Last post

I follow a person on Twitter but that person is locked. I think it’s obvious to know why. But this story, via tweets, moved me today and I thought it needed to be shared.

So, to the tweets that I am talking about:

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Here’s something: at the end of a funeral for law enforcement, firemen, or paramedics, they do a radio call thing.

All attending turn radios on.The dispatcher will then call for the deceased, using their call numbers. It echoes over all the radios at the same time.

Getting no response, the radio dispatch will thank the deceased for their service, note their commendations, and announce them “off duty.”

"Your watch has ended." It never fails to leave me a blubbering mess. Today, everyone was in tears. It’s a powerful ceremony.

Today, the widow had no idea why they were calling her husband over the radio. She lost it when she realised what was happening.

"Did you know they were going to do that?" She asked me. "You’re an asshole." She said, smiling through tears.

"If I would have told you," I said,"You’d have been dreading it. Wasn’t this better?" She reluctantly agreed. Today was a good day.

Here is the audio recording of that ‘last call’. Please don’t comment on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08EdzXrQ4vc&sns=em

Twitter and news: The canary down the mine

 

“Twitter does its best work in the first five minutes after a disaster, and its worst in the twelve hours after that.” - @rolldiggity

 

There is a quiet that descends in a newsroom when a big story breaks.

Forget the Hollywood clichés of cigar-chewing editors shouting invective across the office, holding the front page, pounding their fist on a desk, while necking coffee and painkillers.

When a story – a big story – appears, there is an initial buzz of conversation, a quick assessment of the gravity of developments. There are a few nods. A couple of beckoning head-raises and that’s when it starts.

Televisions are spun round on their stands, phones are pushed back on to their cradles, spectacles are nudged firmly up noses and notebooks are turned to a fresh page.

And we listen.

We listen to each other. We listen to what our colleagues are saying. We listen to what our competitors are saying. We listen to the noises from our sources, we listen to broadcast media. We listen to the news wires. We listen to the public on the scene, we listen to the bloggers and the campaigners.

And, yes. We listen to Twitter. But not as much as we used to.

Twitter has often been touted as the “first with news”. From the miniscule to the massive. From Stephen Fry being stuck in a lift, to the Arab Spring rippling across North Africa, it is the instant source of a story, the first gurgle from a tap. The only way to find out what’s really happening, according to some.

But I’m beginning to think that so-called truth is losing some of its polish.

I follow about 700 people on Twitter. I actually “watch” about three times that amount. I have lists of people I don’t follow. In other words, I can see them, without having to follow them. News people, experts, specialists, comedians, doctors, police officers, bloggers and bohemians. I’ve been on Twitter for more than three years. I like to think I’ve found much of the gold within its mines.

When the first tweets about the Boston marathon explosions popped up in my timeline, I went over to my newsroom colleagues. I told them what was happening. And the process began.

And I watched Twitter.

It used to be the way, maybe three years ago, that Twitter’s immediacy, its intimacy, its impact, would drive these stories forward. There would be witness accounts, friends and family providing first-hand evidence, phone pictures, soundbites, reactions that informed the narrative.

That freshness, that vitality, entranced news gatherers. Because there it was, the word on the street. Not filtered through spokesmen, not edited by PR professionals, not sieved by a reputation manager.

But I think it might be changing.

One of the theories you learn when you train to be a journalist is the “funnel” of news. Imagine a funnel. It’s getting all the information about a certain news story poured into it – from the top. Wild rumours and hard facts. Witness accounts alongside back-of-a-cigarette packet theories,

The funnel is the journalist. And the funnel’s job is to take all the information, from the crazy and the correct, and pour it, with a measure of control, into the story. Take out the impurities, crush up the lumps, and make the resulting article a distillation of the thousands of snippets, with no errors.

It seems to me, very often these days, that Twitter is the funnel turned upside down.

All of those disparate ingredients are poured into the nozzle. The narrow part. And they are not filtered, not regulated, not tested. But they come out of the wide part of the funnel. They are spread across a large area. Indiscriminately.

And that’s how Twitter appeared to me on the night of the Boston marathon bombs.

Let’s look at just some of the information that came out of Twitter in the short few hours after those concussive blasts knocked marathon runners and spectators – literally – off their feet.

1) The main brunt of the casualties were families from the Newtown massacre.

2) There was an explosion at the JFK library in Boston, it was connected to the original blasts.

3) A Saudi Arabian national has been arrested over the bombs.

4) A Muslim, with shrapnel wounds is being guarded in hospital as a “person of interest”.

5) Blood donors were needed. People need to give blood. (This tweet is a regular when any disaster happens. It’s nearly always not true, but to press “retweet” on this one feels like a civic duty)

6) A Boston marathon account is going to donate cash to the cause for every time it gets retweeted.

7) Marathon runners who saw the disaster carried on past the finish line and kept running - straight to the hospital to give blood.

8) There were five devices planted on the day.

Then let’s get on to the reactions or theories from “well-placed” commentators.

1) It was Patriot’s Day. This is when right-wing supremacists consider their time to act. After all, Timothy McVeigh committed the Oklahoma bombing at the same time in 1995.

2) It is an act of terrorism by Muslims. (Interesting distinction, by the way, how an act by Muslims is “terrorism” while an act by a home-grown American is an ‘atrocity’)

3) Those jumping to the conclusion that it is foreign terrorists are racists.

4) Those jumping to the conclusion that it is American “activists” are slanderous.

Stop there a minute. That is 12 pieces of information. Twelve. All of them, read individually, sound authentic. Can be identified with. They are highly plausible, or at least comprehensible.

But not one of them – at the time of writing, at least eight hours after the first explosion - have been proved to be true. They are facts that aren’t facts. They are morsels of information that could be made from cardboard or concrete. We know nothing of their roots, nothing of their provenance. Just that they have been spread far and wide.

It doesn’t matter that some – or none - of those above “facts” may turn out to be true later. They weren’t true then.

The odd thing is, while highlighting the downfalls of this instant media and its use in news, I can understand it. There is human need to feel involved, concerned, part of the conversation. We all saw those poor people, struggling across a finish line, only to be blown backwards by the force of a truly shocking explosion. We all want to say “I’m the kind of person who is appalled by this” but, in doing so, it can so sometimes come across as trite.

While we all try to make sense of a senseless killing, we often try to say what we think is right. There is a seemingly compulsory obligation to say something “proper”. But that can often come with the unspoken hope of popularity.

Do a twitter search on the words “running towards” to see what I mean.

This is not to condemn Twitter. Just to contextualise it. I see so much good on Twitter, so many positive stories and actions, that I would never write it off. I just sense an evolution. A reframing. An acknowledgement that, as it grows, it has become more unwieldy.

Sometimes, I think perhaps I’m old fashioned and prefer to get my news when it’s verified. When it’s been through the funnel. When people who are trained take time to consider, contextualise and commentate.

But maybe this just comes from a man who has watched a horrific atrocity unfold in front of him. While trying to find cogent comment about it. Attempting to shape informative and useful words from an empty, aggressive act of brutality.

The point is, perhaps that Twitter for a news-gatherer – in my experience – has very often become the “canary down the mine”. It senses the gas leak first, mostly correctly. And then it dies.

It is a signal. A switch. A warning light that only does one job. And then it becomes largely useless. And perhaps it is time to realise the change. Perhaps it is time to take a breath before retweeting the first thing you see, the first thing you hope is true.

You may not agree, of course. I just felt it was worth pushing my stick in the sand at this particular point in time.

Oh, and that quote at the top of this piece? It was stolen from the original tweeter and used by many others on Twitter as “the right thing to say”. Which probably proves I might be wasting my time.

 

One year more

One year ago today, it was my Mum’s 65th birthday.

She didn’t have much of a party. In fact, she didn’t have a party at all. She was sitting at my bedside as I was prepared for the biggest day of my life. The biggest operation of my life.

As I was shaved and scrubbed and labelled, like a freshly plucked chicken, my Mum was trying desperately to stay positive. She half-finished a wordsearch, flicked distractedly through a magazine, and wandered off occasionally to buy yet another dusty coffee from the vending machine down the hall.

And she was there, walking alongside my bed, trying her best to keep up as I was wheeled briskly down to where the surgeon was waiting.

As we approached the operating theatre, I spotted a yellow line on the linoleum. A slashing, gaudy, nominal barrier, across which nobody but patients and professionals could cross.

“You can’t come past here,” the porter said to Mum.

“Oh, I wanted to come all the way in,” she replied.

“Sorry,” he said.

Mum was a little hesitant. I think she was expecting a face-to-face moment with me. I was on my back in the bed. She was behind me. So I hoisted myself up on my elbows, then reached my hand out behind me for her to grab.

“I’ll see you in a bit, Mum,” I said, without looking back.

She paused. As if she had something prepared that she wanted to say but the words had turned to ash in her mouth.

