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.


Gaza 2014- what you really need to know.

WARNING:  this article makes uncomfortable reading.

I realise that some readers on either side of the Israel-Palestine barricade might not like me very much me as they read.  I won’t take this personally.

The alarm clock always wins: you have to wake up to smash it against the wall.

ISRAEL – some facts.

“Israel just doesn’t want a just peace.”

Gideon Levy Israeli author & journalist

Hamas Abbas picIsrael’s Prime Minister Netanyahu knows that  a negotiated peace settlement will force Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza which it has illegally occupied and settled for 47 years.

He almost lost the West Bank to peace in April 2014,  and was still furious about the US recognition of the new Unity government in Gaza when, less than three months after its formation, outrageous fortune smiled on him.

The July kidnapping and murder of three Israeli boys was an event which he exploited and manipulated to stoke a furore of domestic outrage. With 95% of the Israeli public behind him, Netanyahu could, once again, mow the lawn in Gaza, and cut down those green shoots of peace.

Dubbed a Slaughter of the Innocents, Israel’s latest war has been viewed by many critics as a crime against humanity because of the high civilian death and casualty rate.

The Slaughter of the Innocents: The First Four

Murdered teens:  Eiyal Ifrach (19) Naftali Frankel(16)  Gilad Shaar (16) Mohammed Abu Khdeir (16)

Murdered teens: Eiyal Ifrach (19) Naftali Frankel(16) Gilad Shaar (16) Mohammed Abu Khdeir (16)

Sixteen year old Israeli boy, Naftali Fraenkel, and his two friends were kidnapped and shot dead in the West Bank on 12 June 2014. One of the boys, Gilad Shaer, phoned the police. After several hours, the police issued a Hannibal (i.e. kidnapping) alert. It is now widely accepted that the Israeli government withheld key facts:

  • within hours of the SOS call,  a torched car bearing the boys’ bloodstains, and Israeli license plates, was found by Palestinian police in Hebron.
  • hours after the Hannibal alert the authorities knew three boys were already dead. 

On 3rd July 2014, two days after the three Israeli boys were buried alongside each other, another sixteen year old boy was kidnapped in East Jerusalem. Although entirely unconnected with the killing of Naftali and his friends, Mohammed Abu Khdeir was beaten, doused in petrol – which was also poured down his throat – then burned alive. Four days later, the parents of Naftali Fraenkel and Mohammed Abu Khdeir comforted one another on the phone. Naftali’s mother said:

 “The shedding of innocent blood is defiance of all morality, of the Torah. No mother or father should ever have to go through what we are going through, and we share the pain of Mohammed’s parents.”

Mother of 16 year of Naftali Fraenkel

The kidnappers and murderers of all four boys were extremists operating unilaterally, without the knowledge of the democratically elected representatives of their respective areas – Hamas (West Bank) and Likud (Israel). Despite the repeated assertions of Palestinian officials, including Hamas, that Hamas had no knowledge of the abduction and killing of Naftali and his friends, and that a rival splinter group in Hebron had carried out the crime, Israel’s democratically elected prime minister, Netanyahu, launched Operation Protective Edge on 8th July 2014. Since then, over 60 Israelis and 1800 Palestinians, of which 400 are children and the rest mainly civilians, have been killed. slaughter of the innocents

GAZA – some  facts.

cardinal martino

In 2009, Cardinal Renaldo Martino said Gaza  resembles “a big concentration camp”.

Gaza, a tiny, densely populated, sea bound strip of land, which has been occupied since 1918. The British handed it to the Israelis in 1948. Since this date, the UN has been a permanent and necessary humanitarian presence there. The Oslo Agreement in 1994 forced Israel to accept Palestine rule in the area, whereupon Israel erected the Gaza Strip Barrier, effectively a prison wall cutting Gaza off from the wider land mass, and still in existence today. Several significant and terrible wars have been sparked by Israel’s refusal to demilitarise and open its Gazan borders. The Al-Aqsa Intifada raged for five years, with Israel only withdrawing its ground troops from Gaza in 2005. Following the election of Hamas in 2007, both Israel and Egypt imposed an absolute blockade of Gaza’s land sea and air. Imports and exports, and movement of people in and out of Gaza, all but stopped, prompting the Gaza War of 2008-9.

