Onward into the annual Remembrance row…

IT is my unfortunate habit most mornings to sit on this here ledge and run a sleep-blurred eye over the newspaper headlines.

Maybe one day I should wash those headlines right out of my head, but it is a structured start to the day. And, frankly, on occasions an annoying one. Some days the muttering grows so loud, there is a danger of falling off.

Today we see the return of a favourite story: the Remembrance row. These come along every year. As the clocks go back, by ancient tradition the news editors scour the country for evidence of alleged disrespect to our fallen heroes. Never mind that a far greater disrespect was sending them off to die in the first place.

First up for a pelting this year is the Reverend Steve Bailey, vicar of St Peter’s Church in Oadby, a small town that lies five miles south east of Leicester. These stories often feature small towns that lie five miles from somewhere or other. It’s as if newspapers trace the nation’s heartbeat to the small corners of Britain.

Leicester is a model of multiculturalism and that is why this vicar acted as he did. Rev Bailey has decided, you see, that the hymn Onwards Christian Soldiers should not be sung at the Remembrance service.

He feels it is inappropriate as people of other faiths might attend the service and the laying of wreaths at the local war memorial. A fair point, you might think. Unless you were a news editor seeking evidence of disrespect to those we sent to slaughter.

In a statement issued through the Diocese of Leicester, Rev Bailey points out that removing the hymn was agreed with the Royal British Legion. But members of the Legion club, a separate body, have set about grumbling, and their discontent has reached the newspapers.

In the Daily Telegraph, an unnamed member of the church says something perfectly sensible. “The hymn is completely inappropriate. It is about spiritual warfare and not earthly warfare and we wanted something that would reflect Oadby’s multicultural population and people of all faiths.”

Other hymns have been chosen instead, including All People That On Earth Do Dwell – a nicer hymn and finer sentiment.

Hymns are woven into the threadbare fabric of the national overcoat, and even a non-believer who rarely attends a service knows a hymn or two. Those tunes are part of who we are, whether we appreciate it or not.

You must admit that Onward Christian Soldiers is a dreary affair – and a dreary affair burdened with militaristic intent.

The hymn begins cheerily: “Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war/With the cross of Jesus going on before. Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe; Forward into battle see His banners go!”

I don’t intend to type any more. You can see where the vicar is coming from.

The hymn was written by the Rev Sabine Baring-Gould, a man interesting enough to have spawned his own appreciation society. Visit this and you will discover that he married a mill girl half his age, and dedicated his life to antiquarian pursuits alongside his role as a squire and parson of a small Devonshire village. Surprisingly, he was also regarded as one of the leading novelists of the time, an early archaeologist and a collector of folk songs.

All genuinely interesting, but he is mostly remembered for writing in 1865 a plodding hymn that it is best forgotten now. The music, incidentally, was by Arthur Sullivan, a prolific composer mostly remembered for the operas he wrote with WS Gilbert.

Two years ago, the concocted row concerned Jeremy Corbyn allegedly giving a nod rather than a full bow after laying a wreath. The Telegraph even called on an etiquette expert to calculate that the Labour leader had titled his head by only ten degrees – said to have been an insufficient display of respect.

More Remembrance nonsense will doubtless be along soon, while all those dead soldiers are still dead, taken in the middle of life so that certain newspapers can now get themselves in a righteous tizzy.

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Just another day in hate-land….

mail

AFTER yesterday’s demented headline in the Daily Mail – “OUR REMAINER UNIVERSITIES” – it’s clearly time for me to pay proper attention.

There I am, in my this-and-that life, walking around a university, doing workshops with students and meeting colleagues without ever once noticing any crazed Remainer professors at all.

It is true that one of my brothers is a professor and a Europhile, but he mostly teaches in France these days.

The Mail’s latest spot of rabid intolerance came about because – well, because Paul Dacre, the orchestrator of that newspaper’s daily rants, just felt like going off on one. As a part-time journalism lecturer, I feel safe in passing on that technical term for the Mail’s frequent outbursts and tantrums as it pretends to be speaking common sense, while spouting uncommon nonsense.

The blame for this ridiculous story lies in Tory whip Chris Heaton-Harris MP, a man whose name had never troubled my ears until this week.

Harris got into trouble for writing letters to universities asking for information and names about the professors who lectured about Brexit. While he was soon slapped down by the Government, the Mail, clearly concerned that some other loon was getting all the attention, decided to indulge in a spot of McCarthyism

There is a problem with that front page about “our remainer universities” – apart from it being just another rant in a seemingly endless line of rants. Mail world logic involves looking at something and shouting that the opposite is true. Apply that logic to this story and you can happily conclude that Britain’s most educated people are against Brexit.

Inside yesterday’s edition, the Mail even nodded to Senator Joe McCarthy and his scourge against communism in the 1950s. A come-on headline asked: “Have you – or do you know anyone – who has experienced anti-Brexit bias at university?”

Have you now or ever been… taught by an intelligent, informed professor of politics or economics who thinks that Brexit is a bat-shit crazy idea. Well, it’s highly possible, I suppose, but hardly counts as proof of universities being involved in a huge plot against Brexit.

A picky person could even turn this question round and ask the Daily Mail: “Have you now or ever been guilty of flagrant bias in favour of Brexit – mostly because your editor wanted to get one over on David Cameron?”

Mail-world is a planet that wildly over-heats thanks to the hot breath of hatred. In the past, and not without occasional good cause, the paper has raged against hate preachers. Yet basically the Mail itself is a hate preacher, a preacher of intolerance, bile and general nastiness.

Although not according to the banner at the top of today’s front page which claims victory in ending the rationing of cataract operations – “The Mail, a paper that really cares about people…”

Ah, yes, a paper really cares about people – unless you voted Remain, happen to be foreign, a migrant, assorted judges, anyone even loosely connect to the Labour Party or a saboteur needing to be crushed (that’s someone who doesn’t believe in Brexit, by the way, a rising constituency nowadays).

Anyway, at least we have Twitter. All sorts of people aired their thoughts yesterday. Some recalled Viscount Rothermere speaking up for fascists in the 1930s under a headline: “Hurrah for the Blackshirts.”

Others passed on messages they had sent to the Mail, including my favourite from Edna Welthorpe (Mrs) – “Dear Daily Mail. Please take your McCarthyite witch-hunt and shove it up your collective arse.”

Mind you, Edna may not be all she seems, as her Twitter bio says: “Retired. Likes Bridge. Doesn’t much like anything else – young people, gratuitous nudity, hatless politicians, Communists, Johnny Foreigner, wholefood etc.” Satire alert, I suspect, but sometimes satire is all we have.

The pitfalls of BBC impartiality and Brexit the ‘stupidest thing’…

OH, some of those headlines need a response today.

Here’s the running order: BBC apologises for not challenging Stilton-brained Lord Lawson over his dubious climate change figures; Brexit is the stupidest thing any country has ever done apart from Trump; and ‘super-rich hacked in Bermuda data leak’.

Most days, the BBC is defended by me. But one great problem the corporation has lies in its perpetual attempts to be even-handed.

If you grant a climate-denying old loon such as Lord Lawson the same due status as virtually all scientists on the planet, then you are being unbalanced and not balanced at all. You are giving the climate crackpot the same value as those who have studied and investigated the science. You are equating a one-man band with a whole orchestra of evidence.

Lord Lawson – and that title is less of an honour, and more of an expression of despair, as in Lord! Lawson you don’t half spout some cheese-brained nonsense – once went on a very effective diet, and it’s easy to worry that some of the weight loss came from what he keeps inside his skull.

The BBC has now apologised for its Today programme interview with climate change denier Lawson, admitting that it had breached its own editorial guidelines by letting him get away with claiming that global temperatures had not risen in the past decade.

He wasn’t challenged on air – even though Lawson’s own Global Warming Policy Forum later admitted that his figures were “erroneous”. Your whole approach is erroneous, mate; almost everything you say is riddled with errors, and your forum is the political equivalent of shuffling around with your fingers in your ears and going: “Can’t hear you – can’t hear a word you’re saying.”

The Guardian today quotes Bob Ward, the policy director of the Grantham research institute on climate change at the LSE, as saying: “There needs to be a shift in BBC policy so that these news programmes value due accuracy as much as due impartiality.”

Exactly. It was just such an approach, combined with institutional laziness, that elevated Nigel Farage and Ukip to such a level. And look where that got us all.

Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire media mogul, professional big mouth and onetime mayor of New York, is quoted today as having said that Brexit is the “single stupidest thing any country has ever done” apart from the election of Donald Trump as US president.

