Miscellany and detritus, from the writer of Is This Mutton?com

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Christmas greetings

Yes a merry Christmas to each and every one of us! I don't go in for this nonsense of "happy holidays" or "let's not mention the C word in case it upsets other religions."

The Magwich has been consumed (the pork pie: pay attention at the back!), the crackers pulled, the paper hats worn, the Da Vinci Code viewed and the Trivial Pursuit DVD untouched (grrr).

Now we're in what I call "the hiatus," when Christmas is over but not quite finished. You're fed up with leftovers and anything involving raisins or icing; the dustmen aren't coming for days and the bin is overflowing, and the nation doesn't return to work for days. The only sport seems to be fighting at the sales, which used to be called January Sales but now start on Boxing Day (an apt word, given the nature of the scrum, according to some of the papers today).

Oh well, better make the most of a few days off. Plenty of time to make some cards. I have enough trimmings now, thanks to some of my Christmas presents and a visit to Hobbycraft, Romford, today, to produce all my birthday cards for 07. I will be experimenting with resist stamping, shaker cards and Twinkling H20s. And now I've finally got the addresses of John's relatives in Ireland, I will need to get started!
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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Trial by Media

The Suffolk police chief revealed that a man held for questioning re Ipswich murders was being released, and his name wouldn't be disclosed at this time.

Splutter!

In the words of a Monty Python skit, well his real name is xxx, he is xx years old, he lives at xxxx and he works at Tesco. The minute he was arrested, the stable doors opened and the horse bolted: photos from his website, his mother's house, the man himself talking innocently to the BBC. Maybe the rules have changed, but when I was a trainee reporter, you didn't name a suspect until they had been charged. Once charged, you are still innocent until proved otherwise at trial.

But now, even though this man has been released, the old adage "no smoke without fire" will no doubt apply in a formerly quiet rural town which is now looking over its shoulder; he has been made out to be odd, by the press; a loner, someone we can all look down on (whereas in an earlier, kinder time, he may have been regarded as a philanthropist for trying to ease lives ravaged by drugs and prostitution).

My biggest worry is miscarriage of justice. We seem to have more of them these days. I have always firmly believed that Barry George is wrongly incarcerated, that he does not posssess the skill and intellectual ability needed to have murdered Jill Dando. But he was an easy target and once the media had carried out their trial, the jury was easy to convince, with nothing more than circumstantial evidence. Remember Colin Stagg? The killer of Rachel Nickell still walks free. Then there were the tragedies of Derek Bentley, hanged for shouting "let him have it," and later exonerated for the murder of a policeman; and Stefan Kiszko, who died not long after being released from prison for a murder he didn't commit.

So credit to Suffolk police for the strides they are making in the investigation -- another man is now charged with the murders -- but isn't it time the press and TV took a step backwards and examined their consciences?
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Thursday, December 21, 2006

The path to old gitdom

I sometimes see John's teenage children looking at me in That Way...you know, that somewhat bemused, occasionally exasperated way that teenagers have of looking at you as if you're a historical relic. Not surprisingly, it's a look you see more often when you're trying to be young and trendy and you're maybe talking about your other self on Second Life, or the latest musical offering from the Towers of London.

I've never been reticient about revealing my age (look at the title of my blog) or saying that I'm middle aged, although I always secretly hope I don't look my age. I remember thinking n my teens and early 20s that someone who was 37 was well past it. I remember Giz lamenting the fact that a divorced friend of hers never met any new men. I thought scathingly, "well she's 37 - no wonder!" I used to think that having a mortgage was the absolute epitome of Old Git-Dom, meaning you had conformed and sold out big time.

Of course over the years more and more symbols of Old Git Dom get added to your arsenal. Slippers, for example, and not the frou fou marabou trimmed type either. The desire to wear comfortable shoes when out on a shopping expedition. The embarrassing retention of facts from the 70s. One's partiality to a scooner of sherry (try telling everyone it's actually trendy to drink sherry chilled....). The strange discussion held over the Sunday roast, over what type of joint it is ("silverside" "British?" "No, Irish".)

But the most important thing that comes with age is confidence. I'm confident enough to wear slippers and tell you all, and not give a stuff. When you're young, you think you're cutting edge and trendy but really you're just following everyone else like a sheep, wearing the same outfits, using the same phrases.

I shudder at the tyranny of being young and trying to avoid the agony of being an outsider, an eccentric, old-fashioned, square or whatever. As you get older, you don't worry about what people think of you. You're proud to be different. And the great thing is that everything always comes back into fashion. So the high waisted jeans that I've had for five years, and kept wearing when everyone else's were showing their knickers and muffin tops (not a very flattering look, but that's sheep for you), are now high fashion again. Cool, huh? I won't hold my breath about the slippers though.
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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Arthur Cushing


I had sad news yesterday. My first boss, the former editor of the South Devon Times, Arthur Cushing, died at the weekend. I had sent him the annual Christmas card & letter, and received an email from his daughter Katy telling me Arthur had had cancer for six months and died peacefully in St Luke's Hospice, Plymouth.

I told Ms Julie (Julie Skentelbery, my pal since our Mirror Group Training Scheme days) who recalled how Arthur had sent us to the shops to get his tobacco, and how once, in a rare rage, he had impaled himself on the spike (where all the used copy was placed) when shouting at Chris Bartlett.

Arthur was a very mild-mannered man usually. Goodness knows how he managed to stay so patient, when his beloved newspaper was staffed only by hapless trainees straight from their six week induction course. He was an old school, old style editor, with attention to integrity, grammar and building relationships with the local community and police to collect stories. How I hated being sent on a "prowl," where I had to befriend the local undertaker amongst others. I was always puzzled about the etiquette of this; should I enquire "how's business?" or beat around the bush over a cup of tea for half an hour?

Arthur didn't drive so he was very appreciative when Julie and I took him to the Seven Stars or the Cherry Tree for lunch in her Morris 1000, which had a giant stone in the boot (for sentimental reasons) and a non-operational speedometer. The landlord of the Seven Stars, Mr Stout, was extremely generous with his portions and his name bore witness to that.

Initially when I started work at the South Devon Times we were based in West of England Newspapers' main building in Honicknowle, Plymouth. It had a state of the art printing press which barely gathered speed for the small run of the SDT. Arthur would get mildly stressed on press day as the proofs came back, more subbing was needed and the printers were getting difficult. Then, around 4pm, he would rush into the office beaming, holding some copies in his hand.

The Sunday Independent shared the same offices and the staff considered themselves much superior, so inevitably someone would be scathing about the headline. It's true that sometimes we struggled for news. I remember one of my more dubious stories was "Lettuce soon a luxury." A lot of the content was supplied by a network of old ladies who supplied stories about the Women's Institute, Townswomen's Guild and various religious groups. Some of these ladies were quite fanatical about the paper , particularly one Kathleen Luscombe in Ringwood, South Hams, who would ring up and shriek down the phone that the paper hadn't yet arrived there.

Arthur finally left the SDT and went to Muscat to edit the Times of Oman. He was thrilled to have a chauffeur driven car. After he retired, he would write occasionally with news of his travels.

I will raise a glass over Christmas in memory of Arthur, the man who launched my journalist career and that of many others, among them Val McDermid, Robert "Ned" Bowden, Nikki Slight, Henrietta Knight, Alan Nixon.
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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas in Munich



I spend a lot of time in Munich for work, and of course I lived there for 18 months in the period 1999 - 2000. But my mother (Giz) has never been there, because my father was too poorly to be left on his own. So I took her to Munich last week for a couple of days to see the Christmas markets.

It's such a beautiful place, probably my favourite city in the world. It turned out that Giz wasn't too impressed by the first Christmas market, at Marienplatz, so I didn't force Tollwood on her (huge market on the site of the Oktoberfest). Instead she wanted to go to a museum so we went to the Deutsche Museum. I've never been there before. The boats and canoes were very interesting (not meant ironically). We also went to the planetarium, though the commentary was entirely in German so we didn't understand any of it except occasional refrences to "Milch Strasse" and "Marz."

I had hoped to take Giz to a fabulous restaurant, the Bogenhauser Hof, but unfortunately it was fully booked. We did go to an Indian restaurant, newly named Ganesha (formerly Namaskar) not far from the Hilton where we were staying.

