Terence Blacker: An introduction to the ways of our world

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The Independent Online

The death of innocence has been announced. Again. Terrible things have been happening on the internet over the past few weeks. Parents and children have been logging on to eBay in order to flog off Blue Peter badges - possibly even fake Blue Peter badges - so that they can gain free entry to zoos and amusement parks. Scandalised zoo-keepers have spoken to the press, the BBC has sworn to take action, and there have been widespread expressions of disappointment at this new low in our nation's sense of morality.

For decades now, Blue Peter has represented something good, unchanging and whole-some about British family life. It contained many of the things that we traditionally hold dear: hobbies, public service broadcasting, animals, famous people showing their caring side. A badge, when presented to a celebrity like David Beckham or Madonna, has been a reminder that, even if they have occasionally had an iffy press, they are essentially good-hearted.

Occasionally, presenters have had the misfortune of being discovered taking coke or in bed with the wrong person, but the institution itself has hardly been affected. Organised cheating is different. Selling off those badges of honour is somehow unthinkable. It is like, well, selling an honour.

Precisely. Not for the first time, a children's TV programme has proved to be educational in a wide and worldly sense. Cheating, of a rather new kind, has become the norm. There are few parents who have not set out to help their child with a project, perhaps one that counts towards a GCSE grade, and who have not taken the idea of help rather further than is strictly correct. An astonishing 27 per cent more A-level students were discovered cribbing in last summer's exams than in the previous year. Some phoned a friend, texting questions to someone outside the examination hall. Others lifted stuff off the internet and passed it off as their own.

Now why does that ring a bell? Yes, of course. The last time a story like that was in the press, it was the Government who was plagiarising from the web with a view not to getting a better grade but to make the case for war with Iraq. There was a fuss but not, you will recall, much of an apology. It was just the sort of thing that happens on these occasions.

Welcome to the new, improved form of cheating. Like New Labour, New Cheating has become so much part of life that the morality it represents has become the norm. It is discovered that political parties have been disguising donations as loans in order to avoid embarrassing revelations about the buying and selling of peerages; well, the answer goes, the finance has to come from somewhere.

A world-famous footballer is revealed as a serial cheat on the pitch, diving to get a penalty and handling the ball; later, he cheerily owns up, saying that "it's part of the game". Exhibitionist writers expose their own infidelities in print; it is the kind of stuff, they say, that happens in all modern marriages.

The basic rule of New Cheating is that an illusion of honesty works as effectively as a footballer's sneaky handball. You own up about your cheating and somehow that candour negates the original offence. It is a neat trick, admitting to wrongdoing, but with an unapologetic smirk on your face.

Blue Peter, yet again, is helping to introduce children to the ways of the world.

English sex gets lost in translation

There is something about the news that Rachel Weisz is to star in a Hollywood film, telling the story of Rowan Pelling and the Erotic Review, that sets the alarm bells ringing.

Weisz, though attractive in a slightly obvious way, might just possibly capture the allure of the more beautiful Pelling, right, who was mysteriously both severe and seductive in her role as editrice.

But what of the dear old spankers, pervs, fetishists and cross-dressers who tremulously shared their fantasies and "experiences" in the magazine with like-minded enthusiasts?

The sort of sex the Erotic Review celebrated is peculiarly English, and rarely travels well into film. In the hands of most directors, an awful oooh-matron coyness soon appears, propelled creakily by quasi-humorous vulgarity.

I see a part for John Hurt in this film. Dame Judi Dench might do her salty-old-bird act. The film is good news for countless character actors currently resting, but will do little for the erotic reputation, already severely damaged, of the English.

* Talk to any business that supplies the larger supermarkets and you will hear tales of ruthlessness, greed and abuse of power by the giants' negotiators. Few business owners have a tougher time than farmers, so it is good news that at last some of them are turning nasty.

At the moment, supermarkets cheerfully sell foreign bacon, sausages, ham and pork at cheaper prices than their English equivalents, knowing the reason for the lower price is that farmers abroad use the more economic stall-and-tether systems banned in Britain seven years ago. They are effectively rewarding cruelty and putting British producers out of business.

Now farmers have started quietly stickering foreign pork to inform customers of this situation. If they make people think about the implications of saving a few pence on their meat bill, these enterprising activists will have done a useful job for animal welfare.