Pigeon on the Wing – Chapter 10 – A Mohammedan in the Nick

 A Mohammedan in the Nick

Foreword: All chapters of Pigeon on the Wing published on this website are in draft form only. The final version may include grammatical, syntax and content changes, as well as sidebars and illustrations to maintain a level of interest and to stop readers’ eyes from glazing over. All comments and / or criticisms of content or writing style would be most welcome. Masterpieces like this don’t just write themselves, you know.

Seriously, though – this is your book just as much as it is mine. I couldn’t have even begun to write it without all of your help and support. Thank you so much for everything you have done for me, and I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

Tim Burton

Pigeon on the Wing – Chapter 10 – A Mohammedan in the Nick

Thursday 25 May 2017 – I was settling in to my new life on the wing of Category C block in HMP Thameside. It was Thursday morning, and I had assumed my accustomed position in the communal area, hunched over a chess-board whilst drinking a lukewarm mug of tea – courtesy of the hot tap in my cell (in the absence of a dedicated desktop plug-in water heating device.)

The absence of such a device, (a.k.a. an electric kettle) while not exactly leaving me disgruntled, was leaving me far from being completely gruntled, and I had been debating with myself for a couple of days about whether or not to lodge a complaint with my Trip Advisor representative.

No doubt he would have told me that kettles occupied a similar position on the HMP Thameside scale of desirable accoutrements as co-axial TV leads, Tasmanian alligator feathers and the excrement of rocking-horses. I surmised that it was just one of those things I would have to put up with.

In the meantime I was simultaneously contemplating my next move against an opponent with all the charisma and chess-board skills of a village idiot on his day off. He had left his king exposed in a fool’s-mate position, a basic error that was about to cost him dearly.

All of a sudden, a Mohammedan hove into view from the other end of the communal area. I noticed that he seemed to be heading in my direction.

This particular Mohammedan looked as though he was trying extremely hard to win the “HMP Thameside Devout Mohammedan of the Year” award, and I felt that his appearance warranted further examination.

He was in the possession of a large bushy black beard reaching halfway down his chest, which made him look like a Pakistani version of Father Christmas, but without the red suit and the accompanying jovial ho-ho-ho disposition.

He was wearing a multi-coloured prayer cap which looked as though it had been made in a kaleidoscope factory by an over-zealous operative who had just been told that silver glitter was all the rage this year, and who had been instructed to spare no expense in the manufacturing process.

The final touch was a long khaki-coloured djellaba reaching down to his ankles – an ensemble which contrasted fetchingly with his olive-green fur-lined parka jacket and matching olive-green socks and fur-lined slippers.

Most tellingly, he also had the notorious terrorist instruction manual – in the form of a green and gold hard-backed Koran – tucked under his arm.

Yes, I thought, that was definitely a one hundred per cent stove-enamelled, copper-bottomed, dyed-in-the-wool Mohammedan without the shadow of a doubt.

He bore down on me with all the unnerving accuracy of an incoming Exocet missile zooming in on an unsuspecting squirrel. I braced myself for the worst. Just because someone sports a natty matching parka, socks and slippers combination, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get you, and in prison it is a good idea to be on the alert and to prepare accordingly.

Never let it be said that life in prison makes you paranoid about such things.

“Hey Grand-Dad,” he said – which I had found was the standard greeting for anyone over the age of 60 in the prison – “My name is Rohani. Can you help me with my English language homework? I hear you’re good at this. We need to complete all the tasks before my personal liaison officer visits next week, insh’allah.”

Word of my proficiency in the assessment process while I had been in the Category B section of the prison was something that had obviously spread quickly. However, something about his opening statement intrigued me.

“Personal liaison officer?” I thought. How come I didn’t have a “personal liaison officer”? I was rapidly coming to the conclusion that there was one rule for some people and another rule for others in the prison system. It was almost as if there was a privileged group of inmates whose demands and needs took priority over the rest of the prison population.

