A publishing contract with a cost…

A publishing contract came through the letterbox the other day, but I won’t be signing it. As this might seem strange from a published writer who is desperate to be published again, this blog offers an explanation.

The last contract I signed was with Minotaur Books for a two-book American deal. The money involved was not huge. Around £3,000, plus a dribble of royalties to follow later. Still, I’d written the books already for publication by a small York publisher, so it seemed like a deal. And I was genuinely thrilled, spotting opportunities lined up the horizon like ducks at the fair (foolishly forgetting in my excitement what happens to ducks lined up at the fair).

The two York-based crime books came out in hardback and were reviewed quite nicely, apart from the critic who said there weren’t enough murders. And another one who said the second novel wasn’t a thriller as it said on the front. Well, writers don’t put those words on the front, and I guess the thriller is a flexible beast.

Anyway, here in the name of dusty vanity are a couple of quotes about that first novel, The Amateur Historian. “Cole’s debut rings so many fresh changes on the echoes-of-the-past thriller that even more readers will welcome the series it introduces” (Kirkus).

Jay Stafford of the Richmond Times-Despatch – lovely man, clearly, although we have never met – said my novel was a “fascinating look at how the intersection of past and present can turn deadly”, adding that it “succeeds on so many levels that the reader can but hope that Cole’s next effort lives up to this commanding debut”.

That next effort, Felicity’s Gate, also received some decent reviews, although not from the critic whose taste for blood remained unsatisfied.

The novels never made it into paperback, where they belonged, as the publishers covered their costs on the hardback and put aside their promised plans.

They also declined a third novel in my Rounder Brothers series, called The Baedeker Murders, which I put on Amazon for Kindle, where it can still be found cowering in a lonely corner.

Since then there has been the time-slip crime novel about the York Mystery Plays, written and re-written and now in a locked drawer on the laptop, awaiting future attention.

I write most of the time, but there does come a day when you wonder at the point of it all. It’s a compulsion, I guess – sometimes a happy compulsion, sometimes a banging-head-against-desk compulsion. It’s likely I will only stop when fingers or brain seize up.

Does writing making a person happy? Er, um – less unhappy than they would be if they didn’t do it. Oh, but that’s a bit gloomy. So, yes, putting words in reasonable order can make a writing sort of person happier than they would otherwise be.

But it is still nice to be read, to see those words in print, and to spot your book on the shelves.

The book with an offer of publication is a thriller – I hope that word is acceptable – about a man who escapes a life on benefits by becoming a hitman. Newman, the hero, is an innocent abroad in the worlds of politics, journalism and espionage. An innocent who kills people for money (best and only job he’s ever had).

Anyway, the manuscript went to a publisher spotted on Facebook. I won’t name them as they had the decency to read the book and make intelligent remarks, or flattering remarks.

They wrote back within about six weeks, which is lightning fast in publishing circles, offering me a contract – if I stumped up £2,300 to support publication.

A broke man cannot afford such a cost, so no. And I don’t want to borrow the money, as the whole thing doesn’t seem right somehow. The experience has put me in a writerly tizzy. This writing lark was supposed to make money – not cost money.

I will now wind up today’s blog, and do a spot more work on the second new novel on the go: a murder-mystery set in Victorian York, reimagined with steampunk elements.

Lord, what sort of an idiot comes up with such an idea? Funny thing is, on this rewrite it’s beginning to make a mad sort of sense.

So, I won’t stop writing just yet, even if sometimes it does seem like the compulsion of an idiot optimist.

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I told you social media was weird…

SOCIAL media makes people weird, doesn’t it? This thought strikes me first thing in the morning. I am in the conservatory with the radio on and my feet chilly on the tiles (summer interrupted). Facebook has been checked to see which of the two billion other users have noticed me (approximately three). Twitter has been skimmed (2,710 followers but not really counting – honest).

I just spotted a clever meme – I think that is what they are called – on Twitter with a clip of a woman to accompany the question: “Should I recommend Twitter to a friend?” Her endlessly repeated answer is: “Yes! No! Oh, I don’t know!” That seems to sum up the hopelessly addictive trap that is Twitter.

