Melissa kite

Oh, the shame of not being Pointless

I give an after-dinner speech occasionally called ‘Media Training for Dummies’. That may sound condescending, but the dummy in question is me. It’s a compendium of anecdotes about my disastrous media appearances, each more humiliating than the last. At some point I’m going to turn it into a PowerPoint presentation, interspersing the talk with clips so the audience can see that I’m not exaggerating. Until recently, my most embarrassing moment was in New York in 1995, when I took part in a spelling bee broadcast live on the radio. I was the first contestant and my word was ‘barrette’. I’d never encountered this before — it’s the American word for

Let’s bring the wolves back into Britain

A year ago there was a confirmed sighting, and even film, of a wild wolf in the Netherlands for the first time in perhaps 150 years. It was hanging out near a farm, a few kilometres from the German border in the north-east of the country, looking bored. A couple of years previously a dead wolf was found 40 miles to the west, well inside the Netherlands, but the locals thought it was probably a hoax. Almost certainly it wasn’t. Wolves are doing well in western Europe — there have been plenty of sightings in neighbouring Belgium, for example. France, Italy, Switzerland, Portugal, Spain and Germany have reasonably healthy populations

Letters | 2 July 2015

How to fix Detroit Sir: When I last flew over my native Detroit five years ago, vast tracts of it still resembled Machu Picchu. From the ground, it was little better; in what had been a prosperous Italian-American neighbourhood when I lived there in 1964, there were only five houses left standing. Stephen Bayley (Arts, 27 June) marvels that ‘You could buy an entire house for $10,000’ — but in truth the taxes needed to support Detroit’s notoriously corrupt governments are so high that you can’t give them away unless they are in one of the few islands colonised by the middle classes. Indeed, the city filed for bankruptcy in

Melissa Kite comes out fighting. Again

Madison Flight is a divorce lawyer, nicknamed ‘the Chair-Scraper’ for the number of times she leaps to her feet arguing in court. She has been contrary since birth, putting her mother through six days of labour before eventually being pulled out by forceps. ‘Is she saying no?’ asks the doctor, perplexed by the distinctive ‘Naaaaaaaaah!’ sound of her new-born wail. Madison’s life begins with her voicing dissent and argument fills every moment of her adult life. Even her commute involves her quarrelling with the ticket officer about purchasing the lowest fare (she objects to an Oyster card because she doesn’t want ‘to be tagged and tracked like a sheep in

Letters: Why Ofsted should be disbanded

Disband Ofsted Sir: Dennis Sewell’s damning indictment of Ofsted (‘Ofsted in the dock’, 13 December) stopped short of the logical conclusion of disbanding it, arguing instead that the chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, should be supported in his efforts to purge inspectors promoting the progressive educational agenda that the coalition inherited. We’ve been here before. Chris Woodhead was chief inspector for six years, and despite his best efforts concluded that his organisation had ‘become a part of the [progressive] establishment, and arguably the most lethal part…’. Wilshaw has been chief inspector for almost three years, and apparently is only just discovering the extent to which his inspectors are still promoting

Spectator letters: Richard Ingrams defends Joan Littlewood, and the truth about Napoleon’s poisonous wallpaper

The state of Italy… Sir: Ambassador Terracciano’s letter (Letters, 1 November) about Nicholas Farrell’s article (‘The dying man of Europe’, 25 October) seems to me to be ill-researched and not thought through. Nicholas Farrell is spot on. The Ambassador is not. In another forum the Ambassador, on being asked what Italian nationals contribute to Britain, claimed that: ‘There is no area in which they don’t excel. Not only finance and management but also culture and the scientific and medical world, from professorship at Oxford to the chorus director of the Royal Opera, from the Science Festival at Cambridge to the director of the Tate Gallery in Liverpool.’ Has he ever stopped

Spectator letters: In defence of women ministers, Handel and lefty sex

Give the women a chance Sir: Melissa Kite’s article about the reshuffle seems downright unfair (‘A misogynistic reshuffle’, 19 July). Whatever David Cameron’s motives may be, the women he has promoted to cabinet and other posts in his government are presumably intelligent and hardworking and have certainly demonstrated great stamina. This is true of anyone who reaches these levels in politics. They are no doubt excited to be facing extremely tough challenges, but they must also be quite nervous. Instead of giving them congratulations and encouragement, the best Ms Kite can offer is a prediction that none of them will be very successful. Colin Angwin London W14 Media circus Sir: The

Spectator letters: Ken Loach defended, and the music of Pepys

We need religion Sir: Roger Scruton (‘Sacred hunger’, 31 May) describes a reason, dare I say a ‘purpose’, for religion in society. Evolutionary biologists such as the evangelical atheist Richard Dawkins should accept the concept of evolution in the social behaviour of Homo sapiens. Archaeological and anthropological evidence suggest that some form of religion played a part in the earliest of primitive societies, going back tens of thousands of years. If religion is so toxic to society, how could it have developed into so many complex and varied forms around the world unless it had powerful social ‘survival’ value? Indeed in countries where religion was outlawed, such as the USSR and

Spectator letters: EDF answers Peter Atherton, Christopher Booker on wildlife

Nuclear reaction Sir: Peter Atherton questions whether a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point is a fair deal for the UK (‘Nuclear fallout’, 22 February). However, his conclusion is based on some unvalidated assumptions. In May 2012, he wrote that EDF would need £166 for each megawatt hour of electricity produced to get a ‘realistic return’. Now he says that an agreed price of £92.50 offers rewards which are ‘eyewateringly attractive’. Neither claim is justified. It is a balanced deal which will unlock £16 billion of investment at the lowest possible cost for consumers. He claims returns to investors of up to 35 per cent. As reported last October,

Letters: Alan Sked on party politics, and how to win a pony show

Party politics Sir: I don’t think it is true that I would be unhappy in any party, as Ross Clark suggests (‘The end of the party’ 14 September). I was very happy in the old Liberal party, which I joined as a 14-year-old and did not leave for almost 20 years. I then became a Eurorealist so could not join any major party. Having taken a leading role in the Bruges Group I then set up the Anti-Federalist League, which subsequently became Ukip. Between 1988 and 1997 I spent a huge amount of time writing pamphlets, fighting by-elections, fighting general and European elections, leading parties and campaigns — while all

Letters | 2 May 2013

Goers and go-getters Sir: In her interesting article on the rising equality in the female world (‘Sex and success, 27 April), Alison Wolf states that A*/top-stream girls stay virgins until 20 ‘because they have more important things on their minds’. I am not sure about this. I certainly remember that this was not the case when I was at Wellington in the late 1990s: the A* girls were usually the goers. Nolan Walker London EC1 Ms Kite’s elitism Sir: We would like to take issue with Melissa Kite’s piece (‘Two-wheeled tyranny’, 27 April). I write on behalf of CTC, the national cycling charity. I was delighted to find two of

Real life | 21 March 2013

My nerves were already shot to pieces when my phone rang and a faint little voice said, ‘Hallo, this is Vodafone, we’re just ringing to let you know we’ve got some offers for you.’ I was about to hang up when I remembered, in some sunken recess of the shrivelled left-hand side of my brain, that my phone contract is up for renewal soon and if I didn’t speak to the little voice I might soon have to visit the Vodafone shop (a direct replica of the underworld and God’s way of showing us what hell will be like if we don’t behave) and negotiate a deal involving unlimited gigabytes

A stable full of Germans

After a lot of false starts, I am now the proud occupant of a small weekend rental in the country. It is very exciting. No more commuting from Balham to Cobham to ride the horses. I wake up on Saturdays in a converted barn down a farm track and drive two minutes to the stable yard to see Tara, Grace and Darcy. The three mares have now moved from their expensive livery yard to what we horse-owners rather disingenuously call a DIY yard. I say disingenuous because it’s not really DIY. A nice lady called Sue looks after them on weekdays and I ‘do them myself’ at weekends. Somehow, it

