Saturday, December 24, 2005

Happy Christmas

A very Happy Christmas to all my readers.

Unless "stop blogging and do something more useful" is one of my New Year Resolutions, I will 'see' you in the New Year.

I hope you all have a good holiday.

Monday, December 19, 2005

ADWATCH - No 137

BT (British Telecom) recently used Jeremy Clarkson to front one of their commercials. An odd choice because surveys have shown that at least 50% of the British public detest Jeremy Clarkson.
Actually, I made that up. The real figure might well be higher. The only person that is definitely known to adore Clarkson (apart, presumably, from his wife) is his best buddy, the pretentiously initialled journalist A.A. Gill. The two hang out together which at least has the advantage that if you poured a bucket of cold sick over Clarkson, some of it would also fall on Gill.
This might not matter if you had a niche product that was designed to appeal to car-worshipping, racist, homophobic males of limited intelligence. But BT has a universal product that it wishes to sell to every householder in Britain.

That particular commercial was promoting 'BT Privacy', a service that would stop you receiving sales calls. The cheek of this was breathtaking. For there has long been a free, independent service that does precisely that. It's called the Telephone Preference Service and you can quickly register with it online. For me at least, it has stopped 99% of unsolicited sales calls. Plus you have the satisfaction of not just telling the remaining 1% "Fuck off, I'm watching Coronation Street" but that they are breaking the law. Admittedly, this doesn't cut much ice with Sanjeev in Delhi but it makes you feel better.

Now BT has launched a new series of commercials that go back to the commercial origins of the term 'soap opera' and are a contemporary version of the Oxo Family or those interminable instant coffee commercials.
They feature the gormless youth from the shitcom 'My Family', who has the physique of a thin streak of piss and about as much charm. Some myopic or demented older woman has chosen him as her toyboy and moved herself and her two children in with him. He helps the children with their homework (thanks to BT Broadband) and helps the young boy to pretend that he has a girlfriend (thanks to BT's new texting service).

It says: we at BT are in tune with modern life and know that families today come in many different varieties.
Of course, if they wanted to universalise their sales pitch they'd take account of the fact that more people than at any time in history don't live in families at all.
The commercials also have that nauseating knowingness about family behaviour and relationships. Except, of course, that it's all presented within a cosy middle class scenario of awkwardness and repressed feelings. So when the young boy shakes toyboy's hand, he looks away and does it grudgingly whereas, in many such family situations he would say 'Fuck off, loser" and knee him in the testicles.

These are the most vomit-inducing commercials to have appeared this year. Probably.
I won't say any more about them because that means thinking about them and I'd almost prefer to think about John Major in his blue underpants engaging in foreplay with Edwina Currie.
One of the commercials ends with the question 'What would you text?'
Well, since you ask, it would be: 'Ditch this emetic cocktail of crap and bring back Maureen Lipman's Beatty'.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Somewhere, Over The X Factor

When 'serious' newspapers cover popular culture it usually ends in tears. So when Mark Lawson in The Guardian writes about The X Factor and says that Louis Walsh is the 'acerbic one' of the judges, you wonder if he's ever watched it for more than five minutes.
Then the same paper's TV previewer says that Journey South are the 'noughties' version of Bros'. Now you could compare the soporific Journey South to any one of hundreds of pub duos but you'd have to be very pissed indeed to compare them to Bros. (Actually, Bros, for their first two or three records, were very good and almost gave dross a good name so I suppose it's a compliment).

