The Habit of Reading

Where can women find real men? In a book, of course…

Look at her in the Tube opposite. No, you fool. Look at what she’s reading.

You’ve made it through to the middle of the Telegraph and, if you are anything like me, you have scaled your personal intellectual Everest for the day. But look at the girl over there, and that damn thick square book on her lap. She must be on page 181, and when she turns the page she’s going to be on 183, then 185, 187. It’s unbelievable. Where does she get the hunger, the concentration?

Look at women in airport lounges, and look at their men. The men loll and scratch. The women are transfixed, with the glassy expression of souls fled to a happier world. Men mooch off to have a drink or flip through the DVDs. Women read, and read, and read; and I do not believe we have sufficiently considered this growing difference between the sexes.

It’s not just slush, my friends; it’s not just stuff with embossed pink covers. Women are now outreading men in virtually every category. The other day, I saw a girl cantering through Money, by Martin Amis – supposedly the most blokeish novel of the Eighties. Women read more classics than men.

They read more action stuff. Wilbur Smith is now more read by women than men, even though his plots are about crag-jawed South Africans who spend their time shooting hippos, foiling hijacks, crashing Israeli fighter planes and wresting golf-ball sized diamonds from the sunbaked veld.

I was stunned the other day to discover that Flashman is just as popular with women as with men. Yes, Flashman, the outrageous Victorian bounder who kicks off the first novel in the series by raping his father’s girlfriend. What is going on? Why do women read so much more than men, and what drug are they finding between the covers?

Part of the answer, of course, is simply that girls read more than boys and, as every parent knows, the difference in literary appetite can be frightening.

A survey six months ago for the National Literacy Trust found girls far more likely to say that they read every day and that they enjoyed reading “very much”, whereas 20 per cent of boys said they would be quite happy never to open a book again.

You might say that this gender difference has long been in operation, ever since the bookish heroines of Jane Austen. But you could also see this inter-gender “reading gap” as part of a more worrying trend. It is a colossal and unremarked social change that this year far more women than men enrolled at university, and the gap is growing every year.

That is a stunning turnaround, when you consider that it was only 20 years ago that the male-to-female ratio was about four to one. Women are advancing to the front of the service-based economy, not just literate but emotionally literate. It is a fantastic change, wonderful, irresistible.

The question is whether this girl-friendly educational system is starting to be skewed against natural male aptitudes – and there are signs that it is.

Dr Tony Sewell, an educationalist attached to Imperial College, London, says the whole process of instruction has become “feminised”.

There is too much coursework, he says, and not enough of the adrenaline-pumping terror of the exam. Boys need competition, he says, or they slump back into apathy and thuggishness.

They need facts and dates, not empathy. Dr Sewell is dead right. Here is the terrible truth about us boys. We may be devoted to our subjects. We may be interested in learning for its own sake. But what really actuates us, what makes us flog our way through the books on the syllabus, is the simultaneous hope of coming top and the fear of coming last.

I am afraid we want to thrash the other guy, in a way that girls, being less aggressive, do not. If you take away those twin incentives, hope and fear – and every effort is made to bleach them out of the system – then boys can become apathetic and, as Dr Sewell points out, unsure of the point of their studies.

Our schools are kinder and gentler, and of a piece with our generally nicer society. If children are naughty, they cannot be asked to pick up crisp packets unless they are issued with a special grabber, to spare their little backs. They certainly may not be hit, and indeed there are very few male primary teachers, since we are all in the grip of a paedophile hysteria.

Boys leave these well-padded incubator schools and go out into a new type of economy, cossetted, protected, regulated, in which the old male advantages – being a risk-taking braggart – are at a discount. It is a world in some ways perfect for women; and yet women, of course, are increasingly aware that something is missing.

That is why the publishing industry (dominated by loving, anxious mums) has produced this Dangerous Book for Boys. The publishing mums hope that their little darlings will stop playing GameBoy and picking their noses and do the kind of thing their grandfathers might have done, like skinning a rabbit, darling. I fear that hope is forlorn.

And as for the girl on the Tube, with her nose buried in her novel, she is on the same quest. The reason women devour so much fiction is that it is the only place where they can find a certain idea of masculinity. It is a spirit that has been regulated out of the workplace and banished from the classroom.

Women turn to fiction, I would guess, because it is the last reservation for men who are neither violent thugs nor politically correct weeds, where a girl can still get her bodice ripped without the bodice ripper being locked up.

As for boys, they may never even acquire the habit of reading.

It is too much to call it a crisis, but over the next 10 years we need to steer education back towards some of the things that have been disdained: success, failure, glory, disgrace, triumph, disaster – all the things, in short, that spur the male ego to feats of competitive exertion, the kind of thing that women are obliged to look for, these days, in books.

91 thoughts on “The Habit of Reading”

  1. Boris, Boris, Boris…

    This is the biggest load of twaddle you’ve ever written. Really.

    No-one, but NO-ONE, needs to be terrorised into learning. Exams teach nothing other than the ability to pass exams. And if you think that’s a primary life skill for the human race, then you need to rethink fast, just in case your party ever comes to power.

    I went to public school. I was ‘taught’ the cut and thrust of healthy competition and cramming for exams. It was rubbish. Anything I’ve learnt, I either learnt before that, at primary school, or picked up afterwards, when I really started figuring things out for myself.

  2. Actually, it wasn’t the biggest load of twaddle you’ve ever written. When it comes to twaddle composition you are a true competitor. Your twaddle puts us amateurs to shame.

    Now, am I missing your meaning here, or are you suggesting that because my wife reads more Anne Bronte than I do, that it is the fault of Tony Blair, and we should have an election immediately. Sensible by your standards, I suppose.

