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We need to wage war on teenage boredom

The sounds of the British summer holidays will soon be heard on our city streets and on the squares of our market towns. There will be laughter, raised voices, the occasional sound of breaking glass, a squeal of tyres and, later, that now-familiar type of informal community singing which is leery with booze and boredom. Some of this al-fresco misbehaviour will come from disappointed men who are startled to discover they are middle-aged, but much will involve people under 20. Summer hits the bored teenager hard. The grown-ups have their holidays or their careers. Smaller children rest after the summer term and perhaps re-acquaint themselves with their parents. It is those in between, beyond childhood but yet to be granted full entry to the adult world, who are often left adrift. They have no work and nothing to do. Youth, hormones and boredom mix dangerously. So the statistics just published...

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So our rulers are just like us: foul-mouthed and silly

The soundtrack of modern British government has been given another slightly depressing spin on the media turntable this week. How, according to Alastair Campbell, does it sound? Well, apparently members of Her Majesty's government were frequently in fuck-it mode. A former Labour leader expressed his concern that stockbrokers now had the party by the fucking balls. There were worries about the media, in particular lobby correspondents who were wankers, although the Prime Minister found time to see Rupert fucking Murdoch. In conversation with President Bush, Mr Blair had revealed that his press secretary was to run in the London Marathon and had had to apply a lot of Vaseline to his testicles. On the whole, a bit of light vulgarity adds to the rhythm of life, but it is difficult not to be mildly dismayed by the tone of Campbell's diaries. As carefully as they have been edited, selected and...

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Music is more than a business, it’s the beat of life

It is not often that a pop musician, doing a bit of high-profile moonlighting in public life, comes out with remarks which resound with sober good sense, but Feargal Sharkey, former lead singer of the Undertones, managed it this week. As chairman of the Live Music Forum (LMF), a committee set up by the department of Culture, Media and Sport to look into the effects of the 2003 Licensing Act, Sharkey was reporting on their findings. The law, which required a venue putting on any kind of live music to be licensed, has been subject to "overzealous or incorrect interpretation" by local councils, the LMF reported. These days an acoustic folk duo playing in the corner of a country pub would risk a fine as would a male voice choir singing in a town square for charity, a folk society or a school brass band. Musicians and their audiences have...

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Forget university if you want to coin it

Hurrah, hurrah. A new rich list - the millionaire register which now seems to be released with the regularity of pop charts, suggests that Brownite hard work is back in fashion. Communication is for wimps. The media years of Blairism, with its soundbites and charm offensives, have given way to a new, no-nonsense firmness of purpose, a dogged, grinding determination to get on. Whereas the soft south gave us a world of spin, the Scots and northerners believe in an old-fashioned grafting approach to work, and the Rich List reflects the trend. Of the 25 wealthiest self-made millionaires, almost a quarter were Scottish and 11 were from the north. Southern millionaires tended to have grown rich in the City or through property, but the northerners and Scots mostly came from industrial backgrounds. They had left school early to serve apprenticeships. In fact, only two out of the 25 had started...

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A bizarre custom redolent of a dark, vanished era

A significant footnote in the history of Britain in the 20th and 21st centuries concerns the mass inhalation of tobacco, writes our historian from the future. Today, in the healthy, well-ordered 22nd century, we can look back with wonderment to the momentous date of 1 July 2007, when "smoking", as it was called, definitively went into retreat. It had been popular, fashionable, even, as they used to say, "cool", but from now on it was increasingly unacceptable in a clean, modern society. But what was smoking? Who were these smokers? The habit of puffing on dried tobacco leaves in cigarettes, cigars and pipes had acquired widespread, totemic appeal during that tempestuous time of change, the 20th century. A cigarette denoted independence of spirit, individuality. A pipe suggested a capacity for thoughtful contentment. A cigar denoted status, wealth. In those hedonistic, self-obsessed days, to smoke was for many people to be...

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If May be fine, stick up an estate agent’s sign

There are changes in the English countryside. The air is different. Sometimes it smells of café latté - then the wind will change and it is as if one has walked into a hairdressing salon. The sounds are changing too, with the drowsy hum of bees and the chatter of housemartins being replaced the dull roar of sit-on mowers. Dogs are tidier and are kept on leads. Fields that were once enclosed by scruffy hedges or wire have become trim post-and-rail paddocks for ponies constructed with the tidy design sense of a modern kitchen. The urban-country crowd are moving in. Like an army dressed in new Barbour coats and green Hunter gumboots, they are everywhere in their large 4x4s. Some of what they do is good - if an area suddenly decides to put on a festival, a concert or charity event, you can be sure the new urban-country influence...

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Harriet Harman: even more charismatic than Stephen Byers

A surprising early morning call comes in from Labour Party headquarters. It is my new friend Tony Topspin-Smythe, who works in the party's information control module. Ever since we met at a Tina Brown launch party, Tony has been promising me an off-the-record exclusive from within government. "The word on the street is that you're writing one of those satirical-but-not-too-serious columns," he said. "That's not how I would... " "Great, great. I've got a perfect subject for you. Are you ready for this? I can reveal, completely off the record, something which will be totally dynamite when it gets out. Are you ready for this? Harriet Harman is not as dull as everybody thinks. No, really. I can let you have some of the hilarious stuff that she's done. It'd be perfect for your column." "Write it yourself, then. I'm pretty busy, as it happens. This is your column from...

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Sometimes a stint in jail can be a smart career move

In what has been described as the most momentous jail release since Nelson Mandela walked to freedom in 1990, America's heiress celebrity Paris Hilton is due to be released today from the Lynwood Correctional Facility after a harrowing 23 days behind bars. Naturally this world-shattering event will detonate an international media blitz. People magazine has paid $300,000 for photographs of Paris's tearful homecoming. There was said to have been brisk competition between the ABC and NBC channels for the first post-prison TV interview, but in the end it will be CNN's firm but fair Larry King who will do the honours. Merely by being arrested for drink-driving while already banned, Paris Hilton has taken another momentous step in her career as a celebrity. Not particularly pretty - Donaldson and Eyre's authoritative Dictionary of National Celebrity describes her as looking like "a shivering whippet dipped in bleach" - and certainly not...

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It was the summer of love, but I wasn’t getting any

The summer of love has had a gentle makeover in the years since it took place 40 years ago. The colours are mellower now. The girls, usually with flowers painted on their proudly naked breasts, seem to have grown lovelier down the years. Even the drugs seem essentially benign. It is as if an ad agency has been at work, making the whole event rather more tasteful and momentous than it actually was. As the Small Faces sang at the time, it's all too beautiful. Four decades on, as the summer solstice marks the official anniversary of the dawning of the summer of love, its legacy lives on. It was the ultimate, flowering moment of a decade during which it had at last, after the distinctly middle-aged 1950s, become cool to be young. An alternative universe was in place. The best of the music was astonishingly confident - Dylan had...

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Save us from this unisex uniformity

It is probably a great scandal, what will be going on next month at the 125th gathering of the Bohemian Grove club. Some of the world's wealthiest and most powerful men will be meeting in the redwoods of northern California. There will be millionaires, defence chiefs, bankers, media magnates, heads of university and, a recent innovation, one or two artists and musicians. In the past, George Bush and Dick Cheney have attended. Richard Nixon was a guest, but found it "the most faggy thing imaginable". Every year the keynote speech is made by Dr Henry Kissinger who, by hilarious tradition, is interrupted by a Mexican band as he starts to speak. Bohos, as they call themselves, talk about world events, but also are known to run about naked in the woods, get drunk, appear in shows wearing women's clothing. At some point, a Druidic ritual known as the Cremation of...

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