MARK STEEL: MAN ABOUT TOWN

Mark Steel has become an unlikely national treasure through his appearances on BBC Radio 4, most notably via his tour of UK weird that is Mark Steel’s In Town. He recently decided to look around this part of the world, and asked me to take his hand and lead him around the streets of Nott’num. Here’s the story behind the show…

Mark Steel’s In Town: Nottingham is broadcast on Monday 22nd August, 6.30pm, on BBC Radio 4: you can find it here. There’s also a podcast, find it through BBC Sounds.

LEAVING THE GARDEN

Royal Tunbridge Wells,  Kent, Autumn, 2001, and weirdly this is where I live. Or rather, where I have been living, for today I’m leaving, after three years. I arrived here as a barman and ended up at the BBC via many other roles, but now my time in this place is over. No more Pantiles, or spas. Bye Beau Nash, goodbye Georgian Finery and tarah, Toad Rock. This town, which serves as a punchline for many jokes, is no longer my home. With trepidation, I’m moving back to Nottingham. 

The journey will be a long one, so before I post the key on my old house ( which the landlady would now like back since it has astronomically shot up in value) , I best get some reading material for the trip north. There’s a bookshop close by, and I buy Reasons To Be Cheerful, a memoir of sorts by a comedian I’ve seen at festivals and on the radio, who seems a good sort. His name is Mark Steel, and Sussex Stationers take my cash and hand it over.

Tunbridge Wells. Disgusting. (Actually a very nice, grossly misunderstood place)

I open it as we head from Kent through to London, and then around the M25 and the M1, the artery I know far too well. Near the top of it, Junction 25, and the place I grew up. I have little love for it. I left it for a purpose, and moved around: Newcastle, Amsterdam, Spain, Portugal. Anywhere but Nottingham. It’s now known, rather grimly, as Shottingham. When I’d recently told a friend’s dad I was heading back there, he’d looked concerned and said ‘Well, I here there’s trouble there. You be careful there now”. My friend’s dad had moved to Kent in the early nineties from Troubles-era Belfast. I consider the cost of Kevlar. I fidget. Eventually, I read the book.

It’s a fantastically funny, utterly heartfelt and pleasingly radical: Steel’s politics chime with my own. I’ve just witnessed a general election in Tunbridge Wells, and if you ever need a rebellious boot up the arse, it’s after what felt like the most inconsequential electoral contest ever. I’d been asked to ring around local politicians the morning of the result: none really cared, there were no surprises and no decent quotes, aside from a sleep-deprived Anne Widdecombe calling me a ‘rude young man’, which wasn’t deemed newsworthy enough. Things felt flat. The book’s joy in rebellion was a tonic. Steel avoids dogma and instead lets an active optimism serve as a weapon against despair. The road rumbles North.

WIND OF CHANGE

I intended to stay in Notts for a short period of time: grimly, however long it takes my gran to die. She was the most important person in my world, and last time I’d visited she’d been unwell; I was terrified she’d slip away before I could hold her papery but warm hands again. When I find I had to find a new place to live, and when i considered I’d had to work a nightclub job three nights a week, and several shifts at a local pub on to of my job at the BBC just to make the rent in the first place, the thought of having to sort a new place wasn’t alluring. It was time to go back, albeit briefly. Once my gran is gone, my connection there will be broken and I’ll head off again, wherever. 

My gran hangs on until 2006. “It was a bit of wind” she explains to me when I arrive back and go and see her “They took me to a ward, stuck all these things on me, wires everywhere, then I farted – I mean, really farted- and I felt right as rain. Couldn’t tell them that though. Though I think they knew…..I mean, it lingered”. By the time she does die, well into her nineties, and funny to the end, I’m very much tied up in Notts. 

SCREEN NOW GOES WOOZY AS WE GO FORWARD IN TIME

Spring 2022, and my Twitter notifications start going crazy. I momentarily panic: have I written something on there that’s suddenly blown up for, and I’ll become a pariah and a subject of a Jon Ronson article? I check. No, rather it’s a slew of tweets tagging me, recommending me to Mark Steel, after the comedian has asked

He should ask me, they say. I’ll be a good help to explore the place, others mention. It’s extremely flattering to read them: I do indeed write a fair bit about place. My first paid journalism was down in Kent, where I would research and write articles about local sports stuff: I’d soon became a bit of an expert on the local area, using the context of place to elevate a story about a golf course, or a rugby club. In 2009 I set up this blog after occasional articles here and there on the weirdness of the town. In 2011, a physical magazine was kicked into life to give a space for others to also talk about the town. Since 2014, I’ve been writing about Notts in terms of its writers, as part of Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature. Along the way, my butterfly mind has been thoroughly indulged, feeding on bizarre facts and unexpected links; strange events and anecdotes that shape over time in legendary stories. I still remember the buzz I got in the early noughties, reading a link a friend had sent where an upstart Nottingham website interviewed someone who I’d never have imagined being interviewed: Frank, the Xylophone Man from outside of C&A. Are we allowed this, allowed to celebrate our own city like this? It seemed thrilling. LeftLion, for it was they, also moved into print, and has just celebrated its 150th issue. 

