An Englishman's home is his council house

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The Independent Online
IT IS increasingly hard to keep track of Tories as they topple from their posts, but Alan Duncan is moderately memorable as the one who said 'at least if I'd been fucking someone I'd have been having fun'. Unlike many of his colleagues, he didn't find it necessary to share a bed with someone to whom he was not married, merely someone's house and any potential profits, so setting off the First Council House Sales scandal. This has since been eclipsed by the even more alarming Second and Third Council House Sales scandals, involving Dame Shirley Porter and then Teresa Gorman.

Duncan, who prides himself on being a bit of a Thinker, has thought long and hard about home ownership. And - this may come as a surprise in view of his conduct - he thinks there is too much of it about. He recently wrote a pamphlet for the think-tank Demos protesting against the easy money and easy spending of the Thatcher years: the short-termism of industry, the irresponsibility of the banks and - wait for it - 'the malign influence of owner-occupation'. Home ownership, he acknowledges, 'has many important virtues. It provides people with a congenial place to live, a valuable asset and a palpable stake in society. But in the 1980s the easy availability of credit enabled too many house-buyers and owners to treat their house not as a shelter . . . but as a speculative investment or a store of wealth which they could raid at will.' How true.

Bemoaning the 'lack of homes for rent', Duncan notes that a crucial factor was the decision to sell off 1.4 million council houses. The money now tied up in home ownership, he concludes, has prevented investment in industry. He should know, having rather more money tied up in home ownership than most.

MUSIC used to be straightforward. There was pop, which I liked, and rock, which was possibly different, although I was never entirely clear about that, but which I pretended to like when I wanted to impress people. There was reggae and soul, which I loved, and heavy metal, which I didn't understand. And that was that. But the other day somebody told me that there are now 27 different types of pop music, which made me feel really old because I've never even heard of most of them. What is P funk, for example? And how much does garage have to do with house?

Dance music all sounds rather samey to me, which just goes to show how ill-informed I am, because hardcore techno is aggressive and working class and can only be picked up on pirate radio stations broadcasting from council flats in Hackney, whereas ambient house, which typically involves bird noises from the Amazon, is really rather public school.

And then there are all the other things you're supposed to know: that if you're a death metal fan you can only wear black and think doomy thoughts, and that gangsta rap doesn't demand decent trainers, whereas East coast hip hop requires the best footwear money can buy.

If this is perplexing, there are some bands deliberately setting out to confuse - like The Orb, who are part dub (a sort of reggae), part ambient house. It's all getting to be too much: it's Sounds of the Seventies compilations only for me from now on.

IF YOU walk down Oxford Street at the moment with your mind on anything other than precisely where you are putting your feet, you're liable to crash into groups of people loitering on the pavement, staring vacantly into the middle distance. They are not being abducted by aliens; they are trying to get in touch with their theta waves. Look closer, and you will see that they are staring at glossy posters resembling the television screen when the time has come to call the repairman.

I stood staring at the posters for a bit myself. They're quite pretty, if you like fuzzy colourful dots, but nothing happened. What is supposed to happen is that your brain relaxes, your theta waves (whatever they are) take over, and you suddenly get sucked into a 3D picture and can see things which weren't there before. It's like taking drugs without all the bother and expense of actually doing it. Not that it's exactly cheap: I paid pounds 8 for my poster, which is called Deep Space and which I was assured was the most interesting. I took it home and stuck it up in the kitchen and we all stared at it for about 10 minutes, but nothing happened. No sign of any theta waves, just a slight feeling of dizziness from too much staring. I would be grateful to anyone who could tell me if I have been ripped off, or if I'm just not doing it properly.

I CAN tell already that I'm going to be hurrying home for Middlemarch. The first episode was wonderful, and I have high hopes of the serialisation hitting a national nerve. Brideshead Revisited reflected a kind of heedless glamour back to a nation bent on consumption and self-gratification in the Eighties; Middlemarch, similarly, is much possessed by the mood of the moment: moral muddle, financial corruption and sexual temptation, gossip and disapproval. I can already see Suffolk Woman in Mrs Cadwallader, several kiss'n'tell actresses in Rosamond Vincy, and various newspaper proprietors in Mr Bulstrode. Mr Brooke, well- meaning but inept, reminds me of John Major, and Lydgate of most of the Tory Cabinet: full of big ideas, but distracted by the first swish of a bit of skirt. What Britain really needs is a Dorothea, but there we seem to be sadly lacking.

A MANIAC with a crowbar tried to break an American ice-skater's legs last week. Tottenham's Gary Mabbutt nearly lost his sight on the football field, and Phil de Glanville needed 15 stitches in his face after getting in the way of an All Blacks' ruck. I thought sport was supposed to be wholesome, character-building . . . the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton and all that. But these days playing fields are the Battle of Waterloo: sport is getting more and more like Rollerball. I fear I shall have to discourage my children from team games, and suggest they settle down with a nice Friday the 13th video instead.