Monthly Archives: November 2016



‘Even if you are in a minority of one, the truth is the truth.’ Mahatma Gandhi. 

We live in a post-truth society. Did you know? Well, if you didn’t, you should do because so established is the phenomenon that Oxford Dictionaries have chosen it as International Word of the Year for 2016.

For those not intimately acquainted with the term’s precise meaning, here’s how the OD defines it. “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

They go on to add some examples. “In this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire” and “some commentators have observed that we are living in a post-truth age”.

I think you can see where I am going with this. Well, I say ‘am’, but, in truth – as opposed to post-truth, which is an adjective – it’s more a ‘was’ because I have already been derailed from my task. Time is short, the art long, as I believe Hippocrates said, and I’ve been too busy amassing evidence for my initial sweeping assertion to have sufficient time available in which to write about it.

Time flies. Ain’t that the truth? (Even though, actually, it doesn’t. It has no aeronautical qualities whatsoever.) Checking facts in order to construct a reasoned, evidence-based argument is not only time-consuming – it’s also a little bit last century. And, according to one source (Claire Fox, in the Spectator) something about we should all be more wary, because doing everything by numbers (especially politics) risks ‘patronizing’ those who ‘vote with their hearts’, and also of coming ‘dangerously close to advocacy’.

And yet, and yet. Are we to conclude that telling lies for political gain is henceforth acceptable? The other night, my friend Rachel’s son Nathan showed me some images. We were talking about social media, and how much rubbish can be found there, and he showed me a pair of images, one of which had originated from Forbes news site, and one which had originated from NASA.

Both images were identical but the captions were not. One said “Mysterious space debris hits Earth on Friday 13th”, the other “ WT1190F safely reenters Earth’s atmosphere.”

Exactly. By the same token, there isn’t a shred of evidence that David Cameron ever got up close and personal with a pig’s head. Nor an atom of truth in the recently reported story that the Christmas lights in some parts of Sweden were cancelled to avoid angering Muslim refugees. (In reality, an electricity company had taken over responsibility for providing power in some districts, and wouldn’t sanction the lights due to cost implications and because their new lampposts weren’t designed to take the weight.)

In all these cases, there is a common denominator. Before their legitimacy had been questioned to a level sufficient to make them go away, they were shared on social media in eye-watering numbers.

But if you loathe David Cameron, feel vexed about refugees or, indeed, have a strong suspicion that there’s something out there, then being made aware of these falsehoods is unlikely to trouble you, because the addition to your stock of prejudice has already been bolted on. And that’s if the facts even reach you.

I know this to be true because I’ve been duped also. Like many of my friends on facebook, deep in the mire of a situation set to out-Brexit Brexit, I liked and shared an image of one Donald Trump, the caption beneath which purported that he’d once said some pretty scathing things about the intellect and credulity of republican voters, and that, as a consequence, should he ever run for president (cue hollow laughter) that would be the party he would opt for – the dastardly ****!

I knew something else, too. That I wasn’t going to allow a little detail like the truth to get in the way of a nice robust loathing. Heck, he’d certainly said enough other stuff that really annoyed me, hadn’t he? And it was still the sort of thing he COULD have said, wasn’t it? Might even HAVE said at some point, truth be known. He wants to build a wall to keep the Mexicans out, for heaven’s sake!

Sound familiar? This sort of thing rolls off the tongue so easily, doesn’t it? Which is why post-truth is an adjective we should take care can never be applied to ourselves, because it allows people with immense power to lie to us every day.

We swallow it and share it at our peril.

First published in The Western Mail Weekend Magazine Nov 26th 2016

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able-seacat-simon-2The abridged, junior edition of the story of Able Seacat Simon, beloved hero of the high seas. A must for Michael Morpurgo fans!

When an orphaned kitten is discovered in the Hong Kong docks in 1948 by a British sailor, he has no idea of the journey that awaits him. Smuggled onto HMS Amethyst and named ‘Simon’ by his new friends, the little cat quickly gets used to life on the seas and appoints himself chief rat-catcher.

