On Beyoncé, and the cruel reality of human kind

As a student and lover of all things past, I always found the lessons of history to be both terrifying and salutary.

And yet, when I hear of another conflict in some far-flung corner of the world, I am saddened that so much of humankind doesn’t seem to have learnt from that history, and has made so little progress from those days when we clothed ourselves in animal skins and made fire with flints and tinder.

In that, I am not referring to technological progress; our ability to develop and apply technology has been remarkable. I am referring to the evolution of our innate ability to show compassion and kindness to those around us, and to accept the social responsibility that comes with being the planet’s dominant species.

Yesterday morning I watched the singer Beyoncé, admitting that she had lip-synced her way through The Star Spangled Banner, during the recent presidential inauguration, and it got me thinking.

English: The Star Spangled Banner

Now I’m not interested in debating the political implications of a pop singer doing what pop singers have done for the last fifty years, and miming to a recording, but I did wonder why she had felt compelled to do such a thing at such an historic and important event.

For those, sadly too few, of you who have read my previous ramblings, you will know that I despise a celebrity culture that fetes ordinary individuals for no other reason than their ferocious ambition and fluke luck. I consider it to be inane, and patently unfair to genuinely talented individuals.

However, Beyoncé clearly doesn’t come into that category. The girl is both easy on the eye and hugely talented. So why would such a genuine talent feel the need to deceive us in such a way?

The answers come thick and fast. The weather wasn’t conducive. The proper sound checks hadn’t been completed. She’d had so little time to rehearse. The ambient noise might have polluted the rendition.  The microphone might have dissolved in her hand.

All perfectly plausible, well, apart from the last, but all symptoms that conveniently ignore the underlying disease.

The real answer is, of course, simple. . .  One of the most talented and famous singers in the world was scared to death of perceived failure.

Now I couldn’t have cared less if her voice had cracked and her knickers had fallen down, in fact it would probably have endeared her to me, because to my way of thinking the occasion was all that mattered. Beyoncé was honouring her nation and saluting a great man at a special moment in history. The quality of her performance was, and rightly should have been, secondary. However, there are a great many people in our society who could and would have slated her for anything less than perfection. . . and therein lies the problem.

Over the centuries, we in the west have apparently become sophisticated and educated. We no longer repeat the atrocities of the past, because we have learnt through bitter experience that such horrors as The Circus Maximus, The Inquisition, and two World Wars, not to mention those genocidal atrocities for which we must all bear some responsibility, were not only acts of unspeakable inhumanity and cruelty but also terrifying examples of mankind’s ignorance. We have learnt, through those same lessons from history, that anger and resentment can soon breed hatred, and that hatred is so often born of that same dangerous ignorance.

Or have we?

Isn’t the real truth that, although we appear to have become more educated and socially tolerant, beneath that veneer of 21st century sophistication lurks a massive underclass filled with anger and resentment.

Which brings me back to Beyoncé and the accursed celebrity culture.

Just as race and religion are still used as excuses for terrorism and warfare, so the celebrity culture has become a catalyst for anger and hidden resentment.

You see, while Joe Soap is slaving away at his menial nine to five labours, scratching a meagre living and wondering why the world seems such an unfair place, many of our celebrities are living in the lap of luxury and looking down their noses at the world. Now I’m a massive fan of The Rolling Stones, but when Mick Jagger castigates the ‘Doom and Gloom’ that he apparently hears and sees all around him, he fails to appreciate that the rest of the world isn’t comprised of multi-millionaire superstars immune to the hardships of our current economic woes.

English: Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones NYC...

The Fourth Estate knows it. That is why any headline that implies some sort of celebrity ‘faux pas’ or ‘indiscretion’ is guaranteed to increase sales.

Television companies know it. That is why shows such as The X factor, and America’s Got Talent, and Celebrity Dancing on Ice, and Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, are so popular. Their popularity is, in part, because ordinary people want to see the talent on display, but also because a great many of them want to see all those amazingly fortunate celebrities and celebrity wannabe’s making fools of themselves or falling flat on their arrogant and ambitious faces. It’s the ‘downfall of the pampered’, the ‘embarrassing disaster that will cheer everyone up’ syndrome.

