Diary - Rachel Cooke

My cheeks burn with embarrassment at The Non-Sexist Handbook. Andrea, forgive me

The death of Andrea Dworkin is sad, and for many reasons. Apart from anything else, while she was alive I could take comfort in the survival of someone out there who cleaved, even in late middle age, to the extreme points of view I had held as a fierce young woman. (These days, alas, I worry more about Farrow & Ball paint colours - Hardwick White or Shaded White? - than I do about the smut I used to drag furiously from the shelves of the Oxford branch of W H Smith during our student campaign against pornography.)

That said, this week at least, I have already revisited my hilariously earnest youth. My boyfriend and I are in the process of merging our books. This is tricky. Like many men, he is pernickety about his hardbacks - he owns only three paperbacks, and all of these are in unfeasibly pristine condition - and favours a strictly alphabetical approach when it comes to their organisation. I take a more organic view, and find it oddly pleasing to see Georgette Heyer cosying up to Philip Roth. The other problem is that my boyfriend believes all of his books to be "good", while several of mine are clearly strange aberrations. Naturally, I come over mighty indignant whenever he casts one of my battered Penguins a disparaging look, but I must admit that, on occasion, this is just play-acting on my part.

"What on earth is this?" he said, the other day, holding a slim volume between index finger and thumb, as if it were a dead rat. The book in question was that old must-read, The Handbook of Non-Sexist Writing. I felt my cheeks burn red. Was this hot pride or deep embarrassment?

Oh, Andrea, forgive me, for I fear it was the latter.

During the royal wedding, I happened to be in Liverpool, where my boyfriend's brother had stumbled upon a stash of ancient magazines and newspapers under the floorboards. As I thought about all the tremendous fuss - wasn't this bash supposed to be low key? - I flipped through a 1958 edition of Woman and Home. This rather put things in perspective. In "There is a Way", an etiquette advice column, I found the following letter: "We have recently moved into a house on the outskirts of Windsor Forest, and I'm told it is quite usual to run into a member of the royal family in the park. In this case, should I curtsy? Or should I try to be as inconspicuous as possible?"

Good grief. What, I wonder, did the correspondent consider to be "inconspicuous"? A swift duck down behind a handy gorse? The shoving of her arms upwards and outwards in the hope of being mistaken for a tree?

I have no idea why one Windsor resident felt it necessary, last weekend, to proffer the Duchess of Cornwall a lucky plastic horseshoe. But better that, I suppose, than she feel unable to leave her house except in full jungle camouflage.

An organisation called the Ounce of Fives has announced a national cull of grey squirrels, offering a £500 bounty to the person who kills the most.

Good. I am secretly afraid of squirrels, having once seen a documentary in which one bit an innocent suburban gardener on the back of his neck. If, like me, you hate squirrels but blanch at the thought of joining the cull, I would refer you to a delightfully batty book, Outwitting Squirrels: 101 cunning stratagems to reduce dramatically the egregious misappropriation of seed from your birdfeeder by squirrels. This has given me many hours of sick pleasure.

First, try not to retch as you get to know the enemy (squirrels can jump six feet and travel at 19 miles an hour). Then, mount your attack. I would like to be able to tell you that I draw the line at enclosing my garden with a 20-foot-high Plexiglas fence (stratagem 33). But this would be a lie - assuming, in any case, the enemy gets past the moat that I plan to spend the weekend digging.

Just along the road from where I live in Islington is a ramshackle second-hand shop called Past Caring. As a control freak who is allergic to junk, it is a place I have always avoided. Until now. Past Caring is number 69 in the new Vogue list of 100 shopping secrets, which means that, suddenly, there is room in my life for a lurid 1960s orange vase . . . or even a weird, cloud-shaped coffee table.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 18 April 2005 issue of the New Statesman, Faith invaders