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

Monday, 31 October 2011

Hallowhogwash.

TODAY'S the day the world splits in two - the bit that likes Hallowe'en, and the bit that turns the lights out and shouts 'BUGROFF!' when the doorbell goes.

You could argue the split is between those with children and without, or the people that object to commercialisation of tradition and those that enjoy being bullied by little tykes expecting something for nothing. "How long til it's 'gissa flat-screen telly or we burn your house down?'," the cynical might ask.

Yet the rituals of All Hallow's Eve - even the ones that America has taken and made four times more expensive and less fun - still have their roots in good things. It's just we've forgotten what they are.

Pumpkins were originally turnips, carved to represent a soul suffering in Purgatory. They only became pumpkins when Celtic emigrants to America realised they were easier to deal with than turnips, and also nicer to eat. Anything is nicer than eating turnips; cardboard, cat poo, your own feet. The begging door-to-door comes from wassailing beggars, asking for soul cakes as the weather turned cold in return for saying prayers for the dead, which I suppose is more inventive than sitting outside KFC hoping for a discarded bit of factory-farmed almost-chicken.

It is the time of year when human beings gather around bonfires, store up food for the coming winter, and mark the changing of the seasons. When I was young we also used to deliver food parcels to the elderly, although that part of the harvest celebrations seems to have been lost amid fears of paedophiles, inadvertent poisonings and the health and safety police.

But the main purpose of the day, from pagans to Christians and everyone in between, was to mark the moment when life passes into death; when summer is over and the harvest is in, when you have long months of the cold and dark to wait for spring, and thoughts turn to people no longer with us. Hence the undead roam the streets, looking for a living soul to snatch, but settling in extremis for a Curly Wurly.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying Hallowe'en, yes, I get it, but most of it's hogwash and anybody who turns up on my doorstep expecting to get a bucketful of Jaffa cakes simply because they dressed up as the Cookie Monster is going to find that I have put a lot more thought into this than they have. So anyone who makes it through the enchanted forest to my gingerbread cottage is going to find one of the following:
  1. I will open the door and read the above until they go away.
  2. They will be given the contents of my recycling bin. Why should the Chinese get all the benefit?
  3. Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries played very loud and me, silently staring.
  4. A Ouija board and a tethered goat.
  5. Hurled turnips.
  6. Unholy fox noises.
  7. A request to wash my car first.
  8. Cigarettes, if they're that interested in being dead.
  9. A lecture on tooth decay.
  10. An adult in a fox costume who screams and swears from the moment the door is opened, hurls a single Curly Wurly at them and then slams the door.
But seeing as I did that last year, they might just leave me alone.

Either that or I shall egg them from my bedroom window.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

What's the point?

SO Jeremy Clarkson has dropped the injunction he took out against his ex-wife's allegations they had an affair after he remarried, saying "it's pointless".

He means of course that the "anarchic" internet allows these secrets to sneak out and it's a waste of time and money trying to stop it, rather than the fact it is 360-degrees of wrong for anyone, much less a millionaire and someone who has been a journalist since he left school, to remove someone else's ability to express themselves.

Mr Clarkson has not been so bold as to accuse his ex-wife Alexandra Hall of lying, and nor has he explained that what he injuncted was a book she wrote about her own life, and which included a chapter or so on her first marriage and what she says happened after they divorced.

It's a subject close to my own heart but let's just state, for the record, no-one should ever have the right to injunct anyone from writing about themselves. If someone wants to stop publication of what they claim are lies, they have to take it to court and thrash it out in front of a judge. That's the way the free world works. Mr Clarkson decided he couldn't be bothered with that, and has locked himself inside a nuclear submarine while his wife and children put up with the headlines.

But while he has got us on the topic there are few other things which are pointless and we shouldn't bother with:
1. Cheryl Tweedy.
2. National debt. A debt of £500 should and could be repaid, but a debt of £500bn might as well be forgotten about because you've no chance. Let's reset all national debts to zero - the US, Zaire, Italy, Greece, everyone - because it's not like anyone was going to get paid anyway, and live within our means. Just a thought.
3. Stress. Whether it's work, love, or money, you've either got it or you haven't and you've not much control over how it comes and goes. We all end up dead; the trick is to enjoy yourself for as long as possible first.
4. Lettuce. See 3.
5. Actors offering commentary on anything except acting. I'm not interested in your views on politics, Africa or the travelling community and for goodness' sake stop making out your job is hard. Standing where you're told and reading aloud is hardly the same as being down the pit.
6. Family arguments. Unless your parents are Fred and Rose West you don't have much to be bothered about, so be nice.
7. Celebrity fitness videos. Used only by men wanting to exercise their right arm, and there are plenty of other ways to do that.
8. E4+1.
9. Media studies degrees.
10. Vegetarian bacon. If you like bacon, you are not a vegetarian.
But for starters, I'll be happy with a deep-sea accident which means Jeremy Clarkson and his vile brown teeth are locked inside a nuclear reactor for the rest of time.

Scuttle him!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Necessity is the mother of invention.

I AM always in two minds about Formula 1.

Firstly it's just cars going round in a circle, which however fast they do it is quite boring, and I'd be much more engaged if they either went cross-country, had someone riding shotgun or tried doing the M25 on a wet Wednesday evening.

Secondly the most interesting stuff about F1 always happens off the track. The drivers, the models, the technology. It's thanks to F1's innovations and perfection of existing tech that the rest of us have access to anti-lock braking systems in our own cars, carbon fibre-bodies, shock absorbers, improved suspension and tyres. F1 also gave us carbon-composite seats in military vehicles to protect soldiers from bullets and shockwaves, better wheelchairs, patient health sensors, pit-stop style intensive care procedures.

Do you remember the Beagle lander? The British-designed exploration vehicle we sent to Mars and promptly lost? Well, it was covered in a heat-resistant material originally designed to protect F1 car exhaust pipes. Wherever the Beagle lander is, it didn't burn up on the way there.

This year F1 cars will start using flywheels in their engines, which will capture energy created by braking so it can be used later for acceleration. They can trap enough power to get a normal road car from 0 to 46mph, and now commercial manufacturers are looking at ways to include it in new cars to conserve fuel for the rest of us.

Of course we'll be waiting a long time for F1 to come up with a decent windscreen wiper, which is why they're still made of rubber and squeak like they're on a Model T Ford.

But against all these gains is one dreadful cost. It's not the petrochemicals, it's not the carbon footprint, it's not even Jeremy Clarkson.

It's the double-headed hydra of Tamara and Petra Ecclestone, the two vacuous, rage-inducing spawn of F1 boss Bernie to whom we are subjected on what seems like an almost-daily basis. Today the elder of these gorgons of gluttony has posed in a magazine amid, at a conservative estimate, £200,000-worth of shoes, handbags and associated designer garishness, none of which is tasteful enough to be worn down Wigan High Street even if you had the cash.


Let's not mention the thoughtlessness which made this sound like a good idea when unemployment's spiralling, belts have been tightened beyond endurance and even the Business Secretary 'forgets' to pay his full tax bill.

