Big Tobacco’s Little People.

(Big Tobacco’s Little People is an in-edit excerpt of a Big Tobacco feature running in Uprizine, a new politics, arts and style magazine launching autumn 2015. Uprizine founders and contributing editors are Charlotte Pickering & Jed Birch.)

Claire Taylor - CF patient

Claire, who has never smoked, recently  spoke to Uprizine’s Charlotte Pickering,  days after coming out from Broadgreen Hospital, Liverpool, where she had been treated for pneumonia, pleurisy, pneumothorax (collapsed lung) and DIOS – distal intestinal obstructive syndrome:

Before I was 16, my breathing was OK. I was only in hospital twice with stomach problems related to the    Cystic Fibrosis (CF). I was pretty active in school, taking part in sports – cross country races, even! I was in the primary school rounders team!

Around 16 years, I noticed that I would get out of breath when I was walking with my mates. Extra antibiotics were needed for infections – colds, flu. Around the age of sixteen my peers were experimenting with cigarettes, some of them still smoke. It never appealed it me at all, though.


Since leaving school, my lungs have deteriorated, and lately, I can’t seem to get out of the Amanda Ward [the CF specialist unit in Broadgreen, Liverpool]. My breathing problems affect my whole life. For instance, I have been married for eleven years. I grew up knowing that having a baby was a no-no. But, medical advances in recent years meant having a baby was possible for CF women, provided you have lung function of over 60%. Lung function can drop significantly when you are pregnant, and although you can regain it after the birth, sometimes you don’t. My lung function has not been out of the 40%s for many years.

It didn’t bother me at first, but when my friend had a baby, it was very hard. There is a special bond between mother and child. I have talked myself around, but it is a heartache. Had it not been my lung disease, we would definitely have had children.Claire T oxygen mask on trainer cut out


Since I turned 34, I don’t seem to be able to fight off the normal coughs and colds. They always impact my chest. This usually ends up with me being admitted to Broadgreen – Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital with a specialised CF centre.  So far this year I have only had four weeks out of hospital. I won’t be beaten by it though. For instance,  I’ve got myself a personal trainer, but I haven’t yet seen the impact in my lung function that I was hoping for. Now I need oxygen overnight and when exercising with a personal  trainer. I hope this will be temporary, and that I won’t need a lung transplant.


I agreed to talk to Uprizine because I thought it might help smokers by talking about the reality of chronic lung disease.  I understand that smoking is an addiction. I have seen my mum trying to give up for years, and she has not managed yet. I hated my parents’ heavy smoking  – I was embarrassed by it. All my clothes used to stink. My parents are now out in Spain, and my mum says she is going to stop. My Dad stopped recently after a stroke.

Claire Taylor Broadgreen

Claire has this advice for young people who are experimenting with smoking:teen smokers

I want you to appreciate what it means to be born with a healthy pair of lungs.  Unlike me, you can achieve things that I couldn’t – families, sports, choice – even if you smoke. But healthy lungs – there is no substitute. And I’m someone who may one day have to have a transplant!

Asked what she would give for a healthy pair of lungs, Claire  pondered for a while, then said:

Everything I’ve got.

She thought some more,  pathos tracing her forever-young face, and repeated, very precisely:

Everything I’ve got.

Sarah Kaye cut out

Claire’s Mum, Sarah Kaye (67), was diagnosed with lung, breast and brain cancer shortly after Claire’s interview for Uprizine.


Unfortunately, Claire’s symptoms did return and within two weeks of the interview, she wrote to me from
Broadgreen Hospital, where she had returned because of severe breathing problems. With profound sorrow, Claire informed Uprizine that she had just learned her mum, Sarah (67) has been diagnosed with lung, breast and brain cancer. The grim irony of the diagnosis, coming shortly after the interview for the Uprizine article about smoking, was not lost on either of us.

Claire said:

I can’t believe it, but on the other hand I’m not surprised. Over the years both my mum and dad tried innumerable times to quit smoking, but nothing lasted. Then about 18 years ago my dad suffered a mini stroke and this scared him enough to quit, which he did over night. We hoped that this would spur mum on to quit but, although she kept trying and talking about it, she could never stay stopped.  When they retired to Spain a couple of years ago, mum always said she would stop smoking for good. But now it’s too late.

