About Me

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Lewes, East Sussex, United Kingdom
Hello and welcome! I am Colin Bell, a novelist and poet, previously a TV producer-director of arts programmes, also known as the blogger Wolfie Wolfgang. I hope you find something here among my daily blogs. I write about anything that interests me - I hope it interests you too. Let me know.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Are you In or Out? I know what I think.

I've been tempted to stay silent through the EU Referendum campaign here in the United Kingdom assuming, after last year's depressing General Election result when 26% of the electorate voted in the incompetent government that has led us all the way here to the worrying final days of a national debate on Britain's future which appears to pay very little attention to the complexities of the EU itself or the reasons for Britain being a member of that much criticised institution.

Let me put it clearly (as all obfuscating politicians, on both sides of the debate, keep repeating), I didn't vote for this government and I disapproved strongly from the beginning in the idea of the referendum especially as the subject is particularly complex. I do, however, believe in parliamentary democracy. We hope to vote in MPs who will represent us and our interests and who will strive to unravel the very complexities that have so confused and worried the British people in the months building up to this week's potentially nation-threatening referendum. We are the people, we want the best for the country but we're not economists.

It was, I think, a major dereliction of duty, for the British Prime Minister, David Cameron,  to risk the future of the country for his own narrow interests in the future of the political party that he is currently leading. He now says it would be a disaster for the British economy and for the future of Britain to leave the EU. If he knew that then why did he risk such a disaster by asking us, unqualified economists all, to settle such an important issue with a simple yes or no poll? He was worried before the last General Election about the dangerous influence of the emerging UKIP leader Nigel Farage and the potential split that UKIP's anti-European policies could have had on the election result and on the large number Eurosceptics in the Conservative Party.

Farage, of course, didn't even get elected as an MP and only one of his party's members did, but the damage had been done,  he has been helped by the referendum debate, and we are now in risk of having to live with the consequences now that not only the Conservative Party but the nation has been plunged into a deeply unpleasant debate which has resulted in a shocking escalation of racist, jingoistic and simply incorrect opinions being banded around as if they were traditional British values which they most definitely are not.

Anyway, the referendum has been implemented, at an enormous financial as well as national cost, and it is too late now for Cameron to change his mind about what he must realise was just the most serious of a long list of mistakes he has made since becoming possibly the weakest Prime Minister in living memory. British politics too, since the General Election, has descended into a series of miscalculations and mistakes where any objective observer must wonder if Britain is actually capable of governing itself any more. The electorate, understandably underwhelmed and confused by its leaders, has sought consolation in single issue politics - the politics of simple solutions which ignore the complex nature of practical politics, economics, and international relations.

It has become too easy, in this party political vacuum, for easily digested emotional ideas to take on the form of concrete policy whether it be to the right or the left. In a democracy this is truly dangerous and it is even more so when major decisions are made by referendum. That is why we hear more outrage over that shot gorilla than we do for the four hundred thousand people who have been killed in Syria in the last five years. That is also why , if the polls are correct, a large number of British people think it is worth risking the collapse of the United Kingdom because they confuse the fate of fleeing refugees with an ill-thought through economic analysis of the effects of immigration on a nation. An analysis often based on the politics of hatred encouraged by  UKIP and some of the nastier members of the Conservative Party.

I have been told many times, mostly by taxi drivers, that many people want to leave the EU because 'they want  their nation back,'  that they are frightened that immigration will 'swamp' traditional British values. Apparently, the Great Britain that they are nostalgic for actually existed.  When questioned, that traditional Britain appears to mean white blokes in pubs  free to be 'politicly incorrect,' a nation where everyone was a racially pure Englishman who 'ruled the waves,'  and that was on the best possible terms with the former colonies of the British Empire, and where everyone was financially secure before those evil Europeans started to take all our cash.   It doesn't take much for people to pine for a past that never existed and which will never be created by leaving the EU.

Those pure-blooded Englishmen who lament Great Britain's demise by being 'swamped' by other cultures, really do need to look at their history books. Being British in the 21st century is indeed something to be proud of and anyone whose family can be traced to the shores beyond the last two hundred years or so, can feel truly proud of their heritage, whether their DNA can be traced to the Ancient Britons who now live on the British Isles' furthest extremities, or to the Roman, Viking, Danish, Anglo-Saxon or Norman French invaders who all in various quantities ultimately settled and intermarried with the peoples that they found here. It was the very mix in British blood that gave the nation its unique character that has benefited from modern developments and a forward-looking acceptance of change . Modern Britain continues to benefit from new ideas often coming from talented and energetic peoples who have fled from less fortunate nations.

Many of the problems associated with immigration are the consequences of failures in government. We are a rich nation that can well afford to house our peoples, educate them and look after them in sickness and in health. If a majority of voters worry about these issues, as they should, they should look to their elected politicians to make the changes in housing, education and health policies that would address these issues without putting the blame on immigration.

Similarly, if we don't like the structure of the European Union then we, represented by our elected leaders at the council of Europe, should campaign to make the very necessary changes. I don't particularly like my local town council but I don't expect to abolish it and somehow live without it.

I went to York last weekend and, on Sunday, I visited York Minster with the express idea of hearing the excellent choir performing at the main services there. I must have been one of the few people in Britain to have failed to notice that all over the country there were national celebrations of the Queen's official 90th Birthday. It was true also in York Minster where the main event, at evensong, was Handel's great coronation anthem, Zadok The Priest, the one with that magnificent long introduction which has thrilled anyone with ears to listen since the great German  (nationalised English) composer, George Frederick Handel,  first composed it for the coronation of the German Prince George as King George II of Great Britain in 1727.  I'm not a royalist but, like many would-be republicans, I can still admire the elderly woman who has worn the crown as well as anyone ever could and, in that wonderful German music, I could recognise the deep emotions that we all wish to invest in the ideals of our land of birth and which Handel was so brilliant at evoking. I was moved not just by the music but by the reminder, in that wonderful French-style Gothic architecture, listening to the 16th Century English words of Archbishop Cranmer, that Britain should take full delight in its European inheritance and those promises of a great shared culture to come. Don't knock the best about Britain, often it's the best about Europe too,  I thought, just think of Syria, and North Korea, if you think things are so bad.

York is a beautiful city, rightly proud of its inheritance - proud of the Roman and Viking invaders who were so influential in its creation. York is also a centre for new archaeological research into the ethnicity of those Romans who settled there and who settled even further north along the famous Hadrian's Wall. It is now becoming clear that, far from being shivering Italians in sandals and mini-skirts, the Roman invaders and settlers of Britain mostly came from France and Germany and some even from Africa. Being a Roman, as the excellent Mary Beard has been recently stating in her BBC television series, did not mean being an Italian born in Rome. To be a Roman was to be a citizen of the largest and most successful union of peoples in the ancient world.

In York Minster that day, one of the Bible readings was from The Acts Of The Apostles, Chapter 21. Now these days, I'm always wary of people who quote Holy Scripture, they usually do it to reinforce their prejudices, but I was intrigued to hear this section about St Paul, not the most liberal of the saints,  who had been arrested in Judaea for allegedly blaspheming against the Jewish religion. Whatever happened to St Paul in the end, on this occasion he was not convicted by Judaean law
because the Roman Governor of judea, Felix, found out that Paul,  probably Turkish, was a Roman citizen.

'And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?
When the centurion heard [that], he went and told the chief captain, saying, Take heed what thou doest: for this man is a Roman.
Then the chief captain came, and said unto him, Tell me, art thou a Roman? He said, Yea.
And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom. And Paul said, But I was [free] born.
Then straightway they departed from him which should have examined him: and the chief captain also was afraid, after he knew that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him. '

Here endeth the lesson!

Now, when I hear all those complaints about the EU being undemocratic and how people want all legislation to be controlled by Parliament,  I go back to that depressing General Election of last year and remember that only 26% of the electorate voted for this government. A government where its beleaguered leader struggles on a daily basis to avoid being pushed to the authoritarian right in his own party and who, as a result of the referendum campaign, whichever way it goes, is now severely weakened. If you like the sound of a right wing government then don't relax too much either. Those of you that dread a Corbyn premiership, might also wish for another legislative tier.  If Britain leaves the European Union, many Britons may well regret losing that right of redress that they once had in Europe.

I was reminded of the great Spanish painter Goya's etching in an article in the Guardian newspaper last week and it was well chosen. The Sleep Of Reason Produces Monsters (1799). I am more than worried that not only has reason been allowed to sleep during this referendum campaign but that here and overseas, some of those monsters have already started to appear.

So, please vote, if you have a vote, for Britain to remain in the EU. Vote for the EU and then campaign with all your strength for the reforms that many citizens of the European Union would like too.

In case you need reminding about the glories of that Handel anthem, here's Zadok The Priest as sung by the choir of Westminster Abbey. However ambivalent anyone is about the coronation elements, I for one will be singing the words to 'let all the people rejoice, alleluia,' if the nation votes as it should to celebrate this country and its rightful place in Europe on Thursday:

Thursday, 12 May 2016

How the movie Whiplash inspired my New Year's Resolution about how I was going to write my two new Brighton novels.

I'm sorry everyone, if you've been looking for my regular blogs. I've been busy all year on my novel-writing activities and decided to give the blogs a rest. Today though, yay, I finished the third draft on my third Brighton novel, Over The Hills Is A Long Way Off.  I also heard, last week, that my second Brighton novel, Blue Notes, Still Frames, is to be published (by Ward Wood Publishing) in October this year. So I'm not only feeling truly excited and chuffed but also, dare I say it, a bit whacked too. It's been an amazing year because I've been pushing myself on both novels almost simultaneously, after deciding that I wanted to up my game in 2016.

You could say it was part of my New Year's Resolution for 2016.

I spent New Year's Eve with family - staying in with a bottle of whisky and some DVDs. That might sound tame to all you party-lovers out there, but I was fine about it. Actually I have always thought New Year's Eve was about putting my life into perspective - looking back on the year now ending and looking forward and making plans for the future.

On that night, I watched the inspirational  Oscar-winning film Whiplash (2014) directed by Damien Chazelle and starring Miles Teller as a young drumming genius, Andrew Neyman, and his terrifying, bullying but also inspiring teacher Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). It's a great music film, of course, but it is much much more.

It was engaging enough watching the film for its own inner drama but, while I was suffering with the young jazz drummer who was being driven to produce the best possible performance that he was capable of,  I was wondering if I had ever pushed myself that far.

In the film, the drummer practises again and again until his hands begin to bleed and the blood, memorably, splatters onto the drums.

Could I do that? I asked myself. Not on the drums but with my writing. I had recently done a new draft of my novel Blue Notes, Still Frames (which is about, amongst other things, music and musicians) and thought that it was in a pretty good state. But was it? Had I gone over it until I bled? Well no.

So, beginning in the first week in January, I went back to the book and slogged it out and, in my own way, I bled a little. Then, as January moved into February, March, April and then May, I continued on that book (which is now with Ward Wood Publishing) but also on my new novel,  Over The Hills Is A Long Way Off,  which is a comedy about people's dreams and fantasies and whether they can actually come true. I hope I've given this book too the energy I admired so much in Whiplash. Certainly, now that this period of intense writing is over, I am looking at my hands for signs of bleeding.

That is how it has been - I have been ignoring friends and family and you my loyal blog-readers but i'm hoping you forgive me.  Now I can  begin to think of other things - that is why I've returned here to my blog-site.

I'm looking forward to the new novel coming out this October and hope that you will find yourself a copy when the time comes. In the meanwhile, if you haven't done so already, you can always get a copy of my first Brighton novel, Stephen Dearsley's Summer Of Love (also published by Ward Wood Publishing). Between now and October I hope to write more about why I seem to have written a trilogy of Brighton novels, hoping that you will continue the journey with me. I might even put my toe back into the water on other subjects  now that a year has passed since the UK General Election that made me, at least, despair of politics.

Anyway, if you're looking for similar inspiration to mine, then here's a look at that movie - if you haven't seen it already, or even if you have, it will make you rethink just how much you put into trying to achieve your dreams.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Ray Fitzwalter, World In Action editor and Granada Television legend has died.

Ray Fitzwalter, 
editor of Granada Television's pioneering current affairs series, World In Action.

It definitely felt like the passing of an era, hearing about Ray Fitzwalter's death. He was a truly decent person and a wryly funny one too, as well as being one of that clever, yes, brilliant, but also very lucky generation of TV producers who held the reins when the 'miracle of capitalism' that was pre-Broadcasting Bill ITV meant that companies like Granada actually invested real money in serious programme-making, before the whole industry changed, partly through the consequences of the mostly exciting digital revolution and partly through the wilful and on-going destruction of British public service broadcasting by government interference.

My main involvement with World In Action was being asked, over a number of years, to do the voice of 'sneering authority' whenever they needed someone to voice some of establishment's bad guys, including politicians, bishops and captains of industry. It may have been embarrassing to be considered the right voice for these people but I always felt I was doing my bit when I was asked to go down to sit in on the programme's dubbing. Now that the series is long gone, I still feel good about  my minor involvement with such an important programme.

I look back fondly, and with some pride, on my twenty years at Granada TV and offer my sympathy to all who will be saddened by Ray's passing and to all those bright-eyed TV folk still fighting to keep British television alive.

Ray Fitzwalter:

Bafta Award-winning investigative journalist Ray Fitzwalter  was the longest-serving editor of ITV’s World in Action. His programmes for the Granada-made series, which ended in 1998, included an investigation which ultimately led to the release of the Birmingham Six. He spent 23 years working on the World in Action series, which was aired on ITV and gained a reputation for its audacious reporting. He was also instrumental in the uncovering of the Poulson affair – an investigation into the Yorkshire architect John L Poulson and his use of bribery to win contracts. The scandal rocked the Edward Heath government and led to the resignation of the home secretary, Reginald Maudling.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Photography - at first it was just taking pictures, then I went digital and now I discover Instagram.

I have lived long enough now to have seen a transformation in the art of photography. Not that I'd call myself a photographer, but I been taking photographs since I was a child and I've always been entranced by the possibilities of even the simplest of cameras. As a schoolboy, I won a photographic competition once but that was a long time ago. Since then, I've just been using my various cameras for my own pleasure, mostly as a record of my family and friends but when that amazing digital revolution got to me, in 2007,  I found new excitement with a great digital camera, the Cannon EOS 400D, bought in Hong Kong and loved ever since.  Since living in Lewes, UK, I've been friends with a real photographer, David Stacey http://www.davidstaceyphoto.com/ who has not only inspired me with his own work but encouraged me to experiment more with my own camera.

David Stacey - I dared to take this photograph of the photographer, last year.

Dave even turned his camera on me a few times and this portrait  now hangs on a wall at home - like it or not, I think it captures the spirit of my life here in Lewes.

Me by David Stacey

David Stacey at work in my study.

I spent a day with Dave recently when we went to an exhibition as the excellent Pallant House Gallery in Chichester and, over a boys' pub lunch, we discussed cameras and photography as we often do. It was there that Dave inspired me to give Instagram a go. He said he thought I'd really like this the most  creatively challenging and excitingly instant of all of today's social networking sites. I said I'd have a go and, a month later, I'm still doing it and, yes, loving it too. I've been taking at least one photograph a day for the site and I'm gradually learning how to master the various editing options. You can see how I've been getting on by following the link below.

The other revolution in my on-line world is that those photographs taken for Instagram can be linked to various other sites - so I'm now an enthusiastic member of the photography site Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/16199705@N05/

I'm also linking these shots with that other photography site Tumblr:  https://www.tumblr.com/blog/wolfie-wolfgang

I'm enjoying the way my photographs can be sent round the internet with just a couple of clicks and love the way my Instagram photos are also automatically linked to  that other photography site Pinterest: https://uk.pinterest.com/colinbell/photographs-by-colin-bell-wolfiewolfgang/

Needless to say, these pictures also go directly to my Facebook and Twitter pages so after a relative silence here on my website, I'm suddenly all over the wonderful world-wide web and having lots of fun all of which I owe to my good friend David Stacey. Thanks Dave.

I haven't posted many blogs on here this year. Forgive me, regular readers, I've been busy finishing a novel for publication later this year  and now I'm getting on with a new one so I've been heads down all year but plan to get back to blogging again very soon.

In the meanwhile you can follow me on all of the above sites as well as on Facebook and Twitter - I hope to see you around in cyberspace and, of course, here on this site.

My Facebook page.

My Twitter page.

Monday, 29 February 2016

The Legend of The Flying Dutchman miniaturised as one of my latest Fibonacci poems.

Today I'm celebrating the publication of two more of my Fibonacci poems,  Castle Walk and The Flying Dutchman,  in that great specialist Fibonacci journal, The Fib Review which is published today and can be found with the following link:

The Flying Dutchman by Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847 - 1917) Smithsonian Museum, Washington DC

One of my two poems uses The Flying Dutchman as its starting point. The Flying Dutchman legend concerned a cursed sea captain condemned to travel the seas for eternity with a crew of ghosts, only allowed to come ashore once every ten years. Sometimes the ship is called The Flying Dutchman, other versions of the legend claim that the name applies to the unfortunate captain, punished for a serious sin, possibly cursing the Crucifixion.  Wagner wrote a well-known opera on the subject but I was trying something much more modest, a very short syllable-count Fibonacci poem, using the Dutchman as a symbol for a turbulent state of mind. 

I've been writing these challenging short-form poems since 2009 and many of them (well, 59 so far) have been published by The Fib Review.  They are based on the Fibonacci Code,  introduced into Europe in the 13th Century by the Italian mathematician/merchant, Leonardo Bonacci, known as Fibonacci who learnt about on his Arabian travels. The Fibonacci Code is a mathematical system were each number in the sequence is the sum of the two previous numbers. It is, believe me, much more flexible as a poetic form than you might imagine until you try it. Why not have a go.

Fibonacci (Leonardo Bonacci) c.1170 - c.1250

I can't leave you without giving you at least a taste of Wagner's music for The Flying Dutchman - here's New York's  Metropolitan Opera Orchestra conducted with typical bravura by James Levine:

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Silent House - first a poem, now a movie.

My thanks are due to the multi-talented Joseph Nussbaum for his film, so carefully made, of my poem Silent House. It was a great experience sharing brains with such a perceptive director. It's great when that solitary poet life can be shared like this.  I loved Tim Risher's music too. Here are a couple of stills and, below, a copy of the film. Hope you like it...I shall be keeping it, with the other films of my work, in the video column on the right of this page

Monday, 11 January 2016

I remember David Bowie - formative influence, genius and a man whom I met once in an unexpected place.

David Bowie (1947 - 2016)

I was truly amazed when I first came across an album by this man with the proudly flaunted chicken-chest and daringly challenging face makeup. I had, of course, loved Major Tom and Ziggy Stardust and knew that David Bowie was an exciting new phenomenon in an already thrilling period of rock music. This album though was significant - Aladdin Sane (1973) hit me with a force that I might have expected if I had only got to know his two earlier albums first (Hunky Dory, 1971 and The Rise Of Ziggy Stardust, 1972) and not just absorbed them intravenously from students' bar juke boxes along with many other coming-of-age excitements in those days that now seem so long ago. People knock the 1970s and ridicule its fashion sense and its music but, just maybe, now that David Bowie has died, they might reconsider an era that will always remain 'golden' for me.

I 'awoke' to so many things in that period as I began that often confusing journey that was my coming- of-age. If David Bowie could turn and face the change then in an age when it seemed anything could happen, then why couldn't I? It was the beginning of a journey that continues for me, alleluia, but now seems strangely shaken by the unexpected news of Bowie's death.

I suppose we should've guessed that something was up over the last year but David Bowie had long chosen to live his life outside of the tabloid headlines so that we could absorb his work as art - separate from the man in his sixties living a life that wasn't any of our business. I was waiting to listen to the new album, Blackstar, only released a few days ago. Well it will be the only Bowie album I will discover when the great man is no longer alive. I was discussing the record's release with a friend last Friday and looking forward to the next chapter in Bowie's life of changes. So few of my rock heroes (Bowie, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young) from those days managed to sustain a body of stimulating new work throughout their (and my) life. I may have thought Heroes (1977) the last of his era-changing works but I never lost faith or interest in the career of one of rock music's giants.

It was an unexpected encounter with David Bowie in 1976 that left me unusually but decidedly lost for words. Student days over, I was working at Granada Television with the rock star Marc Bolan when I bumped into him in one of the gents lavatories by the TV studios. Marc Bolan was talking to a tall shy man in his late twenties. 'Colin,' he said, ' let me introduce you to David.' We shook hands and said hello. It was all over in a moment but I really did meet David Bowie in a lavatory.

Blackstar by David Bowie (2016)

In those Seventies years, I was on the move, going places, I thought and hoped, thrilled by the possibilities that contemporary rock music sang into my ears. Life was simplified in student rooms, living with what you could pack into a single case - long before the miraculous music-collecting possibilities of the digital age. I usually listened to music in public places or friends' pads leaving a few cherished LPs behind in the parental home. This changed with Aladdin Sane with an early stereo sound system in a shared flat. It was there that I could spend many a morose or over-excited evening devouring the subtleties in the early Bowie albums where startling brilliant musicians, not just four lads with guitars and a drum-kit, joined Bowie in creating music that stood with any recording by the jazz or classical greats.  It was then that I started to carry around with me a small collection of nine albums (three by David Bowie) which still stir the inner me while acting as reminders of where I came from in those heady days. So today I am joining the masses who are mourning the passing of the man if not the dream.

Here are those nine albums:

Aladdin Sane (David Bowie, 1973)

Hunky Dory (David Bowie, 1971)

The Rise of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (David Bowie, 1972)

Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (The Beatles, 1967)

Blue (Joni Mitchell, 1971)

After The Gold Rush (Neil Young, 1970)

Songs Of Leonard Cohen (Leonard Cohen, 1967)

 Nashville Skyline (Bob Dylan, 1969)

The Band (The Band, 1969)

It's only fair to leave the last word with David Bowie himself. Here he is in 1973 on a TV show performing one of my favourite Aladdin Sane songs, Drive-In Saturday.  The thrill lives on: