Thursday 19 March 2020

EDUCATED - Tara Westover

EDUCATED Tara Westover

An unlikely journey of escape, discovery and intellectual growth 

Friday 5 August 2016


There has been a furore about the overuse of the F word on the it has devalued our language and our morals and deadened our senses. This is especially true in the US presidential election of Trumpistan, where feelings run high and almost anything is fair game. 

Words are indeed powerful. They evoke an automatic response from our consciousness. In a sense, they do our thinking for us. They are contextual, however, and if used too much, either lose their meaning entirely or indeed mean exactly the opposite of their intention. Consider the epithet FxxxxxxA. It no doubt used to be an insult; now it is more an expression of surprise.

Why not use a half-word instead? A half-word will not explain anything for us; it will force us to think to understand. Of course it will be a euphemism for its full partner, but it will require active participation for comprehension and will stop us cheapening our language with all-purpose potty words that, in fact, may mean anything or nothing at all.

Take the half-word It, for example. No prizes for guessing its full partner. But use it for a while, and you will quickly find just how confused our language can become when overuse turns into saturation, and where context then becomes everything.

IT has amazing properties to transform itself.

For example, someone who knows his IT is seen as smart; someone who knows IT, dumb.

Both good IT and bad IT can be good, usually when followed by the word man, as in: This is good IT, man, or this is BAAD IT, man.

You can either take a IT, or have a IT, or just plain IT, and it all means the same thing.

Being IT hot is good, being a hot IT is seen as selfish and egotistical.

Being full of IT, or a IT head is also bad, but if you have your IT together that is good.

If you don't give a IT it is also bad, whereas saying he gives a IT means in fact he doesn't.

And so on and so on.

By stripping away the full word you will make people think about what you are saying, and make you think twice before you say it.

And if someone should ask you what you are doing, just say you are using half-words, and if they ask you what the other half of IT is, just look at them and respond quietly: "What you should tell yourself the next time you mindlessly say IT:........Sh....

Monday 13 June 2016



I was fortunate to have met Muhammed Ali twice.

The first time was in the Miami airport when I was a student. I noticed a huge hullabaloo in the baggage claim area, and spotted the distinctive Eraserhead grey frizz of Don King’s afro. My mate and I went over to investigate.

Don King was in terry cloth slippers looking like a bum, literally, and there perched on the baggage carousel surround by a mob was Ali, signing autographs. Most people gave him large dollar bills to sign….20s and  100s and the like. He signed and signed, hardly looking up. I waited in the massed queue (not really a queue, more like a rugby scrum) and passed him the only bill I had, which was a one-dollar bill.

He stopped and looked up.
“A Dollar?” he said.
I shrugged my shoulders. “I’m a student. If I use a twenty I’ll have to spend it. Now I’ll keep it forever.”

He shook his head, smiled, and signed.

The second time was in the early 1990s when he was on a book tour in London on Old Broad Street in a bookstore. I bought the book, and tried to approach him,  hoping he would sign my dollar bill, which I always carried in my wallet. By this time he was shaking like a leaf from Parkinson’s. His minders were not letting anyone near him. I said: “Do you think Muhammed would sign this dollar bill? He signed it for me in 1978 when I was a student.” The minder shook his head.
“No autographs.”
All of a sudden Ali, who heard this exchange, mumbled something, and gestured for me to come over. His face was all puffy, and it was impossible to decipher what he said, apart from “Come…come” in a very slurred speech.
I was in my mid thirties at this point, but I felt like a schoolboy. I showed him the dollar, and he scrawled his signature on it. You could make out the M and not much else. It only took a second.
There was something magical about the man. The energy which flowed off of him was like standing next to a heater. I will never forget it.
When I found out he died, I cried. The first time for a public figure that I can remember.

The dollar was subsequently stolen along with my wallet, and no doubt spent by someone for whom it meant nothing.

No matter. I shall always have the memory.

The word great is bandied about way too much. But he was a great man.
The Greatest. 

Sunday 17 April 2016


WRITTEN IN 2010..... POLITICS EH? Originally written on 27 Sep 2010....long before this interloper ran for Prime Minister......

Would you even consider a leader who wasn't even elected by the members of his party? Who gets in power by an alliance with unions but in the next breath disavows them?

Do you really ever want a government in place where behind the scenes a union boss can call on a strike without EVEN A MAJORITY OF HIS OWN MEMBERS?

Well, that's what you have got with the latest Labour party farce.

After an election process which, let's face it, was completely off the radar screen, Fast Eddie won the battle of the brothers, sneaking up at the last moment with the unions in his pocket (or he in theirs). Neither the majority of party members, MPs, or MEPs voted for him.  And some of the union members are not even in the Labour party.

What a system, eh?

Saturday 26 March 2016


Spring in England always carries with it the kind of mixed messages carried by harbingers who are slightly unsure of what they are supposed to be carrying. A lovely sunny day can easily be followed by the grey wet which has preceded it, pulling the springtime rug straight out from under the psyche desperate to jump onto it after a grey dull winter. There are no magic carpet rides in the British spring.

This year especially, I will have an Easter to remember. Bad news comes in threes, and the past month has seen me have an ear operation to remove a basal cell carcinoma (skin cancer), an interior job which is very slow to heal as it is on the inside of the ear. Then food poisoning. Then le comble as the french say, the finger incident. 

Riding home on the Tube, straphanging as one does on the newer carriages, the driver hit the brakes just after leaving Sloane Square. My left finger got caught in the strap as I hurtled to the floor, knocked off balance by the twisting of the strap and the suitcase on the floor next to me. The finger stayed behind. Snap.

I fell down, and one gentleman helped me up and offered me his seat. Are you alright? he said. No, I broke my finger I said, and held up my hand for him (and the rest of the carriage) to see. Gasps and horrified looks. But mostly averted gazes.

A nice gentleman next to me said quietly:the closest hospital is Chelsea and Westminster. I stumbled off the train at South Ken, crossed the street to hail a cab (but not before a young girl scuttled across the road to nab the one I was heading for). I found the next one in the rank, and showed him my finger. Ouch, he said, and carried on a sympathetic conversation. 

My finger was dislocated and fractured in three places (those with a nervous disposition should look away now).

The NHS rocks. After an hour wait, I got a very competent and friendly doctor (Kate MacEwan, like the lager she said although she is a Mac and not a Mc).After diagnosis and  X-rays, the Filipino med assistant cut off my wedding ring. 20 seconds of nitrous oxide, and Kate pulled the finger back into place. The whole process took about four hours. Now I have to go next Tuesday to a specialist to see if they need to put pins in.

The point is not the rich vein of bad luck I seem to have tapped into, but the reminder that the body is a very complex and fragile instrument, and that despite whatever happens, you will figure out a way to cope, and there are a hell of a lot of other people worse off who should be remembered at Easter. But in this faux spring as the water drips down on what should be a nice Easter Saturday, this will be an Easter which I will remember. And do take care riding on those new trains. Those straps can be lethal (think of a hangman's noose which closes around you).

Thursday 19 November 2015

A beautiful afternoon on a day in Boston.