Only one man knows, and he's not telling

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The Independent Online
WHAT is a Mars bar party, anyway? The papers have been writing about them all week as if we were all forever popping round to see our friends scantily dressed and brandishing confectionery. But I'm not, and nor is anyone I know. John Patten must presumably know what Mars bar parties are, because he was 'incensed' that Susan Brady, a school nurse, answered questions about them as part of her sex education class at Highfield primary school in Leeds. I only wish Mrs Brady could have disseminated her knowledge more widely; it certainly would have saved a lot of time here at the Independent on Sunday. Those who had been reading the tabloids with care were persuaded that the Mars bars had to be melted down. Others objected that this would be too hot, and thought the parties must involve a peculiar practice made briefly famous by Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull, too ghastly to describe here.

I rang the Health Education Authority, the body behind the sex guide so 'smutty' that the Government has banned it. 'Hmm, a very good question,' said the woman, and went off to ask her colleagues, who had no idea. Next I tried the Family Planning Association, which not so long ago issued its own sex education booklet. 'Who knows?' said the spokeswoman. 'Our youth workers don't. Perhaps it's something peculiar to Leeds?'

I think John Patten should tell us all what these Mars bar parties are. I'd also like to know how many he's been to, but this is just idle curiosity, and I don't expect it to be satisfied, because I've noticed that the Government isn't very keen on releasing information about sex. Not only has it banned the HEA booklet, but Sir Rhodes Boyson, a former education minister, has suggested that sex education in schools should be stopped altogether. Perhaps he thinks this would create more opportunities for ministers to be pompous about the morals of the public at large. It certainly can't be intended to help anyone, because 96 per cent of parents say they would prefer schools to offer sex education, on the grounds that they feel embarrassed about talking about it themselves. Sex educationists meanwhile report that teenagers are still asking whether it's possible to get pregnant if you're a virgin, or if you get into a bath after a boy.

I once interviewed a girl who hadn't known how you get pregnant, hadn't realised she was pregnant, and delivered her baby alone in a field and left it there. Even now, government ministers are probably complaining that British teenagers become sexually active earlier than their Dutch counterparts, and have seven times the Dutch rate of teenage pregnancies. Someone should warn them it could be because there is so much confusion as to whether a Mars bar is a sex aid or a fattening sweet.

I TAKE it all back. The North-east of England is not a macho place full of chip-eating, lager-swilling louts, and that's just the women. Rash remarks I made last week suggesting that it might be prompted many letters pointing out that the North-east accounts for simply loads of famous women - although a producer at Radio Cleveland did admit: 'We tried to think of some, but we got stuck after Wendy Craig.'

I rather wildly suggested that Huffty, the shaven-haired presenter of The Word, who boasts of living like a slob, was the first woman to have emerged from the North- east since Catherine Cookson, and speculated that perhaps everyone in the North-east was like Gazza or Sid the Sexist in Viz, a locally produced magazine. But I have been put right, and so here, to make amends, are those famous North-eastern women in full: Grace Darling (for lifeboat rescues), Kate Adie (flak jackets), Anna Raeburn (agony), Judi Dench (damehood), Elizabeth Esteve-Coll (the V & A), Selina Scott (The Clothes Show), and Wendy Craig (truly yukky sitcoms). Though I still think it's suspicious that they all keep their backgrounds so quiet.

WHEN was the last time someone said to you, 'that was a rather pilgerish Post-It note you left on my desk'? Or even 'I read a newspaper report today that was full of pilgerisms'? I bet never. Yet for some reason the Oxford English Dictionary has included the verb 'to pilger' and its various derivations in recent editions.

John Pilger, whose conviction journalism is the source of the word, has objected to the OED's derogatory definition, which the publishers have now agreed to amend. But why is the word there anyway? The only person ever to have used it, as far as I can see, is Auberon Waugh. Even in newspapers, where people talk about journalism to the point of tedium, no one ever says 'pilger'. If I were pilgerish, I might construct a conspiracy theory: this is, after all, great publicity for Waugh, Pilger and the OED. I'd also like to know how one gets taken up by Auberon Waugh, because I wouldn't mind becoming a verb myself. Perhaps 'to bedell': to make unfounded and absurd attacks on harmless regions of Britain.

THE Ivory Coast has decided to drop the custom of having the late president Felix Houphouet- Boigny's thoughts for the day precede all television and radio news bulletins, and emblazoned on the front of newspapers. The change was actually made a couple of months ago, but the late president's thoughts were so dull (example: peace is not a word but a way of life) that people have only just started noticing. I can see that the Ivory Coasters might well want to drop maxims so anodyne and predictable that anyone could have thought of them, but this might be a custom we could usefully adopt in Britain. No one could call Mr Major's thoughts on Europe, for example, predictable. 'We want Britain to be at the heart of Europe,' could be blazoned over our mastheads one day, and 'We want nothing to do with those bossy foreigners,' the next. 'We want the Efta countries in,' he could announce one week, and 'We are going to block the Efta countries' the week after. I think it would be very useful, and help us all to know where we were.

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