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The crazy sound of Gerry and the pause-makers

WHERE on earth do they find those actors who pretend to be Gerry Adams? Is there some special casting agency for men with Northern Irish accents who sound like automata? Or do they hire regular actors and give them direction in speaking meaninglessly?

It's been so long since I heard the real Gerry Adams (to tell the truth, I never noticed him before his voice was banned) that if I ever knew how he really sounds I've certainly forgotten now. But I find it hard to believe that a man who could rise to the top of Sinn Fein - not, I imagine, a passionless organisation - could sound quite so much like a hacked-off assistant at Woolworth's. I do not think that anyone with so little understanding of the pause could rouse republicans to heady fervour for kicking out the troops. 'The Lord Chief Justice . . . pause . . . threw it out . . . pause . . . of court,' the Adams robot told us last week. If the real Adams spoke like this, none of the Americans phoning in with their keenly perceptive questions ('Why aren't Catholic children educated like Protestant children in Northern Ireland?') would have even been awake.

Perhaps Gerry Adams really does sound like a speak-your-weight machine. I suspect not: my bet is there's some secret government directive that he has to sound stupid. But if they're just trying to rob the words of their context, their rhythm and force, why bother with Irish actors in the first place? Why not have chaps from Surrey? I suspect the Government's ploy is to convince us that Gerry Adams is so dim, and so boring, that every time he speaks he becomes his own anti-Sinn Fein propaganda machine. But it's not working for me. So fascinated am I by the pauses, I have taken to writing down the words and trying to deliver them without the peculiar gaps. With verve and inflection, they don't sound as if they come from a humanoid at all.

JOHN Redwood said recently that affluent workaholic parents were nearly as awful as single mothers. Now John Patten has pledged to Get Strict and stop parents colluding in truancy, which of course we do all the time. We will have to write notes explaining why our children aren't at school, and only really good excuses will be acceptable. Stiff canings are planned for persistent offenders.

The Government seems determined to blame parents for absolutely everything, at a time when being a parent has never been so difficult. Could I just point out to ministers that it's not parents who are workaholic, but society. I don't know if they believe there's such a thing as society right now (they keep changing their minds), but as it happens, I can put them right there as well: there's society if you work, and not if you don't.

People in work spend so much of their time actually being there that work has become the source of most of our salient relationships, of all socially valued activity, and sometimes, it seems, our only topic of conversation. You have to be a pretty tough personality to give up all the status and emotional fulfilment accorded to the working, not to mention the money for computer games and trainers. You have to be mad to do it to become a parent, when children are publicly valued only as consumers. Adults are offered no rewards for parenting, and every incentive to be out at work and competing, without concessions, with the childless. Until things go wrong, anyway, when society wakes up to the fact that children aren't an entirely personal matter and ministers start talking punishment. Hallmark, the greetings card company, has started manufacturing cards (only for sale in the States so far, but they'll be here soon) with 'Sorry I couldn't be there to tuck you in' messages. Absurd, but true.

I CAN'T feel bad about what the BBC referred to last week as the Rover 'sell-out' to the Germans - at least they seem likely to invest - though I get a little twinge of nostalgia at the thought that we could once have had their car industry for the taking. That, though, was when nothing seemed to stand between us and world economic dominance; when, thanks to the war, we had spanking new plants and production lines. We also had, in the British occupied zone, the Volkswagen plant that made the Beetle. When some colonel suggested we might usefully buy it as an investment for Britain, a delegation of British motor manufacturers went to investigate - and, with the far-sightedness and eagerness to take on the world that was to become such a feature, suggested it should simply be stripped of machine tools to pre-empt future competition.

An official at the Board of Trade wrote to the uppity colonel: 'The car undoubtedly had many attractive features, and I have no doubt that the British manufacturers have taken note of these in connection with their future designs, but it has to be borne in mind that the car . . . is not considered to have a long-term civilian application by our producers.' The Beetle has since become one of the five best-selling cars of all time. In the 1950s, it became the fashionable second car in America. And in 1956, Germany overtook Britain as the world's leading vehicle exporter.

PRINCESS Margaret was photographed arriving at a party to launch her son's latest restaurant venture last week in a fur coat. Buckingham Palace assures me this is nothing unusual. Not for Princess Margaret, perhaps, but it is most unusual for anyone with a scrap of sensitivity to what is now socially acceptable. I realise that as a meat-eating, leather shoe-wearing, cosmetics junkie, I'm hardly in a position to cast the first stone, but rights and wrongs apart (and the wrongs seem fairly plain) there is something odd, these days, about women who wear fur coats. The sociology is almost more interesting than the ethics. There are so few women who wear furs nowadays that whenever I spot one in Bond Street or Knightsbridge, I always look twice. In my experience, they can always be categorised as foreigners or women whose entire lives are built round spending money that someone else has earned.