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In a New Country Now

9 Jun

On the morning of the the General Election results of 2017, one of my favourite comedians, Mark Steel, declared “We’re in a new country now.”

You can’t help but agree with him. Political awareness and interest has (finally) been pricked here and I take my hat off to the young people of the UK who quickly cottoned onto the fact that their future is now being decided for them and that they can make all of the difference.

But whatever your political leanings on the domestic front and however you think that the terror attacks (at home and overseas) can best be dealt with, one thing is for certain – the UK is entering a new phase of political energy (yesterday the fella on the chicken counter at Morrisons was waxing lyrical about the Constituency Labour Party and believe me, you wouldn’t have had that 2 years ago. You’d have been lucky to get have received some advice on your giblets.)

The week also provoked some stimulating conversation in our household;

9 yr old boy; That election was brilliant! When’s the next one? Can I have one near my birthday?

12 yr old girl; (To me) Honestly! He’s such a dimwit. He thinks we have them all the time.Like, every year!

9 yr old; Oh. But we only just had that one about the Brexit. And there was that David Cameron who I remember. And then Trump the Man With the Dead Cat on his Head. And then Huddersfield Town won the Premiership too.

12 yr old; Look you – you div (gestures at brother, tapping side of head) You’re too young to remember much. And we didn’t *win* the Premiership. We just got into it.  But … but when *I* was growing up, we had elections only ever 4 years. You don’t know what it’s like, you little kids. And for some reason you see to think that Trump has something to do with our country, too!

Politics for the 9 yr old in Huddersfield. Round and round and round and…

9 yr old:  Oh. I just thought it was supposed to go on and on and round and round.

12 yr old: No. We’re living in extraordinary times. But it’s going to be, like, really really hillarious at school when they call another General Election and we have to do another mock one at school. I still don’t think that anyone is speaking to the teacher who had to act as the UKIP candidate, when none of us kids would do that one.

9 yr old: I bet even his own children don’t like him now.

12 yr old: Don’t feel sorry for him. He didn’t have to volunteer. Anyway … you keep on hoping for mad politics-city here in the UK, ’cause you’re gonna get it!

9 yr old: I hope so.  But I did like the olden days when all we did was watch CBBC and no one expected to help around the house. But I hope Jeremy Corbyn comes back to Huddersfield and stands on my foot again, when he launches his next Fannymesto.



More Than Just The Thought (far, far more)

15 Feb

“It comes to something, when you’ve got to be told by the bloody media and Twitter or whatever – to remember to be kind to someone,” a grumbly old sod just said to me.

This person has a point. But on the other hand, for so many of us life today is super-duper fast. We ricochet along at breakneck speed, obsessing about our work/health/families/delayed train/crap bin collections and we rarely stop and think about what we can do for someone else.

So, I whole-heartedly welcome the movement called ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ (it’s Random Acts of Kindness Week actually, folks) because all of us need a nudge from time to time. And some of us were less fortunate than others, when it comes to whether this habit of stopping, looking and doing a little deed for another person, was instilled in us from an early age.

Lady in the middle to blame for helping people!

Scandal of lady in the middle to blame for helping people outside of her own family!

I don’t normally blog about my parents, but for once I will break the rule and tell you about my mum. She always did – and still does – bend over backwards in order to help anyone. She has spent her life looking out for how she can support other people. Even when she was working full-time, her life was chocca with long lists that involved visiting sick people, cooking for others, advocating and campaigning for others and taking on church-related jobs. Since her retirement she has spent weeks of her time doing all of the above, plus packing shoeboxes for the likes of Samaritan’s Purse, raising money for various causes, writing to inmates and the inevitable babysitting of annoying grandchildren (although the latter she genuinely doesn’t see as a ‘favour’ – for her an act of kindness is more about reaching out to the stranger in society.)

She isn’t some sort of busybody. She doesn’t go round telling everybody about what she does in terms of this endless list. If anything, she sweeps stuff under the carpet (in fact, I’ll probably be out of the Will now, for blogging about this.) But if you ask her why she feels so compelled to help others, she will just shrug and say, “Well, it’s what my mum always did. She’d do anything for anyone. She’d give anyone anything. That’s why we were always so poor. “ In the past, people have told my mother that she’s a ‘mug’ for helping others. That other folk take advantage of her good nature. And yeah, she has gone through phases where this has happened to her –  and she has been heard to say; “Right, that’s enough. I’m sick of helping others out now.” But guess what? Two days later and the most thoughtful woman that has ever been born up-north is back into the swing of things.

