This is going to be a slight defence of the Daily Mail.
At the moment, the Daily Mail must feel like Mr Ratchett, the unfortunate (but ultimately deserving) victim who got knifed in the back 12 times in Murder on the Orient Express. (I'll run the risk of being That Person Who Spoils Murder On The Orient Express and say that Mr Ratchett had it coming: he'd managed to piss off every single other person on the train in vile an despicable ways throughout their lives, so they banded together to get their revenge since he had escaped justice so many times.) Here I am, sitting like Poirot, trying to work out whether it's really fair or not.
The Daily Mail is an awful thing. I've said so on numerous occasions. Its list of shame stretches from its offices to the Moon and back again. It is a nasty, malicious, recidivist thing.
But then, half the problem is trying to anthropomorphise the Mail. It is not an 'it'. It's not a psychopath. It's not an evil spirit, like Mr Ratchett, or Todd from Breaking Bad, or any other figure from fiction you can think of. The problematic thing about personalising the Mail, and making it an 'it', is that you run the risk of laying the tarmac for other similar attacks. Today it's "The Daily Mail is..." and tomorrow it's "The Left is..." or "Twitter is...".
The latter is something that's happening more and more as an easily identifiable trope of lazy writing. Find an extreme outlier of opinion, see if more than two people have said it, and claim that "Twitter is" saying something. Two or three people in the massive human soup of Twitter isn't "Twitter". But that's what you see nowadays. Scrape through Twitter for the opinions you want, then present that as evidence of what you want them to say. It's something that is done by, among others, the Daily Mail.
I wrote the other day about the problem with associating Viscount Rothermere's granddaddy with "The Mail", and I think there's something a little wrong about calling the paper a Nazi sympathiser. Yes, the article demonising Ralph Miliband decided to twist the truth on the basis of ancient and partisan views, but doing the same about the Mail is just as, well, wrong.
It's interesting to see the broad church that has come together to stick a knife between the shoulderblades of the Mail - from former allies of Margaret Thatcher to people like Alastair Campbell, who once craved positive editorial in the Mail for New Labour). The only unconvincing, feeble defenders are the people you'd expect to come out with contrarian crap in their Spectator columns, People Who Have Surprising Opinions For Money. Everyone else is watching on, fascinated, or taking a run-up themselves. You get the sense that old scores are being settled. Perhaps the paper just pissed off too many people too many times. Should we have any sympathy for someone who had it coming, and who had it coming for such a long time?
Well, the Mail is not a thing, and it's not a person. It's not evil. It is a collection of things that come together to make a whole. It does a hundred excellent articles every week, interesting articles and entertaining articles, the sort of thing that other newspapers just don't do as well. It funds journalism at a time when money is disappearing down the plughole in the industry. It employs a lot of good people who are just trying to make a living.
That, though, is the major frustration. Imagine if the Mail used its powers for good: imagine the good it could do, holding the powerful to account - you know, actually doing the things that its defenders said it did when they were babbling away in front of the Leveson Inquiry. It could be something amazing.
But no. Instead, its editorial content is all too often a collaboration of lazy, tedious and predictable attacks against the same old targets, regardless of the evidence. Whether it's immigrants, gay people, gypsies, the police, the BBC, Labour, or just some poor no-mark prole who happened to turn up in the wrong news story at the wrong time, it takes aim and fires the blunderbuss.
Some people do stuff themselves into the headlines on purpose, and bear a share of the responsibility when the publicity heads south. But there are others - generally the 'real people' who don't seek any kind of publicity at all - who end up being chewed up by the jaws of the tabloid press. These are the people who are least able to defend themselves. Would they get a response article in the Mail if they'd had a dead relative unfairly insulted? Unlikely. They are the people who complain to the PCC, get nothing back, and have to settle for that.
That's the reason why so many people are tempted to look the other way when they see people heading to take down the Mail. They can slag off as many celebrities as they like, and that's unpalatable at best and despicable at worst; but when they go for the man or woman next door, that really is something else. That is something I do find indefensible. Twisting facts, tainting opinions and presenting hugely unfair accounts of what's going on can ruin ordinary people's lives. It's a massive responsibility to get things right. But the evidence adds up that on numerous occasions, the tabloid press - including but not exclusively the Mail - doesn't bother getting it right.
