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

Friday, 21 December 2012

You have a choice...

... between reading my verdict on the Leveson Inquiry for Press Gazette, or remembering the dark side of Christmas for the Daily Mirror.

Alternatively you can read both; it's not like you're busy, after all.

Have a good Christmas and I'll speak to you soon.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

We're watching you.

I WAS on a mini-roundabout in Plymouth when my phone beeped.

The traffic was jammed so I looked at the text message, which said that Nasty Nick had left the Big Brother house.

Even though it was twelve years ago, even though it was utterly trivial, that news seemed so momentous at the time that I can still remember where I was, what I was doing, and how I pulled over to excitedly ring my friend and find out what she knew.

That was the first series of Big Brother, when those taking part had no idea anyone might be watching them and it felt like half the nation was fascinated by Nasty Nick's underhand voting tactics, Melanie's flirtations with Andrew and Tom, Darren's terror of the chickens, lesbian ex-nun Anna (A lesbian! On telly!) and scouser Craig doing it all to raise money for a cousin with Down's Syndrome.

For those who have forgotten, the events of that series were splashed on by the country's most popular newspapers almost every day. Even though no-one had seen such a thing before, it had phenomenal ratings and 10million people tuned in to the final.

This was the start of modern celebrity, and they didn't all like it. Andrew emigrated to Australia, where I walked into a wall when I spotted him in a Sydney street about a year later. Darren disappeared, Sada reportedly turned to waitressing, Melanie did some presenting and naked body-painter Nichola released a single and is, well, keeping busy (NSFW).

In the years that followed, the contestants were of such interest to the public they could guarantee newspaper sales spikes. When a girl famed for saying "I love blinking, I do", left the second series the bidding war for her first interview hit £200,000.

That's not done for fun - it was because the newspapers and magazines bidding expected to make more than that in extra sales and advertising. Agents and publicists pile in and drive it as high as they can, and editors weigh up the bid with what they get out of it.

Not any more. A while ago a friend told me how they answered the newsdesk phone on a national paper to find the latest Big Brother evictee on the other end, asking politely if they were interested in his story for £200.

"Sorry mate, you'd need to pay us," he was told. "Who are you again?"

Big Brother today is not something anyone is going to excitedly text me about, much less make me remember where I was when it landed. It doesn't provoke newspaper bidding wars, is seen mainly as a vehicle for the mentally-frail and fame-hungry, and draws less than a million viewers.

Earlier this week it was reported the latest series was Ofcom's most-complained about TV programme of the entire year. This stopped me in my tracks, because whatever it had done I hadn't noticed even though it had pushed Philip Schofield's use of Google into second place.

It turned out a contestant called Conor McIntyre had threatened to punch and sexually assault a female housemate, Deana Uppal, sparking more than a thousand complaints. In all 2,088 complaints were lodged against the show, which when it is watched by so few is quite an achievement.

Now, that's obviously a shocking bit of telly, and worth complaining about. But had it happened in an earlier series it would be national news - today, few of us know anything about the people involved and care even less.

The one part of the brand which still commands some interest - and a couple of million viewers - is the celebrity version, because mentally-frail fame-hungry wannabes are easier to loathe when they made their Faustian pact decades earlier.

We've had Vanessa's meltdown, Les Dennis looking sad, George Galloway in a leotard, Jade Goody horrifying everyone, Sly Stallone's mum and Vinnie Jones. It's never done much to reinvigorate a failing showbiz career, but it has given one or two people a slower descent into obscurity.

In recent weeks there has been much talk of convicted domestic abuser Justin Lee Collins being offered and then turning down a place on the show, which sparked a fair bit of anger, an online petition from relatives of the woman he harassed, and some much-needed publicity for the show.

But it's now clear he didn't have a cat in hell's chance of appearing, not because he was an aggressive, bullying abuser recently notorious for being convicted of the same, but because the show's producers had someone else in mind.

Step forward Jim Davidson, a comedian who in his heyday made Bernard Manning look thoughtful and, if his third wife Alison Holloway is to be believed, would make Conan the Barbarian look like a pussycat.

