The time I gave up smoking, I lasted just short of a year, so in some ways I’m not the best qualified person to write about it. Added to that, my love affair with La Divina Nicotina is intense, protracted and tempestuous. I smoke cigarettes, I smoke cigars, a few years ago — after the sabbatical — I even took to puffing on pipes, and rapidly acquired a whole mantelpiece full of them, together with scores of obscure pipe tobaccos with names like Velvan Plug.
John Bird, the founder of the Big Issue, has resisted the siren call of the Tories and come out as an independent candidate for the 2008 Mayoral elections. I’m delighted. And delighted, too, that he’s standing at all. The London electorate desperately need some fresh blood on the local political scene, and most especially a challenger to the newt-fancying incumbent, who’s beginning to take on the mantle of an Estuarine Fidel Castro, such is his unopposed longevity in office.
Today, 1.2 million parents will find out if their children have got the secondary school place of their “choice”, and loud will be the cries of rage when many of them find that this choice is, at best, Hobson’s, and at worst no place at all.
In my own borough, Lambeth, every year thousands of secondary pupils have to leave, in order to seek an education in an adjacent one. Under Labour the idea was to create a more “diverse” state system. Duff schools were to be shut down, good ones expanded. Tambourine-banging Tony was happy to see the expansion of faith schools, and, of course, there have been the privately sponsored city academies.
Tony Blair should watch it: he was up late on Tuesday night sending out a “personalised” email to the 1.8 million car drivers who added their signatures to the petition against road pricing on No 10’s website. I can’t help feeling that the PM will leave us with one, peculiarly “Blairite” legacy: namely, a political process in which protesting is either ineffectual or electronic, which amounts to the same thing.
For some time it has been my contention that every English person “gets” a Celtic country. By this I mean that he, or she, ends up in a tangled association either with Wales, Ireland or Scotland. I ended up in bed with Scotland. Literally, since I married a Scot.
You would have to be a very foolish environmental campaigner indeed not to grasp that it’s exactly the kind of privilege represented by the private car that most people aspire to. Peter Roberts, the account manager from Telford, who is leading the campaign against the Government’s proposed road-pricing scheme, undoubtedly understands this. More than 160,000 people have already signed the petition against road pricing that he has put up on the Downing Street website and at this rate, by the time it comes down on February 20, there will be 500,000 signatures.
Then to the Wolseley for an after-show supper. This was my first trip to this happening eatery – and how pleasingly daft it is. The decor looks as if the old car showroom has been remodelled as a cross between the Batcave and a fin-de-siecle Viennese coffee house. However, instead of caped crusaders the banquettes were stacked with the usual Footballers’ wives and nouveau riche provincials.
Congratulations to Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell who’s had the guts to admit that the Government are considering ‘social engineering’ policies to ensure that more state school pupils enter university. A predictable tirade of abuse has followed from educationalists in the so-called ‘independent’ sector. These people aren’t independent from anything – they represent nothing more or less than long-entrenched privilege: the privilege of money, the privilege of class and nepotism. Up until twenty years ago great swathes of places at Oxbridge were ‘tied scholarships’ open only to public school students, and in my day it was commonplace to see these chinless thickos toppling over outside their colleges because they were unable to tie their own shoelaces.
The Island of Doctor Moreau
There can be few more revolting sights than the trestle table plastered with lurid photographs of vivisected animals which invariably gets put up in street markets all over London on a Saturday morning. I can’t understand why more people aren’t outraged by the “animal activists” and their emotive pornography of interspecies violence – I often stop and give them a row – but mostly they’re unmolested. There is something peculiarly nutty about attacking humans in orders to save animals – as the Animal Liberation Front have this week: a fire bomb at the home of the corporate controller of GlaxoSmithKline; another device at an Oxford University sports pavilion; and a third at the home of a broker who had merely invested in one of the contractors building the new University primate research laboratory.
Hogging the Limelight
As one of the curmudgeons who viewed London’s successful bid for the 2012 Olympics with as much enthusiasm as a plague of locusts, it gives me nothing but pleasure to report that builders working on the site of the Games in East London are facing a similar infestation. The Lower Lea Valley is – as any keen London walker could’ve told them – home to large areas of Caucasian Giant Hogweed and Japanese Knotweed.