Happiness is a well-fed Furby

9th October 1998 at 01:00
Lots of bullies around this week-not just on the party conference platforms - but in school, at work and on the rugby fields.

Girl bullies are particularly hard to deal with, Oxford University psychiatrists said this week, because their tactics are less direct and harder to detect. But bullies in general and their victims are more likely to suffer from depression than their fellow pupils.

Some five million adults have also been humiliated by bullying bosses, a TUC survey revealed. Teachers are not immune, as was shown in this summer's out-of-court settlement for a deputy head who claimed his two breakdowns were caused by a bullying female head.

Another court case revealed the bully-boy tactics of the rugby field when David Carlton, 19, was sentenced to 12 months in a young offenders' institution for kicking an opponent unconscious and breaking his jaw. He had a previous unblemished record at his boarding school.

Kellogg's was taken to task by the Advertising Standards Authority after complaints about its ad which suggested that eating breakfast cereals could help stop plump youngsters being bullied at school. There's no evidence that being fat was a common reason for being bullied, claimed the charity Kidscape.

Tell that to 11-year-old Kyle, a British resident at a summer camp in New York State who, like hundreds of others, was trying to shed pounds. "If I'm fat at the beginning of my new school, people will go on beating me up forever. "

Let's turn to happiness: after 11 years of research, Michael Argyle, an emeritus reader at Oxford, has discovered one of nature's elusive secrets: what really makes us happy - watching soaps, that's what. Money doesn't guarantee happiness, but marriage, especially for men, does. So does having one close relationship and a network of friends.

Well, you probably wouldn't want a friend like Gareth Edwards of Sheffield Hallam University who got drunk with his mates, taped their conversation and published an account in a learned journal, in the cause of research. It was an experiment to see if men became more uninhibited when drunk. (Didn't he read Macbeth?) Of course they did - and more sexist, racist and homophobic to boot.

They might even have been heightist. Yet another research study claimed that short children are less intelligent than their taller classmates and unlikely to do as well at school. Nonsense, replied half the acting profession (and me and my vertically challenged TES colleagues).

Playground games are good for a child's education, especially boys. Tearing around in different directions and lots of running help to develop spatial skills which are essential to learn physics, design and maths, says Dorothy Einon, a psychologist.

Play, not formal lessons, benefit under-sixes, said another academic, in conflict with the views of our own dear Government which wants education to start at four, kids to be in bed early after two hours homework, off the streets by 9pm ... New Labour; no fun.

A new treat will be in store by Christmas: the Furby, a cuddly cyberpet to rival the plastic Tamagotchis. Furbys, which look like furry barn owls, crave attention, have a vocabulary of around 200 words and 800 phrases, complain if you don't feed them, but they don't die like their predecessors. Remember those cyberpet cemeteries?

Or the phrase, "Here's one I made earlier"? Yes, Blue Peter is 40 years old; and at least the presenters' pets were real.

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