So true of Felpham, even now.

This week Felpham has been rather shaken by the news that one of the most popular pubs in the village is going to close down and much has been written about it on Facebook and elsewhere. In the course of the various conversations – a man called Aidan Bappoo quoted what Blake had said about Felpham to one of his London friends:

“The Villagers of Felpham are not meer Rustics; they are polite & modest. Meat is cheaper than in London, but the sweet air & the voices of the winds, trees & birds, & the odours of the happy ground, makes it a dwelling for immortals” William Blake to Thomas Butts, September 23, 1800

Bill Brooks answered by quoting another letter of Blake’s to John Flaxman:

“Felpham is a sweet place for Study, because it is more Spiritual than London. Heaven opens here on all sides her golden Gates, her windows are not obstructed by vapours. Voices of Celestial inhabitants are more distinctly heard & their forms more distinctly seen.”

I was delighted to see Blake being quoted like this and it gave me the chance to add my seven pennyworth in the hope that it would simply be accepted and not criticised as being “political”. Here is what I said:

They’re such touching descriptions. I expect you already know that his neighbours in Felpham were fond of him because he was such a hard worker. And when he was put on trial for sedition they perjured themselves to get him off.”

I didn’t get scolded this time, which was pleasant, but my comment provoked an answer. A lady came back almost at once to say “So true of Felpham, even now.” It was a kindly and sympathetic observation, but it stopped me in my tracks and made me think. And led to this blog, because it was a perfect example of how easy it is to get hold of the wrong end of the stick. I’m sure it made the lady and her readers feel good about themselves and their opinions, but…

If Blake were suddenly reincarnated in today’s Felpham, he would have a very hard time of it, for he was not a gentle poet who wrote about lambs and England’s green and pleasant land, he was actually what we would now call ‘extremely left wing’ and an outspoken revolutionary. He wore the red cap of liberty around London during the heady days of the French Revolution, which was a daring and dangerous thing to do. And the poem, which has since become our second national anthem, is in fact a plea for a ‘mental fight’ against all the things that were standing in the way of achieving the ideal state, which he called ‘Jerusalem’. He pledged that he would “never cease from mental fight, nor shall my sword sleep in my hand” in a promise to keep on fighting for the things he believed in. We pledge ourselves in the same way whenever we sing the hymn, although we might not all know what we are actually singing.

I’m pretty sure this sort of attitude would not go down well in today’s Felpham, where there are people who feel it is too political even to talk about what is currently happening to his cottage. Even if what is said is true. I am now so demoralised that I have almost given up trying to give anyone information about the state of the cottage.

But of course, I could be wrong. Ah “Felpham sweet Felpham”.

This entry was posted on September 16, 2020. 1 Comment

Farewell to the Fox in Felpham.

Very bad news for Felpham residents and visitors this morning. The Fox Inn which is one of the best know and most loved Inns in the village has been forced to close down.

It’s a real blow because the pub was doing so well and was such a lovely friendly place and served such delicious meals and such a variety of drinks, that it was always crowded.

It also has a very distinguished history. Our William Blake no less, drank there in the original, old building at the start of the nineteenth century, when he lived in his cottage, across the road. During my lifetime the old Fox burnt down and the present one was built to replace it, which it did very successfully. I wrote about the old one in ‘Gates of Paradise’ and picked the brains of two of the family who had lived there before the fire, so as to get the details about the old Fox right. It’s been a very close part of my Felpham existence and I know it will be miserably missed.

Thanks for all you’ve done Andy and Ali. Sad, sad, sad.

This entry was posted on September 11, 2020. 6 Comments

Blatteration

Let me introduce you to this nice juicy word. It was coined in the sixteenth century, if you can believe it and it means ‘foolish babbling or prattling and not making much sense’ and the people who blatter are called blatteroons!

I wonder how much they suffered from blatteroons in the sixteenth century. Not as much as we do now, I’d be willing to bet! I am absolutely sick to death of Johnson’s piffle paffle, wiffle waffle, Hancock’s blank and meaningless responses, Gove’s cunning blatteration (I do so hope he’s not fooling people still), Farage’s endless and meaningless bullying and the moronic and totally senseless ramblings of the unbelievable President of the United States.