“No country and no people would live the way that Gazans have been made to live. The question of the morality of Israel’s action depends, in the first instance, on the question, couldn’t Israel be doing something [to prevent] this disaster that is playing out now, in terms of the destruction of human life? Couldn’t they have done something that did not require that cost? And the answer is, sure, they could have ended the occupation.”

Henry Siegman

henry siegman

Henry Siegman, American Jewish leader; president of the U.S./Middle East Project; former executive director of the American Jewish Congress; former executive vice president of the Synagogue Council of America.

Materials essential for the reconstruction of Gaza, following sustained and decimating Israeli military incursions there since 2007, cannot get through the blockade, with gravely deleterious consequences for the physical environment. The ongoing siege of Gaza, in which electricity and water is made available (by the Israelis) for as little as two hours a day,  has generated abject desperation in the territory.

Israel has been the subject of more than 60 condemnatory UN resolutions since 1948 (and Palestine none). In 2013 alone, the U.N. General Assembly criticised Israel in  21 resolutions. Only 4 other resolutions were passed that year, concerning Iran, Burma, Iran and, of course, Syria (for killing 120,000 of its own people). Since its inception, Israel has, with complete impunity, annexed, arrested, blitzed and bled all that stood in the way of its Zionist aims. Israel’s latest offensive in Gaza, Operation Protective Edge, began in July ’14, and is essentially a continuation of the previous wars in the blighted territory.

 Hamas is the consequence of Gaza’s despair.


hell on earth

Five years on from Cardinal Martino’s concentration camp description, ‘Gaza looks like actual hell on earth.’ Imgur (web image host) July 30th 2014.

HAMAS – some facts.

 “If you strangle a people, deny them supply for years, extreme reaction is inevitable.”

Jon Snow

Gaza classroom 2013

Gaza classroom 2013

Arabic meaning enthusiasm, and an acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas was democratically elected into office in the Israeli-occupied Gaza strip in 2007, defeating the moderate Fatah affiliates of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Unlike the PLO, which is recognised as a legitimate political force by the UN, Hamas is regarded as a terrorist organisation by the West, Israel and Egypt; but not by the rest of the Arab world, China and Russia. Hamas’ political objective is to free Palestine from Israeli occupation and establish an Islamic state. The latter aspiration has resulted in depressingly conservative lifestyle changes since 2007. Gazan women must wear the hijab. They must not dance, go to a male hair dresser, or run in marathons. Mixed bathing water parks and kids’ holiday camps have been closed; beauty parlours and internet cafes blown up. Hamas denies the Holocaust, bans folk tales and beats up lewd pop singers. Nonetheless,  Israel’s devastating brutality in the 2008 and 2012 wars has served to maintain support for Hamas in the West Bank’s degraded and despairing populace.

Some military facts: 

Palestinian children throw stones at Isr

Gaza v Israel= David v Goliath

Puffed up with crusading righteousness and American money,  Israel is world’s fourth most powerful military. By contrast, Gaza’s armoury comprises suicide bombers, kidnapping, homemade rockets and mortars, and boys throwing stones. In the days between Israel’s bombings of three UN Gaza schools – despite repeated and unequivocal UN communication that dozens of civilians, including children, were in refuge there – the US rushed through Congress $225m emergency additional funding for Israel’s fail-safe Iron Dome defence system. The US did not make any funding available to protect Gaza’s besieged population, including its 800 000 children, from Israel’s bombs.

Northern Ireland – an analogy.


Hyde Park bomb

The whys and wherefores of rockets and suicide bombers become irrelevant when you, your countrymen and your loved ones are their target. I can personally recall the decades of unease on the UK mainland following fatal IRA bombs in, for example, Hyde Park, Birmingham, Westminster, Chelsea Barracks, Harrods, Brighton, Deal Barracks, Bishopgate and Warrington. The situation was much worse again in Northern Ireland itself.

ira streets

The IRA operated in the heart of their homeland communities, and where it enjoyed majority support.

