Tag Archives: London

Fallujah, Chilcot and the right to silent protest.

Fallujah. First time round.2004

When Fallujah was attacked and bombed by US forces in 2004, I later joined a friend in standing outside the House of Commons on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Between us, we held a sheet on which was written in red paint the number of civilians killed during this first battle of Fallujah.

The number was something in the region of 600 people, all Iraqi, all civilians.

Our presence on the pavement was a silent witness to these deaths. No leaflets were handed out and I made no attempt to engage people in a discussion.

Nevertheless, at the end of the afternoon, I was charged under the newly passed Serious Organised Crime and Police Act.  http://bit.ly/29f4Xhg

This law was one of the more repressive Acts introduced during Tony Blair’s time as Prime Minister which sought to curb the individual’s right to protest.

You have to wonder what it was Blair feared that he had to go to such ridiculous measures to stop people speaking their minds.

Perhaps we’ll find the answer in the Chilcot Inquiry.

Leave a comment

Filed under Life, Syria, Uncategorized

My mantlepiece and its inhabitants

Here are a few items ( icons?) which hang from my mantlepiece.


A daily reminder that I don’t practice my alto sax often enough and sometimes not at all.


I think the only thing these two have in common is water and their moving limbs. She’s from Schipol Airport, bought on my way back from Tel Aviv. I’d had a glorious time walking in Palestine, not far from Bethlehem and staying with local people. Her friend, Olaf the Swordsman,  appears in the next  picture,


Well, not Olaf but another Viking who strayed in from the great Viking Exhibition in London which I wrote about for The Irish Times. The exhibition coincided with the celebrations in Dublin to mark the Battle of Clontarf in1014 when we thought we’d driven out the Vikings for good. Luckily for our blood.line, they came, liked what they saw – and stayed. All Dubliners are Vikings if you dig deep enough.


Oops. Where has he come from? The Black and White Minstrels? Uncle Tom’s Cabin? Neither. I bought him in Dublin’s Rathmines, in the  Support the LIfeboats shop there. John de Courcy Ireland would have had something to say about that. Or maybe he wouldn’t….


This is not an apple.  Bought in the Magritte Museum in Brussels when I passed through with FR on our way to a the Commonwealth Cemetery in Harelbekke to look at a grave of a young Aboriginal boy who died in WW1, aged 17.The Museum was a very welcome and fascinating distraction.


A seasonal appearance from a visitor from the United Nations building in NYC, brought to me by a Bostonian who has lived in Ireland so long she’s now Irish.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

English not your first language?

It’s happened again. Always does. I go in to a coffee shop I haven’t been in  before and ask for a coffee. At the moment, it’s a decaff cappo. No problem so far.

Barista is all smiles. But wait, I’d like it in a mug please. A wha?

“A mug, m-u-g. Mug.”

You see, though I don’t trouble her with the science bit, the surface area of a mug is smaller than that of a cup so your coffee stays warmer longer.


I know how she’s struggling because I’ve been there myself. Years ago, I spent a year at the School of Peace Studies in Bradford University. In Yorkshire. It was going to be a great year and breezy as a  bird I swanned into the nearest cafe and asked for a coffee. That’s how it was in those days:  you asked for tea or you asked for coffee. And you took what you got. Fine. No problem so far.

The man looked at me, a question mark on his face: “Moog or cuup?”

A straightforward, everyday enquiry except it took a few seconds for me to rearrange the vowels and give  meaning to them. Remember, I’d just arrived up from London, in white dungarees ( yes, that’s how fashion forward I was) and carrying the Guardian under my arm. To say I stuck out would be an understatement.

However, we got the mug business sorted and I had a great year in Bradford but now here I am in Oxford though it could easily be Dublin, Cork, Glasgow or London. But it’s Oxford and the barista has no idea what a mug is. So I go in to English-as-a-foreign-language-teacher mode: “It’s like a cup but without a saucer.”

The barista beams and picks up a saucer.

” No, you don’t actually have a saucer with a mug….Look, it’s sort of like a cup but taller than a cup.”

She beams again and picks up a paper cup which, in my view, is really a mug. A mug without a handle, though so not really a mug. Or is it?

This is  no good. My impromptu English lesson is getting none of us anywhere so I settle for  a sort of lopsided saucer with a cup sitting to one side of it. Not a great way to start the morning.

Last week, it was something else. I was in my regular coffee-shop and the male barista ( why not baristo, by the way?) got the mug thing right but then there was the next step: to carry out, to go, to have here, to take away, to stay?

The man behind me was a university librarian. He’d know.

“Which is it, do you think?”

He smiled and shrugged: “Doesn’t matter as long as he understands what you want.”

Dammit, he’s right. Out go all my ideas about correct English, well-spoken English, good grammar, bad grammar, loan words from France, Italy, America. From America? OMG.

And don’t even mention those journalists – that’s you, BBC –  who think ground ( the solid surface of the earth) and floor (walking surface of a room or vehicle) are interchangeable.

Anyway, that’s today’s rant. Up coming: the apostrophe.  :))))))))





Filed under Uncategorized

Freud, the godless Jew.

Today, I visited the Freud Museum in London’s Swiss Cottage. It’s close to the Finchley Road. Finchley is a place that fills me with gloom, a place of overpowering conformity, of closed doors. A place where I might die of boredom.

  The door to Freud’s house, however, is a bright, cheerful blue. Lovely.



But once inside, the gloom returns. Dark corners, heavy drapes,dark-brown books – row after row of them. The only bright place is the landing which gets the fullness of the afternoon sun and where Freud’s wife Martha and her sister, used to sit to take tea. Freud never sat there. He had a lift specially made which took him from his study to his ( and I assume her) bedroom.

 There was an air of reverential hush to the museum and I longed to hear a greeting or a laugh but we were all inhibited by the felt presence of the great psychiatrist with his cigar and his watch fob. Not a ball of fun, I’d say. He called himself a godless Jew.

If you want a laugh though, you’ll get it at the Museum which currently has an exhibition of Freudian drawings by that great, witty  cartoonist, Calman.

 He spent only a year in his new London home before dying of cancer of the jaw, in 1939.



Freud gave us all the must-use ideas like repression, dream interpretation, guilt, penis envy. That last was him wasn’t it? But his focus seemed so often to be on women. In fact, the reason I went today was to see an exhibition called Mad Bad Sad: Women and the mind doctors, partly curated by Lisa Appiganaesi whose book on the subject I hope to read.The exhibition, I discovered, ended a week ago.

To console myself, I bought a shot glass engraved with the word Ego and a do not disturb note to hang on your door which says DISTURBED. That’ll do for me.

 If you enjoyed reading this, maybe have a look at my website: http://www.maryrussell.info

The Freud Museum, 20 Maresfield Gardens, NW3 5SXis open Wed – Sunday noon – 5pm.0044(0)2074352002

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Toll bridges a thing of the past? Not in Oxfordshire.

If there’s one thing the people of the small town of Eynsham in Oxfordshire are pissed off about it’s the nearby lovely Swinford Toll Bridge. Everyday, some 10.000 vehicles cross and recross the Thames at this point and they all have to pay to get from one side to the other. That’s a lot of time – and a lot of money. About £200.000 a year, in fact.


    The bridge – and it really is a lovely construction, graced by 8 arches – was opened in 1769, in the reign of George lll and has its own Act of Parliament.


 This entitles the owner (originally the Earl of Abingdon) to levy a toll on anyone who crossed the bridge whether on foot or on horseback or in the many stage coaches that used this busy route between London and Wales. (It lay on the highway between London and the port of Fishguard where travellers transferred to ships for the journey on to Ireland.)

  The Act also forbids the construction of a second crossing within three miles either side of the toll bridge.

We took the little Number 11 bus out of Oxford and got off on the Eynsham side of the bridge and then walked back past the cheerful toll keeper.


By the way, he goes home at nightfall so you can, in fact, get across free until the next morning.

The charges aren’t high


but it’s the long queues that annoy local people.

 Eynsham Parish Council has invited people to sign a petition asking their local MP to see about ending the charges. Sadly for them, their MP is David Cameron about whom I will say no more. It would also mean changing an Act of Parliament which would entail a lot of lawyers and tax payers’ money.

           We had a pleasant sandwich lunch in the nearby Talbot Inn


  And then went to investigate the Thames Pathway.


                                                             Can you resist this?


                                         Or this?


  It’s about 6 miles back to Oxford,  walking along the river bank and ending at Osney and would make a pleasant 2/3 hour walk on a summer’s evening. Or a brisk walk in winter that’ll have you home by teatime.  Try it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Othello: ” I took by the throat…”

A few weeks ago I got up at 05:00. And why? In order to get to the National Theatre, in London, so that I could buy a £12 ticket to see Othello. These reduced tickets are available only on the day. When I got to the theatre at 07:30 there were already 15 people ahead of me in the Q – but by 09:30 I had my ticket. Success! Was it worth the dawn start? Absolutely.

The two main actors – Adrian Lester (Othello) and Rory Kinnear ( Iago)  were brilliant.


In fact, they were so brilliant that I am now going to see it all over again when the filmed version will be shown at a venue near you – and me.

The play is about jealousy and envy but there’s another interesting theme:Othello was a general, given the task of holding back the advancing army of the Ottomans, also known as the dastardly Turks. And there’s not a city in Christendom that doesn’t have a pub called the Turk’s Head, the theory being that the only good Turk was  a dead one.

Here are two images of the Turk’s Head in Dublin.



The film of the play is being shown this coming Thursday, Sept 26th. Click here to find a cinema near you that will be showing it.

Leave a comment

24 September, 2013 · 7:57 pm

Literary gossip No 3. The writer, the curtain and the poet’s wife





 You could say it was on the way to Holyhead, give or take a deviation or two. When we got there, we located the house overlooking the estuary of the Taf river though there was really nothing much to it – an abandoned place that people nowadays would die for. A  hideaway for a would-be poet.  “We’ve got this place in Wales,” they’d say. “Nothing  much,  just a couple of rooms. Miles from anywhere. And the locals are so friendly.”

 But it wasn’t like that at all. We peered through the grimey windows of the nearby “writing shed” and saw cups and saucers on the table, a few bits of furniture, a tea towel on the back of a chair, the detritus of a life governed by a perennial shortage of money. Married to a writer I knew all about that.

We walked through the cemetery looking for the grave. Hard to find at first and then, there it was, the little marker facing back to front but with his name on it: Dylan Thomas.

 He’d been drinking in a bar in Manhattan and had collapsed into a coma. Four days later, on November 9, 1953, he died, aged 39. His wife Caitlin was with him.

 Some time after visiting Laugharne – where Dylan and Caitlin lived for the last four years of Dylan’s life – Ian and I  returned to our own house in Buckinghamshire, where H.A.L Craig –  Harry to his friends – came for a working visit.

 Harry was born in County Cork but brought up in Limerick, in his father’s vicarage. After attending Trinity College, Dublin,  he worked for a while co-editing The Bell, alongside Sean O Faolain after which he moved to London.

Both he and Ian were passionate about radio and both wrote for the now defunct BBC Third Programme as well as for the then Manchester Guardian.

Hung about with small children, nappies and the job of keeping a log fire going in an Elizabethan cottage devoid of central heating, to have someone like Harry visit was akin to entertaining a glitzy visitor from another planet. He brought talk of London and Rome – to where he eventually  moved to work in the film industry. And he brought  gossip. Ian did that too, of course. By far his best was about an actor in one of his radio plays who, when he was resting, earned a bit on the side capering around in the nip with a feather up his arse for the entertainment of some Londoner he knew who got his kicks from this sort of thing and paid handsomely for it.

Living the dream, I was, with these stories. In our village (2000 on the voting list) with a Co-op shop, a Post Office, a garage, three pubs and twice that many chapels and churches, hearing such tales was like drinking nectar from the chalice of the gods.

 One afternoon, while our guest was taking his ease by the ingle-nook fireplace, the phone rang and I answered it.  “Hairy Craig,” demanded the American voice at the other end and I swooned. A film director surely, a Hollywood producer, Anthony Quinn  even. ( Quinn had starred in two of Harry’s films.) I never found out who though because once off the phone, Harry embarked on his own bit of gossip.

 He’d been in Laugharne to work on a programme with Dylan Thomas and as the two chatted, Harry glanced over Thomas’s shoulder in time to see the  curtain which divided the kitchen from the main room,  being pulled back to reveal Caitlin Thomas in all her naked glory. Dylan, oblivious to his wife’s display, continued talking – and drinking – while his guest just about managed to do the same.  

I pondered on what it would be like to be the sort of woman who  might rip off her clothes when a guest came calling.

Then, having pondered, I left the room to make the supper, set the table and put the children to bed.


NOTE: In  October 2014, to mark the centenary of the birth of Dylan Thomas,  the BBC will show a biopic which looks at the last few weeks in his life. The script is by Andrew Davies, the screen writer who gave us House of Cards.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized