Making predictions is a mug’s game, so don’t worry – mine will be 100% wrong (again!)

IN his palatial City office in London’s Canary Wharf, my friend – chief economist of a major, global financial institution – sits behind a desk so gargantuan it could the solve the issue of Heathrow’s third runway.

Chewing the fat with him one day at the height of the 2008 banking meltdown, I asked this master of the universe when he thought the crisis would end.

Instead of answering, he just shrugged, then nodded towards an ornate plinth in the corner of his mini fiefdom, on which was mounted a soccer-sized crystal ball.

‘Take a dekko inside that,’ said my friend eventually. ‘You’ve a better chance of finding the answer in there than from me.’

I left, shaking my head and musing on the folly of making predictions.

This thought was rekindled last week, when I read an apologia from a financial whizkid, who wrote, ‘No-one expected this sudden, sharp drop in crude oil prices.’

His buzzword was ‘sudden’. Because, if the anointed experts had seen it coming, there would have been no shock.

STARDOM BECKONS: Cyberhackers will forced movie moguls to move to North Korea, so Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un will be an Oscar winner

STARDOM BECKONS: Cyberhackers will force movie moguls to move to North Korea, so Young Leader, Kim Jong Un, will be an Oscar winner for his role as Wonder Woman

In fact, looking back, the only person in my experience to make an accurate prediction was Madam Petrulengo, the palmist on Blackpool promenade, who forecast I’d get a ticket on my car parked outside on a double yellow line. She was right; I did.

So, generally, it’s been my firm prediction that the likely outcome to making predictions is the predictions will be totally wrong. And, so far, my record has been 100% accurate.

Nonetheless, since it’s that time of year, worst luck, when my arm is twisted into risking a spot of soothsaying, here goes…and heaven help us if I’m right.

Firstly, the nightmarish potboiler that’s a story of purblind Eurozone politicians will rumble on, with no consensus to ease the plight of the EU’s jobless, homeless and hopeless. Shovels will be issued to Euro commissioners, so they can did themselves into bigger holes.

Beyond-the-barmy, Right-wing parties – like France’s National Front, Hungary’s Jobbick and Greece’s Golden Dawn – will democratically vote to end democracy, while Brussels Europrats will take 2015 off and nobody will notice any difference.

Vladimir Putin will order Russians to bathe in oil, because – at $60 a barrel and sliding – it’ll be cheaper than water. The population of Moscow, barring oligarchs who can afford to import Evian by the tankerload, will assume a brackish, oleaginous glow, so they’ll be light-reflective. This will reduce the number of pedestrians struck down by drunk drivers at night, thus hailed as a health and safety success by the Kremlin.

END OF THE ROAD: With petrol-powered vehicles banned, rickshaws will be London's most popular form of transport

END OF THE ROAD: With petrol-powered vehicles facing a ban, rickshaw pullers will rush to become London’s most ‘eco’ form of transport

Americans will finally realise President Obama is actually a hologram, since he’s been as effective as one for the last half-dozen years. During 2015, he’ll gradually evaporate like the Cheshire Cat in Alice In Wonderland, with only a grin left behind.

Hillary Clinton will declare her intention to run as Democratic Party candidate for the White House and she’ll face Jeb Bush, brother of G Dubya and son of HW, who’ll fly the flag of the Republican cause.

US geneticists will then discover only members of presidential dynasties possess that unique strand of DNA – the two-faced, lie-through-the-teeth, back-stab helix – to be leaders, so there’ll be a nationwide hunt for descendants of Richard Nixon to stand in future hustings.

North Korean cyber-hackers will blackmail Hollywood’s movie moguls into relocating their studios to Pyongyang and the dashingly handsome Young Leader, Kim Jong Un, will be the next James Bond, Batman and Wonder Woman, a role for which he’ll award himself an Oscar.

A bloke called Nigel will decide who wins next May’s UK General Election.

No, not that Nigel – the UKIP Farage one – but Nigel Dodds, whom nobody outside Northern Ireland (and few inside it for that matter) has ever heard of.

But with an expected mish-mash outcome to the result, with neither of the major parties winning a majority, the minor cast members will be crucial players in deciding who rules. In short, reprising 2010, the tail will wag the dog.

Which is where Doddsy comes in. Tipped to replace Peter Robinson as leader of Ulster’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – the bunch invented by the late Reverend Ian Paisley, who brought the fire and brimstone of religion to bear on politics – Nige could even emerge as Deputy Prime Minister, depending on which way he throws the dice of his eight MPs.

After much cogitation, as a huge fan of Wallace & Gromit, he will come out in favour of Ed Miliband for Prime Minister, since the Labour leader is a doppelganger for Wallace and Wensleydale is also the DUP’s favourite cheese.

NOBEL LAUREATE & CIGAR MAGNET: Pope Francis will scoop the Peace Prize and the Vatican worldwide rights to selling Havana cigars

NOBEL LAUREATE & CIGAR MAGNET: Pope Francis will scoop the Peace Prize and the Vatican worldwide rights to selling Havana cigars

The Tories will sack David Cameron, merge with UKIP to become the Conservative, Unionist and UK Independence Party and elect London Mayor, Boris Johnson, as leader, who’ll make Nigel – the Farage one – Shadow Foreign Secretary.

