Is it sexist of us to mention the prime minister’s shoes, just once in a while? Ann Turner from Heanton Punchardon, Devon, thinks so. “Theresa May’s photograph in Wednesday’s paper has an inset picture of her shoes, captioned, ‘Theresa May made her conference entrance in a pair of leopard print Russell & Bromley kitten heels’. Would a man’s footwear be the object of a report of a political conference? I doubt it. This is absolutely nothing to do with political allegiance, as I do not support the Tories. I just wish that one day women will be treated the same as men.”
Well I do too, but I can’t agree with Ms Turner’s objection in this case. As Matt Chorley pointed out in his conference diary, Mrs May has no objections to people noticing her shoes — as well she might not. The ones in our photo appear to have green crocodile skin at the back, red something or other (velvet? more crocodile?) at the front, and leopard print in the middle. If I went out in shoes like that and no one noticed I’d want my money back.
And would we treat a man the same? If David Cameron had taken to a conference stage in a kipper tie decked out with dancing meerkats (I’m grasping for a male equivalent here) I think we certainly would have felt obliged to mention it.
The do’s and don’ts
The Rev John Gordon-Clark wrote, “I wish to cross (s)words with your crossword editor over the clue to 4 down in last Thursday’s paper. This read: ‘Inform wife repeatedly about marriage vow? One becoming disillusioned?’ The answer — ‘Grass Widow’ — includes ‘I do’ as the marriage vow. However, as everyone who has been married in this country knows, the response to the question ‘Will you, X, take Y . . . ’ is ‘I will’. Quite clearly the answer ‘I do’ makes little, if any, sense.”
Mr Gordon-Clark blames the creeping misuse of “I do” on America, probably fairly. It certainly is a complaint that has cropped up before with the crosswords. I forwarded his email to Richard Rogan, the crossword editor, who justifies his clue as follows: “While ‘I DO’ is not actually correct, it’s commonly referred to colloquially, and so I allow it. It so happens that ‘I DO’ is more likely to appear in an answer than ‘I WILL’, hence its popularity with setters.”
Yes, I can’t think of a lot of words containing “I WILL”.
Michael Freeman wrote to ask what the style guide had to say about “straight-laced”, which he’d just spotted. I reassured him that we plump for “strait”, meaning “narrow”, as in “strait is the gate” (Matthew 7:14). I did point out, though, that the OED (online) allows both these days. “As strait is now old-fashioned and unfamiliar, however, people often interpret it as the more usual word straight,” it says.
Oh the galloping laxity! “If words could ever fail me,” said Mr Freeman, “words would fail me.”
Beware the she-bagger
Iapologise for returning to the subject of manspreading but it is still dominating my mail and has included, this week, some rather disturbing visual aids and a lecture on musculoskeletal anatomy.
Mary Wood’s email made me laugh though. It is, she says, “a relatively recent development and, observing the behaviour of my fellow passengers on buses, I attribute it to the following: poor posture, excess weight, pure ignorance or ill-fitting undies, or any combination of the above. When I have to take a seat next to a man, I find that a little shuffling, a polite ‘excuse me, please’ and possibly a raised eyebrow will quite soon secure me enough space to accommodate both (not particularly large) buttocks. It is obvious that the man does not suffer. There is no sudden shift of the vocal register from bass to soprano. I have considered carrying a couple of pairs of roomy men’s boxer shorts — the Bridget Jones of male lingerie — in my handbag, for the relief of the needy, as long as they delay changing until they reach home.”
Terry Wilton can have the final word on this one. He says manspreading is nowhere near as offensive and invasive as “she-bagging” — a neologism, all his own I suspect, for “the habit that some women have of putting their handbag and possibly their shopping bags and baskets too on the seats of buses and Tube trains, to prevent people (men) from sitting down.”
In praise of Poldark
Our television reviewer Andrew Billen seems to have a bad case of Poldark fatigue. “At least,” he said in Monday’s review, “their mining company appears to have hit a rich seam, which is more than can be said . . . for the plot.”
How dare he, wrote Vicki Shervington. “Sunday’s episode was far better than the previous ones and was full of action, love and sadness. As you may have realised, I am a great fan of Poldark so any criticism of the series I don’t take easily, but I really think you were far too tough.”
There’s telling him. Mike Edwards from Worksop wants to know, “How do you decide when a person mentioned in a news story needs a descriptive phrase? In today’s paper, for instance, David Gilmour is described as ‘the Pink Floyd guitarist’, whereas Kim Kardashian apparently needs no introduction. As one who knows exactly who Gilmour is but can only vaguely identify Kardashian as somebody married to a pop singer, I find this perverse.”
I’m guessing, but I wonder if Mr Edwards is on the dark side of 50.