A few words about Jacquie James

mum

“It was not that long ago it first occurred to me
That my mother was a person in her own right.
And now I realise how very lucky I have been
And there, but for the grace of God, go I, go I.”*

My Mum – Jacquie James – is 70 years old today. I could write thousands of words about her but the thirteen hundred or so that I’ve done will have to do and I’m well aware that it won’t even scratch the surface of Jacqueline Muriel Alexander James nee Walker.

You may not know this – though a select band of you will – but Jacquie James is amazing woman. Born in London just after the World War II she was brought up in Clifton in Bristol where her father Frank Walker was a professor of geography at Bristol University. One of my earliest memories is travelling to Bristol on the train with Mum to visit my grandparents at their home on Lansdowne Road in Clifton. I can remember falling asleep on the train and waking up in the enormous house where they lived during term times. We went to Bristol a lot when I was growing up – it’s my home town and though I’ve never felt like a Bristolian in any way, shape or form I used to love going there and some of the happiest memories from my childhood are of the times I spent in Bristol with my extended family.

Mum trained as an Occupational Therapist in the 1960s down in Devon and having moved over the Severn Bridge to the Vale of Glamorgan, before I began school and then during my school holidays she used to take me out with her on visits up into the South Wales Valleys and all across South Wales where I met children of my own age with profound disabilities and in doing so gave me insights that to this day I am grateful for. I’m not sure the occupational therapist of today would be allowed to do what Mum did but it and I have so many happy memories of travelling with her over the top of the valleys in her Renault 4 and then her weirdly coloured Ford Escort chatting away and listening to Radio Wales – Mum is a naturalised Welsh woman – it’s an old family joke but it’s a statement of truth.

“When I was a teenager I really did believe
That my parents had adopted me.
And the way I carried on they must have thought
They’d brought the wrong little baby home from maternity.

I’d like to say I’m sorry but my
Mother dear, she already knows.”*

Mum has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis from an early age and I know that there have been times when she has really struggled with this but she never let this affect the way she was with me or my sister Cathy even when I was being a normal child and behaving in a horrible way towards her – she always let me know that she loved me and would always be there for me and she always was – save for that time when I got dumped by a girlfriend and she went off on holiday to Malta with Dad.**

Mum has a gift for anything craft related that she puts her hand to – in her time she amongst many, many things she’s had a go at, has knitted, made lace, made things out of glass that are beautiful and she does these all these things with seemingly no effort. She’s also done flower arranging and was a member of an arranging group over in Bristol which led to one of my favourite conversations that we had about popular culture.

What you need to know about my Mum is that she doesn’t really do popular culture – she was a teenager in the 60s as was my Dad and their record collection had one EP by The Beatles in it – one!?! Her and Dad were always more into classical music and jazz so for her to have heard of a pop group is a rare event – I reckon that when it comes to the bands I’ve liked over the years she’d be able to name New Order, Happy Mondays*** and Super Furry Animals. Anyway I digress, this is how the conversation went down:

Mum: “I was at flower arranging over in Bristol the other night.”

A disinterested me: “Oh yes.”

Mum: “One of the other members, her son is in a band.”

Me: “Oh right.”

Mum: “I think they’re quite famous, have you heard of Portishead?”

Me: “What?!?!? Portishead?!?! Mum, they’re only one of my most favourite bands!!! Who is her son?”

Mum: “I’m not sure, I don’t know her surname.”

And we never found out who the son was – but I love my Mum for being so blasé about such things.

One famous person she did meet was Jimmy Savile – she was a student at the time and he kissed her and whenever we sat down to watch Jim’ll Fix It back in the day she’d always comment that Savile was horrible person. Mum’s always know.

Mum is one of the most selfless people I have ever met – I’m always surprised when I ring home and actually get her on the phone. She is on the board of charities, helps people out with offers of support and amazing meals and travels the country to visit places she’s never been to before and places that she knows and loves such as North Yorkshire where her parents had their home and where we as a family spent our summers long before it became ‘Heartbeat Country’. This year she’s been to the Netherlands to visit a jazz festival and only last week she flew up to Edinburgh to meet her pen pal Susan from Seattle who she’s been writing to for over 50 years.

One of things that I’ve been really proud of Mum and Dad for doing is that they fight battles at their local church – they were always pro-women priests and in doing so they showed to me that despite their apparent conformity to middle class norms and standards they can be quite radical in their outlook on life and relationships and that’s something which has cost them friends at times and there are people who don’t talk to them anymore because of the things they’ve fought for. You might say well they are better off without those people and you’re right they are but sometimes it takes courage to take the stands that Mum has done over the years and I’ll say it again I’m proud of my Mum – she doesn’t take shit from anybody.

We’ve had our rows and silence over the years and they’ve been humdingers at times but as I grow older and my sons are turning into young men my appreciation of what she did for me when I was their age impresses me more and more. She didn’t say “No” just to annoy me or stop me having fun, she did it because she loved me, wanted me to be safe and wanted the best for me and surely that’s all you need from your Mum.

I still need my Mum every now and again.

“If I ever get arrested by the C.I.A.
Because they take me for a foreign spy.
They won’t need no lie-detector, all they’ll have to do
Is make me look into my mother’s eyes
And I’ll tell them anything they like.”*

*Taken from The Divine Comedy’s song ‘Mother Dear’ – written by Neil Hannon. See it here: 

** Okay so I was 20 at the time but I was still upset.

*** I still owe my Dad £25 for a trip to see the Happy Mondays up in Manchester back in 1990 – I know, £25 for the concert ticket and bus up there from Cardiff – those were the days!!!

Book Review: Mick Herron – Slow Horses

slow-horses

My first love when it comes to reading is crime fiction, I do enjoy a lot of non-fiction but I also love spy fiction. My knowledge isn’t encyclopaedic but I know what I like, my Kindle has the complete works of Ian Fleming and John Le Carré on it and I’ve read lots of books by newer spy writers too and the latest of these is the first in a series by Mick Herron. 

Slow Horses features a group of MI5 agents who for a variety of reasons have found themselves internally exiled to Slough House where they are given boring, mind numbing jobs in the hope that they will decide to leave the service without the need for industrial tribunals or the need for a pension to be paid out to them. Overseen by Jackson Lamb, this band of agents don’t really like each other or their colleagues who are still in the game and enjoying the careers that they had until catastrophe struck. River Cartwright for example closed Kings Cross at rush hour when a training exercise went wrong, it wasn’t his fault but for reasons that become clear as the book progresses certain people wanted him out of the way and pushed him out to Slough House where he became what is known as a Slow Horse – Slough House/Slow Horse. 

Now however this band of misfits have a crime to look into, Hassan a young British Asian student has been kidnapped and his kidnappers a group of white British extremists have vowed to behead him in three days on camera, there are no demands, he’s going to die. Can the Slow Horses save him whilst battling against the forces set against them? 

I loved this book. First off it’s a great spy novel with enough details about the inner workings of MI5 to keep a spy buff happy – who cares if they are realistic or not, the truth is that we don’t know and all that matters is that Slow Horses feels genuine and at times the image of Harry Palmer popped into my head – this in my humble opinion is a good thing. The characters emerge throughout the book and are establish efficiently and with enough detail for you to like them, get frustrated with them and I got nervous at various points in the story – I needed to know what was going to happen. 

Secondly Slow Horses is a book with a sense of humour, the agents riff off each other with one liners, jokes and there is an element of satire throughout the book – there’s a none too subtle portrait of a prominent politician halfway through the book which made me laugh and also question my opinion of the person in questions. Finally the book offers a commentary of the situation of Britain and the relationship between members of its various ethnic communities something which is a decisive an issue now as it was back in 2010 when Slow Horses came out. It doesn’t for one minute give us any answers but sadly the main storyline portrays a situation which I wouldn’t be too surprised to see happen at some point in the future – I hope I’m wrong.

Slow Horses is a good as I’d hoped it would be and I’m already reading the sequel Dead Lions and that’s even better. 

Quick Book Review – Douglas Lindsay: Lost in Juarez

juar

If you read an earlier entry on my blog then you’ll know that I’m a big fan of Douglas Lindsay – I’ve read lots of his books but there are quite a few that I’ve not read yet and this is either down to the fact that I’m treating them like a fine wine, savouring each one and taking my time over them or that I’m too lazy to read them.* 

Anyway I finally read his book Lost in Juarez this week and devoured it, it was gone in two settings and I thoroughly enjoyed it. At times is reminded me of the atmosphere created by works such as Defence of the Realm, Edge of Darkness and A Very British Coup, seminal works of the 80s that portrayed a Britain at the beck and call of its security services, the Establishment and our old friends the United States. 

Lake Weston is a children’s writer who has the second most successful series of books after the Harry Potter works. He is rich, shags women left right and centre and hates the series that he has created. The other books he writes get refused by his publisher and when the next book in his series gets rejected due to Government pressure he decides to write Axis of Evil, an Animal Farm for the 21st century. His publisher helps him get it published by a revolutionary that he met whilst researching Axis of Evil, it becomes a media storm and that’s when the shit hits the fan.

Three people know who wrote the book, Lake Weston, his mainstream publisher and the publisher of Axis of Evil and the Government take their wrath out on all three in ways which might have seemed preposterous before 9/11 but which in the light of extraordinary rendition and the disclosure of secret prisons on overseas British territories seem all too real nowadays. 

Lost in Juarez is a short, punchy read and there are aspects of the main character that show up in other Lindsay works (e.g. Bob Dylan adulation and shagging a plenty) but it doesn’t matter, it’s a satire of the British political environment that still works some six years after it was first published and in the light of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill that’s getting Royal Assent on the day that I’m typing this, I’d argue that it’s more relevant than ever.

 

* I would say that the truth is somewhere inbetween the two

Book Review: A Private Business by Barbara Nadel

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A Private Business by Barbara Nadel is set in the East End of London and is the first of a new series which features ex-copper and now private investigator and his new assistant who is a Muslim widow with a step daughter who doesn’t seem that upset of her widow’s status – back story ahoy!  Lee’s firm are hired by Maria a comedian who following the death of her husband has tried a comeback on the comedy circuit that isn’t going too well as she feels that she’s being followed by someone. Maria has also become involved with a local church where exorcisms are practiced regularly and the coming of the Rapture is eagerly awaited. 

As Maria seemingly descends into depression and suspicions fall on her new church friends, we also learn about a murder involving two members of other churches, the step daughters dodgy friendship, a flasher near the Olympic park, Maria’s back story, and what the convicted flasher from the 1970s does with his time and the life of a Muslim family trying to marry off their daughter before she becomes too old. 

This book just frustrated me! I wanted it to say things about the Olympics and how it affected the East End in the years leading up to the games, I wanted it to express views and tell stories about the communities in the East End but it just fell short and offered no real insights that hadn’t been portrayed before. The account of the riots of 2011 was perfunctory at best and rolled out the old stories of people stealing televisions and trainers – it just didn’t give me anything new. 

I tried to like this book but it didn’t grab me by the collar and make me want to tune everything out so I could finish it and it was a drag to get through the thing. Everything linked in too conveniently for my liking and the characters either didn’t ring true or they stereotypes of characters that we’ve seen time and time before – the Muslim widow whose mother is trying to marry her off, the charismatic preacher who might be dodgy, the peeping tom who is slimy and horrible and the list carries on. 

Nothing much seems to happen right until the end of the book and even when it does it was really difficult to actually care what happened to any of the characters, there was a twist that happened to Mur that obviously set up a continuing storyline for the books to follow but it just didn’t make any sense and the other twists that took place in the epilogue just left me feeling flat. 

I like London and I like books set in London but A Private Business didn’t give me anything that I haven’t seen before. I didn’t like the characters, the story didn’t really ring true and it didn’t leave me with any desire to read the sequel. A missed opportunity.

Private Business by Barbara Nadel is set in the East End of London and is the first of a new series which features ex-copper and now private investigator and his new assistant who is a Muslim widow with a step daughter who doesn’t seem that upset of her widow’s status – back story ahoy! Lee’s firm are hired by Maria a comedian who following the death of her husband has tried a comeback on the comedy circuit that isn’t going too well as she feels that she’s being followed by someone. Maria has also become involved with a local church where exorcisms are practiced regularly and the coming of the Rapture is eagerly awaited.

As Maria seemingly descends into depression and suspicions fall on her new church friends, we also learn about a murder involving two members of other churches, the step daughters dodgy friendship, a flasher near the Olympic park, Mur,s back story, and what the convicted flasher from the 1970s does with his time and the life of a Muslim family trying to marry off their daughter before she becomes too old.

This book just frustrated me! I wanted it to say things about the Olympics and how it affected the East End in the years leading up to the games, I wanted it to express views and tell stories about the communities in the East End but it just fell short and offered no real insights that hadn’t been portrayed before. The account of the riots of 2011 was perfunctory at best and rolled out the old stories of people stealing televisions and trainers – it just didn’t give me anything new.

I tried to like this book but it didn’t grab me by the collar and make me want to tune everything out so I could finish it and it was a drag to get through the thing. Everything linked in too conveniently for my liking and the characters either didn’t ring true or they stereotypes of characters that we’ve seen time and time before – the Muslim widow whose mother is trying to marry her off, the charismatic preacher who might be dodgy, the peeping tom who is slimy and horrible and the list carries on.

