Monday, October 31, 2011


The moment I heard the bare headlines about the murder of a 28 year-old barman in Ayrshire last weekend, my gaydar detected a homophobic element. At the time of writing, this instinct has yet to be wholly justified by what has been publicly disclosed, but if the evident fact of Stuart Walker’s relaxed and unconcealed sexuality proves to be a total red herring, I’ll be very surprised.

An 18 year-old has been detained by the police. Only very sketchy details of the killing have been released. Initially, Strathclyde Police declared that, while it was not “a random attack”, there was “nothing to indicate that this is a homophobic crime”. However, it was “an extremely violent attack” and Walker’s body was found to be “charred”. Reports have conflicted as to whether he had been tied to a lamppost and whether torture and/or a weapon were involved.

There has been a moving response from the public, both in Cumnock itself and in the wider on-line world. Evidently, Walker was well-liked. The nature of his death – outdoors at night but in an urban area where the events leading up to the attack and the attack itself might easily have been witnessed – has clearly shaken locals, but so has the possibility that someone might have been bludgeoned merely because of his sexuality.

Stuart Walker

Stonewall Scotland says that its researches indicate that two out of three Scots are relaxed about the question of gay marriage. The campaigning organisation also reckons that there has been a five-fold increase in “hate crimes” against LGBT people in Scotland in the last five years. But of course this calculation may be tempered by a greater readiness to report such crimes and a greater diligence on the police’s part in recording and following up reports.

For the police and for other public services, sexuality has become a subject to be treated as if walking on eggshells. This is not to say that institutional homophobia has significantly lessened in those services, only that it is much less often openly expressed. We can only count this “improvement” a mixed blessing.

Elsewhere, there is clearly a long way to go. In recent weeks, there has been much comment about alleged racist remarks made on the pitches of the premier football league in England. The sport’s authorities, the clubs and the media have scrupulously maintained a fierce disapproval of such behaviour, while simultaneously reserving the fallback position that some such allegations might be erroneous, unjustified or even malicious. One suspects, though, that disobliging remarks made in heat about sexuality would provoke rather less soul-searching, let alone official investigation.

The notorious lewd pantomime performed in 1999 by the then Liverpool player Robbie Fowler in order to rile the Chelsea player Graeme Le Saux was penalised by the Football Association and the club. Le Saux was sometimes “accused” by fellow players of being gay on the basis of his distaste for the raucous and drunken celebratory culture widely indulged in top-flight football and – bizarrely – because he read The Guardian rather than The Daily Star. However, it is difficult to determine the degree to which either the FA or Liverpool disapproved Fowler’s behaviour because his offence was processed simultaneously with a further example of juvenilia at a different match when Fowler pantomimed snorting the touchline. The player was fined for both incidents by both club and regulatory body. The FA did, though, impose a four-match suspension for the “cocaine” business and only a further two-match suspension for the “bum-waving”. I wonder what penalty would be imposed today and whether calling another player a “poof” would be deemed an offence.


In the media and of course on-line, anti-gay sentiment is much more rife. Some of it is intended, some of it merely thoughtless, born of an instinctive but unexamined response. Though the coverage of Walker’s death has generally been treated with as much persuasive horror and concern as, say, the murder of Jo Yeates, you don’t need to look far to find the attitudes that still lurk beneath the professional surface.

On the Daily Mail’s on-line site, for instance, there is a piece headlined: “Man held over inquiry into death of gay barman who was facing child sex probe”. The “child sex probe” is not, the report goes on to explain, some kind of medical device or sex toy but a legal procedure. “However,” says the report (and it is not wholly clear why that particular word is used), “it has come to light that the 28 year-old had only recently been questioned over an alleged incident involving a 12 year-old boy in August and a report was sent to the Procurator Fiscal”. In fact, as the report goes on to make clear, the Procurator Fiscal had closed the case. Hence there is no earthly reason why the “alleged incident” should have been mentioned, especially as the report quotes the Strathclyde Police thus: “There’s no suggestion that this incident is in any way connected to the murder”. The website is either flying a kite, hinting at something the reporter has heard but cannot publish, making mischief or appealing to the perceived homophobia of its readers (this is the Daily Mail, after all, a rag known to many as the Daily Hate-Mail). The on-line report, by the by, is credited to a certain “Oliver Pickup” and if, as seems likely, that is a pseudonym, it was singularly insensitively chosen.

Daily Mail writers and other right-wingers implicitly subscribe to a view, whether expressed outright or not, that attraction to members of the same sex is “unnatural”. If these objectors also embrace supernatural delusions of one stripe or another, they then frequently deem homosexuality “sinful” and “corrupt”. As one who spurns supernatural delusion as itself unnatural, I cannot spend precious time on the notions of sinfulness and corruption. As for the “unnatural” argument, I offer that it is natural for me. Humans do many things that are not found in nature: cooking food, driving cars, firing missiles, taking part in “reality television” programmes, claiming to be divinely inspired. When homophobes argue that god did not intend humans to indulge in sodomy, for instance, I want to ask why in his infinite wisdom he went and made the anus an erogenous zone. Did he know his business?

For aeons, greybeards have attempted to “explain” homosexuality, as if it needs to be swaddled and safely buried in theory. Every so often, it is thought that some breakthrough is about to demonstrate conclusively that attraction to the same sex is a product of nature rather than nurture or, just as often, the other way around. As a gay man myself, I would much prefer the issue were left alone, because I know in my bones that whichever comes to be pronounced “the definitive answer” will be used against us. If it’s nature, prospective parents will require the sexuality of the foetus to be revealed and, in some cases, will demand that this is sufficient justification for a termination. If it’s nurture, the behavioural experts will be put to work to determine those gay responses that are indeed “learned” so that they may be eradicated with extreme prejudice.

Life and Soul

Rather than burning brain cells on futile attempts to account for what makes individuals gay, I propose that the homophobia mystery be the one that is solved. That would benefit society a great deal more. Actually, of course, it is not such a mystery, especially to anyone who has encountered it. Many people’s homophobia is merely an outward manifestation of their supernatural delusion – or, to give the dog its name, their religious bigotry. It is in the nature of being a subscriber to a religion that intolerance of those who differ follows. A righteous person by definition measures herself against the “wrongeousness” of others. Nowhere is this expressed more forcibly than in Islam, according to which anyone who does not embrace the Muslim faith is an infidel and hence not fit to live. I don’t know any lesbian or gay people who consider that heterosexuals should be put to death, only that they are missing out. Mostly, though, we just hope that straights will let us alone.

There is another view of homophobia – more a theory than a study – which is that those whose hatred and fear is not taught and motivated by scripture may be driven by an insecurity about their own sexuality. This is a perception akin to that of the Jew-hating Jew, save of course that Jewishness is rather more clearly a fact about a person, whereas sexuality is a lot to do with movable positions on a spectrum of behaviour and instinct. At any rate, my own anecdotal evidence does suggest that those heterosexuals who are most relaxed at being around gays are themselves the most comfortable in their own sexual identities. I remember back in the 1970s, during the week of one of the first of what were then called Gay Pride marches in London, I was working at Time Out magazine. The editor of the theatre section was a lovely man called John Ashford and, for the duration, he sported a lapel badge that read “Sad to be Straight”. It might not be thought exactly correct now, but back then I was grateful for such fraternal solidarity, particularly as so much of the left was extremely tardy in understanding and responding to sexual politics.

The spot where Walker's body was found

LGBT people do not ask for special consideration. We only want a shake equivalent to that enjoyed by everybody. In particular, we want to be able to go about our business without being persecuted, abused or despised. Or indeed murdered.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


“The only way out of a debt crisis is to deal with your debts. That means households – all of us – paying off the credit card and store card bills”. Common sense or what? The words are from a speech by the Prime Minister but they were never delivered. Somebody among his many advisors explained gently to him that if every household paid off its debts instead of spending the money on other things, the economy would collapse. Mr Cameron, certainly no economist he, hadn’t realised that. Unfortunately for him, the text of his keynote address to the Tory party conference the other week had already been released. Consequently, the two sentences he didn’t read out became the most remarked upon in the speech.

The government is all at sea over the question of debt and hence all at sea over the whole of the national economy. Today (Tuesday) the September rate of inflation as measured by the government’s favoured method, known as the Consumer Prices Index, was announced. At 5.2 percent, it is the highest it has ever been since the method was adopted 14 years ago.

