Using public transport these days increasingly resembles a descent into Dante's nine circles of Hell, as illustrated by Hieronymous Bosch. And for once I'm talking less about the actual experience, than the public service advertising. Approaching the bus stop, I find a huge black and brown advert warning me – or rather the male of the species – that "drinking causes damage you can't see". Except that here you see it all too well: a blood-red jagged flash amid some indeterminate innards, possibly a brain. If you're a man drinking more than two pints of strong lager a day, it says, you increase your risk of a stroke. There's one for women, too, on another bus stop, showing a similarly brutal red gash obtruding from a bra.
Entering the Tube train, I face a diagram derived from the schematic map of the London Underground that assumes I must be in urgent search of treatment for Sexually Transmitted Diseases. There are clinics everywhere, it implies; if you want to, you could be seen right away. And scarcely have you mentally examined yourself up and down and concluded, with relief, that they don't after all mean you, than a new poster catches your eye. "Cuts, abrasions, itches, sprains...?" it asks solicitously, before instructing you to use your nearest NHS Walk-in centre. Are we, as a quorum of squashed passengers, really that sick?
On alighting, the message becomes darker still. The frantic appeal "Stop, No, Stop Please, No..." appears against the background of a desperate woman apparently about to be raped. "Please stop taking unbooked minicabs," orders Transport for London's footnote – as though nothing untoward ever happened at its own unmanned stations or black cab-drivers were all saints. In fact, London's most heinous multiple rapist of recent years was a black cab driver who wasn't caught for months because the police refused to believe that the women had indeed taken (expensive) black cabs, rather than the sometimes questionable alternatives.
There is one area, though, that is immune from this proliferation of shock-effect warnings. Where illness in the real world is concerned, with real people, the trend is all to back away. The Parkinson's Disease Society is only the latest – and may be one of the last of the traditionally named charities – to "re-brand" itself, excising all reference to disease.
One of the trendsetters here was the Spastics Society, which re-styled itself Scope more than a decade ago and widened its remit to cover disability generally. When I see its fundraisers, I still have to ask myself who exactly it is campaigning for. As of this month, what used to be the PDS boasts a streamlined logo on a cheerful blue and white ground and calls itself Parkinson's UK. (At least it retained the apostrophe.) To my mind, though, the new name looks and sounds like just another faceless corporation, with simple slogans and a mission statement to match. I just hope the people who need its help know that Parkinson's UK is where to find it.
Mayfair to Battersea is further than US diplomacy may think
Even if Barack Obama is re-elected to a second term as US President and keeps his UK ambassador in place for all that time, Louis Susman will just miss benefiting from the penthouse suite at his country's new London embassy. The shimmering glass tower, which was unveiled this week to mixed reviews, is not scheduled for completion until 2017.
And while Battersea was all too happy to rush through planning permission for London's first major embassy south of the Thames, I for one find it regrettable that the United States is bidding farewell to Mayfair after an official presence there of more than two centuries. Where should the world's premier power have its state representation if not in the city's most elegant, established heart? What price maintaining an embassy at all, if it is deliberately sited to be aloof.
The cry goes up: security, security, security. And the architect, James Timberlake, describes his creation in almost Bush-ian terms as "open and welcoming, a beacon of democracy", while the landscaping, which includes a moat, has been conceived as "a security device". Clearly no one informed the design competition judges that moats come with risks of their own. Here in Britain, they can be financially – and politically – expensive to maintain, as Douglas Hogg MP found when he tried to claim for dredging on expenses. Elsewhere, as the Burmese opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, found to her cost, they can, on occasion, be swum.
Just an excuse for parental complaints
Apparently it now costs more than £200,000 to bring up a child, while an earlier survey said cost discouraged marriage. Is there not a rather large contradiction here?
Do you know how much you have to pay to get married or conclude a civil partnership? Not for the wedding with all the trappings, but actually to get hitched before the law? Well, I had to look it up, too. But in England and Wales – it's a bit less in Scotland and Northern Ireland – it costs £30 per person to give notice; £40 for a registration ceremony and another £3.50 for a certificate. That makes £103.50 all told. Anything on top is optional. Money starts to look like a flimsy excuse.
After all, news that the cost of children has increased is no deterrent at all. It is rather hailed by parents everywhere as offering a new chance to complain (and demand more state subsidies). But break down the figures, and it's clear parents have only themselves to blame. A good part of the cost is childcare. Another chunk reflects the fact that more over-18s remain at home. Then there are foreign holidays...
Come on, hard-pressed parents of Britain, if you want the sympathy of the childless taxpayers who help underwrite your progeny, you will have to do better than that.
* All right, so I have only O-level maths, but it was a top grade and it was long enough ago to have been a real O-level. Plus we had compulsory statistics. But I still don't understand how Royal Bank of Scotland can report a loss of £3.6bn for 2009 and have enough money to shell out for bonuses to the tune of £1.3bn – unless it's proposing to borrow even more from you and me. And if there are divisions that are profitable and this is where the money is coming from, how come the losses aren't shared in the same way?Reuse content