A slap in the face from a pat on the back

  • @geraldinebedell
THE Cheshire primary school head who was suspended for 'inappropriate professional behaviour' - in other words, for letting a pupil sit on his knee - has left his job, following a second complaint. I know nothing of Richard Connor beyond what I have read in the newspapers, but he has my instinctive sympathy, because the father of a friend of mine has been similarly suspended, after 30 years as a primary school headmaster, 20 of them in the same school. He was nearing retirement, and recently widowed, and my friend thinks he will never work again.

The trouble started over a dispute with a boy about how much pocket money he should take on a school trip. The child's mother claimed the headmaster had humiliated her son and rang him up to tell him she was 'going to get him'. She then started telling other parents that 'her boys had seen him interfering with girls'. This contact amounted to patting girls on the shoulder when they had done well, putting his arm round the netball team's shoulders when they beat the best team in the league, brushing past someone in his office and allowing a child to carry his bag. Once these allegations were made public, my friend's father was asked to clear his desk and leave the school within 10 minutes. He has now been off work for five months, waiting to hear whether there will be a prosecution. His union has told him that in the last two years, 29 heads and deputy heads have been suspended in similar circumstances in Lancashire, where he works. (Lancashire County Council was unable to confirm this figure last week.)

Men must be allowed to work with children, to touch their shoulders or stick a plaster on their knees without being accused of vicious crimes. But education authorities are now so terrified of child abuse that the merest whisper can be enough to justify a suspension. And then, for my friend's dad, the obscene phone calls began, and the late-night unrequested pizza deliveries; and, fortunately for his sanity, the hundreds upon hundreds of letters of support. Incidentally, my friend, a television journalist, has footage of John Major touching children exactly as her father is alleged to have done.

FIRST there was Crimewatch, then Crime Limited, Crimewatch Special, Crime Monthly, Crime Story and True Crimes. A Martian landing today would probably conclude that we divide our time between going out to be raped and mugged and coming home to watch the reconstructions. Not altogether surprisingly, recent research has suggested that these action replays, frequently complete with scary music and slo-mo violence, can make people unnecessarily fearful. And on the increasingly rare occasions when I walk home from the bus stop alone at night, I am always mildly surprised not to be murdered.

Given the effectiveness of reconstructions in frightening people, it was only to be expected that advertisers would sooner or later seek to exploit them to sell something. The latest RAC commercial features a respectable couple who arrive at a cosy Southern Region station from a night out at the theatre or ballet, even as their car is being vandalised by a shadowy figure in jeans. A train tears past, sounding like a woman's scream; the couple's terrified expressions shine in its lurid light.

The press ads accompanying this film make the message explicit. 'It isn't the car that's broken down, it's law and order,' one warns; another shows a car dumped in the middle of a scruffy council estate, looking as much like a no-go area as a British council estate can (in other words, not very). 'If you think having your car stolen is traumatic,' the copy reads, 'just wait till you have to recover it.' Join the RAC, the ads seem to be saying, and you won't be mugged, raped, horribly mutilated or ever have to go near a council estate again. Well, phew.

SEVERAL things worry me about fantasy football leagues. For example: am I the only person left in the country who isn't in one? How do they stop everybody picking Ryan Giggs? And how could the executive producer of BBC2's Fantasy Football League say 'I think Terry Venables picks his team by watching the programme', when the Daily Telegraph, which uses the same scoring system, was claiming the England squad included only four fantasy-league top players?

The producer tried to clarify things for me by explaining that there's real fantasy football league (as played in offices, pubs, and on his programme) and non-real fantasy football, as played by newspapers. Andrew Weinstein, the game's 28-year-old inventor, then attempted to shed further light: 'Actually, there are two real fantasy football leagues,' he said, 'and one unreal.' Clear as mud.

But what most perplexes me about fantasy football is its ability to reduce grown men to spot-picking adolescents. (I speak metaphorically.) The teams have names like Notvery Athletic and Inter Splott, and the TV programme is the apogee of fourth-form culture, its set littered with congealing chips and squashed Carling Black Label cans. It makes turning over to The Word seem almost rational.

WONDERBRA and Ultrabra are both running advertising campaigns that some women (OK, I'm one) consider not very uplifting. In the Ultrabra commercial, a busty girl pulls several yards of paper out of a rival's bra, so getting the guy. Wonderbra have erected a series of traffic hazard posters in major cities, from which Eva Herzigova, a stunning model with gigantic breasts, exposes her cleavage over captions reading: 'Or are you just pleased to see me?' and 'Hello boys'. (My six- year-old son rather sweetly thought that one was addressed to him.) Some women think these pictures of vast breasts are 'empowering'. Emma Bagnall, writing in the Independent, said it was about time women were allowed to have D-cups. The rest of us are with Louise Atkinson in the Daily Mail: 'women are intimidated by these powerful, cleavage-wielding women'. Both sides pretend to feminist principle, but the real difference, I fear, is the possession, or not, of cleavage.