Social media offers many opportunities. But it can make us needy, clicking to see who has ‘liked’ our contribution, mentioned us or – if you write a blog – who has read what you have written. Or if anyone has read a word. Please do, needy writing person on the laptop prowl.

On the BBC website this morning, you will discover two stories about social media weirdness. The first is a modern-day tragedy rooted in this thirst for attention: a man accidentally killed by his loving partner in a social media stunt gone wrong.

Monalisa Perez, 19, from Minnesota has been charged over the fatal shooting of her boyfriend. She shot Pedro Ruiz as he held a book to his chest, believing this would stop the bullet.

This tragic stunt was watching by the couple’s three-year-old child and around 30 onlookers. The bullet, having misunderstood the rules of the game, went through the book and into the poor man’s chest.

Ruiz’s aunt, Claudia Ruiz, told a local TV station that her nephew told her he wanted to do the stunt “because we want more viewers, we want to get famous”.

The couple started a YouTube channel in March, aiming to show “the real life of a young couple who happen to be teen parents”. And they were hoping for an attention boost.

To end up dead but fleetingly famous seems like a cruel modern parable. Perhaps this could have a cautionary title: The Man Who Wanted Too Much Attention, or something.

Hidden in there somewhere is the everyday truth that it is enough to be liked or admired by your family and friends. Yet many of us still seek social media attention, hoping to be noticed by the wider world. Guilty as charged in my case – even though on a deeper level I recognise the inadequacy of this behaviour.

Monalisa Perez was nervous about the stunt, which was her boyfriend’s idea. She tweeted: “Me and Pedro are going to shoot one of the most dangerous videos ever. HIS idea not MINE.”

Could that tweet be called on by her defence in court? She certainly seems innocent in a wider sense. But she held that gun. And fired that bullet.

To add another turn to this very modern tragedy, Perez is pregnant with the couple’s second child.

Social media makes people weird (part two). The second piece of evidence on the BBC website concerns a fake story about a ‘miracle baby’ being found in Grenfell Tower 12 days after the tragic inferno.

This made-up story was pushed under the banner ‘Metro’ – like the free newspaper, but in a different typeface. The post also pinched the BBC’s breaking news graphic, adding the words: “Baby rescued from burnt building 12 days after London’s Grenfell Tower fire.”

The story was soon debunked by mainstream news outlets. The miracle baby was an extreme version of a trend that the BBC discovered after this year’s terror attacks in Manchester and London. Stories about fake victims were posted online “within minutes of the attack”, according to the Beeb’s website.

We can only suppose people do this for clicks and attention. And it works, as fake stories are picked up by mainstream reporters, who report the truth – while repeating the lie. And the process continues, the truth chasing the lie in a whirlwind of attention seeking. Sometimes the lie gets thousands of clicks, and in the weird social media world, something so widely shared or seen acquires its own truth: even when it’s a bare-faced lie.

I told you social media was weird. I wonder if Facebook’s changed since I started typing this…

Time magazine and the fake Trump…

THIS morning I am distracted by Trump. It is foolish to surrender to this impulse as there must surely be something more important to consider. But still, Trump it is.

The story catching my eye is that Time magazine has asked the Trump organisation to remove fake covers bearing his image from his golf clubs.

To avoid confusion at this point, it is worth remembering that the ‘Trump organisation’ is not the US government, but the president’s massive business empire. It is easy to confuse the two as they are both headed by the same orange-faced, straw-mopped loon.

For proof of Trump’s strangeness, here is a further distraction. On the Guardian website, and no doubt in other places too, you can find a short video of Donald Trump making a phone call from the Oval Office to congratulate Ireland’s new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

After bumbling something about having lots of Irish people in the US, and saying that he knows most of them, Trump tells Varadkar that he has “a lot of these beautiful Irish press” in the room and singles out Caitriona Perry, who works for RTE, saying “she has a nice smile on her so I’m sure she treats you well”.