Her claims were quite devastating, and the man recently apologised for his racist and homophobic jokes and admitted his abuse of drugs and booze as part of an effort to reinvent himself.

He's got a right to do that, if he wants to. People are allowed to change their ways. He's not been convicted of abusing Alison, so we need to be nicer to him than to Lee Collins who was accused of doing less physical damage.

But that doesn't mean we have to like him. There are plenty of people who, despite the absence of a criminal record, consider him and his views beyond the pale, and it's unlikely many of the mainly-young CBB audience will warm to a fat, middle-aged old git even if they're ignorant of his reputation.

That he's on the television at all leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, but there is one positive to be gained from this washed-up old toad entering the Big Brother house, aside from the possibility they might just lock the door once he's in and call it a day.

It is that, in the absence of any woman taking him to court, of any rumours being proven to be true, or of him saying something of the kind he used to and getting arrested for it, it might just be possible to savour the deserved demise of an unpleasant showbusiness career and see it finally nailed into its coffin.

When there has not been any other kind of justice, the sort where a once-national star is reduced to a less-than-popular show and ringing up newspapers offering his own story for a handful of tenners is the best that we are left with.

Big Brother has turned from widespread and innocent fascination with human behaviour into the minority sport of malicious celebrity schadenfreude. It is a shame we cannot watch people without wishing them ill, but if we have to watch anyone then people who deserve a bit of ill are, I suppose, the best contestants.

So I will watch, and if it all ends badly for him I will not bother to remember where I was when I heard about it.

More phut-phut than boom-boom, sunshine.





Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Silly (adj.): Absurd, ridiculous, irrational.

WELL, I'm confused.

I knew where I was when we were plebs. I was quite happy to be one of the proles, a peasant, a pain in the posh boys' backside.

Whether we like it or not humans do want to know their place. That's why newspapers use the ages, jobs, and a description of the houses and cars of people they write about - so that The Reader can label the person, and slot them into the 'Just Like Me', 'Just Like My Sister' or 'Just Annoying' categories we don't like to admit we all have.

Knowing your place doesn't mean you're happy with it, or that your place is better or worse than someone else's. It's just a mechanism for working out who we do and don't like, and the Plebgate scandal did that quite nicely.

When Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell left work in September and got angry with police officers who wouldn't open the Downing Street main gates for his bicycle, there weren't many people on his side.

An uppity cyclist is easy to dislike. A suited man in bicycle clips is a pleasure to mock. Anyone other than a witch with a basket on the front of their bike is frankly a joy to poke fun at.

On top of that this was a top Tory, a rich, privately-educated millionaire ex-banker, angry at being made to follow the rules everyone else has to abide by. For us plebs, this was karma at work in the land.

He effed and blinded at the officers guarding the gate, and two days later parts of the police log of the incident were released reporting he had called them "f***ing plebs", said "you don't run this f***ing government", "best you learn your f***ing place", and finally "I'll have your f***ing job for this".

Well. It was already brilliant but when they heard those details, both the peasants and the papers rubbed their hands and waited for his inevitable, and highly pleasurable, fall from grace.

He handled it badly, gave a carefully-worded apology, admitting swearing but denying use of the word pleb, and hoped it would all die down.

It didn't, for the simple reason that after years of opposition and then government by people from very privileged backgrounds and public sector cuts we all felt like they thought we were plebs. It fit into our categories for people.

The PM called in the CCTV footage of the incident, and pronounced it inconclusive. Then a few days after the incident an email from a member of the public appeared to back up the police claims, and Thrasher Mitchell's demise became merely a matter of time.

He hung on for a while, but when the MPs he was supposed to discipline rebelled, his position became untenable. Some even said they had been victim to similar, sweary tirades.

And now Mr Mitchell says the whole thing was rot.

He has been able to get the CCTV footage, journalists have tracked down the 'member of the public' who now appears to be a serving police officer, and someone's been arrested. All, it is clear, is not quite as it seemed.

