I remember around a year ago I had the difficult task of announcing that one of our most passionate and consistent contributors, who went by the username of Windsock, had sadly left the building. Being one of the original team, Windsock was someone most long-term regulars had interacted with throughout the first three years of the Winegum Telegram, and the announcement was greeted with a heartfelt outpouring of genuine sorrow and affection for the man. From my own personal perspective, having to put that announcement into the right words and do Windsock justice was one of the hardest posts I’ve written; I felt like the copper in a scene so familiar to viewers of TV drama that it has inevitably become a cliché – having to inform someone that their loved one has passed away. Anyway, I think I just about managed it. In my position I have no real excuse not to pay tribute, no excuse but to try and articulate the sudden removal of a beloved character from the cast in a way that will hopefully register with readers; it feels like a duty that I have no right shirking from.

I appreciate the older one gets, the more frequent one begins to lose those who have impacted upon one’s life, yet the unfairness of it never lessens. Today I lost a friend some of you may have heard of, the barrister Barbara Hewson. Unlike Windsock, she wasn’t part of this community, but she was an important person in my life over the past decade – not central to it most of the time, but always there if I needed her; and I often did. In some respects, the way in which her passing will be marked by different tribes on social media is a telling signpost of our divisive, troubled times. This was something Barbara was an early victim of because she stood up to the vicious brickbats of the trolls and refused to compromise; one side recognised her as a brave, gutsy warrior of a woman and the other demonised her to the point whereby she was little more than a cartoon She-Devil. I guess Barbara was one of the first notable figures whose character was assassinated in such a manner, and her experience is one many have undergone since – even if few have been exposed to the sustained, relentless ferocity Barbara received online for several years.

I’m sure there will be other tributes paid to her that can cover her career and its achievements with far greater accuracy and detail than I could manage. And, to be honest, that’s not necessarily something I feel qualified to do or even really want to. It’s easier – and more fitting – for me to simply try and describe how she came into my life and the difference she made to it. Quite frankly, I’m in a bit of a state of shock just writing this; at the time of beginning it, I’m only an hour or so away from hearing of her passing, and I’m hammering at the keyboard because I feel a bit lost and don’t know what else to do.

Barbara Hewson was someone who appeared on my radar around seven or eight years back when I was producing one of my early YouTube series, a parody of the post-Savile Yewtree witch-hunt, titled ‘Exposure’. This, for those of you who never saw it, was a satirical take on the moral panic that replaced ageing Radio 1 DJs and TV personalities of the 1970s with popular small-screen puppets from the same era; to begin with, the humour was characteristically crude and bawdy, but as the series began to attract attention way beyond my usual YT viewers and subscribers, I was introduced to people personally affected by events, all of whom supported the series. Stretching to an eventual 14 instalments, the later episodes of ‘Exposure’ benefitted from the input of these supporters, something that made the satire far sharper in the process. I gradually became aware of Barbara as one of a small handful of brave souls questioning this particular narrative and quickly realised she was receiving a great deal of grief because of that.

Looking back to the height of the Yewtree hysteria, it’s interesting that there were perhaps less than a dozen of us publicly commenting on events in relative isolation, each in our own different, distinctive ways, and each as valid as the other; having come to conclusions that so few seemed to be coming to at the time, it’s no surprise that we attracted one another’s attention and then ended up befriending each other. A shrewd and incisive 2013 article penned by Barbara for ‘Spiked’ – the online platform for alternative opinions that is mercifully still with us – saw her commit the heinous crime of condemning Yewtree for destroying the rule of law, a piece that was also heavily critical of both the NSPCC and the Met. In possession of a higher profile than most of us courtesy of her lengthy and successful career in Law, Barbara was thereafter an easy target for some of the most unhinged and fanatical zealots of that dubious moral crusade. In an early example of ‘Channel 4 News’ displaying the reprehensible tendencies that have subsequently made it unwatchable, Barbara was invited on to give Matt Frei the opportunity to play Robin Day, a shameful set-up I redubbed for an ‘Exposure’ episode; Barbara enjoyed my impression of her.

