Monday, 20 April 2015


I love a feisty bird. 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 voice outrage against the proposed closure of this valuable local resource.
I had dealings with Kate when I worked on Fleet Street. Notable run-ins include a healthy spat with Terry Venables - she'd worked as Educational Advisor for Spurs, Arsenal, QPR, Brentford and Chelsea - and another involving Bill Wyman, but best not not go there. She's a rebel with causes, who often comes across more Tory than Labour - she opposes Labour's stance against foxhunting, for a start.
She's pushing seventy and still up for the fight. And she is determined to keep this facility open. 
Fact: Vassall Ward, in which the library stands, is one of the poorest wards in the Borough of Lambeth. Dozens of children come here every day after school to do their homework, because they don't have anywhere else to do it. Of the top fifty books taken out regularly, ten of them are reference books for children. It is 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. 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. 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  dynasties. The fight is not 'just' about books.
This is prime real estate.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 immoral to sell off this library for profit. It is not even Lambeth's to sell!
It was a 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.  He read from his book, which, he confessed is really a memoir, stepped back from. 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 rich, even for me. He blames his ghostwriter for having said, in his autobiography, that Tony slept with five hundred 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 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 Victoria. 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 want to see 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.
There are times to take responsibility for our actions, and this was one.

Tony trashes 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 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 twenty-fifthth anniversary of Capital Gold radio. I was chatting with Phil Swern and TB when the time for people 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. 
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 dance, and who wowed both judges and audience with their gravity-defying leaps. 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. 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.
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?) The show is not as spontaneous as it looks.

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? 
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 assumes - are not being taxed. Sanitary products, 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.