What are right-wing people? – a guide for under 10-year-olds

One of Tom Pride’s best blogs for a while 😊😆

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toby young cartoon

This is Toby. Toby thinks he is great. Toby likes to tell other people how they can be great too. Toby is what we call a ‘right-wing’ person.

But what are ‘right-wing’ people?

Right-wing people are people who think they are great. Right-wing people think everyone can be great too if only other people were a bit more like them. Right-wing people think they know how to do things better than other people.

Some right-wing people even think they know better than experts. If you have a tummy ache, normal people go to a doctor. Normal people listen to the doctor and do what they tell them to do.

But right-wing people don’t like to listen to doctors. Right-wing people think they know better than doctors.

jeremy cartoonThis is Jeremy. Jeremy thinks he knows better than doctors.

Right-wing people also think they know better than firemen how to put out fires. And they think they know…

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The brotherhood of hedge fund millionaires who fund the Conservative Party

FOUR filthy-rich tax exiles and hedge fund managers are part of a shadowy cabal of multi-millionaire donors to the Conservative Party.

Their millions are the life blood which keeps Theresa May’s government in power and directs their fiscal policy to protect the super rich.

In the past 10 years (since 1 October 2006) the Tory Party has received a staggering £247,426,722 in personal donations from some of the richest people in the world.

Top of these was a single donation of £2,990,582 in November 2001 from tax exile Lord Irvine Laidlaw.

Hedge fund manager Sir Michael Hintze was a short way behind with a donation of £1,503,500 in March 2014 and fellow hedge fund manager Sir Stanley Fink gave £1,080,500 in February 2009.

But they were all outdone by another tax exile David Rowland whose four single donations in 2009-10 totalled a staggering £3,774,000.

Small wonder that the Tories do not want regulation of the financial sector.

These figures only include those submitted to the Electoral Commission. We have no way of knowing whether these millionaires may or may not have also donated through other associated companies or agencies.

Lord Irvine Laidlaw is a former Conservative member of the House of Lords and has long been one of the largest financial backers of the Tory Party.

Laidlaw was made a life peer as Baron Laidlaw of Rothiemay in 2004.

In 2008 he was described by The Guardian as a “Monaco-based tax exile”.

He was widely criticised in the press for failing to become UK tax resident despite being appointed to the House of Lords.

The BBC said that, in a letter seen by them, Laidlaw “cites a variety of personal reasons” for non-compliance.

Criticism by Baron Dennis Stevenson, chair of the House of Lords Appointments Commission, on assurances given to the Commission by Laidlaw to become a UK tax resident by April 2004, were followed by Laidlaw taking leave of absence from the House of Lords.

In 2010 following the enactment of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 he stepped down from his seat in the House of Lords to maintain his non-domiciled status and so be able to avoid paying UK residents’ taxes.

Sir Michael Hintze is a British-Australian businessman, steeped in the financial services industry having worked for Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs.

In 1999 he launched his own hedge fund company, CQS and has been cited as one of the highest paid people in the City of London.

In 2013, Hintze’s CQS received awards for the “Best Hedge Fund Manager Overall,” “Best Hedge Fund Manager in Credit,” and “Best Multi-Hedge Fund Manager” at the Financial News Awards for Excellence in Institutional Hedge Fund Management.

In 2006, at the time of the Cash for Peerages allegations Hintze voluntarily revealed he was one of the previously anonymous patrons who had made loans to the Conservative Party.

His known loans and donations to the party total around £4 million.

In the five months to September 2011 he donated £31,000, enough to grant him membership of the Conservative Treasurers’ Group, the second highest rung on the party’s donor’s ladder, which allows its members access to senior Conservative figures through a series of lunches, receptions and campaign launches.

In October 2011, it was revealed that Adam Werritty, a close friend and business associate of then Secretary of State for Defence Dr Liam Fox MP, was provided with a free desk by Hintze at CQS’s London base as part of his £29,000 donation to Fox’s charity Atlantic Bridge.

Hintze also supplied a private jet for Fox and Werritty to fly from the United States to London in May 2011.

These disclosures led to the resignation of Liam Fox and the dismissal of Hintze’s then-charity adviser, Oliver Hylton

Sir Stanley Fink is another hedge fund manager and the former CEO and deputy chairman of the Man Group.

He has been described as the “godfather” of the UK hedge fund industry and has been credited with building the Man Group up to its current status as a FTSE 100 company and the largest listed hedge fund company in the world.

In September 2008, he came out of retirement to act as the chief executive of International Standard Asset Management (ISAM) in a partnership with Lord Levy.

