Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.
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Saturday 31 December 2011

Thank you, 2011.

OOF. Another 365 days have passed and the whole world is marking it at an arbitrary point in time after which everything is much the same as it was before, only with a hangover.

It must be said though that the annual habit of taking a step back to survey what has passed is a pleasing one, and when I bought a 2012 diary the other day I had a lot of fun going through the 2011 one to transfer all the birthdays and seeing where I was and what or whom I was doing.

Journalistic round-ups of the year are a massive ball-ache for the poor sod who has to write them, so I won't bore you with one here. If you can be bothered Charlie Brooker's Wipe 2011 does a reasonable job of it, although there seems to be more on phone-hacking than the Arab Spring (which involved rather more deaths and democracy and will probably affect more lives in the long run). Anyway you can watch it here to make up your own minds and if you get as far as 15 minutes in there's 90 seconds of yours truly saying super-injunctions were a farce.

I don't know about you but lots has happened in my year - the first half was bit rubbish and the second half was brilliant. I got my book deal and there are already a couple of projects in the pipeline for 2012 which I can't tell you about yet.

This time last year I didn't have this blog - I'm not sure what I have now that I do, but it's fun and lots of you seem to like it, so I might as well carry on. A handful of people will never like a tabloid journalist, or me, or what I say, and that's fine. I have neither the time nor medical expertise to convince them otherwise anyway.

During the course of the past year many of you have taken the time and effort to email, Facebook or Tweet me thanks, praise, abuse, questions, thoughts and demands. Whether you agree with me or not it's amazing - interaction is what teaches us about each other, and makes the world a better place. No-one ever died from debate.

The best thing I have discovered this year is that there are many people out there who quietly watch, read, and listen, and absorb without saying a word. When they do it is a little message to say what I wrote made them laugh, think a bit, or that while they still hate journalists they think I'm all right. Usually they manage to say it just as I am despairing over something, and it perks me right up.

Scott wrote:
"I'm not interesting or special or talented so there's no reason why you should care what I think, but as the year draws to an end I wanted to send a brief note of gratitude to you (and the two other bloggers I read). 
I appreciate that the investment in the blog must be great, especially as it comes on top of a busy (and often emotional) job and, no doubt, personal life. It must be difficult sometimes to keep it so consistently good. But please do. The reason I only read three blogs is primarily due to time but also because there's an awful lot of shite around. Fleet Street Fox offers a perspective which makes me think more about things. This makes me a bit more considered, a bit less willing to jump to a conclusions and I like to think, a bit better all round.
Best wishes for the year ahead, the book launch, the continued success of the blog and everything else. Thanks again."
And Nic said:
"This will probably sound ridiculous but having read your blog since its inception and hearing snippets of abuse you have gone through from your ex and as a result of your job, yet you seem to be stronger because of it and just as secure and defiant in your own mind, it really gives me hope for my future.
I have emailed some stranger before and it is likely irrelevant to you but it means the world to me and I felt compelled to thank you. So... Thank you x"
Both of which were rather lovely to receive.

So let me repay the compliment to thank all of you - for reading, retweeting and sharing, for clicking on adverts and whatever attention you pay to this daft idiot on the internet. I'm glad we know each other. And if there is someone out there who has done you a turn this year, then pick up the phone and thank them too.

Now go and get pissed. 2012 is coming round and I swear it's bringing a bottle of vodka with it.

You're brilliant, is what you are.

Saturday 24 December 2011

Happy Foxmas.

Have a lovely day, folks. Cleave to your loved ones, call the people you've had a row with this year, and stuff your faces like it's the last days of Rome.

Me, I'm staking out the tree. Contact tells me a fat man will turn up with presents at some point.

I'll just rest my eyes for a minute.

Saturday 17 December 2011

The Foxtivity.

AND it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Gideon the Chancellor of the Exchequer that all the world should be taxed, as he'd run out of everyone else's money and wouldn't be inheriting daddy's for a while.

And all went to be taxed, everyone to his own city. And Hugh Grant went up from Chelsea, out of Paparazzi City where he strangely kept living, unto the city of Privacy, to be taxed with SamCam Bletherington Posh-Girl Smythe, his espoused wife, being great with child.

And they travelled on an ass named Superinjunction, and tried to get a room at The Savoy but he wasn't wearing a tie, and The Dorchester but the Queen was staying and she hated Four Weddings, and then the Travelodge at Clackett Lane Services but Hugh didn't like the ambience of the toilets. Hugh lastly tried The Temple of St Paul's but the pastor closed the doors upon him, saying: "We are full, there are many bankers in here already and we're still cleaning up since the last time we let the hoi polloi in."

As SamCam Bletherington Posh-Girl Smythe forebore her condition with only the occasional demand for an iced latte and a foot rub Hugh decided they must camp in the square outside St Paul's, even though they had no cash because Europe and Gideon and the bankers and a sub-prime mortgage scandal on the other side of the world had taken it all. So he bought a tent and heater and an iPhone charger, and got a Starbucks loyalty card as they must have the basics in life.

