As the people of Oxford yesterday began returning to their flood- stricken homes, smeared with silt and sewage and piled high with the sodden remains of their possessions, at least they were able to sleep safely in their waterlogged beds.
The Thames Valley constabulary was hot on the heels of a dangerous (and dexterous) criminal – a menace to society, no less – who was caught on camera committing an unpardonable offence.
His name is Rufus Burdett. He is 40 years old and there’s no need to wait to see his face on Crimewatch because it has already been broadcast, live on Channel 4, at the very moment that he carried out his evil masterplan.
The nature of his crime? While walking past Channel 4 presenter Sue Turton, as she reported live from the streets of Oxford, Burdett reached out and “goosed” her.
Yes, that’s right, he pinched her derriere. Cheeky? Certainly. Silly? Absolutely. But a criminal offence? You wouldn’t think so.
Yet that’s exactly how the local police decided to treat it. As I write this, police have tracked him down and given him a caution for breaching public order.
I wonder how they went about it? Do you think they got a special squad of big-bottomed female desk sergeants to wobble their wares at a line-up of likely suspects? “Come on, lads – surely one of you can’t resist?”
Perhaps they took time off from all those trivial burglaries, car-jackings and street muggings to launch Operation Goosey Gander.
The point is, they took the whole thing inordinately seriously – and in one sense, I don’t blame them.
While the “victim” has said that she does not wish to pursue the matter through the courts (how gracious!), she none the less has treated the incident with such po-faced pomposity that it would be a very brave officer indeed who instructed Ms Turton to take her grievances elsewhere.
“I personally found the matter quite humiliating and somewhat disrespectful to the plight of those I was reporting about,” she said.
“Male reporters would never be treated to a public goosing. Should the women of my profession not expect the same respect?”
Well, I’ve got some news for you, petal. Get a grip (if you’ll pardon the expression).
While I have nothing but the greatest sympathy for the victims of genuine assault or sexual harassment, a bottom pinch is nothing to get your knickers in a twist about.
This is a lesson I learnt many years ago, aged 15, on a trip to Italy. Anyone who has travelled to France or Italy will know that the attitude to showing one’s appreciation of a lady’s aesthetic appeal is very different there.
At the time, I, as an English-educated girl, was rather shocked by it all.
I was walking along a beach on the Amalfi coast when a goodlooking man sidled up alongside me. He smiled and said “Ciao bella” I ignored him, of course, as any well brought up young lady would.
Then he came closer, and before I knew what was going on, he had reached out, pinched my bum and skipped off into the sunset.
Flustered and a little bemused, I hurried back to my aunt’s house and told her what had happened.
“It’s outrageous,” I said. “You’re ridiculous,” she replied. “You will learn soon enough that it is much better to be looked over than overlooked.”
Her words have remained with me – and although I have not been fortunate enough to have my bottom pinched since, I have never been upset by those occasions (rare enough, I assure you) when a stranger has called out in the street or wolf-whistled from a window.
In fact, Sue Turton should be counting her blessings. It’s not often any woman gets any attention in the streets of Britain. My mother always says you have more chance of being noticed in England if you’re a cricket bat than a woman.
Likewise the former French Prime Minister, Edith Cresson, famously declared after a visit to London that all English men are gay. I interviewed her once, and when I asked her what prompted this statement, she told me that she couldn’t believe how little attention men pay to women here.
“I wondered if there was something wrong with me,” she said. “In Paris, as a woman, you never go unnoticed.”
What is so sad is that when they put their minds to it, the British can be wonderful bum pinchers.
Sarah, an interior designer friend of mine, is always happy to talk about her one goosing.
She was a young lass of 23 and was walking through the City wearing a very short, tight skirt. As she wandered down Cheapside towards her office, she noticed a man walking very close behind her.
“He had the full works on,” she says. “A bowler hat, an umbrella, an FT under his arm. Then, quite suddenly, he pinched my bottom.”
What did she think of this? Was she humiliated? Outraged? Ready to dial 999?
“No, it was a celebration of how gorgeous I was,” she says, unabashed. “I loved it. I tormented men all that summer wearing the shortest skirts I could in the hope that it would happen again.”
So impressed was she by her experience that Sarah has now become an expert bottom pincher herself – surely a far better response than Miss Turton’s.
“I go for people who think they’re pretty fantastic and wearing exceptionally tight clothes,” says Sarah. “I just want to see if I can get a grip on them.”
Sarah may have to watch her wandering pincers. An artist called Louise Danby from East London was charged with indecent assault after pinching a policeman’s bottom three times during an antiglobalisation rally outside the Greek embassy in 2003.
The charges were later reduced to obstruction of a police officer, but a criminal record for bottom pinching is no laughing matter.
Undeterred, I have now compiled a list of people whose bottom I would like to pinch. It includes George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Jeremy Paxman (even he would find it hard to look condescending faced with a good squeeze) and David Cameron.
And, of course, I have a list of people I wouldn’t mind pinching my bottom (see above).
But I agree there has to be some social etiquette. Perhaps Prime Minister Brown could show some leadership here and introduce a white paper on the do’s and don’ts of bottom pinching.
It could describe where on the bottom it is acceptable to pinch (not too low would be my advice); how hard the pinch should be (think of it like a handshake – firm but not oppressively so); and who you should target.
For it’s vital to choose your targets well: Who is more likely to turn the other cheek than get you arrested?
Brown himself, for example, has a bottom that is crying out to be pinched (well-upholstered and snug against the trouser), whereas Blair simply doesn’t have a bottom at all (the same might be said of his policies).
Maybe there should be a national bottom-pinching day when we can all go around pinching anyone we like with impunity?
The number of pinches you receive could be an indication of how popular you (or your buttocks) are: the modern equivalent of a dance card.
The fact is that bottom pinching is not an aggressive act. To those who say it is anti-feminist, demeaning or menacing, I say grow up.
A bottom pinch is a healthy, open sign of affection and admiration, and should be celebrated as such.
A friend of my mother’s always used to pinch his wife’s bottom as soon as he came home.
“The day he stops, I’ll know our marriage is in trouble,” she says. To this day, he is still pinching and they’ve been married for almost 40 years.
So three cheers for Rufus Burdett, the man who had the cheek to show his admiration for Ms Turton’s derriere.
He should be considered a national treasure and made minister for bottom pinching,