Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Best of 2013

My personal Best of, for 2013...  Five stars to all of the following:

Television drama of 2013

Radio drama of 2013

Novel of 2013

Photographer of 2013 

Musician of 2013 
Track "Wilderness" from the album "Nightfall"

Comedian of 2013 - I can't split these two, I love them both


Some memorable moments of 2013

Street parties celebrated the death of much loathed former Prime Minister,
 Margaret Thatcher, who died in April

Soweto Gospel Choir paid a beautiful tribute to much loved fomer President, 
Nelson Mandela, who died in December

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Irritating tips and Christmas advice!

Searching for a good article about coping with stress and anxiety at Christmas, to share with clients, I was amazed with the amount of patronising rubbish I ended up reading, no doubt written by people with plenty of money and in very good health.  On the whole, I didn't find advice like this especially helpful or reassuring.

Here's a selection that actually made me more stressed and annoyed, than I was before I read them!

  • Budget sensibly - Just because all your son's friends are getting an Xbox One, that doesn't mean he's entitled to one, particularly if you're a less well off family. Explain to your children that Christmas has become too commercialised, educate them about the dangers of violent games such as Grand Theft Auto and show them how to have good old fashioned family fun by getting out your old Monopoly board. (Actually, a recent survey found arguments erupted in a whopping 46% of families that played Monopoly over Christmas.  Scrabble accounted for family feuds in 23% of households that played the word game!  To date, there is no clinical evidence that playing GTA leads to violence or anti-social behaviour.)
  • Make a pledge that this festive season you will not smoke, drink or eat any of those tempting but oh so naughty Christmas treats, which won't make you happy, they will merely increase your risk of cancer, heart disease and type two diabetes.  (Could have been written by Iain Duncan Smith, himself!!)
  • Avoid the stress of sleeping in your childhood bedroom at your stepfather's house by booking into a nice nearby hotel for a couple of nights, therefore turning a dreaded family event into a Christmas treat.  (Hang on, I thought you said we should budget better!  If we skipped putting the family up in a 4 star hotel, we could afford little Jake's Xbox!!)
  • Instead of vegging out in front of the television with a tin of Quality Street for two days, get yourself outside for a long brisk walk in the countryside. The exercise and fresh air will burn off those extra Christmas calories, improve your mood and wear you out - a much more healthy aid to sleep than those habit forming tablets!  (Not too sure how this would work for those with mobility problems or people living in the city - sadly we don't all live within walking distance of a country estate!)
  • Remember, Christmas is just one day, don't get stressed out if every present isn't perfect, or the custard on your trifle doesn't set properly.  It's just one day!  There's always next year! (Words fail me!!!)

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Could LSD and Ecstasy be effectively used to treat PTSD? - THE MAGICAL MYSTERY CURE - Richard Shrubb article from May 2013

In May 2013, Richard Shrubb reported for Therapy Today, on controversial trials that use Class A drugs such as LSD and ecstasy to treat depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

A small number of pioneering psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists are researching how certain Class A drugs can be used with very positive effect to help people with severe, chronic psychological and emotional health problems.

Despite the practical and legal difficulties, pilot trials are currently under way into the use of LSD, pure MDMA (ecstasy) and psilocybin (magic mushrooms) as an adjunct to conventional talking therapies for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and in end-of-life care.

The therapeutic use of banned drugs has featured in the UK national media headlines in recent months, thanks to the outspoken David Nutt, Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London and former Chair of the Government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. He was sacked from the Advisory Council in 2009 after declaring that ecstasy was less dangerous than horse riding (in terms of adverse incidents per use). In a subsequent paper he classified drugs according to the harm they caused; alcohol and tobacco emerged as more harmful than ecstasy and cannabis.

In September last year, he, with Val Curran, professor of psychology at University College London, joined forces with Channel 4 to film some of the participants (including the novelist Lionel Shriver) in a study that used fMRI imaging to examine the effects of MDMA on the brain. In April this year, in his presentation to the British Neuroscience Association’s biennial conference, he roundly condemned the British Government for blocking attempts to develop more effective treatments for depression with what he says are its ‘irrational’ drugs laws. 

Nutt wants to research the use of the chemical psilocybin, the psychedelic ingredient in magic mushrooms, which he says can suppress activity in the parts of the brain that are overactive in severely depressed people. But, because magic mushrooms are a Class A drug, their active chemical ingredient cannot be manufactured without a special licence. Despite a grant of £550,000 from the Medical Research Council to begin a three-year project to test the drug on people with depression, Nutt and his team have been unable to progress because they can’t get the comparatively small amount of the drug needed to conduct their trials. It isn’t easy to find companies who can manufacture the drug and are prepared to stump up the estimated £100,000 and go through all the bureaucratic hoops to get a licence.

Nutt’s research has already established that psilocybin appears to switch off the ruminative parts of the brain that are overactive in people with depression. ‘We badly need more types of treatment [for depression] but we cannot pursue these because the Government is denying scientists access to powerful tools that could help people in need,’ Nutt told the conference. ‘The whole field is so bedevilled by primitive old-fashioned attitudes. Even if you have a good idea, you may never get it into the clinic, it seems.’

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is notoriously difficult to treat, and a condition for which almost no drugs are being developed. Psychotherapy is generally regarded as the treatment of choice for the condition. NICE guidance recommends: ‘All people with PTSD should be offered a course of trauma-focused psychological treatment (trauma-focused CBT or EMDR)’.

At the heart of PTSD is the issue of avoidance: the patient finds the experience too difficult to face and is therefore unable to process it. Clinical trials are being conducted in Israel, the US, Canada and Switzerland into the use of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to treat PTSD. The trials are funded fully or in part by the US-based charity Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a research and educational organisation dedicated to promoting use of psychedelics and marijuana for therapeutic purposes.

South Carolina-based psychotherapist Michael Mithoefer is leading one of the trials. Mithoefer, a psychiatrist by training, believes that MDMA can open doors in the mind, whether the person wants it or not. The MDMA-assisted therapy sessions are eight hours long, with two therapists present – generally a male and a female so the client can talk to either, as they prefer. Though an apparently intense session – 45 minutes can be a lot for most patients in traditional non-drug psychotherapy – it is designed to be completely relaxed and without pressure.

It takes place in a non-clinical setting and, as the drug takes effect and the session progresses, the client finds him/herself talking naturally about the stressor that is causing them so much trouble. ‘We have an agreement with the client that if nothing comes up during the session at a certain point, the therapist can engage them. This has never happened yet,’ Mithoefer says. Few of the clients found taking MDMA an ‘ecstatic experience’, according to Mithoefer, and all have been able to both face the trauma and not be traumatised by doing so.

Outcomes to date indicate that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy is achieving results.1, 2 Twenty patients with chronic PTSD that had not responded to other forms of psychotherapy and drug treatment were randomly assigned to psychotherapy with MDMA or a placebo. The participants had suffered PTSD for an average of 19 years. Most of those who underwent the MDMA-assisted therapy had not relapsed 3.5 years later. Four out of five of the MDMA treatment group improved, compared with just one in four of those in the placebo group. The study found no evidence of drug-related serious side effects or adverse neurocognitive effects and concluded that MDMA can be given safely to people with PTSD, and may be particularly useful for those who have not responded to other treatments.2

Stephen Joseph, Professor of Psychology, Health and Social Care at the University of Nottingham, is sceptical. He has pioneered psychological techniques to treat PTSD and is the author of What Doesn’t Kill Us: a guide to moving forward and overcoming adversity, on post-traumatic growth. He argues: ‘In a nurturing, supportive environment, people can let go. If you rush them they will become more avoidant. You have to build up the client’s trust over a couple of months.’ Indeed, ‘it is important to spend a lot of time not talking about their trauma’. Joseph is concerned about the use of any kind of drug to treat PTSD: ‘PTSD is not a psychiatric disorder – it is more of a bereavement. You cannot medicate an existential crisis.’ But he is prepared to be convinced: ‘I’d be interested to see where we are when the research is complete in 10 years. I may well be surprised.’

MDMA and social anxiety
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently considering an application from MAPS to conduct an MDMA-assisted psychotherapy trial for social anxiety among autistic adults.

Dr Berra Yazar-Klosinski, Lead Clinical Research Assistant at MAPS, says there is a lot of anecdotal data suggesting that MDMA can help with social anxiety, ‘although there is little hard science on the subject’. 

Put very simply, MAPS is arguing that MDMA can address social anxiety by reducing the individual’s reactions to negative social interactions and enhancing the feel-good effect of positive interactions. The treatments are once or twice only, several weeks apart. There is no suggestion that people should be regularly dosed with MDMA, like an antidepressant or antipsychotic. The theory is that MDMA is a ‘teacher’, not a ‘helper’.

Julian, a Londoner who has Asperger’s, has taken MDMA at raves and confirms this effect: ‘It seems to help filter out the signals you normally get, teaching you how others see social interaction.’

To help design the pilot study, MAPS brought in Nick Walker, who has autism and has taken MDMA recreationally. A teacher on the Interdisciplinary Studies programme at California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, Walker says: ‘Though MDMA is empathogenic for most who take it, the theory that autistic people lack empathy is complete rubbish.’ He feels that social anxiety results from the power imbalance imposed on the autistic by ‘neurotypical’ mainstream society. ‘Autistic people are generally bullied at school and misunderstood as children. By their adolescence and adulthood they are traumatised from being taught they are somehow wrong. MDMA makes you warm and welcoming. It helps you get involved in others’ interests. How do you share your interests? By getting over your social fear.’

LSD-assisted therapy
Dr Peter Gasser was able to practise psychedelic assisted psychotherapy in the 1990s under licence in Switzerland, as a member of the Swiss Association of Psychedelic Therapists. The licence was revoked when LSD and other psychedelics were banned even for medical use in 1993, but Gasser has since been given a licence to run a clinical trial into its use in end-of-life psychotherapy, partly sponsored by MAPS.3 The results have yet to be published.

Taking LSD is a very intense and transformative, almost religious experience, according to research assistant Katharina Kirchner, who worked with Gasser and wrote her Master’s thesis on LSD-assisted end-of-life psychotherapy.

Many writers over the years have likened the experience of taking LSD to Eastern mystic religious experiences. Kirchner challenges this: ‘Those who have the language of the Eastern mystic experience speak of an LSD trip on those terms. An ordinary person from a village in Switzerland or Germany doesn’t have that language to use, so describes their experience on the terms they have for reference.’ 

Kirchner practises meditation and describes the LSD experience as like ‘taking a train to a peak meditative experience. You arrive in under an hour where through learning meditation it sometimes takes years to achieve that destination – not unlike walking’. One participant had a horrifying experience in the first trip, which they described as ‘… really black, the black side. I was afraid, was shaking [...] Really it was a total strain, no way out, no escaping.’ They had reservations about taking the next trip but this proved more positive: ‘Suddenly there came a phase of relaxation. Completely detached. It became bright. Everything was light. It is a pleasant feeling, a warm feeling. No pain. Almost like floating, like being carried, and together with the music… really wonderful…’

The protocol for the Gasser clinical trial explains that psychotherapy will take place before, during and after the LSD session. During the experience, ‘as appropriate, the investigators will engage with the participant to support and encourage emotional processing and resolution of whatever psychological material is emerging. The investigators will also encourage periods of time in which the participant remains silent with eyes closed and with attention focused introspectively on his or her sense of self and life history in order to increase the psychological insights mediated by the LSD treatment’.

Very simply, there are two forms of experience, depending on the dose of LSD. A low dose is known as ‘psycholytic’ – it is still intense and transformative, but the client doesn’t ‘leave the planet’ or hallucinate bright lights, for instance. The other dose is a ‘psychedelic’ experience and will result in complete release from reality. Kirchner says 300 microgrammes in most cases will bring about a psycholytic experience, depending on the person’s body weight, health and stage of illness; 400mcg is the minimum needed to achieve a peak psychedelic experience in a healthy adult of a typical weight.

The therapy environment itself is similar to that for MDMA-assisted therapy: a calm, relaxing and non-clinical setting. The patient wears a blindfold and can choose to listen to music. They are given the LSD under the supervision of two therapists. Kirchner says: ‘Therapists are there to guide you through the experience and help along the way.’ After the trip has worn off, the client goes to bed and is left to sleep overnight – although a therapist is there for them to speak to if they wish at any time. Kirchner explains: ‘Patients often just need time to process their experience and understand what they have seen and felt.’ They receive talking therapy the next day, but again in a non-traditional way – the therapist is there simply to listen and help the person articulate what they felt, heard and saw, not to interpret or analyse it.

In her thesis Kirchner argues that LSD opens the individual’s mind to a different viewpoint and way of thinking while they remain conscious, so they gain a different perspective on the seemingly intractable issue (for example, their impending death) facing them. Brad Burge, Director of Communications at MAPS, puts it more simply: ‘With end of life therapy one comes to the understanding that “I do not end where my body ends”.’

As the end-of-life research progresses, the hope is that enough scientific evidence will be gathered to break through the social and legal barriers that are currently blocking the therapeutic application of these and other so-called recreational drugs.

Case study: ‘By letting go I regained my mind’
Mikee (not his real name) was a Forward Air Controller for the US Army during the Surge in Iraq in 2006-07. He had to get artillery and air strikes signed off by officers. ‘There were so many career officers in it for themselves that would not sign off strikes when I deemed them necessary that I had to sit by while 20 men were killed in six months whose lives I could have saved.’

PTSD is severely stigmatised in the US Army, particularly among elite soldiers like Mikee. Until he was medically discharged with a broken back, and his behaviour in civilian life forced his hand, he wouldn’t admit his problems.

‘As a soldier your mind controls everything. You live in the next five seconds in a structure that controls everything you do. In civilian life there is no control of your life,’ says Mikee. He became violent on several occasions and had difficulty reintegrating with civilian life.

For Mikee, taking MDMA allowed him to let go of the control, which allowed him to understand what was going on for him. ‘The feeling initially was extreme anxiety as I was about to come up on the drug, but when I became high I was only anxious when I had a thought about my past and didn’t talk about it. When I talked about the thing, in my head I relaxed. By letting go and no longer being in control, I regained my mind.’

Asked how he has changed, Mikee says: ‘I feel as if I have grown as a person. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!’

Mikee is now going to medical school to learn to be a doctor. He wants to study psychedelics as part of therapy and help his former buddies cope with civilian life when they too leave the Armed Forces.

Related video:  HORIZONS Psychedelics Forum: Treating PTSD with MDMA-assisted therapy

Monday, 16 December 2013

Powerful messages to unite those oppressed by this government - Brilliant Mark Steel clips.

Mark Steel is someone who has consistently used his public voice to speak out and reject the government's brutal austerity cuts.  Through his column in The Independent, his online blog and Twitter, he continues to express intelligent objection to the damage being inflicted on the great mass of the British public, by people who are already obscenely rich and who seek to make themselves ever more wealthy, at the expense of the poor and needy.

One of his most powerful messages, is that things can change, relatively quickly, if people find the courage to unite behind a good campaign, despite some arguing change away from a selfish capitalist society will take too long.  He reminds us that twenty years ago, if you thought people of the same sex should have the right to get married, just as a heterosexual couple could, it's likely you may have been considered to have extreme views away from the centre ground.  Today, twenty years on,if you object to the right to same sex marriage, you are now considered an extremist with views and values which have no place in modern society.

And he talks of a time, in the not so distant future, when people will look back and be horrified at these attacks on people's lives and their communities, and question why it was allowed to carry on, so brutally, and for so long, relatively unopposed.  

Here is a small handful of his many and varied appearances, standing up for the poor, challenging government policy and encouraging people to unite against this oppression.  After all, we still have another seventeen months to go until we get the chance to vote the Tories out of office.  

Contemporary literature which deals with the same political issues and concerns:
#FEAR by J A Maidley, is a dystopian novella set against a political backdrop in near-future Britain. The story serves as a warning of the dangers when we allow government oppression to go on, year after year, largely unopposed.  You can read a sample here.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Three fascinating lectures by Professor Glenn D. Wilson - on Sex, Sleep and Creativity

Whatever Turns You On - Professor Glenn D. Wilson

Sleep and Dreams - Professor Glenn D. Wilson

Genius or Madness- the Psychology of Creativity - Professor Glenn D. Wilson

Friday, 13 December 2013

Test your psychopathic traits - Channel 4 Psychopath Night

Channel 4 are running a fascinating feature on the psychopathic mind.
Psychopathy is a condition that causes people to display anti-social behaviour, lack of empathy and remorse, and fearless dominance. Find out more here.

Everyone has these characteristics to some degree - take the test and find out where you sit on the spectrum.

Take the test here.

I took the test myself...


You are warm and empathic with a heightened awareness of social responsibility and a strong sense of conscience. You like to carefully weigh up the pros and cons of a situation before you act and are generally averse to taking risks. You are very much a ‘people person’ and dislike conflict. ‘Do unto others…’ are your watchwords. But, although you avoid hurting others, those residing at the higher end of the psychopathic spectrum might not be as considerate, so stay vigilant to avoid being hurt unnecessarily.

A fairly typical result, I imagine, for a counsellor and a novelist...

There's also a spot the psychopath game here.

Friday, 29 November 2013

How to write about, and portray sex in fiction.

"Like many younger readers who had not yet experienced sex, except with myself, I was deeply misled by 'Lady Chatterley's Lover', which seemed to insist that running naked through damp undergrowth, with wild flowers entwined in your pubic hair, was just about the closest thing to heaven."
In his Radio 3 Essay, 'Explaining the Explicit', Man Booker Prize winner Julian Barnes posed the question, "Is writing about sex, the same as writing about any other human activity - say gardening or cricket?" His exploration of the subject (including an amusing analysis of an Evelyn Waugh sex scene) was compelling, and went on to talk about self-consciousness and exposure; the fear that readers will assume the sexual encounters you're writing about actually happened to you, and how this impacts on the tone of the way you write about sex. "The naming of parts:  which parts do you name and what names do you give them? At the basic level... He put his what into her, or indeed his, what?"  He talks of John Updike comparing the male member, in one novel, to a yam, which made visualising the sexual scene difficult, the reader being distracted by mental images of a vegetable stall.

"The proper, grown up novel is the most intimate of art forms," concludes Barnes, "the one that puts the reader's mind and heart most closely in touch with the minds and hearts of the characters.  It is the place where the most truth about the intimacies of life can, and should, still be told." 

The full recording can be found here:    Explaining the Explicit

Last year, while completing a novel about a fairly dysfunctional (middle-class) family I found myself in the slightly uncomfortable position of having to write a sex scene.

Well, I say a sex scene, but love scene would describe it more accurately, because it's really rather tender and in many ways quite innocent, and though I found it necessary to describe the sleepy, sensual foreplay leading up to the sex act, I stopped short of portraying the intercourse itself, I'm not sure what Julian Barnes would say about that.

I had deliberated long and hard about whether to include the scene at all, but it was ultimately necessary, because the reader needed an awareness that this sixty-year-old protagonist, who is a remarkably likable character, isn't some sort of saint; he is real, vulnerable, sexual, like any other man.  And I think understanding his internal battle adds to our appreciation of his anguish, for the woman he has formed a deep bond with is his own niece.

Now hopefully, I dealt with that sensitively, and while the developing obsessional relationship between these two consenting adults is not entirely healthy, their involvement seeks to harm no-one else, and it's our own narrow-mindedness as the reader, perhaps, which might object to the thought of these two having sex.

More recently, I've been adapting 'Attachment' to a radio play script, and this has given me the added difficulty of portraying sex, through dialogue and sound affects alone.  Given these would-be lovers are barely conscious there isn't a lot of dialogue in the novel, the scene is set through the prose, and so I fear I shall be left relying on sounds, as in, sex sound (or at least foreplay sounds) to convey this love scene in a radio drama version.  This indeed has presented me with a new challenge, how do I achieve this in a tasteful way?.

BBC Radio listeners do not always appreciate such subject matter.  Recently the corporation received several complaints about love scenes portrayed on The Archers, The Diary of Samuel Pepys, and a Woman's Hour drama, with one listener stating:  “Please can all the grunts and grinds of people humping each other stop.  We don’t need that – we’d rather hear the pigs doing it.”

The British public have always been famously prudish about sex and nudity in its serious form, with a preference to reduce the subject to the somewhat immature schoolboy humour of the Carry On tradition.

Back in April 1970 acting stars Susan Penhaligon and Michael Mackenzie set pulses racing and tongues wagging, when they dared to portray an authentic scene from Romeo and Juliet naked in bed, at the Connaught Theatre in Worthing. In total, there were ninety seconds of nudity within the two and a half hour performance, but local residents threatened to cause havoc with tomatoes and water pistols if the scene went ahead, such was the perception of an attack on Christian moral values.

In that same year The Sun newspaper introduced Page 3! The explicit objectification of bare breasts in their daily tabloid was popular enough to save it from declining sales. Clearly there has always been a strange, insidious double standard deep within the nation's collective unconscious, and one that's not at all healthy.  A mother breastfeeding a child on a train will still attract looks of disgust and condemnation!

It behoves all of us who work within the arts to try and educate society, and encourage exploration in a positive, healthy way.  For now, I shall return to agonising over the beautiful, yet problematic erotic scene in my script.

Please feel free to leave your comments, and any sensible tips or advice.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The 2013 Bad Sex in Fiction Award - It seems in some ways, our society has not moved on significantly from D H Lawrence's time.

It's that time of the year writers seem to dread.  Yes, it's the Bad Sex In Fiction awards, but this year it's got a few people challenging the validity of the somewhat unprestigious accolade.

Established in 1993, by the late Auberon Waugh, and organised by the Literary Review, in order to draw attention to the "crude, tasteless and often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in contemporary novels, and to discourage it", former nominees include such national treasures as, Newsnight's Paul Mason and Will Self (on three separate occasions); even J K Rowling was tipped for the award last year - not for a Harry Potter book, of course!! -but for her post-Potter novel "The Casual Vacancy".  As it happened, she didn't actually make the shortlist.

Previous winners of the Bad  Sex in Fiction award include:

1993: Melvyn Bragg, A Time to Dance
1994: Philip Hook, The Stonebreakers
1995: Philip Kerr, Gridiron
1996: David Huggins, The Big Kiss: An Arcade Mystery
1997: Nicholas Royle, The Matter of the Heart
1998: Sebastian Faulks, Charlotte Gray
1999: A. A. Gill, Starcrossed
2000: Sean Thomas, Kissing England[3]
2001: Christopher Hart, Rescue Me
2002: Wendy Perriam, Tread Softly[2]
2003: Aniruddha Bahal, Bunker 13
2004: Tom Wolfe, I Am Charlotte Simmons
2005: Giles Coren, Winkler[4]
2006: Iain Hollingshead, Twenty Something[5]
2007: Norman Mailer, The Castle in the Forest[6]
2008: Rachel Johnson, Shire Hell; John Updike, Lifetime Achievement Award
2009: Jonathan Littell, The Kindly Ones
2010: Rowan Somerville, The Shape of Her [7]
2011: David Guterson, Ed King[8]
2012: Nancy Huston, Infrared[9]

Alastair Campbell openly said he wanted to win it, in 2010.  His comment immediately disqualified him, the award is intended to shame and embarrass writers, and presumably their readers too. Campbell had made it to the shortlist, though, beating his former boss, Tony Blair, who had surprised many with his autobiographical account of his own sexual appetite.

Laurie Penny writes a compelling article in the New Statesman, this week, "In Defence of Bad Sex", suggesting the award is dated and priggish.  While we, as a nation, remain so inhibited about sex generally, and specifically, uncomfortable about portraying normal experiences of sex, she argues, young people will continue to develop their understanding about sex, from the increasingly hardcore sea of pornography, available so freely now on computers, tablets and phones.  You can read her full article here .

Neurological evidence reveals that women who are inhibited about sex, will tend to feel less confident in other areas of life, such as standing up for themselves, against oppressive men.  It is as if sexual confidence affects the actual architecture of the brain.  If a society effectively stops women talking about sex, and exploring normal, healthy consensual sex, those women seem to become easier to manipulate and exploit, and that certainly seems to have been the case for generations gone by.  If you make sex sinful, or even just mucky, women of all ages will be dissuaded from engaging in it, or even thinking about it, through shame.

Many would argue that the seemingly harmless, Bad Sex in Fiction award, plays into that agenda, to some degree.

D H Lawrence's 1928 novel "Lady Chatterley's Lover" is undoubtedly, the most famous book to have received an actual ban, in Britain, for its explicit sexual content.  It wasn't until 1960, thirty years after the author's death, that the public could buy a significantly censored edition of, what many consider to be a literary masterpiece, such was the determination of successive governments to control what art and literature ordinary people had access to.  There can be no doubt that those of less modest means had long been acquiring the book from Florence, and later France.

Back in 1929, a review by Edmund Wilson, praised "Lady Chatterley's Lover", for its attempt to explore sexuality with some degree of sensitivity and intelligence, recognising and admiring the challenge Lawrence had taken on:

"....The truth is simply, of course, that in English we have had, since the eighteenth century, no technique—no vocabulary even—for dealing with such subjects. The French have been writing directly about sex, in works of the highest literary dignity, ever since they discarded the proprieties of Louis XIV. They have developed a classical vocabulary for the purpose. And they have even been printing for a long time, in their novels, the coarse colloquial language of the smoking-room and the streets. James Joyce and D. H. Lawrence are the first English-writing writers of our own time to print this language in English; and the effect, in the case of Ulysses at least, has been shocking to English readers to an extent which must seem very strange to a French literary generation who read Zola, Octave Mirbeau and Huysmans in their youth. But, beyond the question of this coarseness in dialogue, we have, as I have intimated, a special problem in dealing with sexual matters in English. For we have not the literary vocabulary of the French. We have only the coarse colloquial words, on the one hand, and, on the other, the kind of scientific words appropriate to biological and medical books and neither kind goes particularly well in a love scene which is to maintain any illusion of glamor or romance.

Lawrence has here tried to solve this problem, and he has really been extraordinarily successful. He has, in general, handled his vocabulary well. And his courageous experiment, in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, should make it easier for the English writers of the future to deal more searchingly and plainly, as they are certainly destined to do, with the phenomena of sexual experience...."
As a writer myself, who largely navigates plot lines away from sexual encounters, I would say writing really well, about a sexual encounter, is as difficult as doing it well, in real life.  Sex is, by its very nature, often unchoreographed and a bit clunky, is the word I think Laurie Penny used. Few of us have a back catalogue of BAFTA worthy performances, but awkwardness doesn't stop lovers doing it, or enjoying it, and perhaps our slight discomfort in reading about sex, is partly to do with our own personal insecurities and hang ups.

Certainly, when I read through this year's nomination passages, I didn't think they were particularly badly written, it seems to be the actual content that offends judges at the Literary Review.  In some ways our society has not moved on significantly from Lawrence's time, it would seem.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Is BBC impartiality possible, when the Chair of the BBC Trust, was once the Chairman of the Conservative Party?

It has been reported, that staff at Number 10 are "furious" that senior BBC political presenter, Jeremy Paxman, dared to criticise David Cameron over comments the Prime Minister made about plans for a First World War centenary, likening the event to last year's Diamond Jubilee celebrations.  Paxman questioned the use of Cameron's idea to celebrate such a calamitous conflict in which millions of men were wounded, mentally and physically, and three quarters of a million, never returned home from.
On the popular Graham Norton Show, Paxman also said he agreed with some aspects of Russell Brand's comments, in a recent Newsnight interview, that people are "completely fed up with posturing politicians" and he believes MPs should be obliged to have done a proper job in the real world, before entering the House of Commons, so that they are more in touch with ordinary people's lives.  He suggested MPs talk "rubbish!" and the public, in fact, see through them, when they insist theirs is the only party which can solve all the problems society faces.  Not only was this greeted with rapturous audience applause, but his fellow guests, Dame Judi Dench, Sir Elton John and John Bishop can clearly be seen clapping too.  And I suspect this as much as anything, has irked government ministers, aware already of their unpopularity.  It may have particularly annoyed the Chair of the BBC Trust, Chris Patten, who was formerly the Chairman of the Conservative Party!

Patten was appointed to the position of BBC Trust Chair by David Cameron, on 1st May, 2011, with many alleging at the time, that he may have been purposefully positioned there, to make sure BBC coverage of the unpopular austerity agenda, avoided any criticism of the government.
Chris Patten, current Chair of BBC Trust, and inset image, in his Conservative Party days
The BBC themselves, made no attempt back in March of 2011 to hide the fact that Chris Patten remained very much "an old-fashioned Tory" in their original article which can be found  here.

There would seem to be some intolerance at present, of BBC personalities airing any sort of personal opinion which deviates from the official government position.

Aside from criticism of Newsnight's Russell Brand interview, and Paxman's own comments about the state of British Politics, the BBC appear to have come under pressure now to criticise the much liked presenter and naturalist, Chris Packham, for comments he made on Twitter about the government's controversial badger cull.  The Daily Telegraph reports:

He was also reprimanded for using “intemperate” language on his Twitter feed in the summer (@ChrisGPackham) after an inquiry was ordered by Lord Hall of Birkenhead, the BBC’s director general.
Mr Packham filed entries on his Twitter entry ¬- on which he says he is a “naturalist and BBC broadcaster” - as the badger cull was about to start in the summer.
He wrote: “Tonight could be the darkest for British wildlife that we have witnessed in our lives. That in spite of science and public will the wrath of ignorance will further bloody and bleed our countryside of its riches of life.
“That brutalist thugs, liars and frauds will destroy our wildlife and dishonour our nations reputation as conservationists and animal lovers”.

Naturalist, Chris Packham tweeted his views about the government's controversial badger cull
The British public has huge affection for the BBC, but it is starting to look more and more like an agent for government propaganda, with many now questioning its impartiality and wondering how viewers can express their own objection to this apparent right-wing bias.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Revolution in the UK is perhaps more likely to be driven by the Dramatic Arts, than politics

Most people want to live in a society, and want to bring their children up in a society, that's based on love, fairness and compassion, not hate, fear and oppression...

Russell Brand's ten minute, impassioned Newsnight interview with Jeremy Paxman, has 10 million YouTube views.  Almost as many as voted for David Cameron, at the 2010 General Election (10,706,647), have been interested in watching that single interview, during which the cult comedian calls for people to abandon the current political system and stand together to demand a fairer, more empathic and intelligently run society, which will meet the needs of the majority of people in society, rather than serving a select elite.
Paxman however, has certain sympathies with Brand's view.  While he believes people should vote in general elections, he recently confessed, "Russell Brand has never voted, because he finds the process irrelevant.  I can understand that: the whole green-bench pantomime in Westminster looks a remote and self-important echo chamber.  But it is all we have.  In one recent election, I decided not to vote, because I thought the choice so unappetising."

Earlier in the year, Ken Loach's iconic film, "The Spirit of 45", also captured the public's imagination. The movie looked back at a time in British history, when cooperation, collaboration and compassion were essential components to rebuilding society, following the Second World War.  Many now say we need to recapture those values and aspirations of a collective national spirit and identity, to work together, to solve the problems that our society faces today.  
How can it be, that in a society where some people are earning hundreds of thousands of pounds each year, over 500,000 people have had to turn to hand-outs from food banks, to feed their families; many of those are working adults, hit hard by the coalition's cuts to jobs and services.  This level of child poverty should not be happening in a rich country like Britain, it is surely a sign of government failure, and naturally, more and more people have become angry about the gaping inequality between rich and poor, which seems set to increase further, under the present administration.

Around 45 million people were eligible to vote at the last General Election, yet less than a quarter voted for David Cameron, and only 8,604,358 voted for Gordon Brown's New Labour. Following the expenses scandal, the banking crisis and the Lib Dems wholesale betrayal of their core voters, MPs are held in very low regard by the general public now, with many predicting an even poorer turnout come 2015, despite the unpopularity of the Coalition Government.

On the BBC's iconic political panel show, Question Time, invariably the guest whose answers chime most with the audience in the studio, and at home, is not a politician, but tends to be an actor or director, such as Ken Loach, Russell Brand or Brian Cox, or a writer such as Owen Jones or Mehdi Hasan.  More often than not, the whole of the rest of the panel, is made up from people on the right of politics (the Labour MP tends to be a New Labour politician, seldom someone from the left) and they're more likely to get jeered than applauded; the introduction of Twitter comments, increases still further, the opportunity to criticise the politicians.  It makes you wonder why they agree to go on the programme, because they sure aren't encouraging people to go out and vote for them!

The reality is, people just don't connect with politicians anymore; they don't respect them, they don't trust them and they won't vote for them, and this is especially true of younger voters, who do relate to Russell Brand's message, and this is a huge problem now, for politicians.  Where is their mandate to rule over us, when the majority of people haven't voted for them, and look even less likely to vote in the future.
As our children's generation matures, they want another way, they demand another way.  They don't idolise Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair; far from it, more likely they despise the architects of this unjust, greed-obsessed culture they find themselves living in, MPs who themselves benefitted from free higher education out of taxpayers wages, now inflict tuition fees of £9,000 per year on those same workers' kids, who have studied hard to get a place at university, and dreamt of a decent future, with a rewarding job.  A classic case of  I'm alright Jack, pull up the ladder. 

Too many bright, working class teenagers are opting now, to go into jobs - often poor pay and conditions, minimum wage jobs - because they don't feel able to take on nearly £30,000 of tuition fees for a degree.  How can this possibly be fair!  People can see why the Conservatives, would welcome this, their numbers will surely dwindle as far-right, religious voters age and pass away. As society ultimately becomes more tolerant, more secular, clearly the Tories' days are numbered, so they might be just desperate to cling to power for as long as possible. But people can't understand why Labour ministers would also seek to discourage bright kids from poor backgrounds going into higher education, and that lack of difference between the main parties, and their failure to say, or do anything to protect and support those at the bottom, those families being hit so hard since 2010, is precisely why people have stopped voting.  To many, there seems to be no point.

Enthusiasm for a big sea change, is much more likely to come from the world of drama, art and music, as Brand's interview reveals.  We now need a collective drive forward, to engage and enlighten and involve the public, many of whom are probably desperate for a life free from anxiety and debt and despair.

We need films, plays, documentaries, TV dramas, novels, poems, songs, all addressing an urgent need for change, away from the exploitation of the poor, away from the destruction of the planet. Not another summer of love; how naive that turned out to be; simply getting stoned, taking your clothes off in a muddy field and dropping out of society, brings little benefit to the world, some say it made things worse. There was no plan, no strategy.  Getting out of your head, just allows the oppressors to take an even tighter grip, and you're powerless to stop them!  

What we need is a serious, intelligent, coordinated movement putting forward rational proposals for how we change society for our children, and their children.  Much more emphasis on the human need for family and community, belonging to something.  Education and science and the arts embraced for their own sake, for this is how we enrich society and give our lives meaning.  Less expectation for the individual to cope alone with stresses, such as illness, loneliness and financial worry.  Supporting the vulnerable and helping them to achieve a fulfilling existence, for when we cast out the needy, that impacts on the whole of society.  

Encouraging tolerance and respect and allowing people to express themselves as individuals, building an inclusive society, and if that involves taking your clothes off in a muddy field, as long as you're not harming anyone else in the process, well, so be it!

Russell Brand has today, written a compelling follow-up piece to the Newsnight interview, for the Guardian. You can read it here...

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Some people are aware, even as children, they suffer from anxiety. Others, like me, become aware of it, in adulthood.

As a mental health professional, I'm trained to recognise anxiety, to understand the condition, and help people manage the symptoms associated with it.

I also suffer from anxiety myself, though thankfully it is not as debilitating as it once was, and doesn't stop me enjoying a fulfilling life, these days, at the age of fifty.  Although I haven't had an acute anxiety attack for many decades, my symptoms used to include terrifying experiences like sleep paralysis, where I would frequently wake up, and be unable to move or speak, with a fear that some impending doom was about to befall me, and I was powerless to do anything about it.  It was a miserable time to live through and has left me with a fear that this could return at any time, although statistically, that's highly unlikely.  But still, our deepest, most animalistic fears are embedded from childhood, babyhood perhaps, and logic and reasoning do little to take away anxiety about trauma reoccuring.

A greater understanding of anxiety, how common it is - for most of us suffer with some degree of anxiety from time to time - and where it comes from, and what is actually happening to the body during these frightening episodes, helped me to learn strategies for managing my emotions, when I became aware I was starting to feel anxious.  The more I managed the anxiety, the less afraid I became and the greater my confidence grew, to the degree where I even write about anxiety in blogs and novels, which I publish, fully aware that someone might dislike what I have written and attack me for it.  I guess I've reached a point where my level of self-acceptance is such that my respect for myself, is greater than the respect I might gain or lose from others.

There have been times when the anxiety disappeared almost completely, and this happened whenever I found myself settled, in a secure and permanent relationship.
For me, the early stages of a relationship are not simply exciting, they're also plagued with feelings of uncertainty, as I try to work out if I can really trust this person I'm investing my emotions in, after all, like any other parent, I have my children's happiness and security to consider and prioritise too. Boyfriends who couldn't empathise with my concerns, and had a more easy come, easy go attitude to love, never lasted long with me, and by the time I was forty, I got good at recognising the warning signs and keeping those guys at bay.  But even the secure, long term relationships had a habit of failing over time, and then of course, the feelings of anxiety returned.

Some people are aware, even as children, that they struggle with anxiety.  Others like me, manage to suppress things until they reach adolescence, or in my case, my twenties - it was the night I went into hospital to deliver a stillborn little girl, and suddenly all these feelings of loss and abandonment overwhelmed every cell of my being.  Three months later, I was still suffering, and had developed a fear of going outside the house.  I was encouraged by my GP to go along to counselling, and my education about anxiety, and the slow road to recovery, began there, with medication and literally hundreds of hours of therapy to talk about where my fears were coming from.

These days, I don't need medication, or therapy. I'm remarkably happy, given the dreadful times we're living in.  But it's important we keep talking about the full spectrum of stress and anxiety and depression, because so many of us would benefit from a deeper understanding and more compassion from society.

Recent news that the next Labour Government would abolish the Bedroom Tax, sack ATOS and reinstate EMA for students staying on at school, is greatly welcomed

Several years ago, I was left homeless with two young children.

Fortunately, back then, we had a Labour administration that was committed to helping people fulfil their potential; single mums in particular, were urged to consider retraining, which was fully funded by the Government, and there was no pressure to look for work if you opted for training, as long as you had a child still in the education system.

We managed to find somewhere to rent (housing benefit covered the entire rent in those days, so you were completely protected in that sense, and of course there was no Bedroom Tax, so your family didn't suffer the added stress of living in overcrowded conditions) and as soon as the trauma of the relationship breakdown had passed and I felt strong enough, I embarked on three years of further education to gain my diploma in counselling, which promised me far greater job opportunities and freedom from relying on having a partner to help raise my children.

The whole initiative was about empowering women, and an added benefit was that as a parent, by going to college yourself, you were endorsing education to your children, leading by example.  When your own children reached the age of 16, they were entitled to EMA, at the higher rate of £30 per week, if you were on a low income.  All of these measures helped to lift people out of poverty, giving people every opportunity to fulfil themselves and have a decent quality of life.

Through college, I gained not only knowledge and skills, but equally, self-confidence.  It made me look at the poor life choices I'd made in the past; never again was I going to feel pressured into being with a man who was actually quite a negative role model for my sons to grow up around.

All of these things seem to be hated by the Conservatives, and their attack on welfare has attempted to drag us all back to the bad old days, when women had few choices and children grew up in families which were far from happy.

Although the Coalition Government has slashed services for those with mental health problems, I have been lucky enough to find work using my diploma, though full-time hours in this field are very hard to come by, as the Conservatives appear to see no value in supporting people with emotional problems, even though the World Health Organisation regularly expresses concern at the rapidly rising rate of depression. Studies suggest that by 2030, more people across the world, will suffer from depression, than will be affected by cancer, diabetes, heart disease or malaria.

The recent news that the next Labour government would abolish the Bedroom Tax, sack ATOS and reinstate EMA for students staying on at school, is greatly welcomed and puts some clear water now between Labour and the Tories, as the next General Election looms on the horizon.

In May 2015, voters will have a choice between Labour, who will help individuals from poorer backgrounds fulfil their potential again, and more brutal attacks on the poor, and the services they rely on, from the Conservatives.

Friday, 25 October 2013

After the eloquence and passion of Russell Brand's Newsnight interview on Wednesday, Thursday's Question Time was as dull as dishwater.

Many are saying the BBC's Question Time has become harder and harder to watch, over the last couple of years, as panels are frequently made up of guests from the right of politics and the media, with one token lefty (invariably someone with an arts background), to try and offer a gossamer illusion of impartiality.

Last night the sole voice from the left was writer, Owen Jones, against Tory, Liz Truss, Lib Dem, Tim Farron, (New) Labour's Caroline Flint, and Daily Mail columnist, Peter Hitchens, and it was interesting to see the other panelists take any available opportunity, to nod along in agreement with the young writer, whenever he spoke, as if a modicum of his growing popularity might somehow rub off on them, if they appeared to share some of his values and concerns, superficially, at least.

At one point, things descended into something of a spiteful cat fight between Flint and Truss, the two women either side of David Dimbleby, spitting insults at one another, which amounted to nothing more helpful or intelligent than, "It's all your fault!"... "No, you're to blame for this!"  Was that really the cream of talent available from 650 MPs!!

The last question of the evening was, "As politicians and political commentators, what would you say to those who feel disillusioned with the current political system?"

Tim Farron floundered his way through; the final audience member comment, summing up the mood of the crowd, and the country, with how betrayed she felt by Nick Clegg after the last election and how this has contributed to people's lack of trust in politicians generally.

Hitchen's advised, "Anyone still young enough, should emigrate before it's too late!!"

Owen Jones reminded us our grandmothers and grandfathers fought for all our rights,  they weren't just handed to workers out of kindness and compassion, from those in power, and he urged people to get organised and make their dissenting voices heard, as our ancestors had done in the past.  Don't just accept that these people at the top have the right to abuse their power, he concluded, to rapturous applause.

His voice of reason did little though, to make the programme bearable, because the rants and empty rhetoric from the other guests were just too nauseating to stomach.

After the eloquence and passion of Russell Brand's Newsnight interview on Wednesday, Question Time was as dull as dishwater, and I'm not surprised more and more in the UK, are losing all interest in traditional politics.

We need change, big change, more than ever before, and I believe change will come, not least because Russell Brand is speaking for a whole generation; almost as many people follow @RustyRockets on Twitter, as voted for New Labour in 2010.  Sooner or later, the old will be booted out, to make way for something new.  Owen Jones will inevitably be a part of that movement and debate, but as for Truss, Flint, Farron, Hitchens etc, my guess is, they're so set in their ways, change and adaptation would simply not be possible for them.  Expect a crop of mediocre no holds barred autobiographies, over the coming years, all destined to gather dust on the bargain shelves of supermarkets, each Christmas time!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

JK Rowling has contributed far more to our lives and culture, than government ministers ever could.

JK Rowling, inspirational, beautiful, brimming with integrity.  She's donated millions to charity, pays a fortune in UK taxes, given a whole generation of children a life-long passion for literature, and been a fantastic role model for single mums everywhere!
But had Iain Duncan Smith been the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions back in 1993, when Jo Rowling was a struggling single parent, the Harry Potter series might never have been published.

A comment came to my attention recently, in one of the more notorious daily newspapers, that the Harry Potter author had no business sitting in cafes, writing her books, languishing on state hand-outs, and that she should have been walking the streets, looking for work instead, and certainly this would seem to be the current Conservative position on welfare claimants, a view that has helped to earn them their Nasty Party reputation, once again.  Duncan Smith would perhaps have forced Ms Rowling into a zero-hours contract as an office cleaner  or supermarket check-out assistant, feeling this was more suitable work for single mothers.  Perhaps someone at the Jobcentre might even have advised her to get any silly nonsense about being an author, out of her head, and told her to make sure she logged onto the Universal Job Match site at least once a day, to apply for every job she was physically capable of doing.  By the time she finished all those applications, she wouldn't perhaps have had the energy, or will, to write another chapter, before turning in for the night.

Rachel Reeves, Labour's new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has declared she's going to be even tougher on benefit claimants, than the Tories are, and so presumably she would also have denied Ms Rowling the opportunity to write her masterpieces.
How dare these rich ministers, from their privileged backgrounds, condemn those, who are struggling to make ends meet, and deny them the chance to fulfil themselves, follow their dreams and turn their lives around.  For every JK Rowling, there's probably a hundred other talented unpublished authors claiming benefits, stamped down, their ambition and hope killed dead, as they fill out yet another application form for a part-time receptionist.
JK Rowling has contributed far more to our lives, our culture (and treasury) than any government minister ever could!