Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Saturday 31 May 2014

Biting Back

I blog, and because I blog about ‘other stuff’ there are times when people disagree with me.

I began by deciding to write a blog about ‘writing and other stuff’, and the ‘other stuff’ sort of took over. This is because I live in the World, and things happen in the World that I have thoughts and opinions about.

I tend to express them.

People then tend to interpret what I say, and, for better or worse, they have opinions too.

Some people express their opinions right back at my blog.

The bottom line is, I have no problem with that. I hold the floor. It’s my blog. I get to introduce the subject and have the first, and, in a way, the ultimate say. I keep an open comments section where anyone can post his own thoughts. I do not edit or delete comments. I don’t even ask for names, or e-mail address, and I don’t moderate comments before or, for that matter, after they’re posted.

I also make it a point of principle not to disagree with commenters or to justify myself by trying to explain what I’ve written after the fact.

Most of the people who read a blog will not necessarily know me. I realise this, and I realise that most readers are reading a single blog in isolation. Most readers are also bringing their own values and/or prejudices to that reading. They will think what they like and it is not up to me to persuade them otherwise. 

For this reason, I am regularly misunderstood. I have been berated and even vilified on my blog. I get it. People have strong views that oppose my own. They’re entitled. I’m not going to fight it. I’ve stated my case. People disagree. Some of those people might be willful; some of them might simply be trolls; some of them are, in my opinion, ignorant; some of them are simply angry or frustrated; and some of them have perfectly good reasons for seeing things differently from the way that I see them. That’s the nature of humankind.

Once in a while, someone will be quite extreme. Once in a while, someone will be quite unpleasant. Once in a while, someone will attack me in the comments section.

I allow those comments to stand, too. 

I am often baffled by these attacks. They generally represent, for me, a willful misreading of the content of the original post. It would be easy to go back and point out the commenter’s errors in these instances, but there seems very little point. Why get embroiled with someone whose agenda is so fixed as to render them incapable of an objective approach to reading a blog? Those people are so entrenched in their thinking that nothing is going to change it, including reasoned argument. Nevertheless, I allow those comments to stand. The very fact that they have chosen to engage deserves some small measure of respect from me.

The husband reads my blog regularly.

This is me and the husband, together, as ever.
He doesn’t comment on it, although he does, from time to time, hit the like button on my FaceBook postings.

Blogging is my thing, and he doesn’t want to cast a shadow over it. The husband is well known in his field and he prefers to leave this to me. He respects it, and I rather like that he leaves me to it.

We do regularly talk about the blog, though, and he regularly comments on the comments, in private, particularly when someone is less than well-mannered.

I believe that there have been occasions when he’s wanted to step in and answer some of the comments that he’s considered particularly aggressive. I know that he’s wanted me to argue my case with dissenting commenters on several occasions.

Last Saturday, May 24th, I wrote a blog called Sense Prevails. On Sunday the blog received a comment. It was short and to the point, and the husband took it personally. Yesterday, after stewing over it for the better part of a week, he posted his first ever comment on my blog. 

It’s not like him.

I don’t know exactly what made him do it on this particular occasion with this particular comment. I don’t know whether it was the nature of this comment. I don’t know whether it was because the husband’s name was invoked. I don’t know whether it was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I will say this: Strictly speaking, it wasn’t necessary. It was, however, rather gallant. There’s something chivalrous about it. Once in a while it’s rather lovely to be supported in this way, not least by the man who loves me.

I bloody love him too.

So, thanks, Dan. 

Now, if that’s off your chest, let’s get things back to normal, shall we?

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Fifteen Minutes of Fame: The Addict Initiative on Britain’s Got Talent

By the time they’re done with this show it really will amount to fifteen whole minutes!

Last night, Tuesday 27th May, and trust me that date will go down in the annals of history for the Vincent-Abnett clan, the husband and I braced ourselves, put supper on a tray, poured ourselves a very large glass of wine each and sat down to watch Britain’s Got Talent.

Trust me, this is not our usual fare. In fact, we don’t watch the television. We don’t own a television. OK, that’s not quite accurate. There is one television in the house. It is a fourteen inch set that sits on a chest of drawers in the corner of our bedroom, gathering dust. We simply don’t watch it. In fact it has become so forgotten that if I want to watch something live, which almost never happens, I tend to stream it on my laptop.

