Blogs, Bitching and…

When I started this blog I thought I was going to be a good boy. Productive, proactive, prodigious. All the Ps.

I was taking a break from my indie publishing with Fringeworks, and planning the launch of a different publishing entity altogether. i was also following a piece of advice that said: If you want to focus on editing someone else’s work, at least be sure that the end result will be as good as, or better, than your own. Sound advice, if the execution could only be achieved if I were a narcissist.

Before the election of Boris Johnson, the coming of the pandemic, and the national disaster that has been lockdown, I had been focused on some really innovative work in local economic development, thinking hard about how to help local businesses and how to save the high street. Id set up a fledgeling business association, and the future looked bright. Then 1/3 of those businesses vacated the high street, to be replaced by a town filled with betting shops, arcades and no banks or (worse) free ATMs.


But there was still my writing, of which I’ve done a fair bit. sadly a broken laptop and no open repair shops meant doing all of that on a telephone screen, while my mild sciatica progressed into a knotty clutch of muscular and nervous agonies that led to painkillers and a walking stick. suddenly I’m in worse shape than the people I used to support, give lifts to and generally sacrifice personal time and effort for.

Well, with lockdown over and the computer in for fixing, perhaps this is the time for some form of unmiraculous resurrection. But what should I blog about?

My friend Colin suggested I talk about Brexit, the Tories, Australian submarines, Viking monks, GB News, cloning saints, wobbling moons, Doctor Who, Asian dating sites, hating The Guardian (and the Labour Party), must-see bits of Birmingham, tenuous historical speculation (or what I see as creatively untested historical hypotheses). And Brexit.

Basically, everything I talk about on facebook, but with fewer clicks.

Brexit is a non-starter. It’s done for me, and it won’t be reversed in the next 10-15 years or more. Will the UK or the EU even be things by then?

The Tories? I dislike them and wouldn’t give them oxygen. All I do on facebook is offer factual corrections which are sadly about posts that blame the government for everything ranging from Brexit ti the Pandemic to the withdrawal from Afghanistan.


Australian submarines? That was a one-off about AUKUS and French political whingeing. I’m not yet convinced that the former is a good idea, and the French government is always whingeing, so that’s a nope.

Don’t even get me started on GB News. i did a watchathon when it launched. it fried my brain, but did give me a valid opinion (unlike the opinions of the 99.9% who haven’t watched it ‘on principle’).

Viking monks, wobbling moons and cloning saints. Yes, I can see me riffing on those.

Hating the Guardian (and Mail) and the Labour Party are just repetitive rants of mine. They serve little purpose, although the latter may be worth visiting because my loathing is very personal, and mired in corruption and hypocrisy not, as you might assume, my thoughts on progressive socialism (which are, by and large, very positive).

Asian Dating sites. Not interested. someone please tell Facebook.

Which leaves ‘must-see bits of Birmingham’ and ‘creatively untested historical hypotheses’ both of which I’ll happily cover. Especially as I can be passionate about them.

Other suggestions are interviews with well-known friends (apparently I have quite a few), and cross-posts with my other WordPress sites (which have also been a bit neglected).

Tales of Old Horne


For some time now I’ve been dabbling in local history and genealogy, researching various elements of folk-magic and exploring the memes and tropes of folk-horror. Bringing all of that together, I’ve now launched a sister site that I’m dedicating to a series of stories that dip in and out of the genre. Called Tales of Old Horne, it looks at the twentieth century through the eyes of a folklorist-cum-witch based in the West Midlands.

His name is Julius Horne, and as a viewpoint character he is as close to me as I can get, a fictitious grandparent loosely based upon my own. Of course, so as not to break any walls (fourth or otherwise), you won’t hear me admitting any more than that.

I hope you decide to head over there, take a look, and enjoy reading the stories as much as I enjoyed writing them.

The Angry Mountain

There is a lot of anger in the world today. Anger, anxiety, depression, disappointment. Whether escalated by austerity, financial woes, politics, social interaction, social media interaction or a bad day, I can honestly say I’ve never seen so much.

Maybe it’s a condition of being the age that I am, and maybe it’s the transition from optimistic youth to trump old man.

Drugs apparently help. Or mindfulness. For me, its creativity.

(For Nev)

There is an angry mountain

Where I like to go to rant

But halfway up my body aches

And I can barely pant.

But if I make the elevation

An achievement is my gain

And a sense of great elation

Overcomes my inner pain.

I then race down the rocky slope

As if I were a boy

My mind and soul refill with hope

And overflow with joy.

Introducing the Black Constable

In the wake of my recent bit of Trump Fiction, I should confess to working up some stories about a so-called ‘Occult Detective’ going by the name of John Domingo, the Black Constable. Based on a real person, my version exists after the demise of the original (and possibly before), whose background I present here:

There was an old house in Charleston, South Carolina, on Magazine Corner leading into the once respectable Mazyck Street. Said to have been placed under a dark curse it was, during the last years of the nineteenth century, home to an infamous hoodooman and necromancer.

   He was said to be the most powerful conjure-man in the state, if not the country. His name was John Domingo, but his people – the Gullah – spoke of him as The Black Constable, so-called because his was the the only law the neighbourhood needed, and it was to Domingo, not the police, that people would turn to for help.

   He was said to be a huge, powerful man, dressed in a Union greatcoat with long, lionized hair that fell to his shoulders (the picture above is of him, so I’m uncertain if this is true). This led some to believe he had served as a soldier for the North.

    There were other rumours – that he was none other than High John de Conquer, an African prince once sold into slavery. Turning to the African powers, High John had used conjure to effect his emancipation, falling in love with the goddess Erzulie and tricking her three husbands into letting him live.

   Domingo’s power, Le Grand Zombi, was said to lie within the solid silver conjure-ring that he wore upon the fourth finger of his right hand. This ring took the form of Danbala, The Grand Master, and he claimed that it had been forged in Africa on the banks of the mighty Congo River. With this he he summoned forth lwa, invisible spirits that were his to command.

   Domingo’s root-work was legendary to those who practiced the religion of their African ancestors, and his love spells and healing were renowned, as was his ability to control the weather.

   To the sick he was a healer. To the ambitious he brought fortune. To the newly bereaved he was a medium for the spirits of the dead. To the old, the forlorn and the ugly he could help them to find young, attractive mates. To the local fishermen he could calm the weather or summon favourable winds. But there was a dark side to this power, which he sometimes used vengefully and to deliver curses.

   As a necromancer and zombi-man it was said that Domingo could raise the dead, and it was whispered that his house was filled their souls, and with zombie servitors whose shuffling shadows kept unwelcome visitors at bay.

   Certainly John’s visits to the local cemeteries to gather goofer dust and to raise up his servant army were spoken of in hushed tones by the town’s Gullah population, and the fear and awe that he engendered kept the neighbourhood safe and both the white police and the Charleston guard from his door.

   It was the meting out of justice that eventually ended the Black Constable’s reign, for so confident was his last act was considered so blasphemous that it saw him struck down by a power greater than his own.

   Or was he?

   Legend has it that, in the late 1880s, Domingo was called to deal with a pair of thieves. How he caught them is not recounted, but he emerged into the street in triumph, holding a thief in each in each hand as he addressed his people.

   “Am I not just like Jesus, with a thief on each side?” He asked, before urging them to accept that He was more powerful than Jesus.

   Southern Hoodoo, though, is not just about the witchcraft, and like its Haitian cousin it can be said that the people worship Jesus in the morning and practice hoodoo in the evening. Many of his people were African Methodists, while others had been Catholic vodouists brought up in Haiti and Saint Domingue.

   As the words left his lips, Domingo was lifted from the ground by an invisible force – an angry lwa, perhaps – and began to clutch at his throat, choking as white froth poured from his mouth and trickled down his chin.

   With a final gasp, his body was flung to the ground, dead.

   But as it lay inert the body began to age and wither. Gathering around him, the people carried his body to a nearby butcher’s shop where they lay him upon the counter while a doctor was called for. But when the doctor arrived, the hoodoo man’s corpse had taken on a shrivelled, husk-like appearance.

   Some though, say this was not the end for Domingo. As a servant of Danbala, his demise was no different to that of a snake sloughing an old skin. And the zombi-man’s final words–were they arrogance, or a proclamation that preceded his transformation and rebirth? Was that just a shadow that crept away into the darkness?

   There were sightings. Whether a ghost or a physical manifestation is unknown, but the Black Constable continued to walk the streets of Charleston at least until his ties to the town – the derelict old house on Magazine Corner – was demolished.

   Others say that, if he is High John, then Africa beckoned, and he will, much like King Arthur, return to Charleston in its time of greatest need, reclaiming the conjure-ring and using his powers to once more serve his people.

A note on sources: As a writer rather than a scholar, I’m choosing not to cite my sources. John Domingo was a real person, but the legend presented here is aggregated. Feel free to google him or buy books in which he appears.

Trump Fiction

Okay, it’s not usual for me to release the first draft of a story, but time is against me. The original title of this piece was ‘The Devil’s Apprentice’, and I had intended for the protagonist to speak native Gullah. However, to get this story ready for a Halloween reading at Southcart  Books, I had to compromise, using English in place of Gullah (I would never roughly estimate the sound of a dialect, so I decided not to try).

Trigger Warning: The N-word appears in this story.

“The subject is a textbook example of an unprincipled narcissist,” the report said, “consumed by a supreme sense of entitlement and desperate for both the attention and admiration of others, yet lacking any form of conscience. Deceptive, disloyal, exploitative, a brazen liar and a domineering confidence trickster contemptuous of others, unable to handle criticism, vindictive when opposed, and dismissive of others’ feelings.”

   The Donald smiled at the assessment. He paid no attention to such accusations, but the conclusion that he was unfit for the role of president was not one he could allow to be submitted. Thankfully the author had had been persuaded to reconsider, and it had gone away. His stubby finger hovered over the laptop keyboard before crashing down on the return key that confirmed its deletion.

   Donald John Trump smiled with uncontainable satisfaction. Life, of course, wasn’t about having an ego, it was about being the best at closing the deal. And Donald was the best. Of course, being the best made it easy for people to mistake his tremendous success for something more delusional. There were plenty of naysayers out there, making up shit that might stick if enough people believed it. But… so what? So long as he stuck to the script, played the part, and gave them the man they expected, nothing would change. His part was the role of a lifetime. Billionaire, business magnate, playboy, reality TV star, and would-be President of the most powerful nation in the free world. 

   No, not would-be, will be.

   There is, he reminded himself, no room for doubt. In fact, he expected his opponent to concede even before Election Day, because he could throw more poison at that nasty woman than she could possibly imagine. All those years of fake friendship, buying off her supporters, entertaining her husband by offering the best whores to him. They didn’t know they were whores, but what the Donald wants, the Donald gets. That was the good thing about it. Power protects. Besides, people expected the Donald to be a cheating philanderer who enjoys random pieces of ass in between deals with other people’s money. So what if his father lent him the first million? So what if he was about to cut a deal with the devil to guarantee his place in the big chair.

   No done deal is a bad deal, he reminded himself, and becoming president was, here in his own back-yard, at one of his own hotels, about to be secured with the biggest in history.

   Switching browser tabs from his email to Google, he decided to waste a couple of minutes doing a search on himself. The usual stuff was there, although he was pleased to see the links that his campaign had paid for were trending way above the opposition’s smear campaigns. He smiled to himself. All that talk about rigging things? They didn’t know the first thing about it, and there was nothing– 

   He paused as the search refreshed. Something new had climbed up the rankings. He’d never seen it before. Curious, he clicked on the link. 

   There were hundreds of such threats online, and they rarely trended. No liberal was going to follow through on that crap. At least this site had a nice approach. Crowdfunding. Some shmuck was using crowdfunding to raise enough money to hire a hitman. Sweet, he thought. People were pledging fifty bucks a pop to reach a ten million dollar target. Well, he conceded, that might be enough to get a half-decent hitman. But the target was too high. Election Day was just a month away and they’d barely raised $50k. Besides, he was pretty sure the FBI would round up every backer if anything came of it.

   Maybe I’ll get the site cloned and set up one called killhillary, he thought. Yeah. He smiled to himself.

   Just then his desk intercom buzzed, and he shifted his attention away from the Internet, pressing the speaker button.

   “Yes, Barb?” 

   “Your visitor has arrived, Mister Trump. Are you ready for me to send him in?”

Good girl, he thought, she remembered the cue. Men might be better than women 99% of the time, but a good woman was worth as many as 10 good men. It was a pity she was getting older though, and if she put on any more weight he would have to consider letting her go.

   “Give me ten,” he replied. One of the secrets of a good deal was to keep ’em waiting, even if you were negotiating with the devil himself. “Has the coffee machine been fixed yet?”   

   That was another cue, this time to Barb. It meant ‘do not give him a drink’. Another tactic.

   “No sir. Apparently it’s a problem with the water supply.”
   “Never mind. Tell him there’s a whisky waiting when we meet.” Carrot and stick, never failed.

   In the time that he had, Trump took up the slender manila folder that rested on his desk. His business intelligence was the best, but his international espionage links were tremendous. Putin delivered every time, and the folder would tell him everything he needed to know about his visitor.

“Doctor John Domingo, aka The Black Constable. Born London, 1955. The subject claims to be a direct descendant of the original John Domingo of Charleston, South Carolina, a notorious Hoodoo man whose death in 1888 was subject to poor paperwork and local superstition. There is a line of descendants traceable to Dr. John Domingo of Bermuda (d. 1937).

   “It is claimed that Domingo was conceived in a black magic ritual held by a mixture of black migrants and white would-be witches, who sought to adopt voodoo practices through the coercion of his mother, Marguerite Domingue (d. 1955), who was killed in a fire on the day of his birth.

   “Domingo was subsequently adopted by the renowned businessman and satanist, Sir Clive Throckmorton, and was educated at Eton before attending Keble College, Oxford, where he was a member of both the Piers Gaveston Society and the notorious Bullingdon Club. Here he achieved a Doctorate in Theology, after which time he and his stepfather parted company.”

   Whatever happened to Clive Throckmorton? Trump wondered. When he was younger the man had been an inspiration, but in recent years his name and legacy seemed to have faded from history. He made a mental note to check it out.
   “Domingo returned to his ancestral home in Charleston for five years, where he set himself up as a babalawo and Hoodoo practitioner, following in the footsteps of his great-grandfather, before returning to England to become a ‘Master of Gullah Hoodoo’, selling charms, providing consultations and other supernatural services for the curious rich.

   “Of particular interest were the services he rendered to the Dragovskaya Bratva, a criminal syndicate from Russia whose heavy investment in the London property market saw considerable payments made to Domingo. It was on the recommendation of Timur Komarov, the late founder of the Dragovskaya, that Domingo’s name was put forward as the best man to provide services of a metaphysical nature.?”

   Trump closed the folder. There was plenty more detail, but he hadn’t time for that right now. Leaning forward, he activated the intercom.

   “Send our visitor in now, thanks, Barb.”

   As the door opened, Trump appraised the man that stepped into the room. He was tall and imposing, with dark, piercing eyes that had something of the snake about them. Despite his dark brown skin he had an almost oriental look about him, his long, black, slick hair tightly tied into a ponytail, with two long strands hanging down to frame his hawk-like moustachioed face. 

   Beneath his great Union-blue cavalry coat (a period piece that looked new enough to have come from a reenactment group) the man wore a silk gown underneath. Like a kimono, with silver snakes picked out against a red background. It wasn’t oriental though, it looked to be more East European.

   Finally, slung over his shoulder, Domingo carried a battered black leather satchel, onto which strange occult signs and symbols —the vevres of his craft–had been picked out in white and orange.

   “Mister Domingo? Take a seat.”

   With a curt nod, the hoodooman sat, his eyes unwavering in their attentiveness. “You wanted my help, Mister Trump?” He said at last in a well enunciated English accent that seemed at odds with his appearance.

   “Indeed I do. It’s super to finally meet you,” the Donald stood, offering his hand. “I’ve heard such good things…”

   Domingo ushered away the proffered hand with a sweep of his left. Long, sharp fingernails made him look like some kind of mandarin. A black Fu Manchu, thought Trump, withdrawing his hand and taking his seat.

   “By heard, you mean read,” said Domingo. “That is my file?”

   Before the billionaire could answer, the stranger had swept up the folder, opening it up and tracing its words with his long fingernails.

   “Accurate, but sparse,” he said at last, returning the folder to the table. “What would you have of me?”

   “I need help,” the billionaire replied, struggling with the words. “Magical help.”

   “Well, I am a conjure-man, so that stands to reason, although I was led to believe you had no truck with religion.”

   “I’m a Presbyterian, old-testament kinda guy, but I don’t bring God into politics or business. That just gets messy.”

   “But you do know that as a conjure-man I deal with spirits empowered by the divine?”
   “Sure, kind of. I thought Saints and Angels and Devils and such.”

   “Quite,” said Domingo. “I deal in charms, curses, conjurings and readings, Mr Trump. Which, exactly, do you want from me?”

   “Something pretty big, pretty powerful. I need to win this vote. Whatever it takes.”

   “You’re asking me use my powers to rig the election for you?”

   “It’s already rigged. This whole Campaign has been a disaster. The worst. I think she’s already using poison against me. Traitors, a hitman maybe. She’s crazy, and it’s up to me to stop her. I’m the only man that can, but I need your help. Just make me win. I need to win that election. Everything is at stake.”

   “Very well. First thing I want is a potation of that whisky you offered, then I’m going to fix you up a mojo hand that does exactly what you want.”

   “A mojo hand?”

   “You’ll see,” said Domingo, reaching into his satchel and drawing out a stencilled board made from three strips of polished wood long-since liberated from an old dockside packing crate. It had been thickly coated with blackboard paint before being ornately transformed into what Trump recognised as a ouija board.

   “This,” said John, “is my planchette. The summoning board that I use to bring down the loa. Your people call it Ouija, but we call it by its true name. Ouidah, named for the spirit of its people and the land of their birth.”

   Laying the board out on the billionnaire’s mahogany desk, Domingo quickly set to work. First he took out a piece of white chalk, drawing four symbols upon the board and muttering a short but unintelligible prayer over each. Then he set four dishes at the cardinal points of the board, and into each he poured a measure of water from a small stoppered leather skin. Into each of these he placed a floating tallow candle, each of which he lit in sequence.

   He then withdrew a small metal bowl–a crucible–which he placed in the centre of the board, with a small gas-burner set beneath it. Then he waited, shushing his client when the billionaire tried to speak, and furrowing his brows as the metal began to glow red with the heat.

   Taking out the dessicated wing of a whippoorwill, the jawbone of a squirrel, and the fang of a rattle-snake, Domingo crumbled them into the bowl, reducing them to ash. As he did this, he withdrew a small pouch of grey dust, taken from the grave of an old and wicked person. Sprinkling it over the ashes, he then added a spattering of blood, freshly drained from the throat of a cannibal sow.

   Lowering the heat, The conjure-man took a weathered wooden spoon and stirred the mixture into a thick paste, shaping it into a small cake in the centre of the bowl.

   “Now, give me some tow-hair,” he said.

   “Some what?”
   “A lock of hair from your head. I need it.”
   Reaching forward, the hoodooman grasped at Trump’s fringe and tugged sharply, plucking a small clump of golden hair as his client yelped into pain.

   “Owww! Is this absolutely–?”


   Drawing three small hen feathers from his satchel, Domingo wrapped them tightly with the blond hair before inserting the bound tangle into the grey ash-cake. Blowing upon it to harden the mixture, he set the cake aside and reached into his satchel once more, withdrawing a small bag made from flesh torn from the haunch of a living cat. Placing the feather-cake inside the bag, he took out a long white skein from his satchel, setting it aside before adding other materials–red clover blossom, some chewing tobacco, more grey tomb-dust, a sliver of tin foil and a ball of silk thread.

   “Whisky?” He held out his hand, and Trump raised a golden box from beneath his desk, embossed with the symbolic letter T. 

   “This,” he said, “is the finest whisky, ‘Trump Scotland Single Malt Scotch’. Twenty Five years old,” he added. “I’m incredibly proud. It’s from the Benriach Distillery Company, and they made it just for me. It’s the absolute best,” he added, pouring two fingers of the golden spirit into a cut glass, also embossed with the billionaire’s trademark T.

   Domingo then took the tobacco, stuffing it into his mouth before starting to chew. As he did this he snapped the skein into four parts, each a foot and a half in length, then doubled and re-doubled them, skilfully braiding in an equal length of silken thread as he did so.

   “There,” he said at last, still chewing. “I’ll use these skeins to bind the spirits, but first–”

   He picked up the glass and filled his mouth with the whisky before making weird mumbling and gurgling noises as he sloshed the whisky and tobacco around inside his mouth. As he did so he tied his first end, then mouth-sprayed a measure of the saliva-infused mix over the knot. This he repeated three more times as he used the skein to bind the bag. 

   “Now,” said the conjure-man, “More whisky!”

   Trump refilled his glass and repeated the incantation, pausing to mouth-spray the red clover and the foil before slipping them in amongst the tangle of knotted skeins and sprinkling them liberally with more tomb dust. He then picked up the remainder of the silk yarn and began to wind it tightly around the ball until it was a good inch-and-a-half in diameter.
   “There,” he said at last. “No loa can break those knots. Ologun before me, Ologun behind me, Ologun inside me. May this ball bring election success to Donald Trump. May it bind the spirits, and may it cast down his enemies before him so that they will be brought underfoot. May it bring him followers aplenty, and may it bring the loyal to him so that he is honoured, so that he has power and wealth, so that it may bring his heart’s desire, so that he will succeed in all that he undertakes, so that it brings him happiness. I fix it in the name of Ologun. As the roads twist and turn, as the rivers flow, be with me by day, be with me by night, be with me by day and by night.” 

Is that it? Thought Trump, whose confidence in the magic had waned as he had watched. This is so primitive. So uncivilised. But it was always worth hedging your bets.

   “Promise,” said Domingo, holding up the ball so that it came between his own eyes and those of his client, “that you’ll treat this lucky-ball well, Donald Trump…”

   As he spoke, his words washed over the tycoon, the ball seemed to take on a life of its own, spinning and dancing before him, and a strange but distant sensation came over him, as if he was far away, barely hearing the conjure-man’s words. Then he was aware of a conversation. Was he being interrogated? There were and answers, but he didn’t know what they were, not whether they came from his own mouth, that of Domingo, or from some detached spirit.
   “Come closer.” He then heard John say, and felt himself drawn back towards the hoodooman. It was if he had taken a big, big hit of cocaine.”
   Then he felt a spray of whisky as Domingo’s mouth bathed his face in another glassful of spirit and saliva.
   “It is done.”
   Wrapping the ball in tinfoil and a little silk rag, the hoodooman handed it to his client.

   “I want you to place this ball in a small linen bag. Attach it to a piece of string made from hemp or flax. Then I want you to swing it over your left shoulder so that the back ends up under your right armpit. Is that clear?”
   Trump nodded.
   “Good. The ball should rest under your right arm, touching your skin. Once per week you must remove the bag, bathe the ball in saliva and whisky, and then repeat the procedure. Over the left, under the right. Yes?”

   Again the Donald nodded.
   “If you do not do this, its potency will subside.”
   Gathering his things together, Domingo reached across the table and took what was left of the whisky, slipping it into his satchel before he stood and made his goodbyes.
   “Our business is concluded,” he said, passing over an invoice for his services. “You shall not see me again. Congratulations on your election victory.”

   As the hoodooman departed, Trump examined the invoice.

   “Ten million dollars or one immortal soul?” He sneered, screwing up the invoice and throwing it into the bin. “Stupid N*****.”

November 8th, 2016

When the election results came in it was clear that the exit polls had called it wrong. America had marched, with its eyes wide open, into oblivion. All the poison thrown at Secretary Clinton had done its work, and Hillary was beaten. Donald Trump, secure in his tower, smugly patted the little ball that nestled beneath his right armpit. It was, perhaps, time for a press conference.

   On the other side of the world a different billionaire sat in front of his laptop. One browser window was live-streaming Trump’s inauguration. The other recorded the closing minutes of a deal on his business’s website. The billionaire went by the name of Dr John Domingo, the sole beneficiary of Sir Clive Throckmorton’s fortune, the sole beneficiary of Timur Komarov’s criminal fortune, and soon to be the sole beneficiary of Donald J Trump’s.

   And if that wasn’t enough, his crowdfunding website,, had just made more than six times its original goal.
   Slipping the red gris-gris bag from his right wrist, Domingo pulled it open, withdrawing a small man-shaped fetish. There was a lock of golden hair tied to the crown, and it reeked of Trump Scotland Single Malt Whisky. The conjure-man casually reached for the long red-hot metal nail that rested upon a metal crucible that was heated by a gas burner.

   Ten minutes later, halfway through his inaugural speech, Donald Trump felt a throbbing soreness under his left armpit and a searing, burning sensation in the middle of his chest…

Afterword: At some point I expect to rewrite this story, anonymizing the antagonist and adding the proper dialect, but in the mean time, enjoy.

Copyright © 2016 Adrian Middleton

Why I am a Chartist

Call me naive, but politics in the UK (and elsewhere) has become a toxic affair, tainted by career politicians corrupted by commercial and media interests who are more concerned with maintaining the status quo than acting in the best interests of Britain, Europe or, indeed, the world.

For some time I’ve been convinced that at the heart of this are not the social divide between haves and have-nots, but the ideological war between socialism and capitalism. Political parties are based on ideology, and ideologues always put their beliefs before the wellbeing of the people that they wish to impose them upon.

For a long time I struggled with this. Why, I always asked myself, can society not operate on two tiers. A top, capitalist tier, focused on merit and growth, and a lower, socialist tier, offering an equitable baseline that determines the minimum standards that a civilised society is prepared to accept. Obviously, by utilising both ideologies the links between them become corridors of social mobility. Or maybe siphons.

Of course everyone argues you can’t have two ideologies working in tandem, even though that’s exactly what the Labour Party was doing between 1997 and 2010.

I’m not a capitalist. I’m not a socialist. I recognise the values and the flaws in both, and I have always sought to find the middle ground. But In not exactly a liberal either.

Surely, I reasoned, a political party can be based on principles rather than ideologies. There must be some universal rights that everyone would want to sign up to. Or at the very least, most people.

The more I thought about this the more I realised that the answer lay under my nose, here in Birmingham. 


The 15th of June 2015 was the 800th Anniversary of Magna Carta, and to celebrate I had visited the British Library’s Exhibition. It needed a good three hours to get through, but it was worth it.

One thing that occurred to me as I saw, and learned, just how widely Magna Carta had influenced the political landscape of the western world, was that something wasn’t right. It was there, but such scant attention was given to the Chartist Movement and the reforms of 1832 that it’s own impact seemed minor. Yet the more I think on today’s political problems the more I feel that Chartism might be the way forward. A new but simple charter of enshrined rights that reflects the spirit of Magna Carta is exactly what we need again today. 

Particularly because Chartism was a cause, rather than an ideology. A movement rather than a political institution.

UK politics has lacked a cause for some time, with the exception of one: the cause of ending our EU membership. The one goal cause that not only swelled the UKIP vote, but also won them Brexit. 

So while Labour and the Tories tore themselves apart, Goldsmith’s UKIP was a one-issue unifier that drew so many people – the old, the poor, the working class, the disenfranchised – to its cause.

And even without a credible voice in Parliament, they achieved their objective.

Just like the Chartists of 1832.

Had UKIP learned lessons from the most successful political movement in British history? Perhaps, or perhaps it was coincidence. Either way, it demonstrated to me that Chartism could still work today, in the 21st Century.

Chartism allows for the creation of the very British values those pesky politicians blather on about incoherently. Right now they’re a euphemism.

However, if Charter review were tied to an enshrined referendum process embedded in the long-term parliamentary timetable, there would never be a need for spontaneous referendums ever again. Charter issues could be revisited periodically by statute. All those things we have seen eroded – from sovereignty to the NHS to freedom of speech to privacy to human rights – could be key Charter issues that would prevent every future government from claiming false mandates and perverting the very fabric of our society.

Even better, Chartism is a broad church. You can follow opposing ideologies it still subscribe to the core principles of a Charter. I can see how everyone supporting it would understand exactly what was meant by “I am a Chartist” as opposed to “I am a socialist” or “I am a capitalist”
So who were the Chartists? From the first meeting in Bradford Street, Birmingham in 1838 through until their displacementby mainstream  political reformers just ten years later they were almost forgotten by the time their proposed reforms were eventually enacted – not all as stated to the letter, but certainly in spirit. 

They may only ever have had one MP, but their loud voices shook the nation, forced the resignation of a Prime Minister, changed the nature of ten parliamentary landscape, and Doubtless paved the way for the decline of Imperialism and the rise of the Labour movement.

So what were their aims? What objectives dos they seek to enshrine? Well…

1. A vote for every person of sixteen years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for a crime.
2. The Secret Ballot – To protect the elector in the exercise of his vote.

3. No Property Qualification for Members of Parliament – thus enabling the constituencies to return the man of their choice, be he rich or poor.

4. Payment of Members, thus enabling an honest trades-man, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency; when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the country.

5. Equal Constituencies, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing small constituencies to swamp the votes of large ones. 

6. Annual Parliament Elections, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since as the constituency might be bought once in seven years (even with the ballot), no purse could buy a constituency (under a system of universal suffrage) in each ensuing twelvemonth; and since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now.

Chartists also explored new ways of living in communes to reduce costs and enable people to own land to secure their electoral voice. They infiltrated the pulpits of the Church and created the great political preachers of the nineteenth century. They championed emancipation and influenced many of the politicians that followed, from John Bright (the man who arguably convinced Lincoln to oppose slavery) to Marx and Engels.

The protests of the modern age are issue specific. Anti-Austerity, Occupy, Pro-EU. They may have many of the same members and activists, but they don’t speak with a single voice. Not like the Chartists.

So I ask myself what, if such existed, might a modern chartist manifesto look like? What principles might it espouse?
My first thought is that ideological principles would have to be avoided. So no nationalism, socialism, no capitalism, no anarchy, no religion, no pacifism, no militarism, no republicanism. These are the issues that divide reasonable people, and that open the door for agitators and for agents provocateur. They shouldn’t be things that can polarise, they should be the things that reasonable people can agree on.

To me it should cover the basics: Citizenship & Democracy, Constituency & Representation, Education, Health & Welfare, Election & Representation, Freedom & Privacy, Insurance and Taxation, Public Service, Sovereignty and Parliament.

It isn’t about reform so much as transparency. Many hard-won reforms to basic human rights are being revised or reversed without political mandate, and campaigning for a Charter

If we can enshrine our expectations in a modern People’s Charter, and if we can campaign for a charter, and for a process that allows the people to challenge  it’s  violation, has a very real chance of making democracy work.

Happy Towel Day

The loss of Douglas Adams on 11th May 2001 led to the creation of a celebration of all things Hitchhiker a couple of weeks later. Today, then, is the 15th Annual Towel Day.

To celebrate (or commemorate) I wrote the following pastiche, which was for a Birthday reading at Southcart Books in Walsall. It went down quite well.

I should point out that I have included part of a brief exchange, word-for-word, from the late Mr Adams. Given his (and my) habit of anecdotal repetition, some of you may have heard it before. If not, share and enjoy:

A Question, at last…

A Vogon, a small furry creature from Alpha Centauri and a hyper intelligent shade of the colour blue known as a hooloovoo walked into a bar.
Being intangible, the colour passed through it without incident while the small furry creature stopped to use it as a scratching post. Unused to the concept of clothing, it was obviously quite irritated by the freshly printed Extra-extra-large tee-shirt, emblazoned with the the legend “I Voted for Stupid”, that enveloped its extra-extra-small body. The Vogon, meanwhile, walked up to the bartender and shouted out his order.

“One pan-galactic gargle blaster madam!”

“I beg your pardon?” Said the mixologist, clearly upset by some perceived slight.

“One pan-galactic gargle blaster madam.” the Vogon repeated. “Now, madam!”


“Yes, madam, now, madam!” said the purple-faced Vogon, slamming a meaty fist on the bar with the force of a large wet medicine ball.

Shrugging off the disgruntled order, the bartender set about making the drink, vigorously shaking a bottle of that Ol’ Janx Spirit into a pre-chilled measure of Santraginean water. The kersploosh-kersploosh-kersploosh of three Mega-gin cubes was quickly replaced by the bubbling sound of their rapidly diffusing benzine payload, even as a geyser of Fallian marsh gas erupted from the hollow tube that rested at the bottom of the tall glass. With a flip and a reverse flip the talented mixologist spiralled a glutinous globule of Qualactin Hypermint essence into the cocktail, breathing deeply of its heady vapours before revealing, with a flourish, an Algolian Suntiger tooth which, with a satisfying plink-fizz ignited the mixture with a dazzling burst of white-hot sunlight that was immediately quenched by a fine sprinkling of zamphour. To this a slice of lemon and the piece de la resistance, an olive, were added. Setting the carefully prepared drink before the customer, the bartender promptly threw its contents into the offending Vogon’s face, where the highly corrosive mixture exfoliated the fat alien’s outermost layer of blubber.

As the room fell silent, the hooloovoo turned to the small furry creature beside him and flickered manically, silently asking why exactly the Vogon had called the bartender madam when it was clearly pangendered.

“It’s the sound he makes whenever his triple chins crash into his face,” explained the Alpha Centauran.

“Happens every time I speak, madam,” said the Vogon, looking around for the nearest towel.

Casting an inquisitive ray of light around the room, the hooloovoo settled its focus on a dark corner, flashing in excitement as it spotlit their quarry.
“Hey, torchie, not so bright!” Said Zaphod Beeblebrox, whose single head, feathered lime fedora and turned up collar were about as inconspicuous as the galaxy’s most narcissistic narcissist could muster. “My left side is the good one this week.”

What can you say about Zaphod Beeblebrox…? Adventurer, ex-hippy, good-timer, fantastically tactless, manic self-publicist, terribly bad at personal relationships, overarchingly arrogant, if not completely out to lunch, inventor of the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, ex-confidence trickster, and recently voted the Worst Dressed Sentient Being in the Universe for the forty sixth time.
A man so Machiavellian, in fact, that he betrayed even himself, become President of the Galaxy just so he could top it by becoming the most wanted man in the universe.

In the wake of his eventual capture, his extremely well publicised multiverse-wide execution and his subsequent lecture tour across the length and breadth of the Galaxy, vicious rumours began to circulate that he might actually have done it all on purpose.

Quick as a flash the hooloovoo was at Zaphod’s side while its furry sidekick struggled with the tail of its tee-shirt as it scuttled across the floor.

Behind them the mighty Karx, dressed in the formal leathers of the Animatractic Courier Corps marched, duck-like, with a creak, a waddle, a creak and a very unsightly frown.

“Beeblebrox?” He shouted. “Madam.” His chin flapped.

“Shush. Cool it, stubby. I’m in-cog-neato! Do you have the package?”

“Yes, madam,” said Karx, unstrapping a thick rubbery rucksack which his client had mistaken for a hump. “If you could just… madam.”

The Vogon dumped the bag on the table, pulling out a lengthy sheet of pink paper for Zaphod to sign. The Alpha Centauran produced a similar sheet in green, while the hyper intelligent colour projected one in a fetching shade of blue.

“Who shall I sign it to?” Zaphod asked, producing a gold stylus and a third arm from the folds of his coat.

“No dedication,” said the Vogon, “madam.”

“To Tim,” said the Alpha Centauran, attracting a glower from his towering companion.

“How do you spell that?” Zaphod asked.

“T-I-9-M,” squeaked the furry fan. “The nine is silent.”

“Cool. That’s the second most unusual request I’ve had…” The ex-President paused, waiting to be asked about the first. An awkward silence followed, broken only by the strobing of the hooloovoo, desperate to get an autograph of its own.

With the papers signed, Karx let out an almost joyous “Ha! Madam!” Before gathering the triplicate receipts and stuffing them deep inside his leathers.

Gingerly, Zaphod reached out towards the rucksack, breaking the beam of its light-zip. Losing its rigidity, the sack’s sides fell away to reveal as rusty robotic head.

“One heap of junk, As requested,” said Ti9m. “Although we don’t see why you bothered.”

“This…” said Zaphod “…is something I spent years looking for. It was under my nose all the time. Boring, irritating, totally unremarkable.”

“I can hear you,” said the head, it’s triangular eyes glowing with a dim light. “Although I really wish I couldn’t.”

“What is it, then?” Ti9m asked.

“This is my metal mate Marvin, the oldest, wisest, most soul-numbing robot in the history of the universe.”

“I can still hear you,” said the head with a loud electronic sigh.

“And?” Karx asked, letting out a barely audible double-madam.

“And he had the question all along.”

“The question?”

“Yeah. To Life, the Universe, Everything.”

“THE question?” Ti9m asked.

“Yeah. I spent years finding the answer, only to discover I needed the question to make any sense of it.”

“Pardon me for pointing out the exceedingly obvious, but you do realise they’re mutually exclusive?” Said Marvin. “You can’t know the question and the answer at the same time.”

“It’s okay,” Zaphod reassured him, “the answer’s in my other head.”

“You know, it’s at times like this I’m grateful that I still suffer the phantom pain of the faulty diodes that used to run down my left hand side.”

“Time to end the pretence, chrome-top. I know you have the question.”

“You know? You barely uprocess a hundred million bits per second. How can you possibly know anything with such a slow brain. Now if you really want to know things, you need a brain the size of a planet.”

“Yeah, exactly. You have a brain the size of a planet.”

“Oh, forgive me. You know what I just told you. Give it a few moments, I’m sure the memory will fade. Unlike mine, I never…”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m not really stupid Marvin. I commissioned you.”

“You commissioned me? You’re telling me you were responsible for initiating my miserable existence in the first place? I hated you before. Now I positively loathe you.”

“Yeah? Thanks. It’s mutual. Thing is, when I wired my two brains back together I worked it out. Brain the size of a PLANET.”

“Yes, well done. You still remember. I can only surmise that you finally got some treatment.”

“Yeah, yeah. Thing is the question had to be calculated by a computer the size of a planet. A computer as big and as powerful as the Earth.”

“Earth, madam?” Karx was startled by the name. A startled Vogon is not a pretty sight, particularly when the ends of its unibrow stand up as if they just received an electrostatic charge. “Didn’t that get demolished by one of our Constructor Fleets?”

“Yeah, my bad. I was popular that day and accidentally signed the order. It’s not like I’d make THAT mistake again. Still, I did make up for it by approving the order to build Earth 2. I just didn’t think the interface would be built into Marvin here.”

“All that redundant capacity,” said Marvin, “and it was all for the sake of a question that nobody is going to like.”

“So what’s the question?” Ti9m asked, leaning in so that the old robot might share the information.

“Not for you guys,” said Zaphod. “Shove off. You’ve got your money. Now skedaddle.”

“Really?” Ti9m bristled and his nose twitched angrily. “After all we’ve…”

“He’s right, madam,” said Karx. “We have the receipt. Duty calls elsewhere.”

Cursing, the Alpha Centauran turned on his heel, accompanying the shade and the Vogon from the premises while muttering something about never voting for “that bastard” ever again.

“So,” said Zaphod, alone with The robot head at last. “Spill.”

“I’m afraid any lubricants that may have occupied my cranial cavities have long since been drained away,” said Marvin, “more’s the pity.”

“The question, metal man,” said Zaphod impatiently. “What is it?”

“Anticlimactic. Really. The deep, but brief sense of achievement I experienced in working it out was quickly overcome by the sheer pointlessness of knowing what it is.”

“Yeah but you’re the only one that worked it out, right?”

“So? Just because it happens to be the single most difficult task that might ever be undertaken by any hyper-intelligent being in the entire history of the universe. Just because understanding it is entirely dependent upon understanding the entire structure of life, the universe, and everything, doesn’t make it exciting. Or useful.”

“Yeah, but it is valuable, right?”

“Valuable? To the academic community I suppose. They might find a use for it, but only to populate a fresh lesson plan or to justify a lecture tour. Not that you ever need an excuse.”


“What is the square root of -1?”

“I don’t know. Why answer a question with a question? I don’t want games, Marvin, I want answers.”

“No,” Marvin gave an even longer electronic sigh than earlier, “you wanted the question. That was it. So utterly underwhelming that you skipped over it without a moment’s hesitation. A bit like me really. Hmm. Maybe I am the embodiment of the question. Maybe it’s sheer uselessness is a metaphor for the yawning void that fills my neural pathways from each interminably long second to the next.”

“You mean the square root thing? That’s it?”

“Yes. I told you it was a useless piece of information.”

“Marvin?” Zaphod sighed. 


“I’m switching you off now.”


All characters are copyrighted to the estate of Douglas Adams, and no intention to infringe these rights is intended.

The Beat that My Heart Skips

Heart Card

Back in February 2014 I suffered the first of I don’t know how many acute cardiac episodes. I say “I don’t know” because these things really aren’t as straightforward as it may seem. I was struck by mild chest pains and a thumping head. I didn’t immediately think heart attack, but rather that I needed food, so I made breakfast before heading off to a scheduled appointment with the dreaded Department of Work and Pensions.

At the time I was under a lot of stress – my mortgage was under severe threat, my business was making no money, with decisions made that I could neither afford nor agree with, and my energy was being leeched by the most toxic ‘friendship’ I had ever experienced. My anxiety was becoming palpable, and my temper was shortening by the day. Something had to give, and I just hadn’t expected it to be my heart. Turning up for the interview, I was quickly overcome by cold sweats and aching forearms. This was not hunger, I realized. Called for my appointment, I was duly treated like mud, and with the pain throbbing in my head, I calmly stood up, announced I was having a heart attack, and walked to my car. Don’t drive to hospital like I did. Call an ambulance. Driving may be quicker, but it certainly isn’t safer. Plus I’d have ended up in a different hospital. Parking up, I stepped into A&E, announced chest pains, and surrendered myself to the mercies of the NHS, who were perplexed.

Sinus rhythm and blood pressure? Normal.

Blood tests were taken and debate was had. It may be a heart attack, but probably not. Then there was the ECG. And then they found the markers. I had had a coronary incident – one of 91 different markers that say a myocardial infarction had taken place, except the entire episode lasted hours. From the initial pain at 8.30am through the the experience overwhelming me at 3am, when I finally drifted off to sleep, I was in pain.

What happened, I later learned, was that a large chunk of arterial plaque had broken off and passed through my left coronary artery and out into my bloodstream, where it scraped and stabbed and forced its way around my body until it finally broke up into particles too small to do me harm. A very bad angina attack, by all accounts. The next day they carried out an angiogram, which complicated matters. They expected to need to fit a stent in the damaged artery, widening it enough that the blood would flow again and I would be sent home. Instead jaws dropped. My arteries were the biggest they had ever seen. They were, the lead consultant said, as big as my head. Hmm. This was where things got mixed up. First I got blase. I was led to believe my arteries were not only too big for a stent to fit, but also too big for any blockage to do me any real harm.

They sent me home.

The head nurse argued it was too soon, but was overruled by the doctor who, in a Holbyesque twist, turned out to be her fella. Cue the theme music. Of course, the nurse was right and the doctor was wrong. Three days later my new meds caused a crash. When the chest pains came, my already low blood pressure dropped to the floor when I did as I was told (i.e. used the GTN spray). In the ambulance they gave me epinephrine and I was like a floppy rag-doll, spaced out and feeling it all slip away as I was raced back into hospital. In the days that followed I learned incident #1 was a heart attack, incident #2 (which, despite being shorter, was much, much worse) was entirely medicine-related, and that many of the people around me were not good for my health.

To this day I don’t know what happened behind my back, but the business partner wanted to break up the business, the toxic ‘friend’ plotted behind my back, and I came out of hospital with fewer friends than I went in with. Of course, I didn’t realize all that at the time – hindsight is wonderful – and as I started to recover I found myself plunged into the darkest days I had ever known.

I was broke, I was breathless, I was unfocused, I was depressed. So low that I was struggling to keep my head above water. Sure, I could put on a brave face, but as if sensing my weakness there were those who circled like sharks, spreading lies and rumours that cost me friendships, hinting that I was somehow abusive. This shocked me. Yes, I was an assertive extrovert, and yes, as my sick heart struggled there was as much shortening of temper as there was shortness of breath, but I was still me. Still desperate to always do the right thing. Still determined to be Mr Nice Guy, and to put the happiness others before my own. It was a desolate place where self worth had no home.

Following cardio rehab my meds were slowly reduced, and six months ago I came off the blood thinners.

Big mistake.

Somewhere between then and now the clotting started. Which brings me up to date.

On July 15th, 2015 I was back in hospital. It involved the same chest pains as before. 6.20pm they came on, and I wasn’t asleep and out of pain until twelve hours later. When I woke at 8am they hadn’t seen the notes from my earlier event and they didn’t seem convinced I had been having a heart attack. By 8.30 there was no doubt, and they wheeled me in for an angioplasty while I battled worse pain and discomfort than the preceding day. Again my arteries were too big.

Its called Coronary Artery Ectasia, and basically it means my arteries are stretched. Instead of the 3-4mm diameter of a normal artery, mine are 10mm. Too big to put in a stent. Because of my large right coronary artery the blood-flow into my heart and out of my left is turbulent and slow. This means that clots form near the heart itself, and despite their size two of my left arteries were clogging up with blood clots.

One was pretty much clogged already – probably build-up from the time I stopped taking a blood-thinner. The other was silting up but the blood still flowed. They acted quickly, using balloons (but no stents) to open up the one artery, then withdrawing for a few days to pump me full of blood-thinners before trying again.

That first angioplasty lasted three hours, and I remember every second. 48 hours on and they were in again. Sadly the clogged artery was still thick with coagulated blood, and while they tried to use a stent to force the far end open, they had to withdraw, wait, and see. Now I feel like an epileptic, never certain what the next day might bring. My right coronary artery is still so big that sudden cardiac death might not be likely. My left, while also big, are so prone to clotting that I am instead at high risk of thromboses or embolisms – long, painful attacks that can cause strokes or death – and I don’t have a definite solution in place to prevent this.

CRA is rare, occurring in maybe 4% of coronary patients. 70% of the time it is a by-product of artherosclerosis. 20% of the time it is caused by artery-stretching illnesses like Marfan or Kawasaki Disease. I’m one of the 0.4% the cause of whose CRA is uncertain. It may be caused by Hyperlipidaemia (a genetic cholesterol disease), but when the percentages are so low nothing is certain. Blood-thinners are assumed to be the best treatment, but there just hasn’t been any supporting evidence to prove it one way or another.

Medication for life. That’s fine. Lifestyle change? Well, I went through that, and I can keep it up, but it makes little difference.

This is about blood flow, pure and simple.My greatest risks are ‘exercise-induced angina’ or clot-induced myocardial infarction. In the mean time, the depression seems to have switched off like a button. I say seems to because its less than a week later. I’m still crabby, but I feel like I did a few years ago, and I feel better for it.