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Playing Clarinet with Lorraine Bowen on the Crumble Song

Before Lorraine Bowen became an overnight success, courtesy of last week’s Britain’s Got Talent, I was fortunate to play a little clarinet on her ‘Crumble Song’. This is from last summer.

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Get the Tories out

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In 1992 The Scum gloated that this newspaper headline had won the election for John Major. Let’s use it to get the Tories out. Please share or reblog if you want to send the Tories back where they belong.

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The Sunday Show – Defining Moments with Sue Vincent

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Superb interview with the lovely and inspiring Sue Vincent.

Originally posted on Smorgasbord - Variety is the spice of life:

My multi-talented guest today exudes calm and passion in equal abundance and I was delighted when Sue Vincent accepted my invitation to share her Defining Moments. During my research I came across some incredible interviews packed with information so today I am going give you a brief introduction to Sue’s life and work and then focus on what she considers those key times that impacted the direction her life was taking at the time.

Sue’s life has not all been plain sailing and in fact there have been times when tragedy and life’s events have resulted in a complete rethink in both lifestyle and location. It is clear however that these events also according to Sue, changed her outlook for the better and that love and laughter thrived.

We often joke about the North/South divide in the UK but Sue has experienced that for herself. Having made the choice…

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EXCLUSIVE: Smoking is the cause of baldness

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Scientists in California’s Arndale Centre For Hairless Research today announced that they have discovered the root cause of MPB (Male Pattern Baldness). After an extensive research program it was found that chemicals contained in commercial tobacco sources irreparably damage vital chromosomes in sebum – the substance from which all hair is made – making it impossible for hair follicles to produce healthy hair.

“We’ve found that a sort of childlike vellus type of hair is all that the follicle is capable of producing,” said Professor David Wright of ACFHR. “For many years hairloss has been attributed to the overproduction of ditestosterone but now we know that this is not the case.”

According to Wright, damage to hair production begins as soon as a person begins smoking tobacco and rapidly progresses over a number of years until the hair follicle is left in a dormant state. “It’s as if the hair follicle has regressed and gone to sleep,’ added Dr. Wright.

According to the research paper published on 15 April 2015 even passive smokers are at risk. “Smoking damages the hair follicles of anyone who happens to be in the immediate vicinity of the nicotine vapour,” said Dr. Wright. “This would account for the growing number of females who are experiencing hair loss.” Hairless currently affects two in three men and one in four women.

But does the ACFHR’s research offer any hope for MPB sufferers? “Watch this space,” said Dr. Wright. “We plan to make an important announcement on 01 May 2015. I won’t go into detail this moment but I will say that it will be positive news for people who suffer from this type of follicular damage. For the moment, however, the best advice I can give people is to stop smoking tobacco before it’s too late.”

Michael Schumacher Seriously Injured After Ski Accident

Dr. Wright is due to make an important announcement on 01 May 2015

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Hate Thy Neighbour – Racism in the 1970s

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When I was nine years old my parents did something to me that I would never dream of doing to a child. I know this because I was talking to my wife about this over the weekend and we both agreed about the damage that it can cause. What they did was move me away from my school in Burnley, Lancashire, to another school in Bristol, Avon (as the county was called in those days).

No big deal. People move house all the time. But while there was certainly no malice involved on their part, no evil intent, the 200 miles or so of separation had cataclysmic consequences for me. All at once my cosy life in a small but friendly Northern working class town was over. I had lost my place. I was suddenly dislocated. Everything about my life was different in every way. And the relocation gave me my first taste of what it was like to suffer racism, or rather its distant cousin ‘regionalism’.

The journey from North to South marked me as something outside the norm. Sure I looked the same as my new schoolmates: I was and remain whiter than white in complexion, however much I lie on the beach. However, the moment I opened my mouth I was a marked man. My deep northern accent presented a huge contrast to the west country Bristolian dialect sported by practically everyone I came into contact with. It marked me as an outsider. I was different to almost everybody else in school. And my schoolmates inevitably reacted to this difference in a variety of ways.

Some seemed not to notice it and treated me no differently to anybody else. Others saw it as an opportunity to improve their standing in the school at the expense of my own. And a small minority saw it as a chance to bully somebody who wasn’t the same as them. But I was a relatively hardly child; in an even battle I could usually give a good account of myself. Black eyes and bruises became a regular part of my school uniform; and they gained the approval of my father, who saw them as a badge of honour. When I was outgunned I simply used my wiles – pretending to be unconscious on the floor, for example, when a much larger boy once attacked me.

