The Grumpy Old Sod is well, grumpy. That goes without saying, I imagine. We write about things that annoy us, things that irritate us, the stupid or wrong things people do and say, the wicked things our rulers do, the unthinking assumptions of political correctness and elf'n'safety, the narrow-minded bigotry of petty officialdom
But once in a while we have to tackle something that really makes our blood boil, and this is one. We're not just annoyed about this, we're not simply being our own lovable grumpy old selves, we're not nit-picking, we're not complaining, we're not being wry or satirical or sarcastic. No, we've finally been driven to turn our word-processor to a topic we've been avoiding for a long time. We can't hold off any longer. This time we're bloody furious!
The sad case of Madeleine McCann needs no introduction from us, so we won't discuss the details. God knows the newspapers have chewed them over enough, and the McCanns themselves, articulate and media-savvy, have ensured that the poor little mite has remained in the public eye presumably because, rightly or wrongly, they believe this is the best way of achieving some sort of resolution.
None of us know whether they had a hand in the child's disappearance (let's not use the word "death" yet). It's usual to suspect the family, but we should not jump to conclusions when we can't be party to all the facts. There's been no convincing evidence of their involvement and in any case common sense dictates that it's extremely unlikely. We should all assume their innocence unless and until they are proven guilty, because that's what we do in this country, and because that's what we'd expect them to do for us if the positions were reversed
Some of the newspaper coverage - and I would single out the Daily Express in particular - has been quite distasteful. To the newspapers' credit they have mostly been careful to avoid "taking sides" (though the headline "Madeleine Was Killed By Sleeping Pills" was a triumph of imagination over evidence) but they have reported every tiny development or imagined development in nauseating detail, so that one day we're reading headlines about new evidence that implicates the parents, and the next we have a brand new witness who will send the investigation off in another direction entirely.
The McCann's decision to put their kids to bed and pop back every so often to check on them was a tragic mistake which they'll no doubt regret for the rest of their lives. But we all make mistakes. Usually we're lucky and no harm comes from them. More to the point, there are people all over the country thinking "There but for the grace of God .", because let's face it, and despite the wave of self-righteous posturing we're currently experiencing, many of us have done it - left our kids asleep somewhere, in bed while we pop next door, in the back of the car while we dash into a shop. It's not irresponsible: for most of us it's a rational decision. You weigh up the chances of them waking (very slim), the possible dangers from molesters (even slimmer) or, say, the car catching fire (statistically much more likely, I should think), and you decide that you live in the real world and the risk is acceptable. That's what the McCanns did, and they were caught out.
No doubt there are tiny little minds reading this and protesting "No! That's not on! A parent should never, ever, under any circumstances, leave their children!" Unthinking obduracy is often the first, and only, resort of the unintelligent.
Just where do you draw the line? If a kid gets stolen from her bed, is it the mum's fault because she didn't sit at the actual bedside all night long? Why not tie the kid to the bed, wouldn't that help? Or nail its feet to the floor? When that little six-year-old was snatched right out of her bath, was that the mother's fault because she wasn't actually in the room with her? Does a caring, responsible mother stay in the lavatory when her 10-year-old son is having a crap?
To those inadequates I repeat, the rest of us live in the real world. We go to work, we go shopping, we have lives to lead and obligations to many other people as well as the kids. We simply don't have the opportunity to fit grilles to every window, dig a moat in the front garden, install a portcullis and drawbridge, let loose a couple of Alsatians and sit in a darkened room cuddling the children.
Unfortunately there are plenty of narrow-minded little bigots who are only too pleased to seize any opportunity to show how self-righteous they can be, or who are delighted that for once the missing child comes from a nice middle-class family instead of a council estate, or who see the McCanns' vulnerability as an invitation.
They're indulging in that great British pastime, kicking people when they're down. We don't know who took the child, we can only imagine in our darkest moments what they've done with her, but never mind, we've got a much easier target for our spite - the parents. They're not grieving enough? They're too well dressed? They seem to be both well-heeled and well-connected? They could afford to take a holiday at a time most of us are working? They can exercise a level of self-control most of us would find difficult? They're good-looking, and have good-looking friends? Great, now's our chance. Let's get the bastards!
It's little more than simple jealousy. And sadly it's the internet that gives them the freedom to indulge their cruelty.
As one who habitually uses and promotes the internet I am, frankly, ashamed. Ashamed and disgusted that the freedom we enjoy to express our views, to exchange opinions, to disseminate information, is also providing the means for the vile torrent of mealy-mouthed, spiteful abuse that has been heaped on the McCanns in recent weeks. Blogs and internet forums are carrying reams of vituperation, hate and jealousy written by people who twenty years ago would not have had an outlet for their shrewish bile. The Leicester Mercury had to withdraw a website opinion page which they said was "bombarded" with "nasty, spiteful and defamatory" comments.
18,000 know-all busybodies signed an online petition demanding that Leicestershire Social Services remove the McCanns' remaining two children (a demand which, to their credit, they considered and rejected as unnecessary and unlawful). Mind you, if you examine the signatures on the petition you'll find that a substantial number are from people who disagree with it. And then there's the man who wrote "Please don't tell anyone that I actually agree that the McCanns should be prosecuted as I am an active member and quite high up in the BNP and I believe that it is the fault of the IMMIGRANTS. Keep Britain white."
Nor am I alone in my disgust at this torrent of spite. India Knight has written more than once on the subject in the Sunday Times - click here and here.
"Behind the capitals," she wrote, "you can almost feel their quickening breath and their peculiar excitement as they comprehensively trash the reputation of a grieving woman who is a stranger to them. Power to the people!
So here we are, obsessed, in the throes of one of those weird national seizures; sitting in judgment, wallowing in what the novelist Philip Roth (apropos Bill Clinton's infidelity) memorably called "the ecstasy of sanctimony". The woman at the checkout at Tesco has a view, as does the dinner party guest. The hitherto unsayable - "Do you think they killed their own child?" - has become commonplace. You hear it everywhere. We're gossiping about a four-year-old child who may be dead, or abducted and raped, or both, and there are no holds barred any more. What brutal thing does this say about us?
She (Mrs.McCann) has also (more straws) been accused of seeming "unfeeling", of looking "too groomed" ("I'd look a mess, therefore we're not the same, therefore it could never happen to me"), of seeming strangely "calm" (or tranquillised, surely?), of basically not falling to her knees screaming like an animal in pain - it's "Show us you care, Ma'am" all over again.
In some internet chatrooms and message boards, women bitch about Kate McCann for not reacting exactly like them - not that they'd know how they'd react in her situation, since they have never been in it. No matter: weird, isn't it, how she seems so composed - and let's not call it composure, let's call it "arrogance" (this from the country that invented the stiff upper lip). Must make her a child killer, and not have anything to do with being told that visible distress might give pleasure to a hypothetical abductor.
And why are her clothes nice? Who thinks about clothes at a time like this? Why does she wash her hair? Couldn't she wear rags, or sackcloth and ashes? Or - any day now - tar and feathers? And what was that nonsense with the Pope? (Who'd have thought the devout Catholic/Pope combination would be so perplexing and aggravating to so many people?).
She went on to quote some of the filth, saying "If you haven't read what is on the internet about the McCanns you wouldn't believe it. Here are a few examples of the kind of vitriol out there. Trawling through the sites to find these quotes is like a trip through the darkest recesses of people's most ungenerous minds."
"I never believed in your pain" on the Find Madeleine McCann website
"Kate McCann is an ineffectual, weak and total washout of a mother and probably mentally unbalanced. Pathetic woman should never have had kids if she couldn't cope" - Mulderx on the Mirror forum
"Gerry McCann does come across as a thug to me. I have no idea if wifey is involved but either way she is still as guilty as sin for leaving her children alone" - Halibutswift on the Mirror forum
"The McGrubs are terrible examples of parenting and should be prosecuted. At the very least, they should have to attend parenting classes. The day you put tapas and alcohol before the health and wellbeing of your offspring is a very bad day!!!!" - Dr Kildare at HaloScan
(Interesting, isn't it, how these people like to lurk behind their pseudonyms? Haven't they heard of ISP and Whois searches? Do they think they're invulnerable?)
"The people who must shoulder the burden of responsibility for the Maddie disappearance are Gerry and Kate McCann. If they did it, they are sick and evil and deserve to rot for ever. If they didn't, they let her down by being selfish and indulging in their own pleasures leaving her alone and vulnerable" - Val on Skynews
"The parents are a disgrace. They were on the razz every night after leaving their children in the crθche all day every day. Much wanted children? More like little fashion statements that they couldn't be bothered to look after properly. The children unfortunately got in the way of their me time" - Proud Parent UK at Alpha Mummy
"These people are doctors and in their professional lives would not hesitate to point the "abuse" finger at any other parent who left their children alone like they did. They should hang by their own noose" - Arthur at Alpha Mummy
"I do think the McCanns have acted somewhat oddly throughout this investigation - particularly the mother. I can't quite see it as natural for a mother in her position to make one of her immediate priorities in the days immediately following the disappearance of her daughter a visit to the Pope - without her remaining children" - Krazykoolkazza on Mumsnet
"Even female doctors are subject to domestic abuse whether it be mental, physical or psychological bullying. Kate looks to me to be very submissive to Gerry. Her eyes dart towards him when the couple are questioned by the media. It's as though she can't speak up for herself. The running is another strange one. I'm a keep fit nut but the last thing on my mind would be to run if one of my kids were abducted. I would be spewing venom and ranting" - Ragna on the Mirror forum
(Sorry, I thought you were - GOS)
The GOS did his own trawling, and found the following
"I never liked the look, or the sound of the father, and the lovely wife seemed to be remarkably photogenic for an accident" - Margery of Coventry
(They're youthful and good-looking )
"What do you make of their body language when gerry and kate are together. I think he is a bully"
(They didn't break down and weep in public )
"Gerry, pass the sedatives and a syringe, they'll sleep soundly for a couple of hours."
