A message from Julian…

If you are kind enough to read the words pushed out onto this ledge, you may like to know about a change of address. From now on this blog will be appearing at manonledge.co.uk

Do please drop by for a look at the new surroundings (minus the enormous picture of me, thankfully). All of the old content has been boxed up and moved to the new address. Soon I’ll posting something new. Same old word games, new view. I will still use Facebook and Twitter to push this blog along, although Facebook seems careless with its mentions at the moment: things do get lost in there sometimes.

Anyway, the van is at the door and it is time to move…

 

 

 

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Don’t be mean about those snowflakes…

SNOWFLAKES, eh? Delicate little things that bring the country to a halt. Let me blow the snow off this ledge before sitting down with the laptop.

There goes, in place now. Through the front window, those flakes are falling as snow-dusted cars move along the road at a normal pace. The country hasn’t ground to a halt yet, not if this road out of York is any guide.

The BBC website has snow cancelling 200 trains, Europe turned into Siberia and spring postponed by the ‘big freeze’. Snow is news and for once the alarmist Daily Express has its arthritic old-boy-cries-wolf finger on the pulse.

As mentioned here before, the new custom of using the word ‘snowflake’ to describe young people – or millennials, as we now call them – doesn’t sit easily with me. One generation snooting it over another isn’t the way we should be going; and an older generation dismissing the young for being delicate and over-sensitive is just too mean-spirited for words.

The Sun likes to play the snowflake game. This morning the paper has the headline “Great British Flake Off” above a story tut-tutting about panic buying, transport chaos and official advice to keep warm.

This sort of bully-boy nonsense always tickles me. The Sun even complains about “nannying” officials advising people to put on an extra layer to stay warm. Nothing wrong with that sort of nannying. I put on an extra T-shirt before venturing onto this ledge this morning.

That’s the thing with newspapers sometimes. The officials are nannying while advising us to keep warm or condemned as negligent if they keep shtum and offer no advice. Heartless officials slammed for keeping quiet about the cold; that sort of thing.

At least the snow unites us in a way. It’s the sort of common experience we don’t see so often in our modern bubbled lives, the climactic equivalent of Morecambe and Wise from those days lost to time and technology when we all watched the same TV programme at the same time. Everyone is affected; everyone has fun or something to moan about; everyone can get flaky.

But let’s leave snowflakes as snowflakes, and let off condemning the young for being, well, young.

Even Brexit can’t escape a dusting with the white stuff. This morning’s papers widely report on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s new support for a customs union with the EU. Is he playing politics in the slippery Brexit frost; or just being sensible?

Oh, who knows? Brexit is just too exhausting.

But I do like a line reported by the Financial Times this morning. Senior Tories are said to have an answer to Corbyn’s new move. Apparently, they are going about saying that Mrs Maybe favours the phrase “European traded goods area”. Doesn’t this just show that Brexit boils down to semantic bluster: you say “customs union” and I say: “European traded goods area”.

You say snowflakes; I say the next marvellous generation. You say big chill and I say chill big. Stay safe and stay sane in that snow. My only travel decision today is whether to cycle or drive for the Tuesday game of squash.

But by first thing Thursday, I’ll be clasping my frozen fingers to the steering wheel and hoping to arrive in Horsforth in one piece.

Does driving make you more right-wing?

THE question above pops into my head on the long drive to work. The other week, there was a fumy story about the chief policeman who thinks that drivers who go 1mph over the speed limit should be fined.

Chief Constable Andy Bangham was splashed across the front of the never knowingly less than incandescent Daily Mail. He said drivers should stop whingeing about being fined, adding that speed awareness courses were a soft option and drivers were no longer afraid of speeding punishments.

My first thought was a shaming one: perhaps the apoplectic Mail has a point here. Fining motorists for going a shade over the limit seems unreasonable. We are men (or women) and not machines (gender unspecified): we make mistakes, then correct our behaviour. A driver who spots they are slightly above the speed limit will usually slow down.