  3. I personally needed a kick up the backside in order to study. Without exams I probably wouldn’t have got anywhere.

  4. In certain public places: the tube, airport lounges and halls, business hotels, etc women seem to be less engaged in the people around them than men. Women often bury themselves in books and magazines in order to do this. Boris might have heard of the kind of man (predatory flirts, often with a wife at home) that such women are seeking to avoid even the gaze of?

  5. I’m also a bit worried by the concept of the Daily telegraph being described as an ‘intellectual Everest’. Beg pardon?

  6. I think there is a recent renaissance in reading, be it women or men. However, the majority or people are buying books from Tescos not Waterstones these days, and Tescos current selection is biased towards women.

  7. I am afraid we want to thrash the other guy, in a way that girls, being less aggressive, do not.

    I never gave a damn, myself, about ‘thrashing the other guy’. And it was nerds like me who were always top of the form. The nerds weren’t competitive: they were usually simply interested in whatever they were studying. Being uncompetitive, furthermore, the nerds were always willing to altruistically help out their fellows with difficult bits of mathematics, physics, chemistry, and so on.

    It was the competitive, sporty chaps who were at the bottom of the form, because competitive, sporty chaps were forever being, well, competitive and sporty, to the general detriment of the remainder of their studies. They never helped anyone else out with any school work, if only because they couldn’t do it themselves. Indeed, the accompanying loss of self-esteem, rather than some genetic predisposition, might well have been part of the reason why they became aggressive and competitive. They couldn’t do maths, but by heck could they knock a ball for six.

  8. Boris, I respect you, but your so-called reason women read is a big load of old hairy ones. I read because it’s fun and because reading is, at the time, more interesting than the place I’m currently waiting, such as an airport lounge or the doctor’s surgery. Believe it or not, some of the books I read have NO male main characters, and my husband suits me fine, so I’m not reading for imaginary men to replace him.

    Sometimes women do things for reasons which are–and this will shock you–entirely unrelated to men. Bruising as that might be, it’s true. I also don’t watch TV because of men, dance because of men, write because of men, go on walks because of men, etc. etc.

  9. What Idlex said. I was one of the nerds at my school too. We wrote poetry and acted in school plays and other soppy stuff like that, and we generally came in the top part of the class listing, but the subjects we enjoyed and did well in were enjoyed because we enjoyed them, NOT because we wanted to come top.

  10. I fear that the simple reason that young males don’t read is that contemporary yoof culture considers reading or any other intellectual-ish pursuit as being seriously uncool.
    They are too busy watching so-called sport on TV, something that is a very effective opiate for the lower orders.

  11. Vicus – I take your point. Or rather, I read it because it’s the last paper available and I’m desperate for something to read. Unlike most Telegraph-reading men, who were apparently brought up slavering for competition and read it to prove they’re still top of the class.

  12. the simple reason that young males don’t read is that contemporary yoof culture considers reading or any other intellectual-ish pursuit as being seriously uncool. (Chris Morriss)

    Does that really need ‘yoof’ in it? It would seem to be just as accurate if adjusted to read:

    “the simple reason that males don’t read is that contemporary culture considers reading or any other intellectual-ish pursuit as being seriously uncool.”

    I never once saw my late father read a book his entire life – although he would occasionally read newspapers and news magazines. My mother, by contrast, was forever reading.

  13. I love curling up with a book to read and my Morpurgo Private Peaceful (child’s?!) one at the moment is gripping.

    Less Xboxes and more reading would do us all a power of good and cost a lot less too!

  14. Boris

    Two points:

    Wilbur Smith wrote about the things you mentioned at about the same time as both you and I would have been reading his stuff. His more recent output is too soft for me and much more for the female reader.

    Simply taking exams is not the important driver, it is teachers, parents and others making the exam culture competetive that benefits boys.

  15. A hot topic of conversation in our office (between people who have young boys in primary school) is the lack of male primary school teachers and a general lack of understanding towards young boys in primary schools. A couple of interesting points came up today:

    1) One guy I work with related government fiddling around with schools to what used to happen with interest rates. He was arguing there should be an independant body like the Bank of England to take over.

    2) He also criticised the threats (and sometimes use of) ASBO’s for ‘boy’s being boy’s’, i.e. playing knock-a-door-ginger and that kind of mischevous stuff we all used to do when we were kids. He referred to this as ‘criminalising boyhood’.

    Then you have Boris’s comments on higher education (i.e. the government should make sure it is properley funded then get out and let students and academics do the rest). In terms of primary school does this also apply (i.e. the government should make sure it is properley funded then get out and let teachers, pupils and parents do the rest)?

    And then there is the real mystery … what makes raincoaster blog so much?

  16. And I have to say I’m a little disappointed in you Boris, this Sunday past I spent a extremely pleasant afternoon digesting your wonderful ‘The Dream of Rome’ and as I turned the final pages as the sun finally began to sink I read with a beaming smile your Acknowledgements, containing a reprint of the monumentally stupid words of Charles Clarke when he described ‘education for its own sake’ as ‘a bit dodgy’ – to which you (rightly so) tear him down a peg or two. Now I come to read your article and this nonsense about how ‘boys do it for the competition’ – no they don’t, they might do it to get a job, to get money, because they love it and are curious (the best reason), because their parents pressure them to do it, but one thing is for sure – it is not to compete with each other. They do that on the sport’s field, in the pub, on the road, over girls, in fact nearly everywhere EXCEPT the classroom.

    More importantly is Chris Morriss’ point above and that is we have (maybe imported from America with all our new culture) grown a state of anti-intellectualism that is staggering in its reach – we live in an information age, an age made possible by scientific investigation and study, an age of reason (for the most part) and yet every area of modern life and scoiety is filled with a malaise of ‘it don’t matter, ya kna, skool an’ that – it’s all shit yeah’ – a combined mega-attempt of society to reach the very lowest common denominator, as though anything above the very lowest point is a unforgivable insult against the very lowest members of our species – all the while lusting after the latest phone, PDA, walkman, plasma screen only made possible by hard work and diligent study.

