“This isn’t about the politics. We’re either side of the same sea.” Making The Walk: Across The Water (Calais and Dover) for BBC Radio 4

I live on the coast. I can hear French radio on the car stereo. Ferries leave for France every day. The fishermen here are related, way back in time, to families from Normandy and Spain. We’re nearer to France here than we are to Westminster … yet my town voted for Brexit, by a large majority. The same goes for other towns all along the edge of England, for people living by the side of the Channel. I was fascinated by that and wanted to explore what was going on, in real life, way beyond the headlines and the B-word balls up. I do believe, in general, in the words of the late MP Jo Cox:

“We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.”

I wondered if that was true here and now, in this fraught and divisive moment. And I was lucky, even blessed, that the perceptive Mohit Bakaya at Radio 4 was prepared to commission radio on this theme.

You can listen to The Walk: Across The Water (part one is Calais, part two is Dover) on BBC Radio 4 here. 

So I got together with my partner in radio, the producer Jonathan Mayo, and we devised a two-part documentary that would take us walking through Calais first then Dover, talking and listening to people who live, love, work and play beside and on the stretch of sea that the French call La Manche and that can seem like a bridge on a beautiful clear day, but is almost as often a barrier.

The model was the programme we had done for Radio 4 called The Walk: For Richer, For Poorer, walking through Kensington meeting the very rich and those who were struggling.

The Walk: Across The Water was floated, if you will forgive me, in the Autumn, just as the first reports began to come through of migrants trying to cross the Channel in small boats, having been told by people traffickers that they should try to get here before Brexit closed the doors for good. Men, women and children nearly died in the attempt, but they were rescued by the admirable servants of the Coastguard, the RNLI, the Border Force, the ferries or the fishing fleet. Even as we were researching the programmes, the Home Secretary Sajid David sent more boats to the Channel and declared the migration a national emergency.

I went across to Calais in early January for a research trip with my son Joshua, who has good French. We went to the top of the Calais lighthouse on a terrifyingly windy day, saw the White Cliffs of Dover and met Sebastien, the guide, who turned out to be a fan of Doctor Who and as a cosplay enthusiast who dressed up as David Tennant’s Doctor. On the way back I got terrible toothache as the result of an infection under a tooth on the lower left side of my mouth, which screamed to be taken out. I didn’t dare do that though, for fear that having it removed would make me sound like Daffy Duck right in the middle of making two radio programmes that were increasingly coming to mean a lot to me, personally. I waited until after they were made before having the tooth out, which meant suffering the pain for a couple of months. It’s gone now, which is a relief.

Anyway, I returned to Calais with Jonathan later in January and we met up with Sophie Tritz, a French journalist who turned out to be a brilliant fixer and great company. You can listen to the results here, but let me just say that the love story between Beatrice and her partner is extraordinary. So are the jaw-dropping, hardline things the Deputy Mayor of Calais says about migrants. Dover proved equally full of surprises. If you’d like to read more about either programme, I wrote a piece about Calais for the i newspaper and another about Dover here. The Walk: Across The Water was made by TBI Media on behalf of the BBC, with excellent sound work by Andy Partington. Thanks for your interest. I’ll post some photos of the trip below.




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Is Sugar The New Smoking?

My name is Cole and I am a diabetic. Well, you may say, so what? Four million of us are, even if half a million of those don’t know it yet. You may have guessed my state before I did, if you had seen my weight and the unhealthy diet of a reporter on the road, grabbing meals between deadlines; not to mention the habits of a comfort eater. But I have only known the truth about myself for the past week, and in that time I have suddenly been made aware of the tsunami of sugar, the great sweeping wave of sweetness that threatens to overwhelm us all.

Not only the diabetics, but the two-thirds of Britons who are overweight and the quarter who are obese.

There is nothing worse than the zeal of a convert, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, so I’m sorry about this, but I feel as if my eyes have been opened to something horrifying. Sugar, sugar everywhere, nor any drop to eat. Continue reading “Is Sugar The New Smoking?”

A Just War Is A Hero’s Right

Words from 2006, offered in memory of Kingsman Jamie Hancock, killed in Basra at the age of 18. Reposted in the light of Chilcot’s damning verdict on why the war was fought.

bd42937d139c419723fc3a5c526d987aKingsman Jamie Hancock was killed within moments of starting his first ever sentry duty at the Old State Building in Basra. He was 19 years old. He had been in Iraq for two weeks. His father, Eddie, 60,  said: “It makes no difference to Jamie whether he was killed accidentally by one of his own side or by insurgents. He still died a hero and a man, serving his Queen and his country. I get some comfort from the thought that he would have died instantly, without suffering.”

Mr Hancock previously accused Tony Blair of treason and called the Prime Minister “the mother of all liars” for sending troops to Iraq under false pretences.

In the last letter Jamie wrote home, on the night before he was shot, he says: “I had my first rocket attack about two hours ago. I was on the roof just looking at the view and I heard a whizzing noise and then a big bang. One of the rockets didn’t explode it went straight through the toilets. Unlucky.”

Next to that word he drew a smiley face. Hours later he was dead. The letter was passing through the Army mail system as uniformed officers called at the family home that evening, and over the days that followed, as those who loved him grieved.

Continue reading “A Just War Is A Hero’s Right”

Trident: What the future holds for the UK’s nuclear submarines 

imagesSomewhere in the deep, dark ocean, a British submarine is always on patrol. Silent, secret, able to stay underwater for months at a time, it carries Trident nuclear missiles that can fly thousand miles to their targets and kill millions of people at once. The captain has the key to a safe to be opened in the event of war, if all communication with Britain has been lost. Inside is a letter from the Prime Minister of the day, giving orders as to when the missiles should be fired.

Source: Trident: What the future holds for the UK’s nuclear submarines | Home News | News | The Independent

Thank you Ma’am: a republican writes on why we should all be grateful to Her Majesty

I don’t want a Queen. Hereditary monarchy is unfair, unjust and should have no place in a society that values every citizen equally. She owns all the dolphins in British inshore waters for one thing, and that can’t be right. Want one! But since we have to have a Queen, for now, we should be grateful for the dignity, grace and devotion to duty this one has shown. She is the best example of a wartime generation now almost passed, and has done us all a great favour by sticking around so long. My piece for the Independent on Sunday on the moment this coming Wednesday that Her Maj becomes the longest reigning British monarch of all time.

The very fine illustration is by Andre Carrilho, from the spread in the Independent on Sunday. See, buy and commission his work here.