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The deep end

The comedian David Walliams performed the impressive feat of swimming 140 miles of the River Thames from Lechlade to Westminster. That is still a long way short of the swims undertaken by Martin Strel, a 56-year-old Slovenian. — After swimming the length of the Danube (1,866 miles), the Mississippi (2,360 miles) and the Yangtze (2,487 miles), Strel was challenged to swim the Nile but dismissed it as ‘not challenging enough’. — He swam instead 3,272 miles down the Amazon, employing a support team to pour buckets of rancid blood into the water in order to distract the piranhas. — His next project is the Colorado, which is shorter but has faster rapids.

What about the workers?

Miners and steelworkers once dominated the Trades Union Congress. But which industries have most trade unionists now? largest proportion of unionised workers Education 54% Public administration and defence 52% Electricity, gas and water supply 45% Professional occupations 45% Health and social work 42% smallest proportion of unionised workers Hotels/restaurants 4% Agriculture, fisheries and food 7% Real estate 11% Wholesale retail and motor trade 12% Sales/customer service 13% Source: Labour Force Survey, ONS

News values Coverage of some waterborne disasters reported on British-based news websites last week: ONE PENGUIN re-released into wild loses transmitter, might have drowned: 7 mentions, 1900 words 190 PEOPLE drowned after ferry sinks off Tanzania: 7 mentions, 1750 words 10 OIL WORKERS go missing in storm in Gulf of Mexico, of whom two drown: 2 mentions, 400 words TWO MEN drown in Cambridgeshire lake: 2 mentions, 300 words TWO TANKERS collide off Tioman Island, Malayasia: 0 mentions, 0 words

Of human bondage

Twenty-four suspected slaves have been rescued from a trailer park in Bedfordshire. How many people still live in slavery worldwide? Here are some estimates: Anti-Slavery Society 2.7M International Labour Organisation 12.3M ‘Free the Slaves’ 27M


The world’s worst flirts

Why can’t British men show a natural, healthy appreciation of women?


Last week, on the Paris Métro, I had a marvellous boost. I’d been feeling wretched after a flaming row with my boyfriend on the station platform, when a charming man winked at me and offered me his seat. I gratefully accepted. My eyes sparkled and my pulse quickened. Suddenly the day seemed so much brighter.

I can’t remember the last time I saw this happen on the London Tube. Naturally timid British men have now become so terrified of causing offence that they’ve given up on flirting altogether — even that casual meeting of eyes that used to make the day go with a swing is a thing of the past. And as for chivalry, what’s that?

I can’t entirely blame British men for their timidity. A friend was recently sacked from his job as a photographer when he complimented an attractive employee on her outfit. I suppose risk-averse management types think they’re protecting women by outlawing chauvinism, but the truth is they’re draining the joy from life. We love being chatted up, admired — although not in a threatening or unpleasant way. If men lose all interest, we assume we’re unattractive. And I dread the thought of being single now. What are the chances of ever dating again in a country where the art of flirtation has all but withered away?

It’s no surprise British women have such a loose reputation abroad. We are so starved of masculine interest that we’ve no resistance to the smooth patter of continental Lotharios. Bellissima, they murmur as champagne is poured and hair is stroked and our knickers just fall off. Who can blame us? What’s the British equivalent? A shout from a safe distance: ‘Get your tits out?’ That’s not appreciation, that’s laddish misogyny.

Some of the blame must fall on British women. The ladette culture of the Nineties has had a disastrous affect on the respect men have for women. While we have gained the equal right to riot, brawl and vomit in the street, what we have lost is priceless. I have seen girls cruelly repel gallantry — refusing seats, ignoring doors held open — even snarling as they send back champagne in restaurants. They don’t know what damage they do. British men won’t persevere if they are knocked back.

This dismal state of affairs (excuse the pun) is reflected in a survey taken by online dating service, Of the 5,000 polled, only a feeble 16 per cent of UK singletons have the courage to make the first move, compared to Europe’s most confident flirters, the Austrians (34 per cent of whom would make the first move). The Spanish come next with 30 per cent, then Germans. Some ladies relish the lack of attention. I have Indian, Argentine UK for a rest. But even they wouldn’t want to feel sexless forever.

Flirting is not infidelity, it’s more about joie de vivre than sex. Although happily engaged I still flirt as much as possible — which British men find a bit bewildering. Yet Europeans similarly see this sort of flirting as routine good manners. I enjoy a regular eyelash flutter with the Frenchman who runs a cheese stall at our local farmers’ market. He knows I’m

British women are so starved of male interest that they have no resistance to continental charmers just being polite but there is a happy bonus of being given extra cheese and hidden samples usually saved for fellow Frogs.

The cheese seller is charming, but I don’t fancy him. The British lady who runs the tea stall, however, does. She is rarely at her post, as she’s too busy stalking him. I long to tell her that she’d stand more chance if she flirted or exchanged banter with him. But in the UK there is indifference and stalking, but not much in between. Like many British women, the tea lady’s fed up with being ignored, so she has become too strident; too obviously interested. It’s a vicious circle: men show no interest, women make the moves, the men, although flattered, are secretly repelled.

You may think I’m naughty to flirt when I have a boyfriend, but I beg to differ. As Howard Jacobson pointed out in his roman à clef No More Mr Nice Guy, it is essential to make men jealous. Men, even married men, need to feel they’ve got a catch and that other men are lying in wait to grab their girl the minute they relax. This, ladies, keeps your man happily tethered and gratefully performing small manly tasks around the home with none of the usual irritation.

I’m not saying I’m an expert flirter — you don’t have to be. But it is important to keep practising. After all, flirting, like the bumble bee, may disappear for good unless we all make an effort to save it.

the spectator | 17 September 2011 |

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