Tap! Tap! Squirt!
"There we go Madeline, mummy and daddy be back soon "
4 hours later
"Oh My God! It's supposed to be 2.5ml not 25ml"
(They're doctors .)
"Flying around the world, crying sympathy and having a glorified holiday at the expense of others is not going to bring missing Maddie come home"
(They had the money and the willpower to make a fuss )
"The parents were totaly irresponsible in leaving a 4 year old and 2 two year olds totally alone whilst they went out enjoying themselves in a very selfish way"
(They wanted to enjoy themselves on holiday. How selfish)
"I have no sympathy at all with their plight because they have not yet had the guts to admit that they alone are responsible for what happened"
(And the kidnapper had nothing to do with it, presumably?)
"The McCanns have left their twins in a creche in the same complex ON A DAILY BASIS since Madeline was taken. They also left them for almost two weeks while they went off on a Euro tour. Not fit to be parents at all!"
(They have tried to fight back against the tragedy that's overtaken them, but to protect their remaining children by not involving them )
"I have every sympathy for them as parents in losing a child but they are clearly not fit to care for their own children"
"If your child was missing and you were going to meet the pope (as if)would you find it neccasary to hire a car to go into town to buy new clothes?"
(They haven't walked round looking like tramps since the abduction )
"Would you as a mother go to the gym and find time to wash your missing daughters favourite toy (very strange)or would you be out searching even if pointlessly"
(They've tried to maintain their normal standards. You would have gone to pieces, presumably. That's why they're affluent doctors and you live in a council flat )
"I've seen people react more if they've lost a dog or cat"
(Yes, but that was in Rochdale. The McCanns have the no-longer-fashionable British "stiff upper lip" and haven't been emoting furiously round the place as though they were taking part in Big Brother )
"I thought Catholics were supposed to be caring for their families. The Catholic Caring Society and Barnados should be involved..."
(They're religious, and foolishly believe they might get some comfort from their Church. If they'd been Muslims, would you still be complaining?)
"It was supposed to be a family holiday...why couldn't some of the friends and other families in their circle have taken it in turns to care for each others kids...they don't deserve kids ever..again"
(Can't you read, moron? That's what they did!)
"Oh and they were only at worse naive!!Obviously they have a different dictionary-naive doesn't mean we went out on the beer so we drugged the 3 kids and left them completely alone in an unlocked apartment (thats if there was 3 kids at this time!!)naive means that they are stupid.neglectful,robotic unemotional prats.Oh and as for judging them they put themselves in the spotlight to be judged!!
(No, naοve doesn't mean that at all. If you can't afford a dictionary or don't know where a bookshop is, I'm sure you can find it on the internet. Prat.)
"They come across to me as a couple of spoilt, arrogant brats who are full of self importance"
"Its like they think they are invincible or proffesional enough to take the law into their own hands"
(They're intelligent and articulate, and understand the value of publicity )
Some take refuge in that simplistic obstinacy only found in the truly stupid. It saves them having to think for themselves
"My view is that they have clearly neglected their young children. Makes no difference if it was on holiday abroad or at home in the UK., those children should not have been left alone"
"The Mccanns kids were left alone every night so their parents could enjoy a few drinks with their friends. To me that is child neglet and imo Social Services should do something about it. Children need protection and that's why Social Services exist, they should atleast talk to Mccanns and make sure they don't leave those kids alone again. Unfortunately all we have heard from Leicestershire Social Services is that they sympathise with the Mccanns and won't do anything about them leaving their children alone. I signed the petition hoping it will change their mind, we don't want every parent thinking that it's ok to neglet their children like that"
"how they acted that night an the fact that they can't see that they've done wrong means tha they've probably done it before and will again, leaving their kids open for other people to take them. Also, if they're not reprimanded it gives the impression that it's ok to leave small children unattended and more people will do so like the sheep they are. Lead by example."
(Yep, they're almost certain to make the same mistake twice, aren't they? Oh, by the way baaah!)
"As they can't competantly look after their children, they should be given to someone who WILL look after them." - Lassie the Evil One (sic)
"They will do it again cos they are clearly risk takers some folks never learn in life from their misconducts. There are those who would love to be able to care for a child who cannot have any...full facts or not it is a big no no....a lone parent or any poor parent would have had their children taken into care of a foster home. They shouldnt be allowed to get away with it as it gives permission to do it.....they should set an example and be good role models in that Profession and be beyond reproach"
Some are simply loony, like VonnieA who suggests
"If the McCann's really wanted to find missing Maddie, they would do everything in their power to do so, flyers are good but not necessary the answer, why not take some of the good peoples donated reward money and fly in a gentleman from Bloemfontein South Africa who can trace a missing person from one single hair, I do not know his name but I am sure that there must be some-one reading this message that will know his name, contact him, I am sure he will solve this case. Then everyone can go back to having a normal life."
There were a few lone voices brave enough to speak out. A lady named Sarah Bell brought criticism and abuse on herself by writing "How dare you all! You should be bloody ashamed of yourselves. You are judge, jury and executioner. You believe everything that is written in the papers and you are thirsting for the blood of the McCanns."
While Yvonne from Manchester wrote "Why are people in the world so cruel, just because a heartbroken mother can keep her dignity she is accused of killing her little girl, as a GP she is used to hiding her emotions, she is convinced she is going to find her little girl so she holds on to that hope, we dont see her sadness behind closed doors, she also has an inner strength which is spiritual, we cant imagine the way she must be feeling to be going through all this heartache and then to be accused, why are people so quick to judge without having sufficient evidence, I personally would like to give them the benefit of the doubt, lets keep looking for maddie".
And writing on the Times website, Jen Hamilton said "Almost as deeply disturbing as watching the McCanns deal with their loss under the world's gaze, was seeing so many of us be so quick to see bad in people, when any logical analysis would lead you to see only good. The tone of the debate was so like the case of Sally Clark. Here was a woman with an enviable middle class life, who having suffered surely life's ultimate tragedy (on a life for life analysis), then finds herself vilified by the press (yes the press), the public and let down by the judicial system. All those who doubted Sally Clark's innocence, in my view, played a part in her sad death at such a young age of what appeared to be a broken heart. Let's not make the same mistake twice. Neither should we judge the actions of people living a very real and continuing nightmare but assume they are doing their best in an intolerable situation and under advice to find their daughter".
Significant, we think, that these last three are the only ones who saw fit to sign their own names
Boris Johnson - a deceptively intelligent man and an entirely fitting opponent for Foxy Ken in the mayoral elections - had this to add
"I am interested in this hostility - this aggressive desire to ascribe guilt - and it seems to me to have several causes.
We want the story to end, of course. It has been the most wretched event of a wretched summer, and we want it to climax one way or another, even if the denouement exceeds even the ghastliest Channel Five real-life family murder drama.
Perhaps we are more inclined to blame the McCanns because our sympathy has curdled.
Everyone was so horrified at the idea of a child being snatched; everyone felt they could so easily have been in the same position as those poor parents - and of course people's irritation may be all the greater to find that matters are not as they seemed.
And then there is the simple but awful fact of human nature - the emotional weakness that drives the sale of so many newspapers. It is an inescapable fact of human nature that we seem unable to judge ourselves, and to value ourselves, except by reference to other people. If we see others doing much better than us, we often feel threatened and unhappy; and we too often feel reassured to see someone else fail, or get their comeuppance."
Personally I think he's being too kind. I think there are some low, vicious, stupid, spiteful people out there, and unfortunately they've all learned to use a computer. If only at the same time they'd learned to spell.
And in case you think that spelling isn't important compared to the gravity of the matter we're discussing, consider this. If you can't be bothered to learn to spell properly, or if you're too stupid to learn to spell properly, the actual spelling may not be too important but that of which it is symptomatic (thought it was time for a bit of pedantry while we're about it!) is very indicative. It suggests, to put it plainly and repetitively, that you are lazy and/or thick.
Most people who spell easily and well, do so because they've been lifelong readers. If you're not a lifelong and habitual reader, where do you get your information from and how reliable is it? And don't say "the internet", because reliable it ain't. I should know - I've got a website.
So if you can't spell, it's because you're stupid, or idle, or ignorant. So just how much is your opinion worth? You may be entitled to hold it, but the rest of us would be deeply obliged if you'd keep it to yourself.
And if you're one of the gutless, snivelling scroats who want to see the McCanns hung, drawn and quartered because they made an error of judgement that ended in tragedy, then don't bother writing to us about it. That kind of complacent, vicious self-righteousness is deeply unpleasant, and we much regret that the internet has given you any opportunity to express it. If you do so in our direction, well we know a couple of very large gentlemen who are curious to know if it's possible for someone to wear a computer, and tell me they've thought of some imaginative places to put the mouse
either on this site or on the World Wide Web.
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