Surely not, I hear you say. What group would that be, I wonder?

Now it would seem that “personal liaison officers” could be added to this ever-growing list. No wonder conversions to Islam in prison were on the rise. If it had not been for the beguiling attractions of the young ladies of the South East London Gospel Choir (who were currently playing a starring role in the overnight maintenance of my nocturnal fantasies) then I could easily see how a conversion to the satanic world of Islam might be worth a try.

Only kidding. I am not so easily persuaded. It would take far more than the prospect of my own Personal Liaison Officer for me to convert to a genocidal totalitarian ideology with global ambitions of supremacy.

Even the prospect of seventy-two virgins in Paradise wouldn’t be enough. I am sure that most Mohammedans don’t realise that seventy-two virgins imply the additional prospect of seventy-two potential mothers-in-law, ready to nag you for all eternity if you don’t keep the house tidy, make sure that the lawn is mowed regularly and the hedges are kept neatly trimmed.

     Islamic Paradise

However, the delights of Islam obviously do appeal to many prison inmates. For example, it is not unknown for self-declared Mohammedans to enjoy a raft of extra privileges in British prisons, such as halal meals, extra time out of one’s cell for communal prayer on a Friday, and even (in some of the more progressive prisons) toilets orientated to face away from Mecca on the grounds that if Mohammedans knowingly defecate while facing Mecca then it would be the first step on a slippery slope to eternal damnation.

The metaphor “slippery slope” is probably not the most tactful one to use in such a context, but I am sure that you know what I mean.

While such privileges are no doubt meant to assuage religious sensitivities, it only encourages the Mohammedan community to consider themselves as superior to the rest of us mere mortals. Unfortunately this ridiculous notion is reinforced by the teachings in Islamic texts – such as Koran 3:110 – where Mohammedans are informed that they are “the best of people.”

That would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic. Since when did the ideology of Islam produce people superior to any others on this planet, when even a casual glance at the statistics available reveals that in every country where the ideology of Mohammed holds sway, the inhabitants of that country are right at the bottom of virtually every measurable yardstick of success?

If the teachings of Koran 3:110 were not bad enough, another verse – Koran 98:6 –  informs Mohammedans that non-believers are “the worst of creatures.” Apologists for Islam frequently argue that this doesn’t apply to each and every non-believer, only to those who reject Islam, “even though they know it to be the one true religion” – which of course is nothing more than sophistry.

Sophistry, the use of clever but false arguments, with the specific intention of deceiving the unwary, are meat and drink to Mohammedans when it comes to defending Islam in front of non-believers. I know this from my own personal experiences leading up to the Birmingham Taqiyya Trial in April 2014. (See Chapter 6.)

All things considered, I was grateful that I had made the decision to keep the real reason for my detention to myself. A conviction for Religiously Aggravated Harassment might be somewhat complicated to explain to a devout Mohammedan, and I didn’t want to generate any unnecessary ill-feeling whilst confined inside the enclosed space of HMP Thameside.

I glanced down at the chess-board. The fool’s mate gambit would have to wait. I murmured my apologies to my opponent, and moved over to another table to sit opposite Rohani.

“So, you’re the Pigeon, eh?” said Rohani. “I have heard about you from my friends. You blow pigeons apart with a .44 Magnum, eh? Or was it a .50 Barrett? Like Dirty Harry, insh’allah. Maybe I should call you Dirty Harry.”

I wasn’t about to enlighten him concerning the limitations of my armoury. This was because my trusty .22 air rifle was nowhere near approaching the capabilities of a .44 Magnum or indeed a .50 Barrett (with its 2800 FPS muzzle velocity and effective range of over 2000 yards, it is obviously the ideal weapon for discouraging our feathered friends from nesting under the roof panels, and I had resolved to save up for one after I had been released.) “Oh yes,” I said nonchalantly, “no pigeon is safe from me and my .44 Magnum. Do you feel lucky, punk?”

