BBC cutbacks

While Martha Kearney and Sir Michael Lyons of the BBC trust chat about BBC management job cuts, it’s worth pondering the fact that stringers working in Africa for the BBC have, in the last few weeks, discovered to their surprise that they will no longer be paid the annual retainers that some of them were fortunate enough to receive. One stringer let me know that she/he no longer had any money for health insurance after the three-figure retainer was stopped. This stringer said, in so many words, that the problem with this is that it encourages bad journalism (at best) because there are always people willing to slip you a brown envelope to ensure you keep your mouth shut and don’t report some unwanted truth. Indeed it does. But it’s not simply that. These stringers are freelancers who don’t get a pension or any other Beeb benefits, and they are journalists who, anyway, are finding it harder and harder to sell stories to the wretched BBC because the cutbacks on programmes have been so severe in the last few years that often the editors can’t afford to cover more than the most basic stories. Here’s a perfect example of how cash ruins editorial judgement. In Africa this means that you might get regular reports broadcast if you work in Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa or Ghana, for example, but if you work in Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville, Angola or, say, Guinea Bissau, you might sell a story a week for 50 quid a time. Sir Michael Lyons told Martha Kearney that people don’t work at the BBC “for money”. He was, I think, trying to point out that the big managers get paid far too much. Many are on six-figure salaries, with Mark Thompson earning some 800,000 plus quid a year. While I welcome Sir Lyons’ desire to criticise these obese cats, he ought to ponder his words harder. Many journalists work at the BBC not simply for the privilege, as the managers like to tell themselves, but because they believe in truth and journalism and because they need to eat and home, clothe, shelter their families. Many stringers in Africa have left the Beeb because they are sick of being treated like kiddies who are patted on the head and because the stresses and strains of risking your life reporting in, say, The Gambia*, are simply not worth the minimal returns from Bush House. However, some of them have also discovered that they can get a higher salary from a local – repeat LOCAL – news organisation. Unfortunately, the managers don’t understand this, or don’t care or don’t believe Africans need to earn money because  . . . because . . . (because they are racist?) or some other pyschological problem I’ve never quite managed to fathom.

* President Yaya Jammeh is competing with President Robert Mugabe, for sure, in nastiness. But you wouldn’t know it if you listened to the BBC or read our appalling UK newspapers. The BBC itself abandoned one Gambian stringer who Jammeh tried to kill, despite that journalist’s excellent service to the corporation for many long and dangerous years. The BBC’s tactic tends to be: send money for the funeral, turn a blind eye during life.

OK. Rant over.


‘I’d noticed them

because they were so pale. It was in the pub. And because you couldn’t help but hear them, so animated and loud – especially him – as if they wanted us to hear them. They were so disenchanted, so disillusioned; I wanted to go over to their table and ask them to tone it down. I felt awful. Everything was like this and like that; everything was bad or wrong. That was what he said: Everything is bad and what isn’t bad is wrong. I’ve been trying to figure out what he might have meant. All last night I couldn’t get to sleep thinking about it. What isn’t bad is wrong. It’s a beautiful pub from the outside, imposing is the word that first came to mind but I think I mean a little bit intimidating. Perhaps that’s why they were having that conversation. Perhaps that’s why she was talking about ham. Ham and Rwanda, I think she said. I couldn’t quite get everything. They were just that bit too far away to follow clearly everything they were saying. I had thought of offering them a fag. But they didn’t smoke. Which struck me as odd because the only people sitting outside were smokers. Why sit outside on an evening if you don’t smoke? It’s so cold. But they were so wound up, it would have suited them, smoking. People like that must have to smoke just to get through life, just to survive each day. They talked about the men who were blown up in the Nimrod crash. He got so angry. My God, he got angry. I even felt a bit intimidated. His anger. He was quoting some woman from the BBC who’d said it was about cutbacks and savings. It sounded like maybe he worked for the BBC because he kept talking about how it was like that at work. I heard him say something about a fixer who was killed in the Middle East somewhere – was it Iraq or Iran, I can’t remember now – because the BBC had cut back on flak jackets. He was drinking a spirit. Probably whisky. He looked bad, really bad. Like he was a bit gone in the head. I couldn’t help but listen to them, and I wanted to just watch them all the time but C kept telling me not to stare. They’re gonna get pissed off with you soon, he kept saying. But I think they liked me watching them. They liked the audience. What else would be the point of talking so loud? Or talking at all for that matter? What’d be the point? It’s not as if it makes any difference is it.’

one man & his power

This explains it all.

