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

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Hark! The first cuckoo of spring.

BLESS Vicky Beckham.

While posing in her grundies for Harper's Bazaar she's revealed that she refuses to use stick-thin models while making her very expensive clothes, because they're nothing like real women.

She said: "We always joke that we have this fabulously gorgeous 17-year-old model who is six-foot-whatever and I say, 'OK, I'm going to put it on - I stand for the general public here'.

"It's how I work. I found it really difficult when I was pregnant and I couldn't do that. It's part of the process. I'll stand here in my knickers and start draping fabric over myself."

Aside from the mental image of a WAG stood there in nothing but £400 pants planning her own fashion range and insisting it's normal, there's a teeny tiny problem with what Vicky has to say.

And that is the pictures which go alongside it.

For some reason she has only one armpit. One arm has been dislocated, and the other's had 90% of the normal muscle tissue shaved off.

Added to that there is something quite disconcerting in her pants where I'm not sure it should be.

Because if I - or, I imagine, most 'normal' women - posed for such a picture it would be markedly different in the following ways:


Don't get me wrong - I quite like Vicky Beckham from Hertfordshire, because I think she adds to the gaiety of the nation in a thousand different ways. I wouldn't be seen dead in some of her dresses and I'd sell a kidney to get my hands on some of the others. She and her husband appear to have a remarkably strong and happy marriage, considering the scandals it has weathered.

But she doesn't represent the general public, and she doesn't represent me. I doubt she could sit in the same room as a pasty, much less eat one and even if she did she'd not care whether she had to pay VAT on it or not.

In interviews and even off-the-record she can seem pleasingly ordinary, but however much of her bunioned feet she keeps on the ground - and the bunions are about the only thing she and I share - she lives  on a different planet.

It's called Cloud Cuckoo Land. Lucky cow.

Some things you can't airbrush.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Women 1, world 0.

THERE are days when I despair for my gender.

Not just the women who are stupid, frivolous, shrill or hysterical. Not just the ones who are judged purely for what they wear and the size of their limbs or glossiness of their hair. Not just those who get invited on Question Time.

There are times when I think that to be a woman, in so many ways, means you must be a victim. That everyone, male and female, will see you as not just physically weaker but mentally and emotionally so too. That we only buy books with pink things on the cover, that we read magazines to find out about handbags, that all we really want is a more natural fragrance in our fabric softeners.

That it is all right to pay us less, to sell us less, to treat us as less.

Thankfully on those days an amazing woman or two comes along to show the world it's got things the arse-way round.

Captain Lisa Head was a professional soldier, a Yorkshire lass who volunteered to do a job which took her to some of the most dangerous places on Earth. She was a member of the Royal Logistics Corps and deployed with 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal regiment to Afghanistan.


Stop for a moment, and think now about women on the front line. We're officially not allowed in infantry and cavalry regiments because the pillocks who run the Ministry of Defence say we are not capable of killing the enemy, although we're as good at dying as anyone else.

In April last year Capt Head defused an improvised explosive device hidden in an alleyway in Helmand, just as she had done most days on her deployment. She went back to take some pictures for the intelligence guys, and a second device partly exploded, causing no injuries but creating more work for her. She had a couple of cigarettes, shared a joke with her colleagues, and said she was "going to crack on".

She went back in the alleyway and a third bomb blew off both her legs and both her arms. Her torso was also seriously injured. Her colleagues saved her life for long enough that she could be flown home and her family had a chance to say their goodbyes, and she died in hospital the next day.

She was 29 years old, and she didn't have to be there. She volunteered. How many of us - male or female - would stick our hands up for that ghastly, dangerous, life-saving job?

Soldiers are often reviled, and the war in Afghanistan is an horrifically pointless exercise, but women like that should fill us with awe.

On the same day that a coroner recorded a verdict Capt Head was unlawfully killed, another group of women who are normally criticised have done something amazing too.

Spain's economy is in a far worse state than ours, to the extent where there is a strong political movement of people who simply refuse to pay for the subway and instead jump the turnstiles every day in protest at fare hikes.

It's affecting all parts of Spanish society, which is a little more militant than ours about these things, and now the prostitutes have joined in too.

A group of Madrid's most expensive escorts has gone on strike and are refusing to have sex with bankers until they start lending money to struggling families and small businesses.

These girls normally get good trade from the bankers and charge them up to £250 an hour, but have put their knickers back on in outrage at the unwillingness of their clients to spend their money on the things they are supposed to.

A spokesman for the collective said: "We have been on strike for three days now and we don't think they can withstand much more."

Some clients who have previously told the girls they were bankers are now claiming they were architects all along, but if there's one thing I've learned over more than 15 years in this job it's that sex workers - while often damaged in so many ways - are as sharp as ferrets. You can't kid a kidder, and I'll bet my brush those bankers will be signing off loans again within a couple of weeks.

There are days when I despair of my gender, and then there are days when every woman on the planet ought to do a little fist-pump.

Today is one of the latter.

"Looking for a bailout love? It's £45billion and a pasty."

ADD: Capt Head's best friend Natalie Slade is raising money for a charity founded to help bomb disposal experts and their families. You can donate to the cause by clicking here.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

D'oh!

ONE of the principal things to admire in politicians is their sheer refusal to admit when they've got it wrong.

Yesterday Tory party chairman Francis Maude, hauled to the House of Commons to apologise about his absent Prime Minister's £250,000-a-head private dinner parties for donors, claimed it was all down to a 'rogue treasurer'.

Rather than say the mea culpa the situation demanded, poor old Maude was ordered to attack the reds for not having such a great record on party funding themselves. All watched on the teatime news by voters for whom £250,000 would buy at least two houses, not just a couple of courses of SamCam's celeriac soup.

And on exactly the same day Philip Smith, chairman of the Tories' membership arm, sent out this rather ill-timed letter offering people "the key to Number 10" if they will only dip in their pockets and cough up:


I'm reasonably certain the Lib Dems currently with their feet up on the Downing Street sofas won't take too kindly to the Tories starting to campaign for a 'real Conservative Government', and I'm not sure how much more Conservative they could arguably get.

Even more worryingly, the person to whom that letter was sent swears blind he is not, and never has been, a member of the Conservative Party, so the poor fools don't even know who's on their side any more.

Incidentally, it came with a Freepost envelope into which he has placed a short note explaining that Dishface gets quite enough money, thank you, and please remove me from your databases, then posted it back "because it costs them money".

At least the voters aren't stupid.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Priceless.

THERE'S nothing quite like the blindingly obvious to kick off an old-fashioned political scandal.

So the revelation that a seat at Dishface's personal marble-topped dinner table was available for £250,000 is firstly not a surprise, and secondly a meaty bit of news.

