Up Close And Personal Volume 2
By Stewart Bint
Copyright 2017 Stewart Bint
For Sarah Holdsworth, Editor of The Flyer, who publishes my column every fortnight.
Cover designer: Donna Garratt
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. Although this ebook is free, it may not be given away to other people. If you would like to share this ebook with another person, please return to Shakespir.com and download a further copy. If you are reading this ebook and did not download it yourself, please return to Shakespir.com and download your own copy.
Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
May 5, 2017 marked the 100^th^ appearance of novelist Stewart Bint’s 100^th^ column, Up Close And Personal,
in the fortnightly magazine The Flyer.
This book, which celebrates that milestone, is the second collection of those columns – Volume 1 took us up to October 17^th^ 2014.
Up Close And Personal
Up Close And Personal, Volume 2
Ranging from the intensely personal, humorous and hard hitting controversy, to sheer whimsy.
October 31st (A lookback at Volume 1)
I’m taking the opportunity to use today’s column to promote my new book, which is all about this column!
Confused? No need. All my columns in The Flyer since I started writing them in February 2013 have been compiled into an ebook, available for all ereaders such as Kindle, Kobo, iPad, androids, laptops and PCs. So if you’ve missed any of my musings, now’s your chance to catch up on them.
Oh, by the way, did I say the book is free? Well, it is! My depleted wallet will be chasing me, but “Up Close And Personal” is free directly from the publisher’s website: .
Before you all rush to get it, let me remind you of some of the subjects I’ve tackled over the last 20 months, so here comes a little self-indulgence for me, and a trip down Memory Lane.
There’ve been hard hitting attacks on our local authorities for their stupidity about libraries and recycling; suggestions that the Christian clergy should do more to promote Easter or let big business step in and do it; and bullying in the workplace and online, both of which raise my blood pressure to dangerously high levels.
Not even football referees have escaped the Bint wrath. Nor have charities which try and guilt-trip us into contributing. But then my softer side has kicked in – there’ve been columns about my 10k barefoot walk (which turned out to be 10 MILES after we misjudged the route!) to raise awareness for Lyme Disease; getting locked in the stocks at two local carnivals to raise money for good causes; and how my neighbour’s cat keeps me company during my daily toils at the keyboard.
Who can forget when my Grandmother ate that hair on her cake? Or how I got in a lather over people misusing the humble apostrophe. And what about my encounter with that red-eyed ghost, and two meetings with Mrs Thatcher?
Yes, they’re all there – my goodness, what a varied collection we have. Hope you enjoy the book. Who knows, if enough of you read it my publisher could be thinking about Volume Two in July 2016?
I’d been intending to write this column on another topic altogether, but when my budgie took it upon himself to fly across to my chair from his cage for the first time, it rather focused my attention in a different direction.
He’s made short trips to me before when I’ve been near his cage, but this time I was at the far end of the lounge watching TV. He was sitting on his outside perch. Suddenly there was a chirping and flapping of wings and he was on his way over.
We’ve had Alfie since August, when he was ten weeks old, after our last feathered friend, Smokey, died at the grand old age of 13.
Alfie is such a little character…he’s now starting to say his name (the result of me making an audio recording saying Alfie, Alfie, Alfie, over and over again for half an hour! I think it drives him mad when I play it. I know it drives me mad).
He had some rings to play with in his cage, but preferred threading his way through them until he got stuck in one. So they had to go; replaced with little balls. What does he do with those? Manages to untie the knot in the string holding them to his cage, with his beak, then sits squawking, peering down at them.
They say looking after a pet keeps you young, fit and healthy. Not sure how a budgie does that…but we couldn’t be without some sort of additional loving presence in the house. Okay, don’t mock, but I sense his love when he sits on my finger, and the cute way he tilts his head slightly to one side as he looks at me.
Regular readers of this column – and those of you who downloaded the free compilation book of all my columns, of course – know that my neighbour’s cat, Goose, keeps me company while I work every day, so I’ve come to regard her as, sort of, my pet now, too. She’s curled up on a chair alongside me as I write this, at this very moment.
No – the budgie is safely in the lounge with the doors closed, because Goose did bring us a little present a couple of days ago…a dead blackbird.
I go barefoot most of the time through choice. But it’s estimated that a staggering 1-billion people in the world today have no choice in the matter.
They have to go barefoot.
Why? Because they simply cannot afford shoes.
Around 300-million of them are children, 70-million of whom are also denied an education, because their school uniform requires shoes. For many of those 1-billion people, another problem is disease picked up by their bare feet through poor sanitary and irrigation.
I’m writing this having just got back from a barefoot hike at Conkers. No, not their specially created 450 metre barefoot trail, but a 5k loop taking in gravel, stones, grass and mud. On a mid-November day the ground was cold, wet and rough. But it was perfectly safe. And I had the option of putting shoes on afterwards.
In the UK alone, we throw away two-million pairs of shoes every week. To date, the Shoe Aid charity has collected and sent over 30,000 shoes to those who need them in Africa, with the help of The National Police Aid Convoy.
Shoe-Aid is a social enterprise charity established to “help those children worldwide who do not have the ability to obtain a pair of shoes, which are necessary for hygienic and health reasons, for work and school, due to the devastating ills of poverty.”
One of the activities has been to set up an event on Twitter, hashtagged #showyourfeet4charity, where politicians, TV and showbusiness personalities post pictures of their bare feet. I am honoured to have been asked to take part, both in that, and in a video appeal.
Everyone can play their part, simply by donating unwanted shoes to this great cause.
Shoe Aid’s strapline: “We believe walking barefoot should be a choice, not a hardship.”
As larders, cupboards and drinks cabinets start to groan at the seams in readiness for a certain day that is fast approaching, I was horrified to learn that the Hinckley area’s food bank is expected to help more than 1,000 people during December and January.
I thought food banks were there to help people who are out of work. But no. Many working families simply cannot afford to put food on the table and heat their homes – they have to choose one or t’other. And how many working parents starve themselves to ensure their children have at least one gift on Christmas morning?
Just how has the Government allowed the country to get into this state? By being out of touch with reality, that’s how. The problem with democracy in Britain is that Labour spend their way into economic disaster and the Tories come along to put it right. And I’m sure that cycle will ever be thus. But the Tories don’t leave it there -- look what happened when Mrs Thatcher’s Conservative rule went on for too long – we were in danger of returning to the bad old days which led to the birth of Labour in the first place in 1900.
Mr Cameron has achieved that in five short years, pushing too many working families into poverty (okay, okay, I know Mr Brown was responsible for leading us into the stuff of the same colour as his name, but that’s not the point). And no working family should be below that poverty line!
The General Election is just six months away. Come the summer, whether we’re governed by Conservative, Labour, Lib Dems, UKIP, Monster Raving Loony (actually, don’t they all come under that latter banner?) or the Ferret Appreciation Party, whichever one has fooled the electorate into giving them a mandate for the next five years, they have GOT to take this particular bull by the horns and smother it with a red cape.
I want to see food banks put out of business by responsible Government. Duck quick!! Mind the flying pig.
Oh…and Merry Christmas.
Do you see a new year as a new start, or was January 1st very much like December 31st, or, indeed very much like February 20th, July 14th and September 3rd? In other words, just like any other random day?
Are new starts, new eras – or perhaps as a writer I should say new chapters – best begun on a special day or will any old day do?
For example, March 27th was just another day to me until 1982, and since then I’ve never forgotten to get Sue an anniversary card or present! And May 27th 2012: the day my first novel, Malfunction, was published. Nothing special in those two dates until a conscious decision was made to make them special, at least to me.
So why do we put so much faith in January 1st? Most New Year resolutions fail because we put too much pressure on ourselves on two counts. Firstly, to suddenly start a new regime – whether it’s to diet, drink less, be kinder to animals or to start writing that book that you know is in you – so soon after the excesses and slothfulness of the Christmas period, is never going to work in a month of Sundays. Hey, a month of Sundays – how good would that be?
And secondly, when it fails, there’s that mental block to overcome of not being able to stick to a New Year Resolution. So whatever you were trying to achieve is consigned to that endless wasteland of broken resolutions. Far better to decide what you want to do, then just get the hell out there and do it. Irrespective of the date. Start a new era when YOU want to.
Same with birthdays. As I begin my 60th year on this planet – yes, today, January 16th is my 59th birthday – I’m not letting it be the start of a new anything, nor the end of an old anything, either.
However, there are a few things that will be different in the coming 12 months. It looks like two of my books will be out in paperback. And I brought one era to an end at Christmas….having covered Desford FC’s matches for the last five years, I’m sad at blowing the final whistle on my football reporting, but life has become so busy that something just had to give.
Public service. Would I ever want to do it? Like hell, NO.
Jury service…? Hhmm. Yes. Wouldn’t mind that. But a local councillor at parish, district or county level? Never in a million votes. And as for being an MP? Not for all the tea in China nor all the questions in Parliament.
A thankless task, both of them. There’s always someone ready to knock their efforts, and precious few people willing to praise them. So here comes something I bet you never thought you’d hear from me; as individuals our local councillors do a great job for their community. And unless you’d be prepared to take their place if you think you could do better, just shut the hell up.
This was all sparked off after I learned that a local councillor was harangued by a voter while getting into a taxi on a night out. I’m told the bully in question – yes, I did use the word bully, because that’s exactly what this mindless moron is – doesn’t share the councillor’s politics. And that makes despicable attacks like this alright, how?
I’ve said it before in this column, and I’ll say it again: party politics play diddly squat in local council elections – you vote for the person who will do the best job for the community, irrespective of whether they represent “We Won’t Eat Our Greens,” “Monster Munches,” or “The Children’s Fifth Birthday” parties.
Don’t let this sudden soft-heartedness fool you, though. A number of these very councillors who I’m defending here are guilty of exactly the same misdemeanor when it comes to our local MP. Whether you oppose or share David Tredinnick’s politics, whether you oppose or share his somewhat unconventional views on health, or his interest in astrology, there’s no need to attack him personally, and certainly not to use the language I read in a certain political party’s recent newsletter.
But with the General Election looming large, we can expect a ballot-boxload of such errant nonsense in the coming months.
OK, I’ve taken the plunge and been and gone and done it.
When I turned 59 a couple of weeks ago, it finally sunk in that I wasn’t getting any younger, wasn’t getting any thinner and wasn’t getting any fitter.
My wife plays tennis – as does my son who’s one of the fittest people I know. My daughter dances.
But my own solitary efforts at getting the heartbeat racing revolve around the occasional walk with the Coventry Barefoot Hiking Chapter. And although they are still active throughout these cold months, I’m too much of a wuss and am unlikely to be out with them until the weather warms up.
Then I read about a local exercise group for the over 50s. So along I trundled and duly signed up.
This was when it became apparent that the co-ordination between my arms and legs was virtually non-existent. By focusing on my legs they did what I wanted but my arms took on a life of their own. By focusing on my arms they did what I wanted, but my legs made hay while the cat was away.
Let’s try a little experiment. I’ll focus entirely on my legs while I type the next sentence. Dp yjos od ejsy js[[rmd ejrm ,u jsmfd fp ejsy yjru jsbr gtrr trohm.
Ah…legs now doing what they want, so normal service resumes with my hands. I’m told it’ll get better once I’m more used to it.
My exercise instructor Melanie Tee says that although some people believe exercise classes aren’t for the over 50s, at this stage of my life they are more important than ever. She says regular exercise as we grow older can help boost energy, maintain independence and help manage symptoms and pain.
And d’you know what? I’m thoroughly enjoying it.
Oh, hang on…legs are demanding attention again. Dp jrtr er hp shsom.
Ever since readers of my novel, “In Shadows Waiting,” knew that the apparition I describe in the story was based on a real-life brush I had with a ghost, I’m constantly being asked if that’s my only supernatural experience.
In terms of actually seeing something like that, yes it is. But in terms of the supernatural, no it’s not.
