The Times, 28 July 2007


Last year, I read the results of a survey, conducted by a website who had asked a thousand teenage girls what they’d like to be when they grew up. 63% said glamour model. That’s glamour model. Not a catwalk model, where you get to jetset around the world, snort piles of cocaine, and wear outfits that occupy that fraught Sudetenland between high fashion and care in the community. Nope, they just wanted to take their clothes off for the papers, ideally in Swindon. If their horizons were any lower, they would be, technically, ants. Their favourite role model (chosen from a list which included, amongst others, Germaine Greer and - one of the world’s most successful people - JK Rowling), was Abi Titmuss, a woman so pointless that she is a valid argument for the re-introduction of slavery. 25% of them said that they would be perfectly happy to become lap dancers. I think that’s what our society has been lacking in this age of frenzied economic change – an eighth of the population being lap dancers. Which could cause an international lap drought, and result in an embargo being placed on standing up.

I think it would be fair to say that this survey made me a little depressed about the future of my gender. I may have wondered idly when there would be a Girl Guide badge for pole-dancing (which, I might add, you can now learn to do at my local gym. I think the class in cheerfully accepting unequal pay for equal work starts in September). But I discovered recently that I had cruelly misjudged the Guides – an institution I have never really understood. I was only ever a Brownie myself, and a reasonably incompetent one, if my admittedly selective memory serves me right. I think my mother might briefly have been a Snowy Owl one evening a month, but I found her werebird behaviour disturbing, and have consequently blanked it out. I feel nervous when there’s a full moon even now.

On Wednesday, Girlguiding UK published the results of a survey which they have conducted of a thousand Guides, who were asked what skills they wanted to acquire. Their replies have reignited my faith in girls – their number one priority was to learn how to manage money and debt. That sounds pretty darned sensible, doesn’t it? I mean, once you realise that money, inflation, and compound interest don’t show their shoddy materialistic faces in a maths class anymore. They wanted to know how to assemble flat-pack furniture, which makes me want to kiss them (not in a weird way. Which is lucky, since they also want to know how to practise safe sex). Younger Guides want to learn how to pitch a tent, stand up to boys, and cross the road safely. I can’t even do all those things (well, not simultaneously – the tent really impedes my peripheral vision).

I’m so impressed that I have consulted with my e-coven, to see if we had any other suggestions for the Guides, of things we wished we’d learned when we were their age. I found out, to my amazement, that one of my closest friends once reached a level of Guiding seniority that I didn’t even know existed. She’s like the Batman of Guides. So this advice is good. Here’s what we needed to know:

1 Things aren’t as important as people tell you they are. Specifically, GCSE results make little difference to your future. Also, getting chucked out of Brownies for throwing someone’s shoe onto a roof is not the same as having a criminal record.

2 In spite of how much you fancy them, some pop stars are gay. It would be nice if you knew which ones. It would be good if they knew too.

3 DIY isn’t as hard as it looks, especially if you improvise. You can attach a blind to a wall with self-adhesive hooks that don’t need nails, and don’t pull off the plaster when you move house. When it says to clean the wall with methylated spirits, gin works equally well. In a similar vein, the wooden platform or clog is less hard-wearing than it first appears, and can easily be gouged with a piece of ill-placed road grit. You can revive the ruined shoe with sandpaper and beeswax. If you’re on holiday, a nail file and lip balm are astonishingly similar.

4 Self defence is useful. Any kind is good, apart from Tai Chi. This is only self defence if you live in slow motion.

5 Moths are as purely evil as any creature alive. They now breed three times a year instead of once. Their only objective is to destroy your precious jumpers. Even Buddhists think it’s ok to obliterate them. Buy moth repellent, and store your clothes in sealed, lead-lined caskets.

6 Spirits are less damaging than the work of Hogarth would suggest. Gin contains remarkably few calories, and is multifunctional (see above). Also, cooking brandy should be kept under the sink near the bleach. People rarely think to look there, and most medical emergencies require a stiff brandy. Particularly those involving children.

7 Boys turn into men. Some of whom are rubbish, and most of whom are great. Sleep with the former a few times, get them out of your system, then move in with the latter. You’ll thank us later.