Real meals: Virgin snack boxes

Sometimes I ask myself in all sincerity – is Richard Branson real? Please note, the question is not “Is Richard Branson for real?” (the sort of locution he himself might have used back in the days when he edited Student), but rather: “Does he exist in any meaningful sense at all?”

In search of the blues

All You Need is Cash is a 1978 TV mockumentary written by and starring Eric Idle of the Pythons and his long-term comic collaborator Neil Innes. In the film, The Beatles are satirically reformed as The Rutles, but as well as taking an affectionate swipe at the Fab Four (re-dubbed The Prefab Four), Idle and Innes extended their comic vision to the British blues revival of the early Sixties.

On location: statues

The 20ft-high statue of brave Achilles that stands at the southern end of Park Lane, beside Hyde Park, wears a curious aspect. The first male nude statue to be erected in London since the Roman era, it was cast from captured French guns and dedicated by “the women of England to Arthur, Duke of Wellington and his brave companions in arms”. The women of England turned out when, in 1822, Richard Westmacott’s statue was conveyed through the streets to its plinth; however, it isn’t recorded whether they were abashed or amazed by Achilles’s, um, classical proportions. The critic Leigh Hunt described the statue as “manifesting the most furious intentions of self-defence against the hero whose abode it is looking at”. And indeed, the great bronze warrior cowers to this day, shield upraised, as if Apsley House (aka “No 1, London”, the nearby house given to Arthur Wellesley by the grateful nation) were about to rise up into the heavens and drop on his head.

The madness of crowds: monitoring extremism in universities

On 2 February a crowd of maddened professors wrote to the Guardian to protest against the government’s latest counterterrorism and security bill, which was being hustled through parliament with unseemly haste. The larval bill has now emerged from its neo-Gothic chrysalis to become a beautifully inelegant act. What the professors were so crazy about are the provisions in Section 5 that place an obli­gation on their universities to assist the police and security services in monitoring extremism. In fact, the so-called Prevent strategy has been in place and affecting universities for over a decade. It has hitherto been incumbent on universities that have been signed up to the strategy to allow the state authorities access to relevant computer data, including students’ emails and web history. Now that requirement will become universal and mandatory.