Trumps beckons Perry over for a closer look and she posted the exchange on Twitter, calling it “bizarre” – which it is, although no more bizarre than having such a weirdo as US president.

Anyway, back to those fake Time magazine covers. According again to the Guardian, which had it from the Washington Post, a framed Time cover featuring Trump and the headline “Donald Trump: The Apprentice is a television smash!” seen hanging at Mar-a-Lago in Florida was clearly faked.

At the top of this bogus cover was the proclamation: “TRUMP IS HITTING ON ALL FRONTS… EVEN TV!”

The cover is dated March 1, 2009 and is said to have been on display at four of Trump’s golf clubs, even though Time magazine confirmed to the Post that it had never run in the magazine. The actual cover for that date showed the actor Kate Winslett.

I guess the sins of Trump are many, various and huge, so this is really a small matter. But still. The man who leads the free world (gulp and another gulp); the man who is obsessed with fake news (i.e. news of which he disapproves); yes, that man – he faked covers of Time magazine to give his ego a polish. And if you’re wondering where he keeps that ego, it’s a massive barrage balloon that floats above his rather large head; an ego extension if you like, as the original long ago out-grew its original home.

Anyway again, do you know what’s truly odd about this amateurishly fake cover of Time magazine? Last December, the magazine named Trump its ‘Person of the year’. So, he could have had those real magazines framed to replace all the old fake ones.

But there is a catch to the real cover. It describes him as the “president of the divided states of America” and continues a 90-year tradition of naming the person “who’s had the greatest effect on the world and the news for good or for ill”.

Ah, so perhaps the barrage balloon wasn’t so happy about the under-handed compliment.

So, yes, hands up – I have been distracted by Trump when weightier matters were within easy grasp. Trump is the great distractor. That’s how he operates, creating mayhem with a blizzard of stupid Tweets and stupider remarks. And all the while, behind the bluster and the bullshit, he is getting on with making the US a more divided society, and making the world even less safe that it was before he blagged his way into the White House.

Mrs Maybe shakes down the magic money tree…

LIKE Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny, the magic money tree was assumed not to exist. Theresa May was keen during the election to deny rumours of this mythical monetary tree.

“There’s no magic money tree,” she liked to say, when she wasn’t giving herself a mouth ulcer muttering “strong and stable” so very often. How heartening then to discover that this woody perennial does indeed exist, and that its branches dip and bend with bags of money.

During her dire election campaign, Mrs Maybe told a nurse who hadn’t had a pay rise in eight years: “There’s no magic money tree.” Now she seems to have found that legendary tree after all. Perhaps she spotted it while skipping through a field of wheat.

The tree has magicked up a billion quid to hand to Northern Ireland so that Mrs Maybe can come to a ‘confidence and supply’ deal with Arlene Foster and the DUP.

Money that was said not to exist for the NHS or education in the rest of Britain has been found to keep shore up Mrs Maybe’s majority. The deal scrabbled together between the Tories and the DUP is a notch down from an official coalition, as we had between the Tories and the Lib-Dems. Basically, a smaller party agrees to support a larger party in return for a promised sweetener and influence on policy.

Such deals are common on the continent and in the Irish Republic – as I now know from my part-time Press Association job subbing on the Sunday Independent. The Fine Gael minority government has come to a ‘confidence and supply’ deal with Fianna Fail. In return for agreeing to support the government on crucial issues, Fianna Fail is allowed some influence over bills and policy.

In a sense, such pacts drive politics elsewhere for the simple reason that voters choose not to give one party an overall majority, so a deal is done.

Yet for all that, Mrs Maybe’s arrangement with the DUP looks grubby, shabby and opportunistic. It is also a hard sell to the rest of Britain. Money that was said not to be there has been picked from a tree that was said not to exist. As Northern Ireland already receives a greater amount from that tree than other parts of Britain, it is hard to see any fairness in this deal.