We don't like the idea of our politicians being bought and paid for by people who wish to sway official policy their way when we haven't voted for 'their way'.

But politics was ever thus. It's an expensive business, trading all that snake-oil, and it has to be funded somehow. Red, blue or yellow, the cash comes ultimately from working people who slave to give money to someone else who then spends it on the politician he chooses. It's never been fair.

And no-one signs a cheque without expecting to get something in return. None of us would. I wouldn't spend more than a tenner unless it improved my life in some way, whether by providing a bottle of sauvignon, a nice book or some new heels in the sale.

Even if I had £250,000 Dishface could not persuade me to give him it, not unless he offered to let me use his exoskeleton one day a week so I could masquerade as Prime Minister, meet the Queen and call her 'Betty', rearrange the pasty tax and leave him annoying notes to find on his return.

OF COURSE major political donors pay for access. OF COURSE politicians fall over themselves to suckle at the corporate teat. It may be a disgrace, we may wish it were different, but it's not. Not unless you want the taxpayer to start footing the bill.

Consider what the politicians are already doing with what we give them. They're planning to spend £500,000 on iPads, for a start; Dishface is splurging £20,000 on an app to help him run the country (I have often thought he thinks it's one big game of Angry Birds); and now the Parliamentary spending watchdog IPSA has decided it will not publish the kind of MPs' receipts which three years ago led to the expenses scandal.

There are three options: 1) Either these people fund themselves, and people will attempt to purchase MPs and ministers wholesale; 2) We give them the shirts off our backs too; 3) We get rid of politicians altogether, and have a system like jury service where anyone over 18 can get called up and has to do a year in Westminster on the national average wage. This last one would mean an end to political parties, which I don't think we'd miss much.

Whichever system we have, people like me will continue to poke our noses into it. It's been a sticky 12 months or so for the Press, under attack from all quarters regardless of whether we work for up, middle or downmarket papers. But the good news for us is that this latest scandal is the first to have struck Dishface without - as yet - producing immediate criticism of the journalists who uncovered it.

The normal technique of his PR machine is to blame the hacks concerned in off-the-record briefings, more often than not using the phrase 'tabloid techniques' as though it were an insult rather than a hallmark of popular and thorough journalism.

Just over a year ago a Cabinet minister was embarrassed almost to the point of resignation after being caught on camera having private conversations with journalists pretending to be someone else. Vince Cable threatened to bring down the government and discussed official policy on Rupert Murdoch's bid to take over BSkyB. Outrageously those journos and their paper were censured for using subterfuge by the Press Complaints Commission despite the obvious ethical and public interest value of their work.

This latest scandal has come from precisely the same kind of investigation - journalists using pretence to get unguarded answers from someone in power. They had hidden cameras and fake business cards, the kind of tricks which the News of the World (RIP) used so often, and for precisely the same reasons. Of course this time the journos work for a snoresheet, so perhaps that is why their 'tabloid techniques' haven't had the criticism they might if they worked for a red-top.

The fact is those techniques, and the work of all the journalists from different papers who use them, are absolutely priceless.

It's just a pity the same can't be said of our Prime Minister.

The tide always turns.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Welcome to my world.

BEING a journalist isn't all champagne and parties, you know.

More often than not you're sat in a stinky car filing copy on a laptop with barely any battery left in the rainy car park of a service station in the arse end of nowhere, because it's the first place you could find with a phone signal.

You've more than likely got out of bed at the crack of sparrow's fart to drive there, only to be told something you don't want to hear but have to turn into a page lead anyway, and already been bollocked twice for not having got there sooner, filed your copy yet or ringing the newsdesk when The Editor was talking to them.

Tired, depressed, under-appreciated, you file your copy, sigh, and then wander into the service station for a pee and something warm. Not too expensive, mind, because the days of claiming subsistence expenses while on the road are long gone.

And there, in a cabinet under some hot lights, shines the golden crust of a pasty.

You could queue up for some anorexic fries and a flaccid burger at the fast food franchise, but the act of engaging your mouth with either would only depress you more. You could try one of the stale tuna sandwiches sweating in a plastic wrapper, but it won't bring you any joy.

You want the pasty. Beef steak, potato, swede and onion - no carrot, carrot is wrong - all wrapped in a handy and tasty pastry container. It is the foodstuff of the working class, the food which since medieval times has powered industry and provided the humble employee the same sustenance it gave to royalty. It is better than a bridie, less messy than an empanada, more solid than a roti.

It sits there, glowing before you. Your fingers fumble for your money but, as usual, you've not much in your pockets. There are some bits of fluff, a business card for someone you can't remember, a paperclip bent out of shape to try to fix your mobile phone, and precisely £2.50 in coins.

'Thank God,' you think. 'That's how much a pasty costs.'

You fish it out from under the lights with a pair of tongs - you feel quite grown-up for being allowed to use the tongs in a shop - slide it into a bag, and nestle the warm package in your hand as you approach the till.

And there your dreams are dashed, as a hatchet-faced service station operative informs you 'at's free quid.'

You stutter. There must be a mistake. Pasties are cheap, affordable foodstuffs for the working classes, you protest. 'Free quid,' she insists. 'Wen' up inna budget, innit.'

There is no ATM in this godforsaken spot. No money in your other pockets, at the bottom of your bag or on the floor of your car, even though you hunt under the drifts of newspapers and crap with which it is covered. Disconsolately you return the glorious meal-in-a-pastry-coat to its spot under the lights, where someone wealthier may see it, buy yourself a poxy tuna sandwich for £2.45 and trail sadly back to your car.

You look at the sandwich. It droops. You sigh.

And the world, already quite shitty in so many major and far more important ways, gets a little bit shittier, just for you.

Thanks, Gideon.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Not dead yet.

TODAY I had a wonderful letter. It told me that I don't have cancer.

When I saw the words 'I am pleased to inform you that your recent test was normal', I closed my eyes and sighed and let a few tears out.

It was about 14 months ago that I got a very different letter. It told me that a test had shown I might have the beginnings of cancer, and came with pamphlets and suggestions about what to do next. When I read that I sat down on the stairs and bawled, not so much at the thought I might die but at the sheer shock. I was stunned. I felt like I'd been hit by a train.

Which is silly, because what the doctors had found was nothing unusual. As my mother wisely pointed out there are thousands of such letters sent out by the NHS every day, and if there's a pamphlet about it that's a very positive sign. It would be far worse to have something wrong with you for which there is no pamphlet.

And what was wrong was this - a cervical smear test, which most women over 25 are given by a nurse every three years, had come back 'abnormal'. That's a horrible word in itself, and being told there's something screwy with your lady parts is no-one's idea of a good time. I wish they'd used the word "different" instead.

