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Month: March 2010

Merciful release?

Merciful release?

Nobody emerges well from this story. Not even the mother who paid the killers £20 a week to look after the child while she decorated her home for a month. Did the windows not open? A few paint fumes are far less harmful than being kicked to kingdom come by a Tesco Value Ian and Myra. I’m afraid to say that if that’s the level of care the child could have been expecting through his formative years, this child’s life was going to be fairly wretched. The appalling suffering he had to endure now may well have saved him from lifelong torture.

Free to lance

Free to lance

Being a man, important dates float by me without ceremony. Family birthdays, etc. I’m not being thoughtless or selfish. I’d forget my own birthday if not for the reminders from family and friends. I now realise that one rather important occasion floated past without comment the other day. I was filling in a very boring form, and it asked me how long I’ve been in my present employment. As I left Publishing News on 22 March 2002, I’ve now been a full-time freelance writer for 8 years and 3 days. I use the phrase full-time advisedly, for the main joy of doing what I do is that I don’t keep regular hours. Also, working at home means that I get to see a lot of my daughter as she grows up. So, 8 years without a regular guaranteed income, and I’m still keeping my head above water (just about). I think that’s worthy of celebration. Nothing fancy. Lidl has ersatz Pomagne for £1 a bottle. That’s about my level. Cheers.

Gerrymandering or Geffen-Mandy-ing?

Gerrymandering or Geffen-Mandy-ing?

Last night’s Panorama on downloading and the Digital Economy Bill was predictably shrill and ill-informed. The sight of Jo Whiley practically dancing with the bloke from the BPI during a presentation on why downloading was bad, m’kay, was particularly sick-making. The most interesting bit for me, though, was the fact that screen shots of YouTube kept popping up as examples of naughty digital activity. This is not unjustified, but it didn’t acknowledge the fact that BBC programmes routinely use clips gathered from YouTube, which were put there by people other than the original rights holders. Meanwhile, in programmes like Screenwipe, I’ve seen clips clearly sourced from Divx/XviD files of the sort used in BitTorrenting. So, is the BBC’s Internet connection going to be cut off?

Maybe I’m old-fashioned. I don’t download things that are commercially available. If I want something and it can be bought, I buy it. However, I do share and download an awful lot of commercially-unavailable archive TV, some of which will never be released due to rights tangles or the fact that I’m the only person who wants to watch it. What I’m doing is technically an infringement, but it’s not taking any money away from the content producers, and it’s creating an awareness of the material. If companies want to stop people like me downloading, they should make their archives available at reasonable prices. It’s the same argument I’ve used since the record industry got humpty about Napster a decade ago. Indeed, some unofficially-shared material has gone on to be a great success when finally released on DVD or CD, largely because of the increased audience who became aware of it through file-sharing.

I gave up on the programme before the end, but the upshot of it seemed to be that if you download illegal stuff, you will be visited by a fat IT man called Keith. Isn’t that deterrent enough?

Dear Diary

Dear Diary

Inspired by the Michael Palin 1980-1988 chronicles I received for Christmas, a desire to rescue my handwriting from ruin after years of typing and the fact that Asda had day-to-view diaries for £1, I’ve been keeping a journal this year. I wondered whether I’d be able to keep it up, but 11 days into the 3rd month of the year, I can report with some pride that I haven’t missed a day yet. Sometimes I forget to jot down my thoughts (such as they are) at the end of the day, and have to play catch up, but I’ve managed to fill every page so far. Most of the contents seem mundane and humdrum now, but in time, I suspect they’ll acquire a greater level of interest, particularly the bits about sharing my living and work space with a small, inquisitive, very funny child. Even if they don’t acquire any interest, the regular practice has improved my scribble immeasurably, and gives my small fleet of fountain pens an outing other than writing shopping lists on the backs of envelopes or drawing splotchy moustaches and antennae on Z-list celebrities in the paper. I know that a blog’s a form of diary, but are there any other analogue diarists out there?

Sense amid the senseless

Sense amid the senseless

Anyone who wishes to venture an opinion either way on the Jon Venables situation should read and digest this superb blog post by a social worker. This Guardian comment piece by Simon Jenkins is worth a look too, as is Brian Masters’ contribution to the debate in the Telegraph. Everything else I have seen in the mainstream media has been fit only for cutting into squares and hanging from a nail in the outside privy. If I’ve missed any other intelligent contributions to the debate, please let me know.

Mike Giggler writes

Mike Giggler writes

I’ve just had a text message from Terry Venables saying that he’s Eddie Calvert, the man with the golden trumpet. At least I think that’s what it said. The spelling was atrocious. Anyway, let’s go round and attack his house. Throw paint at it, I say. Cherry pink and apple blossom white. That’s the way.

Special Kay (slight return)

Special Kay (slight return)

The contemporary reporting of the John Kay case is oddly muted. The Times carried a news in brief paragraph on 12 September 1977, stating that Sun chief reporter Kay was to stand trial for the murder of his wife, but that’s it as far as the nation’s journal of record goes. For a bit more background, we must turn to page 4 of the Guardian of 13 December 1977, and a report headlined “‘Torment’ of reporter who killed wife”.

The Grauniad reports Kay’s QC Daniel Hollis as saying that “Mr Kay was cracking up at the prospect of taking over as the Sun’s industrial editor – a job he did not feel able to hold down”. Kay himself claimed to be “taken over by voices. I seemed possessed. It was an utter nightmare”.

Then the report comes to the details of what happened on the night in question. Having despatched his Japanese wife Harue in a swift and efficient manner “by strangling and drowning her”, Kay then “tried repeatedly to kill himself”. The paragraph listing Kay’s attempts bears repeating in full:

“He slashed his wrists with razor blades but did not inflict serious injury; he flung himself head first out of a window, but a plastic dustbin broke his fall; he tried to gas himself but an automatic lighting device on the cooker prevented him; he tried to hang himself with flex but could not get into the right position; and then he drove to a bridge over the Stevenage bypass but found it was too low to fling himself over. In his final attempt he drove his car into the back of a parked car at 80 mph, but ‘miraculously’ survived with relatively minor injuries.”

Sober, sensitive reporting, as you’d expect from the 1977-vintage Guardian. Can you imagine how The Sun would have reported this case, had it not involved a valued member of the paper’s own staff? Do I hear the word ‘loony’? Meanwhile, I’m wondering if the creators of Viz read this report and remembered it when creating the hapless Suicidal Syd?

Special Kay

Special Kay

The Sun‘s coverage of the Jon Venables situation is the embodiment of all that’s worst about modern journalism. In the right situation, bumping into the boundaries of acceptability and legality can be a valuable safeguard of free speech and freedom of information, as it can bring out into the open details that the public not only have a right to know, but, as citizens, should know. This isn’t that situation. We’re looking at simple bloodlust – an eye for an eye. Already, idiots on Facebook are claiming to know Venables’ new identity and getting other idiots to pass it on. With any luck, they’ll soon have experience of incarceration themselves, as it’s impossible to see such an act as anything other than incitement to violence.

Meanwhile, The Sun‘s coverage is being overseen by the paper’s chief reporter John Kay. The same John Kay who, in 1977, drowned his Japanese wife Harue in the bath of their Barnet home before attempting to gas himself. Driven mad by the pressure of work as the paper’s industrial correspondent, he could see no other way out for himself or his wife, who had been cut off by her family for marrying a westerner. He was convicted of manslaughter with diminished responsibility, and, on his release from Friern Barnet mental hospital, was welcomed back by his employer. The problem for me isn’t that Kay killed his wife. I’m happy to accept that he was temporarily deranged. I’ve been temporarily deranged too, and it’s a dark place to inhabit. The problem is that The Sun showed a greater degree of enlightenment and understanding when one of its own transgressed than it would ever have done in any other circumstances. Imagine the reporting of a similar case where the killer was AN Other.

There’s also the question of whether Denise Fergus realises that the man to whom she is pouring out her feelings about the killers of her son is a convicted killer himself?