Let's not even quibble the fact that the daughter of a billionaire who calls herself a TV presenter and seems intent on making a career out of having no need for one has a lot of shoes. I have a lot of shoes and if I had a billionaire for a dad I'm fairly sure I'd have even more of them, and a walk-in closet to put them in.

No, let's shake our heads and gnash our teeth and rend our clothing over the fact this prime candidate for the first human attempts to colonise another planet has FIFTEEN PAIRS OF UGG BOOTS.

I mean, once you've got the brown and the black and a pair customised with purple crystals spelling out your name WHAT THE HELL ELSE IS LEFT?

Tamara says: "People think I'm a spoilt rich girl, but I want to demonstrate that I am more than just the daughter of someone famous."

I wish you the best of luck with that one, love.


As for me, I'm building you a rocket.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Things you'll never know.

TODAY I heard someone complain "the news tells us too many things".

Let's leave aside what that statement tells us about the average adult concentration span in 21st century Britain, and concentrate on the logic.

The news, as far as most people are aware, is supposed to tell us lots of things. That's the point - that you can sit down with a paper, or in front of the telly or listen to the radio, and in 10 minutes or so get a little download of everything that's going on in the world. This enables freedom and democracy and choice and means we know what's going on in Syria where a British-educated ophthalmologist is shooting people who disagree with him.

(Thus finally explaining why I have always been terrified of having eye tests.)

Changes in society mean we are now seeing news we did not a few years ago. There are just as many paedophiles as there have always been in the population, but whereas those court cases weren't reported much because they were deemed too unpleasant they now appear quite regularly, giving the impression to any passing aliens that sexual abuse of children has massively increased in the past decade or so. It hasn't, it's just that we know about it now.

And because people are weird and put all kinds of stuff on the internet we're now used to seeing shaky mobile phone footage of home-made sex videos, tyrants being dragged through the streets, soldiers at battle and Japanese businessmen doing unspeakable things with laxatives. Political and sporting scandals have worn public morality away while we sit around at the weekends waiting for someone to have a nervous breakdown on the X Factor and secretly wishing for the innocent days of Blankety Blank.

Things do not shock us as much any more - and because shock gets readers and ratings, the hunt never ends for something new to make someone turn to their mate and say "F*** me, Doris! Have you seen this?"

But there are still many things you will never be told. A lot of my job is editing information I have gathered down to the paragraphs which will interest you while cutting out those that won't or will contravene someone's idea of decency; most stories you read in the newspapers are 70 per cent of the truth we know, but 100 per cent of all we can prove or print.

For example, here are some things you will never see reported and for very good reason:

* Keira Knightley in a short skirt (she has stumpy legs).

* An accurate description of the smell made by a decomposing body. It's sweet but disgusting. I'd say it was like drinking Jagermeister the morning after but it sounds too flippant - it's a million times worse.

* That almost every case of child abuse involves a family member. Reporting this fact would mean that, to preserve the anonymity of the victim, the abuser would also have to be anonymous. Most papers quite rightly choose to name and shame the culprit for abusing 'a child' while not reporting it was their own. A surprising number are mums, and most of them are too thick to tie a shoelace.

* The agreements between PRs and journalists to publish information which is perfectly accurate but will be utterly denied by their showbiz client once the story breaks. Sometimes even after they've received money to do an interview in the first place, the hypocritical little toads.

* A gun is surprisingly quiet when fired directly into a head.

* That pretty much every politician, thanks to a diet of coffee and meetings and subsidised booze, has bad breath. Eric Pickles smells like an open-air morgue in the tropics.

* Most famous people aren't cash-rich - once you have management, staff, houses, a couple of addictions and some crime family is into you for £100k you'll find your money disappears from your accounts just as quickly as it does for a mum-of-two in Margate. A lot of celebs rely on freebies. Some subsist on a diet of canapes and champagne just like showbiz reporters do, and are far more grasping when it comes to the goodie bags.

* The 99 per cent of court cases which don't make the news because it's the same troubling people doing the same thing they were caught for last week and no-one has the faintest idea how to stop it.

* 'Community campaigners' normally have stinky houses.

* The names of the impoverished Russian women whose hair decorates the head of Cheryl Tweedy and the rest of her pretty-but-pointless ilk.

* Lizzie Jagger doesn't believe in deodorant.

And now that you do know those things, are you any the better for it? Probably not. Which is why, generally, we don't tell you.

But perhaps we ought to say more often that being rich and famous and thin doesn't make everyone happy.

No body's perfect.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Half-time score: 2-1 to the savages.

IT'S been a bad week for civilisation, what with an inhumane tyrant being abused and executed, thousands hunting down the footage on YouTube, and the unpleasant death played out again and again on TV and in newspapers.

There is even one shaky mobile phone video which appears to show Colonel Gaddafi being physically violated by his captors in the 15 minutes or so of chaos which surrounded his seizure and execution; yet barely a single politician has raised their voice to decry the fact he will never be put on trial for his crimes or to point out that treating a barbaric man with barbarism does not exactly win anyone the moral high ground.

But then, so many have said, it's Libya, it's Africa, it's the right of an oppressed people to be angry.

Then I woke up this morning to the news a gay man had been beaten, tied to a lamppost and burned alive and presumed it must have happened somewhere else.

Uganda, perhaps, or Saudi Arabia where homosexuality is against the law and can even lead to the death penalty; maybe Zimbabwe or Turkmenistan where it's illegal for men but perfectly okay for women; Antigua where it carries a 15-year prison sentence, or perhaps somewhere closer to home like Ireland where loving someone of the same sex has been legal only since 1993.

I was surprised such a crime in a different country had made headlines here, but then reasoned it was so horrific that perhaps it had forced its way to the top of the news agenda.

But it happened in my own country, in a market town of 13,000 people who say please and thank you, who watch the same TV programmes and read the same newspapers as I do, have access to the internet and a properly made cup of tea and all the other things which most of us presume makes us 'civilised'.

Whether he was killed because he was gay or not we do not know, but regardless of motive the method is horrendous in the extreme. Whoever did it must score fairly high on the psychopath scale for their inhumanity alone, much less the possibility that it was provoked by a dislike of how an inoffensive man liked to spend his leisure time.

All we know for now is that Stuart Walker, 28, had been at a party and was last seen alive at 2.30am. His burned body was found at 5am on an industrial estate not far away. What happened in the meantime is the subject of a murder inquiry, and deep heartbreak for his family and friends. But if footage of his last moments were put online, how many of us would click the link, just for kicks? There are already people saying the same treatment should be meted out to his killers, if they are found.

Because obviously that would help.

It's enough to make you loathe the whole human race and scowl at every person you see. Humans, on days like today, seem like a nasty cancer the whole world would be better off without.

But then today is also the anniversary of the death of Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old lady who once sat on a bus, got arrested for her trouble, and changed the world as a result. Rosa was active in the civil rights movement but quiet, serene, well-behaved and generally followed the rules which segregated her from white people in her home town of Montgomery, Alabama.

