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Friday, 21 December 2012

Merry Christmas, and goodbye - for now

 I'm taking a break until early January, but I'm hoping you'll all be having such a great Christmas you won't notice. Have a good one, as they say, and this is my present to you. Thank you for all your comments over the year


Check it out.

PS A less welcome present is a temporary return to the dreaded captcha. My in box has been flooded with anonymous spam and its difficult to weed out the one in a hundred genuine 'anon' from the spurious.

Friday, 14 December 2012

A cold banana counts

I visit a friend who has a terminal illness. The nursing home is airy and modern. Elevators and doors are password controlled, and there is a faint smell of urine on the stairs. When not in bed, my friend sits in a communal area staring at the wall, or at other people coming in and out of his range of vision. There are others like him, unable to do anything but sit and be looked after, and there are spirits in each of them, memories that come and go, and a reminder to me that life is to be lived – every second of it. I’m eating a cold banana – resting it on me knee to type this - and it tastes wonderful.

In terms of the sensory, my Damascene moment came in my late twenties. I had just read Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers. The book beautifully evokes London club land of the Edwardian period.  Finances and location (Newport) precluded me from experiencing any such luxury myself – though it has figured in my writing since. But in the same book Erskine Childers describes sailing through rain and storm in the North Sea so brilliantly you share the same storm-tossed craft with his heroes. Just reading makes you part of it – more - you want to experience it.

Unfortunately same problem: finances and location…but not necessarily. One dark November night, Newport was hit by a violent storm, rain sheeting down in huge, boisterous slabs. This was it. No dinghy but the wind was doing a pretty good job in tossing me about. I walked the three miles from my house in Malpas to Newport Town Center and reached the 'Engineers Arms' wind-swept and sodden. Never had beer tasted so good, a fire so hot and other drinkers cosily blurred through steamed up glasses. I’ve craved the sensory ever since.

I love the colour of autumn; I enjoy coldness, the threat of worse to come, and blazing fires. When I walk to the swimming pool on winter mornings it is dark, the lane a narrow black ribbon shrouded by trees. When the cloud breaks it is like walking on moonbeams. The pool, too, is magical, turquoise and silver, the water occasionally chill, sometimes lukewarm, other times warm enough to poach eggs, given patience and the cooperation of other, more competitive swimmers. 

But I believe there is magic in every moment, even towelling yourself briskly, and you know you’ve had a good day when you go to bed tired and wondering what you’re going to dream about now. Whatever you do don’t dream about ‘bucket lists’. Treat every day as a bucket list and then you’ll never run out. Sermon over. A banana in the fridge has my name on it

Friday, 7 December 2012

What do I think? Tell me

I was left with a degree of uncertainty this morning. It has quite spoiled my day. Normally I’m up at dawn, sitting in the dark, with tea and radio  to hand, and I’m told what to think for that day. There are some things now I know to be immutable truths:

 The government is both incompetent and heartless.
Wind power is the future.
Shale gas is bad
Leveson is good.
The Press is bad 
The internet needs to be regulated
Independent Schools are bad
The Republicans are fools.
Obama is God
Starbucks is bad.
The Right Honourable Margaret Hodge, Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and the doughty champion of fair taxation is good. No mention is made of her shares in a family company (Stemcor) It is 'allegedly'  making millions and paying 0.01% in tax. An obvious oversight I’m sure will be remedied, 'explained' or ignored.

 So far so good. I'm surrounded by tablets of stone, modern commandments.  'Though I walk in the shadow of death' Wormtongue is there, drip feeding news and telling me how to interpret it. No chance of forgetting. It is persistent, like rain, reminding me what's right day after day.

Until today. 

Today the guidance faltered. Like a SatNav losing signal, and as a result I feel rudderless.

I've been picking up suggestions that Presidient Morsi of Egypt is 'bad'. He is over-riding a large section of public feeling in his attempt to impose an Islamic Constitution, and a mass of Egyptians are rioting or, if you prefer, protesting.

But what am I to feel about the Belfast Assembly taking down the UK flag from public buildings? In doing so they have outraged a large section of public opinion in Northern Ireland, and they are doing much the same thing as the rioters in Egypt – making their feelings known. Am I to support one lot of rioters and not the other? Is one set of rioters morally superior to the other and by whose criteria? No clear guidance has been given yet, though I'm sure it is only a matter of time…as is the next war. There is a steady drumbeat for involvement in Syria, and maybe Iran. It is the sound of  a public being ‘prepared,' opinion subtly formed.

Friday, 30 November 2012

The Welsh Not

In the C19th Welsh children were discouraged from using their own language in schools by the use of the ‘Welsh Not’. If a child was overheard speaking Welsh in the classroom he or she was given a token that would result in a beating at the end of the day. The luckless child had every incentive to finger another Welsh-speaker for it was the last one holding the ‘not’ who suffered the punishment. Brutal and crass, but no doubt efficient. And a wonderful piece of anti English propaganda that still resonates today, and makes 'interesting' lessons for lazy teachers

In fact the ‘not’ was not widely used, nor a statutory imposition. In 1847 a  Royal Commission investigating the state of Education in Wales said many uncomplimentary things about Welsh education, including a belief that the Welsh language was a regressive factor in holding children back. But, at the same time Inspectors stated very clearly that the Welsh ‘Not’ was ‘arbitrary and cruel’. More significantly the report showed that education was conducted in Welsh in the vast majority of schools. To state it again, the ‘Not’ was never government policy. Where you might find it was in some denominational schools, Anglican as well as Non Conformist,  but attendance at these schools was voluntary so it is likely that parents who sent their children there in a Welsh speaking area largely approved if only to the extent they wanted their child to speak English. 

But why spoil a good myth? Nationalism needs its martyrs and children make good copy. 

In the C21th  these culture wars still resonate. It was reported in several papers that Aberaeron Primary school, amongst others in Ceredigion, reveal a similar albeit reverse intolerance. Children are given a ‘red warning’ if they are caught speaking English once, an amber a second time, and green for a third – resulting in a visit to the Head. One child was refused permission to go to the toilet because he hadn’t asked permission in Welsh. 

These claims are both championed and denied in the febrile world of the Twitterati but the significant point is less the truth of such claims and more the fact that such claims are made. 

The claims may be true. They may not be. I have no way of being sure. You might believe in the adage there’s ‘no smoke without fire’ – unless the smoke proves to be –like the ‘Not’ – little more than Welsh mist and myth.

True or not there are of course the psychological repercussions. A Welsh child may once have associated his language with a sound thrashing. His English equivalent in C21st West Wales may associate his language with bladder ache and wet pants

Friday, 23 November 2012

A shirt is for life, but pullovers?

I have three pullovers that I hate: one is blue, another is grey, the other a hairy black. All three are acrylic with that vaguely plastic-grease feel to them, all three are grossly baggy after years of successive washes. They hang on me like tents. I could have had years of miraculous pregnancies with no one being any the wiser, I could have housed several illegal immigrants in their folds, I could have effected a partial eclipse of the sun. The worst thing about them was their indestructibility. These things were going to outlive me. A sobering thought. 

At last, prodded by my less tolerant wife, I splashed out on three, brand new, very expensive pullovers made from fine English wool. It was O K Corral time for those three acrylic hooligans, bin time. The Tip.

I pulled them out the drawer and laid them on the bed, all three deceptively pristine, all three sartorial must-haves for fashion conscious Sumos. I tried to put them into a black plastic bag but my hands refused. It was like murdering kittens. These pullovers had done nothing wrong. A dog is for life, they say; why exclude pullovers, ones that may have had similar reservations about the body they covered, ones that had never complained but had just been there for me? The jury’s still out. They lurk resentful at the bottom of my drawer, disguised by some equally old shirts, a kind of sartorial death-row, execution still pending.

In case you think I exaggerate my penchant for old clothes – let’s call them ‘vintage’ – I present as evidence, two pictures – both presents from my fondly remembered cousin from Seattle. Both are Christmas presents from 1980 and both are worn on a regular basis – well – perhaps not the coonskin hat.

Note the fresh colour of the shirt - brand new Christmas 1981. The beer is Guinesss. That's gone.

 Same shirt worn and washed over the years. Coonskin hat occasionally dusted. Me, washed and dusted.

