Tuesday, 12 November 2019


Here is a link to my blogpost published a couple of weeks ago: Floreat Dartfordia - Part One. 

Press here to open.

I enjoyed researching and writing this account of how the culture of the Sixties was shaping my development as a History Boy at Dartford Grammar School. Now in Part Two I can take the story on a year to 1967, using both my words as a poet and my pictures as an A-level art student - and then finally display the last two paintings I created. One, I painted in my room in Catz as an Oxford undergraduate in 1968; the other I painted in the house in Acomb, just outside York, which my first wife, Glynis, and I rented as we followed our postgraduate teachers' training course at St John's College, York from 1970-71.

First, though, here's my urban landscape image that appeared in the 1966 edition of the school magazine, The Dartfordian. I mentioned it in Part One.

Untitled - Rob Donovan (1966)

My art teacher, Alan Carter, made the choice as to which piece of my art work should appear in the magazine. I remember asking him why this one and he muttered something along the lines that it works - it flows. I liked Alan and owe him a great debt. He and David Patterson, my history teacher whose invaluable contribution to my life story I acknowledged in Part One, were the magisterial influences shaping my explosion into some kind of adulthood. Alan fed the emotional side; David the intellectual - although not quite that simply. Here is a flower drawing of mine that emerged from art lessons at the time I was awaiting my Oxford entrance examination results.

Flower - Rob Donovan (1966) 
The signature of REK comes from my nickname at DGS - gifted me by my parents who had me christened as Robert Eric Kanwal Donovan (Kanwal being the name of my father's Indian batman).  

And here's a still-life from DGS that has accompanied me through so many moves across the country - Welling to Oxford to York to Slough to Windsor to Oxford to Walpole to Reydon to St Ives; Kent to Oxford to Berkshire to Oxford to East Anglia and now to Cornwall.

Still-life - Rob Donovan (1966)

And then, in 1967, there was more poetry. This poem appears to be untitled; it won the Bees Award - my second successful bid for the £5 prize gifted by an alumnus living in Australia.


This poem won the 1967 Bees Prize. The subject for this year's competition is 'Colour'.

Were I a child again,
yet retaining the wisdom of experience,
then would my life be Liberty incarnate.

Holy alliance! The uneasy joy of reason
embracing youth's unthinking pleasure.

But it cannot be.

My elders censure
such release from social bonds.
Instead, false hope! the Liberty of Manhood comes
and is revealed a fraud, a nasty childish lord
of hopes to be dashed, and loves to be crushed, 
and softly wondering voices to be hushed,

"It is not so," I hear my elders cry, alarmed.
"No dreams of youth are thus enharmed.
The Liberty of Manhood is such
as yields each man his common due in wealth and status.
In social structure, we've no hiatus.
There's freedom to do what e'er we please
provided it doesn't infringe the 'freeze'.
What happier vision of mankind
could ever human wisdom find?"

Impetuous child, that I am, 
('tis folly to be wise)
I start to answer …….
But what is this , what vision thus assaults my cynic mind
with silent stare unknowing; 
the face so deeply lined?

'Tis I in ten year's time
A member of the system.
Sad break - to leave one's dreamy innocence behind, 
to compromise; to be oneself maligned
A member of the system. 

 R.E.K. Donovan, UVIArts

And here's my attempt at depicting the human face.

Untitled - Rob Donovan (1966)

There are plenty of better examples of A-level art than these - I do appreciate that fact! But these are my works of creation and I am so pleased that I took Art as a fourth A-level to complement my standard package of History, English Literature and Geography. The school allowed me this privilege on the understanding I would sit the Art A-level exam early, in January 1967, to allow me to concentrate later on the three 'real' subjects in the summer exam period. So I took the Art exam in January and passed with the lowest grade: E. I was still high on gaining my Oxford history scholarship to Catz the previous month which meant I only needed to obtain two A-levels at grade E or above to confirm my Oxford award. Already, I had the first of them!