The DUP have been promised a bung or a bribe; extra sugar has been tipped into their tea. And once they get a taste for the sweet tannic liquid, they’ll be back asking for more.

The Tories have scrabbled together this deal so that Mrs Maybe can carry on as if she won the majority she wanted; so that she can pretend she has the fullest backing for Brexit; so that she can kid herself that nothing has changed after she fluffed the election.

In a sense, the prime minister has been caught out by her own patronising ways during the election. To talk of magic money trees is to treat the electorate as if they were primary school children who need to be taught a stern lesson about life. But to then turn around and go against that lesson is to then treat the electorate as if they are not children after all; just grown-up idiots.

One odd aspect of all this is that the DUP would almost certainly have supported the Tories anyway, for fear of opening the door to Jeremy Corbyn. Mrs Maybe has, therefore, raided the magic money tree for very little reason. It’s funny how proud penny-pinchers can suddenly find money when there’s a bung to be made.

Grenfell Tower and the dwindling of local newspapers…

THE media coverage of Grenfell Tower has been as intense as you would expect, and this unblinking eye raises many questions.

This morning, for example, it is being reported that shadow chancellor John McDonnell claims that the victims were ‘murdered’ by political decisions. That doesn’t sound helpful or wise, but perhaps something has been lost, or over-emphasised, in translation.

You can also read today about the tower blocks around the country being declared unsafe because they are dressed in similar cladding. And in the weekend papers, you can catch up with the many angles of this awful affair, not least the survivors made homeless by the blaze, and the practical problems they face, as well as the emotional and mental difficulties.

Early in the coverage, I spotted a quote flash by online from a woman who either survived or lived nearby. She apparently told Channel 4’s Jon Snow that they didn’t want his cameras here now. For some reason, my searches since have failed to snatch that ‘fish’ from the stream.

But it set me thinking that one problem with such coverage is that it all happens after the event. Now this is both an obvious and a stupid thing to say: clearly, a sensible person will grumble, the media are only interested in something after it has happened.

This is true, but it is only part of the truth. The pre-fire problems that have emerged since, the worries of residents listed on social media and so forth, perhaps should have been picked up by someone.

Why, I wondered, wasn’t there a local newspaper reporter on the case long before anything happened? The answers to this are various, but probably mostly connected to the parlous state of local newspapers.

As this thought was evolving, a post appeared on the Press Gazette website about a former local reporter called Grant Feller (a name surely coined by a novelist in a playful mood).

Grant was quoted as saying that when he worked on local papers in Kensington nearly 30 years ago, he was sure the fire safety concerns of Grenfell Tower residents would have found a voice.

Instead, the decline in London’s local press had made that more difficult.

According to the Press Gazette, “today, Kensington and Chelsea has one dedicated local newspaper – the Kensington and Chelsea News – which (at full strength) has a reporter who covers it as well as other London boroughs”.

When Grant began his career on the Kensington News and Chelsea News, the two titles had an editorial team of ten and faced competition from the Kensington and Chelsea Times and the Evening Standard, which in those days devoted greater resources to covering the local boroughs.

Asked whether he thought residents’ concerns would have been picked up in 1990, Grant told Press Gazette: “One hundred per cent yes, we would have picked up on that. If we hadn’t we would have been bollocked by the editor. Any local newspaper journalist worth their salt would have been all over that story because of that blog. But today there is no one there.”

There is no one there… a sad truth in many parts of the county, where local newspapers have either shut down or been diminished, with one or maybe two reporters expected to cover a huge area – following that gloomy modern diktat that they should “do more with less”.

The continuing decline of local newspapers isn’t noted as much as it should be. The South East London Mercury, a great paper and my newspaper stomping ground, disappeared when it was absorbed by the South London Press. It still exists in name, but only as a ghost in somebody else’s house.

Local newspapers are not always exciting, but they do an important job for their communities. They also cover what happens in the local courts and the local council – or they used to, as court coverage is slipping in some areas as the papers dwindle, harried by the digital world, and sometimes too by their owners’ commercial philosophy.

