In the late 1980s I lived in Liverpool and was dating a reporter who worked for the local paper. I wasn't a journalist myself (I was a fashion designer) but as my boyfriend and all our friends were in the newspaper business I became immersed in it and was eager to be involved.
One day as we met for a drink after work, he gave me my first mission. A new 'well-woman' type clinic had opened up in the city centre and rumours abounded that it was offering treatments and services that were, let's just say, 'slightly controversial' at that time. As the newspaper was predominantly male they needed a female to go there, posing as a patient, on a covert fact-finding mission.
In those days, Mission Impossible was my favourite TV programme and I had always fancied a spot of espionage, so here was my opportunity. Whether I would get to escape via a narrow ventilation shaft remained to be seen ...
So I blithely went along the next day, fully briefed on what to do and say by my boyfriend who sat waiting outside in the getaway car. After half an hour in the waiting room, rehearsing my lines and getting more and more nervous by the minute, I was finally called in to see the doctor.
"So, Frances, how can I help you?" she asked. My mind went blank and I started spluttering and stammering nervously ... "It's alright, dear," she said, "We deal with all kinds of issues and problems here. Whatever you need to ask me, go ahead! I can assure you I've heard it all before ..."
Reassured indeed by her kindly voice and warm smile I blurted out my 'dilemma'.
"I'm a lesbian. My girlfriend and I live together and we desperately want a child ... but ... we don't want to ... you know ... do it with a man, so I was wondering if you can organise for me to, er, get pregnant in some way?"
Phew. So far, so good. Until she opened her mouth to reply, that is. Correction: her mouth fell open as soon as I said the L word and stayed that way for a few very uncomfortable seconds until she gathered enough composure to verbalise her horror: " Good God, woman! Do you realise what you are asking me here? Have you even considered the implications? Clearly not, because if you had you would realise it would be wrong morally ... socially ... in fact, in every way imaginable!"
This time, my jaw dropped open. I couldn't believe that someone who was trained to counsel and help troubled women could be so narrow-minded, so harsh and worst of all, so bigoted.
As she was clearing her throat for the next onslaught, I grabbed my bag and fled; mortified and humiliated by the experience and my silly spy fantasy completely forgotten.
Twenty years later and now writing for newspapers myself, I am sorry to report that exactly the same attitude of intolerance is still very apparent.
Headlines such as 'The last nail in the coffin of the traditional family' this week accompanied the news that female couples may soon be given the same access and rights to IVF treatment as heterosexual couples have long enjoyed.
I'm sorry, but isn't this the 21st Century? And since when do freedom of choice and equality only apply to those who toe a conservative line?
I agree with Ben Summerskill of the gay rights group Stonewall who says: "At a time when three million children in this country are growing up in single-parent households, it seems odd there should be this obsession with a few hundred who have an opportunity to have a second loving parent."
Hear, hear. Let's put another nail in the coffin of bigotry.
Leona's got it, but she's the only one
Congratulations to X Factor winner Leona Lewis, who's gone into the record books with the fastest-selling debut album of all time.
It's no wonder. She's had that elusive 'X Factor' from the very start. No other talent show competitor comes close ... as I'm sure Simon Cowell is painfully aware.
The current series features a bunch of weirdos. And that's just the judging panel.
Contestants include Same Difference, a brother and sister duo so saccharine they should be called Beyond Wrong; a woman on the verge of HRT who nips men's bums like a drunk at an office party, and Lord of the Mings himself, the robotic Rhydian, who looks like Max Headroom in cabaret garb but sings like Harry Secombe.
Last Saturday's episode was so bad Cowell stormed off, apparently describing it an "absolute joke".
I'll bet he wishes he'd quit while he was ahead.
A fairytale of Kylie and Amy
A national tabloid newspaper recently launched a campaign for the return of the traditional fairytale. Each day it gave away one of those Ladybird Classic books to encourage parents to re-introduce traditional tale-telling into the hi-tech modern home. But they really needn't have bothered. There's a classic fairytale being played out every day in the tabloids and it features both our best loved and our most-loathed characters, Kylie and Amy.
Kylie plays the part of a hard-working, beautiful golden girl. She overcomes great hardships and personal tragedy to rise to the top and can do no wrong in the eyes of the world and his wife (who is also a huge fan). She dresses in sparkling luminescent gowns like a princess, which are always immaculately accessorised with a radiant smile. She has even been known to appear dressed like a fairy queen, or an ethereal nymphet, complete with gossamer wings shimmering with fairy dust.
Meanwhile, skulking in the dark recesses of our psyche and staggering across the gossip columns is the evil witch Amy Winehouse. She can do no right. She gets drunk and is a druggie who slashes her own skin. She attacks friends and family when they try to stop her.
Usually appearing dressed all in black, with ghostly ashen complexion, raven hair twisted into a bedraggled clump, eyes painted like a vampire and lips stained permanently scarlet, she makes a spectre of herself wherever she goes, followed closely by the watchful paparazzi. Woe betide if ever the two shall meet! It's a pantomime waiting to happen: Beauty and the Beast, also starring Ziggy from Big Brother 8 as Prince Charming and Elton John as the pantomime dame. Tickets starting at £500 and 5% of all proceeds to go to the latest cause celèbre. I'm guessing Burma.
Blondes make men go dumb
Blonde women can make even the smartest men act dumb, according to research published this week by French scientists.
Tests carried out at Paris Nanterre University where men were shown pictures of women with different coloured hair, then made to take a general knowledge test, appear to back-up this bizarre theory.
Those who had been shown pictures of blonde women consistently scored lower marks than those who had been shown pictures of brunettes and redheads.
Professor Thierry Meyer, joint author of the study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, said: "It proves that people confronted with stereotypes generally behave in line with them. Blondes have the potential to make people act in a dumber way, because they mimic the unconscious stereotype of the dumb blonde."
Thank you, Professor. Now that does explain a lot.
As a lifelong born-and-bred blonde who is yet to be mentally challenged by a male, I had always assumed that men are, on the whole, just a bit thick.
No bloody fun
Attention all you computer nerds. a new strategy game is about to be launched which is endorsed by downing street and features avatars of some of our top politicians, including the pm himself gordon brown. serious policy goes on sale next month and is intended 'to make politics fun for teenagers'. I doubt it will be a bestseller, though. There are no lethal weapons, no incendiary devices nor indeed a single scenario which could end in a bloodbath. So where's the fun in that?