At last: the go-ahead for a lottery scheme that doesn't involve building a pointless memorial, creating a water feature, erecting a repulsive statue to animals or restoring a redundant old mansion and calling it an "arts centre". Sustrans, the charity committed to creating walkways and cycling routes, was awarded a whopping 50m from the People's Lottery Giveaway last week, after managing to pull in 42 per cent of all the votes cast, a remarkable achievement. Unlike the Olympics, which benefits just one part of the country the South-east and the funding of which is drawing an increasing amount of cash away from the arts and local projects all over Britain, this award will not only result in something we can enjoy for nothing, but we also might get a bit healthier in the process.
Six million people live within a mile of one of the schemes which will be funded by this award. Over the next five years 10m will be spent annually turning old railway lines into cycling and walking tracks, restoring bridges that have fallen down, building new footbridges to bring communities together and reinstating ferry services at places such as Blyth in Northumberland. Altogether 72 towns will see benefits from the Sustrans plans, from Bath to Derry.
Over the past few years there has been a huge emphasis on "saving" things for Britain with lottery money from paintings to historic buildings. I know that the Lottery claims to invest the bulk of its money in local communities, but there's no doubt that the net result of its biggest recipient, the Olympic Games, will be to drain money away from worthy causes and into a one-off mega-event. There is absolutely no guarantee that the housing, the stadiums, the walkways and the cycle tracks created for the Olympics will get more young people in the underfunded North-east playing sport.
And to add insult to injury, a large number of allotments in one of the poorest parts of east London are being razed to the ground in order to make way for new landscaping and sports facilities. OK, they might be relocated, but you will never recapture the existing sense of pride and local spirit. Carefully tended plots (as so beautifully described in the Moro East cookery book by Sam and Sam Clark) where immigrants from all over the place grew their vegetables together and swapped recipes are no more.
The Sustrans schemes are important because they are small local initiatives. As well as reclaiming old railway lines, they often utilise overgrown canal banks. Sometimes they require new foot and cycle bridges to be constructed over busy main roads, or derelict viaducts turned into green walkways. Travel all over the rest of Europe and you see cycle networks and walking routes funded by central government. Recently, I spent an enjoyable few days in Merano, a small town nestling at the foot of the Dolomites in northern Italy. Well-signed jogging, cycling and walking paths everywhere and the locals weren't dragging any excess poundage about either. It's shocking that we not the Government are paying for the Sustrans schemes, through our lottery tickets, which is in effect a tax on the poorest members of society, the very people the Government should be helping to enjoy the open air.
The Government should have matched the lottery funding pound for pound, instead of coming up with half-baked schemes such as giving pregnant women vouchers for fruit and vegetables. It simply doesn't have a joined-up policy when it comes to transport or obesity. It's in everyone's interests that more people walk or cycle. Permitting new airports and widening motorways is a negative, environmentally hostile approach to a problem that's not going to go away. The Government should be funding the opposite of road building a green transport network for the whole country, which allows us to cross cities without risking our lives.
On the other hand, you might offer thanks that a charity and not a government-funded quango is running things. The costs of the Olympics are spiralling out of control and the NHS has careered from pleading poverty to ending the financial year with a shamefully large surplus. When government gets involved, the number of officials quadruples and benefit to the consumer diminishes. So three cheers for people power and Sustrans!
'Dealer's Choice' is on a winning streak
Cards, whether you opt for bridge, poker or kaluki, are one of the few ways to forget everything, from work to relationships. I once flew to Cape Cod and spent the whole of 24 December playing Hangman with my hosts, hitting the pillow at 8am on Christmas Day. Great times!
Patrick Marber's first play, 'Dealer's Choice', was written in 1995 and focuses on a group of men at a weekly card game. They are all losers of one sort or another, but the brilliance of the writing makes the events of one evening a metaphor for the limbo so many men operate in, without women, family or friends, linked by their need to gamble.
The highly praised cast has just transferred to the Trafalgar Studios, London, and the evening just crackles with energy. Roger Lloyd Pack as the lugubrious Ash, a professional gambler, is mesmeric, while Stephen Wight as the hapless waiter Mugsy, who dreams of opening a restaurant, steals the show. 'Dealer's Choice' is a bleak morality play and stands the test of time well.
Dirty films? Thank Unilever for the filthiest
Unilever has been praised for using "real" women of all ages and shapes in the Dove advertising campaign.
Call me a cynic, but I never think an advertising agency's morals go more than skin deep. Dove ads are about flogging a product and making a profit, while pretending that the manufacturer signs up to some nebulous set of ethical values in the process. Another aspect of the Dove campaign has been its "viral" advertising on YouTube, the latest of which is called Onslaught. It shows a young, sweet, red-haired girl staring at the camera, intercut with images of big-breasted women in bikinis, cosmetic surgery shots and a quick flash of a bulimic vomiting.
Then the message: "Talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does." Highly applauded by commentators in the US.
Sadly for Dove, internet guerrillas hacked shots from another campaign for a Unilever product for men Axe (marketed as Lynx in the UK) into the Onslaught ads, totally undermining their impact. In the Axe ads, half-naked women pole dance, smear shower gel on themselves in water, and indulge in lesbian snogging.
One Axe ad features "the world's dirtiest film" starring bikini-clad women wrestling in mud. Unilever which cares so much about our bodies also makes Slim-Fast.
The ad agency for Onslaught and Axe in the United States is Ogilvy and Mather the Barbie doll is another of its clients. Need I say more?