Jackson, left, and Dave, right, dressed for Hallowe'en in 2007. If you're wondering who is the dick who dressed them like this, it is the one and only Dick Cheney.
Jackson, left, and Dave, right, dressed for Hallowe'en in 2007. If you're wondering who is the dick who dressed them like this, it is the one and only Dick Cheney. And how compelling - that Cheney named his dog Dave and gave him a collar with a red heart.

no blacks, thank you very much

No. This isn’t another piece on Dick, sorry Nick Griffin (though I do love the man on Question Time who made that little joke, to the irritation of the unbearable Dimbleby.) This is a post about Kenya, a country in Africa, where whites are still permitted to behave like Mr Griffin. Read on if you will . . .

kenya ring of roses

‘Relax on a tropical beach enjoying the glorious Kenya sunshine or experience the ‘Real Africa’ and combine your Kenya holiday with our range of 1, 2, 4, 6 and 7 night safari options – it’s up to you!’

I love that: the Real Africa in inverted commas and block caps. And referring to, inevitably I suppose, the animals in the bush. That just about sums up the Real Africa. But another aspect of this holiday club is, I think, the real Real Africa. Try this statement for size:

‘Beginning next month, we shall open our doors to locals so that they can sample our tourist facilities. We shall offer [them] affordable rates for accommodation and meals.’

safari kenya

These are the words of Frank Neugebauer, Managing Director of the African Safari Club, the same club that offers punters like you or I (or perhaps only I, for I do not know the you, and in this case, the you does matter) a fabulous experience in Africaah. In what can only be described as a revolutionary act, he decided to change the Club’s policy, held for 40 years, which prohibited ‘locals’ (by which it is understood he means black Africans, or atleast black Kenyans) from enjoying the Club’s facilities (even if they had the money). This extraordinary step away from apartheid tourism (amazingly allowed by the Kenyan government!) was brought about by – wait for it! – the recession. Yes, the ‘the recent global economic crisis’ led to the closure of six of the African Safari Club’s hotels in 2008, which in turn has led to, well, I guess we might call it some kind of democracy. Or, well, equality (though clearly not equality of wealth).

Mr Neugbauer and his elite management team – who have been dealing with some pretty sticky staff lately (700 went on strike because they hadn’t been paid) – have some really interesting views about the Real Africa. In the Club brochure for 2009 to 2010, the Club blurb states that:

‘From the legendary wilderness of Tsavo and the majestic peak of Mount Kilimanjaro to the stunning Savannah of the Maasai Mara, the African Safari Club welcomes you to this glorious country… From the moment you arrive in Kenya, you will be struck by the warmth of the local people who are genuinely happy to receive guests from Britain, perhaps a leftover from bygone days.’

I was wondering whether the local people are, themselves, struck by the arrogance, ignorance and immense wealth of the guests from Britain, who are known for dropping in on Kenya to loot, kill and rape. But I’m just a bitter old bat. Those sweet Kenyans are probably just happy and sweet and love their guests. And their guests love themselves, I see.

My friend, writer and journalist, Rasna Warah, has written a good piece on all this.

Meanwhile, I’m going back to circling the pool, with gentle kicks to burn off the cocktails I had last night, the sundowners, and all that Big Five game meat I ate.


A pocket full of posies,

Hush! hush! hush! hush!

We’re all tumbled down.

Financial Secrecy Index

Corruption. We’re the experts: the British. Not the Nigerians, the Columbians, the Burmese or the Chinese. And it’s great that these guys have started this website here. It’s part of the Tax Justice Network. And while I don’t agree with some of their ideology – they broadly favour controlled free markets, but free free markets might be how they’d put it – I welcome their efforts to expose corruption in the City of London and other influential financial centres of the West. And they are also not so fond of Bob ‘n’ Bono, which has to be a good thing, although they recently gave Bob Geldof a guarded pat on his skinny arse.

wanna smoke?


Jenny Diski has an amusing piece – for we, les femmes, anyway – in this edition of the London Review of Books. (Thank goodness, no more weird letters on RW Johnson this week.) For many years of my life, really too many years, I assumed that tampons were something that smokers used. My mother was, in those days, a heavy smoker. She had so many gadgets for smoking – cigarette holders, tar-reducing cigarette holders, leather pouches for her lighters that hung around her neck, filters, different types of matches & so on & so on – and I was struck by the similarity between cigarette filters and tampons. But let’s be frank: a cigarette filter would be most suitable for a doll’s period, not a real live human female period. (I may have hit on something there: I’m thinking Barbie plays tennis… Barbie goes shopping… Barbie at the riding stables… Barbie starts her period!)


For me, though, because my mother didn’t ever tell me what her tampons, which were strewn around the basin and in all cupboards near her bathroom, were for I simply assumed they were a type of filter. But they are quite big, I used to contemplate. And, I’ve never actually seen her put one in her mouth. And when I did get my first period she hugged me and, to my horror, later, told my father, who congratulated me on becoming a woman, leaving my jittery teenage self utterly appalled. But my mother only introduced me to the clumsily named, ST. She showed me where to place a fat sanitary towel in my knickers and how to keep it there. Stranger still, the ones she offered me had loops at either end, the type to be attached to a belt (just writing that makes me feel anxious), not the ones with a sticky strap as slim as a five pound note. No. My mum’s were bulky and sticky-less. Imagine rolling up a small hand towel, boys, placing it in your knickers, and then pulling your skin-tight jeans up and over all of that. Then try walking and behaving as if everything is completely normal. It was at least a year before I ventured onto the tampon. And what a saga that was. I read the instructions and tried to follow them but the damn thing simply wouldn’t go up with ease. Eventually, I gave up & decided to assume it was supposed to be uncomfortable (it all made sense, this curse my mother had discussed!) and that I should make do. Suffer – that’s what I’d been brought up to understand of life. However, I was on holiday at the time – in France – and was swimming regularly in a pool with other close family friends. Not wanting to appear different, or to draw attention, I jumped in as normal, with this thing only half-placed inside me.

How it could be, that someone born in the late sixties could possibly be stumped by a tampon still distresses me. I’m still amazed at my mum for her inability to explain to me the tampon, and amazed with myself for never ever asking her about it since.


The weird thing is, I was, in a way, partially right about the tampon and its close relationship to smoking. A friend told me recently, after she’d been to Charing Cross Road to stock up on smokers’ essentials, that the expert in the shop advised her not to bother buying proper wadding for her Zippo.

‘A tampon’ll do the job just as well’, he said.

[Note: the man-size flame in the Zippo ad. Of course!]


Red mesh fencing lines the length of the street; cars are banking up at the top, drivers hooting. They can’t all pass each other at the same time. There’s a Water Works van in the way, says a bloke in white overalls with gold dust down the front. The pavements are narrower now, too: a woman who looks hungover and addicted hangs back with her pushchair (allowing two teenagers to pass in front of her) nattering over one shoulder to a friend behind her, who also has a pushchair. An OAP buggy (which they rent out cheap from the Parking Permit Shop) is ploughing on, full speed. The terrier in the basket sniffs at the air, while beneath him (between the owner’s ageing feet, which are cacooned in nylon slippers) his nephew is humping his brother. A small child gasps and cries, Mummy! Doggy!, and stops to stroke the wire-haired creatures. The child chooses the one at its height, the one closest, which is the one being humped by its nephew. The child strokes the dog on its head and its back, fingers inches away from the humping nephew, which the OAP on board can’t see because he can’t bend his neck that far any more, but the mother can see and she is alarmed and shouts and pulls at the child’s hand which slides from the head of the humped dog. The mother sighs, relieved perhaps, or embarrassed by sex. The OAP is still trying to work out where to park so he can dismount and enter the small shop. Now, the cars begin to pass, and a middle finger flashes from a window at the Water Works van. A woman tugs at a child’s hand coated in a shine of snot, suddenly feeling guilty because of her memories of her life seven years ago. She sees short skirts, long legs, lacquered nails and men. She can imagine hating her child, and is appalled by what she thinks must be the jealous emotion. The humping dog, she thinks, Oh God that humping dog. At least it still has desire.