All regular but reluctant flyers will have been horribly fascinated by the recent MH17 tragedy.

Of course, one’s main concern is for the poor people aboard, and then their relatives, but in my case a tiny part of me has filed the hitherto largely unconsidered ‘surface-to-air missile attack’ in the litany of ways in which I might perish in an air disaster.

As though pilot error, equipment failure, metal fatigue, air traffic control mistakes, extreme weather and terrorism were not enough.

It’s probably that love-hate relationship with aviation which led us to publish Nick Faith’s Black Box and Macarthur Job’s Air Disaster: The Propeller Era.

Now the second (of, eventually, four) instalments in the world-famous Job series is available as a kindle eBook.

[Update: it was at No1 in Aviation History on Amazon this morning; after this blog went up it slipped down to No3...]

Air Disaster: The Jet Age deals with a series of infamous horrors – beginning with the Comet and ending with the Tenerife incident, in which two Boeing 747s collided on the ground and more than 500 people lost their lives.

Macarthur’s original paperbacks dealt almost entirely with the technical meat of the matter – the why and how of the accidents.

Our updated versions have included as much detail as possible about the people who were aboard; it brings home even more forcefully how important is the work of the air accident investigators (and the aircraft designers, handlers, airlines and allied crafts and trades).

Here’s an excerpt from the chapter dealing with the 1963 crash of a Northwest Boeing 720 in the Florida Everglades:

IN THE PRE-JET, pre-turbine era, aircraft designers dreamed of the day when technology would allow airliners to ‘cruise in the stratosphere’, flying serenely between ports of call high ‘above the weather’ – a realm thought to be free of the discomfort generated by convective cloud and the more pernicious turbulence of frontal storms.

The advent in 1940 of the world’s first pressurised airliner, Boeing’s piston-engined 307 Stratocruiser, seemed to bring that dream a little closer, its fulfilment apparently frustrated only by the intervention of World War II, which resulted in the decision to cease production after only 10 Stratocruisers were built.

It was not until jet airliners began to invade regions of the atmosphere above 30,000 feet in the late 1950s and early 1960s that the long-sought ideal of ‘above the weather’ flight was finally seen for the myth it was – because turbulence could be encountered at these levels in every way as severe as that afflicting flight at less ambitious altitudes.

But as has been the pattern so often in the march of aviation technology over the years since man’s first faltering successes with heavier than air flight in 1903, it took a major disaster to fully reveal the hazards awaiting large jet aircraft plying their high corridors in angry air.

Northwest Airlines Inc, based at Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, had taken delivery of Boeing 720B, N724US, late in 1961. Fitted with the latest Pratt & Whitney JT3 turbofan engines, it had flown more than 4500 hours on the company’s domestic route network in the 18 months it had been in service.

A lighter version of the better known Boeing 707, The 720 was America’s first short- to medium-range passenger jet; with a service ceiling of 41,000 feet, it could cover 3,600 miles at a cruising speed of 530 knots, and this impressive performance had led to its being ordered by a number of US domestic airlines.

On February 12, 1963, N724US was scheduled to operate Flight 705, the company’s ‘Regal Imperial’ transcontinental service from Miami, Florida, to Portland, Oregon, with intermediate landings at Chicago, Spokane, and Seattle, departing Miami at 1.30pm local time.

The aircraft had arrived from Chicago at 12.40pm after an uneventful trip, the crew reporting only a slight problem with the pressurisation controls, which was quickly rectified at Miami.

A change of crew for the return flight took place at Miami.

Captain Roy Almquist, a 47-year-old veteran airline pilot with nearly 18,000 hours’ experience, was in command. Almquist, a single man, and from Minnesota – as were the entire crew – was an interesting character, with a diverse range of business interests outside the cockpit. He was president of a bank in Savage, Minnesota, part-owner of a Ford dealership in nearby Rosemount, president of the Rosemount City school bus company, and a director of an R&D company, Dyna-Mation, Inc., which was involved in the manufacture of precision machine tools. In his spare time, he was president of the Rosemount Lions Club.

His first officer, Robert Feller, 38, was also highly experienced, with a total of nearly 12,000 hours. But because Boeing 720 aircraft were still relatively new to the airline, neither pilot had a great deal of experience on the type, most of their flying having been logged on the company’s DC-4s, DC-6s, DC-7s and, in the case of the captain, Lockheed 188 Electra turboprops.

First Officer Feller, a married man with two children, had gained just over 1000 hours on the Boeing 720, but the captain, who had completed his type rating only three months before, had only 150 hours. As usual in American airline operations, the flight engineer, officially designated the second officer, was also pilot rated with 5000 hours’ experience. His flight engineer experience on Boeing 720 aircraft amounted to 523 hours.

Second officer Allen Friesen 29, married and the adoptive father of a two-year-old Korean daughter, and an ex-Boeing man who knew the company’s jets well, completed the flight deck complement.

In the passenger cabin, Myrna Ewert was, at 28, the oldest of the five flight attendants. Virginia Lee Younkin, 25, willowy and tall, and a native of Texas, was a former beauty queen who had majored in Spanish at the University of Minnesota and was noted for her cobalt-blue eyes. Wendy Engebretson was 22 and the daughter of a prominent local lawyer. Her uncle had died in the loss of a Northwest Airlines Electra over Tell City, Indiana, three years earlier, but Wendy had not allowed this tragedy to divert her from her career. Connie Rae Blank was 21, and had been with Northwest for just a few months. At 20, Mary Sandell was the baby of the crew; she had briefly attended college in Nevada, Missouri, before quitting her course to follow her dream of becoming an airline stewardess.

The six million dollar aircraft was configured with 165 seats, but fortunately only 35 of them were occupied. A 36th passenger, a pretty young blonde woman in a beige suit, who was nervous of flying, had cancelled her ticket after seeing the threatening storm clouds which were building outside the terminal.

Of those 35 souls who did board, most were family members going to or returning from vacations, or businessmen.

Wealthy builder Walter Orzula, from Cicero, Illinois, was returning from his annual family holiday with his wife, their daughter Jerylin, 20, and son, Walter, Jr, 18. The couple’s third child, Joyce, usually travelled with her family, but this year she had elected to stay with her soldier husband at his base in Kansas.

University of Minnesota student Fred Olson III, 20, had been visiting his parents, who owned a large funeral directors’ business back home in Rockford, Illinois, at their holiday home in Florida. Next to him on the aircraft was his 15-year-old sister, Joan, who was flying north with her friends Susan Schwendener and Christine Rever, also both 15. Tragically, Christine’s aunt Marilyn, 21, had died ten years earlier with her fiancé in the crash of a National Airlines DC-6 en route from Tampa, Fla, to New Orleans.

Grandmother Fanny Lebedow, 63, of Chicago, was a nervous passenger, but her family had reassured her that she would be fine. Waiting to meet her at Chicago was her daughter Shirley, with her own children, including her daughter Ivy, 4. In another horrible irony, Ivy would herself die with her father just before Christmas 1974, when their private plane came down on the way to a Florida holiday.

Bankers Anton Smigiel and Joe Srodulski were returning from vacations with their wives. Both couples had a policy of not flying together in case disaster struck – each had children, and dreaded the idea of leaving them orphaned. The two men said goodbye to their wives at Miami and boarded a slightly earlier Delta flight north, leaving Sally Smigiel and Rose Srodulski to follow them on the Northwest Boeing.

In those pre-Roe v Wade days, Dr Herman Wells, 69, was flying to Chicago for a court hearing, having been indicted on charges of having performed an abortion.

Ramon Diaz, 24, had recently escaped the misery of Communist Cuba; an accountant by training, he had just secured a position with a firm in Seattle, and was heading north-west to start his new job. He was very excited, and hoped one day to be able to bring his parents over from Havana.

George Enloe, 47, a father of four and husband to Arvilla, now worked for Alaska Airlines as a customer services representative and had been in Miami on business. A former World War II naval navigator who had been at Pearl Harbour, Midway and Guadalcanal, and had then seen active service in Europe, he had enjoyed a highly impressive military career; he had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and two bars, three Air Medals and the Purple Heart.

First Lieutenant Henry Baldwin, married to Carol with a two-year-old daughter, was returning to his Fort Lewis Army base after a compassionate visit to the bedside of his ailing father. With only two weeks until his military service was complete, he was looking forward to making a new life for himself and his young family…

Coming Soon

Apologies for the hiatus in posts – not, I’m sure, that too many people noticed.

It’s been down to a combination of work pressure, family stuff and illness – the latest instalment of which is a bout of whooping cough which has swept the office.

The symptoms include dramatic coughing and whooping for breath, (mild) fever, (light) seizures, and vomiting. Too much information, as they say?

I am now three weeks into it, and I have another three to go, apparently.Thoughtfully, I passed it on to everyone else.

We’re almost off to the printers with AT THE GOING DOWN OF THE SUN – just a couple more chapters to edit, and some final approvals (from family members and other interviewees) to be obtained.

It’s a tremendously moving book; obviously we are in publishing to pay our bills, but I feel very happy that this book will be a fitting tribute to all of the young men and women who have died in Afghanistan, and particularly those twenty whose stories we will be telling.

Published November 11.

Early next year we’ll be bringing out ANIMAL, QC – the literally astonishing story (it will be subtitled ‘My Preposterous Life‘, and that does not do it justice) of one of Britain’s leading criminal barristers.

Then it will be the very amusing memoir of a detective with 30-odd years on the job, ‘odd’ being the operative word.

After that, another look at life as a paramedic. Stuart Gray’s A PARAMEDIC’S DIARY has sold well, and continues to trickle out, so we have high hopes for this next book (which is not by Stuart, but another paramedic).

In other news, how to beat writer’s block, life as an undercover policeman (the long form version of the job is covered in our book Undercover), and I’m not the only person not to have finished A Brief History of Time.

…is a series of the most moving interviews you will ever read, with the widows, mothers, fathers and friends of twenty soldiers and Royal Marines killed in Afghanistan.

We’re publishing it on November 11, for obvious reasons.

The author, Graham Bound (a Falkland Islander who worked in the MOD comms team and has written a couple of outstanding books about the Falklands War and its aftermath), has done a stunning job.

More details in due course.


is said, by many, to have been Sir Edward Marshall Hall, KC – a man who mixed professional triumph with personal tragedy.

He saved many people from the noose, and his story – and particularly the story of his cases – is a fascinating one.

It was originally told by Edward Marjoribanks (pronounced Marchbanks), a barrister and Tory politician who shot himself in the chest in 1932, aged 32, after being jilted.

The Great Defender, a fascinating look at life at the Bar in the latter part of the Victorian era, is now available as an eBook, with a foreword by modern-day QC Gary Bell, better known as BBC TV’s Legalizer.

At £1.99 for 160,000-odd words, it’s what you might call a bargain!


Finally, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary has admitted what PC David Copperfield, Inspector Gadget and WPC E E Bloggs said all along: that the system of recording crime is as bent as a dodgy Flying Squad copper circa 1973:

The police are failing to record as much as 20% of crime – equal to three-quarters of a million offences – including 14 cases of rape and some serious sexual offences, according to the first official inquiry into the integrity of the police crime figures.

At the same time, confusingly, the police are rushing out to apprehend people for telling children that Santa doesn’t exist (true story from Gadget’s book). It makes no sense at all, unless you consider whether senior officers want their juniors to record crimes that are not easy to solve, but would quite like them to record crimes that are easy to solve.

For saying this sort of thing, Copperfield and Gadget were both lied about by government ministers. (Bloggs didn’t get lied about – she just sold the TV rights to her book.)

You can read free extracts from the three books here, here and here (and obviously we’d love you to buy copies if you haven’t already).

Meanwhile, here’s that Santa Claus story from Perverting the Course of Justice:


LET’S go back to basics for a moment.

Lots of people probably don’t quite understand the words ‘crime’ and ‘detection’, and the role they play in modern policing.

That’s not surprising, because what they mean in reality and what they mean in surreality – ie modern policing – are often two completely different things.

In real life, a crime means something which we would all agree is against the law – theft, assault, burglary – and has an actual victim who has really suffered some harm.

In policing, a ‘crime’ – because of the ‘victim-focused’ National Crime Recording Standard I mentioned earlier – can mean, in practice, almost anything which half sounds like it might possibly be a bit like a crime and which is reported to us. (Because who are we to tell Mr Hughes his ex’s nasty texts isn’t a crime?)

Here is one example of a non-crime taken seriously by us.

It’s late one afternoon in the middle of last December. The Christmas lights are ablaze on every house in Bigtown, and the concrete walkway outside the local Spar is covered in fresh white litter. Inside, there’s a queue of people waiting to pay for their groceries. Halfway down the line, a little girl and her mum are chatting about Santa Claus, and the presents he will be delivering in a fortnight.

In front of them is a typical Bigtown youth – Burberry scarf, Nike trainers, NY Yankees cap and a ton of bling.

Overhearing their conversation, he turns round, looks at the girl and says, ‘You don’t believe in Father Christmas, do ya? Your mum’s telling you lies… he ain’t real.’

The little girl bursts into tears and the angry mum storms out of the shop and rings us on her mobile.

I like to think that, if that happened to me, I’d tell my daughter that the nasty man was talking rubbish, and chalk it up to experience.

But modern life being what it is, mum doesn’t do this; instead, she phones us, like it’s a police matter.

OK, so we get a call from a lady wanting to report a Santa denier.

We just tell her we’re awfully sorry but it’s not really one for us, right?

Wrong. The call-taker logs it on the system as a harassment offence. We all know that if the woman had been calling to report a criminal damage that had happened the night before she’d have got someone out a week next Tuesday. But because certain triggers are hit – there’s a child involved, this area happens to be a crime hotspot and the man is still at the scene – a patrol is despatched immediately, to speak to the mum and little girl and, if possible, grab the ‘offender’ and even seize the CCTV to see if they can ID him.

To me, that’s just about as mad as it gets. Is it, even at the edges of abstract technicality, a crime? Harassment is about causing alarm or distress to another. As a senior officer asked in the SMT morning meeting, ‘How can it be harassment to tell someone Santa doesn’t exist? I mean, he doesn’t. Does he?’

He’s got a point. Short of producing Santa himself at an ID parade and proving he’s real, the case is going nowhere. But time and resources have been wasted in a fairly ludicrous way.

Here’s another one.

Two young lads outside a newsagent. One, a 10-year-old, goes in and buys a packet of crisps. Walkers, salt and vinegar I believe. When he comes back out and opens the packet, his 11-year-old chum swoops on him, sticks a fist into the bag and legs it down the road, cackling in glee.

The first boy tells his mum and, yes, she calls us. The ‘thief’ is questioned but – horror of horrors – he denies it. This causes our whole system to collapse, because we’re all about getting people to cough to minor offences and accept cautions for them to make detections.Where do we go from here? Forensics? ID parades with witnesses from the scene who saw the boy make off with the crisps? Thankfully, there is some residual common sense in the police, and the case eventually got ‘no-crimed’ – but not before hours of police time was wasted, and only after submissions in triplicate to the crime auditors to get them to wipe it off the computer.

These aren’t isolated cases. Here are a few others from the papers recently:

- A man ‘found in possession of an egg with intent to throw’.

- A child who removed a slice of cucumber from a sandwich and threw it at another youngster.

- A woman arrested (on her wedding day) for criminal damage after her foot slipped on the accelerator and her vehicle damaged a car park barrier.

- Another child who threw cream buns at a bus.

- A 70-year-old pensioner arrested for criminal damage after cutting back a neighbour’s conifer trees.

- A man who threw a glass of water over his girlfriend.