    Yes there is a problem with boys (and men) not reading, but it isn’t to do with the schools, it is to do with society’s attitude to anything intellectual – gods forbid that a man should expand his mind, NO, much better they get sweaty kicking an inflated bladder around, stopping occassionally to hug each and roll around on the grass – Ah, the dream of Rome!

  17. It wouldn’t bother me if they really were getting sweaty kicking the inflated bladder around. That could form part of the ‘balanced diet’ together wtith the reading. What bothers me much more is that most people (mainly males, but not solely), is that they are far more likely to be slowly vegetating in front of a screen watching other people do things.

  18. That’s a very fair point, I did suffer from a little too much over-stretch in my argument there – but yes you’re quite right, it’s the watching much more so than the doing

  19. It’s pleasing to see that the issue is becoming more widely understood. In Canada (from where I’m writing) the serious underachievement of males in the educational world is only just beginning to reach policy makers – but the implications are very serious.

  20. Couldn’t agree more with Chris B. The rot goes far deeper than feminisation of exams (although Boris has a point of sorts).

    Our society, especially at the younger end, is in the grip of a terrifying shift away from enjoyment of intellectual pursuit. It’s cool to be stupid. Of course some teenagers have always been rebellious and the “swot” has often been a target of derision, but never before has there been such a widespread cultural rebellion against learning.

    No wonder there are schools all over the country where more than half the kids are leaving with insufficient qualifications to get a decent job. But why should they bother? Beckham is thick and look, he’s made millions (echos of the previous post here).

    There are kids everywhere with mobile phones – one of the miraculous inventions of our age – who have no knowledge of how they work inside and haven’t given the slightest thought to the zillions of hours of human sweat invested in the device. It is simply of no interest to them, yet it’s their “right” to have one. All they care about is whether they’ve got the latest model. I find that deeply, deeply depressing.

    Where did it all start to go wrong? And how do you put it right?

  21. What Mark and Vicus and Lori said.

    *rolls eyes*

    When the economy was based on hunting, men were economically dominant. Now that the economy is based on the understanding and processing of information, those who can do that will be on top. Women outscore men on measures of these abilities, so they will probably become dominant eventually in the information economy.

    I can certainly see why men, who currently earn something like $1.30 for every dollar women make, would be upset about this change, but if they’re just not as naturally suited for the tasks valued most by commerce, they will have to come to terms with it.

    You dropped your petard, Boris.

  22. Speculation:

    Perhaps women’s affinity for reading, and men’s liking of computer games etc., is partly down to the fact that men are stimulated more by what they see, and women more by what they hear (reading being not dissimilar from that).

  23. When the economy was based on hunting, men were economically dominant. (raincoaster)

    It’s been about 2000 years or more since the English economy was based on hunting.

  24. Nice blog site, especially now Samizdata has become the intellectual wing of the BNP. But at least they spell “Negroes” with an “N” rather than a “K”. But try to disagree without being disagreeable, and object without being objectionable like good chaps. Sometimes you see the big picture better from a distance. UK is a hostile culture; stare-down, swagger to deter possible aggressors. Only when you live in Asia do you appreciate the difference. Even other Brits are “hale fellow well met”. Asians greet with a smile instead of a scowl. Or is this too touchy-feely for you? Ask yourselves, when was the last time I experienced a spontaneous act of kindness from a complete stranger? Daily event here in Japan. But Britain, you’re ‘aving a laugh: I think trash culture is the expression I’m reaching for. Terminal decline, so fly the coop. Get out while the going’s good and seek your fortune in the colonies.

  25. Daily event here in Japan.

    That was also my brief experience, every day in Japan last year.

    I particularly liked the Japanese cabbie who gently woke me up when he”d got me back to my hotel at 4 am.

  26. Despite my trade I’m rather behind cyberspace wise. Perhaps others have not yet discovered that a search on the name of our esteemed e-host on brings up some of the pictures in which we can all admire Boris’ heroical triumphs – no! not those ones, shame on you for thinking so.

    Mark – I like the Telegraph despite its worrying overtures towards pop culture. The idea that anyone would read any paper for any intellectual stimulation is a little novel or am I just further behind than normal?

    For the price of a few issues of any paper you can buy excellent Wordsworth classics. Or save a little more and buy a full price book. It doesn’t have to be particularly cerebal. In fact like many people I am a polygamous reader. Currently I am reading a super Sci Fi book by Eric Flint, Dombey and Son, a book of essays by Michael Oakeshott, a book on number thaory, and a fiendishly funny book on 9/11 by Chomsky, the master of deadpan humour on the printed page.

    All of this is for enjoyment of various sorts. Competitiveness goes straight to my sinuses. We gamma males happily defer to the alphas as long as they let get on with our nerdiness. We can turn nasty if frustrated in this though…..

  27. Andrew Milner: You’re obviously a Southerner, Northerners smile, they are friendly etc etc Southerners are miserable gits.

  28. I partly agree. Men do tend to read action than anything else. I for example read quite afew of the Black Library books, including Dawn of War: Asension. However, women have a much wider taste than you think.

  29. Currently I am reading a super Sci Fi book by Eric Flint, Dombey and Son, a book of essays by Michael Oakeshott, a book on number thaory, and a fiendishly funny book on 9/11 by Chomsky, the master of deadpan humour on the printed page. (Jack R)

    I hardly ever read fiction these days. Current books of mine are The Unnatural Nature of Science by Lewis Wolpert, The Idea of Law by Dennis Lloyd (now Lord Lloyd, I believe), and The Pleasure of Finding Things Out by Richard Feynman. These are all thought-provoking books which I can barely get past a single chapter without having, well, a thought or two provoked.

    The last fiction I read was Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander series. It wasn’t for its naval battles, or for its characters, but instead for its extraordinary, luminous English, which used 20th century English to somehow write 18th century English. I don’t know how he managed that feat.