The cervix, which is the mouth of the womb, is more complex than I'd realised. The cells inside it are different to the ones on the outside, and where those two meet there is a border area of cells changing from one into the other. Smear tests take a swab from this part to see if the rate of change is normal. If it's out of kink and there's more of one type of cell than there should be, it could potentially lead to cancer say, 15 years down the road. A smear test isn't a diagnosis so much as a really early warning system.


Anyway, I pulled myself together and read the pamphlet and it said 6 in every 1,000 or so tests come back with similar results, it might mean nothing, and that I should go back for another test with the nurse in six months.

I tried to put it to the back of my mind but during the wait I found out how important my bits are to me. Perhaps because on women they're hidden away, rather than jangling around in our laps all the time, it's easy to think we are greater than the functions they perform. Well, I discovered that the possibility there was something wrong with them made me feel less female, somehow. I felt unattractive, less secure and more androgynous. I didn't want to socialise, date, or have sex. My lady bits don't just make the hormones which give me a pitch of voice, my boobs or my fertility - they are the core of what I am in a thousand different ways.

The thought they were misfiring in some way was like trying to steer a supermarket trolley with a shonky wheel - it seems minor at first but you soon want to take it back and get another.

And it's not the kind of thing we naturally want to talk about. My mum and a couple of close friends knew, and that was it. One pal cheerfully suggested 'sandblasting' as a possible cure, which as it wasn't far off what the doctors might actually do didn't help much.

The six months passed, as time does, and I went back for my second test which in the vast majority of cases shows an all-clear. A week or so later I got a second letter, telling me my cells were still 'abnormal' and now I needed to see a doctor.

Again, there was a pamphlet. Again, this happens to lots of people. Again, I had a cry and didn't really tell anyone.

I trotted off to a gynae clinic at my local hospital, and sat in a waiting room surrounded by women whose various stages of pregnancy showed their lady bits were working just fine, thank you. There were a few others like me, who weren't with a beaming husband or bulging belly, who looked a little strained because something was wrong.

I looked a lot more strained when the doctor put a camera up my fundamentals and my cervix appeared on his TV. That's not something a girl should ever have to see, or a boy either for that matter. It's a pink thing that looks a bit like one end of a sausage with a slit in it - not unlike a willy, really, but still not something which, in ordinary circumstances, needs a camera and flashlight pointed at it.

The doctor showed me where these 'abnormal' cells were, which just showed a slightly darker pink than the rest of them, and I tried not to vomit while he booked me in to have it treated. A few weeks later I was back and he used a laser to burn all the cells away, a process he said would be "painless, maybe something similar to period pains". Typical bloke. It was like being punched in the ovaries, so yes, just like period pains.

Another six months were allowed to pass, and an appointment was made for a check-up. It was cancelled and rearranged, then cancelled again, until eventually I got a third date. Each time it was put back I was given another two weeks or so to enjoy not knowing whether the treatment had worked and if more drastic measures might be needed. Each time I told myself it would be fine.

Last week I had that check-up with the nurse, and today I had a letter saying I had the all-clear. I will have another test in six months' time and if that is also fine then I will go back onto the three-year programme which the NHS has run since 1988.

And do you know, if it weren't for the blessing of anonymity I wouldn't sit and tell strangers this. I think perhaps we should talk about our bits more often. I think we should come up with a name other than 'smear test' which makes it sound like a preventative measure is dirty. I think male gynaecologists should be punched in the testes a few times so they know what "painless" feels like.

And I think £157million a year to employ 100,000 medical professionals to give three million women aged 25 to 64 peace of mind is money well spent. It also saves 3,900 lives every year, and who knows but this year mine might have been one of them.

So although it's quite literally a pain in the fanny, if you get a letter calling you to a test or you know someone who does - a friend, your wife, mother, sister, daughter - please make sure it's done. Talk to them about it and don't let anyone make them think that on the rare occasions a doctor might find something amiss they're any less beautiful because of it. If you move house, tell your doctor so you don't fall off the database.

Twenty two per cent of women who get those letters calling them in for a screening do not attend. If they had to pay for it I'm sure even more would not go. I'm damn glad I did, and even more grateful for everything which the flawed, messed-up and ultimately brilliant and free NHS has done for me.

It taught me to love my lady parts, and got them working properly too.

But that doesn't mean I like vets.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The truth hurts.

AFTER 14 years of lying about it, Dennis Waterman has finally admitted he hit his ex-wife Rula Lenska.

And of course, he says it was her fault.

She was "strong" and "intelligent", and this made her a "power freak" and as a result when they argued he "couldn't get a word in". So he clocked her once or twice. But that's all right because "she certainly wasn’t a beaten wife, she was hit and that’s different".

He can't really remember punching or slapping her, but thinks he must have done it at least once "cause she did have a black eye".

Waterman blames this on the fact he's not very bright or good with words, that he'd had a bit to drink, and was so frustrated he lashed out. And he adds that he felt ashamed afterwards and has never done it since.

"It's not hard for a woman to make a man hit her," he said, neatly giving women a very good reason to feel much the same way about him.

I could bitch about how outrageous his words are, but you already know that. I could reheat my old stories of being married to someone who was violent, but that's predictable. So instead I will tell you some hard truths.

Being hit can hurt, but it doesn't last. It's the bullying that goes with it which is far more damaging. I have a friend who was hospitalised by her partner, and afterwards she went back to him not because she was stupid but because she had spent years being told it was her fault, and because she was scared to do anything which might upset him further.

You become used to changing your behaviour to avoid conflict, and when conflict occurs you 'learn' that this is because you didn't change enough; so you give in a little more until eventually there's not much of you left.

Physically I never had more than a bruise, but psychologically it took years to relearn the things everyone else takes for granted; that I am not to blame for someone else's faults, that I cannot absorb another's problems, and that I can be safe behind a closed door with a man. This last point was the hardest to figure out, and sometimes it still makes me wobble.

I wasn't beaten either, Dennis, and you're right in that it is physically different to being slapped, shoved, dragged or thrown. But mentally it's precisely the same. And for the record your use of words sounds fairly accomplished to me.

There are quite a few men - and women - out there who will have read what this silly actor has to say and agreed with him, because they have done exactly the same. They feel they were frustrated, that they had no choice, and it was largely the fault of a "power freak".

Domestic violence is not about hitting someone: that's just a symptom. The cause is someone who feels they are losing control, often because of drink, drugs, loss of employment, or financial pressure. And while they cannot or will not change those things they can control the person closest to them by lashing out, ironically often while accusing their victim of being the one who's controlling.

Waterman has at least stopped denying it and says it hasn't happened since, which if true is not only a good thing it's a statistical marvel.

