Hey, thanks to Mr Foster. I share your concern. I’d love to be widely availablen in German, and I have a good man working at that on my behalf.
I began my working life on a newspaper, but before that I studied law for a while. Not much of it stuck, but the basics did. For example, the presumption of innocence, and the right of every accused to a trial before a fair-minded jury, unfettered by any knowledge of the detail of the case. That knowledge informed my time as a journalist. In those days we were careful about what was said about anyone arrested, and once a charge was laid, that was it.
Has something changed when I wasn’t looking? Has the American practice of aggressive, prejudicial investigation been introduced to Britain? I ask this because what’s been reported in the wake of the arrest in the Yates murder enquiry is beginning to resemble trial by media. I haven’t done a trawl of the English press. So far I’ve only looked at the Torygraph, but I have no doubt that it’s typical, and I don’t like what I see. Its story suggests that the arrested man was the last person to see Ms Yeates alive, and adds that he is the only suspect in the case. It leads with the allegation that he helped the victim’s partner ‘fix his car, so he could drive to Sheffield’. But read on, and you’ll find that what unnamed neighbours say is merely that he came up with a set of jump leads, and that he wasn’t alone in the helping. If I was a juror I wouldn’t see that as tantamount to ‘fixing’ and I wouldn’t take it to imply exclusive knowledge that the bloke was going away for the weekend and that the victim would be alone in her flat. The report also quotes pupils at the school where he taught as saying that he is a fan of dark and violent avant garde films. Wait a minute! He retired in 2001; he could have moved on to Pixar animation by now. But even if he hasn’t, if that unsubstantiated foible from ten years back counts as evidence, hey, lock me up too, for I watched ElectraGlide in Blue last night. To be fair to the Torygraph, it does offer ‘defence’ evidence also, by citing a neighbour who points out that the arrested man is slightly built, and who suggests that he would not have been strong enough to do what has been suggested.
They’ll sell some newspapers on the back of it, no question. That’s what they’re there to do, and I’m not going to blame them for it. No, what I find disturbing is the way in which information has flowed to the media, and its source. The feeding frenzy was started by the police, when they made their arrest and then removed, very publicly, two cars, and a large quantity of material from the man’s home. They don’t appear to have said very much on the record, but the ‘lone suspect’ titbit could only have come from one place, and on what we used to call a ‘non-attributable basis’ in my media days. What’s happened? The cops are under pressure for an early result, a suspect has fallen into their laps, and they’re steering the media towards him. Simples.
All of which takes me back to the presumption of innocence. I can’t recall a British case in which it has been more conspicuously absent. I find myself hoping that the police do charge this man, almost for his sake. If they don’t, if the forensic evidence proves his innocence, not his guilt, and he’s released? I’ll bet Max Clifford has his mobile number already.
Today’s issue of the Torygraph also quotes our foreign secretary as expressing concern over the handling of the Khodorovsky case in Russia. Maybe he should ensure that his own house is clean before criticising others.
Fortunately, I believe the New Year Honours List is past praying for as far as the England cricket team is concerned. In any event you are right. Best wait for another few days, in the hope that you can grind their faces deeper in the dust. But when you do so, remember that they have a long history of being better than you and will surely rebound. They may even win the last test and square the series, although at the moment the odds on a draw are better than those on an Aussie victory. Even if that happens, the triumphalism will only be toned down a little, and the Barmy Army will sing just as loud. (Why is it that at the heart of such gatherings you will always find a tosser in a tall hat, making the most noise?) You can bet that among all the media praise, little mention will be made of the significant South African contribution to the current England batting line-up. Take Pietersen, Prior, Strauss and Trott out of the picture and the result might have been different. Okay, you can keep the captain and the wicket-keeper, but KP only left South Africa in a huff, and Trott played for them at Under 15 and Under 19 level. But let’s not be churlish; England’s success is meritorious, if for nothing else, because it will force Kevin Bloody Wilson to re-write his notorious song, They Beat Me.
I haven’t bought George W Bush’s autobiography yet, but I will, once I get to the end of the Kindle sampler. I have to get deeper into the mind of a man who admits to killing his kid sister’s goldfish by pouring vodka into its bowl. I suspect that if Osama had read that story, he’d have thought several times before messing with him.
Do I have plans for a new Bob Skinner? No, but I do for the old one, beginning with Grievous Angel next June. That’ll be after the publication in March of The Loner, in which he also plays a significant, although not leading, part.