Poor old Beyoncé knew it, too. Because for every man, woman, and child who enjoys her singing and dancing, and for every teenage cutie wannabe, hoping to emulate her phenomenal success, and for every male fantasist, ogling those magnificent feminine curves, there are a dozen more just waiting to tear down an icon.

That was the real reason she couldn’t take the chance of delivering anything other than a faultless performance. It’s all down to the fact that we in the 21st century may not be quite so predisposed to violence, but in many ways we really haven’t evolved from the lynch mob mentality of those days of Ancient Rome.

Have a good one.

End of year thoughts. . .

Well, the new  year is almost upon us, and I can’t say I’m sorry, because 2012 has been an annus horribilis for so many reasons.

The year began with The Costa Concordia disaster, and the loss of thirty innocent lives, and ended with the massacre of twenty-six innocents in Newtown Connecticut. Both tragedies were, arguably, preventable, but somehow I think that only the Costa Concordia disaster will see any meaningful measures taken to prevent a recurrence.

Some say the answer to the Newtown massacre is a ban on handguns, but I just don’t know.

Irrespective of how unfair, unconstitutional, and undemocratic, the lobbying power of the NRA is, I don’t see how amending The Constitution to deny ordinary decent and law-abiding people the right to defend themselves against cranks and lunatics, can possibly bring an end to such tragedies.

Here in the UK we have no fundamental or constitutional right to bear arms. Following the Hungerford massacre of 1987 semi-automatic centre-fire cartridge rifles were banned, weapon sales strictly limited, and gun licenses equally-strictly controlled, and yet we still saw the horrific tragedy of The Dunblane Primary School massacre just nine years later. This was followed by another amendment to the firearms act in 1997, which effectively made owning firearms illegal in The UK, and yet, thirteen years after that, we saw a lone gunman in Cumbria kill twelve people before turning the gun on himself.

I just don’t have the answers, and I’m not sure that anybody else does. All I do know is that my heart goes out to all those parents, family members, and neighbours who have been so devastated by such a wholly evil and terrible event.

On a lighter, and yet still serious, note; 2012 saw the end of freedom of speech in The U.K.

It began with a racist insult, allegedly, made by John Terry, a former England soccer captain, to an opponent during a match, and ended with the English Football Association overruling a ‘not guilty’ court ruling, and effectively banning any comment that might imply or include some sort of racist slur or insult.

On this I have to agree with Voltaire. Freedom of speech is a fundamental right in any civilized society, irrespective of the diatribe spoken and the apparent ignorance of the speaker. When we start to erode that fundamental right, we cause all manner of problems down the line.

Like many others, I have no time for any form of racism, or for the man in question and his alleged behaviour, but when organisations overrule the courts of the land, irrespective of the weasel words used to justify that process, they place us and them on a very slippery slope.

Freedom of speech is fundamental to democracy, and the rule of law is the cornerstone of that democracy. Did we learn nothing from The McCarthy era, or from all of those Warsaw Pact police states?

On a personal note, 2012 was a very sad time for my own family. During the year we lost three of our five Burmese cats, and now the house feels very empty without them. Never let anyone tell you that pets don’t give and generate love, and never let anyone tell you that their passing causes anything other than acute heartache and pain. We will miss Monty and Fred and Suki very much, and we will always remember how their living so enriched our home, our family, and our lives.

But on to 2013. The year during which I will become the world’s number one best-selling author, the year during which my ship comes in, the year during which. . . well, who can tell, but I’m sure it won’t be as sad and as bad for me as 2012 has been.

Because that is the true beauty of any New Year: It gives us all hope. It rekindles the flame of aspiration, and it offers each of us a new beginning and a fresh start.

And so I wish each of you a Very Happy Christmas, and a New Year filled with all that you wish for yourselves.

Have a good one.

Digital Book Today – Author Interview #132

Author Interview #132: the Folks at Fifty-Eight by Michael Patrick Clark

November 12, 2012


The Folks at Fifty-EightOur author interview today is with Michael Patrick Clark author of The Folks at Fifty-Eight (4.3 stars, 24 reviews). Before we get to the interview a brief book description: Gerald Hammond is the exception to the rule; an honourable spy, whose lofty principles have brought him nothing but loneliness and isolation. Catherine Schmidt is the stunning young daughter of an assassinated spymaster, whose murderous quest for vengeance has left her at the mercy of the infamous Head of Soviet State Security. On a covert operation, in Soviet-occupied Germany, Hammond has no knowledge of the unseen forces that sponsor and oppose his mission. He only knows that he must somehow save her to save himself, but, as ever-more disturbing revelations come to light, begins to wonder which poses the greater threat; the enemy he runs from, or the friend he runs to? Set against a factual background of government conspiracy, and one of the most audacious espionage coups in history, the Folks at Fifty-Eight is a beautifully-paced tale of seduction, betrayal, blackmail, and murder that blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction.

Author Interview with Michael Patrick Clark

Why did you choose this particular story?
Some claim there is nothing new or interesting left to write about The Cold War. I disagree. The truth is, for all those thousands of Cold War espionage stories that largely focused on a physically-partitioned Germany, many of the most audacious and significant events occurred before The Berlin Wall was even thought of.
The story of how Russia came to develop the atom bomb, in so short a period, is a good example. Although a few of those involved in coal-face espionage were named, prosecuted, and widely reported on, and stories abound of individual spies stealing individual secrets, it is remarkable that no one has previously used the strategic-level plot as background for a best-selling espionage and conspiracy novel.
Part of this is due to the enigma that was pre-internet, pre-Gorbachev, Russia, and the paranoia of its leadership; making in-depth research virtually impossible. Part is due to the understandable reluctance of western politicians and security chiefs to acknowledge the damage caused by political in-fighting and bickering incompetence.
For all of that, perhaps the most compelling reason lies in the refusal of either side to publicly admit the true extent of their own lies, hypocrisy, and shameless opportunism.
What was unique about the setting of the book and how did it enhance or take away from the story?
The Folks at Fifty-Eight is set in occupied Europe and The United States, during the immediate aftermath of The Second World War. As espionage novels go, this is a somewhat unfashionable period. At this time there was no Berlin Wall, no KGB, no STASI, and, in a Cold War sense, no acknowledged belligerence between the former Allies. If there was a ‘phoney war’ prior to WWII, then this was The Cold War’s ‘phoney war’.
At the time, the United States and Britain were largely in the grip of post-war euphoria, while mainland Europe was gripped with both the fear and reality of Stalin’s rapidly-descending ‘iron curtain’. This temporary ‘state of flux’ allowed the ‘men in grey’ to plot and scheme, and me, as a novelist, the freedom to take so many little-known facts and weave them into a truly fascinating espionage and conspiracy novel.
What specific themes did you emphasize throughout the novel? What were you trying to get across to the reader?
Apart from the constant blurring of fact and fiction, the overriding theme is one of a decent man’s gradual descent into corruption. If there is a motto, it is ’don’t trust anyone’ no matter how well-intentioned they appear. Everyone in the book has a guilty secret, everyone has a selfish agenda, everyone has a price, and no one is as they appear.
Are the characters real and believable? Can you relate to their predicaments? To what extent do they remind you of yourself or someone you know?
The Folks at Fifty-Eight is based on a true story. The backcloth of little-known fact, is interwoven with the fictitious thread of an espionage and conspiracy thriller, with obvious parallels to the Faustian legend. I have intentionally altered the backgrounds and descriptions of certain key characters, but kept the story historically accurate, with personalities, motivations, and activities as close to the truth as possible.
For example. . .
Marcus Allum (Hammond’s boss at The State Department) is based on Frank Wisner; the ‘handler’ of defector Reinhard Gehlen, who ran an Eastern European spy network for the U.S. Wisner was a former OSS chief in the Balkans, a manic depressive who later became head of CIA covert operations.
The character of Daniel Chambers (The sinister manipulator of both Allum and Hammond) is based on Allen Dulles. The former President of the Council on Foreign Relations later became the longest-serving head of the CIA.
The character of Morton Simmonds (The FBI agent from whom Hammond finally discovers much of the truth) is based on Indiana State graduate William King (Bill) Harvey: the senior FBI agent who headed up almost two-hundred-and-fifty agents, in a largely unsuccessful purge of the Federal Government and White House.
History records that Lavrenti Beria was, arguably, Stalin’s most infamous henchman; a mass-murderer, and serial rapist, who controlled Stalin’s terror apparatus from his third-floor office in The Lubyanka. Perhaps less known is that Beria was also an espionage genius, who devised and implemented one of the greatest espionage coups of all time.
How do characters change or evolve throughout the course of the story? What events trigger such changes?
On the whole, I have received some fantastic reviews, particular when it came to characterisation, and I would like to thank those who have given up their time to provide feedback and encouragement. However,  one or two of the critics felt the ending was flawed, because they felt the hero, Hammond, does something out of character. This was the most disappointing criticism I received, because I tried, throughout, to show how Hammond’s values are slowly and inexorably compromised. Given that progressive degeneration, the ending should not have come as any great surprise, and lest anyone forget. . .  this is the first book in a trilogy. There will be plenty of time and opportunity for salvation or a change of heart.
In what ways do the events in the books reveal evidence of your world view?
The problem with conspiracy theorists is they have a bad name. Today, any pronunciation of the words ‘conspiracy theory’ can only be accomplished with a glance to the heavens and the eyebrows raised. When I refuse to take the word of any government at face value, I find myself apologising at the same time, and yet, whenever we turn on the television or pick up a newspaper, we are constantly bombarded with evidence of various high-level and government conspiracies.
That is not to say  I adhere to the rantings of the ‘lunatic fringe’.
No, I don’t believe the Wall Street Crash was the work of The Council on Foreign Relations. No, I don’t believe that America faked the lunar landings. No, I don’t believe the  9/11 and 7/7 attacks were the work of the CIA and MI5. No, I don’t believe that Elvis is alive and living in South America with Adolf Hitler.
You see, that’s the problem for anyone who questions the world around them, or is sceptical of government and establishment rhetoric. They are immediately branded as ‘conspiracy theorists’ with all the associated vilification that such a title implies and generates.
The Council on Foreign Relations is a case in point. In the ninety-odd years since its inception, I believe the organisation has been good for American foreign policy and good for the general health of western economies. However, I also believe that, during that same period, certain individuals with selfish and specific personal agendas have succeeded in manipulating the organisation for their own ends.
Was there a basis for your story? A previous experience? Something else?
When I quit the computer industry and moved to Spain I did very little, other than swim, play golf, and drink Rioja. For a while that was great, but I soon discovered that I needed something to keep the wheels turning and the brain active, and so I began writing.
At first it was difficult, because I had to learn the craft, and that, literally, took years. When that was done, and I began my first spy novel, I had another dilemma: what to write and how to start? The first answer was easy; I wanted to write, à la John Le Carré, but that still left the question of how and where to begin.
And so, for my first spy novel, I employed a technique used by feature film directors. Start with the close-up of a face, and then slowly pan-out, until we can see the clothing, then farther, until we see the immediate surroundings, and so on, until we can see the complete picture. At each juncture I had to make a decision about the next revelation.
I began with a character: a young man. As I slowly panned-out, he became a British soldier. The soldier was sitting in a truck. The truck was in the middle of a battle. The battle was in a war. The war was WWII. The location was on the banks of the River Weser, in Germany.
The time was late 1944. . .  I had my start.
The more I wrote, the more I needed to research. The more research I did, the more I learnt. The more I learnt, the more I developed both plot and background. The entire trilogy grew from that one face.
That book became the third part of The Etzel Trilogy: The Dreams of Etzel. Through my thirst for more and more knowledge, I was able to outline the second part, Hierarchies of Greed, and finally outline, develop, and write the first part: The Folks at Fifty-Eight.
What research did you have to perform to back up your story? Any research which really opened your eyes or gave you new respect for a topic or profession?
The research effort was massive. Not only did I have to learn about everything day-to-day 1946, but I also had to research 1946 occupied Europe and post-war Washington D.C. I also had to research Stalin’s Russia, and there is very little definitive material on that. You see, I wanted to write a book based on little-known fact, interwoven with a fictitious story of spies, sex, and sedition. I didn’t want to have Cold War and modern history buffs pull apart my story, or be able to ‘see the join’.
It was through my research on The Dreams of Etzel that I discovered the truth about the early Cold War period, and through that I developed both the espionage fact and espionage fiction forHierarchies of Greed and The Folks at Fifty-Eight. One effectively fed the other two.
As for opening my eyes. . . every successive day did that. I couldn’t believe how naïve and amateurish so much of the earliest western espionage efforts were, and how accomplished Lavrenti Beria was by comparison. It was a fascinating period, with larger-than-life characters, and I loved every minute of my research.
What is your method for writing a book? A certain amount of hours every day? A certain routine? Are you character/story builder or an outliner or some other method?
I write every day, sometimes seven days a week, and sometimes all day. Because there is, by necessity, such a high level of research, I usually sit down to write at eight a.m. If I haven’t got the words flowing by nine-thirty or so, I stop and move on to more research, or maybe start writing a blog article or something of that ilk. On top of that, and being an Indie published author, there is always so much to do that doesn’t necessarily demand creativity. Just fitting it all in is a problem.
How do you get past writers block or distractions like the internet?
I don’t. If I’m in the mood to be distracted, I’m probably not about to write anything worthwhile. I love writing, and so if I’m not in the mood to write, for any reason, I just go with whatever has caused that emotion. As for writers block; I have no idea what people mean by that. We each lack creativity at different times; that’s a human condition. I sometimes think that giving it a fancy title merely prolongs and exacerbates what would otherwise be a temporary blip.
Favourite book from childhood?
That’s easy; Shadow the Sheepdog, by Enid Blyton. I read it over and over again, and only stopped when the teenage years arrived and it became slightly embarrassing to admit to loving.
What’s on your desk? Can you see your desk? Describe what you see when you look around.
My desk is a clutter: computer, printer, keyboard, software, trinkets from my wife, telephones, pens and notebooks, coffee mugs, digital photo frame, Dictaphone, and a pair of binoculars. When I look out of my window, slightly to the left, I see the Atlantic Ocean and the cliffs of North Cornwall, all the way up to Hartland Point and out to Lundy Island.
If I look slightly to the right, I see cattle and sheep and goats and ponies, patchwork fields, and tourists by the truckload. If I look around the room I see my favourite painting by David Cartwright, of the charge of the Scots Greys at Waterloo, and bookshelves crammed with reference material and all manner of other books, discs, Arsenal memorabilia, and Dresden military figurines. There’s also a globe, a detailed map of the world, a music keyboard (I’m definitely gonna learn to play one day), a huge painting of men playing pool, picture of my wife, picture of mum, and a leather armchair that I  like to slump into when I’m feeling precious.

Website http://www.michaelpatrickclark.com
Twitter @mpclark77
Facebook http://www.facebook.com/michaelpatrickclark

Amazon links:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Folks-at-Fifty-Eight-ebook/dp/B007X5KN5C/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1346491271&sr=1-1&keywords=the+folks+at+fifty-eight


Are insults more insulting if they’re graphic or geographic?

Location of Cornwall.

A few weeks ago I took a trip into the village. Even though it’s only a five minute walk from my front door to the farthest shop, I did as I always do and took the car.

I can almost hear what you’re thinking. Indolent, unhealthy, environmentally irresponsible. . . yes, I know all that, but I still prefer to do my walking along the cliff path or on the golf course.

Now Cornish folk are always affable, and more often than not downright friendly. I always highlight the difference between people from Cornwall, and those from the more-fashionable English counties around London, by saying that Cornish people will never give you the impression that they believe themselves to be more important than you. That is seldom the case around the English Home Counties, but, like every other one of the façades that we tend to assume whenever we open our front doors, it is only so deep.

She was a typical Cornish girl, with a face lined by hardship and time, and those wild salt-laden gales that constantly drive in from the North Atlantic, over the craggy North Cornwall coastline and across the moors. She had parked her car, on the no-parking lines, immediately outside the local grocery store, and was sitting with the engine switched off, presumably waiting on a friend.

A second car had parked behind her, and, as I approached from the opposite direction, the driver began to pull out and into the road.

Being familiar with the outwardly obliging nature of Cornish folk, I stopped my car and called the second driver on, before continuing on my way and parking some thirty yards farther along the street. I pulled in at the side of the road, got out of my car, and then walked back to the grocery store.

As I passed by, she climbed out and began studying the back of her vehicle.

“I can’t see any damage.” She said. I replied with an uncertain smile.


“Yes. You just hit the back of my car.” I carefully studied her, not sure if she was deranged or joking. She glared back. “You’re lucky, you didn’t dent it or damage the paintwork.”

I naturally protested my innocence.

“I can assure you that, whoever hit you, it wasn’t me. I was travelling in the opposite direction. I didn’t come within thirty yards of the back of your car.”

“Oh yes you did. . . I felt the bump.”

Not wishing to point fingers of suspicion, or apportion blame, I didn’t mention the other driver, who had just pulled out from behind her. Instead, I pointed to where my car was parked, thirty-odd yards farther along the street and facing in the opposite direction.

“Look. My car is facing the other way, and nowhere near yours. I don’t know who hit you, but it can’t possibly have been me.”

“Oh, yes it was. . . You Incomer!”

That was it. The ultimate insult in Cornwall.

Forget about casting dispersions on parentage, or four lettered words, or sexual innuendo, or graphic descriptions of inadequacy, or any other form of abuse. In this part of the world ‘Incomer’ is just about as insulting as it gets, and in Cornwall its use is widespread.

It means that I wasn’t born and bred in Cornwall. It means, the local tradespeople are very happy to take my money at the store, or fix the electricity or plumbing for a fee, or deliver the mail as part of their job, or smile and say ‘how are you’ as I pass on by, or superficially welcome me and my family whenever we stop in for a drink or a meal at the local pub, but in truth, even after seven years of friendly residence, I don’t fit in around here, and I never will.

And, you know the strangest thing. . . to my way of thinking that word was as shocking as any crass and vulgar commentary, or racist ethnic slur, could have been.

In fact, I would have much preferred she had used the more common and vulgar expletives.

The F and C words may be more graphic, and may, to the untrained ear, seem to be more shocking and outrageous, but, as insults go, telling your neighbour that he or she is only welcome for what they can pay you, or give to you, or do for you, or bring to your business, seems to me to be a thousand times worse.

I am told that the Japanese don’t ‘do’ swearwords. Apparently the Japanese language allows no place for them.

Now I always found the Japanese to be overwhelmingly pleasant and courteous, and I believe that we should always speak as we find. However, if you were to ask an American or British or Australian Second World War veteran, or even a billion Chinese, which is the cruellest race, they would undoubtedly point to the Japanese.

Perhaps the use of vulgar language, when remonstrating, is not simply for the purpose of insult, but more of a pressure-release valve. Maybe the Japanese have merely lacked the linguistic facility to release the pressure. Maybe my Daphne du Maurier heroine, with the unmarked and untouched car, was faced with a similar disadvantage in her available vocabulary. Who can tell, but that one seemingly innocuous incident contrived to permanently sully my opinion of Cornwall and the people who live there.

I will still smile and speak kindly, and give way to other drivers, and laugh and joke with the local tradesmen, and bid a cheery good morning to passers-by, but I no longer feel that Cornwall is my home.

And so, the next time someone calls you a f***ing this or that, just smile and be grateful.

It could have been a whole lot worse, and anyway, they’re probably just letting off steam.

Have a good one.


On a return to Ancient Rome

Ryder Cup

Well, the Ryder Cup is about to kick off in Chicago, with all of the associated jingoism, mass hysteria, and xenophobia that goes with it.
I have loved and played the game of golf for the greater part of my life. I can still remember Jack Nicklaus as a brash young man, with crew-cut hair and belligerent attitude, taking on Palmer and Player in all those early challenge matches. In those days Nicklaus was young and he was arrogant and he was slightly obnoxious, or certainly to me, and certainly to the legions of Americans who worshipped Arnold Palmer.

But, later, I also remember Jack Nicklaus picking up Tony Jacklin’s four footer, on the final green at Royal Birkdale, to tie the 1969 Ryder Cup, in those days when GB and Ireland team religiously got their backsides kicked by The U.S.A.

Jack Nicklaus

Times have changed, and attitudes have changed, and now the game of golf has changed. Europe now wins more than its share of Ryder Cups, and the rivalry has intensified to the point where it has become unhealthy. Given a similar scenario, to Nicklaus and Jacklin in 1969, I very much doubt that Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy  would be allowed to do the same thing today, because all that matters in The Ryder Cup today is grinding the opposition into the ground, in an effort to somehow assert one continents superiority over another.

