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

Monday, 30 April 2012

Sleb speak.

CELEBRITIES don't speak the same way as the rest of us.

Firstly they live in a place where everyone loves them, and people are rarely mean. They are the prettiest person in the room, always sunny-natured, and they never get zits. Whenever I see someone famous directly quoted all I can hear in my head is "tra-la-la!", because that's pretty much what they usually mean.

If there's something unpleasant to be said, they don't speak at all. They publicly ignore it while getting their spokesman to talk about the unpleasant things to friendly journalists in return for getting their point across without things looking ugly.

There are plenty of genuine, nice and fairly normal people who happen to be famous - but I'd argue they're not 'celebrities'. They're actors or singers or whatever. 'Celebrities' are people who went on the telly and became famous overnight. They usually can't do anything useful at all, and in order to keep the pretence going they have to be flawless in every other respect.

It's this simple fact of high-profile life - and frankly if I was on the telly on Saturday nights I'd be careful what I said everywhere else too - which causes a lot of celebs problems. Sometimes their spokesman oversteps the mark, and sometimes they don't realise when they ought to shut up.

That's what led, I presume, to Simon Cowell giving hours of one-on-one interviews to someone writing an 'unauthorised' biography. This would be fine if Simon were a normal human being, but he's spent the past 30 years or so in the music industry surrounded by twonks trying to suck up to him and he sounds, in all honesty, like a bit of a mess.

Black toilet rolls aside, he has the same attitude towards sex, boobs and conquests as a 14-year-old boy, and slightly less charm. To sit down and reveal that unpleasantness to a journalist is very funny for us, but not a great move for him.

The same rule has applied to the former TV talent show contestant which is Cheryl Tweedy, a pretty girl who's not much of a singer and has managed to make everyone forget about how she's a tattooed thug who whacked a nice Nigerian lady in a nightclub toilet over a 10p lollipop.


Cheryl - because she can't be seen to do this herself - appears to have allowed a spokesman to say she was upset that Cowell's book said he wanted to sleep with her, accused her of playing up to him, and say that he felt "like a mouse being played with by a beautiful cat".

It has been reported "Cheryl thinks Simon is a creep and the last man on Earth she'd sleep with", and "Cheryl's camp are furious", presumably because saying it herself would make her look like she reads the papers, lives in the same world as the rest of us or cares, which of course would never do.

But she also illustrates the flaw in celeb-speak - which is that, when they do talk, they're not that bright.

So on the one hand we have 'Cheryl's camp' furious that she's being treated as a sex object, and on the other we have the great muse herself posing in a series of outfits that won't zip up talking about how much she likes sex, wants to sleep with Prince Harry, is only interested in having babies and is actually quite old-fashioned.


Yes, dear, you look and sound like 1984. Or is she trying to recreate the spy-in-a-bag look?

(It must be a coincidence that her new single is out soon and it's not getting much airtime on the radio).

She also says she's thinking about writing her autobiography - well, talking about stuff that makes her look good to someone else who will write it for her - because she wants to "say things from my point of view".

Is it going to be called "Tra La La?" Because it should be.

The only reason I'd be interested in Cheryl Tweedy's point of view is if she could explain how you can zip yourself in and then padlock the bag from outside.

But if she wants to carry on being flawless she really ought to put a sock in it.

Friday, 27 April 2012

A total shower.

AROUND this time last year, the world moved.

The planet moves in space all the time, of course, but the times that people actually get up off their bums and give it a shove in one direction or another are rare.

Humans have a mixed history of doing things en masse - for every example of a peaceful uprising there is a Kristallnacht to remind us we do appalling things too. But the Arab Spring of 2011 seemed to be all good.

Deposing dictators - check. Popular uprising - check. Largely peaceful - check. Captured by people with smartphones - checkety check.

It hit a stumbling block in Libya, and again in Bahrain and Syria where the bad men had time to realise what was coming down the pipe, and get their tanks in a row. But in Egypt the bad man was so surprised by the strength of feeling in a largely middle-class population that in the end he capitulated. He was arrested, and has been in court to answer for decades of crimes.

A bloodless, righteous coup. What wonderful stuff! Well done the human race.

Except democracy is not a natural state, and in the vacuum which followed the peaceful siege of Tahrir Square the generals regrouped, and then the fundamentalists got enough of a toehold among a disaffected and disappointed population that the first elections saw them into parliament.

Where, this week, they've all decided to be a bit worse than the bad man they got rid of.

There have been stories about new laws allowing men to have sex with their dead wives which aren't actually true, but the laws which are being suggested are just as icky and wrong.

During Hosni Mubarak's dictatorial regime lots of bad things happened, but because he was a crazy there was some accidental good stuff too. One of them was that women were allowed the right to seek a divorce or separation from their husband, under an Islamic law called Khula.

She had to reimburse him for whatever he provided her during the marriage (bit cheeky if she can't work) but he has to pay for the children, and they can remain with her for seven years after which point they can live with whatever parent they choose.

No-one in their right mind divorces willy-nilly - especially if they have to repay him for all the crap jewellery he bought - but it enabled women who were abused, beaten or otherwise mistreated to get themselves and their children out. Before that law, it took 10 to 15 years, the husband could refuse, and even after divorce the wife often had to remain living with her ex for financial and social reasons.

Egypt's new rulers want to end that right. It wants to remove Egypt from international treaties on women's rights, remove the quota for female representatives in parliament, and make it legal to marry a girl of 14.

It didn't say that on the side of the tin, did it? 'Contents: one Arab Spring. May spring backwards in time by eight centuries.'

Egypt's National Council for Women (have we got one of those? I'm not sure we do) has kicked off and is campaigning against the changes, which are being backed by hard-right religious groups with names like Coalition for the Family. Coincidentally that's exactly what the same kind of loons in the US call themselves; Mitt Romney has more in common with the Muslim Brotherhood than he'd like to admit.

But what if it actually happens? What if, all across the Arab world, the single bad men who were in charge have been replaced with groups of bad men all egging each other on to see how medieval they can be? That's not just going to affect women or minorities, that's going to be World War III.

You might think, 'well, that's Egypt, can't happen here'. But this week we've got anti-abortion activists accusing the British Pregnancy and Advisory Service of genocide, we've got a tied vote in the House of Lords because half of them couldn't be bothered to take part in legal aid reforms which means poor people won't be able to seek civil injunctions against violent partners, and the only female who meets with universal national approval is one who doesn't speak.


This week I was invited to meet a group of 14-year-old girls as part of a project teaching them about what professions and role models are available to them. It was great fun, but most of them were stunned that I swore, told them to fight for the things they believed in, and said the celebrities they're all taught to look up to were idiots in real life. When I told them Justin Bieber thinks 'rape happens for a reason' I think I broke their hearts, but it needed to be done.

Democracy, freedom, and rights, don't just fall out of the sky like rain. They're a wall you have to build with backbreaking labour and toil in order to keep yourself safe from those who want to take it all away. Women's rights are just one brick in there, along with things like freedom of speech, voting rights, and protection of children. But if you start taking bricks out the whole lot comes down.

And it needs regular maintenance if it's not all going to wash away some day.

The trouble with springs is that they're often quite rainy.

Brollies out, ladies.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Live and let lie.

MAN dies in mysterious circumstances.

He is found inside a bag he could not possibly have padlocked himself.

A third party's DNA is found on the padlock.

And the dead man is a spy, a highly intelligent man specialising in designing computer programmes to trawl the world's communication networks looking for terrorists.

It doesn't take a genius to figure it out, does it?

Yet apparently Britain's spymasters didn't notice when James Bond disappeared for a week, and even when his sister phoned up to tell them he was missing they didn't bother popping round to his flat for several hours, at which point they dispatched a couple of policemen who discovered his remains.