In January 2009 he was appointed co-treasurer of the Conservative Party.

On 18 January 2011, he was made a life peer, taking the title of Baron Fink of Northwood.

After the resignation of Peter Cruddas over a cash-for-access controversy, Lord Fink returned to the position of treasurer of the Conservative Party. Fink previously donated £2.62milllion to the Tories.

In February 2015 Fink was accused by Labour leader Ed Miliband as having undertaken “tax avoidance activities”.

He responded by stating that he had indeed avoided tax but stated “everyone does tax avoidance at some level”.

David Rowland is a UK property developer who has made a fortune in banking.

In 2009, Kaupthing Bank, affected by the global liquidity squeeze was divided into two entities, a ‘good, healthy’ bank and a ‘bad’ bank.

David Rowland and his son Jonathan, via their investment company Blackfish Capital, acquired and recapitalized the former and now manage the assets, on behalf of the interbank creditors, of the latter.

In the year before the 2010 General Election, Rowland donated £2.8million to the Conservative Party, making him the party’s major donor.

In 2010 he was announced as being the next Treasurer of the Conservative Party.

But following public criticism of his former status as a tax exile, Rowland resigned before taking the position.

Rowland had lived in Guernsey, but returned to full United Kingdom residency in order to make more donations to the Conservatives.

But these four millionaire donors are just the tip of a much darker side of the financing of the Conservative Party.

The Conservative Party’s close links with the hedge fund industry, coincides with research which shows that around half of the wealthiest fund managers in Britain have given money to the Tory party.

The based on public disclosures, finds that of the 59 wealthiest asset managers, 27 had made a combined £19million in donations to the Conservatives, with £10million flowing into Tory coffers since the 2010 general election alone.

Labour has previously drawn attention to the government’s abolition in 2013 of a stamp duty reserve tax on investment funds, which it described as an effective £145million “hedge fund tax cut”.

Labour claimed the hedge fund loophole had cost the country £100million a year over a five year period, and others have put the figure higher.

A similar analysis in the Financial Times found that the number of City backers for the Tories doubled during the last parliament compared with the period 2005 to 2010.

The FT found that 35% of all party funding comes from eight of the top 20 donors.

The eight are all from a City background and donated £12.2million to the Conservatives.

The Conservative Party’s top 10 funders:

1 Michael Farmer

Hedge fund: RK Capital Management

Worth: £150million

Total donation: £6,556,092

2 Sir Michael Hintze

Hedge fund: CQS

Worth: £1,055million

Total donation: 3,221,027

3 Lord Fink

Hedge fund: ISAM

Worth: £130million

Total donation: £3,172,007

4 Chris Rokos

Hedge fund: Brevan Howard

Worth: £230million

Total donation: £1,344,850

5 Andrew Law

Hedge fund: Caxton Associates

Worth: £350million

Total donation: £1,226,411

6 Sir Paul Ruddock

Hedge fund: Lansdowne Partners

Worth: £300million

Total donation: £818,783

7 David Harding

Hedge fund: Winton Capital

Worth: £750million

Total donation: £593,765

8 Hugh Sloane

Hedge fund: Sloane Robinson

Worth: £185million

Total donation: £533,500

9 Sir John and Peter Beckwith

Hedge fund: RiverCrest Capital

Worth: £350million

Total donation: £520,996

10 Alexander Knaster

Hedge fund: Pamplona Capital Management

Worth: £1,266million

Total donation: £400,000


Remembering Aberfan – a personal recollection

IT was a miserable and wet Monday morning on 24 October 1966 as 300 young children were told by their class teachers to go “quickly and quietly” to the school hall for a Special Assembly.

The autumn wind and driving rain swept across the playground of this seaside primary school in Hove, as I joined my friends in the wide windowed hall.

Over the weekend our parents and flickering images on our black and white televisions made us all aware of the terrible event that had occurred three days earlier, and some 214 miles away, in the Merthyr Vale in South Wales.

On that day, 21 October 1966, a colliery spoil tip collapsed and slid down a mountainside into the mining village of Aberfan.

It engulfed Pantglas Junior School and around 20 houses. In total 144 people were killed… and 116 of them were children.

Children who were innocently attending school, just like we were in a wet but safe Sussex town.

We listened intently as our headteacher, Mr Whiting, recounted the terror of Aberfan and announced that over the course of the week the school would collect money and foodstuff to send to the families of the bereaved.

We sang hymns and after a full hour most of us left the school hall with tears reddening our small eyes.

We did not know Aberfan, but now we could find the village on a map and offer childlike solidarity with the children who were lost.

