Wow. Despite seeing more than adequate evidence over the past few years to show me we live in a community that cares about its town, I still am rapturously shocked when I see it in action. My last article on this subject had a staggering amount of views and shares, and the call to action put out by this blog and Beeston Civic Society has been answered with in excess of 1,000 replies to the consultation. That is incredible, and even the council admits they were surprised; whether they respond to such a deep level of concern is, of course, a political decision, which I’ll deal with in a second.

But first, what now? You’ve sent in the consultation form, you’ve got the information you need, you’ve told your friends and family…but is that it?

Well no. Now the real fight begins. The consultation had the look of a rushed exercise in statutory lip-service. If democracy is contingent on our leaders listening to those they represent, the rulers of Broxtowe Borough Council are extremely hard-of-hearing. As such, we need to whip out our metaphoric (and perhaps literal!) megaphones and shout louder. Thus, please ensure the following two things are done:

  1. SIGN THE PETITION: this closes at midnight tomorrow.
  2. WRITE TO THE PLANNING COMMITTEE: ensure you copy in all councillors: for the addresses, scroll to the end of the page and cut and paste. Tell them your wishes, be polite, ask for a reply.
  3. ATTEND THE MEETING ON WEDNESDAY, TOWN HALL, 7PM: I cannot stress this enough. Often councillors are cossetted away from all but their most immediate constituents, and it already clear many of the key politicians don’t care about Beeston. We need to have a show of strength at the meeting – a full council meeting where the petition will be presented, and a brief speech made by Beeston and District Civic Society Chair, Judy Sleath. The event is free, and an ideal chance to actually see the Town Hall serving the purpose it was put in place for (although I can’t guarantee the same from the councillors!). Arrive at 6.45pm, and go straight in – you’ll be directed to the chamber.
  4. COME TO THE PUB AFTERWARDS: actually, this isn’t that important, but we’re having a drink afterwards, and give us an opportunity to all meet, chat, and plan the next move.

We have a real struggle ahead. Politically –and this decision is purely political – the Tories running the council don’t have a lot of love for Beeston and its people. They consistently fail to get their party elected in all but the far margins of the area (Toton, and Attenborough). Beeston simply isn’t a concern for them: they are no votes here. They feel they have impunity to do anything: we have to show them that they most definitely don’t.

There are also rumours –some from incredibly reliable sources – that the council have a deal on the table and are just running through the formalities of a sham consultation before ink is signed into contracts. I worked on the campaign to keep Eastwood’s DH Lawrence Centre open: despite putting forward arguments that the building could become not just cost-neutral, but a revenue-raiser were ignored: the sham consultation day I attended there was almost hilariously pointless: as we discussed ways to keep it open, the council were putting a ‘TO LET’ board in place. It’s now a nail bar, and missing out on a large chunk of tourism funding currently being distributed around Notts.

Next week, I will be revealing here the utter shambles the council has become due to political mismanagement. The current party seem to be in power but not in control, with meetings and committees stuffed with councillors who make no contribution whatsoever, having little clue as to what is going on. Oversight and scrutiny has been eroded with glee. Council officers – the poor staff who have an obligation to do what the politicians tell them – are reporting a huge crisis of morale, such as the poor decision making they have to act upon. Officers are obliged to remain neutral and not express public opinion: yet many have come to me (with all due protection of sources in place) with incredible tales of incompetence, idiocy and what looks like a systematic attempt to run the council down while they can. It takes a lot for an officer to resort to this, anonymously or otherwise. But they are at the end of their tethers.

On top of that, the wide-ranging fall-out from a high-level sex-scandal (yes, really) has raged through Foster Avenue, and proved enormously costly to date, with bizarre levels of secrecy doing everything to prevent transparency. This is why intent on getting a quick buck for council assets such as the Town Hall: mismanagement of a once decent council.  I will bringing the full-story out next week, stay tuned.

In the meantime, the Town Hall is the focus: I’ll see you on Wednesday.



Beeston Town Hall: The Answers You Need To Know.

Hopefully, this article isn’t news to you, and the substantial media coverage the planned selling off of the Town Hall has garnered over the last few weeks has already informed you. I’ve spoke about it in the papers, on TV and radio and, of course, all over social media, as have representatives from Beeston and District Heritage Society and others.

It is often the case that when big issues like this come about that a lot of confusion follows: rumours, misinformation etc. It is seldom malice, but more a case of Chinese Whispers, as the story pings around the internet or through general chatter. I helped man a stall in Beeston Town Centre on Saturday, and was surprised by some of the suppositions bandied about. While the vast majority of people I talked to were very much anti disposing of the Town Hall, most had a phalanx of good questions the answers of which might be obvious to me,(who has been working on things like this for years so sees the cogs and wheels), but not so much to someone who hasn’t got that same geekish attraction to civic stuff.

As such, I’ve written the following FAQ (frequently asked questions) to help clarify as much as I can right now; and to show you how YOU can have your say. Information is a vital component to democracy; do not hesitate to get in touch if a question you have remains unanswered here, and myself or a fellow member of the Civic Society will be happy to attempt to answer.

Although I am a committee member of Beeston and District Civic Society, the entirety of this article does not necessarily reflect the exact views of the society, and are expressed in a personal capacity as a resident of Beeston. 