I studied Latin at school but remember little, so I won’t quote the original. But a common legal aphorism is: “Not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.”

Local newspapers play a big part in that, or they did: reporting everything from the local courts. The effect was two-fold: the guilty had a double punishment, with a dollop of local shame added to their sentence; and journalists were in the courts to see and record the workings of the legal system.

I should stress that this hasn’t gone altogether, but consistent court coverage is less common than it was.

As for a bollocking from the editor, as mentioned by Grant Feller, that form of telling off was a strong impetus to get out there and find something out.

Corbyn’s greatest hits at Glastonbury…

WHAT are we to make of Jeremy Corbyn’s Glasto gig? We turned the sound up on the TV at work yesterday, so I heard the full speech. There was little new in what he said, but the surprise lay in seeing a 68-year-old politician address such an enormous crowd at a rock festival.

One unshakeable truth about Corbyn is that he has guts, having discovered courage by sticking to his core beliefs, and then finding that quite a lot of people have moved over to his side of the fence. He played that Glastonbury crowd like a grizzled old rock pro: no guitar solos, just the usual passionate socialist riffs, a crowd-pleasing flurry of old notes on fairness and unity.

It was a good speech delivered well; full of passion and heartfelt belief. The crowd loved this greatest-hits compilation and rewarded the Labour leader with cries of “Oh Jeremy Corbyn.”

At one point, Jezza couldn’t resist a swipe at the media his followers hate so much, saying the that “commentariat got it wrong, the elites got it wrong”.

I guess picky members of the commentariat might point out that they said Theresa May would win, and she did win – but what Corbyn was getting at was the way he overturned such low expectations. He proved two sets of critics wrong: the pessimists on his own side, and the cocky Cons who felt certain of a sweeping victory, only to see Theresa May fumble the election on a cosmic scale.

The hecklers are not happy today, especially those phlegmy old souls on the Sunday Express, who cough up the headline: “Corbyn snubs forces heroes” – supported by the sub-heading: “Labour leader ignores Armed Forces Day invitations to bask in fawning crowds at Glastonbury.”

“See Pages 6 &7” – well, thanks for the invitation, but enough already.

This attack is lame and ridiculous, but it does find an echo on social media. A friend who likes to get into Twitter spats with local Conservatives has been having a cheerful ding-dong this morning with a Tory councillor in York who tweeted about Corbyn’s Glastonbury appearance, saying “puzzles me some find class war Marxism inspiring. However, #Conservatives must appeal to more young people”.

Well, that plan of appealing to head-office approved drones carrying dull placards didn’t go so well in the election, did it? And Corbyn is reaching out to people of all ages in a way that the Tories are not – yet the Blue Meanies are still in power, which is where you trip over the inconvenient truth at the foot of the yellow brick road; or maybe those bricks are red.

Well, good on Corbyn for raising “a hero’s roar from the festival’s adoring faithful” as the headline in today’s Observer puts it.

Not so good on Corbyn for the ‘commentariat’ stuff, which only encourages his most devout supporters to become angry with anyone who either criticises their sainted leader, or perhaps isn’t fully on-side.

As for the rattle-chested brigade at the Sunday Express, their efforts today remind us that alternative views should always be welcome, even when they come from the fruitcake tin. By the way, I love fruitcake – but not when it’s that overcooked.

So, a good speech, an emotional speech. Now we need to see what happens after the rabble-rousing.

Taking the road back then…

LATE afternoon on the longest day. A man parks in a cul-de-sac and gets out to shake off his journey. He stands and looks at the house. Like much else in life, the house is the same but different. The car-port has become a garage and the empty space above has been filled with another bedroom.

The gate at the side is open. The man is remembering the space between the walls of the two houses. When he was young he liked to climb up that gap, feet pushing on one side of the brick canyon, back leant against the other.

The man wonders if he should say anything, introduce himself and perhaps mention 1964 when the house was new and the front garden was a pile of mud. He can hear sounds from the back garden and windows are open, so someone is home. But no one comes out and he feels that ringing the bell would probably be foolish, so he gets back in his car and continues his journey, driving along old streets and past old sights, and he feels as if he is running his finger over a crinkled photograph.