So where does that leave us plebs? Adrift, to be frank. We no longer know for sure whether or not we are plebs, or whether 'they' think we are plebs, and whether we ought to like the posh banker boy. There is even the unpalatable possibility that we plebs ought to say sorry to the chap with the bicycle, and that he's actually been quite hard done-by.

But one part of that story falling down does not erase the rest of it, any more than a tile slipping off a roof makes your house collapse. Sometimes it could be a sign the whole thing is shoddy, and other times it is just one, easily-fixed tile.

Mr Mitchell still admits swearing at police officers. That's still something most of us would get nicked for, if we did it.

The CCTV doesn't look like a serious confrontation, but we all know it's possible to have an argument by hissing and Mr Mitchell seems the sort of buttoned-up individual who would huff and swear rather than scuffle or gesticulate. The video is, as it always was, inconclusive.

It does prove bits of the police log were wrong - there were no "members of the public" who were "visibly shocked", in fact there seems to be just one bloke who was mildly interested. It makes you wonder how much of it was embellished in a similar way, but at the same time coppers aren't the best writers. Logs are all about proceeding northwards and Caucasian males, and an officious plod might well decide that one earwigging tourist constitutes a shocked member of the public.

The corroborating email seems to be fiction, but it's more than likely it and its writer will be examined in court in due course and that's the only place where we'll find out why and how it was written. If it gets to trial he's entitled to a fair one, even if police and politicians are leaking about it for their own ends, and just because it is false does not mean the central accusation is as well.

The truly damaging thing about the Plebgate scandal is not the detail of what was said - although of course, without that, it's the Gategate scandal - but the way it was handled.

Mr Mitchell admitted swearing at policemen as though it were acceptable, and it's not. He fudged an apology while looking as apologetic as an irate duke who's caught a serf touching his boot, and just as as livid. People have demanded he get his job back but he's still a silly, angry, uptight man who refused to walk his bike through a gate and swore at a copper - that's the basic reason he lost his job, and it hasn't changed.

The CCTV doesn't show a damn thing more now than it did then, and the government had this email and spoke to the person who wrote it at the time, without finding out he was apparently a policeman.

Let me say that again - the GOVERNMENT couldn't find that out, and they employ him! Did it not cross their minds to put his name into the computer? Does this mean they don't have a computer? Could I write a letter and pretend to be the Queen and they wouldn't know any different?

It's really easy to spot a copper. They tuck their shirts in, and have short hair and shiny faces. I can spot one twenty foot away in a darkened bar when I'm hammered. If the people running the country can't do better then I wouldn't trust them to run a tap.

Policeman are not really a political bunch, either. Rank and file officers regard politicians as something  they'd rather avoid, like a week of night shifts, and the chances of some bothering to conceive a conspiracy in order to "toxify the Conservative party" as Mr Mitchell dramatically claims are slim at best.

Which leaves us with the conclusion that something distasteful and pleb-like probably happened, was more a hissy fit than a rant, got backed up by someone who should have stayed out of it, and people on all sides are using it to score points. The police have wound up arguing with the government, and that's always messy, especially when the Prime Minister's chums are due to stand trial soon.

And it's all embellishment, really - everything here is decoration on top of the main point, which is that a silly man did a silly thing and was made to look too silly to do his job. That hasn't changed.

It might not have happened to the rest of us, but then the good thing about being a pleb is that you can get away with being silly.

If you run the country, on the other hand... well. You can argue the point, but once silliness sets in the more you fight it the sillier you look, like a businessman who slips on a banana skin and then slips on it repeatedly every time he tries to get up.

Let the courts and time clear Mr Mitchell's name, if needs be. He'll never get to the truth for the simple reason he won't want to see it - which is that he'd be a lot happier if he was a pleb, just like us.
It's only an insult if you mind.


Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Setting the world to rights.

THE Queen attended a Cabinet meeting today, and promptly dissolved the Government.

Her Majesty announced a return to an absolute monarchy with herself in control of all the arms of state, saying: "Anything is better than this shower."