  30. For elegant English in an eccentric book, I really do recommend ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell’. Can’t quite remember the author’s name. Susannah-something as I recall.

  31. idlex

    I can’t remember if this was in Pleasure of Finding Things Out by Richard Feynman. Anyway he advised young and perhaps more senior wannabee scientists/mathematicians etc like me (and you?) to have a go at proving stuff in pure and applied maths that has already been proven. It’s good for the brain, provides a good deal of pleasure, seasoned with pain, and possibly one day you might find yourself proving something no-one has ever done before.

    I am also told he went to strip clubs to get ideas but what ideas I could not say.

  32. Sorry Boris, I usually enjoy your articles but what a load of horse crap.

    I read because I enjoy reading. I read books similar to Flashman because I enjoy them. Shiny pink books with pictures of shoes or cakes or lifeguards on the front don’t quite cut it with me but that’s simply a matter of taste. That you need to surmise this trend is attributed to an apparent lack of ‘bodice rippers’ has totally baffled me to be honest.

    I read a lot of fantasy books. I do not somehow think this could be attributed to a lack of dwarf, troll or pixie presence in my life.

  33. Jack,

    Feynman seems to write more and more the longer he has been dead.

    I read about his penchant for night life in one of his books. As I remember it, he used to sit in topless bars working at physics. It made a certain sense: quite probably the stimulus set his heart beating, and his mind racing, rather faster than in a dreary lab or office.

    Not that I’ve ever tried it myself…

  34. It amazes me how many adults have failed to pick up the fact that correlation and causation are not the same thing. Neither are protectionism and feminization, by the way.

    I’m also surprised that anyone with aspirations of relevance and credibility would use the completely unsubstantiated blanket statements and prejudiced rantings of a man whose doctoral studies apparently did not include lectures on the scientific method.

    As for fictional masculinity, it’s true. I mean, all the men educated, politically-savvy women lust after are impossibly attractive literary characters with locks flowing in the wind: Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Anderson Cooper, Stone Phillips… Oh wait.

    Chances are, that woman on the tube’s last fictional love was when at the age of 11 she read the Iliad and thought to herself “man, this Hector guy is soooo dreamy.” Chances are that she is reading because as a modern human being she needs to keep up on more references than the latest bootee on Big Brother in order to be successful. Or maybe she read that exercising the brain helps prevent Alzheimer’s. Or maybe she really enjoys the words and the worlds of the masters of old. Or, I don’t know, because she is bored and books are more portable than TVs.

  35. Bergerac
    I’m a GMF fan and Flashman is a brilliant creation, or recreation I suppose.

  36. Meh, most people have already hit the main points I’d make, but here’s one: have you been to a science or math competition recently?

    It’s not like we of the breast-enabled population are horribly underrepresented. And you can’t claim that taking timed tests or operating robots for, in some cases, cash and fabulous prizes, are totally free of adrenalin or aimed at making sure everyone comes out on top.

    As for tests… the APs came and went about a month ago. In my class, many more girls than boys took them, and girls tended to take more as well.

    As for masculinity… I’m reading Cities in Flight right now. It’s quite good; better written than most science fiction, certainly better imagined and plotted, but you bet your sweet bippy I’m not loving the chauvinism seeping up through the pages. I’m reading for the cracked-out science, not for some strong spaceman to tell me what I can and cannot do with my heaving-bosomed self.

    Besides, I’d be interested to know what kind of mad crazy manly-man I should be fantasising about whilst reading about evolutionary biology or quantum mechanics. Inquiring girl-geeks want to know…

  37. Boris you are brilliant, you know it, I know it and the general population knows it.
    This is so true, but….
    The real men you describe can be found, and not only in books. But to find a real man in print one could read Peter Hitchens or Stanley Johnson, Freddy Forsyth? You?
    What have all these men got in common? Some women would include Terry Jones (cute, intelligent funny, sexy), Chris Hitchens (would he make a woman laugh? Or just use his “hypnotic power”, mmn), Michael Palin maybe, Ian Hislop? And who was that chap in the 70’s who wore black slacks and shirt who presented a science prog to a near live audience who took part (what WAS his name, he was cute?)
    The thing they have in common? Well they’re getting on a bit, oh and they’ve all been snapped up by someone else.

    You see Boris, you’re right in suggesting this society is a bit too manby pamby in one sense, but I would add it is utterly brutal and devastating in another. Justice and freedom seem to be dissolving fast.
    What have we comming up? Peter Docherty? Noddy Holder from Slade was sexier. Jude Law? Very pretty but yawn.
    They might be pretty but after all that preening what is there?
    Some time ago I considered a quiz in a womens mag and wondered who on Earth I’d choose for an ideal dinner companion. Given that you’re spending time with a man not just given the fantasy scenario of shagging without conversation, it does refine your choice, try it and see. Or would all the boys still choose the Hilton sisters, with THAT much money you can buy conversation.

    But Boris, when you say “It is a world in some ways perfect for women; and yet women, of course, are increasingly aware that something is missing.” that rings alarm bells and is patently untrue.
    The womens movement in changing our Romanesque society back to what it should be has made progress but that movement has become skewed. I would say, at the risk of wrong assumptions about my meaning, that if you’re a black, lesbian, muslim say, then yes, Britain is your oyster. I’m sure many B.L.M’s will protest their lot but my point is that Britain has become a slave to fashion, not to women. If you happen to fit the fashionable cause this week, you’re quids in, the week after we have a downer on Muslims, never mind the reasons why, and you’re out mate. This is bad news. Education, education, education wavers in the wind of political ambition so much and so often lately, that it’s no wonder people get confused, and frightened, and frustrated. Children are being taught homosexuality from the age of four in schools Boris, all in the name of fighting bullying. Boys are being arrested for name-calling, it’s ridiculous. Girls tend to be more constructive in their vitriol (I was never very good at that) so perhaps go unpunished by the police. The police! Honestly it’s too frightening to laugh at.