There are two possibilities here. Either the British security services were fully aware of foul play and wanted some time to cover it up - to remove DNA and incriminating evidence from the flat - or they're total numpties.

The thought of our spooks being incredibly stupid is not a comforting one. No wonder Osama bin Laden managed to outwit them using some pay-as-you-go phones, an old PC and a Speak-and-Spell.


Gareth's inquest is still ongoing but there's a lot of attention to the detail of wigs, shoes, and his sexuality and not much talk about the bigger picture.

A SPY GOT DEAD AND MI6 DIDN'T NOTICE.

"Hello? Is that Q? M here."

"Ah, M, hello, I've just been working on this amazing invisible stealth exploding Biro I think you'll like..."

"Yes, yes. Look, have you heard from Bond?"

"007? Oh, he was here last week picking up my latest rocket-propelled Savile Row suit. But no, not heard from him since then."

"Really? We can't raise him on the phone and he's missed an important meeting with an incredibly beautiful Russian double-agent."

"Oh."

"Yes. Oh well, I expect he'll turn up soon. G&T later?"

"Why not. Bye."

You see? Not exactly encouraging, is it?

And these are the security services we're relying on to stop us being exploded in our beds, to make sure planes don't fly into the Tower of London, and to swoop in and arrest the bad guys at the 11th hour.

Until the inquest is over it's not for me to say what happened, beyond passing the observation that dead bodies often get moved in bags by people who don't want them to be found, and that such things usually happen when there's foul play.

But you'll excuse me for thinking that the people keeping us safe are either miscreants or pillocks, and therefore the best thing to do might be to climb inside a padlocked rubber bag and not come out until there's no more pasty tax, granny tax, recession, u-turns, floods, droughts or Danny Alexander.

Have they gone yet?

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

You've only yourselves to blame.

WOULD you let a child cross a busy road on their own? Play with knives? Drink whatever they find in the kitchen cupboards?

Then why in the name of all that's holy would you let them loose on the information superhighway without keeping an eye on them?

There's a lot of kerfuffle about what's available on the internet and that because children are as capable as anyone else of accessing it that this is the fault of the medium, which should be forced to bring in some filters.

I'm not against the idea of sieving out the stuff you'd rather not see, in fact I'd like a filter for twats, idiots and trolls as much as I would the inadvertent filth you find with a fairly innocuous search term. I once got locked out of the company internet for Googling 'breast cancer' for a story, a fact which was explained at some length and increasing volume to a succession of IT geeks before my access was restored.

But are parents seriously expecting search engines to do their parenting for them? Are there mums and dads out there who believe that because they can't be bothered to turn on the very simple child-locks on their home internet that a massive corporation ought to sort the problem out?

It beggars belief. If you let a child use a computer, whether it's at home or school, you should make sure they're safe while they're doing it. It's like sending little Jimmy out to navigate a motorway, or play with a chainsaw, and thinking nothing could possibly go wrong.

And I'm afraid the facts of the matter make it fairly likely that, if little Jimmy comes across cybersmut while doing his homework - and that's how 90 per cent of them find it - it's there because of mummy and daddy.

How many dads look at relaxation videos online? How many mummies read erotica? There were - at the last very rough estimate - 420million pages with adult content on the internet, and 72m people a month visit them. A fifth of men watch it at work, and 1 in 3 visitors to adult websites are women.

Around £2m is spent on 'privately observing rude nudes' EVERY SINGLE SECOND. I know children's pocket money is more than it was, but they're not paying £62billion a year to fund the industry. Mummy and daddy are.

The research also shows that children's first exposure to adult online content is at the age of 11. That's dreadful, but it's not the fault of the internet any more than jazz mags are the fault of the paper they're printed on.

Filth isn't being pumped into our homes any more than sewage is, but if you let your children play in the drains the chances are they'll find dirt. And if you're the ones who made them filthy in the first place you've frankly only yourself to blame.

It's a ridiculously simple process to ensure your home internet has a 'top shelf' section your children won't be able to access, and if you can't be stuffed to find out how to do it you're either a terrible parent or someone just too dense to operate a spoon.

Sadly, there isn't a filter for those either.

"Do you want to play on Daddy's laptop next?"

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Fascist is as fascist does.

IT'S an historical fact that when economies crunch politics swing to the extreme right.

A lack of money leads to a vacuum where people are so busy blaming one another for their problems that those with views normally considered obnoxious manage to get a hearing.

The Far Right says the blame belongs to one part of society - that it's the Left, the Jews, or the immigrants who've caused the trouble - and everything would be dandy if we just got rid of them.

That's how the Nazis rose in Germany in the wake of the Great Depression. It's how the Blackshirts grew in Britain, how the National Front is returning in France this week. It's how Anders Behring Breivik justified the slaughter of 77 people, the youngest of whom was just 14 but because she was a youth member of the Norwegian Labour party was due a bullet as far as he was concerned.

It's how fundamentalists are justifying their attacks on the West, too. They're as much Muslims as Hitler was a Socialist, but they're using the word to describe their war on the freedoms they feel threatened by because 'fascist' doesn't make good PR. But fascist is what they are, and their support largely comes from people in extreme poverty.

Fascists believe they are part of a elite group connected by blood or culture which makes them superior to others. Breivik has exactly the same attitude as Osama bin Laden, and they'd both be able to have a long and happy chat with Hitler. I suppose we should just be glad they haven't had the chance.

But because the fascists call themselves all kinds of other things it's easy to think Muslims want to kill everyone, that Socialists are anti-Semitic, or a terrorist is in fact a nationalist and as we all generally love our countries that we can kind of see where he's coming from...

Which is how they get a foothold. All the Germans who voted for Hitler didn't do so because they thought he was a lunatic who'd gas six million people, they did it because they heard some of his more anodyne views and thought they could see what he meant.

But of course it's all history so we know how it happens and it can't possibly happen again.

Or can it?

Across the Arab world leaders have been toppled by mass uprisings but those seizing power are extremists pointing the finger and fostering hate, while the much-promised freedom of the Arab Spring is conspicuous by its absence.

In France 20 per cent of the electorate voted for a woman who says Muslims are "occupying" parts of Paris. In the US there are men who not only believe a baby born from rape is a gift from God, that women seeking abortions should have instruments forced into their vaginas and that gays can be cured, but who are being elected to public office to put those views into law.

And before you shake your head and sigh, and think it's much nicer here in England, my postal vote for the London Assembly elections dropped through my door this week and contains TWO representatives of the extreme right wing bidding to help run one of the most culturally-diverse cities in the world.

Aside from the main parties I've also got the National Front and the British National Party taking up two spaces on a ticket of eight candidates. They've every right to be there in a free country but I can't help thinking that if they were in charge a couple of the other candidates wouldn't get a look in.

Our own economic woes are being blamed on a handful of bankers (GAS THEM!), on immigrants (LOCK 'EM OUT!), on a criminal underclass (SCROUNGERS!) and never at all on the political elite of all parties who have been making these decisions for years without having had a proper job, run a business, or wondered where the next meal is coming from.

I'm the granddaughter of an immigrant, so I'm fine with them if they add to the place. I'm not a fan of Goldman Sachs but it strikes me we ought to blame the people over the past 20 years who have enabled the bankers, rather than bankers who acted like bankers always will. And as I recall the Victorians had a similar attitude to the lifelong poor, and eventually realised the best solution was to educate them out of poverty.

Because our mainstream politicians are so useless there are people voting for George Galloway just because he's not one of them. And there will be people voting for the BNP, NF and EDL not because they like fascists but because they have taken to heart the cheap PR being pumped out by our ineffectual leaders who, while fairly mild in their views, can stay in power only by blaming banks, brown people and benefit cheats.

