TRADITIONAL school sports day races, like the egg and spoon, are being criticised for encouraging a competitive spirit among children - as if they will never have to fight for survival when they get out into the big, wide world.

But if only someone had thought of introducing the same principles of harmonious equality to the parents' races, it would save so many of us from the ritual humiliation we are exposed to every July.

The first time I was dragged onto the track for the mothers' 100-metre sprint by my pleading children, I was dressed in slip-on mules and a tight skirt, but thought I would give it a go. After all it was just a bit of fun, wasn't it? I wasn't prepared for those other mums who whipped off their little summer skirts to reveal a pair of running shorts underneath and changed into their state-of-the-art trainers. This was serious.

Sleek, fast and with fierce faces full of concentration, they might as well have been competing in an Olympic final as they raced up the field. My skirt ripped, I skidded, bare-footed on the grass and my children told me I was a total embarrassment.

I have since discovered the dads' races are even worse. They may all look amiable enough to begin with, laughing and joking on the starting line, but once that whistle blows, they tear up the track, as if fired by all that excess testosterone in the air, ruthlessly elbowing each other out of the way, even tripping each other up if necessary.

It all leaves me worried for the children of today. If competition in schools is stamped out, how are they ever going to be prepared for the truly terrifying, cut-throat world of parents' races when they become mums and dads themselves?

NO matter what else North-East MP and former transport minister Stephen Byers has achieved, he will now always be remembered as the man who stripped down to his black socks before leaping into bed with a blonde councillor on a one-night stand.

This comical mental picture of the dodgily-dressed love rat appeared in 52-year-old Barbara Corish's kiss-and-tell story in the News of the World, in which she says she was disgusted because he called her a tart. Ms Corish invited him back to her hotel, later went to his room and, knowing he had a partner of 15 years, suggested: "We'd better go to bed." What other word would the outraged Ms Corish use to describe herself?

PRINCE Charles may be right when he says it is short-sighted of us to continue buying cheap food. But this multi-millionaire prince, used to having his own high quality fare served from a silver platter by his staff, is probably not the best person to point this out to us.

HOLLYWOOD actor Tom Cruise, who has a reputation for being a control freak, has worked hard at charming the crowds in London this week, appearing uncharacteristically relaxed. But he let down his guard when asked about his relationship with actress Penelope Cruz. "I will probably get married because I enjoy our relationship and believe it can work," he said. Has it occurred to him that he might have to ask her first?