Thursday, 10 August 2017

The first night of the Proms

If you'd been in the vicinity of the old Queen's Hall (destroyed by a bomb in World War Two) in Langham Place 112 years ago today, chances are you'd have been going to the First Night of the Proms. The very first night. Because it was on the 10th August 1895 that the first ever Promenade Concert took place, under the baton of Sir Henry Wood.

They were the brainchild of impresario Robert Newman, whose declared aim was to 'educate the public by easy stages' - popular pieces first then slowly introducing more challenging repertoire as the public (who were allowed to eat, drink, smoke as well as 'promenade' as the music played) grew accustomed to the concerts. A sort of 'Classic FM' if you like. But live. And without the ads.

They proved hugely popular and there can't be many people in the country unaware of the fact that they're still going. Going strong, in fact. As the BBC Proms the current season is now approaching the half-way point of its annual eight-week run. Other 'Proms' might be available - especially the ubiquitous 'last night' - but the BBC season is among the real jewels in the crowd of classical music. And not just in the UK.

My first direct experience of the Proms was as a performer with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir back in 1990. We did Janacek's Glagolitic Mass and the thrill of taking part in such a fabulous event completely made up for the fact that the concert was on a Sunday and the coach didn't get back to Liverpool until 2am. I finally got to bed about three in the morning. And I was at work the next - the same - day.

Here's a clip. I'm standing underneath Sir Henry Wood's statue. You can just about see me if you look really closely. But don't. Listen to the music instead. And imagine being there, singing it!

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

What FIFA should remember

In case you haven't heard, Football's world governing body has banned the England and Scotland football teams from wearing poppy armbands when they meet at Wembley in a World Cup qualifier next Friday... the 11th of November.

Their objection is that the poppy could be seen as a political symbol. Such things are banned, along with any 'commercial or religious' endorsement on official clothing.

It's not the first time that the poppy has come in for a hammering. Indeed, Christian Army chaplains once insisted it was dug up from British and Commonwealth war cemeteries as a 'heathen weed'. In the 1930s the Peace Pledge Union began distributing an alternative white poppy in protest at the tradition image's association with 'military power' and the 'justification of war'.

All of which misses the point. The poppy is our symbol of remembrance for two very simple reasons, which really conflate to one.

  • the prevalence of the flower across the battlefields of France and Flanders, and
  • the ubiquitous poem by John McCrae

There's little else to say, really. It neither glorifies war, celebrates military might or takes a political stance. It's a flower - a blood red flower - growing in abundance on the soil on which so many shed their own blood in a futile conflict.

They should remember that.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The Glorious Dead by Tim Atkinson

You can read more about this exciting new project here on the Unbound website, where you can also pledge your support.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

BBC man Bill Rice doesn't know his a**e from his elbow...

In case you missed this morning's early Radio Four sports report, here on BBC iPlayer (ff to 11.15) is the gaff that quite possibly caused rather more than a guffaw.

Seriously, Bill - who are England playing against at the Oval today?


Not sure the good people of Pakistan are going to be too happy to hear that...

And now, a quick commercial...

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Fathers Day special offer

It's Fathers Day next Sunday, folks! 

If you're stuck for something to buy, here's an idea. Why not get dad's name in my new book? He could be 'mentioned in dispatches' as part of the story. 

Or maybe you'd like to see his name in print on page one as a patron? 

For the next six pledges I'm giving away one of these action DVDs so you've got something to give him next Sunday as well as on Fathers Day next year! 

Every subscriber gets his or her name in every edition of the book so it's win-win all the way...

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Glorious Dead Unbound Crowdfunding

It's just over two weeks since The Glorious Dead launched on Unbound. Since then, it's made almost 10% of it's funding target and attracted a huge amount of interest. But one question keeps recurring - what is crowdfunding and how does it work?

Well... it works by people pledging their support in advance - a bit like buying before the book gets written (in order to make sure it is). The great thing about this way of doing things is that readers get to choose what gets written, rather than wait and choose what someone else (usually the marketing department) has commissioned.

But what if it doesn't get written, I hear you asking? Well, in that case you get your money back - but still have all the wonderful insights into the writing process and the inspiration and research via ‘The Shed'. But we're not going to have defeatist talk like that. Oh no.

Unbound publishes the likes of Terry ‘He’s not the Messiah’ Jones and Raymond 'Snowman' Briggs (to name-drop but two) but I think it must be easier if you've already got an established public profile, like they have. Some books takes days to fund; others weeks and months. At the present rate, mine will be in the latter category, but hey - onwards and upwards!

The really great thing about crowdfunding from my point of view as an author is the opportunities it affords for interaction. I've already had some quite lengthy conversations (usually on Facebook) about the novel. People have been interested in my motivation, fascinated by the research, and amazed - as I was - that there has been so little written on this subject before.

Which brings us to the book. The Glorious Dead is the story of a group of soldiers who stay on after the Armistice, clearing the battlefields, burying the dead and slowly rebuilding their own lives. This is in fact what thousands of Allied troops did, not always voluntarily - although the Army did offer men an extra 2/6 a day to undertake such unpleasant duties.

Some men stayed on, after their demob, marrying local Belgian girls and establishing a small but significant English community in and around Ypres. Many of them were employed by the War Graves Commission, landscaping the cemeteries they themselves created and establishing the permanent memorials to the dead that today we know so well.

There are plenty of books on World War One. There are books on Ypres, The Somme, Gallipoli & Verdun but there has never been a war book quite like this one. With your support, this remarkable story can at last be written.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Let us pray

He who sings prays twice, so the saying goes. So it's appropriate that today's post, following my interview here with the young chanteuse Emmie Beckitt, should be about prayer. Serious stuff, I know. But then, today is a serious day. Holocaust Memorial Day, to be precise. The day 71 years ago that the Auschwitz death camp was liberated by the Soviet army. So bear with me...

My musing on the subject began early - very early - this morning thanks to being woken by Charlie. He'd had a bad dream. Settling him, cuddling him and gently persuading him back to his own bed, I climbed back into mine certain I was unlikely to sleep. So, my nocturnal friend, the radio. (I have a pillow speaker, so as not to wake my wife) came to my rescue as I lay in the darkness.

Early on BBC Radio Four, following the Shipping Forecast, after an item rather misleadingly called News Briefing and the weather forecast and before Farming Today there is an anachronism known as Prayer for the Day. It's preceded (the prayer, that is) by a short sermon. Today it was about the holocaust - specifically, the liberation of Auschwitz.

In the course of Rabbi Julia Neuberger's two minutes on air she happened to mention that not only did the liberation free the Jewish inmates of that and all the other death camps but also a number of Allied POWs (as well as other opponents of the NAZI regime, of course).

This was the story: these POWs had been used as forced labour, but had secretly sabotaged the building project they were engaged in. A German engineer grew suspicious. The men were lined up against a wall to be immediately shot if tests confirmed that sabotage had, indeed, occurred.

As they waited, one man prayed. And at that moment, the air-raid siren sounded. Everyone fled to the shelters. A bomb fell, and fell (miraculously) on the very building project that was about result in the execution of the POWs.

It's a lovely story. Anything that provides a glimmer of light in the evil darkness of the death camps is to be welcomed, of course. But were the man's prayers really answered? If God exists, would he - could he - intervene to save a handful of POWs when the combined prayers of six-and-a-half million of His chosen people would appear to have been ignored?

The religious answer, the cop-out clause if you like, in cases such as this is that we can't know the mind of God, He moves in a mysterious way, etc. Which is a bit like saying you're right even when you're wrong. Or swearing black's white. Because it simply won't do.

I've thought about this a great deal, as an average agnostic with an interest in (and sympathy for) the spiritual and an unwillingness to close my mind to any of its many possibilities. I'm not certain (is anyone?) that God exists, let alone that prayer 'works' in the sense that it is heard and acted upon by this potential divinity.

My best guess is that - if God exists - then whatever He might do to intercede in world affairs is done through the actions of humans - each and every one of us - and not through divine intervention of the Almighty Hand variety, whether that's by dropping bombs on NAZI building projects or anything else.

This isn't because it's otherwise impossible to explain why God should intervene in certain circumstances and not in others. No. It's because, quite simply, an intervention of a supernatural nature would be the end of the world as we know it. Such things really are impossible. God either works within the laws of nature, within the limits of human imperfections and the gift of free will, or he doesn't bother. Try telling the mother of a dying child that 'God' has chosen to heal the warts on Mrs Herbert's hands instead - and I've been at a service where thanks were given for just such supposed divine interventions.

That doesn't mean, of course, that prayer is useless. As a meditation, as a way of engaging with our deepest thoughts and interrogating out own motives - mindfulness, maybe - it might be an extremely worthwhile activity.

I just can't quite accept that Arthur Dodds, as he stood with his back to the wall with his fellow POWs in 1943, waiting for the inevitable, suddenly happened to get through to The Almighty while the men, women and children across the camp whose bodies were being incinerated failed.

If I'm wrong, of course, then I'm with Job and Ivan Karamazov - the whole thing is an appalling travesty. No God can possibly allow such a thing.

But then, as Dostoevsky also said, if there is no God then everything is permitted.