Nothing much seems to happen right until the end of the book and even when it does it was really difficult to actually care what happened to any of the characters, there was a twist that happened to Mur that obviously set up a continuing storyline for the books to follow but it just didn’t make any sense and the other twists that took place in the epilogue just left me feeling flat.

I like London and I like books set in London but A Private Business didn’t give me anything that I haven’t seen before. I didn’t like the characters, the story didn’t really ring true and it didn’t leave me with any desire to read the sequel. A missed opportunity.

My Love Letter to South West Trains

This is the most boring blog entry I have ever written and probably not the best welcome back to blogging but I just needed to get the following out of my system – I am sorry and you really don’t have to read it.

My son Aneurin turns eight this week and to celebrate we’re off to London for the day to meet my Mum and go to the London Transport Museum, Nando’s, the British Museum and Krispy Kreme. Needless to say it is the final thing in this list which is exciting him the most.

The first thing we have to do of course is get to London and that’s been a bit of a hassle. I bought our train tickets three months ago to ensure that we got a good price and then at the weekend I thought I’d check to see what changes there might be as I knew we’d have to get a bus at one point on our trip. There were indeed some changes and it seemed that South West Trains had actually cancelled our train and we’d have to take a bus from Dorchester to Southampton Airport Parkway and this bus would take two and a half hours to get there oh and then we’d miss the train that we were booked on having to catch a later one throwing our plans for the day into disarray.

I talked it through with my wife and we thought that we’d just drive to Southampton to get our train, it takes an hour and we’d get to London as planned on the train we’d originally booked on. Just to reassure myself I emailed South West Trains to see if this would be okay, I wasn’t asking for a refund, or an upgrade nor was I complaining that the trains from and to Dorchester had been cancelled. I just wanted to check that I could drive and park at my own expense and get on a train in Southampton which I had bought four tickets for.

This was the response:

“Ideally, since the ticket is an Advance Single Ticket you will need to travel from the station you are booked from. Hence you will need to use the bus service arranged from Dorchester.”

“Hmm,” I thought, “I think that’s a bit rubbish.” So I wrote back:

“I realise that you can’t help it but ideally I wouldn’t choose to spend 2 and half hours on a bus leaving before 6am with my wife and two young boys to get a train that gets into London later than the one we booked on. We can drive to Southampton in an hour and get the train to London that we’re booked on – I can’t see why this should be an issue.”

To which I got this response:

“I completely understand the resentment towards the issue.

Our website is updated according to the latest information provided to us by the Train Operating Companies managing the route. Hence, you will be allowed to book tickets for that particular service. However, last minute changes and cancellation are beyond our control.

Please note, the terms and conditions are decided by the Association of Train Operating Companies, we are only retailers selling train tickets, abiding by the rules and regulations laid down by the Train Operating Companies.”

So now I’m resentful? I was hurt by this* but when I want to be I can be a stubborn little bastard and I can’t stand stupid rules that make little sense so I didn’t back down.

We got offered other route alternatives that took in a bus journey up to Yeovil Junction, and journeys that would get us into London even later than the already later train that we were being told to catch but all I wanted was to be able to drive over to Southampton and get on the 8.02 train to London we have tickets for and then travel back to Southampton on Saturday evening, get off the train there and drive home thereby cutting out a two and a half hour journey back to Dorchester on a packed bus after a long day out in London.

In the end I asked for our email chat to be passed to the South West Train employee’s line manager and within ten minutes I got this response from her manager:

“Dear Anthony,

Thank you for your response.

I have checked the details for you and I can confirm that you can use your tickets to directly board the train service from Southampton Parkway and there will be no problems, as this is a change in your journey.

Kind regards

*******”**
To reach this point took nearly four hours!!!

I’d just wanted reassurance that our plans were okay and wouldn’t lead to me getting hit with a big extra surcharge once we’d boarded the train on Saturday morning. What I got was the email equivalent of bashing my head against a brick wall with a South West Trains employee who could probably have done without me badgering her on a Saturday night.

In case I appear to look like a twat in all of the above can I just point out that apart from the use of the word “ideally” in my second email I was polite at all times and didn’t resort to sarcasm.

This was going to be a blog about London and various tales of my times there and what it means to me but maybe I’ll do that another time so story of my parents taking my sister and me into Soho on a Saturday night during the 1970s will have to wait for now.

*Not really.
** I have printed out the entire email conversation to stuff in my rucksack on Saturday so if we are challenged I will whip it out and say “Aha!”***

*** No really, I have.