Out Now!

Thursday, 22 January 2015


Just before Christmas, I detected blood in my urine. ‘Detected?’ It was pink as strawberry blancmange. It only happened the once and didn’t happen again. Still, take no chances I thought. My GP took a similar view. Within a week, I was in Neville Hall hospital having it investigated.

It’s a nice euphemism that, ‘having it investigated.’ The reality was a camera pushed up my urinary tract. I watched as it approached, my eyes flitting from the doctor’s eyes – they looked sympathetic – down to something the size of a small a bicyle pump. ‘That’s not going to fit in,’ I wanted to scream. Instead, I shut my eyes quickly and winced. When I opened them again, I was able to see my bladder and kidneys on the big screen.

 It was like a NASA probe investigating Mars, at least that's what the specialist said in a chatty, warm hearted kind of way, like he was talking about ‘Voyager’ and not my insides. ‘Look,’ he said, drawing my attention to veins on a dim pink terrain, ‘just like Martian canals’. What was he talking about? My kidneys and bladder and God knows what else were being violated by a hideous, metallic snake, my insides actually shuddering. He detected a faint shadow but assured me it was almost certain the pressure of an enlarged prostate doing a bit of empire building. All very Star War-ish. Still, again taking no chances, I was referred to the Royal Gwent Hospital for a biopsy, and shortly after Christmas my appointment came through.

This involved something considerably bigger than a bicycle pump but I was mercifully anaethetised by an injection via the spine. ‘You’ll like this,’ he murmured, ‘a nice tingly glow.’ And it was true - like a magic spell had been cast over my legs. Fairy Dust. A moment later, to all intents and purposes, they had vanished. I could see them, but they were no longer there. I was dead from the waist down. ‘Now,’ he murmured, ‘do you want to see what’s happening? If you don’t, I can give you something else.’
Was the man mad?
‘Give me all you got,’ I said. ‘All you’ve got’.
‘It will make you calm and sleepy.’
And it did.
They erected a dark green screen, a surgical Berlin wall, separating the living from the dead. Over it, I could see masked and capped heads bobbing up and down but felt nothing. They could have been building the Hoover Dam, the Great Wall of China, building a new motorway. There could have been road cones and warning lights all the way up to my bladder. Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Quantum nothingness behind the green screen.
And then it was over.
Before I knew it, I was trolley-boarded back on to my hospital bed, where I had to wait five hours for my legs to return. That was fine but for the fact that I’d been put back slightly askew and was in no position to straighten myself. I could have called the nurses but a sense of humiliation trumped common sense.
My legs did come back…and so did everything else. I looked down at it with quiet pride. You’ve been to hell and back, buddy; knew too, there would be no Purple Heart or  Victoria Cross. Just the results due in a few weeks.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Je suis Charlie...I think

Je suis Charlie, cathartic yes, also a pageant of emotion, hypocrisy and doublethink. There are hashtags and small designer badges, (like there were for the girls kidnapped by Boko Harem,)  and world leaders, arm in arm, defending the right to free speech – except when it comes to anything they don’t agree with. 

The actual murders – those of the 17 journalists and the innocent shoppers at a Jewish supermarket – were vile. The murders were instruments of intolerance, an attempt to impose a code of behaviour on a different culture and on those who would not be ‘persuaded.’

The establishment of course has no need to resort to kalishnakovs. Political elites and an engineered concensus exert a more subtle and powerful intolerance. Their instruments are less bloody but more powerful. How many people have been pilloried by media and twitter for expressing views against the prevailing morality, how many have been forced to resign, and how many of these were essentially private conversations subsequently leaked?


A case in point is the Jewish cartoonist, Gerald Scarfe who drew a cartoon showing the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu building a wall with blood-red coloured cement, in which were trapped Palestinians. The case against Scarfe was made stronger because the cartoon was published in the Sunday Times on Holocaust Memorial Day. All hell broke out as everyone from the Israeli Ambassador to leading British politicians spoke out against it and Gerald Scarfe was forced to make a grovelling apology. 

            Why? And what does that show?

All of Scarfe’s cartoons, and all good political cartoons from James Gillray to Spitting Image are vicious and brutal and spiteful. Political cartoons, as another practitioner, Martin Rowson, puts it represent ‘assassination without blood.’ Check Scarfe’s cartoons on Tony Blair and George Bush, and a more recent one of Bashar al-Assad guzzling from a large cup labeled ‘Children’s Blood’. The Netanyahu cartoon is part of Scarfe’s canon attacking man’s inhumanity to man, and focuses on an individual, a mere politician - not a race, a prophet or God. 
Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, accepted the Sunday Times’ ‘right’ to publish Scarfe’s ‘disgusting’ cartoon, but went on to say it was a ‘misjudgement’ and that the Sunday Times had made a ‘mistake’ in exercising that right.

But what does Stepen Pollard have to say about the famous (or infamous depending on viewpoint) Danish cartoons, depicting Mohammed with a bomb in his turban. He accepts they’re offensive to Muslims but essentially says so what. ‘If free speech means anything, it surely includes the ability to question and to mock the belief that Mohammed rewards jihadists.” So are we talking double standards here. It’s all right to offend a large number of Muslims but not Jews, or in this case a Jewish  political leader?


And here is the crux of the problem. You either have free speech or you don’t. The pick and mix free speech we currently uphold is morally unviable. Already the weasel word ‘but’ is coming into play. For example, the murder of the seventeen journalists was terrible but….followed by variants of ‘they had it coming,’ or 'they should have known better.'

 And already those various paragons of democracy in the Muslim world are putting pressure on the United Nations to legislate ‘Islamaphobia’ as a hate crime. As that tolerant and democratic champion of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan, recently said:
‘There needs to be international legislation dealing with attacks on people's sacred and religious beliefs. As Turkey, we will take the lead. Freedom of thought and belief ends where the freedom of thought and belief of others begins’   Well, that clearly works well - in Turkey and Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, but where does that lead the rest of us - other than in a goldmine for lawyers as every major religion interprets it as they choose. And where does that leave the already dangerously diluted concept of free speech? Bottling thought and free speech, subjecting it to license and the whims of the great and the good will eventually lead to something worse than hurt feelings.
A mature and considerate person may choose to moderate what they say so as not to offend someone but just as I am free to consider the feelings of others, another person should be free to choose otherwise. Courtesy cannot, nor should be leglislated for then it becomes a tool of government and the status quo, the antithesis of free speech. Twitter as the new sheep dogs.  

Thursday, 8 January 2015

The Lake District Murder

I have just read the worst book I’ve ever read, perhaps the worst book ever written, and discovered a deadly flaw in my make-up. I finished it despite every atom and corpuscle, the bacteria in my gut and eyelids screaming for mercy and an end to the pain. The book – for any masochists out there – is called The Lake District Murder by John Bude, and I can afford to be so viciously wanton because this Pol Pot of the written word is now dead.

It was written in 1935 and has an Introduction by Martin Edwards. Reading the Introduction you’d be forgiven for thinking the book was a winner. It is set in nice scenery, the Lake District, and the story kicks off with the discovery of a dead motor mechanic who has apparently committed suicide. Of course, he hasn’t, otherwise there would be no book, but by God, if only he had and spared us the pain of turning beyond page two. 

The hero, Inspector Meredith, is boring, the other characters make cardboard exciting, and the chief villain is someone we hear of but never actually see, so it’s hard to get excited over his eventual demise.
In his introduction Martin Edwards stresses this is an early police procedural detective novel. He makes the point: "Whatever faults may be attributed to the British police force…a lack of thoroughness is not one of them.” I should have taken that as a warning. 

The book takes you with Meredith painstakingly following one lead after another all of them false – but all of them snail-paced and packed with technical details like how petrol pumps work, the respective storage facilities of underground sumps and petrol containers and how fast one could go on the Cockermouth road. And such detailed minutae is regurgited and chewed upon again and again as if our hero had three brains instead of the ruminant’s three stomachs. Then, a third of the way through, when we know more about the inner workings of petrol pumps than any sane person should, Meredith discovers his mistake and leads us on another false trail. By the end we no longer care who did it or why or how. We just want the bloody book to end.

I couldn’t even throw the book against the wall or set it alight. It was one of those seductive Kindle Daily Deals – a snip or a death sentence at 99p. So burning or smashing wasn’t an option. 

Stop reading then.

I couldn’t. I ploughed on trapped like a dog tied to a post by its back leg, barking at anyone who came near. And that my friends is my flaw – like the apocryphal monkey, its fist trapped clutching peanuts in a narrow necked jar, I couldn’t let go. I had to realise the dreadful ennui of a truly bad book.

Martin Edwards ends his introduction with:  "Those who like a soundly crafted and unpretentious mystery will surely agree that John Bude deserves to be better known."

No he damn well shouldn’t. He lost me a week in too short a life.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

The Table




Roast chicken, Roast Turkey Crown, Sage and Onion stuffing, bacon wrapped chiplolatas, Beef and Turkey Gravy, glazed carrots, sprouts and pancetta, Sweet Potatoes, Yorkshire puddings and Roast potatoes.


 Christmas pudding and brandy cream

Port and long sleep.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Drogo Castle


 On a Sunday in Allington “One walked over the brass plates of dead Dales in the village Church.” Roger Carbury is Carbury of Carbury parish, Ralph Newton heir to Newton Priory within the bounds of Newton Peels, and the Greshams are Greshams of Greshambury. These are fictional portrayals of a real world and found in the pages of Anthony Trollope.
For Trollope a hierarchal society was humanised by mutual duty and respect and found its purest expression in the countryside, in particular the landed estate.
The most direct relationships were those existing between master and servant and Trollope delighted in the mutual loyalties encouraged by custom and tradition. Squire Vavasour has an old butler who is so rheumatic the rest of the household now care for him. Roger Carbury’s butler had never lived anywhere else. And for Hopkins the gardener the nooks and crannies of his master, Squire Dale, are as well known to him as those of the apple trees he has nurtured for over forty years.
In contrast to my previous post, which focused on decadence and froth, Trollope’s world was very much in the Downton tradition, or should that be the other way round. What is significant however is that this was a very real world. Trollope was an acute and sensitive observer of Victorian landed society and how it changed over forty years.
I was reminded of this when we visited Castle Drogo a month or two back. The name enchanted me, its location, too: Dartmoor, Game of Thrones country. The reality was almost as weird and, initially, disappointing. Not only was this a castle built to order by a rich tea magnate in late Edwardian England, it was in such a state of disrepair it was covered in Perspex as builders strove to restore it – something less than a hundred years old.

 Julius Drewe, a man contented with life, as well he should.

Julius Drew made so much money from tea imports and his incredibly successful grocery chain ‘Home and Colonial’ he was able to retire at just thirty three and spend the rest of his life hunting, fishing and looking after a wife and five children. What he aspired to however was to be a country gentleman – a country gentleman that could fit happily within the pages of Trollope. He added an ‘E’ to his surname to reinforce a spurious link to the noted Elizabethan Devon family - Drewe. And he built a granite fortress, designed by an initially reluctant Sir Edward Lutyens. Lutyens may have been persuaded by £60,000 to play with – in today’s money £30 -40 million. 
On one level you might see Julius Drewe as a man with more money than sense, but dig beneath the surface and you quickly detect a warm and generous spirit. His workmen were treated kindly and with the utmost consideration. His wife (Frances Drewe, nee Richardson) personally vetted the plans for the kitchen, making sure it was well lit by a glass domed roof, and spacious enough for the staff.

Castle Drogo was started in 1911, but the family were only able to inhabit it in 1925, and it wasn’t completely finished until 1930. A year later Julius Drewe died.  During 1939–45, Frances and her daughter Mary ran the house as a home for babies made homeless during the blitz. One of the mothers ran back to London in disgust with the lack of shops on Dartmoor.

For any who doubt Trollope’s world or even that Downton Abbey existed in different forms, read this short extract from the WadhurstHistorical Society. This was a self made man revelling in and continuing a Trollopian tradition. The link to the whole article follows it. 

 For those who don't want to read on but would like some idea of the setting, here be pictures. Article and link follow. And this will be my last blog post until the New Year. I hope you all have a really happy Christmas.

This table had electric fittings so that electric candles could be discreetly inserted in place.

A purpose built and designed work table for kitchen staff - positioned under the glass domed roof.

"Life there seems to have been blissfully happy. Frances (a daughter)  has given an account of her childhood, which reads like a fairytale; the sweet, kind parents with their five children, surrounded by friendly, devoted servants in the most comfortable and beautiful setting. She mentions many of the servants by name: Mr Waite, the butler, with his marvellous mutton-chop whiskers and his wife who made dresses; Mrs Stacey, the housekeeper, busy by the sewing machine in her work room; Mrs Chandler, the cook, who was chef-trained; the much-loved nanny Bernie Rickwood, nicknamed Bop; the second nanny Mary Jane Sharpe and the nursery maid Eliza Winch, who lived with her parents in Stream Cottages by the Miners Arms. Eliza’s husband worked in the kitchen garden. Her father prepared kindling wood in the cellar of Wadhurst Hall. There were White, the estate carpenter; Barnes, the sweeper of the front drive; Hutton and later on Grant, the coachmen; Mrs Bradshaw, the head laundress, married to the previous estate carpenter. There were the two drivers, Holter and Nethercot; Mr and Mrs Dunk - Mr Dunk nursing the Drewe boys when they got the measles, Mrs Dunk cooking for the unmarried men living in the Bothy. There was Mr Crawford at Scrag Oak, the estate agent, who every Christmas handed out turkeys and geese to the people working at Wadhurst Park. There were the under-keepers, Wickens and Everett; the latter reared the ducks at Doozes Farm. There was the charming Irish governess, Miss Jennie Griffith, known as Griff, and the Chaplain Leslie Stevenson at Sunset Lodge. He later became vicar of Wadhurst, then Canon and Dean of Waterford Cathedral. In the Entrance Lodge lived the Friend family, and at the Octagon Lodge by the back drive lived the Necklins. Mr Friend and Mr Necklin both served as night-watchmen.
"…..Morning prayers with all the staff were held in the dining-room. The family had many clergymen among their friends, Mr Drewe being the son of an evangelical clergyman himself. Sunday service was always in the Chapel; Mr Drewe taught Sunday-school to the senior boys, his daughter Mary to the smaller children. Elaborate Christmas tree parties were held in the riding school for all the people working on the estate, with heaps of presents and a huge tea to follow. !n the summer there were garden parties with pastoral plays and tea in marquees. There were shooting parties every Saturday during the season with enormous bags of ducks and pheasants, followed by tea in the hall, alternating with dinner parties with the children kneeling in the gallery to catch a glimpse of their beautiful mother going in to dinner. Occasionally balls took place in the huge Oakroom, where the orchestra sat comfortably playing in the ingle-nook. In the summer, lunches were served on the terrace with screens to keep out the draught and light shades to keep out the sun.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Not Behind Lace Curtains

I’m busy researching for a sequel to ‘The Gift’. It involves delving into the murky waters of the occult and sexual deviancy in the interwar years. Most would agree that homosexuality is not necessarily deviant – though it was then most certainly illegal. Most would agree that paedophilia is deviant and may not be legalised for some time. 

It was with this in mind I tracked down William Cross, author, researcher, and expert on Evan Morgan and the peculiar world he inhabited. A good two hours were spent in the wood panelled walls of the Murenger Inn. I drank more than he did and listened intently. 

William Cross is an exuberant man and his enthusiasm for the Morgans - Evan in particular - is infectious. He gave me two books: NotBehind Lace Curtains, and EvanFrederick Morgan: Viscount Tredegar: The Final Affairs: Financial and Carnal.
 In return, I promised to review them.

There are grammatical infelicities, and there is none of the gorgeous prose of a Macaulay or Gibbon. What you get instead is a potpourri of the decadent and seamy underbelly of the British aristocracy in the inter-war years. 

 The predatory and insatiable Evan Morgan, Peer of the Realm
 Reading the book is akin to pot holing with a strong torch and even stronger stomach, as the light bounces and plays upon misshapen stalagmites and strange, unwholesome fungi. They are books of rumour and gossip, and best of all a detailed and comprehensive index for you to check out the facts. These are books for those with Google and a craving to research more. 
 In the early C20th Eton was rife with what we would now call paedophilia. The picture above is that of the young Harold Macmillan, a future Prime Minister. The photo below is that of the Prince of Wales and his brother Prince George of Kent - known as PG to his friends and the police.
There were times when I felt like Alice in Wonderland, jumping from one tunnel to another. William Cross raises questions but provides few answers. He leaves them for you to work out as you follow the clues. It is probably a very wise strategy. The British Establishment is a master of the dark arts and suppression. Cover-ups are in its DNA. 


Robin Bryans wrote a series of books about the darker corners of the establishment, much of it malicious, much of it true. It may be coincidence that Robin Bryans’s books are now peculiarly hard to find. Then again, his most famous book, The Dust Never Settles - has been mysteriously removed from Scribd. Why? I’ve never heard of  digital books being remaindered before. 

So yes, it was a rewarding few pints in the Murenger. The books I’d recommend to any who like well researched gossip but who are prepared to go farther. 

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Ghosts walk the streets

Is it any wonder I like ghost stories. I grew up in a ghost-ridden town. Every corner, back lane and shadow suggested more than was seen. And if you grew up in the warrens of red-bricked terraces, in streets poorly lit and back allies not lit at all, your senses tingled in darkness and you ran for the safety of hearth and fire, and perhaps cheese and toast.

One of my favourite places is the Anglican Cathedral – the fifth largest in the world for those who like their statistics. It glows ochre in Irish Sea sunsets and broods over the city. At night, it comes into its own. 


 I mentioned in a previous post I studied in a pale blue Georgian building, an annexe to Liverpool Institute of Further Education. It was directly opposite the Cathedral on the corner of Duke Street. At lunch times I would walk with my first great love in the overgrown cemetery surrounding it. 

So much has changed and with it new ghosts. The last burial took place in July 1936 when the graveyard was declared officially full. The authorities waited until my back was turned and then they pounced. St James Cemetary was to be turned into a public garden, a more fitting setting for the fifth largest cathedral in the world. They cleared 90% of the gravestones in favour of a green, landscaped space. When I returned from University the job had been done.

Worse was to come.

The beautiful Georgian building, along with much else was also torn down to be replaced with a terrace of yuppie residences called Cathedral Gates. There are restless ghosts. You can sense them in the photographs. 

A little farther afield

By now, if you've looked carefully, you should have spotted one of the ghosts. A give away copy of Dark Fire to the first person to spot it.

The two last  photos are mine. The rest belong to the talented Ian Pendleton, Sharon Lewis and the equally talented and generous members of :

All these pictures have been taken from the talented and generous members of: