Category Archives: Radio


No opportunity for eavesdropping today as we moved onto the shops in the next village along. Deep devastation ensued when we realised that the posh charity shop was closed for a refurb. The rest had little to offer and no interesting conversations to ear flap over.

On the way back we listened to BBC Radio Devon and a rather gentle feature on pratfall words: words that are easier to read than say. Bizarrely, the Radio Devon list included ‘edited’ and ‘brewery’. Fascinatingly, the presenter confessed to persistently tranposing the m and n in emnity and, if they were still awake, listeners were then invited to ring in and share theirs, whereupon an old gentleman rang in to state publically that he had always had a problem with Huntingdonshire.

As the CD player isn’t working in the car (bound to happen the second you pay £450 for a service) and the roads are too winding to be fiddling around with other stations we were stuck with the show, so the kids amused themselves by saying ‘specifically’ and ‘particularly’ and ‘Penelope’ and some such and when the journey (ordeal) was over I remembered I had used to struggle with saying this flower’s name myself.

2015-04-08 16.07.47

The flower was in the posy on my mother’s dining table last night. I was pretty poor value for money conversationally, and to look at, suffering from some terrible exhaustion but I managed to pull my face out of the soup to snap this bloom grown from some bulbs I succeeded in sending to her a few Christmases ago. (I know.)

In the meantime, the CD player still doesn’t work. Grrr.

The Philosophy of Forgiveness

I have a long-standing habit of listening to spoken word at bedtime. I suppose I can roundly blame my mother for this, as she was a dedicated 1970s bedtime story reader. (It is fashionable to lump everything on upbringing these days, but hopefully for not too much longer as we finally consent to grow up as a generation and take responsibility for ourselves. In the meantime, I also blame Philip Larkin for pointing it out.)

Furthermore, I can blame my poor mother for an association my tired brain makes which is spoken word + head on pillow + close eyes = fall asleep in short order. It is, you understand, the spoken word that is the guaranteed soporific. Oftentimes, I try to close eyes + head on pillow and all that = is dancing thoughts leaping and pirouetting in my brain and keeping me awake.

My mother read me fiction, not the newspaper, so once I was older I replaced her with Charles Dickens. Not the actual Charles Dickens sitting on the bed, but an actor’s voice reading Dickens’ words – Great Expectations on audio. As I would fall asleep in short order it took years to hear the whole thing all the way through, albeit completely out of sequence. Then I broke my tape recorder and moved onto the radio – Radio 4, the World Tonight with Robin Lustig to be precise. The thing was, that the news would quite often rev me up, rather than wind me down, and after many, many years of this habit, I knocked it on the head as a bad job on many counts.

I moved on to Melvyn Bragg and the In Our Time podcasts, which are actually too long at three quarters of an hour for a bedtime story. The earpiece I wear to avoid broadcasting the show around the house (I am a little deaf) gets uncomfortable, so I don’t drop off into a deep sleep, rather I snooze uneasily and fitfully as Melvyn bustles his guests along, snapping at their heels all the while.

Which is a very lengthy preamble to say that now I listen to a rather excellent set of *podcasts by Philosophy Bites which is where I came across the philosopher Lucy Allais’ rather interesting interview on forgiveness.

Which I will say more about tomorrow, and illustrate with a song.

I know. You can’t wait.

*at about 15 – 20 minutes the perfect length for bedtime, and sufficiently engaging to nod off to. When the subject matter is intellectually taxing (that’s you Daniel Dennett) I simply employ the method I used as a child when my mother read certain sections of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table and become immediately comatose.

It’s Stoic Week

I was tempted to put an exclamation mark on that title above, but I don’t think it’s a form of punctuation the Roman Stoics: Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius would have gone in for themselves (had the exclamation mark even been invented back then).

I didn’t know it was Stoic Week until I heard it on the radio this morning, but I thought it would make a change from the usual run of Novembery things. As it turns out, some of the practice of Stoicism is rooted in mindfulness, which I try to incorporate in my day anyway (although never enough as it turns out).

Anyway, if you are interested, or want to join in, the link to the University of Exeter blog is here. If you want to be part of the research, you have to take the ratings questionnaires before midnight tonight. If you don’t want to go the whole hog (and I don’t think a Stoic would) then it’s still worth a visit for some interesting ideas.

I’ll report back tomorrow *if I remember* but if I am in the spiritual state of this man, then you’ll be bound to hear more from me.


Russell Brand & The Revolution

As a result of THAT interview by Jeremy Paxman with Russell Brand, the conversation about politics and democracy in this country has changed. That’s why I support what the comedian said, because he has done something that the politicians manifestly failed to do – engage with people. Brand clarified his comments this week saying that he was not for violent revolution e.g. destroying people and property, but a revolution of consciousness, and I agree with him there too. We need a revolution in our thinking about politics, politicians – the whole darn system. And that’s why some people… the people who either run the system already, or fully benefit from the way it is run already, decry him from the rooftops. Those are the people that don’t need or want a revolution of consciousness because… they are doing just fine.