Public Sector Net Debt

Effectively, then, what we have now is what is called stagflation: a high and rising rate of inflation, a high and rising rate of unemployment and zilch growth. It’s a combination that reduces the value of money. And the usual counter to it is to increase interest rates. But to do that (which of course makes borrowing more expensive) will further reduce growth. The government has been relying on private sector growth to obviate the need for a level of public service and welfare cuts that will redound on ministers both on the street and in the ballot box. And it has made such a fetish of cutting government borrowing that to resort to Plan B or even Plan A-minus would be the most humiliating economic climb-down since Norman Lamont’s Black Wednesday. Cameron and George Osborne have steered us into a perfect storm and it’s hard to see that they are in any way equipped to ride it.

I got into a punishing level of personal debt in the 1990s. It’s bad enough when everything you purchase is expensive but when you have to purchase the money you need to make those purchases it soon becomes a vicious spiral. Running a debt on a credit card creates an illusion of painlessly burying debt. In reality, the proportion of the debt on the card that is the interest payment grows each month until it is the greater part of what you owe the bank. Banks were a lot happier to let their customers run debts then than they are now. And of course one’s chances of being allowed to slide into debt are greatly reduced if one’s prospects of securing future income are slight.

That is the main difference between the dangerously illusory debt of individuals and households – a road that can lead to repossession of one’s home if one’s home is no longer an asset that one holds – and the indebtedness that is the engine of capitalism. In business and finance, debt is called investment. Enterprises attract credit by looking as if such investment will help to grow the business and hence produce a healthy return. It’s a gamble, of course, and capitalism’s equivalent of homelessness is bankruptcy.

The present economic climate discourages investment. Hence existing indebtedness cannot be fed into something encouraging. Interest rates may be historically low but so is investment. Without growth, there is more homelessness and bankruptcy and the increasing incidence of these fell fates further discourages lending: another vicious spiral.

Osborne, Cameron and especially Business Secretary Vince Cable regularly exhort the banks to lend more money. But the banks pay no heed. The banks are afraid that they will be caught holding the bad debts when the music stops, an understandable fear. They also insist on paying their management teams grotesquely inflated salaries, bonuses, “golden handshakes” and “golden hellos”, even though many of these banks are owned at least in part by the government.

Cable itches to regulate the banks and cap the in-house rewards but Osborne and Cameron won’t let him. When Labour urges him to give Cable his head, Cameron chants his usual mantra, that Labour didn’t regulate the banks so they can’t talk. The PM subscribes to an unusual philosophy: two wrongs do make a right.

Debt as Percentage of GDP

Like business and the financial sector, government also speculates and invests. So the indebtedness that fuels capitalism also is utilised by government. It is normal for government to operate a deficit. But there is a distinction, not always kept clear, between the deficit and the National Debt. Cameron wants to reduce both and there is some controversy over whether such reduction is truly necessary.

The National Debt is the net accumulation of government borrowing. 80 or 90 years ago, that debt was greater than the whole of Gross Domestic Product, which is the global market value of the national output. That was the age of the Great Depression, when poverty and unemployment were rife in Europe and the United States, and hyperinflation sent prices out of ordinary people’s reach. While the Great War had fanned global interest in revolution and Socialism, the Depression sowed the seeds of dictatorship and fascism. After World War II, Britain’s National Debt was 250 percent of GDP – hence the austerity programme instigated by the Attlee government. It didn’t prevent that government implementing Rab Butler’s Education Act, Nye Bevan’s National Health Service and Lord Beveridge’s welfare state.

At the beginning of 2011, the National Debt was 60 percent of GDP and Cameron made – and still makes – great play of Labour’s “failure” to control this figure. But under Margaret Thatcher, the National Debt was well above 50 percent of GDP and, because inflation was so much higher than the negligible rate that it fell to successively under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the cost of servicing that debt was much more punishing. Some twelve percent of tax revenue was swallowed in paying down the interest on Thatcher’s debt. As Chancellor, Brown made the reduction of the debt his top priority and, as a result of his much-vaunted “prudence”, the percentage of tax revenue required to service the debt by the time the coalition came to power was nearer three percent. Cameron infrequently gives Labour credit for that.

Here’s a further measure, found in the most recent figures courtesy of the Office of National Statistics. The current national budget deficit “excluding the temporary effects of financial interventions” was £13.8 billion as of August. The net borrowing with the same exclusions was £15.9 billion and the net debt £944.5 billion, equivalent to 61.4 percent of GDP. Two years previously, under Labour and after nearly a year of global economic turmoil, the equivalent figures were £12.8 billion, £16.1 billion and £804.8 billion, 57.5 percent of GDP.

