Naked truths: Is Stephen Gough the only one embracing British eccentricity?

If things don't change soon, I'll be forced to go as the Naked Rambler next Halloween
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The Independent Online

Here's one decision from the European Court of Human Rights that you won't hear eurosceptic MPs bemoaning: naked rambler Stephen Gough has lost his appeal. For some years now 55-year-old Gough has been roaming Britain, knackers out, as an expression of every human's inalienable human right to (un)dress wherever he or she pleases. The only trouble is this is not an inalienable right, not according to the ECHR, whose decision means Gough's disheartening pattern of getting arrested, rearrested and occasionally imprisoned may well continue.

It seems appropriate that the ruling came during Halloween week. Halloween, like baseball metaphors, is one of those nasty Americanisms that popular culture has imported to try the patience of grumpy old men. That might not actually be true, but we know it to be the opinion of right-thinking Englishmen, because Rob Titchener said so on The Archers. In the more conformist culture of the US – so the generalisation goes – it's necessary to have one day a year when those who don't conform are ridiculed. (One of the best bits of Halloween TV is the current series of American Horror Story, set at one of America's last freak shows). In Britain, however, things are supposed to be different.

"I was brought up to believe I lived in a country that celebrated eccentricity and difference," said Gough, after the ECHR judgment. "It added variety and colour to the otherwise slavish conformity that can feel depressive, constricting and sometimes just downright boring." It's an appealing vision of a tolerant Britain, but clearly one which no longer exists, not even at Halloween. Especially not at Halloween. Lib Dem care and support minister Norman Lamb expressed his horror at finding "psycho ward" or "schizo patient" Halloween costumes available online, which "demonises" the mentally ill and "conditions all of us to fear mental illness".

Britain has a tradition of embracing eccentricity and tolerating difference that we ought to uphold and take pride in, but for too long Stephen Gough has seemed like the only one who cares. Hopefully this will change soon, because if it doesn't I'll be forced to go as the Naked Rambler next Halloween. It will be a little nippy, but I think I'll make my point.

Watchdogs that don't bark

If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again. It's good advice, unless you are writing an official document such as an Ofsted report or a letter agreeing to head up the Government's inquiry into historic child sexual abuse. This week both the education watchdog and Fiona Woolf were criticised after multiple revisions of these documents came to light. Woolf's letter went through several drafts before she struck the right note of nonchalance regarding her friendship with the former home secretary – sorry, Lord who? Embarrassingly, the Home Affairs Select Committee published all seven drafts online.

Meanwhile, public confidence in Ofsted is waning, says the Local Government Association, due to the inspectorate's habit of downgrading scandal-hit schools and children's services, sometimes only months after their initial decision. Haringey Council's children services, for example, were graded "good" after the death of Baby P, but this was changed to "inadequate" after the story made the papers.

Is it so damning for public watchdogs to reveal they have rethought or redrafted? New information does sometimes come to light. It's better that the right decision be made eventually, than that the wrong one be kept in place for consistency's sake. In the cases above, however, the revisions reveal something disturbing about the priorities of government agencies investigating wrong-doing. The watchdogs are mainly watching their own backs, it seems.

Street shock

Men shared it because they were shocked, women shared it because they were outraged and by Wednesday, Hollaback's video depicting a woman encountering "100+ incidents of verbal street harassment" in NYC had gone viral. Still, I can't be the only person who wondered if a couple of blokes yelling "smile!" at you is really such a big deal.

Interactions depicted in the video are so familiar to me that my first thought was to dismiss the shocked as naive out-of-towners. These, surely, are the same people who don't know how to read the Tube map, or who buy pizza from Camden Market.

Now that fast-paced gentrification is bringing many naive out-of-towners into contact with real city living for the first time, a well-meant feminist vid might easily, inadvertently reveal all sorts of other class and race issues related to calling out cat-calling. That's what happened to Hollaback. On Thursday they released a statement expressing regret over "the unintended racial bias in the editing of the video that over represents men of color".

Then I thought: the fact that some jaded city folk, myself included, have come to accept street harassment doesn't necessarily make it acceptable. So while Hollaback's video wasn't perfectly executed, their point still stands: this kind of thing might not be shocking to everyone, but it should be.

Weighty campaign

Public-health officials are on the right track with their new push to get booze bottles labelled with calorie content. Vanity is the ultimate motivating factor behind most personal fitness drives, and the notion that drinking a pint of cider is equivalent to eating a slice of pizza is much easier to grasp than the distant prospect of liver failure. Calorie labelling also takes us one step closer to the most effective responsible drinking campaign never devised: for every large glass of pinot grigio you promise not to drink, the Government will reimburse you with a free slice of chocolate fudge cake.

Mercurial girl

This year's Mercury shortlist included brilliant female artists such as spoken word poet Kate Tempest and bookies' favourite FKA twigs, but the prize eventually went to the boys. Young Fathers are an all-male "psychedelic hip hop boy band" – or are they? From where I was sitting (at a table hosted by the nice people at Channel 4) it was their furious-looking guest vocalist who stole the show. And her name is Law.

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