Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.
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Thursday 28 February 2013

FOR SALE: One Pontiff, barely used.

THE POPE walked into the JobCentre.

Everyone ignored him, which was unusual. Two women were shouting at each other, lots of people looked worried and sad, and a man with an unhappy Staffordshire bull terrier just stared.

The Pope stood there for a bit, and when he realised a cardinal was not going to help said to the man with the terrier: "I would like to see someone."

The man with the terrier pointed with his head at a machine dispensing numbers on bits of paper but said nothing.

The Pope took a number. It had slightly too many sixes in it. He sat down.

Three hours later, the Pope had learned lots of new swear words and overheard things which made him think the British welfare state was rather slower and poorer than he'd been led to believe. His number was called, and he went over to a desk and sat down.

A woman tapping at a computer threw him a clipboard without glancing in his direction. "Fill that in," she said, pointing at a form.

The Pope used a biro tied to the clipboard with a chain and handed the clipboard back. The woman read the form.

"Are you taking the piss?"

"I'm sorry?"


"Is there something wrong?"


"Yes. I am fluent in German, French, English, Italian, Spanish, Portugese and Latin, and I can read Ancient Greek and Biblical Hebrew. Also, I am not deaf."

"And which of those languages did you fill the form out in?"

"Oh. Latin. Sorry, force of habit."

The woman sighed and tapped at her computer. "You're down here as... Mr Joseph Ratzinger, yes?"

"Oh I'm known as Benny these days."

"I'll need proof of your change of name to update our system. Please send two forms of ID to this office, passport and driving licence normally do."

"Oh. I don't think I have any of those."

"Well you'll have to stay as you are then. Now, how can I help you, Joe?"

"I need a job."

"Everyone here needs a job. Haven't you retired, you're what..." more tapping... "...85 years old."

"Well sort of, and I was expecting a nice retirement home with some cardinals to look after me and my every need catered for, but it turns out my pension was all put in RBS rather than British Gas as I'd hoped."

"If you need an emergency loan I can give you the number of a call centre it will take you two weeks to get through to, and details of some online forms you will need to devote a few days to downloading, filling out by hand and putting in the post."

"Is that your idea of an emergency? Anyway, I don't really like the internet."

"It's an important skill to have in the current jobs market. So. What are your skills?"

"I'm good at languages."

"We don't have jobs for air stewards at the moment. Anything else?"

"Oh, shame. I led an organisation with about 417,000 employees and 1.16billion customers, daily increased by a growth strategy which involved banning them from using contraception or being gay. We had revenue of over $355million a year, have 177million hectares of land around the world, and own 15 per cent of all shares traded on the Italian stock exchange."

"And you were the boss of all that."

"Oh no. I was just picked by the boss to run it day-to-day. I had a car, though, and a nice hat."

"I'll put you down as 'line manager'. Did you enjoy it?"

"Sometimes the sun shone, there was a gentle breeze and an abundance of fish, but there were times when the sea was rough and the wind against us, and the boss seemed to be sleeping."

"Oooookay, well, let's look at our current vacancies and see what might suit. There's nothing in fisheries I'm afraid. Um, they're looking for a replacement for Tulisa on the X Factor. It'd be between you and Robbie Williams. Fancy that?"

"I'm always happy to replace a female boss, but the big man's told me to steer clear of that Cowell chap. He fell, apparently."

"Well, how about being the new leader of the Liberal Democrats? It's a much smaller organisation of course but they've got a strange sort of sex scandal and perhaps an older, dignified and experienced man like you could sort it out for them."

"Oh. Oh dear. Well, I'm not very experienced at that sort of thing. And besides there was a bit of a sex scandal at my last place too."

"Really? What happened?"

"Absolutely nothing. What's the next vacancy?"

"They need a new MP for Eastleigh. The last one was a millionaire adulterer who liked bisexuals and driving too fast, and disliked admitting things. You're probably over-qualified for that one. How about looking after a lovely young couple's new baby? They'll need a nanny come July."

"I'm not qualified to work with children. Anything else?"

"I've another vacancy here, it doesn't have much of a description. It just says 'would you like to f*** Jason Manford?'


"I'll take that as a 'no'. We're not doing very well, are we? OK, last one. Someone's looking for two people, preferably a couple, to go to Mars on a 16 month space mission. You'll be living in a tin can and sharing a very complicated toilet."

"Hmm. I'll ask Keith. He probably wants to go away for a bit."

"Well that's the last I've got I'm afraid. There might be a job coming up at the Treasury soon, your financial experience might come in useful there, but they haven't got round to making the necessary redundancies yet."

"Oh. Well I'm afraid that despite my organisation's vast wealth and massive customer base we often ran at a loss. Our investments failed to return what we thought, we spent twice as much as we earned last year, and we suffered the effects of the global financial crisis like everyone else. There were dodgy dealings and accounts shrouded in secrecy, too many bureaucrats, and after eight years in charge I left it in a worse financial state than when I'd found it."

