertime. And where did she come from? Birmingham? And what was that like? And the Midlands?

Letchworth, Hitchin, Stevenage. I prayed for King’s Cross. I tried to blank him out, but couldn’t. “She returned home in the early afternoon, with her chicken,” I read again, “and wondered what to do next.”

Cause that’s what a young man wants, he whined. Action. A young guy wants action. But imagine how surprised he was when he was asked by the bouncer at the next bar whether he was drunk. After one pint? Imagine that!


“The next station,” purred a voice, “is King’s Cross.” Thank God. I looked at my book, to see what progress I’d made. None. “She returned home in the early afternoon, with her chicken,” I read. That damned chicken.

“So, like, it was really nice meeting you,” he said in an eager-puppy way. “Maybe see you again sometime.” He gathered up his things. I saw a pained look cross his companion’s face. An I’d-rather-eviscerate-myself-and-eat-my-own-bowels-than-talk-to-you sort of look.

“Yeah, great!” he said. “Be seeing you.”

Not if she sees him first.

Dress for success

We’ve had much discussion recently about the impact of Eastern European migrants. Are they taking our jobs? Are they putting too much pressure on the health system? Housing? Transport? Are they driving down salaries?

There is one question I think hasn’t been addressed adequately: are they a danger to fashion?

Now I have to declare an interest here. Well, more a lack of interest, really. Labels do nothing for me. A while back, a friend (we’ll call him Sam, though his real name’s Mark) was showing me his super-duper Armani jeans. Didn’t I just think they were the last word? Guess how much they cost? And just look at the finish!

Anyway, Sam pushed me just a bit too far, so I said what I was thinking – always a bad idea.

“The trouble with designer jeans,” I said, taking careful aim at the target, “is that you have to have a designer body to go with them.”

Bullseye. His face crumpled. He opened his mouth but nothing came out. Cruel, I know, but it had to be done.

I’m not a label queen. Just the other day, I was walking through Covent Garden with a friend who’s lived in Taiwan for the last seven years. Taiwan, for God’s sake. Anyway, I pointed out what used to be the Doc Martens store, but he already knew that. Then he gave me his opinion on Oakley, who’ve taken it over. What did I think? Not much – I’d never heard of them.

So I’m not a fashion fascist. I certainly wouldn’t pay £120 for a Von Dutch t-shirt. George at Asda is more my style. £5 and you’re all set. That’s probably all the VD jobbie costs to make anyway.

Which brings me to the Eastern Europeans. I don’t want to single out any one country, but if Trinnij and Szuszannah hit Warsaw anytime soon, there’ll be a smile on my face.

So here’s my cut-out-and-keep list of fashion faux pas to avoid. It’ll help our Slavic cousins step out in style:

  • Men stopped blow-drying their hair in the 1970s. Luxuriant bouffants are definitely out. The ‘girl with the sun in your hair’ look doesn’t work for boys – or men, for that matter. It’s likely to lead to confusion at best, and homophobic attacks at worst.
  • Denim jackets don’t work over denim jeans. Sorry, it’s just one of those things. Also, tailored jeans with darts (those funny little seams that taper the fit at the top and bottom) are a no-no.
  • Hairbands. Need I say more? Big, wide, hot-pink hairbands. I know they’re very Carnaby Street, but then Carnaby Street isn’t very anything any more. Men may safely get away with a Beckham band (though just 10 years ago, they’d have been lynched).
  • Make up is now minimal. The pancake look is out. You know – the inch-thick foundation that leaves a brownish residue on the faux-fur trim of that little white jacket. Eye-shadow also benefits from the less-is-more rule. A thick application bright-blue eye-shadow, especially when accompanied by eyebrows that look like furry caterpillars, is best accompanied by a fright wig. Don’t go there.