NO.1397 · 6 - 12 SEPTEMBER 2021
DIGITAL EDITION £2
Leader of the Brat Pack AFTER BREAKFAST WITH JUDD NELSON
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6 - 12 SEPTEMBER 2021 No. 1397
bigissuenorth.com @bigissuenorth bigissuenorth
Editor Kevin Gopal email@example.com 0161 831 5563 Deputy editor Antonia Charlesworth firstname.lastname@example.org 0161 831 5562 Proofreader Fiona Pymont
Producer Christian Lisseman email@example.com Art director and designer Mark Wheeler
4 VENDOR UPDATE
Good food for all
5 IN MEMORY
Claire Lawton firstname.lastname@example.org 0161 831 5561
Tributes to Andy Murphy
“Anything we can do to bring people together is a good thing.”
Only Fans U-turn ; Citizens Advice Fundraising and communications Bronte Schiltz email@example.com 07580 878854 To subscribe or buy back issues email firstname.lastname@example.org. or visit our new online shop:
Jonny Ball; Roger Ratcliffe
10 NOT A BRAT AT ALL
Judd Nelson on 80s success
14 FELIX MARQUARDT
What the nomads can teach us
We are not responsible for unsolicited
18 HEART TO HEART
artwork, articles or photos received. Reproduction in whole or part of the magazine prohibited without permission of the editor. Opinions expressed in Big Issue North are not necessarily those held by the magazine or organisation.
Paul Craddock talks transplants
What’s on near you
22 SEE HEAR
TV, games, albums, cinema Big Issue North is part of The Big Life group
25 CENTRE STAGE
Dracula takes on a new form Printers Acorn Web Offset, Normanton Circulation: 10,989 (Jan-Dec 19)
26 READING ROOM Luke Cassidy Q&A
28 LETTER TO MY YOUNGER SELF Actor Samuel West
Crossword and Sudoku 6 - 12 SEPTEMBER BIG ISSUE NORTH
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Food for thought As more of our vendors turn to food banks Brontë Schiltz points out that nutritious and tasty food is a basic human need
Mary-Ellen McTague with vendor Colin preparing a meal for the calendar. Photo: Rebecca Lupton
In a recent issue, author Pen Vogler explored the social and political resonances of our food, proving true the old adage that we are what we eat. This resonated when, last week, a viral Twitter post dismissing concerns over a Brexit-born absence of foods such as lemons, chilli and basil as middle class was met with rebukes. Nutritious, tasty food, thousands were quick to point out, is a basic human need that interests cleaners – and Big Issue North vendors – as much as bankers. Tragically, eating well has become an unattainable aspiration for an increasing number of people in England. Last year, food bank network the Trussell Trust distributed over 2.5 million food parcels – over double what they gave out four years previously. In 2019, our vendor audit found that a third of our vendors ranked among their users. During the height of lockdown, they were joined by many more. Leventica, who sells Big Issue North in Nantwich, was one of the many vendors who had to turn to a food bank for 4
support last year. “I have four boys and a girl, so I have a lot of mouths to feed,” she said. “My husband also lost his job in 2020. He was a delivery driver but that work came to an end and he couldn’t afford the petrol and to keep the car to keep working to find other jobs.” Thanks to your generous donations to our hardship fund, we were able to provide Leventica and her family some relief. “I got some help from the Big Issue North office, some money and some nappies. It didn’t make up for the loss of money from not selling the magazine though,” she explained. “I had to use food banks to keep feeding my family.” Last year, Mary-Ellen McTague, chef at The Creameries in South Manchester and founder of Eat Well MCR, transformed 12 of our vendors’ favourite meals into beautiful recipes for our 2021 calendar. The process served as a reminder of just how much food can mean to people. “There was traditional British stuff like steak and chips, and bread and butter pudding, but there were a number of
dishes that I’d never cooked before – a few Romanian dishes and a Spanish one as well,” McTague said. “It was really nice to learn about those and cook them, knowing that some of the vendors would have really missed them.” For those vendors, food has been more important than ever over the past year and a half, forming an invisible thread between them and loved ones hundreds of miles away with whom they associate their favourite dishes. In other cases, meals form a bridge across time rather than distance. One recipe in the calendar is for liver and onions, chosen by Carol, 63, who sells Big Issue North in Worksop. “It was my favourite meal growing up,” she said. “My mum cooked it really well. I still cook it sometimes, but I don’t make it as well as my mum used to.” As we are now in September, the calendar is available at a discounted rate of just £3 – just 25p per recipe! To get yours and support vendors like Leventica and Carol, just go to shop.bigissuenorth. com/category/merchandise. Mary-Ellen has also written some exclusive seasonal recipes for our sister publication, The New Issue. To buy issues or bundles, go to shop.bigissuenorth.com/ category/the-new-issue, or check out instagram.com/newissuemagazine for some sneak peaks. If you would like to make a donation to help us to support our vendors when food feels like a luxury, you can also text BINORTH to 70970 to give £5 or go to justgiving.com/bigissuenorth. Thank you.
The first issue of Hungry Ghost Magazine, featuring 52 pieces of flash fiction, creative non-fiction and visual art on the topics of food, hauntings, memory and consumption, is out now. With all proceeds supporting our vendors, it’s the perfect treat for you or a loved one and our vendors. To get yours, go to hungryghostproject.com.
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ABOUT US Vendors buy Big Issue North for £1.50 and sell it for £3 keeping the profit they make. As a charity, your donations enable us to provide additional support to our vendors. visit justgiving.com/bigissuenorth to donate. Vendors selling Big Issue North must abide by the code of conduct – a set of rules governing how they work. Visit bigissuenorth. com to find out more. If you have a comment about a vendor, please call your nearest main office: MANCHESTER 0161 831 5550 LIVERPOOL 0151 294 3013 LEEDS 0113 243 9027 SHEFFIELD 0114 263 6064
FROM 10 YEARS AGO
Hard-Fi wanted to make the critics “eat their words” in Big Issue North 10 years ago this week. They felt they’d dismissed them as a hard-drinking band who liked to get into fights and eat kebabs, whereas, frontman Richard Archer said, they had in fact predicted the financial crash. “It’s almost like if you’re a working-class band, then people expect you to play the workingclass clown.” There were no clowns in Martin Jenkinson’s photography of Yorkshire’s industrial landscape – but there were former colliery sites turned call centres, and steelworks transformed into science attractions.
‘There will never be another bloke like him’ When Andy Murphy died last year he left a massive hole in Big Issue North’s Manchester community. Christian Lisseman talks to his loved ones who pay tribute to a one of a kind vendor and friend A vendor has paid tribute to his friend and fellow Big Issue North seller Andy Murphy, who died a year ago this month. Chris, who sells the magazine in Manchester city centre, was devastated by Andy’s death following a long illness. The two met over 15 years ago when Chris started selling the magazine and they ended up sharing a flat. “He was a really good mate. We were like brothers,” said Chris. “He was a real gentleman and there will never be another bloke like him.” Andy was 53 when he died in September 2020 from chronic lung disease. We were unable to report the death at the time because of attempts to find his family by the coroner’s court and delays to the funeral because of the pandemic. A very private man, Andy rarely spoke about his life publicly. He started selling the magazine in 2005 and was particularly known for working on a pitch outside Marks and Spencer’s in the city centre. It was there that many regular customers got to know him, including Ruth Pallister and Robert Gray, who together also paid tribute to the man. “We met Andy about seven years ago on his pitch,” they said. “We became good friends and wouldn’t visit the city centre without calling in on him. He introduced us to many of his friends and other customers – it was a large and diverse group of people that Andy was at the heart of. It was a sign of just how popular Andy was that people gravitated to him and I don’t think he ever knew just how highly thought of he was, by so many people. “In his final months we saw another side to Andy. He faced his illness with a bravery and stoicism that was humbling. He never showed a trace of self-pity, and remained positive and upbeat throughout even when he was clearly in great discomfort and knowing that he was very unlikely to recover. “We lost a very dear friend and Manchester has lost one of its true characters – a kind, compassionate and selfless man who enriched the lives of many.” Chris and Andy lived together for many years and the two of them rescued a dog, Taz, who is also a well-known presence in the city centre. The act of rescuing the dog, despite the financial hardship that the two vendors faced day to day, was, said Pallister “typical of
Read vendor Q&As in the Vendor Stories section of bigissuenorth.com
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Andy on his pitch in Manchester. Photo: Ruth Pallister
Andy’s compassion and kindness. Andy would have done anything for his good friend Chris. He couldn’t hide his deep affection for him, or for his beloved dog Taz, who he doted on.” He is also missed at the Manchester Big Issue North office. “Andy was always an absolute pleasure to work with,” said Manchester team leader Ruth Tuck. “He was so well liked and hugely respected by all staff, vendors and his many regular customers. He was a truly kind hearted soul with an air of gentleness and he was very funny. He could effortlessly brighten up the dreariest day. I couldn’t tell you how many times Andy cheered us all up with his wit and wisdom, it was impossible not to like him and we had great lengthy conversations in the office and on outreach. “Although life certainly hadn’t been an easy ride for Andy, he faced challenges with great resilience and a calm dignity. I feel I learned a lot about life from Andy and he will always remain in my thoughts as one of life’s treasures.” A year on from his death, Chris said he still deeply misses his best friend. “He was a large part of my life. I’ll never forget our friendship and he is missed by the many people who knew him. He was loved by many and he will never be forgotten.” 6 - 12 SEPTEMBER BIG ISSUE NORTH
SEX WORKERS HIT BACK AT ONLY FANS Platform U-turns on explicit content ban Users suspicious of website’s climbdown Sex workers have reacted with suspicion to a climbdown by online subscription service Only Fans after the platform announced a ban on explicit content. The U-turn came five days after the initial statement was sent to members on 20 August, informing them it would no longer allow pornographic material to be uploaded. On 25 August, Only Fans then tweeted: “We have secured assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community and have suspended the planned 1 October policy change”. This reversal came after a social media backlash from sex workers, but campaigners remain sceptical.
Hartlepool-based Chelsea Ferguson, 32, is a glamour model and founder of adult entertainment platform, AdmireMe.vip. She said: “For Only Fans to make a U-turn within a matter of days is a massive kick in the teeth. Suspended does not mean cancelled. Suspended until when? Next week? Next month? Next year? It’s too ambiguous.”
A lifeline for sex-workers
Only Fans is an online platform that allows users to create their own channel and upload exclusive content to paid subscribers. It is used by celebrities, fitness instructors, and artists to upload creative work and video tutorials. The company has over 120 million subscribers and made a pretax profit of £53m in 2020. The platform retains a 20 per cent fee for each subscription, with the content creator getting 80 per cent. Only Fans’ relaxed rules on
Hartlepool-based Ferguson set up her own adult-content platform
Subscription service Only Fans banned adult content last month before suspending
nudity and explicit material has made it hugely popular with sex workers since it launched in 2016 and the company went from 7.5 million users to 85 million in November 2020 as demand for online adult content soared during the pandemic. The platform was a lifeline for sex workers who were unable to see clients in person throughout the lockdowns. Many were ineligible for the UK income support scheme for self-employed people, as they could not provide records of their taxed income. According to the United Sex Workers (USW), an organisation campaigning for fair working conditions in the sex industry, a significant number of women turned to online sex work after losing their jobs or being furloughed in 2020. Speaking after the initial ban on explicit material, content creator Bailey Paige tweeted: “Only Fans only pretend to care about [sex workers]. You put millions of
people out of work yesterday when just 24 hours before that, I was told by customer support that we had nothing to worry about.”
Constantly under threat
Ferguson told Big Issue North she felt saddened to see her fellow sex workers being badly treated by Only Fans, but after 12 years in the industry, she isn’t shocked. In 2018, Tumblr made a similar move to ban pornographic material. “It’s crazy how much we just take it on the chin now because it’s seen as normal. We really shouldn’t. Sex workers deserve as much respect as anyone else.” The USW added that its members are constantly under threat of legal crackdowns. In a statement it said: “Instagram accounts are frequently erased without warning. PayPal continues to shut down the accounts of sex workers without warning and without allowing us to withdraw funds beforehand. Bank accounts
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NEWS IN BRIEF
CITIZENS ADVICE ON SCHOOL COSTS
I’m a single parent and lost my job during the pandemic. My local Citizens Advice helped me apply for Universal Credit which has been really helpful to cover some of the income I’ve lost. But I’m very worried about the upcoming £20 a week cut to Universal Credit – I don’t know how I’ll be able to pay for the school uniforms and shoes, especially as they grow so fast! Is there any other support out there to help plug the gap? If you’re on a low income or employed, you might be able to get help with some of the costs of sending your child to school, including school meals, transport and uniform. It’s always worth talking to your local education authority to see what support is available as some of their resources and offerings can differ. The following information is for England.
the plan. Sex workers have been left insecure
are frozen and money made inaccessible overnight.” Ferguson said she experienced discrimination during her business start-up process. “I was turned away by banks, refused working premises, and some accountants wouldn’t work with me at all.”
The USW argues that banning sex work from online platforms further marginalises sex workers and “drives them to work in even more unsafe and precarious conditions in order to earn money to survive”. It points out that many LGBTQ+ and disabled people become sex workers because of barriers and prejudice that prevent them from finding work elsewhere. It said: “It’s not that easy to just get another job. Such decisions always hit the most marginalised sex workers disproportionately.” LUCINDA HERBERT
Free school meals Children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 automatically get free school meals. If you have older children you can apply for free school meals if you get certain benefits. In your case as you’re on Universal Credit and you applied after 1 April 2018 you would be eligible if you earn less than £7,400 a year without benefits. You can see the full list of eligibility requirements on the Citizens Advice website. To apply for free school meals you need to contact your local authority. You can check the details at gov.uk by typing your postcode in. Transport If your children are aged between five to 16, your local education authority might offer free or lower cost transport if you don’t live near school or your child’s unable to walk there. You need to apply to your local education authority for help. Uniforms and other costs Your local education authority might also be able to help with some other costs, like uniforms, music lessons or trips and activities. There may also be local charitable schemes to help with these costs. It’s worth checking with the school to see if it knows of any. Schools can also sometimes also advise on finding secondhand uniforms. What’s next? If your child is staying in education after year 11, you must tell HMRC’s Child Benefit Office if you want to continue receiving child benefit and any extra support for children within means-tested benefits. When your child turns 16, HMRC will send you a letter asking whether your child will stay in education or training. You must reply to this letter to keep getting Child Benefit. Visit citizensadvice.org.uk or call 0800 144 8848 for more information
INCLUSIVE TECH Female-led tech initiative Wild Digital along with Leeds Council and Leeds University are asking adults interested in a career in technology to take a racial diversity survey. They aim to create a thriving digital sector in Leeds, which they say can only be achieved with the benefits of innovation a diverse workforce brings. See wilddigital.tech. SAFE STREETS Manchester City Council has secured £500,000 to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety, decrease congestion and reduce delays. The improvements will happen in 20 key locations across Manchester over the next two years. It comes as part of the council’s Streets for All strategy to make travel in Manchester safer and more environmentally friendly. YORKSHIRE REFUGEES Eight Afghan refugees and their families have successfully settled in North Yorkshire. Item donations are no longer needed locally, so organisation Stronger Communities is suggesting people donate money to charities such as Afghanaid and Refugee Action. Local employers are also encouraged to provide opportunities for permanently settled Afghans. See migrationyorkshire.org.uk. FREE FURNITURE Liverpool John Moores University is donating over 3,000 items to families, charities and schools in the Liverpool City Region. Items available include office furniture, white goods and storage boxes. As the goal is to reduce waste, there is no limit to how many items someone can request and no charge for delivery. View the collection at johnsons1871.com/ljmuasset-portal. Got an event, campaign or story from your area? Call 0161 831 5563 or email email@example.com
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Why don’t we just… do levelling up properly? JONNY BALL In July, prime minister Boris Johnson visited a new battery factory in Coventry that would provide the backdrop for a speech on “levelling up”. Many hoped that he would seize the opportunity to provide substance to a slogan that has been repeated endlessly since the 2019 election campaign, when it was used to woo voters in the Labour-held “red wall” in the North and Midlands, but there was little clarity on its practical implications. The speech diagnosed several longterm problems plaguing the UK. There was rightful condemnation of the huge inequalities in wealth, productivity and health outcomes between different areas of the country. There was an acknowledgement that the UK was not just “the most economically unbalanced”, but also that it was “the most centralised” country compared with its neighbours. And there was an admission that “for many decades” governments in Westminster had “crushed local leadership” and stripped local councils of their powers (although this was, the PM claimed, absolutely necessary to combat “irresponsible municipal socialists” and the “loony left” – ghosts from the 1980s who had led fights against the budget cuts of the Thatcher government). But the prescriptions offered to remedy these maladies never came, and the speech was criticised from several quarters. Immediately afterwards, Dominic Cummings, the PM’s former chief adviser, described the whole levelling up agenda as “a vacuous slogan”. The House of Commons Business Committee said it needed to be linked with “coherent and specific initiatives” lest it become “an everything and nothing policy”. And, after Boris Johnson had bemoaned the fact that the per capita GDP of the North East was lower than in what was formerly communist East Germany, the Centre for Cities think tank calculated that the true cost of a real levelling up strategy that closed the disparities between North and South would likely meet £1.7 trillion, or around 350 times the amount currently allocated to the government’s Levelling Up Fund. The £4.8 billion levelling up bidding pot that local authorities will compete over to spend on infrastructure projects in their areas is dwarfed by annual government spending on debt servicing, which costs around £38 billion a year, about eight times as much. And a lot of the funding is going to strange places. Several prosperous Conservative-held areas – including the Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s own constituency of Richmond – contain priority one zones for Levelling 8
Johnson at the battery factory where he spoke about ‘levelling up’. Photo: David Rose/AP
Up Fund money, whilst much poorer but Labour-held Salford will only be priority two, and Sefton, a council that contains some of the most deprived wards in the country, is labelled priority three. Talk of levelling up grates when local authorities, which are responsible for delivering services including transport, housing, planning and social care, have had their budgets slashed under a decade of austerity imposed by Conservative governments. Cities like Liverpool have seen the amount they receive from central government fall by £816 per person, and northern towns have been much harder hit than their southern counterparts. But it doesn’t have to be this way. If the government is serious about levelling up it has a chance to change the narrative when it releases a levelling up White Paper this autumn. The ideology that committed states to budget cuts and small, non-interventionist government is receding. Governments are now borrowing at record-low interest rates, and so spending to boost growth and productivity in the future pays for itself. In the US, Joe Biden is attempting to guide trillions worth of infrastructure spending through Congress. The European Union is also handing out cash for member states to “build back better”. Johnson has already shown he’s more willing than some predecessors to spend and invest public money, so he should commit the funding needed for projects like Northern Powerhouse Rail, which would connect the great cities of the
North with high speed railways. Local authorities could be given the money and powers to build social homes in places where they’re needed most, to re-regulate their bus services, to improve skills and training according to the specific needs of their areas, and to help solve the crisis in social care. Investment in green technology, renewable energy and advanced manufacturing could be targeted at areas of high deprivation and unemployment, with local residents upskilled to work in the high-wage, highproductivity jobs that will play a key part in any green industrial revolution. To accompany all spending commitments from councils and national government, locally owned companies and suppliers that pay the living wage could be given priority in all public contracts. There’s an opportunity now for the UK to embrace a form of levelling up that isn’t just a piece of Johnsonian bluster but a truly transformational agenda. Whether or not it happens could decide the outcome of the next election, and could change the shape of British politics and the country’s economic and social geography for years to come. n Jonny Ball is a special projects writer at the New Statesman and a PhD student at the Centre for Urban Research on Austerity in Leicester. On 9 September, the New Statesman is holding a free conference on regional development and levelling up in Manchester. For more information visit events.nsmg.live/ regionaldevelopment
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The rate at which Jararacussu pit viper venom slows down the multiplication of Covid in monkey cells. The author of a study at the University of Sao Paulo, Rafael Guido, urged people against searching Brazil for the viper – although a molecule contained within it is known for its antibacterial qualities, the venom itself is fatal. Guido hopes this discovery may lead to a cure but cautions that this is the first step in a very long journey, and there is no timeline for testing on human cells.
8-9pm The time slot on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays that under 18s in China are allowed to play video games. The new law replaces the previous one that allowed them 1.5 hours of gameplay per day. The Chinese government says the new restrictions are to halt gaming addiction in teenagers but critics argue that the stringent measures are intended to strengthen government control over both society and big tech, whose rapid growth is an affront to Bejing’s political ideology.
