We abuse victims must speak out and stand together in solidarity

HUNDREDS of children may have been sexually abused by figures within football, former England and Tottenham player Paul Stewart said today.

Mr Stewart, who says he was abused by a coach for four years as a child, said the sport could face allegations on the scale of the Jimmy Savile scandal.

It comes as the NSPCC said more than 50 people had rung an abuse helpline within two hours of it being set up.

It was launched after four footballers spoke about being abused as children.

Former Crewe players Andy Woodward and Steve Walters, ex-Manchester City player David White, as well as Mr Stewart have all spoken out about abuse in the game.

Mr Stewart, 52, a former England international who started his career at Blackpool and also played for Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and Liverpool, said an unnamed coach abused him daily for four years up to the age of 15.

Mr Stewart said he believed there were “hundreds of victims” of sexual abuse who could come forward.

The NSPCC said callers to the new abuse hotline had raised concerns about children now and in the past, and it expected “many more” to come forward.

Today’s news resonates with me and my own battle with depression and alcohol to drown the memories of being sexually abused in my early teens by someone working closely with young boys.

For the past 18 months I have been writing my autobiography (working title: Survive the Rollercoaster and Assume the Position), which will be published later next year.

The book gives a blow by blow account of my life which includes: two battles with cancer, bereavement, divorces, bankruptcy, the suicide of a family member, my own attempted suicide, denial of access to two of my children, the repossession of my home, becoming a single parent and an unprovoked assault that almost took my life anyway.

Set against that backdrop there is a star-spangled career in journalism with a raft of awards and recognition and a series of stories of Establishment corruption at every level.

But underpinning all of this, is the sexual abuse I suffered as a 14 and 15 year-old.

So in an effort to stand with Paul Stewart, Andy Woodward, David White and Steve Walters I am today publishing online one chapter from that book in advance of its proper publication in 2017:

Chapter One

I HAVE slipped into a malaise. Not a depression, just an ever-circling melancholy of blue, which rotates before my eyes like a small planet.

I glance sideways and meet your gentle eyes. We sip flat white coffee together and share a smile. Holding hands, your spirit and mine disappear into the dense forest.


The forest and the memory.

I begin to cry.

I was born very far from where I now belong, and at this point in time realise there is no direction home.

So I stop, shopping bag full and weighing heavy in my right hand. I glance down and hand the homeless man a bag of oranges. He looks up with a toothless smile of gratitude. Stumbling for words I quietly blurt: “Some vitamin C for you.”

I wink nervously and move once more towards the blue.

Both prisoners on the road of life, yearning for love and light.

Tracing steps back to the forest we float in a mist of grey.

I offer you a handful of rain and slip back in time.

Hope sits eternal, but the darkness still lingers.

The smell of dank leaves and old bark assaults my nostrils.

And I see once more.

Standing in the gloom of a deciduous woodland, with his beige trousers bunched around his ankles, a slight and overly skinny 15-year-old boy is being sexually abused by a much older man – a man trusted to care for him.

I look more closely.

The tears welling in my eyes blur the vision, I choke back phlegm… the boy is me.

The man’s identity will come later.

It’s so many years ago… a Friday evening, early in April, 1971.

The abuser is the district commissioner for Scouts in my home town, a post-war new town set in Hertfordshire’s semi-rural suburbia.

The memories return slowly, like a traveller frightened of the road.

Only the rumble of a train on the nearby Euston line allows a sharper focus.

I had moved to this town with my parents and two sisters from the happier climes of Sussex some two years earlier.

We had found family refuge in a spacious Victorian coaching house nestling on the busy Belswains Lane, which years later would lead to the M25 motorway.

My ground floor bedroom of this old building, decorated with pictures of my favourite footballers, was my only refuge or sanctuary.

I was an awkward and spotty young teenager and had struggled to make friends in my new area. Although innately bright, I was just about middling at the local grammar school and divided my time between fishing on the nearby canal, playing football and Scouting.

The local Scout troop was proving to be something of a salvation. Located on the banks of the aforementioned canal, it had been failing and rumour spread that it might close. So, with dwindling numbers and a new young Scout leader, the older district commissioner had stepped in to lend a guiding role.

He was a 38 year-old, overweight office manager with permanent dark sweat stains around the arm pits of his Scout shirt. To us boys he seemed immediately odd and peculiarly frightening, if only by his insistence on wearing khaki shorts – something which had been ditched from the adult Scout uniform some 10 years earlier.

But, then we were sightless.

