The day I was front page news in Kingston, upstate New York...
Posted on the 26th Jul 2016 in the category sport

As Billy Joel, Jay Z and Alicia Keys sing so wonderfully I am starting to get into a New York State of Mind.

I've only been once, for the month of September in 2005 when I started in Manhattan and travelled up one side of the Hudson River to Albany and then back down the other to NYC, and I am returning to the Big Apple for the election this October and November.

That incredible month was down to Rotary Club International and CIN group editor Sam Holiday who agreed one of his journalists could spend a month "working for newspapers in New York" as part of the Rotary Club Group Study Exchange scheme.

My name was picked out of a hat and off I went to the Rotary Club headquarters to try and beat other professionals to get on that plane, which I obviously did.

I was chosen because I was a journalist and went with a teacher, policeman and PR executive as well as our team leader - a great Rotarian called Andrew Guest.

It turned out I would not be "working for newspapers for a month in New York" I would be speaking at Rotary clubs most days and would only be visiting various newspapers once a week. 

However, I was off to the Land of the Free for Free and I Ioved it.

Often I'd turn up at a newspaper and the owner, the Rotarian, would walk with me to the newsdesk and tell his editor/news editor that I was to work with them for the day. They usually had no idea about my visit.

I quickly realised I did not want to be a spare part I, after cracking a few jokes and telling them about my patch back home, I offered to write them a An Englishman in New York feature about their own patch from what I'd seen and picked up during my time in their town.

I loved being in American newsrooms, hearing the police radio frequency was just amazing to me, and seeing the freedom they have to write the news also put us Brits to shame, journalists laughed and shook their heads when I explained our contempt of court and libel laws.

I had some incredible conversations with old hacks who had covered the Cuban Revolution, The Kennedy Assasination, The Civil Rights Movement, Watergate and so many other great tales, it was just hard news heaven for me.

I enjoyed rewriting their front pages to show the different styles we had, their news writing is very feature based, for instance one front page was about a kids football coach who was prosecuted for sex crimes, they did not mention the crime until the seventh par. I rewrote it "Children's soccer coach has been found guilty of having sex with squad members" - "wow, you English guys are kind direct!" 

I got myself three front pages whilst I was there, which was amazing, and I've found one. Reading it back I'm proud how well written it was, I had obviously wanted to impress my temporary editor. 

I'm surprised I included so many digs at the then American Government, whether it be their terrible response to Hurricane Katrina or their invasions. The letters pages after my articles were printed were full of letters abusing my limey bad teeth and rudeness, as well as few congratulations.

More than one editor said with a smile: "We could never have printed an article like that if we had written it, but as you are a guest, we happily did so."

This article about the upstate New York city of Kingston was published on Saturday, September 17, 2005.

KINGSTON — “Hey, you know that your ancestors burnt this place to the ground, don’t you?” a friendly Kingstonian asked me after only five minutes in your city.

Being an Englishman abroad can provoke many reactions because of the massive impact my country has had on the world, but Kingston is the first place I have been to that the British leveled.

All I can say is “sorry,” because Kingston is by far the most beautiful place I have visited since touring the Hudson Valley with the Rotary Club.

“The war” has been thrown in my face a lot since arriving on these shores, and it took me a while to understand what war was being referred to. With a military history like Great Britain’s, it pays to be specific when discussing wars. We have been fighting them for over 2,000 years.

To many Brits, the American War of Independence, or Revolutionary War as you call it, was not so much a war but a skirmish on an empire’s outpost. But though we might have been enemies in the past, the bonds between our two countries today are closer than ever. We are your oldest ally and greatest friend.

Like Many writers before me, I am falling in love with the Hudson Valley. With the majestic river cutting a swath through such beautiful countryside, the river towns that have sprung up on its banks are a delight to visit even though they have had better days.

Kingston’s Uptown beauty is matched by its lack of chain stores and wonderful independent shopkeepers.

Be sure to protect this, because Amer-ica is like England, where every high street has the same stores and individu-ality is being slowly strangled from each once-diverse town center.

Upon opening the door of Alternative Books on North Front Street, the beautiful aroma of old paper filled my nostrils. The old guy behind the counter shouted to me, “Y’all don’t mind the blues do you?” Not at all, I replied, and a wonderful browse began to the sounds of an American art form.

You can learn a lot of a place from its bookstore, and this one was like King-ston itself: prim, proper, with an air of elegance.

