Axe grinder 01.09.06

Pills, no thrills, and lots of willy ache for Skidelsky

INTELLECTUALS at Prospect magazine will soon have a chance to quiz their new deputy editor, Will Skidelsky, about the strange period of his life when he underwent "frantic masturbation".

Skidelsky — who is leaving the New Statesman, where he is literary ed — gave an enlightening insight into his private life in a piece he wrote for The Guardian way back in 2002.

In the article, he recalled his days as a third-year university student when he was suffering from apathy and his doctor prescribed anti-depressants. The pills made him feel "as if I was being propelled upwards through the layers of my lethargy like a deep-sea diver returning from the ocean depths". It wasn't long before "everything pointed to a glorious, miraculous future, one in which I could achieve anything, take on anyone. A month on Seroxat was enough to convince me of my own near invulnerability."

But he soon realised he "was being transported into uncharted territory". He wrote: "The most obvious side-effect was physical. I wasn't conventionally impotent.

I could just about manage an erection, and orgasms were also sometimes possible. What came over me, rather, was a generalised desensitisation, a blockage of the usual channels along which the sexual juices flow. It was as if, in the mental ferment of Seroxat, all the blood that had rushed to my brain to begin with couldn't now be reclaimed for less cerebral purposes. Even from relatively early on, I was gripped by a devastating numbness in my groin."

Skidelsky continued: "I felt it was like a test. Would I accept my limitations like a grown-up, or would I rail against my fate?

Determinedly and — so I thought — manfully, I accepted the gauntlet that had been thrown down.

Thus began a period — one I don't look back on with any particular pride — of frantic masturbation. Night after night, locked away in my room, I would embark on a titanic quest to overcome the limitations of my drug-induced state."

Guardian readers were told that his "orgasmic success rate during this period was not high — 50 per cent at most". But the real irony was that "even when I did make it, the outcome was barely worthwhile. For, having put such copious effort into its production, the climax could hardly fail to be disappointing."

There's more to come in next week's Axegrinder…

Leading? Down the garden path maybe

SLY Bailey's recent "dear colleague" letter to Trinity Mirror employees, in which she announced that the company would be announcing poor half-year results, is worthy of a second read.

She would be concentrating on (surprise, surprise) keeping costs to a minimum and building "a platform for growth". The good news was that while journalists will still have to grit their teeth, the company had at least made one significant purchase — it had bought, said Bailey, the "leading online business, Email4Property".

Yet surely the word "leading" is, erm, misleading. According to alexa.com — a useful tool for measuring the popularity of websites — rival property site rightmove.co.uk is placed a very good 656th in the traffic rankings (ie, there are 655 sites that receive more traffic).

Another rival, findaproperty.com, comes in at a respectable 1,752.

But what of Bailey's recent acquisition, the "leading" website Email4Property? It is placed at 27,410, so far off the radar it barely exists.

One user review on alexa describes it thus: "This site appears to be little more than a pretty advertising billboard for estate agents. The only plus over a copy of the local telephone book is an ability to email all agents at once. Not any use if you wish to avoid the agent you are currently with or have issues with. You can get just as good or better information from yell.com — a complete waste of time!"

Are Glover and lover hiding other secrets?

MATTHEW Parris's "marriage" to Guardian leader writer Julian Glover — and Axegrinder is surely one of many in wishing them all the very best — has come as a surprise to some of the couple's numerous friends on Fleet Street.

Although they were known to be close, they were never quite open about being full partners. "Matthew always claimed never to have been in love and he liked to present Julian as an adoring young disciple rather than as a fixture in his life," says one Guardian source.

"We were under the impression that any romance had long ago left their relationship, but it seems we were wrong." And some!

At Farringdon Road, opponents of Glover (who is surprisingly right wing for a Guardian leader writer) wonder if he has any other secrets in his life — ie, whether or not he could possibly be a Tory mole…

Size matters as Lib Dems face Grand shame

POLITICAL hacks trying to book late rooms at the Grand Hotel, Brighton, for the Lib Dem party conference have been told there is none available.

What? Are the Lib Dems on such a roll that the conference hotel is booked solid? Er, not quite.

It transpires that the Grand has taken the unheard-of step of allowing another big conference to happen at the same time as one of the main political party get-togethers. In other words, Ming Campbell's crew are no longer a big enough gathering to fill the Grand.

Maybe they should make one of Brighton's smaller hostelries — that is, one of the local pubs — their official conference centre instead of the too-big Grand.

Boniface towel stunt secures Big Bro booty

SUNDAY Mirror hack Susie Boniface has proudly been dining out on the story of how she pulled a good, old-fashioned Fleet Street ruse on the Saturday night of the recent Big Brother buy-ups.

Her paper bought up Glyn and Aisleyne on Saturday and took them to a private club — 5 Cavendish Square — to do the interviews and photos.

They were there all afternoon on exclusive deals, but a couple of paps heard about it and came lurking outside.

Not wanting them to get a pic of either, Glyn was told to stay at the club, but Aisleyne wanted to go home to north London. So it was decided to get a couple of white hotel towels and put them over Susie Boniface's head and get her to run out — shielded by burly fellow Sunday Mirror hack Grant Hodgson — and jump into a taxi.

The paps leapt into action and were shouting things like "Aisleyne, Aisleyne, just one shot". Grant bundled her into the cab and shoved her head down, the two paps (one was from Big Pictures)

followed the cab to Piccadilly still banging off frames, then lost it at some lights.

Meanwhile, back at Cavendish Square, the real Aisleyne walked out and got into the car of a third Sunday Mirror hack, Michael Duffy, and was driven home without being followed.

More self-harm than good for Mail's Sands

SARAH Sands has caused outrage with her alarming news about Emos in the Daily Mail. "The Emos — short for Emotional — regard themselves as a cool, young sub-set of the Goths," she wrote. "Although the look is similar, the point of distinction, frightening for schools and parents, is a celebration of self-harm."

She told her Middle England readers: "Emos exchange competitive messages on their teenage websites about the scars on their wrists and how best to display them." She continued: "Girls'

secondary schools have for some time been concerned about the increase in self-harm."

Sands had also spoken to "one governor of a famous boarding school" who told her "it was as serious a problem as binge drinking, but rarely discussed for fear of encouraging more girls to do it".

Let's turn now to Dooley's blog on the Music Week website, where Sands is accused of talking "bollocks" and "bilge".

"Even by the Daily Mail's scaremongering standards," says Dooley, "this article is a pile of steaming horse turd… First, the whole notion of teenage girls breaking forth from boarding schools and turning the nation blood red as they self-harm in the streets is pure Brass Eye.

"Second, even if a school governor says self-harm is as big a problem as binge drinking, then it's clearly a serious problem. But that does not mean a link exists between Emo music and self-harm. Teenage girls in boarding schools probably have other problems: bullying, exam pressure, being away from home. I hardly think listening to My Chemical Romance is the biggest of their worries.

"Third… to say Emo is responsible for self-harm is ludicrous. Sure, some people will listen to Emo and self-harm, but other self-harmers will listen to rock, rap, pop, dance or the strains of the Colombian nose flute."

Dooley's followers are equally incensed. One visitor to the site leaves this nasty message: "Sarah Sands — failed journalist. Failed editor of The Sunday Telegraph. Picked out of the gutter and dusted off by the Daily Mail."

CM-J's fatherly support is put to the Test

LAST Saturday's one-day cricket final at Lord's presented something of a problem for veteran BBC commentator Christopher Martin-Jenkins: his son Robin was in the Sussex XI who were playing Lancashire.

Young Martin-Jenkins has been on the county scene for quite a while, but his father has generally managed to avoid having to commentate on his performances on live radio. This time, with CM-J one of the main figures on Radio 4's Test Match Special, there was no avoiding it.

He coped pretty well, maintaining an admirable degree of impartiality (even when he had to describe Sussex's winning moment). His colleagues claimed that when Robin was dismissed during Sussex's innings, his father kicked his chair in anger — making it fall to pieces — but they were surely joking. Weren't they?