One of those rules was that the first 10 seats of a bus were for whites, and if an 11th got on board the black passengers had to move, stand or leave the bus. It was just a petty rule compared to those segregating education or marriage but it produced everyday minor humiliation for Rosa and when she was asked to give up her seat for a white passenger one day in 1955 she decided she'd had enough.

Rosa said: "People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in."

Rosa got arrested, fingerprinted and charged with violating a city law. It wasn't the first time such a thing had happened, and there had been many worse abuses of the black population, but for some reason this one lit a spark. The black community of Montgomery staged a year-long bus boycott, crippling the transport companies and forcing a change to the law. During those protests a charismatic young reverend electrified everyone with his speeches, and Dr Martin Luther King emerged to lead the civil rights movement to victory.

They were angry but it was the grace and humanity of people like him and Rosa that won their battles, the quiet insistence that however badly someone else may act they would not allow it to taint their own civil behaviour.

Rosa died six years ago today, at the age of 92, in a country which still has plenty of problems but at least a black lady can sit wherever the hell she likes on the bus.

Perhaps we haven't come very far since 1955 if people can still treat one another with the utter inhumanity we've seen this past week; we are still barbarians under the skin. But Rosa at least shows that it doesn't have to be that way, and us cavemen can be angels if we try.

1913 - 2005

* Anyone with information about Stuart Walker's death can contact Crimestoppers Scotland on 0800 555 111 or fill in an anonymous online form here.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Humanity (n.): the quality or condition of being humane.

THERE are lots of different ways to be poor.

It can be that you find it hard to maintain the life you're used to - that you lose your job, but are reluctant to take one that is poorer paid, because it won't pay for the mortgage, the car, the internet, the central heating.

Or it can be that you live somewhere that has no door, where the head of the household has to choose which child to feed today, where school costs a month's salary and growing crops doesn't get you as much money as growing opium.

There are places where the poverty of expression is just as crippling - where people can eat but not speak, like Libya for the past 41 years, or China, where there has been a famine of food and thought for 62 years. These days many Chinese have fridge freezers, but there are too many who have never learned to see beyond themselves to help two-year-old Yue Yue when she was run over in the road.

When I was growing up there was food, and warmth, and clean water and free schools. We never wanted for a fridge freezer, in fact we had two, and a couple of tellies although one was black and white. I felt poor when the other girls had horse-riding lessons and the new Barbie and permed hair, while I had Girl's Worlds from a jumble sale and last year's Barbie and my mum cutting my fringe, and used to complain to my parents how it wasn't fair.

When I said that they would tell me about their childhoods, about rationing after the war, about paraffin heaters and linoleum instead of carpet, wages running out on Wednesday and bread dipped in dripping for your tea on Thursday before dad got paid on Friday and they could afford fish, about choosing between having free eggs and wringing a chicken's neck for the meat. They told me about their parents being raised in far worse circumstances, about families of 10 and gin and getting on a ship to a strange country and suicide and unhappiness I would never know. They would explain that dad wasn't working at that place any more, but he'd found somewhere else. They said the interest rate on their mortgage was 15 per cent, and I didn't know what they meant.

When my grandparents would visit, I was told to be grateful for any gift they gave me because they didn't have much. They would fish fifty pence out of their purses, and press it into my hand and give me a strange grandparents' kiss and a hug when they left, and mum told me to say thank you because that was a lot to them. My gran bought Christmas presents in the January sale and kept them for a year, so the year she died we all got gifts from her a month after she'd passed away.

We forget that because we have sewers and out-of-town shopping centres and what-not that there are people here whose lives would be easily recognisable to someone in a Victorian slum. I've been in places a stone's throw from central London where cockroaches run free, where the methods of disposing of human waste are a cholera epidemic waiting to happen, where tuberculosis still kills and children have rickets. These are the breeding grounds for crime and terror, and no-one in authority dares go there.

This winter, at a conservative estimate, at least 3,000 people in the UK are going to die because they're not warm enough. They all have homes, and blankets, and access to the NHS, and they're going to die anyway because they have to choose between eating a tin of beans or turning on the heat. That's more than are killed in road accidents every year.

And in response our government insists on green taxes for the energy companies, which pass them on to the consumer, and pushes the cost of that heat even higher in a practice which impacts on the poorest households far harder than it does the wealthy ones where our politicians all live on £65,738 a year and second-home expenses. It criticises the elderly for 'bedroom blocking' by staying in their homes rather than selling up to a younger family and going into residential care. Meanwhile we spend our time worrying about the ways in which we might get cancer, an illegal travellers' site in Essex which is hardly Zimbabwe however hard we look at it, and a Defence Secretary with the judgement of an eight-year-old child.

I'm not saying those things aren't poor. I'm not saying that someone struggling in the Yemen has it better or worse than someone struggling in Milton Keynes. The real problem in all of the above is a poverty of humanity - the people who didn't help Yue Yue when she was run over, the people who grow opium because it's easier, the ones who fight the police at Dale Farm just because they want a fight or hate the travellers just because they want to hate, those who let Gadaffi engage in 41 years of death and misery and cheer his death rather than regret his escape from his crimes, the politicians who want to hit a target before they bother to stop people dying, the people who don't look in on their neighbours or talk to their relatives. It's the lack of those well-intentioned philanthropists who transformed this country a century or two ago, and on whose good works we still rely because there's no-one else making the effort.

True poverty is not about what you have, but what you don't. People who've lost their humanity are the poorest of all.

It always meant a lot to me.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Russia's greatest love machine.

SAY what you like about the Russians, they have a hell of a work ethic.

Alleged spy Katia Zatuliveter endured an affair for four long years with Liberal Democrat backbencher and Portsmouth MP Mike Hancock, a man renowned for neither his charm or his good looks.

He is in fact notorious for being a sex-pig, for a string of affairs that have been exposed in the Press which have embarrassed his long-suffering wife Jacqueline and their two children, and most recently for allegations of making sexual advances towards a vulnerable woman who was mentally ill.

His nickname in Westminster is 'Handycock', but I imagine anyone unlucky enough to be presented with it thinks it is anything but handy.

According to Katia's evidence at a deportation appeal on the night they met Handycock's moves involved going to her room "with a CD and some money". I shudder to think what his soundtrack of love would have been - Back in the USSR perhaps, or Ra-Ra-Rasputin.

She has now been accused of being a spy, not least because her involvement with Handycock saw a spurt of him asking new questions in Parliament about our missile systems and where we kept them.

Never mind that he's a less important part of the political machine than whoever empties the bins, and whatever information she gleaned could have been found quite easily with Google.

If she's not a spy she simply needs sitting down with a cup of hot, sweet tea and a friendly talk about how to choose better boyfriends.

And if she is a spy, then could someone please sit the current version of the KGB down with a cup of hot, sweet tea and give them a friendly talk about how it's much easier to infiltrate the Ministry of Defence just by being chums with whichever numpty has been put in charge of it.

Or by going through the bins once Oliver Letwin's had his morning constitutional.

It's hardly Spooks, is it?

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Doctoring the truth.

WHEN someone gets caught out, they wriggle and writhe and say it's not true.