A different measure of the economy is the balance of trade. Again taking ONS stats, one finds that the seasonally adjusted deficit on trade in goods and services in August this year was £1.9 billion. This raw figure masks a vast difference between the two halves of the economy. Trade in goods was in deficit by £7.8 billion whereas trade in services was in surplus by £5.9 billion. That disparity starkly demonstrates how Britain’s manufacturing base has shrunk and why the government is running scared when bankers and other city slickers threaten to take their business elsewhere if their bonuses are culled and if the government doesn’t abolish the 50 percent tax rate.

Government Debt per Person

The figures from exactly a decade earlier make an interesting contrast. Then the trade deficit was £2.4 billion and no one was screaming about an economic crisis. But the two halves of the economy were rather closer together. The deficit in goods was £3.3 billion, the surplus on services £904 million.

On the basis of these figures, it is not unreasonable to surmise that, far from reducing the National Debt, the coalition is in fact increasing it. A flat-lining economy means that government revenue is stalled. Rising inflation this month causes increases in welfare payments to kick in next year. The debacle of tuition fees has led to the great majority of institutions of further education electing to charge the maximum for their courses, thereby requiring higher and higher lending by the government to students who are plunged further and further into the personal debt that Cameron affects to scorn.

Many of the government’s policies for cutting expenditure have proved to be so ill-conceived that they result in increased expense for smaller return. The savings that Osborne – like all in-coming Chancellors before him – was determined to make by cutting “waste” have proved to be a fantasy, as Osborne’s predecessors also found. And of course Cameron decided to add the excursion into Libya to the continuing unwinnable war in Afghanistan, at far greater cost than the government is prepared to divulge. The pain that has so far been inflicted on the electorate through cuts in public services and welfare has not been matched by any visible reduction in government borrowing. Ed Miliband ought to start using a mantra of his own, that “as usual Labour will have to come in after the Tories to clear up the mess”.

The pity of it is that Labour has not sought to put clearer ground between itself and the coalition. Miliband and Ed Balls have done little to discourage the belief that, had they been in government, they would have pursued similar policies of slash and burn, only slower. But is the reduction of the deficit and the National Debt so desirable or indeed at all necessary?

The Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, who praised Gordon Brown’s leadership of Europe’s handling of the 2008-09 recession and who remains a trenchant critic of present policies pursued in both Washington and London, wrote that the Republican Party in the US “never cared about the deficit – not a bit. It has always been nothing but a club with which to beat down opposition to an ideological goal, namely the dissolution of the welfare state. They’re not interested, at all, in a genuine deficit-reduction deal if it does not serve that goal” [New York Times, June 24th 2011]. Looking at Andrew Lansley’s ham-fisted assault on the NHS and the coalition’s handling of education, the police, the BBC, local government and other public services, it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that the recently posited links between the Tories and the Tea Party go a lot further than agreement about fiscal policy.

Cameron and Osborne would do well to mark Keynes’ phrase “the paradox of thrift”. Keynes anticipated the error that Cameron excised from his conference speech at the last minute, that if people eschew spending in a recession (as Cameron almost advocated) the fall in demand leads to a fall in activity and so a recession becomes a depression. If the government doesn’t spend on promoting growth, it will have to spend more on saving the unemployed and their dependents from penury. This is the fundamental error that the Irish government committed last year and that the Greek government is sliding into now. And the people don’t thank their governments for making such poor judgments.

Sunday, October 02, 2011


I no longer tweet. If you’d told me first thing yesterday that by the end of the day I would have cancelled my Twitter account (as it’s called – in fact no money changes hands), I would have been very surprised. But there it is.

Maybe I was subconsciously ready to give it up. There is a certain justice in the prejudice among Twitter atheists that tweets are largely of the “just-eating-a-cress-sandwich-and-cutting-my-toenails” variety. Tweeters – and I cannot in conscience exclude myself – do abide by the notion that there is abiding interest in what they happen to be doing, purely because they happen to be doing it. Of course this can go to ludicrous extremes. Why should anyone give a flying fuck if some bozo in Arkansas is watching reruns of CSI:NY series two (whatever the hell that is)? And such banality gets designated a “top tweet” (according to some flummery about algorhythms) while your original, witty and grammatical bon mot on this or any other subject is listed under the hashtag system as an also-ran. If the bozo just added “and I’m HATING it”, at least there would be a frisson of novelty about his comment.