It didn’t help that I went to two other schools in Bristol (thus I was put through the thoroughly harrowing process of relocation three separate times) before eventually settling in a large comprehensive with probably a 3:1 ratio of white school kids to black. It was there that I encountered others who were also outsiders. Because that’s what they were. Black people were outsiders: objects of ridicule, objects of fear and misunderstanding. And subjects of all the sorts of things that I as an outsider had been experiencing. It was small wonder that they tended to keep to their own groups.

This is was in the 1970s. And if you think we’ve got it bad now you’ve only got to take a look at some of the TV programmes that were around at the time and how black people were depicted in them.

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To name but a handful there was ‘The Black And White Minstral Show’, in which white people ‘blacked up’ and sang to white audiences (I remember that one show actually had white people ‘blacked up’ wearing kilts and singing in pigeon Chinese while pinching their eyes to depict Chinese eyes!). There was ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’ which celebrated British colonialism by simultaneously attacking anybody who happened not to be born in England (the Scots, Welsh and Irish were also fair game) or was homosexual (woe betide you if you were gay in that era).

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There was ‘The Comedians’, in which an ugly array of working class ‘comedians’ took savage pot shots at black people, at Asian people, at gay people, at fat people, at women; in fact, anybody who wasn’t a working class ‘comedian’.

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Last but not least there was ‘Love Thy Neighbour’, in which a black couple move next door to a white couple and are subjected to untold jibes about cooking pots, tribal dancing and their inherent laziness while routinely being called ‘nig-nog’ and ‘Sambo’ by their smug, beer swilling, pot-bellied neighbour. Even in those days it was utterly amazing that such a program could be shown on mainstream TV. Even more incredible was the fact that some 7 million viewers regularly tuned into to watch this racist, reactionary celluloid disgrace. (In an attempt to redress the balance, the black couple got the chance to call their neighbours ‘white honkies’.)

No small surprise then that is this climate of institutionalised racism trouble was not always far away in the playground. Fights between groups of black and white boys were a regular occurrence. In the home, too, racism was commonplace. Whenever she was looking for someone to blame for anything at all, large or small, my mother had no problem at all pointing the finger at ‘those coons’ as she called them (like many people she would deny it these days). While my father played it another way, boasting about the fact that he drank in the pub with a number of black people and that ‘there’s not a lot of difference really’. Apparently some of his best friends were black.

Yet from all this I somehow managed to emerge relatively liberal. Not politically I hasten to say, but ethically. And I think it was all down to the fact that like many of the racial minorities at my school (West Indians, Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese) I knew what it was like to be different. Even though my difference was in only in the way that I spoke it was enough to set me apart from the majority. And that’s often enough.

Because isn’t it true that we live in a world of racism? That it’s hard-wired into our very essence? I’m always fond of pointing out that our sense of tribalism is so deeply ingrained that if you walk down the street in North London wearing white on a Saturday afternoon you’re quite likely to get a smack from somebody wearing red. And it was the same in Bristol all those years ago when I was a kid: if you wore blue on a Saturday you were at war with those who wore red.

And this is why my wife and I we are staying put. We could easily put our London flat up for sale and get six or seven bedrooms in Kent in return. But we both understand the potential damage this could cause to our daughter, who is at a crucial stage in her development. Because to this day that move from North to South all those years ago still leaves me an outsider.

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Five Star Treatment – Johnny Nothing by Ian Probert

Originally posted on Smorgasbord - Variety is the spice of life:

five-star2Today a book that has received rave reviews on a number of sites.  Johnny Nothing is the latest book from best-selling author Ian Probert.

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About the Book

WARNING: This book will seriously damage your funny bone. The poorest boy in school has just inherited £1 million. But there is a catch: If he can hold on to his cash for a whole year he will earn ten times that amount. Enter Felicity MacKenzie, the ugliest, sweatiest, vilest, cruelest, hairiest mother in the western world. When she steals her son’s money and goes on the spending spree to end all spending sprees it seems that Johnny Nothing will stay poor forever. However, Johnny has a plan – he will imprison his parents and force them to do homework and go to bed early as punishment. Join Johnny Nothing, Bill and Ben the bouncer men, Ebenezer Dark and a cast of literally…

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Reading Johnny Nothing to the kids.

The last time that I did a public reading of any of my work was way back in 1998. It’s so long ago that I’ve forgotten what it’s like. Nerves aside, it’s tremendous fun and really does put you face to face with your readers.

Last Wednesday I undertook a short tour of primary schools in Cambridgeshire. Apart from appalling the odd headmaster I can report that things went swimmingly. It was really enjoyable, so much so that I’m doing it again in London tomorrow. Here’s a brief excerpt: