Friday, 28 December 2012

Tuesday, 18 December 2012


This  came in today from Richard Faisey

''Two weeks ago I took some pictures of a yearly gift happening. This local group collect shoe boxes and other bags filled with goods and other useful items to send abroad for Christmas....''

And I thought of Tiny Tim in 'A Christmas Carol':    GOD BLESS US, EVERYONE

photos by Richard Faisey

Thursday, 6 December 2012


My new e-book, 'Remains of the Dead' was published yesterday by Endeavour Press. Here's the link:

Readers of my blogs may know that I write psychological thrillers involving the dead  (victims of murder, victims of social neglect, sudden heart attacks, dramatic suicides). They are commercial but serious in tone - at least that was my intention when I wrote them. I'm now flattered to see my new publishers  comparing me with the the likes of Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs.

All my novels are set in London, where I lived and worked for nearly twenty years and which continues to inspire me every time I go up there, which is often, because  I always find something new to discover about life in the metropolis. London is the focus of my inspiration and Cornwall is my writing base. I would find it difficult to write stories about Cornwall because it has never presented me with any dramatic tensions - apart from hospital treatments.

That said, I had a street encounter here on the Celtic fringe  as I was walking home from Truro city centre the other day.  Heading towards me as I struggled with my carrier bags
were two people whom I can only describe as characters from the Jeremy Kyle Show (she sporting  Ugg boots and leggings, scraped back pony tail,  large hooped ear-rings and lighting a fag; he in cheap trainers and  hoodie pulled up over his head). As I passed them, feeling benign as I always do after a sortie in the fresh air, the male character sort of hooted in my face and shouted something, the only discernible word being 'fucking'. I carried on walking but after a few steps turned round  to find him gazing back at me. 'Chav', I said, quietly but clearly and walked on, wondering if he'd chase me and wrestle me to the ground. Then I wondered, as I always do with street encounters, what the story was behind the pair.

They weren't working, obviously, or going to work, but she could afford £6 for a packet of cigarettes (I am so glad I  quit smoking eighteen years ago because I couldn't afford £45 a week for twenty cigs a day). They were coming from the direction of Trelander,  a large concrete council estate on the valley slopes, built in the sixties to house incoming workers in the power industry - or so I was told by an old Truro native. This housing provision could be compared with the early Victorian stuccoed terraces in Primrose Hill, one of which I used to inhabit in a tiny rented flatlet. These bijou London homes were built for railway workers on the new Euston mainline. The difference is that Primrose Hill has long since been gentrified and celebrity-fied, while Trelander has deteriorated into a no-go enclave for no-hopers.

But why do under-educated no-hopers whose only ambition in life is to appear on the Jeremy Kyle Show to kill the endless hours of boredom they must encounter have to be obnoxious? Big Issue sellers, of which there are several in Truro in this era of homelessness,  are resourceful and polite and - if I'm not putting too romantic a spin on it - purposeful. People without purpose other than to 'drink and eat and screw' as Jarvis Cocker put it in his song 'Common People' (memorably spoofed on YouTube with Cameron and Co lookalikes), are just menaces.  The French word, menacer,  means to threaten and this obnoxious behaviour threatens us all. No amount of cuts and checks and Big Society rhetoric is going to fix it. Love-bombing with benefits and other hand-outs hasn't worked for social pariahs  like this pair. I hate to find myself  saying so,  but a spell of national service - military or civil l(a German boyfriend I had did his civil/national service in a mortuary, inspiring some of my material for 'Remains of the Dead'... ) might be a  base-line solution. My granddad, an indentured joiner who served his apprenticeship just after World War I, would have called the pair 'ignorant', which is exactly what they are, although, unlike my granddad, they were offered a free education until they were sixteen followed by a swift transition to an idle and purposeless life as as a menace. What is to be done? as the Bolsheviks would say.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012


I just watched an episode from the current BBC/Open University series, 'Why Poverty'. The programme focuses on two Park Lanes: one in Manhattan, the other in the South Bronx. It's stuff that revolutions are made on.

Why are the rich so mean? Why do the poor allow them to be so mean? What has happened to the universal human spirit that it can be beaten down so crudely and so cruelly by a few mean bastards?  How can this creeping spirit of meanness and greed permeate the rafters of the world?

Some things to check out:

1. 'Former People: The Last Days of the Russian Aristocracy' by Douglas Smith (Macmillan)

2.   The New Testament (Jesus pulls no punches when it comes to the rich...)

3. Why Poverty?  (BBC, YouTube, Open University) 

You'd have to Google these links. I tried uploading the YouTube (Why Poverty?) video but there was a ghost in the machine...

mushroom (Anne Morgellyn )
'They shall by morning inherit the earth. Their foot's in the door' (Sylvia Plath)

Tuesday, 25 September 2012


I want to open this post with a salutation to Adam, who found my cellphone on the train to Paddington last Thursday and went to endless trouble arranging to get it back to me before I caught the train home yesterday evening.  Being the absent-minded creature I am, I'd assumed I had left it at home when I looked for it to call my daughter to say I'd arrived at the Women's Club where we stay in South Audley Street and would see her at St Paul's the following morning. I was just about to call her on the premium-rated phone in my room when the receptionist put her through to me. Cara was calling to say  that the phone was safe and sound in the care of a man who lived in Reading but worked at Paddington Station. He had opened  her messages to me and called her back on his phone to tell her he had mine. Then he asked her to ask me to call him to arrange a time when I could pick it up at Paddingdon. My booked train left just after his shift finished on Monday, but I said I'd hang on for him at the First Great Western Information desk until it was time to board. At ten to three, I saw a young Asian* man walking briskly towards me, dressed in on one of those green fluorescent jackets that station workers wear. He might have been a cleaner or a dispatcher. I thought, dispatcher - or some other frontline job on the station concourse.
   'Are you meeting Adam?' he asked me.
   'Yes - are you Adam?'
   'I'm Adam, yes, and here's your phone.'
I tried to give him a ten pound note for his trouble, but he wouldn't take it. 'It has been my pleasure,' he said, then, almost confidentially: 'The Penzance train leaves from Platform 8.' Since this information was not yet up on the departures board, I got to my seat before the great surge that is the lot of travellers on our overcrowded trains that can't catch up with the twenty-first century.

So, Adam, I salute you. You are kind and honest and generous with your time. It was my pleasure to meet you. I hope I meet more of your kind as I get older and more vulnerable, and I especially hope that my daughter meets more of your kind as she negotiates adult life.

*since I posted this, Adam has texted me to point out that he's Algerian, not Asian.

I was in London to attend the annual parade through the City of London by the sixth form and band of my daughter's school, Christ's Hospital  on 21 September - St Matthew's Day. Usually this is held at St Matthew's Church in Holborn, followed by a long march to The Guildhall and Mansion House, to which parents are not invited. But because this year commemorates the 460th anniversary of Christ's Hospital's foundation, the service was in St Paul's Cathedral with the whole school - 800 pupils, together with their teachers, seated in the transept. Sixth form parents - like me -could apply for tickets to sit in the aisle and watch the Lord Mayor's procession walk up to the Choir: clergy, Guildsmen, sergeant-at-arms and sword-bearer, stiff as a rod in his  gilt-frogged uniform, a plume of white ostrich feathers in his military hat.
The Dean of St Paul's, the Very Reverend David Ison, who gave the Welcome and Bidding, had this to say about Christ's Hospital: 'We give thanks for the vision and energy of the school's founder, King Edward VI, for those who came together in times of upheaval and change to provide for the poor and destitute of the day. We thank God for its rich academic history and its relationship with the City of London. We pray that it may continue to nurture and enrich the lives of all its pupils, that they may be a force for good in the world. We commend to God the future of Christ's Hospital, praying that it may remain faithful to the vision of its founder in providing education and support for disadvantaged children.'

