"I told him they were horrible". Photo: Monica Arellano-Ongpin/Flickr
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I enjoyed my time as a kept woman in Italy – less so the beige cashmere, the figs and the secrets

Suzanne Moore’s Telling Tales. 

I have never relied on a man for anything. Except that time when I was a kept woman. Totally kept.

I had arrived in the south of Italy, having hitched around Europe in a ratty cheesecloth dress. I was trying to find out about ferries to Greece when a man picked up my tatty bag and threw it into the back of his Porsche.

“Change this,” he said, sniffing my smelly dress. “We eat.” I changed into basically the same dress with fewer holes. He rolled his eyes and took me to the best restaurant. Everyone knew him and no bills were paid and this was it. A relationship.

Every morning, two guys would come to the door with coffee and pastries for me. In the afternoons we would go to the harbour and pick seafood to be taken to the restaurant for our evening meal. Sometimes we would drive to beautiful houses in the countryside.

“Whose house is this?” I would say.

“Mine,” was always the answer.

Fresh figs grown on his land would be brought for me but I’d never had them before and told him they were horrible.

He would take me to shops and try to buy me beautiful beige cashmere that Italian women wear but I didn’t want any of it. He was mostly exasperated by me, not least during sex, when the language barrier became an issue.

“Ask me my name,” he commanded.

So at the appropriate moment I tried, “What is your name?” or sometimes, “Who are you?”

I think he had muddled ask and tell. Nothing made him as angry as when I asked him where he worked.

“You English. So stupid. With your jobs.”

Once he told me he worked in a pharmacy but I didn’t know any pharmacists who had a hovercraft, as he did.

For a while, though, I liked being looked after but I still wanted to be free again and go to Greece.

“I will only be gone for a while,” I said.

“You go and you never come back. You live here now with me.”

He drove me to the boat and refused to kiss me.

“No woman leaves me,” he said.

Soon, of course, my luck and money ran out and I was back in Italy without a penny to my name.

But I knew which restaurant he would be outside, drinking with his minions. By now I knew the nature of his game. Everyone was in his pay.

So there I was again, with a small holdall and a largely desperate smile.

“Bruno, it’s me.”

He did not even look up. Nothing.

I was destroyed but could not show it. I walked away. Out of nowhere another car appeared. And another man put my bag in his car. As I got in, I only hoped he was under instructions from his boss. 

Suzanne Moore is a writer for the Guardian and the New Statesman. She writes the weekly “Telling Tales” column in the NS.

This article first appeared in the 04 December 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Deep trouble

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Boris Johnson is right about Saudi Arabia - but will he stick to his tune in Riyadh?

The Foreign Secretary went off script, but on truth. 

The difference a day makes. On Wednesday Theresa May was happily rubbing shoulders with Saudi Royalty at the Gulf Co-operation Council summit and talking about how important she thinks the relationship is.

Then on Thursday, the Guardian rained on her parade by publishing a transcript of her Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, describing the regime as a "puppeteer" for "proxy wars" while speaking at an international conference last week.

We will likely never know how she reacted when she first heard the news, but she’s unlikely to have been happy. It was definitely off-script for a UK foreign secretary. Until Johnson’s accidental outburst, the UK-Saudi relationship had been one characterised by mutual backslapping, glamorous photo-ops, major arms contracts and an unlimited well of political support.

Needless to say, the Prime Minister put him in his place as soon as possible. Within a few hours it was made clear that his words “are not the government’s views on Saudi and its role in the region". In an unequivocal statement, Downing Street stressed that Saudi is “a vital partner for the UK” and reaffirmed its support for the Saudi-led air strikes taking place in Yemen.

For over 18 months now, UK fighter jets and UK bombs have been central to the Saudi-led destruction of the poorest country in the region. Schools, hospitals and homes have been destroyed in a bombing campaign that has created a humanitarian catastrophe.

Despite the mounting death toll, the arms exports have continued unabated. Whitehall has licensed over £3.3bn worth of weapons since the intervention began last March. As I write this, the UK government is actively working with BAE Systems to secure the sale of a new generation of the same fighter jets that are being used in the bombing.

There’s nothing new about UK leaders getting close to Saudi Arabia. For decades now, governments of all political colours have worked hand-in-glove with the arms companies and Saudi authorities. Our leaders have continued to bend over backwards to support them, while turning a blind eye to the terrible human rights abuses being carried out every single day.

Over recent years we have seen Tony Blair intervening to stop an investigation into arms exports to Saudi and David Cameron flying out to Riyadh to meet with royalty. Last year saw the shocking but ultimately unsurprising revelation that UK civil servants had lobbied for Saudi Arabia to sit on the UN Human Rights Council, a move which would seem comically ironic if the consequences weren’t so serious.

The impact of the relationship hasn’t just been to boost and legitimise the Saudi dictatorship - it has also debased UK policy in the region. The end result is a hypocritical situation in which the government is rightly calling on Russian forces to stop bombing civilian areas in Aleppo, while at the same time arming and supporting Saudi Arabia while it unleashes devastation on Yemen.

It would be nice to think that Johnson’s unwitting intervention could be the start of a new stage in UK-Saudi relations; one in which the UK stops supporting dictatorships and calls them out on their appalling human rights records. Unfortunately it’s highly unlikely. Last Sunday, mere days after his now notorious speech, Johnson appeared on the Andrew Marr show and, as usual, stressed his support for his Saudi allies.

The question for Johnson is which of these seemingly diametrically opposed views does he really hold? Does he believe Saudi Arabia is a puppeteer that fights proxy wars and distorts Islam, or does he see it as one of the UK’s closest allies?

By coincidence Johnson is due to visit Riyadh this weekend. Will he be the first Foreign Secretary in decades to hold the Saudi regime accountable for its abuses, or will he cozy up to his hosts and say it was all one big misunderstanding?

If he is serious about peace and about the UK holding a positive influence on the world stage then he must stand by his words and use his power to stop the arms sales and hold the UK’s "puppeteer" ally to the same standard as other aggressors. Unfortunately, if history is anything to go by, then we shouldn’t hold our breath.

Andrew Smith is a spokesman for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.