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Monday, 9 November 2015

Tainted Stats

Weekly Stats Report: 2 Nov - 8 Nov 2015


  Mon Tues Wed Thur Fri Sat Sun Total Avg
Unique Visits128152123159107148147964138
First Time Visits120146115149104145141920131
Returning Visits86810336446

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Guy Fawkes: Freedom Fighter or Terrorist

Remember, remember the Fifth of November.
Gunfire, treason and plot.

That was the rhyme we used to sing as we watched our annual bonfire consume Guy Fawkes in effigy - actually a pair of old jeans, a pullover stuffed with newspapers and a balloon for a head with eyes and mouth drawn on.

Guy Fawkes Night, the fifth of November was something we looked forward to as  kids. Weeks before we'd make an effigy,known as a Guy, by tying old clothes together, adding a head usually made from an old bag or a balloon. And then we'd push this made up man around on a cart and say, 'Penny for the guy' to people who went
past. The tradition was that people would then give you a penny or two and you'd save all this money, using it to get fireworks or sweets. And then on the fifth of November the guy would be thrown on a bonfire that we'd spent weeks building. Into the fire we'd also throw potatoes, wrapped in tin foil, and then we'd scoop these from the embers and chow down. Those potatoes from those far off day tasted better than any potatoes since.

Ahh good days....the tradition continues to the present day, though in these overly safety conscious times it's not as much fun.

Who though was the real Guy Fawkes?

Protestant England in the early 17th century was not a good place to be if your were a Catholic. Priests had to perform mass in secret, and there were draconian laws that forced Catholics to publicly worship in Protestant services and swear loyalty to the monarch and the Church.

In 1605 Catholic dissent was at an all time high and groups around the country started plotting to overthrow James VI and restore their religion. The situation was a powder keg and Guy Fawkes was just one of the men ready to light the fuse. Interestingly  although Fawkes was a zealous Catholic, he  had been born  in York in 1570, into a respectable Protestant family. As a young boy he attended Church of England services but when his father died, his mother remarried a Catholic man. It was then that Guy Fawkes converted to Catholicism. The conversion created a zealous young man who in his early 20's travelled to Spain and joined the Catholic army to fight against the Protestant Dutch. Fawkes was a successful soldier and by 1856 he was an officer in the Spanish Forces that captured Calais. It was at this time that he changed his name to Guido to have a more Catholic sounding name and he petitioned the Spanish King to support a rebellion against heretic King James of England. The request was refused.-

It is odd that Guy Fawkes in the man we remember from the gunpowder plot since he was not the leader - that role was taken over by Robert Catesby,a gentleman from Warwickshire who had come up with a scheme to blow up the House of Lords during the state opening of Parliament. If all went to plan it would be an audacious blow by Catholics against the Church of England - not only would many members of Parliament be in the building but King James, his wife and son, and all his ministers would also be present. The ensuing chaos would, Catesby hoped, allow James's Catholic daughter, Elizabeth to take the throne.

For the plot to work Catesby and his supporters needed an explosives expert who was not known to the ruling elite. That was where Fawkes, now based in the Netherlands came into the picture. A man, Thomas Winter, was sent across the sea to locate Fawkes and soon as he was told of the plot, Fawkes, still reeling from the Spanish King's refusal to launch an attack against England, agreed to be a part of this attempt to bring down the English monarchy.

In May of 1604, Fawkes was back in England where he met with Catesby and the other conspirators at the Duke and Drake Inn near the Strand in London. All of the men were sworn to secrecy as the details of their plot were hammered out.

Fawkes had by far the riskiest part to play - It was his job to secure enough gunpowder and smuggle it into Parliament. It may seem crazy today but during the period anyone could rent a space in the basement of Parliament and by 5th November Fawkes had managed to smuggle 36 barrels of gunpowder into the cellar. Though by now a mistake had been made when, just days before the 5th, fellow plotter, Francis Tresham wrote to his brother-in-law, Lord Monteagle, a Catholic due to attend the state opening, warning him to stay away. Monteagle handed the letter over to the King's spymaster, Robert Cecil.

