Sunday, 31 July 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help was selected by my reading group this month. For anyone who hasn't read it, this is a story about the American South back in the time of the Kennedy presidency. James Meredith had just enrolled at Mississippi University, accompanied by armed guards. Medgar Evers, his mentor was shot dead in Jackson Mississippi, the time and place where the book is based.
The book is the interwoven stories of two African American maids and a white writer, employed as a journalist at the time, who develops the idea of a book about what life is like for black maids. The three different voices are distinguished, both by the daily lives that are woven through their stories, and to some extent by the way their grammar and sentence construction is mangled. I found after a few dozen pages that I got used to the vernacular, though I found it odd that the woman who turned out to be the better writer of the two maids, appears to have the most fractured syntax. It is never easy to pull off that kind of accent, or local speech construction, but I think the author succeeds better than most.
What I found remarkable was the way that a sense of impending doom permeated the writing. At times, I felt I should be reading it in a cupboard or under a pillow, in case anyone found out. There is a lot of jeopardy and anger in the book, quite rightly when one considers the appalling notions being propagated by some of the white racist characters, and the kind of vengence meeted out to anyone who stepped out of line. Throughout the book, one well-connected lady is trying to promote the idea, through legislation if she can, that anyone who has a black maid should provide a separate bathroom for the maid. She backs this up by frequent declarations that Negroes are subject to different diseases and have a different immune system. Utter nonsense of course, but just one of many ideas promulgated to justify a segregationist, white supremacist way of life.
The constant sense of jeopardy is reinforced by switching point of view every few chapters, so that similar events, and a slightly different take on similar fears, overlap and reinforce each other. Somehow, she manages to make this work without it feeling repetitive. In some ways the naivety of the characters adds to the suspense, because the reader can so easily imagine how they might get found out at any moment.
The three of them survive, and the book is a success, which brings in some money and frees each of them in different ways from the worst of their situations. The world is not changed, but we know, reading it now, that it does change, and meanwhile they survive.
I accidentally watched The Blind Side, a Sandra Bullock movie only a few weeks ago. In fact, it is so good that I watched it twice. In this story a black boy who is talented at football, is adopted by a white family who help to rescue him from desperate poverty. Eventually he goes to Ole Miss, the same University of Mississippi that James Meredith needed an armed guard to get into. What is even more remarkable is that his admission there, assisted by his adopted family, is questioned by the NAACP, who only half a life time ago had needed troops to get into the same university. Perhaps most remarkable of all, nothing is made of this astonishing contrast.
If The Help had been written in the time that it portrays, it is impossible to know how it would have been received. I remember the writings of Eldridge Cleaver and Angela Davis. Books that were polemic and revolutionary at the time and almost got their authors killed. This is very different, because it espouses no particular political direction and offers no solution. What it does do is tell it how it was, and that is worth remembering.
I also read a Commentary on the Help, a WikiFocus book by George Andersen. This is a total waste of money. All it does is tell the story in a few pages, converting a great piece of showing into a boring bit of telling, to use the creative writing jargon. I had assumed that there would be some commentary involved, expression of opinions, critical review, context setting. Not a word of it. A few paragraphs about how well the book sold, reference to some reviews and a paragraph about a film adaptation, supposedly coming out next month. That is the last time I will but a WikiFocus book.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Why swallows sit on phone wires

