When did you stop beating your wife, Mr Murdoch?

I’m watching the James Murdoch interrogation as I write and have to admit to being mightily impressed. Not by the process or by the results of the process; I’m impressed by how easily Murdoch is holding them off without breaking into a sweat. Not that I think for a moment that James is as pure as the driven snow and not that I think the Commons culture, media and sport select [CMSSC] committee don’t have some points to make. But it seems to me that, despite their having written down a series of wide-ranging and searching questions so as to avoid the bumbling incompetency that the previous session displayed, they just can’t get the man to admit to being a liar and a conspirator. Well, he’s probably not going to do that, is he?

Tom Watson has tried hard to get Murdoch to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to rambling insinuations and in doing so lost the intellectual argument. His parting shot was of accusing Murdoch of being a Mafia boss, for Heaven’s sake!

I’m left with several clear impressions; first, the approach taken by the CMSSC suggests it doesn’t have a clue on how corporate business conducts itself [even when a business might be acting inappropriately]; second, the CMSSC appears to be concentrating on nailing Murdoch rather than bringing more transparency to the alleged phone-hacking behaviour that he might have been complicit to and third, the longer this public nonsense continues the more credibility the CMSSC will lose as James Murdoch is never going to admit to any wrongdoing. Being guilty of a bad memory, not recalling conversations he may or may not have participated in or being inattentive to detail aren’t, after all, criminal acts.

After watching all this I have a better understanding of how medieval witch-hunts might have worked. I might also suggest that aspiring senior managers look and learn. James Murdoch might or might not be an honest man but if my company was in trouble I wouldn’t mind his going out to bat for me.




Peeking over the parapet

Thus far 2011, a few highlights aside, has been a memorable year that I’ll work hard at forgetting. Face-to-face confrontations with mortality bring a lot of things into focus and for the most part they’re less than pleasant. The loss of loved ones and old friends has been difficult but, if nothing else, has raised a dusting of memories that had settled imperceptibly over the years. What it has also done is to give perspective. But then, I always take the view that the only way one can fully appreciate perspective is by considering it from as far away as possible.

By August that necessitated a change of air, some time away from things and more than a little reflection. Sweden would provide that; the trickling autumn migration was about to become a deluge, friends would visit from Switzerland and Dubai and a little self-indulgence seemed possible. I looked forward to some lazy navel-gazing days in the sun on the deck but the weather conspired against it; it was wet and windy in Skåne. There was, however, a way to avoid the cold and get some sun en route, if we travelled a long way round, through Sardinia. So while the disaffected youth of Britain was burning buses and wrecking corner stores in Tottenham or stealing mobile phones so that they could send each other inconsequential text messages I was sitting in the lush and secluded garden of the Nora Hotel Club, enjoying a long, chilled Campari and fresh orange-juice.

Autumn did what it was supposed to do and provided enough distractions. And there were some sunny days in Sweden when not very much happened at all.

So this awful year moves towards its close. 2011 proved to be an exceptional autumn from a birder’s point of view, a dusting of new memories has started to settle and now – still with the funeral of a good friend to navigate next week – a feeling is starting to emerge that 2012 has got to be better.

Sometimes you just have to take the time it takes and keep your head down.

Seclusion and calm: the garden at Nora Hotel Club