Copy of an early modern painting - Rob Donovan (1967)
I did this for my mum at home and it remained on the wall of our house in Welling, Kent until my parents moved to Leyland, Lancashire where it was again exhibited even when I was persona non grata for a decade and more. Smoke from my father's pipe has darkened the surface. 

Alan Carter, my art teacher, and his wife, June, lived in Erith and I used to cycle around five miles from home to reach their flat, a round-trip of ten miles. There were a few of us, chosen ones, who were granted the wonder of a new way of thinking and talking about life for an evening every so often. Alan played the guitar; Bob Dylan and other folk artists provided the gramophone background; we talked; challenge was in the air. In 1969, when I married my Oxford contemporary, Glynis Richards, I invited Alan to be my best man and he travelled all the way to south Wales for the ceremony. Later that wedding day, he took me aside and tried to open my eyes to stuff I was being blind to, not least the way I was treating friends. I can't remember what he said precisely but I remember feeling puzzled and awkward and defensive. He was of course quite right. Sorry, Alan, wherever you are, for my being a bit of an unknowing prick.  

Time for the other poem of mine that was published - and evidence of a lighter touch as I explore the meaning of life, the universe and everything:


O little worm of earthly mound
How strange to see thee squirm
In little bits.

You, who were once so firm and round,
Sliced, chopped down by grey-silver
In your prime.
You did not ask to die
before your time.
Many months of soft, oozing joy
lay before you, pleasure that can never cloy.

But you died.

Cut down in your prime with a sudden vengeance
from him you sometimes heard
moving above.
Him you feared secretly since your prophets
(they who have seen the shadow he casts) 
have told of that sun-blocking force
leaving the ground barren, 
leaving you damp and exposed.

But perhaps you did not hear
or even stop to fear
that awful tramp above your roof - 
Could it be?

Don't you, like him, need others
to see oneself exist;
to gain a sense of being; 
to sense a purpose in seeing 

O little worm, are you, in fact,
just YOU!
Because if you are
How strange it is to see
thee squirm in little bits - 
Cut down in your prime
by that grey-silver fork of mine.

R.E.K. Donovan  UVI Arts

As for that halcyon period between receiving news of the scholarship award and the sitting and passing of the three A-levels in the summer of 1967, much remains a blur. I enjoyed a passionate although never fully consummated affair with a sixth-former from the girls' grammar school in Dartford that involved a lot of cycle rides and blind-eye turning from my parents who really couldn't cope with me, their adolescent cuckoo who had just earned a free pass to escape the family prison in suburbia. I hope Judy, wherever she is, pardons my faults; I am so grateful that she gifted me a collection of the poetry of Sidney Keyes (1922-43) after we parted. More on Keyes, a former DGS student, another time - a blogpost is around the corner, I promise.

I did eventually start revising and working for the A-level exams but beginning a couple of weeks before the exams start is cutting it too fine. When I got my results a month and a half before beginning my Oxford adventure, I was disappointed but hardly surprised -  a Distinction in the History special paper but only a B for History, a C for English Literature and an E for Geography. But heck! I only needed another E.

I promised two final images of my art work - first the oil painting created in my Catz room (4:12) in 1968. Watching a short film documentary on Jeanette Winterson, the novelist, which included a section on her as an English student at Catz, my mouth fell open when a view from her college room was featured. I swear that was my room too! For a link to a Wikipedia article on this remarkable writer, press here.

Untitled - Rob Donovan (1968)

My Oxford tutors did pass a gentle word of admonition on the matter of A-level grades. But they were always too soft with me. I really needed a well-placed kick up the backside.    

Then, after Oxford, came York and the training to qualify as a teacher. It was not the happiest of years but the classroom provided some comfort. This painting below was painted in the spare room of the Acomb flat and speaks to me still of the anguish I was struggling to overcome.

