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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.

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 (www.fahrenheit-press.com). 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.

The power behind Slade is back – Don Powell’s Slade

It’s sad that 57 years after they met, glittery front man Dave Hill should feel the need to sack his friend and the man who was the musical driving force behind Great Britain’s most successful rock and pop band of the early 70s. Don’s knees gave out at the end of 2018 and man feared he would never drum again, but he’s back, and he would have rejoined the band.
Don has joined forces with Craig Fenney, a bassman with the former Slade 2, and a man who has music seeping through every vein in his body. The future is bright for Don Powell’s Slade; I’m not sure I can say the same for Dave Hill’s Slade.
Fifty years ago, less a few months, I saw a traditional rock foursome perform at Derby College of Art & Technology. It was my first sight of a band that, at the time, I was sceptical about – skinheads to long-haired rockers did not denote any firm belief in their musical positioning. That gig changed my life. In December 1970 I made four friends, and Slade imprinted themselves indelibly on my musical lexicon.
The story of Slade’s rise to stardom, from Black Country halls, through a dodgy residency in the Caribbean, to becoming the country’s most successful band, has been well documented. If you get the chance to hear Don Powell’s reminiscences, it’s well worth it. Life as a Rockstar, with all the mistakes of fame, is well worth hearing. Take a hankie – you’ll cry laughing.
Slade was formed in 1966 by guitarist and front man Dave and Don Powell. They were joined by rhythm guitarist and amazing vocalist Noddy Holder and finally a classically trained violinist and bassman, Jim Lea, joined. They performed together for thirty years and then split, never to reform as a foursome.
Back in December 1970 I wrote about the group as potential world beaters, but I also picked out the drummer for a special mention. Some drummers feed off and feed to specific musicians within a band – and the best example is the relationship between Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and his great mate, drummer John Bonham. Don Powell was different. He was, and is, one of the most powerful percussionists I have ever seen and heard.
Slade’s rhythm was all-encompassing and emanated from Don’s kit, which grew in size and volume as the band progressed. This allowed the innovative, thoughtful and, frankly, brilliant Jim Lea to create songs and musical movements within songs that set the band apart from the traditional thumping 4/4. There were key changes, which Don was able to help adjust to, and deliberate rhythmic breaks and hiccups which demanded a musical cohesion that others struggled with.
Song writing was largely the territory of Jim and Noddy, with some input from Don – listen to Look Wot You Dun and Don’s influence is loud and clear. The tunes they created live on, including Merry Christmas Everybody (music by Jim in the shower, and honed to pop perfection by him and Nod).
What we can expect from Don Powell’s Slade is a new set list, with many great Slade numbers, but his direction has always been wider; Don has been a music fan for a long time and we can possibly expect to see those influences slotting into place. Listen to the man drumming: yes, he’s loud, but there is also a subtlety that subsumes the expected rock, just as Jim Lea’s clear ability to write ballads and songs of love and leaving, as well as rockabilly, Hot Club de Paris-influences and pop classics. Slade were always a good few notches about the solid 4/4 of thumping guitar chords and chorus lines.
What we can expect is a return to the driving percussion of a man who has been welcomed on stage by global stars, such as Suzie Quatro and the amazing Ringo Starr. This time Don will be centre stage, but don’t wait around for a Slade tribute band. This will be the real thing.