Peter Hough

Peter Hough
Click on picture to go to my website

Friday, 25 November 2011

Stench of Evil

I've just published my novel, Stench of Evil, on Amazon as a Kindle download and a quality paperback. You won't find it in any book shop because I decided to give up on traditional publishers after trying and failing to get any of them to even view my new book. How is it that someone who has previously published 18 books, of which many sold foreign rights, newspaper serial rights and book club rights, found themselves in this position?

In the last few years print publishers has made a fundamental change in how they solicit new books. Unless you're a celebrity, or are already a top-ten best selling author, they will no longer deal with you personally. They will only deal with you through an agent.

I never needed an agent - even if I was approaching a publisher for the first time, after all that's someone else to dip into your advance and pocket their share. But now publishers have decided that's what you have to do - and it is all about saving money. If a publisher is relying on agents to sort the chaff from the wheat, they don't have to employ readers and support staff to handle queries from would-be authors.

The problem is that there are far fewer agents than publishing companies. Most of them are one man or two man (or women) outfits, already with a full list of clients. Becoming a published author has always been an uphill struggle - but it's even harder now. A lot of very talented writers will give up after trying in vain to attract the attentions of an agent. There will be dozens of best sellers out there which will remain as a file on a PC, and will never see the light of day.

Thankfully, for both published writers and newcomers, there is now another way.

It costs virtually nothing to put your paperback on Amazon, and your ebook on Kindle - if you do all the technical stuff yourself. You retain the copyright, and the only niggle is that the paperback can only be purchased from and not Amazon UK. But you can use your credit card to pay in dollars, and it will take longer to ship, but that's all. Some authors who spent years having their work rejected are now selling very well on Amazon.

I could have carried on in my attempts to find an agent, but even if I was successful, they would then have to get a publisher for my novel - and the fact of life is that from start to finish it can take months or more likely years before it is finally published. With Amazon it just takes days.

Read my paranormal thriller; Stench of Evil available only from Amazon:

UK paperback & Kindle ebook
US paperback and Kindle ebook:

Can be downloaded to Kindle, iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, Android devices, PC, and Mac

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

28 weeks later...

It's almost 28 weeks since the Rage Virus spread through a large section of the voting public - and along with other colleagues - I lost my seat on Sefton Council.

During my five years as a councillor I've always given 100%, refusing to sit on the wall when difficult decisions had to be made, and championing residents causes when they were the victim of council bureaucracy. I even got some policy changes made which benefited local people. My achievements, and those of my former ward colleagues, are a matter of record. Many residents appreciated the hard work I put in, and contacted me to give their personal thanks.

So what happened on May 5th was that the Rage Virus turned people's heads towards central Government, and they wanted to send the Liberal Democrat coalition partners 'a message'. No cuts!  They did that by voting for the candidates of the party that is responsible (along with the bankers) for the financial mess we're now in.

Well, that makes sense then. But you can't expect logic when people are infected with the Rage Virus. Ask Danny Boyle.

We could let the economy go the way of Greece. They've already made cuts which are ten times higher than those being made by The Coalition - and are on the point of disappearing down a black hole. That's not to mention Italy and Spain.

The infected also wanted to send a message along the lines of: You traitors - why have you gone into government with the anti-Christ!

We could have let the Tories rule on their own. No doubt they would have won a second, autumn, election with a bigger, working majority, as the Millibands were still arguing over which of them was to be leader of the Labour Party. That would have been great. A right wing Tory government let loose on the country again - with no one to moderate them, and no implementation of Liberal Democrat policies like raising the tax threshold to £10,000 for the low paid or the extra £2.5 Billion funding for a million of the most disadvantaged pupils.

That makes sense too.

Their message also included: You reneged on your promise not to raise tuition fees!

That does have my sympathy. It was mismanaged - but Labour (who introduced tuition fees to begin with) have since said they would raise them too - capped at £6000 - a huge increase from their position during the election, when Ed and his buddies said they only needed to be increased by just a few hundred pounds! After studying the small print, the National Union of Students have now said that the changes made by The Coalition are 'relatively progressive'. That's thanks to Clegg and other LibDem ministers.

What was personally interesting for me, was how people reacted when I lost.

Several Labour councillors at the count shook my hand and said that it was not personal (having just shafted me!), and that I would be 'missed'. I received almost 60 emails from disappointed residents, plus letters, cards and phone calls.

While a number of my former LibDem colleagues contacted me to offer condolences - there were several others, who I thought I had a personal resonance with, who to this day (28 weeks later) have made no contact at all.

Perhaps their reaction was a consequence of how some people have a problem in dealing with other people's grief. They don't know what to say - so it is best avoided. Or perhaps they just decided to write me off. I seem to have been deleted from some email lists.

That's politics I suppose. Life's a bitch and then you're deleted.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Spontaneous Human Combustion

I came back from France last Friday on the day that West Galway coroner Dr Ciaran McLoughlin ruled that Michael Faherty who had burned to ash had died by 'spontaneous human combustion'. What makes this doubly remarkable is that this is the first time that a coroner has publicly cited SHC as a cause of death.

Having written a book on the subject with Jenny Randles in the 1990s, reprinted as a paperback in 2007, I was contacted by the Daily Mail who wanted me to work with them on a feature. What followed was the inevitable phone calls, emails, discussions, drafts and re-drafts until the piece was finally published today.

Within the constraints of space I think the article is a good overview. I have no intentions of repeating it here - but there are one or two points I would like to enlarge upon.
As I discovered - even during cremation, bones remained,
which are then ground up in a cremulator (c. Peter Hough)
The 'wick' or 'candle effect' suggests that in a closed airtight room a body can smoulder over 16 hours or more until it is reduced to ash. This was first demonstrated in a QED documentary broadcast in 1989, and has since become the favourite weapon of the sceptics. A hallmark of classic SHC is that even bones are reduced to ash - something that  crematoria cannot achieve. Despite claims to the contrary, bones still remained in the pig used to demonstrate the theory.

We investigated QED and talked to several of the participants. Even the sceptics complained that the programme had been edited to make them appear more sceptical than they really were - and that the experiment  was only partially successful. We were also told that the producers 'had an agenda'. There was a follow-up programme some years later, and taken at face value, it too was persuasive. But I'm afraid QED had blotted it's copybook - and as we didn't investigate this one, it is hard to comment further.

I'm not saying that the candle effect doesn't have its place as a partial explanation in some instances, but it is wrong to claim it is a 'catch all' for so-called SHC deaths. There are too many incidents which didn't occur in a sealed room, where the time frame was minutes rather than hours and where the victim survived to tell the tale. Then there are the cases that go beyond 'mundane' SHC and step into the realms of the paranormal - challenging even an open-minded soul like me.

The cremated remains of Mr Flaherty was found near the fireplace - but it is unclear whether there was a lit fire or not. Coroner Dr McLoughlin would have thought very carefully before coming to his conclusion - indeed he carried out extensive research first. Perhaps different explanations are required for the gamut of mysterious fire deaths that we put under the umbrella of 'spontaneous human combustion'.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Confessions of a canvasser...

We've been doing quite a lot of doorstep canvassing over the last few weeks, and on the whole we've received a very good response. There's almost 6,000 households in Victoria Ward though, so we can't get around to everyone. We have been pleasantly surprised by how many residents do actually read our Focus newsletter - and find it informative too. They also appreciate the hard work we've put in.

However, one thing you learn with canvassing, is that not everyone loves you!

I knocked on one door, and introduced myself to the gentleman standing there, then held out my hand. He looked at it and curled his lip.

"I don't shake hands with politicians," he said, looking me up and down as if I was a piece of dirt.

You don't argue with someone like that, you just turn and walk away. Which is what I did. What I felt like saying was:

"It's okay, I've washed my hands, and I don't have any contagious diseases. If you want to stick labels on me I'm also a husband, father, son, professional writer, walker, cyclist and a caravanner. Perhaps you wouldn't shake hands with any of them either?"

What a nice man - I bet he goes down a hoot at dinner parties.

One way to persuade men to vote
 - we use Focus
I don't mind the people who say they're voting for another candidate, or party. What does wind me up are people who proudly boast: "I don't vote." Or, "I don't bother voting in the local elections - they're not important."

Imagine writing out a cheque, for say, £1,500, without exercising any say or influence on how that money will be spent? That's what the 'no voters' do every year when they pay their council tax. Weird!

The subject of not voting came up on the doorstep with a lady who made the valid point that "women have died to give me the vote." I also reminded her of the people in Third World countries who walk for miles, and queue for days to elect their leaders. Then, I have to admit I got a bit carried away (which I sometimes do), and added:

"It would serve the 'no voters' right if a fascist government were elected, and they were the first to be put up against a wall and shot!"

A bit extreme, but you get my drift?

Friday, 15 April 2011

The day we met Norman Lamb, over a hog-roast...

I must admit that the day we met Norman Lamb, we didn't know who he was. What a difference a few years make.

Iain Brodie Browne in his blog was asking why the LibDem North Norfolk MP wasn't given the Health Minister's job - after Andrew Lansley was ordered by Cameron to 'pause' the Health & Social Care Bill for two months consultation and reflection.

Lamb, an acknowledged expert on the NHS, has publicly opposed the handing over of the NHS budget to GPs. The wounded Tory minister now looks inept and doesn't have the backing of nurses, after their vote of  'no confidence'. That's why the web is alive with twitterings saying that Lamb would make a far better job. Ironic then, that it was Lansley who blocked Lamb from having a ministerial job in his department during the coalition negotiations.

It was the summer of 2005, just a couple of months after the General Election, and we were caravanning in Norfolk. When we're away, we like to attend local community events. We'd spotted a poster outside a care home saying that they were having a fund-raising garden fete on Saturday, and that 'Norman Lamb MP' was opening it.

We thought that was our kind of thing, and indeed it proved to be the case. There were stalls selling all sorts of things from local beer to paintings by Norfolk artists, knitted animals, food and cheeses. Traditional games were evident too; smack the rat, hook a duck, hoopla and there was a coconut shy.

What was different about this traditional English garden fete, which at the same time enhanced it, was that the Asian staff were turned out in their 'Sunday best'. The women wore very colourful saris, and the men were resplendent in sarongs and kurtas. These young people were very caring towards their patients who obviously had psychological and physiological problems.

As soon as we were there, Linda spotted the home made cake stall and headed straight for it. After buying a large chocolate cake, I decided to take it to the car for safe keeping (from Linda). I arrived back just as the manager of the home was introducing Norman Lamb.

