And then there were none… and life on the other side of the fence

Half-way to Hull – it’s not the catchiest slogan. Maybe that’s why Howden hasn’t adopted the label, but the town is welcome to have it for free.

The 40-minute drive has been part of my life, twice a week, for a year and a bit now. On another two days, I drive in the opposite direction to Horsforth.

Different roads, a different life. Working in Howden is linked to my past life, as editing is involved; working at Horsforth is linked by journalism, although the teaching is new.

The drive to Howden is pleasant enough, down country lanes mostly, across the flatlands, then on the horizon you see Howden’s half-ruined Minster with its coppery green roof.

A large office in the town is full of journalists, many of whom used to work somewhere else. In this smudgy trade, you are lucky to survive in one place for long.

Yesterday, a colleague came over and told me something that brought everything back. He worked for a while on the Press after I left, doing parts of my old job, and now he edits pages for the Daily Telegraph.

“There’s more jobs going in York,” he said.

We chatted, I felt a lurch, but reminded myself all that was a while ago now. He told me one sub-editor was going: that’s one of two. Years ago, there was a full team of people working on those pages; now there are two and soon, impossibly, there will be one. Worryingly, it is hard not to quote Agatha Christie at this point: And Then There Were None. A group of strangers are lured into working for a newspaper on Ink Island, and then – one by one – they are finished off by a blank-faced murderer called progress

That was all I knew for a while, then a friend on the paper sent me a message. Another job is going, belonging to someone I worked with for 27 years. I don’t want to name this cruelly dislodged person just yet, as I don’t think the redundancy has been made public.

Losing your job, especially one you have done for a long time, is dislocating and can take a while to surmount. You feel rootless, cut adrift, unwanted – and clueless in a real-life came of Cluedo when Mr Pink the accountant has just knifed you from a distance and without ever once seeing your face. It’s not personal; and yet it feels deeply personal. After all, you are a person and another person has done this to you, done you in for the balance sheet.

I’ve learnt much in the past two-and-half years. I’ve learnt that I couldn’t make a living as a freelance feature writer/novelist/blogger, although all three impecunious occupations still take up my time. I’ve learnt a new skill in this busking life: teaching students at university. I’ve built on old editing skills. Mostly, I have survived, a bruised banana but still in one piece.

Do the relentless redundancies suggest that newspapers really are heading for the end; do they indicate that journalism is a shit-bucket trade with no clean water left in that leaky bucket? Well, I hope not. An optimist might see this as a period of transmission. I try to be an optimist but it’s not always easy.

I hope newspapers survive in some form; I hope the Press survives in some form, although each diminishment takes something else away, another chip in the china until all that’s left is a broken cup.

Anyway, good luck to those who must leave. There is life on the other side of the fence, but you might need a compass. That’s me done – I need to take the road to Howden for the late shift. A life shift in my late-shifting life.


It’s the Sun that’s snoozing here…

“Here is the Snooze,” said the Sun’s front page yesterday. A weird splash in which members of staff on BBC News 24 were shown sitting at their desks with their eyes shut.

In the self-serving way of the Murdoch tabloid, this unpleasant ‘story’ was used as – hey, would you believe it – proof that we shouldn’t be spending our money on a public service broadcaster. Instead we should give it all to Sky and Rupert Murdoch.

I haven’t read the whole story, so I don’t know for sure who crept around the News 24 newsroom, snapping pictures of BBC staff members having a snooze. I don’t really know what this story was trying to say. It’s easy to imagine that working on a 24-news station is hard work, and if you are working all hours it must be tempting to shut your eyes in a lull.

To be honest, I am having trouble keeping my eyes open first thing in the morning after another unmoored night, but there you go. Years ago, a sub-editor at the newspaper in York used to nod off at his desk, mid correction. Everyone else would consider this to be a running joke: oh, look, he’s off again.

Another colleague, still there, used to slump forwards sometimes, but that was because he chose to work stupid hours; almost certainly still does. Sometimes I imagine him in the lonely hours when he shouldn’t be there, eyes shut, furious fingers stilled.

