There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’… it’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls

A PHOTO of a Syrian toddler washed up dead on a beach in Turkey made news headlines around the world this past 48 hours.

The child was Aylan Kurdi and he was three years old. He drowned in the Mediterranean Sea along with his five-year-old brother Galip and mother Rihan.

Much of the world’s media has led with the image of Aylan lying lifeless on the shores of Bodrum in southwest Turkey. Meanwhile, social media users have also shared images of Aylan and his brother when they were alive, smiling and playing together.

They were real people just like you and me.

The boys were on one of two boats that departed Bodrum early on Wednesday and were headed for the Greek island of Kos. Both boats sank shortly after leaving the Turkish coast.

Twelve bodies have been recovered from the sea, including those of five children. Nine people survived and two are still missing, presumed drowned.

The family, Kurds from Kobane in northern Syria, fled their homes after the Islamic State group ISIS besieged their town earlier this year.

The United Nations has reported that at least 230,000 people have been killed in Syria’s brutal civil war, although the actual toll is thought to be much higher. More than 6.5 million people out of a population of 22 million have also been displaced by the conflict.

Thousands of people have died trying to reach Europe this year, with many fleeing conflict in the Middle East and North Africa. On 14 September European Union ministers will hold an emergency meeting to discuss solutions to the largest refugee crisis facing the continent since World War II.

Yet that is only half of the story. The scandal of the refugee crisis has been going on for more than two years.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been fleeing the brutality that has swept across the Middle East and North Africa. Thousands have drowned making the dangerous journey through the Mediterranean Sea and into Europe.

The people who have avoided Aylan’s fate and made it to the mainland have found themselves stuffed into rotting detention camps as the EU fruitlessly debates about what is to be done with them.

Their default mode up till now has mostly been one of regretful impotence at best.

It is a desperate, appalling situation. It’s also one that has been covered relentlessly by newspaper, radio and TV journalists. Now the response to the pictures of Aylan may speak to the effectiveness of journalism. The fact that none of the thousands of videos, photos and articles that came before those pictures provoked a similar reaction speaks to the limits of that effectiveness.

It should not have taken these pictures to wake people up, though it’s understandable that the image of a child’s dead body is able to cut through in ways other images might not have.

We don’t want to live in a world where we need such abject horror thrust in our faces before we pay any attention at all. The sad fact, however, is that we do.

Now instead of calling these people “migrants” with sickening collective terms such as “swarm” or “plague” the world’s media is at last waking up to them as desperate refugees,

The story behind the gut-seizing, heart-shattering pictures of drowned children on Mediterranean beaches is not a complex one.

The cause of these children’s deaths has a name: Western imperialism. And their killers have names and addresses.

One of those names is Barack Obama. His administrations’ imperial machinations in Libya and Syria are the direct cause of the unforgivable deaths of these children.

And as before, in Iraq, the US led assault has been backed by British lap-dog prime ministers Tony Blair and David Cameron.

In short, drowned children are the direct consequence of keeping the lights on across the capitalist West.

It fronts a mind-set that accepts Western narratives and a greed for oil, a scapegoating of an entire religion (Islam), and a paranoia over the continued power of Russia.

The current refugee exodus exists due to 800 years of our collective history as a colonial and Christian power, hell-bent on exporting our values, religion and control on other nations.

Britain, France, Spain, Belgium, Holland and Portugal have been colonialists since the so-called Holy Crusades to Jerusalem in the 13th century, the colonial exploitation of the Americas in the 16th and 17th centuries, to the dissection of Africa, South America and Asia in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Our imperialist ancestors conquered peaceful countries, imposed western values and Christianity upon them, plundered their treasures and resources, murdered millions and took millions more into slavery.

And over the past 100 years we have been joined by our ‘allies’ the USA, which since the end of World War 2 has bombed: China 1945-46, Korea 1950-53, China 1950-53, Guatemala 1954, Indonesia 1958, Cuba 1959-60, Guatemala 1960, Belgian Congo 1964, Guatemala 1964, Dominican Republic 1965-66, Peru 1965, Laos 1964-73, Vietnam 1961-73, Cambodia 1969-70, Guatemala 1967-69, Lebanon 1982-84, Grenada 1983-84, Libya 1986, El Salvador 1981-92, Nicaragua 1981-90, Iran 1987-88, Libya 1989, Panama 1989-90, Iraq 1991, Kuwait 1991, Somalia 1992-94, Bosnia 1995, Iran 1998, Sudan 1998, Afghanistan 1998, Yugoslavia – Serbia 1999, Afghanistan 2001, Iraq 2003 and Libya 2011.

And more recently we have sat back and watched as the US trained and armed insurgents (including ISIS) against Assad’s ruthless Syrian regime while at the same time allowed Zionist Israel to become a nuclear state and murder thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians in its own backyard.

Our nations have sown war and hatred all over the world – now there is a heavy harvest.

But the general public is waking up. Grassroots campaigns all over Europe should shame our own right wing Tory government, whose policy is little more than a noxious and combustible mix of inertia and paranoia.

As David Miliband pointed out, our country was instrumental in creating the convention that established legal rights for refugees. Does our self-image matter?

Well, it might do when others are making us look mean-spirited. Germany is; Greece is.

The tide washes in, the tide washes out. The compassion fatigue said to have set in when we were shown images of famine is now a permanent motion sickness. Just keep staring straight ahead, don’t look too hard, or you may see something other than detritus out at sea, or sleeping rough, or crowded into stations. You might see a child’s face that reminds you of a child you know. And you may indeed say that someone, somewhere, should do something, but not us.

Or you may, as some are doing, make a small gesture.

Your offering will not cut through the impossible statistics nor stem the tide of loathing disguised as logic. It will not stop the panic on every border or the ongoing migration of so many displaced people. It will not stop the posturing of the political class. It will simply connect you to what it is to be human.

And right now, that feels almost like hope.

A string of politicians and charities have urged David Cameron to do more to improve the desperate plight of those fleeing war-torn countries.

Thousands have signed a petition calling on the Government to ensure the UK works with other European Union countries to set and welcome a quota of refugees.

