Dracula bites back

Give us a villainous vampire we can get our teeth into, not one of these winsome wimps

The Independent on Sunday, April 22



Calls to save John Bunyan memorial, as 84 bedroom hotel planned for Grade II-listed building

HE was imprisoned for his beliefs by a brutal autocracy and fought in a bloody civil war to rid his country of oppression, but the fate of John Bunyan – the 17th-century writer, who brought religion to the masses – is in doubt once again.

A Grade II-listed building in High Holborn which bears a memorial to the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress is in line to be converted into an 84-bedroom hotel.

The proposed site, on the corner of Southampton Row and Catton Street, is expected to be sold in the next few weeks to property developers.

It has raised questions over what will become of Bunyan’s life-size statue and whether it will be protected.

The unused building, which dates back to 1903 as the former Baptist Church headquarters, is currently owned by hotel magnate Bev King, who through his company Kingsgate London Properties secured planning permission in 2007 to convert it into a luxury hotel including a gym, spa, and conference rooms.

The statue of Bunyan, who wrote the famous Christian allegory from a gaol in Bedford, adorns the north-west corner of the building, which briefly served as a homeless shelter in the 1990s before it became derelict.

Dr David Walker, a John Bunyan expert from Northumbria University, said: “The statue should be preserved because he is one of the most important figures in English literary culture.”

Dr Walker said it was ironic that a writer of a poor and humble background such as Bunyan was being threatened by a luxury hotel.

“It just seems richly, richly ironic that a writer like Bunyan, who preached against luxury and was highly critical of that kind of ostentatious display, should be deposed to make place for a luxury hotel,” he said.

Metres away on the other side of Catton Street, The Ivy House pub, which closed in 2009, is boarded-up and backs on to a construction site which is part of the Crossrail development.

Kingsgate London Properties petitioned the House of Lords in 2008 asking for greater compensation, claiming the adjacent building works would lower the market value of the property.

When asked by the New Journal what was happening to the site, the company said shareholders had decided it was time to sell the property but refused to name the prospective buyers.

Dr Walker suggested the statue could be moved to an area with a closer connection to the life of Bunyan.

He added “The statue was put there for a particular purpose and that purpose no longer exists, so it would probably be a good idea to move it to somewhere in Bedfordshire where it would have an easier home, it doesn’t seem an appropriate symbol for a ­luxury hotel.”



Academy school throws out National Curriculum

AN academy school says it will cut ties with the curriculum followed by all the other schools in Westminster in favour of a controversial teaching system pioneered in America.

Pimlico Academy, an independently-run secondary school set up in 2007, wants to open a primary school on its site in Lupus Street in September 2013.

Its principal designate told the West End Extra she will do away with the curriculum followed by all schools in Westminster in favour of a system based on ideas developed by American educationist, ED Hirsch.

Annaliese Briggs, 26, said: “We’re not going to be following the national curriculum, we’re going to be working with a curriculum that I’ve been developing for the past year with the school.”

Pimlico Academy, which is sponsored by Future, a charitable trust set up by venture capitalist and Tory party donor John Nash, will follow Hirsch’s plan for a “knowledge-rich” curriculum.

Hirsch’s ideas have been criticised as being too focused on facts.

The teaching approach has been adapted for this country by the independent think tank, Civitas.

Ms Briggs, a former Civitas employee, said Pimlico pupils aged four to 14 would follow a curriculum that focuses on giving children a grounding in factual knowledge and not only the skills to research. After Year 9, pupils would return to the national system of GCSE and then A-levels.

She added: “In the national curriculum they don’t specify what knowledge needs to be learnt and that leads to certain pitfalls. What’s prevalent is the idea that students can just Google it, so if they want to learn something they can just look it up, so it’s important to teach them how to look it up.

“What we understand is that it’s really important to know things.”

Ms Briggs was keen to emphasise that pupils will not merely be learning by rote.

She said: “We want pupils to be literate, to be able to problem-solve, to think critically and to reason, but we understand that those skills build on a very solid foundation on knowledge in different subject areas.”

Academy schools – a brainchild of New Labour – are government-funded but independently run.

They allow headteachers greater freedoms and can experiment with different styles of teaching.

Alasdair Smith, national secretary of the Anti Academies Alliance, said: “This is a very dangerous step. It’s a reactionary form of learning that says that content is more important than understanding themes. This should be negotiated by the local community and that’s what we’ve lost because academies can just do what they like.”

Mr Smith is concerned that allowing the academy to open a primary school
will increase social segregation.

He added: “The whole model of academies is not about school improvement but it’s about building businesses in education.

When you create a market in education you get winners and you get losers and you’ll get further polarisation in schools.

“The children of the rich and middle classes have been well educated for years, we have a state education system administered by local authorities to provide equality of opportunity for every child.”



‘No weapon frightens me as much as the shell’ – Anthony Loyd

This is an extract from Anthony Loyd’s account of his time in the Balkans and Chechnya. I read this paragraph yesterday and was reminded of its pertinence while watching the Channel 4 doc Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields and as President Assad’s forces continue to shell civilians in Homs, Syria.

“No weapon frightens me as much as the shell. Bullets have a certain logic. Even when people around you are hit the wound seldom seems so bad…But shells? They can do things to the human body you never believed possible; turn it inside out like a steaming rose; bend it backwards and through itself; chop it up; shred it; pulp it: mutilations so base and vile they never stopped revolting me. And there is no real cover from shellfire. Shells can drop out of the sky to your feet, or smash their way through any piece of architecture to find you.”

“There is a philosophical element to it all too: a bullet may or may not have your number on it, but I am sure shells are merely engraved with ‘to whom it may concern’.”

This extract is from My War Gone By, I Miss it So, by Anthony Loyd. 


Siegfried Sassoon’s Somme poems read to public for first time

Published: 17 November 2011

Unseen poems by Siegfried Sassoon were revealed to the public for the first time this week.

Several of the unpublished pieces, penned by iconic First World War poet Sassoon in 1916 from the trenches of the Somme, were read by Camden Town author Dr Jean Moorcroft Wilson at the Imperial War Museum as part of Remembrance ceremonies on Saturday.

Dr Moorcroft Wilson, Sassoon’s biographer, discovered the seven poems in a trench diary buried deep in the archives at Cambridge University.

She said: “I’d read a reference to them but I didn’t know where they were as they weren’t where they were supposed to be. So I searched and searched and finally tracked them down in the trench diary of 1916, it’s very exciting.”

The poems show a different side of Sassoon as his views fluctuates between believing that war is heroic and his famous critical view of conflict.

Dr Moorcroft Wilson said: “You would have expected him to be increasingly anti-war, instead of which you can see how reluctantly he gives up the idea of war being glorious.”

She said that the new poems were filled with the nobility of war and the “chivalric idea of Sir Galahad”.

“Sassoon gives up the idea that war is glorious very reluctantly and only after quite a number of poems that sound just like Rupert Brooke,” said Dr Moorcroft Wilson.

First World War poet’s verses from trenches discovered by Camden author Jean Moorcroft Wilson

The meeting, which included a rousing talk from the historian Max Arthur, was organised by the Siegfried Sassoon Society and plotted the change in Sassoon’s poetry as the realities of war became inescapable.

It focused on the Battle of Mametz Wood, a critical turning point in Sassoon’s poetry when he started to write satirical condemnations of conflict, such as The Redeemer and Suicide Soldier, for which he is so well-known.

“When he got to Mametz Wood and saw what slaughter there was, I think it really turned him,” said Dr Moorcroft Wilson.

Despite his opposition to war Sassoon continued to fight in the Battle of the Somme and his heroic actions won him the Military Cross.

Mr Arthur, author of Forgotten Voices, said that British soldiers were still fighting “hand to hand, night and day” experiencing similar challenges faced by Sassoon and his comrades 93 years ago, despite advances in technology and weaponry.

He added: “Literature can guide people to the horrors of war and the losses, in particular the significance of the loss to families and friends, to the individual.”

Dr Moorcroft Wilson added: “When people are encouraging this idea of going to war they should read Sassoon’s poetry first, as it appeals to the imagination in the way nothing else does.”


At 58, Gilbert Burke finds himself sleeping on a bench. Why?

Without an address or phone, he must stay in churchyard while charity searches for a bed

WHILE protesters have made their homes outside St Paul’s Cathedral the grounds of  St Magdalene Church in Holloway have their own night-time sleeper.

But Gilbert Burke, 58, isn’t a protester. He is an ordinary man who has fallen on hard times.

For five weeks Mr Burke has been sleeping on a bench in the grounds of the Holloway Road church, with his worldly possessions wrapped in a waterproof tarpaulin next to him.

Dog walkers in the park have befriended him and brought food and blankets, as well as trying to find him somewhere to live as the weather turns increasingly cold.

“This last week the frost has come down,” he said. “I’m well-insulated, I’ve been given gifts by the community. But I’m 58, I shouldn’t be out here doing this.”

He says that because the housing system is “blocked up” he faces a six-month wait for somewhere to live.

Mr Burke, who speaks with a soft American accent, says he is originally from New York. He moved to Islington in the early 1970s to escape being drafted to fight in the Vietnam war.

Since then, he has mostly lived in Holloway Road, working as a metal welder and bricklayer.

He found himself homeless last month when a relationship broke down. “I’ve had casual jobs and before that I was made redundant from my second trade, welding and shipbuilding,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of different jobs. But now I can’t find a job. I have no address and that’s a stigma.”

Mr Burke now spends his days reading in the Central Library in Holloway Road and waiting in the nearby offices of housing charity the Pillion Trust, which is trying to find somewhere warm for him to sleep.

“It’s very demeaning,” he said. “I thought I’d just be out here for a couple of days. After three days I was told I was going to have a roof over my head soon.”

The search for a permanent home is made more difficult as Mr Burke does not have an address or telephone number.

“They asked me to remain where I am as that’s they only way they can communicate with me as I don’t have a phone,” he explained. “So I’m in the churchyard just reading and reading. I’d like to be independent, I don’t want to take too much from anyone else, being told to do this and do that. I’m 58, I can be responsible for myself.”

The Pillion Trust said a lack of housing means Mr Burke may have to wait up to six months before he comes in from the cold.

“Every day there is a two-hour fight on the phone to get Gilbert help,” said Savvas Panas, head of Pillion Trust.

“But the whole system has become blocked up. People in projects are waiting to move on and our clients are waiting to go in.”

He added that it has become increasingly difficult to help people like Mr Burke who do not need enough support to qualify for priority housing under the “tight definitions” of different housing categories.

“It’s the classic 1980s catch-22: if you don’t have a job you can’t get housing, and if you don’t have housing you can’t find a job,” he said.

“Pillion are trying to start a shelter to help people keep their dignity while they wait. If we can raise enough money we hope to open by December 1.”


Cyclist deaths – The experts offer advice


LORRY drivers and cyclists have traded places in an effort to cut the number of serious accidents on Camden’s roads.

A heavy goods vehicle (HGV) was parked at Torrington Place on Friday, as part of a Camden Council road safety campaign to highlight the dangers posed to cyclists and demonstrate how to avoid accidents.

The move comes after another young woman was knocked from her bike in King’s Cross on Thursday on the same stretch of road where Deep Lee, a 24-year-old fashion student at Central St Martins, died earlier this month.

Building works in the area have led to a steady stream of construction vehicles crossing the junction at Euston Road, York Way and Gray’s Inn Road.

Cyclists were given the opportunity to sit in the driver’s seat of the lorry, part of the Murphy fleet based on Highgate Road, Kentish Town, and see first-hand the difficulties faced by HGV drivers.

Paul Davis, of Camden Council’s road safety team, said: “When the accident in King’s Cross happened we had the opportunity to react to it and bring in one of the [lorry] fleets from the borough.

We want people to be able to see and understand the blind spots around the truck so they know how to position themselves so they can be seen and avoid a collision.”

Cyclists were told of the dangers of overtaking HGVs and in particular passing on the left-hand side.

HGV drivers, who were on hand to help show cyclists the areas that cannot be seen from the lorry cab,  expressed their commitment to reducing the number of fatal accidents on London’s roads.

Brendan Sugrue, a manager for Murphy, said: “We want cyclists to see what our drivers see and the difficulties we have driving around London. Nobody wants to see cyclists or pedestrians killed or injured, but the sad fact is that there seems to be more and more at the moment.

“We don’t want our drivers to go through the ordeal of killing someone and we don’t want the cyclists and their families to go through it as well.”