 Bowing to pressure, me sans hat; smiling because I reckon that shirt still has a few more years. Thank you, Kathy, Rick, Kirsten and Garrett

Thursday, 15 November 2012

There's more to Lyon than liver cake

Philippe Anthelme Nizier was an apprentice butcher working for his uncle in Lyon. He was also a miracle worker, though this had little effect on his own clumsiness as an apprentice butcher. It did allow him to heal himself however when he cut the tendons of his thumb and index finger whilst preparing a carcass. He put his thumb back in place and prayed and a few moments later all was well.

News of the miracle spread and this latter day Jesus of Lyon was mobbed by the sick and the desperate. So great was his fame he decided to switch from butchering to doctoring, though in some quarters there may have seemed little difference.

His studies proved useful, allowing him to diagnose as well as cure. When an out of breath girl complained of violent pains in her side and difficulty in standing, he not only diagnosed a double pulmonary embolism he healed her by a simple declaration that she was ‘healed’. The woman was duly grateful and trotted out the room pain free.

More significantly he confounded skeptics by cure after cure so that his fame spread. On seeing a patient crying over a leg due to be amputated the following day he assured him he had nothing to worry about. Sure enough the leg underwent a miraculous healing, much to the surprise of the surgeon next day.

A jealous establishment called him a charlatan and banned him from further hospital work for his temerity in curing the sick without a degree. The sick didn’t seem to mind and continued to seek him out, and, because he rarely if ever ‘touched’ a patient the authorities could not accuse him of malpractice or inappropriate behaviour.
His fame spread far beyond Lyon. In 1881 he treated the Bey of Tunis, was granted a doctorate in Medicine by the University of Cincinnati in 1884. Two years later the Royal Academy of Rome made him an honorary Doctor of Medicine, whilst at home he was condemned again and again for medical malpractice. 
This didn’t stop the Russians taking an interest in him. One leading Russian noble recorded how he met Philippe Nizier at Mass in Lyon. In the sermon the priest had advised the congregation that biblical miracles should not be taken literally. Philippe disagreed, and when the priest in a dudgeon declared: “May thunder strike this church if I can believe these things”, Nizier raised his eyes to the sky and gestured. Lightning flashed over the church followed immediately by thunder. 

The Russian noble might have been over doing the vodka or borsch but news of it impressed the Tsar. Members of the Tsar’s household began to visit him in Lyon. And in 1901 Tsar Nicholas invited him to Russia as a favoured guest. More, at the risk of offending the French, he was made a Doctor of Medicine – though he first had to pass an exam. A medical jury was assembled. Nizier asked it for a list of hospital bed numbers, and, without leaving the room, he not only diagnosed the patients but cured them as well. The Russian doctors confirmed the fact and he was duly granted his doctorate.

Some report a letter he wrote to the Tsar warning him of  a revolution that would exterminate the Royal family and thousands of Christians, and for those who believe in reincarnation he also prophesied that he, Philippe, would one day return as a small child ‘…and those who need to recognise me will do so.’
Back in Lyon he locked himself away, working, some said, on an elixir of life. It had little effect. He died in 1905 collapsing silently on the floor.

What's puzzling is why Rasputin is so much more well known than Philippe Nizier. Maybe sex has something to do with it.

Friday, 9 November 2012

My Nemesis - Liver Cake

It was late October, an hour before midnight, and we walked through Lyon without coats. The night was balmy, streets and squares dense with people enjoying the air – and cigarettes…

Cigarettes were not just to be smoked; they were accessories, style statements and carried with the panache of swordsmen. Couples argued using them as debating aids, jabbing the air when making a point, describing large spirals when mulling on more weighty affairs. At dusk it was like wading through a convention of fire-flies. Sometimes the cigarette would be held in midair as the smoker pondered a point. I saw a woman staring at a wall opposite, cigarette poised, as she studied the brickwork, pondering perhaps on its pattern, the molecular balance of brick-dust and mortar, or whether she may have been too hasty in voting for Francoise Hollande.

Everyone smoked: small bull-dogs, terriers and poodles, babies in prams, but especially the young; and all with conviction and style. I loathe the smell of tobacco but here it was street-theatre – when the weather was balmy. Like everywhere else in the civilised world it is strictly forbidden in restaurants and bars, and the display was more muted in rain or cold weather.  