The minimum price auctioneers expect for the sale of Big John, the triceratops skeleton that at 26 feet is 5-10 per cent bigger than any other of its kind. With a skull that is 8.7 feet long and 6.7 feet wide and horns that are 3.7 feet long, when alive Big John would have been able to withstand 16 tons of pressure. Now, an equally impressive 75 per cent of his skull is complete and over 60 per cent of his skeleton. Found in South Dakota in 2014 and reconstructed in Italy by a team of researchers from the universities of Bologna and Chieti, Big John goes on auction on 21 October in Paris.
Despite recently ditching ‘bloody’ as our favourite swear, in favour of the much stronger F word, Brits are actually comparatively reserved swearers. Online analysis by learning platform Preply found that French speakers use the most profanities, online at least, followed by Polish and Australians. Brits placed tenth, only just ahead of the wellmannered Croatians, Swedes, Germans and Norwegians.
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HE HAS ISSUES Roger Ratcliffe isn’t gullible enough to scavenge for chips in Whitby It’s no good going abroad for a holiday. If your destination isn’t red-listed while you’re heading to the airport there’ll be nightmare queues at passport control. Better staycation and pray for sun. That seems to be this summer’s popular wisdom, and it’s what most of us wound up doing. My August break was spent on the Costa Yorkshire after a stroke of luck finding a vacancy in a tucked-away hotel which, unlike some, hadn’t inflated its prices. When the weather’s fine I think it’s hard to beat the British seaside, or at least those bays, beaches and coves that are not rammed. I’m thinking of peaceful havens to the north of Scarborough like Hayburn Wyke and the bottom end of Robin Hood’s Bay, and also Runswick Bay above Whitby. Tranquil though these spots are, I had to visit Whitby for something to eat and that’s where the idyll ended. People may fanfare forecasts that staycations will mean the rebirth of the Great British Seaside but my experience tells me it’s going to be a lot different. Those halcyon days depicted in the old Francis Frith sepia photographs may have shown beaches with people sardined as far as the eye can see, but the vast majority of them arrived by train. Much water has passed under Whitby harbour bridge since cheap flights to the Costas largely ended the tradition of a fortnight at a seaside B&B. The economies of resorts now rely on day trippers, and most of them come not by rail but road. If millions decide to staycation and drive to the coast you don’t need to work for AA Roadwatch to know that the most popular spots are going to be chaotic.
That was my experience in Whitby even before the Bank Holiday hordes had set off. Look, hands up, I admit to being part of the problem. But roads and parking facilities in and around resorts like Whitby belong to the pre-Covid era. If you believe, like me, that we are still a long way from reviving the tradition of safe holidays abroad then traffic congestion at such tourist honeypots is likely to become the norm. Those airport queues put me off travelling abroad, but there was still no escape from queuing to get into cafes, restaurants, pubs and shops here. The queue, I think, has become a feature of post-lockdown Britain. We are starting to behave a bit like the queuing peoples of the old Soviet Union and East Germany, who famously saw a queue and joined it without knowing what they were queuing for. One legendary queue in Whitby had disappeared, however. The wait for a table at the Magpie, a fish and chip restaurant, could sometimes take over an hour. This year they have abolished the queue, probably because the resort was so heaving it would have extended the entire length of the River Esk. Instead, they introduced a “virtual queue” where you popped in to leave a phone number and they ring you when a table’s free. Unfortunately, that involved a three hour wait. Instead, I opted for another restaurant, Trenchers, where the wait was 20 minutes for the haddock and chips. I have to say, were better than my last visit to the Magpie. It was nice to end my staycation on a positive note. n
Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe
Pack mentality From Breakfast Club rebel to indie cinema star, Judd Nelson’s near 40-year career has made him more Hollywood than most. But the Brat Packer comes without airs and graces, as Simon Bland finds when their interview goes a little awry 10
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Judd Nelson is waiting to talk to me. He’s somewhere in Los Angeles, between acting jobs. I’m in Manchester halfway through walking my sausage dog. A missed email means I’m slightly late for our call and I’m a little concerned this star, whose career spans time-capsule classics and thought-provoking indies, might get a little Hollywood on me when we finally connect. Turns out, I needn’t worry. “I’ve had dogs for years – and they win!” he sympathises, the smile evident in his voice despite our lack of Zoom visuals. “For a while I had two dogs. Never have two dogs – it’s just too tough.” I thank him for taking the time to speak with me and apologise again for my tardiness – but he won’t hear it. It’s exactly the kind of laid-back attitude you might expect from someone who shot to fame playing the coolest kid in the biggest teen movie of all time. As The Breakfast Club’s bad boy John Bender, Nelson once told Paul Gleason’s prickly Principal Vernon that “The world is an imperfect place,” so it’s no wonder he’s not fussed that I’m a little behind schedule. He seems to have carried this relaxed worldview into adult life. “I’m always stunned when actors don’t want to do press,” he tells me. “It’s part of the job.’’ He should know. Now 61, Nelson has been in the public eye for over 35 years, making him fluent in the fine print of movie star life. Odds are, you’ll know him best as the scruffy tough guy with a heart in director John Hughes’s The Breakfast Club or perhaps as careerhungry graduate Alec Newbary in Joel Schumacher’s sax-filled drama St Elmo’s Fire. Both hit screens in 1985 and both helped make Nelson – alongside his frequent cast mates and pals Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Anthony Michael Hall and Demi Moore – household names. Before long, this gang of teen stars had taken over 1980s cinema, earning themselves the media-coined-moniker the Brat Pack, a not entirely welcome term that still lingers to this day. Megastardom, with all its glitzy trappings and public pitfalls, followed and at every turn, the tabloids were never too far behind. Despite these hurdles Nelson’s career endured, taking him through stints on the big and small screen that led all the way to his latest role as part-time poetry
Nelson studied philosophy before being cast as the baddest of the Brat Pack. Photo: Universal
teacher Mr Sonquist in director Max Newsom’s touching and visually striking coming-of-age drama Iceland Is Best. Much like Bender’s depiction of the world, Nelson’s career has taken him to some varied, unexpected and sometimes imperfect places but it’s a journey that’s very much still ongoing. “I didn’t have a plan,” he tells the Big Issue North, taking us back to the start of his career. “I studied philosophy in college and, in freshman year, a guy came to me and said: ‘Do you want to audition for the school play?’ I said no
Brando, Elaine Stritch and Robert DeNiro. Similar to his recent turn as an aloof poetry teacher in Iceland is Best, Adler offered her students cryptic advice wrapped in poetic prose. “I don’t know if I was aware of it then but in retrospect, if you can work for her, you can work for anyone,” says Nelson. “She’s tough. I once asked Stella what to do when you’re doing the best you can in a scene but you sense the person you’re working with has a different understanding of it. Stella told me that other actors are like icing on the cake.
“We’re raised to think if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again – but if you succeed, what do you do then?” but he said it’ll be great. I asked him why and he said: ‘Because that’s where all the girls are!’” he laughs. “You can’t stay and watch other people audition unless you audition yourself so in order to watch the girls, I had to audition too. I got the play – it was Oresteia by Aeschylus – and I was hooked.” Bitten by the acting bug, Nelson moved from his hometown of Portland, Maine to New York City to start his acting career in earnest in the early 1980s, despite having no industry connections. What did his parents think? “They were very supportive. My dad is an attorney and not involved in the entertainment industry at all. He said to me: ‘If you want to be a professional actor that’s a good thing to want to do but you should realise it’s a profession where merit is not necessarily rewarded and you might not like that.’ I was like: ‘Yeah, whatever!’” says Nelson, chuckling at his naivety. “Years later I was like: ‘Damn, he was right!’” Undeterred, Nelson made his way to the Big Apple where he studied with acclaimed actor and teacher Stella Adler whose ex-students included Marlon
You have to make sure that you alone are the cake. I don’t know whether that makes any sense – but it did to me.” Much like his decision to get into acting, the next big turning point in Nelson’s life and career was once again inspired by the opposite sex. “I was dating a girl who lived in New York and LA and she asked if I wanted to come back to LA with her. I said: ‘No, I’m going to stay in New York and do theatre.’ She said: ‘Well, I’m going to date other people.’ Suddenly I was like: ‘Oh, I can go to LA!” Following his, erm, instincts, Nelson arrived in LA, where things quickly took a dramatic turn. Having appeared in 1983’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel, 1984’s Making The Grade and 1985’s Fandango, he met up-and-coming filmmaker Hughes and his life changed forever. “We were lucky,” admits Nelson, reflecting on the runaway success of The Breakfast Club, a story about five high school students in detention, each from a different leg of the social ladder. “We knew it was a risk because there was no movie where kids just sit around and talk. We didn’t know whether it was 6 - 12 SEPTEMBER BIG ISSUE NORTH
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Don’t forget about...
Although there’s no definitive list of what officially constitutes a Brat Pack movie, here are five features starring combinations of Nelson, Estevez, Ringwald et al that definitely fit the bill Sixteen Candles (1984) John Hughes’s first movie took audiences to a location he’d call home for most of his oeuvre: the all-American high school. He didn’t stay long though as birthday girl Sam (Molly Ringwald) battles love, social anxiety and resident geek Farmer Ted (Anthony Michael Hall) during a crazy, night-long party.