But he's still using the same excuses he told himself all those years ago, and there's one lesson he hasn't learned and which many victims have had to consider at some point, which is: "Would I want this to happen to my child?"

Because if the answer's "no" then you have to stop all the excuses and accept the truth, as hard as it is: that you were wrong. Wrong if you were violent, wrong if you stayed with someone violent, and wrong to keep on making excuses for the inexcusable.

Never trust a man in loafers. 
He's too stupid to tie his laces.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Everything must go.

IT'S a hard economic fact that when you run out of money you have to start selling stuff off.

You go up to the loft and dig out that tent, admit the tennis racket would be better off in a new home and resign yourself to the fact that you will never make a very nice noise with that old guitar but it might get you £20 on eBay.

Of course you have to be careful to sell the things you don't need or can't use, and not more important stuff like a kidney or a lung or your car which are likely to come in handy.

If you're a government, you have extra reason to make sure you're not in the red but also to be careful about what you sell, because millions of other people may very well depend on the very thing you think is too expensive to run.

Which is why pre-Budget plans to privatise some parts of the motorway and trunk road network are... well... to be expected of the same people who were trying to hawk our trees to the highest bidder not five minutes ago. After all, if you're used to having your own forest and a private road, why would you think those things should be free?

Dishface's spin doctors have leaked that he is going to say in a speech we should open up the hard shoulder on major roads to 'aid economic recovery', which I suppose is more profitable than using it for ambulances and recovery of injured people, who can be a dreadful drain on resources.

The country arguably isn't doing very well at maintaining our roads - you need only look at them to see that - so perhaps private business would do a better job. The Germans already own our electricity and the Chinese have the water, and thanks to the economic crisis there's no risk of the roads being bought the Greeks or the Spanish.

Last time I was on a Spanish road the central reservation consisted of some chicken wire and scaffolding poles, one of which fell off and almost came through my windscreen. Mind you, if the Spanish took over the M25 it might become marginally safer.

So in a spirit of 1980s entrepreneurism, here are some suggestions for other things which Good Old Blighty Ltd could flog off and let someone else sell back to us for an extortionate profit:
* Rain. Despite millennia of being surrounded by this plentiful resource Britons have conspicuously failed to turn a buck from it. Whoever finds a way to charge for rain will be a gazillionaire very quickly, but it does need some investment to become a viable business model. Legally the government would have to claim ownership of clouds and lease whatever falls from them to the contractor, who then charges householders and water companies for allowing it to drop. We would also get extra whinging rights out of this as we could blame a foreigner for making it rain, as well as for not making it rain. And let's face it, there's no point in selling our sunshine.

* Wind. Traditional wind turbines don't produce much bang for their buck. I suggest a more reliable source of wind would be an army of Iain Duncan Smiths, which could be stationed on hillsides where no-one will have to listen to him and produce great gusts that could turn turbines day and night, in any weather. A salt-resistant version could be strapped to the White Cliffs of Dover to repel foreigners; this clone would be fuelled entirely by self-satisfaction.

* Children. At present we pay £20.30 a week for a first child and £13.40 for additional children. We have further costs in terms of schooling and medicine, and of course their carbon footprint is extremely large. I suggest instead of paying parents we privatise the right to have children, thus ensuring only those who can afford to raise them in a government-approved manner can do so. Many firms have attempted to exploit children in the past, so for maximum revenue opportunities these contracts should be put up for auction on a regional basis and perhaps allow corporate sponsorship by firms such as Lidl and Asda in areas of poor people, who can breed on an approved basis in order to provide voters, customers and other fodder.

* Kettles. Any attempt to privatise tea-making generally would be met with huge opposition and likely campaigns of civil disobedience, possibly even involving the drinking of coffee. However taxing kettle usage would enable the lucky leaseholder to turn a buck in every household at predictable times; advert breaks in the X Factor, for example, and whenever Melanie Phillips appears on Question Time. WARNING: This may lead to more Melanie Phillips.

* The BBC. This national institution has been created over many decades' public investment, which makes it ripe to be flogged to someone else for a pittance. The Americans will probably want it, which on the plus side means we'd get to see Pride & Prejudice again, but in return Huw Edwards would turn into Rush Limbaugh. The Germans would want to assimilate it into their existing TV networks and the French would try to run it for a bit and then give up. The Italians would turn it into an inexplicable game show and the Australians would fill it with idiots, but if they pay us money then who cares?

* The NHS. Oh, hang on... too late.
See? There's loads of things you can sell, if you think about it. And that's without starting on the Royal Family, shoe leather, and breathing.

The question, of course, is whether you really want to.

How much have you got, sailor?

Sunday, 18 March 2012

She...

SHE knows best. And will tell you so.

She gave birth to me even though the doctors told her she shouldn't try.

She blames me for the white hair, the wobbly bits, the wrinkly bits, the sleepless nights, and the phone calls where she says: 'You've done WHAT?'

She is unable to look at my house without wanting to clean it.

She taught me how to bake really good cakes, although none of them are as good as the chocolate one she still makes me on my birthday.

She failed to teach me how to make Yorkshire puddings that are light and fluffy like hers, probably because she wants to hold something in reserve to impress future sons-in-law and the grandchildren which she very sensibly doesn't mention not having.

She always smells nice.

She doesn't get angry often but when she does she can make the ambient temperature of a room drop to -20. She can Give You A Look down the telephone.

She put Germolene on my cuts, ran my burns under cold water, cleaned food off my face with the dishcloth, told me to keep away from the edge and wiped away all my tears.

She made me stay at the table until I had hidden all my peas under the mash where I thought she'd never find them.

She used to stroke my cheek while I fell asleep. I miss this.

She will insist on kissing the back of my neck if she sees it, but I don't let her see it because her kissing it freaks me out.

She is a war baby with roughly the same grip on her finances as an alcoholic on a bottle of gin but still lends me money whenever I need it.

She is the person who won't talk to me if I ring when Coronation Street's on, but will call me for a natter and be hurt if I tell her I'm too busy to talk.

She puts things away in my kitchen in the places where they live in her kitchen.

She hoards things in jars. Posh moisturiser, mint sauce, Vicks Vaporub, hotel shampoo, Branston pickle, liniment - they are kept until they solidify, ferment, or kill someone who tries them without checking the use-by date.

She sometimes giggles so hard that she cries and her face goes as red as a tomato.

She's really funny when she's drunk.

She taught me to read before I went to school and is good at doing plaits.

She has given me her bunions.

She is the person I spent most of my youth trying not to be, but have turned into anyway.

She is never going to not love me, but doesn't get told often enough that I feel the same way about her.

She is going to get a nice dinner cooked for her today and even though I'll clean up afterwards I know she'll do it again properly after I've gone.

She is absolutely beautiful, inside and out.