I pointed my fingers at him and with my best Clint Eastwood impression, mimed the action of a hammer being pulled back on a .44 Magnum. It was obviously a good impression as far as impressions go.

Rohani regarded me impassively for a moment and then smiled broadly.

“Ha-ha! You and your famous British sense of humour! You and me are now good friends, yes? Now you can help me with this homework. I have to atone for my sins, insh’allah.”

Rohani’s homework was indeed an act of atonement. It comprised a series of questions relating to his offences of car-jacking a few months earlier. It was obviously designed to appeal to the conscience of a wrong-doer.

There was of course – implicit in this process – the premise within the prison homework questionnaire that the conscience of a Mohammedan was identical to the conscience of a non-believer. This is not necessarily true and is a frankly dangerous supposition which is, in my humble opinion,  at the root of many if not all the differences, fallacies and misapprehensions between  Mohammedans and non-believers. They simply do not think the same way as we do, which is – without a doubt – due to the teachings of the Koran and the Islamic Prophet Mohammed.

This was not something I was about to point out to Rohani at this time. In my experience, Mohammedans for the most part do not take kindly to points of view that may disagree with the Koran or indeed disagree with the views or the behaviour of the Islamic Prophet Mohammed, no matter how heinous such views and behaviour may be to those of us brought up with the honest and decent traditions of our Judaeo-Christian heritage.

I looked over Rohani’s homework and started to read out some questions.

Question 1 – “Describe how your victims must have felt when you attacked them in the street and stole their vehicle.”

Rohani: “Yeah, I suppose they might have been a bit upset. But then that’s infidels for you. Serves them right for having a posh motor though, innit. ”

Me: “No, Rohani, Moslem or not, they were more than likely extremely traumatised. It isn’t nice having your prized possessions taken away from you by a knife-wielding psychopath.”

Rohani: “Oh. Yes. Right. I suppose.”

Question 2 – “Describe how your family must have felt when you were arrested for your crimes.”

Rohani: “Yeah, well, they probably thought I was a chip off the old block. My dad was a senior commander in the Taliban, you know. He could shoot the eye out of a chicken at fifty paces. My mum was always telling him off about that. She needed those chickens for the eggs to sell at the market.”

Me: “No, Rohani, as Moslems living in the West, they would have been extremely ashamed that you had failed to live up to the high standards expected of a well-integrated law-abiding citizen in a civilised democracy.”

Rohani: “Oh. Yes. Right. I suppose.”

Question 3 – “Describe what you would do if you were faced with the same situation in the future.”

Rohani: “Yeah, well I would try harder not to get caught, wouldn’t I?”

Me: “No, Rohani, you would have seen the error of your ways and resolved to be a good citizen in the future by not stealing from other innocent law-abiding citizens, Moslems or not, and by making amends to your victims.”

Rohani: “Oh. Yes. Right. I suppose – I suppose we had better be writing this down. My personal liaison officer will want to see this. Please write it down for me. You want a Kit-Kat?” He held out a chocolate bar in front of me. He obviously felt that I was easily bribed.

I sighed inwardly. This was going to be hard work. I could see that he was expecting me to be his personal scribe. To be fair, Rohani’s handwriting and grasp of written English left something to be desired. Not to mention his moral compass.

“What did you do with these vehicles that you car-jacked?” I asked. “You obviously wouldn’t be able to keep them for any length of time.”

“You’d be surprised,” said Rohani. “My first cousin makes a good living churning out forged documents and cloned number plates – and my uncle has a chop shop in Bradford where you can get pretty much any car part that you might want.”

“Not only that,” he said, warming to his theme, “top-end Range Rovers and Jaguars fetch a fortune in the Middle East, where they are not so fussy about the paperwork. They are ever so easy to steal and disguise. I just change the plates and drive them to a container ship in Hull, where – ”

“Don’t tell me,” I said, “you have a relative who is a container ship captain. And another one who is a Customs Officer, perhaps?”

Rohani smiled at me, a big gap-toothed smile full of innocence. “I suppose some people might say that I shouldn’t have got involved, but it’s all part of the family business. In Islam, family is everything.”

He continued, “And it was great fun! So much fun! The expressions on the infidels’ faces when I held a knife to their throats and threatened to behead them!  And of course I only ever stole cars from infidels, which is the most important thing, insh’allah.”

He uttered the last words with some trepidation, and glanced behind him, as if half-expecting to see the archangel Gabriel himself standing there, a frown etched into his brow and his wings gently rustling in disapproval as he thumbed through a sheaf of paperwork relating to a dodgy Range Rover.

Or worse still, a Range Rover that had mistakenly been taken from an innocent Mohammedan – which would have been in dire contradiction, naturally, of the numerous edicts concerning Range Rovers and other top-end vehicles that had been handed down by Allah over the centuries and subsequently incorporated into the Koran.

I was reminded of yet another verse that never made it into the Koran, having allegedly been written down on a palm leaf and eaten by a goat in the seventh century:- “O ye who believe! Never steal a camel from another Moslem, because he is your brother. But verily, the camel of the infidel is yours to do with what you will. And one day that camel will have air conditioning, adjustable suspension and reclining seats, and you will be at ease while the infidel gnashes his teeth and walks upon the desert sands.”

Oh well, that’s OK then, I thought. That’s the most important thing. No Moslems had been harmed during the execution of these crimes. I could definitely see Rohani being a productive member of society when he was finally released. All things considered, I felt it was my civic duty to help him.

Not only that, but I felt that it was right to show some compassion. I could see that Rohani had been to Hull and back.

In any case, you never know when you might end up needing a particularly hard-to-come-by distributor cap for a Ferrari. Or more likely, a set of tasty alloy wheels and tyres and some furry dice to hang from the rear-view mirror of a souped-up Ford Fiesta. Last but not least, helping Rohani with answering the questions in his English Language homework wasn’t entirely without its compensations.

A day or so later, there was a knock on my cell door. It was association time and the cell doors had been unlocked a few moments previously. A familiar face appeared.

“You want a kettle?” said Rohani, looking around my cell and expertly assessing my electrical appliances – or lack thereof. “I can get you a kettle.”

Tim Burton

End of Chapter 10

Please donate – whatever you can – to the Tim Burton Legal Defence Fund

Help to overturn an unjust conviction and strike a blow for justice.

http://www.paypal.me/followthecat

Pigeon on the Wing – Chapter 9 – A New Wing for the Pigeon

   A New Wing for the Pigeon

Foreword: All chapters of Pigeon on the Wing published on this website are in draft form only. The final version may include grammatical, syntax and content changes, as well as sidebars and illustrations to maintain a level of interest and to stop readers’ eyes from glazing over. All comments and / or criticisms of content or writing style would be most welcome. Masterpieces like this don’t just write themselves, you know.

Seriously, though – this is your book just as much as it is mine. I couldn’t have even begun to write it without all of your help and support. Thank you so much for everything you have done for me, and I hope you enjoy reading the book as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

Tim Burton

Pigeon on the Wing – Chapter 9 – A New Wing for the Pigeon

Monday 22 May 2017 – A couple of days after my assessment in English Language, Mathematics and Computer Skills, I was approached by a prison officer as I was preparing for another exciting, fun-filled day on the wing. I have heard it said that being in prison is like being in a combat zone with the army – long periods of boredom punctuated by short bursts of terror.

It’s not a perfect analogy of course – for example, I hadn’t as yet been issued with my own sniper rifle, nor indeed had I yet been enrolled on a high explosives handling course, but I dare say that the Howard League for Penal Reform would be addressing these very issues as I write.

Maintaining prisoners’ morale is a high priority for the HLPR, and I am sure that a series of courses based on the correct handling of small arms, heavy machine guns and high explosives would have an overall positive effect on the mental well-being of most prisoners.

To be fair, the officers at HMP Thameside appeared to be working diligently to reduce the possibilities of boredom setting in, at least during “times of association” when prisoners were allowed out of their cells. My cell-mate John was in the prison gym and pumping iron, and I was halfway through a game of chess with another inmate in the communal area.

The prison officer said to me, “Get your stuff together. You’re moving.”

I thought for a moment. “Is this a good thing or a bad thing?” I asked. I had got used to the prison routine and there didn’t seem to be any immediate threats to my well-being, but perhaps someone had complained that I was winning too many games of chess.

Was I likely to be thrown into solitary confinement with only bread to eat and water to drink until the end of my sentence? Or had someone at the RSPB – the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds – been pulling strings to have me transferred to a “Cat A” prison with the other pigeon murderers?

The nearest Category A prison was HMP Belmarsh, just up the road from where I was in HMP Thameside. It wasn’t all bad news, if that were to be the case. Maybe I could get the “Mad Mullah”- Anjem Choudary – to sign my autograph book. He was currently cooling his heels in Belmarsh, serving a five-and-a-half year sentence for glorifying terrorism. A signature from him in my autograph book would definitely earn me some brownie points at the next meeting of the Sutton Coldfield Wheel-Tappers and Shunters Club.

“We’re moving you to Cat C,” said the officer, “be ready in five minutes.” On hearing this, I was somewhat relieved. Category C was one step down in terms of serious crime and psychopathic behaviour from Category B, and while it was not exactly a five-star upgrade to my current circumstances, the chances were that it wouldn’t be any worse.

“Do you know why I’m being moved?” I asked.

“No idea. Orders.”

I was later to find out that Paul Weston, the chairman of Liberty GB, the organisation of which I had been Radio Officer, had written in no uncertain terms to the Governor of HMP Thameside, reminding him of his duty of care towards vulnerable prisoners such as myself.

By vulnerable, I don’t mean physically or mentally weak – many years of studying the Japanese martial art of Aikido had toughened me up to the point where I could probably handle any sort of one-on-one confrontation – but the risk of large numbers of Mohammedans ganging up on me if the true nature of my conviction were discovered had obviously given the Governor pause for thought.

It would not look good for public relations if I were to be harassed – not to mention brutally slaughtered, systematically dismembered and turned into kebab meat for the benefit of the local Mohammedan prison population.

Picture the scene. A gaggle of Mohammedan prisoners are sitting around a makeshift barbecue pit in the exercise area during a summer evening. Flies buzz around, quietly murmuring as the sun sinks below the horizon. A row of kebabs is being gently grilled, hissing and sputtering over the flames.

A guttural voice is heard, swelling amongst the sound of the insects as Arabic music plays in the background. “I must say, Abdul, the kebab meat is especially tender this evening. It has the texture of soft yet succulent lamb, or perhaps camel. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.”

“Oh yes, my friend, it is indeed especially tender this evening. Praise be to Allah, for he works in mysterious ways. Oh, look, there’s an eyeball. It seems to be regarding us with a somewhat reproachful expression.”

I scooped my belongings together into a large prison-issue polythene bag and was escorted out of the Category B prison block by two prison officers through an interminable series of imposing metal doors which were mysteriously unlocked as I approached and then locked again behind me.

Prison officers must spend years choreographing this seamless operation, although I never tested it to the point where they might be persuaded to unlock the main door leading to the outside of the prison. I thought that there would be little point pushing my luck at this stage in the process.

However, I made a mental note to recommend the officers as candidates for the forthcoming series of Strictly Come Door-Unlocking, an innovative TV entertainment series that I had invented during idle hours of reverie, and which I intended to host once I was released. In my mind’s eye, it would have all the attributes of a hit TV show, a cross between Strictly Come Dancing and Prison Break, but with more sequins and less of the brutal on-screen slaughter. I think that the officers of HMP Thameside would win it hands down.