Selling up in the UK to buy a retirement home in Spain, during the property boom, has meant that Claire’s parents have now lost the little money they had with the collapse of the Spanish economy. Terminally ill Sarah cannot get insurance to fly home, and spend whatever time she has left with her family. Indeed, Sarah’s only chance of coming home is through the GoFundMe appeal Claire and her siblings have launched to collect £6k for a special ambulance to drive her back to the UK.

Meanwhile, Claire is too ill leave her Liverpool hospital ward, let alone  fly out to her dying mother.  Mother and daughter, both on the edge of life because of chronic lung disease, remain separated at this most desperate time by a few thousand pounds. The only hope now remaining is that the Bring Sarah Home campaign will reach target.

To donate, visit the Help us bring mum home

Claire and her mum edited

Claire an Mum, Sarah, before lung disease tragedy struck them both.


Gerry Adams – what price peace?

Gerry Adams has always denied being a member of the IRA. However, constitutionally, the IRA has never had members, but rather volunteers. Here we see Adams in his capacity as guard of honour, beret-wearing 'volunteer' at a funeral in 1971.

Gerry Adams has always denied being a member of the IRA. However, constitutionally, the IRA has never had members, but rather volunteers. Here we see Adams in his capacity as guard of honour, beret-wearing ‘volunteer’ at a funeral in 1971.

The recent arrest (and release, four days later)  of  Gerry Adams in connection with the abduction, torture and murder of unarmed mother of ten , widow Jean McConville, triggers profoundly unpleasant memories of a past when the 1982 Falklands War was another, albeit huge, conflict in the continuum of war chronicled daily on our TV screens. Adams was regarded as a gangster then, and his voice was dubbed out on mainland TV newsreels. His resemblance to the Yorkshire Ripper further alienated him from the British public.

This article represents my own recollections of the Irish Troubles which, as a paradigm of endemic gang culture,  I researched for my book Messiah of the Slums.  In that book, set in the fictitious English sink estate of Shriveton, it is drugs and not religious sectarianism which wreak havoc with ordinary lives. But, like the IRA  in the 70s and 80s, Shriveton’s Incubo drug gang is ruthlessly efficient, organised and amoral; like the IRA, the Incubo reigns supreme, is globally networked, preys on the poor and destitute, and proceeds largely unchallenged for years.

All religions have been made by man (Napoleon Bonaparte)

Religion is humanity’s attempt to grasp existential meaning, i.e. something that cannot ever be fully seen or understood, but must be intuited and interpreted, and which is crucial to our understanding of ourselves. Science does  something similar when it describes reality in terms of models, diagrams and formulae. Of course, science has a rather better track record when it comes to assimilating into its existing abstractions the new discoveries made over time. The depiction and understanding of, for example, the atom, or indeed the cosmos, has changed over time.

By contrast, the main religions sometimes cling obstinately to tradition at the expense of enlightenment. Depressing and harmful institutional intransigence on issues such as the subordination of women, contraception and homosexuality has disenchanted generations. Nonetheless, for those of us who are not nearly clever enough to be New Atheists – I include myself here – religion in some form is an important means of mediating tough metaphysical questions such as Why do we exist? or What happens when we die? Only when one overlooks their egregious flaws  do the major religions become a serviceable template for managing one’s life. When it comes to religion, the price of peace is a compromise.

There have always been religious fanatics . A tiny minority of these – like the Buddha or Jesus of Nazareth – become humankind’s luminaries. But most are in some way destructive, especially those suffering from the horrible delusion that their particular religion is the only right one. The infectious tribalism such religious hatred engenders is the root of global running sores such as: Syria, Somalia and Nigeria; and, as Gerry Adams’ recent arrest, and release reminded us, Northern Ireland.

The Troubles I’ve seen..

Tribalism is not the same as religion, which like football or nationality is an abstraction onto which fanaticism fastens. It is the deliberate separation from, and demonising and exclusion of, non-members, and it is characterised by blind, uncompromising certainty that everyone outside the tribe is an enemy. Because religion, unlike football or even nationality, is profoundly connected to our core sense of self, mortality and morality, the tribalism it can generate is the most deadly of all.

