Helen Martin: Lack of sparkle in young stars

WHEN M&S bowed to customer pressure and agreed to stock suitable knee-length garments (with such novel additions as sleeves) rather than catering exclusively for the young market, a blow was struck for the over-50s who are on track to make up the majority of the population.

We don’t want clinging fabrics on middle-age spread, cut away shoulders that reveal bingo wings, plunging necklines exposing turkey lines and an age-worn decolletage. No-one over an age I can no longer remember being, should be caught dead in a mini skirt. It’s neither sightly nor elegant.

But the bairns have taken over the world in many ways. And while M&S crumbled in the face of opposition, I suspect the Simon Cowell entertainment empire will be a tougher nut to crack.

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X Factor used to be the highlight of a Saturday night in for me, as it was for many of a certain age who no longer have the stamina, or the inclination, to warm up in the pub before clubbing until 3am and vomiting on the way home. We are the bedrock of peak-time weekend ratings, after which we take to our beds with a cocoa.

In the beginning, there was Simon, Sharon and Louis. A Minogue never goes wrong, and Cheryl Cole provided the new blood. But the 2011 judges line-up is a step too far, with two new females I wouldn’t know if they turned up in my soup.

I have actually heard of Destiny’s Child, though I couldn’t have told you their individual names, including one Kelly Rowland whose performing talents, I hope, are more impressive than her apparent personality.

Then there’s Tulisa Contostavlos. (I’m sure there’s a dust-covered bottle of that in our booze cupboard, a trophy from a long-forgotten Greek holiday.) Anyway, I’m told she’s a “star” . . . of hip-hop, and that she’s dyed her hair to look like a not-so-pretty version of Cole. But she’s 23. What is she going to know about anything other than rapping in a tracksuit? The prospect of her getting the over-25s group to “mentor” would be amusing, but I suspect they’d make mincemeat of her.

So it’s down to the genuinely talented and experienced Gary Barlow (40) and the steadying hand of old Louis to do the business and offer opinions anyone would find remotely credible.

Credible, I hear you ask? X Factor’s not supposed to be credible. Too true. But it is meant to be entertaining and offer a panel of “celebrity” judges.

I was in the hairdressers a few weeks ago flicking through OK! and some other celeb magazine.

In more than 100 pages of sycophantic drivel and pictures, I recognised three of the people featured. The young hairdresser managed six. The rest had all the celebrity status of my cat and their “fame” will last about as long as an open tin of Felix.

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While buying a lunchtime sandwich in the Holyrood Tesco last week, I did meet a celebrity. The dapper little man in the queue behind me turned out to be Paul Daniels.

I said: “It’s amazing who you bump into in the supermarket during the Festival.”

Quick as a flash he came back with: “I know, imagine meeting you of all people.”

Admittedly it might have been more exciting if it had been Brad Pitt, but at least I knew who he was.

As for this year’s X Factor? I might like it . . . but not a lot.

Too young to recognise the catchphrase? Well now you know how it feels.

The cruelest month

HOSPITAL admission in August is very bad news indeed.

With several doctors in the family, I’ve long known that it’s “amateur month” and unless your life depends on it, it’s better to hang on until September or October.

Yet this has come as news to the Government, following a poll by the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh and the UK Society of Acute Medicine, in which 90 per cent of doctors said loud and clear that patient care and safety was compromised. Why? Because on the first Wednesday of the month all the newly- qualified docs are let loose on the wards, while the older ones (who know what they are doing) are moved on to other departments – in a mad, one-day change-over.

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Now the Government says it will consider the findings, though insisting there is no “evidence”. Evidence? Common sense is all that’s required, let alone the vast majority of doctors spelling it out. Added to the new “fast-track” system which delivers consultants with significantly less experience, the NHS increasingly seems to be run by idiots.

Now we discover that Scottish health boards are owed half a million pounds (NHS Lothian’s share is £116,000) by foreign nationals who come here for treatment, then scarper without paying. The current solution is to ban them from re-entering the UK and try to recover the loot via international debt collection agencies.

You can’t help wondering if anyone has yet considered the simpler alternative of insisting on payment up front.