LeftLion: Reimagining Notts

Mark Steels In Town has a similar ethos, where the host travels around the UK (and further afield) and snuffles in the local leaf-litter for truffles of amusement. He’ll also look for common themes: what makes a place somewhere, and not just anywhere? It’s been wildly successful: now into its 12th series it’s become an anticipated treat (“People write in and say ‘can you come to my town and slag it right off’ Mark will later tell me “Though that’s not the point”). It’s popularity is rooted in many areas – Mark’s hilariously absurdist rants; the attention paid to the script; the sheer variety of the choices of places to focus on – but perhaps key is something much deeper in the British psyche.

PEAS PLEASE ME

We are bound in many ways to the land we live in, we are subject to the idiosyncrasies of place. I like mushy peas, and definitely think they’re best served molten hot, drenched in vinegar and mint sauce, and served in a polystyrene cup. Would I be so keen on this treat if I’d been born in, say, Tunbridge Wells? Similarly, would I balk at saying the word ‘rabbit’ if I lived in Portland; or take pride in having the longest street market in the world if I grew up in Walthamstow? Mark understands this, and holds up a mirror on a place. Never mockingly, never with a sense of superiority; but with a fascinated amusement. However global we feel , however divorced from geography in this digital age, however spoiled for choice we are with motorways and rail networks and cheap flights…we are always at least a little bit made of where we are from. This isn’t to be confused with the pernicious nationalism, exceptionalism and homogeneity that is peddled by Farage. Rees-Mogg and all their fellow right-wing (non) travellers. 

Instead, it’s an innate understanding: what makes us great as a nation is a combination of that which connects us, what commonality holds; and the bafflingly wonderful diversity within. Mark effortlessly gets this, and spins these strands into golden radio content. Which he now wants my help with. Yep, there was gulping. 

CLASS SWAT

Steel’s producer arranges us to meet in the city for a scout around the area. As I walk to our rendezvous by the entrances to the Caves I rehearse what to say. I’ve made a huge list of notes about the weirdness of Notts, but feel it only scratches the surface. Best to make sure he is first disabused of the misconceptions. Top of the list: Shottingham. What was a massively over-hyped, concentrated clash of gangs still unfairly overshadows much of the city. That must be a deal-breaker: we don’t tolerate  guns (or Gunns) in this city. I’m about to cross the by the side of the Crown Court when two white vans screeched to a halt immediately in front of me, doors springing open and a bunch of helmeted, heavily armed police bundled out telling pedestrians to get back, which we duly did. I’m aware – which is latterly confirmed -that this is probably seen by my guests. Thanks, random chance.

I don’t recognise Mark at first: he’s one of those strange people who look taller than on the radio. He’s also wearing a purple hat over his boyish mop-top. I introduce myself, and we head off to find coffee, and for me to begin my ‘look, those armed police, right?” speech. Carl, the Manucian producer, is here, alongside writer Pete Sinclair, who has been involved in so much comedy I guarantee he’s previously made you laugh before. I run through facts, anecdotes and oddness and they take notes and ask questions. A little voice keeps nagging at me ‘You’ve just made a bunch of professional funny people laugh and it didn’t look like merely out of politeness” but I somehow keep it suppressed and resist falling to the floor and We Are Not Worthy-ing the table.

Thus begins a tour of Nottingham, through the Caves (my first visit, and impressive); Five Leaves, The Council House / Left Lion and many other places. It goes by in a whirl, and we’re in the Trip to Jerusalem, below the Haunted Galleon, that I notice the time: real life kicks in, hands are shook, hugs dispensed, and I’m back on a bus to Beeston and reality. 

REDS MIST

Time passes. Forest are promoted in a thrilling end of season dash culminating in a Wembley final. Nottingham is back in the Big League. Summer warms up, and that weird day in Nottingham slips back into fond memory. I’m dimly aware they’ll be recording the show soon, but Summer has a habit of breezily accelerating like how Winter seems to stick in thick frozen mud. I get a phone call from a number I don’t recognise. ‘It’s Mark Steel” he says, as if that very familiar voice needed introduction “I’ll be up in Nottingham before we record. Are you around?”

I meet him off the train on a warm day, and we head to a cool pub to chat and practice the accent. The ever excellent Dr Natalie Braber joins us. She’s perhaps the world’s foremost academic on How Ter Speak Notts. She gives Mark a crash-course in the hybrid linguistic oddity of the accent, which is fascinating to watch: an East Midlands Pygmalian. Soon he’s AyupMiDucking like a native. 

We watch cricket together on the big screen, supping lemonade. It’s happening live just down the road at Trent Bridge, but its also sold out so this will have to do. We talk cricket, and again, a little voice rises within “You’re talking cricket with one of the nation’s most famous cricket fans!’ but I swallow it back. 

ACCENT MAN

The following day, and it’s showtime. Another hot day, and I meet Mark and Carl for a pre-show coffee and a run over details.  Mark doesn’t just visit places for the show, picking out the odd bit of odd here and there, but genuinely tries to absorb the sense of the place. We are on Friar Lane, and as people pass, chatting away I notice him watching them, listening to the rhythms of their accent, the gait; some deeply complex essence of Nottingham. 

They head off to prep for the show, I drop back home and shower. Mark’s mentioned he will be calling on me to speak during the show, and I swing my keys around my fingers restlessly on the bus in, jangling them in tune to my nerves. Metronome, the venue for the recording, is already heaving, but I’m ushered in swiftly, where I chance upon my friend Rish and his wife. Rish was my first assistant editor on The Beestonian, and still runs the best Forest podcast out there, 1865My plus-one is the mysterious legend that is Ron Manager Remembers Nottingham, possibly the best celebration-of-Nottingham-via-erstwhile-Fast-Show-Character that Twitter has ever seen. The true identity of the person behind the account is a closely-guarded secret, so I will say little else on their true identity on pain of death / decent sized bribe.

I get a call off Carl – can I come backstage immediately? I make my way there, to find a pre-show Mark clutching the script intently. “Can’t nail the accent” he explains, so we spend a surreal few minutes before showtime with me coaching his accent down from Leeds, via Sheffield, past Chesterfield and into a NG postcode. To learn Nottingham one must first forget Yorkshire.  He practices, it slips back into place, and the auditorium fills. I take my seat, alongside Robin Hood, the Mayor and Sheriff of Nottingham and we’re off.

LEFT TO RIGHT: me, Lord Mayor, Ghost of Maid Marion, Sheriff of Nottingham

I won’t put any spoilers here, though having had a preview of the edit I can tell you it is utterly hilarious, with Mark exposing the ridiculousness of our city in ways only an outsider can: an eye for detail of our strangeness and individuality. It’s delightful to hear well-worn anecdotes I’ve told for years down the pub get the Mark Steel treatment, and turned into something sharper and many times funnier than your own telling: Pimp My Ride for wannabe raconteurs. I’m thrown to several times to tell a story, or to add context. I have the whole audience behind me as I do, sparing me trying to read their faces as a stand-up must do, and the tiny fraction of a second before a joke hits and the laugh begins is absolute proof of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

It’s over with a flourish, and the audience flow out delighted, and possibly prouder of their city than ever before. We are a humble bunch in Nottingham, and often don’t have a strongly defined sense of who we are , what we are. We’ve just had an expert explain it to us, and we are made up.

DHOSA MEDICINE

I head for dinner in Kayal with the production team, a fine end to what has been an incredible experience. Having interviewed many famous people over the years, I’ve never truly brought into that thing about never meeting your heroes. Still, there is always the fear that someone you’ve admired for a while being in a bad mood when you meet them, or just being an outright arse cheek. It’s sometimes strange to meet someone who clearly has a public persona that they can switch on and off.

Wonderfully, Mark is as funny, as kind, as curious and as outright wonderfully human as I imagined, and then some. He genuinely loves his work, and thus does it with panache.

Before I leave, I pull a book from my bag. It’s a bit battered, dogeared, spine crinkled and the price sticker peeling off. “Could you sign this for me please?” I ask, and as he does, I think back to the trepidation I felt leaving the South East to return here. “Would I find home?” I’d asked myself then. 21 years on, and as the ink dries, I’m prouder than ever to say I have.

Mark Steel’s In Town: Nottingham is broadcast on Monday 22nd August, 6.30pm, on BBC Radio 4: you can find it here. There’s also a podcast, find it through BBC Sounds.

BEESTON TO BE SPLIT IN TWO?

Today I appeared before the Boundary Commission’s public hearing into changes to the constituency of Broxtowe. The proposal that the Commission have put forward has focussed on the north of the constituency, a trim here and a trim there to bring it to a more equitable size.

However, our MP has seen an opportunity to try and shore up his prospects for reelection by instead putting forward a proposal that cleaves off three-quarters of Beeston into a city constituency, preserving the North. Why? Well, it might help to look at how the two area votes: the areas to be moved in the north are Tory-leaning, while Beeston is consistently anti-Tory. I have written about this for Central Bylines, here.

PLEASE HAVE YOUR SAY ON THE PROPOSALS. SIMPLY CLICK HERE, hover over Broxtowe and add a comment.

Here’s what I told the hearing:

Hello, my name is Matt Turpin. I’m a longstanding resident of Broxtowe, having spent my childhood in Stapleford and much of my adulthood in Beeston .

As well as a resident, I’m here as someone who has made the Beeston area the subject of much of my work over the last decade, having set up a local community magazine, The Beestonian, in 2011 which still thrives to this day.

I am also part of the volunteer team that oversee the local community Facebook group Beeston Updated, which 28,000 Beestonians are members of. With the usual disclaimers about social media and representation, I do think it is at the very least strongly indicative of how Beeston feels. 

 I want to express my support for the proposals put forward, while also cautioning against other representations that I believe to have not been made in good faith.

A strongly backed proposal – from our own MP, no less – is to answer the question of fair constituency distribution by not focussing on the north of the constituency (which is the current default proposal), but to instead cleave the town of Beeston in two, pushing one half into a Nottingham constituency while retaining the other half – actually more like a quarter – in Broxtowe.

This is, to anyone with the merest grasp of local geography, absurd, arbitrary and confusing. The reasoning behind this suggestion is specious at best, arguing along the lines that part of Beeston is already in Nottingham, namely areas east of Woodside Road. 

A look at a map shows this is not a sizeable chunk of Beeston, rather a few residential streets that abut the University campus, separated from the rest of Beeston by Woodside Road.  The proposal put forward by the MP would instead drag that line into the middle of Beeston, with next-door neighbours having different MPs across a wide swathe of Beeston. 

While aware that there has to be a dividing line somewhere, this is not the place. 

The proposal also states that this idea has previously attracted popular local support.  In the years I’ve been involved in the community of Beeston, i’ve never heard anyone suggest this as anything but an awful idea. This is reflected in a poll we conducted on the aforementioned Beeston Updated site, where the members were asked about the proposal and asked to vote if they were for or against. Well over 98% were opposed. Many commented that they were highly confused with this proposal, and were worried about the potential confusion. This would be damaging to local democracy.

Again, I offer the usual caveats that come with polling on social media, but again think this is at least indicative. I am willing to make the details of the poll – its wording as well as its findings – available as evidence should they prove to be helpful.

Other reasons given, such as existing transport links with the city, are baffling considering the reach of City transport provision outside the given borders of the city itself. As transport is largely a devolved issue anyhow, it seems of little relevance. 

While the prospect of the WHOLE of Beeston one day becoming part of a different constituency is not entirely rejected: I do see many positives from such an arrangement in the future, on both a constituency and local authority basis – this isn’t that whatsoever, and instead something that will effectively drop an arbitrary line down the middle of a strong community.

So why is this ridiculous proposal being offered to the committee?

The Boundary Commission is an independent organisation that must oppose political interference and ensure decisions are made for the greater good of the democratic health of this country, and each and every constituency that it oversees.

Therefore I do hope they draw the same conclusions that I, and many others, draw in that the proposal put forward by the Member of Parliament for Broxtowe is not just unworkable, bad for existing communities, and arbitrary. but merely a cynical attempt to divide a town for political gain.  

  The area he has suggested is calved off consistently votes against the political party he represents – , and as such this seems a rather cynical party political attempt at maintaining power, and therefore has no merit for further consideration.  

Thank you.

PLEASE HAVE YOUR SAY ON THE PROPOSALS. SIMPLY CLICK HERE, hover over Broxtowe and add a comment.

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An Open Letter to MP Darren Henry Regarding the Downing Street Parties.

I don’t think this needs much in the way of introduction. I rarely find the time these days to write on here, or indeed write to our vertebrae-lacking MP. But I can’t not, considering the awfulness that has unfolded. Please do similar: the easiest way is via this site. Please be polite: don’t sink to the squalid standards of our Prime Minister and his outriders.

Dear Darren

I’ve been reluctant to write to you for some time, due to the utter lack of deviation you offer from the Whip’s office line. A similar sentiment has been expressed to me by many other constituents, who find it rather insulting to ask a serious question of great importance and receive back an anodyne response that looks cut+pasted from some Conservative CQ template. Remember your defense of Dominic Cummings road trip to Cumbria? I do, and many others do, and we won’t be forgetting your response. 

However, I am moved to write as I feel your failure to offer a public response to the Boris Johnson / Downing Street parties is untenable. This, in turn, renders your position untenable. A representative who not only fails to represent his constituents, but can’t even do the honorable thing and explain why, is defrauding those who pay his wages.

I am therefore putting down a series of simple yes or no answers for you to answer

  1. In light of the interim Sue Gray findings, which state clearly that the parties at Downing Street were ‘serious failures of leadership and judgment’, and the confirmation of repeated parties so far, will you now be sending in a letter of no confidence in the Prime Minister to the 1922 Committee? Please note, I am basing this question on the clear, unequivocal findings of this interim report, so there is no requirement for awaiting the finding of the ongoing police investigation to respond. 
  1. Throughout the pandemic, through my work as a community journalist,  I interviewed many people who had made significantsacrifices and endured unimaginable loss due to the restrictions in place during the pandemic. Nurses who risked their lives in little or no PPE to help others, then couldn’t approach their family when returning home. The freshly qualified  care home worker, who spent her first ever shift holding up an iPad to a dying resident so her family, barred from seeing her in person, said goodbye for the final time via Zoom. These people are heroes, and have been insulted by this flagrant rule-breaking by the leader of your party. Will you apologise to them?
  1. Earlier this week, the Prime Minister used paedophilia as a shield for his own shortcomings, when in a shockingly ill-judged and utterly dishonest response he claimed the Leader of the Opposition was responsible for the failure to prosecute the rapist Jimmy Savile. This has been condemned by the victims of Savile, and many in your own party. This is Trumpian levels of fake news, and part of the continued erosion of basic tenets of trust, truth and decency. Do you stand by the Prime Minister’s comments, as so many of your colleagues do, believing that weaponsing rape victims is all part of ‘the cut and thrust of parliament’ as your colleague Dominc Raab claimed? 
  1. In the two years of being the MP for Broxtowe, are you proud of your track record? What will you pledge to do differently in the next two years?
  1. Will you pledge that going forward as our MP, you will represent your constituents and not tacitly endorse lies, mistruths and other forms of disassembling that seems rife on the front benches right now? If not, can you look anyone in the eye and admit you were an accessory, albeit a tiny, irrelevant footnote, to this degradation of standards?

I would normally end such a letter with no expectation of a speedy reply, but since it was recently revealed that you are the UK’s most expensive MP, claiming a staggering £280,000 on top of your salary (hey, it’s always good to see Broxtowe top the charts!), and your excuse was the necessity of dealing with correspondence, I should probably expect a response written on vellum, tied with Nottingham lace, and hand-delivered by a smart-suited pageboy. Receiving personal visits to my home, from your staff, is something you’re evidently practiced at.  Save us all a few bob, duck, and just stick it in an email.

Best

Matt Turpin

The Bogus Solicitor Wanting YOUR Vote.

We live in a fraught era, where truth has been demoted as something essential. This is across all of society – look at the way Covid myths have slipped effortlessly into mainstream discourse – but nowhere does it have greater prominence than politics. Why politicians have always been prone to lies – oh how we chortled at Alan Clarke MP admitting to be ‘Economical with the actualité – we have never lived in an age where lying isn’t merely used as an occasional tool, but as a core tenet of power. Boris Johnson, sacked multiple times for lying, now engages in fibbing, as Truman described Nixon – ‘just to keep his hand in’. Psychologists will probably be able to identify something here, some disorder that gives the liar a thrill to lie so blatantly, possibly related to the shoplifter who could easily afford what they steal.

As it is with fish, the rot starts from the head down. The lack of consequence has emboldened Conservative politicians at all levels of government to lie. Orwell said that in a time of lies, to tell the truth is a revolutionary act. Our MP, Darren Henry, is clearly no revolutionary. I’m still waiting for the finding of his promised ‘investigation’ into Carl Husted. Lying is corrosive to a society, and once a populace colludes in untruth that society is broken. Tomorrow, vote against the liars. Vote for those who want to use power for the greater good, not for power itself.

One such aspiring politician to be wary of it the County Council candidate for Stapleford & Broxtowe Central. She’s told a rather huge lie, and one that, as Paul Swift explains here, might actually have legal consequences where she’ll need to find a (real) solicitor…

With the honesty and integrity of national politicians currently being an area of some scrutiny and interest, it was disappointing to discover that a local candidate standing for election to Nottinghamshire County Council on 6 May was being accused of having made false or misleading claims.

A news release issued by Nottinghamshire Liberal Democrats makes serious allegations that a Conservative candidate for Stapleford & Broxtowe Central is to be interviewed by the Fraud Squad after claiming to be a Solicitor. Kashmir Purewal, who is standing alongside existing Conservative County Councillor John Doddy, was described as being a qualified Solicitor on an election leaflet (pictured).

The claim is also repeated on the website of a local school where she is a governor and was also until recently on the Broxtowe Conservatives website. However, when concerns about these claims were looked into this uncovered a possible offence of falsely claiming to be a Solicitor and the matter was referred to the police. This is a matter of public interest for local electors as it is both a potentially serious offence to falsely claim to be a qualified Solicitor and in this instance could also be a possible breach of the Representation of the People Act. A spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats said: “When we became aware of concerns over Kashmir Purewal’s claims we passed the matter to Broxtowe Councillor David Watts, who is a Solicitor. His checks revealed that this was a false claim and as a result we notified the Conservatives some weeks ago, well before the nominations for elections closed.

However, they not only failed to retract the false claims, they also nominated her for both the borough and county council seats. We did also try to contact Ms Purewal over her claims but she ignored our messages. When approached regarding the issue a spokesperson for Broxtowe Labour Party said that: “We have seen her claims about being a qualified solicitor yet this is seemingly untrue. It is clearly a shameful attempt to dupe the residents of Stapleford and Broxtowe Central. Honesty should always be the top priority for someone standing for elected office.”

Councillor Tim Hallam, who is standing with Hannah Land in what looks likely to be a keenly contested election for Stapleford and Broxtowe Central, said: “Honesty and trustworthiness are vital components in being a councillor, so it shows a huge amount of contempt that a candidate would repeatedly lie to voters. I think it demonstrates that some people consider power to be more important than integrity.”

Details of all candidates standing in the elections on Thursday 6 May can be found on the Broxtowe Borough Council website at https://www.broxtowe.gov.uk/for-you/elections-voting/upcoming-elections/ Both Kashmir Purewal and Broxtowe Conservatives Association were approached for comment but have not yet not replied. The Broxtowe Conservatives webpage was recently updated and now states that: “Kashmir is a Qualified Lawyer and was the owner of Sunnyside Post Office/One Stop Franchise in Chilwell for 24 years. Have a wide range of business experience and issues most important in the community.”

With campaigns such as “Take Note Then Vote” being promoted locally by news platform NG9 News it will be interesting to see what note electors make of these allegations and whether this impacts on votes cast for both the individual in question and the party that nominated her. PAUL SWIFT. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAY MARTIN / MATT TURPIN.

Purewal is still claiming to be a solicitor on the website of the the school she is a governor at.

Hapless Husted And The Bizarre Legal Letter(s)

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No apology.

No promised investigation.

No punishment for the man who turned up at my doorstep and demanded I don’t talk about him and his less than savory past. 

Nothing, but a legal letter. And not just one, but two. Why two? Well, that’s where the story gets even weirder, so stick with this because when it comes to haplessness, it seems Carl has chosen a solicitor’s firm on par with himself.

The first letter arrives on a Saturday. A cursory read reveals it is not exactly thought through. 

Let’s have a taste of the oddness.

  • Husted seems to be under the impression I am a Twitter account called ‘Open_Nottingham’, that tweets about local politics. While I do follow them, and they follow me, we are demonstrably not the same person. Poirot he is not.
  • Husted, in statements given to the media (most notably the BBC), claims that the police ‘were satisfied with the reasons he visited me’, which he also brings up in the legal letter. I duly asked Beeston police for confirmation of what happened with Husted, and they responded with” I can confirm that the incident was discussed with Mr Husted and he was advised that he should not attend your home address again. He was advised that if the visits continued and were reported to Police then there was a possibility that offences under the Harassment Act may be considered”. Carl Husted was less than truthful in his statement to the BBC.
  • “You allege that our client kept sending messages despite being explicitly told not to” Err, he did just that. I kept the screenshots, which were shared with the police as potential evidence. Bizarrely, the legal letter sent to me included screenshots of these very messages: a new level of gaslighting.

  • You allege that our client sent a “….slew of threats on Facebook Messenger.” Again I kept the receipts:
  • “You suggest that our client has committed a GDPR breach in attaining your address”: yep, I did make that suggestion as Husted refused to tell me how he knew. While he may have been able to find my address via the fact I’m a company director, the given name is different from the one that exists on the electoral record -evidenced when I received my poll card. This name which is not, to the best of my knowledge, in the public domain, looks very much like it was cribbed from the electoral register. I am still waiting for clarification on how my address was attained so quickly.
  • “Our client is described as “….a bigot, a bully, a liar”. Let’s break that up.
    • Bigot: judge for yourself.
    • (there’s more, including calling the very people he represented as a councillor ‘scum’)
  • Bully: well, come on….
  • Liar: Yes he is. Here’s an example. In messages to me, he insisted that he didn’t work for Darren Henry: 

It goes on, allegations that are either utterly fallacious, attributed to the wrong person and so on.

So if the list of stuff is built on foundations of dust, why did he send them? 

Husted has made many controversial statements over social media over the years. He is claiming I threaten his career as I have shone a light on them. Doesn’t work like that, I’m afraid: Husted only has himself to blame. Trying to rewrite history and refusing to accept responsibility for your actions are things Conservatives claim to be vehemently against.

Also, because Carl Husted is a bully, he’s paid the solicitors to type it up and post it out regardless. As he can’t physically come near me or my house, this is his way to try and intimidate me. I abhor bullies, so that won’t work. It is, however, causing much stress. My wife, who should be enjoying the last weeks of pregnancy relaxing and helping put the new nursery together, has been hit hard with the thought of Husted turning up at the door again.

If he is capable of that, what next? When you are advised by the police to keep all doors locked, never open the front door without checking and perhaps investing in CCTV then that’s hardly conducive to a healthy and happy life with a baby on the way. Husted is in a place of great power: all constituency matters pass through him, he has great sway with many. He knows what he is doing (in his initial messages to me he referenced the name of my infant son, my wife and the fact that she is pregnant with the Godfather-esque ‘stay safe’). These things are classic bully tactics.

Carl Husted remains in the paid employment of Darren Henry, MP.

_____

Yet things get even weirder. Grab a drink. You will need it.

On Tuesday, a second letter arrives from Husted’s chosen firm. It’s absolutely identical to the first, with the same date, same reference code, but attached to the back is a bank statement. 

Is there a secret message in here somewhere? 

Well, if there is I have no idea what it is. Somehow, in a possible flagrant breach of GDPR, another person (a client?) has had their bank statements erroneously attached and sent out to me. I can see a whole wealth of identifying details. As a third party, and a journalist, I’m not a good person to send this to.

However, I am law-abiding and duly contact the ICO to find out next steps. They take down the details, and advise me to contact the solicitors to find out what they want doing with the information. I also file a report with them detailing the situation.

I follow this up with a complaint to the Solicitors Regulatory Association as it is a clear concern to their clients how their personal documents are handled.

It also strikes me that sending not one, but TWO letters is not exactly a sensitive thing to do when I am accusing their client of harassment. I have duly passed on a log of these incidents to the police as further evidence. 

What on earth is going on?

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Carl Husted: Harasser?

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As you may have seen via social media, I recently had Darren Henry’s Constituency Manager and friend Carl Husted turn up at my door angry that I’d posted about him in previous blogs, and his less than salubrious past. It caused a stir, a visit from the police and BBC coverage. It happened at an incredibly busy time for me: I have a lot on work-wise, and at home we’re scrabbling to get the decorating done so our new baby, due in May, has a nursery to sleep in. Thus, when I was asked by a journalist friend if they could pick the story up and look into it a bit deeper, I said yes. They went about it in a slow and professional matter, while I daubed paint onto walls. Here is the piece, and it contains much in the way of unanswered questions put to our elected representative. Before I go: huge thanks for the vast amount of support, goodwill and advice given to me over what was a very stressful time.Matt Turpin, aka Lord Beestonia

Darren Henry assumed the role of MP for Broxtowe in 2019, and it can be assumed he took on Carl Husted as his Constituency Manager some time shortly after. Husted was part of Henry’s campaign team, on what Mr Henry describes as a voluntary basis. The Constituency Manager role, however, is very much a paid position, with taxpayers providing Mr Husted with a role. In that role Mr Husted is expected to represent both the MP and the constituency, and provide support to all who approach him on a case by case basis without bias. It is why such a role being fulfilled by a political party member, or affiliate of a political party is frowned on, yet it is a very common practice: many MP’s bring the circle even closer, employing family members in this and other office roles.

On Wednesday 17th March, Husted drove to the property of the proprietor of this blog, Matt Turpin, after sending Facebook messages to Mr Turpin. As Mr Turpin isn’t ‘friends’ with Mr Husted on the site, Mr Turpin didn’t see these messages until after the event. But in these messages, Mr Husted knows a surprising amount of info about the household composition, detailing the name of his wife, the name of his infant son, and the fact that Turpin’s wife is heavily pregnant. This was accompanied by the ambiguous (warning?) ‘stay safe’. Husted had clearly done his research.

As Turpin didn’t see the message, Husted appearance on his doorstep was a surprise. Husted, unmasked and having gone against Covid regulations by making an unnecessary journey (unless, of course, he was at that point there on an official basis, which opens a fresh can of worms) began a conversation by refusing to say who he was and aggressively gesturing to Turpin. Eventually, the caller identified himself as Husted, at which point Turpin took up his phone and, for his safety, began to record.

“His shoulders dropped, his arms went to his side, his voice lowered and he backed away’ Turpin tells me. The subsequent video went viral, and needs little explanation.

Husted would not leave when requested, and a little later began further messaging Turpin via Facebook, despite Turpin clearly telling him to stop. At this point, on advice from ‘more legally-minded friends’ Turpin rang the police.

A constable duly arrived, and after talking to Turpin and his (very frightened) wife, promised to warn Husted this was harassment and not to visit again; to do so would justify arrest. Turpin was warned to be vigilant, check before answering the door and keep all windows and doors locked.

As the story broke across local and social media, Darren Henry MP tweeted the following:

He also offered to talk to Turpin and offered contact details. Turpin turned down this offer: when you’re feeling threatened by someone’s Constituency Manager and had to call the police, you’re hardly going to want to be talking to the man you may suspect played a part in the incident. On seeing this, I reached out to Turpin and offered my help in pursuing the story, knowing he was too shaken to do so objectively.

Let us take a look at the statement Henry posted. First, did Henry know about Husted’s actions before they were committed? Although he says ‘He was unaware of the exchange’ this doesn’t fully explain if Henry was aware of the visit, or condoned it. I put this to Henry in an email to his office, but he did not pass comment.

Henry claims that he will investigate the circumstances of why it happened, yet questions I asked to Henry regarding what form these investigations will take remain unanswered, leading one to assume that Husted remains in the pay of the MP’s office without sanction. If so, Henry tacitly condones Husted’s actions.

Henry states, correctly, that Husted is ‘a member of my staff’. Yet Husted told Turpin in the slew of Facebook messages that

Why the coyness? Why the lying? I asked Henry about this incongruity, yet again Henry did not give comment.

It is perhaps worth mentioning that Husted also seemed to make physical threats to Turpin, at one point in the course of messaging

Does Henry condone or condemn this threat ? Is he for journalists being threatened with violence, or against? He did not answer when this question was put to him, an unusual response for a politician wishing to portray himself as a law-and-order family man. Consorting – indeed, employing – those who make such thuggish remarks.

Was Henry complicit, or even sanctioned Husted’s actions? He refuses to say. Will Husted and Henry apologise directly to Turpin, and more particularly to his pregnant wife, who was in the house at the time and was, and remains, highly anxious and stressed regarding the incident? Again, I asked Mr Henry, again, he issued no response.

I suspect Husted’s intentions were to intimidate Mr Turpin in removing all mention of his name and his rather lurid past. Mr Husted clearly has political aspirations of his own, standing for Nottingham City Council’s Wollaton West ward. Despite being suspended by his own party at the time for comparing ‘Remain voters’ to ‘nazis’, he continued to stand. He was soundly thrashed, and Wollaton was spared. Is he eyeing up a seat elsewhere, and wishing to vanquish the internet of anything that might threaten that? For a party that proudly stands for self-responsibility, this seems odd.

The possibility of Husted also assisting in the campaign of Dareen Henry’s wife, Caroline Henry is also a potential motive. C. Henry is standing to be – and you are permitted a chuckle here – Police and Crime Commissioner for Nottinghamshire, on a divisive culture-warrior ticket. While it is antediluvian to not assume C. Henry is an independent woman with an independent career – these are in no doubt, I am sure – it is entirely correct to assume that she is friends with Husted, and appeared with him at political events. Is he working on her campaign? She refuses to answer.

Journalism, as I well know ona personal and professional level, is under attack in the UK. We seem to have a government that is too thin-skinned to take criticism, and too incompetent and corrupt to avoid it. It is important that journalism continues to speak truth to power, free of thuggish intimidation.

I was drawn to this case after seeing it unfold on Twitter as I believe it to be a microcosm of the current malign political situation, where critical media is attacked via individual journalists , while a revolving door of obliging right-wing media and government operates. As a former journalist himself, the current Prime Minister is well aware of the nodes of power within the media landscape, and how to manipulate them effectively. Husted and Henry seem more hapless on this, yet it is worrying. It is crucial to support good journalism, and let it operate without fear or favour: to do otherwise risks tyranny.

This story will probably run to more chapters, and I have offered Turpin my services on an ongoing, should my own workload permit. Due diligence means that I have copied of all correspondence made in constructing this article, including the thread of messages that were sent by Husted: as these reveal identifying information on Turpin I have agreed to contact him before further reproduction in other publications.

S.H.

Support Lord Beestonian keep writing about the bizarre and often awful side of local politics: buy him a (no-booze) pint here: PayPal: mattgoold23@hotmail.com

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.

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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

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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