Wednesday 7 December 2005

My fairly imminent date with destiny

Wouldn’t it be handy if we all came with a ‘best before’ date stamped on our body, ideally in a place where we could see it without resorting to a mirror?

This reflection was inspired by logging onto a website called that notes your date of birth, sex, size and attitude to life, and then tells you how long you’ve got left.

Apparently I’m going to be off on Saturday, 4 February 2012, which means that all the pension contributions I’ve made to date have been completely and utterly wasted. Rather annoying, that.

So I tried lying about my BMI (which is not, as I always thought, a budget airline, but a scientific measure of obesity) to see if I could squeeze out a few more years. The best alternative I was offered was a date with the undertaker in 2007. The worst was that the news that I have in fact been dead since 1991. All I can say is that, if it’s true, I certainly haven’t gone to heaven.

I could live the life of Riley for the next six-and-a-bit years, selling my house and all my other assets and splurging the money on booze, fags, drugs and lapdancers. If only I could be sure that I wouldn’t wake up on 5 February 2012 with a thumping headache, no friends and not a penny to my name.

Yes, there’s always the Beachy Head option, but by that stage I’d have trouble raising the train fare to Eastbourne. And one of the very few disadvantages of living in Northumberland is that you can’t do yourself a lot of serious damage leaping off the dunes at Druridge Bay.

Which is why an official use-by date would be so useful. Maybe we could persuade our liberal Government to arrange it as part of their plans for fingerprinting and iris-scanning the entire population. Doubtless to be swiftly followed by universal DNA testing and the implantation of those micro-chips currently favoured by caring dog owners. ‘If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear.’

Let’s face it, a sell-by date for people would be a lot more use than on tinned food, which basically keeps forever. I’m still happily eating stuff that is a decade out of date. And … hang on, I wonder if that has something to do with my very limited life expectancy?

Keith Hann enjoys limited success as both a PR consultant and a coffin-dodger.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Wednesday 2 November 2005

The market usually gets it right

In the 22 years I’ve been doing my present job, I’ve only ever had one client who thought that his share price was too high.

Like those lonely men who prop up bars around the country and slur at passing females, the typical chief executive feels that ‘the market doesn’t understand me’.

In many cases, his wife doesn’t understand him either, which is why he has to trade her in for a younger and blonder model when he’s approaching the male menopause. But that’s another story.

His share price isn’t high enough, his share options are under water, and if only he had a better PR adviser the market would finally get the message.

Top executives these days don’t just want the money, either. They want high profiles because they crave recognition - and not simply in the form of gongs. They now feel they deserve the sort of respect accorded to lifeboatmen and intensive care nurses.

After all, as one of them said to me the other day, who creates the wealth that pays the taxes that buys the scanners and trains the oncologists? Our business leaders aren’t just creating jobs, they’re curing cancer.

Well, up to a point, Lord Copper.

A little while ago I performed a verbal makeover on one of these much misunderstood companies, emphasising the positive aspects of its positioning and strategy, which had indeed been understated in its previous announcements.

A colossal profit warning and the resignation of the chief executive followed within two months.

The market hadn’t exactly seen that coming, but it had been very right in its cautious valuation. It’s an imperfect mechanism but, as every communist state bar North Korea has now recognised, it’s the best one we’ve got.

The imperfections include a short memory, given that anyone of my age still working in the City is either a fanatic or a failure. The successes are sipping daiquiris by their swimming pools or surveying their rolling acres in the Cotswolds.

So it can make mistakes and even lapse into periods of collective hysteria like the ludicrous dotcom boom.

But, as a rule of thumb, if you see a share price that looks way too low, it’s usually better to be asking yourself what the market knows that you don’t, rather than wondering how it can possibly have missed such a fantastic investment opportunity.

Keith Hann is a PR consultant and cautious investor.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Wednesday 5 October 2005

A short life but a rewarding one

The average life of a chief executive in a top British company is now little more than two years.

It’s maybe not enough to get the mayfly looking nervously at its place in the Guinness Book of Records. But, given that it takes time for management decisions to take effect, it’s hardly long enough for anyone to make a real difference for good or ill.

Many of you may have been puzzled by the fact that nearly all these departing grandees announce that they’ve always wanted to retire before 50, spend more time with their families, travel extensively or take up a new challenge while they’re still relatively young.