That man is me, naturally enough, and the house at the top of the cul-de-sac in Cheadle Hulme is where we once lived. Around 15 years for me if you include the home-and-away university years.

I am back for a boys’ night out where I grew up. An old school friend lives in Canada, but winters in Mexico, all of which is a long way from Cheadle Hulme and Moseley Hall Grammar School. He is here for a week and a few of us are meeting for a drink at the pub where we used to go on a Friday night for the experimental purposes of under-age drinking.

The pub is called the Church Inn and at a glance it hasn’t changed at all, at least not in the main bar. The room out the back, the one that acted as an impromptu common room for pint-holding sixth-formers, is now a restaurant.

We turn up in ones and twos, starting with Paul and me. Stories are caught up with, gaps are filled in, children and partners are mentioned, and two pints of Robinsons apiece are soon drunk. Canada and Mexico are squared off against York and, well, York. Food is eaten.

After that the others start to arrive. For some reason, we all look different than we did in the early 1970s. It’s fair to say that hair gone missing is a theme. Someone who hasn’t seen me since the crazy afro days says: “Hell, that’s a pretty radical change in hairstyle.”

And, yes, we look older because we are. But once the stories start, the years dissolve and everyone seems the same again; different but the same.

We spend most of the evening outside, sweltering as the longest day sweats it out. Names forgotten are summoned from the past. That’s the thing about a group: you all remember different things, and remember them differently. Most of us remember the first Knebworth Festival in 1974 (Van Morrison, the Allman Brothers, the Doobie Brothers…) and a few of us recall seeing John Martyn at Salford University around then, too.

Less pleasure is summoned by thoughts of the rain and cold of the Buxton Festival – “Electric Light Orchestra,” someone offers with a shudder. “Steppenwolf,” I say. “Didn’t your dad drive us there?” says someone else. I’d quite forgotten that.

More beers are drunk and I am teased for sticking to four pints – around twice my comfortable level, but the night is hot. We leave the pub at 11.30pm, five hours after I arrived with Paul

One of the old gang – unmet in decades – is putting me up for the night and a taxi navigates the half-remembered route, and the hot sludge of the longest hottest day. I go to bed full of beer and memories, but sleep proves elusive, so I read for the best part of an hour, then sleep from 1am to 6.30am – not bad for a part-time insomniac.

Heading home, I drive past the old school – gone now in name – but don’t go up the old cul-de-sac again. Instead I point the car through the sclerotic south Manchester traffic and return to a more important house: the one in York where I live now. But it was good to step back for a night.

BBC2’s Hospital: remarkable TV and a hymn to the NHS…

HEALTH Secretary Jeremy Hunt should be locked in a dark room and made to watch last night’s BBC2 documentary Hospital on an endless loop.

Perhaps Hunt has seen the first series. If not, he can stay in there for a while longer. Or maybe the whole locking in a dark room task could be trusted to someone who is forgetful with keys.

Knowing the chutzpah of the man, he will probably grin and say the programme shows what an excellent job he is doing with the NHS.

The first series about St Mary’s Hospital in London spent much time dwelling on daily crisis management – too many patients and not enough doctors, nurses or beds is the short version.

Now the series has returned and the director of nursing is chairing a staff resource meeting. The vacancy rate is running at 14-16 per cent. More of the same, then; more numbers that don’t add up.

Then the phones start ringing, one by one. There has been a major incident at Westminster. The staffing crisis is immediately swapped for a more acute crisis.

The next hour is a remarkable testament to the NHS, to the skill and dedication of doctors who come together in a crisis. The documentary cameras just happen to be there, which is good timing or bad timing, depending on how you view these matters. But the resulting programme is remarkable – both breathless in the rush of events, and yet deeply calm too, as the professional staff go about their difficult work.

Patients are shunted around, operations are cancelled and the hospital goes into emergency mode. Terrorist Khalid Masood is wheeled in on a stretcher, his bloodied torso on show, and soon declared RIP.

If you count Masood, and perhaps you shouldn’t, six people died in the incident, and more than 50 were injured. The programme concentrates on three of those victims: two French teenagers who were on a school trip, and a man who’d been celebrating his 40th birthday.

The teenagers were badly injured, and Yann has had his scalp sliced open – a horrible injury sewn back layer by layer in a scene not for the squeamish. Vincent has suffered broken ribs and a collapsed lung, and is in danger.

Birthday boy Stephen is in a very poorly state, his leg broken and badly gashed. Surgeon Shehan Hettiaratchy says that in the past he would have needed an amputation.

What follows is at first a medical story – broken bodies to be repaired – and then a human one. We see poor, injured Stephen worrying about his wife, Cara, who escaped with bruises but saw everything as the car driven by Mahood ploughed into her husband.

“It’s really hard when you spend so much time with somebody and then they’re taken away and you’re suddenly really, really alone,” she says, crying.

Stephen is slowly, painfully put back together, and the ending is happier than you might have feared.

As for Yann and Victor, they are stars – funny teenagers still amid all the pain and confusion. The first time they meet again, Yann’s head has been shaved, stapled and stitched together – and he looks a fright. “Your new look is working for you,” Victor deadpans.

Later, Yann says something truly memorable after Victor asks about the souvenirs from Harrods – “I have nothing, just my underpants. The guy fucked me into nakedness on the pavement.”

Such spirit and wit from one so young provided an uplifting moment in sometimes grim but entirely marvellous piece of television.

And those boys seemed to stand as a rebuke to Masood and his idiot cruelty. He did his worst but they were whole again already, even if their bodies would take a while to catch up.

If you’ve not seen this programme, give it a watch – and then say a long prayer to the wonders of the NHS. And hope that nobody has found that key yet.

Will the news eat itself in the end?

TO misquote the old blues cliché: woke up this morning to find that something else awful had happened. It seems a monumentally bad thing is scheduled for every other day.

To those of us who like to keep up with the news, the habit is hard to break. A grim irony is that if anything is likely to break that habit, it is the news itself, with one awful occurrence after another.

How relentless the bad news has been: horrible happenings given their own shorthand: Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge, Grenfell Tower and, latest to a depressing litany, the attack on worshippers outside Finsbury Park Mosque.

With each fresh horror comes the reporting and the analysis, while just off to the side is the Twitter chorus, the barracking and the shouting.

Those inharmonious backing vocals to the news were ringing loud yesterday, with spats between, among others, the writer JK Rowling and that professional pain in the arse, Katie Hopkins. In any disagreement between those two, I am going to stick with the Harry Potter author (even though I didn’t stick with her novels), although sometimes JK does betray an addiction to the Twitter row.

After a white man allegedly drove a white van into Muslim worshippers gathering outside the mosque around midnight, Rowling reacted to a Mail-online tweet by saying that terrorist had been misspelled as “white van man” – igniting a probably unseemly row about whether we are unwilling to use the word ‘terrorist’ for far-right attacks, or only for Islamic terrorism.

Hopkins fired off the sort of brain-dead remarks for which she is infamous, and which do not need to be repeated here. The world would be a calmer, nicer place if self-promoting haters such as her were just ignored altogether. And while we’re about it, let’s all agree to ignore the foul Farage person, too.

In reacting to that Mail-online tweet, Rowling possibly jumped in too soon, as the Metropolitan police commissioner Cressida Dick says the incident was declared a terrorist attack within minutes.

Hate is thought to have fuelled the alleged attacker here, and that hate in turn re-fuels Islamic terrorists, with Islamic State reportedly claiming that the attack proves how vulnerable Muslims are in Britain – an example of twisted idiocy almost too stupid to believe, except that believe it we must, because that’s the fractured world we live in.

But those fractures are made by extremists, not the ordinary people of all faiths and none. As someone who ticks the ‘none’ box, I sometimes feel that religion in all is varieties lies behind too many of the world’s upsetting problems. Yet such a view, hard to shake sometimes, is almost certainly unfair to those who use religion for blameless good.

Incidentally, and I do like an ‘incidentally’, after Tim Farron stepped down because it would be ‘impossible’ for him to continue as Lib-Dem leader and “remain faithful to Christ”, the Archbishop of York and others paraded this as an example of the harassing of Christians in modern Britain. Oh, not that again – surely Farron could have been strong enough to do both if he’d truly wished.

On the BBC Radio 4 Today programme earlier, I heard the tail-end of a discussion in which a female speaker said she was proud to see the Daily Mail stick up for Christianity. The context was gone, but that snatch had me muttering “with friends like these…”.

The Mail is the favoured bogeyman for those broadly on the left (and the Guardian is the favoured bogeyman for those further out on the left). The Mail deserves that reputation; the Guardian doesn’t, as I argued here last week.

A story on the BBC website today reports that a fake Mail front page went viral yesterday, with a picture of Theresa May and the headline: “For the sake of the country… GO NOW.”

This apparently fooled many people, including journalists and politicians reportedly – although the typography was a giveaway. The ‘GO NOW’ was in a sans face, not one the Mail would use. This fake Mail was published by a Twitter account called Lying Tory Media, another sign of something being up.

As the news seems to become worse, we trust our media outlets less, or so it appears. I still trust the BBC and a few chosen newspapers, but other opinions are freely available – some of them, like that fake Mail page, put out there for mischievous reasons.

As for the most recent attack, the coverage has been as full-on as ever. This is perfectly understandable in terms of the shock and outrage, but sometimes it is possible to wonder if the relentless intensity of the coverage doesn’t add to the problem – and make further such attacks more likely.

Mind you, I have no idea how to unpick that knot.

Is the ‘elf and safety’ joke now done for?

HEALTH and safety jokes – they’re a laugh, aren’t they? People who drone on about red tape – they’re the purveyors of common sense and wisdom, aren’t they?

And if you want a laugh, you just swap that ‘health’ for an ‘elf’ and merriment is assured. Oh, the endless seconds I have spent amusing myself at those jokes – and the chuckles that arise are nearly as hearty as those stirred by all those references to “political correctness gone mad”.

You might have thought that one lesson from the Grenfell Tower tragedy would be that the health and safety ‘joke’ should now be banished for ever. Whatever the causes of the inferno, one thing that went up with the flames surely was the lazy notion that red tape and health and safety rules are somehow a burden to those who run businesses.

Yet since the days of Thatcher, we have seen inconvenient corners sanded away to help those who chase private profit in the public sphere. And only a day or so after last week’s blaze, the Daily Mail and Daily Express were maliciously blaming the fire on EU insulation regulations – even though the sort of cladding used is banned in Germany because it is deemed to be flammable.

We’re used to such newspapers turning the lens until it’s pointing in a stubborn direction, but that really was a twist too far – a reminder that in some quarters propaganda quickly overshadows what passes for news. (Just consider the front page of today’s Express: “EU exit deal to boost Britain – Confidence high as talks begin today” – a brave but feeble bit of spin if ever there was).

It is fair to say that the causes of the fire may be complex, with blame apportioned to various parties, local and national. But it is also reasonable to ask if all the endless cuts to council budgets, social housing budgets and fire brigade budgets played a part in what happened.

London mayor Sadiq Khan had a sensible thought along these lines in yesterday’s Observer when he asked if deregulation was to blame. “Those who mock health and safety regulations and red tape need to take a hard look at the consequences of cutting these and ask themselves whether Grenfell Tower is a price worth paying.”

Well said that man. Similar thoughts had been swirling in my mind and were forming into a blog as I read Khan’s words.

Good to see that the admirable Khan can still speak sense while being bombarded by ignorant Tweets from Donald Trump. Behind the bluff and bluster, Trump just happens to be one of the keenest cutters of red tape around, often to benefit himself and his billionaire mates.