Sometimes, getting it right means that you have to spike a story at the last minute. Sometimes, getting it right means that your attack can't be in as broad brush strokes as it otherwise would have been, and won't make as good a read. Sometimes, getting it right is forgotten in the desire to make it good.
It's that viciousness that forms the centre of the attacks engulfing the Mail. If Ed Miliband's response to the Mail's grubby, grotty little bunch of bile had been tucked away on page 107, that would have been something. But someone decided it couldn't be left there: that the accusations against Miliband's father had to be repeated, that a bombastic, nasty little editorial had to be placed towering alongside like a playground bully. That was a mistake. A mistake that comes from a certain kind of viciousness. Not the viciousness of the Daily Mail, maybe, but the viciousness of somebody who thought it would be a good idea. It smacks of a decision that was made in a bad temper. It was wrong.
Every now and then, anger rises up against the Daily Mail - whether it's Jan Moir's awful column about Stephen Gately's death or Liz Jones's ghoulish trip around Bristol after the death of Jo Yeates, there are often nasty, unpleasant things to be found inside. Yes, columnists do write polarising things to try and lure in attacks. But t's the far greater unpleasantness of the demonising of immigrants and people on benefits that might, ultimately, be considered a far worse affront to journalism.
Personally, I wish there would be more anger about that than an attack on Ed Miliband's dad. How about the article last week slagging off nurses for, well, whatever it is they were supposed to have done that was so bad. There are so many other incidents down the years. I used to try and document them, on this very blog, but it ended up making me feel so sad about life that I had to stop; not only that, but it was just the fact that it would never make any difference. No-one wanted to know. Not really. It gets tiring ploughing the same old furrow, day after day, and getting nowhere.
The Mail is getting monstered, for something bad, but not the worst thing it's ever done, or even done recently. I can't feel too glad. But I'm not going to try and intervene, either. I couldn't do any good when I wanted it to get a shoeing; I'm not going to stop it from happening now. It's been coming for a long, long time.
Everyone else is writing about the Mail and Miliband, so here I am.
The Daily Mail is a dirty, vile, mildewed shit-stained shower curtain of a newspaper. It doesn't love Britain: it snipes at Britain, more specifically those things about Britain that a lot of British people like, such as the BBC, welcoming immigrants, fairness, the NHS and so on. They're not great friends of Britain; they're just as miserable and self-loathing as the rest of Britain.
The article about Ed Miliband's dad was the kind of muckraking crap they've done against all kinds of people down the years. It's in the same vein as the smelly articles about Nick Clegg's 'foreign blood' during the 2010 election. There is a nasty whiff about it, a sense of something more sinister.
Yes, the Mail did once support That Nice Mr Hitler and the Blackshirts. I'm not sure this is strictly relevant, although yes, they are the ones writing about Ralph Miliband, who fought in the Second World War and fled the Nazis. But the Mail doesn't support Nazis now. As far as I know. I mean, they might do it secretly. For all I know there's a giant eagle and swastika sitting over Paul Dacre's desk. (I'm pretty sure there isn't).
This is taking place during the Tory conference, taking headlines away from Iain Duncan Smith's latest poor-baiting or Jeremy Hunt pretending the NHS is going to be all right. From this we might conclude a couple of things, one of which is that the Mail's timing stinks - another is that Labour's timing doesn't. Of course they're on full attack; they're making as much political capital out of this as possible in order to take news from the Government. They're going for the Mail with both barrels. Why not? There's hardly a huge overlap between Mail readers and Labour supporters - and it's not going to sway many of the latter away from Miliband.
What is it about then? Is it a post-Leveson attack on someone who dared question the power of the press? I am not so sure. I think it's just the kind of thing they do, quite often. Usually the victims are ordinary people who don't have giant PR machines to fight back. If you or I were smeared by the Mail and asked for a right of reply, we wouldn't get one, albeit with a massive editorial next to it refusing to apologise. Miliband has got more out of the Mail than most of its targets have. And a lot of the noise around this is being generated by Labour.
Is the Mail still a piece of crap? You bet.
Is Miliband a victim? Kind of.
Is there a lot of heat and light being wasted on this rather than more important issues? Yes. Including this blogpost. But at least I'm not being paid for it.
And I'm stopping it, now.
I have a memory, one of those hazy early memories that tumbles through the air like a fleck of dust caught in a sunbeam. It's a memory of me, a tinier and less cumbersome me, sitting on the brightly coloured carpet in the local library children's section, with a book of Babar.