Looking back now I can hardly believe I did something so stupid, and I would never, ever do it again. While on holiday at a small family-run hotel in Cornwall when I was 12 in 1968, I, and three other youngsters about the same age, decided to conduct a séance.
Late at night we wrote out the letters of the alphabet on scraps of paper, along with ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ and numbers 1 – 10, and spread them in a circle on a table. Then, with fingers duly placed on an upturned wineglass in the centre of the table we began: “Is there anybody there?” It took a few minutes, but the glass eventually began to move and inched its way over to ‘Yes.’
We all swore we were not moving it. But how could we be sure one of us wasn’t making mischief? I’ll tell you how I know. My Dad had died in 1967 when I was 11. And some of those messages coming through the wineglass for me that night could only have come from him. And that’s the absolute gospel truth.
If any of my holiday friends were pushing it, there is no way on this Earth that they could have spelled out those messages. Okay, it has been suggested I was subconsciously pushing it – that I missed my Dad so much that I wanted those messages. An interesting theory. But if it’s true, it leaves a lot about the human mind unexplained, and I regard that as still being supernatural.
But here comes the really creepy part of that experience. After we’d finished we put the glass back on the bar and went into the neighbouring lounge to discuss the messages we’d all received ‘from the other side.’ On the mantelpiece was a small clock, and as it chimed the final stroke of midnight that glass we’d been using suddenly shattered into hundreds of pieces.
A few days ago I gave an author talk to a “gifted and talented group” at John Cleveland College.
Many people bemoan the fact that reading for pleasure is becoming a thing of the past for today’s online games-obsessed youngsters. Okay, perhaps some teenagers do think they’re too cool to read, but the number of Young Adult books is on the rise pretty dramatically.
Books nowadays aren’t simply physical hardback or paperbacks. Who needs traditional bookshops like WH Smith and Waterstones when books can be bought online from ebook retailers all around the world in all ereader formats for Kindle, Kobo, Nook, iPad, iPhone, Android tablets, laptops and PCs? Which all means the publishing industry has kept pace with changing technology.
The subject of my talk at JCC was Creative Writing, and I was extremely impressed with the imagination and understanding showed by the youngsters as we discussed the opening pages of my novels, novellas and short stories. Creative writing has never been more important than it is now – and I don’t just mean in fiction.
To my mind all writing is creative, because you’re creating something that wasn’t there before…sometimes out of nothing, like fiction. Sometimes out of an idea or whim, rather like my Flyer columns. Even reporting facts accurately calls on creative skills to make the finished article fresh, attractive and readable.
So do college and university essays, and work-related reports. And dare I say even the truncated writing of social media posts (especially the 140-character limit on Twitter) needs extreme creative skills. Okay, that’s not what is traditionally understood by “creative writing,” but don’t forget what “tradition” actually means: The transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way. Times, they are a’changing.
And if those wonderful youngsters I met at JCC are anything to go by, the future tradition of reading and writing in this country is in safe hands. Albeit, electronically.
Forgive me for being a little self-indulgent but today, March 27th, is my wedding anniversary.
So, happy anniversary to my somewhat long-suffering wife, Sue.
Sue got 33 years and counting. And all because she laughed at a comment I made about beefburgers in the hotel dining room where we met while on holiday in Greece. The rest, as they say, is history. We were married around 18 months later.
At that time, 1982, marriage was by no means as sacrosanct as it had been for previous generations, but shacking up together ahead of the vows was still frowned upon in certain sections of “polite society.”
In particular my Mum. When a gingerly intrepid step was taken towards suggesting to Mum that we were considering such a heinous idea, the response was quick and withering: “You can’t do that. What would Bunty say?”
In those days the older generation was still coming to terms with the after-effects of the Hippy movement which had started in America in the 1960s and quickly spread around the world. But the true origins of Hippieism (I’ve just made that word up) can be traced back to the European social movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries, such as the Bohemians, and the influence of Eastern religion and spirituality.
The relentless march of the more unrestricted hippy culture, albeit considerably watered down from those heady flower power and “peace man” times, was slowly ingraining itself into our previous strait-laced society. It became the foundation for the less God-fearing place that modern Britain has become.
Is it a good thing or bad thing fact that the monogamy which marriage implies, is in the minority in many cultures, and certainly no longer valid in this country today?
Who am I to judge? But what I would say is that I certainly don’t share the view of my parents that marriage is an essential precursor to two people having a key to the same front door.
There are some brilliant quotes about perception and reality. Take, for example, the classic from Irish poet and dramatist W.B. Yeats: “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” Or how about the simple but highly effective truism from Beatle George Harrison “It’s all in the mind”?
I also like: “Persons appear to us according to the light we throw upon them from our own minds,” uttered by author Laura Ingalls at some point in her 90-year life, which ended in 1957.
But, of course, all that is only my own perception of perception. And Ingalls’ comment got me thinking. With so many people spending so much time in cyberspace nowadays, I wondered how we all perceived each other purely from our 140 character tweets and Facebook posts.
So I set a little experiment going. I asked my Facebook friends and Twitter followers to describe me in one word. Some know me personally, but by far the vast majority of those replying only know me from my Twitter persona.
The replies largely fell into two distinct categories, based on what I’m perhaps best known for: my books and supporting fellow authors, and going barefoot. They included: Writer. Dreamweaver. Imaginative. Inspirational. Barefoot. Unshod. Barefootedhero.
There were a few generic ones: Trooper. Friendly. Generous. Perseverer. Intelligent. And some of the inevitable one-offs from comedy wannabes: perch (because I often tweet pictures of my budgie sitting on me), stuffed (tweeted pictures of my culinary creations), and check (from an old school friend, reminding of my chess playing days, when I beat the British champion).
But I suppose my favourite has to be the one from my son, Chris. Because he knows me well: Best.
Well, I’ll be happy if all those perceptions of me are reality, and I’m more than the sum of all those parts!
There are two ways of getting your hands dirty in politics. One is to roll your sleeves up and get on with the job you were voted there to do by the electorate. And the second is when you pick up globs of mud to hurl at those doing the work.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon’s personal attack on Ed Miliband, saying he stabbed his brother in the back to win the Labour leadership and would do the same to the country, is matched in its crassness by the Bosworth Lib Dems’ attack on the incumbent David Tredinnick.
A recent Lib Dem newsletter carried a manipulated image of Tredinnick in a fortune-teller’s scarf, gazing into a crystal ball. It may have been amusing, but certainly lost wearers of the gold and orange rosettes a lot of support. The Lib Dems never stop harping on about him supporting alternative medicine and astrology. Oh, and his role in the cash-for-questions affair 21 years ago. For God’s sake, ignore that nonsense and just look at all the good the man does for his constituents.
Parliamentary elections should be about issues, not personalities. And when it comes to issues, Labour spend their way into economic disaster and the Conservatives put it right, but often at the short term expense of people. I believe Tory supporters vote with their heads and Labour with their hearts, while Lib Dems get their votes from people who want to stop the Tories going too far.
Business leaders have come down overwhelmingly in favour of the Conservatives, knowing that a strong business-led economy means the problems facing many people in today’s austerity, will eventually be resolved.
In my opinion, Bosworth’s going to be a two-horse race between Conservatives and Lib Dems…to vote for anyone else would be floggin’ a dead’un. Certainly the only red in Bosworth will be the blood of another hapless Labour wannabe. But as it’s a different matter at national level, the thinking behind where I’m placing my cross focuses on what effect a change of political party in the Bosworth constituency may have at Westminster and how that will impact on the UK’s continued recovery during the next five years.
Olny srmat poelpe can raed tihs.
No – don’t you believe a word of that. You don’t have to be smart to read the next two paragraphs.
Cdnuol’t blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg hree. The pheonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to rsacreeh at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, mnaes it deosn’t mttaer in waht odrer the ltteers in a wrod are. The olny iprmoatnt tnhig is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can slitl raed it wouthit a porbelm.
Tihs is bcuseae the hmuan mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig, huh? Yaeh, and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt.
The human mind is a fascinating thing. And I’m sure you’ve all heard that urban myth that we only use around 10 per cent of our brain. Poppycock and twaddle, is that. Believe you me, if my brain had the power lying dormant within it, for me to move objects simply by willing them, and to uncork my bottle of wine by a mere thought, I’d have found it long ago.
But harnessing and using the brain power we have, is a completely different pan of sausages. “The potential of the human mind is subject to, and limited only by, our individual beliefs or un-belief as to whether we can accomplish a thing or not,” according to enlightenment coach Chuck Danes. And what about Franklin D. Roosevelt’s classic line…? “Men and women are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds.”
Some of us just use our brain power in different ways. Some are good at maths – and some of us certainly ain’t! I’m sure my maths teacher at school was in love with me, because she always used to put little red kisses next to my sums. The only thing I was good at was friggin’ spelling! And now look what they say about that!
I think I may set up a campaign calling for numbers to be accepted in any order, because olny srmat poelpe konw tihs: 8 × 4 = 23 and 7 × 7 = 94.
I was not expecting to be surprised by the overall general election results at national level, nor by the local Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council election results.
But surprised I was – in fact, a better word is probably “astounded.” So it just goes to show! I thought we were going to be in for five more years of a limping along coalition. However, no…the country voted overwhelmingly with its head to fast-track the economic recovery.
It was always a foregone conclusion that our long-standing Conservative MP David Tredinnick would see off the Lib Dems’ young pretender Michael Mullaney. But I didn’t think it would be with an increased majority – even though I wrote in this column a few weeks ago that the local Lib Dems’ ill-advised personal attacks on Mr Tredinnick were costing them support.
That, and a national swing away from the Lib Dems, not only conspired to prevent the eminently likeable Mr Mullaney from closing the gap and causing any amount of worry whatsoever to the somewhat complacent Mr Tredinnick, but also wiped out the Lib Dems’ controlling influence on the Borough Council (the Conservatives taking control of the Borough Council from the Lib Dems…!! well, I for one never saw that coming).
What I did see coming…a good country mile away…was how the Lib Dems’ newsletters and leaflets right up to polling week itself, were a classic, textbook case study of how not to run a communications campaign. Almost everyone I spoke to in the run-up to the election was fed up to the back teeth with the amount of insults and guttersniping that was going on. I heard numerous comments about Mr Tredinnick’s dignified silence in the face of the uncalled for attacks against him.
Had the attacks been confined to the issues which he is notorious for championing, that would have been fine. Fair game, and all that, as I’m not sure that alternative medicine and astrology have a place at the heart of Government. It’s how those attacks were worded, pictured and generally conducted that cost the local Lib Dems a shed load of support. I do hope lessons will be learned.
Imagine my surprise the other day when the dog snatched a ham sandwich off the hostess trolley, wolfed it down and then said “thank you.”
“Naughty boy,” I said. “You shouldn’t steal sandwiches.”
“But I don’t like the cake,” said Pepe the poodle.
So I duly flew through the open window and looked down on my Mum’s house.
Yes…that really happened, but only in my dream, of course.
Dreams are powerful and fascinating, are they not? What prompted me to dream of my childhood home that I moved out of in 1981, and our pet dog who had died in around 1968? And Mum’s all-the-fashion-then hostess trolley…why on Earth should I dream about that when I’ve not given it a thought for 35 years?
I do have a recurring dream, which is far more understandable, though. During my broadcasting career I was never late for a news bulletin or start of a programme (there were some pretty close calls, but I always made it, even if there were only seconds to spare). But to this day…almost 30 years since I traded in my microphone for the writer’s pen…I still often dream that I feel like I’m wading through molasses, desperately trying to get to the studio, even though I’m two minutes late.
And the presenter, bless him, carries on playing a record until I finally make it to the hot seat. Then he cues me in; I look down at my script, and what pages aren’t blank are complete gobbledeygook!
However, even that can’t really compare to the real-life nightmare I once had during my time in radio. I was due to read the 11 a.m. news bulletin and had stopped off in the little boys’ room en-route to the studio. So there I stood, the bulletin just two minutes away, with my script firmly gripped between my teeth. That is, until a colleague walked up next to me and said: “Hi Stewart.” Unthinking, I said: “Hi Denis.”