“Yes. Yes. See you in a bit. See you in a bit,” she replied.

And she was gone. I’m pretty sure she said something else to me, as I trundled away from her, but I had closed my ears. I didn’t want to think too much.

I’ve written about the operation since then.

I’ve written about the overwhelmingly brilliant care I received at Papworth Hospital.

I’ve also written about the kind messages so many people sent me.

So I thought it was only fair to provide an update. How I’m doing.

Well, in simple terms, I’m doing a whole lot better.

When I got back from hospital, there was an annoying infection to the wound in my chest. There was also the painful process of bones knitting back together and a body readjusting after being radically yanked about.

When you have a shunt in your car, the chassis can get whacked out of line. All of a sudden, the car makes new noises, a whistle here, a grinding crunch there.  The steering feels all wrong.

But, after a while, the new noises become old noises. You don’t notice them as much. You forget what the old steering was like and the car still goes, so you don’t pay that much attention.

That’s what’s happened with my body. At first, everything felt wrong. Everything was more difficult - even the simple things became hard. And the noises, they were all new. A grind of bone here, a stab of pain there.

But after a while, I have got used to them. I know what I can do and can’t do. I accept the new quirks as part of how I live.

And – to carry on the car metaphor – I’ve recently had an MoT. I had scans, and tests, and armfuls of blood taken. I was prodded, poked and pestered by those everyday magicians who work for the NHS.

At one point, a rather wonderful Argentinian woman, with a smile that could melt diamonds, put a probe into my jugular vein and popped it down into my heart to measure the blood pressure there.

And the general news was good. The heightened pressure in my pulmonary artery has dropped. Not as much to “cure” me but it has dropped. It may drop further still.

Because of that, my heart is not working so hard. The heart’s a muscle and mine was “working out” way too much, becoming misshapen and getting dangerously close to popping.

Now that the pressure has eased, the doctors say my heart is under a lot less strain. And it is getting back towards the shape it should be. “Remodelling” they call it. A bit like Kevin McCloud has dropped round and told my heart to open up its aspects and enjoy the clean lines, while being sympathetic to the local environs. And come in under budget.

I’m back at work, I’m also able to live a much better life physically. Although the lack of exercise is showing a little on my waistline, I’m still in much, much better nick than when I went in to Papworth and was forced to put on one of those ridiculous “arse out the back” medical gowns.

And the doctors confidently predict that my life expectancy is good. A “normal” length life, they say. I’ll take that – after the rather gloomy forecast that was given to me before the op.

So, there we go. Progress. I still have some underlying issues that my doctors are working on. I have a funky amount of tablets to take, all different colours and shapes, but it’s a very small price to pay for the chance at more life.

And today, I’ll be seeing my Mum. For her 66th birthday. We’ll probably go for lunch at a local garden centre. She likes to eat at the café there, nestled amongst the colourful flowers and shrubs.

Whether we say it loud or not, we’ll both be thinking about what happened a year ago. And, of course, we’ll be grateful that it did.

Magic man

In my previous post, I talked about the surgeon - and the operation - I had at Papworth Hospital.

Oddly, while I was still in hospital, that surgeon, David Jenkins, and that very operation were featured on BBC1’s “The One Show”. It was the talk of the ward among the nurses, but I hadn’t seen it.

So, I found the footage and I’ve crudely cut this two-part video into one 12-minute clip and uploaded it.

I hope it helps others who may be facing the same illness.

And I hope it illustrates what a lucky man I am to have been given the chance to have this miraculous operation.

(Don’t worry, it’s not gruesome)

A second little announcement

 So, how was your March? I hear it was pretty sunny.

Mine was odd. I spent two weeks of it unconscious, a little chunk of it with pneumonia and another little bit of it with a very hot brain, apparently. My family and friends have been through a very, very difficult time and, at one point, they prepared for the worst.

But, thanks to the brilliance (there is no other word) of the surgeon, Mr David Jenkins, and his medical team at Papworth Hospital, I came through.

And I find it hard to describe the size of my respect and admiration for that team of people. They truly have extended my life and they cared. Mr Jenkins visited me many times afterwards and he was always quietly-spoken, friendly and wonderfully caring company.

Slightly embarrassingly, whenever I met Mr Jenkins, I spent most of the time just staring at his hands. I couldn’t help it. The hands that have been inside my chest cavity and my lungs. The hands that have given me this chance. I was obsessed by them.

(For the record, they are well-manicured, quite small in comparison to mine and very smooth-looking.)

