Category Archives: Culture

A View to a Kill – The End of the Miners’ Strike: Part 1

On March 5th it will be exactly thirty years since Britain’s miners marched back to work at the end of their titanic struggle to preserve their jobs and communities. Thirty years since I ‘celebrated’ my eighteenth birthday by weeping into my pint in a now long-closed miners’ welfare.

To commemorate the occasion I’ll be posting excerpts, up to March 5th, from the chapter in my book, Look Back in Anger: the Miners’ Strike in Nottinghamshire – 30 Years On (print edition available here and e book here) that deals with the end of the strike and its aftermath. Here’s Part 1.

Chapter 15: A View to a Kill

“Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have fought is the true failure.”
                                                                                 – George Edward Woodberry

After months of wrangling, votes and meetings, Nottinghamshire Area NUM officially scrapped the overtime ban at the end of February. NACODS, however, had a shock in store. The pit deputies’ Midlands Area announced they would not be supervising any overtime. Without them, of course, miners could not work. The Area’s officers referred the matter to their NEC, due to meet the following week but, in the meantime, as far as they were concerned, the ban would be observed.

NACODS’ Ray Hilton also made it clear that his Region would be making no recommendation to the Executive, either. He said, “This Area has decided to follow the instructions that were given by our National Executive back in October 1983, and that means we will not take part in the supervision of any overtime work until we are instructed to do so at national level.” With an obvious dig at the Area’s strike-breakers, he added that NACODS was a bona fide trade union and not a breakaway; therefore they’d be following their Union’s rules.

Prendergast was less than thrilled and appealed to the NCB to step in and resolve the matter. “It is a problem that the Coal Board must face up to. They should intervene in order to find some solution. It is very disappointing after the breakthrough earlier this week but our men are ready to work at weekends if they are asked to.”

Charles McLachlan, by contrast had a much better week. At the Nottinghamshire Chamber of Commerce’s 125th anniversary dinner, the guest of honour, Employment Secretary Tom King, lavished praise upon the County’s working-miners and the police chief whose valiant efforts had thwarted “extremists” and enabled the “brave working-miners” to carry out their duty to the nation. The Employment Secretary was on fiery form and his address was peppered with scathing condemnations of “militants” and “wreckers” who had underestimated “the good sense and bravery” of the heroic Notts men. The strike still had a few days to run but the establishment had started the celebrations early.

On Sunday 3rd March, 1985 the miners ‘Great Strike for Jobs’ officially ended. The Delegates made the decision, as they’d made all the major decisions throughout the dispute. The NEC met in the morning and split 11 – 11 on the question of returning to work or continuing to fight. Conference sent them back to try again. Still the leadership split 11 – 11 and returned without a recommendation. It was then up to the Delegates. There were four main motions to consider; one each from Scotland, South Wales, Yorkshire and Kent.

Kent – Conference demands the right to negotiate freely with the employer and agrees not to discuss any other motion or make any recommendation until an agreement is reached that reinstates those members who have been sacked during the course of the present dispute.

Scotland – Conference proposes that there should be an organised return to work on the basis of achieving a general amnesty to protect those members who have been victimized during the period of the strike.

Yorkshire – This Area views the situation in the coalfields with grave concern and in order to safeguard the members at the five pits and the amnesty of the men dismissed, supporting the aims of this Union, the Area Council believes that the best way to achieve these aims is: that we affirm our previous position until we are able to clarify and safeguard the above aims and that Officials, National or Area, immediately take the necessary steps to resolve the position; and that Special Council Meetings be convened on a) Saturday 2nd March 1985, in order for Delegates to return mandated on the situation; and b) Monday 4th March 1985, to hear the report of the National Delegate Conference taking place on Sunday 3rd

South Wales – In view of the fact that there has been a) a drift back of members to work in all Areas, and b) that is has now become clear that the Coal Board have no intentions whatsoever to have any discussions with the Union unless they sign the document presented by the TUC to the Union on Sunday 17th February, that the National Union should now organise and authorise a return to work of our members that are still on strike and that this return to work should commence on Tuesday 5th March 1985 without any signed agreement. The National Executive Committee should also be called upon to negotiate with the NCB on a national basis an amnesty for those men dismissed during this dispute.

The Kent motion fell by 170 votes to nineteen. Scotland’s fell by exactly the same margin while Yorkshire’s was much closer. It too fell but by only ninety eight to ninety one which just left South Wales.

Arguably, the most solid Area for the entire year (although one might imagine the Kent miners would have something to say about that), it was something of a paradox that a motion which called for unconditional surrender should have originated there. They had been warning for weeks that they’d struggle to hold out their men for much longer; it seemed that that day had finally arrived. The South Wales motion was carried by the same margin with which Yorkshire’s had been lost; ninety eight in favour, ninety one against.

Here, again, Scargill came in for serious criticism but this time it was harder to deflect. With the Executive tied 11-11 why hadn’t the NUM President used his casting vote? For his critics it was obvious; Arthur Scargill had bottled it. South Wales President, Emlyn Williams, who, if most accounts are to be believed, had come to detest Scargill, branded him a “coward.” In that final desperate hour, when the miners had needed leadership most, Scargill had abdicated his duty to his members. Others saw his refusal to break the deadlock, one way or the other, as his way of maintaining his revolutionary purity in a self-serving manoeuvre to avoid blame for whatever decision taken.

His supporters see things differently with one then Yorkshire Executive member stating that it would have been incorrect for one man to decide the fate of so many. He feels that with such a momentous choice to make, it had to be a collective decision to either fight on or end the strike and that he, personally, felt Scargill had chosen the correct course of action.

Dave Douglass, by no means an uncritical cheer-leader for the NUM President, sees things thus: “A recommendation was problematic. This was after all a movement of Area strikes; not a national strike as such. The NEC could declare an Area strike official, but it had no authority to tell an Area to call it off. The National Conference was convened to co-ordinate a return or continued action. Given that the areas were roughly divided, the NEC was likewise divided. Had Arthur cast his vote to make a recommendation, which way would the recommendation go; to stop out or go back? Whichever way the NEC, with his casting vote swinging it, went, he would be damned as the one man holding all those starving miners out on strike, or else the treacherous bastard who led us up the garden path then sold us out.” Only Scargill himself knew why he’d acted thus and in the thirty years since, he has remained tight-lipped.

At around 3.00pm the NUM President announced from the steps of the TUC Headquarters at Great Russell Street that the UK’s defining class-battle of the twentieth century had ended. He was greeted by tears of grief and anger and shocked cries of “traitor” from the strikers gathered outside. A chant of “We’re not going back! We’re not going back!” quickly struck up. But they would. They had to. There was nowhere else to go.

 The following day, Monday 4th March, local leaderships made arrangements for their men to return and in a final, painful display of pride and defiance, many picket-lines saw even greater numbers as thousands assembled one last time. They were bloodied; terribly so but unbowed.  The day after that, Tuesday 5th March, with heads held high, banners flying and brass bands leading thousands of them and their families and supporters through the streets of the coalfields, the strikers returned to the pits they hadn’t seen for a year. Well, most of them. Kent miners, it seemed, were incapable of giving in. Their men spread out across the country mounting pickets to prevent the return. Scargill himself, leading a procession back to work in his native Yorkshire, arrived only to turn around and march thousands back they way they’d come when greeted by the perennially obdurate Kent men. Scotland stayed out, too. It would be two weeks before the entire membership was back.

In Nottinghamshire, there were no brass bands. No banners. No proud march back for the men with the support and cheers of their communities ringing in their ears. Once back at the pits, it became clear that the days of the NUM enjoying unchallenged power were over. From the first day back, managers made it clear that the new regime would be imperious, unforgiving and tilted towards revenge. There were a few honourable exceptions; John Daniels at Clipstone colliery and  Brian Evangelista at Bestwood Workshops, were seen by many former strikers as fair-minded, principled and decent men who eschewed the victimisation and intimidation of most of the NCB management. For the majority, however, it was pay-back time. ‘Facility time’, time allowed during working-hours for Branch Secretaries to attend to union business, was slashed or banned altogether. Militants were split up, isolated and heavily-policed by management looking for the slightest excuse to dismiss those refusing to knuckle under.

Keith Stanley’s experiences were typical: “At Newstead, I got isolated. I got sent down to a part of the pit where there were no men and all that were down there were the team I worked with who were all staunch NUM. They took us off the three-shift system; put us on days regular so I wouldn’t see any of the men on the other shifts.” Managers viewed the loyalists almost as a virus that had to be contained; one that could not be allowed to infect the otherwise pro-management strike-breakers with militancy and rebellion.

Calling a strike-breaker ‘scab’ was to ensure instant dismissal and men who, prior to the strike, had held prestige jobs with good opportunities for bonus earnings were relegated to menial tasks with the express intention of humiliating them and consolidating their defeat. Stanley smiles as he remembers John Benson from Thoresby pit. “He were a brilliant miner and when he went back they had him digging latrines because he’d been staunch all the way through the strike. But it were water off a duck’s back. They couldn’t break him. He did it like Cool Hand Luke. ‘This is me digging, boss. I’m digging here, boss. I’m digging there, boss.’ Brilliant.”

There was an officially-sanctioned and concerted campaign of victimisation and intimidation of union activists. Ian MacGregor gloated, “People are now discovering the price of insubordination and insurrection and boy; are we going to make it stick.” The NCB chief, in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, on 10th March, then went on to surmise that forty pits would be added to the closure list and then shut over the following two years. This, presumably, was the ‘list’ NCB officials had consistently denied had ever existed.

To the glee of the working-miners, NACODS once again came to their aid and that of the Board when the union u-turned on its earlier commitment not to supervise Nottinghamshire miners who wanted to work in defiance of the overtime ban. Ray Hilton announced, “We will supervise any miner who attends for work. I can’t say the men were enthusiastic about it but they have agreed to do it. We will be instructing the Coal Board and the NUM that we will be supervising overtime now.” It also fell to the clearly embarrassed Hilton to get his General Secretary, Peter McNestry, off the hook. The NACODS leader had previously completely ruled out his men working with non-TUC affiliated unions, breakaways and or ‘scab formations.’ Hilton wriggled and squirmed, eventually saying, “We have not said we will only work with unions which are affiliated to the TUC. What we are saying is that if Notts miners break away from the NUM or if they are expelled, we will continue to supervise them but we will not take any other action in support of their aims.” Generally perceived by NUM loyalists to be ‘treacherous’ ‘gutless’ and ‘mealy-mouthed’, Hilton’s statement pretty much killed off any lingering shreds of NUM goodwill that might have existed in the County where the Deputies were concerned.

Swimming with the tide, the Area Executive resurrected Liptrott’s earlier attempt to expel former strikers from the NUM by the back door, for non-payment of dues.  With the Nottinghamshire Area free from the authority of the NEC and, to all intents and purposes, a separate breakaway union, Lynk felt confident in trying the move again. On the 12th, he sent out a letter to all the Area Branch Secretaries containing six points:-

  1. Persons who have been on strike shall be called upon to pay 50p for each week on strike, over and above the first eight weeks.
  2. Branch Secretaries, must submit to this office a list of members who have been on strike for more than eight weeks.
  3. In stating the number of weeks a member has been on strike, the first eight weeks should be ignored. i.e. if a member has been on strike for fifty-two weeks, your list should indicate he is to pay 44 X 50p.
  4. Payment of arrears must be made to the Branch Secretaries and no payment will be accepted at Area Office.
  5. Branch Secretaries must ensure that lists are delivered to this Office by no later than the end of March, 1985, when a receipt will be given. Arrears must be paid to Branch Secretaries within four weeks of this date of acknowledgment of receipt of this list at the Area Office.
  6. Steps must be taken by Branch Secretaries to ensure that details of the arrears of contributions are brought to the attention of the person’s concerned.

This was then posted to all the relevant members with a covering letter from the appropriate Branch Secretary, which read:-

I am instructed by the Area Executive Committee to bring to your notice that you are in arrears with your contributions in accordance with Notts. Area Rule 11e. The Area Executive has, therefore, agreed that persons who have been on strike shall be called upon to pay 50p per week for each week on strike, over and above the first eight weeks.             You are, therefore, in arrears to the sum of £…………….. Until this amount has been paid, and for a further thirteen weeks from the date of payment, you are considered not to be a member of the Union as specified in Notts. Area Rule 11e.

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Making Plans for Nigel : a Beginner’s Guide to Farage and UKIP

I’m delighted to announce the publication of my new book, Making Plans for Nigel : a

MakingPlansforNigelCover Beginner’s Guide to Farage and UKIP, via Five Leaves Publications.

I’m chuffed to be working with Ross and Five Leaves again, following last year’s Look Back in Anger: the Miners’ Strike in Nottinghamshire – 30 Years On, on which he and his team did such a great job.

The current effort, about which not much needs to be said given the self-explanatory title, is a shorter, snappier book and is intended for the prospective UKIP voter. As I write in the introduction:

“By the time you read this the next general election will be barely a month away. This handy guide to Nigel Farage and UKIP is intended to help the undecided voter – and maybe the decided ones, too –  make an informed choice when the time comes to put that cross in that all-important little box. Given that increasing numbers of voters are shunning the voting booths – in much the same way that Michael Macintyre studiously eschews anything remotely funny in his routines – and are of the not ridiculous opinion that it doesn’t matter for whom one votes as the government always gets in, it appears likely that future administrations will be elected by fewer and fewer people.  All the more reason, then, for those potential UKIP voters to have at least a basic understanding of what they might end up with. Hence this book which looks in detail at Nigel Farage, UKIP and the party’s policies. It examines Farage’s anti-establishment rhetoric and compares that with his party’s policies and with his and his colleagues’ public pronouncements. It is a timely book because the prospect of a Tory minority government propped up by a clutch of newly-minted UKIP MPs, cannot be ruled out.”

It’s provisional publication date is April 1st, which I think is just perfect, and more info will be available soon. A special thank you to Martin Rowson for the superb cover. Makes me smile every time I look at it.

 

Look Back in Anger: E-reader Edition

coverThose groovy people at Five Leaves Publications have released my book, Look Back in Anger – The Miners’ Strike in Nottinghamshire – 30 Years On in electronic format. Compatible, I’m told, with Kindle and all other e-reader devices.

The print edition is still available, of course, for around a tenner from all the usual outlets, including everyone’s favourite tax dodgers, Amazon, and for only £7.99 here and the e edition for the very reasonable price of five of your English or Scottish pounds. Feel free to be tempted.  This latest edition contains new material. Here’s a snippet…

Sun Tzu, a man who knew a thing or two about conflict, once said that if you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by. If time is a river then Nottinghamshire’s tiny band of miners’ strike veterans – fewer than 2000 from a 32,000-strong workforce in 1984 – have been waiting patiently for thirty years.

On January 3rd 2014, Cabinet Office documents pertaining to the strike were released to the National Archive. Finally the bodies started floating by. First in ones and twos and then in a deluge as the truth finally emerged; a truth that is examined in detail in the following pages.

The miners’ strike is without precedent. Among many aspects that marked out the dispute as entirely different from any other industrial struggle that preceded it, were the sheer tenacity, bravery and commitment displayed by its participants. One Hucknall miner spoke of the moment he nearly caved in and went back to work.

“It were November and just about everything in the house had been sold to keep the debts manageable or to buy food or burned to keep us warm. I didn’t have any furniture left downstairs apart from a couple of kitchen chairs and a table. Me front room just had a couple of orange crates and I were sat on one chucking shoes onto the fire to warm the house up for the kids coming in from school. The stink were bloody horrible. Leather and plastic and that didn’t burn that well but it were all we had. For some reason folks seemed to think we desperate for footwear so they sent all sorts and we had piles of the things. I were burning the shoes and I thought, ‘Why am I putting me kids through this?’ I just burst into tears. I were cracking and were going to go back to work. But we were doing all this for our kids in the first place! We knew the sort of future they’d have if Thatcher won, so I gen me sen a shake and just gor on wi’ it.”

It is in no way an exaggeration to point, also, to the miners’ strike as the moment when policing in Britain underwent a change of epoch-shaping proportions. It was the end of one style of policing in the UK and the start of another. While corruption runs like a foetid stream between the two decades, linking the 70s and the 80s, it was Britain’s most turbulent industrial dispute that saw policing change to an overtly political function. Since the strike, politically motivated police abuse of power and deep-rooted corruption are now commonplace. Orgeave, Hillsborough, the Stephen Lawrence scandal and the use of undercover officers to infiltrate ‘subversive’ environmental groups – even sleeping with activists and fathering their children – has led to widespread revulsion and distrust of the police in many parts of the UK.

 When the strike was over and the breakaway Union of Democratic Mineworkers emerged, key Notts Working Miners’ Committee members provided its nucleus. UDM leader Roy Lynk was awarded an OBE for ‘services to trade unionism’ and after paving the way for mass pit closures and privatisation, he and Nottinghamshire’s former strike-breakers settled in for the long period of prosperity and security promised them by a grateful establishment. To their fury, they too were betrayed as Nottinghamshire’s pits were closed. In contrast to the promises lavished upon them during the strike.

Today the UDM is a husk, with barely 300 members and its former President, Lynk’s successor, Neil Greatrex, is an acute embarrassment to his former organisation. The former UDM chief dipped his fingers in his Union’s till and was convicted on 3rd April 2012, of fourteen counts of theft.

The legacy of Nottinghamshire’s working miners is one of greed, cowardice and treachery. Little wonder that that legacy should culminate in theft, fraud and outright corruption. And the complete destruction of an entire – and once mighty – industry.

Favourite Books of 2014

I’d like to resist end-of-year best of lists but it’s a regular feature of the writing gig. I did, though, quite enjoy putting this one together for my publisher, Five Leaves, for their New Year newsletter.

They didn’t necessarily want the favourite five published in 2014 but the favourite five we writers read, or even re-read, during the year.

Here’s my unedited list, all of which are available from Five Leaves Bookshop.

The Lost Key – Robert Lomas, Coronet

Thanks to Dan Brown, Freemasonry has rarely ‘enjoyed’ such publicity as that of recent LOST keyyears.

The ancient secret society (or the ‘society with secrets’, as it’s English ruling body, the United Grand Lodge of England would prefer you have it) has historically been the subject of fevered hysteria and paranoid conspiracy theories.

Here long-standing Freemason, scientist and author Robert Lomas lifts the lid on the secret rituals and their purpose as he sees it. In so doing he has constructed a truly fascinating narrative. The Lost Key is where science and mysticism meet, where religion and facts collide and where the reader is taken on an esoteric journey from the Big Bang, via the temples of ancient Egypt, medieval Scotland and Renaissance Europe to the present day.

If you thought Freemasonry was a bastion of establishment reaction and an excuse for monied gentry and corrupt coppers to indulge in silly pantomime with fine wine and good food at the end of the evening read this and be prepared to re-evaluate everything you thought you knew about ‘The Craft.’Fascinating, challenging and gripping.

Anarchists Against the Wall – Uri Gordon and Ohal Grietzer (editors) AK Press

AATWAnd the best place for ’em some of my more tankie-inclined friends might suggest. But seriously… Anarchists Against the Wall are an anti-Zionist body of Israeli anarchists wedded fast to the Palestinian cause, Anarchists Against the Wall are a group of genuinely principled and courageous activists risking beatings, shootings and imprisonment on an almost daily basis operating, as they do, right at the sharp edge where the Zionist apartheid wall runs.

This small, independently-published edition collects a number of essays and observations by its members and offers an insight into the politics, activities and motivations of this heroic band of men and women.

Inspiring, uplifting and highly recommended.

Darkness, Darkness – John Harvey, William Heinemann

Former DI Charlie Resnick’s final case. The Nottingham-based copper, now retired andJH working as a civilian support officer, takes on the case of a woman who disappeared during the miners’ strike of 1984/5.

The strike provides a strong backdrop to a typically adroitly-spun yarn by the supremely talented Harvey. Set, obviously, in Nottinghamshire where the working majority wrecked the strike and ensured Thatcher’s victory over the Tories’ traditional class enemy, Harvey skilfully treads a fine line between the two sides as does his fictional hero Resnick.

The Resnick series deserves to be ranked alongside Rankin’s Rebus books and here Harvey weaves a poignant, elegiac narrative which is no less than he and Resnick deserve.
As swan-songs go this takes some beating. Beautiful, aching and deeply satisfying.

Intifada: The Long Day of Rage – David Pratt, Sunday Herald Books

IntifadaSunday Herald journalist, David Pratt, has produced here nothing less than a masterpiece of observational journalism.
Based in Israel/Palestine at the start of the first Intifada, and for the succeeding eight years, he records his experiences, observations and thoughts in compelling style.

While there is a refreshingly honest admission of sympathy for the Palestinian cause Pratt is too good a journalist to allow his work to become mired by bias. While the man’s empathy and compassion shines through his professional objectivity and dispassionate eye remain intact.

No one can fail to be deeply moved by this book.

The Enemy Within: The Secret War Against the Miners – 30th Anniversary EditionSeumas Milne, Verso Books

The sub-title is a little confusing. It’s actually twenty-years since this book first appeared.EW The ‘30th anniversary’ refers to the three decades since the strike started.

With a wealth of new material and an extended introductory essay Milne’s classic account of state abuse and the dirty tricks deployed against former miners’ leader Arthur Scargill and the National Union of Mineworkers is as rage-inducing now as it ever was.

From a technical point of view this is truly superb investigative journalism. While Milne is far and away the best journalist currently writing for an English daily this must have taxed even him. A complex and bewildering saga is nevertheless rendered easily readable and the reader will be shocked, appalled and angered at the disgusting campaign of frame-ups, lies and corruption orchestrated by the three-headed monster of security services, press and government. Read it now.

Tunes of Glory

 

bodies

He didn’t see the poppies grow down in Flanders Field,
It was over in Afghanistan where they cheered a record yield.
A bumper crop of skag that would spread across the earth,
Compared to wealth and power, our lives have little worth.
Was he fighting for the Queen, America or Shell?
When the lines are blurred, all shades of grey, no way that he could tell.
The War on Terror, the War on Drugs, it’s all a filthy lie,
Because there is no honour in queuing up to die.
For nations, flags and worthless men,
One hundred years since world War One and here we are are again.
His search for pride and virtue, all ended with a blast,
He trod upon an IED and now his future is the past.
Although he’s three years older, he’s still just twenty-one,
His life already over before it had begun.
And now his mam weeps bitter tears as she empties out his pan,
Of the stinking shit that gurgles from her broken damaged man.
Still, he got a medal and a poppy that he could wear,
When they wheeled him to the cenotaph where all the children stare.
At the empty space where once he had two legs like you and me,
Exchanged in wilful  ignorance so profit might be free.
To carry on destroying lives for power and their greed,
A war upon their wars is the only war we need.
Kill the Other, kill him now and make your country proud,
Their token thanks is all you’ll get when they wrap you in your shroud.
Then you can join the ranks of the millions gone before,
Nameless, faceless forgotten dead; no one’s keeping score.
A dozen here a thousand there, they really just don’t care,
As long as you keep dying so they can get their share.
So stuff their poppies, stuff their wars and stuff their tunes of glory,
They’ll never care about you and me, it’s the same old dirty story.

The Art and Science of Single Malt Whisky

pdx_whisky_4-06-12
I’m sure you – like me – were appalled on reading whisky ‘expert’ Jim Murphy’s verdict that some upstart Japanese single malt is now, officially, the world’s finest single malt whisky. The idea that such a thing could ever originate from outwith the shores of Scotland is, like time-travel and invisibility cloaks, scientifically impossible.

Possibly even more appalling was the degree of presumption displayed by the Japanese distillers, Yamazaki, in labelling their potion ‘whisky.’ As all right-thinking people know, if it isn’t distilled among the bonny banks and braes of God’s Own Country then it’s bloody well ‘whiskey’ thank you very much. And I don’t give a tinker’s cuss what Wikipedia says to the contrary.

Apart from anything else, how can you take seriously something purporting to be single malt yet calling itself Yamazaki? It sounds like it should come with a 500cc engine and handlebars.

Sadly, while discussing with friends on Facebook this ridiculous and nonsensical development, it became apparent that genuine appreciation of the sacred uisge beatha is hampered by reverse snobbery, unsophisticated palettes and unforgivable ignorance. Here then, is a simply entry-level guide to the noble art of whisky and the etiquette required for its correct consumption and, thus, enjoyment.

 1. Scotland has four whisky regions (five, really, to true connoisseurs). Each with its own distinctive and highly individual character. They are the Islands; comprising Islay and Skye (although Islay should be considered the fifth region in its own right; such is the glory and towering majesty of its offerings), Highland, Speyside and Lowland.

2. Broadly speaking, whiskys from each region, while varying greatly from each other, will share strong core characteristics. Thus we can say Island malts are maritime and peaty. Highlands are smooth and floral, Speysides are sweet and delicate and Lowlands are light and fresh.

3. Of course that’s the general consensus. In reality, Islay single malts are the finest drinks ever created in the history of humanity. Laphroaig is the most complex and richly-favoured of them all. It is the undisputed King of single malts. Any who hold otherwise will be people of flexible morality, dubious virtue and questionable integrity. Ignore them.

4. Similarly, while Speyside produces the inarguably impressive The Glenlivet (it should always have ‘The’ to give it both its correct appellation and the respect it deserves) its produce tends toward the bland and sickly. The wearily ubiquitous Glenmorangie, for example, is commercialised nonsense. Adequate for grandmothers and the English but unfit to be taken in the company of men.

5. Ice in single malt whisky is not a matter of personal taste. It is wrong. Always. Its extreme temperature wrecks the balance of the whisky and chemically alters its taste. It numbs the palette, too, leading to an inability to actually taste, in all its complex magnificence, that which the Great Architect has seen fit to gift us. Single malt whisky should always be kept and taken at room temperature. Don’t be a peasant. Leave the ice in the freezer.

6. Water. Nowhere is there greater ignorance and reverse snobbery than on the question of water with one’s whisky. In many cases water can actually unlock the bouquet and release hitherto unknown wonders. As a very crude general rule, the higher ABV% of the whisky should dictate the ratio of water to whisky. I once had a superb Cadenhead’s bottling of a 12 year old Bowmore that clocked in at an eye-watering 74% ABV. Drinking it without water would have been utterly stupid and entirely pointless. Such high alcohol content serves only to numb and freeze the taste buds and palette and all that you will taste or smell will be the alcohol. A note of caution: water taken with single malt whisky should be of the lowest possible mineral content. Water with a high mineral content will act in much the same way as ice; it will ruin the balance and, again, chemically alter the whisky’s taste.

7. Our Celtic brothers and sisters from the Emerald Isle try their best, bless ’em, but that non-peaty, triple-distilled-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life juice they peddle is but a sorry apology for the mighty kings and queens of Alba. If you must drink whiskey then their blends are actually better. Jameson’s being particularly fine.

8. Another fallacy; the older a whisky is does not automatically mean it will be better. Some single malts mature very early. The Bowmore Legend, for example, carrying no age statement but widely understood to be only eight-years old, is a particularly apposite case here. The same point in reverse, I once had a 31 year-old Black Bowmore. It was, literally, black. As a result of stewing in oloroso sherry casks for three decades. I bought it for £175.00 and sold it a year or two later for £1050.00. It currently retails for circa £7,500.00 per bottle (yes, you read that correctly). Its rarity value is what commands such a price tag; not the quality of the whisky. Those who’ve tasted it tell me it’s virtually undrinkable.

9. There is such a thing as truly bad whisky. But remember; no whisky is even worse. Always.

10. Finally, few have so adequately captured the compelling power and eternal mystery of single malt whisky as the late great Campbell Armstrong. He deserves the last word here.

“The perfume, distilled perfection, bottled wonderment, magnetised him. He’d never seen liquid so golden and pure as that distilled from the cold clear waters of Speyside by Alchemists. Grapes made plump by the sun only gave you wine and what was that but a polite lubricant during a meal? A fine malt was something else. A triumph of nature; its drinkers were disciples, druids. Even the bloody names on the bottles were mystical incantations. Tamdhu. Tullibardine. Lagavulin. Strong Scots names that made Chateau This and Cabernet That decidedly unimpressive; effete little drinks for dilettantes.”

All That is Solid

Phil BCeditfinalAll That is Solid is one of the left’s most widely-read blogs. It’s the baby of Phil Burton-Cartledge, former aid to Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Tristram Hunt.

As well as managing the aforementioned blog, the good Doctor also lectures at Derby University.

In recent weeks he’s penned a very positive review of my book, which you can read here and last night he published an interview I did for his site, which was a lot of fun. You can read that here.

I’d recommend Phil’s blog to anyone interested in politics, current affairs and related matters with a sociological twist.