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If there is one phrase that has me reaching for the off-switch on the radio (television is so awful now that I've completely given up on it) it's "unpack". I don't know when this word took on the meaning, and I'm only guessing here at what is meant, of "examine", or perhaps, "discuss" on both sides of the Atlantic. But what I do know is that what is about to follow will be self-worshipping and ill-informed twaddle. I don't think I've ever heard anything interesting, thought-provoking or worthwhile which followed the use of the word "unpack". It can't be the word itself. It must be about the pretentious people who decide to use the very latest catchword when there are already numerous less ambiguous words in the English language. As I say, am I about to hear an examination of the facts or just a windbag discussion? Sometimes it's one, sometimes it's the other and sometimes it's both. It is always nonsense. 

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Some of the older British readers of this blog may remember the old TV adverts featuring TV detector vans. For the uninitiated it was claimed in these adverts that these vans with their revolving detector dishes could not only determine which houses had television sets switched on but even which channel was being watched. Those who did not have a current TV licence, required to be be allowed the privilege of watching television and used to fund the BBC,  had better beware. The thing is I suspect TV detector vans were a massive confidence trick played on the public. In all the time I spent covering the courts in Scotland and England, I never came across anyone caught by one of these vans. Enforcing TV licensing was the responsibility of the Post Office. What they seemed to to was simply target homes which had no TV licence listed. The presumption was that every household had a television and the addresses without a licence were obviously occupied by evaders. When I lived in a bungalow in Inverness I came home to find a letter from the Post Office demanding to know why I didn't have a TV licence. The answer was simple: I didn't have a television. But I had more sense than to ignore the letter. In my work as a journalist I had recently interviewed one of the local licensing enforcement officers and he seemed to regard evasion as somewhere on the scale of criminality between murder and armed robbery. I also believed that the enforcement officers had the power to smash down my front door to search the premises for an unlicensed television set. I didn't fancy the hassle involved in seeking compensation to pay for a new front door. So, I went down to the main Post Office in Inverness to explain myself. Even though I had done nothing wrong. The satirical writer Richard Stilgoe did a song on the old BBC Nationwide programme listing the surprising number of people who could smash down a person's front door while exercising their Statutory Right of Entry To Your Home. The Gas Board was one. The cops seemed to be about the only folks who needed a warrant.

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Once in a while, not very often, journalists receive death threats. Some, particularly middle class ones brought up in comfy suburbs and educated at a "better type" of school, don't treat them seriously and are taken by surprise when they gunned down on their front door step one evening. Life was cheaper where I came from, and I could easily believe that some of the people issuing the threats, the drug dealers for instance, might be serious. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time was enough to get a person killed there, never mind actually making life more difficult for the criminal by putting them in the paper.  So, when I was threatened I would say to the guy making the threat, it was always a guy, that he'd better kill me now. That was because the very next thing I planned to do was make a phone call and get their name put on the list of people who would have a very short life expectancy should anything happen to me. As a journalist, the chances were, I knew a lot more about them than they knew about me. This was not the response the thugs expected and was said with such confidence that, well, if I'm writing this then none of them followed through on the threat. I heard a story a while back about a gangster here in Edmonton, Canada, who was making threats against a Scottish guy. He woke in the early hours of one morning to find three or four visitors from the United Kingdom in his bedroom. One was pushing the barrel of a pistol between the thug's teeth. That was probably what woke him up. They suggested he moderate his behaviour and stop threatening people. He took the hint. 'Least that's how the story goes. As it was told to me. I've always wondered where the gun came from. 

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OK, I admit it, I'm going for the low hanging fruit again: namely the incredible ignorance of presenters on the BBC World Service. The BBC says Romania used to be part of the Soviet Union. As the "C" in BBC stands for Corporation, one must presume that corporate responsibility is taken for statements made in its broadcasts. Surprisingly, this week's gaffe came from the usually competent James Menendez in an item on World Update about the former Eastern Bloc country assuming the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union.  The blunder is all the more inexcusable because the fall of the Communist regime in Romania was unusually violent and included the murder of the former dictator. The kind of thing anyone with pretensions to journalism would be expected to remember. Is there any quality control at the BBC? In recent months listeners have been told that Korea was divided north and south after the Korean War, when in fact it was partitioned at the end of the Second World War, and that the Anglo Saxons once ruled the whole of Britain. How can an organisation so ignorant be trusted to get anything right? Those who do not know the background to present-day events cannot be relied on to interpret them correctly. So, James, I say again that Romania was never part of the Soviet Union. Nor were Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Hungry or East Germany. There, I've done my bit to help the BBC get its facts right. 

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A friend of mine was almost mugged a couple of weeks ago. If he had been more observant, he would have been. He failed to notice a very aggressive beggar he encountered near his home had a knife in her hand. It was only after he made it clear that he had nothing to give that he noticed the knife. Had he seen it earlier on, things could only have ended badly - at best he would have ended up minus his wallet.  The worst may not be what you may think. What if there had been a scuffle, or worse? That time of the morning, it was early, and there aren’t many witnesses around to contradict the mugger’s version that my friend attacked her and knife had been pulled in self-defence. Of course, someone might actually have been hurt. And if it was the mugger and the police were involved, as I’ve pointed out the real truth behind the turn of events might be hard to prove.  There are plenty of people out there who believe in a physical confrontation between a man and a woman that the guy must always have been the aggressor.  My friend could easily have been victimized twice, at least twice. 

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