    What’s appealing about the list of men above? Maybe nothing. What’s appealing about Mr Darcy (you’re britches Mr Darcy, they’re… MAGNIFICENT), Heathcliffe, and even Aragorn? For a short while you live in a world that’s ordered, that you can understand, that has rules, hero’s and villains that wear black. Women perhaps, have always been better at ignoring the revolting situation they’re in, and escaping in their minds to a better place.

    Maybe you and your party Boris, could make that place a reality?

    PS: I’m happy to tell you that my son loves to read, my daughter still, very scarily, only loves one journalist. I put some pop music on and my children asked for radio 4, I tried to make them dance and they fell about laughing. Boris, how do you maintain an ego in the face of your own children?

  38. Jack Ramsey – just been catching up on blog comments here and caught your alph/gamma point. Here’s mine from, what was, an alpha womans point of view:

    There I was, in the lab, gently insisting that I wanted to finish the experiment as I wanted to understand it and NOT just copy his mates so we could get out early. His critisism was very personal. Fine, not letting this lie (a perennial mistake) I applied to his friend who’d done the work in an effort to support my standpoint, that I was NOT a bad lab-partner. His friend quietly considered me and we all waited for his judgement…
    the clock ticked as he looked me up and down….
    he finally pronounced judgement as he eventually looked away, back to his book, as he said…. “nice arse, needs shagging”

    That was it, his opinion of my academic efforts: nice arse, needs shagging.
    I’m amazed that ANY women want to work in a male dominated profession as with their knuckles dragging on the floor I’m surprised some men can hold a pen!

    Alpha/gamma? You all win where you can, or at least try. And yes, on that course, I kicked arse

  39. But life is about course work, not exams, except for the relative few in the Sports/Ents/Electioneering fields. There’s no point ‘knowing stuff’ that’s available on the net or in a reference book, and far better to prepare thorough work using all relevant sources. I’m an accountant.

    I went to a grammar school, which was ideally suited to my personality type, with its obsession with exams – twice a year, taking two weeks each, and with additonal weeks either side for revision and review. Eight weeks a year on school exams. There was an awful lot of educating not being done.

    Although I haven’t done any exams since 1993, I still have the skill sets which allowed me to coast through with the minimum effort involved. In the workplace I consistently fail to reach my potential because of an inability to do coursework. I am a girlie.

  40. Which just goes to show that variety is the spice of life….
    …unless you’re Boris.

  41. Melissa

    You probably know this, but the last post attributed to me, about 12 above this, had nothing to do with me. If you ever find out who left it there, give me their name and I’ll personally unscrew his/her stupid head and toss it in the landfill.

  42. I think “real life” has more to do with exams than some people think. Yes, you do a lot of “coursework” – there aren’t many jobs where you can succeed by doing no work all year, then having a flash of genius for three hours – but every time you encounter a new idea of suggestion ad have to mak a rapid judgement as to whether it is worth persuing, you’re behaving rather like a person in an exam.

  43. sorry, I’m blogging for England, but I couldn’t help noticing that boys throwing paper planes has been outlawed in Tunbridge Wells?? Talk about boyhood being criminalised (a brilliant comment if I may say so)

    In the Observer today I saw a very apt and funny piece about games for middle class boys, hilarious.

    Thank goodness Boris hasn’t gone down the most obvious route the likes of Peter Hitchens always scurries down when considering modern pressures on young boys – that of blaming “fatherless homes” was it? Considering that particular critic went to boarding school (and seems never to be at home anyway) that’s a moot point. Actually that’s a load of crap let’s be honest. But Boris seems to be astonished that all ‘girls’ aren’t girlie girls. Perhaps Boris, you could share this epiphany of female stereotypes with your old colleagues.

  44. I’m having to join Mark Gamon above in that I also must point out that though the first two posts were indeed by ‘me’, all subsequent posts are, excluding this one, not by ‘me’ – alas, I think the existence of such spam posts go some little way in defending my general low opinion of the population. Depressing though that the barbarians are making their way this close to Rome.

  45. Mark Gamon and Chris B – full clean sweep now sucked up the nasties I hope…

    Thanks for the warning m8s!

  46. Jaq: I have sometimes enjoyed your contributions but your last is the kind of smug, clever-dick answer I loathe. You cannot equate boarding school with a fatherless home. Perhaps you don’t know anything about boarding schools or have never heard of the term in loco parentis.

  47. But Mark, Chris, who “are” we, really? Are we at all?

    Sorry, I came back to refute the studies and statistics Boris quoted and was, naturally, crushed to find that of course he doesn’t actually have any facts at all.

    It is fun to watch men squeal about the fact that girls are improving their performances in certain subjects to the point where they are outperforming boys. Academically, of course, they have generally outperformed boys since time immemorial, it’s just when they started beating them at things people will actually pay for that the screaming started. Oh now we need to ensure that our system is balanced. Now we need to make sure no gender is left behind.

    If it took an economic threat to turn them all into feminists I say better late than never.

    jaq, it’s too bad that fellow didn’t treat you like that in Vancouver: you would be able to retire off what you could sue the University for.

  48. Oh yes, and about the “macho men don’t do coursework, they only get fired up about exams. Coursework is girly!” crap: I can’t really say whether or not I have a particular aptitude for coursework, seeing as I went through my entire education avoiding it. I met several of my professors for the first time at the final exams. How well I remember the exam for Social and Political Philosophy: I arrived to discover the prof had given everyone the questions several weeks earlier, and they could just choose one and study it. I, of course, had no idea what the questions were and had just read everything I could get my hands on. Coursework was worth 50%, final exam worth 50%. I didn’t attend any classes or do any coursework and my final exam was…

    And I do enjoy Flashman, too.

