Friday, 27 February 2009

Dynamite shoes

He breathed in air
He breathed out light
Adrian Mitchell was my delight

Roger McGough introduced Radio 4’s Poetry Please commemoration of Adrian Mitchell with this reworking of Adrian’s own tribute to Charlie Parker, whose ‘Lover Man’ opened the programme. Over the next half hour, some of Adrian’s many friends and fellow poets remembered him and read from his work.

Jackie Kay chose Adrian’s ‘Back in the Playground Blues’ about his childhood experience of bullying. Michael Horovitz took us back to that biggest poetry gig of all time, when Adrian spat out ‘Tell me lies about Vietnam’ (actually titled ‘To Whom It May Concern’) at the Albert Hall in 1965. Andrew Marr picked up ‘A Puppy Called Puberty’. And John Hegley gave us ‘Ten Ways to Avoid Lending Your Wheelbarrow’ (‘Number One, patriotic: I didn’t lay down my life in World War II so that you could borrow my wheelbarrow; Number Two, snobbish: Unfortunately Samuel Beckett is using it’).

There was also Jonathan Price (‘Death is smaller than I thought’), Michelle Roberts, Carole Ann Duffy, Brian Patten and John Agard. And most of all there was Adrian’s wife, Celia, reading ‘The Doorbell’, which Adrian had written for CND in 2006. Celia said she had chosen because ‘it is about war and destruction and we met and fell in love because we were both wearing CND badges and we saw each other across the room’:

There, on the doorstep, stood the War.

It filled my front garden,
filled the entire street
and blotted out the sky.
It was human and monstrous,
shapeless, enormous,
with torn and poisoned skin which bled
streams of yellow, red and black ...

The War had many millions of eyes
and all wept tears of molten steel.
Then the War spoke to me
in a voice of bombs and gunfire:
I am your war.
Can I come in?

Roger McGough rounded off with a clip of Adrian and his daughter Sasha singing: ‘Poetry glues your soul together/ Poetry wears dynamite shoes.’ Sasha tells me that she and Celia have agreed to do some of Adrian’s regular gigs this year, including probably the Latitude festival, with Sasha singing and Celia reading his poems. Celia says they’re thinking of a big public commemoration for Adrian, maybe at the Hackney Empire in the autumn.
I’m sure they’ll be unmissable. In the meantime, you can listen to the whole of the Poetry Please commemoration at

Pictured: Philosophy Football’s t-shirt, with which Adrian was delighted and distributed to various friends and family members, is available from

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Safe skating

'Skater-haters should hobble back home to take their medication and watch Countdown.' Seventy-one-year old Geoff Dornan of Southport, who's just been fined £300 plus £1,800 costs for 'dangerous skating' in Southport's main shopping street, sounds like someone who's spent most of his adult life just waiting for the opportunity to live out Monty Python's Hell's Grannies sketch for real.

You've got to hand it to Geoff, who admits to having had 'heated discussions with [his] fellow geriatrics' about his skating activities and reckons that they're just jealous that he's still up to it in his eighth decade. He's certainly a decent skater, as the CCTV footage shown in court demonstrates. And pretty 'safe' too, as I'm sure the skating community would agree. Eighteen hundred quid for arguing your side of the case is steep by any standards.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Jade Goody: enough said

Somewhere I have copies of the articles I wrote back in 2002 and again during the 'Shillpa Poppadom' affair in 2007 sticking up for Jade Goody. I was going to dig them out and revisit what I'd written about class prejudice and Britain in the light of Jade's diagnosis with terminal cancer but it all felt a bit self-serving and inappropriate when the poor woman is dying, albeit in the full glare of the media spotlight.

Now Michele Hanson has said it for me and I don't have to worry about going over it all again myself. I have a mental image of a bile-filled Sun front page, however, that won't easily be laid to rest. I hope all those who were behind the Goody hatefest will pause for just a moment to reflect on it now.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

A bad week for public art

It’s been a bad week for public art. First, the worst of the five entries – Mark Wallinger’s far too literal statue of a bloody big horse – wins the competition for the Ebbsfleet Landmark. And today, Manchester City Council announces it’s going to pull down Thomas Heatherwick’s spectacular B of the Bang sculpture over ‘technical problems’ – i.e. fears that it might fall down anyway.

A shame because both outcomes will only confirm the philistines in their view that monumental public art is just a big waste of time, particularly in a recession.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Money for new wellies

My friend Amy has been emailing everyone she knows on Facebook to ask for money to buy some wellies. You'll understand why when your read her letter. I'm sending her some (money not wellies), and if you want to do likewise you can find her here. 50p for every pair of shoes in your possession (double for men)?

That is right, I am emailing you to ask for money.

I am returning to Cambodia next week to shoot some footage, which will hopefully lead to me raising loads of money for people with nothing.

There are an estimated 25,000 orphans with HIV in Cambodia and only two orphanages to care for them, one homes 70 kids and one, where I worked, homes 30. 100 orphans being looked after out of 25,000- that is rubbish.

One of the first places I am visiting is Steung Meanchey, the rubbish tip on the outskirts of Phnom Penh (see clip on my profile page), where many of the children who live and work there are orphans, 70% are HIV+, some have no clothes and most have no shoes.

Foot injuries from needles and glass are very common. I have managed to get some local chemists and doctors to donate medical supplies and I plan to go to the tip armed with my surgical gloves and patch up their feet, then ... I am going to put all those bare feet in Wellington Boots to protect them. And I am asking you to give me money for those Wellington Boots.

'This is the closest thing to hell on earth I have ever seen,' said an aid worker I spoke to, 'I don't know how people can let a place like this exist.'

Maybe it's because people don't know? Well now you do.

If everyone I am friends with on Facebook gave me £5-£10, I would be able to put shoes on the feet of every bare-foot-orphan at the tip. No joke, it doesn't cost much over there and there are about 400 orphans in need of shoes.

When I think about all our spare shoes together, bloody hundreds, what a waste, I wish I could take them over, but I can't carry them all so give me your money instead please. Help your friend Amy put shoes on orphans feet. Go on it will make you feel good.

Feel the love, it is almost Valentines Day and flowers die anyway.

Amy xxx

Monday, 9 February 2009

Paul Ross: the perfect picture

'If you only buy one 20 inch canvas print of Paul Ross this year, this is the one to get.'

'I recently purchased this poster, and while it's lifelike, well made and had a certain, portly charm to it, I have since found out that it's actually *cheaper* to hire Paul Ross to come over and stand against a wall, whenever you feel the need to look at him.'

Those people at Amazon didn't know what they were starting when they opened up their website to customer reviews. Paul Ross has a particularly high satisfaction rating.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

The Thames trotted

It’s downhill all the way from the Prince of Wales pub in Iffley to the bandstand on the green at Henley. Got to be, hasn’t it, or the Thames couldn’t flow so fiercely over the weirs on its way between the two.

One thing that running teaches you is that there’s no such thing as flat. Even a millpond must have its hills hidden somewhere. And there’s no such thing as downhill all the way either, outside a Tory government.

The Thames path (or national trail, to give it its due) saves its hills on this stretch of the river until you’ve already passed the 30-mile mark, when it takes you up the valley sides between Goring and Whitchurch. It rises to all of, oh, 62 metres, which wouldn’t even get you halfway up the London Eye but feels like you’re taking the staircase to the top of Canary Wharf (twice) when you’ve already been running for about six hours to get there.

Starting a 50-mile run from a pub, with a roaring open fire and a selection of fine ales, and finishing at a bandstand, with snow on the roof and ice on the floor, seems arse about tit when you think about it. But, my, did it feel good to get there. Ten and a half hours, just under, and I didn’t go over on the snow and ice once.

Friday, 6 February 2009

A Thames Trot

I’ve just received an email to tell me that tomorrow’s ‘Thames Trot’ is on, despite the weather. The name is the organiser’s idea of a joke, since it’s a 50-mile event along the river from Oxford to Henley. It’s my longest-ever run (though I’ve done 100km as a walk) and every bone, muscle and tendon in my body has started hurting since the moment they heard that it is happening.

Suddenly I feel sick to the stomach and don’t know whether to go equipped with ice axe and crampons or kneepads and skates. I must say that even ignoring the distance, the idea of running on ice is about as appealing as swimming in treacle. And I’ve got to drive to the Prince of Wales pub in Iffley for the start in the early hours of tomorrow morning.

Earlier this week a friend sent me a link to a BBC news report in which:

‘Margaret Morrissey, of the Parents Outloud campaign group, said the decision to keep thousands of schools shut for a second day sent the wrong signals to children.

She added: “We are giving children the message that when things get difficult you should just stay at home and have fun.”’

‘What’s wrong with staying home and having fun when things get difficult?’ my friend asked.

I reckon that by this time tomorrow nothing could appeal to me more.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Riot shields into sledges

On balance, I think I’ve probably forgiven the school caretaker who destroyed the best skating rink I’ve ever known by putting salt down in the school playground way back when we had real winters and no one cared if a few kids cracked the odd bone or two. I don’t think I’ll ever come to terms with Camden Council deciding to lock shut its parks when the snow fell this week, though, because, in the words of council leader Keith Moffitt, ‘I’d rather you were criticising me because some children couldn’t build a snowman than because a child had died on a frozen pond.’

We climbed over the fences into Waterlow Park anyway, giving the older kids a leg up and tossing the toddlers over to be caught on the other side. No one died on a frozen pond (or in it, for that matter), but it would have been our fault and not Councillor Moffitt’s if anyone had.

I’m not sure who would have been held to blame if anyone had died on nearby Hampstead Heath, which has a lot more ponds but can’t be locked shut because it doesn’t have gates restricting access. In any case, the revellers on the heath in the early hours of Monday morning included a platoon of police officers, who turned up with their riot shields – which they proceeded to convert into the coolest makeshift sledges in the capital. If only life was always like this.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Medusa's daughter and the golliwog

In the league table of personal insults, calling someone a ‘golliwog’ ranks about on a par with calling them a ‘muppet’. Even as a racial insult, it’s not quite the sort of epithet that you hear bandied about at BNP meetings (though they do sell golliwogs in BNP t-shirts at some of those meetings, apparently).

Nevertheless, if Carole Thatcher had said it on air, I don’t suppose there would have been much disagreement about her being taken off air as a result. Nor do I think there can be much disagreement with The One Show presenter Adrian Chiles, Jo Brand and others for picking up Medusa’s Daughter over her use of the word during an after-show conversation in which she blabbed out her ‘off-the-cuff remark made in jest’ to describe a tennis player in the Australian open.

(Why the widespread coyness, by the way, in naming the tennis player concerned? I couldn’t find one mainstream news outlet prepared to say who Thatcher was talking about. Didn’t any of them think it might have been instructive to get his opinion on the subject?)

I don’t think it suggests any degree of sympathy for the use of racially-based epithets, however, to feel that the reaction to Thatcher’s foot-in-mouth has been just a little OTT. When the Beeb doesn’t have the bollocks to broadcast a Disasters Emergency Committee appeal for Gaza, it feels a mite disproportionate to start acting all macho over an ex-prime minister’s gobby offspring.