Her first move was to order social services to place Romeo Beckham in care after it transpired his parents had allowed the 10-year-old to take part in an international modelling campaign wearing specially-adapted adult clothes to make him look like a proto-Declan Donnelly.


She said: "Even I've heard about Macaulay Culkin. It can't end well, get the poor mite out of there."

The Queen listened to a long lecture on the economy, the right track, the wrong track, deficits and borrowings from her Chancellor Gideon Osborne before growing exasperated and sending him to his room without any tea.

In his place she installed personal finance expert Martin Lewis, who issued every citizen with a series of money-off vouchers and pledged to make the banks pay annual bonuses to each customer. The move was greeted by an influx of people opening new bank accounts and was given a cautious welcome by the City as a result.

Pippa Middleton's bum was granted Grade-II listed status and declared a national monument, while Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins was installed as Minister for Drinking Culture, Media and Sport.

Prince Philip suggested marrying Pippa to grandson Prince Harry "to keep it in the family and distract the plebs", and the Queen is believed to be considering the match.

Gay marriage was outlawed in case Prince Edward had any bright ideas, the police officer arrested over leaking details of the Plebgate scandal was made an OBE, and Universal Credit reforms were extended to include a slice of cake for all the poor people once a week.

A group of ne'er do wells was rounded up by vicious corgis and loaded into a container for shipment to America, in order to cement the special relationship and provide target practice for disaffected  youths.

Abu Qatada and Ian Brady joined domestic abusers Jim Davidson, Dennis Waterman and Justin Lee Collins for the long and inevitably fatal sea voyage, while the likes of Helen Flanagan, Keith Vaz, and Geri Halliwell were placed in internment camps for re-education. Gary Barlow was told to be quiet.

The Queen immediately cancelled a contract allowing disgraced Olympic security firm G4S to run a phone line helping to explain benefit reforms, and called a halt to plans to charge people who run out of money to use 'budgeting products' designed by the private sector.

Her Majesty went on to make a public address, saying: "I've put up with this crap for long enough.

"I didn't mind Churchill. I tolerated Eden. And don't get me started on Wilson and Blair.

"But in recent weeks it has come to my attention that things are entirely posterior-about-face. First they showed me all my gold, and then they took it away.


"Next I was invited to a Cabinet meeting and as a token of their regard I was given some place mats.

"I told them that I have entertained heads of state for 60 years and I have banqueting accessories coming out of my bloody ears. I said never mind the last queen got India and the one before her had America, never mind I am used to getting diamonds and racehorses, but if they couldn't manage that a simple pair of gloves would at least be useful. They said I could have a bit of Antarctica, and looked at me like I was the idiot!

"To add insult to injury they simpered about changing the laws of succession so Wills' daughter could claim the throne, without apparently noticing firstly a woman was already their boss and secondly without me there were 21 men and two women at the table and it's them who need to change.

"What a bunch of cretins. We're better orf without them. Happy Christmas to all in my Commonwealth. It's mine! ALL MINE!"

 "Dave. This is my house now."

Monday, 17 December 2012

The Newtown massacre...

... is the topic of today's column, which can be read on the Daily Mirror website here.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Today...

... I've turned Foxtradamus to make some predictions about what will happen after the end of the world next Friday, which you can read on the Daily Mirror website here.

Basically, it's bad news for Justin Bieber.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

A Tory Christmas Carol.

'TWAS the night before Christmas, when all through the flat
Not a creature was stirring, because they can't afford gas;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that some presents would simply appear;

The children slept benefit-free in their beds
While visions of sexting danced in their heads;
And mamma in her onesie and I with cheap booze
Had just settled down for a long winter's snooze,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter
I sprang from the sofa to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Fell over the tree and smashed my head on the sash.

