Daily blogger PETER RHODES on Ronnie Biggs and religious extremism
SO FAREWELL, Ronnie Biggs. We should never celebrate criminals or their crimes, but you had to admire Biggs's cheek. In one interview, repeated yesterday, Biggs claimed that the chief purpose of prison is to rehabilitate offenders and, as he had rehabilitated himself, it was not necessary for him to serve his term. Did anybody not smile?
LOOKING back, the Great Train Robbers' haul of £2.6 million seems puny. Inflation has soared and at today's values it would be worth about £46 million. But something else has changed. Back in 1963 this robbery horrified the nation because it was a calculated assault on national icons we cherished and respected: the Treasury, the Post Office, the night-mail train and, above all, our fine banking industry. If someone stole £46 million from the banks today, would we be horrified? Or would we reflect on what a tiny sum this was, compared to the billions lost through greed and fraud when the banking system imploded? Respectable men in smart suits cost us far, far more than Biggs and his gang.
AFTER much study, researchers at the University of California have concluded that men who marry attractive women are happier than those who do not. Good to see the Department of the Bleedin' Obvious is as busy as ever.
AS the row over sexually segregated audiences at British universities rumbles on, Aston University declares that it would tolerate such an arrangement at religious discussions so long as it was voluntary. And what if an audience voluntarily decided they'd like to smoke?
TOLERATING the intolerable, as with segregated audiences, is a sign of the weakness and confusion stalking Western societies. It is based on the daft notion that we must all respect anyone else's belief system, no matter what. I am reminded of a trip to Israel some years ago when our press party was introduced to an ultra-orthodox religious leader. Things started to go wrong when I greeted him in the hotel lobby and led him towards the bar. He stopped and delivered a little lecture, in a tone somewhere between indignation and sympathy, on how I should never invite someone like him to enter a place where alcohol was served. I apologised, then introduced him to a woman member of our party. She extended her hand. He looked at it with disdain and delivered another little lecture, in the same tone, on how someone like him should never be expected to touch the hand of a strange woman. Again I apologised and invited him to join us in the minibus. I then received my third lecture in as many minutes, this time on how someone like him could certainly not sit next to a woman. At about this time I realised I didn't respect this man or his beliefs. I thought he was a silly, attention-seeking, delusional and grossly overindulged prat. The only reason I didn't tell him so was that I was a visitor to his land and his culture. But if he came to this country to deliver a lecture and asked me to arrange a segregated audience, I would tell him not to be so damn silly. This is Britain. This is the 21st century. We do things differently. Get over it.
SIR Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted, says grammar schools are “stuffed full” of middle-class children and do not improve social mobility. And what sort of school did Wilshaw, the son of a postman, attend? Surprise, surprise, he went to a grammar school in south London which led on to the University of London and a meteoric career. I have never understood the eagerness of some grammar-school kids (Margaret Thatcher, Roy Hattersley, etc) to deny others the opportunities they had.
GATEAU: French ventriloquist's boat, as defined on I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue (Radio 4).