Nicola Barry

Monthly Archives: August 2012

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Dangerous dogs – should they be banned?

Keeping dangerous dogs is barking

OK, the question is: why would anyone in their right mind want to own a dangerous dog?

Rick 2

The unusual suspect? Photo credit: tanakawho

No doubt, many of you will say it is the owner who makes a dangerous dog,  not the breed.

Really?

I don’t accept that for one moment.

Certain dogs – Rottweilers, some Staffies, even Dobermans – have a reputation for being both fierce and  unpredictable. Why take the chance? These days, anyone who buys a breed of dog with a reputation for aggression needs an appointment with a psychiatrist.

Vicious dogs are usually bought by people with severe image problems, people who lack charisma, the sort of guys you wouldn’t look at twice. They need something fierce to make an entrance for them. The macho status symbol sought by certain dog owners is the reason behind the vicious attacks which happen all too often.

However, aggressive dogs are no respecters of class. The Queen and Princess Anne are prime examples who hardly fit the stereotype of the lout with a dangerous dog.

Remember Christmas 2003 when the Queen came to the front door at Sandringham to greet her daughter, accompanied by her, supposedly, adorable little Corgis? Princess Anne’s Bull Terriers went berserk and decided to have their Christmas dinner early. Her dogs mistakenly, imagined the Corgi, Pharos, the Queen’s favourite, was about to attack their mistress.

That is what you call unpredictable behaviour.

Pharos howled as her hind leg was chewed to bits. There was blood everywhere and the poor dog had to be put down. Recently, at Balmoral, one of the Corgis attacked Princess Beatrice’s Norfolk Terrier. And so it goes on.

The breeding of potentially dangerous dogs should be stopped at once.

Of course, the owner can treat pets with kid gloves but that does not mean the animals will never ever turn, on a whim, and harm someone.

We all know that some breeds do, without warning or reason, suddenly change behaviour. But square-jawed, fierce dogs are considered the perfect companion of choice for people who have a macho, violent nature. You see them every day, swaggering down the street, a menace on a lead at their side, prowling and sniffing everyone with suspicion.

Every so often, while walking with my Westie, Coll, I meet a heavy-set, jowelly thug, covered in tattoos, out with his three Pit Bull terriers. Thanks to his habit of bawling at his dogs, I know he is around long before he actually appears. The dogs are always on a lead. Otherwise they could demolish Coll in minutes.

Why do people feel a need to own fierce, aggressive, noisy, dangerous dogs?

I am a dog worshipper, yet I am terrified of certain breeds. When they do attack, it is almost always children who are the victims. Invariably, these kids are scarred for life; mentally as well as physically. If they live, that is.

They grow up and grow old – terrified of dogs; afraid to walk the streets for fear the same thing might happen again.

And what is life without a loving dog to share it?

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INTERVIEW WITH GORDON WILLIAMS

The man behind ‘Straw Dogs’

Anyone who has ever tried to write a book knows it is a lengthy process: there’s the research, the various drafts, the frustration of writer’s block.

Cover of "Straw Dogs"

Say that to author Gordon Williams, however, and he just chuckles.

In 1969, the Paisley-born author wrote his seventh, most famous novel in just nine days. Albeit the title, Siege of Trencher’s Farm, may not   register with the public straight away but the book achieved notoriety when adapted then released, in 1971, as the film Straw Dogs.

Williams’ motivation to complete The Siege at Trencher’s Farm in nine days was a publishing deal which gave him £150 for a title and first page with a further £150 on delivery of the manuscript.

The man possesses a dry sense of humour. When I asked what his purpose was in writing a novel as darkly violent as Siege at Trencher’s Farm, he replied, “300 quid,” adding, “I suppose it was rather like the Vietnam War. There was no moral purpose for that war. It was insanity. It was barbarism and obscenity”.

Williams’ agent, George Greenfield, was canny and realised the novel, intended as a quick beach read, would stimulate Hollywood. It did. The original idea was for Roman Polanski to direct, but, as he was booked three years in advance, the task fell to Sam Peckinpah, the director responsible for the bloodbath known as The Wild Bunch.

We all know the plot: prissy American academic George Magruder, his beautiful English wife Louise and daughter, Karen, who didn’t make it into the film, abandon noisy Philadelphia in search of British tranquillity. They rent an isolated stone house in Devon and spend a freezing winter tolerating suspicion and hostility from locals; soon becoming the unwitting targets of an exceptionally primitive violence.

Williams, who now lives in London with his wife, Claerwen, recalled: “It all started when David Susskind took me for lunch at The Savoy and bought the film rights. He offered me an extra $65,000 to write the script but I said no because I didn’t have a clue. He said I could learn, but I still refused.” In the event, Williams dismisses Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs as “utter crap”.

“You soon learn never to trust anyone in the film industry,” he said. “For a start, the accountancy is extremely creative, to put it mildly.

“Just to screw me, Peckinpah changed my title. Bear in mind, the action took place in Devon yet the script was full of Texan farmhand stuff like, ‘chicken shit, man,’ and ‘go grab a piece of that ass, man’. “No one in Devon talks like that,” Williams laughs and warms to his theme: “Peckinpah was a rabid right winger, a chronic alcoholic; a very sick man. All he cared about was the rape scene with Susan George.

“The truth about that film has been hushed up because it would be too libellous to print. There’s a book I might write one day, the truth behind Straw Dogs”. More chuckling before Williams continues, “Although it was not a commercial success, Peckinpah actually did me a big favour. I have never met anyone who hasn’t heard of Straw Dogs. Everybody involved with the film died being owed money, apart from Dustin Hoffman, Susan George and me”.

Williams loathed the film’s most controversial scene, notably Susan George’s character apparently enjoying being raped, which was not, repeat not, in his book – a fact that evokes a stream of invective from its author, “I managed to get hold of a copy of Peckinpah’s film script”, he said, “a closely guarded secret at the time. It was excruciating, beginning with a page-long description of the female lead’s tightly-trousered rear.
“In that draft, the rape scene was quite repulsive; much more so than the one in Straw Dogs. I was told there were several illegal subliminal sexual messages as well. It was way beyond nasty”.

It took thirty years for the British Board of Film Classification, long horrified by the violence in Straw Dogs, to grant it video certification. Then, last year, a remake of the film starring James Marsden and Kate Bosworth attempting to fill the shoes of Dustin Hoffman and Susan George, proved a major box office flop.

The author does acknowledge that the original Hollywood movie was an exciting time: “I’ll never forget the day I was on a bus to Campbeltown and I read that Dustin Hoffman had been signed to appear in Siege of Trencher’s Farm. I remember looking around the bus and only just managing to stop myself from shouting: Dustin Hoffman is going to star in my movie – only it wasn’t my work anymore.

Williams said: “My wife and I went to the trade showing. We’d seen The Wild Bunch and loved it. But we couldn’t believe Straw Dogs. To say we were shocked would be a massive understatement. It was a travesty. There wasn’t even a premiere. Do you know why? The distributors were frightened people would suffer heart attacks.”

Born in 1934, Gordon Williams grew up in Ferguslie Park Avenue, Paisley, which, he says, once won an award for being the worst street in Britain. He said: “It consisted of grey council houses, three in a curl, facing a cattle market. My father, William, was a policeman. He left school at 11 and my mother, Kathleen worked in the family leather shop but was also a mill girl.  “I worked every school holiday as a farm labourer so missed out on the typical teenage years. The farm was under permanent siege with people stealing hens and eggs.”

“By the time I was 13, I could use a scythe and a sickle. We worked a huge field if it was sunny and dry. I remember a photographer from Scottish Field taking pictures of us. We posed and smiled, happy, like the laughing peasants we were, hiding our exhaustion.”

After a brief silence, Williams added: “I would say I wasn’t so much inspired by the past as imprisoned by it. My parents didn’t want me to be a farm labourer, so, one day, I saw an advert for a trainee reporter on the Johnstone Advertiser. Johnstone was the Wild West back then. Paisley, in comparison, was an oasis of civilisation. It had industry back in the 40s and 50s, shipbuilding yards and thanks to the mills, boasted seven women for every man. I arrived at the paper and another guy had turned up as well. I told him the job had been filled and he went away. There was a bloke sitting against the wall outside the newspaper office, not at all the ‘done thing’ in those days. He asked me what I wanted and when I said, “I’m looking for the editor,” he replied: ‘That’s me’.

“Anyway, he gave me the job but I was called up in 1952 to do National Service with the RAF in Germany. When I returned two years later to the Johnstone Advertiser, I was paid just over £2 a week. I wanted more so I wrote to 20 Scottish papers and not one replied. I also wrote to one English paper, the Poole and Dorset Herald. The editor phoned and offered £6 a week. Off I went. Poole was a fantastic place. We loved the area so much that we put a deposit on a house in Sandbanks but my daughters thought there were too many old people.”

Williams has written some 20 books as well as a number of successful biographies. In the early 60s, he was given a brief by a magazine to commission pieces from famous footballers but quickly realised he could just as easily ghost books on his subjects. So he wrote the autobiographies of Bobby Moore, Terry Venables, Denis Law and Ralph Brand. The latter, he says, would be highly topical now because it concerns life behind the scenes at Ibrox. He also ghosted Tommy Docherty’s story which he describes as “a stream of consciousness on a par with Ulysses”.

His novel, The Man Who Had Power over Women was a great success as a film. Paramount paid him $22,000 for the film rights. Williams then wrote From Scenes like These, an account of a teenage boy working on an Ayrshire farm in the early 1950s; a brilliant insight into Scottish masculinity, for which, in 1969, he was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, along with Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark. He says he got “bored” with writing novels and turned his hand to TV, writing the series, Hazell, known for the hero’s phrase: “I’m the biggest bastard who ever pushed your bell-button”. It was co-written with Terry Venables, who was still a player at Queen’s Park Rangers. In the late 60s, thanks to Paramount, the family moved into a four-bedroom house, in a village in Devon; an area close to Dartmoor Prison, well into the land of fogs and bogs.

There was a dark side to this corner of England, according to Williams, a certain insularity and suspicion of strangers. The move coincided with the escape of Frank Mitchell, the Mad Axeman, sprung from jail by the Kray twins.

Williams said: “The area around us was under immediate siege, with widespread public panic. When Mitchell escaped, locals started leaving a packet of sandwiches, a sports jacket and a five pound note on their doorsteps, praying the supplies would be enough to stop him from breaking in.”

And, the idea for The Siege of Trencher’s Farm was born.

Williams still has a way with words. As he prepares to say goodbye, he has time for one more bon mot: “I owe everything to two men – Frank Mitchell, the mad axeman and Sam Peckinpah, the mad director. What a pity the two never met.”

Nicola’s Note: The best, albeit unpublished, interview I’ve ever done!

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CHILDREN FIRST

Campaign to help children of alcoholics

Children 1st logo

Help Children 1st help the children of alcoholics

There are always people ready to protect children from unsuitable adults; from paedophiles, child abuctors and the like. Yet, when it comes to parents who drink to excess there is no one to protect the offspring.

New research shows that Scotland’s love affair with drink has trickled down the generations – to devastating effect. Grandad used to take a bucket. Dad always had a skinful on a Friday night. Now it is the turn of the next generation.

The charity Children 1st has revealed that one in ten Scottish children is being adversely affected by their parents’ drinking. That makes a staggering 93,000 kids.

Parents sit at home, swilling wine out of glasses the size of buckets. They slur their words, they have accidents, they swear, they are irresponsible. Occasionally, they are violent.

Children 1st’s summer campaign: Wish I Wasn’t Here aims to highlight the impact of alcohol-fuelled violence on kids. It features dramatic postcards from children whose holiday memories are fraught.

Children of alcoholics suffer a great deal of hidden harm, such as poverty, ill health, neglect, abuse of various kinds. Newborn babies come into the world with booze coursing through their veins, playing havoc with their tiny bodies.

My mother, who I wrote about in my book Mother’s Ruin, was a briliant, compassionate doctor who fell under alcohol’s powerful spell. Whenever she emerged from our posh Edinburgh house, her bag bulging with empties, our neighbours would look away in disgust, as they did when she returned with something respectable like  a can of soup – on top of six rattling bottles of vodka.

I turned into a child detective, adept at pouring half the contents down the sink, replenishing the bottle with water, praying she wouldn’t notice.

There were bottles everywhere in our house: in the wardrobes, inside boots and shoes, in the cistern. We children never dared ask friends round. She was far too unpredictable. Would she suddenly appear without clothes on? Would she fall? Once she fell downstairs and was blocking the front door when we arrived home from school. We thought she was dead, but she was just drunk.

We lived like that for years.

So many of us know exactly when children are suffering in this way yet choose to turn a blind eye to what is going on, ensuring that thousands of children miss out on their childhoods.

Life with an alcoholic parent is a nightmare from which many don’t recover.

That’s why we should all support Children 1st’s Wish I Wasn’t Here campaign.

DAMNED LIES AND STATISTICS

Even Believe Has A Lie Inside.

Even Believe Has A Lie Inside. (Photo credit: SenniChan)

LIES

Hot new research states that lying is bad for you. The University of Notre Dame claims that people suffer fewer mental health problems if they are hon est all the time.

In other words, we would be a great deal saner if we told the truth about everything – about how much money we really spent, how much chocolate we ate and whether we really have given up smoking.

Rubbish. The truth can cause far more problems than a white lie.

Another piece of research claims that women make better liars than men. Apparently, we feel the need to placate people; to make them feel better about themselves. And why not?

Would you thank the man in your life for telling you, yes, your bum does look absolutely enormous in that dress. You would end up in a massive sulk for months or, even better, chuck him out.

Why tell the truth when an outright lie or piece of obfuscation will do instead?  Remember the saying: ‘All it takes for evil to prevail is  for good men to remain silent’? After all, lies come in many colours: white are the ones you tell to avoid hurting people’s feelings but black are more serious. However, there are many shades in between.

Some lies get you into trouble while others are intended to extract you from trouble. When you think someone is telling you lies, you want to know the truth. Did your boyfriend really go to the cinema with his  sister , or, was it with his ex? Was your pal, Mike, really out of town on your birthday or did he just forget as he has done every other year since you became friends?. With inexperienced liars, like myself, you can almost see the nose grow as they speak. Certain gestures give people away: such as ear tugging or eye rubbing. The eyes are a giveaway – being the windows of the soul. The strain of inventing a lie can create a mass of unusual grimaces.

It amazes me how we, the public, profess to be so shocked when we discover someone, usually a politician, has been telling porkies.. Politicians have turned lying into an art form. Even though it’s called ‘spin’ it is in fact just lying by exaggeration.

Most lies are self-serving, protecting the person who utters them from shame, disapproval or conflict.

Take advertising, an industry which depends on lies to succeed. Do we really want the truth? Would we want to see an obese, toothless choir singing the praises of a famous cola? Would we want to see a frumpy, dull couple with ugly kids breakfasting on black coffee and aspirin instead of enjoying crispy golden flakes in the sunshine?

I used to think honest was the best policy, until I discovered advertising.

Honestly.

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Boxing Above Her Weight

Nicola Adams’ Gold a win for gender equality in traditionally ‘male’ sports

EVERYONE seems to have an opinion on whether women should be allowed to box. The arguments in the past against it have been that women tend to be unstable and, oh God, they menstruate. And our brains are so small, aren’t they?

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 06:  Nicola Adams (Bl...

LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 06: Nicola Adams (Blue) of Great Britain competes against Stoyka Petrova of Bulgaria (Red) during the Women’s Fly (51kg) Boxing Quarterfinals on Day 10 of the London 2012 Olympic Games.(Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

The first female Olympic gold champion, Nicola Adams, has much to be proud of. She began boxing at 12 when women were barred from the sport.

Rather like digging the roads, boxing has always been a male occupation. Until 2009, it was banned by the British Board of Boxing Control.

The notion of the fairer sex knocking each other’s blocks off offends some people’s idea of what woman is about. She shouldn’t be boxing, she should be at home producing babies, cooking and cleaning.

Although women can now box competitively, a lot of people – men mainly – claim it isn’t real boxing.

You know, women in the ring would be far too busy holding their hands up in the air, preventing their nail varnish from chipping or trying hard not to smudge their lipstick. Fine if they happen to be 18 stone bruisers with legs like tree trunks. But girl boxers who look normal, like Nicola, that’s not quite right, say the self-appointed experts. There are two camps in the women and boxing arena. One camp contains the dirty old men who like perving young women in skimpy underwear hitting each other. The second one is for those who disapprove; who react with disgust and alarm.

The truth behind all the ‘concern’ over women boxing is the same as it is in women’s football. Women don’t box, play footie, as well as men. End of story. Why don’t they just say so instead of dressing up their arguments so they resemble concern over women’s safety?

The point is women can use skills in the ring which don’t require vast amounts of brawn.

Thanks to women like Nicola Adams, sport can be brought into line with equal opportunities, meaning that women are never barred from competing because of their gender.

Equality is not about women pretending to be big, hairy blokes and digging up the roads.

Equality is about women having the choice to do these things if that is what they want to do.

 

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Battling for benefits

Crocodile Danger!

The Government’s next solution?

NAPOLEON was wrong. Britain is not a nation of shopkeepers but a nation of scroungers.

Successive governments have claimed that this country is full of malingerers claiming benefits to which they are not, never have been, entitled. We do so love the notion of a scrounger, don’t we? We’re forever peering at the neighbour with her disability parking permit to see if she forgets to limp when she returns from shopping. Or the neighbour who goes to sign on in a wheelchair but we’ve seen him up a ladder, cleaning windows in his spare time, haven’t we?

Now, in the so-called progressive society of 2012, people deemed too sick or disabled to be in employment are being refused benefits because the work fitness test is a total disaster area. The Government bangs on about disabled people being better off in work. Duh! Of course. But, not if they can’t.

Yes, I know there are scroungers out there. There always will be people who don’t want to work. The real problem is that we have created a culture of dependence among the able-bodied while, simultaneously, disempowering disabled people by putting them in a special box and leaving them there to fester. Why doesn’t someone DO something constructive for people on Incapacity Benefit instead of relentlessly plotting against them?

Introducing forms for claiming benefits which don’t take a year to fill in might be a start. Do politicians have any idea how unintelligible these forms are? How time-consuming? How impertinent the questions they contain?
We need to help claimants realise their full potential. You can’t do this by signing them off work for good and glory. You do it by sorting out their immediate  financial problems and concerns. By all means help sick and disabled people aim for a job at some time in the future but don’t steal their benefits beforehand.

When you remove hope from those who have been labelled disabled, there is very little left. That is why making life even harder for the sick and disabled should be a criminal offence. Unfortunately, it is what we Brits do best.

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