She is my mum and she's the nuts.

 Happy Mother's Day x

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Petition (n.): A respectful or humble request.

THERE are many horrifying things in the news today.

President Bashar al Assad of Syria and his wife gossip about America's Got Talent and splurge thousands on new chandeliers while his regime targets journalists, murders civilians willy-nilly and gives Al Qaeda all the help it needs to get a foothold in the region, for one.

The thought that the actor who plays Ken Barlow not only has a winky but has used it on 1,000 women for another - a fact made 433% more awful by the revelation his nickname on set was 'Cock Roache'.


Troops getting their pay cut while serving on the front line of a pointless war, a journalist being arrested for writing about publicly-available information, SamCam being praised for wearing a selection of utterly boring frocks. It's all stuff that makes you shake your head, grit your teeth, and turn the page.

And all of those things appear pale, pointless and petty when you consider the true horror which is the story of Amina Filali, whose tale has been reported, very briefly, in just a few papers.

She came from a small town near Tangiers in Morocco and was abducted and raped at the age of 15 by a man who was 10 years her senior. I can't find his name, or I'd publish it in a large and angry font.

Morocco is considered one of the most forward-thinking Arabic countries in terms of women's rights. Ten per cent of seats in its Parliament are reserved for women, custody, inheritance and divorce laws have been modernised, and the minimum age of marriage raised from 15 to 18.

Perhaps bearing this in mind, Amina's family took her abuser to court in a civil action to demand justice.

But unfortunately Morocco also retains a law which says that if a woman under 18 is abducted, the 'stain of honour' upon her and her family can be removed if the abductor marries her. This also gives the perpetrator immunity from prosecution.

The court ordered the two to enter a marriage contract. The abuser at first refused - after all, she was used goods - but was forced to agree after being threatened with a sentence of up to 20 years in jail if he did not.

Amina and this unnamed man were married, against both their wills, five months ago. Amina was regularly beaten and, it is assumed, probably raped throughout the marriage.

Unable to bear it any more, she ate rat poison.

For those who don't know, rat poison's main constituent is usually an anti-coagulant like warfarin, which prevents the blood from clotting and the body from healing itself. tiny blood vessels all over your body break and clot every day - if you bruise or sneeze for example. Eating rat poison means that you bleed to death, internally, in great pain over several days. It's not an easy way to go.

When Amina told her abuser what she had done, he dragged her down the street by her hair in a rage. This was probably more merciful than he intended, as it will merely have speeded up the rate at which she was losing blood. In another country he would be charged with manslaughter for not calling a doctor and for hastening her death.

But then, in another country it would not have happened at all. There would be no 'stain' on the victim of a dreadful crime that needed to be removed, and the rapist would be named, shamed and jailed, at least for a while.

Amina's story is horrifying in a thousand ways but it has two main lessons which, whether you care about a girl in Morocco or not, have some impact on lives here in Britain too.

Firstly, after the first court decision that she should marry her rapist, it led to a very strong campaign on Twitter and Facebook with many thousands of people behind it, all retweeting in a frenzy that this sort of thing shouldn't be allowed. It made bugger-all difference to Amina, which just goes to show that while social media can spread the word its practical power to change the course of events is limited. Petitions are simply too polite.

And secondly, whatever you might think about strict Islamic law, it is based upon a literal reading of its holy book. If there is a God-fearing type reading this - hello, by the way, can't imagine we've much in common but you're welcome all the same - the very same provision for a rapist to marry his victim is in the Bible and the Torah. It's in Deuteronomy, Chapter 22 to be precise, shortly after bits about how women can't wear trousers and a girl who's not a virgin when she marries can be stoned to death.

The Deuteronomic Code is generally considered to be based on the speeches of Moses, who is regarded as a prophet by all three Abrahamic faiths. And their holy books are the foundations of many of the world's laws.

However, just because this was the way people carried on thousands of years ago doesn't mean it's still all right. As our societies have matured we've absorbed the bits of those books that work into our penal codes and quietly forgotten about the parts which don't. The holy books were written and re-written by human beings, and just like journalists they're capable of producing inaccurate, ambiguous or misleading copy, and telling stories which may well have been true at the time of publication but which don't stand up to later scrutiny.

So the next time someone of a religious bent says some people can't do all the things everyone else does because it says so in a book, think about what the same book says about people like Amina.

Then do what she couldn't, and flick 'em the Vs.

Or start a petition, and see how far it gets you.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Who do you think you are kidding, Mr...?

A LIFELONG friend of a world leader was arrested this morning by police investigating a major criminal cover-up.

Alongside that man several other people - his wife and her senior managers at a company where the crimes are alleged to have taken place - were also arrested and are being questioned about what they know.

Some of them have been arrested before, by appointment and when they felt like it, but today the police finally treated the executives to the same 'six o'clock knock' treatment which they have used on more minor players in the scandal.

It is entirely coincidental that a public inquiry currently scrutinising relations between the police and members of the trade under examination has heard in recent days of senior coppers who have not been doing their job properly.

It is also coincidental that only last week said world leader made public statements about the arrested man being a school chum of 30 years' standing.

It is a further coincidence that the arrests took place when the world leader had his first opportunity to be out of the country for a couple of days, allowing him to concentrate on photo opportunities while ensuring reports of his mate's arrest fade away before he can be asked about it.

There have been as yet no suggestions of a 'special relationship' between the police and the man in charge of running the country, as the idea is of course ridiculous.

A spokesman has yet to say: "The only special relationship the Prime Minister has is with people who make him look good in pictures, and with people who end up getting arrested."

Campaigners whose constant questioning uncovered the scandal will, if asked, deny suggestions they had any political motive for so doing although a bystander might wonder, firstly, whether we would know all this if the jackboot were on the other foot, and secondly if the government will wobble when a criminal court starts looking through its dustbins.

As news of the arrests broke, there were unconfirmed reports of ordinary journalists being seen smiling for the first time in a year.

But it might have been more of a smirk.

Don't tell 'em, Charlie!

Monday, 12 March 2012

Being good is bad for you.

AT last! Someone has proved what we all knew if we only stopped to think about it.

Boffins at the research institute of Liverpool John Moores University have found that people who exercise regularly put so much strain on their hearts that it's unhealthy.

Specifically, your heart will be asked to do so much more than it wants to that it will grow fibrous tissue which may affect its ability to beat properly.

Or, to quote the science: "Lifelong repetitive bouts of arduous endurance exercise may result in fibrotic replacement of the myocardium in susceptible individuals, resulting in the development of arrhythmias."

Which is not to say that regular, lighter exercise isn't a perfectly good idea. A little trot around the park, a long walk on a sunny day, a regular swim or cycling to work - as long as the route doesn't involve a city centre, of course, in which case you may as well just take yourself off to Dignitas and commit suicide without being smeared across the front of a lorry - are all a great idea.

But it's a justified kick in the crotch to the humourless health nazis who insist that if you don't run the marathon every year you're pretty much dead, the people who shun red meat after 5pm, drink smoothies made from grass and treat a biscuit like it's a brain tumour. The ones who say that eating five fruit and veg a day is for people who don't try hard enough.

And - I'm almost sorry to do this to the health nazis, who seem to have a fairly miserable time of it already - dentists have announced that the five-a-day thing is also bad for you.

Kathy Harley, the dean of the dental faculty at the Royal College of Surgeons, says that the fashionable insistence on drinking fruit juice and eating citrus is adding lots of extra acid to diets which strips the enamel off our teeth. Children are suffering the worst, with half of five-year-olds are showing signs of losing their enamel.

You may be having a great diet, your teeth may be lovely and white, but without enamel they're going to rot right out of your mouth. Seeing as enamel is the toughest substance in your entire body, it takes some doing to get rid of it.

Dentists would rather we ate fruit at mealtimes rather than as snacks, avoid juice altogether and give children milk to drink instead.

Aside from the fact that without juice vodka mixers are going to be quite boring it all sounds perfectly reasonable to me. Of course milk is good for your teeth and bones. Of course you can damage yourself by exercising too much. Of course you need fruit and veg in your diet, along with everything else.

It's a good thing we have boffins to point out the bleeding obvious sometimes but there's no reason that we can't figure it out for ourselves. You can tell exercise is good for you because it makes you feel better when you do it, whether it's horizontal jogging or going round the park. Pheromones fire in your brain, your feet skip, and you smile. I did eight miles' training for the Moonwalk on Sunday and while my legs ached afterwards I felt great for it (I am also, once it is done, never walking anywhere again).

Consider eating a bowl of strawberries, even without cream and sugar, a big plate of baby carrots or - my personal favourite - steamed spring greens with a bit of salt and butter. Just thinking about it makes you feel better, and eating it doesn't hurt either.

But imagine a diet that involves a drink made from grass and most of us pull a face, not least because our brains and instincts are cleverer than we give them credit for. They know damn well we're not built to eat grass and that's why they tell us to vomit when we do.

My gran always used to say that a little of what you fancy does you good. It's true she usually said this while serving up second helpings of steamed treacle sponge with custard, but she was right because we didn't eat it every day, we always went for a big walk afterwards and she made a damn fine treacle sponge.

Which is as good a philosophy for life as anyone else's, and on the plus side you won't end up looking like Madonna.

Biscuit, Madge?

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Bloody wimmin.

IT'S that 0.27 per cent of the year when females are recognised as not being too mad, naggy, annoying or hormonal. An International Women's Day, just for little ol' us? Wow. Thanks.

That blessed 24-hour period when it's all right to say 'Huzzah for girls!' and the men in charge of stuff say things like 'Afghanistan, yeah, dreadful isn't it? What shall we do?' before they go back to trading women's rights for a political deal with the Taliban.

Let's get this straight. I am a woman, and I am amazing on more than just the one day a year. I am frequently an idiot as well, but usually not for too long, and in this country people like me form 52 per cent of the population. Elsewhere in the world the figures are different, not least because females are killed, abused, sidelined, abandoned, and generally treated in a rather offhand manner to such a large degree that 100million women who should have been born seem to have disappeared.

Regardless of that, we are not a minority. We are not a pressure group, a campaign, a token or something anyone ought to be having a sit-in for. We are 49.76 per cent of the world's population and if all of us who were born had the same medical treatment and social chances we'd be a superpower. We'd be the gender equivalent of China. You don't like what we do? Well, Fuk Wu.

That's not to say that taking a day every year to point out the iniquities of the world is a bad idea. It's the only way some of those issues are ever going to get in the papers or on the main news bulletins, so it's worth doing even if it is offensively tokenistic to your average European female who can hold a driving licence and own property without anyone's by-your-leave.

But then there's the hypocrites who hand-wring over wimmin's stuff when it's March 8 and go back to screwing them over on March 9. Step forward, Prime Minister Dishface and Mini-Me Clegg.

Today these two middle-aged numpties are going to announce plans for a law against stalking. They're not going to mention the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 which is supposed to do that already, but which is rarely exercised properly by the police or courts and is more often used to stop journalists asking questions of people who'd rather they didn't. And no-one's going to say that your average stalker is too deranged to give a tupenny-ha'penny for what the law says about anything.

The politicians are certainly not going to admit that in recent months support for them among that 52 per cent of the population has dived off a cliff. Whether it's public sector job cuts, benefit reforms, the recession or pension changes, it's women who are losing the most, and the polls are showing that they have rather gone off Dishface and Cleggy as a result.

So what they're also going to do today is announce that Britain is going to sign up to the Council of Europe's Convention on Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence. Yay for the girls, yay for the boys who like girls, please vote for us again next time.

This convention is an interesting thing. Firstly it was produced in May last year, so we're a little slow in getting around to it. It's been signed by only eight member states so far which is pretty poor, and Germany says it won't apply to asylum seekers. And I'm not sure that Dishface and Cleggy have read it all the way through.

There's plenty of pledges which are prime examples of hope triumphing over expectation - Article I promises to eliminate all violence against women for example. But it also says that signatories should devote financial resources to combating violence and ensure adequate rape crisis support and refuges for women.

Article 20 says: "Parties shall take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that victims have access to services facilitating their recovery from violence... services such as legal and psychological counselling, financial assistance, housing, education, training and assistance in finding employment.... access to health care and social services and that services are adequately resourced and professionals are trained to assist victims."

Except Britain's women's refuges are turning people away and closing beds because of the cutbacks. Housing benefit is being cut, jobs are going part-time, JobCentres and training services are being reduced, and the NHS is being turned inside out. So we're flouting the convention before we've even signed it. Sod the women, let's buy off the bankers.

The convention also promises to provide civil law remedies for women against their abusers. Only, oh yes, massive reforms of the Legal Aid system make that impossible unless you're rich.

And for final proof that 'Calm down, dear' Dishface doesn't give a monkey's cuss what the convention says, we need look no further than Article 40 which says: "...any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, in particular when creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment, is subject to criminal or other legal sanction."

Except when you're in the House of Commons, when you can say whatever you like. Whoopsy!

Although it says stuff the world should already be doing the convention really matters in many important ways, and if the men who sign it don't believe in it or act on it then they can still be held to account by it.

So I'd just like to say - sign away, boys. Pat yourselves on the back, and forget about it all tomorrow.

But don't for a moment think that those bloody wimmin have gone away.

Man on left: "We need to do something for women."
Man on right: "We've got pink flowers. What more do they want?"

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Deja friggin' vu.

YESTERDAY the Prime Minister warned that a Middle East madman was developing weapons capable of destroying London.

Intercontinental missiles with nuclear warheads, pointed at the Queen? Britain is honour-bound to bristle.

He said that war remained an option, but economic sanctions have "further to run". The head of MI6 is walking around looking more serious than usual and Israel's getting antsy.

Do you know, I could swear we've been here before? It rings a bit of a bell.

Not least because the main underlying factor in the current ruckus between Iran and the rest of the world is the same sticky black stuff the want of which saw off Saddam Hussein and Colonel Gaddafi.

Oil is the basis of 90 per cent of Iran's economy, not least because its crude is of a particularly high quality. Britain doesn't buy a lot of it but about 20 per cent of the total comes to the European Union, mainly to Turkey, Spain and Greece. And they don't have much money to spend.

Another 20 per cent goes to China which although it is on friendly terms with Iran, what with being well out of missile range, has been quibbling over the price of late.

To make matters worse various bods - Obama, Netanyahu and the statesmanlike figure of PM Dishface, running to catch up - have started muttering about nuclear ambitions and announced an oil embargo.

In response Mr Dinnerjacket has said he won't let anyone who's not his friend have any of his oil anyway, an empty bit of playground posturing when you realise that without the West's cash his country's economy would split down the middle and the opposition movement he's been cracking down on would be back on the streets with even more public support.

So Iran is painting itself into an angry corner while Saudi Arabia public-spiritedly offers to sell us more oil to make up for it, very reasonable price of course, slight inflation but there's a lot of demand you know, and everyone except China is arranging themselves in a stern line.

And for all the EU's talk of sanctions and up-with-this-we-shall-not-put, the embargo means merely that from July we will stop buying 430,800 barrels of Iranian oil a day. By the time July rolls around, however, we'll have coughed up for 68.5million barrels of that same Persian crude in order 'to reduce the impact on weaker European economies'.

So we've got the threats of WMDs. We've got the Middle East being jumpier than normal, and an undemocratic leader with dodgy facial hair. We've got political double-speak and a thirst for oil provided by people we'd like to be friendlier to us. And we've got sanctions that won't bite until July.

Call me pessimistic, but after six months of having its main financial artery stamped on I reckon Iran will be sending Scuds at everything that moves, and a few Western leaders unpopular because of their austerity measures are going to decide they need a war.

I've pencilled it in my diary for January.

Who needs change?

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Fox'll fix it.

LOTS of people write to me, and not always with abuse. I thought it was time to share with you some recent letters from The Reader, and my advice.

Dear Foxy,

For some years now I've been obsessed with the idea of homosexual sex. I have always thought relationships between people of the same gender were grotesque, that they are not only unnatural but also leading to the breakdown of civil society and the family unit which is the bedrock of so many cultures around the world.

I have a strong personal faith about the way I live my life, and think everyone else should believe the same as me, because I read about it in an old book. So I was horrified to learn that politicians in charge of this country are doing things I don't agree with, and weren't written about in that book - they want to allow people of the gay persuasion to get married as though they were normal human beings!

This made me so angry I have written a letter to every church in the country to be read out this Sunday, even though hardly anyone seems to agree with me. My question is, if I am thinking about gays all the time, does that mean they have infected me with their gayness?

Yours,

The Archbishop of Westminster

You're certainly confused about sex, not least in the belief that homosexuality is a virus of some kind. Gay marriage has been legalised in Norway, Sweden, Portugal, the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain, and these nations have not descended into an orgy of indiscriminate bumming nor been visited by the holy wrath of an angry Almighty. Perhaps you ought to read more than just the one book? I am sending you a library card.

Dear Foxy,

I'm a bit of an old git these days but the modern habit of taking mobile phone pictures of everything is really starting to grate. It didn't use to happen when I was younger. It feels like I can't step outside the front door of my multi-million pound mansion without someone telling me they love me and asking for a picture. I'm all right with the love bit, but the picture feels intrusive. Thank God I found a natural looking hair dye! My wife says I'm just being grumpy; is she right?

Peace,

Sir Paul McCartney

Look at this way. If every time a fan asked for picture they paid you £100 for the remastered versions of The Beatles' 12 studio albums, would you say yes? Right then, stop whining. I am sending you my leaflet 'Old Men Can't Wear Trainers'.

Dear Foxy,

I've spent the last few years building a career in television based on being a likeable working class personality who's nice but charmingly dim, only not quite as chavvy as Jade Goody or screwed up like Kerry Katona. It all seemed to be going well until someone took a picture of me smoking while heavily pregnant. My agent's been screaming at me all day and I apologised to everyone concerned, but apparently I've upset Iceland. Now I'm worried we'll have to go to war in the North Atlantic. Mrs Thatcher's going to kill me! Help!

Loadsa love,

Stacey Solomon

You're so thick I can't believe anyone let you near a naked flame. Look, lots of people smoke. Some people do it while they're pregnant. They all know they shouldn't, but they do it because they don't really want to stop. Play the 'I'm only human' card and it'll blow over; perhaps have a little public weep as well? But you have to learn that when you make cash out of being the nation's favourite mum you can't also be seen depriving your unborn child of oxygen and nutrients. Call 0591 948 3939 (premium rates apply) for my advice line on 'Geopolitics and Defensive Strategy'.

Dear Foxy,

Six months ago I left my job under a cloud. Yesterday I had to go to a tribunal to explain all the circumstances that led up to it and think I managed to successfully shift the blame onto everyone else. I'm a bit worried though because I told them I felt I had to resign even though I had done nothing wrong; surely they won't be daft enough to believe this?

Sincerely,

Sir Paul Stephenson, Metropolitan Police Commissioner (ret'd)
Did you get your pension? Then flip the middle finger. People are surprisingly stupid.

 Now if you'll excuse me, I have the pub to attend.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Good news for some.

A FREELANCE friend told me last week about trying to sell a story to a national newspaper. "I rang them up," he said, "and it was like talking to someone who'd just been in a car accident."

On the one hand, journos will always complain newsdesks aren't treating their stories with the Watergate-shattering respect they deserve. And on the other he had a point. The combination of phone-hacking and corruption scandals, a public inquiry and three police investigations are having a serious effect on even those of us who are not under suspicion.

If you open a national newspaper today, you'll have to look hard to find a story that hasn't come from a press office, showbiz agent or what's known as a 'buy-up' - when someone comes to us for a full sit-down chat and a cheque.

Today The Scum splashed on a buy-up with the mum of a £45m lottery winner. The Daily Glimmer went with a story from the wires about a baby killed in an American tornado, the Wail with information from an FOI request, The Groaner's done Russia, The Tims did the opinion of a Falklands War vet and the Wellygraph led with a behind-the-scenes briefing from our beloved Chancellor Gideon.