Jean Mc and 3 of her children 1972

Widow Jean McConville pictured with 3 of her 10 children. Believing her to be a British Army spy, IRA operatives abducted, tortured, murdered, and buried her. In 2003, hikers found her body on Shelling Hill beach, in the ROI, reigniting her family’s hopes for justice.

At the time of the Falklands War,  an inspiring young Northern Irish school teacher introduced our class to the poetry of WB Yeats. Like a lot of teenagers, I tended to make myself the focus of most thoughts. So in the days when Adams was a  rather terrifying, albeit voiceless, TV puppet, I wasn’t thinking much beyond the romantic notion that Yeats’ Easter 1916 rebels might be among the people left behind by my ancestors when they fled the famine ravaged shores of Ireland for Liverpool at the end of the nineteenth century.

On my knees I beg you to turn away from the paths of violence and to return to the ways of peace... Pope John Paul II Appeal to IRA in Drogheda, September 1979

‘On my knees I beg you to turn away from the paths of violence and to return to the ways of peace… ‘ Pope John Paul II Appeal to IRA in Drogheda, September 1979


The political dimension of Irish republicanism did not impact on me, but I do remember one day asking this Irish teacher what she thought about the IRA.

“These people haven’t been to chapel in years!” she growled.

This had not answered my question at all, I felt at the time.

Having recaptured the Falklands, the Tories went on to be re-elected, only to suffer 5 fatalities and 31 casualties in the 1984 Brighton IRA bomb. I was a student at St Andrews University at this time. Northern Ireland was something that happened on news reels until one day I invited a Northern Irish girl – let’s call her Lizzie – back for coffee to talk about an assignment we were doing. We had much in common, Lizzie and I, being of the same age and on the same course.  Usually very relaxed and friendly, Lizzie, became acutely uncomfortable as we drew up to the front door of my accommodation, which was in the Catholic Chaplaincy of the university.

St. Andrews University Chaplaincy 1988 - the author with Sister of the Assumption nuns (clockwise L2R) Sheila, Damien, Veronica-Ann and Julia

St. Andrews University Chaplaincy 1988 – the author with Sister of the Assumption nuns (clockwise L2R) Sheila, Damien, Veronica-Ann and Julia

A purple clad Sister of the Assumption opened the door, greeted us cheerfully, and withdrew. Lizzie did not return the friendly welcome, although she followed me in, and perched gingerly on the bed in my small bedsit as I made coffee. To begin with, I filled in her silence with essay chatter but soon, recognising that it wasn’t my imagination, and that something was wrong, I asked her if she was OK.

“I didn’t realise you were Catholic,” she mumbled, and went on to say that although it wasn’t a problem, as a Protestant herself, she had never set foot in a Catholic place such as this. Her fear was amplifying despite my attempts to be hospitable, and hers to master it. Before finishing her coffee, she departed using some invented excuse, and never sought me out again.

That same year, I took a job in a newsagent alongside a Northern Irish Catholic girl – let’s call her Elaine – on the run from her family because she had fallen in love with a Scottish Protestant boy. Although he was prepared to turn (Catholic), her father had renounced him on the grounds that a turncoat is worse than a Proddy. One day Elaine didn’t turn into work, because, my boss informed me, her family had discovered her whereabouts, causing her and her boyfriend to flee.

Never before had I encountered religious polarity of this sort. It seemed so ludicrous as to be the product of self-dramatizing hysteria. Nobody in the modern world cared about the Catholic/Protestant thing, I thought?  Along with virtually everyone I had met in my life until that point, I scarcely knew, and definitely didn’t care, what the difference was between the two religions! God’s not a Catholic one of my landlady nuns was fond of saying.

24493332 Lance Corporal Stephen Burrows

At the time Lizzie and Elaine and her fiancé went out of my life , my school friend Jane married a soldier, 24493332 Lance Corporal Stephen Burrows of 1st Battalion, King’s Regiment, which recruited from the Liverpool and Manchester area. He turned Catholic so they could marry in St Werburgh’s Church, Chester, where his high security funeral would be held, just four years later, as Sun reporters climbed trees to snap it. Not long after the wedding, their baby son was born, and Stephen was posted to Belfast. Jane and the baby went with him.

1986 My school friend Jane's marries Lance Corporal Stephen Burrows

1986 My school friend Jane’s marries Lance Corporal Stephen Burrows

A memorial from the soldiers for civilian Army cook Patrick Gillespie, killed by the IRA.

A memorial from the soldiers for civilian Army cook Patrick Gillespie, killed by the IRA.

At midnight on 24th October 1990, eight IRA men broke into the Londonderry home of Patrick Gillespie, and put guns to the temples of his wife Kathleen and four children. Roman Catholic Patrick – selected because he worked (as a cook) for the British Army – was taken across the Irish border where he was chained to the driver’s seat on top of a 2,000lb bomb of a van. His IRA captors told him to drive it to the Buncrana Road permanent Vehicle Check Point (VCP). A detonator was attached to the door light just in case he decided to bail. Any failure to complete his mission would mean bullets in the brain for his wife and family.

The IRA was at its height: the most efficient and deadly terrorist organisation in the world. Patrick’s van was one of three vehicles – respectively headed for British Army targets in Newry, Omagh and Londonderry – driven by kidnapped drivers whose families were held at gunpoint .

“Patrick had no choice but to comply,” Jane said. “The IRA always carried through their threats.”

Stephen Burrows had promised to call his wife after the extra shift he took on that night to cover a friend who had gone down with malaria. It would be many hours before she learned he was at the VCP where Patrick Gillespie’s van was detonated at 04.12am by IRA operatives hiding in the vicinity. Afterwards, wreckage was found as far as four miles away.

3 year old Mark Burrows with his dad, Paul, who was killed by 1990  IRA human bomb, and mum Jane.

3 year old Mark Burrows  with his Dad, Stephen, who was killed by 1990 IRA human bomb. Mum Jane, right.

Stephen Burrows, Patrick Gillespie and fellow Kingsmen Vinny Scott and Stephen Beacham were instantly obliterated, and identifiable afterwards only by name tags and personal effects. The bodies of their D Company comrades, Paul Worral and David Sweeney, were intact because they died as a result of the terrific vacuum caused by the explosion.

24 years on, nobody has been apprehended for the bombings, and Jane does not believe anyone will be.

“Did you know that the British Army was drafted in 1969 to look after the Catholics?” she said, by the by, as she showed me her huge file of newspaper cuttings and memorabilia. A handwritten poem in among the papers caught my eye. One line in particular struck me:

I have made my peace with the hatred in my soul. (Mark Burrows aged 9)

Jane and Stephen’s son, Mark, wrote it when he was nine,  four years before the last 80 prisoners left the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland as part of the Northern Ireland peace process; and five years before planes went into the World Trade Centre in NYC, bisecting world history into Before and After 9/11. On that day in 2001, US diplomat Richard Haas was in Dublin, poised to meet with Republican Tsars Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, with a view to questioning them about reports that the IRA were training FARC, enemies of the US, in Columbia.

911 – the IRA money tree is cut down

 Bush’s immediate denunciation of terrorism on the day of 9/11 caused Haas to alter his message to a blunt instruction for the IRA to lay down arms. American IRA financial supporters– most of whom are no more Irish than I am – suddenly woke up to the real consequences of terrorism when, for the first time in history, foreign bombs exploded on their own turf  (that being, of course, American and not Irish soil, with which they have no real connection beyond the crude inventions of their own absurd sentimentalism). Starved of American money, the IRA had no choice but to decommission its weapons and embrace the peace process.

The primary imperative of the fragile peace which has held since 1998 is to look forward, not back. Much compromise has been required on each side of the Northern Ireland sectarian divide to forget the past. There is no better example of collective forgetting than Gerry Adams himself. His spectacular ascendancy, from gagged pariah to international statesman means he has been cordially received by, among others,  Britain’s Queen, Nelson Mandela and President Clinton.

Adams mandela daly composite




Every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise. (Edmund Burke)

The widow Jean McConville and her ten children lived a pitiable life in Belfast’s notorious Divis flats slum. A convert to Catholicism, she was rejected on both sides of the religious hatred divide.  One can only imagine the hardship of her impoverished, lonely circumstances. Yet the IRA, that fraternity of fanatics and freaks which the Roman Catholic hierarchy have consistently condemned, had this poor woman down for a British Army agent. There is no evidence of any treachery beyond hearsay that on one occasion she gave a wounded British soldier a drink of water.