And as the hippies also living in that place huffed and puffed and organised LGBT inclusion committees SamCam was delivered of her firstborn child, conceived she had insisted while she was a virgin at the behest of an angel of the Lord and certainly not the lad next door whispering things through an impressionable 14-year-old's bedroom window.

She swaddled the baby in designer tat and laid him in a manger the hippies were using to feed their chihuahuas, because there was no room for them at the inn.

And behold there came three hacks from EC4A asking everyone they met: "Where is the child that is born of two celebrities? For we have seen it in the Star and are come to worship him, for the babe will sell many papers and pay our bar bills which are great."

When Charlie Boy the king heard these things he was troubled, for he thought celebrities would take attention away from serious news such as his latest green charity initiative although he was happy if no-one mentioned his running costs, the ex-wife or what his younger brothers were up to.

And Charlie Boy gathered all the chief scribes of Fleet Street together, and demanded they tell him where this child had been born. And they said unto him, we have not got a clue, how are we supposed to know? And he said, come along, I am not as stupid as I look, have you got Hugh's mobile number? And the scribes were shocked and said, how can you suggest such a thing, and Charlie Boy raised an eyebrow and said, if you don't tell me you're not getting on any more of my foreign junkets, and the scribes said, all right his best mate's told us he's at St Paul's but we only had to buy him a pint and not hack his phone, you'd be surprised how many friends and rellies hate the famous people they know, and Charlie Boy said Andrew's been seeing some Krgyztani bird you know, might be worth a look...

Then Charlie Boy sent the three hacks up the road with instructions to find the child and tell him about the babe, as he was as fascinated as everyone else in the country even though he liked to pretend he was above gossip which he wasn't as he was a human being and quite missed reading the News of the World.

The hacks departed and dressed as fake sheikhs followed the flashlights till they came and stood over where the young child was. And when they were come into the tent, they saw the young child with SamCam its mother, and took their picture and asked them to say how happy they were, and she said, piss off have you stolen my medical records, and Hugh insisted they must have bugged the donkey, and the hacks said do not be daft, there's a bloody great flashing light in the sky and besides the hippies rang the newsroom because they wanted fifty quid and you can't bug a donkey, we have tried it. Then they opened their treasures, and presented unto them gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And Hugh said, what use is this? And SamCam said your hands need a wash mate.

Then the three fake sheikhs asked for a receipt, and Hugh Grant kicked them from the stable.

Being warned in a drunken haze they should not return to the newsroom without a story, the three wise hacks knocked off and went to the pub. And an Angel of the Lord appeared to Hugh Grant in a dream, saying arise and take the child into Mustique, and stay there until I get a superinjunction to make all this go away.

And Charlie Boy seeing that he was mocked by the wise hacks for talking to plants and wanting to be a tampon, sent forth to slay all the celebrities in a Christmas bloodbath. He said, there is always one dies every Christmas, everyone knows that, and what is wrong if they all kark it.

Then The Babe spoke from its manger, and a few people who could be bothered stopped to listen for a minute.

And The Babe spat its dummy out and said: "Aside from the murder thing, which is bad, if you kill all celebrities and the hacks are not able to write about them any more then their newspapers will not sell, and The Reader will not see the really important but quite boring story on page 27. The boring things are the ones that matter most, but if people liked being bored The Groaner would sell millions and it don't. So let the tabs poke fun and entertain, so long as they treat others as they like to be treated themselves, and let the snoresheets help old men to sleep in the afternoons, and suffer the little celebrities to come to me to get their careers started until a few years later they turn round and moan about their privacy. We can forgive them, for they know not what they do. Let us love our enemies, for without them we would be bored."

And people thought for a minute, and saw The Babe had a point, even if they did not agree with all of it, and went about their business pretty much the same as they did before.

And The Babe wondered how to get a bottle of sauvignon blanc past mummy and daddy.

(With thanks to Nick Stern for the picture)

Thursday 15 December 2011

Can't we deport them?

THERE'S a problem family I know of.

White, of course. Neither of them gainfully employed doing anything much.

She has a dodgy past with rappers and aristocratic layabouts, while he left school and spent five years running errands for benefit cheats. He had what the neighbours might think of as "a real job" for all of seven years as some kind of Del Boy figure in public relations, swearing black was white and practising his 'not lying' face.

For the past decade he's been living off the taxpayer. Last I heard it was costing us £142,500 a year to maintain his lifestyle, and he also gets two free cars and has four houses. He sub-lets one of them and doesn't even have a mortgage on it.

His wife seems to earn a lot for not doing much two days a week, which seems questionable in itself. Somehow they've just spunked £64,000 on a second kitchen and got us to pay for half of it, even though they already had a kitchen and it was done up only a few years ago.

I've heard their marble dining table cost £6,312 and the chairs for it were £1,524 each - by my reckoning that's twelve and a half grand just to eat your tea. You could buy a house in Burnley for that money.

He comes and goes at all hours and they've got some very dodgy friends knocking on the door late at night. One of them looks like Jeremy Clarkson. Another reckons he's their accountant but looks more like a French aristocrat who's lost his periwig on the way to the guillotine. A few of us are trying to get the council to put an ASBO on his best mate, who looks like him but keeps chucking stones at passing schoolchildren. I think he's a bit simple, myself.