Most people agree that this year's X Factor was the best of this genre of talent show so far. I thought there was a slight hiatus between the auditions and the live finals when it almost became the Z Factor and the judges' shenanigans got a bit out of hand but the overall standard was very high.
My own preference kept changing but by the final few weeks I'd decided that Shane, the winner, had a unique and extraordinary talent that could well eclipse the success of the splendid Will Young.
His final song last night was 'Over the Rainbow', a song I've always detested.
No, really. My mother said that as a small child, if it came on the radio, I would put my fingers in my ears and scream. So you can stick all that 'friends of Dorothy' bollocks up your Yellow Brick Road. But last night, for the first time and thanks to Shane Ward, I enjoyed it.
It doesn't get any more high risk than re-interpreting a classic song in a talent show final on live television in front of millions of people. To have failed would have been the ultimate in car crash television. To have succeeded so spectacularly deserves some kind of medal in addition to that recording contract. Shane seemed to squeeze all the saccharine out of that wretched song and replace it with genuine emotion. The beginning was under-stated but built to some vocal pyrotechnics that, spookily, caused my power to flicker and the cable box to switch itself off. Happily, I was able to get my TV picture back before he finished.

I don't know about the tabloids because I don't read them but the programme itself kept Shane's married status very quiet until last night, presumably for fear of alienating both teenage girls and gay men, thought to be significant elements of his fan base. Heterosexuality - the love that dare not speak its name.
I'd love to see a breakdown of the viewing demographic of X Factor. It has always seemed to me that a lot of teenagers would be in the early stages of binge-drinking at that time on a Saturday and a lot of acts must make it to the final rounds on the strength of the Granny vote. And the odious Chico was apparently very popular with children which may have helped him survive for so long.

X Factor is one of the few shows on television where viewers can see the autocue. Because it's positioned in the middle of the audience, the type has to be enormous so that Kate Thornton can read it without the help of binoculars. Sometimes it was possible to read the words before she actually spoke them and observe how the scriptwriters aim for a conversational style that sounds improvised. A rather pointless labour when your words are displayed to ten million people in letters a foot high.


Confusing Casting, No 67:

Within the space of a week, John Woodvine will have appeared as the father of both Doc Martin and PC Tony Stamp in The Bill. From Cornwall to Sun Hill.......he certainly puts it about a bit, that John Woodvine.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Copse and Doggers

Gosh. I hadn't realised there had been such a long period of radio silence, mostly attributable to preparations for the winter solstice.

Too tired to blog after those frequent trips to Harrods Food Hall that will have swelled the personal wealth of that nice Mr Fayed.
"You fuckin' good customer, Willie, innit?", he said to me and pressed a dossier into my hand that detailed how the Duke of Edinburgh had organised the deaths of his son Dodi and Diana, asking me to post it on my blog. "Don't worried, that family never sue", he said. "Anyway, it's all true, the fuckin' bastards." And with that he rushed off to greet Joan Collins.

Then there have been the preparations for the annual gathering of the Middle England Pagan Alliance. In our most ambitious ceremony to date I am to ascend to the topmost boughs of an oak tree in Dimmock's Copse on a concealed fork lift truck in a cloud of dry ice whilst my acolytes dance naked and flagellate themselves with lupin blooms.

Obtaining lupin blooms proved difficult at this time of year until old Mr Skidmore kindly grew some for us in his heated greenhouse. We told him they were to decorate the parish church. This may prove a problem when Mr and Mrs Skidmore take their grandchildren to the Christingle service and find the church is a lupin-free zone. Nigel, our deputy Wicca Master, is working on a cover story that involves his van being hijacked by a local florist.
I'm not sure Nigel was the best person to entrust with ensuring the secrecy of the event. I've had my doubts about him ever since he proposed calling our new website 'Wikipedia'.

But that's a minor problem compared to our attempts to prevent a repeat of last year's débacle when our solstice ceremony clashed with a gathering of Middle England doggers. Brenda, using her skills as the local Emergency Planning Officer, has been negotiating through websites with what she calls 'the dogging community' to persuade them either that Christmas should be spent with your family or that a local hill fort would be a more suitable venue for them than Dimmock's Copse. So far she's been offered a threesome in a Ford Galaxy and a secondhand night vision camcorder (as new) for £250. But it's early days.