It’s hard to disagree with that. And in both cases the experiment doesn’t exactly seem to be rolling over nicely. Brexit is an unending squabble as assorted Tories try to grab the steeringwheel from Mrs Maybe – who seems to have no idea where she is headed – and the Trump presidency, to continue the motoring metaphor, is one big car crash, with new casualties daily.

With all that in mind, here’s a cheering thought. Today’s Daily Telegraph reports that some of the world’s richest people are braced for their financial details to be leaked after the offshore tax company Appleby was hacked in Bermuda. There are also fears that this exposure could threaten British Overseas Territories and their frankly dodgy tax arrangements.

Goodo – the more exposure the better, the more we know about where the wealthy stash away their loot the better.

Unlike Oh Lord It’s Lawson Again, where the less exposure the better, unless someone wants to plonk the silly man in an over-heating desert somewhere.

En Marche! What if our parties were named after their leader’s initials?

MY wife is speaking to me from behind the newspaper. She has clearly misunderstood the role demarcations of this family. It’s my job to annoy people by reading out fragments of newspaper articles.

This special service offers edited highlights of the best bits so that the listener doesn’t have to bother reading the story for herself. Or it spoils any future reading by doing the same.

I haven’t spent 30 years muttering through inky sheets to then have this service provided back to me. Whatever next? I’ll be spending untold hours in the garden before you know it. And my wife will be lying on the sofa and pretending to read the newspaper while having a nap.

She’s reading a long article about Emmanuel Macron, the youthful French president. Macron set up his own party, calling it En Marche! And, yes, that exclamation mark is there by design. With my part-time lecturer head on, I am always telling students to pluck all the exclamation marks out of their work. And then Macron goes and gets elected astride an exclamation mark.

Anyway, my wife has just read out that when Macron launched his party, it was a while before people started to notice that it was christened with his own initials. He’d created a party in his own image.

As a man who shares the same initials as the Labour leader, this set me thinking. What if our party leaders followed suit? This is quite a tricky game because Jeremy Corbyn is too modest – or possibly too weighted with false modesty – to do anything so egocentric. But still. The Jerusalem Collective Party. The Just Caring party – “The party opposite is past caring!”

The Juicy Carrot Party – fresh from the allotment; the Jam Collaboration Party – fresh from the same. Or, in acknowledgement of his fans, the Oh Jeremy Corbyn Party – or OJP for short.

Theresa May has a surname ready-made for this game: The That’s Mayhem Party. Or Total Mayhem for short. Or the Take Me (Away From Here) Party, in acknowledgement of just how miserable she appears to be in the job, up to her knees in unending Brexit shit.

The Thatcher Minor Party; the Trembling Madhouse Party; or, in keeping with the French theme of this divertissement, That’s Merde!

The English translation of which is: Same Old Right-Wing Shit Bugger Me Have You Seen the State of the NHS Party.

My wife interrupts these thoughts by reading out another passage. She tells me that when Macron was elected, the stunned former president Nicolas Sarkozy “is said to have commented with disconcerting humility: ‘It’s me, but better’.”

Well, I shall have to go and read that now. Probably. You know how some people don’t like reading books that have been read by someone else, well I’m a bit like that with newspapers.

I like to have first dibs at the newspaper. I’m not sure why. Is it to claim ownership of what I have read? Not sure, and the funny thing is I quite like reading an old book, and thinking of other eyes absorbing those words first.

You don’t have to be baking mad to read this…

THESE words are rising along with a loaf in the oven. At least I hope both words and loaf have some lift. It’s a new recipe, the bread that is; the blog is the same old recipe of typing words as they rise into the passing cloud of my mind.

Some time ago now, it was over between bread books and me. There were too many on the shelf, some regular favourites, others rarely looked at since first infatuation. Dan Lepard’s Short & Sweet and Andrew Whitley’s Bread Matters are the star turns, while the River Cottage bread book by Daniel Stevens has provided two often used recipes: a sourdough standby and a basic loaf.

Then my Dad gave me a £25 Waterstones token for my birthday and there was a book on the shelf in the shop in York – Baking School, The Bread Ahead Cookbook. And that book gave me a floury wink.

The loaf in the oven has just been given a turn. It’s a ‘miche’ which is basically a giant French sourdough. The rise suggests something gone slightly awry. The shape is odd, the bulge cockeyed; not always a good sign. But time will tell – time and a hazard of dislodged dental-work if hastiness wins the argument with caution.

