Last week, quite by chance, I unlocked the secret of men. It started with the cricket. We were about to win, you see. I mean "about to" in the scientific sense: "about to discover the secret of cloning" . . . "about to invent a drug that turns cellulite into air". We were about three years from winning, in other words, but it all looked fairly exciting. I'd been thinking for some time that cricket might be my sport, because of the adverts they run during the match: Germoloids cream, for piles; re-education schemes, for the unemployed; and debt consolidation, for the terminally unemployed. In other words, this is a game for people who spend a lot of Thursday and Friday just sitting about. I could have invented it myself though, naturally, I would have made the trousers tighter and the rules less hard.
Anyway, I'm not a proud person, and I've asked many men what all those numbers mean. "Well, 333 is the runs," says he, "and seven is the wickets." "What's a run?" "It's when they run." "What's a wicket?" [Sigh . . .] "Don't worry, it's just one of those guys." "Who's winning?" [Sigh . . .] "It's difficult to say." "Why?" [Argh . . . Sigh . . .] "It turns on a sixpence/knife edge/crickety-metaphor." You'll agree, the overriding message is, don't get involved; this is way too hard; it's like learning the Chinese alphabet, you could put an awful lot of effort in and all you'd end up knowing is one more language. Try French! Make a cake!
The truth is, of course, it's not that hard at all. Watch it for half a day and you've got the hang of it. Watch it for a full day, try to remember that bloomer from the Sixties commentator ("The batsman's Holding, the bowler's Willie" - oh, my sides!), and you sound like an old pro.
It makes me wonder about everything else they pretend is hard, these fellas. Rocket science; brain surgery; stealing tunes off the internet; authentic pork pie crust. It makes me wonder whether the emphasis on difficulty is just needless self-assertion in a post-feminist age. Hell, I'm starting to doubt the true complexity of Chinese.
For the purposes of research, I'm spending the month eating only organic foods. My dog has gone organic. His Ocean Treats smell so intensely fishy, I'm starting to doubt whether what I've been eating all my life was actually fish. It's like being in the Matrix. My liver has gone organic. My lungs have gone organic. (Those are code words for "I shall still be drinking and smoking, only organically". Damn! I've broken my own code!) And, this morning, my wardrobe went organic, when I took delivery of a heap of organic clothes.
Now, I understand there's a certain restriction in the materials an organic clothing company would be able to use. I've spent long enough trying to source some organic diet Coke to realise that organic Spandex probably doesn't exist. But I don't think the spookiness of these garments is quite covered by the fact that they're all made of cotton. When one vest top makes you think "Hmm . . . I can imagine my mother in that, circa 1980", that's one thing. When the 17th vest top is giving you active Greenham Common deja vu, that's in a different league. It is beyond a passing familiarity; I have seen all of these garments (mostly bizarre, with bits of sleeve popping out at un-arm-like angles) in childhood: at Greenham, on marches, at Labour Party Christmas fetes, everywhere, in fact, apart from the places where ordinary people hang out.
This is what's sneaky about lefties - when the right wing chooses a uniform, you are left in absolutely no doubt about what it is (it's a black shirt) and what it means (something horrid). When the left wing does it, it doesn't let on it's doing it, and the uniform could be about absolutely anything from Pershing to pesticides.
"What are you doing there?" is what everyone said when I told them I was passing the week in Lytham St Annes. "It's full of old people." "Well, I'm 32 . . . I'm not a child." "No, no, proper old people. Eighty-year-olds. Really old. Crazy old." I was there for a wedding, between two people of perfect marrying age, and, I have to admit, I didn't actually see any old people. I guess there are so many clubs for them to join that they never make it outside.
I spoke to my mother, who some day soon will be the proud beneficiary of some organic vest tops. (She doesn't know this yet.) "God, how ghastly. They're ancient up there," she said. I asked the host about it, and he said: "We call them mini-beasts. You'll see one soon enough, buzzing around in its mini-beast chariot." Nope, I don't understand it either. But there's something about a northern accent that makes everything ten times funnier than it should be, and you forget to ask why. That's probably why Blair left John Prescott in charge for the silly season.
Anyway, it lifted my heart, this business; in these days when political correctness has infiltrated every exchange . . . when even the most anodyne phrase or insult comes under scrutiny from the crusaders against innocent bigotry . . . when you're not even allowed to mock the mentally ill, even when they do hilariously mockable things like washing their hands 400 times before bed . . . when you're not even allowed to mock northerners any more, unless you make it clear that you mean it in a nice way . . . it's good to know that it's still open season on the elderly.