Beginners’ Guide to Twitter

(Updated from original which appeared in my Facebook Notes last June 2010)

A few Facebook friends have asked me to write up some notes on using Twitter. I started using it ‘in anger’ autumn 2009, and now (as of Feb 2011) have approaching around 2000 followers over 3 accounts – I follow about the same number back. I really enjoy using Twitter and have learned loads and made many new friends since I began – but I know that some people just don’t ‘get’ it. Please feel free to comment, ask questions, or add further info below.

What is twitter ‘for’?
Twitter is a way for people around the world to connect and share information. Think business, news, views, opinions, humour, facts about the weird and wonderful, causes etc – somewhat like Facebook ‘Share’ and ‘Like’. It is used by businesses to engage with their customers and potential customers, as a public relations tool, as a way of conducting customer service, as a sales and marketing channel, and a way to gauge people’s sentiment towards their product or service. With only 140 characters to play with, the usual way of informing people is to include a link to a website where more information will be available. So twitter acts as a kind of set of headlines for the full ‘content’ which is elsewhere (e.g. a blog, website, facebook, Youtube etc…).

Twitter is a great place to find out the latest news, as breaking news spreads around the ‘Twitterverse’ like wildfire – often before the main news agencies have got hold of it. It is a tremendous source of information – I would often look to Twitter for info before even searching on Google. It’s a good way of sorting out the real facts from the garbage – as a lot of intelligent and well-informed people inhabit twitter, and there is a good level of debate.

Because of the twitter dynamic of following and being followed it is easy to find groups of people with similar interests to you. An example of this is finding people from your town who work in the same industry or share common interests with you, but whom you might otherwise never have occasion to meet; or who can provide you with local ‘real-world’ networks – for instance, a few people have asked on Twitter if anyone in Farnham can recommend a cleaning lady, and I get in touch with them and recommend mine. Since finding more people on twitter in my local community, I have been to a few local meetups, organised a dinner, seen the birth of the Digital Surrey group, met some incredibly interesting (and useful) people and made genuine new friends. This is a boon when you work away from your local community and don’t have time to socialise – least of all with people you share interests with.

It is very easy to find people with similar political views to you, with particular expertise, or who are simply fascinating or have a point of view you respect.

It can also be hilarious, following a particular topic and seeing people’s varying reactions to it. It’s a wonderful way of being social on the spur of the moment around an event – it’s a key element of ‘social TV’.

Put it this way. You may be a lover of a particular TV show – say ‘Glee’. Searching for ‘#Glee’ will introduce you to many others following the goings-on in a way that makes it very easy to chat, exchange background info or whatever. For my own part, I REALLY enjoy being online while talent shows and Eurovision (for example) are being broadcast – because the tweetstreams which accompany them are often more entertaining than the show itself! There’s nothing to say my family or Facebook friends would appreciate the sense of humour – but I can always find people of a similar mind on Twitter!

Twitter is different from Facebook because there is no need for mutuality. You follow the people, lists and topics that interest you – they don’t necessarily follow you back. Whereas with Facebook, your private and family life is often on display, and you may think twice before adding people as friends, or approaching them, on twitter you have little choice who follows you – but obviously can choose whether or not to follow back. You can always ‘unfollow’ later on. More on this later.

I follow/am followed by very few of my ‘real-life’ friends and colleagues. To be honest, Twitter to me is about extending my network rather than remaining/acting within it. That’s what Facebook is for. Also, Twitter can be about disposable or temporary networks/relationships. Facebook tends to be about more enduring relationships.

Someone once described Twitter as ‘standing in the street and shouting your news out to anyone who cares to listen’. It is a bit like that. You will be heard by
a) Your followers
b) People searching for terms contained in your message
c) All of the followers of all of THOSE people, if they choose to re-tweet (RT) your message or question.

Twitter Fundamentals
* Twitter allows you to write a status, ask a question or send a message in 140 characters or less
* An ‘@’ is a reply. Typing @<username> means that that user will see what you have written to or about them in their @ stream
* If @<username> is the first thing in your message then only that person, plus anyone following both of you will see the message in real time. However it will be on display in your profile ‘stream’.
* To ensure that anyone can read what you have said in your @ reply, simply prefix it with a dot, e.g. .@justinbieber Shouldn’t you be in bed by now?
* D @<username> is a direct message
* Be VERY careful with direct messages and that they really are direct and to the person you intended – I’ve seen a few bloopers where people sent intimate messages out to the world, thinking they’d sent them direct!
* Never click on links contained in Direct messages unless you have first checked with the sender that they are genuine. A lot of twitter hacks come from people inadvertently following links – and then finding THEIR friend list are receiving direct messages with dodgy messages and links in too. No real harm is done- it’s just an annoyance, can be embarrassing and is usually rectified by changing your twitter password.

Different twitter applications
You sign up to twitter at and will always have a profile page there – e.g. see my, /theoptimismclub or /k4thybrown page. At you can (and should) create a bio which gives people the info they need to know whether or not to follow you. So make it relevant to the persona you want to portray. Your profile page says a lot about you. Try clicking on a few different people’s pages to see what they have written about themselves, and whether they have a personal wallpaper giving more background. Off your homepage you can also see how many followers you have, how many you are following, all the @ messages and mentions you have received, and Direct messages you have received. You should check these periodically. You can also see who has re-tweeted your messages (see below)

The drawback of using as your only twitter interface is that it is quite simplistic and only allows you to see any one ‘tweetstream’ at any one time. There are many other providers of interfaces for using Twitter. My favourite is Tweetdeck. It lets you have multiple columns open to see lot of things at the same time. You can search for a topic on the fly and see all mentions of that word in a new column, as they happen. I’m enjoying using Blackberry’s own twitter app although I also have UberTwitter. It’s worth trying out a few or asking for recommendations.

Retweeting (RT’ing) is a way of spreading information. Twitter has an RT ‘button’ on each tweet to make it easy for you to propagate what you have just read. It will show up as coming from the message originator, but ‘RT’d by @<yourusername>. This is known as the ‘new’ RT method. The ‘old’ method allows you to edit the tweet before sending it back out – so that you can add a comment or question before sending it on. doesn’t automatically allow you to do this any more, but other Twitter tools do. e.g. on my Twitter for Blackberry application I can ‘Quote tweet’ which puts the original in quotation marks. On Tweetdeck, if you click ‘Retweet’ you are asked if you want to edit before re-tweeting.

Being re-tweeted is a good thing. It means someone thinks your message is worth passing on, and introduces you to new people who may want to follow you.

As a newcomer to twitter it can be very confusing to see someone’s tweets spattered with lots of words prefixed with # (the hash sign). Doing this is called using a hashtag. It means you are tagging that word (or series of words – people often join several words together to make it ‘work’ as a hashtag) to make it more findable. You are giving that word or acronym some kind of significance. A very common use of the hashtag is to identify an event. That way, all people attending or interested in following that event can locate each other on Twitter, find new people to follow, hear commentary and analysis on the event in real-time or attract people’s attention to something.

e.g. the hashtag #sxsw is used to denote the Social Media conference ‘South by SouthWest’. If you’re not lucky enough to attend but are interested in keeping up with the latest announcements from the event, you can follow the stream that includes that hashtag.

#gazaflotilla told the world very swiftly about the Israeli killings on the Gaza relief flotilla

#ashtag (a great play on words) is the defacto hashtag for the recent Iceland volcano eruption and everythign related to the disruption created by the ash cloud.

Another common use is to hashtag the name of a TV show or news item – e.g.

#bgt = Britain’s got talent. searching for this term in Twitter will open up a stream showing all the tweets from people discussing Britain’s got Talent
#worldcup = obvious 😉
#ge2010 = General election 2010, was widely used by people tweeting about the election and thereby indicating that they are interested in this as a current affairs topic.

It’s fun making up your own tags, and there are regularly casual games going on involving wordplay such as #foodbands, #mixedupmovies, etc. You offer your suggested piece of wordplay and tag it with the appropriate #hashtag. And don’t forget to RT other people’s whose efforts you enjoyed reading or which made you laugh (or groan)!

Follow Friday(#FF) and all that
Being followed on twitter isn’t the be-all and end-all – unless you are a business, maybe. It’s not really a numbers game, the quality of your followers is more important than how many you have. But the number does grow organically – depending on how much you engage, the calibre of your tweets, and the number of re-tweets you get. A few years ago a phenomenon known as ‘Follow Friday’ started – now known as #FF. Every Friday, it has become customary to recommend other tweeters. You don’t have to do this – but it’s a nice way of helping twitter people (tweeps, tweople, twitterfolk, tweeters) to get more followers. It’s a real accolade to get #FFs of your own, and you should always be sure to thank whoever #FF’d you.

BTW, while the plural of #FF is #FFs, take care not to confuse people as ‘FFS’ is also an abbreviation for a well-used expletive :-).

Q: When/why would you unfollow someone?
A: Basically, you would only unfollow someone if they were really hateful or annoying. There’s no need to unfollow people. But it’s up to you. If one particular tweeter crowds or dominates your stream you may want to consider unfollowing – orjust learn to scan their tweets. Every now or then there’ll be something of interest. I have only ever unfollowed a few people, and always with reluctance.

On the other hand, finding out someone else has stopped following you can be confusing, if you thought you had good engagement with them. When I am unfollowed I get a message from Qwitter. Then I have to decide whether or not I care enough to find out why that person has stopped following. More often than not, it’s easy to see that they were people you decided not to follow back in the first place – marketeers or ‘bots’. If I was really curious, I would @ reply the person to ask why they had unfollowed me and check it wasn’t a mistake. But at the end of the day,

* you can’t do much about someone else’s opinion, and
* it’s not the end of the world in any case. Sod ’em!

Q: Should you automatically follow someone back?
A: There is a lot of automated following going on, with no guarantee that your new follower is genuinely interested in you, or of any relevance to you whatsoever. Every few days I go to my ‘followers’ list and click on every new follower’s profile to see if they look interesting. If they do, then I follow them back.

I know some prolific tweeters who follow EVERYONE back – but unless you are going to be really organised with lists to group friends by subject/area of interest I wouldn’t do this.

Q: Should you automatically unfollow someone who stops following you?
A: No – why would you? If they were interesting enough to follow in the first place, carry on!

In my opinion, following widely and selectively is the way to get the most from Twitter as an individual. Also engaging in conversation with others using the @ reply, acknowledging RTs and FFs and offering interesting facts and information for others to consume.

As a business there is a whole raft of usage opinion and guidelines about how to use Twitter to best effect – but that’s not for discussion here.

When you add a new follower (or at any point afterwards) you can create a list to group them under – or add them to an existing list you have created. Your lists can be public or private. If public, other people can follow your lists – and likewise, you can follow someone else’s public lists. This is a very good way of following a bunch of people with a common theme very quickly – and someone else has done the hard work of grouping them in a list already.

Trending topics (#TT)
On the right hand side of your twitter homepage you will see a list of trending topics. This means the words or hashtags being talked about the most right at this moment across twitter, a bit like the ‘top ten’ of the hit parade 🙂 – but in real time. You can see TTs at global level, or at regional/national level – e.g. you can see just the TTs for London, UK. Getting a topic ‘trending’ is always an achievement – but it can be done by design. An example was when @bubblybex, a young cancer sufferer from Britain launched the #kickcancer tag to raise cancer awareness and unite people undergoing treatment and their carers. She has since been in the press because of her achievement. The main way TTs occur is by #hashtag ‘games’ and RTs of topical themes. #bgt, #gazaflotilla and #iranelection are also examples of hashtags which have been trending topics.

You may be perplexed why some people and topics are in the TT ‘chart’. For some reason, JustinBieber seems to live there.

OK – that’s a lot of info. As I said earlier – please ask questions, add other tips and tricks, comments and viewpoints. And feel free to follow me if you aren’t already – many of my Twitter friends are now also connected with me on Facebook too which is lovely – feels like a way to get to know you better.


February 4, 2011 Posted by | twitter | Leave a comment

Just for fun: Music and picture quiz

Try your luck at these Music and Picture rounds for a quiz I’ve created.

Listen to Music Quiz Round 1: 50s, 60s, 70s (opens in player)

Listen to Music Quiz Round 2: 80s, 90s, 00s (opens in player)

in both of the above I am looking for the name of the artist or band.

Download Picture Quiz 0810

Now visit the answer sheet to submit your answers and I’ll confirm via comments (and Twitter if you like!) how many you have correct! You may find it easier to have the answer sheet open in a separate tab or browser window as you listen to the excerpts. Please don’t leave comments with the answers on; I’ll moderate them out if you do. The answers might be published in due course, depends how many people have a go…

Have fun and let me know how you find it – I’ll probably do this again if it works out and happy to take suggestions on board.

August 7, 2010 Posted by | Fun | Leave a comment

The 43-year-old (Glastonbury) virgin

Observations from the 40th Glastonbury Festival, 2010 – the hottest on record, and my first time there and camping, in spite of being a whopping 43 years old.

Age: I felt suddenly old at Glastonbury. Mainly due to the aches and pains and the self-restraint which kept telling me to drink plenty of water and juice and not overdo it on the cider. That said, there were people of ALL ages there – from a baby barely a few months old to people in their eighties. And lots and lots of mature couples and individuals, often as part of family groups. I saw grandparents and grandchildren there. Age has its upsides too. I was phlegmatic about the whole experience, the queues, the minor discomforts, not fazed by things like the undignified toilet facilities. I just accepted what I’d let myself in for and enjoyed it all.

Flags and mess in front of The Other Stage

Crowd waits for Florence and The Machine - Other Stage

Alone: I spent a good part of the Festival alone. It was very difficult to meet up as arranged with people – mainly because of the crowds. A couple of times I had arranged to hook up with cousin David and we completely missed each other in spite of being precise about location and time. Not having any charge in my phone, and limited signal, didn’t help either. So it was lonely at times – but as they say, Glastonbury should be experienced by yourself – otherwise it’s not your festival. You can’t automatically expect people to make friends with you, although they do! You have to be proactive in making conversation and people are so friendly and interesting, it’s worth the effort. I met so many people from all over the place – including my home town Farnham. And I enjoyed the solitude, the liberty, and the opportunity to observe other people at play.

Backache: was it just me? My lower back was killing me. I blame the tent-pegging. Whatever, I found myself struggling a little to be on my feet for long; getting up from the grass and bending over to pick things up were awkward. Things got really sore by Saturday so I took myself off to the Healing Fields for a rather good (and cheap) massage.

Chair: I would say a folding chair is an essential item. They are light enough. I didn’t bother carrying one around with me but I would consider it in future. Lots of people used it to encamp in position ready for the next gig. I used it to relax by my tent, and to sit in while washing myself down inside the tent.

Baby wearing ear defenders claps along to music at Glastonbury

Baby claps along to Lissie

Children: there were loads of children there – I was amazed really. Tiny babies in pull-along trolleys with canopies over, babies and toddlers with protective ear defenders in the concerts, and minors of all ages, especially from Friday evening onwards. There was an enormous amount for them to see, do and enjoy. I see no reason why the festival isn’t a wonderful, magical place for families. It certainly teaches them what to expect from an adult world – in a safe, non-threatening way. All the children I saw were patient and well-behaved. I didn’t see any tantrums at all – although I admittedly didn’t spend much time in the family-oriented zones (which are entertaining enough for all ages). It was nice that they were included in and catered for at the festival

Croissant Neuf: A fab little venue near the Greenfields. I saw The Beat here on Saturday night (Sunday morning).  Just down from the stage tent is a massive oak carved table and chairs, a new installation this year – with at least 16 seats at the enormous table. This was a genius idea for giving strangers a place to sit and talk. I had a lovely time there late on Friday, talking spontaneous bollocks with a random set of people.

D: Gate D was my way in and out. By fluke, I got lost on the way driving in and ended up on completely the opposite side of the festival to where I expected – but it helped! I had hardly any queuing to get into the fields and hardly any to leave at the end. I would definitely navigate back the same route next time.

Dairy Ground: was my camping field. Loved it up there – not too far of a walk from The Park, the Other Stage and the Glade and Greenfields. It was somehow greener and fresher than the dense camping down in the main festival site. I would choose that area again, probably a little further down the hill towards the farm though.

Earplugs: on the advice of my friend Aaron, I invested in some foam disposable earplugs and these proved really useful, late at night, climbing into my sleeping bag. Whatever time you decide to turn in, there will always be people coming and going, chatting and laughing from surrounding tents, the clanging of toilet doors in the near distance…

A group sits around candles at Glastonbury

Candletime at the Stone Circle (Image courtesy of @Steeluloid)

Fire: a real theme at Glastonbury. I loved it, up at The Park and by the Stone Circle, the fascination people have with fire, the fact that almost every seated group has a lighted candle or a fire going. The vision of flame lanterns rising into the twilight sky, or at sunrise, was magical. Even if a few wayward ones did occasionally almost set light to the hair of unsuspecting punters unlucky enough to be looking in the wrong direction. Ooops! It was amusing watching people trying to get the hang of lighting and launching them. The lanterns are banned items at Glastonbury, but there were no shortage of them – and indeed a shop selling ‘Fire Toys’ in the market area. There were also spectacular fire displays at Shangri-La, and numerous fire-baton twirlers amazing us with their skillz.

Flashmob Proposal: so cute. Over a hundred people gathered at the Ribbon Tower on Thursday evening to shout out ‘Sarah! Will you marry me?’ and luckily the lady in question said ‘yes’!

Greenfields: I loved this haven of tranquillity away from the crowds and dust. The area is devoted to ‘green’ stuff – permaculture, environmental challenges, natural arts and healing are all subjects treated here. It’s worth remembering the whole ethos of the festival is about renewal and the planet. Hence Greenpeace’s sponsorship and massive presence. Funny – as I am writing this note, I am watching Michael Jackson’s ‘This is It’ movie and hearing him talk about the environment and the one world we inhabit, I feel he would be really at home at Glastonbury. RIP Michael.

Hair: OK – so I cheated. I was tempted to see what would happen to my hair after 5 days of dust, sweat and sunshine but on day 3 I stumbled upon a side-tent in the Dance Village offering hair washing with warm water, and hair dryers and products. And I couldn’t resist a freshen-up.

Hats: ESSENTIAL in the sunshine, and jolly fetching too. There’s something incredibly sexy about men in hats. All sorts were on display.

Ice cream vans: loads of them, all over the place. And very welcome they were too. I had an ice cream or ice lolly every day.

Insects: nope – don’t think I saw a single one while I was there. I was wearing insect repellant sunscreen I suppose – but given we were on dairy farmground, the seething mass of sweating humanity and the stinking latrines, you’d think there would be some choice insectlife there.  Uh-huh *shakes head.

John Peel Tent: OK, I have to confess, this was my least favourite venue at the festival. I saw Tegan and Sara and Ellie Goulding there. It’s magnificent to have a venue named for Mr Peel, and it’s sizeable enough. I suppose it would be ideal (if crowded) for rainy conditions but it was in a strange, dusty, remote corner beyond the Dance Village and quite a walk from the Pyramid. Being semi-enclosed, it was difficult for the audience unlucky enough to be spilling outside to see anything much. The same was true at Avalon, but the setting there is more empathetic somehow.

Jumper: For as hot as the tent was by 8.30 am every morning, it got pretty chilly once the sun went down. I managed to get changed each evening into leggings and a jumper. On the second day I went and bought a woollen poncho which proved a fantastic investment both as a cover-up and as something to sit on at the Stone Circle when it got a bit cool and damp.

Knickers: highly amusing to see chaps wandering around in sparkly thongs. Much better if they were young, with shapely butt-cheeks. Not all were. Ahem.

Logistics: Totally awe-inspiring logistics at Glastonbury. Consider the effort to raise a temporary infrastructure capable of hosting a population equivalent to  a top-30 UK city by volume for just one weekend a year. Not just host them, but entertain them so very well, provide security, sewage management, water, electricity for the attractions and services. I thought the whole thing was superb.

Massage: In the healing fields you can get various treatments and counselling. I resorted in desperation on the Saturday to queuing (seated) for a back massage in the central massage tent. It was really good. My masseur, Richard, spoke to me about my lower back and delivered a tailored massage (no oils – although you can have an aromatherapy massage or whatever is appropriate) which helped to relax me for a few hours. Treatments in the healing tents were free – suggested minimum donation £10. I paid £20 and thought that was good value.

Money: Allegedly you can get by on as little as £10 a day – especially if you drink mainly water from the taps and bring in your own supplies (alcohol, cigarettes, food if you fancy bbqs each evening). I spent  quite a bit more than that – I bought a poncho, a sunhat, a silver ring, a festival t-shirt, a massage, a hairwash and a fortune-telling session, plus food, drink and some ciders out and about. But everything at Glasto is free once you’re in, so it’s not necessary to have a lot of spending money. If you run out  (as I did) there are cash points around the site – sometimes with large queues. But queues are places to meet people. And Glastonbury teaches you, if nothing else, to allow plenty of time for everything and – well – just chill!

Naked: there’s always at least one! For my part, it was a bloke, streaking at sunrise at the Stone Circle.

Orange: as in the mobile operator. They provided the Chill n Charge tent where you can go (or queue and go) to charge your phone, no cables or chargers required – they provide connectors for all major phone types. The iPod owners had a hard time competing for slots. I was luckier with a common mini-USB connector which meant I could have a choice of tables to connect at. For some reason though, I could only ever get one or two bars on my blackberry…. Which soon went. It was frustrating to say the least. That said, it was pleasant enough in the chill n’ charge with the added benefit of a tiny outdoor stage where I was lucky enough to see a short performance by US artist Lissie (she’s really good, I will definitely be downloading some of her). Also worth mentioning that the mobile signal around the site was very very erratic, so mobile comms were hampered throughout.

The Ribbon Tower and The Park at sunset

The Ribbon Tower and The Park at Sunset, from the hill

Park (The): My favourite stage! The Park is up the hill and home to the ‘Ribbon Tower’ – an observation platform for looking out over the festival site. I didn’t go up but I did climb the hill behind the tower for amazing view and sunsets. I saw ‘Here we go Magic’, ‘Midlake’ and ‘Empire of the Sun’ on this stage. It’s programmed by Emily Eavis and features an eclectic selection of aspiring indie acts. It’s also the home of the ‘Surprise’ artists – unannounced, but a subject for wildfire rumour, they turn up and just play for the odd slot here or there. It was Radiohead and The Strokes this festival – unfortunately I missed due to my planned schedule. I’d opt for the surprise bands in future though.

Q: The daily Q Guide (newspaper) was a neat way to catch up on some of the attractions and read reviews for the gigs. The Q Review is also a fantastic souvenir. Excitingly, it includes a massive aerial photograph poster taken at a stated time during the festival so you can work out where you were and see if you can spot yourself. I love my poster! I’ve spent hours poring all over it and pointing things out to the family – where everything was and what happened there.

Reviews: a mini version. I didn’t get to see everyone I would have liked – and I opted for some off-the-beaten-track gigs rather then the mainstream. I’m afraid my Gorillaz experience on Friday put me off revisiting the Pyramid for Stevie Wonder on Sunday. So here goes in brief:

Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs – comedy skiffle band. Saw them at the eFestivals footie game in front of the Pyramid on Thursday – funny.

Femi Kuti – fantastic stuff from Nigeria, lots of bootie-shaking and soulful vocals with peace message.

Tegan and Sara – Canadian cuties with tattoos n guitars. Quite good, wouldn’t pay to see them though.

Lissie – glorious impromptu performance at the chill-n charge. Loved her! Mississippi lady.

Ellie Goulding – she was good but could have smiled more. Amazingly, played guitar, keyboards and drums live on stage, and vocals were spot on too. I’d see her again.

Gorillaz – wasn’t familiar with their new concept stuff so bored for the first half. Was lost in the sea of Pyramid field and it was fun for a while having a laugh along with everyone else until loads of groups started leaving and pushing past me to get out. Couldn’t be bothered after that and left early to head up to the Greenfields and the relaxing Small World Cafe. Only worth going to the Pyramid headlines if it’s someone you REALLY want to see or there’s a good vibe/singalong – and then best if you can get there early and down the front.

Elephant Talk – jolly lovely happy hippy music late  at the Small World Cafe.

Carnival Collective – noisy, fun, rhythmic and percussive: brass and drums capturing the carnival essence late at the Greenfields.

Here We Go Magic – loved this! An unexpectedly good start to the day at The Park.

Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba – strings and drums from Mali. Lots of chilled out dancing.

Shakira – consummate performer, strange duck off stage before the ultimate ‘Hips don’t Lie’ led us all to mutter to each other ‘should have gone to the loo before the show, love!’. That woman has everything and does lots for charity too. Great show.

Midlake – more magic at The Park. Tried it out for size with cousin David and we both enjoyed a new sound for us – though they had serious fans in the audience. Strains of Fleet Foxes mixed with Emerson Lake Palmer. They’re from Texas.

The Beat at Croissant Neuf – rude boy dancing to old favourites and new songs

Keane – acoustic set at Avalon. Smashing. Tom sang beautifully, crowd sang along throughout. One of my favourite bands so this was possibly the highlight for me.

Paul Heaton – in Left Field. Back on track with political lyricfest. Sang some Housemartins ballads (‘Build’) and a lot of new material

Empire of the Sun – weird stuff! I only recognised the one song (which I like) but the rest was kind of surreal space-like electro with dancers in tin-foil and square heads.

There was lots of ‘random’ music to be enjoyed and I stopped and listened in at a few tents as I went. I was especially fond of African music and harmonies.

Men in Boer War uniforms atop the stones at sunrise

Stoned at sunrise. I see the cavalry.

Sunset and Sunrise: unmissable and unforgettable. I saw the sunset from the hill at The Park on Wednesday evening and loved it when everyone cheered the moment the sun disappeared. The view towards Glastonbury from up there is lovely. And in my ever so humble glasto virgin opinion, I don’t think I could have said I’d been to the festival without having experienced sunrise at the Stone Circle with my cousin David. And then there’s the other ‘s’… ‘stoned’. Let’s say it was a mellow and hilarious experience

Stone Circle: “a sacred space” eh? Well, I’m sure it’s mystical by day and in the absence of the Glasto crowd but every evening during the festival it becomes a hub of activity – with groups meeting, singing, teetering atop the stones, and displays of fire-baton twirling, flame lanterns, candles, campfires and smoking. This is a great place to chat to strangers and share stories and moments.

Silent Disco: ha! I did it. You wear headphones and can choose one of two tracks to listen to. It should be more to make it funnier. The idea is that to observers, it’s silent, but to those in the tent dancing to their own sounds and rhythm it’s hilariously funny spotting those who are dancing to the same thing as you.

Trolley: OMG – so glad I invested in one! I had a chunky-wheeled sacktruck strapped into my passenger seat and it meant I could do the journey into the campsite from the car park (a good twenty minute walk at the best of times) in one trip with everything I needed. On the way back out I took my time and wheeled everything out in two trips – but it made the transportation of . You need good bungee chords though – I had the multi-clawed type and they worked really well.

Trolley fully loaded and secured

Toilets: have to be mentioned. You basically have a choice of chemical cubicles or longdrop traps – depending where you happen to be. You quickly learn to get over yourself in Glasto loos. No glamour possible – everyone can see your feet sticking out below, you see what your predecessors have left behind, and get used to wiping down or hovering every time. There’s no toilet paper, no flushing, no handwashing, just hand sanitizer pumps (usually) so it’s vital to carry tissues or toilet roll and antiseptic handwipes with you. There were a lot of people covering their noses ( I even saw one lady with earplugs inserted in her nostrils) but I must be less sensitive. I could also hear people vomiting around me in the loos. Due in part to the environment itself no doubt, on top of the beer, cider and the sunshine. As one lad I overheard said – ‘Imagine feeling so terrible and then throwing up in the worst place in the world!’

#Twisto crowd at Glasto

#Twisto meetup (Image courtesy of Mick Yates)

Twisto: met the #twisto crowd at the Tiny Tea Tent on Thursday morning and then at 2pm for several pints of Brothers cider in West Holts. Fantastic to put faces to some twitter IDs – had a great chat with @thejaydoubleyou, @ladybugnina, @steamrunner and a few others.

Urinals: So simple – screened-off areas with ‘Men–>’ scrawled on them, and hilariously, facing the crowd and walkways so you can smile at the gents while they pee.

Unfair Ground: a part of the Shangri-La area at the far end of the Railway Track. I visited on Thursday night before the festival was truly underway so it was quiet, but even then I didn’t get to look at everything and I should have gone back. The Unfair Ground was full of freaky sculptures and disturbing and surreal fairground-style games including one where you had to throw babydolls’ broken limbs into a set of revolving demon mouths in order to win a scary doll. I saw a guy on Friday night who had won one in a strange footballer-like costume – how I coveted that doll!

Scary doll

So Unfair! I want one.

The Unfair Ground was also the venue for the Bono Bar, a bizarre cubbyhole tucked away in a tunnel with a single bartender serving only Bailey’s, Guinness and Irish Whisky, and a Bono idolatry theme. The whole area was like a memorable and unsettling dream.

Variety: there’s so MUCH variety at Glastonbury. I was seriously impressed with the choice of food on offer. Cousin David had told me ahead of time there was a great choice of food to be had but even then I was taken aback. I saw Sushi, Eritrean curry, Kangaroo and Alligator, Vegan cafes, Tartiflette, Paella, Salad places, smoothie bars and my favourite – crepes – I had one almost every day for either lunch or dinner. There’s food available 24 hours a day, and it’s really good quality and reasonably priced – most things cost between £5 and £10. Unfortunately there wasn’t such a variety of cider. I only saw three or four varieties on sale. Maybe I should have visited more of the many ‘pub’ tents?

Value: £200 for 5 days camping and world-class entertainment is extraordinarily good value. However £3.50 for a cup of real coffee in the morning is NOT.

Weed: you can smell it EVERYWHERE! I loved how relaxed everyone was about this. There were joints all over the place, and stoned people lying around in the dark, in the shade, in the sun…

Xcited and Xhausted = me before the festival and by the end of it! In fact, I don’t recall ever feeling as physically exhausted as I did on the Wednesday evening after trekking in with my gear and erecting my tent. Everything ached! It must have been eased by my first cold pints of cider though – I felt OK if a little weak by Thursday. Now, a week on from the festival and I am still feeling the effects. As my husband pointed out, it’s mentally exhausting too – all that stimulus in a short space of time. But just as my Xhaustion lessens, it is being replaced anew by the Xcitement of going again next year.

Yes!!: is what I shall say if anyone asks me whether I would go to Glastonbury Festival again. I understand that  2012 is to be a fallow year (and allow for the Olympics) so I will have to go back in 2011 or else wait three years.

Zzzzeds: I slept like a rock every night! I was blessed with a self-inflating mattress, a quiet-ish spot, earplugs, physical exhaustion, a cider glow, and a snuggly sleeping bag. Despite being so hot during the day, the nights were cool and damp – I invariably returned to a dewy tent, so my sleeping bag and fleecy blanket were welcome. By contrast, it was almost impossible to sleep much beyond 8.30 am because the heat of the morning sun so quickly super-heated the interior of the tent. On the one morning I needed to sleep in longer (after staying up until 6.30 am) I still woke at 8.30 am and was forced to strip down and sleep atop my bedding with the flaps of my tent open to get a breeze through.

David and Kathy do sunrise at the Stone Circle

David and Kathy do sunrise at the Stone Circle

I dedicate this blogpost to my cousin David Steele, who urged me to get to Glastonbury and who shared my inaugural experience of the festival with me (and supplied some excellent photos too).

July 4, 2010 Posted by | Glastonbury, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Dodgy foot halts running progress, leading to a row

Tragedy strikes

Showing where plantar fasciitis strikes under the foot

Plantar fasciitis is the inflammation of the arch tendon, where it joins the heel, and is caused by impact

After running the Frimley Lodge 8 mile in February, I got a really sore arch – and the physio diagnosed plantar fasciitis. This still (as of July) hasn’t resolved itself in spite of taking anti-inflamms and receiving ultrasonic therapy. I’ve had an x-ray too but nothing identified, which leaves me with the option of a steroid injection to the sole of my heel. Booked in Monday for this – and not looking forward to it in the slightest!

In the meantime I have piled on the weight. I think I am the heaviest I have ever been outside of pregnancy; but since the batteries ran out on our bathroom scales I haven’t replaced them. I am in denial about weight, and just worried about waistbands that don’t meet. So I am visiting the gym, where my cv routine consists of cross-trainer, AMT (assisted motion trainer – hard work!) and rowing. Now, I think I am quite good at rowing, so I have decided to keep a record here of my progress. It’s all in the legs you know – but I like it because rowing is a good all-round workout, tightens the bum and abs as well as the legs and arms. Having said that, one of the coaches down at the gym has suggested that while I am wanting to lose weight as a priority, I should leave the rowing alone and focus on the x-trainer and AMT. But I can’t resist hopping on now and then and seeing if I can set myself a new PB for a shorter distance. Managing sub-2 minutes for 500m the other day was a #win!

July 1, 2010 Posted by | running | , | Leave a comment

Protected: #Twandoori – temporary post

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April 27, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Enter your password to view comments.

Is the death penalty a cultural universal?

….Was the question posed on the discussion forum at All about Death

As usual I can’t resist responding to the idiocy of some of the comments made on these things. Here was my reply.

“I believe that what is universal is the sense of outrage, anger, disgust and desire for vengeance that the majority of people feel when a tragic and terrible crime is committed. That is very, very human and unites us all. However the purpose of the law is to separate passion and emotion from punishment and to provide justice in both its negative AND positive connotation (punishment and grace). Removing someone securely from society for the crime they have committed does not mean killing them. 138 countries in the world have now abolished the death penalty or are ‘de facto’ abolitionist. Are they all wrong?

Consider this. A dead man cannot make amends or restitution. He does not bring the loved one back. If he wasn’t actually the culprit, and was framed or a victim of circumstance, then his life cannot be restored to him either. No matter how cruel or vindictive a crime may be, this does not give us the right to kill in return.

On the matter of murder victims’ families rights – just visit the websites of Journey of Hope or Murder Victims Families for Human Rights to learn why capital punishment is NOT the answer for people who have faced terrible loss. To the commenter above, I would also point out yet again that the law is there to provide justice – but it is not infallible. Mistakes are made, and in this day and age, we simply cannot allow a single innocent person to be sacrificed because our ugly lust for revenge demands satisfaction.

Finally – Americans in particular often restrict their consideration of this issue purely to their own system and their own shores – so I thank the question-setter for introducing he idea of ‘universalism’. Do we all agree that is universally acceptable to execute a man for disagreeing with his own government and holding a peaceful protest? Um, no. Do we universally believe that a female child of 9 or 10 should be stoned to death if her parents or relatives accuse her of overt sexuality? Perhaps not. How about gays? Should they be exterminated? And perhaps we should universally make executions more widespread and timed so that we can send out killing vans to harvest organs from the dead to sell on for profit? All of these things are happening TODAY in Iran, China, Nigeria and other countries. The USA’s capital punishment system is far from being part of anything universal. But it sure keeps some strange company.”

March 29, 2010 Posted by | China, death penalty, Europe, human rights, innocence, Iran, justice, USA | 2 Comments

Terminator: The Lethal Injection Protocols

Last week saw the publication of the latest revisions to the protocols for adminstration of lethal injections in California. In previous news,

  • The State of California has been observing a moratorium on executions since December 2006, when it was ruled that procedures contravened the 8th amendment of the US constitution.
  • In 2007 Governor Schwarzenegger’s administration was exposed for building of a $400,000 death chamber in secret, in spite of the extant moratorium.
  • Also in 2007, controversy over requests filed by the DA General that the revision of three-injection protocols be conducted in secret led to an outcry regarding secrecy around the whole process and an eventual ruling that the government submit the revised protocols to public scrutiny
  • Despite huge financial and budgeting difficulties faced by the State of California, which could be greatly alleviated by commuting all death penalties to life without parole, Governor Schwarzenegger has chosen to press ahead with the building of an extension to San Quentin’s Death Row at an estimated cost of $400million. If carried through, this could end up housing hundreds more condemned prisoners at an exponentially rising level of cost that surely cannot be sustainable by the State?

Here is the background to the request for emails from Death Penalty Focus (DPF):


On January 4, 2010, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) proposed minor revisions to its lethal injection procedures in the form of amendments to its previously proposed procedures. CDCR set a fifteen-day comment period ending January 20, 2010 at 5:00 p.m. during which the public can submit written comments on the proposed amendments.

The call for comments is open to all – not just Californians, and the form allows for non-US residents to participate as well. So I did. My point here is not to boast about my actions (although I have to admit taking action gives me a huge kick!). But it is to show my readers that we can – and should get involved EVERY TIME we have an opportunity to comment, question and disrupt the capital punishment system – anywhere in the world. You can cut and paste my comments into your own email, if you like and can’t be bothered to review the document and write your own. I’d rather people did that than nothing.

My email to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR)

(Note this was based on the DPF template and extended)

Lethal Injection: Proposed Amendments to Title 15, Article 7.5, Sections 3349

I am very concerned about the newly revised lethal injection procedures.

In particular, I have the following concerns:

* The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) added a news article from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat to the rulemaking file. The article mentions that the original creator of the three-drug lethal injection formula has suggested ways to reform the process, including keeping up with changing drugs and science and proper training of lethal injection team members. The recent experience of Romell Broom in Ohio reinforces a point raised in the article, that botched executions are a real possibility, especially in California, due to the limited training of the lethal injection team members and California’s repeated failure to meaningfully change its protocol.

* CDCR’s amended regulations continue to be wholly inadequate and inapplicable to female condemned inmates.  The regulations now specify that a female condemned inmate shall be transported to San Quentin no sooner than 72 hours and no later than six hours prior to the scheduled execution, but contain no provisions to implement the required 45-day chronology of events prior to her arrival at San Quentin.  CDCR also fails to address how and if the female condemned inmate will be in contact with her family members and her legal team during her transport, which may take place on the same day as her scheduled execution.

* Contrary to CDCR’s claim, the amended regulations continue to treat the condemned prisoner’s witnesses differently than the victim’s witnesses.  The victim’s family is allowed an unlimited number of witnesses at the execution, whereas the prisoner scheduled to die is limited to five individuals other than her or his spiritual adviser.  In the event of lack of space, the victim’s family is provided with the option of remote viewing of the execution, while the same option is not extended to the inmate’s family.

*The distinction drawn between Chaplains and “approved” Spiritual Advisors is confusing and it is unclear how and when a person may become a “pre-approved” Spiritual Advisor.

*Additionally this element should be re-worded to allow for a Spiritual Advisor to be a non-US national and clarified to include non-State (i.e. non-Californian) Spiritual Advisors.

* I should like to see consideration given to removal of contact restrictions for Grade B prisoners during the 5-day pre-execution period. Denial of such an allowance under supervision at this time constitutes cruel punishment, not only for the condemned inmate, but additionally for his close friends and family.

* The lethal injection system detailed in section 3349.4.5 continues to give cause for concern and doubt as to its minimisation of suffering for the inmate. The ability for supervising staff to iterate the procedure multiple times if any one stage is deemed to have failed CANNOT guarantee that death has occurred without pain. This is cruel and unusual punishment. Again the recent case of Rommell Broom in Ohio bears witness to the pain, trauma and suffering which may be endured.

* The 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution demands that no citizen be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. There is no indication within the proposed protocol revision which deals with the inmate’s psychological exposure prior to execution, and I would submit that in that respect the entire procedure constitutes little more than mental torture. The protocol requires revision to explain how this risk will be definitively mitigated.

* The above point is particularly true for atheist inmates for whom spiritual advice prior to execution holds no consequence or relief.

I expect that you will take these concerns very seriously.

Kathy Brown

My email to Governor Schwarzenegger

The second part of the form gives protesters a chance to address Governor Schwarzenegger directly (DPIC fax the contents to the Governor’s office. Who knows whether he reads this, or whether he just says ‘Fuck this bullshit, more bedding for my hamster’?). So anyway, here’s what I said. Note, again, the first 4-an-a-half paras belong to the DPIC template. The rest, we are free to improvise. I tend to feel I want to be reasonable and not rant. But I can imagine some people letting their frustrations fly at this point…

Honorable Governor Schwarzenegger,

I am very concerned about the cost, uneven and inaccurate application, and the moral implications of maintaining the death penalty in California.

As California politicians are working on resolving the budget crisis, consider that we could save $1 billion in five years by suspending the death penalty. Here’s how:

According to the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, the death penalty currently costs the state $137 million per year, whereas the alternative sentence, permanent imprisonment, would cost only $11 million per year. We could save a minimum of $600 million over the next five years.

According to the State Auditor, the State will need to spend $400 million for construction of new housing facility for death row prisoners at San Quentin.

If you convert all current death sentences to sentences of life without possibility of parole, which you have the authority to do today, you will save the State $1 billion in five years. Additionally you will have the opportunity to meet voter expectations on additional funding for crime prevention, crime detection, drugs programs, education and health.

These times call for tough choices. Please make the right decision and save your state $1 billion today.

I would also add that as a European citizen, I believe the United States has an opportunity and a duty to set an example; to show that it has the courage to change and the compassion and intelligence to address the death penalty as incompatible with modern human rights. Only by leading in this area can the United States hope to effect change in other countries, particularly the retentionist nations of Africa, the Middle East and the Far East. Article 3 and Article 5 of The Universal Declaration on Human Rights stipulate that every human being has an equal right to life, and a life free from torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. It would be wonderful to see the legacy of  Governor Schwarzenegger as being one that embraces these fundamental rights for EVERY person resident in your State.

Finally, I would like to respectfully remind you of the most compelling reason why myself and billions of other people worldwide reject the death penalty as an acceptable form of punishment, namely the persistent risk of a miscarriage of justice. In spite of safeguards, there is no doubt that for as long as the death penalty is applied, there is the risk of an innocent person being wrongly executed.  I am sure you are aware that in 2009 the United States saw a large number of exonerations, 9 of which were innocent people saved from Death Row. For California to find itself henceforth having wrongly executed even one person is morally unacceptable. The only way you can guarantee this will never happen is for you to show the strength of your leadership not just as a State Governor, but on the world stage, and bring an end to Capital punishment in California.


Kathy Brown

So, will you have your say too?

January 10, 2010 Posted by | california, challenges, death penalty, exoneration, justice, lethal injection, USA | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Confusion around plight of Joshua French in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The case of Joshua French and his friend Tjostolv Moland, both Norwegians, seems to have received relatively little press coverage. The pair, former soldiers, were condemned to death under military law in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on 3rd December 2009, for the murder of Abedi Kasongo, a driver who was taking them back to the Ugandan border after their touring motorbike broke down. Both men have steadfastedly protested their innocence, explaining that Kasongo was in fact the victim of an ambush. I can’t help but wonder if one of the reasons for any lack of hoo-ha is that there is a sense, reading between the lines, that these guys (then employed in private security services) somehow dropped themselves into it? DRC isn’t your average adventure holiday destination after all.

My response to this is SO WHAT? Reading the Reprieve case notes reveals a series of horrific transgressions of justice and human rights which deserve a wholesome challenge. For a start, there is the question of why the two men were held, tried, convicted and condemned to death by firing squad by a military court, in violation of the DRC’s own constitution. The military courts claim, falsely, that this is their right for crimes involving firearms. Undoubtedly the secrecy and disregard for proper legal procedure which has characterised this entire scenario is primarily a result of a complete breakdown in the application of the rule of law in DRC.

Furthermore, the two men were initially asked to pay $500million in compensation. Whether this would be in exchange for their lives is unclear. If so, this brands the prevailing justice system of the DRC as little better than banditry. French’s sister is reported as confirming that the two men were not engaged in any military capacity at the time of their arrest, and alleges they were set up by the Congolese government for the purposes of extortion. The Norwegian government has apparently stumped up cash to provide recompense to those wronged by the murder, but has denied the allegation of the two men being ‘spies for the Norwegian government’ and refused to pay up for such. Although I am not sure why they have made any concession, when that looks like an admission of culpability.

So what of the farcical and tragic circumstances of the trial and appeal? According to Reprieve,

“French and Moland understood little of what was said when they were sentenced to death, as most of it was held in French, which neither of them understands. During the appeal judgement, the chief judge stopped the interpreter from translating on the grounds that he was slowing things down.”

It should be noted that Reprieve’s involvement in this case stems from the fact that French is half British. Clive Stafford-Smith the Director and Founder of Reprieve said that the ‘legal process’ surrounding this case has

“included torturing Joshua, parading him around town in front of lynch nobs, and forcing him to sign statements under threat of death.”

He added,

” The British government must redouble its efforts to end this nightmare.”

I thought I’d find out some more about what the government are doing – so I sent an email letter to David Milliband, the UK Foreign Minister, to ask for their support. To my pleasure (and surprise), I did receive a reply. Below is the substance of both my letter, and the reply I received yesterday.

Dear Mr Miliband,

I am writing to urge you to make the strongest possible representations on behalf of the British Government to the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo to intervene in the case of Joshua French, a British national, who along with a Norwegian friend, has been accused of murder, which both men deny, and sentenced to death. Joshua has today had an appeal against his sentence rejected, in the most nightmarish and improper circumstances, unless $500million can be raised to save his life. The entire process has been a mockery of Human Rights and justice, with the trial and sentence being handed down by Military tribunal; this is in itself in contravention of DCR’s constitution, which states that non-military personnel must be tried in legitimate civilian courts.

Please, please work with the team at Reprieve UK (copied) to do everything you can to understand this case and furthermore, with any discretion at your disposal, to ensure that justice is properly served and Joshua can be brought safely home to Britain.
Whoever said ‘Hell is the absence of Reason’ must have been talking about situations like this; the death penalty is ALWAYS wrong, but to have it meted out under such abhorrent circumstances as these where seemingly nothing rational can be done is not tolerable in our times.

Yours sincerely,
In the hope that something can be urgently done for Joshua.
Kathy Brown

and the reply…

Dear Ms Brown,
Thank you for your email of 03 December 2009 to the Foreign Secretary about Joshua French, who is in detention in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I am replying as consular officer for Southern and East Africa.

Our colleagues in Kinshasa are providing consular assistance to Joshua, whose welfare is a priority. They have visited him on numerous occasions since September and are prepared to raise any concerns he may have regarding the conditions of detention with the Congolese authorities.

We do not take a view on innocence or guilt but we do want a fair trial. We closely monitor cases and respond to any concerns raised with us by the British national or their legal representatives.

The British Government is absolutely opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances. We have recently raised our opposition with the Congolese authorities and will continue to do so. We hope that now the death penalty has been confirmed, it will be commuted to imprisonment as we understand that the DRC has signed up to a moratorium against the death penalty. We will make representations to achieve this end at whatever stage and level is deemed appropriate.

We are cooperating with the Norwegian authorities in order to ensure that our representations are consistent and have the best opportunity to achieve our objectives.

Kind regards

Needless to say I was quite interested in this reply on a few counts. Firstly, it sounds as if the primary consideration of the FCO’s local consular office is in ensuring Joshua’s welfare – which is good news, were it not for the fact that his welfare is kinda at its nadir at the point at which he is murdered by firing squad. Secondly, that the Britsh government are opposed to the Death Penalty on all counts and request a fair trial – but they do not say how they are attempting, if at all, to rectify the fact that French did not receive one.

Most puzzling though is this matter of the DRC’s moratorium on executions and the expectation that French and Moland’s sentences will be automatically commuted to life imprisonment. I’ve asked them for clarification on this aspect. The specific reference I have found in this case comes from news as early as December 4th that the Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Stoere was assured during conversation with Alexis Mwamba, his Congolese counterpart, that a current moratorium meant that executions would not now be carried out. I am confused by this, since my understanding of a moratorium is that it is defined as a temporary position. So why this implies automatic commutation to life is unclear and inconsistent. But if true, ’tis worthy of some celebration in that it at least gives Reprieve and the governments of Britain and Norway time to right the wrongs. Wikipedia (which, gratis, should not be taken as gospel) states that the DRC does not currently apply the death penalty. In which case why were the two men sentenced to death in the first place?

The whole thing smacks of blackmail, corruption, bullying and flagrant disregard for human rights to me. I’d like to see more exposure of this in the international press.

January 7, 2010 Posted by | Clive Stafford-Smith, Congo, death penalty, DRC, FCO, Joshua French, Norway, reprieve | Leave a comment

5 reactions to the execution of Akmal Shaikh

The Sadness

There can be no more poignant summary of the sadness felt by many at the outcome of the campaign to save Akmal Shaikh than this statement issued by Reprieve UK on behalf of his surviving family:


We are deeply saddened, stunned and disappointed at the news of the execution of our beloved cousin, Akmal. This was carried out this morning despite repeated requests for clemency and a proper appraisal of Akmal’s mental state.

We are astonished at suggestions that Akmal himself should have provided evidence of his own fragile state of mind. We find it ludicrous that any mentally ill person should be expected to provide this, especially when this was apparently bipolar disorder, in which we understand the sufferer has a distorted view of the world, including his own condition. That this was regarded as sufficient grounds for refusal by the judicial authorities to order any mental health assessment is shocking to us.

(Photo Courtesy of AP Photos :

Despite our own and other pleas, the Chinese authorities have maintained their refusal to investigate Akmal’s mental health. We are comforted that the authorities have confirmed that Akmal has been buried in accordance with his own and his family’s wishes.

On behalf of the family we thank the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, as well as all the other Ministers and officials for their efforts which were sadly ignored by the Chinese authorities.

Finally, we now request the media to kindly respect the family’s privacy and allow us the space to grieve.

Cousins of Akmal Shaikh, on behalf of the Shaikh family

The Fury

The Guardian Newspaper was expressing fury at the notion Akmal would be executed at al, and unleashed it in full this morning with a headline focusing on the outrage felt by those who have worked hard for and supported his reprieve.

The language used throughout this piece reflects the frustration, ire and sadness felt by British leaders and campaigners alike. The BBC during the course of the evening had described the conversation yesterday between Foreign Office representatives and Chinese oficals as ‘a frank exchange of views’, which, they conceded, was a metaphor for a full-on argument. China’s record on Human Rights is not good, and the widespread exposure of this case has done nothing to further their reputation.

The BBC have provided a short collection of responses to the execution here.

The Bile

Despite its full and fair coverage of the Akmal Shaikh story this morning, the Daily Mail is also guilty of having allowed the online publication of this utterly repugnant piece by columnist Leo McKinstry. He states

“The British government, with its prattle about human rights, likes to think a refusal to use capital punishment is a badge of a civilised society. The truth is the willingness to execute dangerous criminals is a sign of compassion. It means a government is determined to protect the vulnerable and maintain morality.”

He concludes by saying

There is nothing barbaric about the death penalty. The real barbarism lies in refusing to punish criminals.”

Demonstrating once again, as so many proponents of capital punishment do, that he has missed the point. No-one is saying that drug trafficking is not evil and reprehensible. No-one is saying crime should go unpunished. His sophistry also displays utter ignorance – that anyone could suggest that there is nothing barbaric about the death penalty has clearly done no meaningful research on the matter whatsoever. 

It never ceases to amaze me that a matter which seems so instinctive to myself can be so twisted by hatred by others.

I apologise to all here and now for driving traffic to the Daily Mail website. As we all know the stance of the Daily Mail is to drive circulation through whatever editorial means possible. If in doubt, scan the Wikipedia entries concerning the Daily Mail and founder Viscount Rothermere and his successors to form your own opinion of how they play on hatred to secure their business objective.

If anything we should go out of our way to ignore the rag and make it hurt.

For further bile, if you have the stomach, simply take a look through the comments made in response to Reprieve’s video footage ‘Final Plea for Akmal Shaikh’. In my mind this is nothing more than desecration of a tombstone. Unbelievable. I wonder how those gainsayers would react if Reprieve were to leap to the defence of them, or one of their friends or relatives in international jeopardy?

The Chinese Response

There has been no official response to or report of the execution yet across Chinese news channels. However the sense is one of stubborn and righteous indignation:

In Beijing the Chinese government said it resisted any interference in its judicial affairs. “We express strong dissatisfaction and opposition to the British reaction,” said Jiang Yu, a foreign ministry spokeswoman. “We hope the British side will face this case squarely and not put new obstacles in the way of relations between Britain and China.”

(Source: The Guardian)

Comment on articles and Youtube footage included Chinese viewpoints, defensive of their country’s action and taking the view that Akmal Shaikh was first and foremost a drug trafficker.

The impact

In the words of the Guardian, “experts said the long-term impact would be small….”

“The two sides are just posturing for their own citizens,” said Wu Qiang of Tsinghua University. “Akmal Shaikh is only an isolated case. Unless the UK raises the issue to the EU level I don’t think there will be big influence on relations.”

I like to think there is an impact of a different kind. We simply cannot overlook the social web influence factor any more. Last night, several of us on Twitter tried and failed to get the #SaveAkmal hashtag to trend (i.e. reach the list of top topics currently being mentioned in the community.). But with every high-profile case of this kind we obtain a little more awareness of the inhumanity and irrationality of Capital Punishment. Today, the name Akmal Shaikh has reached the volumes required in Twitter for it to trend. It all helps!!

It is my fervent hope that the ultimate impact of the doomed campaign to save Akmal Shaikh wil be another baby-step towards the eventual elimination of the Death Penalty in every nation.

If you oppose the Death Penalty, please consider following @TheOptimismClub on Twitter and joining the Facebook Group


December 29, 2009 Posted by | Akmal Shaikh, death penalty, news, reprieve, The Optimism Club | Leave a comment

Murder in China and the Birth of The Optimism Club

Picture courtesy of Getty Images –

Tonight has been energising, exhausting and emotional. While a band of sturdy campaigners have stood an actual vigil for the reprieve of Akmal Shaikh outside the Chinese Embassy in London this evening, I’ve been proud to keep my own personal vigil of sorts online, in the company of a whole crowd of Tweeters determinedly plugging the #SaveAkmal hashtag.

At time of writing, we still do not know if the Chinese have actually gone through with the Sentence of Death they confirmed at 2.30 am. We’re all watching various news sources which cautiously suggest it must have happened. But still no official word. Which gives rise to the last strand of hope that the ultimate clemency may have been granted. Who knows right now. Poor Akmal. Poor Akmal’s family. Poor China. But, y’know what? It’s not in vain. Energy doesn’t vanish, it is simply transformed.
The hope and the tentative positivity displayed this evening showed me that there can always be optimism. And that optimism drives an energy and a force of its own. And that with a medium like the social web at our disposal, we can create the domino effect. We can target and challenge death penalty issues wherever we feel they might have most effect. I truly believe this. So tonight will see the birth of @TheOptimismClub. The tweeters who were standing virtually united to promote the cause of Akmal Shaikh in his tragic final hours (we assume) are by default some of the founding members of that group. 
There are a whole lot of haters and vicarious murderers out there – the black-aura’d ‘hang-em-high’ gang. But I for one won’t stop opposing capital punishment until I die.
The Optimism Club gives me a channel to focus on my death penalty interests separately from my regular Twitter ID and invite contribution from others who want to challenge the death penalty’s persistence worldwide. Gonna be a task and a half. And now it’s 4 a.m. so more on this anon… Comments are welcome!

December 29, 2009 Posted by | Akmal Shaikh, death penalty, The Optimism Club, twitter | Leave a comment