BEFORE LAST year's general election David Blunkett, then education secretary, had the great idea that children's reading skills could be improved if parents read a story to them every night. Current education secretary Estelle Morris repeated the policy earlier this year.
A new report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, however, shows that New Labour's obsession with flexible working has left many parents with no time even to see their children, let alone read to them. It discovered that 32 percent of mothers who work long or flexible hours found that 'work limited the time they could spend reading, playing and helping their children with homework'.
The figure for fathers working such hours was 46 percent. According to the report, 'In the majority of two-parent families one or both parents frequently worked atypical hours.' Some 38 percent of mothers and 54 percent of fathers worked at least one Saturday a month.
Nearly a third of fathers worked over the 48 hours limit specified by the Working Time Directive. So much for being able to have 'quality time' with our children.
Palace fit for queen?
THE RIGHT wing press has blathered on about arms inspectors' lack of access to Saddam Hussein's presidential palaces as a key reason for war. 'What is he hiding?' they ask. And, 'How obscene that he has these vast private areas while people are starving.' The palaces are indeed vast.
The Abu Rakash presidential site is 24 square kilometres. That's getting on for the size of, for example, the queen's Sandringham (80 square kilometres) or Balmoral (200 square kilometres).
RON Shamburger became the 26th person this year to be executed in George W Bush's old stomping ground of Texas last week. He was strapped to bed and given a lethal injection in the terror state where Bush used to be governor.
His execution was the third in just nine days, and the second in 24 hours. Of the 61 people who have been lined up for execution in the US this year some 35 of them are in Texas. Bush enthusiastically implemented the death penalty when he was Texas's governor.
Test till you drop
THE PRESSURE of school tests is forcing children stricken with serious infections into school to sit exams. A dozen children were off sick from Boringdon Primary, Plymouth, hit by a viral infection during test week. Yet they were still taken into school.
Two children with chickenpox at a south London primary took tests in isolation earlier this year. Despite the A-level fiasco the government remains committed to testing children to destruction.
The authority responsible for A-level standards, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, admits that every year teachers warn of the pressure that tests put on children.
TONY Blair tried to look presidential as he gave an interview to the BBC from Blackpool on Sunday. He sat in the Imperial Hotel with a large window behind him. George Galloway MP saw an opportunity to upstage Blair.
Galloway got an anti-war bus parked outside the window. Blair turned round during the interview to see anti-war slogans.
An ugly turn?
CHRISTOPHER Hitchens, one-time left winger and now warmonger over Iraq, has decided to stop writing for the Nation, a liberal magazine in the US. Hypocritchens has been a columnist on the Nation for almost 20 years. In his final column last week he claimed that he could no longer work for a magazine which believes that hard right US attorney general John Ashcroft 'is a greater menace than Osama Bin Laden'.
Fellow Nation contributor Alexander Cockburn had a different explanation: 'Hitch is no longer the beautiful slender young man of the left. Now he's just another middle aged porker of the right.'
THE impossible has happened. Richard Desmond's refugee bashing Daily Express has sunk to new lows. All the papers carried the unremarkable story last week that the new edition of the Oxford English Dictionary includes some new phrases from the last decade. The Express's headline read 'Now Asylum Seekers Invade Our Dictionary'.
It was placed above the story about how the phrase asylum seeker is now included in the dictionary. It seems porn baron Desmond's rag thinks asylum seekers should not only be driven out of Britain, but banned from the English language as well.
Blair! Beware the ides of march
SUCCESS FOR the anti-war movement is written in the stars. In a very welcome piece, the Mirror's horoscope expert Jonathan Cainer wrote, 'Astrologers must avoid having opinions. Then again life is short and sometimes you just have to trust your strongest, most passionate feelings. Tomorrow afternoon there's a big demonstration in London. It is a protest against the British and US plan to attack Iraq without UN backing. I hope to see you there!' Such foresight and powers of prediction. There was indeed a big demonstration the following day.
Things they say
'CAPITAL markets are the beating heart of the capitalist system and they are not functioning at the moment.'
Michael Hartnett, director at Merrill Lynch investment bank
'THIS IS perhaps the worst period of gloom I've seen in my 42 years on Wall Street.'
Alan Ackerman, chief market strategist at Fahnestock & Co
'UNFORTUNATELY, the banks will have to be nationalised.'
Masaaki Kanno, head of economic policy research at JP Morgan Chase, on the economic crisis in Japan
'WE want everyone to be able to afford things. There are candles for $5.'
Linda Lay, wife of disgraced Enron boss Kenneth Lay, while selling off their furniture and 14 homes at her store called Jus' Stuff
'THERE'S no doubt his hatred is directed mainly at us. After all, this is the guy who tried to kill my dad.'
George W Bush, speaking about Saddam Hussein, and also misunderstanding the Gulf War
'IN SOME cases pedal boats are fine and, anyway, there weren't any complaints.'
Right wing Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi on the use of pedal boats to pick up the bodies of 36 refugees who drowned off Sicily on 15 September
'NOBODY invites me out any more.'
Peter Mandelson complaining about his loss of social appeal since leaving the cabinet
'THE MAJORITY of PFI buildings are poorly designed and will fail to meet the changing demands of this and future generations.'
Sir Stuart Lipton, chair of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, appointed by Blair