LETTER from THE EDITOR

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The Independent Online
Marketing men go on about ideal target-market readers - broadly speaking, those among you who, having the largest amount of spending money and the least sense, appeal most to advertisers. Some papers take this more seriously than others

Years ago on The Economist, I remember being exhorted, half-seriously, by some marketing guy there to go up to any badly dressed or impoverished- looking person who happened to be reading the paper, and snatch it away: they would rather have had fewer, high-income readers than more readers who would dilute the ``quality''.

Well, one thing that can be confidently said about The Independent is that we have a more exclusive readership than certain other papers. (I could cope with it being a little less exclusive, but that's another story.) In fact, all newspapers have heterodox readerships - there are, no doubt, Mirror-reading duchesses and labourers who take the Financial Times.

This week, though, I was going to Manchester by train when a seriously dangerous-looking man sat down opposite me. He had, I think it's safe to say, more metal stuck through his face than you'd find on a Fifties Chevrolet, spiked hair and a new scar.

As I tried to avoid his eye, and shifted uneasily in my seat, he reached into his bag, drew out... an Independent, turned to the comment pages and began (I think) with the Chancellor of the Exchequer's article on European integration, which he studied with utter absorption. People aren't what they seem - (not a bad motto for journalism, or anything else).

Whenever republicanism seems a forlorn hope in Britain, a member of the Royal Family comes along and gives it a fillip. Or Philip, in this case - the Alf Garnett of world royalty. But I have no time for those who say the Duke of Edinburgh should shut up.

Yes, all journalists have a strong vested interest in people not shutting up; but even leaving that aside, freedom of speech includes everyone, even the Queen's husband. Our Island Story would be a considerably shorter and duller tale were it not for the citizens' inalienable right to stand up and make a complete idiot of themselves in public. Judging by the frequency with which he exercises that right, Citizen Philip understands this full well.

Another theme of this week, as so many other weeks, has been food and drink, and what it does to our bodies. (Apart from keeping them going, of course - a side-effect of fat and sugar consumption that many ``health'' researchers underestimate.) We have had questions raised about genetically altered soya, about lamb, and about the E. Coli affair, whose 13th victim died and which has so far made 163 people ill.

These stories seem to have become as endemic as some of the conditions they describe, simply another part of modern life. Some ``scares'' are now known to be very hard fact - the cancer-smoking link above all. Others are possibilities, ``early warning science'' about chances of ill-health at the margin. And about these we must all make personal decisions.

My personal limit was reached this week on the revelation that malt whisky contains more cancer-inducing agents than other whiskies. Worse still, Laphroaig, the wonderful Islay malt, has the highest content of something described as PAH. Pah, indeed! Laphroaig is the peat-scented, life-enhancing, ultimate fluid, without which life itself is a meaningless void. It is the peer of malts, the very milk of nature. I have a bottle waiting for Christmas week. I hope all readers have as happy a time as I will while disposing of it.

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