The moon shining down on the cold icy ground
Showed the six recycling bins 'pon which I frowned
Then, what should my starry eyes see,
But a miniature Bentley, and eight bitching MPs,

With a publicly-funded driver armed with a stick,
I knew in a moment it was Iain Duncan Smith.
More rapid than eagles his outriders they came,
And he whistled and shouted, and called them by name:

"Rant THRASHER! Rave DORRIES! Gnash, GOVE and GIDEON!
Smear, GRAYLING! Lie, STUPID! Spin, BONE and PICKLES!
To the top of the stairwell! To the top of their wall!
Now smash away! Smash away! Smash away all!"

Like publicly-funded gravy trains can fly,
And if meet with objection do rant live on Sky,
So up to the rooftop the MPs they flew,
With the car full of that damned Duncan Smith too.

And then in a twinkling I heard on the roof
Their prancing and pawing and a series of 'OOF's.
As I drew in my head and was turning around,
Down the cold chimney IBS came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all garnished in diamonds and loot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a millionaire, which he was for a fact.

His eyes - how they twinkled! His dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up in a grin,
A happier rich git you never have seen.

I was hungry and tired, so gritted my teeth,
And stopped myself killing him with our Lidl Christmas wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was self-righteous and plump, a right annoying sight,
And snuck out some figures on a cold Monday night;
He said that to help people like us more,
He was taking £137 a month from the hard-working poor;

He spoke not a word but went straight to his work,
Took all the stockings and taxed my beer, what a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up our dead chimney he rose;

He sprang to his Bentley, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like they'd sat on a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight:

"Universal Credit will help you be more independent,
And will simplify the benefits system by making it redundant,
Paying fewer people less with one simple move,
Teaching you all that there's nothing you can prove,

"If you're sick, sacked or caring, I don't give a toss,
If you're part-time or parents or widowed - you're dross;
I'll stop all your money, disabled or not,
And if you don't die I'll just let you rot.

"You should be rich, don't you see,
Because then just like loan sharks you'd be totally free!
No taxes, no trouble, and an unmandated right
To shout: 'STUFF CHRISTMAS YOU PLEBS, AND HAVE A GOOD NIGHT!

Balls to you all.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Time waits for no man.

IT'S so easy to forget the date sometimes.

I mean, you always know what day of the week it is, or at least roughly which bit of the week you're in. Even if you wake up face down in a field wearing a clown costume you can tell this must be the weekend, or a Monday morning because Monday mornings are always bad.

But if in the future someone invented time travel and misprogrammed the flux capacitor so that they found themselves in Reigate right now, they wouldn't know what year it was.

They could wander around and work out from the temperature it was winter, and from the clothes it was some point after petticoats went out of fashion, but if they picked up a newspaper (completely ignoring the date printed on the front) and had a little read they wouldn't know when they were.

On the one hand it seems to be the 1970s, with football hooligans wreaking havoc, tossing coins at mixed race football players, being racist and generally making the beautiful game the kind of war zone we all thought was long past.

Elsewhere it looks like some time before Magna Carta, because a man convicted of rape who served his sentence and should have been released in 2002 has, instead, been in jail ever since. Stuff Habeas Corpus, we now lock up people for the crime of being from a country we think we're too nice to send them back to.

Then we've got children playing the age-old game of 'you show me yours and I'll show you mine' apparently infected by something not unlike the plague of 1348 with an epidemic of sexting sweeping the nations' schools and perverting everyone under the age of 12.

On top of all that the ruling class are lining their own pockets and writing their own rules about how that is allowed while at the same time demanding everyone else be open, transparent, genuinely accountable and independently regulated.

The government are trying to bring in a spy network that would have made Elizabeth I raise her eyebrows while outlawing the poor in a way she'd have been quite impressed by. Gropey men who may have earned slap from a grown woman in 1982 are being investigated by police probing a paedophile scandal no-one, but no-one, has yet been able to explain.

A Muslim man who's not been convicted of anything has been forced to leave his home, new census data is going to be used to herald the end of Britain as we know it and there seems to be serious discussion about whether gays are human beings.

I get confused about what year we're in all the time, so heaven knows what a misdirected time traveller would think. I suppose if you take an average it's probably somewhere in the 17th century, although whether it's before we revolted or after we decided to cancel all the fun I couldn't hazard a guess.

But then if we're feeling the effects of Puritanism before we've had the Civil War that would mean we're going backwards through time, which would at least explain Ashley Cole.

Unfortunately Einstein's not here to explain how that would work, and as we've long reversed past the time of his birth he's not about to reappear and help us figure it out. In fact science-wise we're probably about to start relying on plants.

So what do we do? Give up, and drift about on the sands of time as history endlessly repeats itself, pundits reheat the outrage they first served up a decade ago, and people wail and wheel from one disaster to another like peasants unable to scratch their own name in the dirt?

It's a radical thought but we could always tell ourselves it's the 21st century, and wise the hell up.

We could decide that if our children need mobile phones it's up to their parents to turn off picture messaging on the account which they're in charge of. Sexting's only an epidemic if children are paying their own bills; until then, it's just parents being inept.

We could wonder why children talk about sex earlier than they used to, and perhaps the answer would be because the adults all talk about it more as well. If you want the offspring not to look at porn, ask for or send pictures or treat each other as objects then it might be an idea to see how much of that seems to be normal to adults, and whether it is quietly noted by smaller people.

We could start acting like football is a fairly simple game, that it's not for racist, stupid, drunken, coin-throwing, pitch-invading, swearing and abusive idiots and that it would, frankly, be better without a lot of the footballers, too.

We could prosecute MPs whose actions seem to most people to constitute fraud, only lock up criminals proved beyond all reasonable doubt to deserve it, chillax about skin colour and realise that the definition of marriage has changed significantly over the years along with procreation. By law churches have to marry anyone who asks, with the right to opt out in cases such as divorced couples, and gay marriage would be no different. If they want to marry and the vicar wants to do it no-one from the 21st century gives much of a toss.

But then all that would involve acting like grown-ups, travelling in a forward motion, evolving as a result of our mistakes and getting wiser every day.

The fact we've been doing that quite successfully for millions of years appears to be no reason to continue, even though as a direct result we have fountain pens and Hob Nobs and drugs that stop cancer.

There may be some things about the modern world you don't like, humanity, but the trouble with going backwards is that eventually you reverse into the swamp on your hands and knees.

 Rather you than me.













Monday, 10 December 2012

My guide on how to survive...

... the Christmas party season, using science and eggs and Olympic-style training techniques, can be read on the Daily Mirror website here.

Remember to limber up first!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Today's blog...

... is about why wealth and fame are not all they're cracked up to be, and can be read on the Daily Mirror website here.

Sweet dreams x

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

I'm a Royal - Get Me Out Of Here!

IT'S TWINS!

It's a boy! It's a girl! She's eight weeks, six weeks, ten weeks gone! He's tense, he wears trainers, he smiles. It'll last for two weeks or the whole pregnancy, she doesn't want an army of nannies but might have one or two, newspapers have chosen the godparents and bookies have picked the name!

We've known Kate is pregnant for about five minutes and despite the fact the embryo has fewer cells than Lewisham nick it's already driven the planet dotty.

Several people have announced they knew she was pregnant when she cut her hair. Others presume that Kate would want or appreciate the congratulations of convicted girl band thugs. And apparently her greatest challenge won't be the vomiting or the childbirth, it will be what to wear for the next eight months.

I'm sure we can all imagine her, propped up in a hospital bed on a drip but with still-glossy hair, flicking casually through swatches and planning her wardrobe, with occasional breaks for a ladylike retch into a silver spittoon held by a bewigged footman.

COME ON. She's green at the gills, terrified and no-one's done her hair for a week! She can't keep water down, is barely used to the idea of being pregnant herself and if she's managed to focus one eye out the window to see the TV cameras outside is probably coming to terms with the fact that her plumbing will be a matter of international fascination for the duration.

In her shoes I'd be weighing up hysterectomies and running off to live in a cave somewhere.

And don't go blaming all this bonkersness on newspapers. Yes, there's been more words written about something which hasn't even drawn breath yet than are probably in all of Shakespeare's plays, and yes a fair number of them are barking mad, calling for Charles to step aside, predicting what the 22nd century will be like and agonising over who gets to pick the heir if it's twins and there's a Caesarean.

