Hermione Eyre: Vandalism leaves a bitter aftertaste

Thursday 26 March 2009 01:00 GMT

Was that a smirk in the newscaster's voice as he announced that Fred Goodwin's home had been vandalised? A "he-had-it-coming" curl of the lip? Perhaps not (headline readers are admirably po-faced) but certainly, the public response to the news that Sir Fred's windows had been smashed had an unmistakable undercurrent of jubilance. Which gives me the shivers.

There is nothing to celebrate here. Vigilante attacks make life more dangerous for everyone; they often end up hurting bystanders (are we sure that Mercedes belonged to Sir Fred and not his butler or chauffeur?).

Whatever we feel about Sir Fred's iniquities, we mustn't sanction violence by taking it lightly, not in this tinder-dry climate, with the G20 summit about to happen and 2,500 riot police already on standby. No matter how little Sir Fred deserved that car or those rather elegant bay windows, the solution cannot be to wreck them.

This may sound obvious, but there are people who should know better using the wrong kind of rhetoric.

Max Hastings used a recent column in the Daily Mail to mount a magisterial attack on bank bosses, whom he compared to Great Train Robbers. So far so good, and when he said "we should get the boot in and keep on kicking" there was little danger it would be taken literally – but "we must stand outside their homes throwing rocks" was an idiom too far. Today his words are faintly chilling.

If, collectively, we create an atmosphere in which violence against bankers is permissible, excusable, even laudable, then violence will be done. It has already been announced that we are heading for a "summer of rage", an idea which seems to excite some people. I just find it worrying. Canvases painted by so-called "edgy" artists featuring decapitated financiers, or the corpse-strewn officescape that the BBC trailed to publicise The Apprentice, are not really so very witty or clever, when you think about it.

It's unlikely the vandals were affected by Sir Fred's crimes any more than the rest of us; the vigilante tendency is infrequently manifested, I think, by wronged pensioners.

A taste for smashing things up is always with us; it's only a delicate social balance and an invisible social contract that stops it happening.

When I was a child in the 1980s, our car's tyres were randomly slashed: all the cars in our nice middle-class street suffered the same fate. Someone probably felt obscurely like we deserved it. This is the kind of trickle-down effect I fear in this case. Vandalism was not acceptable on Sir Fred's home because it is not acceptable on any home.

Sir Fred has become a focal point for violent anger because the government mishandled his sacking so badly. If he had been publicly shriven – stripped of his knighthood, had his own pension severely capped by retro-active legislation or his assets confiscated – then legitimate anger could have been dispelled legitimately and this latest, most disturbing development avoided. As it is, it may well function as a kind of amuse-bouche before the more serious G20 protests begin. We smirk at this disgraced millionaire's shattered windows at our peril.

Spin doctor just doesn't see the joke in satire

The star of Armando Iannucci's forthcoming cinema satire, In the Loop, is the splenetic Scots communications chief Malcolm Tucker, brilliantly played by Peter Capaldi.

Alastair Campbell saw the film, which is out on 17 April, at an advance screening but while recognising similarities between himself and the character, he failed to find the film funny. He is at pains to tell us he is a man with a gr-rrrreat sense of humour – at home he has been known, he says, to fall off his chair and roll about the floor with laughter. The spin doctor doth protest too much, I'm afraid. People who really do have a sense of humour rarely spell it out in such a mirthless way.

In The Loop is fast, furious and contains enough swearing to make a journalist blush. With its weasel words – the war committee is known euphemistically as the "future planning committee" – it feels scarily accurate, yet it is not entirely without compassion; the politicians and governmental workers it depicts are often monstrous but, in their own way, deeply committed. It is also very, very funny. Alastair Campbell can roll around in paroxysms all he likes, but in the end it isn't the possession of a funny bone that matters, it's what touches it.

Freed from the burden of ownership

I have just joined 250,000 UK subscribers and signed up for Spotify, the free music streaming site – well, free if you are prepared to listen to the occasional ad; reasonably-priced day passes are also available.

The words "day pass" are well-chosen because it is a bit like a musical amusement park. You take nothing away from it but the experience – the memory of the tracks you listened to. It does not revolve around buying and keeping – which as a true-born capitalist piglet, I found disconcerting at first, and then liberating.

Buy a CD, book or DVD and you relax in the knowledge you can absorb its contents at any time – which often means never. Who has not bought a book or a difficult CD in a fit of high-minded enthusiasm and then failed to find the time to read it/listen to it? I have kept A Love Supreme in its box these four years.

Schopenhauer captured the problem perfectly: "Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in, but as a rule the purchase is mistaken for the appropriation."

With Spotify, there is no buzz of acquisition and no burden of ownership. Choosing and listening to tracks there and then, as from a giant cyber-jukebox, you are living totally in the moment. You listen to A Love Supreme now or never. Sadly it might be the latter.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in