Then there are the huge numbers of tweeters who ‘retweet’ (i.e. reproduce) for the benefit of their ‘followers’ (those who choose to read their tweets regularly) all the complimentary tweets that they receive. This seems to me to be a definition of bad form. The only person who is obliged to endure your pleasure in people saying nice things about you is your mother or, at a pinch, your partner; and if you have neither, you should – as tweeters are apt to say – STFU (I do not propose to translate that piece of internet lingo). I would no more retweet somebody else’s admiration of me than I would post a nude photograph of myself (something that millions of internet users indeed do).

And of course there’s a lot of nasty and boring stuff on Twitter. Even tweeters capable of wit, perception and pith see no cruelty in inflicting on their followers a regular running commentary on some jackass television programme or some dreary sports event that most of us go onto Twitter precisely to avoid.

But the biggest disappointment about Twitter concerns the difficulty in engaging interesting and/or important matters in 140-character bites. Because of this, I have found some discomfort with that ingredient that has always been the most elusive and fraught in internet and other instant dealings (emails, texting, messages on website forms): to wit, tone. I think a lot of people have difficulty with this, not just me. It’s one of the reasons why some professional commentators get to be so disliked and resented.

And it was the business of tone that drove me from Twitter. Here’s how it played out. I was introduced to the site by an old chum who thought it would suit me. She also recommended that I and a journalist friend of hers follow each other because she thought we might hit it off. Given this matchmaking role that she played, I will call her Dolly Levi. And the journalist had better be William Boot.

Now Boot and I do have a certain amount of attitude in common, I think. But we fiercely disagree about one matter. I think Ed Miliband is a smart and competent leader of the Labour Party who deserves to be supported and encouraged. He thinks Miliband is a dead loss. And he has the advantage that, as a journalist with a regular outlet, he can say so to a fairly substantial readership.

Last week, Boot paid his first visit to a Labour Party conference and wrote a big colour piece for his paper. I told him afterwards that I found it disappointing – I have sent him admiring messages about good pieces – but candidly I thought it was a dreadful piece. “Ed Miliband, Harriet Harman and four unknowns sidle on to the stage and sit behind a large desk, looking like a quiz team”. Well, Boot, just because four people are unknown to you, the conference virgin, it doesn’t mean that the hall was full of people whispering to each other “who are they?” What a lofty, mean-spirited, snide little crack.

The whole article is in that vein, scoring piffling points off the conference and its participants with pawky jokes and belittling slights. But of course this is merely reflecting the zeitgeist. In celebrity culture, everyone is fabulous and awesome and visionary and a genius and no one in public life has less than a fawning word about anyone else in public life. Perhaps to counteract this, politicians are universally considered fair game for the most disobliging comments, no matter how wounding or unjust. Otherwise impeccably enlightened people who deplore the kind of scorn that Tories hand out to, say, John Prescott for his gamely admitted eating disorder, see no contradiction in mocking Eric Pickles for his girth. The subtext is easily readable: politicians are beneath respect or compassion.

On Saturday, Boot tweeted a few summary notions about his adventures among the politicians, including repeating something he’d been told by a “top shadow cabinet person”. I tweeted a reply: “You journos: WHICH “top shadow cabinet person”? How can we know that you didn’t make it up. Journos are less to be trusted than politicos”. I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what I wrote but having quit Twitter I now have no record of it. Boot sent three replies to this in four minutes and I have their texts because they come as email: “I am very tempted to unfollow you for that insult. I probably will actually. I don’t make things up”. Then: “It is perfectly legitimate to protect the anonymity of sources in circumstances where they would be compromised”. Then: “I’ve unfollowed you for a Tevez-like cooling off period. (Tevez is a footballer BTW)”.

The last bit in parentheses refers to his knowledge of my uninterest in football. In fact, like Mary in The Pickwick Papers, I affect not to know as much as I do for I have read about the Manchester City business and know that Carlos Tevez has won himself less than golden opinions there lately (I have no idea which team BTW is, however).

I had genuinely thought that my original tweet was jocular in tone, perhaps veering towards a touch more asperity in the concluding sentence. But I was forgetting that you twit journalists at your peril. Like critics, they can hand it out but they can’t take it. Boot wouldn’t think twice about remarking that politicians “make things up” but the suggestion that he might do so is a red rag to a bull.

Now, this little spat speaks to a problem that I have had with political coverage for years. It is the whole notion of stuff that is “off the record”. You know the sort of thing: “a minister told me unattributably”, “sources say”, “party officials are indicating privately”. Bunkum, I say. In which alternative universe do people speak “privately” to a journalist?

Boot declares grandly that he had to “protect the anonymity” of his source, but did he give two minutes of thought to why he was told what he was told? This kind of shabby exchange short-changes those who read the result on two levels. First, we are expected to take what the journalist/reporter claims at full face value. So let’s examine Boot’s claim. The phrase he deployed was “top shadow cabinet person”. Now, the three “top” cabinet jobs are traditionally considered to be Chancellor, Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary, so Boot’s source was either Ed Balls or Douglas Alexander or Yvette Cooper. If none of these was his source, he was aggrandising his contact, one must assume, to make himself seem more important.

Inevitably, given the space constraints, Boot didn’t quote Alexander or Mr or Mrs Balls directly so we next are obliged to assume that he summarised what they said accurately and gave due weight to the element of what they told him “anonymously” that he alluded to. That’s quite a skill but of course journalists have to do that all the time, even Johann Hari.

But why does Boot think Yvette or Ed or Douglas gave this nugget to him, rather than to Nick Robinson or Michael White or Adam Boulton? He’s a neophyte doing a colour piece. Given that he has this little scoop, the temptation must be to make more of it than it merits – although here Boot, negligently, seems to have omitted to drop the nugget into his article. You worry that he’ll never be entrusted with a private word again.

Journalists are indeed human (boy, are they human) and the ambitious journo (among whose numbers I guess Boot doesn’t really figure) will perfectly understandably – if unforgivably – run with his exclusive nugget, project it beyond its merit, juice it up to make it more saleable and, at a pinch, invent it. Oh yes. Do not believe that you have never heard a sentence beginning “government sources tell me” that didn’t end in an utter fabrication.

Second level: what is the game of the politico? Is she flying a kite, chucking a phial of black propaganda into the pond, whistle-blowing a resented colleague? Does Boot know what he is doing, what game he is being roped into, when he repeats something told to him under conditions of anonymity? These are dark arts, my old friend, and you mix with them at your peril.

At any rate, Boot clambered perilously onto his high horse and struck me off his Twitter thread. At first I laughed and sent Dolly Levi a message, asking her to ask Boot whether I was to be Roberto Mancini and he Carlos Tevez or vice versa. Dolly wasn’t playing that game, however. She came back with this: “I think it would be wisest if you had your own cooling off period while you try to develop a less confrontational tweeting style”. Ouch!

I sent a direct message via Twitter back to Dolly. I no longer have the text but I believe I noted that I felt some tweeters were too sensitive and that I had been called on Twitter a moron lately but had rolled with the punch. Dolly knew that I had been called this: it was she who wrote it. But she was up for a scrap: “The persistent dig dig dig of so many of your tweets get people’s backs up. It comes across as rude, especially to strangers”.

I thought this was perfectly outrageous. How can she know how other people feel? Has she commissioned YouGov to conduct a poll of strangers to discover how they react to my tweets? I quickly replied that I didn’t recognise the “persistent dig dig dig” she described. What does she mean? I certainly sometimes twit fellow tweeters – it seems appropriate on a medium called Twitter – but I don’t do it with malice. Has she had the kind of hate mail that I received when I had the temerity to defend Kenneth Clarke against angry tweeters who patently hadn’t troubled to listen to his radio interview about rape sentencing? Is she living in the same world as me?

After brooding on this for some time, I decided that life was too short to be bothered with such nonsense. I untangled myself from Twitter and realised that it felt like a liberation. David my partner pointed out that one off the list of displacement activities was no bad thing,

I emailed Dolly: “I am mortified to think that people who don’t know me have complained to you about my tweeting style. That this might in some way redound on you, as the person who introduced me to Twitter, only makes matters worse. I offer you my apologies and to all those whom I have unwittingly offended. Clearly, I am not cut out for social networking. Accordingly, I have terminated my Twitter account”. Shrewdly if brutally, her response did not give me the satisfaction of seeing her rise to it: “Probably for the best”.

What Dolly and Boot don’t know is that there are some few followers of my tweets – none of them self-important writers and journalists – who regret my retirement, who have found my aperçus and departures from conventional wisdom bracing and provocative in a good way. I am in fact a loss to Twitter. I’m not at all sure that Dolly’s former friendship and Boot’s potential comradeship are any kind of a loss to me.