I’m keeping my eyes peeled for one of those billboards saying ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’ so I can gleefully point it out to Caroline. Regular readers of this column will know that my wife brought home a Vizsla puppy last December, her surprise ‘gift’ to the family, and that the cute little fellow has turned into a snarling, slobbering hound who has ruined my life.
Mealtimes in our household now resemble a scene from Jaws, with Leo circling unseen beneath the table then bursting out to grab a leg of chicken or a baked potato, or, if he can’t get hold of any food, just bite one of the children. (To read more, click here.)
Last week I was asked to give a talk about generation snowflake. This was at a breakfast organised by a recruitment company called GTI Solutions and the idea was that I would provide an urban anthropologist’s take on this new tribe for the benefit of their corporate clients, most of whom are thinking about how to recruit them and, once they’ve got them, how to keep them happy. This has given me an idea about a new consultancy service I could provide.
The main challenge thrown up by employing these new graduates, it seems to me, is that they won’t be particularly good at communicating with members of other generations in the workplace. One of the hallmarks of the ‘me, me, me generation’ is that they’re marooned in a kind of no man’s land between adolescence and adulthood. I say ‘no man’s land’, but perhaps ‘safe space’ is a better description because they clearly like being there. Why do they refuse to take the final step into adulthood? Partly because their immersion in social media since the year dot has accustomed them to just communicating with their peers. It’s difficult to grow up if you have no idea how to talk to grown-ups. (To read more, click here.)
Last week, my 13-year-old daughter Sasha and her friend Tess were taken by her god-father, Sean, to see Catfish and the Bottlemen at the Wembley Arena. I bought the tickets myself on Viagogo, one of the biggest secondary ticketing websites, and had no reason to think they wouldn't be valid. As a QPR season-ticket holder, I've used Viagogo in the past to resell tickets to home games and it's worked fine.
Not on this occasion. I knew some-thing was wrong when I received a message from Sean asking me to email him a picture of my driving licence. The concert organisers were refusing to admit anyone who'd bought their ticket via a reseller, so if you couldn't prove you were the person named on the ticket you couldn't get in. The name on their tickets was "Shael Pilcher" so a picture of my driving licence wasn't any use. They were refused entry along with hundreds of others. Not wanting to disappoint Sasha, Sean bought three new late-release tickets at the box office and they were able to go to the concert, but others weren't so lucky. He reported seeing dozens of teenage girls in tears outside the venue. (To read more, click here.)
A few months ago I joined forces with Sir Anthony Seldon, the vice-chancellor of Buckingham University, to run an idea up the flagpole. Why not make it possible for senior managers from outside the teaching profession to retrain as heads? Anthony, who was a successful head himself, is in the process of setting up the Buckingham Institute of School Leadership to train the heads of the future. He proposed creating a mid-career and late-career entry track into this programme so successful managers in their thirties, forties and fifties can retrain as school leaders.
This idea was met with some scepticism by teachers and I can’t say I blame them. It rankles for the same reason that allowing people from outside the profession to set up free schools rankles, as well as encouraging people to teach who don’t have QTS (Qualified Teacher Status). It implies there’s nothing particularly valuable about the training or experience that goes into the making of a good teacher — any Tom, Dick or Harry could waltz in off the street and do what they do. It’s symptomatic of a failure to take the profession of teaching -seriously, which is an continuing source of resentment. If I were a teacher it would certainly annoy me. (To read more, click here.)
I give an after-dinner speech occasionally called ‘Media Training for Dummies’. That may sound condescending, but the dummy in question is me. It’s a compendium of anecdotes about my disastrous media appearances, each more humiliating than the last. At some point I’m going to turn it into a PowerPoint presentation, interspersing the talk with clips so the audience can see that I’m not exaggerating.