The first loaf from this book was another sourdough, and I sawed through the new creation, pausing to wipe the sweat from my brow, and risked a bite. Not fully there but the taste was good; a day later the loaf had softened and was readier to eat.

Now I have a whole book of bread and cakes to make. And doughnuts, but they will probably go unmade. We don’t have a deep-fat fryer and nobody but me would eat doughnuts, and I don’t want to have to buy new Levis.

Was another bread book a good idea? Only time and a long line of loaves will tell. But we should all do things we love at times, and I love looking at a new bread book, even though plenty of flour-scattered pages that once got my oven heart ticking now sit unloved on the bookshelf.

The new one looks like a keeper, but the sourdough method is tricky, the dough very wet, and… oh, you know, bread matters, bready things. Bready, steady go and check on the loaf as the timer must be due to ping. Ah, six minutes left.

Look, there’s a loaf; and here’s the yeasty blog.
bread

What do we learn from the Weinstein affair?

DO we learn from Harvey Weinstein or is it just a thing – a media thing that burns from its own energy and then dies?

I was wondering about this when talking to students this week about the disgraced film producer who is accused of sexually harassing and assaulting more than 50 women.

The matter was an aside rather than the topic of the day but many of the students were well informed about the accusations against Weinstein, as well as angry and indignant.

They knew as much as I did about what the vile man is said to have been up to for years in Hollywood. They believed that good would come from the exposure of his behaviour, and they also felt that the #MeToo hashtag was a positive way for women to register that they too had been sexually abused or harassed.

I paraded some front pages of the newspapers and pointed to the Daily Star. The right-hand half of the page was given over to a ‘sex pest’ headline in a follow-up to the Weinstein story. And the left-hand half of the page contained a photograph of woman who was just about naked.

That grubby juxtaposition said a lot about newspapers sometimes wanting to have their outrage while also celebrating the very thing they are outraged about. OK, the Daily Star is hardly a template for our times. But still. Do these people see what they are doing? Serious face for that “pervert story” – and “Fwoar! Look at her” for the daily scanty next door.

Of course, much serious discussion, reporting and commentary has been stirred by the allegations against Weinstein. And if all the talk and all the anguish changes attitudes in Hollywood and the wider world, then this will have been more than a media thing.

That is not, I recognise, a very exact phrase. But “a media thing” seems to sum up what can happen when a story becomes all-consuming, a fire that rages day after day. Until one day that media bushfire burns itself out. The smoke lifts, the view clears. Then someone sets fire to something else and everyone forgets about the first fire.

There has been so much heat, so much acrid smoke, over Weinstein that it seems fair to suppose that some good will come of so many famous women claiming to have been abused. If attitudes change in society, if women feel embolden to speak up, then that is to the general benefit.

Because it must add up to more than a grisly parade of what one deeply unpleasant man is said to be have been up to for years.

This morning, the director Quentin Tarantino is quoted as admitting that he was aware about instances of sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein for decades but did not act to protect women, saying: “I knew enough to do more than I did.”

Isn’t it often the case that people know enough to do more than they do? Yet if Tarantino now regrets his lack of action, it is still an uncomfortable truth that Weinstein did much to create his career. And that’s where the moral strands become tangled.

As I said, my students believed in the power of the #MeToo campaign and perhaps they are right. My only concern is that this is, to continue with the imprecision, a “social media thing” – something that gets everyone excited, then disappears.

It also worries me as a man that somehow all men are tainted by this hashtag. But then I know that this isn’t about me: it belongs to women who have been harassed or abused.

The many women lining up to accuse Weinstein of sexual misdemeanours or worse include the British actress Kate Beckinsale, who was 17 when she encountered Weinstein at the Savoy Hotel. She said: “He opened the door in his bathrobe. I was incredibly naive and young and it did not cross my mind that this older, unattractive man would expect me to have any sexual interest in him.”

And that’s a lesson for older men in this tawdry affair. You might be young in your head, you might see yourself as vital and desirable. But you’re not. You’re just another old guy. The sexual interest is all one-sided. And you need to grow up, even if that isn’t easy.

 

A Brexit poser, dead voters and has anyone seen the NHS?

SO, how’s this Brexit business working out for you? An awful lot of nothing has happened since we voted, so it seems timely to have a catch-up.

First up, and it’s all gone a bit fuzzy now, let’s look back at the question we were asked. Here’s a test for you. What did the ballot paper ask?