When it's proven to be true they backflip and bluster and say it was all a mistake.

And even when it's quite clear to the rest of the world they plotted and planned a course of immoral behaviour all along, it's all someone else's fault. Usually Walter Mitty's, the poor misunderstood man.

I've seen it in magistrates' courts, coroner's inquests, on doorsteps and street corners and drug dens, and the worst people in the world for refusing to face up to their own failures are the most intelligent and fortunate ones. The ones whose lives have conditioned them to believe they are always right.

Doctors, for example, are very clever people and they know it; seven years of being told they know best will rub off on anyone. Good doctors are wonderful but bad doctors are the worst at developing a god-complex. Some I've met are only an inch away from turning into Harold Shipman, given the right circumstances and a really bad day.

So it is not surprising that when questions were first raised about former GP Liam Fox's best pal Adam Werritty he threatened to sue, rather than quietly say 'whoops!' and sort the problem out. When the newspapers began asking questions there were carefully-worded responses which avoided telling the whole truth. When it was proved the Defence Secretary had acted in a way which would have most employees sacked in seconds it was his mate's fault. And now an inquiry by his chums has concluded he did something wrong but not that wrong and, oh, here's a £17,000 severance payment from the nation's empty coffers to say sorry.

The fact remains, however, that Dr Fox is the man who employed his best pal on the public payroll, on and off and in different ways and without qualification or a Parliamentary pass, for several years. The good doctor gave him use of a taxpayer-funded office to run a charity that wasn't charitable, and let him stay rent-free in a London flat which we were paying the rent on, even though the doctor was a quite-wealthy company director at the time and could easily afford to cough up himself. He had warnings about his pal and ignored them.

When Fox decorated the flat we paid for that too, only he bent the rules to claim it by way of his mortgage rather than the decorator's bills, and ended up having to repay £22,476.30 once he got found out. And of course, once he was, he had an excuse about how actually it was cheaper to borrow the money from a bank over 30 years rather than pay it up front. Never mind that it was wrong; Dr Fox knows best.

I suppose that's why we're paying him £17,000 as twisted compensation for finding out he's a lying, cheating, manipulative, stupid, arrogant little rat of a man.

Now a lot of MPs are lining up to bewail the loss of "a politician of his calibre", completely unaware that as far as the rest of the nation is concerned it's politicians of his calibre which are the problem.

If only there were a political equivalent of the General Medical Council, where he could be tried and questioned and if found guilty struck out of Government, struck out of Westminster, and struck out of public life for good.

"In three days I shall rise again! HA HA HA. Suckers."

Monday, 17 October 2011

Make it count.

HACKS have a different way of counting things to the rest of the world.

So one will report a million people on Bournemouth beach on a sizzling summer day, and another that it was a bit chilly and there were only 800,000. Today The Groaner claims there are 400 people camping out at the Occupy London protest, while the Daily Glimmer says it's 300 and the Daily Wail's hack on the spot can see only 250 and "a number" of tents.

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but I'll bet you any money by the end of the week it won't be in three figures anymore, or at least not overnight. Gets chilly this time of year.

And while we're at it, in my lifetime there's not been a sit-in that counted at all. They were a useful tool for Gandhi and Martin Luther King back in the day when The Man cared about how he looked and could see the point of behaving better. But today? Well, Tiananmen Square was a sit-in and that didn't go too well. Greenham Common was occupied and we still have the threat of nuclear war, only these days it's Iran rather than Russia. Brian Haw sat in Parliament Square for 10 years and didn't stop any wars. The Occupy Wall Street protest has been going a month and Wall Street is still quite happily trading.

I don't want to appear cynical - all those protests showed public anger and disdain for very bad things, and everyone has the right to throw their two penn'orth in. But they didn't change anything, because The Man does not care and the people who organise such stuff aren't exactly rocket scientists.

Successful protests have to be held in warm weather, for a start. People are more inclined to take a week off work if they can sit in a deckchair drinking beer rather than stamping their feet trying to keep warm. They need to attract Joe Public too, rather than the usual suspects who flit between saving traveller sites, marching for the gender-confused and hanging banners off power stations. They may be very well-intentioned people, but a protest is never going to get public traction if the people on it all look like they don't wash very often.

And it needs a clear purpose. The democratic statement released by the London protesters called for world peace and the end of all general oppression, for goodness' sake. It doesn't have a single clear aim or intent beyond 'we don't like bad stuff'. Well, I don't like peas but I'm fairly sure I could get them all painted pink before this lot manage to achieve anything.

If you want to change the banking system, sitting outside St Paul's while the bankers walk past to get their Starbucks latte just isn't going to do it.

The only thing that would is if you cut off their life support - and take your money back.

No more hours spent talking to customer disservices. No more proving your identity 18 times a day. No more bankers' bonuses and tiny interest rates on your meagre savings.

'What a great idea!' I thought. So I rang my employers' finance department, and asked if they would pay me in cash. Er, no. They don't have any cash, the computer's not set up to do it, the PAYE coding would get all SNAFU'ed. Can't, won't, not gunna.

So I rang my bank, and asked what they would do if I took all my cash out every month, once I was paid. Nothing much, they replied, except I can't pay my mortgage in cash so that has to be paid through the bank, and I wouldn't get as favourable a deal if their computers didn't show my money flowing through their account all month, which would mean selling the house, and that involves paying the bank a few thousand, and then I still have to buy another house which, oh yes, involves paying the bank a few thousand. Hmmm.

Then there's the direct debits - electric, gas, telephone, council tax, TV licence. To pay my council tax by cash would involve a three hour wait with a numbered ticket down at the council offices, and the utility companies give you money off for paying through your bank. I'm not even going to start on the palaver of trying to get a new cheque book so I could do it by post.

So The Man has us by the short and curlies, and he knows it. That's why he doesn't give a damn about your tents and your protests and your bailouts, and is quite happily carrying on like Mr Potter in It's A Wonderful Life, screwing everyone just because he can.

But then it's not really The Man's fault - he is, after all, just something else that humans have made, along with guns and insurance firms and car accidents. But there is a choice other than beating him or joining him, and that's to go around him.

If you want to protest, put your money in the dwindling number of building societies, which do good things with it. Find a bank which doesn't invest your money in the arms trade, deforestation in Indonesia and rapacious mining in the Congo. Tell the Big Five of Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, RBS and Santander to sod off and find an ethical bank that suits you better here.

You'll have to keep everything crossed they don't turn turtle like Northern Rock, but hey, life's a risk. You just have to decide whether you want to gamble with The Man or not play his game at all.

The only thing worth doing outside St Paul's with your two penn'orth is to use it to feed the birds, rather than hand it to a banker and hope he does it for you.

The only way to get The Man to do what you want is to deny him your tuppence.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Pot calls kettle a slag.

THE problem with women is that when something goes wrong they always blame themselves.

If it weren't for that pre-programmed insecurity we'd be running the universe, because there's nothing else to hold us back but the belief it's somehow always a woman's fault.

So we blame Maggie, and Hillary, and Diana, and Camilla, and not the idiots with testicles who cause a lot of the trouble in the first place.

