Why has no-one asked us if we actually want another Monarch..?

An aging monarch has died, rather suddenly, and without a second thought the Establishment has fired up the archaic, grinding, heavy machinery that will install a replacement. There has been no pause, no chance for people to think about the role of the royal family, and whether we want to continue with this ancient, undemocratic regime.

The history of the monarchy is one of oppression and cruelty, of ultra-privilege for the lucky few, and of extreme poverty for the majority. The role, and power of the monarchy may be much reduced on what it was in the past, but we shouldn’t think of the king or queen as merely a symbol.

Remember that the monarch, as well as being the head of state, is also head of the church of England. What that means is that a nation made up of people of varying religious beliefs, and none, are effectively subservient to the established church. Remember that we are the only nation in the world, other than Iran, where religious leaders sit in government by right (the twenty-six bishops in the house of lords). Charles has, in the past, said that he doesn’t just want to represent the C of E; that he wants to be ‘Defender of faiths’ rather than ‘Defender of the faith’, but even that ignores and shuts out the majority of the population who don’t believe in religion.

Make no mistake, there are dark forces at play. The threatening, mysterious, unelected and unaccountable monster that is the City of London for instance, is central to the process of replacing one unelected head of state with another. The media has come together to promote the Establishment model of monarchy as a wonderful thing we should all love; setting the tone of sycophancy we are all expected to copy. Where are the dissenting voices? Who speaks for the large proportion of the population who have little respect for the royal family, and who don’t want them?

I know I’m not alone. There are many people who, like me, want to see the abolition of the monarchy. We believe in equality, the withdrawal of privilege as birth right, and the principal of the people having the right to elect leaders, rather than having them imposed upon us. We don’t believe that anyone in a free and fair society in the twenty-first century should be required to address one of their fellow human beings as ‘your majesty’. Who knows, maybe we’re even in a majority? Whether that’s the case or not, we deserve to be heard, and the people should have a choice.

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The Perfect Storm

I have a difficult relationship with throw-away metaphors like ‘The Perfect Storm’. They can be amusing. They can make language more colourful. And occasionally, they may even put across an idea more effectively and succinctly than plain language. But mostly, they do exactly the opposite.

Original pastel by Les Darlow

‘The Perfect Storm’ is perhaps the most over used metaphor-turned-cliche in the media today. Used casually, we assume we know what it means. Think about it a little more, and it seems a careless, inaccurate description – the opposite of what we actually mean to say. Maybe it’s just my obsessive mind, but picture this…

The Perfect Storm

You’re walking through a beautiful, imagined English landscape of soft contours, with fields and hedgerows, and little copses dotted around. It’s mid-afternoon on a hot day. There’s no breeze, and the air feels stale. The land is dry, but not excessively so (we’re in England). But it needs rain. It’s been warm and dry for a week or more, but today, there’s an increased humidity, making the heat stifling.

But then, you notice a line of cloud rising up from the horizon, and quite quickly, even as you watch, great towers of cumuli-nimbus bubble up, creating fantastical shapes and effects. There’s movement in the air now, and the wind builds – not to a gale, or a tornado, but a warm breeze that gently soothes away the discomforting heat. There’s a flash, followed soon after by the deep bass rumble of thunder. The animated cloud moves closer, obliterating the blue of the sky.

There’s another flash of lighting, and then another, followed in quick succession by thunder. Now the cloud is almost overhead, and the first drops of rain begin to fall. But you don’t run for cover. The rain is warm, and you welcome it with arms outstretched, face turned up to the sky. The raindrops splash on your face, building in intensity, until it’s like standing under a warm shower; refreshing and exhilarating, making you feel more alive than you’ve felt for a long time.

In less than five minutes, enough rain falls to rejuvenate the parched landscape. And then it stops. You can see the rain falling from the clouds as they move away, and as the sun emerges once more, a rainbow appears, brighter, and more intensely coloured than any you can remember having seen before. The wind has dropped to the slightest of breezes, the air is cooler and fresher, but still comfortably warm. There is a moist, earthy smell rising from the ground, and you can almost hear seeds swelling, and plants drawing moisture up into their leaves. The sun, re-instated, warms and dries you as you continue with your walk. All is, indeed, well with the world…

That’s how I would describe the perfect storm. But ‘The Perfect Storm’ is used to mean a situation where numerous factors combine to make it as bad as it could be; rain so heavy as to cause landslides, wind strong enough to destroy buildings, and lighting strikes that take out the power network. All of which is anything but perfect.