Tiger Woods

That, to a point, is fine, because winning is why men and women play professional sport; winning cups, or medals, or championships, or the Super Bowl, or Grand Slams, or World Cups, or ten-million dollar challenges, but what worries me is the trend from healthy spectator partisanship toward unhealthy xenophobia.
When I say that I include the players. Players get wrapped up in the competition, and that is good for the game and good for the audience, but when players begin to incite crowds with aggressive gestures and a patently obvious dislike of their opponents, I draw the line.

In physical-contact sports, where aggression on the pitch is transmitted to aggression in the stands, I can understand the difficulty in controlling emotions, but in Golf?

The media, too, are playing their part in fostering this unhealthy rivalry.

The Olympic Rings

In The Olympic Games we saw more attention given to which country finishes where, in the medal table, than to the running of the races and the playing of the games. For an event so steeped in the history, culture, sportsmanship, and all-round good-natured amateurism of The Olympic Games, seeing this blatant jingoistic muscle-flexing left me feeling saddened and sickened. Even in The Paralympics we saw more attention paid to the medal table than to the remarkable achievements of every one of the athletes who overcame so much to just be there and competing.

Jack Nicklaus overcame the natural belligerence and impetuosity of youth to become one of sport’s most gracious and well-loved ambassadors, because the fabric of the game encouraged him to do just that, but how will tomorrow’s stars learn if the fabric of the game is destroyed by blatant commercialism, nationalistic fervour, and xenophobia?

There will always be idiots in sport, whether watching or playing, because sport and intellect are so often mutually exclusive, but in golf, where standards and traditions were once so important, I can see no need for this biennial return to the mob-rule and xenophobic excesses of Ancient Rome and The Circus Maximus.


I love golf, but I won’t be watching The Ryder Cup. I haven’t done so since Kiawah Island in 1991, and I see no reason to change now. But when you watch, if you do, and when you see and hear the chanting, and xenophobia, and all-round lack of grace exhibited by everyone concerned, you will be watching a great sporting spectacle, but you will also be watching the general and inexorable decline of sportsmanship, sporting tradition, and the wonderful game of golf.

Have a good one.

‘Quality Literature’ – A guide to worth, or elitist twaddle?

Quality is one of those words that can never be defined in terms that completely satisfy everyone. During my years in the armed forces it simply described functional and hardwearing equipment; accurate side-arms that didn’t jam, comfortable boots that lasted, and so on. Then, during my years in commerce, the advertising agencies adopted it and quickly expanded its definition.
At the beginning of the nineteen-eighties it was the stock word for just about every marketing slogan the computer industry ever coined. By the end of that decade it had become a ‘buzz word’ for everything from good working practice to meaningful and fulfilling leisure time.
Quality Seafood
I love the feel and resonance of the word. To me it conjures images of soft-leather chairs, and polished-mahogany tables, sumptuous living, expensive cigars, and twenty-year-old scotch. It can be as pretentious as ‘bling’ and emotive as an exclamation, or as informative as the bluntest adjective.
Most will concede it is entirely subjective, and yet, when it comes to literature, its use seems to stir up all manner of snobbery and polarised opinion.
There are still literary agencies, on both sides of the Atlantic, who insist they will only accept submissions of ‘quality literature’, although, and at the same time, failing to properly explain their precise definition of the term.
Cover of "Complete Works of William Shake...
Some will insist that popular literature cannot be quality literature, and yet I have the complete works of William Shakespeare sitting on my bookshelves, as do millions like me from across the globe. Perhaps, as with certain types of rain in a drought, Shakespeare’s popularity is the wrong kind of popularity.
Maybe it is all to do with fashion. After all, D.H. Lawrence was considered a purveyor of ‘filth and pornography’ not so very long ago, whereas today the purists will excuse Lawrence’s previous denigration, at the hands of the self-appointed  guardians of quality literature, by claiming that. . . ‘The man was obviously born before the world was ready to embrace his genius’.
Maybe the cynical among us are right. Maybe quality literature is a term we use to describe the books we all like to say we’ve read, rather than the books we actually like to read. Perhaps there has to be an element of ‘donning the hair shirt’ about settling into quality literature.
Me. . . ? I change my definition every couple of years.
Cover of "Five on a Treasure Island (Famo...
For example. . . At the age of five, if anyone had claimed that Enid Blyton’s Noddy series was anything but quality literature, I would have hit them with my teddy bear. By the time I had reached the grand old age of ten, Noddy had been supplanted by The Famous Five and dear old Shadow the Sheepdog. When I was thirteen, Charles Dickens had assumed the mantle, but then, at the age of seventeen, Thomas Hardy’s Mayor of Casterbridge was ‘my speed’. At nineteen, a politically radical postman from Derbyshire, named J.T. Edson, and the exploits of cowboy hero and fastest gun ‘Dusty Fog’ had become my literature of choice. Dear old J.T. was in turn supplanted by Louis L’Amour, and he by D.H. Lawrence and a little-known but much-read author named Burton Wohl, whose best-selling novel, A Cold Wind in August,  was roundly castigated as ‘filthy dross’.
Cover of "The Mayor of Casterbridge"
Now who does that remind you of, today?

Some may claim the authors mentioned are a hotchpotch, writing everything from the so-called classics and quality literature to pornography and pulp fiction, but each has, at different times in my life, drawn me, and enthralled me,  and enlightened me, and transported me, and devoured me.
By my definition, any book that has the power to do such a thing constitutes quality literature.
So there you have it. Quality literature. Something to do with age, something to do with time, something to do with fashion, something to do with influence, something to do with environment, something to do with education, something to do with creativity,  something to do with prose style, something to do with culture, something to do with the literary establishment, something to do with peer pressure, something to do with interpretation, something to do with emotivity.

But, and most importantly. . . Everything to do with you, the individual.

Have a good one.

First Post

Welcome to this, my first post as the writer of a blog.
I know nothing about blogging. There, I’ve said it; it’s out there. In fact, this whole blogging ‘thing’ is the result of a conversation that went something like this. . .
“You’re going to need to start a blog.”
“Because people are going to want to know something about you.”
“Because you’ve written two books, and you’re in the middle of writing a third, and they’re starting to generate interest.”
“Well, let people read the books; that’s why I write them.”
“Yes, but people are also going to want to know something about you, as a person.”
“Because people are interested in that sort of thing.”
No, this wasn’t a conversation between a five-year-old child and its frustrated mother, but between yours truly and Pam, my long-suffering wife, who designs my book covers and runs my website.
You see, I dislike the celebrity culture that seems to have the western world in its grip, and starting a blog, when I haven’t even reached the long list that will one day become the short list that may eventually become someone’s minor-celebrity Z-list, struck me as exacerbating the problem.
But then Pam added the clincher. . .
“You’ll get to give them your opinions.”
There it was; proof, if proof were needed, that Pam wraps me around her little finger. And if I had ever doubted that she knows me better than I know myself, there that was too.
“Oh yes.”
“Well, I suppose I could take a break every now and then.”
That was that, wrapped around, spun around, and dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st Century, before I’d had a chance to draw breath. And here I am now, frantically scanning the memory banks for any odd snippets that might mildly titillate.
Not that I’m a stranger to technology; in fact I’ve designed, and consulted on, some of the world’s most complex and sophisticated computer networks, but that all seems like such a long time ago. You see, I can explain the seven-layer architecture that underpins data networks, in some detail. I can discuss physical and electrical properties, and protocols and interfaces, with the best of ’em, but don’t ask me which keys to hit to hit, and in which order, because when it comes to using those constantly evolving applications that perch on the communications subsystem, I haven’t got a clue.
So here I sit; racking the brains and coming up short.
I suppose I could tell people about my likes and dislikes; about our family and our five Burmese cats, and why I love Rioja, and why I play golf, and why I still love to fish, and what I’m writing and how it’s going, when I’m not doing this blog, and the books I’ve read and loved, and the films I’ve seen and loved, and where we live, now, and where we’re moving to, and raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, and all those other favourite things.
Maybe I could tell you a little more about the places I’ve seen. Perhaps I could tell you about my days, how I fill them, and how they never seem to be long enough. Perhaps I could even drop in the odd never-before-told juicy story, about some of the famous people I’ve met in my life. . . well, no, perhaps that would be taking my capitulation to the celebrity culture to extremes, but maybe the rest of it.
That’s if you’re interested?
If not, I’ll have to think of something else.