People like Jeremy Paxman, who did go as far in an article for the Radio Times to say that, yes, Russell Brand does have a point. The point being that when it comes to a general election in 2015, we will be given the choice of the austerity crew, the put us in austerity crew, and the crew who said they wouldn’t let a whole bunch of things happen – which they have. Russell’s point is that that choice is no choice and the most powerful vote for change is not to vote. Jeremy disagrees. Russell is branded ‘destructive’ because he has the ear of the youth and they may be swayed not to vote for this great democracy of ours. But as, Eddie Mair, pointed out on Radio 4’s PM programme this afternoon – the youth don’t vote anyway. And this for me is the point. Russell Brand is not offering any particular solution, but that is not his job. I for one don’t find him any lesser of a human for not having all the answers in his dandy back pocket. He is however drawing attention to the system that fails most of us. Yes, most of us. We may not agree with the way he is doing it, by urging us not to vote, but he is highlighting the issue and that’s at least a start.

A start of a change is much-needed. Here’s why. When you listen to the defenders of our democracy, in PMs case Menzies Campbell and Margaret Hodge, both MPs, you realise those two and their ilk are never, NEVER going to come up with any kind of answer either. They’ve had the chance after all, but they have contributed to the system that exists. Take what Margaret Hodge said (and to be frank I found that way more disturbing than anything Brand has ever said). Margaret Hodge, parliamentarian, said that people engage with politics when you can effect changes in their neighbourhoods. Fair enough. So then she said she realised she could have NO EFFECT on things like social housing shortages, but she could do something about where post boxes were situated. So that’s what she effected locally and that’s why people voted for her. Are you kidding me Margaret? You are a member of parliament to change the position of post boxes??

It was, I felt, a perfect example of why the system is so broken. The people in it can’t even make real changes.

Then there was the issue of young people and non-voters. The usual line defenders of our democracy peddle is that non-voters are somehow morally reprehensible and generally lacking in decency. I don’t think that’s true and I also think that rather than blaming the electorate for their disaffection the elected should do something to make themselves more relevant. Here’s a radical idea – if you stand for election and turnout is under, say, 80% back you go to the ballot box. That’s real power to the people and it might concentrate a few minds. At the moment people don’t vote because they say they don’t think their vote makes a difference, and they are, under the current party political system, correct. Earlier in the PM show they played an interview with a political activist of fifty years. Yes, fifty years. He was a paid up member and a campaigner for fifty years and he said on the radio that he stopped. He stopped when he realised that he could not make any difference whatsoever by paying his subscriptions or voting. He said this was because the two big parties run a monopoly over politics in this country – they parachute candidates into weak constituencies and that there are over five hundred safe seats in any case. It’s by stifling any new voices locally and the monopoly that Labour and the Tories have over the safe seats that any new, creative ideas about how to do things in this country never even get to the table to be heard in the first place.

The activist is right. Russell Brand is right. The people who don’t vote are right. What we do doesn’t make much difference. But things are going to change. They are going to change because they have to. This recovery we are in? Sadly a false dawn manufactured and timed to get the Tories back in office and largely based on another housing bubble and cheap credit. Have we learned nothing? The evidence is overwhelming: the way we have lived, based on extracting the maximum profit from the earth and the people is unsustainable and a system that benefits the few at the expense of the many should be changed. That’s what Russell Brand is talking about when he talks about a revolution. That’s the change in consciousness. People are waking up. Sure, some of them are still having a bit of a yawn, but when enough of the populace wake up to how they are being manipulated, controlled and captivated by the politicians and the media, it will be game over for those people who think this democracy, the one based on a feudal society of peasants and landowners, is the best thing for our country in the 21st century. And the game will be over for MPs who think a right result is moving a post box in Barking & Dagenham.

Apologies, for any typos or grammar errors. This has all come out in rather a rush before I lose the thread.

Vive la Revolution!

‘Nobody’s N-Word’

This was the title of this bold programme, presented by the poet Dean Atta, broadcast yesterday on BBC Radio 4. I caught the second half in the car, between appointments. When I got home last night, I listened to the whole thing. For me, the programme, the subject matter, was a must listen.

As a white person, the N-word is not my word. That is to say, I don’t use it, but I am aware of its violent history. It was thought-provoking, through the prism of Atta’s poem of the same name, to hear Darcus Howe and the comedian Reginald D. Hunter share their thoughts about it’s use and their own relationship with the word. It was clear, after listening to the poem and the personal views shared, that there is no easy answer to the question of the N-word. But why should there be. Language makes us who we are, and who we are is different. And also the same. I prefer to focus on the latter, but I don’t ignore the former. I don’t use the N-word because it is not part of my culture. I don’t think in the N-word. Some people do. Who am I to tell people how to think?

Still, I admire Dean Atta’s poem and it was interesting to hear him reflect on how, since he wrote it and was exposed over and over to the N-word, it sort of lost some of its negative emotional power for him. That put me in mind of another poet, who wrote about washing words – that if you use and re-use them – over and over – they do lose some of their original meaning. This is contrary to Howe’s approach say, where the aim was to reclaim the word, something that Atta thought had failed to materialise, but not because it had not been reclaimed in some quarters, but because he still heard it used with all it’s former venom.

The fact is, we can’t wash words permanently. Meanings can change, but they can’t be erased. Negro became used in the Americas because it was the Spanish/Portugese word for black. Spanish and Portugese imported African slaves. The word carries it’s history on it’s sleeve, however we change it over the years. At the end of the day, categorising someone by skin colour seems reductive, but I understand why it happens. My own children can never be white, but they can always be black. Like Atta said, he may be of Greek Cypriot and Jamaican heritage – but, politically, he is a black man.

So, is it the words themselves that are the problem, or the apparently continued need of people to define similarity and difference in the most blindingly obvious of ways? Reginald D. Hunter said that Atta’s poem was idealistic because he personally, wanted to move beyond a label. Hunter’s point was that we are all labelled, whether we like or not and we don’t actually get to choose the labels. I guess that’s true, but a conversation about whether could ever move beyond that state of affairs is one that I think is worth having.

‘City That Does Not Sleep’

Well, it was a strange experience to hear my work read out yesterday. I am not sure whether it was fit to be heard in the same programme as some really distinguished and fabulous poets, but the world of words as is diverse as the people that use them I suppose. Here is one of the poems featured yesterday by the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca that I had to see on the page. He hung out with Salvador Dali and others for a while, and I think that slightly melting, surreal quality comes through into this piece. It’s why I will read, and re-read it again.

I feel it’s going to be a new favourite with me.

    City That Does Not Sleep

by Federico García Lorca

translated by Robert Bly

In the sky there is nobody asleep. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is asleep.
The creatures of the moon sniff and prowl about their cabins.
The living iguanas will come and bite the men who do not dream,
and the man who rushes out with his spirit broken will meet on the
street corner
the unbelievable alligator quiet beneath the tender protest of the

Nobody is asleep on earth. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is asleep.
In a graveyard far off there is a corpse
who has moaned for three years
because of a dry countryside on his knee;
and that boy they buried this morning cried so much
it was necessary to call out the dogs to keep him quiet.

Life is not a dream. Careful! Careful! Careful!
We fall down the stairs in order to eat the moist earth
or we climb to the knife edge of the snow with the voices of the dead
But forgetfulness does not exist, dreams do not exist;
flesh exists. Kisses tie our mouths
in a thicket of new veins,
and whoever his pain pains will feel that pain forever
and whoever is afraid of death will carry it on his shoulders.

One day
the horses will live in the saloons
and the enraged ants
will throw themselves on the yellow skies that take refuge in the
eyes of cows.

Another day
we will watch the preserved butterflies rise from the dead
and still walking through a country of gray sponges and silent boats
we will watch our ring flash and roses spring from our tongue.
Careful! Be careful! Be careful!
The men who still have marks of the claw and the thunderstorm,
and that boy who cries because he has never heard of the invention
of the bridge,
or that dead man who possesses now only his head and a shoe,
we must carry them to the wall where the iguanas and the snakes
are waiting,
where the bear’s teeth are waiting,
where the mummified hand of the boy is waiting,
and the hair of the camel stands on end with a violent blue shudder.

Nobody is sleeping in the sky. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is sleeping.
If someone does close his eyes,
a whip, boys, a whip!
Let there be a landscape of open eyes
and bitter wounds on fire.
No one is sleeping in this world. No one, no one.
I have said it before.

No one is sleeping.
But if someone grows too much moss on his temples during the
open the stage trapdoors so he can see in the moonlight
the lying goblets, and the poison, and the skull of the theaters.

– See more at:

World Exclusive

I seem to have a hat-trick of these up my sleeve at the moment.

I have typed that sentence with my tongue firmly in cheek, in case the regular reader thought my years of creative failure had finally gone to my head… I can assure you it hasn’t. I live that part of my life very much by this maxim.

It serves me well. Today’s world exclusive is a fail better poem called Blake’s Tyger by the Thames. It was the first poem I wrote with performance in mind. The performance I had in mind was on the South Bank last autumn, but that went into the tray marked ‘tried/failed’, so tonight its premiere is on the Broken Verb programme from 8 p.m. on Reel Rebels Radio.

Reel Rebels is a community internet radio station and, in a virtuous circle that relates to my own Songs of Experience, it is based in Stoke Newington, Hackney, where I spent my wildest years (they weren’t that wild). They broadcast out of Politi Arts Centre on Manor Road, which is an old Turkish Delight factory, and literally round the corner from my last flat in Stoke Newington. It is practically next door to the Indian takeaway that often provided my dinner. I had no oven in the flat (other than a one ring camping gas cylinder) so I subsisted on basmati rice and raita from the Indian, boosted by a weekly dish of jerk chicken with rice and peas in Cricklewood. I used to skip lunch and breakfast was Jordans muesli and plain yoghurt. I was a lot thinner back then. Those were the days.

Anyway. Now you know.

And a thank you is due to Tim from No Tall Stories who, I think, is reading the poem.

So, thank you.

by Franz Marc

On the Road & on the Radio


I saw two dogs in Chicago. This was the second. The first was a black lab. I’ve only seen this photo on my phone but I liked the reflections of the windows on the street. And the fire hydrant. Why don’t we have those in the UK?

Anyway, I was liking Chicago a lot until I had to drive out of it: being honked at by a monster ice road trucker was the low point… Mind you I was going too slow.

I was temporarily horrified to find myself in Gary, Indiana; my cursory glance at the map hadn’t factored in that Illinois doesn’t segue directly into Michigan. All I can say about that is when Dame Helen Mirren described Essex, she obviously hadn’t been to Indiana.

Driving into Michigan on interstate 94 settled the nerves. In this neck of the woods the speed limit is largely observed and there are less trucks to get sandwiched between. I am a bit puzzled and alarmed by a sign on my offside wing mirror. It says, ‘careful, objects are closer than they appear’. Go figure…

The radio calmed me at my most angsty; singing along tunelessly helps. I had proper American stuff, nearly perfect for a road trip. We had Journey, John Mellencamp, Simon & Garfunkel, The Monkees and The Doors. The British held their musical end up with T Rex and the Eurythmics. I made do with ‘Dreamweaver’ as today’s theme tune, but perfection would have been Roxy Music’s ‘There’s a band playing on the radio…’ as I rattled the Nissan Versa (grey as Grandpa would say) over the interstate slow lane potholes.

Bob Marley: Revolutionary of the Soul

Think you know all about Bob Marley? Well, we all do don’t we. His image is everywhere and so is the music, but if you want some fresh ears and fresh eyes to reconsider his well-lived life you could do a lot worse than watch the film Marley. I heard the director, Kevin MacDonald, on BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week on Monday and was intrigued – not least because the documentary is over 2 hours long. That was like a challenge for me. If I can concentrate that long on anything, then the thing is good. I did concentrate and I learned plenty, all worth knowing.

Much of the content is moving. I won’t spoil it by listing it all, but it seems that to know Bob was to love Bob, and to love him was to hurt sometimes. As he said himself, ‘The good times of today are the sad thoughts of tomorrow.’ When he was touring the States in 1980 he collapsed with a seizure whilst out jogging. He was taken to hospital and told that the melanoma cancer, found in his toe in 1977, had spread throughout his body, into his brain and lungs. The medical opinion was that it was untreatable. The next concert on the tour was in Pittsburgh. Without saying anything to his band they completed the usual sound check before the gig. Except, to the amazement of his musicians, this sound check lasted over 2 hours and Bob Marley only played this one song.

The Pittsburgh concert was his last, but Bob Marley lives on, just as he said he would.

My music will go on forever.
Maybe it’s a fool say that, but when me know facts me can say facts.
My music will go on forever.

Fudgearama: Neologism by @EvanHD

Great word: Fudge-A-Rama. That’s what I am sure I heard Evan Davis say to the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, on Friday morning on the Radio 4 Today programme. Boris was being interviewed about a fourth runway for Heathrow, or something (link here at 8.10).

I know what it is, I am into amateur fudgearamatics myself, especially where domestic matters are concerned. Oh yes. New word, straight in the mental dicko. Good neologism promotion Evan (even if it came from Boris in the first instance). I’m a big fan of fudgearama now. I am also a fan of Evan who uses a healthy dose of *quick-witted humour along with an incisive interviewing technique. This makes a blissful change from the unhealthy dose of aggression or righteous shirtiness that often comes with other current interview technicians. He also Boris to ‘shut up’ – often a good idea in my book.

Evan broadcasts from a slanket

I wonder what grammar stickler John Humphrys has to say about it…

*hear the ‘annoy birds’ comment to Baroness Valentine for a good example thereof