That's why Stacey Giggs - whose husband Ryan cheated on her for EIGHT YEARS with the woman who went on to marry his brother, paid for her to abort their lovechild, had a fling with a celebrity bike called Imogen Thomas which led to an ill-advised superinjunction broken by the "anarchic" internet that was roundly criticised and led to weeks of front pages for the newspapers - blames the other woman rather than the dirty rat she married.

When she bumped into sister-in-law Natasha outside a restaurant Stacey screamed at her: "You're a f*cking slag!" Well yes, she is a slag, but it's her husband who betrayed her, not Natasha, who merely treated Stacey and her marriage in a way which unsisterly and stupid women have been doing since time immemorial. At least she managed to tell the truth in the end, as Ryan still writhed in his lies.

But then there's the "he's the father of her children" argument, and the "men can't help it" excuse, both of which are utter piffle and unfairly reduce men to the status of creatures with a mere physical function and ignore the fact they're also supposed to have morals, a brain and some bloody backbone.

Of course men do have a similar inbuilt flaw which stops them having too much power. It's called a penis and as soon as any chap thinks he is able to achieve a great feat - run the free world, for example, or convince his wife he's been working late - it flares up to defeat his ambitions just as effectively as women manage to screw each other over.

So I hope Stacey will not think me too unsisterly to point out that her husband is also a f*cking slag, and that seeing as she is prepared to put up with the crap dished out by a footballer who earns £80,000 a week and is worth a total of £34m then, I'm afraid, so is she.

Slag calls slag a slag for affair with slag. Well done humanity.
Take the rest of the day off.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Rule Britannia.

IF you move to Britain, you have to score 75 per cent on a citizenship test to pass, and dear old Dishface has just updated it to make it harder for the riff-raff to get in.

Well I've been here a little over 30 years and I got only 62 per cent. So that's me buying a cat.

Obviously my peasant forebears did not pay enough attention to the rules governing child labour and what dialect is spoken in Northern Ireland.

But then, that kind of thing is of most value if you're running a factory filled with children or trying to keep an uppity province under control, so it's not surprising Dishface's folks found it more useful than mine.

But should he get an attack of Commoners' Sense, here is a set of questions which I reckon will be a lot more pertinent when it comes to deciding whether to make people a citizen of these fair islands.
* Are you any good at rugby?
Yes/No
* How about cricket?
Yes/No
* Do you have a trade?
Yes/No
* Do you have the offer of a job?
Yes/No
* Can you speak enough English to buy a newspaper, watch the TV news, order a takeaway and insult someone in an amusing fashion?
Yes/No
* Do you know how to queue?
Yes/No
* Do you stand on the right on escalators and drive on the left on motorways?
Yes/No
* Will you send your children to school, teach them right from wrong, and keep your garden tidy?
Yes/No
* Can you make proper tea?
Yes/No
* Do you dislike the French, apart from the cheese and the wine?
Yes/No
You need seven positive replies to get your passport but as a supplemental question, in case someone's just below the pass rate and needs to bump their score up a bit:

* Is Dishface an idiot?
Yes/No

"Then you, my love, ARE IN! Where'd we be without rules, eh?"

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

This Fox is f*cked.

IF A chum from another newspaper asked for access to my newsroom, to know my whereabouts at all times, and sit in on all my interviews I'd say no.

The only reason they'd want to do so would be not because they like me, which I hope they do, but to nick a story, and aside from the ethics it's more than my job's worth.

It's the same in most walks of life, because the only possible reason someone who's not supposed to be there wants to be there is to get something out of it for themselves.

But if you're the Secretary of State for Defence in Her Majesty's Government, apparently it's fine to take your best mate, who is not security-vetted, into secret meetings with a US general, foreign statesmen, diplomats and business people.

It is perfectly all right even though the best mate was not there in any official capacity and merely had "inappropriate" access to the official diary in the same manner as a spouse and used it to be in Singapore, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Hong Kong, Israel, New Zealand, Australia, Qatar, Florida, Washington and Sri Lanka at the same times.

It is even all right to big up a businessman who is apparently so bad at business he made only £20,000 in the past four years even though he is director of three companies, one of which is dormant, and there's no clear source of income with which the mate would have managed to jet around the world quite so much.

It is completely OK because, we are told, no business deals were struck as a result of these meetings, even though no-one can think of any other reason the mate might want to be there unless he was acting as either a guide dog or a carer.

All Dr-of-taking-the-piss Liam Fox needs to do is say sorry, get his chums to say the best mate was in fact "a groupie", and most of his party bray support because they share his politics rather than genuinely believe he's any good at his job, most of which so far seems to have involved leaking against Dishface and buggering up the Armed Forces.

There are two inquiries underway but what no-one questions is the fact that the man in charge of the nation's defences is apparently so soft in the head he seriously expects us to believe any of his codswallop, or worse that he may even believe it himself.

Someone who is stupid enough to have either done all those things or expect us not to notice the stink of corruption with which it all reeks shouldn't be allowed near metal cutlery, much less tanks and submarines.

So, in words simple enough even he can understand them: we all know your mate was in it for his own ends. You helped him. You are either very stupid or very dodgy but either way we don't want you running the Ministry of Defence, thanks all the same.

If anyone who worked for you had done what you did they'd be court-martialled, and so should you be. You're probably going to hang on and drag the scandal out until someone finds a financial link, blaming smear campaigns and nasty journalists and whatever else the voices in your head tell you to say, while wearing your underpants on your head and sticking pencils up your nose.

But I'm afraid there's only one person to blame in all of this. And that's whoever let you out of hospital.

"Can you hear them? I can hear them. They wear tiny little shoes."

Monday, 10 October 2011

Money can't buy me love.

CELEBRITY weddings give me a sinking feeling. And not just because I'm fairly sure their divorce rate is worse than the 1 in 2 the rest of us have achieved.

It's because they inevitably involve a web of secrecy which I then have to find a way through. Not because I give a damn someone off the telly has married someone else off the telly, but because they've signed a six-figure magazine deal to pay for an extravagant shindig in return for exclusive coverage and if there's one thing which gets Fleet Street's gander up it's telling us we can't report something.

But seeing as it gets sales up too, everyone's a winner.

So when the rich and famous get hitched muggins here has to locate the venue no-one wants to confirm, blag details of the menu, the cost of the flowers, sweet-talk the DJ, find who's making the dress, flatter the caterers and suck up to the extended family. On the day itself I have to be up at the crack of sparrow's fart, file running copy throughout the day on a phone that's losing its charge, help the photographers trespass and hide and get their shots before writing their picture captions for them because they don't know how to spell anyone's names, and wangle details out of every last guest who leaves until the wee hours of the morning, all while trying to outwit my rivals and outflank a security detail who usually blunder about with fists and expletives flying and make the whole event a lot more intrusive and violent than it needs to be.

It's usually such an arse-ache that it makes me long for the days of local newspapers where I wrote wedding reports from forms filled in by the happy couple who willingly provided all those details because they wanted it in the paper.