Behind his fashion sense, false Cheshire Cat smile and Brylcreemed hair, lay something dark and sinister.

With a strange fascination it bid us in.

I look back dazed in the headlights of the past.

Over many months this portly man had encouraged me to attend camps, orienteering, patrol leader weekends and wide games to help me ‘get the most out of Scouting’.

I had enjoyed being in the Cubs and Scouts since the age of seven.

It was fun and offered flights of real adventure.

But not anymore.

The oblivion of abuse had begun almost a year earlier, soon after my 14th birthday, at a so-called winter camping weekend in the woodland campsite adjacent to the aforementioned railway line – some three miles from my home, and five from the centre of town.

Over the course of 14 months, the abuse had become regular, routine and progressively invasive.

As it progressed I became weakened and controlled. And within my young teenage brain… terrified. I screamed silently for someone or something to help me.

But, I had been sworn to secrecy by this man. After all, I was the one he had caught ‘playing with’ himself in my Scout tent, and I would be totally humiliated if anyone found out.

I felt dirty and terrified and above all convinced I must be a ‘queer’ to allow this to happen. My constant over-riding feeling was a need to escape this darkness, this control, this nightmare.

The fear was becoming corrosive, my Blakean innocence being poisoned and my future altered before it had begun.

In recurring nightmares I met a monster sleeping by a huge oak tree, the air was a stagnant musty yellow, and when I looked closer I found the monster was me.

In reality I tried all manner of excuses not to attend Scouts and these ever more frequent camps.

When eventually my concerned parents questioned my ongoing reluctance, I lied that I was being bullied by older boys. Their answer was simple: ‘stand up to the bullies’. Followed by: ‘If you leave the Scouts they will know they have beaten you’!

Inside my head was screaming “No, no, no, why can’t you hear me?”

Now, looking back over all these years, and with the perspective of parenthood, I wish I had told them the truth. But, I was sure my mother would accuse me of exaggerating. Equally, my father was a strong-minded man and I was terrified he would humiliate me further, with jibes about me being a ‘poof’ or something much worse.

I now know he would have hugged me close and in all likelihood physically attacked my abuser had he known.

I don’t blame my parents, they were the most loving and caring I could have wished for. But times were different back then and there were many things in life that were still taboo.

So the abuse continued unabated as I turned 15 and turned more introspective and aloof to friends.

I was in my abuser’s control and I could not break free from the ever burning pit of fear.

There seemed no way out. Killing myself did not enter my head then, but it did do many times since as the memory of the abuse ate away at my adult life.

But, I did eventually escape in May 1971.

My abuser had arranged a patrol leaders’ meeting at his house on the other side of town. It was a ‘must attend’ gathering.

I had met an older boy called Brian from another troop during a district jamboree and after one quick phone call we agreed to go together. Brian’s dad would take us there and my dad would pick us both up at 9pm.

At least with Brian I should be safe, I thought.

We arrived at this spacious detached bungalow in a quiet middle-class cul-de-sac on the other side of town at about 7pm and were ushered inside by my abuser. Others were arriving and by the time we were all assembled, there were about 10 boys aged between 13 and 15 in the semi-lit dining room.

The meeting was a blur. My mind was already in the forest.  And in what seemed no time at all, parents were arriving to pick up their kids. Soon, just Brian and I remained silently while the clock ticked.

My abuser said he would make a cup of tea for us both and asked if we would like a biscuit too. Brian said ‘Yes’ for both of us.

Then as he walked down the hallway to his kitchen, Brian whispered to me: “Scarper… run!”

Without hesitation we both ran to the front door, fumbled at the latch and tore down the driveway to the cul-de-sac.

But, no sign of my fucking dad! Where the hell was he?

We could hear my abuser call out our names from his front doorway. Panic washed over us both and we ran as fast and as far away as we could.

We didn’t stop until we reached a red phone box on the outskirts of the town centre, about a mile away. We then stared at each other shaking. At that moment, I knew Brian was a victim too.

I rang my home phone number. Mum answered. But before I could say much, she berated me for being ‘so rude’ as to run away from the nice man’s house. She also chastised me for leaving her and my dad terrified for my safety.

She told me to stay at the phone box and when dad returned home she would send him out again to pick us up.

He did and when I eventually got home to the safety of my bedroom, I broke down and cried into my pillow all night long.

But that night was a watershed.

I had begun to face this demon, and by knowing that in Brian I was not alone, I felt somehow stronger than before.

From the following day I used every excuse I could find to avoid my abuser and never went back to the Scouts or camping again.

Even when my own troop leader – a mild mannered family guy called Ralph – called at our house to ask if I was okay, I managed to lie and stay safe.

My passion for football and school work helped mask the real reasons.

But the events of 1970-71 were just the beginning of the nightmare for me. My abuser’s smirking face and the smell of his stale sweat never leaves me.

And the fear of being alone is terrifying.

As I sit here writing and remembering, I still cannot untangle the many ways my life was ruined so completely in those 14 months.

I lived and grew through my mid-teens convinced I must be gay to have allowed a man to do the things my abuser did to me. I also lived in terror that either my parents, sisters, or worse still my school friends, would find out and I would become an object of ridicule.

Resultant behaviour patterns started to emerge: a need to control every aspect of my life and the social environment around me, outbursts of vocal anger, walking away from any situation which threatened my control, and as I turned 18, progressively heavy drinking.

The control aspect was – and still is – vital. For without it I feel vulnerable and frightened and unable to function normally. At home my behaviour often borders on OCD.

The chronology is compulsive.

Once away at university in the far flung mill town of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, I also had a driving inner need to prove I was ‘normal’ or straight!

Whereas a lot of young men ‘sow their oats’ in these late teenage years, I sowed more than most. I am not proud in any measure, but I bedded as many girls who would say ‘yes’ as I could, proving to myself I was ‘like all the rest’.

The relationships did not matter, for my selfish misogyny it was somehow healing to enjoy straight sex with a girl of my age.

I also needed female company. A fear of being unsafe and alone was constantly with me.

Eventually the need for a steadier relationship was also persuasive.

By the time I was 22-years-old I was engaged to a church-going Geordie girl who promised to always care for me.

By the age of 24, we were wed and moved into our own home together the day after the honeymoon.

It was a sadly inappropriate marriage of two polar opposites and lasted just eight years. My outbursts of vocal temper, deep introspection and a need to control my own life, plus an affair, did not help.

But I survived my first divorce – and by some cruel irony an 18 month battle with cancer which left my body as ragged as my emotions.

I tried to start over.

In 1990, aged 34, I moved to the west of Scotland and found a geographical escape from my past.

It involved burying myself in my job as a journalist on a small weekly newspaper alongside the tranquil and spiritually healing Loch Fyne.

Soon Atlantic seals, otters and osprey helped sooth my anger, which still smouldered beneath the surface.

Often working 12 hour days, prolonged success at work allowed me to control my life at last.

One year after moving north – in November 1991 – I met a young woman who told me of the sexual abuse she had suffered as a 14-year-old.

She added that I was the first person she had confided in.

I listened intently and reached out to her.

But, I could not share my abuse with her… it was still too terrifying to tell anyone close to me.

But, this was a strange epiphany and after consuming half a bottle of malt whisky I at last saw a possible way out.

A colleague at work was married to a local police officer. I quietly approached him a few days later while he was off duty and told him the barest details of my abuse.

He smiled grimly, put his hand on my shoulder and said; “Nic you are doing the right thing. These guys get away with it far too often.”

Within a couple of days he helped me lodge a formal complaint against my abuser via the Inspector at the local police station.

This older man took a lengthy statement from me which included as many details and names as I could remember.

He, in turn, passed on the complaint to Hertfordshire Constabulary and it was now a simple matter of waiting for the outcome of their own investigations.

I went home and waited in trepidation, wondering what might happen next and prepared to make the 400 mile drive south to face my parents if a court case was involved.

Two weeks passed before I was asked to attend the local police station to talk with the Inspector again.

I was visibly shaking all over. The balding senior officer invited me into an interview room at the back of the station, where he told me something I was not ready for… my abuser was dead!

He had died a few years earlier.

My heart felt like it would explode any second. I felt acid bile rising into my throat. I was unsure if I might faint or scream… I did neither.

So I walked zombie-like back to my office, barely able to talk with anybody.

How could my abuser be dead! How could he not face justice or retribution for what he had done?

How could I carry on?

The anger inside me was immense, festering, raging, burning.

The next few months were hard as I tried to keep a lid on my emotions. But rages came, tears and gloom overwhelmed and eventually in the summer of 1992, I walked out and left that part of Scotland for good.

The following 20 years were much like the previous 20, with black moods, multiple broken relationships and a growing need to drink to forget.

Only success at work allowed me to be my real self.

By 2003, I recognised that I was fast becoming an alcoholic. Alcoholics Anonymous was a temporary refuge and it allowed me to share my past in confidence with complete strangers.

And I began to control my drinking.

But life happens when you’re busy making other plans, and the sudden need to care as a single parent for my youngest child – who had only just turned four years – reinforced the desire to take control of life and at last start to live it with purpose as a sober dad.

In January 2006 I moved to North Wales to begin again, both at work and at home.

I needed to be close to family and more especially to my dad who was inexorably and slowly dying from Parkinson’s Disease.

Work had a solitary purpose as I edited a small but successful weekly newspaper. I had already edited other similar local papers years earlier and had twice taken them to win newspaper of the year awards.

This time it was treading water, but somehow enjoyable all the same. It allowed me stability for a full seven years and the flexibility and income to raise my son.

At work, stories came and went and along the way and I worked with and befriended some wonderful people.

I also wasted no opportunity to expose convicted child sex offenders whenever their cases came to light. Ironically the so-called ‘Paedo Files’ in North Wales seemed more expansive than anywhere else I had lived or worked. It was like an unsolicited cathartic therapy.

My empathy with the victims was immense. But still I could not share what remained buried for so long inside of me.

That was until the winter of 2009 – a year after my father had passed away – when I met one special person, who in hindsight became the catalyst I had waited almost a lifetime to meet.

Jay (not her real name) was damaged, just like me, and when we met she was emerging from the hell of a court case, which saw her father jailed for 10 years for the vile damage he had inflicted on her when she was a child.

Sadly, Jay’s and my relationship, which was always mutually caring, did not last.

I guess we were both too damaged and the time was wrong. But, for the first time she had allowed me to talk about my own abuse and open the door for what was to follow.

Three years later fate suddenly dealt me straight and I met my soul mate and soon to be wife, Gill. I shared everything with her and I found love and stability for the first time since I had turned 14.

Life was starting to have a meaning.

But just when life breathes in fresh air something unexpected takes the breath away and leaves it stale.

In June 2013, that something happened and sent my life into a complete tailspin. And to mix metaphors, the tailspin became a train crash.

While researching on-line for more information about a North Wales’ child sex abuse case which I was carrying in my newspaper, I had access to a privileged database, and decided to look for any lasting details about my own abuser.

It didn’t take long and the moment will stay with me forever.

I discovered that my abuser was indeed dead. But he had died late in 1996, aged 63… some five years AFTER the police told me he was already dead!

I double and triple checked my facts and it was there in black and white.

*** full details of the abuser’s identity will be revealed in my forthcoming book ***

Even now as I write this, I still cannot comprehend what happened.

Had the police in 1991 cocked up? Had they identified the wrong man? Or worse still was it a conspiracy to protect someone of importance in the local community or masonic lodge?

I guess I will never know, but I had been denied the justice and closure I had wanted all those years earlier.

The rages and tears returned like a tempest storm as I struggled to take back control.

Work was becoming poisonous and I felt undermined at every turn by junior bosses whose experience did not hold a candle to my own.

Suddenly I was losing control of my own newspaper, my sanity and my life.

Control was no longer mine.

On Wednesday 12 June 2013 I walked into my office to find that one of the younger editors, some 15 years my junior, had changed my front page, after I had gone to press – without any reference to me.

It was the day the elastic band finally snapped.

I flipped and with it my whole life lay on its back kicking into a nothingness.

I was later told it was a ‘nervous breakdown’.

That was almost three years ago and now as I write this I am, for the very first time, receiving professional help to deal with my demon and his lasting legacy.

He will never go away, nor will the pain, but I have a loving wife, a courageous and wonderful mother, a gorgeous young son and some truly amazing close friends, who all now know of my dark secret. And by sharing with them, I am slowly losing the need to control my life. It is liberating and I am recovering.

My mind drifts.

The smell of newly cut grass wafts into my senses.

I turn and walk away from the forest.

You hold my hand tightly and tell me you love me. Your bright eyes tell me it’s true.

We pass the beggar who smiles and says ‘hello’ and the ever turning planet glows an iridescent light blue.

Hope beckons.

The journey continues.




Jerusalem to Riyadh: an Axis of Evil

I wrote this exactly one year ago. Over the ensuing time there flickered some hope that the UK and US might weaken their ties to Israel and Saudi Arabia. But sadly, following Brexit and Trump’s election, little has changed…

No Time to Think

TODAY it was revealed that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asked members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) not to take into account a report submitted by the UN Board of Inquiry that accused Israel of targeting UN buildings and killing scores of civilians in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009.

Documents released by WikiLeaks reported: “Ban Ki-moon secretly worked with Israel to undermine a UN report into Gaza war crimes.”

“Ban wrote a letter to the UN Security Council asking its members not to take recommendations by the UN Board of Inquiry about Israeli bombings in Gaza into account,” the report says.

The UN Board of Inquiry had concluded that “Israeli Defense Force (IDF) targeted UN buildings in Gaza Strip in seven of the nine attacks.

According to WikiLeaks, White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice spoke four times with Ban Ki Moon “to discuss concerns over…

View original post 1,260 more words

Return to Desolation Row

They’re telling tall tales of my lifetime

They’re obscuring the truth with lies

The carpet-bagging whisperer

Has sent out all his spies

Here comes the blind note-taker

He’s writing in a trance

One hand is tied to the Imperial typewriter

The other is in his pants

And me, I’m getting restless

As the heat pipes they just cough

The bank account it empties

And I think I’ve had enough


The long dead scout master

Walks the dark sunrise

Still poisoning lost children

While doing up his flies


Outside the sky is grey and laden

The trees are turning brown

Hilary, the old bag lady

Is wearing her winter frown

All except for Jo and Lizbeth

And the neighbour without a name

Everybody is making love

Or else expecting rain

And my dreams they are undressing

As the heat pipes they just cough

The bank account it empties

And I think I’ve had enough


The long dead scout master

Walks the dark sunrise

Still poisoning lost children

While doing up his flies


Across the street they’ve nailed the shutters

You can hear the women scream

Diwali is now over

And the bright lights are all a dream

The Muslim taxi driver

Has booked his last fare home

He’s riding with false confidence

Since the hoodies stole his phone

And I’m left peeking from my window

As the heat pipes they just cough

The bank account it empties

And I think I’ve had enough


The long dead scout master

Walks the dark sunrise

Still poisoning lost children

While doing up his flies


Tales of Brave Louise

You said the darkened winter

Might bring you down forever

Left gagging for the summer

Where pure air lets you breathe

Sea breeze cascades

The salt wash

Of Louise Ulysses

The battlefield of conquest

To your secret hidden haven

Where mermaids play

And sanity stays



You fight against injustice

And the violence of your kin

Carving deep blue ripples

In the tissues of your mind

Now within your coral sea

You swim so very deeply

And Sirens laugh

Through your fingertips

To your secret hidden haven

Where mermaids play

And sanity stays



You cannot yet surrender

For you touched the distant sands

And treasured friends are calling you

To leave the pain behind

Among the shingle

And the mock weed

Beyond the next beach barrier

You dance upon white horses

To your secret hidden haven

Where mermaids play

And sanity stays


(Inspired by Tales of Brave Ulysses)

Autumn Memories

It’s funny you know when I sit down

And think about what we once had

About the friends I used to know

What happened, where did they all go?

I can still remember those happy hours

Drinking and talking onto your shoulder

We thought we could change the world

And never thought we would get any older


Now the autumn rust

And orange dust

Sweeps away the memories

Of teenage dreams

Beyond life’s seams

And October rain

Drowns all of the treacheries


There was the evenings when we would kiss

We’d bring it on home with an old LP

Played low in moments of bliss

What happened to the girl that I loved?

Tell me, did I break her heart in the rain

Did she live, and did her love grow colder

Did she ever think on my face again

And I never thought we would get any older


The autumn rust

And orange dust

Sweeps away the memories

Of teenage dreams

Beyond life’s seams

And October rain

Drowns all of the treacheries


You know my mind gets tired

When I think back on all of the things we did

I wonder if I’ll remember these precious things

As more years pass me by?

These memories will become dimmer

And old photos are stuffed in a dusty folder

I’ll point the finger back in time

And I never thought we would get any older


The autumn rust

And orange dust

Sweeps away the memories

Of teenage dreams

Beyond life’s seams

And October rain

Drowns all of the treacheries


When writers collide

Your words flow like rain on bright summer flowers

Scent permeates sense under stooping orange bowers

My reply echoes pain while twin souls corrode

Stumbling upwards slowly on a bleak stony road


Pan flits like a paper shadow

And the girl looks up to the sparkling stars

Run, Skip, Dance, Hide

This is what happens when writers collide


Your sky shimmers grey over Hanover Street

Thursday traffic calms slowly amid busying feet

My coffee blackens taste buds in a time out of mind

Remembering what is precious from a world left behind


Pan flits like a paper shadow

And the girl looks up to the sparkling stars

Run, Skip, Dance, Hide

This is what happens when writers collide


Your eyes shine brightly above a smoking smile

Honesty tempts readers to bathe in your words for a while

My study is a sanctuary as the heat pipes just cough

Writing resurrects hope when the soul’s had enough


Pan flits like a paper shadow

And the girl looks up to the sparkling stars

Run, Skip, Dance, Hide

This is what happens when writers collide


Sweet Jayne

Sweeping back the years

To when we were still kids

The landscape lay

Before us

Exploding dustbin lids

The hope of 20 summers

The embrace of time to come

The warmth of July nights

The beat of life’s lone drum

Sweet Jayne


Nostalgia lights the darkness

I am here and you are gone

The reality lies

Before me

Finding my way home

The chill of 60 winters

The memory of time gone by

The scent of damp November

The emptiness of the sky

Sweet Jayne


Bob Dylan and the classics

You’ve been with the professors

And they’ve all liked your looks

With great lawyers you have

Discussed lepers and crooks

You’ve been through all of

F Scott Fitzgerald’s books

You’re very well read

It’s well known

(Ballad of a Thin Man, 1965)


In the four weeks since Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature there has been a worldwide debate about his merit as a literary figure deserving such a prestigious award.

While many agree that he is the most outstanding English speaking poet of the late 20th century, others argue that he is nothing more than a songwriter on a par with Leonard Cohen or Joni Mitchell.

But for a man who has written over 500 songs and three books, plus the screenplay and score for the amazing 232 minute long Renaldo and Clara, the search for Bob Dylan’s literary merit shouldn’t be too difficult.

Yet, Dylan was left speechless by the news that he was to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

In a call with Sara Danius, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Dylan said: “I appreciate the honour so much… the news about the Nobel prize left me speechless.”

“It’s hard to believe … amazing, incredible. Whoever dreams about something like that?” he added.

Making the award announcement on 13 October, Danius compared Dylan’s work to that of ancient Greek writers Homer and Sappho.

Asked later about the comparison, Dylan said: “I suppose so, in some way. Some of my own songs – Blind Willie, The Ballad of Hollis Brown, Joey, A Hard Rain, Hurricane and some others – definitely are Homeric in value.”

But he declined to remark on the meanings of those songs. “I’ll let other people decide what they are,” he said.

“The academics, they ought to know. I’m not really qualified. I don’t have any opinion.

“There’s a certain intensity in writing a song,” he added. “You have to keep in mind why you are writing it and for who and what for.

“Everything worth doing takes time. You have to write a hundred bad songs before you write one good one. And you have to sacrifice a lot of things that you might not be prepared for. Like it or not, you are in this alone and have to follow your own star.”

Dylan’s former partner Joan Baez went further when she said: “The Nobel Prize for Literature is yet another step towards immortality for Bob Dylan.

“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.”

It is certainly the poetry in his songs that has earned Bob Dylan the literature world’s highest honour.

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, 1978)

Most observers recognise that his words and music often borrow heavily from the American dustbowl tradition of singers such as Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie and Blind Lemon Jefferson.

And like most other songwriters, Dylan leans heavily on contemporary life and vignettes of unrequited love – his 1983 album Infidels is a homage in itself to those sources.

But for a once self-professed “song and dance man”, Dylan is much more than that.

And what about those books he devoured as a hungry teenager and the professors who “all liked your looks… You’re very well read, It’s well known.”

Bob Dylan’s songs are steeped in deep literary references and maybe it is that which stands him apart from other well-respected songwriters of his generation.

Above all others, Dylan has long held a fascination for William Shakespeare.

Now the fifth daughter on the twelfth night

Told the first father that things weren’t right

(Highway 61 Revisited, 1965)

Now Ophelia, she’s ’neath the window

For her I feel so afraid

On her twenty-second birthday

She already is an old maid

To her, death is quite romantic

She wears an iron vest

Her profession’s her religion

Her sin is her lifelessness

(Desolation Row, 1965)

Well, Shakespeare, he’s in the alley

With his pointed shoes and his bells

Speaking to some French girl

Who says she knows me well

(Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again, 1966)

Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut

Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,

Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coachmakers.

(Time Out of Mind, 1997)

And his fascination has led many observers to note that his last self-penned album in 2012 was titled Tempest – the name of Shakespeare’s last play, and it left many more to wonder whether this will be Dylan’s final album. At 75 years-old it would be a fine way to close his own book.

A book which includes renaissance lines such as: “In the smoke of the twilight, on a milk white steed; Michelangelo indeed, could have carved out your features” (Jokerman, 1983)

But what about the Homeric references… just how deep does Dylan go with the Greek and Latin classics and how “very well read” is he really?

In the poetical beauty of Temporary Like Achilles (1966), a 25-year-old Dylan leaves little doubt:

Standing on your window, honey

Yes, I’ve been here before

Feeling so harmless

I’m looking at your second door

How come you don’t send me no regards?

You know I want your lovin’

Honey, why are you so hard?


Kneeling ’neath your ceiling

Yes, I guess I’ll be here for a while

I’m tryin’ to read your portrait, but

I’m helpless, like a rich man’s child

How come you send someone out to have me barred?

You know I want your lovin’

Honey, why are you so hard?


Like a poor fool in his prime

Yes, I know you can hear me walk

But is your heart made out of stone, or is it lime

Or is it just solid rock?


Well, I rush into your hallway

Lean against your velvet door

I watch upon your scorpion

Who crawls across your circus floor

Just what do you think you have to guard?

You know I want your lovin’

Honey, but you’re so hard


Achilles is in your alleyway

He don’t want me here, he does brag

He’s pointing to the sky

And he’s hungry, like a man in drag

How come you get someone like him to be your guard?

You know I want your lovin’

Honey, but you’re so hard


During a televised interview in 2004, Ed Bradley asked Dylan how he came to write such mercurial lyrics.

Surprisingly, Dylan said he didn’t know, mentioning a “wellspring of creativity” before adding: “I don’t know how I got to write those songs,” quoting from It’s Alright Ma, with its surreal words he lingered on the ultimate rhyming syllables: “Darkness at the break of noon / Shadows even the silver spoon / The handmade blade, the child’s balloon / Eclipses both the sun and moon / To understand you know too soon / There is no sense in trying.”

But Dylan did admit to reading a lot and he’d always read eclectically as opposed to canonically. And one of the things he discovered was the evoking of other literature, including Ovid’s exile poetry or Timrod’s Confederate poetry.

Dylan has always been interested in the American Civil War (see his wonderful song Cross the Green Mountain in the 2003 movie Gods and Generals) which perhaps led to his interest in Rome.

And there are songs from the 2006 album Modern Times which are littered with lines from Peter Green’s translation of Ovid.

In the first song on that album, Thunder on the Mountain, Dylan sings “I’ve been sitting down studying the Art of Love / I think it will fit me like a glove.”

And on Ain’t Talkin’, the last line of the last song of what might be his last album the singer is walking up the road “In the last outback, at the world’s end”.

In case you think this is accidental, the same song has three or four other Ovidian lines or significant phases, including: “Every nook an cranny/cormer has its tears” … “loyal and much loved companions” … “make the most of one last extra hour”, all on one song from Tristia 1.3 [24, 65, 68], Ovid’s night of exile poem.

Ain’t Talkin’“Every nook and cranny has its tears”

Ovid – Tristia, Book 1, Section 3, Line 24 – “every nook and corner had its tears”

Ain’t Talkin’“all my loyal and my much-loved companions”

Ovid – Tristia, Book 1, Section 3, Line 65 – “loyal and much loved companions, bonded in brotherhood”

Ain’t Talkin’“I’ll make the most of one last extra hour”

Ovid – Tristia, Book 1, Section 3, Line 68 – “let me make the most of one last extra hour”

Ain’t Talkin’“I practice a faith that’s been long abandoned”

Ovid – Tristia, Book 5, Section 7, Lines 63-64 – “I practice terms long abandoned”

Ain’t Talkin’“They will tear your mind away from contemplation”

Ovid – Tristia, Book 5, Section 7, Line 66 – “tear my mind from the contemplation of my woes”

Then look at the splendid Workingman’s Blues #2.

At first release, reviewers believed Dylan was directly referencing the Grateful Dead’s 1970 marker Workingman’s Blues, but his song has references which are more than 2,000 years old:

Workingman’s Blues #2“My cruel weapons have been put on the shelf”

Ovid – Tristia, Book 2, Section 1, Line 179 – “Show mercy, I beg you, shelve your cruel weapons”

Working Man’s Blues #2“No one can ever claim/That I took up arms against you”

Ovid – Tristia, Book 2, Lines 51-53 – “no one can claim that I ever took up arms against you”

Workingman’s Blues #2 “To lead me off in a cheerful dance”

Tristia, Book 5, Section 12, Line 8 – “or Niobe, bereaved, lead off some cheerful dance”

Workingman’s Blues #2“Tell me now, am I wrong in thinking/That you have forgotten me?”

Tristia, Book 5, Section 13, Line 18 – “that I’m wrong in thinking you have forgotten me!”

Workingman’s Blues #2 – “You are dearer to me than myself/As you yourself can see”

Tristia, Book 5, Section 14, Line 2 – “wife, dearer to me than myself, you yourself can see”

And if you’re are still unconvinced, Dylan returns to the classics in The Levee’s Gonna Break “Some people got barely enough skin to cover their bones”

Ovid – Tristia, Book 4, Section 7, Line 51 – “there’s barely enough skin to cover my bones”

Finally let’s take a look at the song Early Roman Kings  from the outstanding 2012 album Tempest.

At a superficial glance, it sounds Roman, and there are a couple of lines that work with that: “All the early Roman kings in the early, early morn, / Coming down the mountain, distributing the corn.”

So classicists were excited when the title was first announced, coming off the Ovid of Modern Times.

But the Roman Kings actually turned out to be a 1960s Latino gang in New York, “In their sharkskin suits”, the second line of the song.

He’s playing with his audience, because the title is much more Latin than the other titles of songs that actually have Ovid in them.

The play continues when the voice of the singer, no longer in Rome or New York, becomes verbatim that of Fagle’s Odysseus taunting the Cyclops at the end of Odyssey 9: “I can strip you of life / Strip you of death / Ship you down / To the house of death.”

As with his Ovid lines, so with Homer, Dylan has an eye or ear for the poetry of translations which then fit his music, tunes and melody, in this case via a Muddy Waters style blues.

After the verbatim quotes, the singer continues “One day / You will ask for me / There’ll be no one else / That you’ll wanna see.”

“No one” is of course the Homeric speaker, and the Homeric addressee will not be seeing anyone.

So maybe Dylan’s ability to understand, digest, and draw inspiration from classical authors helped place him among the ranks of the Nobel Prize winners in Literature.

Or maybe he answered it himself in his riveting speech to last year’s MusiCares awards: “Critics have said that I’ve made a career out of confounding expectations. Really? Because that’s all I do? That’s how I think about it. Confounding expectations.

“Like I stay up late at night thinking about how to do it. “What do you do for a living, man?” “Oh, I confound expectations.” You’re going to get a job, the man says, “What do you do?” “Oh, confound expectations.

“And the man says, “Well, we already have that spot filled. Call us back. Or don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Confounding expectations. I don’t even know what that means or who has time for it.”

He later added: “These songs of mine, I think of as mystery plays, the kind that Shakespeare saw when he was growing up. I think you could trace what I do back that far.

“They were on the fringes then, and I think they’re on the fringes now. And they sound like they’ve been traveling on hard ground.”


Words for Friends #12

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.

#12 Anissa

I don’t sense affection, no gratitude or love, your loyalty is not to me but to the stars above… one more cup of coffee for the road, one more cup of coffee ‘fore I go, to the valley below.

These words by Bob Dylan have always resonated with me since I first met the lovely Anissa in 2014.

Anissa is so many things: French, Tunisian, an Anglophile, Muslim, a deeply caring mother, a lover of art and North African food, a fiery advocate for justice, a fighter and writer for Palestinian freedom, a caffeine addict, stunningly beautiful, an amazing friend and someone you would choose first to be on your side in a conflict.

Our friendship has grown on so many levels over the past two years and rarely a day goes by when I don’t receive a message checking if I am okay and offering advice or assistance. She is always there.

Geographical distance may separate us, but Anissa is very dear to me as a rock and a friend on that long road to the valley below … one more cup of coffee!

Words for Friends #11

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.

#11 Jo

Jo is one of the truest friends I could ever have wished for.

We first met in our second year at university, and now 40 years later

she carries secrets about me which she would never share. Well the last bit is a lie, because she shares them regularly to everyone’s amusement … including me!

As young students, Jo and I shared the same friends, music, humour, drinking places and vulgar Tory politics. I fancied her rotten, but we were only ever good friends. Now we talk regularly about those days… except the politics, which we try to bury as deep as Margaret Thatcher’s grave.

Like many student friendships, ours waned after graduation as we both left the campus environs in search of jobs, careers and family.

Then by chance (Friends Reunited) in 2003, we rediscovered each other and a new close friendship was reborn. It is nurtured almost weekly through social media, emails and buckets of shared retrospective humour.

A highlight in recent years was meeting Jo and her husband Ian for a coffee in 2014, when we could at last sit down, catch up and span the years since we last met. It was a wonderful moment.

Today, Jo is one of the first people I always turn to for advice and support, because I trust her implicitly and value every word she shares.

She is quite simply lovely… and a real best friend.