Sunday Times feature.

SundayTimes

Not a long past, but an event like this is something I just had to share. Yesterday, for the first time, I was featured in the Sunday Times. A very nice journalist called Leaf Arbuthnot came all the way from London to interview me here in Wales.

We talked about the process by which I came into writing, the new book, the passing of Martin McGuinness and the vulnerable nature of police work, in the light of the recent Westminster attack.

I hope you enjoy reading it.

The old man’s humour

Yesterday my daughter e-mailed me again asking why I didn’t do something useful with my time. Like sitting at home writing books is not a good thing. Talking about me “doing something useful” seems to be one of her favourite topic of conversation. She was “only thinking of me” and even suggested I go down to the village hall or the library and hang out with the folks there.

I did this and when I got home last night I decided to show her that I had learned one or two things in life to help keep myself busy.
I e-mailed her and told her that I had joined a parachute club.

She replied, “Are you crazy? You are in your fifties, and now you’re going to start jumping out of perfectly good planes?”

I told her that I even got a membership card and e-mailed a copy to her..

She immediately telephoned me, “Good grief, where are your glasses! This is a membership to a Prostitute Club, not a Parachute Club.”

I replied, “Oh boy, I’m in trouble again. I really don’t know what to do, I signed up for five jumps a week… and prepaid!”

The line went quiet and her friend picked up the phone and said that she had fainted.

Life as a Dad is not getting any easier, but sometimes it can be fun.

Saving a bee colony

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Apis Mellifera – the honey bee

There’s a knock on the door.

Something of a nightmare to a writer. You are mid chapter, mid sentence even, and the words are flowing. All stop. I know some who ignore callers, phone calls and all other means of communication when they are ‘in the groove’.

I try. But a knock at the door is normally just the postman or a courier. So I tend to answer the door. This time it’s not a call I would expect.

This time it’s a local building contractor. Merv the swerve, we call him, on account of the way he drives his tracked excavator. Merv is a local character. Always to be seen with a large cigar on the go, he breeds horses, farms and does extra work with his diggers. Merv is the only man I know to own a tractor made by Lamborghini.

‘You keep bees don’t you, Matt?’ he asks.

I do. I’m something of an amateur, not terribly experienced and not what you might call talented. But yes, I do keep honey bees.

‘Any chance you could come and take some away?’ asks Merv. ‘They’re in a barn we’re converting and we’re all a bit wary of them.’

I agree. After all, a colony of bees can cost upwards of £150, so an opportunity to catch a swarm for free appeals to my idea of a bargain. So, I close down the computer, grab my bee suit and gloves and arrange to meet Merv at the nearby farm, where he will be waiting for me. I take a box – to contain the bees – and a sheet to wrap around it to prevent escape into the car.

So far, so good.

I arrive at the farm. The yard is alive with bee traffic. I can see them heading towards a boarded up window on a rather ramshackle barn that appears to be the one intended for development.

bee-swarm

A typical honey bee swarm

Now, with most swarms, the bees have settled in a large cluster on something or other. It might be a gate post, a tree branch or even on a car. They settle while ‘scout’ bees are looking for their new home.

Swarming is how bees reproduce. Once a home has become too crowded, the queen takes a large proportion of her colony and heads off in search of pastures new. Worker bees left behind will sense this is about to happen and will have been feeding a few larvae on royal jelly. These grow into queens and the first to hatch will become the new head of the colony that has been left behind.

What I wouldn’t have expected to see on the farm yard was a lot of bees on the move. A swarm would be settled. To me, these looked like foragers, bees leaving and returning to a colony on the search for nectar and pollen.

And that is what they were. For this wasn’t a swarm I had been asked to look at, it was an established colony.

Perhaps a year earlier, a resourceful swarm had found a nice, safe home behind a boarded up window in a deserted barn, in the space between the board and the bricked up wall inside. And now, rather sadly, they were to be evicted to make way for human occupants.

Having never before captured a colony, I did some research. I watched some YouTube videos of how it can be done, even seeing some experts working without a bee suit. Not for me, I wanted protection!

I needed an ash collector, it seemed. The kind that is used to clear a log burner. The principle is to open up the hive and then ‘hoover’ the bees into the container ready to install them in a new home. That home needed to be more than two miles away or they might just head back to their old abode.

I had the perfect site in mind.

I got my equipment ready. Crowbar – to remove the window frame. Jig saw – to cut the board as it was nailed from the inside. Hoover, ash collector, extension cable etc. I also had some empty bee frames.

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The bee frames were going to be important, I had learned. Once I was into the colony, I need to cut several sections of comb containing brood – bee larvae – and pollen/honey, ready to install in the bee’s new hive. That would be key to persuading them to take up residence in their new home. It had to smell like their old one.

And so, I set to work. I smoked the entrance and waited. That’s what you do with a hive. Distract them, make them head for the honey and then they settle down. All very good, in theory. Merv beat a retreat, at first to the safety of his car and then off-site altogether. The reason – the bees were not at all happy when I started to break into their palace. And a palace it was, for this was not a small colony.

The sound of an angry bee colony can be very intimidating. When not one, but thousands of flying insects hit the air and start to seek out ways to penetrate your bee suit, you really do have to have faith in your protection. They found a weak spot. Right forearm picked up a sting. Ouch! That hurt. One success acts as a trigger to others who then tend to focus on the same area. Another penetration, more pain. This wasn’t going well.

At the point of removing the window frame, I had picked up seven stings. I then decided to temporarily retire. Not just because of the pain I was now feeling in my arm, but also due to what I found behind the frame.

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I was reminded of that scene in ‘Jaws’ when police chief Martin Brody is on the back of Quint’s ship and he has first sight of their target. ‘We’re gonna need a bigger boat,’ he says in what must be one of the most memorable moments of the film.

I was going to need a bigger can. The colony was HUGE.

I headed home, rubbed some cream onto my wounds and took an anti-histamine. I don’t normally react too badly to bee stings but I was all too aware of anaphylaxis, so I was being careful to avoid any further pain.

Time to start the capture.

By the time I returned to the farm yard, the bees had settled down. Although clearly unhappy with the damage, they were less angry and more concerned with making repairs than seeing off their ‘rescuer’.

I connected up the hoover and started collecting.

bees 4

From this point on, things went well. No more stings, in fact not even an attempt. It seemed that the bees were resigned to their fate, whatever that was. There were thousands of them, tens of thousands even. And among them was the one most important bee to capture intact – the queen.

bees 3

But how I was to locate her amongst all the others? I had no idea. If she was marked – an escapee from a ‘looked after’ colony – then I had a chance. I looked, searched, saw no sign. I simply had to keep hoovering and hope that she went into the ash can with her friends.

I saw drones – the males – and many nursery and forager bees but, by the time the can was full – after over an hour – I saw no queen.

By now, it was turning dark. I decided to call it a day, move the bees I had captured and the made up frames to their new home. A nice clean hive with new frames and a sugar syrup feeder to make sure they didn’t go hungry. I tipped them in, and crossed my fingers that they would stay until the morning when I could return to collect the others.

I was up early. Again, I met with a placid and non-aggressive colony.

bees 5

Vacuuming continued. Another can-full meant just a few remained.

I headed back to the new hive and was pleased to find that the original bunch were still in place. I lifted off the roof, tipped in their friends and stepped back to admire a job well done.

For the next week or so, I will now leave them undisturbed save for keeping their supply of sugar syrup feed topped up while they source local supplies of natural food. If all goes well, the worker bees will draw out the frames with comb and then the queen will start to lay eggs. Once that happens I will know that she is present and that the colony has fully accepted it’s new home.

And given that the alternative to eviction was a visit from the pest-controller, I think that a few stings and several hours of my time was a small price to pay to give the colony a chance to survive. I went back a third and a fourth time, to mop up stragglers, mostly foragers that had been in the fields at the time of my visit. In the end, I estimate that I had captured virtually all of them.

And who knows, next year I may well be rewarded with some honey.

Yesterday in London

One day in London. A powerful observation of one day in the life of the thin blue line. One day where only one of the attacks made the national press. Not surprisingly, it was the one that would attract the most media interest.

policecommander

Yesterday in London, at about 11.25am, armed criminals attempted to rob a jewellery store in Piccadilly.

Members of the Flying Squad, carrying out an intelligence-led operation, moved in immediately to arrest them. All four suspects were detained, but not without a desperate struggle. Four officers were injured, one of them severely. He remains in hospital in a serious but stable condition. Two axes, a machete and a knife were recovered at the scene.

Yesterday in London, just after 6pm, a man was attacked on the Winstanley Estate.

Police officers attended the location and found a man in his thirties who had been stabbed. Despite their best efforts, he died at the scene. Two other men who had also been stabbed were found nearby and rushed to hospital. One witness, quoted in the Evening Standard newspaper, stated that there was “blood everywhere”.

Yesterday in London, just after 8pm, a van collided with a…

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Terror on the streets – peace will return

Kill one … frighten a thousand

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– The number of terrorist attacks is increasing

 – terrorist attacks are more widespread

 – Europe is experiencing terrorism of a kind never before seen

 – New forms of terrorism motivated by religious imperatives are fundamentally different from terrorism of thirty years ago.

Modern perception, promoted and, arguably supported by what we read in the press and see through the media, but is it reality?

What is terrorism?

In simple terms, it is a technique that boils down to killing civilians in order to influence, shock, impress, provoke, coerce or harm relevant  third parties.

In legal terms, there is no internationally accepted definition of terrorism. One man’s terrorist is often seen as another man’s freedom fighter, for example.

What is a terrorist? A tough question to answer. Terror can come from the State, from a dictator or from a secret police. It can be undertaken by religious believers or atheists, left or right-wing political groups, vigilantes, death-squads, invading Armies or Governments.

And is terrorism a new phenomenon? Although we are experiencing a recent surge in religious terrorism, the mythology of most world religions is filled with violent images and bloody histories. For example, all three Abrahamic religions have experienced radical offshoots that have at some time promoted extreme interpretations of their beliefs and a resulting ‘holy war’ that included worldwide political objectives. The same can be said of non-Abrahamic religions such as Hinduism and Buddism.

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Terrorism is not new. It existed at the time of the crusades and during the tortures and abuses of the Inquisition. Genghis Khan and other Mongols used it as a tactic to overcome their enemies, as did the Roman Empire. In more recent times, invading German and Japanese Armies in WWII used terror to subjugate potentially resistant populations.

Marxists tried to divide human societies by class and propagate ‘class war’, Fascists used race to identify their enemy.

We now experience terrorism motivated by religion, dividing humankind into true Muslims on one hand and unbelievers (kafir) and heretics (takfir) on the other.

Kill ten … frighten a million.

Islamist Jihadi terrorism has become our main form of trans-national terrorism in the last ten to twenty years. But this does not mean that all Islamist movements include Jihad in their priorities – they do not. There are examples who abstain from any form of violence.

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Something in the modern world, perhaps globalisation, is unsettling many people and their search for a secure future is leading some to reject the modern world and to favour a violent solution to changing the threat that they perceive.

Kill a hundred … frighten a whole population.

So, what of the future? History tells us that all forms of terrorism will eventually fail. Current threats will fade and be replaced by new motivations and causes.

The current Islamic threat is new, because it is so transnational, involving myriad groups, and there is no specific grievance that can be addressed, nor any specific leadership with whom a negotiated solution can be found.

And despite the lessons of history, our leaders still appear surprised that military intervention in places like Iraq has proved ineffective without subsequent political solution and this has only led to increased violence.

Terrorism relies upon fear to succeed.

If we do not fear it, if we recognise that history teaches us a solution to this current wave will be found or it will simply fade with time, then it will fail, as it always has.

Time will heal. Peace will return.

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I believe that – I have to believe it – the alternative is far too catastrophic to contemplate.

 

 

 

Thoughts of an older voter

Today, the UK saw a result to the ‘Leave EU’ referendum that some predicted but none really expected.

The reaction to it has been frightening. Social media is awash with stories of families torn apart, arguments, and even fights. A senior politician who campaigned to leave the EU has been attacked by a mob.

Some of us simply sit back and smile. We’ve seen it all before.

I think many of us older peeps are more reflective and less reactive than the younger generation. We know, from life experience, that this can all change, economic separation from Europe may never happen, and so much of what goes on in the political world is just talk.

This vote may well act as a wake-up call to the political classes that they cannot just carry on doing what they think is best. It may – and I hope those that think this are right – just be the start of a brave new Europe and a brave new world. But it may not, and nothing may change in the long run, or it may change and then return to the way it was. Such is the way of things.

Why did people vote ‘leave’ in such large numbers, when the economic arguments were so against such a move? Some say is was the ‘immigration’ issue. I have a personal perception that people didn’t react to immigration so much as to the lack of investment by successive governments in infrastructure to support the growing population. By that, I mean the NHS, Education etc. By and large, we welcome new cultures but people (here in Wales) have become very angry as they see our support services in a state of collapse. If we had the infrastructure in place to accommodate those that choose to come and live here, there would be no NHS queues, no lack of school places, no lack of social housing. But there is, and free movement of EU citizens copped the blame, rather than the real cause which is the lack of long-term investment.

And I wonder if many voted ‘against’ what the political parties were recommending more than ‘for’ leaving the EU because they no longer trust people who they perceive as liars with their noses in the trough? Do politicians imagine that people have forgotten confidence shaking and well publicised events such as the expenses scandals and the decisions to award themselves inflation-busting pay rises, while promoting austerity for everyone else?

And, I think that our politicians have spent many years blaming EU government for problems in the UK, and this sank in so much that when they turned around at the last minute and said ‘EU is good’, people simply didn’t believe them.

But, like I said, my guess is that in a few years we will look back on today and wonder at how people reacted so vociferously to the result.

I’ve seen many governments come and go, I was around when the EU started up and I’ve seen it head off in a direction we didn’t expect. And I’ve seen the collapse of soviet Russia, East and West Germany re-united, the Northern Ireland Peace Process succeed and Scotland, Wales and NI achieving far greater independent control than used to be the case. All these things were deemed impossible once, and they all came to pass.

Today will one day be history, no more, no less. And we will look back on it and reflect. either on what we imagine could have been, or what happened as a result.

Psychological Contracts for Dummies

John Sutherland at his very best.

policecommander

Yesterday, I sat down and had a conversation with another Met PC who is thinking about moving on. He’s got seven years’ service and loads to offer, but he had tears in is eyes as he told me he’d reached the conclusion that his future lies elsewhere.

Not that long ago, I had similar but separate conversations with two other PCs – excellent officers from different Met Boroughs – who were leaving the Job long before their time. There was nothing I could do to change their minds.

And we need to read the signs.

I still think this is the best job in the world – and unequivocally one of the most important – but I also recognise that, in the view of many officers, all is not well with policing at the moment.

It’s not that they have stopped caring (completely the opposite in fact), it’s just that…

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Crimefest16

A year ago, I had never heard of Bristol Crimefest so when my publisher asked me to attend and take part in a couple of interview panels, I really had no idea what I was signing up for.

I arrived at the Bristol Marriott hotel, checked in to a very comfortable room and then went to register for the festival. I’m sure you can imagine my surprise when I asked festival organiser how many people we coming. The answer? Five hundred and fifty! I think he saw my shocked look as he then reassured me that there would be know more than a hundred and fifty at each panel!

First evening was spent with fellow Orenda Authors when our wonderful publisher, Karen Sullivan, took us all out for a nice Italian meal. I had the chance to meet and talk to Michael Grothaus, Michael Stanley, Yusuf Toropov, Kati Hiekkapelto and Paul Hardisty.

Returning to the hotel, I began to notice faces that I recognised. Mari Hannah spoke to me (absolutely charming) and Rod Reynolds (looks so young). Then I saw an ‘old friend’ Michelle Davies, who I met in Glasgow in March when we did our very first interviews together. A great catch up was had.

And then it was time for bed!

Day one dawned. Breakfast – full english, of course – as you should always go into battle on a full stomach, and then off to meet the team for the first panel. Pete Adams (hilarious), Daniel Pembrey (young, talented AND handsome) and the wonderful Lisa Cutts. Lisa is a serving detective and – not a lot of people know – her father was my first DI (detective inspector). Lisa and I had spent the previous evening in the bar talking JOB, as coppers often do!

crimefest panel 4Lisa and I met up with our ‘moderator’ Caro Ramsey. Caro is from Glasgow and turned out to have a very sharp sense of humour. With another natural comedian in Pete Adams, it didn’t take long before they had our audience laughing. Lisa, Daniel and I simply followed where they led.

The hour passed very quickly, and then we headed off to sign a few books.

Then, a very strange thing happened. At 7pm I joined a large queue of people as we headed for the main hall. There were to be announcements, the Crime Writers Association were publishing the long-lists for the 2016 Dagger Awards. I was aware that my publisher had nominated Wicked Game but, well, let’s get real, there are hundreds of entries and some very talented and experienced authors in the mix. As the announcements started, I found myself chatting quietly to a lovely lady who turned out to be none other than Zoe Sharp. I wasn’t paying as much attention to the stage as perhaps I should have been (guilty m’lord) but I then thought I heard my own name being announced. Zoe confirmed it. A few moments later my hand was being squeezed by more people than I could count. Wicked Game had been long-listed, for the John Creasey New Blood Dagger, along with eight other entries. My publisher gave me a kiss, my phone started buzzing. I was stunned, and speechless.

That night, I celebrated with fish n chips and a cider, at the Catch22 resturant (very good, well recommended – try the grilled fish) opposite the hotel. I met Mick Heron (Spy novelist) and, as he was also listed for another Dagger, we celebrated together.

Next day, I was on the red-eye panel, the one that starts at 9am, the morning after some people were in the bar until the wee small hours. To my surprise, we had a full house again. This time we were under the guidance of Laura Wilson. On the panel were Sara Ward, Yusuf Toropov, Anja de Jager and a certain Mr James Law. James is a former submariner and the author of a big-selling book by the name of Tenacity.

crimefest panel 1

JS Law starts the banter…

Put an ex-navy man and an ex-soldier together and the inevitable happened. First he took the rise out of the Army, then I remembered a navy joke, and soon the craic was well under way. What the people outside the room must have thought of the laughter, I don’t know. What our fellow authors must have thought, I dread to think!

 

Soon came the time to head home. All too soon as I had made some great new mates and met some fascinating people. I was really quite amazed at how friendly and welcoming the crime-fiction community is.

And will I go next year? If they’ll have me, you bet. James Law and me might just start up a double act.