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.
How are you? It's been a while. Nearly thirteen years. It's nearly mother's day, and while it's just a load of old crap invented by greetings card manufacturers to try and guilt-trip people into buying stuff, it always makes me think of you. You know, there was a time when I couldn't even see the word 'mother' or 'mum' without tearing up inside. But then I have grown a lot since then. I know you'd be glad about that. I know you'd prefer it if I didn't feel sad when I thought about you, but I'm afraid that's often how it is. It's not really sad; it's fondness and love, and a remembrance of things past - the sadness comes from knowing I'll never see you again.
Why am I writing to you, then? I think it's because I always think about you at this time of year. I remember that spring of 2000. It was just at the time when the chemo was starting to make you feel terrible. You tried to hide most of the pain from us, but we knew. We knew deep down that there was not going to be any happy ending; we knew what was going to happen, even though we forced ourselves to 'stay positive' and banish all talk of the thing we feared the most.
I remember that day when I was walking home from work - you always said you were proud I had become a journalist, even if it was for the local paper - and I saw the ambulance draw up. I didn't know then that you would never be coming back; that you would spend your last few days in a hospital. But that was that. I remember the yellow flowers we put in your window so we could see your room from outside. I remember the people you shared your room with, at first. One was called Betty. I listened to Nick Drake in the afternoon, that day you went into hospital... Betty came by, on her way... said she had a word to say, went the song. It was high spring, nearly midsummer.
Oh, that hospital. I remember the corridors. The shine on the floor and the smell of disinfectant. But there was something else. Something else that was approaching, although I couldn't see it. Even when you know something's going to happen, you don't realise it's going to happen. You think that maybe this won't happen, not to someone you love, because the world is fair, or at least it should be. But it isn't, and it won't be. Bad things happen to good people. People suffer who shouldn't suffer. People don't, who should.
The whirr of the morphine. The long early summer days. Sun through a window, on flowers.
It seems so long ago, a lifetime ago, but then it's just there sometimes, when I close my eyes.
I wish you could see me now. Not that I'm a better person than I was then. I'm not a better person at all. In fact I've done so many things since then that I wish I hadn't done. I've hurt myself and I've hurt other people. I never meant to, but I did. Turns out you were right all along, though. I remember when you tried to get the doctor to believe, when I was a teenager, that I was depressed, but they fobbed me - and you - off. But you were right. You were right because you knew me and because you loved me. Finally, I got someone to believe me, a few years ago. Since when, it's been easier. Not easy, but easier.
I got more depressed after you died. I wish I hadn't done, but I did. Then I felt guilty about it, because I knew you wouldn't have wanted me to feel depressed that you had died. I remember you telling me, the day before you died, that I should never feel guilty about anything. I knew all that, but I couldn't help it. I was broken. Maybe I still am broken, even today... as I always say, learning to live with grief is like learning to accept that part of you is broken and can never be fixed. Part of me still is broken, and won't ever be fixed. That part is you. You are the void in my heart, the missing star in the sky.
I wish you could have seen everything I did. None of it was particularly good or special, but it would have made you proud. I won an award or two, and I got a couple of promotions and new jobs. I'm trying to be a teacher now. I'm getting there, slowly, and I think that I am going to be a really good teacher - or at least, as good as I can be. I think you'd find it funny that I would end up doing that, but then again you probably knew all along what I would end up doing. "Just as long as you're happy," you would always say. Well, I am. Not always happy, but as happy as I can be, I think.
I live in Bristol now, because I found it hard to stay around home where I grew up. It's still hard going home today. Everything I see seems to be through the eyes of a child - me - and it's full of memories. Some memories are hard to take, even though you don't ever want to lose them. There are good memories, mainly, but it still hurts to have them and hold them. Sometimes it seems easier not to face them. So I left, and ended up in Bristol, and there I found more work, and I met someone.
You never got to meet Sam and that's one of the biggest sadnesses that I have. She's great. She looks after me, but she doesn't let me get away with the silly things I say and do. You know the kind of things. She won't let me sulk, or be down for too long. She is my constant, my everything. I wish that you could have met her and it's always going to be a shame that you didn't, but I know you wanted me to find someone who would click with me, and I'm lucky, because I did.
You don't have to worry because I am looked after. Sam makes sure that I don't slip into bad habits, and of course there's dad. He's been great these past few years. I know it hasn't been easy for him and I felt bad when I left home because I knew he would be on his own. But I had to go, and he didn't stop me - and that meant a lot; it still does. He misses you more than anyone, I think. I know if you could write back, you would tell me to see him more often, and you're right; I should.
I get jealous of people when it's mother's day, or when it's the day that would have been your birthday, and I'm not able to spend it with you. But you were here and I will never forget you. I know you never really left me, and you're still around, because in many ways you made me who I am now. You live on, whenever I do something good, whenever I try hard, whenever I do well.
There's so much to say. We said everything we had to say back then, I suppose, but it seems so unfair, so unjust, that I was allowed to carry on and you weren't. Every time things get hard, I remember how hard you fought. You gave me that strength, and I will use it when I have to fight. For now, there is so much to do and I just wish you were here to see it.
All my love, as always.
Applying again: wanking at half-past three. Oh, hang on, that was love, wasn't it?
Look, I'm back. Don't expect me to be any good or anything. I think I've run out of things to write about. And yet I find myself tormented by reading piles of indescribable shit by people who can't write. And I think, fuck me, is this really what it's come to? Surely I should be writing something - anything - to try and make a dent in the vast wall of shite? Shouldn't I? But then that would be to suppose that I had something worth saying, and even that if it were worth saying, that I could do it justice. Which I'm not sure I can at the moment.
Still, I read the odd thing that hits home. This post by a friend of mine really made me sit up and think, because it reminded me about those empty months I spent when I was unemployed/unemployable sometime ago, when I started drifting off into a stinking netherworld of antiques programmes on the TV and general misanthropy, all to a charming soundtrack of the theme tune to Doctors.
And I wanted to think: that's behind me now. But it isn't. I find myself applying for jobs again now. This time they're different jobs, doing different things than what I used to do, but they're still jobs, and I'm still applying for them. Now there's a great deal more at stake: if I can't find a job doing what I want to do now, the whole past six months will have been an expensive waste of time. Every little application flaps off with its little fledgling wings shining in the sun... before being shot down half a foot outside the front garden.
God, is this happening again? Am I doomed, again? Doomed to mediocrity in a world of 'outstanding'? One of the reasons I failed as a writer was because I never really managed to go for it, wholeheartedly, to throw everything and the kitchen sink at it, because when I did, or on those times I did, it hadn't worked out for me. And so there's that seem feeling again. Is this really going to work out? It has to work out. But what if it doesn't? It has to. And so on, and so on.
And there are other things, too, that weigh a little heavily. I feel slightly old at times. Not old-old, but older. Just a little beyond what some people would consider acceptable, you know. And that makes me wonder: am I just going to be written off all the time again, like I was before? Or can I really turn things around this time, and make it work? Age brings experience, and all of that. But I know some people look at it negatively. Who can blame them?
Then you think to yourself: well, with an attitude like that, no wonder things don't work out. But this isn't some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. This is just how it feels when you've been kicked up the arse enough times to remember what it feels like without the need for a boot to be there 24 hours a day.
Fucking hell, just let it all work out.
Last year at around this time of year I wrote a Round Robin to explain what had been going on.
Looking back at that, it's quite amazing how much has changed. I didn't have a job then, and was about to start a job that I quickly abandoned due to one thing and another - largely, my inability to hunker down and do something I really don't want to do. Lucky me that I had that option, I think, on reflection. So many people just have to get on with it.
Anyway, soon after then I was accepted onto a primary PGCE course and I've been doing that since September. I love it. I think I'm getting better all the time, although I have still so much to learn. My only regret is that I didn't start doing it about 10 years ago, when I'd first realised that working in local newspapers was going to be a disappointing slide into oblivion. But I remember the first time I ever drove on snow; before you know what you're doing, you're moving, and it doesn't matter how hard you steer, you're going to go where gravity wants you to go.
Once you get back a bit of control you have to take it with both hands. And that's what I've been able to do. Journalism was the thing I had thought I would always do. It turns out it was just a way of making me a better literacy teacher. I don't believe in epiphanies or 'things happen for a reason' because horrible things happen to good people, and it's completely unfair; but I do think that I've ended up somewhere I was probably meant to be. It took a while to get here, but I'm here now, and I'm not looking back.