I remember it because the Babar book was the first book that ever really made me feel sad - and I loved it for that. Up until that moment, books had always been quite straightforward. But here, in this book I had probably chosen because of the cheerful looking elephant, there was something a little sadder. I don't know why I was attracted to it - it's something that would probably take more therapy than I could ever afford, even if I had a proper job - but I was.
Here was a character who came from sadness (I won't give away any spoilers), who had to try and work through all that stuff. Like I say, I was only tiny, only really little, and yet there was something in this book, above all other books, beyond the illustrations and the words, that spoke to me more than anything had ever spoken before. Books are like that, because they come and find you. You don't go looking for them; the right book will find you, when the time is right. Right then, in that beautiful children's library, whose every shelf and label and book I can think of even now all these years later, that book spoke to me. You don't forget things like that.
(I suppose nowadays these stories are looked upon differently. Babar can probably be shunted away with Tintin au Congo for the clumsiness with which it insisted the westernisation of Africa. But I never saw any of that; I just saw the character who seemed so unlike any other character I'd seen before.)
Anyway, today I saw this. I hesitate to link, but there it is, if you want it.
"Time for a Tusktastic adventure!" warbles the cheery American voice. Oh God. Oh no. No, not this.
CGI Babar, like CGI everything, is an awful, awful, awful sight. Maybe now kids love it; I don't know. It's just... oh, I wish some things could just be preserved, just as they were. I wish it could just be that book, as I saw it, on that day, when I was tiny, and found something sparking at me out of the pages. I suppose I am sad for me, more than anything, and I can't really stop the march of time. But does everything have to be remade? Does everything have to be 'improved' with CGI? There is the joy of books and the joy of simple animation; that's what lights up my brain with memories, and ideas. Maybe it wouldn't if I'd grown up with CGI Babar; I don't know for sure.
But there's something that just makes me so sad to see it all changed. I hope that original book is still somewhere, sitting on a library shelf, waiting to be discovered. I hope it is discovered, and comes and finds the child who needs to read it. I know it's silly, but I do.
I gave up blogging and writing for a long time, for several reasons. Firstly, I was training to be a teacher (I'm now qualified!) and secondly I was writing a book. That book, about depression, is now finished. I wrote an extract here recently and you can find out more about it here and here - already, I have had a wonderful reaction to it and it has made me very pleased. So please take a look if you can.
I ducked out of the life I'd had, which was a freelance writer and part-time blogger for the New Statesman, and all that came with it. That meant I gave up Twitter as well, since I didn't want it to jeopardise any potential teaching job in the future; unfortunately that seems a wee bit hubristic since I didn't actually get a job.
Still, it was the right thing to do - as it turns out, not for the reasons I'd expected.
Especially noticeable is the difference to my life once I quit Twitter. It wasn't the traditional "flounce" (of which more soon) but more a measured thing that seemed like a good idea. Besides, I'd begun to find certain traits about Twitter a bit wearying. Switching that whole thing off turned out to be a really pleasurable thing to do: I could concentrate on my studies and learning without needing to broadcast anything every five seconds or get involved in tedious circular arguments.
Living online - and being a minor member of the 'commentariat' - is a strange experience. Whatever your intentions, you end up worrying and obsessing about stats and numbers. Why did something you thought was great not get anyone interested? Why did something you chucked together in half an hour become really popular? And why did so many people get the wrong end of the stick?
It turns out there are full-time wrong-end-of-the-stick-getters out there. There are vexatious, grumpy, angry, raging people out there, who follow your every word just to disagree with it. There are people who will hate you for every word you say. There are people who'll deride you for having a 'platform' when they haven't got one - why should you be able to be published while they aren't? There are people who'll read everything you write and then sarkily take the piss in subtweets. Some of them are people who try and be matey with you, just so they can make fun of you behind your back, except it's not quite behind your back; it's in your peripheral vision.
It got me down. As the audience for the things I wrote increased, so did the number of people following me on Twitter - stupid numbers, thousands of people, more than 11,000 when I called it a day. It's not a humble brag - I wouldn't wish that many followers on anyone. Because you can't just send a fucking tweet anymore. Everything you write, every rotten syllable of every throwaway remark, is subject to endless gainsaying and ricochets. I would get a lot of praise sometimes - I even had a literary agent get interested in my work (until it transpired he'd taken a post I had written with heavy sarcasm at face value) - but it made me more and more sad. I began to dread every single thing I'd ever have published. The pain would rise in my chest. I couldn't look below the comments line, knowing that the greyhounds were let out of the traps as soon as someone clicked publish. I ran out of energy. I ran out of steam. I just wanted everything and everyone to shut up. I lost all confidence in my own ability as a writer and, well, as everything.