In his sermon  the Dean went on to speak about Matthew, the tax collector at the receipt of custom -  a man doing a prestigious job 'in a sort of City of his day.' He gave it all up to follow Jesus; and the gospel of charity and peace, preached by St Matthew and the other Apostles, was taken up a thousand years or so later by the wealthy London Guilds and Companies and continued throughout the centuries which followed in a long tradition of giving to the poor. This charitable, but often overlooked, element in The City's history can be sampled at The Guildhall Galley near the Mansion House and Guildhall, home of the City of London Corporation.

Today, The City continues to sponsor charitable projects and foundations, including Christ's Hospital, where donations come from City banks and legal firms, as well as from the wealthy alumni - Old Blues, who have made their fortunes within the square mile. My daughter owes the most significant and best part of her education to them: she entered the school aged thirteen on a Foundation Bursary - which was a gift to me too since I had recently been diagnosed with cancer snd was worried sick about her future. To date, only a tiny percentage of the pupils at Christ' Hospital pay the full fees of over £27,000 per year- at this unique and spectacular independent school where the mission statement is giving education with care. So when I am off on a rant about hedge-funders and super-rich tax-dodgers, like the business moguls who squirrel their gains in offshore accounts, I should stop to remember those Foundation Governors of Christ's Hospital, forming an escort for the Lord Mayor, Guilds and Companies as they passed down the aisle of Wren's cathedral four days ago.

Christ's Hospital Band leading the march to St Paul's

and on to the Mansion House. The Guildhall Gallery is on the right.

Guildhall Art Gallery and London's Roman Amphitheatre

Friday, 24 August 2012


So Prince Harry, 'the coolest royal', makes another gaffe by allowing himself to be snapped butt-naked at some sleazy strip-pool party in Las Vegas, the sleaziest place in the world.
  Unlike his older brother who has inherited the awful job of being monarch one day, Harry, following the example of the late Princess Margaret and other redundant members of the Windsor clan, can allay his boredom  by being naughty. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with being naughty, especially if one is rich and schooled in buffoonery (Boris, Cameron and Co at The Bullingdon Club at Oxford). We know that Harry was disappointed about being taken out of the firing line in Afghanistan and is desperate to be redeployed with his regiment; but the thing is that the sorry file of young squaddies who have lately returned from the combat zone to help ease the shambolic security arrangements at the London Olympics will not have watched the games from first class seats or relaxed after this onerous duty on a holiday in Vegas, gallivanting and picking up the sort of women who are game about taking their clothes off in front of strange men. At least Prince Harry showed some modesty in hiding his 'crown jewels'.

    A few years ago, he was in the soup for allegedly plagiarising his teacher's work at Eton to gain his art A level - a crucial requirement to get into Sandhurst and begin his army officer training. The thought occurred to me today that this might not have been so easy for him under this year's newly-introduced draconian marking schemes for A Levels and GCSEs, resulting in a high percentage of lower grades and thus keeping the less able from taking up university places  - a jolly good wheeze from the chaps at the Education Ministry, I should think,  those same idiotic jobsworths who have been messing about with the school curriculum for the last thirty years.  For several summers, under the old regime, I marked English Language AS level for AQA Board, where examiners were always briefed to see the bigger picture. This meant not penalising candidates for basic English mistakes, such as misplaced apostrophes (it's/its, potato's/potoatoes), inability to distinguish between 'there' (place) and 'their' (possessive pronoun); received usage no-nos such as 'we was' instead of 'we were', etc.  The blind have been leading the blind, like the teacher at the local, 'outstanding-rated' comprehensive school, who wrote in my daughter's homework book: please check spelling and AMMEND (sic).  That was the school where they corrected up to five mistakes per homework and turned the other cheek with respect to the rest.


