Editor-At-Large: Men showing off is bringing our country to a halt

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The Independent Online

Life is full of unexpected small pleasures. Last Friday, listeners to Radio Four's Today programme were granted a 24-carat nugget to treasure. Geoff Hoon – one of the most pompous prats I've encountered – squirmed, grovelled and, finally, apologised! It was a historic moment, one of those occasions when you couldn't wait to wallow all over again on the BBC i-player. Forget plant food, or whatever trendy legal high the kids are currently taking, this public humiliation was better than a class-A drug.

Grilled about his television appearance earlier in week on Channel 4's Dispatches programme, when he was secretly filmed touting for work by an undercover reporter, the former defence secretary's explanation was: "I was guilty of showing off." Not guilty of misusing his position by trading his contacts for cash. Not guilty of tarnishing the already lacklustre reputation of our elected parliamentarians. Not guilty of more or less being, as Stephen Byers, who reckons he gave Tesco a little help, so crudely put it, "a taxi for hire". In Geoff's book, all he was guilty of was a bit of swanking.

It's this wonderfully emollient use of words that marks Hoon out as a self-centred macho man primarily interested in feathering his own nest. Listen to what he had to say about the long running expenses saga: "It's been a troubling period for people elected to parliament." Anyone would think they'd been trying to avoid catching swine flu, not caught fiddling millions claiming for second homes, duck ponds, expensive furniture and moat cleaning.

He went on, "I think the new rules [about expenses] will be accepted." Hello? Let's take a reality check: do MP's really have any choice in the matter? He mumbled about going through a "career change" and I am sure that his constituents will accept he's still got their interests at heart, even though he's clearly spending most of his time looking for work. After all, that's many of the bloody population are doing at the moment – looking fruitlessly for employment. But most of us don't have carefully nurtured books of contacts like Geoff, as our passport to lucrative offers. He might have kissed goodbye to his peerage but I'm sure he'll be welcome in selected boardrooms.

Geoff's demise will be music to the ears of Gordon Brown, the man he tried to depose in a ham-fisted coup. Now, the tables are turned and Hoon's complaining that after 35 years in the Labour Party he's been suspended- with nobody bothering to tell him in person. Both blokes exhibit similar characteristics – like lumbering rare buffalo they are anachronisms in modern Britain. Do people speak and act like this in your high street?

Take Brown's comment on the strikes by rail and British Airways workers. When asked if he was facing a spring of discontent, he disagreed, saying "very few days have been lost though industrial stoppages'" What's that a euphemism for? Fact: a lot of British Airways planes are not flying at a peak holiday period. Millions of people have had their travel plans thoroughly messed up. Fact: there will be four days of rail strikes directly after Easter weekend when families want to return home. If that's not disruption, then Gordon and I speak a different language.

Talking of endangered species, Bob Crow actually said: "We have not called a strike over Easter." Technically, he might be right: railworkers have voted to strike starting on the Tuesday after Bank Holiday Monday. But that's still the Easter holidays, Bob. Sod taking the kids to see any attractions over the break. And forget about getting back to work after the holiday weekend. And, as the icing on the cake, there's plenty of engineering work on the railways. You might be quicker on roller skates. What shines through all this disruption, is the massive egos of all the blokes involved. From the leaders of Unite, to Willie Walsh, Bob Crow and Gordon Brown, it's all about how they are perceived in public. They want to be seen as strong, in control. But is that really the best way to conduct business? Last week, Carolyn McCall was named as the new CEO of easyJet. It will be interesting to see if the feminine approach yields better results. The men in the city didn't give her much of a welcome – as the news broke, £20m was wiped off the value of easyJet shares.

Kicking Street dance is where real drama's at

Ian McKellen is right: there's little new drama on the BBC these days. The other night at 9pm they offered a documentary about bread on one channel with a documentary about chocolate on another. On Friday nights there's no drama at all on the BBC, except for soaps. This could be one reason why people are flocking to the theatre, and the West End is doing great business. Some plays, like The Little Dog Laughed starring Tamsin Greig, attract a buzzy younger audience, but what about the National Theatre? Nick Hytner says he wants to attract a younger audience but he's got a long way to go, judging by the average age of the brigade enjoying London Assurance last week. This feeble comedy is only saved by the supreme efforts of Simon Russell Beale and Fiona Shaw ramping up the slapstick in brilliant costumes. If Nick wants to see his missing audience, he should pay a visit to Blaze, the street dance show directed by Anthony Van Laast at the Peacock, over the river. It's more or less sold out, and the average age is early twenties. Telly dance shows have something to do with this, but a night at Blaze is an energising experience, whereas my evening at the National was a big yawn.

Dr Maggie talks down to families

The new children's "champion" Dr Maggie Atkinson – salary £138,000 – is fast acquiring a reputation for putting her foot in it. After describing James Bulger's death as "unpleasant", she had to apologise publicly to his mother. Dr Atkinson's appointment is supposed to be independent, but the Common's education committee have refused to support her, saying the former teacher and Barnsley Director of Children's services won't be able to stand up to bully boy Ed Balls, the Children's Secretary. In her inaugural speech, Dr Maggie asked if parents are driving children too hard, and says they need to talk to children, not just fill up their rooms with gadgets. Dr Atkinson has no children of her own, and I imagine her "helpful" remarks on parenting will go down like a cup of cold sick in most households.

Sonata for zebra finch and guitar

The hottest art event in London isn't Van Gogh at the Royal Academy – and is by a French artist few of us have heard of. If the length of the queue is anything to go by, Céleste Boursier-Mougenot's bird installation in the Curve gallery of the Barbican, is a sensation.

Australian zebra finches flutter freely around the brightly lit space, landing on live electric guitars set up as perches and on five upturned cymbals, which contain food. The noise they make with their random movements is played through a series of speakers, and is utterly compelling. I found it strangely soothing.

A video of the birds on the Barbican website has been a huge hit on YouTube – and pilgrims are patiently waiting for up to 90 minutes to experience this unique fusion of performance art and music. Will there be a single? Best of all, it's free.