jo brand's mum

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The Independent Online
Jo is away in Spain, and I know that this time it is Madrid rather than Malaga and the Prado rather than the Pizzeria. She has persuaded The Independent to trust me with the column, thus enabling me to realise journalistic ambitions that were early, but short-lived. This week's struggle for words has identified that writing is a darn sight more demanding than listening and talking, those essential social work skills.

On Friday, the first day of the week for Saturday columnists, I stood in my Ludlow kitchen and cheered with Michael Hickey, Vincent Hickey and Jimmy Robinson. I cried with Michael Hickey and his Mum, and I felt an intense sense of joy at the triumph over injustice. I wonder, do those Tory ministers who were so "comfortable" with the original guilty verdict feel any sense of self-doubt, and might there be a public apology? As I think about those two splendid women, Ann Whelan and Ann Skeet, I am proud to be in the family of women, and I feel an envy of the strength of those particular women that allowed them to stand up against the gross institutional dishonesty and legal inertia. What lessons there are for those wanting to tackle the injustices in our society with which, I am sure, those same Tory ministers feel comfortable. We need strong women backed up by decent and honest men; thank you Mr Nichol and Mr Foot. Sadly such a description doesn't seem to fit any of the political parties.

Classic FM's adverts aren't a bundle of laughs, with numerous charitable appeals scoring high on the cringe factor, and with the NSPCC's pre-Christmas appeal leading the field. This week, though, they have redeemed themselves. The water companies of England and Wales are proclaiming their public- spirited approach to service provision with little vignettes describing their laudable activities, and finishing with "just one of the success stories the water industry can tell". I haven't had such a good laugh out of an advertisement for a long time, and if it should work well perhaps the agency could set about selling Douglas Hogg as the farmers' friend.

The turn-on of the week was found in unexpected quarters. The Sleeping Beauty hardly promises erotica, but Birmingham Royal Ballet came up trumps in the form of Anthony King's Bluebird. I can't think of many performances that could raise the temperature by several degrees in the auditorium of an afternoon matinee - but then there can't be too many thighs like his around.

So the big hair brigade is not plagued with bad hair days. We discover that a large chunk of the Legal Aid fund finds its way into the coffers of individual QCs. The figures quoted by the Lord Chancellor's department range from pounds 300,000 to more than pounds 500,000. There is a rider which somehow doesn't massively reassure me. It seems that these payments relate to cases closed in 1995/96 and, as the Chairman of the Bar says, "These figures do not represent annual earnings so no real conclusion can be drawn from them." How about "There are some nice little earners to be had out of limited taxpayers' funds"? It would be good to be able to sit in court in the future and not hear witnesses harassed on the subject of the compensation they may be hoping to claim or have claimed already, a tactic used by barristers to illustrate how worthless is the evidence being given, because the individual has a desire to have some financial reward for the suffering he has experienced.

I telephoned Jo to let her know that the column was written, and discovered that she and her mate were in a Turkish bath. I was impressed by the liberality of the Spanish: mixed Turkish baths ... But I was exercised by the question of where the bathers put their mobile phones. An almost immediate call back wiped out my surreal image of steam swirling around the mounds of male and female bodies to the tune of ringing mobile phones. It seems they were in a Turkish bar.

Thank you Jo for this unusual example of nepotism, thank you editor for the opportunity of five minutes of fame, and thank you Ashley Coombes for the photo session. My photo of you is great. If your photo of me is not so good then I shall take comfort in knowing that the process was good even if the outcome was not, one of the major defences of a social worker.