I actually stared at his hands so much that I think he got self-conscious and sometimes folded them under his white coat out of politeness.

Anyhow, the operation, thanks to their skill, was a success – but I wasn’t yet. To add to the medical problems, I developed a strange tendency to want to fight the nurses who were trying to revive me. Many times, I was woken up, many times I fought the medical staff and – many times – they put me back to sleep. Understandable.

And, on one occasion, my Mum and brother were taken to a side room and the gravity of the possible situation was explained to them.

But, in the end, after two weeks of worry for my loved ones, I woke up properly and the intensive care nurses were there to coax me further along.

One of those doctors will forever stick in my memory. Here’s why:

Because I had been stuck with a ventilator tube down into my lungs for two weeks, the inside of my throat felt like the sleeve of a cheap jumper.

I was craving drinks, smooth food, anything to ease the irritation. But with an oxygen mask on and very little movement available, it was very hard.

Then, a breakthrough. The doctor in question, (I’ll call him Dr A), gave me ‘chipped water’ through a little tube. It is simply cold water with tiny chunks of ice in it.

Sounds too simple, doesn’t it? But when he gave me that basic drink, I believed it was the finest thing I’d ever consumed. It was heaven served from a plastic cup. I would savour every little chip of ice as if it was a fine wine.

So, we came to a deal, Dr A and I. When he wanted to move me, or inject me, or do something painful to me, he would tell me. I would nod and simply point at my mouth. He knew what that meant: “If you do that, I want a mouthful of chipped water.”

It was a great deal. I would get chipped water, Dr A would get his medical procedure done.

Later, I moved on to jelly and ice cream. The ice cream was the bit that soothed my throat the most so I concentrated on that.

Soon, Dr A and I had a brand new deal and ice cream was the new currency. We used it as a similar shorthand for co-operation but sometimes Dr A would eat a bowl alongside me while we sat chatting in the dark hours of the night.

Then Dr A, showing again how much these people care, went a step further. He went home, got out an ice cream maker and started making lots of different flavours of ice cream at home and bringing them in just to feed to me because he knew it was helping my recovery. He knew it was soothing me. He did it out of kindness. Out of his own heart.

That simple act brings a tear to my eye now and I think it always will

There was a slight problem later in the week. As I lay there, Dr A leaned in close to my ear and said: “Simon, I cannot eat ice cream with you today. I ate so much last night when I got home, I was sick.”

Our ice cream buddy movie was over.

After a while, thanks to the care and attention from all the intensive care team, I recovered enough to be moved to a “normal” ward.A ward with other men. All with their own problems. All with their own specific things that they shout out in the night, all with a particular musical tone with which they fart.

And nurses. I was in hospital so long, I pretty much got to know every one of their names.

And we’re back to caring. Yes – nurses are paid to look after you. But the care? Unbelievable.

Some quick examples: the day I was feeling so low, I couldn’t bring myself to get out of bed, despite the urgings of the nurse. Before too long, she had wheeled me down to the bathroom, winched me into the hot tub and proceeded to engage me in a water fight until I smiled. It worked.

Or the nurse, no more than 24 years old, who had to deal with me, powerless and feeble, in the most undignified of positions – yet we chatted to each other like we were having a cup of coffee in the office. My embarrassment disappeared as the nurse told me all about her plans to get engaged to her boyfriend and where she wanted to go on honeymoon. She was doing it on purpose to make me feel at ease.

Final one. On another day, that I was depressed, a male nurse noticed and came and sat down. After a small pep talk, he wandered off. But he came back every twenty minutes with a new joke, new quiz question, new piece of trivia or just a little bit of chat – to help me pass the time and engage my brain. At the end of the shift, I mentioned how much he had cheered me up and I was glad he had been on my ward that day. He replied: “I wasn’t on your ward. I was over on another one. But I kept sneaking over to keep you amused.”

These people cared.

And, of course, talking of caring, there’s the huge amount of people who have been in touch with me on Twitter since I went into hospital. (I’m only just back fully online, so I’m catching up).

I wrote the previous blog as an ‘announcement’ to let Twitter and friends know I would be out of action for a while. I posted it at 12.30am on a Sunday night, hoping to sneak it under the radar. No chance – so many of you have reacted with such warmth and kindness, it has been actually overwhelming – and I mean that word.

There’s been kind messages, warm messages, incredibly friendly messages and some, frankly, quite scary ones. That’s Twitter – in all its full colour. I can’t reply to them, of course, but I read them all.

