The very last word

THIS is it – my final Last Word. After more than four years at The Comet, yesterday (Wednesday) was the end of an era for me as I move to pastures new.

Since my first piece for this column was published on April 10, 2008 – when I disagreed with animal rights activists campaigning for the release of a 55-year-old elephant from a circus – I have covered a lot of issues.

I have been critical of the actions of various bodies, groups and individuals, including the Government, councils, the police, health chiefs and schools. But the stand I am most proud of taking is that against the BNP.

It is also the viewpoint which has produced the most response – in agreement and in opposition in equal measure.

Happily, the bigoted group failed to make an impact at this year’s elections and today has no real presence in Comet country.


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Admittedly, there are columns I do regret having written. In July 2008, for instance, I wrote a column under the headline ‘Pay Up and Shut Up’. It criticised residents in the Chells Manor area of Stevenage for appealing against a �40 monthly increase to their council tax bill because an error made in 1991 had been spotted.

I suggested they “stop moaning and be grateful for the period of time they have got away with paying less than they should have”.

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It transpired later that some of the residents won their appeal. My opinion, therefore, was clearly wrong.

The most surprising response I have had to a column actually came late last month.

I felt sure Comet readers would agree when I wrote that the reaction to bank clerk Mary Bale dumping a cat in a wheelie bin was an overreaction.

I felt sure readers would agree that to liken her to notorious criminals such as Josef Fritzl and Ian Huntley – as happened on a website – was simply ridiculous.

But the fury at my comment that it was “only a cat” would suggest that pets are often put on a pedestal and their importance greatly exaggerated.

This column has been an eye-opener for me, and I feel privileged to have had a platform to write without restriction on whatever topics I wish.

It’s fair to say that my opinions have often been ill-received by readers, prompting a flurry of letters to counteract an argument or to tell me what an ill-educated, na�ve Neanderthal I am.

I have often been accused of being deliberately controversial, and I admit that I have been.

That does not mean my views have not been honestly held, but that I have favoured topics I felt would spark the most interest from readers and encourage their input.

Personal attacks aside, it is satisfying to have had readers engage with The Comet through Last Word – whatever their opinions. If I achieved little else, the element of debate is enough for me.

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