All posts by Richard Cox

Christmas 1960 in the heat of Pakistan

Sixty years ago I was living in Lahore, Pakistan. Christmas 1960 was going to be different.
My father, a railway signalling engineer, had been seconded by the United Nations from British Railways to lecture on railway signalling at an international college outside Lahore. While there, I learned to swim (after dad had cleared the snakes from the pool), and rider a horse (sitting on what felt like bare bones), and received an object lesson in multinational bullying and fraught relationships.
My late mother kept a diary. These are her notes from Christmas 1960 – sixty years ago when I had just entered double figures.

Christmas Eve
So hard to realise. Attended a dinner given by Mr and Mrs Allinson at the High Commission. Lady Baden Powell chief guest. Tony (my dad) and I attended the Boy Scout Jamboree in the afternoon. Opened by President Ayub Khan (President of Pakistan) and Lady Baden Powell opened the exhibition. Over 5,000 Scouts attended. Very good march past. Contingent representing UK included Tony, Leonard Allinson, Jackson MacLeod – all Scouters.

Christmas Day
Tony and I went to 7am Holy Communion (that would be at Lahore cathedral – traditional English architecture) and after a lazy morning went to Rutters (the eldest, Margaret, lives near me in Leicestershire now! The two boys are also alive) for day. Turkey and plum pudding for lunch. Christmas cake and mince pies for tea. Played games in the evening and home by 8pm. Betsy’s servants arrayed her and Jack and the children with garlands of flowers and a performing monkey did his antics.
After a lovely dinner Jack Rutter was invited to a Muslim wedding. The men guests sat in one room with the bridegroom wore European dress, but his head and face were covered with beads and tinsel so that his face was hardly visible. After the feast the guests returned home and the same ceremony is repeated and the bride is the hostess. And on the third day the actual marriage takes place when the bride and groom meet – probably for the first time. Marriage has no religious connection at all in a Muslim country, and of course the wife has to have a large dowry.
We returned home after having a run into town to see the lights and some Christmas trees. A very happy day, although our thoughts were with those at home.

Boxing Day
Mr Lemain, Operating Lecturer, came for lunch, but had to leave early to meet Father Pierre, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for his help with refugees and is spending the money travelling round the world helping refugees.
Richard (that’s me) invited to High Commissioner’s party: we collected him at 5.30pm when he was happily laden with balloons and presents. Whilst he was at the party, Tony and I went into the old city to buy a brass table and brass candlesticks ands brass coffee pot, also a pair of locally made slippers for Tony.
Back home 6pm and Tony went to students’ Christmas dinner. ‘Watch and ward’ pipe band played in the compound.

What strikes me, reading these words, is not so much the terribly middle class Englishness of it all, but the fact that almost any mention of Pakistan is avoided. This was an era when ‘western’ cultures were seen by many as superior. It is also in a very young country; just 13 years since independence from Britain and a religious, factional war that led to the canals and River Ravi literally running red with blood.
In the following 60 years I am thankful that we have learned a lot, especially how to respect different nationalities and cultures.

Slade changed my life 50 years ago

December 4, 1970. I’d turned 20 three and a half months ago and was on my way to a gig to see a band I’d heard about – ex-skinheads playing proper rock. It was Slade, and that gig was going to change my life as a music lover.

The crowd at Derby College of Art and Technology was, as always, packed and joyful. So many have left this earth and even the younger ones are older than me now – I avoided adulthood as a bore – but I have vivid memories of just how the Black Country foursome thrilled every one in the audience. Perhaps, Slade did as well. When it came time to record Slade Alive, still the best live album in my opinion, a party from the college was invited to Piccadilly – and I was among them.

My review of that concert was, in retrospect, immature. I don’t remember many of the tracks, with the exception of Born To Be Wild, which was, and remained, the best rendition of a rock classic. There was Comin’ Home and Tudor Baker, both mentioned in the next day’s Derby Evening Telegraph ‘Saturday Page’, along with Knights In White Satin with Jim Lea on violin.

Slade took rock music in their vibrant, hard-worked hands and offered it up as a tribute, and it was gratefully accepted. They were, and remained, totally professional and, despite the Glam Rock of glitter and Dave Hill outrageous costumes, music was always the ultimate priority. They were No 1 several times during the early 70s, not because Dave wrapped himself in tin foil, but because of the band’s exceptional musical ability.

I’d seen some great bands – Chicken Shack, Family, East of Eden, and the full line-up over two days at the Bath Festival – but meeting Slade was the life-changer. If I was in awe after the gig preparing for the usual interview, that was swept away in a salvo of warmth and welcome in the dressing room, followed quickly by banter and mickey taking. These were not just ordinary guys; they’d become firm friends within minutes. A short while later they dubbed me ‘Big Dick from Derby’ – and I have treasured signed albums with that moniker.

The change in my attitude to music crystallised from purely aural understanding to a deeply personal feeling. These guys, plus the amazing roadie and ‘doorman’ Swin, were going to be special – and within a few months they began their legendary time as the greatest UK rock band.

Almost by association I was drawn into Slade’s success. The late middle-aged news editors agreed with every request to accept an invitation to see them and review gigs. I was ‘sent’ to Bardney in Lincolnshire where I experienced pre-gig self-doubt that dissipated as the first chords were struck; I covered the recording of Slade Alive; the Lanchester University gig where Slade handed over to Billy Preston and where Chuck Berry recorded My Ding A Ling; and many more gigs.

But it all stems from that first gig at the college. So today, 50 years on, I can say thank you to Tim Price, who booked the band; Swin, who sadly is no longer with us; and Noddy Holder, Jim Lea, Dave Hill, and especially Don Powell, a powerful friend and one of the world’s most powerful drummers.

If I have any advice for young music lovers today it’s: Avoid adulthood – just keep living the dream of great rock music.

Balming, calming hospital visiting

• In March I had open heart surgery in Glenfield Hospital and stayed for over a week. In early September I had robotic surgery on cancers attached to my remaining kidney in Leicester’s General Hospital. Both were successful. I am profoundly grateful to all staff. Comparing the two gave me an insight into the difference between limited family visiting and no visitors at all.

No-one in the medical and caring professions chooses that career path it for money: it’s a calling, a little bit like becoming a vicar. The core reason is the word: ‘care’, and despite different disciplines, caring for patients is always the prime driver. The perfunctory explanation by the surgeon; the brief check on catheter output; the automatic, wrap-around of the blood pressure strap: each one involves an element of direct care for the patient. It is intense and pressured; there aren’t enough staff and there’s too much to do, even before the patients make it harder and slower.
In March my wife and daughter visited me in Glenfield Hospital in the days just before ‘lockdown’; In September I got a taxi to Leicester General, and walked alone to Ward 23 realising that I was not going to see anyone except nursing staff for several days.

In March I knew that the ‘no visitors’ rule was coming alongside lockdown, and my first thought from my hospital bed was that this was good. Nursing staff and doctors would be able to carry out their work without interruptions and wouldn’t have to give quite detailed explanations to outsiders who have limited knowledge. This was time they could dedicate to medicine.

In September I saw ‘no visitors’ in action, and it was a jolt of reality. Visitors take up chairs and ward-space; they demand nurses’ time; they need to be supervised, but what’s missing runs deeper and probably has a direct impact on the patient’s health and recovery.

Hospital wards are pretty soulless: there’s no offensive dust, no shoes tucked under the bed alongside the missing cat’s toy, no rumble of passing traffic through the open window, no deep sense of belonging. There shouldn’t be. Family and friends don’t bring these, but they bring the notion of them, the inconsequential gossip, the little parcels of clean pyjamas, gifts and cards, the descriptions of overgrown lawns and blooming flowers. These conversations may, when visitors are allowed, be meaningless on the face of it, but to a patient, an hour or so later, on reflection, they mean a lot.

Being told not to worry because someone else has put the bins out is all about the real care of home life; being administered a life-saving injection is also caring, but very different. Nursing staff at all levels are the most caring people in the world. For hours on end they are at the end of a wave, a subdued cry, or a loud bell and flashing red light, but it is enormously difficult to replicate family and friends when the patient is ‘theirs’ 24 hours a day, sometimes naked, both physically and mentally, often getting very personal treatment and procedures. Patients can be confused and upset, and it is often the elderly who are most alone and frightened, and confinement for any reason will have an adverse effect. Putting up the restraints each side of the bed to prevent falling out does look, and feel, like being caged, for example.

Doctors, staff nurses, healthcare assistants, specialists and tea-troller-pushers work as a team. The HCAs are more numerous. Day staff appear with the sun and leave with the moon. Towards the end of that shift, when they are tired and weary, dementia seems to kick in amongst the more elderly patients, and it is a fact that nursing dementia calls for specific, trained skills. The professionalism and care summoned up by young assistants left me wonderstruck. In the past, the faces these elderly patients recognised and trusted, played a big part in helping them calm down for a long and lonely night. Covid-19 has stopped that.

I believe visitors play a big role in patients’ getting better and leaving hospital sooner. That is shallow psychology, and I am no psychologist. And right now, Covid-19 means no visitors.

Is there a solution, a way of improving the situation? Not in terms of allowing visitors, but modern technology offers social media, photos and videos, as well as digital interaction. My suggestion looks more to helping the hard-working hospital staff who are at the sharp end of this personal deprivation.

Stop the horrendous shift system. Nursing staff are under intense pressure at every level and 12-hour shifts are bound to lead to mistakes.

They do in business, in travel, in factories. I wouldn’t put an innocuous chequebook in front of someone who’s worked half a whole day, or a spanner in front of a someone on a production line. It is nigh on criminal to ask tired, and sometimes quite emotional, nursing staff to carry out life and death duties for twelve hours, not even including handover.
Stop the gestures and pay NHS employees at all levels more. They save lives, they care, they return loved ones to their homes. How lovely it was to see people clapping, how impressive to see an old aeroplane flying overhead, but neither paid the bills. NHS staff deserve financial respect.

I’ve looked at life from both sides now, from family visits to nursing care. It’s obvious to me that those who make the rules don’t understand life at all.

TV success for crime thriller series

The tortuous passage to the holy grail for crime fiction authors has many stages, from writing THE END through to seeing their work in a bookshop or a library shelf, but for most the final step is when some sparky, bright-eyed creative film maker picks up on the story and decides to turn print into moving images.
Hundreds of thousands of books are self-published and published each year; a minute number will be read by potential film makers. If they like it, the next stage will be an ‘option’ and that means hard cash for the author and their agent, if they have one.
My friend Mark Wright – MP Wright in the literary world – author of the J. T. Ellington crime thriller series, has had his debut crime thriller, Heartman, optioned six years ago. Plans fell by the wayside, even after a top scriptwriter took it on board. In 2020 there have been some seismic changes worldwide, and Heartman is back in headlights.
A brief background. Joseph Tremaine Ellington is a black immigrant from Barbados; it’s the 1960s and he’s landed in Bristol. Our hero wades flat-footed into the worst kind of systemic racism. Historically, in the real world, this actually exploded when a West Indian applied for a job on the city’s buses and was refused simply because he was black. That was history forming a basis for fiction … and it’s happened again.
Heartman, nominated for the Crime Writers Association Ian Fleming Silver Sterling Dagger Award, has been followed by All Through The Night, Restless Coffins and A Sinner’s Prayer. Racism runs deeply through each book but scratch the surface and the reader is embroiled in the culture of family, friendship and togetherness, as well as the criminal elements, that those ghetto-like living conditions fostered.
Towards the end of May this year a policeman in America viciously killed George Floyd by callously kneeling on his neck. The result was not just the creation of an innocent black martyr; Floyd’s killing was a match thrown into a global box of tinder and incendiary bombs – the result was Black Lives Matter. The J T Ellington series of books was thrust into the limelight again. Inadvertently, whilst demonstrating his own abhorrence of racism of any kind, Mark Wright has captured the Zeitgeist.
The series is now in the hands of respected producer, Josh Wilson of Wilson Worldwide Productions. We aren’t talking Heartman; we are looking at the entire four-book series.
It’s not been easy for Mark. He’s white and Leicestershire born and bred, but his professional career has involved some of the least savoury aspects of life. His experiences have been transposed into flowing, exciting prose. Some will say Mark’s been lucky – as he does – but the truth is that those books took a lifetime of graft. His heart and soul goes into his work, he fashions a phrase, a sentence, a chapter and a plot to excite and enthral. Money, whilst it’s important, is not his raison d’etre. In my experience that is the same for every author. If we set out to make a comfortable living from our writing, few of us would have chosen life as a novelist.
It’s a trite, overused phrase, but: Watch this space!
• I met Mark in 2014. He was launching Heartman and I was wondering how a book launch should be held as my self-published debut novel, First Dead Body, was due to be launched in a few weeks. Afterwards we corresponded, met up over a beer, and he offered to let me read the final draft of his next book, All Through The Night, before it went to his editor. I am now honoured to be his beta-reader. My semicolon-obsessed, word ‘then’-hating eyes, now peruse all his work offering ‘red-pens’ of grammar and literals and, hopefully, allowing the author’s creative juices to flow that more fluently.

Up-date on books and Covid-19

Simon Jardine, the hero of the crime thriller series I write, is alive and well! The last book, Vinyl Junkie, was published in March 2018. There are more on the way but there has been a delay, not helped by Covid-19.
The entire publishing industry has been affected by a downturn in sales and hardest hit have been the vibrant, adventurous, ‘living on a shoestring’ independent publishers like mine, Fahrenheit Press. Publishing a book costs money and if people are not buying – even at the low prices and special discounts offered by the publisher – then it is smarter and more cost effective to keep pushing and promoting books that have already been published, like A Fatal Drug and Vinyl Junkie.
Have a look at the Fahrenheit Press website ( The range of crime fiction books and plethora of merchandise might open a few eyes and excite a credit card or two. At times like this it is important to spend wisely. I think investing in a Fahrenheit Press book or T-shirt would be wise.
Covid-19 has hammered almost every industry, but those who survive will, I hope, come out stronger and able to offer customers even more quality. The big publishers, and there are only about five of them, have reacted in two ways: using their reserves of cash and manipulating ability to borrow at very low rates of interest because they are cash-rich; and making vast swathes of employees redundant or putting them on furlough. Those simply aren’t possible for independents: they don’t sit on big cash reserves, they don’t have the power to get the best loan deals; and they don’t have the excess staff they can throw to the wolves. The solution is for readers to buy more books from Fahrenheit Press.
The future for Simon Jardine is looking healthy, or as healthy as possible for a regional newspaper reporter immersed in sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. The finale of Vinyl Junkie saw him under the spotlight of a terrorist organisation, so he was shipped out to a branch officer, but now he’s back and he’s itching to get started as an investigative reporter. First stop: Northern Ireland and it’s the height of The Troubles. Jardine wants a front page lead and he’s putting his neck on the line, literally.
I have also, taking advantage of the delays in publishing, opened a follow up and I am working on the sixth in the series. The first, First Dead Body, was self-published and is still available through Amazon.
There will be more books to come, so stick with me. The most important thing right now is for anyone who is reading this to stay safe; properly safe. I don’t care what governments say: lives matter more than profit in the battle to kick out this insidious virus. I will continue to stay at home as much as possible; I will wear a mask whenever I go to a public place; and I will be staying two metres away from others as much as I possibly can. Please do the same.