They're are all perfectly reasonable stories, got in perfectly reasonable ways. On a Monday papers have less news in than the rest of the week because they were prepared on Sunday when there's very little going on, and without the Screws (RIP) setting the agenda there's less material for the dailies to mop up. But I've sat and read all of today's papers and I can't for the life of me see a story about crime, politics or health that hasn't been officially approved in some respect.

Critics will say this just goes to show that all such yarns were got via criminal means, and now the guilty parties are so scared of being caught they've cleaned up their act. But a more realistic person will wonder whether all newspapers would have had the budgets to pay a bung or hack a phone on every story, never mind the inclination. In my experience the vast majority of tales come from somebody telling someone else something for free, as a bit of gossip, sometimes with and sometimes without realising that information would be passed on to a journalist.

I've known celebrities who tell their friends things on the clear understanding it will end up in print, and I've known stories which came about because someone sat and gossipped to their hairdresser, who in turn repeated it to the next client who just happened to be the wife of a journo having her roots done. Coppers I've dealt with over the years generally tell you stuff for free, for exactly the same reasons that celebrities, politicians and showbiz PRs do - because it makes someone look good. A good journo takes such briefings with a pinch of salt, but listens to them all the same. Vanity works harder than money does.

The scrutiny the Press is under is fair enough. Criminals need to be investigated and held to account, whatever business they're in. But the timing of an inquiry being held before the criminal cases which sparked it, the investigations which are being dragged out over years, is leading to what can only be called a story crunch - just like an economic recession, only with a lack of public information.

Without a single criminal case being heard or conviction won, journalism has become a trade where the phone has stopped ringing. A copper on a case who thinks his superiors have screwed it up is not going to take the risk of a quiet word in a journo's ear. A soldier who has had to spend thousands of pounds buying his own kit isn't going to get his mum to ring a newspaper on his behalf. A teaching assistant, council clerk, librarian, prison officer, dustman or anyone else employed on a public wage is going to be terrified of losing their job if they flog a tip for £50 - and it's tips which are often the first step on the story ladder, which allow an investment of time and effort to build up to a really good scandal.

Do you think politicians have stopped lying? Do you believe prisoners are all being well-behaved, that celebrities have turned their backs on drugs and hookers, doctors have stopped making mistakes, or that the courts only jail the guilty and let the innocent walk free? Those stories are still happening. We just aren't hearing about it.

And if they're scared, then so are we. Hacks worry every phone call and email could be handed over to the police, that papers won't protect the sources we work hard to reassure, that so much as buying a pint for a CPS lawyer after court will see everyone involved collared by a police force under pressure to compensate for its previous mistakes. We err on the side of extreme caution rather than take a risk.

Which of course is good news for some. Particularly if you're in charge of a government overseeing controversial changes to the criminal justice and welfare systems, sacking thousands and cutting benefits. It's good news too if you are one of the top bods in the Met Police, and want to tell other people what is and is not in the public interest without letting them make up their own minds.

It's quite good if you're a publicist who can threaten cowed journalists, or a celebrity with a book or DVD to sell, and it's bloody brilliant if this time last year you were a Prime Minister facing difficult questions on how much you knew about the whole damn mess when you employed one of its central figures as your spin doctor.

And it's more marvellous still if you are a lawyer acting for one of the truly guilty individuals who not only corrupted others but became corrupt themselves, who twisted my trade and abused their position for their own gain. Because not only is there a bucketload of billable hours in this, when it finally comes to court your client will walk.

I do not want news that has been approved by a press officer, run past the police or checked against Hugh Grant's moral compass first. I want my news back - cleaned of criminality and paying off its debts but just as badly-behaved and mischievous as it ever was, kicking over the dustbins, cocking a snook and scribbling away frantically because it had a really, really good story to tell.

Maybe tomorrow?

Scrutiny stills the hand, even if it's not a guilty hand.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

A man worth listening to.

MEDICAL science can do wonderful things.

If you've been blown to pieces in Afghanistan it can put you back together. If you've been run over by a car it can rebuild your bones. If you've been shot it can remove the bullet, repair the torn flesh, and put the blood back in your body.

I have spoken to and known many people who without the benefits of modern lifesaving techniques would never have survived to sit down and tell me about it. They are people who, had it happened 100, 50 or even 20 years ago, would have died on the spot and who are fully aware that every minute of life they have after that point is a rare bit of luck.

All of them, regardless of their different stories, said pretty much the same thing. Firstly that they think it might have been bad luck they survived, secondly that the physical injuries were comparatively easy to deal with, and thirdly that the most difficult problem they had to overcome was in their own minds.

When your body is hurt other people flock to help; when the psyche has yet to heal you are pretty much on your own.

It doesn't matter whether you're a soldier, a civilian, a victim of crime or anyone else, because a broken leg can be seen, and fixed, while a broken mind can easily go unnoticed. And even if we spot it, it's too complicated or difficult for us to make much effort to repair.

When Raoul Moat shot him twice in the face almost two years ago, for no particular reason other than that he was upset with his girlfriend, Pc David Rathband was left with 200 shotgun pellets in his head. He lost an eye and the other was seriously damaged, and endured repeated surgery to remove as many of the pellets as possible.


He lived. But he lost his job and his sight, his home life came under intense pressure and his marriage broke down. One or two of those things he may have been able to cope with, but together they seem to have combined to the point where he found life unbearable. He was found dead at his home in Northumberland this morning, in what his former colleagues are now investigating as a suicide.

There are plenty of people who'll inflict their opinions on us about who or what is to blame. But it strikes me that the best person to say what caused such a sad event - beyond the steroid-addled gunman whose actions are still having tragic effects long after he in turn shot himself - is Pc Rathband himself.

Last year he told the BBC: "I'm struggling to deal with being blind. I can deal with being shot, it has happened, I can't change that... I have spoken to quite a few people over the last few months and everybody tells me that I have got 10 years before you realise you can deal with being blind. At the moment I can't even see the next 12 months. But I am taking each day as it comes. I am trying my best and it is tough."

He was a man worth listening to, because he not only realised the major hurdle he faced was the psychological legacy of his injury but sought to help others and point out that, once the doctors are gone, the pain remains.

He set up a charity called The Blue Lamp Foundation to give financial support to those in the police, fire and ambulance services criminally injured in the line of duty, because most often they find themselves losing their jobs as well as some of their abilities. He wanted to raise £1million in its first three years, to help the people who cannot help us any more.

It strikes me that's a far better legacy for the experience of Pc David Rathband than the struggle which eventually overwhelmed him.

You can donate here.