Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

Review: Chelping at The Leeds Library, 07/10/2021: featuring Khadijah Ibrahiim and Haris Ahmed.

The open mic list was a bit light, and so I volunteered. I did ‘On this occasion’, a poem about being unemployed. It got a good reception.

The next open micer was 17 years old. She did two pieces, about marginalisation, and sexual exploitation. They were excellent pieces. She dealt with the material and showed technique that no older person could criticise. She held the stage. If she had had six more pieces, she could have headlined.

The last open micer was Yasmine. She did lyrical poetry about a South Asian/Urdu heritage. There may have been many references that I missed, but the effect on me was hypnotic. The sensual use of language was the thing that went into my ears.

Haris Ahmed came on, and he occupied the stage. He is 20 years old. I am not saying his performance was perfect, but I am saying that there is more than potential. He is already doing it. This chap knows how to use language. The tension he created between Leeds (the site of the performance) and his place of origin (Bradford) would have been brilliant, if Khadijah Ibrahiim had not gone on to run a coach and horses through it.

And so we came to the headliner, Khadijah Ibrahiim.
She said, Haris comes from Bradford. Well, someone has to. Her entire credentials fell to the floor, but that didn’t matter, because we were still listening to what she had to say.
She comes from Leeds, my home town. Her performance was preceded by a certain amount of pronouncement about Haris Ahmed’s performance. She is a teacher. Oh, boy – did she teach. She was using her authority in the best possible way. There are certain things that she knows about, and it is in our interest to listen to what she has to say.

We did listen.

What I heard was a contrast between the voice of Michael Smith and Linton Kwesi Johnson, and this female voice. They all used the same vernacular, but there were two differences. This voice is a female voice, and this persona has two voices: Leeds, and Caribbean.

The word that the performance hinged on was “duppy”.
After the main performance had finished, I formed the orderly queue of fanboys. I said to Khadijah Ibrahiim, “Do you know how I know the meaning of the word ‘duppy’?”

The answer is that I bought an album by Bob Marley and the Wailers, in about 1980, called Burnin’. It had a track on it, called Duppy Conqueror. There was a footnote on the sleeve of the album, which said that duppy means ghost.

Review: Undermined by Danny Mellor, at Cluntergate Community Centre 03/10/2021

As soon as I heard that Red Ladder Theatre Company was putting on another play at Cluntergate Community Centre in Horbury, I ordered the tickets (GBP5 each). My only reservation was that the last Red Ladder play I saw at this venue was a very tough act to follow. This was balanced against the fact that the subject matter of Undermined is the Miners’ Strike of 1984-85, a subject that I am even more interested in now than I was when the strike was taking place.

I sat in the front row. Cluntergate Community Centre has a stage (upon which I have performed) but previous Red Ladder productions at this venue have been done at the same level as the seating. This one used the stage. The set consisted of a chair, and a pint of beer in a glass. That’s it. The only other effects that were added were backing music, and lighting, mainly used to show the difference between day and night.

The play has four main characters: Dale (the protagonist), Billy, Tony, and Johnny. There are also various wives or partners, police officers, and politicians. These are all played by the same actor.

I can’t find any information on the Red Ladder website about who plays Dale (and all the other parts) and so I am guessing that it is Danny Mellor, the writer. The protagonist is a big bloke wearing a denim suit, with black and yellow badges that we now equate with “The Enemy Within”. He certainly looked like a miner.

Having prior knowledge of the history, I was completely in agreement with Dale’s cause, but it took at least 10 or 15 minutes for me to get to like him. You must forgive me: I come from a middle class background.

There was a lot of physicality in this play, and there needed to be, and it was excellently portrayed. One man, ***one man*** had to portray the Battle of Orgreave, and he did portray it, convincingly.

My main criticism is that the rhymed prologues to some scenes were nowhere near as good as the main dialogue, mainly because of multi-syllable rhymes, which make just about anything sound comic, when gravity was what was being sought. But I have just said “prologue to some scenes” with reference to a play that consists of one man, a chair, and a pint glass. I hope that gives you some idea of the bone-shakingly vivid experience this play provides.

The different regional accents, including Nottinghamshire, London, and South Wales, were superbly handled. The first dialogue in a Notty accent had the Wakefield audience in stitches because, let’s face it, they sound so ridiculous. As well as being scabs.

I never put spoilers in reviews. Among the grinding of the state machine, and the daily activities of the miners picketing and continuing the strike, there is in this play a plot twist which reduces the whole struggle to the most basic human level imaginable.

If you want to know how that is achieved, you are going to have to see the play.

Danny Mellor has written a stupendous play which encapsulates months of human struggle into one hour.

If, as I believe, Danny Mellor also acted it, then his use of physicality to depict vast tableaux on a small stage is genius.

I will leave you, not with a plot spoiler, but a dialogue spoiler. Dale says,

“They say behind every great man, there is a great woman. That’s not true. Our women stand next to us.”

If this play was on at Cluntergate for the next three days, I would go and see it, another three times.

Reaction to tweet about analytic philosophy


Someone who purports to be, and for all I know, is, a professional philosopher, sent a message on Twitter saying that she found the UK’s “obsession with analytic philosophy so fucking boring, uncritical and myopic, that they only just realised sex is a topic of theory.” She is called Isabel Millar.

As young people say, I have a problem with this. A number of problems, in fact.

1. If only the UK had had more of an “obsession” with analytic philosophy, then it would have cared more about the meaning of terms in the run up to the June 2016 referendum. The endless pursuit of what words actually mean can seem boring, at times, but that is no reason to stop the pursuit. If you don’t care what words mean, you are not a philosopher.

2. As regards sex, name me one writer from the last 70 years who has had more effect on the liberalisation of sexual relationships in the UK than Bertrand Russell.

3. If you don’t like Bertrand Russell’s writings, that is fine, but I will take your opinion more seriously if you are being picked up off the road in front of Aldermaston, when you are 96 (ninety-six) years old, assuming that I am still alive then, as well.

I know I support a lot of dead, privileged, white guys. But when you attack them, please pick the right white guy, for something like the right reason.

You don’t need to quote all the bad things that Bertrand Russell did, because I am, like him in his later years, a philosophical materialist, which means that I don’t have “h*r*es” (I can’t even bring myself to write the word). I am only interested in his ideas, not what he had for breakfast.

It is a fact that Bertrand Russell, dead privileged white guy, was a progressive force. And he applied that force for a very, very long time. If Mandela were still alive, I would be asking you what his opinion of Bertrand Russell was. And in the 1950s and 60s, if you had asked Bertrand Russell his opinion of apartheid, you would have been left in no doubt. This has now been conflated on the internet by a Russell Tribunal about Palestine. But that is partly the point. If I give of myself to progressive causes as much as 0.1 per cent as much as Bertrand Russell did, I will consider that I have done well. And Bertrand Russell expanded our ideas of what “progressive causes” are. Yes, a dead, privileged white guy. But a dead, privileged, good, white guy.

A dead, privileged, good, very thorough, white guy.

Tutorial question

A works in the marketing department of a publishing business.  She falls in love with the office boy, B, whom she believes has a mild learning disability. 

C is the manager of this department.  He is determined to shape the department in his image. 

D is an admin assistant who lusts after E, another admin assistant, who is a Buddhist, and believes that lust is a craving that can be removed from consciousness, by meditation.  E’s lama is F, whose day job is geography teacher at the school attended by C’s son, G. 

F has been confided in by H, another pupil whose father, I, is abusing his mother, J, and has threatened K, L, and M, their next door neighbours.  M is another pupil at the school. 

G is bullying H and M, at school, and also B, outside school.

N is a liaison police officer called in to investigate the fragmentary allegations made by H.  She does not think the case will stand up.  She does the most thorough investigation that time and budget will allow.  In the course of her work, she meets A, at an event to promote literacy, and falls in love with her. 

F, under mild interrogation, cracks, and blurts out his connection with E.  The police immediately consider this to be a cult-related, exploitative, or abusive relationship, and pull in E for questioning.  When E is asked whom she wants to be informed of her arrest, she cites D, who is then investigated, and also called in for questioning.

I goes on a violent spree, and randomly throws a brick at D, while she is on her way to the police station.  The police assume that D and I have some previous association.  D becomes a person of interest, because she has now been cited twice in the investigation. 

G’s bullying is now turning into a criminal racket, which involves O, P, and Q.  Q is D’s daughter. 

Q arranges a meeting between R, an assassin, and D, with the intention of killing I.  D explains to them that her problem is not I, so much as G. 

R works for C. R considers for a while whether it is in his own interests to tell C what is happening.  This will be contingent on how many hits he is paid for. 

D surmises this, but pays R to kill a few people she doesn’t like, to keep him busy (S, T, U, V, W, X, Y. Z).  E finds out about this, and is appalled.  D saves the money it would have taken to pay R to kill E, and kills E, herself.

B has heard most of what has gone on, because he was there, but people could not see him, or because they could see him, but thought he could not understand what he might hear. 

 B tells A that C and G are gangsters.  She doesn’t believe him. 

In a chance meeting between A and N, N meets B.  N gets talking with B, and surmises that B has valuable testimony. 

A tells N that B’s testimony cannot be trusted.  N tells A to piss off. 

Between them, B and N unravel the whole thing.  B tells N about the abuse of J, K, L, and M by I.  N overthrows capitalism and institutes a new system of political economy based on human need, and arranges for a properly funded safe house for the people affected by the violence to stay in. 

Question 1.  

Comment on the culpability of C and G, and the sentences meted out to them, should they be brought to justice.

Question 2.

Comment on the culpability of  D and R, and the sentences meted out to them, should they be brought to justice.

European Championship: post-match racism

I come from Leeds, and I have supported Leeds United since the end of the Revie era.

No club in world football has done more in the last 50 years to combat racism and fascism than Leeds United. That is not just because of the determination of the club itself, but because few clubs have had such a problem with racism and fascism.

It has been a long and painful journey, and that journey never ends. Anti-racists and anti-fascists must be constantly vigilant.

I am delighted to say that Leeds United today is something that the racists and fascists of the 1970s could not have imagined. I don’t just mean the manager and players of the men’s senior team. I mean the women’s team, the accessibility, the people who now represent what it is to be “Leeds”. I have already posted about Javinder Jade’s brilliant arrangement of Marching On Together.

When England lost the penalty shoot-out against Italy, it occurred to some people to blame black players for missing penalties.

In other words, the blamers were insinuating that black players should be treated differently from white players, just because of the colour of their skin.

Many people struggle to understand the fascist mentality and struggle is, however impractical, a wonderful thing, because it means that there are people who do not understand, and cannot engage with, hatred.

I will now try to explain the racist-fascist mentality. The following is based on my experience of 40 years of struggle against racism and fascism, including within my own family.

To get to the point of sending racial abuse on social media against an England football player, it goes like this:

“A lot of things happen which are beyond my control”

“I feel as if I should be able to control this situation, but I can’t.”

“I hate myself for not being in control.”

“Fascism tells me that my problems are not my fault: they are the fault of immigrants.”

“I can transfer my hatred onto anyone I classify as ‘other’, which includes black and Asian people, and Jews.”

“Any event, the outcome of which is not to my liking, is the fault of the ‘other’ people.”

“I will racially abuse black players who missed penalties.”

A person who ‘reasons’ like that cannot reason at all.

The point is that all fascism is nothing more a manifestation of self-loathing.

Extreme nationalism derives from ignorance, and from an inferiority complex.

I am proud of everything the England men’s football team has achieved during this tournament. They didn’t win the final, but this team will continue to learn and grow. I am sure there will be other finals. I know there will be more exciting matches.

Learning and growing is something that the fascists cannot understand, something they do not have access to.

Imagine a life in which you can only eat the same, nasty thing, over and over again. No wonder they are always in such a bad mood.

We should feel sorry for them.

The idea of a song that portrays the UK as one nation

Some years ago, I heard a programme on BBC Radio 4 about the early life of Philip Larkin. He and his father went on a cycling tour of Germany, in the 1930s, when the Nazi Party was in power.

One evening, Larkin and his father were having dinner in a provincial hotel, and the local Gauleiter (Nazi district governor) entered the dining room. He was in uniform. All the Germans in the dining room stood up. Larkin Senior and Junior carried on eating.

The Gauleiter came over to their table. He surmised that they were British. The Gauleiter happened to speak English.

“Why do you not stand?” They looked blankly at him.

“If I came to your town, in your country, and I was eating in a dining room, and the mayor of your town came into the room, would you not expect me to stop what I was doing, and stand to attention?”

Philip Larkin answered like this:

“If you were in my town, and my mayor came in, then whether you sit or stand is up to you. Whether you sit or stand is something about which I could not care less.”

And there you have the essence of World War Two: as regards the conflict between the United Kingdom and colonies versus Nazi Germany, it was about whether people in dining areas would have to stand up when uniformed ponces came into the room.

That is what what my father fought for: not having to stand up, if you can’t be bothered.

You can take every populist, nationalist, quasi-fascist, misplaced, embarrassing gesture made by the current government, and ignore it while looking at what people in real businesses, real arts companies, real community groups, real sports teams have been achieving, in spite of the pandemic, in spite of Conservative Party austerity.

And I won’t tell you what to do with this so-called song, because it doesn’t merit an opinion.

Wakefield poet gets column in the YEP

Matt Abbott: Social media boycott is a start but football faces uneasy truths | Yorkshire Evening Post

I know Matt Abbott. He comes from Wakefield, and does stuff in Leeds. I come from Leeds, and do stuff in Wakefield.

His latest column is about racism in football.

During a previous conversation, Matt observed that he is younger than me. I will fill in certain observations, by virtue of my age.

In the 1980s, Elland Road football ground was a symbol of organised fascism throughout Europe.

I took part in some events to try to counter this.

This included a match between Coventry City and Leeds United on (I think) 9 March 1991. There were about three people trying to sell National Front News. I went up to them, and I spoke the following words:

They looked uncertain. Just in case they had not understood what I had said, I said it, again.
One of them said, “What?”
I pointed to the place where the buses went from, and I said,
“FUCK OFF out of Leeds, out of West Yorkshire. We don’t want SCUM like you, here. You can all FUCK OFF, YOU RACIST SCUM.”

And I have written to the board about racist behaviour.

And many other things have happened.

The long and the short of it is that Elland Road, our stadium, was a symbol of organised fascism in the 1980s, but now, it isn’t.

We have succeeded. Our anti-fascist movement has taken a symbol of fascism away from the far right.

And we can take away from them anything we like, because our movement is based on cooperation, but theirs is based on nothing but hate.

Book launch: This New North anthology at Leeds Lit Fest on Wednesday 3 March 2021 8pm

My next reading will be at the launch of This New North, an anthology of short fiction by Northern writers, edited by S. J. Bradley, and Anna Chilvers, published by Valley Press.

You can book tickets here: https://www.leedslitfest.co.uk/whats-on/

The event is “pay as you feel”. If you are from Yorkshire, you may have surmised that means that you can pay nowt, which is true, as far as it goes.
My contribution to this publication is a story I wrote as part of the Northern Short Story Academy, in 2020. I was part of the second intake of that Academy.

The anthology includes stories by established writers, such as Richard Smyth. This is the second time that a story of mine has been included in the same anthology as one by Richard Smyth.