Nick Clegg will quit as head honcho of the Liberal Democrats; their core voters will switch to the Greens, who’ll demand a ban on all forms of petrol-powered transport, resulting in an influx of Hong Kong rickshaw pullers, in anticipation they will eventually replace London’s Routemaster buses.

In the Middle East, the Saudis will wreck the Iranian economy by driving down the price of oil to a bucket of camel dung a barrel and do a back-channel deal with Israel to buy the Matzoball Bomb – a doomsday weapon with a difference, since all infected by its fallout turn Jewish.

It will first be tested on the headbanging jihadi rabble of IS/ISIL/ISIS, thorns by any other name in the side of humanity, who will – en masse – discard their AK47s to become rabbinical students.

Pope Francis will be awarded the Nobel Peace prize for his role in patching up the 45-year US-Cuba tiff; the Vatican will be given the worldwide concession to peddle Havana cigars.

Finally, the space probe, Cassini, will discover huge gold and diamond deposits on Saturn; FIFA will announce the 2026 World Cup will be held there.

So those are my forecasts for next year. But they’ll be wrong all counts, because, from long experience, I learnt there’s  no future in making predictions.

Men can be morons, but women can’t throw and they’re quiz show ditherers

PUTTING up the Christmas decorations, I placed two chairs on either side of the French window to string the fairy lights across the top of the pelmet and down each side of the drapes.

The gap between the chairs was a tad under two metres – easily jumpable, in my humble estimation, though a view not entirely shared by my lady wife, whose name escapes me.

‘Are you crazy?’ she queried, an inflection of disbelief in her tone. ‘You’ll break your neck.’

If ever the gauntlet of challenge was cast down, those words were it.

So I duly made the defiant leap, missed the second chair by a big toe’s length and fell on my…er, nether regions, emitting an involuntary ‘Ouch!’

Feigning unhurt and disguising the bolt of pain searing through my body, I got to my feet, ignored the look of exasperation writ large on Mrs. A’s face, climbed on chair No.2 and completed the chore in womanly fashion.

This small act of masculine hubris was, however, an example of what scientists have recently labelled Male Idiot Theory (MIT), whereby men take the sort of risks – occasionally lethal – that don’t even cross the minds of females.

Evidence it exists has been drawn from a 20-year study of the Darwin Awards, an annual review of the craziest ways people have perished, which revealed almost 90 per cent were ‘won’ by men.

GETTING THE POINT: One man gets a sharp reminder of the dangers of running with bulls

GETTING THE POINT: One man gets a sharp reminder of the dangers of running with bulls

Named after naturalist Charles Darwin, whose survival-of-the-fittest research revolutionised evolutionary thought, it recognises those who have inadvertently improved the human gene pool by eliminating themselves from it by acts of monumental folly.

Writing in the Christmas edition of The British Medical Journal, Australian boffins admit they’re puzzled why men are willing to take unnecessary risks and wonder whether it’s driven by an irresponsible rite of passage or the pursuit of masculine social esteem – the so-called ‘bragging rights’ factor.

Examples cited included a man who decided to steal a ride home by hitching a shopping trolley to the back of a train, only to be dragged two miles to his death, and the terrorist who unthinkingly opened his own letter bomb on its return-to-sender, after he posted it with insufficient stamps.

Then there was the bloke who shot himself in the head with the ‘spy pen’ gun, just to show his friend it worked, and the thief attempting to nick a steel hawser from a lift shaft – unbolting it while standing in said lift, which then plummeted to the ground, killing him.

Dr Dennis Lendrem, of the University of Newcastle, New South Wales, explains, ‘Idiotic risks are defined as senseless risks, where the apparent payoff is negligible or non-existent, and the outcome is often extremely negative and sometimes final.

‘According to MIT many of the differences in risk-seeking behaviour, emergency department admissions, and mortality may be explained by the observation that men are idiots and idiots do stupid things.’

WORDS FAIL: Apparently, warning signs are for wimps in this animal fan's opinion

WORDS FAIL: Apparently, warning signs are for wimps in this animal fan’s opinion

There can be little doubt Darwin Award winners seem to make little or no attempt at risk assessment. They just do it anyway and in some cases, the intelligence of the award winner borders the moronic.

Lendrem also cited the role booze can play in making fellas feel invincible, as in the instance of the inebriated trio engaged in a variation of Russian roulette, alternately taking shots of alcohol, then stamping on an unexploded land mine.

Inevitably, the mine detonated, demolishing the bar they were in and killed all three.

Not quite a Darwin Awards contender, but worthy of mention, was the man who slipped when using a belt sander as an auto-erotic sex aid and lost a testicle.

Only quick thinking saved the remaining one, as he repaired his scrotum with a staple gun.

In a modest effort to balance the gender books, it’s my belief males learned to react instinctively – even if occasionally inanely – from the dawn of time, taking on woolly mammoths with a simple wooden spear to bring home dinner, while fending off sabre-toothed tigers.

Don’t forget, either, it was mainly blokes who had to go to war – Joan of Arc being one of the rare exceptions (but she was French, which speaks volumes about Frenchmen) – and dauntlessly sailed the seven seas to expand knowledge of the then known world.

It was Christopher, not Christine, Columbus who discovered the Americas and Captain James, not Jemima, Cook, who found an entire continent existed beyond Africa.

I could rattle on about the derring-do of us mere blokes, even if they’re occasionally tinged with lunacy, like Paris’s abduction of Helen – whose fair face launched a thousand blips, let alone ships – and caused the destruction of Troy, according to the Trojan Horse tale.

THIS'LL FIX IT: Six floors up and the aircon unit is here's how a real man mends it

THIS’LL FIX IT: Six floors up and the aircon unit is loose…so here’s how a real man mends it

But let’s be clear: males and females are hardwired differently. And that’s evident from early development, which is why my six grandsons believe they’re Spiderman and my lone granddaughter is busy combing My Little Pony’s tail.

I also believe blokes get a raw deal nowadays, evidenced by a succession of TV ads portraying males at feckless twerps, like a recent Samsung commercial for a plug-in gizmo called an Evolution Kit, which even women panned as ‘sexist’.

Then there’s all this nonsense about fellas not being ‘multi-taskers’. Well, let me tell you that while I’m writing this, I’m also eating a tuna baguette, drinking copious cups of tea, answering the phone and organising my pencils in order of the sharpest.

Not that I haven’t the highest regard for the opposite gender. After all, my wife is a woman, so was my mother, as is my daughter. And females make far more interesting conversation companions than men, unless you want to limit chat to sport, sex, cars and more sport.

But, generally speaking, how many women can throw a ball straight? And have you noticed how so many of them dither on telly quiz shows, wracking their brains, getting the right answer, then talking themselves into the wrong one? That’s providing they don’t run out of time.

Conclusion: we blokes can be idiots, but at least we’re decisive.

I rest my case.

PS: Don’t miss my tricky trivia Christmas Eve quiz in Wednesday’s blog – that’ll sort out the girls from the boys!

‘You can screw it’ – that’s what today’s metrosexual males think of doing DIY

WEEKEND bliss for my late, lamented father-in-law, George, was to escape to his garage-cum-workshop and strip down an engine, replace any tired parts, then completely rebuild it, sound as a bell.

A self-taught engineer and Dunkirk veteran, George was typical of a generation of make-do-and-mend blokes who could perform minor miracles with their hands, while escaping the clutches of ‘er indoors.

Once, in those pre-designer-label, cuisine refinement days – when Moben wasn’t invented and Pedini sounded like a Tuscan cheese – George knocked up a very passable set of kitchen cupboards, with sliding doors and gilt handles, which made the family home the envy of the neighbourhood.

He sawed, planed and painted boxwood in cherry-red gloss, set it up on a pine frame, all carefully mitred, and nailed the lot to the walls. No power drills or electric sanders then – or Rawlplugs – never mind swish, black granite worktops; just good, old Formica.

Way back in the 1950s Sweden hadn’t made flat-pack furniture its contribution to civilisation and a couple of blokes called Richard Block and David Quayle were still mulling over what to call their first builders’ merchants, before they stumbled on the handle, B&Q.

Dads could do things then, scribbling down a design on the back of a cigarette packet and not relying on a print-out of incomprehensible instructions, loosely translated from Serbo-Croat, which invariably meant there were a several bits left over. If you were lucky, that was.

Admittedly, from the 1970s onward, DIY came into its own with the advent of Ikea, though I’m still banjaxed by some of their jargon – Liatorp, Tjenda, Kallax anyone? – and they’ve some items so cunningly fashioned, for the life I can’t work out of me what they’re for.

A DYING BREED: Fellas into DIY are fast fading - but they do get more sex

A DYING BREED: Fellas who are  into DIY are a fast-fading bunch – but university boffins say they get more sex

As it happens, I’ve become pretty ace at assembling Ikea stuff. The trick is to follow the instructions to the letter and not get ahead of yourself by thinking you’ve second-guessed the brainbox who authored the directions.

Just find a large enough space to lay out all the parts, open the little bags of fixing gizmos, check they’re all there and get ready for a couple of hours of headbanging, cussing and twirling Allen keys.

However, it now seems – like George – I’ve become a bit of a dinosaur, because DIY has become so passé and naff today’s generation of metrosexual males avoid it like being seen without facial stubble.

I mean could you imagine the likes of David Beckham, Jude Law, Christiano Ronaldo or Brad Pitt strapping on a tool belt and getting stuck in to putting up a curtail rail. Neither can I (well, maybe Brad would).

This translates into Britain’s DIY retailers taking a financial hammering, the reason for which Homebase – which is closing a quarter of its stores – last week identified as due to ‘a generation less skilled in DIY projects.’

And, though the sector is still worth a whopping £7.3 billion per year in the UK, according to the Daily Telegraph, that’s its lowest annual turnover since 1999. So, if it continues to plummet at its current rate of 13% per annum, DIY will be dead as a self-chiselled dovetail joint by 2040.

METROSEXUAL MAN: But to fellas like him, plucking nasal hair is more important that DIY

METROSEXUAL MAN: But to blokes like him, plucking out errant nasal hair is more important that DIY

Apparently today’s 20-to-30-something fellas are more like their mums, having had their dad’s ‘traditional skills’ lobotomised.

Only five per cent of 18-24s, apparently, would attempt to unblock a sink. So, mention a rubber plunger to them and their minds will immediately jump to the conclusion: ‘Wow…sex toy!

Transfixed by their iPads, smart phones and gizmos that could launch an Apollo moon mission, I suppose it’s only to be expected post-Millennia man has lost touch with being a real geezer, in the old-fashioned meaning.