The woman rolled her eyes. "Well, why didn't you say? We can get you in at the Royal Bank of Scotland, no problem! They love that sort of thing. You'll even get a bonus."

"Really? Keith will be pleased. Is there a hat?"

"You won't like what they do to the hats."

"If they'll have me, I'm in."

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Watching the detectives.

MISS Marple was an arrogant cow.

Hercule Poirot was an interfering little twit. Sam Spade had zero qualifications. And Sherlock Holmes? TOSSER.

Each was a self-appointed detective, and because they were fictional got away with poking around murder scenes, annoying the police and spotting the poisoner in ways that real human beings would be barred from even trying.

In real life, they'd be running the local Neighbourhood Watch, bombarding the local councillors with Freedom of Information requests, and boring the socks off everyone in the pub.

Yesterday Nick Clegg, who in the great liberal tradition wants an end to a free press, found himself on the back foot over a sex scandal which does not involve any sex but which nevertheless has mired him in claims of a cover-up and a leadership crisis.

So he did what everyone does when they're on the rough end of journalistic enquiry, which is to complain about the journalists rather than whatever it is they're looking at.

He said: "There are many people who want to appear as self-appointed detectives trying to piece together events that happened many years ago. But the only way that we are going to get to the bottom of the truth, the only way we are going to ensure that the women... are properly listened to, the only way we are going to establish exactly what happened and who knew what and when, is by allowing the two investigations that I established... to do their job."

Which is a flowery way of saying 'hey, a scandal about whether I knew one of my mates was a sex pest is best investigated by me, not you, now naff off you pesky little proles'.

It also makes him sound a lot like Inspector Slack dismissively telling Miss Marple not to worry her little head about things. So let's do what Miss Marple would, and put our heads on one side, purse our lips, and say: "Really?"

Because the thing about self-appointed detectives, and the journalists Cleggy was having a pop at, is that we are ordinary citizens. We are not different, or special, nor given any extra rights to information, although it is different for our American cousins.

As such, if you crack down, stop, abuse, regulate, bully, control, or complain about the nosiness of reporters you are actually doing all those things to everyone else as well. Because not only are we trained hacks no different in law to the rest of the country, but - much as it pains me to say this - we are all journalists now.

If you have a blog, if you tweet, or update your Facebook status, you are publishing information. It might be trivial and silly, it might be about your lunch, or it might be a picture of what you believe to be one of Jamie Bulger's killers, the name of a rape victim, or a diatribe about your horrible ex.

Either way you are subject to laws about contempt of court, defamation, injunctions, and any one of thousands of other regulations about what you can say and how you can say it. Getting it wrong can mean jail or tens of thousands of pounds in damages, particularly if you get it wrong about someone richer than you.

All that sets us journalists apart from others is an ability to hold our booze and an inability to give up, coupled with the fact most of us had those laws drummed into us as trainees and it's second nature to bear them in mind.

So you see, if my nosiness is to be made illegal, then you would have to stop gossipping about your neighbours. If I am unable to write something without informing the subject of my words first, then you will be unable to update your Facebook to say you just saw Max Moseley at the London Dungeon. When journalists talk about freedom of the Press we're accused of defending our own interests, but in fact we're defending yours too.

There are many ways newspaper stories can start, but these days a fair majority can come from something seen online. A whisper on the web, in this massively interconnected world, can be front page if it checks out.

And think about the things we wouldn't know if it weren't for self-appointed detectives, either those in the Press or people sniffing stuff out and handing it on to us:

Watergate, Betsygate, Camillagate, Thalidomide, Profumo, the dodgy dossier which led to the Iraq War, pretty much everything about Scientology, the phone-hacking scandal, the Prime Minister's friendship with alleged phone-hackers, the errors made in reporting the phone-hacking scandal, the fact the BBC knew Jimmy Savile was a pervert and didn't report on it, Jeffrey Archer paying off a prostitute, MPs' expenses and the 1,200 who died unnecessarily at Stafford Hospital and those are just off the top of my head.

It was a Victorian newspaper investigation into child prostitution which led MPs to raise the age of consent to 16. It was nosy parkers who got Fred Goodwin stripped of his knighthood after his bank got a £45bn bailout while he was busy having a fling covered up with a injunction. It is professional pryers who are pointing out just how much we're being fleeced by our energy companies.

It was self-appointed detectives who found out Nick Clegg had 'dealt with' claims of sexual harassment by not investigating them.

It is us - normal citizens, and journalists alike - who keep an eye on the powerful. Whether it is our politicians, the police, hospital managers or journalists who've gone to the bad, it's a perfectly good system of self-appointed detectives all keeping tabs on one another and it's worked pretty well so far.

And in the modern era, we all know that every error from a grammar crime all the way up to a state-cover up is just a single tweet, status update or post away from being public knowledge, forever to be found at the end of a Google search.

I'm not a self-appointed detective, because someone else picked me for the job and trained me to know my arse from my elbow and not wind up in court. But you are, whatever job you do, and somehow or another every single thing we talk about protects and defends the freedoms of the other 62.6million people in Britain, and a fair few more around the world.

I think that's a fairly spectacular, worthy, brilliant and ultimately democratic thing. Keep one doing it, whether it's about your lunch or what your local council's up to.

Because if it pisses off Nick Clegg, we're one up.

Come and have a go, if you think you're hard enough.

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Chris Brown's amazing state of denial...

... and what domestic violence is really all about is the topic of today's column for the Daily Mirror which you can read online here.

Watch out for young and famous people. Apparently they can't help themselves.

Friday 22 February 2013

Today's column...

... is about tattoos and their relative wisdom, and you can read it on the Daily Mirror website here.

Keep warm this weekend.

Thursday 21 February 2013

Wan direction.

THERE was a time when pop was raw.

Music made by people who had something to say, who were angry or witty or sad, and there were so many people doing it that you could choose which genre you wanted your angst delivered in.

There was operatic drama courtesy of Freddie Mercury, thrashing rage from the Sex Pistols, poetry by Bob Dylan, drugs and sex and heartbreak and hating your parents by everyone from Suede to Eminem by way of Oasis and the Rolling Stones.

None of it was played, interminably, on telephone helplines and in lifts and supermarkets because it was the only decent thing anyone had produced for ten years, to the point where hearing a few bars of something you used to love made you scream and claw at your own ears.

But that's the point we've arrived at - from pop that was red in tooth and claw we now have the occasional Adele, producing lovely heartfelt songs we all like listening to right up until the 75th time you've heard it from a car insurance company.

Where's the passion? Where's the difference? Where's the recognition that hours spent practising in your parents' garage and writing your own songs can, with luck and a touch of stardust, haul you from a tenement or tower block to having champagne with the Prime Minister?

I'll tell you where it is. It's in the same dung-production plant that's given us the X Factor, Iggy Pop selling car insurance and two Brit Award nominations for that gormless gurner Olly Murs, that's where it is.

Now, the Brits have never been the greatest arbiter of musical cool. They've given far too many awards to Robbie Williams for that. They're recognition of what's popular, and as such they've always had a fairly eclectic list of nominees and singers.

The Brits put Justin Timberlake on stage with Kylie to do a cover of Blondie; they had Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson; they mixed up Boy George and the Four Tops, started a fight between Ronnie Wood and Brandon Block, and gave us the Union Jack mini-dress.

They're mainstream, yes - but mainstream music was still interesting, when you got it all in one room and gave it booze.

And last night, what did we have? We had Michael Buble quite seriously nominated in the same category as Bruce Springsteen, while the latest X Factor winner and FLIPPING MURS went up against Adele, and we even had to hear from the worst judge from terrible talent show The Voice who thinks rock involves wearing black jeans and very little else.

The best British single of the entire year was, apparently, a straight-to-call-centre Bond theme. And it wasn't even Goldfinger!

On top of that, the organisers invented a special award to give to hairless boy band One Direction, who arguably have become a worldwide phenomenon but have done so by singing about how they love insecure teenage girls who need to "get some".

Aside from the fact it's mildly tasteless, they're songs written and performed by other people and which shamelessly exploit the fears and obsessions of young women to make money for a group of frankly pervy record executives while enabling Harry Styles and his chums play chlamydia roulette.

They've every right to sing and make some money, but The Beatles they are not. Aside from some jokes about Harry's taste in women their appearance last night was so tame they actually waved hello to their parents from the stage. Led Zep would have cried, had they been so brain-dead as to tune in.

But then had Led Zep auditioned for a record executive today they wouldn't get past the opening bars. Modern pop isn't about talking to teenagers - it's about grabbing their pocket money, and what's more doing it in ways that don't bring joy.

So One Direction tell girls they need to flick their hair and let Harry Styles do as he pleases, and Beyonce sings about being strong while crawling around on her hands and knees in a thong. Music is bland and formulaic, and nobody tries to do anything new and exciting with the amplifiers.

Pop stars don't set anything on fire, never trash their hotel rooms, and if they do have a meltdown like Britney Spears they end up so tranquilized by medication and management teams the only remarkable thing about them is the dead, staring eyes left wondering what happened.

Put that lot in a room and give it booze and what happens? Half of them aren't allowed to drink and the other half are on a diet, that's what. And the whole thing is overseen by a compere of the moment who will be as bland and inoffensive as possible, because that's how idiot record executives think they make money - not upsetting anyone.

But the music we love best is offensive. It's the stuff your parents didn't understand, your teachers used to confiscate and the BBC wanted to ban. It's Frankie telling Mike Read to relax, it's whacking up the volume, it's Betty Boo shouting to get up, get with it or get out of my sight.

The stuff that sells is the stuff that's dangerous. It's Adele revealing what heartbreak really feels like, Lou Reed talking about heroin and androgyny, words and music that somehow or another give you a taste of a life you'll never have but makes you feel a part of this whole sorry mess we call humanity.