During my time in the IT industry I faced an on-going struggle to get my colleagues to use plain English. Reports intended to communicate processes and policy to a wide audience, with varying IT knowledge, would end up being unintelligible to anyone who wasn’t up to date with an ever-changing, ever more absurd catalogue of in-crowd clichés. I think people in most industries will have experienced something similar. Clichés tend to confuse the meaning of language – it’s easier to repeat a popular metaphor than to actually consider what it is you want to express. Words are the tools of the trade for the media. I wish they’d choose them more carefully…

text © graham wright 2022

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Why do we stand for the national anthem?

Double meaning intended!
I’m old enough to remember the queen’s silver jubilee. That at least was tempered by some robust criticism, as a friend recently reminded me (my own memory being only marginally better than that of a goldfish) by the Sex Pistols…

God save the queen,
She ain’t no human being,
There is no future
In England’s dreaming.[1.]

A clever piece of marketing, designed to appeal to the large proportion of the population who don’t want to be ‘reigned over’. That may have boosted sales, but in my opinion it was head and shoulders above most of the pop music of the time, and certainly of anything that’s around at the moment. Apparently it reached number one in the charts, but in a shameful, if not entirely unexpected act of censorship to appease the establishment, it was curiously missing from Top Of The Pops.

Forty-five years on, and this time around I hardly noticed any dissent – so much for progress! We’ve had to suffer weeks of sickening sycophancy by the media, with the royal frenzy cheer-led by the monarchy’s partner in crime (against the people) the Church of England.

But hearing the national anthem for the first time in a long time brought back into my mind a rather tricky ethical question – if I were to find myself at an event where the national anthem is played, and everyone else stands up, what do I do? This was very nearly tested a few weeks ago at the English Haydn Festival (yes I know; not very trendy, but Haydn’s music is considerably better even than that of the Pistols). The opening and closing concerts were to start with a rendition of the national anthem. In fact I decided only go to one concert from the week-long festival, so it was easy enough to avoid these two.

But the dilemma remains – what would I do if I were to find myself at an event where the anthem is played, and everyone is expected to get to their feet? For me the national anthem, which entreats a character I’m certain is fictional (god) to ‘save’ (whatever that means) a head of state there by right of birth, is an insult to my beliefs. The idea I should be expected to honour it by standing up is ‘like, against my human rights and shit’. What do I do? Remain resolutely seated, the subject of the disapproval of everyone around me, and risking verbal, or even physical abuse from one or more of my fellow human beings who happen to be joyfully unburdened by the affliction of free-thinking? Or abandon my own principles and stand to attention with the rest of the herd?

What would you do in my position?

text and ‘Black Jack’ image © graham wright 2022

[1.] NOTE: apologies for any offence caused to residents of Wales, Scotland & Northern Ireland, by the band failing to acknowledge that the UK is so much more than just England.

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Flash Fiction: The Streets Ran Red…

Flash Fiction is not a format I’ve tried before, but on holiday in Spain last week, I was inspired to have a go. Here’s the result…

Cold, damp and windy; strange weather for a holiday in the sun. At the Alcazabar – the hill Fort overlooking the pretty town of Antequera – the wind blew cold through the shivering cypresses. We climbed the bell tower, and then left just in time to avoid hearing the giant metal cone ring the hour. But we couldn’t stop the cold wind ringing through our heads.

Back at the entrance, ancient Moorish guitar music played through plastic outdoor speakers on an endless loop. Coffee was called for, and came, rich and complex, at a cafe at the bottom of the hill, accompanied by indulgent, flavoursome cakes. Outside, the plaza was alive with an eruption of excited school children frolicking beneath the magnolia trees. We retreated to our hotel for a siesta. Visit Spain, live Spain.

Later, we woke to an orange glow. Outside our window the sandstone church, with its ancient brick tower, the plaza that it overlooks, the shops and the balconied apartments, all had been transported to Mars; we were vacationing on the red planet. And then it rained. It was still raining when we went out to eat. The streets ran red with dissolved red dust, and I couldn’t help but think of the streets of Ukraine running red with the blood of innocents, slain to feed the greed, the ambition, the twisted hubris of a crazed dictator, the red rain in this medieval city mirroring the medieval bloodshed; the war being waged by Russian oligarchs.

We sheltered from the red rain, first in a bar, and then in a restaurant, where we ate among religious iconography, and drunk the blood of Christ till our heads spun. We retreated to our hotel room. Our clothes, shoes, bags; everything was spattered – contaminated – with the red dust. Would the sun ever shine again?

Note: I’m going to come clean and admit that unfortunately I didn’t think to take a photo from the hotel window when I saw the sky had turned red. The one I’ve used is from the Alcazabar, earlier in the day – I coloured the sky orange in Photoshop.

Text & image © graham wright 2022

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What Can Writers Do About Climate Change?

It’s hard to comprehend the ability of supposedly well-educated, intelligent people to shut out the blatantly obvious. Britain holds the Presidency for COP26, and at the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow at the end of last year, our leaders asked the world to turn its back on coal. And yet, just three months on, the UK government is busy issuing new licences to dig for coal and drill for oil.

Change will be forced upon us…

The people making these decisions know we need to move to sustainable forms of energy, and quickly, or face catastrophe. Most of them have children, and will have grandchildren too, if they haven’t already. And yet, just a few months after being immersed in the grim reality of anthropomorphic climate change, they’ve allowed themselves to be tempted back to the path of destruction by the potential wealth-giving powers of the fossil fuel lobby (who, presumably, also have children). The question is, how long will our politicians and industry leaders have to enjoy the riches they are amassing, before the entire ecosystem collapses in on itself and the human race is wiped out, along with most other life forms on the planet?

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

It would be very convenient to blame ‘The Establishment’ for our impending demise, but are us lower mortals any better? When so many people still choose to jump into their car to make a two-hundred metre journey? When the number of over-sized, over-powered vehicles on the roads continues to rise? When the road-sides are strewn with litter? When so many people can’t even be bothered to put packaging into the recycling, rather than the rubbish bin? I could go on (some people might say that I do!)

Dogs are a case in point. There was a long running campaign (possibly by the RSPCA) intended to make people consider the responsibility involved, rather than just thinking, ‘ooh, that looks cute; lets get one’. Today, dogs are trendy; a fashion accessory. And company while working at home during the pandemic. But what happens when you have to go back to work? There are now around twelve million dogs in the UK alone, and a study has indicated that the sheer quantity of faeces and urine from dogs is actually changing the ecosystems of our natural spaces. We know that meat production has a disproportionate effect on the environment, and that we should be eating less of it. Dogs, on the other hand, eat almost nothing but meat.

Having a conversation about the contribution to climate change of population is difficult. It touches nerves, runs contrary to people’s animal instincts. You only have to suggest that maybe people should show some constraint with their family planning, rather than having just as many children as they choose, to find yourself being compared to the Nazis. But if we can’t even have that conversation about populations of species other than our own, then what chance do we stand?

What is it with us humans? How is it that an animal with such a large brain and an impressive intellect can possess such an innate ability to ignore the obvious, even at the expense of its own survival? As a species, we’re running towards a metaphorical cliff edge, and apparently enjoying it so much we just can’t bring ourselves to change direction. We know that if we don’t stop we’ll go over the edge and fall to our deaths, but somehow, we just can’t imagine it happening. Surely we’ll just launch ourselves into the void and fly away?

So what can writers do about climate change? We can write, of course. Journalists and article writers can write factual pieces to make sure the public is informed about the damage human activity is doing to the world we live in, and what can be done to reduce the damage. Novelists can be more creative, in helping people to understand what the future could look like if we don’t act.

People trust the written word – more than they ought to. It’s why fake news gathers traction, and why British newspapers get away with dis-ingenuity and lies to further the interests of their wealthy owners. It’s up to us to balance things out; to make sure the truth is out there. Who knows; maybe we can make a difference?

Text & dog cartoon © Graham Wright 2022

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Top Ten Songwriting Tips…

My first forays into writing, around four decades ago (a frightening amount of time) were as a lyricist, and I’m still writing songs, now and then; when I can spare a little time. So I thought, why not share with you the ideas that have worked for me. Not everyone will agree with what follows, but these are my tips for budding song-writers:-

Subject
Listening to contemporary music, it may not be immediately evident that not every song you write has to be about your love life. When every track on your planned latest album is about your marriage break up, that’s not art, it’s therapy – better keep it to yourself.

Be creative. There’s a whole world of subjects out there, from the personal to the universal – politics, culture, nature, the cosmos. Lately I’ve been dealing with big subjects, including climate change, anthropomorphic mass extinction, and even the nature of existence (I must be getting old):

‘On through the void, avoiding all question
Of emptiness and, any suggestion,
Existence profoundly is lacking direction.’


Lyrics don’t have to be literal; they can be allegorical or fantastical, comedic or satirical.

Responsibility
Remember that your lyrics may influence others. Glorifying crime, normalising the carrying of knives or guns, promoting homophobia and misogyny may well have a detrimental effect on other people’s well-being, and certainly won’t do anything to create the free, fair and safe society we should all be striving for.

Lyrics as Poetry
If you want to write great lyrics, simply fitting words to a tune isn’t enough. The very best lyrics are poetry, rather than prose. If your lyrics aren’t at least close to being good enough to work, without music, at a poetry reading, I would say you’re letting down your craft. Great music deserves great lyrics.

Get help…
Musician and lyricist are different disciplines; the skill sets overlap, but are not identical. You might be brilliant at the musical side of things, but if you’re not a writer, why not collaborate with someone who is? Look for aspiring writers who may be open to forming a mutually beneficial relationship, where they produce the words to your music. Money need not necessarily change hands. You could come to an arrangement where they are credited with the lyrics, and will receive a percentage of any earnings. If you make it big, you both win. If your musical career doesn’t take off, it will have cost you nothing, and you’ll have carefully crafted words to sing. But if you really want to write the words yourself, then read on…

Repetition
You might not want to over-burden the singer (especially if that’s you!) with too many lines to learn, but the mind-numbing repetition employed by some artists is enough to drive listeners mad. Avoiding excessive repetition means writing more words. But you’re a wordsmith, aren’t you? Don’t waste the opportunity to practise your craft; to show your skill, and to make your songs special.

Repetition
You might not want to… oh, hang on; we’ve done that one!

Rhyme
Like poetry, lyrics don’t have to rhyme, but it can add to the rhythm and flow of the music. Just make sure your rhymes work. For me, if you’re struggling to find a rhyme, making up a word, or using slang (e.g. rhyming ‘kinda’ with ‘find her’, or ‘wanna’ with ‘Prima Donna) in most instances really doesn’t work.

Rhyming can be at the end of every line, alternate lines, or a more complex pattern. Although there’s no need to stick to a rigid pattern. Throwing a rhyming word into the middle of a line can work well – the poetic equivalent of ‘off-beat’.

It’s easy to get carried away with rhyming. Recently I’ve taken to using rhyming triplets, finished with a line without a rhyme. This is from a slightly tongue-in-cheek song about the despair felt after returning to the cold, dark UK winter after a long holiday in the sun…

‘In spite of intense emotional pain,
Stifle your disdain,
Embrace the icy rain

As the rain embraces you.’

Too many rhymes can be become distracting and irritating. I think I feel some more non-rhyming lyrics coming on…

Complication
I’ve discovered over the years that it’s possible not just to fit surprisingly complex words to music, but to make them work beautifully…

‘There’s magic in the way that life evolves,
No depth of thought, no profound contemplation,
Has yet been found to resolve
The complexities that life involves.’


Don’t be afraid to use complex language, long words, or words that you didn’t know the meaning of. I love finding new words (though I have a dreadful memory, so it’s a struggle for me to hold on to them). One word I’ve discovered recently is ‘melismatic’ – where you sing more than one note to a syllable. It’s something I’ve had the courage to do more of recently (my voice being less than great). Be careful though, because as many pop artists are currently proving, too much melisma sounds ridiculous.

Grammar
So many contemporary lyrics are written in ‘street speak’; the more they mash up the English language, the cooler the artist – or at least, that’s how it’s presented. But why follow the herd? We all have grammatic flaws in the way we speak (well, apart from the Queen and Jacob Rees-Mogg) but why accentuate them? In every-day speech the errors may slip by unnoticed. When we write, I believe it’s good to polish our language, rather than to shred it. In any case, if you don’t speak like a gangster rapper, why sing like one? Which brings me to…

Finding your own voice
Beware of using language you don’t own. For instance, do you actually refer to your significant other as ‘Baby’, or ‘Girl’? If you do, perhaps you might like to consider whether these terms are somewhat patronising; misogynistic, even. If you don’t, why use them in lyrics? Isn’t it time you made your own voice heard, rather than just copying what you hear elsewhere. Don’t be a sheep.

What comes first – music or words?
Either, of course, but there are advantages and disadvantages to each approach. Writing the lyrics first gives you more freedom, but it can be difficult to get started, and there’s the concern over how easily the words can be set to music. It can be helpful to have some idea of the rhythmic effect you want from a tune. Writing words to a tune is certainly much more restrictive. You have to be more disciplined (though that can be a good thing.)

I’ve worked both ways in the past, but these days I tend to work on the music and the words at the same time. Developing both together is a more flexible approach, and for me, it can give a better result than trying to shoe-horn words into a tune, or stretch a tune around words.

So there you are; my tips for song lyrics. Happy writing…

text & lyrics©Graham Wright 2021

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Nero fiddles, while Rome burns…

So, it’s over. COP 26 – possibly the largest gathering of world leaders, advisors, scientists, lobbyists and general hangers on the world has ever seen. Indicative of what was to come, some of the first reporting was of Joe Biden’s obscene motorcade; surely one of the most blatant examples of piss-taking on the world stage we’ve been unfortunate enough to have seen. Or is the president really that stupid?

Faced with the job of agreeing the drastic changes needed to mitigate the worst effects of anthropomorphic climate catastrophe, our leaders and representatives chose to commit to a few, gradual changes. Possibly. And not yet. Let’s leave it for a few years, shall we?

The guests of honour at the extravagant party were around 500 fossil fuel lobbyists, metaphorically swirling around like seagulls following a trawler, while those whose voices really needed to be heard were largely left out in the cold.

A new buzzword was ubiquitous at COP – ‘transitioning’:
‘How can your country claim to be tackling the climate crisis when you’re building new coal-fired power stations?’
It’s okay, because we’re ‘transitioning”

Reduction of fossil fuel use was discussed, and some moderate targets agreed on, although none of them are compulsory. Most sinister was the farming lobby – so influential, so powerful, so successful that the impact of their sector, such a destroyer of environment, such a massive contributor to climate change, wasn’t dealt with at all.

This was a conference where the president of the United States of America reportedly trumped (pun intended) loudly in front of a royal personage; the irony of the president’s personal methane emissions mirroring those of his country was difficult to ignore.

News channels pointed to the hypocrisy of the limo engines idling, while the chauffeurs waited for their dignitaries. Easy to sneer, but it’s not just the rich. Walk across a motorway services car park and you’ll see no end of cars with their engines running, pumping out toxic fumes, while the people inside drink and eat from single-use plastic containers. I mean, really – what chance do we stand?

Every year, in the UK, water companies pump vast amounts of raw sewage into rivers and the sea. Last week, while news coverage concentrated on COP 26, our government was busy voting down an amendment to the environment bill which would have held water companies accountable to reduce the amount of sewage they pump out to sea. As the host of COP26 you would expect the UK government to have set a good example. Instead, they are happily signing up to yet more fossil fuel projects.

There were things to admire. Greta Thunberg was, as ever, an inspiration. So diminutive, so young, and yet such a clarity of mind. Humbling. And she wasn’t alone.

Photo by Aslıhan Altın on Unsplash

But the people inside weren’t listening. One of the commentators said that climate change denial had all but disappeared… to be replaced by greenwash! There was, as far as I heard, no mention of population. There’s a simple formula:

Total emissions = Average emissions per person x the number of people

If we’re serious about getting emissions down to a safe level, we need to work on both sides of the equation. I live in a country (England) which is so over-populated we no longer have any wilderness left, and our forest cover is tiny. Oh, and by the way, pets – particularly dogs – contribute to global warming too, not least by consuming food, which means more of that damaging intensive agriculture. In the UK we’re in the midst of massive increase in dog ownership, which is incompatible with tackling the climate crisis.

As if all that wasn’t enough, there was just one more thing my country did to embarrass itself last week, right in the middle of the climate crisis conference. Across the country we lit huge bonfires, and set light to vast amounts of explosives in the form of fireworks. Just for the fun of it, of course. Climate crisis? What climate crisis…

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What was it I came upstairs for…

I used to think the old folk were making something out of nothing when they complained about forgetting what they went upstairs for. I used to think I’d always done that, even when I was young. Let’s face it, we’ve all done it now and then, haven’t we – gone upstairs, downstairs, into another room, out to the shed, or the garage, got distracted, and come back without the thing we’d gone for?

But recently I’ve taken it to a whole new level. I no longer need the distraction. I’ll open the fridge door and find myself standing there urgently scanning the contents for a clue to what it was I wanted, scanning my memory – ‘come on, concentrate; you’re wasting energy’. So far, it’s always come back to me before the fridge starts bleeping at me – ‘bleep, bleep, bleep; take what you want and shut the door, fool’. Correction – ‘old fool’.

Some people would say I’ve always been a bit… distracted. But in the last few weeks I’ve come down with a really bad case of ‘what was it I came upstairs for?’ And I’m wondering how this will play out in other areas of my life. As a horticulturalist, all those Latin names are rattling around in my head. I’ve got a photographic memory. The photographs are all there, but the indexing system doesn’t work. I can suffer three days of frustration before suddenly, in the bread isle of Sainsburys, I’ll blurt out ‘ Phalaris arundinacea ‘Feesey’! [1.] with a sense of relief matched only by a sufferer of constipation finally managing to squeeze one out after a three-day hiatus (hopefully not in the bread isle at Sainsburys).

I’ve got around three hours of musical repertoire committed to memory, including a fair amount of lyrics (in four different languages – three of which I don’t speak!) And I can’t read music. What could possibly go wrong?

And then there’s the writing. Memory is important when writing a novel. The further in you get, the more information you need to hold in your head – who said what to whom and when, the order of events, what each of the characters know and don’t know, and so on. Get it wrong, and you risk continuity errors, or even making a nonsense of the plot. If you can’t hold these details in your head, things become difficult. You have no choice but to hunt through the text to find them. Actually, it’s a good idea to check you’re getting it right now and again anyway, as memory can sometimes be unreliable.

So far, my ‘What was it I came upstairs for’ syndrome doesn’t appear to be affecting my writing. Perhaps it’s just a phase I’m going through, rather than a permanent mental deterioration.

Sorry – what was I saying..?

text ©graham wright 2021

Image – ‘Ascending & decending’ by M C Escher

[1.] A tall, variegated grass, commonly known as ‘Gardener’s Garters’ – the name of which it actually only took me four hours to recall today (I call that a victory!) Actually, it came to me while I was writing this post, so I see it as a fitting example.

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Isn’t it our deference to religion that let the Taliban in?

Could it be that the Taliban’s greatest strength is not ruthlessness, lack of compassion, or their powerful external backers, but instead, their subservience to what they consider to be an unquestionable ideology? And surely then, the Western allies’ biggest mistake was their failure to challenge that ideology. Just when will our society wake up to the fact that questioning the voracity of religion is not just a basic human right; it’s a duty?

Even after Afghanistan was supposedly liberated by the West, Afghans (and especially Afghan women) continued to suffer the repression that is inherent in all societies that are largely based on religion. We should understand that, because our own history is one of repression and cruelty at the hands of the church.

Following a religion is fine, so long as you enter into it freely, and don’t try to impose it, or any associated moral decrees, on others. The assertion that the Taliban’s interpretation of Islam is wrong was weak, and always doomed to failure. Afghan’s were always going to question the authority of Christian American and European leaders to tell them the correct version of Islam.

We wanted to give Afghans access to the same freedoms we enjoy; particularly with regard to a balanced education that allows people to think for themselves. But we failed to understand the limits of our own freedoms. We asked Afghans to consider that what god really wants from them is different from what they’ve been told. But we didn’t offer them the true freedom of thought to question whether this god character actually exists. Because after all, why should they have something we don’t?

The Taliban use religion in the same way it has been used by repressive regimes across the globe and throughout history, back to the Caesars and beyond – questioning what the regime tells you god wants from you is the same as questioning god him/her/itself, which is in turn unthinkable and subject to extreme (human) punishment. Questioning the idea that god (or gods) are real, is something we in the so-called developed world still don’t have full freedom to do. When did you last hear this kind of challenge on TV or radio, in a newspaper or magazine, or on a mainstream web site? Yet we’re subjected to a constant drip feed commentary, on all of these media, which starts from the assumption that the truth of religion has long been established (it hasn’t).

The blasphemy law in the UK may have gone (though watch out – if religious groups have their way it could soon be back) but questioning the validity of religions is still not accepted behaviour. The continuing spread and imposition of government financed religious schools across the country continues unabated. Many get away with teaching that evolution is a lie. This shows how little we really value freedom of thought, and the right to a balanced education.

For Western governments to stop the Taliban would have required them to question the religious doctrine that is its beating heart. But to do so would also have struck at the repressive power of the religious groups that hold our own countries in their iron grip. And as our own leaders are hand-in-glove with the church, they were never going to allow that to happen.

And so Afghanistan has once again fallen into the hands of bigoted despots intent on depriving its people of their humanity. And, after a respectful period of mourning, we will turn away, smug in the security of our own comparatively open, free and fair society. But beware. Sharia law is here in the UK as well – barely visible, but flourishing in closed communities across the country, and supported by a government that consistently, and inexplicable, fails to challenge it. In growing communities across the UK and Europe large numbers of people suffer similar restriction of their freedoms to the poor Afghans – the misogyny, the homophobia, and all the other irrational nonsense that makes up Sharia.

Increasingly, threats and aggression by fundamentalist Muslims are shutting down freedom of expression in wider society – witness the Batley Grammar school debacle, the murder of Samuel Paty and the Charlie Hebdo staff, as well as the de-platforming that is taking place in universities in the UK – establishments that are supposed to promote free-thinking and open debate. Other religious groups – Christian, Jewish, Hindu, etc. gain encouragement from this, and are becoming bolder in their demands to impose their own perverse morality on the rest of us.

It’s often stated that we live in a global society. Our failure in Afghanistan, and the terrible events we are seeing there now, will send reverberations out across the globe. To many individuals, religion may be a joy. But to society as a whole, it remains a dangerous threat that we will never entirely banish unless we accept the right, and the need, to question, criticise, and even ridicule it.

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Seventy thousand words and counting…

At the risk of repeating myself, writing a novel involves a lot of work. Like setting up in business as a funeral director; it’s a big undertaking. Progress on my latest novel has been slow, and frequently been put on hold due to the pressures of life, but I think I might be getting there. The word count recently passed seventy thousand, which is almost a books worth.

I’ve read advice from publishers and agents saying new writers should aim for no more than eighty thousand words (patronising bastards!) Books by established authors often exceed this hugely. The last novel I read, ‘Paying Guests’ by Sarah Waters, was thick enough to be used as a doorstop. Mind you, it was overlong in my opinion, with a lot of repetition. My last novel was a little over one hundred thousand words, and I suspect this one will be a similar length. I’ve gone somewhat closer to the mainstream this time, in the hope of appealing to the somewhat limited imaginations of agents and publishers. The book is about a major terrorist attack. It’s got a ‘strong female lead’, which is, as far as I understand, ‘de rigueur’ at the moment (unless things have moved on without me noticing). There’s action and intrigue, but mostly it’s about the people involved, and how the attack affects them.

There’s quite a bit to pull together yet, hence me thinking the final word count might end up at around one hundred thousand, even if the editing stages involve a certain amount of rationalisation. As I said, I hope I can get a publisher interested this time, but even if that doesn’t happen, I’ve enjoyed writing it. By this time, the characters have really come alive for me. I’ve started thinking of them as real people (and even found myself adopting their way of speaking now and then), and I keep having to remind myself they’re just characters in a book, and one not yet completed, yet alone published. I suppose it would be all I might ever desire for it to be the same for anyone who gets to read my little (or not so little) masterpiece when it’s finally finished.

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