Archive | November 2019

Happy Birthday William!

This is our William Blake’s birthday. His 262nd to be accurate!

You are not forgotten dear William, and nor is your cottage. There are still some of us around in your Felpham Sweet Felpham who are struggling to get the Blake Cottage Trust to take some action, either by repairing the cottage or, if this is beyond their capabilities, by offering it free, gratis and for nothing to a large, charitable organisation that is prepared to take it and repair it.

And here is a poem for your birthday card.

Through fifty and two hundred years we’re still
Lagging behind the courage of your stride
Dear, truth-bold, honest William, in your fiery cloud.
Jerusalem is unbuilded, justice is rarely tried,
Men struggle still in your satanic mill,

And yet your verse, like birdsong bright and loud,
Carols your message, bids us take our fill,
Lifts and inspires, and will not be denied.
Its simple complicated truth sends thrill
On silver thrill, crowds hope on golden crowd.

So God be thanked you never stooped to hide
Your teeming talent and were never bowed.
And happy birthday, clear and dearest Will.



This entry was posted on November 28, 2019. 1 Comment

Blake’s Cottage on TV


A few months ago, somebody from Felpham Village phoned me to tell me that TV cameras were filming in Blake’s Cottage. They thought it was for a programme about holidays at home on BBC 1, so I phoned the BBC for more information. And drew a blank. The man I spoke to said he didn’t know anything about it, so I gave up.

But in fact there was a programme. It was aired on Monday this week and it was called ‘The Great Staycation’. And there, lo and behold was our poor cottage looking really dilapidated, but with several visitors walking through the garden and wandering through the ground floor of the cottage – how on earth did they manage to get there? – it must’ve been by special invitation. And out in the garden there was none other than the elusive Peter Johns, whom I’ve been trying to contact off and on for months and entirely without success!

He was waxing lyrical about how wonderful it was to have a cottage in the village where such a great man had lived, but I notice he didn’t give us any information about when it was going to be repaired. No surprises there then!

But the programme has provided me with several leads to follow, which I intend to do, this building is too important to be left to rot.

More in my next perhaps. And if anybody out there reads this and knows more about it, do get in touch. My war horse is still in the stables!


Armistice Day 2019

During the war I spent some time in London living with two distant – but very close dardyand much loved – relations. Their surname was Garnsworthy, her name was Minnie and his was Jesse but as a small child I had called them ‘Dardy’ because Garnsworthy was too tricky a name for my infant tongue and ‘Dardy’ stuck.

They were both wonderful sources of stories. She told me what it was like to be sent out to work miles from home when she was twelve years old, he told me what it was like in the trenches. He needed a few pints inside him before he got going and Minnie was very worried about the things he was telling me, scolding him and saying ‘she doesn’t want to hear that Jesse!’ but I did and I sat at his feet and lapped it up and afterwards wrote it all up in my diary.

He told me about the rats and the lice for a start. Rats so big and bold they would bite a mans face when he was asleep and lice so prolific and omnipresent that the only way of dealing with them was to run a lighted candle on the seams of your uniform where they gathered and try to kill as many as you could. They called it ‘chatting’ and the word later changed its meaning and became sitting and talking together. How times change. But some of the worst things were unexpected.

He told me what the trenches smelt like, shit, blood, rotting flesh, cordite and gas, and how absolutely filthy they were. “Most of the time we were caked in mud.”

And he told me something I’d never heard before. They called it the ‘Morning Hate’. After they’d had their breakfast they were given a tot of rum and ordered to get up on the fire-step and the word was given to fire into ‘no-mans land’ at random and as often as they could. It was a way of keeping up morale. They all got wildly excited and fired at dead horses to watch the rats run out of the corpses and then fired at the rats. I had never heard it spoken of or seen it written about anywhere else, but I knew it was true from the passion on his face and I put it almost verbatim into Everybody’s Somebody.


So when people march past the Cenotaph with the brass bands playing and ‘wear their poppies with pride’ I just feel cynically angry because it’s so inappropriate. And when politicians say specious things like ‘they died that we might live’ I want to leap into the crowd and thump them.

So I’m ending this piece with two poems, because poetry is powerful and usually honest and Wilfred Owen who died in the First World War and wrote some of the most moving poetry I have ever read, is the first one I’m putting here. ‘I am not concerned with poetry,’ he said. ‘My subject is War, and the pity of War. The poetry is in the pity… All a poet may do today, is warn.’

By Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

The second poem is mine and owes a very great deal to Jesse Garnsworthy and Wilfred Owen. Repec’ gentlemen.


Poppies that once bled pity in the Flanders fields
Are ritualised today to paper prettiness.
It’s the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month
The exact poetic time when the war that was to end all wars
That should never, in all conscience, have begun
Dragged its ravaged, shell-shocked, blood-soaked length
To a stunned stop
In the dumb, dead darkness of a corpse-gorged year.

Now it is men and rivers that are gorged
In the greed and thoughtless muddle of our time.
And only winter stirs long-hidden truth,
When furrows fill with water
Whitely reflecting an impassive sky.
Bare branches darken in a north-east wind
And the old cold shrinks a sullen earth,
Smites the caked hides of shivering cattle
Soon to be killed to feed our appetites.
And touches our too sentimental skin.

Yet Folly still stands proud with its paper flower,
To parrot out the politicians’ lie.
‘They died that we might live’.
Not so. Not so. Oh, it was never so.
They died like cattle, herded, scared and young
Because, like cattle, they were sent to die.