Gerry Adams presides 1980 at full paramilitary honours funeral of hunger striker Bobby Sands.

Gerry Adams presides at IRA full paramilitary honours funeral of hunger striker Bobby Sands (1980).

The notion that Sinn Fein supremo Gerry Adams had no knowledge of Jean McConville’s abduction, torture and murder is – for me, at least – wholly unbelievable. Adams has been snapped at various IRA paramilitary funerals in the role of volunteer. He has brokered deals on behalf of the IRA for decades, not least in the post 911 meetings with US envoy Hass.

Those who planned and carried out the murders of Stephen Burrows and Jean McConville remain free. Before I visited my school friend Jane to interview her for this article, the question, “Where’s the justice in all of this?” was dominating my thinking. Paradoxically, after listening to Jane’s desperately sad story about the human bomb that killed her husband, I realised I was wrong to believe that justice was needed… Just as I had been wrong about W B Yeats’ poetry all those years ago, with the Irishwoman who taught me English Literature, the same person who summed up the IRA with, These people haven’t been to chapel in years. 

The Falls Road - sometimes referred to as the Peace Wall - in Belfast.

The Falls Road – sometimes referred to as the Peace Wall – in Belfast.

As the Falls Road wall in Belfast makes clear, tribalism remains. It seems strange and tragic that the religions on either side of that wall are almost identical variations of Christianity; that  the terror done in their name is expressly prohibited in the core text they share, the New Testament, which preaches peace, love and forgiveness.

“Why should bringing murderers to justice upset the peace process?” Jane said, with a little sigh as she looked once again at an old wedding photograph, before putting it back into one of the bulging carrier bags of memorabilia she’d got out of the loft for me to see. She spoke without a trace of anger, or belief that her husband’s killer will ever be apprehended.

The NI peace has not been founded on truce, not a  victory. Whereas, for example, Nazi Holocaust perpetrators could be pursued through the courts because the war was over – Germany had surrendered – this is not as straightforward in a truce, which usually requires heroic and sustained commitment to compromise. Perhaps this is what American civil rights lawyer, Clarence Darrow had in mind when he famously declared, “There is no such thing as justice — in or out of court.”

Compromise softens our psychological perimeters so that they become porous to the other ideas, experiences and people. It is vastly easier than forgiveness. Only exceptionally spiritual people are capable of forgiveness. Stephen Burrows’ little boy was one such: he made peace with the hatred in [his] soul when he was nine years old.

What happened in 1990 to Mark Burrows’ dad,  and the others who died in the 1990 proxy bombs was, in the words Catholic Bishop Edward Daly, the work of Satan. The same is true for Jean McConville. Almost impossible as it might be to accept, those responsible for these and similar evils must continue to elude justice if the peace is to hold. As is evidenced by the Falls Road wall itself, and by the smug self-assurance of unrepentant principal players like Gerry Adams – a return to the Troubles could be just one wildcat bullet away.

Pope Benedict Mar 11, 2009:  It was with deep sorrow that I learned of the murders of two young British soldiers and a policeman in Northern Ireland...,I condemn in the strongest terms these abominable acts of terrorism....

Pope Benedict Mar 11, 2009: “It was with deep sorrow that I learned of the murders of two young British soldiers and a policeman in Northern Ireland…I condemn in the strongest terms these abominable acts of terrorism….”


Disturbing gangland scenes in official Messiah music video will stay, says author Charlotte Pickering.



Author Charlotte Pickering explains why she has refused to cut the shocking scenes depicted in the Official Messiah of the Slums music video, Incubo Land.

Messiah of the Slums by Charlotte Pickering paperback and e book available online and high street book stores end of April 2014

Messiah of the Slums by Charlotte Pickering paperback and e book will be on sale online and in high street book stores end of April 2014


A series of short films accompanying my new novel,  Messiah of the Slums, will soon be available for free download.  Pilot screenings have confirmed that one of these films in particular, the official Messiah of the Slums music video, Incubo Land, contains scenes which might disturb some viewers. I felt I needed to outline why I made this film in the first place, and why I have not removed controversial scenes.

The films associated with Messiah of the Slums  were all shot in the Merseyside and Cheshire area, and feature local actors, plus a soundtrack written by Liverpool singer-songwriter, John Henry, who plays penitent kingpin Terry Siddell in the films. These films, and photoshoots,  developed into the MOS Project, which is essentially an artistic and technical composite of every person, including me, involved in the production. While remaining faithful to key aspects of the novel – storyline, central characters – the films serve as independent and separate miniatures.

Real Life Incubo, UK drug dealer Philip Baron,  pleaded  guilty at Liverpool Crown Court (April ’14) to heading  a £300m drug empire. Baron’s fortune inveigled him into the upper echelons of British and Irish society.

Real Life Incubo, UK drug dealer Philip Baron, pleaded guilty at Liverpool Crown Court (April ’14) to heading a £300m drug empire. Baron’s fortune inveigled him into the upper echelons of British and Irish society.

The official soundtrack video, Incubo Land, depicts hellish scenes from the drug-addled ghetto of Shriveton, which is run by captains working for global drug lord, the Incubo. The central love story between the Muslim girl whom many see as the Messiah, and teen kingpin, Jamal, is also given exposition in this film. Their romance, which is counterpointed by John Henry’s delicious Strawberry in the Soil song, ameliorates but does not offset the eponymous hell scenes which precede it. The Incubo Land film is especially disturbing, pilot screenings have suggested, because the more upsetting images linger, unresolved,  in the minds of viewers.


Cases such as the Philip Baron one, pictured; daily news items about drugs and gangland violence; and much reflection about the estates where my family were born and grew up in, and which are now plagued by unemployment, drugs and gangs… have persuaded me to stay faithful to the artistic vision of the existing, i.e. uncut Incubo Land, film.

Russell’s attention-seeking campaign effectively disenfranchises the most vulnerable in society.

Russell’s attention-seeking campaign effectively disenfranchises the most vulnerable in society.

The Incubo Land film will be released at a time when whole nations, never mind estates, have fallen into the hands of the drugs’ overlords such as Philip Baron. Across Europe and the US,  there are many no-go  gangland estates, e.g. the notorious Scampia estate in Naples. These slums on our doorstep, along with failed states like Mexico, Columbia and Afghanistan, serve as stark reminders of how abject poverty can catalyse the supply-demand chain reaction, exploding it into the lives of an entire populace. The consequence is – Russell Brand, please take note as you urge us to abandon the vote – anarchy.

Post 1980’s socio-economic policies dismantled the working class, promoting anarchic individualism.

Recent history bears this out. Greed is Good has led to the near-collapse of the global banking system. Anarchy will always destroy the vulnerable and promote aggression and naked greed, because it essentially supplants the state with individual appetite. Energetic greed becomes favoured in the survival selection process.

The UK and US manufacturing base has been privatised, crushed or exported, creating an underclass of long term unemployed and disengaged. All warnings against this course have been glibly ignored – such as Bill Clinton’s wry You can’t have an economy based on holding doors open for people to Prime Minister John Major.  Mrs Thatcher and her successors stood by the laissez-faire meritocracy model. Many hot-air bubbles such as property development (buy a cheap house, do it up, sell it on),  and feet-eating-fish shops, and Pilates studios, were floated on the prevailing winds of self-motivated optimism. Yet these industries simply do not generate sustainable jobs and wealth in the way a Microsoft or Nissan PLC do.

The institutionalisation of Greed is Good, has meant that society ceases to see poverty in terms other than material.

When discussing of Messiah of the Slums, I am careful to explain that my choice of the word Slum connotes a poverty of spirit.

When discussing of Messiah of the Slums, I am careful to explain that my choice of the word Slum connotes a poverty of spirit.

The public remains responsive to causes centred on starvation or disability, but is less willing to engage with the non-tangible poverty of  spirit which mobilised social reformers such as Malcolm X, Jesus of Nazareth, Nelson Mandela and Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi.

Unemployment has gravely disempowered hitherto self-sufficient  men and their sons by obliterating their identity as family provider and carer.

Unemployment has disempowered hitherto self-sufficient men and their sons by obliterating their identity as family provider and carer.

Greed is Good has levied a dreadful social cost, borne primarily by the poor. Margaret Thatcher’s  oft-quoted  there is no such thing as society simply does not hold for a species such as homo sapiens, which can only survive by combining resources and skills. Moreover, mass, long-term unemployment has disempowered hitherto self-sufficient  men and their sons by obliterating their identity as family provider and carer. As a consequence, generations of men are raised principally by women – like me – without constant, stable male role models.

Day and night, on the streets near the studio where the Incubo Land and other MOS Project films were edited,  I watched groups of boys and young men wander about, with nothing to do, nowhere to go and nobody to see. Their town, once a busy high street where you could buy anything in one trip, is now given over to abandoned, boarded-up units, nail salons, a plethora of money-lenders, solicitors promising rainbow pots of compo gold, tattoo shops, and fast food joints.

TOWIE’s Gemma contemplates chest bruising incurred during her training for the UK TV diving show Splash!

TOWIE’s Gemma contemplates chest bruising incurred during her training for the UK TV diving show Splash!

Gangland relies on the idea that  Greed is Good, that there are no legitimate jobs to be had, and that potential recruits simply can’t sing, dive, chef or ballroom dance their way to a reality TV  jackpot. For too many young men, gangland is not just a way out of the crushing boredom and poverty of life in the underclass: it is a rite of passage into manhood.

I have dedicated the Messiah of the Slums novel to all the victims of gang culture. Against all odds, I hope that none of those lost boys on the streets near the film studio will be among the dedicatees. The Incubo Land  film  is more than a brutal challenge to complacency: it is  a cinematic statement that drugs, gangs and greed are never Good.





Marriage – your views please!

Jammy Samira Swing Olly edit

Messiah of the Slums, my novel out Easter ’14, is a ghetto love story. “Love never dies, Jamal,” the eponymous heroine tells the drug dealer who wants to marry her.


is the subject I am researching for my next article, Marriage has many pains … and (in the future) a book.  I’m looking at the place marriage has today is our society, emotions and behaviour. 

 Why am I asking? Well, as the author of a love story (which is coming out this Easter), I have a vested interest in matters of the heart.  And Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so it’s hard to avoid the subject of romance right now! 

Whether you have a positive or negative view of marriage, it doesn’t matter: I’m just keen to hear your thoughts. The more honest, the better! Gay and straight readers, have your say.

Red say I love you!

Whether you’re an arch sceptic or gushing romantic, I’m interested in your views on the subject of marriage! Post them in the Reply Box below, or email me through the contact form below.

 The following poll questions about marriage are shaped by the responses  which I have had so far from live interviews, and my Facebook and Twitter posts.

All you need is love? Two couples who made it despite sex, drugs and rock & roll.

All you need is love?

Thanks so much for reading this far – and perhaps responding to the poll. Do get in touch via this contact form – it would be great to hear from you.

A third epoch…

brain connsciousness

Brain, reason and consciousness are not the same.

My former pupil, Dr. Philip Goff,  Lecturer in Philosophy at The University Liverpool specialising in Philosophy of Mind, has recently done a very interesting interview with fellow philosopher Tony Sobrado on the subject of consciousness.

It certainly got me thinking, because, like Goff, I believe that to review our understanding of reality is worthwhile. My purpose here is to share with you what I found interesting in Goff’s ideas, and why I think it is worth listening to what he has to say on the subject of consciousness.

Goff  bisects intellectual history at the time of  Galileo.

Before Galileo, religion lit the way for all those it didn’t burn at the stake. After him, thought has focused, almost exclusively, on physical, empirical investigation and explanation.

And significant advances have been made in our understanding of the causal structure of reality in the last five hundred years. But, to quote Wittgenstein, explanations need to end somewhere.

Goff proposes that a third, post-Galilean epoch begins, in which there is a rigorous, metaphysical transformation in our approach to the study of consciousness. In his discussion with Sobrado, he references the second law of thermodynamics  as a sort of starting point for his ideas about consciousness. Now, this law has fascinated me ever since I was myself at school,  studying Chemistry A Level and reading the great dystopian novels such as Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We.

Put very simply, the second law of thermodynamics states that things always and everywhere default to equilibrium, the lowest state of energy:  heat flows from hot to cold things, never the other way round, unless some work is done (as it is, e.g., in the household fridge).

Left to my own devices, I will gravitate to the settee rather than the vacuum cleaner,

for example.  (It was the 2nd law of thermodynamics I was thinking of, obliquely,  as I created the Incubo global drug baron character, in my latest novel, Messiah of the Slums. The villain-protagonist Incubo can ply his iniquitous trade with impunity because most people are asleep most of the time!)

Assessed on what we do, none of us amount to much on any given day. Given our natural tendency toward sloth, there is consolation in Goff’s anti-physicalist idea that:

there must be more to how things are than what they do.

Slouched together on the settee, we can console ourselves that Mind is the more bit. We think, therefore we are.  You do not need to be a philosopher to get this far. Almost all of us do get this far, indeed, for it is natural to wonder about our place in the universe, the in/finite nature of human understanding, and the question of why we are conscious at all.  From Cartesian ideas about  thinking it is easy, moreover, to see a distinction between reason (logic, proposition)  and consciousness.

It is easier to say what consciousness is like than what it is. Goff explains consciousness as the difference between kicking or stabbing or stroking a rabbit, and a table. Whereas neuro-science can explain brain states,  he goes on to say, only philosophy can provide a complete theory of consciousness.

Few would dispute that in recent decades, almost all our faith has been placed in science to deliver to us a whole picture of reality. Yet an exclusively empirical approach to understanding life and the universe is not enough for anyone. Like an Atkins’ dieter who consumes only the finest steak, cream and whisky, day in, day out, the lack of balance in our approach results in sickness. It is my belief that the deficit between scientific explanation and what we experience in reality, manifests in the developed world as widespread depression, ennui, disenchantment, and violence.

Goff reminds us that Einstein himself spent many hours just imagining what it would be like to travel on a light beam in order to formulate his theory of relativity.


Mind on a light beam.

Of all mental functions, science’s supreme being, Einstein, valued imagination most highly.

Throughout the ages physicalism has been regarded as inadequate. Dickens’  unlovely Gradgrind character, who valued only facts, never feelings, comes to mind; so do Friedman free-marketeers, the Triangular Slave Trade, and Hitler and Stalin, actually. The interior life of the individual transcends facts and defies measurement and quantification, and should never be annexed by another for personal gain.

We are beings, not doings, is the essence of what Goff is saying in his interview, I felt.  Although crucially important, science is not enough to explain being. For all their insane inconsistencies and rules, the religions do at least recognise in some way that human consciousness counts, which is why they will, in some form, always continue.

No matter how compelling Richard Dawkins’ ideas, prose and personality might be, it is the priest whom most of us will summon on our death beds.

Goff winds up the interview with a plug for pan-psychism. Despite its exotic title, pan psychism (if I understand it correctly, here!)  has nothing to do with the occult, but rather is a branch of metaphysics dedicated to the understanding of consciousness. It will elucidate further, rather than contradict, our existing, scientifically respectable picture of reality and our place in the cosmos . Balanced, unassuming and dare I say it, rational, pan-psychism strikes me as eminently worthy of consideration.

Our minds are under assault every moment, not only from the problems that attend our own mortality, but from the horror of the external world.

For all our scientific sophistication, sundry  injustices and demons dance 24/7 on our screens – Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan, Fallujah, Somalia, Kim Jong-un, Mugabe… The list goes on.

Many parts of the world are no better off than we were pre-Galileo. There is no second law of dynamics operating on the real intellectual benefits that science has brought. Too many people remain in the ignorance’s cold, believing in things like Adam and Eve, capital punishment, female circumcision, the wearing of impracticable garments to fend off sin, ritualistic slaughter of animals… Hey, this list goes on, too!

Photograph courtesy of David Roberts, The War Poetry Website.

Time and again –take the heinous mutual violence of  Sunnis and Shi’ites, that continuous affront to reason– we see evidence that the religions don’t work, and that science has nothing to say about morality.  I hate to be apocryphal, but I am not the only one on the edge when it comes to humanity’s fate.  The ace-scientist Stephen Hawking tends to preface his ideas about the future with disclaimers like, “If we haven’t blown ourselves up!” and advocates space colonisation as the only means of uniting us as a species.

Isn’t it time we gave our philosophers,  those grave, thoughtful and illuminated creatures, a go?  What is there to lose?

In my view,  Goff’s  third, metaphysical epoch is not only interesting, but necessary, and can’t come quickly enough.

The Goff/Sobrado interview  can be found on: