Category Archives: Musings

Geocaching GO

I’ve been playing Pokemon Go on and off for a few weeks now, mainly curious to see how it works, what the attraction is, and in the main, I’ve been enjoying it, though I feel the novelty might be wearing off a bit now. It does appear to have had some unexpected side effects, though – it’s got people out of the house who wouldn’t normally dream of it, it’s got young people so active that they are experiencing Pokemon Legs (i.e. aching muscles from so much exercise), and it has – inevitably – brought about new relationships.

Continue reading Geocaching GO

Hillsborough, 25 years on

"You'll Never Walk Alone", Shankly Gates, Anfield, Liverpool
“You’ll Never Walk Alone”, Shankly Gates, Anfield, Liverpool – photo by Andy Nugent, on Flickr

Writing about Hillsborough is difficult for me, but not for the reasons you might think.

I wasn’t there on 15th April 1989, I was in the car with my Mum in Norwich, returning home after a day’s shopping with the radio on when I heard what had happened. At the time I don’t think I had realised exactly how bad things were – I was only 16.

There are so many people who were directly affected by the tragedy – not only the families of the 96 men, women and children who died, but also the survivors who were there and witnessed the horrific events unfolding, who tried or were unable to help, and who subsequently saw their names dragged through the mud in the following days by a certain newspaper (still, shamefully, the best selling newspaper in this country). With their experiences, who am I to comment on something that did not affect me personally? Yet I still get upset reading about that awful day, and I’m only beginning to understand why.

There was certainly a perception of football fans at the time as no more than sub-human hooligans. And it’s true that travelling as an away supporter, to Liverpool or elsewhere, was an unpleasant experience for many – I’ve heard stories of people waiting at Lime Street station for fans in away team colours in order to deliberately target them for abuse or physical attacks. The image of scousers in general was also a negative one – growing up in Wigan, if we heard Liverpool accents we walked the other way, the prejudices of a generation being handed down to us children without being questioned. The actions of a minority who were responsible for the tragic events at the Heysel stadium in 1985 were also conflated to the extent that all English clubs were banned from European competition for years.

Of course all groups are stereotyped, and usually on the basis of the actions of a small but disproportionately vocal or visible minority. Liverpool, a city with high unemployment and two major football clubs, was an obvious target, and the way a major national newspaper even thought it could get away with its scandalous ‘The Truth’ front page was an indicator of just how mainstream, almost accepted, that stereotyping was.

JFT96 by Graham Walton, on Flickr

I now know, of course, having travelled to Liverpool myself as a supporter, and having met many people older than I who have been travelling to Anfield since they were children, that this stereotype just does not apply to the vast majority of fans. Even outside the football grounds, the people of Liverpool are ridiculously friendly, not suspicious of someone with a camera and tripod like in London, always chatting to strangers like they’ve known them all their life, much like most towns and cities in the North of England. And knowing that 96 of these wonderful people, whose only wish was to see their team play an FA Cup semifinal, were seen as somehow unworthy of the respect usually reserved for the dead, is still only part of why I feel so upset when I read about what happened on that day and afterwards.

No, the one thing that transforms a person’s capacity for empathy is becoming a parent. My son is now 15, the same age as many of those who were at Hillsborough. The thought of him being taken away so indiscriminately, by something that people had been warning could happen for years, and yet still was not prevented, is heart-wrenching. I can’t possibly imagine what it’s been like for the families of the 96 who have had to wait 25 years to find out why their loved ones were let down so shamefully. I can only hope that they finally get what they have been so desperately searching for all this time.

  • John Alfred Anderson (62)
  • Colin Mark Ashcroft (19)
  • James Gary Aspinall (18)
  • Kester Roger Marcus Ball (16)
  • Gerard Bernard Patrick Baron (67)
  • Simon Bell (17)
  • Barry Sidney Bennett (26)
  • David John Benson (22)
  • David William Birtle (22)
  • Tony Bland (22)
  • Paul David Brady (21)
  • Andrew Mark Brookes (26)
  • Carl Brown (18)
  • David Steven Brown (25)
  • Henry Thomas Burke (47)
  • Peter Andrew Burkett (24)
  • Paul William Carlile (19)
  • Raymond Thomas Chapman (50)
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  • Graham John Wright (17)

Rest in Peace

Photography is dead. No it isn’t. Is it?


A member of the audience records a performance of Retro StefsonPhotography is dead. Photography has never been more alive.

Photography is losing its soul. Photography has been democratised.

Photography is dumbing down. Photography has never been more sophisticated.

In the end, a photograph is a photograph. Does it elicit an emotional response? Does it take you back to those lazy days on the beach last summer? Does it make you remember how proud you were when your son or daughter first wore a school uniform? Does it make you laugh again at how crazy that night out was? Does it start an entertaining discussion on the best way to make a chilli? Does it fill you with wonder and awe at the power of nature? Does it help you sell your product to the right kind of client? Does it tell a story about a war and its effect on a society that has lived with conflict for decades? Does it present you in a professional manner? Does it show how a moment of happiness can be found in the most miserable places? Does it show a performer at the peak of their career, lost in their art? Does it show dignity in the face of declining health and advancing years? Does it make you hungry or thirsty? Does it show two athletes giving everything they can and then a little bit more? Does it tease and titillate? Does it make you think?

Doesn’t it make you think? What is ‘true’ photography if not all of these things and more?

O you who turn the wheel

Ian M. Banks at Worldcon 2005 in Glasgow, August 2005. Picture taken by Szymon Sokół
Ian M. Banks at Worldcon 2005 in Glasgow, August 2005. Picture taken by Szymon Sokół, licenced under Wikimedia Commons

Television. The telephone. Waterproof raincoats. Single malt whisky. Deep-fried Mars bars. We have may things to thank Scotland for, some perhaps more than others. However one product of Scotland that I, and many others, will miss is the genius of Iain Banks, who died today following an announcement two months ago that he had terminal cancer.

It wasn’t a shock, but it still surprised me how strongly I reacted when I heard the news. I have been steadily working my way through his back catalogue since someone recommended Excession to me nearly 20 years ago. It’s sad to think that I will no longer feel the thrill that came with knowing another Banks book was about to be published. I’m not ashamed to admit I shed a tear.

The thing that struck me most about Banks’s writing was his imagination. I have a huge respect for anyone who can come up with original ideas on a regular basis, but the sheer scale of the stories that Banks wrote, not just in the Iain M Banks series of science fiction books but the more supposedly ‘real-world’ novels he wrote without his middle initial (which veered towards science fiction or fantasy themselves in many cases) was nothing short of astonishing.

He managed to conceive an entire galactic civilisation called The Culture, which he used to demonstrate just how a society could operate without the constraints of money, laws, or territorial boundaries. He created beings that existed in the upper layers of gas giants, and imagined exotic worlds where he would apply the laws of physics to hypothetical scenarios, such as The Algebraist’s water world where a sphere of liquid the size of a planet gave rise to unusual conditions at the centre of the globe. In The Player of Games a ring of vegetation surrounding the equator of a moon supports an eternal, circulating forest fire, while in Against a Dark Background one finds a single, giant tree on which all the planet’s inhabitants depended for survival.

Of course there was also a dark side to his imagination. The eponymous contraption from his debut novel, The Wasp Factory, is shocking in its ingenuity and depravity, and some of the torture methods his characters employ in Complicity, among others, made you fear for his sanity.

One of the most affecting aspects of his writing was his knack for describing the final moments of someone’s life. When someone dies in a Banks book, you don’t witness it, you experience it, as the last thoughts and emotions of the doomed individual are played out on the pages in front of you. It never fails to shock me, and it was this ability to evoke strong emotions in the reader that marked him out, to me at least, as one of the great writers of our time.

Please join me in raising a glass to Iain Menzies Banks, 1954-2013.