Another thing I did recently was quit Twitter. I did this as a self-confessed self-important bore, but also because I want to be a teacher and it's not a risk worth taking; also, looking back, I feel that Twitter had somehow been blunting everything else I was doing. You know how Peter Cook ended up ringing up LBC pretending to be a Swedish fisherman, it felt like a less talented version of that. Not being overly blessed with talent, people like me have to really work at things to make them any good. That's what I've always had to do with writing. It hasn't come easily, and it takes a lot of work to make it halfway decent. I wonder if one of the reasons why I couldn't get Book 2 off the ground was because I spent too much time entertaining myself on Twitter and elsewhere. Probably.
Which reminds me. Book 2 will probably be Book 3. There's another book I need to do in the meantime, before I do that one. That's kind of halfway finished, or maybe two-thirds finished. But I have something else to work on, when I get the time. Maybe I will have the time now. It needs to be done before I (all things permitting) head into my new career. I'll be saying more about that soonish, I hope. But it's something I really need to write, and I think it's going to be good. So, fingers crossed, and all of that.
In the meantime, thanks again for reading. Sorry I won't be around on Twitter but that's that, I'm afraid. You can always email me - firstname.lastname@example.org - or just leave comments and stuff. It's been a good year, on the whole. A better year. Here's hoping for another one.
There seemed to be someone else sitting there, as David Cameron blundered his way through the awkwardness of having been caught out by David Letterman. Squint a little and you could see another figure in the chair, slightly more oafish, in an ill-fitting suit, with a splatter of Worzel Gummidge hair muckily arranged atop his cheerily well-fed face.
Ah yes, the prince of wiff-waff. No matter how hard David tries to escape his former school chum, Boris continues to lurk. So much so that you end up wondering if Cameron is trying to be a bit less like himself and a bit more like Boris. Or rather, I don't wonder.
It’s an odd thing to think of, the man in power trying to ape his underling, the lardybus maker of Old London Town. But the whiff of a blustering, silly, “oh gosh what a daft brush I am” Cameron, rather than the public figure we know, could be a sign that poor David is taking the ridiculous Boris more seriously than ever. The Borisification of British politics, you could call it. Time was when we liked bright people, or charismatic people, or (if we were lucky) charismatic, bright people to lead us. Now we make do with a flag-waving tit.
David can try. He can try bleaching his hair, or wearing clothes that were made for Oliver Hardy, but he'll still be him, and that's the problem. Whatever blustering nincompoopiness he attempts to effect, we know he's not really like that deep down.
Reading two or three paragraphs of Johnson's writings (and it's often worth doing) reveals a rather rigorous intellect; it's almost as if there's two characters at work - Boris the Berk and Johnson the writer. Probably the real man beneath the bluster is a combination of the two, but the important thing is this: we accept the public, chaotic, “hoho I’m a bit of a tit”, face as being Boris. He’s used it well down the years to detoxify his Toryness.
It won't be the case with Cameron. We've grown to know him these past few years, as a slightly stern, irascible cove, someone who spits out little barbs at his enemies, tells people to calm down and sneers at his own side. Calm down dear! Nick Clegg's the best joke he knows! BBC cuts are delicious! His jokes fall flat, probably because we don't see him as a jester like Johnson; we see him, or want to see him, as a statesman. That's what he's supposed to be.
More to the point, do we really want David to be Boris? There's something to be said for sincerity over artifice, reality over pretence, integrity over fakery. There's a suspicion that the Cameron of Letterman is just playing a character, whereas Boris really is Boris.
And there's something else, too. Johnson may have won two elections in London, but the most recent victory was not an entirely conclusive one against a highly divisive opponent, Ken Livingstone. With London’s flagship paper backing him all the way and no serious alternative, Boris seems an alternative worth considering. It doesn’t necessarily follow that he can convert that success into gunning for the top job.
I don’t want David Cameron to be like Boris. I don’t like Cameron, but he’s the Prime Minister. I don’t want a Prime Minister to be chortling about on chatshows while the country continues to crumble and Britain continues to be - in the words of David Cameron - Broken. Let Boris be Boris: he’s an occasionally amusing, relatively intelligent man who seems palatable in comparison to awful alternatives. Let Cameron be Cameron: lose the bumbling and look like you’re getting things done. Or better still, actually get things done. There's a thought.
I always like the onset of autumn: "tea and a toasted buttered currant bun can't compensate for lack of sun," Ray Davies said, but I think he was being a little unkind. I think there's plenty to compensate, particularly this year for me. Autumn isn't a season of decay and death, but a season of new beginnings: with autumn comes the autumn term, and return to school. For me, return to both school and university, and I can't wait to get stuck in as a student teacher.
I said once before, when I was unemployed, that being in that awful state of neither-one-thing-nor-the-other made you a stranger to the seasons, someone who was detached from time, and absent from real life. Life is just something that goes on without you, sometimes. Sometimes you have to put your hand up and want to be a part of it. It's not always that easy, I know, but sometimes it is, or it can be. At other times, you just have to wait, and wait, and wait, for things to return, and go your way.
So, here it is. Since June 28, 2011, I have been without a permanent job, scratching around for work to keep me busy. There were rejections, disappointments and failures, and very little hope. I took one full-time job, but hated it so much that I had to leave after just a month. In the meantime I've been kept going by my good fortune at being able to work for the New Statesman and occasional bits and bobs of work that good people have been kind enough to send my way. There have been a couple of part-time jobs which have kept me busy, and which I enjoyed: I worked at Waterstone's over Christmas, which was hard work, but fun; and I had a long-term temping position on 20 hours a week for the past four months, which just about kept everything afloat.
You don't forget the people who take a chance on you when you're down. You forget the ones who don't.
So, tomorrow there begins a new life. A world of Comic Sans and crayons, and chairs that are too short to sit on. Who knows whether I can do it or not? I don't for sure. But sometimes you just have a sense in you: wait a minute, I can do this, I can be good at this. It's something I never felt with journalism, where I always felt like a bit of a fraud. With teaching I feel like I can actually do something, sincerely and well, and to a high standard, and actually end up doing something good at the end of it. I wish I'd found it earlier. But at least I found it at all.
I only really realised this morning, when I woke up. I'm not unemployed anymore. That feeling of anxiety and helplessness has gone. Something else is beginning.
There are some implications about blogging. There might be less blogging here for one thing, and I won't be blogging about what happens in the classroom, obviously. I'll still be writing for NS as often as I can, which will hopefully be as often as now. Maybe less, but maybe better. And yes, as I keep banging on to anyone who'll listen, there will be a second book, which is coming together right now, and which will - real work permitting - be finished around October time, all being well.
But, there it is. For the first time since halfway through 2011, I can say I am something, and someone. I feel like I've managed to slot back in to the real world, to step on the travelator that was moving past me all this time, to hop back on the bus and get back with the rest of you. I am a student teacher. I am.
Yes, this is back. For now, anyway, and for the mostly forseeable future. It's been slightly odd, not having some scrappy piece of notepad upon which to scribble the ever-irksome brainfarts that prevent me from living an otherwise untroubled existence. But here it is, back again. In fact, I'm working on a post so convoluted and rambling (you love the rambling ones, don't you?) that it's taken about three hours longer than I'd expected to even get it started.
In the meantime, I want to tell you a little bit more about my second book. Book 2, which is tentatively titled but not firmly titled enough for me to tell you what the title is, is going to be out in probably October, or sometime around then. I had hoped to get it out for the end of the summer, but that didn't quite happen.
What's it going to be about? Well, it's non-fiction. I can tell you that much. Where would it sit, were any bookshop foolish enough to stock it? I would love to think of it as living in that strange hinterland where Simon Garfield's wonderful, wonderful books go to be roundly ignored in favour of crappy fiction.
It's kind of an instructional manual, cum potted biography, cum self-help book, cum book about nothing. It's all over the place at the moment, to be honest. But I've got an editor/proofreader to have a look at it this time, so it might read quite well once we're finished. I'm about three-quarters of the way through it at the moment, maybe 70 per cent, or two-thirds, just over halfway, and quite a lot of it has been pretty easy going.
What I want to do is write something that will interest people who are interested in the thing I'm writing about, but also won't be interested in the thing I'm writing about. That's the plan. It's mainly going to be about blogging, blogs and COME BACK, I HAVEN'T FINISHED. There will be blogging, and there will be other stuff. There will be funny bits, and not so many unfunny bits - that's the idea. And there might be useful and interesting and helpful bits as well.
No, I don't have a publisher. I came perilously close to having a literary agent, but I made the mistake of sending him a copy of my first book, and he (very politely) told me that it was a pile of shite. Look, I'm not exactly dismayed. So I will be self-publishing again, in papery book AND nice ebook versions - this time the ebook will have a lot more attention given to it, and will work a lot more nicely. I promise.
If you'd like to be part of my exciting mailing list, which should offer lovely discounts and bits and bobs when the book's nearly done, then feel free to send me an email at email@example.com - otherwise keep checking back here and you'll find out soon enough.
And that's it for now.