But stick your head into any pub, coffee shop or office and much the same insane speculation is going on. Have a look at the internet, if you dare, where chat forums and comment boards which at the best of times are a psychoanalyst's nightmare have managed, somehow, to get more mad.

This is a nation which, by and large, disdains the idea that one person can be born better than others. Black or white, rich or poor, the British prefer a spot of equality, the right to speak and be heard, and think those who rise above the common herd need to earn it.

Yet here you all are getting feverish about a baby which if it survives will be the scion of a German-Dutch ruling dynasty which genuinely believes, if you read the small print, to have been chosen by God, enjoys immense unearned privilege, and that they own all the swans.

If you want mad, that's a reasonable definition right there. Another would be a nation of grown-ups going along with the whole thing, and a third would be arguing that we should pick the most suitable member of the family to wear the crown because the next one in line isn't pretty enough. Monarchies don't work that way!

At the same time a man of quite reasonable privilege himself is going to stand up in the House of Commons today and announce more spending cuts because he's got his sums wrong. We'll be told that people who don't work and live off the state are abhorrent while at the same time the Duchess of Cambridge should be applauded for producing someone who's going to spend their whole life on benefits.

Now, let's not be mean. Good luck to the little sprat because it's going to need it. Maybe the monarchy will implode before it gets to rule and maybe he or she will be the greatest figurehead our nation's ever known. Kate's a sweet enough girl, although I wish like hell she'd had a job and a life and an opinion or two to call her own.

No the problem here is billions of people - not just Britain but all over the planet - thinking this is firstly wonderful, and secondly part of their own lives.

It's not wonderful a woman without any obvious character traits - positive or negative - is held up as an example for others to follow. It's not amazing the only thing people can think of to write about her is what she will wear or do with her hair. It's sad, it's depressing, it's teaching young girls that what they do and think doesn't matter.

And while it's understandable other expectant couples, or parents who've had the same worry at such early stages, would identify with a high-profile pair experiencing the same gut-churning fear it doesn't mean you know them.

It's the fact people identified so closely with, and took to their hearts, the young Princess Elizabeth when she became queen at 25 that meant her family was seen as our family, with all the attention and gossip about private matters which comes with it. Her coronation was the first to be televised, she speaks to us all at Christmas, we got invited to her children's weddings and watched their divorces unfold.

There were daughters-in-law we liked and some we didn't, there are grandchildren who seem more worthwhile than the others, and with a Royal Family treated like a soap opera not just by newspapers but on television, at their own public appearances and by millions of obsessed fans all over the planet we have created modern celebrities from an outdated system of, face it, tyranny.

That celebrity, and the crazed flower-chucking, name-squealing, fainting delight that it brings to many, is probably the only reason we still have kings and queens at all. We would no more choose to get rid of the shiny-haired, white-toothed rich people we enjoy imagining we have something in common with than we would have decommissioned Dallas had that decision been ours to make.

Kate is no different to Pam Barnes - seen as being a bit common and upstart by the family of oil barons she married into, but from a pretty wealthy family herself well above the common herd, and more importantly a sweet heroine until you wonder why she was so thick as to get involved with the Ewings in the first place.

The difference is that a real soap opera can be turned off, we can obsess about the actors who play the parts in the knowledge they have sought and exploited fame, and they can't do us any harm. A royal family consists of people who don't always appreciate the attention and who didn't all choose it, and they can't turn it off any more than we can.

They talk to prime ministers, fire off letters to members of the Cabinet, and manage to send half the planet mad with a wave of their hand.

Perhaps that's all fine if they're overseen by a kind Miss Ellie but anyone who gave JR that kind of power would have to be insane.

And the thing with babies - and monarchs - is that you don't get to choose.

You get what you're given.




Monday, 3 December 2012

Consume or try.

IT'S that time of year again.

The season when we are urged to spend money we don't have on things we don't want while eating food we don't like and living with the people we don't like enough to live with all the time.

But before we get to enjoy the hot waft of partially-digested sprouts, the forced jollity of an exchange of slippers (with the receipt, just in case) and quite possibly the driest roasted meat it's possible to be faced with, there is the festive shopping spree.

Not that the spree is of anyone actually shopping. No, the spree that always sprays at this time of year is the PR blitz of businesses talking themselves and their products up as much as possible so people will buy them.

The 'must-have toy' fetish; the 'ONLY TWENTY DAYS LEFT' terror.

Let's forget the fact we've had a double-dip recession, all the new jobs the government's been crowing about are part-time and thanks to exceeding our borrowing again we're about to face more public sector cuts and a tax relief raid on pensions.

Let's entirely ignore the past two years in which we've been told repeatedly that as a nation we've lived beyond our means, as individuals we've relied on an inflated housing market, credit cards and loans, and let's spend, spend, spend.

For today is Cyber Monday, or Mega Monday, or whatever other name PRs wish to give the first Monday of December, when if you believe the hype £10,000 will be spent online every second visiting 115million stores and spending £465million.

Let's not notice the fact that Visa - which administers the majority of UK credit and debit transactions online - says its customers will be making 6.8m transactions, which means either online shoppers buy less than 10 per cent of what they look at or the hype is, er, just hype.

And let's especially not notice the entirely-unrelated-to-the-hype recent scandals about how the biggest online shopping giants don't pay all the tax their customers might imagine they do, and that there have been calls to boycott Amazon and eBay as a result.

The two things are probably entirely unrelated, like sprouts and peas. Just because they're round and green doesn't mean they spring from the same branch. The same is true of tax-avoiding corporations winding up the PR campaign to make them sound popular after several months of bad publicity, because to be frank they do the same thing every Christmas.

Not linked at all - just very convenient, like shifting your head office to Luxembourg.

It's all a matter of jurisdictions and theoretical, nominated thingummybobs which means it's not the company's fault if they pay less than you might expect - it's down to the way the system is organised.

Like Amazon generating between £2billion and £3bn a year in sales in the UK but paying no corporation tax in this country, and eBay paying about one fiftieth of the tax it probably owed (but we don't really know for sure, because they don't tell us). Not their fault, but ours for not picking politicians prepared to tear up the tax code and start again.

And if they make billions - well, that's our fault too. It's because it's too dark, cold and busy to go to the shops and actually walk around them, interacting with other human beings, sniffing the roasted chestnuts and returning home victorious with the booty we have personally checked wasn't broken, would actually fit and was the right colour, or had to fight a granny to get our hands on.

We'd far rather sit at home on a branded laptop looking at the top three search results from the biggest firms and buy something which takes zero effort or thought and is delivered to the door pre-wrapped. All we have to do is shuffle from the sofa to pick it up, stick it under the tree and if it's broken, too pink or too small we'll just send it back in the New Year at our own expense.

And because of that the gravy and the potatoes and the brandy butter sit on our backsides and bellies and we expand while the High Street is starved, with one in seven shops which do pay corporation tax boarded up and 32 closing down every day, their staff on the dole and the tax receipts winking out of existence as warehouses sprawl across industrial estates and we sprawl upon the sofa.

Christmas, unless you're about seven, is hell on a stick to start with. It's farts and fights and fannying about with fruit, and it really doesn't need to be made any worse by contributing to our own financial woes by giving what little cash we have to people who give us a more convenient but unutterably more drab shopping 'experience' at the expense of giving us anything much in return.

When we all get fat and stuck in our chairs like the human exiles of Wall-E, remember that when we need the help of the welfare system it won't exist if our corporations all shift online and headquarter themselves in the Cayman Islands, and if we keep clicking that's exactly what they'll do.

We won't get a state-funded rocket ship, flying chairs or personal TV screens. We'll just get left on that sofa, with only the pizza delivery man to chat to.

Stuff Mega Monday like it's a turkey you really resent. Write a list, get off your arse, and get down the shops.

Granny will get the Lego set if you don't.