Armed by American money, militant Irish Republicanism was the serious threat to British national security, even though our military was vastly superior, and included nuclear capability. IRA bombs killed soldiers, and civilians, including children, in the UK mainland. Through systematic torture and murderous violence the IRA held their own communities to ransom, particularly in Belfast. To the British, the IRA and their affiliates were ruthless, unpredictable and irrational, resisting every effort to make peace, and deaf to the condemnation of, among others, two Popes.

 Ireland analogy

 Yet this is precisely what Israel is doing in Gaza.

And they are getting away with it because

muslims are the new Jews

 “Unless you have been on the street facing Israeli troops in Gaza, or sleeping on the floor under an Israeli aerial assault, as I have several times while delivering aid in 1989, 2000, and 2009, it’s impossible to imagine the total disproportion of power in this conflict. “I saw boys who were merely running away shot in the back by Israeli soldiers with Uzi [submachine guns] and arrayed in body armour, and in 2009 and 2012 at Rafah witnessed Israel’s technological superiority in coordinating sophisticated computers, drones, and F-15s with devastating effect. “

Dr. James E. Jennings, president of Conscience International and executive director of US Academics for Peace.

  Sifting the  US and UK Orwellian newspeak on the subject of Israel, in particular the fantastical coverage of Fox News,  yields a singular equation.

 Anti-Israel = anti-Semitic.

 Anyone who has the temerity to criticise Israel, even slightly, is likely to be deluged with deranged Zionist verbal abuse (I will be, as a result of this article). The corporate media, particularly in the US, present post-1948 Israel as the perennial victim, in particular by (quite rightly) humanising Israeli casualties – pictures, names and histories of the victims are provided. By contrast, Palestinian deaths, even of children, are collateral damage, and passed off with newspeak notions of IDF due care and diligence with regard to civilians, and Hamas’ calculated use women and children as human shields. (For the record, there is no substantive evidence that Hamas have used human shields. And even if they were, why shoot, given that Israel has its almost infallible Iron Dome? ) A more realistic (although similarly specious) equation is this one:

Pro-Israel = Anti-Muslim

Burqa-wearing women

This is because many people in the West, even if they don’t admit it, see Israel as the ONE spot in the wildly chaotic, corrupt and misogynistic Middle East with which they can identify. Understandably infused with collective guilt (see next section) about the Holocaust, the West is, in addition, or perhaps consequently, cognisant that Judaism is the cornerstone of Christianity, which underpins Western culture and law, and especially  our justice system.

sharia law

Sharia mutilations.

The West views with profound distaste Middle Eastern Sharia Law punishments such as stoning, decapitations and mutilations. It balks at low status of women across the region; and is baffled and horrified by acute Sunni-Shia violence raging between millions of people there. Unsurprisingly, these negative perceptions show the more culturally familiar Israel in an unduly positive light. It is not a giant logical leap from this notion of affinity with Israel to that of being supportive, or at least not hindering, of Israel’s efforts to defend itself, and therefore our Western values, against all of that. South Afrcia

In tandem with the compelling pro-Israel messages, are strong ones about Islamic extremism threatening to take over Christendom. Particularly in the non-intellectual press– Dailies Mail and Express, and, of course, the red tops – salacious delight is taken in Muslim-themed news items such as the Trojan Horse schools plot, veil-wearing mass immigration, or the building of yet another Mosque. A recent report into press standards last year noted

“a serious and systemic problem of racist, anti-Muslim reporting within sections of the British media”

Leveson Inquiry 2012

tony blair daily mail

Tony Blair uses Pte Lee Rigby’s murder to bolster his beware of radical Islam stance.

Appalling crimes such as the murder of Pte Lee Rigby, conspire with reports of flourishing al-Qaida cells and honour killings in Bradford and Birmingham etc,  and British Muslim support for 7/7 and 9/11 ,  to create a very real and prevailing fear of Muslims, notwithstanding the condemnation of these crimes by Muslim authorities, e.g..

 The murder of Drummer Lee Rigby was truly a barbaric act. Muslim communities then, as now, were united in their condemnation of this crime. This was a dishonourable act and no cause justifies cold-blooded murder.