Norman was dressed smart but casual, in a jacket and open neck shirt. As he spoke in an easy and entertaining style, we speculated which party he represented. We knew it was historically a Conservative part of the country, but that we had made an impact over recent years. Certainly the MP didn't look like a Tory, and he didn't sound like one either... so if it didn't look like a duck, and didn't quack like one - then perhaps it wasn't one?

After the opening speech, I approached one of the senior staff, and asked her who he was. A smile beamed across her face, and she explained he was their Liberal Democrat MP. She said they were genuinely delighted when he accepted the invitation to open the fete, because, she explained: "This is only a modest event, and we didn't think he would be interested in coming along!"

Vegetarians turn away - Linda checking the hog-roast
Norman spent over one and a half hours talking to people, and having a go at some of the games. We were hovering by the pig roast when he came over and ordered some pork in a bun together with the delicious stuffing and apple sauce. He turned to us, and we introduced ourselves as Liberal Democrats from Crosby near Southport. His eyes lit up.

"What are you doing here?" He asked.

"Well, I said, "we heard you were opening the fete and hopped on the train."

It was at that point I discovered that people standing nearby had been listening in, because they all laughed. After a long chat, he said:

"Give my regards to John Pugh, we were both elected for the first time in 2001, and have become friends."

He was still shaking his head in amazement, that out of all the garden fetes in all the world, we should have turned up there...

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

There I was, just minding my own business...

It's not every day I get a public dressing down, but at last Wednesday's planning meeting in Bootle Town Hall, that's what happened.

There was a heavy agenda, with several petitions, so the public area was packed. We were dealing with an application for War Games activities at the back of Shorrocks Hill Country Club. The lady who had presented a petition against the application was being questioned by Formby Tory councillor, Barry Griffiths. In true Barry style, his questions seemed more like prompts, designed to encourage the petitioner to make the most of her case.

Cllr Paul Tweed gave me
a public dressing down
My colleague, Cllr Jim Byrne, made loud comments to this effect to Cllr John Dodd on his left. Unfortunately, I was sitting on Jim's right. My nose was in the agenda when the Labour Chair, Cllr Paul Tweed,  reacted to what Jim had said:

"You are wrong, these are questions, and we need to hear the answers. And councillor Hough, don't interrupt the proceedings again - you should know better than that!"

At that point I looked up and said indignantly: "Excuse me Cllr Tweed, I haven't said a word!"

Jim put up his hand like a naughty school boy and said. "It was me!"

The officers, particularly Andy Wallis, the out-going Planning Director, were doing their best not to break out into laughter.

Paul quickly apologised and we moved on.  A few minutes later Peter Cowley, Sefton's Principal Solicitor, appeared at my side with a hastily written apology from Paul. I can only assume that Peter had warned him I might sue for defamation of character if he didn't put it in writing. I looked across at Paul and smiled.

After the meeting, somewhat embarrassed, he repeated the apology. I told him not to worry, we all make mistakes, and was it okay if I printed his apology in Focus?

This time there was loud laughter from several officers.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Do you fancy a Scafell blond?

'All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy', wrote hotel caretaker Jack Torrance, before trying to sort out his wife and son with an axe, in Kubrick's film of the Stephen King novel; The Shining.
Not wishing to end up like Torrance (Honey, I'm home!), I thought a few days break from all the electioneering would be spiritually uplifting. And so it was.

Us on a sunny Bowscale Fell
Linda and I (and the cat) dragged the caravan up the M6 to a lovely little site by the River Caldew near Hesket Newmarket in the northern Lakes. There we were joined by Cllr Mike Booth, his wife Clare and their pooch.

Hesket Newmarket was featured on Country File last year when John Craven visited The Old Crown which was Britain's first pub to become a cooperative. Prince Charles called in too a couple of years ago. To save it from closure, over a 100 locals bought shares in the pub - which has it's own micro-brewery. It produces such beers as Doris' 90th Birthday Ale and Scafell Blond. I know which one I prefer!

Mountaineer Chris Bonnington also lives nearby - and we bumped into him last time we visited, up on the fells. I remember it well. We were wearing all our outdoor gear, with heavy rucksacks stuffed with waterproofs, drinks and butties - and he walked past bidding us good day, wearing just a jacket and slacks!

This time the weather was glorious, and we did two cracking walks. On Friday we climbed up Carrock Fell, and refreshed ourselves in the pub on the way back. That evening (knowing a good thing when we see it) we returned for a very reasonably priced meal and more of that ale. Saturday saw us climbing about 2000 feet onto Bowscale Fell. It was a hard slog, but the views were terrific! We finished the day with a barbecue and a glass or two of wine.

The simple pleasures are the best. 

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Sense and incensed-ability

There was a very interesting letter in yesterday's Daily Post from the Labour leader of Liverpool City Council. It is about the cuts he is having to make, and shows maturity and a sense of responsibility. I have reproduced it below, and it is worth reading in its entirety.

What a contrast then to the dangerous antics of Sefton's Labour group.

They refused to take part in setting the council's budget, which involved the painful process of reducing jobs and services to the tune of £44 million - even though they are claiming £1000s in extra allowances for being on Sefton's ruling cabinet. They even voted against a 25% cut in senior and middle management. This has incensed many people on the doorstep.

They have played to the gallery at every turn, made promises they cannot keep and emotionally manipulated young people and the disabled for their political goals. Labour leader Peter Dowd took great delight in publicly likening himself to Derek Hatton.

Sefton's Labour leader has compared
 himself to Derek Hatton
Hatton was the Deputy Leader of Liverpool Council, and a member of the Militant Tendency - a  Trotskyist organisation within the Labour Party. He helped set an illegal budget which committed the council to spend £30 million in excess of its Government grant. This brought Liverpool to it's knees, and Hatton and his cronies sent out redundancy notices by taxi cab to council workers.

The only way Sefton Labour could keep to it's promise of 'no cuts' would be to raise council tax by an average of £427.

Heaven help us then if Sefton Labour Party ever gain control of the Council.

Liverpool Council Labour Leader Joe Anderson's letter:

'PEOPLE have written letters recently asking me not to implement the
Government’s cuts and calling me a Tory. Let me enlighten those that
make those points and criticise.

There is no such thing as not implementing the government cuts.
Government gives the city 80% of its funding through different types of
grant. They have chosen to give Liverpool a 22% or £91m reduction. They
simply have not given us the money.

If someone’s household income is reduced by 22%, then they can’t just
ignore this, or they’d go bankrupt. If the city ignored its cut from
the Government, then quite simply we would run out of money by November
of this year, with no money to run social services or pay wages. That
chaos will not happen under my leadership.

Readers will see that those who call my leadership weak have no
solutions or alternatives other than demand I lead a revolution.

Our city more than ever needs sound, pragmatic leadership, with the
honesty to say we haven’t got all the answers but we have got the
passion and vision in equal measures to lead our city through these
difficult times.

Our determination is to create growth through having a cruise liner
turn-around facility, building a new exhibition centre at Kings Dock,
developing Edge Lane retail park, pushing ahead with Liverpool Waters,
getting on with the Stonebridge cross development in Croxteth and Mere
Park in the city centre, developments in Speke, developing north
Liverpool, growing the knowledge economy, the visitor economy and much

This is about this city council leading and developing our city – not
leaving its people without leadership at a time when it faces the worst
government cuts since the war.'

Monday, 28 March 2011

Animal Farm

There were two callers on Radio Merseyside this morning taking part in a discussion on stereotyping. They complained they were discriminated against on their trip to London for the demonstrations, because they were 'scousers'.

What emerged though was that both these men (one a retired trade unionist) had travelled by first class rail,  paid for by the unions.

It would have been bad enough if these men were union officials, but it seems there was no pecking-order, and there were first class coaches stuffed with ordinary members and their families. I also learned that many of the 'demonstrators' did an hour or so then went off sight seeing.

Was the first class rail fare a sweetener to persuade people to take part? It's not bad, is it? A freebie trip in first class style to the capital to demonstrate against government cuts, and a visit to Madame Tussuad's and the Tower of London for afters!

Many moons ago, I was a member of USDAW, and I would have been appalled that my hard earned cash was being used to fund a posh jolly aimed at supporting the Labour Party. Not all trade union members vote Labour. If I was one of them I would be demanding to know how much it all cost, and why demonstrators had to travel first class by the coach load.

Last week we learned from the Crosby Herald that Mark Dowd, Labour member for St Oswald Ward, one of the most deprived areas in Sefton - is the most expensive councillor on Merseyside, drawing £63,044 in allowances. It's good work if you can get it!

It is pure hypocrisy for these people to bleat on about government cuts when they themselves are living the life of Riley.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Customer care-less

I have to admit that I don't use my cheque book like I used to. But that doesn't mean I could do without it. There are times when a cheque will do and nothing else.

We often stay on farms - where a cheque is ideal
Sending money with a birthday card is one example. Who would be mad enough to put a couple of tenners in an envelope? When we go caravanning, we often stay on small 5 van sites, which are usually farms or half an acre at the side of someone's cottage. Unless you're stuffed with cash, a cheque book is the only way to pay your site fees.

It is scandalous then that the banks are planning to start the process to abolish cheques, in 2016. They say that cheques are in terminal decline, but as a nation we are writing 4 million a day - so there's obviously still a great demand.

If they get their way it will leave the elderly, small businesses, charities and social clubs high and dry.

The electronic alternatives of using the Internet or debit and credit cards will hit charities with a double whammy of a drop in donations and high processing charges. It's all about choice - and not everyone wants to set-up direct debits.

Without the choice of using a cheque, small businesses will receive payments mainly through credit cards - with their rip-off bank charges. And what of social clubs and societies who like to take their subscriptions by cheque?

Age Concern and Help The Aged have voiced worries that elderly people, robbed by the banks of their cheque books, will resort to hoarding cash at home, which will encourage burglary.

We are running a campaign to get the Prime Minister to put pressure on the banks, and I am collecting signatures on a petition in our area.

There has been a petition in our Focus newsletters delivered in Victoria Ward and Manor Ward, and we have received hundreds of signatures. We have decided to print the petition again in the next issue of the Victoria Ward Focus. If there is anyone from outside the area who would like to add their names - I can email them a petition for them to print, sign and return. Give me your contact details below by pressing COMMENTS.

When are the banks going to serve the needs of the customer - and not themselves? When will they get it?

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

We need to be smart - and look after the pennies

At last month's Area Committee Meeting members agreed to fund 'smartwater' technology from our devolved budget for streets that were targets for burglars. The police had done a deal with the manufacturers to supply the kits at a reduced price.

Smartwater is an invisible liquid with a unique code for each kit that is painted on property, so stolen goods can be linked to a particular address. It can also transfer itself to thieves so they can be forensically connected to the crime.

The police later asked for further funding to place signs on lamp posts similar to those produced for the Neighbourhood Watch,  to act as a deterrent.

The signs cost £20 each - but the Council's contractor wanted £35 to attach each one to a lamp post! As they were made from polypropylene, I was told all they required were two plastic ties. I kicked up a fuss, and it turns out the quote included unsuitable metal bands.

Further negotiation between the Council and the contractor brought the price down to £20 per sign. This saved the council a few hundred pounds - which might not sound a huge amount in the scale of things - but that's only one example of how money can be saved - or rather not spent needlessly in the first place. If you look after the pennies, then the pounds will look after themselves.

The council needs to do what every householder already practices - not tie itself to one company - and ring around for the best prices when a quote seems too high.

In the past councils have been taken advantage of by contractors who believed they were bottomless money pits. Those times are gone, and council officials need to drive a harder bargain in future negotiations.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Sainsbury's won't appeal - but aren't offering any alternatives either

Sainsbury's representatives have been in touch with me to announce they will not be appealing the decision of Sefton's planning committee last September to throw out their proposed £50 million investment in Crosby Village. It is likely they would have won an appeal - landing Crosby's council tax payers a bill of as much as £180,000. The fact they haven't speaks volumes.

Sadly they are not offering any alternatives either.

On paper they still have the choice of walking away altogether, or offering something new. They are even considering selling off their land in the village, bringing down the final curtain. I was told that there was no time-table for a final decision, and I got the strong impression Crosby has been shoved onto the back-burner, that they now have other fish to fry. Since their offer was turned down, they have been looking at several hundred other sites in the North West, with a view to spending their cash elsewhere.

Never say never, but this is devastating news for our town centre. I said at the time when I and my colleagues supported the investment, that I didn't want to gamble away Crosby's future. The Formby Tory and Bootle Labour councillors who voted together to kick the investment out may have done just that.

Good riddance, some people will say - those who didn't like the modern look of the new store, and wanted something smaller - but the town desperately needed this investment, and the company was offering new retail units for small businesses, and an attractive shopping environment. At this time of cuts, it would have been Crosby's silver lining.
It gives me no pleasure at all to say that I think we read the situation better than those councillors who rejected the plans. There never was a plan 'B', and Sainsbury's made it abundantly clear that they wouldn't get back their investment with a smaller store. Senior planning officers were strongly recommending that council members accept the proposal.

There had been 18 months of public consultation and compromise on both sides. For instance, the company removed the filling station from their plans and replaced it with a building for community use, after listening to residents and local councillors.

The Planning Committee

We should have grabbed that opportunity and embraced this once in a generation offer - it was the only game in town. There are, and never were, any other investors waiting to step in.

I feel sorry for those traders who stuck out their necks to support the plan, despite the pressure from protesters.

The councillors who voted against it need to examine their consciences.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Domesticated cats and dogs are social parasites

When I was studying for my psychology degree as a mature student, there was one lecture which stuck in my mind. The subject matter was grief, how it affects people, and what coping strategies could be employed to mitigate it.

The lecturer turned the subject matter towards our anthropomorphism of animals - how we interpret their behaviour in human terms. To kick off the debate he came out with the following statement:

"Domesticated cats and dogs are social parasites."

This wasn't an emotional reaction on his part but a bald statement of facts.

Is this a social parasite?
Over generations, he explained, cats and dogs had learned how to manipulate our emotional response towards them, so we will give them the life of Riley, and all they have to do is eat and sleep. They have learned to do this by behaving like kittens and puppies for the whole of their lives. They worked out that if they roll over so we can tickle their stomachs, miaow and whimper, it will elicit a parental response.

And you see it with pet lovers. The pets become their children, and cats and dogs are more than happy to play along for the benefits they get in return.

I've seen this with my own cat. When she wants feeding, she rolls over and miaows like the little kitten she isn't. I tickle her stomach then go and open a can of food. Cat's happy, I'm happy, but according to my lecturer it's all based on a lie! She doesn't really love me, she's just manipulating me for what she can get. I'm sure that if I was to disappear today the cat wouldn't give a hoot - as long as there was someone else to step into my shoes.

Thinking about all this reminded me of a book of linked short stories by Ray Bradbury called The Martian Chronicles. The book is concerned about the human settlement of Mars. In one of the stories, an elderly couple have come to the red planet to escape the death of their son, Tom, many years before. They are startled one night to see their teenage son standing outside in a thunderstorm. This is one of the few surviving martians who can read human minds and shape-shift.

The couple accept the martian into their home, and in exchange he takes on the role of their much loved son.

I'm sure my cat can read my mind, but she hasn't mastered how to shape-shift yet.

Read my paranormal thriller; Stench of Evil only from Amazon:

UK paperback & eBook:

US paperback & eBook:

Can be downloaded to Kindle, iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, Android devices, PC, and Mac

Thursday, 24 February 2011

If you ask a silly question...

Why is it that if you're a politician, you're not meant to have a sense of humour? You can be dour, sarcastic, critical and can slag off your opponents - which is all right apparently. But you can't make flippant remarks that are intended to raise a smile.

Even at the local level you daren't make humorous remarks in case they're misconstrued or quoted out of context (although I did slip up last night while chairing the Crosby Area Committee, and made two humouress remarks. Thank goodness there wasn't any journalists present!)
Remarks made by Nick Clegg, who does have a sense of humour, have been seized upon by the media and Labour politicians who chose to take them seriously.

When asked by a journalist before an interview if he was in charge while Cameron was abroad, Nick replied: "Yeah, I suppose I am. I forgot about that."

In my book, if you ask a silly question, you get a silly answer.

Even those commentators who accept that it was just a throw away line, have puffed out their chests in mock indignation and have said how dare the Deputy Prime Minister joke when there are British oil workers stranded in Libya.

Hang on a minute - those oil workers know the risks involved in working in the Middle East. They go there because of the huge tax-free sums they're paid. I hope the rich oil companies who employ them are going to refund the British tax payer for bringing them back safely.

For goodness sake, let's not let the PC brigade ban our British sense of humour altogether!

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The world is run by the people who turn up

Good to see that our North West MEP Chris Davies has taken the initiative to set up a cross-party group to support reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. 'Fish for the Future' will seek to put more fish in the seas and provide more jobs for fishermen. Chris says:

'Eighty-per-cent of fisheries are being fished unsustainably, and there are too many boats chasing too few fish.  Stocks are low, and we are importing more than 60% of the fish we eat - too often taking nutrition from people in developing nations along the coast of Africa.  Yet every day thousands of tonnes of fish are thrown back into the sea because they are not commercially valuable or because landing quotas have been exceeded.'

He continues:

'We expect the new policy to involve setting long term management plans based on scientific evidence, decentralising decision-making from Brussels to regional fisheries councils, curbing the discard of unwanted fish by moving from a quota-based approach to one based on controlling the numbers of days a fishing boat can be at sea, cutting subsidies for building new vessels, and creating a financial interest for fishermen to protect stock levels through new tradable rights to fish.'

Chris has no illusions, and knows how vested interests to keep the status quo will seek to dominate the debate in the many meetings to come. As he says - 'The world is run by the people who turn up!'

Thursday, 17 February 2011

I don't want Big Nanny in my life

I'm from a working class background. When I was little, my father was a Nottinghamshire miner, and we lived in a terraced house. But I've never voted Labour in my life, nor ever will. There's a fundamental reason for this. There's something at the core of socialism that is anathema to what I am. At its worst, Labour promotes weakness and dependency, and produces a lethargy amongst communities. There's a reason for this - it wants to be in control.

Orwell got it wrong - under Labour it's the Big Nanny state.

Don't get me wrong. I vehemently believe that the inequalities in society should be addressed, and there should be a level playing field as much as it is possible, and I'm not too proud to admit when I need help. We all need a safety net, when through no fault of our own, life throws things at us that we struggle to cope with.

But I've never wanted Big Nanny in my life. I don't want things organised for me - if  I'm interested enough I'll organise them myself. I don't want to be told how much I should drink, big flashing signs telling me to 'belt up', I don't want to be told I need five a day - I'm not stupid, I know I need a balanced diet of fresh fruit and vegetables to stay healthy.

When my children were little my wife would take turns with other parents organising coffee mornings. The kids would run riot upstairs while the mums would chat in the kitchen, or in summer have a glass of wine in the garden. There was a toddlers' group in the church hall, but this was low key, and didn't cost much to set up. Health visitors would sometimes attend to impart information.

There wasn't the hysteria then about paedophilia, so no expensive CRB checks which only have meaning if someone has been caught and convicted. One of the sensible things The Coalition is doing is to cut down on these checks. Remember when the last government said that even parents taking other children to school had to be CRB checked?

Sefton Council had a crazy policy where councillors had to have several separate checks to cover them for different situations where they might come into contact with children. I fought and won that battle - getting the policy changed to one check, and saving the council-tax payer money.

During the six years I've been a councillor, one of the things that's impressed me is how residents near Victoria Ward's three parks have banded together to form Friends groups. These people have given up their time to pressure officers, councillors and the police to bring about improvements. More than that, they've taken the initiative and got involved in organising park events for local families. They've also done some pruning and bulb planting, and other unpaid work in our parks.

This is more Big Society than Big Nanny, but I'm sorry Dave - you're only putting a gloss on what was already there.

Stay away Big Nanny - we don't need you.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Walking with ghosts...

It was a late decision on Saturday afternoon - it just popped into my head - I needed to get out into the countryside and walk.

I also yearned for the company of other walkers while getting my fix. There's little pleasure in sitting in a pub on your own after a walk, pint in hand, talking to yourself. Where would I find them at such short notice? A few minutes on the Internet and I had uncovered the website of the Southport Fell Walking Club. They have members from Crosby to Tarleton. There was a name and a contact number which I dialed. After a short discussion to ascertain that I was experienced, and up to the rigors of fell walking, I was invited to join them the following day for a coach trip up to the Northern Lakes. Perfect.

The weather was wet and blustery as we left Sefton in the dark, and it only seemed to get worse the further north we went. After a coffee stop at a service station on the M6 we arrived at Murgrisdale and began the steep 522 metre climb up to Souther Fell. As often happens, the rain had all but disappeared, although it was blustery on the hill top. Stunning views aside, Souther Fell has quite a spooky reputation.

It began on Misummer Eve in 1735 when a farm worker saw a huge army crossing the hill top, before disappearing in a cleft. Two years later his boss, a farmer called Lancaster, witnessed cavalry and foot soldiers. He and his family watched the tableau until it went dark. Every year after that on Midsummer Eve people turned out to view the spectral sight, but to no avail. It was not until ten years later that the Lancasters, and 26 other people witnessed a vast army of marching soldiers, cavalry and horse drawn carriages stretching half a mile across the summit. The following day they climbed the hill to look for physical proof of the army's passage - but there were no hoof marks or wheel tracks apparent.

There doesn't seem to have been any sightings since then - so perhaps it was just a transient anomaly. Certainly there were no ghosts visible on the damp windswept hill top while we were there - but then perhaps it was the wrong time of the year?

We did find a pub at the end of the walk; the Horse & Farrier Inn at Threlkeld - and very nice the beer was too! I'm sure I'll see more of my new chums - and when my wife comes home, she will probably join us.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

The wild card that may scupper building on green belt

Yesterday I voted with other councillors on the Planning Committee for the public to be consulted on the options for future housing and commercial development in the borough.

If you believed the headlines in some of our local papers, you'd be convinced that decisions had already been made to allow thousands of houses to be built on green belt. This is far from the truth, yet officers are advising us that we might have to allow some green belt development to meet Sefton's 'housing needs'.

The last Government imposed a house building target on the Council of 500 units a year. The Coalition have decided to scrap the Regional Spatial Strategy, and instead have said that councils should assess their own needs. Sefton commissioned an independent study - and it resulted in a figure of 480.

So, as there are no government targets - we can choose to ignore it, then? Not according to planning officers. To avoid challenges by developers, we need to assess how many new houses we need, and where they can go. Without encroaching on green belt, we have a supply of land that will cover us for just under nine years. So what happens after that?

The officers view is that it is better to earmark specific green belt sites for possible future development than let developers have a free for all. Officers argue that if we don't pick 'preffered sites' then developers will pick what suits them - and if we say no - they will challenge us in the courts.

Ironically, the population of Sefton - and indeed Liverpool - is shrinking year on year. So why do we need any new housing at all? The reason, apparently, is that more people are living on their own, and the average family unit is now down to two.

I see the logic in what they're suggesting, but once you move the goal posts to include green belt, it's like a nod and a wink to landowners and property developers. I've certainly not made my mind up yet - and residents will have a chance to have their say before there is a final decision in the Autumn.

There is one factor that the planning officers have not addressed - a wild card that may scupper building on green belt.

Food shortages.

Due to adverse weather conditions there has been a global reduction of cereal crops in the past year. The price of grain has almost doubled, and we've all noticed it in the supermarkets. Russia has put a ban on exporting its grain, and China is suffering a devastating drought. Despite the recent floods, Australia has had a bumper crop - but China needs to import vast quantities to feed its burgeoning population - creating a world shortage and driving up the price of grain even more.

Much of the green belt in Sefton is grade one agricultural land. At the moment we import 60% of what we eat. This will be unsustainable and unaffordable in the near future. There is going to be a driving force over the next few years to grow more of our own. 

Its not fields full of houses we will need, but fields full of wheat, barley, carrots and potatoes.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Are we heading for a cat flap?

Following on from my blog of 29 January (see below) regarding a former police officer's close encounter with a puma-like creature in Pembrokeshire, comes another report - this time in Wigan.

According to the story, at least half a dozen staff at a call centre overlooking the Three Sisters Country Park, observed the large black beast. Eye-witness Julie Fairclough told reporters:

'I saw this fabulous beast about 150 yards away. I called my workmates over because I could hardly believe my eyes. At first I saw it in a tree and initially thought it was a big group of birds roosting together. Then it started moving and I realised what I was looking at - a sleek black, big cat.

'It jumped a gap to sit on the top of a building. Later when I went out to check the gap it was about 12 feet. It was walking backwards and forwards and looked like it was patrolling.'

Countryside manager, Graham Workman, was sceptical as he had found no paw prints when snow covered the park earlier in the year, and there had been no reports of mutilated sheep. He thought that perspectives had played havoc with the witnesses perceptions, so they could have misidentified a domestic cat. Six months earlier he had received another big cat report, of a lynx type animal.

The day before the Pembrokeshire sighting, came another in Dursley, Glucestershire. A woman contacted the local BBC radio station claiming that she and her sisters had seen the animal on three occasions over several weeks. She said:

'It was probably about the size of a big German Shepherd dog and very long, and completely black with a huge tail about the same size as its body, and it had a huge head with yellowy eyes. It's not afraid of humans - it was circling my sister's car. When she tried to get out it came back and circled again.'

A concentrated number of sightings over a defined period is known as a 'flap'. Are there more sightings to come - are we heading for a cat flap?

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Monday, 7 February 2011

Should this chap be banned?

There's a chap who phones me every so often, usually just after we've delivered our Focus newsletter. The purpose of his call is to have a ten minute rant at me. I just listen for the most part, and occasionally interject. At the end of his rant, he's very polite and thanks me for listening.

While he's ranting I get this picture in my mind. He's in his kitchen. At one end is his phone on 'speaker', and he's at the other end, standing on a soap box. He's a slight figure well into his seventies, stooped and gripping an enormous megaphone through which he rants at me. I can't see his face but I'm sure it's bright red and craggy.

So what does he rant about? Well apart from passing jibes at 'foreigners' and 'immigrants', it's usually the same topics: Clegg is Cameron's puppet, Blair's a mass murderer and American Jewish financiers masterminded the banking crisis. Well we know two of those are wrong for a start.

