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Spivs and heroes

I’m putting this up because it occurs to me that we live in a time which is very similar to the days of the Blitz. There are heroes working in our NHS and our other services, looking after us in all sorts of ways, with kindness and tenderness and consideration even though they are tired to exhaustion point and at the same time there are bullyboys and loud mouthed women ransacking the supermarkets and making a profit from selling the goods they’ve bought on the internet. They are spivs, every one of them. I recognise the type. I wrote about them in a novel I called. ‘Avalanche of Daisies’.

Here are two  of them called Phossie and Vic, driving off with their friends to plunder a warehouse at Potter’s Wharf that’s just taken a direct hit. They scrambled into their cars and drove off before the doors were shut, just like an American gangster film.

“If it is Potter’s,” Phossie explained as he drove, “we’ve got ten minutes at the most, then the civil defence’ll be there. It’s been a noisy night so with a bit a’ luck they might be busy somewhere else, but we can’t bank on it. We’ll have to work like stink.”

The wharf was shrouded by clouds of brick dust and couldn’t be seen but it was obviously the centre of the dust storm so they all plunged straight towards it. By now they were wild with excitement and heedless of the danger, scrambling over piles of broken brick, dodging smashed pipes, crunching over broken glass, eager for loot.

There was plenty of it, for although one side of the warehouse had vanished, as far as they could see, there were packing cases everywhere, looming out of the dust like a herd of humped beasts, some smashed open, some lying on their sides spilling tins, some virtually intact. But all of them too heavy to carry.

“We need a wheelbarrow or something.” Victor said, peering round wildly . And saw a tarpaulin, thrown across yet another heap of cases. Perfect. Grab it quick before the others see it. Then it was simply a matter of filling it with tins and lugging it back to the car, passing two of the others as they staggered out of the dust under the weight of half a broken packing case.57C063D6-805D-4DC6-9288-7F353404B4B9

They made three trips and were on their way back and fourth when there was a spurt of fire directly ahead of them and part of the building was suddenly ablaze, belching black smoke and scarlet flames behind dust clouds which were now eerily and dramatically brick-pink.

“Scarpa!” Phossie yelled and they both hurtled to the car. It was packed to the ceiling and very heavy to drive. But they got away and the civil defence hadn’t arrived and nobody could have seen them, thanks to all that dust. What a success! Fucking marvellous! They laughed and swore all the way home.

It wasn’t until there were inside the house that it occurred to Vic to wonder what had happened to the others.

“That’s their look-out,” Phossie said. “It’s every man for himself in this business. Let’s have a look an’ see what we’ve got.”

So they wiped the dust from their looted goods and found that what they’d ‘liberated’ was tinned food from the USA, corned beef, peaches, jam, rice pudding and stewed steak, all of it eminently saleable.

“We’ll make a fortune !” Phossie predicted happily. “A fortune! And we don’t even have to pay a cut to the Skibbereen. That’s the beauty of it. It’s all Freeman’s. Courtesy of Adolf Hilter.”

And just to show you what our heroes were doing at much the same time here’s another extract by way of a contrast.

The commandant of Belsen concentration camp was waiting at the gate. From their vantage point beside the leading armoured car, Steve and Dusty had a good view of the proceedings and the man. He was exactly the sort of creature they expected – thickset, stocky, arrogant, cruel – and he dominated their attention, dressed in the immaculate, be-medalled uniform of a high-ranking officer, with a well brushed  cap and brightly polished jackboots, his face a mask of brutal insolence, heavily jowled and fleshy, with small eyes and beetling eyebrows. He showed no sign of fear at all and had turned his back on the camp and his prisoners, as if they were nothing to do with him, as if they didn’t exist.

Behind him, the camp spread out its stinking and obvious presence, lines of cheap wooden huts, an expanse of bare, flattened, long-dead earth – where was all the grass? – and hundreds of prisoners, waiting, still and terrible, like half-clothed skeletons, stick-limbed and filthy their skin the pale yellowish-white of old parchment, heads shaven, faces gaunt and scabby, eyes sunk into purple sockets. Some were standing, their arms dangling at their sides as if they no longer had the strength to lift them, many more were lying on the ground, too weak and ill to even sit up. And the stench cloyed around them, sickening and pervasive.