Tuesday, 31 July 2012


In spite of my misgivings about Britain hosting the Olympics, I watched Friday nights's Opening Ceremony to the Games with something approaching rapture. Danny Boyle's production was a distillation of the nation: a magic - and on Friday night at least - united  kingdom where  eccentricity flourishes alongside industry and startling creativity - the City didn't get a look in. We had maypole dancing, cricket, Isambard Kingdom Brunel  (Kenneth Brannagh reciting from The Tempest),  acts of remembrance, Chelsea Pensioners, and good old Paul McCartney doing his crowd-pleasing all inclusive finale with the chorus of Hey Jude.
  The spectacle seemed a bit twee at first, with grassy meadows redolent  of Hobbit-shire and the London Symphony Orchestra performing Elgar;  but when the dark, satanic chimneys appeared out of the grassy sward, culminating in the forging of the Olympic circles by grimy industrial pioneers, the whole thing took on a heroic significance. There was Sir Tim Berners-Lee with two old desktop computers, creating the world wide web, an extraordinary example of intellectual generosity and altrusim, inspiring others to share their knowledge for free and enabling anyone with a computer connection  to become a champion of sales.
   It wasn't only about the inventions and the industry and productivity:  The NHS was represented by hundreds of volunteers from the nursing and medical sectors,  all dancing and delving to showcase this jewel  in the UK's crown, and remind us perhaps what we would lose if this altruistic institution of 1948 were privatised. Industry and productivity may have been overshadowed in the last thirty years by finance - the towers of the City replacing the smoke stacks, but we can still preserve the NHS. If that was Boyle's leftist warning, then, in the idiom of football commentators, I think the boy did good.

   Much of the spectacle would only be recognisable to Britons, and maybe that was the best thing about it, reminding us of how we got here (immigration getting a look-in with the Windrush marchers, inclusiveness with the disabled children's choir) and where we are now. The global message, however, was blazingly, gloriousl clear through giants of the arts: JK Rowling and a selection of rock gods from the past three decades - five in the case of McCartney.

There was also a note of comedy from an unexpected source:  as the German athletes paraded their flag around the stadium, their ambassador or whoever he was, gave what looked like a Nazi salute. My daughter's horror was captured on the multinational broadcast cameras in the faces of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and London Mayor, Boris Johnson, who were sitting behind the German officials. After the initial shock, Boris and Camilla, those quintessential examples of old-shire Britishness,  burst out laughing.

photo by John Scattergood

Wednesday, 30 May 2012


The Tories did another U-turn this week, this time on their proposed policy to blast buzzard nests with shotguns in the name of 'research'. The real reason for the proposed cull was so that certain sporting gentlemen like millionaire landowner, Richard Benyon, Minister responsible for wildlife, could shoot pheasants to their hearts' content, unhampered by the  buzzards for which the pheasant is a natural prey. Since there is nothing natural about a Purdey shotgun, the blast of public opinion has forced the sporting gentlemen to withdraw.  Last week, they had to shelve their Pasty Tax -- a victory for bakers everywhere and  especially for crimpers of the Cornish 'croust' which, in its humble way, does so much for the local economy,  far more than Charles, Duke of Cornwall with his overpriced Duchy biscuits.

Margaret Thatcher once made a famous pun about U-turns: 'You turn if you want to. The Lady's not for turning.' Well, Baroness Iron Pants, they're turning now.  Let's hope this heralds an open season on other draconian proposals intended to safeguard the interests of the land-owning class at the expense of the poor and disenfranchised. Bang, bang, and another one bites the dust.

Nesting Birds by Richard Faisey

Friday, 4 May 2012


The tide is on the turn. South West voters have given the Tories the thumbs down, saying no to the cuts, the pasty tax, and, as one voter put it, the lack of care.

