Don't blame April's parents for letting her play outside
09:09 GMT, 5 October 2012
This week, Machynlleth became the place that refused to give up hope. Almost since the moment she went missing, hundreds of residents of the Welsh market town joined the police search for five-year-old April Jones. All anyone knew was that a man had taken April away in a van — a terrifying scrap of information.
Volunteers, family and friends beat down the panic as they joined mountain rescue volunteers, police-trained search officers, dog handlers, RNLI boats, a team of kayakers, a marine unit and experienced local cavers in the hunt. All of them ransacking the surrounding countryside, above and below ground, with increasing desperation.
Those who couldn’t take part tied pink ribbons to the fence outside April’s home as the wait for news continued. There has been little in the way of comfort for parents Paul and Coral, but they must have taken some tiny solace in the ribbons fluttering on their fence — a silent message of support and love from the community.
Desperate: Mother Coral Jones, pictured with April's step-grandfather Dai Smith, is still hoping for her daughter's safe return
As anything approaching normal life fades into the margins, the efforts of both the police and the locals have been inspiring. It’s always good to be reminded that a crisis can still bring out the very best in ordinary people.
April lives in the kind of old-fashioned, working-class community where everyone knows everybody else. On her home street, Bryn-y-Gog, the houses are circled like wagons, with a communal play area in the middle. In this tiny neighbourhood, surrounded by fields and hills, parents could depend on each other to keep an eye out for their kids.
On the evening of April’s disappearance, her mother and father went to a short parents’ meeting at the local school, leaving her playing in the communal garden with her friend. There was nothing to worry about. Why should there be
As time marches on, all we can do is sympathise with the agony of a mother and father going through a hell that is no fault of their own. They must not be blamed — and they must not blame themselves.
Don't give up hope: The pink ribbons all over the market town are a symbol of support for April's family
Of course, some will criticise, but there are always those who will censure the parents of missing children rather than condemn the real evil at the heart of the tragedy — the person or persons unknown who have taken the child away.
It remains a disgrace that loving parents Gerry and Kate McCann still have to endure the malice of strangers who have convinced themselves of some dark parental involvement in the disappearance of their daughter, Madeleine, while somewhere out there, whoever took her still walks free.
In an emergency like this, parents are always in the wrong, no matter what they do. Last month, a National Trust report claimed that children were being cut off from nature by mollycoddling mums and dads who refused to let them play outside and get dirty. It also warned that children are increasingly leading ‘sedentary and sheltered’ lives due to health and safety fears and the rise of telly and video games.
On a sunny autumn evening, April was outside playing on her bicycle with her chums. What could be more innocent Children can’t grow up on a leash and, really, what parents haven’t allowed their offspring out of their sight
This summer, David Cameron — who sent a message of support to April’s family — accidentally left his eight-year-old daughter in a country pub. Nancy was quickly returned home with no harm done — he was lucky. To their enduring despair, the McCanns and many like them did not share his good fortune.
Whatever happens next in this small Welsh town, it seems unlikely that life will ever be quite the same again. April’s little girl sweetness makes her disappearance so incredibly piercing for everyone. That, and the knowledge that she has cheerfully endured cerebral palsy and other health difficulties make her seem especially vulnerable.
Her smile in photographs speaks of a little girl who knew nothing of the bad things in life. As the pink ribbons multiply across Machynlleth, we can but hope — however desperately — that this story might yet have a happy ending.
Critically panned: JK Rowling's first adult novel received a drubbing from reviewers
I fear JK's lost the plot
Mixed-to-dire reviews of JK Rowling’s new book for adults — and no wonder.
If anyone else had written The Casual Vacancy it would still be mouldering at the bottom of the slush pile on some provincial publisher’s desk, as opposed to being launched upon the world with the kind of fanfare normally associated with a rocket launch to Mars.
I hear that JK herself thinks my own rather damning review is so amusing she is thinking of using some of the quotes on the cover of the paperback edition. Be my guest!
However, it won’t make her clunker of a novel a better read.
And, sadly, my low opinion of it is hardly unique.
Up in Salford, fresh embarrassment for BBC1 Breakfast. No, not this week’s on-air utterance of the f-word.
cringe factor was more that they were interviewing an orchestra
conductor about his new album of Rodgers and Hammerstein covers when the
profanity was accidentally broadcast. Another thrilling exclusive!
next, Vera from the Salford canteen chats about what fillings she’s got
in the lunchtime baps and where she’s going on holiday next year.