We do watch things from time to time, but we choose what we watch and we have a little screening room where we go to watch those things. We don’t like the house to be invaded by television. If there’s a television on, you can bet your life that conversation will grind to a halt and all eyes will be directed at the screen. That’s not how we roll.

For very particular reasons, and, trust me, this shit isn’t going to happen very often, we dusted down the telly, climbed onto the bed, and ate supper off a tray. We were tense... unbelievably tense. The husband has addressed huge audiences with nothing but one square foot of real estate (by which I mean his noggin) to rely on. He has taken Q&As, he has been interviewed and he has simply talked on the subject of writing in general, and of his books in particular, in front of dozens or hundreds of people without a nerve, a shake or a wobble in evidence. I know. I’ve seen it.

He was nervous last night. 

Frankly, I was a bloody wreck.

Last night, the dort appeared on Britain’s Got Talent with her dance crew The Addict Initiative.

We’ve been through the audition process, and here it is: (FYI, the dort's the blonde, curly haired girl. You can't miss her).

But that’s different. That happened weeks ago, and it was taped. What’s more, the kids knew the outcome. There were no surprises when the show was aired. The thing was edited and cleaned up, and it was all good.

Last night was a LIVE semi-final. Yes I said LIVE. OK, I shouted it... Twice. There was nothing I could do. There was nothing anyone could do. 

I’ve seen the dort perform live dozens of times. I’ve seen her in the theatre. I trust her. She’s always well-prepared and well-rehearsed. She knows what she’s doing. She was put on this earth to perform. She’s good at it. If she wasn’t good at it she wouldn’t be one of the seven people in the best commercial dance crew in the country.

I’ve seen her on screen, too. I’ve seen her on YouTube dozens, maybe hundreds of time.

I don’t know why telly is different, but when the audition show aired, I found out that it was. Even though I knew the show had been taped, even though I wasn’t remotely nervous sitting down to watch it, when the crew was introduced, when it all started to happen, I felt different. I felt nervous. I was filled with that cold, wonky feeling.

I’d never felt that way before, watching the dort.

I don’t know whether it was because I somehow knew this was a mass, shared experience, that upwards of ten million people were watching the Addict Initiative with me, but this was a new and unsettling experience.

The live semi-final was worse. The live semi-final was worse because it was live, and it was worse because I knew how I’d felt the first time I’d seen the dort on television in the audition rounds for BGT. 

In the audition show, The Addict Initiative was the first act on. It was over fast. Thank heavens.

In the semi-final show, the Addict Initiative was the seventh act. Seventh! The build-up was utterly nerve-wracking. I was shredded. I also gulped down three decent sized glasses of wine, so, frankly, I was a bit the worse for wear when they were finally announced. It was probably just as well.

Crikey! It was all over very fast! It was intense! It was fantastic! It was frantic and furious, and it was a bloody marvelous show!

We voted. We voted A LOT! We urged our followers on Twitter and our friends on FaceBook to vote. Our social networks positively buzzed.

I wasn’t sure I was even going to be able to watch the results show. Frankly, I had my hands over my face for quite a lot of it. I couldn’t help listening though. Listening becomes a thing. It’s like being in a tunnel with a lone voice at the other end calling to you.

Anyone who is a parent, anyone who has ever been in a situation with a person who has any kind of authority of her child will know what that feels like. It’s like the ultimate parent/teacher meeting... multiplied to the nth.

Then it came down to the wire. It was the judges' choice. Who was going through? Was it going to be the Addict Initiative or was it going to be the gorgeous girl singer with the amazing voice?


This is what the Addict Initiative delivered on the night:

The Britain’s Got Talent Grand Final airs on Saturday, 7th June. I’ll be there, because the dort will be there, on stage with the Addict Initiative. They’re good. They’re very, very good, and they’re going to show us all just how good they can be when they pull out all the stops for the Grand Final.

I’m going to buy an extra pillow. I’m going to need something to sink my teeth into and bury my head in and squish my face up against and generally hide behind. It’s going to be Well... it’s going to be something else.

Monday 26 May 2014

Michael Gove takes a Hatchet to the English Curriculum

I wanted to write about Mr Gove and the damage he is doing to the GCSE English curriculum. I am incandescent. I am also very, very busy writing a novel, ironically enough.

Then I saw this, and realised that a thirteen year old young woman has said it all. I have simply lifted her entire text from her blog. This is Charli in her own words, unedited. Read it and weep:

Today, some of you may have heard of Mr. Gove's changes to the English GCSE and A-Level curriculum. Now, I am going to write an open letter to Sir, keeping it as polite as humanly possibly, because I have had enough. 

Dear Mr. Gove,

My name is Charli and I am 13 years old. I have been blogging about politics and law for nearly a year, particularly in the Save UK Justice campaign, against your good friend Mr. Grayling. I woke up this morning to an uproar about your changes to the English Curriculum.

Personally, I am disgusted about your new curriculum changes. I can imagine that there has been no democracy to this decision. Why should To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the most influential texts in the world, and Of Mice and Men, be removed from our curriculum?

In September, I will be in Year 9. That means I won't be starting my actual GCSE course, but in preparation to do so. I am an aspiring lawyer, and so both English Literature and English Language A-Levels were a possibility to me. Now, I am not so sure.

English has always been a passion to me. I have adored both reading and writing since the age of two. And now? Now, you are out to destroy that passion, of thousands. Yes, there are a lot of teenagers that don't give one about English, or their education, but some of us do.

I, as much as you, believe Shakespeare and Dickens should be studied. But I, apparently unlike you, believe other texts should be studied too. 

"The Sunday Times" Article today,
which has blown up on Twitter. 

 I want to draw attention to a certain part of this article (right). " 'Of Mice and Men, which Gove really dislikes, will not be included.' ". 

From the article, this is the phrase that may have shocked me the most. You "really dislike" it? I'm sorry, Sir, but you cannot just go around removing things from a curriculum just because you don't like it. If I was education minister and this was how you go about things, I'd be removing maths and science. But that isn't how it works, I'm afraid. 

Another thing I'd like to pick up on is the fact that this "new and improved" curriculum only includes English authors. Not even Irish! The Government want us all to be more tolerant about other races, and then increases the fact that many children are not educated on other cultures. Personally, I grew up on books like Handa's Surprise and many others, and I love reading other books, and books from America. Are you going to change the fact that reception children read Handa's Surprise and do work on it? I can imagine it now. 

As a Government, in this one decision, you are turning around all the things you want. You want us to be more tolerant as a society, and what was that other thing? Oh yes... Better results in English. I don't think boring us to absolute tears is the way to do this.

The Colour Purple, which wasn't on the curriculum but deserves a mention, is one of my favourites. I have previously attempted To Kill A Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men. I didn't understand them then, but I guarantee over my summer holiday this year they will be on my (extremely tall) reading pile, studied and written about in depth by me. Why? Because I want to learn. I want to learn about what these books have to give. About our society.  

Today, #tokillamockingbird, #Gove and Of Mice and Men are all trending topics. #Govekillsmockingbird is also high up. People do care. This will not go unnoticed, Sir.  

I could go on for hours, also talking about your changes in general GCSE's and summer holidays, but I won't, right now. All I will say, is I would watch your back. And your post box. 

I don't suppose you will ever read this, but if you do, thank you very much.

Charli, age 13, 
Justice campaigner who is very concerned for her education and future,
Lover of English

Saturday 24 May 2014

Sense Prevails

So the elections are over and the count is in. Everything has returned to a sort of normality.

Sense, a sort of sense at least, has prevailed.

There is all sorts of talk about UKIP having triumphed, but it didn’t. in fact, its numbers, its popularity dropped by about 6% on a year ago. This is a good thing, a very, very good thing.

In my particular neck of the woods, my constituency elected four UKIPpers. I am utterly horrified. There is no over all control in my local council, which would be fine, except that it is swinging to the right, which makes me very uncomfortable.

What makes me even more uncomfortable is that those four UKIP councillors were elected in the poorest most rundown wards with the highest rates of unemployment and child poverty, and the lowest rates of home ownership and residents with higher and further education qualifications. The very people who would suffer most under a right wing, reactionary regime are those who are voting for it. Ignorance absolutely is not bliss.

The most ethnically and culturally diverse ward, my own, voted Liberal Democratic. This was not my choice, but since virtually everyone else voted Conservative, I suppose this was about as leftist as it was going to get.

This brings me to a particular piece of political canvassing that dropped through my letter box last week, and perhaps the nastiest most cynical piece of electioneering that passed through my consciousness. I was frankly appalled. I was appalled because it appealed to people’s good sense while actually being emotional blackmail. It was an act of honest-to-goodness desperation.

It came from our local Liberal Democrats. You may remember that they were voted into office in my ward, so either it worked or the majority of the local voters were already in their camp. Either way, I’m not thrilled.

The flyer did not outline the good work the Liberal Democrat councillors have done on the council in the past and it did not outline their plans for the future. It did not talk about its politics or its policies. The flyer that was pushed through my letterbox and through the letterboxes of thousands of other homes simply said that Labour could not win in my ward, so we should vote for the Liberal Democrats, because if we didn't the Conservatives would win, and we didn’t want that, did we? It was practically imploring.

Let's put aside the fact that the Liberal Democrats quite happily got into bed with the Conservatives four years ago in order to give themselves some sort of credibility and a hand in running the bloody country. They could have moved a little to the left, but, instead they opted to shake hands with David Cameron. As I said, let's just ignore that for a moment.

The Liberal Democrats showed no conviction. They did not try to persuade their constituents that they had the best plans for the area going forward, or that they had the future welfare of the electorate at heart. They were simply running scared. They didn’t want to lose their jobs, and they didn’t want the other bloke to win, but they couldn’t come up with a single good reason why they were the better option. They didn’t appear to believe in what they were doing, or they didn’t think they could make us believe in them.

Instead of filling us with confidence in them, instead of finding areas of agreement with us, they tried to frighten us. I think we were probably frightened enough.

Some people were frightened and angry and ignorant enough to vote UKIP for crying out loud. 

I voted my conscience. It matters to me. If my conscience had been to vote Liberal Democrat this nasty piece of trash landing on my doormat would probably have dissuaded me from voting at all. I won’t be frightened by politicians and I won’t be blackmailed by them. 

I don’t know what effect this had on other people, but it made me angry, and for none of the reasons the Liberal Democrats intended. 

Thursday 22 May 2014

Taking it on the Chin... Again

My own jacket design for
Naming Names
A couple of years ago my little novel Naming Names – you will have heard of it, I’ve written about it often enough – was runner up for the Mslexia novel writing competition.

It was an important book for me, and doing so well in what has turned out to be quite an important prize was a bit of a coup in lots of ways, not least because it boosted my confidence and secured me my first agent.

Since then the book has gone through at least a couple of incarnations. The first was a fairly major rewrite for my first agent in order to make it ready for editors to see. My then agent had very high hopes for it. She compared it very favourably with some extremely serious literary fiction. I was partly nonplussed by that, but also rather flattered.

The novel didn’t sell.

With hindsight, I wasn’t surprised. It was always going to be a tough sell... a very tough sell. It was always going to be a near-impossible sell from a first time author, a new name in the market place.

The book saw the light of day again with my new agent and underwent a very vigorous rewrite, so vigorous, in fact, that I gave it a new title. It felt so unlike the original to me that I needed to treat it like an entirely new project. 

This was enlightening in many ways. The new novel was a thriller, something I hadn’t done before. I got to write a new character, whom I like very much, and I was able to rethink the story in a new way. It was a great exercise. I was able to consolidate my thoughts and feelings about the original story, about why I had written it and for whom. I was also able to employ the skills of my agent, someone with fresh eyes, a great deal of enthusiasm and a thorough understanding of the commercial market.

I’m very glad I did it.

The book went out to editors several weeks ago, and the verdict is in.

It has been rejected.

For all the right reasons, or, at least for plenty of well-articulated reasons, no one wants to publish this version of this idea, now called By Any Other Name.

Shit happens. We move on.

Of course, now, I have to make more decisions.

I had planned to write other stories, other thrillers with this cast. I had begun to be invested in my new character. I like her, I like the genre. My agent wants me to write more stories about her too.

I am still left with the inevitable quandary, though. I am a working writer. I can write every day of the year, and get paid for commissioned work. I don’t have to write on spec, hoping that someone will one day pay for my output. I don’t have to work for free. In fact, I have to very consciously take time out of my very busy schedule to write ‘for myself’.

There is a great deal of pleasure to be had from writing. There is pleasure in every project. There is joy in collaborating with the husband, on producing short stories to order, on working on tie-in fiction. I like the discipline. I like the security. I like the communities that grow up around these things.

I also like the stuff in my head, though.

I can take the rejection. I’ve been taking rejection for as long as I can remember.

In the end, though, my mantra has always been, The point of the writer, is the reader. I have readers. My commissioned work, my writing to order stuff is read, widely. As yet, the stuff I write for myself, isn’t.

There’s maths in there somewhere.

There’s also a list.

There’s a list of books I’ve written for myself that haven’t been published, and there’s a list of books that I have ideas for that are yet to be written.

Right now, I can’t bear to give up on those things. They’re like my children.

So, for now, like most writers, I have a day job.

Fortunately for me, unlike most writers, my day job is writing.

How could I possibly be any more lucky than that?

Wednesday 21 May 2014

So where exactly does food come from?

I saw this status update today from Mark Newton on FaceBook: 

A score of children in the local Tesco learning about 'where food comes from'. Haven't the heart to tell them it's farms and fields, not supermarkets.

Firstly, I’m pretty confident that he will have the heart to tell his children the facts of food, if and when he has them, because I happen to know that Mr Newton tends an allotment. I even suggested that Mr Newton might invite a party of local school children to his allotment and give them each a packet of seeds to plant.

Can you imagine the risk assessments involved in that kind of outing? Can you?

Our very own local allotments, looking wonderful!
In an ideal world, of course, it would be lovely if every primary school in the country was given an allotment to cultivate. Every child would have the satisfaction of seeing something grow and learning about where food actually comes from. There can't be a child in the land who doesn't already spend about as much time as he can stomach in supermarkets.

I love food and I love kids... Well I love my kids. Frankly, I’ve never been all that keen on other people’s kids, mostly because they’ve been raised by other people, not actually because of the kids themselves. They can’t help how they were raised.

There is so much talk about food. There is so much talk about diet in general and about dieting in particular, and is there any wonder why? The answer to that question is: Not if kids are learning about food from bloody Tesco there isn’t.

Point a child at a cow. That’s where steak, burgers, sausages, mince, milk, cream, butter most kinds of cheese, yoghurt and suet come from. Point a child at a wheat field. That’s where bread, pasta, cakes, biscuits, and most types of breakfast cereal come from. Point a child at a pig: chops, more sausages, lard. Chickens: Well... chicken, eggs, more cakes. You take my point.

The problem is that kids don’t eat meat, potatoes and two veg, and they don’t eat scrambled eggs for breakfast or boiled eggs and soldiers for tea, and they don’t bake, from scratch with their families at home. Who the hell knows what lard even is any more let alone buys it? Children eat minced chicken made into shapes and breaded, which they call ‘nuggets’ or ‘dinosaurs’. They eat pizza and burgers, and they eat Cheerios and Frosties and Shreddies. Cornflakes and Weetabix and Rice Crispies might not look like what they’re made from, but at least the main ingredient is right there in the name.

We don’t have to smoke or drink, and we don’t have to gamble or take drugs. We absolutely do have to eat. When did we decide that everything we put in our mouths had to come with some sort of gimmick? When did we decide that it all had to be made in a factory instead of in a kitchen? And when did we decide that it had to be addictive, that sugar and salt, never mind a whole slew of additives, would make food in any way better? Better for whom?

And that’s fine, because we’re adults, and we can make those choices. We can eat whatever the hell we like, and who would dare to tell us otherwise? I throw my hands up, and I say, ‘Not me!’ You go ahead. I’m not your keeper, and I’m not going to judge you. The same applies to any other habit you might have acquired. Live and let live, that’s what I say.

When, though, did we decide that it was OK to do this to our kids? Because what we’re actually doing is taking away their choices. If they don’t know what real food is, where it comes from and how to make the best of it, how the hell are they ever going to choose to eat real honest to goodness food and enjoy it?

Not very long ago, I wrote my own rules for food and eating. I bloody love food. If you want to get something a little less snarky, and, possibly a little more constructive from me, have a look at this blog.

Monday 19 May 2014

This is How We Deal with Deadlines

I am now officially a fortnight away from a big deadline... Or at least WE are. And when I say a big deadline, obviously, I mean a BIG deadline.

The husband and I are currently collaborating on a novel. We began working on ideas for it almost a year ago, and it went back and forth quite a lot. It’s a pretty big deal for the people commissioning it. There was quite a lot of snagging. It took a long time.

By the time the commissioning process was complete, we were left with quite a small window in which to complete the book. Time was fairly limited.

This happens. It’s a fact of life in this industry, and by ‘this industry’, I mean writing tie-in fiction.

Me and the husband doing a signing at Forbidden Planet
The husband and I work a lot. And he works a lot more than I do. His schedule is always full. Because he writes comic books, which involve series, working in an ongoing fashion, there is always existing stuff in his timetable. He is currently writing comics that require producing weekly and monthly installments, so they’re already in the schedule. Those commitments don’t stop to make way for writing a novel.

So... we are now a fortnight away from a big deadline. There are words to write between now and then, and those words will have to be honed and edited before they can be delivered. This is also a collaboration, so we’ll be handing the baton back and forth. This means that some time will also have to be spent, by both of us, reading each other’s contributions to the project.

There’s work to be done... Lots and lots of work.

The only way to get that work done is to get our arses in our chairs and get on with it. So, that’s what will happen. The husband will sit at his desk, and I’ll sit with my laptop, probably on the adjacent couch in his office, and we’ll put in the hours.

One night, a couple of weeks ago, I posted a tweet about working the nine til two shift. We’d eaten dinner and were settling in for the evening. Someone tweeted back asking why we didn’t work daylight hours. I had to point out that we already had.

Of course, a lot of writers also have day jobs, so it isn’t unusual for them to work evenings. It can be pretty hard work to actually write for fourteen or sixteen hours a day, though. It isn’t terribly unusual for us to do that. We’ll certainly be doing it for the next couple of weeks.

Here’s the thing, though: This is what we do. It’s our job and our pleasure. Yes, it’s sometimes hard, but it’s what we love. The husband has also developed the muscles for it. I suppose I have, too, to some degree. 

A big factor in working long hours is variety. We roughly divide the day into shifts and work on different projects during those shifts. It keeps us fresh and the work interesting. The change of gear or pace also keeps us creative. Everything feeds everything else.

The husband will switch from writing comics to prose. I might switch from writing prose, to editing something he’s written, to doing some research.

We also switch from our own solo projects to collaborative work. The writer’s lot tends to be a lonely one. It’s pretty rare for two writers to live together, and more rare still for two writers to work together. It’s fun, sometimes time-saving and always lovely when two people are equally invested in and knowledgeable about one project.

We invariably fall into bed exhausted at two in the morning. Of course we do. We also sleep damned well.

We sleep well, we eat well, and we refresh ourselves with breaks to watch a movie or take a walk or step out for a long lunch.

Today’s Monday, so, before we sit down for the nine til two, we’ll wander down to our local cocktail bar after dinner and indulge ourselves. We won’t stay too long or drink too much, but we’ll certainly enjoy the ritual.

Sunday 18 May 2014

The Happy Medium

I met a medium yesterday. She told me I had a nice bottom.

No... seriously... I literally mean that.

I was in my favourite boutique with the husband, the dort and the boyff, trying on jeans. Yes, I know I don’t need another pair of jeans, but I don’t have a pair this pale and washed out or this skinny, so two birds and all that. Anyway, I stepped out of my cubicle at precisely the same time as the woman in the cubicle next to  mine pulled back her curtain. She was a tiny, black haired woman at least a decade older than I am, and possibly closer to two decades older.

I kid you not, basically the first thing she said was that she envied me my arse.

I do have a pretty decent backside, as it happens. She had a magnificent embonpoint. We bonded.

We were in the boutique for a couple of hours. Did I mention it’s my favourite? I tried on a couple of things and so did the husband and the boyff. The woman and her husband were also there for most of that time. Both also shopped.

She was clearly a massive extrovert.

I was alone with her downstairs in the women’s section when the couple left.

“Your daughter’s a performer,” she said.

“A dancer, mostly,” I said. And we talked some more.

Finally, I asked her what she does. She was friendly, outgoing, fascinating, and she had referred, very vaguely to ‘clients’. I had the impression she might be in PR or some kind of entertainment management.

“I’m a professional medium,” she said.

Oddly, I was totally unfazed.

This was very much the sort of person who seemed to be exactly who she was: a what you see is what you get type. She didn’t strike me as remotely dishonest.

The house I live in... Both the houses I live in are haunted. I’ve seen people: two of them. I regularly see a man in a hussar’s uniform, and a tiny little woman in a pinny. We also regularly have apports, by which I mean the mysterious appearance of objects that were not previously there. Mostly these are of coins, of all ages and sometimes of foreign currencies. On one occasion, we had an apport of a couple of dozen keys on our kitchen floor, in the middle of the day. The floor is bare boards, and it was terribly noisy, as if they had been dashed there from a height.

I don’t actually believe in things paranormal... Not really. OK, so I can’t account for the things that happen or the things that I sometimes see, but there are reasons for them, right? Of course there are. There are also more things in heaven and on Earth...

Derek Acorah
NOT my idea of a Happy Medium
I’ve seen plenty of mediums on the telly. Frankly, most of them weird me out. They generally come across as sleazy con-merchants, or as faintly smug or superior. I’m not a fan of the exploitation of the emotionally fragile or the grieving. They should be supported and helped to cope with their situations rather than be given some utterly vain and ridiculous hope of speaking to the dead.

Making a living out of any person’s sadness or grief seems particularly unpleasant to me.

I didn’t feel this way about Brenda, though. Whatever, whoever she is I doubt she’s conning anyone, because she doesn’t appear to be conning herself. 

This woman was an open book. She was feisty and brittle and vulnerable, and just a little bit angry with the World. Or, at least, that’s how she seemed to me.

Whatever, whoever Brenda is, she clearly believes that she’s a medium. She clearly sees and hears the things that she hears and sees.

I told Brenda what a pleasure it was to meet her, because it was. Other than recognising that the dort is a performer, if she saw or heard anything about me and mine, she didn’t volunteer any information about it, and I didn’t ask.

I cannot think of a single event that might occur in my life that would induce me to seek succour from a medium, and I would try to persuade anyone seriously considering visiting one that seeking the love and support of friends and family and giving themselves time to heal might be a better first option. Of course, in the fractured society we live in, friends, family and time are not always there. 

In the twenty-first century we should, of course, consider making an appointment with our GP when faced with depression. And grief counselling is also widely available.

I suppose a great many people see mediums, especially in theatres and on the tv, for the sake of entertainment. That seems crass to me, because there are more things in heaven and on Earth.

In the end, where any service is sought out, it will be provided. Sometimes, for their own reasons, people seek out mediums. It’s a pity that, too often, those reasons will revolve around loss and sadness, and the people seeking help will be at their most vulnerable. 

I imagine that those who find Brenda probably fair better than most.

Saturday 17 May 2014

The Farage Effect

I set the cat among the pigeons on FaceBook the other day. I opened a can, and in no time flat there were worms everywhere.

I wrote this status update:

How is it the Americans think that mainstream politics in Britain are socialist, and the British believe there are no socialists left in mainstream politics in Britain?

I was expecting a conversation about semantics, and what I got was politics... all over the place. 

I have friends on FaceBook from both sides of the pond, and from all the way along the political spectrum. It got pretty heated. I kept out of it.

Politics gets people going. Politics gets ME going.

In my experience, perfectly wonderful people whom I agree with in any number of areas, whom I love and trust, and whom I often admire, disagree with me fundamentally when it comes to national and/or global politics. I am often baffled by this.

I’m not going to discuss my own politics today. It would take too long, and probably be utterly boring for most of you. On the whole, though, I’m a big fan of personal responsibility, because, without it I don’t believe there’s the slightest opportunity for a properly liberal, inclusive approach to broader political issues. Here’s my thing, and it’s pretty simple:

when your neighbour’s house is on fire, you don’t negotiate the price of your garden hose or your bucket, you simply hand it over, trusting that someone would do the same for you. 

Of course, it’s pretty easy to feel that way when you have a hose or a bucket. When you have neither, you long for the day when you do, and you’re damned if you’re ever going to give them up.

Nigel Farage on LBC 16-05-2014
Interviewed by James O'Brien
UKIP is a thing now. Nigel Farage is some sort of force in British politics. He must be, because we’re all talking about him and he’s getting very real air time and column inches. What’s more, UKIP now has major party status, so we’ll be seeing as many party political broadcasts from it as from everyone else.

Nigel Farage and UKIP are beginning to scare quite a lot of moderate, liberal people: People like us... ‘Right-thinking’ people.

UKIP stands for UK Independence Party, and that is their entire political platform. As far as they’re concerned Brussels is the enemy and they want out. They want us to leave the European Union and go it alone on the World stage. They’re not very keen on the unencumbered movement of the population through Europe. They want immigration control so that ‘foreigners’ don’t take our jobs. They are, essentially racists.

UKIP is not, however, the BNP. Nigel Farage has got a full head of hair and he wears a suit and tie. OK, to be fair, so does Nick Griffin, but you take my point. UKIP is targeting voters who would traditionally have voted Tory. The party is looking for votes among disaffected working families across the spectrum, and it’s doing it by attacking a political idealogy. It makes perfect sense. The European Union isn’t, ostensibly, about race. UKIP isn’t talking about people of different skin colours or religions, because ethnic Europeans are essentially white and christian. They’re talking about politics and economics. They’re attacking the European Union, which is a political construct.

There has been a global recession. It has affected us all. The housing market has been in trouble, employment figures haven’t been great, credit has been limited and cut off from a broad spectrum of people, fuel is increasingly expensive, and on it goes. Note that I said ‘global recession’. Political choices on a national level do very little to alter the fate of individuals, even over extended periods of time, when it comes to what is happening in economic terms on a global scale. The recession will be over when it’s over.

In the UK, a large portion of the electorate is disaffected for one reason or another. For many, financial hardship is certainly part of that. Many are disaffected with politics and politicians. Cameron and Clegg haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory over the past four years. Nor has Miliband. 

Nigel Farage was interviewed on LBC yesterday, and was utterly skewered by James O’Brien’s questions. Most of the commenters whose stuff I read afterwards found it heartening or hilarious. Some thought that it would increase sympathy for Farage. The consensus seemed to be that he would lose followers for himself and his party, because he came across as a racist.

My reaction is that Nigel Farage did a pretty good job of recruiting racists to UKIP with that interview, and that, unfortunately, the country isn’t short of them. My reaction is that the portion of the electorate Farage and UKIP are aiming to recruit probably won’t vote for him anyway, but that we would be fools to underestimate the sheer weight of numbers of morons who just might.

Just so we’re clear, here are some basics on UKIP policies (OK my source is Wiki, so feel free to question it. Nevertheless it’s pretty staggering stuff):

1 Lowering corporation and inheritance taxes
2 Making NHS spending accountable to the public at a local level
3 Leaving the EU
4 Repealing the Human Rights Act
5 Restoring public oaths of allegiance to the Monarchy
6 Transferring the Crown Estates back into the private ownership of the Monarchy
7 Reduction in immigration
8 Opposition to same sex marriage
9 Ban the use of public money for measures against climate change
10 Increase defence spending by 40%

Need I comment further? No I didn't think so.

Sunday 11 May 2014

Fifteen Minutes of Fame part ii or The Addict Initiative

OK, so it was more like three minutes, but I’m still impressed!

We finally got to see the dort and her dance crew, The Addict Initiative strutting their stuff and doing their thing last night.

The Addict Initiative
Finally, on the fifth audition show for Britain’s Got Talent, the crew got to dance, and boy did they pull out all the stops!

The performance began the moment they hit the stage. It was all attitude. It was all designed for maximum impact... And it worked.

Simon Cowell isn’t known for his generosity to dance acts. He’s not a fan. He’s a bit jaded when it comes to watching kids, or anyone for that matter, prancing, jigging, strutting or generally moving to music. Some would say he's a bit jaded period. I rather like him, myself. And he rather liked AI.


I’ve seen the dort perform a lot over the years, and I always get a buzz out of it. She’s always well-prepared and well-rehearsed, so I don’t have to get nervous for her, and it’s always a treat to watch her doing what she loves to do. I’ve seen her in rehearsal rooms, on the stage in theatres, and even on film at the cinema. I’ve seen her dozens of times on FaceBook pages and on YouTube.

I didn’t expect this to be any different.

Somehow it was.

I don’t know if it was because I knew they were being watched by millions, that this was a shared experience on a big scale, but I actually felt a little shaky watching the crew perform this piece on the telly. I wasn’t nervous, exactly, and I wasn’t worried about the outcome, because I knew they’d put on a good show... They always do. Whether the judges liked it or not wasn’t really an issue for me, to be honest. There was something unique about the experience, though. Something I shall always remember.

They did a wonderful job. The crowd roared, and then we watched it again. The wonders of modern technology.

If you happened not to be tuned in to Britain’s Got Talent last night, and, frankly, I’m not a regular viewer of Saturday night tv, either, feel free to watch The Addict Initiative right here, right now.

The dort is the girl with the curly blonde hair... Trust me, you can’t miss her!