In a TV show we would laugh at them, but these men are massively rich and inordinately powerful and they’re doing immense damage to us and our societies.

So what are they really like when they’re not showing off? I think we have to dig into their activities a bit to make sense of them. Let’s start with Gove and Johnson in the days when they were blatterating to persuade us to vote to leave the EU. According to our political spies, Gove accepted thousands from the Russian billionaires Blavatnik and Abramovitch and in addition was given £150,000 a year by Murdoch to promote Brexit and Johnson received thousands from Lebedev and Temenko another pair of wealthy Russian oligarchs and £250,000 a year from Putin via the Telegraph for the same purpose. So they may have sounded as though they were just babbling babyish nonsense and peddling lies that most people saw through even at the time, their purpose was thought out, well funded and determined. They were not what they seemed, even then.

The big and terrible problem that we all have to face, here and in the United States, is that there are so many people who actually believe the lies they were told and trust in totally meaningless slogans. The American’s who dote on Trump are still waving placards shrieking ‘Make America great again!’. Our poor dupes swallow the slogans ‘Forward Together’, ‘Strong and Stable’ ‘Stay Alert, Control the Virus, Save lives’, ‘Hands, Face, Space’ or to put it another way ‘Hands, knees and bumps’a’daisy’ Bish, bash, bosh.

How on Earth do we persuade such self perverted people to stop and think and understand how they are being used without provoking a torrent of hatred – and in the process being called ‘wokes’ and ‘snowflakes’ which I have just discovered are the new right-wing terms of abuse.

We shall find a way in the end I’m quite sure, for snowflakes, although delicate, are beautiful, complicated, individual, natural creations and if they fall at the right time and in the right numbers they can form a snowdrift. Love and strength to all you snowflakes out there. Don’t let the buggers grind you down.

This entry was posted on September 11, 2020. 3 Comments

Life in the Blitz

Today is the 80th Anniversary of the start of the London Blitz, which I saw as a nine year old child and wrote about in the book I called ‘Citizen Armies’, which is published by Lume Books who asked me if I would write a blog about my own experiences to accompany their re-issue of the book to mark the anniversary. So for once I’m going to write about something historical in which I was involved. This is it:

Me just before the Blitz began

It always worries me when people describe wartime characters rushing about like headless chickens and screaming and shouting. This all comes from films and they were made when the war was long over and audiences wanted ‘drama’. In fact, people alive and suffering during the war were deliberately very calm about it. They made jokes, they sang songs, like ‘Hitler has only got one ball’, they were trained to keep themselves under control and they did. I remember how calm we were on the day the Blitz began. The sirens had sounded but nothing much seemed to be happening, so we went out into the garden to pick apples and suddenly the sky was roaring with big, black, German bombers, at least four hundred of them, possibly more. They were flying in squadrons with little silver spitfires harassing them and they were too high to bomb us, so we just stood and watched. After a while it was obvious that they were heading for the Docks and before long the bombs began to fall and one fire after another jumped into the sky, multicoloured and very tall. When the German planes started to fly back, we went indoors and into the cellar very quickly, in case they had any remaining bombs and threw them out on us and my Gran said ‘Well they’ll come again tonight, so we’d better be ready for it. That great fire will lead them in like a torch.’ And of course, they did and from then on London was bombed all night and every night for nine long months.

So what was it like to be bombed? I was eight when the war began and nine when our street was bombed and believe it or not when those bombs started to fall I wasn’t taking shelter in the cellar – as we did every night – I was halfway up the stairs in the loo having a wee. Although the raids went on all night long, there were lulls from time to time when the bombers weren’t directly above us and the Ack-Ack was firing a good distance away, so we could run that sort of risk. But bombers move fast and by the time I’d pulled the chain and was on my way downstairs, they were right overhead and a stick of six was being dropped on our street.

Bombs make an awful screaming sound as they come down and when they explode the noise is so loud it hurts your ears. I tumbled into the hall hearing the next bomb screaming towards us and just had time to say a very selfish prayer ‘Please God don’t let it kill me. Let it drop somewhere else. Please!’ when it exploded. It was so close it shifted the ground under my feet, I could feel the floor rippling as though it had been turned to water and there was a terrible roaring sound coming from our dining room and the hall was full of dust, clouds of it, swirling and buffeting. I was so frightened I couldn’t move and I couldn’t scream. I just stayed where I was and after a while my mother and grandma appeared one on each side of me and joggled me back down to the safety of the cellar. I was shaking all over, even in my stomach.

The next morning our warden came in and asked how we all were and said the house was now uninhabitable and we would need to be evacuated again and should he arrange it. He was, as all the ARP people were, wonderfully and reassuringly calm.

The Blitz went on for another five months after that but we were in Harpenden and safe. I went back to Tooting on my own in 1944 to join up with a grammar school which I’d passed the 11+ to attend so I was there when the doodlebugs and rockets fell. But that’s another story.

Citizen Armies is available today for just 99p on Amazon.

This entry was posted on September 7, 2020. 5 Comments

An unexpected coincidence

which turned out to be a revelation.

Yesterday two apparently disparate things in my life came together. The first was reading an article in the Guardian by George Monbiot, which I will come back to, the second was an interview I gave to Irene Campbell who is organising the first Bognor Regis Literary Festival and wanted to talk to me about what was happening or not happening to Blake’s Cottage. By way of preparation Lottie and I had sorted out all the blogs about Blake’s Cottage that I had written over the past four years, it turned out there were 41 of them! So the folder we gathered was sizeable, but very useful for the interview. One of the blogs, which I called ‘Beware of the dog‘ had always seemed very curious to me. It did when I wrote it which is why I made fun of it. Take a look at the dog that we ought to beware of. I chose him carefully.

And here’s a quote from the blog to show what I’m talking about ‘This one is for twitter friends, Facebook friends, friends old and new, fans and followers and it’s a dire and dreadful warning. You must beware of me. Take heed. I am, it appears (shock horror) political!

I can hear you laughing. What on earth am I talking about? Well apparently it is a political action to stand up on my rather rickety 85 year old legs and organise a petition to ask that Blake’s – now decaying – cottage should be repaired. People in the village are being told not to join me or to sign my petition because it would be too political to do it. When that was first said to me, I have to say I laughed because it was so ridiculous. Now it is coming at me so often and it feels so deliberate, that I am beginning to think somebody out there wants me to keep quiet and go away.’

Now that I have read George Monbiot’s article I’m beginning to change my mind, for this article is all about power and how authoritarians manipulate it. He starts off with a clarion call.

‘To accumulate power, a government with authoritarian tendencies must first destroy power. It must reduce rival centres of power – the judiciary, the civil service, academia, broadcasters, local government, civil society – to satellites of its own authority, controlled from the centre, deprived of independent action.’ He then goes on to show how our present government is doing just that, just like the right wing governments before them. What he calls the ‘infrastructure of persuasion has been built since the 1950s. The model was developed by two fanatical disciples of Friedrich Hayek, their names are Anthony Fisher and Oliver Smedley, who said ‘it is imperative that we should give no indication in our literature that we are working to educate the public along certain lines” but what they developed were arguments that could be used to strip down the state, curtail public welfare and release the ultra rich from the constraints of democracy. Boris Johnson uses a lobby group called ‘Policy Exchange’ founded in 2002 by Francis Maud, Archie Norman and Nick Boles for the same purpose. It’s first chairman was – surprise surprise! – none other than Michael Gove.

One of the techniques they use, is to silence any opposition because it is ‘political’. Well, well, well. I may be reading more into it than I should, but that seems sinister to me and if I am a dog you’ve got to beware of, I’d better grow some teeth.

This entry was posted on September 4, 2020. 4 Comments

Our first victory

examsuturn

Our first victory and it belongs to our splendid students who have been out on the streets in unstoppable numbers ever since the doctored results of the A-Level non-examinations were known and have now achieved a government u-turn. These kids are quick and intelligent. They knew perfectly well that the government had deliberately downgraded their results and like plebs everywhere who have been pushed just too far, it has resulted in the start of a revolution. This could be something big. Can you hear me cheering?!

uturnexam

We tried to find a couple of pictures of the huge demonstrations there have been in the streets, but hit the copyright snag. However I’m quite sure that most of my blog readers will have seen the size of what was going on, on their television screens and a lot of them will have been cheering along with me.

 

What a delight it was to see our Gavin Williamson, our Education Secretary and his side kick Nick Gibb – who incidentally is my MP even though I’ve never, ever voted for him and never would – both having to admit that the government got it wrong. And it is music to my ears to hear journalists and politicians suggesting they should pay the price of their mistakes and resign.

Now the rest of us need to organise and get out on the streets. Watch out for the 3.5% protests on September 5th. They will be in a variety of places but the message will be the same everywhere. It is time for us to show this government that we know what they are doing and that the deliberate lies they posted on that disgraceful red bus are now being revealed for what they were, along with all the other damaging lies they’ve told.

fakenews

#REVOLT#RESIST#PROTEST – Our splendid young have opened the door for us.

This entry was posted on August 19, 2020. 6 Comments

There’s always hope

milkman-1280x720

Several apparently disparate things have happened to me this morning and put together they have coalesced into this blog.

The first was suddenly seeing this iconic photograph on the twitter site of a splendid lady called Helen Warlow, who puts up several photographs and paintings of various kinds every day. (Thank you Helen) I follow her avidly because I enjoy her choices and it’s always a pleasure to discover new artists but this one stopped me in my stride, because I knew it so well.  It had first been published in the middle of the Blitz, when I was in London, and it speaks volumes about the blitz spirit  which, contrary to the popular opinion of it now, was actually stoical, quiet, self controlled and full of loving kindness. It was never any surprise to me that the people of the blitz voted in a revolutionary Labour government in 1945, which established the NHS and the Welfare State. The attitude led directly from one to the other.

The second thing was discovering a blog by Erica Chenowith, who is an American Political Scientist, that explains what is meant by the 3.5% rule. (Thank you Erica) I’d seen pictures of it written  on various walls and pavements all over the place and wondered what it was about. Now here was a blog to tell me. Apparently, it had only taken vociferous and obvious opposition by a mere 3.5% of the population of Chile to get rid of General Pinochet and a similar proportion to remove Milosovic from power in Serbia. And if that is true, by implication it can work in Trump’s America and Johnson’s UK.

Personally I have doubts about whether such a small number could actually achieve so much here or in the USA but the need for public protest is obvious. Nothing has ever been achieved without it, we only have to think of the great movements in our history and the admirable people who have led them, like Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights Movement, for example, or Mahatma Gandhi’s salt march, or the Pankhurst’s Suffragette campaign, to know that ‘We shall overcome’ is not just a hopeful song but can also be an accurate prediction.

And now, hooray, we have a cause that is making a well organised and passionate group of our young people take to the streets to protest, with their parents and teachers and a very large number of other people supporting them. And that is the scandal of the A-level results which are so blatantly and cruelly biased that they simply can’t be ignored, even by our highly partisan and suspect right wing press. The anger on social media this morning shouldn’t leave anyone in any doubt that this time our lying, inadequate, biased, antisocial government of quockerwodgers has gone too far. Strength to your arm all you protesters. Others will follow you.

And here to help you on your way is some information about two other public demonstrations planned that may well interest anyone out there who’s had enough and doesn’t know where to start to make their political will known. You could join the two days of protest at Chequers on August the 18th and 19th. Or the 3.5% protest on September 5th. You will find the news about both of the on social media.

But please don’t sit at home feeling depressed about what is happening. ‘Long-term change,’ as Erica Chenoweth writes ‘never comes with submission, resignation, or despair about the inevitability of the status quo’.

#Revolt#resist#protest as our magnificent ex-sixth formers are doing in Parliament Square at this very moment. Respec’ you splendid young people!

And strength to all our arms.

This entry was posted on August 17, 2020. 3 Comments

A brace of sisters

 

I’ve just spent four completely happy days with my baby sister Carole and for part of them with my two daughters Mary and Caroline as well. We were all totally daft and soppy together and I haven’t laughed so much for quite a long time. Carole and I have had a rather chequered life while this lock-down has been going on, because although we could talk to one another on the phone and by FaceTime that’s not the same as being in the same house and the same garden being idiots together!

I have loved my Carole since the very first day I saw her and she’s a very rewarding person to love, besides being very good company, for we share and remember so much. While she was here this time she said she could remember my wedding, which rather surprised me because she was only eight, so I’ve looked out an ancient photograph of us both together on that day. The girl on my left as you look at the picture is my sister-in-law Olive whom I’ve also loved since the day I met her and my little sweetie Carole is standing right in front of me looking shy.

berylandroywedding2

And here we are out in my garden seventy years later and she’s still my little sweetie! On the day this photograph was taken, my two girls were with us as well, hence the title ‘A brace of sisters’ which they used when they put up the other photograph they took which is here along side. What would we do, without the people we love? I count myself very blessed to be surrounded by so many loving characters.

And just to bring this blog to a suitable conclusion, here is another pic we took that evening. A perfect end to a perfect day.

carole2

This entry was posted on August 12, 2020. 5 Comments

Philanthropy or greed?

Originally I thought about calling this ‘Life and Art’ but that sounded a bit pretentious so I changed it to Philanthropy or greed. But really the way things that are happening in real life and things that I have already made happen in the book I’m writing, have a very strong resemblance to one another. Let me explain.

I am currently writing a book called ‘The Great I Am’ which is set at the time of the Brexit vote and its aftermath and has a familiar central figure, a politician who tells lies as easily as he breathes, is a womaniser and a misogynist etc, etc and gets a well earned comeuppance in the final chapters (oh I did enjoy writing that!). It is a complicated book with a great many characters, one of whom is an old woman who leads a campaign in the part of London where she was born to prevent a greedy, speculative developer from pulling down the excellent Peabody buildings in which she lived. When I first planned it, I don’t think there was any very glaring example of such wanton destruction but there certainly is now.

The Guardian headline this morning says ” ‘Rushed’ planning shake-up will lead to more slums, experts warn.” And the article below it explains that the Government means to change the way planning applications for new buildings are handled. If a planning application is based on ‘pre-approved design codes’ it will get automatic permission. Land in England would be divided into three categories: growth, renewal and protection. New homes, hospitals, schools, shops and offices would be allowed automatically in growth areas. It all sounds very grand but when you think about it you begin to see that it would give speculative builders government permission to build their expensive houses for the rich, virtually wherever they please.

In my part of the world good, rich, arable land is constantly being boughtpagam up by speculative developers and turned into huge, lucrative estates full of houses that most local people simply couldn’t afford to buy. A group of locals in Pagham and Aldwick called P.A.G.A.M (Pagham and Aldwick Greenfields Action Movement) have been campaigning for years to stop this happening here. As you can see from this poster, they are very angry about it. But the campaign has had an effect. Their most recent report back to their members says ‘DECISION PROCESS BY ADC DID NOT TAKE PLACE ON THE  24TH. JUNE, WHICH MEANS P/24/20/RES WILL PROBABLY NOT HAPPEN UNTIL THE NEXT DCC ON THE 29TH. JULY, SO MORE TIME FOR OBJECTIONS.’ Or to put it briefly, the development that the locals do not want has been held up but only temporarily.

Back to the book, which as well as the odious politician, shines a light on a man who was the very reverse sort of character. This man was called George Peabody. He was born in 1795 in the USA and in 1863 he began to build comfortable and affordable blocks of flats in London for ordinary working men and their families and pulled down the slums they’d been forced to live in before he took action, because they were the only places they could afford to rent. Mr Peabody had actually grown up in poverty himself, in Massachusetts, so he knew what it was like. And although he made a lot of money during his lifetime, he was a true philanthropist and spent his wealth to help other people, unlike a majority of our entrepreneurs today who give every indication that they are simply, in it for the money.

His buildings are still standing in various parts of London but one was brought up and turned into luxury flats for the rich – hence my story of a campaign to stop those developers taking over any more.

Life and Art all mixed up together.

Fourpenny Flyer re-published

Fourpenny Flyer - Website Header Banner

Back to the writing business this morning. My publisher Agora are re-printing this novel this morning. It’s the central book of a trilogy based on the fact that WHSmith was founded by a woman. In real life Anna Smith worked so hard that she died young but she sounded such a feisty character that I couldn’t resist creating a prototype and I kept her alive until the Victorian Era.

This book is about her daughter in law Harriet who lived in the time of the Peterloo massacre in Manchester, so naturally she is present on the occasion and saw how frightening and brutal it was. There are some parts of history I simply can’t resist!

It was originally published in 1989. But if you haven’t met my Nan Easter before you might like to meet her and her family now.

It’s available on Amazon here.

Fourpenny Flyer eBook Cover