Say what you like about Christianity, all the organisation's done for you. All you have to do is turn up. Sometimes pantheism can be a pain in the arse.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

That World Cup Draw

What a curious piece of television last night's World Cup Draw proved to be.
Understanding how the draw worked could have been a membership qualification for Mensa.
I was so confused that when the presiding official held up a piece of paper with G4 written on it, I thought England had been drawn against the runners-up in last year's X Factor. That would have been an even easier match than Paraguay because there are only four of them and one is rather overweight. But they could have sung Bohemian Rhapsody before the game which would have got the tournament off to a jolly start.

The dreaded Motson was at his absolute worst last night, his Brummie larynx in overdrive. Most of the event was conducted in English but Motson still talked over the presenter continuously. It was like having two radios on in the house tuned to different stations.
At one point Motson said 'as the rest of this will be in English I can keep quiet for a bit'. Oh no you can't, we all thought. And of course, he couldn't.

When Germany were drawn against Poland, Motson told us "Germany and Poland met in 1974." For many people their 1939 fixture was more memorable but Motty was tactful enough not to mention it. I'm not sure that Ron Atkinson wouldn't have done so.

But Motson wasn't so concerned about the sensitivities of pedants because he used 'criteria' as a singular instead of 'criterion'.
Then, on this morning's Today programme I heard "Paraguay, Trinidad, Sweden.....only the latter poses a problem".
It's time the BBC instituted a Literacy Hour for its staff, like the ones they have in schools. I feel sorry for teachers when their efforts are daily undermined by what used to be the gold standard of correct English, the BBC.
Bring back Lord Reith, Alvar Liddell and that nice Kenneth Wolstenholme. And Clement Attlee too. The last wouldn't allow one of his Ministers to publish a book of poetry because the verses didn't scan. Now that's class.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Friday's Fandango

"I want to make this a better and nicer country to live in."
- David Cameron on Today this morning.

The Today programme was unaccountably unable to find anyone to put the contrary point of view and who aspired to make this country a worse and more nasty place to live in. So no balance of opinion was presented. Poor show.


The silliest remark I heard yesterday was the Tories' statement that Dennis Skinner's outburst in the Commons was the kind of thing that puts people off politics.
Surely the exact opposite is the case.
For those who missed it, Dennis Skinner spoke about the coalfields and then said "the only thing that was growing then were the lines of coke in front of Boy George and the rest of them...."
This was a reference to the Shadow Chancellor George Osborne, of whom the News of the World published a photo taken at a party showing white powder on a table that may have been cocaine or may have been bicarbonate of soda that someone was taking for a dicky stomach. (that phrasing dictated by my legal team).
Being partial to puns, I quite enjoyed Dennis's combination of humour and abuse which is only what we enjoy daily in the great political cartoonists like Steve Bell. But it was unparliamentary and Dennis was expelled from the chamber. The only mystery was Dennis's assertion that because it had been in the News of the World it must be true.

Like a dormant volcano, Dennis doesn't erupt very often these days so when he does it is cause for celebration.
However, he has now virtually created a new constitutional convention at the State Opening of Parliament with his annual heckling of Black Rod when the latter summons MPs to the Lords for the Queen's Speech. After a series of intruders at Buckingham Palace, Dennis shouted "Did she lock the door behind her?"
On another occasion, he observed of Black Rod "I bet he drinks Carling Black Label."
I think his last one was "Has she brought Camilla with her?"

But his best interjections have occurred during debates over the years. At the height of the scandal over Cecil Parkinson's extra-marital affair, Parkinson was making a speech from the Government bench with one hand in his pocket. "Stop playing with yourself!" shouted Dennis.
Parkinson said afterwards that he didn't know what to do for the best. If he removed his hand from his pocket people would think Dennis's allegation was true. But if he kept his hand in his pocket everyone would be looking for signs of movement and not listening to his speech. But such difficult decisions are the essence of politics.

No sooner has the grief-fest over the death of wife abuser and drink-driver George Best mercifully subsided than we get a national Festival of Remembrance to mark the anniversary of the death of the cretinous John Lennon.
I could avoid most of this nonsense but for the fact that it has also infected Radio Four which claims to be an 'intelligent speech' station. Mini-tributes have been inserted between programmes and this morning that arch-reactionary the Chief Rabbi gave a eulogy to Lennon in his 'Thought For the Day'. That he was able to do so perhaps tells you a lot about Lennon.

I write this as someone who, as a thirteen year old, sat through three consecutive showings of A Hard Day's Night at my local cinema and, to the fury of my mother, cut my hair into a Beatles fringe.
At that same age, my intellectual hero was Bertrand Russell who, despite his advanced years had recently been carried off in a police van after protesting against the nuclear arms race.
I never confused the boy from Liverpool of modest talents and limited intellect with the philosopher, or vice versa. That so many intelligent people since then have taken seriously the arrogant and self-deluded garbage that poured from Lennon's mouth has never ceased to amaze me.

So, not for the first time, I give thanks for Julie Burchill, even though she goes slightly further than I would.
Asked by the Guardian about her recollections of Lennon's death, she said:
"I don't remember where I was but I was really pleased he was dead, as he was a wife-beater, gay-basher, anti-Semite and all-round bully-boy."

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Rock On

The most amusing moment in this series of 'I'm A Celebrity......' was in last night's behind-the-scenes footage programme.
When Tommy Cannon was voted out after just two days, his family were shown in floods of tears at the prospect of him rejoining them. Well who wouldn't be?

Trivia footnote: did you know that Cannon and Ball are Bible-Bashers? They've even written a book on Christianity for intellectually-challenged believers. Then again, are there any other kind?
Has it never occurred to Cannon and Ball to ask their God to make them funny? Maybe he was too busy answering the prayers of the thousands of Christians with terminal cancer. Oh, hang on. That never works either. Still, I've known people who he helped to find their car keys so one musn't be too cynical.

Meanwhile we learn that television's Geordie duo, otherwise known as Ant and Dec, are to present a programme featuring Charles, Camilla, William and Harry.
Sadly, it won't be 'I'm a Royal, Get me Out of Here'. Sadly, that is, from Charles' point of view. He's had years of practice in putting rancid and disgusting old body parts in his mouth.
(There were about 143 other jokes I could have made on the 'I'm A Royal.....' theme but they weren't sufficiently tasteless.)

Swing When You're Winning.........

..........and Win When You're Not Swinging

In the week that hundreds of gay couples registered for the new Civil Partnerships, a court case was a reminder that attitudes to homosexuality haven't actually changed as much as some people believe.
Robbie Williams was awarded substantial libel damages for press reports that he was gay.
In a society that did not discriminate between different sexual orientations, making a false statement about a person's sexuality should be no more heinous than getting their age wrong. Publishing a correction should suffice.
So was there anything more to this libel?

Well, the publications concerned said that Williams had a string of casual gay sexual encounters. But because these non-existent encounters were gay, the inevitable adjective 'sordid' was applied to them.
Over the years, newspapers have published many stories about Williams' casual sexual encounters with women. I read only one of those, in someone else's copy of Murdoch's News of the Screws. I don't recall the word 'sordid' ever appearing. The gist was that Williams was a randy Jack-the-Lad who could keep going all night in a 3-in-a-bed romp with two young girls that he'd never met before. Allegedly.

The other aspect of the libellous reports was the suggestion that Williams had kept his real sexuality a secret and pretended to have sexual relations with women. The allegation here is one of relatively minor dishonesty of a kind practised by many celebrities, and indeed many thousands of ordinary people. In itself, it hardly warrants substantial damages. And it's arguable that everyone has the right to keep their sexual preferences private, with the possible exception of politicians who preach and legislate against something they practise themselves.

The double standards are illustrated most graphically if you take a hypothetical reverse situation. The gay pop singer Will Young made his sexuality public shortly after winning Pop Idol. Suppose that a newspaper claimed that he was actually heterosexual and had pretended to be gay whilst having casual (though obviously not 'sordid') sexual encounters with women. Do you think there's a libel lawyer in the land who would agree to take a libel action to court, never mind a court awarding him substantial damages?
I rest my case.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Cameron's Broken Rhetoric

We must hope that David Cameron is as good as his word. It would be so nice to have running water and an inside lavatory like we did in the old days and to be able to buy proper meat in shops instead of having to shoot squirrels and pigeons in the garden and stew them over an open fire.
For David Cameron said he would 're-civilize' our society.
And even the old tradition of church-going on Sundays would be preferable to the cannibalism that is now rife in the village, along with the unseemly sight of one's neighbours, naked and daubed in woad, conducting strange rites-of-passage ceremonies in their back gardens.

It's clear that Cameron is going to rival Blair when it comes to spouting meaningless rhetoric. Is this a skill that is learned at public schools? But I must resist the temptation to be sarcastic, satirical, or just plain silly, and make some more serious points.

David Cameron believes there is such a thing as society. It's an abstraction of course but he quite likes it. There is also such a thing as the State - another abstraction. But he's not nearly so keen on the latter.
'Society is not the same thing as the State' he said. This astonishing discovery was greeted with prolonged applause.
Our society, he says, is 'broken', an appropriate term to apply to a concrete noun like a plate, but when applied to an abstact concept like society, what on earth does it mean?
Anyway, he has kindly offered to mend it for us.

The State is the collection of governmental structures by which a society organises and regulates itself. Political parties compete for control of these 'levers of power', as they are sometimes called. They are the means by which to achieve the ends that politicians desire.
And new initiatives, of which Cameron, like all politicians, has many, will often require new means - in other words, new resources, financial, human, administrative and organisational.
But Cameron, like most Tories, dislikes the State and wants its role reduced. This leaves him willing the ends but not the means. His solution is hardly original and no less fatuous than it has always been - leave it to the voluntary sector. So we will build Jerusalem with the Women's Institute, the Boy Scouts and the Prince's Trust and it won't cost more than the price of a raffle ticket or a woggle.

Of course, the voluntary sector is much bigger than that frivolous comment suggests, comprising thousands of organisations with many different agendas and, more importantly, conflicting and mutually incompatible agendas.

To transfer primary functions from the State to the voluntary sector - which Blair also favours - is actually a negation of the democratic political process by which the electorate temporarily gives power to a political party to implement a rough and ready consensus about the type of society it desires. Far from 'mending' a 'broken' society, the Cameron/Blair cop-out leads to a weaker, more dangerously fragmented society and to a situation where Christian schools can teach Creationism as a valid scientific theory and both Christian and Muslim schools can teach the evil of homosexuality. It would presumably be just as acceptable for a bunch of loonies to have a school that taught that the Earth was flat or that the universe is controlled by a giant lizard. It's a dangerous and destructive form of pluralism.

The balance between State power and individual freedom is always difficult. But the attempt to keep the State out of people's private lives is not just about how much tax the State takes from people's pockets, as Tories like Cameron seem to think. For if the State withdraws from key areas like education, health and welfare in favour of private and voluntary diversity of provision then yes, a thousand flowers may bloom but there will be some ugly and poisonous specimens amongst them that will destroy social harmony and cohesion and individual freedoms too.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Butcher, The Baker and a Randy Drummer

There was a cracking episode of Coronation Street last night with that clever mixture of light and shade for which the programme is famous.
Daran Little, like Jonathan Harvey, has that rare gift of being able to put comedy and pathos in the same scene. Paul Abbott is a former Corrie writer who can pull off the same trick.

Dinner dances of the Weatherfield Traders' Association are always a delight, mining the same seam of provincial social comedy and self-importance that David Nobbs did so well in 'A Bit Of A Do'.

Liz managed to escape from Diggory the baker to get off with the drummer in the band. In a sublimely Freudian scene he allowed her to feel his drumsticks.

"They're like Fred and Ginger", said Bev of Rita and Norris who were cutting a swathe through the dance floor.
"Which one's Ginger?", said Fred.

Deserted by Liz, Diggory hit the bottle before taking to the stage to dramatically resign from the Presidency of the WTA and make a drunken and rambling speech about the way that disappointment had always been hanging over his life like a vulture. When the band struck up in a vain attempt to silence him, Diggory continued his maudling diatribe against a cruel world over the music.
It was both hysterically funny and unbearably sad.
There was a striking similarity to the ending of Sondheim's Follies. Not the 1987 London staging for which the ending was re-written to keep the coach trade happy, but the original Broadway production in which a character had a nervous breakdown while singing a song and the music became increasingly harsh and atonal.

Without Coronation Street there would be precious little decent comedy or drama on ITV these days, or even on television as a whole. It's a heavy burden for a single programme to carry and remarkable that they can do it so magnificently.

Friday, December 02, 2005

What's Up, Doc?

I'm boycotting the new series of Little Britain. I was never much of a fan but anyone who has seen someone close to them suffer the embarrassment of incontinence in old age is going to find jokes about that very hard to stomach.

So last night I watched Doc Martin (ITV) which is bad in a more innocuous way and which, like all bad television, I find strangely compelling.

There was a particular reason for watching last night's episode, for it featured a rare appearance by Hugh Lloyd who must now be about 120. Although he mostly played supporting roles I think we can fairly describe him as a comedy legend. He was the straight man to most of the great comedians of the last century, including Tony Hancock. He was a kind of Comedy Everyman, dull, boring, not very bright but completely harmless.
Probably his most memorable role was in The Blood Donor where he and Hancock, over their tea and biscuits, exchanged clichés and, in doing so, each became convinced of the other man's impressive intellect. At one point, Lloyd says "Are you a doctor?" and Hancock replies "No.....I never bothered". Lucas and Walliams should be made to sit and watch writing of that quality with a loaded revolver placed next to them.

Coincidentally, the premise of Doc Martin is that he is a London surgeon who has moved to Cornwall to become a GP because he cannot stand the sight of blood. And last night Hugh Lloyd wasn't the only old comedy stalwart to make an appearance because that old medical joke of Palaeolithic vintage, 'Just a little prick', was also deployed. I think I may have recycled that one here in the past but I'm sure I wouldn't have the brass neck to stick it in a primetime television comedy.

Whether Doc Martin is in fact a comedy or a 'comedy drama' is a moot point. It's not particularly funny and as drama it's on a life support machine.
One-dimensional characters are not exactly unusual on television but Doc Martin, played by Martin Clunes, would win the Horse of the Year Show if there were a category for One Trick Ponies.
Doc Martin is very grumpy and bad-tempered. That is his only characteristic. He scowls constantly and is rude to everyone. There are also lots of walking shots for which Clunes has adopted a variant of the Bush/Blair power walk. Even if he's going to the corner shop to buy some milk he has the demeanour of a man going to confront someone who has been screwing his wife.
Doc Martin doesn't have a wife. But he has a crush on the primary school headteacher. This is the one narrative thread running through the self-contained episodes. It can run for a long time because, being one-dimensional, Doc Martin is as rude to the object of his affections as to everyone else.