Should this chap be banned? Certainly some of his comments are racist, and others defamatory (especially those aimed at Cleggy). If he stood in Crosby Village with his megaphone and started ranting at shoppers, he would probably be arrested by The Thought Police.

Personally I wouldn't have a problem with him doing it, but then I'm not Jewish, I'm not black and I'm not Tony Blair. Freedom of speech walks a fine line, but people like this chap make me question how the state in recent years has curtailed it. 

The logic seems to be that you can eradicate racism by passing a law against it, stopping people openly expressing their racist views. It seems to me that you don't change behaviour by passing a law, you only suppress it. You have to change people from the inside - although some people with such firmly held beliefs are beyond that.

Should we consider a Speakers' Corner in every community? It could be well away from the mainstream, so you would only go there if you wanted to be exposed to ideas and views that you might find unsettling and offensive.

Perhaps this would be a better platform for the chap who rants at me - and it might even remove some of his frustration.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Can a politician be bullied? Is it possible - or not?

The subject of bullying hit the headlines a few days ago with claims that Vanessa Feltz had 'bullied' a student who was doing work experience on her radio show.

When Beverley Nesbit said she had never heard of the W. B. Yeats, Feltz ordered her to write a 2,000 word essay on the poet. The girl didn't produce the essay, so Felz insisted she should go to the library and get it done. Instead the media student locked herself in a toilet cubicle for two hours, crying, and texting her mother.

Feltz's actions might seem a little bizarre, but were they bullying? I've thought for some time it's a term that's been over-stretched, and used to describe any sort of assertive behaviour of one person towards another. My Collins English Dictionary defines a bully as; 'a person who hurts, persecutes, or intimidates weaker people'.

Bullying was once perceived as sustained physical and psychological abuse. What often passes for bullying these days was then described as 'being picked on'. It was a learning experience, giving the victim the opportunity to acquire coping skills.

All that Feltz was doing was what any English teacher would have done discovering that a pupil didn't know who Yeats was. Go away, do some research, and write an essay. This wasn't bullying, it was the teacher doing her job. In that sense, was Feltz being maternal rather than bullying? Was she punishing the girl, or trying to educate her?

WARNING: Here come a generalisation.

The problem is that modern kids are brought up by parents and the state to believe that they are beyond criticism. A generation ago, if a teacher was critical of a child, the parent would support that professional assessment, and not take it as a personal attack. More often now, the parent will blame the teacher, saying 'she doesn't like my child'. Over recent years teachers have had to follow a policy of ignoring pupils failings and only highlighting their achievements - even if they're meagre. These kids then go out into the real world unprepared for criticism and rejection. They haven't been taught how to deal with it, and overcome it. They're not street wise.

Can a politician be bullied by another politician? At the same time as the Vanessa Feltz story hit the headlines, I was made aware of a charge of bullying by one member against another on Sefton Council.

The complainant claimed that an opposition councillor had publicly bullied them 'over many years'. With the backing of their group leader, they put in a complaint to Sefton's Standards Board, where the allegations were heard behind closed doors - the accused totally unaware, and given no opportunity to refute the allegations.

The first he heard of it was a letter from the Acting Head of Corporate Legal Services. Bizarrely, after admitting that the committee found no evidence for an investigation, he then went on to remind him of the Code of Conduct, as if there was a case to answer. Had he been bullied into writing this letter?

So, was the councillor bullied, or were they just hurt and embarrassed because their political short comings had been publicly exposed? This person is something of a serial complainer, having accused another councillor of bullying some time ago.

Is the truth that this member was less articulate and knowledgeable compared to their tormentor? Did the person decide that the only way they could get back at him was to brand him a bully, and then, hopefully, this would stop him challenging them in public?

In effect, the accused had been bullied into silence.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Big beast sighted

There's been a sighting of a big beast near Treffgarne in Pembrokeshire. No, it's not John Prescott sneaking over the Welsh border again looking to throw another punch - but a large puma or panther-like creature sighted by a council 'public protection officer'.

Michael Disney, a former police officer, said he was travelling at 10-15 miles per hour down a single track lane when the big cat crossed just five metres in front of him:

"I immediately stopped my vehicle and stared at this animal. It had a large cat-like head, muscular build and was approximately three feet tall. It was bigger and more muscular than a German shepherd dog. The coat was smooth and looked like it had brown spots on it. I had a clear, unobstructed view of the animal and the visibility was excellent. The animal was in view for five or six seconds."

Apparently a woman at a near-by farm said she had seen a puma-like creature a few weeks earlier. A sheep carcase was also discovered bearing the hall marks of a big cat kill.

Sightings of similar creatures around Britain are well documented. They have been variously labelled as The Beast of Bodmin, the Whitby Lynx, the Harrogate Panther, the Surrey Puma and the Skegness Cougar! Occasionally, plaster casts of paw prints have been taken. In some cases, like that of the Nottingham Lion, armed police have turned out in search. In others the army has scoured the countryside.

I remember about fifteen years ago parking up my caravan on a remote farm near Ettrick in the Borders, and the owner warning me to be careful wandering in the forest, because there had been sightings of a big cat, and mutilated sheep carcases discovered nearby.

While I don't doubt that many of the sightings are genuine, none of these mysterious beasts have ever been caught, and no remains have ever been found.

Makes you think, doesn't it?

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Can be downloaded to Kindle, iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, Android devices, PC, and Mac