I don’t understand why Myleene Klass objects to being asked to bring a cash gift to a child's birthday party. Does Klass actually enjoy traipsing round Westfield on a Saturday morning looking for a suitable gift for a child? I have four children under 12, each in a class of 30, and the custom is for each of their classmates to invite all the others to their birthday parties. So that’s 116 parties my children are invited to each year, and 116 presents I have to find. If one of their parents suggested I simply give their child £10 instead I would fall to my knees and thank god.
Come to think of it, I’m going to do exactly this when my son Ludo turns 10 next month. The amount of presents my children get on their birthdays is staggering, all of them worthless tat. And children are notoriously reluctant to part with anything once they’ve received it, so re-gifting is out. No, a place must be found for each plastic car and stuffed animal, with the upshot that their bedrooms now look like junk heaps. At the last birthday party our youngest son had, my wife and I managed to hide all the presents from him and when he went to bed I took them all to the local charity shop in a big black bin liner. He’s still none the wiser. (To read more, click here.)
I can’t say I’m surprised by the departure of Harry Redknapp. Since I started supporting QPR in 2008, we’ve gone through six managers – 12 if you count the caretakers. Indeed, it’s a miracle he’s lasted this long. The club was relegated during his first term in charge and we only returned to the Premier League thanks to a last-minute goal by Bobby Zamora in the play-off final against Derby at the end of last season. I was at that match and Derby were easily the better side.
If Harry had been sensible, he would have announced his retirement after that game and gone out on a high. But what Enoch Powell said of politicians is also true of football managers: their careers always end in failure. QPR have been dismal this term, in spite of the £36.5m Harry spent on new players over the summer. We’ve lost our last 12 away games, a premier league record, and are currently languishing second from bottom. Avoiding relegation will now take a miracle, particularly as Harry only brought in one first team player during the January transfer window and then tried to give him back on deadline day. (To read more, click here.)
Michael Gove probably has mixed feelings about David Cameron’s promise to wage “all-out war” against under-performing schools if the Conservatives win the election. Isn’t that exactly what the Chief Whip did during his four-years as Education Secretary? And isn’t that precisely the sort of inflammatory language that led to his being replaced by the more emollient Nicky Morgan?
On the other hand, he will be pleased that the Prime Minister has re-affirmed his commitment to education reform. Some of Gove’s allies have expressed concern that the revolution he began has slowed since Morgan took over and “the Blob” – Gove’s name for the educational establishment – is reasserting itself. (To read more, click here.)
For a brief moment earlier this week, I thought education might become an issue in the general election campaign. The education select committee’s lukewarm report on the government’s academy and free school programmes was leaked to the Guardian on Monday and the accompanying story claimed that Labour hoped to open a “second front” following the “success” of its attacks over the NHS.
“It is undeniable that the last Labour government dramatically improved school standards in secondary education,” said Tristram Hunt, the Shadow Education Secretary. “But the progress that we made… is being undone by a government that is obsessed with market ideology in education.”
Now, I would welcome this, obviously, and not just because it would mean Michael Gove playing a more prominent role in the Conservative’s campaign. The main reason is because I think the government should be proud of its record in education. (To read more, click here.)
Watching Benedict Cumberbatch talking about the lack of opportunities for black British actors on the American chat show Tavis Smiley last week makes for painful viewing. He tries to think of a suitable alternative to the word “black”, hits on one (“coloured”), hesitates for a second, then blurts it out and carries on talking as quickly as he can, hoping no one will notice in case he’s made a mistake. (To read more, click here.)
The Sun was being widely credited last night with having pulled off a brilliant bit of trolling, first appearing to kill off Page 3, then resuscitating it a week later. If the paper’s intention was to make its feminist critics look ridiculous, it succeeded. The triumphalist reaction of the anti-Page 3 campaigners, patting themselves on the back for having achieved a tremendous victory, now looks very silly indeed. A good example is this tweet by the Labour Party, quoting its glorious deputy leader:
But was that the Sun’s intention? I’m not so sure. One of the reasons the Sun hasn’t dropped Page 3 before now is the worry that it would lose some readers to the Daily Star as a result. Consequently, if it was thinking seriously about doing it, it would probably test the water first by dropping it for a few days and examining the impact on sales. It could well be that the reason Page 3 is back is because there was a sharp drop in its circulation. (To read more, click here.)
"I for one would be sorry to see them go," wrote George Orwell. "They are a sort of saturnalia, a harmless rebellion against virtue." He was writing about the seaside postcards of Donald McGill in 1941, but his defence of them and their "enthusiastic indecency" could equally well apply to Page 3.
Orwell's argument was that McGill's caricatures of women, "with breasts or buttocks grossly over-emphasized", gave expression to "the Sancho Panza view of life". There's a fat little squire in all of us, he thought, although few of us are brave enough to admit it. "He is the unofficial self, the voice of the belly protesting against the soul," he wrote. "His tastes lie towards safety, soft beds, no work, pots of beer and women with 'voluptuous' figures." (To read more, click here.)
John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, has never been shy about courting publicity. He frequently churns out controversial opinion pieces for the red-tops and, just in case they don’t receive enough attention, he’s in the habit of re-issuing them as “press releases”. (You can see a list of the most recent here. He has opinions on almost everything, from same-sex marriage (against) to William and Kate’s decision to live together before their wedding (in favour). But with his latest outburst about free schools, the tabloid bishop has jumped the shark.
Free schools, according to Sentamu, only benefit the well off and divert millions of pounds from more deserving neighbouring state schools. They only appeal to “people with means”, he said, and dismissed the concept of school choice as a waste of resources.
"What should have happened is that the Government should have invested all that money in raising the level of achievement in schools that are less achieving, not by putting in these so-called competing places," he said. “If I am being very blunt I think it was a sort of failed attempt to create grammars.”
Needless to say, he’s wrong on every count. (To read more, click here.)
I envy William Hague. Not the £2.5 million country house he’s just bought in Wales, although that would be nice. Rather, the fact that he plans to spend his retirement writing books.
These days, you need a substantial private income – or a public sector pension – to be a full-time writer. Last year, a survey of 2,500 professional authors found that their median income in 2013 was £11,000. That’s a drop of 29 per cent since 2005 and significantly below the minimum salary required to achieve a decent standard of living. (To read more, click here.)
David Sedaris is my new hero. Not because he’s such a funny writer, but because he’s obsessed with litter. He told a group of MPs last week that he spends up to five hours a day picking up fast food containers and fag ends around his home in Pulborough, West Sussex. Thanks to his unstinting labours, he’s become a local hero and has had a rubbish lorry named after him.
I’ve some way to go before I qualify for such an honour, but I do my part. For instance, on Monday I spent an hour clearing the litter from the flowerbed outside the West London Free School in Hammersmith. This was rubbish left by passers-by, not the pupils. Sedaris said the thing that infuriates him the most are crisp packets tied into a knot and stuffed into soft drink cans, but I can trump that. Among the detritus I came across on Monday was a fresh pile of human excrement. All I can say is, I’m glad the individual in question wasn’t squatting in the flowerbed when we had our school open day last October. (To read more, click here.)