Super Subs

It’s probably no secret that I set up and run The Beestonian magazine: the lack of originality in the naming is a give-away. It sprang from this blog, after all: it became clear there was an audience for local independent journalism, both in the consuming of and the production of, so it seemed a natural next step when a friend offered me a few quid to set it up.

The subsequent ten years are worthy of a blog post in its own right, and I am sure that will be done in Autumn 2021, when we celebrate a decade of publishing. I’m proud of what we’ve been able to do, and proud to have such an excellent bunch of writers, illustrators and webby tech people join in the fun along the way. I’m very proud we’ve also managed to retain absolute independence throughout.

It is, of course, against the grain. Journalism, especially local journalism, has been facing huge challenges over the years, as physical sales dry up and consumers become used to consuming for free. There are many models to challenge this – I personally subscribe physically and /or digitally to around a dozen publications – but its never easy. We previously used advertising to fund the Beestonian: a model that shows its flaws when a crisis such as lockdown hits. No ads > no money to pay printing > no mag. We still put out a digital version, but it wasn’t the same.

When we were eventually able to take in ads again, it was clear we had to diversify to survive. Our distribution model also seemed flawed: people who wanted the magazine simply couldn’t find a copy, and unless you regularly visited a pub or cafe it could be hard to track down a copy, despite our 30+ distributors.

We have long pledged to keep it free, so couldn’t use a scatter-gun approach of delivering to everyone in Beeston: the costs would be exorbitant and only met by plastering ads on every surface, leaving little space for content, which was the point of the whole magazine. There are mags like these you’ll find regularly pushed through your letterbox, and good luck to them, but they’re not what we want to be doing.

We instead looked at a donation system, where for a nominal donation you received a copy of the mag: a simple system easily facilitated online. I’d tried this for this site in the past, when we’ve had massive stories to work on and asked for a little help in funding the hours we spent on it: the money we received helped immensely, mainly to fund our staggering coffee bills!

With The Beestonian it worked well, and we received a decent amount of money allowing me to give all of our writers a cash bonus after running up a surplus (I pledged sometime ago I would only get paid from the mag once everyone working on it has been paid: I still hold by this).

There was a problem though: we only received about 70p of every pound received, and the faff of having to set up a new donation each issue was one people don’t like having to do. So instead, we have set up a subscription system where a one-off payment of £15 readers with NG9 addresses can receive the mag directly, hand-delivered by our cherubic-cheeked paper-lad. Areas outside NG9 we will post to, albeit for a slightly increased cost. We also can throw in the imminent Christmas Issue, and a free badge to say thank you.

Of course, the mag is free to pick up where we do distribute, so if you can find it, please do. But for those who can’t, or would prefer some convenience, please do set up a subscription: you can do so here: https://ko-fi.com/s/63eebc89e2.

If you’d like to simply help local journalism, then you can make a simple one off donation instead, or buy something from our shop: https://ko-fi.com/thebeestonian . In these days where it seems Westminster and the national media is increasingly disinterested in what cracks-off in the parts of the country that don’t have a London postcode, we need a media fit to face the challenges. I hope we can be a part of that, and with your help, we can.

Hello, tiny.

Well hello, whoever you are. I can’t say you’re expected, but I suppose you were not unexpected, either. Nonetheless, apologies the weird face and uncharacteristic silence from me when I heard about you. I was just in shock. The good kind.

I already had one thing to stick in the diary as The Thing That Happened Today. Your mum – that warm, cosy thing you’ll be swimming around in for the next few months – had an audition for Pointless. We don’t often work together, we definitely don’t work in the same room together, so being close to her for ages was a good experience. We were a unit, a couple. I then went downstairs to make a cup of tea – you’ll be tasting a lot of that soon, albeit via your mum- and she told me about you. My world met yours, and a new orbit began.

That was a few hours ago and I’ve since had it settle into my mind and since I’m at a laptop, writing up some interviews about Covid – you don’t need to worry about this yet-  I thought I’d write a little hello. I did the same for your older brother – he’s great, and I can’t wait until you meet him- when I heard he was on the way, so  it’s only right you have the same. When Leif – that’s your brother, by the way – was your age I remember thinking he was the size of a poppy seed, and subsequently found a poppy seed to look at. I stared at it and couldn’t understand that something so small could hold so much change, so much potential. 

Four years on, and that poppy seed is a funny, kind, silly and thoroughly adorable little boy. While something so small is so seemingly inconsequential, the nurturing, the love we add to it will bring something wonderful. That’ll be you, and from now on every day you’ll be on a journey, growing exponentially, until we can take a photo of you and tell others.

Then you’ll be out in the world, and meeting me and Leif. We’ll try to smile, and I’ll try not to swear when I first set eyes on you. I swore when I saw Leif, you see, and while it was not out of any negative reaction, rather the shock of his existence being tangible rather than abstractly viewed through a bulge, or via various scanners, I still think I could have made more effort to ensure that the first words he heard was something like ‘Oh, my beautiful son!’, and not ‘Oh effing hell it’s a baby”. I promise to try harder when you emerge, ok? I know poets. I’ll get them to draft something suitable.

You’ll be like me, a second child, yet never secondary in any way. Your mum and me will love you completely: that’s hardwired into us anyhow but Leif won’t have such a biological emotional imperative. I don’t think that will be a problem though. Today on the way to nursery, I saw my friend Christian and his little baby boy, John. Leif was smitten, fascinated by this tiny pink pudgy creature. He’ll love you, I guarantee. 

That will make our family then: two adults, two children, two cats, two fire-bellied toads (I’ll explain this later). We bought ourselves a nice new house recently and I think you’ll like it: Leif has already done some important groundwork in turning it into a two-storey playroom.  The cats will be terrified of you at first, but give them time, and do your best not to tug their tails. Soon enough they’ll presenting their coats for stroking, their ears for scritching. Willow – a little grey one -loved to sleep on the bump when your mum last had a baby within; perhaps for the warmth, perhaps for the companionship.

It’s Autumn right now, and while we’re being treated to a fine September, with some warm sunny weather, the pinch of Winter is already in the air: dawn and dusk will close in tighter together, squeezing the day into a pale smudge of light, and the trees are slowly giving up their crowns, the air crisping. It feels time to tuck-in, draw-down, retreat within. Nest.

When you emerge, it will be late Spring, with life in glorious colour, and so much promise and potential. Budding, sprouting, shouting out to the sun and the wide open sky

I don’t know what more to say, which is quite an impediment for a writer (your mum has the proper job in the house) so I’ll wrap up now, and let you know that from this moment on I love you entirely and completely, and simply cannot wait to meet you in person. We’re already having lots of fun. You’ll fit right in. Catch you in a few months, k? Sleep tight ’til then.

Dad.

Ray Darby, RIP.

I spent a decade writing about local politics, and like to think I came away with some insights. While there were politicians who were there to climb a rung on a ladder or to further their own career in some way, most took the plunge into politics as they believed they could contribute. Seeing such characters was a huge relief: while they were there, politics could work for the greater good.

Those who did fit this category – and it was not exclusive to a single party – would often become disillusioned at the processes and aggression of the chamber. Many good people would not make it through a term, or simply not stand once another election rolled around.

Yet one councillor managed to stay the course for near on a decade without compromising his values, and always being a kind polite man, regardless of who he was talking to. So it is with a very heavy heart to announce that Cllr Ray Darby, Stapleford councillor on, has died.

I confess an extended interest: I’d known Ray a long time before he got into politics. His children, Richard and Caroline, are old friends of mine: I’ve been on holiday with both, separately, and Caroline was the Best Man at my wedding (I also attended her hen-do: an evening of fun in Cardiff, dressed in the uniform of the other attendees involving a tu-tu, tights and pink boa. I was on the wagon at the time and if you ever want a tougher test of avoiding booze, you won’t find one). They are both extraordinary people who I’m proud to have as pals.

The family are extremely close to each other, so I cannot imagine the loss of this devoted father and grandfather. He was the type of friend’s dad who had every right not to like the snotty teenage oik his daughter hung around with, but did, and was instead always friendly and tolerant of our excesses. He could be deeply, wryly funny with a fine line in dad jokes. He had that boyish curiosity that lends a youthfulness to the ageing, a spark in his eye.

He loved, and he was loved.

I remember well his face at Caroline’s wedding, 12 or so years ago. The pride, the sheer pride, as his eyes jewelled with tears as he walked her up the aisle. The delight he took in other’s happiness: when I’d see him in later life I’d tell him about things in my life, and he’d be delighted that I hadn’t screwed things up when all the evidence of the early years of knowing him suggested that was inevitable.

He was first deputy Mayor, then Mayor of Stapleford, which gave him great pride. It is rare in politics, where partisanship is baked into the deal, to never hear a bad word about a councillor. But Ray was liked across the board, his quiet dignity and duty winning friends of all political stripes. He served his community with the simple belief that if you love your town, your duty was to serve it as well as you possibly could. That simple ideology remained untarnished during his tenure, and was an example to all.

He died last week after contracting Covid and rapidly becoming very ill. Whisked to hospital in Derby, he initially rallied but then succumbed. He never quite reached his ambition: to serve as Mayor: we are all the poorer for that.

If you live on through the work you did while alive, Ray has two strong cases for some terrestrial afterlife. First, his decency as a councillor will, I hope, motivate others to look upon others with kinder eyes, and put service to their area above tribalism.. And secondly, he will live on through his children, and his grandchildren, who have his smile, his kindness, his caring nature. A modest, quiet man, he didn’t want to change the world. Yet he shone brightly on all he met, and that, to me, is a much finer legacy.

RIP Ray Darby.

How a remote bit of scrapyard skewed the government’s £35m Covid App

There is much talk on how using local knowledge, rather than centralised, broad-brush, top-down guesswork would be a better way to run the Tier system of alerts.

Here in Broxtowe, which went into Tier 3 at a minute past midnight today, that is evident more than ever. I checked the official Covid app this morning, expecting it to read ‘COVID alert level: very high’. After all, I live right on the edge of what was the most infected area of the UK recently, with cases still very high.

But what’s this? Shurely sum mistake?

NG9 is completely in Broxtowe, which is very much in Nottinghamshire, so what’s going on? Surely presenting clear, unambiguous information is the whole point of the Tier system?

I was wrong. Some of NG9 is actually in the Erewash area of Derbyshire Thanks to the skills of @owenboswarva, it turns out a tiny bit of postcode sits the wrong side of the Erewash canal.

I’m a former postman, I know there are anomalies -Long Eaton having a NG10 postcode etc, but I was unaware of this weirdness. Here it is: red dot in the top left: NG9 3NU.

It’s actually an obsolete postcode these days, due to it being the arse end of a scrapyard. If you’ve ever cycled the Nutbrook trail, you’ll be familiar with the yards that line it. This is one of them. The actual scrapyard office uses a Derbyshire postcode. No one lives there. No post ever gets delivered there. It’s a vestigial postcode, a useless bit of Broxtowe sitting the wrong side of the river.

And for that, the tens of thousands of people living in Broxtowe are today being told conflicting information about alert levels; we’ve been teetering on the edge for weeks. Because this weird nub of NG9 sits in Derbyshire, it skews the data for tens of thousands of people. Of course, most people here will know we’re in V. High alert – it’s still bizarre this can happen. Perhaps a little local input could have cleared up some anomalies.

Thanks to @robredpath for help. 

NG9: but not as you know it.

The latest issue of The Beestonian is out now: our first print issue since Lockdown (soon to be known as Lockdown#1), If you’d like a copy delivered donate a quid (if NG9: scrapyards not applicable) and drop us your address via email; £2 in any other UK postcodes, £5 anywhere in the world): https://ko-fi.com/thebeestonian .

Beeston! Nottingham! Where the hell are we?

I was unable to fulfil my promise to write an article of exactly 500 words on every day I’m in isolation: two days were missed as I returned to my job and realised I had to get my head around remembering what I do for a living after months of furlough. That, and the fact isolation is really biting now: I’m a creature of the outdoors and while I love my garden, it’s not quite the same. I feel a clammy claustrophobia. One more full day left.

Having some unexpected time on my hands, I took the decision to write 500 words today, and cast out the request to send me topics. There were several replies stating ‘writer’s block’ which was probably a hope rather than a topic. I received several DM’s, including from one of my writing heroes who I’d previously never had any contact with, but the one that spurred me to my keyboard was from a local MP, who asked me the mildly gnomic question “What’s the North, what’s the Midlands and what’s Nottingham?’.

Here’s my response. It’s divided into three pieces, each exactly 500 words.

________________

I ask this question in all seriousness as I suspect that you, like me, have something of an identity crisis, which on the surface looks cosmetic but has quite far-reaching implications.

I used to work in a pub in Tonbridge, Kent, a town on the banks on the Medway that serves as the rough older brother to its dandified near-neighbour / near-namesake Tunbridge Wells. There, the regulars knew me as ‘Northern Matt’. I would point out that in fact, I was a Midlander, to which they’d shrug and tell me ‘It’s all North after the Watford Gap innit?”

Similarly, I lived for a while in Newcastle Upon Tyne. My Geordie friends made much of my southernness equating it with the cliches we give to such folk: crap beer, an effete nature, and a habit of voting Tory. Similar protestations to the veracity of this would lead to shrugs and “It’s all South after Washington Services”.

Jokers to the North of us, fools to the South, here we are, stuck in the middle. 

