2

My Gals Call Me Sweet Dick

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Even though I don’t necessarily disagree with Oscar Wilde, who said that we write ‘to impress the ladies’, I can claim with a fair amount of honesty to have never written anything with the sole intention of bigging myself up. CVs accepted.

What follows is a particularly shameful episode from my past. I won’t bore you with the details but in a nutshell the year was 1989 and I’d just become the most unlikeliest boxing correspondent for that truly awful newspaper The Sunday Sport.

I can’t say I was particularly proud at the time to be employed by them but I’d spent the last three years penniless and living in a London squat. I needed the money badly. But even so I wasn’t aware just how far I was prepared to go to keep the job. To this day I am ashamed that I allowed myself to be manipulated in the way that I did. There’s no excuse really. At 28 I was certainly old enough to know better.

See what you think in the excerpt from my book 1999 Rope Burns

Betrayal

At ten o’clock on the morning of 7 March 1989, wearing the first suit I had ever purchased in my life, a dark blue polyester effort which had cost the princely sum of £30 and looked like it could well have numbered Norman Wisdom among its former owners, I finally began my new career as the boxing correspondent of the Sunday Sport. My responsibility was to provide boxing-related features of an appropriate length and atheistic quality to nestle comfortably between advertisements for 0898 numbers, baldness remedies and battery operated sexual implements that the Sunday Sport’s proprietor, one David Sullivan, elected to adorn his newspaper with.

Sullivan, a small man who liked to dress in white, endowing him with the appearance of a kind of miniature Marty from Randall and Hopkirk Deceased, had built an empire on soiled tissue paper. He had once been the lover of the late Mary Millington who, before her untimely death in 1979, had starred in a number of soft porn flicks, including the semi-legendary Deep Throat. Whilst still at university Sullivan had allegedly served notice of his entrepreneurial tendencies by starting a mail order business which supplied pornographic bubblegum cards to anyone with a taste for such exotica. Within a decade he had become one of the richest men in the country.

Sullivan’s success owed little to quality, the appeal of his publications was distinctly below waist level. Almost single-handedly he had been responsible for taking away the soft focus and airbrushing of traditional American sex magazines such as Playboy and Penthouse and replacing their idealised view of womanhood with images of a decidedly meatier nature. If you bought a copy of one of Sullivan’s soft-porn mags the term ‘centre spread’ had an entirely different meaning to the one used by its American counterparts.

Sullivan was also a boxing fan and liked to entertain top fighters and managers among the elegant marble columns and lush white interiors of his airport-sized country mansion. Accompanied by a fanfare of naked flesh, he had launched the Sunday Sport in the mid-eighties but despite the diet of oversized breasts and celebrity exposés that the paper served up for its readers, Sullivan had seen circulation figures dwindle until the Sport’s editor, one 28-year-old Drew Robertson, had hit upon the idea of following the example set by America’s National Enquirer. Headlines such as: ‘WORLD WAR II BOMBER FOUND ON MOON’, ‘KILLER PLANT STALKS QUEEN MUM’, and ‘GIRL CHOKES ON BLOWJOB’ soon provided the publication’s unlikely salvation and even went so far as to attract a more middle-class, trendier readership who, instead of discreetly concealing the newspaper between the pages of the Sunday Times when they picked it up at the newsagents, could now reply ‘Because it’s a laugh, isn’t it?’ when asked why they were carrying a newspaper that contained an average of six naked breasts per page (currently the average ‘nipple count’ is around 60 per issue).

Now David Sullivan was my employer, and although I very much doubt that he even knew who I was, along with boxing he was indirectly responsible for the quite unprecedented transformation in my recent fortunes. For the first time in years I now had a steady job with a regular income. All of a sudden I could afford to do things that only few months ago would have been quite beyond my scope; simple things – things that everyone takes for granted like going to the cinema or eating at a restaurant, taking the occasional cab ride, buying clothes. It was like a whole new universe had been opened up to me; one, it has to be said, that was surprisingly easy to grow accustomed to. However, I was soon to discover that holding down the position at The Sport held its own particular kind of price.

Upon entering the newspaper’s offices, which were close to the Old Street tube station in North London, I was immediately hit by that deep sense of disappointment which often grips visitors to the Sunday Sport’s offices when they realise that the reception desk is not manned – or womanned – by a possé of semi-naked busty blondes ready to ‘do it five times a night’ with an assortment of textile magnates, politicians and grey-skinned extraterrestrials. In fact, the majority of my new colleagues would not have been out of place sitting in an accountant’s office. One or two even appeared to be asleep at their desks.

Soon I was introduced to my fellow reporters in the sports department and given a short lesson in the newspaper’s journalistic etiquette:

“At the Sunday Sport,” I was told by a Northern accent that was destined to become gratingly familiar to me, “we don’t use commas, we don’t use semi-colons, all our paragraphs are once sentence long, we use lots of exclamation marks and we like lots of capital letters.”

Or, in other words:

We DON’T use commas!

We DON’T use semi-colons!

All our PARAGRAPHS are one sentence long!

We use LOTS of exclamation marks!!!!!

AND we like lots of CAPITAL LETTERS!

(In reality, however, working as a reporter at the Sport required no journalistic ability whatsoever; the real bulk of the writing came from the subs’ desk, who took whatever they were presented with and magically transformed it into Sportesque whether you liked it or not. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred the article that appeared in the newspaper on Sunday morning with your by-line beneath it bore little or no resemblance to the copy you had originally supplied.)

The owner of the Northern accent was called Tony Livesey. Strangely enough, he also hailed from Burnley and, like myself, had moved to London looking for work a few years earlier. At twenty-four-years-of-age his ambition was matched only by his aggressive pursuit of anything that remotely resembled a story. Although he was by no means an expert on sport he was employed by the newspaper as its sports editor; he was in charge of a team of three full-time reporters and a network of freelancers that, as well as the great Bobby Moore, included a number of retired footballers such as Frank Worthington and Stan Bowles. Livesey, as they say, drank with the right people and ate with the right people. By the time he was thirty he would be editing a national newspaper; two years later he would be at the helm of The Sunday Sport’s daily incarnation, before going on to minor celebrity status with a surprisingly accomplished appearance as panellist on the BBC 2 satirical quiz show Have I got news for you?

“What’s happenin’ in boxing this week?” was the first question that the Northern Accent asked me that morning when we had finished my Sunday Sport grammar lesson.

“Nothing much, really,” I shrugged, it being a relatively quiet week in the world of boxing – no major fights, no minor controversies, no real stories floating about on which I could cut my ‘journalistic’ teeth. “There’s a heavyweight named Derrick Williams fighting soon but that’s about it.”

“What’s he like?”

“He’s not bad,” I replied, “probably good enough to fight for the British title one day.”

“Give him a ring, then,” said The Northern Accent. “See if you can get him to say something interesting.”

Before starting at the newspaper I had been advised to purchase a small portable tape recorder and a sucker microphone that could be used to record telephone conversations. This instrument was fairly essential: not only was it far easier than trying to write down what the subject of your interview was saying, it also acted as a fail-safe in the not-uncommon event of the newspaper being sued by the subject of your interview. Feeling surprisingly professional, I took out my new toy and prepared to record my first ever interview with a boxer for the Sunday Sport. I called Williams’ number and a sleepy voice with just a hint of Jamaican answered.

Derrick “Sweet D” Williams lived in a council flat in Hackney; it had been Michael Watson and Eric Seccombe who had first introduced me to him on a visit to the Carnaby Street Gym, where he was sparring somewhat unsatisfactorily with a fighter named Proud Kilimanjaro. Since then I had bumped into Williams a couple of times at fights and was on nodding terms with him. He was an impressive physical specimen: standing some 6’4” tall and weighing over fifteen stone; in a dark alleyway he would definitely be one to avoid. He was, however, largely ignored by the public and, though still at a relatively early stage in his career, had already lost a fight to a nobody. Although he would eventually hold the European heavyweight title for a brief period in 1991 before losing it to Lennox Lewis, as a prospect Williams was perceived by those in the know as not so much hot as mildly lukewarm. Despite appearances, however, he was a very gentle man, politely spoken and friendly to anyone that came near him. However, so few reporters had bothered to talk to him that he immediately recognised my voice.

“Hi, Derrick,” I called down the telephone. “How’s the preparation for your next fight going?”

“Good,” he replied. “Yeah – good.”

“Listen, Derrick the Sunday Sport want to do a feature on you for Sunday’s paper – would you mind if I asked a few questions?”

“Not – go ahead.”

“Okay – let’s start by asking you the name of your next opponent?”

“I dunno, my manager hasn’t told me his name yet.”

“Oh, right. What about after this fight – who are you looking to fight in the future? Mason? Bruno?”

“Yeah, I’m gonna be fighting those guys sooner or later.”

“Do you think that you could beat them?”

“Yeah – I’ll beat anybody that they put in front of me. Mason… Bruno…”

“What about Mike Tyson?”

“Yeah, I could beat Tyson. No problem.”

This line of questioning continued unabated for several minutes. Until it began to dawn on me that unlike some fighters, who were able to make going to the bathroom sound like a some kind of superhuman feat, it was not within Derrick ‘Sweet D’ Williams’ powers to say anything that might come across as even mildly interesting on the printed page. He was not a natural self-promoter in the way that Naseem Hamed is today, nor did he have the deep, cloying voice that was the trademark of housewives’ favourite Frank Bruno. I was beginning to understand why most reporters had steered clear of him and gone off in search of more compelling quarry. It was, however, my first day in a new job and, naturally, I wanted to come up with something that would impress my employers. In desperation I tried another approach: I would simply keep him talking, make him relax: get him to speak about anything in the hope that something vaguely printable might emerge. “What about fans?” I asked. “Do you have a large following?”

