Christina Patterson: Keep it in the family (if you're stupid or mad)

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It's not great when your brother embarrasses you at school – when he's a bit weird and doesn't have any mates. It's not great when your brother has funny fixations on women – when he hoards pictures of his favourites and follows them down the street. And it's really not great when he's done for attempted rape. You know he's frustrated and that he has trouble understanding boundaries, but it's really, really not great. But when he's done for murder, for the murder of a national icon, in fact – well, what can you say? What can you say and what can you do?

Many men and women would give up at this point. For God's sake. You've been a pest and a pain your whole bloody life, and now this. Well, that's it. You're on your own, mate. You've made your prison bunk and now you must lie in it. And if your fellow inmates call you "scum" and spit in your tea, well, you can't really blame them, can you? This time, you've really messed up. This time, it's final.

Michelle Diskin did not give up. When her younger brother was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Jill Dando, she didn't decide that now was the chance to take a little breather, after all the years of hassle and shame, and leave him to rot. Instead, she worked tirelessly to keep his name alive in the media, and the legal system, and determined to clear it. From her home in Cork, she launched the "Justice for Barry George" campaign, which finally ended with George's acquittal, and a plate of fried chicken, on Friday.

If the campaign is over, however, the work isn't. The world is not teeming with examples of men who swapped prison bars for picket fences, happy children playing and lucrative, fulfilling employment, and the chances of an obese epileptic with an IQ of 75 achieving this are about on a par with those of Scotland Yard apologising for their "disappointment" at the outcome of the case. If Michelle Diskin loves her brother as much as her behaviour over the past seven years would imply, then this is just the beginning.

One and a half million people in this country have learning difficulties. Ten million people suffer, at some time or another, from mental illness. Some of these will struggle through life with no help from relatives, ending up in hostels, or cardboard boxes, or park benches, or prisons. Some might get "care in the community", but "care in the community", as we all discovered in the Eighties when they closed the mental hospitals and chucked their inhabitants out on to the streets, is largely a euphemism for family. It's your mother, or your brother, or your husband or your wife, who will sort out the scrapes and pick up the pieces.

Actually, it seems to me a miracle that even those of us blessed with something like sanity and something like functioning mental faculties do manage to get up in the morning and do our jobs and make our meals and pay our bills. To do that for ourselves, and our own little nuclear units, is quite challenging enough. But to do that for your weird sibling, or your grown up, violent son, or your screaming, schizophrenic wife, year after year after year, seems to me nothing less than heroic. That, for many, many people in this country, is the real life sentence – and it's one with no acquittal, and no possibility of appeal.

At a party before Christmas, I heard two eminent political journalists announcing that they were going to tell Gordon to "get some cojones". The use of a word which sounds as though it should be on the menu of El Bulli was, presumably, intended to deflect attention from the breathtaking hubris of their declaration. If they tried, it didn't work, but the word, unfortunately, has become ubiquitous. Practically every Labour politician bleating about the party's unpopularity tosses it out, and practically every political journalist echoes it. Look, we can work our way through the international lexicon of secondary male sex organs if necessary, but let's just get back to basics – and to balls.

Friends reunited with their frills

We all need to feel that our three score and 10 blink-of-an-eye on this planet is something other than a dreary march from cradle to grave. We all need a hobby, in fact. Stamp-collecting, salsa, downing 15 pints of bitter and throwing up in the street, smacking botties in basements – each to their own, as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else, etc. And a life partying with Kate Moss, or doing yoga with your skinny mates, or posing with your kitchen cabinets in Hello! can't be much of a life, so who could blame Sadie Frost (very famous in her own right, obviously, and not for who she was married to) for starting up a little business to keep her busy? And what better than "lingerie", those little scraps of silk and lace that make a girl feel like a girl and a saleswoman-cum-model like a designer?

And so Sadie and her best mate Jemima pooled their skills, and their surnames, and FrostFrench was born, and it was lovely, and Kate and Helena and Jerry modelled it. Just one little problem. It didn't sell. FrostFrench has been placed in administration, owing more than £4m.

But in lingerie, and life, there are sometimes happy endings. From the ashes of FrostFrench, the phoenix of FrostFrench London Retail has been born. Thanks to the intervention of a Norwegian film producer and property investor, Sadie and Jemima will be able to "return to the creative and business helm of a fashion label" and apparently "relish the opportunity to be fully hands-on again".

Sadie's Primrose Hill house, and fortune, are, luckily, unaffected. Creditors to FrostFrench are expected to receive less than 10p in the £1.

Is that a gaffe in your pocket?

It was never entirely evident what Martin Bashir had going for him beyond making extremely sycophantic documentaries about notably unstable people, and eliciting a doe-eyed confession that there were three people in a certain royal marriage, but now he's made it clear that his real gift is a searing, coruscating, stunned-silence-inducing wit. Bashir, who moved to the United States four years ago on a $1m-a-year news contract, told the Asian American Journalists Association that he was "happy to be in the midst of so many Asian babes", so happy that he was pleased that "the podium" covered him "from the waist down". A speech, he added, should be "like a dress on a beautiful woman – long enough to cover the important parts and short enough to keep your interest".

Well, Martin, you certainly caught our interest. Words almost fail us, in fact, but ones like "phenomenally stupid", "sexist", "racist" and, that old favourite, "inappropriate" can't begin to cover "the important parts" of yours.

c.patterson@independent.co.uk

Comments