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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Sunday 29th August 2004

Julie's Sugar Plum

I'm a great admirer of Julie Burchill's. Some people will imagine I'm being sarcastic, but I'm not. We used to be bosom buddies, then we had a falling out, and now we're friends again--email friends, that is. I haven't actually seen her in nine years and I suspect that's one of the reasons we've been able to keep our present relationship on an even keel.

She's back in the news again, partly because she's just got married to her long-term boyfriend, and partly because Sugar Rush, her new novel for teenage girls, is being published next week. The two events sit a little oddly together, for while she's embracing bourgeois convention with one hand, she's demolishing it with the other--the one that holds her pen. Sugar Rush features copious amounts of lesbian sex and depicts heterosexual relationships as stultifying and boring. Julie herself went through a lesbian stage--she was 36 at the time rather than a teenager--but changed her mind after a few months. Indeed, the man she's just married is the little brother of her ex-girlfriend, Charlotte Raven.

Sugar Rush is surprisingly good. At least, it's good for a novel that, by her own admission, Julie wrote in 10 afternoons. To give you some idea of how fast that is, I'm currently writing a novel that I've been working on for over a year. If I manage to finish it by Christmas, it will have taken me about 18 months--and that's considered quite quick within the publishing industry. It took Tom Wolfe 11 years to write A Man in Full, whereas if Julie keeps up her current pace she could produce 36 novels in a single year. That would beat her own record in 1998 when she managed to write a novel, an autobiography and a book about the Princess of Wales.

The sex in Sugar Rush didn't grab me-- "She pulled my head down and kissed me hard on the lips. Fireworks exploded inside me."--but Julie manages to capture the highs and lows of adolescence extremely well, possibly because she's never really emerged from that stage herself. She claims she was able to tune in to the mindset of a 15-year-old girl without any difficulty--and I believe her. Sugar Rush may well be the first teenage novel written by a 45-year-old teenager.

Would I give a copy of Sugar Rush to my own daughter? Well, since Sasha is only one, she'd probably put it in her mouth, but I might let her read it when she's 13. That's not the real test, though. In the past, whenever I've gone on the telly or the radio to defend pornography, the toughest question is always, "Would you want your own daughter to appear in one of these films?"

Would I want Sasha to appear in a Julie Burchill novel? The answer, I'm afraid, is no. For that reason, I'm going to continue to avoid any face-to-face meetings between our two families for the foreseeable future.

What's It All About, Jude?

Paramount Pictures has just released the first trailer for Alfie, a remake of the 1966 classic starring Jude Law in the Michael Caine role. It's not due to be released until October 22, but judging from the trailer it won't be a patch on the original. The mistake the filmmakers have made is to set the film in present-day New York and it's simply unrealistic to think that a fast-talking, British womaniser would have the same sort of success in Manhattan that the equivalent character did in Swinging London.

Believe me, I know. I spent five years in New York doggedly chasing everything in a skirt and the days when an English accent worked like an aphrodisiac on the opposite sex are well and truly over. Successive generations of freeloading Brits have poisoned that well. These days, when a New York girl hears the dulcet tones of a true blue Englishman she thinks: low income, small apartment, alcohol problem. And she's usually right.

Admittedly, there's a flaw in this argument. As my wife pointed out when I ran it past her, Jude Law is about a thousand times better looking than me. Nevertheless, I doubt that even he could pull the number of birds that his character does in the film.

Parky's Nose Out of Joint

It's bad news that Michael Parkinson's bosses at ITV1 have slashed his entertainment budget, if the rumours are to be believed. The only way he was able to attract such high-calibre guests during his long career as the BBC--David Niven, Mohamed Ali, James Stewart, John Wayne and David Beckham, to name just a few--is because the corporation was willing to pay through the nose to get them. If the ITV bean counters are cutting the amount of free wine that's available in the green room, they're unlikely to fork out the six-figure sums necessary to secure top of the line talent.

The reason Parky defected to the opposition after 20-odd years at the Beeb is because his bosses wanted to shift his Saturday night show from 10pm to 9pm to make way for Match of the Day. ITV1, by contrast, will broadcast the new show in exactly the same slot it used to occupy on BBC1. But how can he be expected to compete with the premier league if his guests are all from the second division? My hunch is that ITV1 had to pay so much to secure Parky's services that there's simply no money left in the coffers.

Stop Bawling, Pinsent

Congratulations to Matthew Pinsent for securing a fourth gold medal for his country, but did he really have to turn on the waterworks as he stood on the podium? As an old Etonian, not to mention the son of a Vicar, he could have shown a little more self-control.

I know it's supposed to be a good thing that men are able to show their feelings in public, but I'm very much of the old school when it comes to this subject. The true gold standard, as far as I'm concerned, is the behaviour of Joe Simpson, the British climber who managed to crawl back to his base camp in the Peruvian Andes in spite of suffering terrible injuries after falling through a crevasse.

During the making of Touching The Void, the documentary in which he recounted his adventures, Simpson was asked why he'd waited so long to return to the Siula Grande in Peru. "I don't see why going back to a traumatic place is necessarily a good thing," he replied. "Why can't you just leave it behind and go on? It's all mixed up with that counselling bollocks that's completely out of control in the States. It's much better to take the British stiff upper lip approach and get on with it."

Now that's what I call a hero.

BA's New Uniform

I spent last weekend in Denmark and, on the flight back, took the opportunity to ask the British Airways staff what they thought about their new, much tighter uniforms.

"It certainly looks better than the old one, which was a bit Marks & Spencer's," said David, a good-looking young flight attendant. "But it's a lot less comfortable."

Sandra, a middle-aged stewardess, agreed.

"It's alright, I suppose, but I don't like the fact that the shirt now needs ironing. It's too much hassle."

Could this be another example of BA's management trying to impose more restrictive working practices on the company's employees? Let's hope the new, Julian Macdonald-designed uniforms don't provoke another bout of industrial action.

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