I've never been a member of any political party, and journalism long ago removed any bias I had towards one creed or another by amply proving there's an even distribution of twats on all sides.

I'm not one to tell other people how to vote, or to mind much whether they're Right or Left. And according to Helena Bonham Carter if you vote for Dishface he's not even a Tory, probably in much the same way Tony Blair wasn't really Labour.

But please don't listen to people who hate, and blame, and don't want you to question what they say. Don't feel that because we're all strapped for cash it's the fault of anyone but the people who've been running the place. Keep your fingers crossed Gideon manages to figure out economics before the next General Election, because when we're rich and happy we find it easier to ignore the bad people.

And when you see a fascist, call them a fascist. They hate that.

Little sods are everywhere. BE VIGILANT.


 

Friday, 20 April 2012

In a rich man's world.

BAHRAIN is a funny place.

Smack bang next to the intolerant, inhumane Saudi Arabia it is also home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, staffed with men and women who count the right to vote, drive, and fornicate as basic freedoms.

It is ruled by an immigrant royal family much like ours, they're about 80 years behind us in letting women vote and at least twice as far back in terms of the general human right not to get shot in the street if you want to protest.

Britain has a long history of tinkering with this island, because it's full of oils and pearls and has a good strategic position in the middle of the Arabian Gulf. As a result I had to visit it a few years ago to cover a joint naval exercise with the US.

Lots of sailors, lots of 'BRACE! BRACE!' and when the war games were over we went ashore for a night out in the capital Manama.

As did most of Saudi Arabia. Well, the male, wealthy members of it. They all drive over the 16-mile causeway between the two countries at the weekend to enjoy all the things that are banned at home.

There are a couple of pubs but because you're not technically allowed to buy alcohol you had to buy 'tokens' to enter them, then trade the tokens for drink. I've still got one, it was good for one pint of really bad beer.


The belly-dancing bars were harder to find, based on the first floor of anonymous office buildings that you had to know how to find. We went in a couple, and instead of the exotic Arabian beauties you might expect they were staffed - as such places often are, in my experience - by bored-looking Latvian women.

For $10 the bored Latvian would put a plastic garland of flowers around a Saudi's neck, wave her arms and sway from side to side for a couple of minutes, flash a bit of ankle and then take the garland back. As belly-dancing went it was pretty lame.

I was the only female in a group of sailors and journalists, something I didn't notice until we left the bars to wander through the souk and buy presents to take home, where we haggled happily with the traders trying to offload their cheap tat.

I fell to the back of the group at which point the sellers stopped trying to flog me things and just stared at me, my hair and my clothes. Neither were much to write home about, but they didn't look at me because I was unusual. They looked at me because I was a thing.

They didn't make eye contact, they didn't stare in a sexual way, they just regarded me as an object they didn't much like. Suddenly there was threat in the air, the men seemed to be closing in, and my instincts told me to catch up with the men in my group sharpish.

I asked one of them quietly to watch my back, and he told me I was being silly. To his credit he made sure I didn't get left on my own again, and because he was a journo he made the effort to look at the men who were looking at me.

Ten minutes later he came up to me. "You're right," he said. "They're looking at you in the strangest way. I would never have noticed if you hadn't pointed it out, but it's not like men look at women back home."

None of which has much to do with the Grand Prix, which is being run there on Sunday amid great controversy. But it just goes to show how the exchange of money makes people look the other way, or put on a mask of friendliness in order to get your cash.

The authorities overlooked the pubs, because they needed the foreigners who went there. The Latvian girls pretended they liked the Saudis, the Saudis pretended they were local, and the market traders were happy to sell me tat when I had a man by my side.

If any of those charades had stopped, there would have been trouble. The mask would drop. And it's the things you don't usually hear about that mean the most.

Formula 1 - run by a British man whose fortune is largely based offshore to minimise his tax bill - has been paid £25m by the Bahraini rulers to have a race in their country. They in turn stand to make £200m in tourism. Ahead of the event around 1,600 democracy protesters have been arrested, another 1,000 have disappeared entirely, and race teams have been caught up in tear gas and stun grenade attacks by the police.

Four months ago a man who resigned from the Met Police for supposedly doing nothing wrong took a job improving the morality of the Bahraini police. Presumably, former assistant commissioner John Yates is spending most of his time passing around Rebekah Brooks' phone number and telling officers not to bother investigating things that are blindingly obvious. Yesterday he admitted F1 protesters might be fired on with live ammunition.

Yates has a taxpayer-paid pension of £123,000 a year, and is getting an even bigger bung from Bahrain. Our Queen is such good friends with their king he was invited to Wills and Kate's wedding and is coming over for a jubilee tea in the Buckingham Palace garden. And the family which runs Bahrain, and takes most of its oil wealth, owns half of the McLaren team.

That's right. Nasty old woman-hating, gay-bashing and democracy-suppressing despots own half of handsome, smiley Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. They don't mention that at the photocalls, do they?

I'm not a big fan of motor-racing myself, mainly because watching quite safe cars rush around a length of tarmac in a circle is of limited interest.

But even if I was an avid fan I wouldn't watch the race this Sunday. I don't want to turn a blind eye and pretend it's all about sport and engineering and ignore the disgusting things that are going on around it.

Money might make the world go around, but I find the sight of people crushed under its wheels rather sickening.

Yeah, hooray for you two.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Perpetual Pippa.

NEWSPAPERS often get the blame for pointing things out.

Telling the Home Secretary it's a leap year, for one; stoking public outrage over the pasty tax, for another; and that spending £5,000 to build a sandcastle and then knock it down in a story which went around the world as an example of British stupidity is not the way to publicise the Olympics.

Even if the PR does claim the coverage made it "a successful exercise". Twat.

But then that's what we're here for. Observing things and then pointing at the bits that are the most outrageous, amazing or make the least sense, in the hope that by drawing attention to them they will wither or blossom, depending on their merits.

The main downside of throwing muck around is that it forms compost for the weeds as well. Hence the growth of people who become famous for doing not much in just the right place or time that they can grab some of the nutrients other celebrities like to think should be theirs alone.

This phenomenon hothoused Jade Goody, a troubled girl who made the best of some screen time but who became such a creature of the spotlight that when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer she had to sell every last bit of her illness in order to fund her children's future.

In one of her final interviews, Jade broke down in tears as she spoke about her own death. She buried her face in her hands, then said aloud: "Oh sorry, you need the picture don't you?" and turned to face the photographer so he could capture it.

He was as moved and appalled by that as you are. And yes, he took the picture.

It's also given rise to the likes of Chantelle Houghton and Alex Reid, both of whom are famous principally because they were married to someone famous and lapped up magazine deals and exposure to make some easy money.

Now they are mini-celebrities in their own right, they are unemployable in just about any other sphere. All they can raise money from is to continue selling the story of their lives, relationship, IVF battles, pregnancy and inevitably every soiled nappy their spawn will produce.


This is almost fair enough. They've painted themselves into a corner, they couldn't get a proper job with the best will in the world, and we can only blame ourselves for forcing them into these shameless contortions by buying the magazines they feature in.

They're also pretty harmless. Let 'em live their lives, however screwy they are.

But then we have Pippa Middleton, who Time Magazine has announced is one of the 100 most influential people on the planet. A woman who is only young but dresses like she's middle-aged, whose hair isn't as nice as her sister's, who zips about in a BMW she didn't earn the money to buy, and who has a good bum.

As someone who spent a year searching for a book deal it's hard not to be bitter about someone who landed £400,000 to write about throwing parties. Any of us could do that. My chavvy neighbours could do it, and probably write something a damn sight more interesting than Pippa judging by their latest revels:
1. Buy booze.
2. Invite people.
3. Play music.
4. Fight.
5. Repeat until police arrive.
Pippa's a typical Sloane, the kind of girl most newspaper editors weren't able to get anywhere near in their youth, and my but they're making up for it now. She also sells papers because most men in the country feel similar about sporty posh girls.

We females, I'm afraid, buy the papers because we dislike her - she reminds me of the popular girl at school who didn't get zits, who the boys all loved, but who was quite dim and ended up working in Greggs. I read about Pippa purely because I'm awaiting her downfall.

But if she didn't get in the papers in the first place, she would virtually cease to exist. She would still be in her BMW and hanging about with people who own castles, but she'd never cross anyone's radar. She'd get married to a man with lots of money, teeth and hair, and they'd have sporty children who'd go to good schools and always be too dim to go into politics. Oh, hang on...

Pippa is a topic of conversation this week because she got invited to a party by a French vicomte. Entirely coincidentally, he has a new shop opening in London soon and, also coincidentally, he is largely ignored by the French media. In a third shocking coincidence his party included official photographs which were flogged to whoever asked and he also invited a primetime French TV show.

Details about what Pippa got up to at that party have been shared around, and stoked further by one of her friends waving a replica handgun at photographers the next day. The vicomte has now posted pictures of himself and Pippa on the website through which he sells things. What a coincidence!

There's nothing innately wrong with weeds - they're just things that grow in a place you don't want them. Some of them are nice to look at, while others grow like Japanese knotweed and do nothing to make the world a better place.

Pippa does nothing much and is nothing much, but because of her links gets invited to things by people who expect her presence to bring them money, and because the pictures are so good and so easy to get they are used in papers and magazines which, because we all have an opinion about this nothing very much, we buy in our thousands. And then she gets more invites.

It's a self-perpetuating circle of Pippa-ness which she is more than happy to be at in the centre of for the moment but which, if I'm any judge, will one day come back to bite her on that annoyingly perfect bum.

Probably when she finds herself dating just about the only person who wouldn't object to such a lifestyle.

We can but hope.
In the meantime, let's all ignore her.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Privacy is a funny business.

THE word 'private' doesn't mean what most people think it does.

It gets confused with 'secret', more often than not, and is invoked to stop other people knowing things about you which you'd rather they didn't.

Hence its use by guilty parties to try to stop potential newspaper stories involving affairs, drug habits, sexual peccadilloes, finances, taxes, corrupt business deals and crimes the police haven't found out about yet.

Agents, publicists, lawyers and spokesmen of every sort and stripe will squawk "PRIVATE!" down the phone at journalists most days, when the word they should be using is 'personal'.

The trouble from their point of view is that 'personal' doesn't strike fear into any hack's heart in quite the same way as 'private', which carries with it the implied threat of punitive legal action and an almost-definite bollocking from someone.

The trouble with 'private' though is that it does not actually mean those things. The word means, instead, that something belongs to you or affects only you.

So your garden is private. Your masturbatory habits are private. But if you choose to combine the two your neighbours may feel that it affects them and then the police, and if it is newsworthy in some way journalists as well, will want to get involved.

We all feel our sex lives are private, but if our partners feel our conduct has not been up to par in some respect they have a right to speak about their own sex lives, and the bit which involves you.

Those who abuse drugs may feel it's their personal choice but families, friends, the police and criminal justice system think there's a lot of other people affected by it too and again they may want to express an opinion.

Such is life; we all like to keep things private unless we feel we might benefit from sharing. Hence the kiss-and-tell. When this Fleet Street staple makes a comeback please don't think less of people for taking a cheque to bare their hearts. Would you do it for free?

Before Leveson and phone-hacking there was a greater scandal gripping the Press and that was privacy injunctions. I've written before about who and what they were about so won't repeat myself here except to say some were reasonable but most were an appalling abuse of statute.

The vague law they were based on - 17 words in the Human Rights Act - was about protecting people's rights about things that belonged to them or affected only them. Instead it was used in many cases to get an injunction about things which might affect the money in rich people's pockets, and were therefore worth the £50,000 lawyers charged for saving their blushes.

Some injunctions were broken or lifted, and after Ryan Giggs, Jeremy Clarkson and Andrew Marr failed to lose any money as a result the celebrity taste for running to a costly law firm waned.

But one or two people were still silly enough to think bending the law to suit their purposes was a good use of time and cash. Which brings me to Caroline Spelman, the millionairess Secretary of State for the Environment.

Informed that her son Jonny, 17, a schoolboy rugby star who had played for England's youth team, was about to be exposed as a drugs cheat by the Daily Fnar Funday, she got a privacy injunction banning publication.


The judge, his hands burned by previous gags which were later found to be flawed, refused to make the order anonymous and therefore everyone knew the story was about Ms Spelman's son, that he was a rugby player, and a guessing game ensued about whether it was to do with sex or drugs.

A few weeks later we all knew which, because the paper won a subsequent hearing and published its story about this young man who had represented his country and was taking banned substances including anabolic steroids and a growth hormone following an injury.

That's not private. It's not even got a shot at being private. It's illegal to import such potions, which he did by buying them over the internet, it's against the rules of his sport to take them, and the people he paid for them were almost certainly criminals.

As a result of that story this lad has been punished by being banned from playing rugby for 21 months by the Rugby Football Union. As he should be, and I'm sure getting the police involved would be overkill.

Despite already spunking £61,000 on shirking responsibility, the Spelmans are funding an appeal which may reduce the length of the ban. But the fact remains - this was never private. It was instead about a Government minister attempting to force an illegal gag on the Press in order to protect a criminal family member.

That is utterly disgraceful behaviour from a public servant in a free country. It's what you'd expect in corrupt states run by despots, the sort of place with lottery scams and home-brewed petrol.

Ms Spelman will presumably cry motherhood as a defence and say she did it to prevent the attention that publication would have brought her son and the damage it would cause his career. That, had it been granted, it would also have spared her the same attention was merely a beneficial side-effect.

The fact is that most mothers in that situation would tell their son to face the consequences of his actions, whatever they may be, in the hope he would learn not to repeat his mistakes.

That basic process is the root of morality, the idea that if you go wrong you will be punished in some way is the main thing which keeps all of us on the straight and narrow.

But then, we're expected to be good, pay our taxes and keep our heads down, while the people in charge plough their own furrow which they can make as wonky and wiggly as they please without the barest hint of shame or disgrace.

Jonny Spelman's been punished enough.

His mother should be sacked.

But I expect she'd like to kill some badgers and sell off the forests first.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Show me the money.

THERE are lots of things I've learned from being a journalist.

How surprisingly useless the people in charge of things can be, for one. The fact there is no such thing as perfect, for another, and that a cup of tea will make the worst things in the world slightly more bearable.

But the greatest truism has to be that people will always blame other people for things that are wrong rather than resolve the factors which actually caused it.

So racism is the fault of racists, rather than bad education or social segregation. Debts are the fault of over-spending as opposed to normal spending which, when the bottom falls out of the financial world, suddenly isn't a good idea. Traffic jams are blamed on everyone else driving, rather than the person doing the blaming who is also sitting in the queue.


And when you run out of money it's because people aren't giving you enough.

People who sneak and lie and dodge and fiddle, who hide money, dive through loopholes, and viciously give their cash to charities rather than the taxman. Running out of money is certainly not the fault of the taxman spending it on the wrong fighter jets, redundancy pay for nurses and benefit errors which cost us four times as much as fraud.

The only way of resolving the issue is therefore forcing people to pay more. Hike taxes, close loopholes, catch the nasty multi-millionaires who must have millions purely because they've never paid anyone anything.