But if we are honest we need a sea change in the way Western governments think, believe and act.

It may take some time, but the seeds of a real political revolution are being sown.

The period between 1789 and 1850 saw populist revolutions from the gates of the Bastille in France to the “Rome of the People” of Giuseppe Garibaldi and the beginnings of a reunification of Bismarck’s greater Germany. Kings and Queens were displaced and the political face of Europe changed forever.

Today, after decades of capitalist right wing governments, who feed on the cash of arms trading and warfare while people die waiting for welfare at home, the change is coming.

It has already happened in Greece and Scotland where the people’s voice was heard at the ballot box. Now Jeremy Corbyn offers real hope for a new tomorrow in the UK and Bernie Sanders provides a new way forward in the US presidential race.

There is hope…. real hope.

As Bob Dylan once wrote:

“Come senators, congressmen

Please heed the call

Don’t stand in the doorway

Don’t block up the hall

For he that gets hurt

Will be he who has stalled

There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’

It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls

For the times they are a-changin’”

Four Riders of the Apocalypse

You tore away my innocence

With young fear in your hand

You sliced apart my body

Leaving scars I could not stand

You tore my friend away from me

And left open wounds to bleed

You tempted me with beauty

I was a fool indeed

You captured each of my children

And corrupted my young wife

You told lies about my character

And polluted my whole life

You murdered my good family

Took my son to begin again

Mocked each of my weaknesses

Tattooed my babies with a poison pen

You stole my house and chattels

Left me without a home

You took my family and my loved ones

Leaving me to fight alone

You threatened me with blackmail

With a dinner plate in your hand

You brought it crashing down

Something I still don’t understand

You gave me strength and patience

And the best friends in the land

You gave me love and honesty

So my enemies could not stand

You gave me hope and gentleness

And the spirit to take stock

You gave me life and laughter

And faith within a solid rock

Four Riders of the Apocalypse

You tore away my innocence

With my young fear in your hand

You sliced apart my body

Leaving scars I could not stand

You took my friend away from me

And left the wounds to bleed

You tempted me with beauty

I was a fool indeed

You stole each of my children

And corrupted my young wife

You told lies about my character

And polluted my whole life

You murdered my good family

Took my son to begin again

Mocked each of my weaknesses

Tattooed babies with a poison pen

You stole my house and chattels

Left me without a home

You took my family and my loved ones

Leaving me to fight alone

You threatened me with blackmail

With a dinner plate in your hand

You brought it crashing down

Something I still don’t understand

You gave me strength and patience

And the best friends in the land

You gave me love and honesty

So my enemies could not stand

You gave me hope and gentleness

And the spirit to take stock

You gave me life and laughter

And faith within a solid rock

Poem: The False Widow

The dawn it screams in anger

How can it now be true?

How can the hope that dangled

Briefly

Be sewn with weeds anew?

 

The False Widow smiles insanely

Her web is woven tight

The Puppet Master dances

Madly

Until there is no fight

 

The morning conjures bleakly

How quickly life can change

They measured their options

Clearly

Behind the kitchen range

 

The False Widow smiles insanely

Her web is woven tight

The Puppet Master dances

Madly

Until there is no fight

 

The noontime sun advances

Their motives are quite clear

The marionette now stands

Sadly

Looking beyond the frozen sphere

 

The False Widow smiles insanely

Her web is woven tight

The Puppet Master dances

Madly

Until there is no fight

 

So evening calls more quietly

A vague hope it still clings

Touching love and life

Sincerely

And cutting webs and strings

 

The False Widow smiles insanely

Her web is woven tight

The Puppet Master dances

Madly

Until there is no fight

 

So dust the broom in moonlight

Keep it clean and new

The way ahead still lies

Clearly

Until morning’s early dew

 

Poem: Fanny by Gaslight

Fanny turn the gaslight up
And tell me what you see
Your vision has been clouded
Do you still remember me?
The lies and old malt whisky
Have poisoned all that’s good
Your captives have been clever
Don’t let us be misunderstood

Fanny turn the gaslight up
And cut the wick down low
Your memory has been twisted
And truth returns too slow
The lies and old malt whisky
Have poisoned all that’s good
Your captives have been clever
Don’t let us be misunderstood

Fanny turn the gaslight up
Now open the curtains wide
The horizon goes on forever
And I am on the other side
The lies and old malt whisky
Have poisoned all that’s good
Your captives have been clever
Don’t let us be misunderstood

Fanny turn the gaslight up
Pack your toothbrush and your comb
The train awaits on platform six
So make your way back home
The lies and old malt whisky
Have poisoned all that’s good
Your captives have been clever
Don’t let us be misunderstood

