Friday, 17 November 2017

MY FRIEND, DAVID SIGGERS

Authors look for stories to tell. They seek pegs on which to hang the meanings they weave from their observations and reflections.

I have a peg for this blog. He is a real flesh-and-blood hook. He lives in the London Borough of Brent in what used to be called a council-house and he spends his life in a bed attached to various pieces of equipment that support him during the day and night. Occasionally, in an emergency, an ambulance will arrive and speed him across London to St Thomas' hospital across the Thames from the Palace of Westminster - and then some days later return him to his Willesden home. Let me introduce you to David Siggers who was born on July 9, 1960 when I was nearing the end of my first year at Dartford Grammar school in Kent.

David aged around seven - with Christine, his mum - Wembley stadium in the background - David notes that at the time the Siggers family were the only family living there - the whole area had been brought up by Brent council so they could knock all the houses down and build one big housing estate - hence the rather dilapidated background - the whole area was a playground of empty houses and gardens! David comments that he is standing, in his plimsolls (it's all trainers now!) on tiptoe. A classic sign of a child with Duchenne's muscular dystrophy.  


I first met David in the early 1980s when I was teaching at Aylestone Community School in Brent. The school that I had joined as Head of History in 1977 was now offering its Sixth Form (Years 12 and 13) teaching to adults from the local community as well as its internal students who were aged 16 and over. David was in my GCSE History 'O' level class for one year - and passed with a Grade A. The following year, he entered my GCE History 'A' level class and took the exam after a


Monday, 23 October 2017

ONE, TWO, THREE, EYES ON ME! - NEO-LIBERAL SCHOOL DISCIPLINE

Not for the first time - see for instance this post in praise of James Meek , I am indebted to the London Review of Books - the LRB - for inspiration. The title for this present blog is taken, in part, directly from the LRB article of 5 October 2017, written by George Duoblys on 'the new school discipline'. I inadvertently first wrote 'the new school nightmare' and then realised my mistake. My subconscious had taken control of my fingers. The shock engendered by reading this piece by Duoblys left me determined to share my feelings with you through cyberspace but I needed time to recover. The beliefs and practices that underpinned a working lifetime in the classroom - my thirty-plus years of public service - are under attack as never before. And I'm only now catching up with this new reality.

There is a parallel here with the neo-liberal assault on the NHS and the provision of social care. Only in that area, I was up-to-speed - see my posts in praise of Dr Youssef El-Gingihy's excellent analysis of the Tory conspiracy to privatise our health service: 'How to Dismantle the NHS in 10 Easy Steps'. But nearly ten years have passed since I was an actor in the classroom and I had little idea of the consequences of the changes in the structure of our schools that Tory politicians, with Lib Dem support for five years, have engineered since 2010 - and New Labour pioneered before that.

My 1st Year (Year Seven) form in my Brent comprehensive - 1978 - plus two non-members on the back row, extreme right, who turned up unnoticed by me for the photo opportunity. I remained this group's form tutor for the five years of their secondary schooling. They did well.  


Let me take you for a ride through London academy classrooms in the twenty-teens. George Duoblys is our conductor. Until December last year, he had been working as a physics teacher at the City Academy in Hackney, a brand-new comprehensive built to replace a school notorious for ill-discipline and gang warfare. I applaud the fresh start approach - who wouldn't? - although I have


Sunday, 15 October 2017

JAGO STONE AND JEREMY CORBYN - OXFORD DISCOVERIES IN OCTOBER 2017

'The Road to Corbyn' talk at the Redwing Gallery in July 2017 given by the author
Yesterday's blog told the story of my Oxford Half-Marathon last Sunday. Today's post is focused on literary matters, specifically my first book: The Road to Corbyn and the biography of the artist, Jago Stone (1928-88) that I am researching and writing at present.

First, let me explain about my monthly MailChimp Newsletter that's designed to bring those who are interested in the biography of Jago Stone up-to-date with developments. At present I have 41 subscribers and 29 'Opens' so far for the October edition. Here's a link if you haven't signed up for these free Newsletters - 'Jago' MailChimp Newsletters. Do please open the October edition and read if you haven't done so already. I am using the Newsletter for two purposes: first, to get information to those who are most interested even before I post material on my blog - and second, to give publishers and agents when I approach them from January 2018 a sense of the public interest in this project. Some of the material in this blog is taken from the latest Newsletter but by no means all.

Before we left for Greece at the beginning of September, I did put the finishing touches to the first six chapters - around 28,500 words - of 'Jago', the biography of Jago Stone, and circulated copies of that

Saturday, 14 October 2017

RUNNING THE OXFORD HALF MARATHON IN 2017

The Oxford Half Marathon was last Sunday. A year ago, I had run this relatively new event for the first time and was very excited beforehand at the prospect of running through streets and along roads so very familiar. I remember the run itself did not disappoint - although I was sad to find that my legs faded at around eight and a half miles and I had speed-walked/run the last four and a half miles finishing in 02:36:21. I had squeezed in some long runs before the race after returning from three weeks in Greece with no running but the preparation was not the best.

Paying the price of lack of preparation in 2016 - but heh! this is the Radcliffe Camera and Oxford where I was an undergraduate from 1967-70.

This year, the training was even worse. True, I had clocked up a month of long runs in August but the combination of no running in Greece and only two short runs on our return meant I was very ill-prepared. The evening before, I started jogging to the bus-stop and pulled up short with a twinge in the right knee. Later, I walked back the mile and a half from the centre of Oxford - where I had been


Wednesday, 27 September 2017

W J BROWN (2015), 'A NOTE FROM WINTERBOTTOM' - BURIED TREASURE IN CORNWALL

This is a birthday blog - my 69th on 24.09.17 - and to celebrate I want to sing the praises of a fellow writer down here on the tip of Cornwall. Press this text here to find the link to the book - 'A note from Winterbottom' - on Amazon. I'd like to urge you to purchase it from a local bookseller for all the reasons you would expect me to cite as an author who takes his socialism seriously but it is only available from Print on Demand on Amazon, as a paperback or on Kindle - although the Edge of the World bookshop in Penzance does have one copy (and one copy of my 'The Road to Corbyn') . Self-publication is fraught with difficulties. Without further ado, here is a picture of the front-cover:




Let me tell you the story of how I came to read this book and why I am devoting this blog to my recommendation that you get a copy and read this extraordinary book for yourself.

Louise and I returned yesterday from our secular vacation on the holy island of Patmos in the Aegean. Three weeks seeking the three Rs - rest, recovery, and recharging. I can report back: Mission accomplished. The place never fails to work its healing magic. But then there is a good and thought-provoking precedent for its inspirational nature - the early follower of Jesus the Nazarene known as


Saturday, 26 August 2017

JAGO STONE AND THE BAR STOOL FANTASIES

I have been writing hard and I think well throughout the summer. 'Jago' - the biography of James Henry Stone - is taking firm shape. Chapters 1and 2 have now been written and join the drafts of the already completed Chapters 4, 5 and 6. The completion of Chapter 3 - centred on the autobiography: 'The Burglar's Bedside Companion' -  remains my aim over this next week before we take our break on the Aegean island of Patmos. This post is designed to provide a taste of the biography by sharing with you the opening of Chapter 2: THE  BAR STOOL FANTASIES OF A CAD'.

Before I turn to these pages, I should explain that there has been a fresh discovery in my online detective story - the search for information about the artist. The new find has prompted this particular focus on 1983. Readers familiar with these blogs will recall my post telling the story of the visit to Aberystwyth at the end of June this year and the wonder of viewing and transcribing 23 minutes of Jago being interviewed in 1969. Here's the link if you missed it first time or would like to revisit. A week or so ago, I received an email from Owain Meredith, archivist at ITV Wales. Owain had already been very helpful and now he was telling me that he had discovered another piece of film that featured Jago - only three minutes or so but an interview nevertheless and this time from 1983. That was the same year as the Bar Stool interview with the Sunday Express journalist - have I been blessed!

'Untitled' - Jago Stone - Bardon, 1968


More on that 1983 film interview another time. Here for your interest is the beginning of my second chapter from the biography. The paintings that accompany the text are a selection from Jago Stone's extraordinarily large 'catalogue'.


Chapter 2

THE BAR STOOL FANTASIES OF A CAD

There is no doubt that Denis Pitts’ take on Jago in 1983 and Jago’s own testimony from the bar in the ‘Up the Garden Path Inn’ in Manton, near Marlborough in Wiltshire shape any reader’s initial sense of the character of Mr Stone. Effortlessly, it seems, Jago holds court from his bar stool throne and unfolds the stories of his misdeeds. The Sunday Express writer records the flow of

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

JAGO STONE AND THE MEDIA


As spring turned to summer in 1983, the 'Sunday Express' published a feature-length article on Jago Stone, headlined 'The Bar Stool Fantasies of a Cad'. That admirable piece of journalism by Denis Pitts, one of Fleet street's most accomplished writers, provides the initial focus for Chapter 2 in my biography of Jago. My late father-in-law, Ronald Watkins (see my eulogy for Ronald using this link) had given us the faded newspaper cutting sometime in the late 1990s. Only then did we learn that the artist, Jago Stone, whose palette-knife and oil paintings graced the walls in our home, had spent nearly twenty years in gaol before he was released in 1967 at the age of 39.
Jago's gift to my wife, Louise, presented as he left the Gerrards Cross area around 1970

When I first read this piece – and for a long time afterwards, I had little reason to move beyond what Denis Pitts sets out as his impression of Jago – a bit of a card, a bar stool character in his mid-fifties, an affable English eccentric proud of being a reformed gaolbird. That of course was exactly what Jago was acting out. He had the pub regulars as his audience and a man come up from London to do the interview. The playhouse of the local hostelry provided the perfect setting for his performance. And what a brilliant choice of venue for the interview. The pub was called ‘Up the Garden Path’. Jago, the pied piper, leading his listeners on. Yet it was all true. As Denis says, the