Seventeen swallows on the power line. Four more are flying around but I couldn’t grab the camera quick enough. Every year they turn up in April, usually two pairs and they produce two broods of babies and then set off for Africa. This year they seem to have produced even more than usual, but I doubt if any more will come back next year. It must be a hazardous journey.
I did once start writing a children’s story, along the lines of the 'Just So' stories. It was about how the swallows book the places that they are going to stay. It has to be a very complicated business, when you think about how many swallows there are and how many barns and roof eaves are available. How do they know where to go? I can’t imagine that they want to be rushing around the country trying to find a place to stay, especially after they have flown all the way from Africa.
The answer of course lies with the telephone wires. The reason you see all these birds sitting on the wires is because they use the wires to phone ahead and book their places. Sitting on wires and not falling off is obviously very important to them; after all, no one wants to be homeless. The very first thing the swallows teach their babies is how to fly around our quad and get back into the nest. Once they have done that they start practicing sitting on wires.
They don’t just sit, they get fed when they are little, they preen their wings, and they sing. Why spend so much time on the wires? I imaging that the swallow booking service is no better than BT, they probably keep you on hold for ages, so you have to have things to do.
If you don’t believe me, try listening to a swallow’s song. It sounds just like those noises that old-fashioned analogue modems made. One of these years it will all change and we’ll know the swallows have gone digital.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Why is no one surprised

Maybe it is too soon to make sense of Amy Winehouse's death. So far there has been no post-mortem, so no one knows exactly why she died. At the same time there seems to be no shortage of people assuming that the cause is drugs or alcohol, and she joins the long list of pop stars who died from using drugs. No one seems surprised and no one appears outraged that this could happen.
Graph added later, just to make the point that UK is getting it wrong on alcohol
Surely it is time that some serious questions were asked about UK drugs and alcohol policy. Of course it is too much to expect the newspapers to examine the wealth of scientific evidence, but there are answers in material that is more accessible to the usual media sources. Keith Richard's autobiography makes pretty clear why he is still alive and Janis and Jimmy are not. When he talks about using drugs, which he mentions quite often in his book, he keeps on saying three things. Use prescription standard drugs is the first message; pure substances in known doses. Street drugs are unreliable, no one knows what they are mixed with. They have probably gone through the hands of several dealers and each has probably diluted the original product with a filler of their own choice in order to increase their profit. No one keeps records. The end user really has no idea what they are taking. The second thing Keith says, several times, is that he injected intramuscularly rather than intravenously. That produces a slightly slower hit, but it doesn't damage veins and runs much less risk of thrombosis or septicaemia. Finally he says several times that there is a limit to how high you can go. Taking twice as much doesn't get you any higher, it just gets you dead.
So there is the package of advice, take pure and reliable substances, by a sensible route in non excessive amounts. Why can't the government say that and also arrange to supply safe drugs in sensible doses? Current policy has failed to reduce the number of people taking drugs, failed to reduce the number of people dying, failed to catch the criminals who supply the drugs and also probably made sure that the Taliban get plenty of money to shoot at our troops because most of the Heroin comes from Afghanistan. How much worse could a policy be?
Of course one more factor could be added to the list, in the rare case of Amy Winehouse; all those records she might have made, and all those taxes she would have paid, have been lost too.
Personally I can't say that I always liked her music, or some of the attitudes that she struck, but she clearly was talented, and although some of her problems were self induced, I am in no doubt that she was a victim. Killed as much by a media that thought they would sell more papers by reporting her drunk or drugged than they would by trying to help. Killed by a government that would rather pander to daft notions and victim blaming in the media, than face up to the evidence about drugs.
Of course one could take it even further. There are six major groups of drugs, typified by Alcohol, Tobacco, Cocaine, Opiates like Heroin, Marijuana, and a range of other designer substances like ecstasy. As a society we have chosen, at the moment, to make two of the six legal. In the past of course we allowed opiates and indeed fought wars to keep the trade open. I mention that simply to make the point that the choices are arbitrary and based on opinion at the time the laws are passed.
A hard look at the evidence makes it quite clear that we have picked the wrong ones to make legal. Tobacco kills at least 100,000 people each year in the UK, and alcohol is coming close to a similar number. Prisons are full of people who are there because they happen to be addicted to the wrong substances and resort to theft in order to pay the high prices demanded by the criminals who supply them. The hospitals are filled with the the people using the legal substances.
If we banned Tobacco and Alcohol and allowed Opiates and Marijuana instead, we would halve the prison population and increase life expectancy by several years. I appreciate that this is unlikely to happen overnight, but we could at least decide to make prescription standard drugs available to addicts, which would save some lives, reduce the prison population, put some of the drug barons out of business and starve the Taliban of funds. Some of the money saved could be put into helping addicts cope and be safer, and perhaps save the next Amy Winehouse.
If the post-morgen eventually shows that it was not drugs or alcohol that killed Amy; her death will still be as sad and tragic and the policies of the government and the media will continue to kill people, they just won't be as talented.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Selling to writers or selling to readers - further reflections on the Legend Press seminar