All he believes are his eyes and his eyes, they just tell him lies

blair

YOU usually only get the true measure of a person when you meet them face to face.
And so it was for me when I first interviewed erstwhile Prime Minister Tony Blair, soon after his election victory in 1997.
I had briefly met Mr Blair two years earlier in Glasgow while he was celebrating Labour’s landslide wins in the local council elections. He was triumphant, beaming and pressing flesh in every direction. The Scottish faithful loved him.
I had helped elect him and his Labour Government on 1 May 1997, thus ending 18 years of Thatcherism and Majorism and the class-ridden Tory ruination of our country.
Like millions of others I was now hopeful for a brighter and more socially equal future… after all, things could only get better!
So when, in early December I was asked by my news editor at the Sunday Sun (a North of England Sunday tabloid, not to be confused with the rag the Sun on Sunday!) if I would like to interview the new Prime Minister on his return to his Sedgefield constituency, I jumped at the chance.
On a sunny Saturday morning, armed with a hand-held tape recorder and full of questions I made my way to the Labour Club in Trimdon in County Durham.
The club was full with the local faithful and many more had gathered outside. Here was the return of the conquering hero.
Looking tall in a dark suit, white shirt and equally dark blue tie, Mr Blair addressed the audience inside the club about his hopes and plans for a New Labour Britain. It was typical political rhetoric, the type I had heard many times from other party leaders. But Blair was convincing and comfortable in the knowledge that he was among friends.
He finished to a standing ovation and began to mingle with party activists.
I approached his agent John Burton and requested a few minutes of the PM’s time for an interview which I could guarantee we would run the next day.
Ten minutes later John tapped me on the shoulder and told me Mr Blair was ready for ‘a chat’.
So I faced our new leader, introduced myself and asked him about his proposed cuts in benefits to lone parents. He noticeably winced at this first question, and in words which would not be alien to David Cameron, he said: “I think most people understand that we have got to reform the system. Because if you are spending more on benefits than you are on schools, hospitals and law and order put together, there is a problem.”
Asked if stalwarts in his constituency shared many fellow Labour MPs’ fears over benefit cuts, he became slightly more agitated.
He said: “Look, I have always said that whenever you are doing change then it is always difficult to begin with. We have got to make these reforms and I think people will accept them as changes we have to make.”
Then in words which could have come straight from Conservative Central Office he gave a stark indication that the disabled and sick would be the next to face an overhaul of their benefits.
“We spend more on disabled and incapacity benefits than we do on the entire school system in the UK,” he told me, before adding: “Benefit fraud – estimated at £4 to £5 billion a year – is enough to build 100 large hospitals.
“If we achieve these reforms then it will be a magnificent legacy that the New Labour Government has left us in a new millennium.”
We talked for another ten minutes before the Prime Minister moved away to the safety of his constituency friends.
This was my political watershed. Personally I felt my interview with Mr Blair was enlightening for many reasons.
Primarily because during the course of the conversation, Mr Blair avoided any eye contact and instead looked right through me, as if reading from an auto cue.
Secondly, because these were not the words, or message to the poorest in our society, that I was expecting from a new Labour Prime Minister. A Prime Minister charged with turning back almost two decades of Conservative pillage and division.
And finally, when all else failed, Mr Blair seemed to rely on cheap soundbites and a pre-learned script.
There was not one ounce of sincerity in anything he said.
He had lost me!
And over the next four years, the actions and policies of Mr Blair’s New Labour Government confirmed my worst fears.
While I still voted Labour in the June 2001 General Election, I had lost all confidence in this light blue successor to Thatcher or any dreams of a more socially fair country.
The events of post 9/11, Mr Blair’s unswerving support of the moronic George W Bush, the illegal invasion of Afghanistan and the lies over the justification for war against Saddam Hussein and Iraq, finally nailed it.
I felt that like many, I had been caught in a web of lies and propaganda and lost in a smokescreen of rhetoric and deceit.
The poor were poorer, the rich got richer, and the innocent victims of Blair’s wars lay charred and dead.
So by 2005, for the first time in my life I did NOT vote for any party or political leader.
That was nine years ago. Now sadly, just two weeks after the sad death of one true democratic socialist Tony Benn, I am still casting around for something and someone to believe in.
The fight for peace, social justice and the protection of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society must continue, but I don’t believe one of our major political parties now has the will to do that.

The Gaslight tapes

I HAVE been the victim of gaslighting.

And I didn’t even know it!

To understand anything which now follows, you probably will need to read my recent autobiographical blog piece entitled Denial. The posting tells the story of my denial of access and loss of my two middle daughters.

Following the publication of Denial on Sunday 9 March, I suddenly discovered by cruel irony that the perpetrators had poisoned other members of my family.

It was a sinister and unexpected shock and left me asking “Why?”

Then last weekend things became a lot clearer.

I had my best friend to stay. She wanted to help me come to terms with the most recent turn of events. She is my soul mate, my trustee and by chance a psychologist. She has known me for many years and knows most of my life. She had read my blog posting and was concerned. So during Saturday afternoon sat on our sofa, I filled in a few gaps and we chatted.

Then she turned to me and said suddenly: “You have been gaslighted.”

“It is a cruel and cunning and devious abuse tactic,” she added.

I gasped for an explanation.

So here it is: Gaslighting is a sophisticated manipulation tactic which is used to control and create doubt in the mind of the victim.

In a 1930s movie thriller entitled “Gas Light”,  a conniving husband tries to make the wife he wishes to get rid of think she is losing her mind by making subtle changes in her environment, including slowly and steadily dimming the flame on a gas lamp.

In recent years, the term “gaslighting” has come to be applied to attempts by certain kinds of people to create so much doubt and fear in the minds of their targets of exploitation that the victim no longer trusts their own judgment about things, thus coming under their power and control.

Sometimes, a person can assert something with such an apparent intensity of conviction that the other person begins to doubt their own perspective.

Bringing up historical facts that seem largely accurate but contain minute, hard-to-prove distortions and using them to “prove” the correctness of one’s position is another method.

Gaslighting is particularly effective when coupled with other tactics such as shaming and guilting. Anything that aids in getting another person to doubt their judgment and back down will work.

Deception is often the key ingredient in manipulation. Deception can be accomplished by outright denial, distortion of key aspects of events, and a variety of other methods, especially the more sophisticated lying techniques.

A really accomplished liar can deceive another person by merely reciting a litany of absolutely true things — while deliberately and cleverly leaving out one or two crucial elements that would change the entire character of what they’re trying to make you believe.

But a common element among all the tactics manipulators use is that they cause the person being targeted to doubt their gut instincts about what’s going on. Their gut tells them they’re under attack or that someone is trying to get the better of them, and they intuitively go on the defensive. But because they often can’t find any clear, direct, objective evidence that the other person is merely trying to disadvantage them, they start doubting and questioning themselves.

This is the real secret of effective manipulation. If the “target” were solidly convinced they were in the process of being done in, they’d more likely put up more resistance instead of capitulating.

Manipulators know this. They win by getting the other person to back down or give in.”

My friend then added: “The way I see it is that the person behind this is like a poison seed. That seed poisons those around to believe them and demonise you.”

So things began to become clearer:

  • The perpetrator could cite three of four instances in my life when I had lost my temper… therefore I had an “anger management problem”. Failing each time to mention the circumstances which led to the rational outburst of anger.
  • The perpetrator could prove that on a few occasions in my life I was treated for depression… therefore I was “mentally ill” and “must be dangerous”. Failing to point out that these occasions were separated by many years and were a natural reaction to overpowering life events, such as bereavement, cancer and loss of a job.
  • The perpetrator could point out that I had a criminal conviction… therefore I was “a criminal with an interest in young girls”. Failing to point out that the conviction was 30 years ago, had been fully spent since 1991, and was due to me immediately handing myself in to the police when I discovered the girl’s age.
  • The perpetrator could point out that I had moved 300 miles away and not seen my daughters for years… therefore I had “abandoned them”. Failing to point out that their mother had moved away and had prevented me from seeing my daughters.