They don't seem to do much for the community. He talks about the Big Society a lot and everyone suffering in the recession, but I've noticed his hands don't get dirty, his heating's on day and night and his arse keeps getting wider. But then if I had a four grand Italian sofa I'd spent a lot of time sitting down as well.

They've got a handful of kids who'll grow up to be much the same as the parents, I expect. I'd say they were all quite dense but they seem to have figured out something I can't, which is how to make a lot out of naff all.

Still, the good news is that walking tumour of a Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has announced a crackdown on problem families who cost society more than they give us, so I'm looking forward to Dishface getting his own troubleshooting 'family worker' who will tell him to do some proper work, or be booted out of his Grade-I listed social housing.

Or we could just start with cutting his benefits, because apparently starvation is the best way to get the old work ethic firing.

David William Donald Cameron... you are an habitual layabout who accepts welfare benefits as an occupational hazard and presumably accepts free houses in the same casual manner...

(with thanks to Paul Whitrow for his Photoshop skills)

Wednesday 14 December 2011

A glass house can get chilly.

LET me give you a 'for instance'.

Imagine a tabloid newspaper had exposed a major bank after a number of its staff were accused of taking cash out of the safe and spending it in a casino.

Millions of pounds were made and lost at the roulette wheel, wasted on champagne and strippers, while small businesses were refused loans and mortgages were called in. Five or six bankers were named, the customers they screwed over spoke about their troubles, the police made a series of arrests and Dishface weighed in to order a public inquiry into the culture and ethics of the banking industry. The BBC and other news organisations pick the story up from the tabloid which broke it without checking, without questioning, and apply the boot rigorously.

Imagine that story sparked an outcry in the midst of the banker-hate which has been a feature of the economic crisis, a wave of revulsion so bad that thousands of people closed their accounts, companies took their cash elsewhere and the bank at the centre of the scandal went bust, along with the loss of hundreds of jobs from the chief exec all the way down to the front-desk staff, cleaners and caretakers.

Celebrities demand the bankers be held to account and complain they lost money and politicians join in because it looks like an easy win. Share prices tumble. Everyone in every bank everywhere is tainted by association. Mortgage advisers, clerks, business gurus and the like find it impossible to get work for month after month, as other banks worry and apply ever-more extreme caution to all their decisions. Court cases are launched, millions are paid out in compensation, lawyers take a share of the winnings, and the sacked bank employees spend a lot of time being disgusted at their own profession, depressed, and wondering how it all went so wrong.

And six months later it turns out the story was wrong.

The reviled people are still bankers; there was still an economic crisis which they'd played their part in, they had definitely partied with champagne and strippers while refusing other people's loans, but they had used their own money to do it rather than the customers'. They had certainly fractured a few laws, some people needed to be held to account and a clean-up was called for, but the entire profession was not due the demonisation it got.

Perhaps the bank would have gone bust anyway; but what is undeniable is that the original, false story was the pivot on which a whole scandal turned.

It turns out the story came from one or two anonymous sources who may have made a tidy sum out of it. The police may have known all along that the bankers weren't guilty of the crimes they had been accused of but said nothing, even when there was a run on the bank. The people who had suffered personal misfortune had their plight manipulated by everyone with a vested interest, and while money still went missing no-one knows who took it and no-one's been asking that question.

What do you think would happen to the tabloid newspaper responsible for this imaginary yarn?

Well, the snoresheets would be demanding a front-page apology. They would be decrying standards of journalism relying on a couple of anonymous sources, the police would be asked to explain themselves, the politicians would have to put a sock in it, the journalists who repeated the story without checking it themselves would get a rollocking and have to publish their own apologies and corrections, and the celebrities would quietly count their six-figure compensation deals while the ordinary people sucked into the scandal by being victims of horrid circumstance would, finally, be left alone to put their lives back together.

Oh, and the bankers who'd been wrongly sacked would sue everyone they could.

Tabloid journalists, generally speaking, don't sue. You rarely get more than the lawyer and it's easier just to have a quiet word in someone's ear and make sure that one of your friends, somewhere, publishes the story your enemy doesn't want to be known.

In the case of the phone-hacking scandal, that would best take the form of every journalist who dislikes hypocrisy making a formal complaint to the Press Complaints Commission citing the Code of Practice, Article 1: accuracy; 2: the right to reply; 4: harassment (I know of several reporters rung 15 times a day by so-called 'quality' hacks who won't take naff off for an answer) and 9: the reporting of crime.

And when we've done that, we'll fire up the Attorney General on the topic of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 and unfair and inaccurate reporting while a case is active and before it can be heard in front of a jury.

I'm sure the defence in all cases will be that livelihoods were destroyed in the public interest, but I am not sure how much interest is served in losing hundreds of innocent people their jobs because of a handful who broke the law in dealing with 800 people, especially while the police were sat on their fat backsides failing to investigate the crimes and leaking inaccurate information in order to make themselves look better than they are.

Journalists complaining about unfair reporting are always going to be scoffed at. But if tabloids must meet the highest possible standards, then that applies equally to the rest of our trade. Especially those who think they are above it.

And the sanctimonious little twerps who were expecting awards and backslaps for their grand expose can kiss my furry arse.

Best put the stones down now, ladies.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Some twats never learn.

THE trick to having a good scandal is to learn from it.

So if you are caught sexing up a dossier on a foreign tyrant's ability to fire chemical weapons at British bases and it leads to lots of deaths and billions of pounds spent firing depleted uranium munitions at civilians who are left with a legacy of radiation-related birth defects, it's best to own up.

If you try to pay off a prostitute over your use of her services by sending a mate to meet her at the train station with an envelope stuffed full of cash and a tabloid newspaper is photographing the whole thing and that mate later admits you made him do it and a diary proves you perjured yourself at the original trial, just plead guilty and get it over with.

If the nation's beef trade is on its knees because of new medical claims about Mad Cow Disease the thing to do, as agriculture minister, is not to force-feed your own uncomprehending child a burger on national TV.

But then some twats never learn.

Which is the reason why, I imagine, the Committee on Members' Expenses - not a Soho sex trade price-setting body but a group of politicians considering their own fraudulent colleagues - has suggested that MPs stop bothering submitting a receipt along with their claims for reimbursement from the taxpayer.

Why should they? Why should 650 people already paid a basic rate of £65,738 a year with access to a publicly-subsidised bar and restaurants possibly have to explain why they want more out of us? Why shouldn't they scrutinise their own expenses, why do they have to prove they actually spent the money, why can't they reduce the amount of time they spend ordering their taxpayer-paid secretaries who are usually their wives filling in forms?

Why shouldn't they get their wisteria pruned, their bellies filled, their Grade-II listed homes repainted, their moats cleared, their tennis courts relaid, an expensive armchair for their botties to rest in and a Bang and Olufsen giant flatscreen telly?

Just because every other employee in the country - including journalists, since you're asking - has to provide receipts and explanations for their spending why on earth should public servants have to do the same? Poor sods. They have such a hard life, don't they? With staff and offices and homes they can furnish and flog for a profit without spending a single penny of their own, with those long Friday afternoons spent listening to other people's problems and that horrid half-hour on Wednesdays where they have to sit in an historic palace to shout at the boys from the other team.

What right do we have to expect anything of them?


Some pigs are more equal than others, hey?

Monday 12 December 2011

Hang up.

WHEN you're driving along and the phone beeps with a message, it doesn't seem like much just to look at it.

When it rings the temptation is to answer it quickly. When the traffic lights change before you can get through them you tend to think you can put your toe down, sneak through and it won't matter.

We all do it and on occasions like those you think: "Oh, it's only a few seconds." A few seconds never matter much to anyone, we think, and generally we're right. We get away with it so we do it again, like a private detective listening to other people's voicemails. It's only a little thing and no-one gets hurt, right?

But one time in a hundred there's someone else already in the junction, a cyclist is in your blind spot, someone pulls out ahead of you without looking. One time in a hundred you'll prang your car and get shaken up, and one time in maybe a thousand you'll kill yourself or someone else.

Jemma O'Sullivan was in a van with her boyfriend on the M18 near Doncaster when a lorry driver hit them from behind, pushing them into another lorry which in turn hit a second van. Jemma, who was just 22, died. Her boyfriend had serious injuries, as did most of the other people involved.

Lorry driver Christopher Kane, who at 67 should have known better, was texting at the wheel. He admitted causing death by dangerous driving and has been sentenced to five years' jail.

A tragic tale, we might think while turning the page and going on to read about the X Factor. Sad but nothing to do with us.

Well, it is. Because we all do that, don't we? If we're honest.

I do. I have a hands-free kit to make and receive calls while I'm driving, but it's not always plugged in and sometimes I just answer the phone without thinking. I never text or check my emails unless I'm stuck in traffic, but many's the time I've had a quick glance and narrowly missed a 2mph shunt in a traffic jam.

And I don't have any excuse for it. Generally I'm driving around for work but there's not much that can't wait half an hour, or that I couldn't pull over to deal with before driving on. But then we all forget when we're in our cars that they are massive metal boxes moving at speed, and that humans are squishy and do not come with crumple-zones.

None of us have any excuse for it. Every single mobile phone these days comes with a free - A FREE - earpiece so that calls can be answered safely when the user is behind the wheel. Yet I see half a dozen people every day yabbering on a phone held to their ear while they have just one hand on the wheel and only half their mind on the road.

There were 31,035,791 cars on the UK roads last year. Roughly that number of new mobile phones are sold in this country every year. Each of them with a FREE earpiece, which means there is no excuse for every one of those drivers to have left it in the box.

At the same time there were 171,000 fixed penalty fines issued by police for driving while on the phone - equivalent to one every three minutes, and the figure is rising. The fines are rising too, from £60 to £100, but it still doesn't seem enough to stop anyone doing it.

Driving home from the pub while three sheets to the wind didn't use to matter, largely because the roads were empty and the metal boxes were slower. Over time as more people were killed by drivers' selfishness it became socially unacceptable, and to see someone leave a Christmas party tipsy and clutching their car keys today would provoke a wave of revulsion and criticism. 

Yet driving while using your phone is more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk. Not one of us would think driving drunk is a good idea, but we all think there's not much harm in reading a text.

We're wrong. I'm wrong, you're wrong. If you're using your phone behind the wheel you're not trying to kill yourself and other people, but you are clearly not bothered if you wipe out two vans, a couple of lorries and a young kid just starting out in life.

If only there were a sticker you could put in your windscreen or on your bumper which says "I try not to kill other people." Unfortunately there isn't, but there are a load of cheap hands-free kits, there's common sense, and in case you haven't got the message yet there's a FREE EARPIECE IN THE BOX.


Thursday 8 December 2011

Cheeky monkeys.

THERE are a group of people without whom not a single newspaper would ever be produced.

They are regarded as the very worst denizens of Fleet Street, lower and more unpleasant than the clich├ęd hack in a dirty mac prepared to steal a picture of a dead baby out of its weeping mother's hands: photographers.

Also variously known as toggies, snappers, phots, monkeys (they tend to gibber and scratch themselves) and far ruder terms hurled by police, the public, bouncers and celebrities they are quite possibly the least understood part of my trade. And not just because they're always talking about apertures, popping focus and light levels, which might as well be in Mandarin for all the difference it makes to me and my biro.

They don't shove cameras in people's faces, because the shot would be blurred; they back away as they shoot to maintain focus. They don't spend hours digitally removing girls' underwear, because most papers don't use those shots and snappers never have the time. They can sit in blacked out white vans in 90-degree heat for 20 hours at a time relieving themselves in water bottles and ZipLock bags, they can be unbearably disgusting, they can be lazy and smelly and miss the shot so you have to do it all again tomorrow, but I've never met one who was anything but bright, clever, and funny.

They are often called paparazzi, when in fact they're a different species entirely. Paps work for themselves and agencies, earn only for a shot, and therefore do anything to get a shot that will earn. The guys who shift for Fleet Street get paid whether something happens or not, just like the hacks. They're more professional, usually trained up through local papers, and the best today can take, edit and wire a picture in minutes while lighting a fag, slurping a coffee, filching a receipt without breaking stride and reminiscing about the time they had to 'dev' their own film in a hotel broom cupboard with some duct tape and household chemicals while taking enemy fire and saving some idiotic reporter from themselves.

Back in the day some papers would have up to 100 staff photographers on the payroll, kitted up, expensed and pensioned at The Proprietor's cost. As times changed, budgets were cut and more expensive digital equipment came in those snappers were put out to grass. Today you might get one or two staff phots on a paper, and a couple of dozen ever-changing freelances who graft eight days a week and buy their own gear - starting price around £20,000.

Kate McCann recently claimed snappers hit her car with their delicate lenses to get her attention; not at that price, they don't. What does happen, when you get a lot of snappers in one place, is a bunfight where the guys at the back push and shove the guy at the front into the car they're all trying to take a photograph of. I've never seen a snapper intentionally hit anything with his camera, but I've seen plenty of times where they get shoved, bust a lens and then turn around and punch the guy responsible.

I've seen tiny snappers lifted off the ground and pinned by the throat to a wall by a bouncer twice their size, who'll straighten his assailant's tie and ask him out on a date. I've thrown myself between a man with a lump of wood and the snapper he wanted to batter, I've cried on their shoulders, taken them to hospital, shared luxury and dysenteric hotel rooms with them, and given up teaching them how to spell. In return they generally try to poison me with Jagermeister and ask me to write their captions.

Monkeys are my mates. A hack and a snapper will pair up on a story and, whether you're sharing a car for 18 hours on a doorstep or hurtling around Africa trying not to get killed, that's your wingman. You are comrades, not just colleagues, and few stories get in without a picture to back them up.

I love photographers individually and as a whole, but when a group of them get together on a job it's, well, special. The collective noun is a 'circus', and if you imagine the music and behaviour of half a dozen clowns with a miniature fire engine you wouldn't be far wrong.

In April 1984 WPC Yvonne Fletcher was shot during protests outside the Libyan Embassy in St James' Square. For days afterwards the square was on lockdown as suspicion focused on her killer being a member of embassy staff, and police snipers crawled all over the roofs to get a clear view into the embassy windows.

Alongside them on the less-useful roofs were the crack shots of Fleet Street, armed to the teeth with sidepacks of film, long lenses and brick-sized mobile phones.

Unfortunately as the siege went on the plane trees in the square burst into bud, obscuring the snappers' view. Undeterred the inventive little tykes called up a tree surgeon and instructed him to come and cut a couple of branches down. The poor chap scaled a trunk only to fall off, pierce his foot on a metal railing, and be carted off to hospital.

The lads cursed, and called another landscaper who arrived but then announced he was scared of heights. The painters-with-light were probably wondering which hack they could force to shinny up there to do it when the first tree surgeon came back, bandaged and limping, and was ordered to finish off the job. With snappers on the roof shouting instructions into their new mobile phone, and police snipers watching it all with shaking heads, the chappie cut a window in the trees so the cameras could get a decent view of the front door.