Until recently, my most embarrassing moment was in New York in 1995, when I took part in a spelling bee broadcast live on the radio. I was the first contestant and my word was ‘barrette’. I’d never encountered this before — it’s the American word for hairclip — and asked the quiz-master if he meant ‘beret’. I said ‘beret’ in a thick French accent to advertise just how cosmopolitan I was, but he was unimpressed. ‘No,’ he said. ‘The word is “barrette” and I’m pronouncing it correctly.’ A few seconds later I was leaving the stage, tail between my legs. (To read more, click here.)
I’ve just spent a day looking after our one-year-old vizsla and, to be blunt, I have some sympathy with Michael Heseltine’s decision to strangle his mother’s alsatian. Not that my wife is out of town. Rather, I’ve just got a new job as director of the New Schools Network, a charity that helps groups set up free schools, and Caroline argued that because I’ll now be spending so much time away from home I am morally obliged to take on the lion’s share of dog duties before I start.
My responsibilities began with a walk in Gunnersbury Park. Now, to be fair, this isn’t a monumental chore. Gunnersbury Park is one of Acton’s hidden gems. Indeed, it’s so glorious that the people who live within a thousand-yard radius of it deny that they live in Acton and claim to be proud residents of ‘Gunnersbury’. Of course, no such place exists outside the imagination of estate agents, but if I lived nearby I’d make the same boast. It’s a good size for a dog walk — about 200 acres. A brisk stride around the perimeter takes approximately an hour. (To read more, click here.)
I’m baffled by the reaction to Zac Goldsmith’s decision to resign as the Conservative MP for Richmond Park. It is being interpreted, even by MPs on his own side, as an act of opportunism, a chance to rehabilitate himself with the metropolitan elite after his bruising defeat in the London mayoral election. Surprisingly few people seem willing to entertain the idea that he might be acting on principle.
Exhibit A in the case for Zac’s defence is the fact that he’s the MP for Richmond Park in the first place. Zac could have applied to be the candidate in any number of safe Conservative seats in 2010 and, given his profile, easily have been selected. Yet he chose a seat that was held by a Lib Dem with a 3,731 majority. His friends and political allies told him he was insane. Even if he won, they pointed out, he’d then face the prospect of having to defend a marginal seat. Not only would that mean he’d have to spend every spare moment in the constituency, but his political career could be unceremoniously cut short, as Michael Portillo and others have discovered. Nevertheless, he stuck to his guns because Richmond was the area he’d lived in all his life. (To read more, click here.)
The audience watches as a disabled man is being given a Work Capability Assessment in a Newcastle Jobcentre.
He is the eponymous character in I, Daniel Blake, the latest film by Left-wing director Ken Loach. Needless to say, his experience is portrayed as brutal and degrading.
To make matters worse, the ‘healthcare professional’ who cross-examines Daniel is an employee of — you guessed it — an American private company.
Typical Tories, eh? Not only do they force the disabled to go through a humiliating test to see if they’re fit for work, they outsource the administration of it to an evil capitalist corporation! (To read more, click here.)
On the face of it, there's something quite appealing about driverless cars. It will be like having a chauffeur-driven chariot at your beck and call, except it will be no more expensive than owning a car. Indeed, it might well be-cheaper because you'll be less likely to have an accident, so insurance premiums will be lower, and it will use fuel more efficiently. Not only that, but we're told journey times will be shorter because driverless cars don't need to keep more than a few inches apart, thereby reducing congestion. And they'll be quicker still if the inner-cities are reserved for driverless cars only. No need for traffic lights, roundabouts or three-way junctions – just a seamless flow of traffic.
Needless to say, I'm not convinced. Will it really be cheaper to own one than a regular car? I accept that insurance premiums might fall, but what about the depreciation costs? With all that state-of-the art technology, it will be a bit like driving around in a giant iPhone and, as we know, there isn't much of a market for second-hand iPhones. Indeed, out-of-date driverless cars might well be banned from the roads since the risks associated with them being unable to communicate properly with more recent models are potentially catastrophic. (To read more, click here.)