The building was built on Foster Avenue by the people of Beeston in 1936 as a civic centre to Beeston. It’s a fine building, with some wonderful exterior and interior features, and since the adjacent library was rejuvenated last year, has been seen from a new perspective as the library now opens out onto the area. With the library, the new council offices and the police station It forms a civic centre to the centre of Beeston, on a parade of fine buildings.


The building currently has several functions, serving as offices and as a location for council committees and meetings. It has a purpose-built council chamber, reception rooms and more. Civic functions are also held here on occasion.


Money and ideology.


Of course. And if the figures issued by the council are to be believed, the upkeep of the building is considerable, totalling over £100,000 per annum.


That’s the way the council are portraying it. If the council continues to spend so much money, then that is cash diverted from more pressing needs. However, this argument presents a false dichotomy. This is not a question of ‘this or that’.

The first point to note is that the figures released by the council on the upkeep costs are open to a great deal of scepticism. Not only do they not seem to tally with other figures in the public domain, but they include duplicate and transferable costs: business rates for instance. Staff costs and server costs are also included, those these are costs that will have to be retained even if the Town Hall closes. It seems that an emotive, 6 figure number has almost been plucked out of the air in an attempt to justify this.

The building is an asset to the council, and an either be cashed in once, or made to work to generate income into the future (and still be ours).


We can only find that out with proper scrutiny, in the form of an impact study. However, the council have not responded to the Civic Society’s call for this to be conducted, which means the savings they set out are utterly pie-in-the-sky. We call on them to conduct an independent assessment.


Of course, buildings do. But the Town Hall serves a purpose and has great potential to recoup costs – and possibly even turn a profit – if used correctly.


Well, venue hire is an ever-growing market.


You can, but the council have been notoriously keen NOT to promote this. The Hall was once licensed for marriages: I met a couple of pensioners who had done just that many years ago. When I married a few years back, I enquired about marrying there, but found their license had lapsed, so instead had to have the ceremony at Nottingham Council House. With very little effort, the council could make the place available.

That’s just one idea. I’ve heard dozens of brilliant suggestions over the last few weeks, including a fully costed detailed submission from a local retired academic.


Errr….no. The public consultation form that is currently available for residents to complete gives just three options.


  1. RETENTION: leave the building as it is (where it will be left to decay and then sold off at a later date)
  2. SELL FOR HOUSING: This sounds ok, as we do have a housing crisis, but would almost certainly mean the demolition of the building as it is purpose-built to be functional as a town hall and would cost more to convert than to start from scratch. Plus, many of the exterior and interior features are worth a lot of money on the open market, so would be too attractive to retain.
  3. DEMOLITION AND SELLING OFF TO A DEVELOPER: This is almost certainly the favoured choice for the council, as it means getting a quick buck and having the building off their hands as soon as possible.


Indeed. The way it is worded, and the way the council are refusing to extend the consultation plan despite the Civic Society requesting as such (conducting a consultation over Christmas, when the populace is less likely to notice it in the haze of Quality Street and turkey dinners- see also Network Rail last year) suggests that the administration is keen not to consult, but close down any objection.


While I am sure many Conservatives do think that way, and for that they deserve our credit, the leader of Broxtowe, Cllr. Richard Jackson takes a much different ideological view. Paradoxically, he does not believe that the council he leads should exist at all, having voted for the abolition of Broxtowe at County level, where he is also a councillor. To suggest that abolishing a council and absorbing the responsibilities into the County would be financially beneficial ( Broxtowe Councillors receive a relatively small expenses payment for their role, while County councillors receive a significant sum that would no doubt be boosted by extra responsibilities) is perhaps unfair: this is more about Cllr. Jackson’s philosophy that a council should do as little as possible. After his plans to abolish Broxtowe were thwarted at County level, he’s doing the next best thing: selling off the council incrementally. The council will thus receive a bump in their budgets through selling off the Hall, but once it is sold, it is gone forever.

We propose that the building is retained and invested in so it becomes sustainable,  so future generations can enjoy it and feel that they have some stake in their town, as our predecessors in the 1930’s so wished.


A moot point. Broxtowe absorbed the building when it came into being in 1974, but it will require scrutiny on the legalities of their responsibilities of property from the Beeston and Stapleford Urban District, Broxtowe’s predecessor.  Only a proper impact assessment can determine this.

Not a single councillor mentioned that they wanted to sell the Town Hall in their 2015 election materials. This is utterly without mandate.


Yes it can, but you have to do it, and do it now.

  1. Fill in the consultation form online: it takes five minutes. We recommend ticking ‘none of the above’ and putting your suggestions on usage in the space provided.
  2. Sign the petition. We have had a staggering response to this so far and will be presenting it to the council soon, but still ensure your name is on it.
  3. Write to councillors: first, your own, then members of the committee who will determine this decision. These can be found in full below. Be reasonable and polite in your correspondence. 
  4. Write to the MP: Although she is for selling it off (see below) she is obliged to listen to you at the very least. Again, please be reasoned and polite when doing so: 
  5. Tell people about this: not everyone is on the internet or has noticed this, so ensure friends and neighbours, or even random passers-by, are informed. Feel free to print this off and distribute if you so wish.
  6. Attend the council meeting where this will be discussed. The council meeting where the matter will be discussed will be held in the Town Hall at 7pm on the 31st January: it is here that the petition will be handed to the mayor and a representation given. Please attend -and see the Town Hall at the same time!


We’ve even been surprised by the response: several hundred consultation forms have been returned to the council already, and the petition has 2070 signatures online and many more over other locations.


  • SIR NEIL COSSENS: The retired head of English Heritage has come out to support the campaign, and has written to the council expressing his dismay at the plans.
  • PROFESSOR SIR MARTYN POLIAKOFF: As well as being a global scientific sensation, Martyn is also very proud of where he lives and frequently engages in civic matters.
  • BEESTON AND DISTRICT LOCAL HISTORY SOCIETY: The venerable local historians do a wonderful job showing Beeston’s rich past history.
  • DR PETER ROBINSON: The brilliant mind behind Beeston’s (and beyond!) Blue Plaque project is very much against the sell-off, and has accordingly sent representations to council.
  • STEWART CRAVEN: Over a decade ago, Stewart looked at the canalside cottages by Beeeston Weir and saw a potential no one else could. Gumption, hard-work and belief saw this vision made real when the cottages opened as the Canalside Heritage Centre last year. Such an addition shows how we can be innovative with our heritage, and build something for all of us to share.
  • THE BEESTONIAN: Well, of course.
  • POSSIBLY, BROXTOWE COUNCILLORS: Steve Carr (Lib Dem) has stated his opposition, and we’ve heard rumours of discord within the Conservative group about the proposals. Labour, as far as I am aware, have not set down an official line which is rather disappointing.  If this changes, I will willingly amend.


  • CLLR RICHARD JACKSON: The brainchild behind this, the aforementioned Jackson is a vigorous asset-stripper and a staunch opponent of public ownership.
  • ANNA SOUBRY MP: We can perhaps forgive Soubry’s lack of civic affinity to Beeston as she lives in the rather more genteel bucolic fields of Charnwood, Leicestershire, but she has stated that she supports Cllr Jackson and wants the building disposed of. She claims that she doesn’t support demolition, but as explained above that would be the most likely outcome of any sale.
  • DEVELOPERS: While the council have struggled to find a developer for the Square Phase 2 (despite numerous promises that a deal is ‘nearly done’, huge amounts of public money have so far failed to get anything certain), the location of the Town Hall is hugely attractive to developers, prime land that could be used for high-end housing, or simply for land banking.  


We can, and with determination, we will. Last year, Network Rail were shocked by the level of opposition to their plans to close access across the tracks to Attenborough Nature Reserve and put the plans on ice for the foreseeable future. We can do this, if we do this together.



Currently not being made available: we will explain more when we find out why.





We need to talk about Anna.

I have a confession. I once had a soft spot for Damian Green. I know little about him other than he is in cabinet and has a rumpled look that makes him look like a benign Greg Dyke. Oh, and he likes  the band Half Man Half Biscuit.

As a fellow fan of the Wirral satirists, my logic ran thus: if he also likes them, actually likes them in a wgay much different than Gordon Brown’s professed love of the Arctic Monkeys, then he must be alright on some levels. Not enough to vote for, should the chance arise, but enough not to see him in same way I see the other rapacious rats in a sack that make up our current government.

Then it turns out he’s accused of abusing his power to harass women and has a massive load of extreme grumble on his hard drive, and suddenly being able to appreciate the nuances of Joy Division Oven Gloves isn’t quite enough to ameliorate his shiteness.

Soubry is, to far too many people, a similar case. She appeared on Channel 4’s Last Leg this week, where one question sent in via twitter asked if it was ok to simultaneously hate Conservatism but like Anna Soubry.

At a glance, it’s probably not so surprising. Anyone on the political left of Farage probably sees her as an insurgent in the Hard Brexit Tory party, calling out the excesses of the rabid Europhobes that have set this country on a course to crapness. An outspoken free-speaker, who called for Theresa May to ‘consider her position’ in the early hours of the Tory electoral foot-shoot. A liberal on social issues, a modern, uber-Cameroonian who comfortably shakes off the sleazy hypocrisy of moralising Toryism that saw them rot from the core out in the nineties.

As such, she also has fans on the left-leaning commentariat: Owen Jones has professed to a soft spot for her, as has Jack Monroe and others. Then there is More United, a group set up following the politically divisive Summer of 2016, when the referendum split the country (thanks, Cameron!). In an attempt to stop the further polarisation of the nation, they set out with a noble mission statement:

We believe it has never been more important for people to come together to champion what unites us and to stop the growing hatred and intolerance in our country.

Roll on 2017, and the snap election as May attempted a power-grab to allow her to implement a much harder Tory agenda and Brexit than her slender majority allowed.  More United picked out several MPs from all parties, who shared their values. Soubry was one of them, picked by their supporters who then contributed to crowdfunding donations to the MP’s in question. To many people in Broxtowe who donated to More United, Soubry was one of them, and subsequently received an endorsement, volunteer support and £6,000 towards her campaign – though heaven only knows what that was spent on considering her lacklustre, invisible campaign.

