Give them their proper names

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The Independent Online
THE STEPFATHER of Sharon Griffiths, the teenager recently killed by a stolen car driven by 'joyriders', made a poignant plea to the media never to use that term. 'They are not joyriders,' he protested, 'they are murderers. They are life thieves.' Of course he is right and we really must find another word: joyrider has altogether too exciting and glamorous a ring. Could we say car-hooligan or car-lout? I don't imagine for a moment that changing the word will stamp out the practice, but at least it registers our disapproval. I have never understood why we have allowed the euphemism shoplifter to seep into general use. What's wrong with thief?

This week the media have been using the word 'stalker' to describe the sort of obsessed fan who follows tennis stars around. Again, it is too flattering - it suggests a cool Machiavellian hero on Day of the Jackal or Rogue Male lines, and is a term that 'stalkers' themselves might be happy to incorporate in their diseased fantasies. I wish the papers would call them nutters, which is what they really are, urgently in need of psychiatric treatment. Even nutter is perhaps too benign. Lady Helen Windsor, it will be remembered, was pursued by one who was thought to be harmless till he broke into her art gallery and chased her with a sledgehammer. A fortnight ago he committed suicide by walking into a train. Calling stalkers nutters or joyriders car-louts at least avoids using seductive sobriquets for deeply repellent and often dangerous activities.

O THE WONDERS of Nottingham, where I went last week to be interviewed by Edwina Currie for Central TV's Sunday Supplement. The driver asked if I'd been to Nottingham before and when I said no, offered to point out the sights: There's the Boots factory, he said, there's the Player's cigarette factory, and there's the Raleigh factory. Qua sights, I felt I'd seen better, but I liked his enthusiasm. Everyone I met was full of fascinating facts about Nottingham - that it has the oldest football club in the country, the most beautiful women, the easiest darts boards (only six feet away) and a pub called Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem which is the oldest in the world. Moreover, everyone told me that Nottingham had at least four women (some said six) to every man. Unfortunately when I checked this later with a friend who teaches politics at the university, he said it was nonsense, though he conceded that Nottingham used to be known as a 'women's town' because of all the lace factories. However, he offered another fascinating fact of his own: that Nottingham University gets more applicants per place than any other university in the country. He reckons this is because it is as far south as northern working class lads are prepared to go and as far north as southern middle class girls are. Oh yes, and the grounds of Nottingham University are a wonderful source of wild mushrooms.

Meanwhile, back at Central TV, more surprises. After the programme, when we congregated in 'hospitality', a gentleman who had been in the studio audience proceeded to tear up a copy of the Mail on Sunday and then magically shake it back into one piece. Was he a magician? I asked. No, he said, he was a hypnotherapist with an interest in helping people 'rediscover' their past lives. The funny thing was, he said, that they all turned out to have been Mary, Queen of Scots. Extraordinary. But by far the most extraordinary part of the whole bizarre trip was Edwina Currie's closing words at the end of the programme: 'Our Prime Minister, John Major, is a very good man - we have a good Prime Minister there.' Isn't there some rule against using television features for party political advertising? But perhaps in nutty Nottingham, anything goes.

I WAS interested to learn from the Independent's John Roberts that even Wimbledon is infested with If. Kipling's lines 'If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster / And treat those two imposters just the same' are inscribed over the players' entrance to Centre Court. Apparently the scriptwriters for Eldorado have the poem pinned up in their bar, Marghanita Laski has it in her cloakroom, and I remember years ago I went to a lunch of the Society of Magazine Editors at which the guest speaker, Princess Michael of Kent, instead of making a speech, simply recited the whole of If with embarrassing fervour. I thought she might stumble over the line 'And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise', but the relentless delivery went on, right up to and past the bit about 'walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch'. I suppose people like poems with a bit of exhortation in them and something they can call their 'philosophy', but If is really peculiar. It has the same tone of hearty self-congratulation coupled with chippy paranoia about how the rest of the world regards one that makes My Way such a hit. I bet Lord Tebbit can recite If. It is the poem for people who don't read poetry, just as Trollope is the novelist for people who don't read novels, and Vivaldi (according to Geoffrey Wheatcroft) the composer for people who don't listen to music. What about painters? I suspect Magritte is a contender (Ceci n'est pas une pipe, ho ho) but would welcome more suggestions.

WHILE the Star celebrated its scoop of the week, or maybe of the year - that Agassi had shaved his chest hair - the Sun produced a curious scoop of its own. This was a scoop of ice-cream, delivered to Mr Heseltine in hospital in Venice. The paper claimed: 'The Sun came to the rescue of heart attack victim Michael Heseltine yesterday after he pleaded: 'Just one Cornetto'. . . The Sun - only too happy to help out - sent him a selection of four gift-wrapped ices after doctors agreed it was OK.' The Daily Express and Mirror reported the same incident rather differently. They both claimed that the ice cream was a joint gift from what they rather grandly called 'The British Press Corps'. Who are we to believe?