Perhaps a psychologist would have a field-day with her. Accuse her of finding her self-worth through the need to assist others. And sure, there is some truth in the psychological findings of the ‘glow’ effect that giving to others has on us. It isn’t *all* about simply *giving* when we are kind to others. Quite selfishly, we get a bit back ourselves and get to feel good about being a human being.  And nowt wrong with that, I say!

But for my mother, there is also a religious obligation too. She is a Christian and follows what the bible tells her; the story of the Good Samaritan, the Widow’s Mite and all of that. And in particular, the stuff about ‘not letting the left hand see what the right is giving’ – about keeping quiet in terms of your good works (which again, will be why I’ll be out of the ruddy Will now…)

All religions tend to have exactly the same principles – on giving to others who are NOT part of your nuclear family; about spending time and effort with the outcasts in society; about not judging the so-called ‘feckless’ ones – the ‘undeserving’ ones. But whilst we’re on the subject of religion, some of the most astoundingly generous and kindly hearts that I know are proudly atheist, but pro-human.

Now, the other thing that is really great about my mum, is that if you get her onto this subject, she’ll always start on a diatribe about Thatcherism and what the ‘Me and Mine Only’ philosophy has done to our society; i.e. produced the very real need for an artificial construction called ‘Random Acts of Kindness.’ As though we have suddenly lost the ability to spontaneously GIVE. And even with my own upbringing, I often find myself facing the other school governors/volunteer librarians/charity shop workers/befrienders and thinking to myself ‘what is wrong with you lot? You’re all completely MAD – you’re crackers! Doing all of this for free!’

This is how far selfishness and the nuclear family culture has permeated into our society.

1980's joke donor card. Thatcher visiting Mum in hospital would NOT have been an act of kindness.

1980’s joke donor card. Thatcher visiting Mum in hospital would NOT have been an act of kindness.

So, I was smiling today as I watched a journalist

from BBC 1 trying to show a random act of kindness as she handed out free train tickets to commuters. Nearly all of them  were avoiding her. Suspicious of the grinning ‘I’m being nice to you me-I-am’ look on her face. Far better I thought, to do the anonymous approach as at The Christie hospital in Manchester, where some sweet soul stuffed a load of money into a vending machine and let the family of cancer patients help themselves to free snacks.  And –  if I’m going to get all hardcore about this – I honestly don’t think that Random Acts of Kindness are enough.

I try not to blog about it (because I realise that I’ll look like a smug do-gooder) but for me, *true giving* comes from regular voluntary and charitable work. For me, it isn’t just about chucking a couple of quid into a charity collector’s bucket. And I know of far too many people suffering from depression and illness who all of a sudden have stumbled across the miracle that a bit of regular giving of time to others – to those who really need it and who exist outside of your own usual cosy set – can give to you. A proper shot in the arm; exposure to other human beings who you are doing something else for.

Not something you'd find in a Christie's vending machine. But the thought counts.

Not something you’d find in The Christie vending machine. But the thought counts.

And it’s funny isn’t it, how some acts of random kindness come from the very people who you don’t expect it to come from? At Sainsbury’s in a certain west Yorkshire town recently, I *didn’t* want my mucky old car be washed by this older lady with broken English, who was doing the rounds, up and down the car park with her squidgee thingies.   However, I took one look at her and thought; ‘you’re not that much younger than my own mum, you’re a refugee and I am not at all happy at seeing you standing in the cold and wet and doing this sort of thing.’  So, me feeling all compassionate and benevolent – I granted her permission to clean the dratted thing.

On leaving the store, my trolley was stacked high with hand and bath towels. (Look, they were on offer, okay? And as my own mum will tell you, I lack both pride and care in my approach to household linens.)  Sure enough, the lady had washed my car beautifully and then, as I was shoving the mountain of new towels into my boot, commented; “very lovely towels, nice price there!”  At this point, I began to feel really embarrassed. There was me – on a towel binge – and there was she, poor, cold, soggy and now covered in muck from my filthy vehicle.  I wanted to make a fast escape.  I handed over the money to her for the car wash and she gave me £2 back.  “You give me too much,” she said. “It not so that much.” “Oh…” I replied. “Are you sure? You’ve done a really nice job on my car …” She shook her head firmly.  “No – you need the money. You have children.” She gestured to the crap-heap that consisted of the interior of my car (superhero costumes, crisp packets, squashed flapjack etc).

And with that, I pootled away in my externally clean, but internally filthy car. To be honest, the condition of the car reflected my emotions after this rather unequal exchange with the woman. But then I remembered that she too, is permitted to practise Random Acts of Kindness.  Generosity of human spirit never should have become the currency of the affluent or those who have the time on their hands.

Dare you to leave your winnings for someone else...

Go on… I dare you to leave your winnings for someone else…




A Blanket Descends.

9 Nov

(Howling from the kitchen)

ME: (coming downstairs). Go on then. Is that happy howling?

12 yr old GIRL:  Noooo Nooooooo! He’s got in. Trump. It’s Trump! My God! What is WRONG with these people?

ME:                    (that’s dumbstruck silence)

8 yr old BOY: (coming downstairs) What? Trump got in? That’s a nightmare.

GIRL: You’re telling me! It’s a catastrophe!!

ME:                   (more dumbstruck silence)

BOY: Someone needs to tell Dad. (He scampers upstairs. Then comes down again)  Dad says ‘ha ha very funny and have I packed my PE shorts as he’s sick of being my servant or whatever.’  It’s a disaster! And Dad thinks we’re joking.


Thumbs down for Trump. Until it snowed.

GIRL: Oh Emm Gee – this is like, the worst thing ever ever ever. Like, 8 years ago, Mum – I was 4 – and *he* (jerks head at brother) was sat in his high chair there, slopping his food everywhere and generally being totally repulsive –  so *he* won’t remember it. But *you* were getting all … crying at Radio 4 …. ’cause Obama got in and you thought it was like, dead important because he was black and a dude and all of that. So what the hell has gone wrong??? Someone tell me!!!

ME:                  (even more dumbstruck silence. I had no idea she remembered that. Oh crap. What else can she remember?)

BOY: Yes it’s all a disaster. I’m so depressed. It’s gonna be World War Three. We’re all gonna die. But  … heyyyyy!!!!  (looking out the window.) Cool!!!  Look at the snow!! There’s snow everywhere! Ah, wow!  Cool!  Can I get my snow boots, Mum. Please please please!

GIRL: (flares up) What is WRONG with you? This is the worst thing EVER!  And all of a sudden you’re happy because IT SNOWED!! You are SO shallow! A bit of snow and you suddenly forget about Trump and the end of civilisation or like, whatever?!

ME: (finding voice) Well. You might as well let him enjoy the snow. Trump won’t be doing much about climate change. You may well not be seeing snow for much longer. But the world might well enjoy many more incidences of letchy old fellas getting away with groping young ladies.

GIRL: (in a wonderful impersonation of Trump’s voice) So that’s ok, then!



Listen Up. BBC at Best.

17 Oct

Me n’ mine have been asked to feature in the BBC’s ‘Listening Project’ on a few occasions. Thanks largely, to the matters that involve my family’s background, experiences, international work, kids and views on consumerism – and of course, our proclivities for nude rambling across the Trans-Pennine Trail … ok, ok – I’m joshing about the latter.


*DO* Listen.

But even before I ended up getting roped into recordings, I have to say that this small-but-mighty stakeholder project born of The Beeb has captured my imagination over the last few years – simply as a mere radio fan. But it also, always seems to stoke-up the fires of many others than I know, who have the sense to prefer the radio to the telly.

And yup – I love listening to the conversations of others. What writer/ person with a half-baked intelligent brain *doesn’t*? This is what the entire series is about. Ear-wigging. Nosey Norman Neighbours.

But every single episode is always so beautifully edited – that we always come away with a little nugget of summat or t’other. And today’s little clip? Well.  If there was ever a justification for paying for the existence of the Beeb (licence fee… cough … splutter…) today’s episode was the flagship for the entire thing.  A ‘Ruddy Dobber’ of a programme (as we say in Manchester.)

So my own wee friendies from all over the world – have a listen to this snippet of today  –  entitled “We’re Still Friends”. This conversation could have taken place in my kitchen. With various friends and family members.  All about Brexit. Why some of us wanted to get the hell out. And others of us felt horrified at such a prospect.

And I’m proud of the fact that I have pals in my life who have completely different views to me on the entire issue. So yes, it doesn’t bother me too much that I hang about with gorgeously-warm folk whose views sometimes make me want to, er, er …  reach for the Fizzy Andrews. (Hey – do they make *that stuff* anymore? I always think of it as cocaine – for 6 year olds.)

So, whatever your thoughts on Brexit, Europe, refugees, feminism etc. Just make it a priority to listen to this one clip only. (And MORE please, if you enjoyed the link here  – just have a perusal of the main website. Treasures for all!)

For me the key word on this particular broadcast is that of ‘Listening’. Backed up by ‘Friendship’. Closely followed by ‘Show Don’t Tell’. Listen to the emotions and the clarity in the voices of these two women from Donny (Doncaster) and how the real ‘listening’ and tolerance seems to be pointing towards a new direction for them as friends.

They’re listening and learning to and from one another. No sanctimonious attitudes or smart-arse-isms going on there. (I keep expecting to hear that Quakers are running this entire project  – but apparently not. Still. I’m biased.)

And – ooh yeah – let’s give a high-five to certain BBC Radio producers and journalistic-sorts.  The skill of recording and archiving oral testimony, and editing it for both needy and discerning listeners, is alive and well at the Beeb and at its regional stations – and on this particular long-running project – is showing right here and right now – at its top-notch best.

Bless the BBC and Radio. Especially this here Sheffield studio

Bless the BBC and Radio. Especially this ‘ere Sheffield studio

Champs, Tramps and Subversive Stories

3 Jul

Whilst sitting in the pouring rain, looking horribly like a smelly old tramp and trying not to laugh at the Umbrella-Wars developing between parents whose kids wanted to see the show and who were too tiny to see beyond the brollies, I got to wondering just *why* Danny The Champion Of The World has always been – by far – my favourite Roald Dahl book. And why I was grateful to the Grassington Festival for bringing David Wood’s adaptation to Yorkshire.

I first read it when I was 6 or 7. I’d read all of his other kiddy books before this one and I fell hook, line and sinker for Danny and his Pops. Why? At the time (the 70’s) it was rather unusual to hear the story of a little lad being brought up by a single parent. And even more rare for the parent to be a dad. A working class dad too – who loved his boy beyond belief, who fed him the most fantastic life as they lived in a gypsy caravan and existed on a diet of stories and experiments with nature and science.

Danny caravan

“Danny’s just like me. And he’s nicked my pyjamas.”

So as a child, the one thing that I wanted to remember for the rest of my life after first reading the book, is this particular truism of Roald’s/ Danny’s; “what a child wants and deserves is a parent who is sparky. NOT dear reader, “a stodgy parent.” And I also learned to beware those grown ups who smile with their mouths ‘but not with their eyes.’

But whilst pondering my soggy bottom and wondering why-oh-why had I signed myself up to review an open air theatre performance in the middle of so-called British ‘summer’, it finally dawned on me WHY I’ve always reckoned that this is by far the best book by Dahl. It’s because of its sheer, subversive nature.  Kids in the 1970’s – and now even more so – are nailed into their classroom seats, told what to do, what not to do, where to go and when and how and … generally speaking –  are tiny, confused little cogs in a huge machinery that is called ‘The Adult World.’

The thread behind the story of Danny is one of a continuous tale of insurrectionary behaviour. When Danny stumbles across his dad’s big secret – Dad is a Poacher – at first he experiences fear and shock. Dad could get arrested! Dad is breaking the law! And then we learn his father’s views. The main reason behind why his dad poaches on Victor Hazell’s land is because he totally, utterly, truly hates fat-cat landowners who blam-blam-blam the poor pheasants out of the skies (I mean, where’s the art-form in THAT?); who treat poorer local people like scum and who are angling to buy up the rest of the surrounding property and lord it over everyone else with their posh parties. Plus it’s thrilling isn’t it? To be breaking a law… and also believing that you are doing this in order to comply with a higher code of morality.

And yes, the fact that this little performance of Danny The Champion of the World was being held on the lands belong to the Duke of Devonshire which happens to be riddled with pheasants and come the autumn lots of shooting parties… didn’t entirely go over my head. But then that’s me for you. I like a bit of politics.

Audience may look washed-out but are gearing up for a bit of pheasant-smuggling

Audience may look washed-out but are gearing up for a bit of future pheasant-smuggling

The children watching the show however, were probably less interested in the socio-economic message than I was. They were held spellbound – despite the on-off pummeling of the rain. My 8 year old lad wanted to conduct a review of Illyria’s fine production for me and as the kid is easily bored by too much dialogue, I was surprised that such a wordy-based production completely kept his attention.  For him, the gypsy caravan, the quality of the acting and the nasty Victor Hazell (the kid led the booing – and actually rather embarrassed me – by shouting out above all voices “you’re an evil old murdering nincompoop!” at the actor) accurately represented the Danny tale.

I was incredibly impressed that the actors just carried on, regardless of the on-off downpours; their voices lifting far above the sound of the rain (“Why didn’t they have microphones, Mum?” the little lad asked me, “Or a loudspeaker thing. They’ll be so poorly with yelling tomorrow that they won’t be able to shout at their own kids. Actually, Mum – maybe you should become an open-air actor.”) We both loved the wonderful wee pedal cars that played a key part in the action of Danny grasping the mettle as he hopped into the family car and goes to rescue his dad (another childhood fantasy or all of ours, eh?) My son even managed to forgive the fact that his hero was played by an actual grown up, “rather than a kid like me. But it was okay in the end because the guy that played him was just dead excited and giddy about his ideas like I always am. So I could believe that he was a boy.”

All in all, you have to be a pretty special little theatre company to have adapted one of the best stories ever written, to deliver it to an audience ranging from 0 to 80 years, to do it in the middle of the driving rain and not to be fretting that one of the Duke’s henchmen would truck up in the middle of it and chuck you off his land for insurrectionary and not-so-subliminal messages. And Illyria more than pulled it off.

The final verdict comes from the kid himself who was chuckling away throughout the performance; “I’d tell anyone that I know to go and see it. You’ll wet your pants!”

And hopefully when you go to see it, this won’t be because of the rain.

greg at danny

Contemplating insurrectionary messages & subversive antics


News Of Doom

24 Jun

Is this a male/female thing? Or more about the fact that on awakening most mornings, I find it difficult to gather my thoughts. Okay, I’ve got a helluva lot tumbling around my head at the moment – but was there really any excuse for the little error that I made this morning?

My gentlemen friend got out of bed before me today. ‘That’s nice,’ I thought. ‘He’s gone down to make the kids’ breakfast. Perhaps it’s because I was so lovely to him yesterday.’

I got up myself, did the usual thing of tripping up whilst putting my knickers on and then heard a bit of manly chunnering drifting up the stairs. He then yelled to me;

“We’re out!”

“Of what? Cornflakes or Shreddies?” I shrieked back. (I knew that it couldn’t be milk, because the milkman came yesterday.) “Anyway,” I carried on, “If you’d just do as you were told and write down on the shopping list what we need – we wouldn’t have this problem!”

“EUROPE!” he yelled back.

The crazy thing is – that we’re all interested in politics in this family. I went to bed thinking about the referendum. But awoke, fretting about the contents of my cupboards.

Meanwhile, the kids had overheard the “News of Doom” as the 8 year old had decided to call it.  Then my 11 year old daughter entered the bathroom, kicked the washing basket and grumped; “I’m leaving this country, if I turn the telly on and Nigel ‘Kermit The Frog’ Farage is grinning all over his smug face.

(Oh – and we *were* out of corn flakes, by the way.)

Let’s Prevent This Tosh

17 Dec

A young Pakistani/British guy with a long beard etc from Bradford has just been poodling about in my kitchen, trying to fix our boiler. He seemed a bit shy/lonely at first, but then he commented on the maps plastered all over our kitchen walls, at the picture of Malcolm X; “Hey – it’s nice to see a family who are world-aware” and shortly after this, he remarked that he liked the little Nativity set that I put up there in the window every year. Finally – he left with a “Hope you and your family have a Merry Christmas.”

I got on the phone to the Prevent guys straight away in order to grass him up.

He is clearly one of those dangerous Christian extremists.

I’m being ultra-flippant of course. But there is a serious issue at hand here. And it’s all about *who* and *how*, *what* and *why* we perceive certain people and certain views to be ‘dangerous’. Or ‘radical’. Or ‘extremist.’

For example, many moons ago (before I saw a tad bit of sense) I engaged in what some folk might have considered to be very dodgy, off the wall, Christian extremist activities. I won’t go into detail here (because quite frankly, I’m hideously embarrassed that I ever believed in such OTT tosh). But no one was ever duly concerned about this 14 year old girl being ‘brainwashed,’ possessing radical views, acting in an isolated manner, reducing her circle of friends to those who shared her oh-so narrow-minded beliefs, the plotting and planning about overthrowing the evil, anti-Christian British state (okay, I exaggerate on the latter but if a secularist had encountered me at this point in my life – they may well have been a smidgen bit concerned about where the hell I was heading for.  And I’m not referring to the big fiery pit.)

Yet no one called up Channel (the agency that teachers, youth, health workers and the like have to have their pupils referred to, when they’ve been identified as being ‘extremist’ or ‘radicalised’) in order to say that the powers that be, should be rifling through this teenage-radical’s knicker drawer for evidence of semtex.

Why? Because – in a nutshell – I’m white. Because I practised Christianity (well, I *thought* that I did, way back then …)

So, when I first began to hear about the Prevent agenda and all of this talk of ‘British Values’ – the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. It was like … reading about the beginnings, the origins of McCarthyism.

These days you have to prove your 'British Values.' And don't tell the teachers what your parents *really* think...

These days you have to prove your ‘British Values,’ by pretending to enjoy red buses and wearing the union jack. But whatever you do, don’t tell the teachers what your parents *really* think…

Now, you may well have not heard about Prevent. And if not, don’t beat yourself up about it (or indeed, plan to blow up the Houses of Parliament in outrage – or even joke about that kind of thing.  They’ll ‘ave yer’ for that). Because there’s a good reason for this.  You can read more here, about how and why the damned initiative has been introduced via stealth.

I’m chuffed to say that a few good men/women/in-betweeners are finally standing up to Prevent (just in time for it to hit the universities) and so I’ll leave you with the words of one of the bigger bravehearted educators, when it comes to their determination to resist Prevent;

“How are we safe [under Prevent] to voice our feelings, our opinions, to find solace for our angers or our fears in debate with like-minded individuals?

How are our children protected –  who we have raised to think critically, to protest peacefully, to stand up for what they believe in – and to support others who suffer injustice or need a spot of help?

I am a keen educator. I am passionate about it. I have every qualification I should need to have the right to teach. My teacher training, like anyone else’s, included the duty to look for dangerous symptoms of all sorts that might harm our students themselves or our communities, and to find ways to combat this positively. Just as our legal system includes courts of law with due process and openness to deal with perpetrators of violence. There can be no decency found in closed door secret courts or in a fear culture of informing which generates concealment through fear. There is nothing to trust that has two faces.”




Shining A Light (it ain’t white)

12 Oct
end of empire

Handsome young chap in his day. Would happily have met him.

As you’d expect, most of the audience who had purchased tickets to hear ‘The Man In The White Suit’ speak about his latest book ‘The End of Empire,’ were over the age of 50. All of them evidently pretty much clued up about The Man’s various careers as: soldier; BBC foreign correspondent; MP; Unicef Ambassador author and these days – witty wordsmith and poet raconteur.

But let’s go back to the ‘hey – we’re all getting older’ side of things. I managed to bump into Martin in his white suit before the event kicked off and two things shocked me. First of all, the fact that the suit is definitely more a creamy colour (perhaps he relies a little bit too heavily on Ecover, as opposed to Daz). But secondly, that the fella could barely manage to walk; that he was clearly in a lot of pain. I began to fret a little bit – that this guy who was definitely not having a great day – would perhaps instead, have been better of at home, enjoying ‘Strictly’ and quaffing triple G and T’s rather than speaking to a packed King’s Hall in Ilkley.

Yet once he was up on stage and facing his fans, the pain clearly became a side-issue and Mr Bell told those assembled that he had simply suffered a nasty spur-of-the-moment leg injury. That no way-Jose was he going to cancel his date with the Yorkshire lit-lovers for a trifling dodgy-leg-thing going on for him.If I had been Martin Bell, I would have made a joke about my ‘dicky war wound.’ But perhaps he lacks my razor-sharp wit, choosing to overlook this particular chance for an amusing anecdote. But anyway, just 15 minutes later, the film-clips were being trollied out. And Martin was very evidently enjoying his stint in front of the crow, regaling them with stories of his time as a BBC TV correspondent – furnishing the crowd with images from Bosnia, Rhodesia, Vietnam, Syria, Kuwait – or Watergate, of John Lennon’s murder during his various frontline nosey-news antics. And yeah – we saw the footage too, of a forlorn looking Martin being stretchered away from the Balkans, after being hit by shrapnel.

Neil and Christine Hamilton. I've never met them, sadly,

Neil and Christine Hamilton. Tragically, I’ve never met them.

Following on the heels of the war-stuff, an audible cheery burst of nostalgia and mirth filled the place as he promised; “But I’m not going to spare you Neil and Christine Hamilton” and we were treated to reminders of the political soap opera that unfolded when Martin stood as an independent parliamentary candidate against Hamilton, the upper-crust Tory MP who was facing allegations of sleaze. (“I mean, I’d heard of Neil. But no one had ever told me about Christine…”) And then after flying the flag for more virtuoso in politics, Martin stepped down from Parliament and wrote a book about the MP Expenses scandal. Most recently he gave up his seat at Tatton and subsequently has been accused of “allowing George Osborne into politics…”

Martin’s opinions on war and the causes of war were thought-provoking; “I’m not a pacifist but yes… war usually is a total waste of time,” and “one of the lessons of history is that we don’t learn the lessons of history.” Perhaps most controversial, was his view that those heart-rending TV images of muslims who suffered during the wars in the Balkans and which were broadcast all over the world – have been directly to blame for any subsequent rise in jihadism and in terrorist activity.

It's not white. Honestly.

Met him. And I’m telling you; ain’t white.

