Red Nose Day needs fewer celebrities and more mercenary task forces

Forget the celebs, spend the money on removing corrupt dictators from power in poverty-stricken countries

✒I cannot be alone in being pretty nauseated by Red Nose Day, or at least its television manifestation. Do I think that wretchedly poor children in Africa should get food and life-saving drugs? Of course. Do I want to be hectored into contributing by celebrities who earn more in a 10-minute slot than many of these families get in a year? Nope. It's a bit like those poor sods in Cyprus – the less well-to-do are asked to contribute what they can afford so that the blokes with houses the size of hotels don't have to.

(Don't imagine, by the way, when slebs take part in celebrity quizzes that they do it for free. Any money they win might go to a favourite charity, which they describe in dewy-eyed detail, but most accept a fee for appearing. I don't know if anyone gets paid on Red Nose Day – no doubt the publicity is priceless anyway.)

Worst of all is the way it is stripped of politics. Poverty and misery are depicted as an inalienable part of the human condition. The notion that people are being kept near death and despair thanks to some of the most corrupt rulers in the world simply isn't addressed.

Wouldn't it be marvellous if, one day, they said, "Hey, listen everyone, if we can raise just £6m – and that's about 10p for everyone in the UK – we could pay for a mercenary force to surround the presidential palace, oust the tyrant who's been stripping his country bare, and stashing billions into private accounts, then we could put in a real democracy which might actually help! Sounds good, right? Now, here's Bob Geldof, and you know what he wants!"

✒ I apologise for a mistake last week. Apparently Catholics are now back on a fish-on-Fridays routine. To us non-believers, it's roughly as thrilling as the news that it's again perilous to walk under ladders, but obviously it matters to many. Kay Mason wrote to say that I should keep up with the church's thinking. I emailed back to say that God did seem to change His mind rather often, and she replied, "easy when you're omnipotent". OK.

And I see the new pope is to meet Robert Mugabe. Great start!

✒ I was delighted to learn at the weekend that Michael Heseltine has in his arboretum – a magnificent tree museum by all accounts, and one that will not reach maturity for generations after Hezza dies – a gigantic statue of Lenin. He had it shipped from Russia after the end of the Soviet Union.

Ironic, of course, though it did make me ponder two possibilities. Wouldn't it be superb if someone like Gorbachev had a monstrous, 12-foot Margaret Thatcher, handbag and all, in the grounds of his dacha? And if Heseltine had gone storming out of Lenin's cabinet, the politburo, would we still be paying reverent attention to his thoughts on provincial autonomy nearly 30 years later? Would he still be alive?

✒ Jim Sheridan, the MP who wants to ban sketchwriters from the Commons for being rude about politicians, is a blithering idiot. Sorry, scrub that – clearly a very thoughtful person with whom I might conceivably disagree on some marginal issues. A blithering savant, perhaps. But you only have to look at some of the language used at prime minister's questions to realise that they are far, far ruder about each other than any journalist ever is about them.

This puzzles me. They will bang on about the way the public has no respect for parliament while apparently doing all they can to pour contempt on any MP from the other side.

David Cameron is particularly rough. I suppose it's like rugby. You expect an opponent to grab you round the knees and bring you crashing to the ground while the game is on (unless you're Welsh and your opponent is English, in which case your progress to the try line resembles a Sunday promenade in the Tuileries), but you'd be very surprised if the same guy did it in the street.

I must say I prefer our system. The continentals may be more courteous to each other, but they're the ones who created the euro debacle.

✒ This week I tried a historic bottle: the first serious Chinese wine to be imported into this country for general sale. It is likely to herald a flood, like all those trainers and televisions we already consume. The Chinese do make vast quantities of wine for home consumption, but you wouldn't want to drink it yourself.

The good stuff is made by the Changyu company at its chateaux. (It has built eight chateaux all over China, most a sort of cross between Cinderella's Castle at Disneyland and Waddesdon Manor here.) It's a Bordeaux knock-off, and Berry Bros are selling it for £39 a bottle.

Is it worth it? No way. On the other hand, it is a perfectly nice claret-type wine, and given the ludicrous prices charged by the Bordelais, it's quite good value compared with several famous names.

But the price is the point. To establish yourself as prestige growers, you have to charge prestige prices. The theory is that this will lift your product above the rest. Will it work? It did with everything else they sell us.

✒John Cartledge emails: "Though easy-going, our fox-terrier can be possessive about the contents of his wardrobe. So when we bought him a stylish new winter coat at Pet World, we were relieved to find it labelled, 'For pet use only. Not recommended for children.' A clue to this reasoning might lie in the further warning: 'seek veterinary advice if ingested'."


Simon Hoggart

The GuardianTramp

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