 Lyon is also the home of some very fine restaurants. Exploring Rue Merciere we passed two contrasting restaurants. One was jam-packed with tables over spilling on to the pavement. The adjacent restaurant was empty. Completely empty. A waitress stood at the entrance, not so much gloomy as preoccupied with a cigarette and staring at nothing in particular. I recognised the mode. She was thinking. Possibly about liver-cake.

And perhaps it is as well now to warn you about liver-cake. I love liver – even raw – but liver-cake no! Keep it far from your mouth lest a wayward tongue be tempted. It is an abomination, even with tomato sauce. It looks inoffensive on the plate, a cake-like wedge, quivering and brown. The quivering, you might think, is warning enough. Let me put it on the record. Meaty products, even offal, should not feel like Blancmange on the tongue. It’s confusing. One set of stimuli is suggesting dessert. Your taste buds are screaming out liver. 

Worse was to come. Tripe sausage is something else you might think twice about. I ate it all in the interests of research. The starter, Lyonnais Salad, was fine: poached egg on lettuce, croutons and lardoons of smoked bacon. A meal in itself.  The main course, a sample of Lyonnais specialities (ie offal based) proved harder going. After the liver-cake and tripe sausage I lost the will to live never mind recall what else remained on the plate. Amnesia is a wonderful thing. 

But Lyon is beautiful, worth another post - and exhortations to everyone  go visit.  For those interested in Praline tarte go here!

Friday, 2 November 2012


I was in a French restaurant, unobtrusively I thought, testing a small roll of plumpness between finger and thumb. It was my stomach, I hasten to add, and  I was feeling pleased with myself, having lost two stone and now weighing in at an almost lissom 11 stone 12 lb. 

I squeezed a bit harder estimating the weight I had still to lose. I held it against gravity, in the manner of a master butcher assessing how many sausages it amounted to – three or four pounds perhaps

A sharp voice punctured my dreaming:

“Stop podging. It’s disgusting!”

It was my daughter.



What a wonderful word. And it was new. More grist to the mill for those who dislike our cultural slide into ‘verbing.’

We have the noun Podge: A short fat man or woman, according to the Oxford dictionary. In our neck of the woods it’s a fairly affectionate term for a residual plumpness around the stomach.
But she had it. I was podging. That was it exactly.


I accepted it with pride, even though it meant losing the high ground in linguistic purity. Never again would I be able to decry with authority, bureaucratese like: ‘Let’s conference’ – ‘I’ll signature that’ – ‘statemented’ – ‘actioning’ - ‘tasking’ - ‘impacting’ - ‘We’ll transition.’ But it was worth it. A new word had been born. A Keyton word. Not exactly Shakespeare, but still…

Mind you, as I remarked to Vero a day or to ago not all change is good. My present bĂȘte noire is an increasing tendency to preface every sentence with ‘So.’

It's a plague heard across the airwaves when an expert or politician is being interviewed and responds with: 'So...podging…’  It’s an irritating grammatical tic allowing a) the interviewee time to gather his or her thoughts


b) suggesting a spurious academic air at the same time ie 'so...' sounding so much more considered and thoughtful than a simple 'ummm.'

It’s a new terrifying meme almost as bad as the dreaded upward inflection at the end of a sentence that transforms an otherwise clear statement such at ‘It’s raining,’ into a question.

But now I am rambling. Time for a little surreptitious podging, perhaps, and then bed.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Reflections in mirrors

When I was a Catholic I  knew the truth. When I was a Marxist I knew the truth. Now I don’t know the truth and am happier for it. My son knows the truth. My daughter doesn’t. I hope the one loses it, and the other never finds it.

I'm sorry. More a tweet than a post. French food and wine awaits in Lyon, and I am harassed!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

More Than A Game

 When a young man walked into a shop and purchased four footballs, the shopkeeper may have asked why, and Captain Nevill of the 8th East Surrey’s may have told him, or then again not. It was 1916.

Wilfred Percy Nevill was man of strong opinions. He took war seriously, standing up on the fire-step and shouting insults at the Germans across no man’s land. He did this most evenings.
Captain Nevill also had courage; he knew what made a man tick - a man of 1916. I doubt his example would resonate in Iraq or Afghanistan today, though no doubt it would confuse the enemy.

