Turning a blind eye

A FRIEND and I were walking a well-trodden woodland path last week when we were approached by two girls coming the other way.They were in their early to mid-teens and obviously upset.

A FRIEND and I were walking a well-trodden woodland path last week when we were approached by two girls coming the other way.

They were in their early to mid-teens and obviously upset.

One was gabbling into her mobile phone and at first I assumed it was the conventional teen tragedy of a boyfriend break-up. Then I noticed that the marks on their faces were not just tear-streaked make-up, but cuts and bruises. They kept looking behind them anxiously, fearful they were being followed. They weren't.

The two girls almost huddled to us as for protection. The one with the phone handed it to my friend so he could explain to the police where we were.

After calming the shocked and shaking pair down a little, we learned that they had been set upon by three larger girls. They didn't know their attackers, who they thought were about their own age or just a little older.

The aggressors had been drinking and took exception to being “looked at”.

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For this offence they inflicted a beating which included knocking our two girls to the ground, punching, scratching and kicking them.

One had her hair pulled so hard it later came out in handfuls. This, understandably, renewed her trembling and hysteria and I had to reassure her that she wasn't going to end up bald.

We walked back with them to near where the attack had occurred and waited with them until the police arrived.

In the annals of public crime, this was not a major incident. It would normally merit a paragraph or two, if that, in a newspaper.

But for the two young victims it was a trauma they will probably never forget. And it left me pondering a few awkward truths about the society we live in, and the way we see each other.

Ged and I were not the first other people the two girls had seen since the assault. We were just the first to show a friendly interest. What had the other strollers seen - and what had they chosen not to see?

Whether in other circumstances the girls would have viewed two bearded middle-aged men as help or threat, I don't know. But my daughter was with us, which obviously marked us as safe.

Even so, I restrained my natural impulse to put an arm around the girl who was afraid she was losing her hair.

It would have been the proper, human, comforting thing to do. But our public perception of strangers, fuelled by the prurient media, now makes us afraid to touch each other for fear of being misunderstood.

And that, to me, is the saddest thing about the whole episode.

Sadder, even, than the binge drinking and female thuggery that caused it. Perhaps.

GORDON Brown can quite legitimately govern Britain until spring 2010 before he calls an election - so why on earth should he call one now?

I can think of one reason. Because the Daily Mail is begging him not to.

If the voice of small-minded Toryism fears an election now, perhaps the time really is right.

Of course, you might think a high-minded politician such as Brown seems to be shouldn't let paper talk affect his thinking. But it would be another opportunity to show a clear break from the Blair years.

Blair - for all his claim not to read or heed the papers - let the leader-writers of the Mail set most of his policy for him.

For Brown to do the exact opposite would be refreshing at least.

WHAT exactly is this “democracy” that we in the affluent world prize so highly we'll go to war for it?

Since I've always lived either in a safe Labour seat or, as I do now, a safe Tory one, my vote has never made any difference to anything.

I don't even get a vote in America, yet who is in charge in the White House affects me arguably at least as much as who is in Downing Street.

Or does it? Barack Obama this week declared his willingness, if he became president, to bomb Pakistan.

And just when I thought that at last there was one candidate worth praying for.