Forget Scottish independence or the economic recovery. Only two things are preoccupying my “serious-minded” friends at the moment, says Jenni Russell in The Sunday Times: Nigella’s marriage and the latest survey on how often the British have sex. We’re gripped by these stories because they give us a glimpse of “the hidden truths of people’s private lives”.
While we have never shared so much information – what with tweeting, Instagramming, Facebooking, and so on – we rarely tell the truth. Instead we offer “a carefully chosen edit of our existence. Everyone wants to be respected and to look as if they’re making a success of their life.” So we never admit how bored we were on a weekend break or how anxious we feel about paying credit-card bills.
At the same time, we’re too ready to believe that “what other people tell us about their glossy, untroubled days is real”. This is especially true of those active on Facebook.
Studies suggest that endless exposure to the success of others means that Facebook users tend to be prone to feelings of jealousy, isolation and depression. So it can be a relief when we find that the lives of others aren’t as brilliant as we imagined.
The new sex survey, which suggests the average Briton has sex only four times a month, is a case in point. “The people I mentioned this to were positively exultant about the news,” says Russell. “Clearly everyone had assumed that their sex lives were worse than the national statistics. They were immensely reassured to find that they weren’t missing out.”
As for Nigella’s marriage – it’s like the shattering of a fairy tale. Suddenly we find that there was “a sad alternative reality” to the glittering life she and Charles Saatchi appeared to lead. “It is agonising for everyone involved that their private feelings and actions are being exposed. It will be horribly irrelevant to them that the effect on the rest of us will be to make us happier.”
According to research at Stanford University three years ago, this is not because we’re vindictive but because “we consistently overestimate how pleasant other people’s lives are”. I think this is true. Life might be easier if we were all more honest about ourselves and didn’t spend so much time envying celebrities. I doubt it’ll ever happen.
Ignore the pious grumblers
Much of the flak thrown at this government, says Libby Purves in The Times, is to do with upbringing and ‘toff attitudes’ rather than with actions. But what about the critics? Many are just as bad, says Purves.
Curiously, few of the “pious grumblers seem to notice that while some despised Etonian or Oxbridge toffs spend their lives agonising over red boxes about a fragile economy… many of their critics belong to a subtler media-showbiz aristocracy which gets more fun out of its privileges.
They can sneer on quiz shows, pose as revolutionaries and sentimentalise about the poor while enjoying a hedonistic life, digging recreational basements and supporting a cruel drug trade by snorting cocaine. Interesting.”
Tabloid money: “Baron Sugar of Clapton, you’re hired!”
• “Famous for his ‘You’re fired!’ catchphrase on BBC1’s The Apprentice,” says Ephraim Hardcastle in The Daily Mail, “Lord Sugar tells the House of Lords that ‘layers of jobsworths need removing’ at the Corporation. ‘My dream mission in life would be to sort them out… the organisation is not run in a manner that a commercial organisation would be. The BBC Trust… is a complete and utter waste of time…’ Baron Sugar of Clapton, you’re hired!”
• “Has it ever occurred to you that our prime minister, David Cameron, is a strange, shape-shifting creature from a very distant galaxy?” asks Rod Liddle in The Sun. “The thought has occurred to me from time to time…
“First, he reportedly told his scurrying minions that his priority was to get rid of the ‘green crap’ that was pushing up energy prices. He was suddenly ‘very focused’ on just how crap all this green crap was. The wind farms, the levy on fuel and so on.” Yet only a few years ago he was telling us all to ‘Vote Blue, Go Green’ and skiing down glaciers to show how terrible global warming was. That was shape shift No. 1…
“Shape shift No. 2 came this week when Cameron announced all sorts of measures designed to restrict the benefits available to Romanians and Bulgarians. “A three-month ban on Job Seeker’s Allowance. No access to housing benefit. Any EU national found sleeping rough in the street will be booted out… Anyway, hallelujah, well done DC.”
Having done little about immigration for years, “in case people called him raaacisst”, he’s taking action. And the reason is obvious: the threat from Ukip. “I think you’ll be seeing a lot more shape-shifting in the next few months.”
• “Should Ukip leader Nigel Farage be cautious about Yorkshire businessman Paul Sykes’s offer of ‘millions… whatever it takes’ for the party’s European election campaign?” wonders Ephraim Hardcastle in The Daily Mail. In 1998, Sykes pledged £20m to the Democracy Movement (DM). But a Democracy Movement source says: “you can knock a couple of noughts off the £20m.”