 Farooq Murad, Secretary General of the Muslim Council

The fact that Lee Rigby’s killers were clinically insane is less newsworthy than the fact they were Muslims. Exactly as in the case with Zionist murderers of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, it is profound mental disturbance, allied to a warped view of religion which is the problem. As can be seen in the Tony Blair article (above) increasingly, Muslim and Jihad have tended to be conflated in reportage. Misconception results.  For example,  the extent that a decade after 9/11 more than half of Fox News viewers were found to believe that American Muslims wished to establish Sharia law in the US.     muslims different text The massive death toll, including over 400 children, of (Muslim) Palestinians has elicited from US and UK leaders and media sporadic mumbling about Israel’s right to self-defence, and platitudes about civilian casualties. But for the main part, they are silent about the latest Gazan pogrom. We must be careful. There is a terrible precedent in recent history which tells us that

 “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.”

 Dietrich Bonhoffer

(German pastor and  Resistance fighter executed 1945 for plotting to assassinate Adolf Hitler)

The Holocaust – you need to  know that:

There is substantive evidence that the majority of ordinary Germans did know that local concentration camps were incarcerating and killing Jews en masse. It is not possible, given the scale of the pogrom on German soil, that ordinary citizens could not have known about it. Indeed, by the end of the war, large numbers of German people were working in death camps, including those with gas chambers, such as Mauthausen (Austria) ;  Neuengamme (Hamburg): Ravensbruck  and Sachsenhausen (both in Brandenburg); Natzweiler (Elsass); Stutthof (east of Danzig); and Dachau (Bavaria).

The Holocaust, unquestionably the most shameful crime against humanity in modern history, happened because of the resounding silence and complicity of almost everyone who could have stopped it. As well as being scared, the masses were reluctant to speak out because of their own negative perception of Jews. Jews different text As is well documented, Hitler deluged his public with mass media propaganda, lies and fiction to paint Jews as money-obsessed, war-inciting, Christ-killing Devil’s spawn who were responsible for Germany’s humiliating WW1 defeat. He had very clearly outlined in Mein Kampf, published and widely available since 1926, and spent his whole political career advocating, that every last Jew be exterminated. And, while the world was silent,  six million of them were.

holocaust timeline

Timeline showing that although the wider world knew about the Holocaust, silence prevailed.


  “ 95% of Israelis support Operation Protective Edge.”

 (Source, Vox Media accessed 010814. Israeli Arabs were not polled.)


Allan Sorenson

Alan Sorenson’s viral snap of recreational Israelis who have pulled up a chair to watch Gaza burn. They cheered as the bombs went off.

It is very difficult to gauge the degree of dissent to Operation Protective Edge within Israel, but certainly most of Netanyahu’s press ganged populace believe that Israel is the injured party. Daily infusions of wholly slewed news are supplied to Israelis through their homeland press – e.g. The Jesrusalem Post and Ynet News, and US channels Fox “News” and, depressingly, even CNN and NBC.  Emphasised, by means of omission or manipulation of key details, is the idea that the huge Palestinian death toll, along with the casualties and damage to private and municipal property in Gaza, is entirely justified collateral damage as the Israeli’s battle to defend themselves from terror in Gaza. Thanks to mass demonstrations on the streets and via social media, the real message is getting out: that Israel’s Gaza offensive is, in fact, collective punishment and that the huge number of civilian deaths cannot be passed off as collateral damage. Both inside and outside Israel, people have opposed the war, and condemned Israel. Many have showed extraordinary courage by breaking ranks with their pro-Israeli circles. There are so many of them, and only a few are named and depicted in this piece.  They are the lamp bearers guiding us the way toward peace, the ones that history will remember as


The Schindlers of our Time


Wide-boy, womanizer Oskar Schindler, German industrialist and member of the Nazi party. In 1939, seeing that the Holocaust was actually happening, he set about employing Jews in his factories, sparing 1300 of them certain death in the concentration camps. He later explained his simplistic motivation: “If you saw a dog going to be crushed under a car, wouldn’t you help him?”

At enormous cost to their personal lives and careers, a growing number of politicians, academics, religious leaders, journalists and soldiers have come out publicly against Israel’s 2014 military incursion into Gaza.

Many of these dissenters endure horrible abuse and complete loss of status within their community because they are Jews who say Israel is in the wrong.

Each one of these conscientious objectors has catapulted the truth into the eye of Israel’s gigantic military and propaganda machine. They are the singular, most positive outcome of the abhorrent Gaza war. These Schindlers of our Time refuse to accept the mass slaughter of Gaza’s innocents as justified, and are helping the world find the courage to do likewise.   It’s worth noting that Oskar Schindler was not especially clever or gifted. On the contrary, he was a rather unexceptional and flawed man. But his Krakow enamelware factory window gave out onto the dreadful spectacle of the burgeoning Nazi pogrom against the Jews.   In 1939, Schindler chose to go to the window, and SEE what was really happening out there, in his midst.

 The humanity we share enjoins us to go to the window as Schindler did. Our window is the computer or phone screen. There, if we wish, we will see for what has really happened in Gaza and why, and how it can be stopped.

  schindlers of our time

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.

This Face Screams: it’s all made up!


The gravitational force that drags down whole stars, meteors and planets, will not be countered by a pot of cream.

Assuming that most people would find hanging upside down for hours each day impracticable, gravity is the inescapable and significant force in ageing for us all. As well as cellular (therefore musculature) degradation over time, the simple physical fact that the earth exerts a pull on our bodies means that, over time, things go south. The gravitational force that drags down whole stars, meteors and planets, will not be countered a pot of cream.

male grooming

Men believe in it all, too.

Nonetheless we remain as eager as ever to believe that a face cream really can lift our skin. So fervent is this belief, that the numbers of men using facial moisturizers has risen exponentially in the past decade. Estimates of the male grooming market are as high as £56bn worldwide.

It is true that moisturisers make a superficial difference to skin tone through temporary hydration. Also, as clinical trials have proved, SPF factor is demonstrably useful in combating sun-ageing. But is there really a difference between the moisturising property of a £5 and £125 pot of face cream? If so, is this difference measurable by the human eye? And would a relative difference (between these creams) would be apparent over, say, three months. Oh, and how would we measure this difference?

The basic benefits of moisturisers– smoothing and protecting the skin – are not in dispute here. Rather, it is consumer gullibility, and the exaggerated, indeed absurd, and scientifically baseless claims implied by face cream manufacturers which I’m thinking about.

Let’s all make up ourselves.

People – including me – buy face creams for a variety of reasons, all of which fall into two categories. The first is the desire to look younger, and the second is the belief that improvement is possible. Of course, both of these categories are substrata of the single impetus directing purchase, this being dissatisfaction with the self.

Dissatisfaction with the self is not necessarily a bad thing, and spurs much that is commendable, such as


getting qualified


becoming a saint



working out at the gym.

Unfortunately, the beauty industry promotes a particularly unhealthy view of the self. It emphasises that only youth is beautiful, that its preservation is their business, and really ought to be yours. The fact that ageing cannot be stopped, or even delayed (beyond wearing a brimmed bonnet and some SPF cream – a cheap one will do!) is nowhere in their marketing pseudo-science.

Made up science:

Garnier WRINKLE Reader

The Garnier Wrinkle Reader. Made up science at its most absurd.

1. For some years now, Garnier  have included horrible miniature photographs of wrinkles in the interior of their moderately priced face creams. The idea is that you identify which crow’s foot is closest to your own, and follow the skincare regimen for that picture.

2, A more subtle, but equally specious approach is taken by Guerlain for their Orchidee Imperiale (retailing at £524 per 100ml) . This astonishingly expensive goo is, we are assured, the product of ten years dedicated research into orchids, which has resulted in a molecular extract with the power to turn back cellular time.

The fact is that only cosmetic surgery will get rid of the sort of wrinkles and sagging which come to everyone over forty. No cream will do it, and the proof is in the mature models used by some of the beauty companies.

The high-end beauty companies make a good deal of their money out of the professional, post 35 year old woman who is sorely worried that IT’S ALL COMING TO AN END.


The beauty industry inundates these ladies with various implicit and explicit messages of doom, redemption (if you fork out for their products) and action.

