Monday, 9 March 2009


Our government doesn't often receive complimentary coverage in the British press, so credit where it's due to home secretary Jacqui Smith. She has ordered an new review to look at the "sexualisation" of young girls through clothes, videos and music lyrics, and how this links to sexual abuse. The basic concerns are that much music is encouraging a more sexual culture and that, for example, 11-year-olds are buying Playboy t-shirts, making them appear sexually available at a younger age.

Far from attempting a Daily Express-style rant on my own blog, I would just like to point out that we have a big problem in this country if 11-year-old girls are wearing Playboy-branded merchandise and it's readily available on the high-street. In essence it's a bit of fun, but sex and the consequences of it are real. Parents need to ensure they bring children up in an environment where they understand the implications of sleeping with somebody else, schools need to ensure the parents ensure this - and the government needs to ensure the schools ensure the parents ensure this. Better sex education might be the answer, but Jacqui Smith is right to suggest that a whole culture change is needed if we are going to get anywhere.

The case of 13-year-old Alfie Patten becoming a father was splashed all across the papers last month as a demonstration of teenage pregnancy issues and the lack of understanding youngsters have about relationships, children, sex and marriage. But historically, young people often got married just after becoming a teenager - especially in Biblical times - and this was just the culturally correct way of doing things then. Perhaps we're on course to go back to this, but I hope not. I'm often concerned at how many people my age (20) get married, thinking that's too young, but surely marriage at 13/14 is just ridiculous. Therefore why bother getting children if you don't want to bring them up inside wedlock? It's thinking about your best interests - not theirs.

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The Apprentice is back this week! It's Comic Relief Does The Apprentice this Thursday on BBC1 at 21:00 and I can't wait. The line up is fantastic - from Alan Carr and Ruby Wax to Gok Wan and Jonathan Ross (not forgetting Jack Dee, Patsy Palmer, Carol Vorderman and Fiona Phillips) and they will be competing in a battle to create a product for Comic Relief. It should make for superb television and provide a good curtain-raiser for the full new series of The Apprentice, which starts in just two weeks.

Sir Alan Sugar has had phenomenal success with the series already, and it's certainly my favourite television programme as it makes business and finance entertaining in a way that only Dragon's Den has emulated. According to the show's website, contestants in the new series should make for interesting viewing. Someone's role model is Hugh Hefner, another candidate comes from 'a long line of aristocrats', there's a child chess prodigy and someone who left school to play football. Interesting...

I like to think I know a good programme when I see one, and the BBC are certainly doing a good job of making business and finance interesting at the moment, following their City season which included Million Dollar Traders and The City Uncovered with Evan Davis. This is proper public service broadcasting and makes the licence fee seem far more reasonable to pay!

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In the run-up to the Hillsborough disaster's 20th anniversary next month, this seems a good time to chat about terracing at football grounds. A campaign called Stand Up Sit Down has been running for a few years now, aiming to encourage football clubs to have a standing area as well as part of the ground where fans can sit down. I have visited 34 grounds out of 92 in the Football League, and at only at six of them, or 18%, I have been able to stand up (Brentford, Chesterfield, Peterborough United, Bristol Rovers, Colchester United and Dagenham & Redbridge).

Unsurprisingly, these were six of my favourite grounds in the country as they all have so much character. The other thing these share in common is that they have been used by sides mostly confined to League Two during their recent history, showing perhaps that they have always had a terrace and have been unable to finance a redevelopment to an all-seater stadium like the Allianz Arena in Munich [right], with the exception being Colchester. The atmosphere at the last Southend United game I went to at Peterborough was so much better because of the terracing, as people had more space and could move around to easily stand with who they wanted to. I'm going to Hereford United this weekend, which is also terraced, and am expecting more of the same...

So my plea to football clubs is that although all-seater stadiums might be seen as a safer idea, there are many fans who just love to stand up during games as that's their way of watching football. It creates a better atmosphere, is much more fun and is completely safe from my experiences. Fair enough, some fans will just want to sit down all game, and that might be because they aren't able to stand or would simply prefer not to, but football and entertainment just feels far more active standing up. I would call on more football clubs to recognise this, please!