I once heard a story that I assumed to be apocryphal, of how newspaper/ magazine critics would shun Nottingham as they only received overnight expense payments if they were, as the crow flies, 120 miles or more from London. Nottingham is 109 miles from London: therefore no Travelodge for journos. If only Nottingham relocated to Mansfield (122 miles) then our excellent cultural industries would have had more exposure in those pre-digital days. Many years after dismissing this as chippy excuse-making, a London journo friend, and member of the Critic’s Circle, confessed it had some truth to it “Why go see a band at Rock City and have to rush for the last train back to London, when you could see the same band at the (Sheffield) Leadmill and a bed for the night?” 

Asking people who aren’t from the East Midlands where Nottingham is on a map usually elicits wildly inaccurate stabs at patches of land from the Scottish Borders to the Norfolk Broads. Without a coastline, or any estuarine proximity; sans anything but a flat bit of green to locate it on your average atlas (more generous ones may show a ridge of brown for the Pennines; we’re just to the right of it). We are indistinct, floating in the imaginations of most other British people somewhere around Birmingham, perhaps near Leeds. As someone who regularly has to redirect press releases telling me of great events happening in Beeston, Leeds, the latter particularly rankles. 

To many, this might seem trivial, and people’s lack of geography is forgivable. After all, I’d struggle to locate the small cities of a country like, say, Spain ( I once flew to the wrong airport there, after not realising there might be more than one San Pablo). If it was just that, then fine. But it is about more than that, and this lack of geographic clarity can have profound effects on how we are treated by an increasingly centralised, heavily London based Government.

____________

What is ‘the North’? Stuart Maconie, in his travelogue-cum-boreal meditation Pies and Prejudice, gives precision in his interpretation: accents harden and flat-caps doffed at all points above Crewe Station. Jeremy Paxman, in The English, imagined a line drawn along the Severn and then the Trent (sorry Clifton, but you’ll have to hand your whippets in). The Government, via the Office for National Statistics, defines it as all counties inclusive of and above Merseyside, South Yorkshire and Cheshire. This invisible dividing line that cleaves the country translates into spending when the Government loosens its purse strings. 

This past week, Nottingham has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. The sheer incompetence of failing to swiftly track and trace thousands of many positive Covid cases mean that Nottingham’s middling case rate soared five-fold  to 668.1 /100,000, the highest in the UK. As a news junkie, it’s rather strange seeing and hearing people I’m familiar with on the local scene: Notts City Council David Mellen, local journos such as Kit Sandeman and Hugh Casswell on the national stage. The Today programme on Radio 4 broadcast a vox pop from Derby Road. Channel 4 News is seen prowling Lenton Abbey. The spotlight is on us.

Yet all seem to struggle with exactly where we are. I’ve heard the phrase ‘Midland city’,  ‘Northern city’ and ‘Northern Cities – and Nottingham..’. We’re an awkward outlier to the idea that the surge in Covid is a Northern phenomenon.  Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle: all easy to define. Nottingham? Well, it’s near Birmingham, isn’t it?

A very Beeston-centric aside. When Dick Clement and Ian Le Frenais conceived the sit-com Porridge, they wanted Slade Prison to feel like a limbo of no fixed identity. It was in the North East, but was inhabited by Scots (Mr Mackay) Northerners (Mr Barrowclough) and Southerners, with Ronnie Barker starring as the confident, bright and likable cockney Norman Stanley Fletcher. To get the balance right, a Midlander was sought, and Beestonian Richard Beckinsale was the obvious choice: his acting career was booming, he had vast appeal to younger viewers with a luxuriant thatch of brown hair and puppy-dog handsome face, well known to all Beestonians as it looks out from Bird’s wall. He was signed up, expanding the prison-slang work- in- progress name of ‘LAG’ into Lenny Arthur Godber. 

The chemistry between Barker and Beckinsale was instantaneous and obvious: they’d later become great friends, and Barker was devastated by his pal’s early demise. Yet there was an issue. To the producers, his Notts accent was too northern, and threatened to upset the show’s balance. To counter this, Beckinsale played the part with a defined Brummie accent. If ‘70s sitcoms are a measure of England’s hemispheric divide, we very much sit in the North. 

Will we be ‘levelled up’ (although right now it seems closer to William I’s harrying than levelling?). When the government speak of investing in the North, do they mean us? Are we even noticed, outside of despatches from a crisis?

_________________

The Notts of old is long gone. The lace factories are bouji flats; the bike factory long razed and replaced with halls of residence. Sherwood Forest is more an arboreal archipelago than a contiguous continent of trees. The collieries closed, and with it the air is cleaner, Wollaton Hall returning to its original beautiful Ancaster stone, no longer cloaked in the sooty dirt, a by-product of the same wealth that created it.

As heavy industry shuts, others open. The two universities have expanded across the city and into nearby suburbs over the past couple of decades: and with it, wealth. It is assumed that the benefits of the presence of these institutions comes chiefly from throwing seventy thousand plus young people into an area, where they’ll be obliged to spend, but the true economic boost comes from the bits of the University undergraduates obscure: the vast amounts of support staff and academics that keep the place running, and the often ground-breaking research that goes on within and without the campus: ibuprofen and MRI machines both were dreamt up and made reality in Nottingham through this. 

This also provides fertile ground for creativity in the arts to develop: not just through the available academic courses but also by having a vast amount of young people wanting entertainment, wanting culture. This creates a sustainable eco-system for the arts to thrive, and I’m lucky enough to have had a front row seat of what feels like an exponential rise in Good Stuff Happening for the last couple of decades. Even London occasionally pricks its ears up and ventures up to check the rumours are true (before scurrying back to St Pancras before midnight, of course).

Covid 19 threatens both of these elements oif Notts. Our Universities may be in a pretty good state, but the uncertainty of lockdown and the nightmare many students – particularly freshers – have had over the past few months is a threat. With much of the venue-based entertainment network very likely to be closed down, with little in the way of government support, in the next couple of days, that vibrant scene looks in a perilous position. 

We need to do what we can to support them both. It is becoming clear that they are our future, just as lace and coal, bikes and ciggies, were our past. Through this crisis, perhaps this will become more apparent, and begin to solidify not just in local, but national imaginations. This broth of creative talent, bubbling along in the middle of England, no mere ill-defined hinterland, but a place with a unique, enviable and fiery, intelligent temperament.

A place that is knowable by its very unknowability: a city that writhes from definition, a place that is in constant flux, as rushing forward as the Trent in spate. 

If this seems paradoxical, then good. Our slogan should be paraphrased from the words Alan Sillitoe used to breathe life into Arthur Seaton:  Whatever You Think We Are, That’s What We’re Not. Welcome to Notts. 

Isolation Wrting #4: Brox-it?

While I sit out a two week period of Track and Trace enforced lockdown, I’ve set myself a challenge to write a daily article of exactly 500 words in less than an hour about a different subject each day. Today I look at the prospect of abandoning our Borough chums and becoming city-slickers….

Back in my childhood, two important conventions were drilled into me when giving my address. The first has a whiff of ‘70s new-build aspirant working-class snobbery about it: I was told to always put that we lived in New Stapleford, to differentiate ourselves from our more ancient neighbour the other end of Hickings Lane. 

The second was small, but crucial. We didn’t write (‘New) Stapleford, Nottingham’ but ‘(New) Stapleford, Notts. I’m sure those lucky enough to grow up in Beeston felt the same. We were of the County. Not part of the city and all its industrial incontinence (these were the days Raleigh made stuff to get people fit, while the next door ciggie factory got them the opposite). It felt significant: while our region doesn’t have the long-held conventions of what divides a Brummie from a Yam-Yam; a Man of Kent rather than a Kentish Man; or the actual acoustic reach of the Cockney-creating Bow Bells, the division between city and county is noticeable -just watch the rection on the face a fan of the Tricky Trees when you utter the dread words ‘Notts Forest’.

As I grew older, and moved to Beeston, this pride started to appear a little arbitrary, not lease when I became a postal worker at Royal Mail: Long Eaton, which sits the other side of the Erewash, has a Notts postcode while many Notts villages have Doncaster and Sheffield postcodes. Living in Beeston at a time when the University campus has expanded and sent tendrils out into the town; and where the city-centred Robin Hood transport network takes in the whole of Beeston, and the tram ties us even closer to the city. Many of us work there. In Beeston, we face east. 

In the very early days of this blog I decided to cycled to all the Broxtowe wards during a local elections. It took all day (with many stops to do some journalism, of course) and what was striking was how long and narrow the area is. Most conurbations succumbed to the gravity of a city, with places such as Kimberley and Eastwood feeling more like outposts rather than possessing any sense of contiguity. It set me thinking “Should we be absorbed into the city?”.

I didn’t, to be honest, give it a great deal of thought since that day, but similar to other things the Covid Crisis has flung it to the forefront. Much is being made in the media as I write this about Nottingham – as a city – locking down due to a surge in cases. But of their immediate neighbours? It’s unclear. Broxtowe as a whole has marginally less case ratios than the national average, but here in Beeston it’s much higher. Application of a lockdown might prove tricky, not least for Broxtowe Borough Council. Here’s a useful thread from the BBC’s Hugh Casswell:

So let the debate commence: should we ditch the County for the City? Should we, as a town, consider the benefits / detriments of Brox-it?

Undergrads, underfire

While I sit out a two week period of Track and Trace enforced lockdown, I’ve set myself a challenge to write a daily article of exactly 500 words in less than an hour about a different subject each day. Today, I’m looking at the way students are scapegoated, with an actual real-life student (albeit in FE, not HE) with her perspective on how our students (and young people in general) are being treated shoddily right now.

While reading Peter Ackroyd’s epic and revelatory History of England, which charts the idea of our country from the first visiting hominids through to the rise of the Tudors, we visit Oxford in 1354, where the University was thriving. Students, refreshed from a trip to the pub turned violent leading to a pitched battle between locals and the undergrads; University hierarchy pitched in with weapons. Violence ensued for days, with many deaths: eventually the superior numbers of townsfolk overwhelmed the scholars and staff; for a few years the University lay empty. The concept of Town And Gown bloodily began.

It’s much less violent these days, yet tensions do arise. The transitory nature of undergrads means shared houses are often left unkempt, and the nocturnal habits of those studying can keep awake those who prefer an early night. Beeston, and it’s proximity to the University doesn’t escape such friction, yet it’s generally regarded as a small price compared to the vast benefits that having a campus for a neighbour bestows.

The annual influx of thousands of young people into the area has benefits. Beeston floats on money students / staff bring, keeping our High Street healthier than it should be (I grew up in Stapleford, which doesn’t bask in proximity: the town has suffered greatly over the years). It provides work, filling the the gap left by the shut-down of local heavy industry It brings relationships: the town is kept diverse and vibrant with new people setting up home here. It also brings love, to which i can personally attest: my wife ventured here to do a PhD and settled. It’s a morphing, fascinating situation.

It seems almost inevitable that Nottingham will go into enhanced lockdown in days. Beeston’s contiguity to Nottingham via the campus means it’s likely we will be included. Some people haven’t taken this well, and on social media some commentators are accusing students of being a collective Typhoid Mary. They bought the disease from elsewhere, goes the argument, spreading it to our innocent locals with abandon. 

It’s a shitty way of looking at the situation, but people need to blame and scapegoat. Students, who are often described as a homogeneous mass rather than a huge swathe of society, are painted as outsiders, aliens to repel. 

The reality is this years cohort of students have been incredibly poorly treated. They were messed around through their A-Levels through the sheer incompetence of Gavin Williamson. They then faced huge uncertainty about being able to study at all, if it would be online or in person, if they could have anything approaching a social life once at Uni. I’ve asked – with permission – to use a post put on a college chat from a local student I taught last year, which sums up the frustration felt by many young people.

We are fast changing into a knowledge economy, and Beeston is in an ideal place to thrive as that happens. Let’s stop blaming, start welcoming and celebrate our cerebral neighbours. It’s a no-brainer.

___________

A college student’s view:

I think we’re at a time where we will be able to vote in a few years if not already, the country have done us so dirty. I know for me personally I won’t forget how this government have treated young people, we were forgotten, blamed, downgraded (A- level and GCSE results leading in protests) and so much more. We were the ones who helped and became key workers to keep the country moving and we were then robbed of so much. University grads never got a proper celebration. Students were encouraged to go to university and not just stay at home, they were promised that university would not be just online.

They did this to force students into student accommodation so that they could line their pockets and forced young people into debt. Now we are seeing students quarantined in tiny apartments all by themselves, with the bare minimum, and paying ridiculous fees for unacceptable lessons/video chats and accommodation. The arts have sacrificed so much, and now Rushi Sunak “suggests” musicians and creatives should “find new jobs”.

No. I’m sorry. I won’t be forgetting. I definitely don’t think we are to blame, not one bit, as long as you followed Government guidelines none of us are to blame! We should be pointing the finger and holding the government accountable for their poor decision-making (too little too late!) Ever since Cummings went to test his eyesight all the way to Durham I agree everyone took that as a green light to not take lockdown seriously, and why should they?  It has always been one rule for them( the elitists and wealthy/powerful) and another for us!

Meagan Hutchinson, 2nd year Media Student.

Isolation writing #2: Viral Culture

I’m under mandatory isolation right now, so as a challenge will be writing a piece every day, with rules: no piece will take more than 90 minutes from first keystroke to publication; each piece has to be on a markedly different topic each day; each piece will be EXACTLY 500 words (excluding title/ float quotes, references and this intro).