I’d speculate few own a tool box and fewer still have felt the heady rush of self-satisfaction and testosterone coursing through their veins as they re-hang a door, change the washer on a leaky tap or put together a flat-pack shelf unit.

At the risk of sounding sexist, the right-on, bully-girl, feminist PC lobby is mostly to blame for the emasculation of the masculine species.

No bloke dares be seen ogling at a Page 3 pin-up nowadays, while lads’ mags are full of beauty hints – what’s the best hair fudge or how to perk up your pecks – and snaps of grungy girls you would want to be seen out with on a dark night in Greenland.

Meanwhile, the liberal media are gushing with advice about how fellas should ‘embrace their feminine side’, learn to cook sushi and understand all those strange symbols on clothes labels, so they don’t shrink their Armani T-shirt.

This probably accounts for the number of guys entering TV baking contests and getting into hissy fits when a female competitor nobbles them, by taking their fruit-of-the-forest soufflé out of the oven five minutes before it’s risen.

Only in private can fellas let loose their red-blooded instincts, which accounts for the floodtide of interest in Internet porn. After all, someone has to be gawking at it and it’s not likely to be the ladies of local Women’s Institute, in between jam-making and renditions of Jerusalem (though I wouldn’t put it passed them).

So manual labour is increasingly seen as something to be contracted out to others, he-men, with mitts like shovels, who can tile a bathroom and tell a lump hammer from a lump of lard.

FLAT-PACK IS FAB: Ikea is Sweden's contribution to modern-day civilisation

FLAT-PACK IS FAB: Ikea is Sweden’s contribution to modern-day civilisation

Quirkily, the metrosexual male’s role reversal isn’t necessary what all women want. Because, as they settle into their roles as wives and mums, they desperately want a man about the house, who can wire a plug and fit a laminated floor, not some fop who spends hours in the bathroom mirror plucking out errant nasal hair.

Meanwhile, there’s an upside to being a dab hand at DIY: you get more sex.

A study by sociologists at the University of Washington found that couples who follow traditional gender roles around the house – wives doing the cooking, cleaning and shopping; men doing the DIY and fettling the car – reported greater bouts of boudoir Olympics.

So, not to mince words, if men want to get laid, they should do more screwing…in the DIY meaning of the word, that is.

Anyway, must go. Have to re-fix the pergola roof, because you never know what that can lead to.


How others see us: we’re bad boozers, can’t eat – and Mr. Bean is one of the greatest Brits

FROM long experience I’ve developed a healthy scepticism about polls, surveys and, particularly, ‘vox pops’ – you know, those street-corner tests of public opinion the media loves to indulge in, where most answers are predictably politically correct.

Unless they are headbangers on day release from a nearby psychiatric facility or have an ardent view on the topic – anyone for fracking, capital punishment or FIFA? – people’s kneejerk reactions tend to parrot mainstream opinion, even if they’re lying through their pearly whites.

After all, who wants to be damned from their own mouths for being a racist, anti-environmentalist, male chauvinist pig…or, worse still, a UKIP supporter.

To continue the theme: how can we be certain eight out of 10 cats prefer Whiskas? None of mine did and nobody is told the total number of moggies ‘surveyed’ or what other brands were sampled.

And if Carlsberg claims to be ‘probably’ the best lager in the world, why doesn’t it refresh ‘the parts other beers cannot reach’, as Heineken supposedly does?

Yeah, yeah, I know these are just examples of admen’s creative thinking and aren’t taken any more seriously than those who believes Wonga is a not-for-profit organisation and bankers deserve even more humungous bonuses.

Nonetheless, such claims have an impact on our buying habits.

Similarly, if the ditty that wins the European Song Contest is so darned good, why doesn’t it become an instant, Top 20 hit? Or, maybe Molitva, sung in Serbo-Croat, or Sweden’s Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley soared up charts and I didn’t notice.

SIMPLY THE GREATEST: Wartime leader, Sir Winston Churchill, topped the 2012 BBC poll to find The Greatest Briton

SIMPLY THE GREATEST: Wartime leader, Sir Winston Churchill, topped the 2012 BBC poll to find The Greatest Briton

But you don’t need to consult Graham Norton or Terry Wogan for explanations why Eurovision is a stitch-up, with groups of mutually back-scratching nations taking it in turn to vote for each other. All know the PR payback in terms of national prestige is worth chicanery more redolent of elections for the presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Back in 1999 – in a campaign orchestrated by the Press and the nation’s leading politicians – the Turks tried to ‘fix’ the vote for Time’s Person of the 20th Century by balloting in their millions in favour of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

While he might be lauded locally as the founder of modern, secular Turkey, Ataturk is hardly a household name in Llandudno. Yet, briefly at least, he led in every category the prestigious magazine listed…warrior, statesman, scientist, artist and entertainer, even if his stand-up didn’t feature overmuch at Istanbul’s Comedy Central.

It was only when Turkey’s long-time foes, Greece and Cyrprus, rumbled the fiendish plot – and voted in their droves to counter it – that Ataturk’s stock plunged, to be variously replaced by the Sir Winston Churchill, Bob Dylan and Albert Einstein, the eventual winner.

For the record, Ataturk made the Top 100, but so did mobster, Lucky Luciano, who, Time said, ‘modernized the Mafia, shaping it into a smoothly-run, national crime syndicate, focused on the bottom line.’