When More United accompanied her to Beeston in June, I received the true wrath of Soubry when I asked her about her dubious claims to have ever lived in the constituency (she did buy a flat in Bramcote, but very rarely used it, instead seemingly using to put up activists). Knowing about the well-documented physical abuse I suffered as a child, she used it to attack me when in public.

Since then, I received much correspondence from people who Soubry had similarly treated. Former staff and activists told me of her tantrums, her frequent and loud use of the word ‘cunt’, and how she was intolerable to work for/with. I even heard from an ex-tech who worked with her at Central News in the eighties, who reported that her behaviour was horrific to anyone she perceived as lower down the ladder than her – while obsequious to those she perceived as her superiors

So what led More United to back her? I asked, they answered:

Anna is a passionate and principled campaigner who has repeatedly demonstrated a desire to promote More United’s values of openness and tolerance, even when it has meant defying her party. That sort of bravery should be applauded and supported, wherever possible.

Many of my readers here, especially those who tune in when I turn my mind towards local politics, will be aware I’ve known Soubry a long time and will remember the consistent theme of my pieces on her: Anna Soubry is a nasty, perfidious person. This is no knee-jerk reaction to the fact shes a Tory, because even if you strip away the policy and party allegiance you have a woman who has built a career bullying, lying and treating others like the crap she perceives they are. I’ve seen such people right across the political spectrum in the years I spent working with them, and I do know that politics is structured to reward such behaviour. It is still wrong and must be called out.

I’m going to list a few of the reasons that Anna Soubry is not the liberal, rebel minded liberal hero many seem to think she is. We’ll assess this through More United’s stated values, and see how they match up. I’ll link through to articles that expand on points, and try and be as thorough as possible; if you’d like more, please contact me. This is a mere dusting of her awfulness.

Right, let’s check out More United and theie principles, and see how Anna matches up:

Tolerance: we want to live in a free, diverse society where our differences are celebrated and respected:

Anna has long been intolerant of alternative viewpoints, to the point she simply doesn’t bother listening or replying to correspondence of those who she perceives to be politically different to her. She boasts of throwing away petitions that come via 38 Degrees and similar crowd-campaign aids, and when the local Royal Mail sorting office staff asked her to not support privatisation, she instead stood up in the Commons and lied that they were, in fact, in favour.

  • Her behaviour in the Commons shames Broxtowe. The speaker has frequently had to admonish her when she has used inappropriate language, on one notable occasion three times in one session.
  • She has constantly tried to divide. Those against her are ‘trots’, rather than people she is paid to represent. She makes no effort to reach out across the political divide, instead using division to rule.
  • She endorses the notoriously racist and rabid Ranting Rooms: a Facebook group set up to try and polarise opinion in Beeston. The site, thankfully now in its death throes, was infamous for banning anyone and bullying them online should they step out the party line. They doxxed people, and took delight in issuing violent threats: to this day, I still have to report these to the police when they arrive (this article will provoke a few, i can almost guarantee). When I asked Anna why she continued to support this group, she told me ‘she couldn’t control what happens online’. Yes, but you can think twice about endorsing them in parliament, perhaps? (added note: after the Grenfell tragedy, one of the central users / avid Soubry ickmahoneycheerleader of the site wrote a post that blamed immigrants for the disaster; the post stayed up until the police had to pay a visit. Did Anna speak out against such intolerance, when asked? Nah, she didn’t).
  • Talking of Grenfell, Soubry had to get her grubby oar in there as well, retweeting a Mel Phillips article that tastefully claimed the left were ‘fanning the flames’. Aside from the wisdom of retweeting anything from notorious Islamophobe Phillips, she then failed to apologise for repeating the phrase ‘fanning the flames’, claiming those who found it a wee bit offensive were  – and that sound you here is irony about to die – politicising the issue.

Democracy: we want you to have real influence over politics. 


  • Environment: we must do everything possible to tackle climate change and protect our environment:

  • Soubry loves a bit of fracking, even when it is earmarked for her own constituency, and has gone on record supporting the industry. Fracking beneath both Bramcote Park and Attenborough Nature reserve might not be what her constituents want, but donations to her party are always of greater value than those she is supposed to represent.
  • Soubry touted herself as the saviour of the greenbelt in Broxtowe, coming out against the development of Stapleford’s Field Farm. That will be the Field Farm that currently is covered in earth movers and dug up turf, despite Tories running the local council and the Government. Is this a case of gross incompetence, or was she being a little less honest with the truth when painting herself as the local Caroline Lucas?Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 14.52.01Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 14.52.35 Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 14.53.15



  • Openness: we welcome immigration, but understand it must work for everyone, and believe in bringing down international barriers, not raising them. We also want a close relationship with the EU:

Her voting record hardly shows a rebellious, EU-championing hero:

  • Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 14.46.15Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 14.46.50Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 14.51.18

So why do More United continue to support Soubry? I wrote to them over the Summer asking this in light of the aforementioned child abuse mocking. They agreed it was wrong of her, and promised to review their support…then nothing. Another MP supported by MU got in touch to say they were probably a bit trapped as they struggled to find a Tory in the first place. They too were suckered into thinking Soubry is a moderate ‘good’ Tory. I hope after this is read the true Soubry, the principle-free, misanthropic careerist Soubry, reveals herself and they take appropriate action.




Happy 18th BirthdayLeif.

My son Leif turns 1 today. I’ve written this for him to read in seventeen years. Promise I’ve kept the schmaltz as much at bay as I can, but still….

You’re 18 today. I might not be around to read this with you, and if I’m not I’m sorry. I’ll try and stay healthy so I do. I can’t imagine what you’ll be like as an adult, I can barely get my head around you moving to mewling infant to grinning toddler. Imagining you with stubble and a broken voice before I’ve even heard the unbroken version is head-spinning. I’ll get down the gym. I’ll take my vitamins. I won’t interrupt mummy during Bakeoff1 and tell her ‘It’s just cake”. I’ll do my utmost to be around, ok? Ok.  Let’s talk about your appearance in our lives.

A year ago today from when I write this, and 18 years before you read this, you came along. 5.40am in the morning, after a 52-hour labour where every fear was thrown up and we went from the tranquillity of a softly lit birthing suite to the clinical shiny fluorescent-lit operating suite.

You appeared on the second yank of a pair of forceps (check the above photo for the temporary mark they left behind, which gave you a strange sideburn effect) and when they put you to your mother’s chest I shouted ‘Oh fuck it’s a baby!’. I’m sorry about that, I was tired. Swearing isn’t big or clever, but sometimes you have no choice.

I also apologise for appearing surprised: I was aware that you were coming along, although my sweary shout would perhaps make it seem like your mum had just popped by to have her appendix removed and they’d found a son swimming around inside. I knew you were coming, so no idea what that was about. Probably because when you leiflittlewere the size of a poppy seed, or even full size but shielded behind a swollen belly in a sac of warm heaven, I couldn’t imagine you. On telly, where you appeared when they pushed an ultrasound against your home, you were just a mess of topography ‘There is his nose!’ the sonographer had cried, pointing to a small blob on a larger blog next to a larger blob. You then moved around, annoyed by this sonic intrusion and two buttocks appeared. I felt strangely proud as the sonographer blushed.

Yet you weren’t real, and it wasn’t until you were there in the flesh, a tight tiny but huge thing utterly helpless and wailing, that it hit me. They say it’s the most wonderful moment of your life. Not true, that was probably last week when we both lay on our backs and kicked our legs and waved our arms and both joyfully yelled before bursting into laughter that made us both cry. That was much better. To be honest, when you appeared I was just so, so relieved: relieved you weren’t dead, mum wasn’t dead. Relieved you were now breathing air, warmed by arms not amniotic fluid, alive. I wanted to wrap around you and mum, enclose you and be enclosed, create our womb we could rest in together and never have to look the fear in the face again.

A lot of mad thoughts fly through your head at that point. Again, I don’t hold that childbirth is miraculous: if it was they could have cleaned it up around the edges a bit. Walking on water, water you then turn into wine: miracles. Childbirth: intense it is, miraculous it’s not. You don’t remember it, mum was whacked out on a cocktail of drugs and sheer exhaustion, and I was really sweary and emotionally wrought. Let’s not dress it up. It was utterly awful. Great end product, for sure. But jeez. Sort it out, evolution.

The tears came then, from which emotion I do not know. The hugeness of the occasion was broken by a conversation between two of the otherwise heroic NHS2 theatre staff

“Looks like Donald Trump3 got in then” a face-masked surgeon told the woman standing by the machine that went bing ‘That’ll be the end of the world then”. I had last checked my phone about midnight, when it still looked like Clinton. Oh crap. We’d just bought you into the world only for that same world to be scheduled for annihilation.

Your mum didn’t want to hear this ‘DON’T TALK ABOUT DONALD TRUMP!’ she gasped, her utter weariness not masking her indignation.  You began to cry, and you were held harder to the breast.

I cut your umbilical cord: when making the birth plan4 I’d asked not to but when you appeared I had to do it, some possessive parental compulsion taking over. You have probably realised now that I’m quite clumsy, and that could have been disastrous. But I encourage you to do some navel-gazing son: I did a pretty good job there. If you need your tonsils doing, bear me in mind, yeah?

There were tests to ensure you are ok, beds on wards sorted (mum had to stay in for a20161113_123526 few days after, due to fatigue). Phone calls were made, after frantic running around the reception of the QMC trying to find the islands of phone reception. I couldn’t stop looking at you. You were perfect. You were fascinating. It made me gasp to think of what you were to me. I realised I was in love, deep deep love that shocked me when I approached it. How did wattle and daub dwelling peasants feel when they first stepping beneath the dome of a grand cathedral? The sheer awe, the breath-taking dimensions of it. I just looked at a picture of you, and I felt it freeze me again: to know such love is a fearsome, beautiful thing.

At some point, I went home for some sleep, sitting on a bus5 amazed that people were doing normal things, commuting and suchlike. I felt like grabbing them all and shouting ‘DON’T YOU KNOW WHAT HAS HAPPENED? SOMETHING WONDERFUL HAS HAPPENED!” , The woman sitting next to me was reading an article on her phone about trump, and frowning. How could she frown? What madness was this? In retrospect, she probably had more right to question the sanity of the crazily grinning, rumpled red-eyed mess sat next to her.


