There is an indispensable skill needed to become a top Conservative politician. It's a surer route to the Shadow Cabinet than going to Eton, being a member of the Bullingdon Club or living in Notting Hill. It's the ability to speak without notes.
A fine example was David Cameron's speech to the Conservative Spring Conference at the weekend. He strode around the platform at Brighton, declaiming his philosophy. And not once did he look at a note; he didn't even, Sarah Palin-style, sneak a peek at a Biro scribble on the back of his hand. This man is clearly blessed either with a phenomenal memory, or an equally phenomenal ability to extemporise.
Where Cameron goes, his cohorts follow. Speaking without notes is fast becoming the modus operandi of the Shadow Cabinet. I recently watched the shadow Culture spokesman Jeremy Hunt address a conference; and he too delivered his address without a note, an autocue or a single prompt. So impressed was the audience that whispers went around the floor about this remarkable skill, much like the gasps that greet a circus performer.
And that is the danger of noteless speaking. The audience tends to see it as theatre, and be so impressed with the performance, that it doesn't always concentrate on what is being said. The lack of dependence on notes or autocue, and the freedom for movement and gesticulation that this gives, do make the speech more of a performance, and the speaker more of an actor. Which is ironic, because actors increasingly are autocue-dependent.
Take the recent night at the Baftas, where every single star presenting an award, read their scripted remarks slowly, deliberately and expressionlessly from an autocue. Robert Pattinson, Anna Kendrick, Matt Dillon, all people with (one assumes) something interesting to say and an interesting way of saying it, were reduced to reading a tribute scripted by a Bafta bureaucrat and devoid of personality. Our politicians are moving in the opposite direction, even if it seems to be a predominantly Tory skill. New Labour uses old delivery methods still. I applaud them for that. I'm sceptical about the trend for noteless speaking because it becomes a performance, even a spectacle and the real detail of policy can get lost.
Ok, no that's not the real reason I'm sceptical of it. I distrust it because I can't do it. Not for half an hour. How does one master such a skill? How does one speak seamlessly for 30 minutes or more without so much as a cue card? Who has been coaching the Shadow Cabinet in this life skill? David Lister
A tasty reason for eatin' whoopie
From their humble origins in the East-coast kitchens of their Amish creators, they have marched on America's glitziest boutique bakeries. And now, over-sugared, over-filled (with a devilish marshmallow butter icing), whoopie pies are over here. For a very brief moment yesterday afternoon, the first belt-straining delicacy to cross the Atlantic since the cupcake also invaded the airspace between my hand and my gob, where it was well received.
"They're good, aren't they?" says David Muniz, a sweet-toothed ex-pat and founder of London-based temple to American cake, Outsider Tart. "They're easy to hold and, sadly, that makes them easy to consume." He's not wrong, but what's with its funny name? Conceived decades ago by Amish housewives (whose farmer husbands apparently shouted "whoopie!" on discovering them in their lunchboxes) they are, simply, as Muniz puts it, "a cake sandwich with icing as the meat."
Outsider Tart sent two varieties – the classic chocolate with a marshmallow vanilla cream filling, which looks like an obese Oreo cookie (in a good way); and an oatmeal with cream cheese, which resembles a giant Fox's Ginger Crunch Cream.
Outsider's offerings are the authentic face of the whoopie rather than the flashier versions now being sold in fancy food halls. Harrods tops its whoopies with icing and glitter, a case of lily-gilding that would certainly raise Amish eyebrows.
Fans of whoopies, rustic or sparkly, can blame an Oprah Winfrey endorsement for sending these fistfuls of cake on course to conquer the globe. But if they rock up on a shelf near you, be warned – they pack a punch. "If you're worried I'd go for the oatmeal," Muniz says. "It requires more chewing and, as we all know, chewing burns calories." Simon Usborne
My life in Britain's 'angriest' borough
Apparently, I live in the angriest place in the country. A dense population, copious crime, drugs and high unemployment have, according to new research, made the London borough of Lambeth a rage epicentre. I live in the middle of it, in Brixton, and I'm not surprised. While there's heaps to love – it's vibrant, culturally diverse, has a brilliant market and many wonderful characters – anger is, indeed, everywhere. Simple things can get you going; the daily battle – through buggies, drug dealers, spitting men and pavement cyclists – to the Tube station (the only one I know to pipe out calming classical music), or the Post Office (average queue-time, half an hour, average punter, unhinged – last visit, a man offered to "punch my face in"). And it works both ways: when a Tennants Super-wielding man pawed a friend, worryingly, I threatened to kill him. I've also raged at crackheads (for sleeping on my doorstep), and yelled at a neighbour for pushing his girlfriend around. At least now I know I'm not mad (though I may be unwise) – it's just because I live in Lambeth. Kate Burt