And so on. Until those around them – mainly my daughters – believed all the blackening lies and half truths about me.

My friend said that I had been specifically a victim of gaslighting by proxy, which is described: “If all else fails, the abuser recruits friends, colleagues, family members, the authorities, institutions, neighbours, the media, teachers – in short, third parties – to do his bidding. Even the victim’s relatives, friends, and colleagues are amenable to the considerable charm, persuasiveness, and manipulativeness of the abuser. The abuser offers a plausible rendition of the events and interprets them to his favour.

“Others rarely have a chance to witness an abusive exchange first hand and at close quarters. In contrast, the victims are often on the verge of a nervous breakdown and are angry.

“Confronted with this contrast between a polished, self-controlled, and suave abuser and his harried casualties – it is easy to reach the conclusion that the real victim is the abuser, or that both parties abuse each other equally.

“The abuser perverts the system – therapists, counsellors, mediators, court-appointed guardians, police officers, and judges.

He uses them to pathologise the victim and separate him/her from their sources of emotional sustenance – notably, from their children.”

Dr Richard Gardner sums it up: “The purpose of the alienation is usually to gain or retain custody without the involvement of the father. The alienation usually extends to the father’s family and friends as well.

“Many of these children proudly state that their decision to reject their fathers is their own. They deny any contribution from their mothers. And the mothers often support this vehemently. In fact, the mothers will often state that they want the child to visit with the father and recognise the importance of such involvement, yet such a mother’s every act indicates otherwise.

“Such children appreciate that, by stating the decision is their own, they assuage mother’s guilt and protect her from criticism. Such professions of independent thinking are supported by the mother who will often praise these children for being the kind of people who have minds of their own and are forthright and brave enough to express overtly their opinions. Frequently, such mothers will exhort their children to tell them the truth regarding whether or not they really want to see their fathers.

“The child will usually appreciate that “the truth” is the profession that they hate the father and do not want to see him ever again. They thereby provide that answer – couched as “the truth” – which will protect them from their mother’s anger if they were to state what they really wanted to do, which is to see their fathers.

“After a period of programming the child may not know what is the truth anymore and come to actually believe that the father deserves the vilification being directed against him. The end point of the brainwashing process has then been achieved.”

So I turned to my friend exhausted. She hugged me and said: “Now you know what has happened to you. You are not alone, you are a beautiful person and those that love you and know you well are still with you and we all support you.”

My first lesson in human psychology was over!

 

Denial

THIS is the third instalment of my Back From the Edge quartet and is entitled: Denial.

A Fight for Justice
“We can and do frequently fall out of love with our partners. It is a pain that is impossible to explain when we feel betrayed by someone we once loved, and entirely natural that we feel the desire for revenge. Children, however, only fall out with their best friends but never Mummy, Daddy, Grandma and Grandpa.”
“I cry silently for these children who, through no fault of their own, are forced to grieve unnecessarily.”
EVELYN DOYLE, AUGUST 2003

I AM many things, have many flaws and made many mistakes in my life. I have paid for them all. I have not always been the best partner and have at times been wayward – for which I am truly sorry – but I have always been a good father.
As a human being I am sometimes quirky and find it hard to tolerate fools, but above all, I am gentle, kind, caring and honest… qualities which those who know me well can confirm.
So what follows has taken many years to get my head around and many months of stalling to begin its telling.
I guess it all began when my second life partner – and the mother of my two middle girls – and I separated in the summer of 1999. We had been together for eight years and despite an at times tempestuous relationship we raised our two daughters with mutual care and love. We also parted amicably.
At the time of the break-up, I was working away in Aberdeen in the North East of Scotland. My ex-partner stayed living with our girls in our family home near Edinburgh. She found another man – a road engineer – very quickly, but that did not play on our emotions too much. We parted on an understanding that I would always have free and equal access to my daughters, Rhia and Shannon. Indeed, my ex said openly: “Don’t worry you will always be able to see the girls. You are their daddy.”
Within a few months she relocated with our girls to a farmstead in the North West of Scotland. A few months later, I heard she had ditched her road engineer in favour of a wealthy computer tech, who also shared her passion for horses. Her new relationship did not appear to unduly change the joint parenting of our daughters.
Despite a great distance between our two homes (a return trip by car of almost eight hours), I maintained good contact with my daughters and, with a couple of exceptions, had them to stay for every school holiday and half term – logistically quite difficult when I was only able to take 25 days holiday a year from work. These visits were supplemented by additional trips to her locale, where I visited the girls in situ and took them out, plus a Christmas Day drive to deliver presents and spend two valuable hours in their company.
My daughters were always delighted to see me and and enjoyed a loving and caring time with me and my new wife. I never lost my temper with them and never smacked them or hurt them in any way. I was, after all, their daddy and I loved them to bits.
But in the summer of 2002 my ex married her new partner and everything started to change.
He was a self-proclaimed millionaire and showered her with gifts: a new sports car with personalized number plates, a huge bronze bust of a horse for her stable yard and everything else money could buy… a sharp contrast to the frugal life she had had with me.
Her new husband – who I will call X for the sake of this piece – is all things to all people. His personal CV would make even Superman’s eyes water: a successful entrepreneur, a professor and doctor in computer science, a self-professed psychologist, a horse whisperer, a top photographer and an acclaimed web-site designer.
He was everything I wasn’t and I guess my ex had found her man!
But within a couple of months of their marriage, I had word from my eldest son Ben and some mutual friends that they had concerns about changes in the way my daughters were being parented and a new party lifestyle. The concerns were so serious that I drove to North West Scotland and spent two days talking to acquaintances to set my mind at rest.
The following May I remarried and my daughters were bridesmaids at our wedding.
That summer my new wife and I bought a family home in South Tyneside and, due to complications with the conveyancing, I had to delay my daughters’ two week summer stay by nine days. At this juncture I could tell things were decidedly cool with my ex. Her annoyance was obvious, despite my apologies.
But that did not prepare me for what lay ahead.
As explained in my earlier blog posting entitled Regret, in September 2003 I was reunited after 18 years with my eldest daughter T. I naturally informed my ex of my delight at the reunification and told her I looked forward to our daughters meeting their step-sister.
A family gathering was planned for the October half term where T would meet her grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and most importantly her older step-brother and two step-sisters. This was going to be the weekend I had dreamed of for almost 19 years… my family all together for the first time. I wrote to Rhia and Shannon to prepare them and enclosed new photographs of their stepsister.
Then came the hammer blow.
In a short telephone call, my ex told me that the girls could not attend the family party as they had ‘other arrangements’. She added a justification that the girls would be ‘emotionally damaged by suddenly meeting a mysterious sister that has materialized out of nowhere”.
Yet my daughters had grown up with pictures of T in the house and always knew of her as their estranged sister. I even received letters from the girls thanking me for the new pictures of T, with Shannon adding: “I hope I can see T when I come up”.
I was crippled by my ex’s attitude and could tell immediately that someone else was orchestrating this move.
But there was more to come.
I challenged her assertion that T was a “mysterious sister”.
She retorted: “If you are really so honest, have you told them where she came from and who her mother was and how old she was?”
This was coming from a woman who had known of my conviction since we first met in 1991 and had often teased me with the words: “Don’t worry, it was just your willy being silly”.
Now she was using my conviction as some first assault weapon.
The next exchange was almost a month later.
On Wednesday 19 November, my wife telephoned my ex to chat about arrangements for the girls to stay at Christmas – a happy routine we had continued for four years. She was given short shrift and was told she was reviewing the Christmas arrangements.
I telephoned the next day to be greeted with a verbal assault over how our daughters were emotionally damaged “every time they stay with you”, adding that “after the last visit I caught Rhia bullying Shannon” and she placed the blame on me.
I told her that in turn Rhia was very unhappy at being being forced to go goose shooting with her husband and then being told to pick up the dead geese.
Soon hackles were raised and the phone call descended to a row, with my ex stating that I was an “unsuitable parent”.
In anger, I retorted that she was “an arrogant piece of dirt”.
I am not proud of my words or my anger, but I guess that is what happens sometimes when former partners disagree.
She slammed the phone down on me.
I redialed and the call was answered by X who bluntly told me not to call again, before hanging up.
I redialed again. This time I asked to speak with my daughters, as was normal. He responded with words that have haunted me ever since: “You will never speak with your daughters again”.
There followed the farce of me redialing again and again with my anger and frustration rising each time to be greeted with a similar response. On the ninth redial, X stated that he would report me to the police for harassment if I called again.
My wife was sat next to me and had witnessed the whole bizarre 20 minutes.
With tears flooding and anger rising, I sat and wondered what to do next.
What I did next was ill-conceived and something I regret.
I exacerbated matters and wrote a powerful personal letter to my ex raising a number of concerns I had over her morality and the welfare of my daughters in her household. It contained issues I had left bubbling since my trip to North West Scotland some 16 months earlier. It was spiteful and aimed to hurt.
I had marked the letter private and personal. In hindsight, it was clear that her husband had read the letter and I had stupidly upped the ante.
My ex wasted no time in cancelling my daughters’ Christmas visit. On 20 December I received a letter from her solicitor stating that if I attempted to contact her or my daughters directly again, they would seek a Court Interdict (Injunction) against me. The cost of contesting an interdict usually runs to at least £4,000. Breach of any interdict is a criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment.
I was left in no-man’s land… I could not afford to contest the threatened interdict.
So the New Year of 2004 dawned and a six month legal battle began.
I instructed a solicitor to act for me, primarily to address the threat of an interdict, but also to establish legal access to my daughters.
A ream of solicitors’ letters still sit in a file and bare testimony to what was to come.
My lawyer offered mediation and even supervised visiting as a way forward. In the early replies from her solicitors, she said there would be no problem with resuming access on certain conditions.
But my ex then moved the goal posts over my rights again and again until it became obvious that she had no intention of allowing me any contact or access.
Initially she maintained that I was mentally ill and had “anger-management problems”… based primarily on the telephone exchange of the previous November.
In one letter her solicitor held out a twisted olive branch in which he said his client would ‘consider’ supervised contact, if I “acknowledged” I had mental health issues to address and a letter from my GP that these were “being addressed”.
In the letter she based this demand on the fact she was “increasingly concerned by the tone and content of emails, letters and telephone calls” from me!
Even 10 years later I still have no idea how this could have impacted on my parenting of my daughters.
The accusations are wholly ironic. For while I suffered short-term clinical depression on a couple of occasions in my life, my ex had a long history of mental illness and irrational outbursts. These included two suicide attempts and her jumping out of a moving car while she was seven months pregnant, with my parents sitting aghast in the back, and even her lying down behind my car while I was reversing it out of a driveway.
She then claimed that my contact with my daughters had only been “sporadic”. This was made despite a 600 mile round trip each time I had seen my girls in the previous four years.
Yet I jumped through all of her legal hoops – even paying for a full medical report which confirmed that I was NOT mentally ill nor had any anger management issues. But she brushed this report aside and demanded a ‘second opinion’. Even 16 letters in my support from friends and family did not sway her resolve to deny me any access to my daughters.
By early March, my solicitor warned me that legal costs in pursuing the case could be prohibitive as he would have to do battle in her local sheriff court some 200 miles from his office.
On 26 April, my solicitor wrote to her solicitor highlighting my ex’s position of “a lack of good faith” in ignoring the earlier offer of mediation and being obstructive and to ask her to make my daughters aware of “the strenuous efforts that their father is making to re-establish contact with them”.
My solicitor told me that in his experience of dealing with family law matters, “she has probably poisoned your daughters against you by now… this usually happens in cases like this”.
