Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Pippa Middleton: A Star Is Born

Pippa Middleton's apparently been offered a five-figure sum to appear in ghastly TV programme Come Dancing. BBC bosses have invited the 27-year-old socialite to join the show as a contestant. Ms Middleton shot to fame in April, when she was chief bridesmaid for big sister Kate at her wedding to Prince William.

Today's Sun 'newspaper' reported: "Since the wedding Pippa's become at least as famous as Kate. If not more, thanks to her five-star arse! Phwoar! It would be a huge coup for the BBC to get her, and give the show real 'global' appeal!"

A close friend named only as 'Brucie' said Pippa's seriously considering the offer. "She's a bit overwhelmed by all the attention, and thinking about her next move very carefully. But she loves Come Dancing, it's her favourite programme ever, and if she was sure her appearance would be handled tastefully she'd be keen to slip into sequins. Or anything, really. Of course, she's conscious that one day her sister will be Queen so she's determined not to do anything tacky or embarrassing, especially if it's just for loads of money and a toffee-nosed laugh."

Quite a dilemma. But it's good to learn that just like Mrs Wayne Rooney, Pippa Middleton's keen not to capitalise on someone else's position merely because, in these mad days of 'celebrity' obsession, she can.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Take Me! Take Me!

Beautifulpeople.com, the Danish dating website "for beautiful men and women", has culled thirty thousand members claiming they're "ugly." According to the Guardian, recently the site was the victim of a cyber-attack on the software used to verify applicants' beauty; this allowed an influx of unscreened new members and eroded beautifulpeople's high aesthetic standards. The unwanted uglys have since been removed, causing widespread heart-break; the site's set up a counseling helpline "to ease the pain of rejection."

"The website works on a system under which members are able to rank applicants on a beauty scale. The decision to reject thirty thousand people cost the company more than $100,000 in refunds and we've had to send regretful emails to the dumpees," explained Greg Hodge, a beautifulpeople representative.

This isn't the first time the website has stirred up its membership. In January it asked five thousand users to reapply after they posted pictures of themselves looking chubbier than usual following the festive season. Earlier this year it sparked controversy in Ireland, by declaring that Irish men were among the world's ugliest.

Rejected applicants seeking solace could apply instead to similar sites: narcissist.com, toomuchtimeonmyhands.com or eugenics4me.com. You'd be sure to meet interesting folk.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Sir Terry Pratchett: Hats Off

Last night BBC screened a documentary on assisted suicide, presented by Sir Terry Pratchett. The novelist was diagnosed with Alzheimer's three years ago. At the programme's opening he said: "I know a time will come when words will fail me, when I can't write my books. I'm not sure I will want to go on living. Is it possible for someone like me and you to arrange for themselves a death that they want?"

Sir Terry's documentary was deeply moving, an examination of the extent to which we should all be allowed to determine the timing and method of our death. His journey led to the Swiss euthanasia clinic Dignitas, to explore the prospect of assisted suicide for himself and to meet two British men who would end their lives there. With great sensitivity Pratchett confronted the options for seriously ill people, and at times you saw him struggle.

Peter Smedley was a wealthy 71-year-old with motor neurone disease, who felt his time had come. Filmed at the clinic as he took the poison which killed him, Mr Smedley's surreal composure, his gasps for water, the final sagging slump between his wife and a Dignitas 'escort' filled me with revulsion and fear.

The Dignitas site is set on a Zurich industrial estate amid warehouses and factories. Inside all is chilling white, without pretence; a vile, desperate place to end your life. But was Mr Smedley's demise any more dreadful than relentless long-term illness and a slow death by suffocation? How strong do we have to be to live for the moment, day after day? And when it comes to the crunch, what will we each want?

Sunday, 12 June 2011

I Only Want To Watch ...

This week's Central Somerset Gazette features a report on local dogging, using a decidedly in-your-face splash across its front page. The small town of Street is, it seems, a top place for dogging fans to practice their unusual interests. In the first sentence of its report the Gazette helpfully prints the URL of a dogging enthusiasts' website, which hails a spot just out-of-town as "excellent for daytime action in wooded areas" and great for "evening action in the nearby field."

In an intriguing gender-mangling passage the newspaper goes on to report: "A police spokeswoman said dogging enthusiasts are treading a fine line between having fun and outraging public decency. 'If people are courting in public there is nothing wrong with that,' he said."

This year the Gazette has been in business for 150 years. Should we be surprised or not?

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Arise Sir Brucie: The World Cheers!

After years of grovelling, Bruce Forsyth's finally received a knighthood in the Queen's Birthday Honours. Recognition for the 83-year old comes after a campaign by fans and even more inexplicably, a parliamentary Early Day Motion signed by 73 MPs.