An introduction to the bowling of James Anderson

“My name is James Anderson. I am going to talk to you about bowling, in the game of cricket. You need to pad up, and have a bat.”
“I am going to deliver the ball at about 85 miles per hour – “
“That sounds quite fast.”
“It’s not as fast as I used to deliver it. I wouldn’t complain, if I were you.”
“So 85 miles per hour is slower that it used to be?”
“Yes. As I was saying: and I am going to bowl it with swing.”
“What does ‘swing’ mean?”
“It means that when I release the ball from my hand, it won’t travel in a straight line. It will move through the air, depending on which side of the ball I present, when I deliver it.”
“Depending on which side of the ball?”
“Yes. The ball has a shiny side, and a dull side. We put a lot of effort into ensuring that one side is shinier than the other.”
“So, how do I know which way the ball is going to go?”
“You don’t.”
“I don’t?”
“No. The first thing is that, in order to tell which way the ball is going to swing, you need to know which way I am holding the ball. But I will cover the ball with my other hand, until the last moment. Even if you work out by the way that the ball comes out of my hand which way it is, it will probably be too late for you to react. “
“And then there is reverse swing.”
“What is reverse swing?”
“I will bowl the ball at you, about 60 times, and you will get used to the way it moves through the air. And then it will start moving the opposite way. Everything you thought was right will be proved wrong, and you will begin to doubt your own existence. That is reverse swing.”
“Is that allowed?”
“Definitely. Ask the MCC, if you don’t believe me.”
“So, as long as I can cope with trying to hit a ball that arrives at 85 mph, and swings either way, I should be all right.”
“No. You will also need to deal with movement off the seam.”
“What is that?”
“You see the stitching around the ball? When I bowl it at you at 85 miles per hour, I am going to try to get the stitching to hit the ground, so that the ball bounces as irregularly as possible. I can try to combine the stitching on the ball with any irregularities on the surface the pitch. I might release the ball with a twisting motion, so that even I don’t know how the seam is going to hit the pitch, and bounce off. That introduces another degree of randomness.”
“And this is still within the rules?”
“Yes. And slower balls. And bouncers.”
“What are bouncers?”
“I am allowed to bowl the ball deliberately short, so that it bounces to just the right height to hit your body in a vulnerable place.”
“That doesn’t sound very nice.”
“And when I do that, I might bowl it faster than 85 miles per hour.”
“I thought you said you couldn’t bowl faster than 85 miles per hour, anymore.”
“I didn’t say that. I can crank it up a bit when I bowl a bouncer.”
“Can I just read this back to you?”
“By all means.”
“You are going to deliver a missile which weighs 5 and three-quarter ounces at me, at about 85 miles per hour, and it is going to move through the air one way or the other, but I won’t know which way at least until you have released it. When it hits the ground, it is going to move erratically, again. Sometimes, you are going to propel it towards me in such a way as to cause impact with my body. And you get to do this in batches of six times.”
“That is your introduction to pace bowling.”

A plan for socially distanced spoken word events in 2021.

I have recently submitted an application for funding from the UK national lottery, to pay for a three-stage spoken word event, based in Wakefield, England, and delivered via the internet. I should get a decision in early February. It is a condition of the funding that the event has to take place before the end of March.

I intend to issue further applications to Wakefield Council, and Arts Council England (ACE). My objectives are:

  • to make the best use of the internet technology that The Black Horse Poets and Wakefield Word have begun to use for their meetings, and thereby attract people who, for whatever reason, would be unable to attend meetings in Wakefield;
  • to raise the profile of The Black Horse Poets and Wakefield Word, by attracting event leaders who are established writers and performers;
  • to generate enough momentum, in spite of Covid restrictions, to organise a spoken word festival, based in Wakefield, later in 2021.

If the application to the National Lottery Local Connections fund is unsuccessful, I will still continue with the other applications. By the time I get to applying to Arts Council England, I need to have funding from another source already secured, because ACE only funds a maximum of 90 per cent of the budget of an event.

During this pandemic, the internet is a lifeline which enables not just one-to-one communication, but cultural events as well, to continue, as long as the participants have broadband, and know how to use the requisite software.

After the vaccination programme has enabled a return to some kind of normality (which I think will take longer than most people expect) I want my writing groups and other cultural organisations to use the internet for transmitting events as well as, not instead of, face-to-face meetings.

This doesn’t just affect how performers and audience interact. It affects how we charge for events, how we market them. It poses a vitally important question, which I attempted to deal with in my recent funding application, about how we enable participation by people who do not currently have broadband in their home.