I never really thought I’d have kids. I had a pretty disastrous relationship with my own parents, which you probably know all about by now. I was terrified I’d make their mistakes, that the violence they dispensed and had in turn been dispensed onto themselves, generation after generation, the misery that, as Larkin 7 put it, ‘Deepens like a coastal shelf’ would be as locked into my genes as surely as the green of my eyes. I don’t know what type of father I have been over the years, but I know from where I am sitting right now I would never do anything to hurt you, would never do anything that didn’t somehow ultimately lead to your happiness. I don’t just know with a simple clarity I would stop a bullet for you, but find myself willing that situation to occur to demonstrate that I would.

I wish you’d met your great granma Lil. She would have been so proud.

I don’t want to live vicariously through you, but I do want you to take your parent’s curiosity for the world, couple it with kindness, love nature, help those less fortunate, and realise that all that remains is love 7 Son, I orbit you. Son, I love you. Welcome to adulthood.


1 Bakeoff was a popular TV series in the years around your birth where ten people made cakes and the one who made the worst cake was sent away to consider their awful cake until one person was crowned king or queen of the cake and everyone cheered and bought their branded cake or cookbook in a shop for a maximum of 9 months before they abdicated and the hunt for a new cake emperor or empress began anew.

2 If you still have an NHS when you read this, congratulations. They did things prior to your birth which made them seem like superheroes. A whole team appeared at 5am. Just like that. Imagine. I hope you don’t have to. If the NHS isn’t cherished then it’s likely that when you find yourself in such a room again, there will be no instantaneous response in the maternity theatre, but a 10-month waiting list.

3 A quick primer on Trump: by the time you read this the orange fascist who conned a nation will either be a bizarre regrettable footnote in history, not unlike when all them Eastenders stars had pop careers; or PREZTRUMP3000, a half human half mechanoid tango-faced cyborg of hate ruling over the galaxy and enslaving us all. He won the election on the day you were born, and your appearance was for many a silver lining on a huge sulphurous cloud.

4 A detailed plan you make a few weeks prior to the due-date outlining how you’d like things to precede once birth begins, drawn up utterly ignorant of the fact that NATURE DOESN’T CARE and only the really arrogant won’t wave a little white flag the moment they feel the baby move down and defer to the infinitely more trained and knowledgeable midwifery team. Ours had all sorts of things on it. Not one of them was an excruciating terrifying two days of sheer tedious horror. It had whale music. Bollocks to whale music.

5 Back then, these didn’t fly, but instead trundled down these big tarmac rivers called ‘roads’. Madness!

6 ”Bloody hell dad, quoting Larkin in a piece about child-raising. Nice. Any other clichés you want to get out the way? He also said ‘Get stewed. Books are a load of crap’. Perhaps you should take heed here: stop writing and get me down the pub. I’m 18 now, you realise?”

7 “I spotted that and don’t think I didn’t”

Rich Pickings / Smoke (On -Trent?)/ Christmas Appeal.

I first started foraging for raspberries around 2008. A couple of years before I had had a breakdown triggered by my gran’s death. This wasn’t an instant, full-on collapse, more a gradual landslide where the rocks fell on me faster than I could remove them. I didn’t talk about it, as I didn’t really have the means to: I felt too guilty about feeling like I did that a silent stoicism set in.

It festered, and other long-term health problems grew sharper. I ended up on Diazepam and god knows what, washed down with rivers of booze. A hangover too far spent lying in bed. My skin condition was sore and weeping, stinging my flesh. I felt hollowed out, a feeling like the best days were long gone and all there was now just a pointless decay.  It wasn’t a feeling of self-pity, more a rational acceptance. I lay there, kidneys aching, the skin on my face red-raw, and  I came to a decision. I either wash down the full bottle of pills with a swig of the musty glass of £2.99 wine that was on my bedside table, or I get some fresh air. From the chinks in my curtains I could see it was a bright, clear day.  I got my boots on.

I found myself in nearby woods, where jays hopped from oak at their chosen distance, and I found canes of wild raspberries, a large crop of sweet ruby. I picked them and ate them there and then. They tasted beyond anything I’d had from the shops, the drupelets bursting with summer-stored sugars.

They reminded me of the trips I’d make with my gran, collecting fruit from the hedgerows and forests she’d grown up nearby. Living through times of sheer, starving poverty (and a couple of World Wars) she’d got to know what was good and what wasn’t, and where to find it. She taught me that sweet nettle flowers contain a nectar that is a beautiful, rare taste…but also tap the flower, less a bee is having first dibs. She taught me to identify ransoms: by smell rather than sight (in late Spring they are hard to miss, a garlic blast that out-odours any of the other florid pungency that bursts into the air in that rich season. We’d pick berries for crumbles, but raspberries would be eaten there and then: too good to just cook, she’d explain.

Returning to Beeston that day,  I found a copy of Richard Mabey’s Food For Free in a local charity shop, and it became a bible. Mabey himself had fond relief from depression through nature, though I wasn’t to know that at the time. If you get the chance to read Nature Cure, do so. It should be available on prescription.

I got to know loads of plants, and knew where they grew, and when. You get to know many, many things can be cooked like spinach.  IBut raspberries were the true treasure. While blackberry brambles run wild and dominant, raspberry canes are more passive, more elusive. While blackberries flaunt themselves on the plant, raspberries shy behind their broad leaves. You have to find them, have to recognise where the fruit has taken and swollen. They are fragile: once mature they rot fast, especially in the damp. I came to recognise the subtle shade that showed they were at perfection, and marvel how the berry core would slip off the coat of fruit once ready, a luxuriant fur clump of glistening jewels, juice under pressure to burst from the thin skins.

I came to know the best places to find them, and the best season. When I first met the woman who would become my wife, I took her foraging. She now admits that she then thought it was an odd thing to be invited to do, but went along and was surprised to enjoy it as much as she done, even when the midges bit and the thorns scratched.  Each year, we would visit the sites of canes and pick out anything from a few desultory fruits spared by the birds; to a crop so large we’d make jams or spread them over homemade pavlova.

After my son, Leif, was conceived,  my wife and I would go out on long walks around the nearby nature reserve and adjoining fields, trying to get our heads around what we had to expect, knowing full well that we couldn’t really guess. On one such walk, we passed a house where plants were often for sale on the garden wall: I’d bought the reeds and iris that started my pond off from there, and a few other plants that had done well. There was a raspberry cutting this time, a potted woody stub with a delicate green shoot sprouting from it, a not-fully uncurled green leaf breaking from the brown. I put a £2 coin into the honesty box,  and on returning home found a sheltered spot in the garden where I planted it, hoping for a crop in a few years time.

It took well and grew rapidly and healthily, flourishing in the good soil and compost bed I’d made for it. When early Summer arrived, it was tall, bushy and sprawling, but no fruits were borne: not that I’d been expecting any. Then in September it flowered and fruits soon spilled from it. Not many, but enough to pick a couple off each day. By now, my wife was heavily pregnant with a craving for fruit, so I’d bring them in to supplement the mangos, oranges, and peaches she had become obsessed with.

As we approached the due date, the plant gave up fruiting, but I had other uses for it. I tried making tea with the leaves, to help my wife go into labour. It didn’t work: unless it only kicked in ten days later, and it was the hormone injections and hard work of the midwives that was superfluous.

Our boy was born in early November, by which time the plant had shed all leaves and pulled it’s own life deep inside its roots and woody core, gathering its energy for when the sun called it out again.

This year, it grew rapidly again and has fruited incredibly since late August. Every morning, I go outside and pick a crop off the bush, harvesting a good handful each time. I eat some myself, relishing the sharp sweetness and indulgent juices that taste like nothing else, no watery strawberry, no cheek-collapsing cranberry, no hard-skinned blackberry.

I then take some into my boy, my beautiful son who will open his mouth when he sees the red of the mushier part of the crop, and enjoy with gusto. The more robust berries will be spread before him, where he will pick them up, holding them for a second to admire the rich colour, before they are into his mouth.

The season is now coming to an end, and Leif will soon turn one. Next year when the raspberries arrive he’ll be walking, and I’ll teach him to pick his own from the cane. Just the thought of that grips me with love and above all, gratitude.



I’ve not been writing much on here of late due to the aforementioned little bundle of chaos and sheer joy that I pretty much orbit around these days: no wonder ‘sun’ and ‘son’ are phonetically identical. I tend to write more about local literature as part of my day job as Comms Manager for Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature: writing about professional writers to be read by professional readers: mildly daunting when I’m daft enough to stop and think about it.

I do still write on occasion solely for pleasure, and I recently got my second ever short story published. I don’t really do fiction, but a couple of years ago I gave it a bash and the result was accepted for a book of international writing, with a nice slice of cash thrown my way.

smirkI was planning to leave it at that but was tempted to have another bash when I saw a Tasmanian microfiction competition with the theme ‘Smoke’. I duly entered (they were looking for international entries, I haven’t relocated to Hobart. Yet.) and although I missed out on winning the whole competition, my story, Choked, was shortlisted and duly published. The actual book is a work of art: not a bound book, but a ribbon-tied collection of beautiful  loose-leaves, each story an individual leaf/page. It’s lovely, and if you fancy buying one then click here. It’s not cheap at 21 Australian dollars, but as the pound continues to sink under the weight of Brexit it’ll be a lot cheaper now than if you decide to buy it in, say, ten minutes. So buy it now, and realise how it’s actually just a rewrite of a blog post I put up here for free 9 years ago.


We’re currently working on the Bumper Christmas Issue of The Beestonian. To make sure we have enough copies for everyone to enjoy, we need to get a few more advertisers on board. If you helping us out, while putting your company next to the excellence that is The Beestonian, drop me a line on



John McDonnell visits Beeston, gets collared by Beestonia and Son.

mattand sonMy Thursdays are now spent solely looking after my son, Leif: we don’t put him in nursery that day and my wife works, so I have the day ‘off’ from my job, and it’s just me and him all day. I love my job (yes, I have one, Anna Soubry, and a good one, despite your snarling ‘Get a job you layabout’ comment when I questioned your attitude to constituents, back in May. True Tory colours shone through there, didn’t they?), but this is my favourite weekday.

So Thursdays are a joy of playing with Leif, feeding Leif, getting Leif to nap, taking Leif for a push around Beeston, changing Leif’s nappy and generally immersing myself completely in parenting. As someone whose own dad was at sea for most of his formative years, I know the importance of that bond and what happens when it doesn’t form, so am vigilant to ensure it does. It seems to have. We spend the day laughing.

So far, so Mumsnet-friendly. Yet then I get a call from Labour HQ, asking if I’d like to interview John McDonnell for Beestonia. I’m about to turn it down with a self-righteous ‘No. nothing will spoil this precious time between my baby and me’ when I realise it’s only round the corner. Plus, Leif likes accompanying me on journalistic stuff: he came

radio Leif

Radio Ga-Ga-Ga-Ga

with me to a pre-record a few weeks back at BBC Radio Nottingham: halfway through the interview he started making loud ‘blah blah blah’ noises: not quite as viral-worthy of the famous BBC News clip, but an interesting, if not a mildly harsh commentary on my self-promoting style from an infant critic.

Plus, the massive poo that he’s been storing up for days finally broke through earlier in the day, and he’s been in a much better mood since that particular horror. He can come with me.

Into the pushchair he goes, and we head out.

I set up a camera next to Notts TV and the Nottingham Post, and hastily scribble some questions. I was here -the Shed in Beeston- a few weeks ago when Corbyn visited. It was that event when it started to really dawn on me the Tories were not in for a landslide. I’ve been to many political rallies over the years but never seen so many new faces, so many young faces. The youth vote came out in force, inspired by a less dull type of politics.

McDonnell doesn’t attract such numbers -it’s a Thursday afternoon, and we’re not in the heat of an election – but it’s still an impressive turnout. Again, I’m struck by the young voters. When I first voted, it was in the age of Kinnock and a growing centrism in politics. I probably would have been in raptures about someone like Corbyn: instead, a succession of slick, uninspiring ideologically shallow suits presided. That’s not necessarily a complaint -they did a fair measure of good stuff- but you can see why it turned off the young. The Clegg / Cameron / Miliband 2015 offering was probably the nadir of this. I’m not a Corbynista as such, but I am impressed with his campaigning and the way he put forward a costed manifesto that simply made sense. I like the way Labour does seem a hotbed of ideas now, a broad church gradually coming to a sort of peace with itself, messy around the edges but not the whipped-to-hell sterile slickness of modern politics.

IMG_2729Not to say McDonnell isn’t slick. He arrives and launches into a stump speech without notes, straight off the back, and fields questions with ease. I get a few snaps, all the time while holding a baby with my free hand. I didn’t have a great deal of time to prep my questions, and a dodgy contact lens hindered my attempts to read my notes, so apologies for the rather clumsy questioning.


And if the producers of BBC’s Today programme are reading, I’m sure John Humphries isworth every penny of his £600,000, but if you need a cheaper option I can do it for a fraction of that….if you don’t mind a few baby babbles in the background.



Brexit Watersheds

I’m fascinated by the period of time when Sixties radicalism realised it had failed to paint it black: the slouch away from Babylon marked by Withnail, The White Album, Altamont and Francis Wheen’ s Strange Days Indeed. A time described by Hunter S Thompson as “where you could see the ring of scum from the high-tide mark slowly appear, clinging to Californian hills as the dream drained” 
I think we’re living in a similar phase of history, but with that other baby-boomer concept in fast retreat: right-wing nationalism.
A year ago it appeared a tsunami; after a surprise 2015 election, the shock of Brexit. I was abroad when it happened, and spent the days following talking to other Europeans on the same Greek Island: Dutch concerned it would now break the dykes and flood their lowlands; Germans shocked at the poison they’d tirelessly drawn from their system for 8 decades was now being enthusiastically injected straight into an artery; French worried that as the channel closed, the wave would sweep East onto their beaches with Marine Le Pen elevated on the crest of foamed breakers.
Yet a year on, it looks like Brexit was the peak. Yes, it swept across the ocean, taking time to smash into Atlantic seaboards, but when it did it was diminished. Trump failed to get the popular vote, and was elected fatally wounded; his presidency limping along, bleeding out.
Le Pen, Wilders and many others touted in 2016 as the fresh face of democratic fascism have proven to be as robust as paper flag topped sandcastles.
UKIP are failed, and disintegrating fast. Yes, they have been largely absorbed by the Tories, but after a ‘Brexit election’ proved to be easily turned towards the social inequity that the right wing thought we could be distracted from with patriotic chest-beating. 
Boris Johnson increasingly looks less like the clubbable, charmingly-unkempt funnyman we always knew he wasn’t, and more like the nasty, self-preserving fuckwit he truly is. 
May is finished, after her tilt towards codifying the Tory belief in their divine right to rule. Andrea Leadsom revealing demands broadcasters support the government out of  patriotic duty. Davis looking like a mouse cornered by the European Bueracats he has long held irrational hate for.
A year on, it feels like we can breathe again. The young have stood up and shown they cannot be  dismissed again. Corbyn has crossed over to the mainstream, and now feels like a credible leader. Left-wing critiques on issues are being debated when previously the media wouldn’t touch such perspectives.  Half of all Sun readers didn’t vote.
It’s probably a reversion to the mean, a settling to sea-level. Liberal democracy has a way of doing that. As for Brexit? The day after the referendum, I was in a taxi after a day swimming in warm Greek seas. “We voted no, but we didn’t leave” the driver told us “You see, that will happen to your country”. I thought that as likely as breathing under water. Now it feels increasingly possible. We’re no longer swimming upstream. We’re winning.