The Cornish backdrop to this series does at least bring back happy memories for the millions of viewers who will have holidayed in Cornwall at some time. Almost every interior location overlooks the sea. Even last night's local radio station was perched on a clifftop. I suspect they use the same building for every interior scene because the view from the bay windows looks suspiciously similar. They were probably all filmed on the same day because the sky is blue and the sun is shining. Anyone who has been to Cornwall knows that mist and drizzle are the default weather conditions.
I'm very worried about the primary school because that too is in a dizzyingly vertiginous position. The school playground appears to abut a drop of several hundred feet to the sea and is only protected by some low railings. One hopes that they take another register after every playtime.

Doc Martin provides one of the rare occasions where West Country accents are heard on television. Casualty, which is set in Bristol, is notorious for hardly ever featuring a Bristolian accent. The problem, I suppose, is that the West Country accent tends to be associated with stupidity. But this isn't a problem for Doc Martin where virtually all the locals are portrayed as being a few scones short of a Cream Tea.

Pre-eminent among the yokels chorus is the comedy policeman. Watching Stewart Wright's portrayal of PC Mark I almost need medical attention myself. It could only be described as under-stated if you were comparing it to Rowan Atkinson's Mr Bean. Not that I'm blaming him for the rash I developed. He's only gurning his way through the caricature he was given by the writers. He has my sympathy.

One pleasing irony about last night's edition was that the storyline was about alcoholism and the programme is sponsored by a drinks company.
At least, I think it was about alcoholism but the character concerned may have been suffering from diabetes or something that resembled diabetes. The writers often deploy a lot of impressive medical detail without any satisfactory explanation. Not that anyone cares. The only possible reasons for watching this pap are the Cornish scenery, the guest appearances and seeing Doc Martin call people 'tosser', something that Dr Finlay never did even on a bad day.

Doc Martin has been a huge success for ITV. Indeed - and here's the heartwarming bit, warm enough to heat through a Cornish Pasty - it has been beating Little Britain in the ratings!
I haven't seen last night's figures but the week before Doc Martin had 8.7M viewers (a 36% share) while Little Britain had only 7.9M (a 32% share).

Could it be that Lucas and Walliams have now pushed the limits of acceptability a little too far? Or maybe all my criticisms of Doc Martin could equally be applied to all its cosy medical predecessors? Perhaps Doc Martin is the Dr Finlay of our time. And I have to say that a scowling Martin Clunes is infinitely preferable to the grinning Martin Clunes that first became a household name.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Suffer Not The Little Tory Children

As is well-known, New Labour is very fond of 'hard-working families'. Families who work a little less to spend more time with each other can presumably rot in hell.

The Tories have always professed a more generalised love of the family, not altogether dissimilar from that of the brawling, criminal siblings of Eastenders - 'but you're family!'

In the last Tory Government, Ministers often appeared surrounded by their wives and children shortly after revelations about their extra-familial sexual exploits.

Margaret Thatcher famously believed there was no such thing as society. Families, however, were the very bedrock of society - they would be if there was such a thing as society.
So I was amused by this childhood memory from Carol Thatcher, quoted in last Sunday's Observer:
"My mother was prone to calling me by her secretaries' names and working through each of them until she got to Carol."

Let's just try transferring that vignette to the scenario of a very different kind of family.

A social worker is presenting the case for issuing a Care Order to the Case Conference:

'From an early age this child was placed by Mum in the care of total strangers for long periods [boarding school at age nine].
The seriousness of the emotional neglect in this case was emphasised by an occasion when Mum was unable to remember Carol's name, despite the fact that there is only one other sibling who is male. Although Dad is seldom seen without a drink in his hand, there is no evidence that this amnesia was caused by alcoholism.
Nor do the reports show any conclusive evidence of mental illness although the clinical psychologist noted that Mum has a tendency to talk about herself in the third person which can sometimes be an indicator of personality disorder.
When Mum was asked about her very limited contact with Carol she would only repeat "There was no alternative". When warned that this history of neglect might lead to Carol being permanently removed from her care, she said "Rejoice! Rejoice!"
In the circumstances and to prevent further emotional abuse, the Social Work Team recommend that a Care Order be issued immediately.'