Below you will find two options to choose from in my memory ballot.

Option one: Should the UK remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

Option two: Should the UK engage in an endless squabble while the rest of Europe, and indeed the world, looks on in bafflement, wondering what the hell the supposedly sane and sober Brits are up to as assorted tin-eared Tories rattle on about jumping over the cliff-edge while singing Rule Britannia and chuntering on about how great the Empire used to be, or so they heard from their nanny, and anyway Europe’s foreign and we have to watch out for foreigners, apart from those we want to flog stuff to, and everything will be rainbow marvellous once we break the European shackles – and please don’t forget our sweet little lies about £350m a week coming back to prop up the NHS?

It’s a while ago now and to be honest, I can’t quite remember.

A Twitter user called Stephen Lawrence has done a spot of research about how many Leave voters have died since the referendum. Basically, if you want to ask some of them how they think Brexit is doing, you’ll have to tap on a coffin. Sifting data from Eurostat, the British Election Study and data journalism carried out by the Financial Times and the Independent, Steve predicts that “Remain would now win by 52.08% if a snap referendum was called today”, according to a report on the Short List website.

And the coffin-knocking comes into it because he estimates that 123,411 Leaves voters have died since the referendum – set against less than 30,000 Remain voters who have left the auditorium.

My presiding memory of that sad morning we learned we were quitting Europe solidifies around footage on the BBC news of an elderly man caught in a bout of euphoric tottering as he said: “I’ve got my county back.”

Has anyone checked up on that old fella lately? Knock once for “I’ve still got my country back” and twice for “It’s dark in here.”

Right now, we have hit a Brexit brick wall. The rest of Europe doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to cooperate, and who can blame them: we’re the ones leaving the club, while also having a petulant foot-stamp about our demands.

Now I know the Leave option was supported by some Labour as well as Tory voters. But the whole Brexit business is being conducted on Tory terms – and as a matter to be settled by the Conservative Party, rather than by the whole country.

And sorry to be a Remoaner about this, but it is still the truth that a squeak of a win for Leave has been belligerently repackaged by Eurosceptic Tories and their backing vocalists in the right-wing press as the voice of the whole country. Rather than the voice of a narrow majority – some of whom are dead already.

Two thoughts from this morning’s headlines. The Tories are still squabbling among themselves, with home secretary Amber Rudd saying that leaving the EU without any Brexit deal is “unthinkable” – while cheery David Davis says the cliff-edge route must remain an option.

Then again, Davis does remind me of a coach driver trying to reassure his passengers after one wheel falls off – “Three wheels are fine, three British wheels will get us there…”

Second thought: According to a BBC investigation this morning, the performance of hospitals across the UK has “slumped with targets for cancer, A&E and planned operations now being missed en masse”.

While we are locked in a plummeting Brexit lift with the squabbling Tories, nobody is paying proper attention to the state of the NHS – you know, the service that was meant to be £350m better off once we left Europe.

Thoughts on local news and living in York…

NOT far off 30 years ago, and how can those words be true, we left London to live in York, intending to stay two or three years. It was part of my plan to slightly delayed greatness; or, at least, to climb a little higher up the journalism pole.

We never left and instead succumbed to the lovely trap that is York, often described as a graveyard of ambition. Is that true? I have no idea, but the city did eventually sap my determination to move on up.

As for that journalism pole, it began to lurch. I clung on for many years, before falling off when the money men shook the tree and dislodged the redundant apples. I was a bruised apple for a while, but found my way again; a different way; a more complicated way – but a path is a path and a bruised apple can still roll.

Life in York has much to recommend it and I’ll return to that in a moment. But let’s look at the shaky pole of local journalism. According to a report on the Press Gazette website – itself once a news magazine available on good paper – only 17 per cent of London’s local newspapers are based in the community they serve, and around half have only one reporter for each borough they cover.

The Press Gazette research found also that five newspapers had only one reporter covering several boroughs. My old newspaper, the South East London Mercury, was swallowed whole years ago by the South London Press, once mighty but now less so.

According to the Press Gazette research, the SLP has one reporter covering six boroughs; just think of that – six boroughs, massed together, add up to a large town, even a small city. “Its sister paper the Mercury” – oh, what a poor relation to the old girl I knew – “covers Greenwich and Lewisham with only one reporter.”

