• Many people who don’t work in the media – and quite a few who do – lament a decline in editorial standards. Watching the Tintin movie, however, made me wonder if we hanker for an era that never actually existed. Early in the film, Tintin, who is a reporter (and who first appeared in a comic strip published about 80 years ago) picks up clues that lead him to Marlinspike Hall. When he gets there, he breaks in – as you might if, say, you worked for the equivalent of News of the World. It seems pretty likely that Tintin would have been hacking the voicemails of celebrities and crooks if celebrities and crooks in his day had had mobile telephones. He certainly would not have hesitated to leave his tape recorder, concealed but switched on, on a cafe table.
Disguises and cunning ruses, which these days count as “blagging”, were part of his modus operandi. In fact, it seems the only thing that’s really changed in the newspaper world since Tintin’s heyday is the matter of editorial expenses. From the United States to Tibet, and from the bottom of the ocean to the surface of the Moon, he follows wherever the story leads. He is never seen at the end of an assignment, presenting his receipts to an editor or accountant who questions why he needed to charter aeroplanes/camels/submarines, hijack cars, carry a pistol and take his dog wherever he went. The Tintin books – and the film – are, of course, comic versions of a fictional reporter’s adventures, free of accountability let alone accountants. Even so, the cocky it’s-all-about-me mindset of the central character is instantly recognisable to anyone who has ever worked in a newsroom.
• One of the delights of January is checking in with the United Nations to see how each new year has been specially designated. My favourite was the International Year of the Potato, in 2008. This year, 2012, is the International Year of Cooperatives, and also the International Year of Sustainable Energy For All. Next year is the International Year of Quinoa, which I thought was a city in Peru but is actually a type of grain. We have previously had the International Year of Rice, but I sense that the International Year of Chocolate Gateau, for which I have been secretly hoping, is still a few millennia away. We are also part-way through various special decades, as designated by the UN. Because they are staggered, we can be part-way through any number of them in any given year. So we are, for example, currently in the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism. These Decades will presumably go on for a century or more, until the Falklands, Pitcairn and Tokelau get the independence they don’t actually want. We are also in, among others, the Decade on Biodiversity, the United Nations Decade for Deserts and the Fight Against Desertification, the Decade of Action for Road Safety and the Second United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty. We are also still in the Inaugural International Century of Political Correctness and Wasteful Bureaucracy but, unsurprisingly, that one does not have the UN’s imprimatur.
• My daughters have bought their school stationery for this year and it is sitting at home, brightly coloured and pristine, full of the promise that accompanies the start of a new school year. If experience is any guide, it will take less than a fortnight before one if not both of them have doodled on their book covers and spilt a drink in their school bags. Boys will have drawn machine-guns (or worse) in the margins of their exercise books and the girls will have failed to finish some assignment or other, possibly attracting a teacher’s red pen. But for now, the piles of stationery with no teeth marks in the perfectly sharpened pencils, and no angles chipped off the shiny new protractors, offer the potential for the girls to re-invent themselves as model students. I can’t help but feel a jab of envy as I realise that for me to similarly start over would require, at least, bigamy, a facelift, a million bucks and a false passport.