Today sees my return to work with Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature after a few months of furlough, and as such it is a Very Good Day. I’m orienting myself with what we’re doing after a period of disengagement legally required under the Job Retention Scheme, and am delighted that a slew of projects are both underway and gestating. It’s also notable that these touch on a common theme: doing great things despite that nasty virus no one even knew about last year

Culture is in crisis, we cannot ignore that. I’m lucky to work for an organisation that doesn’t rely on possession of a venue, such as a cinema or a theatre, for its existence. I’m also lucky that we are a small, relatively young and therefore flexible organisation. Literature, literacy, publishing and so on are all important elements of what we do, and little directly impacted by the crisis. As more people take solace in reading and writing, our existence strengthens in value.

Larger, venue-based organisations sail choppier seas. With the government easing off financial support across the board, they are increasingly being exposed to the grim realities of covid restrictions: many friends are fearful for their jobs, some have already become unemployed. Things are grim. I have no remedy, no great panacea that will cure all cultural ills. I can’t force the government to bail out these jobs, and those in charge seem little interested to do so. 

Yet there has to be optimism, however bleak the prognosis. Culture is not a frivolous luxury, it is integral to our very being. “The human soul needs beauty more than bread”, DH Lawrence correctly noted. There will always be culture, and the constant mutation of culture alongside technology and politics is the story of our existence. It defines and reflects our moral outlook, it gives meaning, communication and continuity.  Yet when external elements – in this case a pandemic – steer civilization in a sharply sudden different direction, culture takes time to catch up.

During furlough I’ve been helping out with Nottingham Chamber Music Festival. Having had to abandon the traditional set-up of the scheduled events, the director behind it, Beestonian violist Carmen Flores, didn’t pack up her bow and hunker down. Instead she worked with local filmmaker Tim Bassford to produce a series of beautifully shot short films of Carmen playing Bach in iconic – and empty – Nottingham venues. I helped promote then, and in doing so came to realise the emotions they provoked – melancholy, loss / beauty, hope – were a metaphor for something much more: in these empty buildings, music played, and a flame flickered from the embers. Where there are humans, there will be culture and hope.

That won’t pay the wages of staff and creatives who face an uncertain future. They need support from elsewhere. Yet the pandemic will not kill culture. The truly creative are more important than ever, and are already on it. 
Back to Lawrence: “We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.”

Isolation Writing #1: Into Isolation

Intro

For the next ten days, I’m legally obliged to put myself under house arrest after the Track and Trace system identified I had came into contact with someone who subsequently tested positive for Covid 19.

I’ve decided to set myself a challenge while this happens – after all, I’m hardly going to be chasing Strava PB’s on cycle rides until the middle of this month – and write something each day on a different subject. I have ideas for some proper journalism; some concocted theories; critical responses and so on.

Why? Well, it will lend structure to what could easily become a shapeless time, and ensure I always have something to chew over in my perpetually ravenous internal dialogue. Usually I take ideas for a walk or a bike ride; practically everything I write has gone through cogitation via moving around before I sit still and get it out into words. Denied this, I’ll challenge myself. Possibly self-indulgent, but I’ll try and keep it readable and eclectic rather than DAY 6: DID NOTHING. BARGAIN HUNT WAS DISAPPOINTING. RAINED. BEANS FOR LUNCH.

I’m also setting myself an arbitrary rule, a’la Oulipo, each piece will be exactly 500 words, excluding title, stand-first and quotes. No reason why, other than structure is sometimes comforting.

_______

1.

I get some warning before the text arrives: a friend and colleague lets m e know that a fellow colleague has come down with symptoms a couple of days after meeting us both. NHS websites are consulted, time scales are worked out and it actually seems that, by a whisker, I’m ok to carry on as per usual. I’m feeling absolutely fine, albeit with a slight depression of body and mind that a lurch into cold wet weather routinely brings. Plans are not changed, routines not re-routed.

The text arrives on the Friday afternoon, around the time I’d usually pick up my son from nursery. My wife has instead put herself forward for this, so as to get some air, so I’m free to indulge in the luxury commonly known as pottering. I potter, happily, doing nothing with any intent, then my phone buzzes and I’m directed to an NHS website.

There is no great inconvenience can’t teach my weekly class; I cancel a haircut. My planned return to the office, not entered since March, is delayed. I just have to stay in. It  rains incessantly the first day and I’d have no inclination to go out anyhow. My pedometer doesn’t get past 3,000 steps, but no matter. I’ll make it up when I get loose.

In contrast, many will be in dire situations when they get the text. Just about every previous iteration of my life would have struggled: when I shared a house with strangers, when our house was too tiny to work from: I’m lucky to have had the pandemic hit when I’m in a fortunate position in life. Others, less so. 

Those in a financially precarious situation will be worse hit by isolation. Remember that big announcement that the government will give those isolating and financially vulnerable a £500 incentive to isolate, a lump sum carrot to go with the £10,000 stick? Try and find out via the Track and Trace system, and you are blithely told to check your local authority for details.

I’ve been writing about local government for over a decade and I’m not even sure exactly how this is done. After a bit of searching, it seems Broxtowe Borough Council have yet to put in place their application process, and when I contacted an insider at the council told me “It looks great in a telly interview but for fuck’s sake, why didn’t they have it ready for us beforehand?” I’m most likely not entitled to this support, but for those who are, and are reliant on it, this seems cruel. Good headline though.

I see no monkeys: Broxtowe Borough Council have been left in the dark

As cases rise steeply, it’s likely that many more people will receive notification to isolate.I count my blessings. It’s a minor inconvenience to me, and hopefully, when your turn comes, it will be a similar experience. For many it will be terrifying, and as long as we have a government focussed on grand announcements rather than actually putting in place working systems, many will suffer.

The Taker: A True Story

A few months ago, around when lockdown was biting, a friend asked if I’d take a look at some writing her friend had completed, and see what could be done with it.

Initially, I was reluctant. I get asked to read a lot of pieces from people, from short stories through to articles and on to whole novels. If I know that person, and I know they are a good writer, it is usually an honour. If not, it can be a chore. I didn’t know this woman, didn’t know what her piece was about other than ‘very personal’, and was immersed of my own solipsistic anxieties as the Covid crisis intensified.

Nonetheless, I gave it a read.

This was no simple piece of misery-lit. This was an intensely personal, articulate story that lays bare not just the primary abuse of an individual, but the layers and webs of abuse, neglect and coercion that accompany it. Sexual abuse rarely takes place as an outlier, with the abuser striking randomly, leaping from the shadows and onto their victim before fleeing into the night. The NSPCC and other bodies are unequivocal about this: the vast majority of sexual abuse happens whereby the abuser is someone the victim knows – a staggering 90%. It also exposes how power works between unequal groups, and how the most basic deprivation -poverty- is a key marker in cases of abuse.

During the process of getting this to publication, I consulted several experts in the field of child sexual abuse, have ensured the author has a support network in place, have given her full anonymity and given her full control of this piece: she has complete rights to the content and I have agreed to remove or alter it should she request, without questions asked, or hesitation.

I’m usually reluctant to add trigger warnings, but in this case feel it is essential: this article contains rape, child sexual abuse, violence and other elements that some people may find upsetting.

______________________

 “Nothing lasts forever” I told you.  I was around 15 or 16 at the time.

Your reply was “Yes it does. Love does”. Back then it seemed profound. Now I see it for what it was: one  of many  romanticised bullshit lines you used to constantly fill my head with .The sort of comment that made me so confused about you and me.  

It was the sort of comment that made my inner child – and although I didn’t feel it at the time, I was very much a child on the outside – hold onto  the belief that everything that happened between us was borne from a deep and burning love you felt for me. You were the one consistent source of comfort in my life, someone who took an interest in the various dramas of my teenage years and listened tentatively when I described what life was like at home.

To many, your attentiveness and concern would have marked you out as a great guy. Yet 20 years on and I look at you with very different eyes.

Today I was told by the police that there will be no further investigation into any of your actions towards me or your stepdaughter, who we will call Emma. Until that moment, I’ve foolishly  let myself imagine what it would have been like to look you in the eye in the courtroom. I wondered whether you would finally admit accountability and regret your actions?  It’s not that I’m naive, life has shown me repeatedly that people lie and hurt others, but I prefer to fill my head and soul with positivity and cling to the belief that there is still humanity in this world however scarce that sometimes seems.

This optimism is wearing thin today. I wanted to be heard just for once to feel like me and her mattered then, and now. I won’t get that day.

Throughout this whole process -with the exception of the leading police officer and a  few close friends –  no one has ever wanted to hear what really happened. They cut you dead mid-sentence. Professionals, family, I can’t confide in them or it might affect the case.  I guess some things nobody wants to hear. 

So, this is my testament. While writing on here I will call you ‘The Taker’, because despite spending so long believing that you gave me so much, I now see that all you ever did was take. 

The First Assault

First and foremost you took my dignity that night. I can’t definitely recall the date, but I definitely remember the day: it was the day I had been allowed to go into town with my friends shopping on our own, a big day, a rite of passage. I was wearing my favourite vest top with a thin strip of lace around the chest line, it wasn’t cut low and as I was still only a  AA it  hardly revealed anything that could be regarded as a cleavage.  

Over that I had a little woollen cardigan that had a tie string in the middle of the chest, I remember this so clearly because after when my hands were shaking, I couldn’t get that tie back into a bow. The vest top was dark grey, and the cardigan was black, I think I wore it with a pair of black flares. This detail perhaps seems irrelevant in the context of what was to happen, but you blamed that top on what you did next.

We were drinking our cans of lager, I kept trying to keep up with you, who couldn’t wait to get me another can.  I had hardly eaten all day and was starting  to feel lightheaded. It was late and we were listening to eighties ballads, a favourite thing to do with you, as we both had a love of music. I would use it to escape and let my mind drift away in the lyrics, deeply feeling the words. When reality is bad, being a dreamer is not a luxury but essential.  We were chatting and even then, I just thought you liked talking to me because I was grown up for my age, thought we had a friendship, that you were a good man, that you were kind and excited to hear how it had gone for me. Few adults ever acknowledged my existence back then, let alone wanted to hear my thoughts. I was intrigued, I didn’t know men -actual adult men – would ever want to listen to me, and discuss with interest my inner life. 

  You were so quick in your actions and I was unprepared.  Looking back, I can see we were sitting too closely.  It was now well into the early hours and I should have been home long before. One minute we were talking with you telling me how lovely I was, there was a quick stroke of my hair, and then you were ramming your tongue into my mouth.  I couldn’t breathe, or shout. I don’t doubt that was intentional. 

Before I had a chance to register what was happening you had hold of me and were pulling at my clothes, I remember feeling the cold of the air on my naked top half, I didn’t like this and by now felt a wave of nausea  and disorientation. You grabbed my legs roughly from under me and I fell back on the bottom of the sofa, my head and neck flipped back hard and painfully and I really thought I was going to be sick.  You were snatching at my trousers, wrestling with the cheap material that refused to part with its owner, you struggled for a while, but your fat fingers were insistent.  

Every time I tried to speak you rammed that tongue into my mouth slobbering your disgusting saliva all over me. I tried to reach down into my pants to keep some form of barrier between us but you smacked my hand away and resorted to just pulling them harshly to the side before climbing on top of me, simultaneously unzipping your flies. At this moment I felt like I was detaching from myself, as if I was watching from the corner of the room.  I tried to say ‘No!’ I tried to say ‘Stop ’twice,  but just like in a nightmare the words sounded small and distant I couldn’t make it louder, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move.

My body became rigid. I could smell your aftershave and the carpet was burning my skin. I felt so bare and exposed, I tried to hide my breasts, I was cold yet clammy as fear coursed through my body, spinning my head  with all that lager threatening to come back up.  Your 16 stone body was entirely on my 8 stone body, stopping me struggling, stopping me breathing, denying me all control. That was the most terrifying part. 

I take  perverse glee that when you entered me  you didn’t take my virginity. That’s the first thing you said as you forced your way inside my body, as you felt me tense and heard me cry that little gasp of pain. “Did I get you as a virgin? Am I your first? I wish I got you as a virgin”. Even then, I was so compliant with fear I said ‘no’ almost apologetically, the same feeble voice that said ‘please stop’, falteringly emerging from the same size 6, 14-year-old body that was being crushed under the weight of your physical strength and sexual greed.

The Babysitter

You weren’t the first man to take what he wanted with little consideration to whether I wanted to stop, but you were the first I was invested in.  The other stuff was to fit in with my mates: it was in exchange for fags or weed, rides in cars or whatever. While probably still damaging to my soul I didn’t care about them. I was 12 when you began your mission – that’s when I first looked after Emma and the boys. 

 Fair play: you spent a long time gaining my trust, drawing me in. It probably started with complimenting how well I looked after the kids, filling me with much -craved for confidence. I had spent a decade living in a domestically volatile household and feared most men. My own father was a controlling, angry, violent man who, until my mother left him,  terrified me. Even once we escaped, he would stalk us relentlessly. He hated women, and left in me the impression that we were here to be subservient, a lower order to men.

 I had no experience with looking after other kids, but you and your wife still enthused about me looking after your 9-year-old, an 18-month-old and a 3-month-old baby. You know Emma taught me to put a nappy on despite her being deemed the “Problem” of your family? She never stood a chance.

It was the late ‘90s.  I was babysitting at least every Saturday and sometimes in the week. You and your wife worked long shifts and initially you paid me well  Your house was always freezing cold and often had the sickly-sweet smell of milk on the turn. The boys were always desperate for milk, with hindsight I recognise this was probably due to a need for comfort; what I deemed to be a loving family home was in fact chaotic and complex. 

