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Lacking lady skills and why it's Nadine who should cork it

PUBLISHED: 12:00 10 May 2011

I have a niggling feeling that I used to enjoy cooking.

From choosing a dish to shopping for its ingredients, unpacking bags full of promise, the scent of the kitchen, the warmth from the oven, the satisfaction at the dinner table – either I’ve started to adopt Country Life’s editorial as my default memory or I did actually used to enjoy that stuff.

These days, cooking is as enjoyable as painting a windowless warehouse during a heatwave.

I hate deciding what everyone will eat, I hate shopping for food, I hate unpacking the shopping, I hate the oven, I hate the kitchen and, after I’ve cooked for them, I often hate my family, too.

And, it seems, I am not alone.

A new survey by researchers has shown that women are falling behind when it comes to servitude and what have genuinely been described as “lady skills”.

Lady skills – it sounds like part of a badly-translated sex menu you’d read in a foreign brothel.

In the good old days, women knew that their role was to cook, clean, breed, smile, defer to men at all times and look halfway decent in a frock.

If they got a bit uppity, you could tell them to get into the damn kitchen and make you a sandwich. These days, cast even a shadow of doubt over their “lady skills” and they’ll whip you off to see Jeremy Kyle for DNA test and a good talking to.

“Only 20 per cent of women under the age of 30 can bake a cake from scratch and only 23 per cent of women in that same category could grow a plant by cutting a piece off from another plant,” says the survey.

Dear God, the humanity of it all. But wait: there’s more.

“Only 51 per cent of women aged under 30 can cook a roast compared with 82 per cent of baby boomers and fewer young women are able to iron a shirt or hem a skirt.”

I say take away their votes: since that lot were allowed to drive cars and wear trousers, the world has gone to hell in a handcart. Next thing you know, women will start understanding technology and putting up their own shelves.

Another survey, commissioned by the Good Food channel, reveals that one in six British women struggle to cook

“Women are finding it harder than ever to balance work and home lives. It’s happening so much that many are resorting to quick fixes in the kitchen, rather than cooking from scratch,” said a spokeswoman, probably while rustling up some fusion food (I cook fusion food too, although mine involves the food fusing to the baking tray).

A ‘typical woman’ - you know the sort: all attitude, wonky hemlines and chipped nail varnish - can cook just seven different meals from scratch, which is only half the number their mothers were able to serve up.

More than one in five struggles with a basic curry, one in six can’t bake a cake and 30 per cent have ‘no idea’ how to make a meringue.

And these disgraces have the audacity to call themselves women. Everyone knows that the ascent to womanhood is marked in basic curries and meringues.

Other tasks that modern women are woefully unable to carry out include fetching pails of water from the local river, making soap out of lye, cleaning the gas lamp’s chimney, emptying chamber pots, ironing newspapers and answering the drawing room bell.

And they call this “progress”.

According to the survey, “fussy children, hectic lifestyles and keeping costs down were blamed for them being ‘stuck in a rut’. Shockingly, one in ten women can cook fewer than three meals without looking at a recipe book – 30 years ago, four in ten women could easily whip up 20 or so meals off the top of their head.”

So let’s get this straight: it’s not enough to just cook a meal, you have to memorise the recipe, too, in case a time machine is invented and the first travellers that book a flight are a group of angry housewives from 1981.

The only recipes that I know off-by-heart are the ones I make up on the spot based on the least offensive thing I find in the fridge. Believe me, they do not bear repeating or memorising.

I can sew on a button, could have a weak stab – possibly literally – at a hemline and have never felt the need to take a cutting from a plant. I once famously killed a cactus, which I believe is literally impossible, so the idea of trying to create new plant life is frankly immoral.

On the whole, my “lady skills” are fairly non-existent. I’ve never even been in a wedding dress shop or queued for the Next sale – frankly, it’s only because I’ve given birth that I know I’m a woman at all.

• I have just been reminded that the last time I hemmed a skirt, I sewed both sides of the garment together, effectively making a handle-less bag. Take that, 1981.

I don’t know why all you little people are complaining about university tuition fees – as far as David Cameron’s concerned, even if you pay top whack, it’s still less than one term at Eton.

I had a perusal at the Eton College website the other day, in the interests of research, and have discovered that if I want to send my son there, it will cost me nearly £10k a term and that’s without the uniform, which is made from cloth woven by mermaids from golden flax. It must be, for that price.

Indeed, if you do send your son to Eton, you’ll be pleased to hear that in his first term, he will be given his own Bible. You may be less pleased to hear that at the end of the term, you’ll be charged for it – I think if I was paying £30k to offload my youngest into the viper’s den of poshos, at the very least I’d expect them to chuck in the good book for free.

More than a third of Britain’s prime ministers attended Eton – 19 out of 52 – it’s where the Royal Family send their progeny, unless they let the side down and have girls, and boys still learn weapon-training, battle skills and infantry, probably on the grounds that the army is the biggest single employer of old Etonians.

Asking that lot to understand why people are frightened about the financial consequences of encouraging their children to go to university is like asking a wolf to understand why some people are vegetarian.

There’s nothing like a bit of shame-based sex education to really persuade our teenage girls that abstinence is the way forward.

Last week, Tory MP Nadine Dorries proposed a ten minute rule motion (which I’ve always thought sounds like something you do in a bathroom, preferably while reading a book you’ve left next to the toilet) to bring in a bill to require schools to teach girls aged 13 to 16 “the benefits of abstinence from sexual activity”.

Dorries, best known for her creative expenses account, anti-abortion stance and laissez faire attitude towards other people’s husbands, believes that children are being sexualised too early and that virginity has become something teens are ashamed of.

MPs, mainly from the Conservative Christian Fellowship, voted 67-61 in favour of the motion, meaning that it will join the queue of private members’ bills waiting to receive a second reading.

At which point, hopefully, commonsense will prevail and it will be thrown on to the scrapheap alongside scold’s bridles, chastity belts and ducking stools.

Dorries seems to be gleefully leading us back into 1950s Ireland when teenage pregnancies were all the fault of the girls who couldn’t keep themselves ‘nice’ and virginal for the lucky chap that gets to waltz them down the aisle.

The last time I looked, it took two to tango, only one of the dance partners didn’t end up having to expel something the size of a gigantic watermelon through an orifice woefully not fit for purpose.

Frankly, being a teenager is depressing enough without being lectured at by someone who didn’t abstain from sleeping with her best friend’s husband and then justified it by announcing that her friend “drank at breakfast”.

The country is falling apart, schools are underfunded, EMA has been scrapped, university tuition fees are sky-high, unemployment for the under-25s is at record levels, children’s services are being cut and Grange Hill isn’t on telly anymore. At least sex is free.

It seems sensible, therefore, that if you’re going to give young people sex education that you give all young people sex education – not just the girls, but the boys who the vast majority of them will be having sex with.

As I said, it takes two to tango. And two to abstain (although in the case of the boys I was at school with, I didn’t have to be told to abstain. One look at them and I practically applied to join a convent).

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