Slowly, reassuringly, even in the midst of conflict, normality reasserts itself. Yes, the front pages of every newspaper are still taken up with the war against terrorism, but one has only to press on to see that, behind the fear and uncertainty, people are getting on with their lives.
The first, welcome sign that no matter how dreadful the turn of events, it’s the little things that mean so much, was the disclosure that Cherie Blair has something stuck in her ear. It’s called an acupuncture stud and is said to relieve stress and tension. The Daily Mail tracked down Professor Man-Fung Mei, who claims to have invented the ear implant and boasts a long list of satisfied clients.
“Singers, actresses, celebrities and many politicians come here for treatment. Look around at celebrity parties and you’ll often be surprised at how many people have an acupuncture needle in their ear.”
Though this column is not invited to celebrity parties, it lives in hope and, should the happy occasion arise, has made a mental note to peer closely at the ears of other guests and to brace itself to be surprised. It is already agog to learn, again from the Mail, that the ear holds the key to our health, with no fewer than 20 pressure points dotted about. Number two on the list, just below “ankle”, is “uterus”, which goes some way to explaining why boxers look not only pained but somehow disturbed when hit in the ear.
Cherie’s ear stud lends her a serenity and calmness which, though useful to the wife of a prime minister, is a handicap when growing giant vegetables. Brian Seabright of Burley, Hampshire, earned his place in the headlines by cultivating a tomato measuring 15 inches by six and weighing 1lb 5oz. He accomplished this extraordinary feat by yelling at the crop. “I started shouting ‘C’mon’ and ‘Hurry up’ at them and that seemed to do the trick,” he explains.
It’s a useful tip. Though many gardeners talk to their plants, their words incline to those of gentle encouragement. While that might be effective in the case of delicate flora such as fucshia, we now know, thanks to Mr Seabright, that tomatoes respond best to a good bollocking. The same goes for carrots, though you have to shout even louder owing to the fact that they grow below ground and are hard of hearing.
Sometimes normality is made more “real” by being cloaked in the unusual, which explains why Linda Gray, the latest actress to bare all in the stage play The Graduate, was pictured in the papers naked and blue. At the risk of seeming ungallant, her ample curves remind one of the naked man in the old Tango ads – though he was, of course, orange, not blue. No matter, when the Daily Mail set eyes on the naked Linda, it was overcome with excitement. Her body, it enthused, gives heart to every middle-aged woman. How does she do it? A double-page spread was devoted to finding the answer. It came in the words of Caroline Barnes, celebrity make-up artist: “Linda,” she said, “has aged in a modern way.”
Even in an age when modernity is generally held to be the only way, to apply it to ageing takes some doing. Those of us who have aged in the old way, simply by getting older, felt somehow inadequate when set aside the naked, blue Linda. I cannot help suspecting, however, that Caroline Barnes has missed a trick. Had she said that Linda had aged in a post-modern way, her words would have commanded instant assent in Islington, and no one would have dared gainsay her.
So in just a few days, we have assembled enough evidence to say fie to terrorism and spit in the face of adversity. As long as prime ministers’ wives have things stuck in their ears, men shout at giant tomatoes, and people ply the timeless trade of celebrity make-up artiste, there will always be an England.
And now for those marketers who regularly scour this column in search of hints and tips, here is an item of interest. Dr Josef Riedler of Austria has discovered that children brought up on farms and exposed to stables, animals, pets and dirt develop an immunity to asthma, hay fever and other allergies. The report of his findings published in the medical journal, The Lancet, confirms the old-fashioned view that a peck of dirt never did anyone any harm and that we live in a world that, to its cost, has become obsessed with cleanliness.
Given that most parents will try anything to make their offspring healthy – remember the rush to buy vitamin pills when it was said they made children brighter? – a fortune awaits the manufacturers of added dirt. Forget sell-by and best-before dates: the shrewd marketer will hasten the day when earnest, conscientious mothers study food labels not for the e-numbers or salt and sugar content but to see how much horsehair, farmyard manure bacteria and honest-to-goodness muck the responsible manufacturer has seen fit to include.
Taste is beside the point, as anyone who has eaten Pot Noodles or prawn flavoured crisps will confirm.