Day 2/7: Yoga Challenge

I set myself a challenge of trying a new yoga routine each day. I am signed up to a paid subscription for yoga lessons on theselflovehub.co.uk although free classes are available on YouTube if you prefer.

Lots of wobbling and falling over! Here is a short of a new flow this evening, lifting directly into Warrior from a forward bend.

A new approach to the Warrior posture

Autobiographical: Lockdown slowed me down, so I looked around me

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 1986

How often do you stop and look at the sky, or nature around you. It’s a grey overcast day today but some showers are giving the parched garden a drink, thankfully.

My local park

I hadn’t been to my local park since my nephews were toddlers, but a sunny afternoon a few weeks ago, as two bubbles were allowed to meet outdoors gave me the perfect opportunity to head to the park with my sister, nephew and their dog.

Easter weekend photography

I noticed how good it felt to be in nature and realised the park on my doorstep is quite beautiful at sunset. Here’s some photos I captured that Easter weekend.

The sunset on the horizon at my local park
A serene sunset
Cypress trees frame the sunset here

Photography and art is about capturing the moment, a feeling, some detail. It’s about making the clock stop. During lockdown, society as we know it stopped. For me it’s been a hugely creative period with blogging.

The Telegraph reported a surge in book manuscripts May 2020. So many people have time on their hands because of furlough, or being out of work, it’s a great time for creativity. The majority of the transcripts are dystopian in nature- not hard to see why!

For me, I’m more grateful now for things I took for granted, like supermarkets, coffee shops with a friendly barista, going to the theatre or cinema, hanging out with old mates, going for a swim. All these things I took for granted, including this natural beauty spot on my doorstep.

The sunset at Easter at my local park

Book Review: The Secret Barrister, Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken

The Secret Barrister

When I was younger I fancied the idea of being a Barrister, but the closest I came was being a Barista to earn pocket money as a student. Law is fascinating though.

Why the secret?

The Secret Barrister maintains his anonymity to highlight injustices within the criminal prosecution system without fear of reprisal. Certainly no coward, the man has huge responsibilities on his shoulders.

For example, prosecuting a perpetrator of grievous domestic violence with limited evidence because the victim’s statement goes missing. Or defending a young offender whose life has clearly been a series of failings by those responsible for his care, and like so many others in his shoes, starts a life of crime, in and out of prison.

It could be you

These and more injustices within the system are highlighted, owing to budget cuts. He witnessed miscarriages of justice owing to cuts in Legal Aid too. He poses what ifs along the lines of, you’re in a pub and a drunk man swings for you. You get a punch in first and he goes down, fracturing his jaw on the landing.

You are then charged with inflicting grievous bloody harm with a potential prison sentence of up to five years. The Secret Barrister says cuts to legal aid rates for public funded defence solicitors makes it near-impossible for many solicitors to remain financially viable, which is worrying, if you’re facing an accusation like this. 

Language

Clearly well educated, this barrister’s writing is a delight. He embellishes his sentences with lovely adjectives, or try this juicy sentence: 

“Judge Kerrigan is bored by the pedestrian advocacy of a twenty-something upstart apparently channelling an unholy trinity of the Jeremies Paxman, Clarkson and Kyle as they superciliously showboat their intellectual advantage over the bewildered Mr Tuttle.”

Beautifully written with linguistic aplomb, while equally highlighting how outwitting your opponent, with the benefit of a superior (read expensive) education, can lead to the prosecution or acquittal of the scruff who’s accused. Incidentally, Jeremy Kyle has since been taken off screen for being exploitative.

Care leavers and the prison system

My own research in the ‘Prisoners’ childhood and family background’ report by The Ministry of Justice, indicates 24% of prisoners had grown up in care. On page 1 “Many prisoners have a history of social exclusion, being more likely than the general population to have grown up in care, poverty, and to have a family member convicted of a criminal offence.” 

So by accident of birth, you could be more likely to end up in prison and unlikely to defend yourself as a barrister can. That is why legal aid is so important, to give the Jeremy Kyle’s of this world a fighting chance.

Legal aid cuts

The Secret Barrister delves into the figures around legal aid, and the damaging public perceptions such as: “fat-cat solicitors and swaggering ruddy-nosed barristers are gorging on taxpayer cream, cackling as they speed from court in their open top BMWs to quaff legally aided Dom Perignon 1966 after a half-day pulling the wool over a jury’s eyes in the service of some child rapist.”

The essence of legal aid is to help convict the guilty and defend the innocent. The figures he gives as examples reveal that while the UKs justice system is one of the most expensive, it is because it’s good at delivering justice, citing The Birmingham Six and The Guildford Four, which were only overturned and innocents set free, by the grace of legal aid.

Nitty gritty with the figures

His figures are worth scrutinising in detail, not my strong suit, although it would appear that being a magistrate or barrister isn’t as lucrative as people think. I get the feeling that The Secret Barrister isn’t in it for the money though, from his clear frustration with what he sees wrong within the MoJ. The end of chapter 7 highlights that in 2014, a 1p tax increase on a pint would have covered the nation’s legal aid bill, for example. Seems like a no brainer to me, but people aren’t elected on MoJ policies apparently, unless it’s about making justice cheaper. 

Perhaps more shocking is “The Innocence Tax” whereby you could be charged with a crime you didn’t commit, and need to spend a six figure sum for specialist defence counsel, be acquitted of the accused crime, and *still* have to foot the bill of legal fees. Genuinely terrifying. You could represent yourself ofcourse, and an increasing number of people are, as noted in this book, but your chances of winning without proper legal representation are slim to none. 

Sexual assault convictions

The Secret Barrister cites three examples of sexual assault crime. One is about a female fantasist who invents rape stories and nearly has an innocent man sent down. The second is about two teenager girls who claimed sexual assault by their Dad, who the secret barrister was defending. Even though he felt in his bones, and undisclosed evidence suggested that the girls were telling the truth, his intelligent and capable defence helped this man to walk away a free man. 

The third example of sexual assault is a man who is sentenced to 7 years for attempted rape, but pleads not guilty, then by quirk of the law, because he proclaims his innocence, ends up spending 17 years inside before DNA evidence has him finally acquitted.

Rape convictions are very low in the UK and women are reluctant to come forwards to report rape because they’re often not believed. Having read these three examples, you can see why.

Closing speech

Still, having read this book, I do agree with the legal precedent – “It is better that ten guilty people go free than one innocent person suffer conviction.” Especially given the case study at the end shares my brother’s name.

There but for the Grace of God go any of us.

101 English insults – with no swear words!

1. Pompous

2. Billious

3. Conniving

4. Git

5. Smarmy

6. Supercilious

7. Constipated

8. Scoundrel

9. Scourge of society

10. Rapscallion

11. Rascal

12. Nitwit

13. Nimcompoop

14. Fuddy-duddy

15. Fussy

16. Dour

17. Bleak

18. Tiresome

19. Trying

20. Nitpicking

21. Overbearing

22. Bullish

23. Bare-faced liar

24. Indolent

25. Fanciful

26. Farcical

27. Dowdy

28. Frump

29. Slut

30. Slovenly

31. Turncoat

32. Dim

33. Soap dodger

34. Scum

35. Slapper

36. Slap head

37. Easily led

38. Not the sharpest tool in the box

39. Blunt

40. Lacking scruples

41. Scurrilous

42. Slapdash

43. Sloppy

44. Stingy

45. Overspender

46. Morally bankrupt

47. Morally dubious

48. Morally corrupt

49. Lacking a moral compass

50. A few sandwiches short of a picnic

51. In want of a good wash

52. Not the full ticket

53. Bint

54. Drudge

55. Vengeful

56. Deceitful

57. Conceited

58. Insipid

59. Wet

60. Dull

61. Air head

62. A good face for radio

63. Talentless

64. Full of hot air

65. Windbag

66. Spineless

67. Cowardly

68. Shameful

69. Dastardly

70. Conniving

71. Maleficent

73. Malicious

73. Machiavelian

74. Maladjusted

75. Malcontent

76. Moron

77. Dumpy

78. Frivolous

79. Boastful

80. Lacking chops

81. Dingy

82. Knobbly kneed

83. Sweaty

84. Bum

85. Arse

86. Chubby

87. Hairy

88. Stupid

89. Twit

90. Bitch

91. Dullard

92. Crass

93. Tasteless

94. Unrefined

95. Brazen

96. Impossible

97. Unconvincing

98. Sinful

99. Plump

100. Indelicate

101. Something of the night about them

Copywriter: free content as a marketing strategy: get your kicks for free?

Free coffee, but what’s the catch?

Ever heard the one about the dealer who gives you what you want for free until you’re hooked then starts charging money?

It’s not a joke, it’s a proven business strategy, although content marketing isn’t so nefarious in nature.

Free samples are popular among food and beverage retailers and blogs are another method of providing free content to potential customers, for example.

Free content as a marketing strategy

Content marketing is based on the premise of providing content that informs or entertains with the intention to change customer behaviour. Essentially persuading your audience to make a purchase after engaging with free content. 

Get your funny for nothing

Content that entertains, like comedy or gossip, is likely to go viral, like a good joke does in the pub or classroom. If you’ve got comedy talent, social media is fertile ground to connect with an audience and convert them to customers, or followers of a cause.

Topical and authority content

Responding to what is trending is a good way to stay relevant, and be considered an authority on a topic.

A good example of this could be a white paper or academic research, that can be turned into a PR story. For example, my alma mater Manchester University, is this year’s best university for action on sustainable development. 

Sustainability is hugely topical as world leaders will convene to discuss the road to net zero emissions at the COP26 UN climate change conference set to take place in November 2021. 

Free content marketing

The previous example shows an authority on a topic giving away free content to be considered a leader in their field. Useful for a University.  

Michelin tyres took a different strategy.

The Michelin Guide Book was first published in 1900. The company wanted to compel more people to drive, and therefore, buy more tyres, so they wrote about the best places to dine out in the Guide, and gave away thousands of copies for free.

The guide was so successful that Michelin Stars are now coveted awards among restaurants the world over. 

And not a desperate car salesman in sight! 

Evergreen content

Like it sounds, evergreen content is not topical, it’s good all year round. This kind of content is good for website pages, or can be repurposed and reblogged or recirculated at a later date. 

Examples of evergreen content are FAQs Frequently Asked Questions, How to guides, industry resources, learning materials, with an emphasis on the content being useful.

Book Review: Faith by Peter James

This book was second-hand and I liked the look of the first few pages. It was printed in the year 2000 and this is the first Peter James novel I’ve read. It’s a good introduction to a writer who can bring vivid characters to life.

A troubled husband

Faith is married to a successful doctor, has a comfortable life with their son and a full diary from her voluntary work with the church and other local good causes. On the surface you would think everything was hunky-dory, but things begin to unravel as Faith starts to keep secrets from her husband Ross Ransome, whose increasing ill tempers and aggression in the bedroom, are beginning to drive her away.

Her refuge is a private doctor across town, a practitioner of alternative medicine, Oliver. It’s clear that Oliver is attracted to Faith, and while she tries to maintain the patient-doctor relationship, she is drawn into having meals with Oliver under the guise of ‘alternative talking treatment’ for her physical and mental symptoms, most likely the result of stress within her marriage.

Cat and mouse

What results is a cat and mouse game between Faith and her jealous husband who hires a private detective to spy on her, and begins to convince her to take medications that he prescribes. This results in her acting irrationally and emotionally with their friends, as the scheming, jealous husband Ross Ransome, plans to gain full custody of their son.

Faith carries on seeing her doctor friend, and they become lovers, but things become darker as Oliver is linked to a murder in the town.

Page turner

This book is a gripping page turner and I couldn’t put it down, or look away. You know how when you see something terrible happening in a bad dream and you want to shout no! Don’t do it! But it comes out in slow motion like ‘Noooooooo, dooooooonn dooooooo iiiiiiiiiissssss noooooooooo goooooooooood. Run away! Run away! Something compelled me to read this book, even though it sent anxiety to my very core.

Faith is the central character and you see these two jealous men, with the self-confidence of educated and well-to-do London GPs, treat Faith as their possession to medicate as they see fit but clearly not with her best interests at heart, as it becomes more like a battle between their egos.

Who will survive?

It is clear that Faith has only one concern throughout her entire ordeal, her son. She is drugged, sectioned, her reputation and health are in tatters, but she finds a way through, a reason to live, to protect her child, an innocent in the entire affair. When everything is at it’s darkest and most stormy, her only instinct is to protect her child, admirable in the face of adversity.

If you are looking for a thrilling page turner with a moral message, I recommend this book and I’m certainly going to try and read more second-hand books.

Book review: Malcolm X, by Alex Haley, voiced by Laurence Fishburne, Part 2/2

Laurence Fishburne voices Malcolm X’s autobiography

Part 1/2 of my précis of Malcolm X’s prolific life is here.

It is in prison when things really turn around for Malcolm Little. He notices another inmate who can command a room while talking without raising his voice, because he’s well read. He volunteers at the prison library. Malcolm realises he left school early and while he can talk street lingo, he doesn’t have the respect of his fellow inmates, who give him the nickname “Satan” because of his lack of faith. At the same time, Malcolm Little’s family encourage him to convert to Nation of Islam.

He takes his brother’s advice, stops eating pork, gives up all drugs and alcohol, and writes a letter to Elijah Mohammed – the head of the Nation of Islam. To his surprise, Elijah Mohammed responds and sends some money. This is the start of a decade-long friendship that begins with written correspondence while incarcerated.

Malcolm teaches himself about Black History

In prison, Malcolm Little gets into reading in a big way. It starts with him reading the dictionary and transcribing the contents. Then he devours books on African History and Archaeology, the history of India and China, and the colonisation of power and plunder by white people. While under the influence of Elijah Mohammed, and studying  the colonies, he comes to understand white people as “the devil white man,” although for context, this is in the shadow of WW2.

I believe that once Malcolm Little finds his faith, it is necessary for him to demonise those who have oppressed him and his family and friends.

Malcolm begins to convert others to Nation of Islam

This point in the book, you really begin to notice how articulate and educated he is. He changes his name to Malcolm X, the X representing the tribal name taken from his ancestors before they were shipped as cargo to America, and sold into slavery. 

In a religion class in the prison, Malcolm puts it to the white teacher that Jesus was really a black or Egyptian looking man given where he was born and lived, and his black prison mates begin to look at him with respect, some even converting to the Nation of Islam. Speaking “truth to power” becomes Malcolm X’s forte.

Malcolm X becomes a Minister for Nation of Islam

On release from prison, Malcolm X becomes a vociferous preacher and advocate for African American men and women, and the pan African brotherhood of The Nation of Islam. He marries, has four daughters, tours Universities and speaks publically on slavery, race relations and civil rights.

Things begin to fall apart with the Nation of Islam, when Elijah Mohammed is shamed in the press as a prolific adulterer, making Malcolm question his faith in him, because he reveres Elijah Mohammed to almost God-like status. Malcolm X himself is considered a demagogue – a rabble rousing figure troubling the elites – because of the sheer number of people he converts to Nation of Islam. Martin Luther King is also now prominent and a movement around civil rights is bubbling up with peaceful protests that began with Rosa Parks on a bus, refusing to give up her seat.

A parting of ways

Malcolm X makes an ill-informed comment to the press about JFKs assassination, along the lines of “chickens coming home to roost”.  Elijah Mohammed is not impressed, so he and Malcolm X decide to go their separate ways. However, fundamentalists in Nation of Islam never really leave him alone.

Malcolm X wrote “I have never felt that I would live to be an old man. It runs in my family, men have violent deaths.”

Before he dies, Malcolm X goes on pilgrimage to Mecca where he learns the traditional way to worship as a Muslim, and comes to accept Muslim white people as brothers. The phenomenal development of this man from vulnerable, fatherless child, to criminal, to a devout, articulate and well-educated man of faith, and advocate for the human rights of others, I can only imagine what else he could have achieved if he was permitted to live beyond his 39 years of life.

Sadly he was needlessly murdered on February 21st 1965 by three Nation of Islam members, but his legacy remains, especially among the Black Lives Matter #BLM movement in 2021. Malcolm X said in 1965 “teenagers in ghettos today are just like I was with the wrong heroes and idols.” If you’re a young black man in the ghetto in 2021, I think you’ll find the 1960s civil rights movement in America is full of heroes, including Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Maya Angelou, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King.

Book Review: Malcolm X, by Alex Haley, voiced by Laurence Fishburne part 1/2

Laurence Fishburne voices Malcolm X’s autobiography on audible.

If you want to know more about the life story and motivations of one of American history’s most prolific civil rights activists, then this is the book for you. At 16 hours, this audiobook will take an investment of your time and attention. Thankfully this one is narrated by the talented Laurence Fishburne. Audiobooks are always better when they’re voiced by someone you enjoy listening to, and this one zips along like a Mississippi freight train.

I wonder what Malcolm X would have made of this headline in the press this week – young black people are three times as likely to be jobless as their white peers.

Malcolm X was a champion of the African American plight as second-class citizens in the 1960s. Later in life he called for a pan-African brotherhood among the African diaspora, to internationally and collectively challenge oppression. He was a prolific and passionate public speaker, who learned the art in the prison debating society.

This is a man who dined with Saudi Arabian royalty, African presidents and Cassius Clay, and vociferously spread the word of Islam, while championing the civil rights of African Americans.

How did the boy from Michigan do it?

Like father like son

Malcolm Little’s father was murdered while he was still a boy in Michigan. His Dad was a controversial preacher of the teachings of Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican who was the first President General of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. He was controversial because some considered him a proponent of black supremacy.

Malcolm Little, along with this 7 siblings and widowed mother, struggled on welfare, but eventually his mother couldn’t cope and was committed, by white social workers who Malcolm felt interfered more than helped.  

Malcolm’s mother was the result of a rape by a white landowner, and she never spoke of it. Oddly, Malcolm Little grows up under the impression that he is treated more favourably because his skin is paler than his siblings, probably because he notices how African Americans are treated differently in his hometown; the white people have the good careers and live in affluent, white neighbourhoods, whereas the black people are shoe shiners and servants.

Begins a life of crime in Detroit

After his mother is committed, he becomes disillusioned and moves to Detroit with a family friend, and he meets more African Americans, and feels more at home among “his own people.” He makes a good living hustling and goes from a “green” country boy, to earning the nickname “Detroit Red”, and avoids the army draft by doing his best madman impersonation at the sign-up.

I’m not even going to pretend to understand the hustles ‘Detroit Red’ describes in this book, suffice to say I would have probably been relieved of my wallet if I met him back then. In fact, he’s so good at hustling he moved to NYC, The Big Apple, where if you can make it as a hustler, you can make it anywhere.

The Big Apple

In Harlem, he hangs with the coolest cats, in the hippest bars, with the coolest performing artists, and everyone knows his name. Inevitably, he’s so prolific at hustling that his crimes eventually catch up with him and he’s staring down the barrel of a 10-year prison sentence.

It was in prison where things turnaround for Malcolm X. In fact, you could see his life in two halves, with prison being his truning point.

Read part 2 of my précis of Malcolm X’s life here.

Book review: The Panic Years, Nell Frizzel

The Panic Years and the mother of all decisions, by Nell Frizzell

The Panic Years are the countdown to the end of a female’s fertility, felt acutely around her 30th birthday, or as friends and relatives start to reproduce.

If you’ve been through the panic years and come out the other side with a baby, then this book is a good read.

If, like me, you’ve been through the panic years and still don’t have the reward of a child of your own, despite, as Frizzell accurately describes it; going through all the fucking shit of trying to plan a pregnancy while you’re a single, non-home-owning, freelancer and just about earning enough that would cover childcare and not much else, plus the mental gymnastics of if you start a relationship at 34, etc.

As I say, if you’ve been through all that and still don’t have a child, this book is at times a painful read, like picking at a wound instead of letting it heal over.

Warts and all

Nell Frizzell is spot on about the frenzy that can hit you as you turn 30 and realise all your friends are getting hitched and multiplying. I liken it to one of the circles of Dante’s Inferno. The one where you have to pretend everything is fine on the surface, but inside you’re screaming “give me a fucking child”.

These days I don’t feel that panic anymore. Hours of yoga and meditation, walking outdoors, giving up cigarettes and alcohol because I would often feel depressed, I’m doing alright without a child, but I still remember the panic years and this book is a nice way to look at how far I’ve come.

Luck of the draw

What I’ve realised is that I could not control whether I conceived or not because there is so much out of your control when it comes to whether you become a biological parent or not, fate, luck, depending on your point of view.

My outlook on life now is miles away from the panic stricken 30 year old who was desperate to start a family, so desperate she tolerated nonsense from unsuitable men she didn’t even like that much. That’s internet dating for you, and Nell writes about it humourously.

Unique time in an adult woman’s life

An jpeg in an email titled “Women in their 30s” I wonder if it’s a stock image?

I’m grateful to Nell Frizzell for writing accurately and openly about this time in women’s lives, even if I do feel slightly exposed. Then she realised she was naked so she bought some yoga pants….

I mean Nell really lifts the lid on Pandora’s Box here, like the green-eyed dagger stares between the mums on Facebook and the carefree single types who globe trot on a whim.

The unique hell of feigning a smile when your friend tells you she’s pregnant, and that even though you’re happy for her, it only highlights your own lack of a child despite what is often, a Herculean effort to find a suitable co-pilot for the baby flight.

Nell’s writing is funny and insightful, but for me, her writing is so incisive, it cut a little close to the bone.