The troops at the gate were so appalled at the sight of them that there were bereft of speech. They looked from their own sturdy bodies and well-fed faces to the emaciated skulls and weary eyes before them and couldn’t believe that they were seeing such things. How could anyone be reduced to such a state? They didn’t look human. But that thought, true thought it was, was too shaming.

The commandant was the only person who wasn’t abashed by the filth and starvation behind him. He clicked his heels to greet the brigadier and introduced himself as Joseph Kramer, looking as though he was proud of himself. Then he introduced his companions, a line of SS men and another of SS women, chief of whom was a pretty blonde, young and plump and looking most attractive in her trim uniform. ‘Irma Grese.’ It was all polite and proper and pompous, as if they were at a garden party.

The brigadier’s way with such people was cold and absolute. He turned to the military policemen who were waiting behind him. “Arrest them,”’ he said and climbed back into his staff car.

“Now what?” Steve asked the sergeant.

“Now we escort the food truck in,” the sergeant said.

“Poor bastards!” one of the privates said, looking at the prisoners with anguished pity.

“Don’t let any of them touch you,” the sergeant warned. “If you get lousy, you’ll get typhus an’ I’ll bet they’re crawling alive.”

It was true. They could see the lice, walking across those bare bony backs, climbing an exposed arm, squatting on a child’s forehead, evil, disgusting creatures, large as thumbnails and dark with blood.

“He’ll get the hygiene section in,” the sergeant said, nodding towards the brigadier’s car. “De-lousers, medical corps, casualty clearing station, the lot. The wires’ll be red-hot now he’s seen this.”

They inched into the compound , driving very slowly because the prisoners who could stand were staggering towards them, holding out withered hands and calling to them, “Shalom! Shalom!” signing, taloned fingers to cracked lips, that they needed food, their eyes imploring.

“It’s coming,” the sergeant called to them. “Quick as we can.” But there’s so many of them, Steve thought, as they drove gently on. There must be thousands here. How can we possibly feed so many?”

”Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.”

 

 

This entry was posted on March 26, 2020. 1 Comment

I am wired, although not for sound!

wiredAlthough I’m told this little machine makes warning sounds if any of the leads come adrift. It hasn’t done it yet because I’ve only had it attached for 2 days but the wires and attachments seem to be everywhere. If I turn over in my sleep I end up lying on the thing and it wakes me up, because it is – to put it mildly – a lump.

Blackpool illuminations DalekI feel like a robot and dare not look in the mirror! Exterminate! Exterminate! – No take that back. That’s not an appropriate word to use in our dark times I think, even though this particular dalek and I have a lot in common. Although to be fair they haven’t strung me up in the air on my wires.

I have to say I do prefer a nice, simple microphone. At least that gets detached when you’ve finished whatever interview you’re doing and being interviewed is fun.

Dixie has complained very loudly that there isn’t room for him and a machine on my lap, even though I try to shift it about so that it isn’t anywhere near his head. But Dixie is a cat of perfection and has told me very firmly that he will be jolly glad when the ‘lump’ has been removed. As I will!

At least this one doesn’t ping out a warning when one of its wires gets detached, as the machine in the hospital did. Actually, I didn’t mind that at all because it usually happened in the middle of the night and a nurse arrived to attach me again and we had a chance to talk to one another for a little while in the quiet. They were the kindest people alive, the nurses and doctors in that hospital and dealt with us all so tenderly and helpfully.  Respec’ to all of you. They were a very, very far cry from the nasty little two-bit spivs who are buying up all the toilet rolls, the handwash, the bread, eggs, sanitisers and pet food that we all need and storing it away to sell on at a profit. Shame on them. If I really were a dalek, I would certainly deal with them.

Time to close this particular blog and get back to my voluntary isolation. Oh frabjus joy! So I’m going to let a poet have the last word.

Louis MacNiece saw all this coming way back in 1938, and described it in his poem:

Bagpipe Music

John MacDonald found a corpse, put it under the sofa,

Waited till it came to life and hit it with a poker,

Sold its eyes for souvenirs, sold its blood for whisky,

Kept its bones for dumb-bells to use when he was fifty.

 

 

This entry was posted on March 18, 2020. 2 Comments

Does what we believe make us what we are?

adamandeve

It’s a serious question and I don’t know the answer and yes there is a link to Adam and Eve which I’ll explain later.

thomas paineBut first I want to remind you of The American Declaration of Independence which was signed on the 4th July 1776. One of the men behind it was Tom Paine, who is a great hero of mine and was actively involved in two revolutions, the French and the American and said of it afterwards:

“A share in two revolutions is living to some purpose.”

And his share in the American revolution was to be one of the determined men who wrote the American Declaration of Independence, which is a superb document and declares:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The belief was widespread and those who have been persuaded by the idea of equality were not just Tom Paine and the founding fathers, but Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, the Chartists, the Suffragettes and in our own time, a much maligned but equally passionate man called Jeremy Corbyn whose campaigning slogan before the last general election was ‘for the many, not the few’.

Tom Paine wrote a great deal about this new idea of equality, most of it is still obtainable. Things like:

“I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.”

And he also took a look at the elitists who certainly didn’t believe that men were created equal. And still don’t. You only have to look at people like Rees Mogg, Johnson and Trump to know that. Tom Paine got them bang to rights back in the eighteenth century:

“Men who look upon themselves born to reign, and others to obey, soon grow insolent; selected from the rest of mankind their minds are early poisoned by importance; and the world they act in differs so materially from the world at large, that they have but little opportunity of knowing its true interest, and when they succeed to the government are frequently the most ignorant and unfit of any throughout the dominions.”

These men believe that other people are certainly not their equals, women being at the top of the list, but all sorts of others too, study Hitler and you will see he annihilated gypsies, Jews, communists, anyone who opposed him and any human child who wasn’t in his eyes ‘perfect’. And it’s not just Hitler. World leaders over and over again have belittled and mis-treated human beings they consider unequal.

Women come out of all this very badly. It is only a short time a go since a woman was the property of her husband. And even now, little girls are married off or to men old enough to be their grandfathers, without having any say in the matter, or suffer genital mutilation. And on Wednesday, the news broke that according to a government inquiry, women in labour are being refused epidurals in childbirth.

Which brings us to the story of Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit.

For a start, it needs saying there are several different Gods in the bible and the one we follow is a loving, gentle creature who urged his followers to love one another ‘and do good to them that hate you’ . But the first to appear in these ancient pages is the Creator,  who built the Garden of Eden and designed a man and a woman in his own image to live there. He was – say it quietly – a nasty piece of work, there’s no other way to describe him. If you read the creation story as though it was nothing to do with religion or beliefs but simply as a fairy tale, you very quickly see that Adam and Eve were set up to fail. The one thing they cannot eat in that garden, is the fruit from the Golden tree in the middle of it, as the creating God makes it very clear:

“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”

Now it seems to me that most loving parents know very well that if they forbid anything to their children, it will be the first thing the children do and that one way to get them to do what you want them to do, is to tell them that they mustn’t do it. My old darling used to call it ‘kidology’ and it was a technique we both used frequently, both at home and in the classroom. But this first God of the holy scriptures, didn’t know anything about that and sure enough, his brand new creation disobeyed him and ate the forbidden fruit. His punishment was instant and brutal.

Adam was told:

“Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it; cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.”

The serpent was similarly castigated:

“Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thy go and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.”

But Eve, came off the worst of the three:

“Unto the women he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children and thy desire shall be to thy husband; and he shall rule over thee.”

In other words, you didn’t do as you were told and now you will give birth in extreme pain and your husband will have total power over you.

It’s an old, ugly idea and women are still having to fight against it all over the world. It is I suggest, the idea underneath the decision to deny women pain relief in childbirth. Although of course there is another ugly reason, for the decision to deny epidurals to women giving birth now and The Guardian reports it:

Clare Murphy, director of external affairs at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said the “results of the government’s inquiry are sadly not surprising”.

She added: “We have spoken with many women who have been so traumatised by their experience of childbirth that they are considering ending what would otherwise be wanted pregnancies.

“Pain relief is sometimes treated as a ‘nice extra’ rather than an integral part of maternity care, and women and their families can suffer profoundly as a result.’

And if you follow the article down, you will see why this situation has come about.

‘Dr David Bogod, a council member of the Royal College of Anaesthetists and a consultant at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS trust with a special interest in obstetrics’ says:

‘“The commonest reason for women to be denied an epidural is because of a lack in midwife numbers: we have a drastic national shortage of midwives,” he added. The NHS in England is short of the equivalent of almost 2,500 full-time midwives. ‘

We have come full circle from the mythological story of the creation to our present day attitudes. From an early primitive God who punishes his creation to a Prime Mendacitor who tells incessant lies and is secretly dismantling our NHS and certainly believes that a man should rule over his wife.

I think I should also add by way of explanation, that I studied the variety of Gods that we can find in the old and new testaments when I was at Kings College, London in the early ’50’s and found it extremely interesting but not in the least surprising.

Ideas you see, which seem harmless enough, can lead to all manner of struggle and all manner of hardships. Long live the revolution!

we can do it

 

This entry was posted on March 6, 2020. 2 Comments

The ups and downs of being published

And believe me, the longer you go on writing, the more of them you will find! I hit a horrible low with Citizen Armies a couple of weeks ago and now rather to my surprise the book has had several appreciative reviews. I wrote to the reviewers and thanked them as soon as I’d read them because that has seemed to me the very least a writer can do and it has always been my habit. Inadvertently, I’ve made a lot of friends that way.

In the early days of being published, when my two big publishers were very well heeled and prepared to buy my books into the shops and give them excellent publicity, I got a lot of reviews – good, bad and indifferent – and I thanked all the reviewers. It took a long time but I considered it time well spent. I was also very grateful to the publishers for getting my books in the shops and paying for such very good publicity. I find it very difficult indeed to blow my own trumpet. I feel it is a shameful thing for me to do and too cocky by half, so I tend to avoid it, especially now that my books never appear in any shops as far as I’m aware. Sadly, small publishers however helpful and friendly they might be, don’t have the cash to get them there.

But boastful or not, I’m going to give you the links to my latest reviews for my two latest books. And then I shall scuttle straight back to book 31! I’m comfortable there.

http://stinathebookaholic.blogspot.com/

https://www.netgalley.co.uk/book/184192/review/521082

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show?id=3202439943

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Should you want to, you can purchase the pair of books on Amazon here.

 

This entry was posted on February 28, 2020. 2 Comments

I’ve just met a man who makes me feel young!

And as you can imagine, that takes some doing! His name is John White and he lives in Tooting and I’ve met him on Twitter and he’s a hundred years old.

Here he is celebrating his 100th birthday and talking to The Furzedown Project about growing up in London during the 1920s and 1930s. Images shared from @tootingnewsie on Twitter.

He joined the RAF in 1939 – which was three years before my old darling joined – and was a navigator, flying missions across the Mediterranean including the time when Malta was under siege. That talk must’ve been fascinating, I wish I could have been there to hear it, but with luck I might meet him when I go to Tooting in June to talk to the Furzedown Project myself. That would be fun! It isn’t often I can meet someone who can make me feel young. Usually when I meet new friends I’m very aware of how old I am.

There’s only one snag and that is that he will be a difficult act to follow. I shall be talking about growing up in Tooting in the 1930s and taking a look at the houses that I lived in and the schools I attended and probably taking a sideways look at what it was like to be in Tooting during the Blitz.

Tooting breeds ’em tough!

This entry was posted on February 20, 2020. 3 Comments

Dixie versus the hooley!

Dixie is suffering from a major disgruntlement.

He was not impressed when the gale began to blow because it curtailed his hunting and he was reduced to sitting my the window and glowering at it. But eventually he had to go out into the storm to answer the call of nature and at that point things went monstrously wrong.

I went with him to the cat-flap just to encourage him a little, but it took a while for him to walk into the tunnel and he’d barely gone four paces before everything went terribly wrong.

The wind howled down the tunnel of the cat-flap very loudly and something was banging and crashing. Then suddenly and without any warning, my poor cat was blown backwards into the house. I’ve never seen an animal look so surprised! Poor old thing.

I had to coax him out very carefully and let him out through one of the conservatory doors, where he ran wildly and at full tilt into the rain and was back again really quickly, poor old love. He then decided to spend the rest of the day in my bed.

Since then he’s been very wary indeed of the cat-flap and would much prefer to go out through a nice solid, dependable door! But he hasn’t forgotten his duties as a cat, he is now spend the night sleeping on my feet in case I’m afraid of the noise.

How’s that for heroism.

This entry was posted on February 13, 2020. 1 Comment

Self publishing versus traditional publishing

I spent most of yesterday afternoon with two new friends, Irene and Caroline – who are planning a literary festival in Chichester, because as Irene said ‘there are so many writers in our area.’ 

They’d come to see me to ask if I would take part in the festival which of course I will. And Irene showed me a list of local writers so that I could see who they were. One was Rosaline Laker who was a very old friend of mine and a very good writer, now sadly dead. Others ranged from published writers to self-published and that set me thinking.

For so much has changed since 1980 when my first book appeared in the shops, that I now feel I’m living in a completely different world. In those days, self-publishing was rarely heard of. It didn’t come in, in a big way until 2009 when Amazon Publishing was launched. There had been vanity publishers of course, which published books at a price and couldn’t get them in the shops and established writers like Virginia Woolf who were able to set up their own publishing houses. But the majority of writers had to jump through the established publishing hoops.

But then, for the thousands and thousands of people who want to write and be published, Amazon was suddenly the obvious outlet and it was free. Now all a wannabe writer has to do is write the book, count the words, write the end and put it up. As Wikipedia puts it ‘the publishing industry as a whole is in a great deal of flux, in a sort of “Wild Wild West” state’. 

So is there any difference between being published by a reputable publishing house and self-publishing your book? Yes, I’m afraid there are a lot of differences and some of them are formidable.

The ‘big’ publishers pay a great deal of money (and we’re talking thousands or even millions) to get their books on the shelves of the big bookshops. They also spend thousands of pounds on very visible and public advertising like posters in railway stations and magazines and ad-shell sites, so that the public will know that the books are there. Spending like this is totally beyond pretty well every self-published writer there is. They can’t compete and have to get used to the fact that book shops will not stock their books, which means that the income from their writing is very small, even though they go to as many book fairs as they can and pay a fee for a stall where they can display their stories and shout their praises very loudly ‘read my book, it’s great, etc’. You need considerable stamina to cope with it.

But there is another and more subtle difference between self-published and being published the old fashioned way and that is the fact that in addition to a publicity team, the publishers provide editors to support their writers. And editors are very useful people, for they will point out, kindly and subtly, all the most obvious faults they find in your manuscript and expect you to correct them. It is a salutary experience because you are up against somebody else’s knowledgeable opinion, which will certainly not be as glowing as your own, unless you are a modest writer. It is good for the soul and very necessary. It’s a great handicap not to have a reputable opinion of your work to back it up.

I’m quite sure that all writers need to be self-critical and to aim at the best possible writing that they can and it’s sad to say that that is not always the case with those who are self-published. I admire the time and energy they put into self-publicising their books but I often wish they could have had attention of a full paid editor in a publishing house. They’re the guys who hold the mirror up to your work and make you see it as it really is.

In our wild, wild west state, I don’t know what the answer to it is.

This entry was posted on February 7, 2020. 12 Comments