Putting on an Act

From time to time there is a flurry of messages on social media, some angry, some confused, some saddened, because news has come out that yet another child has been beaten or abused or tortured – or even killed. ‘This is terrible,’ people say. ‘It’s got to be stopped.’  The angry ones deplore the loss of the death penalty and say things like, ‘They should lock them up and throw away the key.’  The confused admit that they can’t understand why anyone would behave the way these monsters do. The sad ones ache with pity for the children who’ve been hurt and wonder what will happen to them in the rest of their lives. But the 64,000 dollar question remains. What makes anyone want to hurt a child? Or any animals unlucky enough to belong to them? Or an old person? Or people who are mentally ill? I’ve often thought that the answer could well be that they chose their victims  because they are all people or creatures who can’t fight back. There are other reasons too, of course, but that seemed a possible place to start.

And then along came Liam Neeson  with his now infamous remarks at a press junket, when he suddenly went off script and instead of pushing his new film, ‘Cold Pursuit’, the way he was expected to do, he told the story of  how he once went prowling the streets with a cosh in his pocket, looking for a black man to – as he put it, ‘… um… kill.‘ He explained that a friend of his had been raped by a black man, and he was furiously angry about it and looking for revenge. The story caused a storm, with lots of journalists saying that he was a ra492539A3-76AA-49DC-B8EC-0A8DB04BFE05cist, which he obviously didn’t expect or want. He did what he could to put it right, appearing on ‘Good Morning’ as soon as he could, to declare that he wasn’t a racist, explaining, by way of justification, that if the rapist had been a Syrian or something else, he’d have gone after one of those, and completely sidestepping the point that the man he was after was unknown to him and yet he was prepared to kill him simply because he was black. And if that’s not racist I don’t know what is. But he couldn’t and wouldn’t face it.   And this all set me thinking again.

Liam Neeson is an actor. He earns his living by getting inside the heads of the characters he plays. Or to put it another way, by putting on an act, photo 3and becoming someone else. Do rapists and abusers do the same thing, I wonder, inhabiting another totally false persona to put investigators off the scent, and to avoid having to face up to the terrible things they are doing? I grew up with an abuser (as those of you who have read ‘A Family at War’ will know) and she certainly did. Could this, perhaps, be one way  to deal with them. To make sure that their false image is revealed and smashed, so that they have to face the people they really are. It would be a dreadfully difficult job. I know from experience how dangerous it is to tell an abuser the truth about themselves. And what if it isn’t just the abuser who refuses to believe what you are saying? What if nobody will believe you?

Which brings me to another man from show business, and one who is much, much worse than our sad Liam Neeson, whose only real fault was to talk about an ugly moment in his early life too publicly. This other man was evil.

He was Jimmy Saville, paedophile and self-promoter, with his dyed blond hair, his trademark cigar, his odious bonhomie, his ‘Guys an’ gels’. And if we consider him, it leads us into facing some most uncomfortable facts. For he was a monstrous 9a0d38de-d44c-44f6-a99d-0b6ddd1804ee.png
creature, who assaulted literally hundreds of young women and little girls and boys, some of them extremely young, over several decades, leaving a trail of pain and distress wherever he went, and he went freely all over the place, to TV studios, hospitals and approved schools, ‘hiding in plain sight’. And he was never found out. It wasn’t until he’d been dead for nearly a year that the truth finally began to emerge and then it caused a scandal that involved all sorts of people in very high places including  the NHS and the BBC.

Eventually there were so many people coming forward to complain about the way Saville had treated them that Scotland Yard launched a criminal investigation. Its remit  spanned six decades and caused a scandal of terrible proportions, for the facts it revealed were horrendous.  450 people had made complaints about Jimmy Saville and been ignored. Among the 450, there were 28 children under 10, ten of whom were boys, some as young as eight.  214 criminal offences were recorded during the investigation, among them 34 cases of rape. Information was gathered from 28 police forces. And as a result of all that, it had been decided that there would be an enquiry into the BBC and the NHS  because it was plain that Saville had had some very powerful friends in very high places who had kept everything sweet for him, ensuring that the women and children who complained about him were not believed and had to keep quiet. There were people at the BBC who had heard rumours about Saville’s behaviour but they too had been persuaded to ignore them, partly because the ‘culture’ demanded it and partly because they were afraid they would get into trouble if they spoke out. It was corruption on a massive scale and the revelations about it caused an enormous stir.

To put all this in another way, it became clear during that investigation that anyone endeavouring to deal with a child abuser could be up against formidable odds. It saddens me to write this but it is true nevertheless. And the 64,000 dollar question or questions still remain. How can we put child abusers into a position where they have to accepchange their minds and their ways? And how can we deal with a corrupt culture that supports them and hides what they are doing?

Any thoughts? I’d be interested to hear them.




This entry was posted on February 15, 2019. 3 Comments

A quadruple birthday

Next Sunday and Monday there will be four birthdays to celebrate in my family. My sister Carole and her daughter Amanda on Sunday and me and her son Peter on Monday! Something to celebrate, especially as  Amanda will be 50 on her birthday and I shall be 88 on mine. My sister who was borcarolen the day before my eleventh birthday will be 77 and her son will be 48. His arrival on my fortieth birthday when I was teaching at Catford School. It gave me the title and the impetus for a piece of group work to which all my classes contributed and which we called ‘Ain’t love grand’. The title swam into my mind because I was so high when I heard the news that he was born. And within a day it had taken off. By the end of the term, we had covered one entire wall of my classroom with pictures and poetry and anything any of my pupils found which celebrated the fact that love was indeed an extraordinary and wonderful thing. One of the girlspeteramanda3 brought a picture from a magazine of a baby being born, which is quite commonplace now in the days of ‘Call the Midwife’ but was revolutionary then.

When the wall was covered, the school librarian who was a great friend and had been following the progress of our work and providing the poetry that my pupils had come tearing into the library to find, came down to see what it all looked like. She was very impressed which rewarded us all and suggested to me that we should take the completed work and enter it in a competition at a big event called a ‘Book Bang‘ which was due to take place in the middle of Bedford Square, in the heart of Bloomsbury, between May 28 and June 11 and was organised by the National Book League. So I wrote to them to see if such an entry would be possible and got an encouraging answer back saying ‘yes do bring it’.

We set off giggling and struggling with our huge exhibit and joined the festivities. It was an absolutely wonderful day as so many writers were there. We sat at the feet of the incomparable Dannie Abse, whose poem ‘The smile was’ we had quoted in full and we followed one or another of our heroes or heroines one after another all day dazzled to be in their company.  As if that weren’t enough to make the day, when the announcement of the winner of the exhibition of class work was announced, we were so surprised and happy we were like dogs with two tails and didn’t know what to do with ourselves. Because surprise, surprise, we had won  a prize.

Love really was grand! 


And it has gone on being grand, one happy year after another all of them fascinating and complicated. I feel myself blessed, truly blessed to have such relations and I haven’t even started to tell you about my own family, whom I love to bits in the same way.

Happy Birthdays Quartet!



This entry was posted on January 25, 2019. 2 Comments

Time for a bit of advanced maths


HMRC_Self_Assessment_tax_returnCharlotte and I discovered something rather peculiar about our income tax system yesterday and it’s occurred to us that it might be quite revealing to share it.

We had been struggling with my tax return for a very large part of the morning and had reached growling point, which as any self employed writer or artist will tell you is lurking just around the corner when we’re required to tackle these incomprehensible forms.

We had just about managed to make sense of their tortuous use of English, when we discovered that I was being told I owed the Inland Revenue £3.60 which had been held over from this year and the last and was ‘late’. This annoyed me mightily because I have been earning so little on both these years that by the time the forms were filled in and I’d admitted to the little I earned and listed my ‘acceptable’ outgoings, I had nothing left to pay.

So where did that £1.80 a year for two years come from?

There was nothing on the form to allow me to ask anybody who might know the answer, so we continued to fill in all the irritating bits and pieces until we reached THE END and there – damn my eyes – after I’d been told I didn’t have anything to pay, there was the same £3.60 being demanded.

I was so irritated with it that I decided to pay it and get it out the way. It was, after all, only £3.60. But after I’d sent off the debit card payment, Lottie and I did a bit of thinking and some advanced maths.

What if it is normal process for anybody who pays income tax but doesn’t earn enough to warrant paying any in any given year to be stung for a small and insignificant sum. How often does this happen, it seems like a successful con. All HRMC have to do is to sit back and wait for the suckers to pay it.

Now, in 2017 there were 4.8 million self employed people who filled in the abominable form and paid online. What if the same con had been worked on all of  them and they were all charged £1.80 or a similar sum? That would tot up to somewhere around £8.64 million.


Nice work if you can get it. The sad thing is, that because the inland revenue allow the monstrously and obscenely rich to avoid paying tax altogether and most of us now know it, it makes an obscenity of the entire business. They pay nothing and we are told we must pay a pittance, which we don’t owe anyway! There’s something very wrong with that.

I wonder whether anyone who has intimate knowledge of how the system works, can explain it and, if they can, I wonder whether they can tell us how those of us who don’t truly owe this money to HMRC can actually avoid paying it.

We mustn’t forget we live in very corrupt times.


This entry was posted on January 18, 2019. 1 Comment

What IS going to happen to our NHS?


And now what?

I’m getting a little tired of being told by well meaning and optimistic tweeters that everything is going to be alright with our NHS because Theresa May has promised to give it £20.5 billion. How very generous she is, now we can all stop worrying. To make me even more sad, Channel 4 news broadcast a student debate last night about the current state of the NHS in which far, far too many had been conned by the propaganda and believed what Theresa May was saying.

But is she really telling us the truth, and will she really honour her promise? Neither are by any means certain. It’s a little too easy to promise things if you want to win votes.

This is the point at which we need to look at the actions of Mrs May and her parliamentary friends and that might give us a better indication of what they really intend.

So what have they all been doing since the Tories came to power?

Simon Stevens the Chief Executive of NHS England use to lead United simon_stevens_okfl08Health which is an American for-profit managed health care company based in Minnetonka, Minnesota, ranked number 5 on the Fortune 500 rankings of the largest United States corporations. This was what was said about Stevens in 2013 when he worked for them:

“His responsibilities include leading UnitedHealth’s strategy for, and engagement with, national health reform,” – or to put it another way ‘NHS privatisation’ – “ensuring its businesses are positioned for changes in the market” – you bet! “and regulatory environment.”

While in opposiandrewlansleytion as health spokesman, Andrew Lansley accepted a donation of £21,000 from John Nash, the chairman of private healthcare provider Care UK and founder of the private equity fund Sovereign Capital, which owns several other private healthcare companies, to help fund his private office, leading to allegations of a conflict of interest.




The current health minister Matt Hancock was criticised in the Evening Standard in November 2018 after appearing to endorse a mobile phone health app marketed by the subscription health service company Babylon Healthcare. Babylon allegedly sponsored the newspaper article.Justin Madders wrote to Theresa May accusing Hancock of repeatedly endorsing the products of a company that receives NHS funds for patients it treats, which contravenes ministerial guidelines.

The great Richard Branson of Virgin Care is well ahead of the field. He has already richard branson nhsbeen awarded almost £2bn worth of NHS contracts over the past five years and his company has quietly become one of the UK’s leading healthcare providers,  as the Guardian discovered. That’s £2 billion pounds of our money from NICs and our taxes that should have gone to the NHS and went straight into his pocket.

In one year alone Virgin Care, won deals potentially worth £1bn to provide services around England, making it the biggest winner among private companies bidding for NHS work over the period. The company and its subsidiaries now hold at least 400 contracts across the public sector – ranging from healthcare in prisons to school immunisation programmes and dementia care for the elderly.

This aggressive expansion into the public sector means that around a third of the turnover for Virgin’s UK companies now appear to be from government contracts. And the sad thing is that there are still people who don’t know what he and others like him are doing, even though we were all warned that that was what was coming way back in 2010.


In that year, a man called Mark Britnell, who was the Chair of KPMG Health spoke to a meeting of American private health firms. What he had to say was hideously clear and, to its eternal credit, the Guardian/Observer reported it word for word. This is what he said:-

‘In future, the NHS will be a state insurance provider and not a state deliverer.’

‘The NHS will be shown no mercy and the best time to take advantage of this will be in the next couple of years.’

You might well be wondering who KPMG are, if you look them up you will find that they are a “professional service company” and one of the Big Four auditors, along with Deloitte, Ernst & Young, and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Seated in Amstelveen, the Netherlands, KPMG employs 207,050 people and has three lines of services: financial audit, “tax and advisory” or to put it another way advising the monstrously rich how to avoid paying tax in any part of the world.  Their revenue in 2018 was 28.96 billion US Dollars or 22.72bn pounds. Nice work if you can get it and don’t forget these guys are trampling all over the rest of us. We can’t afford auditors and we have to pay our tax in full and on time.

Smart cookies the KPMG. It is now a ‘supplier of services’ to six of the nine NHS consortia which the government instructed the NHS to set up. In 2014 the Greater East Midland Commissioning Support Group, paid KPMG a quarter of a million pounds every month in the first six months of 2014 for ‘services’. Money, as they used to say when I was a kid, for old rope. And they’re not the only wealthy firms in the private health business to take advantage of this enforced privatisation, Ernst and Young are another.

I think this is crooked. I think these guys and others like them are ripping us off. I think they are being encouraged by our government. I think people need to know a great deal more about what is going on behind the scenes. We have votes, thanks to the Chartists and the Suffragettes but to be able to use them wisely we need to be fully informed and so well aware of propaganda, however well presented, that we’re not sucked in by it.

This entry was posted on January 11, 2019. 1 Comment

The power of ‘yet’

Christmas was a little unusual this year. I was a bit buffeted with pills and medicines and not quite sure whether I would be well enough to face a Christmas dinner, but in the event my younger daughter arrived to pick me up and take me back to her house for a most appetizing meal and in the course of it I found out about the power of ‘yet’.

My second grandson who teaches, and I were talking about what my old darling who was the first teacher in the family, used to call ‘kidology’. Ifunlearning2n other words, the various tricks and games that teachers who understand how children learn use to encourage their pupils. I used to play all sorts of silly games to encourage and coax my pupils – drama was the best one of all but there was also the tennis elbow foot game for example, which often got wonderfully rude, ‘what is dis?’ and CATs and ANTs which were happy aids to spelling and lots of fun because we drew the cats and ants on the board as we discovered more and more of them, like an ‘expectorANT spitting’ and a ‘pregnANT and expectANT and a ‘CATastrophe’ but I had never heard of the power of YET. So I got my teaching grandson to elucidate, ‘It’s when a kid tells you I can’t do that,’ he said to me and the best answer you can give them is – you can’t do that YET. It’s a way of helping them to see that it might one day be possible. I like the idea very much because it’s so positive and affectionate, so I’m passing it on to you.

One day when I’m not writing novels I might put together a collection of helpful hints for teachers who know how children learn. So if there are any other teachers out there who would like to pass on your own helpful hints, I’d love to hear from you.



This entry was posted on January 3, 2019. 5 Comments

Stop press – Cat fights back

If you have tears, prepare to shed them now. Dixie is extremely annoyed and wants you to know that he does not approve of painters and decorators. They’re alright in their way but not when they get in his way.

Over the last three weeks I’ve had my grandson-in-law in the house painting the bedrooms and very beautiful they look now that it’s all finished. But Dixie does not approve, because one of the first rooms to be painted was ‘our’ bedroom, which meant, shock horror, that he had to sleep with me, in a completely different bed, in a completely different room. He was not pleased and told our painter how displeased he was, fluffing his long coat up to make himself look as fat and threatening as he could and shouting at him very loudly so that there was no mistake at all about his displeasure. Tom tried to explain and held out a placatory hand, but once a cat has taken umbrage he can and does ignore all peace overtures.

Since then, as you can see he has kept a very close feline eye on all activities in every part of the house. None of us have been left under any pretense, that in this house cats rule.

Yesterday evening to his total satisfaction we returned to our original and proper sleeping quarters. It took him a little while to settle in because he had to run all over the duvet cover and the pillow cases with his muddy paws to establish ownership. But he did settle eventually – on my head – as usual, where he spent the first twenty minutes of the night tread-milling my hair.

And now that everything has been restored to order, he can graciously condescend to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, as I do.

This entry was posted on December 20, 2018. 1 Comment

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

as the song goes. It’s partly because Charlotte and I are putting up Christmas trees – of which more later – but mostly because the Christmas cards are beginning to arrive with news and greetings from friends and family from all over the place. I am touched by how many follow this blog, so I’m going to start it by saying a special ‘hello’ to all of them and reassure them that I’m writing my cards – although very slowly – and they’re on their way.

We’ve got two Christmas trees this year. One in the window-seat in the living room as usual although we haven’t put the presents round it yet, so it looks a bit lonely and another much larger one in the conservatory xmastree2018where we’re going to have a family meal. The one in the window is rather a cutie, especially at night when it’s all lit up, but this year I’m sorry to say it suffered somewhat from Dixie’s attention. It had only been up a matter of days when he decided to climb the thing and bring down two of the robins that were perched there. Unfortunately he brought down the tree and the lights as well. It was almost a repeat performance of the curtain demolition! There was a lot of yelling, although I have to admit I don’t yell as loudly as I used to which is perhaps one good result of the state I’m in now.

It’s been a treat to shop for presents, especially for the little-uns and to see what extraordinary things are on offer for kids nowadays. It makes my head spin! But the season is such a break from a year that’s ended with rather more difficulty than I expected. In the new year I shall have to get on with book 31 but for the moment I’m just going to enjoy my life and the company I’m in.

Happy Christmas everyone!


This entry was posted on December 13, 2018. 2 Comments