You might be forgiven for thinking these dedicated gentlemen of Grub Street then sat on that roof, day and night to get their picture, their poor forgotten wives sending up home-made sandwiches and blankets to keep them warm.

But no. Instead they lined up their cameras so they'd all get the same shot, set the focus, wired them together so they could be fired simultaneously, and buggered off down the pub while leaving the youngest member of their troupe on the roof with the instructions: "If anything moves, press the button."

Oh, and they each claimed for the full cost of hiring a tree surgeon.

Shortly before taking an extended refreshment break... clockwise front to back Dave Hill (Sun), Crispy Bacon (PA) Chris Barham (Mail) John Marks (Times) Francis Rosambeau (Time / Life) Mike Moore (Standard) and Peter Wilcock (Star). With many thanks to Wilco for letting me use it.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

What a hero.

ONCE upon a time I was working on a local paper and interviewing a group of sixth-formers about some drama festival.

They were a combination of speccy, spotty and shy except for one lad who was already a man - his shoulders had broadened, his voice had deepened, and he was flirting with me like Rhett Butler twitching his tache.

For a moment or two I was smitten, then I asked him his age. "Seventeen," he said with a smirk, and I realised I was a pervert.

I was only 23 at the time but while six years makes not a jot of difference later in life at that age it's an uncrossable abyss. I paid taxes and he couldn't pay attention to anything that didn't have breasts. My first album was a Michael Bolton LP and his, whatever it was, would have been on a CD. I may as well have been his grandmother.

Then again when I was 17 I fell madly in love with someone who was almost 30. I was certain we were soulmates; he was in fact a bit of a twat.

So how come a 13-year gap when I was a feckless youth was all right, but a little bit later one of just six years seemed like perversion?

The truth is that with experience comes wisdom, and as you get older you realise it's just hero-worship, that 17-year-olds are full of hormones and that 30-somethings who sleep with them are full of crap.

Which explains why SHOUTY TV personage and serial-sleeper-with-famous-people Caroline Flack doesn't see anything wrong about an affair with boybander Harry Styles.

He's 17; she's 32. Were it Dermot O'Leary (38) and Amelia Lily (17) the age gap would not be much different and Simon Cowell would be pronouncing 'it's a no from me' while the nation retched into its cornflakes at pictures of an exploited child leaving his house looking dishevelled.

But Caroline (exes include Prince Harry, Jack Osbourne, Russell Brand, Robbie Williams, Dec Donnelly, Noel Fielding, Steve Jones, Alex Zane and Colin Murray) can't see why anyone should think that of her.

She said: "It’s a social thing that people aren’t accepting of big age gaps. I keep thinking, ‘What have I done wrong?’ But I haven’t done anything wrong. What’s hard for me to get my head around is people saying it’s disgusting. I don’t think it is.”

Funny, but she seemed to think it was wrong when the story first broke and her agent tried to tell a showbiz journalist their first night together was "just a snog". I'm not sure she'd be shouting about it if we didn't already know, and I'd be fascinated to hear what Harry's mum thinks about it all.

I'm sure Harry's enjoying it. But then, Harry's 17. Harry's an idiot. Harry (or one of them, I find it hard to tell these numpties apart) told a friend of mine: "We're not just a boyband, we're edgy, just like Take That."

Little Miss Shouty is not due the death threats she's had from One Direction fans - although how a threat from a random 12-year-old girl can be taken seriously is beyond me - but I can't help wondering if she'd be having a fling with a non-famous 17-year-old she'd bumped into down the Co-Op.

Perhaps the answer lies in her smiling for photographers who snapped Harry leaving her house early in the morning.

A smile which, I bet you any money, Dermot O'Leary wouldn't have the brass neck to flash if the old boot were on the other foot.


Tuesday 6 December 2011

Hacked off.

WHEN a man in a car factory has a bad day at work, the car may get put together wrong and end up killing or injuring someone.

The same is true of doctors and nurses, engineers, architects and a host of other trades; those who are teachers and lawyers, shelf-stackers, till assistants, cleaners, carpet fitters and so on are less likely to maim with a mistake but still make them nevertheless, with unseen and sometimes serious consequences.

When a journalist has a bad day at work, there's usually a massive rollocking from The Editor, a series of difficult questions from The Lawyer and The Reader gets upset.

They are upset; it may be very, awfully, badly, terribly upset, but it is just upset. No-one's ever died or been injured from the occasional mistakes I've made in print. I had someone phone up threatening suicide once when I was on a local paper and aged only 18, which was pretty hairy at the time, but I got her friend and the police round to her house as quick as I could and it turned out she was distressed we hadn't reported her gripe against the local council's wobbly pavement. It wasn't that wobbly, you see.

Despite our low murder rate it seems journalists are considered a more destructive, unpleasant and socially detrimental force at the moment than any other profession. The Leveson inquiry - which I have forsworn to pass comment on until after it reaches its conclusions - is the first time I can recall that an inquiry into a public scandal has been held before the court case. It is yet to examine the other players in the phone-hacking debacle: the police and Prime Minister Dishface, to name but two.

Yesterday staff of a political lobbying firm run by a pal of Maggie Thatcher was exposed on camera saying pretty much anything to a prospective client in order to get their business, including promises of direct access to the PM, which has been met with a total lack of surprise among most of us because it's what most industries would do to gain a competitive advantage. Last year a similar sting was carried out on tabloid journalists, who in the same way agreed to meet someone who said they had a story, tried to persuade them not to take it elsewhere, said they'd talk to the boss and be in touch. The film-makers didn't wait to hear the answer, perhaps because had they done so the hacks would have either turned them over or told them the story was impossible to use for legal reasons. But the docu on the journos is the one being heard about by that inquiry today, without any of the hacks involved being invited to explain why it's only half the story.

Meanwhile the four swordsmen trying to bring about a newspocalypse - Zac Goldsmith, Steve Coogan, Max Mosley and Hugh Grant - have paraded their personal disdain for the trade that has repeatedly embarrassed them in front of a Parliamentary committee on privacy and injunctions.

What's under the table?

They have every right to an opinion and to be heard; but perhaps with a large dose of salt.

While I have immense sympathy for people thrown unwillingly onto the news agenda by life's misfortune or by being the recipient of any of these men's sexual attentions, I am not prepared to set my moral compass according to the whims of these boorish examples of humanity who have, variously: cheated on the mother of his three children with his sister-in-law while preparing to run for office, cheated on his wife with two lap-dancers while funding the international drugs trade and seeking tabloid publicity for his projects, engaged in appalling and violent rape scenarios far worse than 'ze spanking' we all joke about, and according to rumour indulged in behaviour which means that should we be introduced I will never, and I mean NEVER, shake his hand.

And no, I can't tell you. I don't know it's true, it's not in the public interest, and it would flout that man's right to a private life unless he or someone close to him decides to make it public.

And that's rather my point - there are lots of laws which say what I can and can't do, and I stick to them. Sometimes I screw up and when that happens I try to fix it as quickly as possible, and sometimes the toerags I annoy try to use those rules to score a point at my expense. There are rules for car mechanics too, for architects and policemen and nurses and carers. Sometimes bad people couldn't care less for the rules, and sometimes they have a bad day at the office. On the rare occasions members of a particular profession cause a public outrage - organ harvesting at hospitals, for example - we allow the legal system to run its course, hold an inquiry, punish those responsible and tighten the rules to make sure it can't happen again. But when have we ever decided to legislate a trade out of existence?

There are no judicial public inquiries investigating the Coalition's failure to fix the economy, while much of the rest of Europe is improving; why Milly Dowler's killer wasn't caught before he killed again; the ties between Government ministers and lobby firms; last summer's riots; the fact the trumpeted "lasting economic legacy" of next year's Olympics is going to be an even bigger debt than we already have; or the number of elderly and children struggling below the poverty line. And we still don't have a clue where Madeleine McCann is.

I am fine with the fact it's journalism's turn to be under scrutiny; I am fine with it being the fault of relatively few people, and that I've spent my entire career being treated as something less than human in return for seeing humanity at its best and worst. I am absolutely not fine with being likened to a guard at Auschwitz, which is what Zac Goldsmith said yesterday in a gross overegging of the pudding before he realised he was an idiot and backtracked.

But let's make one thing clear: a privacy law would not have saved Maddie's family from press attention, favourable or otherwise, especially when two police forces and their own spokesman were briefing newspapers. It would not have protected murdered Jo Yeates' landlord Chris Jefferies from police who arrested and held him for three days without good reason or journalists who temporarily forgot their law training, and nor would it have stopped Milly's voicemail being listened to by a private detective acting criminally while she was the missing subject of a nationwide search.

The rules as they stand protect everyone if obeyed and exercised correctly; a privacy law, were one introduced, would be used only by those with something to hide. This week I have already seen the Press Complaints Commission invoked to threaten one journalist over a perfectly anodyne story and another for proving a public servant wasn't doing their job properly. As a result I'm all for our rules being tightened, because if the idiots that abuse the system are stopped then the people with genuine complaints are going to get a fairer hearing.

No journalist worth the name wants to upset The Reader. But it is my job to upset everyone else and I am going to carry on doing that whether the likes of Hugh Grant approves of it or not.

Keep your hands where we can see them.

Monday 5 December 2011

Don't panda to it.

TWO giant pandas have arrived at Edinburgh Zoo and from the hullabaloo you'd think they'd got there on roller skates.

The zoo is predicting one million extra visitors a year and its ticket website crashed. The First Minister of Scotland has flown to Beijing in some kind of bizarre exchange trip to praise Sino-Scots business deals (will he be expected to breed while he's there?) and people have been lining the streets in panda hats to welcome the new inmates.

Sunshine and Sweetie, or Yang Guang and TianTian if you prefer, will live in matching £275,000 cages, be fed £70,000 worth of organic bamboo every year flown in from Amsterdam, and have their movements monitored 24/7 by webcams. Seeing as they defecate 40 times a day it's probably something for those (and I could name a few celebrities who'll be logging on) with niche tastes.

To listen to the PR gumpf you might think this was all about saving the panda so it can roam the Chinese countryside once again. In the space of half an hour yesterday the First Minister for Scotland, his deputy, and the UK Secretary of State for Scotland had all issued press releases claiming credit and today Saint Nicholas of Clegg piped up about how "delighted" he is that two creatures will be spending the next ten years locked up there.

I'd be a lot more delighted if all this political effort and diplomacy had been spent on getting Abdelbaset al Megrahi the Lockerbie bomber shipped in myself, but you can't have everything.

What no-one is saying is the unwelcome truth; these animals are money-spinners, and no-one in authority is seriously interested in saving them because if they did that they wouldn't be worth as much.

Zoo tickets are free but already they are flogging panda toys, hats, key rings, a panda iThing dock and a "collapsible eco-bag", whatever that is when it's at home.

If they get around to making a baby - a process made considerably more difficult by the fact pandas aren't bothered about sex and the males are usually under-endowed - the millions the zoo expects to make will go through the roof. I doubt they'll spend the cash on rescuing animals in captivity.

In return the zoo bosses are paying the People's Republic of China £6.4m over 10 years, some of which may go on conservation but probably not all of it, and none of which is going to make a damn bit of difference to the pandas.

They are dying for two simple reasons: firstly, human beings are ruining their habitats, cutting down trees and the many types of bamboo they need to eat, and forcing them from the lowlands into mountains where there's even less food. And secondly because pandas are a bit rubbish. They're rubbish at sex, they're rubbish at evolving, they're rubbish at everything except sitting and shitting.

What they're good at is making money. There are twice as many pandas in the wild than we had thought - about 3,000 - but we're not being told about that because it doesn't make us rush to Edinburgh Zoo and buy panda mittens. And breeding in captivity to release into the wild is all well and good, but their habitat is still disappearing and unless that is reversed you are merely consigning those offspring to lingering starvation.

Any baby born to Sunshine and Sweetie is more than likely to return to the panda factory in China to enter the breeding programme. It will spend its life in a cage, encouraging us to buy black-and-white toys we don't need while being pampered beyond all recognition with a veterinary regime which costs five times more than it does to look after an elephant, and we will continue to destroy its habitat with our demand for Chinese-made panda hats while other species that we could help don't get the same money spent on them.

Would you do the same to a dodo? Run a conservation programme costing millions to keep a breeding population alive so people could come and gawp at them, rather than learn that perhaps it might be better to have not done the things which killed them in the first place? Or a Tyrannosaurus - a creature which was highly evolved but just came to the end of its run? The same thing will happen to humans one day. Would you want to be locked in a glass house so sentient giant cockroaches could ooh and aah every time you went to the toilet, and hoped you took a fancy to the other genetic tail-end-Charlie they'd moved in next door?

Pandas have a strong tug on the collective conscience - they are symbols of those species under threat from the influence of man, they are cute, and so rare it's lovely for most of us to have the chance to see them

But people who buy those panda hats and go gooey-eyed over their annual ham-fisted efforts at reproduction are not saving the pandas. They are keeping them locked up, keeping them threatened, and drawing out their inevitable demise in a way which does not dignify them or us.

Saving them properly is simply not going to happen until someone finds a way to make as many millions from pandas in a tree as they do from pandas in a zoo.

Foxes have more of a work ethic.

Thursday 1 December 2011

And what do you do?

RELAX, Britain!

There is no need to worry about the stuttering economy, the impending collapse of the Eurozone, empty pension pots, the lack of midwives, striking teachers, a buggered banking system, drought, the widening gap between rich and poor or increased taxes on the one holiday a decade you might be able to afford if you stop eating anything but cardboard you find in a skip and save up and don't get mugged, knifed or come down with rickets before you get on the plane.

All that stuff is nothing. Meaningless. Not worth the effort of bothering your little selves with. Everything is FINE.

Because we have a benign overlord who addresses us once a year by means of reading out words a number of people have written for her, including the bit at the end which says [SMILE!] and which you can spot by her confused expression as she thinks about it then lifts her upper lip in the difficult grimace of someone not quite sure if they're doing it properly.

And she knows EXACTLY what's going on. She reads lots of Government papers and assents to laws and gets to sit down with PM Dishface once a week, while he tells her that out beyond the ha-ha everything's dandy, the peasants are learning how to wash themselves at last and he'll be introducing cutlery very gradually, so as not to alarm them.

As a result Brenda has a solid and firm grasp of the crisis and scandals which rock her country, and that she views from the lofty position of living in five houses, owning dozens of racehorses, having vaults packed with jewels and a morning routine of reading The Racing Post from cover-to-cover while Philip harrumphs behind the Wellygraph.

So yesterday when confronted with a former politician at Buckingham Palace who wanted to discuss Britain's rather-naffed up economy with her, Brenda gave him the full benefit of her views and experience of 85 years spent, well, quite nicely thank you.

"Yessss," she said thoughtfully. "They do face great difficulties, don't they?"

After which she toddled off to feed fresh hand-made scones to her pack of tiny demonic dogs and watch The One Show.

I don't know about you, but I feel MUCH better.

Is that a fox? Release the hounds.