It would seem a fairly obvious rule of public life that references to daily, intimate activities be kept to a minimum. If a book called Tales from the Smallest Room were published, it would do little for the reputations of those included. Evelyn Waugh died there, Joe Orton spent a lot of time there, Rula Lenska once got stuck in there and George Michael was arrested there: it is all one needs to know. When the former star Jade Goody announced to the world’s press her preference for quilted toilet paper, her days as a celebrity were numbered.
Yet now, astonishingly, the brilliant country music star Sheryl Crow seems in danger of making the same mistake. Following a climate change-awareness tour – songs, satire, worrying statistics, clips from Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth – the singer posted some provocative thoughts on her blog. “I propose a limitation be put on how many squares of toilet paper can be used in one sitting,” she wrote. “I think we are an industrious enough people that we can make it work with only one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where two or three could be required.”
She then revealed that has designed a “dining sleeve”, a detachable garment which will obviate the need for paper napkins (“the height of wastefulness”) or even handkerchiefs.
She will be mocked, of course. Comedians will do routines around her snot-sleeve idea. Her reputation will be ruinously linked to going to the lavatory. It will be questioned whether a country in which the right to carry guns is seen as God-given is quite ready for the one-square-per visit limitation. Even people broadly in sympathy with her environmental aims might argue that, addressing the most personally wasteful nation on earth, she might have selected an easier initiative, trying to get her fellow Americans out of SUV’s, or suggesting the novel idea that lights in offices and houses might be turned off overnight.
But then Sheryl Crow’s fellow country stars the Dixie Chicks were widely reviled when they questioned the patriotism of those who supported the invasion of Iraq, only to be welcomed back into the fold when the war became unpopular. Crow’s bog-blog has similarly attracted the attention of the world’s press.
In any other country on earth, the war on Andrex would have seemed absurdly impertinent. Around the world, a bogus environmentalism has often become an excuse for casual guilt-mongering or worse. When the publishers of Harry Potter recently announced that booksellers would be able to return fewer unsold copies than in the past, they dressed up a hard-headed commercial decision as concern for Planet Earth: they were saving paper, they said, and cutting down on transport costs.
Even in China, the world’s great industrial polluter, the same games are being played. A domestic airline has requested passengers to avoid using the in-flight loos: one flush, apparently, is equivalent to a car journey of 10 kilometres. For the same ecological reason, the airline would soon not be supplying magazines.
In America, the case is different. By going too far in arguing the case for environmentalism, Sheryl Crow might just shake up a few of those Americans who have come to believe that self-indulgence is not just a right, but is actually patriotic. She may seem mad and out of touch with reality but, like the Fool in a Shakespeare play, there is a sort of wisdom to what she says.
Bannatyne is not alone in his bigotry
Duncan Bannatyne, one of TV’s new amateur nasties, has daringly entered the great obesity debate. The Dragons’ Den panellist, left, a thin, weaselly type with murderous eyes, has said that fat people don’t work as hard as their slimmer colleagues, fail to look after themselves and “will just smoke cigarettes or stuff themselves with pies”.
This admittedly harsh view – it is no coincidence that Bannatyne owns a chain of health clubs – has caused outrage in the anti-fattist lobby. An organisation called the Obesity Awareness and Solutions Trust – shortened, unfortunately one might think, to TOAST – found the remarks appalling, and so did another campaigning group, Fat is the New Black.
But if Bannatyne is bigoted, then so are broadcasters, politicians and voters. Where, after all, are the hard-working, conscientious fatties on our TV screens or in parliament?
* David Cameron poses for photographers on a Tube train, reading a suspiciously unopened, pristine book – almost as if it has just been handed to him by a PR operative. No prizes for guessing name of the book: a caring, intelligent British politician can only be seen reading a book by Ian McEwan, and luckily a new novel, On Chesil Beach, was available. Over the past five years, McEwan has become the acceptable face of British literature – intelligent without being intellectual, caring without being wet. When Cherie Blair appeared on Radio 4’s A Good Read, her choice had to be his last novel Saturday. A cluster of politicians, led by Charles Kennedy, selected it as their book of the year. Eventually, these endorsements become routine and faintly insulting. It is time for Ian McEwan to escape from becoming the establishment novelist of the age by writing something monumentally off-putting. A British version of An American Psycho would be my suggestion.