On Your Bike by Richard Faisey

Sunday, 29 April 2012


ExterFrog by Richard Faisey

I resisted buying a Kindle for a long time, then I ran out of space to build more bookshelves. Since I bought my Kindle a week ago, I have already downloaded more books than I could have stored on the overburdened bookshelves in my tiny home  (I call it The Bunker). Some of the classics were free in e-book format, or  almost free (Complete Works of Shakespeare, Donne et al for 77p).  New e-books are generally less expensive than tree books (print), although some buyers have cavilled at the price of new e-titles; but It is publishers who set the price and since more and more big publishing houses are developing their e- lists, they are taking full advantage of the market. Sooner or later, these prices will have to be more competitive, but I have not seen any e-title I'd like costing more than £8.00. In fact the most I've paid for an e-book so far  is £4.99 - for Doris Lessing's 'The Good Terrorist' I'd searched bookshops for a printed version of  Ernest Hemingway's 'A Moveable Feast' but I couldn't find a copy of this cherished novel anywhere, not even in London, where I scrutinised the shelves at Waterstones in Piccadilly, to no avail.  Then I saw it on Amazon and dowloaded it direct to my Kindle in less than a minute. It took me back to Paris, that mythical Paris where I like to return sometimes to escape our Big Society-pushers. I've since downloaded thirty odd novels, plus my own three titles in BeWrite Books; ten books of poems, including collections of Keats, Byron, Shelley, Robert Frost and TS Eliot (all 77p); and a book about learning to play the guitar. 

There are those, of course, who cleave to the tree-book like Luddites clinging to their spinning wheels. I have a house full of tree-books, some of which I could never bear to be parted from, although I have had to resort to periodic clear-outs. Recently, I had to cart a shed-load of tree-books down from my daughter's loft because cracks were appearing in my bedroom walls (I sleep downstairs).  One of my home nurses had been telling me about the joys of owning a Kindle (she hads carpel tunnel syndrome and finds it awkward turning the pages of tree-books in bed); and when a woman at the last Society of Authors meeting I went to told me she had read my novels on Kindle, I thought I should get up to speed with what was happening in the ever-expanding world of E.  Now I'm up and running, I can download my own work to the Kindle in document form, which will be handy if I have to go about doing readings - not that I do that very often, although there is one coming up in the summer on local radio. Instead of debating what I should take away to read and carting tree-books on the train,  I can take the Kindle.  I don't see it as an either-or, tree-book or e-book preference, but this is 2012: The E prefix is here to stay.

Monday, 12 March 2012


Yesterday, an American soldier, a so-called veteran of several recent wars declared by the USA on countries and cultures in the east, took his automatic weapon to some Afghan villages and shot sixteen people dead. Most of them were children. All of them were innocent. Hilary Clinton said she couldn't imagine what their families were going through. Well no, she can't, but she can do something about this outrageous situation by admitting defeat in this longest of all American wars, and by ensuring that the soldier is brought to justice. In the eye-for-eye and tooth-for-tooth politics that dominate so much of this uncivilised world, this murderer should really stand trial in Kabul, or maybe Peshawar or Jeddah, or in one of those US States where old Governor Bush could apply the ultimate penalty.

If anything positive can come out of this atrocity, it is that finally, finally, questions are being raised in our military-worshipping media about the redundancy and lunacy of the Afghan war. Over ten years of  deployment, it has now become an exercise in vainglory perpetrated by vainglorious politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, by vainglorious generals holding on to win a conflict that cannot be resolved, and by vainglorious soldiers who voluntarily enlist in the services and go out to fight in a country they probably couldn't find on a map. These men aren't heroes. They are professional soldiers, doing the job they signed up to do. Who and what are they defending? They have done more damage to ethnic, cultural and religious relations in the UK than the National Front and Islamic terrorist factions put together. David Cameron should stop pontificating about his plans for 'Transitioning' - a slow hand-over to the rightful Afghan authorities, and pull our troops out now. When Obama pulls out, as planned, in 2014 -  assuming he can sell this  timescale to the American people,  there will be civil war in Afghanistan and shame in the USA, just like there was after Vietnam when returning veterans were universally shunned by embarrassed and demoralised US citizens.  And thus the ten year deployment of British and US troops  in a faraway country will have resulted in nothing but waste and loss, the loss of innocent families like the ones who were murdered yesterday in their own homes. It is time we all stepped up to the Big Society to address the multitude of domestic tragedies overlooked so far in the  sentimental outpouring of feeling for the deceased military men who rolled through (Royal) Woolton Basset   - soldiers who died doing the job they chose to do, not in some killing spree perpetrated by a man with a weapon against small children.

