Wednesday, 27 April 2016

"Unlawful Killing" - Thoughts on Hillsborough

The ninety six victims of 1989's Hillsborough disaster.

I was only six and a half years old.  But it remains one of my oldest, clearest memories.  I can vividly remember the moment my dad sat down in his armchair, on 15th April 1989, to watch the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, played out at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough Stadium.  I was sitting on the floor, playing with toys, not really paying much attention to what Dad was watching.  At least, not until I noticed his brow furrow.  Not until I saw him sit forward in his seat, concerned eyes fixed to the screen.  Not until I heard him say: "Something's gone wrong."

Something did go catastrophically wrong, that day.  As the tragic events unfolded live on television, commentator John Motson announced that he'd been given information that the disaster had been caused by Liverpool fans without tickets, breaking down a gate and forcing their way into the stadium.  But the information he was given was false.  The world now knows - as it should have twenty seven years ago - that that gate was not forced down by violent Liverpool supporters.  It was opened by the police, who offered no direction to the thousands of fans who then went straight forwards down the narrow tunnel into the Leppings Lane end of the stadium, into two already dangerously over-crowded pens.  The police officer in charge, David Duckenfield, confessed in this final inquest into the tragedy, that he hadn't given any thought as to where the thousands of fans outside the stadium would go, upon the gate being opened.  He hadn't thought to close off the tunnel leading to the central pens opposite and direct the fans to the sides of the stadium, instead.  Because of this sheer lack of foresight, those fans headed straight down that tunnel and into a nightmare.  Ninety four people died as a result of the resulting crush, with two more dying from their injuries in the days and years that followed.  

Ninety six people went to a football match on a bright, Spring day.  They never came home.  And for years, their families suffered the heartbreak of those ninety six deaths being blamed on fan violence.  Lies were told about the Liverpool supporters being drunk, stealing from the dead and hampering the police efforts to assist the injured and dying.  It wasn't enough that those families had lost their loved ones in the most shocking, horrific manner.  Now, they had to hear senior police officers and members of the press blame the tragedy on the very people who'd been caught up in it.

Those families showed incredible strength as they refused to accept that version of events.  They campaigned with dignity and passion to have the truth unearthed.  And this week, after almost three decades of tireless fighting, they got it: "Unlawful killing."

Hillsborough Justice Campaign logo

The final inquest into Hillsborough took two years to reach its completion.  Over the course of those two years, the families of those who lost their lives that day in April twenty seven years ago - as well as several survivors of the tragedy - finally heard the catalogue of errors by senior police officials in the run-up to the game.  They finally heard the enormous mistakes that were made on the day.  But, crucially, they finally heard how those facts had been covered up and lies told to absolve those responsible from blame.  They heard how police statements, in which officers at the game admitted to poor direction from those in charge, were altered.  They heard how the story of drunken, violent fans was concocted immediately, with police officers being told to grill the families of those killed as to how much the victims had had to drink that day.  Medical professionals were even told to test the blood of every single victim for alcohol, despite the fact that the youngest killed was only ten years old.  They heard firsthand evidence that, contrary to the despicable smear conducted by the police and the press, the Liverpool fans who attended that fateful football match had behaved incredibly well, with many rushing to help those who were trapped in the ensuing crush.  They heard that the Hillsborough Stadium didn't even have a valid safety certificate at the time of the disaster.

A human error is one thing.  A mistake - however horrifying - can be admitted to and, in time, forgiven, if the person who made it shows contrition.  But for years after Hillsborough, those whose actions - or inaction - led directly to the deaths of 96 innocent people, maintained their lies.  It took twenty seven years - and an official inquiry, private prosecutions and more than one inquest - for the full truth to finally come out.  Twenty seven years to get any kind of justice for those people who only wanted to go to see their team play a football match and paid for it with their lives.  Twenty seven years in which those left behind had to keep hearing the same lies retold over and over, repeated by everyone from senior MPs to tabloid journalists.  That it took so long for those lies to be unmasked is difficult to comprehend and deeply, deeply troubling.

Everton's tribute to the 96, in 2012, following a report into the Hillsborough disaster.

From a young age, we're taught to respect the police.  We see them as people who will help us if we're in need.  People who protect us.  And yes, there were many officers at Hillsborough that day who worked tirelessly to try to save lives and assist survivors.  But, right at the very top, there were senior officers from South Yorkshire Police Force who, from the very first minutes after the tragedy began to unfold, were seeking to place blame where it did not belong, in order to cover their own backsides.  And they didn't just lie, they needlessly smeared the victims, survivors and other Liverpool supporters.  They referred to them as a "tanked-up mob."  They suggested that the Liverpool fans were drunken, violent thieves.  The press accepted those lies as truth and published them, whilst those who were truly guilty of causing the deaths of 96 people continued with their lives unaffected.  Senior politicians repeated those lies, whilst the families of the victims continued their dignified pursuit of the truth.  In short, what took place at Hillsborough led to one of the most shameful cover-ups in British history.  Yesterday's verdict finally gave us the truth and exonerated those who had been so viciously smeared:  The 96 fans who died as a result of the crush at Hillsborough stadium were unlawfully killed.  The Liverpool supporters did nothing to bring on the disaster.

As I said, mistakes can be apologised for and rectified.  The opening of the gate and the failure to close off the tunnel to the central pens could, if you're being lenient, be referred to as a mistake.  But the resulting cover up was no mistake.  It was a cold, calculated attempt to escape blame by instead placing it on the shoulders of those who were no longer there to defend themselves.  And, for a shamefully long time, it worked.  Plenty of people from all walks of life fell for the lies and the smears. 

But then the tide began to turn.  Then, we finally started to listen to the families of those who never returned from that football match.  We started to question what we were being told about events that day.

Now, the families finally have the verdict they always believed their loved ones deserved.  The complicated web of lies spun by South Yorkshire Police and the press have been sensationally unpicked for all to see.  

But there is more that needs to be done.  96 people were unlawfully killed and an elaborate cover-up staged; those responsible need to be brought to justice.

Floral tributes at Hillsborough.

We have to send a very clear message that the people of Britain will never stand for another cover-up on this scale.  We must ensure that those with blood on their hands - who spent so many years trying to evade the truth - are brought to account.

As a six and a half year old girl, I sat on the floor of the lounge, watching the tragedy at Hillsborough unfolding, thinking: "That's someone's Daddy."  Fifty eight children lost a parent that day.  Thirty eight of the victims were children or teenagers.  We use the term "the ninety six," but we must never forget that these were people, not numbers.  They were parents, brothers, sisters, friends and partners, all with hopes, dreams and families awaiting their safe return.  That safe return never came and the responsibility for those ninety six deaths rests upon shoulders that have yet to face any real consequences for the events of that day.

Imagine losing a loved one in a shocking, violent manner and being force-fed lies about how and why they died.  That's what happened to the families of those killed at Hillsborough.  The cover-up shames our police, our press and every single politician who repeated the lies, or insisted there was no need for further investigation into the disaster. 

Now, we know the truth in no uncertain terms.  And we must applaud the dignified, determined campaign led by the families of those lost at Hillsborough, for never giving up hope that the full truth would, one day, come out.  We must honour the memory of those whose lives were taken so needlessly, by ensuring that none of this ever happens again.  

Only by moving forward in a world where justice prevails and where those responsible for human tragedy are not allowed to simply wash their hands of guilt, can we truly show the families of the men, women and children who died at Hillsborough, that they do not - and will never - walk alone.

Bedtime Story (27/4/2016)

At the time of writing, Storm Katie has been battering parts of the UK and it's been rather rainy, the last few days AND nights!  So, here's a story about being kept awake by the rain.

To listen to this week's bedtime story as a podcast, click this link.

One Rainy Night

Ellie's room was dark and her bed was cosy.  It was late and she was tired.  But Ellie wasn't asleep.

Outside, in the black night, the wind howled and the rain hammered against Ellie's bedroom window.  It was much too loud for her to sleep.

Ellie shuffled out from beneath her warm, snug duvet and reached for the lamp beside her bed.  She switched it on and her room was filled with a soft glow of light.  She slid out of bed and padded to the window, peeping out through the curtains into the darkness, beyond.  

The rain was flowing down the road outside, like a little stream.  Droplets snaked their way across her window pane, making everything look blurry and strange.  The tree outside her house blew wildly in the wind.  Ellie shivered and hurried back to bed.  She yawned and decided she should try to sleep, however hard it was.

She switched off the lamp and squeezed her eyes shut.  She thought of nice, comforting things - she even tried counting sheep - but it didn't work.  The rain carried on banging against her window and the wind kept on blustering.  

Ellie tried wriggling down in her bed, with her whole head beneath the duvet.  She wrapped herself up like a sausage roll and placed her hands over her ears.  But she could still hear the weather outside and she still couldn't sleep.

Crawling out from beneath the duvet, Ellie switched the lamp back on and climbed out of bed, once more.  She tiptoed to her chest of drawers and pulled out a pair of ear muffs and a woolly hat.  Sneaking back to bed, Ellie put on the ear muffs and the hat and lay back down.  If her ears were covered, surely the noise outside couldn't keep her awake?!  

Her plan worked - for a little while.  But soon, Ellie's head began to feel hot and the ear muffs made it uncomfortable to sleep on her side.  Groaning, she flung the hat and ear muffs onto the floor.  Outside, the wind had picked up and it sounded as though there were hail stones mixed in with the rain.  They bashed against the window, furiously.  Ellie yawned, rubbed her eyes and tried to think of something else...

She got up again and tugged at her duvet, until it fell from the bed.  She scooped it up in her arms and grabbed her pillow.  Slowly, she crept out of her bedroom and into the bathroom.  The bathroom was at the back of the house and she reckoned that just maybe, she wouldn't be able to hear the weather so badly, in there.

Ellie was right!  The wind was still howling, but she couldn't hear the rain anywhere near as badly, once she'd closed the bathroom door behind her.  She positioned her pillows and duvet in the bath and carefully climbed in.

It was cold in the bathroom.  And trying to sleep wasn't all that easy.  The sides of the bath felt hard and chilly against Ellie's skin.  Then the tap started to drip and her feet got wet.  Besides, Ellie started to worry that one of her parents would need the toilet in the night and she'd give them a fright when they saw her, lying in the bath.  She groaned and gathered up her things, before plodding back to her room.

