Magazine article The Spectator

Dressing the Part

Magazine article The Spectator

Dressing the Part

Article excerpt

Singular life

Having fallen down the stairs last week, I am back in inaction. The following days were spent doped-up on some painkiller they once gave me when I had shingles.

Goodness knows what stuff they put in these tablets, but Thomas De Quincey could not have asked for a more satisfactory narcotic. When my friend Alistair McAlpine was in hospital two years ago they gave him a drug which induced a series of hallucinations, the most common of which being that everyone in the hospital was involved in a conspiracy to assasinate him. In my case, however, this was no hallucination. 'I kill it you,' said my mother in her impeccable English, `before you kill it me.' Even the dog wouldn't speak to me. It regarded me with a rheumy and despairing eye, perhaps recalling the occasion when I was living in the Lanesborough Hotel and had entered the lift with the dog on the end of a lead, only to find that as the elevator shot up three floors the lead was there but the dog wasn't.

On occasions like this there is only one thing to do, drink dry martinis and watch black-and-white movies such as Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man. Why? Because nothing cheers a sick and miserable person more than quantities of alcohol and the sight of other people being murdered.

Our very own Thin Man appeared in the newspapers during the following days. I refer, of course, to the Prime Minister. When Mr Blair emerged on the front pages with a naked girl on his cuff and then in a peacock-blue, long-sleeved T-shirt, all the pundits rushed to embrace that old cliche of `putting style over substance'. One newspaper described his sartorial tastes as `another example of the vanity of our preening premier... if his suits and his hair and his inner cuffs are dandyish, might the same not also be true of his philosophies (if they exist at all)?'

It may seem odd for this Spectator columnist to unsheath her sword on behalf of the Prime Minister, but blame it, if you please, on my having literally gone soft in the head. But, hey. Why is it that if a man dresses well, taking a shameless pride in his appearance, everyone assumes that there is nothing but straw stuffing in his head.

This attitude is disgraceful. It is one of pure sexism. Consider my most cerebral girlfriends, including the columnist Minette Marrin, Miriam Gross, the books editor of the Sunday Telegraph and Nancy Brinker, the new US Ambassador to Hungary. …

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