Life in the country is racier than life in the capital, which explains the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s decision to send Prince George to a boys’ prep school in west London. So says The Mail on Sunday’s Rachel Johnson. “Rural life as a Sloane is non-stop,” she writes. “A man once roared at me over pints of Stag at a pub on Exmoor: ‘Here, it’s either shag, drink or ride – or all three!’… In west London, though, mothers segue serenely from school gates to Pilates to philosophy group and are fat-free, fanatical exercisers, self-improvers and ‘clean eaters’.”
The choice facing Kate, says Johnson, is thus not so much between Norfolk and Kensington as between “metropolitan puritans and lusty hard-riders who regard wine as a soft drink (“Mummy’s Ribena”) and who make up for slow broadband with fast living”. As it happens, a similar view is to be found in a new book by Eleanor Moran, Too Close for Comfort.
If we are to believe Moran, writing in The Times, life in the country yummy-mummy set is every bit as racy as Johnson suggests it is. Moran cites the experience of a friend called Emma, a restaurant PR in her late 30s who wanted to exchange hectic London for the peace of a “rural county”. What she hadn’t banked on was the “hard-partying lifestyle of her well-heeled new neighbours”.
The “level of drug-taking I’ve seen down here”, she tells Moran, “is a million miles away from what I witnessed in London. It’s not people taking a sneaky line of coke in the loo, it’s full-on debauchery.” Emma talks of 40th birthday parties with coke and MDMA on tap, and dinner parties where “dessert” comes in lines while nannies keep children out of the way. “I didn’t expect it. I certainly dabbled at university, but an occasional spliff on holiday is as far as it goes for me these days.”
How exciting it all sounds. Well, wild parties are not entirely confined to within the M25. And maybe, as Emma surmises, country mummies get bored and indulge themselves sometimes. But then so do town mummies. And while it’s true that the middle class are the fastest-growing demographic for class-A party drugs, the numbers involved don’t seem so very shocking. In 2015-2016, 3% of people between 16 and 59 in households with an income of at least £50,000 a year admitted to taking cocaine in the previous year. Admittedly, that’s up from 2.2% the year before, but the picture of rural England as a site of widespread “full-on debauchery” still seems a little far-fetched.
It was the best of times
As an antidote to the usual predictions of gloom and doom, let’s remember that the world as a whole is getting more democratic, richer and healthier. Philip Collins reminds us in The Times that democracy is thriving, with more than four billion people now living under democratic government. He points out, too, that the number of people living in extreme poverty fell below 10% for the first time in 2016: since 1990 almost 1.1 billion have escaped extreme poverty.
Meanwhile, global deaths from both malaria and Aids have fallen sharply since 2000. Infant mortality has halved in the same period. “Perhaps 2016 has been the worst of times,” notes Collins, “but it has also been the best of times.”
Tabloid money… satire dies as Victoria Beckham gains OBE for services to fashion
• “It’s the first week in January, which means it’s time for the government to spend a gargantuan sum of (our) money telling us what abject failures we are,” says Alison Phillips in the Daily Mirror. Public Health England has upbraided parents for giving children half of their daily recommended sugar intake before they’ve even left for school in the form of sugary cereals.
But the real culprits, says Phillips, are “the food manufacturers growing obscenely fat on the profits of selling addictive sugar-laden foods”, who “waddle away scot free”. “If the effects of sugar are worse than tobacco”, as some experts claim, “then let’s have the same restrictions around marketing and point of sale”.
• On the contrary, eat all the sugary snacks you like, says Rachel Johnson in The Mail on Sunday. The fact is, “most of us are living far too long. Medicine is striving to keep us alive, and adult social care is a bottomless pit (the recently announced £900m over two years for local authorities is a mere Band-Aid: £13bn is needed)”. Now, an Oxford professor says babies born this decade could live to 150 years. “150 years? We can’t cope as it is,” says Johnson. “I’m not sure we should strain to cleave to the latest health warnings about alcohol and obesity… No. Eat, drink and be merry.”
• It seems “perverse” that the honours system – “which is designed to celebrate the unrecognised and the overlooked heroes and heroines of our society” – should be deployed to give Victoria Beckham “the one thing of which she already has a surfeit: recognition”, says Sarah Vine in the Daily Mail.
Yes, she has devoted time to charitable causes, including as a UNAIDS goodwill ambassador, but Beckham, who has been awarded an OBE for her services to fashion, “is not someone who has toiled quietly away from the limelight to help others less fortunate”, says Vine. It seems the honour system has run its course.