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Last night a DJ ended my life

December 12, 2012

Prank calling has been a staple of a certain type of radio show for decades, this station and these DJs didn’t invent it. It may have been a silly thing to do, but actually, what were they after – they were just ringing to find out how a public figure was doing, and were told she was doing fine.

A nurse who was probably not trained or experienced in reception work took the call and passed it thrrough to the ward who were then responsible for the call.

The ward were wrong in passing out information to the radio station, but actually what real harm was done. It is just suppposition, but if there had been anything seriously wrong with the patient, might that not have made the ward staff a little more circumspect – spreading good news is easy.

The nurse who initially took the call might have been expected to be embarrassed at putting it through to the ward, but as the hospital were not providing a reception service, would they really have taken disciplinary action against her for putting the call through to someone better able to deal with it? One assumes they are familiar with employment law even if they are not decent human beings with common sense. Any disciplinary action would have been against the ward staff who gave out the actual information.

No one in the whole sorry saga could have known that the unfortunate nurse would take her own life. Of course it cannot be denied that this incident was the trigger, but it is inconceivable that it was this incident in isolation that drove her to it.

It is also inconceivable that this was the intended consequence of the actions of the DJs or the radio station – it is in the nature of “prank” calls that someone might be embarrassed, and that is why I personally don’t like them. Of course a draconian organisation might instigate disciplinary procedures against staff who are duped by it, so it cannot be said to have no consequence, and perhaps in their hubris the DJs ignored this possibility, but they do not, simply for a little hubris, deserve the conscience-scarring horror of the unintended consequence.

So while the majority of sympathy should rightly be towards the family of Jacintha Saldanha, it is a cold heart indeed that does not have some sympathy with the DJs whose lives are forever affected by the massively disproportionate effects of their silliness.

When this all blows over and we have all forgotten it, those affected will have the rest of their lives to think about it. I know how in sleeplessness I can dwell on things I wish had happened differently, about the times I have behaved badly towards people, or those times I was embarrassed or ashamed by my own actions – fortunately none of mine even indirectly led to the death of another person. I have enough empathy to tremble at the shock and shame and those involved will have to endure.

While the natural instinct towards the Duchess of Cambridge might be to leave her out of this equation, expecting her privileged and cosseted life to remove her from this sorry situation unimpacted, a second’s thought will reveal that financial and physical security does not equate to an iummunity from emotional impact. Without her presence in the hospital, none of this would have happened. While of course no blame can be attached to her, what must have been an already difficult time in a young woman’s life, during her first pregnancy, has become tainted with tragedy. However one may feel about the royal family, a degree of sympathy is surely in order for her unwitting part in this terrible afffair.

Auntie’s Bloomers or dirty washing?

October 23, 2012

I have little to add to the furore over the reported actions of Jimmy Savile. Every right-thinking person should be repulsed by the abuse of any other human being, but particularly of those least able to defend themselves.

That it is the BBC that is the recipient of the major part of the political ire, when it is suggested that Savile carried on his abuse at children’s homes and hospitals, is hardly surprising.

The BBC is an easy target for politicians and competitors, partly because a good BBC storm helps deflect attention from the casual destruction of some of the support services in social work and NHS which would, one might hope, prevent occurrences of abuse, or at the very least pick up some of the pieces

There there are not many politicians who have put their heads above the parapet without inviting the Corporation’s scrutiny. That there is now an argument around Newsnight in particular must feel like birthdays and Christmas all rolled into one for the opportunist BBC-baiters.

However, much it is right that an independent investigation is carried out to see what lessons can be learned from this sorry mess, it is not for Parliament to scrutinise any editorial decisions taken at the BBC, even if they turn out to have been astronomically misguided. The editorial policy of the BBC should not be without accountability, but that accountability should be to the Governors and the BBC Board. It is to these folk that the DG should be scuttling in to see today.

If Parliament is allowed to interfere in the editorial policy of the BBC, it will be a bad day for the BBC, but also Parliament. An independent news media organisation, which at least makes it a rule to be impartial, and I would say, given the criticism of bias from both sides of the House largely achieves this, is an incredibly valuable addition to society. It provides a degree of protection from the more extreme lunacy of the politicians by casting scrutiny over what they say and do. No doubt an absence of this would be attractive to politicians. That is the reason it must not happen.

Sadly, as happened with the Andrew Gilligan affair, the BBC appears to be ready to eat itself from the inside over this. Certainly it looks like mistakes were made, and inevitably people will pay for those mistakes. This is all well and good, but I do not believe much is achieved by sacking capable people because a filthy predator was able to either pull the wool over their eyes, or to gain enough power in the Corporation to shut down any dissent or investigation.

The failure of the BBC and other organisations to stop the abuse is a much more serious thing than the failure to report it, notwithstanding the nature of the BBC. The internal editorial failure is a cause for investigation, but to focus the wider investigation on the BBC rather than the hospitals and institutions where Savile is said to have committed this litany of perversion is narrow sighted and a betrayal of those he abused.

Coalesce – How they stole all your money

October 18, 2012

Any incoming Government is going to blame the last lot for the things that are going wrong, and let’s face it the lot that assumed power in 2010 had a lot to blame the last lot for. Basically we were broke, but actually, we had a bunch of banks we’d bailed out, so that would be OK wouldn’t it?

You’d have thought that taking over the banks would have let the Government(s) the right to tell the banks to bloody well behave themselves and start acting like proper banks, lending money sensibly to good businesses so that those businesses could keep on employing people and, gawd help us, actually making things we collectively need once in a while, or lending sensibly to people who could afford to pay it back so they could maybe get a mortgage like their parents had been able to.

But this didn’t happen, and the money men and their apologists tried to make it our fault that they had pressure sold mortgages people COULDN’T afford, and then sold on this debt as if it were safe, with the collusion of the all powerful rating agencies – the same ones crippling whole countries with their pronouncements. When the music stopped and they were found without a chair they said it was us being greedy for wanting somewhere to live rather than them wanting somewhere ELSE to live.

In the midst of all this turmoil came some sensible men in ties. They had been to good schools and groomed for leadership all their lives. Surely these were the right people to take over when it was all going wrong?

But these men hadn’t ever known what it was like to work for a living, or struggled to pay for the things they need for their families and children. They didn’t mix with that sort of people until they had to persuade us to vote for them. Then they went to factories and took their jackets off as if they were just one of the lads building tractors.

Even then we were a little bit afraid. When people like them were last in charge they had been “the nasty party”. For all the going to the arctic to talk about how we shouldn’t travel so much – sorry, I mean how we should all be looking after the lovely polar bears. We simply didn’t trust them not to be horrid. And in the end, not enough of us trusted them to let them have it all their way. In the end, they had to share the top jobs with the “nice party”. Surely that was a match made in heaven. The nasty ones with the oomph to get things done with the nice ones making sure they didn’t go too far.

The trouble with that is that the nice people were too nice to stop the nasty people being nasty.

The nasty people didn’t need to go to tractor factories any more. They didn’t need to mix with the rest of us. They could go back to hob-nobbing with their friends who ran newspapers and banks, and because they were now in charge of making the rules, they could make the rules their friends wanted. So by and large they did.

And once they were in charge they pretended that the thing they wanted to do more than anything anyway, and they always had was just what we all needed to punish us for being so greedy before. So they started taking away the libraries and jobs and gave all the money they saved to the banks in case the people in charge of the banks (the ratings companies) thought for a minute that the country was doing things for its people rather than the banks and tried to make it a poor country.

These people didn’t like anything being provided for ordinary people, even though you and I paid them a lot of money to provide those things we need when things go wrong. No, they wanted us to pay even more money to insurance companies or private suppliers for the things we used to get from the money they gave them. The money we gave them was given to their friends at the bank.

All the time up went the price of electricity, food and petrol, and the rich people who owned the companies who provided the electricity food and petrol got even richer, and closed down the factories in the countries that had made them rich and opened ones in poor countries where they didn’t have to pay anyone properly, so they got richer, while we all got poorer because those who still had jobs were told to be grateful they still had jobs and not expect any more money to pay for the things that were getting more expensive.

And some of them talked about how what they were doing was for “hard working families” when the families had to work harder and longer, and about a squeezed middle, which was being squeezed until it squeaked. All the time they were all getting richer and looking forward to a time when they didn’t have to be in charge anymore and their friends from their good schools with their nice ties would give them lots of money to come and be in charge of dipping their snouts in the money trough without those terrible ordinary people being in the way.

And the tractor factory could be shut down and moved to somewhere no one could pronounce.

Songs of Experience

October 9, 2012

I wonder why people photograph gigs so assiduously. I don’t mean the people whose job it is to photograph them for magazines – those folk you see scurrying around in front of the barrier (be nice to them, they may pass you a setlist or plectrum if that’s your bag) – but those who go to pub gigs with the best part of a grandsworth of digital SLR hanging from their neck.

Maybe it is because the fans are of a certain age where disposable income is reasonable, but the progressive rock gigs I go to seem to be as photographed as a Leicester Square premiere. Fortunately most stick to the “no flash” protocol, but I can’t be the only one who objects to a long lens being waggled about quarter of an inch from my ear. Personal space at a gig is a luxury I don’t expect, but a small amount of airspace round the head is surely not too much to ask.

A fair few people I count as friends photograph gigs, taking hundreds of shots, looking at the gig seemingly in terms of where the next great shot is coming from. Many of them take amazing pictures that could happily grace the pages of any music magazine, indeed some have. And most if not all of those I count as friends are considerate to those around them when they take their pictures. In fact it is the professionals at slightly higher profile gigs without a photo pit that cause problems, as well as those who are holding up their phones so I can only see the singer’s face through their screens like an X_Factor ad-sting.

I don’t object to this hobby – it’s really none of my concern what anyone else spends their money and time on, although I do object slightly when I have to fight for a place at the front, not because lots of other people want to have a great view of the gig, but because I might want to experience rather than record the gig.

And there’s the crux of it. I want to experience a thing that is fundamentally unreproducable – a live event. I very rarely watch live music DVDs, even though for some reason I keep buying them from time to time, because what a recording, a photo set or even a video cannot do is reproduce the experience of live music.

And it is wider even than live music. Perhaps it comes from the same place as not having or wanting to have children, but I have no view to posterity. I want to experience the heck out of, rather than worry about recording, all the best bits of life. It’s bad enough having to go to work for a living withoput making the fun bits feel like work, albeit chosen and more enjoyable work. I cannot see how those people recording every moment as if it can’t have been unless on film or tape (shows my age, these days it’s on SD card) feel that they have experienced it in a real “I was there” sense if they have seen a significant amount of the event through a viewfinder (or modern equivalent).

Perhaps it is not for posterity but for a personal record. Even though I would rather have experiences now rather than store up a cache of once removed material for a future I don’t even know I’ve got. Perhpas I will regret this when all I have are these tangible memories and not only is my memory going, but also my memory is going.


You hear from time to time that the first impetus of many when confronted by a situation isn’t to help/flee but to whip out the camera phone and take a picture of the clamity/peril. How can that impetus be healthy? Are we so much lords of all we survey that we can afford to supress that hard-won evolutionary fight/flight instinct.

A black day for the blind

December 22, 2011

So John Terry calls someone a “black c**t” on the football field and suddenly he is up before the beak, whereas when he claimed he called someone a “blind c**t” that was perfectly alright, with no prospect of admonition even from the seemingly trigger happy footballing authorities.

Let me say straight off that racism is illogical. If, as the latest science reporting would have it, what we know as the rich and diverse tapestry of humanity came for the most part from a small number of nomads exiting Africa about 70,000 years ago, any judgements made on pigmentation, eye shape or any other physically manifest variation in such a short period would be akin to suggecting that the Pembrokeshire Corgi is the natural master of the Cardigan Corgi.

That out of the way, why is the accusation of racism quite so toxic, when almost any other “ism”, while it may be frowned upon, rarely invokes the public bile in the way of racism?

Apart from the boorish behaviour of Andy Gray and Richard Keys, it seems that sexism in sport is largely ignored. There has been a little bluster about the all-male shortlist for this year’s Sports Personality gong, but there would surely be uproar if an all white shortlist were announced in the year that Mo Farah came good, yet where is Beth Tweddle, Victoria Pendleton. The bias towards mens sports on television, as well as in funding, is an unspoken scandal.

Why, in 2011, is it still the case that while the whole country knows that there must be some top flight footballers that are gay, would it be career suicide for any to come out, certainly while still playing. Homophobia is just as illegal as racism, but can you seriously imagine JT in the dock for calling another player a poof?

There has been institutionalised racism for hundreds of years, and that the British Empire, as well as the United States was significantly built on slavery, one of mankinds worst traits. There could be argued a special case for racism of white against black, given that it is the oppressor against the oppressed.

That washes less, however, when you look at the tratment of other groups. Women were seen as the possession of their husbands long after the abolition of slavery. Many countries and cultures actively restrict women’s rights, especially over their own bodies and reproduction.

Homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1967 in England, and not until 1982 in Northern Ireland. In many countries of the world it is still illegal, and in a very few it is even punishable by death.

It is true that in many Western countries, despite great strides towards equality, the prospects for those of different races are significantly different, but it is also true that there is still a significant gender gap in pay for women.

And what of the blind? Well in general reality does not live up to the law on the treatment of any disabled groups. The recent twitterstorm over the use of the word “mong” seems to suggest that many still regard language that discriminates against those with a disability as acceptable, while the opportunities afforded to the disabled in terms of access to services or opportunities for engagement in society and especially to positions of influence are scant.

Certainly the Equality Act 2010 in the UK seeks to address prejudice and discrimination in work and public life without favouring one particular group over another, and for that shoudl be lauded.

It reamins the case though that the reaction to racism far outstrips the reaction to expressions of prejudice over any other factor. I’m not suggesting a “race to the bottom” where racist language should somehow be OK because sexist or diablist language goes unpunished, I’m suggesting we think about all our prejudices.

The Suarez case is easy for the football authorities to deal with harshly as it makes them look tough on racism without affecting the captain of the national side. I wonder what their, and Chelsea’s reaction would be were the prosecution against John Terry to succeed.

So perhaps it is a good thing that prosecuters get involved, but only if similar high-profile figures are brought to legal task for outbursts against other groups protected under equality laws.

Miltary Wives

December 20, 2011

This choir, put together for a tv show just as much as Little Mix were assembled for the X Factor, looks like being Christmas #1 with a mawkish public outpouring of what should be kept private.

This single, given an hour-long advertisement by the BBC the other night seems to be made up of the private thoughts of soldiers in Afghanistan sent home to their wives. Personally, if I sent back a message to someone I loved when about to go into hell, the last thing I’d want is for it to be commercially exploited, but I suppose consent must have been granted.

However, I balk at this received opinion that anything connected to the military must be supported no matter what its worth in and of itself.

It seems to stem from the view that all troops are “heroes” irrespective of whether they have displayed heroism.

The overuse of the word “hero” really irritates me as it actually cheapens the true heroism shown by a few.

The theatre of war gives more opportunities than most other walks of life to display heroism, but not every soldier is a hero, and not every soldier who is killed in the theatre of war is a hero. If they have dragged colleagues out from under sniper fire or from a burning vehicle then they are heroic, if they take a bullet or the force of a blast to save colleagues then they are a hero. Someone who is in a war and is simply shot by a sniper or blown up by a rocket attack is not displaying heroism. Their death should be mourned just as much as someone who has shown heroism, but simply being in the army doesn’t make them a hero.

I feel that the Government play on the general view of the ordinary soldier as “hero” to hide an unwinnable and unnecessary conflict behind. Anyone questioning the reasons behind the conflict is showing lack of support for “our boys” when it is the Government underfunding them and sometimes fatally underequipping them.

My grandad served for years in the British Legion, and I was proud of that and I completely support the work they do for servicemen and women and wear my poppy with pride on Rememberance Day, although I regret the ostentatiousness of its display for a whole month which seems to have entered public life.

Actually oftentimes it might be the heroism to battle through horrific injuries sustained in conflict where true heroism shines through. The largely unseen work that The British Legion does to support this process is worthy of immense praise.

My inner conflict is that this work is valuable and we should all support it. Howwever, while I have nothing but support for the British Legion, it remains the fact that suppport, like so much of the support shown by charitable organisations, should come from the Government. If the Government chooses to deploy its forces then the very minimum they should do is support the individuals deployed throughout their deployment AND after deployment when many will need most help.

I recognise that the world is such that, as a country, you need some sort of defensive force against those who would do you in. I resist the lionising of anything militaristic as unimpeachable and deserving of unquestioning support, as demonstrated by the massive sales for this mawkish record, as it lets the Government off the hook for neglecting its duty of care to the military.

I guess there is a lack of admiration for those we used to look up to, politicians used to stand for something, journalists used to dig up the truth rather than mucky gossip, so our admiration rests with those who through no fault of their own are shipped out to die in foreign conflicts which, if not entirely pointless in themselves, are rendered so by the lack of resources committed to them or the lack of political will to take the steps necessary to win them.

As an aside, what about teachers that battle against at best apathy, at worst genuine physical danger to attempt to deliver some sort of education to the children that, if they genuinely are our future, make for a sorry prospect. Is it in the Government’s interests to present their bravery as heroism – of course not, otherwise people might think they deserve the pensions they agreed to on entering the profession.