All in all a nice time; and on Saturday, back in London, we went to the Holbein exhibition at Tate Britain, which was marvellous (although sadly Anne of Cleves was not present), followed by The Nutcracker at the Coliseum with English National Ballet. This was a new version of a ballet we've seen several times before. It was very colourful and quite special.
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Monday, December 11, 2006

Festive Fun










Went to the annual Intel marketing Christmas party last week. Held as always as Sudbury House Hotel, Faringdon, and a severe case of deja vu walking in and seeing the same Christmas tree, the same table laid out with glasses, and so on. It may have even been the same turkey - very hard to tell with that tough old bird!

We had a Ladeez Table and certainly made the most noise, particularly with our rendition of "and a partridge in a pear tree" which far outshone the other tables, who'd gone mute at the prospect of singing (that's engineers for you).

We Ladeez didn't do too well with the quiz though. The questions were quite hard, not so much about celebrities or shoes, or even how many transistors on a processor, but far too many about the EU and golf.

Despite being exhorted not to cheat, mobile phones were soon flashing around the room, querying Google or phoning a friend. How else would Rick's table have scored 39 out of 40? Not that the Internet is always very reliable. Our Internet-supplied answer to the question "which leader coined the phrase 'Iron Curtain' was Goebbels, which we didn't think was right, and it wasn't (the correct answer was Churchill).

Anyway, we still ended up with 50% of the prize, one of two bottles of Champagne, thanks to Peggy's extraordinary skill at liberating bottles from tables.

Ladeez Awards
1) Mario Testino award for Photography: Kirsty Hammond
2) Best face when blowing up a balloon: Laura Conger
3) "Got to pick a pocket or two" award: Peggy Van Nieuwenhove
4) Most generous boss award: Rick
5) Booby prize for first to bed.....the author...zzzz

Anyway, it was a great night and wonderful to see some of our friends who recently left.
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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Princess Diana: when will it ever end?

At the risk of being controversial, I am extremely bored with all the hoo-ha surrounding the Princess Diana inquest, the ridiculous allegations about conspiracies and anything that Mohamnmed Al-Fayed has to say.

We should have had a complete and open inquest several years ago and drawn a line under the sorry business. There was clearly a lot of bungling between the British and French authorities, but that doesn't necessarily spell out "conspiracy." The word I would choose is "incompetence." Meanwhile the delays and prevarication about open or private inquest fuels the bonkers Daily Express which is obsessed with conspiracies and murder theories.

Without pre-empting the inquest, the facts seem to suggest that Diana died in a car crash. She wasn't wearing a seat belt. There was no reason to suggest any conspiracies. The driver was several times over the drink drive limit. Diana was divorced from Prince Charles and hardly a threat to the constitution. Some reports say she wasn't very seriously attached to Dodi Al Fayed. Then there's a report she was pregnant - but nothing suggests this was the case.

I was never a Diana fan, and since her death, a cult seems to have developed around her where she has taken on almost mystical qualities. "The princess of the people," warm and approachable. Well yes, but compared to the rest of the royal family, stiff and repressed, she couldn't be anything else. The charity work. Well sorry, but I never felt the same about it when I read that newspapers were always being tipped off about when to see her going about her secret charity work. Then there were the photo opportunities. The hang dog self-conscious pose at the Taj Mahal. The TV interview with the crazed eyeliner rimmed eyes. The behaviour. Throwing yourself down stairs is not a normal way to behave, nor is developing bulimia to attract attention.

I can understand why the royal family would drive anyone to despair, but she can't have been that naive that she didn't realise she was pre-destined for the role as bride because of her pure status and breeding stock potential. She knew about Camilla, and probably thought she would drive her older and less attractive rival away. But Charles likes pseudo intellectual debate, and surrounded himself with acolytes like Laurens Van Der Post. And he goes to dreary places like Balmoral, whereas Diana was a young woman who yearned for glamour and fun, not intellectual debate and trudging around Scotland in wellies.

Then there were the boyfriends. She certainly seemed to make up for lost time once she and Charles separated. Hewitt, Gilby, Will Carling, some doctor, an infatuation for Oliver Hoare (she made hundreds of calls to this married gentleman, and police were embarrassed when they investigated and found who was making them). And the various lurid writers of her life promise us there are many more romances with high-profile figures.

It's all as tawdry in retrospect as the sad little memorial in London and the even sadder little island when she is buried at her brother's estate, failing to draw the crowds. In my view, time to develop some proportion and perspective, and to move on.
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