A friend admits that in his management job, he would retreat to his office, shut the door and have a mid-afternoon snooze. Good job he didn’t work for the BBC and fall victim to a spot of industrial espionage sponsored by the Sun’s wide-awake club (whose members never nod off in the office or misbehave in any way).

Sleep disruption is something many people carry with them throughout the day, an invisible deficit duvet. Fully paid-up members of the red-eyed clan who sit down in a lull are almost certain to fall asleep for a blissful moment.

Returning from the lecturing part of my this-and-that life yesterday afternoon, I had a mug of tea, and lay down on the sofa in the conservatory and listened to music, although Seth Lakeman was wasting his time. I was gone in minutes, barely one track into Ballads Of The Broken Few (top album, by the way). Falling asleep so quickly in the day is said to be a sure sign of sleep deficit, but there you go. Or there I go again

Members of the BBC staff responded with wit to the Sun, the best way. Quentin Sommerville, who had been reporting from the streets of Raqqa – “the lazy sod”, as the New Statesman puts it – posted a snap on Twitter of him having a snooze in battledress: “It’s true @TheSun we do sleep on the job. Our work is a bit taxing at times. @BBC News doesn’t do lazy journalism. How about you?”

The BBC press office was awake enough to respond with some statistics on trust – “Even with our eyes closed it’s good to know the public trusts BBC News more than the Sun… 57 per cent to 0.3 per cent. Tiring work.”

This was a reference to 2017 Ipsos MORI research into public trust in the UK media.

It seems a shame to me that the Sun should use its might in such a pathetic way: couldn’t its clout be used for real journalism, rather than underhand point-scoring against the BBC? If those Ipsos MORI findings are to be believed, readers of the Sun must trust the BBC more than the newspaper they hold in their hands.

Anyway, the day awaits – a day on which a surreptitious snooze is out of the question.

Mumbles and music, and bread being toast…

HERE are words I didn’t expect to write: sometimes I don’t understand the world any more. And no, this bit of crankiness does not touch on such catastrophic miscalculations as Trump or Brexit.

Here are my two pieces of evidence pointing to the incomprehensibility of life.

One: The letters page of the Radio Times – oh, look, we all hang out in disreputable places occasionally – is full of complaints about the music in Blue Planet 2.

Two: no one eats bread any more (‘Is bread toast? Young fall out of love with loaves’– The Guardian, November 11).

Not sure which of these is most shocking. For so many people to complain must indicate I’ve gone deaf and didn’t notice the music; or that some people will complain about anything.

Moaning about the music in Blue Planet 2 is to find fault for the sake of finding fault; it is to whinge because it is your right as a true Brit to look at something marvellous, and go: ah, but…

Fancy sitting there to behold such deep-sea marvels and fathomless oddities in a wildlife masterpiece, and then just complain about the music. “Seeing red over Blue Planet” says the headline above the letters. There are quite a few, and a note below the last one says: “RT had a big postbag on this subject.”

Clearly, I am not cranky enough to read the Radio Times.

Complaining about the music or the sound on TV programmes is a bit of national pastime. Usually the ‘guilty’ programme is aired on the BBC. This gives the Mail or the Telegraph something to moan about, and just the other day the Telegraph found a few deaf old colonels – or possibly a few dead old colonels ­– to complain about the sound quality in the new BBC1 adaptation of Howards End.

I think the call must go out from the news editor: “Anyone got a deaf old maiden aunt didn’t hear something properly on the BBC last night?”

All this began three years ago when the BBC’s adaptation of Jamaica Inn was accused of being ‘muffled’. Rightly so, in that case: pretty sure I gave up after the first mumble.

It is true that the music on some dramas can be a bit much, especially some of those European crime dramas on Walter Presents. This is the Channel 4 offshoot along whose blood-stained corridors I can often be found wandering.

Now to bread being toast. According to a Harris Interactive poll for the Grocer trade journal, only 25% of people aged 16 to 24 eat bread every day, compared with about half of those over 45.

