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The Great British Turn Off

31 Aug

I understand that the 2015 series of the ever-popular Great British Bake Off is now underway. Or will be shortly. Or was recently. I’m not exactly sure of the details because I have never been the least bit tempted to watch it. That’s not because I don’t like baking. In fact, I love baking and am well known amongst my circle of acquaintances for my excellent cakes and biscuits. I do so much baking that my little niece thinks “recipe” means “a book that tells you all the things what you need in a cake”. So why do I dislike the Bake Off?

Until recently, I explained that to myself and others by saying that it was the competitive element that put me off. Baking isn’t supposed to be a competitive sport, it’s an enjoyable pastime. When lots of people bring baked goods along to an event, the fun is in trying and enjoying all of them, not in declaring one the winner and rejecting the others. But that doesn’t really explain it. I mean, I don’t object to the kind of baking competitions where you make the goodies at home and then take them along to be judged. I’ve even entered competitions like that in the past before, and written a heart-warming, tear-jerking and fairly well-remunerated short story for a woman’s magazine on the subject.

I could say it’s the stupidity of baking in a tent. (You need a constant supply of water and electricity, and no wind blowing your icing sugar around so let’s hold it – in a tent! Ideal!) Or I could object to the hosts or judges. But actually my problem with it clicked when I read an article on introversion and it mentioned baking as an activity introverts can use to recharge. That’s it! Baking is a solitary, peaceful activity. If you make it into a big public thing, with everyone shouting and making noise and peering over your shoulder, it becomes a trial to endure, not a source of relaxation. My objection to The Great British Bake Off, it seems, is that I’m an introvert.

(As an aside, it’s also a slight quibble I have with the Macmillan World’s Biggest Coffee Morning. It’s an excellent cause, but I have to disagree with their statement that “cake tastes better together”. Cake most definitely tastes better alone.)

It’s normal for writers to be introverts – lots of deep thoughts, internal monologue and spending time alone with computers, paper, pens and books. (I love stationery – not sure if that’s connected.) But it’s not always easy to tell who’s an introvert and who isn’t, unless you know them well. I can be quite the social butterfly, in fact, meeting new people, remembering their names and making amusing small talk, but I couldn’t do it all day. In fact, if I spend all day with large groups of people, even people I like, I will be ready to burst into tears about nothing at all by the evening. I need time by myself to chill and recover, doing things like reading, watching TV, and baking.

The article that mentioned baking has a great explanation of introversion described in terms of mobile phone batteries. The basic gist is that it’s not that introverts can’t do outgoing, social things, it’s just that it drains the batteries, which then need to be recharged. It’s a good article and I would recommend it. I would also recommend that you try my baking if you ever get the chance, and read my writing (naturally). But don’t stand over my shoulder while I’m doing it, giving me marks out of ten. This is not the Great British Bake Off.

Introverts Unite


The Five Deadly Sins of Writers on Twitter

10 Feb

Before we get into this, I’d better be upfront: I joined Twitter because I am an author, and apparently it’s one of the absolutely essential things you have to do. Tweets drive traffic to your website and, so the theory goes, that increases sales of your books. I’ve yet to see the proof of this, but I stay on Twitter anyway because, annoying as it often is, it’s good for up-to-the-minute news, it’s sometimes funny, and you should see how much faster companies work to sort out your customer service queries when the details are on the web for everyone to see.

However, as a writer on Twitter I’ve become aware of the ways in which writers abuse this extremely abusable medium in a variety of irritating ways, so I thought I would have a little moan about it (which, naturally will increase sales of my books. Hmm.). Here are the five commandments for writers using Twitter.

bull horn

1) Don’t tweet about your book all the time.
I know that’s the reason you joined Twitter, but this isn’t a billboard or a TV screen for you to advertise on. It is, in a loose sense, a community. People follow you because they are interested in at least some of what you have to say. If the only thing you have to say is “Buy my product, buy my product!” they will very soon get tired and stop following you.

That’s not to say you can’t mention your wares at all, but keep a strict limit on it – one every ten tweets, say, or once every five if you absolutely must. In between times, find interesting things to say. If you can’t do that, the question is not “why are you on Twitter?” but “why are you a writer?”

Tweedledum and Tweedledee

2) Don’t only follow authors.

And don’t mainly follow authors, and especially don’t follow authors just because they’re authors. Yes, it might be nice to share the joys and sorrows of your profession with like-minded souls, but that’s not why you’re following them, is it? You’re following them because they’ll probably follow you back. And so they will, because they’ve read the same advice you have about building up your Twitter following to drive traffic etc. etc.

The problem with this logic is that they are not interested in your books! They are not going to buy them! They just want you to buy theirs. Do you plan on buying even one book from each author you follow on Twitter? No? Well use a bit of that writerly empathy to understand that the same applies in reverse, and stop trying to sell coal to coal miners.

BSZpsnx3) Don’t offer a follow for a follow or a like for a like.

For the same reason that you shouldn’t follow authors, hoping they’ll follow you back, please don’t say “follow me, I always follow back!” or “like my author page and I’ll like yours!” Anyone who follows you just to get followed, or likes your page just to get liked, is probably not really going to engage with your tweets or your webpage, and is almost certainly not going to buy your books.

It’s worse than that, though. To my mind, this kind of self-interested mutual back slapping is meaningless, pointless and vaguely incestuous. It’s also a little dishonest – a step down the road towards giving each other reciprocal positive reviews, regardless of what you thought of the book. Yes, you might get fewer page likes and follows if you refuse to play this game, but as we used to say on Team Starfish, “at least we kept our integrity.” Don’t begin a relationship with a sales pitch.

If someone follows you on Twitter it’s nice to say “thanks for the follow” and it’s also nice to comment on some interest you may share. It’s not nice to say “Buy my book!”, “Visit my website!” or “Love me, love me, love me!”

Yes, I know that’s what you want in the long term, but take things at a steady pace and read the signals, ok? Think of it like meeting that special someone for the first time: it’s probably better to begin with “Nice to meet you” than to go straight in with “How many kids should we have?”

father ted5) Don’t give us the gory details.

This last one probably only applies to the writers of erotica, horror and especially gritty thrillers. You want to entice the inhabitants of Twitter to read your new masterpiece, so you give a short summary, and what better to include in those few characters than the most shocking and titillating bits?

Well, anything really. Twitter is public. Your followers may see it (although they may well not, but Twitter algorithms are a topic for another day) but so may anyone else in the whole Twittersphere. People with weak stomachs. People who’ve had traumatic experiences. People with strong moral views.

Although our culture sometimes seems saturated with violence and sex to the point where it’s no more shocking than a PG Tips advert, there are still plenty of people who don’t want to get wet. And don’t forget that, despite the popularity of things like Fifty Shades of Grey, there are still people who see erotica as being just as morally reprehensible as porn.

It’s entirely possible to provide a pretty good impression of what sort of book you’re plugging without giving it both barrels. Save that for your own website, where you’re likely to get a self-selecting bunch of people who actually like that kind of thing. In advertising your wares graphically on Twitter, you’re not gaining new readers so much as alienating potential followers.

And who knows, maybe followers are good for something other than buying our books? Maybe they have value in themselves as human beings. A radical thought, but one that, if embraced, might make us all more pleasant and charismatic members of the Twittersphere.

(By the way, if you do want to follow me on Twitter, for reasons other than sins #1 and #2, my handle is @kcmurdarasi.)

Why I am a writer, not an entrepreneur

5 Jan

This was going to be a post on Twitter, before I realised that I could never fit it into 140 characters. It was Twitter that kicked off this chain of slightly irritated thought, because it always seems to be full of advice for writers along the lines of “write for the market” and “think like an entrepreneur”. This, it seems, is the way to make it big as a writer. And maybe it is. I don’t know, and I probably never will know, because I can’t see myself ever following such advice.

“Many writers balk at this” said a recent article, telling authors that they should think like startup entrepreneurs trying to break into a crowded marketplace. Yup, definitely baulked – in fact, I felt my head draw away from the screen in a physical expression of how unpalatable I found that advice. You see, being an entrepreneur and breaking into a crowded marketplace doesn’t interest me at all. Here are a couple of other things that don’t interest me much: crime fiction and romantic fiction. Just not my cup of tea, generally speaking, but they dominate the bestsellers list. Therefore, as a good businesswoman, I should be writing them. Except clearly I shouldn’t because:

1) I wouldn’t enjoy writing them, and if you don’t enjoy what you do for a living, that’s a serious problem.

2) They wouldn’t be very good precisely because I’m not very interested in them and don’t enjoy writing them.

3) There are really enough of them out there already (in my opinion).

4) I have other things I want to write, that I actually care about, and that I would be prevented from writing if I just wrote the “marketable” stuff.

There’s a fifth reason that actually has nothing to do with my personal preferences, but springs from my experience as a writer:

5) You can’t actually tell what’s going to be successful and saleable.

I have sold stories that I didn’t think had much of a chance of finding a market, and I am still sitting on what seem to me much more saleable stories. Maybe this shows how bad an entrepreneur I am, without a decent understanding of my market, but I don’t think so. I think in the creative arts (yes, however humble, it’s an art) you just can’t tell what’s going to fly and what’s going to crash. I’m working on a novel at the moment about twins separated by civil war in ancient Rome. Maybe it will be amazingly successful and be translated into 50 languages, or maybe it will gather electronic dust inside my computer, but I have to write it because the characters are asking to have their story written, and no one else will write it if I don’t.

I don’t mean to insult writers who can produce dozens of popular, successful genre novels. If I enjoyed it, I would love to make a living out of producing a potboiler every year. I’m also not saying that writers (or other artists) should stick entirely to what they’re comfortable with. Some of my best work is produced when working to tight requirements or unusual limitations, for example when writing for competitions with a strict theme. It sharpens your creativity when you don’t have free rein in every area. But when you discover that you don’t like a certain genre or type of writing, and you’re not very good at it, I don’t think it’s good advice at all to continue writing that kind of stuff because it’s what the market demands.

If I wanted to make myself miserable for money, I would give up writing and get a proper job.

Whatever Happened To The Leisure Society?

29 Apr

I have to warn readers of a sensitive nature that there are one or two incidences of sweary-words in my friend’s article, but it’s well worth a read.

OK, I never lived through the ’70s so I don’t really know what I’m talking about, but I’ve heard people tell tales of free university education (with grants! Grants!) and social equality, and it fairly makes your eyes mist with longing.

Whatever Happened To The Leisure Society?.

Cloudy, Chance of Rage

29 Jun

Without wanting to give away too much about my age, I remember computers before Windows. If you don’t remember that, it’s hard to even imagine it. I know that there are all sorts of interfaces now, and many people are critical of Windows as an inferior system, but whenever people complain about I wish I could sit them down in front of a black screen with a green flashing > and say to them, “Go on, make it work. Oh, you don’t know the commands? TOUGH!”

Now, I’m not in the pay of Microsoft, and I don’t know a huge amount about computers. I just “mmm” vaguely when people talk about the superiority of Linux, because I really wouldn’t know (although I’m very much not a fan of Apple, albeit for reasons that generally don’t have much to do with their software). The point I’m trying to make, though, is how amazing the modern interface is. You click on the wordprocessing icon with your mouse, the word processor opens on your screen, you click somewhere in the text and start typing. Let’s break that down a little:

You use your mouse to move an arrow that isn’t really there (it’s just different pixels on the screen changing colour giving the impression of movement). You use it to click on an icon that is also just some differently coloured pixels on a screen. From this your computer is able to tell which program you are trying to open, even if you moved that icon halfway across the screen only seconds before. When you open the menu (which conveniently has little words like “open” instead of requiring you to input the computing commands you don’t know) and request a file it will trawl its digital depths to retrieve reams of data which it then presents on-screen in the form of a typed document. But it’s not a typed document, it’s lots of incomprehensible binary data just pretending to be a sheet of paper and some ink. Then, when you move your non-existent cursor over the imaginary document it is able to tell where amongst the words that are not really there you have selected, and when you type it updates its confusing string of data in such a way that more pictures of typed letters appear on the screen exactly where you want them. 

I do it every day – I’m doing it now – but when I stop to think about it, it’s still amazing.

However, all this not-really-there-ness has a downside. You can lose a paper document, of course. You can rip it, spill coffee on it, accidentally set fire to it. The ink may even fade over time until it’s impossible to read. But it won’t disappear in a puff of smoke. That’s exactly what can happen to digital files, though, and it happened to me today.

Now before anyone starts to wag a finger at me and talk about backing things up, I did, and that was what caused the problem. I backed up the completed manuscript of my children’s biography of St Augustine in a cloud-based storage facility. That takes not-really-there-ness to a whole new level. I can open files on my computer now, that not only aren’t really words on paper, but aren’t even complicated data on my computer pretending to be words, because they’re not on my computer at all, they’re only hovering there in an insubstantial, wraith-like way, while the actual data is on a server far, far away. Too far away to kick when it manages to eat the last hour of work you’ve produced.

All was not lost, however, as I eventually managed to restore a “conflicted” file that turned out to be the proper file, but there was much ranting and raging up to that point. It makes you feel so helpless. I searched for different versions of the file, I searched for words that I knew were only in the completed version, but the computer kept telling me it did not exist. It also makes you question your sanity. “But I saw it!” I kept saying to the computer. “It was there! I typed it! I did!” If it hadn’t been for the presence of a friend who saw the finished version, I might have started to doubt it myself. After all, there’s no evidence, no inky marks on your thumb, no impression of the words on a writing surface or another piece of paper. There’s just the computer telling you that the collection of data you spent hours tapping away at does not exist. And if it says so, it’s right, because these things only exist by the grace of the computer. I may have made this point before, but digital documents are not real. It takes you right back to that feeling of helplessness facing the flashing green > without the proper commands.

At some point in the next six months, that errant electronic manuscript will become a real, paper-and-ink book, and then it will be a lot harder to make it vanish. Until then, perhaps I should just try the form of paper-based storage known as printing.

A Plague of Dogs

21 May

no dogsWhen I rule the world, private dog ownership will be banned. This is not some kind of communist measure applying to all private property, it’s just dogs. (And cars, but that’s a different story.) Obviously, exceptions will be made for guide dogs, dogs for the deaf etc. People on farms can have dogs to do useful things. Keeping dogs as pets, however, will be right out.

In case I ever do rule the world, and bring in this regulation, let me explain the reasoning behind this prohibition.

1) Dogs defecate. All over the pavement in fact. This is something that is brought to my attention when I walk the obstacle course of dog dirt that is the route from Shawlands to Pollokshields, in Glasgow. The sheer quantity makes the mind boggle and the shoe sole quail. I once counted it. (Yes I know, that’s weird, but I was thinking that if I’m going to rant about it on the internet I should have some semi-statistical evidence.) I passed twenty-seven separate ‘incidences’ of dog poo.

It’s not just the disgusting smell (cleaning dog dirt off my shoes makes me heave because of the smell), it’s also the danger. Some dogs carry toxocara which, when it infects humans, can leave them partially blind. Lovely. Dozens of people, mainly children, come down with toxocariasis each year, because dogs have uncivilised toilet habits, and their owners have an antisocial attitude to clearing up after the dog.

And don’t get me started on people who think that if their dog defecates on grass the poo will magically disappear so they don’t have to deal with it. I don’t have a garden. We have communal “gardens” (read: car park) with a little strip of grass around the edge. In sunny weather I would like to succumb to the almost overwhelming Scottish impulse to throw myself down on the nearest piece of grass, but sadly it would mean settling myself upon a bed of dried dog-doo.

2) Dogs smell. Especially when wet, but even when they’re not. Houses that have dogs in them smell of dog. Cars that have dogs in them smell of dog. Buses with dogs on them… well, you get the idea. Perhaps there are people who relish the smell of dog. I am not one of them.

3) Dogs bite. Yes, they do. Not all of them, not even most of them, but plenty. There were six and a half thousand hospital admissions between April 2011 and 2012 caused by dog bites or other forms of attack. Attacks are also becoming more common. The RSPCA recommends that:

Children should not be left alone with dogs and warned not to approach them when the dog was eating, had a toy or possession, was sleeping, sick, injured, in pain, tired or had hearing or vision impairment. (RSPCA guidelines)

My solution is much simpler – no dogs.

4) I am scared of dogs. Related to 3, naturally. Some people call this a phobia, but I don’t think a fear of an animal that may maul you is irrational. My tiny niece has no fear of dogs, and I don’t want to instill one in her unless its necessary, but it does mean that every time we see a lovely wee doggy that she wants to stroke, my brain is whirring with thoughts like “Is this one a face biter?”, “Could I protect her from both of them at once?” and “Where is the nearest hospital?”

5) Dogs are an insult to wolves. I’m actually quite fond of wolves. (I probably wouldn’t be if people kept them in their tiny flats, let them poo all over the outdoor space, and left them free to attack people, but fortunately they don’t.) Some dogs show their relationship to wolves, and you can sort of see the point of them. Alsatians, Border Collies and other working dogs at least bear a passing resemblance. Chihuahuas don’t, and neither do Pugs or Shih Tzus or any other form of snub-nosed, silly-haired, shrunken bodied curs. I can only assume that when wolves see the ridiculous specimens their descendents have become, they turn bright red under their fur. Or try to eat them.