The promo actresses who make it all up for us:

A youthful looking, airbrushed older model is more likely to appeal to this sort of customer. Familiar mature faces of cosmetics include women as wealthy as:


Max Factor’s GWYNETH PALTROW admits to having undergone plastic surgery


L’Oreal’s ANDIE MACDOWELL eventually gave in and had work done.

Jane fonda l'oreal

L’Oreal’s JANE FONDA candidly attributes her smooth face to plastic surgery.

For decades, Gwyneth, Andie and Jane  have had the means to  lavish their skin with the most expensive products available. However, it is surgery plus regular fillers/Botox to which they owe the firm facial flesh, and not the products they endorse.

The Maths (not made up):

Cult 51

At the time of writing 5000 people are getting older on Fortnum and Mason waiting list for Cult 51 face cream, which costs £125 per 50ml.

The changes and effects wrought by even the most expensive creams would be statistically so feeble if subjected to proper clinical trials, as to persuade nobody, not even the most gullible. This is why the companies steer away from clinical test claims, and present consumer self-assessment data instead.

The efficacy of face creams is most often conveyed in terms of consumer studies, whereby a group of around thirty testers provide feedback on the product. These are worthless as statistical data goes. Usually, the only parameters governing the test is time. The results – always impressively high – indicate that over the time period, testers noted improvement in wrinkle depth/skin tone/age spot reduction, and so forth. These results being purely a matter of tester opinion, and we do not even know whether any incentive was given . Nor do we do not know the age, ethnicity or lifestyle (smoking, drinking) of these people, nor whether during the time period in question they made any other changes, such as staying out of the sun, eating healthily; nor, crucially, whether they are comparing the cream against another cream, or no cream at all.


Shiseido to sell 1 million yen skin cream

In the 400 years since Isaac Newton (pictured below), no word about gravity appears to have reached the Shiseido laboratories which claim this cream, retailing at £8800, can lift faces.

The singular weakness of these tests is the lack of a control, necessary to scientific experiments. All subjects are unique, and so is their skin. Also, there is no way of knowing how an individual’s skin would have progressed over the time period using another product, since we cannot wind back time and try an alternative on the same subject.

Perhaps the greatest joke played on beauty product consumers in recent years is facial serums. At some point over the last fifteen years, a serum became essential, and the lack of one in your beauty regimen would cost you dear. I have never identified an even remotely satisfactory explanation for the facial serum, beyond the fact that it makes the beauty companies more money. Why the essential, tinier-than-ever molecules of skin nourishment could not be added to the moisturiser, and the serum step circumvented, remains a mystery. The very word serum triggers notions of elementary science – blood, cells, and things biological. It sounds serious and indeed medical. We need this serum. It’s in our blood, isn’t it?



The lead in face masks of Elizabethan women, entered the blood, causing poisoning and disfigurement.

This brings me back to the point I made at the start, i.e. a product applied topically is unlikely to be effective against a force as strong as gravity. Since the beginning of time, people, especially women, have fantasised that rubbing stuff on the skin would turn back time, with often grotesque results. The sun bathing craze of the sun-cream slapping Seventies fried to a premature crisp perfectly good skin, and caused cancers.

Blindly and regularly we spend billions on a plethora of potions. Yet the belief in the youthifying properties of our rose water infusions, seaweedy mud masks and algae derived serum, or whatever, lasts little beyond the time it takes for you to part with your money. You get them home, and they join the legion of phials, jars, tubes and packets of trash in your drawer, which failed you, too. Moreover, you’re older (therefore uglier) and poorer than ever!

We need to face up to the fact that the multi-billion pound worldwide beauty industry makes fools of us all, and keeps us depressed about our looks. It is time we challenged ourselves into thinking outside the beauty box, and encouraged others, especially young people, to do likewise.


The father of real (not made up) science, Isaac Newton, is reported to have discovered gravity when an apple fell on his head.

Next time you are in the marble floored, strategically lit, pristine and fragrant beauty department, try to remember your secondary school science instead of lunging into romantic heroine mode, as the marketing invites us to do.

Gravity is a lot stronger than face creams, and the only way you can counteract it is through surgery. A far cheaper alternative is accepting the fact that beauty is only skin deep!


A Two Step Program to rehabilitate the Catholic Church.

When his wife sues him for divorce, his son turns out gay, his daughter has an abortion, and he falls in love with another woman, then the Catholic priest will smell of his flock, and taste its tears.


Olly editied Fr Kevin

Fr Kevin O’Connor, the ghetto Catholic priest in my book Messiah of the Slums, is based on some of the priests I have met. He devotes his whole life to the people he serves, and shows astonishing physical and moral courage when he stands up to the drug barons who control the estate. He is the first one in the story to understand who the Messiah really is.

Let me emphasise that I am no enemy of Catholicism or priests or the priesthood. But I do believe that the Catholic Church is finished unless it undergoes a conversion as radical and absolute as Damascus-bound Saul’s.

Half measures will be of no avail. Any Vatican initiative or edict which does not tackle, head on, the Church’s INSANE ideas on human sexuality is as good as useless. As anyone with experience of the mental health field will tell you, once somebody is pronounced mad, anything they say is ignored.  (I am not saying this is right.)The best they get is compassion and some help back to stability.

The Catholic Church’s noble words about social justice are not heeded, because the organisation is perceived by most people, especially those outside it, as mad.


Cardinals attend a Mass papal conclave

The 19 new cardinals are older (at least 55, with three being over 80), celibate men, with no practical experience – that they can admit to, anyway – of heterosexual daily life. They will nonetheless make binding moral pronouncements on contraception, divorce, adultery, IVF, pre-marital sex and abortion.

Half measures avail us nothing…

The recently elected Pope Francis’s appointment of nineteen new cardinals, is the latest half measure which has grabbed headlines this week. Comment has included praise for choosing cardinals from blighted regions such as Haiti.

Red-robed Cardinals occupy the highest echelon of power in the  Church, below the Pope himself. Only the Pope chooses the cardinals, known as Princes of the Church. Only these Princes can choose the Pope.

This is not a progressive formula.

In a church which venerates Jesus’ mother along with  a legion of female saints, in reality not a single woman has any decision-making power.

The shepherd should smell of his flock?


The new pope’s words match his deeds as he strives for simplicity and connection. He has ditched much of the pomp attaching to pontifical appearance and process; and he makes a considerable personal effort to spend time amongst ordinary people.

Pope Francis has been keen to promote the Church as champion of the poor since taking office in March 2013. His first apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), was a round and refreshing condemnation of capitalism.

Unfortunately, this is another half measure. But it’s a good one.

In the decades  since Margaret Thatcher sank Francis’s countrymen aboard the Belgrano,  the only gospel preached by public figures and organisations has been the joy of the free-market.  Yet now the head of the Catholic Church has joined the ranks of subversives such George Galoway and Russell Brand  (hitherto dismissed as crackpots) and spoken up for the poor. The trickledown effect is a fantasy of the greedy, tax averse right, he says. The shepherd should smell of his flock, he exhorts his priests.

Francis’ ideas are so honourable and radical, and delivered with such conviction that he has been honoured as Time magazine Person of the Year.

But they are insufficient.

The shepherd should smell of his flock, but so noxious and pervasive is the RC Church child abuse scandal, that, for huge numbers of people, only a sense of moral outrage fires whenever the word Catholic is mentioned. All sight and smell of the poor is lost. This is because, despite Francis’s genuine efforts to do good, for too many people,

RCC = paedo priests

A Broken Church

The fact remains that, systematically and for decades, Catholic priests raped and abused children in their care, and got away with it because the Church hierarchy (including the recently beatified John Paul II) colluded with them, e.g. by moving them from parish to parish. The Vatican, under the current Pope, has recently refused the extradition of a Polish archbishop being investigated for alleged sex abuse. A depressing litany of child-abuse statistics damn the Church.

It is embarrassing these days to admit to being a Roman Catholic.

The Church refuses to acknowledge that it has sinned through its own grievous fault. There has been little more than shuffling of funds from Vatican to abuse victims’ bank accounts.  Far from ridding itself of troublesome priests, the Roman Catholic Church sits safe in the Holy See busying itself with unnecessary jobs such as rewording bits of the Mass.

I wonder what the Church’s sex crime victims think about the switching out of one being in favour of consubstantial in the new Creed, for instance? For the Vatican to be preoccupied with such insubstantial matters in the face of an international criminal sex scandal is a scandal in itself. 

Pope-child in arms

Pope Francis is winning hearts. But he will not win minds unless he addresses the real issue facing the Catholic Church in the 21st century: its absolute loss of reputation.

The Catholic Church  must do two things, immediately and simultaneously, or it will die an ignominious death. It is already dying, for all Francis’s charm and energy. New Age magic,  psycho-babbling gurus, twelve-step cults and celebrity worship are setting up camp on the rock to which the Church still clings. Nothing less than a revolution is needed if the Church is to establish itself as a worthy conduit for the message of Jesus of Nazareth.

A Two Step Recovery Program for the Catholic Church

recovery program pic and words


1. Repent

First, the Roman Catholic Church needs step out of the Vatican and onto the mass media highway, chanting, me culpa, mea maxima culpa. A sackcloth and ashes public repentance should be the Vatican photo-story for months, perhaps years.

The Church’s readiness to accept, squarely and wholly, ALL responsibility for the sex crimes committed in its name, must be clear to everyone, everywhere.

And, of course, the Church must expel from office not only the perpetrators but all those who enabled them; and it must cooperate fully with the criminal courts of the countries concerned.

2. Change

 Second, and in tandem,

the Church needs to finally acknowledge the causal link between its priests’ sex crimes and its INSANE ideas about human sexuality.

Without any delay, the Vatican should abandon its teaching on the celibacy of the clergy.

The exclusion of women from not only the priesthood itself, but from the personal lives of priests, means that from the seminary onwards, the world in which these men find themselves is unbalanced. Personal growth is harder to achieve if half the world is forbidden to you. The greatest creation myth of all – the Book of Genesis is on any priest’s reading list – tells of how the forbidden fruit teases and tempts until we bite, to hell with the consequences.

Priests who are living with women,  with whom they have sex and maybe children, will understand the non-viability of their employer’s teaching on  contraception, homosexuality, pre-marital sex and divorce.

When his wife sues him for divorce, his son is gay, his daughter has an abortion, and he falls in love with another woman, then the priest will smell of his flock, and taste its tears.

Until then, there will be much gnashing and grinding of teeth because the Catholic priesthood has long been a hiding place for men with sexual problems they cannot face. Life in the seminary, a homogenously male, religiously proscriptive environment, is more likely to amplify or warp, rather than resolve, these troublesome proclivities.

Although I hope that the Catholic Church will go for my Two Step program, I’m not holding my breath. For all the hopefulness and humility of the new man at the top, I expect that the Church will commit yet another sin of omission and do nothing. Commissioning (another) internal review of child protection, or study on lay people’s attitude to family life, is rather like me saying, I’m thinking of having the bathroom done or I would like to relocate to Manhattan. Although I genuinely would like, a lot, to do both of these things, the fact is I am sat here at my desk writing this, after which I will not be actively seeking either of these outcomes.

On any given Sunday, Catholic churches are full of families with two or three kids – seldom more than four, which is a very large family size even for Western Mass-goers today. This is because virtually all of us ignore the most recognisably crazy idea of all in the Church’s sexual teaching: contraception is bad.

The kiss

Not all heterosexuals who have sex want babies every time they have sex.

If the Catholic Church wants to recover – and the aforementioned half measures indicate that it does – then it needs to recognise that heterosexuals have sex, and have always had sex, and will always have sex. This is because sex is natural for a number of reasons, most of which have nothing to do with procreation. Not all heterosexuals who have sex want to have babies every time they have sex. Or at all. This is why contraception is necessary. The Church-approved natural birth control methods – a farce of fallibility  involving vaginal mucus and thermometers – are, in any case, contraception.

At the heart of Step Two is the following singular and revolutionary idea which must be taken to heart and acted upon if change, and therefore rehabilitation, is to occur. From it will follow an understanding of wider human sexual issues, including the fact that some people just are gay, bisexual or transgender.

For the first time in its 2000 year history, the Roman Catholic Church must face and accept,


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: