David Bouchier

According to an ancient legend, Leap Year Day (today) is the window of opportunity for women to propose marriage to men and, if they are rejected, to claim a silk gown as a forfeit, or perhaps a little item from Victoria's Secret. A Scottish law of 1288 prescribed a fine of "anepundis" or one pound for any man who refused to accept his fate in a gentlemanly fashion. A pound was a lot of money, in those days. More recently, Sadie Hawkins pursued L'il Abner so relentlessly through a thousand cartoon strips that some people call February 29 Sadie Hawkins's Day.

The proposal floated recently by two army generals that women should be required to register for selective service is definitely a step in the right direction, but only a step. If we follow through on the logic of this idea it would solve at least one of our global problems.

Do I hear a collective sigh of relief now that Valentine’s Day is over? It’s one of those occasions in the year when so many things can go wrong. Cards with red hearts may arrive in the wrong mailbox, plush bears may end up in the wrong bedrooms, flowers may be delivered to the wrong address, and the candlelit dinner may be inedible. Then the whole uneasy balance between romance and commercialism collapses into tragedy or farce. Other annual festivals are stressful too: Thanksgiving, The Holidays, and even New Year.

For ten years now the television series Downton Abbey has been the flagship carrier of international nostalgia. It will be coming to an end next month, no doubt to great lamentation among its 120 million worldwide viewers, and will immediately go into reruns. Fans are already gripped by a kind of preemptive nostalgia at the thought of seeing it all over again. It is a genuine cultural phenomenon.

If you have ever been a teacher it won’t surprise you to hear that attention spans are getting shorter - and it’s not just young people, it’s all of us.  Entertainment and advertising are increasingly produced in tiny fragments, so consumers don’t drift off to watch something else. Curators of museums feel the need to condense their presentations into the shortest possible time span (ten thousand years of history in five minutes). Some radio stations – but not this one – make it a policy never to play more than seven or eight minutes of music without a break.