Nelson stars in independent drama Iceland is Best. His career endured after The Breakfast Club
going to be successful. It was like riding a fast horse: just hold on, don’t fall off and let it win. John was an important filmmaker and an American social icon. He was the first filmmaker to not judge someone as less just because they were young. Times are tough for a lot of teenagers. Love doesn’t work out, your life doesn’t look like it’s going to work out – Hughes was like a seer and under his great shadow, most of us were shielded from the harsh rays of the sun. He was an exceptional man.” Releasing The Breakfast Club and St Elmo’s Fire just five months apart meant Nelson ended 1985 famous and in uncharted territory. “It’s a strange thing to have things go well because most of us are raised to think if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again – but if you succeed, what do you do then?” he asks, remembering the whirlwind experience of being plunged into the public eye. “It’s not like we’re raised on how to translate initial success into lasting success. Where are those lessons? You’re kind of on the wind. “When I was younger, I was linked with an entire generation of actors. They called us the Brat Pack. That’s not really a very complimentary term but over the years some people think it’s become endearing. For me personally, it was a time where we were convinced not to work with each other. We all got along great. We really loved each other and loved working together. We were all prepared, professional, on time and enthusiastic but we were portrayed as a certain type of person, someone entitled, someone out of control, someone selfish. It puts you in an odd place where people think they know me but that’s not me.” I ask Nelson whether social media would’ve made his experience better
or considerably worse. “Oh absolutely worse,” he shoots back without hesitation. “My heart goes out to all those younger performers having success who have just one second where they act like an idiot. You’ve got to be careful with that. Maybe it’s a good way to get us more aligned with trying to treat others the way we’d like to be treated but if everyone had a cell phone and video camera when I was 20? That would’ve been bad.” Still, Nelson’s career endured and in the years since he left that famous image of John Bender in the final frames of The Breakfast Club – fist raised high and Simple Minds’ Don’t You Forget About Me playing in the background – he’s appeared in everything from the animated Transformers franchise and TV hits like Two and a Half Men and Empire to this month’s independent drama, Iceland is Best. Our time is coming to a close so I ask about his lasting impact on pop culture. If his work has inspired others to get creative, surely that helps make a brighter – less imperfect – future? “In a public profession you’re aware it’s possible to have an influence on someone’s life and you hope that influence is positive,” replies Nelson, pondering the question. “When you hear that something you’ve done has affected people in a positive way it really gives you a sense of the human community and that you’ve done more good than bad – and that’s a wonderful thing. I’m thankful for that. The world we live in is a scary, isolating place. Anything we can do to bring people together is a good thing.” A phone beep signifies the end of our chat. “Now go have fun with your dog!” n Iceland is Best is released nationwide on 8 September
The Breakfast Club (1985) The film that defined a decade, The Breakfast Club will likely go down as Hughes’s masterpiece and the film that birthed the Brat Pack. A jock (Emilio Esteves), a princess (Molly Ringwald), a weirdo (Ally Sheedy), a nerd (Anthony Michael Hall) and a criminal (Judd Nelson) gather for a day of weekend detention that’ll forever change their (and our) lives. St Elmo’s Fire (1985) With St Elmo’s Fire, director Joel Schumacher showed us what happened to these high-school brats after their education ended, while throwing in some new faces including a very1980s-looking Rob Lowe and Demi Moore. Work, relationships, love: the heat was on in this young adult classic. Weird Science (1985) You probably couldn’t get away with it now but back in the 1980s, finding the perfect girlfriend was as easy as programming a computer and wearing a bra on your head. Anthony Michael Hall (perhaps the definitive Brat Packer) headlines Hughes’s third movie, alongside Ilan Mitchell-Smith, a young Robert Downey Jr and their dream woman, Kelly LeBrock. Pretty In Pink (1986) Often thought of as a Hughes movie (he penned the script but Howard Deutch directed), Pretty in Pink brought Ringwald back to high school to tell the story of love and social cliques. It also introduced us to the bouffanthaired dweeb Duckie, played by future Two and a Half men star Jon Cryer.
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’Because we kept moving, albeit slowly, home was everywhere we went’ It was when humans stopped being nomadic that we became estranged from our environment, argues Felix Marquardt. And that brought with it an obsession with growth, suspicions and damaging addictions – as he knows from his own experience
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Most of us moderns think we know what home is and therefore think we know what homelessness is too. I wonder whether we genuinely understand either. I am an addict in recovery. I had my last drink, my last cigarette, my last joint and my last line of cocaine on the eve of Saint Patrick’s day 2014. In my case, as in the case of many others, active addiction was about denial. It wasn’t until the very end of my using that I began considering the possibility that I was an addict. Even when I came to admitting it, I saw myself as a high-functioning addict. I lived in an expensive apartment, had a good job, lived the high life. It took several years before I realised that addiction had made me homeless. I come from a very privileged milieu and I don’t want to trivialise homelessness, nor be condescending. There is a kind of long-term, grinding homelessness that I haven’t experienced. I never lived in an abandoned building, the skeleton of a car or under a bridge. I hope I never have to. But there came a point when my addiction got me thrown out of my flat for making too much noise, being an overall nuisance and chronically late on rent. I ended up couch surfing for several months and, here and there, as the number of friends willing to put me up for a night or two dwindled, sleeping in Parisian parks after sunrise after drinking and drugging all night long. Out of money, out of options and out of sorts, I ended up restarting a relationship with an ex with whom I probably wouldn’t have got back together
had I not found myself in that situation. The best indication I have of that is that having cleaned up my act and managed to stay sober and clean six months thanks in no small part to her generosity and hospitality, I broke up with her as soon as I was able to stand on my own two feet and move out (and went straight back to using and drinking). Reflecting on this admittedly benign experience of homelessness and its link with my addiction while writing a book on nomadism has allowed me to think of the broader feeling of estrangement that has become such an integral part of the modern human condition. Addiction involves many things (including self-centredness, denial, avoidance, immaturity) but is also about homelessness and disconnection. One of the roots of both the word “nomad” and the word “economy” is the ancient Greek word “nomós”: the place of pasturage or pasture. Only by extension is nomadism about “nomás”, the act of wandering said pasture. My book makes the case that our modern understanding of the word nomadism as being fundamentally and primarily about mobility is misguided. Nomadism is about place and connection to place, to the land and its creatures. From the pasture and the place, the ancient Greeks derived the concept of home. The original meaning of “economy” (“oikonomós”) was “management of the house and household”. Recovery from addiction, too, is about connection to others, to place, to the land and its creatures.
One of the tricky things about addiction is that knowledge and willpower are about as effective in dealing with it as they are to cure diabetes or cancer. Long after my drinking and drugging got out of hand, I was eventually able to see that this was jeopardising my social standing, my career and my relations with my loved ones. Did knowledge of this in any way allow me to stop smoking insane amounts of weed or sticking copious amounts of white powder up my nose? The pandemic is allowing a growing number of us to come to terms with the oxymoronic nature of the phrase “green economy”. The notion that the best predictor of a person, a household, a company or a country’s carbon footprint is how much money they spend is belatedly sinking in for a growing number of us. Less can be more. It’s in the zeitgeist and in the resonance of the movie Nomadland. So is the fact that humanity’s carbon footprint has never decreased year on year, not just since the industrial revolution but since we first started planting seeds. Three decades of increasingly alarming reports from the experts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change haven’t dented this trend. Isn’t it time that we consider the possibility that our civilisation might be in the throes of active addiction? And if so, that the beginning of the process that eventually led to our present condition as a civilisation of addicts to carbon, extraction, growth, consumption and, well, more (more drugs, more booze, more sex, more speed, more carbs, more
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Relinquishing our nomadic world view has left us alienated. Previous page: Kazakh nomads camp in Western Mongolia. Above: Chief Ninawa Inu Huni Kui. Photos: Shutterstock/Getty
sugar, more “friends”, more travel, more likes/validation, more stuff) might have been kicked into high gear by our going from an overwhelmingly nomadic to an overwhelmingly sedentary culture? Until that moment, home was wherever we were. Because we kept moving, albeit slowly, home was everywhere we went. In a letter to one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, Carl Jung described the craving for alcohol “as the equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God”. Another useful way of thinking of addiction more generally might be as a longing for home, a misguided attempt to reclaim our place as a part of the great Metabolism. We tend to think that the origins of our contemporary troubles, from climate breakdown to rampant inequality, date back to the Industrial Revolution. This is questionable both from a thermodynamic and a social perspective. The break that came with the agricultural revolution and the concentration of solar energy/ carbon into grain was arguably far more important in terms of its ramifications, as it led to our invention of writing and many other things we rightly treasure, as well as the emergence of the first states, armies, social classes – and slaves. But something else, even more profound, happened also. We relinquished our nomadic worldview and became self-obsessed. It started the fantasy of separation and planted the seed of othering in us and, in the process, turned us into creatures out of context. In an essay entitled Exile, the Chilean novelist and poet Roberto Bolaño describes Adam and Eve as the first exiles on record. He goes on to ask: “Can it be that we’re all exiles? Is it possible that
all of us are wandering strange lands?” There is a rich tradition of seeing the parable of Adam and Eve as a metaphor for the trauma of sedentism. It makes sense: sedentary life estranged us from ourselves, from each other and from the rest of the Metabolism we moderns so clumsily call “nature” as if we weren’t
in so doing, to making us all homeless. If we have indeed become a civilisation of addicts, they are about as credible and legitimate in convening and leading the intervention that is so urgently called for as the people with the best heroin on an opiates-ravaged street block. The time has come to recognise that our fate hinges more on changing our behaviour than on changing our technology. And that we have more to learn from people like Chief Ninawa Inu Huni Kui of the Huni Kui people of the Amazon than we do from Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk. Indigenous peoples have been reduced to 4 per cent of the human population through an ongoing, centuries-old process that we moderns are still reluctant to call genocide. But they are still the custodians of 80 per cent of the world’s dwindling biodiversity. Their ancestral practices and connection to the land and the creatures are infused with the maturity, sobriety, discernment, accountability, propriety, humility and wisdom we so sorely lack. It is time we turn to these practices for inspiration, just like addicts in recovery can rely on the wisdom and practices of those they call old-timers.
It’s time to recognise that our fate hinges more on changing our behaviour than changing our technology part of it. This tragic myopia of ours and the sense of disconnect that goes with it have become defining features of our age. Addiction looms when the gap between who we think we are and the reality of who we have become becomes too glaring – and jarring. Think of the phrase “the global economy” in light of the above-mentioned etymology. Isn’t it time we acknowledge the insanity of calling “management of the household” the act of burning our household – the earth – to the ground? Which brings us back to home(lessness), (dis)connection, addiction and recovery. Modern culture and the people who run the world tell us that more science, more innovation, more data and more technology are going to allow us to respond in a healthy way to climate breakdown and the myriad other entangled crises we face. Sitting atop the pyramidal metastasising superorganism we call “global system” or “global economy”, they are arguably the furthest from homelessness and destitution. But because they spend the most money in a world that is still 80 per cent fossilfuelled (and in which more coal will be burnt in 2022 than in 2021, as in every new year since we started burning coal), they are actually contributing the most to making the earth uninhabitable and
These practices are a blessing that we would be well inspired to show reverence for and refrain from the modern tendency of consuming indigenous peoples, knowledge and culture. And instead, to have reciprocity at heart. The modern mind has a long tradition of romanticising Indigenous peoples (who are as flawed as the rest of us) and their cultures while associating them with our common past. But this is not as much about our common past as it is about our common present and future. Indigenous people of the Amazon are currently under violent threat from the Bolsonaro administration. They need us and it is high time we step up, own up, clean up, grow up, wake up and show up for them. Only then will we be able to close the 10,000-year parenthesis of alienation that began when we relinquished our nomadic world view. Only then will we begin to find our way home. n Felix Marquardt is the author of The New Nomads (Simon & Schuster) and the host of the Black Elephant (blcklphnt.com) podcast 6 - 12 SEPTEMBER BIG ISSUE NORTH
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ORGAN LESSONS We think of transplant surgery as a modern scientific wonder but, as Paul Craddock discovered, it goes back centuries. And it also provokes elemental questions about what it means to have a body, even what it means to be alive It was nearly 15 years ago when a student, Jennifer Sutton, was photographed peering at her own heart though the glass of a museum case. This seemingly impossible situation came about because, as a teenager, Jennifer suffered from cardiomyopathy, a life-threatening condition meaning that the walls of her heart had grown thicker than they were supposed to be. Just three months before the photo was taken, surgeons had excised her diseased heart and replaced it. With someone else’s organ now working away inside her, she had donated her old one to the Wellcome Collection in London, which arranged for it to be a special exhibit in its first public exhibition. “Finally,” she told BBC reporters as she gazed at the inert specimen, “I can see this odd-looking lump of muscle that has given me so much upset.” The photographer captured both a touching story of a life saved and an implausible 18
reality: a woman, with eyes full of life, staring at her own dead heart while her breath formed droplets on the outside of its perspex case. When I scrolled across this photo for the first time 11 or 12 years ago, I didn’t know very much about transplant surgery. I knew the basic story, the one most people know, about Christiaan Barnard, the South African surgeon and heart-throb who led the first heart transplant in December 1967. By lifting the heart out of one body and sewing it into another, he’d shown once and for all how the traditional seat of the soul was nothing but a component in a complex machine. And like Neil Armstrong bounding onto the moon just a few months later, it represented a post-war moment of triumph, a pinnacle of human achievement. But that was a long time ago. The spine-tingling image of Jennifer Sutton promised a fresh perspective.
Jennifer’s life sprang now from the heart of a dead stranger. What does it mean to have a body, if bits of it can be implanted into someone else? What does it mean to have a body in the first place? And what does it mean to be human, alive and an individual? It was this realisation that transplant surgery mattered on some primal level that made it compelling to me. As it turned out, transplant surgery is one of the oldest forms of surgery, starting life as skin grafting in ancient India. According to the Sushruta Samhita – an ancient surgical text from the 6th century BC – a surgeon needed to know how to transplant skin if they were ever to treat a king. Records from this time are difficult to come by. But even the modern story of transplants began much earlier than I imagined, in Renaissance Italy. And right from the start people performing transplants thought about those big questions that Jennifer Sutton’s photograph still prompt for people today. From at least the 1400s, skin grafting was a secret technique, preserved by families of surgeons in Italy. When in 1549 the renegade surgeon Leonardo Fioravanti tricked one of them into giving it up, he saw how it resembled horticultural grafting – the kind of operation performed on apple trees.
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Transplant surgery, for him, was “the farming of men” and “the agriculture of the body”. The technique he stole, incidentally, was used for facial reconstruction right up to the Second World War. But even this far back, when transplants were only skin deep, people were questioning whether meddling this much in the affairs of the body might be tantamount to playing God. The human body was supposedly divinely ordered, so should we really be moving bits of it around? Later, in the 1660s, I found that Christopher Wren was one of the first scientists to experiment with blood transfusion – that was before he became famous as an architect for reconstructing St Paul’s Cathedral after the Great Fire of London. Along with Robert Boyle and Richard Lower, he was part of the early Royal Society, and blood transfusions were some of their first experiments. In both England and France, scientists used animals as donors for human recipients. Inspired by ancient Roman mythology, they hoped that by transfusing blood they could transplant something else – a calf’s youth could be transplanted, and a lamb’s calmness, but so could bovine slowness, and even ovine wooliness. One doctor even thought that a transfusion of cat’s blood could cure your epilepsy (which, at the time, was known as “falling sickness”). The idea that a transplant or transfusion might change our very beings seems still to be with us. Some organ recipients so strongly associate
Left: Jennifer Sutton comes face to face with her own heart at the Wellcome Collection. Above: Etching of a blood transfusion from 1672. Shutterstock / Getty you looked like and what you owned. Cajoling a penniless child into giving up a freshly erupted tooth might not sound quite as serious as organ trafficking, but 18th century commentators were horrified by an all-too-familiar power dynamic: then, as now, the poor became a repository of body parts for the rich. And this revolting operation was only stopped when it became clear that the rich, too, were in danger – of picking up diseases and even dying from infection. Transplants only became life-saving operations at the start of the 19th century, when the kindly midwife James Blundell first transfused blood from one human to another. For too long, he watched as woman after woman succumbed to
There have been cases where person has received birthday gifts meant not for them but their organs themselves with their bodies that they report their personalities fundamentally changed by their new organs. Most extremely, and tragically, there have also been cases where a recipient has received Christmas and birthday gifts meant not for them, but their organs. They’re sent by families who feel their loved one still alive, their heart beating inside the chest of a frightened stranger. A century after the first blood transfusions, as the Georgians were inventing Christmastime and coffee house culture, dentists made a tidy profit from transplanting the teeth of poor children into the mouths of their social superiors. In a new, consumerist society, we began to associate ourselves more and more with our belongings. The worship of things became the worship of the self — and body parts that could be transplanted, like teeth, became another godless possession in a culture that defined you by what
blood loss during childbirth. Blundell knew blood transfusions were risky, but reasoned that these women would die anyway, so he thought it worth trying to replace what they were losing. It was the first time that anyone thought that transplants of any kind should be about replacing lost or deficient parts of the human machine. But transfusions didn’t always work. In fact, they rarely did, and were abandoned as various saline solutions became available. Some surgeons even reported successfully infusing table salt dissolved in water. By the end of the 19th century, transplants were seen as archaic, risky, and frequently fatal. Then, at the beginning of the 20th century, the surgeon Alexis Carrel worked with the embroiderer Marie Anne Leroudier and figured out how to effectively sew together blood vessels. By using embroidery tools and technique, this made organ transplants possible.
And a little later, during the Second World War, the Dutch doctor Willem Kolff fashioned the first kidney dialysis machines out of sausage skins, an enamel bath and the frame of a shot-down German aircraft. By the middle of the century, transplants were seen as feats of great skill, with surgeons racing to be the first to perform kidney grafts, liver grafts, heart grafts – and more recently, hand and face transplants. As the surgeon Sir Roy Calne said, though, transplants are relatively easy operations – the difficult bit is the aftercare, the drugs and tackling rejection. It’s because of these complexities that it took until the 1980s until organ transplants could become the relatively routine miracles we know today. And thanks to bioengineering and stem cell science, new and wonderful transplants are on the horizon, from human heart tissue grown on the scaffold of a spinach leaf to living material that is neither plant nor animal, but a chimera of both. I have never met Jennifer Sutton, but it changed my life when I saw that photograph of her peering at her own heart through the museum case. From playing God to transplant tourism, body shopping to fears of body swapping, organ shortages and touching stories of lives lost and lives saved, transplants are far more than a surgical specialism. They are ancient procedures that have for many centuries made us confront the big questions about human life and existence. It’s this hidden history that I’ve tried to bring out in Spare Parts: A Surprising History of Transplants – a previously untold history that goes to the very heart of what it means to be human. n Spare Parts: A Surprising History of Transplants by Paul Craddock is published by Fig Tree 6 - 12 SEPTEMBER BIG ISSUE NORTH
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Once star-crossed lovers, then everyone’s favourite couple, now Mansoor is moving back to India and Bindi has recruited half the neighbourhood in her plan to win him back. Love 'N’ Stuff is a hilarious, heart-warming play written by Tanika Gupta (Eastenders) and directed by Gitika Buttoo. Though there’s a cast of seventeen characters, all are played by Komal Amin and Maanuv Thiara. 16 Sep-2 Oct, Oldham Coliseum Theatre (coliseum.org.uk)
Haçienda DJ Dave Haslam and local novelist Lucy Nichol discuss the effect music has on our lives in Lost in Music. The conversation will be followed by an audience Q&A, an exclusive book signing session, and a selection of music.* 16 Sep, Wrecking Ball Music and Books (wreckingballstore.co.uk)
The inaugural Age Proud Festival will be providing virtual and in-person events inclusive for older people but suited to all ages. Events include a virtual Death Café, learning to strum the ukulele and a showcase of the Leeds Tapestry in the Art Library. Until 17 Sep, various venues and online (ageproudfestivalleeds.org/)
We’re Sew Done is a collection of colourful textile art that directly responds to the threat of violence women face in public places every day. Initially galvanised by the murder of Sarah Everard, craft group Knittaz with Attitude drew further inspiration from incidents of street harassment in Blackpool collected via an online map. Until 28 Oct, Blackpool Central Library (sew-done.co.uk)
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THINGS TO DO NEXT WEEK Salford
You’ve seen something terrible. What are you going to do about it? The Interrogation is an interactive audio programme and GPS-guided app that takes you through the streets of Salford as you grapple with the answers. You will question the ableism of language, the causes of criminality, and the judgment experienced by learning disabled people in this 2km wheelchair accessible route. 14-19 Sep, The Lowry (thelowry.com)
Enjoy a drive-in viewing of Jurassic World with surround sound at Motorpoint at the Movies. Food and drinks will be available on the night, as well as a game of drive-in bingo and the chance to win £100 in free fuel. All proceeds from the event will go to Global’s Make Some Noise, which supports disadvantaged people throughout the UK. 18 Sep, Motorpoint Sheffield (motorpoint.co.uk/make-some-noise)
See stand-up comedian Simon Amstell outside of his Netflix Special in Spirit Hole, a blissful, spiritual exploration of sex, shame and mushrooms. Amstell has won two British Comedy Awards, been nominated for a BAFTA, and featured in the international critically acclaimed film Benjamin. 16 Sep, Grand Theatre (simonamstell.com)
Cameroonian singer-songwriter Blick Bassy performs with his three-piece band. This performance follows his critically-acclaimed album 1958, a defiant tribute to the heroes who fought and died for the independence of Cameroon. The show in Liverpool comes ahead of Africa Oyé’s 30th Anniversary celebrations in 2022. 19 Sep, Liverpool Philharmonic Music Room (blickbassy.com)
*Read Lucy Nichol's piece about the 27 Club in the Reading Room section of bigissuenorth.com
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TELEVISION TAKE A HIKE
BBC Two, Monday 6 Sept-Friday 10 Sept, 6.30pm
GAMES LAKE (PC, Xbox) CLOUD GARDENS (PC, Xbox)
Way back in 2010, BBC Two tried to apply a competitive streak to the genteel world of antiques with the self-explanatory Antiques Master. Don’t worry if you don’t remember it – the show gathered dust faster than the trinkets the contestants had to evaluate. If you thought that would mark the end to ill-advised attempts to turn amiable pastimes into televised contests, brace yourself for… competitive hiking. Take a Hike isn’t competitive in the sense that participants are judged on how good they actually are at hiking though. No, that would be too obvious. This is a show in which five contestants must come up with a hike for everyone to share, with each day’s episode following a different communal ramble. At the end of each trek, the lead hiker is marked on their choice of route, the views along the way, the activities they offered and the quality of their packed lunches. And, yes, if this sounds familiar it really is literally just Come Dine With Me, except in hiking boots. For this inaugural week’s episodes the setting is Devon and the contestants are young glam farmer Rosie, local councillor Chaz, teaching assistant Julian, 65-year-old B&B owner Colin and motormouth taxi driver Helen. Comedian Rhod Gilbert is on hand as narrator to add Dave Lamb-style snarky commentary, in yet another format point lifted from Channel 4’s dinner party hit. Does it work? Not really. A huge part of the problem is that dinner parties are already pretty competitive, full of middle-class sniping and the pressure to impress. Hiking just isn’t like that. This gulf between the activity being undertaken and the borrowed template it’s been crudely jammed into is never successfully bridged. The stakes are laughably low. The prize at the end of each week is a £500 voucher for hiking gear and a golden walking stick. The hikes themselves are so chopped up in the edit, and so truncated to cram in the ludicrously forced format points, that it all becomes abstract. There’s no reason you couldn’t make a daily show about hiking. Five friends taking each other on walks they love, with the camera able to actually admire the scenery for more than two minutes, would be delightfully relaxing viewing. Five strangers battling over picnic wraps and welly-throwing challenges? Not so much. This show’s title proves unfortunately prophetic.
There’s a lovely real-time quality to Lake, a charming interactive drama from Dutch developer Gamious. The game launches on 1 September, and that’s also the starting date of the game, in which middle-aged software engineer Meredith Weiss starts a two-week break from her demanding boss to take over her dad’s mail route in rural Providence Oaks, the town where she grew up. A key difference is that the game takes place in 1986, which means no mobile phones and no internet. Instead, you fill your 14 days by driving around the town, delivering letters and packages, and getting to know the townsfolk. Sometimes this means awkwardly rekindling old friendships – Meredith hasn’t been home in over 20 years. Sometimes it means meeting new people, and just maybe taking a gamble on a new romance. That’s if you want to. This is a chilled-out game about chilling out. You can opt to simply take in the sights of the gorgeously realised town, built around the shores of a lake that constantly shimmers in the late summer sunshine. You’re all but forced to take things at a steady pace – there’s a button to walk faster, but it’s far from a sprint. Ditto for the driving, which tops your speed at a level suitable for taking in the scenery and gently nudges you away from any collisions caused by the somewhat heavy steering. There’s a zen-like peace to be found simply performing your postal duties, but you quickly come to look forward to each encounter with the well-written characters and anticipate the breaks from routine offered by the favours they ask of you. When the two weeks are up, you get to decide if Meredith returns to her city life refreshed or sticks with the more laidback pace of small-town life. Place your bets. Also chilled out, albeit in a slightly more melancholy way, is Cloud Gardens. This is a horticultural puzzle game in which you must help nature reclaim abandoned relics of human civilisation. You place different plant types on small, detailed dioramas of cracked concrete and rusting metal, and then place junk and detritus to coax the plants to keep growing over them. It’s a little too fussy, and sometimes too obtuse for its own good, but it has a haunting post-apocalyptic calm that makes it unlike anything else out there right now.
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MUSIC LITTLE SIMZ
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert (Age 101)
London rapper and actor Little Simz, real name Simbiatu Abisola Abiola Ajikawo, won Ivor Novello and NME awards for her third album Grey Area and was nominated for the 2019 Mercury Prize, narrowly losing out to Dave. The record brought her much-deserved mainstream recognition, but also led to some intense soul searching about what drives her as an artist. “Why the desperate need to be remembered?” she asks herself on Standing Ovation, the centre point of her stunning fourth LP, a densely layered career-best work that, among other themes, explores the conflict between the 27 year old’s extrovert side and the insecure vulnerable parts. “My ego won’t fully allow me to say that I miss you,” the rapper tells her absent father
on a viscerally raw I Love You, I Hate You, set to sweeping strings and funky hip-hop beat. A deceptively joyful Little Q PT2, about gang violence, and dreamy love song I See You also pack a powerful emotional punch. Accompanying her razor-sharp words is a cinematic blend of gospel harmonies, retro soul rhythms, electro grime grooves, afrobeats and bombastic John Barry-esque orchestration that give Sometimes I Might Be Introvert a commanding gravitas. The record’s only weakness is a flowery spoken word narration by The Crown actress Emma Corrin that distracts from Little Simz’s potent storytelling.
W H LUNG
(GOOD Music/Def Jam)
W H Lung’s 2019 debut, Incidental Music, was a heady rush of post punk, krautrock and New Order-inspired indie dance that topped several end of year lists. The Todmorden band’s excellent follow-up is built out of the same core elements, but is punchier, sharper and with a tighter focus on the dancefloor. Pearl in the Palm, a pulsing blend of Giorgio Moroder grooves and frantic yelps, is a shining example of the melodic delights on offer. A tropical Calm Down and the surging synthpop of Figure With Flowers also standout on a finely tuned record that reconfigures past influences into something fresh and exciting.
One of the year’s most hyped releases, it was perhaps inevitable that Donda, named after Kanye West’s late mother, would disappoint. The album’s biggest weakness is its 27-track, 108-minute running time, at least half of which could be cut at no great loss. The presence of Marilyn Manson, who is facing multiple allegations of sexual assault, singing “Guess who’s going to jail tonight?” also feels inexcusable. Several strong tunes do cut through the bloated self-indulgence, most notably a soulful Believe What I Say, which samples Lauryn Hill, and stirring Jesus Lord, featuring Jay Electronica, but too many frustrate and bore.
If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power (Capitol)
Written while pregnant with her first child and produced by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Halsey’s fourth album represents a move into darker adult territory. “I don’t need no help to be destructive,” sings the 26 year old, who uses she/they pronouns, over a crunchy hip-hop beat on a self-mythologising Lilith. Other songs embrace jagged industrial noise, clattering electronic rhythms and fuzzy alt. rock for introspective tales of pregnancy, birth, and death, while Darling is set to a floating folk arrangement. A succession of radio-friendly choruses softens the record’s abrasive edges.
A Brixton Tale (from 17 Sept, Home, Manchester) is a drama set on the streets of South London where the lives of two young people, Leah and Benji, become intertwined despite coming from very different worlds. White middle-class Leah (Lily Newmark) is an aspiring filmmaker doing an internship at a gallery. Determined to capture a slice of real life in Brixton she covertly starts to film Benji (Ola Orebiyi), who is black and, it turns out, from a rundown estate. The two become friends and, for some reason not really explained, Benji then allows Leah to capture his life on camera for a film project that she’s working on. But then things take a dark and dangerous turn. Newcomer Orebiyi is particularly excellent as Benji and, filmed in and around the Somerleyton estate in London and using some local people as supporting cast, there are moments of engaging naturalism here akin to a Shane Meadows movie. There’s plenty to explore in the initial premise of the film: how the filmmaker influences her subject in the desire to capture a story, for example. There’s also an interesting scene where Benji is introduced to a roomful of Leah’s posh mates all casually using drugs, blissfully ignorant of the gang culture that props up the supply chain, a world that he is desperately trying to avoid. Alas, these threads are only picked at before a dramatic turnabout takes this film of two halves into more traditional gritty-drama territory when Leah herself has a camera lens turned upon her. Then the film loses focus and any attempt at naturalism falls away in a story that ultimately tries to explore too much too quickly. I’ve Been Trying To Tell You (18 Sept, Storyhouse, Chester and other dates and venues) is the companion film to Saint Etienne’s new album of the same name. Directed by photographer Alasdair McLellan, this is an evocative look back at the years 1997-2001, a period that started with Labour’s election victory and ended with the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. Was the optimism of the time between those two events a lost golden age, the film asks, or was it a period of naïvety, delusion and folly? The Kendal Mountain Tour (16 Sept, Brewery Arts, Kendal) offers an evening of short films from across the globe. Among them is Lock Up Rock Down, in which a front-line paramedic shares the challenges he faced during the pandemic and how he used climbing as an escape. CHRISTIAN LISSEMAN
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with code ISSUE10 at allplants.com
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CENTRE STAGE A large screen behind the performance uses a composite of live camera feeds and pre-made material to look like a graphic novel. Photo: Ed Waring
Out for the count A classic horror story is used as the framework for a dizzying multimedia live action graphic novel. Dan Whitehead speaks to the creative team breathing fresh life into Dracula He’s one of the most ubiquitous characters in pop culture, but multimedia theatre company Imitating the Dog have come up with an ingenious way to make Count Dracula scary and relevant again in 2021. Opening at the Leeds Playhouse on 25 September, Dracula: The Untold Story uses cutting edge technology to tell an all-new tale about the legendary bloodsucker in the form of a live-action graphic novel. Having already adapted Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead into ambitious video-assisted live performance pieces, the company knew it wanted to keep exploring the darker side of human (and inhuman) nature. “We came at it like a lot of our work, through cinema really,” says Andrew Quick, the show’s co-writer and co-director. Having considered a stage version of F W Murnau’s silent movie classic Nosferatu, they eventually came back to the source: Dracula. “It relates to two interests that definitely frame our work, the Gothic and the horror genre.” Bram Stoker’s timeless yarn is well-suited to Imitating the Dog’s media mashup approach
to stagecraft, given that the novel itself is a patchwork of letters, diary entries and other scraps of information rather than linear prose. “It was quite experimental for the time, and that appeals to us for sure,” admits Simon Wainwright, who creates the show’s projections and video designs. “There’s a large screen behind the performance where we composite live camera feeds and pre-made material into what looks like a graphic novel. That sort of fragmentation very much suits the way we work. The scattered approach forces an audience to do a lot more work than maybe they’re used to.” Dracula: The Untold Story takes place in a world where the monstrous count was a real historical figure, not a literary character, and opens in the 1960s as a young woman, claiming to be the 80-year-old Mina Harker, enters Marylebone police station and confesses to murder. The shift in era is no mere stylistic affectation. “At the turn of the 19th century, there was a lot of change and the novel reflects a certain anxiety and excitement about that, but also nostalgia for real certainty about what was
good and bad. I feel that the 1960s was another moment where things were changing in a really fast-paced way,” says Quick. “And it’s the same again now,” adds Wainwright. It’s also notable that the popular regal image of Dracula originated from Bela Lugosi’s starmaking turn on stage in the 1920s. Untold Story prefers Stoker’s original concept. “He’s more of a shape changer”, says Quick. “In the novel he’s a wolf or a bat and or mist or slime or ooze, much more non-human, a kind of entity. He moves around the world and infests certain characters from history with what might be classed as evil. “It’s a story people know and are really interested in. Even if they never read the novel, they have an idea of what the story is through films, or just the different interpretations of the vampire story. We felt we had a very rich landscape to react to. We wanted to do a Dracula that felt that it was relevant to today.” Dracula: The Untold Story is on at Leeds Playhouse from 25 Sept-9 Oct then tours until 13 Nov 6 - 12 SEPTEMBER BIG ISSUE NORTH
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READING ROOM Author Q&A: Luke Cassidy IRON ANNIE (Bloomsbury)
In the Irish border town of Dundalk, Aoife works in the underworld, dealing in bootleg tobacco and alcohol and petty crime. When she meets Annie, a beautiful whirlwind of a woman, she becomes infatuated and decided to take her along for her biggest job yet – shifting 10 kilos of cocaine to England. As Annie tries to broaden Aoife’s horizons, Aoife faces a choice between the woman and the town she loves, and her decision kicks off a series of events that will change everything. A debut novel, written in Dundalk dialect, Iron Annie is fresh, fierce and full of life. Aoife lives in your hometown of Dundalk, having moved ten miles south from Mullaghbawn just over the Northern Irish border. Tell us about the significance of place in the novel, why Dundalk is unique, and what it’s like to grow up in a border town. Place is central in Iron Annie. It’s like a character in itself. The Town, Dundalk, but the wider region too, the border region. You’ll have heard a lot about the Irish border in recent years, and I bet a lot of British readers would wonder why on earth that affects them so much. But believe me, it affects us a lot more. And by us I mean communities of all persuasions from both sides of the border. On one hand, the community variously referred to as Republican, Nationalist or Catholic are represented by a bunch of talking heads who lobby for its abolition and the unification of Ireland. Drive to a Unionist/Loyalist Protestant majority town and you’ll see flags celebrating the centenary of partition. Drums are beaten, rhetoric is spouted – and that’s when things are going well. In between the noise of it all, people try and get on with life. There’s a certain pragmatic type of character around here we call a ‘wheelerdealer’, who are adept at turning their hands to whatever works at any given moment. Whether or not what they are doing is strictly legal is neither here nor there. I think it’s quite natural, when you’re presented with an obstacle like an artificial border, when communities are cut off from one another, to seek ways around it. I’d say that’s fairly common the world over. I was born in Newry, Northern Ireland, and all my family have roots in the North, so I think it’s something I’d be quite naturally preoccupied by. The Rat King is a Traveller with a degree, Aoife is a woman holding her own in a crime ring. Were you trying to subvert stereotypes here and do you think women’s rights and Travellers’ rights have changed significantly in Ireland? I’m not seeking to make a political pamphlet out of a novel. My guess is that these things have changed in recent years, a lot and for the better, but that there’s still a lot of work to do, particularly on the more subtle manifestations of misogyny, racism and prejudice. Still, I can’t say I was trying to do anything in particular in writing about Aoife and the Rat King. They’re just the characters that came to me. But the women I know hold their own wherever they go, and I’ve met Travellers with degrees – maybe that says something about it. Was it a challenge to write entirely in Dundalk dialect? Not really haigh. I’m from Dundalk. Aoife finds herself trying to offload cocaine from a small-town underworld more used to dealing in bootleg alcohol and tobacco. Have drugs and organised crime spilled over from the cities to the smaller towns in Ireland or was there never much of a distinction? In my lifetime at least, drug use and its distribution has been prevalent in smaller towns like Dundalk. And I don’t think that’s unique to Ireland. I don’t want to write a thesis on the causes of that, but it might be linked to many things, from boredom to a lack of prospects. But like 26
a lot of things, it’s a fact that does exist and not talking about it won’t do anything helpful. Aoife says that in Dublin she feels like a foreigner but in Liverpool she doesn’t. Why is this? I think that this can be understood fairly simply as the way in which people from Liverpool or Newcastle might feel out of place in London. My feeling has always been that there are a lot of places in England that share commonalities with places like Dundalk, particularly in the North (of England). I’m talking about places which also tend to be looked upon as peripheries by the self-appointed centres. There’s something terribly violent in that, whether we’re talking about Dublin, London or Paris – the idea that if it’s not happening here, then it’s not really happening. But people in Dundalk, and in Liverpool, know that life is happening to them too, and that it’s just as meaningful as if it were happening anywhere else. Aoife says it’s the “idea” of the English she hates, not the people. What’s in the distinction here, and how do you think Brexit will affect relations between the two countries? Let’s just say that in a place like the Irish border region, where decisions made elsewhere have real and really negative consequences for day to day life, there’s bound to be kickback. That’s true whether you’re talking about the massive sense of uncertainty and fear brought around by a foreign referendum (Brexit), or the very act of partition that took place a century ago. And if that elsewhere is England, well yeah, that’s where that kickback will be directed. But I do think that the vast majority of people in Ireland know that the English people are fundamentally very decent people, who have been misled and
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OFF THE SHELF INVISIBLE PEOPLE OWEN DWYER
LISTEN TO THIS
The world is full of invisible people. People we walk by in the street and don’t see, or at best, glance at, label and move on. A dog will strain at the leash when another is being walked on the same footpath, to do all the disgusting things dogs do to identify one another but will otherwise plod along indifferently with their owner. Yesterday, in Dublin city centre, a middle-aged man, his face as squashed behind a facemask as his belly was in his Dublin jersey, stared at me as I passed him waiting outside Arnotts with a buggy. I wondered what he was looking at until I realised Henry Street was full of young people, many of them “foreign” looking. I was just someone of his own generation and colour. He saw me, as the dogs see each other. There are all kinds of reasons why we might be invisible. The character Grenouille, in Patrick Suskind’s novel Perfume (Penguin), is so ugly that people look through him – allowing him to get away with murdering young women for their scent. The assassin of President James Garfield, Charles Guiteau, shabby, mentally ill and looking like a “down and out”, was able to creep up unseen behind the president and shoot him in the back. You get a sense from Kenneth Ackerman’s Dark Horse (Carroll & Graf) and Candice Millard’s Destiny of the Republic (Anchor), two of the best books written about the assassination, of how “respectable” society shunned all kinds of people in the 19th century America. Being non-white, or what was called “coloured”, is the obvious one, being a woman or poor less so. Mental illness was hardly acknowledged and homosexuality not at all. Yet these people were there, living, breathing and being ignored. Richard Todd, the main protagonist of The Garfield Conspiracy, is caught between being visible and invisible. Between wanting to be seen and wanting to be left alone. It’s difficult for him to resist the advances of an attractive young assistant but in the end, it drives him out of his mind. He starts seeing the characters he is researching for his latest book and getting advice from them regarding his dilemma. Like Waugh’s Gilbert Pinfold, he experiences a new reality slowly creeping over the old one. Now you see it, now you don’t. Outside the ILAC Centre a man sitting on a coat is making remarks in a Donald Duck voice, hoping someone will throw money into a hat. Further on a woman has pitched a tent on the busiest shopping street in the city and is asking no one in particular to spare some change, over and over. I wonder what realities they lived in and if the rest of us on the street are as invisible to them as they to us. The Garfield Conspiracy by Owen Dwyer is published by Liberties Press on 7 September manipulated by their own elites. You still have a monarchy for god’s sake! As for how Brexit will affect relations, it certainly won’t help them. Which is mad, since one thing that struck me through the entire process was that we, the Irish, are your best friends in Europe. I think that’s true whether we’re talking politically, culturally, or on an individual level. And the first duty of a friend is to tell you when you’re shooting yourself in the foot. You have two more novels written, what can you tell us about them? Well, I wrote one when I was 23, which I had the good sense to lock away forever. But it was good practice! Another I wrote just before Iron Annie, a very different piece of work. Which I think has potential, but needs a serious re-write. For now, though, I’m still working on the follow up to Iron Annie, and a number of side projects related to it. Watch this space!
The Rain by B B Thomas (Audible) follows Rob and Emma as they leave London to return to their hometown and make a life with their new baby. When Rob arrives home late from work one night to find the child crying alone in her cot, he realises his wife is nowhere to be found. As he sets out to solve Emma’s disappearance rumours about her begin to surface in the village and Rob questions how well he really knew his wife at all.
OFF THE SHELF OBSESSION ANNA KENT When I started writing The House of Whispers, I was thinking about guilt and how it manifests if it’s left to rampage unchecked through a person’s psyche. But, as my characters developed, I realised that the protagonist, the troubled and reclusive artist Abi, was actually obsessed with her old university friend Grace. Obsession with one person by another will always lead to a power imbalance. Grace is aware of Abi’s obsession and throws it in Abi’s face throughout the story. Does Abi see how badly she’s being treated? Maybe, maybe not – Abi’s not the most reliable narrator – but you get a sense that perhaps Abi allows Grace to behave so appallingly as repayment of some sort of debt owed since university. Secrets and guilt make terrific bedfellows for obsession. Obsession has been written about beautifully in the classics. I read the skin-crawlingly good Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (Penguin Classics) as a teenager, and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (Virago) is my all-time favourite read. Being obsessed with someone who’s dead is always going to be more powerful than being obsessed with someone who’s alive. When they’re only inside your head, they can do no wrong. Who can read Rebecca and not feel the powerlessness of the protagonist trying to match up to her husband’s dead ex-wife? More recently, I loved The Woman in the Window by A J Finn (HarperCollins). When alcoholic, agoraphobic Anna Fox sees something horrifying happen in the window of the house across the road, the frustration she feels at not being reliable enough to be believed – or even to have the courage of her own convictions – is excruciating, and she becomes obsessed with uncovering the truth. In My Dark Vanessa (Fourth Estate), Kate Elizabeth Russell examines how both an age gap and a power imbalance can warp a sexual relationship, forcing protagonist Vanessa Wye to question whether her first love affair, in which her schoolteacher was obsessed with her, was actually as consensual as she thought at the time. And finally, a different kind of obsession in Tayari Jones’s Silver Sparrow (Oneworld), as teenager Dana, whose existence her bigamist father keeps a secret, obsesses over her beautiful and legitimate half-sister Chaurisse. The House of Whispers by Anna Kent is published by HQ and out now
The Peculiar Tale of the Tentacle Boy (Chicken House) follows Marina, a story-obsessed young girl who lives in a seaside town. While exploring a haunted pier she finds her best story yet – a boy with a head of tentacles and crab claws. As Marina helps the boy unravel his story, the pair of unlikely friends realise danger is encroaching. Richard Pickard’s novel for ages 9+ is an engrossing fantasy tale that feels both fresh and timeless.
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LETTER TO MY YOUNGER SELF SAMUEL WEST British TV actor, in All Creatures Great and Small, aged 55 I was still a shy virgin when I was 16. I was very into some things I’m still into, like watching Wimbledon Football Club, and Iistening to Sparks, and I played piano and cello in the school orchestra. I was pretty leftwing in 1982. And that hasn’t changed. I was worried about nuclear war and that worry has got a bit smaller. But other stuff that I was thinking about then – the environment, deregulation of the financial markets, equality – those problems have just got bigger. So I suppose one encouraging thing I can say to my younger self is that, yes, those things you care about, they do matter. If you met the teenage me, as well as very shy, you would probably find him quite serious, and self-conscious. He hadn’t learned, partly through acting, through the privilege of being able to play people funnier or better looking or sexier than himself, that we can all hide behind masks. And some of us do it professionally. Both my parents are actors [Timothy West and Prunella Scales], and in him you would find a 16 year old who referred almost everything back to his parents. Because he was still considering going into the family business, and worried about whether he could ever be half as good or successful as they were. I wasn’t a rebellious 16 year old, I was a rebellious 33 year old. Probably my biggest note to my younger self is, get the rebellion out of the way earlier. Do it when you’re young, when you can do it with some style, because you’ve got to do it some time. And if you wait till you’re in your 30s to do the sex and the drugs and the rock and roll, that can really fuck you up. I waited until I had some success and some money. Acting is a nice job when people want to talk to you – only because of seeing you on telly, let’s not pretend. You should try to handle that responsibly. But I’d also say, do try everything once, except incest and folk dancing. I would love to give my younger self a thrill and tell him that one day he’ll be in a studio recording a Doctor Who audio drama with Peter Davison, Matthew Waterhouse, Sarah Sutton and Janet Fielding. They played the fifth Doctor and his three assistants when I was 16. I texted my brother to tell him what I was doing and who with and he immediately texted back saying: “Have you died and gone to heaven?” The biggest change in my life since I was 16 is having children. I spent a long time wanting children and not having the guts to settle down. So I was 48 when I became a father. Your life changes because you’re no longer the most important person in it, and I’ve loved that. But I’ve also realised you’re only ever as happy as your least happy child. And that’s really hard. Especially now, because they’re going through some shit now. I couldn’t quite say [raise children] earlier, because I waited until I met a wonderful person, who I love doing it with. And I had a long, long period of seeing a therapist before having children, which was very helpful. But I would say don’t put it off too long, because, you know, bits of you stop working. Bits of you break. I didn’t see quite enough of my parents when I was young. They were busy and we always had nannies. I would get very close to these young women and then they would leave. I’d tell my younger self, try not to get into a pattern of thinking that if you fall in love with somebody they’re not going to be there in the morning. I’m not saying I fell in love with the nannies, but that was the pattern which was set up when I was learning to relate to young women. I would be close to these people and then they would go. And that was hard. As parents we’ve tried very carefully not to repeat that pattern. One of our children has had one nanny all her life and one the same since she was one year old. 28
We’re very lucky to be able to have childcare, and it’s essential for my partner’s work when I’m away, but we’ve also tried to be around as much as possible so that pattern of very attentive but slightly uneven home life didn’t repeat itself. I did sometimes feel the absence of my parents in my life. They were very busy, and I never blame them for that – they had to go where the work was. Personally I’ve tried to do much less that takes me away from my children, but that’s probably just a reaction. But yes, I think that lack, that absence, is something I learned more about and had to had to find peace with before I was able to settle down. If I could have one last good conversation with anyone… my mother springs to mind because she has dementia. She and I have had a very intense and fruitful relationship through our lives, but it hasn’t all been plain sailing. And certainly there were things that we needed to talk about. You always kind of imagine that there’s eventually going to be this very moving final reel with a limpid piano soundtrack in which you both say everything that needs to be said, ask everything you’ve ever wondered about. And then, when your parent gets dementia, you realise that that’s not going to happen. The things I want to ask about, I’m never going to get answers to now. But that’s OK, I’ve made my peace with that. In fact, leaving the desire to answer those questions behind has been an important thing for me to do. If I could go back and ask my mother anything it would be about the first two years of my life, because I think a lot of the things that made me who I am were in place very early. My father wrote his autobiography a few years ago and he talks about taking me to the Edinburgh Tattoo when I was five years old. Some pipe and drum number ended and he wrote: “Sam clapped his little hands solemnly. I turned to him and said, ‘Did you like that?’, and he said, ‘No, but it must have been so difficult.’” I read that
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I wasn’t a rebellious 16 year old, I was a rebellious 33 year old. Probably my biggest note to self is, get the rebellion out of the way earlier
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and thought, that’s absolutely me now. It’s sort of sweet that a five year old was thinking, I didn’t like that, but they worked really hard at it so I’m going to clap. But actually, it’s a serious, slightly precocious response when I could have just said: “That was great.” I was already thinking a bit too much about the performance. And that made me think I was pretty much who I am by the time I was five. I do actually have one specific piece of advice for myself when I was at university. I’d say, when you’re 20 years old, you will go to a house party in Jericho in Oxford and see a blonde-haired man propped up against the wall like a bracket. His name is Boris Johnson. Try to persuade him not to become prime minister – you’ll be doing us all a favour. When I was about eight we spent a summer in digs in a mill near Chichester when my father was working there. It was a gorgeous summer. My father was there, my mum was there, my brother was there. My brother and I found a big old glass tank and filled it with water and gravel. We got a little net and caught tadpoles and sticklebacks from the stream and put them in the tank. And then somebody in the theatre company made a sign for us. I remember being enormously proud of that. We also had a little inflatable dinghy we took out into the middle of the pond – my parents were apparently not worried that we might drown. And we didn’t. The next day, two things happened. The dinghy developed a hole. And I decided to empty the tank to clean it and I dropped it and it smashed. So I would just go back to the day before that happened and just enjoy the fact that we made something really beautiful. And I’d say to myself, don’t clean out the aquarium. Just leave it as it is. Reproduced from The Big Issue UK (@bigissue) INTERVIEW: JANE GRAHAM
All Creatures Great and Small is on Channel 5 this month
6 - 12 SEPTEMBER BIG ISSUE NORTH
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SUPPLIED BY PANTHES
CRYPTIC CLUES: ACROSS Complete the Sudoku puzzle so that each and every row, column and region contains the numbers one to nine once. The solution to the last Sudoku is shown on the right.
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1. Getting better listing, apparently (7) 5. Kick to the East (3) 7. Nothing in short tribunal (5) 8. Young pigeon loses bling from bickering (5) 9. Devon flower runs both east and west (3) 10. Go for job again, work hard after harvest (7) 11. Wednesday is clue for EE? (7) 13. Sailor thanks king (3) 14. With time iron gets corroded with confidence? (5) 15. I tear around, getting angry (5) 16. Fanciable, he's on telly at first (3) 17. Did tech stuff as plane abandoned (7)
CRYPTIC CLUES: DOWN
1. That Latin scale met first at church where bully off starts (6,5) 2. Deep blue Yorkshire river behind extreme letters (5) 3. In Ted found reject tossed and butted in (11) 4. Tugs milk vat over painter of the Kiss (6,5) 5. Ex president went to bottom losing nothing (5) 6. Old flame boxed fire with New York arrangement (2-9) 12. Oddly drop us both in question (5) 13. Impart knowledge held in rate a child knows (5)
QUICK CLUES: ACROSS
1. Therapeutic (7) 5. Part of foot (3) 7. Cultivate(5) 8. Unfledged pigeon (5) 9. River in southwest England (3) 10. Put on another coat (7) 11. Tuesday to Thursday (7) 13. Sticky black substance (3) 14. Believe in (5) 15. Annoyed (5) 16. Very warm (3) 17. Gave the push to (7)
QUICK CLUES: DOWN
1. Girls school fixture? (6,5) 2. Blue like the Mediterranean sky (5) 3. Interrupted (11) 4. Austrian artist who died in 1918 (6,5) 5. Winning card (5) 6. Lover who's been 17ac (2-9) 12. Feeling of uncertainty (5) 13. Instruct (5)
LAST WEEK’S SOLUTIONS
ACROSS: 1. Forgot, 5. Sake 7. Pleasurable, 8. Case, 10. Honest 12. Flight, 15. Fuji, 16. Exquisitely 18. Some, 19. Echoed DOWN: 2. Owl, 3. Grave, 4. Tough 5. Spawn, 6. Electrify, 7. Pacifiers 9. Ski, 11. Emu, 13. Gauze, 14. Taste 15. Fetch, 17. Lee
BIG ISSUE NORTH 6 - 12 SEPTEMBER
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