Having depressed myself yesterday with the realisation that the publishing world seemed to be lacking almost any objective facts and seems to delight in not making available or even collecting much in the way of data, I usually manage to recover myself by deciding that a few truths can perhaps be discerned in the fog. Not writing, guarantees not being published. Obsessing on a particular book, sending version after version to the same agent or publisher is probably doomed as well. Several speakers at the legend seminar said as much. Actually, they joked about it. They also appeared to sincerely believe that giving any meaningful feedback would be doomed. Stories were told where an author was told about a particular fault, and a new version would soon be winging its way back with that bit fixed. They also felt that so much material was sent to them that they simply did not have time to say anything more than a stock response like ‘this is not for us’.
There was some encouragement to the notion that one should expect to send material to many agents, simply because any given agent may be over committed or simply come to a subjective decision that they don't like your stuff, however good it is. Sending to multiple agents at once was also acknowledged as common sense, life is too short to wait six to ten weeks for agent after agent to say no.
This suggests to me that there is an unexplored territory. Somewhere between not submitting too early and not sending out to enough people, there must be a happy medium, a nirvana that may of course only be identifiable with hindsight. Where that place lies, will of course be different for every writer and will change as the economy and the book market shift up and down. Successful writers obviously find where that place is for them. It is clearly not necessary to wait until something is perfect, what would be the point in publishers having editors if there were nothing to edit?
Another dimension that was illuminated to some extent was the issue of marketing. A naive view is of course that self-published writers do their own marketing and published ones have it done for them. There was a clear message from the panel that this is not true. Most writers do their own marketing. Agents market to publishers; may help with editing and are supposed to be good at dealing with contracts. Publishers publish, and often do little else, or at least concentrate their marketing on a small number of books or authors who they think will sell best.
As the seminar progressed it became clear in my mind that there are two markets in the writing game; one is concerned with selling things to readers; books, e-readers etc. The other is selling things to writers; creative writing degrees, vanity publishing, editorial services and everything in between. To put it a more cynical way, one market seeks to make money from readers and the other makes money from writers.
When you make that distinction the real difference between vanity publishing and traditional publishing becomes clear. If the main thrust of the business model is to make money from authors, then it is a vanity press; if the main thrust is to sell books to readers then it is a trade publisher. Simple as that, you pay your money and take your choice. What about when a writer does the publishing themselves? Well it is obvious enough that they are seeking to make money from readers, so you have to think of them as publishers.
What about agents? It seems clear to me that their market is writers; they may be helping a writer to make money, but fundamentally they are selling services to writers not readers. That seems to suggest that when agents start doing publishing, as some are with e-books, then they begin to look suspiciously like vanity publishers, unless they charge no up front fees and make their money from a percentage on sales. Then they really are middlemen, selling to writers but making money from readers.
I may be guilty of a rather narrow view in this. If one took a historical perspective, it could be argued that agents only gained their current traction as middlemen when publishers downsized and got rid of a lot of staff that previously spent time nurturing authors. After the net book agreement disappeared, the industry went though a period of vertical disintegration, creating a sort of middle ground between writer and reader in which a range of models have been tried. In effect by narrowing the portals of entry into the publishing business, the industry created an incentive for the 'selling to writers' market to increase. Ironic really, because the publishers who were in the best position to sell information and service to writers left themselves out of the market. Creating a market and letting someone else exploit it, seems to be foot shooting of a high order.
Clearly running seminars for writers, as Legend Press are now doing, is a smart move; who better than a publisher to tell writers how to sell to readers, apart from readers themselves of course.
Now of course, e-books, Amazon, iBooks etc. have thrown the whole thing into meltdown. Writers can put their stuff out as e-books very simply. Readers can in theory find the material with a few clicks of the mouse. The only problem is that there are half a million books on Amazon and many millions of readers looking for those books. Readers are bound to ask the question, what is the best way for me to find the book I want?
Other readers are one obvious source, particularly readers who write reviews. Book bloggers are a more sophisticated version of such readers. Advertising must have a place too. So where do agents fit into this? In their current form, my guess would be nowhere. Publicists may have a role, especially if they have expertise in knowing what readers want, but agents whose knowledge is only about publishers may have painted themselves into a corner. Tom Chalmers, the Managing Director of Legend Press, who spoke at the seminar, clearly believes that one of the roles of publishers is to help readers by only publishing material that he thinks is worth reading. As a publisher he has one source of useful data, he knows how many books he has sold.
So we come full circle, my thanks to Legend press for closing some of the loops and making me think, and all for a less than £60 for the day with a chapter review thrown in. Anyone who wishes a similar experience can find the dates of future seminars on Legend’s web site

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Legend Press seminar

I spent yesterday in Birmingham at a seminar organised by Legend Press. The owner of the business Tom Chalmers, together with two writers and an agent operated as a panel, doing a mixture of presenting material that they had planned beforehand and responding to each other and the audience.
What did I learn? Not much that I didn't have a pretty good inkling of already, but in a way that's not the point. Confirming pre existing concepts and notions is an important part of learning. A bit like an MOT on what I know already. Part of the attraction of the seminar was a critique from a legend editor. I sent a chapter of the Young Adult book that I am working on and got a very constructive and encouraging report.
The seminar re-exposed many of the usual nostrums. Don't submit too early; with of course no objective test of how you can tell. Lots of emphasis on how long it all takes and how much we all have to learn.
More useful, in a sad sort of way was an almost enthusiastic repetition of the idea that publishing is a subjective business. There was no data, no surveys, no focus groups, and no feedback from reading groups. In fact, as far as this group of lectures felt able to say, it is a complete mystery why anyone reads Dan Brown or Steig Larson. I did ask one lecturer afterwards and her best guess was the readers don't want to be challenged. She may be right, but where does that leave the writer, and how does that relate to when a novel is ready? Ready for what? Ready for whom?
The thing I find slightly incredible about attending such events is that I don't come away depressed. Anyone who sets out to be a writer appears to be guaranteed a lot of rejection and frustration. I'm not normally a masochistic, so I am not doing this because I enjoy the pain. I write because I like to write and I get a lift from it that I don't get from anything else. Understanding the landscape that has to be negotiated in the publishing world is helpful only in so far as it is useful to have a map if you set out on a dangerous or complicated journey. The map doesn't really add or subtract from the pleasure or necessity of the journey, but it does reduce the chances of falling off a cliff.
Of course if it was a treasure map, that might be a different story…

More of that later, this topic is challenging my ability to be brief; so part two will follow tomorrow.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Who are the Sun trying to fool?

I don’t usually blog about politics, or about things that are close to my former career in the NHS. Despite that, I am making an exception today because I feel sorry for Gordon Brown. I never thought I'd say that because in the past he has sometimes annoyed me intensely. His current spat with the Sun is where I sympathise with him.
The facts seem to be clear, the Sun carried a story about Brown's son having Cystic Fibrosis. It seems that no one in Gordon Brown's family gave out that information, so whoever did make it available had no right to that information. The Sun is now saying that Brown was wrong to say that they got the information illegally, and they have produced a tape from someone who said they got the information 'on the grapevine'. I have no idea what that particular grapevine amounts to, but if the information did not get there from the Brown family then it must have got there through some breach of confidentiality.
When I ran a cancer registry, we had specific clauses in the terms of service that said any breach of confidentiality could get you fired. Similar clauses exist all over the NHS.
It is disingenuous of the Sun to say that they didn't do anything wrong. They were in exactly the same position as someone who knowingly receives stolen property. They are a newspaper; they must know the rules on confidential health information. They must have known that the only way they could have got the information was through an act somewhere along the line that was against the rules. They accepted stolen information, and surely that must be just as bad as if they had accepted anything else that is stolen.
I guess some people might argue that stealing personal health information, or passing it on without permission, is not the same as stealing a watch or a wallet. On the other hand bank account numbers or credit card details are just information, and stealing those is certainly criminal. It can't be right for the Sun to make up it's own rules as to what information it thinks is fair game and what it would report as a crime. It suggests that at least to some extent the Sun thinks it is above the law. With a bit of luck the recently announced inquiry will mean that they will have to explain their attitudes to a judge.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Why didn't the space programme invent the Kindle?

Why didn't the space programme invent the kindle?
Surely such a device would have been immensely valuable in an environment where both space and weight are restricted. It would probably have helped sell them as well, and provided an answer of sorts to all those people who keep banging on about traditional books being so wonderful (which they are). The notion that the space age required something different surely would have had some traction.
Of course, there are also modern arguments in favour of books, like carbon capture for instance. If the entire population of the world had ten extra books each, how much carbon would that take out of circulation?
Anyway, back to the space programme; we have often heard how going into space produces lots of really great innovations, though the only one I can ever remember is the biro that will write on the ceiling. Anyone who is an avid book reader is bound to wonder what the astronauts did with their time up there whizzing round and round the world. Even more so in the space station, sitting in a fairly small apartment for months on end.
I don't imagine that they took a pile of books with them, because the weight would be too much, though we do know from watching the Apollo 13 movie that at least one sneaked a small tape recorder on board. If they did take books someone would have been advertising those books by now as the best book to take into space with you.
Listening to 'The long view' on the BBC this morning I caught a one line explanation - they looked out of the window. The programme was comparing the Challenger ocean exploration voyage a hundred odd years ago with the space exploration by the shuttle. The Victorian pioneers apparently did read books when they were pottering along in quiet seas, but the spacemen looked out of the window.
I don't want to imply that this means that the space men were somehow not up to the mental task of reading, because we know that they are all both physically and intellectually top performers. What it does tell us is something of just how captivating and completely original the view from a spaceship must be. Something so novel in it's experience that it has to be watched whenever possible.
Another snippet of the programme explained that although the physical environment of the space station is restricted. (I'm struggling here not to say there is no space in a space station) You can however, make the most of it because weightlessness means that the ceiling is as good as the floor or walls to store things. What they didn't do was store things near portholes because the crew wanted to spend their free time sitting there and looking out.
OK so all this is hearsay off a radio programme and I have no idea how true it is, but maybe it does explain why the space programme didn't invent the kindle.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

What time of day to blog?

I just read an interesting piece on Amanda Hocking's blog,  
Someone working with her agent says she is wrong to blog at three in the morning. Presumably this notion must be derived from some sort of tracking statistics, which in turn must be related to when people are awake in different parts of the world.
I don't know what the English speaking population of each time zone turns out to be, but for sure, it varies a lot. The two graphs come from a web search that is notable for the lack of any kind of ‘official’ statistics, what do they do all day at the United Nations? (Credits are on the graphs)
If like Amanda Hocking, or me for that matter, you are trying to sell ebooks to English speakers who are also on the web, then you are aiming at a subset of these graphs. We can’t assume that everyone on the web speaks English – not even all the English do.
If she blogs at 3am I am likely to read it right after breakfast when I switch on my computer or light up the iPad. If she says something interesting I will probably react, and I'll have the whole day to get on with anything she has influenced me to do, like buy another book or whatever. I may even tell my friends or blog about it.
If her publisher is only interested in the USA, this will look like wasted effort from his point of view. In the world of ebooks however, one has to ask, does this matter. I found one of the most remarkable things about putting a book on Amazon is that half my sales are in the USA. I have no idea who these people are, or what they think of the book, but their dollars count just the same as a sale over here, and I hope they enjoy it just as much as someone at the end of my road. I do wish some of them would write a review, but you can't have everything.

I suspect that this statistic about the ideal time to blog hides more than it shows. Buried in it are some assumptions about who matters in the world and what the blogger might be hoping to achieve. Me, I'm grateful if anyone reads this at all, and I don't mind what time of day they read it, or what they do with the rest of their day. Like Amanda Hocking I propose to go on blogging about what I want to, when I want to. It's nice to have something in common with someone who has apparently sold a million ebooks.

Friday, 8 July 2011

My boycott of the News of the World

I have only ever boycotted three things, and the results scare the hell out of me.
Last week I was so incensed about the Milly Dowler hacks that I sent a tweet . "Hacking Milly Dowler's voicemail and deleting evidence, how low can you get. Boycott News of the World now"  Sent on 4th July.
For me personally that was difficult in that I had never bought the paper in my life, so how exactly could I boycott it? Never mind, after a suitable period of figuration (that word was put in by the predictive text on the iPad, but it seems to work so I'm leaving it), I sent out the tweet, a pretty rare thing from me. I doubt if the closure of the paper arises directly from my action, I actually doubt if anyone else actually saw the tweet, but given what happened after my other boycotts I am left wondering.
My first boycott was of South African products, starting after Sharpeville and continuing until Nelson Mandella asked me to stop. I was part of an audience of a thousand or two at the ICC in Birmingham where he spoke. It wasn't quite a one to one conversation, but I was there and he did ask. After the meeting I drove up to Tescos at Five Ways in Birmingham and bought a South African apple and ate it sitting in the car. I wept, quite overcome with the emotion of seeing and hearing Mandella and with ending what had probably been the first political act of my grown up life. I was almost fifteen when Sharpeville happened.
When I worked in general practice many years later in Balsall Heath, a very inner city part of Birmingham, I used to see every day a piece of graffiti painted on the railway bridge - "Thatcher out, Mandela out" it said. At the time both seemed impossible.
My second boycott was of Sainsburys, the supermarket. Roy Griffiths (no relation), was their chief exec at the time, and did a report on the NHS for Mrs Thatcher. I was so incensed with the superficial analysis and potentially damaging effects that I gave up shopping in Sainsburys. At the time they were the leading supermarket, but once my boycott began, Tesco steadily overtook them and eventually got way ahead. I finally stopped the boycott a few years ago when Sainsburys ran a campaign on healthy food. I was President of the Faculty of Public Health at the time and at the launch event for the campaign. I was able to speak to the chief exec of Sainsburys. I told him personally that I was impressed with what they were doing and was therefore officially ending my boycott, since then their results seem to have improved.
I am trained as an epidemiologist, so I know a bit about interpreting cause and effect. Three out of three isn't bad, but it's hardly enough for me to take the credit for these momentous changes, but just in case I plan to continue to be very careful about what I boycott in the future.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

In memory of that day in July

Being over 60 may have saved my life; I got a pass that let me travel free on the underground after nine o’clock so I wasn’t on the tube at 8.50.
I used to collect a small coffee from the cafe Nero on Jamestown road, just a small one so I could drink it by the time I got to the bin outside the Electric Ballroom. A medium cup stays too hot too long. At the turnstile, with a bag in one hand and a coffee in the other you need a third hand to swipe the Oyster card and you don’t get an extra hand for being sixty.
I dropped the cup in the bin and found the gates of the station closed so I headed to the other entrance in Kentish Town road. I turned the corner and walked into chaos. All the way down Camden road in front of the bus stops, there were hundreds and hundreds of people, as though it was Saturday market but on Thursday and in the wrong road.
A man in a London transport hat said the station was closed.
‘There’s been a power surge, in fact there’s been two - they’ve had to close the whole tube.’
‘You mean there’s been a bomb’ I said.
‘No a power surge - two power surges.’ 
I remember thinking ‘Good luck guys, this is what we all practiced for.’ Exercise Winter Morning we called it, with the police and ambulance and all the hospitals, but this was summer and that was in Birmingham, where we’d had bombs before.
I walked, heading away from the crowds up the hill towards Regent’s Park. Just level with Arlington road a taxi stopped to let someone out and I dashed up and jumped in. As we drove down the park, serene and beautiful in the summer sunshine, I said to the driver.
‘Have there been bombs on the tube?’
‘Looks like it, five or six and a bus in Tavistock square.’ We listened to the radio and I told him to stop at our office, gave him £20 and said please wait.
Phoning was hopeless. I was supposed to be at the Elephant and Castle, the other side of the river. Should I go back to the flat or try to carry on. I’m supposed to be chairing an important meeting so it seemed to be important to carry on. I picked up the Taxi again and we set off. 
Once out of the park there were police sirens everywhere. The driver turned this way and that to try to beat the traffic. Almost right underneath us, people are dead in two wrecked circle line trains between Edgware road and Paddington. I’ve been there a hundred times.
As we tried to find a way to cross the river, I watched London begin to cope. You could feel the spirit. With no underground, hardly any buses and every taxi full, there was nothing to do but walk or help other people. I tried to phone home but the network was jammed.
It’s one of those days, I thought; one of those days when everyone knows where they were. When Buddy Holly died, I was at school. When John Kennedy was shot, I was hitch hiking home and there was nothing but sombre music on the radio.
When Elvis died, I was walking along Euston road. ‘The king is dead’ the news stands said, but we have a queen, I thought. We passed that spot twenty-five minutes ago. What will the news stands say today?
I remember when the real king died, I was at primary school and the gardener told us at break time. I went home to lunch and my mum couldn’t work out what had gone wrong with the radio, sombre music then too. I wonder what the music will be today.
Only three people made it to the meeting, we sat around for an hour and no more came. At least we tried. 
I walked from the Elephant to Whitehall detouring around police roadblocks. My feet were sore by Westminster Bridge. The river looks the same as always. It would take more than a few bombs to change that. Hitler couldn’t. 
I’m supposed to meet the minister for work and pensions, Margaret Hodge. There is a buffet set for twenty but just five of us have made it and the minister has her own salad. We’re all doctors so it won’t look good if we eat too much. We pick at the food while the minister diets. In the background, the TV stays on and we all glance at it now and then somehow expecting it to explode. We try to listen as we are told about the latest government initiative on invalidity benefit. Trying to make sense of what is planned for the future on a day while we all wonder if anything will ever be the same again.
This time yesterday we heard that London has the 2012 Olympics. This should have been a day of celebration and optimism; for a few hours we were the capital of the world - but what sort of world is it now?
I walk up Whitehall, past the huge TV screen in Trafalgar Square, set up to show the Olympic Vote. Up Charing Cross road and Tottenham Court road towards the office, and in an hour I’m back in Regent’s park. I send the staff home, those that have made it to work. I thank them all for coming, and tell them not to come tomorrow. It doesn’t feel defeatist, just practical. There’s nothing so urgent that it can’t wait until Monday. I finally get through to home and make sure that everyone knows I’m OK. It turns out that some of my text messages got through.
I set off to walk to Paddington, by now it’s almost evening and everywhere there are people walking. I hear snatches of words as I pass.
‘Silly buggers.’
‘Won’t get me down.’
‘Won’t get us down.’
‘Won’t stop us.’ 
There are days when the world changes, but it doesn’t change much. I remember when the Berlin Wall came down. I used to get up early in those days, before I had a bus pass. I turned on the news and there were people dancing on the wall. I slammed in videotape. I have a tape of the day Mandela was released as well. 
The world does change but it also goes on for those of us lucky enough to still be here.