LET us remind ourselves of what this is all about. Measles, mumps and rubella are diseases of childhood. But they are not childish illnesses. They can have serious complications - including meningitis, brain damage, deafness, sterility, miscarriage and birth defects. Before MMR there were 76,000 cases of measles a year, many complications and 16 deaths a year. Since 1992, there have been no deaths in this country from measles.

Elsewhere in the world, tougher strains of measles kill over a million children a year.

Since 1988, our children have received a triple vaccine against the three diseases. At the same time, cases of autism began to rise. Scientists have repeatedly denied any connection between the two events but there is anecdotal evidence and parents are understandably worried.

Meanwhile, campaigners want health ministers to say whether their children have had the controversial MMR vaccine. Alan Milburn, Jacqui Smith and John Hutton and, of course, the Blairs, are refusing to say. Their children's health, they claim, is a private matter.

Well no, actually it isn't.

Mass immunisation works only if it is precisely that - en masse. To prevent outbreaks of the disease, a high proportion need to be protected. The target is 95 per cent, but it's currently 88 per cent and falling - down to 80 per cent in some places. This increases the chance of severe outbreaks of measles and puts vulnerable children - those too young for the vaccine, or, for some reason unable to have it, at ever greater risk.

Single vaccines are a compromise, but leave huge vulnerable gaps between jabs.

My younger son was one of the first to have the triple jab. I agonised over it, then solved the problem of what to do by asking my GP. He was, after all, a father of four and knew how I felt. He said to let him have the jab, so that's what I did, reckoning he knew a lot more about it than I did.

What we need is much fuller research into the effects of the MMR vaccines and also speedy research into the causes of autism. Too late for the parents who are battling on now, but it could save future children and parents similar agonies.

In the meantime, we assume that those with responsibility for the nation's health would have sought the best advice for their children. So, either way, they could at least share that with us.

Because while we're dithering, we could soon find ourselves faced yet again with the scourge of measles, mumps and rubella.

And do we really want to go back to the days when children died of measles?

PRINCESS Anne has been criticised for wearing dresses that are over 20 years old. I'm not criticising.

I appreciate her thrift - but even more so, I am lost in admiration that she still has the same figure as in her twenties.

CAMBRIDGE students have some of the best brains in the country. Yet when the students got too drunk too often, the colleges intervened, disciplined them and did their best to get them to sort themselves out.

Many footballers have their brains in their boots - even Jonathan Woodgate's lawyer called him a plank - precious little education and ridiculous amounts of money. Yet, what do the clubs do? Not much, it seems.

If you have young men who are treated like heroes, think they are gods and earn more in a week than the average person does in a year, then we can all see that it's going to lead to trouble.

Clubs have a responsibility to take more care of their players. Top football clubs, after all, hold the bulging purse strings. And even if footballers are blind to reason, they might just notice when the pay cheques dry up.

Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer were called by the judge, a thug and a liar. Yet no doubt they will soon be playing again for Leeds, earning vast sums of money, and could well be playing for England. And what sort of example is that to their fans - or to any other young footballer who will see it as carte blanche to drink himself stupid?

MORE than a quarter of married people wish they were single again, says a new survey for Reader's Digest. Yet middle-aged couples are five times more likely to fantasise about having a dog than dreaming about an extra marital affair.

These two findings are not incompatible. And if your partner starts getting dewy-eyed at the pet shop this Christmas, I'd start to get seriously worried.

IF driver Gary Hart was deemed to be criminally irresponsible for falling asleep at the wheel and letting his Land Rover plunge into the path of a train, how on earth can we accept that junior doctors routinely make life and death decisions on just as much, or as little sleep? Who's criminally irresponsible there?

THE working mother's Christmas was summed up perfectly by an exhausted friend. "If only, "she said, "Christmas at home didn't come at the same time as Christmas at work..."

Any working mother will know exactly what she means. I hope you manage to get both Christmases sorted with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of pleasure.