In these days of technology, books are usually bought over the Internet, but there is no substitute for stumbling on books you would never see unless you were wandering around a shop.

Books ranged from the British-influenced “Royal Blood Feud” — the story of Charles and Diana, not Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots — to the majestic poetry that this wonderful area has inspired. A glance through King-ston’s own son Henry Abbey’s book was a trip into another world. Dust covered the 109-year-old book. The love Abbey had for Kingston shone through in his work and, if you’re a native, be sure to read his poem “Kingston in May.” It is a wonderfully written ode to this special place.

My next American adventure hap-pened when I walked into the Uptown Cigar Co. shop. The smell was stunning, and I immediately asked for a Cuban cigar.

“No chance” was the reply, and, of course, I remembered the petty trade embargo that the world’s only superpow-er has against its struggling neighbor, which prevents you from savouring the best cigars in the world.

But the feeling of old America exuded throughout the store and owner Michelle Tuchman showed me some good old U.S. hospitality. The store is certainly an asset to the city.

A visit to Kingston Rotary Club also was a wonderful experience. One of the oldest in the world, the club extended a warm welcome to their British visitors.

The Rotary Club is certainly one of America’s most positive impacts on the world, recently celebrating its centenary. Whilst your government invades coun-tries, the Rotary has been busy trying to eradicate polio across the world.

I WAS lucky enough to be picked by the Rotary Club of Heart of England to be part of a team exchange program with the Hudson Valley Rotary district that aims to foster international relations, a greater understanding of our two won-derfully different countries and the work Rotary Club does.

Exchange programs like the one I am on are always valuable because they show how humans are the same the world over whatever governments say or do. People have the same problems and take the same joy from life.

I have already shaken nearly 500 hands and smiled for countless pictures with wonderful Rotarians. My first impressions of Americans are of a warm and generous people with a fantastic sense of humor.

As an Englishman in New York state, I find the scale of everything compared to England huge. The roads are bigger, the cars are bigger, the traffic jams are bigger, but one thing that is very small compared to that in England is the price of petrol.

Almost every driver I have spoken to lamented the cost of petrol passing $3 a gallon, though the sudden hike must have been a shock. Try living in England, where petrol is roughly $10 a gallon. It is good our country is smaller than yours or we could not afford to get anywhere with prices like ours!

But it was by foot that I stumbled around Uptown, and discovering the Old Dutch Church was a revelation. In a graveyard that betrayed the futility of war, the memorial to George Clinton rose from the hallowed turf, certainly a great man, and his final resting place seems to be perfect.

After carrying the guilt of my fore-fathers’ treatment of Kingston and think-ing what architectural jewels were lost in the fire, I found a fascinating fact that eased my pain.

The plaque in the church graveyard described the heinous crime of British, then explained every building was rebuilt after the Revolutionary War. Where can I see these lovingly restored buildings, I thought. Well, it appears there are not many left. Most have been demolished for development.

So what us Brits did in a day, you guys have done over two centuries. What is tragic when someone decides to remove a piece of history for “progress,” it that is gone forever.

Try not to let it happen again because this river city is a special place. It is up to you and the local government to ensure it stays that way because King-ston’s beauty could slip away faster than a fish down the Hudson.


Larking around in the EU with a forgotten Brexit hero Mike Nattrass
Posted on the 16th Jul 2016 in the category sport

There is no doubt Brexit is one of the momentous post-war historical events for the  UK.

And there is no denying UKIP's role in forcing the referendum so I've dug out a feature about a forgotten historical hero for the Brexiters - Mike Nattrass. He was one of the first UKIP MEPs elected on the Robert Kilroy-Silk (remember that Lozells old boy) inspired election in 2005. But more importantly for UKIP he bankrolled the party for years.

This piece is fascinating and includes me having coffee with Nigel Farage who I compare to Howard's Way villain Charlie Frere. Also featured is baboon fondling MEP Tom Wise who ended up being done for expenses fraud. It was a dog of a journey, especially when I realised there were more epensive direct flights from Birmingham to Strasbourg. 

If you went on a tour of the EU Parliament with an MEP you'd get £100 in Euros put in your hand at the end of the tour, so needless to say I visited both Strasbourg and Brussells parliaments several times with Mike. I even got him to invite my very photogenic black friends after pointing out there were no pictures of people of colour in UKIP literature. I spent a bit of time with Mike over the years, an interesting bloke who loved Europe but not the EU. Because he stood once for a little known British patriotic party I suppose I thought I might expose him as a racist but I spent enough unguarded moments with him to know he was not. Farage ended up kicking him out of the party he had ensured finacially survived.

On a trip to Brussells I met Farage again, he wasn't that fond of journalists at that point as a few days before the Daily Mail had exposed his affair with his immigrant nanny, in a speech he cracked jokes about it as his wife stood beside him cringing.

This feature was published in The Great Barr and Sutton Coldfield Observers on July 2015, 2005.


It has been a year since local businessman Mike Nattrass was elected to the European Parliament for the UK Independence Party, so to mark the occasion last week the Observer’s Adam Smith shadowed the MEP and discovered all is not what it seems in the EU.


It is 4am on a Monday morning and as a cold wind blows through Perry Barr itseems a million miles away from that far off place Yerp – or should I say Europe.

I am waiting for the West Midlands UK Independence Party MEP to pick me up on the way to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

Mike Nattrass is hard to miss even in the blue light of dawn, his BMW is adorned with UKIP slogans like ‘EU are better out of the EU’ and ‘Save the Pound’.

Mike is on his own, his wife can’t make it because thecat has takena turn for the worst. But a groggy moggy will not keep Mike from his crusade.

After a drive to Luton, a few hours in crowded departure lounge,a delayed flight and listening to two screaming kids bellow for what seems eternity we touchdown in Switzerland – one of the few European countries not in the EU.

Luckily, because the big cheeses at Strasbourg Council want the parliament in their back yard MEPs get free taxis from Basle Airport. Eight hours after we left Birmingham we finally arrive at the European Par-liament.

For me, it seems a lot of time and energy for UKIP to get somewhere where they do not want to be – surely it would be easier to stay in Birmingham.

But that is the unique position Mike Nattrass and his nine fellow UKIP MEPs are in.

Unlike Sinn Fein,who refuse to attend Westminster and take the Royal oath, UKIP turn upto the institution they despise every session. MEPs have to sign in every day to get their wages and expenses.

Not that Mike Nattrass sees any of his wages,he donate sit to his party’s coffers, one of the ways he pours cash into UKIP.

After continually coming up against European regulations inbusiness Mike decided todedicatehis life togetting the UK out of the European Union.

“If the EU is the answer then it must have been a pretty stupid question,” jokes Mike.

And within hours of being with Mike it is obvious he carries out his political crusade with a smile. He can’t help but laugh at the absurdities of life in the European Parliament because the daftness demonstrates the problems that make the EU an easy target for ridicule.

“The parliament in Strasbourg sits forjust four days amonth,and forthe rest of the timeit is inmothballs,it costs 200 million Euros a year to transport the paper work between Brussels and France, it is barmy, look what good you could do with that money,” Mike vehemently explains.

“The building is fantastic, the French people are very friendly and Strasbourg is wonderful but itisa total waste of time and money to be here. The MEPs voted to just use Brussels but the French used their veto to ensure we still come here.”

The first friendly face we see is Eastern region MEP Tom Wise.

He has to pop intothe Parliament. With bright lights and blue decor it looks like a set from an alien council in Star Trek.

It is empty as we creep in, Tom has a toy baboon under his armand mischievous grin.

Silly question,but why the baboon? “My local car dealership gives a baboon away when you buy acar and the ba-boonis supposed to go wherever the car goes,” he calmly explains.

So my first taste of the European Parliament is monkeying about taking a picture of a toy baboon in the president of the EU Commission’s seat.

Then a group of Italians spot us,the look on their faces says it all, ‘mad baboons and Englishmen go out in the midday sun’.

“We are definitely anti-establishment,” Mike explains. I agree, I cannot see Tony Blair playing with cuddly primates on the dispatch box.

UKIPmadeits politicalbreakthrough last year, capturing a major slice of the vote in the European elections– a flirtation with Robert Kilroy-Silk ensured the party captured the headlines.

The British electorate certainly appreciates irony because they send UKIP to the place where they donot want to be but not to Westminster where the decision could be made to withdraw from the EU.

Mikeis the deputy leader of the party and introduces me to the leader Roger Knapman, parliament leader NigelFar-age and fellow MEP Graham Booth.

As we sipped beer in the subsidised canteen it dawned on me between the four of them they represented half of Britain,over 20 million people and had polled over two million votes.

Mike hasa mandate of 236,000,more than ten times that of PerryBarr MP Khalid Mahmood. So after a year in the EU what has UKIP achieved?

“The French no and the Dutch no happened because of UKIP being in the parliament,” Nigel Farage proudly brags.

“We gave people the inspiration in their own countries to say this EU dream is fast becoming a nightmare because of incompetence.”

Within a year UKIP have made a lot of European friends,they have set up the Independence and Democracy group, the fourth biggest in the Parliament attracting Dutch,French, Polish and Czech MEPs.

Under the leadership of Nigel Farage, smooth, suave and slightly reminiscent of Charlie Frere from the drama Howard’s Way ,UKIP is according to Mike ‘scaring the EU to death’.

From uncovering special gifts to the European President to showing how African fisherman are being put out of business because of European sub-sidies, UKIP are now part of the

European Union, albeit through militarism – the voting is regimental.

“Yes, No,Undecided,”shouts the compere, err I mean speaker because the votes come and go sofast it was like watching bingo.

A woman with a shock of blonde hair makes anoise, storms across the parliament and unfurls anItalianflag then throws it overan MEP. Madam Mussolini is annoyed again. ‘This is EU politics at its best’a researcher tells me with a smile.

Mike is lobbied by different groups, on Wednesday it was the turn of the biometric glasses brigade who complain that 8,000 motorists will be outlawed.

Mike is on the Transport Committee so he promises to insert an amendment to help motorists who use the special glasses.

Though he scoffs atthe parliament Mike does have power. An amendment here and challenge there can help vulnerable groups across the continent.

In 24 hours two very different moments showed the riotous yet bonding nature of the EU.

When the result of the Olympics vote was announced therewas jeering,boo-ing and goading from French and British MEPs, reminiscent of Westminster ya boo politics. It was certainly a good day to be in France on Wednesday but less than 24 hours later the close ties of a Europe without war were demonstrated when the minute’s silence was perfectly observed for the bombings in London.

MEPs embraced Englishmen in a show of solidarity between political foes and friends.

But on Friday morning, the parliament is a very different place – deserted except for a trickle of MEPs signing in then out.

UKIP are enjoying their European adventure, they are not trying to wreck it as the now departed Kilroy-Silkprom-ised, they just want the UK out.

It isa wonderfully British party, full of well meaning eccentrics. They will always facean uphill battle against Labour, Conservatives and the Liberals but UKIP can only be good for European democracy if they keep asking hard questions.

After another nasty journey wear-rived back at Luton airport in the early hours of Saturday morning,and walked through a gate marked UK and EU.

“That’s the bloody trouble withthe EU you have got no choice whether you’re in it or not,” joked Mike, knock-ing the European nail perfectly on the head.

Happy Independence Day ya'll - a celebration of the USA's madness
Posted on the 6th Jul 2016 in the category sport


In 2005 I was lucky enough to go to New York state with the Rotary Club. For a month I travelled up and down the giant state living with American families, talking about Birmingham to Rotary Clubs and working in various newspapers. 
The trip changed my life, I fell in love with America, Americans and even a very attractive American. I'd only been once before when I was a teenager, to Florida, but this month long trip really helped turned my life around. As so often since I got the plane to America a broken man and got off a plane from America with new energy and zest for life.
I was suffering from some severe self loathing but a month of being told I was "awesome, funny, talented" etc etc by countless Americans did the trick, I must have shook a thousand hands. And as I had to speak everyday in front of Rotary Clubs I learnt how to speak in public.
I got front pages in American papers and sent back Adam's Big Apple - Letters from America to my papers back home, The Great Barr Observer, Sutton Observer and Tamworth Herald. I interviewed 9/11 heroes and eposed the piss poor reaction of the American Government to the Hurricaine Katrina tragedy. The reaction was good but mostly included text messages from friends saying "stop eating - every week you are getting bigger."
The article below though was one of my favourites, I threw all the bonkers stuff I'd seen and heard into one article.
So this is one of my many love letters to America.
Have a happy Independence Day ya'll. 
"Only in America" has become a phrase that encapsulates the extremes of a society that includes 500m people and spans an entire continent.
Coined by Don King, the killer who became a multimillionaire boxing promoter, I have uttered the phrase over and over since being in the US.
This country is an amazing place where the unbelievable is only a sentence away and the shocking is around every corner.
Living with families and seeing workplaces has been eye opening to say the least.
From what I can tell dogs sure have a raw deal over here, one dog even had its brain blown off in his owners living room by cops who thought it was a Rotweiller on the loose. The house I'm staying in at the moment has two dogs, Buster only has one eye and he is the normal one, the poodle Dooley was not even invited to its first obedience class in case it went crazy. 
Whilst taking a walk with the Goshen Ladies Walking Club I innocently asked if they had a Barbara Woodhouse figure in town because the dog population was extremely well trained and quiet. Countless pooches would come running to the end of the garden and quietly watch us go by, now as a paper boy in Perry Barr I remember been chased from house to house by crazy dogs.
But the ladies told me that it wasn't obedience classes that created these Stepford dogs it was electric force fields. It appears Americans buy these force field fences powered by electric to stop their dogs leaving their garden or even keep pets out of bedrooms. In the land of the free it appears that dogs don't have this privilege.
And as well as not being able to roam free they can not even bark because of electric collars that discharge a shock when they want to do what is natural. Now surely being a dog is all about barking and running but over here that is a thing of the past. Why have Barbara Woodhouse when you can have electric volts racing through your dogs body to ensure it does not step out of line.
It is either one extreme or the other, in Woodstock I walked around the weekly pet parade where kind hearted souls parade their llamas and mongrels for fun. Wonderful people and cute animals but at odds with a website that offers virtual hunting. Web surfers from all over America can log on and see prime cows and animals wandering around a field in Texas. Then with their keyboard controls shoot the animals on the screen thousands of miles away, to make the experience even more real the dead animal is 'Fed Exed' to their door.
Then as well as the animals getting a raw deal there are the kids. I'm lucky enough through Rotary families to have met some wonderful children who have brightened up my trip like a sparkler at Bonfire Night.
At my current in a house of five children four of them been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, two with added hyperactivity. These children are clever, funny can be wild but their brilliance coping with modern kiddy lifeis wonderful to watch.
ADHD is a big business over here. I think America is too quick to diagnose children with a problem to brand them as ill or crazy. There are children all over the US, like my new clan, who are being given lots of drugs so they can concentrate at school and be docile so the teachers can control them. However they wear out about 4.30pm so the parents have to try and deal children coming down from the drugs.
And it takes months to wean these children off these mind altering drugs.
I'm pretty sure if I could concentrate on the subject long enough I might diagnose myself with ADD as well because it seems most people have it over here. One doctor even was diagnosed with it after patients complained that he had changed his mind over their illnesses.
He got sued of course this being the home of the suing culture, it appears you can sue for anything or be sued for anything in America. That is why the insurance business is booming as are the lawyers. One recent court case showed a bus crashing and pedestrians running to get in to the wreckage so they could sue the bus company.
Being in America I thought there would be guns everywhere, but it appears in New York State it is hard to by a hand gun unlike the South where you can buy a shotgun in Wal-Mart.The police have guns though and lots of them, visiting the police and jails has been an eye opener to say the least.
The police in England have to fill out reams of paperwork for one arrest but over here the police book them in and throw them in the slammer with the fraction of the fuss we make for our boys in blue.And during a tour of Orange County Jail I was amazed to see 16-year-old girls in the main prison system. But New York is progressive compared to other states in the US. In a country where insane prisoners on death row are given drugs to become legally sane so the state can execute them the Government spends more on prisons than schools. Seeing these palaces of punishment dotted across the countryside it is not hard to imagine why.
Whilst millions starve across the world the food over here is obscene not to mention there is something wrong with the cameras over here because every time a snap of me is taken some fat bloke appears on the picture.  The portions are just daft, I counted 15 giant onion rings for a starter dish and the amount of beef consumed would make Desperate Dan flinch. It is no surprise that there are so many house size Americans waddling in and out of their gas guzzlers. 
The concept of walking is alien to most Americans, they complain gas is over fifty pence a gallon it is no wonder global warming is not stopping as this continent is car crazy.
And television is something to behold. There are more adverts than you could think possible, there are even adverts between the end of the programme and the credits. And after escaping Big Brother in England I found it reaching its finale over here. And it is completely different to ours, no drunken brawls and fat tarts getting their breasts out. No they take it all very seriously, the house divided into three camps. The Sovereign Six, the Outcasts and the Friendship Alliance, they take the American dream seriously in their reality TV shows.
The myriad of television channels perfectly shows the diversity of American life and as Don King would surely agree it is this diversity that make it a knockout place to discover.


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