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

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Poor bloody animals.

BEING part of the axis of evil didn't cut the mustard.

The forced labour camps never raise much of a global eyebrow.

Having one of the worst human rights record of any nation on Earth hasn't caused a stir.

But putting a bear in roller skates for a stage show?

WHOA. That's torn it, North Korea!


Journalists have been trying to report on life behind the barbed wire in North Korea for years. They usually sneak in as tourists, take a couple of crafty blurred pictures, and leg it back to the land of WiFi and room service as fast as possible.

They often concentrate on the illegal street markets, the oppression, the poverty. And in terms of stirring up any international interest each has failed, while no doubt filing some inventive expense claims with the phrase 'no receipt possible' liberally scattered throughout.

But every journalist worth their salt knows an animal story upsets or thrills people more than anything about humans. Which is why red-top pictures of a Pyongyang circus have probably done more to ruin North Korea's reputation with the general public than anything else.

You can annoy Human Rights Watch and upset Amnesty International; you can irk Hillary Clinton and William Hague, irritate the United Nations, fire test missiles at your neighbours or execute dozens of children, if you fancy. Not much will happen; at best you'll get a strongly-worded statement of disappointment from a committee of something or other.

But if you come to the attention of the animal rights crew you're in the mire and no mistake.

They never give up. They don't accept two-faced reassurances. They don't ask permission to send inspectors. These people mean business.

After seeing the Pyongyang pictures the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals thundered: "This sounds like it's straight out of the Dark Ages... animal acts have no place in any civilised society."

Excuse me, PETA, but where the hell have you been?

What about the labour camps for dissenters which are 30 miles square and have 200,000 people living and dying in them? Where they are raped, suffer forced abortions, and are subject to medical experimentation of the kind practised by the Nazis?

What about the fact that until recently you could be executed for listening to South Korean radio? Or that North Korea is 177th out of 178 countries for press freedom? How about noticing the millions who died in a three-year famine in the late 1990s and more still when the US slashed food aid by 90 per cent in 2004?

To be fair, there were no dancing bears involved in any of that so it wasn't up to PETA to moan. It was up to everyone else though, and not many did. Those who bothered were largely ignored by the rest of us, because if there aren't baboons on rollerskates we're not going to notice.

It's a horrid fact of humanity that we don't care about humans as much as we care about everything else. Animals. Pets. Trees. Little bugs on the bottom of the Severn estuary which might get squidged if they build a wave turbine. All those things provoke a campaign, get the grannies worked up and often produce results.

A friend of mine once filed from Iraq on a stray dog rescued by soldiers after it was thrown over their compound wall. "We got £15,000 in a week from readers to pay for his shots and bring him back to Britain," he told me in despair. "Then I wrote about Iraqi kids having their legs blown off and we got bugger all."

And that's why animal stories make the papers more often.

Human suffering gets a shrug, not just from us but from the diplomats and politicians which represent us. It is seen as acceptable, not least because admitting it's unacceptable would involve having to sort it out.

Even when that suffering is far worse than the animals'. If you asked the average North Korean whether he'd prefer prancing about in a tutu and roller skates to being interned in a labour camp on the basis of his religion or education, he'd probably vote for the circus.

There are two chances for the people of North Korea. The first is that it is rich in coal, zinc, iron, salt, lead, tungsten, gold which the rest of the world will want to get its hands on at some point.

The other is that if they are treated like animals for long enough, people everywhere else might think they're worth saving.


There is no organisation called People for the Ethical Treatment of People. There probably should be.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

General principles.

THE newspapers of Britain are peculiar things.

They're different to the ones you get elsewhere. They are mischievous, punchy, and capable of reaching between 20 and 30 million readers every day, depending on the day of the week and time of the year.

That's a third to a half of the population of these islands, roughly. Their websites reach tens of millions more all around the world.

The phone-hacking and corruption scandal which currently has its claws around our neck aside - and which I'll insist to the day I die is the result of the actions of a handful of people and not my profession at large - it is an industry which the rest of the world wishes it had.

Newspapers in Ghana, Australia, America, Estonia, every country around the world, are the descendants of the trade which began in Fleet Street in 1702, with the first edition of the Daily Courant in a room above a pub.


It's the first thing we'd recognise as a newspaper, but pamphlets and newsheets had been around for a good century or more before that. Wynkyn de Worde set up the first printing press in Fleet Street in 1500, and during the English Civil War both sides used their own newsheets to spread propaganda.

If you relied on the 'newspapers' of the time, both sides won the Battle of Naseby.

Because of that history and because we're a small bunch of islands with a lot of people, the business model that evolved was to sell on the basis of politics and class. It's worked incredibly well. Despite the impact of television and the internet most newspapers still turn a profit which would be considered very healthy by any other industry's standards.

Elsewhere in the world as people have evolved their own democracies, achieved independence and found the wit and wealth to care about what people in power get up to, newspapers are different. The ones in America for example have broad geographical distances to cover and in order to get the most readers they are as bland as possible; I tend to use them as sleep aids.

But everywhere in the world they do the one thing which Fleet Street taught them: they reflect the views of The Reader. In Australia the politics is not about Mother England so much as what's happening in Japan, Indonesia, and New Zealand; the human interest stories are about Aussies and 'larrikins'. In Ghana they're rampantly homophobic and have quite shocking detail about deaths and murders; when a body is found with an axe buried in it there is a picture and blood-curdlingly detailed description.

In Italy pictures are used which we'd never publish for reasons of general taste and decency - I know of one picture of a female celebrity who willingly flashed her tampon string at a camera, which was turned down everywhere else before an Italian mag printed it on the front page.

The newspapers of the world are not perfect. They're staffed by human beings who make mistakes and generally cause trouble everywhere they go. They have the same proportion of utter shits as every other industry. In other countries the journos don't drink; sometimes the pay is so bad they take their own pictures, write their own headlines and sell their own advertising as well.

And here in the country where it all began newspapers all moved out of Fleet Street a long time ago. We're now a diaspora of people who consider themselves part of something greater than their office or company, and although we rarely see ourselves as caretakers of any kind of flame we do all feel a responsibility to be Puckish, to irritate people on behalf of The Reader and tell them things they'd want to know. To stick two fingers up, just on general principles.

We're doing it while fighting against the instant news of the internet and 24-hour TV without many weapons, except our pens and an ability to stick our noses where they're not wanted.

Some newspapers will lose. Some will die - the Daily Courant did, and dozens like it over the years.

But there are some things newspapers have which the internet and TV do not.

We still have those 20 or 30 million faithful readers. Despite the Leveson Inquiry and a queue of MPs lining up to say how much they hate everything we do, politicians are still relying on us to take sides, to disseminate their leaks, win their petty squabbles, detail their victories and get them re-elected. Sometimes we get them sacked instead, which is why they don't like us much. A variety of high-profile people need us for their own careers.

The TV isn't allowed to take sides. The internet, as good a force as it can be, cannot be trained in the laws of rape, contempt, defamation, or be relied upon as having done even so much as checked Nickitpedia before tweeting something as fact.

We also have people in charge of us who are not journalists. They're business people, shareholders, corporations and moguls. Some of them are pretty good, and some of them aren't exactly in it for the long term. Newspapers have to fight their corner with them, as much as we have to fight for The Reader's attention, for every story, fight politicians and litigious celebrities and idiots who think they can get £10,000 from us for a grainy picture of someone who looks a bit like someone else.

And that's almost the very best thing about us, because we are fighters. Sometimes scrappy and rarely following the rules, but we'll fight until our pens run dry and even after that.

We have reach, and influence, and the world is full of news for us to chew upon. There is no reason that we should die.

We simply need to find the one person out there - perhaps even sitting reading this - who has a business plan which will make the internet pay. To write the computer code or have the big idea which will allow The Reader to sign up to the news they want, to build their own daily newspaper online in which breaking news is free and exclusive content - things like columnists, scoops, investigations and bought-in sets of pictures - cost you a penny to view. And which, in turn, will pay for the paper version, put some investment back into journalism and keep all the funny, witty, clever and screwed up people who become journalists off the streets.

Whoever does that will become a billionaire, and more importantly will be making sure that two fingers carry on getting stuck up, just on general principles.

Imagine what the world would be like if all the people who hate us had to hate something else instead.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Broken Britain.

IF politicians have one thing in their favour it's the fact that we can sack them.

It doesn't happen very often, because people don't like change and these days if you can't vote with a phone app half of us can't be bothered to haul arse down to the polling station.