Eddie Sanderson was my oldest close friend. He’s been in my life for fifty years, since he started going out with my cousin. They were married for a while, but when they split, Eddie and I just went on, unimpeded. Forty years ago, he and Liz produced their only child, and it was she who phoned me yesterday to tell me that her dad had passed away on Christmas Day. I’d known he was ill, and so I shouldn’t have been shocked, yet I was, and I still am, because the idea of Big Eddie being dead, just seems, well, absurd, not quite believable.
When Biff and I had composed ourselves, we talked about him for a while, and at one point she said, ‘My dad wasn’t all that keen on Christmas,’ at which I could only chuckle and remark, ‘Well, he’s made his bloody point now.’ For that was him; once he had taken a view about something, or someone, he was pretty much unshakeable. The big fellow liked people for what they were, not what they did, and he was firm on that. Back in the old Lanarkshire days, I introduced him to someone. Later on he told me, quietly, ‘ I didn’t take to that guy.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘Because the first thing he asked me was what I did for a living.’ I understood him; he’d known that the question hadn’t been asked out of interest, but as a valuation. That litmus test was one of many things that he taught me, and it’s something I’ve tried to carry through my own life.
He was a big man in all respects, including kindness and generosity, a footballer in his youth (that’s if you accept that goalkeepers are footballers, as I’d say to him) and a short-swing, big-hitting golfer once those years were over. For all his size he was quiet, and deep, as was his sense of humour, but once you triggered it, he enjoyed a laugh as well as any man I’ve ever known, and better than all but a very few. In my early adult years, he was my main man; when my kids were born, it was with Eddie that I wet their heads. We were good at that, the pair of us; for a period in the late sixties Eddie and Liz, and Irene and I, lived quite close to each other. We had evenings at which brandy shandies were the standard, and later on he was a fixture at major events of ours in Gullane, and often at events of other people . . . even if our tastes in alcohol had matured a little.There was something reassuring about him. I remember being at a midweek football match at the old, huge, unsafe Hampden Park. They’d let way too many people in and, it being a dark night, many others had climbed over the gate or just jumped the turnstiles, as you could in those days. The Mount Florida terracing was a major tragedy waiting to happen. If I hadn’t been with Eddie, I might have bailed out, but I was, so I didn’t. Yet totemic or not, he wasn’t dull, not ever. There were scrapes; he managed to ruin a very expensive suit once, jumping over a fence in the dark. Don’t ask!
Eventually, after not too long on the loose, he found the right woman . . . and for that matter, Liz found the right man, though Wilson’s life was tragically short. (As was Eddie’s, seventy-anything being no age at all for a guy like him.) Una gave him the stable base he always needed, smiled at his quirks and eccentricities, and made the last half of his life as happy as any man could ever want. He became a grandfather too, and there will still be an Edward in the family. He’s inherited his grandpa’s telescope, and he’ll be able to look up at the star that Biff plans to name after her dad. She’ll need to choose a big one.
Thanks, Steve, I know what you mean. If you ever check the Microsoft spell-checker, you’ll be amazed by the number of varieties of the English language it offers. Sadly, though, ‘Weegie’ is not yet among them. Thanks also for the invitation. We were in Chicago a couple of years ago, (indeed, check out my Facebook page and you’ll see some evidence) and I hope very much that it will not be our last visit. Tell me, though, are there any improvement plans for O’Hare? Weird terminal; for all its vastness, I don’t recall another with so few facilities airside.
And here’s to you and yours, GD, from all of us at the Word Factory. Yes, thanks, AJ did get where he was bound, eventually, although he says he’ll never fly Air France again after four hours sitting on the ground in the de-icer queue, during which time the cabin staff didn’t think it necessary to go round with the trolley offering as much as a glass of water to their caged passengers, far less something with a little bite. I have been on aircraft in such situations and been told that it’s against regulations to open the bar until after take-off . . . that is of course, unless you’re travelling Business Class or above in which circs you are hardly in your seat before they’re plying you with strong drink.
A businessman was attending a conference in Africa . He had a free day and wanted to play a round of golf and was directed to a golf course in the nearby jungle. After a short journey, he arrived at the course and asked the pro if he could get on. “Sure,” said the Pro, “What’s your handicap?”
Not wanting to admit that he had an 18 handicap, he decided to cut it a bit. “Well, its 16,” said the businessman, “But what’s the relevance since I’ll be playing alone?”
“It’s very important for us to know,” said the pro, who then called a caddy. “Go out with this gentleman,” said the pro, “his handicap is 16.”
The businessman was very surprised at this constant reference to his handicap. The caddy picked up the businessman’s bag and a large rifle; again the businessman was surprised but decided to ask no questions.
They arrived on the 1st hole, a par 4. “It’s wise to avoid those trees on the left,” said the caddy.
Needless to say, the businessman duck-hooked his ball into the trees. He found his ball and was about to punch it out when he heard the loud crack of the rifle and a large snake fell dead from a tree above his head. The caddy stood next to him with the rifle smoking in his hand.
“That’s the Black Mamba, the most poisonous snake in all Africa . You’re lucky I was here with you.” After taking a bogey, they moved to the 2ndhole, a par 5.
“Good to avoid those bushes on the right,” says the caddy
Of course, the businessman’s ball went straight into the bushes. As he went to pick up his ball, he heard the loud crack of the caddy’s rifle once more, and a huge lion fell dead at his feet.
“I’ve saved your life again,” said the caddy.
The 3rd hole was a par 3 with a lake in front of the green. The businessman’s ball came up just short of the green and rolled back to the edge of the water. To take a shot, he had to stand with one foot in the lake. As he was about to swing, a large crocodile emerged from the water and bit off much of his right leg.
As he fell to the ground bleeding and in great pain, he saw the caddy with the rifle propped at his side, looking on unconcernedly “Why didn’t you kill it?” asked the man incredulously.
“I’m sorry, sir,” said the caddy. “This is the 17th handicap hole. You don’t get a shot here.”
And that, my golfing friends, is why you should never lie about your handicap!!
Here’s the scene: a father searching for his daughter’s Christmas present heads into a toy shop and asks the sales person, ‘How much for one of those Barbie’s in the display window?’ The salesperson answers, ‘Which one do you mean, Sir? We have: Work Out Barbie for £19.95, Shopping Barbie for £19.95, Beach Barbie for £19.95, Disco Barbie for £19.95, Ballerina Barbie for £19.95, Astronaut Barbie for £19.95, Skater Barbie for £19.95, and Divorced Barbie for £265.95’.
The amazed father asks: ‘It’s what?! Why is the Divorced Barbie £265.95 and the others only £19.95?’
The salesperson rolls her eyes, sighs, and explains: ‘Sir…, Divorced Barbie comes with: Ken’s Car, Ken’s House, Ken’s Boat, Ken’s Furniture, Ken’s Computer, one of Ken’s Friends, and a key chain made with Ken’s nuts.’
First of all, Harry, sincere thanks for the kind things you say in your website feedback. However, the second half of your comment is ridiculous, and would have been better kept to yourself. I suggest that you go back to the phrase in question and take another look. It’s direct speech, a term used by one of my characters. I won’t back off from it for one second, because out here in the real world that’s how people often speak, and in a spirit of fondness not deprecation. That particular phrase is in common use across the land to describe the local Chinese restaurant, with no offence implied, or, as far as I’m aware, taken. You say that you’re not being politically correct. I disagree; that’s exactly what you’re doing. Okay, that’s point one made. Now to point two. If you are implying that I am in any way racist, you’d better go hide under the stairs, in case I come looking for you, because I really will find that offensive, and I really will take it personally.
There’s one other casualty of the Cable affair, and that’s the Daily Telegraph. Its editor appears to have held back from publishing what was by far the biggest story gleaned by his reporters during their sneaking around constituency offices, and their secret taping of conversations . . . God, but there should be a law against that . . . because his publication is as biased as Vince Cable is against Murdoch and NewsCorp. I lost my faith in the integrity of the Telegraph a while back, but I’m still saddened to see the terminal decline of what was once my favourite UK newspaper.
It doesn’t matter how we vote. It doesn’t matter whether the party we support is at the foot of the hill, at the top of the hill or neither up nor down. In a democracy, whether it’s our party that’s in power or one to which we are diametrically opposed, we, as electors and as taxpayers, are entitled to demand one thing of Her Majesty’s ministers: that they behave with absolute integrity when exercising the offices that they hold. We place our trust in them, all of us, right, left or centre.
And that brings me to Vince Cable.
I’m not going to comment on the fact that Dr (PhD in economics) Cable, has been a member of four different political parties in his career. (One more than Churchill and two more than me.) I’m not going to say a word about him having been a Glasgow Labour councillor back in the 70s, back in the hey-day of Lazarus Lally and Genghis McCann. I’m not even going to go back to yesterday morning when he was quoted, accurately, as boasting, inaccurately, I hope, of his ability to bring down the government just by walking out of the Cabinet. No, I’m going back no further than yesterday afternoon, when the BBC broke the story of his self-professed declaration of war on Rupert Murdoch.
The issue’s simple: Cable, as Business Secretary, had ministerial responsibility for deciding whether Murdoch’s News Corporation should be allowed to bid for complete control of BskyB, Sky television’s parent company. He had referred the matter to the regulatory body OfCom, but his vain bragging to his so-called constituents about a war that he thought he was going to win, made it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that his mind was made up.
And that brings me back to trust. In situations which affect us all, where a minister is in a quasi-judicial position in an issue that is not set down in any party manifesto, we are entitled to demand that he is objective and that he will act in the national interest. More than that, those on whom he’s passing judgement are entitled to demand the same of him. Personally, I don’t want Murdoch to take his control of UK media one inch further. But when the decision goes against him I don’t want him running off to the European Court either, running up a multi-million pound legal bill for British taxpayers.
Today, Vince stands rebuked by the Prime Minister, (a punishment that comes a poor second to a good bollocking by my cat) and his department has been stripped of responsibility for the areas in question. And yet he’s still in the Cabinet. This can’t stand, surely. The man has demonstrated very clearly that he is no longer worthy of public trust, if not in his integrity, then at the very least in his judgement. As one of his colleagues put it last night, he fell for the oldest trick in the book, a pretty face. I doubt if there’s a single person in the Westminster community who doesn’t believe that if this was an administration with an absolute majority, he’d have gone within an hour. You don’t have to look too far back in history for precedents. Peter Mandelson was sacked twice, by one of his best friends, for transgressions which look pretty mild by comparison. Go back to 1983, and Cecil Parkinson, Maggie’s heir apparent at the time and a much bigger figure than Dr Cable ever was or ever will be, found his career in ruins over a matter that had nothing to do with his performance in office.
But, as the BBC’s excellent Laura Kuenssberg pointed out, these are not normal times. The UK has a coalition government and it seems that for those at its head, holding it together is more important than preserving its integrity. This morning the Torygraph trotted out the names of another three ministers who had what they thought were private conversations with constituents bugged without their consent. They provided very clear evidence of something I’ve believed for twenty-five years and haven’t kept to myself, that the LibDems would do anything to have a ministerial car rolling up to their door every morning.
Cable, and now Moore, Webb and Davey, have all made it very clear they feel they’re sleeping with the enemy. They’re doing it for reward, and that makes them . . . Stop, QJ! You almost wrote ‘prostitutes’ there, and you have much more respect for sex workers than for these guys.
Six months ago, the coalition was seen to be necessary. It even offered a new sort of politics to those less cynical than me. But can you have an administration that’s built at best on grudging compromise, one that has conflict at its core, one in which a lone buffoon believes himself to be so big that he is holding the whole thing up and that it would collapse without him?
I don’t believe so. I would rather be governed wholly by Holyrood than partly by Westminster, but as long as I have to live with the status quo I expect both institutions to be run to the highest standards, and that’s not happening in London, at we can see very clearly. It’s time, in my view, for Nick Clegg, and his fifty-six colleagues to go back to their natural habitat, the opposition benches, and for David Cameron to form a minority government, until it is the will of parliament, or until he decides, that there should be another general election.
The next Primavera is little over a year away, Vic. She and Tom will be back in action in January 2012, (maybe slightly later in Canadian bookstores) in a tale called As Easy As Murder, in which a familiar face will return.
This is something to think about when negative people are doing their best to rain on your parade. So remember this story the next time someone who knows nothing and cares less tries to make your
A woman was at her hairdresser’s getting her hair styled for a trip to Rome with her husband. She mentioned the trip to the hairdresser, who responded: “Rome ? Why would anyone want to go there? It’s crowded and dirty.. You’re crazy to go to Rome . So, how are you getting there?”
“We’re taking Continental,” was the reply. “We got a great rate!”
“Continental?” exclaimed the hairdresser. ” That’s a terrible airline. Their planes are old, their flight attendants are ugly, and they’re always late. So, where are you staying in Rome ?”
“We’ll be at this exclusive little place over on Rome’s Tiber River called Teste.”
“Don’t go any further.. I know that place.Everybody thinks its gonna be something special and exclusive, but it’s really a dump.”
“We’re going to go to see the Vatican and maybe get to see the Pope.”
“That’s rich,” laughed the hairdresser. You and a million other people trying to see him. He’ll look the size of an ant. Boy, good luck on this lousy trip of yours. You’re going to need it.”
A month later, the woman again came in for a hairdo. The hairdresser asked her about her trip to Rome.
