Perfect arse

Life offers joys to appreciate. For instance, only the other day, a gentleman wearing a Star Wars St

Dear readers, allow me to announce that I have actually finished a short story. After weeks of nonsense, distractions, train trips and psychotic breaks I really, truly did manage to cobble together enough minutes to put one word after another for 22 of your earth pages and there it is – probably ugly and deeply flawed, but a story nonetheless.

In many ways, in fact, quite a dandy fortnight has just passed. I now have so much work to do that I can no longer consider considering any of it and have passed into a state of Zen-like calm - unless I’m running on caffeine, in which case, all my twitches and ticks kick in and I may also weep without noticing which adversely affects my hydration. (And it may be significant that the words “psychotic break” immediately suggest a delightful type of holiday, rather than something mentally catastrophic.)

Be that as it may, life offers joys to appreciate. For instance, only the other day, a gentleman wearing a Star Wars Storm trooper mask showed me his bottom. He had mentioned it was exceptional and, in response to what may have been my mildly quizzical expression, took it upon himself to prove that indeed it was – pert, witty, unblemished, debonair and hairless – all one could ask of an arse. So a pleasant 68 seconds there and a chance to reflect on the fact that meeting the public is always enriching.

More comedy last week – had a grand time testing out new material for the Edinburgh Fringe show in August – and enjoyed again the relatively new Wicked Wenches tradition of taking tea backstage at The Stand in Edinburgh. Once a month, comics and staff gather together around a table furnished with an embroidered cloth, china, varieties of tea, home-made and hypoallergenic cakes, dainties and wildflowers. Every now and then someone leaves to go onstage and talk about genitals, dysfunction, relationships, hellmouths and so forth – before returning to nibble a fairy cake or straighten a doily. A great idea there from Julia Cloughley-Sousa and I cannot emphasise enough how delightful it is to experience a few hours of civilisation in one’s workplace. I would heartily recommend that you try your own variation on the theme – perhaps with a tasteful display of quality buttocks added on public holidays. Or whatever works for you.

My final meetings with this year’s students at Warwick University have also now passed. And what do you say to young people who are trotting (or just ambling, in some cases) off in hopes of becoming professional writers ? Obviously, a part of you does want to simply scream, “DEAR GOD NO ! TURN BACK NOW ! BECOME A POLE DANCER ! SELL YOUR ORGANS ! ANYTHING ! IT’S HIDEOUS ! NO ONE WILL RESPECT YOU FOR IT – STRANGERS WON’T EVEN BELIEVE YOU WHEN YOU TELL THEM WHAT YOU DO ! AND WORKING FOR THE THEATRE, OR TV, OR FILM…? THAT’S LIKE RIPPING YOUR OWN HEART OUT, PARING IT INTO FLAKES WITH A HOT CHISEL AND THEN THROWING THE RESULTANT MESS DOWN A WELL. YOU’LL END UP BOSS-EYED, TWISTED, TICKING, SURROUNDED BY PALS YOU MADE UP EARLIER, SHATTERED RELATIONSHIPS AND CRUDE DRAWINGS OF THINGS YOU’D LIKE TO DO WHEN THE NURSES REMOVE YOUR RESTRAINTS.

But instead you smile, perhaps mention eating more fruit, self-maintenance, plans, hope – because the only thing worse than doing the thing you really love would be not doing it. And when it’s good it really is about as good as it gets – making dreams and wonders – not the worst job in the world.

A year on from the Spending Review, the coalition's soothsayer has emerged to offer another gloomy economic prognosis. Asked by ITV News whether he could promise that there wouldn't be a double-dip recession, Vince Cable replied: "I can't do that.

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In focusing on the famous few, we risk doing a disservice to all victims of child sexual abuse

There is a danger that we make it harder, not easier, for victims to come forward in future. 

Back in the 1970s when relations between journalists and police were somewhat different to today a simple ritual would be carried out around the country at various times throughout the week.

Reporters, eager for information for their regional newspaper, would take a trip to the local station and there would be met by a desk sergeant who would helpfully skim through details in the crime Incident Book.

Among the entries about petty thefts, burglaries and road accidents there would occasionally be a reference to an allegation of incest. And at this point the sergeant and journalist might well screw-up their faces, shake their heads and swiftly move on to the next log. The subject was basically taboo, seen as something ‘a bit mucky,’ not what was wanted in a family newspaper.

And that’s really the way things stayed until 1986 when ChildLine was set up by Dame Esther Rantzen in the wake of a BBC programme about child abuse. For the first time children felt able to speak out about being sexually assaulted by the very adults whose role in life was to protect them.

And for the first time the picture became clear about what incest really meant in many cases. It wasn’t simply a low level crime to be swept under the carpet in case it scratched people’s sensitivities. It frequently involved children being abused by members of their close family, repeatedly, over many years.

Slowly but surely as the years rolled on the NSPCC continued to press the message about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, while encouraging victims to come forward. During this time the corrosive effects of this most insidious crime have been painfully detailed by many of those whose lives have been derailed by it. And of course the details of the hundreds of opportunistic sexual assaults committed by Jimmy Savile have been indelibly branded onto the nation’s consciousness.

It’s been a long road - particularly for those who were raped or otherwise abused as children and are now well into their later years - to bring society around to accepting that this is not to be treated as a dark secret that we really don’t want to expose to daylight. Many of those who called our helpline during the early days of the Savile investigation had never told anyone about the traumatic events of their childhoods despite the fact they had reached retirement age.

So, having buried the taboo, we seem to be in danger of giving it the kiss of life with the way some cases of alleged abuse are now being perceived.

It’s quite right that all claims of sexual assault should be investigated, tested and, where there is a case, pursued through the judicial system. No one is above the law, whether a ‘celebrity’ or a lord.

But we seem to have lost a sense of perspective when it comes to these crimes with vast resources being allocated to a handful of cases while many thousands of reported incidents are virtually on hold.

The police should never have to apologise for investigating crimes and following leads. However, if allegations are false or cannot be substantiated they should say so. This would be a strength not a weakness.

It is, of course, difficult that in many of the high-profile cases of recent times the identities of those under investigation have not been officially released by the police but have come to light through other means. Yet we have to deal with the world as it is not as we wish it would be and once names are common knowledge the results of the investigations centring on them should be made public.

When it emerges that someone in the public eye is being investigated for non-recent child abuse it obviously stirs the interest of the media whose appetite can be insatiable. This puts pressure on the police who don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing offenders to slip through their hands.  And so there is a danger, as has been seen in recent cases, that officers lack confidence in declaring there is a lack of evidence or the allegations are not true. 

The disproportionate weight of media attention given to say, Sir Edward Heath, as opposed to the Bradford grooming gang sentenced this week, shows there is a danger the pendulum is swinging too far the other way. This threatens the painstaking work invested in ensuring the public and our institutions recognise child abuse as a very real danger. 

Whilst high profile cases have helped the cause there is now a real risk that the all-encompassing focus on them does both victims of abuse and those advocating on their behalf a fundamental disservice.

As the public watches high -profile cases collapsing amidst a media fanfare genuine convictions made across the country week in week out go virtually unannounced. If this trend continues they may start to believe that child sexual abuse isn’t the prolific problem we know it to be.

So, while detectives peer into the mists of time, searching for long lost clues, we have to face the unpalatable possibility that offences being committed today will in turn only be investigated fully in years or decades' time because there is not the manpower to deal with them right now.

So, now the Goddard Inquiry is in full swing, taking evidence about allegations of child sex crimes involving ‘well known people’ as well as institutional abuse, how do we ensure we don’t fail today’s victims?

If they start to think their stories are going to be diminished by the continuing furore over how some senior public figures have been treated by the police they will stay silent. Therefore we have to continue to encourage them to come forward, to give them the confidence of knowing they will be listened to.

If we don’t we will find ourselves back in those incestuous days where people conspired to say and do nothing to prevent child abuse.

Peter Wanless is Chief Executive of the NSPCC.