Bread has been hit by carb worries, gluten worries, the rising price of wheat, the fall in the pound – and, it should be said, by the quality of what is mass baked by the speeded-up Chorley Wood method of production. This short-cut doesn’t allow the gluten to break down, and could have contributed to the rise in gluten intolerance (that and gluten intolerance being a bit of a fashion, alongside a serious problem for a very small minority of sufferers).

As an old grateful bread head who only eats his own homemade loaves, I am less than typical; I get that. But how did we get so picky about bread? According to The Guardian report, Kingsmill – a brand said to be worth £500m – is operating at a loss, despite having invested heavily in new low-cost bakeries.

A cultural change that sees people no longer eating bread seems to be a great shame to this lover of loaves (often served with fishes: peppery mackerel fillets from a tin).

But if people are spurning mass-produced sliced white bread, who can blame them? Nasty, pappy stuff that’s good only for plumbing tasks and possibly summer pudding.

If you have the money, the answer is to buy decent bread from a proper baker (York has three that I can think of); if you have the time, make your own. I love making bread, the rhythm of it all, the kneading, the slow rising. There are two loaves resting in the fridge right now.

I’ve had my disasters, still do sometimes (raisin baguettes, we are looking at you), but the seeded sourdough I made last week was a triumph.

Ups and downs of walking with friends…

Perhaps the flat tyre was an omen. We are inside the car because the wind has howled into Yorkshire on a holiday from the arse-end of Antarctica or somewhere. First there is one knock on the window, then another – “You need some air in that back tyre.

We get out and see that our friends’ car does indeed have a deflated back end. A compressor is borrowed for later, and off we go.

Walking with friends is one of life’s great pleasures. Tim Dowling in his Guardian magazine column described this just yesterday, and here we are doing the same, only Tim was on a soft walk along the Thames and we are up on the North York Moors in a gale.

I have a lot of time for Tim as he answers annoying questions from part-time journalism lecturers. Unlike other well-known, Jay Rayner-shaped people we could mention who prefer to make you look stupid on Twitter.

Tim describes in his column how on a walk you often have the same conversation, first with one friend, then another. That’s how today starts, although we are shouting against the wind. And the wind cries, “What are doing out here on a day like this?”

The wind knows more than we do, you see. We take the moorland route that follows the high rim. The wind is strong and icy, but the sky is clear and the views tremendous. One friend asks how to make sourdough bread, so I bellow instructions against the gale. News about offspring is sprung against the wind, too.

The wind dies, we bump into other friends out for the same walk, then carry on, dropping down towards Levisham, where we stop at the pub. Early for a pint at 11.45am, so coffees are ordered. We stand outside and chat as the sun dies away.

The sky above the Ginger Pig farm opposite the pub inks a threatening shade. That farm now has butchers’ shops and stalls across the south, having started by taking carcasses to Borough Market and doing the butchery on the stall.

On the Ginger Pig website, it mentions raising native breeds of cattle “across our unforgiving patch of North Yorkshire”. As the set off, we are about to walk into that unforgiving patch, but for now we chat, turning away from the village and into the path through the woods.

“Might be muddy down here,” someone says.

The rain starts as we prop up against a bank to eat our sandwiches. Other walkers trudge from the opposite direction, their boots thick with mud, and soon we are slipping and sliding, grabbing tree trunks as we stumble through the muddy trough of a path. This is takes a long time and is tiring. After that we reach the valley with the path that winds back up to the car with the flat tyre.

This is where the walk goes downhill just as it goes uphill. The rain pours down, the icy gale blows strong enough to knock you over, and the art of conversation is blowing in the wind. Soon we are soaked and silent.

I spurned the waterproof trousers and everything below the waist is drenched. There is an unpleasant hazard peculiar to male walkers, as I now discover. The rain runs off your waterproof jacket and goes straight into your pants. The icy wind then blasts your soaked trousers and your manhood takes a cruel beating. I then fall over sideways, hitting my head on the muddy earth.