Forsyth became known in the 1950s as compere of the London Palladium Show, where he aired his modest singing, dancing and comedic talents. Later Brucie successes included a string of idiotic TV game-shows and this century Come Dancing, a chance for his mottled hands to touch young girls.

On being read the news by his seventh wife and former television co-host Destiny (23), toupee-toting Forsyth said: "I feel very proud that my career hasn't been in vain." Gosh, imagine all those years living on a knife-edge.

Think of some truly great entertainers: Spike Milligan, Eric Morecambe, Ronnie Barker. None received knighthoods, but since Brucie's is merely a reflection of today's insubstantial celebrity awards we mustn't be too annoyed.
Coming soon: arise Sir Jamie, honoured for his campaigns to improve school meals.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Turbulent Priest: Doctor Williams Speaks Out

In yesterday's New Statesman 'magazine' the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, criticised the coalition government as pushing through radical policies "for which no one voted."

Of course Williams himself wasn't elected to his position; he was appointed by Tony Bliar. The Archbishop said he felt a duty to "intervene" but who does he claim to speak for? Clearly his church still has some standing otherwise he'd make no news, although these days from a Christian perspective we live in a broadly secular Britain.

Like everyone else Williams is free to express his concerns but he has no mandate to speak for people beyond his religeous boundary, or to interfere in politics. In his piece, he also claimed the 'Big Society' concept is stale and that people are frightened of the future under the Coalition, opinions based on anecdotal evidence alone.

Laughably, the Archbishop's naive outburst handed the Coalition partners an opportunity to restate the background to their policies, and to clarify the policies themselves, all on prime-time TV. Several did so: Cameron, Vince Cable, Iain Duncan Smith
. Leader of the Commons Sir George Young said: "I haven't seen the full text of the Archbishop's remarks but I hope he's found time to balance any criticism of the coalition with commendation for some of the good things we've done." Of course, he hadn't.

Williams' leftie intellectual views have long been known; his appearance says it all. Does anyone remember the Archbishop telling the Labour Party they didn't have a mandate to spend, spend, spend? As billions were piled onto the National Debt, where was Williams? While yesterday's comments by their very generality may attract some agreement, he should put an equally vocal effort into providing a lead to his dwindling flock. And perhaps in response to his article, David Cameron will contribute a piece to the Spectator on the decline of the Church of England.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Cornwall Council: The Masterplan

Cornwall Council is wondering whether to sell its putative management skills to other local authorities. The idea is the Council would run a payroll system for a Scottish authority, manage the personnel records of an East Anglian police service, or perhaps mastermind repairs to Spaghetti Junction. To do this they’d team up with private industry, and submit bids answering other councils’ invitations to tender for packages of work. The carrot for Cornwall Council is preservation of its own jobs and services, and for the industrial partners, profit. Presumably every local authority in the land has begun to think along the same lines, but for the moment let that pass.

If Cornwall Council looks for work outside its own borders, Cornish people will experience a decline in services even more severe than the current mess. You don’t identify possible business opportunities in five minutes and depending on the complexity of the prospect, forming proposal teams to submit bids for work can take months. Once the bids have been tendered, usually in competition with other would-be suppliers, often clarifications are called for by the customer and sometimes even rebids are required. These activities can become seriously costly and as a bidder it's hard to predict the overall financial exposure, doubly so without a previous track-record. Always there's the question too: what else could have been done with the money?

Cornwall Council isn't guaranteed to win a single scrap of work. Then again, customers' budgets may be slashed or axed; in that case there'll be no work awarded. During troubled economic times slimmed requirements become more likely, particularly in the area of say, local authorities.

And woe betide Cornwall Council if they tangle with industry. Apart from some bought-in senior management most of the Council’s office ‘workers’ are time-served, without the faintest appreciation of the profit motive which drives the private sector, and without the fangs to fight. If joint bid teams are formed the Council will be easy meat for industry’s hard-headed negotiators, dragged into positions of responsibility for any coming work without equal decision-making, and allotted the crummy end of the workshare itself. Industry will ring-fence its responsibilities while the Council will be set up for a fall if bids are lost, or if work is won but makes a loss.

By the by, this initiative comes from a Council whose financial affairs and alleged profligacy are currently the subject of national scrutiny. Today we learn that last year, £3,274 was spent on directory enquiry calls. I spent zero, because I’ve heard of Google. A further extravagance was £220 on dialling the speaking clock: “Oh please let it be nearly half-past-three so I can go home.” Small sums maybe, but what message do they send?