But in theory the possibility exists. It's the one check on their pomposity, and very rewarding it is too on the rare occasions you see it wielded.

Except in the case of Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the co-chairman of the Tory party and Minister Without Portfolio who's been found out not only failing to declare thousands in rental income from a flat she owns but scamming the taxpayer for a further £165.50 a night while staying at a friend's house.

A friend, it must be said, who did not charge her.

A friend, furthermore, who did not write any receipts.

Baroness Warsi says it was "occasional" over a period of about six weeks. The friend says it was regular enough she had her own front door key. She says she paid another friend, but if so the money never made it back to the man who owned the property. And there's still the question of how you can claim expenses for something there's no receipt for, which is something only MPs seem to manage.

Over the six month period being discussed she claimed £12,247.

No-one's quite sure what happened but it stinks to high heaven, so Parliament will hold an inquiry which will probably say everything smells of roses and leave us wondering really went on.

At best Warsi's been swindled, and so have we as it was our money. She must be an idiot to forget she had a spare house in London and surely immoral to think that making thousands in profit from renting it out didn't clash with asking the taxpayer to fund her accommodation.

The fact she also wants housing benefit cut for people who struggle to find somewhere live elicits a hollow laugh when you realise she probably has two or three homes of her own.

At worst, Warsi is a fraud, a charlatan, and utterly amoral if she took money from those without much to spare, lined her own pockets, and did it all with a smile on her face and sense of entitlement while accepting free meals from a friend who had allowed her to stay.

Which of those two possibilities is right we may never know but either way she hardly has the ideal qualities for someone who sits in Cabinet meetings and represents the Government in public.

But we can't vote her out, because we didn't vote her in.

Warsi benefited from the drive for a more modern, open and diverse Tory party by being selected to fight a seat in Dewsbury which has a large Muslim population.

She not only failed to win, she even managed to cut the Tory share of the vote; a towering failure by anyone's standards.

Although she was unelectable the Prime Minister thought she made him seem nicer, because she was a woman and she was brown. So she was made a minister in the House of Lords from which position she tells everyone else what to do, both in her party and the country.

And unless she jumps or is shoved, that's where she's staying. Regardless of whether she resigns her job she will for evermore be a Baroness.

I could swear a Tory policy document said last week we ought to make it easier to sack people. Yet we could probably sack the Queen with less effort and mess than we can get rid of Warsi.

She's may be innocent of any crime, but even if not she'd remain in Parliament just like Lords Hanningfield and Taylor who've served jail time, and Baroness Uddin who somehow didn't.

No, I'm afraid there's only one way we can be shot of her and that's the court of public opinion.

That's when newspapers do their greatest public service - when the system fails, the state protects itself, and the people get stiffed. Reporters turn over the stones to see what's slithering around underneath, there is a truly public prosecution and The Reader gets to be the judge and jury.

It's a very imperfect kind of rough justice and not always right, but there are times when that's all that's left and it's the verdict politicians fear the most. Warsi's role in public life has been all about PR and what makes her boss look good. She won't go until she makes him look bad.

Failing that, we could reform the House of Lords and have mid-term elections for all of its members rather than pack it with those who are appointed or born to sit in it. There are plenty who are in it now who'd get elected - Betty Boothroyd for one - and quite a few who'd get booted, too. Yes John Prescott, I'm looking at you.

Frankly anything would be better than leaving it as a corrupt, lazy, allowance-fed, so-called check on power which in fact lets power run rampant because half its members are hand-picked by the people in power in the first place and the rest rarely bother to take part.

Give people a title if they deserve it by all means, but what's the point of giving space on the bench to Margaret Thatcher or Richard Attenborough when they don't turn up? What's the point in appointing people like Prescott who everyone was tired of, or Warsi who'd already been rejected for the job?
 
The argument against reform is usually that if it ain't broke it don't need fixing.

To which I reply, what do you do when it is broken?

Let people break it some more?



Thursday, 24 May 2012

Pity the perverts.

POOR old sex offenders. They have such a hard time of it, don't they?

The stigma, the questions, all that nasty old blame. It's rotten really and it's not like they can help it.

Which is why a judge - with a keen sense for the mood of the public, 51 per cent of which in this country is female and almost 100 per cent of which isn't a judge - has told a pervert it would be "utterly cruel" to send him to jail.

Andrew Jackson, the pervert in question, attacks young women in parks. He approaches schoolgirls and talks to them about sex. He's flashed a girl of 13, and these are just a few examples of a larger pattern of behaviour. Police have spoken to him twice before about stalking young girls in playgrounds and woods, but Jackson has a low IQ and a form of autism so he's not really taken it on board.

Yesterday Jackson admitted a sexual assault on a 21-year-old woman on a park bench, who was saved only when a friend heard her cries for help and pulled him off her.

He's not a rapist, but he is also not what you might call safe to be out and about.

He is out and about though, because Judge Jeremy Richardson QC seems to think that sex offences happen because men, whatever their IQ, just can't help themselves.

The judge said Jackson was "eccentric". He added that because "you have never had a full sexual relationship, it must be very frustrating" and "you are very much to be pitied". He told him to sign the sex offenders' register and have two years of community supervision.

I'd love to think the judge took pity because of Jackson's mental condition, but I doubt it. His words imply a belief that the crime could be explained by the fact he was a virgin, that there was a pent-up impulse any man is naturally a slave to.

It is not far from talking about frustration and pity to mentioning other words like natural, healthy, and normal. It is not much of a leap at all to say that willies are beyond anyone's control and that they can be blamed for bad behaviour, rather than their operator.

The fact is that most men can help it and manage to get through life without assaulting anyone. Those that don't tend to say things like 'I couldn't stop myself', waving their bits like a Get Out Of Jail Free card which makes judges and juries feel sympathy for men who cross the line even when they know it is there.

The true reason for Jackson's crime is not that he is a male, but because his brain is wired differently. His condition makes him clumsy and obsessive, and that's why he follows women and girls around. A woman with a similar set of mental instructions may well do exactly the same but no judge would say it was because she owned a mimsy.

Most of us would agree with that the last place Jackson needs to be is a prison surrounded by hardnuts and psychopaths, drug addicts and thieves. But he does need to be somewhere he's not going to be molesting women and frightening kiddies.

There used to be hospitals and special units for people with Jackson's problems - some of them awful, others amazing - but he can't be sent there for proper treatment because we've shut most of them down.

Instead he's being cared for 'in the community', which means he lives at home with his parents. I'll bet you any money they're good people who try their best and are at the end of their tether, with their allowances cut and no help on hand when they really need it. They are expected to provide the care of a hospital unit, for free, and forever.

The local police already keep a careful eye on Jackson - as I'm sure the neighbours do - but the judge has now decreed he will spend the next two years being formally 'supervised'. This will involve a weekly or monthly meeting with a social worker or counsellor who is already too busy, and who have no chance of changing things permanently because you can't rewire a brain.

As a result, Jackson will be back in a playground at some point. If we're lucky the police will spot him before he does anything and move him on, but one day they'll be busy doing something else. When that happens it won't be the police's fault, or his parents', or even that of his winky.

It will be because someone who needed more care than he got didn't have it. It will be because of a ridiculous Victorian notion that men are naturally rampant, and sexual offences are a normal consequence of masculine frustration.

It will be because a silly judge said a stupid thing, and didn't have the guts or the wit to see that the crime laid out before him had a cause far bigger and wider than anything that could fit in somebody's trousers.

A judge has the power to shame society into doing better.

This one just lets you do what you like.

Judge Jeremy Richardson QC: not bright.



Wednesday, 23 May 2012

All hail Naomi.

THERE are many awful things in the world that we just can't seem to get rid of.

Famine. Violence. Oppression. War. Richard Branson.

Perhaps we're just too used to it, too beaten down and oppressed by our own dreadful failure to make the world the beautiful place it could be.

We are stuck in the throes of a once-in-a-century global recession which a venture capitalist reckons is down to the fact people aren't getting sacked more often. A war in Afghanistan that's cost us £3 for every person on the planet has been one massive opium-growing project. And the Queen's lawyer has been misleading Parliament and authorising spying.

It's enough to make you weep. And we, the people, are too hide-bound and downtrodden to rise up and do anything about it.

But never fear! Naomi Campbell is here!

Yes, you read that right. After masquerading for nearly three decades as a grumpy supermodel Naomi has metamorphosed into a new Messiah who is going to save us all from ourselves.