I appreciate that many people are fond of dogs, and will not share my views on keeping dogs as pets. Don’t worry, when in power I will be a magnanimous and reasonable leader, and I am in favour of the free movement of persons. When I rule the world, you will be allowed to emigrate to whatever planet you wish, and take your dogs with you.

Letter to Policy Exchange

18 Feb

The Policy Exchange, a think tank looking at the Government’s unpaid labour programme, has called for evidence about the current system of getting people into work. My friend Kerry decided to take them (semi-) seriously, and has written a very entertaining letter “sticking it to the man”. Enjoy!

My Letter to Policy Exchange.

Give Keynes a Chance!

19 Jan

george osborne dartboard Wicked as those extortionate loan companies are, they are right when they say in their adverts that it’s always when you’ve got no money that something breaks. My electric shower has just gone caput, in the middle of the skintest month of the year.

At times like this I find myself wailing, “Will this recession ever end?” Not if George Osborne had his way, it wouldn’t. Of course, it will end eventually, but it will be in spite of him, not thanks to him (although I expect that is what he will say at the time, if he’s still in goverment). Why is this? Because it is basic economic theory that you don’t make cuts in a recession – it only makes things worse, and prolongs the recession.

It was John Maynard Keynes who first explained this, a long time ago. I know it sounds a bit paradoxical, but it does actually make sense. I’ve explained it in more detail on Suite101 but in a nutshell, when times are tight, everyone sits on their money, and the economy stagnates. (That includes banks, by the way – the reason why they’re not lending.) If the government cuts, everyone clings on to their money tighter, and businesses close, and people lose their jobs. If the government uses monetary policy (giving banks money, or reducing interest rates) then the banks sit on the money, and everything is awful. However, if they increase people’s income by increasing benefits and, most importantly of all, creating jobs, money starts flowing around the economy again, and everything gradually gets back to tickety-boo status.

George Osborne should know this. If he doesn’t, he shouldn’t be Chancellor of the Exchequer. I suspect that he does know, and that he is just pretending not to for his own nasty ideological aims. The Conservatives believe in small goverment – not much taxation, not much spending – and if the easiest way to get there is to demonise the poor, blow smoke in the public’s eyes and, yes, extend the recession, that is what they will do. At least, that’s what they appear to be doing. (They are also picking on the disabled in a nefarious manner – another example of why the Tories are sometimes known as “the nasty party”.)

It doesn’t have to be like this. Iceland, which was hit particularly badly by the global crunch, is now doing quite nicely, thanks to keeping welfare, education and health spending high, and writing off ordinary people’s debt rather than banks’. Meanwhile, in Greece, austerity continues to wreck the economy so that there seems to be no prospect of it ever paying off its bail-out loans.

Mr Osborne says that we are in a “debt crisis” and the most important thing is to pay off our debts as quickly as possible. He thinks that borrowing in order to invest in the economy would be ridiculous, downright criminal, when we are in such a “debt crisis”. But we are not in a debt crisis, we are in a recession. Borrowing to stimulate the economy would be exactly the right approach. Avoiding borrowing through austerity measures has actually led to us, ahem, borrowing more – but without doing anything useful with the money, like creating jobs.

Take this analogy: A woman has a lot of credit card debt but she is managing to meet the repayments. George Osborne would have her sell her car, which she needs for her work, so that she can pay off the debt quicker, since that’s the most important thing. She will then have no way of working and have to borrow money just in order to live, but hey, you need to make tough choices in a “debt crisis”.

Yes, Mr Osborne, you do, but the ones you are making aren’t just tough. They’re wrong.

(Economics rant over. Normal service will be resumed in the next blog post, which will hopefully be about something much lighter and fluffier.)

Adverse Advertisements

12 Nov

There are some deeply irritating adverts on (British) TV at the moment. The wee tip-off that alerted me to the fact is that I find myself shouting at the TV. Admittedly I’ve been under a bit of stress lately, but my flatmate confirms that it’s not just me, there really are some stupid adverts around at the moment. So here is our top five:

5) Chanel Number 5 (with Brad Pitt)

So much has been said about this ad that it seems unnecessary to offer further criticism. One commentator said that it sounds like it’s been Google-translated through 12 different languages and back to English. It does. Another said, “It’s not a commercial, every commercial ends but we go on. The stomach turns and we turn with it. Truth disappears, fakes take over. But wherever I go, there you are…my bad luck, my fate, my torture.” I think that about sums it up.

4) Find My Past sponsorship ads

These appear at the start and end of history / antiques themed programmes. They involve a woman with a laptop, lots of ‘actors’ playing dress-up with stereotypical period costumes and mannerisms, and occasionally a weak joke (“Use the dishwasher.” “But ma’am, I am the dishwasher!”) Lazy, boring, pointless. Grr.

3) Vaseline Essential Moisturiser

This is the one that says something along the lines of “Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a moisturiser that feels good and does good?” What a unique selling point! My current moisturiser, for instance, feels great but is made out of asbestos, while the one before that was deeply nourishing, but sadly contained pieces of shrapnel. Silly, pointless, patronising.

2) Muller Greek-Style Yoghurt

The two [spoiler alert!] centaur women discussing yoghurt on a Greek island. Leaving aside that fact that it probably does contain fat (“fat-free” doesn’t mean “does not contain fat”, strictly speaking), once again it’s the acting that makes it terrible. The fake little laugh in “It’s a myth” makes me want to chew nails, and I have to change the channel immediately.

1) Windows Tablet (with annoying dancing woman)

Pride of place is reserved for the Windows Tablet ad. There are a few of them, and some are ok, but this is the one with the awful song to which an awful black and white woman is doing an awful dance. So irritating that sparks fly from my ears, and it makes the product look clunky, busy and hard to use. An utter failure.
Next time, to lighten to mood somewhat, I think we might do a run down of some adverts that are actually good.

Who Cares?

3 Nov

There are places in the world that matter, and places that don’t. There are people who matter, and people who don’t. That, at least, is the attitude of our media. I was reminded of this by Hurricane Sandy, which devastated large parts of the Caribbean, then hit New York and other parts of the USA. While the hurricane was sweeping through the (poor, black) islands, the BBC and most other news outlets just talked at great length about what was likely to happen when it hit the States, and then about what did happen, and then about the clear-up. This is because Americans (rich, culturally similar to us) matter, whereas Caribbeans do not. The 69 dead in the Caribbean managed a princely one sentence out of a thousand-word BBC web article on the effects of Hurricane Sandy.

Of course, there was some coverage. There is a blog post on the Guardian site all about this skewing of the media, and another BBC web article about the effect on Haiti, where 54 people were killed out a population of 10 million (compared to 90 out of the USA population of 300 million).

This isn’t an isolated incident. In one of those strange co-incidences that life seems made up of, there were a number of bus crashes over the space of a few months, most of them involving students or young people. The one in Surrey in September, returning from Bestival, you’ve probably heard of. Three people were killed, others received horrific injuries. The ones in Iran (26 dead) and India (11 dead, not students) in October, you may or may not have done, but I can pretty much guarantee that you heard not a peep about the terrible crash in Albania in May. Thirteen students were killed and another twenty badly injured when a bus plunged over a cliff. One girl was left in a coma and had to be told, upon recovery, that her fiancé had died in the crash.

I know about it because I get an Albanian newsfeed through Facebook, and have a lot of Albanian friends and family, too. Over the years I have been annoyed, although I’m no longer surprised, whenever there have been wildfires or floods or droughts or violence around the elections in Albania, and there has been not even a one-sentence mention of it on the TV news. Albania is a place that does not matter, as far as our media (and, I suppose, most people) are concerned. The country would have to sink into the sea like Atlantis or (more realistically) help or threaten one of our allies or enemies before it would warrant a mention. (Although I should say that, once again, there is a BBC web article. Some Albanian news is there if you go looking for it, but if you’re looking for it then you probably know about it already.)

Now I understand why the Bestival crash received more attention. It’s natural to be interested in things that happen in your own country to your own people, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s also understandable that we get more news about our allies or, in the case of Iran, or enemies, since these things have a more direct effect on us. Human nature means that we’re probably more interested in the two Brits who died in an (hypothetical) air crash than the 70 non-Brits.

The amount that news is skewed towards us and our allies is out of proportion, though. OK, Albania is a special interest of mine, but how can it possibly be right that the 6 o’ clock news can fail to mention the trail of death and devastation Sandy left in Haiti, Cuba, Jamaica, the Bahamas etc., but can give 5-10 minutes (of a half-hour programme) to speculation about how the hurricane will affect the election of the leader of a foreign country? Of course, the main TV news is not the only information out there. I should probably listen more to the world news programmes, and it’s a failing on my part if I’m not interested enough to do so. But I just wanted to express my conviction that the dichotomy in the mainstream media between the “matters” and the “don’t matters” is unfair, morally pernicious, and makes things worse for the suffering areas of the world that we should care about more.