“It was wonderful,” explained the woman, “not only were we on time in one of Continental’s brand new planes, but it was overbooked, and they bumped us up to first class. The food and wine were wonderful, and I had a handsome 28-year-old steward who waited on me hand and foot. And the hotel was great! They’d just finished a $5 million remodelling job, and now it’s a jewel, the finest hotel in the city. They, too, were overbooked, so they apologised and gave us their owner’s suite at no extra charge!”
“Well,” muttered the hairdresser, “that’s all well and good, but I know you didn’t get to see the Pope.”
“Actually, we were quite lucky, because as we toured the Vatican, a Swiss Guard tapped me on the shoulder, and explained that the Pope likes to meet some of the visitors, and if I’d be so kind as to step into his private room and wait, the Pope would personally greet me.Sure enough, five minutes later, the Pope walked through the door and shook my hand! I knelt down and he spoke a few words to me.”
“Oh, really! What’d he say ?”
He said: “Who the **** did your hair?”
When the BBC announced that David Beckham was to be given a lifetime achievement award, my first reaction, shared by many, I’m sure was, ‘He’s only 35.’ Then I had a look at his detailed biography and I changed my mind. It’s not just what he’s done, it’s the way that he’s done it. Like all great footballers, he added about 20% to his natural talent by sheer hard work. Then he added something else. Some would call it charisma, and that’s fine. I’d call it character. Yes, he has traded on his football fame and on his wife’s Spice background to build a brand that’s made them multi-millionaires. But he’s done much more than that. He’s been an ambassador for his country whenever it has asked him to step forward. He stands out from the recent World Cup debacle as one of the few figures of integrity in global football. He’s a UNICEF ambassador and he’s a lead ing figure in an anti-malaria charity. He lives his life as a target for every paparazzo out to make a buck, and remains mostly spotless.
Becks has been a public figure for half of the life that was honoured last night, but I don’t believe that anyone truly appreciated what he is until his name was called out last night, and the entire massive audience stood and applauded him, quite spontaneously, until their throats and their palms were sore. It was cathartic; the opportunity to express true feelings and they all took it. There wasn’t dry eye in the house, or in ours. When, finally, they allowed him to speak, he wasn’t massively articulate, but what he said was balanced, humble, caring, good and from the heart.
Come the next honours list in ten days time, people will be knighted and ennobled. History tells us that many will have helped, in the main, only themselves. If Becks goes into 2011 as Sir David, it’ll be an honour bestowed for what he’s done for others, not for himself, and for what he means.
If there had been a category in last night’s awards for most twittering in world sport, Ian Poulter would have won. The result had barely been announced before he was out there protesting that either Graeme McDowell or Lee Westwood should have been lifting the trophy. Poulter is known for speaking his mind (This may be why the twitter format suits him. Work that one out.) and he has to be respected for supporting his mates, even when the winner is, like him, a notorious Arsenal supporter. However he’d have complained with more authority if he’d turned up for the event himself. Only three of the twelve members of the winning Ryder Cup team were present at what Ian P calls the Spoty awards, and two of them were candidates for the main awards. That meant that when the victorious side won (predictably) team of the year, only Lee Westwood, GMac and Ross Fisher were up on stage with Monty to receive it. But should they have been candidates, given that it’s a European, not British team and that six of its twelve members don’t hold UK passports? What the hell, better them than Chelsea, who are mostly foreign hired hands with a foreign coach.
Last night I did something that I can’t recall ever doing before. I voted in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. Better than that, I voted for the winner, and punched the air when the result was announced. Then I held on to the phone so that Eileen couldn’t negate it by voting for Jessica Ennis, worthy as she is. I needn’t have worried though, since it seems that A P McCoy ran away with it. Forty-one per cent of the poll in a ten-runner field indicates a pretty decisive victory. Why did I vote for him, when I’m not a great racing follower? Two reasons. First, in a field of excellent candidates, only he and Phil Taylor, a worthy runner-up, were so dominant in their sports. There is no world champion in National Hunt racing, but if there was, then Tony McCoy would have held the title for fifteen years. Second, there’s the nature of what he does. David Haye and Amir Khan (who should, IMO, have been the boxing candidate rather than the Hayemaker) put their well-being on the line in their sports, but they are looking to break their opponents’ bones. A P and his fellow jockeys compete against the certain knowledge that they’re the ones who’ll be suffering the fractures; he has had almost seven hundred falls in his career and he’s broken just about everything. He has also broken just about every record that’s open to him. At 36, he has a few more years left to raise those bars even higher.