Editor-At-Large: Kids... sit up, scrub up and buckle down


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The Independent Online

There's an easy way to tell when a government is deep in the brown stuff: every day it makes self-important statements designed to divert attention from a catastrophic loss of direction.

Last week, David Cameron said children should stand up when their parents or teachers entered a room and advocated the return of "real discipline". Some of us might think "real discipline" means telling the truth about what you earn, what you own and what tax you pay, but that's another matter. The day before, the Employment minister Chris Grayling's spin-doctors ensured he grabbed headlines when he announced that "very often the surly young man in a hoodie who turns up looking unwilling to work can turn into an excited, motivated employee". In other words, hire a hoodie. Mr Grayling is presiding over a crisis: over a million young people are unemployed, as well as a record number of women. At the same time, 166,000 jobs last year were lost by UK citizens – and taken by people born outside this country. He can't tell employers to favour Brits, because that would be racist. So he's telling them to give unskilled, illiterate, socially gauche British youngsters a chance. How many does he employ in his office? None, of course – he's in the rarefied world of Westminster.

It's so cynical. Grayling knows that employers and the CBI have been saying for many months that kids are leaving school and even university without the basics essential to landing jobs. Qualifications count for nought if your social skills and attitude are on another waveband. Yes, schools need to get increased funding to reduce the 20 per cent who are illiterate at 16. Yes, the curriculum needs to be dramatically refocused to emphasise practical skills from the age of 12 for kids who will be brilliant builders, plumbers and electricians (like my dad). Can everyone in government please stop banging on about the need for further education and university? We need schools that equip all young people with what they need to get on in life and make the best of themselves, not shunt them on to useless colleges to learn media skills or pointless degrees in physical training.

Young people need to be shown what it takes to land a job: a sense of structure in your day (so you can turn up on time), a lot of repetition (most work is boring), and presentability (i.e. washing, and wearing clean clothes). Jamie Oliver, and now Mary Portas, have shown the scale of the problem in their TV series, trying to give these kids a chance. Now, the Government needs to stop mouthing platitudes and return to square one, turning primary schools into places where people learn to sit up, shut up and learn, not express their individuality. As a society we are unspeakably brutal and offensive to each other on a daily basis, so why do we expect young people to be different, whether hoodie-wearers or not? The other day I went for a hospital appointment to be greeted by a loud-mouthed cow bellowing "Date of birth?" at full volume as a way of identifying me, even though I offered my postcode and driving licence. A Care Quality Commission report on Leeds General Infirmary revealed that the commission inspectors were repeatedly forced to help distressed patients, since hospital staff couldn't be bothered.

If we ignore the sick, why are we surprised young people can't be arsed to be pleasant or grateful if they are lucky enough to land a job interview?

Wrong direction

I'm not going to bother listening to Capital any more as it seems to have a particularly petty set of values lurking behind all the faux bonhomie the radio presenters spout. Young people are frequently vilified for their lack of manners, but Global Radio, which owns Capital, has behaved disgracefully, banning top boy band One Direction because, back in February, one of the band members made a simple mistake during the Brit Awards and thanked Radio 1, not Capital (the sponsors) for their Best Single award, voted for by the station's listeners.

According to Radio Today, next day the station banned all mention of One Direction, refuses to play their music and will not mention their tour, set to be a co-promotion, even though the band issued an apology for the error. By the way, The Wanted, One Direction's main rivals, are managed by an artist management company that is owned by Global.

Joan Sutherland changed my life

The new season of Proms has been unveiled, and the concerts will celebrate the Diamond Jubilee as well as the Olympics. Am I the only musical snob who groaned? Why must the Proms have "themes"? What happened to assembling brilliant concerts with the best performers? Now, this wonderful event is all about branding.

I adore the Proms, and attended my first concert on a Saturday morning as a schoolgirl back in the 1950s. Joan Sutherland sang the mad scene from Lucia di Lammermoor; I still treasure my programme.

Now, concerts for young audiences seem dumbed down. How grim were the last two years' Doctor Who and Horrible Histories events? This year, the children's prom will feature a specially commissioned piece from Wallace of Wallace & Gromit, entitled My Concerto in Eee, Lad.

The chef Antonio Carluccio says that kids' menus in restaurants are rubbish because they feature muck, when children should be tempted by adult food. It's the same with music. Dame Joan did me a favour: I've been addicted to opera ever since.

Spare me this Olympian Cyclops

Sadly, last Friday saw the end of Twenty Twelve, which followed a fictitious Olympic delivery team headed by the supremely pompous Ian Fletcher, played by Hugh Bonneville. Spouting politically correct jargon, hapless twits lurched from one crisis to another while stabbing each other in the back.

Twenty Twelve, like The Thick of It, was spookily accurate, so why did the Beeb castrate the show in its prime, but then promise a new series "later in the year"? Too scared of getting its quota of free tickets for the big event reduced?

On Wednesday, Seb Coe celebrated the 100-day countdown to the London Olympics by "unveiling" the official motto in Kew Gardens. Embarrassed school kids looked on while repugnant one-eyed Olympic mascots danced around in their nylon suits. McDonald's, the official sponsors, scored another publicity coup, announcing free exercise toys with their Happy Meals, which, as they generally consist of burgers and chips, aren't exactly the healthy option for future medal winners.

I'm a big fan of exercise aids, but using stepometers and exercise balls after shovelling down helpings of fast food is nonsense. And what does the public make of Lord Coe's entreaties to get on-message? While he was at Kew, I spotted this forlorn mascot at Peter Jones in Chelsea, next to a display of hideous Olympic memorabilia. Customers were making a detour – Peter Jones is a haven of middle-class taste – and I don't foresee many takers for one-eyed mascots.

Apart from anything, the model could really scare small children.

Cure for boredom

Simon Cowell's sexuality is of no interest to me. I'm more concerned about his black toilet paper. Cowell is thinking of writing his autobiography to "correct" bizarre revelations in Tom Bower's book, which went on sale last Friday, but he should never have let Mr Bower use his guest loo – the contents of one's bathroom are so revealing.

Once I was invited to a particularly boring dinner party, so I went to the bathroom and put all the contents of the pill cabinet in different bottles. Perfect revenge!