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Gary* has written a piece this week’s Speccie about intelligent drug dealers.

Depending on your leisure pursuits, it will either put you off cocaine, or Kinder Eggs.

Gary’s appearance at Bristol Festival of Ideas (see last blog) is now sold out, but you can still get in to see Ken Livingstone’s ‘Being Red’ show, or Alexei Sayle’s lament about Maggie Thatcher and his trousers (actually, that’s probably very funny).

This is great.

How to be a successful writer.

They’re realising an abridged version of the Da Vinci Code, aimed at kids.

If you think the nineties was bad you should have been there in the eighties, mate.

*Gary’s book Animal QC is selling quite nicely, but it could sell better. He has a rather large tax bill to settle at the moment, so please do buy a copy if you haven’t already and help out an impecunious fat cat (him, not us – we’re just impecunious). We promise to spend the money on Kinder Eggs.

 

Gary Bell QC is appearing with the author and Guardian writer Lynsey Hanley at the Bristol Festival of Ideas on Monday May 23.

The theme is ‘Social Mobility and Class’; it starts at 6.30pm and tickets are only £7 (or as little as £4 for concessions), and can be booked here.

It’s a topic on which Gary is very well qualified to talk.

He started life in a condemned Nottingham slum, left school without taking any O levels, was a football hooligan and convicted fraudster (not the crime of the century, he was stealing 10p pieces from fruit machines, but still), a Pork Farms pork pie maker, an ASDA forklift driver, and, for a while, homeless and starving.

In his twenties, he went to university, fell in with a crowd of Old Etonians and reinvented himself as an Old Etonian, adopting a plummy accent, floppy hair and brogues. So good was he at this act that to this day there are actual OEs who ‘remember’ being at school with him. (He actually went to Toot Hill Comprehensive in Notts.)

Today he is a leading QC, and a friend to Tory cabinet ministers, Labour shad cab people and various celebs and business tycoons, while still remaining very close to his roots in the Nottinghamshire pit village of Cotgrave – not always an easy trick to pull off.

It’s a funny thing, the British (or English) class system. Plenty of people don’t care about it at all (the Monday Books staff included), but lots of people seem to be obsessed with it. Several of the very few dodgy (ie 3*) Amazon reviews for Gary’s memoir Animal QC talk about the subject. Here’s one from someone calling himself ‘Rocke Harder’.

Some very interesting and insightful moments in this book; also enjoyable and humorous. But there were whole tranches of this book which just irritated. I hated all the garbage about the sloanes and the upper class twerps – with our hero wanting to join them.

This chap has truly achieved a lot and he should be royally proud – which he is. But he seems to have little depth and now revels, without any irony, in the trappings of the upper echelons – sending sons to Rugby school and name dropping like a good ‘un. He’s mates with celebs and nobs – and everyone of them is a really good bloke. It was a little embarrassing really – I mean – who truly gives a stuff about such vapid nonsense? A little dignity was needed – instead he wallows in the sordid details and then pulls himself by his boot straps into a society fat full of privilege.

And I didn’t believe all of his story. I laughed out loud when he told us that he works for some LA Law firm earning mega bucks and then goes to an interview in Inner Temple and spends that night sleeping rough. And guess where he sleeps rough – by jove if it aint in Lincolns Inn – just down the road and itself an Inn of Court. What larks and what great irony. But what happened to all those dollars recently earned?

We’re all entitled to our opinions, and there are always people who hate the idea of others ‘getting ideas above their station’.

But we would just take issue with the last paragraph. We checked everything we possibly could – not because we suspected Gary might be gilding any lilies but because memories are fallible – and it’s all true, no matter how bizarre. We’ve seen the letters from Inner Temple giving him a Marshall Hall grant to help pay for accommodation after they discovered that he was indeed sleeping rough in Lincoln’s Inn fields. It wasn’t ‘ironic’ – he was just broke (he’s always broke).

And as for where the money went, it went where all Gary’s money goes, on having a good time with his friends, most of whom are very definitely not ‘ celebs and nobs‘…

Animal QC_paperback-visual7 pic

Animal QC paperback jacket

Hal Ian Brinton, co-editor of the international law magazine The New Jurist, and an academic lawyer at Leeds University, has written a very nice review of Gary Bell’s ANIMAL QC.

Here are a few lines – the whole thing is worth reading:

Son of a proud miner, ill – tempered and ruthlessly old fashioned – the childhood expressed in ‘Animal Q.C.’ can easily bring a tear to the eye, toys were certainly few but that didn’t stop Gary. A man on a mission. One prevailing theme throughout is that it’s not what you haven’t got that counts but how you make good use of what you do have. As the Q.C. has said on record, ‘It’s a book about aspiration really, rather than anything else.’

There is a quintessentially British sense of fair play within the narrative; the German escapade concerning a British Garrison and a ‘Day-Glo’ tent is humorous, albeit frightening for the participants. You literally could not make this stuff up and if you did, few would believe you… At times ‘Animal Q.C.’ reads like a John King novel – the difference being that one is fiction and one very evidently fact. It is here that we learn just how remarkable Gary’s story really is and how very easily things could have descended into an irreversible inferno…

Extraordinary foreign escapades, and a tragic incident in which Gary’s life could ‘have gone very differently’ sees the author fulfilling what to the reader seems like destiny. I would have pigeon –holed him for philosophy though, but to our surprise and of course to much joy of those he has represented, Gary decided upon a law degree. Champion debater, mingling with high society and finding love in the right place; one can’t help but think that his is a work of fiction, but actually, it’s not. Like many of the greats, Gary has achieved something that all humans have the ability to do, but few realise that they can, and that is quite simply being the best that they can be.

So how, one might wonder, does the man from St Anne’s, ‘known to the law’, with insatiable appetite for football achieve that which the Bar Councils Kalisher report termed ‘the badge of the eminent and successful barrister’ ? The answer, skill, a strong moral compass, friends and a dogged determination.

Any why ‘Animal’ you might again enquire ? Well for that you will have to read it for your bloomin’ self!

GARY BELL QC – the homeless football hooligan ASDA shelf-stacking pork pie making bricklaying fraudster-turned-top barrister – will be appearing at the Grand Theatre in Clitheroe tomorrow night, Wednesday March 2.

Tickets are priced at £8 and are available on the door, though they’re selling well so come early or ring ahead.

It starts at 7.30pm with an hour or so’s informal chat, and then Gary will read a few short extracts from his memoir ANIMAL QC and take questions from the floor.

Among the many strings to his bow is that he was an award-winning stand-up comic, so I think I can promise you an amusing, enjoyable and diverting evening.

Animal QC paperback jacket

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The paperback of Gary Bell QC’s fascinating, funny and very frank memoir ANIMAL QC is available from early next week.

I know we would say this, but it’s a rare treat.

It tells the story of Gary’s life, from his birth and early years in a condemned slum terrace in St Ann’s, Nottingham, through shoplifting, football hooliganism, fraud and homelessness, to an astonishing turnaround which saw him go to university as a (very) mature student in his twenties, and finally make something of himself.

Fewer than one in ten barristers are appointed Queen’s Counsel, and many (perhaps most) of them have attended the best public schools in the country.

Not Gary; he went to a poor state comprehensive, and left school at fifteen, in the mid 1970s, without even taking any O levels (he spent his final weeks segregated away in a remedial class for kids who had decided not to bother with exams).

I’m willing to bet that he is the only QC who is also an ex-miner, ex-ASDA shelf-stacker, ex-bricklayer, ex-fireman, ex-apprentice lawnmower mechanic, ex-Pork Farms pork pie production line worker and ex-fruit machine payout tester (which is where he got into that trouble vis-a-vis fraud).

Animal QC paperback jacket

He did all that and more before a conversation with a depressed Belgian on a beach in France inspired him to go back into education.

At Bristol University, surrounded by posh kids almost ten years his junior, he felt for the first time in his life ‘terribly lonely’, but reinvented himself – adopting received pronunciation and the Sloane Ranger wardrobe of the day.

He also boned up on the finer points of Eton, in order (strictly for his own amusement) to pass himself off as an Old Etonian. This worked so well that lots of actual Old Etonians swear they remember being at school with Gary – and he’s been ‘back’ to his ‘old school’ to take part in various old boys’ functions…

Today he numbers among his friends Hollywood film producers, lords and ladies, Cabinet ministers and opposition MPs, famous authors, actors and entrepreneurs – and many childhood friends from his little Notts pit village of Cotgrave, who still address him as ‘Animal’.

So how did he earn that nickname?

In this short extract from the book, Gary’s in his late teens, as a member of Nottingham Forest’s infamous hooligan firm, The Mad Squad:

CONVERSELY, AND I CONFESS not wholly deservedly, my own reputation [as a fighting man] was very high indeed.

Thanks to thirty pints a weekend and a diet of kebabs and Chinese, I now weighed fifteen stone. (At the time I thought this was fat, but it’s a weight which, regrettably, I haven’t seen for some years.) This excess of avoirdupois meant that, whenever our fans ran away from a scrap, I was odds-on to be caught by the opposition.

As a result, I was forever to be seen exhorting our firm to ‘Stand and fight!’ and I developed, somewhat accidentally, a reputation as a man without fear.

In fact, I was in a permanent state of abject terror.

I also acquired a nickname, one of which any self-respecting hooligan would be proud: ‘Animal.’

Young up-and-comers were anxious to address me as such in the street.

‘Alright, Animal?’ they would say, looking away nervously.

‘Alright, lads,’ I would nod back, gravely.

In fact, folk from those days still address me as ‘Animal’ when I see them, and I’m happy to answer to it: it was a name which brought me respect and notoriety in Nottingham and beyond, and seemed to speak to my courage and ferocity.

It was a good thing that most people didn’t know how I’d come by it.

Whenever Forest were playing in the North West, our coach would go through Derby, and we would stop at a Lipton’s supermarket to stock up on free drink, in a cross between Supermarket Sweep and Crimewatch. We’d arrive, the bus would empty, and nearly everybody would converge on the drinks aisle, like a plague of thieving locusts. The skeleton staff would try in vain to stop us, but within five minutes the entire section would have been stripped bare, and we’d be on our way.

I say ‘we’, but I never took any booze. No: while my colleagues were grabbing all the alcohol they could carry, I could be found elsewhere in the shop – loading up with gastronomic necessities. When I returned to the bus I would be laden with biscuits, cakes, and sweets and, as the rest of the lads cracked open cans of lager and bottles of whisky, I would be tucking into a family-sized Mr Kipling Bakewell tart, or a giant Swiss roll.

On one warm, early season morning, I came back to the bus with a huge block of Walls ice cream and a packet of wafers. I had no way of cutting it up, so I simply put a wafer at each end of the block and ate it like that.

The rest of the lads broke off from their drinking and stared at me, aghast.

‘I don’t believe you, Gary,’ said one of them, the improbably-named Herman Lyking. ‘You’re a f***ing animal!’

Thereafter, I was known as ‘Animal.’

BY GREAT GOOD fortune, I was only ever charged with one football hooliganism offence. On our way back from Manchester, we had stopped in Chesterfield for a drink at The Painted Wagon, then the home pub of the Chesterfield Town hooligan element. A vicious battle soon broke out, which only ended when two vanloads of riot officers arrived. By then, the pub was wrecked, and we were all arrested. The landlord, identifying the perpetrators, alleged that I had thrown a bar stool at the optics.

It was absolute rubbish – I’d been fighting off two Chesterfield fans on the pool table at the time – but I was charged with violent disorder, and remanded to appear at Chesterfield Magistrates. Luckily, I secured the services of a brilliant young solicitor from Nottingham who was the discerning football thug’s lawyer of choice; he tied the prosecution up in knots and got the case against me laughed out of court.

This run-in with the law helped to persuade me to pack in the hooliganism. I still bump into a lot of the old Mad Squad hooligans at Forest matches to this day, and the majority of us look back on our youthful indiscretions with a measure of embarrassment. A small hard core are still at it, into their fifties. I don’t condone that – I think it’s rather pathetic – but in some ways I can understand it. Like many of us, I moved on to achieve other things in life, which brought me a little of the self-respect I suppose we all crave. But there are those for whom those doors never open, and their fighting reputation is all they have.

And, if I’m honest, there was another reason I retired. One night after a game in Derby, I nipped into an alleyway for a pee. When I came back, The Mad Squad had vanished, to be replaced by several hundred local savages.

‘Where you from, mate?’ said one huge lout.

‘Spondon,’ I said, naming the first Derby suburb that came to mind.

‘What street?’ he said.

Football legend had it that if you hit the biggest member of a rival gang, and hit him hard enough, the rest would run away.

‘Forest Street!’ I snarled, and punched him in the nose. It was a fantastic punch, if I say so myself, and the effect on his mates was indeed instantaneous.

They pounced on me and kicked the living daylights out of me for what seemed like weeks.

Eventually, The Mad Squad turned up and made it more even, but I was hors de combat. After it was over, I was taken to hospital. The damage was only superficial – a couple of black eyes, a missing tooth, a cauliflower ear, two broken ribs, and a broken arm – but it was time for Animal to hand in his cards.

Surely there were better things to do of a Saturday?

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As an occasional cyclist and regular driver, I can (like most of us) see both sides of the heated argument between the two. Because I can see both sides, I don’t take one. We’ve just been approached by a Swedish educational publisher for permission to use an extract from A PARAMEDIC’S DIARY, a book we published by Stuart Gray, a London paramedic.

The Swedes want to use the following extract, along with various exercises, in a book for students learning English in the first year of upper secondary school. I though it might be worth sharing with our own readers:

London’s cyclists can be dangerous, and a lot of them – certainly in the centre of town – flout the law at every opportunity. They zip across pavements, weave in and out of traffic and, worst of all, they think red lights don’t apply to them. Why won’t they stop like everyone else? Is it too inconvenient? Are they busier or more important than the rest of the population? Do they honestly think they aren’t committing or causing any offence? The thing is, they get away with it – while dangerous drivers and speeding motorcyclists can be photographed and tracked down, cyclists can break the law with impunity. There’s no way of catching them unless a copper actually sees them at it.

I started spouting off about how dangerous most cyclists can be on my blog in 2006; that year, The Guardian’s Matt Seaton reported that only four had been prosecuted in the last twelve months. Four! Anyone who has driven in London will know that’s a tiny proportion of the actual offences they commit, which must run into the thousands. In the same piece, Seaton highlighted a school in the city where teachers and parents were up in arms because cyclists kept running a nearby red light and had hit and injured a number of kids.

I’ve attended the victims of mad cyclists, and I’ve also had to treat one or two of the perpetrators of this idiocy after they came off worst.

Diary of a Paramedic

I was called to a twenty-year-old who had slammed into a lamp-post at full speed in an attempt to navigate his way around traffic. The traffic was moving and he was cutting in and out between cars, which isn’t clever. He fell foul of one when it almost clipped him; he lost control and hit the post without braking. He wasn’t wearing a helmet and he was lucky not to be killed. As it was, he sustained a nasty head injury and a badly broken collar bone. Obviously, he was in some discomfort but he was stable with no neck pain or other significant injury. There was plenty of blood around from his head wound, but a first aider had rushed out from a nearby office and put a large dressing on it. This Good Samaritan bad also offered to secure the man’s bike for him while he was taken to hospital. His acrobatic cycling had almost cost him more than a lost Raleigh and he made one sensible comment as I treated him: ‘I think I’ll take the bus next time.’

As it happened, I had a second cyclist the same day. She, too, got off scot-free, but it could have been horrendous. She’d been behind a large lorry and had tried to nip in between it and the pavement, just to save a few seconds of time. The driver of the truck hadn’t seen her, and had effectively driven over her. He’d managed to crush the bike underneath a wheel and caught her under his trailer. Luckily – does ‘lucky’ describe this? – an alert passer-by had seen it happen and had screamed and waved to the driver. He’d slammed on the anchors and then, under the guidance of the witness, had gingerly reversed a few inches, allowing the trapped woman to free herself without injury. Another second, maybe a second and a half, and she’d have had a twenty-tonne truck roll straight over her.

A two-car RTC that was caused by the erratic cycling of a man who had tried to dodge in between them as they moved across a junction had me trying to keep the drivers and the cyclist involved apart. They wanted to beat him up, and it eventually took the arrival of the police to calm things down. Luckily nobody was seriously hurt, but both vehicles were damaged.

Car drivers aren’t innocent, either; I’ve never had a cyclist die on me but I’ve been to a few who have gone over the bonnet or bullseyed a windscreen because the driver has cut them up.

During the summer, the traffic police held a free demonstration on safe cycling in which cyclists were invited to come onto Trafalgar Square and park next to a lorry. Then they could climb into the cab of the lorry and see just how invisible they were to the driver if they parked too near his vehicle. The idea was to simulate the stopping behaviour of cyclists when they are at traffic lights (when they aren’t running them) and to encourage discussion about the danger they put themselves in. I spoke to the officers running this demo and they told me that of the very few cyclists who bothered to show an interest, some of them had argued their rights instead of taking in the lesson.

Of course, not all cyclists are mad and more than a few of them do behave properly on the road. But I spent an hour or so one shift counting the number who ran red lights and zipped through active pedestrian crossings – thirty out of thirty-three I saw broke the law.

For more from Stuart, you can buy the book or eBook, or visit his blog; he hasn’t updated it in a while, having gone through tough personal times, but it’s still there, and is fascinating and very well-written.

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FOUR OUT OF TEN teachers have ‘experienced violence from pupils in the past year’, according to the BBC.

(Confusingly, the report goes on to say that 77% of teachers have ‘been pushed or shoved and around half were kicked or had an object thrown at them’.)

Whether its forty per cent or eighty per cent it’s pretty shocking, and I speak as someone ambushed a schoolmaster I didn’t like with snowballs and broke his specs. (This wasn’t recently – I was at school at the time.)

Anyway, it’s a picture Frank Chalk would recognise – he writes about being threatened by kids and parents in his shocking and blackly funny memoir of a life of blackboards, marking, and staff rooms, It’s Your Time You’re Wasting, which continues to sell like hottish cakes after all this time.

Coming soon: ANIMAL QC the paperback

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Its Your Time Youre Wasting_ItsYourTime hi res new front cover

 

 

 

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