Still upsetting readers after all these years

THE editor called me into his office wearing a broad smile.

“I thought you’d like this,” he said. “You should be proud.” And he handed me a letter, which he’d had framed for me.

It’s always good when a reader takes the trouble to respond in writing to what you’ve written. This was in firmly pressed pencil in a hand that suggested it had been some trouble, too.

“In these days when so many good men are on the dole,” the letter said, “why do you employ such as that Aidan Semmens? Send him back to the gutter where he belongs.”

What had got the letter-writer’s goat was a piece I’d written pointing out the strangeness of that newspaper habit of inserting rows of asterisks in ‘rude’ words. A habit which, so far from concealing such good old Anglo-Saxonisms as p****, c*** and f***, simply draws attention to them.

So not a big or important issue, then.

But never mind, it was my first published column on a non-sporting subject, and I’d drawn a response. One which hung on the wall behind my desk for several years.

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If you too are offended by my repeating those ill-starred body-part words, I can only say Mr Angry beat you by a quarter of a century.

I was reminded of that long-ago reaction by a similar response to two of my recent columns from Andy Spraggons of Felixstowe.

He thinks the Star “should be ashamed” of printing my views [Your Letters, October 15], which he calls drivel. Fair enough. He’s entitled to his view too.

And some of his views I agree with.

“The Labour government,” he says, “encouraged the bankers to be reckless.”

Which is only too horribly true.

As is his condemnation of Gordon Brown for selling off Britain’s gold reserves cheaply.

He might also have mentioned the on-going disaster of the Private Finance Initiative, by which Labour encouraged the creeping privatisation of the NHS.

A disaster which, bizarrely, both Brown and Tony Blair try to claim credit for, even though it actually began under John Major.

Mr Spraggons accuses Brown of being irresponsible in not seeing the banks’ failure coming. If he was, so was almost every other government in the world, notably the American one.

Mr Spraggons also says “the sub-prime lending was almost a socialism-inspired manoeuvre”. Which is the first time I’ve heard George W Bush’s administration described as socialist.

In the common manner of people who cannot win an argument by reason, Mr Spraggons descended to personal abuse.

Let’s for a moment consider Oliver Letwin, the minister of state for policy, whom I knew moderately well when we were at Cambridge together.

I’d say he was wrong about many things – such as the hated Poll Tax, which he devised, or the latest Conservative Party manifesto, which he was largely responsible for. Or, indeed, the whole caboodle of current slash-and-burn government ideology.

I’d say his privileged upbringing and Eton education gave him a very narrow outlook. I’d say he had zero understanding of ordinary people’s lives. I’d even say some of his views were morally indefensible.

But I’d never say he was “chronically intellectually challenged”, as Mr Spraggons did of me.

He did also have some nice things to say about me, though.

For a start he seems to think I’m a “young, idealistic student”. If only. I’m afraid it’s more than 30 years since I was that.

He also accuses me of being a socialist. Which I’m happy to say I still am.

Unlike Messrs Brown, Blair and too many others in the party they helped ruin.

I think of socialism rather the way Gandhi did of western civilisation: “It would be a very good idea.”

If only someone would try it. And somehow avoid the forces of capitalism clubbing it to death in the cradle.


JOHN Steinbeck was not only one of the finest writers of the last or any century, he was also a wise and humane one.

The superb stage adaptation of his great novel The Grapes of Wrath ends its two-week run at Colchester’s Mercury Theatre tomorrow night.

But more than 70 years after he wrote them, the words in that book still have a grim and eerie topicality.

“The bank,” he wrote, “is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it.”

Can’t, or won’t? I wonder.