Two big boroughs, one no doubt over-pressed reporter. A solo scribe cannot ‘cover’ such a patch in any meaningful manner, which is why, with deadlines snapping at their backs, those who run today’s surviving local newspapers rely too often on press release and official news; the news put about by those who can afford to pay to have it put about.

Without reporters recording, prying and watching out; without reporters scratching away at the curiosity sore, local life goes unreported, unrecorded, unexamined – and in extreme cases, terrible events such as the Grenfell fire happen when, with good grassroots reporting, the early signs of something being wrong may have been spotted.

The Press Gazette report is not entirely gloomy, with Tom Oxtoby, editorial director of City Matters, a new weekly newspaper covering the City of London, saying: “I think there is strength in grass-roots journalism and whilst many larger organisations are swinging the axe and closing titles, there is a case for independent titles like ourselves to fill that void.”

Well, I admire his inky optimism.

In an age when journalists are roundly disparaged by everyone from Donald Trump to ardent supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, and many others in between, it is worth recording that journalism can be a tough gig. Worth recording too, as is the habit of this blog, that the sometimes criticised Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC’s political editor, has one of the toughest gigs around, and does the job with unflagging energy.

Here in York, we have my old newspaper and a weekly version of the same. The paper does better than many others around the country, but whether that will be enough to secure a future is anyone’s guess; a decision for the dreaded tree-shakers.

From what I hear, everyone works harder than they ever did to keep that newspaper and website afloat. And, yes, the print edition is reduced from what is was but it is still there, still trying to do the job.

This city also has a good independent website in YorkMix. That, too, strives to survive and to reflect life in this city, and plays a good game with few players.

As for York, life sometimes pushes you in the right direction, even as you try to pull against the geographical elastic and move elsewhere. I tried to leave but now York has me; it’s where our three have grown up, and where we have grown a little older. And I’m not planning on living anywhere else.

The city has changed in nearly 30 years, and it’s a more cosmopolitan place to live, with many more bars, coffee bars and restaurants, and feels less monocultural than it did.

To me this is almost all for the good, although it is a worry that local businesses struggle to survive as all the big names bustle in. But the place has me now, whether it wants me or not.

Do we become more sentimental as we age?

woodI’VE been wondering if we become more sentimental as we age. My conclusion is that we do, with evidence offered from my own behaviour and that of others.

First into the soggy witness box is a song by Chris Wood, seen above, taken from his latest album, So Much To Defend – best thing I’ve heard all year.

If you want a label, Chris is a folk singer, although that doesn’t truly embrace everything he does on the album. And who needs labels anyway?

Chris has been at the job for a long time, as he suggests in More Fool Me, a self-searching song that begins: “This pen will be worn out before too long. There’s a mile or two in every single song.”

First up on the album is the title track, a song that sweeps together many characters in an everyday swirl, a song so good you want to play it again and again.

After that comes This Love Won’t Let You Fail. And that’s when the emotion starts for me. It’s a song by a father to his daughter, and more broadly, it is a song about being the parent of a child who grows up and goes their own way. Connections times three for me there.

In the song, Chris is feeling emotional about his young girl being all grown up and off at university, living the life of the night – “A little drunken text now and again/ Lets us know you’re alright.”

Then he introduces a photograph from the family album of a tired little girl up on the Downs, flying a kite with her dad – “She’s all grown up now but he’s still there/Trying to let go with all his might/Catch the wind now darlin’ and run like hell/Over hill and over dale/You’ll be a speck on the horizon before too long/This love won’t let you fail.”

Gets me every time; even got me just now typing out that snatch of lyrics. I love the way Wood joins together flying a kite with letting go of a grown-up child. I don’t think that song would have moved me so much when I was young, and maybe it’s about being a dad; or maybe you are more susceptible to emotion when you are older. I know that on the quiet I am.

It’s a lovely bit of music too, with swirls of Hammond organ from Gary Walsh.

The film to have moved me most is perhaps an unlikely contender. It’s a while now since I watched Mr Holland’s Opus, in which Richard Dreyfuss plays a high-school music teacher, whose emotional farewell ties in with a performance of the piece of music he has been writing for years.

That film certainly brought on the tears. Partly, I guess, because it touched something inside me; touched that nub of hope and frustration and lack of achievement – as it should touch anyone who feels like that; just about everyone, then.

The happy parallel to all this is being reduced to tears by laughter. That can happen for surprising reasons, sometimes just a shared joke. I was the butt of such hilarity on our holiday, when my wife and daughter became giddy with giggles at my expense, and I honestly cannot now remember why.