Untitled - Rob Donovan (1971)

Thursday, 7 November 2019


Those of you who read my blogposts regularly know how often an article in the London Review of Books (LRB) will shape my way of thinking and lead me to create a piece in which I can share these new insights with a wider audience. The latest edition of the LRB (7 November 2019) carries a short article - under the title The NHS Dismantled - by John Furse, a screenwriter and film-maker whose latest work: Groundswell: The Grassroots Battle for the NHS and Democracy is available online. Reading John Furse's analysis has led to this blogpost but it would be good to reference a couple of blogposts about the NHS I published back in 2016 before sharing my new insights.

Here is how the first of those two posts began:

"Tuesday, 29 November 2016


I am still on a learning curve. Having researched and written my book - The Road to Corbyn [Press here for a link to details about that publication] - about the misgovernment of the UK from 2010 to 2015, I knew a fair bit about the threat to our NHS. But by no means all I needed to. Thanks to a Momentum comrade, Mick Kennedy, I have now discovered and read a book by a London doctor who works as a G.P. in London, in Tower Hamlets. His name is  Youssef El-Gingihy and his book is called 'How to Dismantle the NHS in 10 Easy Steps' (2015). Thank you, Youssef, for widening my understanding. I hope that you will be drawn in to reading what follows as I present the main thrust of his account of this public scandal - the Theft of the NHS from the People of the UK. I hope you are as appalled as I am -  and like me, go and tell the world about this larceny." 

Press this link to read Part 1. This part has had 1121views to date.

Press this link to read Part 2. This part has had 1088 views to date.

The professionals who are the backbone of our NHS

John Furse in November 2019, three years after my first NHS blogposts and four years on from Youssef El-Gingihy's revealing exposure of a public larceny, begins his piece with an assertion:

'The Americanization of the NHS is …. already in full swing.' [My bold lettering) He then proceeds to amply justify his claim.

  • Since 2017 Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) have been taking over the purchasing as well as the provision of NHS services, deciding who gets which services, which are free and which - as with the dentist and prescriptions - we have to pay for. ICSs are partnerships between hospitals, clinicians and private sector providers designed - and

Wednesday, 30 October 2019


I am a writer. I have a voice. I used to be a poet and had a voice, albeit a very young one. Recently, I seem to have recovered that poet's voice but more of that another time. Here in this blogpost I want to celebrate being a 17 year old poet who was also in the Lower Sixth, the first year of my two-year sixth-form education at Dartford Grammar School (DGS), Kent, studying English, History, Geography and Art at A-level - and being prepared for the Oxford entrance examination which I would sit at the end of the autumn term, 1966; my first term in the Upper Sixth.

My journey back in time takes me into the pages of The Dartfordian (1966), the annual school magazine, where I am able to reacquaint myself with the child-self struggling to find a way into more maturity through a sea of testosterone. Writing poetry helped - two of my poems printed in the magazine are reproduced in this blog. My art work provided meaning too. One 'urban' watercolour of mine that found its way into The Dartfordian (1967) will be here in the second part of this posting in a week or two for you to see. Actually, my collector's and archivist's instincts have seen my sixth-form artwork travel safely though a half-century and more of movement so I am able to illustrate this poetry post with some of that work.

'And they asked me why ….' - Rob Donovan (1966)

But this blog is not just about me; I want to celebrate others and give you, now, a sense of what it was like to be alive in that privileged grammar-school culture as the decade of the Sixties shifted the 'structure of feeling' in society (Raymond William's telling expression) in a new and radically different direction.

For starters, a poem: 'Under an Ancient Tree', and other fragments:

The poem can speak for itself. I can still remember where I lay, under that tree, inside the school grounds one hot summer's afternoon in a free period - and how I felt, inside my head, creating the template memory for a lifetime. But also of interest to me now is the other content on

Tuesday, 22 October 2019


Yes, it really does say the 'AUSTRALIAN CONNECTION' - and not the 'AMERICAN CONNECTION'. How come?

Below is the story which links Jago, a Daventry comprehensive, an English family of emigrants - and Australia. Hopefully, by airing the story in this way more details may emerge. It's also an opportunity to show off a number of Jago's paintings of 'Banbury Cross'.

Banbury Cross - Jago Stone (1973) - from the collection of Nick Michas

As an intro, here's some Banbury Cross info you may never have read before:

The principal events in the development of puritanism in Banbury include a dispute over the erection of a maypole in the town in 1589, the deposition and attempted reinstatement of the vicar, Thomas Bracebridge, in 1590, and the destruction of the Bread Cross and High Cross as objects of superstitious veneration in 1600.

Banbury remained without a cross for more than 250 years until the current Banbury Cross was erected in 1859 at the centre of the town to commemorate the marriage of Victoria, Princess Royal (eldest child of Queen Victoria) to Prince Frederick of Prussia. The current Banbury Cross is a stone, spire-shaped monument decorated in Gothic form.

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross

“Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross” is a traditional English nursery rhyme dating back to 1784, when it was published in The Nursery Parnassus.
It is needed to be said that in the 18th century version, instead of the modern “fine lady” an “old woman” is depicted.
The term “cock horse” may simply mean a high spirited horse. Banbury is a town in Oxfordshire, and it had many crosses until they were destroyed in 1600 by the Puritans. The identity of the fine lady is unknown.

“Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross” Lyrics

Modern Lyrics

Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady upon a white horse;
Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
And she shall have music wherever she goes.

“Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross”
Original Lyrics

Ride a cock-horse
To Banbury Cross,
To see what Tommy can buy;
A penny white loaf,
A penny white cake,
And a two-penny apple-pie

And so back to the story that inspired this blog-post.

Chapter Four of 'The Remarkable Life of Jago Stone' - my biography of Jago which will be published soon - (press this link here for more details) - is called 'The Skinny Latte Blog'. This is how the chapter begins:

'This biography is following a singular path. I am asking my readers to
follow me in a real-time journey of discovery to find the artist Jago
Stone. What follows is very largely the draft I wrote in the spring of 2016.
It was not until 2011 that I experienced the excitement of googling
Jago Stone. The first time I typed the artist’s name in the search engine, I
hit the jackpot but it took a minute or two for the penny to drop. I had
been directed to a London lifestyle blog called Skinny Latte, produced
by Victoria, a twenty-something vegetarian trying to make better sense
of a London working environment. And I was reading an item posted in
October 2010 titled ‘Jackie’s – A Flea Market Stall in Hampstead’. What
could be the connection with Jago?
The first online response to Victoria’s post was from Jen, someone it

Saturday, 19 October 2019


I published a blog called 'JAGO STONE, PRISON REFORM - AND THE MADNESS OF BORIS JOHNSON' a couple of months ago (17.08.19) - press here for the link; it's an interesting read. In this post, I quote a line from The Secret Barrister who writes an occasional column in the i newspaper:

'While the Prime Minister is lying to you, the rest of the criminal justice system rots.'

Boris Johnson, the PM of the UK for the time being, is deceiving himself as well as us if he believes that locking up more criminals for longer is a good thing. Longer prison sentences by themselves do not make us - the law-abiding public - safer.

What interests me is why this man - in ascending the greasy pole of ambition to become the Prime Minister - should have acquired this reputation as a liar. Let me dispose of the clich├ęs that all politicians lie and you can't trust any of them. Those claims are generalisations that break down when the evidence is examined - but they do have a basis in the real world of politics. Some politicians do lie. Some do it knowingly; some because they are trained to follow a party-line. What can explain this leaning to falsehood?

Which mask shall I wear for this occasion?

As a socialist who believes in the right of all in a society to share fairly in the fruits of what is produced, I will make the case that deception and self-deception are often rooted in greed: a selfish desire to hang on to the slice of the wealth that circumstances have gifted you, albeit at the expense of others. Recently, though, I read an article in the Morning Star - 'Why Public School f***s you up - and how the nation pays' (25.09.19) about the psycho-historian and psychologist, Nick Duffell, that

Wednesday, 16 October 2019


On Saturday afternoon - October 12, 2019 - the St Ives branch of the Labour Party held a public meeting called ‘Austerity in St Ives’ and filled the Salvation Army Hall in Wharf Road, with around 40 people in attendance. The idea for the meeting had been developed in the discussion that followed my talk to the local St Ives branch of the Labour Party which was based on my three blogposts on the theme of Cornwall Under the Tourist Surface - press the links below to open these three posts:

Cornwall under the Tourist Surface - Austerity since 2010;

Cornwall under the Tourist Surface - the Treneere Estate in Penzance;

Cornwall under the Tourist Surface - St Ives Food Bank

It has been so satisfying and exciting to be there at the birth of the idea for the meeting, help with the publicity and the delivery of flyers - and then be present at this important Labour event in Cornwall. We wanted to have a permanent record of the meeting so one of our members, Mary Fletcher, made contact with a local film-maker, Alban Roinard, and we hired him to produce a video of our speaker's talks. The summary below of each of the four talks is accompanied by a link to the video of that speaker's valuable contribution to the meeting. I've also added a link to the introduction by our constituency chairman - Rex Henry.  

George Osborne - Chancellor of the Exchequer (2010-15), now the editor of the Evening Standard

First, though, a detail about an important couple of minutes during that meeting. At one point - when Gill Pipkin in her excellent non-political talk about Citizens Advice in Cornwall and St Ives referred to those on benefit who had not been adversely affected by the roll-out of Universal Credit - a woman behind where Louise and I were sitting interrupted. She began making the case for all those in Cornwall whose lives have been damaged by Conservative policies based on the drive for Austerity. She was talking from the heart; she was a victim. Within a minute or two, she had become so angry she left the meeting - expressing in her final words her fury at anyone who had voted for the Conservative Party. That citizen of our country has been abused by those who govern our society. Her pain and anger must be heard and we must stop this madness.           

The meeting began with an introduction by Rex Henry in which he concluded that we could now talk about a Dickensian world in which there was a tale of two St Ives: the comfortable enough one that most of us in the hall knew and appreciated - and the largely hidden one where hundreds and hundreds of citizens struggled to make ends meet. 

Press this link here for Rex's Introduction.

The leaders of the Coalition Government (2010-15) - The Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, is the Deputy PM on the left; the Tory leader, David Cameron, is the PM on the right. Both are responsible for the policy of Austerity. 

The first speaker was Nicole Broadhurst, the Labour Mayor of Penzance, who explained that she had worked in St Ives in her role within social services and then gave a compelling account of how the programme of Austerity that has been government policy since 2010 was never an economic necessity but always a political choice. Her statistics and stories showed how much damage has been done to the British economy and to the lives of ordinary people, many of whom are in work that does not pay enough to live on – and so depend on a state benefit system that does not meet their needs – and end up relying on charity in the form of food banks. 

Press this link here for Nicole's talk.

Jeremy Corbyn - our next PM

Gill Pipkin, the CEO of Citizens Advice (CAB), followed with a non-political summary of the work of her independent organisation locally in these challenging circumstances. She apologised for not being able to establish a CAB in St Ives due to a lack of volunteers and noted that it was an indictment on society that Citizens Advice which had been set up in the 1940s as a war-time initiative should still be needed today. In Cornwall, in the most recent recorded year, there had been 8,500 clients with 39,470 issues; nearly all clients came to the CAB with multiple issues. The introduction of Universal Credit had worked for some but for around 20% nationally, it had been ‘a bit of a catastrophe’. In Cornwall, with its patterns of self-employment and lower winter earnings; zero-hours contracts; and lack of training in IT skills and access to computers, the situation was extremely challenging and felt most by those least able to cope.   

Press this link here for Gill's talk.

Paul Farmer, the Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Camborne, Redruth and Hayle, spoke next and gave a heart-felt picture of a society that now had huge problems, a lot of them arising from the deliberately imposed Conservative policy of Austerity, supported by the Lib-Dem Party in the Coalition Government (2010-15). We now have a society where the richest have seen their share of wealth rise by 5%, whilst the least well-off have become even poorer. It is an issue of imagination; the richest seemingly find it impossible to imagine what life is like for the poor. The media is part of the problem; press and TV appear more sympathetic to the natives of Borneo than our own poor. On the back of an economically insane policy, our nation has become diminished as the most decent things in our society such as schools and the NHS have been deliberately starved of money. Those responsible for Austerity have no vision for the future. Research shows that the areas most hit by Austerity are the ones most supportive of Brexit. The Austerity imposed by David Cameron has ended up creating a nation divided into two tribes, at present represented by the Brexit and Conservative Parties on the one hand and the Lib Dems on the other. The Labour Party has a vision that aims to unite the nation through policies for the many, not the few. 

Press this link here for Paul's talk.

Paul Farmer at the front with a tie surrounded by around 50 of his campaigning team - I'm second from the left - we're at the Heartlands mining heritage centre in Camborne - September 19, 2019. 

Chris Wallis, the organiser of the St Ives Food Bank, gave the concluding talk with a summary of how it first saw the light of day in 2012 and has grown since. Operating now from Chy an Gweal chapel in Carbis Bay, it provides 550 meals a week for around seven families, with that number rising during the winter months. In the Christmas period, 2,500 meals are served by volunteers. But all this is ‘scratching the surface’. This is only the ‘tip of the iceberg’. Children are going to school hungry; families would prefer to go to Penzance or Hayle for help to avoid the shame of being seen near the local food bank. The St Ives Coop food share scheme is helping top-up this church work. Expansion is necessary to meet the growing need that Brexit may well make even more acute. 

Press this link here for Chris's talk. 

A food bank in Cornwall

The public discussion of these issues at the meeting was informed and passionate with land-reform being raised as an important way to respond to the present crisis. 

The meeting concluded with Paul Farmer repeating his vision for a socialist future, fit for the 21st century, in Britain. Paul became a member of the Labour Party after Jeremy Corbyn was elected its leader in 2015 because he recognised in Jeremy a man who cared about people and had the policies to change our world for the better. I re-joined the Labour Party in 2015 for the same reasons. 

Press this link here for my socialist story from the website. 

Finally, a photo of the panel of our fine speakers:

'Austerity in St Ives' - public meeting - Saturday afternoon, October 12, 2019 - Salvation Army Hall


Wednesday, 2 October 2019


And still they come - the Jago stories and the paintings.  My last American Connection blogpost was as recent as September 25, a week ago - but on September 28 I had a Facebook post from Beth Lundry in Nebraska, USA, accompanied by three images. I could not resist sharing the story and images with you straightaway, telling you at the same time that yesterday I made my final amendments to the text of 'The Remarkable Life of Jago Stone' and very soon the indexer will be at work. After the index is complete the book will be ready for the printing press, with publication on the 1st of December, 2019!

Here is Beth's story:

In 1975 my dad was stationed at Upper Heyford Air Force Base in England. I remember Jago Stone coming to our house and painting the watercolor picture below from a picture that my mom took of my brother and I. I was five years old at the time and so amazed watching Jago painting for us that I still remember his visit 44 years later. He originally put my brother and I in the painting just like the picture my mom gave him but then changed it to all four of us on the far side of the river. My mom and I cannot remember where the picture was taken but I have always loved this painting so my mom gave it to me a few years ago and I have it hanging in a bedroom. I wonder how many other Jago paintings are out there and I'm excited to read the story of his interesting life!! Good luck with your search for more Jago paintings!

Beth Lundry, aged 5, with her brother - taken by her mum on a Polaroid camera. This shot is the start of the story …. read on for more detail.

Would the location of this idyllic setting remain a mystery? How did the artist respond to the