Real life | 12 February 2011

When you start writing to-do lists that need paginating you know you’re in trouble. Also, a good to-do list should only ever have one major item on it. A bad to-do list looks something like this: Remortgage house, negotiate lease extension, buy car, book skiing holiday, remodel spare room, get pregnant, climb Kilimanjaro. I don’t know which of these fills me with more panic. The order troubles me, too. I spend a long time shuffling the items around, the last two in particular, for obvious reasons. I cannot work out why some of them are even on there. I have simply no idea why I told a friend I would

Real life | 22 January 2011

Some sadistically cheerful young popsy called Keeley or Tasha, I can’t remember which, terminated the call because I breached security. My own security. This is a bit rich, even if I didn’t keep completely to the rules. I always cheat during the beginning of the recorded message when the Patricia Hewitt sound-alike tells you to enter your membership or connect card number. I did enter the details once, you see, and the automated hell into which I descended was so macabre that I vowed never to risk an encounter with it again. Since discovering that the more you co-operate with an automated system the more options it generates, I have

Real life | 15 January 2011

Golden corn spread out on the road; women washing in rivers; pots and baskets and sugar cane balanced on heads; a dead man in his best clothes being carried to his pyre; goats, bullocks, monkeys everywhere; baby elephants ambling through traffic… After a week of it, I turn to my guide Rajai and announce somewhat dramatically, but meaning every word, ‘I think I have lived more in the past seven days than ever before.’ ‘That’s India,’ says Rajai matter-of-factly, as if I’m just one more Westerner having an epiphany. Rajai, a multilingual expert on art history and architecture, is a little frustrated by my emotional approach to sightseeing and is,

Real life | 8 January 2011

‘Hello, Miss Kite, this is the RAC solutions centre.’ Oh, dear god, it’s all over, I thought. Nothing except the exact opposite of a solution ever comes out of a place called a solutions centre. I had hit a curb while driving over Chelsea Bridge and my front tyre was in shreds by the time I’d nursed the car to a side street. I abandoned it (it’s a convertible with no spare) and went to wait at a nearby friend’s house for the recovery people. For a while, however, I could not remember who I had breakdown cover with. This is because, like everyone else, I suspect, I have to

Real life | 18 December 2010

Deck the halls with anti-wrinkle cream. Fa-la-la-la-laaa-la-la-la-la. ’Tis the season to be racked with insecurity. Fa-la-la-la-laaa… I don’t know why Christmas should remind us of failure and doom. It’s meant to be a celebration of the greatest beginning of all time, the birth of Jesus and the possibility of everlasting life (albeit it after death, although I’m not fussy — I’ll take everlasting life in whatever format it’s being offered). And yet all it does is make me think about how old and lonely I am. It doesn’t help that my birthday is on 1 January, or that I sat next to a famous chef at a Christmas party the

Real life | 11 December 2010

Insurance is a mug’s game. It begins with a sensible attempt to guard against catastrophe and escalates into risk hysteria. With the onset of the cold weather, I only wanted to take out some simple cover on my radiators, but I ended up in a frantic scramble to insure myself against everything bad or even just mildly annoying that could possibly happen to a human being, ever. Last winter, my boiler broke down so I made sure it was heavily insured this year. Naturally, therefore, my boiler did not break down this year. My radiators leaked. Or rather one of them leaked and fell off the wall for good measure.

Real life | 4 December 2010

I once met a woman who claimed to have been incarcerated in an addiction unit because her family found her scrubbing the floor with a toothbrush. She said cleaning had become a mental and emotional obsession and that the amount and regularity of her scrubbing binges meant she had to admit she had hit rock-bottom. I remember thinking at the time, ‘Yep, this woman is stir fry. No one who cleans the floor with a toothbrush is in what could be described as a good place. Nor are they, in all probability, safe to walk the streets. You wouldn’t want to meet such a person in a dark alley.’ At