(Will we also get shiny hair? - Ed)

Naomi unveiled her new religion on her 42nd birthday during a trip to the Middle East.

After a private tour of Bethlehem - I swear I'm not making this up - she emerged from her hotel in a shimmering white dress, sparking rumours she was a born-again virgin going to get married to her billionaire Russian boyfriend, even though he's already married to someone else.

Speaking to TV reporters at the mount, Naomi announced: "I’m happy to be here. Weapons and war, greed and oil … I hope it all stops. I care about health, about good vibrations, not destruction."

As the Beach Boys softly wept, Naomi lit candles in the Church of the Nativity on the spot where Jesus is said to have been born and visited the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, one of the holiest places in Judaism.

Naomi was attended by a number of disciples paid bodyguards, but for security reasons had to forgo riding on a donkey. Instead she opted for a cavalcade of blacked-out limousines.

Naomi, who like Jesus was born in humble circumstances except it was in Streatham and worked as a carpenter doesn't get out of bed for less than £10,000 a day, ate a simple birthday meal of Palestinian lamb and rice which she shared among a gathered throng of 5,000 some friends.

She had amazing hair throughout.

That was yesterday. She's not been heard from since, which personally I think is a shame because I was looking forward to her hearing her talk about the meek.

Perhaps she's spending three days in a cave before ascending the steps to her private jet? We can but pray. I'm sure her sheets will fetch a pretty penny on eBay.

Reports of her jumping on waterskis over a shark in the nearby Mediterranean are, I am sure, wide of the mark.

Many people will mock Naomi for this trip but I think that's unfair. Frankly we're lucky there is someone selfless enough to care and try to take our sins upon herself, just as willingly as she accepts what later turn out to be blood diamonds from vicious dictators who deliver them to her bedroom in the wee hours.

At a time when we lack leadership and faith, it cannot but be a good thing that someone with a long experience of an industry in which people starve themselves for financial gain can help millions around the world suffering famine and poverty.

And having been publicly accused 10 times, at the last count, of assault against her employees, friends and on one occasion police officers, and attending court-appointed anger management classes, I'm sure there's nothing she doesn't know about violence, oppression and war as well.

"But what about Branson?" I hear you cry. "Is there anything Naomi can do about him?"

Well as someone who was banned for life from British Airways planes after a dispute about lost baggage I should think the beardy billionaire's annihilation is merely a matter time.

"I SAID PROPHET, NOT PROFITS!"




Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Social (adj.): Friendly relations with others.

THE good thing about deckchairs is that they are infinitely rearrangeable.

That's presumably why, when we're in the middle of the greatest global financial crisis for a century, the government is worrying about people keeping their front gardens tidy.

Just as PM Dishface is drawing some serious criticism for spending too much time playing Fruit Ninja and not enough fixing the mess he says someone else made, loyal henchwoman and Home Secretary Theresa May has piped up about a plan she first suggested a year ago.

She wants to scrap Anti-Social Behaviour Orders and replace them with Criminal Behaviour Orders which are pretty much exactly the same, apart from the ways in which they are worse.

Among the possible uses would be criminalising people whose front gardens are a mess, noisy neighbours, takeaways, dog owners whose pets foul a communal area, and so on. Presumably young irks who cause trouble will collect them in the same way they collected ASBOs, with a shrug.

The proposals also include the power of civil injunction to 'prevent crime'. It requires zero proof of a criminal act, merely the likelihood that such an act might, at some point, be committed.

So if someone looks like they might be the sort to dump a mattress in their front garden, or that their dog may have fouled a communal area, we can injunct them.

Injunctions are those things rich people get, right? Against poor people? Usually?

So if you've got a problem neighbour - I've got one who talks too loudly and has too many parties, for example, and owns a mastiff called DeNiro - and enough of you complain about it, under the rules the police will have to investigate. If there's no actual crime then without too much fuss you can injunct them, because people who don't give a toss about their neighbours to start with are always nicer to them if they feel the crushing might of the law.

Theresa calls this being 'flexible'; I call it Orwell with a net curtain.

It may be national micro-management at its most ridiculous and potentially damaging, but I'd be lying if I said it didn't have a certain attraction. Anti-social people are everywhere, doing things which are damaging our society but for some reason aren't quite crimes, and there are plenty of things I'd like to change.

And if a few of us act together there's no reason we can't turn these CRIMBOs to our advantage...

* Injunct Dishface to clean up the mess he swears someone else made.

* Stop Simon Cowell. Just all of it.

* Any attempt to type the words 'Justin Bieber' on the internet to result in a mild electric shock.

* Get Tony Blair to take that long-awaited trip to the war crimes tribunal at The Hague, with some depleted-uranium munitions and a couple of deformed Marsh Arab babies for company.

* Dominique Strauss Kahn can be criminalised as a sex-pig without the rigmarole of a rape trial we all know he'll probably pay to get out of anyway.

* Low-level thuggish behaviour would merit a stay in the stocks with rotten tomatoes being chucked at you from dusk til dawn. Joey Barton, this means you.

* People spitting in the street would be cuffed immediately and thrown into the darkest sewer of Belmarsh nick, never to be heard from again.

* Ditto people who put their feet on the seats of buses and trains. WOULD YOU DO THAT IN MY HOUSE? SHIFT THEM, SUNSHINE.

* A policeman would take names and then calmly and simply explain the rules of escalators and pavements to tourists. They would be deported after a second infraction.

* Gideon Osborne to be forced to live on benefits in Toxteth for a year. That's 'all in it together'.
* People who talk to others on the internet in a manner they would not in the street to have 'DIE SCUM HA HA DIE I KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE' shouted at them randomly for a week.

* Samantha Brick to be sat down in a calming environment and spoken to by counsellors with her best interests at heart.
* The practice of texting in place of conversation to be outlawed after three instances of imparting major news this way. Birthday wishes, pregnancy news, cries for help etc would lead to your text service being switched off in order to force meaningful interaction.

* Irks who play music on their mobile phones too loudly on public transport to have phone smashed with a hammer in front of them.

* Anyone who goes out in public without using deodorant to be hosed.

* Geri Halliwell will be stopped from telling other people that they cannot sing. If she persists, the sound of a cat trapped in a tin dustbin will be played at her until she ceases.

* Posh boys smashing up restaurants for larks will be penalised by being made responsible for everything. Oh hang on...

The best thing to do, of course, is for everyone to try to be more neighbourly. For me to scratch DeNiro's ears, for my neighbour to turn the music down, to ask people politely not to spit and move their feet, to remember how to apologise and rub along more nicely.

To be more social, generally. And if someone can't do that to the extent that people are harmed then there are plenty of laws already around to deal with it.

Because it's the fact we're not being sociable ourselves which is the reason why some of those problems start, and why the government wants to smack us all around with a heavy hand in the hope that we'll be so busy trying to get them to hit someone else we'll stop wondering what they're playing at.

Which, if Theresa is right, is exactly the same crap they were doing a year ago.

If only they weren't such lemons.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Jubil-what?

JUBILEE season is upon us and from the coverage you'd be forgiven for thinking that Elizabeth II is just like Elizabeth I.

Our little white-haired granny is like that bewigged armour-plated termagant in the same way that My Little Pony is like a frothing Arabian stallion with crazy eyes who'd smash you to death in a heartbeat.

Neither was expected to become queen, but both did. Aside from the name that's about all they share.

Elizabeth I's birth led to schism in the church. Her mother was murdered, her stepmothers all died or were rejected, and she was repeatedly disowned and reinstated. She spoke six languages by the age of 11, she spent most of her life under threat of execution or assassination by her own family and she was seen as nothing more than a tool for men to marry off for political gain.

She was told, in every way, that being a girl was a disaster and she turned her femininity into triumph. She traded any chance of personal happiness for power, she started an empire, and she did it all from the age of 25 after inheriting a country which was broke. She was horrible, vicious, a despot, the world's worst dinner party guest; a far cry in every way from the modern monarch who has barely a sniff of the same DNA.

Our queen has ridden lots of horses. Um. That's about it.

She's travelled a lot, she's dealt with politicians and not put a foot wrong that we know of, but she's never worked more than three days a week if you can call it work at all and hasn't had quite the same asked of her as her namesake. I wonder if the two queens were switched in time how either would cope? I'd hope Good Queen Bess would discover condoms and have the chance to let her hair down, but I bet Brenda would struggle with balancing the Exchequer.

But still. They share a name, they both came to the throne young, and both have presided over an era of massive change. To mark the event the BBC and a panel of rather self-important people have compiled a list of 'New Elizabethans', those subjects who've done the most to change the world in the course of her reign.

And nowhere could the differences be more apparent. Liz One had Shakespeare, Drake, Cecil, Inigo Jones and Bess of Hardwick. Liz Two has got Simon Cowell and a lady who wrote a cookery book.

A glance down the Beeb's list produces a couple of 'fair enough's - McCartney and Lennon are on there, Tim Berners-Lee, Princess Di - but then anyone with a brain would splutter: "BILLY CONNOLLY? ARE YOU PULLING MY CHAIN? Germaine Greer? GOLDIE? What in the name of..."

So to save myself an embolism here is my alternative list of modern Elizabethans - the people who've really changed the world since 1952.

* Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi - for proving cancer isn't that bad.

* Prince Andrew - who's shown a little really can go a long way. About 250 times around the world, by my last count.

* Ridley Scott - for Thelma & Louise alone, never mind the rest of it.

* Cliff Richard - just for not going away. Man's like a persistent, elderly spaniel.

* Richard Dawkins - for spearheading the humanist movement in the face of frothing opposition and despite the fact blasphemy was against the law until 2008.

* Prince Philip - for making racism endearing.

* Liz Jones - for making the slow-motion car crash of her life public property and turning a massive profit out of it. Bess of Hardwick would be WELL JEL (I know I am).

* Jimmy Savile - come on, he raised £40million for charity! Forget the tracksuit, no-one else has managed that.

* Richard Branson - for being the most offensively annoying prat the nation ever produced. He's like a deluded court jester who thinks he's in charge.

* Beatrice Shilling - Men designed the Spitfire but it took a woman to tell them where they'd gone wrong. The Rolls Royce engines would stall in a dive but engineer Beatrice found the flaw and fixed it. That move won us the Battle of Britain but she's virtually unknown. She also raced motorbikes and wouldn't marry her husband until he'd lapped the circuit at 100mph. What a dame!

* Barbara Cartland - sorry, she sold twice as many books as JK Rowling.

* Herchel Smith - a researcher at the University of Manchester who found a cheap way of producing hormones, leading to the contraceptive pill and, oh yes, female emancipation from their own ovaries.
* Michael Buerk - it was his reports from the famine in Ethiopia which inspired Bob Geldof and led to Live Aid, and thus the modern global definition of overseas development aid.

* Andy Coulson - for being one of the few journalists who's probably going to bring down a government, even if it is by accident.
* Spike Milligan - for everything.

And you know what makes them New Elizabethans?

They're all going to be talked about a lot flippin' longer than Barbara Bloody Windsor.

Not an Elizabethan.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Today's column...

... is at the Daily Mirror website and you can read it here.

Have a nice weekend, and remember Bono wants you to keep posting your baby pictures on Faceache.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Dear God...

HELLO. I haven't spoken to you in a while, largely because I don't think you're there.

You kill people, and you invented paedophiles. I don't talk to people who do stuff like that.

But in case you are, and in case you're paying attention and not simply playing a celestial game of Angry Birds with us as the pigs to be obliterated, there are a couple of things I want to say.

The reason I'm addressing you at all is because I saw in the paper this morning that one of those men who reckons he's your best mate - Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, heard of him? - has been kicking off about people who don't think like he does.

He said that a modern way of life was attacking religion, that morality and tolerance were being abolished and faith was being trampled on.

Speaking to fellow Catholics, he said: "The propaganda of secularism and its high priests want us to believe that religion is dangerous for our health. It suits them to have no opposition to their vision of a brave new world, the world which they see as somehow governed only by people like themselves.

"They conveniently forget that secularism itself does not guarantee freedom, rationality... or violence. Indeed, in the last century, most violence was perpetrated by secular states on their own people."

He even, quite amusingly, accused people of intolerance.

There's no point in me trying to have a word with the cardinal, as he's far too busy frothing at the mouth while preaching to the choir. But you're supposed to be the organ-grinder, so I'm going to pick a fight with you instead.

First off, the word secularism. On the one hand this means rejecting all forms of faith and worship, which is what the cardinal and every other man of the cloth who waves it around is talking about. And on the other it means not letting religion interfere with the human business of running a society - education, healthcare, politics. That's what the rest of us mean by it, and besides when religion is involved in all those things it doesn't go too well.

Your idea of education is to ban people knowing stuff you don't agree with. Your involvement in healthcare largely stops people having any. And whenever you've stuck your nose into politics it's ended in war and pain and misery.

Simple logic dictates life will be more fun for us without you in it.

I know what you're going to say. You're going to tell me that you just invent stuff and what we do with it is our own silly fault. Which I'd agree with, except for the bit about you inventing it because I think you're just taking credit for what happened by accident.

Humans are humans. But I'd rather we screwed things up and blamed it on ourselves, than point at the sky and try to justify it.

I note that neither you nor the cardinal take credit for the bad stuff. You forget about the Inquisition and burning people alive. You fail to mention the terror you spread over seven continents for millennia. You don't like to mention the wars, the rape, the babies that were killed, the diseases that were spread, the way in which women had their rights to property, safety, and justice systematically eroded to the point where your churches insisted they were a property themselves.

You, sunshine, are the reason people talk about 'the missus' rather than using a name. We are not a definite article. We are people, and before you came along we were doing a lot better.

That's not to say that religion is all bad. It has motivated many people to do good things, and if somebody wants to worship something - whether it's a bloke you can't draw a picture of, a ball of fire floating in space or an elephant-headed man with too many arms - I'm fine with that. I don't get it, but it's OK.

What really sticks in my craw I'm afraid is the way this particular representative of yours wants to blame the worst events of the past 100 years on a lack of faith.

The cardinal specifically accused non-believers - atheists like me - of killing more people in the past century than anyone with religion.

Allow me to remind you and the cardinal of a couple of things.

* The First World War - which gave rise to every subsequent war in Europe - killed 35 million people and was started by a megalomaniac Kaiser who was devoutly Christian.

* The Second World War was the deadliest conflict in human history, killing up to 72 million, and it was started by a man raised a Catholic, who promoted Christianity in Mein Kampf and set himself up as a modern-day Messiah.

* Pol Pot was a Buddhist. Joe Stalin was raised Georgian Orthodox. Catholic and Protestant churches gave the go-ahead for ethnic slaughter in Rwanda. Ratko Mladic, an Orthodox Christian, is on trial at The Hague right now for killing 8,000 Muslims at Srebrenica only 17 years ago. There are terrorists all over the world claiming that Islam makes it all right to blow people up.

And it's atheists that are the problem? Please.

The cardinal's faith - and, to be honest, every other faith that's been started in your name - has killed far more people than anyone who was told from birth that you don't exist.

Whether it's Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, or smacking your bum with a birch twig at full moon, religion is used to justify behaviour that would otherwise seem pretty unusual. I've always wondered why Christians welcome people with an image of some poor sod beaten near to death and nailed to a tree. And don't get me started on banning bacon sandwiches.

Humanity is not much better off for your involvement. We've been worshipping you for thousands of years and still eighty per cent of us live on less than £6 a day. Around 22,000 children die every day because they're poor. A billion people can't read or write their own name.

Meanwhile your churches own more land and money than ever before. The Vatican is the biggest stockbroker on the planet, with more assets than any other organisation on Earth, and the Mormons have more cash than anyone else. Israel and Iran are run by religions and they don't seem to be broke.

Religion, as far as I can tell, doesn't do much for most humans. But it does a lot for you, and I reckon that if we didn't have any churches or stupid men in dresses telling everyone else what to do we'd blunder through on our own somehow, possibly with fewer wars and more money.

I can't help thinking the main reason for the cardinal getting his knickers in a twist is because he lives in a country where he used to have more of a say, and now he doesn't. Most of us don't mind gays, condoms or sex, and as the world gets more human and less churchy he is wailing about power that is slipping through his fingers.

There's not much he can do to change things, which is just as well if you ask me.

But I'm fairly tolerant, and if the cardinal wants to talk to an imaginary friend, he can.

I'd rather talk to people.

And that's about all I've got to say to you, God.

Go back to whatever you were doing.


Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Poli-tics; Greek, meaning 'many leeches'.

FOR reasons only an idiot savant could fathom, everything depends upon Greece.

Your mortgage. Your chances of being made redundant. Your local school and hospital. The police on your streets and the nurses who will tend you when you're ill.

