Alive and Kicking is now on ebook!

Endeavour have put another book from my back list up on Kindle.

Alive and Kicking was set in Lambeth, not far from Lambeth Walk and its market, at the start of the First World War and it features a poor orphaned family, who live in two small rooms in Ritsy Street, down by the Thames, and are looked after by big brother Bertie and their sister Rose.

It is available on Amazon now: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07CDQYJCW/#

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This entry was posted on April 16, 2018. 4 Comments

Fake news, fantasies and pipe-dreams vs. the truth

I’m going to start this blog by quoting from a blog written by Adriana Diaz-Encisco, because she has put the thing I most wanted to say, into skilled and powerful words, which I can’t better. This is what she writes:

We live in times when it’s easy to lose our grip on reality and start living entirely in a fantasy world. Our overdose on what we call technological advances has made of the disconnection, dissociation and disintegration of our minds a strange commodity.”

It is very noticeable in the publishing world that so many bestsellers are horror, fantasies, science fiction and time-slip stories – none of them based on reality. The same can be said for films, TV shows and videos. There is a great and growing taste for stories that will frighten us, shock us, even disgust us. It is a very far cry from the world of Peter Pan, which was also a fairy story and a fantasy, but in those days, those of us who read it and watched it recognised it and enjoyed it for what it was. Now look at our current taste for horrors. It’s enough to blow our minds. In fact, like Adriana, I wonder whether this appetite for horrors and fantasies has done us serious damage.
Do the majority of us now know how to distinguish between the truth and a lie? All these fantasy worlds that are created are lies and unreal, they shock us, frighten us, take us into realms we would otherwise ignore, but do we know they are based on a lie?

All this is bad enough, but in the political world it is a great deal worse and we only have to look at the Brexit bus to see how much worse it is. This was a piece of propaganda and very skillfully handled by men who are masters of the skilled lie. It does not say ‘We will fund our NHS with money we would otherwise send to the EU,’ which would be a straightforward promise. It uses a hint instead, saying grandly ‘let’s fund our NHS instead’ and millions believed it and voted leave on the strength of it. Boris Johnson disclaimed it later when all this was pointed out to him, by saying it was a joke. But it was no joke, it was a straightforward con and a lie.

Nowadays we also have to strain our brains to distinguish between real news and what is called ‘fake’ news or in other words what is a deliberate lie. The trouble is, a very large number of people are conned by it. ‘It was in the papers,’ they say, ‘so it must be true.’ And very sadly when you try to tell them that it’s a lie they close their ears as cognitive dissonance kicks in. It is extremely worrying to see how many people can’t distinguish between a lie and the truth in circumstances like this.

Adriana and I have seen this persuasive process at work during the time we have been struggling to get the Blake Cottage Trust to repair the cottage. They are now, I’m sorry to say, very firmly in the realm of fantasy. Take a look at these pictures and you’ll see what I mean. They are the drawings and plans produced by MICA an expensive architectural company for Mr Tim Heath.

This is the cottage as it is, sadly in need of repair but still full of character.

 

 

 

 

This is the pipe-dream cottage.

And these are pictures of the magnificent half a million/two million pound extension that Tim Heath dreams of building in the garden.

As Adriana says:

“In this context, I wonder whether if the Blake Cottage Trust’s three Trustees have really lost it altogether now, whether if they are trying to take advantage of the gullibility of contemporary men- and women-folk, ever more willing to believe in what is not actually there, or a combination of both.

Be as it may, we recently had a chance to see an article on the Bognor Regis Observer, boasting 3D images of Blake’s Cottage (new Blake’s Cottage 3D images).  The reader could access this piece of entertainment by watching the accompanying video: a slide show created by MICA, the architecture firm that the BCT has chosen to help them do as they wish. The video has an interesting caption telling us that we’re looking at images “of what a fully restored Blake’s Cottage would look like”. That is, we’re watching images belonging to the realm of make-believe.”

 

‘Images belonging to the realm of make-believe’, please notice, not my truthful pictures of the state the cottage is actually in, I have still to find a local reporter or a local newspaper that will give them as much publicity as Tim Heath’s fantasy.

World Poetry Day – a bit late

I wasn’t alerted to the fact that yesterday was World Poetry Day until it was nearly over! But I hope you will forgive me if I celebrate it a day late.

There are so many superb poets, men and women who have written in English, that it seems invidious to single out half a dozen. Those of us who love poetry could list scores if not hundreds but I have tried to restrict my list to the ones I have admired the most. And top of my list has got to be our superlative Shakespeare, although trying to sort out which of his many poems I want to quote here is like taking my pick from a gigantic box of chocolates. Perhaps Sonnet 116:

Let me not to the marriage of two minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when alteration finds
Or bends with the remover to remove:
Oh no! It is an ever fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken.

 

Read to the end oh gentle readers, it’s well worth it. 

And here’s our lovely, passionate Blake, crying out against the injustices of his time.

A robin redbreast in a cage
Puts all heaven in a rage
A dog starved at his master’s gate
Predicts the ruin of the State
A horse misused upon the road
Calls to heaven for human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted hare
A fibre from the brain does tear.

And here’s Elizabeth Barrett Browning, writing from the heart to the man she loved.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

A loving woman and an admirable man, her poet husband. His dramatic monologues take us into the minds of a whole variety of characters, from a libertine monk to a murderer, but this is the character I think I like best.

One who never turned his back but marched breast forward,
Never doubted clouds would break, never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph,
Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better,
Sleep to wake.

 

 

And now the moderns are crowding into my mind. Jenny Joseph’s ‘Warning’ us in her idiosyncratic way.

 

 

 

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells

Read on, I dare you and see if it doesn’t make you laugh out loud in sympathy. I’ve got my purple dress ready and my red hat!

And here is Dannie Abse, who was a doctor and wrote this poem about the amazing smile that a newly delivered woman gives to her baby.

He called it ‘The smile was’.

 

 

that effulgent, tender, satisfied
smile of a woman
who, for the first time
hears the child crying the world
for the very first time

That agreeable, radiant smile—
no man can smile it
no man can paint it
as it develops without fail
after the gross, physical, knotted,
granular, bloody endeavor.
Such a pure spirituality, from all that!

I could go on forever about one poet or another – the Mersey poets who are  rough, tough and funny. Robert Frost who takes you to an ordinary world and makes you see it in a completely new way. Robert Graves who survived the first world war to write superlative lyrics and Wilfred Owen who wrote during the war and was killed by it, who wrote:

My subject is war and the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity.

But I will let my last word come from Shelley, who spoke powerfully to the downtrodden poor of his generation and speaks equally pertinently to the downtrodden poor of ours.

 

Rise like lions after slumber,
In unvanquisable number –
shake your chain to earth like dew
which in sleep had fallen on you
Ye are many – they are few.

 

 

This entry was posted on March 22, 2018. 4 Comments

Dixie brings down the curtain

Dixie, I’m afraid is facing his second court appearance in as many weeks. I can’t actually say this was willful damage because it surprised him as much as it surprised me but to begin at the beginning.

We were waiting patiently for our supper to cook, I was watching the television, he was playing with his favourite toy, tossing it into the air, chasing it happily all over the room and holding it down and kicking it with his back paws, so as to put it in its place and generally having a happy time with it. But he tossed it into the air once too often and it disappeared behind the curtains. This could plainly not be allowed. He leapt after it through the small gap between the curtains, teeth and claws at the ready prepared to do battle. But it didn’t quite work out that way. Within half a second he was swinging from one of the curtains and both curtains, pole and part of the wall were tumbling into the room. I don’t know which of us was the more surprised.

I have matching pairs of curtains at each end of my living room, as you can see from this picture of the undamaged pair! Now I have one end of the room looking as it should and the other looking more like a bombsite.

He wishes you to know that the damage was unintentional and to understand that of course he had to deal very thoroughly with the run-away catnip. It was just that the curtains happened to get in the way. He finds it quite hard to understand that I would beg to differ.

He certainly knows how to bring down the curtain, I suppose I must count myself lucky that he didn’t bring the house down!

Cat pie anyone?

 

This entry was posted on March 14, 2018. 2 Comments

The UK Southern Book Show

I spent last Sunday in the Pavilion Theatre on Worthing Pier as part of The UK Southern Book Show. It was organised by an independent, friendly writer called Natasha Murray who gathered independently published writers from all over the South and even further afield and produced this poster, which as you can see, is very eye-catching. The object of the exercise was to provide a stand where independently published writers could display their books and their posters and whatever other publicity material they had produced and sell to as many book-lovers as could be coxed into the theatre. They were also offered the chance to address their audience and say how good their books were.

It didn’t work. And the reason it didn’t work was obvious from the moment the first speaker took to the stage. The auditorium seats six hundred people according to one of the front of house team whom I asked. But there were never more than ten people sitting there and often fewer, so the speakers were talking to a virtually empty theatre and couldn’t make eye contact with anyone, which is essential for a good speech. And they were so far away from the people they hoped would be listening to them, that they might just as well not have been there.  The noise was deafening because the walkways were full of people, all talking at once and talking to one another and although the speakers had a microphone, it was almost impossible when we were sitting at our tables, to hear them. I tried hard but heard very little because people were talking to me at my post at the table.

When I finally got up to make my own speech, I discovered how desperately isolated it was up there on that stage. The lighting was harsh, so without holding your hand up to shade your eyes, you couldn’t see the few people who were sitting in front of you. The noise of the microphone was even harsher. I gave up after a few minutes, smiled in case anybody was noticing, although I don’t think they were, said ‘over and out I think’ and went back to my stall.

 

The sad thing is, that this sort of event can be handled successfully, as I know because I attend a similar event, every year, in Selsey. It is held in a small hall where the tables are set all round the walls and people have plenty of room to walk from one to the other so the noise level doesn’t reach booming proportions as it did in the theatre, because there are no speakers there, only buyers and sellers. The Selsey venue, is nowhere near as handsome as the Pavilion Theatre but it works.

It was pleasant to meet up with authors I knew and people I’d taught many years ago or taught with, but none of us were selling many books, which is what it was all supposed to be about. But it was sad too. I began to wonder whether Oswald Moseley had put a curse on the place. He spoke in this very theatre in the ’30’s and led his storm-troopers out on to the promenade, in their black uniforms and jack boots and all bellowing ‘England for the English’ in their hideous way. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

 

This entry was posted on March 8, 2018. 1 Comment

Felonious behaviour of Dixie the cat

 

Do not be deceived by the innocent expression on this cat’s face Your Honor. He stands accused of three separate felonious activities, in that on the 28th of February 2018, he threw his owner’s hearing aids on the floor while she was in the shower and when she emerged clean and refreshed, she could only find one them and was seriously concerned that he might have swallowed the other.

And, as if that weren’t bad enough, on Saturday the 3rd of March 2018 the said cat tossed his owners wrist watch on the floor – a Longines, so not something she could easily replace – and that wasn’t found until her cleaner came and retrieved it from underneath the bed. Stern words were spoken to said cat by said owner which should have been sufficient to warn him from further misbehaviour.

However the warning fell on deaf, black ears for the very next Tuesday he contrived to switch off his owner’s computer by dint of pushing his way, despite being warned against it, among all the connecting wires on her desk. The computer hasn’t worked from that day to this and neither has she, yet he has shown no remorse.

The excuse he gave her at the time was that as her literary assistant whose job it was to keep an eye on books of all kinds and the various apparatus that had to be used to produce them, he was checking her machines for any faults. The fault Your Honour lay entirely in his behaviour. Do not be deceived by that innocent face.

I urge that he be given a very stiff sentence and suggest something along the lines of:-

You’re as daft as a brush, Dixie, and you’ll end up as cat pie.

 

 

This entry was posted on March 7, 2018. 4 Comments

Spring, the sweet spring, is the year’s pleasant king

 

I’m certainly not going to argue with Thomas Nashe, although I know there must be plenty of you out there who love Autumn and Summer and maybe even Winter as much as Spring. But for me the first of the seasons can’t be beaten. I look for the first signs of it every year and I’m never disappointed. It’s such a joy to cut the first bunch of daffodils and have them on my table. And here they are again this year.

 

Charlotte and I have just been on a tour of the garden, enjoying the birds, finding one we couldn’t identify although we think it might be a warbler returned to us again, somewhat early this year because they usually come in April. What do you think?

The blackbirds and the thrushes and the various tits and finches have been feeding happily from our bird table all through the winter, but now they are singing their spring songs and beginning to build their nests and there’s so much for us to watch, I don’t think we shall be doing very much work, however pressing it might be.

 

 

That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!

Home-Thoughts, From Abroad by Robert Browning

The lawn is still a quagmire but there are four bubbly mounds of frogspawn in the pond and of course, the cat is throwing himself about with the excitement of it all!

 

 

And then collapsing with exhaustion on the sofa!

It is a season for new life, new ventures, new choices, although as Robert Frost reminds us, the road we don’t take might be the one we really needed. How can we tell, when the daffodils are dancing?

The Road Not Taken
BY ROBERT FROST

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

This entry was posted on February 22, 2018. 2 Comments