What on earth is the government going to do about all these deranged northerners running amok shooting people? The more callous among you might well argue that it doesn’t really matter, as these madmen are only shooting other northerners, and so it is therefore none of our business. Perhaps. But there is no guarantee that the next deranged northerner will not get on a train, if he can afford it, and start shooting at us, instead. This is the thing; you simply cannot tell with nutters, there is no logic to their mayhem. There is a case to be made for employing the consensual, democratic approach adopted by the Cumbria and Northumberland police, which is to let each respective deranged northerner shoot several people — to get it out of his system — before the law is brought in to constrain him. Some people have criticised the police for this, but it seems to me as good an approach as any other.
One thing, though, is for sure — until a week ago, Cumbria’s Derrick Bird thought he was odds on to win the much coveted Mentally Ill Northerner of the Year Award, to be presented by Yorkshire’s Karen Matthews — who, if you remember, hid her young daughter, Shannon, in a drawer beneath a friend’s bed for a month or so and claimed she’d been abducted — at a glittering ceremony at Batley and Spen Working Men’s Club in December. And then suddenly Northumberland’s Raoul Moat has snuck in, snatching the commemorative pig-iron beer tankard from Derrick’s hand. Derrick must be gutted, as well as dead.
You think this is all in bad taste? Believe me, this is nothing. This is nothing. The Raoul Moat affair has uncovered a sort of seething pit of madness which well exceeds anything achievable by even the lowest form of satire. I do not mean Mr Moat himself — who, hereafter, will be referred to as ‘Moaty’, which is the name given to him by his thousand upon thousand of supporters in the north-east of England, including the former England football international and drunkard Paul Gascoigne, of which more later — but the others, the people online, the people in the streets, the people. And the queuing up to put flowers upon his ‘shrine’, which is situated next to a storm drain where he once lived. These lumpen-shrines are a comparatively new thing, a Diana thing, or post-Diana thing, I suppose; the garage flowers tied to the railings in what is known as a ‘Catford Bouquet’, after the south London suburb where people get stabbed to death. It is said that these sorts of bouquets and wreaths, together with attendant illiterate textspeak notes (RIP Monger luv u xxx lol) were left in a Liverpool backstreet on the site where a ‘body’ had been found, even though later it was discovered to be the carcass of a chicken. Maybe that story is apocryphal, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Shrines: once to Mary or Jesus, then just to people who had died suddenly and unfortunately, then to domestic fowl, now for murderers.
Moaty was undoubtedly mad as a box of frogs: paranoid, hobbled by an insurmountable tide of self-pity, thick as a block of mince, possessed of that strangely warped sense of maleness which sees everything as a direct challenge to his very existence, to his essence and as a consequence convinced that vengeance must surely be wreaked against everything. Banged up for minor assault ‘against a relative’, as the courts put it — or for ‘brayin’ his bairn’ as they might more accurately say in Newcastle — he came out of prison not full of remorse or contrition, but seeking redress. Like a sort of extreme version of Viz magazine’s pisshead loser, 8-Ace — lachrymose, self-obsessed and ineffably stupid. He shot his partner; he shot dead his partner’s boyfriend, he shot a policeman — and then, this being not enough, declared war against the world, convinced that he had been transgressed. Implacably convinced that he was the real victim. And the magical thing is that there were plenty of people to agree with him on this point. Like Gazza.
Something strange is happening with our low-brow celebrities, stuff is occurring which should not occur. You expect them to display their non-talent, milk it for a few years, talk rubbish and then disappear for ever. Yet in the last two weeks a woman who became very famous for having large breasts, Samantha Fox, was reported as having contracted rabies. And then it transpired that the attractive ‘singer’ Cheryl Cole, another emissary from Geordieland’s untermensch, apparently has malaria. There is something biblical about all this. What next, we wondered — Geri Halliwell to get leprosy? Simon Cowell to be beset by a plague of locusts? But no, it was Paul Gascoigne, slurring his words, pissed out of his head, telling a local radio station that he was driving to Rothbury to meet up with Moaty (©Paul Gascoigne) and had brought him some ‘chicken’ and a ‘dressing gown’ and a ‘fishing rod’, in case he wished to do a spot of, uh, fishing. The radio interviewer took the mickey out of him, quietly and lethally. Gazza thought Moaty had been misunderstood and, yep, transgressed. ‘Top fella,’ said British football’s greatest wastrel since Bestie.
And now the shrine and the Facebook campaign. More than 18,000 people have signed up to it, at the time of writing. There’s Stewart Pooley Poole, for example, saying: ‘All down 2 women. A man has 2 fight 2 hurt u a woman just has 2 press that button 2 fuk with your head.’ Even so, Stewart, there are plenty of women signed up, such as Julie Tripster: ‘He did wrong yeah but he was let down. He was a legend mainly for proving wat a poor society we live in yeah.’ Well, yeah, Julie you may have half a point there. Lol. And then there’s ‘you have won the hearts of reall people — totally understand your feelings’ and ‘police=scum’ and another really long one which ends ‘PS — take care of Sir Bobby’ — a reference to Sir Bobby Robson, the former manager of Newcastle United and England who died of cancer not so long ago.
From the sobbing queues along the Mall and Green Park some 13 years ago to the wreaths by that storm drain, there is a section of the public which will mourn anything, and become angered by it, desperate for a chance to emote and show its anger, fabulously — almost inconceivably — stupid, illiterate, ill-educated but incredibly sure of their rights. Next time, incidentally, some newspaper tells you that 18,000 people have written in online to complain about something, or demand something, remember the 18,000 who signed up in support of Raoul Moat.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated July 17, 2010