As we climb the last stretch back up to the top of the rim, the sun comes out and the afternoon seems benign. Ten minutes later, we are in the car park, the tyre is being inflated and rain and sleet pelt us as we change out of our boots.

You always get something from a walk. This one has had its moments; mostly it was miserable, in a companionable way. Still, the best part was getting home, throwing off those soaked clothes, stumbling into the shower, dressing in dry clothes and drinking lots of hot tea.

Boris Johnson’s big mouth and more Brexit bother…

BREXIT and Boris and other bastardised bother – that’s my embarkation point this morning.

The inhabitant of this ledge has long believed that Boris Johnson is a ruthless, scheming, out-for-himself operator and not the charming bumbler of all too convenient pretence. If proof were needed of his reckless regard towards anyone who isn’t called Boris Johnson, it finally arrived when simply by opening his big mouth he possibly condemned a British-Iranian woman to a further five years in jail.

Good sense is a foreign land to Johnson – and let’s get over the creepily chummy Boris business. The Foreign Secretary said to a parliamentary committee last week that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been “simply teaching people journalism”. Her distraught family say she was in Iran on holiday.

Now Iranian state television has cited Johnson’s idiot words as proof she had been spying for the British – and that could double her five-year sentence.

Johnson has always been good with words, in the sense that he writes well and knows how to grab attention with a speech. But he is also careless with words: speaking and writing is a self-boosting performance art to him – with an ‘ah’ and a bumble, he’s off again, seemingly saying whatever comes off the top of his head.

This ability served him well as a columnist, where saying whatever happens to be uppermost in the mental attic is all part of the act. But as Foreign Secretary, Johnson should show far greater caution. Words have impact – and his careless words about Zaghari-Ratcliffe may well keep her in jail and away from her young daughter and British husband for another five years.

Johnson has since made a very reluctant apology – an apology so tardy as to be a further insult. This morning’s Daily Mirror makes a reasonable demand to Theresa May – listing the damage done to Zaghari-Ratcliffe by her foreign secretary’s rogue elephant mouth, then saying: “Now sack him.”

That seems unlikely as Mrs Maybe is a weak prime minister held hostage by unravelling events – and by her own cabinet.

This morning she outlines plans to set the time and date of our departure from the EU in law, warning she will not “tolerate” any attempt to block Brexit.

Theresa May stamping her feet and saying she won’t tolerate something is like a teacher who long ago lost control of her class standing there in tears and mumbling that this behaviour is appalling. No one is listening, and they are all shouting whatever they want to shout.

She’s lost two Cabinet ministers in a week, for heaven’s sake: a groping Defence Secretary and a gone-rogue international development minister. The hill on which Mrs Maybe stands is not high or mighty, but a molehill and she will only be allowed to stay for so much longer. Not a place from which to made demands.

Now I know that Brexit hasn’t happened yet: for good or bad we are still merely at the shouting and squabbling stage. A country that has a more than reasonable claim to past greatness has been reduced to a sectional land where the two halves of the Brexit debate pour rancour on each other. And nothing else gets done.

People look at us from abroad, and wonder whether they’d misunderstood us for all those years. Where, they ask, are the sensible Brits with their calm heads and understated manners? Perhaps, they think with a shrug, before turning their attention to something more important, the Brits just aren’t so great any more.

Still, Theresa May is making demands, so everything will be all right.

What’s so funny about peace, love and white poppies?

I SEE that the Whitby author GP Taylor is stirring up poppy trouble.

Taylor is a man of interesting parts as other selves line up behind his most famous role as the best-selling author of Shadowmancer. In his time, he has been a rock band roadie, a policeman and a vicar.

You can add to that another distraction, that of newspaper commentator. In his column for the Yorkshire Post, Taylor offers his view on white poppies. It’s fair to say that he isn’t impressed.

“Remembrance is increasingly being seen as a glorification of violence, tinged with the toxic aroma of ardent nationalism,” he writes or possibly even fumes.

Opinions on this may differ. My own fuming comes from an alternative direction, but I suspect that remembrance is more truly best seen as an excuse for people to exercise their opinions, whatever side of the trench they lie.

The newspapers at this time of year are filled with poppy rows, as was being discussed on this ledge only last week. The nonsense poppy row is almost now a tradition all on its own.

Anyway, Taylor isn’t finished yet, writing: “The snowflake generation look at those who made the ultimate sacrifice as savages who died for nothing.”

The snowflake generation is a term of abuse used to characterise young people who are too easy to take offence, or at least I think it is. It’s a bit of Daily Mail-style lingo I don’t particularly wish to flourish.

Taylor has many strong thoughts on poppies and snowflakes, but his main ire is reserved for white poppies. He writes that these are “being forced on children, supported by teaching unions”.

I have no idea about the truth of this, although a quick Google points to a story last month in the Daily Telegraph. White poppies are promoted by the Peace Pledge Union, which is said to have signed up 100 teachers who belong to the National Union of Teachers.

Perhaps this is what lit the fire under Taylor’s kettle. He also has a pop at “our rabidly PC culture” – one of those handy phrases to cut and out keep for a cross day. I guess that the political correctness or otherwise of our culture is a matter of taste, but sweeping generalisations are always useful in a newspaper column.

Taylor offers a proudly robust defence of the red poppy and all it represents. He says he has always believed that the red poppy honours all lives lost in all wars – something disputed by supporters of the white poppy, who insist the red poppy only remembers our own fallen.

In fairness, Taylor does acknowledge that the white poppy “represents peace and all those who have died in conflict”, pointing out the role of the Peace Pledge Union.

What he forgets to mention, perhaps because it doesn’t fit his thesis – and we’ve all done that, selecting those bits of the truth we fancy – is that the white poppy is 80 years old. It’s not a modern, politically correct poppy but an alternative poppy almost as old as the traditional red one.

I have never worn a white poppy, possibly never even seen one. But I’d be happy to buy one if I saw them for sale.

The colour of a poppy shouldn’t matter, but sadly the red poppy – as worn proudly by many, perhaps with a tear in their eye – has become red meat to those who wish to complain about modern life. It’s forced on anyone who appears in a BBC studio, for fear of a causing a row, creating a weird sort of poppy panic.

Yet arguing about the colour of poppies seems to me to be a form of disrespect to all the dead we remember, however or whenever they died. But perhaps I am just an ancient sort of snowflake.

The wonders of Blue Planet II… and a backwards old climate-denying crab

YOU would have thought there were bottomless reasons to enjoy Blue Planet II – reasons as bottomless as the oceans explored in this BBC wildlife series, a follow-up to the original after 16 years.

But that is to reckon without Christopher Booker, veteran Telegraph columnist and long-term denier of climate change.

Never mind the breath-taking camera work; never mind images of dolphins surfing or cosying up with whales when you thought the whales had turned up in search of lunch; never mind the truly weird fish that could gender-swap from female to male; never mind the walrus herd struggling to find a piece of ice to call home.

No, Booker was in a grump after the first episode, grouching away in a piece headlined: “Fake news! How the BBC and Blue Planet got it wrong, yet again, about walruses and climate change.”

I don’t wish to waste your time with too much of what Booker had to say. Basically, he argued that Arctic ice wasn’t vanishing as Blue Planet and Sir David Attenborough postulated; and walruses were having the time of their tusked lives on all that non-disappearing ice.

The BBC and Attenborough could scarcely offer “a better example of what it likes to scorn as ‘fake news’,” said Booker, still at the misleading people game at the age of 80, which is going some.

As far back as October 2011, rival columnist George Monbiot in the Guardian dedicated a piece to “The superhuman cock-ups of Christopher Booker.”

Monbiot listed assorted sins against the fact committed by Booker. Luckily, viewers have been happy to ignore the likes of Booker. Viewing figures suggest that 14.1 million people saw the first episode of Blue Planet II – making it the most watched programme of 2017 so far.