The wind howled and the rain continued to pour.  Ellie grumbled to herself, as she remade her bed.  Her eyelids felt heavy and all she wanted to do was sleep, but the weather outside was just too noisy.

Ellie headed to the wooden chest where she kept lots of her toys.  She rummaged around inside, until she found an old teddy bear she'd had since she was a baby.  At the back of the bear was a little key.  Ellie knew that if she wound the key, the bear would play a soft, soothing tune.  Maybe if she concentrated on that, it would overpower the sound of the storm outside?  Ellie wound the key and brought the bear back to bed with her.  She snuggled down under the duvet again, with her head beneath the covers, and she lay the bear right next to her ear.  But the little tune only played for a minute or so, before Ellie had to wind the key back up again.  After several times, her arm began to hurt and she was fed up of having to open her eyes and repeat the same thing over and over.

Ellie poked her head out from beneath the duvet and blinked at the window.  "Stop being so loud," she begged the rain and the wind.  "I'm trying to sleep!"

A little ray of sunlight began to peep through the curtains.  Ellie lay on her back and watched as her room got lighter; turning pink, then orange as the sun started to rise.  The rain began to slow and the wind died down.  Finally, it was quiet!  Ellie smiled to herself and closed her eyes...

Just a few minutes later, the door to Ellie's bedroom creaked open and her mum stepped inside.  "Ellie?  Are you alright?  The weather was ever so bad last night, wasn't it?"

But Ellie didn't say a word in response.  She lay, snuggled up beneath her duvet, fast asleep at last.


Saturday, 23 April 2016

Happy St. George's Day

Today is St. George's Day.  It's meant to be a day to celebrate the Patron Saint of England (and therefore celebrate England itself), but, predictably - and depressingly - the day has, as is so often the case, been used by some of this island's racist morons (every country has them!) to spout bigoted nonsense.

Because ridiculous idiots like to use today to preach anti-English hate to anyone who'll listen, a huge number of their fellow countrymen and women tend to ignore the day completely, lest they're lumped in with the Nigel Farages of the world.

But I say no.

I say today doesn't have to be a day given over to ignorant racists, who want to "keep England for the English," nor do we have to pretend it doesn't exist, for fear of being accused of being a UKIP supporter.

I am proud to be English and I think it's about time we reclaimed today from the "no more immigrants" brigade and simply celebrate what makes our nation great.  

Exhibit A.

And you know what?  One of the things that does make our nation great is that we are so multicultural.  England is a nation made up of all kinds of ethnicities, contributing to a dynamic society.  The irony is that pretty much every single one of those morons who use St. George's Day as an excuse to wave a flag and preach against "immigrants," would, if they traced their family history back far enough, discover that they're not 100% English.  I'm a quarter Greek Cypriot, so I can most definitely say I'm not "pure."  But I identify as English and surely that's the important bit?  This funny little country is my home and I love it and I welcome anyone who wants to contribute to it and who will love it as much as I do.

And that's the thing about the English.  Take away the rotten apples and you'll find that, on the whole, we're a very welcoming, polite bunch.  The kind of people you could literally bump into on the street, who would instantly apologise to you for being in your way.  That's not to say we're a load of pushovers.  Oh, no.  We're the type to stand our ground.  But we have a fantastic line in sarcastic responses, rather than outright insults.  On the whole, we'd really rather roll our eyes and tut than start yelling and screaming.

That said, we can do "passionate" when necessary.  I mean, look at the way we support our national sports teams.  It's pretty much universally acknowledged that England are almost always the underdogs.  At everything.  But when it's time for the football World Cup, we'll stick tacky flags to our cars, sing the national anthem with (usually slightly inebriated) pride and we'll tell ourselves that it doesn't matter that it's been fifty bloody years since we won it; THIS IS OUR GAME AND WE CAN DO IT.


And then we cry when we get kicked out of the contest in a penalty shoot-out.  

We don't just get behind our sports teams, either.  The English are rightly proud of the art that has come from this little island.  We might be a small nation, but we've given the world The Beatles, Queen and The Rolling Stones (and One Direction... Sorry).  We've given you Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters and, more recently, JK Rowling.  Bored of music and literature and want something funny, instead?  Try Morecambe and Wise, Monty Python, Victoria Wood or Bill Bailey.  Even our YouTube stars are massive all over the world.  England is a hotbed of creative talent in all fields and we should be proud of that fact.  

England is a place where puns are used with gleeful abandon, everyone moans about the weather (no matter what it's doing) and nobody can resist a queue.  It's a country with a love of dogs, tea and double entendres.  It's a place where the accent changes dramatically from one end of the country to the other.  It's a land in which the countryside is breathtakingly beautiful and the cities are full of character.  The people of England are too varied to be put into boxes; for all the stereotypes (some of which I've happily gone along with for this blog), English people are a real mixed bag and that is a good thing.

But one thing we usually do have in common is that good old Bulldog spirit.  We merrily insult every other county in England, besides the one we live in, yet we'll join together to slag off any country that throws shade our way.  We'll fight our corner when necessary and that makes us tough cookies.  And when we do fight, we do so fairly, because if there's one thing that's ever so English, it's playing by the rules.

We are, on the whole, a nation of people who believe in fairness.  That's why we take to the streets to protest when things aren't fair.  That's why we've fought for what's right over the years, from votes for women to gay marriage.  Don't be fooled into believing that the English are a stuffy, uptight bunch.  We're more forward-thinking and passionate than you might have thought.

We're also generally self-deprecating enough to laugh at ourselves and our nation.  We know England isn't perfect and we're the first to take the mick.  We don't take ourselves anywhere near as seriously as the inhabitants of other countries around the globe seem to.  But when it counts, we can come together as one to sort out the serious stuff.

England is a beautiful place with a diverse population and a unique character.  It's home and I love it.  And I'm not ashamed of that.

Happy St. George's Day.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Bedtime Story (20/4/2016)

One for anyone who has or works with children... Enjoy!

To listen to this story as a podcast, click here!

Caspar's Busy Day

Caspar was always on the go,
He didn't believe in taking it slow.
His energy levels were at ten out of ten,
From the moment he woke, 'till he was sleeping, again.

He'd get up at five and want food right away,
No matter what his exhausted mother would say.
Then he'd insist on going out to the park,
Where Caspar would run, screaming, from dusk until dark.

Nothing for Caspar was ever quite right;
His mood swings gave his poor mum a fright.
"I want toast," he'd shout every morning.
Then he'd refuse to eat it, "because toast is boring."

He demanded chocolate and toys from each shop,
And when Mum said no, he'd throw a huge strop.
Caspar was always wanting attention.
His behaviour caused his mum the most terrible tension.

He'd have a tantrum when it came to having a bath.
And when his mum told him "no," he would just laugh.
And Caspar was never ready for bed;
He'd much rather stay up and keep playing, instead.

Caspar ran rings around his poor mum,
Until one day, she shrieked: "Enough!  I'm done!
You need to calm down.  It's time for you to see.
Tomorrow you're going to look after me."

The next day dawned and just as always,
Caspar's hungry, loud voice echoed down the hallways.
But Mum didn't come running, no not this time.
Instead she shouted: "Bring me some breakfast!  Cereal's fine!"

Caspar was stunned as he went to the kitchen.
He wasn't used to having to pitch in.
He poured some cereal into a bowl,
Wondering what was his mum's secret goal?

Was she trying to trick him?  "Ha, she won't win!"
Caspar thought as he raided the biscuit tin.
He took Mum her breakfast, then jumped on her bed.
"Time for the park!"  He excitedly said.

But to Caspar's horror, Mum shook her head. "No!
You're looking after me and I don't want to go."
Instead, she ate one mouthful of cereal and groaned.
"I don't want this anymore, take it back," she moaned.

Caspar trudged back, with the bowl in his hands,
Already tired of his mother's demands.
But Mum wasn't done yet, not even close.
She was thinking of something Caspar hated the most...

"Take me shopping!"  Mum suddenly cried.
Caspar wanted to run away and hide.
But Mum wouldn't let him - no, not today.
So once Mum was dressed, they were on their way.

"I want a toy!"  Mum yelled in the shop.
Caspar's cheeks turned bright red.  Why wouldn't she stop?!
"Buy me a toy!"  Mum screeched.  "Where's your money?!"
Caspar blinked back at her.  "Mum, stop, it's not funny..."

They left the shop with nothing at all,
And Mum started walking along a high wall.
"Come down from there," Caspar said, with a hiss.
"Why should I?" Mum snapped.  "I like doing this!"

By the time they got home, Caspar was tired,
But Mum was still unbelievably wired!
"What's for dinner?" She grumpily complained.
"I don't know... I can't cook," Caspar explained.

He stumbled to the kitchen and found butter and bread.
"Shall I make you a sandwich?"  He anxiously said.
"Cut all the crusts off," his mum replied.
"Or I won't eat it and I'll just cry and cry!"

So, they sat together, eating plain bread and butter,
With hardly a word said to one another.
Caspar tried to watch his favourite show on TV,
Whilst Mum jumped up and down on the settee.

Caspar's eyelids were getting so droopy,
He couldn't stand much more, so he said "excuse me,
Can we go to bed now?" But Mum shook her head.
"I won't go to sleep, I'm not tired!" She said.

So for another hour, Mum jumped, danced and sang,
She threw things and shouted and clattered and banged.
Finally, Caspar knew what to do.
"I promise tomorrow, I'll be good for you!"

His Mum stopped her noise and she smiled back at him.
"Really?"  She asked, with a victorious grin.
"Really," said Caspar.  "Just you wait and see.
Just please say you'll look after me."

"I always will," his mum said, with a smile.
"Just please try to calm down, once in a while."
Caspar gave her a cuddle and nodded his head.
"I will, but right now, I just need my bed."

And with a kiss goodnight, Caspar was on his way,
At the end of his very busiest day.


Monday, 18 April 2016


Yep, I actually got under the bed.  Thankfully, there were no monsters.

So, you know how it is, when you're looking for something and can't quite remember where you put it?  I had one of those moments, this morning.  I was searching around for this thing and I suddenly thought: "Aha!  I BET it's under my bed!"

Now, I'll level with you.  I'm a pretty tidy, relatively organised person.  But under my bed is what I can only describe as a war zone of clutter.  Seriously, if ever my room looks particularly neat, it's generally because anything that could make the place look messy has been shoved under the bed and forgotten about.  So, venturing under that thing is a serious case of not knowing what you might find.

Because sharing is caring, I figured why not take you guys with me on my bold mission?!

The first thing I realised I have a lot of under my bed, was dust.

Like... Health hazard levels of dust.  I'm asthmatic and believe me, had I realised just how much dust there was under there, I'd have nuked my room.  Or... You know, cleaned under the bed a lot more thoroughly than I obviously have been.  The shame.  It burns.

The horror.  Dear GOD, the horror.

Thankfully, once I'd wiped and scrubbed and brushed the dust away (and essentially bathed in antibacterial gel for at least ten minutes), I could get on with the job in hand.  The serious job of LOOKING FOR THE THING.

I have a big, floral chest under my bed (ironically, to provide storage to ensure against clutter...Ha, that one worked well), so my first thought was that what I was looking for was probably in that.

So, I opened the floral chest and discovered that what was actually inside it, was...


For some reason, best known only to myself (except I can't really tell you), I've been hoarding all the 911 posters I used to have on my bedroom walls as a hormonal super-fan (side note, I have a YouTube channel and I recently uploaded a video about unacceptable fan behaviour and it's quite funny, so go watch it!).  I have rarely felt as ancient as when I noted the presence of so many singles bought on cassette tape.  Downloads schmoundloads...

But the thing I wanted wasn't in there, so my mission continued.  And pretty soon, I realised that those 911/Take That cassettes weren't the only ones lurking under my bed.  Far from it.

My music taste has always been... Eclectic.

Who here remembers Alisha's Attic?!  How amazing was Alisha Rules The World?!  Damn, I need to go YouTube that immediately.  I mean... Immediately after I finish this.

So, by this point, I had established that beneath my bed was not only the dustiest place in the freaking world, but also serves as some kind of time capsule to media gone by.  It therefore shouldn't have been a surprise, when I also discovered this:

Ah, the joys of having to rewind a tape back to the beginning...

Because teenage Emma was clearly not as obsessively organised as adult Emma is thought she was before going under her bed, hardly any of those blank VHS tapes are labelled.  And seeing as I have no way of playing them, we can only guess at what kind of stuff I might have thought was so important, that I needed to own it forever.  Top Of The Pops?  Home movies?  WE MAY NEVER GET THE ANSWERS WE NEED.

Thankfully, outdated multimedia is not the only thing I keep under my bed.  Oh, no.  Like all perfectly normal adults, I also have a dressing up box.  And, until I opened it to film my aforementioned YouTube video the other day, I had literally no idea just how many wigs I have.

Spoiler: it's a lot.

Crammed into this tiny box, I found tutus, a devil tail, Where's Wally glasses & hat, mouse ears and all sorts of other dressing-up goodies.  In fact, it turns out that I have so much of this stuff, that it has spilled out into the central region of "Under The Bed Land," where you'll find hats of all descriptions, cheerleading pom-poms and various random props.

I own this stuff because I am a grown up and if I want to play dress-up, I flipping well will.

And I frequently do.

I won't lie to you, guys.  It was at this  point that the trip beneath the bed took a turn for the unexpectedly weird.  

For example, I used to have an enormous keyboard under there (of the musical variety; I'm not just so small that I need giant computer equipment), which I moved to the garage during a clear-out a year or so ago, because it was taking up so much space.

And yet, for some bizarre reason, I kept the music stand that slots into the top of said keyboard under my bed, lying there utterly useless.  Sitting proudly on said stand, is the very music book my piano teacher and I would go through when I was a kid having piano lessons.  I was about ten years old, back then.  And the book is still there on the stand.  My dedication to practising the piano is either a marvel to behold or not worth mentioning.  I can't decide which.

I can still play certain songs by memory, though.  YAY ME!

I then came across a box, which I thought might contain something exciting, like old photos, a winning lottery ticket or a portal to a mystic dimension.  But no.  It contained the scariest pile of wires I've seen in a long while and I have literally no clue what any of them do, or what they're supposed to connect to.


For all I know, I could have the parts to build my very own TARDIS under my bed, just gathering dust next to my two Cleopatra singles (don't judge my teenage life choices), but I am a technophobe and it's safe to say that this box got shoved back under the bed very quickly...

And what should be right next to that box of wires?

Makes sense.

Don't we all have a random bread bin, under our beds?!  

But the most random thing I found, whilst crawling around in a most inelegant fashion, was a large, brown folder.  It said something about a hospital on the front and was dated September 1st, 1998.  I would have been ten days away from my 16th birthday.  How intriguing!  What could this possibly be?  Maybe I was about to discover that I have superpowers, due to some kind of secret testing that I've had all memories of erased?!

Well... Not quite.

My hips don't lie.

The hilarious thing is that as soon as I saw this X-ray of my hips (one is slightly dislocated; it's why I can't do the splits - or that's the excuse I use, anyway), I vividly remembered it being taken in the first place.  I saw a doctor called Alex.  He was newly trained and in his twenties.  I basically fell in love with him and as he manipulated my legs, to check how my dislocated hip was affecting my movement, I nearly blurted out: "YOU ARE THE MOST BEAUTIFUL CREATURE I HAVE EVER SEEN."

He had black, emo-ish hair, big eyes and a very cute smile.

My "type" hasn't changed much, has it?!

I did not find Phil under my bed.  Colour me disappointed.

By the time I crawled out from under the bed, I had completely forgotten what it was that I had been looking for in the first place.  But it turns out that an unexpected trip down memory lane is always a nice way to spend a morning, even if it does include scary wires, random images of bones and a whole heap of dust.

Dear God, the dust.

I'm off to clean...

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Everything Must Go - All The Tracks, Ranked!

In 1996, a band called the Manic Street Preachers released what many people assumed was their debut album, Everything Must Go.  It was a record that shot them to fame, won them Brit awards and made them one of Britain's most loved rock bands.  But it wasn't their debut album.  It was their fourth.

Everything Must Go rose out of the ashes of the Manics' past - the loss of lyricist Richey Edwards (missing since 1995, presumed dead), the bombastic statements, the tight, white jeans and thick, black eyeliner.  The truth was, this was a band who had already been through more image changes, more musical styles and more drama by the time Everything Must Go came out, than most bands do in their entire careers.  

In the twenty years since the album was released - to immediate critical acclaim - the musical landscape has changed dramatically.  But Everything Must Go is still considered a masterpiece and rightfully so.  

So, what better way to celebrate its twentieth anniversary than by ranking the tracks?!  

Tell me you're not THIS excited.
Actually, don't.

Now, before I start, let me make it plain: there is not a track on this album that I don't like.  To me, Everything Must Go is as close to perfect as it could possibly get.  So, the song at number twelve on this list isn't a bad song (in my eyes), it's just not as epic as some of the others.

With that in mind, let's get cracking...

12. Kevin Carter

Kevin Carter has so many good points - I mean, who doesn't love a Sean Moore trumpet solo (or a video in which he dramatically dies?!)?  It's catchy, it's stuffed full of those kind of lyrics that only Richey could possibly have written (he contributed to several songs on this album, prior to his disappearance) and it has some marvellous "ooh-ing" that you can't help but join in with.  

The trouble is, this is an album full of great songs.  One of them has to slot into last place in this chart and, for me, it's this one.  I've heard it live so many times that it's become a little predictable.

But I still bloody love it.

11. Removables

I literally can't reiterate enough: I LOVE EVERY SONG ON THIS ALBUM.  

Removables is another Richey lyric, so it pains me to put it low down in this list, because I'm an unashamed Richey-girl.  

This song could almost have been on The Holy Bible, with its crunchy guitars, shouty chorus and existential lyrics.  "Killed God, blood-soiled, skin dead again..."  But with that stroke of magic that he always brings to whatever he does, James Dean Bradfield has turned an angry, angsty song into something worthy of its place on a soaring, strangely euphoric-sounding album.  It's underrated - another reason I wish I could place it higher - and brilliant, but on an album with so many songs that make you feel like you're flying, this one just doesn't lift me up quite as high as others do.

10. Interiors (Song For Willem de Kooning)

I was torn about where this should go.  Should it go before Removables?  After Australia?  In the end, I stuck it in between.

There's something beautifully wistful about this song,  It looks to the future with new eyes, yet there's a sense of longing for the past.  It's powerful, in many ways it's incredibly raw and like everything on Everything Must Go, it smacks you in the face with emotion.  The bass line in the verses is worth a blog post all of its own; don't tell me that all Nicky Wire does is stand around, looking good in a skirt.

Although, he does do that, too...

9. Australia

Honestly, truly, I don't think ranking anything has ever been as hard as ranking the tracks on this album.  I'm listening to Australia right now and pretty much counting down the days until I see the Manics play this entire album in full, next month.


I mentioned earlier that this whole album has a "euphoric" sound and this song is no exception.  The sweeping chorus, the fantastic drum build-up at the end of the guitar solo (will Sean Moore ever get the credit he deserves for his musical genius?!) and the perfect backing vocals all add up to create something that borders on the spectacular.  Much like Kevin Carter, this is only so low down the list because I've seen the band live so many times, it's not as exciting as it used to be.

What a fantastic problem to have.

8.  Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier

One of my favourite album-openers of all time, Elvis... does something only the Manics could do.  It takes a casual swipe at American culture, via a cheap tribute act in a town in Lancashire.  Because of course it does.  This is the Manic Street Preachers, for crying out loud, what else did you expect?!

The sound of waves gently breaking on the shore, accompanied by a soft, almost dream-like harp opens the song, before it rips into guitars and drums and a sing-along tune to die for.

Why can't I just put all these tracks at number one?!

7. The Girl Who Wanted To Be God

Remember earlier, when I said that some songs on this album make you feel like you're flying?  This is the one I was thinking of, first and foremost.  The soaring strings over the chorus and the epic nature of the song in general made it my favourite song on the album, on first listen (many moons ago).  Having gotten into the Manics in a big way in 1999 (I'd liked them since 1996, but not enough to buy an album until '99), I loved that this song appeared to be referencing Sylvia Plath (I was a tortured teen, what can I say?!) and I would play it over and over, singing my heart out.

Something I just totally did at the age of 33 and loved every minute all over again.

6. Further Away

The band who swore they'd never write a love song did just that with this track.  And hey, if you're going to break a promise, you may as well break it in style.  This is a love song that is quintessentially Manics, with the vivid lyrics ("The stiller the oxygen the harder you breathe, the draining away, just like an old man's dreams"), the pounding drums and the chiming guitars.  I would lay money that many a Manics fan has played this song when they've been missing someone.

Being single, maybe I'll just have it on repeat until Dan and Phil get back from their American tour...

5. Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky

Listen to The Holy Bible (the Manics' previous album) and you would be forgiven for believing that this band would never release a track that was backed by just an acoustic guitar and a harp, and on which James Dean Bradfield would sound heart-swellingly beautiful as he sang tear-jerking lyrics about animals in captivity.  But the Manics are a band full of surprises, as this genuinely gorgeous acoustic track on the middle of the album proves.

It's hard not to listen to Richey's lyrics about caged animals longing for freedom, without wondering whether he was really alluding to his own feelings of being trapped and wanting to escape.  But that's hindsight, for you.

All I know is that this is a song that still, after all these years, has the power to make me cry.  I spent a long time wanting "here chewing your tail is joy" as a tattoo (before settling on a different, much later Manics lyric, which I had inked on me for my 30th birthday).  This song is beautiful and if you listen to no other song on this list, at least click "play" on this one.

4. Everything Must Go

The title track was a brave move by the Manics.  A song about escaping their past and letting go of their troubled history, directly addressing the fans regarding their decision to carry on in the absence of Richey ("and I just hope that you can forgive us") is something lesser bands would have shied away from.  Not these guys.  All I can say is James, Nicky and Sean either have balls of steel or more honesty than any other band out there.

I suspect it's both.

What I know for sure is that this song, with its frankly majestic string section and emotive lyrics (not to mention the use of cherry blossom in the video) is a firm favourite of mine and always will be.  And of course, it's the song during which Kirstie and I will always sing "come and be my f*cking baby" over the final chords.

3. Enola/Alone

Let's play an exciting game that I like to call "WHY THE HELL WASN'T THIS A SINGLE?!"

Everything about this song is perfect.  The wistful, sometimes gut-wrenching lyrics, the chord progression, the vocals...  This would have stormed the charts, had the band decided to release it as a single, I have no doubt, whatsoever.  It's a pure shot of pop-rock that floods your veins with a strange kind of hopeful longing.  If it sounds like I'm gushing here, it's because I am.  I wish more people knew this song.  I wish more people understood the pain and the hard-won acceptance behind the lyrics.  I wish more people were awake right now, so I could rant at them...

2. No Surface All Feeling

I am going to need some emergency YouTube videos to help me cope with my tears, because damn.  

There aren't enough words to convey what I feel about this song.  If it sounds beautifully raw, it's because it's essentially a demo, recorded before Richey disappeared.  Yep, that's right; our boys ended their first album without Richey, with Richey (technically; Richey's lack of guitar-playing on almost all recorded Manics tracks is pretty legendary).  And they end the album with a song in which they sing about it being "no surface, but all feeling."  MY HEART HURTS.

Right at the end, there's an echoey drumbeat and a long guitar solo tacked on - that's the only bit added, post-Richey.  It's like a musical nod to the band's decision to carry on without him and the subtle difference in sound carries a weight that would break other bands.

This song is stunning, there is no other word for it.  The downbeat verses, the sudden crash of guitars into the power-chord laden chorus and the change of tempo that comes with it... Stunning.

If it wasn't for the presence of the greatest song in the freaking world being on this album, then this track would be number one all day long.


1. Design For Life

In every generation a slayer is born, a song comes along that everyone just knows.  Even if it's the only song by that band or artist, everyone knows it, whether they realise they know it or not.  For my generation, one of those pivotal songs was Design For Life.  Whether you're someone who takes the "we don't care about love, we only wanna get drunk" line literally, or a hardcore Manics fan who knows the true meaning behind this pop-rock classic, it doesn't really matter.  As soon as you hear that distinctive riff at the start, you know what's about to happen.

And what's going to happen, is you're going to have your socks rocked off.

There is nothing - nothing - more powerful at the end of a Manics gig, than hearing that opening refrain and seeing the look on James Dean Bradfield's face as he tells the audience "the second verse is yours," before you hear thousands of voices joining as one to sing back Nicky Wire's words to him.  Hands in the air, fists clenched, voices screeching until they're hoarse...  It's the moment you realise this isn't just a song.  It's an anthem.

You know how I said some songs on this album make you feel like you're flying.  This one bloody soars.

Drowned in strings, yet still laden with strong guitar, this is one of those songs that grabs you by the chest and doesn't let go, even after the last echoey drumbeat has sounded.  I will never, ever, ever stop loving this song.

Damn right.

Ranking these tracks has been much, much harder than I expected it to be.  And I can tell already that I'll come back to this blog and wish I'd changed the order, in places.  But for now, this is my Everything Must Go ranking, tell me yours.

Manics in-jokes for the win.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Bedtime Story (13/4/2016)

They say write about what you know and I can definitely say that I've had my "Annabelle moments" over the years...

To listen to this week's story as a podcast, click  

What's In The Loft?

Annabelle had never thought about that square in the ceiling, before.  It had just always been there.  She didn't even know it led to anywhere.

But then, one evening, Dad had been searching all over the house for something, when eventually Mum told him she thought it was in "the loft."  Annabelle had watched her dad fetch the ladder from the garage and drag it upstairs.  She watched him set it up on the landing.  She watched him climb the ladder and, to her surprise, she watched the square in the ceiling open up to reveal a very dark, spooky looking place beyond.

Annabelle hadn't stayed to watch any longer, after that.  She'd scurried back downstairs in a bit of a panic.

Why was there a whole room in her house that she didn't know about?  Why could you only get to it by climbing up a wobbly ladder?  And why did it have to be so dark up there?

Days passed by, but Annabelle couldn't stop thinking about the loft.  And the more she thought about it, the more she worried about what might be up there.  It was dark and cold - surely the perfect place for a monster to hide?!  

A thousand scary thoughts swirled around Annabelle's head.

Maybe a vampire lived in the loft?  She decided to sleep with her head under the covers, just in case.

From then on, every morning, when Annabelle woke up, she'd tiptoe to her bedroom door, then glance along the corridor and up at the ceiling, to make sure that the square-shaped hatch was firmly shut.  She was scared that something might jump out as she walked past, so she had to be careful.  

Every night, when Annabelle went to bed, she'd do the same checks.  If there was something scary in the loft, she needed to be on high alert.  

Annabelle still wasn't sure what was up there, but she was certain it was scary.  It had to be - the loft was too dark and creepy for anything nice to be in there!  It was probably full of spiders.  Or maybe bats.  Even worse, it might be full of ghosts or zombies!  Annabelle shuddered - there was no way she wanted to bump into a spooky ghost in the middle of the night...  She wondered if her dad could put a lock on the loft hatch and keep it shut forever, to prevent any monsters from getting out.  

Just in case the monsters ever did escape, Annabelle decided to sleep with her water pistol by her bed.  That way, she could squirt them if they ever came into her room at night and she'd be able to run away, whilst they were still rubbing their eyes.

Eventually, with all the strange tiptoeing, the water pistol and the worried faces Annabelle was pulling, her parents began to realise something was wrong.  And it wasn't long before they worked out just what was making Annabelle so scared.

"There's nothing scary in the loft," her dad chuckled.  "Just a lot of old junk!"

Annabelle wasn't convinced.  Junk could easily be used to make a spaceship and a loft would be a great place for scary aliens to hide...

"Honestly, you don't have to be frightened," her mum went on.  "It's just where we keep bits and bobs we don't want cluttering up the rest of the house."

But Annabelle shook her head.  She reckoned a dark, spider-filled loft would make an ideal home for a wicked witch...

In the end, Annabelle's dad stood up and held out his hand.  "Come on," he said.  "I'll take you up there and show you there's nothing to be afraid of."

Annabelle couldn't believe her ears.  If she went up to the loft, the witch might turn her into a toad!  Or an alien might take her away to a distant planet!   Or a monster might eat her for his tea!  

Annabelle shook her head, but it was no use; Mum had already gone to get the ladder.  Before she knew what was going on, Annabelle was standing on the landing, at the foot of the ladder, staring up at that familiar square in the ceiling...

"I'll go up first," Dad told her.  "Then mum will hold the ladder whilst you climb up.  Go very slowly.  I'll help you when you get to the top."  He flicked a switch on a little handheld lamp.  "It won't be dark, either," he promised.

Annabelle's legs shook as she climbed.  She was absolutely certain she was about to be chased by a vampire, or tricked by a goblin.  As she reached the top of the ladder, her dad gently lifted her into the loft and Annabelle squeezed her eyes shut, tight.  She stayed like that for a while, too scared to open them again.  Then, from somewhere in the corner, she heard music.  Happy, jingly music.  Christmas music.  Annabelle opened one eye and followed the sound.

"I bumped into the box where we keep all the Christmas decorations," Dad laughed.  "Set off that musical bauble your mum likes so much!"

Annabelle opened both eyes and looked around.  It was a strange looking place - lots of wooden beams and the odd cobweb here and there, but no monsters.  Lots of boxes, but no vampires or ghosts.  There was spongy looking yellow stuff in between the wooden beams, but no zombies, or bats.  It was just a bit of a cold, funny smelling, slightly pointy looking room with lots of clutter in it.  Annabelle even recognised a box of her old baby toys.

"See?"  Dad smiled.  "Nothing to be scared of, up here."

Annabelle nodded.  She managed a smile.  It wasn't so creepy up there after all, but it was quite chilly and a little bit weird.  She had fun looking at her old toys and baby clothes, but she was still secretly a bit pleased when Dad said it was time to go back down the ladder, again.

From then on, Annabelle wasn't scared of the loft.  She knew that the only things hiding up there were toys, Christmas decorations and boxes of old clothes.  The square in the ceiling went back to being something she barely noticed.

But she still slept with her water pistol by her bed.

Because you never know...