Thursday, 2 February 2012


Her Majesty has stripped Fred Goodwin of his knightly title, so he is no longer Sir Fred, but just Fred. It's a pity Her Majesty's subjects can't strip him of his ill-gotten earnings since the bank he ran down (RBS) was baled out by British taxpayers at the expense, no doubt, of the vital services we are losing as part of the austerity measures. No chance of a refund though. We weren't compensated for the sale of public utilities under the last Tory Government,  so compensation for the bungled antics of Fred and his banking band is as unlikely as re-nationalisation of the railways, the water, gas and electricity supplies, and the GPO, which a few of us traded for British Telecom shares, just as poor Siberians in the early nineties traded their shares in the state-owned oil companies that that were issued to them instead of pay.

But enough of that. I wanted to write about good people.  Yesterday, I met up with two good people, Sue and Paul Farmer, who are trying to put some heart back into the dying community that is Redruth by offering a number of creative projects designed to offset the hopelessness and apathy that is facing the young people of the town. Redruth has been in decline since the tin-mining industry fell off, but the last few years have seen the commencement of its death throes. It costs 50p to park in Redruth for an hour but that is too much for locals on a tight welfare budget, who can catch a free bus to Tesco. If the falling price of tin took the heart out of the town, then Tesco gutted it and filleted it so that it increasingly resembles an eviscerated corpse.  When I saw in the news last week that Tesco's profits are on the wane, I stood up and cheered. Shirley Cohen ), a major shareholder since her father started the supermarket chain, is finally getting some come-uppance. Why doesn't Her Majesty strip that woman of her Dame-ship? Who will be the next to be stripped of their ill-deserved title? I'd vote for (Lord) Julian Fellowes, but I doubt it will be him  because he got the gong for reinforcing a status quo that was out of date in 1918.

Sue Farmer's blog

Redruth Community Radio

Wednesday, 11 January 2012


We are ten days into the new year, and plans for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee are already underway. News reports yesterday suggested that the pagentry and fuss would bring billions into the British economy from all the tourists who are sure to visit London this summer with its two-for-the-price of one attractions: Her Majesty and The 2012 Olympics. Now I have a great deal of time for The Queen. I think she is generally A Very Good Thing for this country, not just for her patronage of all kinds of good works, but because she shields us from the horror and embarrassment of a presidency (think Bush Junior, Berlusconi and his Bonga-Bonga, and others too unspeakable to mention). That said, I doubt very much that the hordes of Americans predicted to descend on Jubilant London in a few months time would want to exchange an elected head of state for a hereditary monarch, however good at her job Her Majesty has proved herself to be. It is delusional to think that the rest of the world (except for the Afghans maybe) is envious of our Monarch and our Royal Family. I fear that the billions of Jubilee pictures that are sure to be snapped by a tsunami of i-phones, and disseminated across the globe via Twitter and Facebook et al, may be as ephemeral as the House of Windsor when Her Majesty is no longer reigning over us.

In the meantime, Lord Julian Fellowes (Baron Claptrap) is spouting forth, as usual on all things great and small, latterly the Tories' plans to dumb-down the British Film Industry to make entertainment that 'people would want to see and which would make money', rather than the bleak, realist cinema turned out by directors like Ken Loach, who present a far more dystopian vision of this country than we like to project abroad, although one only has to watch the news to see the reality of life in the Fairest Isle in 2012. The ascent of Julian Fellowes means more films about the Royals and more daft dramas like 'Downton Abbey' the greatest piece of soma-inducing drivel to hit the small screen since Crossroads. I have a recurring memory of those sad people back in the '70s who tried to book rooms at the Cardboard Motel.

In spite of all that, I am jubilant so far this year because I have cast off the glass-half-empty syndrome and am looking forward to travelling abroad again with my beloved daughter.