Friday, November 28, 2008

The time has come ...

This is the post I never thought I'd write.
And yet ... I can't help wondering if it hasn't been inevitable all along ...
As though everything that has come before has been building up to this moment.

Bear with me. Please. This is hard.
Some of you will know that I lived part of my story in Grenada. I've mentioned it before, here, here and here, but only ever in passing.
The time has come to put some flesh on those old bones.

I first went to Grenada in 1982, 3 years after the revolution.
I attended the anniversary celebrations.
My photo albums contain pictures of a smiling Maurice Bishop, PM of Grenada, embracing Samora Machel of Mozambique.
They're both dead now. History. I was there.
I was there too for the International Women's Day celebrations and heard Angela Davis speak.
Her photo's in my album too.
That first month that I spent on this beautiful island in the company of its strong, proud, resilient people convinced me. Somehow ... in some way ... I knew that my own destiny was meshed with this beacon of hope in the Caribbean.

My return there was delayed by an unfortunate accident, but eventually I found myself back in Grenada the following year, with the intention of helping to set up a mobile library. But it didn't feel quite 'right' in the way it had before. Beset by enemies, isolated and threatened by a paranoid US under Reagan, with murmurs of internal divisions and rumours of injustices - it felt as though the shine had gone off the revo.

I had been there about 5 months when on 19th October 1983, after weeks of growing tension and unrest, a crowd led by schoolchildren triumphantly released Maurice from where he'd been held under house arrest. The details of the casualties from the resulting attack on the people by the army have never been fully revealed. You can see some of them listed here. The revo had been ripped apart from within.

The coup was followed by 4 days of curfew. On 25th October, the US invaded. (Of necessity this is the most potted of accounts. You can see full details on this site if you're interested.) I stayed for as long as I could after the invasion, in spite of intense pressure to evacuate, but a few months later, penniless and heartbroken, I no longer had a choice. I returned to the UK to my frantic parents.

With hindsight, I suppose I must have been suffering from post traumatic shock, but no one had heard of that condition back then. I just think I was grieving. Even now, 25 years later, it's hard to describe the depth and intensity of the loss.

I returned the following year, but post-revo Grenada was a very different place and I couldn't see how to fit in or become a part of it. When I finally left in 1986, that should theoretically have been the end of my relationship with the island.

It wasn't though. The experience - seeing the hope and infinite possibility of the revo and then witnessing its destruction - had changed me forever.

Fast forward a couple of decades.
I'm an author with 5 books to my name. Friends often ask me why I don't ever write about what happened in Grenada.
'I sort of do,' I reply. 'Those experiences are part of me. They're part of my identity and so they inform everything I do and everything I write. It's just not explicit.'
Deep down though, I think I knew that this was only part of the truth and that one day I would have to bring the whole experience out of the shadows of my past and into my present.
I just couldn't see how.

A few months ago, I received an email from a guy in the US who had come across this photo on my website and wanted to know if I had any others.

I asked who he was and he told me he'd been part of the first wave of US soldiers in the invasion and wanted to see if he could recognise any of his old buddies in my photos. I politely informed him the images were not available.

The contact made me twitchy and a bit paranoid. I checked round the web and was shocked to see there's a big nostalgia trip in the US about the invasion. Grenada was a nice, short, simple war. And they won. Not like these nasty, messy, complicated wars they have nowadays in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, with their hideous resonances of the ultimate unwinnable war - Vietnam. I stumbled on a propaganda 'comic' telling the story of the brave US soldiers coming to the rescue of the grateful islanders, saving them from the red peril. The invasion took place a quarter of a century ago, yet I found forums where ex and current marines swapped stories and photos of the 'good old days in Grenada' when America could fight a war and win.

History. They were there and so was I. But my memories were very different from theirs.

More time passed. Then recently I 'met' Liane Spicer via the blogosphere. Liane lives in Trinidad and blogs at Wordtryst. We exchanged emails. I told her in about 4 lines about my involvement with Grenada. She said what other friends had already pointed out:

'What a fascinating story - your memoir will really be something! It's got all the elements: tropical island, politics, coup, invasion, romance, adventure, altruism... Are you writing it? Or maybe feeding it all into a novel?'

This was my reply:

'You know, I never have. When you put it like that, I suppose it does seem like it has literary potential. But … I don’t know. I’ve never figured out a way of doing it that I feel comfortable with. One day, maybe. As for feeding it in – well I suppose like everything else in life it has made me into what I am, so informs everything I do, but no direct feeding yet. Or maybe ever …'

(You want more spookiness? Having just gone back to this email exchange, I notice Liane's was sent on 25th October - 25 years to the day after the invasion.)