Until 18 months ago, I almost never drove to work – now I drive all the bloody time. All that petrol-fuelled commuting is against my principles, such as they, but sometimes life throws you a curveball.

Reaction to the thoughts of chief constable Bangham-em-up came in two flavours. The right-wing reaction was to fume that this was ridiculous, to fulminate about picking on motorists and to wonder how anything got done in this country.

As someone who drives about 200 miles a week to two jobs, I sympathised with the motorists swerving to the right in outrage. Oh, and with three points on my licence thanks to a misunderstanding on a dual carriageway in Leeds, I am afraid of speeding punishments. I’d struggle without the car, as shown by the bus and train commute to Horsforth last week (sponsored by a flat tyre). Two hours it too; four if you count coming back.

Reaction from the left said drivers should stop thinking that they can do what they want. Peter Wilby, who writes a top column in the New Statesman, observed that the Mail’s story drew “predictable protests from the motoring lobby and its Tory friends”. He added that one MP said it would “make criminals of good drivers” and that the police should crack down on “violent crime and yobbish behaviour” and stop being “overly aggressive… towards motorists”.

Wilby undermined this pro-car propaganda in one neat paragraph: “Most ‘yobbish behaviour’ doesn’t kill. Motor vehicles kill more than 1,700 a year in Britain. The laws of physics explain when the risks are greatest. Pedestrians hit by a car travelling at up to 30mph are likely – though by no means certain – to survive. Hit by one travelling at 40mph, they are 90 per cent likely to be killed.”

So, are we picking on drivers or letting them off with a slap on their gearstick? After giving off right-wing fumes, I began to feel ashamed; I began to hanker after that hopeless old leftie who cycled into work, swallowing exhaust fumes rather than producing them; I began to worry that driving 200 miles a week to work was doing something to my political lodestone.

I don’t know the answer to my opening question, but I do hope not. I reckon the driver I annoyed yesterday morning was a right-wing maniac; he probably thought I was a left-wing twerp. Or just a bad driver.

Just out of Wetherby, heading down the hill, I pulled into the layby to check my emails. On the radio it said that lecturers were on strike and nobody had told me.

No messages, so I checked the traffic, seeing one vehicle cresting the hill, and pulled out. It was a truck pulling a trailer and it zoomed up behind me, flashing his lights, then followed so close for a few miles that his VW logo was almost printed on the back of my head. At the lights by Harewood House, he blew his horn (for reasons unknown, or unknown to me: too slow across the junction, perhaps; too obstructive for his tastes; oh! all the above and none: sometimes you never know).

Does driving a lot make you a better driver but a worse human being; or just a tired driver? Or are drivers of VW trucks just big right-wing arses on wheels? Answers on an exhaust pipe.

He has a point, but do we want Jeremy Corbyn controlling the media?

JEREMY Corbyn doesn’t like many of our newspapers, and they don’t much like him. The papers have it in for Corbyn; and he has it in for them. It is a mutually hostile relationship that in a sense plays well for both parties.

The communist spy allegations against Corbyn may be as ridiculous as they are ancient, but they do conveniently allow him to turn up the heat on the newspapers. And airing them allows the newspapers to turn the gas up under Corbyn until his lid rattles.

There has been a slew of silly stories in our more right-wing newspapers in recent days suggesting that the Labour leader gave information to a communist spy during the cold war.

Labour yesterday released a video to address all the headlines piling up about meetings Corbyn had in the 1980s with a Czechoslovakian diplomat later expelled as a spy.

Before looking at that, and at Corbyn’s barely veiled threats to the press, it is worth remembering that this sort of Labour-press barney is hardly new – something suggested by this being a cold war row, of all the frosty old things.

In 1995, The Sunday Times alleged that former Labour leader Michael Foot had been an agent of influence for the KGB, working under the code-name of agent Boot – a name with a touch of Graham Greene comedy about it, don’t you think? – and that the Soviet intelligence service made cash-only payments to Tribute, the left-wing magazine, while he was editor.

Foot was hurt by the allegations, issued a libel writ and won damages reported to have been around £100,000. It was said that part of his ‘winnings’ went on buying a new kitchen.

Another Labour leader, another era – some old nonsense.

But as a journalist, Foot did not take this action lightly, as suggested by his response after winning his case: “I think the libel laws are very severe on newspapers… But what the Sunday Times said was so serious – that I was a spy who had served one of the most wicked organisations that has existed this century – I thought it had to be wiped clear.”

Another era, another Labour leader. Corbyn issues not a writ but a video. In this he dismisses the allegations against him as “ridiculous smears”, adding that the only reason some newspapers are publishing such claims is because they are worried about a Labour government.

So far, so expected.

What has brought people up short – especially commentators on the right-side of the national slanging chamber – is that in levelling various (perfectly reasonable) charges against some newspapers, Corbyn used the words: “Change is coming.”

His tone through the video is calm and reasonable, his pledge to “stand up to the powerful and corrupt” rings fair to these ears. And yet this still worries me. Here’s the full ‘change is coming’ paragraph: “The general election showed the media barons are losing their influence and social media means their bad old habits are becoming less and less relevant. But instead of learning these lessons they’re continuing to resort to lies and smears. Their readers – you, all of us – deserve so much better. Well, we’ve got news for them: change is coming.”

There is a suggestion here that Labour swallows its own myths a little too easily. Did the election show that the media barons are losing their influence? Perhaps to a degree, but praising social media in this way is to damn the old devil you know all too well, while shaking hands with the more powerful and wildly unpredictable new devil.

Meet the new devil; same as the old devil, just a whole lot more powerful.

Then there is the threat. Governments of all colours end up regarding newspapers and journalists in general as a nuisance; governments of all colours end up thinking that controlling the newspapers sounds like a good idea.

But how will this happen? Newspaper readers do deserve better, but how is that going to be arranged by a possible future Labour government? It never ends well when the state attempts to control the media.

But those slurs? Oh, ridiculous for sure – although perhaps Jeremy Corbyn could hire John Le Carré to brush up his past and give him a sheen of glamour.

Finger lacking good and the great calorie self-con…

AH, finger lacking good. Kentucky Fried Chicken is running out of chicken.

I haven’t eaten KFC for more than half a lifetime and wouldn’t dip my fingers if the colonel himself delivered a steaming bucket to our door, but this would be tricky as Colonel Sanders has been dead since 1980, although don’t go blaming all that chicken he ate as he lived to the ripe, but possibly greasy, old age of 90.

KFC has been forced to close around half of its 900 branches. My first thought was that perhaps mass production of chicken was no longer tenable, and that KFC would now have to stand for Kentucky Fried Chickpeas or something. But according to the BBC website, the fried chicken chain is blaming “operational issues” after switching its delivery contract to DHL.

Without being any sort of an expert, it’s a fair guess that the important part of being a delivery business is to deliver. But, then, we live in strange times when privatised rail companies pull out of delivering people as they’re not creaming in the money as they’d hoped when they rashly flashed their golden-ticket of a proposal past the government’s lazy eye.

Anyway, back to those non-running chickens.

A reporter on the BBC news interviewed young girls about how they were coping without their fried chicken. One of those chosen was a star, although you worried for her future if she ate too many of those fried chicken meals she was missing.

My objection to KFC lies in middle-class food snobbism. I don’t eat anything like that because, well, in this house we just don’t. No takeaways at all. You can take away from that statement whatever you wish. We don’t eat ready meals either, only unready ones, and maybe that makes us unusual.

Trying to keep on top of the latest food advice is always tricky, and the non-arriving chicken story arrives at the same time as the Office for National Statistics reveals that we are eating 50% more calories than we claim in the statistics.

One theory about the calorie self-con is that people who are keen to lose weight are likely to under-report what they eat. But I think we all do that, however much we pretend to calorific saintliness.

Most of us kid ourselves about food. For instance, it is clear beyond doubt to me that a slick of cold unsalted butter on a crust of homemade bread, topped with honey from down the road, contains no calories at all, not a solitary one. I’ll be sticking to that theory through thick and thin. Or possibly the other way around.

One day last week, my wife and me came off a spell of doing the 5:2 diet (veggie version). We didn’t do this because we’d transformed ourselves into sylphs, but because we crawled into the kitchen after work one evening and said we were sick of the diet. And too hungry for words.

But not so hungry that I’d eat KFC. I like my chicken free-range. Maybe I’m kidding myself with that bit of food morality, but you need to draw a line in the fried breadcrumbs somewhere.

It’s about the guns, stupid…

WHAT on earth can be said about another mass shooting in the US? That’s the wretched dilemma facing anyone who wishes to write about these tragic events.

All the sensible observations you can make have already been made. With due modesty, I’ve made most of them here more than once. And they can be boiled down to one obvious truth: it’s about the guns, stupid.

School shootings are a particularly awful sub-section of America’s greatest self-inflicted wound. Since 1989, 97 children have been killed and 126 injured in mass shootings. What sort of a country allows that to happen? And that’s to ignore all the everyday mass shootings in places other than schools.

The reaction to each shooting usually runs like this: shock and horror at more senseless killings; mournful mutterings that this time ‘something must be done’; the muttering dies down; nothing is done; then someone opens fire some place else. And the circle of no virtue begins all over again.

The latest gun atrocity saw teenager Nikolas Cruz allegedly open fire at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school, in Parkland, Florida, from which he’d been expelled. In what appears to have been a revenge shooting spree, he allegedly shot 17 people dead, using what is thought to have been an AR-15 rifle – “American’s favourite rifle”, according to a report in Time magazine.

Who knew America had a favourite rifle. Is it the best one for indiscriminate slaughter; does it come with free Hershey bars or something? Maybe it fires patriotic bullets into the bodies of innocent children.

The alleged gunman is reported to have bought the rifle lawfully in Florida more than a year ago: does that mean he was only 18 at the time? If so, US gun laws are even more stupid than we realised.

In the absence of anything to say – other than, “Put down those guns; it’s the guns that kill people; that’s what they’re made for…” etc – let’s follow a few Twitter trails. People can be dismissive about Twitter, but it can act as a vent for expression of thoughts and useful anger.

The Tweeter in chief, Donald Trump, put out a typical response – “So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad or erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!”

You will notice the President does not mention guns, preferring to put the weight on mental illness (and exclamation marks). This is a typical tactic of the gun lobby: find something else to blame, other than the hot piece of metal that fires bullets into people.

A response to that bullet-free Tweet from Trump came from podcaster Gabriella Mirabelli: “You *personally* reversed an Obama-era regulation on gun-purchase background checks for those with mental illness. If there is a person to blame, look in the mirror.”

The journalist and writer Erica Buist, who writes for The Guardian, tweeted to Trump: “Why not just ban guns and when people are upset about it, just send them thoughts and prayers? If ‘thoughts and prayers’ are good enough for people who’ve lost their families then it’s good enough for people who’ve lost their guns.”

One of the president’s puppets, the conservative commentator and Trump advocate Tomi Lahren, a sort of right-wing Barbie doll if her Twitter picture speaks true, offered the following thoughtful contribution: “Can the Left let the families grieve for even 24 hours before they push their anti-gun and anti-gunowner agenda? My goodness. This isn’t about a gun it’s about another lunatic. #FloridaShooting.”

Before you start spluttering, “No, it’s about a possibly mentally ill person with a gun…”, let’s hear from someone who was there.

Carly Novell is 17 and she survived the Florida shooting.

She sent a tweet in reply to Tomi Lahren. This is what Carly said: “I was hiding in a closet for 2 hours. It was about guns. You weren’t there, you don’t know how it felt. Guns give these disgusting people the ability to kill other human beings. This IS about guns and this is about all the people who had their life abruptly ended because of guns.”

In his address to the nation – other than that non-stop Twitter address – Donald Trump avoided talking about guns, appeared calmly accepting of the appalling situation, saying: “It is not enough to take actions that make us feel we are making a difference. We must actually make that difference.”

Well, yes – and the biggest difference you could make would be to do something about guns. But you have no intention of doing that, do you, Donald?

Instead, Trump toured the hospitals and told everyone involved in this latest tragedy “what a great job” they’d done. Well, yes, a better job than Trump and the US political establishment.

Please don’t flash that advert at me…

A FLASHING advert on my old newspaper’s website took me back the other day, but not in a good way. The advert boxed in the story I was trying to read, and there was a pulsating button to either side, each demanding to be pushed.

This advert, for an estate agent, was a bad advert for many reasons.

It was a bad advert because it dominated the screen so totally that it was impossible to read the story.

It was a bad advert because it was still there later when I tried to read another story.

It was a bad advert because in the end I went away without reading a word.

It was a bad advert for adverts: we know that newspaper groups are struggling for money, but to allow such an intrusive advert is a step too far.

And it was a bad advert for an entirely different reason, and this was what took me back. Flashing lights worry me sometimes, even though it’s been a long time. You see, for a few years in my twenties, I had fits. They always happened when I was asleep, mostly at night, although occasionally in the day.

At first, I had no idea what was happening. I’d wake up with a bitten tongue, blood on the pillow perhaps, and a thick head. Sometimes the thick head was for the usual reason. That was the case on the day when my girlfriend, my wife now for all these years, called an ambulance.

The night before I’d been out in a wine bar in Greenwich, drinking red wine, too much red wine. I got up, then didn’t. Sleeping off the hangover seemed to be a better idea. While I was asleep, I had a fit. An alarming sight and that’s why the ambulance was called.

I went for tests, had my brain scanned. Electrodes were attached to my head to evaluate the electrical activity, only there wasn’t any, or not of the sort they were looking for.

No trace of epilepsy at all, although the scan showed a slight thickening of the bone where I fractured my skull falling out of an upstairs window at the age of three (another tale, often told). The doctors thought this might be putting pressure on the brain.

Nothing was proved, the fits continued, I was put on a short-term driving licence that was renewable on medical advice. Around 30 years ago, the fits stopped as mysteriously as they started.

Inconvenient times when I had a fit: during the night on a boat called Reef Encounter before going scuba diving in Queensland; the night before a shorthand exam; various times before work.

This ancient history was revived by that stupid advert. Flashing lights can trigger epilepsy. That’s why you get all those “this report contains flash photography” warnings on the BBC news.

That was a bad advert for all those reasons. But it was a reminder to unlikely beauty, too.

The song Epilepsy Is Dancing by Antony and the Johnsons is a haunting three minutes, and probably the best song there is about epilepsy, possibly the only one.

In the video for the song, a woman falls into a fit on a grey industrial back street. While she is out, she is transported into a trippy vision of Midsummer Night’s Dream. For some reason she is topless and painted in glitter. For some other reason cartoon flowers float out of Antony’s mouth as he sings.

At the end, the woman is back on the street; she looks none the worse for wear, something which will not be the experience of most who have had a fit, as even the survivor of relatively infrequent ones long ago can tell you.

 

Would I lie to you? Oh, yes, Boris, you would…

BORIS Johnson is making a big speech today – all Valentine’s hearts and flowers for Brexit.

Maybe it’s just me, but the thought of Boris Johnson backing something or other never exactly fills me with confidence. Cynical, I know, but every time he opens his mouth, I worry that lies will come tumbling out.

According to the trailers – spoiler alert: Boris thinks Brexit is great – today’s speech will attempt to reassure Remain voters by setting out the liberal case for Brexit. He will also say that the 17.4 million people who voted Leave face a disastrous betrayal if the referendum vote were overturned – “we cannot and will not let it happen”.

Ah, yes, cake and eat it time again. Having baked sweet goodies and gobbling them down is Boris’s favourite pastime. It looks like his latest Brexit speech will set out to do two things – no, make that three things: reassure Remain voters; reassure Leavers voters; and push his own agenda (the subtext to a Boris speech is always, ‘What’s in it for Boris?’ And the answer to that question today is connected to subtly undermining Theresa May and putting himself in the limelight again).

Anyway, in the name of balance, here is a contrary view from an ardent pro-Europe type. The writer of these words will be revealed in a moment…

“This is a market on our doorstep, ready for further exploitation by British firms. The membership fee seems rather small for all that access. Why are we so determined to turn our back on it?”

And what ardent pro-European wrote those wise words? Boris Johnson, of course. Eighteen months ago, the Sunday Times discovered that Boris had written two columns for the Daily Telegraph: one in favour of Brexit, the other against.

When confronted on Sky News about his two-faced views, Johnson did a typical bit of bluff and bluster, saying that he was “making the alternative case” for himself by writing “a sort of semi-parodic article in the opposite sense”.

He blamed the appearance in the Sunday Times of the previously unpublished anti-Brexit article on the fact that he thought “he might have sent it to a friend”. Some friend, eh?

Will Boris speak the truth today? Oh, you decide. It’s an either-or thing. But I’d be tempted to tick the box marked: “His mouth is moving so it’s probably a lie.”

Perhaps they should get the Foreign Secretary as a guest on the entertaining BBC1 panel show, Would I Lie To You? The trouble is, with Boris Johnson the answer to the question at the heart of the show is nearly always, ‘yes’.

As for the bigger Brexit picture, Boris’s speech is said to be the first from various Cabinet ministers laying out the “Road to Brexit”. Spoiler alert number two: I’m sure that one’s a repeat.

This tale leaves me feeling flat…

IT IS 7am and me and my fuzzy head are driving the car to work. Over the roundabout we go. Half a mile from home, the dashboard flashes up a warning about loss of pressure in one of the back tyres.

Pulling up, I see that the tyre is pretty much flat. In the old days, I’d have jacked up that car and changed the wheel, but this car doesn’t have a spare wheel. It does have a foam repair aerosol or something, but I don’t trust that to get me to Horsforth and back. I pump up the tyre and return home.

Having dashed out of the house moments ago, I dash back in to deliver the deflating news. Back outside, I take my shoulder bag, laptop and sports bag out of the boot. The nearest bus pulls round the junction, too far away for me to run.

I set off with too many bags, then turn back, as I’d locked the front door but left the keys dangling in the lock.

Usually it takes an hour to drive to the university, a rural route that skirts Wetherby, Harewood, the long hill at Pool and then, just before the airport, a sharp left down a country road. In the distance you can see the airport camped on a hilltop.

Another sharp turn takes you down a narrow, tippling road with two pinch-point bridges at the bottom of steep hills. Two miles later, you emerge into a suburban street close to the university.

All that driving is a pain to a man who’d rather cycle to work, and I’d wondered about trying the train. This morning I have no choice.

Ten minutes or so gets me to the less convenient bus stop. Another 20 minutes or so – and £17.50 lighter on the bank card – and I am sitting at a table, surrounded by my too many bags, one containing a squash racket with an awkward handle.

I email a couple of students to say I’ll be late, then settle back for the journey.

This train line to Harrogate and beyond is a pretty little trip, with one of Yorkshire’s great views at Knaresborough as the train pulls out of the station and crosses the viaduct above the Nidd Gorge. New to me is the stretch between Harrogate and Horsforth, more rolling countryside and another viaduct or two.

It’s snowing in Horsforth as I walk up with a colleague who was on the same train. She tells me that she plays the piano in Bettys in Harrogate, and I didn’t know that. It’s good when people surprise you in interesting way, I think, while also trying not to think about the furious itch of my bursting bladder.

After dashing a little more, I arrive in the classroom two hours and 15 minutes after first leaving home in the car. Three students are waiting, the others roll in over the next half hour or so.

Today’s session is about film and TV reviewing. I’d suggested that they watch The End of The F***ing World, the cult dark comedy/Brit road movie on More4 and Netflix. Quite a few of them have – result! – and have good thoughts to share; some haven’t and don’t.

After three hours in class, a lunchtime squash session, a bite to eat and a meeting about how to do something on Moodle – ask a head-scratching academic if you don’t know – I am walking back to the station.

The return journey takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes: a commute of nearly 4-and-a-half hours, as opposed to an hour each way in the car. An hour each way in the car is an hour each way too many, but you can see why people drive rather than take the slow train.

At home the car is slumped in the drive, awaiting attention. Soon I am slumped on the sofa, awaiting a drowsy interlude that doesn’t arrive.

A few thoughts on social media sharing and Rob Delaney’s loss…

 

catastrophe

THE way people share the lowest moments of their lives on social media is a mystery and an inspiration, too. I am feeling tearful writing this, thanks to the death of a little boy I didn’t know, the son of parents I don’t know, although the dad is famous and has often been dubbed the ‘funniest man on Twitter’.

Sometimes the outbreaks of vicarious grief on social media and in the comments sections on websites seem plain weird. Does all that ‘thinking of you’ emoting help or is it just self-indulgent grief at one remove (insert sad emoji face here)?

That has been my response at times, and still is sometimes, but it also seems reasonable to accept that acknowledging grief is to recognise that deepest of human emotions.

The actor Rob Delaney has shared many things on Twitter, endless so-bad-they’re-good jokes. His humour is in part born from the mess his life once was. A typical headline from a first-person newspaper article he wrote a few years back captures what is often his Twitter tone: “My life as an alcoholic bedwetter.”

Here is a recent Tweet about his resurrection from alcohol – “I quit drinking 11 years ago today. Wanted to let you know that’s an option if your life is a booze toilet. I am 62,000% happier. Thanks.”

Delaney is an American who lives here, co-star with Irish actor Sharon Horgan in Catastrophe, the lovely but edgy Brit sit-com. This morning he shares on Twitter the personally devastating news that his two-year-old son Henry has died after spending half his life battling a cancerous brain tumour.

His message is long and terribly sad. It is a way for him to communicate his awful news, but also a request for space. Delaney ends his message thus: “Finally, I ask that you respect my family’s privacy regarding this matter. I have nothing else to say that I haven’t said here. Thank you, beautiful Henry, for spending as much time with us as you did. We miss you so much.”

Kudos is due to Delaney to being able to share the ups and downs of his life in a direct and affecting manner; his bad news connects because of all the funny stories and shameful secrets he has spilled so entertainingly in the past.

Recently people I know have spoken on Twitter and Facebook about their despondent troughs. Former colleagues have discussed health problems caused by a botched operation, or the sudden death of a loved one. Posts have been read, messages passed on, and in both cases the support of a distant social media community seems to have helped in some way.

We tend only to think of the negatives: the bragging and the point-scoring; the endless reporting in from pubs and restaurants, airports and holiday destinations. And, yes, I have done a few ‘big holiday’ posts – mostly because everyone else does, so why not join in.

Social media is still one big, evolving experiment: Twitter and Facebook or whatever cannot replace a life, but they can be part of a life: silly, time-wasting, skittish at times, and yet moving and meaningful sometimes, too.

It is common for people to share their grief on social media. Occasionally people think of creative ways to remember: one Facebook friend puts up posts composed of pictures he took of the family home that is no longer a family home. Small, detailed images that build into something affecting, even though you were not there and didn’t know those who have died.

So, yes, it is perhaps strange to feel sad about the death of a little boy I never knew. But sometimes that is what it’s like to be human, especially as you get on a bit, for the passing of years do seem to make it easier to feel emotional about life.

None of us can say anything that helps Rob Delaney and his family, but I guess we can still care.