I’ve written many such press releases myself. Here’s what they really mean:

‘In the two years since I clawed my way to the top of Blogco in an unprecedented and deeply unattractive display of naked ambition, I have consistently pursued the short term financial objectives with which analysts and major institutional investors are obsessed.

‘In doing so, I have collected substantial performance-related bonuses while shamelessly neglecting the best long term interests of our shareholders and staff. Though the numbers of the latter that are likely to read this announcement have fortunately been diminished by my decision to outsource production to China and customer service to Bangalore.

‘I am particularly proud to have substantially refocused the group by falling for the blandishments of our City advisers, and making a series of pointless acquisitions and disposals at silly prices.

‘As a direct result of my actions, all the wheels have now dropped off this once fine business vehicle, and I am today issuing a profit warning of truly epic proportions. This is the second such announcement within a month.

‘Our distinguished non-executive directors, who backed my policies every step of the way, have accordingly decided that we must have a fall guy, and that I am it.

‘I am consoled by receiving a very large pay-off to go quietly, and by the huge pension fund that I have been able to accumulate while terminating the final salary scheme for other employees.

‘I wish my successor the very best of luck in picking up the pieces, and will shortly be flying off to the Maldives to recuperate with my PA.

‘God bless you all.’

Keith Hann is a PR consultant and cynic.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Wednesday 7 September 2005

Absolutely fabulous

Who says PR is not like Ab Fab? I enjoyed a glorious 24 hours drinking champagne in celebration when Edward Heath died, with only my native parsimony holding me back from smashing my glass in the hearth each time I emptied it, while slurring ‘So perish all enemies of England!’

The drinking spree came as no surprise to my clients, though the reason for it did. As one kindly put it: ‘Ted Heath was a fat, rude, single, music-loving Tory, whose life ended in bitterness and failure. You had everything in common.’

True enough. Yet I can’t imagine that anyone who recalls Heath’s term of office – four years of abandoned principles, misleading pronouncements, economic mismanagement and industrial mayhem – would regard him as anything but a shoo-in for the title of ‘Worst Prime Minister of the Twentieth Century’, even against the stiff competition offered by Eden, Callaghan, Major and Blair.

His two great crimes against this country were to carve up our historic counties on supposedly more rational lines, and to take us into the then Common Market without explicit public support. He reassured us at the time that this involved no essential loss of sovereignty – then informed us years later that it had always been a pathway to a United States of Europe, and we would have known that if only we had bothered to read the small print.

Such honesty is most unusual in a politician. It’s just a shame that it wasn’t applied more consistently.

In his supreme disregard for PR – his rudeness and open conviction that the man in Whitehall, or preferably Brussels, knew best – Heath represented a political type I doubt we shall ever see again. Even if, after eight years of a Government obsessed with spin, we might begin to feel vaguely nostalgic for it.

We may well choose a gay, black or disabled Prime Minister in my lifetime (though not, by common consent, a bald one). But I cannot believe that one like Heath who rejected the first principles of PR will ever again enter 10 Downing Street.

All the contenders for the Tory leadership are falling over themselves to demonstrate their listening skills, broad public appeal and user-friendliness. The only interesting question is whether a veneer of blokeish amiability will be enough to secure the tarnished crown for another man who shares Heath’s belief in our European destiny.

Keith Hann is a PR consultant and conservative.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Wednesday 3 August 2005

Naked people, passionate places

Tragically, I had a long-standing engagement in Northamptonshire on 17 July, which prevented me from joining my fellow Geordie exhibitionists for Spencer Tunick’s latest ‘installation’.

Seismographs flickered as art lovers and connoisseurs of the human form across the globe breathed a huge collective sigh of relief.

But I was gutted. I often feel the urge to take a stroll along the Quayside au naturel, and it would have been great to have the police there to shield me from prying eyes, rather than in their more usual role of trying to arrest me for indecent exposure.

In fact I haven’t participated in a good bit of communal nakedness in Newcastle since the grand old days of compulsory nude swimming at the RGS, ten years of which left me unable to swim a stroke and with an enormous complex about my body.

Fortunately the subsequent 35 years of intense psychotherapy have been able to convince me that my fears were entirely justified, since my body is indeed both complex and enormous.

But what of Mr Tunick? Clearly it has been another enormous PR coup for those clever people from south of the river who brought us The Angel, The Baltic and The Sage. Perhaps, for consistency, we should start to think of it as The Buff.

What more could we make of it? Well, for a start we could take a look at using it to replace that awful stuff about ‘Passionate People, Passionate Places’. (How can a place be passionate? Answers on a postcard.)

I was first introduced to this campaign when I was in a conference audience that was treated to a show reel. The eager marketing man who introduced it was so passionate about the North East himself that he didn’t even know that ‘Cheviot’ is pronounced with a long ‘e’.

It struck me as being nothing more than a travelogue – unusual only in apparently being aimed at people who already happen to live here.

If we really want to appeal to outsiders, let’s go with The Buff. Apart from anything else, it should give the lie to those who think it’s too cold up here. So long as we stick to soft focus long shots that don’t show up the goose pimples.

I’ll even throw in a free strapline for the new ads. ‘The North East: It’s Ballsy.’

Keith Hann is a PR consultant and voyeur.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Wednesday 6 July 2005

Always quit while you are ahead

I’ve always had a soft spot for mavericks, which is just as well since I’ve spent most of my life working for them. For some reason my approach to PR rarely appeals to conventional minds.

I particularly admired the way that Morrisons went on delivering consistent profit growth for 35 years while cheerfully defying City conventions on everything from the benefits of vertical integration to the value of non-executive directors.

Its annual report didn’t contain pictures, never mind a ritzy mission statement. And where other companies held colourful presentations to City analysts and the media, Morrisons took telephone calls in Bradford.

All of which was fine so long as they were delivering the goods. But now the wheels have come off and those long spurned journalists, brokers and fund managers are queueing up to take a kick at the Morrisons management.

What lessons can we learn from this?

First, don’t start trying to make friends when you need them: it will be too late.

Secondly, make sure that the City needs you more than you need the City. If you want to be free of irksome interference and hostile comment, aim for a strong track record and achieve it organically rather than by expensive acquisitions, at the same time preferably keeping borrowings low.

Beware the siren voices of City advisers who come knocking on your door with brilliant deals that will transform the prospects of your business. Research suggests that most acquisitions destroy shareholder value, and the only sure fire beneficiaries of any deal are the people collecting fat fees for executing it.

Thirdly, never underrate the importance of common sense. I struggle to run a bath, let alone a public company, but every now and then I have flashes of insight when I think ‘I could do better than this’. One such was when I went into my local Safeway and saw notices proclaiming what its conversion to Morrisons would mean: more staff, shorter opening hours and lower prices. It seemed naïve to wonder how that mix was going to make more money. Experience shows that it wasn’t.

Finally and most importantly, never forget that the key to success in business as in so much else is knowing when to quit. Sir Ken Morrison could have retired at 70 and been acclaimed a retailing genius and hero. Instead he is stuck in a mire of profit warnings and abuse from teenage scribblers he doubtless abhors.

Keith Hann is a PR consultant and realist.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Wednesday 8 June 2005

Mourning a master of his craft

These days chefs seem to have become our new aristocracy. Where else would you turn if you wanted someone to sort out school meals, host a reality TV show or front a big-budget regional advertising campaign?

Well, I’d like to put in a word for an altogether humbler breed: the publican. Last week my favourite landlord sadly died, and I feel a sense of loss far greater than anything I would experience if Jamie Oliver were to slip beneath one of those huge Sainsbury’s delivery lorries.

Ray Matthewman, if he had been Japanese, would assuredly have been declared a Living National Treasure. As well as being about a foot shorter than he actually was.

True, he had the good fortune to be married to a brilliant and award-winning chef, Marion. Their pub, the Warenford Lodge near Belford, served the best pub food in the county.

But it wasn’t just the certainty of an outstanding meal that drew me back again and again to this inconspicuous and perhaps rather unprepossessing inn. It was the chance to commune with Ray – a man who brought to the role of publican a glorious mix of lugubriousness and occasional misanthropy.

I always introduced him to visiting friends as the most miserable pub landlord in Britain, and he never demurred. Certainly no matter how bad things might seem in one’s own life, Ray was always suffering something worse.

Over the years he survived a variety of horrible illnesses against all the odds. Such as the time he was at death’s door with blood poisoning caused by being scratched by his cat, which he had presciently named Claude.

Throughout his woes, he was warned by his doctors that the first and second things he must do were give up drinking and smoking. His total disregard for this advice can only be termed heroic.

Tales of his distinctive approach to customers abounded. Ask for more detail about the food, and he would fix you with a beady eye and read out whatever was printed on the menu. Very slowly.

Once a couple enquired whether the bill of fare displayed on the bar was the bar food menu, only to receive the reply: ‘What’s it look like? A ****ing bus timetable?’

Another gent, on paying his bill at the end of the evening, offered a few suggestions on how Ray could improve the ambience of the place with tablecloths, candles and background music.

‘Well, we won’t be doing any of that, then,’ he said firmly. ‘People like you might start coming back.’

He probably did come back anyway. Because what more can anyone ask from life than a superb meal, a little too much to drink (except, of course, when driving) and a chance to be cheered or insulted by a true master of his craft?

Keith Hann is a PR consultant and pub-goer.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Wednesday 4 May 2005

Eight staggering years

I can’t imagine how I’m going to fill the huge gap left in my life by the end of this enthralling General Election campaign. Excitement in my part of Northumberland has been at fever pitch, with no fewer than three party signs to be counted on the ten mile drive to pick up my daily Journal.

They seem not to mention the candidate’s name these days, presumably so they can be tidied away and used again next time, like the bunting for Royal Jubilees.

The campaign really came alive here in Berwick-upon-Tweed when the apparently nice Alan Beith sneakily revealed that his Tory opponent had previously contested the seat for Labour. A claim vehemently denied by the Conservative agent until her candidate sheepishly admitted that it was true.

He pointed out, predictably, that Churchill had also changed sides. He could have thrown in Gladstone, too. Or maybe the ever appealing Shaun Woodward.

But at least we had a brief spark of life in the campaign here that has been denied to the luckless voters in 645 other constituencies.

Last night I sat down with a blank sheet of paper to make a list of Mr Blair’s main achievements in eight years in office, backed by stupendous Parliamentary majorities. After much pen-sucking, I came up with: ‘unlike every previous Labour government, has not plunged national economy into crisis’.

Which, in truth, owes rather more to the Bank of England and the Chancellor than to the PM.

Are there happy, cheering crowds in the streets celebrating the vast improvements to schools ‘n’ hospitals wrought by eight years of Labour rule?

Not round here there ain’t.

There’s been some tinkering with the British Constitution that has excited much the same emotions as watching a Sevres vase being toyed with by a chimpanzee with a low boredom threshold.

And then there’s the great issue of our times, best summed up by the headline: ‘Foxhunting abolished. More foxes killed.’

The President of the USA is out after eight years whether he likes it or not, which if nothing else serves to concentrate the mind. While aggrandising the office of PM to make it more Presidential, it’s a pity Mr Blair didn’t think to add this detail to his job spec.

After eight years to make a go of things, should anyone really be claiming that they could make a real difference if only we gave them one more chance?

Keith Hann is a PR consultant and postal voter.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Wednesday 6 April 2005

Bringing you the bad news before it happens

What grabs your attention when you pick up a paper? Apart from regular features like the excellent columns in The Journal, I tend to turn first to reports of natural disasters and man-made accidents, followed by the obituary pages.

I’m drawn to this bad news not because I am especially ghoulish or morbid, but because these days it is about the only thing that isn’t extensively reported before it happens.

As of last weekend, I’m not even sure this still applies to obituaries. My national ‘quality’ daily provided me with a pull-out-‘n’-keep tribute to the Pope on Saturday, even though he hadn’t actually died by then. Perhaps we can look forward to Jim Naughtie on Today regularly kicking off with ‘The death will be announced later today of …’

The consequences of journalism becoming a branch of clairvoyancy strike me as far from positive.

We’ve already heard every conceivable General Election argument at least twice (this is what the party is going to say and, less prominently the next day, this is what it said). And that’s before the campaign officially started.

No wonder people are bored with politics. And no wonder we seize with such joy on those individuals who wander off script, like the glorious Howard Flight. Allowing the headline writers to revel in ‘More bad news for the Tories’ – bad news being what we mainly like to write about and read.

To give an example from my own professional life, last month my long-standing client Greggs announced typically excellent results, which were fully covered in The Journal – but down-played or totally ignored by most of the national newspapers.

Compare and contrast that with the acres of newsprint consumed in summer 2003, when Greggs dared to suggest that a 100 degree heatwave wasn’t exactly ideal for selling pasties.

Quite unbelievable to the average writer on the City pages, of course, where the received wisdom is that ‘only bad retailers blame the weather’. Someone even drew up a league table of unbelievable corporate excuses, ranging from the freezing of cockle beds in the North Sea to the adverse effects of Diana’s death on demand for upholstered furniture.

It has to be said that an alarmingly high percentage of these issued from my pen and all had one other thing in common. The companies concerned believed them to be genuine explanations of their difficulties.

I’ve been wondering who’s to blame for the focus on bad news, and the sneering at attempts to explain it away. Sadly, I’ve concluded that it’s all the fault of people like me – the spinners, whether political or financial, who relentlessly try to put their client’s best foot forward and avoid mentioning the things that inevitably go wrong.

Who can blame journalists and readers from seizing on the few things outside their control?

Oh dear. How on earth am I going to put a positive spin on that?

Keith Hann is a PR consultant and registered pessimist.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Wednesday 9 March 2005

Going through the motions

Moving is becoming a theme of Journal columns, when we should be really be striving to make it your verdict on their contents.

My neighbour Willy Poole is looking at properties in France, where he can pursue la chasse beyond the reach of Blairite political correctness. I meanwhile have been looking at houses in Lincolnshire, for the more prosaic reason that I thought it might be quite nice to live with my fiancée after we were married.

Funny place, Lincs. It seems to be generally accepted that centuries of determined in-breeding have made a major contribution to its genetic make-up. Though the village full of whey-faced loons who spend all their time howling at the moon is always said to be about ten miles up the road, rather than where one happens to be at the time.

As a PR man of sorts, I was fascinated by the varying approaches vendors adopted in trying to sell me their properties. At one end of the scale, there were eager young couples who had spent years transforming listed wrecks into genuine dream homes, and were now looking to cash in their chips and move on to the next project. As a man with a lifelong aversion to DIY, I could not stop myself asking the question: why?

At the opposite extreme, there were the frankly resentful elderly types hoping to downsize to somewhere more suited to Zimmer frames and less so to hordes of visiting grandchildren. They had typically put their properties on the market months ago and had long since lost interest in showing them off.

Then there were those who had simply upped sticks and gone – usually in a hearse – leaving the disposal of their homes to estate agents who couldn’t answer the simplest questions even when the answers were printed in their own particulars.

Several would-be vendors were looking to move overseas – which probably tells you something. My personal favourite was a man whose longing for Spain was so great that he had transformed his hideous, rambling 1930s house into a sort of hacienda. His only hope of ever selling it is that a Spaniard will wake up one day feeling that he can’t stand any more of the sunshine and simply must relocate to the Lincolnshire Wolds.

After much shilly-shallying, I had to decide between a lovely Georgian house completely hemmed in by a characterless modern development, and a 1970s detached with open country views, at least until John Prescott’s surveyors arrive. I went for the latter.

Then I came home, looked at my view of the Cheviots, and thought ‘Nah. I can’t do it.’

Whether the love of your life is a beautiful woman or chasing foxes on a quad bike, Northumberland is a mistress that’s going to prove very difficult to give up. So now there’s me and a disillusioned lady wondering whether I’m really ever going to move, or am simply going through the motions.

Keith Hann is a PR consultant and writer who likes a drink.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Wednesday 9 February 2005

Life begins at 50

They say that life begins at 40. Mine didn’t. In fact that birthday marked the start of a decade of spectacular non-achievement, both personal and professional.

I spent ten years commuting between London and Northumberland, being regarded at both ends with the suspicion and resentment that the English reserve for outsiders. Although my parents had kindly arranged for my Geordie accent to be beaten out of me, trace elements remained that were sufficient to attract periodic ridicule in the City. What Geordies used to say about the way I spoke cannot be repeated in a family newspaper.

I was appointed managing director of a moderately successful financial PR firm, on the sound old principle of Buggins’ turn, and managed to make that success even more moderate by applying a management style that combined wheedling flattery, towering rages, sexual harassment and a total absence of inspiring leadership.

True, we managed to win a few high profile takeover bids against all the odds, and I never actually lost a client. But my predilection for giving a totally honest assessment of what we could achieve for new clients meant that I hardly ever won one, either.

Personally, I broke off one unsuitable engagement and promptly entered another. This collapsed in circumstances that would have fatally wounded my self-esteem, if I had had any left. The only real gains of the decade were grey hair, an extra two stones around the waist, wrinkles and gallstones.

Exactly a year ago, with my 50th birthday looming on the horizon, I decided that life-changing action was required. So I made a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation of how long it would take me to drink myself to death and how much it would cost to do so. And, after consulting my bank statement – but definitely not my bank manager – I walked out of the office, never to return.

For a year now I have been scraping a much reduced living working for a few loyal clients, taking long walks in Northumberland, writing unread columns and planning that Big Novel that never quite gets started.

In November, at the most unlikely event imaginable – an aunt’s 80th birthday party – I met and fell madly in love with a beautiful and very entertaining young woman, who last week agreed to become my wife. My doctor tells me that the strange, tingling sensation I keep experiencing is called ‘happiness’.

True, we’ve got virtually no income and absolutely no prospects, but we console ourselves with the mawkish thought that at least we’ve got each other.

If you are approaching this personal milestone, you will know that reaching 50 is considerably more traumatic than turning 40, as you can no longer console yourself with the thought that you still have half a lifetime left – unless you have an exceptional genetic inheritance or remarkable faith in medical progress.

But if you are in that position, resist the temptation to punch the next person who slaps you cheerily on the back and tells you that life begins at 50. Because, from my personal experience, I can tell you that they might well be right.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Wednesday 12 January 2005

The black humour of the resistance

There was an e-mail doing the rounds of the City last week that managed to add a 315 word rubric, in authentic Compliance Department gobbledegook, to the innocent greeting ‘Happy New Year’.

City offices are rightly renowned for their ability to create and disseminate black humour, with no topic deemed so sensitive as to be off limits. Diana, 9/11 and even the recent tsunami have all featured in my inbox.

Such behaviour flagrantly contravenes the employment codes of the US and Continental banks which dominate the City. Scarcely a week seems to go by without my investment banker friends being summoned from their desks for some sort of diversity training, arranged by HR departments fearful of yet more multi-million pound lawsuits.

One such group was actually commended by their HR supremo for their thoughtful and responsible follow-up to their latest course, until she worked out that their newly formed Sexual Harassment Awareness Group had a rather unfortunate acronym.

It struck me as an entirely reasonable way for them to express their feelings about a culture that deems it necessary to instruct adults that it is a good idea to behave decently and considerately.

There is an age-old City term for this: ‘stating the bleeding obvious’. And it has become a plague throughout the country in recent years. It is the thought process that gives us warning signs above hot taps, telling us that the water coming out of them will be, er, hot. Well, who’d have thought it?

Literally in my own back yard, in the very small patch of Northumberland I own, someone has recently fixed to the electricity poles lurid yellow signs, depicting a man on his back zapped by a back-to-front letter N, with the legend ‘Danger of death. Keep off.’ Those poles have been in place since mains electricity arrived 50 years ago, but it has taken until now for someone to think that I might take it into my head to climb up one to see what would happen.

I’m actually thinking of complaining because the figure on the sign is quite clearly a man (are only men deemed to be that stupid?), it’s fixed a good 6ft off the ground (reducing visibility to children and dwarves, sorry persons of restricted growth), and it’s only in English (what happened to Braille and all the approved ethnic minority languages?)

These signs appeared over Christmas, so were clearly someone’s idea of a top priority. They have annoyed me almost as much as the notice now appearing in many cemeteries, advising visitors that the gravestones aren’t being vandalised by mindless idiots. No, they’re being deliberately toppled by the local council in case they fall on a passing kiddie.

This may all seem a far cry from political correctness in the City. But all are facets of our ever-increasing subjugation to a culture of nannying, and to European diktats that seek to regulate our thoughts and actions even to the level of telling us when and for how long we should emote for the tsunami victims.

In this climate, maybe black humour is both our best release and our most effective resistance movement.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.