Of course, the eventual – if belated – revelation of Carl Beech as a loathsome charlatan encouraged in his twisted delusions by certain despicable MPs, numerous Twitter vampires, the MSM and, naturally, the Metropolitan Police Force utterly vindicated Barbara’s stance; but she paid a heavy price for her commitment to the truth. Her suspension from practising Law by the Bar Standards Board in 2019 was a consequence of ongoing online assaults to which she understandably retaliated at times; coupled with launching a libel suit against the Times following a defamatory article about her in the pages of that august publication, it was no wonder Barbara’s health suffered. I remember her contacting me during her BSB tribunal, asking if I could provide her with a short statement; hard as it was for me to believe, one of my YT videos satirising Operation Midland was being used as evidence against her; in the end, she didn’t require the statement as the BSB unsurprisingly rejected the video. Even during this testing time for her, Barbara emphasised she was – in her own words – ‘praising your talent’ when the video came up in court.

Considering the controversies that pursued Barbara throughout the time I knew her, she will no doubt be bracketed as a ‘divisive’ figure; but I take people as I find them, and Barbara was nothing to me but kind, generous, supportive and helpful. When my minimal ‘criminal past’ was being illegally investigated by a rogue cop in the Met, I turned to Barbara for advice; when I wanted to know where to go for information on a trial my late friend Alison had been involved in 20-odd years earlier, I turned to Barbara for advice; she was always willing to provide it. More than anything, she was a huge supporter of my more satirical YT videos, twice requesting a box-set of the ‘Exposure’ series and on one occasion sending me a financial ‘thank you’ that I neither requested nor expected but certainly appreciated. I recall once chatting to her and she told me she was having lunch later on with Merlin Holland, who just happens to be the grandson of Oscar Wilde; she even collaborated on a book he wrote about his rather well-known grandpa. It was evident to me she certainly had a wide circle of fascinating friends, which made me feel rather flattered that she counted me as one of them.

My last contact with Barbara Hewson was around a month ago, when she informed me of her condition; she herself had only learnt of it in August, by which time it was terminal. The Times had finally given up the ghost and apologised; this was followed by the lifting of her BSB suspension. Too little too late. I messaged her on Saturday, congratulating her on the news. I had no idea she’d already gone. I can’t really say anything else other than I’ll miss her support and her friendship. She made a difference to a lot of people’s lives, including mine. RIP.

© The Editor


As someone for whom outdoor occasions are rationed even when the rest of the world is partying like it’s 1999, I didn’t anticipate the closing down of society would impact much upon my routinely threadbare social diary – and overall, it hasn’t; but I did have something pencilled-in for today that has sadly had to be postponed. Yet, unlike the roll-call of sporting events whose absence, though strange, can nonetheless be compensated for twelve months from now as this year is written-off as a unique post-war anomaly, I had something planned for today that won’t mean quite the same once this day is done. The personal significance of 3 April 2020 for me cannot be replicated a day from now, let alone a month or two, for only this day will mark a particular anniversary I felt I needed to observe in a specific way; and because of where we unexpectedly find ourselves, I can’t.

Ten years ago today, my friend Alison died alone of heart failure as flames engulfed her candlelit home. She was three weeks short of her fiftieth birthday and was living a breadline existence with no electricity and very little money; what money did pass through her hands was inevitably exchanged for alcohol to quench her long-time thirst for the demon drink, a curse that had left an indelible, destructive mark on her life and person. Alison’s sad story was comprehensively covered both in a blog I ran from 2014-17 as well as the book, ‘Looking for Alison’, which originally appeared in 2015. I stopped posting on the blog when I felt I’d more or less said everything that could be said on the subject; and I’d come as close as anyone could in constructing a biography for a life in which there remain numerous gaps that I filled with what I felt to be plausible conjecture.

What I now tend to refer to as ‘the Alison project’ occupied the majority of my time for a good couple of years and entailed exhaustive research of the kind we’re all accustomed to seeing in detective dramas but rarely turn our hands to. Nobody could have tried harder to piece together the fragments of a life that initially appeared to have left so few traces behind, and whilst the fruits of my labour are far-from perfect, I really couldn’t have done much more. I had a brief correspondence with Alison’s youngest son, who almost acted as a ‘Deep Throat’-like source of information to point me in the right direction, and by the end I felt I’d come to know someone far better than I ever did when she was an actual physical presence in my life. It was just a pity it took her absence for that to happen.

But I was very conscious from the start that a great deal of what drove me to rescue Alison from unwarranted obscurity was guilt. Despite the sadness that casts its posthumous shadow over her memory, Alison in life was a uniquely entertaining eccentric – witty and unpredictable as well as endearingly sweet; she will always be one of the most original individuals ever to cross my path, quite unlike anyone else I’ve ever known. But she caught me at a bad time in my own life (as most people who catch me tend to do) and I wasn’t always in a position to help her when she needed it. The fact that I didn’t learn of her death until four years after it happened – we’d lost touch in the way that friends do – meant that the shock was immediately overwhelmed by feelings of guilt that I’d let her down and hadn’t done enough for her while she was still around. In all honesty, I don’t think anyone of her acquaintance could have done enough; but that didn’t stop the guilt on my part.

The guilt gradually subsided as I eventually completed a project intended to ensure Alison wouldn’t be forgotten as I applied my natural creativity to honour her memory. And I gave it my best shot. The blog is still available to view, the book is still available to buy, and her final resting place received a makeover I thought she deserved. It was this location I’d intended to visit today after a too-lengthy absence, accompanied by the kindred spirit and occasional Winegum commentator who goes by the name of Gildas when in his online guise. Alas, it wasn’t to be on the one day I really wanted to pay my respects; but perhaps the fact that I haven’t visited her grave for more than two years demonstrates that the living sometimes can’t help but be distracted by the one thing the dead are spared. Besides, Alison’s afterlife made arguably an even greater long-term impact on me than the eight years in which we shared an existence, and maybe that was her most significant legacy.

Alison’s afterlife began for me when I belatedly discovered she had died, and that afterlife acted as the catalyst for a seismic shift in the way I saw both myself and the bigger picture. She was the first person I’d made a connection with who’d left the stage, and when that happens, you invariably take stock of where you are and who you are. The determination to evade regret and recriminations in the future is an unrealisable aim, but it can alter your perception and imbue momentary courage. Such a landmark loss also helps prepare you for the losses to come, and I wasn’t to know more would follow far sooner than I’d anticipated. Everyone of importance who’d recently entered my orbit in 2014, and (even more so) those who entered it swiftly thereafter, are emotionally entwined with the memory of Alison in my mind now, and are just as irretrievable. It’s as though the ghost of Alison had placed us all on a celestial chessboard and directed the following episode – beginning, middle and end – from wherever her spirit resided. And when I speak of her spirit, I do so from a secular, agnostic perspective that nevertheless believes science has not entirely explained everything.

Today I can’t help but ruminate on all that Alison missed by passing away in 2010. As a person whose political leanings were very much to the left, she probably wouldn’t have been impressed by the outcome of the General Election that took place just a month after her death. She missed the Coalition and Austerity; she missed the 2011 riots and numerous terrorist atrocities; she missed Brexit and the election of Trump; and she missed Covid-19. Yes, one could say she timed her exit well, I guess; but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t criminally premature and tragic, all the same. I often play the morbid game whereby I consider the moments in my own life when I’d really had enough and then think of everything I would’ve missed had I done the deed. The first two examples that spring to mind would’ve robbed me of experiences which improved that life no end, whereas the most recent finds me struggling to think of anything that vindicated my decision (or cowardice) to stick around. But, hey-ho.

I guess what the loss of Alison taught me was the kind of life lesson everyone receives at some point. Not before time, I realised one has to cherish what one has whilst one has it, because nothing is permanent, however much we want the good stuff to last forever. Granted, even adhering to that truism doesn’t make it any easier whatsoever once the good stuff has gone; if it mattered, one never fully heals; there is always a hole in the heart that can never be filled in quite the same way again. The eternal optimist could say these devastating losses, which often appear totally random and without reason as they clear decks we were content to remain comfortably cluttered, happen in order to refashion us as a different person, but the trick is then learning to like that different person; and that ain’t easy. Perhaps it’s inevitable that we simply prefer the people we were when we were happy. And as Alison herself must have known only too well, the transience of happiness is what makes it so bloody elusive. That said, wherever you are now, Alison, I hope you found it in the end.

© The Editor


One of the many highlights on the landmark 1968 Kinks album, ‘The Village Green Preservation Society’ is a song called ‘Do You Remember Walter?’ The narrator fondly recalls a childhood sidekick in a series of anecdotal reminiscences that celebrate Walter’s semi-heroic status – ‘Do you remember Walter playing cricket in the thunder and the rain?/Do you remember Walter smoking cigarettes behind your garden gate?’ Gradually, the tone of the lyrics alters as the narrator acknowledges his wistful curiosity over what became of his old mate will no doubt be dampened by the inevitable and humbling reality of time passing – ‘I bet you’re fat and married/and you’re always home in bed by half-past eight’. The singer of the song concludes with detectable melancholy, ‘Walter, you are just an echo of a world I knew so long ago/Walter, if you saw me now, you wouldn’t even know my name.’ The song speaks volumes because we all have a Walter and we’ve all wondered ‘Whatever happened to..?’

Take Joey. Joey was my first ‘best mate’ when I started school, the first kid who joined me in a playground re-enactment of a ‘Top of the Pops’ performance from the night before (‘Blockbuster’ by The Sweet, in case you were wondering); barely six months after I started school, however, my parents relocated us all to another part of town and the friendship ceased to exist overnight. The last time I saw Joey was the summer of 1973, and that’s where he remains in my head. As children have a slim grasp of a past too brief to linger in, their permanent presence in the present means they can shrug off the loss of one friendship and quickly move on to the next without dwelling on it; I did just that several times over the next couple of years, when my family imposed nomadic social mobility on my education. I thus became accustomed to the idea of friendship as a short-term arrangement; but as the casualties began piling up, I eventually started to wonder where those fading faces had faded to.

What just one standout vignette in an entire LP of them says about absent friends is both touching and potent – how the flesh-and-blood of the here and now invariably dissolves into the ether of memory as tomorrow supersedes today. People it can be impossible to imagine our lives without will all vacate the present tense and find their way to the cemetery of friendship in the end; and the longer we live, the more crowded that cemetery becomes. When a resident of it gatecrashes our thoughts without warning – an unexpected intrusion often triggered by stumbling upon something they were associated with – we pause, attempting to picture their face. We try to reconstruct that countenance as it might have aged when we were no longer looking at it; it’s a mental equivalent of those strange imagined impressions of the adult that a missing child could have morphed into, ones the police produce to complete cold cases. We can’t quite do it, though, for lost friends are indeed the living dead, frozen phantoms preserved in our internal graveyard that never grow old.

Yes, it is true that we can disentangle ourselves from family if we so wish, though the intricate web of emotional blackmail many families survive by can make such a move a minefield; with friends, it’s different. Friends were our choice, those we instinctively gravitated towards because there was a connection we discerned that meant more than a mere shared surname. As the old saying goes, you can judge a man by the company he keeps – and the choice of our friends is an expression of us as individuals. This is especially important when we are children.

As a child kicks and pushes its way out of the infant egg, part of the hatching process is establishing a life beyond the confines of mum and dad; forming friendships is a crucial aspect of that process, enabling the child to make its first independent mark in the world free from the parental CCTV. We therefore naturally develop a possessive bond with our chosen companions that can sometimes manifest itself as loyalty blinding us to faults and failings we prefer to believe are the exclusive province of those we didn’t pick for our private football team, i.e. family. What, indeed, does it say about us or our judgement should our cherished friends be exposed as owning feet composed of clay? When they betray or abandon us, it hurts because we expected better from them; we anticipate being let down by family, but not by friends. Forgiving is hard enough; forgetting can be even harder.

Social media can put people back in touch, this is true; but is that such a wise endeavour? I know one friend who has done just that more than once and the outcomes have not always been happy; sometimes it’s best to leave well alone and keep the recollection intact and unsullied by the passage of time. Charles Dickens carried a torch for adolescent sweetheart Maria Beadnell, his first love; but the torch was abruptly snuffed out after years of burning bright in his heart when he met up with her in middle age, long after she had roused his nascent passions; he imagined she would still be as he remembered her. She wasn’t. Indeed, any form of high school reunion can be fraught with dangers that stretch back decades. We never forget the friends who let us down, but do we recall the ones we let down? Who knows what bitter resentments we may have inadvertently fostered in the memories of others? We may be disappointed to see our own Walter ‘fat and married’, but what of those to whom we are Walter? Memory has the capacity to be a uniquely selective tonic.

Each act of my existence has come with its own repertory company of players, and very few have remained with the company for long. There is rarely any crossover between productions either; there tends to be a fresh crop of actors for every new script. Such a scenario often imbues the leader of the company with a rootless insecurity and a feeling of belonging nowhere; this is a direct outcome of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em blood brothers of childhood. There are times when I envy those who have stayed in touch with most of the friends they’ve made in their lives; there are other times when I wonder if such a network can be as much of an impediment to personal progress as family can be. Granted, some friends had a sole role, that of facilitating the next phase; once the next phase was here, they had gone; others should have stuck around a little longer. Some I don’t miss and have no desire to reunite with whatsoever; others were worthy of eternity and their disappearance left behind a black hole that still radiates the sense of something missing, something that would have continued to enrich my life had it remained.

One of the trickier elements of this constant changing of characters is that there can be gaps between an outgoing cast and an incoming one – and these gaps have a habit of gradually widening on each occasion they come around. At the moment, I’m reduced to monologues; I recently staged a one-man show that spanned seven days, playing to an empty theatre every night. But, hell, I’ve been here before and I’ve always managed to recruit an audience eventually. I ain’t panicking. I guess at times it can be hard not to envy the child’s lack of a past and stoic ability to forge ahead free from being haunted by the lost; the only thing a child can glimpse when he looks back over his shoulder is a void – and it’s far better to have the void behind than in front, for sure.

So, yes, to answer the question posed by Ray Davies fifty years ago, I do remember Walter – lots of Walters. But where are they now, those collective Walters that contributed so much to the weaving of this tatty tapestry now looking distinctly frayed at the edges? No idea, but thanks for the memories, wherever you are – hopefully healthy, wealthy and wise, passing through the lives of others like you passed through mine.

© The Editor


No other artistic medium can evoke past people and places with the speed and precision of music. Old songs are often intensely personal time capsules that, once unlocked years or even decades after they ceased to provide life with its soundtrack, can resurface as defining documents of who we were, where we were, and who were with when our ears last heard them. A few bars out-of-the-blue can put you back where you were in an instant, as though the moment is so deeply engrained in the grooves of the record that the moment is as intrinsic to the recording as the instrumentation; it can be impossible to separate the song from the moment.

For me, many works of favourite musicians and singers are so bound-up with the first time I was exposed to them that music and moment are genuinely inseparable; this is particularly potent if my affair with the artists in question was encapsulated in a brief burst of passion and I subsequently haven’t kept in touch. Nirvana are a case in point, so associated with a precise period of my life that it’s only because today marks 25 years since Kurt Cobain pointed a shotgun at his head that I’ve dug out ‘Nevermind’ and ‘In Utero’ and dusted them down (literally – the vinyl was filthy) to properly listen for the first time this century. The short ‘n’ sweet career of Nirvana – and the suicide of Kurt Cobain, which casts quite an ominous shadow over that career – makes me think of a friend of mine I haven’t thought about for some time. For the purposes of this post, I shall call her Layla.

In 1994, Layla was my only friend in the neighbourhood, living a few doors away; she was seventeen and had just found out she was pregnant by a ‘bad boy’ that her parents (rightly, as it turned out) didn’t approve of. Suddenly finding herself out of favour with the rather conservative mindset of that neighbourhood, I sensed she needed a friend who had long found that mindset as oppressive as she now did, and I was right. I’d known her for a few years as a neighbour, but we forged a close friendship as we began to spend more time in each other’s company during what was a fairly traumatic year for her. A virtual pinball between boyfriend and family, she found refuge at my place as we stuck Nirvana on the turntable, chatted, consumed cup-after-cup of coffee, and chain-smoked for hours (yes, pregnant women still did in the early 90s).

Being a little older than Layla, it was refreshing to discover she was a Nirvana fan. Last time I’d asked her about music (when she was around 14), she’d been into New Kids on the Block. It reminded me how tastes change radically – and rapidly – in one’s teens, but it meant I had the chance to provide her with some background, lending her LPs by The Stooges, New York Dolls, Sex Pistols et al. I’d spent a while immersed in the Rave scene, finding guitar bands as irrelevant as Trad Jazz once the 90s dawned. Then there was that memorable performance of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ on TOTP, when Kurt sang live and plummeted all the way down the scale to an Andrew Eldritch baritone-from-Hell as what had been safely secluded in the Indie ghetto abruptly gate-crashed the mainstream.

For a band stripped down to the (hard) core of a trio, Nirvana generated an immensely intense noise, but one punctuated by melodic passages that exposed pop sensibilities. Born the same year as me, Kurt Cobain shared my appetite for the pre-Punk rock that the 80s concept of ‘cool’ had told us we weren’t allowed to like whilst the 80s simultaneously inflicted upon our ears the worst music imaginable, whether Bon Jovi or Rick Astley. Then those nice people at the music press did what they always did by coining a hideous name – ‘Grunge’ – to attach to Nirvana and the bands that charged through the doors Kurt and friends had inadvertently kicked down. Yes, the ‘scene’ (for what it was) quickly took on the shape of a bandwagon and burned out within a couple of years, but its most articulate practitioners at least gave us a welcome breather from what had gone immediately before.

I followed the soap opera of Kurt’s marriage to Courtney Love of Hole in the music papers, but it was an amusing diversion from the good work being done – bringing the best rhetoric from the ‘alternative’ side of the tracks to a wider audience and in turn calling time on the embarrassingly antiquated attitudes and clichés of Guns ‘n’ Roses and their ilk. I doubted Axl Rose would have a clue who Sylvia Plath was, but I had a feeling Kurt Cobain knew. Yet, as with the late Mrs Hughes, there were numerous indications his time in the spotlight was destined to be short.

There was a kind of grim fatality to those lumbered with the ‘Gen X’ label, one that made the ending Kurt Cobain brought upon himself somehow inevitable. It radiated a resigned slacker surrender to the narrative that said everything important had been done in the 60s and 70s. ‘Okay,’ said Gen X, ‘well I won’t try then. I’ll smoke dope, wear the same clothes for a week and grow my hair without bothering to wash it. And I’ll listen to Black Sabbath as well as Black Flag.’ What was adopted as the Grunge ‘look’ was merely a regional equivalent of my own adolescent anti-fashion, native to Seattle. Once ‘Nevermind’ established Nirvana as unlikely radio-friendly unit-shifters, it was of course co-opted by opportunistic designers, and the lumberjack shirt became as much of a dead-end uniform as Sid Vicious’ leather jacket had been a few years before. Alas, nobody in 1994 foresaw Nirvana would one day join The Ramones in being reduced to a T-shirt.

Kurt Cobain’s suicide – something heroin undoubtedly played a depressingly familiar part in – meant a great deal at the time because he was the first famous person of my generation to die. We’d grown up with all the legends of the so-called ’27 Club’, but they were historical figures to us – even if the death of the most recent (Jim Morrison) wasn’t as far back in time then as Cobain’s death is in 2019, scarily. News broke three days after the date of his demise; it was a Saturday. Radio 1’s ‘Evening Session’ paid tribute a couple of days later; I still have an audiotape recording of it somewhere; I remember listening to it with Layla. We were subdued by the shocking passing of someone who mattered to us right at the moment when Layla herself was carrying a new life inside her. And the cycle goes on.

A few months after Kurt Cobain’s messy exit, Layla gave birth to a little girl as Nirvana’s morbidly beautiful ‘Unplugged’ LP was effortlessly sailing to the top of the charts. A few months after that, the cultural goalposts were shifted once again as Blur and Oasis prepared to lock horns; meanwhile, Layla was changing nappies, and I was getting ready to relocate elsewhere. Layla’s mother thanked me for being a good friend to her daughter during the most difficult months; ‘I don’t know how she’d have managed without you,’ she said, which was kind of her. I don’t know how I’d have managed without Layla.

Years passed. Layla and I saw each other periodically as we both moved around with the restlessness of gypsies for a good decade, and then we did what so many once-close friends do – we lost touch. But whenever I recall Nirvana – which isn’t, I admit, very often now – I recall Layla and a lovely friendship that grew out of alienation from our shared surroundings, one that had its perfect poet laureate in Kurt Cobain.

© The Editor