It was well kitted out with a big TV and games console, but these were paid for by the Provident lady that came knocking each week.  Once I’d let her in, she would stroll through the house and help herself to the owed cash from its hiding place in the pantry. That pantry was always full of food, but you and your wife were so strict on what the kids could eat, especially Emma. You took from me the ability to be intimate, to be soft or gentle. I am always on my guard, always willing it to finish.

You plated up sandwiches and crisps and that was all any of them were allowed until you returned home. However, once you were home the offer of food to me was abundant and takeaways were common. At the time I was very body conscious and liked to control my food intake, which became like a personal mission for you to try and feed me up: expressed as a token of your concern for me. Food was just another means of control.

I noticed you staring at me all the time when we were alone. Sometimes I would be playing with the boys and you would appear silently but I would feel you watching, always for a little bit longer than felt comfortable.  You didn’t speak, just smiled fondly at me.

I became more comfortable at your house and grew to love the boys. Emma was always in trouble with school: you and your wife explained to me that she was jealous of her siblings and didn’t like The Taker.  She often was confined to her room before I even arrived. When she was allowed down she would spend hours and hours watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, mostly ignored by everybody else. You would make her go to bed before the boys and even though I was only three older than her, she and I had to play this weird role-play where I was the adult and she was the child. 

I confess, at the time she annoyed me. She often woke the boys up by pinching them, but there were plenty of times where we had to deal with sickness or unsettled children and she and I did our best to alleviate their distress.  Sometimes I would have to ring my mum off the landline, and she would teach me how to settle the youngest by rocking him in his pushchair for hours. Still no one questioned my new-found responsibilities. My own home life  was also complex and difficult: since we’d left my Dad life was chaos: much moving around, missing school, looking after my sister while my mum tried to drink her demons away. This is not to excuse. Unlike you, my mother was not a Taker. She just struggled to give. 

I think you took her under your wing because she was a lost soul and sought reassurance from you both. You, a predator, saw her vulnerabilities. Nights out became common with you three and my sister would tag along with Emma, and often end up sleeping at yours. You three loved to forget that you had responsibilities: promising to be back by ten, which would be followed by several drunken phone calls to the landline saying you would only be another half hour.  

It was always midnight or later – or not at all.  My mother by this point would be paralytic and you and your wife would usually be arguing. Somehow you were always portrayed as the victim: she was harsh; you did most of the chores and she never gave you sex, which as the years went by was often offered to me as an explanation as to why you did what you did. I struggle in my adult head to credit that with any form of justification but as I’ve learnt, my opinion is minimal.

The Abuse Deepens

Remember the time we stayed whilst my mother was away on a field trip?  She had started a Uni course and had to go away for a few nights. I was about 12 or 13.  Of course, we could stay with you, and my sister and I camped down on the boy’s floor.  We were treated like royalty during our stay while Emma was treated like shit, spending the majority of the time being yelled at. In one argument she asked if she could help your wife at tea time to which she snapped back “yes, you can drop dead.”  In those moments I was scared of that vicious side to you both, but Emma was always winding you up, so it was justified, right?

That night you had a bath after we had gone to bed. The airing cupboard was in the boys room, you must have forgotten your towel, because the door opened and the light from the landing illuminated your naked silhouette clearly. I lifted my head a fraction and our eyes met. You carried on to the cupboard not speaking.  I knew you had seen me and vice versa. An innocent mistake?  Or were you testing the waters to what I would or wouldn’t say?

I had a strange feeling in my stomach like bubbles popping and my heart thudding fast.  I felt uncomfortable and wrong, but I would never tell anyone because I wouldn’t know how to explain it: it was a mistake that anyone could have made.  Plus, I should have been asleep.  As such, that night,  you took away my ability to trust  my gut instinct. I knew it felt wrong, but I didn’t have anyone to tell, and from that moment on I would second-guess myself constantly, always justifying your actions. It was clever of you because had I spoken out it would have been so easy to explain why you had to dash in and grab a towel, only now do I wonder why you didn’t just shout down to your wife to bring one. 

DAMAGE

You have a new life abroad, have another baby and now your boys have moved over with you. I do wonder whether I will ever be able to let you go though, because even though I  hate what you did, my mind has a way of tricking  me into remembering the good bits exclusively, how it felt to think that you loved me, cared and would have protected me from anything. You have a fresh start, you have wiped the slate clean. I do not have that luxury, and that is why I need to write this to you. I need things out there, to see what they look like on the page rather than stagnating in my mind. Your reality, your justification insulates you and protects you from consequences, even from the police. 

But… that’s not real is it? Your selfish motives drove all of your actions. It’s just I was so desperate to feel something, anything, that I was your perfect victim. Me, as a person -with feelings, fears, hopes and desire –  was not relevant to you, you just wanted something to own, feel powerful over and ultimately convince yourself you were, in fact, a man.

The one thing I am grateful to is you introducing alcohol into my life.  After the time my friend and I came home drunk when I was 13, it was suddenly decided that I could be treated like an adult and therefore drink with the adults. My mother’s theory, I suppose, was that I would be safe and responsible doing this and allowed it to happen at your house. What actually happened is you and your wife got more and more lax with paying me actual money: instead she left me 5 fags each time, and an offer of  a can as soon as you returned from wherever you had been. 

Note to adults: 14-year-old girls who have issues with eating and body image cannot handle the same volume of alcohol as a fully developed and experienced drinker. The first time I was sick with booze was at your house. My Mum ran over,  took one look at me and said “she can stay here.”  You’d already raped me by then.

Earlier that day, a friend and I had been ice skating. I fell on the ice and cut my finger, which I still have the scar today. .. it reminds me of you.  You were attentive, re-dressing the wound, and offered me a drink. I subsequently downed  around ten cans of Stella and in due course threw my ring up in your kitchen sink. My friend was panicking as your wife was in bed, but you were serenely calm and said, “just leave her.” You watched and smiled as I felt like I was going to die, then fetched me one of Emma’s nighties. When I was crying in that nightie you came and slipped your hand up it and told me you loved me. I woke up really early the next morning cleaned the sick away, tidied up and went home all before you or your family woke. Never happened.

4945_drinkingnotacrime-page-001

Alcohol has been the most faithful friend I’ve ever had, and I am truly grateful to you for introducing us to each other.  We never did anything sober and that warm protective shield it provided meant I could endure most things. It gave me confidence: still does now and it took that initial anxiety away of having to keep up that lie when around your wife. I never did let it slip, did I?

 Of course, alcohol has caused me some grief, my mental health, my marriage (parts of it), nearly lost me my kids, it’s led me down dangerous paths and risky behaviours. See, after you and me, I was never the same. My basic understanding of what a relationship consisted of had by-passed me. I learnt that sex was a tool that could be used to negotiate and control. You just had to know your place in the business agreement and then you would be rewarded with the presents and stuff that you needed. You taught me that sex hurts and it leaves you with a  feeling that I could never name but it made me want to cry.  Sometimes you would hold me like a baby after and I would silently cry, you would stroke my hair and put on my favourite song.

 Of course, you weren’t the only assault I ever experienced, especially in the recent years after that night and into those late teens. Some more demanding than you, some violent, some thanks to my trusted friend alcohol I don’t even remember happening.

Once, on New Years Eve, I  woke up in the woods with no underwear on, bruised, cold and soaked through. The only thing I saw was the guy running away. You see, Taker, you also took  my self-worth and that is something slow to rebuild. With each assault, a little less of me exists, to the point where I wonder that beneath the surface I am just hollow?

 You would probably blame this on the way girls present themselves, the way we dress. ‘I led them on’ Remember how  you’d  justify your actions? Indignant that you had to be teased and tempted by girls that tried to be women. 

The Landlord

A few years ago, while I was trying to get through my degree course as a single parent, I found myself in a position where I had to turn my hand to sex-work for a bit. I worked in this guy’s pub and he told me he would pay extra if I stayed ‘after hours’. I knew what he meant and I was so  skint and trapped in a cycle of benefit sanctions and inequalities,  ironically whilst trying to pull myself out of my impossible situation, I couldn’t turn down his non-negotiable offer. I had children to feed. 

He wanted company, someone to massage his ego and soothe his inadequacies. In that way you and him weren’t that dissimilar.   It was the most disgusting few months of my life: he was old and fat and repulsed me in every way, I needed to drink a lot to endure that. What it did awaken in me though was the realisation that I saw sex as transactional. Admittedly this was the first time I had literally been given cold hard cash for my work, but you were always buying me gifts: clothes, a necklace, little cards and lots of alcohol and fags.  You even took me on a  family trip to Drayton Manor; it was never ending, it was as transactional as cash.

All I had to do was to survive.  To get enough money that weekend for the kids’ food and school dinners. All I had to do  was work in the restaurant, then drink enough to not feel and take my mind somewhere else while he took an age to get what he paid for, running through a ridiculous play of seduction to make him feel like a man.

That didn’t work out so well; that’s around the time that all those dark feelings you planted in me seem to rush to the surface like an erupting volcano of emotion.  I was trapped in a present day hell and  part of me was that raped 14 year old again; there was no pleasure in this whatsoever.

I had to give the booze up for a bit when that all ended as  I suddenly couldn’t bear the thought of spending the next 20 years repeating the cycle. A cycle where I am the piece of meat, with you and your fellow vultures spending so long weedling your way in, finding the vulnerabilities, planning your attack. 

I contemplated what my purpose could possibly be on this earth, if all I ever felt was pain and shame. I didn’t belong anywhere, not with you, not with my real family, my exes;  I couldn’t look after my kids or provide for them. I seemed to have a fundamental flaw, and nothing could change that. I was destined to be like this forever. I was lonely, so very lonely, and too outwardly proud to ever admit what a mess I was in. I no longer had the energy. There really was nothing left of me to give. 

These were dark days and darker nights and if it wasn’t for the intervention of an unexpected phone call and then I would have killed myself one night, I listened and instead sought change. I stopped drinking, I started eating.  I was exhausted and finally allowed myself to rest, to be still.You took from me the ability to be intimate, to be soft or gentle. I am always on my guard, always willing it to finish.

My biggest defence mechanism over the years  has been moving, keeping busy, cleaning and cleaning and bleaching away the badness and dirt that I could physically feel under my skin. I have cycles of sleep deprivation, I lose weight and I never stop still.  I drown out noise with headphones of music – sweet sweet music – as loud as I can bear.  Doing this means I don’t think, and I don’t have a chance to feel the panic or irrational fear that threatens to overwhelm me. It keeps that bleak darkness that makes my limbs feel like they’re made of lead; every moment is like drowning, enticing, telling me that death would be such a peaceful and blissful release.

Taking away the gentle

 You know the one thing I struggle to do now as an adult? Stay present after sex.  Even when I was married I preferred to sleep alone,  and all I want to do after is get clean, wash away the evidence and get out of that wet patch. You took from me the ability to be intimate, to be soft or gentle. I am always on my guard, always willing it to finish.

I’m not even sure  I am attracted to males anymore. It’s a running joke with my friends: I’m the eternal singleton. When I first left my husband there were relationships;  one night stands; meaningless nothings; a constant need to move on, to run away.  When there were some decent ones I could never settle, never shake that claustrophobic feeling of needing to escape. You set me running. You did this. 

 There is also the strain that this life has had physically on my body.  It has left scars- physical ones from self harm, and psychological ones that make me avoid mirrors: I don’t like what looks back. I know it’s irrational. I know it ebbs and flows. I also know you put the shame into me, you took away my self-worth, you made me feel like I was my own enemy. Let’s go back to that night.

After The First Attack

Time didn’t stand still that night, my mum came knocking on your door looking for me. You had locked it from the inside, so had time to yank yourself out of me and literally toss me aside. You quickly got yourself presentable and anxiously waited by the living room door, swearing. My mum was shouting through the letterbox and you were panicking – that’s when I couldn’t do the cardigan back up. You spent some time placating her with lies about me being upset,  punctuated with apologies. She was angry at me for being drunk, and  before I knew it, we were marching home with her screaming and ranting at me. I don’t think I dared speak.

I do recall you coming round in the morning.  I had slept on the sofa. I remember you coming in.  I was alone and desperate to convince myself that I might have dreamt it.  There goes that gut instinct,  you see, my ability to trust my own perception.  I’d managed to convince myself it had all been a mistake. I was drunk, and I had imagined it.

Except you came to apologise to say you shouldn’t have done it, and please can we keep it our little secret? You were so pathetic in those moments, pleading, crying, bumbling over your words.  In the cold light of day, you were an adult who I babysat for, and you had a wife and kids. If I was to speak, you implied, there would be consequences that I would regret.  I was mortified and somehow felt responsible and was scared of how much trouble I’d be in with your wife and my Mum. I would break up a family and it was wrong. It would be my word against yours. I was the tearaway teenager, you were the devoted family man. Who would they believe?

I couldn’t even tell my mum I’d started my periods so there was no way I was ever going to be able to even try and talk about this. So, we carried on as normal. Emma was shipped out to foster care for a while due to her being unmanageable, the boys grew up, had birthdays and I carried on babysitting. 

You would often come home before the others to check on the boys and I started looking forward to this. Back then, it  felt like a special time, there were the secret looks and the odd bobble or piece of jewellery you would have to sneakily return to me after I’d left them at yours.  I suppose those parts felt exciting, I felt special, wanted and part of something. You knew that was my weakness, and exploited it. 

Emma eventually returned home and you spent a lot of time in her room, having to tell her off. You put a lock on the inside so you could keep the boys out – supposedly. Nobody ever questioned that you’d lock that door when you went in with her.  There were lots of late-night parties, with you making us all laugh with your obsession with Queen and general geekiness. Your house was always full of people. You were the life and soul.

Emma’s Mum Leaves

Suddenly, you and your wife split up. You moved out to a friends house but still came to mine and still visited the boys. A few weeks later, your wife rang you to sit the kids while she popped to the shop for some fags. She never came home. Emma and the boys were abandoned in your care. It would be decades later before I saw her again.

I was sad she had gone and the whole community was outraged that she could leave the kids: the boys were still only toddlers. You took on the role of wronged husband and loving dad with aplomb.  I didn’t know at this point that you were abusing Emma, and I can only imagine the utter despondency she felt being left there with you.  You weren’t her biological Dad and you made it clear that you didn’t want her, at least not as a daughter.

In the weeks after her Mum going, I distinctly remember her sitting on the windowsill looking so lost and pissed off at life,  which we all put it down to the shock of abandonment. You apparently requested social services that she stay with you permanently but not long after she went to live with a neighbour.

Emma’s story is not mine to tell but let me assure you that in the last year I have spent hours with her piecing together our different accounts, things I remember, things she does, things about you, about your “technique” that only someone who had been raped by you would know. Even writing this the bile rises in my throat at the memory of that nine-year-old girl, a girl nobody wanted, who still sucked her thumb, who was belittled and ignored and told to shut up repeatedly. I feel utter shame that in my blinkered infatuation  I didn’t see what was really going on. It is because of these commonalities that I wholeheartedly believe her.  Also you admitted it to me. 

When I was around 16 and still running back to you when things went wrong at home, you were questioned by the police or a solicitor,  and you were crying,  saying how you had once got into bed with Emma when her mum was working nights and gave her a cuddle and she had got this confused with something else. She was trying to hurt you because she wanted to see the boys and her Mum was drip-feeding her poison. In the same breath you said that although you had been out of line with me and it was wrong,  the same thing hadn’t happened with Emma.

 You asked me to forgive you, sobbing and begging. I told you I forgave you and I comforted you, and then the night ended in its usual way. This is something I have gone over and over in my mind for the last year and it haunts me. It makes me hate myself to the inner core of my conscience. I can weep for Emma and her utterly shit childhood, I can imagine how she must have dreaded you coming into her room. Those long nights alone with you, how she never was given anything like a compliment,  but instead took beatings to submit her into silence. You didn’t have to try with her, like you had to try with me. No lures, no presents and drinks. She was captive.

  I can imagine her resentment towards me, a few years older than her laying down the rules, never able to put a foot wrong. Your puppet on a string, controlled by bittersweet lies,  ready to perform on command so I could scavenge a snippet of your affection.

The Two Forgotten Girls

For a while I felt a tsunami of sadness for those lost years, two forgotten girls that for their own different but similar reasons were invisible to the outside world. When this happens it’s strange, I can feel real compassion for Emma in her own right but for me it’s like remembering it in the third person. Like it was happening to somebody else. I can recall how it felt to be lonely and scared at home, having to constantly worry about my mum and sister. I can feel the desperation of a kid who spent her days cleaning and hiding the carnage of her home life so that the authorities wouldn’t take us away. I can remember how hard it was to keep up with mates, and stay present in class, when I was constantly tired and hungry or hungover. To keep up this pretence that all was well to my grandparents and the world, to hold on to my secret life with you and silently pray that just for once I could have a simple life like the other girls in my class. Those confident girls who were pretty and smart and sorted. 

Now, the professional in me – I work with young people at risk of sexual exploitation – can recognise and highlight all the safeguarding concerns from this scenario and points of contact that should have happened but were neglected.  I can want to help that girl to see another way and offer support,  but I can’t seem to really admit that girl was me and allow me to forgive my part in it all completely. 

 I can feel so utterly overwhelmed with sadness for her and Emma that sometimes it literally takes my breath away, and it physically aches.  In those moments I can’t move and it’s hard to see any colour in anything.  Twenty years on and that feeling is exacerbated a 100 times over when I discover not one of those selfish cowardly adults came forward to help us get a conviction when we approached the authorities.

 Not our mothers, who failed to protect us, not once but time and time again as they were so self-absorbed in their own misery they refused to acknowledge what was right under their noses.  Not the boys – now men – which I guess is understandable.  Not the people at the parties, not the people who raised questions all those years ago but didn’t listen to the answers: why was I allowed to be drunk at 14? Or why was I seen leaving your house at 5am?  Why was I dangerously underweight?

Community Neglect

Not the professionals who were happy to fill in reports of absence, and risk-taking behaviour, falling asleep in class. Not the youth workers, not the social workers involved with Emma, not my siblings, not the neighbours.  Not the other women who also claim he raped them but refuse to take a fucking stand. Not my family members that don’t want to dig up all the skeletons in our family home.  Not the egotistical dominant men in my life that tried to manipulate me into believing that my past is too heinous to be presented in a courtroom; that I am promiscuous, an unfit mother, unhinged… a liar.  That is what it boils down too isn’t it? My word against yours, it never happened right?

I guess that feeling of sadness is blended with rage and indignation of the complete and the fucking senselessness of it all.  I don’t want whoever comes to read this to feel pity for me: that’s not the purpose in writing this. I want you and I want them to acknowledge and understand that your actions –  whether they were premeditated or opportunistic – these sadistically sexually violent acts have detrimental, lifelong consequences.

 It’s like the butterfly effect isn’t it? What you or our family might regard as insignificant or not important events are tiny little flutters of inappropriateness building up to catastrophic violations of trust, dignity and safety. That they planted the seeds of years and years of damaging reactions into my adolescent brain and being.  

There are a million different decisions you could have made but you didn’t,  and then you systematically lied and manipulated everybody who was close to me at that time to believe you.  For that I feel nothing but utter contempt for you. I will breathe out slowly and let that feeling wash over me, rather than consume me. I am done with letting you or people like you control my thinking, my anxieties, my future or my present.

We were never exclusive, there was never a time where either one of us was committed to each other (apart from a very brief few weeks which I will come to later). You flaunted your tokens of affection for your wife and then the latest girlfriends around me all the time – you’d proudly show me the flowers you’d buy them, tell me of the meals you’d take them to. Always calling the shots letting me know when I was significant or when I wasn’t needed. This  left me confused and rejected but I also was happy to play along.

The Guy With the Sports-car

It was the summer I turned 15. One warm day, walking with a friend of a similar age, a guy in a sports car pulled up to us and threw a key to his flat. His name was Alex, and he  told us if we wanted to have fun, we were welcome over and gave us the address. We ran to that address because when I wasn’t with you, me and my mates had nowhere to go apart from the streets and local bus stops.

This was a whole new level to anything I’d known before.  This was Party Central with around 10 to 15 people from my school already involved with this guy. His flat had a huge sound system and bunk beds in the front room. Alex was so welcoming to his guests he would ask you what you liked to drink, what you liked to smoke, and what your drug of choice was, and then order it in. He didn’t charge us money, he just wanted everyone to have a good time. This generous soul was a man in his thirties, with no official job or apparent life outside partying, just a shit- load of money and good vibes.  

This was next level stuff  -but this happy existence didn’t last long, and his actions made you look like an amateur. He became violent and unpredictable, he existed on a diet of Class As and his whole mood depended on what part of the process the drugs were in his system. Maybe that’s not too clear, let me invite you into a moment of that time.

A typical night would start  evening early with a few sociable drinks, with  two or three girls from my year who had officially been his girlfriend but had now fallen out of first place.

Figure 9_ Proportion of the survivors of sexual assault by rape or penetration (including attempts), by age at which the abuse took place, year ending March 2016 CSEW^1,2,3^

Around 10pm out came the amphetamine and Ecstasy. You could choose anything: sometimes he smoked crack, but that was for special occasions. I was nervous and apprehensive about taking drugs, but Alex found ways to make you accept them into your system and into your life.  For me, it was deciding I was his current girlfriend and kissing me passionately in front of a room full of people, forcing a parcel of speed into my mouth and down my throat.

For the next six months the lines between consent and rape blurred. Where you were evasive, he was jealous and controlling. He liked me to look a certain way, and brought me a whole new wardrobe of designer clothes. He didn’t like big women, as you did: all that hard work you put in feeding me up went to waste: in those few months with him he locked me in the flat for days, food was restricted with drugs and fags  given to stave off hunger.

His nasty side became increasingly dominant, and he’d lose his temper regularly.  He had a housemate with mild learning difficulties who he beat  to a pulp and threw out the house because he was “pissed off”’.  So, let’s get it straight with him it was different he had an enormous sex drive that needed to be placated at all times. His sexual demands were constant and different to yours: he wanted me to be adult, he wanted me to dress up, he wanted to film me, and he introduced me to anal rape.

 I’ll tell you what that’s like.  Anal rape – if you’re not familiar – is the most painful thing I’ve  ever experienced aside from childbirth.  It is so demoralising, so humiliating: I barely have the words to describe it. Every orifice in your body is leaking something, threatening to let you down with every thrust of pure fucking agony.  I have vivid memories of sobbing and retching while he exerted his power and his utter force in parts of me that should be mine alone but instead were torn and damaged after.  When high he couldn’t sleep until he had ejaculated, so that meant no matter where I was, at home or at his, I was expected to be there when he needed that release . On one occasion he went as far as breaking into my home, on another he turned up at my part-time job at a local hotel. I’d be dragged from home to his, then have to get up early to get to school the following morning.

There was no reasoning with him: everybody had to do as he said. Too many of my friends were caught in his web, boys and girls, as he offered a ready and reliable drug supply for many, and shelter for others. All had one thing in common: an unstable home life. He worked  hard to fill that gap. 

Escape Attempt

But after six months of  wasting away and frequent disappearances,  and after he tried to break into my home and attempted to groom my younger sister, Mum decided to call the police on Alex. They acted concerned, but it became apparent they were more concerned about the drugs than the rapes. On one occasion, I was taken to a mocked-up living room with a female officer, who asked me many questions ‘What sexual positions did you do?”. “Did you enjoy it? You must have enjoyed some of it?”. They then revealed my mum was watching via CCTV.  Any last shred of self-worth, of being my own person, went that moment, and the interview concluded. Years later, when I reported you to the police, I asked for that tape to be found as evidence: mysteriously, it had disappeared. 

Around the same time Mum and my Head of Year  cooked up a plan where my teacher would say she could protect me from Alex if I told her the names of the local dealers in school.

I thought this was the best option for me. I was in over my head and couldn’t see a way out: stuck in another scenario where my wellbeing and safety had to be negotiated with.  I was presented with an illusion of solidarity and protection when in reality I was always alone.  Some of my friends got arrested, one lad went away for a long time, my friends sought tirelessly to find the weakest link, the grass who had snitched.  Alex went to ground.

And do you know what happened? Fuck all.

Becoming a Pariah

Everyone in the local community – including Alex – turned against me: I had stopped their main supply of drugs. Alex’s mother rang me constantly to blame me for ruining his life. Nobody talked to me but talked about me incessantly: I was a bag head, a slut, the girl who took it through the back doors at 15. A nothing, a nobody, I left school on the advice of the headteacher fifteen weeks before my GCSEs. They had failed to protect me and keep me anonymous, so disposed of me to stop the consequences of this betrayal playing out in the playground. 

No friends, no school, my ambition to be a social worker remote. I took more hours at the hotel I worked at and would work 12 hours shifts there, sleeping the rest of the day away.  I was still just 15. Somehow, I managed to get decent exam results, and was offered a sixth form place: after being let down by the school beforehand, I didn’t take it. I worked, I slept, I worked. 

 I wanted that horrible ache to end, I didn’t want to do police interviews or talk about what had happened, I didn’t want to eat in fact I wanted to be so small that I disappeared, so I could be invisible in the hope that people would stop staring at me and whispering behind my back. 

Going Back To You

You saw that I was at a weak point, and like the predator that you are, you struck. It was  nearly Christmas and you took me and a friend of yours to bar after bar. I had known this trip was coming up and borrowed a top off a friend, wanting to look my best for you. It was a tailored pinstripe shirt, and now I was back to a size 6/8 it was perfect. When you later peeled that shirt off on top of your bed -not the floor, for a change – and told me you had been waiting for this I felt like I had come home.

 I was so glad to be back with you when I eventually returned, especially when you told me you wouldn’t let anyone hurt me ever again. I can’t remember if I told you the exact details of what had happened with Alex but I guess I was different.

Anyway, I felt grateful you would even look at me let alone fuck me, and as you were lonely, we kind of forged this weird relationship where I became the nanny / wife. You formally asked me if I could be a housekeeper and you would pay me – there’s my lifelong skill, my niche. It was all transactional, it was always transactional.

What did you see when you looked at me? Dead inside, I was an empty carcass for you to shoot your load into. By now I was on the pill, so we didn’t need to worry about a wet patch.

Even I can see how broken I was after Alex, but to you this was an opportunity to convince me that when I turned 16, I could be publicly your replacement wife/ mother to the boys. My head was so damaged by this point, and I don’t think you really knew how to deal with me.  I wasn’t compliant any more, I was unpredictable and ambivalent. I wandered the streets unnerved and without any concerns for my safety,  I took risks and hated anyone trying me to tell me what to do. 

Sleep Terror and Other Scars

I was – I still am – terrified of falling asleep in other people’s company. I am deeply scared of what they’ll do to me should I become vulnerable, scared to sleep in case I wake to find someone forcing themselves into me.   

When I couldn’t commit, when I couldn’t drown out those awful feelings of disgust, when I became too old for you, boring, disposable, that’s when our journey ended.

Not abruptly, not dramatically.  I still kept coming to see you, but other people babysat, usually my sister, who I pray you didn’t touch. Then  you’d have new girlfriends, before the final whammy. You had a friend in his mid-forties (I was now 17) who liked me. I nicknamed him Grandad.  He was a borderline alcoholic, lonely, divorced and predictably leering.  You decided to pimp me out to him, do you remember? You didn’t like me talking to him, but despite that you made a bed on the same floor you raped me on, supplied us both with drinks and then went to bed, giving us your blessing. You didn’t, at any point, ask me if this was what I wanted.

 That fucked with my head, and even I in all my coerced obedience  couldn’t quite bring myself to have sex with him in the same spot you raped me in all those years before. Luckily for me he was a gentle guy  and settled for a blow job and after a bit of stalking eventually realised I had used him for what he had to offer: a way to make you, Taker, happy. 

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Trying to Fight Back

At some point around this time. me and my mates decided we wouldn’t be fucked over by men anymore, we wouldn’t be hurt. We would manipulate them and screw them over for every penny possible. I still came back to you and we argued at times, but you had that hold over me I couldn’t break. Even when you tried to have sex with my friend (we had slept at yours on New Year’s Eve, I left you and her in bed as I had work and you tried to have sex with her. She was stronger than me and told you to fuck off.. why couldn’t I do that?), even after that, I would come back to you.  

You were like a bad habit,  self-harm, so desperate for the niceness of you, the comfort of being held I had to endure the roughness, the nothingness where every thrust took me further and further away from who I truly was.

What We’re Left With: Recovery and Legacy

All that’s now left is this, me and this keyboard. It’s given me a source of hope and comfort ranting to you, old habits die hard, hey?

Maybe we will never meet again or maybe you will pick these words up on this website. I give you the luxury of anonymity, and call you The Taker,  but you and I know who you are and what you did. You’re free in terms of incarceration but there will always be a trickle of anxiety wherever you go. Two women have spoken out already, and who knows how many more they may be? 

Your wife won’t always trust you and your sons already have the first seeds of doubt and uncertainty planted in their subconscious. That chapter of my life is gone, and you are dead to me, that place where I lived, I never need to return, that family who pretend to care, I thrive without them.

You took so much from me and I wanted so badly for you to be held accountable for your actions,  but don’t misunderstand me I am not broken or feeble anymore.

The life I have made for myself is worlds away from you. It isn’t built on lies or deceit or abuse. I have children that I will always protect: this vicious cycle of abuse ends with me. I can look at my reflection at the end of each day and feel assured that I have integrity, values and compassion.

I can’t pretend that a small part of my soul will not forever be crushed, saddened and disappointed at the outcome of the police investigation into what you did – my word against yours – but do not for one moment think this is the perimeters of my destiny. I can’t make it right for Emma and me, or dole out the just punishment you deserve but what I can do is absolutely vow to devote my whole career to supporting young people in a similar position to where I was, help them  to find a way out of sexual exploitation and abuse. I can offer my unconditional commitment to young people that need guidance, refuge and reassurance without any form of ulterior motive.

So goodbye Taker, I feel strangely sad as I finally let it all go: you, me and all of the  awful tangle of conflicting emotions.  You have been a malign part of me for twenty years and I hate you for it but in the same breath I equally despise the systematic failings  and avoidable circumstances that allowed any of this to be possible. For me, writing this is a fresh start, a new chapter, endless possibilities, freedom, love and belonging and I will sail on that beautiful wind… I will let you go. You will always have to live with who you are.  

____________

The Taker has currently faced no prosecution, living and working abroad working with children. Police have dropped a case against him bought by the author and others citing lack of evidence: his word against hers.

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HELPLINES AND SUPPORT

NHS

Help after rape and sexual assault

Sexual Abuse Referral Centres – Find a SARC

Sexual violence is a crime, no matter who commits it or where it happens. Don’t be afraid to get help.

SARCs are specialist medical and forensic services for anyone who has been raped or sexually assaulted. They aim to be one-stop service, providing the following under one roof: medical care and forensic examination following assault/rape and, in some locations, sexual health services. Medical Services are free of charge and provided to women, men, young people and children.

Rape Crisis

Helpline: 0808 802 9999 (12-2:30 and 7-9:30)

rapecrisis.org.uk

National organisation offering support and counselling for those affected by rape and sexual abuse.

See website for local groups or contact directory enquiries.

Victim SupportSupportline: 0333 300 6389

Rape and sexual assault

Our services are confidential, free and available to anyone who’s been raped or sexually assaulted, now or in the past. We can help, regardless of whether you have told the police or anyone else about the attack. Our volunteers can visit you at home (if you want us to, and if doing so will not put you at further risk) or somewhere else if you prefer. If you don’t want to see anyone face-to-face, you can also talk to us on the phone, either at one of our local offices or at the national Victim Supportline.

Women Against Rape

womenagainstrape.net

This is the joint website of Women Against Rape and Black Women’s Rape Action Project. Both organisations are based on self-help and provide support, legal information and advocacy. We campaign for justice and protection for all women and girls, including asylum seekers, who have suffered sexual, domestic and/or racist violence.

The Survivors TrustHelpline: 0808 801 0818

thesurvivorstrust.org

Find support

Rape and sexual abuse can happen to anyone regardless of their age, gender, race, religion, culture or social status. Living with the consequences of rape and sexual abuse can be devastating. We believe that all survivors are entitled to receive the best possible response to their needs whether or not they choose to report.

Women’s Aid Federation

National Domestic Violence Helpline (24hrs): 0808 2000 247

womensaid.org.uk

Sexual violence

Women’s Aid is the national domestic violence charity that helps up to 250,000 women and children every year. We work to end violence against women and children, and support over 500 domestic and sexual violence services across the country.

Darren Henry Decoded

What did our MP REALLY say in his recent statement? We applied our team of AI textual-analysis robots to decode Darren Henry

I’ve had many messages asking if i’d received an answer to my open letter (also sent direct) to Darren Henry: the answer is yes. I received an out of office that arrived a full three days after my email was sent (aren’t these things automatic? Why the delay?

I haven’t heard anyone else getting a reply, but Henry did stick out a statement in the hope of drawing the line under the whole affair in the hope it will go away. Let’s take a look at what it REALLY SAYS.

In recent days, I have received hundreds of emails from constituents which have scared the hell out of me regarding the actions of Dominic Cummings, the actual PM . I understand your anger and frustrations to the point I couldn’t be arsed to say anything for a week, especially given the personal difficulties and sacrifices that have been made by many people to reduce the spread of the virus. Please be assured that your points have been noted and ignored, and I have raised those concerns with the blonde chap pretending to be the Prime Minister.

Rather than comment immediately, I chose to wait until the Whips Office had written a cut-and paste response to send out, with the threat issued over WhatsApp that any deviation from this would lead to serious consequences, career wise Mr Cummings had offered an explanation and I had considered the available facts: that should I try and have a truly independent thought on this I would be sent packing back to Wiltshire and forget all about a stint as a minor minister at any point. This statement outlines my opinion on this matter and my resolve to move on and focus on the national challenge COVID-19 presents to the Tory party and how making mistakes that kill vast swathes of the electorate really isn’t going down well in the polls.

In his statement on Monday 25 May 2020, Mr Cummings offered an account of his reasons for travelling to Durham which was given in the Rose Garden, usually regarded as the place the Prime Minister gives statements too. So all fine there, then. I will not repeat the details here as the statement has been covered extensively elsewhere is patently a retrospective justification and so full of holes you could drain pasta in it. Having listened to Mr Cummings’ statement – and considered the available facts, Government guidance and statements from Dr Jenny Harries and not the many, many clinicians, public health experts, and members of SAGE – I have been told to personally believe he did not breach the lockdown guidelines. Of course, I do think he breached lockdown, but to say so would set me back when the next reshuffle of junior ministers happens. His account of his journey to Durham makes clear that he did everything possible to isolate – and protect – himself and his family whilst travelling and staying on his parents’ farm, and in now way were the multiple tweets I put out that clearly said ‘STAY AT HOME’ meant to be taken literally, at least by people like Dom, who is cleverer than you. Whilst I do question his decision to drive to Barnard Castle, and would not have taken the same course of action, I believe that Mr Cummings acted in the best interests of his family by taking his wide on a nice day trip for her birthday. It is clear that he was motivated by the need to keep his son safe by putting him in a car to drive down rural roads while unsure the driver’s vision was ok, should anything happen to him or his wife, such as crashing a car on a rural road as the driver’s vision was faulty, and I sympathize with this to the extent I’ll bother spelling ‘sympathise’ correctly.

I understand that not everyone absolutely no one will agree with my opinion, but I fundamentally believe in due process. It is ultimately for the police to consider the evidence and determine whether Mr Cummings’ actions were outside these lockdown rules which they said it was, but couldn’t fine as this cannot be done retrospectively, as I am well aware but will put in here to gaslight you – not other MPs, the media or you, scummy general public daring to have an opinion. Stop having opinions immediately. If Mr Cummings has breached the lockdown rules, action must be taken as we are all equal in the eyes of the law and yes I am laughing while i’m writing this. As other MPs have concluded, I would be shocked if a constituent advised me that they were receiving violent threats, being hounded by the media daring to ask questions about basic public safety and pressured to resign from their job because of allegations they had fully denied but were clearly bollocks. The fundamental principles of due process, being innocent until proven guilty and equality in the eyes of the law cannot be overlooked. If Mr Cummings is found to be guilty of a breach of these rules, my views on this matter will be different: I will immediately await the whips to send me another cut and paste statement to stick on my website that again cack-handedly tries some logical and legal contortions to ensure Dom doesn’t lose his job as PM.

It is clear that there has been also misinformation about Mr Cummings put out by Mr Cummings and Boris Johnson, who claimed the Barnard Castle trip never happened until the Daily Mirror whipped out the incontrovertable evidence (and other MPs, advisors and officials) circulating and this needs to stop although let’s face it, nobody is talking about them. They’re talking about Dom. Leave Dom alone. There have been rumours that I have been travelling between Broxtowe and Wiltshire; these are unfounded and untrue. Like many of you, the lockdown restrictions have required personal sacrifices from me as I receive a full wage over twice that of the average wage of my constituents, and a £10,000 payment so I can do my job in my actual constituency . I have not seen vulnerable members of my family for months. I was especially shocked to see journalists coming to my home to question me on this made up story do their job. I do not believe anybody – regardless of their occupation unless they are judges, journalists, Remainers, and anyone else trying to call for sanity to be met with Cummings-inspired social and mass media abuse, as we lurch from crisis to crisis – should be subject to such behaviour. To confirm, I have remained in Broxtowe and have fully complied with all lockdown requirements, and let’s face it, they’re pretty hazy anyway so this doesn’t mean a great deal. I might pop over to Newark Castle tomorrow as I think i’ve getting a cataract.

I appreciate the difficult sacrifices that people across Broxtowe, and the country, are making to stay safe and save lives. Going forward PLEASE GO FORWARD GO FORWARD NOTHING TO SEE HERE, I do not think it is wise to continue to debate the actions of one advisor Prime Minister who will be making the decisions on if I get a slightly nicer office in the Westminster or not. My team and I will continue to work relentlessly to support constituents, especially those most adversely impacted by this virus, as we approach the next phase –the inevitable second wave – of our fight against COVID-19. As ever, if I may be of any assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me where your email will be scrupously ignored or referred to the Whip’s Office so I know what to think.

As your MP (assistants: please check where this is for before sending), with the support of my excellent team who are in no way a liability and had to suddenly leave Twitter and my employment reently), I will now continue to focus my energy on the emails from constituents asking for help. Please forward me medals for this despite it being my actual job I’m paid handsomely for. To do anything other than this would be a disservice to the people of Broxtowe who need support in such a difficult and unprecedented time. As such, I will not be commenting further on this matter but, as I have always said, if I may be of assistance, I will always endeavour to support you and would urge you to contact me. Now back to your homes and don’t dare question the greatest of Cummings again, plebs. 

Any resemblance this has to emails / statements put out by multiple other vertebrae-free backbench Conservative MP’s is entirely coincidental. We are hive-mind.

Will this do Dom?

Darren Henry

MP for somewhere in Wiltshire Broxtowe

An Open Letter to Darren Henry

Dear Darren

I hope you are well at this time of crisis.

I know this is not the only email you will receive today. I know many people across Broxtowe, including many who lent you there vote in December, will either have taken time last night or on this beautiful Bank Holiday to express their feelings of disappointment and anger at you and your party, notably the Prime Minister and his advisor, Dominic Cummings.

I do not need to reiterate the reasons in any great detail: I am sure you are more than aware of them. The facts remain the same: Cummings flouted the Government’s own guidelines on the lockdown, and put lives at risk. The lockdown rules were very clear – I was very supportive of the clarity of the government message at the time – you stay at home, you stay in your primary residence, you do not travel to a vulnerable relative’s house. You do everything you can to minimise the risk of the virus spreading. You seek local help and you look after others if able.

I have seen the tremendous fortitude displayed by people nationwide, as well as closer to home. You will be aware that your constituency is neighbours with one of Europe’s largest teaching hospitals, and thus many in Beeston and the wider Broxtowe area are employed there. I have heard there sacrifices. I have heard the stories of clinicians and carers isolating from their family to reduce the risk of infection.

Many, myself included, did everything we can to provide for those less fortunate: we set up mutual aid groups, we organised , street by street, to look after others. We collated together useful information and made sure that every single person who asked for help received help. We did this because it was the right thing to do. To quote your leader “There is such thing as society”.

I have heard the stories of parents dying without their children being able to hold their hand as they pass. I have been reduced to tears at the stories of infants dying, alone and surrounded by strangers, and their absolute heartbreak at not even being able to attend the funeral. A bus driver here in the Rylands, a lovely young man who was due to get engaged this year, died early in the crisis, doing his job. We will not know for some time how many care-workers, how many nurses, how many people who selflessly put their life on the line for others have died during the crisis. Each one is a story of heroism.

Last night, your leader Boris Johnson, laughed in their faces. He told them that these sacrifices, these acts of selflessness and goodness, these displays of the best side of people’s characters, they were all for nought. He told them that they were bad parents, they were not instinctive, that they were stupid to interpret the lockdown rules rather read them clearly and act appropriately.

I know you will respond, if you do respond, in a pat manner with attempts to ‘move things along’. You’ll probably say the subject is too complex for us non-elites to understand, albeit in not so many words. You will parrot Johnson. You will ignore your own conscience which must grate at such injustice.

I ask you to not do that.

When you were elected to represent us, you swore an oath to be Broxtowe’s voice in Westminster. I was prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt. There has been scant evidence of this of late, and a failure to address this issue will further reinforce the burgeoning view of constituents of all political hues and none that you are not concerned with their representation, solely with your own career progression.

If this is the case, it is my duty as a constituent to institute a recall petition so we can find somebody who truly can be a voice for Broxtowe, not a mouthpiece for the Government.

Kind Regards

Matt Turpin

ps: For added clarity and in the spirit of transparency can you tell us where you have been spending lockdown?

Quiz!

Just a quick note: if you’re looking for something to do this evening, I’ll be running a free pub quiz online. It’s really simple: just click the link below and register: you’ll get an invite and a online quiz sheet that you simply fill in and return.

There is a prize, if I can think of one.

We’d also like you to make a donation to local foodbank: details on how to do so will be on the night.

Sign up now and I’ll see you at 8pm

https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZAqceyspj4vE91JFPY9dXP6PH8z_lad1X0e

Journalism Under Lockdown

We are in unprecedented times, where the word ‘unprecedented’ is being used an unprecedented amount of times in both speech and print. Never before in history have those without any previous epidemiological experience styled themselves as epidemiologists. Never has there been such an exponential rise in those looking at exponential graphs.

It’s thrown everything into flux, bizarre flux, as it mostly involves staying at home and doing little whatsoever, a banality crashing into the apocalyptic and sitting down to watch Netflix together. From a purely local perspective, the response has been brilliant, with locals mobilising (while sitting inside, of course) to ensure the most vulnerable are looked after, and that we look after each other.

A less welcome return has been some rather pernicious attitudes to how the media should act in covering this pandemic. It’s generally agreed that their are wartime parallels at work, with the rationing of, errrr, toilet roll; the restrictions on movement and a general sense that we are all should act collectively to beat this invader.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. But we’ll not discuss the Labour leadership contest now (which is actually mentioned in the last few lines of the Book of Revelation, after those chaps on horses), but rather the man trapped in Downing Street while he cosplays the role he’s always dreamed of. Our own Poundshop Winnie, Boris Johnson.

While he may come off his webcam occasionally to take private selfies of himself donning a hat while chuffing on a fat cigar, the facts point to Boris actually being more of a Chamberlain, initially offering appeasement to the Coronavirus in the form of letting it run riot through the population with the misplaced concept of herd immunity. It was only when the simple maths of such a strategy were pointed out to him (that for everyone to get the virus would mean hundreds of thousands of deaths, even if the fatality rate is below 1%). Some Churchill. I don’t recall the speech that our Wartime Leader made that said “We shall fight them on the beaches, we shall fight them on…actually, you can take a chunk of the elderly. And those with underlying conditions. And the asthmatics. And…”

Yet here we are. What’s more HOLD ON STOP THIS BLOG IMMEDIATELY.

WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING?

WE ARE IN A CRISIS AND YOU’RE TAKING CHEAP SHOTS AT A PRIME MINISTER WHO WE ARE RELIANT ON BEING STRONG AND FIRM AT THIS AWFUL TIME?

HE IS DOING HIS BEST AND WE SHOULD ALL LISTEN TO HIM AND READ HIS LETTER, THAT IN NO WAY IS A EXPENSIVE BIT OF ONANISTIC GUFF PUTTING STRAIN UPON AN ALREADY BELEAGUERED POSTAL SERVICE AND COSTING THE EQUIVALENT OF MANY, MANY ITEMS OF PPE FOR NHS STAFF.

NO, WE SHOULD ALL CHERISH THE LETTER AND HAVE IT FRAMED. TAKE THE PIC OF THE GRANDCHILDREN DOWN FROM THE MANTLEPIECE- WE HAVEN’T SEEN THEM IN WEEKS ANYHOW -AND DISPLAY IT PROUDLY: OUR WARTIME PM BRAVELY SENDING US A PERSONAL LETTER FROM HIS BUNKER. STOP KNOCKING THE GOVERNMENT AT SUCH A CRITICAL TIME.

…and so on. There is a feeling amongst many that this is not the time for journalism, this is not the time for critical observation and reflection. To pull together, we should accept our betters and follow orders absolutely. Anything less is the way of the traitor.

Yet now is when strong, critical journalism is more essential than ever. It is literally a matter of life and death.

Boris Johnson’s baffling initial reaction to the virus – having a protracted holiday, refusing to hold a COBRA meeting before the weekend was out, boasting that it was nothing to worry about and he had, like some tight-collared, crinkle-shirted Princess Di, shook hands with those suffering from Corvid-19. This has been well-documented, not least in this fantastic overview despatched from the PM’s birthplace. His attitude and refusal to act undoubtedly cost lives. Such is the responsibility of a leader: get things wrong, people suffer. The media need to be free to say this. Again, it literally is a matter of life and death.

Screenshot 2020-03-31 at 10.49.20

It is also well documented that when draconian restrictions are put in place, leaders get quite the taste for them and look into maintaining  such powers long after the crisis has ebbed. Over in Hungary, the far-right anti-semitic PM Victor Orban has granted himself terrifying new powers to govern and kill off dissent. Over in Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu has postponed standing trial on several corruption trial, handily at a time when he was in a precarious position after failing to form a government. Over in the US, Trump has on one (tiny) hand stated that the pandemic is a hoax, on the other attempting to buy up a company working on a vaccine for the exclusive use of Americans.

We need to be vigilant, we need to be critical. We need to congratulate when required, and I very much congratulate Chancellor Rishi Sunak on his recent discovery of the legendary Magic Moneytree, and the adjacent understanding that the ‘household budget’ analogy used to describe the nation’s finances deceptive, destructive  bunkum.

“The first casualty of war is the truth”, said Aeschylus, the ancient Greek founder of dramatic tragedy. To question, to demand honesty, is not blind belligerence. It is not working against the national cause, or the national interest. It is, however, an essential component of democracy and, for better or worse, the buffer between dictatorship, the brakes on tyranny. To say this is no time for journalism fundamentally misunderstands journalism’s role. Screenshot 2020-03-31 at 10.51.55

“Memory is the mother of all wisdom” was another zinger from our aforementioned Greek friend. It is essential that when this is over, the narrative is honest, the narrative is clear. There has been many, and there will be many more unnecessary deaths due to the exceptionalism, ego and sheer laziness of Boris Johnson. His letter should arrive today. There is a toilet paper crisis. Perhaps my earlier criticism of its utility was misplaced.

__________________________________________

Many things happening in my life right now to adjust to the new normal, with The Beestonian looking at finding a new way of keeping going while our distributors are closed. Please have a read online if you can’t get a copy: in a uncharacteristic act of foresight we went with the theme of ‘Community’ and the cover is almost clairvoyant in its germane nature. We set themes and cover art a couple of months before publication, so had no idea: these were the days when Boris Johnson’s energies were more focused on seeing if he could get Big Ben to bong on Brexit day…..

Carl Husted, Crony and Bigot.

I want to reassure you that I will be a prime minister for everyone, not just those who voted for me.

So said Boris Johnson shortly after his December win. With the country cleaved by the referendum, and a full-on culture war underway, it seemed an unlikely proposition, but one that should at least be given a chance.

That message doesn’t seem to have reached Broxtowe, however, and the office of new MP Darren Henry. While Henry himself comes across as an equitable chap – I had a drink with him shortly before the election and it was only when we came to political issues we found any friction between ourselves – it seems those he surrounds himself with are not on board with the whole One Nation thing.

First, let’s go back a decade, and the election of Henry’s predecessor Anna Soubry.

Before the election she made several promises she subsequently broke on taking office, notably on the subject of employing party members to her office. Nope, she’d take on a local.

Didn’t happen. She appointed a character named Craig Cox, who wasn’t just an activist but one involved in the abusive bullying Conservative Future group that was disbanded after a fellow University of Nottingham student committed suicide after intense bullying.

Cox had form: he’d been investigated by the police for racism after attending a student meeting with a placard demanding ‘Bring Back Slavery’. For the LOLs, of course.

The Guardian picked up on my reporting and soon Cox was out, and a subsequent attempt to take over Conservative Future failed due to his poor reputation.

Soubry’s promises of ‘being the MP for all constituents’ rang hollow when she gave an interview saying she got into politics ‘to fight lefties’. Not to make the world a better place, correct injustices, etc. To fight lefties. Unsurprisingly, when she appealed to the left to vote for her in the collosal mis-gamble vanity project that was Change Independent UK (subs please check) they weren’t fooled.

So will Henry be a breath of fresh air, and reach out to all constituents?

Not if one of his first acts is to count for anything.

During the election, an individual named Carl Husted was bought onto the campaign, with one email stating he was ‘campaign manager’, a status strongly denied by Henry.

He has quite a history: arrested over possession of cocaine; calling his native Wolverhampton (where he probably first met Henry) ‘full of scum’, and when attempting to be a Tory councillor on Nottingham City Council compared Remain voters petitioning for a second referendum as ‘Nazis’. Nice guy. That saw him suspended from the Conservatives, though, as the excellent @matesJacob Twitter feed shows, that amounts to little- the worst bigots are generally quietly readmitted a few weeks later.

Henry told me at the time ” (Husted) is not my Campaign Manager but someone who has volunteered to distribute leaflets and his short suspension is over now anyway”.

A few weeks after the election, and who should appear on a tweet?

EN3IXfUUcAANpbj

That’s Husted (third left) and after a little bit of digging I hear he’s to be the office manager for Henry. Not a local, not a truly fair figure who would help every constituent equally, but a divisive and nasty crony of Henry’s, paid for by the taxpayer.

I asked Henry for a statement in response to my inquiries into Husted, who has even managed to alienate swathes of his own local party: “Carl was a volunteer during my campaign. He is a member of the Conservative Party. I am also hoping to have him onboard as my office manager in the Constituency”.

This isn’t exactly trying to ‘heal the division’. This has the hallmarks of another parachuted MP taking office and putting career before constituents, and effectively decided some constituents are more important than others. Husted’s choice of language on Muslims- comparing Labour voters to ‘Jihadis’ – is going to make it difficult for those of that religion to approach his office for help.

It’s a depressing start. If Henry wants to convince a sceptical Broxtowe that he truly wants to heal division, it’s time to ditch Husted.

SCABBY KID WITH BUCKLE WELTS: WHERE WE GO NOW.

It might seem this blog was cut off before the election in a rather blunt fashion, and then may look like we were just being mardy. Apologies for that- the truth was more complex and involved illness that made the actual night of the election a fever-dream within a fever-dream. It was probably the codeine, but I swear I saw footage of Michael Gove being re-elected while swallowing whole a guinea-pig. Who knows anymore?

Illness aside, I was also reluctant to offer up a post-mortem, unlike every other voice on the internet. I had sleep to catch up on, fluids to drink and Christmas to enjoy. Blogging could take a back seat.

Returning to this site, some positives: I was very proud to be able to take on Faith Pring and Chris Tregenza as guest election correspondents: both excelled, turning in copy that zinged and popped. It was a joy to act as their editor, and a greater joy to be able to raise funds to pay them both – not a huge amount, but through your generosity, enough for them to accurately describe themselves as professional journalists. They both deserve more paid work and more bylines: I’ve offered them both opportunities on The Beestonian and look forward to continue working with them. Thanks to all who donated and made this possible.

Yesterday, I gave a presentation to the journalism students I teach, themed ‘Speaking Truth to Power’. It was a compressed history and overview of investigative journalism, taking in the inevitable Woodward and Bernstein through to the more modern heroes such as Nick Davies, Paul Foot, Carole Cadwalladr, Amelia Gentleman, Daphne Caruana Galizia et al; then modern citizen investigative reporting, from Bellingcat to the phenomenal forensic crowd-sourcing work behind An Anatomy of a Killing;. 

Researching the lesson, and watching the reaction of the students when I delivered it, made me realise that there is little more important than strong journalism in these post-truth days. A journalist is obliged to be a scientist, a detective, a person of infinite patience and resource. We need more of them.

I was planning to quit this blog for good once the election was done, after tentatively stepping away several times in the past. Then I read something that struck such a chord with me I can’t get it out my head and it serves as a constant prick to my conscience. This is Nick Davies, a hero of mine:

“For various reasons, I got hit by a lot of adults when I was a child. I deeply hate people who abuse power because of that. I want to get my own back on people who abuse power and by good chance that’s what a good journalist should do”. (Broken News, Alan Rusbridger)

The resonance of it! As a child, I was hit by adults frequently. My parents were bullies who delighted in slapping, belting, using anything blunt as a punishment tool, or co-opting my older brother to do it for them. I suffered acute atopic eczema throughout, which made the skin incredibly sore and sensitive: a belt across the back would hurt that little bit more as it burst wounds and welted broken skin. This would be arbitrary, sadistic and bizarrely banal and surburban – I remember my mum fretting over a possible hairline fissure in the hoover attachment she’d struck across my thighs. That mother, who I am very gratefully estranged from and will never be allowed to come anywhere near my own child, is almost inevitably currently a Conservative Councillor.

My condition led to the predictable bullies at school for years before I developed strategies to quell it, before they developed I’d regularly get a shoeing on account of being shit at football or having perpetually flaky skin. Sometime around the age of 11, I tried to do myself in by taking a load of pills -heavens knows what they were, I do remember a handful of paracetamol –  but there were always lots in our house. I remember being it anything but dramatic, just a pragmatic decision.

If it wasn’t for the fact I vomited and collapsed in the bathroom, and the subsequent discovery of empty tablet blisters, I would have been successful. As it was, there was a drive to A+E at the QMC, pints of orange-flavoured emetics forced down my neck, hours of throwing up until my mouth was burning and lips swollen through the gastric fluids forced out, and home, where my loving dad gave me a kicking before sending me to bed. There would be more attempts, more failures, more kickings. If it hadn’t been for a loving, empathetic and wonderful grandmother I could run to I would not be here.

I’ll never do the work Nick Davies did: few will. The guy is a genius and has uncovered child sex rings right here in Nottingham; coined the phrase ‘Churnalism’, and famously, exposed the phone hacking scandal. I’ve pissed off a few Councillors and had a few people swiftly ‘removed from positions’.  Yet his reflective motive and sheer honesty was common ground and served more to make me understand why the fuck I do this to myself. I have a wonderful job working with writers; I run a fantastic magazine; I teach with incredible people; I go on telly to talk about nature, books, and all between. Investigative journalism is horribly stressful, often utterly depressing, often seemingly pointless.

But like Davies, I have to do it. I cannot sit by and watch others abuse others as I was abused, it really is as straightforward as that. I now have much beauty in my life: a wife and child I could not adore more, work I love, reasonably good health and freedom from the aforementioned eczema that blighted so many decades of my life. Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, it cleared up when I cut my parents from my life, and has never returned.

I will always, always be condemned / compelled to address wrongs. This isn’t some attempt to paint myself as some sort of moral superiority, some white knight; rather to explain it’s a reaction to damage done, a character flaw that drives me on. I’m n ot sure if it is a curse or a blessing, and I hope one day I’ll be able to do what Nick Davies eventually did – feel sated, quit and

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nick_Davies

Yoga currently holds little attraction, so you’ll have to put up with me a great deal longer, perhaps sporadically, perhaps not. I won’t write for the sake of writing; there are far, far too many keyboard incontinents out on the internet. But I will write when something needs to be done and no one else is doing it. The next five years are going to be assaults on so much: I speak not as someone on the left, but someone who recognises the abuse of power and is appalled to see it.  I most likely won’t have much impact. But I will have absolutely none if I don’t bother. Simply, I can’t not bother.  That scabby kid with the buckle welts burning on his flesh hasn’t had his fill yet.

Henceforth tomorrow expect a piece in why our new MP has already done something so shitty it deserves to be more widely told. Tune in.

If you have any stories, bang them over to mattgoold23@hotmail.com and if you fancy throwing a few quid to help keep this site in good condition, then I’ll advance you a tip of my imaginary hat in gratitude:https://www.paypal.me/BEESTONIA

 

 

 

 

 

A Message From Nick Palmer.

Intro by

Lord Beestonia

When I first started writing about politics, our MP was Nick Palmer. I didn’t agree with many things he supported, but I got to know him as a decent bloke and a genuinely helpful MP, willing to help anyone who asked, irrespective of their political stripe.

One complaint I did have, as a journalist eager stories, was that Nick was uncontroversial, professional and dilligent. There was little to write about, therefore. Now I look back on those days with absolute nostalgia.

Since handing the PPC reins over to Greg in 2017, he’s inevitably become less visible, but has been active in support of Greg. His latest email newsletter is printed in full here, and not solely because I’m lazy and want to spend my birthday politics free. Rather, it is a well argued and passionate plea to use your vote wisely tomorrow.

This is a binary choice, I’m afraid. A vote for anyone but Greg Marshall is a vote for a Boris Johnson majority. That’s the bottom line. Yes, the electoral system is screwed, FPTP is awful. Yet right now, don’t pretend this is a proportional representation election. Over to Nick:

Parliament has a surplus of people who define themselves by opposition to someone else. Astonishingly, the Conservative campaign this time has come down to exactly two messages, “Get Brexit done” and “We’re not Corbyn”. Do you remember anything else in their manifesto? Something about potholes, wasn’t there? And yet these hope to govern with a majority for five years.

Is that because they have no ideas? Actually, no. The Conservatives have purged their entire moderate wing. Former PM John Major. Former Chancellor Ken Clarke. Former chairman Chris Patten. The list goes on. What is left is a hardcore right-wing, nationalist party. That is why they are perfectly willing to embrace a Brexit in 2020 with no trade deal whatever, in the hope that they can construct an offshore tax-avoiding free market paradise. Since this is not an agenda that would get majority support, we’ve seen a Conservative campaign that would raise eyebrows in a Third World autocracy, grounded on a personality cult, lies, evasion and a blizzard of negative propaganda. It’s an embarrassment to a modern democracy.
On Thursday, either Darren Henry or Greg Marshall will be elected to represent you – the latest polls show them locked in a close race, far ahead of every other candidate. Darren represents the new breed of Conservatives, chosen from Wiltshire over local Conservatives because he represented the Brexiteer faith more completely.
Greg represents the tradition that I tried to establish as an MP – positive politics, based on a strong local focus and genuine open-mindedness. One of the reasons I like Greg and have been spending so much time working for him this week is that he predominantly stands for a positive vision – for decent public services, for a fair chance for everyone, for schools that have the resources to give a strong educational basis. Without these things, our society will decline – in productivity, in opportunity, in spirit. And he supports a reasonable compromise to end the Brexit nightmare – a fresh referendum with a choice of remaining members or leaving the political union but staying in a sensible customs union with our neighbours.
He’d make the better representative for Broxtowe, a constituency that has never embraced polarised extremism.
Please vote for positive politics, and support Greg Marshall on Thursday.
Nick Palmer

A Favour To Ask…

So here we are. It’s election eve and within 36 hours we’ll know where the country will be sitting for the next five years.

I’ve been struck down with a horrendous cold, and life is being experienced as if within a deep-sea diving suit. The occasion administration of Sudafed and paracetamol lets me enjoy temporary surfacing, before all the holes in my face clog up again and I’m back, deep in the Mariana Trench.

It’s also my birthday. And I hope these two facts serve to explain why a scheduled slew of pre-election day content – analysis, insight, rumour and psephology- will be replaced by a short piece on who I’ll be voting for tomorrow, and why.

That’ll be online soon, so in the meantime here is a way you can make this birthday special and get me what I’ve always wanted: a hopeful future for robust local journalism.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been aided in this blog by Chris Tregenza and Faith Pring, two volunteers who came forward after I put out a request on Twitter for help covering the campaigns. They both came forward, and have done a fantastic job. I’m sure you agree.

Put that appreciation into something more tangible: stick a fiver (or whatever you can) towards the fund I’m running to give them a wage for what they’ve done, making them professional, paid journalists and in a world that is still struggling to work out a way to prioritise truth, there is a a hunger for good journalism.

Every penny will go directly to the two young hacks – this blog has given me so much over the last decade I’m happy to not take a wage: if I can do my bit to pushing out new journalism, I’m happy enough.

Click here: https://www.paypal.me/BEESTONIA and thank you in advance x

Politics By Design – Judging politicians by their leaflets No: 7. – Dr Teck Khong

Dr Teck Khong – Independent Brexit Party People’s Front of Broxtowe

By Chris Tregenza

Overall:

The leaflet’s ambitions are fatally undermined by the lack of knowledge (in design) of those behind it. Potentially good ideas are poisoned by a heavy-handed approach and lack of overall balance.

Colour Use:

The dominant colour is confidently but unhelpfully identified as Tradewind by my colour spotter app. A dodgy greeny-cyan is a more human but only slightly more useful description. The strong border to the white-space is offset by a striped background in variant grey/green shades which, as a palette, is actually quite good. However, while Dr Khong’s take on colour is more subtle and sympathetic than you’ll tend to see from his end of the political spectrum, the end result is an ugly mess.

Typography:

Life and design are very similar in many ways. Sometimes you have an idea which seems foolproof but when reality hits with all its details and little awkward problems, everything turns into a mess. Of course I’m referring to the striped background to Dr Khong’s leaflet. It’s a genuinely imaginative approach, providing an easy way to bring cohesion to the overall design but the doctor chooses ride roughshod over it in favour of his own limited and badly executed ideas. From the ham-fisted approach (to bolding) and the complete failure to understand technical issues (such as font size versus line-height); to misguided ideas about how to integrate white with colour (text), this leaflet is awful.

Images:

There is only one image, a badly cropped but otherwise good photo of the man himself. Notably the working GP has a stethoscope around his neck. In normal advertising, that’s illegal because the use medical props to sell unrelated products has been abused by unscrupulous people to do untold harm to consumers. Now, election leaflets are not advertising as such so it’s legality is a complex subject. I wonder whether Dr Khong carefully did his research and spoke to experts to check everything would be OK or did he simply go ahead in total ignorance of the potential pitfalls.

Truthiness:

There’s not much here apart from vague statements with no explanation of how they would be implemented. Though potential voters should note that while he is only “for” brexit and can merely promise “to work on” homelessness, he is confident his experience as a police surgeon will allow him to “defeat” crime.

Message:

The leaflet’s message is “Hi, you’ve never heard of me but I’m appealing to all the small-minded little-Englanders who wanted to vote for Farage”.

Summary:

Listen to expert advice and think things through or otherwise you’ll end up with this mess.

—–

Chris Tregenza doesn’t have a real job so spends his time on Twitter as @Tregenza

Dear Anna by Chris Tregenza

The fall-out from Darren Henry’s rather misguided thoughts on foodbanks is still making the news, with the video passing 1.5m views on Twitter alone. On the same day Boris Johnson was so adamant not to look at the human cost of NHS austerity he stole a journalist’s phone, its not a good look for the party well beyond that describes by Theresa May in 2002.

Yet we will turn out attention to a former Tory who many assumed would be the key anti-Brexit candidate in Broxtowe. Our reporter Chris Tregenza was one of those, yet in this piece explains why things have chaged:


Dear Anna

By Chris Tregenza

Dear Anna,

In 2016 my concept of politics was torn apart. Everything I took for granted about our democracy and the basic decency of British people was upended when the voters decided to pursue an extremist agenda. That was the day I became politically active, determined to do whatever was in my power to prevent the perversion of Brexit.

Anna Soubry, by Chris Tregenza

This has led me on a strange political path as I organised hustings, co-ordinated local campaign groups and spent many cold and wet hours campaigning on the streets of Nottinghamshire. I’ve been snowed on with Revolutionary Marxists, sheltered under the golfing umbrellas of Conservative party members and shared suncream with Green party candidates.

Many of those hours have been stood next to you on People’s Vote stalls. I’ve seen you respond with dignity to abuse and talk with passion about the EU to people of all political stripes. In parliament, your speeches have been some of the most eloquent of the remain cause. While your willingness to speak truth unto power in your own party has been a true example of Churchill’s “Country, constituency, party” mantra.

No one has been a better example for the remain cause and UK democracy than yourself but I won’t be voting for you.

I want to vote for you. Your actions, sacrifices and commitment deserve my vote as a remainer. However only a small number of voters, maybe 5-10%, are deciding their vote on Brexit alone. This by itself is not enough to get you elected. To win, you need large scale defection from the Tories and Labour yet this is not happening at a national or local level.

Going into this election I expected to vote for you. In our political system independent candidates face immense problems getting elected but I thought you could do it. Your personal determination, your oratory and experience all gave you a fighting chance. Yet as the campaign progressed the fates have not been kind. The Boris-bias of the media, Labour’s Brexit strategy finally becoming clear and the failure of the Lib-Dem surge have all hurt your chances.

Since the election has been called I’ve been talking to people in Broxtowe every day – party activists, ordinary voters and those alienated by traditional party politics. Few have expressed a willingness to vote for you. All of the polling, national and local, shows you considerably behind both Labour and the Conservatives.

My doubts about Greg Marshall are similar to your own and should he be elected, all Broxtowe will get is a loyal servant to the party machine. However Labour is now firmly behind a second referendum with an option to remain. There’s no doubt that elements within Labour will fight to subvert this commitment but that is a battle for another day.

If Boris gets a majority, the remain cause is dead. We won’t get a second referendum and instead we will plunge into the worst possible Brexit. Stopping Boris on the 12th is the only way forward for remain.

Anna, you deserve better than this. Never have I been prouder of a local MP then watching you demolish the lies of leavers in the House of Commons but elections are all about winning. As a remainer I must do whatever I can to stop Boris and stop Brexit. In Broxtowe, only Labour have a chance of beating the Conservatives.

That is why I will be voting for Greg Marshall.

Yours

Chris Tregenza