Editor-At-Large: Sing it with me: I hate everything to do with the World Cup

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The Independent Online

A simple quiz. If you are not the slightest bit interested in whether England win the World Cup or not, whether Wayne bloody Rooney kicks a ball or sits on the sidelines, and whether Sven and Fergie are on speaking terms, are you a) bonkers, b) unpatriotic, c) a curmudgeonly old harpie or d) obviously not resident in the United Kingdom? For the past few weeks the media have made the blanket assumption that anyone with more than a couple of brain cells will be dropping everything and planning their every waking hour around the progress of David Beckham and his merry men.

Pick up a newspaper and it's full of drivel about football, fracture specialists, sales of barbecues and sizzling weather, all inextricably linked to the World Cup. More trees have been felled to provide us with posters we never asked for, thick postcards we don't need, fold-out wall charts and detailed information about teams from places we couldn't find on an atlas. On Friday I thought I was going mad - every radio programme alluded to the ruddy tournament, and even that haven of sensible broadcasting, Woman's Hour, featured a completely inane discussion about how to spot a "football bluffer", with a sports journalist on the phone from Germany, a brain-dead female writer from The Guardian who should have known better, and Gordon Ramsay! All I could spot was a waste of air time which could have been devoted to something of slightly more merit, like Gordon Brown's about-face on taxing family trusts.

Then my BlackBerry pinged into life with an email from Alastair Campbell (once our Prime Minister's spin-meister, now just another a footie fan) about blogs and the tournament. If that wasn't bad enough I realised I'd invited eight people to lunch during England's first game. A friend attended a wedding yesterday and the vicar allowed the commentary to be played in the church. At least the normal throng in Tesco on a Friday was reduced to a manageable trickle. I knew that things had got out of hand when Tessa Jowell stuck that flag on her official car. Then Gordon Brown had to pretend he's supporting England.

Well, I don't need any votes to stay in work, and so I can be brave enough to tell the truth - I hate everything to do with the World Cup. I hate the sight of middle-aged men in tight white T-shirts with England written across their man breasts. I hate flags fluttering off every van in the country. I hate the sound of the commentary, with its breathless hysterical excitement, and I can't bear to read one more fact about the lavish hotels where the players' wives are staying.

From the moment that David and Victoria threw their party - an event that celebrated nothing more than the sheer tastelessness of everyone connected with this tournament - I lost interest in it. I would have been more impressed if those present had simply donated the cash they spent on their frocks to good causes. But in football, everything is about show and bling - and unfortunately it sends totally the wrong message to young people. Now you are measured by what watch you're wearing, what diamonds you've borrowed and how many fake bits of hair you've had glued on your head. If our government were serious about the benefits of football, they'd have put more money and resources into providing better facilities for schools instead of expecting kids to get by with less than two hours sport a week.

This championship allows a load of disparate people to temporarily pretend they are all united in a club with common interests - and the minute that England get knocked out, you can expect everything to revert to normal. Racial prejudice, gang rivalries, gun and knife crime will all return to normal levels. Sadly the World Cup does not integrate young Muslims, Asians and blacks into our culture - it just papers over the cracks.

Celebrities and wine. It's not a pleasant taste

I've been taking part in the new Gordon Ramsay series, The F Word, which starts shortly on Channel 4, and you'll have to tune in to see how Gordon manages when we compete against each other in a recipe challenge, cooking a complicated fish stew. Gordon is one of those people who's so macho it's impossible to hate him - he's still trying to explain what he meant when he said women couldn't really cook!

He's right, though. Far too many of us just buy ready-made meals and have no idea that it would be cheaper, and a lot more fun, to prepare meals from scratch - and it needn't take a lot of time. Look at me - only four weeks of housecraft lessons all those years ago, and I'm taking on the culinary greats.

Gordon has a wicked sense of fun (as long as it's not him you're cutting down to size) and I loved the way he got Sir Cliff Richard to agree to a blind tasting of his own wine (from his estate in the Algarve) only to declare it rubbish.

Cliff's a harmless enough fellow, but this plonk was thoroughly disgusting, and the fact that the first delivery of Chateau Cliff to our supermarkets sold out in 24 hours just goes to prove that his fans probably normally drink Babycham or Baileys.

Why is it that actors, pop stars and racing drivers all think that their name on a bottle of wine adds that certain something? Would you buy a suit from Mick Hucknall? I thought not - so why would we find his choice in wine especially tempting? Perhaps Cliff should stick to those syrupy ballads instead of pretending he's got a nose - at least the profits of Paul Newman's salad dressing and those Duchy Original biscuits and bacon go to charity. Sting, on the other hand, wisely drinks his own wine and doesn't need the ego-boost of flogging it to lesser mortals.

Hang in there: You'll love the RA's summer show (honest)

I never thought I'd write these words, but this year's Royal Academy Summer Exhibition is well worth a visit. Sure, there are the embarrassing zones of tastelessness by members past their sell-by date like Anthony Green and Jeffery Camp. There's a small room crammed to the ceiling with oil paintings that just seems a complete waste of space. But in among the dross there's some terrific work, and the room of imposing still life paintings by the late Patrick Caulfield is of museum quality. In spite of Damien Hirst's pregnant female dominating the courtyard outside, the sculptures inside take second place. You can still pick up a bargain, too.

Rough guide: Simpson, the five-star war corresponent

Why am I surprised to find the name of the BBC's World Affairs Editor John Simpson listed as one of the speakers at the Condé Nast Traveller Luxury Travel Fair at the Kensington Olympia at the end of this month? Somehow I always associate Mr Simpson with a war zone, and not a five-star hotel - I can't imagine there are too many of those in Baghdad.

Image abuse: Did we need to see al-Zarqawi's bloodied head?

When a shocking video of British hostage Ken Bigley's execution by Islamic terrorists was broadcast, the British and Americans said that we would never behave like that. So why was a large framed picture of the battered and bloodied dead face of Abu al-Zarqawi displayed for the world's media last week? Was it really necessary?

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