And as the years rolled by I, like thousands of others, learned more about Aberfan and the tragedy that unfolded on that grim October day, 50 years ago.

My own solidarity was hardened when I worked as a teacher in a similar mining village of Darton in South Yorkshire in the early 1980s and witnessed at first hand the grim reality and dangers of deep pit mining.

Many of my pupils left school to cut coal.

My solidarity hardened still further when in the late 1980s I was hospitalised with lung cancer in Llandough, near Cardiff.

Many of my fellow patients in the ward and at the radiotherapy clinic were former miners from the south Wales valleys and sufferers from pneumoconiosis and consequential lung cancer.

I listened at first hand to their stories of life in the pits and the betrayal of their futures and communities, first by the National Coal Board (NCB) and later by Thatcher and her minions.

So now I look back with clearer eyes and stronger solidarity at the reality of what happened in 1966.

It took just five minutes for the coal tip above Aberfan to slide down the mountain and engulf Pantglas Junior School.

The pupils were just beginning their first lessons of the day when the rushing landslide of mud and debris flooded into their classrooms.

The Aberfan disaster was not just the single most appalling event in modern British history, it also represented a multiple betrayal of a whole community.

If the deaths of 116 children and 28 adults had been the result of a tragic accident due to natural forces – what insurance companies refer to as an Act of God – it would still have been a shocking tragedy.

But the criminal negligence of the NCB in failing to remove the tip that collapsed, coupled with the callous post-disaster treatment of the community by political leaders, made the loss of life even more heart-breaking.

Unlike the Hillsborough Disaster or miscarriage of justice cases that took years of persistent campaigning before the truth was recognised, the negligent conduct of the NCB was quickly exposed.

When he was appointed to chair the tribunal inquiry that investigated the disaster, Lord Justice Edmund Davies stressed that he would not be party to a whitewash – and he was true to his word.

It said: “Blame for the disaster rests upon the NCB.

“This blame is shared among the NCB headquarters, the South Western Divisional Board, and certain individuals.

“There was a total absence of tipping policy and this was the basic cause of the disaster.”

It criticised the lack of legislation regulating the safety of tips or guidance from the Inspectorate of Mines.

And it said the “legal liability of the NCB to pay compensation… is incontestable and uncontested”.

Its conclusion was: “The Aberfan Disaster is a terrifying tale of bungling ineptitude by many men charged with tasks for which they were totally unfitted, of failure to heed clear warnings, and of total lack of direction from above.”

But what made the negligence even worse is that from the time the tips began to accumulate there were compelling signs that they posed a significant danger.

In the years before the Aberfan disaster, complaints had been made to the NCB by local residents and by the local Merthyr Tydfil Borough Council.

On July 24, 1963 – more than three years before the disaster – a letter was sent by DCW Jones, the council’s Borough and Waterworks Engineer, to Tom Ritchie, the District Public Works Superintendent.

The letter was headed Danger from Coal Slurry being tipped at the rear of the Pantglas School.

It stated: “The NCB appear to be taking slurry similar to that which was deposited and gave so much trouble in the quarry at Merthyr Vale, up on to the existing tip at the rear of the Pantglas Schools.

“I regard it as extremely serious, as the slurry is so fluid and the gradient so steep that it could not possibly stay in position in the winter time or during periods of heavy rain.”

Mr Jones’ second letter was to D Roberts, Area Chief Mechanical Engineer for the NCB, carried the same heading and said that the Public Works Superintendent had been in touch with the Merthyr Vale Colliery manager Mr Wynne about the tipping.

He wrote: “I am very apprehensive about this matter and this apprehension is also in the minds of the local councillors and the residents in this area.

“They have previously experienced, during periods of heavy rain, the movement of the slurry to the danger and detriment of people and property adjoining the site of the tips.

“You are no doubt well aware that the tips at Merthyr Vale tower above the Pantglas area and if they were to move a very serious position would accrue.”

But the NCB took no action.

The inquiry heard there had been five incidents at three tip sites between 1939 and 1965: at Cilfynydd Colliery near Pontypridd on December 5 1939; at Aberfan Tip Number 4 on October 27 1944; at Aberfan Tip Number 5 between 1947 and 1951; at Aberfan Tip Number 7 in November 1963; and at the redundant Ty Mawr Colliery in Rhondda on March 29 1965.

Unmentioned at the inquiry was a tip slide that occurred on November 23 1960 at Parc Colliery, on the west side of the Rhondda Valley.

The South Wales Echo and Rhondda Leader reported at the time that spoil flowed down the hillside, felling a ropeway pylon as lather of waste swirled past it, strongly suggesting a flow-slide into Nant Cwm Parc.

