Friday, 17 November 2017


Authors look for stories to tell. They seek pegs on which to hang the meanings they weave from their observations and reflections.

I have a peg for this blog. He is a real flesh-and-blood hook. He lives in the London Borough of Brent in what used to be called a council-house and he spends his life in a bed attached to various pieces of equipment that support him during the day and night. Occasionally, in an emergency, an ambulance will arrive and speed him across London to St Thomas' hospital across the Thames from the Palace of Westminster - and then some days later return him to his Willesden home. Let me introduce you to David Siggers who was born on July 9, 1960 when I was nearing the end of my first year at Dartford Grammar school in Kent.

David aged around seven - with Christine, his mum - Wembley stadium in the background - David notes that at the time the Siggers family were the only family living there - the whole area had been brought up by Brent council so they could knock all the houses down and build one big housing estate - hence the rather dilapidated background - the whole area was a playground of empty houses and gardens! David comments that he is standing, in his plimsolls (it's all trainers now!) on tiptoe. A classic sign of a child with Duchenne's muscular dystrophy.  

I first met David in the early 1980s when I was teaching at Aylestone Community School in Brent. The school that I had joined as Head of History in 1977 was now offering its Sixth Form (Years 12 and 13) teaching to adults from the local community as well as its internal students who were aged 16 and over. David was in my GCSE History 'O' level class for one year - and passed with a Grade A. The following year, he entered my GCE History 'A' level class and took the exam after a

Monday, 23 October 2017


Not for the first time - see for instance this post in praise of James Meek , I am indebted to the London Review of Books - the LRB - for inspiration. The title for this present blog is taken, in part, directly from the LRB article of 5 October 2017, written by George Duoblys on 'the new school discipline'. I inadvertently first wrote 'the new school nightmare' and then realised my mistake. My subconscious had taken control of my fingers. The shock engendered by reading this piece by Duoblys left me determined to share my feelings with you through cyberspace but I needed time to recover. The beliefs and practices that underpinned a working lifetime in the classroom - my thirty-plus years of public service - are under attack as never before. And I'm only now catching up with this new reality.

There is a parallel here with the neo-liberal assault on the NHS and the provision of social care. Only in that area, I was up-to-speed - see my posts in praise of Dr Youssef El-Gingihy's excellent analysis of the Tory conspiracy to privatise our health service: 'How to Dismantle the NHS in 10 Easy Steps'. But nearly ten years have passed since I was an actor in the classroom and I had little idea of the consequences of the changes in the structure of our schools that Tory politicians, with Lib Dem support for five years, have engineered since 2010 - and New Labour pioneered before that.

My 1st Year (Year Seven) form in my Brent comprehensive - 1978 - plus two non-members on the back row, extreme right, who turned up unnoticed by me for the photo opportunity. I remained this group's form tutor for the five years of their secondary schooling. They did well.  

Let me take you for a ride through London academy classrooms in the twenty-teens. George Duoblys is our conductor. Until December last year, he had been working as a physics teacher at the City Academy in Hackney, a brand-new comprehensive built to replace a school notorious for ill-discipline and gang warfare. I applaud the fresh start approach - who wouldn't? - although I have

Sunday, 15 October 2017


'The Road to Corbyn' talk at the Redwing Gallery in July 2017 given by the author
Yesterday's blog told the story of my Oxford Half-Marathon last Sunday. Today's post is focused on literary matters, specifically my first book: The Road to Corbyn and the biography of the artist, Jago Stone (1928-88) that I am researching and writing at present.

First, let me explain about my monthly MailChimp Newsletter that's designed to bring those who are interested in the biography of Jago Stone up-to-date with developments. At present I have 41 subscribers and 29 'Opens' so far for the October edition. Here's a link if you haven't signed up for these free Newsletters - 'Jago' MailChimp Newsletters. Do please open the October edition and read if you haven't done so already. I am using the Newsletter for two purposes: first, to get information to those who are most interested even before I post material on my blog - and second, to give publishers and agents when I approach them from January 2018 a sense of the public interest in this project. Some of the material in this blog is taken from the latest Newsletter but by no means all.

Before we left for Greece at the beginning of September, I did put the finishing touches to the first six chapters - around 28,500 words - of 'Jago', the biography of Jago Stone, and circulated copies of that

Saturday, 14 October 2017


The Oxford Half Marathon was last Sunday. A year ago, I had run this relatively new event for the first time and was very excited beforehand at the prospect of running through streets and along roads so very familiar. I remember the run itself did not disappoint - although I was sad to find that my legs faded at around eight and a half miles and I had speed-walked/run the last four and a half miles finishing in 02:36:21. I had squeezed in some long runs before the race after returning from three weeks in Greece with no running but the preparation was not the best.

Paying the price of lack of preparation in 2016 - but heh! this is the Radcliffe Camera and Oxford where I was an undergraduate from 1967-70.

This year, the training was even worse. True, I had clocked up a month of long runs in August but the combination of no running in Greece and only two short runs on our return meant I was very ill-prepared. The evening before, I started jogging to the bus-stop and pulled up short with a twinge in the right knee. Later, I walked back the mile and a half from the centre of Oxford - where I had been

Wednesday, 27 September 2017


This is a birthday blog - my 69th on 24.09.17 - and to celebrate I want to sing the praises of a fellow writer down here on the tip of Cornwall. Press this text here to find the link to the book - 'A note from Winterbottom' - on Amazon. I'd like to urge you to purchase it from a local bookseller for all the reasons you would expect me to cite as an author who takes his socialism seriously but it is only available from Print on Demand on Amazon, as a paperback or on Kindle - although the Edge of the World bookshop in Penzance does have one copy (and one copy of my 'The Road to Corbyn') . Self-publication is fraught with difficulties. Without further ado, here is a picture of the front-cover:

Let me tell you the story of how I came to read this book and why I am devoting this blog to my recommendation that you get a copy and read this extraordinary book for yourself.

