How can you be friends with someone for years, maybe even decades, and not realise uncomfortable aspects of their personalities? Their views on the world, their take on current world events based on their prejudices?

From what I’ve discovered over recent years, it’s very easy. I know a handful of people I am friends with who have expressed opinions based on racial and cultural bigotry. People I have laughed with, shared warm experiences with, and have fond and happy memories with that go back to my youth.

But now, thanks to that powder keg of self-expression called social media, I have been shocked in the last few years by comments from some friends that show a basic lack of compassion towards those fleeing persecution, and those with a different cultural heritage and skin colour.

For clarification, I’m only talking about a very small number and none express any kind of violence or social uprising towards anyone. But when faced with statements made based on deep ignorance, it’s hard not to be affected.

Recently someone told me that he has friends who are black, but due to a lack of sun living in the UK is simply not good for their skin, that they should be in a climate more suited to their pigmentation. When I called out this out as ridiculous and ultimately racist, he was aghast as to why – even though he added that they were friends who he “wouldn’t want living next door”.

He was genuinely perplexed as to why he would be considered a racist, that he was just expressing ‘fact’, not hatred. I have been friends with this person, on and off, for nearly forty years without any indication he had such views.


The number of people seeking migration in other countries is a huge problem throughout the world, and its root causes such as poverty and oppression are deep, and it’s difficult to see any resolution. Opinion on how to deal with it, particularly when society is fundamentally affected by huge numbers of people seeking asylum, are varied and complex.

However, when people I thought I knew well post statements that all migrants filling an overloaded dinghy to navigate a treacherous sea crossing are criminals, it is hard not to be taken aback.

So how then, should I deal with this? The straightforward answer is these people should not have any place in my life. Why would I want to stay on friendly terms with people so intolerant and lacking in basic compassion?

In the past I have entered into online arguments that been long and protracted and difficult, and ultimately unproductive as both sides have become more deeply entrenched in our views. Then I chose not to engage, not to credit such outlandish views worthy of debate. However turning away also however also felt like appeasement.

So, I just have to ‘unfriend’ or disconnect with such people, right? Get rid of them out of my life.

But I have struggled with this. If it was an acquaintance, or someone I had only met online, it would be simple. History with a person makes it more nuanced, more complicated. Is there another way?


Lately I have ‘suggested’ a different view, rather than to confront. This has worked to an extent by taking one person away from being defensive and acknowledging my point.

Whichever way nothing feels completely comfortable and if faced with deeper extremes I am confident I would shut off contact. In the meantime I continue to fudge the issue, hoping my experience of their better natures will ultimately outweigh the troubling parts of their character that occasionally rises to the surface.


Over the years I have proudly developed the invaluable skill of nodding knowingly whilst someone explains something that I have not the faintest idea about. You must have been there yourself, the subtle social art of giving off signals that you get what it being said to you whilst hoping to gleam a little something that prevents you from looking completely dim.

This skill became even more defined last year when a year-long problem with our drains in the garden meant that someone else’s sewage from a completely different road was seeping into the garden.

A multitude of engineers from different utility companies explained to me in detail, some using laptops, some using long poles they stuck in their ear (I kid you not), how it wasn’t their responsibility, before someone else would then explain just as convincingly how I needed to go back and tell them it was.  I learned more about how drainage systems worked from people employing little more than experienced guesswork than you could shake a stick – or even a long pole – at.

Many theories were thrown out as to where the problem originated from, most sounding more than feasible to my uninitiated ears, that took me down a cul-de-sac of solutions that in turn led me right back to where I began. At each point I nodded and made the right signs that I grasped enough of the gist to give them, and more importantly myself, a level of credibility. 90% of those qualified theories were however, about as worthless as the stuff seeping slowly into my garden.

One particular gentleman, who worked independently and had hands the size of a small country took me through the history of drainage systems from the last 200 years and still couldn’t come up with a solution. And to his credit, he tried. My lasting memory was him digging a hole in the garden to prove to me how the water table had risen when I assured him it hadn’t, and being thrown completely when he came up with nothing but dry earth. The poor man, who clearly had a lifetime of experience in drainage systems, slinked away to revaluate his life.

Another poor engineer was temporarily blinded and hospitalised when a faulty valve on a suction tank resulted in excrement being propelled at him at close range at a force strong enough to knock him to the ground. His deepest injuries however came at the expense of his colleagues jibes of amusement.

Finally, more than a year after reporting the initial problem, an army of engineers using high tech equipment, spades and mini-diggers, isolated the problem (believe me, you don’t want to know the problem), dug huge holes and inserted three manhole systems.

The experience left me with the realisation that most of us know a little something about a lot of things, and we pretty much wing the rest of it. Even those who are trained and qualified in a certain area fill in a lot of gaps with guess work.

So I am quite happy to keep on nodding in what I deem to be the appropriate places, and to remain blissfully ignorant most of the time. Everyone’s doing it. It’s only when we think we have all the answers, that we truly end up looking silly.


What is it like not to have any ambition?

How much does it matter? Is ambition overrated? Is it not easier just to have an easy life were the boat is never rocked and we just accepted our lot in life?

I know someone that I see most days; let’s call him Kevin, who doesn’t have an ounce of ambition in his body. Or his character, if you prefer.

Image by Pixabay

At 50 years old, he approaches every day the same; that is, without any goal, other than to get through it without any hitches or problems.

Kevin is an amiable, likeable guy. He will always help someone when he can, and gives the impression he has never caused any one harm.

He has never taken a driving lesson, and walks the ten minutes or so to his workplace where he has never shown an interest in progression. He is single, quiet, dependable, and unassuming.

He has one passion, and that is football. As a supporter of Manchester United, in the past he has travelled into Europe and around the country, though now only goes to the occasional game. With myself a supporter of Manchester United’s bitterest rivals Liverpool, it could be expected that he and I would clash.

But he isn’t confrontational at all in his love for United, indeed has been respectful of my club and its achievements. And I respect his commitment to his club. Other than the occasional bit of light banter, there is no edge to our respective football allegiances.

Kevin has no hobbies. He bought a pushbike a couple of years ago, used it twice, since when it has been quicker gathering dust than miles. He doesn’t go to watch films, he doesn’t read books, he only watches television shows from the 70’s and 80’s, and wouldn’t think of subscribing to Netflix or any other streaming platform.

He keeps abreast of current affairs, and he does like music, a regular gig attendee in the past. But only if within easy travelling distance. He has never attended a gym in his life.

There is nothing to dislike about Kevin. And I think it’s true to say, I’ve never met anyone quite like him, totally free of any desire to make a change.

As someone always occupied with my ambitions, whether as a writer or songwriter, I am intrigued how anyone can live completely free of it. I have stressed and strained over the smallest details in my writing, and have agonised over the disappointments that have frequently come my way. I have stood soaked in the pouring rain in despair after receiving a stripping down of my script from a script executive at the BBC, but have got up and began again.

I have also had many highs, and continue to have, many wonderful moments and experiences that make every disappointment more than worthwhile. All because of passion, of ambition.

I also go the cinema and theatre regularly, read every day, go the gym, have ambitions to meet more people and travel. Hell, what am I trying to prove?

Nothing, probably. Practically everyone I know has had, or has, ambition of one kind or another. Find somewhere to live, have children, do better in their job or maybe find a better one, go on holiday now and then. Not particularly spectacular or unique goals, but goals nonetheless, something to get them up in the morning.

Image by Pixabay

Then of course, if not kept in check, ambition can push people to breaking point, or drive someone to obsession. A sense of achievement can be fleeting, as the next higher ambition takes its place.

Does chasing one goal or another make us happier than someone like Kevin? Is living life in complete equilibrium a better alternative? Would the world be a better place? But then, how would medicine, technology, commerce or art advance without ambition?

I couldn’t live like Kevin, and I imagine most reading this couldn’t either. However, that’s not to say I don’t feel a little envious a little at each of his days lived expecting nothing but the same easy pace as the day before.


Meditation. It really shouldn’t be this hard, and for so many millions of people, it isn’t. Thinking of absolutely nothing from 5 to 20 minutes at a time, twice a day.

Its benefits include greater creative focus, and a deeper sense of calm in a chaotic world. What’s there not to love? 

And it’s true to say I have dipped my toes sporadically into the meditative waters, including a rather odd and unexpected meeting with a lady Buddhist monk that didn’t go well at all; let’s just say we had different ideas on sin and reincarnation (that old chestnut). We both moved on.

A few years ago, I even signed up for a Transcendental Meditation course which I attended, for two hours a week, in Liverpool city centre. The people there were dedicated and clear believers in the power of meditation. I was intrigued.

It began with twenty minutes of contemplation with my meditative guide in a side room high from the noise of the city. I was given a one-word mantra chosen especially for me which I was told to repeat in my head to help me into a meditative state. I was also told not to share this mantra with anyone.

The cynic in me questioned the authenticity of an exclusive mantra I wasn’t to share with anyone, but I chose to put aside cynicism and to embrace the moment, so to speak. Or not speak, as it happens.

I then enjoyed a relaxed period where I succeeded, more or less, to close off my mind to the myriad of thoughts that cloud our head constantly. It was somewhat enjoyable, in a sitting-in-a-room-with-a-perfect-stranger-paying-him-for-doing-next-to-nothing sort of way. Enjoyable but largely unremarkable, it seemed.

However later, as I walked back through the city, I admittedly felt far more aware of everything around me. The colours of people’s clothes seemed more vivid; everything looked a little more 3D. It was lovely, like I was part of something but observing it with an interested detachment.

However, despite going to more sessions, this initial sensation turned out to be a one-off.  The other people on the course were pretty intense, serious practitioners and I really tried to match their intensity. And maybe that was the problem, I tried too hard to relax. Is that an oxymoron?


Over the years I keep going back to try again, with mixed results. The growing interest in mindfulness and meditation have spawned a multitude of apps and picking my way through to decide which gave the most benefit for the least financial outlay was stressful in itself.

Some are free. Some say they are free then suggest a ‘deeper understanding’ can be achieved by a small but regular monthly payment. All bombarded me with daily emails or messages to my phone. Most give regular teachings from guru’s or quotes from a meditation messiah. In the end I had to remove the app and unsubscribe. Who need harassment when all you want to do is relax?

But the reason I keep going back is a gnawing belief there is something in this. My lack of progress really is down to my own sporadic commitment, but lately I have felt I may be turning a corner in my quest for internal calm and with a busy year ahead envisaged, I’ll take whatever helps that is legal and healthy.

So stayed tuned. I have now done meditation for short periods on five successive days and who knows, this could be turning into a routine.

But I’m not holding my breath. Just listening a little more closely to it.

Wish me luck.  


Community Theatre is exactly what it says it is, theatre made by the community for the community.

It’s not looking for the next Kenneth Branagh, nor does it aspire to appear at the Globe Theatre. It is simply local people, most of whom have little or no acting experience, with a desire to put on a show of some kind, and bring people together from the community to do it.

It’s not an easy thing to pull off, and requires one thing above anything else, and that’s passion. Bucket loads of it.

It’s not glamorous in any sense, it only looks to make enough money to keep going, and thrives on co-operation between local like-minded people. It borrows from Peter to pay Paul, and what it usually borrows is a skill here or a favour there. For example, someone adept at handy needlework to help make a costume, maybe an electrician willing to fix some dodgy wiring non-gratis, possibly someone giving up a few hours to sell tickets or make tea. Or both, or more. In short, a myriad of give and take gestures with the emphasis very much on the give.

But it also gives back. When it works well, it gives people opportunities to shine, to step out of areas that keeps them comfortable, make close friendships, build confidence. It thrives on encouragement, resilience, and laughter. Lots of laughter.

In my home town of Prescot in Merseyside, such a community theatre company has been resident since 2014. Imaginarium Theatre, formerly known as Mate Productions, was created by director and CEO Gaynor La Rocca. I first became aware of them properly when I saw them perform ‘As You Like It’ in a gorgeous woodland area in the grounds of St Mary’s Church in Prescot in 2015.

Since then, they have slowly gone from strength to strength, inspiring children from as young as 5 to get involved, running courses on acting, lantern making, performance drumming and creative writing.

Adults have become involved who otherwise would never have considered performance art and in doing so have performed across the region and have even appeared at the Edinburgh Festival on two occasions, a marvellous story in itself.

A Midsummer Day’s Dream

But alongside of this something miraculous was starting to grow in the background. In the 1590’s, Prescot was home of the first purpose built Elizabethan theatre outside of London. With the nearby Derby Estate being patrons of Shakespeare’s group of players in London over 200 miles south, and an annual three-day cultural event being held in the town in the early 1600’s that drew performers from all over the country, there was mounting evidence suggesting an indelible link to William Shakespeare and Prescot.

The evidence was so strong that it was suggested a completely new theatre be built in the town. The idea picked up support from Paul McCartney, Dame Judi Dench, Patrick Stewart and Vanessa Redgrave as well as the Royal Shakespeare Company itself.

Through setbacks and relentless dedication money was raised, and work began on a new theatre in the months before the covid epidemic, based on original plans by architect Inigo Jones in 1629 for a similar London theatre commissioned by Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.

Fast forward to 15th July 2022, and the wonderful Shakespeare North Playhouse was opened to the public. To quote from one of my favourite films, Field of Dreams, build it, and they will come. And they have, from all over the region and beyond, drawing rave reviews for the theatre and it’s opening productions.

It is a stunning, intimate and at times spiritual feeling theatre space that holds at the most 470 people and is made entirely of timber, using not a single nail or screw in its construction. 

The theatre has lit up my hometown, for so long in the doldrums from a past of big industry long ago diminished. TV crews and national newspapers have come to the town as it forms a trinity from the Globe Theatre in London, Stratford-on-Avon in the Midlands, and Prescot in the north.

A Community’s Reward

I started by saying that those in community theatre don’t aspire to the Globe Theatre. But on Tuesday November 2nd Imaginarium Theatre did just as well by putting on a production on this new stage at the Shakespeare North Playhouse. ‘Strange Tale’, an original play having fun with the idea that Shakespeare appears in modern day Prescot through a time portal, is riotous fun and has delighted audiences and reviewers on it’s three-day, five performance run.

All of the performers were people with normal day jobs, or in the case Vera Farrell, an 86-year-old Great Grandmother. It is a wonderful testament to the influences and opportunities for those involved in Community Theatre. It is also a testament to the total dedication of Gaynor La Rocca and her lawyer turned performer Francesco who also plays the vital real-life role of supportive husband through difficult times, when it seemed like days like Wednesday would never happen.

But it did happen, and all those involved community theatre everywhere can afford to take a bow.

(Photographs from Imaginarium Theatre and



Memories are made of paper.

Well, at least they used to be. Those much-coveted tickets for that gig you’ve been waiting so long to see, that show you’ve heard so much about, that sporting event you so much want to be a part of.

Following a two-year break due to covid restrictions, over the last few months I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a number of live events, from The Rolling Stones and Sam Fender, to several football matches and theatre productions. In previous years I’ve always liked to hold onto tickets as a tangible reminder of the occasion.

What can I say, it’s the way I am. But not anymore.

These days it’s all about downloading a QR code onto your phone that is scanned at the event and then deleted away into QR oblivion. It’s quick; generally, and efficient. It is completely cold and yes, I’m going to go and say it, soulless; without character or the capacity to excite. 

And it is also without the capacity for memories. You won’t look back on a QR code in years to come (even if you had the chance) and say wow, that was the best night ever.

It’s all a part of the general homogenisation of life, as experiences are there simply to paste on social media to show off where you are or have been to, quickly getting ‘liked’ as they move onto the next post waiting in line for someone’s fleeting attention.

Unlike a ticket, a code on a phone is intangible. Unlike a ticket, it wasn’t there. It didn’t que up with you. It doesn’t remind you of the thrill when those tickets you’d sent away for in earnest hope landed in the post and you would hold them gleefully knowing full well they were the golden passage to something that is going to be wonderful and memorable.

It doesn’t have folds like battle scars when you stuffed it in your pocket as you weaved yourself into a great spot near the stage, it doesn’t have a lager stain on when someone accidentally knocked your drink, or have great artwork representing that iconic artist or tournament. It doesn’t make you smile, bring back thoughts of people or places, the excitement felt in the build-up with the people you shared it with.

Such as 2004, a trip made with my likewise Wimbledon fanatic sister Jane watching a balletic Roger Federer on Centre Court on the brink of his second Wimbledon title. We have Tina Turner, third row, transfixing me at the peak of her powers with an energetic young Bryan Adams as support.

Two London Wembley Stadium events, one in 1978 watching my much beloved Liverpool Football Club be crowned Champions of Europe for the second successive year.

And a glorious sun-kissed Independence Day 1985, the day before my birthday and just three weeks after passing my driving test, absorbing and soaking in the glory days of Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band, the memory of myself and my other sister Sandra wandering in awe down the players tunnel – and notice the torn battle scar made on the day that for ticket nerds like myself, blesses it with authenticity.

So yes, I will always miss the ticket. I forget the long hours physically queuing, the crush of disappointment of being told all the tickets have gone. I forget the envelope with my cheque returned because all of that, all of it, was preferable to today’s online world where your excitement is manipulated by monstrous agencies like Ticketmaster as they lead you in as ticket prices rise like an Apollo rocket before your very eyes.

When I am gone all my paper tickets will be found and discarded by someone as a relic and that’s fine. Until then I will look at them and smile as a world of memories takes me back to a time the QR drones of today could never be a part of. And I pity them for it.


On Saturday 3rd September the Canadian band Arcade Fire played Manchester Go Arena as part of their world tour to support the release of their new album ‘We’.

As a fan of the band for 14 years I had a ticket for the concert; having seen them previously I consider them to be one of the elite live rock acts on the planet. Although fronted by lead singer and songwriter Win Butler, the band are very much an ensemble outfit, no-one greater than the sum of its parts.


Arcade Fire observe and reflect through their quirky, individual and strongly melodic songs that are never predictable whilst constantly evolving. They sing of the downbeat humdrum of the everyday, the fears of the everyman in a world where individuality becomes homogenised, as the distance between reality and aspiration grow wider.

In short, they feel like they get it. The pain and the hope, the angst and the liberation of the individual, and this forms an integral part of their strong, dedicated following.

So it was an unexpected body blow when on the eve of the UK leg of the tour allegations of sexual impropriety by Win Butler towards four women were revealed. Butler has admitted to the sexual conduct alleged whilst insisting it was consensual; a claim in part at least not denied by the women concerned.


But it seems apparent that Butler used his power as a rock ‘star’ to foster these incidents, citing depression following a recent family miscarriage and abuse as a child as the driving force behind his behaviour. Whilst deeply traumatic incidents in his life, these can be judged as thin excuses for such sustained behaviour over at least a three-year period with women up to 18 years his junior.

Support act, Canadian singer-songwriter Feist, for whom this tour would have represented the biggest audiences of her career, decided to pull from the tour, explaining she was ‘claiming her responsibility now and going home’.    

Where then, does this leave the fan with a ticket, a no-refund policy from the band and Ticketmaster? And, more pointedly, their relationship with the music?

This is what I pondered painfully throughout Friday and Saturday in the hours leading to the concert. And I was far from the only one, going by the outrage and confusion splashed across social media from long-time fans across the UK and beyond. One couple announced on Twitter that they had cancelled their Manchester hotels rooms and had decided to go home, leaving their tickets unused and their seats empty.

Butler’s wife Regine Chassagne, a tour de force of electrifying energy and founding member of the band, publicly forgave her husband, stating that Win is ‘her soulmate’ who ‘lost his way, and he has found his way back. I love him and love the life we have created together.’


If Regine, the one probably most hurt by Win’s actions could forgive and move on, surely that should be enough for the rest of us. Or is it?

My decision about whether to attend went back and forth throughout the day. It hung over me, knowing I should make a stand, even if I was the only one who probably would be affected by or aware of that stand.

My ticket had been part paid for by relatives for my recent birthday. Do I let their hard-earned money just go to waste? I was angry that myself and many others had been handed this dilemma by Butler, but four hours before the gig, I decided to go. The very least he can do, I decided, is sing for his supper.

And the show itself, of course, was brilliant. But throughout my enthusiasm felt muted. The two seats next to me were empty. I knew whatever decision I had made, would have felt like the wrong one. And where does this leave my relationship with their music from now?

Only recently that ultimate bastion of creative integrity, Bruce Springsteen, was heavily criticised by allowing Ticketmaster to employ ‘dynamic pricing’ that allows tour ticket prices to rise dramatically and in real time according to demand. Should a man who recently sold his song catalogue to Sony for a record 500 million dollars look to make extra money due to fan’s demand and dedication? Or should he be allowed to sell his art and hard work over fifty years for whatever price he chooses?

But charging extortionate ticket prices is one thing, cheating on your wife, and on multiple occasions, is another.

For an artist like Rod Stewart or Mick Jagger these principles would not apply, indeed such behaviour has enhanced their appeal. For someone like Butler however, particularly in today’s more enlightened age, he has chosen to stamp over somewhat hallowed and dangerous ground.

It’s hard when the creative people we look towards to help make sense of a confusing world let us down. Are we setting them up on too high an idealistic pedestal? Does it really matter at all?

It does matter, very much so. But how we deal with that disappointment is really down to the individual, whether to forgive and keep listening, or whether to close the conversation with that artist once and for all.


Ever had one of those moments, one of those times, when you felt that anything was possible? When all your plans fell into place?

Or just simply something amazing you weren’t expecting to occur, dropped from space into your life? Did you feel at that moment that you could conquer the world? That you were close to invincibility?

And are you sometimes able to close your eyes, concentrate, and feel that you are still there?

For me this date, Saturday 25th June, is one of those times, perhaps THE time. But the year is 1988.

And I am drenched in sweat, at the front of 72,000 people at Wembley Stadium, London. I feel I could hold each one of them on my back.

I look up and the night sky is clear, straight up to heaven.

But I am in heaven, here on earth.

The only thing in front of me is Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band, pounding, pulsating into my every muscle.

As they do, I’m thinking back seven months earlier, purchasing Springsteen’s new album Tunnel of Love, released only the day before, from a record shop in North Street, Liverpool. Placing it on my turntable that night for the first time, setting up a tape and hitting ‘record’.

Once done throwing the cassette into a travelling bag and the next morning flying to New York.

For the next month I travelled the highways and back roads of America in a collection of Greyhound buses, buses that were sometimes my bed through night streets, deserts, towns and cities.

And throughout I listened to this highly personal set of songs that were in stark contrast to the Born In The USA album that had catapulted New Jersey’s favourite son to superstardom three years earlier.

I absorbed each track, allowed them to soak in, to be my travelling companion via my portable cassette machine.   

I had Born In The USA on the reverse side. And on other tapes, U2’s seminal Joshua Tree from the same year, John Mellencamp’s The Lonesome Jubilee, Springsteen’s own Nebraska.

But it was Tunnel of Love that defined this most lonely of journeys, a journey I had planned for years, a long trip of discovery and often tangible isolation. I never felt so wrapped up in a set of lyrics, lyrics that would take several months to fully identify with and comprehend.

And in the here and now at Wembley, a long, long way from isolation and living each line, involved in my own romantic roller coaster with someone who was stood my side, holding my hand and even briefly sitting on my shoulders. Each day we worked to discover what we had got in this new thing we’d found.

Right now, however, all doubts were put aside. Right here, on this hallowed turf, with this band, in this place and this set of unexpected circumstances, I felt invincible.

A year later, Bruce broke up the band. Me and the someone who had been standing by my side had parted to separate galaxies. For a while, the world felt a colder and more solitary place.

With time things got warmer, a little more populated and expansive. And eventually Springsteen reformed the band and my journeys with them continued to places such as Dublin, New Jersey, Paris, Barcelona. That journey is set to recommence next year.

But sometimes, when June 25th falls on a Saturday, or just whenever I need reminding of life’s possibilities, I close my eyes and think of that moment when all the stars aligned, and made me feel completely and utterly, invincible.