His problem was simple. His men were to lead the assault near Montauban. They had never led an attack before and he was concerned.

Hence the four footballs.

One for each of his four platoons.

He offered a prize to the first platoon to kick its football across all the way up to the German front line. When the whistle blew, they were ready. One platoon painted the following inscription on its ball:
The Great European Cup
The Final
East Surreys v Bavarians
Kick Off at Zero

Captain Nevill was the first to kick off. One eyewitness recorded:

'As the gun-fire died away I saw an infantryman climb onto the parapet into No Man's Land, beckoning others to follow. As he did so he kicked off a football; a good kick, the ball rose and travelled well towards the German line. That seemed to be the signal to advance.' (Pte L.S. Price, 8th Royal Sussex) 

They dribbled their four footballs for a mile and a quarter right into the German trenches. As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle later reported in The British Campaign in France and Flanders, 1916:

‘No sooner had the troops come out from cover than they were met by a staggering fire which held them up in the Breslau Trench. The supports had soon to be pushed up to thicken the ranks of the East Surreys - a battalion which, with the ineradicable sporting instinct and light-heartedness of the Londoner, had dribbled footballs, one for each platoon across No Man's Land and shot their goal in the front-line trench.’

After the battle roll calls were held. 700 names were called. Less than a 100 answered – some of them winners of the football competition; they didn’t receive their prize – for Captain Nevill, too, had been killed.

Just before the battle, in one of his last letters to his wife,  (June 28) Captain Nevill wrote:
‘As I write the shells are fairly haring over; you know one gets just sort of bemused after a few million, still it'll be a great experience to tell one's children about.’

He never did tell his children but he did become a national hero and the subject of a tub-thumping poem.

On through the hail of slaughter,
Where gallant comrades Fall,
Where blood is poured like water,
They drive the trickling ball.
The fear of death before them
Is but an empty name.
True to the land that bore them-
The SURREYS play the game.

On without check or falter,
They press towards the goal;
Who falls on Freedom's alter,
The Lord shall rest his soul.
But still they charge the living
Into that hell of flame;
Ungrudging in their giving,
Our soldiers play the game.

And now at last is ended
The task so well begun;
Though savagely defended,
The lines of death are won.
In this, their hour of glory,
A deathless place they claim,
In England's splendid story,
The men who played the game.

Post script.
If  I've sound over light-hearted here it’s because otherwise I’d cry. And for those tempted to think that this was a Pythonesque ‘one off,’ an exception, read this and consider. Unlike Captain Nevill, Frank Edwards of the London Irish survived.

 He died in 1964 and may have been aware of the Beatles - or even the Stones.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Downfall Of An Egoist

When I was young I conceived ‘extreme karaoke’ before karaoke even existed – (unless you count the Mitch Miller sing-along as such). This was one hopeful adolescent, mouthing into my mother’s hairbrush and sneering lasciviously at hordes of ecstatic maenads hungering for my flesh. I had long hair. I could be Mick Jagger, couldn’t I? In a virtual world anything was possible though not perhaps desirable. I visualized a machine that seriously amplified “Come on’ and at the same time project an  audience of screaming girls on to my bedroom wall. Oh, and a microphone too. I was sick of getting hairs in my mouth.

Those days are gone. My bedroom wall is pale magenta and I wouldn’t know what to do with a screaming girl other than offer her a strong cup of tea.

But my hips still swing, usually when I’m cutting meat and the radio’s on. I’ve been known to dance in the kitchen – less a ‘dad’s dance’ more a  'twitch,’ and serially mocked for it by my daughter who invariably catches me out.

She though is an affectionate critic, her barbs barely tickling a far deeper scar. The thought of it still brings me out in a light sweat.

It was end of term tidying up in the History Stock Cupboard, which separated two classrooms, sliding doors at either end. It was break. The classrooms should have been empty. I had the radio on and came alive when this song suddenly burst through the dust and books. 

Some demon possessed me. I sang along and then did more. I danced, fingering my shirt suggestively and scraping shelves with even more suggestive hips.

'I'm too sexy for my shirt too sexy
For my shirt so sexy it hurts and I'm
Too sexy for Milan (2x) New York and

I was in heaven.

I’d got as far as ‘I’m too sexy for my hat…’ when I heard the first tittering.
Some of my class had stayed behind catching up on late homework. 
I searched for my gravitas, but have since stopped looking.  It will find me when I’m dead.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Shit storm in a tea cup

Earlier this week I let a contributor to the Rack know that her post was up, and hoped she liked it. Just as I was going to bed, I got an email back saying she most definitely didn’t. It offended her. Could we take it down? This puzzled, and I confess, agitated me.

The following day I asked what in particular had offended her, thinking perhaps we could excise the offending line. I then received a second email analyzing what offended her. I explained why I didn’t agree but that her feelings were more important and that we would take the interview down forthwith – which we did.

Matter closed, or so I thought.

Some kind soul pointed me to her website. Before I continue, let me state for the record that when I began The Rack the idea of approaching total strangers for an interview made me want to cringe inside. It still does, even though since then I’ve consistently been knocked out by the generosity of those writers, publishers and agents who’ve contributed.

The early introductions to the interviews that followed were respectful, perhaps a bit worthy, but more significantly looked as though we were marketing a product ie a book or a profile. OFW does neither, nor do we take the advertisers’ shilling.  If OFW has a mission statement it is simply to encourage aspiring writers by making the established and famous more accessible. Yes there is a quid pro quo. Out of courtesy we advertise the author’s new book in the interview and - famous or not - the writer/agent/publisher in turn raises our profile. It seems a fair arrangement, the question is, when there are so many outlets for interviews how to make our interviews stand out.

The Rack is a good headline in itself, but we needed inquisitors. I played with the idea of a Frankenstein and Igor composite, a Black Adder and Baldric duo, but that seemed stale and derivative. In the end I settled on two 1950’s pulp stereotypes Clay Cross and Sheri Lamour. It had the advantage that they could bring their unreconstructed 1950’s attitudes in to the blazing light of the C21st. These are two anachronistic stereotypes impossible to take seriously, or so I thought. So what we have is a comic top and tailing of the interview in question. It’s a verbal cartoon (apparently now as bad as the Danish ones) to be taken as seriously as Tom and Jerry, the Muppets, Popeye, or Sooty and Sweep.

With every invitation to contribute we provide a link so the putative Rack victim can see what’s in store. There is no ambush, malicious or otherwise. Some quietly decline or fail to reply. Most writers however have thick enough skins; they’re able to laugh at themselves, shrug off the absurd. No writer until now has felt violated or been under the delusion that the Rack was anything but a metaphor. We are not talking Fifty Shades of Grey here, more a literary conceit to top and tail a professional interview.

But as I said, someone pointed me to her website:

Do I want to start a shitstorm? She begins before concluding she doesn’t and providing several sensible reasons why having a life is infinitely more preferable. Unfortunately the rest of the post is reminiscent of the ambiguous question ‘Who will rid me of this troublesome priest’ and a fully formed shit storm is heading our way. The comments (not hers) are quite intemperate some revealing an urge to commit violence, all deeply personal, others wanting to expunge OFW from the net. I suppose we should be grateful we’re not an embassy.
In the words of Stephen Fry:

Or in the words of Renee Miller: “Soo...anyone else find the Rack creepy, disgusting and offensive? Because I was going for funny, original, and offensive.”

I would qualify that. Offence is in the eye of the beholder. The Rack is not malicious and things should have been sorted out in a more mature manner.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Giving is an industry

Yesterday a bulky envelope came through the letterbox from the Red Cross. It contained a bookmark, two attractive looking cards, two coasters, and a pen. With these came an invitation to pay a monthly subscription to said charity. It prompted the urge to check out how much the whiz-kids who thought this would open my pockets were being paid. I went on the Red Cross website, clicked on FAQ’s and scrolled down to the relevant question:

How much of my donation is spent on your directors' salaries? 

But answer was there none. Instead we had gobbledegook :
Our directors' salaries form part of our administration costs and are not linked to your donation as they do not work on Performance Related Pay (i.e. their salaries are not a percentage of our income).
Followed by the familiar line:
Charities are complex organisations with the same need for professionalism and effective management structures as any other organisation in the private or public sector.You just know when you are being talked down to.

You had to search further for a straight answer. In 2010 Red Cross Salary costs including National Insurance and Pension commitments amounted to £69.6m. Its head honchos earned between £90,000 to £180,000. 

This is par for the course. Charity websites show salaries hovering between £50,000 and £80,000 with job descriptions such as ‘corporative development managers.’ 

Save the Children spent £88million on humanitarian assistance in 2009 and £58 million on staff wages. Child Poverty Action Group spent £1, 5551,000 of its income on alleviating child poverty and £1, 9990,000 on staff wages – though its chief executive came in a little less than the Red Cross’s at a measly £137,000.

But then charities like Save the Children can afford to be generous. The largest donor to this charity in 2009 was the Government, which gave £19million. The European Union and America contributed a further £22million between them.

This it seems is not enough. The Charity Aid’s Foundation (Which recently advertised the job of Head of Advisory and Consulting at a salary of £75,000) called for action to ensure that young people thought about giving. Its Chief executive John Low said:

“The young need to be taught about charities as part of the national curriculum.” This was in response to a report that older people give more to charities than the young. Mind you, it is this older generation that has benefited from cheap mortgages, the housing bubble, free education and who enjoyed early retirement on relatively generous pensions. Wecan afford to be generous. 

This, apparently, ‘meaner’ younger generation have student debts to pay off;  they’re exhorted to save for impossible mortgages as well as providing for their old age. Their taxes subsidise this charity and that, along with overseas development – and now the proposal that children have compulsory lessons on why they should give more. It’s all very reminiscent of ‘political apathy’ and for much the same reasons.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Standing in my garage doesn't make me a car

 Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread...
...Or in my case Kindle. 

What a mistake, downloading the COMPLETE works of G K Chesterton for something less than a penny. I should have realized that something might be missing - in this case interactive contents.

I read for forty –five minutes every night before my head hits the pillow and a gently snoring fills the room. Sometimes the house shakes, or so I am told. For the last four weeks I have been reading the ‘Complete Works of G.K. Chesterton’ and have reached a Kindle milestone. 


I will be dead before I finish or have reached the stage of not knowing what I’m reading – or care. 
At present my 3% sees me tramping through the foothills of his essays. I suspect there are thousands upon thousands, but my Kindle offers no inkling. I am on a 'rolling English road' leading to nowhere. But the journey is pleasant. Last night I ‘went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.’ Or so it seemed.

Why don’t I just stop? Partly bloody-mindedness, and partly because, to modify a popular ballad - I’ve grown accustomed to his voice. It is a voice of past certainties robustly expressed; self indulgent at times, often sentimental but with flashes of wisdom and humor that bring me good dreams, though that might be the beer.

I'm coming round to the idea that Chesterton makes an ideal counterpoint to Gore Vidal, one Christian, the other Atheist but both possessing the same magical gift. I can imagine them, celestial gladiators, and suitably garbed, exchanging barbed quips and aphorisms to admiring Cherubim. Your task is to spot the twoVidal quotes from the selection below.
“Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.”

 "There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise."

  "There is something about a bureaucrat that does not like a poem."
“The way to love anything is to realize that it may be lost.” 
“Do not be so open-minded that your brains fall out.” 

So, will I continue? Probably. I shall report back when I reach the inconceivable figure of 4%. Open the champagne when I hit 5% In the meantime, like the Californian miner of old, I shall continue to stumble upon nuggets like:

“A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”

If there were no God, there would be no atheists.”

An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.”

“The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.”

“I regard golf as an expensive way of playing marbles.”

And when I’m feeling angry at yet another petty absurdity foisted on us by Brussels, I shall remember:

And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,

Bu what the bloody hell are baggonets? Militarised bread sticks employed as bayonets? Who knows. And who knows - in time I may grow corpulent, grow a fine moustache and wear a cloak and felt hat.

This curious snippet of GK Chesterton accepting an honour from Worcester College would, in today’s climate, bring mobs on to the streets and close consulates

Friday, 14 September 2012

Two Skulls

We had packed off our beautiful daughter to Lyon and, suitably sombre, we decamped to the British Museum and made our separate ways. I gravitated to the Egyptian section and was held by the unexpected.

 Two skulls.*

I stared at them for some time, these two skulls. Two of them revealed advanced tooth decay, but then again they were over four thousand years old. They were nut-brown and smooth and my hand itched to stroke them. For a moment they appeared more substantial, more alive than the dim reflected shadows shuffling  behind me.

All three were creatures from an alien world, one frozen in artefacts and stone, papyri, symbolic tomb paintings. All three resonated, evoking vivid images of red deserts, dense swathes of reeds beneath dark blue skies, gargantuan pillars, priests caught in their shadow, jackals scrabbling in moonlit tombs. Time drifted by. 

Two skulls became five.*

But we had a train to catch and I a full bladder that demanded attention.

One death is a tragedy a million a statistic. It is why charnel houses and ossuaries hold little interest beyond the macabre. All those stories crying out for attention. Too many. But those skulls and their lives stayed with me for the rest of the day and the day after that.

I found myself looking, not at people, but at what lay beneath, their skeletal structure and skulls. Would a skeleton bother to brush his or her teeth? Probably, and with them their fibula and tibia, sternum and pate. None of them would scowl. Skeletons can't.

The Tube rattled as bone clinked on bone, flesh-sweat and flatulence no longer present in my new skeleton kingdom. Neither, too, were beautiful women. They were the first to regain their flesh as my reverie faded. Still, one day we to will be calcified or turned into ash – except for those lucky few who will end up behind glass cases to be scrutinised by idlers from the C66th.

I had no camera that day.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Mistress of the Stone

I was feeling restless. Clients had come and gone, mostly gone and Sheri was immersed in her books. When she drank she didn’t like interrupting. When she read it was worse. When she read and drank it was time to find another room in another city – and burn the phone.

Outside the sky fluttered, its light sinking in darkness and heat. Skimmers flashed and vanished like predatory fish; slower craft weaved between slender chimneys, copper and glass buildings, and the debris of earlier times. There was a smell in the air, the stench of rat-like men and damp cannibal steam condensing on ancient brick and dribbling slime to black ponds below. I closed the windows, switched on the desk lamp. Poured myself  four fingers of bourbon. I held the glass to the lamp, enjoying the fragmented diamond twinkle of cut crystal, the rust coloured glow of the bourbon it held and downed it in one. It was time to find Sheri…time to start dreaming.

I walked along corridors, shelves groaning with books - on dark nights they screamed – past lesser shelves, whispering in parchment and shadow. Eventually I reached the main library, where Sheri holed up when she’d been hitting the booze.

The library was cavernous, books lining the walls from ceiling to floor. Walnut cabinets gleamed in dim lighting, each holding neatly rolled parchments and maps, yellowing Playboys, Penthouses and Hustle, Glocks, Smith and Wessons, Mausers, Rugers, all loaded and ready for use. I’d pretty much got the room the way I liked. I hoped Sheri wasn’t drinking. It seemed a pity to move

In the corner squatted a low obsidian table, books scattered across it like pirate doubloons; some calf-skin covered and crumbling with age; others bound in pale leather and inscribed with small patterned diamonds. They gleamed emerald and dark ruby as my torch skimmed across them and settled on Miss Lamour, lost in a world of her own.

“What gives?”

Sheri Lamour sighed and closed the book, stroked its front cover with a pale finger tipped in magenta. There wasn’t a bottle in sight and I ended her sigh with one of my own. One of relief. 

“Oh, Clay,” she breathed. She breathed again and I breathed with her, wondering who would be the first to give up. She had that look in her eye, one I hadn’t seen for some time. She was in love and it wasn’t with me.

“What’s his name? ”I snarled. I hadn’t snarled for some time. There’d been little need. Maybe it’s my face or the fact that a punch works best without warning. 

“Xander Daltry.”

 She said, without a trace of apology. Dames. 

Her lips twitched in what may have been a smile. “And there’s one here for you…Luisa Tavares. She’s your kind of girl, Clay. She’s my kind of girl.”

This had possibilities – except for one thing.

And Sheri read minds.

“Xander Daltry – he’s a dream man, Clay. . .You’re the real thing.”