Louise and I returned yesterday from our secular vacation on the holy island of Patmos in the Aegean. Three weeks seeking the three Rs - rest, recovery, and recharging. I can report back: Mission accomplished. The place never fails to work its healing magic. But then there is a good and thought-provoking precedent for its inspirational nature - the early follower of Jesus the Nazarene known as

Saturday, 26 August 2017


I have been writing hard and I think well throughout the summer. 'Jago' - the biography of James Henry Stone - is taking firm shape. Chapters 1and 2 have now been written and join the drafts of the already completed Chapters 4, 5 and 6. The completion of Chapter 3 - centred on the autobiography: 'The Burglar's Bedside Companion' -  remains my aim over this next week before we take our break on the Aegean island of Patmos. This post is designed to provide a taste of the biography by sharing with you the opening of Chapter 2: THE  BAR STOOL FANTASIES OF A CAD'.

Before I turn to these pages, I should explain that there has been a fresh discovery in my online detective story - the search for information about the artist. The new find has prompted this particular focus on 1983. Readers familiar with these blogs will recall my post telling the story of the visit to Aberystwyth at the end of June this year and the wonder of viewing and transcribing 23 minutes of Jago being interviewed in 1969. Here's the link if you missed it first time or would like to revisit. A week or so ago, I received an email from Owain Meredith, archivist at ITV Wales. Owain had already been very helpful and now he was telling me that he had discovered another piece of film that featured Jago - only three minutes or so but an interview nevertheless and this time from 1983. That was the same year as the Bar Stool interview with the Sunday Express journalist - have I been blessed!

'Untitled' - Jago Stone - Bardon, 1968

More on that 1983 film interview another time. Here for your interest is the beginning of my second chapter from the biography. The paintings that accompany the text are a selection from Jago Stone's extraordinarily large 'catalogue'.

Chapter 2


There is no doubt that Denis Pitts’ take on Jago in 1983 and Jago’s own testimony from the bar in the ‘Up the Garden Path Inn’ in Manton, near Marlborough in Wiltshire shape any reader’s initial sense of the character of Mr Stone. Effortlessly, it seems, Jago holds court from his bar stool throne and unfolds the stories of his misdeeds. The Sunday Express writer records the flow of

Wednesday, 16 August 2017


As spring turned to summer in 1983, the 'Sunday Express' published a feature-length article on Jago Stone, headlined 'The Bar Stool Fantasies of a Cad'. That admirable piece of journalism by Denis Pitts, one of Fleet street's most accomplished writers, provides the initial focus for Chapter 2 in my biography of Jago. My late father-in-law, Ronald Watkins (see my eulogy for Ronald using this link) had given us the faded newspaper cutting sometime in the late 1990s. Only then did we learn that the artist, Jago Stone, whose palette-knife and oil paintings graced the walls in our home, had spent nearly twenty years in gaol before he was released in 1967 at the age of 39.
Jago's gift to my wife, Louise, presented as he left the Gerrards Cross area around 1970

When I first read this piece – and for a long time afterwards, I had little reason to move beyond what Denis Pitts sets out as his impression of Jago – a bit of a card, a bar stool character in his mid-fifties, an affable English eccentric proud of being a reformed gaolbird. That of course was exactly what Jago was acting out. He had the pub regulars as his audience and a man come up from London to do the interview. The playhouse of the local hostelry provided the perfect setting for his performance. And what a brilliant choice of venue for the interview. The pub was called ‘Up the Garden Path’. Jago, the pied piper, leading his listeners on. Yet it was all true. As Denis says, the

Friday, 11 August 2017


The last time I saw Jeremy in Cornwall it was at Heartlands during his second Party Leadership campaign. The New Labour members of the Parliamentary Labour Party - the MPs who believed that Jeremy and his socialist beliefs made him and a Party that continued to follow his leadership unelectable - had forced another election with Owen Smith standing against him. It was just over a year ago, in August 2016. Our leader was in fine form and delivered a speech that outlined the 10 Pledges that would form the basis of the election manifesto in 2020 or whenever Theresa May chose to call an election. See these three links for my blog-posts back then:

Jeremy Corbyn easily defeated that New Labour challenge and the Labour Party under Jeremy's leadership gained 3 million extra votes in the June 2017 General Election that was called by May and the Tories, calculating that the Labour Party would be destroyed as the Opposition. Doh! The Tories lost their overall majority and Labour are now 6 percentage points ahead of the Tories in the latest opinion poll. What a miscalculation!

To Lindsay and to Jack - all the best - Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy returned to Heartlands then with even more spring in his step. Mixing my metaphors, he is - as his deputy, Tom Watson, has said: 'walking on water'. After he had delivered his speech, our next prime minister came down from the rostrum and spoke with the people close to the stage and signed autographs. Lindsay Smith, one of the St Ives Labour Party activists from the Penbeagle estate who

Thursday, 20 July 2017


It was late last Saturday evening that I checked my Facebook to discover that Keith Shilson, the newly elected Secretary of the St Ives Constituency Labour Party, had sent me a photo from Tolpuddle in Dorset. He was there - obviously - because of the three-day annual event to celebrate the anniversary of the Tolpuddle Martyrs who laid the foundations of Britain's trade union movement.

Here's the picture, taken in the museum shop:

The Road to Corbyn reaches Tolpuddle in Dorset

How cool is that!  It reminds me of this one, taken in the shop window at Fahrenheit Books Cooperative in Middlesbrough where four copies of my book had been sold up to March this year:

The Road to Corbyn reaches Middlesbrough in North Yorkshire

I have provided a link here to an earlier post that I published that first explained the connection with Fahrenheit Books. I said then that I was learning that an author has to learn the art of being a hustler for his own creation.