The other night, we were watching Mitchell and Webb’s delicious squirm of a sit-com, Back, on Channel 4. The David Mitchell character, a man who wears disappointment like an old duvet with half the feathers gone, said apropos of something or other – “Shit the bed!” The way he spoke, the way he looked, the context – oh, I don’t know what it was for certain, but it reduced me to tears for quite a few minutes.

Incidentally, Mitchell’s other comedy, Upstart Crow, in which he plays a much put-upon Will Shakespeare, is a real delight – and a bounce back to form for its writer, Ben Elton.

To return to Chris Wood, on his website you will find this warm tribute from Chris Difford, of the band Squeeze: “If I had a towel I’d throw it in.”

High praise from another spinner of musical short stories cut from everyday cloth.

Where would we be without eggs and Edwina Currie?

EGGS are safe to eat and isn’t that a relief. In all statistical likelihood, they always were safe to eat, and we have Edwina Currie to blame for a food crisis that lingered for 30 years.

Much as you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, you can’t break an egg without remembering Currie.

It is now three decades since Currie put her foot in that big mouth of hers; three whole decades. For half my lifetime eggs have been under a shadow thanks to her unguarded comments as health minister on December 3, 1988, when she said that most of Britain’s egg production was contaminated with the salmonella bacteria.

Ministry of Agriculture ministers were angered by her comments, with a spokesman pointing out that 30 million eggs were consumed every day in the previous year. During that time there were 26 outbreaks of salmonella.

Tellingly, the BBC reported at the time that: “Mrs Currie’s officials in the Department of Health have been unable to provide evidence that most chickens are infected with salmonella.”

Now the Food Standards Agency says that pregnant women, babies and elderly people can now safely eat runny or even raw eggs. The only proviso to this that the eggs should be stamped with the lion, indicating they were produced under the British Lion code of practice.

What lessons do we learn from the way Edwina Currie hard-boiled the poultry industry? Mainly that a big mouth can be a costly orifice in political terms. A storm blew up, egg sales plummeted and the government had to spend millions in compensation for the surplus eggs and to pay for the slaughter of unwanted hens. All to cover one minister’s unguarded moment.

Mrs Currie survived for two weeks, then resigned. She remained a MP until she was ousted in 1997. Should you be wishing to hear that her reckless scrambling of the egg industry blighted her life, you will be disappointed. Mrs Currie now has a lucrative career as a novelist and broadcaster.

Infamously, she also revealed in her autobiography of 2002 that she’d had a four-year affair with former Prime Minister John Major in the late 1980s. And if that memory is not enough to put you off your boiled eggs, I don’t know what is.

Major was not proud of the affair, saying when the story emerged: “It is the one event in my life of which I am most ashamed and I have long feared would be made public.”

Interesting that Major should refer to a four-year affair as “one event” – and this, remember, from a man known for banging on about “back-to-basics” morality.

Before leaving that affair in the history cupboard, it is worth recalling a splendidly snobby remark from Lady Archer, wife of the then disgraced Tory peer Lord Archer. Is Archer still disgraced or do these matters have a shelf-life? Anyway, here’s how Lady Archer expressed her opinion of the affair on the BBC Today programme: “I am a little surprised, not at Mrs Currie’s indiscretion but at a temporary lapse in John Major’s taste.”

Not only eggs can be poached by being dropped in gently boiling water.

What else do we learn? Oh, that we eat an awful lot of eggs and production of so many eggs can only take place on such a massive scale that moral qualms arise. I confess that the figure quoted above, of 30 million eggs being eaten every day, seemed crazy; so I did an exhaustive check (or quick Google) and it seems to be right.

According to the Vegetarian Society, 31 million eggs were eaten in the UK every day in 2012, produced by nearly 35 million laying hens; nearly half of those eggs came from caged hens and 48 per cent from free-range eggs.

We only eat free-range eggs, usually bought from the health-food shop where my wife works. And bully for us. Good eggs for sure, but such good eggs cannot supply everyone. I guess you pick and choose your food morality.

Eggs are good to eat, scrambled, boiled, fried, in an omelette, or as the boosting agent in a cake or as the wash on bread rolls. I couldn’t be a vegan because of eggs; or come to that because of butter, milk and cheese; oh, and meat.

Like many of us, I’d be lost without eggs.