July  2012  Archive


30 July 2012  Baha Mousa -  Quest for Truth  & Justice Continues

I wrote on 15 July that one of the sparks for Mr Vitriol was the torture and murder of Baha Mousa by British soldiers and the cover up that has prevented justice taking its course. Among the soldiers indirectly implicated were a doctor and a priest.

Dr Derek Keilloh, formerly a major in the Army, is facing allegations at a Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service that include:

  • Failing to ensure written records were made of medical examinations of civilian detainees
  • Failing to examine a detainee complaining of a heart condition
  • Failing to conduct adequate examinations and not notifying circumstance of death to a superior officer
  • Failing to take adequate action to safeguard the wellbeing of civilian detainees
  • Failing to record injuries to detainees
  • Providing dishonest and misleading accounts

The MPTS statement  listing the allegations in full.

The Fitness to Practice hearing which started at the beginning of July is now adjourned until October.

Major Keilloh has already been found wanting by the Baha Mousa Inquiry. The D numbers below refer to prisoners.

187. Keilloh was probably aware of the presence of the Detainees as a
group in the TDF (Temporary Detention Facility) before Baha Mousa’s death. He certainly knew, probably on Monday morning, of D006’s heart condition. He knew detainees might be held for up to 48 hours, and knew of the very poor facilities in the TDF and of the effects of the considerable heat.

188. It is difficult to accept that when attempting to resuscitate Baha Mousa, Keilloh did not see signs of mistreatment to his body. Furthermore, in the light of the evidence from other members of the medical staff that after the death, comments were made in the RAP (Regimental Aid Post)  in relation to the injuries to Baha Mousa, I conclude that after this attempt to revive Baha Mousa, Keilloh knew that he had sustained injuries in the TDF. He ought then to have gone to the TDF to check on the condition of the other Detainees.

189. It is also difficult to accept that Keilloh later missed the signs of injuries to D004 and Ahmad Matairi. Even if he did, his response to the complaint of both D004 and Ahmad Matairi was inadequate. He ought to have checked the TDF after the death of Baha Mousa shortly followed by complaints of assault made by two other Detainees.

190. Keilloh’s failure to go to the TDF after Baha Mousa’s death to examine all of the other Detainees was a serious failing. So was his failure to report what I find he must have known to a more senior officer in the Battlegroup.

And what of the Catholic padre who was present at the camp where the torture and murder took place? The Inquiry Report says:

110. Father Peter Madden ... was unable to remember whether he visited the TDF when the Op Salerno Detainees were there. Stacey stated that Madden had visited the TDF on Sunday morning, and Rodgers said he visited on Monday morning, as did Pte Hunt. Aspinall said Madden visited the TDF during Monday.

111. I found Madden to be a poor witness, particularly in relation to inconsistencies as to whether he felt any responsibility for the welfare of detainees kept at BG Main, and whether, before Op Salerno, he had seen detainees being forced to maintain set positions.

112. I find that Madden did visit the TDF on Monday. Whether this was in the morning or afternoon, it follows from my findings that he must have seen the shocking condition of the Detainees, and the deteriorating state of the TDF. He ought to have intervened immediately, or reported it up the chain of command but, in fact, it seems he did not have the courage to do either.

According to an Observer article in October 2010, Madden's archbishop "appears to be satisfied with the priest's version of events and sources at the archdiocese of Birmingham confirm that there will be no disciplinary action." 

That kind of response suggests that the Catholic Church has learned little from the exposure of its systematic covering up of clerics sexually abusing children. Not even the Catholic laity trust the hierarchy  to put justice before the reputation of the church.

An interesting exchange of letters appeared in The Tablet following a report on Father Madden.The first link listed below includes a letter  from a former soldier  about to be ordained on how the Army responded to his reporting mistreatment of detainees in Irag.



July 2012  New Works by Katherine Mansfield

Congratulations to Chris Mourant who recently found four short stories by KM in the archives of King's College. These are  all the more valuable  because KM died so young and was not a particularly prolific author. Reports also suggest that some of the recent finds throw light onto key events in Mansfield's life.

The find reminds me of a 1978 meeting in London with the author of a master's thesis on why KM never wrote a novel. I delivered the news that she had begun one, including a plot summary and character sketches. In fact, KM had plans for two novels, Juliet and Maata.  And who knows what else might turn up?

Given the quality of KM's short stories, I have no regrets that she focused on them. I am not one of those people who think a writer is lacking something  for preferring to spend time on short stories to the exclusion of novels.

25 July 2012  The London Olympics

To succeed at the top level of a  sport without drugs or other forms of cheating takes enormous dedication. As such, I think those who take part in world class events deserve sporting bodies that are beyond corruption. Sadly, sports men and women are too often let down by officials on the make and organizations that sell out to business interests. It is scandalous that people at the peak of fitness are being used to promote junk food and drinks when obesity is a major public health issue. And who seriously expected Dow Chemicals (who absorbed Union Carbide, the firm that failed Bhopal twice - first the accident, then the failure to do what was needed) to bring lustre to the games? 

The history of the modern Olympics is far from glorious. Little was learned about pandering to nationalism and ideology from the 1936 games and I suspect that, had the Tokyo games gone ahead in 1940, little would have been learned from them. 

If Olympic officials can make having their own traffic lanes  a condition of awarding the games to a city, surely they could also proscribe the abuse of of human rights that happened in China, not least in clearing residential districts for Olympic facilities?

I take my hat off to the volunteers who are seeking to make the London games a success. How do they maintain their motivation when Olympic bigwigs lord it up in five star hotels in the West End (why not hotels in Stratford next to the main venues?) and chauffeured cars.

If a country with with the resources of the UK groans under the strain of mounting the summer Olympics and a city like London has its transport system stretched to breaking point, surely the time has come to share the events between several cities and continents. For example, different countries hosting track & field, swimming & diving,  other aquatic sports, cycling, soccer  etc.

Recommended reading on sport:
Barbaric Sport: A Global Plague, by Marc Perelman, translated by John Howe
Guardian review.
Foul Play; What's wrong with sport, by Joe Humphreys
Verbal Magazine review

23 July 2012  RIP Margaret Mahy

Margaret Mahy, one of New Zealand's best loved and most prolific authors, died on Monday following a short illness. Along with her many awards she gave great pleasure to generations of children.  Further details at The Guardian and Beattie's Book Blog.

She appears to have been working at Petone Library at the start of the 1960s. I can't claim to remember her there, but I  recall how at ease I felt in the Children's Library, which I passed on the way to school between 1960 and 1962. This made it very easy to visit and I worked my way through hundreds of borrowed books including the complete series of Dr Doolittle and Swallows & Amazons. There is much to be said for libraries that are handy and welcoming.

21 July 2012  Patron Saints

There is a huge number of patron saints. One catholic website suggests 5376 saints assigned to 2364 topics. They range from the pedestrian (St Bernard of Menthon PS of hikers and backpackers or St Margaret of Cotona PS of hoboes) to the exotic (St Fiacre PS of Sexually Transmitted Diseases).

I find the way some saints are assigned to topics quite curious, such as St Clare of Assisi who despite renouncing the world is PS for television. Why? Because when she was too ill to attend mass she watched it on the wall of her 12th century room. 

Don’t try this at home, or at least don’t claim to be able to use a blank wall as a tv if you  dislike the idea of others insisting you take major tranquilizers.

I think the modern world could use a few more patron saints and suggest the following.


St Amina – marathon runners

St Anza – poets

St Eerage – Ryanair

St Ereo – Hi Fi

St Erling – eurosceptics

St Eroid – body builders

St Ickler – martinets

St Igmata – body piercers

St Illetto – blade makers

St Rabismus - squinters

St Reatham – South London

19 July 2012  Comment Prompted by Guardian Article

Yesterday's Guardian carried a good piece by Seumas Milne on how the GS4 scandal might make it easier to beat the  privatization scandal. I added this comment on the Guardian website.

 I am not against privatisation in principle, but far too much of it has been badly managed. I have taken a particular interest in Leisure Connection (also trading as Harpers Fitness), which unfortunately still has the contract for my local sports centre in Brent and a major stake in the PFI scheme for the other Brent sports centre. Yet this is a  company that has had a long history of service issues in Brent and around the country ~ see Leisure Connection Watch. While many other councils have not renewed this company's contracts, some like Brent have and the firm still manages to pick up the occasional new one.

One problem with duff contractors is that councils are loath to make known that they have got it wrong and so they operate in silos. We need the equivalent of an Audit Office for contractors to make public reports on how well firms are delivering either in a major single contract or across a number of similar types of service for which there is currently no independent monitoring.

Another issue is that privatisation was rushed. Little consideration was given to the level of commercial skill within councils and other arms of government. This led to poorly specified contracts. Many councils have also skimped on their own monitoring. Some even speak of how their new contracts put the onus on the contractor to report.

There is also a lobbying factor. Like other major industries, the leisure sector uses money to buy influence that deters better oversight and value for money.

Conservative, Labour and Liberal councillors, MPs and ministers have all contributed to the problem. Let us hope that the latest scandals will spur central government to do something meaningful to ensure value for money and the erosion of standards through ill-thought and ill-managed privatisation.

 18 July 2012  Beach Comber's Requiem

No part of New Zealand is more than 70 miles from the coast. For the eighteen years I lived there I was much closer than that than to the sea and often able to hear waves. The last place I lived in Wellington, Moa Point, was across the road from Cook Straight. Once I looked out of the window there and saw a whale in the distance.

Memories of deserted beaches led to this poem.

Entomb me not in clay but sand

For I preferred to walk

Between a low tide's foam

And the highest line of wrack


Do not cremate

Nor encase me in more than cloth

So that salt tastes me

As I once savoured spray


Dig for me but not so far

That you are trapped under pouring grains

And scavengers are denied

Their chance to dine on me


Mark my grave with castled sand

And not with a slab of stone

Spell my name in sun-faded shells

White as the chalk my bones will turn


Border the plot with driftwood sticks

Laid flat and unburied

So unlike me they will rise again

And be carried to other worlds


Mourn but do not stop long for

The tides and their cargoes continue  

And treasure awaits those who plant

The first footprint on the draining shore.

17 July 2012  On Muses

People are creative thanks to evolution. Parents and groups with more talent for adaption were more likely to survive and raise future generations.  Unlike other species, humans developed language and abstract thought that greatly boosted the power to reflect and consciously experiment. Given this, I see no need for metaphysical explanations of creativity, such as muses.

I also think  artistic creativity  is no different from other forms, such as fashioning a new tool, making a satisfying meal from what is at hand, or finding new ways of amusing a child.  Great art can touch depths of emotions  in ways that other forms of creativity may not, but that doesn't  mean it should be seen as a different form of creativity. In other words, if we have muses for literature and visual arts, why not for joinery or crochet?

Being in love has inspired some artists, perhaps especially poets who refer to the beloved as a muse, but passion doesn't guarantee quality. And love also can inspire originality in many other ways, such as  learning or developing a new physical skill.

Having said that, I do like having my cats nearby when I am writing. As muses go, their main role is a comforting presence. I mostly prefer them sleeping rather than muscling their way onto my lap by stepping over my keyboard. But there are times when I give in to one of them nudging repeatedly  and find that a few minutes stroking fur with the screen turned off either refreshes me or helps to generate new ideas.

Ruby and Lola have been particularly supportive this summer because the rain has deprived them of chances to sleep under bushes outside and limited their territorial patrols. 

16 July 2012  Download Sample Chapters of Mr Vitriol

Mr Vitriol is now available via Amazon UK.

I plan to make two sample chapters available there once I understand how this is done. In the meanwhile, I have added them here as a pdf file.

The pages are  easy to read on a modest laptop. If you are printing, you will probably only need pages 4 to 20.

