andrewgodsell

Tales from an author

Why Not Trust the Tories?

Bevan jacket 2

Aneurin Bevan is famous as the Labour government minister who founded the National Health Service, which has been serving the nation since 1948. Bevan is also known as the firebrand MP for Ebbw Vale, on the left of his party, involved in many controversies, between his first election to the Westminster Parliament in 1929, and his death in 1960. Less well-known are the two books that Bevan published. In Place of Fear, from 1952, setting out the case for democratic Socialism, has been reprinted several times, without achieving the recognition accorded to many books written by former Cabinet ministers. Bevan’s earlier effort, Why Not Trust the Tories?, published in 1944, rapidly sold an amazing 80,000 copies, and then all but disappeared. The book has never – as far as I can tell – been reprinted, and receives only passing references in biographies of Bevan.

Why Not Trust the Tories? was published by Victor Gollancz, as part of a series providing critiques of the Conservative, and right wing, approach that had dominated British politics in recent years. The most famous of these books was Guilty Men, by “Cato”, published in 1940, attacking the appeasement of Fascism by the National Government. There was speculation that Bevan might be the author, but “Cato” was the pseudonym for a trio of journalists, including a young Michael Foot. Four years later, Bevan did enter the literary fray. The title page of Why Not Trust the Tories? announced the author as “Celticus”, but there was no need to speculate on the identity, as this was immediately followed by “(Aneurin Bevan, M.P.)”. As a hardback, with a dust jacket, and a text running to 89 pages, this was a real book – weightier than a pamphlet. It is now 75 years since the book was published, but Bevan’s work remains one of the most perceptive analyses of the negative outlook, and cynical actions, of the Conservative Party. Much of the tragedy of the past has been repeated as farce in more recent times, and Bevan’s message should be heeded today.

In 1944, victory for Britain, and her allies, in World War Two was in sight. In the first chapter, “1918: After the Armistice”, Bevan drew parallels with the position at the end of World War One. During both wars, Britain was governed by a coalition of the Liberal, Tory, and Labour parties. At the end of the first war, Labour decided to revert to independence, opposing the Tories. Within days of the conflict ending, the coalition called the infamous “Coupon” General Election, with David Lloyd George, a Liberal, as Prime Minister. The Tories – shunning the Liberals loyal to the preceding Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith – manoeuvered to ensure they emerged from the Election with more MPs than their partners, and thereby controlled the government moving forward. One of the instigators of the plan was Winston Churchill, a Liberal MP who was formerly a Tory, would later become a Tory again, and was Prime Minister at the time Bevan was writing.

In the course of the book, Bevan suggests that public opinion was shifting towards the left, and his faith was realised. Germany surrendered on May 8 1945, ending the war in Europe. Churchill wished the Coalition to continue until Japan was defeated, an event not expected to occur until the following year. Churchill was trying to repeat the trick of 1918, seeking a Tory-dominated coalition going forward, but Labour members of the government pressed for an early Election on party lines. During the Election cam­paign, Churchill concentrated on attacking the alleged intentions of the Labour Party, claiming that it would not be able to implement its programme without “some form of Gestapo”, a sickening reference to the Nazi secret police from the man who had recently allowed two million Indians to starve to death in the Bengal Famine. Churchill seemed to forget that his wartime government had included members of the Labour Party. Churchill also ignored his pre-war support of Fascism. Labour won 393 seats, and a majority of 146, as people voted for new hope. The discredited Conservative Party took only 198 seats in the 1945 Election – their smallest total between humiliating defeats by the Liberals in 1906, and Labour in 1997. The Labour Party formed its first majority government, with Clement Attlee as Prime Minister, and Bevan as Minister of Health. As for the Liberals, they experienced a long period in the wilderness, after dissolution of the coalition in 1945. They did not return to power until 2010, when a Conservative and Liberal coalition government, following that of 1918 to 1922, followed a policy of austerity, to condemn the hopes of a nation to the scrapheap.

In the second section of the book, “The Betrayal of the Miners”, Bevan looks back to 1919. With the British coal mining industry in a sorry state, due to mismanagement and profiteering by the owners, the miners argued for nationalisation and workers’ control. Lloyd George, on behalf of the coalition government, set up the Sankey Commission to investigate, and Bonar Law, leader of the Tories, pledged to implement the recommendations, accepting these could include nationalisation. When the commission supported nationalisation, however, the government rapidly reneged on its promise. The coal mines remained in the hands of private owners, who were allowed to increase the price of coal, and the industry remained in crisis. Bevan noted that production dropped, from 286,000,000 tons in 1913, to 196,000,000 tons in 1943. In office from 1945, Labour carried a major programme of reform, including public ownership of the coal mines, railways, electricity, gas, and steel, plus the Bank of England.

Later conflict between the Tories and the miners led to the downfall of Edward Heath’s government in 1974. Margaret Thatcher took power five years later, leading an ideological right wing government, which attacked the organised working class with deindustrialisation and privatisation. The actions of Thatcher, John Major, and David Cameron would have shocked even Bevan. The protracted miners’ strike of 1984-85 failed to reverse Thatcher’s decimation of the coal industry, which was privatised in 1994, and deep coal mining in Britain completely ceased in 2015. British steel was denationalised by the Conservatives in the 1950s, renationalised by Labour in 1967, and then privatised by the Conservatives in 1988. Since 2010, the steel industry in this country, largely owned by foreign companies, has experienced a lot of uncertainty, with the Conservatives refusing suggestions that renationalisation be used to protect manufacturing capacity.

At the start of chapter three, “Death by Words”, Bevan looks back to 1922, when the Tories ditched their coalition with the Liberals, which had delivered economic depression and mass unemployment. The Tories won a General Election as a single party, with Law offering the country a policy of “Tranquility”, which proved to be another word for cuts to services, and more unemployment. The General Election of 1922 has been echoed in 2015, as the Conservatives gained marginal constituencies from their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, and also Labour – centrally funded by the Tory Electoral Fraud – and won a majority in the Commons, with only 37 per cent of the votes cast.

Bevan hops from 1922 to planning for the future, during World War Two. Tories pretended to be enthused about popular reforms, but found ways to delay their implementation, with official enquiries and reports being followed by detailed consideration from the government. Bevan provides an excellent analysis of events surrounding the Beveridge Report, published in December 1942, which envisaged a comprehensive scheme of social security. The plan was originally due to come into effect in July 1944. The Con­servative Party was not, however, enthusiastic about the scheme so the government delayed its implementation. When the Beveridge Report was debated in the House of Commons, during February 1943, the Tories carried a motion welcoming it as an idea for “post-war reconstruction”, defeating a backbench Labour amendment that called for “early implementation of the plan”. Bevan, one of 119 MPs who voted for the amendment, writes that here was “The Tory variant of ‘Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, but never jam today’”. Bevan borrowed this curious idea from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, And What Alice Found There. The White Queen offered Alice work as a maid, for “Twopence a week, and jam every other day”, going on to say “The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today”. Bevan quotes the speech by “Mr Willink, who is now Minister of Health”. Henry Willink said “I am for improving the Beveridge Report”, although “there are many features of the report which I do not wish to see implemented”. Willink then voted with his fellow Tories for delay – he will appear later in this piece. During the following months, Beveridge and opposition MPs regularly pressed the government for a commitment to progress, but were met by delaying statements from Churchill and others.  Bevan points out that massive public enthusiasm for the scheme was replaced by disillusion, as the Tories “contrive to drown the wistful hopes of the people for social security in a torrent of words, specious promises and endless delays”.

“Jobs for Some” is the heading of Bevan’s next exploration. He begins with Churchill addressing the nation in a radio broadcast, during March 1943, about post-war prospects. Bevan hears Churchill planning a repeat of 1918, with his suggestion that defeat of Hitler be followed by a Four Year Plan of reconstruction, led by “a National Government comprising the best men of all parties who are willing to serve”. In perhaps the only quote from the book to achieve longevity, Bevan comments “Political renegades always start their career of treachery as the ‘best men of all parties’ and end up in the Tory knackery”. A White Paper on Employment Policy arrived in May 1944, attempted at improving morale, shortly before the troops left for Normandy on D-Day. Bevan satirises the White Paper at length, particularly the idea that “thermostatic control of employment” could see troops – hoping to settle in family homes, and stable employment, upon their return after the war – being converted into mobile labourers, hopping between locations and trades, evening out fluctuations in the temperature of failing capitalism. Bevan ends the chapter with a quote from a speech he made, when the White Paper was debated in Parliament. He said of the plan, “It runs away from every major social problem. It takes refuge in tricks, strategies, and devices because it has not the honesty to face up to the implications of the social problems involved”. Bevan was correct in his scepticism. Post-war Conservatism has brought continued mismanagement of the economy, leading to several spells of mass unemployment. The number of people unemployed rose above three million under both Thatcher, in 1982, and Major, in 1993. Cameron was little improvement in this respect, as unemployment increased to almost 2,700,000 in 2011.

“Will You Get That House?” is the question asked by the penultimate chapter. Bevan remarks that while the British forces were abroad fighting the Nazis, at home the Tories were focusing on their own priority. He points out that “the private ownership of land and the right to do what they like with it have always been the holy of the holies for the Tories”. From this stem issues over the provision, and affordability, of housing. Millions of new homes would have to be built to rectify a pre-war shortfall, that had been exacerbated by the destruction of bombing. Following a familiar pattern, the Tories set up a Royal Commission, and two Committees of Enquiry, rejected the suggestions they did not like, and were still procrastinating over action as Bevan completed work on the book. Bevan could not see Churchill, a Prime Minister who had the clearest power to act, delivering on his frequent promises of future “sunny uplands”.

In the current age, Conservative Brexiteers, of both deal and no deal persuasions, dream of “sunny uplands” – presumably overlooking headless (or chlorinated) chickens running around Brexitised wheat fields. Cameron announced the plan for a Referendum on membership of the European Union in 2013, and it was held three years later. The purest of Brexiteers said they would end payments to the EU, take back control of our laws from the European Court, leave the EU single market and customs union, not pay a divorce bill to the EU, negotiate free trade agreements with the EU plus the world’s other leading economies, and achieve all this within two years of a vote to leave in the 2016 Referendum. It is now more than three years since the British people voted to leave the EU, but the Tories have failed to achieve any of their Brexit milestones.

Returning to the past, Britain did get a massive programme of house building after World War Two, but this was not initiated by the Tories. Bevan mentions that, in 1944, Henry Willink pledged a post-war house building programme, which the former thought was far from sufficient. In practice, the man directing the programme was none other than Bevan himself, whose role as Minister of Health also included responsibility for housing. During Bevan’s spell in office, a million council houses were built, to a higher quality standard than was previously in place. Council houses remained a central part of affordable housing in Britain until the decline began during the Thatcher era. Thatcherism’s ideological sales of council houses fueled a growth in house prices and rents plus homelessness, the sad legacy of which afflicts potential owners and tenants today, while a large proportion of current Conservative MPs are landlords.

Perhaps the most relevant part of the book for the present day is the final chapter, “The Mechanism of the Tory Mind”. Bevan begins by stating that he does not regard Tories, as men and women, to be “worse than other people”. He thinks that Tories have good private morals “whereas their public morals are execrable”, with habitual telling of lies about their political motives. Bevan points out that “the traditional Tory does not look upon himself as the people’s representative, because the Tory doctrine pre-dates the rise of modern democracy”. The Tories had fought against the development of democracy, and had sided with Mussolini, Hitler, and Franco in their attacks on democratic government. Bevan also draws attention to the way in which the Tories had blocked a role for Parliament in the organisation of the British economy, in order to protect their own position as the representatives of the propertied class. He states “By refusing the state effective intervention in the economic activities of society, the Tory is a potential Fascist element in the community. By denying Parliament a vigorous economic life he condemns it to death”. Necessity had led to an economic role for the state during the war, but Bevan pointed to signs that the Tories would seek to retain power with the help of “a freedom campaign”, backed by “the Tory millionaire press”, with propaganda against state regulation. This would enable a Tory to “be free once more to hunt in the jungle of economic competition”. Bevan warned that the left must guard against “appearing to be the advocates of regimentation as opposed to freedom”. Bevan highlighted the perennial problem for the Tories: “It is how to induce the many to vote the few back into power at each election. Or, to put it another way, how to persuade the poor to allow the rich to continue ruling”. In our own day, Jeremy Corbyn has made the phrase “For the many not the few” into the Labour Party’s mantra, and 2017 Manifesto title.

The Tory propaganda failed in 1945, and the incoming Labour government delivered the welfare state. The defining achievement of Labour was the National Health Service, with Bevan being the architect. The Conservatives responded with vehement opposition, voted against establishment of the NHS in Parliament, and have continued to undermine its principles. With Bevan standing firm, the NHS opened on July 5 1948. On the previous day, Bevan addressed a Labour Party rally in Manchester. Having given the Tories the benefit of the doubt about their morals in 1944, Bevan now saw things very differently, doubtless antagonised by the Tory attempt to block foundation of the NHS. In the speech, he contrasted the promise of the welfare state with the poverty suffered by working class people, including himself, due to the past policies of the Conservatives. “That is why,” Bevan said, “no amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party that inflicted those bitter experiences on me. So far as I am concerned, they are lower than vermin. They condemned millions of first class people to semi-starvation”. The Conservative press reacted with furious condemnation of Bevan’s bold political banter. Conservative Party members set up a Vermin Club as a protest against Bevan, with a prominent member being Margaret Thatcher, an aspiring politician destined to lead a Conservative attack on the NHS decades later, with the introduction of an internal market.

A major reorganization of the NHS, introduced by the Con-Dem coalition, took effect in 2013, increasing the rate at which privatization, and fragmentation, undermined a vital public service. In 2017, Jeremy Hunt, as Secretary of State for Health, told the Conservative Party Conference (ironically meeting in Manchester): “Nye Bevan deserves credit for founding the NHS in 1948, but that wasn’t him or indeed any Labour minister. That was the Conservative health minister in 1944, Sir Henry Willink, whose white paper announced the setting up of the NHS”. Many people smelt a rat, or at least a large piece of fake news. Hunt’s ludicrous claim that a Conservative had set up the NHS somehow failed to deal with the fact that the Conservatives, including Willink, had voted against legislation in 1946 that set up a comprehensive NHS – which went beyond the coalition plan of 1944. Of course Hunt is no longer in government, having departed upon his recent defeat against Boris Johnson in a Conservative Party leadership election. When detailing the “sunny uplands” of Brexit earlier, I did not mention perhaps the most popular of pledges, this being the transfer of the UK’s gross contribution of £350,000,000 per week to the EU, which would in the near future be used to fund the NHS. The pledge was made by the Vote Leave campaign, led by Johnson, Michael Gove, and other Tory Brexiteers – a cabal who now control the government. In 2016, Vote Leave did not look at how the funding of agriculture, regional development, and other items, met by the return, from the EU, of about half the gross contribution would be replaced. In 2019, during his first few weeks as Prime Minister, Johnson has made plenty of announcements, one of which offered more money to the NHS – which turned out to be a recycling of existing funding – but there has not been any sign of the Tory “magic money tree” sprouting £350,000,000 per week for the NHS. As Bevan demonstrated in 1944, we always need to be wary of Tory promises – the 2019 Tories are trying the repeat a cycle of deception that Bevan traced back to 1918. Why not trust the Tories? There are so many reasons!

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Brexit: Meaningful Votes and Alternative Arrangements

800px-westminster_palace-colour

As I write this, on March 17 2019, the United Kingdom is just 12 days away from possibly leaving the European Union without a deal. This is the default legal position, and a no deal exit will happen unless Parliament agrees a deal, or the government agrees an extension of Article 50 with the EU. I think the other possibility, of revoking Article 50, is very unlikely this week or next week.

There has been much debate among politicians, and pundits, about what might happen. What are the possible alternatives to the deal Theresa May has agreed with the EU, only for it to be overwhelmingly defeated in the House of Commons twice (the margins being 230 votes and 149 votes)? I thought it might be a useful exercise to set out the number of votes gained for the various propositions put to the Commons since the start of 2019. The following list, in descending order of support, features almost all of the motions and amendments voted upon. The three exceptions are the final votes on three separate days, January 29, February 27, and March 13. Each of those votes agreed a motion in which an initial government position had been amended by a previous vote that day. On the first two dates the final motion was carried without a division, while on March 13 there was a division. The relative strengths of support for what was agreed on those days can be consistently gauged by looking at the votes for the individual amendments that were carried.

CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY Citizens’ Rights to be guaranteed (Costa February 27)

520 CARRIED Second Meaningful Vote to be held by March 12, followed by votes to potentially rule out deal and extend Article 50 (Cooper February 27)

412 CARRIED Extend Article 50 to June 30 2019 if Withdrawal Agreement passed by Parliament by March 20, to enable Brexit legislation to be passed. Motion notes that if Withdrawal Agreement not passed by March 20, EU would probably require clear purpose for extension. (May March 14)

318 CARRIED Rule out no deal (Spelman / Dromey January 29)

317 CARRIED Replace Northern Ireland Backstop with unspecified alternative arrangements (Brady January 29)

312 CARRIED Rule out no deal (Cooper March 13)

312 Extend Article 50 for unspecified time, and allow cross-party group of backbenchers to propose alternative plans in House of Commons (Benn March 14)

311 Extend Article 50 to June 30 2019, and allow cross-party group of backbenchers to propose alternative plans in House of Commons (Powell March 14)

306 Second Meaningful Vote to be held by February 27 (Corbyn February 14)

302 Extend Article 50 for unspecified time, and the government should allow time for House of Commons to find a majority for an alternative plan (Corbyn March 14)

301 Alternative options to be voted on by Commons across six days, during February and March (Grieve January 29)

298 Extend Article 50 for up to nine months, to avoid no deal Brexit (Cooper January 29)

296 Rule out no deal, renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement to include a Customs Union and strong relationship with Single Market, with an agreement to be subject to a public vote (Corbyn January 29)

290 Postpone Brexit for unspecified period (Reeves January 29)

288 Rule out no deal (Blackford February 27)

258 Endorse government current strategy of leaving March 29 with or without deal (May February 14)

242 Withdrawal Agreement second meaningful vote (May March 12)

240 Renegotiate the Political Declaration, to include a Customs Union and strong relationship with Single Market (Corbyn February 27)

202 Withdrawal Agreement first meaningful vote (May January 15)

164 Malthouse plan for a managed no deal (Green March 13)

93 Delay Brexit by at least three months (Blackford February 14)

85 Hold a second referendum (Wollaston March 14)

39 Delay Brexit and rule out no deal (Blackford January 29)

 

 

Bruce Springsteen – Darkness on the Edge of Town

During 2016, I wrote a Blog piece about my ten favourite vinyl albums. Now I plan a series of Blog pieces, looking in more detail at a series of great albums.

https://andrewgodsell.wordpress.com/?s=vinyl

Released: June 2 1978

Produced by Bruce Springsteen, Jon Landau, and Steve Van Zandt

Length: 43 minutes

Genre: Hard Rock, Rock and Roll

 

Badlands

Adam Raised a Cain

Something in the Night

Candy’s Room

Racing in the Street

The Promised Land

Factory

Streets of Fire

Prove it all Night

Darkness on the Edge of Town

Bruce Springsteen is my favourite artist, and this is the first of his albums that I bought, back in 1980. Nearly 39 years later, it is still my favourite album. The lyrics are amazingly evocative, bringing a direct sense of the lives of the characters Bruce writes about. Bruce spent an enormous amount of time in the final selection from dozens of songs recorded during the sessions. This coincided with a lot of thought about the sequencing of the album. Bruce was influenced by what his manager and producer, Jon Landau, called the four corners approach – with the strongest four songs being used as the first and last tracks on the two sides of the record. The album cover featured stark photos, taken by Frank Stefanko, of Bruce stood in a bedroom – although this is not obviously the location.

Extensive cross-referencing of key words and themes across the 10 songs, each of which Bruce sang in the first person – portraying a life in which struggle is combined with optimism – gives the album a great unity. This is reinforced by the musical backing, which sounds very similar throughout the album. The words “darkness” / “dark” appear in six of the tracks, while nine of them feature the “night” / “tonight”. Meanwhile “they” are mentioned in eight songs, with a general suggestion of nameless people who exert a negative influence. “Work” / “worked” / “working” form part of six songs, and so do the words “dream” / “dreams”. Equally there are six songs in which Bruce and his characters are found “driving” / “racing” / “riding”, or mentioning the names of cars. There are references to “blood” on four of the tracks, and the same number of songs use the word “born”. There is also time for “love” / “loved” in four of the songs on the album.

The album is greater than the sum of its parts, and the songs speak louder than a commentary, but a track-by-track review may provide some illumination of Darkness. The record opens with Badlands, a song destined to become one of Bruce’s concert anthems, with the enigmatic suggestion that “it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive”. Adam Raised a Cain, one of Bruce’s songs about family, is given a wider context with Biblical allusions. Something in the Night sees Bruce struggling against some faceless oppression. Candy’s Room is one of Bruce’s many songs about girls, but different to those of the past – Candy being a hard girl from Easy Street. On the original LP, the first side closed with Racing in the Street, as Bruce hops into a 69 Chevy with a 396, to ride with his partner Sonny, and then an un-named girl. The instrumental passage at the end of the song is a moment of warmth – which has been powerfully extended in live performances. The second half opens with The Promised Land, a stirring tale of optimism and dignity, which echoes Badlands. Factory is the shortest song on the album (at 2 minutes 17 seconds), and understated, but an affecting tale about the rigours of work. Streets of Fire depicts a dramatic struggle against un-named forces. Prove it all Night is a great rock’n’roll love song, but one in which the battle against people lurking in the background is still real. The record closes with Darkness on the Edge of Town, the title track being the defining moment of the album, the tale of a man who seems to be fighting a losing battle in his life, but resolves to keep the struggle going. Bruce explained the outlook of the Darkness album in an interview with Tony Parsons, for the New Musical Express: “The characters ain’t kids, they’re older – you been beat, you been hurt. But there’s still hope, there’s always hope. They throw dirt on you all your life, and some people get buried so deep in the dirt that they’ll never get out. The album’s about people who will never admit that they’re buried that deep”.

The album was re-packaged in 2010 as The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story, a stunning set, in which three CDs plus three DVDs are housed within an extensive book – itself placed within a box. Bruce had delved into the archives, to unveil a mass of material, providing fascinating insights into his creative process. Preparation included Bruce re-recording parts of the material, during 2010, where he was not satisfied with original takes from the 1977-78 sessions. Bruce’s masterpiece, originally a 43 minute album, has been expanded into discs that stretch to eight and a half hours of music and film.

#AliceInWonderland #AmWriting

 

 

HAPPY YEAR 2019 

My New Year Resolution is to be more positive about my writing this year. I have written so much over the years, but much of it has been shrouded in obscurity. Perhaps I can become more confident about the difficult process of promoting a book. 

Here is an extract from my Alice in Wonderland novel, a fairly recent book that has made a few waves.  Read more…

#TheBeatles #WhiteAlbum: Double or Single?

White Album CD set

The 2018 fiftieth anniversary re-release of The Beatles, their eponymous LP from 1968, a musical revolution fondly known as “The White Album”, has fuelled one of the great debates among fans of the band. Should the massive double album have been pruned to a single disc? As the proud owner of the six CD and book box set – with unique number 0119632 – here is my contribution to the continuing story of the extensive double bill, which could have been a single show.

“The White Album” extends across 30 tracks, and lasts over 93 minutes. Amongst the great variety of songs, and styles, there is plenty of scope for discussion, but far from a consensus. So much of an assessment of the album must be subjective, with songs hailed as brilliant by some fans derided as pointless filler by others. Some fans love the whole album, while many people see, or hear, excess in its sheer volume. Paul McCartney once famously dismissed debate about possible editing to a shorter record, with an impatient comment: “It was great. It sold. It’s the bloody Beatles’ “White Album”. Shut up!”. George Martin, an often exasperated producer who went on holiday during the sessions, went on record to say that a single album could have been better, without making specific suggestions of which songs to drop. Perhaps a single album could repeat the 14 track model that worked on Revolver, with John and Paul having five songs each, George three, and Ringo one, while no two successive tracks featured the same lead vocalist.

Here is my suggestion:

Side 1  Approximately 21 minutes

Back in the U.S.S.R.  2.43

Paul’s opener, celebrating the Soviet Union, echoes Chuck Berry’s Back in the USA, and the style of the Beach Boys, a band with whom the Beatles enjoyed a creative rivalry.

Dear Prudence 3.56

John’s tale of Prudence Farrow, sister of the actress Mia, a shy member of the meditation group, led by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, attended by the Beatles in India.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps  4.45

One of George’s greatest songs, with Eric Clapton joining as an extra guitarist.

Glass Onion  2.18

John’s surreal story includes references to five previous songs by the Beatles –, Strawberry Fields Forever, I Am the Walrus, Lady Madonna, Fool on the Hill, and Fixing a Hole. He was reflecting the way in which obsessive fans of the band had taken to searching lyrics in pursuit of hidden meanings.

Blackbird  2.18

Paul’s tribute to the Black Power movement in the USA, features the sound of a real blackbird, singing in an English garden (and waiting for the sun?).

Piggies  2.04

George’s cynical take on humanity, influenced by George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Julia  2.54

John pays tribute to both Julia, his mother, and Yoko Ono, his lover, in this ethereal ballad.

Side 2  Approximately 22.5 minutes

Savoy Truffle  2.54

The second half of the record begins with George’s satire of decadence, in the form of the excessive consumption of chocolate. George also provides a reference to Paul’s Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, following the self-referential lead of John’s Glass Onion.

Mother Nature’s Son  2.48

Paul finds himself in a rural idyll, with a song inspired by a lecture about nature given by the Maharishi.

Sexy Sadie   3.15

John left the Maharishi’s retreat with a feeling of disillusion, and gave vent to this in a song, the target of which he only later explained.

Helter Skelter    4.29

This is acclaimed by some as the start of heavy metal, although it appeared several months after much heavier music on the Velvet Underground’s White Light / White Heat album. On the other hand, Helter Skelter is a great performance by the Beatles, led by Paul’s rocking vocal. The song also serves as a nightmare, ahead of the nursery rhyme in the next track.

Cry Baby Cry   3.02

John draws upon the nursery rhyme Sing a Song of Sixpence, but there are elements from the Pig and Pepper chapter in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll, with a duchess and a crying baby. The song has the Duchess of Kirkaldy arriving late for tea, suggesting the Tea Party in Alice. John’s Cry Baby Cry ends with the Can You Take Me Back fragment from Paul, which possibly expresses a wish to move from a fairy tale back to reality. Conversely Paul might hope to move away from reality, and back into a nursery rhyme? In my fantasy album, Paul wanders forward to the nostalgia of the next song.

Honey Pie  2.41

A year on from When I’m 64, Paul provides another stylish evocation of music hall – he later said he was “pretending I’m living in 1925”.

Good Night    3.13

The album ends with a lullaby, written by John, and sung by Ringo, accompanied by lush orchestration.

 

Another “White Album” option, surprisingly rarely considered, is the creation of a slightly shorter notional double LP, by removing a few tracks – for example two each by John and Paul. Among the 30 track line-up, John and Paul had 12 pieces each, while George had four numbers, and Ringo two songs. The most obvious candidates to discard are Revolution 9, a very long experimental piece by John which is not actually a song, and Wild Honey Pie, a very short interlude from Paul, that is not much of a song. For me, a second track by John to be omitted is The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill, as the amusement value does not outweigh a lack of real quality. Moving back to Paul, the same consideration leads me to drop Why Don’t We Do It in the Road? from the fantasy line-up. Removing the four tracks reduces the length of the album by about 14 minutes, to something just under 80 minutes – a good length for a double LP, and it would also fit nowadays on a single CD.

My fantasy 26 track double album – with Long Long Long moved from the end of side 3, to the start of side 4, to roughly balance up total lengths – would run as follows:

Side 1  Approximately 19.5 minutes

Back in the U.S.S.R.

Dear Prudence

Glass Onion

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Happiness is a Warm Gun

Side 2 Approximately 21 minutes

Martha My Dear

I’m So tired

Blackbird

Piggies

Rocky Raccoon

Don’t Pass Me By

I Will

Julia

Side 3 Approximately 19.75 minutes

Birthday

Yer Blues

Mother Nature’s Son

Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey

Sexy Sadie

Helter Skelter

Side 4 Approximately 19 minutes

Long, Long, Long

Revolution 1

Honey Pie

Savoy Truffle

Cry Baby Cry

Good Night

 

I hope this has been of some interest – good night everybody everywhere.

 

 

 

The Excitement of Having a Book Published #selfpublishing

Across many years, I have enjoyed a (modestly) successful writing career, with the publication of eight books on a variety of subjects – history, politics, football, a fantasy novel, and mental health.

I always feel excitement as I complete writing a book, prepare it for publication, and receive the first printed copy. I have admitted in previous Blog posts, that the actual promotion of a book – that has been launched towards a potential readership – is not something I do with confidence. I am not sure why, as I have managed to build something of a public profile, through consistent activity, and have appeared on television a few times.

So here I go again!

My new book offers a new approach to British history, stretching from the origin of Stonehenge, five thousand years ago, to current controversy surrounding Brexit and the future of the nation. First published in 2008, this panoramic survey of themes in our history, along with their contemporary relevance, has been expanded and revised. The development of the states of England, Scotland, and Wales, along with their unification as Britain, is explained. Among a varied cast of people, there are detailed profiles of Boudicca, Saint Swithin, Ethelred the Unready, King Canute, Richard the Lionheart, Samuel Pepys, and George III. Combining profound events with amusing trivia, this kaleidoscope of stories is a thoroughly entertaining popular history.

I believe British History provides new insights into familiar episodes. It develops several previously-published essays, plus material adapted from other books I have written. The recording of history by participants, chroniclers, diarists, and historians is viewed, along with the way in which the relevant events have been reflected in books, films, and television programmes. Our history is a constantly evolving process, rather than something that is fixed, and stuck in the past.  Hopefully I have been able to reflect the way in which individuals interact with events, and understand their place in history.

The book is available as both a paperback and a Kindle download.

I have announced its presence in the world via Twitter, and contacted the local newspaper (we still have one where I live!) asking if they are interested in featuring the book.

I have also made a short You Tube video about the book:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aA8OevpeAOE

The book opens with a chapter that takes a rapid trip through the prehistoric era, centring on Stonehenge, as follows:

 

Near the end of Thomas Hardy’s amazing novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles (published in 1891), there is a dramatic scene at Stonehenge. Angel Clare, the husband of Tess, remarks that Stonehenge is “Older than the centuries; older than the D’Urbervilles”. Besides being far older than any Briton we are able to trace by name, Stonehenge is probably the most unmistakable building – or ruin of a long-lost structure – in Britain. It is also a tangible connection to the people who lived on our island in the prehistoric period.

The recorded history of Britain begins with the arrival of Roman invaders, a little over two thousand years ago. Prior to this, there is prehistory, stretching back many thousands of years.  For most of that time, Britain was attached to the European landmass. Around 9000 BCE, following the Ice Age, rising sea levels created the water which divides western Britain from Ireland. The sea level also rose to the east, and Britain was fully separated from continental Europe in about 6000 BCE. The hunter-gatherer method of survival was gradually replaced by farming, with the latter approach reaching Britain, from elsewhere in Europe, probably between 5000 BCE and 4500 BCE.

Work on the site that became known as Stonehenge commenced in around 3100 BCE, when an earthwork, comprised of banks and ditches, was built with the use of primitive tools. A construction of this type is known to archaeologists as a henge. The first set of stones arrived around a thousand years later, with the installation in about 2150 BCE of the Bluestones. These were transported from the Preseli Mountains, in the south west of Wales. It is amazing to think that approximately 80 of these stones, weighing up to four tons each, were moved across a distance of 240 miles as far back in time as four thousand years ago. Current thinking suggests that the stones were transported using a combination of rollers, sledges, and rafts. The likely route appears to have taken the stones from the Preseli Mountains to the coast at Milford Haven, along the southern coast of Wales to England, where they were floated along the western River Avon and then the River Frome. An overland trip from Frome (Somerset) to Warminster (Wiltshire) was followed by spells on the River Wylye, and the Wiltshire Avon, before offloading at Amesbury, from where the stones were dragged to Stonehenge. Most of this is an educated guess, but aerial photos of the two mile stretch from Amesbury to Stonehenge provide lasting evidence of the final part of the journey.

The Outer Ring was constructed circa 2000 BCE, using Sarsen stones, which were brought from the Marlborough Downs, about twenty miles north of Stonehenge. The journey was shorter than that taken by the Bluestones, but the transportation across land of the Sarsen stones, which weighed up to 50 tons each, must have required a monumental effort. At Stonehenge stone lintels were placed on top of the Sarsen stones, with these constructs being held in place by powerful joints. Modern theory suggests that a system of levers and ropes was used to manoeuvre the stones into their final positions. Further building at Stonehenge continued until around 1500 BCE, at which point the Bluestones were re-arranged into what is now the Inner Circle. Britain had by now moved into the Bronze Age, which stretched from about 2200 BCE to 750 BC. As people learned how to produce bronze, by mixing copper with tin, tools became more sophisticated than in the past. This in turn was followed by the Iron Age, and further improvements, with iron being stronger than bronze.

The work of archaeologists and scientists has provided us with good estimates of the period when Stonehenge was built, and the method of construction. It appears, however, that the purpose behind the building of Stonehenge will always remain a mystery. Many theories have been advanced as to who built Stonehenge, and why. The most credible suggestions focus on the possibility that it had an astronomical, or other scientific, purpose. These are suggested by the alignment of the stones with the sun as dawn breaks on June 21 – the longest day of the year. Other serious contenders advance the idea of Stonehenge as a religious temple, in view of the importance that worship has always held in human society. Running alongside this is the possibility that Stonehenge was a burial ground for the leaders of the people that built this enormous edifice. There are many apparent burial mounds in the vicinity of Stonehenge. One of the most commonly-known suggestions is that Stonehenge was built by the Druids. This idea appears to have originated with John Aubrey (1626-1697), an antiquarian, folklorist, owner of estates in Wiltshire, and author of the book Brief Lives. The theory is probably incorrect, as most evidence suggests that the Druids used forest temples as places of worship, rather than stone buildings. Nevertheless the modern-day Druids have regularly gathered at Stonehenge for the Summer solstice festival. The earliest surviving written reference to Stonehenge appears in History of the English by Henry of Huntingdon, which dates from about 1130. Henry wrote about “Stanenges, where stones of wonderful size have been erected after the manner of doorways” and added that “no one can conceive how such great stones have been so raised aloft, or why they were built there”.

 Wiltshire by Arthur Mee, a book published in 1939 as part of Mee’s The King’s England series, provides descriptions of the history, traditions, topography, and architecture of Wiltshire’s towns and villages. Mee opens a piece on Stonehenge with the statement:

About ten miles northward of Salisbury, it is the most finished work of a mysterious race of men who scattered circles and avenues of stone, stone places of burial, and stone monuments over many parts of the world. Most of these memorials are primitive, but Stonehenge is elaborate and massive, with signs of design and a fixed purpose.

Later in a delightful account, Mee writes:

It has been said of Stonehenge that it is an Ancient British work, a Druidical work, a Saxon work, even a Danish work, and a scholar has in our time suggested that it was erected by immigrants from Egypt.

Other theorists have seriously advanced alternative cases for the French, Bronze Age Greeks, or aliens from another planet as builders of Stonehenge. At times the supposed scholarship on Stonehenge has become entwined with the fantastical. The most famous of the legendary explanations of Stonehenge revolves around the traditions associated with King Arthur. The tale first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, which was written in the 1130s. According to Geoffrey, during the fifth century Hengest, an invading Saxon leader, massacred 300 British nobles. Aurelius Ambrosius, the British high king, decided to raise a memorial to his fallen supporters, and Merlin, the mentor of Arthur, had the idea of transporting the Giant’s Ring stone circle from Ireland to Britain. An earlier legend suggested that the stones had been moved by giants from Africa to Ireland, and placed on Mount Killaraus, as a stage for the performance of rituals. Uther Pendragon, the father of King Arthur, led an expedition to Ireland, during which Merlin used magic to relocate the stones to Britain, whereupon they formed the rings of Stonehenge. Following their deaths, the bodies of Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther Pendragon were reputed to have been buried at Stonehenge. Most of this is obviously fiction, but Aurelius Ambrosius gave his name to Amesbury, the town near Stonehenge. Meanwhile there are other Arthurian links to the area. Salisbury has been seriously suggested as the site of the Battle of Camlann, and Guenevere ended her days in a convent at Amesbury.

The reason for Stonehenge is lost in mystery, but there can be no doubting the continued affection for the building among the British people. During 2002, a poll of the general public declared Stonehenge to be one of the seven wonders of Britain, alongside Big Ben, the Eden Project, Hadrian’s Wall, the London Eye, Windsor Castle, and York Minster. The enduring importance of Stonehenge contrasts with the transitory nature of the Millennium Dome, built in London to mark the year 2000.

Very little of the original Stonehenge has survived into our current age. Over the centuries most of the stones have been lost – probably being plundered for use in other construction. It was not until 1918 that ownership of Stonehenge was transferred to the British government, and conservation became a priority. In 1978 public access to the actual stones, as opposed to the surrounding area, was curtailed. The restrictions have been continued by English Heritage, which has managed the site since 1984, balancing the need to conserve Stonehenge with a wish to make it accessible to the British public, and the many foreign tourists for whom it is a magnet. The work of English Heritage, and similar organisations, such as the National Trust, plays a vital role in preserving the physical presence of British history. In parallel, historians maintain and develop our history in written form. It is a wonderful ongoing process.

 

#TheBeatles #Revolver (1966)

Beatles Paperback Writer

An enduring debate among fans of the Beatles tries to answer a question, which is their best album? Ultimately it is difficult, probably impossible, to quantify this. So much of the judgement is subjective, with people arguing the case for their individual favourite. Over the years, my mind has hopped in assessing the relative merits of Revolver (1966), Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), and Abbey Road (1969), but Revolver has generally been my favourite Beatles album.

The quality of songs is outstanding on Revolver, with great variety, building into a showcase of the brilliance of the Beatles. Besides Paul McCartney’s majestic Eleanor Rigby, and the novelty of Ringo Starr singing Yellow Submarine, there is an amazing trio from John Lennon – I’m Only Sleeping, She Said She Said, and Tomorrow Never Knows. George Harrison offers a couple of great songs in Taxman and I Want to Tell You. The studio experimentation of Sgt. Pepper began a few months earlier in the Revolver sessions. Revolver was recorded between April and June 1966, shortly before the Beatles ceased touring, feeling frustrated that screaming fans were drowning out their music, while constant media attention left the band with little peace.

A notable part of the appeal of Revolver is the way in which it displays an eclectic mix of styles, but also has unity, powered by the guitar and drums sound common to the uptempo numbers. There are also dreamy lyrics that flow from Eleanor Rigby to Tomorrow Never Knows. The album title is a clever reflection of the way in which records revolve. There is also the original cover, with the psychedelic collage by Klaus Voorman on the front, and a photo of the band on the back – both in stark black and white. Revolver still sounds and feels modern – more than half a century after it was recorded. The 2009 remastered CD version of Revolver has enhanced packaging, including illuminating liner notes, although these are not as extensive as for the Sgt. Pepper reissue of that year.

Here is a track-by-track run through the record:

Side 1 (approximately 18 and a half minutes)

1 Taxman. The album begins with a 1,2,3,4 countdown, leading into George’s scathing complaint about the way in which his income was subject to punitive tax rates. There is also a scorching guitar solo, provided by Paul, in contrast George normally being the band’s lead guitarist.

2 Eleanor Rigby. One of the greatest songs in the Beatles’ catalogue, this is a minimalist piece, with vocals from Paul accompanied by a double string quartet. In just a few seconds over two minutes, Paul conjures up the lonely tale of a vicar and a spinster.

3 I’m Only Sleeping. John tells a tale of the point where sleep becomes awakening. This is enlivened by a backwards recording of a guitar line.

4 Love You To. A philosophical love song from George, accompanied by Indian musicians. George’s interest in Indian music had seen him play the sitar on Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) the previous year, and would develop in 1967, as Within You Without You featured on Sgt. Pepper.

5 Here, There and Everywhere. Paul provides a great love song, inspired by the Beach Boys’ God Only Knows, from the Pet Sounds album, which arrived not long before Revolver.

6 Yellow Submarine. We navigate the sea in a submarine, with a lovely sing-along, led by Ringo.

7 She Said She Said. John’s tale of an LSD trip, as he hallucinates about a mystery woman, the year before Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.

Side 2 (approximately 16 and a half minutes)

8 Good Day Sunshine. Paul brightens the mood with a song about the joys of love, and sunshine.

9 And Your Bird Can Sing. A rather cutting song from John.

10 For No One. Paul’s lament for a failed romance.

11 Doctor Robert. John’s story about a drug dealer.

12 I Want to Tell You. An often-neglected marvel, tucked away near the end of Revolver, with that album’s trademark sound, as George asks more questions.

13 Got to Get You Into My Life. Paul’s take on soul music, in the year after the Rubber Soul album.

14 Tomorrow Never Knows. The amazing finale of Revolver is John’s psychedelic take on Eastern meditation. Forty years later, on the Love album, George and Giles Martin merged two songs of Eastern thought into a splendid idea, with the start of John’s Tomorrow Never Knows vocal leading into George singing Within You Without You, while the drumming from the first song strengthens the music of the latter.

Perhaps the only flaw is the brevity of Revolver, at just under 35 minutes. There is also a lop-sidedness, with side 1 being longer than side 2 by two minutes. Side 2 feels short, with first four songs there totalling under eight and a half minutes. The length of Revolver may have been standard for the time, but Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, released the previous year, clocked in at 51 minutes. The 2009 liner notes mention that the single Paperback Writer / Rain was recorded at the Revolver sessions. Perhaps these two songs could have been added as bonus tracks at the end of the Revolver CD. Perhaps, with the agreement of the surviving Beatles, Paperback Writer and Rain could even be integrated within the main sequence, leaving Tomorrow Never Knows as the finale to a Revolver Revisited?

Moving on from that thought, I have devised an alternative 16 track sequence, which would take increase the length of the album to just over 40 minutes, while balancing the two sides to about 20 minutes each. I also adjust the division of the non-John / Paul lead vocal songs, where there are originally three George / Ringo songs on side 1, compared with only one on side 2. My track list has split the George / Ringo songs evenly, with two on each side. I also ensure that each of the vocalists has a song that either starts or ends one side of the fantasy album. The Beatles originally intended to give the album that became Revolver a magical title, Abracadabra. Another idea was Four Sides of the Circle, reflecting the way in which four men had made a circular record.

Side 1

1 Taxman

2 Paperback Writer. The A side of the single omitted from the album appears early in the expanded version. Paul’s tale about the wonders of story-telling flows into the next track ere.

3 I’m Only Sleeping

4 Eleanor Rigby. The sleepiness of the previous song gives way to the harsh reality of loneliness – by reversing the order of the original tracks 2 and 3.

5 And Your Bird Can Sing. The tempo changes, with a quicker song, moved over from the brisk start to side 2.

6 Here, There and Everywhere

7 She Said She Said

8 Yellow Submarine. Tracks 6 and 7 from the original are re-ordered, to allow Ringo to close side 1.

Side 2

9 Good Day Sunshine

10 Rain. The B side of Paperback Writer is an under-rated gem, a brilliant burst of psychedelic rock, with lead vocals by John – and even the reversal of a vocal line near the end of the song. Here Rain follows neatly on from the sunshine of the previous track.

11 Love You To. I think the bright Indian introduction to this song – now delayed from side 1 – is a neat clearing of the musical sky after the preceding Rain. Thereafter my track list replicates the original Revolver sequence for the last five songs.

12 For No One

13 Doctor Robert

14 I Want to Tell You

15 Got to Get You Into My Life

16 Tomorrow Never Knows

 

 

#AliceInWonderland #LadyOfShalott #GlassOnion

Here is another extract from my new novel – with a bizarre poem.

Alice was suddenly feeling very alone. Indeed she felt a bit like that mysterious woman. Which mysterious woman? With a bit of thought, Alice remembered what she meant. The idea that had popped into her head was about The Lady of Shalott, a poem by Alfred Tennyson. This had inspired an atmospheric painting of the same name by a painter, and his name had been….“J M W Turner….no not Turner….J M W Watercolour….no….and it was not Watercooler….oh I remember now, he was J W Waterhouse.” The Tennyson verses about unrequited love drew upon a tale featuring Elaine of Astolat – linked in some way (Alice could not quite remember….how?) to King Arthur. The lady in the poem experiences a sad existence, watching the reflected activity of other people in a mirror (“shadows of the world appear”), and weaving stories she observes into a tapestry.

Trying to re-orientate herself, Alice said “Do I know the things I used to know? Let me see. Try Geography. Britain is England, Scotland, Wales – yes that seems okay. Now try to remember the states that made up Yugoslavia. What were they? Croatia, Serbia, Titograd, Yugotours, Sveti Stefan, Spassky, Bonsai Eva Herzigova, Macedonia, Alexandria, Cleopatra, Albania. No I do not think that was quite right. What about the provinces of the Netherlands? Should be simple. There is Holland, North Holland, South Holland, New Amsterdam, Edam, and New Zealand. Maybe not? Will try to recite some of The Lady of Shalott.” Alice began her favourite poem but, like a northern song, the words appeared to be going wrong:

Weaving a tapestry, the Lady of Shalott

Visions reflected through a glass onion

Catch a glimpse of a fair maiden

Her feet sore from bunions 

Fixing a hole in the ozone

Nearly ending the verse, that’s your lot

“I’m sure those are not the right words”, said poor Alice, and her eyes filled with tears again as she went on, “I am so very tired of being all alone here!” As she said this she looked down at her hands, and was surprised to see that she had put on one of the Rabbit’s little white gloves while she was talking. “How can I have done that?” she thought. “I must be growing small again.” She got up and went to the table to measure herself by it, and found that, as nearly as she could guess, she was now about two feet high, and was going on shrinking rapidly. She soon guessed that the cause of this was the flapping of the fan, and dropped it hastily, just in time to avoid shrinking away altogether.

“That was a narrow escape!” said Alice, a good deal frightened at the sudden change, but very glad to find herself still in existence. “Now for the garden!” and she ran with all speed back to the little door. Alas, the little door was shut again, and the little golden key was lying on the glass table as before. “Things are worse than ever,” thought Alice, “as I was never as small as this before.”

As she said these words her foot slipped, and in another moment, with a splash, she was up to her chin in salt water. Her first idea was that she had somehow fallen into the sea. “In that case I can go back by railway,” she said to herself. As a young child, Alice had come to the general conclusion that, wherever you go on the English seaside, you find some children digging in the sand with wooden or plastic spades, then a row of beach huts, and behind them a railway station. In later years, Alice understood the symbol of the steam train thrusting into a dark tunnel. Now she made out that she was in the pool of tears, which she had wept when she was nine feet high. “I wish I had not cried so much!” said Alice, as she swam about, trying to find her way out. “I shall be punished for it now, I suppose, by being drowned in my own tears! That will be a queer thing, to be sure! However, everything is queer today.”

Alice was wearing a rather fetching blue and white dress, bought for a fancy dress party as far as she could recall, and found swimming in this a bit of a challenge. Alice was also wearing a pair of black and white chequered hold-up stockings, and a pair of high-heeled black shoes.

 

 

 

Re-Blogging an excellent piece on #PattiSmith #Devotion – amazing book I have read recently.

I started this review at three in the morning. I woke up with a pain in my side; probably the result of poor cooking decisions on my part. I sat in a large chair, covered myself in blankets, and wrapped a heavy scarf around me for a shawl. The pains subsided with the writing, and […]

via Devotion: Patti Smith —

#AliceInWonderland #AmWriting #Fantasy

A day on from a Blog piece about my new novel, Alice’s Adventures in Fantasyland, here is an extract from the first chapter, in which Alice is transported from Britain to a different place.

       1 An Enchanted Garden

“An enchanted garden, and a golden afternoon” Alice declared. Alice was sitting in the grounds of Strawberry Fields Forever, a National Trust stately home, with her friend Sadie. The house, situated at Lyndhurst, a quaint village (or was it a town?) in the New Forest, retained the decor of the late 1960s, when it had been owned by a wealthy hippie, Mean Mr Mustard, and his sister, Polythene Pam. Alice and Sadie had just eaten lunch, each having chicken salad followed by strawberries and cream, washed down with quite a bit of wine. Alice checked the incoming texts on her mobile phone, replied to those requiring a reply, updated her Facebook status, and skimmed through the latest happenings, plus thoughts from dozens of people, on Twitter. This brought her up to date, if only for a moment, in the ever-moving world of mobile communication. Putting these things aside, Alice sat in the sun with Sadie, enjoying a rare moment of carefree relaxation. Sadie mentioned the stunning surroundings – the grass and trees were bright green, and the sky was bright blue. Sadie started to read The Diary of a Nobody, by the Grossmith brothers, a delightful Victorian novel, brought to life with lots of hand-drawn illustrations. Sadie was looking for inspiration, as she hoped to become a paperback writer.

Alice plugged herself in to her IPod, and listened to songs by the Beatles – including a lot of tracks from Love, the surreal remix and mashup album. Towards the end of the glorious 80 second edit of Glass Onion, Alice closed her eyes, saying she was “resting” them, and dozed. Entering the place where wakefulness drifts into sleep, when in bed at night, Alice often experienced something she called a “mini-dream,” a dream of just a few seconds, from which she would exit, briefly awaking, before falling properly asleep – her “golden slumbers.” Alice had a “mini-dream” about eating giant strawberries, and told the detail to Sadie, who seemed unsure what this meant.

Alice drifted on to the image of a White Rabbit, seen wandering the grounds of Strawberry Fields Forever. The Rabbit seemed almost human, as it was wearing clothes, and muttering something to itself about the passage of time. The Rabbit even took a watch from a jacket pocket, and announced the time as “fifteen minutes,” without specifying any relationship to an hour of the clock.

Intrigued by this, Alice wandered towards the Rabbit, which hopped through a gap in a hedge. Alice noticed a group of four beetles, as she continued to pursue the Rabbit, which jumped into a narrow tunnel. In a moment of spontaneity, Alice squeezed into the tunnel, and felt herself to be moving at great speed. The strange thing was that she was not falling downwards, instead she was being sent in a roughly horizontal direction, apparently by some unseen wind or other power, through an ever-twisting tunnel. Alice felt a mixture of fear and exhilaration, as if on a rollercoaster ride, and wondered where she might arrive. Perhaps the other side of the world, or was this a route across the universe into another dimension? How long would the ride take? The answer to the latter question came just a couple of minutes after entry to the tunnel. All of a sudden, the helter skelter journey stopped, as the tunnel reached a fork, and the power pushing Alice forward ceased. Alice took the left prong of the fork, having seen the Rabbit do this. Passing a sign advising that this was Penny Lane, Alice walked along a wide, empty, corridor, and found herself to be alone. Where had the Rabbit gone to? Where was Alice? Was this a place far away from the lonely people?

In a dash to follow the Rabbit, Alice had left her handbag, with her mobile phone and money in it, by the chair in the garden of Strawberry Fields Forever. In any case, she did not know where she was, and whether her phone and money would be of any use in this new place. More importantly, how could she get back to where she had been? “Help!” Alice whispered to herself. As she walked what appeared to be a long and winding road, Alice was reduced to tears.

Alice walked further along the corridor. Having seen a table in the distance, Alice walked towards this, and found a small golden key placed on top of the table. There were several doors leading off the corridor, but Alice could not get the key to open any of them. Then she saw a single curtain in the corridor, and moved this to reveal a small door. The key opened this door, leading into a tiny corridor. Alice crouched down low, but the corridor was too small for her to be able to safely enter. Alice wished she could navigate the corridor, as it led to the loveliest garden she had ever seen – or imagined. The garden had tangerine trees, marmalade sky, cellophane flowers of yellow and green. It all seemed splendidly surreal, and reminded Alice of something. Then she realised, and said “It is Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds brought to life.” Alice was experiencing a day in the life of a wonderland. Suddenly, as if moved within a giant kaleidoscope, the scene shifted, and Alice could see a walrus and some eggmen, sitting in an English garden, waiting for the sun. “I am the Walrus” reflected Alice, meaning a song, as she did not really think she had turned into a walrus. Actually Alice wished she was a rather naughty girl, the sort who would let her knickers down, just like sexy Sadie, after the fancy dress party, as they shared a brief moment in the park.

Speaking to herself – as there was nobody else here (was it here or there?) to hear her – Alice said “I wish I could shrink down to somebody small enough to get through to the garden.” Alice locked the door, stood up, put the key back on the table, and found that a bottle had mysteriously just appeared on the table. The bottle had the words “Drink me” printed on a label. Alice realised it might not be a good idea to taste the mystery drink, as it might be harmful, even poisonous. On the other hand, with strange things happening, it might be worth trying the drink. There were not any ingredients listed on the bottle – perhaps it was a dubious alcohol mix. Alice tried a quick smell, followed by a small sip, and it seemed okay. Alice drank about half of the contents of the bottle, and suddenly felt herself to be shrinking. Before she knew it, Alice had been reduced to about two foot in height. Alice walked back to the door that led to the garden, but then remembered that she did not have the key. The key was on the table and, trapped by her small stature, Alice could not reach the key.

The small woman resumed talking to herself, saying “Now Alice, you need to concentrate.” Alice repeated similar phrases, as she said (she said) things to herself. As a child, she had been very fond of pretending to be two people, and Alice occasionally reverted to that frame of mind. Alice said “It’s no use now to be pretend to be two people! Why there’s hardly enough of me left to make one respectable person. I cannot recall anything so strange as this happening in my life. At least, not since that piano – or harpsichord – had started playing to me for no real reason”. Alice found that a small cake had appeared on the table, with the words “Eat me” marked in blue icing. Alice thought that eating the cake might return her to her normal height, at which point she could reach the key to the door. Alice started to eat the cake, and was soon growing back to normal height. She grabbed the key. Alice was not now able to fit into the tunnel, but reasoned that by drinking the rest of the drink she could make herself shrink again. This did indeed happen. Looking through the door, Alice hoped to walk into the enchanted garden. Perhaps she might find the White Rabbit, or even a human being, in the garden. Alice wanted company, as it was eerily quiet, and she did not even have her IPod with her.

 

 

 

 

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