This entry was posted on November 11, 2019. 4 Comments

5 year old has online spending spree

My grand-daughter had a bit of a shock late yesterday evening when she received a notification from Amazon about a lamp that she’d ordered and found to her astonishment that far from spending £14 on the lamp, she also seemed to have spent £1,600 on five separate orders for a child’s ride-on electric car! Shock, horror!

She contacted Amazon straight away and cancelled the orders. Twilliamcarhen she did a spot of detective work. She didn’t have to look far to discover the culprit, because her five year old son had been talking about wanting an electric car, just like this, for months!

And when she asked him this morning whether he had ordered anything on Amazon, he told her quite openly, love his little heart, that he had, although he was a little shocked to discover that he had ordered five cars rather than the one he wanted and that he’d put the account into overdraft!

Be warned, fellow parents. Your children know exactly how to use the internet. In fact this particular child knows how to use it a lot better than I do!

And don’t tell anybody (even though what he did shocked his parents to the core) I still love him to bits. As they do.



This entry was posted on November 8, 2019. 2 Comments

A vile case of casting the blame


I’m going to apologise at the start of this blog because it is political. But it is making me so angry that I know it has to be written. If you can’t bear politics and are Brexiteers or devoted Conservatives give it a miss. But if like me you care about truth and justice, this is for you.

In yesterdays Guardian the news on the front page was that ‘Grenfell families tell fire chief to quit over failings’. I cannot criticise them. They are hurt and traumatised and need someone to blame. But I read the full article with mounting anger because it is obvious from what was being said that the report had been skewed and that someone was determined to take the spotlight away from the people who were really responsible for that fire and cast the blame for it on the firefighters who fought with such courage and tenacity and compassion to save as many people as they could. I’ve seen a lot of examples of shifting the blame but this is well and away the worse.

It isn’t as if we don’t know who was really responsible. They were mentioned in the report and it is easy enough to discover them via Google. What caused the fire to spread was the cladding that had been put up by The Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council who owned it. It was known at the time that the cladding was made of flammable material and was therefore not fit for purpose so why did these two organisations go ahead and use it? That’s the key question that should have been considered fully by the inquiry.

These two organisations were overseeing a £10m refurbishment of the 24 storey tower which was completed in 2016, when the original concrete facade was replaced by this particular cladding. So why didn’t they use a safer cladding? Well consider this. In July 2014 £300,000 was removed from the cladding budget and according to the Guardian ‘zinc panels were replaced with an aluminium composite material with a plastic core, which the government has now banned from use on high-rise residential blocks.’ BECAUSE IT WAS CHEAPER!

This whole story has been about making money and cost cutting. This is bad enough in itself but when you dig into the story you find it is even worse than you imagined because they can’t pretend not to know how dangerous their actions were. There was an action group in the Grenfell building who were responsibly and frequently active and knew exactly how dangerous their building was. Between 2013 and 2017 they published as many as 10 warnings highlighting numerous security risks affecting the integrity of the tower block and the safety of its residents. Their leader Francis O’Connor (respec’ Francis!) said ‘All our warnings fell on deaf ears and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time’ 

Let me give you a little more information about this action group (taken from the Grenfell Action Group blog).

‘The Grenfell Action Group was formed in 2010 to oppose the Kensington Academy and Leisure Centre development which we considered to be a gross overdevelopment of an inappropriate site involving the destruction of Lancaster Green, one of the few local green spaces available to the residents of Lancaster West Estate, and the only residential amenity space available for the residents of the immediately adjacent Grenfell Tower.

The founder members were Edward Daffarn (Respec’ Edward!) of Grenfell Tower and myself, Francis O’Connor, from the nearby Verity Close. In 2012 we started this blog and worked closely together for a number of years to research, write and publish it as regularly as our combined efforts would allow. The Grenfell Action group and this accompanying blog has operated without funding throughout its existence. From time to time we have been aided in our efforts by a few others who shall remain nameless here.

We were committed to defending the rights of the residents of Lancaster West Estate, a sprawling, inner-city, social housing complex of nearly a thousand dwellings, mostly working class, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic. Our community is located in North Kensington in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC). The estate is owned by the RBKC and was managed between 1994 and 2017, on the Council’s behalf, by Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) which was created specifically and solely for the purpose of managing, on the Council’s behalf, all Council owned properties in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.’

‘Following the catastrophic but completely avoidable inferno that destroyed Grenfell Tower on 14th June 2017 with the needless loss, in horrific circumstances, of 72 innocent lives, I have devoted most of my energy to investigating in this blog the causes of the fire, including the cultural and political causes that contributed directly or indirectly to the disaster, and to seeking justice for those who lost loved ones on that day and the many survivors who were left homeless and traumatised.’

It is not the beleaguered Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade who should be in TV studios and various newspapers taking the flak for what happened. She and her team did the best they could in appalling circumstances (Respec’ LFB!). It is the men who made the decision to use that cladding.

There’s a warning we ought to take from this. We are at the start of a Genboriseral Election that is going to be dominated by lies, posturing, false promises and the most skillful use of propaganda since Hitler and Goebbel’s time. To put it bluntly,  the Conservative party is led by a man without a conscience who tells lies, is a womaniser and a misogynist and a racist. But he is extremely skilled at presenting the image of a bumbling clown who is friendly and will give you anything you want and can be entirely trusted.

Worse still, he has got his fall-guy all neatly lined up and will cast the blame on him, exactly as the propagandists in the Grenfell case have done to the London Fire Brigade. Please don’t believe him. WE HAVE A HARD BATTLE ON OUR HANDS AND WE NEED CLEAR SIGHT.

This entry was posted on November 1, 2019. 3 Comments