Saturday 23 February 2019

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Goodbye" to Michael Hardcastle, Uncrowned King of Children's Sporting fiction

It is unlikely that Michael's passing, at the age of 85, will be recorded in the obituary pages of the either the 'Times', 'Telegraph' or 'Guardian', yet for almost 40 years, in the last century, his sporting stories captivated the imaginations of successive generations of thousands of boys and girls in Britain.

He was born in Huddersfield, Yorkshire in 1933, at a time when the town's prosperity still depended on its production of woollen textiles along with the chemical and engineering industries that had grown up in support their manufacture. In addition, the town was the home to rugby league team, 'Huddersfield Giants' and Premier League football team 'Huddersfield Town A.F.C'.

Young Michael attended Birkby Junior School and in 1940 he passed his 11+ exam and gained a gained a place at King James Grammar School for Boys, Almonbury. Then from the age of 11, a succession of serious illnesses - diphtheria, scarlet fever and rheumatic fever blighted his development. Diphtheria 
immunisation, introduced by Churchill's Second World War Government in 1942, came too late for Michael. It was a disease which before vaccination killed 3,500 children a year in Britain and on that basis Michael was lucky to escape with his life.

Michael's love of fiction was partly explained by the fact that he was, in his words "too fragile" to take part in school sport, apart from table tennis and was confined to the safety of the school library where he read the W.E.John stories of the his First World War fight ace, 'Biggles' and he "discovered a larger landscape" when he graduated to the works of Dickens and in particular, 'Great Expectations.' He was also encouraged to enjoy stories by his English teacher, Herbert 'Tich' Blackburn who was "a bit pedantic, but loved teaching" and when learning that Michael had researched and composed an essay on 'Italy' without cribbing, predicted that he's have a future in journalism.

Michael later said : "I think I became a writer because, as a child, I was a voracious reader of fiction, being regarded as too fragile to participate in physical contact sports. So I read everything that attracted me but was disappointed to find that there was no sports fiction to make up for my lack of opportunity to play ordinary games."

When he was in the sixth form he edited the school's Almonburian Magazine and having been introduced to horse racing by Tom Harper, the school caretaker, recalled laying bets to other pupils and listening to the 1951 Derby and Arctic Prince win the race on the radio in Tom's bookstore.

Michael's ill health meant that he was forced to repeat a total of three years at school and consequently he was 21 years old when he left the sixth form in 1951 and signed on for five years service in the Royal Army Education Corps. He immediately found himself teaching men in the ranks, who had joined the Army with a basic 1940s education, but needed the maths, English and map reading in order to get a substantive rank.

His overseas Army postings took him to Kenya and Mauritius and when he left, at the age of 26 in 1956, he applied for and gained the post of reporter on the 'Huddersfield Examiner' where he counted one of his successes, his interview with the American bass baritone concert artist, Paul Robeson on his last visit to Britain in 1959.

Having served his apprenticeship in journalism at the Examiner Michael moved to the 'Bristol Evening Post' in 1959 as a 'Diarist' and 'Literary Editor' and then at the age of 35, moved north to take up the position of 'Chief Feature Writer' at the Liverpool Daily Post in 1965.

A year later he wrote his first piece of fiction - 'Soccer is Also a Game', to coincide with the the 1966 FIFA World Cup. Michael's retired England striker, Andy Blair, recently moved to the town of Scorton, watches the local team struggle in a Second Division match and after the game he is approached by club chairman Herbert Graydon who convinces him to come out of retirement and play for the Rovers. The story progresses : eighteen-year-old son Bobbie, introduced into team, plays well but becomes mixed up with local match-fixers and experiences difficulties in relationship with girlfriend, Adrienne. Andy, forced to take matters into his own hands, tackles the match-fixers and having retrieved his son, the Blairs reunited, can concentrate on getting the Rovers' promotion to the First Division.

In the years that followed, his was a simple formula : he wanted to write the kind of book he would have liked as a child and in the early days Michael's stories were not exclusively about sport. The following year saw the publication of Michael's 'Redcap' by the The Children's Press. It was a story which involved the search for buried treasure in the Far East by British Military Police and in its composition he no doubt drew on his experience in the Army in Mauritius and his 'Island Magic' in 1973, also saw him return to the Indian Ocean.

It was in 1967, that he took the plunge and resigned from the Daily Post and tried his hand at earning a living from his writing and over the next 34 years he successfully produced  over 140 books of fiction devoted mainly, but not exclusively, to football and found that although he didn't have a smash hit, collectively they sold in enough numbers to generate a comfortable income.

His background in journalism served him well : He had a quota of five hundred to a thousand words a day and rarely had to rewrite. His formula was simple, based on : how to begin - have action, excite the imagination, generate a page-turning effect; introduce three or four main characters with their hobbies and ambition; decide on the ending - successful or unsuccessful, happy or unhappy, left with a question mark; introduce one name from Huddersfield in each book. He generally worked a book on for three or four months and then got down to the final draught on his trusty typewriter.

With this in mind, his 'The Chasing Game', in 1968, had steeplechase jockey, Sean Massie, discovering that one jockey is prepared to fall deliberately, to lose a race on the orders of the bad guys. In his determination to stop the criminals, Sean found himself plunging in a desperate situation that could not only ruin his career but could cost him his life. He found his fate was allied to the plight of girlfriend, Meryl, and the fortunes of a brilliant horse called 'Poor Boy'.

The books tumbled out, one or two a year to begin with, but by 1970 he was up to six, 1971 seven, things slowed down to two in 1972 but by 1974 he was up to seven again when 'Away from Home' was followed by 'Free Kick', 'The Demon Bowler', 'The Big One', 'The Chases', 'On the Run' and 'Heading for Goal'. In addition. up to 1975 he also published eight of his titles under the pseudonym, 'David Clark'. He also found a market for his horse riding books like 'Von der Schulbank in dem Sattel' in Germany.

Alan Edwin Day, the Principal Lecturer at Leeds Polytechnic School of Librarianship and an expert on Biggles wrote in 'Twentieth-Century Children's Writers' : 'If the rewards of sports fiction are tempting, the pitfalls awaiting authors who venture into this specialised field can be daunting. One false line of dialogue, one error in either description or situation, and the vital effect of the total reality is irretrievably lost. Hardcastle triumphantly surmounts these difficulties. His stories are authentic and convincing to the last detail.'

Over the years, Michael worked with a number of publishers : Heinemann, Metuen, Benn, Blackie and occasionally Faber and a succession of illustrators. The publication of 'Stikers Revenge' in 2001 drew the praise : 'Michael Hardcastle is the Mr Big of the sporting novel' from the Independent.

Michael took the opportunity, between writing, to visit schools and colleges all over Britain to encourage reading and writing. Once again, his career in journalism set him in good stead for talking to children which he did without either patronising or talking down to them. In 1987 he was back at his old school, King James, to talk about the techniques of writing children's books. The following year, in recognition of his 'Services to Children’s Literature', he was appointed MBE.

In an interview at the age of  77, Michael reflected :
                                        'I think I wrote too many football books." 

Not so. His was a life well spent and a talent placed at the service of that most important of things : the imagination of children. 

In the 1960s, in his thirties he gave them :

* Soccer Is Also a Game
* Redcap
* Shoot on Sight
* Aim for the Flag
* The Chasing Game
* Goal
* Dive to Danger
* Shilling a Mile

1970s, in his forties :

* Stop That Car!
* Reds and Blues
* The Hidden Enemy
* Strike!
* Smashing!
* Don't Tell Me What to Do
* Come and Get Me
* Live in the Sky
* Shelter
* A Load of Trouble
* Blood Money
* It Wasn't Me
* In the Net
* Playing Ball
* Goals in the Air
* Island Magic
* United!
* Away from Home
* Free Kick
* The Demon Bowler
* The Big One
* The Chase
* On the Run
* Heading for Goal
* Contact series : Last Across, The Match, Dead of Night, Road
   Race, A Hard Man, Catch, Day in the Country, The Long Drop 
* Flare Up
* Get Lost
* Money for Sale
* Life Underground
* Mark Fox series : The First Goal, Breakaway, On the Ball,
   Shooting Star, Goal in Europe, Kick Off, Attack! 
* Where the Action Is
* The Saturday Horse
* First Contact series :Go and Find Him, River of Danger, The
Great Bed Race, Night Raid 
* Strong Arm
* Fire on the Sea
* Holiday House
* Crash Car
* Soccer Special
* Top of the League
* The Reporters : Top Soccer, Top Fishing, Top Speed

and as David Clark : 

* Splash
* Run
* Top Spin
* Grab
* Winner
* Volley
* Roll Up

The 1980s, in his 50s  : 

* The Switch Horse
* Go for Goal
* Racing Bike
* Snakerun
* Hot Wheels
* Behind the Goal
* Half a Team
* Roar to Victory
* Fast from the Gate
* Caught Out
* Hooked! 
* The Team That Wouldn't Give In
* Double Holiday
* Winning Rider
* Tiger of the Track
* The Shooters
* James and the TV Star
* No Defence
* One Kick
* Snookered!
* Mascot
* Quake
* The Rival Games
* The Magic Party
* Kickback
* The Green Machine

The 1990s in his 60s :

  * Penalty
  * Walking the Goldfish
  * Joanna's Goal
  * Lucky Break
  * Mark England's Cap
  * Advantage Miss Jackson
  * James and the House of Fun
  * Second Chance
  * The Away Team
  * Own Goal
  * Dog Bites Goalie 
  * One Good Horse
  * Racing to Win
  * Soccer Star
  * Shooting Boots
  * You Won't Catch Me
  * Soccer Captain
  * Netball Shooters
  * Please Come Home
  * Winning Goal
  * Carole's Camel
 * Puzzle
 * The Fastest Bowler in the World
 * Matthew's Goals

In the 2000s in his 70s : 

 * The Most Dangerous Score
 * The Striker's Revenge
 * Soccer Star
 * Archie's Amazing Game 2006.

Hit It! in 2006 at the age of 76

Saturday 16 February 2019

Is Britain, once no country for a very old American citizen called Albert Dolbec in 2017, a country he is comfortable to live in today ?

Albert, a 90 year old American citizen, was 87 years old when his problems with Britain began. Married to his British wife Dawn, who is 6 years his junior, when he was 65 and she was 59, he was told that he had to return to his native USA. She said at the time that she was too old to relocate and : “If he goes back to the states he would be left with absolutely nothing, with no family, no money and just a bag of clothes and a walking stick.” 

The couple were married in 1994 in Stratford-Upon-Avon before moving to San Juan Island in in 1996, where Albert worked for 20 years, but when his health started to decline, he has arthritis, type two diabetes and mental health issues, Dawn decided to return to her native Britain with Albert in January 2016. so she could care for Albert and be near her family in Hertfordshire. He was granted a six-month short-term visa and when it expired they applied for a 'spousal visa', which would eventually allow him to apply for indefinite leave to remain.

Dawn recalled : “We applied but it took them so long to get back to us that every day I was panicking about the future of my husband.” In December 2017, the Home Office turned down Albert’s application, so he applied again, submitting more evidence, which related to both his a Dawn's frailty, but was rejected the following November.

Outlining the decision in a letter, the Home Office said : 'You have provided NHS documents in support of your claim which outlines the conditions and treatments you are receiving' which 'do not specifically specify that you and your partner are unable to travel or that you and your partner are currently receiving urgent treatment. Your conditions are not life-threatening and no evidence has been provided to show that undertaking a journey whilst relocating is likely to have a huge detrimental impact on your condition.' 

Albert's reaction to the prospect of undertaking the 7,000 round trip journey on his own to the States and relocate was to say : “I rely on Dawn to help me with my day to day care. I wouldn’t be able to cope alone.” She said : “I am Albert’s official carer and he requires constant support with his personal care and medical conditions. Albert is not capable of caring for himself and I currently do everything for him, cooking, cleaning, gardening, shopping, making his medical appointments for him as well as making sure that he takes his medication." 

Oliver Dowden, Dawn's Member of Parliament, who lobbied for almost a year for the Home Office to reconsider its decision said : “I have repeatedly made Albert’s case to UK Visas and Immigration and personally engaged with the Home Office a number of times."

Now, following a review of its decision and possibly as a result of the fall out from the Windrush Scandal, the Home Office has revoked its decision and has written to Albert to say :
'It has been determined that your indefinite leave to remain in the UK was never revoked. When you entered the UK in 1997, it appears that the ILR stamp in your passport may have been overlooked and you were issued leave to enter as a visitor. However … there was no requirement for you to apply for leave to remain. Please accept our sincerest apologies for any difficulty, stress or inconvenience this may have caused you, your spouse and your family.'

The Home Office has also said it will refund the family the £1,804 they have spent in visa application fees the family are also considering suing for their legal fees, which came to more than £5,000.

Marina Breeze, Dawn Dolbec’s daughter said : "When we opened the letter we were dumbstruck. We were torn between relief and outrage at the effort, time and money we’ve wasted, not to mention the terrible trauma our family has been through over the past two and a half years. But we’re only celebrating today because we’re educated, persistent and financially able to have fought for all these years. Despite all that, it was only when we raised public attention, through our MP and the media, that the Home Office began to care enough to really look properly at our case. What about all the families without our advantages? They have to accept wrong Home Office decisions and see their families destroyed as a result.”

Thursday 14 February 2019

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to an old Professor of History and Master of Radical Dissent called Willie Lamont

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Willie, who has died at the age of 84 was first and foremost a consummate historian who, through his books as well as numerous essays and reviews, developed his insights into seventeenth century Puritan ideologues and illustrated the sophisticated Biblicism and subtlety of thought underpinning their ideas. He was also an inspirational teacher who, during his 33 year stint at the University of Sussex, touched and influenced the lives of hundreds of students, myself included.

I got to know Willy in 1968 when I was one of his ten history students on the postgraduate teacher training course led by Derek Oldfield at Sussex. I was 21 years old and he was 35. I remember the occasion when he visited me to watch me teach at my teaching practice at a secondary school along the coast at Bexhill-on-Sea.

He had been unimpressed by the quality of my teaching and told me so. On the second occasion when tasked with the job of making Britain's entry into the Seven Year's War against the French in 1756 interesting to a class if 14 year olds, I gave the lesson in the persona of Prime Minister, Pitt the Elder.

This involved me making a speech justifying the country's entry into the war wearing an approximation of an 18th century coat and hat and my class becoming London electors in Fishmongers' Hall at London Bridge. Willie loved the lesson and when he related his experience at the next weekly meeting of the History group, back on the campus I remember my fellow students almost audibly groaned with his words of  : "I want to tell you all that, when I went to see John teach last week, he gave a marvellous lesson in which he 'was' William Pitt." 

The second occasion took place at the afternoon drinks and food he provided for us students in the back garden of the house he shared with his wife and three daughters in Lewes. He related, with some relish the occasion when he was reading one of his girls, Catriona,  Ailsa or Tara, from the Ladybird book 'Oliver Cromwell' and related with enormous pride and enjoyment the point when she had said "When are they going to cut off the King's head Daddy ?" and he'd replied : "Don't worry Darling. They will. They will."

What I didn't know those 50 years ago, was that he was born in 1934 in Harrow, Middlesex, the eldest child of a Hughina, known as 'Hughie' and Hebridean-born, Hector Lamont, who, before 'Billy' was born, had moved to London to take up the job of a bank clerk, but had been a purser on the MacBrayne Ferries serving Scotland’s West Coast who had got engaged to Hughina on the Oran Ferry.

Willie was five years old when the Second World War broke out and attended Priestmead Primary School, interrupted by wartime evacuation to Oban in 1941 and then, having passed his 11+ went on to Harrow Weald Grammar School with its 'Valiant for Truth' motto.

In 1952, at the age of 18, he started life as a History undergraduate at Queen Mary College, University of London. Subsequently, he supported his study for his doctorate with research at the Institute of Historical Research, by teaching at the boys public school, St Paul’s School and then for three years at the grammar school for boys, Hackney Downs.

His thesis topic was the unattractive and combative, seventeenth century Puritan lawyer and polemicist, William Prynne which he published in 1963 and recalled, twenty years later :  'A criticism of my study, and of other revisionist works, is that we are better-informed, as a result, about why the Civil War did not happen at any period before 1642, than about why it did happen in 1642.' He also recorded 'Prynne and his colleagues can now be shown convincingly, not as Bakunin-type fanatics planning some ‘revolution of the saints’ when the Long Parliament convened in November 1640, but as angry and confused conservatives, seeking to restore an idyllic Elizabethan past.'

In his acknowledgements he said : 'My debt is overwhelming to Professor S. T. Bindoff, who first encouraged me to research, and to Mr. R. C. Latham, who first suggested the subject and who supervised my researches. My mother typed the first draft, and my wife and my father aided me in the correction of proofs and in the compilation of an Index. I should like to thank History Today for their help in providing photographs. During the last three years at Hackney Downs Grammar School, William Prynne was dragged into many lessons--though never by the ears. This book is offered as an act of contrition.'

By the time 'Marginal Prynne' was published in 1963 Willie had married Linda, taken up a lectureship in history at the Aberdeen College of Education, contracted tuberculosis and was recovered sufficiently to play in the snow with Ailsa in the big winter of that year.

Though proud of his Scottish antecedents, in 1966 he was tempted south of the border by the offer of a lectureship at the new University of Sussex.

He later recalled : "Well the first exhilarating thing for me really was, I'd been in Aberdeen and I'd got out of the blue, before I came to Sussex a communication from a Sybil Oldfield, who was a lecturer in English. And she'd picked up on the grapevine that there was a seventeenth century historian coming. So she said she had the idea of starting a course on 'English Literature and the Civil War' and then we corresponded and we'd never met and this to me was astonishing. Astonishing that somebody should just approach me. I mean, she knew I was going to come in the summer and was already planning and we discussed things, but we still hadn't met. And the thing I couldn't get my head around was that I'd been a student at the University of London where they change the syllabus about once every two hundred years or something and here it was : "Let's start a course.""

Sussex was one of the most successful of the 'Robbins Universities' established as university system expanded in the 1960's and was he tailor-made for its cross-curricular approach and commitment to teaching and research.

It was in 1966 that Willie saw 'Sir Edward Dering : The Squire Who Changed Sides' published in 'History Today'. It was typical of Willie that he would choose to research the complex Dering, the Kentish Squire who introduced the 'Root and Branch Bill' in 1641, which sought to sweep away the existing church hierarchy with its roots and branches, only to later change his mind and fight for King Charles and the Established Church saying of his opponents “Whilst they are floating, I stand steady, wondering to what coast they are bound.”

Three years later in 1969 he published 'Godly Rule: Politics and Religion, 1603-60' which centred on the profound effect that the Elizabethan John Foxe, historian and martyrologist and author of 'Actes and Monuments' which emphasised the sufferings of English Protestants from the 14th century through the reign of Mary I, had on seventeenth century Puritans. Giving them an eschatological faith based on the Book of Revelation which included a messianic conception of England's role with Elizabeth I and her successors play the role of Constantine.

There was more than a touch of the seventeenth century radical about Willie : the enemy of bureaucracy in higher education and energetic proponent of keeping the academy’s doors open to all-comers, in what today would be called 'outreach'. At first, at Sussex, he held a joint post in History and Education, developing the University’s Bachelor of Education degree and setting up a close relationship with local schools. He was also fiercely committed to adult education. When the School of Education was founded, Willie  then moved full time into the History Subject Group.

In 1979 Willie  co-authored as an audio book 'Charles I and Puritanism' with G.E. Aylmer and three years later came 'Richard Baxter and the Millennium: Protestant Imperialism and the English Revolution.' His study of Baxter, the prolific theological writer, who after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, became one of the most influential leaders of the Nonconformists, spending time in prison, revealed Willie's mastery of Baxter's published works and unpublished treatises and correspondence. In Baxter, he found a protestant cleric constantly refining his position, sometimes radically in that time of political and social turmoil.

He returned to Baxter in 1994 when he edited, in 'Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought : 'Baxter: A Holy Commonwealth.' Willie focused the most controversial of all his works, written in 1659, which he publicly repudiated it in 1670, and in 1683 the Oxford University authorities ordered it to be part of a book-burning that included the works of Hobbes and Milton. Willie's edition of 'A Holy Commonwealth' made available to modern readers a work which offered a unique perspective on the relation between church and magistrate and the origins of the English Civil War.

In 1996, his 'Puritanism And Historical Controversy' had its origins in an undergraduate course which aimed to introduce students to the nature of historical debate by grounding the historical debates surrounding Puritanism in the experiences of three representative Puritans, Willie's old friends : Prynne, Baxter who were joined by Lodowicke Muggleton. In this way he was to challenge common stereotypes and orthodoxies and illuminate key issues surrounding the influence of Puritanism on early modern England.

Two years later and almost at the end of his career at Sussex, came his book of essays by his Sussex colleagues : 'Historical Controversies and Historians'. Concentrating on the 'practice' of history it  examined a number of notable controversies that have been, and still are, the subject of historical debate : race in South Africa, the legacy of the French Resistance, the origins of the Welfare State. These illustrated the issues involved in "doing" history. In the second half he focused on the historians themselves : Tawney, Carr, Buckhardt, Weber, Thompson and demonstrated how the historian puts his/her own spin on historical interpretation.

It was entirely appropriate that on the occasion of his retirement from Sussex in 1999 his colleagues presented him with :

Willie's last contribution to historical research came in 2006 when he was 72 and in the shape of  'Last Witnesses: The Muggletonian History, 1652–1979.' He took his readers to those three successive mornings in February 1652, when God spoke to a London tailor by the name of John Reeve and consequently he and his cousin Lodowicke Muggleton believed that they were the Last Two Witnesses prophesied in the Book of Revelation.

Over the next six years the pair attracted a small but dedicated band of followers that, following the death of Reeve, became known as the Muggletonians. Willie followed their story from the heady post-civil war days through to the death of their last member, Philip Noakes, in 1979.

Willie's was a story of how a small religious group, which eschewed active proselytising and believed in the mortality of the soul, managed to overcome persecution and obscurity, to survive for 320 years. He visited Jean, the widow of Philip Noakes, in her Kentish farmhouse to inspect the only known portrait of  Lodowicke Muggleton : He also took over the Muggletonian archive which had been discovered at the home of Philip Noakes by E.P.Thompson :

It was also entirely appropriate that on one of the last occasions spoke in public, before the curtains of dementia closed around him, was at a meeting of the Lewes branch of U3A in 2013. His subject : radicalism to the last ! The programme read :

'Professor William Lamont : The Diggers in the English Revolution.'

“Study hard, for the well is deep, and our brains are shallow.”
― Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor

Tuesday 12 February 2019

Britain is no country for old men suffering from depression, in need of 'talking therapy,' but offered antidepressants

Apparently, one old man in twenty in Britain is depressed and four in twenty show some symptoms of depression. Unfortunately, according to a paper, which has been published in the British Journal of General Practice, too often their GPs dismiss 'talking therapies' as a way of tackling their depression, partly because there are long waiting times to start treatment.

Evidence shows that even though talking therapies help older people with depression, they are twice as likely as younger people to be treated with antidepressants and those aged over 85 are five times less likely than 55 to 59-year-olds to receive psychological help. In some areas, as few as 3.5% of over-65s are recommended to see a therapist to undergo a course of cognitive behaviour therapy.

Rachael Frost, an academic at University College London and the lead author of the paper said : “There needs to be greater access to talking therapies. They are effective in older populations, but we know that GPs are less likely to refer those in their 80s to psychological therapies for depressive symptoms than those in their 50s and 60s."

The Report makes the point that older men and women may be reluctant to access National Health Service help either because they fear they will be stigmatised, or that nothing can be done about their condition anyway. In addition, GPs often use their appointments to discuss the old person’s physical health, rather than their mental wellbeing and some fail to act on cues suggesting that over-65s want to talk about how they are feeling.

Caroline Abrahams, the Charity Director of Age UK, said : “These figures once again show that older people are missing out on talking therapies and other effective treatments for mental health conditions, with medication too often being the prescribed approach. Depression and anxiety affects nearly three million people over 60, and older people mustn’t miss out on help and treatment because either they aren’t offered it or don’t know where to go for help. Talking therapies can benefit everyone, regardless of age.”