15 July 2012  Origins of Mr Vitriol

I started Mr Vitriol in September 2008 for a Certificate in Novel Writing Course as the tutors recommended working on a new book. I recently had got back from Australia, where I had been with my mother when she died. This influenced the  grief aspects of Mr Vitriol.  A more conscious reference is to a mother fleeing with her baby from Luftwaffe bombs. A relative had told me about Mum getting on a train with an infant soon after a raid on the Liverpool Docks. She had alighted  in rural Lancashire and asked strangers to take her and the  baby in, which they did. Dad was as away in the Army at the time.

I was also incensed by the death of Baha Mousa at the hands of British soldiers and the cover up that followed what was clearly routine use of torture by squaddies with the connivance of officers if not at their instigation. I have long suspected a link between bullying within the military and major breaches of the Geneva Convention. I also suspect that there has been a  cover up the bullying linked to deaths of young soldiers at Deepcut Barracks.
And safeguarding young soldiers in the UK, who  in modern times include many  women, is still an issue.  

In 2002, I investigated poison pen letters that suggested managers had acted inappropriately. I accepted the assignment because I had investigated complaints made by named individuals and I assumed I would find resources on how to go about dealing with anonymous allegations. In fact, there was so little that with my partner, who had worked in HR, and  I decided to build on what I had learned from the case and wrote guidance for mangers and consultants on how to respond to anonymous allegations. Through the research for the guidance I came across the case of Professor Gideon Koren mentioned in the novel.

In 2007, I  was involved in a  case in which a letter was sent to Social Services alleging that a mother was unfit  to look after her children.  For a number of reasons I cannot go into, it was a particularly nasty situation and I was dissatisfied with some of the organisational responses to it. One of the better aspects was the support I received from a Forensic Linguist. Despite his conclusions as to the author of the anonymous letter, no action was taken by a professional body made aware of his expert opinion. I think this failure more than anything else prompted a novel that deals with poison pen letters.

Finally, working with survivors of torture had made me aware of how difficult it can be for men who have been raped to come to terms with this form of assault. For the record,  the survivors I worked with if they mentioned the fates they wanted for their  persecutors at all,  spoke about seeking justice rather than revenge.

14 July 2012  The Invisible Woman
The Reading Circle that I am part of met today to discuss Claire Tomalin’s The Invisible Woman. The consensus was that the work  is a piece of excellent scholarship told in a curiously intimate way without losing its authority or appeal to reason.

The book reminded me of scenes from a 1950’s TV series called The Invisible Man. At times. someone who sensed the presence of the eponymous hero would scatter dust and the outline of his body would appear. Tomalin has succeeded, despite a lack of direct evidence, in making visible the mistress Charles Dickens strove to hide from history. Rather than throwing dust, Tomalin has blown the dust off ancient records to piece together a portrait of Nelly Ternan.

The reader gains, among other things, insights into the world of Victorian professional theatre and in particular lives led by actresses and child performers, the world that Nelly came from.

Dickens, whose reputation of joviality was second only that of Father Christmas, is shown to have had a  sinister side. Not content with having a mistress, he sought to persuade others his wife was full of faults and close to madness. And anyone who contradicted him, was cast aside.  

12 July 2012  The Bush Baptist

Mr Vitriol is my third novel. My first and the one I have spent most time on is The Bush Baptist, about a Kiwi who arrives in London in 1978 and is tempted to join a Christian sect that most people would call a cult and academics might call a new religious movement. For those who know I returned to England from NZ in the same year, let me assure you the book is not autobiographical. The nearest it comes to this is the appearance of a squat in a former spiritualist chapel. I did live in such a place near Holloway Prison for a month or so during my first year in London.

The Bush Baptist is undergoing a major rewrite. I started on Monday and so far it is sailing along. Having not looked at it for almost a year, I had thought more would need changing and feared I might have to switch from a first to third person narrative. I prefer to avoid this because one the central themes is doubt vs. faith and it seems to me that this makes an omniscient perspectives less attractive.

Bush Baptist has two meanings. Green’s Dictionary of Slang (2010) suggests a person who either no religion or belongs to a dubious sub-cult. The OED Dictionary of Kiwi Slang (1999) opts for a religious fundamentalist or religious poseur.


The term appears to have originated during the Boer war and while more commonly used in Oz and NZ, one of the earliest examples in print is found in Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (1914).

11 July 2012  The House of Lords & Gerry-atric-mandering


According to the some MPs, the public are not concerned about reforming the House of Lords because the state of the economy preoccupies us. I think the two issues are linked. Last November The Guardian revealed that one in five pass holders  (172 from 624) of the Upper House is involved in lobbying. 8.11.11


Lord Oakeshott, the House of Lords reform campaigner, was quoted in the article as saying the figures were "shocking and depressing" and called for an overhaul of the system.


He also said, "Parliament must be a place where we serve the people. It's fine for charities and campaign groups to work with like-minded MPs and peers but handing out passes unchecked to business associates risks making us look like a lobbyists' playground."


Today The Guardian revealed that one in six peers had paid links to the financial services industry. And the 124 do not include members with unpaid advisory positions with financial companies or lobby groups. 11.7.12  Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why the financial sector has got into the state it has and received so much public money. 


The extent to lobbying and the venality of some politicians are a serious threat to democracy. The threat is all the greater when none of the Lords are elected and the idea of reform that leaves some peers appointed makes no sense at all. Either everyone who represents the public is elected or democracy is compromised. And it is not as if the UK does not have a long history of the upper house being used for patronage that borders on and treads into the mire of corruption.


New Zealand abolished its upper house in 1951. Like a number of other uni-cameral countries, the standard of government over time is little different from bi-cameral parliaments in similarly well-educated countries. 


I think there is a case for a larger country like the UK having a second chamber. And if this chamber was elected by PR, it would mitigate to some extent the weaknesses of MPs being chosen by first past the post. There needs to be no doubt that the MPs have primacy and that the main role of the senators, or whatever we call them, is to review and pay attention to detail and wider consequences. And both houses need to take steps to reduce the level of lobbying influence that is bought by self-interested parties.

I have no problem with the upper house consisting of older people provided they are elected. What I object to is the folks in  the lords because their ancestor slept with a king, they donated to a political party, they were ennobled for not making a fuss when they should have, or being booted upstairs to allow younger people into the lower house.

9 July 2012 - On Line Thesaurus

I often check the meaning of  a word I am about to write and sometimes search for an alternative in a thesaurus. My local council library membership gives me access to the OED on line. It is a great resource, albeit annoying to have to log in more than once per day.

I have made much use of  thesaurus.com  until recently when the level of advertising and the way the ads slow down the search prompted me to look for a more user friendly thesaurus. I have found two that  I recommend.

uses a diagram of possible words. Place the cursor over a word and the meaning pops up.  It also has a sidebar menu that allows the choice of verb or noun. And so far, there has only been minimal advertising.

Word Net 3 looks very basic until you put in word and click. Then without bells, whistles or advertising it provides several options, including noun / verb paths.

What I would most like to have access to on line in a comprehensive slang dictionary. I still rely mainly on John Ayto's 1998  Dictionary of Slang and Orsman's 1999 Dictionary of Modern New Zealand Slang, both published by Oxford. The former is usefully organised by themes and has an index of entries.

 I have Jonathan Green's massive 2010  three-volume Dictionary of Slang, which is published by Chambers. How I wish this was on a CD, or on line  to make searching easier.  I will say for Mr Green that he has replied promptly and helpfully to two email queries I sent him.

07 July 2012 - Kindle Swindle

I much prefer printed books, but occasionally use Sue's Kindle. Yesterday I began reading on it Claire Tomalin's The Invisible Woman. Sue had warned that the editing of the Kindle edition was very poor and I soon saw this was the case. For example, need appears as heed,  there are other mix-ups of n and, and words in the middle of a line are hyphenated as if they were split between two lines. .
Amazon, as of today, are charging more for the download (£8.99) than the printed book (£7.69 before p&p). That's a lot of profit for a book that sells well. One might understand a lack of proofreading happening with a Kindle edition that is not expected to sell, but a respected author with a following like Tomalin's deserves a separate proofreading of the electronic version.