The cellars were searched, the gunpowder found, and Guy Fawkes was captured and questioned by the King himself, and when asked why so much gunpowder was to be used, Fawkes replied, 'To blow you Scotch buggers back to your own native mountains.'

As soon as the people of England heard a plot against the King had been foiled, they celebrated by lighting bonfires across the country and the modern day bonfire night comes from this. There is one place in the country that refuses to celebrate bonfire night though -  St Peter's School in York refuses to burn an effigy of Guy Fawkes as a sign of respect for its former pupil.

With Fawkes captured he was tortured into revealing the names of his co-conspirators. All of the conspirators were soon captured and killed, their heads placed on spikes outside the House of Lords. Fawkes was sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered but on the 27 January 1606 he escaped the intense pain of his execution by leaping from the gallows and breaking his neck. His corpse though was hacked into pieces.

Only days before Fawkes died, a bill was introduced into Parliament calling for the 5th November to be a thanksgiving day for the failure of the gunpowder plot. Because Guy Fawkes had been the one caught in the Houses of Parliament, this became known as Guy Fawkes Day. Was he a freedom fighter or terrorist? That is a matter of opinion but today his face, used as a mask in the movie V For Vendetta, is the face of worldwide protest. 

And today when I look at the smug faces of David Cameron, George Osbourne and their vile ilk, I think maybe Guy Fawkes had the right idea.

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot
For I see no reason why,
Gunpowder, treason and plot should ever be forgot.

Monday, 2 November 2015

The complete Literary 007 - Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz Book Review

As far as James Bond continuation novels go this is one of the most faithful in both characterisation of Bond and that flow which Kingsley Amis termed, The Fleming Sweep - Author Anthony Horowitz was aided in his task of bringing James Bond back by Ian Fleming himself - Horowitz explains in his afterword that prior to writing the novel he was given access to many of Ian Fleming's papers. Amongst these papers were several outlines, written by Fleming, for episodes of a proposed 007 TV series. One of these outlines saw Bond placed in the extremely dangerous world of Grand Prix.

'I was quite surprised that although Bond had memorably played bridge in Moonraker, golf in Goldfinger and baccarat in Casino Royale, he had never, in any of the novels, taken part in the much more lethal world of Grand Prix. Better still - and this was really exciting for me - Fleming's outline contained a scene with Bond meeting Bill Tanner and M at the Secret Service HQ.' Anthony Horowitz

Horowitz was able to use parts of the scene in the second chapter of his novel, which means of course that a small part of this new Bond was written by Fleming himself. Horowitz of course has already taken on iconic characters such as Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty to great success, and now he tackles James Bond. Of course it could be argued that his Alex Ryder series is basically teenage James Bond but that's an argument for another time.

In Trigger Mortis (dreadful title, that) we find Bond still shacked up with Pussy Galore following the events told in Fleming's Goldfinger. Indeed this new novel is set just two weeks after  Goldinger's
plans to rob Fort Knox fell apart thanks to the intervention of Bond and the delightful, Miss Galore.

She waited until Bond had finished his egg, the lit two cigarettes - not the Morlands brand which were specially made for him and which he preferred, but one of her own Chesterfields. She passed it across and Bond inhaled deeply, reflecting that the first cigarette of the day definitely tasted better when it came from the lips of a beautiful woman.

The Bond of this latest book is classic Bond - chauvinistic, heavy smoking, hard drinking. Horowitz certainly has a good grip on the character and the book carefully follows the blueprint set out over several Bond novels by Fleming himself- we even get the classic style, though ridiculous , scene where the bad guy, this time a Korean named Sin Jai-Seong but known by his Americanised name of Jason Sin tells Bond what he intends to do, the full details of his diabolical plan are laid out to a seemingly doomed 007. Big mistake there Mr Megalomaniac because we know that Bond is going to somehow escape from this latest brush with almost certain death and be able to thwart your dastardly schemes.

'I wonder? Am I acting out of vanity. Am I, perhaps a little too pleased with myself? I do not know - but I suppose I must be as there can be no other reason to explain everything to you. Even so I must be brief.'

Pussy Galore though only plays a small part in this book and the main Bond girl is an American secret service agent with the wonderfully Flemingish name of Jeopardy Lane. But Pussy Galore does have a satisfying arc - in Goldfinger she was a lesbian who was turned by Bond, (never having met a real man, you see) but in this book she finds that her attachment to Bond is only fleeting and she soon leaves him, going off with another woman.

An excellent Bond novel then that feels a lot like Fleming. In fact the only thing I didn't like is the title, Trigger Mortis (which refers to the fail safe device on a USA Vanguard rocket). It's just my opinion but I think Mr Sin would have been a far more Bondian title. I asked Anthony Horowitz about this and he did  consider titling the book, Mr Sin, but in the end he went with the actual title. He didn't say why - perhaps Mr Sin would sound too similar to Colonel Sun.

It matters not...this Bond novel is quite excellent.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Tonyrefail's Workman's Club: A shoddy way to treat the dead

Working on Dark Valleys, my forthcoming book, I was led to the remains of an old graveyard next to the Workman's Club in Tonyrefail. Next door to the club stood the Ainon Welsh Baptist Chapel and it was here that 22 year old Jane Lewis who was murdered back in 1862 was fact Jane was the first person to be buried in the chapel which at that time had just been built.

Jane's story, which will be fully covered in Dark Valleys, is a sad and mysterious one - indeed to this day the identity of her killer remains a mystery. And it was her gravestone that brought me to the car park of the Workman's Club - back in 1995 the club purchased the old chapel and graveyard and proceeded to demolish the old building in order to construct a car park for the patrons of the club. Several of the stones were retained from the graveyard and these were placed behind a children's play area next to the car park - Jane's stone remains there set into the ground.

However many of the other stones that remained behind have been vandalised and the entire area is awash  with litter and dog mess. These stones are very old, but nevertheless this seemed to me to be a very shoddy way of treating the dead. It shows a total lack of respect, even recognition, for people who have lived and gone before us.

Thinking this was clearly not right, and not knowing what happened to the remains of the people buried here when the chapel was demolished, I went into the Workman's Club where I was told the council were responsible for the ground next to the car park, which included the children's play area as well as the old graves.

A call to the council found the council disputing ownership and I was given a land registry number for the plot of ground - CYM474273. I then contacted The Welsh Baptist Union and spoke to a lady, Bonnie Davies who tracked down the original sale for me. Yes, she informed me:  'The Ainon Chapel had belonged to the Welsh Baptist Union but on the 20th January 1995 it was sold to the Workman's Club, Tonyrefail. The sale specified the chapel and graveyard, which made the club responsible for the remains buried therein.'

I again visited the club but could not find anyone to speak to that had anything to say, I failed to speak to anyone on the committee of the club. Being a club, the Workman is owned by its members and each night in order to visit the pub these members walk past these shattered and discarded gravestones. I hope they don't get too much dog shit on their shoes.

Thinking that the local newspaper should cover the disgraceful way these old gravestones are being treated, I went to the local press. But as I banged on about the old graves I could sense the reporter on the other end of the line, gazing vacantly at the ceiling. The reporter was no doubt thinking, 'Old graves! Haven't you got anything about living people.Or funny shaped potatoes. Funny shaped potatoes always sell papers. Why we had one that looked like  a cock.'' 

The reporter said he'd  get back to me and I went for a shit, taking a copy of their newspaper with me. And so as I stood there, stained pages of the newspaper swirling into the abyss of the flushing system, I decided to publish this to the internet, in the hope that something is done. For these gravestones may be old, the people they commemorated stricken from memory, but this is a disgrace. It is a disgrace that should be felt by:

Rhondda Cynon Taff Council - for not policing this situation, there is a children's play area next to the car park with only broken gravestones and mounds of dog shit separating one from the other.

The Workman's Club - who may have ultimate responsibility.

The Welsh Baptist Union - for allowing the sale of such a building and graveyard in the first place. People once prayed here, got married here and buried their loved ones here.

The people buried here were promised everlasting remembrance....well, they got it until there was money to be made by the construction of a car park. Then they became a part of the land to be developed.

I'd like to know what happened to the remains buried here when the car park was built? Where were they reburied? Where they exhumed with respect? Or where they simply bulldozed into tiny bone fragments and then used as landfill?

Something needs to be done...this is a stain on Tonyrefail itself.

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POSTSCRIPT: Since the posting of this article I have been informed that the human remains from the chapel have been buried in a communal grave in Trane cemetary, Tonyrefail. Whatever the feelings about one large plot for all are, then surely the stones should have been removed to the new cemetary and a memorial erected. The Welsh Baptists Union told me, 'this wouldn't happen today but sadly in the 1990's it did.'

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Deja Vu to a Kill - Spectre film review


The new Bond movie, Spectre is a great success even if on times it does feel like James Bond's Greatest Hits with scenes paying homage,( or ripping off depending on your mood), to earlier Bond classics. We have an helicopter sequence similar to the opening of For Your Eyes Only, a brutal fight on a train that in fairness betters the similar scene in From Russia with Love, the evil lair from so many Bonds has also been rebuilt  and at one point it even goes all Star Wars with Blofeld revealing - I am your father,, I mean - I am your brother, James.

Daniel Craig has now delivered two great Bond films in a row and even if he still doesn't look like many fan's idea of classic Bond, you can't really fault him here - He's quite excellent in fact. If this does prove to be Craig's last Bond then it will be a fitting departure since plot elements in this one tie up all the loose ends from his previous three movies.

It will be a shame if the actors bows out because at last Craig is  Bond - he even orders his vodka martinis, shaken and not stirred rather than not giving a damn as in Casino Royale.

The Blofeld thing though is stupid - the movie manages to avoid going all Dr Evil with the bad guy's lair but then ruins it by making old Blofeld a jealous sibling. He's, (we are expected to swallow this mind) Bond's step-brother, and then the films suggests that his life of world domineering evil and cat stroking, is due to the fact that his dad adopted Bond after Bond's parent were killed, and that he felt pushed out - he refers to Bond as a Cuckoo in the nest . This is far more camper than anything Austin Powers managed.

That aside the film flies past and doesn't feel anything like it's two and a half hours - it is paced perfectly and Craig is excellent. In Skyfall and now this, Daniel Craig has given us two Bond's that can stand proudly alongside the classics.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

The Writing Life

At the moment I'm juggling two major projects - Dark Valleys, which is a commission from Pen and Sword Books and concerns historical murders that took place in and around the South Wales Valleys. The second is a novel, not a commission, something I'm writing on spec. The novel is entitled Down Among The Dead and is an attempt to bring back my character, Chief Inspector Frank Parade of the Glamorgan Constabulary.  I first used Parade in the earlier novel, A Policeman's Lot which was published in paperback by Solistice Publishing before transferring over to Kindle with a new title, The Welsh Ripper Killings.

A Policeman's Lot was a kind of high concept crime novel, and relied on historical fact namely Buffalo Bill's Wild West Circus, Jack the Ripper and a coal miner uprising. The novel was set in 1907 and featured the character of Inspector Frank Parade.

 I like Parade, like him a lot but struggled to find another story for him. The problem was that Parade was used as  the main voice in the Ripper based story but he didn't really fit into that timeline. He was great for the plot but not so much the era.

Now I decided that my next crime novel, Down Among the Dead needed to be set in a different timeline - that of World War II period South Wales. This meant I couldn't use the character of Parade, I would need to create a new policeman. But I found I couldn't do that - I needed Parade and so I pushed A Policeman's Lot aside, decided to look upon it as a standalone novel and  rebooted Parade, transporting him to a different time. In short I recreated Chief Inspector Frank Parade and placed the cranky old copper in the same environment but several decades later.

Below is a small extract from the work in progress.

July 1940

The night it all began, a fog had descended over the hills and shrouded the entire valleys beneath an opaque blanket. Dan Evans cursed as he climbed the fence, careful not to catch his crotch on the barbed wire, and made his way across the field that was little more than a bog. Usually the ground would be soft, swallowing up feet, and stubbornly refusing to let go, but at the moment, several weeks into what was shaping up to be a long hot summer, the ground was dry and hard. Not that it was any easier to negotiate. The uneven ground was uncomfortable beneath Dan’s feet, and several times he stumbled, having to throw his hands forward as he fell into the thick grass and reeds that could poke an eye out.
            ‘Bloody sheep,’ he muttered, and lifted his legs out of yet another hole. ‘Bloody sheep and bloody fog.’
            Dan gazed into the darkness – moments ago it had been a clear moonlit night, but this fog had come from nowhere. It rebounded the moonlight back at him, and gave everything a bluish tinge. One moment he was peering into a murky soup and the next he was shielding his eyes as if caught in the glare of the sun.
            He had to get his bearings.
            No point in wandering about with visibility being so poor.
It would be easy for a person to get lost, even someone who knew the mountains as well as Dan. And he knew them well, very well, he had walked them for more than thirty years as both man and boy, but all the same on a night like this he might as well have been in some foreign land. Nothing was the same in the fog. The landscape itself seemed to mutate as dangers were created, where previously there had been none.
He reached the far end of the field, scaled yet another fence, and then sat down on the ground to figure out just where he was going. He couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of him and there seemed to be nothing but a wall of fog ahead. He did, of course have a rough idea of where he was, but he couldn’t figure out in which direction to go.
He was completely disorientated. All this wandering about and he wasn’t at all sure in which direction he’d crossed the field. Indeed, for all he knew he could have gone full circle, and ended up back where he’d started. He fallen several times and maybe he’d gotten back up, and then wandered off the way he had come. No, he didn’t think that was the case. He’d gone west, he was sure of that, which meant he should be above the old barn. It should be ahead of him, down the banking and across the stream, and he guessed he’d shelter there.
‘Bloody sheep,’ he mumbled, again cursing the wayward animals.
They, those stupid bloody beasts, were the reason he’d been up the mountain so late at night, several of the dumb animals had wandered away from the flock, gone through a break in the fence. They were always doing that which was a problem; since there were several disused mine shafts and pot holes that they could fall into. He couldn’t afford to lose any more animals like that, and so, after repairing the fence, he’d gone off to search.
The fog had come suddenly, without warning, and before he knew it he had only a vague idea of where he was.
Dan sat there on the ground for several minutes while he smoked a cigarette. He knew he was breaking the strict blackout laws by smoking, but he didn’t figure there’d be any wardens roaming about the mountain to challenge him and he doubted Jerry planes would be passing overhead in this weather. His makings were damp and he had to struggle to keep the smoke going. It tasted good as he drew the smoke into his lungs, the nicotine serving to calm his frayed nerves.
Come on Danny boy, he chided himself. You’re acting like an old woman. Anyone would swear you’d never been up a mountain at night before; next thing you’ll be jumping from the bogeyman.
But it was more than that, the dark he could cope with, but this sodding fog was something else entirely. It was darker than dark and had closed in so thickly that he felt claustrophobic, and feared that if the fog became any denser he’d be unable to breath. It would smother him, seep into his lungs where it would set with the consistency of treacle.
He took his time with the cigarette, and only when it was too small to hold without burning his fingers did he toss it aside. He stood, holding the fence to steady himself while he peered into the fog. Still, he was unable to see more than a foot or so ahead.
Cautiously he walked forward into the fog.
With each step he carefully felt the ground ahead of him, any moment expecting a slope as he neared the banking that he was sure would be there, but the ground beneath him remained level and eventually he reached yet another fence which left him completely confused him as to where he was.
He willed himself to stay calm, knowing there was no need to panic, that it would serve no purpose and he could very well cause him an injury if he lost control of his nerves. He was quite safe but all the same the fog was oppressive and seemed to be closing in ever tighter.
Carefully he climbed the fence and then dropped down the other side. He looked around, again trying to pick out a landmark, anything that would give him some idea of where he was, but there was nothing to be seen other than the murky shroud the fog had thrown over everything. At times the fog seemed to clear slightly and you could see through it but everything was out of focus, and didn’t help Dan at all in pinpointing his location.
‘Bloody sheep,’ he muttered and started walking forward, figuring that if he kept moving he would soon realise where he was. He listened to the night, trying to pick out any sounds. He could hear the drone of one of the collieries in the distance, but wasn’t sure which ones. There were several possibilities depending on exactly where he was on Myndd Y Gaer.
He started across the field and had gone maybe fifty yards when he was able to make out a landmark just ahead of him. It was unmistakably the ruins of Llanbad Church – the four walls jutted out of the ground like cavity filled teeth and Dan smiled. He had gone some way further than he had expected but all the same he was glad to come upon the old building. Although the church was in ruins, all that remained were the four walls, and exposed to the elements, he would be able to find some limited shelter. If he crouched down behind one of the walls he would be cosy enough until the fog cleared.
Dan climbed the banking and entered the church grounds, stepping over ancient gravestones. The old church dated back to Norman times but it was just shy of a century ago in 1844 that it had last been used for worship. It had originally rested in the ancient parish of Coychurch but as villages had sprung up around the surrounding areas, with their own churches and chapels, and boundaries were redrawn, it had become even more remote and far less important. Over the years it had fallen victim of the elements, a particularly ferocious storm in 1850 had taken the roof and in the years that followed much of the stone used in its construction had been carried off by farmers to be used in building walls of their own. Even the ancient gravestones that stood in its grounds had suffered vandals and now many of then lay on the ground, their inscriptions too weathered to read.
Dan reached the church and went through the entrance where the heavy doors had once stood. There was no roof above his head but he felt better with four walls around him and he sat down, his back against a wall while he fished in his pockets for his matches.
He struck one on a stone and immediately recoiled in horror at the sight the sudden illumination revealed to him. For there upon the ground was a most grisly sight – it was the body of a man, his face pulped to a mush. That in itself was bad enough, but the thing that brought Dan to a gibbering wreck were the maggots that could be clearly seen, almost luminous in the light thrown by the match, as they burrowed through the corrupted flesh.
Dan screamed.

The above is the opening to the novel in a rough draft form and I'm anticipating completion of the first draft sometime around Christmas - then it will be set aside while I concentrate solely on Dark Valleys. The finished manuscript has to be with the publishers by the end of January 2016 for publication sometime that year. There will be a lot of proofreading, editing and general pulling out of hair before the finished project arrives in stores gleaming and giving off that delicious aroma of brand new bookieness. And of course add to that workload another commission, Cardiff at War 1939 - 1945, again for Pen and Sword Books, and I guess you could say I have a heavy workload.

Hey, that's the way I like it. It took me too long to become a professional writer to complain about the all I have to wait for is to become a successful writer and then I can give up this pesky day job of mine which takes up far too much of my time...time that could be better spent tapping the keys.


Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Riding the Vengeance Trail

“Revenge, the sweetest morsel to the mouth that ever was cooked in hell.”
Sir Walter Scott, The Heart of Mid-Lothian

‘Gutless is what you are,’ Jim Tanner yelled and crossed the room, peered through the slats at the window and then turned back to his son. He shook his head and ran a hand over the stubble on his chin. ‘You craven bastard.’
            Ethan glared back at his father, holding the older man’s eyes with his gaze. ‘I ain’t no coward,’ he said. ‘Just not a damn fool is all. If I go out there Fury’ll shoot me down. I’ll have no chance. That ain’t cowardly that’s just good sense.’
            ‘Pity you didn’t show that good sense when you started all this,’ Jim said and bit the end off a large cigar. He spat tobacco onto the floor, earning himself a look of reproach from his wife who sat in the far corner, a worried expression permanently plastered across her once beautiful face. She could tolerate her husband’s cussing but his vile habit of spitting was best done out of doors.