Only Connect: Syrian Dreams in the Cuckmere Valley

36125D8F-BC60-4C28-AB22-FD8670B37084.jpegLast night at the Lapwing Festival I watched and listened to the Syrian musician Maya Youssef play a piece of music called Syrian Dreams, which she wrote after watching the news with her young son asleep on her lap in London, seeing a child of the same age in a war zone familiar to her from home, who had died. It’s a piece that expresses both sadness and hope, and special in itself, but seeing it in that location was extraordinary. The sides of the tent were open, the breeze was on our faces, there were flaming torches to keep us warm and beyond that was the Cuckmere Valley with the chalk faces of the Seven Sisters looking out to sea. It’s one of the great views of the world, expressed in art of all kinds many times, and it has come to represent a certain kind of idyllic Englishness. There were certainly people in the audience who had grown up with or aspired to that ideal. But last night, migrating geese were passing and calling as Maya played, bringing their life and energy from elsewhere in the world. The cliffs were a reminder that although we like to think this time and place is all there ever was or will be, they’ve been both present and continually changing as the sea washes up against them for centuries. For millennia, actually. Heading that gorgeous, profound music that comes from both here and there, seeing that landscape that is both ancient and always changing, I thought about the ways we define ourselves and our borders against the Other, whatever we perceive it to be. And in that moment, in that time and place of connection and humanity and beauty and resonance, all our borders seemed to dissolve and there was no them, just us. One moment doesn’t seem enough. I wish we could live like that all the time, the world would be a better place if we could only connect.

Here’s the piece, have a listen. If you’d like to hear the podcast about the festival I made with Emily Jeffery it’s at or on iTunes as Edge of England, episode four.

Standing on the Edge of England

I’ve been making a podcast with my friend Emily Jeffery, an award-winning presenter and producer, about the landscape in which we live, down here on the southern Edge of England. There’s a dog called Mabel, a Spitfire that haunts us, a lighthouse and a lot of cliffs, some incredible stories and a beautiful bit of Bach by the beach. Episodes one to three are on iTunes, episode four will be up in the next 24 hours or you can listen to it and all of them right now on the website

Thanks, do share if you like it and let me know what you think.



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”


I have created a new site telling the story of the day Dr Mike Carney risked everything to return to the place of his birth, the remote Great Blasket Island, at the age of nearly 93. He was the last of his kind, the men and women who had grown up and worked on that windblown, isolated island of stories, where they spoke a form of Irish that had not been heard on the mainland for a century and still told each other the old tales by firelight every night for fun.

The day we took him back on a boat was extraordinary, and none of us were sure whether he would make it back alive. He was an inspirational man, who passed away at the weekend and is being laid to rest in Springfield, Massachusetts, tomorrow. Please find out more about the 93-year-old man who climbed out of a boat and onto an island by visiting

Why All Dog Owners Are Fascists

Got a dog? Then face it, you’re a fascist. No point in protesting. Even if your politics are outwardly liberal, inside you are a secret dictator. You like having another living creature to order around. You love being the big man, the alpha male, the top dog in your pack: even if the pack is just you and a toy poodle called Fluffy. As Aldous Huxley said, “To his dog, every man is Napoleon; hence the constant popularity of dogs.” And that quote comes to you courtesy of Nick Haslam, Professor of Psychology at the University of Melbourne, who has just published a paper suggesting that people who are competitive and want to dominate others are more likely to have dogs. A column for Telegraph Men.