I wonder what my parents, both of them GPs, would have made of Dr Harold Shipman. Might they indeed have come across him in his Todmorden days, their own practice lying nearby? A no-nonsense Mancunian, my father would doubtless have said that if Shipman had taken regular fresh air and exercise, and played some golf, he'd not have sat around hatching poisonous fantasies. As for the idea that Shipman's occasional irascibility and tendency to see patients as a bloody nuisance were "warning signs", my father would have laughed at it. If these are symptoms of psychopathy, then Arthur Morrison would have been a serial killer, too, along with half the GPs in the land.
My mother's interest would have lain more with the morphine. Like many doctors, she saw the drug as a kindly one, and sometimes used it in larger quantities than officially approved - I remember her telling me that when her brother was dying of cancer in Ireland, she turned up at his hospital bed and persuaded the staff to increase his dose. Nor is Shipman the first doctor to stockpile drugs - our shelves at home boasted a rich choice of "emergency supplies" and freebies from pharmaceutical companies. The call for stricter controls is well and good, but if doctors less scrupulous than my parents need drugs to satisfy their own addictions, nothing is going to prevent them.
If "evil" is a word that always comes up in relation to serial killers, "loner" is never far behind. That Dr Shipman worked "in isolation" in a "single-handed practice" is said to be the crucial factor in this case - not only to how he got away with murder for so long, but to why he acquired the habit in the first place. As someone who spends his days working alone, a recluse of suburban south London, I'm not sure whether to be offended by these theories or to seek urgent help before my habit of solitude drives me over the brink. It's five years since I worked in an office, and I can't say I miss it. But maybe it's true that working with others keeps you saner, more rounded, less prone to paranoia, hubris and misanthropy. I've begun to keep a cache of green Pentels (very nasty if thrust through the eye) and to wonder how lethal my laptop might be when clobbered repeatedly over someone's head. If the media coverage of Dr Jekyll of Hyde is to be believed, it can't be long before I crack.
The office I used to work in was that of the Independent on Sunday, which last weekend celebrated its tenth anniversary. The occasion passed quietly: no fanfare, no party that I know of, and nothing in the paper itself from the men who did most to set it up - Stephen Glover, Ian Jack and Sebastian Faulks (when I joined the paper in November 1989, as its fourth or fifth recruit, the three of them had already been working on dummies for several months). If a week in newspapers is a long time, then a decade is a millennium, so perhaps it's not surprising that the dinosaurs of 1990 - and their ambitions for the paper - have been forgotten. It's sad, too, that nearly all the writers celebrated in the 30 January issue of the Independent on Sunday (Lynn Barber, Zoe Heller and so on) are now writing for other papers. Still, the 1990 launch was a special moment in British journalism. For a few weeks, before the Correspondent folded, there were five quality Sunday broadsheets instead of the traditional three. And Ian Jack's unglossy Sunday Review, which many advertisers mistrusted and said would never work, has been imitated by every self-respecting paper in the land.
With the launch of the IoS came my only experience of having a bodyguard. To coincide with the anniversary of the 1989 fatwa, we bought a long essay by Salman Rushdie for the second issue of the paper. A supporting front-page interview wasn't originally part of the deal, but Rushdie agreed to it, and I met him at a "secret location". At the last minute, there were worries in City Road about the trouble the paper might have with Muslim newsagents (this being Rushdie's first public statement since going into hiding), and about my own safety. A security officer was assigned to my family, and passed on useful tips about checking for suspicious packages and keeping a car in motion at traffic lights. Despite the lack of threatening calls chez Morrison, our man stuck doggedly to his task for a couple of weekends, agreeing to leave us alone only during an outing to the botanical gardens at Wisley, which he decided were probably free of Islamic extremists. It seems comical on reflection, but several people associated with Rushdie have been attacked or murdered, and 11 years on from the fatwa, the situation remains distinctly unfunny for him.
Like everyone else, I began the year full of resolve to avoid the bad old habits of the last millennium and, in particular, to abandon anything that GPs deem bad for health - notably, alcohol, drugs, cheese, chocolate, sex and television. Of those, only one will be of the remotest interest to anyone else, and the answer is that I succeeded in going without till Saturday 22 January, when self-restraint finally deserted me and - I am ashamed to say - in a public place I forced myself on a waitress, demanding she bring a bottle of house white, not a particularly distinguished label but a damn sight better than the bottled water I'd been drinking for the previous three weeks. I felt restored - more human, better company, less of a loner. Did Dr Shipman drink? I think we should be told.