One ball from bowler R. Martin- Jenkins, which skimmed within a nail's breadth of the batsman's stumps, however, had father almost yelping with frustration.

A BBC sidekick at that moment observed that it was the narrowest of misses for Robin.

At which point CM-J piped up: "It's the story of his life."

Stinky bins put on hold for sex change scandal

WHAT'S afoot in the normal gin and Jag — or make that viognier and Volvo —Surrey stockbroker belt?

The Dorking Advertiser — est 1886 — is a stalwart of the local media scene whose most recent campaign against a reduction in wheelie bin collections touched a nerve with its "Stop the Stink" campaign… But this week's splash was, er, a tad racier — and quite out of character.

Under the banner "He was standing there naked and had breasts", the Advertiser chronicled the bizarre goingson in a local village where a couple have gone through a divorce after the husband decided to have a sex change — without telling his wife. The sort of tale that's meat and drink to the Sunday tabloids, you might think.

An explanation for the strange choice of splash could be found in the penultimate paragraph where the husband was reported to have "spoken to the Sunday Mirror, which is part of the same group as the Dorking & Leatherhead Advertiser".

The beancounters would doubtless call it "economies of scale".

Darling Utley puffs to his heart's content

THINGS are swell for Tom Utley who, you'll recall, had serious migivings when he jacked in his job at the Telegraph and took on the role of leader writer and columnist at the Daily Mail.

Utley feared that editor Paul Dacre would make his life hell. As things are working out, nothing could be further from the truth. Dacre is being particularly sweet towards the gifted journalist.

Dacre, who tends to favour the term "c***" for staff members, even addresses Utley as "darling". I kid you not.

In fact, the only difficulties Utley has encountered have been from the paper's political analyst, Edward Heathcote Amory, who sits nearby. Utley is a chain smoker who likes to chimney his way through 50 fags a day.

Since Heathcote Amory grumpily pointed out that the Mail was a nosmoking office, Utley has been forced to retreat to the building's atrium when his cravings take a hold of him.

As Heathcote Amory was away on holiday last week, Utley cheerfully blew smoke rings towards his absent colleague's desk.

Will contacts win contract for La Johnson?

MEANWHILE, Heathcote Amory's wife, Daily Telegraph columnist Alice Thompson, should beware. Word at the Telegraph's Canary Wharf HQ is that ambitious freelance scribe Rachel Johnson is pestering editor John Bryant for a regular slot on the paper — and that Thompson's weekly parking space may be the position she covets.

Thompson is an impressive social climber whose contacts include Camilla Parker-Bowles and David Cameron. But La Johnson potentially trumps all of that froth. Her brother is Boris.

Telegraph managers would do a lot not to upset him. If you have to put a fiver on the winner of this particular cat fight, back Johnson.

Nicholson obit lacked that certain punch

THE first 11 pages of Tuesday's Racing Post were devoted to tributes to former trainer David Nicholson, whose death was announced on Monday.

Hardly surprising, as Nicholson was a Post columnist for seven years. But readers with long memories will have felt something important was missing on Monday, namely any mention of the incident in 1994 when Nicholson punched Post photographer Ed Whitaker (son of James) at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Whitaker had taken a picture of jockey Adrian Maguire, who had just fallen from the Nicholson-trained Barton Bank when 10 lengths clear at the last fence in the prestigious King George VI Chase. As The Daily Telegraph reported at the time: "The ugly scenes that developed in the big-race aftermath involved David Nicholson, Barton Bank's trainer, and Edward Whitaker, a photographer for one of the trade dailies, the Racing Post.

"Whitaker last night claimed that Nicholson hit him in an altercation that allegedly resulted from the photographer's eagerness to snap a picture of the distraught Maguire and the trainer as they returned to the weighing room after the King George. Nicholson denies striking Whitaker.

"The irony is that both men are employed by the Racing Post — Nicholson as a regular guest columnist during the National Hunt season, and Whitaker as a staff man. This embarrassing incident led Brough Scott, the Racing Post's editorial director, to issue a statement last night.

"It read: ‘Obviously, David was out of order. Edward was only doing his job.

Racing is an emotional game, but things went too far.'"

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