When we look, we find
The sexual abuse of children was, until relatively recently in Britain, a subject rarely discussed in public. Now, hardly a day goes by without some new horror hitting the headlines.
We are witnessing an important and significant shift in awareness and response. The latest revelations about the crimes committed in Rotherham are shocking to us in their violence and their scale. But they should be seen in a wider context, of a society belatedly confronting a deeply disturbing aspect of its character.
The truth is that large numbers of children are and always have been sexually abused in this country. Over a decade ago, the NSPCC conducted a major research programme to try and identify the scale of the problem. They spoke to more than 3,000 18 to 24-year-olds and asked them if they had ever suffered sexual abuse as a child.
Around 1% said they had been sexually abused by a parent or carer, 3% by another relative and 11% by people known but unrelated to them. The figures suggested that in an average group of 10 children in the UK, at least one would have been the victim of sexual abuse.
It was a finding that beggared belief, implying that a million children were being sexually abused at any one time. Faced with incredulity, in 2010 the NSPCC published a second study based on interviews with children and young adults.
Z is for Zanzibar
Z is a destination, standing enigmatically at the extreme end of the alphabetical line. Crazy zigzags at odds with a gentle song, its qualities are both puzzling and exotic. After Z there is nothing.
Zanzibar, fittingly, enjoys not one but two Zs. It is a word that buzzes with African mystery and rare spices, of foreign adventure and dark magic. For a country looking to attract travellers and tourists, its tantalizing name is perhaps one of its greatest assets.
Advice for foreigners on how Britons walk
We drive on the left, but which side do we walk on?
Some friends from Australia asked me this question as we battled down London's Oxford Street the other day, weaving our way through determined shoppers, rushing office workers and ambling tourists.
Should teachers 'promote' British values?
Come September and every school in England will be required to promote British values.
Promoting something is not the same as teaching something or having respect for something. One can respectfully disagree. One can inform without endorsing.
'Trojan horse' scandal - extreme or diverse?
Where does diversity stop and extremism begin? That, it seems to me, is the central question posed by the so-called "Trojan horse" affair.
It is official government policy to create a "more diverse school system" with academies and free schools liberated from some state controls. They don't have to follow the national curriculum and they operate independently from the local education authority.
Is Britain really becoming more racist?
Journalists like their stories to fit into an accepted current narrative. With domestic politics dominated by concerns over Europe and immigration, and the rise of the far-right elsewhere in the EU, it is understandable that editors are alert to evidence of rising racism in Britain.
But today's figures are not evidence of rising racism. In fact, if anything, the trend is of flat or declining levels of self-reported racial prejudice.
Parks in peril
Cuts to funding has left the UK's parks "on the edge of a precipice", according to a landmark report to be published next month by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
The research into the quality of Britain's 26,000 public parks is expected to conclude that new ways of financing their maintenance are essential to prevent a return to the crisis days of the 1990s. MPs then described our urban green spaces as "shunned, neglected and vandalised".
Who are the UK's foreign workers?
On New Year's Day, construction worker Victor Spiresau was greeted by politicians, reporters and photographers at Luton Airport - the first Romanian immigrant to arrive in Britain after the controversial lifting of employment controls on Romania and Bulgaria.
Victor became the reluctant symbol of what many predicted would be a vast wave of East Europeans flocking to the UK.