My "journey" with John McCririck goes back over three decades, to a time when he wasn't old, just worryingly weird. I worked with the racing pundit on an early-evening entertainment show for ITV and afterwards I remember telling my boss Greg Dyke that I couldn't bear to work with Mr M ever again. The innuendo, the sneering, the panto behaviour – I felt sick with rage and I'm tough.
The point of this story is not to reinforce the man's misery – losing an age-discrimination case against Channel 4 last week means he's run up debts of hundreds of thousands of pounds and will have to remortgage his house – but to acknowledge the reality: Channel 4 employed him as a panto turn (with specialist knowledge, granted) and, as such, was perfectly entitled to dispense with his services when it fancied another style (Clare Balding).
The real losers in modern Britain are well-qualified men and women in their fifties and sixties who are being laid off against their will and who cannot find work, because age discrimination does exist. It is also insidious because it is so hard to prove. I write from the heart. People have emailed and written to me about their experiences, people who have applied for literally dozens of jobs without a reply. Don't let one high-profile case distract us from the fact: age discrimination is rampant.
When McCririck says, "this is a historic setback for all employees in their thirties to their seventies …. and the anonymous suits and skirts who control business …will now enjoy complete freedom to replace older employees whatever their unimpaired ability and merit", this is 100 per cent cack – the rantings of a spoilt broadcaster who erroneously believed he was unique, trying to pretend he is the poster boy for my generation. He can forget it. I, too, work in the fickle world of broadcast media and know only too well that anyone can be dumped at a moment's notice. It won't be because I'm old but because some new piece of audience research indicates that I'm past my sell-by date, temporarily out of favour until the swingometer of public taste moves back in my favour again in 10 years' time.
On Twitter, men and women agree this case was without merit. Only one chap pointed out that McCririck had 30 years of expertise. Well, he can use that knowledge in another medium, can't he? As with Miriam O'Reilly, I have no sympathy with telly presenters pleading victimisation. It sucks. How about a whip-round for Alan Titchmarsh now that he's been sidelined in the Beeb's Chelsea Show coverage?
Young, smart and muddled
Lily Allen has recorded a saccharine song for the John Lewis ad, just one in a tidal wave of lavish offerings from our major retailers this Yuletide. Lily doesn't care for sexism in pop and the "objectification" of her sex, but she's OK with the commercialisation of Christmas, ads that will result in parents feeling pressurised into spending a fortune on stuff for their kids that they can't afford.
Her new video, billed as a cutting comment on the exploitation of women, is pretty low-grade satire. At the start, a suited male instructs a surgeon to "take more out" – presumably fat – so Lily is more marketable. She has a point but shoots herself in the foot by appearing beautifully made-up and wearing a fabulous dress, surrounded by gyrating backing singers. This is about as subtle as my big toe.
If Lily hates the way female singers are packaged, why isn't she wearing her trackie bottoms? She is a lovely singer and a smart girl, but this video annoys more than it informs. I think a lot of young girls will watch it and completely miss the point of the acerbic lyrics, captivated by the visuals. As for Miley Cyrus declaring herself "the biggest feminist in the world" on Radio 1 last week … once a girl has stripped off and licked machinery, where else can she go to shock you into buying her product?
Imagine The Office crossed with Terminator, with a soundtrack by Rammstein and Tchaikovsky, and you have Blam!, one of the most entertaining shows I've seen for a long time. Sadly, this piece of physical theatre/dance crossed with performance art, which had its debut at the Edinburgh Fringe, ended its London run last night.
Created and performed by the Danish company Neander, Blam! combines pure farce with moments of utter poignancy. Three nerds in an office, overseen by a charmless supervisor, embellish their dreary existence with fantasy games, emulating superheroes, fighting mock battles with staple guns, turning box files into armour. Only in Blam! could a man long to have sex with a watercooler and two Anglepoise lamps. I hope this show returns, it deserves a wider audience.
Solihull has been named the happiest place to live in Britain, followed by North Yorkshire. Last Tuesday, I drove from my home in the Dales (a wonderful place to live as long as you don't mind rural roads not getting gritted when it snows) to Solihull, an affluent West Midlands town. There were a lot of posh houses with flamboyant gates in the road where my hotel was situated. But, sadly, my room faced a flat roof and ventilators rather than an uplifting expanse of greenery or trendy bars and shops.
I was speaking at a conference organised by the Social Landlords Crime and Nuisance Group – the people who have to deal with anti-social behaviour, often using carrots rather than sticks. What a nice bunch they were. And, thankfully, they have decided to rebrand their organisation. So if you can come up with a catchier title for people doing a tough job, please let them know.
Bricks are back
It's been a week of contrasts, from Solihull to Blam!, and then an evening hosting the Brick design awards in a ballroom full of architects, manufacturers and builders. Bricks define the English built environment more than any other material. After several years of decline in production, the government's Help to Buy scheme has seen house building lurch back into action, so bricks are once again in demand.
Taylor Wimpey has just announced it has sold all the homes it planned to build this year, and 30 per cent of those planned for 2014. Good news for the humble brick, an important part of our heritage.