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A pistol-shot frown and crosspatch sneer on Woman's Hour

Don’t judge the mistress, whoever she may be.

Woman’s Hour
BBC Radio 4

“I’m not a wild, wicked woman,” pleads Sally, a caller to Woman’s Hour (4 September, 10am) on the subject of infidelity, “I’m just somebody who’s really just trying to hold everything together.” “Well, that was Sally,” says Jane Garvey with a supremely accommodating if ever-so slightly sorrowful tone, “who says she was an other woman. It’s a term we all recognise. The term other men doesn’t seem to have caught on! But what sort of women are other? And does she ever deserve our sympathy?”

Jane then turns to the journalist Bibi Lynch, known for writing about her infertility and fragility in Grazia magazine, and her affair with a married man and fragility in the Daily Mail. “I kind of want a different term for it,” reasons Lynch, “because mine was five times over five months, so I kind of call it a ‘Fling Plus’ rather than being a full-blown mistress.” Lynch speaks quickly, as though relieved to be there. This isn’t a studio in Portland Place but a terrace on a late summer holiday where she and Garvey are falling on personal revelations like starved dingoes on fried potatoes. “I was disillusioned!” confesses Bibi, red-eyed with memories of Mr Fling Plus, conjuring up the image of some attractively hawk-like but ravaged-looking millionare old enough to be her father. “I created a love story around it! I really did adore this man!”

Jane then turns to Susanna Abse, director of the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships. “We all justify our actions,” sympathises Susanna, tenderly. “But is there such a thing,” asks Jane, “and this sounds very judgmental and I certainly don’t want it to – as a serial other woman? Who are these women?” Susanna shakes her head. There’ll be no judging on this terrace. “I suppose some of us find intimacy very difficult,” she says. How exquistitely inclusive an us. As interviews go, this one’s the model of tolerance. Is this some new September broom? I hope not. I’d miss Woman’s Hour’s pistol-shot frown and crosspatch sneer. One could almost see Garvey and Abse leaning forward and checking Bibi’s forehead, infinitely concerned for her well-being. “Susanna,” says Jane, “what sort of women find themselves in this position? And why don’t we talk about other men?” “I don’t know,” says Susanna, stumped. “Because this is Woman’s Hour?”

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 10 September 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Autumn politics special