A survey less tainted by gerrymandering is the BBC’s 10-yearly quest to find The Greatest Briton.

The 2012 edition attracted 30,000 votes and Churchill, the nation’s indefatiguable wartime leader, came top, squeezing out engineering genius, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and – presumably based on enduring sentimentality – Princess Di into a highly creditable third.

A GREAT BRIT? Many foreigners see bumbling clown, Mr. Bean, as the epitome of Britishness

A GREAT BRIT? Many foreigners see bumbling clown, Mr. Bean, as the epitome of Britishness

However, the other day another poll lit up my eye: how we Brits are viewed by others. Or, to quote Robbie Burns’ Ode to a Louse – which, to the best of my knowledge, hasn’t yet been adopted by Scots Nats as a commentary on the English  – ‘to see ourselves as others see us’.

More than 5,000 people from the US, China, India, Brazil and Germany were asked to summarise their views of us and give an example of a person they most associate with British culture, without being offered a list of options.

On the whole Britons emerged with a decidedly contradictory reputation.

Those surveyed by IPSO-Mori, on behalf of the British Council, regarded us as ‘polite’, ‘friendly’ and ‘well-educated’, but also hard-drinking, xenophobic and afflicted with appalling eating habits (note: with all their slurping over bird’s nest soup, the Chinese are fine ones to talk).

When asked to list the best and worst characteristics, one way or another, British manners were by far the most common answer, cited by 46 per cent of those polled.

A quarter said the British sense of humour was a plus factor and as many as 37 per cent thought Britons to be ‘learned’.

But among less positive responses, 27 per cent said they thought the British ‘drink too much’, 23 per cent listed ‘bad eating habits’, just ahead of ignorance of other cultures and intolerance towards people from other countries.

The British Council’s John Worne said, ‘While there’s a lot to be proud of, some stereotypes still colour the way that we’re viewed overseas: boozy, bad eaters and ignorant of other cultures all figure in our worst characteristics.

‘At our best we are rated ‘polite’, ‘educated’ and ‘friendly’, and the English language, our cities, universities, arts and culture definitely make people want to visit, study and do business with us.’

So who did foreigners most associate with British culture? Literary giants, such as Chaucer, Milton or Burns?  Maybe national icons, like Churchill, The Beatles and Charlie Chaplin? Or great shapers of military history, as exemplified by Elizabeth I, Oliver Cromwell and Lord Nelson?

Not a bit of it.

While, predictably, The Queen and Shakespeare commanded the premier positions, David Beckham came third, while Churchill and the titans of English prose were relegated to also-rans behind…Mr. Bean!

It seems Rowan Atkinson’s fictional clown – with his tweedy togs, emblematic Mini and ability to overcome idiocy – is the epitome of Britishness.

There’s no doubt Bean’s antics transcend all language barriers, since he says nothing that makes any sense.

Maybe that’s where the likes of Chaucer and Co. went wrong.

PS: I wonder what the world would make of the French?

Gary versus Ade…Auntie BBC against ITV – now that’s what I call a World Cup crunch match

SHE thought it was all over when England scuttled home, but tonight it really is and my long-suffering wife’s World Cup widowhood comes to an end.

Mrs A has borne the burden of the great soccer fest manfully – okay, womanfully – but it has only served to underpin her belief sport needs a radical makeover.

Her contention, you see, is footie would be all the better a spectacle if reduced to penalty shoot-outs, golf to putting competitions and tennis to tie-breaks, though she reluctantly admitted to being as transfixed as I was by the electrifying Jokovik-Federer Wimbledon men’s final last Sunday.

And cricket? Well, that should be banned by the International Criminal Court on the grounds that it abuses spectators’ human rights with rules beyond comprehension.

For the record, though, let me fast-back to a conversation of a couple of weeks ago, when my fair lady asked plaintively, ‘With England out, why are you still interested in the World Cup?’

‘Because I like to see how top class teams perform and England aren’t one of them,’ I replied. ‘Only a starry-eyed optimist believed Woy’s Wonders had the ghost of a chance of reaching round two, let alone the quarter finals.’

‘Then why do you keep saying the English Premier League is the world’s best?’

‘It is, but that’s because it’s crammed with talented foreigners.’

‘Why doesn’t someone ban them, then?’

‘It’s all about money – and European Union rules, which allow for the free movement of people, including footballers.’

‘Luis Suarez [now Barcelona-bound] isn’t European; he’s from Uruguay. So what’s he doing playing for Liverpool?’

SOCCER SMOOTHIE: Ex-England star Gary Lineker, skipper of the BBC's World Cup pundit panel

SOCCER SMOOTHIE: Ex-England star Gary Lineker, skipper of the BBC’s World Cup pundit panel

Good shot, even if Mrs. A hasn’t quite got a handle on why World Cup referees were toting cans of shaving foam, when some – like England’s Howard Webb – are as bald as cue ball.

‘Can we have this conversation another day,’ I pleaded, feeling a tad sick as Steve Gerrard’s parrot, after Chewey Luis showed him the exit door with a brace of super goals, before acquiring a taste for Italian beefcake. ‘Besides, there’s an interesting game going on off the pitch.’

‘What game?’

‘The one between the BBC and ITV over who’s providing the better coverage.’

‘You can’t be serious.’

‘And you can’t be John McEnroe.’

Ah, well, back to re-reruns of Downton Abbey and Homeland on the spare telly for one member of the household – clue: not yours truly.

So, returning to the theme of who won the punditry teams joust and who was their better skipper: boyish smoothie, Gary Lineker, who knows a thing or two about soccer, fronting the Beeb, or Adrian Chiles, who know a thing or three about imitating a plank, in ITV’s hot seat?

Now I realise that seems judgemental. But, since Chiles’ ‘transfer’ from hosting Auntie’s The One Show to ITV’s Daybreak and That Sunday Night Show, it’s not gone unnoticed commercial telly has pulled both progs, apparently leaving Ade a £1M a year worse off.

KNOBBLY KNEES COMP? Chiles (right) with bare-legged ITV analysts (l-to-r) Lee Dixon, Glenn Hoddle and Fabio Cannavaro

KNOBBLY KNEES COMP? Chiles (right) with bare-legged ITV analysts (l-to-r) Martin O’Neill, Glenn Hoddle and Fabio Cannavaro

However, good for him, I say, in hanging onto Channel 3’s soccer coverage, despite a dreary presention style – possibly a result of being a life-long West Brom fan – even if ITV’s World Cup didn’t exactly get off to a champagne start.

‘Welcome to Rio!’, Ade announced to viewers before the start of England’s pre-tournament warm-up game with Ecuador…the only flaw being the backdrop wasn’t Copacabana, but a strand of sand 4,000 miles north in Miami. But let’s pin that faux pas on jet lag.

Alas, similar leeway can’t be extended to pundit, Glenn Hoddle, in ITV’s pre-match pontification on Germany’s game ‘with Al Jezeera’.

You could practically see the ex-England manager’s tanned face blanch, as the producer was presumably shrieking into his earpiece, ‘It’s bloody Algeria – Al Jezeera’s an Arab TV news channel!’

Neither did ITV cover itself in glory by having Chiles and his World Cup brains trust sitting at a trestle table above a beach – this time it really was Rio – all clad in shorts, as if they were auditioning for a dads’ knobbly-knees contest at a Butlins’ holiday camp.

To add injury to insult, they then spent a small eternity discussing the pronounciation of Columbian striker, James Rodriguez’s name.

‘It’s Ya-mes,’said Chiles.

‘No it isn’t,’ insisted a bullish Ian Wright. ‘It’a Hah-mez.

The dispute was finally arbitrated by match commentator, Clyde Tyldesley, who resorted to the anglocised ‘James’, which reflected the player’s parents’ preference, since they’d named him after Ian Fleming’s 007.

HAND IT TO HANSEN: The veteran Beeb pundit is still the shining star of the sofa

HAND IT TO HANSEN: The veteran Beeb pundit is still the shining star of the sofa

Over at the BBC, where much emphasis was placed on sartorial elegance – loved Clarence Seedorf’s shirts, by the way – the game plan didn’t always follow Match of the Day’s seemless format, either.

A hiccup, before a ball was kicked, almost sidelined Robbie Savage, who turned up at Heathrow for the Brazil flight with his wife’s passport.

Then there was L-driver analyst, Phil Neville, droning monotonously like a superannuated country parson. Even by his own admission, he was an antidote to insomnia, which was about as funny as Phil got (suggestion to the former Man United and Everton star: Give Radio 4’s Shipping Forecast a go).

Meanwhile, quipster Mark Lawrenson went clearly OTT with a sexist remark that Swiss striker, Josip Drmic, ‘should have been wearing a skirt’ after a glaring miss against Argentina.

It produced 172 complaints and a yellow card from his Broadcasting House referees.

Further brickbats, too, were aimed at the Beeb for their employment of barely comprehensible, foreign soccer luminaries.

The taciturn Thierry Henry’s verdict on most games was measured on the Gallic Shrug Scale – the higher the shoulder blades, the worse it was – while Fabio Cannavaro was so linguistically challenged, all he could sprout sounded pure gobblygook.

This was understandable since the former Italian international only learned English two years ago…in Dubai. But you have to question who picked him to play for the BBC.

Inevitably, it fell to veteran Alan Hansen, marking his swansong from telly punditry, to act as bulwark of Auntie’s defence with tellingly concise, if the occasional tetchy observation that has been his trademark.

So which channel won the World Cup battle of the sofas? On cock-ups, I’d say it was a draw.

Kids: Why nobody should be spared the agony and ecstasy of having them

IT was my birthday last week – no, don’t ask, because long ago I decided 39 was the perfect age, so stuck with it – and the following is an excerpt from a conversation I had with my eight-year-old grandson in London via the miracle of Skype.

Grandson (GS): ‘How old are you now, Grandpa Hugh?’

Me, teasingly: ‘How old do you think I am?’

GS: ‘Will you take me for a McDonald’s next time you’re here?’

Me: ‘Of course. I usually do when I’m visiting.’

GS: ‘Then you’re 22.’

Me, mildly bewildered, though flattered: ‘Twenty-two! Then how old is Mummy?’

GS: ‘Oh, at least 36.’

Me: ‘Hang on a mo’…if I’m Mummy’s daddy, how can she be older than me?’

GS: ‘Because she won’t take me to McDonald’s.’

Then there’s the Mallorcan grandson, aged six, who – apropos nothing in particular – demanded of his parents, ‘If you die, who’s going to feed me?’

This fixation with sustenance was also echoed by another London grandson, the four-year-old, who recently renamed himself Nemo and announced, ‘I’m never going to get married – I’m just going to get a cook.’

So, irrespective of how my grandkids are dispersed around the planet – three in London, including one who landed in November; another three in Luxemburg, the latest of whom hatched in October; and one here in Mallorca – all seem to be developing a survival instinct, based on naked self-interested, verging on misogyny in Nemo’s case.

Maybe that’s an inherent trait in us all and no bad thing, you might say, especially in today’s world of merciless cut and thrust.

It’s just that kids haven’t learned the niceties of make their feelings known without occasionally sounding artless and overstepping the fine, demarcation line between being endearingly cute and lippy, smart alecs.

ROLE REVERSAL: In the hit BBC sitcom, Outnumbered, the brats get respect, the parents just abuse

ROLE REVERSAL: In the hit BBC sitcom, Outnumbered, the brats kids get respect, the parents just abuse

For instance, I’m an avid watcher of the BBC1 sitcom, Outnumbered, in which two cringing schoolteachers are constantly ‘dissed’ by their three gobby offspring.

Though it’s amusing, I truly loathe the show’s characters, but still remain transfixed by the rampant anarchy of a household run by – and for the sole benefit of – obnoxious brats, where it’s impossible to determine who’s a parent and which is a kid.

In an unsubtle display of role reversal; the children get respect, the parents merely abuse.

Naturally, now, from the lofty vantage point of grandparenthood, it’s easy to identify our children’s parental fault-lines, while claiming in our day – tut, tut – we’d never countenance impertinence.

But we did, though it reflected the pre-gizmo times when the TV remote control was the ‘in’ thingummy, phones had dials and people called comptometer operators beavered away, generating rates bills in council offices.

Since we were post-WW2 Baby Boomers, we applied more liberalism to parenthood than our sterner mums and dads. No smacking – well, only when you were riled beyond reason – but gentle chiding and, in my case, verbal fisticuffs in which I always had the last punchline.

Once, in a hissy fit, my then sarky teenage daughter said to me, ‘I never asked to be born’ to which I retorted, ‘Yeah, and I’d have preferred a hamster.’

As parental put-downs go, it wasn’t bad, she later admitted. But the one that stuck in her mind was the note I once left on her pillow, saying: ‘Seeking refuge from the raging storm,  a troupe of wandering flamenco minstrels chanced upon your room today and, for reasons of personal safety, decided it was wiser to return to Spain.’

Apparently, though, my speciality in imposing order was a flaring of the nostrils, which petrified my children, plus hiding the remote control under the cat, while the telly was tuned to The Incredible Hulk. It figuratively froze the blood of my oldest son, then aged about five, who’d scurry off to bed and bury himself under the quilt.

But we all adapt differently to parenthood, which, short of going to war, is one of life’s greatest challenges. And, while I understand the self-indulgence of couples who opt to remain childless – and feel sorrow for those who dearly want kids, but can’t have them – nonetheless I think parenthood should be compulsory.

GRAND BEING GRANS: But as Baby Boomer parents was too much liberalism applied to child-rearing?

GRAND BEING GRANS: But as Baby Boomer parents was too much liberalism applied to child-rearing?

Because there’s no feeling like quite it…a meld of agony and ecstasy, when – as I told the son who only became a father in November – ‘for the first time in your life, someone’s come along who’s more important to you than you are.’

It’s no good trying to explain the emotional roller-coaster ride of being a mum or dad until you’ve been there. And, despite humungous piles of bumph written on the subject, no manual – not even the latest guide, H is for Hummus: A Modern Parent’s ABC – will help.

However, the book is an interesting intro to trendy phraseology: ‘A’ might still stand for Apple, but ‘B’ is for ‘Babycinno’ (a mini-cup of choc-sprinkled frothy milk given away free at Starbucks); ‘I’ is for ‘iPaddy’ (and related to ‘M’ for ‘Meltdown’), which occurs when an iPad is repossessed from a snarling tot; and ‘W’ means ‘Wine-time’, the moment after you’ve put the kids down and reach for liquid tranquiliser, having survived another day of their assault.

But probably the most important issue overlooked by most parents is the burgeoning cost of child rearing racked up over a 21-year stretch, which insurer LV’s Cradle to College report last week estimated to be £225,000/€270,000.

Excluding private education, this covers everything…from childcare, clothes, food and school necessities to spending money, toys, holidays, travel and furniture.

Which is why, each year on their birthdays, I pop a bill – headlined: ‘Services to Upbringing & General Maintenance’ – inside my kids’ cards. Calculated to the dates each finished uni, it averages at about £180,000/€216,000, plus accrued interest at a not unreasonable 3% per annum.

Have I received a penny back? Not a chance.

In my sons’ cases, the accounts are returned, unpaid, with Post It notes attached, saying, ‘No longer at this address.’

Meanwhile, my daughter continues to insist she never asked to be born and I continue to riposte I really wanted a hamster. They’re so much cuddlier and don’t answer back.

Hollywood shows the way in The Charge of the Crinkly Brigade

DON’T you just love movie award ceremonies! I do, especially when the camera pans to nominees who didn’t get the gong and shows them beaming like demented hyenas, cheering on recipients who’ve just stolen their glory, yet still displaying a veneer of sincerity.

That’s real acting. And I reckon an Oscar for Best Faked Appreciation should be struck in their honour, doled out before the also-rans skulk home, rip off their designer threads in teary rage, and pulverise every stick of furniture in the house.

As legendary producer, Sam Goldwyn, who put the ‘G’ into MGM and was famed for his malapropisms, observed, ‘Strip away the phoney tinsel from Hollywood and you’ll find the real tinsel underneath.’

However, this isn’t simply about Oscars, Emmys or BAFTAs et al; it’s just that the motion picture industry nicely illustrates a phenomenon that’s taken root in all sorts of unimaginable place: The Charge of the Crinkly Brigade.

Once upon a time in Tinseltown the first sag of a boob or crows’ feet blossoming into eagle talons meant an emergency nip-‘n’-tuck.

But, as last week’s Golden Globes ceremony amply demonstrated, a clutch of those voted Most Promising Newcomer (MPN) were none other than veterans, whom many in the audience long ago assumed had gone to the great studio in the sky.

Septuagenarian John Voigt (75) scooped a performance ‘orb’; so did Michael Douglas and Jacqueline Bisset, at 69, both well beyond free bus-pass qualifications.

Technically MPNs are now defunct. But Bisset, still remarkably nubile for her vintage, recalled in a rambling acceptance speech smacking of one bottle of Dom Perignon too many, she’d first been nominated 47 years earlier and finally stuck lucky.

BEST NEWCOMER: Jacqueline Bisset gets the Globe - 47 years after first being nominated

BEST NEWCOMER: Jacqueline Bisset gets the Globe – 47 years after first being nominated

As someone who now takes all night to do what he did all night, it’s heartening to know that in the fabled Land of Make Believe, of all places, age isn’t an impediment to progress, even if it means creaky, big-screen vets have had to scale down to the telly to pick up a pay cheque.

This got me thinking that there’s a silver lining to the UK government’s decision to raise the retirement age to 67 – a financial imperative, given the ageing population, insists UK Finance Minister, young Georgie Osborne (by the by, have you noticed how he’s changed his hairstyle to appear a tad more boyish) – a strategy other EU nations are mulling over.

Then I read of how senior citizens in Sweden, renowned for its cradle-to-the-grave welfare and no compulsory retirement age, are signing up in droves to an employment agency called Veteran Pool.

Specialising in finding work for those ordinarily thought well over their use-by date, it’s fronted by 71-year-old, ex-James Bond golden girl, Britt Ekland.

‘They are so many older people who have much more to give and they don’t want to stop working,’ explains Anna Brue, deputy chief of Veteran Pool, which now has 6,000 wrinklies on its books and 35 offices.

‘The life experience they have to offer is invaluable.’

AGE NO BARRIER: Ex-Bond Girl, Britt Ekland is the 'face' of Sweden's silver servers

AGE NO BARRIER: Ex-Bond Girl, Britt Ekland is the ‘face’ of Sweden’s silver servers

It reminded me of how an acquaintance of mine, one of the most curmudgeonly men you could possible not wish to meet – his long-suffering missus admits he’s a grumpy so-and-so (or words to that effect) even on a good day – has been rejuvenated, aged 75, by a job as a greeter at a supermarket.

‘The customers love him and call him Uncle Max,’ she tells me. ‘They’d much rather deal with him than the snotty kids at the check-outs.’

Of course, often it’s a matter of needs must that some retirees have to carry on working, scraping to find any job they can.

However, there are those who disagree that ‘work’ is a dirty word and dislike the idea of being forcibly tossed on the scrapheap of the great unwanted and have a burning desire to soldier on, in the firm belief they have skills to offer.

More often than not they have, especially after a lifetime in the line of duty to the office or factory floor.

And they’ve a thing or two to teach the young, because – likely or not – they are steeped in a work ethic, however humble; they turn up on time, put in a shift, don’t take ‘sickies’ and deliver the quality of experience no amount of frame diplomas can match.

The oldsters might not be able to navigate their way round an iPhone, like a bemused friend still cursing the day his grandkids gave him such a gizmo for his 65th birthday.

But, when it comes to fronting people, silver servers can outperform dozy dolly birds or surly teens, because they are less inhibited by how they look and their lack of educational ‘ologies’ don’t matter.

B&Q was the first British company to recognise this and, in the late 1980s, began to recruit people nobody else would hire: women returning after a career break, plus those over 50, and today more than a fifth of its 38,000 staff are over middling years.

‘There are clear business benefits to employing a workforce that is age diverse and reflects our customer profile, ’explained the DIY chain’s spokesman. ‘We’ve also found older workers have a great rapport with the customers, as well as a conscientious attitude and real enthusiasm for the job.’

Naturally, there are those who claim oldsters enjoying second careers in their third age are cheapo staff stealing opportunities from the young.

However, judging by the political contretemps over importing labour for jobs many of our feckless, unemployed youth feel are below their  dignity, where’s the crime in gran or granddad advising supermarket punters or watering flower pots at a garden centre?

Once, there was a time when the old were revered for their wisdom gained in the University of Hard Knocks and the young used their counsel to help overcome the challenges of life.

Somehow, that attitude diminished and the elderly became invisible, underscored by Oscar Wilde’s withering dismissal of juvenile superiority, when he remarked, ‘The old believe everything; the middle-aged suspect everything; the young know everything.’

So, hurray for Hollywood, where ageing stars don’t fade away – they just learn new tricks.