She's a few pixie pans short of the full kitchen
Nigella Lawson: Was her recent weight-loss really achieved via 7,000-calorie cheescake
Mamma mia, but everyone loves Nigella! Look at her. She is magnifico, she is fantastico, her new figura is molto bellissima. How does she do it She says that these days, she exercises all the time and drinks wine only on a Friday.
One thing is for sure. She certainly didn’t slim down to size va-va-voom by eating her way through the pages of Nigellissima, her barftastic new Italian-inspired cookbook.
The glossy 26 hardback, complete with accompanying BBC2 television series, is packed with her usual carb-rich, gloopy, bizarre culinary creations — including a 7,000-calorie Nutella cheesecake.
Perhaps she could slice one up for Salma Hayek, the gorgeous actress who claims this week that fattening food is the best way to keep young. ‘I love my food and I love my wine. I eat the fat, I eat the vegetables, I eat everything,’ cries Salma.
Meanwhile, Nigella’s delicious new show hits new heights of her trademark breathless campery.
She uses ‘pixie pans’ to make her ‘baroque’ pesto, her fanned slices of mozzarella are a ‘cheese sunburst’, her marinades are ‘post-hoc’ and her favourite verb is to ‘strew’.
Nigella’s Italian inspiration was the short time she spent living in Florence; a broke chambermaid eking out a meagre living among the Renaissance splendour. Well, as broke as the Oxford-educated daughter of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and a Lyons heiress could ever be.
Back then, she said: ‘I prefer to spend my money on a glass of Prosecco than a fancy dinner.’ Today she says: ‘Can you believe I got a book and telly deal out of this ol’ rubbish’
I love her Tuscan fries — and her nerve.
Blown out of all proportion
Blowin' in the wind: Anne Robinson looked less than tidy. I doubt she cares.
On several occasions in the past few weeks, newspapers and magazines have published photographs of television presenter Anne Robinson (right) walking down a London street with — are you ready for this — the autumnal winds blowing her hair around. That’s right. Wind.
Frankly, this disgusts me. Anne — can’t you manage to walk down the street in a more ladylike and orderly fashion Just look at your hair, woman!
It is, as Bob Dylan once so succinctly put it, a-blowing in the wind.
In future, please ensure your trademark ginge barnet does not blow hither and thither in such an untidy manner. As a former media executive yourself, you, of all people, surely must understand that wind is only allowed to blow on women if they are young, beautiful, wearing an ill-advised, short, floaty skirt and (bonus points) happen to be the Duchess of Cambridge.Then and only then is wind blowing upon a female personage acceptable.
No wonder you ended up all over the papers, looking like Chewbacca’s little sis, ma’am.
I rang the sparrow-sized, wanton-haired television presenter to see what she had to say for herself. ‘I am weeping in one of my 5 million houses,’ she cried. ‘Now get off the line.’
Stop this free-for-all fraud
This week, BBC1’s Panorama focused on health tourism in the UK. We saw just how easy it is for patients from abroad to gain access to GP’s surgeries and thence to limitless hospital treatment on the NHS. All you have to do is hand over a crumpled wad of fivers and Bob’s your uncle — or at least the name of your lovely new doctor.
Interviewed on the programme, new health minister Anna Soubry did not inspire.
‘Yes, that’s why we are investigating the matter,’ she kept repeating, as fraud after fraud was laid bare. She was almost grumpy about being shown the truth — she should have been outraged on our behalf, promising to sort it out.
Most offensive was her weedy claim that the abuses went on because British patients entitled to care in British hospitals did not want to be subjected to identity checks at the ward door.
Excuse me That would be the least of our problems.
We’ve got cameras in our bins. Our phone numbers are sold off to marketing companies. We are already treated like terrorists at our own airports, sucking up the shoe-removing, liquids-limiting humiliation in the name of national security.
And I think I can speak for millions when I say, Anna, that we would be more than happy to submit to checks to prove who we are and whether or not we are entitled to free care. If it helped to stamp out this shambolic, free-for-all fraud, we would do it in a heartbeat.
What an utter shambles this railway bid is. First it was First, then it was Virgin, now all that is certain is that we will have the privilege of paying a 40 million bill for the mess.
Of course, the real scandal is not who ultimately gets the West Coast franchise, but why rail fares in this country are so ridiculously expensive. I’d love to ‘let the train take the strain’ on my frequent trips home to Scotland — but it’s cheaper and easier to fly.