Kicking the Tatler habit.
I don't have many secret vices. They are all pretty open. But I confess that -- unlikely as it may seem -- I do tend to buy a copy of Tatler, every now and then, to keep me going on the journey between Cambridge and London.
I'm not quite sure why. I'm really not much interested in which chinless wonder went to which party a couple of months ago...nor in the 100 most eligible heiresses. I think I like the glossy style (and indeed the glossy feel of the paper), the quality of the freebies (I actually wore their free sun glasses a few times) and those luscious full page adverts with pouting models persuading me to buy a Burberry. And since I've lost weight, I can even contemplate buying some of the clothes.
But perhaps the most appealing thing is the question of quite how self ironic it all is (unlike Hello, which seems to have not a jot of self-irony at all). The fun is never being quite sure just how serious they are being and who they are sending up -- the chinless wonders, or the readers who have been persuaded to pay their hard-earned money to read about the chinless wonders? or some nicely ambiguous combination of the two?
It's a bit like what we were told about the Financial Times in the 70s: that it was all written by card-carrying members of the Communist Party, who speculated tongue in cheek about "futures" by day, and plotted the downfall of the capitalist system by night. So, when we find the Tatler diary talking about "Flee Brudenell-Bruce" moving into "a new Notting Hill bijou pad" and having to flog her art collection...quite how seriously are we supposed to take it? Is it really all written by closet lefties?
But this month's magazine (that's September) seemed to go beyond any possible questions of irony.
First there was the nasty little article about daughters' versus sons' education.
Given the recession threatening even the rich, should they decide to save money by sending their sons to fee-paying schools, while letting their daughters 'go state'? Give up any thoughts that on that model the girls might come off better (the virtues of the state system are not something recognised in the Tatler universe). But just look at James Delingpole's reasons for not sending the daughter to an independent school: "Boys, like it or not, are much more likely to end up earning their family's crust, while girls -- especially if they're pretty -- can always marry someone rich, regardless of their education." And the outcome he is hoping for? "Boy goes to tail-coat wearing school full of boys desperate to meet attractive sisters with urban state-educated street-cred. Girl meets future duke/hedgefunder and never has to work again. I don't call that sexist, I call that common sense."
That's where me and intriguing questions of self-irony part company. I teach at a good feminist women's college for heaven's sake, and one of me and the husband's early unsuccessful battles was against a local prep school, which taught Latin to the boys and not the girls (yes honest -- maybe it's now changed, but the argument was that girls go onto schools where they don't expect them to have done Latin). How could I be paying money to pat someone to write that.
But there was yet worse to come. Historian Andrew Roberts has a regular column in the Tatler, in which he tells us what he has recently been doing among the great and the good. Here's how this month's started: "What do you do when a head of state invites you to dinner at his palace but you've already arranged to have dinner with friends on the other side of the Atlantic that same night? I was in Paris for dinner with former premier of Spain José Maria Aznar...<etc>,, when we were all invited to the dinner at the Elysée palace the following night by Nicolas Sarkozy, whom I hadn't seen in ages. . . . but unfortunately it was exactly the same evening that Henry and Nancy Kissinger were throwing a dinner in my honour in Manhattan. Damn damn damn." (It makes Blair look modest.)