But yet - One Direction sells. In their millions. And 7.5m people tuned in to watch nothing happen at the Brits last night, the highest viewing figure in ten years. Those are the kind of statistics which make fat, boring, safe record executives laugh and say people like me are just being nostalgic.

Then again, I'd say that's 7.5m people hoping against hope that things will get interesting.

Either that or they're waiting for a quote on their travel insurance.

Please hold, your call is important to us.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Glory days.

THE flashbacks have passed, the hangover has cleared and the balls of my feet have just about recovered.

The Foxy Book Party, from what I recall of it, seemed to go quite well. It started off at the Century club with me looking smart and a nice big pile of books:

All images copyright Polly Philips. Strictly no use without permission

Note the glass of Jura whisky. It will reappear.

Some journalists turned up. Some of them were on bail, but they managed to lose the police tail to sneak in, and most of them were simply taking the chance to start the week's drinking on a Monday night.

Here is James Robinson, formerly of the Guardian, chatting to Glen Oglaza while Martin Brunt looks all serious. I am pretty certain they weren't discussing anything serious.

There was yet more whisky. Here are political consultant Neil Lindsay and writer Michael Moran and their great friend, Jura.

The first person who bought a copy of the book was a lawyer chum, and when he asked me to sign it I nearly fell off the bar stool because no-one's asked that before. It was weird. For the rest of the night I was doing an impression of Paul McMullan, with a whisky in one hand and a pen in the other, signing books.

This is me signing one for photographer Nick Stern, who's normally based in LA and who I last saw on a job chasing heroin addicts around Hereford in about 2001. I think that's Victoria Derbyshire off the wireless in the background.

There were also non-journalist types there, in fact the kind of people who normally avoid reporters like the plague unless they themselves have something to flog, but who very kindly came along because they're friends and certainly not just because there was free whisky.

I think that's the back of Michael Legge's head saying something shocking to Al Murray while Mitch Benn looks depressed. Probably telling them the whisky had run out.

Lovely Dawn O'Porter showed up too, in a fetching onesie and spectacles. She's got a book out too, it's probably better than mine.

Anyway the Foxtails were getting slurped up and the whisky vat was getting dry and it was time to say thank you to everyone, so I had to give a speech. In the style of journalists everywhere, they all went to stand at the back of the room.

And I said the same as I have here - that the book was a way of saying the end of something has never yet been the end of the world, and that when life takes a shit on you the best you can do is look upon it as compost in which to plant the seeds of something new.

I thanked everyone there for helping me prove the point, and my darling mum and dad who've asked me not to put their pictures on the internet. They looked beautiful though, and couldn't stop saying how nice all the journalists were "once you got to know them". I've been telling them this for years, but still.

My mum briefly told off one of my old bosses for sending me to places that had cholera, radiation leaks and famine over the years, and he took it pretty well.

Then the fabulous band The Lucky Strikes started up, and if you haven't been to one of their gigs yet you should.

Meanwhile the lazy people headed for the bar while the ones who were already drunk enough started whirling about the floor.

With my book in his pocket, excellent work. I think everyone cracked the 'tabloid chic' dress code pretty well, too.

Things after this got a little more blurry. I had some more whisky.

Then I tried to give some whisky to my mum. The books got signed with a scrawl. A man no-one recognised fell asleep in an armchair in the middle of the bar. Two ex-Fleet Street editors wheeled in to grab the last of the booze, the disco started up, and I got the DJ to play my parents' song so they could jive as only people who did it in the Sixties can.

Someone came up to me to drunkenly tell me, at length, how amazing the book is. A former night news editor told my parents I spent all my money on strong drink and weak men. A couple of people who shall remain nameless lay down on the floor to make angels in the spilt drink. Bonnie Tyler started playing and I did the drum solo, then Dolly Parton and I did all the typing, then Transvision Vamp and I just pogo-sticked all over the place.

The shoes came off, glasses were broken, and me and my best mate from school did a waltz.

Oh, we look hot. The jumping around was making me burpy, so after people started to float off home but the party was still in full swing in the bar, I quietly picked up my shoes and snuck out before I became the last to leave or witness to any crimes.

I hopped barefoot into a taxi and the cabbie turned round with a smile to say: "Good night, was it?"

I looked at my dirty feet, thought about my bubbly tummy, the bit of money we raised for Refuge by selling signed books, my mum and dad, friends old and new, and the fact the last big party I threw was my wedding. I thought, too, about Transvision Vamp.

And I told the cabbie: "It was flipping brilliant. Take me to a curry."

With huge thanks to Polly Philips for the photos.
All images copyright Polly Philips strictly no use without permission.

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Hilary Mantel and Kate Middleton...

... and why it would be nice if both of them were allowed to have opinions, and if the Prime Minister would shut up, is the topic of today's column for the Daily Mirror which you can peruse here.

I'm still waiting for Dalai Lama's view of events, but I'm sure he has one.

Monday 18 February 2013

P to the A to the R to the T to the YYYYY...

TODAY I am going to completely ignore the news.

Except for reading all the papers first thing. And listening to the radio. And watching some TV bulletins. And keeping one ear twitched for gossip. Because there are some things a hack can't stop doing even on a day off when they've decided to concentrate on something else.

But OTHER THAN THAT the news can go hang for once, because there's something better happening - my book launch party!

Yeah, I know, who cares, right?

Except this is the end of a lot of hard work and I deserve a pint, frankly. It's taken me a little over three years to get the book written, signed and published, and for those as think these things happen by magic that was a hell of a lot of effort, on top of a fairly busy day job.

More importantly it's a chance for me to say thank you to as many people as possible who helped along the way, and buy them a drink too. From colleagues to mates, good friends, family and strangers on the internet, there are lots of people who've given the Foxy bandwagon a bit of a shove and they deserve a pint as well.

I know, I know. You didn't get an invite. Sorry about that but I couldn't fit you all in.

Instead I hope wherever you are you can have yourselves a pint too, and an internet clap-on-the-back from me in thanks. Have a party amongst yourselves if you can, and join in.

So's you know what you're aiming for, the party's being held at a very cool London club called Century in a room which looks like this:

No-one except Del Boy has a bar in the corner of the living room, but pile up a few empties by the sofa and it'll soon look exactly the same.

The dress code is 'tabloid chic' - and no, that doesn't mean Paul McMullan without the pen. On my first day at work as a reporter I was told you always had to dress like you might have to meet either the Queen, a grieving relative or a gangster. So wear something smartish, but not so's you look like a social worker or a copper. Pens are optional.

There will be many bottles of ginger beer from Palmers Brewery in Dorset, and quite a lot of Vladivar vodka to mix with it and make a drink we shall call a Foxtail. The recipe is 100ml ginger beer, 50ml vodka, 20ml lime juice, 15ml raspberry puree and 10ml sugar syrup, in a tall glass.

The more you drink, the pinker your kitchen gets. It's amazing. Give it a go.

A lorry has also very kindly delivered a SHEDLOAD of rather excellent Jura whisky.

I am half hoping there'll be enough left for me to take a bottle home, but seeing as the other guests include a couple of hundred journalists I think my chances are pretty slim.

There's a DJ called Chris Roots with strict instructions to play some Betty Boo, and live music by some actual musicians who write and perform their own stuff and get people up and dancing. I think they sing about carrots, too, but the Lucky Strikes assure me I'm hearing it wrong.

I'm going to the extreme effort, for a non-poncey girl, of getting my hair and make-up done by a nice lady called Katy who does weddings and stuff, if any of you are looking for someone to help out with that kind of thing.

I have a dress which requires heavy scaffolding, shiny new shoes, and a pen because for a slightly-inflated price I'll be signing copies of the book, with all the extra cash raised going towards the domestic violence charity Refuge. If you're coming and have a book already, bring it along, donate and I'll sign, and if you're at home then just have a little browse of the Refuge website and learn about something that too often gets ignored.

So, let's get this straight: Smartish clothes, booze, booze, some more booze, Betty Boo, big knickers, and a pen. It's like you're in the room, you're not missing a thing!

I could quote those poets of whimsy the Vengaboys, but I'll save it for the cab ride home. If you're coming, I'll see you there, and if you're not, then I'll see you tomorrow morning when I expect I'll feel something like this:

 If you could leave some water out, that'd be grand.

Friday 15 February 2013

The most shocking thing...'ve ever heard about the internet is the topic of today's Daily Mirror column, which you can read here.

Careful now. The trolls are waiting somewhere.

Thursday 14 February 2013

Valentine's Day...

... and the reasons it's all a massive waste of time are the topic of today's column for the Daily Mirror, which you can read here.

You can shove your teddy bears.

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Influence (n.): The capacity to change.

THERE are some words people always get wrong.

Power, for example, is something people think means strength and the ability to bend the world around you. It doesn't - it simply means that a thing or a person can do something.

You have the power to do whatever you like, unless your hands are tied or you're shut in a cellar. Every voter on the electoral roll has the power to pick an MP, if they choose to use it. A car has power to go faster or slow down, and no car is actually more powerful than any other.
What is different is that some cars use the power more effectively than others. So when Jeremy Clarkson shouts "POWERRRRRR!" as he puts his foot down, he's getting it wrong because he should be shouting "EFFECTIVENESS!" instead.

If everyone has power, then the reason some people make more of a splash than others is because they use it to change things.

So a politician gets themselves voted in because they know how, wangle a salary for the wife and a gold-plated pension, and the voters think they must be more powerful. They're not - they've one vote, just like everyone else, it's just they've managed to pile all the votes up and sit on them.

They go on to tell teachers how to teach, reporters how to report, and that it's up to food manufacturers to police their own suppliers, and the reason they get away with it is because we let them. It's not because they're any better at this stuff than the rest of us - they're demonstrably worse.

And when Woman's Hour compiled a list of the 100 most powerful women in Britain, it started off with the Queen whose powers are in fact limited by statute, custom and theology and forgets to include her granddaughter-in-law Kate, who has inherited Diana's ability to bend the world merely by blinking.

Kate can influence women all over the world into copying her hairstyle, buying up Reiss dresses like there's about to be a shortage, cause international flurries with naughty Italian magazines, and by patronising one charity or another can bring in the kind of publicity and fundraising no-one else can.

She's thought to have given British fashion alone a £1billion kick up the bum - the Queen can't do any of that, and not just because she's older. She didn't do it when she was younger either. The fact is that, as Queen, she's not allowed to.

Then there's the case of Chris Huhne and his ex-wife Vicky Pryce, in which he is accused of bullying her into taking his speeding points. The prosecution argued she had the power to say no, and her defence is that she was under her husband's influence. Both are absolutely correct, but the jury has to decide which was the more likely to change things.

Then today there was the case of Robert Heneghan, who as a 10-year-old was described to a court as 'an imp of Satan' and in 2004 became the youngest person to get an ASBO.

Clearly a troubled little toerag, he was arrested three times a week, torched a charity shop, shot at people with a ball-bearing gun and kicked a football covered in faeces into a supermarket.

At 16 he knifed someone who lived, and at 19 he knifed someone who died. He's just been jailed for murder, and if ever there were a greater example of how power is misused he is it.

The state had the power to take him into care and influence him for the better - it failed. The only power Robert had was to wield a knife, and the only influence he had was to shock, horrify and hurt the people he met.

He's now been denied freedom and is surrounded by criminals and the mentally ill, so when he gets out of jail he is going to be no better than when he went in. Probably worse.

Power is something each of us has, and which most of us throw away. We can do things on our terms if we want to, and it's the people who realise that who gain the most influence - so much so that we just have to hope Kate doesn't use hers for evil one day (Can you imagine what that would be like? Tan tights as far as the eye can see...)

Perhaps you feel like a Cinquecento and think everyone else around you is a Bugatti Veyron. Maybe you think your hair isn't shiny enough, or that nobody listens.

The point is that the power is within you, if you want it. The people who put themselves above you, or are elevated there, rarely use the influence they get in the way they should - to make sure people aren't eating horse meat, to improve engine efficiency, or to help troubled little toerags while they're young and we still can.

It's just a case of putting your foot down.

 Think how that would feel.

Tuesday 12 February 2013

The Pope's decision to resign...

... and thereby throw an entire religion into chaos, once it stops to think about stuff, is the topic of today's column for the Daily Mirror which you can read here.

Watch out for those winkies, now.


SO, if you fancy it, here's me on Newsnight talking about the future of newspapers.

And no, it's not gin.

I *wish*.

Sunday 10 February 2013

Hello, cruel world.

IT had to happen one day.

Today I have written for The Times about who I am and why I did... all this.

*waves generally at screen*

There might be some of you who'd rather I stayed anonymous, and no doubt one or two who'll be thinking: "Oh, that's ruined the fun."

Well, sorry about that. My name is known enough that if I didn't out myself someone else would, and they'd almost certainly make a hash of it.

And do you know what? This is my story - it should have my byline.

Added to which the publishers of my book have a right to expect me to help them sell it, because otherwise there'd be no point in my writing the thing. It would be silly to do all the publicity from inside a paper bag.

And if you weren't expecting this day to come then I was. From Belle de Jour to Banksy, anonymity never holds: it's not a way of life.

You might not believe this, but I do not enjoy being centre stage. I don't like my picture being taken and always prefer to go under the radar. Partly that's my nature and partly it's being a newspaper reporter, but for whatever reason I always tailgate people through doorways rather than use the intercom, even when I've been invited, just because it's easier.

So I feel a bit anxious about this next stage. I expect there'll be some trolls too, but I'll cope with them and their dreadful spelling.

Rest assured that nothing else will change; The Fox abides. I will carry on doing what I have been up to now and there is no reason for our fun to end, as far as I can see.

So if you want to know why I don't like Cheryl Tweedy, all about that spat with Jemima Khan, and the problem with hotel mini-bars, you can read all about it online or do the old-fashioned thing and pop down the shop to buy a copy of The Times.

And with that, I'm out.

I suppose a mardi gras is out of the question?

Thursday 7 February 2013

Reflect (vb.): Throw back without absorbing.

NOBODY washed Joan Morris, 83, for the entire month she was in hospital.

Deb Hazeldine had to clean faeces off her mum Ellen Linstead's hands when she visited her on the ward.

Arthur Peacham, 68, went in with a bad back and died after catching a severe diarrhoea bug from other patients staff had not bothered to isolate.

Yesterday the man in charge of the whole thing - and who at the time was in charge of the local NHS administration - said: "I am not ashamed of being in my job today.

"Clearly it was a whole system failure and we need to reflect ... the whole of the NHS - myself, leaders in the NHS, doctors and nurses - need to reflect on what we can learn from that to make sure it never happens again."

Righto. Let's reflect.

Let's reflect upon the fact that, first off, hospitals have always killed people. People go in with a dicky hip and once paperwork and rubbish food and sitting in bed all day take hold, the patients can be inclined to give up just as easily as doctors who decide they're too ill or old to save.

Some people hate hospitals, simply because those that go in don't always come out. They're a good thing to avoid, wherever possible.

But that sort of thing is normal. A hospital is a Last Chance Saloon where some are saved, some are lost, and some just fade away. No matter how perfect the NHS could be, you couldn't do much about that.

Next let's reflect upon the fact that there are more of us than ever before, that medical advances mean we are saving more people than ever before, and that the business of doing it costs more than ever before. Then let's wonder if that's worth doing, or if we'd rather people die because things are cheaper that way.

It's cheaper not to wash patients. It's cheaper to leave them lying in their own urine. It's cheaper to just let clostridium difficile run rampant, and it's cheaper to say 'well, they have to die some time'.

It's cheaper not to sack anybody, complain, discipline, train. It's cheaper to shut the A&E, and worry more about the interest on your PFI deal than how much fun it is to spend your final days on Hyacinth Ward covered in your own crap.

And let's reflect upon the fact you can do all those things while still meeting targets.

You can do it while not replacing nurses, and making midwives struggle on with more babies and less staff. You can do it by changing your surgeons' shift patterns, stretching the anaesthetists out a bit, and making paediatricians stay longer. You can do it by paying your receptionists less, 'incentivising' porters and cleaners with the threat of the sack, giving line managers more paperwork and making medical record staff redundant.

You can do those things while politicians of all parties say you're doing marvellously, and even make you a foundation trust in recognition of your 'excellence'. You can get promoted afterwards to be the person in charge of the entire National Health Service, and you will not feel ashamed.

After the fifth investigation into the high death rates at Stafford Hospital, and the first public inquiry, there have been 290 recommendations for change, fury as to why no-one has been sacked or struck off, and calls for someone to take the blame.

Sir David Nicholson, the unashamed man who was head of the regional health authority when the problems began and is now chief executive of the NHS, is under most attack. The hospital's chief executive at the time, Martin Yeates, claims to have post-traumatic stress, refused to give evidence, and has just resigned from the charity he has been working for to save it from negative publicity.

And do you know what? There is no one person to blame.

The nurse that was overworked and too busy to make sure every patient ate their food - it's not her fault. The junior doctor who wasn't properly trained and in a rush who gave the wrong pain relief - it's an understandable mistake. The agency cleaner employed on the cheapest possible wage, who can't read the directions too well and has two more jobs to do today - she shouldn't carry the can.

The receptionist who's not medically trained but is forced to prioritise patients, the clerical staff who keep the whole thing ticking over, the people who set targets in the first place - they're all doing the best they can. You need to have paperwork and targets, just as you do bandages and X-ray machines.

But the fact remains that at Stafford 1,200 people died early. Hundreds or thousands more suffered unnecessarily. There will be a small number of rotten apples among the doctors and nurses who could be struck off in the months to come, but that won't stop Stafford happening again. Five other hospitals are now under investigation for similarly high death rates, so it might be happening already.

The basic problem at Stafford was the same as at every other hospital, and in every single bit of the NHS. And that is that the people making the decisions, right up there at the top of the tree, have absolutely no reason to use it.

In 2011 the average NHS trust chief executive earned £158,800. Members of trust boards had an average pay rise of 4.5 per cent. The heads of strategic and regional health authorities, and NHS quangos, usually pocket £250,000 or more.

The average midwife earns £31,000. Nurses, with experience, slightly more. An A&E receptionist - which is a fairly frontline, if untrained, job - earns between £14,000 and £17,000. A consultant would earn between £74,000 and £100,000 once qualified, but just £22,000 when they start out.

If any of them get sick they need the NHS - the people who make the decisions don't.

Sir David Nicholson and Martin Yeates didn't set out to kill 1,200 people. They didn't personally remove pain relief, or pour excrement upon elderly and disoriented patients.

But what hope could either of them have - or any of our Health Secretaries, for that matter - to improve a service they do not rely on? How can people skilled at reading budget breakdowns have a  scooby doo about the best way to nurse a dementia patient?

The NHS is packed solid with people who care enough to do a difficult job for little recompense. It is topped off by people in a different world, with a different outlook, who think the bottom line is more important than cleaning someone's bottom.

You need both types in the NHS, but you have to spread them about more evenly.

Get the accountants on to the wards once a week to see where the waste really happens, the gear that goes missing and the time that is wasted. Let them see where they're over staffed and under staffed, up close.

And get the doctors and nurses on to the boards, so that big decisions about bank loans, new equipment and ward closures are made with the help of people who know that wiping someone's backside is sometimes the most important thing you do all day.

It won't happen, because the men in charge of the men in charge have even less need to rely upon what is swiftly becoming the Poor Health Service.

But it should.

I've love to see him in hospital.

Wednesday 6 February 2013


WE'VE always known that sorry is the hardest word to say.

But the latest research from the University of the Bleeding Obvious says not saying it at all makes you feel better about yourself.

Apparently, continuing to insist you're innocent and getting away with a lie gives you a little thrill, whereas admitting a mistake makes you feel, well, like you were wrong.

Well done, science. You've amazed us all again.

And what's more, you've missed the point.

Because the issue isn't that it's no fun saying sorry, that you feel rotten and sad and wish the ground could open up and swallow you. It's that people who don't say sorry are psychopaths.

It's because they don't want to face up to their errors and basic human failings that cheating husbands like Chris Huhne lie, lie and lie again until they are caught out and forced to admit what their wife is going to go spare about.

She's going to be able to work out you lied whether you admit it or not; just spit it out and have done.

It's why people who've had affairs and broken up families to satisfy the urges of their limbic system, without the least bit of compassion for the partners, siblings, children and in-laws who all feel betrayed, do not want to think about that and instead utter trite little phrases like 'you can't help who you fall in love with'.

You can, dears, otherwise there wouldn't be a programme called 'The Undateables' on Channel 4.

It's the failure to confront the wreckage left by a lie that means Mr Huhne sends texts to his son wishing him his luck in his exams and gets "I hate you, so f*** off" in reply.

Huhne's response wasn't 'oh God, what have I done, I'm sorry son'. It was: "I hope that the passage of time will provide some perspective." It's his boy that's in the wrong, as far as Huhne is concerned.

That's the same attitude which enabled Justin Bieber's spokesman to blankly deny he had groped a young female fan in the face of all evidence to the contrary.

It's the fault of the girl for standing in the way of his hand, or the journalists for interpreting a brush-past as a fondle, you see. It's certainly not an 18-year-old lad with ordinary hormones and an extraordinarily narrow life doing something stupid he should apologise for.

Today a report into up to 1,200 unnecessary deaths and thousands of mistreated patients at Stafford Hospital made 290 recommendations about how to stop it happening again. It didn't say who was to blame, and while the trust which runs the hospital has apologised the people who ran it while its patients were left lying in their own faeces and drinking water from vases have not.

The former chief executive refused point-blank to give evidence. Worse, many are still working with sick people.. Tell me that doesn't take a psychopath.

Last night in Parliament hundreds of our elected representatives voted on whether gay people had the right to get married. Beforehand there was a debate which they could not all be bothered to take part in, during which MPs on both sides argued for or against the change.

No-one, not one person, listened to what anyone else was saying. No single MP stood up and said: "I've heard your argument, and I can see your point of view."

More importantly still, those MPs who said the arguments for equal marriage were due to lobbying from a minority have not looked at the crushing 400 votes to 175 and said: "Oh. Seems we were wrong."

What science has today proven is that some people think better of themselves if they don't say sorry. Science has not gone one step further and correlated this with the presence of empathy, personal levels of happiness, or whether such people are considered by everyone who knows them to be a dickhead or in need of serious therapy.

Because while it's hard to say sorry when you're the sort of person who never says it at all, most of us only need to say it once to realise it's a good idea.

Firstly whatever you're going to apologise for is already known about. You're not putting yourself in the doo-doo here - you're in it already, and the only thing to decide is how to handle it.

Secondly putting your hands up and saying 'my mistake' earns you points. In a world where fewer people seem to bother these days to consider the people around them, you earn more. The people you apologise to will be happier with you, less angry, and more impressed.

Thirdly, and most importantly for scientists at the University of the Bleeding Obvious who I hope will be looking at this next, you might feel bad for a bit but afterwards you will feel an awful lot better. You don't have to invent new lies, you don't have to worry your wife is emailing a journalist, you don't need to wonder if the gay mafia will put a pantomime dame in your bed.

Because once you say sorry, you can move on. They can move on. The world will turn in a forward motion rather than grind its gears to and fro until the stupid spanner gets spat back out of the works.

If your own life hasn't proved this to you already, then the cases of Chris Huhne and Stafford Hospital, and the gay marriage debate, show as clear as day that a failure to say sorry is also a failure to be basically human. To see sense, recognise the truth, and rise above our mistakes.

Perhaps the rest of us it would find it easier if people in public life said sorry more often. Sorry to the people they hurt, sorry to the people they bullied, sorry for the lies they told to protect their reputations.

But if truth be told they already set us a fine example - of how not to do things. Thanks to Huhne we know it's best to take the speeding points, and steer clear of affairs. Thanks to our MPs we now know how many of them are blinkered zealots of one kind or another. And thanks to the deaths and suffering at Stafford Hospital we know patients are being betrayed by targets and cutbacks.

And we also know that if you don't say sorry at the start, you'll be a lot sorrier by the end. 

Only a psycho would think otherwise.

Friday 1 February 2013

David Beckham's move to Paris...

... and a few dirty, cycnical little facts about why it's not that charitable really is the topic of today's Daily Mirror column which you can read by clicking here.

No red cards, please.