At which juncture, gravity took charge, depositing my script with unerring accuracy straight into the soaking urinal.
I sincerely hope that our new Conservative Government in Westminster really does something to crack down on red tape.
If there’s one thing guaranteed to wind me up and raise my blood pressure it’s hearing ridiculous stories of police targets, or school teachers having to tick boxes to show they’ve taught the importance of a comma being in a certain place (and don’t get me started on the stress EVERY teacher feels when the invidious Ofsted inspector makes their grim-reaper-like presence felt in schools).
The sole reason for this clipboard-wielding poker-faced public sector scourge is to help pen pushers take fat-cat salaries out of the coffers of those already financially over-stretched services.
I’m a big believer in letting people get on with the job they were hired to do. Teachers in two separate schools have a completely different role to fulfil. Having an Ofsted inspection is simply an unwelcome, wholly unnecessary time-wasting exercise for those sitting aloft in their ivory towers who wouldn’t have a clue how to teach kids anything, to justify their gold-plated pensions. Just let the school Head deal with any teachers who aren’t cutting the mustard.
And national police targets. Well! Whichever idiot decided on those, should be the subject of a Crown Prosecution Service multi-million-pound money-wasting month in court. Police targets falsely assume that every force has exactly the same number of anti-social behaviour incidents, robberies, burglaries, rapes, and murders to deal with. Piffle! Let each police force deal with what’s relevant to their local area. And leave it to the Chief Constable to deal with any officers not pouring the vinegar.
Then there’s NHS targets. Oh, don’t! Patients are people, not numbers to be pushed through so spreadsheets add up.
Nothing can be solved by a one-solution-fits-all approach. So I say to our new Government: Make cuts where they’re really needed, namely amongst those parasites watching Big-Brother-like over those who are actually doing the work. Austerity in red tape, please, not front line services.
Well ain’t that a hoot?
There I was, working away at the keyboard when the phone rang. It was a cold-call from a company called Stop These Calls. They said that for an annual subscription they can stop me receiving cold calls from other organisations.
What!! How hypocritical. Their call centre worker simply could not see the irony in the fact that he was cold-calling me asking me to pay £59.99 to stop other companies from doing exactly what he was doing – namely making a cold, unsolicited, nuisance call.
Bournemouth-based Stop These Calls trumpet on their website that they are an “independent group who want to STOP you from receiving nuisance calls.” Then friggin’ practice what you preach, and stop making unsolicited calls yourselves.
They also trumpet: “Find out more about how we help reduce and eliminate nuisance calls.” Yeah, that’s easy, too: same course of action…stop making the damn things.
My phone number is actually registered with the free Telephone Preference Service. It is a legal requirement that all organisations do not make unsolicited or marketing calls to numbers registered on the TPS. Actually, now I think about it, maybe the TPS isn’t all that good, as it failed to prevent Stop These Calls from doing exactly that.
And talking of hoots, says he, going off on a tangent, here’s another you may like. My new publisher is American, and their editor was going through my manuscript when she came across a sentence referring to a car hooter, which she changed to horn.
This was her comment in the margin: “I changed this because at first I didn’t know what it was. Thanks to the Cambridge dictionary I know now that’s a car horn, but to your American audience this means one thing and one thing only – large women’s breasts.”
OK, so I have no idea how this twaddle works. But twaddle it is (unless anyone can show me otherwise), yet somehow, work it does.
A few months ago I made a light-hearted comment in this column that numbers should be accepted in any order, so that 8 × 4 = 23 and 7 × 7 = 94. That prompted a numerologist to get in touch, who, then armed with my full name and date of birth, created my personal numerology reading.
And d’you know what? It’s friggin’ accurate. It says my Life Path Number…well, never mind what it says about that, but take my word for it, it’s absolutely spot on! I am prepared to share my Expression Number findings, though: “The ultimate height of your personal expression in life is the chance to offer to others. You work well with people of all ages but particularly delight in inspiring creativity in children and young adults. Others trust you implicitly because you are so kind, considerate and consistent.”
My Soul Urge Number shows achievement in the artistic world, and exhibiting my talents is second nature. And what about the comment that I may have developed a beautiful speaking voice? What the hell? Well, I’m a writer now, but before that I was a broadcaster. Oh, and I did win the Spoken English competition at school three years on the trot before Patricia Dunn came along and knocked me off that particular throne. This is uncanny.
There is so much more that hits every nail squarely on the head every time. How can twaddle like this be so right? Well, the numerologist tells me: “Numbers govern much, if not most, of what happens in your life; relationships, health and finances. Just by knowing your name and date of birth I can tell you things about yourself and even your future that will blow your mind.”
So is there really some greater cosmic influence at work? Dunno. But I’m off now to check my horoscope.
In the immortal words of Victor Meldrew, “I don’t believe it.”
For the second year running I’ve fallen foul of the literary police. Yes, I know; I didn’t learn my lesson from 12 months ago did I? They’ve only gone and charged me with crimes against literature and the written word again, haven’t they?
Ssshhh. Don’t tell my new publisher, because the paperback edition of In Shadows Waiting is due out very shortly.
But if you’re reading this before the afternoon of Saturday August 22nd you’ve got your chance to make me pay for my crimes. If you’re reading it after Saturday evening, yah, boo, sucks, you’ve missed out.
So the bell will toll for me at Moat Way, Barwell, where my jailer and guard, Emma Lawton, will apply the handcuffs and march me barefoot through Mill Street, High Street, Top Town, Kirkby Road, Byron Street, Moore Road, Forest View Road, Queens Way, Oxford Street, back down to Kirkby Road, Top Town, and Church Lane, where I will be duly locked in the stocks for the duration of Barwell Carnival.
With my head and hands secured in place I will be going nowhere, and completely helpless to prevent the punishment and humiliation that I know so many of you are keen to inflict on me, with buckets of water and sponges.
And you’ll be able to indulge in this sadistic pleasure for the ridiculously cheap fee of just £1 for three sponges (and if a sponge misses, you get another go!). Also, I’m sure Emma will be open to negotiations regarding a price for dousing me with a full bucket.
I suppose it’ll be fun of sorts…but the important thing is that it all helps to raise funds for good causes locally, as decided upon by the Barwell Carnival Committee.
Talking of raising funds for good causes…watch this space. I’m currently working with Irene and Sue, from West Leicestershire Mind, on doing a sponsored event for them.
I can’t take the credit for originating this story, but I just wanted to share it with you.
It’s a slow day in a little Greek village. The rain is beating down and the streets are deserted. Times are tough, everyone is in debt and living on credit.
On this particular day, a rich tourist is driving through the village and stops at the local hotel. He lays a €100 note on the desk, telling the owner he wants to inspect the bedrooms upstairs in order to pick one to spend the night there. The owner gives him a set of keys for each of the bedrooms, and the tourist heads through the door to the stairs, leaving the €100 note on the counter.
As soon as he hears the tourist climbing the stairs, the hotelier grabs the money and runs next door to pay his debt to the butcher.
The butcher takes the note and runs down the street to repay his debt to the pig farmer, who then takes it to pay his bill at the feed and fuel supplier. The guy there takes the €100 note to pay his drinks bill at the taverna.
The publican slips the money to the local prostitute drinking at the bar. She has also been facing hard times, and had agreed to offer him her “services” on credit. The hooker then rushes to the hotel and pays off her room bill to the owner with the €100 note.
He then places it back on the counter so the rich tourist won’t suspect anything. At that moment the traveller comes downstairs and says none of the rooms are satisfactory, and he won’t be staying overnight, after all. He picks up the €100 note and leaves town.
So let’s have a look at what’s just happened here.
No-one produced anything. No-one earned anything. But the whole village is now out of debt and looking forward to the future with a lot more confidence and optimism.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the Greek bailout package works.
Well, I said originally that I’d never do it.
Do what, you ask? Ah….two things, but they are related.
As an avid reader (it broke my heart to send hundreds of books to a charity shop when we moved) I said I’d never switch from paperbacks to e-readers such as a Kindle or Kobo. Then my brother-in-law bought me a Kobo for my birthday in 2012, and I was hooked.
And it made perfect sense. My e-reader holds literally thousands of books, all in a device half the size of an iPad. So that was one thing I did, that I originally said I wouldn’t.
Then came my own books. And I said I would just offer them to e-book publishers. Which I did for three years…firstly with Shakespir, and then with Amazon’s own ebook division. I felt my decision was vindicated by the fact that the rise of e-readers has had a significant impact on the book purchasing market. Since 2008 print sales are down 26% while e-books have grown from nothing to £563m.
Then one of my short stories was published in a paperback anthology, and to see my work in an actual printed book was somewhat magical.
I was smitten, and started my search for a print publisher, eventually submitting to Booktrope, based in Seattle, America. To my delight they offered me a five-year contract, firstly to re-issue new editions of some of my existing books.
Within the last few weeks the Booktrope edition of my paranormal/horror novel In Shadows Waiting was published in paperback, along with a new e-version. So that’s something else I’ve done that I said I wouldn’t; gone down the paperback route. Now time for a shameless plug: both the paperback and e-book can be found here:
[+ http://www.amazon.co.uk/In-Shadows-Waiting-Stewart-Bint/dp/1620158345+] ).
And while I’m still expecting to sell more ebooks at £1.99, than the £7.66 paperback, there is still something wonderful about holding my own printed book in my hand.
How much common sense do you need to understand that smoking kills?
Seriously…how much? I would say just a tad should do the trick.
So why, oh why, oh why, are some people still either too thick or too inconsiderate to merit a new law having to be passed to stop them from killing children?
I have no problem with anyone who wants to smoke, as long as I don’t have to be contaminated by the cancerous air around them. If they want to deliberately kill themselves, then be my guest. And yes, they do know they’re killing themselves with those cosy white little cancer sticks.
Smoking was already banned in taxis, buses and vans, because of smokers’ thoughtlessness. But from yesterday (Thursday October 1) a new law came into effect, preventing morons and idiots from smoking in a private car that has passengers in it under the age of 18.
So come on, those of you who smoke in cars with children in, tell me why you do that. More than 80 per cent of so-called secondhand smoke is invisible and odourless, so no matter how careful you think you’re being, your family still breathes in its harmful poisons, putting them at risk of meningitis, bronchitis and pneumonia, as well as cancer.
But, really, wouldn’t you think that knowing the harm secondhand smoke has on non-smokers who are unlucky enough to be in the vicinity of these carcinogenic-spreading dipsticks (my definition of dipsticks: those who smoke cancer sticks, not the cancer sticks themselves), would be enough?
Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council’s Health Champion, Councillor Amanda Wright says: “It’s essential that we protect the health of our future generations.”
Spot on, Amanda. This new law shouldn’t really be necessary, because the smoker should have more common sense and decency than to inflict cancer on their own children.
But many don’t. Do they?
My sleep pattern had been completely shot to pieces. Information overload. My brain was being bombarded from all corners of the ethersphere (yes, I know, that’s another word I’ve just made up).
In the olden days I’d switch off the computer, and that’d be it for the day. But oh dear me no, not nowadays, not with this constant 24-hours-a-day stream of information. The laptop’s on from around 8.15 a.m. until 6.15 p.m. Then as soon as that’s off, the iPhone starts pinging with emails coming in, largely from the United States.
And when else am I supposed to fulfil my part of my publisher’s marketing plan? My new publisher is based in Seattle, eight hours behind the UK. Their big thing at the moment is book blog tours, and requiring me to give interviews to a number of online book specialists. Oh, and don’t forget the ubiquitous Twitter and specialist groups on Facebook. They play an absolutely essential role in book marketing in this electronic age.
The author’s role in promoting our books is almost as time-consuming nowadays as writing the masterpiece in the first place. And all this e-work was interspersed with playing chess online against a variety of opponents around the world.
