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Diary

Diary

4 August 2012

6:00 AM

4 August 2012

6:00 AM

What explains the extraordinary success of Fifty Shades of Grey? This question has been much skirted around but, as far as I know, no one has come up with what seems to me the obvious answer: a large proportion of women are to some degree closet masochists. Of course it’s an embarrassing thing to admit, but we are longing, in our sexual imaginations if not in real life, to be dominated and subjugated by a masterful male. This tendency also explains the enduring popularity of Mills & Boon romances, bodice-rippers and the novels of Georgette Heyer, many of which have been in print for almost a century. Fifty Shades is merely a more (much more) explicit continuation in the same genre. Indeed Mills & Boon are hurriedly bringing themselves up to date with a new series of 12 digital-only ‘racy reads’ called, believe it or not, 12 Shades of Surrender. What bearing, if any, this sexual orientation has on feminism or gender equality or day-to-day life, I have no idea.

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There are many differences between tennis at the Olympics and tennis at the Wimbledon championships. At the Olympics, the men’s singles matches are best of three rather than best of five sets; players can wear whatever colour they like rather than ‘predominantly white’ as at Wimbledon; the service speeds are shown in kilometres, not miles, per hour; and, as far as I can tell from watching on TV, there aren’t many royals in the royal box. So it is unlikely that there will be a repeat of one of the more memorable moments at the gripping Murray/Federer Wimbledon final last month, which I was lucky enough to attend. Amid all the raucous shouts of support from the crowd — ‘Come on Andy!’, ‘We love you Andy!’, ‘Come on Roger!’ — a strong, clear voice suddenly exclaimed: ‘We love you Pippa!’


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It is easy to make fun of the notion of a professorial chair in networking — Jonathan Swift might well have dreamed it up. Such a post has recently been created at Cass Business School for Julia Hobsbawm, PR expert and the daughter of the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm. (We also now have a ‘philosopher’ of networking in the person of Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, the social network for business people which has more than 100 million members.) But the idea is not as silly as it sounds. In a business world which is becoming ever more competitive, many students may well benefit from instruction in the art of cultivating useful contacts, or ‘schmoozing’ (as Professor Hobsbawm calls it). Without such social skills their careers may get nowhere. Nevertheless, various things confuse me about this enthusiasm for networking. For instance, how does it relate to friendship — are network contacts ruthlessly discarded as soon as they’re no longer useful, or when a conflict of interest arises? And doesn’t networking lead to exactly the kind of email exchanges which have recently been published between the deputy governor of the Bank of England and the chief executive of Barclays bank, or between the Prime Minister and the editor of the News of the World?

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To qualify as a teacher in Finland is fiendishly difficult. You have to pass tests in numeracy, literacy and problem-solving. You are interviewed and assessed for your motivation, your communication skills and your emotional intelligence. Oh, and you are required to have a master’s degree. Only one out of ten candidates makes the grade. Not surprisingly, Finland has the highest-achieving schools in the western world. You may think that these requirements are a bit over the top. But at least in Finland you are unlikely to come across — as a friend of mine did the other day — a note written by a teacher and pinned to a classroom door reading: ‘I am sorry I could not of [sic] been here.’

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Poor Mitt Romney. The Republican presidential candidate is now sneered at and denigrated for having made foolish ‘gaffes’ about our Olympics. But what he actually said — it was a few days before the opening ceremony — was exactly the same thing, though in rather milder form, that everyone I know had been saying for weeks: that the stories about the private security firm not having enough people, and about the possibility of strikes by immigration and customs officials, were ‘disconcerting’; he also said that it was too early to say whether the people of this country were coming together to celebrate. The first of these comments is undeniable; as for the second, the people in the crowded London bus with whom I was stuck in an Olympics-related traffic jam caused by never-changing red lights were certainly coming together, but not to celebrate. Maybe it is undiplomatic for foreign politicians to do anything but flatter and eulogise. Romney did indeed retract his statements, very elegantly, I thought, soon after he made them. But this did not stop him being reviled by John Humphrys on the Today programme. No doubt Humphrys was even more contemptuous, all those years ago, about Ronald Reagan, when he was a Republican candidate.


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