A reply letter from her solicitor of 5 May 2004 simply reiterated earlier letters regarding my alleged mental illness and that she had been at the “receiving end of abusive and threatening text and telephone contact” from me.
It went on to say that “another party indicated that similar emails and messages resulted in the Police having to caution Mr Outterside in February 2004.”
To this date I have no idea who the “other party” is. But one thing is sure: I have NEVER received a Police caution in my life!
My solicitor told me that this letter was probably “designed to offend”.
The legal quagmire with its associated crippling costs eventually ceased in June 2004, when without the necessary funding to fight the battle in court, my solicitor advised me: “I have no confidence that Mrs X has any intention of co-operating, and is simply spinning out the process in the hope that her influence over the children will eventually resolve the problem for her”.
So, with the legal battle lost, I began my own campaign for access and contact with my daughters.
In August 2004 – the first anniversary of the last time I had seen the girls – I asked friends and family if they would help me lobby my ex to think again.
I was overcome by the response.
My mother led the crusade with a heartfelt letter in which she wrote: “I am struggling to come to terms with the fact that I may never see the girls again. As you know Rhiannon and Shannon were close to us and as their grandparents we really miss seeing them.” She added that my father’s (the granddad) health was deteriorating rapidly suffering from cancer, a stroke and Parkinson’s Disease.
Other people, including my sisters (the girls’ aunts), two doctors, a police officer, two solicitors and friends who had been denied access rights themselves joined the campaign with a host of letters.
But the missives fell on deaf ears and there was no reply.
A second Christmas with no contact with my darling daughters was upon me and I dutifully posted presents and cards for them both.
My parents received surprise Christmas cards from the girls and brave Shannon managed to smuggle a card to me inside one to her grandparents!
Unsure where to turn to next, in the Spring of 2005 I joined a local branch of The Real Fathers for Justice.
It was eye-opening, liberating and the most useful thing I had done in years.
Not only was I able to share my problems with other parents (both men and women) who had lost contact with their children, but among them were legal experts who helped immensely.
One lawyer told me I was entitled under English and Scots Law to receive school reports and school photos and to attend parents’ evenings (albeit the school was 300 miles away!). She also told me I was entitled to write letters to my daughters, though these may have to be channeled through a solicitor. And finally she advised me to record every letter and photograph every present I sent them, as in many cases mothers ensured children never received parcels from absent parents. This was done to make children believe the absent parent had ‘deserted them’.
Within a week I had written to the girls’ primary school headteacher requesting reports and photographs.
She replied immediately and a month later I received my first school reports and an offer of a telephone chat with their form teacher.
They were excelling at school, and I was both relieved and delighted.
Next I wrote to my ex underlining my legal right to write letters to the girls. She reluctantly agreed, but insisted the letters were sent via her solicitor. I in turn agreed and began writing a newsy letter to each of my daughters once a fortnight.
The letters were full of updates on how I and their young brother were doing and included recent photos. Not once did I mention the ongoing battle for access and kept the letters innocent and happy.
In one letter, I enclosed two £10 postal orders as a well-done for their excellent school reports.
And from June 2005 I also ensured that everything I sent, from CDs and books to an electric guitar and stethoscope were photographed as evidence of my continue campaign for access.
Very soon it was August 2005 and the second anniversary of the last contact with my daughters.
I decided to repeat the letter writing campaign from the previous year, hoping that time had healed the ire of my ex and that she may think again.
This time friends from The Real Father’s For Justice volunteered to write their own letters, explaining from first-hand experience the emotional damage to a child that comes from denial of the society of both parents.
I specified to all the letter writers that they “must not attack my ex or her husband in any way” but simply to appeal to their better natures.
Again all was silent.
Then suddenly on Saturday 22 October the postman delivered a brown paper parcel to my door.
I recognised the postmark and opened the package quickly.
My heart stopped. Inside was every letter I had written to my daughters since July… all unopened. In the package was also a letter from my ex. It was less a letter than a bullying and vitriolic rant. The venom, lies and anger it contained rocked me back.
What had I done to deserve this?
The letter kicked off with: “Rhia and Shannon are doing extremely well since the termination of your unwelcome involvement in their lives, and I believe correspondence of any kind with you is not in their best interests.”
Really?
Then turning to the anniversary campaign she added: “I remember you asking me to sign a letter you wrote to Ben’s mum complaining about access and then I receive the same letter from Ruth (my wife at the time), the same old harassment tactic.”
This was a complete fantasy as I had enjoyed more than 10 years unhindered access and contact with my son Ben from my first marriage and NEVER had reason to write to my former wife!
She went on to state: “I would have returned these letters sooner but I like the other downtrodden and abused women on the other side of your F4J crap, have to work all the hours to feed and clothe my children because their father cares more about hurting me than caring for them.”
This part of her letter had me reeling.
But it became even more venomous: “If you only had put the same energy into your visits and child payments as you have into abusing me, abandoning your children and cheating on all of your life partners to date.
“Don’t write to the children again until you have paid all the arrears in full and are prepared to apologise for your threatening behaviour to date. It should be clear, even to a self centred bully that I am not going to be harassed into submission by the F4J letter campaign, nor will I ever back down although still very scared of you. I am no longer your victim or patsy.”
The allegations and insinuations in this final part of her letter took my breath away.
Was she really suggesting that I had abused her?
Never!
Abandoned my children?
Never!
Cheated on all my life partners to date?
I cheated once in my first marriage, seven years before I met her, and that has been well documented!
What threats had I made?
None.
And why suddenly, after two years, did she raise the spectre of unpaid maintenance for my daughters? Was she moving the goalposts yet again as she had never mentioned maintenance before, after I ceased paying it when she denied me access to my children.
More was to become clear over the next six months.
In January 2006 I sadly began divorce proceedings with my wife Ruth after she had found another man. Although acrimonious at first, we soon adopted a civil and adult approach for the sake of our son, Nathan.
In March 2006, Ruth and I agreed that following a trial weekend stay, Nathan should live with me. We arranged for him to begin living with me 24/7 in the early summer.
Ruth then asked whether I minded if she approached my ex as Nathan had often asked after his sisters.
So in April she telephoned her and explained that we were divorcing each other and could she drive Nathan to Scotland to visit his sisters.
Apparently my ex seemed flummoxed by the unexpected phone call before blurting out: “If Nic had apologised to me he could have seen the girls!”
Were the years of denial of access all to do with her hurt pride?
She asked for some time to think about Ruth’s request.
But she never phoned back.
Another year passed as I settled in my new home in North Wales.
Then in August 2007 I received a surprise letter from the deputy head of my daughter’s new high school.
His letter politely informed me that my ex had lobbied him for me to stop sending cards and gifts to my daughters via the school – something which had been common practice for two years until that point.
He added: “Mrs X has informed me that a procedure has been agreed that gifts and cards should be sent through a solicitor. I would ask that you act through the appointed solicitor in future.”
He was, of course, unaware that my ex had already put a stop to this in October 2005!
The school’s letter was followed up by another dose of hatred from my ex at Christmastime.
Without boring readers with most of its raging content, it reiterated that: “My solicitor wrote to you a number of years back explaining that all correspondence and gifts were to be routed to their office.”
She added: “I have also asked the solicitors to write in the New Year to the school to rebut your ridiculous claims, which I believe are born out of your extreme jealousy, ongoing mental health problems and uncontrollable paranoia… I did find it mildly amusing with your UNSPENT criminal record that you are spouting your fatherly rights chapter and verse.”
Was she really unaware that my conviction was fully spent in 1991? And why raise it at all unless out of spite?
This time I ignored my ex’s hyperbole and venom and wrote immediately to her solicitors, with accompanying presents for my daughters, offering to pay maintenance arrears in return for contact/access with the girls.
I was taken aback when I received a reply from the firm explaining that my ex’s solicitor had left them almost a year earlier and that they “no longer undertake civil work”.
I wrote to my ex to explain this, but never received a reply.
In fact, 2007 was a year of no replies.
In early 2008 my father’s health was failing fast. He was confined to a nursing home and bed bound.
My mother again wrote to my ex asking if she would consider letting the girls visit their grandfather one last time. She stated clearly that I would not be anywhere near the nursing home
Mum’s earlier letters had been politely returned by the former solicitor stating that his “client refused to give him instructions”.
She hoped a direct approach might this time have some effect.
My ex did not even have to courtesy or humanity to reply.
When my dad finally died on 30 October 2008, my eldest son Ben telephoned my ex’s house to tell the sad news. The phone was answered by her husband, who simply said: “Ah, he’s gone at last, I will pass the news on.”
When my son told me of the response my grief battled hard with anger that someone could be so heartless.
So there followed another two years of Christmas and birthday cards and following the girl’s progress through school reports and occasional phone calls from mutual friends who lived nearby.
Seven years had passed since I had last seen my daughters and both were now mature teenagers.
Then in May 2010 I was informed that something had happened which meant I would not see them again.
Now almost four years later I still cry tears for the daughters that were denied me.

Whatever it Was, it Drove Them to Their Knees

DURING a recent dinner party a couple of long-time friends asked why I ‘always seem to blame’ governments and the Establishment for so many of our problems.
Fuelled by a few glasses of wine I began to burble a list which started somewhere around the creation of Israel, took a detour to the murder of Princess Diana and crudely ended with the Falklands War.
Yes, I suppose I am a bit of conspiracy theorist… but only when that conspiracy has credibility.
As a journalist I have witnessed far too often the lies and dirty tricks that governments and the Establishment will stoop to, to get their own way.
Murder, war and disease are the forerunners.
So I have decided to dig out and reload a few of my published investigations.
This one dates from early 2001, soon after Foot and Mouth Disease devastated British farming.
Conspiracy? You bet!

THE British, Canadian, US and Mexican Governments were preparing for the outbreak of foot and mouth disease FOUR months before it emerged on a Tyneside farm.
An investigation has discovered that all four countries were staging a co-ordinated foot and mouth simulation exercise in October 2000, despite the fact that Britain had not been struck by the disease for 34 years and the USA and Canada had not been affected since 1929.
And North timber merchants have confirmed that they were approached for urgent supplies to tackle the disease by Ministry of Agriculture officials as early as December.
Today scientists called for the Government to admit it knew that foot and mouth was present in the UK long before it was officially pinpointed at Bobby Waugh’s Heddon-on-the-Wall pig farm on February 23.
And Mr Waugh has called for a public apology from the Government after MAFF consistently blamed his farm as “the likely source of the outbreak”.
An investigation has discovered that last October the United States and Mexico began preparing for “a simulated outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease” in all three countries.
According to papers leaked from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the exercise – which took place between November 6 and 9 – was “for the purpose of emergency planning”.
It took place in Ontario, Alberta, Texas, USA, and Tamaulipas, Mexico.
The papers say: “This exercise is the first of its kind and provides all three countries with a unique opportunity to apply their emergency response plans in the event of a real disease outbreak.” Yet neither Canada, the USA or Mexico had been affected with foot and mouth disease since 1929.
And the exercise – which is estimated to have cost over $1 million – was the first US “Foreign Animal Disease Response Simulation” of any kind since 1993. At the same time the UK Government was preparing its own “contingency plans” for a foot and mouth outbreak.
Yet the last foot and mouth outbreak was in 1967. We discovered that MAFF officials began telephoning timber merchants as early as December asking if they could supply wood for pyres, should foot and mouth strike.
Mike Littlehales, who ran a timber yard in Staffordshire said he received a phone call “out of the blue” He said: “I got this call from a lady who said ‘This is the Ministry of Agriculture. Would you be interested in supplying timber in case of foot-and-mouth?’ because she wanted to update her records.
“It surprised me, and I thought it was doubly strange when three weeks later the Government tell us we have an outbreak of the disease.”
Mr Littlehales said the last time his timber business had received a similar call was during the foot and mouth outbreak in 1967.
Fran Talbot, a timber merchant at Eccleshall, said she was approached in first week of February and asked about the availability of railway sleepers in the event of a FMD outbreak.
“The woman said ‘are you still in a position to supply timber for burning animals in case of an outbreak of foot and mouth’. “It was a very odd thing to happen just three weeks before an outbreak.”
Mrs Talbot’s firm had supplied sleepers during the 1967 outbreak, but had not heard from MAFF since.
Tommy Norman, who runs a timber yard at Longtown, Cumbria – the centre of scores of cases of foot and mouth disease – confirmed he had received a similar call from MAFF in January.
“It’s difficult for me to say any more,” he added. “I have provided masses of wood for MAFF pyres, but they still owe me a large amount of money.”
Last night top US scientist Dr Patricia Doyle, who has led a stateside campaign to discover the truth about the UK foot and mouth outbreak, said: “I am convinced that MAFF knew about the virus was on the loose long before this February.
“And the US Government was protecting its back because they weren’t sure how far the virus had leaked.”
Amble-based geneticist Bruce Jobson, added: “This confirms what we knew all along, that the Government was aware foot and mouth was on the loose long before they identified it at Bobby Waugh’s farm.
“The new Department of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) must now admit that MAFF had covered up the real cause of this outbreak”.
Newcastle-based microbiologist Dr Harash Narang added: “I firmly believe that the virus escaped from a MAFF experiment and had infected sheep as long ago as last October.
“This evidence now supports that belief.” Mr Waugh said he felt vindicated that he was not responsible for the foot and mouth outbreak.
“Again, again and again I have been blamed for this disease, when I knew all along it wasn’t me.
“I now want the Government to admit they got it wrong and tell us all how this thing really started.”
Last night a spokesman for the Canadian Government said he was unable to comment on its foot and mouth simulation exercise due to agreements it had made with the British Government.
“Due to the sensitivity surrounding events which have occurred since February this year, we are unable to comment further on the reasons or results of the November exercise,” he added.
But a DEFRA spokesman denied that MAFF had tried to cover-up the outbreak.
He said: “We did not know of foot-and-mouth in this country at a time earlier than February 21 when it was identified at the abattoir in Essex and then traced to Mr Waugh’s farm in Northumberland.
“There has never been any deliberate concealment. “From time to time we do emergency planning exercises and the inquiries about wood may well have been of this nature.” According to official records the last official UK foot and mouth contingency plan was in 1993.

I’ve learned to hate Russians all through my whole life

WHEN I was a much younger man, I was a rebel with a cause… so many causes in fact, I actually lost count.
Now in the so-called autumn of my years, my causes are few: to protect my family and fight against injustice.
But, perversely, my canvas is much wider now, because ‘injustice’ is a shopping bag of multiple sins: the machinations of capitalism and state imperialism, the nuclear industry, violence in all its forms and bigoted prejudice of race, creed and sexuality.
And it is the machinations of the capitalist west and its media propaganda which irritates me the most, especially when I look at the injustices and indifference to Israeli atrocities on the West Bank and in Gaza and balance that against the world’s zeal like attention on the Ukraine.
In the days since Vladimir Putin sent Russian troops into the Crimea, it has been amateur hour in Washington and London while the western press seeks to set out an Us versus Them scenario in the crudest terms possible.
In the past 48 hours, Putin has been demonised as “a bully”, “a war monger” and “a dangerous dictator” for his actions in trying to protect Russian citizens living in Russia’s back garden.
When you compare seizing Crimea to the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938, as Leonid Bershidsky did at Bloomberg View this week, you can see the frightening level to which this political punditry has already grown.
And, as in post 9/11, Britain is hanging on to the coat tails of US foreign policy and acting like a spoilt child because the bigger game of western influence is temporarily out of our control.
Only yesterday, Foreign Secretary William Hague announced that Britain is boycotting the next G8 summit, due to be held in Moscow, in protest at Russia’s activity in the Crimea.
The sea of foreign policy punditry – already shark-infested – has reached new lows in fear-mongering, exaggerated doom-saying and a stunning inability to place global events in any rational context.
Even the most soft-slippered of so-called democrats on both sides of the Atlantic have attacked Putin’s actions as aggressive and “typically Soviet”… pushing us to the brink of a new Cold War.
Do we forget so quickly US aggression in Korea, Vietnam, Libya, Guatemala, Grenada, Nicaragua, Iraq, Afghanistan and its special forces which undermined elected regimes in Chile, the Lebanon, Egypt and now Venezuala?
Putin is acting in Russia’s best interest, albeit in a heavy handed manner. The situation in Crimea is currently none of our concern.
Our interests lie in a stable Europe, and that’s why the US and its European allies created a containment structure that will ensure Russia’s territorial ambitions will remain limited… it’s called NATO. Even if the Russian military wasn’t a hollow shell of the once formidable Soviet Red Army, it’s not about to mess with a NATO country.
Any US problems with Russia are the concerns that affect actual US interests. Concerns like nuclear non-proliferation, or containing the Syrian civil war, or stopping Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Those are all areas where Moscow has played an occasionally useful role.
The territorial integrity of Ukraine is not nothing, but it’s hardly in the top tier of US policy concerns. It is Russia’s back garden far more than Basra, Seoul or Saigon was ever a legitimate concern for the USA.
Putin has initiated a conflict that will, quite obviously, result in greater diplomatic and political isolation as well as the potential for economic sanction.
He’s compounded his loss of a key ally in Kiev by further enflaming Ukrainian nationalism, and his provocations could have a cascading effect in Europe by pushing countries that rely on Russia’s natural gas exports to look elsewhere for their energy needs.
Putin is the leader of a country with a weak military, an under-performing economy and a host of social, environmental and health-related challenges. Seizing the Crimea will only make the problems facing Russia that much greater.
You don’t have to listen to the “do something” western lynch mob. These are the same politicians and pundits convinced that every international problem is a vital interest of the US and the UK; that the maintenance of credibility and strength is essential, and that any demonstration of weakness is a slippery slope to global anarchy.
It’s all about control, and when every western leader from Nixon to Obama or Thatcher to Cameron felt they were losing control, they made it global… and if we haven’t learned anything from Afghanistan or Iraq, that is really frightening.

Now, he’s hell-bent for destruction, he’s afraid and confused
And his brain has been mismanaged with great skill
All he believes are his eyes
And his eyes, they just tell him lies
(Bob Dylan 1983)