Monthly Archives: September 2015

10 favourite books – part 3 – Trainspotting

Dear readers,

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh


There are some books that smash you about the head because of their brilliance, but also open up your eyes to a world, or a reality, that you had no idea existed. And Trainspotting was that book for me. I’ve talked about Thomas the Tank Engine and Of Mice & Men as inspirations for education, kind of put in front of me by parents and teachers (not a complaint, as I enjoyed them immensely), but Trainspotting awoke me to a new dawn. I chose it myself. I had chosen other books obviously, but this book was the first book that I properly read.

I remember buying the book long with the soundtrack in HMV in Solihull when there was all the hype about the movie back in 1996. I was/am a big fan of Oasis and Cool Britannia was kicking off and this was the icing on the cake, getting rave reviews in magazines like Loaded and FHM (my education to ladies at the time, which I would look at read about intensely). I was 16 at the time and bit wet behind the ears. It was the school term that sits between Easter and summer, and my final last weeks before my GCSEs which I should have been studying for. And my gosh, my innocent middle class eyes hadn’t fallen upon such barbaric language. I’d literally never seen so many fucks and c–ts in my life. Of course, at school, movies and football stadiums you hear it, but this was something else, done in such a humorous and bombastic way that it had me chuckling and trembling. The topics it covered, subcultures of sex and drugs from the schemes in Edinburgh, threw me into a new world. Scottish dialect with words like “ken” (to know) and “wee radge” (little man). I had heard a few terms like this through my cousin Sam who grew up in Glasgow, although his use of language, which I bet his parents will be pleased to hear, his a little less profane. I had to consult him on a few things though, although I think even he struggled to understand, never mind a naive teenaged Brummie. I remember talking about translations of books with my mate Nigel Simmons, another big reader and writer, and how they can lose so much of the tone when translated away from the original language, and we both agreed that Irvine Welsh literature is a pure example. It is not translateable (now translate translatable into English). Sorry foreign language speakers. You’ll have to read it in Scottish English, or you’ll miss out.

If you haven’t read the book or seen the film, the book is about heroin addicts. The protaganist, Mark Renton, is trying to come off it, but continuely struggles being in the company of life’s bad apples with very few scruples. I won’t tell you more. I was hooked on the movie at the time, but I saw it again recently with Pamela and it looks sadly very dated. I’m not sure how taken she was with it and she didn’t get to see the end as the electricity went out. She didn’t reload it on Netflix when the elecricity came back so I guess she wasn’t thrilled by it. It’s a real eye-opener into the decay that heroin has on people’s lives. I remember that Ben Elton said in a comedy sketch that the movie had the opposite effect on British society and more people ended up as addicts. I don’t know if this is true, but it left a benchmark on my generation, and no character in fiction has come across as more psychotic as Begbie. The Joker in Batman seems just an amateur to good ol’ Begs, because, Begbie seemed so real. He was. You can meet people like Begbie. Violent psychos do exist.

It wasn’t just the drugs though. Again, the book looks at this mysterious subculture. It was a dark rainy day when I read the first 65 pages of it. When I put the book down and went downstairs, I was a different man. Not a scowling, foul mouthed Scot, but knowledge that I was a priviledged middle-class English teenager, but also the lack of identity I felt with it as well, just as the drug addicts did in Trainspotting, without actually touching barely a spliff or having a whiff of glue. I didn’t feel a drop out, but just uncomfortable about identities and stereotypes given to us, the misunderstanding of pigeonholing people with independent brains and souls, but how humans always fall into a trap of doing it. Irivine Welsh’s use of language was that powerful, like a hyperdermic needle, which challenged my way of thinking completely.

I could blame Irvine Welsh on flunking my GCSEs, because when I finished reading Trainspotting I rushed out to buy everything else by this man. Business Studies and Science seemed so boring compared to sex and drugs to a 16 year old me. I probably enjoyed his book Glue more, but Trainspotting changed my life forever, so instead of blaming Irvine Welsh, I would like to thank him.

“Betta than any fuckin’ shite skool class in th’ wurld!”


10 favourite books – part 2 – Of Mice & Men

Dear readers,

Of Mice & Men by John Steinbeck


Through teaching and having been a teenager myself, there are some oiks who do everything to resist reading the books they are thrown at school. For some time, I was one of those oiks, especially in 9th year when I had an appalling English teacher called Mrs. B, who sucked the entertainment and joy out of reading through her ego of listening to her own screeching and being so out of touch with teenagers at the time. How a teacher can’t inject life into the book,The Machine Gunners, is beyond me. We weren’t an unruly bunch, a few attitudes, but we all liked reading and creating little feats of work. She, however, thought we were from Borstal. She was a bully who thought gaining respect from youth was by making them fear her. Instead, she just recieved hate through patronising students and making them feel stupid, which consequently caused students to lose their esteem and dislike reading. People make out its the curriculum, but I am pretty sure she ignored it and picked books that belonged to primary school that didn’t make us think or learn or care. I know that teaching is hard and teenagers can be brats, but if you dislike teaching that much, one should drop their chalk and gradebook and get a job elsewhere. You will only waste your own time, as well your student’s, and cause a generation to suffer. I didn’t learn, nor did fellow students, anything from her, and I still like to think of her face when I’m whacking a piñata. In fact, I sit it as a lost year.

I went into year 10, thankful that she wasn’t my teacher, but a negative view of reading. My parents had tried to regain my interest, but I was just reading Garfield and nothing else. Then came along Mr. Fenwick, or Fennick, I can’t remember, who I liked for his jokes and promoting creativity. Part of the GCSE syllabus was the book Of Mice & Men, and I remember the collective frustrated sigh of the class as he told us. But he seemed so enthusiastic, so enlivened, that he held our attention. Most of us had never heard of the book, but what we gained was a lesson into the Depression in America, race segregation, the perils of bullying, the discriminating views of people with learning difficulties and sacrificing a friendship to create less pain. These were life lessons and made the class think deeply and problems in society that inspires my own life and direction in life; trying to report on realities of the socially discriminated, whether it be street kids or asylum seekers. The book is from the 30s I think, but there were so many things that still made sense today. One of the things I learned from it is that humans learn very slowly from mistakes (or sometimes never at all) and the powerful try to keep the poor repressed.

It’s written in the cold heartedness of third person, with fact after fact but using description and prose that I see used in feature articles today, that build emotion and empathy with characters, and moving the story at a slow but enticing pace. Subconsciously, he taught me how to write, and understand what is good writing. My own personal pioneer.

Like Mark Twain, John Steinbeck wrote a lot about social issues in the US, people who swerved off the road of the American Dream. I have since read the Pearl and East of Eden (the Grapes of Wrath is on my long list to read next) which I found fascinating. In his own way, a kind of US version of Charles Dickens. His books I have found more interesting than to Kill a Mocking Bird or the other so called classic, The Great Gatsby (the latter of which I found so terribly overrated).

I understand that teachers get bored of teaching books year after year, but the British Education Minister, Michael Gove, made an enormous mistake taking American books out of the GCSE syllabus. While it is important for British kids to learn about British values and literature and history etc. such as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens and good ol’ Willy Shakespeare, do not block the opportunities for kids to gain knowledge from great American novels. The aforementioned British authors are on the GCSE syllabus anyway. Gaining an insight into American history and culture is healthy and interwines with our own anyway. In my opinion, Gove has made a grave error. If he really believes the GCSE syllabus is too easy, make exams harder. Otherwise, we should just accept that kids are getting smarter, and their hard work should be recognised, rather than deflating the esteems of youth, like Mrs. B.

I studied other books at college which also had a deep impact on me, such as Othello, Ovid, and BFG, but I think Of Mice & Men deserves to be on my favourites list.

10 favourite books – part 1 – Thomas the Tank Engine

Dear readers,

I’ve set myself a challenge. It’s based on one of the longest running BBC radio shows, Desert Island Discs, which I like to use for teaching from time to time. For those not in the know, the show has been on the airwaves since 1942, and each week a guest, also known as a “castaway”, comes on the show to talk about their life and eight songs which hold a great importance in their life, as well as choose a luxury item and a book. They are interviewed by the sweetly soft seductive voiced, Kirsty Young; always nice to listen to on a lazy Sunday, along with the opening tune By The Sleepy Lagoon, which begins with the sound of seagulls that reminds me of childhood holidays in Cornwall. I like to think that the castaways, which have included the likes of Noel Gallagher, Dustin Hoffman and George Clooney, are being interviewed in a little art studio in St Ives. You get an intimate yet insightful view of their lives, where they can describe their rise or fall from fame and the habits and their loves and hates, without the silly tabloid tattle. There are literally hundreds of interviews on Youtube, which could very well have a few of your most admired artists, actors, musicians, writers, politicians, etc. I don’t partically like being nationalistic or patriotic (much of the time it invites poor excuses to be racist or have an undeserved satisfaction for being proud of a heroic success that you have no part in the making), but this show does make me proud to be British and is a great way of curing homesickness, whenever ever I might feel it. It also reminds me of school days, when I would do my homework in the kitchen while my mum prepared the Sunday Roast and listened to the Castaways, and sweet aromas of meat would float up nose. It’s a truely unique show.

A quick side step for teachers. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but this show is a great for ESOL classes, especially for break-the-ice activities or just enabling students to practice expressing themselves, and doing it through music gives an extra incentive. It’s not an easy activity but it gets students buzzing and talking. Intermediate classes and upwards, and for students of all ages.

Back to the grind, I am going to try and do this but by choosing books that for one reason or other have had a profound impact on me. Also, I’m cheating a little by choosing ten books, not eight, which would probably being used for fuel for a much needed fire anyway, if I were to ever happened to end up deserted on an island with these books. I hope the list inspires reading or inspires you to create your own list. Either way, the internet is full of lists, but for two good reasons. 1) people love lists. 2) SEO guidelines advise it to for google crowdsourcing.

Here is goes.

1. Thomas the Tank Engine by Wilbert Vere Awry


My earliest memories of reading or being read to with books that had an impact on me. There were Ben and Lad books to practice reading at school by they were so numbingly boring and teachers struggled to make them exciting or find a level that the child was at. They cause more of a stunt in reading than anything. I read Topsy & Tim but I can only remember one book about them collecting sticklebacks and putting them in jars, so I don’t think it had the same impact as Thomas. And because I found Tim a nauseating little git and such a cry baby that it made Topsy cringe, it started off an aversion of all people called Tim which exists to this day. People called Tim I find annoying. If your name is Tim, you probably are really annoying and I hope you’ve had to live with Timotei shampoo jokes all your life and it’s brought you down an annoying peg or two because you no doubt needed it. YES. Topsy & Tim inspired me to hate.

Thomas the Tank Engine, though, was the bomb. Set on the fictional island of Sudor between mainland England and the Isle of Man, this chirpy little place probably had more trains and locamotives than required on island so small and so full of railway lines (one of the most intense railway structures in the world, no one would have needed their own transport and impunctuality should have been near on impossible, if not for the catastrophic amount of natural disasters always falling upon the poor people of Sodor. Snow blocks and landslides were seemingly a daily occurance there. But the Sodorians seemed very resiliant and happy in fact, because not once did they try and commit suicide by jumping out in front of Thomas and friends. The rest of the world should have taken note on the excellent services provided by NHS Mental Health Services of Sodor) that it probably inspired Maggie Thatcher to try and privatise the then defunctioning National Rail for having made so many impractical decisions on such a tiny imaginery place. I felt it was real though, a type of magic realism that came long before Gabriel Garcia Marquez became attached with the genre, and I always had to wave at the trains rolling into Hall Green Station when I was small. Trains and helicopters and cars, robots in other words, that talk and have a soul. I suppose it has an element of sci-fi, an indirect inspiration to many movie makers today maybe, maybe not, but it touched accord with me and I was captivated, as were many other millions of kids, as the books were made into television series narrated by Ringo Starr, which are still on TV today and now famous in the US, I believe. There were model railways, too, which began other hobbies in childhood.

Thomas himself was too much of a goody two shoes and a bit of a brown-noser to the Fat Controller and his coaches Annie and Clarabel were a bit apathetic in not letting the little blue arsed engine know. However, I found Gordon’s cruelly sarcastic remarks fascinatingly hilarious, always ready to say something to wind up Thomas and the Fat Controller. Henry the green locamotive most have inspired many lazy stoners, and Percy was Tom’s green sidekick but there was something deceitful about him, and his name sounded too much like the establishement for me, a sly grass, too Tory for me. For me though, the engine that really made me laugh, that inspired me the most, was James. He was nice, but a cocky wind-up and took the piss out of all the small and big engines. Karma always seemed to catch up with him though; a message that I didn’t pick up when I was young. His name also inspired two names for budgies. An entertaining side character that I always like to see in novels today, that make me giggle. You can see the devious look on his face below. Genius. What an engine.