I didn’t make any of these up. Anti-social, yes, and in some cases maybe we ought to have a quiet word with the people involved. But are they really ‘crimes’?

Once someone reports them to us as such, and the call-taker enters them onto our computer databases as such, then, yes, they are.

So that’s ‘crime’. What’s a ‘detection’?

You perhaps think this refers to a mechanism whereby the person responsible for a crime, real or surreal, is caught and punished for it.

In fact, it may just mean that a suspect has been charged* – he doesn’t have to be found guilty. Equally, he may have been cautioned, or reported for summons, or been issued with a Penalty Notice for Disorder, or the offence may have been taken into consideration when he is sentenced for other matters.

What are the implications of all of this?

They are many and varied.

Firstly, all of a sudden anyone who has been looked at a bit funny can ring the police and demand a response.

Secondly, this will mean one extra recorded crime on the force’s figures (eg ‘harassment’ for looking at someone funny).

Thirdly, we can’t just ignore them. Under NCRS, we mostly have to take them seriously, which is just one reason why it takes us three days to show up for your burglary. Plus lots of undetected ‘crimes’ make Chief Constables look bad, and worry the Home Secretary, so they have to be detected with a response that is bureaucratic and slow and will take officers off the street for hours.

Fourthly, a boy who throws a piece of cucumber at a classmate may feel under pressure to accept a caution – and a permanent entry on his criminal record. This may affect his chances of employment later in life. (Though at the rate we’re criminalising the population, it won’t be long before pretty much everyone has a record, and it’s weird if you haven’t.)

Finally, in many forces, each officer now has an individual ‘Detection Target’. If he or she does not hit this target, he or she will end up with an ‘Action Plan’ on his or her Annual Appraisal. This is essentially a negative statement on your file, which can exclude you from an interview for a specialisation or promotion at the ‘paper-sift’ stage. Helping old ladies across the road, diving into swollen rivers to rescue drowning people and preventing or deterring crime from happening in the first place – none of these count against your individual target.

Of the above implications, the only one that really matters is our figures for undetected crimes. That’s because these are the only ones that affect senior police officers and politicians.

It doesn’t matter that bobbies might be so tied up looking for youths who don’t believe in Father Christmas that they can’t come out when you’re assaulted, because senior cops and MPs don’t very often get assaulted. If the young salt and vinegar crisps thief gets a criminal record, that doesn’t matter either, because who cares?

And neither does the systematic degradation of what was once a force into a ‘service’ that often only seems to serve the non-contributory members of society, because if the Chief Constable or the Lord Chief Justice or The Right Honourable Jacqui Smith MP has a gang of rowdy youths hanging around outside late at night, you can bet there’ll be a rapid and forceful response to that. (Though remember, Jacqui, that you were once a humble schoolteacher, and you won’t be Home Secretary for ever.)

PC David Copperfield was the first to break ranks and tell people about this nonsense. Since then, there have been lots of noises about how it’s all going to change, and they’re going to slash bureaucracy and cut targets. Well, it hasn’t happened yet, and I’ll believe it when I see it.

Incidentally, the crisps theft was not a lone incident. There were 500 similar thefts, of ‘nominal value under £1’, across my force in the past six months.

What are these £1 thefts?

Well, this might explain some of them. If your card is nicked and used, and the guy who stole it is later arrested with it still on him, this presents us with an opportunity. How about if the police crime this twice?

Once for the deception involved in using it to buy alloy rims for his Vauxhall Corsa, and once for the theft of the actual piece of plastic, nominal value under £1.

So some copper calls you up. ‘Mr Smith, isn’t it great? We got the guy who nicked your card. We’re talking to the bank about the loss of the money, and we also want to deal with him for the card itself. Can we just come and take a quick statement from you?’

This is called a ‘Loser’s Statement’ – it’s designed to head off a defence in court that you are the thief’s best mate and you always let him use your card.

You say, ‘Yep, no problem’, and the Old Bill nip round. Result: the theft of the credit card itself is detected and the crime figures for theft look a little better.

I’ll leave it to you to decide whether we’d bother criming the theft of the card if we hadn’t actually already recovered it.

*The reason we’re judged on ‘detections’ and not the outcome of a case at court is that the police have no real influence over what some crazy buffoon of a magistrate decides to do, and no control over a jury in Crown Court. All we can really do is influence the investigation. Though in many cases we can’t really do that either – witnesses decide not to give evidence because they are a friend of the accused, or victims (often women in DV cases) are frightened to assist in prosecutions.

Rising numbers of family doctors are quitting because they can’t face ‘five days a week of full-on clinical work’, says The Daily Mail, quoting Dr Fiona Cornis, president of the Medical Women’s Society.

Family doctors are ‘burning out’ because they are seeing patients and working in their surgery for up to 12 hours a day, as well as dealing with mounds of paperwork at the end of the day.

Sounds familiar.

Our own Dr Tony Copperfield, in Sick Notes, puts it like this:

SAMI AND I HAD a meeting with the PCT Suits later.

It all started about a year previously, with a squeal and an expletive from my medical secretary Martha Bardell, both of which were audible from the common room. Such displays of exasperation are unusual from the highly professional and controlled super-sec, so I immediately went to investigate.

I found her hunched over in her chair, slowly banging her head against the desk and moaning.

‘Everything alright?’ I said, casually.

She looked up and almost growled. ‘I don’t believe it!’ she said. ‘It’s another bloody form!’

More swearing. Blimey! This was serious.

She handed it over. It was, indeed, another bloody form. This time, for microscopic haematuria – invisible amounts of blood in your urine. The form – which needed completion by the GP to get the patient referred to a urologist – required around 25 separate pieces of information. Name of patient, obviously. Any abnormal findings on examination, also obviously. But, rather less obviously, questions like, ‘Any recent travel?’ – perhaps because (and I confess I’m guessing here) obscure tropical diseases can sometimes cause microscopic haematuria.

Anyway. Big deal, you might think. It’s just a form. Bite the bullet, fill it in, move on. Fair enough.

But then, there’s a form for chest pain.

And one for indigestion.

And another for rectal bleeding.

And yet another for headache.

And for heavy periods, and infertility, and breathlessness, and memory loss…

In fact, no matter what your symptom is, there’s a form for it (admittedly, I haven’t yet tested this out for the most obscure symptom I can think of, pilimiction – the passage of hairs in your urinary stream – but I have a feeling I wouldn’t be disappointed).

There are lots of symptoms, so that’s lots of forms. And they need keeping track of, filing and updating, and, of course, the hospital keeps producing new ones and updates on old ones every five minutes. This upsets Martha.

Each form is completely different, each needs tracking down and each needs laborious completion with information that either seems irrelevant or which the hospital doctor is going to get from the patient anyway. And this upsets all of us, because it’s a pointless waste of time, effort and, in these recessionary times, money.

Over the following few days, phrases like ‘bureaucratic nightmare’ and ‘unbelievable levels of bullshit’ were bandied about, increasingly loudly and vehemently, until, at the next practice meeting, we decided that enough was enough. We would make a stand and stop using those sodding forms. Instead, we reverted to what we’d always done: writing a sensible, courteous referral letter, providing all the information relevant to the particular case but none of the nonsensical frippery.

Except that, on day three of our brave, form-free world, the first referral bounced back. The next day, a couple were returned. The next, a handful. And then it became apparent that all of our referrals were boomeranging back to us.

Why? To quote the message sent to a molar-grinding Martha, ‘These referrals have been refused because your doctors have not used the correct forms.’

This was sorted out by a few choice words directed to some jobsworth on the end of the phone.

‘We have a contractual obligation to refer patients to hospital as appropriate,’ our Senior Partner told the jobsworth, ‘but we are under no obligation whatsoever to use any particular form, any more than we are to fill it in in illuminated script. Which means that, should any patient suffer harm because of your refusal of our referral, medicolegal liability will be held by you.’

This solved the problem. But we’d created such a stir with our policy of non co-operation that the PCT Suits weren’t happy, which is why Sami and I found ourselves sitting opposite a couple of them this morning.

The meeting went well. Sami explained our position from the outset. He’s good at this type of thing: he hates management jargon, but he has a weird talent for it, too.

‘The thing is,’ he said, ‘we don’t want our stance to get in the way of a seamless patient journey.’

The Suits looked impressed.

‘Nor do we want it to reflect badly on our aspiration to Total Quality Management. We’d hate to see a dip in the dials on our Clinical Dashboard.’

The Suits glanced approvingly at each other.

‘So we’ve had an idea shower. And, going forward – bear with me – we’ve come up with a paradigm shift. We’d like to give you the heads up, run it up the flagpole et cetera.’

He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. The Suits were obviously intrigued, leaning forward slightly, waiting expectantly for Sami to unveil our masterpiece.

‘Clearly,’ he continued, ‘the status quo isn’t a strategic fit for World Class Referring. So we’ve imagineered a solution.’

Bugger me, he’s good. He unfolded the paper.

‘We’re calling it a “Universal Referral Form”, or URF. It’s a one-size-fits-all solution. We’ve cascaded it to local practices and they’ve all confirmed they think the idea is…’

For the first time, he faltered, searching for the right buzzword. I took this as my cue to chip in.

‘They think it’s empowering,’ I said.

‘Exactly!’ said Sami. ‘They think it’s empowering.’

The Suits could barely contain their excitement.

‘We think we can work synergistically with you to facilitate this across all practices,’ said Sami, recovering his poise and handing over our meisterwork. ‘It’s kind of a win-win-win. You, us and the patients.’

The Suits looked blank. As did the piece of paper they were holding.

‘This is a piece of headed notepaper?’ said Suit One, slowly.

‘With nothing on it?’ said Suit Two.

‘That’s right,’ beamed Sami. ‘On which we write a referral letter. A Universal Referral Form, like I said. We’d like to enter it for the Strategic Health Authority’s annual awards. The “Innovation” section. If you could just sign our entry here?’

‘Are you sure you’ve used the right entry form, Sami?’ I said.

The Intrigant praises Chris Grayling for his bold plan to increase illiteracy among prisoners by banning them from reading books:

Tough on literacy, tough on the causes of literacy: congratulations on your ban on sending books into prison under the newly written rules. You and I don’t need to read books so why should people who have committed a crime be allowed to receive them?

I know that books can be sent to the inmates of Guantanamo Bay and that books were sent to British POWs imprisoned in Nazi Germany and Dostoevsky received books in the Peter-and-Paul Fortress during his incarceration in 1850. Remember: the George W. Bush-era USA, the German High Command of the 1940s and an autocratic Tsar have no lessons to teach you. They are all a bunch of pinko-lefties.

It does seem a remarkably stupid and vindictive decision. Grayling is obviously not a student of Dostoevsky.

(It’s a little-known fact that Wasting Police Time was the most popular book in English prisons from 2007 to 2011.)

The New York Times says rent increases are forcing bookshops out of Manhattan.

When Sarah McNally, the owner of McNally Jackson bookstore in Lower Manhattan, set out to open a second location, she went to a neighborhood with a sterling literary reputation, the home turf of writers from Edgar Allan Poe to Nora Ephron: the Upper West Side.

She was stopped by the skyscraper-high rents.

“They were unsustainable,” Ms. McNally said. “Small spaces for $40,000 or more each month. It was so disheartening.”

Passive Aggression in libraries.

And an interesting book about a subject close to our hearts, northern soul.

As ever, the Amazon reviews are very interesting. I particularly enjoyed this three-star review from ‘Rian Arren':

This review is from: Northern Soul: An Illustrated History (Hardcover)

The book was purchased as a gift and has not been read by me. However, I am sure the recipient will be extremely pleased with it.
In case you’re wondering what this ‘northern soul’ is, allow Mr Lou Pride to explain:

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