Grenada was back on my shoulder again. It wasn't going to go away.
Then I read a couple of reviews of Pynter Bender. The book is by a Grenadian author, Jacob Ross, and is set on the island. I bought the book and as I read I was overwhelmed by his evocation of the familiar sights and sounds. Memories came flooding back.
Grenada was whispering urgently in my ear.

So it was almost no surprise when I received an email from this woman, who is making a documentary on the revo.

History. I was there. And now I'm here, though I have no idea what will happen next. This post is the beginning of the next part of my journey.

If you've made it this far, thanks for listening.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Cancel everything!

What are you doing on Friday evening?
Whatever it is, cancel it and come instead to Joanna Czechowska's book launch.

(See here for my connection to Jo, her book and this event and here for my review of The Black Madonna of Derby.)

Hope to see you there!

Joanna Czechowska will be launching her new novel

at Kingsdale Foundation School, Alleyn Park, Dulwich, SE21 8QS.

Friday November 28 2008. Doors open at 7 pm. Admission free.

The talk will include discussion of her writing and her experience in balancing two cultures. Both The Black Madonna of Derby and its Polish edition, the bestselling Goodbye Polsko, will be on sale and Joanna will be signing copies.

Please join us for an interesting discussion followed by refreshments.

You'll thank me ...

Ah ... the age old question:
what to buy for the hamster who has everything?

Here's the answer.

Phew. That's a relief, eh?

I knew it!!!

Shh! They know what we're thinking!

I've been a-blogging for many a long year now and I've only recently discovered what I believe to be a new and worrying phenomenon.
I've been leaving comments all over the blogosphere asking if anyone else has noticed that the word verifications have undergone a spooky transformation lately.

Whereas they used to be random letters like blgsqrt or hgrptie, they've become remarkably prescient, coming up with slightly- garbled, lateral-thinking, almost-words reflecting something within the text.

Finally, others have noticed as you'll see from the comments box here at Minx Towers.
(But I saw it first ... naa diddy naa naa)

Anyway, what's it all about?
How does 'it' know?
And should we be afraid???

Sunday, November 23, 2008

I'm A Sleb ... Get Me In There!

I know, I know. I should be ashamed of myself.
But I can't help it.
I'm hooked on this trash.

Now I know the reasons I should boycott this compulsive trivia are legion, and I'm not going to attempt to justify my worrying addiction.

And yet, even as I watch appalled, I can't help thinking ...

... How would I handle it?

We'll never know of course.
Though it's true we're talking some seriously Z-list slebs here (with some notable exceptions) I'm never likely to ever attain such dizzying heights.

Maybe once they run out of everyone on the Z-list, and then worked their way through the Hebrew, Arabic and Cyrillic alphabets and started on the Greek, I might just slip in on Omega.

Whaddya reckon? Think I could handle it?

I know I'd have to deal with some really gross stuff, but surely this will have been adequate preparation ...
Especially since it's just happened again!
The only conclusion I can come to is that my kids are even more full of shit than this current lot of sleb junglistas.
A stay in the jungle could be a welcome relief.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bill Bailey shows us the way

The Ross/Brand business rumbles on still.

One of the points that have been raised is that comedians need to be edgy, push the boundaries and take risks.
Some argue that if, as a result of R 'n' B's antics, laughter merchants feel they have to be more careful from now on, the result will be bland, sterilised 'safe' comedy.
(Others argue that being careful is no bad thing, but there you go ...)

Bill Bailey has the answer in this Times article, entitled I don't mock the weak.

In it he says, “You have to pick your targets. And I've realised that, consciously or unconsciously, I tend to target multinational companies! The world's richest banks, the world's richest retailers, people who aren't vulnerable. Because I think, of anyone, you can take this, me, some beardy bloke, shaking a fist at you. That was the thing about the whole Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross affair. It was just the wrong targets ... They mocked the weak. You have got to aim a bit higher than that.”

You've got my vote, Bill.
You're funny, compassionate, clever, politically astute - and very, very silly.

My kinda guy.

Thanks to Babs for the link.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

And a good morning to you too ...

'Mum! Wake up quick! The toilet's blocked. It's flooding ...
... And I'm desperate for a poo!'

I'm sure there are worse ways to start the day, but right now I'm having trouble thinking of any.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Another day ... another rant ...

It's 2008! This conversation should NOT be taking place:

Hello. Is that the official Helpline for assistance with filing your tax return online? On page xxx of the section yyy the figure auto-generated when I complete zzz is ...

Hang on. Hang on. I'm afraid I only have the paper version here. I don't have access to the online version of the return and the pages don't quite correspond ...

Taxing my income?
Taxing my patience more like!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A good day for a rant - or three

I joked about being arrested by the blog police, but it's no laughing matter in Burma, where ...

... blogger, Nay Phone Latt has been sentenced to 20 years in jail for 'creating public alarm'.
And poet, Saw Wai has been sentenced to 2 years for concealing an anti-government slogan in a poem.

For background and campaigns see Avaaz.

We're lucky here that we need have no such fears about speaking out about injustice.

So I'm exercising that right by saying how disgusted I am that our government has seen fit to shut down the Metropolitan Police's Human Trafficking Team by cutting its funding.

(I've blogged many times about the sex trade, which was the setting for my 2nd book, Trading Tatiana.)

The team was set up in March 2007 to target global sex traffickers.
Only last week, 6 offenders were jailed for trafficking.
The closure means the loss of the only specialist operational team this country has ever had.

For the real life horror stories behind the trade, as well as campaigns, check out ECPAT and Stop the Traffik.

And on a different human story, have you heard about 13 year old, Hannah Jones?
Hannah was diagnosed with leukaemia when she was 5 and has been in and out of hospital ever since.
The drugs she was given caused a hole to develop in her heart.

Though the leukaemia has not returned, Hannah now needs a further combination of drugs and a pacemaker to deal with her heart condition.
She can move very little without becoming breathless and was told the only solution is for her to have a heart transplant.

This would be no cure.
For starters, she might not survive the op.
Even if she did, the leukaemia could return.
The new heart would last a maximum of ten years.
She would need constant drug treatment.

Hannah declined, saying she would prefer to spend what remains of her life with family and friends and in the care of her mother, a specialist intensive care nurse.

Desperately sad, eh?
But what happened next is enough to make your head spin.

The family received a phone call from the child protection officer at Hereford Hospital.
They were told the hospital were applying for a High Court order to forcibly remove Hannah from her parents' custody as they were 'preventing her treatment'.
The implication was that Hannah could be forced to have the operation against her will and also be removed from her parents' care.
The following day the officer interviewed Hannah in her bedroom at home.
As a result of Hannah's eloquence, the case was thankfully abandoned.
Though not before she'd been forced to go through this terrifying additional ordeal.

Photo: SWNS .com

Now who was it who sat in an office, looked at Hannah's case and thought that this could possibly have been in her best interests?

Monday, November 10, 2008


Argh - my fingers were skimming over the keyboard and I've just accidentally flagged my own blog as having objectionable content!

I mean, it might have I suppose, but I'm hardly going to point that out myself ...

So anyone know what happens now?
Will I be sent to Virtual Coventry?
Will the blog police come knocking at my door any time now?
Can I plead for mercy?

It's a fair cop but society is to blame ... *whimper*

Pride? What pride?

They say pride comes before a fall.
But I certainly didn't feel proud when I fell over in the street last week.
Especially as I splatted straight onto my knee.

The same knee that I had a series of operations on a couple of decades ago.
The one that has no cushioning in the joint.
The one that had me hobbling to grueling physio sessions 5 times a week for a year.
The one that took all that time to heal when I was in my 20s with supposedly fast powers of recovery.

The same one that is still swollen with technicolour bruising 6 days after I fell ...


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Lit Bit Nov

For the latest on launches, lit events, festivals etc taking place this month, check out November Lit Bits on Bookarazzi.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Dear Mr Obama

Well, we live in exciting times, don't we?

So much potential ...
So much hope ...
So much responsibility ...
So much that could go wrong ... or right ...

Those clever people at Avaaz have put together a message for Obama from the blogosphere.
This will be displayed at a special Obama Global Message Wall in Washington.
So far there are 22,587 names signed up.

This is the message being sent:

Dear President Obama:

As citizens across the world, we congratulate you on your election, and celebrate your campaign commitments to sign a strong new global treaty on climate change, close Guantanamo prison and end torture, withdraw carefully from Iraq, and double aid to fight poverty. No one country or leader can meet the world's most pressing challenges alone, but working together as one world in a spirit of dialogue and cooperation, yes we can bring real and lasting change.

Click here if you'd like to add your name to the wall.