The severe effects included a culvert on the Nant blocked with swept-down debris, the colliery surface and railway sidings flooded by water and tip waste, the evacuation of 44 families and restoration work that took 18 months to restore the railway sidings to normal use.

On an unrecorded date in 1965 this tip failed again, with evidence suggesting that a substantial outburst of groundwater probably occurred there, emanating from a buried spring.

So, between one and six years before the Aberfan disaster, the NCB had experienced serious tip failures displaying characteristics very similar to those at Aberfan.

Almost all the senior managers and engineers at divisional level at the time of the Aberfan disaster had been in post at the time of the Parc Tip failures in 1960 and 1965.

Some 30 years after the disaster, in 1996, a paper written for the Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology called Rapid failures of colliery spoil heaps in the South Wales Coalfield identified 21 significant incidents over a period of 67 years to 1965.

With all these precedents, it’s difficult to explain the inertia that seemed endemic in the NCB when it came to the overriding need to safeguard the lives of people living and working beneath the tips.

Such negligence that led to the loss of so many lives is impossible to excuse.

The tips were the responsibility of a nationalised industry which was supposed to be dedicated to the collective good in mining communities which themselves were founded on the finest of humane principles.

In betraying the people of Aberfan, whose lives were cruelly dismissed as insignificant and unworthy of protection, the NCB also trashed the ideal of social solidarity on which the common ownership of the mining industry was built.

Aberfan was just one example of the huge environmental and human cost that coal extracted, and which represented the other side of coal’s significance for scores of communities from Lanarkshire and Northumberland to Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and South Wales.

The Aberfan Disaster led to a gradual but significant programme of clearing land given over to the colliery waste heaps and the tragedy played a part in the greening of the mining valleys again.

But coal has not yet been consigned to the past. Nothing has replaced the Coal mining itself might be gone but the economic impact of the failure to replace it is everywhere. Just as Aberfan was let down by the government in the 1960s, it, and mining communities across Britain, continue to feel let down by the authorities.

Earlier this year I visited the grave of Andrea, a dear friend who died in 1990 and whose family lived and worked in a neighbouring former mining village of Rassau. I also visited Aberfan.

Like my former home of Darton, both villages now hold little resemblance to the time when coal was still king. Grassing, landscaping, new housing, small industrial estates and a working class gentrification has changed the local demeanour.

Gone are the pit head wheels, gone is the black dust which clogged the air, gone is the noise of the shift claxons and gone are the coal trucks which rumbled along the lanes day and night.

They are all gone… but the memories remain.

  • A minute’s silence is being held tomorrow (Friday 21 October, 2016) to remember those killed in the Aberfan disaster.


Now hear this Robert Zimmerman I wrote some words for you

I stumbled to my feet

I rode past destruction in the ditches

With the stitches still mending ’neath a heart-shaped tattoo

Renegade priests and treacherous young witches

Were handing out the flowers that I’d given to you

The palace of mirrors

Where dog soldiers are reflected

The endless road and the wailing of chimes

The empty rooms where her memory is protected

Where the angels’ voices whisper to the souls of previous times

(Changing of the Guard, by Bob Dylan)


HOW can I do justice in words to a writer and performer I have admired beyond all others for more than 40 years and to whom my words are like dust?

And so began my simple narrative about my love affair with the greatest and most profound poet and musician of my generation.

That was three years ago, and so far my narrative Journey Though Dark Heat  is 8,000 words long, and I have only got to 1988!

Yesterday, Bob Dylan was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the first ever songwriter to win the prestigious award.

The 75-year-old legend received the prize “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.

The balladeer, artist and actor is the first American to win since novelist Toni Morrison in 1993.

President Obama said the honour was “well-deserved”.

“Congratulations to one of my favourite poets,” he wrote on Twitter.

Sara Danius, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, said Dylan had been chosen because he was “a great poet in the English speaking tradition”.

“For 54 years now he’s been at it reinventing himself, constantly creating a new identity,” she told reporters in Stockholm.

I have adored every step of Dylan’s words and music since I was a starry-eyed teenager. He has been the backdrop and soundtrack to my entire life.

I have over 200 CD albums of his music, numerous first pressings of his LPs, almost 100 books about him and a gallery of photos, ticket stubs and ephemera. Oh, and I have seen him perform live some 32 times over the past 38 years and even followed him around Europe on his 1989 tour.

Yes, I am a Bob Dylan obsessive.

So his Nobel prize award delighted me as it did millions of others. I have tears of joy running down my face as I write this.

Quite simply Bob Dylan is a living legend.

This morning, singer and his former partner Joan Baez went further when she said: “The Nobel Prize for Literature is yet another step towards immortality for Bob Dylan.

“The rebellious, reclusive, unpredictable artist/composer is exactly where the Nobel Prize for Literature needs to be.

“His gift with words is unsurpassable. Out of my repertoire spanning 60 years, no songs have been more moving and worthy in their depth, darkness, fury, mystery, beauty and humour than Bob’s.

“None has been more of a pleasure to sing. None will come again.”

But it is the poetry in his music that has earned him the literature world’s highest honour.

Former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion is among those to have previously praised Dylan’s lyrics, saying his songs “work as poems”.

“They have often extremely skilful rhyming aspects to them,” he told the BBC. “They’re often the best words in the best order.”

What makes a man who has only ever written three books a suitable winner of the Nobel Prize for literature?

Bob Dylan arguably made the lyrics more important than the music, but for many like me, the music and lyrics are inseparable.

Writer Salman Rushdie praised Dylan’s win, saying: “From Orpheus to Faiz, song & poetry have been closely linked. Dylan is the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition. Great choice.”

Bruce Springsteen also congratulated Dylan by posting a passage from his autobiography on his website. In it, he described Dylan as “The father of my country”.

“Highway 61 Revisited and Bringing It All Back Home were not only great records, but they were the first time I can remember being exposed to a truthful vision of the place I lived,” he wrote.

Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler wrote on Facebook he was “delighted” for Dylan.

He explained: “Bob Dylan has been a great songwriter since he was a teenager and nothing has stopped him in continuing to write and bring his gifts to the world.”

From his beginnings in the 1960s, Bob Dylan was the voice of his generation – the original singer-songwriter who both led and chronicled the social revolution that changed the world.

He has never had the greatest voice by traditional standards; indeed, that was part of his appeal. But he did create a new template for the singer as a poet and artist.

Allen Ginsberg called him the greatest poet of the second half of the 20th Century and former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion said he listens to Dylan almost every day.

Yesterday (Thursday) Per Wastberg, chair of the Nobel literature committee, said he is “probably the greatest living poet”.

Certainly no other rock musician has had their lyrics more analysed, anthologised and eulogised.

And he delved into his inner self to summon songs that set the blueprint for the confessional singer.

In a speech accepting the Musicares Person of the Year award last year, Dylan explained: “These songs of mine, they’re like mystery stories, the kind that Shakespeare saw when he was growing up. I think you could trace what I do back that far.”

The young Dylan was heavily inspired by poets like Arthur Rimbaud and John Keats, and his poetic influence is even in his name.

When Robert Zimmerman began performing folk songs in coffee houses, he renamed himself after Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.

He was also influenced by dustbowl singers like Woody Guthrie and country star Hank Williams. Yet Dylan moved beyond their traditions.

When the Cold war was at its height and America was racked by internal turmoil as the burgeoning civil rights movement clashed with the conservative middle class… it was Dylan who would provide the musical backdrop to these troubled times.

Using simple chords and universal metaphors, Dylan managed to tap into the zeitgeist of the era like no other, bridging the gap between folk and mainstream pop with songs such as A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall, Blowin’ in the Wind and The Times They are A-Changin’.

Tunes including Like a Rolling Stone, Just Like a Woman and Lay Lady Lay became iconic anthems which were covered by hundreds of artists.

When he “went electric” at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, he horrified the assembled audience in one of the seminal moments in music history.

The sweet folk troubadour had transformed himself into a hedonistic rock star, with trademark dark glasses hiding eyes glazed by drink and drugs.

After a motorcycle accident and a subsequent seclusion following his 1966 world tour he made an unexpected comeback at the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971 and the albums John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline and New Morning.

The return of the troubadour culminated in 1975’s Blood on the Tracks album and hailed as a return to form, and for many, one of the greatest LPs ever recorded.

Three years later, after Dylan witnessed a vision of Christ in an Arizona hotel room, his lyrics became full of Biblical references and reflected themes of faith and morality.


You may be an ambassador to England or France

You may like to gamble, you might like to dance

You may be the heavyweight champion of the world

You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed

You’re gonna have to serve somebody

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

His albums continued to be received with interest – if often mixed reviews – and in 1988 he began what came to be known as the Never-Ending Tour, constantly reinterpreting his own songs on stage.

Just as it seemed he was losing his relevance, his 1997 album Time Out of Mind, with its dark themes of mortality, proved another landmark release. It won three Grammys including best album.

In 2006, at 65, he became the oldest living artist to enter the Billboard chart at number one with Modern Times.

And his most recent albums Fallen Angels and Shadows in the Night has seen him slip seamlessly into an aged crooner of the great American Songbook.

His journey has come full circle.

Imbedded in legendary status, an avalanche of honours have now flowed – a Kennedy Center Honour, an Oscar, a Pulitzer Prize, a Golden Globe and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Now he can add a Nobel Prize to that list.


Words for Friends #9

This is part of a new series of blogs entitled Words for Friends, in which I will try to acknowledge some people in my life for whom words of thanks are not nearly enough.

These living epitaphs to my true and lovely friends are published in a random order as fancy takes me.

#9 Clare

Clare is quite simply a rock and my best friend. She is someone I trust and turn to when life becomes tough or we have reason to celebrate.

She is the mother of my son Nathan’s best friend and  we have both marveled at how their friendship has remained close, even though they have been geographically separated by 200 miles for the past two years.

When I went through depression, suicidal thoughts and marital problems a year ago, Clare was always there for me.

An abiding memory is of last 31st December with Gill, Clare and I, our four youngest kids and three friends sharing a New Year’s Eve meal.

Then the mutual parental chuckle after reprimanding two of our teenage children for secretly sharing a bottle of champagne together!

Clare and I share much more than parenting: our love of large open spaces, gardening, green issues, social justice, adventure, beer, food and the wilds of Scotland!

We can – and often do – sit and chat for hours about how we can put right all the world’s ills. Before laughing at how serious we become.

Thank you Clare for being a very special person in my life and being such a wonderful friend.


Words for Friends #8

This is part of a new series of blogs entitled Words for Friends, in which I will try to acknowledge some people in my life for whom words of thanks are not nearly enough.

These living epitaphs to my true and lovely friends are published in a random order as fancy takes me.

#8 Sharon

I have known Sharon since 1991, but she has only known me for the last eight years!

I met her via a TV screen and an old VHS video player while I lived in a loch-side cottage on the wild, west coast of Scotland.

Life really was wild and devoid of modern culture in Knapdale, Mid Argyll, without TV reception and the nearest cinema some 45 miles away.

So to stay in touch with the late 20th century, my partner and I would rely on monthly trips to Glasgow – some 102 miles away – to buy a clutch of videos of which ever movies took our fancy.

One such video was called Clockwise  a hilarious 1985 British comedy starring John Cleese and co-starring a then unknown actress.

Sharon turned my head. She was funny, beautiful, slightly quirky and most of all reminded me of my first teenage girlfriend!

So it came as a surprise when some 17 years later I stumbled across her on Facebook and realised that we had mutual friends – largely due to my time at drama college in the late 1970s.

A friendship grew slowly via social media, emails and telephone chats and blossomed with our shared experiences, values and a constant battle against injustice and abuse. We also share very similar humour and a mutual disdain for bullies and deceit.

I now consider Sharon a close personal friend and someone whom I trust implicitly.

Thank you for returning that friendship.

Beware of Darkness – Into the Light

World Mental Health Day 2016

 I WROTE the attached blog piece three years ago, following my nervous breakdown in June 2013.


At the time of writing I was recovering slowly from what I believed had been the lowest point in my life.

But, an ongoing deep depression took over from the breakdown.

My depression was classified as ‘reactive depression’ – a reaction to what life had thrown at me.

The sexual abuse I suffered as a young teenager, a major life crisis in my late 20s, battling cancer in my early 30s, relationship breakdowns and divorces, the loss of my children, bankruptcy, assault, the loss of my home, the loss of two careers and unexpected close bereavements.

The depression manifested itself in the more obvious feelings of deep lows or worthlessness, but also in many other less obvious ways such as anger and irritability, frustration, OCD behaviour, unconscious selective hearing, tiredness, insomnia, over-eating, forgetfulness, clumsiness and inability to concentrate on one thing for long periods.

In my case, it was all of these.

During this time only my writing, my loving family and a few close friends sustained me.

But pain is shared, and I had not realised how much my depression was affecting those closest to me.

Two deep lows were met: in June 2015, when I tried to end my life; and again in November last year when I eventually called out for help.

Six months intensive psychiatric counselling followed and I came out of the experience a different person… stronger, more open and able to live again.

Each day is different, but I am now looking outwards and to the future.

So, to celebrate World Mental Health Day, I append a few of the songs and poems I wrote during that Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul. They are all dark, but out of that darkness came creativity and now light:



The black veil advances

Cutting out the light

The smoke of day draws in

Dimming all in sight

The blanket haze envelops

Blurring edges of my plight

Dim memories are created

Nothing now seems right

Dark forces are advancing

Forcing hope to flight

The wind howls like a hammer

What can resist its might?

The emptiness inside me

As the day it turns to night



I am the self-consumer of my woes

The bed of my depression

I am the heart of a life that beats

The bed of my regression

I am the hope that burns within

The heat of my transgression

I am the demon that tempts me still

The soul of my oppression

I am the man that will not give in

The hope of my suppression

I am the hands of peaceful fate

The well of my aggression

I am the smile on a face with tears

The deceit of my expression

I am the sin of empty thoughts

The redeemer of my confession

I am the clock of future years

The focus of my progression

I am the whole of a living soul

The core of my possession.


Keep on Keeping On

I’ve just reached a place where I can’t go on

My friends all tell me to just be strong

But strength is an illusion

I have known too long

So far away from where I began

Now I just stay where I don’t belong

Play my guitar and sing this song

It’s the end my love

The end


Time is a window into a world gone wrong

Far away from the maddening throng

But happiness is a façade

I have worn all along

So far away from where I began

Now I just stay where I don’t belong

Play my guitar and sing this song

It’s the end my love

The end


Hope is the marathon we try to prolong

All the way from Memphis to far Guangdong

But music eases the pain

I have carried too long

So far away from where I began

Now I just stay where I don’t belong

Play my guitar and sing this song

It’s the end my love

The end


The Edge

The morning dawns grey

A blanket on another day

The savage wind


Of another place

Where time stands


Like a bitter pill



Cry Awhile

Heart pounding

Brain exploding

You wonder what to do

The pain it tears

At emptiness

Isolated and alone

Coruscating deadliness

When there’s no direction home


Well, I’m crying to the heavens

Feel like a helpless child

Yes, I cried for you

Now I’ll sit and cry awhile


Chest heaving

Shallow breathing

Lamps are burning low

The hope it flickers

At idle fears

The fringes of the night

Cascading misspent years

When darkness dims the light


Well, I’m crying to the heavens

Feel like a helpless child

Yes, I cried for you

Now I’ll sit and cry awhile


Final days

The brush strokes of the passing day

Paint his life in shades of grey

The clock it ticks each fading hour

As his life withers like a dying flower


A road less travelled lies ahead

Finding a place to rest his head

The old brown moss, the limestone comb

The wooded glen where wild cats roam


The final doorway to his life appears

Colours saturate the passing years

Red of anger and deep blue pervade

Under the bent willow he’ll find his shade


Beware of darkness

Beware of darkness

It eats the soul

Nightmare claws attach

Voices whisper

Wild thoughts


Beyond sanity’s climax


The hopelessness surrounds you

Watch out my own sweet love

The dead of night

Darkens deeply

The shooting star

That shines



Beware of sadness

And words that linger

Deep inside your head

Memories twisted

Vain hopes


Beyond your own deathbed


Broken Man Blues

The day you held my dick in your hand

Abused so hard I could not stand

A broken man

The day I made my great mistake

A blight from which I cannot awake

A broken man

The day the scalpel cut so deep

Nightmares have filled my deepest sleep

A broken man

The day you stole sweet Andrea’s life

And left behind pain, chaos and strife

A broken man


Meet me at the bottom, don’t lag behind

Bring me my boots and shoes

I sit blindly in your doorway

Playing my guitar slowly

And sing for you these broken man blues


The day you swallowed pills of disdain

And your stepfather shot out his own brain

A broken man

The day you cheated in our marriage bed

Then denied everything I had ever said

A broken man

The day you stole our daughters away

My life it faded to a deeper grey

A broken man

The day you lied with a poison tongue

More years of agony had just begun

A broken man


Meet me at the bottom, don’t lag behind

Bring me my boots and shoes

I sit blindly in your doorway

Playing my guitar slowly

And sing for you these broken man blues


The day you ran off with a married man

And left me homeless without a plan

A broken man

The day the plate cracked open my skull

The grey in my life then all turned dull

A broken man

The day the nervous breakdown came

Nothing would ever be the same

A broken man

The day I lost a lifetime career

I drowned the shame in wine and beer

A broken man


Meet me at the bottom, don’t lag behind

Bring me my boots and shoes

I sit blindly in your doorway

Playing my guitar slowly

And sing for you these broken man blues


The day my eldest wed his bride

It left me with no place to hide

A broken man

The day I collapsed in a forgotten heap

The drugs numbed me in a zombie sleep

A broken man

The day my last child went far away

Nothing in life was left to betray

A broken man

The day I left the town of lost souls

I stumbled into a welcome of city scrolls

A broken man


Meet me at the bottom, don’t lag behind

Bring me my boots and shoes

I sit blindly in your doorway

Playing my guitar slowly

And sing for you these broken man blues


The day you told me to go away and die

No-one was left to hear me cry

A broken man

The day I walked into the swirling sea

I hoped in vain you would hear my plea

A broken man

The day my sweet granddaughter was born

My life was then fully ripped and torn

A broken man

So I tremble shaking to hold onto a dream

That nothing is quite as it may seem

A broken man


Meet me at the bottom, don’t lag behind

Bring me my boots and shoes

I sit blindly in your doorway

Playing my guitar slowly

And sing for you these broken man blues


Top of the End

Head screams pain

Life broken again

The grey sky

Burning eyes

Hope that shone

So bright


Dust under the feet

My, oh my, oh my

Let me die


Laughter now dead

Words are all read

Plans for the future

Solitary torture

Life that fought

So hard


Lost and beaten

My, oh my, oh my

Let me die


This is the Sea

Swirling salt water laps at my feet

The west wind finds frailties

Of what remains from the sleep

Greyness spreads to the dark horizon

Herring gulls call me to the deep

This is the end

This is my friend

This is the sea


Memories meander around what happened before

Questions open wounds bleakly

Yet we all know the score

Emptiness echoes as hope once evades

Waves they now crash upon the shore

This is the end

This is my friend

This is the sea


Black Dog

Black dog at my feet

The darkness drifts dreaming from another place

Been here before

But still I’m not sure

Where it all will end


Black dog by my side

The dawn drowns drinking hope from the daylight

Been here before

But still I’m not sure

What the morn will bring


Black dog on my lap

The day drags drearily to the dark of noon

Been here before

But still I’m not sure

When the sun will set


Black dog at my back

The evening draws draping dankly upon me

Been here before

But still I’m not sure

When the night will end


Punch Drunk

Punch drunk

Been knifed in the back

Punch drunk

Dazed by distorted fact

Punch drunk

Hit between the eyes

Punch drunk

Poisoned with their lies

Punch drunk

Twisted tales that they tell

Punch drunk

Stumbled and then I fell

Punch drunk

Reeling on the ropes

Punch drunk

Left with little hope

Punch drunk

One too many blows

Punch drunk

Blood running from my nose

Punch drunk

Nothing left to lose

Punch drunk

Stand inside my shoes

Punch drunk

Depression runs too deep

Punch drunk

Fighting for some sleep

Punch drunk

Trying to stay straight

Punch drunk

The fightback is too late

Punch drunk

Dimming of the light

Punch drunk

Losing every fight

Punch drunk

The game it is too rough

Punch drunk

Think I’ve had enough


Oops. Media’s ‘Londoncentric Labour’ nonsense gives their game away

A very astute and valuable article:


As Jeremy Corbyn’s post-leadership-election reshuffle of his Shadow Cabinet began to take shape over the last few days, a media narrative began to grow alongside it.

As so often happens, however, when people try to be too clever, they ended up giving the game away in a fashion that anyone paying even a bit of attention can discern. This means it can provide an invaluable lesson in how to perceive the media’s messages and how seriously to take them, if at all.

This narrative suggests that Jeremy Corbyn’s new-look front-bench lineup is ‘London-centric’:

Take this, for example, from Sky’s chief political correspondent, Beth Rigby – and note how it accepts the premise of a claim by a Tory MP:


Predictably, the Tory Spectator’s ‘Coffee House’ blog picked up and parroted the same line:


Ms Rigby then decided to hammer home her point more explicitly:


presumably hoping we wouldn’t…

View original post 556 more words

Words for Friends #7

This is part of a new series of blogs entitled Words for Friends, in which I will try to acknowledge some people in my life for whom words of thanks are not nearly enough.

These living epitaphs to my true and lovely friends are published in a random order as fancy takes me.

#7 Judith and Lawson

It seems that Judith and Lawson have always been part of my life… and it is true that since 1992, when we first met, they have always been there.

We witnessed our respective daughters (six in total between us!) being born and start school, and over the years they stood by me through relationship breakdowns and more house moves than you could shake a stick at.

But one almost divine memory of our friendship will always remain:

One hot July eve in 1993, they came to our house for a fondue meal. And as we ate our way through various hot oil dips and puddings, and drank far too much wine than was good for us, their baby daughter slept soundly in the next room.

We continued drinking, talking and laughing; and watched the sun set through the west facing window of the kitchen. Many hours passed until with shared awe we watched the same sun rise through the east facing kitchen window.

We fired up the fondue again and for the first and last time in my life, we shared the delight of fondue cooked bacon for breakfast.

Some memories and friends are priceless.