All these were read at my 7 to 8 o’clock bedtime and I think my parents loved it just as much as I did, delving into Sodor, and I will always be grateful to them for inspiring me to read (and write) with such amazing stories.


Dear readers,

About a week ago, my wife introduced to Netflix. Of course, I knew all about it and was well aware that it was one of the main reasons for killing off the video rental industry and people becoming obese. I miss and loathe it at the same time. I miss going to Titles and then later Apollo, on Hall Green Parade, reading the thousands sypnosises of movies, sometimes trying to launch my 14 year self up to the top shelf to read the Shannon Tweed pervy movies and oogle the perverted cover. I miss going home and watching a movie with the family (not with Shannon Tweed, but my brother once convinced my mum that Robocop was a kids movie causing my then four year old sister years of traumatic stress). I miss standing around and dreaming of being in movies on the video store shelves, then going up to a bemused punter and proudly saying, “I’m in that!” I must say, in my new job, which involves a lot of headline writing and branding, those days of reading synopsises gave me great scope in reading and writing about things not that significant but making them seem amazing. However, I saw a lof of daft movies and feeling fooled by enticing language.

I won’t miss paying a two or three quid for each video and only keeping a day or so. I won’t miss walking there in the cold and dark and rain and snow and trying to unshamedly to convince my mother that movies with names like “Night Lust” might be for kids. “Why has it an 18 certificate with a naked lady on the cover then?” she would say. Suffice to say, she’d learned her lesson through my brother. Gracias hermano!

Netflix. Cheap, easy, great when you want to watch a whichever movie whenever (apart from when the electricity is out, a common occurrence in many areas in Honduras), and against my better wishes, quite an amazing capitalist enterprise. If you like do marathons of television series, you can do it. They do hog TV series quite a lot, which is a pain if you haven’t access to internet and a computer. One such TV series, that has been doing the rounds on social media is Narcos, and it has Pamela and I hooked.


It makes me feel bittersweet to like it. I like it because it is interesting learning about the drug lord Pablo Escobar and his mythical Robin Hood like legend (they say 25,000 mourners went to his funeral) yet this man, like many murderous dictators, seems so charming. I’m sure charm helped him on the road to become the world’s biggest drug lords, but this violent element, like in many gangster movies and TV series, it doesn’t sit well with me. One might say, that was/is how it was/is. However, but does glorification of it really need to be seen? I’m not prude, nor am I scared, but I feel there is a lack of respect for victims, especially as this is a real story, and when I see it on the front page newspapers here (which I’ve written about before and still dislike to this day, the Latin American media culture, using images to cause fear and control of people. I have no proof of it, but I am sure these images urge violence), I feel for the families. This isn’t glory. This is a loss of life. This type media makes us apathethic (no way does it inspire change), yet it somehow builds empathy for a murdering anti-hero. At the same time, my artistic licence says, sod morals, let the world know how it is and get on with it. And this is done in Narcos.

It’s sexed up with Latin fever. It almost has to be. With Colombian women being world renowned for their beauty, as well as women from other Latin American countries, you’d be almost disappointed if it didn’t (saying that, I don’t want to portray women as objects, but appreciating their undeniable natural beauty) and criticise for not taking advantage. Many programmes do throughout the Americas, which is kind of a strange hypocrisy for the culture when you think of how many Latin American countries have a strong Catholic voice (remember too that murder is a mortal sin, which makes you tap your head and wonder. This isn’t a knock on Catholicism or the faith, but more on mortals committing such horrific sins right in front of the church, which they might well have gone to on a weekly basis as a kid). Boobs and arses keep their mystery, while somehow remain flaunted in our faces on an everyday basis. The media is almost like a red-light district in Holland, with women showing their intimates and trying to lure you in. We’re all a sucker for it, no matter your sexual orientation. In the opening credits of Narcos there are bared tanned thighs, underwear tempting passionate affairs, lush red lips on devilishly gorgeous women, beauty queens in tiny bikinis, along with a seductive Latin lullaby floating in the background, and before you’ve got through the first scene, you’ve chomped on the maggot and got a hook through your cheek; yes, this sells sex. I’m not complaining. But just look at for whom this aimed at: America. Any other demographic on top of that is a bonus.

It goes into death about the American involvement in the downfall of Escobar (watching this is like Titantic; you know it all ends in death but you want to see how) and their military missions to kill off Communism, with them looking somewhat like heros (with many incompetences inbetween). To be fair, it is quite critical of America’s Impirialistic control, but you still know who this is aimed at: Americans.

You can tell the show wasn’t made by Colombians. It has caused a bit of a shit storm in the country itself, with criticism about it being just another narco series (there have been a few Latin American based dramas, one in Mexico is based on the wives of drug lords), others laughing at the Colombian accents (Escobar is actually played by the famous Braizilian actor, Wagner Moura (who to be fair is very good) and his wife a Mexican) but also disdain for the representation of Colombian culture, which has tried to make great strides since its turmoil in the 80s and 90s, and is actually now a model for countries struggling with drug trafficking, like Honduras.

So sex and violence and USA is the hero and Latin America gets its name dragged through the mud again, right in the run up in the Republican elections in the US (we all know what they think of Latinos, or as many simply like to refer to as Mexicans). I’m not saying this is propaganda, but the whole show is most unhelpful to the great people of this continent, and why the American mainstream media can’t touch on the great many things about the culture, such as the humour, the magic realism, the football, the literature, the art and the music. It always boils down to portraying Latin America as slutty, corrupt, Communist, dangerous, murderous, etc, while trying to divert struggles in America’s own backyard. The drug problems here are due to America and Europe wanting great supplies of, what is commonly as, the devil’s dandruff. This is touched on in the series, but not enough. I love Latin America. I see great things above the issues, and yet while many are proud of their country, there is still a low esteem to how it is represented around the world. Many people are surprised when I say that I am happy here. I have caught it from the people. My family in the UK did too. America can’t buy their happiness, but they don’t want to portray it either. It disappoints me.

Maybe instead of building walls to off poor immigrants, why not stop siding with Presidents like Juan Orlando who oversee stealing of public funds? Why not help set up proper democracies that don’t repress the poor so they don’t feel the need to go to the USA, leaving families behind?

I’m a self-confessed hypocrite though. It’s entertainment and Pamela and I are at episode 7 and have three more to go.

This is why I feel bittersweet about this series. Share your views.

Lizandro Saenz

Dear readers,

My friend and Laureate colleague, Lizandro Saenz, is going on an academic trip to Mexico at the Universidad de Valle. He’s a great chum, who is doing his degree at Unitec, but working every hour God sends to afford this trip to further his career. The trip is for 2 weeks and very intensive, costing $4,000, which his family are unable to support him. He has almost $300. If you can support him, it would be much appreciated.

Log on below and donate if you can.

Well done, Corbyn

Dear readers,

Emmm. How fresh. This feeling. Contagious, isn’t it? That change is going to happen. I’ve caught it in Honduras, through the magical powers of social media and the Guardian newspaper app, someone who speaks on behalf of people and cares. Despite the right-wing propaganda, there is no doubt that the establishment are worried. It’s fuck all to do with whether Corbyn is left or right or from Mars. He has been campaigning for years, is passionate, vocal and intelligent. For an Establishment, this is frightening. The mud-slinging will not be tolerated (i.e. note how Blair suffered) and bullshit will be harder to get away with (i.e. IDS’s disgraceful policies on the disabled has been reported to the UN).

Fear from British Establishment’s, a bit like a wild animal, can make it react in two ways. One is that it gets more vicious (i.e. Black and Tans in Ireland to stop the Irish rising up to British control, which is just one of many examples) or it will have to listen to what the people want to try and con them back into a kind of uncomfortable, confusing ignorant political bliss (bliss for those in power). How the Tories react will be interesting. What was a comfortable win in May, Cameron looks to be on rocking, especially after his pathetic, false to care, about the refugee situation there is in Europe right now. If he keeps this incompetence up, more and more people will move to Corbyn. The British political ballpark has changed, and I am personally so grateful to Corbyn.

What’s more, his wife is a Latina. All the best Englishmen have one! 😎.

I also want to thank everyone who took to the streets in support of refugees today. The cause is dear to my heart after my time with the Refugee Council.

It wasn’t long ago that my cousin Sam West and my best man Jordan Kenny took to the Honduran streets on march the against Juan Orlando’s cronies (not to forget my brother Ben, sister Liz and cousin Hannah, who is probably on the march as well). Now they are together in London.


"FUERA JOH" - ¿cual es la ruta?

I guess, to finish off, I want this to happen:


It’s important not to get carried away, but it just feels good to have someone in power, a voice, that speaks to you. It’s been a long time.

Thank you, #Corbyn. #Jeezwecan