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Peter Thomas Every Friday: Fashion experts manage to make rest of us look good.

Byline: Peter Thomas

THERE are some occupations one can't help but have respect for. Being a nurse, for example, guarantees you a large chunk of social credibility and the undivided attention of every medical student within a three-mile radius.

Likewise, doctors, despite their inability to write coherently or pass up the opportunity of tobacco and hard liquor, are regarded as decent sorts; and for sheer bravery under enemy fire and selfless devotion to duty in the face of imminent death, primary school teachers in Tower Hamlets are hard to knock.

Some jobs, however, are widely regarded as money for old rope. Old rope salesman is one, along with estate agency, which is seen by most impartial observers as the art of putting a poorly taken photograph in a shop window and working out two and a half per cent of any given figure.

Right down the bottom of most people's list of worthy ways to earn a living, of course, is racing journalism. Some of the more vitriolic responses to the Racing Post's current and controversial stable staff campaign have revealed that we hacks are regarded as making about as much contribution to the improvement of the human condition as Dr Shipman, who, incidentally, is not widely regarded as a decent sort (see above).

Fortunately for my own self esteem, I have discovered this week that there is a job which must rank lower than my own ignoble calling; one which makes the humble assessor of the relative speeds of horses running round a field look, by comparison, deserving of, at the very least, a Nobel prize, and possibly even the Presidency of the World.

I speak, of course, of the Royal Ascot fashion gurus - that curious band of folk who appear each June to spout twaddle for five days and then are gone, back to their day jobs, the line of their haute couture spoiled by the fat fees nestling in their trouser pockets.

I've long held the view that the only worthwhile part of the BBC's fashion coverage of the royal extravaganza is the footage of the parade that reveals what colour the Queen is wearing on any given day.

There was a time when the truly desperate (a group that includes myself as founder member) could ease the jitters of the traditional belated 2.30 start to the day's action by having a flutter on Her Maj's outfit.

Sadly, I haven't seen this priced up for a while, even though you can now bet on every other eventuality in world affairs, from the likelihood of sexual intercourse in the Big Brother house to the possibility of biological warfare in Cricklewood High Street in the next three weeks.

The disappearance of this annual market may be related to the incident in which an intruder found his way into Liz's boudoir and had to be apprehended by Plod. Newspapers speculated that he was a dangerous anti-monarchist terrorist; I suspect he was attempting a sneak gander at the colour of frock hanging on ER's wardrobe door, in order to orchestrate a touch down the St James's Park branch of Ladbrokes.

With this avenue of pleasure now closed to us, the fashion parade has become almost terminally irritating.

This year, we have once again had Jeff Banks, who looks well for his age, is always dapper and manages effortlessly to exude the kind of heterosexual campness recently made fashionable again by Laurence Llewellyn Bowen.

Sadly, Jeff has been working from the same list of questions since 1832: these include "Where did you get that hat?", "When did you decide on your outfit?", "How old's your mum?", and no others.

Responses to these inquiries may include "Out of a box", "What's it to you, smarmy?" and "Go away, you dirty old man".

On balance, though, Banksy is a good inside-leg-length in front of his partner this year, the unusual Yvette Jelfs, whose own fashion sense seems to rest somewhere between Sue Ryder and Old Macdonald.

Pride of place so far has to go to the extravagant, black feathery creation she wore on the opening day, which called to mind an explosion on a battery farm. It was made, so she told us, from the dyed plumage of French chickens, and certainly it would have been no surprise to have seen one of the Ascot catering staff trying to ram half a kilo of sage and onion up its brim.

And, apart from wearing expensive disasters in full public view, what do you need to do to land a job like this?

Well, you have to be able to say "Spots are very much in this year" while accepting that stripes are also good and that some ladies look like poop whatever.

You must also research which colour is the new black and be prepared to suck up to hat designers who may or may not send you a freebie next year.

Once you've mastered this, and come to terms with the bizarre notion that the Beeb will want you to provide a daily nap for the racing public, then you've qualified for your diploma. Congratulations, you're a guru.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jun 20, 2003
Previous Article:A Fantastic fourth for unstoppable Johnston stable; Dalgleish earns plaudits for keeping a cool head aboard colt.
Next Article:Ascot: Kheleyf the difference as bookies end Ladies' Day just on top.

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