Because what the famous forget is that weddings, by law, are a public event. It's a public promise which makes love a part of the State, and that is why you have to be married in a licensed venue with public access, and your intent to marry must be posted in public weeks beforehand.

That's why Carina Trimingham, the bisexual lover of beleaguered Energy Secretary Chris Huhne, is likely to lose at least part of the legal case she has brought against a newspaper for reporting the fact and photos of her civil partnership with a woman, and on whom she cheated with Huhne who was himself cheating on his wife. Trimingham says her wedding was "an inherently private" event, which flies in the face of logic, law and simple common sense. She and Huhne made public promises which they betrayed with their private behaviour, and that makes them fair game.

When you get wed you want to shout it from the rooftops; it's only when you get caught out you want to brush it under the carpet.

So thank heaven and praise be for Sir Paul McCartney whose wedding on Sunday showed that 50 years of fame and fabulous wealth make you much less of a pillock than someone who's had it for five minutes.

He got married in a register office for a few hundred pounds, told his 30 guests to take pictures but asked them to "politely refrain" from sticking them on the internet, walked down the steps with his bride in front of well-wishers and the Press, answered questions, winked and waved before releasing one official photograph for newspapers to use in return for a donation to his favourite charity.

Which seems like a graceful and sensible way to carry on. The happy couple got their perfect day, the Press got their pictures and story, and Heather Mills will have been absolutely furious at all of it.

Perhaps he should do an instruction manual.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Letters to Lillys.

IT'S the weekend so let's dive into the mailbag to see what thoughts The Reader's been having.

First off, stage psychic Sally Morgan turned out not to be so psychic after an audience member overheard her being fed lines by stagehands, something which surprised, er, nobody. Angry said: "A show where you talk to the dead? That's the X-Factor isn't it?" and Kurt said: "I see fucking stupid people."

Then Shadow Culture Secretary Ivan Lewis managed to overshadow Miliminor's conference speech by suggesting journalists be licensed, which was something not a single person thought was a good idea, not even Alan Rusbridger.

Stuart said:
"The more the politicians and others who have been found with their hands in the till, noses in the trough etc scream, the better the job journalists are doing. I don't always agree with every word you write, it would be boring if I did, but 9 times out of 10 what I read of yours is interesting."
Bill added: "If you threw out everyone who had ever been guilty of gross misconduct, particularly after 10pm on a Friday, there wouldn't be anyone left [in Fleet Street]."

Ed: Well, quite.

Carlos Tevez became three times more irritating by refusing to play for the last 15 minutes of a Man City match, leading to this post speculating whether 22 golden Labradors chasing a ball might not be more fun than football.

Darryl said:
"Completely agree, though in his defence he is probably still stripping about not being able to go back to south America to be with his wife and child. Something I believe City did everything to scupper by holding on for more money until the deadline ran out. Still, he should have kept his pride and dignity, and played like a professional instead of acting like a overpaid prima-donna, just like 99% of the footballers these days."
Eric said: ""Outstanding column today Lillys. I'm losing all faith in the game, and today one of our 'role models' is arrested for sexual assault and drug possession. It can't go on."

Ed: And yet it does. 

Then the trial of Conrad Murray over the death of Michael Jackson began, and this post pointed out the case is not so much about getting justice for the death but finding out who will be the target of all the lawsuits from promoters, family and insurance companies.

Alex said: "Brilliant piece that deserves more investigation - the last paragraph is a bit Linda 'Why Won't They Think of the Children' Lee-Potter-ish." And Colin added: "The lawyers are doing just fine. As they always will."

Last weekend Britain marked the 10th anniversary of war in Afghanistan by barely noticing it and this post weighed up the costs and benefits to service personnel, our defence budget and the Afghan population.

Will said:
"I do understand why you're disappointed with a lack of dialogue on the subject of war. Call me a fluffy pacifist, but eventually people have to sit down to talk. Conflict has been around as long as humans, but so has dialogue and solution. Can't help wondering what intelligent life forms watching us from outside would make of it, or generations in future millennia. I have huge respect for human bravery whatever the context but, the military don't have a monopoly. So long as the richest 10% of adults account for 85% of the world total of global assets there’s going to be trouble. Please keep up with your posts."
Then yours truly and a few others had a collective brain-fart over the acquittal of Amanda Knox for murder and this post tried to explain why the Daily Wail's briefly-published online backgrounder was a mistake rather than part of a grand media conspiracy (journalists don't have the patience for conspiracies).

Enid said: "Perfect. You made journalism sound exciting again." Chris devoted a long and detailed post on my Facebook wall to internet caches and who-did-what-when, which I don't have space to repeat and less time to try to understand, but add me as a friend using the link on the right if you're curious to see it.

Nathan wrote: "Interesting what you write about how it all works. I am a big fan of 'human error' being a web-developer myself and continually being asked to 'undo' things. I have a nagging question though - what happened to validating information before committing to screen or paper? I don't mean this accusingly, but am genuinely surprised that your piece seemed to give no real priority to validating facts, the impression I am left with is that 'first' matters - not much else. I used to be in PR and we were great ones for trying to manipulate perceptions, but we were largely held up to account by journalists who were more than weary of taking anything one person/organisation said as being remotely usable."

And Chantelle said:
"I'm the person who first spotted the Daily Mail mistake and posted it to Twitter... As a journalist myself, and one who has written two copies of almost every court story I ever wrote for BBC News, I know full well 'how journalism works'. However, my issue was clearly with the made-up portions of the piece. It's one thing to have something ready, it's another thing to post an invented reaction before the defendant has even had one! Even if they hadn't posted the wrong story, what if Knox had fainted, or screamed, or run out of the courtroom, instead of "looking stunned"? By pressing send the second they heard the word guilty, they were happy to send out something which could be incorrect in a myriad of ways, just to be first. That's why we're portrayed as 'sleazebucket liars in dirty macs'."
Ed: As I say, it was a brain-fart by someone in the Wail office and by a few people on Twitter. The reporter who wrote the article which was wrongly published said he pre-agreed the quotes with the people concerned, it was 'holding copy' meant to be updated before publication, and was furious it was used as was. I believe him. If anything it shows that newspapers need to have the same production values and system of checks on their websites as they do in their print editions, rather than in most cases treating the web as an afterthought entrusted to a handful of less experienced (and cheaper) people.

Jodie Marsh lightened the mood by covering herself in gravy browning and displaying her deep-seated body issues for the world to see. Colin said: "She looks like a Pepparami." Kev added: "Jaysus, that girl is a mess. Her self-esteem is all over the place. I can't judge but agree Jodie needs help. Incidentally who's her agent these days? Clearly they're giving her top, attention/headline grabbing advice."

Neil said:
"Not sure how you've all arrived at the psychological evaluation that Jodie is 'a mess'. Dedicating yourself to a personal goal requires strength. Particularly when that goal is pretty much guaranteed to draw stigma."
And lastly Apple founder Steve Jobs died from the pancreatic cancer he was diagnosed with seven years ago, a remarkable feat considering most patients' prognosis is measured in weeks or months. He was lionised as a loss to humanity so this post pointed out that those sections of humanity which couldn't afford an iThing hadn't really noticed much difference.

