Human blindness, bad education and outdated gongs


I celebrated my birthday last week, cooking a feast and eating it with friends. The same day, 27 December, Father Joseph Williams parked his car outside Morrisons supermarket in Houghton Regis, Bedfordshire. He was probably planning to join shoppers in the store, but something happened. In spite of people constantly coming and going, nobody noticed for three days that the priest was slumped over his steering wheel, dead. The Bishop of Northampton said: "It makes people feel guilty that we didn't look or that we didn't find him, but it was unavoidable and it's just one of those things. It would seem that he died of natural causes." Well, I want people to feel guilty, because I certainly do, and I don't even live within 50 miles of that particular Morrisons.

This story made me feel unbearably sad. What kind of society have we slumped to that a 42-year-old chap can die in a busy car park and nobody bothers to stop their laden trolley and investigate? My sister worked in a supermarket and told me about a man who had a fatal heart attack in the store during a busy period, right next to the chocolate biscuits. Shoppers just stepped over his body to grab their HobNobs.

Surely Father Joseph must have had colleagues who wondered where on earth he was. Or is the church such an austere place that priests and lay clergy don't regularly phone or text? A priest I know is facing an unpleasant court hearing next month, after pleading guilty to an incident involving a boy many decades ago. I made a point of writing to him because I want him to know he is my friend, and nothing will change that.

I loathe new year's resolutions, but I do think that if we can try to speak to one complete stranger every day, life would be a lot better. As for the Bishop of Northampton, his mealy-mouthed piffle exemplifies how namby-pamby the church has become. It's not OK to ignore anyone in distress, and it would be good if more of us did feel guilty about being so self-centred.

Let teens find their own way

Launching his new series which starts on Channel 4 this Friday, Jamie Oliver has talked about his struggles at secondary school, where he was placed in a special needs class with his friend (and co-presenter) Jimmy Docherty. His severe dyslexia (he read his first book only last summer) has not stopped him from becoming the second biggest selling British author after JK Rowling, and his latest offering was the best-selling Christmas cookbook. Jimmy Docherty went on to university, obtaining a PhD in entomology.

Both believe the best way to educate kids is to find out what enthuses and engages them and work from there. Jamie says: "Traditional education has a lot to answer for. Fifty-odd per cent don't leave with five GCSEs, A-C. In my mind we're crap at education." New research sponsored by the Prince's Trust shows that the teenagers Jamie is talking about are more likely to feel ashamed and think they have no talent. The YouGov survey found that up to 37 per cent of kids without decent grades in five subjects have chronically low self-esteem. By measuring success in terms of exam passes, we're in danger of creating a generation that will suffer from depression and mental illness. We should focus on their unique skills, not measuring achievement by a single academic yardstick. Surely it is better to draw teenagers in through music, art, mechanics and computers, rather than force them to study literature and maths, especially when technology will be taking over so many tasks in the future.

Jamie is right: every child has a talent. It's up to educationalists to unlock it, not force them into straitjackets.

There's very little honour in this system

Isn't it about time we moved into the 21st century and dismantled our ludicrous honours system? Jenni Murray has been writing about how outmoded it is, and yet she was happy to become a dame. I have never deviated from my position, which is that any honour dished out to a well-known person is ludicrous. Of course, the thousands of ordinary folk who work tirelessly for charity and who perform untold acts of selfless social work should be recognised.

Let's empty out the house of Lords and fill it with people like Barry and Margaret Mizen, whose son was killed in an unprovoked attack in south London and who have devoted their time to helping young people. I don't care if entertainers and broadcasters do work for charity. It increases their profile, so why give them a gong?

As for giving Katherine Jenkins an honour for "services to music", when the country is full of talented young opera singers who struggle to find work – words fail me. Antony Gormley accepted a knighthood, and claims it's "good for art". The only thing gongs are good for are big egos.

Fashion's common thread

On my way back from Scotland, I stopped at Linton Tweeds, in Carlisle. Since 1912, the mill has produced the most exquisite handwoven fabrics imaginable, in extraordinary colour combinations, working together silks, wools, beads, raffia and metallic thread. This work is world class, and 80 highly skilled workers have created cloth for couture houses such as Chanel, Jaeger, Jean Muir, Thierry Mugler, Calvin Klein, Burberry and MaxMara. Michelle Obama wore a white Linton tweed coat on a presidential trip to Europe in 2009. The company still works closely with Karl Lagerfeld.

Isn't this a fabulous success story? At the factory shop I bought some fabulous pieces of cloth, and the café serves excellent scones and bakewell tart. This should be a pilgrimage site for fashion students.

Some of 2013's best things

* A woman has been named chief executive of General Motors in the US (which owns Vauxhall in the UK), the first female to run a major car company. Mary Barra has worked for GM for 33 years, and during that time there has been a huge shift in buying patterns. Now women make 80 per cent of all car-buying decisions, so what we think really matters. She takes up her post next week.

* The Great Beauty, directed by Paolo Sorrentino, was my film of the year, a leisurely evocation of the life of an ageing novelist in Rome. An updated version of Fellini's La Dolce Vita, the party scenes were so seductive I didn't want them to end, and as a portrait of the city, this film was a classic.

* On television, thank goodness for Peaky Blinders and Gogglebox. Peaky Blinders has already spawned a lot of copycat hairstyles, and Gogglebox celebrates what a wonderfully outspoken nation we are. I dread this lot ever reviewing anything I appear on. The best line of the series: "Have you noticed how Nigella licks every chip before she puts it in her mouth?"