Monday, 28 October 2019

A Taste of The Family Demon

I’m attracted to older women. Young women, like young wine, are fruity but unsophisticated. They may quench my thirst or accompany a meal, but I’d never think of opening a bottle at the end of a hard day just for the pleasure of drinking it.
Sammie Chalmers wasn’t really an exception to my rule. Though she'd been only twenty years of age in her latest incarnation, she’d aggregated around three thousand years inclusive of all her past lives. Now she was dead and gone, at least from the present one. It took me a couple of years to accept what had happened.
Maybe that explains why I like my women to be older. After a few lifetimes, you’re instinctively tired of going back to adolescent immaturity and starting again, even if you can’t actually remember doing it before.

The Family Demon on Amazon

Monday, 21 October 2019

The Family Demon - paperback

For those reluctant to wait three more weeks for the ebook, or who prefer paperbacks anyway, I can announce that the paper version of The Family Demon is already on sale on Amazon.

Philip Brian Hall's new novel 'The Family Demon'

In Philip Brian Hall’s second Toby Le Tocq novel, the reincarnation of Solomon looks into the disturbing case of his business partner’s niece. Seven successive boyfriends have died suddenly, the most recent on their wedding night. After a nervous breakdown, the young woman is confined to a mental hospital. A number of seemingly-ordinary local residents, led by a powerful witch, take violent exception to Toby's investigations, and before long he finds himself framed for murder. Along with his allies Judith and Asa, Toby plunges into the frightening shadow world of vengeful demons and their human acolytes.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019


The Family Demon is now on pre-order and you can download a 20% sample absolutely free!!

In Philip Brian Hall’s second Toby Le Tocq novel, the reincarnation of Solomon looks into the disturbing case of his business partner’s niece. Seven successive boyfriends have died suddenly, the most recent on their wedding night. After a nervous breakdown, the young woman is confined to a mental hospital. A number of seemingly-ordinary local residents, led by a powerful witch, take violent exception to Toby's investigations, and before long he finds himself framed for murder. Along with his allies Judith and Asa, Toby plunges into the frightening shadow world of vengeful demons and their human acolytes. 

Smashwords ISBN: 9780463526187

Monday, 30 September 2019

Brexit, Democracy, and Casablanca

Our scene - outside some bar or other in London:

Police Chief: What in Heaven’s name brought you to the UK?

Rick: My politics. I came to the UK for the democracy.

Police Chief: The democracy? What democracy? We’re in an elitist oligarchy.

Rick: I was misinformed.

There you are. I always knew that piece of dialogue would come in useful someday. All right, I modified it. Just a little.

But today in the UK a lot of people feel just like Rick. We’ve always been told we live in a democracy. Not just any democracy, but one of the oldest and finest in the world.

Except it turns out that we don’t.

You want to know more? You’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.

But I’ve got a job to do.

Scratch the surface and the very same attitudes that resisted the widening of the franchise and the elimination of the property qualification for voting back in the nineteenth century are alive and well today. There are still bien-pensants aplenty who think that ordinary people don’t really understand the issues, are insufficiently well informed, are stupid, racist and in fact thoroughly unpleasant. In an ideal world, such people wouldn’t be allowed to exist. But somebody has to do the manual work, I suppose.

For a while, you can get away with lying to the people. You see, they’re so ignorant that the idea of their social betters lying to them just never crosses their minds.

“There are some in this country who fear that in going into Europe we shall in some way sacrifice independence and sovereignty. These fears, I need hardly say, are completely unjustified.” - Prime Minister Edward Heath, January 1973.

Oh, yes. Remember that one?

Not an easy day to forget.

Only now we can read the memo that was sent to Heath about it. The one where he was warned of “the ultimate creation of a European federal state, with a single currency. All the basic instruments of national economic management (fiscal, monetary, incomes and regional policies) would ultimately be handed over to the central federal authorities.”

That’s all right, the top men said, just as long as the plebs never find out. Don’t worry, guys, we’ll tell them it’s just a free trade area.

I’m shocked! Shocked to find that lying was going on here in the UK!

Now, of course, all this was more than forty years ago. Surely, it’s not relevant today?

Oh no. Of course it isn’t.

Look, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

Remember Maastricht? It’s okay, we’ve got opt-outs; none of this EU integration stuff will ever affect the UK. Text? What text?

Remember Lisbon? So embarrassingly similar to the rejected EU Constitution on which we’d been promised a referendum that the UK PM had to turn up a day late and sign when hardly anyone was looking?

And remember how, before the referendum, the UK PM was going to negotiate a reformed EU where everything would be hunky-dory? Except it turns out the EU doesn’t want to reform because it thinks everything’s hunky-dory already, exactly on track.

Oh, well. Round up the usual suspects. Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Italy, Portugal- all you disorganised, hopeless countries with your hopeless levels of youth unemployment. Yes, and all you Eastern European states that don’t fancy freedom of movement for the vast number of refugees/immigrants admitted by Germany. It’s all going well, do you hear?

But do you want to know what’s really funny?

These days the plebs have figured it out. These days the plebs know they’re being lied to and have been lied to for decades. These days the so-called ignorant are the ones who actually realise what’s going on.

And who is it who now believes the propaganda that the powers-that-be have been spouting for fifty years?

Oh. You spoiled my surprise. You guessed it. It’s the bien-pensants of course. The smart people. The trendy classes who think there really is a pot of international brotherly love at the end of the EU rainbow.

Well, here’s looking at you, kids. You know how you sound? Like someone who’s trying to convince himself of something he doesn’t believe in his heart.

So to all my dispirited friends, watching the news, reading the papers and feeling more and more depressed, I say - Welcome back to the fight. This time I know our side will win.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

The Family Demon

Preparations for the launch of the new Toby Le Tocq novel are proceeding well. Beta-reading and proof-reading are in hand and the e-book version at least should be ready in the not too far distant future.

Since I hope you, my readers, will be buying it, I'd like to consult you on the draft cover, which has gone through a variety of stage of mock-up and development and has now arrived at the design on the left. If you'd like to tell me what you think of it before we finally decide, now's your chance.

Now the context is a bride who's been driven mad by the death of her husband on their wedding night and imagines herself fleeing in terror across a trackless waste.

The lady turns out to be the niece of Toby's partner Fred, who persuades the reincarnated Solomon to take up yet another pro-bono case.

Nope. They don't seem to have learned their lesson last time!

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Has Representative Democracy Failed In The UK?

I was recently asked this interesting question of Quora. Here's my answer:

Logically, in order to establish the success or failure of any system, we must first discover its intended objective and then the time frame over which we shall measure.

For representative democracy, there may not even be a universally accepted objective. Different people or different cultures, at different times, in different circumstances may seek different outcomes.

Abraham Lincoln famously defined democracy as government of the people, by the people, for the people.

A century and a half later, there are still many who believe his middle phrase to be a step too far. Some issues, they will tell you, are just too complex for the people to grasp; such decisions should be left in the hands of those who know what’s good for the people, by which term they mean, of course, people like themselves.

On the other side of the argument are ranged democrats who believe that everyone is the world’s leading expert in how things affect themselves. One does not need to be able to explain why rain falls in order to know that when rain falls one’s roof leaks. However, if the government is made up entirely of well-off people who don’t have leaky roofs then this problem is unlikely to be considered, let alone solved.

So now let’s extend the problem to cover not just leaky roofs but homelessness, substandard housing, overcrowding and so on. Do the people who suffer from these, and other social evils, have a right to be heard and to participate in the examination and solution of their problems, or should a paternalistic ruling class decide and administer what they consider to be in the poor’s best interests? Seems easy enough?

But before we run away with the idea that democracy solves everything, let’s consider the problem of hard choices. In the NHS, for example, everyone considers that their own needs should be attended to, but when we add up the implied expenditure from attending to everyone’s needs, we find we have a sum much larger than we are collectively willing to pay for the NHS.

The concept of representative democracy is supposed to provide a forum within which competing needs and wants of individuals in society can be prioritised in a rational way. In principle, we enjoy competition for power between different philosophies with different priorities, of which two important ones are wealth creation and wealth distribution. Usually, in order to win and hold power, some sort of centrist compromise has had to emerge.

The problem we face today is that, over time, the political parties embodying these philosophies have become transformed from organic plants, growing in the soil of local communities and nourished by local culture and information, into hothouse blooms that can only exist under London glass. Our nominal representatives have less and less genuine interaction with us, the people they supposedly represent. Not many of them are genuinely local people; they are career politicians who have climbed the greasy pole until they have been allocated a winnable seat. They are supposed to be the honourable member for Suchandsuchtown, but they possibly never heard of the place until they attended their selection meeting.

It seems to me that many of today’s MPs represent primarily themselves and their own ideas and careers, then the party to which they owe their elevation, and only as an afterthought the people who elected them. This does not necessarily make them bad people; many, I am sure, are honest, decent folk, doing what they believe to be best. But were their priorities not as I suggest above, you could not possibly have well over 400 Remainer MPs in a country where over 400 of 650 constituencies voted to leave the EU.

There. I arrived in the end at the issue which probably gave rise to your question. I tend to agree that hard cases make bad law, but the complete disconnect that has now arisen between representatives and represented is not, in my view, a sustainable situation.

I don’t think this is the same as saying that representative democracy has failed. In its relatively short history, it has done much to advance society. However, when citizens of the information age are still quoting an eighteenth-century, pre-democratic age political philosopher (Edmund Burke) in order to explain why parliament is not delivering what the electorate voted for, I suspect we have arrived at an era in which substantial reform is required for our system to continue (or perhaps recommence) effective functioning.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Bury F C

Man is a tribal animal, and as Desmond Morris tells us, (“The Soccer Tribe”), football is an expression of that tribalism. I am quite old, but I can still remember my Dad taking me to Hillsborough when I was very young. I expect a great many football supporters all over the country have similar fond memories. It’s part of who we are.

I remember being among a crowd of people who all identified with their local football club in the way that any tribe, anywhere identifies with an outward and visible totem: we all need a symbol that says, ‘This is who we are, and we are proud of it and it’s something that can’t be taken away from us.’ I didn’t know the people among whom I stood and cheered, but they all belonged to the same tribe as me, and that meant they were not strangers.

We were a community; a community that supported each other as much as it supported a football team; a community that permitted rare moments of aspiration to ordinary people who had recently come through very dark times and whose daily lives mostly involved a lot of hard work, few luxuries and not much prospect that things would ever be any different. Traditionally that was what football clubs did. They were the tribal totems that lay at the heart of working-class communities, the intangible social glue that bound people together.

Now I am not foolish enough to believe the world could have stayed the same, or even naive enough, looking back more than half a century with obviously rose-tinted spectacles, even to wish things had stayed the same. But though TV cash and the internationalisation of playing squads have altered both the nature of football clubs and the nature of the game, I do still believe that for those born to membership of a particular football tribe, the tribal totem is still something priceless. These are not mercenary fans who follow big-name teams that are always at the top; these are ordinary people with their hearts invested in their local clubs.

As it happens, the President of Bury FC (NB not the owner) is a recently-made friend of mine. I met this fine gentleman on holiday this year, and even  then he expressed great concern for the future of his club due to forces outside his community’s control. When I last saw him we still hoped that our cup match would be played. This week I sadly had to write to him offering my sympathy and hopes that his club could be rebuilt as others have been.

Like a pit village when its coal mine closes, more so perhaps, because people rarely loved the coal mine they just valued it, the loss of a community football club is a huge psychological blow to a town or city. Those responsible have sacrificed much more than just livelihoods, important though these are. They have undermined a tribal identity that means so much to its members.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

What About This EU Leaving Fee?

There are several ways of looking at the so-called EU divorce bill or leaving fee but, firstly, we should note that the sum of £39 billion was predicated upon a March departure. Since the UK is still paying its regular membership dues until October 31st, the residue will be about £33 billion (give or take a little for exchange rate variation).

The Lisbon Treaty says EU law ceases to apply to a leaving state on the day of its departure. A House of Lords report has suggested that on this basis the UK’s residual liability could be zero unless there is an agreement.

However, Mrs. May unilaterally guaranteed the UK’s annual contributions to the EU up to the end of the latter’s current financial planning period (2014-2020). The amount remaining to be paid under this heading as of 31 October will be around £12 billion (net). This sum would also be paid in the event of the UK remaining in the EU. It is less clear whether it has to be paid if the UK leaves without a deal.

I don’t know whether Mrs. May intended her guarantee to cover the anticipated transition period, when for all practical purposes the UK would have remained a non-voting member of the EU. Some people argue that if we leave without an agreement and hence without a transition period this amount is not payable. Other people say we should pay it anyway ex gratia. I expect the latter as the most likely outcome.

The remaining £20 billion mostly represents reste à liquider, which doesn't seem to translate very well into English. It is an amorphous block of EU undertakings, some of which may not even have started yet, and it is a controversial amount, not least because it represents an attempt to load part of the liabilities of a continuing organisation on to a departing member which is receiving no comparable share of the organisation’s assets and which is already being denied a share in various benefits acquired by use of these assets.

Now, rather in the sense that someday the national debt may theoretically be paid off, likewise someday the EU debt may theoretically be paid off, but nobody is expecting it any day soon. So it is not the case that most of this sum would have to be paid (at least in the foreseeable future) if the UK remained in the EU. To that extent, requiring a leaving member to pay what a remaining member would not pay may, I think, be considered a leaving fee.

It must be dubious whether there is any court in the world in which the EU could pursue a claim for this, although they might make a financial settlement a condition of any future trade deal. As I recall, it was only agreed in the first place in order to open up discussion of a trade deal that never happened because a separate leaving deal could not be agreed, so perhaps we shall eventually come full circle.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Aonach Mòr

Going towards Victoria View 
A bus from Fort William deposited us at the base station of the Nevis Range Gondola. From the upper station at a height of 2100 feet, we turned left and walked along the ridge to the Victoria View Point.

Westward you look towards Loch Eil and Glenfinnan. Northwards lie Spean Bridge and Loch Lochy. Towards the north-east rises the bulk of The Grey Corries while the 4,000-foot summit of Aonach Mòr itself blocks the view east and south towards Aonach Beag and Ben Nevis.

The views are spectacular.

Loch Eil from Victoria View Point on Aonach Mor
Looking north towards Spean Bridge
Ben Nevis from Torlundy

Although we were nowhere near the top and hadn’t climbed much anyway, it felt like a worthwhile achievement and a suitable high point (pun intended) of our cruise aboard Hebridean Princess.

Friday, 2 August 2019


Tobermory Distillery
Tobermory waterfront, Hebridean Princess in port
The town of Tobermory is really famous for being famous. Founded as a fishing port as late as 1788, it has latterly become very well known for its picturesque waterfront, with a rainbow miscellany of buildings looking out over the bay. I have a sneaking suspicion this variety of colour schemes is not accidental!

Nevertheless, it makes an idyllic location for film sets, television series and the like, as well as being a comfortable base from which to explore the fascinating islands of the Inner Hebrides.

After the destruction of the Armada in 1588, one of the surviving galleons anchored in Tobermory Bay to repair and provision. (There was no town on the shore at the time). The San Juan de Sicilia carried troops, though, of course, later tradition has made her a treasure ship.
Tobermory waterfront after dark
The soldiers on board served as mercenaries for Lachlan Mór Maclean of Duart in his feud with the local MacDonalds of Eigg, Muck, Rhum and Canna. Having no local connections and being frustrated of their true purpose (invading England), they apparently behaved very cruelly during this campaign.

However the MacDonalds were aiding Irish rebels at the time, whilst The Maclean was in league with Elizabeth I. With his local enemies smashed, Maclean had no further use for the ship, which conveniently blew up and sank, leaving fifty soldiers who were ashore at the time to serve him for another year, just to be on the safe side.

Salvage attempts have never found any treasure, probably because there wasn’t any, but the legend of sunken gold is always more fun than a wrecked troopship. It all adds to the romance of Tobermory.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019


Coll beach

I think I know where the Elysian Fields are.

Coll was our only beach landing during Hebridean Princess’ cruises of the inner isles. The passengers were all issued with wellingtons because even the little boats couldn’t get close enough to the shore and we needed to wade through about a foot of water. By the time we left, however, the state of the tide enabled us to re-embark dry-shod.

Coll machair

The island seems to have its own microclimate. 

While we were there, the sun shone, the sky and the sea were blue, the empty, golden beach stretched away into the distance and the whole prospect was quite blissful. 

Early Marsh Orchid

Having walked out along the beach, we returned by way of the machair, the endless fields of wildflowers that fringe the shore. We were greeted by the first lapwing I’ve seen in a long time. Common Blue butterflies, Small Heath, Meadow Brown and a variety of moths including Six-spot Burnets flutter about amongst the swathes of wild geranium, orchids, and several plants I’ve yet to identify. 

You do have to be wary of drifting away from the beach, towards the centre of the island when distracted by the wildlife, but it’s very nice when the crew has set up a mini-restaurant on the sand to welcome you back!

Tuesday, 30 July 2019


Common Seal off Iona
Like the originally Graupian, now Grampian, Mountains, the isle of Iona owes its modern name to a transcription mistake dating from the pre-printing age when manuscripts were copied by hand. It seems the name was once Ivova, Latinised as Ioua, meaning a place where yew trees grow.

During our visit, it rained quite a lot, which probably did not create the best impression. We were not inclined to venture out into the hinterland in search of the fabled corncrake, and even though dolphins did frolic around our boat as we went ashore, I couldn’t get any decent photographs.

Iona Abbey
Iona Abbey Cloister
It was one of those days for photographing things that stand still, and better yet for photographing buildings from the inside, though the common seals abounding on offshore rocks obligingly did the former and hence feature in this log.

Iona Nunnery
The main building is, of course, the Abbey, restored in the last century from a state of ruin to become the working centre of an ecumenical community. In the cloister, I was impressed by the care and subtlety with which new stone has been integrated with surviving elements. Although Samuel Johnson found his piety grow warmer amid the ruins of his day, I personally found the restoration less evocative of the past than redolent of a present quest for a lost spirituality. A medieval abbey, for me, does not evoke the 6th century but the popularity of pilgrimages eight or nine hundred years later.

If you want to find links with the earlier period, the mound upon which Columba’s study hut once stood perhaps serves better, and the Abbey museum better still.

The ruined nunnery is also worth a visit; you can pass through its grounds on your way from the port to the Abbey.

Saturday, 27 July 2019


The phenomenal success of the works of Ossian, supposedly a poet of the early Dark Ages, translations of whose alleged works were published by the Scottish poet James Macpherson in the 1760’s, is hard to comprehend in retrospect. Though Macpherson was denounced as a forger by Samuel Johnson, the works inspired, among others, Napoleon, Diderot, Ingres, Jefferson, Scott, Goethe, and of course Mendelssohn, whose Hebrides Overture is popularly known as Fingal’s Cave.

Fingal's Cave
I suppose the magic of the cave would be enhanced by an even greyer, mistier atmosphere and stormier seas than those we encountered, though in such case I should probably have been too sick to appreciate it. As it was, we perhaps got our best view of the cave from the sea, since although we made our way along the rocky causeway to its mouth, the ground at the entrance was under repair and it was quite hard to get a good view into the interior. I was however pleased to see my first rock pipit.

Considerably easier to see are the puffins, whose colony is along the coast in the opposite direction from the landing stage. It seems the presence of human visitors reassures the puffins that they can land in front of their burrows without being in danger from skuas or other predators, so if you wait there they simply come to you. 

Similarly unconcerned by visitors was a trio of black guillemots, a third new species to me in a single visit.

Fortunately we arrived early. A couple of other boatloads were disgorged from tourist craft a little later, and like all such fascinating wild places, the wonder of Staffa’s wilderness is a fragile mental construct that is always in danger of being dispelled by excessive numbers of one’s own species.

But not this time. It was marvellous!

Friday, 26 July 2019


Eilean Mor - ruins of the great hall
All right, the history of the isles is less transparent than is suggested by the Finlaggan visitor centre and a great deal less clear than was described by Scots novelist Nigel Tranter in his justly celebrated Bruce trilogy.

Nevertheless, there are reasonable grounds for believing that the figure of Angus Og MacDonald bestrides the pages of Scottish history like a Colossus as the 13th-century gives way to the 14th.

A consummate politician, Angus Og nominally supported the English king Edward I as long as it allowed him an excuse to make war on the rival Clan MacDougall, but after the deposition of John Balliol and the murder of the Red Comyn, when the nominal King Robert Bruce was hunted like an outlaw through the western highlands by Lame John MacDougall of Lorne, The MacDonald seems to have changed sides.

causeway to Eilean Mor
It is thought, but not absolutely certain that Angus sheltered Bruce at Finlaggan, which was more of a ceremonial centre for the clan than a fortress. There were neighbouring MacDonald castles on Islay that might have served better for defensive purposes. However, standing on the grass of Eilean Mòr, somehow aware of the ghostly presence of a man who scarcely acknowledged the overlordship of any ruler, Scots or English, you feel the two of them were probably both here back then.

Angus Og’s clan of Viking descendants had thrown off the Norwegian yoke and saw no reason to subject themselves to another – and anyone who thought differently was welcome to try sailing his own ships past the Corryvreckan whirlpool to challenge the best galley fleet in the British Isles!

Eilean na Comhairle (council isle), from Eilean Mor
Though Angus Og seems to have waited for confirmation that Bruce could establish himself again on the latter’s return to Scotland, once his man was clearly king again, it was clearly in The MacDonald’s interest to have the mainland divided between Scots and English rather than allow an English hegemony which could threaten the Isles. I think the presence of the Islemen may very well have been decisive for the under-strength Scottish army at Bannockburn, however bad the generalship of Edward II may have been.

It does appear the Bruce thought so too, for Angus Og was well rewarded for his help. It appears he may also have supported Edward Bruce’s ill-fated Irish expedition, and may even have died there. All we know for sure is, he was no longer the Clan Chief in 1330 and that his son John became the first to claim the title ‘Lord of the Isles’.