Category Archives: The Golden Country

Welcome guests

For all the fabulous smoke and mirrors of modern-day spectacles like pop concerts, theatrical experiences and 3D or even 4D films, it always amuses me to see how Mother Nature can throw up an example of incandescent beauty, an act of natural phenomena that completely derails all man-made aesthetics; an example being this last week’s blood red moon. On travelling from Glasgow to Liverpool by train this pale eye to the universe completely transfixed me. It was also refreshing to see that social media had been taken over by La Luna too, the Kardashian types being completely overshadowed.

blood moon, National Geographic Your Shot community

There is a timeless allure about the natural world that persists. I am fascinated by this and the way that certain poems, stories and myths interweave with the elements. Stories like Beowulf and the passed down morality of fairy tales in whatever guise they take. I have found that this distraction of nature and certain literature provide a necessary antidote to the speedy contemporary world we live in.

I had been avoiding listening to the news first thing in the morning for the symphony of despair tended to play a discordant tune in my head that like one of those annoying song lyrics can linger and re-play over and over throughout my day. Also, I had been abstaining from reading the free newspaper on the morning bus commute. I found that to start the day engulfed in a multimedia bamboozlement of negativity was just well too much. I’d rather stick with nature and myths.

One poem that I have recently kept re-visiting that resonates with me and helps me tackle the varied speed bumps and uncertainties of the day is by the ancient poet RUMI, The Guest House. I first discovered this writer with his simple mantra, ‘Unfold your own myth’. The more I read autobiographies and follow the Twitter feeds of artists that I admire; I see how true this simple statement is.


The poem is a warming code for living that I think can really put each day into perspective.


This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
Still, treat each guest honourably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

Okay, so now I have started listening to the news in the morning again and occasionally picking up a free paper to scan the headlines. For as the poem advocates, it is important to welcome all that enters your energy field. I challenge you to spend 21 days (that is supposedly the time it takes to form a new habit, good or bad) reading out loud or writing this beautiful lyric out first thing in the morning. You never know what this incantation may bring you. It may help soothe the wildest of monkey minds.

Picture of the blood moon from National Geographic

Leave a Comment

Filed under The Golden Country

Choosing to remain

Thirty-five is a very attractive age; London society is full of women who have, of their own free choice, remained 35 for years.

– Oscar Wilde


Thank you to Mr Maguire for the book!

Leave a Comment

Filed under The Golden Country

Devils and angels

Many artists and writers have used their craft to wrestle with their demons. The maestro of the macabre, Stephen King, openly discusses his alcohol and cocaine use in his part autobiography/part tool-kit for writers, On Writing. He speaks of how Annie Wilkes, the psychotic protagonist in his tale Misery, was a personification of the evils of his addiction. The impeccable songsmith John Grant bleeds lyrics from his personal heartbreak in his albums Queen of Denmark and Pale Green Ghosts.

It is interesting that Annie Lennox said recently she finds it increasingly difficult to write when she is content and would rather be happy and not writing music than in emotional chaos. Chaos is undoubtedly part of our current society. This world is like a spinning wheel, constant spin, spin, spin, spinning into digital mayhem! Twitter is like looking into a river stream full of planks of cheap wood, constantly drifting along; with the very occasional salmon swimming past. The old adage

Empty vessels make the most noise,

has never been more relevant.

To escape at least once a month, I visit a very dear friend who has a small cottage in Oxton, a tiny village right next to Birkenhead in The Wirral, Merseyside. This is my sanctuary and I dub it the Oxton retreat. I love the space, just 24 hours in this quirky bohemian space rejuvenates me with its cold stone floors, burning log fire and secret courtyard garden, plus an excellent library of art books, films and music. It is like taking a week away in the sunshine. It is also in this quaint village that I stumbled upon what is now one of my favourite pieces of sculpture. I recommend to those who have not visited The Williamson Art Gallery to do so and particularly see Arthur Dooley’s Satan.

artist and sculptor arthur dooley 1929-1994 who has been voted number 35 in 100 greatest Merseysiders.

This is a piece that has clearly sprung from the dark recesses of the artist’s mind. It is disturbing in its simplicity and really never fails to deposit a minuscule cube of ice from the top of my spine right down my body every time I see it. I am sure Dooley, like most creatives, had his own troubles, his angels and devils. But I always find myself wondering what demon he was trying to exorcise with this sinister piece on Beelzebub?

arthur dooleys satan

Thankfully, creative people do use their work to express their inner turmoil. Personal turbulence is our gain even if it is a gift that for the individual is both a blessing and a curse. As Stephen Fry quite aptly puts it in his autobiography Moab Is My Washpot:

It’s not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing—they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.

Leave a Comment

Filed under The Golden Country

Book swapping

Bookshops are on the rapid decline, that is a fact. Just one of many features of the 24-hour society that does sadden my soul. That said, I have discovered a place to obtain reading material more original than picking up a book in the supermarket. I found myself randomly shopping in what was once, when I was young, the scene of many, many a Saturday afternoon in hell, BELLE VALE SHOPPING CENTRE, Liverpool. I have often thought this would be an ideal venue if I was filming a seventies Zombie flick.

To my joy I discovered a little outlet containing rows of interesting looking used books. It was a book swap.

Book swap shelves

A place you can leave unwanted books and simply exchange for others.

I love the randomness of discovering books you never have considered reading or those that had passed you by. Since that day several weeks ago, I have been using the book swap weekly. I’ve reconnected with an old friend, Adrian Mole, now in his ‘prostrate years.’ I’d completely forgotten about reading the geek hero’s exploits when I was wrestling with my own adolescence. To meet the chap now in his late thirties and discover his problems, gripes and troubles, at roughly the same age as me, has been a joyous re-union.

I have had the pleasures of creeping into the mind of history teacher Barbara Covett, in Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal. Although I was quite glad to leave that lady to her cutting and arrogant observations. It was like being in the head of a Daily Mail reporter.

In the spirit of the exchange, I too have deposited a few stories. Currently in the process of moving into a new flat, I am once again having to prune my library. Books to me are like plastic carrier bags that you house in a kitchen cupboard or under the sink, they seem to multiply and multiply, until they practically take over. So I have left a few battered Dickens, some Palahniuk: Choke, Lullaby and Fight Club. A couple of random Irvine Welsh that I have outgrown, most notably Trainspotting. More of my books will certainly be leaving to populate these shelves.

Reading chair

It is just so great to have a little bit of haphazardness to my choice of reading matter. The result: others too may pick up volumes they would never had considered and perhaps find some new taste. Even simply a re-visit to a past favourite writer. If you know a space in your community you could promote a similar scheme, please, please do. It could be a box in your staff room, a shelf in one of your community halls. Or perhaps, you could partake in some guerrilla tactics, like leaving a book on public transport, a bus or a train? You never know what random treat you could afford somebody. A little more upbeat than the negative bias of a free newspaper. Okay, the book may get thrown in the rubbish or recycling bin, but it may influence someone to pick it up and read it, give it a new home.

A random act of kindness, something becoming increasingly rare these days.

Leave a Comment

Filed under The Golden Country

Air Babylon by Imogen Edwards Jones

Ladies and gentleman, welcome on board this feature. My name is John and I will be your reporter during today’s review of the notorious book, AIR BABYLON. It will be quite a short, succinct piece and if the seat belt sign is turned on, please return to your seats and buckle up immediately.


Please note before we do take off, in one of my previous lives I was actually a long-haul flight attendant for a well-known Italian business. I travelled around the world for several years enjoying the environments of Cuba, Maldives, Dominican Republic, Mombasa, Calgary, Goa and Florida to name a few. A question I am often asked is that of my favourite destination. Undoubtedly Calgary, a great place for outdoor pursuits and a thriving culture scene. It was quite a lifestyle: staying in five-star hotels and having lots of time off in between. Reality did not just bite, when I had to do a proper occupation with conventional hours, as in so much that it gnawed off my leg.

So this book, AIR BABYLON by Imogen Edwards Jones and Anonymous. In a similar formula to Hotel Babylon, the stories all take place within a fictitious airline known as AIR BABYLON. The action is the life cycle of an airport’s day of operation and a flight. However, like air travel in general, there was a slight delay before the story actually took off. This piece of pulp fiction reminded me of terminology used in this industry I had forgotten, such as disco nap (a quick sleep before a night on the dance floor). It took me right back to what it was like working in the airport, an overpriced shopping centre with runways. I recalled the cast of characters regularly seen, semi-permanent resident tramps, drug addicts and petty thieves.

I could identify with lots of areas covered in the book. For example, some of the customer annoyances and desperately trying to have five minutes’ rest on an upturned silver stock box in the galley, uninterrupted by passengers demanding more booze or snacks. To the in-flight rituals: checking the seat pockets during turn around (when the plane prepares to come back from a short haul flight) to see what treasures are left behind. Things like duty free or books, the occasional oddity like dentures and – on one of my long-haul flights – a sex aid!

It also identified my particular hate, passengers standing up as soon as we landed, even though the fuselage was still in transit,

They’ve been cooped up for hours, fed and watered at someone else’s whim, and now, suddenly they are allowed free will. But it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference. If they are not held up by passport control, Baggage will get them in the end. They’ll all end up standing next to one another in the taxi queue at the other end no matter how speedily they exit the plane.

I will state now though that I am not one to kiss and tell, my personal tales of damage and glamour are filed away in my mind’s eye for my own pleasure and perhaps a few choice friends only. As I worked in the aviation industry, some of the sensationalist factoids quoted failed to impress. In general, I found the book was like a long-haul fight. It was too, too long and some of the anecdotes made me feel nauseous. I did wonder whether or not the book should be accompanied with a sick bag, as the emphasis was on the grosser elements involved in sharing space with strangers at 35,000 feet. A great deal too much focus on toilet habits!

Where the amount of scenarios encountered in a 24 hour time period in a hotel seemed just about credible, here in the air it is exceptionally unbelievable. With one calamity bungling into the next, this book makes the movie Snakes on a Plane seem plausible. A warning to the cautious, particularly those who feel extremely petrified about flying, a common phobia: THIS BOOK WOULD NOT PROVE APPROPRIATE TRAVEL READING.

I personally find the whole concept of air travel fine. I quite like floating up in the clouds, it is soothing. But I must say I do find the choice of terminology for an airport quite weird, I mean TERMINAL is not a good advertisement for safety. If you have never worked in aviation, this book will prove to be salacious camp fun, but if you have, perhaps some of the clichés will prove irritating. But then, I often think I was born in the wrong era, as I would have loved to have flown in the bygone golden days, when air travel was elite and the height of sophistication. One of my life ambitions is to travel on the Orient Express and also take the boat from Liverpool to New York City.

I remember flying with one debonair lady who was of an undisclosed age. She was couture sophistication, all leather gloves, starched epaulettes and rouge-red lipstick. She never broke a sweat or looked stressed, even after a 15 hour flight to Tel Aviv. Her perfume scented calmness and her smooth glide as she walked turned heads. Every time I saw this vixen of the skies, in comparison to the other new blood who had just begun their careers, it made me think of the musical song from the show CHICAGO, Nowadays and particular the line sung,

Whatever happened to class?

A similar sentiment entered my head when I reached the final destination, the end of this book.

Well, as we are shortly about to begin our descent to the end of this piece, may I inform you that I am going to tackle another in the Babylon series, FASHION BABYLON. We do hope you have enjoyed this literary flight. Thank you for flying ten minutes hate.

Leave a Comment

Filed under The Golden Country

Two become one

ten minutes hate is once again backstage at the home of Liverpool fringe, the Lantern Theatre to hear about their latest project. ‘Cremona Corner’ in partnership with ‘Teapot Tantrum’ presents…’TWO’ by Jim Cartwright.



What happens in your local pub on a Saturday night? You will find out in this dark comedy with true moments of light and shade. A plethora of interesting characters performed by just two actors. We had a pre-show chat with the frabjous local actress, Jennifer Bea to find out more.

10mh: What do you do before going on stage, do you have any particular superstitious rituals, routines or habits?

Everyone is different but I like to take a minute on my own just to get into the right headspace. Then once you’re on the stage, you are who you are, in that moment, there’s no looking back. That and a very odd warm up which lots of actors do just so people can walk in and catch you hanging upside down singing Peter Piper!

10mh: What was your first memory of the theatre?

Going to see Annie with my mum in the Playhouse when I was about eight.

10mh: Who are the playwrights that you admire?

Joe Orton, Peter Whelan, Jim Cartwright, Victoria Wood and, of course – being from Liverpool – Willy Russell. I love to see new writing too. Especially a comedy, I would much rather cry from laughter than sadness.

10mh: What has been your favourite play or project in your career so far?

Wow, that is a hard one! Each project is special for different reasons. Sometimes you have a great team of actors who make you laugh every day, working with friends is always brilliant. Getting to do what you love with the people you love, win-win! But in terms of exploring a play and getting to places so far away from you but finding truth in it, it has got to be a play by Judith Johnson called ‘Somewhere’. It is an amazing play and a role I will never forget.

10mh: If you could gather an ensemble of actors for a stage project, living or dead, who would you like to cast?

Johnny Depp, Julie Walters, Dawn French, Victoria Wood, Burt Lancaster, Audrey Hepburn, Gene Kelly and Michael Crawford. Now…which play? ‘Our Day Out.’

10mh: What makes a good performance?

Truth. If you don’t believe yourself, the audience won’t either.

10mh: What advice would you give to anyone who yearns to act or is starting out in the business of treading the boards?

Don’t do it. Get some sense… be a vet.

Performances on 12th-16th May at the Lantern Theatre,
57 Blundell Street, Liverpool.
Please call 0151 703 0000 for tickets.


Leave a Comment

Filed under The Golden Country

Reading with kids (3 to 8 years)

One of the advantages of being an uncle is that every time I purchase books for my nephew and niece, I get the pleasure of reading them first and then re-reading over and over when babysitting. You soon start to recognise the marks of a good quality piece of kids’ literature.

A positive moral or message, an imaginative narrative and a healthy dosage of kookiness, that’s the recipe for a successful kids’ book. Over the last few months I have begun to compile a list of favourites and the chosen titles are as follows:

5. DOG LOVES BOOKS by Louise Yates (3-6 years), Publisher: Cape.

dog loves books

A comical little tale about a dog who runs a book shop and finds that books are the key to other worlds.

4. CROC AND BIRD by Alexis Deacon (3-7 years), Publisher: Hutchinson.

croc and bird

Two eggs hatch side by side, a crocodile and a parrot. The creatures believe they must be brothers, a funny mismatch that celebrates diversity.

3. MR TIGER GOES WILD by Peter Brown (4-7 years), Publisher: Macmillan.

Mr tiger goes wild

A dapper tiger complete with a top hat and Edwardian dress embraces his inner feral animal and starts an alternatively natural trend.

2. ZERAFFA GIRAFFA by Dianne Hofmeyr, illustrated by Janne Ray (4-8 years), Publisher: Frances Lincoln.


A beautifully illustrated true story about a giraffe sent from Egypt to a French King in the 1820s.

1. A CHILDREN’S TREASURY OF MILLIGAN by Spike Milligan (8-108 years), Publisher: Ebury

A Children's Treasury of Milligan

My four year-old nephew has a tendency to cantillate the Milligan poems at random. Limericks like:

There are holes in the sky where the rain gets in.
The holes are small, so rain is thin.

Or my particular favourite:

the pig
A very rash young lady pig
(They say she was a smasher)
Suddenly ran
Under a van-
Now she’s a gammon rasher.

Milligan’s’ scribblings are absolutely barking mad. Sentences of insanity highlighting an imaginative perspective of the world and all who sail in her.

I highly recommend these philosophical pieces of writing. They are guaranteed, I can assure you, to make any sadness in the heart rapidly dissipate.

Leave a Comment

Filed under The Golden Country