It seems strange that the Kindle (Sue's is version 3) has so many features yet no way of accessing endnotes. Or that no one thought to put the endnotes at the bottom of the page for the e-edition.

I am 20% of the way through
The Invisible Woman and hooked by the story and its telling. It's no small achievement when a work of great scholarship is so readable. For those not familiar with Kindle, it uses percentages to indicate how much of the book has been read.


06 July 2012 - Mr Vitriol Jacket Design

I approached Donata Zawadzka about designing the jacket as I was already working with her on a children’s book. Donata suggested that her partner, Mariusz Zawadzki, had more skills for the jacket  I had in mind.  
What I asked for was a cover that resembled a vanitas still life. These rather sombre paintings  feature reminders of  mortality.  
The roses refer to the central woman character in the novel, the keys feature in Perry’s childhood, and the stones are the coprolites (fossilised dung) referred to by Norman. There is no crystal skull inkwell in the story. It is there because skulls often feature in vanitas works and to symbolise through its green ink the poisoned mind of Mr Vitriol. Picture of Front Cover


04 July 2012 - Postage Charges in UK & Eire and Red Rubber Bands

Copies of Mr Vitriol  arrived this morning. I have just got back from posting to  relatives in Oz and NZ. £17.21 for 3 copies in one packet surface to NZ! 

With charges like this and the growth of Internet sales sent via Royal Mail, how can the service not be making a profit? Perhaps it has something to do with the millions of red rubber bands left as litter by mail deliverers over UK streets and garden paths.

I posted copies of Gem Street from Dublin to avoid paying Ryanair's swingeing charges for excess baggage. Admittedly, Gem Street is less than half the weight of Mr Vitriol, but An Post was far better value. You can send a 3 kg parcel of books from Ireland to NZ for €17 (£13.56). Royal Mail would charge £21.11.

Using Royal Mail figures, I have calculated that postal workers use a red rubber band for every 28 items of post. I know, I should get out more. 

03 July 2012 - Grim Eaters

I have been working on a tale that borrows from Poe's Cask of Amontillado. The idea came from a 2010  news story about a Wellington man who attended funerals while pretending to know the deceased in order to eat and drink at the function following the service. My version has two men feigning grief who come to a  sticky end. The title, Grim Eaters, may change as it was used in the press report at the time.


02 July 2012 - Villari in Gem Street

After the launch event (see yesterday), I was asked about the character called Villari in Folie à Deux.


The name appears in a Luis Borges short story called The Wait, where Villari does have a first name - Alejandro.


An unnamed man goes to an unfamiliar town to murder his enemy, Villari. He checks into a hotel using the name of his intended victim, after which Borges calls the hunter Villari. The hunter dreams about killing himself when he kills the real Villari.


There is an intriguing quote in the story relating to the hunter watching crime movies.


He saw tragic stories of the underworld; no doubt they had their errors; no doubt they

included certain images that were also a part of Sr. Villari's previous life, but he didn't notice the errors, because the notion that there might be parallels between art and life never occurred to him.


Borges is also the source of the two streets in Folie à Deux, Aleph and Asterion.


01 July 2012 - Dublin  Launch of  Gem Street

Just back from Ireland and an event at the United Arts Club in Dublin to launch the Gem Street anthology of short stories that includes Folie à Deux.  Sue and I were exceptionally lucky with the weather. On the same day that saw floods in Ulster and the south of Ireland, we used our umbrellas for five minutes and I walked in the shade as far as possible to avoid sunburn. A great evening. Many thanks to Deborah McMenamy of Labello Press for organising the launch and to her friends who supported the evening.
Pictures at Labello website.

On the Saturday, the wettest while we were in Dublin, Sue's cousin Richard collected us and, after a meal with his family in Lucan, drove us over the Wicklow Mountains. I had no idea such wilderness existed so close to the capital. I literally had my head above a cloud at one pointFortunately, most of the views were unimpeded.