SO it's back to the bad old days - when a top education was a luxury just for those who could afford it. Welcome to the brave new world of equality and opportunity. When the Labour government - yes, the Labour government - brought in university tuition fees, we all feared it would be the thin end of the wedge. And so it has proved. There is talk of the top universities asking for extra fees of £10,000 to £15,000.


What's more, it won't just be the rich forking out. Couples earning as little as £50,000 between them - a couple of policemen, teachers, even firefighters if they get just part of their pay rise - will be eligible for the full whack. And as even students have to have somewhere to live and something to eat, that could easily mean a bill of £20,000 a year.

And this is equality?

The poor will get bursaries or settle for cheaper universities. The rich can afford it and probably have ancestral trust funds. It will be the people just below the middle who will, as always, get hammered. Just those, in fact, who most value a decent education as a way of getting on in life.

What makes it particularly galling is that the current government is my generation, one of the most privileged ever.

Back in the 1960s when we chose our universities all that mattered was our brains and our ability to work hard. Whether we'd come from a small state grammar or a huge and historic public school was irrelevant. Whether we went to Oxford, Cambridge or the local poly, there were no fees to pay and, if we needed it, a grant that could pay our rent and keep us in books and baked beans on toast.

Most of our current leaders went to university on that system. And now they're the ones who are pulling the ladder up behind them.

So much for education, education, education.

OF course, maybe we would have been better off not going to university at all.

The new Sunday Times list of top earners show that three of the top five left school at 16. They include hairdresser John Frieda who started work for £4.10s a week, shampooing Twiggy's hair and who last year earned £153m from his hair products company.

Forget the A levels - send them down the local salon instead.

The list also shows that David Beckham - £15.5m a year - earns more than the Queen.

It's no good, she'll just have to practise her penalty kicks.

EVERY evening brings more calls from people trying to sign me up with new phone companies. The difference is that these days they are nearly all Indians calling from the far side of the world. Which seems an awful lot of trouble to try and sell me a new mobile phone deal.

Still, their technique is wonderful - incredibly polite, calling me ma'am every other word. Very soothing and such a change, I have to say, from most of the barely articulate cold callers you get from this country.

No, I'm not changing my phone. But if I did, it would definitely be to one of those the Indians work for.

NOVEMBER is Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

There are 40,000 new cases a year. It's long been the biggest killer of men in this country and now kills more women than breast cancer.

We all know that one of the biggest contributory causes of lung cancer is smoking.

So that's no doubt why the Treasury celebrated this special month by lifting the limit on the number of cheap cigarettes you can bring into the country. The guidelines used to say 800 for personal use. Now they say 3,200. Oh goody.

All those extra cigarettes - and we don't even get a chance of the duty to fund the NHS.

Because a lot more people are going to need it sooner rather than later.

ONE in three secondary school pupils come home to an empty house, says a study by Kids' Club Network, which warns that latchkey kids were more likely to get into trouble.

From the age of eight, I was a latchkey kids and had a wonderful time - inviting friends back, cooking weird snacks or just wandering the streets happy that no one was waiting anxiously for me at home. It made me resourceful, independent and used to an empty house. But when it came to my turn, I was always home for my two when they came in for school - just because otherwise I knew exactly what they could get up to.

Published: 06/11/2002