Monday, 20 April 2015


I love a feisty bird, and they come not much feistier than Kate Hoey, the Labour politician and member for Vauxhall since 1989 ... NOT currently an MP, as she hastened to remind we who rendezvous'd this evening at Lambeth's Minet Library to sign petitions, scrawl postcards, make mayhem and generally voice outrage against the proposed closure of this wonderful local resource.
I had dealings a-plenty with Kate when I toiled on Fleet Street. Notable run-ins included a marvelous spat with Terry Venables - she'd worked as Educational Advisor for Spurs, Arsenal, QPR, Brentford and Chelsea - and another involving Bill Wyman, but we had better not go there. She's a rebel with plenty of causes, who often comes across more Tory than Labour - she opposes Labour's stance against foxhunting, for a start.
She's pushing 70 and still up for the fight. And she is determined to keep this valuable facility open. Atta girl.
Fact: Vassall Ward, in which the library stands, is one of the poorest wards in the Borough of Lambeth. Dozens of children come to this library every day after school to do their homework - because they don't have anywhere else to do it. Of the top 50 books taken out regularly,10 of them are reference books for children. It is simply not true that 'kids don't use libraries anymore.' They do here.
The library was given to the local community by the Minet family - descended from Huguenots who fled to England from France during the late 1600s to escape religious persecution, that again. William Minet built the original Minet Free Library and the Parochial Hall. The surrounding Myatt's Field park housed a community hospital in huts during WW1, and trenches were dug there to house local residents during the air raids of WW2. In 1979, through the efforts of local residents, the Minet estate became a conservation area. This place, this family bequest, is indelibly linked with the neighbourhood and its family dynasties. The fight is not 'just' about books.
This is prime real estate. There be the rub. The council want to knock down the library and build affordable housing - the kind of housing that the locals themselves can't afford. It is completely immoral to sell off this library for profit. It is not even Lambeth's to sell!
It was a real pleasure to share the stage with Gabriel Gbadamosi, the Irish-Nigerian poet, playwright and author of the London novel 'Vauxhall', for which he won the 2011 Tibor Jones Pageturner prize. What a good bloke. He read from his book - which, he confessed, is really a memoir, stepped back from a bit. I'll have to go to the library and get it now. I read an extract from Ride a White Swan: The Lives & Death of Marc Bolan. It was one of those nights.

Sunday, 19 April 2015


Nothing Is Ever As It Seems, Part I:
Tony Blackburn's rants in the Mail are a bit rich, even for me. He blames his ghostwriter for having said, in his autobiography, that Tony slept with 500 women. He complains that the ghostwriter insisted on this not completely surprising revelation, since there was not enough 'drugs and rock'n'roll' in the text, and that there needed, at least, to be 'much more sex.'
Tony regrets that part now, revealing how much it upset his mum and dad, his wife Debbie and his daughter. Hmm.
Tony's ghostwriter is a good friend of mine. As I suspected, and as is almost always the case with a ghosted autobiography,Tony had complete copy approval over the manuscript, and 100% final say. Anything that he didn't like seeing in print, despite the fact that he had said it, could easily have been deleted at Tony's command. As it was, the ghostwriter was more concerned with the plethora of literals and typos that made it into the published book, because the proofs were rushed too quickly to print. Whatever. The book became a bestseller, and Tony reaped a mighty sum. The ghost gets a flat fee, and is dispensed with thereafter.
There are times to take responsibility for our actions, and this was one.
Tony goes on to trash Jimmy Savile for having ruined the reputation of an entire generation of DJs: his own. The many sex scandals, for him, have been a stretch too far. He is outraged, as were we all, by the way in which Paul Gambaccini was treated: effectively found guilty before he was even tried, and suspended from the BBC. Paul turned out to be entirely innocent, and was cleared of every charge. He describes Gambo as his 'dear friend', and sticks up for him admirably. Hmm again.
In November 2013, a bunch of us convened at the Hippodrome off Leicester Square to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Capital Gold radio. I was chatting with dear Phil Swern and TB when came the time for everyone to pull out their cameras. I urged Gambo into the line-up with Phil and Tony ... but Tony ducked out of the picture, refusing to be photographed with Paul. I remain puzzled to this day.
Nothing Is Ever As It Seems, Part II:
Last night's Britain's Got Talent on ITV featured a boyband called Boyband, yes, who don't sing but who only dance, and who wowed both judges and audience with their gravity-defying leaps and bounds. They are 'exposed' in the press for not having declared their former associations with BGT, and for 'pretending' to be a 'brand-new' act who rehearse their routines on the street and in car parks; for some of them having had dealings with BGT before, and for not being a new dance troupe at all, but for having entered all kinds of other competitions in the past.
One of the Boyband line-up is the elder brother of a friend of my two youngest kids. They all attend South London Youth Theatre together. In fact, this dance troupe were approached by Britain's Got Talent, not the other way round. Various factors were contrived to make them look 'new'. Kids keen on making it are going to refuse such an opportunity? Gift horse, mouth, no peeking.
Britain hasn't got quite enough talent, clearly: hence French ventriloquists with 'talking dogs' (didn't that plastic mouthpiece on the canine amount to animal cruelty?) and the show is not as spontaneous as it looks.
Whaddya know.

Friday, 10 April 2015


I try to keep it apolitical. But there are times. The discussion about the so-called 'Tampon Tax' is getting my goat. So you can go for a swim without paying VAT, but you have to pay VAT on the tampon you need to wear in order to be able to go for the swim. Would the average man put up with this? It's insane.
To be clear: under EU rule, no item that has ever had VAT charged on it can have the VAT removed completely. Thus, edible cake decorations and crocodile meat - less than essential commodities, one might presume - are not being taxed. Sanitary products - complete necessities to half the population, but regarded as 'non-essentials', yes, by the EU - are taxed at 5%. What an arse EU legislation is.
It doesn't quite boil down to 'if you want tax-free bungs, vote UKIP' - as much as the purple party would like this to be so. 
Only women bleed. Look who's bleeding us.