Celia Pardoe asks:

Why does your All Ages model Valerie always seem to wear her own shoes – does she have bunions or size 10 feet?

Valerie’s feet aren’t a size 10, but they’re close: a size 9. This is unusual even among the taller-than-average model demographic – she is one of only two models with her agency, Close Models, to have size 9 feet (as opposed to, for example, 41 models with size 6 feet, and 47 with size 7).

For this reason, as Celia suggests, it seems that Valerie often needs to use her own shoes for shoots, though there are occasional exceptions.

Terry Brinton asks:

I sympathise with the women in your cover story, but I can’t help wondering if the number of competent elder women who are being discriminated against on account of age is greater or fewer than the number of young, incompetent women who get jobs purely because of their good looks?

This is an interesting and very complicated question. There have been a number of studies looking at the question of attractiveness and employment, and findings have often been contradictory, but to summarise:

  • People who are more attractive are often perceived as more competent, regardless of whether this is really the case,  and they therefore probably find it easier to get a job.
  • There is no widespread agreement on whether attractiveness is more of an advantage for men or for women, in employment contexts – different studies have produced different results.
  • There is evidence that attractiveness can actually harm women’s chances in applying for certain jobs. These tend to be jobs that are often seen as “masculine”, in fields such as security, finance, hardware, and mechanical engineering. However, this effect has been observed primarily in laboratory settings, and is disputed by some.

So, it’s by no means straightforward! One thing that’s worth noting, and may help to address Terry’s question, is that the benefits of attractiveness in employment-seeking contexts have generally been found to be incremental: attractiveness may make someone seem more competent, or lead to higher pay, but it is unlikely to conjure perceptions of competence from nowhere.

Paul Treloar asks:

Doctor, Doctor: “How can we prevent our children from being car sick? Even on short journeys they feel queasy.” Surely the answer is stop driving everywhere and start walking a bit more?

Paul may be surprised to know that the drive-or-walk question has come up in the Weekend letters page before. It seems to arise when a writer mentions a “short drive”, or driving to somewhere “close by”, which naturally prompts questions about why the drive was necessary in the first place.

The answer lies in the fact that average driving speed in the UK differs significantly from average walking speed, and a “short” drive may therefore equate to a quite long walk! A drive of five or ten minutes is generally deemed short, and yet it can easily equate to a walk of thirty to sixty minutes – even more if children are involved (as they are in this case).

Additionally, most cars keep their travellers dry even in rainy weather, and allow them to carry bulky or heavy objects with ease; whereas keeping dry in the rain or travelling with large objects is more difficult for walkers.

Helen Keating-Old asks:

Can anyone explain why Patrick Stewart and Liz Hurley call non-actors “civilians”?

Yes, we certainly can. It’s a common usage among actors in both theatre and film worlds, and this is doubtless where Stewart and Hurley picked it up. The Oxford English Dictionary dates it from  at least 1946, when From Gags to Riches included the line “Show gals are smarter and keener than most ‘civilians’.” The OED also cites a Scientific American article of 1975: “The listening public—civilians, we call them—its composers, critics and conductors are indeed fortunate that so many excellent instrumentalists spend so much time practicing and producing music.”

In fact, the OED suggests that “civilian” is used by a variety of groups to refer to non-members: by football players talking about people who don’t play, for example.