Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Blame it on the name

According to a survey commissioned by parenting club ( no, I haven’t a clue what a parenting club is either), teachers think they can tell whether a child is going to be well behaved or naughty, brainy or popular simply by looking at their names.
Around 3,000 teachers were polled with more than a third expecting pupils with names such as Connor, Chardonnay and Courtney to be more disruptive, while Alexanders, Emmas, Benjamins and Charlottes were assumed to be brainier. Faye Mingo from said:
"Rightly or wrongly, most of us make assumptions based on something as simple as a person's name and we base these on our previous experiences.”
Now, I hate surveys as I believe them totally pointless as the reason most of them are commissioned is because they are a successful marketing tool. needs to make money, so it needs to attract more subscribers. How does it get subscribers? By getting some press coverage. How does it get its name in the papers? Well, other than commit a crime or be a celebrity, it’s probably got to be:commission a survey, the results of which thrust ill-conceived, dubious and stereotype-reinforcing theories on to the masses. This survey is no exception.
If we are to believe the surveys findings, it’s not good news. Not the suggestion that children with names associated with the working class are badly behaved, but that one third of teachers make assumptions based on a child’s name.
As if it is not bad enough to be named after fermenting grapes, you enter the education system where teachers and officials are supposed to have jumped through all sorts of hoops in order to prove their commitment to equal opportunities and anti-discrimination policies and there you find a third of teachers are going to write you off as a no hoper, probably before they even meet you, based on your name.
That sentence from the representative above: try replacing ‘name’ with ‘height’, ‘size’, ‘religion’ or even, dare I say it, ‘colour’. I somehow doubt if would have got away with that but, if the survey’s results are to be believed, a third of teachers are bigots. Because discrimination is still discrimination – whatever name you want to call it.

Fall from grace

Kanye West ought to watch himself following his self-administered fall from grace at the VMA awards this week, when he jumped on stage and told Taylor Swift that she didn’t deserve her best video award as he thought his mate’s missus, Beyonce, made an altogether superior example.
His outburst has fetched comments from everyone – well President Obama and Miley Cyrus to be precise, with the public (the ones who care, anyway) appalled by his arrogant, unprofessional and very rude behaviour.
Entertainment news is littered with various celebrities who go and do something the public disapprove of, sometimes criminal and downright evil, sometimes a minor irritant that gets up Joe Public’s nose but ends up creating a gargantuan wound that never fully recovers.
Kanye will probably be okay – based on the fact that he is male and those in the public eye, with one exception that I can think of, Gary Glitter, are usually forgiven. Women, on the other hand, are rarely let off, for even the mildest of misdemeanours.
Let’s take Heather Mills. She divorced a Beatle. Right – fair game then. We can make jokes about her disability, we can pillory her in the street, call her a money grubbing nutcase and give her, in her words, worse press than a paedophile or a murderer. Course we can – she had the audacity to say bad things about Paul McCartney. Anything goes.
And what about Joss Stone? A few years ago, she came out on the podium at The Brit Awards and addressed the crowd in a ridiculous American accent. That single transgression led to her very promising UK singing career disappearing down the pan.
Now let’s take the less fairer sex.
Pete Townshend was cautioned by police in 2003 after accessing a site alleged to have been advertising child porn. But never mind, eh – because he was in The Who, a really cool, iconic rock band - we’ll forget that.
Edward Kennedy left the scene of an accident, allegedly caused by his drunk driving, and failed to report it until hours later which led to the death of a young woman. But we’ll let him off. He’s a Kennedy – in America, practically royalty.
We’re a fickle lot, but ultimately responsible for the celebrities that are foisted upon us. We build them up and just as quickly and sometimes on a whim, we tear them down again. But if you are male, you stand a much better chance of staying on your feet.


You have to wonder about teachers sometimes, especially Andrew Grant, chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, who tried to incite class warfare this week after suggesting that critics of fee paying schools ought to actually be grateful to parents who choose to privately educate their children because they are saving taxpayers’ money. He also commented that without public schools, there wouldn’t be enough officers to lead the British army, showing a desperate man using desperate examples in order to try to preserve the status quo for his beloved elite with their cut glass accents and obligatory Bullingdon Club memberships.
His rhetoric is typical of someone who wants to hark back to the good old days of the feudal system with serfs right at the bottom of the chain, grateful to the lord and master for providing permission to do anything from getting married to going to the loo.
I thought we’d moved on from all that. But according to Grant, us peasants should be grateful to the elite once again. Let’s all doff our flat caps together in unison, shall we? After the count of three.
We all know that private schools are basically processing centres for the country’s ruling elite and their very existence provides a nice stiff backbone for the class system and shores up Britain’s appalling levels of social mobility. 7 % of children in the UK are privately educated yet they end up getting 53% of the country’s top jobs. Thanks to them for sparing us all that responsibility and high wages.
Eton College, stomping ground of David Cameron and Boris Johnson and possibly the most socially divisive educational establishments in the country is a business that makes about £100 million a year educating over-privileged boys. Yet it is a charity – just like Children in Need or the RSPCA – meaning that it is subsidised by the tax payer. So thanks also for that – it’s good to know our hard earned cash is helping to prop up the Old Boys’ Network.
All of us want the best for our children, even us plebs that send our kids to the state comprehensive, but some of us believe the way to do that is by having a fair and equal society that provides opportunities for everyone, not one heavily swayed in the favour of those with high earning parents.

Cliches away

It’s a sign that I have reached a certain age when I say that I comfortably admit that I’m a regular listener to BBC Radio Five Live. What I particularly like about the station is the phone-ins. The arguments and discussions are incredibly entertaining. I always have an opinion on the subjects covered and would dearly love to contribute but I know I would just go to pieces if I was suddenly live on air, so I email my penny’s worth instead, coward that I am.
What strikes me about those who choose to air their opinions is the consistent use of clichés. It has got to the point when I have actually started counting them, like I used to when I used to watch the X Factor (it’s been a rollercoaster, dream come true, dark horse of the competition, you could win this competition, potentially world class etc, etc).
When an issue which gets those leaning toward the right a bit riled is discussed, the number one is the wonderful ‘PC gone mad’. I just love this. It appears to be an acceptable comment on everything nowadays from efforts to curb racism to strict health and safety issues, like the banning of conkers in schools, which have absolutely nothing to do with political correctness.
The other one that makes me chuckle is ‘I hear what you’re saying.’ This is used to buy time because a caller cannot come up with a rebuttal and has effectively lost the argument. It is usually followed by ‘but’ and an affirmation that the caller is right, despite everything.
There is one cliché that virtually everyone uses and it drives me to distraction. It is: ‘At the end of the day.’ It is the most irritating phrase in the English language. It is used to introduce a point and to summarise a point….any point whatsoever. I hear it with such regularity, I feel like smashing a train up. Why can’t people come up with alternatives? Or are they simply unaware they are saying it…over and over and over again.
Maybe the only way forward is to get the government involved. Perhaps a zero tolerance on clichés is what’s needed. Because in order to win the war on clichés, we need to get tough on clichés and the causes of clichés.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Digital pirates

Peter Mandelson is calling for strict reprisals to those who download music and films illegally, going so far as to cut off the perpetrators’ internet connections. Currently seven million people in this country choose to regularly download illicit files, while globally the figure is an astonishing 90%. While they are getting away with paying absolute zilch for their digital entertainment, artists and entertainers are losing out big time.

I’m not altogether sure where I stand on this debate. I used to download music illegally but I don’t any more. This is for two reasons: my husband is a musician and has convinced me that it is a totally immoral pastime, and secondly, legal downloads are cheap enough nowadays anyway. But I do believe the record industry has had it too good for too long and I’m glad they have finally had their come-uppance.

I recently went through my CD collection. The first one I ever bought was the soundtrack to the movie, Local Hero, all the way back in 1984. It was purchased in the days before barcodes so it still has its price label on - £12.99. That was 25 years ago and the equivalent of a whopping £30 nowadays – for one CD. Admittedly it might not have been as cheap to produce CDs then as it is today, but still, the record industry has been fleecing us music lovers ever since. In that time it has created many an ostentatious lifestyle for executives and best-selling artists alike. That’s why it’s difficult to feel sorry for them all now.

That said, I want to see new talent, both in the film and music industry – and I’m not talking about the creation of manufactured acts - and realise that without some investment, that talent will not emerge.