As I say in the book, when you're depressed you have a pretty nasty internal monologue kicking you in the face for quite a lot of the time. It's a really uncomfortable thing to talk about, but it's there. You're constantly corroding your own self-worth, focusing on failure and diminishing every success. When you're writing a blog or sending tweets, knowing that at least 30 or 40 people will bundle on top of you and start ridiculing you, that just adds to the volume and makes you believe it more.
Since I finished my course, I've returned to Twitter. The lack of job meant that there wasn't any point keeping away for the time being, so I dipped a toe back into the water. I feared the same pain would return, that I would run away again from it all.
But... no. Twitter's all right for me now. It's all right because I have 500 followers. I'm not popular. I'm not out there. I'm not being published as often or as regularly. I'm just AN Other tweeter rather than That Twat With His Column In The New Statesman. People treat me with respect. I can make a joke without 50 people suddenly telling me I'm scum or wilfully misunderstanding it and telling me that I hate Catholics / women / men / lefties / white people whatever the fuck it is this week and that I'm using my Twitter and 'platform' to bully them / attack them / 'send in the minions'.
God, what a relief. What a bloody relief. It's like Twitter used to be for me. I can just have interesting conversations with people I like. Some of them get along with each other and some don't, but that's fine, because I am a nobody again. When this blog was getting 30,000 uniques a month, I felt like I was drowning; now no-one reads it but me, and I can breathe.
There's a downside, naturally. I didn't quite do as well with my writing career as perhaps I should have done. Maybe I could have taken it on further - maybe I still will. I'm not giving up writing forever, and I would love to do more. But for now, as an outsider looking in again - and not a fully-paid-up (fully paid up!) member of the Evil Liberal Twitter Clique Elite - I can see what happens from both sides.
There's just so much unpleasantness out there. The recent stuff involving Caitlin Moran - who isn't my favourite writer, but that doesn't really matter - and others has just brought it into keener focus. It's a custard pie fight. It's a mess. People introduce deliberately aggressive hashtags and can't understand why this aggression is seen as aggression. People passively-aggressively mention people in tweets and then slag them off, then get upset when that person gets upset. It's offence-taking and offence-giving on an industrial scale. It's a weird game in which the prize seems to be to claim to be repressed or marginalised or offended by someone who's got more privilege than you.
Hegemony is one thing; not raging at other people is another. Raging doesn't get things done. It might get rage out, and sometimes there's every right for people to be angry, but other times there isn't, and rage is counterproductive, and it makes people who might otherwise agree with you think you're a dick. And yes, I know I am tone policing. Yes, I am a white cis male, tone policing other people whom I have no right to tone police. Fine, but I'm as noiseless and voiceless as anyone else. I'm a fucking unemployed teacher, I earn no money, I have depression, I have a fairly miserable life. I've probably got a ton of privilege and I couldn't be any worse off than anyone else ever, but do you know what? Life can be shit for me as well. It can, and it is.
The best thing you can do is take time away from Twitter - not a 'flounce' but a break, with no avatar, no timeline, no nothing. It's lovely to have a lot of followers in many ways, but it is a much calmer and more simple life without. You can say what you think, and not have your face torn off for it; you can just share your thoughts, and if people don't like, they'll unfollow or block - which is fine. It's only when you become a target, by dint of having a 'platform', that the unfollowing and blocking becomes abuse and aggression. You can't, then, be left alone; you must be pursued and chased, every single word you say dissected for possible offence against someone somewhere in order to pearl-clutch and finger-point.
Fuck all of it. Fuck anything to do with that kind of "I punch you, you hit me back, I run off crying" bullshit. I just block as much as I can now I'm back on Twitter - not that I have much need to do it. But I do when I need to. I just don't have the time. I don't have the time, and I cannot afford the emotional investment, of dragging myself into a million billion arguments that will never be resolved, or having 150 people tell me that I didn't mean what I meant by what I said, and what I actually meant was something that wasn't in the words but which was obviously what I meant, because they said so. Fuck that! Fuck it forever.
People say "life's too short". It's not short - it's a long, long time in which you have to deal with the consequences of everything you do. Life is too long to waste on deliberately making other people unhappy and trying to hurt their feelings. I've done it - I've called people names and argued and raged myself. I was wrong to do it. It was stupid and it diminished me. People who do that all the time diminish themselves and not their intended targets. I know that now.
So, that's that. Tabula rasa. A new start. Oh, and please buy my book. I need the money.
At the moment I'm writing my second book, which is about depression. It so happens that today I read one of those "Pah! Depression" articles that pop up every now and then in the press. So I thought this, which is part of the book, might be relevant...
When I’m talking about depression, I’m talking about something that is deeper than sadness. It’s stronger and stranger than any sadness you can imagine. It’s a whole different animal. Imagine a sadness that never leaves you alone; a sadness that claws at your brain every second of every day; a sadness that stops you from sleeping and makes your waking days miserable beyond anything you’ve ever had reason to experience before in your life. That’s a slight glimpse at what depression can do and what depression can be.
Every now and then I will read something on a respectable media outlet about how depression is nothing more than a trendy illness, a silliness, a mere trifle that should be brushed aside and forgotten about, how doctors hand out antidepressants like sweets… and so on and so on.
Are they naïve? Provocative? Stupid? Or are they representing something that’s widely believed out there – that those of us who claim to be depressed are nothing more than skivers and malingerers who should just get on with it, pull our socks up, change our minds and make everything better?
I have only ever had one experience of this kind of face-to-face, and it happened to be from a doctor. “You have free will,” he told me. “So you have the free will to choose not to be depressed.”
“Oh yes!” I should have said. “I had never thought about that. I was choosing to be depressed all that time when I felt terrible and hated everything around me; it was all a result of my free will and not being caused by any kind of mental health condition at all! Silly me! Now you’ve introduced me to the concept of free will, I shall just get on with my life safe in the knowledge that my happiness or otherwise is entirely up to me! Boy, I have been a silly sausage, haven’t I?”
Of course I didn’t say that. I just sat there in silence and listened to what he had to say and then left. This was a medical professional with years upon years of training, and he thought I could simply make a choice not to be depressed. It got me thinking: what if he was right? What if I could just choose not to be depressed anymore, and it would make the depression go away like magic?
I have tried, by the way. I was reading one of those self-help books at the time, which argued much the same thing. Just stop being depressed, and you can stop being depressed! Well…I tried and I tried and I tried. I urged myself not to be depressed. I believed I could not be depressed. I forced myself to think positively about everything. I would be relentlessly positive and cheerful and it would overcome my depression and everything would be all right in the end and… and it didn’t work. It was based on a lie. Not a misconception but a lie. A lie made my people who exploit those of us who are in a vulnerable place and decide to tell us that we can just snap our fingers and make it all better again. Lies. Lies. Lies.
It made me worse. It made me believe that there was a simple exit strategy from depression and that it was within my reach. It made me feel that I was somehow even more inadequate than I already thought I was for not being able to effect this strategy in as straightforward a manner as had been suggested by the book. It made me hurt even more, because the slow realisation began to grow in me that I had been duped. There would be no quick ejector seat from depression, because for me – and for many if not most people with depression, I would contend – there is no such thing. It took a long, long time to recover from what I’d seen as a deception.
Perhaps there are some people whose depression disappears overnight thanks to nothing or whose depression is simply overturned by the desire to think more positively or ‘have free will’ or ‘choose not to be depressed’. It probably happens all the time. All I know for sure is that it didn’t happen for me. Did I just not believe strongly enough? Did I not indicate to my depression clearly enough that I had made a choice and was not going to be depressed anymore? I don’t know. It didn’t happen for me.
Being positive can help. Being ‘mindful’ (it’s a term from cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT) can help. There are all sorts of things that can help, from wearing your favourite socks to having a hobby. All these things can help. But there is a huge difference between something being able to ameliorate the symptoms and make someone feel less awful, and making someone feel that the depression has been annihilated completely.
It makes me angry but anger is not the right response. The best thing to do is try and work out where this attitude comes from. Part of it is a lack of empathy, being unable to understand that “when I feel a bit sad” is different from “when you feel utterly bleak and miserable”. Another part is the way in which some people feel that mental health conditions can be dismissed because the evidence for their existence relies on testimony from the people who claim to be having them – sometimes people can be rightly sceptical of what others say; at other times, people can be supercilious in imagining they know best what is happening in someone else’s mind or someone else’s life.
As well as that, it’s true that our response to people’s depression is often little more than to hand out a prescription for antidepressants and hope that everything will be OK. There are many reasons for this, chiefly the lack of funding for the kind of talking therapy that might be more beneficial in achieving longer-term results for some people.
It is unsatisfactory and unrealistic to imagine that anyone’s woes will be corrected by a managed dose of antidepressants and no other interventions. But that is the system we have. Not everyone can afford the time or expense of talking therapies or other therapies, so they are reserved for the most severely ill people, as they rightly should be. Sometimes it just feels that the system waits for you to get worse and worse and for things to reach a crisis point before anything substantive will be done on your behalf; you don’t appear on the radar until you’re in a really bad way.
Part of the reason why people are ignorant about depression is because of the unwillingness of depressed people to be open and honest about their condition. That’s why it’s really valuable for depressed people to be able to speak out and get across exactly what it is that they go through or have been through in their lives.
I think in this country in particular there’s also a culturally British thing about not wanting to convey the full awfulness of an experience to other people, for fear of sounding like you’re moaning or whining or making a fuss about things. It can be easier to downplay the true pain of depression, since it will lessen the reaction in others.
Whatever the cause, people outside the world of depression aren’t always clued in to what it’s like in our world, the world where things often go so substantially, terribly wrong. Partly it’s their fault and partly it’s our fault.
So this is the thing: my depression has at times been mild. At times it hasn’t been anything to worry about. At times I have had a hugely easy time of it. But at times it has been a disgusting, despicable, plodding, nasty, self-defeating, painful, tedious, evil, hurtful, vicious, grating mass of despair that has covered me from head to toe, dragging me down every second of every day, making me feel like the oxygen I am breathing is tainted with soot. That’s not ‘sadness’, that’s depression. That’s not a bad mood, that’s depression. That’s not having something bad happen and moping around for a bit afterwards; that’s depression.
Some people don’t ‘get’ depression because they can’t conceive of it. Some people can’t empathise with other people, or find it difficult to do so. Some aren’t able easily to think of how other people experience the world. Others don’t understand because they don’t want to understand: mental illness is a foreign country, something shameful and unpleasant, which they won’t have anything to do with. And there are a million blends of all of these things, and a million shades between these kinds of views and the kind of understanding that is so important for depressed people to have.
It’s easy as a depressed person to have a downer on yourself and to take people seriously when they come out with the ‘pull yourself together’ lines, whatever their motivation. It’s easy when there isn’t a competing voice straight away explaining the other side of the story, your side of the story, to become worried that maybe it is all your fault, maybe you do just make a choice every time you are depressed. But depression is real. It does exist, and it is something so very different from ordinary sadness. That bears repeating, long and loud.
If you haven't ever been to that awful, wretched brink, it might be easy to understate the significance of Stephen Fry's admission of vulnerability this week. It was such a small thing, but such a big deal.
I found myself surrounded by a mix of emotions. There was admiration, that someone could be strong enough to reveal such weakness. There was a strange kind of pride. And there was relief: relief that perhaps this might mark some kind of milestone on our way, as a society, to understanding mental illness.
We have a long way to go, and suspicion and prejudice still remain... but Fry's story - it's not a "confession" or "admission" - could make a real difference. Yes, some people will still hark back to a ‘good old days’ that never existed, where no matter what torments people were going through, they were forced by societal pressure to pull their socks up and take it on the chin – nowadays that sickening little lie “man up” might be used instead, but maybe it is being used a little less. Every time a high profile person speaks about mental illness, it becomes a tiny bit easier for you, or me, to say to our family or our friends that we have problems of our own.
For those of us who have been to that darkest of dark places, it serves as a reminder that we are not alone. We are not just losers. We are not isolated, and we are not in a vacuum. Someone who is successful and brilliant is unfortunately just as capable of succumbing. It isn't our fault, or our parents' fault, or anyone's fault. It isn't fate either. It isn't anything like that. It just is. It matters to know this. It matters.
For those who haven't had such a personal experience, it personalises something that might have seemed too abstract and impossible to understand. The detail of Fry's testimony explains that it isn't a case of being "happy" or "successful" or anything. This kind of public discussion is something that could demystify the taboo of suicide, and provide a first step towards an understanding.
