AT least he warned them. As the hapless minister and her aide entered Malcolm Tucker’s office in an episode of The Thick of It, the spin doctor tried on a "more in sorrow than in anger" look. Like a pussy bow blouse and drop earrings it did not suit him, but he carried on.
“I just wanted to say to you by way of introductory remarks that I’m extremely miffed about today’s events and in my quest to try to make you understand the level of my unhappiness I’m likely to use an awful lot of what we would call ‘violent sexual imagery’,” said the Scotsman. “I just wanted to check that neither of you would be terribly offended by that.”
What followed cannot be repeated for fear of the asterisk key exploding. Enough to say, the ladies took offence. But what am I saying, “ladies”? How sexist, how offensive. Should I tender my resignation now or wait till the end of this column?
Ah, the giving and taking of offence. Like litter and Clare Balding, there is a lot of it about. William Sitwell, editor of Waitrose magazine, resigned this week after joking about veganism. Asked by a freelance, Selene Nelson, if he wanted a piece on meat-free eating, he suggested instead “a series on killing vegans, one by one”.
Sure, it was a lame line. Certainly, Mr Sitwell, you should not give up the day job (oh wait, you already have – sorry!). But did Ms Nelson really have to take to social media to publicise her outrage?
Elsewhere, broadcasting regulator Ofcom gave the BBC a ticking off for its use of aggressive stereotypes in portraying Scots. Among the characters in the dock was our Malcolm (see above).
In the US, The Simpsons has been accused of retiring Apu, the Hindu owner of the Kwik-E-Mart. His crime: being a racist stereotype, allegedly. No matter that Apu, with his PhD, his happy family, and his Stakhanovite attitude to work is a prince among men in Springfield, he is causing offence to some and therefore he must go –  reportedly. The producers are saying little, perhaps hoping it will all go away. Fat chance (oops, apologies to the big-boned!).
In the old days it was easy. Love Thy Neighbour, Bernard Manning, Benny Hill. No-one ever agonised over their cultural significance or made a free speech argument in their defence. They were so obviously racist, sexist, and crap (sorry, mind my language!). Now it is all so complicated.
Take Mr Sitwell. According to Ms Nelson, the row is not about Mr Sitwell or why he resigned.  "It's about why it's accepted or considered funny to speak to vegans with hostility and anger." So to be clear: to teach someone not to dole out hostility and anger you send a container-load of the stuff in their direction.
Still, Mr Sitwell, the heir to a baronetcy, hardly needs my protection. He has other, infinitely higher profile defenders in London’s journalistic circles. Also speaking up for him is one Jacob Rees-Mogg, an old mucker of Mr Sitwell’s from Eton. Does Mr Sitwell’s obvious privilege make him less worthy of defending?
As for Apu, he is hardly the first stereotype on The Simpsons. Every character is a caricature, it’s how cartoons work. Scots do not get up in arms about Groundskeeper Willie, the preternaturally aggressive, frequently incomprehensible Scots janitor at Springfield Elementary. Willie has become a hero in Scotland, particularly after he ripped off his shirt to reveal the words “Aye or die” on his chest. “That’s not a tattoo, it’s a birthmark!”
Malcolm Tucker, similarly, was a cult figure among real spin doctors at Westminster, with this one and that insisting the character was based on them. 
In short, one person’s stereotype is another’s fond characterisation. As long as there is no malice intended free speech should win out. People have a right to be offended; they also have a right, within the law, to cause offence. There is a place at the table for everyone in this great big loving family we call humanity. Just watch what you serve for dinner, though.


WELL done Rahul Mandal, winner of The Great British Bake Off 2018.
What made the research scientist’s achievement even more impressive was he had never made a cake before moving from India to Rotherham seven years ago to do a PhD. He has taught himself through the appliance of science.
“Baking is a science,” he told the Today programme. “It’s physics, chemistry, everything. Quite a lot of guys and boys at school, they think they can’t bake. Anybody can do it.”
How typically male to go about a challenge so methodically. It’s like losing weight. As studies have shown, men drop the pounds faster than women. This is largely, I reckon, because they strip feelings out of the task. They don’t see themselves as “eating their emotions”, as pop psych has it, but merely taking in too many calories.
Women are not bitter, though. We are all for more men taking up Rahul’s challenge to bake. If they can do it without using every last dish and utensil in the kitchen, so much the better.


POLITICS is such a warm world. Those who leave it can always count on a toasty welcome on their return. 
Take former PM David Cameron. A “pal” told The Sun: “David is dedicated to public service, and has often said he wouldn’t rule out a public role one day, domestically or internationally. He is only 52, and still a young man.”
No sooner had the hand of reconciliation been extended than Labour MP Yvette Cooper put it between two slices of bread, smeared mayo on it, and bit hard. 
“What, because it worked out so well last time?” she asked. “Man, you ripped up our closest international partnership. By accident. That makes you even worse than Boris Johnson.”
Ouch. Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee did something similar to George Osborne after the ex-Chancellor said he could have done a better job of  heading off a referendum.
It is too soon for a comeback, lads. But if you insist on a date for your empty diaries, pencil in the twelfth of never.


GIVEN the relentless pressures on the NHS it is always a smart move to look at where the money goes and see if it could be used to better effect elsewhere.
Yes, I’m talking weans. Of course the little darlings should have their every health need met. But is it really too much to ask that they give a little back now and then? Not stuffing bracelets and earrings up their noses would be a start.
A study this week showed the NHS was spending £3 million removing foreign objects from ears and noses. 
The report, titled Will Children Ever Learn? (bit judgmental), estimated that youngsters were responsible for the vast majority of cases requiring extraction, with jewellery the most common item stuffed in places where trinkets should not go.
At least weans have youth and innocence as excuses. Not so the adults who made up 5-10% of extractions, though I understand most of those cases involved Aberdonians, wallets, and the buying of rounds.