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Why this couple are an example to us all

In these property-obsessed days, it's refreshing to hear of those few brave people who have not been caught up with homes, houses and domestic life. In Norfolk, a local council has been worrying over the past two years about a group of travellers who had set up home without the required planning permission. Last week, quite unexpectedly, the problem was solved. Tired of dealing with officialdom, the travellers hit the road. Apparently, they preferred to be on the move anyway. With a similarly brave sense of independence, an elderly couple have recently been explaining to bewildered journalists why, in spite of owning a flat, they have elected to live over the past 22 years in Travelodge Hotels. "There is always something going on outside our window," David Davidson has said. "Our room looks out to the car park and a busy slip road where lorries pass by through the night."...

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We should all cherish Ann Widdecombe

Ten years after the car crash in Paris that opened the floodgates of public emotion, the crying game is still playing well in politics and in the media. Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, was tearful when interviewed following the shooting of Rhys Jones, an event which also made the BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce cry when she first heard about it. These displays of public emotion, whether they occur in front of the camera or are recalled later in an interview, now follow a definite pattern: tears first and then, shoulders squared, a return to work. Image-wise, a useful double whammy of sensitivity and professionalism is provided. In a country where blubbing has become confused with sincerity, it takes a brave person to make the case for remaining dry-eyed. Not for the first time in recent years, that person has turned out to be Ann Widdecombe. It was inappropriate for the...

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England’s green and adolescent land

Few subjects provide the English with quite so much guilty fascination as that of Englishness. Convinced that we are enigmatic and widely misunderstood by less psychologically complex nations, we tend to be boastfully modest about our national character, forever drawing attention to how self-effacing we are. Oliver James has put us on the couch, travel writers from Bryson to Theroux have roamed about, searching – often in vain – for our alleged charm. Jeremy Paxman investigated Englishness in book form, and now Andrew Marr is having a go on the radio. Sound-bite insights from the usual suspects (A A Gill, P D James, E T Cetera) are corralled into a neat, mildly amusing theory. The first in the series concluded that the English used modesty as a mechanism of self-defence. As the programme's central joke (that Boris Johnson is a modern version of Miss Marple) was repeated for the third...

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Why do we not revolt against the City fat cats?

This Sunday, at one of the great events in East Anglia's social calendar, the Waveney Greenpeace Fair, a Benedictine monk will dress in a recycled habit and, in a booth made of old doors, will hear the confessions of those who have sinned against the environment. "There is a huge amount of greed in the West," Dom Anthony Sutch has explained. "We have to be aware of the consequences of how we live." Around the country, there will doubtless be other, rather smarter, parties, held by some of the company directors and senior executives who, it has been revealed, have enjoyed a record payout, both in salaries (up 37 per cent, about 10 times the national average) and bonuses (up 24 per cent to £26.4bn). The greed of the financial world apparently concerns the Church rather less than that shown by people who fail to compost adequately. But Father Sutch...

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We need a change of climate at the BBC

Wearing its title of the nation's public service broadcaster like a badge of virtue and honour, the BBC likes to clear its schedules now and then for an exciting celebrity-strewn day of concern, comedy and music. At first, children in need were the great cause, then Third World poverty. Now climate change is the latest focus of the Corporation's caring attentions. On the face of it, to object to any of these great on-air festivals of niceness, as the editor of Newsnight, Peter Barron, has just done in Edinburgh, is to take grumpiness to a new extreme. What harm can possibly be done by a Red Nose Day, a Feed the World extravaganza, or an all-day Live Earth concert? Awareness is raised, money made for good causes, the famous have a chance to "give something back" in a gratifyingly public way, politicians are called to account in a gentle and...

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A crossroads is no place to make a home

In Peter Tinniswood's peerless comedy of northern life, I Didn't Know You Cared, it was at about this time of the year when Carter Brandon, a lugubrious young romantic, sat with his Uncle Mort watching the swallows as they gathered on the telephone wires. Soon, Carter said, the swallows would be taking off and flying south to sunnier climes. "Lucky devils," said Uncle Mort. Then in the spring, said Carter, they would gather once more and fly all the way back here. "Bloody fools," said Uncle Mort. Humans have been coming and going, too. For the past month, it has seemed as if the focal point of the national news has been the country's airports. First there was the annual holiday scramble, and then a week-long demonstration at Heathrow to remind us that the Government's plan to double air passengers at what was already Europe's busiest airport by far was...

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Death isn’t a date to put in your diary

For a few of us, the description of Lord Deedes's final hours and days, affectionately described in the press, will have made rather chilling reading. He "bravely struggled to write his last column as he lay on his death bed", reported the Sunday Telegraph. "Despite being desperately ill, bedridden and 94 years old, Lord Deedes - Bill Deedes to everyone who knew him - was halfway through his weekly article on Wednesday when he became too weak to continue." He died two days later, on the day his column had been due to appear. It was wildly, heroically professional, of course, but some may wonder whether, after nine decades of an extraordinary life, Deedes was right to spend his last few ounces of energy squeezing out one final opinion, worrying whether his opening paragraph was snappy enough, checking the word count on his laptop. As what Henry James called "the...

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This BBC apology is a grovel too far

Another day, another BBC apology. First it was the Queen, filmed walking out when she should have been walking in. Then one of Newsnight's young bucks did something tricksy with a profile of Gordon Brown. More recently, there has been the shameful scandal of a Blue Peter presenter who appeared at a bicycling rally with Ken Livingstone. Now, apparently, something very bad happened during the news coverage of an initiative by John Redwood to cut down government bureaucracy. So pronounced is the corporation's new addiction to confession that the Today programme might usefully consider replacing its "Thought for the Day" spot with a "BBC Public Grovel of the Day". However tiresome it may be for those of us who would prefer the BBC not to bend the knee to anyone in power who kicks up enough of a fuss, the apology gambit presumably makes good political sense. In this golden...

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Childhood innocence lost on the internet

Please assume an expression of concerned sympathy, for here is another - yet another - tale of youthful innocence betrayed by middle-aged cynicism. Four years ago, 14-year-old Lara Jade Coton posted a photograph of herself, wearing a ballroom dress and a top hat, on a website. Now she has been "absolutely horrified" to discover - quite how remains a mystery - that her photograph has appeared on the cover of a pornographic DVD called Body Magic (plotline: "a young fashion model discovers the ins and outs of the world of desire"). When Lara Jade, now 18, rang the manufacturer, TVX Films, a Texan home video company specialising in "classic erotica", she was put through to its president, Bob Burge. He was rather less than helpful. "Nice try, toots," he said, before adding, woundingly and irrelevantly, that "you're not even that well known." Eventually he agreed to remove her photograph from...

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Don’t just stand there and take it – give them hell

The man in the cinema foyer was making an exhibition of himself. He was remonstrating loudly in a red-faced, vein-throbbing way, to an official who was trying unsuccessfully to placate him. Cinemagoers hurried by, no more than mildly curious. It was London. It was hot. Small detonations of urban rage of this kind were no big deal. They were part of life in the city. I might well have hurried by myself, had it been for the fact that I was the ranter in question. The point that I was trying to make, with some force, to the manager of the Vue Cinema, Shepherds Bush concerned the irritation of three people - one nine months pregnant, one up from the country, one from the other side of London - who had travelled to his cinema from different directions to see a film advertised in the press. The Vue manager was...

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