Saturday 27 February 2016


Cameron and JC

Last Wednesday I was listening to the hourly news bulletin on Radio 2 and the lead story was the Prime Minister's attack in the Commons on Jeremy Corbyn's dress sense. Fascinated, I followed the story for the rest of the day and afterwards. The BBC quickly lost interest and I had to wait to Channel 4 news that evening to catch the leader of the Opposition's response. Full marks to JC - it was a good one and did silence the extraordinary baying hordes of Conservative MPs. But what an insight into the inner world of David Cameron!

Did you catch the spat on television or read about it in the press or online? The Tories have reason enough to minimise its impact. John Crace in his sketch was superb in The Guardian the next day, writing:
'Here was Dave unscripted: the Dave that Dave would rather you didn't see'. And much more savage comedy at Dave's expense follows. It's well worth reading.

Saturday 20 February 2016


Getting support for the charity
Joy in the Mall - London 2012
My first marathon - 05:40:55

I tell the story of how I came into running in my mid-thirties on my website. For thirty years it has been one of the great pleasures of my life - to have an identity, a persona, as an athlete is splendidly counter-intuitive. I was the child who couldn't run for toffee. And in 2012 I completed my first marathon in London in the year the Olympics came to Great Britain. How cool did that feel! I managed around 15 miles of steady running before I began to feel a little odd and decided to switch to speed walking and running for the last 11 miles. I wasn't going to run any risks. I had run further in training - the advised 20 miles - but the emotion of the day had caught up with me. We live out our days in our own bubbles and aim to feel in control. But after nearly three hours of running in a swaying sea of humanity and reading the personal and sometimes heart-breaking stories of why that runner ahead was pounding the pavements of London for twenty six miles to raise money in memory of a son or daughter or father or mother, all the time soaking up the cheers and encouragement of the tens of thousands watching from the street edges and calling out your name, the name on the front of your running vest, I had begun to feel a little queasy and rather out of control. The moment I stopped running and started speed-walking was most strange.  The body seemed to drift for a few seconds as I adjusted to the new motion.

That for me, I suspect, is part of the reason why I love running and am so intrigued by it. I want to unravel the mystery of the links between what is going on in my head and what my body is doing. I can't easily find another way of describing it although I fully appreciate and acknowledge the fallacy of a Cartesian separation of mind and body. I know we are talking about a symbiotic relationship and I believe we are all the more fulfilled when mind and body work as one. When we are in the 'zone'. Of course, when you're there, when you are in that personal zone, you are scarcely aware of it. Becoming aware takes you out of it, into the pain of running effort, in my limited experience as a novice athlete.  

And then six months ago, in mid-August, I stumbled when our beloved Bearded Collie, Ella, pulled on the dog-lead when I was walking her through a Cornish lane paved with Blue Elvan, a rock  that the toughest of Cornish miners used to curse for its unresisting qualities. The fleshy softness of the skin between sole and heel on my left foot took the impact through a pair of trainers as my body made impact with the edge of a piece of Blue Elvan. It was like a needle aimed into the spinal chord and missing. That stopped me running for a while. Six months in fact.

I had the good fortune to already know an excellent sports masseur and injury therapist, Ben Donaldson, here in St Ives who had helped me prepare for my second marathon in Edinburgh in 2014. His treatment has been critical in my recovery from a condition I learned to identify as plantar fasciitis. Anne-Marie Leddy and Tanya Read, practitioners at the Gilbert's Coombe Chiropractic, have also been very important in helping my return to full health. The fruits of their treatment were evident yesterday afternoon.

I set out on my first run - a return to my familiar local circuit and a steady hill ascent of 1.75 miles to the summit at Little Trevalgan and then the delicious descent back home. It was a remarkable experience at times. The Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz comes to mind - without the oil-can, at least at first. I was only a minute or so slower than usual for the outward and upward first half but then it is a very steep hill and I am slow at the best of times. But getting to the top and turning around, my knees felt as if they had developed mud flaps. I took the descent really slowly, at least four minutes slower than my fastest time. So my local circuit was completed in 39 minutes rather than the usual 34 minutes. But I'm back, feeling great - and registered for the Oxford Half Marathon on October 9th, this year.

There is definitely more to life than politics - for today.          


Sunday 14 February 2016

A Portal Self-Assessment - taking stock a month into my life as a blogger

My first blog was on 16 January 2016 and I promised the voice of the child unrobing the emperors and other matters of concern. In this, my seventh blog, I'm taking stock of my blogging platform and the various portals I have opened up for your interest, assessment and comment.   

I hope my political blogs have served their purpose well enough in highlighting the misgovernment of this country. My default position remains one of hope. I believe that in 2020 we will reap the fruits of  being a democracy and a General Election will see us free from these malign Conservative forces.

But the damage being done! I read today in The Observer that a report by a government task force that has been delayed for months by ministers will be published tomorrow and paint a devastating picture of Britain's mental health services. It will reveal that the number of people killing themselves is soaring, that three-quarters of those with psychiatric conditions are not being helped, and  that sick children are being sent "almost anywhere in the country" for treatment. And guess what? Tomorrow David Cameron, the prime minister since 2010, will trumpet his focus on mental health. Well, six years ago he promised to put mental wellbeing at the centre of his government - and did he? Tomorrow's report will condemn years of underinvestment and lay the blame in significant measure on the Conservative government of this country.

The Tory emphasis on austerity - an ideologically-driven and economically-mistaken policy - has led to fractured lives and a mental health crisis. And at the same time austerity creates the funding crisis that eats away at the provision of mental health services.

What of the other matters I promised?

I promised to keep you up-to-date on my literary ventures. In brief, 'The Road to Corbyn'  is now safely in the hands of Troubador/ Matador Publishing and will see the light of day by the summer of this year. My present book, a biography of Jago Stone (1928-88), artist, is a detective story in which some leads have dried up - I hope temporarily -  but others have borne much fruit. One of Jago's  children, Merlin Porter the Oxford-based artist, and I have made contact and we have firm plans in place to meet in the spring. Merlin's  website shows  the quality of his work. I have commissioned him to paint a view of my Oxford college, St  Catherine's, this year and a painting of The Sloop Inn here in St Ives in Cornwall next year. Both have been inspirational places in my life.

I promised material on words and film and I have given you one blog on crosswords to date. I can't resist giving you now two clues from an Everyman Observer puzzle I completed this month. They gave me a particular tantalising pleasure to solve:

'Something with which chap covers part of body?' (7)

'Clumsy person breaking section in wall' (7)

Solutions next week.

I am looking forward to the future blog in which I review the remarkable discovery I have made thanks to the recommendation of an author whose work I will also be reviewing. First the discovery explained. The author is John Cowper Powys. The particular work of his I am reading is 'Wolf Solent'. I hold my hand up - how could I not have known this author before? He is magnificent.

And the author who  recommended him is Cornwall's own N.R. Phillips - Roy Phillips. Try his 'Horn of Strangers' or 'The Saffron Eaters', his portrait of St Ives. I will be blogging reviews in due course.

Finally, news of another Cornish writer, W.J. Brown and his latest work that I thoroughly enjoyed in my pre-publication read. It's called 'A Note from Winterbottom'  and is available in paperback or Kindle form. It's a spy-thriller set in the context of  an art-world scam and all, at times, within the landscape that is my Cornish world. Another review I anticipate writing with pleasure.

Yes, there is more to life than politics - but politics does matter so much because, as my wife says, people matter. On Valentine's Day, a loving reference and attribution for Louise Donovan, textile artist.         


Saturday 6 February 2016

Misgovernment by Aristocratic Connections - Now in its Seventh Year of Live Performance in the U.K!

I read Caroline Davies piece on Lord Lucan in Thursday's Guardian with fascination. Headlined 'Drowned, shot, fed to tigers', who wouldn't be gripped by this extraordinary tale. And who couldn't be horrified at the senseless murder of the Lucan family nanny, Sandra Rivett, and feel the pain of her family.

One detail though sparked a chain-reaction of thought that has led to this blog. Here I reveal the detail:

Caroline Davies writes that in the latest twist in this decades old mystery, claims surfaced last month that Lord Lucan had shot himself in the aftermath of whatever happened at 46 Lower Belgrave Street in 1974 and was then fed to a tiger named Zorra at John Aspinall's Howletts zoo. 'Police reportedly investigated the theory at the time of Lucan's disappearance after Lady Osborne, Aspinall's mother ... allegedly told them: "The last I heard of him he was being fed to the tigers at my son's zoo." Aspinall reportedly responded when questioned: "My tigers are only fed the choicest cuts - do you really think they are going  to eat stringy old Lucky?" The detail that Caroline Davies added to her sentence and that I left out in the quotation above is the fact that Lady Osborne, Aspinall's mother, was also the United Kingdom's chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne's grand-mother.

I think such aristocratic connections are an important element in any historical analysis of the government of the U.K. since 2010. These connections are usually airbrushed away in the political spin but think about what it must be like to have a portal into understanding the world that has been formed since early childhood by an aristocratic-shaped set of assumptions. Assumptions about your place in the world and about how things are best ordered. Assumptions about what you soon learn are called classes of people. Assumptions about the role of  government and its proper size. Assumptions about how much tax you should pay to your government.

Pilgrim, the hero of my political fantasy: 'The Road to Corbyn' (soon to be published by Matador), has something to say on this aristocratic connection and the government of the U.K. Let him speak for himself (he has just been discovering the riches to be found in Wikipedia searches):

I learnt a great deal from it very quickly about the social worlds of these rich and powerful  people. Yes, the prime minister went to Eton where the fees alone cost around £30,000 a year but I also discovered that his father was a stockbroker who also went to Eton and the family line goes back through some four generations of wealth creation in the worlds of finance and commerce. Cameron's family is a classic example of an elite family. His mother is the daughter of a baronet and on his mother's side he can trace his blood-line descent back to royalty, to the offspring of a liaison between King William IV and a mistress. Do you know that in his first shadow cabinet eighteen of its members had been to school at Eton? It's difficult to believe that this old-boy network is so extensive and powerful in a land that has achieved the status of a liberal democracy by wresting privilege and power away from just such forces. I know that Cameron has said that you should judge a person on their actions now and not on their background. People should not be criticised and condemned just because they have had a privileged education and enjoy family wealth. Quite so. But it is precisely their actions now that are shaping my judgement. And it is certainly appropriate to make connections between the background of a politician, the friend and connections he enjoys, and the politics and policies  he follows - and to draw one's own conclusions. When the historians come to write their account of this land at this time, they will be drawn to the fact that three former members of the Bullingdon club at the University of Oxford, an undergraduate dining club with a reputation for  hooliganism and arrogant bullying - who have been pictured together in coats and tails in a photograph that has been removed  from circulation on grounds of personal copyright- should now be the prime-minister, the chancellor of  the exchequer and the mayor of London. That fact will serve historians well. That fact will provide a solid basis for a lucid  analysis.    

Do you think, like me, that Pilgrim might be on to something here?                    

Monday 1 February 2016

Through the Portal into the life and work of Jago Stone, artist

This blog is about Jago Stone (1928-88), artist and writer. The portal into his life and work first opened up for me when I married Louise who had been gifted one of his oil paintings when he moved on from the Gerrard's Cross area in 1970. She was then still at school, her parents had commissioned a watercolour of their family home in 1968 and further commissions for two oil paintings followed with other oils bought from him too.

I've lived with the powerful expressionism of his oil paintings for four decades (Louise's parents passed on some of his work to us during their lifetimes and with my father-in-law's death last year we now have all Jago's work that her parents once owned).

Jago was an interesting character as well as a talented artist. I learned that he had spent time in prison. That he had won a national art prize in prison. That he had been a charismatic man of charm who  enjoyed life. And that he was a restless soul.

The portal into understanding Jago's journey through life widened considerably with the invention of  the World Wide Web.  From our Google searches, we were able to learn more and more. When I could afford to buy one of  the few copies available of his autobiography 'A Burglar's Bedside Companion' (1975) and read it,  I got still more insight.  And I realised that this man was an accomplished writer, witty and humane. I wanted to write his biography. This would be my next literary venture having completed 'The Road to Corbyn'.

You will find more about the genesis of this biography on my website, As I explain there, this has become a detective story. The portal will develop as I discover other people's stories and memories of this man of many parts. I trust my instinct that this is an extraordinary life-story that is worthy of discovery and celebration. 

If you did know Jago and have memories you are happy to share, do please make contact and we can make this venture a reality. Meanwhile, enjoy the gallery of his work on my website!