And so many people cared. It’s a little bit strange to deal with.

So this is the second and final “announcement”. I don’t plan on making this a habit, or a medical diary.

I am now in “rehab”. Because I was unconscious for so long, my muscles have wasted away pretty dramatically. My upper body looks like a poorly constructed xylophone and I have the legs of a seven-year-old boy. Don’t make that public. The poor little fella doesn’t know about it yet.

I also have a crowd of incredible family and friends around me, helping and encouraging me on every step. You know I said they are ‘so good it’s absurd’? Well, they proved that and about 1,000 things more on top. I can never pay them fully back.

So I will be working hard to get fit enough so I can take this extra chance I’ve been given.

Therefore, this, the second little announcement, is to say publicly - thank you for your message, thank you for caring and thank you to every single person who helped in any way to make me better.

Cheers

Simon

 

PS: Here’s a little fact. The operation – called a pulmonary endarterectomy – is only done in three places in the world: San Diego, Paris and Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire.

The hospital that has completed the operation the most is Papworth.

The surgeon who has personally carried out the highest number of the operation is David Jenkins at Papworth.

The surgeon who operated on me? David Jenkins.

So, I figure they were pretty good hands to be in.

I am number 811. The eight hundred and eleventh person to have the surgery at Papworth.

A little announcement

So, here’s the thing.

 

For a while, I’ve been ill. Quite seriously ill.

 

I was off work for about five months. Some people knew about it, others didn’t. My employers (The Guardian) were fantastically supportive.

 

After almost endless tests, and a frankly scary five-day emergency stay in the casualty unit at my local hospital, they found out what’s wrong with me.

 

I’ve got chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension. It means my heart is working way too hard to pump blood to my lungs. It’s dangerous. It’s ‘life-shortening’. It will, at some point, kill me. (Unless something gets me first).

It makes even the most basic of physical tasks a pretty difficult outing.

 

The basic reason is because my lungs have blood clots in them.

 

It seems those blood clots came from where my spleen used to be. I had it taken out in a hurry after a car hit me when I was seven years old. That was fun.

 

Anyway – after a long time of thinking that this was incurable (thousands of people live with pulmonary hypertension. Thousands die of it) I was told I could have an operation.

 

That operation is risky. They saw my breastbone in half, open up my ribcage, lower my body temperature so that my heart stops, then – through an artery – they try to take the blood clots/scar tissue out of my lungs. The operation itself takes a whole day. One surgeon says it’s like ‘fishing out really hard-to-find bogeys’. Another one says it’s like ‘trying to fix a car’s carburettor by going in through the exhaust pipe’.

 

And I’m going to have it very soon.

 

So, I’m off to do that. Strange as it may seem, I don’t think I’ll be tweeting. In fact, I could be in hospital for the best part of a month or so. I could be unconscious for a good while.

 

Actually, I’ve met two guys who have had the operation. One was home after 14 days and was better within four months. The other one was unconscious for 23 days and didn’t get better for a year.

 

And, of course, there’s an outside possibility that I won’t be around to tweet again. There’s apparently about a 4% chance of it not working out. That probably sounds small to you. It probably is. It sounds big to me, sometimes.

 

I’m nervous, of course. But if the operation is a success, I could be back to better health. That’s no guarantee, though. It might not improve me much. But it’s worth a shot. In my opinion, it’s better to go for it – rather than submitting to a steady decline in my health.

 

If the operation’s not a success, well, that’s a sad thing. There is a chance I’m going to die. But there’s a much, much, much better chance it will extend my life for a bit longer. How long that ‘bit longer’ is, nobody really knows.

  

If I don’t make it back, well, I’ve had a good old go at this life. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time and I consider myself incredibly lucky. I’ve loved. I’ve been loved. And I’ve got friends and family that are so good, it’s almost absurd. I had a great time. I did fine.

 

I’ve obviously written letters to the people closest to me. I’ve also had to write a will. (Does anyone want my stuff?) I thought, in a smaller way, I’d do the same for Twitter. The reason? So many of you have showed me kindness, helped me, offered me help, laughed with me, laughed at me, shared some lovely stories, entertained me, informed me, made me think.

I also have plenty of real friends on Twitter, too, people who know me from years gone by. I’m not on Facebook, so this is the easiest way to make an announcement.

 

Now that I’ve posted this on Twitter, I’m truly off. I won’t be able to check my replies or DMs or anything – just so you know I’m not being rude but I won’t be able to get back to you.

 

But I reckon you want me to get better.

 

So, cheers.