I thought it a shame that he didn’t spend time talking more about his new book ‘The End of Empire,’ which recorded his experiences as a conscript, serving time in Cyprus during the insurgence and which he described as “My best book. Because it’s real.” Because it seemed to me that he had a lot more to share – not the least the vitriol that he still holds for the army officers of the 1950’s (he twice failed the intelligence test required in order to enter those ranks but said “But let’s just say …. I didn’t mind at all – when I saw the officers who had passed…”)

Andy McNab. I unexpectedly liked him.

Andy McNab. Met him. Unexpectedly liked him.

I imagine that Martin Bell has never been compared to ex-SAS soldier and now war-thriller author Andy McNab. But having heard both of their take on army life, on conflicts and on ‘boy soldiers’ – along with their concerns over the lack of political leaders who have had direct experience of war –perhaps next year the festival should invite them both along to discuss the subject. i.e. ‘The Man In White and The Man In Black’. That would be an interesting discussion to hear – never mind the class dynamics behind such a literary combo.

Organisers would need to work hard on pulling a more youthful crowd for such an event, however. Because after all, it’s the younger people who need to hear more about the realities of war and the experiences of the likes of Martin Bell – a chap who has devoted much of his life to tackling injustice and to taking a stand against corruption.

But I still reckon that he needs to change his current washing powder of choice, because after brushing up against the suit – I’m 100 per cent sure that it’s bordering on beige. Hardly Puff Daddy.

Only ever met him in my worst fashion nightmares.

Met him. But only in my worst fashion nightmares.

But then perhaps that’s a good thing.

Sod The Soil? Frame the Mountains.

7 Oct

I’m rather cock-a-hoop to be an offical reviewer for the Ilkley Literature Festival (don’t worry though – the fair folk of Ilkley don’t *really* use such phrases…despite the rumours that our rougher side of West Yorkshire like to peddle about…)

So, here goes – the first review so far:


Tim Marshall has a beard. He also has a long pointy stick and likes to prod it at enormous maps of the world and urge you to get all giddy about mountain ranges and polar ice caps and the like.

dont like maps sml

Despite a house filled with maps; ‘We don’t like geograpy.  All’s we do is study how different local authorties in the UK use different colours for recycling bins,’

But don’t let the above lead you to any stereotypical images of your average tweedy jacketed geography teacher. Because Tim happens NOT to be a big fan of the way that geography is being taught in British schools these days (“sure, learn about your soil samples … but unless you have a basic grasp of the world’s geography, you don’t have the framework on which to hang this knowledge”).

So, Tim Marshall’s approach – “putting the GEO back into geo-politics” is deemed to be highly unfashionable, to be too deterministic. In fact, George Galloway very publicly bawled out the author’s take on how the world works. Yet Tim felt quite content in gleefully sharing Galloway’s vitriol with the Ilkley Playhouse audience (aforementioned newspaper clipping now proudly on display in the smallest room in Mr Marshall’s house.)

But Tim Marshall did a cracking job of convincing his audience of his own approach. For the next 45 minutes, his listeners were treated to a whistle-stop tour of each of the major continents and current conflict zones, with an outline of how and why these areas of the globe will always remain sizzling hot spots of combat. We were invited to venture in to the mind of Putin (“admittedly, not a pleasant place to be,”) and were challenged to think beyond the ‘nation state’- to consider issues such as tribal, racial, religious affiliations – as well as the desperation of the bigger, more powerful countries in their quest for water, energy, trade and in their jockeying for position within NATO and other alliances.

He told his listeners; “I’m not about morality”, but that he prefers to focus on each nation’s point of view. His responses to questions from the audience were excellent; tackling such diverse issues as the role of the digital age, space, devolutionary politics and whether British people (lurking as we do, in a “prime piece of real estate”) should be more concerned about China’s obsession with trade, the growth of South American’s power or with the differing responses of each EU country to the current refugee crisis.pris of geog

In fact, my only criticism of the event was that he covered so many countries and conflict zones and got so wild with his big stick and the maps that, at times, I felt like a pussycat watching a ping-pong match (and unlike George Galloway, my pussycat impression ain’t much cop.) But then, hey; the earth is a damned big place after all. And perhaps the festival should have furnished the author with a 2 to 3 hour slot instead. Judging by the packed Playhouse, this might not be a bad approach for the future for someone with as much to say as Tim has.

So, overall? At the risk of upsetting other authors out there, I have to be honest and state that it’s very rare that I feel tempted to ‘buy the book’ after seeing a talk by a writer. But for sure, here is one piece of non-fiction that I hope to be receiving in my Christmas stocking.

