When we switched on the BBC’s 6 o’clock news on 18 February, we had no idea that it was the day of Whitney Houston’s funeral, and even less that the coverage of this sad event would blot out all other news. So we expected the item to come to an end. But it never did. I was spending the weekend with, among others, two teenagers and we were all transfixed by the relentless mawkishness of the proceedings. After about an hour, we switched off and had supper. When we came back, the tributes were still rolling on. But now a large subtitle had appeared at the bottom of the screen. It read: ‘You wait a lifetime for a presence like her’s [sic]’. We decided it was time to ring the BBC’s complaints line. Naturally it took an age to get through. ‘I want to make two complaints,’ I said. ‘One, that I’d like some news when I switch on the news channel; and two, that the BBC should surely know where to place an apostrophe — and where not to.’ When I put the phone down, I got a round of applause from everyone in the room.
I was arts editor of the Daily Telegraph for four years and in each of those years I commissioned, during what has become known as the ‘Oscar season’, an article which poked fun at the Academy Awards. Why, these articles would ask, do we encourage people who already enjoy so much publicity and make so much money to indulge in this orgy of self-congratulation? Besides, comparisons between different genres of film are pointless; and, what’s more, the wrong films nearly always win. That was almost 25 years ago. Since then, media coverage of the Oscars has become ever more obsessive and the awards culture has mushroomed in all directions: glittering prizes for music, TV programmes, books and journalism have proliferated. Of course, it’s all about generating yet more publicity and bigger sales. Still, I sometimes wonder whether my long-standing animus against the Oscars, and indeed the Baftas, is simply a matter of envy. Deep down, do I wish it was me walking on the red carpet and tearfully thanking my granny and my hair stylist for making it all possible?
Speaking of grannies, I was recently invited to an event of a kind which I’d never heard of before — ‘grandparents’ day’ — at my five-year-old grandson’s junior school. What a brilliant idea for all concerned. In fact, it lasted, not for a day, but for two and a half hours, which was about right. We were all shown into a large gym filled with small round tables at which we were served coffee and croissants. We
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London Paris New York introduced ourselves, not by name, but by grandchild: ‘Mine is Joseph Preston, the one who never stops drawing.’ ‘Oh yes, mine is the one with red hair who cracks jokes.’ Only fellow grandparents fully understand how besotted we all are, so we were able unashamedly to exchange the kind of anecdotes that are taboo in normal social intercourse — non-grandparents would find them excruciating. This was unexpectedly agreeable and went on for about an hour. Then the children were led in and we watched our little darlings sing a song or two. After that the headmistress told us about the need for extra funds for the school library. We all fell over ourselves to buy lots of raffle tickets. At the end everyone was happy.
Hugging has been the fashionable way of greeting friends for some years now, but do people actually like it, or know how to go about it? I am always pleased when anyone wants to hug me, but I nevertheless find it awkward and embarrassing. Should one just loosely wrap one’s arms around the neck of one’s hugger, or should one get nearer and press one’s chest (i.e. breasts) against his or her chest? How much squeezing is involved? How long should it go on for? Some guidance would be helpful. (I am talking about social hugging, of course — not about embracing your nearest and dearest.)
Whatever one might think of the new Sunday Sun, it shows the same flair for succinct headlines as the weekday version. I particularly liked nelson in tum op (Mandela, that is). When I bought the paper in a small Wiltshire village, the charming Indian owner of the only village shop told me that most of the 30 or so customers who had previously bought the News of the World had stopped buying a Sunday paper altogether. By midday last Sunday, he had sold 26 copies of the new Sun, more than twice as many as the Sunday Express or the Sunday Mirror. Not a bad start in a predominantly middle-class village where the Mail on Sunday sells 60 and the top seller is the Sunday Times at 80.
the spectator | 3 march 2012 | www.spectator.co.uk