 

I’ll see you down the road.

 

 

Simon

 

 

PS: Frankly, I plan on making it back because I’ve still got a half-full can of squirty cream in my fridge and I’d hate to waste it.

 

PPS: While I’m at it. Whichever way this goes #WelovetheNHS – #IlovetheNHS and #ournhs. Don’t let the NHS go. Ever.

 

Twittermobs

In possibly the least cutting-edge – and most ill-advised - idea since the Sylvester Stallone remake of Get Carter, I’ve decided to write something and put it out on the internet.

As 2009 draws to a close, I’ve finally crawled out of the 1990s and I decided I wanted to vomit some thoughts to a wider audience. Well, wider than just my cats, who are harsh critics at the best of times.

Don’t worry. I won’t make this more than a casual habit. It will be exactly like my very occasional visits to KFC - a sense of it being a good idea at the time, swiftly followed by revulsion, self-loathing and guilt. It is Twitter that caused this. I’ve been a member for almost a year now, I think, and I have enjoyed the connections, conversations and community as I gradually followed more and more people, had more people follow me, and found out that Britney Spears is a rubbish oboe player.

But there is a newish phenomenon on Twitter these days. The Twittermob. It really came to prominence after Jan Moir’s hateful Daily Mail article about Stephen Gately’s death. As more and more people read the article (and pushed the Daily Mail’s online viewing figures higher), the name Jan Moir surfed on a surge of disgust to the top of the trending topics list on Twitter. Soon, there was a PCC response (Think of an arthritic, toothless sloth growling) but the rest fuelled itself. She’s tried to apologise, by the way, but she seems congenitally unable to handle the alien concept of contriteness.

And there’s been a few more excellent examples of this swelling of support - or outrage - on Twitter. The writer and all-round good egg Graham Linehan - @Glinner - kickstarted a campaign to show support for the NHS; then the appearance of Nick Griffin on Question Time sparked an almost unprecedented amount of Twitter traffic. In the meantime, the fight by my employers, The Guardian, against a super-injunction stopping them printing stories about Trafigura was backed by a bandwidth-sappingly powerful example of people-power. The thing is, I know about these campaigns and their popularity because I am generally in agreement with the underlying sentiments. Homophobia’s a serious problem in this country, so is racism, and I and firmly against both of them. I’m a strong advocate of our National Health Service. And, unsurprisingly, I also believe in the freedom of the press - and the right of humans not to have toxic waste dumped on their doorsteps.

But what about the people who aren’t? What about the racist, homophobes who want private healthcare for all? Those who hate The Guardian’s meddling ways and those moaning Ivorians? Simple, I don’t hear them because I don’t follow them. And, I’m guessing, they don’t follow me.

So, in a sense, while Twitter is incredibly empowering and human and comforting, there is a sense - to me, at least - that I’m hanging about with people I agree with, safe in the thought that none of them are going to offend me, disagree with me too strongly, or - worse still - like music that I hate. There’s a more instant example of this today. The comedian Jimmy Carr has, according to some newspapers, got in hot water over a joke he told about soldiers fighting in the Middle East who have lost limbs. Meanwhile, the restaurant critic, AA Gill, has drawn a lot of flak because he wrote in a recent column that he shot a baboon, just for the hell of it.

I have to register an interest. Firstly, I like Jimmy Carr’s comedy but I’m also a good friend of someone close to the comedian. Secondly, I’ve always found AA Gill’s writing to be pompous, self-important and shit. But, for what it’s worth, I found both ‘outrages’ rather empty. Carr’s joke was funny and a little edgy. That’s what he does. Gill’s admission was crude and plainly attention-seeking. That’s what he does.

But here’s the thing. In my Twitter feed, there was almost unstinting support for Jimmy Carr while there was the written equivalent of a public lynching for Gill. That’s because of who I follow, people with similar, liberal-minded, open-minded, baboon-liking instincts.

But somewhere, there must be an alternate version of me, following right-wing, closed-minded, animal-killing types? I can almost hear the outrage from the completely opposite viewpoint. “So AA Gill shoots a baboon but Carr can disrespect all our brave soldiers? This is political correctness gone mad.”

The power of the public sphere is, at times, impressive, uplifting and galvanising. That has been shown with the recent Twitter campaigns.

But it can also be frightening, mob-handed and unstoppable. That has been shown when a baying mob hounded a paediatrician in Portsmouth.

I just wonder how long it will be before a ‘Twittermob’ hits the newspaper headlines for all the wrong reasons