In many ways this is George Clooney’s creation. He’s listed as one of the producers. Producers are the guys (and it is usually men) who get the money together to make a movie. Because he’s George Clooney he can do that kind of thing. Other people will fling money at him, because it’s a no-lose situation, a film starring George Clooney is bound to make money, and if it’s any good, it’ll make a lot of money, but the stars need to be aligned.
George Clooney stars with different haircuts and uniforms, but the same sugary smile he’s perfected over the years. His character Lyn Skip Cassady is ex-American army, and there are flashbacks to the time when the US military set up a shadowy organisation to create psychic warriors and conquer hearts and minds by making love, not war. Army maverick Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) led them to places they couldn’t have dreamed. Bridges re-jigs his role as The Dude, but in army military bases. But The Men Who Stare at Goats is much more fun than The Big Lebowski. I laughed aloud several times, and that doesn’t usually happen unless an old woman falls in front of a truck after jumping over a skipping rope.
We know all this because Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) tells us about his journey with Cassady on the road to enlightenment in an Iraq that is being liberated or conquered by American troops (depending on your point of view). There’s the realist tone Umberto Eco adopts in his masterpiece Foucault’s Pendulum with the ridiculous rubbing shoulders with reality. Cassady regrets, for example, under military orders letting his ego run wild, staring at a goat and stopping its heart. He admits that it might just have been coincidence, him staring and the bleating animal’s heart stopping, but he doesn’t believe in coincidences.
Cassady’s mission is so hush-hush, he’s not even sure what it is himself. He needs to find his former guru, The Dudeless Bill Django in a desert without road signs. The right road is often the wrong road as they are taken hostage by Islamic fundamentalists. But that’s a mere blip in Cassady’s inner radar, as Bob Wilton makes the inner journey from sceptic to true believer.
Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey) is our Judas and nemesis of free-love and free-wheeling Django and Cassady in the military and world at large. (This was before Spacey was publically shamed, some would see that as proof of the dark side. Other examples being the large numbers of cast members that died in strange circumstance after making The Omen).
Whatever—this is a great and fun movie. George Clooney has never been better as George Clooney, Ewan McGregor even gets in on the act. Well worth watching for Dude-less fans. Try it.
Writing a review is straightforward. Beginning, middle and end. Often in the shape of a triangle or baggy diamond—if you get too wordy—before you reach your conclusion. You become an expert in your field with a certain gravitas. The problem here is I can think two (or more things) at once. Cognitive dissonance is a way of life for Catholics, with virgin births, saints, angels and demons, and life ever after. Heaven and hell is up for grabs, literally and metaphorically.
Mr Jordan, my primary seven teacher, for example, told us that a haggis was a wee creature with one leg shorter than another so he could run uphill. He drew what a haggis looked like on the blackboard, and sure enough, one leg was shorter than the other. When I’m up the Old Kilpatrick Hills I still look out for haggis men showing their bum as they run uphill.
Similarly, I remember the clip showing how the Italian spaghetti crop had failed. Sure enough, on Nationwide, they showed stringy bits of pasta falling from the pasta plant. I wasn’t overly concerned, because I’m a potato man. The average potato farmer before the Great Famine ate 14lbs of potatoes a day, but I ate more than that.
Uri Geller said he was taken up in a spaceship, and that allowed him to start clocks and bend spoons. He teleported to every chat show in the world simultaneously and showed how it was done. All over the world we could hear the sound of ticking clocks and spoons went wonky for the Israeli and his followers. He even had a car with spoons attached to show how much money he’d made. Secretly, I knew he’d never be able to keep it clean, because jet wash hadn’t been invented. Spoon bending didn’t work for me, but that didn’t mean I didn’t believe him. I just was made of the wrong kind of stuff.
I was an avid reader of books like Colin Wilson’s The Occult. Sure it had me shitting my pants. But there was a bit of envy, I admit that. Nothing would teleport, unless I kicked it with my size ten boots. I couldn’t read people’s thoughts, or get girls to undress by staring at them. Mind-bending just didn’t work for me. And I could only see if I put my specs on. I was familiar with all the hoo-ha. Ironically there’s a film on BBC 2 tonight that encapsulates this theme that I’ll watch and laugh at. Dramatised and directed by George Clooney, based on a book by Jon Ronson, The Men Who Stare at Goats.
It’s utterly ridiculous. Superhuman is filled with marvellous people with shiny white teeth. No fat people. No black people. People with straight hair. People we can trust.
Let’s start with remote viewing. Actress Naomi Grossman gets a few dos and don’ts from a former member of the groups mocked by Ronson and Clooney. She’s able to locate and draw things such as a circus carousel Caroline Cory was seeing and sitting on. Not only is Grossman able to describe these artefacts, she can feel them too, rough or smooth, big or small.
Grossman’s ex-military CIA man is able to tell us the viewers, how during Jimmy Carter’s Presidency they planned to construct bunkers in which to launch IBM missiles at the USSR, but not all would have nuclear missiles. They’d move the silos about to fool the Russians, so they could get first strike (or second strike—which is called the end of the world). But those trained in remote location viewing where able to tell with almost 100% accuracy whether the silos were armed or not. President Carter shelved the plan.
The problem with following this logic is the follow-up experiment in which Cory tried to block where she was, and Grossman was unable to locate her. If such a unit of the American army did exist (and I’m sure it did) then it would have therefore been relatively easy to block remote viewers from other nations viewing something they didn’t want to see. In this case, where’s Wally, with nuclear missiles able to blow up our planet?
In other experiments Cory is able to change the Ph balance of a substrate. Make it more alkaline by thinking about it, by willing it. A bit like Uri Gellar, but without the spoons. In terms of biochemistry, proof positive of how you think influence how your body reacts. Thinking yourself better, or healthy, works is the message.
Cory also shows telekinesis at work. There’s no Stephen King Carrie moment: she’s not drenched in pig’s blood, nor does she pick up cars and hurl them at those that can’t take a joke, or take no for an answer. Cory simply sets a lightweight arrow inside a glass vacuum spinning. Nothing spectacular, but the fall of how we understand physics works (don’t ask me, I failed first-year secondary school physics).
Actor Corey Feldman gets in on the act. Two voice recorders are placed next to each other. One has the batteries taken out. Yet, information is somehow passed from the voice recorder with batteries to the one with no batteries. A message from the other side, what nineteen century scientists called the ether. It just doesn’t make sense.
These are mere trinkets and tricks (even if they’re not). The finale is spectacular. Children that can read books through blindfolds Run around with blindfolds. Go shopping, blind. Play table-tennis, and other ball games, blind. Truly, a wow moment. Either it’s a setup, or it isn’t. I’m still undecided. Certainly, Caroline Cory has a lot of very beautiful people doing strange things. But that’s not as spectacular as the failed pasta crop, because I love pasta now. One sure thing during Holy Week, as I search for my relic of the one true cross sold to me by a genuine monk, who wouldn’t tell me any lies, Cory’s trinkets are sure to sell like wildfire. I’m sure there’s courses up and running. How not to get to heaven but how to dip your pockets. Catholics, like me, have been schooled in it. Everything miraculous ends in tears or the end of the world. Don’t crucify me for telling me what you already know.
‘The Island of Jersey is a self-governing possession of the British Crown separate from the UK with its own laws, financial rules and Parliament.’
Some of its most influential figures are appointed by the Queen.
When secrets from its past surfaced in 2007 they revealed deep distrust and division between those now running the island, proud of Jersey’s reputation.
And those who saw themselves as underdogs campaigning for change.’
