Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

Mossel Bay

There's a pleasant pavilion restaurant on the beach at Mossel Bay. Since ostriches are farmed in this part of South Africa, it is not surprising to find ostrich on the menu. What was intriguing was the dish listed below it. For a few pence less you may have 'Ladies' Ostrich'. Elsewhere among the (beef) steaks is `Steak - Ladies'. Both are identical in quality to the other ostrich and steak; they are simply a little smaller. Once it was normal in civilised countries to provide goods and services described in this way. I can remember when the North Foreland golf club had a Ladies' Course; the holes were somewhat shorter. It is still, apparently, acceptable to sell umbrellas and handkerchiefs identified as gentlemen's and ladies'. These are of slightly varied design according to sex, but size is the main difference, as with the ostrich. Another instance is the offer, made largely in pubs in the north of England, `Would you like it in a ladies' glass?' This may appear to be a matter of shape but is really about size: ladies' glasses come only in half-pint measures.

Surely this is to be encouraged. There are all sorts of things which are fine in themselves but which one could do with rather less of. I propose ladies' debates in the Commons, ladies' novels, ladies' church services, ladies' dogs, a ladies' Ring cycle and a ladies' edition of the Guardian. Unsolicited, long-winded letters from the chairmen of building societies and other investments are an obvious candidate for a ladies' version. Especially necessary is a ladies' bottle of champagne. It should be an imperial pint. Half a bottle of champagne is too little for one person; a bottle is too much. Some who are attracted to the idea may object to the name. They will say that it implies that ladies are not up to taking a normal-size steak or Mass. The prefix ladies' diminishes women. Not true. On the contrary, those, be they ladies or chaps, who want a ladies' portion could equally be seen as refined, selective, restrained; as putting taste above quantity. There is another great advantage in having an extra, smaller size. It would ensure the continual availability of the larger men's size. If we had had aircraft seats designated as ladies' and gentlemen's, we would not have got to the stage where they are all fit only for the most delicate of ladies. The same goes for table napkins.

South Africa, especially some of the 'English' parts, is a curious mixture of the 1950s and the late 1990s. There's a pleasant slowness and courtesy, and the slightly stuffy dullness that goes with it; small towns shut up at 5.30 p.m. While staring along the friendly high street with its cake shops and cardigans, it is disconcerting to see, approaching past the Lord Nelson pub, a policeman in shorts and dark glasses on a mountain bike. Putting policemen on trendy bikes started in California and I read somewhere that it is being done in Sunderland - or somewhere in 'ladies' glasses' country. The spokesman there was adamant that this was no return to the old-fashioned pedal cycle but a new, modern image. It would put the police more on a level with the public. Young people would relate better to policemen on bikes such as they themselves used. But what does this new image do to authority? …

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