When tragedy strikes, Seacat Simon keeps spirits up – but it’s a long and dangerous journey back to England for the heroic kitten and his crewmates . . .

Inspired by real events, this is the story of ‘Able Seacat’ Simon’s adventures and heroics in dangerous wartime seas, as told by the cat himself!

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At the beginning of the year, my book, Able Seacat Simon, was published – a novel based on the life of the eponymous famous feline, who was ship’s cat aboard HMS Amethyst during the 1949 Yangtse Incident. He’s also the only cat to have ever been awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal.

So there’s the background. Now we move on to mid April, when an email arrives from a lady called Ann, writing to tell me that she has finished it, and to pass on some kind comments about it too. She also tells me how much her 83 year old mum loves it, and sends a couple of photos of her own cherished kitty, Patsy, and one of a crocheted cat tissue box holder she’s made. As opposed to crocheted cat-tissue box holder, which is quite different, and would be bonkers – everyone knows cats never blow their noses.

(I’ve been blessed with this particular book, by the way – so much lovely, and often humbling, correspondence. And I wonder – are cat lovers and retired naval officers a particularly warm and communicative group? I’ve never had such a plethora of letters.)ableseacatsi_hardback_1471151832_72

Anyway, cracking on, I reply, admiring both her darling cat and her crocheting skills – not least because my own needle skills are virtually non-existent. I’m still knitting a ‘stylish’ snood I began in 2012, and am still only a ball and a half in.

“Would you like me to make you a ‘Simon’ holder?” Ann asks, in her next email.

“Why, yes, I would,” I respond, because why ever wouldn’t I? I’m not really a tissue person – I generally favour a wodge of kitchen roll – but what’s not to like about being given a present? Particularly when that present is both personal and hand-made.

Fast forward a couple of months, to the arrival another email. Ann hasn’t forgotten me. The holder is finally now in progress. It’s just that she’s been busy – Ann works full time – and since her personalised holders take around four weeks each to make, she has currently got something of a backlog. She makes them, you see, for anyone who wants them, asking only that the recipient make a small donation to her local cat shelter, so they can buy much needed cat food.

We chat further. About her cat and our cats, about my friend Rose’s cat, Stan. The usual random cat stuff, because that’s the way we cat ladies roll.

And then, in October, comes the news that it’s finished. And a week or so later, my gift arrives in the post, along with six knitted catnip balls – she makes those as well – two each for my two, plus two more for my friend Rose’s cat, Stan.

(The catnip balls go down A STORM.)

Touched, I write to thank her, and also mention in my email that my tissue-holding Simon has already been much admired, my other friend Jane having been round when I received it.

Ann writes back immediately. Would Jane like one too? And, if so, what colour would she prefer?

I consult Jane – who is touched and delighted. I tell Ann ‘goldy-slash-beigey-slash-marmalade-catty’, as Jane’s Reggie, who was run over a couple of years back, had been a ginger tom. I also mention that I too have had something of a hectic week – because the children’s version of Able Seacat Simon has just come out, and I’ve been busy penning cat facts and feline fun stuff for my diminutive new readership.

Ann emails back, wishing both me and the book well, commenting that she will definitely look out for it in the shops, because her friend’s 10 year old daughter Grace will doubtless love it.

So I write back – would Grace like me to send her a signed copy?

She would. So I send one, duly dedicated and dated, and this week, Ann’s written to say how chuffed Grace’s mum Carol is, and that Grace herself has had her nose in it ever since.

Which is lovely. As I’m sure will be Jane’s goldy-slash-beigey-slash- marmalade-catty crocheted holder. But why exactly (I hear you ask) have I filled up this page with all this everyday, bland, boring schizzle?

Because Ann’s a happy bunny. Because I’m a happy bunny. because Rose is happy, and, once her holder arrives, Jane will be happy too. (Well, happier, which is what this is all about.) And, in turbulent times, full of mistrust and hate, young Grace has learned something positive about people – that unsolicited acts of kindness, by stranger, are still, in fact, a thing.

So no apologies for sharing. Indeed, please pass it on. This everyday boring swizzle is precisely the sort of thing that will  help heal us.

First Published in Western Mail Weekend magazine, Nov 19th 2016

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I don’t know about you, but, well, look, here’s the thing – shall we skip gaily over the US Presidential election? All this social unrest/ new world order/possibility of Putin rocking up the Bristol Channel atop a nuclear submarine with his shirt off /the general apocalypse-lite the western world seems hell-bent on getting itself embroiled in lately, makes me want to run away and just do something NICE.

As I write, I have no idea what kind of planet we’ll be living on now, only that both ‘different’ and ‘a teeny weeny bit scary’ seem a safe bet. Which is why it ‘being ever so close to Christmas’ is a manifestly good thing, because it means as you can turn your back on global politics , dust off your ‘fiddling about with seasonal glitter and glue’ gene, and cock a snook at all the grim sturm and drang.

In the name of research, I asked Pete about genes, and, once he’d

Let's create!

Let’s create!

given me a fifteen minute Reith lecture about the history of gene nomenclature (which was fascinating, obviously, but possibly best kept for another column), I deduced that there must be a ‘seasonally affective fiddling about with glitter and glue’ gene. And while its acronym needs work (SAFAWGG? Let’s just stick with SAFA) that it’s probably, though not exclusively, nestled somewhere in the crook of an X chromosome.

Not sure if you have one but pretty sure you might do? Here’s my handy cut out and keep guide to SAFA.


You probably have SAFA if you head into town bent on general, non-seasonal shopping, but find yourself in Paperchase and momentarily transfixed by the rows of tiny purple reindeer.

You are actively looking out for facebook posts featuring GIFs of Noddy Holder, singing.

You are a conscientious home-worker, with a pile of normally appealing professional work to be done, but keep sliding off-piste and going on Etsy.

You go on a country walk and instead of paying homage to the myriad wonders of Autumn you keep picking up logs with architectural potential.

You start saying ‘ahhhh, when I retire, I can’t wait to…’ and the words ‘scrapbooking, ‘decoupage’, and ‘hand embellished gift box’ feature heavily in your internal discourse.

You see Prince Harry’s gorgeous girlfriend (Meghan Markle – keep up) and while you, like, totally applaud her ‘I don’t want to be a lady who lunches, but a woman who works’ quote (and, of course, file it away as a mantra with which to bore your daughter/daughter in law/son’s girlfriend/any random young female who you think NEEDS to know this stuff) there is a part of you, well-hidden, because still you rise, and so on, that thinks, ‘yes, forget the lunch part, because that’s such a misunderstood and maligned trope, isn’t it? But could I not also be a female who smashes through the glass ceiling, but still has space in her diary for regularly fiddling about with glitter and glue?’

You are fifty seven, but you still have a fully operational ‘Children’s Craft Box’.

You have a yen to create any of the following:

A festive twig wreath.

A home-made advent calendar, filled with hand-made peppermint creams.


Anything whatsoever out of pine cones.

You develop an unlikely enthusiasm for going to the local garden centre.

You make an extraordinarily passionate case for work-life balance, citing the 76.6% of working women of the Netherlands who work less that 36 hours per week, and going ‘you SEE?’ to anyone who hasn’t run away.

The thought of transforming your kitchen windowsill into a spanglish winter wonderland – involving fairylights, clumps of berries dipped in silver leaf, and a lovingly crafted homage to Sinter Klass – feels like the most important creative idea you’ve had all day.

You wish you were so well-heeled that you could wake up on a frosty morning and think ‘sod work, today I am going to stud oranges with cloves and steep orchard fruits in home-made blackberry wine and just anyone try and stop me, okay?’

You wish you were so authenitically ‘ye olde peasantry’ that studding oranges with cloves and steeping orchard fruits in home made blackberry wine was, like, just what you had to do, to survive. Because you KNOW it would make you soooo happy.

You wish you had someone you could make a costume for.

Or is it just me?

Either way, I have a SAFA gene, and you’ll find me in my craft bunker.


First published in The Western Mail Weekend Magazine Nov 12th 2016

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