And then there is the outstanding Redwing Gallery in Penzance that I've been praising in posts

Monday, 17 July 2017


When I knew that I had the opportunity to give talks at the Penzance LitFest Fringe at the beginning of this month, I decided on three talks, one after the other - Wednesday lunchtime, The Road to Corbyn'; Thursday lunchtime, 'Jago Stone'; and Friday lunchtime, 'Drink in Victorian Norwich'. The first two needed little preparation but the third talk was different. My doctorate had been awarded in 2003 and my ceremony followed in 2004. Nearly a decade and a half had elapsed. The main themes were still embedded in my mind but as I returned to the pages of the thesis a weird feeling surfaced. I was reconnecting with material that I scarcely remembered producing in the first place - and experiencing the joy of resurrecting my own forgotten scholarship.

Bess of Bedlam - a Norwich Victorian pub - (acknowledgements and thanks to the Norfolk Heritage Centre - see this link)

Derek Guthrie and Daniel Nanavati, editors from New Art Examiner - the independent voice of the Visual Arts (see this link) - were amongst the half-a-dozen audience. So too were my socialist comrades, Abbi and Mick. As I had planned, I began with a sketch of how the idea for the thesis came to life - explaining how my mum towards the end of her life had passed on to me her grandfather's journal, his life story in effect, and how I discovered for the first time his role as a trusted steward of club funds in the working class drinking and leisure culture in the city of Canterbury in Kent.

From that acorn emerged - seven or so years later - my doctoral thesis that maintains Victorian social cohesion depended on drink. In Norwich, as in other urban centres, population growth led to an

Sunday, 9 July 2017


The Penzance Literary Festival 2017 has been happening this week - and like all good festivals it has a Fringe. I've been part of that Fringe - see this link for more detail on my three talks. These were given - very enjoyably - in the friendly ambience of the Redwing Gallery in Penzance. Roselyne Williams, the co-director there, passed me an envelope on Wednesday containing a letter for me from Jane Sand, an artist in Penzance. Her painting 'Ruined Cottage on the Moors near Boslow' (2015) I had admired and bought at a Redwing auction earlier this year. Jane had bought a copy of my book 'The Road to Corbyn' on the recommendation of Claire Healey, another Penzance artist whose work I admire. I had purchased Clare's 'Io rescuing Odysseus' at the same auction. You can see both of these striking paintings in this post. Jane's letter contained this feedback on my book which impressed me. I value what I have written and it is wonderful when someone shares your own  appreciation of the ideas that matter. Jane has given me  permission to publish her feedback.

'I nearly didn't get it for 2 reasons. (1) Political books are usually dogmatic and deadly dull, and (2) we were made to read Pilgrim's Progress at school when I was 11 and I loathed it! It was so preachy and boring. But Clare kept on saying: 'Get on and read it!'. So I did, and I think it's great.

Ruined Cottage on the Moors near Boslow - Jane Sand - 2015

Yes, I totally agree with you that self-deception and hence the deception of others is the major problem, plus this dreadful myth of democracy - the latest packaged concept. The idea may have originated in Ancient Greece, but their whole culture was based on slave labour so the idea is fatally flawed from the start.

And horribly accurate on current Tory ideas re: education. 'Invest in the best and satisfy the rest. That's the way forward.' My long-ago ex-husband taught in a secondary school in Camborne in the 1970s and was horrified by the appallingly low standard of teaching and the over-riding feeling

Thursday, 6 July 2017


My Google searches for Jago Stone in January of this year had brought to the surface a new posting from ITV Wales that led me to their archivist, Owain Meredith, and the collection of materials housed in the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth in Wales. I knew this new source was one I had to see. It was a 'historic production' by the Harlech Television Company which featured 'the work of the representational artist,  Jago Stone' and had been made by Kenneth Griffiths (sic). The record of the programme was in archival shorthand and from this I knew I could expect an interview between Jago and Kenneth Griffiths and a visit to the Notley Arms where they met the landlord, Mr Mellows (or Mellars) - who had formerly been in the Rhodesian prison service and served as its hangman - and Mr Davies, aged 92, a former soldier. And there were walking shots of Jago with his wife and baby.Tantalisingly, I couldn't figure how long the programme was. But the date was clear enough. February 5, 1969. Jago had been out of prison the best part of two years.

My further research established that the Notley Arms was a pub in the village of Monksilver in Somerset on the edge of Exmoor. Harlech TV's reach in 1969 extended that far into England.   

Aberystwyth - looking south-east 
The National Library of Wales and the new campus of the University of Aberystwyth lie up the hill to the east 

It took until June of this year for me to fit everything together but less than a fortnight ago, on Monday, June 26, I set out on my all-day train journey to Aberystwyth from St Ives in Cornwall. It was long and complex, changing at St Erth and then Bristol Temple Meads to head west for Newport in south Wales, and then changing again to head back into England and northwards to Shrewsbury. Some dodgy characters had nicked copper cabling used for signalling very early that morning between Cwmbran and Abergavenny so that last section of the journey took an extra two

Sunday, 11 June 2017


And what a contest it is! 'The Spirit of 45' was a team that looked as if it was heading for oblivion. Their belief in socialist values and in the power and strength of communitarianism had attracted fewer and fewer spectators. They found themselves losing bigtime. A new manager had arrived, Tony Blair, and rebranded the team calling it 'The Spirit of 97'. It was a spin doctor's dream. He had taken the name and spirit and ideology of the other big team in town - 'The Spirit of 79' - and tweaked their formation and playing style a bit to include a little of the best from the old 'Spirit of 45' - and then gave the 'Thatcherites', as 'The Spirit of 79' were nicknamed, a drubbing.

'The Spirit of 45' under their manager, Clem Attlee 

Elements within 'The Spirit of 79' were far from alarmed. After all, they were the natural leading team, created to be champions. They might be losing a few battles, a few elections, but the old manager had known a thing or two - what did she say? 'My greatest achievement is 'The Spirit of 97'. She knew that her philosophy as a manager , her commitment to individualist playing styles - to the all-conquering neoliberal approach to the modern game - had been thoroughly absorbed through every pore of the skin of 'The Spirit of 97', the 'Blairites' as they were called.

Sure enough, 'The Spirit of 79' bounced back and in 2010 - under new management and an even more ruthless and refined playing style yet still using the tactics and formation that first saw the light of

Sunday, 4 June 2017


I picked up this analysis by Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC senior political editor, a few days ago.

"A lot of people are only just starting to think about the election and they won't have sat through every bit of the TV event last night. What they'll glean, though, from snippets and headlines is a sense of how this campaign has changed, written on the leaders' faces. Jeremy Corbyn, more comfortable, more assured, with better prepared answers. Theresa May, really having to explain herself. And in this last stage the vulnerabilities are exactly where you'd expect. For Mr Corbyn it's on issues like security, his personal views on groups like the IRA. And for Mrs May, it's a Conservative prime minister facing tough questions over public services ..."

Labour Party activists campaigning in Hayle in Cornwall - 29/5/2017 - I can name Kelly, Mick, Dawn, Alana, Keith, Charles and me 

We have come a long way in a month of campaigning. Kuenssberg had been found quite recently to be in breach of BBC neutrality guidelines in her hostile treatment of Jeremy Corbyn. The bias against the man and his values and policies was evident across the media, mirroring the power of an establishment locked into either direct self-interested hatred for socialism or a refusal to acknowledge that this maverick backbencher could ever be taken seriously since to do so would mean tearing up a lifetime of assumptions.

In short, many sections of the media have been guilty of lazy and short-sighted journalism. They have failed to give adequate attention to the exponential rise in the membership of the Labour Party. We are now half-a-million strong. Nor have they had the foresight to credit ordinary people with the

Saturday, 3 June 2017


In Part 2, I continue with more of this extract from my chapter: 'Lifting a Lid on Jago'.

Jenny’s husband, Tony, also remembers Jago and Rowland - and nights in the Red Lion that lengthened into the early hours of the morning.  Rowland was a ‘colourful piece of village life’. Tony agreed immediately with my expressed thought: ‘The country squire?’. ‘Yes! – and he revelled in being so’. ‘Rowland’, Tony continued, ‘divided the people he was thinking about inviting into his social world of parties and drinking into Gin Set Mark 1; Gin Set Mark 2; and Gin
Set Mark 3’. These were the levels in Squire Rowland’s hierarchal trinity of social acceptability.

The English Village - (detail) - Jago Stone (1986)

I was curious about how the squire of Hellidon stood in relation to his responsibilities towards that other foundation of village life, separate from the public house – the village church.  This, after all, was the church run by the Church of England which had its own Trinity and hierarchies.
Rowland, according to Tony, did indeed support the church. He was a generous man and he knew his obligations. He even, occasionally, attended the Sunday service. But being Rowland, the most memorable of these attendances was when he brought with him an African woman whom he had

Sunday, 28 May 2017


My last post concerning my research and writings on the life of Jago Stone (1928-88) was dated May 3, less than a month ago. I presented images of previously unseen Jago's paintings - images that have been gifted to me by those who had contact with Jago in his lifetime. I also indicated that I had gained new insights into Jago's life in the last two decades of his lifetime - the 1970s and the 1980s - through contact with my anonymous source, Mark, and the former village postmistress of Hellidon, Jenny Fell.

The post that follows is based on the memories of Jenny and her husband, Tony, as they cast their minds back three decades and more to a past when village life was not quite the same as it is now.

Jenny married Tony Fell in 1966 in her home town of Coventry, honeymooned in the Scillies, and then settled in the village of Hellidon in Northants with its population of around 140 and fifty or so houses. They had two children. In 1974, Jenny determined to take on the role of village postmistress when the matter of the vacancy was raised at a parish council meeting. By the time of the millennium in 2000 she had researched, written and published ‘Three Ells in Hellidon’, a rather fine history of the village. Today, in 2017, she and Tony are members of that small group – half a dozen or so - who have been resident in Hellidon for around half a century. There is not much that escapes the eyes or the ears of a key villager such as the postmistress.  Jenny and Tony remember Jago very well.

The English Village - Jago Stone (1986)

Jenny’s story begins with the man who in the late 1970s became the licensee of the only surviving public house in Hellidon. His name? Rowland Thomas, the village squire whom Mark, my anonymous source, first met in 1974. Rowland was the only child of wealthy parents who had bought Hellidon’s Leam Farm and its estate in 1948, having lived there as tenants since the early 1930s. Rowland’s parents had had a commitment to Hellidon. Their son was born in the village in 1936. When Rowland married, his


The Tory lead over Labour stood at 20 percentage points when Theresa May called this General Election. That was one key reason why Lynton Crosby, her strategist, said that she should go to the country. Wipe out Labour now - before the economy hits the rocks and the people start blaming the Conservative government.

We go to the polls on June 8 and that Tory lead has already been cut by fifteen percentage points in a couple of weeks. The Tories know by now that they have blundered. May will suffer the consequences after the Election. The knives are already being sharpened. When Tories rid themselves of a leader who has reached  their sell-by date, they are ruthless. Meanwhile, they will be gnashing their teeth at having gifted Jeremy Corbyn the space and time to tell the country about his vision - Labour's vision - of socialism for the 21st century. And the people are not fools. Despite the media's best efforts, the message that there is a better way of running the country - in the interests of the many, not the few - is getting through. A political meme has formed that can take Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party into government.

The leader on the roll ... Jeremy Corbyn - May 2017

I was struck by the pro-Corbyn tone of so many of the letters published in last Saturday's 'Guardian' and intended to focus on one letter in particular in a post soon after. The Manchester atrocity has delayed that action until now but sharing this particular letter with you still seems an important  thing to do. I have already cancelled my subscription to the Guardian with effect from September because I  cannot stand the anti-Corbyn bias in this supposedly left-of-centre newspaper. The Morning Star now graces our table each day. But there will  be aspects of the paper I will miss, not least the Letters pages.

And so to the letter. It's from Sheila Spencer in Newcastle and contains fifteen bullet points. It appears under the headline: Why poorer people should vote Labour. She begins by agreeing with a

Saturday, 20 May 2017


In this post I want to tease out why Jeremy Corbyn - the elected leader - has faced such hostility from so many within the Labour Party. A majority of the PLP - the MPs who form the Parliamentary Labour Party - still, in varying degrees, display a lack of confidence in a leader who has received an overwhelming endorsement from ordinary members of the Labour Party in not one but two leadership elections. Across the country, there are still executive committees of local Labour Parties that are dominated by those who wish to see the back of the Corbyn phenomenon.

Blair and Corbyn - rival mind-sets within the Labour movement

In my own constituency of St Ives in Cornwall, I have produced a report - following a survey of new members - in which I summarise some common threads of concern that are now apparent. Most of those surveyed felt uncomfortable at meetings due to the tension between the two wings of the Party. I make it clear that I think these differences need to be much more out in the open with both sides prepared to articulate and justify their positions - with respect shown by all to all. We need to remember the murdered Labour MP, Jo Cox, and her line that there is more uniting than dividing us. And we need to remember how much of our exponential increase in membership - the Labour Party is now the largest democratic socialist party in Europe with over half-a-million members - is  due to Jeremy Corbyn's election as leader.

Those opposed to Jeremy Corbyn within Labour ranks have had their mind-set shaped by history. They grew into political maturity when Tony Blair's vision of a New Labour Party was being

Sunday, 14 May 2017


As promised, after Friday's Introduction post, the series begins - and will continue until after the election.

Let's start with the Manifesto that was leaked before its intended publication, apparently by those hostile to their leader within the Party (more on that issue in another  post, another time).

Jeremy Corbyn - the natural leader - a strong and stable normal person

Here is the Daily Mirror 'take' on the Manifesto:


It was shortly after 7pm on Wednesday evening when I put the call in to a senior member of Jeremy Corbyn’s team, to warn them the Mirror had obtained a leaked copy of Labour’s manifesto and would be publishing it the following day.
These conversations are never easy.
First there was silence. Then a hollow laugh. Then incredulity.
“Of course you have. The whole manifesto. Right.”
To their immense credit, they remained calm – ‘Monsieur Zen’ apparently extends beyond JC himself - and called back a few minutes later to ask how we would be reporting it.
I told them we would be highlighting the plans to bring the energy, rail and mail industries back into the public sector, and describing it as Labour's most left-wing manifesto in a generation.
This final point sparked the only bone of contention.
“I wouldn’t describe it as left-wing,” the source said.
“I think that left/right stuff is really not relevant any more. What these policies are, is popular.”

The answer gives a telling insight into the way Corbyn’s top team hope to re-shape him as a populist insurgent.
It also has the benefit of being true, as our exclusive ComRes poll shows today.
Re-nationalising the railways is backed by 52% of voters, with 22% opposed .
Re-nationalising the energy market is supported by 49%, with 24% against.
And re-nationalising the Royal Mail is backed by 50% of voters, with 25% opposed.
Other popular policies include banning zero hours contracts - with 71% in favour - and new income taxes for people earning more than £80,000, which is backed by 65% of voters.
If this is 'Back to the 70s', as the right-wing press would have it, then it seems voters rather like the idea of selective time-travel.

The problem, however, is Corbyn himself.
Our poll found only 30% agree he should be given a fair chance at leading the country - while 56% say he would be a ‘disaster’ as Prime Minister.
The Labour leader has less than four weeks to turn that around.
He will start today on what is seen as his weakest subject – defence – with a major speech insisting he is “not a pacifist” and would go to war as a last resort.
His opponent Theresa May will be in the North East - her own tanks parked squarely on Labour’s lawn - to insist the Tories are now the only choice for “patriotic” voters.
We’ll be following all the developments through the day on our election live blog.

If you want to get in touch my email is and you can follow us @mirrorpolitics on Twitter.

Mirror Politics

There is a general consensus that Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party is offering the electorate a genuinely popular programme in this Manifesto. I remember an account of a television programme that was told to me in the pub by two Momentum activists after the anti-Trump demonstration on Lemon Quay a

Friday, 12 May 2017


I shall be producing a series of blogs during this General Election that focus on Jeremy Corbyn and his ideas and the campaigns against him - with links to the book that I have written which bears his name. Press this link here for more detail: 'The Road  to Corbyn' by Rob Donovan. This Introduction serves to open up a number of avenues of political thought and I shall end this series with a post after the nation's electorate has cast their votes and there has been time to make a considered analysis.

My book, published  at the end of August last year, less than nine months ago, was born out of anger and literary challenge.

My heart sank when Cameron pulled off the coalition agreement with the Lib Dems in 2010 and then passed the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, virtually guaranteeing him five years to embed his destructive brand of Tory misrule. I began my collection of newsprint recording this Conservative vandalism and my understanding deepened. How could I best share my insights into the travesties that were unfolding year on year in this second decade of the 21st century? I was in no doubt that the damage was deliberate - and terminal for some. It would be an extraordinary political challenge to reverse this monstrous accumulation of measures designed to keep and augment wealth and power in the hands of the few at the expense of the many.

What a jolly good wheeze - this governing game is fun!
Austerity, as Jeremy Corbyn says, is a political choice not an economic necessity.  

Serendipity played its part. I had picked up from my bookshelf, to read at long last, John Bunyan's 'The Pilgrim's Progress'. I did not share the author's 17th century devotion to evangelical Christianity as a belief-system - but I was gripped by the power of his faith and the skill  he showed in weaving his narrative tale of a Pilgrim's journey through a troubled world in order to find understanding and salvation. Bunyan uses the figure of an Interpreter to help unfold the truths of the Christian religion. Well I could use a similar device to help communicate my sense of the political calamity that had befallen our nation and people. I could write a 21st century update of Bunyan's classic, creating a

Wednesday, 3 May 2017


As some of you may know who have read my website - see this link - or who know me in person, I have a number of personae. It is no doubt true that my running persona has taken much of my focus since January 1 as I trained for my London marathon charity run that took place on Sunday. But the running has not been at the expense of the writing persona. Far from it. The biography of Jago Stone the artist has made considerable headway in that same time-frame - the first four months of 2017.

Ann Hathaway's Cottage - Jago Stone (1976)

My last two Jago Stone posts in February displayed images of Jago's paintings that now hang in the United States - thanks again to Laina Baker - and also one that is in Wiltshire - thanks to  Alastair Mould for that picture. I also wrote about my excitement at having the opportunity to listen to Jago being interviewed on BBC Radio 4 in 1971. Thanks to a lot of detective work, I was able to spend several hours in a listening booth in the British Library, transcribing the words of the artist himself. The very stuff of biography. Here is a link to take you into my blog-sphere.

But there has been much else besides. On January 1, around lunchtime, I received an email from someone who had known Jago from 1974 through to the early 80s. He chooses to remain anonymous and this new source for the biography I have christened 'Mark'. Mark's account - based on our email

Thursday, 27 April 2017


What a day! What a life! What a time!

Three and a half minutes faster than the time I recorded in my first marathon - London 2012.

05:37:29 in London in 2017.

05:40:55 in London in 2012.

05:42:10 in Edinburgh in 2014.

Yes, it would have been marvellous if  I could have maintained continuous running beyond the half marathon point - rather than switch to speed walking and running. I had after all run continuously for at least 17 miles in training. But when from 8 miles you are increasingly surrounded by walking runners, it becomes harder and harder to resist the switch. And my second half marathon was not much slower than my first - just under 3 hours compared with  2 hours 38 minutes. My dad used to take me walking when I was knee high to a grasshopper and I learned to be a fast walker from that very young age in order to keep up. I once had to kick my dad's ankles hard when he had over-walked me. Sometimes you can't just find the words!

Joy in the Meet and Greet to the south-west of Admiralty Arch

I remember posting after the Oxford half marathon in October last year and remarking on how inspiring it is to experience a city being closed down and refocused on one sporting event in the name of charity and community. It was extraordinary in Oxford - imagine how awesome it is when the city in which you find yourself is one of  the greatest capitals on our planet.

London - April 23, 2017 - what a privilege to be in that place at that time. And to be one of  the

Monday, 3 April 2017


This will be my final running blog before April 23 and the 2017 London Marathon - barring injury or other athletic nightmares. Yesterday was the last long run in the longer and longer Sunday run sequence. The next two Sundays will be run as part of the Tapering Programme before the marathon itself - 120 minutes next week and 70 minutes the week after. Then the 26 miles challenge in London.

First, the tale of Sunday's morning run as told by me yesterday afternoon on the Salvation Army runners website:

'My last long run today (03:06:24 and around 17.5 miles) - congratulations again to Sparky Joseph Holly for the long run and ode - and I was quite chuffed to add the half-mile from Mousehole up to Paul to the distance - and then back down to Mousehole. The emphasis is on the 'up'. I didn't so much run up the never-ending ascent but gently jog. The lone rambler walking ahead of me I took some time to catch up and pass with a friendly greeting - and then there was nothing to motivate me but the thought I could eventually sit in front of this computer and type the words 'I ran from Mousehole up to Paul before turning round at about 92 minutes of continuous running from Marazion.' Next Sunday, 120 minutes ...

From the village of  Paul, half-a-mile up from Mousehole, looking back towards Newlyn and Penzance

I'm really quite proud of having made that ascent from Mousehole to Paul jogging all the way. It is a  very steep hill and the sign in Paul proclaims that Mousehole is half-a-mile away. The pub and the church and the village green all entice me to stay for longer - this is surely a village setting that would have been taken to heart by Jago Stone, the subject of my biography and latest work of literature - see this link here. (I can't resist the author's urge to plug his own work: 'The Road to Corbyn' remains a fine 21st century secular and socialist update of John Bunyan's 17th century Christian classic 'The Pilgrim's Progress' - see another link  here. If you haven't yet got a copy or know someone who

Monday, 20 March 2017


In my last Countdown to April 23 2017 blog, I had managed 15 miles of  continuous running. I had reached the edge of inner Mousehole but had not yet got to the very heart of the port with its wonderful harbour views. And now - as of yesterday, Sunday 19 April, I have!

Mousehole - an idyllic Cornish harbour - in the distance the stretch of the run from Penzance to Marazion

But there was a glitch in the week before with no long run on Sunday 12 April. After a strenuous short hill run in very windy conditions, I developed a familiar sensation in my lower back that meant I had to switch to a routine of self-treatment - a combination of rest and walking and back rack exercises - for a few days, with a session as normal  from my physiotherapist, Ben Donaldson and an extra session with my chiropractor, Tanya. By Wednesday of last week I was fit enough to get another run on my local circuit under my belt - 3.5 miles  in a fast for me 34 minutes - followed  by a good gym session on Thursday. And then on Sunday I returned to the long run from Marazion out to Mousehole and back.

Here's a copy of my post on the Sally Army marathon runners website that I posted after the run yesterday.

'I'm back running and training! My chiropractic treatment on Tuesday confirmed my recovery from the lower back glitch and I had a successful and quite fast local and hilly circuit run on Wednesday (3.5 miles in 34 minutes), followed by a good gym session on Thursday. Today I set out from the Marazion car park with the desire to run for 160 minutes without stopping. The first 45 minutes saw

Monday, 6 March 2017


Another month gone - five more Sunday morning long runs under my belt since the last blog - see this link for Part 2 of the Countdown to the London Marathon 2017 series. I note I wrote and posted on Saturday February 4 2017 which was actually the day before I switched from my local circuit runs to the largely flat route from Marazion heading west to Penzance and then Newlyn and on to Mousehole and eventually beyond - and returning when I reached the set time for that week.

Here's the history of the progress so far:

Marazion car park to Newlyn town sign - 50 minutes and return in 53 minutes and then running around Marazion to get to the target time of 110 minutes (and 45 seconds) - Sunday 5 Feb.

Marazion car park to just past Newlyn - 60 minutes (aiming for a target time of 120 minutes of continuous running) and then returning to the car at 129 minutes (and 45 seconds) after taking a

St Michael's Mount from Marazion - always the object of desire on the return journey.

wrong turn on the coastal foot path - doh! - Sunday 12 Feb.

Marazion car park to almost the outer limit of Mousehole - 65 minutes - and then turning round and returning to Marazion and the car in 130 minutes and 40 seconds - Sunday 19 Feb.

Marazion car park to inside the outer reaches of  Mousehole - 70 minutes - and then back to Marazion and the car in 137 minutes and 32 seconds. Very fierce wind in my face running out from Marazion that lengthended the journey to Newlyn by three minutes - the wind was on my back on the return journey - Sunday 26 Feb.

Marazion car park to just before the centre of Mousehole in 75 minutes (still  a strong head wind in

Thursday, 2 March 2017


'He will have to go.'

It could be a Tory talking - a member of the 1% who control so much of our society's wealth and power and who sees a socialist vision as anathema - a deadly threat to their social and political interests.    .

Or it could be a member of the Parliamentary Labour Party - a Labour M.P. - since a majority of the PLP remain convinced that Labour will never be returned to power advocating socialist policies under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn whose declared manifesto for the next election, in 2020 or earlier, is based on ten pledges to secure socialism for the 21st century - see my three blogs using this link for the first blog and accessing the other two blogs from there.    

Those who directly represent the interests of the 1% are united in their determination to destroy Jeremy Corbyn as a political force. They mock him. They ridicule him. But in doing so, they betray

Jeremy Corbyn - leader of the Labour Party in the UK

their fears. The former Conservative Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, warned in an interview with the Huffington Post that Mr Corbyn's brand of left-wing populism would be hard to campaign against. It was not certain he would lose an election. He is quoted: "If you have another recession or if the Conservative government becomes very unpopular, he could win"  - see p,140 in 'The Road to Corbyn' by Rob Donovan (2016) using this link.

Those who are members of the Parliamentary Labour Party - or who are like-minded members of local constituency Labour groups - and are still wedded to the ideology of New Labour and believe in Tony Blair's abandonment of socialism as the passport to election success - face an existential crisis. Their Party lost in the General Elections of 2010 and 2015 despite following the New Labour

Monday, 27 February 2017


At some point next year, in 2018, I will be making contact with mainstream publishers to see who may be interested in putting their money into my biography of Jago Stone. Self-publishing - as I did with 'The Road to Corbyn' - remains on the table as an option. Either way, the more people who express an interest at this stage the better the sales will be come publication. That's why both the Jago Stone website and the Jago Stone Facebook page contain a box to fill in to express an interest in purchasing on publication - and being kept updated on the progress  towards that point.

Do please look and find the box and if you're interested fill in the box.

Here's the link for the UK readers.

Here's the link in The Page for America.

As you will know from my last Jago blog, there has been much new detail emerging ever since the New Year began. Here is the input from Marie-Elena Baker - Laina Baker - who left a comment on the first of my earlier American Connection blogs:

'This is so much fun to read! A real trip down memory lane. We (my husband and I) were stationed  at RAF Croughton, near USAF Upper Heyford) from the late 1960s through to 1981. I have 2 lovely watercolours, signed to my husband and I  from Jago Stone (1976) - Anne Hathaway's House and Trinity Church - two Stratford-upon-Avon views ... I would be happy to send them to  you. Jago even wrote notes on how it should  be framed on one of 

Trinity Church. Stratford-upon-Avon - Jago Stone (1976) - Specially painted for Laina and Rick Baker 

the pictures ... We met him though a friend who was stationed at Upper Heyford hospital ... He even sold  us one of his newly published books'.

That would have been 'The Burglar's  Bedside  Companion'- Jago's autobiography, published in 1975. Laina communicated with me
further and gave me permission to use names and show the

Monday, 20 February 2017


As each week goes past and fresh discoveries emerge from the online search for the identity of Jago Stone as a character and as an artist, I feel more and more excited as his biographer. My gut academic instinct that this style of research would pay rich dividends has been fully vindicated. I remember with pleasure the excitement of my research discoveries during the years from 1995-2003 spent exploring the subject of Drink in Victorian Norwich for my Ph.D. Now with the subject as Jago Stone and his times there is fresh delight in being the historian and practising the skills of this profession.

Using the material that comes to light, together with the detail that can be taken as fact already, the historian makes an interpretation of the past. That is what I am doing. My subject matter is not just Jago Stone. His 20th century world in all its complexity and change is a critical part of my focus. To understand Jago, make sense of the social  worlds he inhabited. And always remember the prerequisite of the good historian is the capacity for empathy.

And so to a day in 2017 - last Thursday, in fact, the 16th of February. The day of my appointment at the British Library in London. The British Library opens at 9.30 am. Here is a photo I took of the queue ahead of me shortly after I joined it at 9.15. By 9.32 when the doors opened, the queue had increased nearly ten-fold and snaked around the piazza outside.

Queuing for the opening of The British Library on 16.02.2017

By 10.10 am I had completed my full registration and was sitting in a listening booth ready for the first of the three twenty minute plays of the item I had travelled overnight from Cornwall to hear. My four and a half hours inside the booth gave me the opportunity to make a full transcript of

Saturday, 4 February 2017


The London Marathon this year is on St George's Day, April 23, 2017. April 23 is an important day for national treasures other than St George and the London Marathon. It's also William Shakespeare's birthday - and death day. Factoids are so Radio 2. I love them.

I thought I'd treat my readers and any sponsors, actual or potential, to the good news of my continuing and extending long runs for the last two Sundays - and at the same time explore the theme of  'The Back Garden'. A visual exploration of the role of the back garden in my journey through life.

The back garden of our terraced home in St Ives - 2017

A contemporary shot. I used a cropped version of this picture for my Countdown to the London Marathon 2017 - Part 1 blog on January 17 last month but did not contextualise. Here I am in the back garden of our terraced home in St Ives in Cornwall, Dig down deep enough and you are highly

Saturday, 28 January 2017


My political antennae are well-positioned for crap-detecting. The phrase 'Special Relationship' has been heard so often in recent days that the alarm bells are sounding unbearably in my ears. Prime-minister May and President Trump and their teams have wrung the rhetoric dry and exposed the cliché of a special relationship high and dry for further scrutiny. I can only hope that most people can see through them and the deceptions  - if not now then in that future time when the proverbial chickens will have come home to roost.

Trump and May - a natural or a special relationship?

Here are some facts to consider. Not post-truth facts. Real facts. Objective facts. My source is Wikipedia - check the references - these facts qualify as facts. Here is a tale of a relationship that has fluctuated according to the needs of both the stronger party - the USA - and the will and political  judgement of the prime minister of the weaker party - the UK.

  • The United States gradually became involved in the Vietnam War in the early 1960s, but this time received no support from the United Kingdom. Anti-Americanism due to the Vietnam

Tuesday, 17 January 2017


Let's be frank. I am hoping that if you are reading this you will want to continue - and you will also consider making an online donation to the website that is linked to this blog. If you can afford to, please sponsor my charity marathon run for the Salvation Army in London in April. More on all that later but first some information about the wannabe athlete you may be betting on completing the course. A kind of quick once-over of the two-year old fancied filly before parting with any money. Only this time round, the two-year old filly has morphed into a sixty-eight year old writer.

As the end of November 2016 approached, my training calendar/record book showed that I was now four weeks away from my latest - and 76th in a lifetime - blood donation (25/10/2016). I know from interesting experience the importance of giving the body time to recover, not least the older I get. I had waited until the 19th of November before returning to the gym for a session. That went well. So on 25/11/2016 I ventured forth on my run from home - up to Little Trevalgan and back down again. Around 3.5 miles. My local circuit. It took 36 minutes and 35 seconds. I could live with that - it was quite a windy day.

Preparing for my Sally Army run 

Two days later, I was out running again and this time it was two circuits - the first in 37:00, the second in 37:09. (7 miles in 74:09) - and then back to the gym for  another session on the Tuesday.

In December, I managed six runs and two more gym sessions. Two of the runs were long local circuit runs of 7 miles, with times of 73:05 and 75:02. I also clocked up three sessions with my ace physiotherapist, Ben Donaldson, at the St Ives Leisure Centre, and one chiropractic treatment with Tanya in Redruth. Ben is still working to ensure that the plantar fasciitis is kept at bay and Tanya manipulates in order to prevent any weaknesses left by the surgeon's laminectomy four decades ago from surfacing.

Made it!

Rather unfortunately, when matters athletic were going so well - this was my planned period of consolidation before I started the serious business of increasing the mileage from January through to the beginning of April 2017 - someone, on December 30, drove into the back of our stationary new car. And Louise and I were in the car at the time.

No serious damage to our car - much more to the other driver's. A bit of a shock and inevitably some neck issues surfaced within a few days. But I'm glad to report that the combination of physio and chiro treatment and my own experience has meant no damage to the training plan. Two 3.5 mile circuit runs and one gym session so far in January plus - crucially - long runs on Sunday 8th (7 miles in 73:21)and Sunday 15th (7.5 miles in 79:14). We are heading in the right direction!

So it's still a good bet to invest in the 68-year old writer. What do you get for your money? Well, for starters, the satisfaction of knowing that you have supported one of our national treasures - the Salvation Army. No one has a bad word to say about the Sally Army. And so many people I speak to have such positive things to say.

Hard going - London 2012

Here's my peon of praise. When I was a kid, my parents used to meet the Bowns, Bill and Ivy, every month or so on a Saturday evening for a drink either in my home suburb of Welling or a bus ride  away in Lewisham where the Bowns lived. No matter how, I would be waiting for them outside the pub to walk or catch the bus home depending on whether the pub was in Welling or Lewisham. Invariably, I was handed the copy of the War Cry that mum and dad had purchased inside the warmth of that pub interior I glimpsed and smelt (and yearned to enter one day). I may have got my messages confused but I grew up knowing that my mum and dad had respect for the Sally Army. My dad had been in the Royal Artillery - another army. He knew their outreach.

When I got my automatic place for the London Marathon in April 2012 - I was one of the last to get this bonus after five unsuccessful applications - I had intended to run for the Sally Army. But my sister had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and my mother-in-law had developed the condition in the recent last years of her life. I switched my sponsorship to the Alzheimer's Society and they were the beneficiary of the £2,000 plus my run raised. Now, it's the turn of the Salvation Army to benefit - and the specific cause is the further development of  a drug rehabilitation unit in Swindon that the Sally Army are responsible for running.

So here is  the link to my Virgin Money Giving website page where online donations can be given.

.My donation link

You will read there about how this run is also my personal tribute to my late father-in-law, Ronald Watkins, who died in July 2015, aged 90. His generosity in leaving me a legacy means I can pledge that I will match the total  sponsorship raised by my run using his legacy.

Many thanks in advance for your support if you are able to donate in this way to a really good and worthwhile cause.