Fry’s willingness to be so bravely open about his struggles remind us that mental health is, and should be, a person’s own possession. It is the choice of anyone who might have those particular issues to decide when and to whom they should communicate that most intimate of matters. Not everyone is as strong, or finds it as helpful to be so candidate, and that choice must be respected.
Which brings us to another story this week. With curious timing, this bold, sensitive, important news has appeared in the same week as another tale, not quite so much in the public interest, not quite so much a triumph. A fifteen-year-old girl who was rushed to hospital has been the subject of huge, indelicate, prying interest, because of her identity, and the identity of her deceased father. Questions have been seriously asked about her motivation. A fifteen-year-old girl’s actions have been scrutinised in public, apparently with the consent of her family.
I find myself feeling uncomfortable about that. You cannot un-tell these stories; once they are told, they exist on the internet forever. Fry knew that when he made his choice this week. Can we be so sure that a teenager – if she was even responsible for that decision – knew exactly the ramifications of making her travails so public, to take away her mental health from herself and give it to everyone, to all of us?
It is, simultaneously, a triumph and a disgrace for the power of publicity. One the one hand, Fry’s openness has stirred a public debate and going some way towards educating those who may have been ignorant; on the other, the celebrity trash vultures are circling around a hospital where a teenage girl has been admitted. Let us only hope that the former does as much good as possible, the latter as little harm.
At last. Kelvin 'The Truth' Mackenzie is left out in the cold, unemployable and unwanted after having been shown the door at the Telegraph.
It's about time. He should have been a pariah ever since 'The Truth', but somehow people kept employing him. "Who can we get to be a bluff geezer to spout some rubbish as a talking head (despite having lied about people whose only crime was to have gone to a football match and died)? Let's give Cuddly Uncle Kelvin a call!"
No longer. Goodbye Kelvin, good riddance. This isn't censorship, it's the alienation you deserve for lying, lying and lying again.
In the meantime, let's not forget Bernard Ingham recently added his voice to the glowing tributes about Margaret Thatcher, his former boss. Bernard Ingham, who spoke of 'tanked up yobs' causing Hillsborough and told Liverpool to 'shut up' about the tragedy. What paper would still consider his voice worth hearing? Oh look, it was the Sun.
Children died. That’s the first thing you should always consider before wondering whether the latest news story deserves the ‘X proves Y’ treatment from the commentariat. Surely. Isn’t it? I mean, has something gone wrong somewhere?
I’ll repeat that, seeing as no-one seems to have noticed amid the clamour to score political points. Children died. Human beings, with souls and dreams – tiny human beings – died. Yet politicians and writers have been flying out of the traps with the I Told You Sos. Jesus wept. Jesus bloody Christ.
Yes, I am talking about Philpott. I am talking about whether Philpott proves the Right are right, or the Left are wrong, or welfare is bad, or everything neatly fits into place and that this is a debate we should be having.
Or rather, I am not talking about that. I am saying: in the name of all that is good in the world, why are people linking this awful, horrific, despicable crime with anything other than an awful, horrific, despicable crime?
There are times when it is justified to link such an emotive event with politics; there are times when it is unavaoidable. There are times when it matters. When bombs fall onto children, for example, it might not be considered a bad thing to wonder whether the fingers in remote airconditioned videogames hangars halfway across the world were pressed by human beings who made the right choices.
But the Philpott case is not such a case where that is necessary, let alone desirable. It is a case of unspeakable – for want of a better word – evil. It is a case of wickedness. It is a crime. It has been punished. It tells us nothing about anything other than the top and bottom of itself.
“The Philpott case proves…” says one headline. The writer in question may not have written the headline, but he did write the rest, and the headline is not an unfair reflection of the content.
Do you know what? The Philpott case doesn’t prove anything. Nothing. Not a thing. It doesn’t prove your ideas about welfare are right, or someone else’s opposite ideas about welfare are right either. It doesn't prove anything about people who don't have the same lifestyle as you. It doesn’t prove anything other than there was an extreme tragedy and an awful crime.
If you think it proves anything else, you’re wrong. You’re more than wrong. You’re despicably wrong. You’re worse than an idiot; you’re a wilfully wrong piece of shit who is happy to use dead children as a handy plank in your argument. You should have your keyboard taken away and only given back to you when you understand what other human beings are like.
Not that you get it. You’ll just have shrugged your shoulders, congratulated yourself on a job well done and forgotten about it.
Their names were Jade, John, Jack, Jesse and Jayden. They were people, not useful ways of pushing a political point.