What do you know about Portcullis House?

I promised you a fun blog today called ‘A new love affair’ and had got it more than half planned but for reasons which will become clear when I do put it up, I couldn’t go ahead with it at this moment, so I’m offering this blog in lieu.

So, what do you know about Portcullis House? If you’re like me, not very much. But I’ve been finding out, because it’s one of the settings of the novel I’m currently writing and I thought it might interest you too.

The House is a sumptuous extension of the House of Commons. Elegant, beautiful and massively expensive. The trees in that picture for example, are rented Fig trees which have cost over £400,000 to date.

There is a passage between the House of Commons and the new building which links with the new underground railway station of the Jubilee Line and at the end of the passage there are two escalators down and up leading straight in to the central atrium where the fig trees are. We found a plan of it which I found very interesting for it is surrounded by cafes and restaurants, has a library, a post office with cash machines and one corner given over to a well planned and fully equipped set of toilets. All very mod-con and all very luxurious.

The general public have a limited entry to this place if they know where to find it, but it is basically a massive headquarters for MPs. It made me wonder why any of them would been considering shifting the House of Commons to a position in the North, especially as the original planners of this building have made provision for a new House of Commons right here among the Fig trees and the restaurants.

I would be very interested to know if anyone who follows my blog, has been able to visit it. And if they have, what they thought of it. I find it fascinating even in pictures and plans, and intend to use it as a setting for some of the incidents in the book I’m currently writing, which is why Lottie and I first started researching it.

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This entry was posted on October 16, 2020. 5 Comments

I’ve got a message for Piers Morgan.

I read the G2 interview in Monday’s Guardian with a great deal of interest, because it was about Piers Morgan and there have been times when he’s taken on some of our dishonest leaders and shaken them up a bit, and I find that admirable.

But when he was talking to Simon Hattenstone, he attacked so many people it was quite difficult to sort them all out. The article began with him admitting that he is ‘waging war on woke’, I’ll quote what he said. ‘Wokery has been hijacked by extremely illiberal people bordering on fascists,’ and later, ‘liberal fascists are taking over the world.’ There’s a contradiction in terms if ever I read one, but he’s happy to give examples of them, ‘the fascist, transgender lobby who won’t accept that trans women are different from biological women’ and ‘the fascist celebs who fly thousands of miles to environmental conferences in private jets to order us to become carbon neutral.’ Now I can quite see that people who are called ‘woke’ have some rather odd opinions (as well as some very good ones), and the celebs are people who are just a little too full of themselves, but that is not the same thing as being a fascist. Fascists are a totally different political breed and very dangerous. We need to be careful that we reserve the term for those who really deserve it.

So what is a fascist? I can’t do better than to quote the fourteen signs as they were defined by Dr Lawrence Britt in Spring 2003:

Fourteen defining characteristics of fascism.

  1. Powerful and continuing Nationalism.  Constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans symbols and songs.
  2. Disdain for the recognition of human rights – Because of fear of ‘enemies’ and the need for ‘security’, people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases. They therefore look the other way and/or approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations etc.
  3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause. People are rallied into a unifying frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived threat or foe: racial, ethic or religious minorities, liberals, communists, socialists, terrorists etc.
  4. Supremacy of the military.
  5. Rampant sexism. Traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family.
  6. Controlled mass media.
  7. Obsession with National Security.
  8. Religion and government are intertwined. Governments use the most common religion in the nation to manipulate public opinion.
  9. Corporate power is protected
  10. Labour power is suppressed. Because the organising power of trade unions is the only real threat to a fascist government, Unions are either eliminated or severely suppressed.
  11. Disdain for intellectuals and the arts.
  12. Obsession with crime and punishment. Police are given almost limitless power to enforce the laws.
  13. Rampant cronyism and corruption.
  14. Fraudulent elections.

These are signs that are very obvious in the characters and behaviour of a lot of our present rulers, here and in the United States and you don’t have to read very far down the list before you recognise them.

Slogans are bellowed at us here and in America on a regular, boring basis. Somebody has obviously told Johnson that slogans in three phrases or three words are the best kinds, so we have ‘Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives’ and currently ‘Hands, Face, Space.’ Bish, bash bosh.

Trump was voted into power on another slogan ‘Make America Great Again’.

And the fear of ‘enemies’ is endemic in both our countries. Cast your minds back to the blazing propaganda of the Brexit campaign and see how skilfully Farage stirred up hatred of the ‘other’ and the ‘outsider’ with his odious poster.

And now the very unpretty Miss Patel is stirring up hatred of the ‘other’ by her diatribes against refugees arriving here in cockle shell boats across the channel. Her language is venomous in exactly the same way as the language used by Hitler and Goebbels was when they were shrieking against the Jews. And most of us can remember painfully well how that particular manufactured hatred ended up.

Rampant sexism grows more widespread here, our mass media are certainly controlled – look who owns them – and our elections are fraudulent, as Brexit was. Look at the skilful and half hidden lies on that revolting red bus.

In short we are already in danger of becoming a fascist state, with all that that entails and we need to encourage people to make a stand against it before it is too late and we are forbidden to have any opinion at all, other than the one in power.

We need newsmen and women and political journalists from every sphere, to speak up loud and clear whenever they hear a fascist preaching poison and to do that Piers you need to see your enemy rather more clearly than you do at present. People who are ‘woke’ are not fascists, they are just people who see things differently and that makes them uncomfortable so they speak up against them. The celebs he hates are not fascists, they are just overblown, self-important, arrogant men and women who speak before they think.

And in the meantime the fascists are there and already in power and dangerous. Strength to your arm.

This entry was posted on October 14, 2020. 5 Comments

Third book of the Easter Empire Trilogy is published!

These three editions of my trilogy are new and the final one was published late yesterday afternoon, so here they all are neatly lined up together.

They follow the history of a fictional family that was founded by the heroine in the first book and loosely resembles WHSmiths. The three titles now look contrived to me, but in fact they fell into place very neatly when I was reading the factual account of the real WHSmiths and the story of the real woman who founded the company. She sold the new Times newspaper out on the streets in order to provide for her three children after her husband died and added an extra farthing on each copy as profit. So there was my first title handed to me on a plate.

As the actual story of the firm progressed I discovered that another major move in their history was when many more newspapers were being printed in London and were being sent out to the various London Termini for sale in big cities all over the country. They were carried in a two horse transport called a ‘Flyer’ and to my absolute delight I discovered that flyers were hired for fourpence a mile ‘Fourpenny Flyers’ no less and the neatness of it pleased me.

And then as if that weren’t coincidence enough I read on through the history and reached the point at which the firm was selling books as well as newspapers on their new stalls in the railway stations and lo and behold, the books cost sixpence a time. And there was my third title. I didn’t have to do any work to discover them at all.

Later when the third book was originally published a reviewer joked ‘she’s inflationary, but worth it.’ Which made me laugh out loud and pleased me mightily.

And as another unbelievable footnote to this story, the combined advance royalties that I was paid for the three books gave me enough cash to buy the lovely, big house I am still living in. It was a breath-taking price and I paid it by writing a cheque. I’d never signed such a huge cheque in the whole of my life and I was stunned stupid for days at my good fortune.

So here is my third book re-published by Agora and available on Amazon for £3.99 here. I hope you enjoy it as much as the original readers did.

This entry was posted on October 9, 2020. 1 Comment

A little lesson to Johnson on how to tell the truth.

I watched Johnson’s address to the remote faithful of the Tory party, getting steadily more annoyed with him. He spent over half his time slagging off the Labour party and praising himself and/or the Tory party. It was the usual wiffle waffle piffle paffle that didn’t mean much but sounded good to his supporters. But then he started to talk about the Second World War and I wanted to jump through the television set and thump him I was so angry. Here are the words that set me off.

“In the depths of the Second World War,” our Prime Mendacitor said, “when just about everything had gone wrong, the government sketched out a vision of the post-war new Jerusalem that they wanted to build, and that is what we’re doing now, in the teeth of this pandemic.”

‘The Government’ you notice. And if you were not quick and knowledgeable, you would have assumed that he was talking about the Tories at that time and was naturally full of praise for what they had done. This is the skilful way he can manipulate words to make you admire, follow and believe him. So let’s correct him here and now. The Government he is talking about was the great Labour government of 1945, which was supported by a huge majority of the British Electorate. The vision of a post war Jerusalem, which they put into practise was written by a Liberal Lord, William Beveridge. I read that report when it came out, as the majority of socialists in this country did. The Tory party at that time, were notorious in their opposition to what Beveridge had proposed and Attlee’s Government eventually brought into being. And let’s spell that bit out very clearly too. It took Nye Bevan, three long years to persuade the rich doctors in the BMA to agree to working with him to establish our NHS. Afterwards he said he had to stuff their mouths with gold. I don’t know what party they belonged to (although I can certainly guess) but they definitely weren’t socialists.

Eventually our long dreamed of and planned for NHS was created and so was our long dreamed of and planned for Welfare State. The Conservative party were the opposition and they opposed it. For Johnson to imply that they were responsible for it as he was doing in that speech, is a lie by implication and lies by implication are called ‘propaganda’.

Shame on you, you odious little man.

This entry was posted on October 7, 2020. 10 Comments

Fact and Fiction

This blog has been inspired by the publicity girl at Agora. Thank you Peyton! She sent me an e-mail recently to ask me if I could write a blog for their website about how the Easter Trilogy came into being. She knew from a blog I’d written ages ago that it was inspired by the woman who founded W.H.Smiths but she also wanted to know how much of my story was fact and how much was fiction.

So to begin at the beginning. The trilogy was kicked off by my agent, who at that time was the great Darley Anderson. He phoned me one afternoon to ask if I knew that Smith’s had been founded by a woman. The company had just published a new book telling the history of it. Would I like to read it? I would and did and was hooked.

Apparently the original W.H.Smith infuriated his wealthy family by falling in love with a servant and marrying her instead of just living with her. Shock horror! Naturally they cut him off without a penny because the marriage was ‘beneath him’. Unfortunately the poor man died when he was relatively young, leaving his wife and their three young children without any means of support. But Anne Smith was a resourceful woman. She took to the streets, not to sell her body, which is what destitute young women usually did, but to sell the newly published daily paper which was called The Times and cost tuppence. She charged an extra farthing on every copy she sold and, as the WHS history put it, ‘out of those farthings, the Smith Empire was built.’

It was an irresistible story although, very sadly, the real story didn’t last long because Anne’s hard work meant that she too died young. So at that point I decided to turn the original tale in a different direction and keep her alive. She was too good a character to kill. I changed the names of my central characters from WH and Anne Smith to W.H.Easter and his wife Nan and set fire to the blue touch paper. Three years later I had a trilogy.

There were several knock-on effects to extending my heroine’s life. One was that it gave her and her children – and us – time to explore their world. The story begins in 1786 so naturally I sent her and her husband to Paris in time to see the French king have his head chopped off.

In the second book I contrived to have my heroine, Harriet who is Nan’s daughter-in-law, go to Manchester at the time of the Peterloo massacre. It is a powerful turning point in her life, besides being a very grizzly business.

And in the third book on a rather more gentle note, I rounded the saga off by sending Nan to Windsor Castle to receive a medal from Queen Victoria.

The people I could not manage without

are all people that our great leader the Prime Mendaciter seems able to ignore as if they are of no consequence. They are probably typical of all the family carers who are presently looking after very elderly relations who have been in and out of lockdown ever since this pandemic began. If I had a flag I would wave it for them, or pin it to my door, so this blog is my way of waving a flag.

The people I depend upon and depend on very heavily are my two daughters and one of my granddaughters. Here she is doing what she does pretty well every week. Proof reading. She also puts up my blog every week – as well as putting up with me! She is my research assistant, my accountant – coping with my hideously complicated tax return – and my sub-editor. At the moment, she is enabling me to cope with a very complicated middle section to the present novel. On my own I would have reached raving lunacy and given up, but with her beside me we have finally and after a great deal of hard work, completed what we call ‘the dreaded middle’.

And here are my two lovely girls, Caroline to my left with my sister Carole and Mary on the right with me. Oddly enough sitting on the same sofa. Without Caroline two things would not have happened. One is that Charlotte would not be able to come and work for me, if it were not for the fact that her mother looks after her children. But there’s also another reason. When I’d been in lockdown for quite some time, I was reaching the point at which I thought it was not going to be possible to get out for a walk probably ever again. Caroline coaxed me out. She did it as she does everything, very delicately and with a lot of tact. Now she takes me for a walk every weekend, so that rather than dreading being out, I look forward to it and that has taken some doing. Respec’ my third born darling.

Mary seen on the same sofa with me has become my gardener, because the garden it totally beyond me and my housekeeper, because although I can look after myself more or less, I am very, very slow. This too is done in her determined way and is another labour of love. Respec’ my second born darling.

And of course as he is currently telling me, I also have the services of quite a superlative literary cat, seen here assisting with our latest jigsaw puzzle. Ok Dixie, all right, you’re in on the act now. We all know the house couldn’t possibly function without you.

This entry was posted on September 24, 2020. 4 Comments

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. 7 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