“Yeah,” answered Williams, suddenly growing more animated. “I have hundreds of fans – I get girls queuing up outside the dressing room after my fights.”

This apparently innocent comment, I was soon to learn, was to be a BIG mistake for Derrick ‘Sweet D’ Williams and myself in more ways than one.

***

“What de say?” said the Northern Accent when I finally got off the ‘phone.

“Not a lot, I’m afraid,” I replied, deciding that honestly was the best policy. “He doesn’t know who he’s fighting next and didn’t have anything remotely interesting to say.”

The Northern Accent frowned; his nostrils flared and he eyed me with a look of deep suspicion. “Do us a favour, will you?” he announced. “Type out what he said and let us have a look at it.”

With a shrug I followed my instructions and turned my attention to the battered old manual typewriter that sat gathering dust at my newly-appointed desk. About twenty minutes later I handed a transcript of my interview with Derrick ‘Sweet D’ Williams to The Northern Accent.

It was not long before I felt an urgent tapping at my shoulder and hot breath on my neck.

“This stuff is dynamite!” exclaimed The Northern Accent, visibly shaking with excitement. “You’ve got to get him on the phone again!”

I cannot really recall what my exact response to this comment was as I tried to find some means of comprehending my sports editor’s words. Was I really so naive? Was I missing something? How could the Northern Accent possibly conclude that there might be anything remotely exciting in my nondescript interview with Derrick Williams? Surely all I had produced was just a bunch of banal questions accompanied by equally banal answers. Perhaps I wasn’t cut out for my new career.

The Northern Accent drew closer to me and spoke again. This time his voice was almost a whisper. “Ask him if he ever sleeps with any of his fans,” he said conspiratorially.

I looked at my watch. It was 11.15 am. I had been working in my new job for just seventy-five minutes and already here I was faced with my first moral dilemma. “I can’t do that,” I stuttered awkwardly.

“Why not?” asked the Northern Accent.

“Because it’s…” I searched my mind and tried to procure an answer to this question. “Because it’s got nothing to do with boxing,” I said blandly.

“What do you mean it’s got nothing to do with boxing? Of course its about boxing. It’s boxing news isn’t it?”

I quickly concluded that there were two ways in which I could react to this statement. I could do what the Northern Accent demanded, get back on the phone and ask Williams about his sexual habits, or I could stand up in front of the whole office and tell my sports editor to go fuck himself. There is little doubt that the latter reaction would have made me feel a whole lot better about myself, but images of North London squats and drink-crazed wrecking sessions were still fresh in my mind. I wasn’t ready to return to that just yet and so, to my eternal shame, I did the dishonourable thing. Yet even as I was picking up the phone and pressing redial, my mind was already seeking hasty justifications for my forthcoming actions. In common with every journalist that has ever picked up a notebook I was looking for a way to lie: except on this occasion the person I would be lying to was myself. However, before I could find the excuse that would exonerate my future sins the voice of Derrick ‘Sweet D” Williams could be heard once more.

“Yeah. Hello,” he said.

“Hi Derrick – it’s Ian,” I declared jauntily.

“Hello again.”

“Listen Derrick, we’ve been talking in the office about the piece I’m doing about you and I need to ask a few more questions.”

“No problem,” replied the boxer, obviously feeling flattered that a boxing writer working on a national newspaper had called him twice in one morning.

“It’s that bit you mentioned about your fans,” I continued.

“What about them?” asked Derrick.

“You did say that most of them were female?”

“Yeah – that’s right.”

“Would you mind if I asked you a question?”

“What sort of question?”

“It’s nothing really,” I lied. “It’s just that my sports editor would like to know if you ever end up in bed with any of your fans.”

“What’s he want to know that for?”

“Well, he just feels that our story on you would have more impact if we could tell everyone how popular you are.”

“Oh, right.”

“So do you?”

“What?”

“Ever sleep with any of your fans?”

“Yeah – now and then.”

It was not the kind of conversation that I’d anticipated holding in my new career, I could feel my face redden and the anxious silences that followed this staccato line of inquiry were even beginning to unsettle Derrick Williams. I decided to hang up as quickly as possible.

“Okay Derrick,” I said hastily. “I think I’ve got everything I need – good luck with your fight.”

I put the phone down and caught my breath; I stole a glance at my colleagues seated beside me: Kevin a large Scot who was responsible for putting the words on the football pages; Nich, a Charlie George lookalike who was a bit of a Jack-of-all-trades. I wondered if they were aware of what I had just done, I wondered if they even cared. How many times had they been forced to do something similar themselves.

“What de say?” said the Northern Accent as I slumped into my chair and attempted to regain some dignity. “Did you get him to say that he beds his fans?”

“Yes,” I said weakly. “I got him to say it.”

“Fantastic!” said the other man as a broad smile spread over his features. “Type out the quotes and let us see them.”

Once again I did as instructed and returned to my typewriter and the bottle of Tippex that stood beside it. From the corner of my eye I could see that one of the reporters on the newsdesk was now slumped over his typewriter, snoring heavily.

It was over an hour before I saw the Northern Accent again. This time he made his way to my desk holding the transcript of my second interview with Derrick ‘Sweet D’ Williams; there was a heavy frown on his face.

“I’ve been talking to Drew,” he explained. “We both think these quotes aren’t bad but they’re just not good enough to go really big on.”

“But I got him to say that he sleeps with his fans,” I spluttered. “Surely that’s enough?”

“Not quite,” said the Northern Accent. “We want you to call him back and ask him if they ever suck his dick.”

For a moment I thought I’d misheard The Northern Accent. By the tone of his voice he could have been telling me to call Williams back and ask him if he ever flossed his teeth. He spoke the sentence like it was the most natural thing in the world.

“You’re kidding!” was my numbed response.

The other man shook his head slowly. “No, I’m not kidding,” he said, “go on – give him a ring and ask him.”

“I can’t do that!” I protested.

“Why not?” said The Northern Accent.

“I can’t do that!” I repeated stubbornly, hunching my shoulders. “I just can’t.”

“Course, you can – its not going to do any harm is it?”

“But what has it got to do with boxing?”

“It’s a story innit? Everything’s a story.”

One more I considered the situation and those same two options immediately sprang to mind: Stay or go. Stay or go. Should I stay or should I go? I knew what the moral thing to do was but I had already discovered my price: it had taken less than a morning at the Sunday Sport for me to realise that I wanted the job – in particular, the salary that came with it – much more than I valued any principles I’d imagined I possessed. I rang Derrick ‘Sweet D’ Williams for the third time.

“Another question for you, Derrick, I’m afraid,” I said nervously.

“Yeah. What?”

I cleared my throat: “Remember when you told me that you occasionally slept with your fans?”

“Yeah.”

“Well the sports editor… Well, he wants me to ask you a bit of a personal question about them.”

There was a silence.

“Are you still there, Derrick?”

“Yeah.”

“He wants me to ask you if these girls, well, if these girls ever perform oral sex on you.”

“Oral sex?”

“Yes, you know… oral sex.”

“You mean blow jobs?”

“Well, yes – I suppose I do, actually.”

“Do they ever give me blow jobs? Is that what you’re asking?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Yeah, they do sometimes.”

Once again there was a silence as I tried to take in what had just happened. What did Derrick Williams think he was doing? Didn’t he realise that he’d just admitted to an almost complete stranger that he allowed his fans to perform fellatio on him after fights? Was he mad? Did he have some kind of death wish?

“Are you sure about that, Derrick?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he replied, “they give me blow jobs.”

Then for a few moments Derrick Williams seemed to lose all sense of reason. His voice raised in pitch and his words became more urgent, there was no stopping the boxer as he proceeded to provide graphic detail about his amorous extra-curricular activities. Williams left nothing to the imagination; frequency, duration, size of – no aspect of his love-life remained untouched. When his soliloquy was finally over I felt that I knew more about Derrick ‘Sweet D’ Williams than I’d ever wanted to know about any man.

By the time that I had said my goodbyes and put the telephone down on Williams, the Northern Accent was already standing at my shoulder. As I turned to face him, his hands were shaking in anticipation. “What de say?” he asked again.

I looked down at my feet as I answered the question. “Don’t worry,” I mumbled sullenly. “He said what you wanted him to say.”

“Did he?” chortled the Northern Accent, his face lighting up like a magnesium flare. “Did he really say that his fans suck his dick?”

“Yes.”

“Honestly?”

“Yes.”

“Let me hear the tape!”

I wound back the cassette and replayed the part of the conversation that the Northern Accent wanted to hear.

“My God!” exclaimed the other man. “He really did say it! Hold on a minute!”

With that The Northern Accent sailed off in the direction of the editor’s office and disappeared for about half an hour or so. When he finally returned he grasped my hand in his and shook it firmly. He was smiling as he told me: “Me and Drew think your story’s superb!” he gushed. “You’ve done a great day’s work!”

It was lunchtime and I’d seldom been so confused in my life.

***

After this episode things seemed to quieten down slightly. It was as if the whole event had been some kind of strange mind game; the more I thought about it the more I came to believe that The Northern Accent had actually been testing me, seeing how far I was prepared to go when pushed, attempting to mark his territory and establish who was boss. If this was indeed the case, I had proven to be a bit of a pushover; I had lost that particular battle of wills in unequivocal fashion – a first-round knockout. Still slightly dazed, I was left more or less alone and allowed to get on with the job that I assumed I’d be doing prior to beginning my term of duty at The Sport. I interviewed boxers, went to press conferences, visited gyms, went to more press conferences and attempted to write about boxing.

By the time that Sunday’s paper came out, the publication, I might add, which contained my inaugural efforts as a professional tabloid sports journalist, I had almost forgotten that awkward and bizarre Monday morning. However, when I turned to the back pages and found my story nestling amongst a menagerie of pink nipples, I was forced to take in a deep gulp of air. Set in 120pt lettering that dominated a whole page was the headline: ‘My gals call me Sweet Dick!”

Beneath a photograph of Derrick ‘Sweet D’ Williams was a picture of myself and the words: “Exclusive report from Ian ‘The Truth’ Probert”. Such was my debut as a boxing writer – it had taken me less than a week to become the lowest of gutter journalists.

***

Back in the office on Monday, it was not long before the telephone rang and I once again heard the voice of Derrick Williams. This was the part that I’d been particularly dreading. How was I possibly going to defend my betrayal? All that Williams had wanted was to see his name in the paper and I – along with a little help from The Northern Accent – had turned him into the laughing stock. He wasn’t going to be happy about it.

“Hi Derrick,” I said timidly, “did you see the paper on Sunday?”

“Yeah,” he replied.

“What did you think?” I asked.

“I thought it was a good article.”

Now, once again, it was my turn to be lost for words.

“Still there, Ian?” asked Derrick Williams.

“Yes. You mean you liked the article?”

“Yeah. It was good – all my friends liked it.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

Then Derrick Williams said something that was infinitely worse than any of the howls of outrage, unprintable curses or threats to my personal safety that I’d been expecting from him. “The only person that didn’t like it was my mum,” he muttered softly. “I showed it to her and she got all upset about it.”

10

Stealing Sgt. Pepper

pepper_beatles

One of the difficult things about having kids – in my case having one kid – is being forced to defend immorality. Specifically, my own immorality.

This morning while walking my soon-to-be-twelve-year-old-daughter to school I took it upon myself to get all misty-eyed and nostalgic. We were talking about music: and my sentimental tears were almost palpable as I took Sofia back to my youth and the days before cassette tapes (which she has never seen!) when for some reason my dad bought me a gigantic industrial reel-to-reel tape recorder. I think he bought it in the pub.

It was a magical thing. It enabled you to record sounds. You could speak into it and then replay what you had said. I felt privileged to own it.

The first thing I did with my new machine was to start borrowing my friends’ records and taping them. By taping them I mean holding the microphone up to my dad’s giant Russian radiogram’ speakers when everyone was out and not making a sound for the entirety of the record.

This was quite illegal, of course. But I was my daughter’s age at the time and had no concept at all of morality; well, morality in relation to stealing recorded music from a vinyl disk as opposed to stealing sweets from a concrete and glass shop (which I also did). I wasn’t a lawyer. It didn’t occur to me that I was doing anything wrong. When you played a record the sound simply drifted off into the ether. Didn’t it? And what could possibly be wrong with recording that sound as it made its journey into nothingness? In actual fact, wasn’t I merely giving that music the respect that it deserved?

As we walked I told Sofia of my friend Dean Hooper. And how I would sometimes walk home from school with him and call into his house. There, his brilliant mother, a Beatles fan who owned all of the LPs in original mono, would lend me records to tape. Thus in 1976, at the height of punk and fully nine years after its release, I finally got my hands on a copy of Sgt. Pepper. It was then, I told Sofia, that I first heard the epic and amazing ‘A Day In The Life’.

This was my cue to wax lyrical about that endless E-Major chord, the strange voices on the run-off groove that said ‘We’ll fuck you like a superman’ if you played the record backwards; the allegories and similes and metaphors that critics have droned on endlessly about ever since. But then Sofia interrupted my musings with a simple question. ‘Wasn’t that stealing?’ she asked.

Sofia is a bright spark. To digress, I received a letter from her school yesterday telling me that she was ‘gifted and talented’ in something called ‘Design Technology’. When I mentioned this to her she told me it was cooking. But back to the story:

I spluttered a bit and tried to think on my feet. Of course it was stealing, I said. But not really stealing. Oh, OK it was stealing. But not intentional stealing. And then I spluttered a bit more.

It wasn’t an argument that I was ever going to win. Because unlike myself at her age Sofia is well aware of the implications of illegally downloading music and movies. She knows that it is called pirating and is not to be done. She knows that it robs creative artists of their upkeep (and being an alleged ‘creative artist’ myself, I should perhaps know better!). And she knows that by recording Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (stupid title) I was robbing the Beatles of an honest income.

But, to quote Paul McCartney from a quite dreadful song on Venus And Mars ‘then it occurred to me. I couldn’t be bad…’. Because when I thought about it I’ve actually purchased Sgt. Pepper six times since I stole it all those years ago.

First there was the stereo version that I bought in a record shop in Gloucester Road in Bristol in 1977 for £3.60 (Yes, I really do have a memory like this!); then there was the second-hand mono copy that I bought in 1983 because mono is better, don’t you know? Then there was the CD copy that I purchased in 1987 because the sound was supposed to be ‘clearer’ (it wasn’t and it never will be because vinyl really is better than digital (it’s scientifically proven)). Then there was the copy that came with the Beatles remastered CD box set that I bought, what… four years ago? That was followed by the Beatles remastered Mono box set that I purchased soon afterwards (because mono is better, don’t you know?). Then there was the digital Beatles remastered box set on a USB card that I bought because it might become a collector’s item (it’s still sealed if you want to make an offer).

And I’m not mentioning the fact that I own a copy of Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ album – not the original 1971 album but another that came out in 1989 to accompany a film by that name. This also has ‘A Day In the Life’ on it, making it in all my seventh copy of that song. Quite ridiculous.

So I think, all in all, that the Beatles have had their money’s worth out of me. And that, I believe, opens up an interesting question: Would I have bought Sgt Pepper legitimately had I never have bootlegged the LP as a teenager?

The answer? Most probably yes. In fact, definitely yes. But I can think of lots of other records and indeed movies that I have later purchased after listening to or watching a pirate copy.

I bought them because I wanted to own them. I wanted to own them because they brought something into my life that a pirate copy did not.

4

Johnny Nothing intro trailer

In March I’m going to be doing some readings of Johnny Nothing in schools around the country. As such I’m putting together an interactive show. Instead of some old codger sitting there reading his book I want to get the kids involved. There will be jokes, silly voices, quizzes and slide shows.

Here’s a brief trailer that I’ve put together as an intro to the readings.

Incidentally, if you want a copy of Johnny Nothing for your kid, your husband, your wife, your bank manager or your postman it’s available here:

http://geni.us/3oR8

And here:

http://geni.us/eKm

And here in paperback:

And here if you want to steal it:

http://www.ebooks4free.us/142/book9781500670139.htm

11

Maisa My Dear – Chapter 02

I was so surprised by all the very nice comments I had yesterday after I upload an aborted project from 2011 that I’m putting up chapter two. I’m amazed that anyone would want to read this but – never one to turn down the chance of a bit of shameless self-promotion – here are links to my latest kids book ‘Johnny Nothing’ and some other stuff contained swear words that is probably not for kids.

Johnny Nothing

Other stuff

Chapter 02

1964 – That Boy

I’ll always remember 1964 as a momentous year in which so much happened that it is difficult to know where to start. First there was sadness: sadness that was felt the world over when the American president was shot and killed by an assassin. Although this had happened late in 1963 it seemed to me that the world was in mourning for months and months afterwards. President Kennedy had been young and very handsome, too handsome to be a president. He had been sitting in a car with his wife when he had been shot. Everybody you met was talking about it, even the teachers at school. Maisa and me even saw Mr Trenchard, our rather strict and gruff geography teacher, start to cry in the classroom. This made some of the boys laugh and some of the girls cry.

Our house became a centre of mourning, with everyone from the street gathering around our TV to watch the news reports. My mother cried, too, and so did Auntie Florie, who was really my great grandmother but refused to be called that by anybody. Since the arrival of the TV Auntie Florie had more or less moved into our house. Although she actually lived in a small house just across the street from us she spent most of her time sitting in our living room watching anything that happened to be on the television. She was a nice old lady, and kind to me, but she had the annoying habit of providing a running commentary on everything that was happening on the television. “Oh look,” he’s being chased by that car,” she would say in her broad Nelson accent if she was watching an American crime thriller. Or “Oh look, the piano’s gone down the steps again!” she would say if she was watching Laurel and Hardy. Whenever she did this I would start giggling and mum would shout at me to stop.

As well as sadness there was excitement: excitement at seeing my boys conquer America. In February 1964 the Fab Four, as the press called them, had flown to America to be met with hysteria. When their aeroplane touched down there were thousands of screaming teenage girls waiting for them. Later, they had appeared on American TV and had gone down a storm. They were more famous than it was possible to imagine. Everyone was calling it ‘Beatlemania’.

By this time I was officially The Beatles’ Number Two Fan. Maisa was still Number One, of course. Although I was catching her up fast, she still had more pictures of them than me but unlike me, she was allowed to stick them on her bedroom wall. On Maisa’s urging, I had saved up my pocket money and joined The Beatles Fan Club. Every month I would receive a newsletter written by the Beatles themselves and at Christmas I received a floppy record that contained a message to their fans. It made me feel really special, like the boys were talking just to me. I even managed to persuade my mum to buy a few of their singles, although I had nothing to play them on. Because John was already taken by Maisa, my favourite Beatle was George. He was very handsome and always had a serious look on his face. He played lead guitar in the group and was very good at playing, it seemed to me he was the best guitar player in the whole world. I didn’t want to marry him, although deep down I thought that would have been nice, but he did make my heart beat a little faster whenever I looked at a picture of him.

Maisa and I were very proud of the Beatles’ success but were also a little jealous. We were jealous because there were only four of them and now they were so famous that every girl in the world seemed to want a piece of them. There was only so much to go round and we felt that we had more right than anybody else to the Beatles because we had discovered them first. It wasn’t so long ago that the grown-ups in our living room were shaking their heads and tutting in disgust and now it seemed that everyone wanted to be like the Beatles. The first sign of this was when some of the older boys in our school began to grow their hair. Prior to this the long established school hairstyle for boys was called a crewcut. This consisted of wearing the hair at the top of the head very short and having the hair at the back of the neck shaven away. It wasn’t a very flattering style but none of the boys seemed to mind too much. But now some of the boys grew their hair so long that they were called in to see the headmaster and ordered to cut it off or face detention or the cane.

Even worse, even more embarrassing was the fact that my father was now also growing his hair a little longer. “A singer’s got to keep up with the times…” he would say as he left the evenings to go out and sing in the clubs. He had even changed how he dressed. Instead of his smart black suit he was now dressing a little shabbier. Mum laughed at this and said he should stop trying to look like “mutton dressed as lamb…” But Maisa had a different opinion. “He looks gear,” she would say, which was a new word that had been invented by the Beatles. It meant ‘good’.

***

Maisa and I were now officially best friends. In fact, she is probably the first and last best friend that I have ever had. I was an only child and she became the sister I secretly always wanted. Slowly but surely we began to spend as much time as possible together and became privy to one another’s closest secrets. I learned that in Pakistan it was the custom for parents to choose a husband for their daughters. Unsurprisingly, Maisa’s parents had not in fact chosen Beatle John as a suitable candidate. Instead they had selected another Pakistani whose name was Raj Patel. Maisa showed me a photograph of him one day and I was a little shocked to discover that he was more than ten years older than her and worked in a bank. Not only that, he had no hair! Maisa crinkled her nose up in disgust as she looked at the small black and white image. “He’s an idiot,” she said. “I’m going to marry John.”

Having Maisa as a best friend was a double-edged sword. On the one hand she showed me a world that was completely new to me, she turned my life from black and white into full colour. And she she gave me the Beatles, without whom I probably wouldn’t be the person I am today. On the other hand it wasn’t easy being Maisa’s friend. One day we were walking to school and I heard a sound behind us. Following closely was a group of more than a dozen boy and girls. They were laughing at us and chanting ‘Paki! Paki! Paki!” Maisa ignored them but I turned around to face them. “Why are you doing this?” I asked.

One of the group, whom I recognised as Helen Walker, the girl that I had fought with, came forward towards me until her nose was almost touching mine. “Shut your cake hole Paki lover,” she smirked.

“You shut up!” cried Maisa, suddenly beside me, her fist raised and ready.

It was at that point that I discovered a had a talent that I had not been aware of. I could run. And so could Maisa. And we ran, ran as fast as we could away from this gang of bullies. From that point on we would run a lot. And it was lucky for us that we were generally much faster than those who were chasing us. Every day we would run – from the gang of boys and girls who waited for Maisa and me near the school gates. At break times. At dinner times. And in the afternoons, when we would run all the way home. We didn’t really mind running. In fact, we rather liked it. We liked it because we had each other.

Once I asked Maisa about the word ‘Paki’. “Why do they call you that?” I said.

“I don’t know,” replied Maisa, “I only heard that word when I came to England. It’s not a very nice word but it’s just a word. It doesn’t hurt me.”

Deep down, however, I knew that it did.

***

Yet another momentous event occurred in July of that year. For the first time ever I was allowed to go to the cinema without my parents. In those days were called it ‘the pictures’ and I was luck enough to have already been to see quite a few films. My mother had taken me to see The Jungle Book and Mary Poppins and Bambi but on those occasions she had sat beside me and held my hand. Now, after pestering my parents for weeks and weeks, I was given permission to go and see the Beatles’ first film with Maisa. It was called ‘A Hard Day’s Night’. My mother had been against us going and it was only when Mrs. Ahmed herself had knocked on our front door and asked in person that she finally grudgingly relented. Mrs. Ahmed took us on the bus to the small cinema in Nelson town centre. The queues outside the cinema stretched for miles and we had to wait patiently for more than two hours before we finally got a seat. As the lights dimmed we found ourselves surrounded by hundreds of teenage girls, most of whom were wearing Beatles badges and Beatles scarves. The film was in black and white and opened with the Beatles running through the streets being chased by hundreds of fans. But as far as what the story was about we had no idea because as soon as the film started every girl in the cinema began to scream frantically, some were even crying. After a couple of moments of this Maisa and I looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders. Then we, too, began to scream. We screamed for the whole of the film, we screamed until our voices grew hoarse and we could scream no more. We screamed for John, Paul, George and Ringo.

The day after the film neither of us could hardly speak and after the excitement of seeing the boys on the silver screen it was a terrible anti-climax to be at school, dressed in our PE kits and out on the muddy running track. Because we ran everywhere together all the time, Maisa and I were soon far ahead of the rest of our class. It was the 800 metres – two laps around the playing field – and we even had the luxury of being able to slow down a little towards the end of the race. I won easily and Maisa was second, with other classmates trailing miles behind us.

After the race Mrs. Roberts, the PE teacher, came up to us. Mrs. Roberts was a fearsome woman with sandy grey hair and a body like a walrus. She never smiled. All she did was bellow out orders and occasionally administer a whack with the back of her hand to anybody she thought wasn’t trying hard enough. Readying ourselves for obligatory telling off we were surprised when Mrs Roberts actually smiled at us. “That was very good, girls” she said, leaving us literally gobsmacked at receiving a compliment from this fearsome dragon. “But you spoiled it by slowing down at the end. Next time I want you to run as fast as you can until you finish the race.”

A week later we did as we were told, too scared to risk disappointing Mrs. Roberts. This time Maisa came in first with me close behind her. The rest of the class were a long, long way behind. Again Mrs Roberts came up to us afterwards as we caught our breath. Once more she was smiling. “That was excellent, the both of you,” she said. “I’m going to be writing to your parents about this.”

***

At first we thought that we must have done something wrong. When a parent of one of the pupils of Stoneyholme School received a letter from a teacher it was never a good thing. Usually, it was to call the parent in to school because their child had been exceptionally naughty. We knew, however, that we had done nothing wrong. Nevertheless, the both of us spent a couple of sleepless nights waiting for out letter to arrive. Mine arrived on the following Saturday morning and my father opened it. “It’s from the school,” he said, looking over at me as I ate my cornflakes. “What have you done, Sofia?”

He read the letter in silence for a few moments and then looked over at me again. His face showed no emotion. Then he handed it over to my mother, who also read it in silence. By the time she had finished reading the letter a smile was on her face. Then she passed it to me. I still have that letter. This is what it said:

Dear Mr Probert

I teach Physical Education in year four. Your daughter, Sofia, is showing unusual promise at running. With your permission I would like Sofia to take extra running lessons with me after school. This will be free of charge. I believe that with extra tuition Sofia might well be capable of competing at a much higher level.

If you agree to my proposal Sofia will need running shoes and kit.

I await your reply,

Julia Roberts,

Stoneyholme School.

Maisa’s letter was identical and that’s how it all began. That was how Maisa I began running and running and running. But more of that later.

***

There were also other letters to think about. Because in that year Maisa and I began writing letters to the Beatles. It was Maisa’s idea. She said if she was going to marry John then it would be a good idea if he first knew who she was. And so, once a month, she would write a letter to her future husband asking how he was, what he was doing, how he was feeling. She suggested that I do the same with George and we would see who got a reply. I did as she she said but there was one big problem – the meagre pocket money that my parents gave to me could barely cover the cost of my subscription to the Beatles Fan Club. I needed to find a means of making some more money.

Maisa didn’t have the same problem. Every night when she came home from school she served in her parents’ shop for a couple of hours. She enjoyed doing this and her parents even paid her a small wage that was more than enough to fund her passion for the Beatles. Maisa suggested that her parents might let me come and help in the shop and also pay me a wage and when we asked them they seemed quite pleased about it. They didn’t really need another shop assistant but they were glad that Maisa had a friend to keep her company. Before I could begin work, however, I needed my parents’ permission.

“You must be out of your tiny mind,” said my mother, when I nervously broached the subject with her. “You’re not working in that Paki shop!”

Everyone in our neighbourhood now called it the ‘Paki shop’. And it was disturbing to me because nobody seemed to realise how insulting this was. Everyone, that is, except my father.

“I think it’s a good idea,” he said, “The girl’s got to learn to make a living – and don’t call it the Paki shop!”

“Well it is the Paki shop, and think what the neighbours will think if they see Sofia working there. The shame of it…”

Mum and dad had very similar backgrounds: both were Nelson born and bred and both were the children of coal miners. But when it came to people from other countries they had very different attitudes. Mum was staunchly against anybody who wasn’t white and wasn’t from Nelson. Nowadays she would be known as a racist but in those times the word simply didn’t exist. Dad was different; I think it was his love of singing and music that did it. He was a very strict man but he was also very tolerant of others who were different than he. To my mother’s obvious disgust he even boasted of drinking beer with black people when he was up in the clubs in Manchester. I was very impressed by this because apart from on the television I had never even seen a black person in the flesh.

So there was another argument and in the end my father got his way. This was the way it was in Nelson. It was the men who made the decisions. Or rather, as I was to learn, it was the men who thought that they made the decisions. And I was allowed to work two evenings a week in the Amheds’ corner shop so that I could earn enough to keep myself in stamps, posters and records. I was overjoyed.

But then there was more sadness. One Saturday afternoon I called around to see Maisa to be told that she didn’t want to come out to play. “Maisa’s not feeling herself today,” said Mrs Ahmed when I asked what was wrong. “But why don’t you go and see her in her room. Perhaps you can cheer her up.”

I climbed the stairs and knocked on Maisa’s room but there was no answer. I knocked again and finally pushed open the door to find the room in total darkness. Buried under the bedclothes could be seen a small bump that was Maisa.

“Maisa, what’s wrong?” I said but there was no response.

I sat down on the bed and repeated my question. Slowly, the bedclothes peeled away and there was Maisa, her face streaked with tears.

“Whats the matter?” I asked again. “Has somebody hurt you?”

“Yes,” came a feeble response.

“Who?”

“John,” came the answer.

My sobbing best friend sat up in bed and told me what had happened. This morning she had picked up a copy of the Daily Mirror newspaper and seen a picture of John. Maisa’s parents always allowed her to look over the Daily Mirror. If there were any pictures of the Beatles she was allowed to cut them out and stick them in her scrapbook. She picked up what remained of the crumpled newspaper and handed it to me. On the front was a picture of John smiling at the camera. Holding his hand was a pretty blond woman.

“He’s married,” said Maisa. “He’s betrayed me. He’s already married. What am I going to do?” And with that Maisa pulled the bedclothes back over her head and burst into tears. I put my arm around her sobbing body and cuddled her. I cuddled her for the whole of the afternoon until she had cried so much that there was no more tears left to cry.

18

Racism in the Sixties – Maisa My Dear

A little background to what you are about to receive…

What if anything is a blog? What function does it serve? For me there are a number of reasons as to why I’ve purposefully set out not to be left behind by this craze for putting whatever you’re thinking about online into the public domain. Probably principle among these reasons is the fact that a blog can be used as a convenient dumping ground; a place where you can put things that really have no place anywhere else. This little fragment of a story that I’ve entitled ‘Maisa My Dear’ belongs in that category.

Now some background to my background:

I wrote this in about late 2011 when I was still suffering from something called undiagnosed hypothyroidism. If you want to know more about this – which I seriously doubt – there are articles I’ve written about this on this blog as well as on The Guardian and the Daily Mail websites. Suffice to say I was feeling pretty shitty and actually about as close to death as I’ve ever been. I was seriously in a bad way and spent my nights laying awake in bed contemplating the nature of the universe (I really did!) and wondering how I could make my death as easy as possible to take for my wife and young daughter.

In the daytime I was crippled by something called ‘brain fog’, which in simple terms made thought very difficult indeed. I couldn’t concentrate; in fact, I hadn’t been able to concentrate in any real sense since my last book ‘Rope Burns’ was published way back in 1999. But I was still trying.

What tended to happen with me would be that I would start working on an idea and simply run out of gas. It happened to me time after time and left me thinking that I’d never again be able to write anything of any appreciable length. To compensate I dabbled with other things that took less concentration: I wrote songs and tried to record them, I tried poetry, I wrote occasional articles for magazines. But I always wanted – craved – to return to writing books.

‘Maisa My Dear’ is the result of one of my bursts of energy that petered out. It’s an aborted attempt at a children’s book. Let me give you the background to the background to the background of that one:

I was born in the 1960s in a small mining town in the north of England called Burnley, a place that is now the epicentre of racism in this country. My family left Burnley when I was nine-years-old in a somewhat controversial way. They were, you see, one of the first people to sell their terraced house to a family from Pakistan. And our neighbours were certainly not happy about this. I wanted to incorporate this into a book.

With ‘Maisa’ I was trying to achieve a number of things:

1/ I wanted to write from the perspective of a female.

2/ I wanted the main character, Maisa, to be from Pakistan and encounter racism.

3/ I wanted the book to be set near Burnley, I chose Nelson which is a couple of miles away.

4/ I wanted Maisa’s best friend to be white and also encounter racism because of her association with Maisa (one of my best friends when I was a kid was from Pakistan).

5/ I wanted Maisa to run: to run so often and so fast that it eventually became her career, representing her adopted country in the Olympics.

6/ I wanted the book to be set in the Beatlemania of the sixties (hence the title), so that every chapter was linked to changes in the Beatles’ appearance and music, which itself mirrored changes in social development.

7/ Oh, and I wanted it to be a cracking story.

When I was writing ‘professionally’ in the 1990s my habit was to write three chapters and a synopsis and send them to my agent, who would then try to get a publisher to buy it. This is what I did with Maisa My Dear except that by now I had long since discarded my agent. So I sent it to a new agent (only one) and even though I hadn’t written anything for years I was still cocky enough to think that the agent would instantly bite. The fact that she didn’t was a bit of a blow to my confidence which was already terminally depressed because of the hypothyroidism. So I dumped the book. Until now.

So now, in the dumping ground of my blog, here is ‘Maisa My Dear’. I’m not expecting anybody to read it (because deep down I have a feeling that nobody actually reads anybody’s blog) or indeed comment upon it. But it’s here. Belonging to an era when I was almost dead. And probably reading like it.

Chapter 01

1963 – I saw her standing there

I’m not going to tell you my name. I’m not going to tell you my name because if you know who I am it might change the way you think about what you’re about to hear. For the purpose of this story – which isn’t really a story because everything I’m about to tell you is true – you’re going to know me as Sofia. Sofia is the name of my granddaughter and she is just about ten years old, which is how old I was when I first met Maisa all those years ago. I’m borrowing my granddaughter’s name because she’s going to help me remember. Not remember events or dates or things that happened but help me to remember how I used to be when I was a little girl. Because every time I look at Sofia I see myself as I was almost fifty years ago and if my memory gets a little vague, if I have trouble recalling exactly who said what, and how so-and-so happened I only have to think about how Sofia might have reacted had she been in my shoes, what Sofia might have said in such-and-such a situation and I know that I would have behaved in exactly the same way.

My story begins one Sunday evening on 13 October 1963. I remember the date very clearly because it is a special date. It is a date in which three things happened that would change my life. The first thing that happened is that my dad bought our first TV. Actually, that is not strictly true – the TV was delivered to our house the day before but because dad was away working in Manchester we did not actually plug it in and switch it on until Sunday morning. My mother and I were too scared to touch it until he returned.

Of course, anyone reading this now will probably already have started to think that this old lady is a little crazy. After all, these days televisions are just about everywhere aren’t they? In fact, if you don’t own a television, people will probably think that there is something wrong with you. But in those days a television was a marvellous, mysterious thing that looked nothing like those sleek shiny giant flat screens that you have in your living room. For one thing they appeared to be made of wood, shiny varnished wood that looked like an old-fashioned cabinet that you might find in an antiques shop, and for another they were enormous heavy things that took two or three people to lift and the screen was tiny and only in black and white. This is perhaps why all my memories of my childhood seem to be in black and white.

I was born in a small mining town in the north of England called Nelson, which was named after a pub called the Nelson Inn, which itself was named after the famous Admiral Nelson, who defeated the French at Waterloo. If the name conjures up colourful images of swashbuckling sailors battling with cutlass and cannon for the freedom of their country then nothing could be further from the truth. In Nelson you were hard pressed to find a colour that was anything but grey. The streets were grey: grey, hard cobblestones. The houses were grey: grey, cold, dull and monotone. And the people were grey: grey, ashen faced and work weary – and if they weren’t grey then they were black, black from the coal that most of the men spent their lives digging up from the ground.

My father was one of the lucky ones: he worked as a foreman in a factory that made car engines, which was quite an important position. Compared to a lot of his friends he was relatively well off, although there was never a week that went by in which he did not run out of money by Tuesday. My mother also had a job, as did all the other women in the town. She was lucky, too, because she was good at sewing, so good that she didn’t even have to go out to work. Each day she would clear a small space in the corner of our cramped living room and sit behind a sewing machine and magically conjure up beautiful dresses and coats with the help of pieces of tissue paper that she called ‘patterns’. She didn’t earn a fortune doing this but she made enough money to ensure that there was always food on the table. Father also had another source of income: he had been blessed with a deep, rich baritone singing voice. And every Saturday he would grease back his hair, put on his best black suit and head off to the clubs to croon whatever happened to be in the Hit Parade that week. For this he was usually paid a small fee and given as much beer as he could drink. That was what he was doing on the Saturday that the TV was delivered. He was on the bus to Manchester to sing in one of the clubs.

Quite why my father decided to get a television I will never know. Even though we were better off than a lot of people who lived on our street we could ill afford it. In fact, in those days nobody could afford a television. For this reason, the only means of getting a television into your living room was to rent it. This meant having somebody knock on your door every Thursday evening to pick up a rental fee that was always paid in cash. Many’s the time we had to wait for that knock on the door with the lights in the house turned down, pretending that we were out. But get a television we did and my mother and father were determined that everybody else in the street would know just how far they had come up in the world. An open invitation was extended to friends and neighbours for the grand unveiling of our TV set and you could scarcely move in the living room of our small terraced house as my father reached down and switched on this wondrous machine with a twist of the pearly white ‘on’ switch with a satisfying ‘click’.

If I close my eyes I can still remember that moment as if it were yesterday. My father, now out of his best suit but his hair still greased back, standing proudly smoking a cigarette along with all the other men in the house. A small dot of white light appearing in the centre of the tiny screen, and the smell of burning dust as the television slowly buzzed into life. There was nothing instant about televisions in those days: if you wanted to watch the magical moving images that shone from the screen you had to be prepared to wait while the machine warmed up; you had to have patience.

Amazingly, the first thing that appeared on our television that night was the black and white image of a smiling besuited Bruce Forsyth introducing the acts on a programme called ‘Sunday Night at the London Palladium’. Nothing, it seems, really ever changes. Because I was only ten years old and smaller than everybody else in the room I was allowed to stand at the back of the room on a wooden box to watch the first act on the show, a comedian whose name was Dave Allen, go through his paces. Soon our little living room was filled with gasps of wonder at the sight. Most of our friends and neighbours had never even seen a television, let alone watched one in action. To them it was as if a small piece of magic had suddenly been brought into their grey, overcast world. I’m not kidding but some of them truly believed that the foggy black and white figures shining from the screen were actually inside the television set. These gasps of wonderment quickly turned into laughs, giggles and guffaws as the people in the room began to forget their amazement and listen instead to the comedian’s funny jokes. It was then that I became aware of another person standing next to me. It was then that I felt the presence of Maisa. It was then that the second thing that was to change my life forever inched its way into my world.

Maisa was just a little taller than I and had shoved her way through the crowd of onlookers in the hope of sharing my box. Without a word, I felt an elbow in my ribs and Maisa was suddenly nudging up tight beside me. Torn between my desire to continue watching the incredible images on the screen, I stole a look at the newcomer and what I saw was even more incredible than the television. Maisa was like nothing I had ever seen before. She had coffee coloured skin and long dark hair that cascaded wildly down her back. Her eyes were black as coal and she was wearing a strange patterned dress that amazingly was not grey – it was red and green and gold and blue and purple and orange with gold braiding, and even more amazingly, she appeared to have a small metal stud through her nose. Her appearance was every bit as astonishing as what were we were witnessing on the television screen – and I was not the only person in the room to have noticed her. As I looked on dozens of pairs of eyes in the room slowly turned away from the screen to stare at the apparition that seemed to have appeared from nowhere. Mouths fell open, more than one cigarette dropped to the floor and the sounds of laughter were once again replaced with gasps of astonishment. Maisa smiled.

Standing sheepishly by the entrance to the living room were two other amazing apparitions – Maisa’s parents. Less extravagantly dressed, but equally remarkable in appearance. Not many people knew it then but Mr and Mrs Ahmed had just moved into our little street. They had taken over the the corner shop at the end of our road that sold things like bread, milk, Oxo cubes, potatoes and sweets. In the midst of moving boxes and suitcases into their new home they had somehow heard of the open invitation to the unveiling of the television and had been just as intrigued as everybody else. They were here to meet the neighbours and to witness the future. And they had brought their daughter along with them. The Ahmeds were from Pakistan, a place that I had never even heard of, nor for that matter had a lot of the people in the room. Like Maisa, they smiled back at us all.

It was at that moment that something else happened and once again all eyes turned back to the television screen. What had caught everyone’s attention was the noise that was coming from that direction. It was a sound that was every but as foreign to me as the strange looking people from Pakistan. Once again there were more gasps from the room. On the screen were four young men. They were dressed in smart black suits and three of them were playing electric guitars – very loud electric guitars. The other young man was sitting behind a set of drums and literally hammering the life out of it. All of the young men had long hair, – longer than many of the girls in my class. The sound they made was music but it did not sound like any music I had ever heard. It was filled with screams and howls and yelps that seemed to come from another world. That noise that I heard in that room was the third thing that was going to change my life forever.

My father stretched his shoulders and shook his head and lit up another cigarette. He always seemed to have a cigarette in his mouth. To a man everyone in the room glared in disapproval. Such disapproval, however, did not seemed to be shared by the television audience which seemed to consist of hundreds or maybe even thousands of teenage girls who at once launched into a cacophony of screams that quickly began to drown out the music. The song – if it could be called a song – came to an abrupt end and one of the young men looked up into the auditorium and said: “For those of you in the cheap seats I’d like you to clap your hands to this one; the rest of you can just rattle your jewellery.”

“Bloody cheek!” scowled my father as some of the men in the room began to boo.

It was this point that that I felt hot breath on my cheek. Maisa had moved closer to my ear and was saying something to me. “That’s John,” she whispered. “I love John. I’m going to marry John.”

***

Like everything else in Nelson, school was also grey. But sometimes it was red. In my school, which went by the name of Stoneyholme Junior School, the girls were just as prone to fighting with each other as the boys were. And it was during one of these almost daily scuffles that I met Maisa for the second time.

Generally, fights occurred after school by the large rusty metal main gates. There, a crowd of dozens of excited school children would gather in the drizzle (in Nelson it always seemed to be raining) to witness the drawing of blood. Often a couple of teachers would stand guard as events unfurled. Not to stop the fights but to watch.

It was the Monday after the unveiling of the television set and school had been no different to how it usually was. This consisted of lessons in spelling, sums, a game or two of netball in the school yard and the odd whack with the ruler for any boy or girl who had strayed out of line. Fights at school were often compelling events, undoubtedly the highlight of the week, and I, like all the rest, immediately sought out a good vantage point when the shouts and howls of excitement that could be heard from the school gates as we headed home indicated that something was about to happen.

This, however, was an unusual fight: it was not between two children but three: three girls, in fact. From my vantage point close to the the gates I watched as a tangle of bodies rolled about on the harsh cobbles, an occasional arm surfacing clutching a handful of hair. The crowd of watching children seemed even more excited than usual: their shouts became louder and more urgent as they demanded blood. It was then that I noticed something different about one of the figures on the floor. The person in question was wearing a strange multicoloured coat and her skin was darker than the other two girls, who both attacked her with ferocity. She was giving back as good as she got but the disparity in numbers was taking its toll. She was losing and taking a beating in the process. It was Maisa.

It was then that I did something that every ounce of common sense told me not to do. I don’t know why I did it, I still, to this day, don’t know why I did it, but I did it. Without thinking I moved toward the trio of figures and pitched in. One of the attackers I recognised as Trudy Grainger, a particularly nasty piece of work from the fourth year with a face like a bulldog who made a quiet living by taking some of the younger children’s dinner money. As she concentrated on administering a savage beating to Maisa I took hold of her long red hair and gave it one almighty yank. There was a scream of surprise and pain. I followed this by running my sharp nails down the side of Trudy’s face. Immediately, blood began to flow.

My unexpected attack left Maisa’s assailants temporarily non-plussed. The other girl, whose name was Helen Walker – another from year four who seemed to spend most of her time bullying the younger girls – momentarily released her grip on Maisa, allowing her opponent the chance to retaliate. This she did with a force and brutality that left the onlooking crowd speechless. Maisa was like a wildcat: throwing herself on top of her aggressor and sinking teeth and claws into face and neck. Before anyone had the chance to know what was happening the two older girls were retreating. You could have heard a pin drop when moments later the fight was ended in the customary way: ‘Give in?” said I. “Yes… all right…” said the other two girls reluctantly. Thus, in a matter of mere seconds I had managed to make myself two worst enemies and one best friend. School would be a different place in many different ways from now on.

Maisa and I walked home together. The colourful coat that she was wearing was now covered in grey Nelson grime and there was a tear or two here and there. “Thanks for that,” she said. It was the first time that I heard her speak aloud and I was a little taken aback by her accent. Broad Nelsonian it was not.

“That’s OK, “ I replied. “I couldn’t really let them beat you up, could I? Two against one isn’t fair.”

We chatted some more until we reached Belgrave Street, the street in which we both lived. Maisa, I learned, was from a city in Pakistan called Islamabad which, she said, was bigger and more beautiful than any city in the world. Maisa had been very happy there and had gone to a large school for girls only. Her parents, she said, were very wealthy but had been forced to flee the country when her father had given an interview to a newspaper criticising the government. Along with her older brother, Solomon, they had taken a long, uncomfortable and hazardous boat ride to England, eventually arriving in Nelson. Maisa said that she longed to go back to Pakistan but might have to wait a very long time for that to happen.

We reached Maisa’s parents’ shop, still with the previous owner’s sign above the door and she beckoned me in. Maisa’s mother was standing behind the counter wearing an exotic patterned dress that looked a lot like the one Maisa had been wearing in our house the night before. She smiled as she saw me enter and said: “Hello there. I see Maisa has made a friend. That is very good, Maisa.’ Then she saw the dirt on Maisa’s coat and her smile quickly evaporated. “Maisa!”she said angrily. “What have you been doing! Your coat is ruined!”

Maisa began to explain but before she could even speak her father appeared, looking even angrier than his wife. “Maisa!” he cried. “Go to your room. Now!”

It was then that I stepped in to help Maisa for the second time that afternoon and explained what had happened. How Maisa had been picked on by two older girls. How it wasn’t really her fault. Her father stopped looking angry and smiled at me. “What is your name, young lady?” he asked.

“Sofia,” I replied. “Sofia Probert.”

“Well then, Sofia Probert,” said Mr Ahmed. “In that case we all owe a very big debt to you. Please let me offer you a gift as reward for your valour.”

I took a look around the shop. At the cans of beans and the loafs of bread and the packets of tea. “That’s OK,” I replied. “You don’t need to do that.”

Mr Ahmed’s smile grew broader, as did that of his wife’s. “I see that you are an honourable person, Sofia Probert. Only an honourable person would refuse a gift.”

“Not really,” I shrugged.

“Honourable and modest,” said Mrs. Ahmed.

Mr. Ahmed reached into a drawer in the till and pulled something out of it. He leaned over the counter towards me. “Come here, Sofia Probert, please,” he said.

“Go on!” urged Maisa.

I edged forward and Maisa’s father slipped something into my hand. It was a thin chain made of a gold-coloured metal. Attached to it was a shining stone that was dark green in colour. “Please take this,” he said. “In my country we give these necklaces to only the bravest and most honourable people. And you are both.”

“I can’t,” I said, feeling slightly embarrassed.

“You can!” smiled Maisa.

I took the necklace and placed it around my neck. It felt heavy and I felt proud. I thanked Maisa’s parents and made for the exit.

“Before you go, Sofia Probert,” said Mrs. Ahmed, ‘It would be our honour and privilege if you would come to our humble house for tea. Sunday will be good, yes? Be sure to ask your parents permission.”

***

“Oh let her keep it. It’s not causing anyone any harm, is it?” said my father.

“No, I want her to give it back. I don’t want her accepting charity from those sort of people,” replied my mother.

“What sort of people?”

“Pacis!”

When I had returned home clutching my new gold necklace and told my mother how it had come into my possession she had reacted in an unexpected way. Instead of congratulating me for protecting our new neighbour from a beating she quickly grew angry, first accusing me of stealing the necklace and then demanding that I give it back. When my father returned home from work, my mother quickly sought his support. I was confused. Surely I had done a good deed? Why was she insisting that I return my reward for that good deed? And why was she so angry? And Pacis? It was the first time that I had ever heard that word and by no means the last. What did it mean? My father read my mind and asked the same question:

“What do you mean ‘Pacis’?” he asked.

“Pacis,” repeated my mother. “People from Pakistan. That’s what they call them.”

“That’s what who calls them?”

“Well… Everyone.”

I was ushered out of the room as the discussion continued. Sitting at the top of the stairs I listened to raised voices beneath me. My mother grew increasingly agitated as my father tried to reason with her. This went on for some time until I was finally called back into the living room to hear the outcome of the conversation. I was told to put my coat back on and my mother marched me down the street to the Ahmeds’ corner shop. Mr Ahmed was standing behind the counter when we entered. “Good evening, Mrs Probert,” he said, smiling broadly at us. “What can I do for you and your beautiful daughter?”

My mother looked embarrassed as she spoke. “That necklace that you gave to Sofia,” she said. “I want you to take it back.”

Mr Ahmed looked up from the counter and small frown spread across his features. “Take it back?” he said. “Why would you do this?”

My mother looked down at her feet and took a moment or so before responding. “We don’t want it,” she said.

“But why?” repeated Mr Ahmed. “You daughter did a very valiant thing today. It gives me great pleasure to offer a small reward for her help and bravery.”

“Well we don’t want it… It’s not needed.”

Mr Ahmed shrugged his shoulders and looked in pain as I edged forward and placed the necklace on the counter.  “I’m very sorry,” he said, looking into my mother’s eyes, “It was not my intention to offend you.”

“You haven’t offended us. We just don’t want it,” said my mother. And with that she turned on her heel and left the shop.

“I’m sorry,” I said to the shopkeeper. “I didn’t mean to cause any trouble.”

“You didn’t,” said Mr. Ahmed, who could see that there were tears in my eyes.

“Come on Sofia!” ordered my mother.

***

After that I decided it would be best if I didn’t mention Sunday’s tea invitation to my mother. I knew that if I did she would stop me from going. So on Sunday afternoon I left the house, telling my mother that I was simply ‘going out to play’.

That’s another thing that I ought to mention to you before we go any further. In those days children of all ages were allowed to leave the house on their own and simply go out to play. It seems incredible now, doesn’t it? But that’s what we did. There was no such thing as play-dates like there are nowadays. If a child wanted to play with another child he simply knocked on their door and asked. When I was a child I spent hours and hours and hours ‘playing out’ on the streets with other kids and most of the time my parents would have no idea where I was, nor were they remotely concerned. They had nothing to worry about. There was a safety about those days, an innocence. Maybe it was because there were considerably less cars on the roads or perhaps it was because people trusted each other more. Whatever the case I feel a little sorry for children growing up today – their parents worry about them a lot more than they used to and they’re missing out on an awful lot of fun.

And so it was that at 4.00 pm on Sunday afternoon I found myself sitting in the Maisa’s living room, drinking tea and eating cake with the Ahmeds, who seemed a little surprised that I had actually turned up. “Did you tell your mother that you were coming here?” asked Mrs. Ahmed, who I noticed for the first time also had a metallic stud through her nose and had a small jewel attached above the bridge of her nose. I wondered how this was done – was it glued into position or had she had an operation to place it there permanently?

“Yes,” I replied innocently, not really sure if the Ahmeds quite believed me.

The Ahmeds’ living room was a bit of a mess. They were still in the process of moving in and it was full of unpacked wooden crates overflowing with their possessions, as well as cases of baked beans and other groceries from the shop. Indeed, every now and again the bell to the shop would ring and Maisa’s parents would take turns serving behind the counter. This again was a new thing for me. The previous owner of the shop, Mr Bartholomew, who was always bad tempered and had a wooden leg, had never opened the shop on a Sunday. In contrast, the Ahmeds never seemed to close it. Once or twice, Maisa was even allowed to go and serve, which I found amazing.

After we had eaten I was allowed to go upstairs to play with Maisa in her bedroom. On the stairs I met her brother Solomon for the first time. He was about fifteen-years-old and very tall and handsome with skin that was even darker than the rest of his family. As Maisa and I passed by he gave me a smile, revealing the whitest set of teeth that I had ever seen. And then he took my hand and shook it, “So this is the brave Sofia,” he said. “It is my honour to meet you.”

Maisa’a bedroom was even smaller than my bedroom at home but here the similarity ended. Whereas my room was a dark drab little place with only a couple of pictures on the walls and a few books scattered here and there, Maisa’s bedroom was covered from floor to ceiling with pictures, pictures of young men with long hair, pictures of the group that we had witnessed on our television set the previous Sunday. And in the corner of the room was a small blue coloured box that I recognised as a record player. Beside it was a stack of shiny black disks. ‘This is my Beatle room,” announced Maisa.

For the next few hours Maisa gave me the history of these strange young men. The pretty one was called Paul, the handsome serious looking one clutching a guitar was called George, the one with the big nose was called Ringo and the angry, intelligent looking one was called John, “He is the man that I’m going to marry,” explained Maisa. Together these for young men formed a pop group called the Beatles. Of which Maisa was apparently their Number One Fan.

Alongside the posters on the wall were attached dozens of newspaper cuttings, and drawings of the Beatles by Maisa, mainly of John. “Let me teach you how to scream,” smiled Maisa. With that she placed one of the shiny black disks on the record player and lowered the needle on to it. The sound that came out of the record player was crackly and strange. The song they were singing was called ‘She Loves You’ and seemed to consist of a lot of howling and ‘yeah, yeah yeahs’. Nevertheless I instantly fell in love with this exotic sound. Then Maisa cupped her hands around her mouth and let out an ear splitting scream. “You try it,” she said. “You’ve got to scream when you’re listening to the Beatles. It’s the rule.” So I did as I was told and soon the room was filled with our youthful screams, until, that is, there was a bang on the bedroom door.

“Maisa, enough!” ordered Mrs Ahmed.

6

Kissing a corpse – excerpt from kids book Johnny Nothing

Because it’s Friday and I have a slight hangover after watching the second episode of ‘Better Call Saul’ last night and really getting through the wine, today’s offering is more shameless advertising. I feel an apology coming on. No I don’t. It’s an excerpt from my kids book ‘Johnny Nothing’, which you can buy, rent and see reviews for here: Johnny Nothing. If you have bittorrent there are even places that you can steal it if that’s your inclination.

Critics have called Johnny Nothing ‘The funniest kids book ever written…’ (Well, actually I just made that up. But it’s a helluva quote.) In an ideal world, of course, you will take one read of what follows, burst your hernia laughing, rush to buy it for your kid(s) or yourself and then insist that all of your friends read it. Shame that the world isn’t ideal.

Anyhow’s, hope it raises the odd titter.

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Chapter 03 – Kiss

There. That’s all the main characters in the book dealt with. It’s at this point that you might decide that you’ve had enough and go off and read something by Jacqueline Wilson or Roald Dahl instead. I wouldn’t personally advise it. But there’s no accounting for taste.

If, however, you’ve decided to tough it out for a while longer then it’s your turn to do some work. You have some serious story reading to do. So come with me and imagine a big, dusty old church with Uncle Marley’s icily cold body lying on its back at the front being stared at from the back by a handful of people who really didn’t like it when it was icily warm. Phew.

Have you ever seen a dead body with all its insides scraped out (and maybe sold to the local kebab shop) and then stuffed to the brim with £50 notes? Neither have I. But from the expression on the faces of most of the people staring at Uncle Marley, this was exactly what they were seeing.

When they looked at Uncle Marley they just saw money. Rolls and rolls of banknotes. Bundles and bundles of bunce. Loads and loads of loot. Dollops and dollops of dough. A stash of cash. A wagonload of wonga.

They saw a limitless supply of frozen horsemeat lasagne from Iceland. An everlasting collection of flat-packed cardboard boxes containing things that were impossible to put together from Argos. He was their cold, dead, smelly ticket to everything they had ever dreamed of.

If I had the time and I was feeling in the mood I could give you a lovely description of the interior of the church. You’d be really impressed. I could talk about how the warm summer sunshine was streaming in through the beautiful stained glass windows. About the exquisite carved wooden pulpit that dated back to Queen Victoria. About how John McVicar was secretly questioning the existence of God. Or about how the bloke playing the organ was growing really irritated because he was hardly getting a mention in this story.

But that would be rude because Ebenezer Dark was currently speaking:

‘…so I think we’re all agreed that Jake Marley was a very, very nice chap indeed… Lovely fellow… Splendid bloke… Now for the reading of the will…’

In reality, of course, he said a lot more than this. But one of the good things about writing stories is that you can leave out whatever you feel like leaving out. And I’m leaving out most of what he said about Uncle Marley because it was pretty dull and I’m keen to get on with the action.

‘About time, too!’ said Mrs. MacKenzie grumpily agreeing with me. ‘This is pretty dull and I’m keen to get on with the action!’

‘As you all know, Mr. Marley was an extremely wealthy man… He was also a very unconventional man… Mr. Marley liked to do things a little differently than most people…’

Everybody there silently agreed that Uncle Marley was indeed stinking rich. Rich and stinking. But nobody there was that aware that he liked to do things a little differently because when he was alive he never left his house. But that didn’t stop Mr. Dark from reaching up and pulling back a huge curtain that he was standing in front of to reveal a giant flat screen TV. (Did I mention before that Mr. Dark was standing in front of a huge curtain that concealed a giant flat screen TV? Sorry if I didn’t.)

‘Many of you will not be aware that before he died, Mr. Marley didn’t write a will…’ explained Mr. Dark.

There was silence for a few moments while everyone tried to get their heads around the double negative in the last sentence.⁠1 This was followed by a collective gasp of disappointment. Sort of: ‘Haaawwwwww!!’ The sort of noise that people make when their favourite football team misses a penalty. One or two people said some pretty nasty swear words.

14a Competition time

Back to Mr. Dark:

‘…instead, he recorded a short video that outlines exactly what he intended to do with his vast fortune.’

There was a collective gasp of relief from the gathering, sort of ‘Yeeesssshhhhh!’. The sort of noise that people make at football matches when the opposition have just missed a penalty. One or two people reluctantly apologised for swearing.

‘However, before I can play the video to you, I have a minor request.’

Mr. Dark self-consciously shuffled the papers he was holding and cleared his throat, making a noise that is almost impossible to describe in words. Sort of: ‘Hhhmmppphh… Bedrummpphh…’

No, that wasn’t it.

‘Mr. Marley was always touched by how much affection you had for him…’ he intoned. ‘And before he died, your love for him was an undoubted source of comfort…’

Some of the mourners raised their eyebrows. The rest simply lowered their eyeballs. Most people there hated Uncle Marley more than Brussels sprouts boiled in liquid horse manure served with rat tails on toast and knew that he hated them just as much. They were jealous of him: jealous of his wallet, jealous of his big house in the country, jealous of his giant TVs. They hated him as much as Itchy hated Scratchy. As much as grown-ups hate traffic wardens. As much as you hate homework (although there’s always one or two sneaks who pretend to like homework. (If your teacher is reading this story to you right now, turn around and pull faces at the class sneaks to make them feel really uncomfortable.))

‘…so before we play his video he thought it would be nice if you all gave him a tender kiss.’

There was silence in the church for a few moments as this comment sank in. And then Felicity MacKenzie’s voice rang out: ‘This is a joke, right? I’m not kissing a dead body – no matter who it is.’

‘Quite right,’ agreed her husband nervously.

‘Not likely,’ added Uncle Sydney.

Mr. Dark looked uncomfortable for a few seconds. Then his face hardened and he stared intently at the piece of paper he was holding before he spoke again. ‘I’m sorry but I really must insist. It specifically says here that there will be no will unless everyone kisses Mr. Marley.’

‘Why don’t you kiss him then?’ demanded Mrs. MacKenzie.

Once again Mr. Dark looked at the piece of paper. ‘It says here that I mustn’t kiss Mr. Marley. Which is a great pity, you know, because I was terribly fond of him.’

‘Gimme that piece of paper!’ ordered Mrs. Mackenzie.

Mr. Dark looked a little scared for a moment and hugged the paper to his chest. His face softened. Then it hardened again. Finally it softened one last time: ‘It says here that if anyone else reads this paper the will is cancelled,’ he said cagily.

The gathering once more fell silent for a moment and then Billy MacKenzie spoke for the second time in this story. ‘Come on Fliss’, he said (‘Fliss’ was what Billy sometimes called Felicity. Like a lot of people he was simply too lazy to be bothered to pronounce all the syllables in a name. It was too much like hard work.). ‘Just get it over with. Think of the dosh.’

There was a further spell of silence as everyone wondered what they were going to do next. It was bad enough spending a morning sniffing a dead man but kissing him?

‘Oh very well!’ said Mrs. MacKenzie angrily, looking over at Mr. Dark and then at her husband. ‘Go ahead and kiss him then.’

‘Me? Why should I?’ said Mr. MacKenzie looking aghast.

‘You do it then!’ ordered Mrs. MacKenzie, turning towards Sydney.

‘After you,’ replied her brother, edging away from the coffin.

Mrs. MacKenzie stood and looked at the body of her brother for a few moments. She turned her nose up at the smell, which seemed to be getting worse with every second. She crinkled up her nostrils. She shrugged her shoulders. She closed her eyes. She bravely clenched her large and floppy bottom cheeks. Then, without warning, she reached over and very quickly planted the briefest of kisses on one of Uncle Marley’s face cheeks. A bit like the one that you give to your grandma when she tries to kiss you with a runny wet mouth that tastes of old humbugs.

‘Uggggghhhh!’ she spluttered, showering Mr. Dark with a delicate fountain of spittle. ‘Happy now?’

Ebenezer Dark slowly shook his head and once more regarded the paper he was holding. ‘I’m sorry but that won’t do,’ he said, although from the tone of his voice he didn’t really seem that sorry at all. ‘It’s says here that you have to kiss Mr. Marley on the lips.’

‘You what?!’ exclaimed Mrs. MacKenzie. ‘I’m not kissing a dead man on the lips!’

Mr. Dark shrugged his shoulders. ‘Then there’s no will,’ he said. ‘It’s all written down here in black and white.’

‘Really!’ said Mrs. MacKenzie. ‘This is outrageous!’ Nevertheless, after a moment of hesitation she reached over to the corpse of her brother and quickly gave him another kiss, this time on the lips.

‘Your turn,’ she said in relief, spitting something gunky onto the floor and looking angrily towards her husband.

‘I’m terribly sorry,’ interrupted Mr. Dark. ‘But it says here that the kiss must be for at least half a minute or all of Mr. Marley’s money will go to Battersea Dogs Home or somewhere else like that.’

Mrs. MacKenzie looked like she was going to explode. Her face turned bright crimson until it began to resemble one of those tomato-shaped ketchup dispensers full of vinegary red fluid that you get in poor peoples’ cafés. She did a lot of cursing under her breath then she yelled: ‘I’m not doing that you horrible little creep!’

‘Very well,’ replied Mr. Dark, starting to put away his papers.

Mrs. MacKenzie took a deep breath and swore again. ‘This is the last time,’ she scowled.

Almost in slow motion, Mrs. MacKenzie moved her face closer to her dead brother’s. She took a nose-full of the horrible foetid smell that was pumping from the corpse and closed her eyes tightly. Then she pressed her mouth to Uncle Marley’s cold, blue lips and waited.

Standing in front of the curtain Mr. Dark looked at his watch and began to count.

After only ten seconds Mrs. MacKenzie began to feel faint. She could feel her dead brother’s whiskers tickling her chin and she could taste his dead taste. (Strangely enough, he tasted like Southern Fried Chicken.)

After twenty seconds her stomach was making strange gurgling noises like a dishwasher stuck in rinse mode. In her mouth the taste of Uncle Marley flavour Southern Fried Chicken was replaced by sausage, bacon, egg and beans with brown sauce and egg yolk all mixed up in the beans. This was what she had had for breakfast that morning.

After thirty seconds what remained of that breakfast was splashed over her shoes in quite a nice pattern as it happens. You could easily have framed it and hung it in the Tate Modern. And she emerged, breathless, white and gasping for air from what had been the longest kiss of her life and – coincidentally – the longest kiss of Uncle Marley’s death.

‘Will that do?’ she garbled weakly, hardly able to speak as she moved away from the corpse on unsteady legs.

‘Yes, I believe so,’ said Mr. Dark, smiling politely.

‘Now it’s your turn,’ she coughed. Staring over at the horrified faces of the other two men.

‘No need,’ said Mr. Dark jauntily, looking once again at the piece of paper. ‘It says here that if anyone here brings up their breakfast while kissing Mr. Marley the others are excused from doing it. It’s only fair and decent.’

Footnotes

1 What’s a double negative I hear you ask? Well I’m not going to not tell you. It’s when you have two negative statements contained in a sentence that sort of cancel each other out.

‘I’m not going to not do that!’ is a double negative. It means ‘I am going to do that!’.

Do you not see what I don’t mean?

6

Would You Rather: an interview with Ian Probert

truth42:

I recently undertook a blog tour – my first. I’ll probably be putting some thoughts about this on paper in the near future. In the meantime with Lizzie Baldwin’s kind permission I’m reblogging her interview with me. As you can see, it was a little different to some of the other interviews I did which often were along the lines of ‘Why do you write? How long does it take you to write a book, etc.’. Lizzie’s interview was a little more fun, and I think all the better for it.

Incidentally, you can do a lot worse than to spend a few minutes over at Lizzie’s blog. She puts a lot of effort into it. And she’s a really nice person.

Originally posted on mylittlebookblog:

download (1)Good afternoon on this rather dry and fine afternoon from Stoke-On-Trent. It might interest you to know that it was the two year anniversary of my blogging history yesterday. However being incredibly busy yesterday I didn’t have any time to do a nice post for you; so this year we’re going to celebrate it on the 19th of February which is rather fitting because I am sharing with you a wonderful guest post Q+A from an author quite close to my heart; Ian Probert. I’ll provide links but earlier this year I reviewed the book Johnny Nothing and was a little hooked. Since then I’ve had the utter joy of helping a little to promote this wonderful book.

Now in true rotten style we decide to forgo the stereotypical Q+A questions and bring you something a little more entertaining. A would you rather set of questions; this is something…

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