  49. raincoaster – always an intelligent comment from yourself, agree totally. And unfortunately the treatment of the lecturers was worse – serves me right for doing a ‘mans course’.

    PaulD – ‘in loco parentis’? roughly translated as ‘in place of a parent’, or in otherwords ‘no parent there’ or to put it another way ‘fatherless home’. I quite like being a smug clever-dick, it’s never happened before but I must say, I like the feeling!


    May your toes tingle with delight at all the good wishes and honey poured over you today.
    And here’s hoping you have an even better evening just bathed in wet bouncy giggly love.
    Mmmmmwa! Happy Birthday.

  51. jaq

    in loco parentis is worse than that! It’s parentless! Loathe as I am to even contemplate my dispensibility, without their mother they would be truly up poo stream without a propulsion device. I’m all for folks being able to choose private education but I really do wonder at the point of bringing children into the world and then bunging them out to others to look after. There are exceptions. Harry Potter seems to have a nice school but actually he’s better off there than with the Dursleys.

  52. Jack, interesting point: ‘I’m all for folks being able to choose private education but I really do wonder at the point of bringing children into the world and then bunging them out to others to look after.’

    Education is yet another thing that has been ruined through politically correct nonsense. They talk about ‘equality’ and ‘opportunity’ but they don’t want to give you either, they don’t want to listen to your opinions, they want to enforce their own upon you.

    Parents I know who get involved with governorship and school politics seem to get very frustrated having an army of client-state bureaucrats telling them what is good for their children based on nonsense they read in the comment section of the Guardian and in their trade union magazines.

    The problem is that the British are natuarlly neo-conservative in their opinions (I see the poor mother of that 3 year old has entered the sentancing debate now, a normal person who thinks people who do that kind of thing to her kids should be kept in prison).

    We talk about reading but all the client state centre left burocracy wants you to read are their opinions on matters. The reason most people are switched off with politics is because they just don’t agree with all the nonsense that politicians and burocrats talk (and write). They can’t be bothered to argue about it, they just want to get on with their lives.

  53. Thanks Jack – I never did Latin, sadly I longed to go to private school, despite having an excellent father, but was never allowed to go.

    You’d have to ask PH whether his children board or not but perhaps, on this issue, it might be worth noting Rachel Johnsons published views on private school (DT). I wonder how her son is getting on, Boris??

    And of course Boris has quite happily published the fact that he was largely raised by a succession of nannies and Eton was it?? Anyway, he turned out allright! I remember taking my son to a pre-school drama class in Warwick and sat chatting while I waited for him. Sat chatting to?? Mostly nannies. Yes I see what you mean about ‘in loco parentis’. As a single impoverished Mum I’m always there, like a comfy cushion or the cat or the maid. The maid mostly (do you ever feel like that Melissa?

  54. Where can women find real men? In a book, of course…

    I found myself musing on this, and turning it upside down and asking: Where can men find real women?

    Whereupon the question appeared absurd. All women are by definition real women, and I can never imagine myself ever dismissing a woman by saying, “Oh, but she’s not a real woman…” What could a real woman possibly be anyway? Kate Moss? Madonna? Margaret Thatcher? Some athlete? (I can’t think of the names of any.) In many ways, such women are more unreal women if anything.

    Women are all different, and all equally real. And the same goes for men. I may not be a macho sex machine (and have no wish to be), but I’m a perfectly real man.

  55. Hmn semantics, that’s sometimes a difficult one but I think Boz was clear when his clarification was not a wimp? And I suppose Bridget Jones would say ‘not a ****wit, alcoholic etc’ but in considering your point Idlex, really considering it, it’s quite difficult to define what a ‘Real Man’ is, it’s easier to say what he is not.

    As all people are packages of experiences, behaviour, wants, needs, etc then it must come down to saying ‘I’ll have him’. But if you read ‘The Abolition of Britain’ (the one I threw across the room remember) it’s author would have us believe that ‘Real Men’ want the ‘real woman’ who doesn’t want them, and that they can conquer. And that it’s best for the woman to get conquered after marriage so that the ‘Real Man’ doesn’t wander off and conquer someone else! Well, what a comfort marriage must be.

    I think I’ll stick to virtual men and I have to say Idlex that you are one of my favourites. And I’m sure that knowing we can only touch each others intellect and imagination, and there’s no ‘left a bit, no your other left/cooking/laundry/WHEN will you be home?’ gives us both a warm, comforting feeling. Yes, real men, who needs ’em!

  56. The most hilarious and biggest pile of drivel you can read is either male chauvinist or feminist nonsense. University libraries are full of silly little books about these things, if you want to read something funny read people trying to justify sexism.

  57. Steven_L – can’t say I’ve ever read any, except Freud, but if you have a favourite Steven, I’ll give it a go?

  58. Oh, hang on Steven, my University days are over. Oh well.

    There’s always Germaine Greer I suppose? On second thoughts I think I’ll stick with Terry Jones – a Real Man in print. Haaaaah 🙂

  59. First off, Happy Birthday Boris! :0)

    Jaq – Having attended both boarding school and a local comprehensive I feel I can comment with some insight on this matter you raised – to equate parent-less, or father-less, with attending boarding school is incredibly naive, bordering on lunacy.

    I don’t know where you get your impression of boarding school, perhaps you attended one or perhaps you once watched a film that featured one, frankly I’m not that interested in your frames of reference since they seem to have served you so poorly.

    In my experience, the avergae parents of pupils at boarding school were/are far more involved in their child’s life than those of pupils who ‘come home’ each evening. Perhaps this is because they are ‘shelling out’ a large sum of money (to use the parlance of our time) or perhaps it is because they value education so much as to send their child to have the best education they can receive.

    Which brings me onto my other ‘issue’, directed at Jack Ramsey, (he whose insight seems to come from books featuring violations of the basic laws of physics) – a large number of my fellow pupils and I at boarding school shared a common factor, NOT extremely rich parents, but rather parents who worked overseas and who sent their children to school in the UK so as to not only provide them with a first class education but also to keep them somewhat safer. My own parent were 100 miles into the middle of nowhere in Nigeria, they were not rich (far bloody from from it) but they *scarificed* so that I and my brother might get a great education, something they *value*, so instead of going to Florida on holiday and getting “an X-Box ‘n’ stuff” we got to learn. You need to be aware that a great number of parents at boarding schools make a conscious choice to sacrifice their own financial futures (or at least comforts) in order to provide for their offspring.

    Perhaps though, I and those I describe, would fall into the ‘exceptions’ category you so graciously included.

  60. Chris B – ignoring your insulting comments I will merely point out that there aren’t many fathers at boarding school, as you pointed out yourself, ergo fatherless home.
    You provide the perfect argument that divorced fathers can be just as much involved in their childrens lives, if not more, than those who CHOOSE to work a million miles away from them.
    I have many friends, including some who went to boarding school, and I can assure you that good parenting cannot be bought. The amount parents are willing to spend on their child does not equate to how much that child is valued or loved or nurtured. I know this to be true.
    I was not making a judgement on boarding schools, if anything I was positive about them, I merely pointed out that they were an environment which is parentless. Fact

  61. Chris B, sweetiedarling, reading your post I can only conclude that however expensive your schools may have been they were not actually very good.

  62. Chris B

    You’re right – I was thinking of having a browse through the Bible next.

    Please don’t read my comments as an attack on people who arrange for their children to attend private school. I know that many drive beat up cars etc. so they can do so and they have every right to do so.

    However it does seem to me that once you have decided to have children then you are committed to looking after them by being parents and around for them. Parenthood isn’t a career choice – it’s rather more important than that. If folk wish to be diplomats, permanently stationed aid workers or whatever, and they can’t have/don’t want their children with them then they don’t have children.

    This is not an attack on your right to existence of course, and I am pleased that you regard it as being all right so far.

  63. Jaq – OK, have to admit the insults weren’t exactly constructive to my cause, sorry about that, and yes I see what you’re saying, that boarding school by definition means absent parents in the physical sense, and yes parenting can’t be bought – both fully agreed. The point I was trying to highlight (obviously rather poorly and with the un-needed insults) was that though absent physically, the *involvement* of the parents was anything but absent.

    Jack Ramsey said: <“You’re right – I was thinking of having a browse through the Bible next.”< – fantastic retort :0D

    This is interesting because removed from my own case I totally agree with you on the choice issue – obviously I can’t be for it historically since it might negate my existence, which I can’t really support – but you make a good point, more so indeed becuase of the six-fold increase in human population over the 20th-C. The irony of course is that aid-workers and diplomats and the like would probably make very good parents if they weren’t off doing important work elsewhere.

    Fair enough I should have stated my case with more eloquence and less insults. It’s somewhat of a reaction (rightly or wrongly) to the reverse-snobbery that seems to forever be chucked at private education (not suggesting either of you were doing so) that because someone received this education they can’t possibly be anything *but* a spoiled rich kid who couldn’t possibly understand what it’s like to ‘slum’ it with the poor, honest, hard-working memeber of society who valiantly send their children to the state comprehensive. Ok, there’s probably some issues here, I’ll go phone the therapist :0)

    @raincoaster – sweetiedarling, I <know< I shouldn’t feed the trolls but, gosh darn-it, if I’m not just a naughty little boy and it is so very fun…

  64. Chris B

    A sound reply. As it happens our little bundles of joy do go to the local comprehensive because after some thought we felt that might be best. Some people we know send theirs to local private schools and I respect their decision as being in the best interests of their offspring as they see it. Some of these people are on lower incomes than us. Dear old David Aaronovitch gives Eton (fees 25,000 or so) a good going over in the Times today but there are plenty of reasonable private schools whic the middle income earners can afford with a good deal of pinching. No it’s not fair but I suspect the abolition of the private sector would lead to a crash in average educational standards as the state schools suddenly had to deal with a large increase and the achievements of the private sector were no longer there to provide some sense of shame to the educational establishment.

    Presumably the next step would be book police to swoop in and make sure that the number of books per household didn’t exceed some well defined amount. Households without televisions would be issues with large screen TVs in very room permanently on to ensure that all children sahred in the same mindless drek and so on. Excuse me i must go and bite the carpet a little…….

  65. Chris


    Don’t take my reference to the Bible as being in any way disrespectful. I guess you were referring to Eric Flint’s time travel story. As it happens the story avoids paradox by having a new universe ‘bud off’ when the chunk of land arrives in the past. Whether such travel is possible is of course another matter but it doesn’t seem to embroil us in what would seem to be logical impossibilities.

  66. Thank you very much for all your good wishes on my birthday!

    I had a great day – many thanks!

    I now have an official birthday: The Daily Telegraph announced my birthday on 17th June. I can now celebrate on two dates; 17th and 19th

  67. I was thinking during lunch today about this whole issue and was attempting to work out what I thought the differences were in terms of the education one receives from private/state. My conclusion was that the top three reasons were 1)smaller class sizes (avg. of 10-15 per teacher), 2)expectation of performance and 3)compulsory reading

    Smaller class sizes has become somewhat of cliche in recent years, but the difference between a class of 10-15 and a class of 30-35 is enormous.

    Expectation of performance is of course not limited to private education, the vast majority of parents hope that their young will do well, and encourage them to that result. What I mean here is that becuase the children know that ma & pa are paying a lot, there is a kind of unspoken rule of ‘we can’t take the p*ss <too< much’ and because this is an attitude instilled whilst quite young I think it tends to carry on. Whereas, and not being a parent I don’t speak from experience here, I get the impression that more and more these days schools are fairly cautious in involving the parents too much since so many (or at least a large minority) take the “my child is perfect and couldn’t possibly do anything wrong” attitude, blamning instead the school and teachers.

    And the third reason, which brings me (finally!) back to Boris’ original point is the compulsory reading. Every day after lunch we would sit quietly and read for 45 minutes – not only did it let our food digest (and give the teachers some well deserved peace!) but even the most “I don’t like books!” kid would get into the <habit< of reading, and as anyone who reads knows, once you ‘catch the bug’ of reading it takes care of itself. We ought to have compulsory reading sessions after lunch in schools… perhaps get J.K Rowling to do a Jamie Oliver style campaign, seems to be the best way to get things done now-a-days.

  68. I think I’ll stick to virtual men and I have to say Idlex that you are one of my favourites.

    And I think I will thank you for that, Jaq.

    And I have to say that I agree with you and raincoaster and others in respect of boarding schools.

    My parents fell into the category of living abroad, and wanting a good education for their offspring. Fortunately my mother was a teacher, and I was in effect home-schooled up until the age of 10. My mother’s teaching skills, however, did not extend much further than the relatively elementary, and so at age 10 I was packed off to boarding school in England. The only time I saw my parents thereafter was during school summer holidays, and the result was that instead of being constantly present parents, they came to seem like distant philanthropic relatives. And they continued to seem that way even after they had returned to England. I always say that I left home aged 10, and that this was a little too early.

    Of course, there were some benefits. I learned to ‘stand on my own two feet’ and think independently rather earlier than I might otherwise. And my parents fortunately almost entirely missed the experience of my teenage revolt. And I did most likely receive a better education than I might have otherwise.

    On the other hand, the purpose of the education was to prepare me for a life much like that of my father and his father before him, slowly climbing the rungs of some vast corporation. But I had absolutely no interest in such a life, and in this respect at least the education was wasted. Furthermore the school experience of compulsory education almost entirely crushed my earlier intense curiosity about almost everything, and it was only some years after leaving school that I began to rediscover that lost curiosity.

  69. I can now celebrate on two dates; 17th and 19th

    Well done, Boris. You will now get two sets of birthday presents.

    And If I add my own Happy Birthday for today, this might extend to three sets.

  70. “<I now have an official birthday: The Daily Telegraph announced my birthday on 17th June. I can now celebrate on two dates; 17th and 19th<

    Yeah! Ah, it’s all just one step closer to reality… King Boris the First, or rather that should be <Imperator Caesar Boris Augustus<

  71. With state education you mostly learn to keep your head down while the rest of them fight it out. Actually, learning anything is quite incidental and something you do in your spare time because the general focus is on surviving.

    I’ve just realised who John Prescott reminds me of – Jabba the Hutt! The resemblence is scary. The Star Wars prop makers may have had some sort of weird premonition.

  72. “Women turn to fiction, I would guess, because it is the last reservation for men who are neither violent thugs nor politically correct weeds, where a girl can still get her bodice ripped without the bodice ripper being locked up”

    Boris, you are so right.

  73. The Beano, Dandy and Rodox didn’t do me any arm mate.

    Perhaps there should be an internal conservative party review into how they present electioneering literature.

  74. Boris,

    Reading is a pasttime, maybe we could try inspire more boys/men to read, but shall we panic because men by and large watch much more sports than women do? Diversity of interests is key. Sure maybe showing young boys the wonders of reading is a worthwhile policy, but lets not panic about it.

    I read, but like many I struggle to read anything that isn’t factual/reference based. I have a thirst for information, knowledge. If I want to be entertained I watch movies: Movies are just as good as books (if not better)

    I think it was AA Gill who said that book-types who disregard tv are just tv-illiterate. There are just as many trashy awful novels as there are tv shows, but if you have a brain you can weed through the tripe to the goodstuff.

    Do men watch more movies than women Boris? Do men buy more CDs than women Boris? Does culture and knowledge come only from books or from all types of media?

    It really gets my goat when people think books are oh-so-important. They are no more ‘valuable’ than any other leisure time activity.

  75. Paul

    I don’t watch TV because it goes too fast for me. Nothing holy about books – I just prefer them because they go more slowly and there does seem to be a much better choice than there is with TV. Chacun a son goat – poor goat!

    Who is AA Gill?

  76. AA Gill is a god. Jack, I am shocked. He invented Sauce a la Marianne, with melted Mars bars and named after Marianne Faithfull.

    Boris, now that you have two birthdays, will there be some kind of ceremony? Maybe a bike parade? Can we at least get the day off work?

    ChrisB, I have to disagree with your point about privately educated kids taking school more seriously because it cost the parents a bundle. I spent most of my private school time sitting in the hall reading books or riding the horses. The English teacher thought they were excellent books, though, so she gave me an A.

  77. Oh that AA Gill!

    Who was the fellow who did the saucy postcards?

    Is it true that the Marianne of the Leonard Cohen song is a street in a Canadian city?

  78. Is it true that the Marianne of the Leonard Cohen song is a street in a Canadian city? (JR)

    I think you’re probably thinking of the Suzanne who takes you down to that place by the river.

    Such a Suzanne is quite clearly a road.

  79. Someone once told me that Leonard Cohen had slept with every woman who was sexually active in Canada in the Seventies, and every one of them thinks she’s Suzanne. Jack, as for your question I am afraid I am clueless.

  80. ‘where a girl can still get her bodice ripped without the bodice ripper being locked up’
    So women read because their rape fantasies are not being fulfilled in real life?
    Because I’m fairly certain consensual bodice ripping is still legal. If expensive in terms of wear and tear on bodices.
    I recomend that next time you ask an actaul woman what her motivations are before coming up with a ridiculous, phallocentric explanation.

  81. Why do I read? Why do women in general read? Because it’s fun, because it’s educational, because a life without books, in my opinion, isn’t worth living. It has NOTHING to do with men. I can’t fathom how you would ever arrive at such a ridiculous point without being extremely mysoginist.

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