Whose side are you on, the have-nots or the have-yachts? That’s the set-up for this documentary. Let’s deal the money issue first. Jersey launders money. It’s an offshore City of London. A New York Times headline, 6th November 2017 for example showed. ‘After a Tax Crackdown, Apple found a new shelter for its profits. Island of Jersey.’ Leaving billions of dollars untouched by the US government.
Baker McKenzie [Apple, the richest company in the world] asked for assurances that the local political climate would remain friendly. Are there any developments suggesting that the law may change in an unfavourable way in the near future?
New York Times headline 6th November 2017 shows how this works. Apple decided that its new offshore tax structure should use Appleby’s office in Jersey. Jersey makes its own laws and is not subject to most European Union legislation, making it a popular tax haven.
John Christensen, Former Economic Advisor to Jersey tells the viewers.
We can only guess the assets hidden here as half a trillion US dollars. The wealth itself is not in Jersey. There’s very little investment in Jersey. Just wealth that is booked there. But invested elsewhere. Very often in real estate in Britain or Europe or…North America.
Establishing Jersey is a tax-dodgers paradise is the easy part of the narrative. Secrecy is part of the package, but it’s called discretion. Most of Jersey’s 88 000 residents have little or no say in the way the island is governed.
John Chirstensen. One of the things I discovered was the government was captive to the finance industry. They were saying, we want this law. And it would go through parliament on the nod because…
The finance industry loved it. You weren’t going to get challenged. You always had the same people at the top. And those people were very amenable to bringing forward pieces of legislation which they themselves commissioned. [the blank cheque]
Wendy Kinnard, (former Home Affairs Minister). Any small island has to find its niche. We are very reliant on the finance industry, and all that goes with that.
Christensen: that ties in with what we call the Jersey wave. Don’t ask inconvenient questions. These places do not like to have publicity unless it’s favourable publicity.
Wendy Kinnard. My experience, anything to do with finance went to the top of the list in terms of priority. If you take the sex offenders, I began doing some work on that in 1973. I saw 27 drafts turned around in order to try and get this legislation. At the time of Operation Triangle we had no significant pieces of legislation in terms of child protection. Contrasted with financial legislation because our economy is based on financial services
Neil McMurry (Citizen Journalist) on a boat. ‘This is my escape. I don’t drink. I don’t drug. (I sail). What about the victims and survivors and some say it’s the lucky ones that died. If I had a choice between knowing what I know now. And not knowing, if I could turn the clock back…I wish I could. I wouldn’t want to know what I know.
Graham Powell, Former Chief of Police on Jersey. Many people said don’t take an island job, they always end in tears. Unless you can afford to walk away from it. Well, I could, but didn’t.
I took advice from an old officer. He told me what the politicians expect you to do is lock up the drunks on a Saturday night. Catch a few burglars. Don’t look for trouble.
Lenny Harper, former Deputy Chief of Police, Jersey. Impeccable references from the Met. My first 6 weeks were spent getting to know people. The head of the law department told me he was convinced there was a paedophile ring operating in the island, but he couldn’t get any persecutions. I examined cold case files. There had already been several trials involving the sexual assault of children and one name kept popping up: Haut de la Garenne children’s home.
Haut de la Garenne. Jersey State Children’s Home 1867-1986. Gurren mean rabbit warren. We had a lot of children living in the home. Not only from Jersey, but Guernsey as well. You had a lot of French immigrants that came to work on the farms. They were poor people as well. They found no accommodation for their children. So they ended up in the Home.
Kevin O’Connell, speaking 2008. Myself and some other lads had broken into a shop and we’d stole some cigarettes and chocolate and some other things. So I was sent to Haut de la Garenne. I was there between 1963-1964.
It was run by a man called Colin Tilbrook. Headmaster, during the 1960s he ran it like an army camp.
He was a very aggressive man. He didn’t speak to you. He shouted at you.
A particular case file in which there were gaps. I was given excuses why that was the case. When we looked into it, those excuses fell apart. That was the real beginning of Operation Rectangle.
The few victims I met totally impressed me with their sincerity.
Marina Cremin. I was born in Jersey to Irish parents. They were from Cork. When I was five I went to Haut de la Garenne.
Cremin: I was terrified that he’d (Tilbrook the headmaster) call me into his little office. Because I knew what he wanted. It wasn’t just myself. He used to call on other children as well. We used to say we’re going to tell somebody. And he used to say, ‘go ahead, nobody is going to believe you’.
Cremin: He would tell me what to do. He would take his belt off and make it do a flicking noise. And he would use that on me if I didn’t do what I was told. He’d always have a pillow under his arm. If you screamed out, he’d put the pillow over your face. And tell you to be quiet.
Chief Constable: Operational officers are saying there is history of abuse. We’re getting snippets of it from other enquiries.
Senator Stuart Syvret (former) Health and Social Services Minster: Jersey is a very small community. He told the chief of police if you don’t do something I’m going to whistle blow. In 2006 word reached me about abuse that was still going on and had been covered up in the past. I began making my own enquires. A failure of the Island’s government and to protect its population. This went back decades and decades. A lot of meetings I was having with survivors was deeply harrowing.
Frank Walker Chief Minister 2005-2008.
I’m a life-long Jersey resident. And I served in Jersey’s government for 18 years. Everybody believes child abuse takes place, but not here, or in a very limited way.
Wendy Kinnard (former Home Affairs Minister). At the time of Operation Rectangle, my role was oversight of the police service. I was in a meeting with the chief and deputy chief of police and when I was briefed about how far they had got in terms of the covert operation, and now they felt other ministers had to be told, in particular, the Chief Minister. And that very soon we would have to make the whole operation public. I did say, they won’t like this one little bit and we could all lose our jobs over this.
Stuart Syvret made an announcement in relation to Child Protection. 16th July 2007: ‘We are failing badly in this area. And I’m probably going to seek to initiate a major independent review of the whole sphere of child welfare and child protection in Jersey.’
Chief Minister found that unacceptable and tabled a motion that they get rid of Syvret.
Syvret: By saying these things I was bullying staff. Pretext of having me sacked.
Chief Constable, Graham Powell: He was thrown out of office and subject to negative briefing in the media. I was horrified and made clear I wasn’t getting involved in this sordid business (of name calling).
Stuart Syvret. There’s a tremendous amount of money here. Wealth. The elite want the status-quo to remain.
Deputy Chief Constable, Lenny Harper. We knew that Stuart had been canvassing public opinion, and we felt we had to go public ourselves. We were completely open with the media and told them we would not tolerate any interference from Jersey politicians.
Syvret: A huge weight lifted from my shoulders.
Graham Powell: I wondered if the phone would ring. Within a week or two we had hundreds of victims coming forward.
Peter Hannaford speaking in 2008. You were subject to constant abuse. It was begun with the rape of older kids. Encouraged by the staff. It was constant, every night. You were scared to go to bed, because you didn’t know if you were going to be the one to get hit or if it’d be someone else.
Carl Denning, speaking in 2008. There was an occasion in the sickbay when I was made to fondle another boy. If you didn’t, you were threatened you wouldn’t come out of there alive.
Jean Neil. Grouville Home for Girls. Speaking in 2017. I was told that anything that happened in the home, you don’t tell anybody else. Because nobody would ever believe you. And if you do let it slip out, the punishment is you will have your tongue cut out. Some of the girls got pregnant. They’d get the baby taken away from them. And my question is, and always has been, where was the authorities and what where they doing?
5th December 2007. Syvret, As senior senator I gave my (Christmas) speech
Voice of Sir Philip Bailhache, Baliff of Jersey1995-2009. Cuts him off.
We have a dysfunctional democracy. The real power sits with Crown appointees.
The Queen appoints: Attorney General (Crown Prosecution), Baliff (Chief Judge and Speaker of Parliament) and Lieutenant Governor.
Speaker controls debates in Parliament. Who can speak. Who can’t speak. What questions can be asked.
Deputy There were also statements from people at the home that children had been dragged from their beds and were never seen again.
Statements saying staff had chased one child along the corridor that had then leapt out the window. And that child was never seen again.
Then we had a solicitor who approached us who had a client that said he saw a dead body.
I heard a story about dead bodies and rapes and beatings. And I made a disclosure to the police as you’d expect somebody in my position to do.
Chief Constable: We felt we had to search. And ridiculous as it may seem now, we felt that we could do it discretely.
19th February 2008.
Deputy Constable: we put Eddie, the cadaver dog into the ground. He reacted very positively in an area of the home. Anthropologists should dig at that spot. The next morning I was at home when I got the phone call, a human bone had been found. Forensic anthropologist described as a human skull.
James Perchard, Former Jersey Senator. My family has farmed here for generations. Perhaps even the 12th Century. I honestly knew nothing of the ill-treatment of children. It didn’t get to me.
Neil McMurray, Citizen Journalist. There’s a presumption that anyone living in Jersey is a millionaire. Well, that’s not true. There’s the haves and the have-yachts. There’s a lot of poverty in Jersey. The governments predominantly conservative run by the rich for the rich. So some noise can be made in our Parliament by the socialists. But they’ve got no power. We thought, brilliant. We’ve got a politician that represents us. Stuart. A lot of survivors came forward because of him.
Voice of Sir Philip Bailhache, Baliff of Jersey, unjustified denigration of Jersey is the real scandal.
Group of survivors met outside the home and challenged his statement. Confirmed abuse took place for years.
Sir Philip Bailhache apologised for what he said nine years later, saying his words were ill-chosen.
Neil McMurray I was being fobbed off. Lied to and it was sickening what Sir Philip Bailhache did. I started blogging. Mainly to ministers the media. Basically, they weren’t replying to me. It was called voice for children.
Sack Walker, reinstate Sylvert.
Brian Flynn former Sun journalist. As an outsider it seemed to me a lot of people didn’t trust the government who were in control and anybody that rocked the boat, anybody that caused problems, wasn’t welcome. If you weren’t among the cabal running the island, you were voiceless. This wasn’t a story that needed to be sensationalised. They were sensational enough and needed to be investigated.
Carrie Modral. Jersey Care Leavers’ Association. Care leavers are adults who lived in children’s homes if not all, or most of their lives. The abuse had been rattling around for years. As individuals they had been shut down. But as a collective group, this was the perfect opportunity to escalate.
Kinnard. There were two camps in how we should deal with Operation Rectangle. Stuart Syvret was very keen that everything should be made public (transparency). And you’d the chief minister and many of the council of ministers who felt it was important to keep the lid on this [important to who and for what reasons?]
The reputation of Jersey should be preserved at all costs. And any negative publicity would likely have a detrimental effect on our economy.
Chief Constable: I was having my ear bent by senior politicians. It wasn’t about who were these people and how can we get their collars felt. That wasn’t the tone of conversation. It was look at all those horrible things newspapers are saying about us. How can we put a stop to all this?
More than 160 people came forward to claim they were abused. Two bodies found.
O’Connell. There was a member of staff that would come for me in the middle of the night, bang my head as we walked along the corridor. He’d take me to the cellar, put me in the bath and sexually abuse me. He’d leave me there after he’d satisfied himself.
Brian Flynn, former Sun journalist. One of the things that came up time after time was Jimmy Saville had visited the Island. Visited the home. Before he was unmasked. What was striking was the vehemence which he denied going to Haut La Garrene.
Cremin: I told the police about Jimmy Saville in 2007. But he denied ever having been at the Home. I said my sister is in a photograph with him.
Christensen (economist) this is the worst kind of public relations disaster. As they say on Jersey, they don’t want to look under that stone. But when the headlines say this is the centre of child abuse, no banks, no accounting firms want to be associated with a place that has a long history of child abuse that has been largely ignored.
It was a byword for cruelty in the 1960s when I was growing up. We were threatened with if you don’t behave we’re sending you to La Garrene.
In 2007 The UK press particularly damning of Jersey and the cover-up.
David Rose, Mail on Sunday. A friend of mine phoned me and said have you heard about these children murdered in a children’s home? Well, there’s a guy in Oxford called Tom Higham who you should talk to, because he’s got some very interesting information. It was later afternoon, and he said come round now, and I did. I went round to his lab. We’ve been trying to tell the police in Jersey this for weeks, but they just won’t listen. They’ve been coming out with all this stuff in the media, and we’ve had enough. It’s time the public learned the truth.
I got Lenny to admit there were people that had reservations.
18th May 2008. Then I did the story that Sunday.
I’d already written a few articles questioning these very heavy moral panic type investigations. Especially in children’s homes and schools. And when the Jersey story started I was immediately very sceptical, thinking really?
eg Bryan Ely, 67, in Dartmoor, alleged to have attacked children.
I should tell you, I’m a Jimmy Saville sceptic too. What I do know is that some to those that claimed to be abused were lying to claim compensation. And I say that without any hesitation. They just made it up.
Headline: It’s official. There was no child abuse in Jersey.
Prof. Tom Higham, Oxford University. We were sent this sample in March 2008. It too probably 40 seconds to realise what I had in my hand. Lenny Harper said it’s the piece of a child’s skull. It’s no such thing. It’s a piece of coconut shell.
DC. Lenny Harper. Collagen is only found in mammals. There was no trail of testing. The package wasn’t booked in or logged. No control over it, whatsoever. But what we didn’t realise at that stage was that it would be used as a stick to beat us with.
Frank Walker Chief Minister 2005-2008. I think the biggest turning point was the revelation on the Mail on Sunday by David Rose. It was both welcome news and a shock. Then the trust in the police leadership came into question. (Harper and Graham Powell).
What I saw was a fast-moving investigation that involved leads that Harper wasn’t afraid to follow. In real time. It’s easy to say he got them wrong. But he was trying to disseminate the information in a way that signalled to those abused that this time stones weren’t being left unturned.
DC Harper. Rose had this history of being very anti-child abuse. Cites Lord Jenner’s report, for example, and a witness that admits to lying about a care home boss.
We’ve took over 150 tons of material which is all being itemised. We’ve recovered 65 children’s teeth.
Wendy Kinnard: there was criticism that Harper held up to the media a coin that was a Jersey coin and not an English coin. This again was damaging the reputation of the island. Then I got phone calls from the senior minister saying get rid of Lenny Harper. Take him off the tv screens. He should be removed from even Operation Rectangle. He became the folk demon by those that wanted the child abuse enquiry to go away.
Before I resigned
I’d a difficult time. I did feel very bullied on occasions. Receiving emails from the Chief Minister saying there are calls for your resignation. I felt that I was being put in a position that I was being removed, in the same way Senator Syvret was removed. So I resigned.
I was advised that I should sign over my powers (of oversight to the police and operation Rectangle) to my assistant minister Andrew Lewis. I just felt that I was being absolutely side-lined. Andrew Lewis felt the same way that I did about Chief Constable Powell. That he was doing a good job.
News report. The officer in charge may never know that children here were murdered. Even though they found the partial remains of at least five children. Experts have difficulty dating the teeth and bones aged between four and eleven
The removal of Lenny had to happen. His investigation was out of control.
The detective, who led the enquiry, retires next week (news report). Case unsolved.
31st July 2008. DC Harper. In many ways the community is no different from anywhere else. What has happened doesn’t make Jersey unique or evil. And what has happened, I think the people has responded magnificently.
News report the teeth and bones found here aren’t pieces of evidence. They’re pieces of children. Pieces of vulnerable lives of children whose stories will now never be told.
Chief Constable. Lenny left and David Warcup, his successor and my successor was appointed. Then we had the appointment of Gradwell, who was going to be senior investigating officer. I could see the wolves circling. As long as Wendy Kinnard was there…she fell. I thought you’re on your own now. So as things when they developed didn’t come as a surprise.
David Warcup, Acting Chief of Police. We’ll use every effort to bring this enquiry to a proper conclusion.
Andrew Lewis, Home Affairs Manager (after Kinnard’s resignation).
I was under considerable pressure and from the Chief Minister of the day, Frank Walker. With remarks being thrown around the table from the Council of Minister consistently. ‘You’ve got to get rid of that bloke. You’ve got to sack him’.
Frank Walker Chief Minister 2005-2008. I had no doubt at all Graham Powell had to go. I would have liked him to come out of this with great credit. And he could have done, had he not let Lenny run riot with media briefings.
A legal review found the suspension was flawed and unfair but no part of an attempt to block the investigation.
Graham Powell’s handling of Operation Rectangle was later criticised in a report by another police force.
12th November 2008. David Warcup, Acting Chief of Police The forensic recoveries do not indicate there has been murder of children or other people at La Garrene. Nor do we believe that bodies have been buried, destroyed or hidden.
Mick Gradwell, Senior Investigating Officer. There are no reported people missing. There are no credible allegations of murder. There is no suspect for murder. And there is no specific time period for murder. 170 pieces of bone, which were mainly animal, were found in the area. Three fragments that are possibly human. The biggest piece is 25mm long. 65 teeth found in the floorboards. One elsewhere. These teeth have the appearance of being shed naturally. The officer is about five-foot five tall. It’s not a dungeon and it’s not a cellar.
James Perchard, Former Jersey Senator. There were specialist PR people brought in to help protect Jersey’s image. I suspect that’s what happens when such terrible, terrible news has been made public.
Headlines rebound and reboot. Media: Main witness had a history of psychotic fantasy and alcoholism. 2) Detectives took lavish meals in London restaurant.
Carrie Modral. The media tried to sensationalise what was going on. Then trash what they sensationalised. It wasn’t just one day. It spanned over a couple of weeks. As if this was all premeditated. I was angry with the care leavers, because they thought, right, we’ll never get justice. Everything we were working towards seemed to be sabotaged.
DC Lenny. Graham was suspended. I was side-lined. That was when Neil and Rico came in.
Rico Sorda, Citizen Journalist. It was clear to anyone that Graham Powell was shafted. By the establishment of Jersey, because he had the audacity to let Lenny investigate
The editorials prior to that had praised Lenny and Graham but afterwards Jersey Evening Post headlines ran along the lines of Celebrity Lifestyle of Lenny Harper and his officers. Meals in top-class.
We went up there and filmed them. What difference does it make if you call them cellars or vaults? We measured them –Bob Hill measured them-and they were six-foot deep. There’s certainly enough room down there for a child abuser to do what he wanted.
Neil: Evidence not audited when it left Jersey. How does a piece of skull become a piece of coconut? It came back a different texture, size and colour.
Forensic Anthropologist Report. Since I initially examined the fragment, it had dried out considerably and changed in colour, texture and weight.
Could it have been switched? Nobody answered that question. It was ignored.
Carrie Modral, we called a meeting and invited Mick Gradwell along. He said you better drop your case. None of you are going to get what you want.
We were so angry with his response. We had to ask him to leave. And it wasn’t about a piece of coconut. It was about children being systematically abused. Time after time after time and ignored.
Dannie Jarman (resident) Blanche Pierre Children’s Home. I didn’t want to go through with it in the first place. Then I managed to build up the courage to speak out and come out what had happened. There was evidence there to prove what happened, did happen. A lot of it was never brought up in court.
Houseparents subjected children to physical and sexual abuse.
Neil: I tried asking many questions of our politicians and they ignored me and ignore me. I had to go out and doorstep them.
Wendy Kinnard. I remained concerned for the victims that were obviously hurting. 11 or 12 cases dropped. On the other hand the attorney general was concerned he didn’t want to take forward prosecutions he wasn’t sure he was going to win.
Attorney General of Jersey 2000-2009, Sir William Bailhache, revealed there will be no further action against the couple arrested in June as part of the enquiry (Blanche Pierre Children’s Home).
Sir Philip Bailhache Bailiff of Jersey 1995-2009. My brother became Attorney General after me, one remove. And for some that was evidence of corruption. Two brothers in Crown Office and that was ipso facto corrupt.
The reason for this mistrust rested with the police and children’s services and not with his office.
Some pretty middle of the road people convicted of offences, but no one of any stature was ever taken to court. Colin Tilbrook, the pillow man, his step daughter came out and said he raped her when she was ten. He’s dead now. Jimmy Saville dead. Wilfred Krichefski, died in 1974 was a former senator. Jeff Le Marchand. This wasn’t one bad apple.
Operation Rectangle identified 192 victims and 121 living suspects. 30 suspects were already dead.
Eight people were tried in the Jersey courts, with seven successful prosecutions.
Frank Walker Chief Minister 2005-2008. Sylvert was daily denouncing the service we were providing. That pressure was incredible. To have this constant criticism, at that time.
Sylvet. At a press conference he told me to go and top myself. And at a press conference some months ago he told me to go away and slit my wrists. Now I imagine anyone expressing those views their position as health minister would be untenable.
I said something I shouldn’t have, but under massive provocation. Perhaps I should have punched him. I paid the price politically. I resigned a few months later and didn’t see re-election.
Sylvert. One morning three cars with six policeman drew up outside my house. They arrested me for breaking the data protection law. This was them branding the fist. As they’d made an example of Graham Powell. They wanted to terrify everyone. And make them keep their mouths shut. And their heads down and not rock the boat. My god if these people can do that to a police chief and a senior senator. Then what chance have we got?
Stuart Syvret’s jail terms were as a result of repeatedly failing to comply with court orders to stop publically accusing individuals of serious crimes online.
Two three months periods so far. I fully expect to be jailed again.
Wendy Kinnard. I think the role of the blogs was incredibly significant. Neil’s and Rico Sorda’s blogs. And I don’t think that without them we would have got the care enquiry.
A public enquiry into Jersey care homes was finally scheduled to start in 2014, six years after it was promised.
Carrie Modral, Jersey Care Leavers’Association. It really was a rollercoster. To have this enquiry up and running. A collective effort of keeping it alive. And that was the main thing. After each government, it died. Keep it in the media, to get where we got. At the beginning it was just La Garrene, but we had to get it to include all, including foster homes.
eg Blanche Pierre Children’s Home. La Preference Children’s home. Heathfield Children’s Home.
4 objectives, i) apology to all those that had suffered as children. (ii) to gain a sense of identity, through records so people knew where exactly they came from. Where they went to. (iii) redress some form of compensation (iv) enquiry into how all these things were allowed to happen.
Marina Cremin visits graveyard. Peter Hannaford (dead) he was in Haut de la Garenne, terribly sexually abused. Nearly every night he was abused. He was such a heavy drinker. It’s just so sad.
Many of the children in the home, committed suicide, or died of drugs or alcohol.
Carrie Modral, You’ve got victims and survivors. Victims are those that can’t let go. Whether it was ten or fifty years ago, they’re still living it and it’s a living nightmare for them. They’ve got drink addiction, they’ve got drug addiction. They can’t work. They’ve got emotional problems.
Survivors, like myself, who try and get on with their life. And try and not let what happened to you as a child dictate how you live as an adult. You try and rise above it.
Kevin O’Connell. I was too frightened to tell anybody. I spoke about it to my brother. He experience exactly what I went through. And it was just too much. It ended up he hung himself. I firmly believe that was because of the abuse, the sexual abuse. He was only 40.
Carrie Modral. They are not going to get their day in court. But they are going to get their story hear. I believe that is so important. And it had a right for it to be made public as well.
22nd July 2014, Start of the Public Enquiry.
Neil; One adult told how he was raped as an eight-year-old child and his anus bled for days. The care assistant packed it with toilet roll, but they had to take him to hospital.
Frank Walker Chief Minister 2005-2008, did I have a duty to protect Jersey’s reputation? Of course I did. But my prime duty, motivation, was to get at the truth. To protect the children and prosecute the criminals. We had nothing to hide and we wanted everone in Jersey and further afield to know we had nothing to hide.
3rd July 2017, Public Enquiry: Conclusion. Voice of Frances Oldham QC, Enquiry Panel Chair. We find that there is no doubt that a significant number of children under the care of the state suffered instances of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional neglect. We find it deplorable that the state of Jersey has failed to understand its role as corporate parent. There were no external inspections of children’s homes. Or children’s services. For approxiamately 20 years. No difficult questions asked. This is unacceptable. On the 9th May 2008, Jersey’s Bailiff Philip Ballache made the liberation speech. We cannot accept that he made and I quote, ‘an unformatted juxtaposition of words’. We find the Senator Sylvert highlighted relevant issues about child abuse that needed to be addressed to insure the protection and safety of children in Jersey. We note the suspension of Graham Howe, for alleged past failings. All policing decisions were made conscientiously and properly. We have concluded that there has been no political appetite in Jersey to address social issues regarding the welfare of children.
Children may still be at risk in Jersey. And children in the care system are not receiving he kind or quality of support they need.
Senator Ian Gorst, Chief Minister.
Too often, children were not believed. Unpalatable truths were swept under the carpet. Because it was the easiest thing to do. I am deeply sorry. We did not do, what we should have done. People cared more for the status-quo, for a quiet life, than for children.
The Panel said Frank Walker and the majority of politicians accepted the Attorney General’s advice not to interfere with the investigation.
It concluded that the removal of Graham Powell and Stuart Syvret was not motivated by a wish to cover up abuse
Neil: it’s still ongoing, because nothing has really changed. If you look at the two camps, those that lost their homes, lost their livelihood for speaking out. Yet those that tried to protect the reputation of Jersey have all done pretty well for themselves. They’ve been decorated by the Queen. What about the people who risked their lives? What about the survivors? Don’t they deserve some kind of recognition?
Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) doesn’t lose and she sees two types of people in the world, ‘sharks and prey’. Her prey is old people, and she’s worked out a lucrative gig. She files paper in court and gains court-sanctioned conservatorship. Mostly that applies to older people with dementia that can’t feed themselves or look after themselves. The exception to the rule is Britney Spears who has a court-sanctioned conservatorship order that has lasted thirteen years. It’s a lucrative deal for the right party. Grayson makes sure she is the right party and on the right side of the law.
She has mugshots on her wall of all the old people she cares a lot about. Their assets are her assets. She has a piece of paper that says so. Grayson has it all. Blond hair, big heels, big house, the fast car, the beautiful girlfriend Fran as a junior partner (Eiza González) but it’s never enough, she wants more. When one of her clients dies she mourns, because then she’s got to cash in her chips. Dead clients don’t pay the rent.
When she hears from Dr. Karen Amos (Alicia Witt) who is also in the caring profession about ‘a cherry’ she’s elated. She cuts the doctor in on the deal and offers her crumbs from the cake. That’s not benevolence, but good business sense. A cherry is the right age that God willing will not die within the next few years. Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest) has shown a little confusion, but with Amos’s help that can be managed into a major case of dementia that requires 24-hour-care facilities, a nursing home, where nobody asks any questions about anything but money. It’s win-win for Grayson and Fran. Win-win for Amos and Grayson. Win-win for Grayson and the care facility.
Jennifer Peterson has no say in the matter. Her pleas that she can look after herself are laughed off by Grayson. She has two police officers at her back, and she points towards them. And if Peterson has any problems, she reassures her, they can be sorted out later. Grayson’s house is in a prime location. It’s filled with goodies that can easily be converted into cash such as Peterson’s car and furniture. Even more intriguing, Grayson discovers a key to a safety deposit box. She quickly gains access and finds an expensive watch, gold bars, bank notes and hidden diamond, which are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Bingo.
But something doesn’t quite add up. A helpless old woman would need that level of subterfuge or have hidden assets. When Fran runs a few checks, she discovers Jennifer Peterson died of polio when she was a young girl. Peterson like Grayson is not what she seems.
When slick lawyer Dean Ericson (Chris Messina) turns up at Grayson’s office with a suitcase with cash and offers $250 000 and ups it to $500 000 to release Jennifer Peterson from the care facility, with no questions asked, well, it’s stick or twist time. The sensible option would be cash in your chips. But Grayson wants more.
She locks horns with Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage). He’s a feared mafia boss, and a dwarf. I guess the latter is tied in with marketing the film as comedy thriller. It doesn’t add to the story or the cartoon violence that follows. This is capitalism in the raw sold to us as a tit- for-tat Tom and Jerry movie. What is good for Grayson is good for America as her stock rises and she becomes a billionaire on the back on dodgy deals. I Care a Lot plays to the same theme as Gordon Gekko ‘Greed is good’ in Wall Street. It was meant to be ironic, but was taken to heart by the big beasts and drove them to the excess of the 2008 meltdown. I Care a Lot shows a similar direction of travel. More prophetic and less fun than intended.
Watching Scotland play is a duty rather than a pleasure. I was brought up in an era when fitba was on the telly you watched it. If Celtic was playing Clydebank at Parkhead I’d go to the game and rush home to see if I was on the telly with the other 17 000 crowd haunting Paradise. I didn’t go very often. Obviously, watching every single game when Scotland played in the World Cup in 1974 and 1978. We beat Brazil and there was that Archie Gemmill goal against Holland when we nearly qualified for the next round. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hLuv5AlXWE
It was great being on the road with Ally’s army. I didn’t go anywhere, but the idea was a good one. I’ve only been to one Scotland game at Hampden. I was accompanying some adults with Learning Disabilities. They were looking at me and I was looking at them. And I know what they were thinking…
Obviously, I’m a Celtic man. So I gave David Marshall the once over. Celtic flung £5 million at a Greek keeper that couldn’t catch a pound coin if you handed it to him. So signing Marshall on a free transfer takes me back to Hampden with those Learning Disability adults. Marshall made a couple of good saves here. But he was at fault for the first goal. Grillitsch hit it from about 30 yards. Marshall palmed it to his right. The six-foot-seven Austrian powerhouse, Kalajdzic, swooped and scored from the rebound in the 55th minute. Kalajdzic had another goal disallowed two minutes later for a push on Tierney. Scotland got lucky there, because there was little contact.
Tierney was Scotland’s best player. Captain Andy Robertson plays in front of him. I don’t think that works. Both are full backs. I think it’s either/or, not both. And Tierney is simply better. Celtic rather that wasting £20 million on duds should have kept him for another season. He’s sorely missed.
On the other side of the defence, we had the Belgian phoenix Jack Henry. Playing Henry allowed Clarke to push McTominay into central midfield. The Manchester United played had not a bad game. Henry in comparison is Mr Potato head, six foot five and he can’t head a ball. He’s not one I want to keep at Celtic. But he’s good enough for Scotland. Strangely, a Scotland team without any of the Champion’s players. We even had my namesake, O’Donnell, playing at right back (I’m better than him, but slower, a lot slower, and can’t take shys). O’Donnell proved his worth by taking the free-kick from which Hanley equalised on the 71st minute.
The Austrian backline played high, the ball scooped in behind. The Austrian keeper, Schlager, had the option of coming for the ball but hung back. Hanley didn’t. Schlager also made a basic goal-keeping mistake on the cusp of half-time. He passed the ball to Lyndon Dykes, perhaps time-wasting, knowing Dykes doesn’t score many goals. But Dykes found Christie and the Celtic forward hit the keeper with it. It’s not been a great season for him either. I’ll miss Christie when he leaves Celtic.
I’ll mention Stuart Armstrong because he also played for Celtic. Scotland are good at draws and the game looked to be petering out to a 1—1. Then a nothing ball was thrown into the box and Kalajdzic from the penalty spot, with the ball slightly behind him, powered it into the net. Marshall had no chance with this one.
I didn’t rate Scotland’s chances. With ten minutes to go it looked like another defeat. Armstrong played his part by going off a substitute. This allowed Celtic stalwart McGregor to come on and John McGinn to push forward and play up front with Adams (an Englishman winning his first cap for Scotland).
Kalajdzic’s goal was a beauty. But John McGinn’s was even better. You may remember that Celtic let McGinn go to Aston Villa. And he’s a Celtic die-hard, his grandfather player with Celtic. And I played with his McGinn’s uncle, Johnny Gibbons, in the school team. (I may have peaked too early here). Gibbons’ sister and McGinn’s mother played in the netball team. Some thought that’s where I belonged. The goal McGinn scored was probably offside, but even Scotland needs a bit of luck. Another bog-standard cross into the box. It wasn’t very high. McGinn did an overhead kick and it soared into the corner. The kind of winning goal that you dreamed about when playing school fitba—even though it wasn’t the winning goal. Scotland had to hang on for a draw. I wonder what the odds are for Steve Clarke being the next Celtic manager?
Clarke brought on ex-Rangers player McLean to run about for thirty seconds, which was an improvement on bringing on McBurnie. Next up Israel (again). We play them every second game. That’ll give me a chance to sympathise with El Hamad for not being good enough for Celtic. And to call for Bitton to be give a free transfer. He’s nearly as bad as Henry. If I’ve missed mentioning any Celtic player let me know (James Forrest doesn’t count. And we all know where Griffiths is at, but whose box he’s in is anybody’s guess).
Dalmuir Diamonds is long gone. A boy’s football club I wasn’t part of, but knew about. Players aged nine, ten or eleven played on the gravel park at Beardmore Street in the early 1970s. The park paved over. Whenever anyone mentions Dalmuir Diamonds there’s that snigger and Bob Finlay’s name is mentioned. Bit of light-hearted bender banter. He was a janitor in the Community Education Centre boys got changed in and he was manager of the team. He was also a kiddy fiddler.
I took a similar light-hearted tone when writing about getting trials for Celtic Boy’s Club and standing there with my kit in a plastic bag and the manager picking the team and not having a clue who I was. I might well have wandered in off the street. My punchline was that I didn’t stay long enough and wasn’t even good enough to get sexually abused. Looking back to the under-15s team that Davy Moyes played in (along with some of my schoolmates, but not me) and we trained on the gravel parks at Barrowfield, there were two abusers there. One was Jim Torbett, the other manager of the under-16 team that included Charlie Nicholas, was Frank Cairney. He spotted me running off the pitch after a Thursday night training session. And he did a strange thing, although he didn’t know me and had never seen me before, he punched me in the stomach as I passed him. I didn’t think anything about it.
I played football for over thirty-five years, but didn’t win any Scotland caps or play professionally as these guys did. I played Welfare leagues for teams that needed bodies that were semi-ambulant and would pay two or three quid for a game. I loved it.
Andy Woodward, who played for Crewe Alexander; Former England internationalist, Manchester City and Liverpool forward Paul Stewart, who also scored in the FA cup final for a Spurs team that included Gazza and Gary Lineker; David White the new wunderkid at Manchester City who played for England; Ian Ackley who didn’t play professionally, Dean Radford, who played for the Southampton youth team; Dion Raitt, who played for the Peterborough youth team, and like all the other boys hoped to become a professional player; David Eatock at Newcastle United youth team; Colin Harris at Chelsea. All of these boys had the joy of playing the sport they loved and excelled at sucked out of them. They became different boys, different people after the abuse. Watching these three programmes, the pattern seemed similar to how Michael Jackson worked away from the bright lights.
Befriend the family and offer the dream. If your kid works hard enough, he’s going places. He’s already got the talent. All that’s needed is that bit of extra encouragement and tuition. Barry Bennell, sentenced to 31 years, for 50 counts of child sexual abuse, with hundreds, perhaps thousands of cases not coming to court hid in plain sight. He was the star maker for up-and-coming boy’s teams and had contacts with Manchester City and later provided a conveyor belt of talent to lowly Crewe Alexander. He indirectly propelled them and their up-and-coming manager Dario Gradi up the English leagues. Bennell was untouchable. He raped and sexually abused Andy Woodward, daily, while he was a schoolboy at Crew Alexander academy aged between eleven and fifteen. He married Woodward’s sister. That’s how convincing he was. Andy Woodward even wrote a letter exonerating and praising Bennell for his work with kids like him when he was arrested and sentence to four years in prison for child abuse offences Florida in 1995 after accepting a lesser plea of sexual molestation.
Thirty years later, 2016, aged 43, Andy Woodward waived his anonymity in an interview with Daniel Taylor, a sports journalist at The Guardian. He also spoke on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show. This had a catalysing effect so that others who suffered sexual abuse came forward with their own stories of abuse.
An NSPCC hotline, set up with the English Football Association money, but dedicated to ex-footballers who had experienced sexual abuse received more than 860 calls in the first week.
‘One of the texts we had was from a 13-year-old boy who was preparing to take his own life. He texted to say that, because of Andy, he was going to talk to someone.’
Paul Stewart also waived his anonymity. He spoke publicly of his ordeal after being abused by Manchester City youth coach Frank Roper. Roper told him he had to have sex or he wouldn’t make it as a footballer. Other kids were doing it too. Normalising behaviour. Holding the dream at arm’s length. Holding the shame inside. Roper threatened to kill his parents and brothers if he told anyone.
‘I had some highs in my career, but I never enjoyed them, because I had this empty soul,’ Stewart says. ‘I was dying inside. I masked it with drink and drugs’.
Frank Roper died before he could be brought to justice.
Former Southampton youth coach Bob Higgins is filmed in an interview suite not answering question put to him by Hampshire Police detectives as they conduct interviews. Even more worrying, Higgins was the subject of a police investigation in the early 1990s, but the subsequent trial resulted in his acquittal. Dean Radford and Ian Ackley waived their anonymity.
Watching this programme it’s difficult to believe a jury would not convict Higgins. And whilst he was put on the sexual-offences register, he was not jailed. Dion Raitt, who was abused by Higgins at Peterborough in the mid-nineties sums up the belief that justice delayed is justice denied: ‘If they’d have got their justice the first time around, then I wouldn’t have even met him’.
Following a trial in which a jury couldn’t reach agreement, and a retrial, Higgins was found guilty of 45 counts of sexual abuse against 24 boys and sentenced to 24 years in jail.
Derek Bell confronted George Ormond, a youth coach connected to Newcastle United, who had abused him. He went to his door with a knife. Luckily for Ormond (and Bell) he wasn’t in. He later went back and recorded a confession from his abuser on a tape recorder hidden in his jacket pocket. Ormond was convicted in Newcastle Court of 36 sexual offences (I’d guess you can multiply that by any figure over ten to 1000) in a period spanning twenty years between 1973 and 1998.
Judge Edward Bindloss described Ormond as ‘wholly preoccupied with sex’ and said he ‘used his position as a respected football coach to target boys and young men in his care’.
George Ormond received a twenty-year prison sentence. A substantial sentence like the other paedophiles featured in the programme. Too little, too late, for many. Those abused lost not their dreams of glory, but their ability to dream. They lost their childhood, and the abuse cast long icy spikes into adulthood. These paedophiles, who still plead their innocence, stole their innocence. It makes me angry, really angry. Magnify that anger and multiply the shame those poor boys felt. That’s the way I create my characters and the way they walk and talk. Let’s hope they rot in prison. They’ve created a prison for their victims.
Undercover OAP was short-listed 2021 Oscars in the documentary category. The set-up is the kind of cheesy romps made by post-war Ealing studios. Detective Romulo needs to recruit someone to infiltrate a Chilean nursing home. Their mission is to find Sonia, who is resident in the nursing home, and to determine if she’s been properly looked after, or abused (the implicit message otherwise why would Sonia’s daughter hire a Private Investigator?) Detective Romulo recruits recently widowed Sergio, 83-year-old, to be his dapper spy.
Romulo, like M, in Bond movies, instructs Sergio on how to work the latest hi-tech gizmos before he goes undercover, beginning with a basic iPhone (I don’t know how to work a smartphone either) in which his mole has to make daily reports. Then he moves on to spectacles that can film what Sergio is looking at in real time. And a pen, a decoy device, that films and captures audio.
Sergio looks suitably bamboozled and reverts to pen and ink when making his reports. He’s the added advantage of a film crew following his progress. (These other hi-tech items props in a staged show of an investigation.) Shades here of a book I didn’t finish, and a film I found unfathomable, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared (2013), but Sergio is climbing in a different kind of window and world. We the viewers are voyeurs.
What happens next is unscripted. Sergio isn’t much of a spy. After a few days, he finds Sonia’s room. He reports back she doesn’t leave her room much. She prefers to be alone. She’s not talkative and seems happy enough that way.
Marta, another resident, is a bit of a magpie. Sergio reports back that he’s sure she stole a necklace from Sonia’s room. But Marta stands at the gate and calls out for her mom, and waits for her to visit. She’s waiting to go home. Her mum has been dead for at least twenty years. Nobody visits her. Staff indulges her and hand her a mobile phone, and playact speaking on the phone and kidding on it’s her mom. I found that subterfuge lovely and loving.
After being voted Carnival King, Sergio is given a surprise birthday party for his 84th. Cakes and dancing. Most of the residents are women. Benita, aged 85, for example, has an eye for Sergio. She wonders if Sergio would like to go outside with her and help her collect her pension. She asks the staff if she should give up her God-given virginity to him. Bright-eyed as a schoolgirl the prospect makes her happy. Sergio lets her down gently. He tells her his wife is still in his heart.
Mrs Rubira can’t remember talking to Sergio, her mind wavers. She remembers her children, but they don’t remember her. None of her family has visited for years.
Petita, another resident, writes poetry and talks about the loneliness epidemic. Each resident despite being part of a crowd, even for the poorer members, sharing a room, is alone and lonely, with few visitors. One resident recalls bringing up her family and her grandchildren, but when she could no longer give, they got rid of her.
When Sergio’s three months are up and it’s time for him to leave, he explains to his new-found friends that he’s met he was happy living with them, but he has a one-year old grandson that melts his heart. He’s less graceful about Sonia’s daughter that hired him. If she wants to find out what his mother is like, he says, he should visit her. Families and friends have similarly abandoned most of the women in the home.
That is the real crime. We are the culprits. I don’t need a detective to tell me, I’m guilty of also having abandoned my mum before she died in Boquanran House. It was just up the road. I visited infrequently, perhaps once a month, then once every two months. I lied to myself that it was alright. She was alright. Shame on me.
Hi Dougie, I’ve had a look at your manuscript. We both know that it’s hard trying to get anything published when we write about people like us, using the language we speak—Scottish dialect. Remember all that fuss when James Kelman, for example, wrote in stream- of-consciousness, working-class dialect and a judge ofThe Booker Prize winner 1994, a Rabbi, no less, resigned because she (it might have been a he) thought How Late It Was, How Late was shite? Dialect in your manuscript isn’t as combative as Kelman’s and runs light touch as, for example, William McIlvanney. You’re far more likely to pick up readers and have far more chance of finding a publisher because of this.
The trick is to be consistent. And I must admit you did a great job. I only spotted two slippages and both were the same (you were consistent in that too, which is a good sign). When the narrator leads with ‘It got her goat’, when, for example Agnes Bain questions her son, Shuggie, while living in Pithead, ‘Are you calling me a liar?’ I think you mean: It got on her goat. He got on her goat. Not he got a goat. Small things, but you might want to look at that again.
Your debut novel will never win the The Booker Prize, but if you’re looking for a publisher most people that write books offering writing advice tell you to never start with mood music or the weather.
‘The day was flat.’
Do you need this?
The day was flat. That morning his Shuggie’s mind had abandoned him and left his body wondering down below. The His empty body went listlessly through his routine, pale and vacant-eyed under the fluorescent strip lights, as his soul floated above the aisles and thought only of tomorrow. Tomorrow was something to look forward to.
That’s an intriguing opening paragraph to your manuscript. And it leaves the reader with a question, why is tomorrow different from today? Your book begins and ends in the same place: Glasgow, The South Side 1992. The titular Shuggie Bain, fifteen, going on sixteen, going out into his past and coming back to himself. Time doesn’t stands still. He bears witness to his mum, Agnes Bain’s passing.
But Shuggie is not the sole narrator. That would tie your book to his life experience. And when you take the reader back to Sighthill, 1981, Shuggie’s experience as a boy aged four going on five isn’t enough to carry a book. He’s not old enough to know what marks him out as being different from other wee boys, as being shunned, bullied, spat upon. Different in a way that his brother, Alexander, aged 15 and nicknamed Leek is different, able to retreat somewhere inside himself. Or the way his eldest sister Catherine, aged 17, is different but the same, as the other women at the Friday night card school in Agnes’s mum and dad’s high-rise flat. By giving yourself an omniscient narrator you give license to travel through time and follow your characters to where the story takes you. This works well, in your circular narrative journey, but like any superpower it must be used cautiously.
Agnes Bain, telling, not showing, since the novel is mostly about her being an alky, is a good place to start.
‘To be thirty-nine and have her husband and her three children, two of them nearly grown, all crammed together in her mammy’s flat, gave her a feeling of failure. Him, her man, who when he shared her bed, now seemed to lie on the very edge, made her feel angry with the littered promises of better things.’
Shug Bain raping his second wife, Agnes, beating and humiliating her on a trip to Blackpool worked great. It showed exactly the kind of psychopathic narcissist he remains in an aging body with is sweep-over bald head. His holy of holies was his hole. The father of fourteen children, none were loved, but some like Shuggie were an embarrassment, not a chip off the old block and best jettisoned. If Shug Bain was born a rich American he might well have been elected 45th President. But in telling, not showing, his true vindictiveness finds an art form. When he takes Agnes and his children from the relative safety of Sighthill and her mum and da’s house to Pithead, it had been a test to see if she would follow him to the gates of hell.
‘She had loved him, and he needed to break her completely to leave her for good. Agnes Bain was too rare a thing to let someone else love. It wouldn’t do to leave pieces for another man to collect and repair later.’
Crawling around the warped logic of his psyche works well. But the constant mirroring shift in point of view from one character to another can be overdone.
Catherine looking at her half-cousin Donald Bain, who she marries to escape her mum’s alcoholism and back again, to show what the other is wearing, or how they feel, is a neat trick, but could be classified as overwriting. A shift from Agnes’s lover and potential saviour in Pithead, Eugene’s point of view, for example, back to Shuggie’s in the following paragraph tells the reader little we need to know.
‘For a while Eugene said nothing. The strange little boy had stunned him to silence. ‘You know son, maybe it’s time you thought more about yourself. Leave your mommy for a while.’
Here again we have someone looking queerly at Shuggie. We get it at that point. No need to over-emphasise and over-write.
‘The secondary school was bigger than any he had seen. He had waited and cautiously followed a boy that lived on the landing downstairs. The boy was tanned and the colour of summer holidays. At the street corners he turned around and with big brown eyes he looked suspiciously at the little boy who followed him like a stray.’
‘Following like a stray,’ is clichéd. And I’m not sure you need a change in point of view.
For example, a simple tweak such as: at street corners he turned and his big brown eyes glanced in my direction. You retain your (Shuggie’s) point of view, which carries on into the following paragraphs and his experience of disappointment and alienation the East End school that he felt in Pithead. Dreams of a new start—dashed.
These are only suggestions. As the author you are omniscient, but also omnipotent. It’s your shout. Your characterisation stays the right side of caricature. Most debut novelists when trying to decide whose story it is, for good reasons such as they lack a more mature writer’s experience of life and what it takes to write a book, go to narrow. Agnes Bain is the focal point of your book. Shuggie Bain whose name is on the cover is the most consistent, but you go wide. Other characters get to tell their story.
Agnes is brutally raped by her husband, and another taxi driver. She’s also found with her tights ripped off at a party under a pile of coats. She’s diddled into sex by Big Jamie and countless others. She’s beaten and demeaned. But by going wide in your characterisation you highlight an episode even more chilling, and give your novel greater resonance and stickability with readers.
When Little Lizzie, Agnes’s god-fearing mother, somehow finds herself pregnant by the greengrocer she owes tick-money, while her husband, Wullie, is away fighting in the second world war, the reader fears the worst when he comes home. Agnes is still a baby, daddy loves and coos over. Little Lizzie doesn’t get it in the neck as we’d expect. Wullie understanding and soothing. He reassures her even after she admits to have done everything she could to get rid of the child before it was born. He takes the bastard child out for a walk in the pram, but comes back without the child or the pram. He no longer wants to talk about Little Lizzie’s mistake. He’s dealt with it. This sub-plot or story within a larger narrative helps set the background tone to the world Agnes lives in. Poverty isn’t just about money, it’s about circumstances and choices, who gets to say what. A mother can’t even mention the child she held and lost, because that wouldn’t be right, isn’t a fiction, and had the ring of a world-weary truth.
Poverty is the living coffin. Being an alky the nails in the coffin for Agnes and her dependents. Every generation writes its own epitaph. You got it with your sign spray-painted outside the pit in Pithead. ‘No Coal, No Soul, Only Dole’. In particular, you nail what it’s like to be dependent on the Monday book, followed by the Tuesday book of £8.50. No waffle. No generalisations. Being explicit ties you in with so many other great writers from Kerry Hudson, Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma (2012) Lowborn:Growing Up, Getting Away and Returning to Britain’s Poorest Towns (2019) to Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and writers like Emile Zola that know the price of everything, especially failure.
I was brought up with the Provie man and Radio Rental for our telly. I imagine you stretching it a bit here. I thought renting tellys—paying 50p for programmes—went out in the seventies. But I bow to your judgement. Diddling the gas meter or electricity meter, well, that’s still an ongoing story. But I imagine it’s more difficult, if not impossible, now.
There’s a caveat I just don’t get. No milk in the fridge. No food on the table. No electric fire to turn on. Everything that can be pawned or sold is gone. Yet, Agnes is always on the phone. Where I came from, phones cost money. There was a waiting list for them to get installed and it cost (roughly) £110. That doesn’t include rental charges or call charges. When Agnes moves to Pithead, she’s immediately on the phone. When she moves to The East End, she’s on the phone—for taxis she can’t pay for—yet still on the phone. She even sends a phone cut off at the wire to Leek, like a severed head, emphasising their relationship was done. Yet, again, she’s on the phone afterwards. I suggest you look at that again.
Agnes’s relationship with her phonebook is part of who she thinks she is. Her relationship with the drink curdles the soul. I recognise the symptoms and you’ve caught them in flight.
‘Well, you get a little bit stronger every day, but the drink is always there waiting. Doesn’t matter if you want to run from it, it’s still right behind you like a shadow. The trick is not to forget’.
We know what’s at stake. And we care enough about your characters knowing they’ll fail, but we can’t just look away. That’s page-turning power.
I hope my suggestions make sense. And I wish you well with your debut novel. I’d a similar novel set in Clydebank in the early ninety-seventies and nobody wanted to publish it. Maybe it just wasn’t good enough. But I hope you do better. Don’t let the bastards grind you down. Your novel is great. If in doubt, write another, better, novel. Send me it, I’ll have a look. Writers write, reading always.
Out for a cycle yesterday, and my mates and me all thought Morelos would break his duck and score in the Old Firm game. Being die-hard Celtic fans, most of us thought Celtic would win. The first ten minutes of the game nothing happened. Celtic were standing off Rangers. Both keepers had nothing to do. Jo-Jo Kenny had a few bad touches and put the Celtic backline under pressure. Morelos had a flicked header from which he was never going to score about summed it up. Then Elyounoussi scored. What a goal it was. Edouard found a gap wide on the left, darted to the touchline and whipped in a cross between Goldson and Helander. Elyounoussi launched himself at the ball and bulleted it past McGregor. We’re one up and literally cruising. We should have scored more.
Edouard should have scored twice. The first on almost the half hour mark he was booked for diving. A ball from his strike partner found him around ten-yards from goal. He should have hit it first time, but delayed his shot. Barasic’s flailing leg missed him and he went down. The second chance on the cusp of halftime was more straightforward. A step over and one two with Elyounoussi and the Celtic number nine was in on goal. Helander made a lunge, but Edourd’s shot was easily saved by McGregor.
Elyounoussi also had a free header from a corner saved by the Rangers’s keeper. Celtic, as they have done all season lose a corner and give the other team a goal. We lost the first and second ball. Morelos gets his goal.
Ryan Kent also had a great shot saved by Bain. In a game Celtic dominated they were lucky to be drawing.
The second half, more and less of the same. Celtic had more of the ball, created fewer chances. Edouard had another two chances. No goal. Not good enough. Defensively, sub-standard again. Epitomised by Conor Goldson winning headers on goal from corner in 87th and 92nd minute. Celtic had similar chances from corners, but we don’t seem to be able to score from the numerous chances we make, whilst conceding in almost fifty-percent of games played. I’m not going to say a draw was a fair result, because I’m bitter and biased and hate Rangers. But this was as low-key an Old Firm gate as I can remember. It was a nothing game and it ended up a draw. Celtic’s man of the match for me was Diego Laxalt. Rangers’ man of the match, Alan McGregor, without having to pull off any top-notch saves, which tells you everything you need to know about the game.