I’m not sure what the answer to this issue is but cutting off internet access isn’t going to create any income. And getting rid of sites that offer illegal downloads isn’t going to help either - like the nine-headed monster Hydra from Greek mythology, for every head you cut off, two will grow in its place.

One thing’s for certain, there is no going back. Advances in technology always mean that somebody loses out somewhere. You could ask the Luddites...if they were still around...


It has been eight years since the first Harry Potter came out and as my boys are old enough to take themselves to the cinema, I no longer have to suffer the likes of Dumbledore, Snape and Malfoy.

One of the reasons that I didn’t enjoy the movies, or indeed, most British movies aimed at children and containing children, is because the kid actors make me cringe. I know it’s really unfair as they are children and being mean about them or to them isn’t really the done thing, but they are always so flipping posh and precocious, even when they are trying to be street urchins.

Virtually all child actors in this country come out of the luvvie-factory known as the stage school, costing their aspirational parents (who nearly made it to the top, you know, once), an arm and a leg. They are schooled in the multi-disciplinary show business arts of dance, music and theatre, so that any specific raw talent is spread thinly across all disciplines with any sparkle, idiosyncrasies or character wiped out, to prepare them for a life of pretending to be someone else.

And all those who don’t have their jagged ‘cockney sparra’ vowels smoothed down for received pronunciation are forever left to stew in the ever-stirring and not mutually exclusive vats of Eastenders, The Bill and once upon a time, Grange Hill.

I know there’s a lot wrong with America but the kids that end up on the screen over there tend to be ten times more convincing than their counterparts this side of the Atlantic. When I was a child watching Little House on the Prairie I thought I was looking at reality. Nowadays – we have the likes of Frankie Muniz and the rest of the young cast in Malcolm in the Middle who are all phenomenal, as are child actors Abigail Breslin and Dakota Fanning.

I would like to think better of our young thespians, really I would, and recently caught the very rude but very funny Inbetweeners, a comedy about some boys in sixth form. The boy that plays Will is fantastic. I googled him, thinking he was a stage school brat. He’s no brat and never was. He’s 25 years old.

So – to play a convincing British teenage nerd with all sorts of social hang-ups, it is necessary to hire someone of 25. No doubt if a stage school brat were hired, it would take all the self-control he could muster to stop him expressing his angst through the medium of song and dance.


Murderer Denis Roberts has won his appeal against Jack Straw in his bid to have cosmetic surgery, with London’s High Court claiming that the Justice Secretary had acted unlawfully in trying to prevent the prisoner from having his port wine stain removed, courtesy of the NHS.
Roberts said the birthmark on the left side of his face had led to him being bullied at school and was linked to a violent temper. A consultant dermatologist recommended him for treatment three years ago, stating “This has always been an embarrassment to him.”
On a personal note if I was in the same room as some murderers and child abusers and happened to have a sharp implement handy, I’d probably use it. But, as a sentient human being, I agree that it is only right and civilised that prisoners should have medical treatment as and when they need it. But this case tests the patience of even the most passive, forgiving liberals.
Roberts was convicted of the murder of an elderly couple, the Hadlers, in Newhaven in 1989. He broke into their home and stabbed them to death. Mr Hadler was partially paralysed after a stroke and Mrs Hadler had senile dementia. Not content with leaving the defenceless couple to die in their own pools of blood, Roberts then sexually assaulted Mrs Hadler.
He committed this depraved and heinous crime and the thing that appears to prevent him from sleeping at night is a flipping birthmark?
Roberts and his legal team are clearly using the port wine stain to turn the murderer in to a victim. It led to him being bullied at school, which in turn gave him a violent temper, ergo he becomes a violent psychopathic murderer and it is not his fault - it is all the fault of that pesky congenital birthmark.
All of us are products of our upbringing. We may have been born into abject poverty, or suffered abuse or have inadequate alcoholic parents. This might lead to anti-social behaviour sometimes and it is not difficult to see why. But it is not an excuse. Especially not for violent behaviour. Even in the most extreme case that I can think of – Fred and Rose West’s children – reared with ritual abuse, murder and torture yet they are just trying to lead ordinary lives bringing up their children.
Roberts didn’t suffer abuse – he just had a birthmark.
He’s no victim. He crossed the line. He committed murder. The only victims here are the Hadlers and now, their surviving family. One can only imagine how this ruling will be affecting them.