Peter (Clive) Bell: born, 20/5/1934 and died 16/4/2019.

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I’ve known Peter Bell (nee Clive) most of my life. Mrs Bell and Peter lived next door to me in Dickens Avenue. My mum used to nip in and out of their house, having a smoke and a blether with Mrs Bell and sometimes helping her out. Not that Mrs Bell would ever have seen it that way. I was sometimes dragooned in as, unwilling, slave labour to cut the grass and hedges and to dig the front and back gardens.  I still bear the grudge. I could imagine a lot of things, but I could never imagine Mrs Bell being young. She was always old and Peter was also always old, but young too.

I taught Peter how to read from Janet and John schoolbooks I used. I was good at reading and Peter was a very quick learner. He learned that when he was learning to read he could come in and out of our house and annoy the hell out of everybody with his cheerful manner and endless questions about when you when you were born, when your birthday was and what age you’d be on your next birthday. He had a kind of preternatural talent for getting it right. He also knew everybody in the street, when they were born, when their birthday was and loved stopping them to ask them if they knew these things. Mrs Bell kept a sphinx-like eye on him.

‘That’s enough Pete,’ Mrs Bell would say. She’d tell him to go to his room. She’d allow him to listen to music, but not too loud and not for too long, before he went to bed. Peter loved military music, marching music, any kind of music really. Mrs Bell had him marching to her tune.

Pete was Mrs Bell’s world. When my older brother Stephen battered some boys for shouting that he was a Mongo, she wasn’t displeased. I’m sure the sixpence she shoved in the dumplings she baked for us had Stephen’s name on it. She knew better than most it was a hard world out there.

Peter was born, illegitimate, at the beginning of the hungry thirties when these things mattered. Disgrace was never more than a spit away. Police baton charged 50 000 demonstrators in Glasgow Green who gathered to vent their frustration at the high levels of unemployment. Sir Oswald Mosley also visited Glasgow Green to meet his fascist supporters, but was jeered and missiles flung at him by protestors who sang The Internationale. When Peter was born, Scot’s Home Rule had not long been debated in the House of Commons. Rangers won the Scottish league and Scottish Cup. England beat Scotland at rugby. Southern Hero won the Scottish Grand National at Bogside. Forty thousand tons of ocean liner, a palliative for unemployment, Cunard’s, The Queen Mary, slid into the rain lashed Clyde leaving behind in its wake the crash of steel chains.  Not only was Peter born without the name of his father on his birth certificate, he had Down’s syndrome.

Miss Clive would have been under enormous pressure to give him up. The short answer is she wouldn’t and didn’t. There’s a book in there somewhere. Miss Clive worked as a crane operator during the Second World War in the shipyards to support Peter. I could imagine her doing that. Not being feart of heights, or anything much. What terrified her was Peter would end up in the one of those Dickensian institutions like Lennox Castle. She’d been to see what they were like and she was feart and for good reason. When she achieved legitimacy and married Mr Bell for a while they had safe ground under their feet.

When Mrs Bell died of cancer, provisions were made for Peter. He moved into a home in Radnor Park, near Clydebank College. Peter flourished, before getting older and finding his own place to live in a sheltered house in Dalmuir. But he liked to revisit his old haunts.

The last time I met him he was in a wheelchair, being pushed by a carer. He looked exactly the same as I remembered him. He was outside our old house in Dickens Avenue. He gripped my hand and wheezed with spittle through his false teeth. ‘Good to see you Jack.’ Then the litany started. ‘How’s Phyllis? Does she remember me?’ Peter was a bit of a ladies’ man. ‘How’s Jo?’ In  reminiscing, he kept the men to last. ‘How’s Bryan?’

There was no Mrs Bell to say that was enough Pete and to send him to his room. I’ve got a little trick that helps me when I’m writing. Mainly it’s a Glasgow character, in that querulous voice, asks: What kind of arsehole are you?

Peter Bell, Peter Clive, was never an arsehole. He was an innocent and remained innocent. He didn’t want anything from you other than your company. The photo of him here is borrowed from the aptly named Golden Friendship Club. Mrs Bell would never have allowed Pete to sing. If there’s a heaven I’m sure he’ll be singing there too.  It’s not often I can write, honestly, he was a good man. RIP.


Climate Change: The Facts, BBC 1, BBC iPlayer, presented by Sir David Attenborough, produced and directed by Serena Davies.

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The facts are global warming is taking place now and the concerted action to limit it 1.5 degrees centigrade by reducing fossil fuel emissions, which was agreed by the Paris Accord, 2015, looks highly unlikely to happen.

‘What we do now will profoundly affect the next thousand years,’ David Attenborough tells us.

Fossil fuel companies have already been working hard to smear the science behind global warming. They employed the same tactics used by tobacco firms to dispute that smoking was bad for your health. And their propaganda has been highly successful. The moron’s moron in the Whitehouse, for example, withdrew from the Paris Accord and denied there was such a thing as global warming. America, as you’d expect, has the highest carbon emissions in the world.  Paradoxically, those countries that produce the least carbon emissions, in the equator, for example, are likely to experience drought and mass starvation.

Not only can we expect mass species extinction in land and sea. Attenborough in his programmes has shown it is already happening. Coral, for example, bleaching and dying. Species dependent on this underwater ‘rainforest’ dying. With warmer oceans we can also expect an increase in wildfires, Antarctica to melt, sea levels to rise, increased severity of hurricanes and tsunamis and storm surges. Apart from modelling, we’re not really sure how this will play out. What we do know is that all the methane locked in the ground will bubble up and lead to a vicious circle of ever increasing temperatures.

Professor Tim Lenton’s model predicts that with three to six degrees and runaway global warming taking place we can expect about 600 million people to become refugees. Let’s round it up to a billion or more. How we treat refugees now does not bode well.

The question of how we can turn a vicious circle of inaction, greed and ineptitude into a virtuous circle of carbon capture and the eradication of fossil fuel from our energy diet is not convincing.

The one clear cause of global warming is mankind.

The solution depends on mankind working together. It means rewriting the history books and the rich sharing with the poor and the lion lying down with the donkey. James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis comes into effect here. Everything we do is connected. Our planet, our blue planet, doesn’t really care what we do. It’s a self-regulating system and since we can’t regulate ourself it will send out shocks and reminders. It will not be ignored. We keep hearing the same thing, no pain, no gain. The earlier we act the less costly will be the costs of climate change. Our children and our children’s children will pick up the tab. I guess we’ll have sucked the life out of the planet and it will have sucked the life out of us and them by then.  Climate change is the most important fact of our time. You can stand with the moron’s moron or you can stand with the ninety-nine percent of scientists that agree it is happening and it is happening now.   We need more than consensus. We need action now. What we’ve had is inaction and drag-back to the status quo. Conservatism has never been so stupid. Do nothing and die. Do something radical for your children. And their children’s children.

Dynasties BBC 1, BBC iPlayer.

Blue Planet II, BBC 1, BBC iPlayer, Presenter David Attenborough.

Television Programme of the year – Planet Earth II

Book of the year. Peter Wadhams (2016) A Farewell to Ice. A Report From the Arctic.

Frances Hardinge (2014) Cuckoo Song

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Cuckoo Song is the second Frances Hardinge novel I’ve read. The other was The Lie Tree. Their target audience is Young Adults and Children. I’ve not been that for fifty years, but I guess we’re all children at heart. And Hardinge is a terrific and must-read author.

The question of who we are becomes what we are? Doppelgangers and memory is spliced with folklore, fairy tales and warped visions of reality. Violet, Sebastian’s left-behind fiancée, is also a magical character. Hardinge has a fondness for strong women and weak-minded, egotistical, and foolish men such as Mr Piers Crescent, architect, and father of all the trouble and strife.

The template for her books seems pretty similar. We tweak and just write the same book, again and again (well, I do, hoping I’ll get it right).  We have upright, Victorian dad, a pillar of the community, but is not quite what he seems. Flawed and rotten. Mother is a dependent on the father, a purveyor of Victorian society and the class system, where one knows one’s place. Women, in particular, are frail beings. Triss is a sickly child, mollycoddled by both parents after the loss of their son Sebastian in the First World War. A sick family. Mother and father ‘teach her how to be ill’. The book begins with Triss having an accident. Her younger sister Pen, a spiteful tomboyish ball of energy, insists Triss that emerges from a stretch of water called the Grimmer, after a near drowning, is not Triss.

His children, real and created, need to put the pieces back together again and the world to rights.

Hardinge has some great descriptive phrases such as, ‘Neglect had given the Old Dock a dangerous air, like a half-starved dog’.

Triss in finding herself Not Triss and finally, a separation of self, as ‘Time Runs Out’ and she falls apart, Trista (which means sad) must defy the Architect, and bind the others to herself to stop the world and not become the monster she was meant to be. Read on and it will all fit together with in a jigsaw, picturesque, kind of way.

Josh Ireland (2018) The Traitors: A True Story of Blood, Betrayal and Deceit.

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Josh Ireland’s The Traitors was an Observer Book of the year and it’s terrific. A history book written like a novel and takes the reader from the hungry thirties to the post-war triumph of the new-world order. For those that backed the Axis powers and the Nazis, but were born in Britain, traitors to a man, there could be no redemption, but not all faced the hangman’s rope.

There are parallels now with the nineteen thirties with the growth in right-wing governments. The narcissistic demand to be worshipped and the simplistic ideology of them and us. In Trump’s world view, for example, it’s not the wicked Jews, but Muslims, non-whites, Mexicans and those that have the wrong kind of children, poor children that are suspect. They are to blame for all of society’s ills. Borders need to be reinforced. Sanctions taken. More barbed wire, walls and prisons built.  If they just had the right kind of children, rich children, we wouldn’t have these problems is the right kind of conservative belief. If governments, bureaucrats, and little men just got out of the way of the market, and gave free rein to the whip hand of employers. Stupid is, as stupid does. Britain First sounds very much like Make America Great Again and the hidden hand is an iron fist.

Oswald Mosley is surrounded by traitors. It is 28th May 1930 and in the stuffy airless chamber of the House of Commons he has been speaking, without notes, for over an hour. All around him sit men of power and influence…Britain is in the grip of a ruinous depression, and while they should be exerting every sinew to resolve what Mosley believes threatens to equal any in the country’s long and studied history, but instead ‘These old men with their long dead minds embalmed in the tombs of the past’ continue to betray the promises made to the generation who came of age in the blood and squalor of the Great War. When the veterans returned they were promised a land fit for heroes, but found themselves ignored…imprisoned in the damp and disease ridden walls of slum housing and have to bring up their children to share their misery.

Mosley, despite his star-billing, only plays a bit part in Ireland’s litany of Traitors. And such is the brilliance of Ireland’s prose I felt sympathetic toward Mosley in a way I never could towards the moron’s moron in the Whitehouse. Mosley, like Mussolini, flittered with socialism, before settling on fascism as an answer to society’s ills. The moron’s moron never had a thought but for himself and even a gifted author such as Ireland would be hard pushed to make him human.

Perhaps the closest match in this book is John Amery, son of Leo, a MP and minister in Churchill’s wartime coalition cabinet.  John Amery turns from a spoiled and rotten child into a spoiled and rotten drunken, whoring, manchild. He falls quite readily into Hitler’s plans to make the Duke of Westminster King and for Mosley to be Prime Minster in a puppet government run along the lines of the one in Paris. Amery would be high up in the new Nazi-backed British government, and imagines himself in the top job he deserves. The lies we tell ourselves are often the most honest thing about us.

William Joyce, Lord Haw-Haw, as he was known to tens of millions of British subjects listening to his broadcasts on the wireless, was an honest man. He had been the darling of Mosley’s fascist party in England and hated Jews with a religious intensity. There hadn’t been room in the fascist party for two such giant-sized egos so Joyce started his own fascist party, but like a pint-sized Nigel Farage, outside the glare of publicity it withered and died. When war started Joyce did the honourable thing and travelled to Berlin with his wife to offer his services to the Nazi Party. One could never imagine Farage, like the moron in the Whitehouse, ever doing anything honourable.

Harold Cole was a dishonourable thief with ideas above his station. He joined the army in the nineteen thirties and seemed to make a decent job of it, being promoted to corporal and acting as chauffer to an officer in Hong Kong, before stealing the car and fleeing. He washed up and found his feet posing as an officer in Petain’s France and claiming to help allied soldiers and winged airman get back to good old blighty. With a nod and a wink he assured those that helped him that British intelligence would reimburse him. He established a reputation and a working network, remarkably, British intelligence did start to help him. The Abwehr were also willing to make him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Not that Cole ever had any intention of doing such a thing. Looking after number one was his only religion and his only ideology. He was quite willing to give names, including his wife and lovers, while watching them tortured and beaten to death.

Eric Pleasants has a good Cornish ring to it, connotations of our green and pleasant land.  His father was a gamekeeper with a limp and a lungful of poisoned gas, the legacy of the war to end all wars. Eric would have prospered nowadays, careful of what he ate, he never drank or smoked, a circus strongman and wrestler, he worshipped his body. War was a mug’s game and he wasn’t playing. He had no intention of joining up. Traffic lights were invented because nobody would give way. Bring me a man and I’ll fight him to the death was his motto. Otherwise leave me alone. Interred in Jersey, sent to a French labour squad, he joined  a squad of the British legion to fight for the Germans against their putative common enemy Russia and Communism, not because he believed in it, but because of boredom, better rations and sex. He was not punished by the British government. The seven years he spent interred in the gulags of the Soviet system seemed punishment enough. His is perhaps the most interesting story.

Traitors, a vision of them and us, based on an ideology of common hatred is an old religion. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter doesn’t cover it. When the tectonic plates of world events shift, as they are doing now, in particular, with global warming and the imminent starvation of tens and perhaps hundreds of millions, simple ideology is a potent weapon for radical changes that have at their base, ironically, visions of the status quo, where the rich remain the same old tired faces, mouthing the same thing as our thirties friends. We can’t all be Judas. The world is no longer big enough.


My Loneliness is Killing Me, BBC iPlayer, Next Big Thing, Series 1:7, directed by Tom Courtney and written by Michael Richardson.

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This short film won a Scottish BAFTA, which pleased me because I’d met the writer, Michael Richardson, a few times on a writing course I got turfed out of for not being able to write or spell bafta. Fair enough. I often go off in daft tangents that have no relevance.  It’s not Dennis Nilsen, killing for company, and blocking the drains with body parts, or, bottle blonde, Britney Spears belting out that anthem of the pre-teens.  But My Loneliness is Killing Me is, as the title suggests, a bleaker vision of our society.

Everything about the film is dark. It begins in a gay disco. Elliot (Luke Elliot), on the dance floor, is dressed like a woman, but he’s a man. Elliot propositions another man in the toilets, but is rejected because the would-be fuck-friend, ironically, prefers his men to be men.

Jack (Jamie Robson) is fucking another man, a knee trembler in a dark, locker-room. He checks through his stuff, his wallet and money gone, but he’s still got his wedding band.

Jack is back in his penthouse apartment, looking over the night lights of Glasgow. Meal for one.

Eliot hooks up with Jack over the phone, as easy a Pizza delivery. Male for one.

‘You got somewhere better to go?’ asks Eliot.

Jack beats a retreat, after they meet. It’s a repeat of what happened to Elliot in toilets of the disco. Elliot warns him he’ll not get anybody at this time of night. A fuck-you and fuck-me of the iPhone generation.

Selfies don’t mean selfish, but a way of getting your hole. Jack fucks Elliot, but then feels that tingle down below. Yeh, he’s lost his gold ring and checks his reflection in the mirror of the toilet. Symbolism. Elliot ends up in a bath holding the gold ring. Enter Gandalf. Yes, it’s Lord of the Rings. Well done Michael Richardson. Now, after BAFTA, to conquer Mordor. The ring that binds us all. But watch out for the orcs.

The Murder of Jill Dando, BBC 1 and BBC iPlayer, directed by Marcus Plowright

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There seems to be a plethora of anniversaries and murder reconstructions on all of the main channels. We’ve had the Bulger, The Yorkshire Ripper and Jack the Ripper recently and before that Fred and Rose West. The list goes on. Partly, I’d guess to the world-wide success of The Making of a Murderer.  BBC couldn’t let the twentieth anniversary, 26th April 1999, of one of its own, the presenter of the Holiday programme, Crimewatch UK and The Six O’Clock News, without a commemorative mock-up of the main actors, talking heads and what we know about the killer. The Queen commented on Jill’s death as did the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

The police were under enormous pressure to bring the killer to justice. Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Hamish Campbell, who led the investigation, features in the programme. He tells us how he came to identify Barry George as a suspect, how he came to be convicted of Jill Dando’s murder in June 2001 and released on appeal seven years later after the UK High Court ordered a retrial and the Court of Appeal found the forensic evidence in the case ‘inconclusive’.

The presenter Nick Ross, who appeared alongside Jill Dando in Crimewatch, said, he’d also have acquitted Barry George.

Yet, we have DCI Campbell, giving the impression he got the right man. The evidence was circumstantial. After five months, the police were getting nowhere and had spent over two million pounds on the investigation. A tip had come from Hafad Taxi Company that someone, later identified as Barry George, had been acting strangely on the day Dando was killed. Six months later he was still acting strangely. A warrant and search of his house found that he’d filmed women, kept a log of car numbers and had press cuttings of Jill Dando. He also has a three-quarter length coat.

I must admit to also having a three-quarter length coat. My partner Mary hates it and wants to give it to the Salvation Army of some other charitable institute. But I’m quite oddly attached to it.  I was never a suspect in Dando’s killing.

Let’s get to the forensics on which the case was won and lost. Locard’s principle, sounds very much like Sherlock Holmes’, ‘every contact leaves a trace’.  A single particle of gunshot residue was found in the three-quarter length coat Barry George admitted to wearing. To describe it as gunshot residue is to place Barry George in the coat and have him pull the trigger and shoot Jill Dando on the doorstep. Such is the power of forensic evidence to captive a jury and convict Barry George.

Remember the newspaper headlines ‘Auntie Annie’s bomb-making factory’ associating trace elements of nitroglycerine with the Maguire Seven. Trace elements that were found in handling an ordinary pack of playing cards.

A single particle of gunshot residue would have to be magnified around 2000 times before it was the size of a pea. How else could it have got into Barry George’s pocket? Someone handling guns, perhaps a policeman, could have brushed against him on public transport.

The Crown won and lost its case on a single particle of evidence. Barry George in Scottish law would be found Not Proven. The hunt for Jill Dando’s killer goes on – only it doesn’t. The police have no new leads.  Case closed.

Frances Hardinge (2015) The Lie Tree.

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I don’t read a lot of young adult or children’s fiction, but for any budding writers the Costa Book of the Year 2015 is pretty much perfect. The narrator of the story, Faith Sunderlay, is at that in-between age where she’s considered neither girl nor women, on the cusp of making her Confirmation. Her father Reverend Erasmus Sunderlay is, as you’d expect with a name like that next to God, in the eyes of his family and Victorian society. Faith’s mother Myrtle is pretty and ‘has a number of tricks for handling men, a little coquetry she summoned as easily and reflexively as opening her fan’. Myrtle has decided to take Faith in hand, because Faith is precocious, pig-headed and sneaky but in a different way than her mother. She has no time for men or coquetry but wants to be like her father, respected for his great learning and palaeontological knowledge. She aches to be his successor and shows great promise, but she has a younger brother Howard to take care of and she’s a girl. God, of course, is a man, an Englishman and although some may be as useless as her affable and round-faced Uncle Miles, a proper young lady should learn how not to think too much, which might tax their smaller heads and minds and learn the far better lesson of deference to their betters.

Hardinge has fun with such notions. When the family decamp from their house in Kent to a small island, Vane, and an archaeological dig to escape some unspecified scandal, Faith decided to find out what it is and to help her father, because as sure as God was in heaven, he could never be ‘A fraud and a cheat’.

If her father is a fraud and a cheat he must have very good reasons for being so. Her father is also behaving rather strangely. When Faith interrupts him in the library she thinks he might be an opium addict, but it’s much worse than that. Her father has risked everything for the fruit of The Lie Tree.

The Lie Tree has a vampire like quality. It combusts in natural daylight and survives in dank and dark surroundings and the Reverend Sunderlay’s notebooks and drawings offer conjecture that it feeds on whispered lies and the greater the lie the faster it grows and the bigger the fruit it offers. For those that dare feed on the fruit of The Lie Tree it offers God like powers to see the hidden patterns and motives of men and women. Reverend Sunderlay has fed on it. And when he dies, an apparent suicide, Faith must cultivate the fruit of The Lie Tree to find out who has murdered him.

Cut off from the Church, cut off from polite society, her father’s suicide threatens whatever money they had. Disgrace and the workhouse beckon. Only Faith can save the Sunderlay family.  Have Faith in Faith, and read on.