The upshot was that I was using electronic media every day, including weekends, until just before going to bed. So was it any wonder that my mind was still highly active and unable to switch off? A few weeks ago I decided a major change was needed. Somehow I’ve managed to squeeze my evening work of marketing my book through Twitter and Facebook into a much shorter time. Some of the more fun side of those two social media outlets has been sacrificed, and reluctantly I’ve had to put the electronic chess pieces back into their virtual box.
I now make a point of not looking at any electronic screen (other than the TV, of course!) after 8.30 p.m. And only trashy and escapism TV at that. Just slap me if you catch me watching anything intellectual. And my sleep pattern has reasserted itself as good as gold.
The telly was on, but it was more like moving wallpaper than anything. There were four of us in the lounge.
So were we deep in conversation? Course we weren’t – we all had our phones in our hands. My wife was playing an online word game with some random stranger. I was answering a journalist’s questions about In Shadows Waiting, via email. My daughter was on Facebook. Our friend was….. well, you get the picture. Unsocial media reigning supreme!
MSN was probably the first step in how modern communication has evolved – who remembers that, eh? My kids were always on it, using the old fashioned desktop computer. Nowadays there’s a plethora of communication channels, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram. But it’s not just those channels that have affected how we get in touch with each other. It’s the medium too – smart phones and tablets.
That combination of channel and medium has changed the civilised world (and don’t say into an uncivilised world, although you’d have no argument from me on that score).
I readily accept that many aspects of social media are used for good. It can be a tremendous boon for many, keeping families in touch from one side of the globe to the other. It can even be a lifeline, re-igniting hope and confidence for those suffering from mental illnesses, for example.
But as there is light, so is there dark. I have seen how social media is used by online trolls for bullying and harassment. Regular readers of this column already know my views on that…my outrage at those keyboard cowards led to me setting up an anti-online bullying campaign, and writing my acclaimed short story The Twitter Bully, which has just been re-released in a new anthology, containing the works of almost 50 authors.
Oh…and by the way, the subject for this column was suggested by two people I have never met in the real world. Thank you to my Twitter friends @_SeaofCowards and @Waitingirl13 for tweeting the idea to me.
Don’t know about you, but I’m not right keen on these ‘orrible dark nights creeping in earlier and earlier.
The blinds get drawn over the French doors, and my little writing lamp is needed to illuminate my desk well before 4 o’clock.
A sure sign that Old Father Time is scything his way through the ageing year. And how many times have I heard “Only X more Mondays / Fridays / sleeps until Christmas”? That drives me mad.
Oh, by the way, did you know there are just six weeks / 42 days to Christmas? And, of course, those of us of a certain age know that 42 is the late, great Douglas Adams’ answer to the ultimate question of the meaning of life, the universe and everything. So you can tell the year’s heading towards its mystical and spiritual climax.
But the longer nights do have some compensation, in the form of an upswing in action-packed trashy TV. We’ve got a plethora of super-hero series at the moment – Arrow, The Flash, and the recently premiered Supergirl. Just what I need to unwind when the laptop, phone and android tablet are safely ensconced in another room out of temptation’s allure.
My tuner’s not permanently set to just trashy satellite channels though. ITV’s final series of Downton Abbey, without doubt the best drama to hit our screens in many a long year, has just finished, with only the Christmas Special to go. While over on BBC1 Doctor Who continues to beguile us with its amazingly emotional and powerful family tales.
So what do all these TV series have in common? Well, they all have a story to tell. A story that has to be written by someone. And as a writer, I love watching the structure of each story come together on the screen…how the tale is progressed either by action or dialogue.
For the quality dramas this goes without saying, but even the trashy ones can have their fair share of emotion, heartbreak, action and adventure – the very essence of a good yarn.
As well as my novel In Shadows Waiting which came out in paperback in the summer, I recently had a short story published in an anthology.
Twenty-five stories from 25 different authors from all over the world. At almost 600 pages it’s a real monstrous doorstep of a book; Goliath to my Shadows’ David, you could say.
Retailing at £13.06 the paperback is horrendously expensive in my opinion, but the New Zealand publisher, Plaisted Publishing House, has deemed that the Kindle edition is absolutely free. So guess which one’s shifting faster.
It’s fascinating reading so many different styles of story, structure and technique. And I’m often asked about how I plan my own writing. Once the ideas start to take shape I work out where the story is going, and I usually know the ending right at the start of the process.
As I write, the scene unfolds before my eyes, rather like a film. Sometimes the journey takes me down uncharted roads as the characters do their own thing. But I’m happy to let them. In fact, a fairly minor character in the novel I’m currently working on said something that changed the entire premise that the hero had been living his whole life by.
My first draft is littered with spelling mistakes as I plough on to get the story recorded. When that’s finished I clean up the typos and any glaring plot holes, then submit it to my publisher’s editor and wait for her to explode in a fit of rage.
I’m currently working my way through her “suggestions” for the new, revised edition of Timeshaft, and I don’t think any page has escaped her critical eye.
But hey, that’s what an editor’s for. In Shadows Waiting is a much better book than my original manuscript was, thanks to my editor’s sterling work on it. And Timeshaft will be too. Just gotta change the ending and add a few new scenes.
The prosecution witness was very firm when Santa Claus went on trial for cruelty to children.
“He’s completely wrecked the spirit of Christmas,” she said. “Instead of bringing joy and happiness to those poor little souls, all he does is bring misery and heartache.
“The wonder and awe in children’s eyes when they open the presents he brings, soon disappears when they see what their friends have got. It fosters discontent and jealousy. And when I ask what Christmas actually means to them they say ‘Presents.’ ‘Lots of chocolate.’ ‘It’s about some geezer who died and we remember the day he died.’ ‘Dad gets drunk and Mum cries.’ ‘It means I get a new computer. The one Santa brought me last year isn’t as good as Robin’s, so I want a better one.’
She concluded: “It’s time Santa was jailed for such cruelty, and Christmas scrapped.”
Santa was equally forceful in his own defence: “I agree that the spirit of Christmas – its true meaning – is being lost. But you can’t blame me for that.
“I’m afraid Mankind’s progress through time has become tarnished. The further he goes and the more he gets, the more he wants. Whatever happened to families going to church on Christmas morning, and it was a time for rejoicing because our Saviour had come to Earth on that day two thousand years before?
“If it’s ever possible for Him to come gain, the time is now, for Mankind has strayed from the path He showed them. They’ve let grasp and greed cloud their lives and they’ve lost sight of the true road ahead. Most children grow up with no appreciation of values – either material values, or more importantly, spiritual values.
“But remember this: the spirit of Christmas is still there for those who choose to seek it. If you find me not guilty, Christmas will continue to come to the world every year, despite the self-destructive path Mankind is taking. But, if I’m found guilty, can the world itself survive if we no longer celebrate the birth of its saviour? I put it to you, that it cannot.
“The world is what people have made it. And people are what the world has made them.”
Well, how did that happen? How on Earth can I shortly be starting my seventh decade on the aforementioned planet? Yes, January 16th, will be my 60th birthday!
Whatever happened to that handsome young man in the photograph, getting ready to read the news on BBC Radio? That was in 1981 when I was a mere 25. Gulp! That’s 35 years ago.
I’ll tell you what happened to him. A change of career, eight books, one wife, two children, a number of budgies, getting ill and getting better, a few cars (yes, yes, yes, I won’t go on), that’s what happened to him.
Oh, and don’t forget the thinning hair, the aches and pains, the diminishing energy, the…okay, my hearing’s still good enough to make out the violins you’re all suddenly playing.
There are compensations, though: with age comes wisdom. Seriously. I’m wiser than I was back then. No, stop laughing. I know that’s not saying much, given the original raw material way back when, but I am. I know now that when I thought I knew it all in those lazy, hazy, crazy days of long ago, I actually knew nothing. So knowing now that I knew nothing then makes me wiser. Doesn’t it?
Also I’m a much calmer person than I was then, and I no longer care what the world thinks of me. But how the world has changed in that time. In the days of that photo the studio equipment of turntables, reel-to-reel tape and faders, was absolutely state of the art. But it’s probably languishing in some broadcasting museum at the moment, as all programmes are driven by computer now.
Talking of computers, I first started using one in 1989; was almost reduced to tears of frustration as I was unable to control the first mouse to be introduced to my work station in 1992; and felt on top of the world when I invested in my first home computer in 1997. A great monstrosity of a thing it was, all £1,000 worth of it, for a mere 16mb of RAM.
OK, reminiscing over. Nostalgia back in the drawer for another 35 years. Jeez, I’ll be 95!
Okay, okay, I know I said last time that nostalgia and reminiscing was back in the drawer for another 35 years, but you know what happens once Pandora’s Box is opened. She’s not one to let things go, is that lass.
She’s insisting that I share a couple of memories from way back at the start of my career in 1974. Forty-two years ago today I was just a fortnight into my writing journey, and the photo is taken from my identify pass at the weekly newspaper where I learned the rudiments of the inky craft which has earned me a few potatoes in my time.
The very first thing the news editor told me to write was a chess column – he knew my only claim to fame in those early days was to have once beaten the reigning British Champion. Such heights were never to be scaled again.
But my duties weren’t just learning how to string a couple of words together. They included wrapping newspapers up on publication day, every Friday, for dispatching to local authorities, advertisers, and numerous subscribers. Got my wrists slapped for putting sticky tape over the stamps so the Post Office couldn’t frank ‘em.
Also, my least favourite task was prising metal photographic plates off the wooden blocks that held them in place, after the wonderfully noisy, thundering, hot metal printing presses passed over them to imprint the image on to the rolls of paper for the latest edition.
We wrote our stories with typewriters on to small sheets of paper, and the sub editor designed the layout by hand on A3 paper. With our printing sub-contractor being in the next town, another of my tasks was to take a parcel of copy and designs out to the bus stop just outside the office, and hand it to the conductor several times a day. The conductor then handed it to an apprentice at the printers who was waiting at the bus stop outside their premises. As long as I remembered to ring the printers to alert them, that is.
Oh woe betide me the number of times I forgot to ring, and our words of wisdom and advertising wound up at the bus terminus.
My only previous experience of hypnosis was being in the audience when a stage hypnotist persuaded some hapless volunteers that the huge onions they were eating were the most delicious apples they’d ever tasted.
And the tall-back dining chairs they were sitting astride, backwards, were race horses.
But let me tell you – hypnotherapy is a completely different pan of potatoes. Far from the hypnotist controlling someone’s mind, hypnotherapy actually puts the hypnotee (is that a real word, ‘cos my spell checker doesn’t like it?) in full control.
I was intrigued to read about my fellow Flyer columnists Ann and Steve Finnemore’s iOS app, through their Getting You There wellbeing consultancy. I readily admit I was a tad cynical at first. But after just one run through of the 21 minute narration from the qualified hypnotherapist doing the voiceover, I realised I had the power to begin changing how I think, feel and act.
There were three things I particularly wanted to work on, and the guided visualisation, imagery and self-hypnosis techniques have helped me with all of them. I’m not completely where I want to be, but I’m getting closer every time I play the app.
If anyone had told me a few weeks ago that I’d be able to successfully hypnotise myself into making such important changes, I reckon I’d have laughed at them. But I’m not laughing now. This really works. I’ve only downloaded one track so far, which guides you to a place in your mind where you can make changes safely, easily and naturally.
Which is somewhat reminiscent of my 2012 satirical novel The Jigsaw And The Fan, where the central character escapes into an area of his own mind. I wrote that scene, which is an absolutely vital part of the storyline, entirely from my imagination, never for one minute thinking that such a place might actually exist.
But exist it does…and gives you, as the architect, the building blocks to create the life you want.
Do you remember the sad case making national headlines a few weeks ago about a one-year-old boy who died from sepsis after the NHS 111 service failed to diagnose it.
Unfortunately it’s hardly surprising they didn’t spot it. A recent report said staff at these “non-emergency” helplines don’t have medical training, and use tick boxes. Anything that’s not on their idiot’s guide gets missed. Which is why little William Mead died of sepsis caused by a chest infection, despite his worried parents calling 111 for help.
But what is sepsis, why did these medical call centre handlers miss it? For a start it kills 37,000 people in the UK every year. That’s more than bowel cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer put together. It arises when the body’s response to an infection injures its own tissues and organs, and can lead to shock, multiple organ failure and death if not treated promptly.
Infections which can lead to sepsis include lung infections such as pneumonia; water infections; and infections in wounds, bites or joints.
When sepsis strikes, inflammation, swelling and blood clots become widespread in the body, causing a drop in blood pressure, cutting the blood supply to vital organs such as the brain, heart and kidneys. But early treatment, including antibiotics and getting fluids into the patient, greatly improves the chances of survival.
Which means time is of the essence. Some of the symptoms to look out for, according the UK Sepsis Trust: Slurred speech; Extreme shivering or muscle pain; Passing no urine in a day; Severe breathlessness; Losing consciousness; Discoloured, or mottled skin; Very high or low temperature; Racing heart beat; Rapid, shallow breathing.
In the early stages sepsis can be mistaken for ‘flu. So the message is clear: If you suspect sepsis, get the patient to hospital immediately. Don’t be afraid to say: “I think this might be sepsis.” Getting the patient treated even one hour earlier may be the difference between their life or death.
Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun? It’s over three years since I wrote my first column for The Flyer. It was about Mothers Day. And, hold hard….guess what? Mothers Day weekend is now upon us this year.
So I make no excuse (well, not much of one anyway), for resurrecting what I wrote about in that very first column.
The circumstances are actually better this time round for what I said in 2013, as Booktrope brought my time travel novel, Timeshaft, out in paperback just a few weeks ago. So there is now much, much more than a tenuous link with what I’m about to say.
I don’t have many regrets, but there is one that hits at this time of year. When Mothers Day approaches I always wish I had made efforts to heal the rift with my Mum. There were faults on both sides, but I could have made the first move – and didn’t.
We still saw each other, but only once a month and our relationship was distant. Don’t ask me why…I don’t know. She was a strong and forceful personality…so am I when I need to be. Maybe that was it, perhaps we just clashed.
But you only get one Mum. So make the most of her while she’s here. Tell her you love her, and show her you love her. Looking back I can see what a wonderful job my Mum did in bringing me up in difficult circumstances, yet I can’t recall ever telling her that.
It’s too late now. My Mum died in 2000.
The first book I had published – in 2012 – was a time travel novella called Malfunction. And within the last few weeks my time travel thriller, Timeshaft, came out in paperback. So with two books about time travel to my name, do you think that’s me wishing I could turn back the clock like my characters can, just to say: “Mum, I love you, and thank you”?
I recently had a little tête-à-tête with a PPI claims company (referred to hereafter as Company A), as to why they were contacting me in contravention of the Telephone Preference Service, and possibly the Data Protection Act.
“Ah,” said they after a suitable pause. “’Tis not us thou needs to chastise, ‘tis Company B.” “Why is that?” asketh I, “’tis you who are pestering me, not Company B.” “Thou speaketh the truth,” quoth they, “but we bought your details in good faith from Company B.” To give them their due, Company A were quick to pass on Company B’s details to me.
“Ah,” said Company B, after a suitable pause. “’Tis not us thou needs to chastise, ‘tis Company C.” “Why is that?” asketh I, “’tis you who passed on my details to Company A.” “Thou speaketh the truth,” quoth they, “but we bought your details in good faith from Company C.” To give them their due, Company B were quick to pass on Company C’s details to me.
“Ah,” said Company C, after a suitable pause. “’Tis not us thou needs to chastise, ‘tis Company D.” “Why is that?” asketh I, “’tis you who passed on my details to Company B.” “Thou speaketh the truth,” quoth they, “but we bought your details in good faith from Company D.” To give them their due, Company C were quick to pass on Company D’s details to me.
And so I finally reached the end of this epic trail of biblical proportions. India-based Company D said their telemarketer had spoken to me, and sent a recording of our telephone conversation to prove it. Which also proved that I said three times during the conversation that NO-ONE was to contact me, irrespective of the answers I gave for their “pure market research” survey. Got ‘em bang to rights!
The upshot is that Company D have now written an instant dismissal clause into their employees’ contracts for anyone flouting their “policy” again. But shouldn’t the Data Protection Act stop the dirty, unsavoury way that this whole industry works?
A new night club with a twist is coming to Barwell.
Prancers will be opening during the day, to cater for night workers. In other words, a day club. What a great idea. I love it. During a fair proportion of my broadcasting career, my hours were 5.30 a.m. to 1.30 p.m., reading the news in the breakfast show, and then the hourly bulletins through to the 15 minute lunchtime programme. But I occasionally had to cover the night shift (11 pm to 7 a.m.). How I would have loved to leave the studio and head straight for a day club. I was a real raver in those days!
Revelling on the dance floor at a local Barwell venue in the daytime has always eluded those who have to work regular nights. In the past, they’ve been beavering away to earn a crust while many others are out having a good time at a nightclub.
Instead of spending their off-duty hours watching daytime television, they will now be able to do what day workers have always taken for granted: let off steam and down a pint or two after a hard day’s (ok, in this case, night’s) toil.
Local workers are already looking forward to strutting their stuff to their heart’s content, anytime in the 12 hours the club will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., six days a week.
Fears that the club would make too much noise and disrupt lessons at the nearby school, have been dismissed by club officials. DJ Mikey James says strict guidelines govern how loud he can play the music – especially as the club has been given permission to keep its windows open during the summer.
Only 65 decibels will be allowed to emanate from the building.
Otherwise, if the sound level is higher than that, all residents within a 100-metre radius of Prancers, will be entitled to a year’s free membership. And it’s coming soon.
Look at the first letter of each paragraph in this column to see the date Prancers will be throwing open its doors for the first time.
The first time Jo Grant met the Doctor in my favourite TV show, Doctor Who, she ruined his experiment, and he called her a ham-fisted bun vendor. What an apt description for those currently running our borough and county councils.
Sorry – did I say “running”? These two Conservative regimes could barely run a bath without getting the temperature wrong.
When I was aged four to ten my family holidayed every year on the Isle Of Wight. After the first three years – 1960 to 1963 – the hotel we stayed in increased the price and cut out the mid-day meal (hotels operated differently in those days; you opted for full board or half board). At Sandown’s Carlton Hotel, out went the full board option and up went the price, in the same year.
Utterly ridiculous. Basic common sense says you do one or the other – not both at the same time.
The parallel between the hotel’s ham-fisted bun vendorness and the two councils’ is undeniable. Both authorities are hiking up council tax at the same time as they’re slashing services. And the borough council are even hitting us with a triple whammy by imposing an additional “green” charge to have our garden rubbish taken away. And what about the county slashing opening hours at Barwell tip, while planning to introduce charges for some types of waste there, too? D’Oh!
Their hard-hearted indifference to the welfare of the electorate will have the same effect as that hotel did on its patrons in my dim and distant childhood. We went to a different hotel. Just as common sense dictates that come the next local election, voters will prefer a regime that actually cares.
And the Tories at national level need to start caring, too. At least Iain Duncan Smith had the guts to rebel on the disgraceful issue of Personal Independence Payments. Although I’m a staunch Tory supporter at national level, they clearly overstepped the mark on that one by attacking the most vulnerable members of our society.
We hear a lot nowadays about “work/life balance.” And so we should. Not just for the benefit of workers and staff, but for the employer as well.
Many years ago I worked briefly for a company whose philosophy was that everyone should be at their desk for as long as humanly possible (in some cases it actually crossed the boundary of decency, making staff’s time at their computers become inhumane).
In fact, the Managing Director once proudly boasted to visitors: “We place no restriction on the amount of commitment hours they can work.” Fortunately that philosophy has, quite rightly, been consigned to the dinosaur age, where it has always belonged.
Research proves conclusively that people who work 55 hours a week have a 33% higher risk of a stroke than those who do 35-40 hours. But the diminishing band of employers who remain hard-hearted about their staff’s well-being, may be more tempted to give a damn about this next statistic: many studies show that four weeks of working long hours causes productivity to drop dramatically after 35 hours, increasing the risk of mistakes and bad decisions, which take longer to fix.
So, no brainer: work 35 hours…but work smarter : only check emails twice a day; if a task takes under two minutes to accomplish, do it immediately; avoid the old adage of work expanding to fill the time available by setting yourself specific targets (limiting how long you work on tasks means you’re busier over a shorter time, getting things done faster); and resist the alluring temptation of the internet – websites, Twitter and Facebook alerts etc – I’m told a staggering 47% of time online is wasted.
The internet is a brilliant servant, but we must resist all its attempts to monopolise our working day…particularly the ubiquitous and dreaded emails. We have to snatch control back. Do that, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you get to the end of your to-do list.
So you really can be the most productive person in your office and still leave at 5pm.
There may be something in this new-age style “earthing” after all. But to me, it’s simply something I’ve done most of my life, and that’s go barefoot whenever possible.
It’s been proven beyond doubt that being barefoot helps both physical and mental health – by stimulating blood circulation; helping your body eliminate a fair amount of fats and toxins; reducing stress, depression and neurosis, which strengthens the nervous system; preventing varicose veins; and improving posture and balance.
And, of course, when your bare feet are in direct contact with the ground, it’s also like a prolonged reflexology session, freeing accumulated energy, which, if not allowed to flow naturally, causes many types of disease. Reflexology simply stimulates certain parts of the sole of the foot which are connected to our organs and other parts of the body. Walking barefoot does this naturally.
While the philosophy and practice of earthing, or grounding, has been around since the dawn of human civilisation, the science behind it is a relatively new concept…and to be honest I’m not quite sure what to make of it. The principal is that by walking barefoot we absorb electrons from the earth through our skin. This raises the number of electrons in our bodies, which help with our health and wellbeing. It also increases the number of antioxidants, reduces inflammation and improves sleep.
Don’t ask me to explain the science behind it, but in a nutshell, absorbing these electrons balances what’s called the body’s energetic flow.
All of which, apparently, makes us fitter, both mentally and physically.
And many podiatrists and the medical profession now recognise the enormous health benefits of going barefoot, when it comes to sleep disturbance, muscle and joint pain, asthmatic and respiratory conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, stress, heart rate variability, and immune system activity and response.
So there you go. I’ve known for decades that having bare feet gives me additional vitality and keeps me fit and healthy. I just didn’t know there was a scientific term for it that’s gaining credence in medical circles.
So the great cholesterol debate rumbles on. After many years of being condemned as devil spawn, dairy products are now enjoying a better reputation as medical opinion shifts with the wind.
I was in my late forties when my doctor decided my cholesterol level was too high, and put me on a diet. After three months it hadn’t changed one jot! “You must be one of these people who makes a lot of cholesterol naturally – it’s nothing to do with your diet,” she said. So, the ubiquitous statins were prescribed, I went back to eating everything I wanted, and never looked back.
Now, according to medical research published last year, eating cholesterol-rich food is not dangerous, and doesn’t actually raise blood cholesterol. Apparently evidence now shows there is no appreciable relationship between consumption of cholesterol, and the amount of cholesterol in our blood.
These new findings state that the liver makes around 85% of the cholesterol we need to function, and that if we eat too much cholesterol our liver compensates by reducing its own production.
Even more contentious, is this statement from the report’s author: “Research confirms that if you have a high cholesterol level you will live longer.” The report also says: “all-cause mortality is highest in the lowest cholesterol group,” and that “elderly people with the highest cholesterol level have the highest survival rates.”
Just what the…? Oh, I give up. But until my doctor suggests I come off statins, I intend to continue with them, thank you very much. Even more so now I’m 60 and no longer pay for my prescriptions. I’ve forked out for them for all these years, damned if I’m giving them up now they’re free!
But then, thinking about it, my dear old grandma drank copious amounts of full-fat milk and ate copious amounts of cheese…and lived until just a fortnight before what would have been her 100th birthday. Oh, I think I’ll toss a coin. Heads, stay on statins, tails, come off ‘em immediately.
Any idea which famous person celebrates his birthday today (Flyer publication date of June 10th)? A clue? One of the most famous men in the world, and one who is prone to making the odd gaffe or two.
It’s actually the Duke of Edinburgh’s – not that I know how old he is (without going to Google it). But I’ve always known that June 10th is his birthday because it was also my Dad’s.
I may be 60 now, with more days behind me than I have in front of me, but it’s still oddly disturbing to think my Dad would be 115 today. Yes, he was born in 1901, the year Queen Victoria died and the Edwardian era began. So he was 54 when I entered this world on January 16th 1956.
All of which meant he was bound to die while I was still quite young. But it shouldn’t have happened as early as it did, for goodness sake. I was 11 when he suffered a brain tumour and died less than a year after he retired at 65.
He was an accountant and church organist. Maybe something weird happened in the gene pool because those two major traits in his life – figures and a musical ability – took one look at me and ran screaming the other way.
Remember the Johnny Cash song “A Boy Named Sue,” where a dad knew he wouldn’t be around while his son was growing up? He named the boy Sue to make him tough and strong. Maybe having an older Dad in the 1960s, and then being brought up in a single parent family when it was very, very much in the minority, had the same effect on me. Would I be the person I am today if his death hadn’t led to me maturing at a very young age?
I may have lost him when I was just 11 years old, but I still miss him to this day. And I like to think that while his music and mathematical skills were lost on me, his other traits, of being kind, caring and considerate, live on in me.
We’ve all watched in horror, the images of refugees fleeing their homeland – in particular Syria – leaving all their worldly possessions behind.
Whatever your thoughts about the politics of whether refugees should be allowed to settle in Britain, there’s one stark fact you can’t escape: they are human beings. Many people in The Flyer’s circulation area were so moved by those appalling scenes that they formed the “Refugee Crisis Aid: Hinckley And Area” group on Facebook last year.
The group collects clothes and other items such as toiletries, and works with registered charities including Feed The Hungry and the Leicester-based volunteer group LE Solidarity, to send the goods to refugee camps in France, Greece and Germany, as well as Syria itself.
Joining a delivery mission to France, one of the group’s organisers, Helen Monger, made a surprising discovery: the most common request the refugees make is for shoes. “There’s thick mud everywhere, and the only footwear many of them have are flip flops or completely inappropriate shoes,” she says. “We were asked for shoes continuously, and ran out of them very quickly.”
The Crisis Aid group are asking local people to donate shoes and have set up collection points around the area, including the Work Link shop on Regent Street in Hinckley. And I’m undertaking a five-mile barefoot walk on behalf of the group on July 3rd in a bid to raise awareness of the refugees’ urgent need for shoes. I’ve no idea of the route or terrain they’re imposing on me, which is also a powerful way of symbolising the uncertain fate of the refugees.
While all sturdy shoes with good soles, such as walking boots or trainers, will be gratefully received, there’s a particular need for sizes 7, 8 and 9.
For more information, check out the dedicated website
And Facebook event page
set up by group member Hannah Moreton.
For over a year now the Bint garden has benefited from three water butts. Two in the back, one at the front. I was absolutely amazed at how quickly they fill up, and they service all the plants and our three water features without the need to resort to the taps or hose.
At first it was more to do with planetary conservation than saving money, as we had fixed water rates. Talking of which, everyone was astonished at how expensive our water rates were. So, taking that latter point into account we looked into water meters.
With the water rates system, the cost of your HIJKLMNO (H to O, H20 gettit?) is based on the rateable value of your property, not on the amount of water consumed – so how much you pay won’t relate to how much water you use. If you live on your own, if you have a small family or if you live in a house with a high rateable value, chances are you’re probably paying too much for your water services.
Yep. We were. And believe me, since we had a meter installed recently, it’s really opened the floodgates to saving money.
When the man came to install it we were given tips and hints on how to save water, and even given some handy little devices for slowing the water flow from shower heads. Oh, and an egg-timer. Don’t forget the egg-timer, which is for placing on the shelf in the shower, and woe betide you if the water is still running when the sands aren’t. He actually gave that to my daughter.
I’m now looking at bringing in my own water-saving strategy as well, which I think is extremely sensible: Imposing a five-pence charge for everyone diluting a glass of squash; The budgie’s water pot is only half-filled, and on every other day instead of daily; Our coffee is made with all milk and heated in the microwave (extra saving there on electric, too – no kettle to boil); and I replace all my other water-based drinks with wine and whisky.
Scrooge, drink your heart out!
Fellow author DM Cain and I have been asked to give an author talk at Newbold Verdon library, and will duly be trundling off there on August 10th to give our audience an insight into our respective publishing journeys, how we create our characters and how we work.
DM largely writes fantasy, and is currently working on her third novel in what is going to be an epic 18 book series. She’s also written a children’s novel, along with a truly disturbing dystopian tale called The Phoenix Project. As you know, my existing books include sci-fi, paranormal and satire. So between us our genres are extremely varied, and hopefully add something to our readers’ lives.
I know my work is not great art or literature – I never set out to make it so, and couldn’t, even if I tried. But I regard myself as a storyteller (It was author Jeffrey Archer who first came up with that one, telling a journalist “Don’t call me a writer, because I’m not. I’m a story-teller”). My fiction is purely to entertain others.
DM and I have entirely different writing processes and ways of working (no spoilers here…shameless plug, come along to “An Evening With 2 Local Authors, Featuring Stewart Bint and D.M. Cain,” at Newbold Verdon Library, Wednesday August 10th, 7.30 pm, to find out why DM and I are so different).
Even world famous, best-selling, novelists have widely differing techniques for bringing their masterpieces to fruition. For instance, Frederick Forsyth undertakes meticulous research, and mentally writes the story before starting to put any words down. Then he goes into what he calls “purdah” and spends upwards of a month bashing out the tale almost word for word what is in his mind.
Whereas the aforementioned Jeffrey Archer writes between 8 and 12 drafts. Horses for courses, and par for the course and all that.
But suffice to say neither of those would work for me. Mainly because my characters frequently ignore me and go off on a tangent doing their own things. So muggins here simply watches what they do and acts as a reporter.
The singing has stopped, the house is silent. The little white car no longer pulls up on the drive at around 4.50 pm every night. Yes, Susie B and I now have the place to ourselves. Daughter has flown the nest and moved into her own house.
We had her at home for 23 years and 6 days – yep, she moved out six days after her 23rd birthday.
She’s a talented singer and dancer, having taken part in countless shows over the years, and my wife and I have spent many a night watching her perfect her routines and listening to her songs. And after she came in from work she raided the fridge for a snack before disappearing upstairs for her daily rigorous workout.
She’s followed in the footsteps of her brother – he’s been nicely settled in his own home for a couple of years.
So, for Sue and me, a new stage of our lives begins. A stage of looking back at what we hope was a happy childhood for both our offspring. I like to think we gave them the best start in life, providing love, comfort and understanding, and always being there for them when they needed us.
Ah, those memories of us taking Charlotte to dancing competitions and shows, and Chris to tennis tournaments throughout the UK and Europe – for a couple of years we took our main holiday in Torquay while Chris competed in the Torbay Open. And I well remember Charlotte winning us a family holiday with her dancing.
Fortunately both Charlotte and Chris live less than quarter of an hour from us, so I guess we’re better off than many parents whose children end up moving many miles away.
The circle of life turns. One moment you’re leaving the nest yourself – I remember so well the day Sue and I moved into our first home and started our wonderful adventure together. Then your own children came along…but all too soon you’re holding back the tears as you proudly watch them setting sail across the world’s uncertain waters as fully independent adults themselves.
Serious Flash Fiction: a 34-page book with 44 stories in it! And all of those stories have up to 129 characters in them! Yes, okay, not characters as in people characters. I’m talking about characters as in the number of letters and spaces in the story.
“WHAT?” I hear you cry. “129 characters to tell a WHOLE story?” Yep. For Twitter afficionados this will all make perfect sense. That particular social media platform restricts individual posts to just 140 characters.
Which was the inspiration for Ben Warden, who has compiled this lovely little project that he describes as “an adventure into a crazy new world of alternative storytelling.”
He posted about it on Twitter, and I was smitten. I submitted my 129-character story, and I’m delighted to say Ben accepted it, and it appears in his quirky little anthology.
Here it is: “Gasping, choking, thrashing around, eyes bulging. Life draining away. Looking up into heartless eyes. The fish out of water died.”
And, as I’m not seeing a penny from this project, I'd just like to share the 5* review of Serious Flash Fiction, that I posted on Amazon:
“Where do I to start to review a 34-page book which has 44 stories in it?
OK, a brief explanation first. Each of the “stories” originally appeared on Twitter under the hashtag #SFFiction. The concept was the brainchild of the anthology’s editor, Ben Warden. While tweets have a maximum character count of 140, Ben’s ruling was, that with the hashtag, the “stories” could not be more than 129 characters in total.
So here we have a wide variety of stories – a brilliant new magician’s trick, someone’s last thoughts as the hangman opens the trapdoor beneath their feet, an assassin’s kill, and a particularly horrific car theft.
“Hope I’ve whet your appetite for this unmissable gem. Ah…now I know how to review it. It’s just gotta be in 129 characters, hasn’t it? A quick read, but one which I can thoroughly recommend. A successfully executed challenge for both established and new writers.”
“Now then, children. It’s not a fairy story. Libraries really did exist in the past.
“And this month and year, September 2116 in the 22nd Century, marks the 100th anniversary of a stout and sturdy band of men and women setting out to save the heritage of Desford Library.
“Libraries had their origins in the English way of life in 1464 and became popular and widespread in the mid 19th Century. A special magical cabinet was created to nurture and look after these wondrous buildings, to encourage everything they stood for in their latter years: homework support for children; free broadband internet and email for those with no home access to it; photocopying and fax facilities; free information and book loans; and information about local history and families.
“But a dark curse spread across the land when the Dickblunter Group ascended and swallowed them up, left, right and centre, just like the whale did to Jonah.
“Dickblunter’s all-consuming flame turned with even greater fury upon the parish of Desford, moving the goalposts in the group’s desperate bid to replace that village focal point with a mobile chariot. Volunteers spoke up and pledged to run the much-loved and much-needed service. But Dickblunter played a previously cunningly concealed Ace: ‘Hold hard,’ it cried. ‘You will also pledge to foot a £45,000 repair bill.’
“Desford’s response was swift and powerful: ‘We will take on an internal lease, where your all-powerful cabinet maintains the fabric of the building. Such precedents have been set with other libraries.’
“But t’was not to be. ‘Away with you,’ cried the rattled Dickblunter Group. ‘That will not come to pass. If no deal is done by the end of September, we will carry out a three-month consultation with the good folk of Desford and then recommend that their library be replaced by a mobile chariot.’
“And so, my children, the Dickblunter Group are long gone. Unfortunately their legacy lives on. Libraries are long gone too.”
How sad is this? I’m writing today’s column with pen and paper by the pool on the first full day of my recent holiday in Crete.
Which just goes to show that as a writer I’m never really off-duty. The idea for this week’s words of wit and wisdom came in the hotel bar (with one of their MASSIVE local brandies in hand) while watching Norway play Germany in a 2018 World Cup Qualifier match.
Arsenal favourite Mesut Özil turned out for Germany, and when I saw his name on the back of his shirt it got me thinking. The umlaut – the two dots above the o –signifies a missing letter, usually an e. So his full surname would be Oezil. Why don’t we do that in English, do away with the letter e altogether and put an umlaut over the preceding letter? A simple additional key on our keyboards could insert the umlaut over any letter, just as the shift key does to make a capital.
English is quirky enough to take this in its stride. After all, a language that pronounces cough as coff, and plough as plow, has a head start in idiosyncrasy. As Homer Simpson would say: “D’oh.” Or should that be “Dough?”
So who’s with me on creating the SOEBUIK pressure group? That’s Scrap Overrated E Because Umlaut Is King. And if any clever Dick suggests that acronym should be SÖBUIK I’ll politely tell you where said umlaut can be not so delicately placed.
Which all goes to remind me, do you remember the days when “encyclopaedia” was written with the a and e joined up in some peculiar way? I think the widespread use of keyboards instead of pens finally did away with that typical English eccentricity.
Although I’m always working (my wife still doesn’t believe I’m working when I’m staring out of the window), I wouldn’t swap a writer’s life for royalties on every non-umlauted u and o in the world.
SOEBUIK aficionados unite – may the ö and ü force be with us.
What’s that old saying: “Manners maketh the man”?
As Susie B nearly always beats me at table tennis I need to grasp every opportunity to gain an advantage. So when she offered me the chance to replay a point on our recent holiday in Crete, I grasped it with both hands.
But what led up to that scenario? In my opinion, an ageing Italian’s total and utter disregard for anyone or anything other than himself, that’s what. What, other than sheer ignorance, leads this 70+ year-old Italian making a beeline for the outdoor bar by taking a shortcut between me and the table tennis table? Not only during a game, but in the middle of a friggin’ point.
Picture the scene: my style of play leads me to hit defensive shots from about six feet behind the table, then rush in to smash winners from close range. So, what the hell? I’m moving in for the kill when he wanders into my path, and is squarely between me and the table when my forehand smash would undoubtedly take Susie B out.
And he’s not even apologetic…just meandering on his way with barely a grunt. Unfortunately he isn’t alone in his thoughtlessness. So many others are equally devoid of basic manners. My Mum and Dad brought me up to think of others and to be courteous in my everyday activities.
For example, I’ll never block a pavement, or aisle in a shop. I’ll never suddenly stop while walking anywhere without looking behind me first. I’ll never talk to anyone without a “please” or “thank you.” And I’ll never do or say anything to deliberately hurt, offend or upset anyone. Basically, I always treat other people exactly how I’d like them to treat me. I’m sure you feel the same (in fact, I can see you nodding your head right now) – but do you think we’re in the minority? I should say we definitely are.
People say it’s the just the way of the world now, and people are what the world has made them. Yes, maybe so. But the world is what people have made IT.
So there’s a new Stewart Bint novel out. The Jigsaw And the Fan. The satirical story of a dead trades unionist who can’t get into heaven or hell because of a strike in the afterlife.
I don’t know how close that book came to never appearing – and I don’t want to know. I’m sure you’re aware of the old saying about being like a duck; calm on the surface while paddling like hell underneath.
Jigsaw was progressing nicely through my publisher’s editing and cover design process when, out of the blue, they announced on May 1st that poor trading conditions meant they were closing down a month later. Which left their 100 or so authors up the narrow, sheltered waterway without the required means of propulsion.
At least they’d already brought two of my novels out in paperback, and my others were still available in e-format, for Kindle, Kobo, iPads, etc, so I wasn’t experiencing the acute, bitter disappointment of a number of their young authors who had been looking forward to their debut novels being published during the summer. But I was wondering if that was it for my career as a novelist.
So, while appearing calm and stoic on the surface, behind the scenes I was frantically weighing up my options. But within days I was given a contract by a Canadian publisher specialising in science fiction, paranormal and fantasy books, Dragon Moon Press.
The original publisher handed back all story rights to me, and, to my mind quite surprisingly but extremely honourably, they also gave the existing cover rights to Dragon Moon. So when all my Booktrope editions were pulled from retailers’ websites around the world at midnight on May 31st, Dragon Moon editions seamlessly replaced them with the same cover – the only difference being the new publisher’s logo on the back and spine, and their name.
So I’m now gliding smoothly through the creek again, with that surface calm and peace reproduced serenely underneath, courtesy of the newly found paddle.
I always thought my maths teacher at school was in love with me, because she put so many red kisses next to my sums.
Now, all these years after those Xs, I get a blue tick. Which probably means nothing to most of you. But to anyone who uses the social media site of Twitter, it means you’ve made it.
Anyone can have a Twitter account – if you want to follow me on Twitter, my handle there is @AuthorSJB – but only a tiny proportion of their monthly 317-million active users are awarded the hallowed tick, which means the account is “verified.”
Twitter says: “An account may be verified if it is determined to be an account of public interest. Typically this includes accounts maintained by users in music, acting, fashion, government, politics, religion, journalism, media, sports, business, and other key interest areas.
But the criteria Twitter uses for verification seems to remain a mystery. For example, novelist Stephen King has the blue tick, but world-renowned authors Paula Hawkins who wrote the incredible bestseller ‘The Girl On The Train,’ Linwood Barclay and David Baldacci don’t.
I may have “made it” more than them on Twitter – but they’ve made it more, where it really counts…in the real world. I’m certainly more than happy with my writing lot; my novels, my PR writing for the world’s leading CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) software developer, and my Flyer column, but I’m hardly a world name, even though my books are sold across the globe.
But is there some magical fine line that you suddenly cross one day, to have ‘made it’? My Mum probably offered up the best explanation many years ago when I told her I thought music legend Mike Oldfield would have more imagination than to buy a Rolls Royce. Why not something exotic like a Ferrari or Lamborghini, I argued.
“No,” said my Mum. “When you can afford a Rolls Royce, you know you’ve made it.” I think if the offer came my way, I might just swap that blue tick for a Rolls Royce.
When I began my working life in 1974 the jobs and retirement tide was just beginning to turn. No longer were people expecting to have a job for life, with the men retiring at 65 and women at 60. “You may have three or four jobs during your lifetime, and with a personal pension plan you will probably be able to retire at 60,” they all said (whoever THEY were).
And as I progressed through my career (with considerably more than the quoted three or four jobs) 60 was pushed harder and harder by the financial advisers as being that golden age of being able to take my personal pension, years earlier than qualifying for the state pension.
But we all know what happened to the British economy, and suddenly the value of pension pots plummeted.
And I doubt even God knows what’s going to happen to pensions now as the ridiculously nervous banking and financial industry has premature kittens over the effect of Brexit. It all adds up to the somewhat alarmist headlines “Working till you drop.”
Okay, while I don’t want it to be anywhere near that extreme, I’m personally happy to continue working while both mentally and physically capable of it. But that’s only because I enjoy my job as a writer so much. I fully appreciate that many people loathe their jobs, or are doing heavy manual labour and their bodies simply can’t take it after years of such graft.
Stringing a few words together so they make enough sense for people to want to read them is something I regard as a great privilege, as is the fact that I work from home for all three of my writing roles—my novels, my Public Relations writing, and my Flyer column. Many people take up writing as a hobby, for fun, when they retire. I’m fortunate in that my hobby has been my life’s work, albeit the fiction side of my writing only taking hold when my first novel was published in 2012.
So what would I do if I retired? My Dad died less than 12 months after he retired: ‘nuff said?
“Oh no, not another,” he muttered, his boots sliding a little on the snowy roof tiles.
Behind him, Rudolph snorted and stomped his hoof, sending a small avalanche down the slope and over the guttering, to land with a resounding ‘gloop’ on the snow-covered patio beneath.
“Sshhh,” hissed Santa. “They’ll hear you.”
Too late. Inside, David had been awoken by the clatter on the roof and was already scampering to the window. He turned to his little brother, Harry, who was right on his heels; eyes shining. “It’s got to be him.” Awe and wonder filled his voice. Harry’s three-year-old brain could accept Santa being on the roof, but couldn’t fathom how he would get inside to deliver all their presents.
“Santa’s got a magic key,” David reminded him, smugly. Oh, did Harry know nothing? After all, he, David, was six and knew oodles about everything. “It’s how Santa gets into everyone’s houses,” he told his brother. “And he only has to change the battery every hundred years.”
Just a few feet above their heads, Santa shook his head, his eyes scanning the blank, featureless roof. “Not another one,” he repeated. “I reckon we’ll be needing the magic key for quite a while around here.” Reaching into the voluminous red folds covering his ample girth, he pulled out a silver chain, containing one shiny golden key with a green LED light at its tip.
Standing as he was, alongside the toy-laden sleigh on David and Harry’s roof, he could see that nothing rose to break the monotony of the whole estate’s roofline. “New houses with their central heating certainly make our job harder, don’t they? Just look at that – not a chimney in sight anywhere.
“Come on Rudolph, old boy, take us down to the front door. Every year there are more and more houses with no chimneys.” He tightened his grip on the key. “This is the only way to get in and make sure all these wonderful little children have a very Merry Christmas.”
Hope and reality. Are they two sides of the same coin?
Or even the same side, just viewed from a different perspective? For many people, every New Year (oh, yes – Happy New Year everyone) starts with such hope and optimism. But as Father Time scythes his way through the months we all hop back on the old cycle of reality.
I’ve only ever written two poems in my life, and only one of those has been published professionally. Here’s my second offering, looking at hope and reality, and how those two poles may actually be one and the same: it just takes a different perspective, as I hope the final line explains:
What is the point? Can anyone tell me, does anyone know?
Time’s in reverse, just go with the flow.
With the sun and the moon aloft in the sky,
The reaper can’t land, so off he must fly.
When attacking the weak, the strong think they are brave
While the Watcher awaits, on top of a grave.
The time is a’coming, the Cloud Master will rise
“But who will oppose the Dream Witch,” he sighs.
When nightmares turn real, and dreams are forsaken
You knock on the door, hoping to waken.
When the mind is so pushed that the barriers stretch,
The unreal becomes real, then darkness falls.
The mind is so fragile and easily snapped.
So what does it take to pull back from the brink?
As winds blow on over; the lands howl out their song,
Deaf ears are hearing that everything’s wrong.
The stars are ablaze, their fire so intense,
The moon is so cold, your mind makes no sense.
If people could see the damage they do,
The dead would sing, that much is true.
For when you are dead, they’ll see it’s too late.
The edge was too close, but that was your fate.
They pushed too hard, and over you went.
Just one last prayer bursts forth from your lips.
But the Dream Witch is here, with her hands on her hips.
The war on sepsis is hotting up. It’s almost a year since I wrote about this life-threatening condition which kills 44,000 people in the UK each year. That’s more than bowel cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer put together.
Basically, sepsis arises when the body’s response to an infection goes wrong and injures its own tissues and organs. To save a life, early recognition and getting basic treatments such as antibiotics and fluids into the patient WITHIN THE FIRST HOUR, are vital.
Thanks to the incredible work of The UK Sepsis Trust and its supporters and volunteers, word is getting out there. Awareness is growing all the time.
The media are also playing their part. Plus, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has launched an initiative to help parents spot the signs in children. But he also says the medical profession should up their game as well: “We need to get far better at spotting it across the NHS. By raising awareness and improving clinical practice we will save lives in the fight against this horrible illness.”
Some of the symptoms to look out for: Slurred Speech; Extreme shivering or muscle pain; Passing no urine in a day; Severe breathlessness; Losing consciousness; Discoloured or mottled skin; Very high or low temperature; Racing heart beat; Rapid, shallow breathing.
It’s not just health professionals fighting sepsis. There are many ways that volunteers can help. Personally, I promote sepsis awareness regularly to my 13,000 Twitter followers, and just before Christmas I delivered leaflets and symptom cards to my local primary school, medical centre, Bosworth College’s Desford campus, and, while walking round it seemed like hundreds of, households in my village.
Thanking me for my delivery efforts, Sepsis Trust CEO Dr Ron Daniels BEM said: “We need an army of folk like you.” So, please email the Sepsis Trust at [email protected] and ask for some leaflets and cards. Or look at all the fund-raising and volunteering opportunities on their website: www.sepsistrust.org.
I agree wholeheartedly with Hinckley and Bosworth Lib Dem Borough Councillor Bill Crooks over his concern about local fly-tipping.
In a recent newsletter from the group he is quoted as saying policies from the ruling Conservatives on Leicestershire County Council and the Borough Council are responsible for an increase in fly tipping.
Well, yes, anyone with an inkling of common sense can see that the Tories’ attacks on hard working families by taxing brown bins and slashing the opening hours of domestic waste tips is going to have that effect. He is quite right to highlight it, and show us the folly of uncaring councils riding rough-shod, yet again, over the people they serve.
