February 2018


What can you do in February?

Go to Plymouth, that’s what we decided. Driving from Sheffield to the south coast simply must increase the temperature by a degree or two, mustn’t it? The photo above is where we stayed: Royal William Yard. This is the early nineteenth century, Granite and Devon Limestone built, Mills Bakery. Fabulous place. This is the huge central area on the third floor; the picture taken slightly off-centre to annoy those who are annoyed by such things but also to show the structure more clearly.

Structure. Now there’s a word.

There is no argument, everything needs structure. Without a skeleton, we’d be a useless, fleshy puddle. Without foundations, support beams and walls, buildings would collapse into a heap of rubble. Without a spine, story arc and basic structure, a novel would be a meandering, pointless waffle (I’ve written a couple of those!) But I don’t think it’s a particularly contentious argument to say that the skeleton, the support beams or the spine of a story is not where the main attraction lies. Those structures allow the quality of the person/building/story to shine. They have to be there, but don’t have to be, shouldn’t be, visible.


There are always exceptions, I suppose. This tree is definitely showing some degree of its structure, either internal or external. I don’t know enough about trees to know exactly what’s going on here but it looks quite cool. The Terminator looked quite cool, too, when his outer shell was compromised and you could see his inner workings. So there are exceptions. Thinking about all this and the novel that I’ve just read has made me realise something about structure and planning.

I won’t mention the title of the novel but it had a great premise and the writing was pretty damn good, too. Excellent in some places. The problem was that the whole structure of the novel showed through so clearly that it made reading it a complete chore. The old argument about planning carefully or writing by the seat of your pants rages on. Personally, I’m a bit of a seat of your pants type and have enjoyed many heated arguments with the opposition. But I’ve never suggested that there should be an absence of structure; that would be mad. And, for what it’s worth, I strongly suspect that those of us who don’t plan actually do so subconsciously. Anyway, this particular novel had clearly been planned out meticulously with all the plot twists and character swings and blind alleys mapped out in minute detail. The problem, I think, is that the author didn’t really know how to fill in the middle bits. And it showed. I found myself scan reading between the big, pivotal moments because I was bored. And that’s not good writing.

So the answer must be a mix of both: have a plan, stick to it DSC03454as rigidly as possible but write like a normal person and not like an android. It’s got to look, sound and feel natural, just like this famous landmark in Plymouth. And I think that this proves that you don’t have to be a slave to convention to follow a plan. Even the most rigid rule can be adhered to with creativity still at the forefront. This particular piece of creativity was achieved mainly through a visit to the Plymouth Gin Distillery. Everything was fine before we went in but, after a few gins and an amazing Hunky Dory cocktail, things suddenly started to get interesting. I think that’s the most important lesson I’ve taken from this disaster of a novel: just doing things right doesn’t guarantee a satisfactory finished product. Following the rules blindly because that’s how you’ve been told to do something will result in, at the very best, a boring outcome; at the very worst, a complete and utter car crash.

So the planners and seat of our pants people can all still be friends. There is light at the end of the tunnel whichever route you chose to take.

And having mentioned creativity (I’m sure I did), it brings to mind a recent conversation I had with a musician friend of mine. He’d seen some reference on social media that suggested I’d written a novel at some point. I confirmed that I’d written ten and that none of them had been published but that I was in no way bitter. ‘I can’t seem to do that,’ he said. ‘I don’t seem to have the ability to come up with an original idea. Once a song is actually written, I can’t help but get involved and really enjoy shaping it and changing it and turning it into something special. I just can’t do that first bit.’

Where to start?

‘You do know that the first bit is sort of the easy bit, don’t you?’ I said. I just got a puzzled look. I tried to explain how the idea isn’t the art. There are millions of ideas out there, all you have to do is pick them up. There are only twenty six letters of the alphabet and there are only seven notes in western music. We’re pretty restricted but there still seems to be an infinite availability of new stuff. Take four chords: C, G, Am, F. You could actually make do with just these really. You could probably make a career out of them. Many have. After all, there are two hundred and fifty six combinations of just these four chords. With all seven that would be over eight hundred thousand. Okay, the twenty six letters have a bigger potential but it can’t be argued that they can be used in any combination. That would be absurd. But the Oxford English Dictionary still lists over a hundred and seventy thousand meaningful words. And if you listed all the words in any number of novels you would find the vast majority are common to all works (I have no citation for this and don’t feel obliged to look for one. It just seems obvious). Actually, Wikipedia lists two thousand common words in contemporary fiction.