Alex said: "But Jobs wasn't in business to combat poverty. Or make pasties. Or play a sport. What he did was all any of us can do; the best we can, using our God-given talents, in our chosen profession. To that end, I'd say the guy did a hell of a job."

Sam said:
"Thank god someone else agrees with me! I woke up this morning, checked Twitter, and saw loads of people going on about how 'Steve Jobs changed the world' and 'Apple made the world a better place'. It's so annoying, as you pointed out they don't stop poverty or illness and only the richest 5 per cent or so of the world can afford any Apple products."
Which is a depressing note to end on, but there we are. Wrap up warm because the weather's turned this week and autumn is upon us. Cold and dry, but at least it's sunny.

Foxy out.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

More iMoney than iSense.

EARLIER this year I was in a developing country when I discovered the travel charger I had bought "was not compatible" with my iThing.

Even though all the plugs plugged properly, because it wasn't an Apple product it wouldn't work. Naturally, as someone with an iThing the idea of it not working very nearly brought my world to an end. The despair, the wailing, the gnashing of teeth.

Then someone told me there was an Apple store in a nearby town. I stepped over the rotting waste in the road, past the flea-bitten stray dogs, did a little jump across the open running sewer while ignoring some beggars and stepped into the store.

Inside everything was clean, with lots of shiny, cool-looking iThings on air-conditioned display. It was just like every other Apple store. I asked the assistant for a charger for my iThing, he whipped it out of a drawer, and then my jaw hit the floor when he asked me for £25.

Spending £25 on a plug is pricey enough for someone who lives in London and has several iThings. But I was in a country where £25 was roughly the same as the average annual wage, which makes it stratospherically expensive. Imagine being charged £25,000 for a plug!

Of course I paid the money, because I couldn't cope without my iThing for the rest of the week. As I was travelling about I relied on the GPS maps to tell me where I was and where I needed to be. I didn't really need to check Facebook and Twitter and my emails and to be texting some boy back at home, but I used it for all those things too.

My iThing is great, but excuse me for not ululating and rending my clothes over the death of Apple founder Steve Jobs.

It is of course a sad thing: he was only 56, he had a family who loved him, he was a great inventor who could have done who-knows-what-else, and pancreatic cancer is a rotten way to go. He fought it for seven years whereas most people who have it die within weeks of diagnosis. He was a very clever man, his company has more ready cash than the US government, and he did lots of things that made my life easier and simpler and ever-so-slightly cooler-looking.

But he is not the Messiah, not unless he reboots at some point over the next few days. He did not cure disease, fix Africa, or solve any great issues of our time. His greatest achievement was to give those of us who can afford it a little computer in our pockets, which can be rather magical and not just because it works by waving your hand.

Millions of us are more connected to each other than ever before because of him. What is tweeted in Syria can be Facebooked in New York, news has become a vast democracy and a bumbling hack in a third world country can find her way about. Things work a little better, just so long as you are "compatible".

Without iThings the developed world - those bits that have holidays, and minimalism, and want to be cool - would be, well, analogue. I'd have to buy an actual paper map, and talk to my friends individually if I wanted them to know what I was doing. I would not have cool apps to take funky pictures, I would have to carry CDs around in my car, and the world would never have had FoxBall (which answers all of life's questions and is never wrong, not least because the answer is usually 'vodka'). Without iThings life would be slower and not as shiny.

But most of the world has open sewers, and stray dogs, and iThings are just in a shop that only tourists visit where even the accessories cost the same as most people earn in a year.

The good stuff about iThings doesn't go to the people who'd appreciate it - and need it - the most. I'd be a lot happier paying £25 for a plug in London if I knew it was paying for a half-price plug somewhere else.


If only Apple was compatible with poverty.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Nurse, she's out of bed again.

WHITE wine for lunch, Jaffa cakes for breakfast, gnawing on a piece of mouldy cheese for tea. Hacks, generally speaking, treat their bodies like a skip. A skip expected to get up early, stay up late, and function while full of Jagermeister.

So I'm not one to comment if ex-glamour girl Jodie Marsh decides to spend some time in the gym and become a bodybuilder. Even though, at nine hours a day, it seems a little excessive to me. The only six-packs I'm interested in have a minimum alcohol content of 4%.

Nor can I really pass judgement on the appalling and unhealthy diet she adopted to drop 20lbs of fat, which involved protein shakes (yuk), green tea (what's the point?) and 15 egg whites a day. I do not know any way I could ingest 15 egg whites in a day, unless they came in meringue form and were slathered in strawberries and cream.

I am going to overlook the bronzing lotion which makes her look like someone who had an argument with a silage plant, because it's just one of the things all bodybuilders do to highlight their muscle tone under strong lights and to cover up the tattoos which would lose her points in competitions.

What I will say is this: Jodie, 32, has spoken often of how she was bullied at school, and the plastic surgery she felt compelled to have to restore her self-confidence. She has, since finding fame, had several boob jobs and been pictured out on the town wearing little more than nipple-tassels on a body which has always been petite and slim but which she now says she found "flabby, fat and full of cellulite".

But the most telling thing she has said about her transformation is this: "I once went on the Jeremy Kyle Show because I had become suicidal."

FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT'S HOLY, THIS WOMAN IS ILL! What more evidence do we need? She is grinning broadly in every picture ever taken of her and all I can see in them is someone whose sense of self has been shattered so badly the only way she can validate her own existence is to be noticed for doing something new and freaky to her form. It's not the media's fault so much as that the media attention which the bizarre always receive has become a symptom of her deeply troubled psyche and heaven knows what she'll do to attract our interest next.

I'm not bothered what she looks like or how she eats, but if this woman doesn't get herself a good shrink she's going to end up doing something far worse to herself than talking to Jeremy Kyle.

Although she has convinced me pavlova is technically a health food, so hooray!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

How journalism works, part 74.

JOURNALISM is one of those trades where everyone thinks they know how it works, and most people haven't a clue.

That's why journalists in TV dramas are always sleazebucket liars in grubby macs hounding the recently-bereaved and wilfully printing untruths while never taking the lid off their biro. When doctors, policemen or any other profession is written into a script someone has to check whether you really would use a defibrillator or make an arrest; no-one bothers when it comes to hacks, as everyone reckons they know how Fleet Street works because they've seen it on the telly.

Well, I've seen Bruce Forsyth on the telly and I still don't know how he works. A system of cogs and pulleys, I imagine.

So for the sake of clarity I'm going to explain why several newspaper websites, bloggers and tweeting journalists (myself included) wrongly said Amanda Knox had lost her appeal against her conviction for the murder of Meredith Kercher.

We're human.

And that's about it, I'm afraid. If you want a more detailed explanation I could point out that the verdict was delivered shortly before 9pm, a good while after almost every national newspaper should have gone to print. They each held back their first editions purely to get the news on their front page, a move which costs tens of thousands of pounds an hour because you have to pay printers to hang about and then work late, and overtime for the delivery drivers who then spend hours transporting those papers all over the country so they're in your newsagents' by 6am (an awful lot of work goes into that, so please don't just stand there, read it for free and put it back down with its pages all in a mess). Every daily newspaper editor in Fleet Street was biting their nails waiting for that verdict, every newsroom was tenser than normal which means very, and every hack was staring at the telly willing it to happen faster so they could get on with the job in hand.

