The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- Contemporary Britain from a week's reading of The Times

A week's reading of The Times gave me considerable knowledge of contemporary Britain. This, for instance, is from a new book, One's Wedding: A Diary: 'On my desk is Camilla's note accepting my proposal of marriage' Odd though, I don't actually remember asking her to marry me. Normally, I remember important things like that, but there we are; I suppose one is getting on a bit. If she had not remembered to say 'Yes! Yes! Yes!' in writing (copies to Mummy and the Archbishop of Canterbury the day after my proposal), things could have become really embarrassing' Best man. Is there one at these town hall affairs' Town hall chap. Does one need to make his acquaintance' Is he titled' Camilla will be upset if he is not. Can Camilla bring her dogs to the ceremony' I said I would ask. Whom does one ask' No prizes for guessing whose diary this is supposed to be. I would hate to be a King-in-waiting.

It is quite normal in Britain to park one's children in a nursery when one goes to work. But now there are parents who want to park their children at night, and they cannot find such hotels for children because nurseries are not allowed to keep children overnight. If they did so, they would have to be licensed as children's homes. There is a possibility that some parents will forget that they have parked their child. A nursery could hardly keep such children forever. If a nursery were registered as a children's home, it would get a subsidy, but social workers would be able to dump unwanted children on them any time. But Bright Beginnings, a day nursery in Balby, will soon keep children overnight for '45. Parents can drop their children after 6:30 PM, and pick them up before 1 PM the next day. That will enable them to work full night shifts, go home and sleep well before they have to face their child again.

When one wants a permanent or semi-permanent domestic partner in Britain, one way is to put an advertisement in a newspaper such as this one: 'Stylish redhead, 29, with a hectic schedule, seeks sexy, accomplished man for good food, interesting and humorous conversation and mutual Sunday paper reading.' But then one never knows who would respond. If one wants some quality control, it is common to approach a dating agency. One takes the datee for dinner and possibly for further dalliance. Then comes the problem of dropping him. That can be awkward; it may also happen that the said datee does not want to be dropped and keeps pursuing one. To avoid these problems, dating agencies will soon send on mobile a video clip of an interview in which the potential datee will be asked the essential questions. Dators will be able to watch proxy interviews of hundreds of potential datees before meeting one of them face to face. If the date is found unacceptable after a night together, it will be possible to programme the mobile so that it tells him politely every time he calls that you are busy and cannot take the call.

Tempers are running high in Britain over wedding rings, necklaces and bracelets found in a cardboard box in the garage of Dr Harold Shipman's house near Hyde. This doctor made a practice of killing off his patients. Since they were old and likely to die before long anyway, he was not suspected for 27 years. He killed at least 250 before he was caught in 1998. After a trial he was jailed for life in 2000. Last year he hanged himself in jail. When he died, his wife received '100,000 out of his pension dues. She also gets an indexed monthly pension for life. Now she is claiming the box of jewellery that the police took away; she says he had bought the ornaments out of his pension dues. He is suspected of having got them by robbing his dead victims, and their relatives are up in arms.

The school-leaving GCSE examination is facing competition. To improve its attractiveness, the examiners have cut down the number of Latin words examinees have to know from 550 to 450, and the number of Greek words from 500 to 365. These are maxima; a child does not have to know all the words to pass. He will probably pass if he knows a couple of hundred, and get a first class if he knows 400 Latin words. No wonder Indian children do well in England.

At a conference on Compassion in World Farming, Professor John Webster reported finding that hens that were fed blue-dyed grains that gave them tummy trouble shooed away their chicks from blue grains. Bill Swann found that horses in Guatemala were well looked after but still shied away from humans. Why' These horses liked to play and forage together. When, in their playful way, they ended up on fields and started eating corn, farmers threw stones at them and abused them. So the horses developed a poor opinion of humans. His conclusion was that those who kept a horse should provide him with an equine companion.

The British government has great faith in competition. If one did not know a telephone number, the old way was to ring up 192. This directory enquiry number was replaced in 2003 by more than 200 numbers, all starting with 118. The competition was supposed to reduce costs; instead, it has increased them. For instance, a caller from a mobile, if he asks to be connected to the number he is looking for, may end up paying '12.50 or Rs 1,000. People are so confused by the plethora of numbers and varying charges that a third of them are making fewer enquiries. In a survey, half the people queried could not remember a single 118 number; a quarter did not even know that the new numbers had been introduced.

Jonathan Sayeed, a conservative member of Parliament, joined in starting a company whose business was to show visitors around the Houses of Parliament. This outraged his party, which set up a committee to decide whether to deselect him ' that is, to withdraw his selection to fight the election from Bedfordshire constituency. He wrote letters to his fellow conservative MPs asking them to support him. The letters were written on House of Commons stationery. That sealed his fate: he was deselected.

David Beckham has 11 tattoos on his back, and has commissioned a design for a 12th to commemorate the birth of Cruz, his third child. He has asked his tattooist, Louis Molloy, to come up with a few designs. The design will appear with the other names, Romeo and Brooklyn as well as an angel.

The Arts Council funded a project that took Britain's prize-winning artists to the Arctic. They included Rachel Whiteread, who got the Turner Prize in 1993, for casting the inside of a wrecked building in concrete, and Siobhan Davies, who produced a video piece of figures against a flat landscape of ice. Once there, Arthur Gormley built a snowman, while Rachel went for a walk. Since the schooner in which they went was locked up in ice 700 miles from the North Pole, they returned to civilization on snow-scooters.

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