My friend Nina asked me on bank holiday Monday morning what I was up to. I say asked, she actually emailed me, such is our mutual attachment to the BlackBerry device. It's quicker and easier than having a conversation when children and dogs are swirling round one's feet.
An innocuous enquiry from a busy friend in an email is an acceptable, if slightly chilly, way of communicating. Forwarding inflammatory information about a professional rival by email is less sensible, as we now understand from the Ruth Padel scandal. Never, in fact, have the words "Don't put it in an email" been more pertinent, because something that would have been a "fancy that" moment over a glass of wine at a literary function took on solemn importance once written down.
We all get the occasional round-robin email from someone and have barely had time to idly click the open button before another arrives, labelled Email Recalled. Like that moment when you've put petrol in the diesel engine, posted a letter without an address or slammed the door with the keys on the kitchen table, sometimes pressing "Send" results in a kind of slo-mo horror film feeling as it dawns on you that to send that message will result in embarrassment, shame, or worse.
Ruth Padel may well be wishing that she could have recalled the emails she sent alerting contacts to damaging information about rival Derek Walcott's past. Apart from anything else, there is no control over what the recipient does with the email. Who knows who will click "Forward", with the result that details of your drunken weekend/hatred of boss/financial nightmare will become common knowledge, preserved forever in the archive section of an inbox somewhere. We now know that Ms Padel's emails triggered in a renewed interest in (already known) sexual harassment cases against Walcott. The result was that the 79-year-old Nobel Laureate felt compelled to withdraw from contention for the University of Oxford's Professor of Poetry role. And now the discredited appointee, Ms Padel, has resigned.
She says she "acted in good faith" in forwarding the information to two journalists (this newspaper's John Walsh was one). But can such an act ever be in good faith? It was never going to do Mr Walcott any good, whether his tawdry past attracted disdain from his literary peers, or wider public condemnation. It was reported on because it was a good story with current relevance. Ms Padel cannot claim that writing a formal document (and let's be clear, emails are formal, no matter what the content, because they are permanent) was an entirely spur-of-the-moment act. It's not quite the same as drunk-dialling an ex and blathering bitchy nonsense into a voicemail.
You'd have thought we would all have learnt from those forwarded emails that reveal a restaurant critic's ire against sub editors, or a secretary's revenge on a petty boss. We've all chuckled and hit forward. Again. And again. Spare a thought for the people at the centre of such japes – both the subject of them and the original sender, who thought that just a few friends would share the joke.
Padel says, "I was naïve". Well, perhaps up on Mount Parnassus they don't "do" office humour but they need to learn that in the age of emails, Facebook (from which members can never delete their details), Twitter, and whatever the next big technological squawkbox is, information is rarely, if ever, private. Stick to the spoken word next time, Ruth.
Hogging the limelight is kid's play for Octo-Mel
Mel Gibson is expecting a child with his new partner. It'll be his eighth (child, that is) and he merrily announced the news on a chat show on Monday with the quip, I'm like 'Octo-Mel'. Does he really want to draw comparisons with the circus sideshow that is Nadya Suleman, currently in competition for America's most hated mother? Barely a day goes by without some nanny-firing drama, or sex scandal, or relative's kiss 'n' tell for the single 'Octomom' of eight. She appeared last weekend in the form of a papier mache cephalopod, each tentacle clutching a baby, at a California street parade. Mercifully the children are too young to be aware.
Eight children is a crazy number, whether all at the same time or staggered over years. Just witness Jon and Kate plus 8, a US reality show starring a couple and their twins and sextuplets. This homespun tale of triumph of numerological adversity has turned – on the eve of season five – into a landslide of headlines about, you've guessed it, infidelity, alpha mother horror stories (she's Octomom's rival) and screaming matches about who clears up after dinner.
Gibson, of course, is no stranger to sex scandals and screaming matches, marrying both in his infamous 'sugar tits' incident. Perhaps he craves the drama. Perhaps he just wants to stay ahead of Brad and Ange. But oh, think of the children, Mel.
Cross-dressing men must get out of the habit
How woeful those men looked, arrested on a stag weekend in Crete, dressed as nuns (although if there's an order that wears skimpy lycra I'm unaware of its existence). Frankly they deserved to be locked up. What is it with men wanting to put on women's clothes?
It is never a good look – even Paul O'Grady gave it up aeons ago and he's got great legs. There's an unsettling side to it too. My young son went to the rugby sevens at Twickenham last weekend and was dismayed to be surrounded by blokes in crimplene numbers, while a Gillingham fan I know spotted a group of fellow-supporters in nurses uniforms at Wembley the other day and reckoned they were an insult to the integrity of the day. And I agree.
If you enjoy cross-dressing, that's fine, there are clubs and support groups for such, er, pursuits. But out in the real world? Grow a pair, I say. And put them in some trousers.
* The news that you are twice as likely to die taking part in a triathlon as you are in a marathon is alarming (though deaths are, admittedly, quite rare). If it stops even one person displaying their rock-like calves and Phelps-esque shoulders, that's just fine with me.
I admire the colleague who breezily shared the news that he's cycling 172km in a day for L'Etape (amateur day in the Tour de France), and it's true that Jennifer Lopez did a triathlon and lived to tell the tale, but there's no point in taking any unnecessary risks... A triathlon can consist of a death-beckoning 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run. Better to stick to half an hour wobbling on a PowerPlate. Less likely to die, less likely to break a sweat.