When the verdict arrived, those people had mere minutes to get the words on the page, subbed, the picture edited and sent to the printers' where the press was humming. They did not have the luxury to wait for a reporter in the court to file copy and reaction - that would have to wait for later editions. Instead they will all have had two front pages laid out, one with a 'Knox free' and one with a 'Knox jailed' story, probably the same space for a picture to be slotted into and two versions of what a reporter imagined might happen, grasping at the obvious details about people looking stunned and using previously-cleared or uttered quotes from the lawyers. Once the verdict came through, the right version would be subbed while having new copy filed over the phone from the court dropped into it, so there could be fresh, expanded quotes from the legal teams and extra colour from the courtroom.

Both versions of the holding copy are pretty much the same, except for the top six pars. They change more as the minutes tick and the reporter gets more reaction to file from the scene.

But there were two extra dimensions to this story which naffed it up for the hacks. The first is that the verdict was in a foreign language which even the best of us have only enough knowledge of to ask for a copy of the receipt (I can do this in six languages, last time I counted) and the second is Twitter. If you follow the right people news is broken there before anywhere else, giving you a few minutes more to get ahead of your rivals.

And being first is one of the things journalists really care about, because first means more readers, sales, advertising and money to spend on drink at the Christmas party. The Reader doesn't care who's first, but we do because it means our jobs are safe for another week or so. Despite 24-hour rolling news coverage and the internet getting new readers means breaking the news on Twitter, where last night millions of us were ghoulishly waiting for the verdict. 

But journalists, like everyone else, were also watching Twitter and Sky News, which is generally quicker than the Beeb. The Sky translator said: "Amanda Knox is guilty" and all those fingers hovering over the 'send' button on a keyboard clicked as one.

Several newspaper websites including The Groaner, the Daily Wail and The Scum did the same, as well as the Sky news ticker, and their readers hit the retweet button. Within 30 seconds it was quite apparent she was guilty only of defamation and we'd dropped a bollock. Everybody deleted their tweets, made the position clear, and started again. The worst offender was the Wail website where some poor sod has had their arse handed to them in a bag this morning after hitting 'send' on the 'guilty' copy which had been filed earlier that afternoon, again in an effort to be first.

The story, which had barely any quotes in it and those which it did were short and apparently pre-agreed with prosecutors by a reporter on the ground, was online we are told for all of 90 seconds. But that was long enough for someone to get a screengrab and start up a right-on internet frenzy about terrible journalism.

Well, no. It was normal journalism, which you'd never have got to see if someone hadn't been so keen on being first to publish. For once being slow brought rewards because the Beeb got it right and the newsrooms, which will have all started subbing their 'guilty' copy, had the chance to pull it out and put the 'not guilty' version in before the presses ran.

The internet is glorious because it means if you do make a mistake you can claw it back in a way you can't with a printed newspaper. But it also means that even if you're wrong for only a minute and a half an awful lot of people might get to hear about it and you end up trending on Twitter.

The moaning about the Wail story today is nothing to do with a genuine deconstruction of its journalism and just another way for everyone who hates that newspaper to claim they were right. It's as narrow-minded as Nick Griffin waving a copy of the Daily Distress around saying "See? I told you it was all the immigrants' fault!"

It could, in fact, have been any newspaper website which made the same mistake, and just about any journo. I feel for whoever was to blame but hope they take some comfort from the fact that when The Editor is told it sparked a spoof trend on Twitter he won't know what the hell they're on about.

And I'm sure our brief errors won't make a damn bit of difference to either Amanda Knox or Meredith Kercher's family, all of whom were subject to far graver mistakes and bad decisions. Most journos do their best, most of the time, but when we naff it up we tend to get it in the neck more than, say, Italian forensic investigators. Ninety seconds doesn't really compare to four years, now does it?

I do have a grubby mac as it happens, but only because I drop crumbs on my keyboard.

Monday, 3 October 2011

What the hell's it good for?

YESTERDAY the nation marked 10 years of being in a war most of us never stop to think about.

It was October 2001 when Tony Blair and George Bush yee-hawed their way into Afghanistan less than a month after the terror attacks on the World Trade Centre. When someone hits you - and especially when they seem weak, uneducated and a bit backward - it's common to hit back, hard.

At first it made a difference. Women threw off their burqas, the vicious mullahs had to stop beheading people willy-nilly in the Kabul football stadium, and Osama bin Laden probably had a few dark moments wondering how long it would take them to find him.

But sometimes the uneducated and backward can be stronger than you realise and the Afghanis never really saw the Allies as liberators, just the latest invasion in centuries of aggression by people they didn't much like. In that situation it doesn't matter how good your reasons are because when someone thinks they're fighting for their home they never give up, even if your way of living in it might be better.

For some reason, they didn't want to surrender to Simon Cowell and women's football.

So rebellion grew while warlords settled old scores and servicemen sent to do a politician's job got stuck in the middle.

They're still there. And in ten years what have we achieved?

* A bill of about £3bn a year, or £12bn in total when you take into account the 'hidden costs' of emergency equipment orders and the £2m a month spent running the Selly Oak military unit in Birmingham where injured soldiers are treated when they come home, til they're thrown out of the forces and told to cope on their own. That cost, by comparison, would pay for 23 new hospitals, 60,000 teachers or 77,000 nurses.
 * The Taliban aren't in charge - for now.

* Fifty seven per cent of women and girls go to school, a quarter of health workers and 10 per cent of the judiciary are female. But hardliners still maim females whose behaviour they disapprove of, girls are forced into marriage at 13, women are stoned to death for mere suspicion of a range of crimes. Women's rights were political rhetoric used to justify the invasion, but are now being forgotten as we try to leave. When we go, those improvements won't stay for long.
* Somewhere north of 30,000 civilian deaths, and many more injured without access to medical care.

* Osama bin Laden's dead. But then, he was in Pakistan. Many of the Al Qaeda most-wanted who have been 'taken out' without the benefit of a trial which the rest of us consider a bastion of a civilised society were killed by unmanned airborne drones, rather than soldiers.

* We also found a $1trillion pile of untapped mineral deposits. I wonder who'll get that?

And for all those things, we paid with the lives of 382 soldiers, aircrew and Royal Marines. Two of the deaths were suicides, 328 were 'hostile action', 260 were in their twenties and 32 were under the age of 19. Two were women, 34 were officers. One in ten were not born in the UK, but died for it anyway.

And how did we mark this appalling milestone? A remembrance service in Salisbury, for which the most senior public figure that could be rustled up was the never-very-busy Duchess of Cornwall. The pictures today are of her, rather than the candles that were lit in memory of those who died.

So here they are, 382 people whose lives were snuffed out for a cause whose worth disappeared in the heat of a war we've already lost.


Was it worth it?