But hold hard. Er, hello Lib Dems…pot/kettle and all that. Let me remind you of the opening sentence of my Flyer column of September 19th, 2014: “Is it any wonder that there appears to be an increase in fly tipping when in my humble opinion the Borough Council are actually encouraging it.”
And this was before the Borough Council was in Conservative control. This was when the Lib Dems ran it. I went on to write about how their recycling policies were draconian, and how their hard-line dictatorship on recycling would have the opposite effect of what they were hoping to achieve.
The local Lib Dems are now accusing County and Borough Council Conservatives of doing what they did: different modus operandi, but the same result. By not having the wit or common sense to bring in waste disposal and recycling policies that will actually work and be supported by we mere mortals, both political parties – Lib Dems at Borough level in 2014, and now the Tories at both County and Borough level – have played a major role in increasing fly tipping. The Dunning-Kruger effect in all its glory.
Oh, and who was in charge of recycling on the Borough Council in those good old Lib Dem days, whose policies were encouraging fly tipping? Councillor Bill Crooks, that’s who. Well and truly hoist with your own petard, Councillor Crooks.
I reckon God must have been having a giraffe when He assembled me.
Why else would He bless me with a palate capable of discerning and fully appreciating fine food and wines (and not forgetting a good malt whisky or two), while at the same time cursing me with an appetite so small that I readily feel intimidated at the mere sight of a well-piled plate? In fact, a friend who runs her own respected eatery, finds my intimidation by food to be quite hilarious.
I suppose you could even say that in the early days of my writing career I was a real glutton for punishment, in that one of my roles was a restaurant critic. Once a week for a couple of years I had to trundle off to restaurants throughout the length and breadth of Derbyshire, sample their often huge delights, and write about them objectively.
But to be fair, the curse has never really put me off enjoying the benefits of the blessing, and savouring my meal. I just make up my mind to only eat what I feel comfortable with, and never mind that when I’ve finished there’ll probably be more food left on the plate, than I’ve eaten.
That philosophy works nicely in the home kitchen, too. I love to cook, particularly fish, and have even created my own recipes for Seabass and Haddock, And it all means I can ensure my portions are all perfectly sized, because I sometimes have to supervise when Susie B cooks and dishes up. Even after almost 35 years of marriage she still sometimes tests my food intimidation to the full.
So for me, it’s always been a case of quality rather than quantity, which is why I find restaurants serving nouveau cuisine to be particularly attractive. I well remember a rare occasion when I was able to completely clear my plate in a restaurant and saying: “Perfect. There’s nothing better than small portions.” And a family friend who was eating with us just looked totally forlorn and said: “There’s nothing worse than small portions.”
Horses for courses, I suppose. Oh, and talking of horses…actually, no. I couldn’t eat one.
Many congratulations to The Flyer on its 100th edition today.
I well remember the first edition dropping through my letterbox in late 2012, and a couple of editions later seeing their story about one of my early novels being published. Then, two issues after that – edition five – my first column appeared.
And what a journey The Flyer has undertaken ever since. Probably the most respected magazine of its kind in the area – certainly the most professional in its approach to both advertisers and readers, it continues to go from strength to strength.
A gripe I have about most magazines of a similar size, no matter where they circulate in the UK, is that their editorial content is poor to say the least, and in many cases virtually non-existent. They frequently consist almost entirely of advertisements and nationally syndicated generic columns, which mean they are ideal to keep in a drawer until you need the services of one of their advertisers, but they don’t appeal to readers.
But not so The Flyer, which has always lived up to its strapline of “The Nurtured Book Of News And Advertisement,” by publishing the perfect mix of attractive editorial and adverts.
Life is never easy for the type of small businesses and organisations which form The Flyer’s lifeblood, but being a small business itself, The Flyer readily understands their challenges, and provides a tailored service for them. And a tailored service for readers with news, information, advice and entertainment.
Also, its truly local aspect goes beyond the local adverts and local news – the columns being written by local people; namely Steve and Ann Finnemore alternating their therapy and wellbeing articles; and of course, my own Up Close And Personal column, so how could you possibly resist?
So, here we are, just over four years into The Flyer’s journey and a great milestone as the edition numbers click over from two figures to three – I love that magical hundred. Here’s to the next century.
With me, what you see is what you get.
No phoney aspects, airs or graces. Always honest, open and transparent in everything I say and do. I’m just me. But it does depend, of course, which side of me you’re looking at. Is it the public me or the private me?
Because they are different. Not the real in-depth me – that stays the same. But whether it’s Stewart Bint the writer out in the world at large who you’re looking at, or Stewart Bint the family man focusing on wife Susie B, two children Chris and Charlotte, and charismatic budgie Alfie, I will be different.
My author talks always show the outward going, extrovert side to my nature, which is perhaps a little bit of an act, playing to my audience, putting on a show for them. Whether they’re delivered to school children, villagers in libraries, other writers at writing groups…and I’ve recently been asked to audition to join the speakers circuit for Womens Institutes…that will be the public me.
And a few months ago I was the hour-long guest on BBC Radio Leicester’s Afternoon Show. The presenter said afterwards I was one of the best guests he’d had. That’s because I owed it to both Radio Leicester and their listeners to be entertaining, not just simply talk about my books.
However, when I’m not in author-mode, I’m just a shy little stay-at-home retiring wallflower. But I like to think that some of the things built into my DNA from my loving and caring parents…such as being kind, helpful and considerate to everyone…are always bubbling along just under the surface.
Also, whether you see the public or the private me, I do hope that openness, honesty and transparency shines through. Because if it doesn’t, I’ll be dumping Stewart Henry Jekyll Bint and introducing Stewart Edward Hyde Bint.
So why am I looking at the two characters residing within me? Well, one of my favourite books, Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde was published just over 131 years ago. And how it’s stood the test of time.
New figures show that half of all crimes in Hinckley and Bosworth over the past year remain unsolved.
However, from what I know of the police today they do an extremely difficult job in extremely difficult circumstances, extremely well. Anyone who criticises the police in my presence, does so at their peril.
In my view, the Conservatives must take much of the blame…after all, our police force is funded through what are currently three Tory channels: the Home Office, the Department for Communities and Local Government, and the police precept component of local council tax.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of a single police force in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, and over the years it’s developed with society and technology, striving to uphold the motto, “Protecting Our Communities.” And continues to do so. The only problem is, there are now more ways for the bad guys to be bad.
Writing exclusively for my blog a few weeks ago, Leicetershire’s Chief Constable Simon Cole showed how local policing has moved forward in ways the world couldn’t have anticipated. For example, departments now accept enquiries from the public through social media, officers hold live web chats with the community, and respond to messages on Twitter, regardless of whether it’s a serious concern or lighthearted conversation, just as they would on the street.
As Simon says, policing needs to exist where communities exist, and nowadays that means cyber space, digital forensics and cyber patrol. “Local policing is now global, and global policing is now local. Policing has always evolved to deal with a changing world. The cyber world will be no different for policing, and we must move with the times to meet that demand too.”
But if the Tories don’t fund the police sufficiently for them do to the job we all need them to do, then our fury should not be directed at Simon Cole and his team. It should be directed at Westminster.
Support what you love, not bash what you hate.
This has long been my philosophy. And talking of philosophy and getting philosophical, I’m wondering if that was subconsciously instilled into me during my time studying English Literature at Grammar School in the 1960s and 1970s.
Vaguely lurking in the shadows in the dim recesses at the back of my mind I seem to recall a quote from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre which was my GCE ‘O’ level book (yes this was in the days of long, long ago, before GCSEs came in): “Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs.”
OK, we all sometimes get the urge to publicly knock something that we don’t like, or we think is wrong. But isn’t it all about perception? One person’s meat is another person’s poison, and all that jazz?
And one of the first things I learned after switching careers from broadcasting to Public Relations writing, is that negative marketing is an absolute and definite no-no. I was told you never, ever, attack another organisation in your PR and marketing material. If Organisation A does something weak, poor or downright bad, you don’t point it out – instead, you accentuate how your product or service overcomes certain issues (those issues, of course, being exactly what Organisation A is doing).
The reason for this positive, not negative, approach is that if the person or organisation you are attacking changes tack and puts their house in order, you’ve nowhere to go.
So, taking those aspects into account I always practice what I preach in this respect. My main communication channel these days is Twitter, where day after day I see horrendous tweets, by, let’s face it, horrendous people, attacking someone, something, or some organisation. All that negativity simply attracts more negativity…not only to the target, but to the perpetrator as well.
Also, I’ve seen perfectly good people become corrupted in the real world as well as online, by being too close to those with such a horrible, negative outlook.
So I reckon I’m a Johnny-come-lately at the party. This is my 100th column for the Flyer – but the Flyer itself celebrated its own 100th edition a few weeks back.
Over the last four years I’ve written about a wide variety of subjects. And what fun it is. Some of my columns have been controversial, some funny and some sad.
I love it when my readers interact with me. For instance, I literally lost count of the number of comments I received about the hair on my grandmother’s slice of cake. Fellow author DM Cain says: “Oh I love it when you have a rant.” And I’ll never forget local poet, children’s author and illustrator Joanne Kavanagh telling me she was “in bits” after reading a column about my Dad, who died when I was 11, in 1967.
Two columns have even been written while on holiday, because the ideas just came to me, and I knew I had to get it all down, or like an ephemeral memory of a dream, the words would have vanished into the ether like Cinderella’s carriage at midnight.
I give praise where it’s due, and criticise where I believe it’s deserved. For instance, the antics of our local councils – mainly when they do something that defies logic and common sense, it has to be said – have provided me with a frequent source of ideas.
In all this time I’ve only ever been stuck for a subject once. There I was, on deadline day, with a blank computer screen and not an inkling of an idea. So I posted on Twitter, appealing for possible subjects to write about. And my followers inundated me with ideas. Within an hour I had the next column written, and topics squirrelled away for future use.
My column has also spawned two compilation ebooks – the first published in October 2014, featuring all my words of wit and wisdom up to that point. And the second volume is officially launched today. Both volumes are available from my author page on Amazon:
Last but not least this week, I’d like to thank Sarah Holdsworth and the Flyer team for giving me carte blanche to write about anything I like in my column. Here’s to the next hundred and the next four years.
About the author
Stewart Bint is an international novelist published by Dragon Moon Press.
Active awareness campaigner for mental health and sepsis. Named on the 2016 list of “Inspirational Mental Health Advocates that are changing the world.”
Previous roles include radio presenter, newsreader and phone-in host.
Married to Sue, with two grown-up children, Chris and Charlotte, and a charismatic budgie called Alfie
Lives in Leicestershire, UK. Usually goes barefoot.
The Jigsaw And The Fan
In Shadows Waiting
Short story collection:
Up Close And Personal
Anthologies contributed to:
Ghostly Writes Anthology 2016
Looking Into The Abyss
December Awethology Light
Serious Flash Fiction
Connect with Stewart Bint online:
Stewart Bint’s website:
Stewart Bint’s blog: [+ http://stewartbintauthor.weebly.com/stewart-bints-blog+]
Buy Stewart Bint’s books:
Stewart Bint, USA Amazon author page:
Stewart Bint, UK Amazon author page:
Stewart Bint, BooksAMillion: [+ http://www.booksamillion.com/search?id=6589901766570&query=Stewart+Bint&where=All+]
Novelist Stewart Bint writes a regular column in a fortnightly magazine, The Flyer, ranging from the intensely personal, humorous and hard hitting controversy, to sheer whimsy. This is the second compilation book of those columns., taking us from October 2014 to May 2017, and is published to coincide with the author's 100th column. Topics include cold calling, smoking, dreams, the supernatural, going barefoot, retirement, why we should abolish the letter 'e' in the English language, manners, children flying the nest, the author's involvement in charities, and supporting what you love instead of bashing what you hate. An extremely diverse range of subjects. Something for everyone.