How is that even possible? Greece is miles away and the single currency has nothing to do with us. Well, here's an idiot to explain...

"The eurozone crisis is very serious and it is having a real impact on economic growth across the continent, including in Britain," said Chancellor Gideon this week.

"It is the uncertainty that is causing the damage. Of course countries have got to make difficult decisions about their public finances, we know that in Britain.

"But it's the open speculation from some members in the eurozone about the future of some countries in the eurozone which I think is doing real damage across the whole European economy."

Any the wiser? No, not really, and nor is Gideon I suspect. Sounds a lot like everyone's having a panic which in turn is causing a panic.

So this is what's really happened.

Back in the 1960s some bright spark came up with the idea that a united Europe wouldn't have another war. We didn't enjoy the last two, it was all very expensive, and let's not do it again.

Over the decades that followed various politicians became more and more certain that having a whole new parliament with more politicians would be a great idea, and Europe would be like the USA, but with better cheese.


In 1992 lots of European governments signed the Maastricht Treaty which set out how some of that union was going to take place, and in 1999 the single currency was set up. Greece joined in 2001 and a year later the first coins and notes were in circulation. It created a single trading market which made it easier - and cheaper - for business to operate.

Today the Euro is the currency of 332million people in 17 countries. It's the second-most traded currency on the planet, after the dollar, and there are 150m people in Africa who use currencies which are pegged to the Euro.

A lot, it must be said, depends upon it.

The problem is that despite having a 50-year run-up the whole idea is massively flawed. Europe is not the USA - it's got lots of governments, not one. It has lots of laws, languages and cultures. And it has many different economic mannerisms as a result.

The main mannerism, if you're Greek or pay any attention to history, is that you spend more money than you make.

The first recorded Greek debt default was in the 4th century BC. Thirteen Greek city states borrowed money from a temple and never paid it back. The temple took an 80 per cent loss, and no-one learned their lesson.

More recently Greek defaulted on its debts in 1826, 1843, 1860, 1894 and 1932. In fact for 50 per cent of the time it's been an independent nation, it's been broke.

At the moment Greece loses around €15bn every year in tax, and while trying to crack down on tax evasion it has shut 130 tax offices and made their staff redundant. It's got only five million people in its work force, and a 40 per cent rate of tax dodging.

So of course, it was a sound idea to bail it out twice in the past two years with a grand total of €320bn.

Again, not our problem right? Except Britain 'owns' about £14.6bn of that debt, thanks to private banks and government lending to the International Monetary Fund. France and Germany own far more, the Americans and Japanese a bit less, but we all have a chunk of it and as has often been remarked we don't have any money left.

That money we don't have has been loaned to Greece which is using it to repay us for the loans it took out earlier and already can't afford to pay.

If we lose the money we've promised to Greece, we have less to spend on nurses. And the chances of our losing that gamble are pretty close to 100 per cent, as every City trader knows. Those guys know how to make money and can make as much of it from a bust as they can from a boom. They're just waiting to pounce.

The best thing in Greece's favour at the moment is that it has no actual government.

The Euro was a politician's idea. Lending money to Greece despite it being a blatantly silly move was a politician's idea. And politicians, generally speaking, can afford to pay for their own nurses.

Which is why they cannot, will not, admit that the Euro is as doomed as a sickly baby gazelle in the middle of the Serengeti surrounded by particularly peckish lions.

The website of the European Union, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, still claims that the Euro "makes very good economic and political sense". It claims the single currency "encourages sound public finances", even though it's made cock-all difference to the Greeks.

This is my favourite bit: "The size and strength of the Euro area also better protect it from external economic shocks, such as unexpected oil price rises or turbulence in the currency markets."

Politicians, eh? Don't you just love 'em? Bless.

They finish by saying we should all be very proud of the Euro because it "gives the EU’s citizens a tangible symbol of their European identity, of which they can be increasingly proud".

It's been more than 10 years and Europe is no more like the USA than it was before.

There was a major war which killed tens of thousands of Europeans after the union was formed, so it's not helped much with that.

And our European identity, just at the moment, is that we're being run by a bunch of idiots who don't read, don't listen, and can't count.

Unfortunately, they still suck.

'A good decision is based on knowledge, not on numbers.'
- Plato


Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Humans seen from space, part the third.

HIGH up in the coldness of space, the alien research station was silent.

The control desk in the centre of the viewing deck was a mess, with empty beer bottles and several Domino's Pizza boxes spread across the banks of computers. One of the ergonomic office chairs was upside down with its wheels in the air, and the other was on the far side of the room next to a large dent in the wall. There were balloons tied to it.

In front of the desk was a large screen, in the middle of which hung a blue and green planet quietly going about its business.

Suddenly the computers began to beep quietly. Lights flickered and flashed, underneath a pizza box something began to print and in the corner the terrible coffee machine started to splutter.

A minute later, the sliding door swished open and Bob, the deputy research scientist, slithered into the room.

But first he slithered into the door frame, because he had his eyes shut. He swore quietly and put out a few tentacles as he found his way slowly onto the viewing deck, still with his eyes tightly closed. He fumbled and found the wheels on the upside-down chair, moved on to the desk, and then scrabbled at a drawer from which he pulled a pair of sunglasses.

He put them on, and sighed. "That's better," he said. He turned and slithered to the coffee machine and picked up the cup of black sludge which had been prepared.

"Ow, fuck!" he said, putting it down quickly, then locating an empty paper cup and sliding the first into it so he could hold it without burning his slime-covered feeler.

Grumbling, he uprighted the chair, flicked some switches, found the last slice of cold pizza, lifted the sunglasses onto his forehead and applied his single eye to the viewing scope trained on the planet below.

The door swished again. If he'd had legs he would have strode, but instead Grfelft the chief alien research scientist slithered purposefully into his office with every appearance of being sober, chipper and at the top of his game.


"Morning!" he boomed at his minion, who flinched. "What a lovely day!"

Grfelft oozed over to the coffee machine, gave it a hearty slap on the back, and caught the sludge which spurted out in his favourite mug held underneath its nozzle. He took a long slurp and went to stand behind Bob in that way bosses do all over the universe, just out of view but slightly too close and able to read everything on your computer screen.

"A fine, fine day," said Grfelft, beaming, with one tentacle on his hip. "Life is good, isn't it?" He slapped the back of Bob's chair, knocking him forward so his single bloodshot eye was rammed into the viewing scope with some force.

"Ouch!" said Bob. "Oh sorry," said Grfelft, with a broad smile. Bob rubbed his eye and glared with it at his boss, who was normally filled with despair and loathing from his task of monitoring the human race on the planet below. He was never happy or smiley, and Bob didn't like it. Grfelft carried on grinning, slurping from his mug. It said 'THE PLANET'S BEST DADDY!' on it in big blue letters.

Bob put the sunglasses back on his nose nodule. He tried not to sigh, and failed.

"So what are the little darlings up to today?" asked Grfelft, putting down his coffee and slithering over to the second office chair in the corner.

"You don't want to know," grumped Bob.

"Oh now, come on, don't be like that," said Grfelft as he grabbed the back of the chair with a tentacle, and began pulling it towards the desk.

"The Big Wang sent us here nearly half a millennium ago to watch what the humans get up to and, do you know, they're pretty entertaining. They're doing a marvellous job with America, considering it's full of Americans, and they're very good at gardening. Did you see those organic bonsai roses Liz Jones sent back from her last mission? The Big Wang's going to love them."

He spun the chair seat round and stuck out his bum to sit on it, but the moment he let go of the back the chair shot off down the room and back into the dented wall with a bang. Grfelft was so surprised he could not stop his descent and ended up sitting down on the floor with a splat.

Bob laughed and immediately stopped when Grfelft shot him a glare. He could still remember his last punishment for insubordination, and had no wish to spend another week trying to renewing the electrolytes in Liz Jones' battery pack.

Grfelft struggled up with as much dignity as he could muster, went back to the chair, and pulled it away from the wall.

"There's a huge piece of elastic tying it to this bracket," he said, turning in fury on his underling. "What kind of game are you playing?"

Bob shook his head and took a bite of pizza. "Not me boss," he said. "That was you."

"Me?"

"Yeah. You thought ergonomic office chairs on elastic would be a really good entry for next year's Britain's Got Talent."

Grfelft stared at the chair as memory began to dawn. "We had quite a lot to drink, didn't we?"

"Yep."

"We were celebrating about the dancing dog weren't we?"

"Yep."

"So we started drinking three days ago?"

"That's right."

"Why don't I have a hangover?"

"You're still drunk. Want some pizza?"

Grfelft used his thumb claw to slice the elastic, pushed the chair back to the desk, sat on it uncertainly, and accepted the proffered slice of congealed dough. "Tastes good," he said.

"See? That proves you're still drunk," said Bob. "Wait til the flashbacks kick in."

Grfelft sighed. He had very little reason to celebrate in this dull backwater of the galaxy, watching a less-advanced species blunder its way towards extinction while a long way from the methane swamps he called home. But a dancing dog! That was cool. And it had made him think that maybe the humans had finally done something right.

He shook himself out of his reverie and tried not to notice the headache starting at the back of his skull. "Right, well, let's clear the decks and see what we have. We have to report to the Big Wang at lunch. So, what's going on down there?"


"Do you really want to know?" asked Bob.

"Of course!" replied Grfelft.

"You might want another coffee."

"Oh, come on. Let's get this report done."

"Fine. Rebekah Brooks, her husband and a bunch of other people have been charged with perverting the course of justice."

"Well that's good, isn't it?"

"Yes, except everyone's so busy talking about it and saying they're all guilty that there's probably quite a big risk the trial might collapse, or if it does go ahead the verdict will be skewed, and if there is a sentence that they would be able to appeal it."

"Oh. Well, it's only Twitter. Humans like a gossip. It'll probably be fine."

"Hmmm. They're all busy talking about her rather than her husband."

"The horse racing chappie? So what?"

"He's been the Prime Minister's best mate for 30 years."

"Ooookaaaay... so the Prime Minister's had to resign, then?"

"Nope."

"Well he's in trouble over his judgement again?"

"Not really."

"He's had to put out a statement, at least?"

"Not yet. He's gone on Desert Island Discs and said he likes Pink Floyd."

"Hang on. The leader of a quite important nation is best mates with someone who's up before the beak for allegedly trying to cover up crime, in fact crimes which involve the PM's former spokesman, and no-one's too bothered?"

"Pretty much."

Grfelft rubbed his temples. The headache had moved around to the front.

"Right. Well. Not brilliant, not brilliant at all. I doubt Maggie would have tried to brass-neck that one out. What else?"

"Derek Acorah says Madeleine McCann is dead."

"IT WAS HIM! I KNEW IT! He's a dodgy sod, I always said..."

"No, no, no. He says someone in the spirit world told him."

"Well how would they know? They're all obsessed with trying to tell people about the 3.30 at Epsom."

"He also accused the journalists who reported what he said of being irresponsible and upsetting her grieving parents."

"... then he exploded with the irony, right?"

"Nope."

Grfelft sighed. The headache pounded. "I presume he's selling something?"

"He does happen to be on tour at the moment, yes. Sixteen quid a ticket to hear someone say your dead granny is happy on the other side."

"And humans still believe this tripe? Even though not once has anyone ever spoken through a medium to say 'the money's in the cellar' or 'stick it all on Widget in the 4.15' or even 'Uncle Barry killed me, it was UNCLE BARRY'?"

Bob finished off his pizza and licked the end of his limb. "Yep, pretty much. Acorah's a millionaire, so it seems to sell."

"Have you got any aspirin? I need some aspirin." Bob tossed a box to Grfelft, who popped a couple of pills with another swig of coffee. "Tell me something good," he said. "There must be something good."

Bob scratched his head and shuffled through some printouts. "Well, um, that woman off EastEnders you hate has got a new boyfriend who's even worse than the last one, no? Er, oh someone beat Manchester United in the Premier League?"

"Fantastic!" said Grfelft. "Who was it?"

"Man City," said Bob.

"ARSE," said his boss, thumping the desk with a slimy limb. "Why is it never Accrington Stanley's turn? Everyone was talking about them not long ago, you know."

He put his head in his tentacles. "What else?" he asked in a muffled voice. "Hit me with it, go on."

"Greece is buggered. The Euro's about to collapse. France has elected someone who's going to try something different but everyone's upset he's not married. A girl died from TB because the doctor didn't spot it. Macca nearly had a massage from a pervert. They're going to stop thousands of special needs kids having extra schooling. And they still don't know where all the money went."

"Right," said Grfelft, quietly. "And I suppose you're going to tell me Liz Jones malfunctioned on her latest field trip, too?"

"She dressed up as the Queen and went round The Mall on a child's scooter drawing attention to herself by saying how ugly and overdressed she felt."


Grfelft smashed his head onto the keyboard in front of him and screamed. He raised it, blinked, then did it twice more.

"That's better," he said. "The hangover's nearly gone."

He did it a fourth time, just to be sure.

"Okay. Okay. Fine. Liz Jones probably just needs a software patch or something. We've still got the dog. The dancing dog. The Big Wang will like that. It will stop him unleashing the intergalactic missiles or sending us somewhere even worse than this for another 500 years. Humans are crap at everything but they're nice to animals."

Bob looked uneasy. "Weeeeeell...."

Grfelft closed his eyes and sighed. "All right, tell me."

"A third of all the animals have died."

"WHAT?"

"The World Wildlife Fund says 30 per cent of all creatures in the wild have died since 1970. There's three-quarters less tigers, the Congo's lost 95 per cent of its hippos because of all the poison from mining in its rivers, and they like fish and chips so much there's only a quarter of the cod left. Dolphins in the Yangtze haven't been seen for 10 years and there's only half as many Emperor penguins as there should be."

Grfelft was quiet. After struggling to speak for a moment or two, he asked: "And beyond humanity being a rapacious bunch of thoughtless idiots who just screw everything up and then tweet about it, what does that mean, exactly?"

"They're going to need a new planet by 2030."

Grfelft stared at the viewing screen, and the blue and green planet which hung there. He thought about the billions of people loving, hating, fighting and being born on it.

He thought about the dancing dog. He sighed.

"Tell the Big Wang to blow it up," he said. "But get Pudsey off first."

He stood up and announced he was going to spend some time on his own in the methane chamber. Bob watched him slither through the doors, which hissed shut behind him, and looked at the message on the printer which was asking for today's report on Earth.

He thought for a second, and then typed in: "ALL WELL. DANCING DOG ELECTED TO RUN WORLD."

Then he hit send, told himself that Grfelft would feel better in a couple of years, and flicked the viewing screen to Midsomer Murders.

"Dishface Investigates!" he said aloud. "I wonder if he'll ever investigate himself?"

And he ordered more popcorn from the ship's computer.


Read previous reports on Bob and Grfelft here:

* Humans seen from space.
* Humans seen from space part deux.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Loonwalk.

THEY say the moon makes people do strange things.

There's no scientific basis for it, but plenty of people think the moon can influence menstrual cycles, mental health, blood clotting and even electrical impulses in our brains.

I don't know about any of that. All I know is that I did a thing called the Moonwalk, and it made me howl.

Specifically, it made my feet howl. My feet and my legs. My feet, my legs, my pelvic ligaments. My feet, my legs, my ligaments, my... well I could go on. Basically, everything is howling.

My knees won't bend. There's something wrong with my right hip. Three of my toes aren't speaking to me. I'm virtually asleep even though I'm typing. I'm not hungry but if you put a knife in my hand and a cow in front of me I'd eat the whole thing. My digestive system is in some kind of crisis. And there are bits of orange fluff EVERYWHERE.

No-one said this would happen.

It came about like this. Shortly before Christmas, just when I was feeling a bit fat and wondering if there might be a day when I didn't have a hangover, a lady off Twitter asked me if I'd like to do a sponsored stroll to raise money for breast cancer a loooong way in the future.

Sounded easy. Breast cancer is a cause close to my heart and I like a stroll. Plus it was an excuse to be a bit healthier by ambling around a bit, which is my kind of healthy.

Then the lady used a scary word. That word was 'marathon'. She said I could do the full or just half. I thought about the word briefly, decided it was basically a slightly longer stroll, and that if you're going to do something you might as well do it properly.

So I signed up for the full, and wrote a post about my Nana, who was the main reason I thought it was a good idea to raise money to help people with breast cancer. Lots of total strangers who read my stuff on this website were moved enough to donate and help me on my way.

Training began on January 2, with a three mile pootle around my local park which took me an hour. I did the same for the rest of the month, three times a week. It felt nice. I could walk up a Tube escalator and not be out of breath.

In February it stepped up to four and five miles, which just meant tacking a little extra loop on the end of my perambulation or meandering down by the river. At the weekends I had to do slightly longer walks of six miles or so, which involved catching a train to London Bridge and walking home along the Thames Path. I began to feel disappointed when I got to the top of a Tube escalator that there was nowhere left to climb.

In March the training stepped up to four miles, twice a week, and longer hits at the weekend of eight miles, then 10, then 12. I met up with some of the other people in our team to do these on a Sunday morning in Hyde Park, which is exactly four miles to go around and has several tea stands.

The first time I met the rest of the team it was pouring hard and I had a raging hangover. I crawled around the park twice on my hands and knees wearing sunglasses and by the time I'd finished the headache had gone and I'd made some nice new friends.

As the walks got longer I had a few blisters and twinges and found ways to strap my feet so they didn't happen again. I became an aficionado of the footcare section in Boots, and can say that whoever invented those little gel-socks for individual toes is a genius. I got to the top of Tube escalators and felt angry there was no more escalator, so took to going up the stairs wherever possible. I learned precisely how many miles it was between home and office, between Tube stops and train stations, and could do a mile in 14 minutes.

Then April came, hellish April. The training was five or six miles twice a week and even longer ones at the weekends - 14 miles, 16, 18. By this point Hyde Park was becoming not just boring, but the thought of walking around it four or five times was taking all damn day and making me feel homicidal.

The weekend I had to do 20 miles I took myself off to the countryside, plugged in my iPod and trudged around Bewl Reservoir in East Sussex for five and a half hours. It rained the entire time.

My legs changed. They're not a bad pair of pins but suddenly I noticed there was a lot more calf than there used to be, and it felt as hard as wood. Knee boots stopped zipping up. I felt like a much slower version of the Incredible Hulk, and felt sad for my poor pins. I made a fox's tail to wear on the big night, which was beginning to loom.


The Moonwalk organisers send everyone taking part a bra to decorate. Mine looked like it had been done by Liberace, on speed, in a chicken factory.


I did six miles twice the following week, and the next weekend it was 22 miles - the last big training walk. The team met again at Waterloo and we walked along the river, past Parliament and the MI6 building at Vauxhall, through Battersea Park and Putney, past the boathouses and down the muddy towpath towards the old Harrods book depository opposite Fulham FC.

Sounds nice, doesn't it? Except it battered down the whole way and the last few miles were so muddy it was like re-enacting the Somme. I noticed at one point the rain was coming down sideways.

And when we got to opposite Chiswick, we turned around and trudged back again. It was horrible, but I did it without blisters or anything more than aching legs. 'The Moonwalk will be fine,' I thought. 'It's only four more miles than this.'

*breaks for bitter laugh*

Then on Saturday it was here. I put my tail on, took my Nana's teddy bear with me, and met up with the rest of the team in a vast pink tent in Hyde Park, along with about 15,000 other women. Our team got invited up on to the main stage while everyone involved held hands and had a minute's silence to remember those we were walking for.


There were women in full Kiss makeup with spiked bras, others with flashing lights and Union flags. There were two ladies in blue capes, with flashing lights along the edge.

Then we were pushed to the start line, the clock counted down, and we were off. We lapped Hyde Park (again, sigh) then went down The Mall to Westminster, through the City to Blackfriars and crossed the river to Southwark where the Halfers split off at the 10-mile point.

At 12 miles we were going down one side of the Chelsea Embankment while a scary power walker on mile 21 was strutting in the opposite direction. We couldn't imagine being on that side of the road. Everything was dark, the moon was out, and Battersea power station was reflected in the perfectly-still river. Cabs full of drunken men honked and hollered good-naturedly at us on their way home, but the city was basically ours.


Everything, so far, was fine. We were doing around 4mph and sailed past those two ladies in blue capes. We carried on past Waterloo, Vauxhall, and Battersea Park where everyone dodged off for a wee in the bushes. Two members of our team - both nice ladies, mums - had their trousers down when they were approached by a young chap with his winky out.

"I'm desperate," he said, displaying his fully-inflated appendage two feet from their faces. "Oh no!" said one lady. "Oh YES," he replied with a leer. The second lady told him in no-nonsense style to put it away, and he asked her: "Don't you want a drink?"

(She's going to have a fit of hysterical laughter every time someone offers her a cup of tea from now on.)

Then the hard bit began. We crossed the river back to Chelsea, overtook the women in blue capes who hadn't stopped to be assaulted in the park, and at mile 15 around 4am suddenly everything started to hurt. I couldn't believe I could do 22 miles without a twinge but at 15 my body was giving up. "It's because it's at night," said one wiser hand. "You're sleep-deprived, your metabolism has crashed, and your body's going haywire."

It turned into more of a trudge. We slowly looped through Brompton and up to the Albert Memorial as the sky began to lighten, and back down through the sleeping streets of Fulham. Inexplicably the ladies in blue capes kept getting in front of us when one of the team stopped to put a plaster on or have a wee and we seemed to overtake them every half hour or so.

The soles of my feet began to burn. At mile 18 a ligament inside my right buttock began screaming with every step, at 19 I was more bored than I've ever been in my life even in a magistrates' court on a Monday morning, and at 20 we realised there was still six flamin' miles to go.

Then we rounded a corner on Chelsea Embankment at about 5am, and there were people handing out hot chocolate.

It was the best thing I've ever drunk. We were happy, thrilled, slightly excitable. I felt like tracking down that pervert in Battersea Park and telling him he'd have more luck with women if was offering this instead.

We set off again with a new spring in our step,  passed the power station lit up in the early morning light, and realised that now we were on that other side of the road.


Our new enthusiasm was dampened by the sight of those two ladies in blue capes, their lights flashing in the early dawn, about 200 yards ahead of us. We overtook them again and trotted on towards Westminster and mile 22, with the bottoms of our feet going numb.

As we slowly rounded Horseguards Parade and the back of Downing Street, we passed a power-walker going in the opposite direction. "He's doing it twice," someone said. We stared at him, shaking our heads, and trudged up The Mall. By this point getting breast cancer almost seemed preferable.

At Hyde Park corner the morning taxi drivers honked us some more, we crossed in front of the Duke of Wellington's house and my left foot exploded.

Or felt like it had. I limped for a few paces, wondering whether it was a stone and would loosen itself and not wanting to stop and let those women in blue capes get past us again. After about 10 paces I realised it was more major and propped myself up on a tree to take off my shoe and see a blister on my fourth toe had popped, leaving the entire bottom of the pad red raw. I wrapped it in a plaster and hobbled on, but could barely put it on the ground.

We crossed into Hyde Park, and I couldn't keep up with the three other team members I'd been walking with. I told them to go on without me, and they told me not to be so daft and we'd cross the line together. We looped the Serpentine in two miles which seemed never-ending as I limped along and we were overtaken by dozens of older and unfitter people. "It's all right," said one of the sensible ladies. "At least we can't see those two... OH NO!"

Up ahead, in the morning sun, were two blue capes, methodically plodding along. We would have despaired had we not been so busy hysterically laughing.

But they gave our tired brains and bodies the spurt we needed, and as we approached mile 26 we caught up with those two women and passed them at the last mile marker.


Ahead was the last 0.2 of a mile, 528ft up what would normally be a slight slope but looked more like Everest. Suddenly everything stopped hurting, my foot stopped screaming, and I powered up towards the finish line just so this could all be over and I didn't have to see those bloody blue capes again. At this point sheer stubbornness propelled me, which is just as well because I had nothing else left.

Halfway, I stopped. The rest of my team had waited for me when I was limping, so I waited for them. The four of us walked across the finish line together at 7.15am - almost exactly eight hours after we'd set off.

I felt like I could lie down and sleep in the middle of Park Lane and not care if a bus drove over me. The four of us collected our medals, limped out of the park and headed to the hotel where the rest of team - halfers and fullers who'd finished sooner - were having breakfast.

It was a five-minute walk, so of course we got a taxi. We crawled into the seats, oohing and aahing and groaning, and when we got to the hotel the cabbie said there was no charge, and bloody well done. We cried at him.

There was a big plate of food and a pot of tea, and I dragged myself home on the Tube. There, I got a big bowl of salty water, took off my socks and plasters, and soaked my feet while I sat on the side of the bed. After five minutes I rolled under the duvet and fell asleep.

Today I am better than yesterday, but that's about all you can say for it. I'm limping with both feet, which my mother says makes me look like I've had a prolapse. If I stay in one position for too long my legs freeze like that. All I want to do is sleep for a week. I keep finding sequins and orange fur in strange places, and so far I've helped to raise £32,456 for people like my Nana.

Which is all a very long-winded way of saying that, if you've got a pound in your pocket and you can go without that chocolate bar at lunch, or can do with half a pint instead of a whole one, or if you just don't want to die like my Nana did, or you just really, really like boobs, please make the effort to click the link below, donate that quid to our efforts, and for the love of all that's holy make this pain have been worthwhile.

http://www.walkthewalkfundraising.org/booby_dazzlers_3

And no, before you ask. I'm not doing it again. From the first day of training I walked a total of 380.2 miles, which is the same as London to Cumbria and also A FLIPPING LONG WAY. The trainers I bought at New Year are falling apart at the seams, and they're going in the dustbin.

But I'm very glad that I did it, anyway.

I'll be even gladder when I stop hurting.

* The team's Moonwalk bras will be auctioned off for the charity at a later date.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Today's post...

... is over at the Daily Mirror website and you can read it by clicking here.

Have a nice weekend, everyone. NO TAKING CRISPS FROM STRANGE MEN.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Wedlock 'em up.

FINALLY the leader of the Free World has said what most people think - he wants to punish gays for the rest of their lives.

They've have had it good for too long, if you ask Barack Obama. Our homosexual brothers and sisters have a far greater disposable income than heterosexuals, no risk of unwanted pregnancies, no call to rush home when a brat has earache, far better shoes for men and of course vibrant social lives.

Barack's obviously got fed up with gays having all the fun, and now says that seeing as the rest of planet has to endure it they can damn well get married and see how they likes THEM apples.

Infrequent sex. Anniversary restaurant trips. 'Date nights'. IN-LAWS. Thanks, Barack!


If I were gay, right about now, I think I'd announce I was a treesexual or pastiesexual, anything where I wasn't legally able to marry my partner. "Oh that's a lovely idea Traditional Cornish, it's just such a shame society won't let us be free, shall we do something more interesting instead?"

The above is of course a joke. Well, mainly a joke. My own experience of marriage was happy-at-first and bloody-awful-at-the-end, which was neatly mirrored by a subsequent divorce that began in agony and ended in delight. The process of disentangling yourself from someone you no longer love is so grim it's the main reason I've no wish to tie myself up again.

That's just me; I don't think everyone should feel that way. But there's an awful lot of people who want to tell others how to live their lives, whether it's who to marry, how to marry, how to raise your children, how many to have or whether you ought to have them at all.

There's a serving judge who has set up the Marriage Foundation to campaign against the 'scourge of divorce' and thinks Hello! magazine causes marital breakdown. There's bills being brought into Parliament for new dads to take more time off work and to have access to their children guaranteed after a split, but nothing compelling lax parents to foot even some of the bill for their offspring. And every five minutes there's a new dictat about what is good or bad for children.

In fact, as I recall, it was the business of saying you wanted to get married in the first place which made everyone else pipe up with their idea of how we ought to go about it. That's why, I suspect, the suggestion of gay marriage has made people start sounding off.

Not one to be left out, my twopenn'orth is this: I can't tell anyone how to have a happy marriage, but I can tell you how to screw it up. The main way of doing that is to forget that the two people who got married are imperfect creatures, and that it's a 40-year project in which there's no point sweating the small stuff.

Getting married is many things - it's an expression of your love, it's a public promise, it's a nice party. It's saying this is how you will spend the rest of your days. It's chaining yourself to somebody until one of you dies and hoping they don't kill you in the meantime.

And it's asking for increased regulation and state interference in your life - it's rules, expectations, standards which not everyone can meet.

Getting married isn't a right, because sometimes it goes very wrong. Marriage is a freedom, the ability to make a choice, announce it to the world at large, and then live your life accordingly. I don't really want to do it again even though I'm allowed, but at least I can choose.

Anyone who says same-sex couples shouldn't marry isn't talking about rights or religion. They're saying someone doesn't deserve the freedom to do something everyone else can, purely on the basis of who they love.

Well, I've seen people get married who I think shouldn't be allowed the freedom to use cutlery. I've known couples that look like a divorce waiting to happen. Some of them bumble through and some of them don't. They've all had the freedom to try.

More importantly, all the history books show that people who try to deny freedom to others always lose in the end.

It strikes me that gay people can screw things up just as well as straight people can, and they ought to be given the chance. They can't be any worse at it than we are.

Once you've done it, you're stuck with it.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Those whom the gods love...

IF YOU'RE very lucky you'll die before you get old.

It used to be the other way around - that getting old was a piece of good fortune which meant you got to spend time with grandchildren, kick back and relax.

Not any more. Those citizens are no longer seen as senior.

If you survive the granny tax you'll be caught by the pension reforms. If you get a winter fuel payment the power companies put prices up (they never put them down, has anyone noticed?). If you exercise your right to vote whatever government gets in will ignore your needs, and when you need a little help it won't materialise unless you pay through the nose with money you haven't got.

When I grew up we spent a lot of time with older people. My parents made sure I had a good relationship with all my grandparents, at harvest festival the teachers would take us to the local sheltered housing to hand out donated food, and once a week the local Darby & Joan club would eat in the school hall and the pupils served them lunch.

My gran gave up her spare time to visit a geriatric hospital with the Women's Royal Voluntary Service. At half-term she would take me along with her as she pushed a trolley of cosmetics and sweets around the wards, selling them to the patients and having a little chat.

The hospital was old, but clean. There were patients who had been there for years and would die there, and others who were in temporarily. One or two had serious psychological problems and dementia. Quite a few made a fuss of me - I must have been about nine or ten I suppose - because they didn't get to see their own grandchildren very often.

Sometimes I had to go through these patients' bedside tables to find their purses so they could count out their change to buy some shampoo, and try to understand barely-there words from mouths without dentures. My gran always spoke about them as though they were old - when to my young eyes she wasn't an awful lot different, because she had white hair and wrinkles and sometimes walked with a stick.

I remember saying something like that to her once, and she replied: "I'm 16 on the inside."

I've never forgotten that, or the lesson that is gained from spending lots of time with people outside your normal social circle. When she gave me 50p pocket money and I looked a bit scornful my mum told me that she was poor, and to be thankful. And when Gran trounced me at every card game we ever played, laughing her head off, I learned that luck is what you make it.

My gran died at the age of 76, after six weeks in which her organs slowly gave up on her one at a time after an infection. In her last conscious moments she was giggling with my mum about a new handbag, which gave exactly the same kind of joy to her inner 16-year-old that it always had. Up to the end she always wore shoes with a slight heel, and freesia perfume.

She used to buy Christmas presents in the January sales, so about a month after she died I got the present she'd been keeping for me all year - a Parker pen, because she knew I wanted to be a journalist.

I was 15 when she died and because I had the blessing of knowing her well she's still with me. And when I see stories like that of Emma Winnall, a great-grandmother beaten almost to death in her own bed, I know exactly what she would have said.

She would have said that Emma didn't see herself as old, or frail, or want to be a pain to anyone else. She would have said that this 93-year-old lady felt no different on the inside than she had as a girl, even when her body let her down and needed a pacemaker and two replacement hips.

She would have said that the reason Emma was beaten senseless, leaving her with a fractured skull, broken arm and wrist, and partially severed finger, was because there was someone, somewhere, who didn't have a grandmother of their own.

And she would say the deeper cause was the disgusting way we treat our older citizens.

She would be horrified that the number of elderly patients who die with bedsores had risen 50 per cent in a decade to 27,000 in 2010. She'd be appalled that four, generally old, people die of dehydration and starvation on our wards every day because they are left to feed and water themselves and cannot do so. And she'd be worried that hospital she used to visit closed down a long time ago, and its patients now have to fend for themselves.

She'd point out older people are nearly a fifth of the population, that the number of people over 85 has doubled since 1985, and that they have electoral power if only they want to seize it.

She'd say that we're all going to need looking after one day and unlike our leaders would try to come up with suggestions for a way to fund it, to keep people working if they want to, to stop people losing their homes and the rest of society losing respect for those who came before us.

But more than anything else, I think she'd say that she was glad she wasn't here any more.

If she was, she'd be about the same age as Emma Winnall - which is 16 on the inside.


* There is a £5,000 reward to help catch Emma's attacker. Anyone with information can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

EDIT: Emma passed away on May 28 as a result of the injuries she sustained. The investigation is now being treated as a murder inquiry.