(Postscript – And given Tim Marshall’s distaste for how geography is currently taught in British schools, I cannot help but urge him towards producing a child’s version of ‘Prisoners of Geography.’ I happen to know a small army of irate parents who actually WANT our future generations to be more clued up about the big world picture, as opposed to the details of soil samples, the colour of recycling bins and whether LEGOLAND Windsor is only a couple of miles from the LEGO Discovery Centre. Or not.)

like maps sml

But chuck a bit of politics in, some wars and the odd trip to LEGOLAND Windsor. Or the Kalahari. And we manage to convince the kids…

M-Ilkley’ing it

1 Oct

I’m off. Not like the milk (we have a rather fab local milkman, you see) but I’m actually referring to the Ilkley Literature Festival – where I’m going to be doing various bits and pieces; championing pals Bluemoose indie publishers in their ‘Northern – Not Wanted’ session,  as well as working with the amazing Razwan ul-Haq.

I’ll blog about Raz’s work a little bit later on during the festival, but I just wanted to give people a bit of a teaser about our session. We’ll be aiming to share ‘what brought us to creative writing as individual’ but our main thrust will focus on the human connection.  On how friendships and laughter – untampered by the powers that be, unfunded by institutions and organisations – can create better understanding and harmony between people from different communities and backgrounds. In fact, Razwan and I believe that this approach has much better chances of succeeding in healing rifts between communities, than the politically correct overkill and the orchestrated by men-in-suits stuff can. So isn’t this kind of thing more important than ever – in an ever-increasingly Islamophobic world?

I’ve copied the press release for those of you who are interested what The Razster and I do. And why.

Maybe we’ll see some of you there? If not – bung us message if you ever want me and that dodgy looking fella to appear at an opera house near you.  (NB – *joke* about the opera house. Raz cannot sing for toffee. Although he claims he likes to tinker on church pianos. Which is probably blasphemous. Or something.)


chris n Raz ATTITUDE in black and white

At first sight, it might seem that Razwan Ul-Haq and Christina Longden have very little in common and that ‘Never The Twain’ should meet. But a serendipitous meeting at a previous literature festival founded a new friendship between two authors; one that embraces Islam, Christianity, class and culture – as well as injecting plenty of comedy and humanity into their writing.

Christina, author of ‘Mind Games & Ministers’ brings a bit of Northern mirth to everything she does, whether it be a blogging at ‘funnylass’ or her current role as a Director of Lorna Young Foundation, an international charity based in west Yorkshire. Razwan Ul-Haq, Islamic Artist and author returns to the Ilkley Literature Festival again after his talk last year’s Ilkley Playhouse talk on his “Sultan Vs. Dracula” novel. Both are Lancashire born but ‘saw sense’ but defected to Yorkshire, many years ago, with Chris settling in Huddersfield and Raz in Bradford.

In a world torn apart with opposing narratives, both authors want to offer festival-goers a bit of humanity and freshness in ‘Never The Twain’ – a lively evening conversation which will touch upon everything from religion to politics; on writing about what you believe in and allowing harmony to develop with others, whilst remaining true to yourself. Come along to their FREE session at Ilkley on Sat 3rd October 7.45pm at Church House and find out how to build bridges between some of the gaps that exist between different ethnic groups in the UK, because, as both Chris and Razwan advise others “it ain’t rocket science, you know…”

Too often, projects, programmes and events are built from the outside “looking in.” Isn’t it time we began to heal ourselves through the human connection?

West Yorkshire is not perceived by the media to be the UK’s most racially or religiously integrated region; yet after a serendipitous meeting, Razwan and Chris discovered an unusual friendship and the inspiration to share with others, their stories – of having far more in common than many might think…
Chris’ career has always focussed on advocacy for marginalised people – whether representing the San bushmen of the Kalahari or fronting up to the UK government when fighting the cause of council housing tenants. Her venture into fiction with the Yorkshire-based ‘Mind Games and Ministers’ series uses comedy and social commentary as a way of informing others about the juxtaposition of wealth, poverty and prejudices in UK society
Razwan’s work also seeks to expose some of the incorrect assumptions that we all make with regards to groups of people in society. ‘Black Taj Mahal’ is a mystic love story, set in two continents. We all hear so much about the ‘plight of the Muslim woman’ – however Bradford is home to many newly-arrived oppressed Muslim Pakistani men too…
‘Never The Twain’ at Ilkley Literature Festival, Saturday 3rd October, Church House, 7.45 to 8.45 pm.
Chris blogs at Razwan can be found at

ILF Leaflet actual PHOTO

HLF Flyer ILF approved pdf