HAVE you got something to sing about? Probably not. We don't sing any more. At the Choir of the Year final, composer John Rutter complained that we are no longer a singing nation. Except at football matches, of course. I bet the only songs my sons know are those questioning the parentage of referees.

Sad, isn't it?

It's all probably to do with not going to church and no more school assemblies. We used to sing a hymn every morning - in Welsh on Tuesdays. My mind is a rag-bag of great and glorious phrases involving cherubim and seraphim, golden crowns and planting footsteps on seas and riding on storms. Not to mention Green Grow the Rushes-o and the complete early works of Bob Dylan.

Lost for ever, apparently.

But singing is good for you. Literally. A good sing opens up the lungs, gets the oxygen coursing round the system and makes you physically feel better. Think of those people down the bomb shelters in the Blitz. They didn't just sing to pass the time, they sang to keep their courage up. And it worked.

Belting out a good song helps you through the day. Tricky, perhaps, if you're working in a library or doing brain surgery. But great when I was a chambermaid - with 39 loos and baths to clean and 39 beds to make between breakfast and lunch, I couldn't have done it without going through the entire music of West Side Story.

A friend of mine always sings Who Would True Valour See when she's mucking out the stables. Gets the job done in no time.

Slaves, sang. Sailors sang. Chain gangs sang. People going down on the Titanic sang. It helps get you through a lot of things.

The trouble is that we think of singing as something arty and unnecessary. Time to re-package it as an alternative therapy. Then people would flock to choir practice the way they already flock to gyms. And we'd probably all be a lot better for it.

Try it and see. All together now...

I KEEP seeing the new Madonna video on the music channels. Must have seen it a dozen times, but I still couldn't tell you a word of it. Why not?

I'm too busy staring, transfixed at her. She's 42, she's just had a baby, yet she's stick thin with a washboard stomach.

Someone tell me it's trick photography. Please.

TWO years ago I suggested pedestrian lanes for pavements - slow lanes on the inside for window shoppers and dawdlers, old ladies with shopping trolleys and people with prams, while the outside lane could be kept for those of us who actually needed to get somewhere quickly.

I meant it as a sort of joke really. But guess what?

Businesses in London's Oxford Street have lodged just such a plan with Westminster City Council. What's more, they want a minimum speed of 3mph in the fast lane, no maps, no mobiles, no studying street signs - and all with speed cameras and on-the-spot £10 fines. Which seems a bit harsh, even by my standards.

So if you're shopping in Oxford Street - don't forget your running shoes.

NEW research has proved that men listen with only half a brain. Really? That much?

Actually, Pete Winstanley of Chester-le-Street has beaten me to it. He saw that scrap of news and admitted defeat even before I'd had time to print it.

As a regular at playgroup and the school gates, he says he has always marvelled at the superior conversational skills of women and also their ability to supervise their children at the same time.

A typical seamless conversation, he says, would go like this. "So I said, Laura, you're never going out like that... James, don't be unkind darling... and she said why not?... you can have a sweetie later, it's nearly lunch time... so I said, well suit yourself but don't blame me if... James! Leave him alone!... and you should have seen her when she came in, she was blue with cold!"

"As a man," says Pete, "I could never get the hang of it. I either lost track of the conversation or else realised I had been completely oblivious to an impending disaster involving one of my children."

Now his daughters are teenagers, he sees the same skill emerging effortlessly, especially when involving listening to the radio while turning in a perfectly decent bit of homework.

The question is, of course, if a man uses only half his brain to listen with, what on earth is he doing with the other half? On balance, perhaps it's better that we don't know.

IT'S enough to make you weep... nursery staff are being told not to call children "naughty" when they misbehave. Too negative.

Well yes, of course it's right to be as positive and encouraging as possible with children. Of course, you mustn't label them. I never ever called mine "stupid" for instance (well, not until they were in their teens) because they weren't stupid and I didn't want them thinking that they were, or that I thought that they were.

But I often called them naughty, because often that's exactly what they were. They were naughty, what they did was naughty and I didn't want them doing it again.

And, by and large, they didn't. A fierce "That's naughty!" got the message over loud and clear, and immediately. If I'd waffled on about "I don't like the way you're doing that", they'd probably still be trying to stuff a Rubik cube up the nose of next door's cat.

To try to teach children right and wrong without using the word "naughty" strikes me as being incredibly daft. But I don't suppose we're allowed to say that any more either.

www.thisisthenortheast.co.uk/ news/griffiths.htm