Of course such people exist. Billionaire Sir Philip Green for example, who bizarrely was made a knight of the realm while giving his massive business to his wife who is domiciled abroad for tax purposes. The people who sleep on private jets in order not to be in the UK for more than 90 nights a year, or the ones who live in homes owned by relatives or a family trust, like Iain Duncan Smith and Jonathan Djanogly.

But according to the latest figures from the Treasury, there's not very many of them.

There are 12.

Yes, 12 people earning more than £10m and paying less than 10 per cent tax. Out of a possible 200. Another 26 paid between 10 and 30 per cent and the vast majority pay what they ought.

Last year there were 10,000 people who earned between £1m and £5m, and around 1 in 10 of them had a bit of a fiddle - not because they dodged income tax but because their money wasn't income in the normal sense. It came from dividends and capital gains, which Gideon has decided to tax at a lower rate. And it also means that 90 per cent paid what we'd expect them to.

Ninety per cent of people behaving well seems like a pretty good rate to me. It also seems about average for any situation in life - for a classroom, a hospital ward, an open-plan office. Ninety per cent of people getting their head down and cracking on is pretty normal, and pretty okay.

That is people acting like people do. And you're not going to change that.

It's not worth changing laws, leading witch hunts and making an example for the sake of that minority, because doing so just sweeps up the rest as well.

If you want to stop millionaires in listed buildings putting in swimming pools without VAT, you'll end up taxing churches putting in disabled ramps and little old ladies in leaky thatched cottages.

And if you want to stop tax relief on charitable donations you'll have to get round the fact it was given in the first place in order to help charities, and taking it away will catch a handful of wrong-un's but mainly just piss all over the people who can least afford it.

I'm getting a little annoyed with a Chancellor who blames other people rather than fixing things. I'm tired of the vast majority paying more while getting less, and the constant media briefings about how it's all a bad man's fault rather than coming up with any bright ideas about how to get that 90 per cent working better and being richer, while keeping as much of an eye as you can on the remaining tenth.

But then, Gideon's last financial qualification was a Maths 'O' level. Although we don't even know if he got that, or if he did at what grade, because he's very conspicuously not told anyone.

My last financial qualification was a B in my Maths GCSE, and while I'd hesitate to lecture the Treasury on long division I do feel able to tell Gideon a thing or two about people.

Stop going after the little man, the middle man and even the big man. It's a massive waste of time and money because they either have no cash, not very much cash, or so much cash they can afford to employ better accountants than you. The bad ones are going to carry on being bad whether you like it or not.

Go after the money, instead. Go after Vodafone, Apple, Google, eBay, Yahoo! and Amazon which earn billions in this country but route it all through Ireland, Holland and Luxembourg.

Chase the Royal Bank of Scotland whose employees are being investigated for criminal tax fraud, Barclays which owes you £500m and Goldman Sachs which owes you £10m interest on its last bill.

You don't need to penalise them out of existence. You don't need to worry they'll all clear off if you expect them to pay normal corporation tax at 25 per cent, a rate most of us would be thrilled with.

They'll stay because there are 62 million people in this country who, if you'd just stop screwing them for five minutes, have money to spend.

Alternatively, carry on as you are and see where it gets you come the next election.

Although if you can do the maths on that I'll be very surprised.

"So 45.8m voters, 90 per cent of them hate me, that's... MILLIONS OF VOTES! Hooray!"



Friday, 13 April 2012

A Very Important Seagull.

EVERYONE'S missed the biggest story of the day.

Twenty five firemen stood and watched as a struggling seagull floundered in a 3ft-deep pond, too scared to wade in and save it.

The papers have all blamed health and safety rules and praised the member of the public who grabbed a net and went and did the job himself.


Answers have been demanded of the fire brigade and parallels drawn with similar instances in which humans were left to drown after fire crews were ordered by their superiors not to try a rescue because they might be in danger.

(Let's not wonder too hard about the person who saw the struggling gull and thought they'd call the fire brigade away from their important work of putting out actual fires, rather than just wade in and get the poor thing themselves.)

The most telling part of the whole silly mess comes from bystander Ted Burden, who said: "It was a bit ridiculous really. Five fire crews turned up but because of protocols they couldn't go into the water... Luckily the gull escaped uninjured. He was just a bit shocked."

Well, I know how he feels. FIVE FIRE CREWS? FIVE? After a call about a SEAGULL?

While their reasoning about not going in the knee-deep water was clearly bonkers, I can half understand it. You might slip. There are 24 other chaps nearby who'd pull you out before you drowned, but yes in theory there might be a danger in going for a paddle IF YOU'RE A MUPPET.

But just what, in the name of all that's fartarsing holy, went through the minds of the first crew to turn up?
1. It's only a seagull
2. Ooh, I might get wet
3. What we really need is another four fire crews
The only times in my career I've seen five fire engines in one place are tower block infernos and tyre conflagrations. Never, it must be said, for anything that couldn't be called threatening to a multiple number of lives.

Yet for some reason, after turning up to reports of an animal in a pond, firemen 1 through 5 didn't think to get on to dispatch and call off the other crews. Firemen 6 through 10 then turned up and joined in the standing around, shortly followed by firemen 11 through 20.

It would seem not one of them rang the office to say they didn't need any more firemen. Presumably the last five turned up just because they felt a bit left out.

I'm not going to put it to the test but I'd bet you my last Jaffa cake that if I rang the fire brigade right now and told them my house, in a street surrounded by other houses, all with people in them, was on fire they'd not send more than one engine, or at the most two.

But then, I'm not a seagull. Quick question - if Kate Middleton was in the pond, would they have gone in and rescued her? Because that probably would have led to a few injuries.

On the same day the National Trust has published a list of 50 things every child should do before they grow up, including making mud pies, lighting a fire without matches and going blackberrying. Never mind that if those children grew up to become firemen most of the activities would be ruled out under Health and Safety risk assessments, especially the ones about playing conkers and finding frogspawn.

But in a spirit of helpfulness, here is a short checklist of things every fireman should do before he qualifies:
1. Tell a superior to naff off
2. Differentiate between a SEAGULL and a HUMAN.
3. Or a fox. You can rescue foxes.
4. Learn that 'Health' and 'Safety' are not the same thing.
5. Sit in the middle of a knee-deep icy pond with a plastic bag on your face and see how long it takes to be rescued.
I love firemen. They're generally brilliant, brave people and they have lovely arms too. But even I don't want to see five crews in the same place, not unless it's a Christmas party or a disaster of some kind.

Not even if I get my head stuck in the drain after a heavy night on the tiles.

I still think the hose was a little unnecessary.

 

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Payback.

MEL Gibson's career didn't end when he played Dick van Dyke having an inappropriate relationship with a hand puppet.

It didn't end when he launched into drunken anti-Semitic rants at police officers, or when his ex claimed he had punched her in the face and caused her to flee with their baby daughter.

It didn't end with Mad Max 3, a film in Aramaic or a movie about Mayans running through trees while a woman was stuck in a hole in the ground, although plainly it should have.

It's also not going to end today, just because a scriptwriter wrote a really long letter detailing what appears to be Gibson's mental breakdown, love of violence and guns, Holocaust denial and deeply unpleasant snuff fantasies about raping and murdering his ex.

The scriptwriter in question, for the record, isn't that great an example of humanity himself. He's a bad writer with a strong line in dehumanising women both in film, print and his personal life. And he wrote Basic Instinct, which is basically a bad porno.

So he's got a cob on with Gibson, and Gibson says it's all lies and the script stank. Who knows? Who cares?

Unpleasant, vile men having an argument with each other about unpleasant, vile things leave me unmoved. Hollywood - and the rest of the planet - is filled with such people. They don't much care when someone acts up so long as they still make money.

Mad Max 2 is on telly this weekend, in fact. How many of us have a Lethal Weapon box set, watched Chicken Run, bought Pocahontas for the kids? I've even endured his Hamlet. Gibson earned millions because of us, and even though we didn't know what he was like then we do now and he's still earning them.

That's why he's still here. Seeing as we can't get rid, we should at least use him for something productive.

My shortlist of possible uses for a Mel Gibson:
* Birdscarer. If he likes standing outside in all weathers and screaming obscenities at the sky he may as well make himself useful.

* Neighbour revenge. If someone has been plagued, as I once was, by someone who insisted on playing Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On until I wanted to stop her heart entirely, we could rent Mel out at an hourly rate. He could be positioned close to party walls to unleash his rage, and we'd make a fortune.

* Guide at Auschwitz. A boggle-eyed lunatic walking around insisting everything you can see does not exist would be a marvellous educational tool and might even raise a smile. Failing that, he could be hired out for philosophers' parties.

* Peace bomb. Squeeze him into a missile tube and fire him at the Israel-Palestine border. Fuelled by whisky he would rant and rave about Nazis, women, Jews, Hungarians, rape, the Pope and whatever else popped into his head with the net effect that the Palestinians and Israelis might put their differences aside and forge a coalition just to shut him up.

* Cellmate for Abu Hamza.

* IT training aid. While geeks learn how to deal with tricky calls from workers anxious about lost data, Mel could scream abuse at them for practice. This application might also work for cub reporters, army recruits, and call centre staff.

* Government health campaign about the dangers of cocaine abuse.

* Companion for Samantha Brick. "I look so f*****g old! I look horrible! That f*****g whore is destroying me! She's taking my looks! I hate her! She's destroying my life!"

* Witness at the Leveson Inquiry, providing a perfect example of why celebrities whose personal lives are not the same as their public image should be investigated, exposed and ridiculed by the tabloid press.
Failing that, of course, we could throw away the DVDs, switch the channel and in every way possible make sure we never give that man any money ever again.

And that, Mr Gibson, is payback.

"Hello ma'am, I am calling about a special offer on a birdscarer... Hello? Hello?"

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

I am legion.



FIRST, an apology. Normally I write about the news story of the day I think would interest you most.

But today I'm going to write about me.

This blog started almost exactly one year ago, mainly as a way of proving to my boss that I could write a newspaper column, and this week it has gained its ONE MILLIONTH READER.


In fact - let me just check - today we're on 1,010,205 readers. In blog terms that's pretty good, and in newspaper terms it's not to be sniffed at either.

That's more people than buy the Daily Fnar, The Depressed, The Wellygraph, The Pfft, The Groaner, The Windy, The Jockman, The Tims, The Obscenelyboring and the Sunday Person. And no, it's not the same because their readers buy them every day or every week and it's taken me a year to reach that figure, but I'm not a newspaper, don't have a marketing department or proprietor, and I reckon that's not bad going for some daft twonk with a keyboard.

Some of you hate me, and some of you like me, and most are somewhere in the middle but you all still read me, which is what I've always thought was the main ingredient for a good columnist.

Because of this blog I've had lots of great opportunities and made some good friends. I've got my book deal, which as soon as the lawyer stops gibbering and comes down out of his tree will be published in August - available to pre-order here.

And I can reveal there are already offers on the table to turn the book into a TV series. Fox on the Box! Imagine!

There's merchandise and a phone app and in a few months I hope to be able to tell you about a new computer game the Chief Geek is producing in which you can take on the role of a Fleet Street reporter and learn how to land a splash, circumnavigate the police and get one over on politicians.

(Early versions are very, very cool.)

A few months ago I was invited to join a group of influential women who are taking part in the Moonwalk to raise money for breast cancer research. The most amazing thing about this to me was that anyone thought I should be included in their group, but maybe I've just been a hack too long. Training's going well, my calves have the consistency of oak trees, and if any of you can make it to the streets of central London overnight on May 12 and see a plonker in an orange furry bra and a pair of sequinned ears, that'll be me. Come and say hello.

I've been on the radio, I've been on Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe which is the most money I've ever earned in 90 seconds, and I've been asked to pop into several universities and colleges to talk to journalism students who probably found my knob jokes quite off-putting.

More important to me though - and I hope to you - is that I've been able to sit and tell you about things from the journalist's point of view. The things you learn when you go in the side door, stand at the back, take careful notes and learn that the best way of working someone out is to look at their shoes rather than their eyes.

And sometimes their bins. But don't tell anyone about that.

This blog has covered superinjunctions, the closure of the News of the World (RIP), phone-hacking, corruption, the cuts, the death of Bin Laden, the abomination of the Pasty Tax and how difficult it is for a journalist to tell a lie, as well as the fact that Johann Hari seemed to manage it with ease.

I hope you liked reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them, not least because otherwise I might as well just go to the park and shout at the birds. None of it makes much point unless The Reader makes the effort to read, to share and pass it around. It means the world to me that you do that.

That newspaper column still eludes me - *hard stare* - but I'm sure it's not far away. A lovely lady wrote this yesterday - "This woman says it all and says it better and manages to be profound in her summation all at the same time than most columnists on the pay-roll of our main dailies and Sundays" - and if one person thinks that then there must be more. And if there's more, an editor will hopefully think the same. If only that damn Samantha Brick would wind her neck in and let the less attractive have a go...

In the meantime I'm touched that those of you who read my story about cervical cancer booked yourselves in for a test as a result, and that the tale about my Nana moved so many of you to donate to the Moonwalk team. That you did those things because of something I wrote is so amazing I can't put it into words.

Sorry this post isn't more thought-provoking, insider-y or has more knob jokes. I just wanted to say thank you very much for reading, clicking, tweeting, Facebooking and sharing. I've always felt my job was worthwhile but you've made it even more so, column or no.

And better than anything else I've ever done in the whole world, more people seem to be calling him Gideon.

And that makes me happy.
Have a lovely day, you lot x

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

As good as it gets.

IN CASE you haven't read the papers, the news can be summed up with the phrase: 'Handcart, meet hell.'

Government ministers have sent people to be tortured, pregnant women have been held hostage by machete-wielding burglars, Robert Mugabe is still not dead, a comedian's been pilloried for expressing an opinion about a football game, North Korea is going to set off a nuclear bomb and the BBC has spent £22million on a weekly advert for Universal music.

We're paying the Chinese to plant trees, hairdressers have been banned from knowing what time it is, the Sex Pistols won't be playing at the Olympics opening ceremony, a Tory tycoon thinks there's nothing wrong with making 300 phone calls telling his wife she's a "f***ing whore", someone's been set on fire and left in a wheelie bin and the terror of the Leveson inquiry means the only kiss-and-tell in the papers for months is a grubby yarn about an elderly bus driver and the prettiest passenger he could find on the no6 to Corby.


On top of that, we've all had to go back to work after four days off, the weather was crap, and we've got a hosepipe ban because the foreign firms who own our water won't let us use it on the roses because they're too busy wasting it themselves.

And let's not forget the writhing abortion of our legal system, an institution so corrupt and inept that people flock from all over the planet to use it.

And... oh, hang on. That's a good thing, isn't it? If we have divorce tourists, and libel tourists, and terror suspects using every last avenue of appeal to avoid being sent somewhere else, that presumably makes our form of justice the Seychelles of the legal world, a happy place where all can bask and frolic in the unending sunshine of freedom, doesn't it?

Well, yes and no. The doings of our courts and judges are far from perfect and having been at the mercy of our divorce laws myself I can tell you I'd rather poke my own eyes out with poisoned cocktail sticks than go through it again.

But compared to many other places in the world divorce is a lot fairer and nicer here. It's equal in terms of division of assets, in not apportioning blame (an oversight in some cases, particularly mine) and despite frequent custody and maintenance issues is a lot fairer to parents than you might get if you divorced in, say, Kazakhstan.

Then we have our terrorists. Today the man commonly known as Hate-Filled Hook-Handed Cleric Abu Hamza was among five such men who have lost an appeal against extradition to the US.

Hamza is a criminal, and a bad man to boot. He used to work as a bouncer at a peep show, his hook proves he's not great at dealing with explosives (never a good sign in a terrorist) and he took his son away from his mother for 12 years. Three of his sons have also been convicted of crimes involving stolen cars and another two for terror offences.

After 9/11 he started sounding off about jihad despite being a pretty bad example of a faithful Muslim, and formed a radical group campaigning for their idea of heaven on earth. We didn't arrest him, because as unpleasant as his words were he had a right to say them. Some people agreed with him, but many more thought he was an idiot, which is one of the principal blessings of free speech.

Seven years ago he was banged up because the Americans wanted him for encouraging one of their own terrorists, and an extradition process began. Unlike our cousins across the pond we don't like the death penalty, and our rules say we can't deport someone if they might get killed later. The Yanks had to agree whatever sentence he might get would not include death, but Hamza still didn't fancy leaving one of our high security prisons - with prisoner rights and flatscreen tellies and Coronation Street - for one of theirs, with orange jumpsuits and lots of angry men.

Unless he lodges a final appeal, Hamza will be on a plane within three months and no-one's going to miss him. It's very easy when considering a one-eyed, hook-handed hate merchant to just get rid, to let the Yanks do as they please, to feel the world would be a better place if some public-spirited prison officer would just garotte him one day or at the very least take the plug off his telly.

But what's easy isn't always what's best. A dead Hamza would simply spawn a million more medieval throwbacks for us to deal with. If you doubt me, just look at Afghanistan - a war which was welcomed as a liberation from an oppressive regime has since radicalised untold armies of people, promoted the opium trade and has long lost any international goodwill in the mire of a military disaster.

We spent £500million on bullets and drones and getting soldiers blown up, when we could have spent half that on schools and done a damn sight better job of keeping the Taliban out of power.

Al Qaeda is not a thing or a person. It's not an organisation or something with a list of names who you can track down to kill or deport. It's an idea, and if you want to beat it the only way is to have a better one.

Any student of history will tell you the only idea which has consistently won any arguments is the one with greater freedoms. The side which lets people do more of what they want, and less of what they don't, is the side which always wins in the end. It won in the civil wars in America and England, it won in the French and Russian revolutions, it won in World Wars I and II and it kicked butt in apartheid, the Reformation, the Suffragette movement and the Roman flipping Empire, too.

I think it's rather marvellous that Hamza has been able to delay the inevitable for seven years. If he'd won I wouldn't much mind either, because he'd end up in prison one way or the other. I'd rather pay for his XBox than I would a single minute of a pointless war, and it's far better that every British citizen - for he is one of us - has the same equal recourse to the courts. If we removed those rights for some people, then what is to stop someone removing them for you?

It's a hard and difficult thing to treat an awful person well, and to know it is much better than they would treat you. But it is the only way to show that you are nicer than they are, and definitely the only way to win.

Rules are a lot like brains, really - easy to bend, and bad to break. There are lots of imperfections in the world which give us journalists plenty to write about but as long as justice is at least theoretically available to everyone then the handcart is just circling hell in a holding pattern.

And you won't get better than that.

Just be glad he never caught the bus to Corby.

   

Thursday, 5 April 2012

What's not to like?

TODAY, in ancient tradition, Queen Elizabeth II is handing out alms to 170 senior citizens.

For Maundy Thursday these lucky few - a man and a woman for each year of the monarch's age - will be given a purse containing the currency equivalent in pennies of the Queen's years on Earth.

That's 85 pence. I wouldn't go to York Minster for just 85p, even if she offered to wash my feet when I got there. It might have been a lot of money in days of yore but it won't buy you even half a pasty these days.

So she's giving £144.50 to the elderly, in a ceremony that probably costs thousands to organise and police. While the Royal Household officially costs each citizen around 69p each, the security costs add an extra £120million or so to our bill. In total the Royals cost us up to £184m a year, which might sound like a tourism investment until you learn the Spanish get a lot more tourist cash and their Royals charge only £7.4m a year.

But let's not niggle. The Queen's a nice old bird, and her husband's always game for a laugh even if he does get £400,000 a year from Parliament as pocket money. Who knew membership of UKIP was so expensive?

And now we have Wills and Kate, the new golden couple who seem to be doing a good job of making Britain and our Royal Family not look like quite as much of a mess as they normally do.

Yesterday Madam Tussauds unveiled new waxworks of the pair in London.


 Just as I was marvelling at how eerily-accurate they were, another pair appeared in Amsterdam.


Then lo! Two more triffids popped up in New York.


While some might worry about the ramifications of a clone army, it cannot be argued that it might be a much more cost-effective way of running the Royal Family.

Consider the benefits. No policing costs, no heating, food, or polo ponies. Wills will never get balder, Kate will never get fat, and seeing as she's already seen as an advertising hoarding for British fashion this would remove the moral concerns of using a real human being as a coat hanger. Her hair will always be glossy, the Royals will never have to worry about losing the Wills-&-Kate magic, and it would give the Chinese mug makers a chance to practice their painting.


After the initial sculpting costs the clones would pay for themselves very quickly and over a 30 or 40 year period would generate many times the annual cost of their maintenance. We could send two to Australia to keep the republicans quiet.

And of course, they will never open their mouths to reveal strangulated, plummy accents, questionable political views or offensive opinions about the state of the nation. The real Kate and Wills, meanwhile, could live happily in their Anglesey farmhouse without being plagued by protection officers, the public or their Royal duty, wearing wellies and wax jackets and having glossy-haired children, all of which they'd probably prefer.

We, meanwhile, would get to look at them, ooh and ah over her dresses, and because they wouldn't cost us nearly as much as they do now we'd still have money in our pockets for a pasty and a pint afterwards. It's a win-win situation. What's not to like?

The fact that waxwork models find it hard to sit on a horse and shout "VIEW HALLOO!" is neither here nor there.

Just call me a genius.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Never short of an idiot.

YESTERDAY a man in charge of an organisation which stuck its nose where it shouldn't, and justified it by saying such behaviour caught the occasional paedophile, had to resign from his job.


The very same day, a man in charge of an organisation which wants to stick its nose where it shouldn't, and is trying to convince us it's all right because it will catch the occasional paedophile, said: "This is not about extending the reach of the state into people's data, it's about trying to keep up with modern technology."


I'm fairly certain sleazebag not-a-journalist Paul McMullan has said much the same thing. Have we ever seen the two of them in the same room? And look at Dishface, he's even got the same pen.

Of course the needs of government are very different to those of a newspaper chasing down a story. Journalists, for example, have to justify their actions and stand for election every time they publish, whereas politicians do so only once in four years.

And let's not forget that Dishface insists the extra checks on our online activity by his spooks will come with plenty of checks and safeguards to make sure the new powers aren't abused.

Are these the same 'safeguards' which prevent armed police shooting innocent people, benefits cheats, lying politicians, illegal wars, secret justice, unsafe convictions, friendly fire, institutional racism, public corruption, insurance companies refusing to pay out, voting fraud, sham marriages, tax errors, medical blunders, the guilty walking free and zoos paying the Chinese £1million a year for pandas who would have no idea how to get jiggy even if we gave them Viagra, a map and a torch?

Oh, those safeguards.

Humans are fallible. The things they do and systems they invent are flawed. There isn't a power given to the state which has never been abused, and although that does not mean the state shouldn't be given those powers it does mean we have to weigh up whether the benefit of knowing who's talking to who on Facebook is worth the price of some gonk in GCHQ stalking his ex-girlfriend with it.

And I'd feel a lot happier about the whole idea if I hadn't just received a letter from the state tax authorities which has got my name entirely and completely wrong, and if when I rang up to correct them hadn't been told I couldn't do so because I was not the person named on the letter. These people couldn't find a clitoris, never mind a terror network.

I wouldn't mind if the state snooped, if I could just be sure the state wasn't being run by idiots.

But then, idiots are about the only thing we haven't run out of.

"I'm pretty certain that's the wrong hole."

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Cry God for Harry, England and St George!

IF I didn't know better I'd swear William Shakespeare was in charge of Prince Harry's PR.

Henry Charles Albert David Windsor was not long ago something of a national disgrace.

He was caught smoking drugs at 17, repeatedly fell out of nightclubs and got in fights with photographers. The less-reported stories around the same time described a young man going off the rails without a mother, as his single-parent father devoted himself to his long-term mistress and his older brother got all the attention.


He was so beyond discipline he set up a private drinking den in the basement of the parental home where his dad had no idea drugs were being used, bought and sold. He didn't do brilliantly at school and had to deny allegations his art teacher had helped him cheat his way to a B grade in an art A-level.

He even thought it was funny to dress up as a Nazi.


He was drunk more often than he was sober, and he did it all in public while millions of people around the planet read the news, saw the pictures, and shook their heads at the tearaway black sheep of the world's most famous family.


At the same time he had strangers, friends at school, and according to rumour even his own grandfather, questioning his parentage because his mum had a fling with a ginger chap two years after he was born and regardless of the fact his mother's family all look like that.

Princess Diana's son, and Princess Diana's sister.

He had money and privilege and girls throwing themselves at him, and he didn't say no. What a waste, what a toff, what a good excuse for euthanizing the upper classes.

Today that same lad is patron of several charities and even runs one of his own. He's better at holding his drink, picking his girlfriends and at dealing with the attention he gets. The academically-challenged troublemaker is a particularly brilliant helicopter pilot capable of flying one of the most complicated and fearsome gunships ever made. He can go on a foreign tour representing his grandma and not make a single embarrassing slip, apart from the shoes.


Recently when his opponent in a polo match fell off his horse the prince leapt into action to help the unconscious man, keeping his airway clear using the basic first aid he was taught as a soldier.

Cue pictures of a handsome man in tight britches tenderly cradling a man's head in his brawny arms.


And how did all this happen? Well on the one hand, he grew up. He found a discipline in the Army he didn't get at home, and he's managed that amazing feat so many of us fail to do which is to find a job he loves and is really good at.

But to return to my first point - this has been written before. In the plays Henry IV and Henry V a young Prince Hal is seduced from boring court life by the fleshpots of Southwark and the fun to be had with his fat friend Sir John Falstaff, and is written off by everyone before destiny claims him and he becomes our most successful - and likeable - warrior king.

Prince Harry's not one for reading Shakespeare but, not for the first time, I am caught wondering whether the press officers at Buckingham Palace don't occasionally use it for inspiration.

And whether the boring and balding Prince William might not be the wrong brother for the job.

I know which one I'd rather go to the pub with.
(Not a fan of men in red coats)

Monday, 2 April 2012

Take a proper gander.

THIRTY years ago today Britain got its knickers in a twist about some islands which are 7,877 miles away.

The Argentinians, living a mere 1,192 miles away, thought they had more right to be in charge of them - influenced not just by geography but an economic crisis, domestic unrest and a military junta keen to deflect attention from its failings - and so they invaded.

Britain suddenly remembered those islands existed, that they were just about all that remained of its empire, and that more importantly the people who lived there didn't much fancy learning Spanish. The UN backed Blighty's right to repel invaders, and off a task force sailed.

There followed a two month war which was the last time we fought anyone without outside help. In total 907 people lost their lives, most of them Argentine conscripts who didn't have any choice about being there, and three of them Falkland Islanders who died in what has since become oxymoronically known as 'friendly fire'.

Alongside the soldiers were journalists who were armed only with pens, cameras, and an unquenchable thirst for pictures of Prince Andrew in a helicopter. Twenty four British journos were picked to join the task force, and had to deal not just with being bombed and shot at but with military officers who censored their reports and expected to use them as a tool for propaganda.

Most did their best to be polite to their hosts while also doing their jobs, reporting the war objectively but with the passion their audiences expected. When BBC reporter Brian Hanrahan was banned from saying that 12 Sea Harrier fighter jets had left aircraft carrier HMS Hermes on a raid, he famously found an even better way of reporting the story, saying: "I counted them all out, and I counted them all back."

On top of that, pictures for TV and newspapers had to be sent back home via early forms of satellite and broadband communications which the military didn't want to let anyone use and involved huge delays. Press reporters merely had to find a phone line to file copy to London, but have you ever tried to find a phone line, in the middle of the sea, during a war, when a dozen other hacks will kill you to file first?

Of course the Argies did things differently. Three British hacks sent to Argentina to cover 'their end' of the war were jailed on the spot for the entire duration of the conflict, and the Argentine press reached levels of jingoistic fantasy which would make Kelvin Mackenzie blush. They faked photographs, made up eyewitness accounts of valiant Argentine troops winning every battle, and reported the sinking of HMS Invincible on an almost daily basis.

Thirty years on, and it's clear that journalism was not only the first draft of history but the most accurate, too.

We can sit and pick apart the reporting of the Scum, the Glimmer or the Wail, or the TV newsgatherers of the Boring Broadcasting Corporation or the Incredibly Twatty Network. The fact is that taken as a whole the Brit journos beat the Argies, were democratic, free and fair, and more importantly they were right. Just as the war was.

There are people - yes, Sean Penn, I'm looking at you - who say that because the Falkland Islands are so far away attempting to keep hold of them is colonialist, that it's all about the oil which has recently been discovered and besides, we can't afford to defend some windswept rocks on the other side of the world.

Yes, to some extent. And no in quite a lot of others.

If the Falklands can't be British because they're a long way away, then Hawaii isn't American, and nor is Alaska. France isn't allowed Corsica, Guadeloupe, or Clipperton Island which is off the coast of Mexico. Russia and Denmark have to stop arguing about who owns the North Pole, and the Dutch can wave goodbye to cheap holidays in the Caribbean Antilles.

More importantly, if the Brits can't have the Falklands because they're too far away, then seven nations currently claiming a piece of the South Pole - which includes our old friends the Argies - would need to wind their necks in too.

Seeing as none of those things are going to happen, we are left with the fact that 3,140 Falkland Islanders are British and want to stay that way. If they had a vote for independence, or an urge to eat tapas on a regular basis, there'd be no real argument for not letting them do so. But the Argentinian government insists these people don't have the right to choose who runs the place, which if you ask me means the Argies shouldn't be allowed to run a tap, much less an entire country.

War is never nice. People die and blood is spilled and it often, in hindsight, seems like an horrendous waste of time, effort, money and human beings. A lot like journalism, but with less booze.

Very occasionally - and the Falklands is one of those cases - it's the entirely right, decent, moral thing to do. The fact that today a few thousand people get to choose who runs the bit of the planet where they live makes those two months in 1982 entirely worthwhile.

It's not colonialism. It's freedom.

This is the best angle from which to see Royal Marines.