The New Year's Honours List makes me wonder, as all honours list announcements do, about the relative values at work behind it. Is a lifetime of literary excellence worth the same as a few years of cycling quite fast? Even if you think Chris Hoy deserves his gong, why's he getting it at 32, when Terry Pratchett had to wait until he was 60? And would Pratchett have had a sniff without the announcement that he's battling Alzheimer's? When she notched up her swimming double gold, I predicted that it'd be Dame Rebecca Adlington come December. Fortunately, a 19 year-old DBE was too much even for the honours selectors this time, so she gets the OBE - which is just about right, I'd say, but if she manages another gold in 2012, she's a shoo-in, isn't she? If forced to write about Kelly Holmes or Tanni Grey-Thompson, I would have to refer to 'Dame' Kelly and 'Dame' Tanni - so risible do I find their titles. So, the question is: Why do sports men and women get instant high-level gratification from the gong squad? It's a recent thing. After Moscow 1980, Steve Ovett got an OBE, Sebastian Coe got an MBE. Coe's later elevation was the result of his political career (political honours are a whole other can of worms, which, given time, we might well open). Does this indicate the devaluation of honours? Or am I guilty of doing a Rhodes Boyson?
There are other, subtler distinctions at play in the whole sideshow. Why is it Sir Mick Jagger, but only Robert Plant CBE? Sir Percy's got a ring to it, no? Why is it Sir Tom Jones, but only Bruce Forsyth CBE or Ronnie Corbett OBE? Why do I care so much about this largely meaningless display of patronage? Stan Tracey had it right when he received the OBE (since upgraded to a C, but if anyone deserves an hereditary peerage for services to jazz, it's Stan). Someone said to him that he must feel very honoured. He replied "Does it get me a discount in Sainsbury's?".