DSC03433Apropos of nothing, a shot of the Plymouth Gin Distillery with a dodgy bloke loitering nearby.

My friend went on to say how much he enjoyed working on the bare bones and that he also seemed to have the knack of knowing when to stop. That is where the real creativity is. The edit. The rewrite. That’s why Music Producers, the good ones, are so precious. They’re the people who turn something that would go unnoticed banged out on an old acoustic at a party into a Space Oddity or a Strawberry Fields Forever. The same with Literary Editors. They know how to turn a bright idea into a brilliant, life changing novel or poem. Look what Ezra Pound did with a politically dodgy ramble by T. S. Eliot. And we can thank Max Brod for there even being any Kafka as he refused to carry out his friends death-bed wish to burn everything he had written. He edited and published them instead.

But my friend’s skill takes him half way there. He is doing the job of a producer already. Me and that dodgy bloke above do a bit of sound engineering with bands around Sheffield. It occurred to us that it wouldn’t hurt if we legitimised ourselves a little by doing some formal sound engineering course. We did just that and we discovered that there really was a secret member of every band. The producer or engineer. It was as creative as anything I’d ever done and I couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t done it when I was seventeen. And, sitting out there in the audience, controlling the sound that is coming out of the PA system is just as exciting as standing in front of the mic with a guitar. I was going to say, ‘but minus the diarrhoea’, but that’s not entirely true: nerves are nerves and no-one ever wants to mess up.

And that’s where all the fun is and that’s where all the work is. I try to reassure fellow writers who panic when they have no idea what to write. They’re scared of writer’s block or that they just can’t do it anymore. Filling that blank page is not the art any more than banging out random chords is making musical art. It’s the work that goes in afterwards that is the true art. So don’t panic about the blank page, just bloody type something. It doesn’t matter what. Just a word. Wardrobe, or Because, or Miserable. Anything will do. And when you’ve typed that first word, type another. It doesn’t have to make sense, only you will read it. You have something to work with and the delete key is just there by your right little finger.

So get out there are create. It’s fun and rewarding and, you never know, you might even make a few quid out of it. DSC03417

Here’s a glimpse of potential spring. I caught it hiding behind a tree in Plymouth. Only a few weeks now and there’s every chance that I could be sipping my fifty seven percent Navy Strength gin in the sunshine.

Happy days.



January 2018


Well, now we have all that nonsense behind us, we can get on with 2018. A new year with new opportunities! Anybody any idea what the hell it might hold for us?

Me neither.

We all moaned about 2016 because all our heroes died and then 2017 just seemed like one endless storm of runny shit so, if the trend persists, we probably need to invest in some wet-wipes and source ourselves a ready supply of anti-depressants.

The banner photo above was taken in Reykjavik in 2014. I was casually looking through my Flickr account and suddenly came across all the photos I took. It struck me how wonderfully positive, friendly and healthy the place was. I was reluctant to go at first (couldn’t see how I would achieve a sun-tan or how my disco shorts would fit in with the holiday) but I absolutely loved it. I have only good memories from there and even managed to get up close and intimate with a model that had been on the cover of Vogue and also been in Game of Thrones.

Asdsc01659_32792045951_o I say, the place is amazing, with some truly wonderful things to see. The Sun Voyager, sculpted by Jón Gunnar Árnason, is made of solid steel and stares proudly out at the cold Atlantic. There is a grace and beauty and delicacy about this structure that is hard to explain. I’ve touched it and it’s hard and cold (as you would expect!). For me, it epitomises the country and the people. Because, if one thing is for certain, you don’t bugger Icelanders about. On October 24th 1975 an estimated ninety percent of Icelandic women refused to work, cook or clean in protest of low pay and low value in society. Rather than call it a strike it was referred to as ‘a day off.’ Iceland today is one of the fairest societies on the planet. It didn’t work straight away but it has now been ranked as the number one country for gender equality for the past seven years.

Don’t be fooled by these two photos though. It is far from grey and colourless. As I dsc01724_32792268021_odiscovered while wandering around looking for a beer. High up towards the famous Hallgrímskirkja church is a bar dedicated to my favourite film of all time: The Big Lebowski. An amazing place with a bowling lane on the wall, Time mirrors in the toilets, a huge screen playing the film in a constant loop and a bar serving white Russians. Incredibly friendly, too. We were made to feel completely welcome and I was recommended a beer by a young guy working behind the bar. I asked him how the brew was pronounced and he laughed and told me that I wouldn’t be able to say it. I asked to be indulged and he was right, my mouth and throat and tongue just couldn’t do it.

And, speaking of beer, although we enjoy going to new places around the world and discovering new cultures and foods, we aren’t exactly wealthy, so we often have to feed ourselves and have a drink in wherever we’re staying. It’s no bad thing; we like each other’s company. However, Reykjavik proved slightly problematic. We found supermarkets and bought bread and cheese and salad but we couldn’t find any beer or wine. It was bizarre. I thought I’d struck gold in one place only to discover it was alcohol-free. It was a puzzle. We needed help. We found a beautiful log cabin in the centre where you could book outdoor activities: climbing, skiing, canoeing and the like. There were two large, healthy, bearded men in their thirties standing behind a counter surrounded by pictures of people doing things that looked dangerous.

I approached the two guys while trying to imagine what they were thinking: who is this slightly over-weight, middle-aged man and what would he want from here? I approached slowly and asked if it would be okay to ask a stupid question. They laughed and assured me it would be fine. I plucked up some courage. ‘Where can I buy beer from?’ They thought it was hilarious. But their hilarity was nothing compared to the answer – from the government alcohol shop. Yes, they have one shop, controlled by the government, where you have to buy beer, wines and spirits. They told us exactly where it was and off we went. I have never felt so aware of my alcoholic tendencies than I was entering that government off-licence.

dsc01757_32073904714_oI said it was a place of beauty. What could illustrate that more than the sculpture at the airport? It’s known as the Jet Nest and was designed by Magnús Tómasson. Although you can’t see it in the picture, the stones sit in a floodlit pond. And the thing that is breaking out of the egg is actually the tip of a jet’s wing. I think it is inspirational and incredibly beautiful. It reminds me of the Sun Voyager with its clean lines and its ability to create a personal narrative for anyone who cares to spend time looking and thinking. It’s sort of obvious what it is (like the ship) but is ultimately open to any interpretation put upon it.

And now, about that model that I was talking about. First of all, it was a male model. Nevertheless, I did still get up close and personal. He was also only just over a metre tall so not the largest model you’ve ever come across. Taller than Warwick Davis mind you! dsc01706_32915909725_oHe is a supremely impressive specimen and handsome as they come. He took care of me in temperatures I barely want to think about and carried me across miles of Icelandic moors. He didn’t complain once and even suffered my incompetence at climbing up and onto him like a crippled chimp. Here is a picture of Sedill (Sethikl) and me together in Reykjanesfólkvangur Park. I tried telling him how I’d played Macduff, Touchstone, Feste and Thomas Mendip over the years but he was clearly disinterested. I will never be on the cover of Vogue and I will never be in Game of Thrones. However, if I find myself back in Iceland then I will definitely look up my old friend Sedill.

December 2017



What does that make you think of?

For me: the shortest day of the year and the nights getting lighter. Okay, it’ll be the end of February before it’s still light at five o’clock but at least we will be travelling in the right direction. I know lots of people enjoy the winter and dark nights and curtains drawn and all that but they’re ill. I think I might have mentioned this before. And I know that I’m ignoring the elephant in the room with regards to December: yes, Christmas. Or christmas. Or xmas. Or tinsel and Argos time and consumerism gone mad. It does nothing for me. I find the whole thing somewhat tedious.

Although, that’s not entirely true. SilhouetteDespite having no connection or leanings towards or even sympathy with organised religion, my favourite part of Christmas is when a bunch of us meet up on Christmas Eve at our local tennis club, have a few drinks and sing carols. We sing them badly and always finish with Fairytale of New York. I almost get what people find appealing during those few hours. And the next best thing is how our family has adopted the Secret Santa method of giving presents. No more trudging the streets of Sheffield on Christmas Eve or subjecting ourselves to hours of boredom in MeadowHell. We all spend one ten pound note on one other person in the family and that’s that. It’s cheap and it’s brilliant and it sticks two fingers up at the ridiculous level of wasted spending that society expects of us.

There, that’s better.

This is a late one (as in late December) but I want to talk about perception and clarity. Not just in writing but in everyday life, most particularly in or on social media. The picture above is me but it leaves a lot open to interpretation: where is it, how was it done, did I take it, is it really me, has it been photoshopped, is it a genuine representation of what was there at the time? It’s not possible to answer any of these questions (well, it is for me) but it would be utterly bonkers for anyone else to form an opinion about it or on it. There is simply not enough information. But this doesn’t bother us so much these days, does it?

PhoneHere, we have a phone, an old-fashioned phone. What used to be called a candle-stick phone. A type 150 perhaps. Although it isn’t a 150, it’s a light fitting and we made it for our Christmas show. But it was good enough to fool the audience and some even asked where we’d got it from (eBay for about two hundred quid if you want one, the 150 not the light fitting). So it’s an illusion and it works because the people at which the illusion was aimed were perfectly happy to buy into that deception and accept it as reality.

This has, unfortunately, been realised by the bottom feeders within the media. It’s easier to convince people of your point of view by simple conjuring tricks and misdirection rather than rational debate. And obviously I’m talking here about Brexit, immigration, religion, diet, blood sports… the list goes on. There was a time when politics was only discussed by boring old farts who read newspapers with no pictures in them. That was because, in order to enter the debate on any complex subject, it was necessary to first get yourself informed. Otherwise, your point of view or opinion would simply be blown out of the water by a better informed opponent.

That’s all gone, hasn’t it? I suppose I need my cards on the table before I continue, at least on the subjects above: I voted remain and still believe that is what we should do (my two granddads were blown up, shot and gassed to achieve peace in Europe); I really like brown people, never met one I didn’t (I’m also fond of other shades of people from different countries and cultures); I’m an agnostic, a vegetarian bordering on vegan (damn that cheese) and I abhor the idea of killing anything for fun. But I’m not making any assumption that my choices are the right ones and opposing choices may be made for perfectly good, well-thought-out rational reasons. It’s just that they aren’t presented in that way. And neither are mine. Everything has been reduced to a sound-bite or meme.

FaceAche and Twatter have become almostMoon toxic environments due to this new dualistic way of looking at everything. I was fortunate enough to study critical thinking at university. It was a hard course but utterly fascinating. One of the basic concepts of critical thinking is to reject the idea of binary discourse. The idea that there are two sides to every coin. It’s not true in almost every situation (apart, obviously, from coins). Situations, both political and social are complex and many faceted. By dumbing a subject down to only considering binary opposite stances is to reduce the whole argument to tribalism. You take any of the subjects I mentioned (or any other contentious issue) and find a thread on social media that is dealing with it and you will discover two completely different sets of people shouting and bawling and abusing one another with absolutely no possibility of reaching a consensus. All subjects seem to have been reduced to the level of football. Football at it’s worst.

I’m not just having a go at football here though. Football is designed to be a competition between two teams and there is a winner and a loser. That’s the nature of it and there’s nothing wrong with that it’s just that it can and does and certainly, growing up in the seventies, did bring out the worst in people. I get that it’s your team and the other team are the opposition but it does sometimes divide communities and families. We deal with that, on the streets, by deploying masses of police, police vehicles and police horses at various matches. We are in danger of making that the case in every aspect of everyday life. We have to learn that there are many ways of looking at problems and to ignore the manipulators in society that simply want us to fight over it (because, in all honesty, it doesn’t matter a toss to them which way it works out. They’ll be fine whatever). We have to understand that it is these people that encourage binary discourse that are the real enemies of the people. They are setting us against each other for their own amusement (I imagine. I can’t think of any other reason other than to distract us from everything else they’re screwing up). It’s time we told them to ‘Go whistle’ and start thinking for ourselves.

Living in Sheffield, I see division between otherwise good friends or members of families over our two football teams, Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United. Not being a football fan, I can be accused of not understanding. But I am a rugby fan and if Wales beat England in the Seven Nations then I’m disappointed but I will have enjoyed watching the game. I get as much pleasure seeing Leigh Halfpenny score an amazing try as I do Dylan Hartley. Maybe I’m different. I don’t know. RW&BI once suggested, in company in the presence of large quantities of alcohol, that perhaps it would be an idea to support both Sheffield teams. It was as though I’d lit the blue touch paper. I was actually surprised at how people reacted. It doesn’t seem such a stupid idea to me but maybe I’m naive. But, like I said, football is designed to be tribal. There are only two teams and feelings run deep. Maybe the pleasure gained from watching football is all about the tribalism and the belonging and maybe that fills a void that we used to fill in prehistoric times by beating the shit out of each other and stealing wives and children. Maybe the aggression and the violence serves a purpose. It eludes me but, one thing I am sure about, we must be absolutely stupid to allow ourselves to become divided and violent towards each other over subjects that we can’t even be bothered to research to discover the real complexities in social living and politics.

Here’s to 2018.

Peace and love.



November 2017

DSC03190 - Version 2

I have developed a rather unusual motivation problem. writers-block-PeanutsAnyone who has ever had a serious go at writing will be familiar with the writer’s block/can’t be arsed/it’s too damned hard syndrome (all of which are nonsense, in my ever so humble opinion) but that’s not what’s bothering me. Staring at a blank page lasts only seconds as ideas pour out of me like over-spiced curry through a simple digestive system. I barely know what a blank page looks like. Shortage of ideas, lack of inspiration, fear of failure are all pretty much alien to me. My problem is:

The next step…

I have loads of first chapters. Three thousand words spill out from the end of my tattered, bitten and over-picked finger ends like…

Aren’t similes hard?

In fact, it’s not just first chapters; I often get three written or even five. Ten thousand words and more written in a frenzy of activity and excitement and then… totally run out of steam. I guess I need to curb my enthusiasm (there’s a title for you). 2.-Writing-furiouslyI sort of know what’s going on: everything interests me. I see story in all things. Someone sitting in a pub with their head in their hands; there’s a first chapter. A young man at the train station with a baby, a pig on a lead and a lime-green rucksack; another first chapter. A jacket carefully hung on the branch of a tree next to a fast-flowing river; another first chapter. You get what I mean? And I think this is represented in the style of the novels that I have written so far: crime fiction, romantic thriller, comedy horror, urban realism (is that a genre?) supernatural thriller.

I can’t make my mind up, can I? And there are no shortage of agents who have accused me of cross-genre writing. Cross genre writing? What even is that? Okay, of course, I do know but genre is a slippy little bastard. The_Gunslinger__1988_trade_paperback_But if sticking to a known genre is a thing that will lead to success then what genre is Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy written? Most would opt for fantasy maybe but it’s science fiction, too and young adult fiction and allegory. What about Stephen King’s ‘Dark Tower’ novels? Again, fantasy, cowboy, science fiction, horror. These are great books and if the establishment was able to inflict it’s proscriptive desires on the industry then we wouldn’t have them. They wouldn’t be allowed. We almost certainly wouldn’t have Cloud Atlas, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, The Master and Margarita or even Canterbury Tales. And the world would be a duller place without them.

But none of that solves my problem. What genre (or mash-up of genres) should I write in and stick to? Or should I plough on as I am? After all, I might be siting on the next Slaughterhouse Five or Princess Bride. I’ve already written a sex/horror/comedy/thriller called ‘One Filthy Night’ that I’ve labelled my ‘Carry On Tarantino’ phase. But whatever I decide, I have to deal with the problem of acting like a distracted kid staring out at the playground when I should be learning long division; not that writing stories is at all like long division but it can sometimes feel like it. Reaching for the shiny new thing and dropping the toy I am currently playing with. I guess it’s a bit of self-discipline that I need.

I know exactly what my old mentor, Matt Stanley, would say: ‘It’s because you haven’t planned it properly.’jak-uczyc-sie-efektywnie-1160 I know there’s more than a degree of truth in that but I have ten novels pulling down shelves and taking up disk space that prove that I can actually stay the course. I get planning, I really do, I just don’t do it. I’ve tried and it is soul destroying. Although, that is not to damn it out of hand. I studied and eventually turned my hand to script-writing and there is no doubt, no doubt whatsoever, that you cannot write a script by the seat of your pants. It simply won’t work. The scenes have to be timed and they have to flow seamlessly. You can’t get away with waffling the way you can in a novel. Not that I waffle (except on here), but I’ve read a few authors that do.

The real solution (and I’ve known this all along) is discipline. I don’t have any and I desperately need some because it seems to get harder as I get older. And it’s not often you hear that! My time management is virtually non-existent and my ability to stick at one thing for anything longer than a few minutes is getting more and more of a challenge. I imagine it’s an age issue. Maybe even a sub-conscious awareness that time is running out! This is something that I have to put some serious work into. One of my main problems is that my old writing space (our converted loft) is in utter disarray. It has been a bedroom to kids for years. Now it is no longer needed for that (they’ve nearly all left us) we have to repossess it as our own art area. The plan is to use it for music (playing and listening), painting and writing. It will be good to get it back. Now all I need is to work up the motivation to get myself up there and clear it all out.

Watch this space!

October 2017


This has the potential to be an excruciatingly depressing month: no more drying washing outside, the onset of Christmas becoming increasingly unignorable, clocks going back so that it’s dark by mid-afternoon, having to turn the TV up loud to combat the sound of the boiler burning gas you can’t afford… I could go on. I know that some people love autumn and talk wistfully about log fires, woolly jumpers and bobble hats, mulled wine and cosiness. I am aware of these people and they are not normal. Who in their right mind would choose wrapping up in heavy clothing with a teddy bear and a Horlicks over sitting in thirty degrees of sunshine wearing nothing but bright red disco shorts?

No, I won’t be posting a picture of that.

Just walked into a small kitchen where I work. They say that the sense of smell is the most evocative of all our senses. I could actually smell it from about ten metres away and was thrust back immediately into 1973. What could possibly have such a profound effect, I hear you say.

Vesta – Beef Curry with Rice

There was no doubt about it. Not a chance that I was mistaken.

In order to combat the misery that I highlight in the first paragraph, I have been away. The island of Sal in Cape Verde. Over thirty degrees in the shade, up in the forties in the sunshine. Find something to moan about there, I hear you say. Okay, I’ll do my best.DSC03158

First of all, there’s the wildlife. Here we have the Orb-Weaver spider. Now, I took photographs of these in the UK a while ago and they are tiny. These in Sal are not. This was taken from about fifty feet away. They are completely harmless, so I’m told, but that doesn’t stop them from being the stuff of nightmares. Their spiny body is bright green and I got the distinct impression that they were all whispering about us.


And our scary spider wasn’t the only visitor. We also had a resident Praying Mantis. He was pretty cool, I suppose (I’m presuming it was a ‘he’. I have no experience of sexing Praying Mantis’s) but he still gets the pulse racing when you open the door and he’s just hanging from the frame an inch or two away from your nose. As far as I could tell, he was changing colour depending on what he was standing on (either that or the alcohol was having an unusual effect). In the picture here he appears not to be changing colour. That, I imagine, is just so that I look stupid pretending that it did.

The island is half-way down the side of Africa, 16.4ºN. That’s about level with the north of Senegal so that, I imagine, is why it’s hot. Which is how I like it. However, it’s not conducive with any amount of activity. A hundred yard stroll across the beach (with 90+% humidity) saps the strength faster than you can imagine. So, it is a holiday destination which requires plenty of relaxation. And the Riu Palace in Sal is well equipped for that. Unfortunately, all the outside seating areas are hijacked by the smokers. The only place you can escape from them is in you room. Even around the pool, it’s a problem. And I know that smacks of intolerance but so what. I was unable to sit outside and breath clean air. I think it’s okay to be intolerant of that. All they have to do is provide more areas (plenty of space for that) and have them as non-smoking. Even the reception area reeked from smoke drifting in.

The local town of Santa Maria had a small pier that was bustling with life. People selling fish, people catching fish, people playing music, jumping off the side into the sea. Kids running round. Amazing place. And all the people were lovely. This is clearly their space and we were made to feel completely welcome. There was a certain lack of health and safety but that made it all the more appealing. No railings, no big ugly signs telling you that water is wet and you can’t breathe under it. I think if this was in England then it would be cordoned off and unsuitable for people to access. We are poorer for it.

The town appears very poor as do the people living there (with notable exceptions). It was difficult not to notice the social divide that seemed to be based on skin colour. The more ‘successful’ people looked Spanish or Portuguese (the islands were owned by Portugal until they banned the slave trade, then it was of no use to them) and the guys desperately trying to sell us stuff or driving taxis were extremely dark. We were only there for seven days so not something I could explore with any chance of success. Rightly or wrongly, I considered the darker guys to be the indigenous people and the European looking guys not. I could be completely off the mark there, I know. But even in the hotel, the desk staff and waiters all were much lighter than the folks cleaning the pool or the toilets or tidying the gardens.

However, the place is idyllic and everyone seems very happy. I didn’t pick up any sense of danger or tension from anyone. In fact, on a few occasions, when one of the locals either tried to get me to go to his mother’s shop or sell me a piece of art or just engage in conversation, they compared their colour to mine. One guy asked me where I was from. I told him Sheffield in England. He asked me what it was like and I told him he wouldn’t like it there as it rained and snowed and was cold. He insisted that he would love rain and snow, waved his hand up at the sun and said, ‘I don’t need any more of that, I’m black enough.’ and then pressed his arm against mine. ‘You do though,’ he added. So refreshing that our differences can be a source of amusement rather than hate. I didn’t want to come home to the land of extreme nationalism and intolerance.


In fact, this raised an eyebrow: The cafe of colonialism (I’m guessing that’s what the sign means. I have no Portuguese or any other language, like all good English people, so I’m as bad as those I criticise). I just thought it a little odd that there would be a cafe celebrating what must have been a very dark time. No-one alive can remember slavery but it seems odd that it can be trivialised in this way, if that’s what’s happening. It seems a bit like naming a part of a British city Doodlebug Alley or Blitzkrieg Terrace.

Anyway, that’s as much moaning as I can fit in. The month has nearly finished. The clocks have gone back, the boiler is cranking away and the supermarkets are full of Christmas Tat. On a positive note, I went for a run last Friday in just shorts and tee-shirt and I managed the final cut of the lawn today with washing on the line. So I’ve spent the entire month mourning the loss of summer when I could have saved up my misery until November, which is next week…


September 2017


In a world filled with  negativity I recently found something to be positive about: The Peddler Night Market in Sheffield. Street food, craft beer, live music & art. I’ve been aware of its existence for some time but never visited. However, on the first Friday of this month, Deaf Crows were playing, a blues/rock duo from Sheffield featuring my son and my best mate’s son. They were playing at 9.45 so we got down there about half an hour earlier. I knew it got busy but nothing could have prepared me for the hundreds that were already inside and the huge queue still waiting to get in.

Mostly young people but we didn’t feel out of place as there was a wide representation of other ages (and besides, I still think I’m seventeen). DSC03025It was packed and there was an energy in the air which is almost impossible to describe: a positive, friendly, excited hum and absolutely no feeling of danger or underlying stress that you can get in some city establishments. No shouting or aggressive behaviour out on the pavement. No-one throwing up in the gutter or falling about drunk. It was as though someone had collected all the nice people in the city and dumped them into this magical space on Burton Road

As I said, we turned up a little late, just in time to throw a pint of cider down before the band came on but, after looking around at the food stalls (Vegan, Vegetarian, Pizza oven) DSC03027I wished we’d turned up earlier. There was an all pervading smell of cooked food and garlic in the air and, glancing at the occasional plate or tray as people walked by, I could tell I was missing out. It looked great. In addition to the food there was a bar with more beers than I’d seen at any other event, a cocktail bar, a spirit bar and a soda bar. No big queues, friendly efficient staff and great quality stuff. Fresh, clean and no sign of anyone trying to make a fast buck with inferior products.

I sound as though I have a vested interest; I wish I did. Most city centre venues would kill for a slice of this action. One of those joint endeavours that has just hit the right spot in every instance.

DSC03016The band were fabulous (I am slightly biased but the audience definitely agreed with me). They played for a good forty five minutes if not longer. Roughly a fifty fifty mix of their own material and covers from Bob Dylan to Fleetwood Mac and The Raconteurs. Packed with energy, loud as you like, they went down a storm. And the drummer had man flu! You can catch these boys at Edison’s Cafe on York Street in the city centre on Thursday 28th September. Get yourself down there, you won’t regret it. Along with Deaf Crows there will be sessions from Sky Moguls, To the Strongest & Kid Conventional.

Facing the stage (and getting pretty much the same amount of attention) was the cocktail bar that I mentioned. DSC03018Brilliantly lit and beautiful to look at. Such a shame that I got it almost completely out of focus (in fact, there’s no almost about it). But then again, perhaps that is entirely appropriate as on the few occasions that I’ve been involved with the world of cocktails, it has generally resulted in something of an out of focus experience. Nevertheless, it is an example of how well run this event really is. Although the market has a distinct festival feel to it, folks don’t have to manage with pints of lager or beer that they wouldn’t ordinarily cross the road for. Despite the pop-up nature of the event it is somewhere you can get dressed up in your best clobber. You don’t have to rough it or even wear wellies.

And so an update on the writing front:

On a whim, I loaded a crime novel I wrote about ten years ago up onto my laptop. I prepared myself for the shock of how bad it would be but was pleasantly surprised. It’s not so shabby. In fact, I was impressed enough to edit the first chapter. However, although the writing was okay, it was noticeably out of date. The odd idiom used that is now incongruous (I know, shouldn’t use them anyway) plus the streetlights were all shabby and not working, the pavements cracked and uneven and there was even a mention of pubic hair.

How time changes things. I had to alter the lighting to totally ineffective but blinding LEDs (but managed to keep the dark shadows that the crappy new lights still create), I had to change the footpaths to cheap and not so cheerful tarmac that looks like it’s been laid by a five year old where there used to be York-stone flags with plenty of character, and I had to draw attention to the fact that the existence of pubic hair was now something of a rarity. I know we should all learn to embrace change but we don’t have to like it.

All that said, I finished the chapter and then moved on and edited another four. This novel actually attracted an agent in its previous life so maybe it’s worth getting it out there again. I mean, all the work’s done. The hours have been put in and I know that the story works. Ninety six thousand words that just need a final polish (hopefully).

Wish me luck.

Oh, and I should definitely have done this before. A couple of Romantic Thrillers that I have on Amazon Kindle. Both worth a look.





August 2017


It’s that time of year again: Cropredy!

That means that I’ve been writing this blog for a year now. Time flies when you’re not paying attention. This year was the fiftieth anniversary of Fairport Convention. I guess they’re feeling old, too.

As ever, it was a fabulous affair. It’s a three day festival (Thursday – Saturday) but this year there was an option to turn up on the Wednesday. DSC02913This was great as, usually, we plan to sit around and chat and drink after each day but, after twelve hours of drinking, no-one is fit to stay up any longer.

We were greeted in field 8 by a series of fairyrings. One member of our group got very excited and started going on about fairies dancing in circles and was less than pleased when I mentioned mycelium spreading out in ever increasing circles. I wasn’t trying to spoil the magic, just telling them how it worked. Needless to say, the rings were soon well and truly trampled.

We often get a ‘bit of weather’ at Cropredy but this year we were pretty lucky: an hour and a half of light rain on Friday and that was it. Beautiful fluffy clouds all weekend and, when the sun did break through, it was hot.DSC02955 I put it down to my footwear. Each year I turn up in sandals and I think that maybe that hacks off the weather gods. They burst the clouds in order to teach me a lesson. This year I went for something a little more sensible and I think it had the same effect as taking an umbrella out with you: it always proves to be unnecessary.

If the colours in the picture offend then I can only apologise: I am required to wear bright colours in the (unlikely) event that I wander off and can’t remember who I am. My apparel makes me easily identifiable.
DSC03003One of the highlights of the weekend is always the people that you see and meet there. From the famous (Robert Plant and Ed Milliband were seen in the field this year) to the vaguely familiar. Here’s a chap we see most years: I’m not sure whether or not the banana phone actually works or not but he talks an awful lot on it. It is, in fact, a smart banana phone because I saw him use it as a camera later in the day. He took a photo of a group of people, scrolled through the images and asked them to pick their favourite. He is seen a lot up at the top of the field where they have children’s entertainment. I’m assured that he’s perfectly safe. I also bumped into Maartin Alcock at the bar: former bass player of Jethro Tull and Fairport. I just said hello as I was fabulously drunk and didn’t want to dismay the man too much.


Later in the day we saw the moon. I was assured that it was the very same one that we see in Sheffield. I have to admit, it looks very similar. I like the moon and take many, many pictures of it. Some members of my family consider my habit to be bordering on an obsession. Obsessed by the moon? That would be lunacy! No, I like it because no matter where you are in the world, it’s like having an old friend with you. Of course, I always have my wife with me wherever I am in the world otherwise I would have never got there in the first place so that sort of makes the argument redundant.
DSC03012The walk back to the tent or camper van is always exciting; more so because we have to negotiate a small humpty back bridge, a stream and a canal. Not a simple matter when you have just drunk forty two pints of cider. Again this year was particularly magical as a full-on fairy grotto had been installed near the canal. I didn’t drop my camera into it but I have no idea how I managed not to. The peaceful, colourful, calm colours and reflections are somewhat in contrast to the reality as there is usually somewhere in the region of ten thousand people who have been drinking constantly for twelve hours all trying to pass this way, each with at least one bag, fold-up chair, various children and a can in one hand.

Apropos of nothing:

So, now it’s nearly half eleven. We’ve had curry, watched comedy and a documentary about Shane McGowan’s teeth (I cried, make of that what you will) and now Mary’s gone to bed while I tidy up – and drink the last can of cider that I really didn’t need. I know how it goes. And yet, as I went to pick up my can I thought, ‘Oh, Mary’s put it at the side of the hob for me. Excellent!’ And then, having picked it up and slugged hard, noticed that there was another can on the table at the side of where I sat to eat curry and watch TV. Yes, not only have I had more than I need, I’ve had two more than I need. I don’t use this journal as a confessional – although I do – but I think it wise to record this minor incident. If nothing else, if I go because my liver’s fucked then at least someone can look back on this and say, ‘Well, in all honesty, it wasn’t just his liver. His liver may well have survived if he hadn’t lost his mind first.’