And in cheering news, it beat Strictly Come Dancing and the X-Factor. While I don’t mind Strictly, I would rather go and sit at the end of the garden in the rain than watch a minute of that knackered Simon Cowell vehicle.

Anyway, how uplifting that so many people watch Blue Planet II, reportedly the third most watched programme of the past five years, behind the World Cup final in 2014 and the final of the BBC’s last Great British Bake Off. The Channel 4 hijacking of Bake Off  went well, or so they tell me, but I left with a soggy-bottomed shrug after the first episode.

The second episode of Blue Planet II used a mini-submarine to dive deep and capture astonishing footage – and two unmanned submersibles to dive 1,000 feet below the Antarctic Ocean.

An unlikely cast of deep-down characters included creatures with unlikely names such as the hairy-chested Hoff crab, snub fin dolphins that spit water and a tusk fish that has learned how to use tools at dinnertime. As well as the huge-fanged fish, the flapjack octopus – does someone just make these names up? – a fish that sprouted legs, shrimps imprisoned in coral, and an astonishing sequence as six-gill sharks mobbed the sunken remains of a sperm whale, eating what may have been their first meal in a year, tearing great chunks of dead whale as blood inked the depths.

When the sharks were done, zombie worms – honestly, I am not making this up – used acid to burrow into the whale’s bones.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the fish with a see-through head. And in one heart-stopping sequence, the Christopher Booker flatfish was seen fighting over a copy of the Daily Telegraph with fellow climate-denying old crab Lord Lawson. Honestly, I just made that up. Or maybe Lord Lawson was really the ugly fish with the big teeth.

I’ve re-joined the revolution…


OH, let’s get into an old groove. Let’s spin away whatever stupid, mendacious and fallacious thing Donald Trump just said or is about to say. Let’s glance away just for now from the Westminster sex scandal, a fungus that hasn’t yet stopped growing.

Let’s forget all that and slip on a record, a proper record, big and black and made of lovely vinyl. Twenty years ago, around the time we got our first CD player, it looked like vinyl was doomed. It was an endangered species that would soon belong in the music museum.

Yet vinyl has been making a comeback in the past few years. Sony is returning to making vinyl 30 years after it abandoned the friendly old format. And this week, Sainsbury’s announced that it will be relaunching its own-label records.

Dedicated vinyl huggers never abandoned the big and shiny discs. They stayed in the groove while everyone else embraced new formats: first CDs and then iPods and then streaming. Ownership of albums or CDs looked like an eccentric habit in an age when music could be plucked from the cloud or wherever it is that streamed music comes from.

Vinyl charts returned a couple of years ago, a sign that this done-for old way of listening to music was undergoing a revival. Not all of this can be down to men in late middle-age trying to find their lost youth inside a record sleeve.

So, yes, this week I joined the revolution; or the revolutions; or re-joined the revolution. I bought a record deck for the first time in 20 years or so. I do have a transportable one my wife bought me a couple of years ago, a lovely-looking retro thing with the speaker in the lid, a new take on the old Dansette record player. Not at all bad, but not exactly hi-fi – and how comforting to dust off that old word again.

The last record deck I bought was made by Bang & Olufsen, or at least I think it was. I certainly had one of those, back in the days when I occasionally spent big, probably bought around the same time I had a sports car. Life has not allowed me to climb back into a sports car, so it had to be another later-life purchase: a record deck (made by Pro-ject, for those who like that sort of information).

It has only been connected for a few days but I have listened to an old Joe Jackson album (Night and Day, from 1982) and the first album by the sax player Andy Sheppard, with its infectious opening track, Java Jive.

Sheppard was 19 when he first heard a jazz record by John Coltrane. He sold his worldly goods, bought a second-hand sax and has been playing ever since.

I’ve always listened to his music, but had forgotten that first album, and it was a thrill to hear the first notes sway in after the introductory crackle and hiss of the stylus getting to know the vinyl.

The third album was the main reason for the deck. The middle boy bought me the double album soundtrack to the film Baby Driver, a fantastically retro production with a sleeve that opens like a big book and two discs. The songs are listed on the back, sides A to D. Great music, too – The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, The Beach Boys, Kashmere State Band, Dave Brubeck, T.Rex, Barry White, Simon & Garfunkel and more.

Listening is a different experience, in that you need to turn the volume up on the amp as vinyl isn’t as loud. I Googled that, wandered into various hi-fi bore websites, but made my excuses and hurried away.

I am looking forward to rediscovering all those old albums. It’s pot luck for now as they are not in order, but hidden in a cupboard and an old metal trunk – put there for sanctuary after the bloody cat scratched all the sleeve ends.

I am going to enjoy this vinyl voyage, while also still listening to some of the few hundred CDs, and listening too to music on my iPad and the Bose speaker. Oh, and the headphones. That’s my ears busy for a while now.

For now, though, it’s the record deck: warmer somehow that CDs, unless I’ve just fallen for the retro spiel. And if I have, I don’t care.

About Manhattan…

I GLANCE at my phone on the way back to the table in the curry house. Through the window Clifford’s Tower looms in the darkness. Students in Halloween costumes go past, a chaotic stream of youthfulness and mildly reckless fun.

This is a boys’ night out. Four men linked by words in some way or other. A couple of pints and then a curry. It’s always good to meet and talk about books and politics and just stuff.

“There’s been a terrorist incident in Manhattan,” I say, sitting down.

Outside a girl dressed up for mock horror tries to climb the steep bank to the castle. She only gets so far before gravity and perhaps alcohol send her stumbling back.

The students ham up the horror on a site that has seen its share of real horror. In 1190 one of the worst anti-Semitic massacres of the Middle Ages took place there. The city’s entire Jewish community was trapped by an angry mob inside the tower of York Castle. Many chose to commit suicide rather than be murdered or forcibly baptised by the mob.They also set fire to their possessions and the wooden tower burned.

No one knows the number of victims, but according to English Heritage, modern-day keepers of the castle, “a later account in Hebrew suggests that 150 died”.

Resentment had been growing for some time against Jewish immigrants, many of whom came from France after the Norman Conquest of 1066. This hostile sentiment rose thanks to the presence of Jews at the Coronation of Richard I. The general hostility was stoked by the raising of taxes to fund the Crusades.

A false rumour said the king had ordered the massacre of the Jews and a man called Benedict was said to have been killed on his return to York.

Horrors old and new in one Halloween night. It’s not much of a comfort to think that people have been doing appalling and cruel things to each other since 1190. And way before that.

The Halloween crowds were out in Manhattan, too. Enjoying the night, caught up in the fun, when a deranged ideologue drove a truck along a cycle path in Lower Manhattan, killing eight people and injuring 11 more. Five of the dead were friends from Argentina, part of a group of ten who were in New York to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their graduation.

The incident is regarded as a terror attack, probably by a lone wolf, and the worst in the US since 911.

President Trump tweeted through the night, because that’s what he does, on ordinary days and hell days. His tweets ranged from the properly presidential, offering condolences and prayers and the thought that “God and your country are with you!”, to the usually Trump-esque: “In NYC, looks like another attack by a very sick and deranged person. Law enforcement is following this closely NOT IN THE U.S.A!”

After 58 people died in the Las Vegas shooting, and a further 546 were injured, Trump sent the following Tweet: “My warmest condolences and sympathies to the victims and families of the terrible Las Vegas shooting. God bless you.”

He was criticised for that odd use of “warmest”. Notable in the President’s tweets at that time was a lack of anything to say about such huge loss of life in yet another mass shooting.

A life is a life. A life lost to a demented religious cause is equivalent to a life lost to a madman who sprays bullets on a music festival. Stephen Paddock acted for no known reason; the terrorist nutcase acted for reasons twisted out of his religion.

Both are forms of horror, both a sort of terrorism. Victims of shootings die in large part because the US cannot see the link between gun ownership and gun crime; last night’s victims died because one sort of God had a go at somebody’s else God.

Trump calls on God as an automatic reflex, without anyone having any true idea of his beliefs; the terrorist called on his God as an excuse for the evil that he did. That’s a god-awful lot of gods.

Outside, the students have gone to wherever students go. Soon we head out too, cycling home or walking home, at the end of a night that was happy for us and hellish in Manhattan. Happy and hellish seems to be our world.

Frightful Fallon and worries about the term ‘sex pest’

HOW does sex pest sound to you? I worry this term is a bit Carry On and 1970s. Sex pest sounds like an annoying neighbour in a terrible old sitcom, rather than someone who causes genuine pain or anguish.

Sex pests are in the headlines as the swill from the Harvey Weinstein affair reaches Westminster. A sex pest can ruin a life, but does fit neatly into a headline. And that risks making light of something serious, turning assault into a nuisance: oh, what a pest you are.

The Metro, not often a source of inspiration to this ledge-bound skimmer of headlines, sinks lower in my estimation this morning with: “Pestminster crackdown.” Too much even for those of us who like a pun.

What does a sex pest look like? According to today’s Sun, a sex pest looks like Michael Fallon. The defence secretary is an old-school Tory hitman, brought out when waters are choppy, and the man who did for Ed Miliband with a ‘hit’ on the BBC Today programme before the 2015 election.

Judged purely on such appearances, and the oiliness of his manner, and a casual arrogance to make the skin crawl, Michael Fallon is any sort of pest you might wish to name.

Rumours are washing through Westminster of past and present ministers said to have behaved inappropriately. The international trade minister Michael Garnier sent his secretary out to buy sex toys and called her “sugar tits”. He owned up to the offence but dismissed it all as “good humoured high jinks” and “amusing conversation”.

As the balance of power between an MP/Minister and their secretary is far from even, such behaviour cannot be dismissed so lightly.

But what about the oleaginous Fallon? According to the Sun, he was guilty of knee-touching 15 years ago.

Now I am now about to argue that inappropriate touching of knees is unimportant. But it does fall within a broad spectrum of possible offence, depending on the situation and the reaction of the woman being touched.

The Fallon case doesn’t exactly live up to its billing in the Sun – “Shock confession as sex pest dossier implicates SIX Cabinet ministers.” The main headline, wrapped around the odious offender, says: “FALLON: I FELT RADIO HOST’S KNEE.”

The woman receiving this unwanted attention was the journalist and broadcaster Julie Hartley-Brewer. If you’ve caught her on shows such as Have I Got News For You, Hartley-Brewer is tough, rather arrogant, not all that funny, but she does know Westminster.

When this story emerged, Hartley-Brewer refused to name the man involved, but Fallon later outed himself. The journalist then said: “No one was remotely distressed or upset by the incident in 2002”, tweeting: “My knees remain intact.”

She also said: “I have not been a victim and I do not wish to take part in what I believe has now become a Westminster witch hunt.”

To an extent, it’s all about context. If Harvey Weinstein invites a young actress into his hotel bedroom and puts his hand on her knee while asking her to go topless for him, that constitutes a vile situation, deeply alarming behaviour and sexual assault.

If an MP gets too flirty with a journalist who knows him well and isn’t upset by his unwanted attentions, the knee touching is of a different order

None of this is to belittle anything. Yesterday’s debate in Parliament, led by the reliably unimpressive Andrea Leadsom, Leader of the House of Commons, showed that much works needs to be done to make Westminster a safer place of work, especially for young women in junior roles.

But Hartley-Brewer has a point when she says that it is “wrong to treat workplace banter and flirting – and even misjudged sexual overtures – between consenting adults as being morally equivalent to serious sexual harassment or assault. It demeans genuine victims of real offences.”

A thorny thicket, for sure. Everything must be done to flush sexually inappropriate behaviour out of Westminster and everywhere else. But there is a danger that Sun-style exaggeration does muddy the waters in ways that aren’t helpful, and can even inadvertently downgrade women with genuine complaints.

And if the woman whose knee was touched is not bothered, then that should be the end of it. Even if the frightful Fallon should keep his hands to himself.