Why can’t we give in private, instead of making such a show of donating to charity?

The scramble of one charity competing against another to entice and seduce us is such a waste of talent and effort

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The Independent Online

Someone justified the appalling Band Aid single to me the other day by saying: “At least it might encourage young people who don’t give to charity to support a good cause.” The hideous line–up of wrinklies and bandwagon–jumpers in the official photo is enough to make you swap places with an asylum–seeker in Calais and head in the other direction, as far away from Comic Relief, Children in Need and Pudsey Bear as possible.

The Bob Geldof bandwagon tried (and failed) to demonise sensible Adele for not getting involved – anyone who disagrees with Saint Bob is routinely reviled as unthinking and uncaring. He rounds on critics as if this record will solve humanitarian crises around the world, and here’s why: Band Aid is competing for our cash in an overcrowded marketplace.

Every day my post includes a begging letter from a deserving cause. Crisis at Christmas, Kids Company, St John Ambulance, the Red Cross, Barnado’s and the Salvation Army – the list is long, and every charity employs clever fundraisers and copywriters to devise seductive ways of persuading us to support them at the expense of someone else.

How to choose? Last week, I went to a fundraising event for Reprieve, which fights for men and women facing the death penalty around the world. Probably half the people shouldn’t be in jail and the wrong person is facing a grisly unnecessary death.

I could never support the death penalty; it’s one of those clearcut decisions. No matter how grim the crime, nothing justifies killing another human being. If we enact the death penalty we have become sub–human. So I support Reprieve because it takes years of patient chiselling away at the legal system in the US, in Guantanamo Bay, in Africa, to get anywhere. It’s painstaking, unglamorous, thankless work and many of the people the charity helps are not cute or even likeable. Many have criminal records. But they are humans whom we have to save.

The scramble of one charity competing against another to entice and seduce us is such a waste of talent and effort – if only there were another way to help. So much charitable giving in this country has become another form of showing off, of incorporating pointless records, wrist bands and ephemera. We can’t just donate, we have to give in a showy, flamboyant, look–at–me way. We have to run pointless races, walk in our underwear at night, knit quilts and sing songs. It’s nauseating.

Charitable giving should be a private matter, not something you have to be shamed into doing publicly as a badge of worthiness, and the best way of giving is from the heart.


Middle America laid bare among the genitalia

I spent almost an hour scrutinising the extraordinary apparatus (willies and vulvas in all shapes and sizes) on display at the Wellcome Collection’s new, and free, exhibition entitled The Institute of Sexology.

I managed to sneak in during the afternoon before it opened, so I could squint and stare at some really weird sex aids unobserved. I don’t think I could cope with a big crowd – and this show will be really popular.

Supervisors will be patrolling regularly, although the actual content is so clinically displayed that I do not see how it could spark much arousal. The really fascinating thing about this history of various scientific studies into human sexuality is how experts managed to make a fascinating subject rather creepy and charmless.

There’s little wonder and awe here, but an awful lot of cataloguing and classification. My favourite exhibit is by San Francisco–based photographer Timothy Archibald with pictures of people who make their own sex machines. It lifts the lid on Middle America – one couple pose with something resembling a purple wooden commode, except a large pink phallus is cheekily poking up from the leather seat. When I looked online, I found that Archibald has compiled a beautiful book about his son, who is autistic, entitled Echolilia, so I’m glad I went to this show.

I learned nothing new about sex, but I did discover Timothy Archibald.


Bette Midler’s husband  and his colourful past

Bette Midler has been in London recording an ITV special that will be shown before Christmas. If you haven’t seen BBC Two’s excellent Imagine... with Bette, catch it on iPlayer – she is one of the funniest women on the planet.

On ITV’s Loose Women this week, she announced: “Janet has probably slept with my husband!” I have known Martin von Haselberg longer than Bette (they celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary next month), but not in the carnal sense. We met when he did a turn as the Kipper Kids together with performing partner Brian Routh at London’s ICA in the 1970s.

Then, Martin was a City investment adviser by day and a highly rated performance artist by night. Wearing black, baggy shorts with braces and hobnailed boots, the Kipper Kids would re–enact a series of brutally violent ceremonies, which were quite unforgettable.

Martin then went to Los Angeles, where he presented a daily television show advising on the stock market, while still performing by night. A very smart guy; the time might be right to bring back Harry Kipper.


YouGov profiles couldn’t be more wrong

Never trust market research – but if you want to waste half an hour and have some mindless fun, log on to YouGov’s new Profiles website, and type in a brand, a politician or a telly  presenter to find what kind of social/economic group shares similar tastes in  everything from reality television to cars.

YouGov has grilled 200,000 people about their likes and dislikes in everything from food to radio. I typed in my own name and discovered that my fans like Formula One and track cycling, and their “niche interests” include something called “animal activities”.

I loathe motor racing, don’t cycle, and haven’t got a pet – so I’m not sure how accurate their methodology is in practice. If these profiles are being used to target voters for the next election, God help us.

I plan to spend a bit of time inputting some disruptive data. Twitter provides a far more accurate picture of modern Britain – last week one of my new followers revealed he worked in a chocolate factory and bred Labradors, while another said he made a study of pubic hair!


Blanc may be sleazy, but women face far bigger threats

Julien Blanc will enter the record books for a dubious reason – the first person to be banned from entering the UK because he is sexist.

Blanc runs controversial dating seminars and, according to Home Office minister Lynne Featherstone, he could incite sexual violence and harassment. The decision was welcomed by some women’s groups, but it is misguided. Deal with sexism by confrontation and humour, but don’t turn it into a cause célèbre.

Blanc is revolting – his website claims he can make unwilling women sleep with him, by “shortcircuiting their emotional mind”. He’s already banned from Australia and Brazil, and, after 150,000 people signed a petition, we have followed suit. Instead of worrying about one misguided man, shouldn’t we be more concerned that a court in Birmingham has banned six men (and named them) from going anywhere near girls under 18? The true threat is the insidious grooming and sexual exploitation of vulnerable young girls by gangs. Thousands of young women are still at risk, in spite of two major trials. It would have been better to let Julien Blanc enter the country, and then prosecute him if he broke the law. The right to free speech must remain sacrosanct.