Matthew Norman: Mum's never really been the word when it comes to blood relatives


Every now and then, even those of us who prefer to leave other families to their own lunacy, judging that we have ample of that in our own, are obliged to take sides.

The case of the Myersons is one of these. The spectacle of Julie and teenage son Jake warring over her book about the cannabis use that led her and magistrate husband Jonathan to evict him has fascinated us lately, with almost every pundit rushing to Jake's defence.

He does seem a remarkably mature chap, restraining his parental analysis to an admirably gentle "naive" and "slightly insane". However, I cannot stand by and allow the notion that there is nothing too searingly intimate for Julie to parade it for profit to become the received wisdom. Throughout her writing career, she has in fact taken every precaution to avoid humiliating blood relatives.

Take the piece, published in The Guardian on 16 January 2001, which presciently dealt with the matter of parents embarrassing their children. "When my mum ran in the parents' race at sports day with a heavy period," she delicately recalled, "and leaked in front of everybody, I only remember feeling fiercely, lovingly protective." So let us hope that in time Jake comes to share her belief that "the truly embarrassing things, the things you would think might send any of your offspring running to the shrink, are easily forgiven". In the meantime, we hope he is enjoying the peace of living somewhere other than home.

Bet on Julie

Despite lacking her namesake's exquisitely personal touch, Julie Burchill's Sun writings continue to delight, and not just for the familiar brilliance of her prose. First she lacerated those who dismissed Jade Goody as a "vile racist" in the paper that coined the phrase and minted it with the profligacy of quantitative easing. Now she delivers a vibrant kicking to those who supported Mrs Thatcher's demonisation of the striking miners 25 years ago. It's hard to know where she can go next in her quest to ridicule The Sun on its own pages, but Paddy Power go even money Bless Those Wapping Refuseniks, and 11-4 against Why I Want To Have Abu Hamza's Baby.

Measles Mel?

Another lively week for Melanie Phillips fans. She took space in the Daily Mail to blame the defenders of civil liberties for the erosion of civil liberties, for reasons I expect to penetrate within a maximum further 25 readings of the piece. On her Spectator-hosted blog, Mad Mel also returns to MMR and autism, reporting that a US court has awarded damages to a boy because the vaccine was responsible for brain damage "involving autism spectrum disorder". What MM forgot to mention is that the judgment centred on the diagnosis of a paediatrician that the boy's condition isn't an autistic spectrum disorder at all. "Speaking more directly," the judge went on, "Dr Lopez stated that 'Bailey does not have autism because he has a reason for his deficits'." If the parents of children permanently damaged by measles ever launch a class action against those whose misreporting created the panic, rely on Mad Mel to explain why they were responsible for the epidemic in the first place.

The loyal Levy

As for one of Mad Mel's Mail colleagues, I can't be alone in dreading of the day when Geoffrey Levy, who must be getting on a bit, retires. The latest effort from Paul Dacre's favourite attack dog is a hatchet job on Eric Hobsbawm, a man of genuine distinction even to most of those who disagree with his Marxist world view; but Useful Idiot Of The Chattering Classes to Geoffrey, who unleashed the usual cultured spite to dismiss the 92-year-old as a credulous fraud. It's a tribute to his peerless professionalism that, despite the myriad articles of the type he's churned out over the years, it remains impossible to guess whether he agrees with a word that appears under his byline. Being kept in the building for decades primarily to belittle his editor's pet hates can't have been much fun. Yet he bears the scars with such humbling stoicism that an inaugural His Master's Voice award at the Press Gazette bash in Park Lane ("the Oscars of Our Industry") wouldn't begin to do justice to this most faithful of servants.

Mirror marvels

I am delighted to introduce a new regular feature, Daily Mirror Third Leader of the Week. "The PM will enjoy cosy nights in watching the box set of US movies presented by Barack Obama," reads the winner. "Perhaps Mr Brown would particularly relish The Gordfather". These paragraphs are daily gems of homely wit, every one of 'em, and the Christmas stocking filler possibilities speak for themselves.

Black beauty

Hats off to Conrad Black, finally, on surviving his first year in jug. Not that it sounds like the hardest of stir in Coleman correctional facility, Florida. "I lunch around 11am with friends from education, work on emails, play the piano ..." the self-effacing old con tells a Canadian paper. "I return to my tutoring tasks by 1pm, return to my unit, deal with more emails, rest from 4-6pm, eat dinner, go for a walk in the compound or recreation yard for a couple of hours ..." Then its Colombian coffee brewed by Colombians, more emails, a shower, reading until 1.30 and a kip. And that's in the week. The weekends, by contrast, are "pretty open". Conrad has applied for a transfer to a British nick, because he could expect parole sooner here, but I think it's a mistake. Stay where you are, 18330-424. It's a holiday camp.

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