I was led across the prison grounds, past the football field and the prison garden to another prison block, virtually identical in appearance to the one I had just left. I half expected to see a welcoming party with balloons, party poppers and signs on sticks saying “You made it! Welcome to Category C!” but I was sadly disappointed. They might have at least baked me a cake.

The prison officers who had escorted me to the new block handed me over to another two prison officers. I hadn’t been handcuffed or shackled, but obviously they weren’t going to take any chances with a hardened pigeon murderer like myself. A large sheaf of paperwork changed hands. One of the new officers scrutinised the paperwork carefully.

“Let’s see. Oh, yes, Burton. You’ll be in a cell on your own.” I still wasn’t sure whether this was a good thing or a bad thing. Did this mean solitary confinement? Apparently not. “Doors locked at 6:00 p.m. Open again at 7:45 a.m. for medication. Other than that you can use the communal area apart from lock-up and roll-call between 12:00 and 14:00. You’re not going to cause us any trouble, are you?”

Trouble? Moi? “I sincerely promise to be on my best behaviour, officer.” The officer regarded me with a certain degree of wariness. “Is that right? Follow me, then.”

I was led to a cell on D-wing in the Category C block and the door was locked behind me. I surveyed my new surroundings for a moment or two. Not so very different from the Category B cell I had just vacated, I thought. On the desk in the corner was a battered-looking computer terminal, comprising of a screen, keyboard and mouse, which I had by now established was for use as an ordering system for meals and for general prison enquiries such as arranging library visits and medical requests.

The terminal also doubled as a TV, and it was perched precariously on the desk in the corner of the cell, next to four or five dog-eared hard-back books from the prison library. There was a single bunk (with the obligatory thin blue mattress and a pile of soiled bedding, presumably left behind by the previous inmate) and an open cupboard with shelves for personal belongings.

For ablutions, there was an en-suite shower area, toilet and hand basin. There was only one chair, which prompted me to note that it was going to make it difficult if I wanted to host any dinner parties in my cell. For that matter, there was a distinct lack of candelabra, napkins and wine glasses.

But most importantly, there was no kettle in the cell. This was going to be a problem. If I wanted to offer any of my guests tea or coffee I would have to make do with lukewarm water from the hot tap. Still, worse things happen at sea, I thought, and I started to unpack my belongings.

I reached into my polythene prison bag and extracted my precious co-axial cable. I plugged it in to the TV system and it immediately burst into life. It had apparently been pre-tuned for the mainstream TV channels! No more having to negotiate for the acquisition of a TV remote control with a chronically sex-starved TV maintenance man! Things were looking up.

I switched to the DVD box-set channel. There was Series 1-4 of “Line of Duty” (a gritty and realistic police detective drama series.) Hey, not bad at all! Better than Prison Break by a long chalk. I could get used to this! And indeed, for the duration of my sentence, whenever I had nothing else to occupy me, I would watch the entire box set many times over, to the point where I could recite verbatim what words the characters were going to say before they actually said them.

I don’t want you to think that this was all I had to do with my time. Over the next few weeks, I spent as much time as was allowed in the prison library and I tried to play as many games of chess as I could each day. In addition, I tried to set aside at least two hours a day for meditation – my Aikido training had acclimatised me to an hour every morning and every evening, and the hours of enforced solitude in my cell contributed immensely to the transition to a meditative state at those times.

Aikido meditation is a technique that is for everyone, not just for martial art enthusiasts. It is definitely worth cultivating as it brings long-term benefits to the average human frame. It simply involves positioning your body into a comfortable (and preferably kneeling or seated) relaxed stance, and then focusing on taking a series of deep, regular breaths until your mind drifts away from your immediate surroundings.

Once you have your breath under control – maybe four breath cycles in and out every minute, one every fifteen seconds or so, after about five or ten minutes your mind enters a different phase – and you start to leave behind material concerns and to be more open to contemplating a veritable wealth of abstract concepts, such as life, death and the meaning of the universe.

An hour or so of Aikido meditation really does bring with it a more positive outlook on life, no matter what your immediate circumstances may be, and I found it to be of immense help to me over the subsequent days and weeks, which at this moment appeared to be stretching interminably ahead.

I know this sounds weird, but it’s true. Don’t take my word for it. Try it and see. I highly recommend it. But if it doesn’t work for you then please don’t sue me, or send round a bunch of heavies to teach me the error of my ways.

As my Aikido teacher used to say – You may not be, at least at the moment, completely in tune with your spiritual side. My advice to you is to persevere.

There is a Buddhist saying – “When the student is ready, then the teacher will appear.”

(I remember pulling this very statement out of a Christmas cracker and reading it out in front of the family over a turkey dinner, when admittedly there was a high degree of inebriation and a certain lack of philosophical awareness around the table. The response was along the lines of – “That can’t be right! The teacher should be in the classroom waiting for the students to arrive!”)

Sometimes you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.

The communal area was very similar to the Category B environment I had left behind, although over time I did notice that the Category C prisoners seemed more relaxed than those in Category B. There was very little aggressive confrontation between prisoners and guards, or between the prisoners themselves as far as I could see.

However, I reminded myself to be aware of the possible dangers from the Mohammedan population of around ten to fifteen per cent (as far as I could ascertain) in the Category C environment of HMP Thameside. It only needed one leak of the real reason behind my criminal conviction to the general prison population and I could be in real trouble.

I finished unpacking, left my cell and sat down at one of the communal tables with a chess-board in front of me. I had found that simply doing this was enough to pique the interest of at least a few of the chess aficionados on the wing. Sure enough, scenting new blood, a steady trickle of prisoners introduced themselves and challenged me to a series of chess games.

My chess-playing skills were still at a comparatively high level and over the next few days I managed to chalk up a respectable number of victories. Not too respectable though, it never does for the “new boy” to appear too clever, something I had learned early on in my life while growing up and attending a typically middle-class English grammar school.

I remember one such “new boy”, Watkins Minor, who had been transferred to our school during the course of Year Six. He was a rotund, bespectacled boy with a mop of blond hair, and he appeared determined to demonstrate his superiority to the rest of us by coming top in all the school activities he participated in.

No doubt he felt that by demonstrating such superiority, reminiscent of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias – “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!” it would stand him in good stead during his remaining school years and earn him our undying admiration.

However, in the manner of most healthy pre-teenage boys with a sense of social justice in what was a typically middle-class English grammar school of the 1960s, we systematically disabused him of that notion with the standard school punishment of tarring and feathering, and then tying him up and locking him with a bicycle chain to the apple tree in the garden outside the school staff room.

Admittedly he was somewhat subdued for a few days after that, but I still maintain to this day that we probably did him a favour by teaching him such a valuable lesson so early in life.

All in all, “Category C” life in HMP Thameside had much to recommend it. I wouldn’t say that I would be sorry to leave at the end of my sentence, but I resolved to upgrade the facilities to at least a three-star rating on the travel site Trip Advisor.

Trip Advisor representative: “So, Mr Burton, how do you rate the facilities of Category C at HMP Thameside?”

Me: “To be honest, I did notice some dust on the top of my wardrobe. It was only faintly detectable on the outside of my white glove, but it was definitely there. And the sheets on the bed should have been changed prior to my arrival. Other than that I would give it three stars.”

Damn. I forgot to mention the lack of a kettle. But it was too late. The Trip Advisor representative (figuratively speaking) had left the cell, the door had been locked behind him, and there was the gradually diminishing sound of footsteps in the corridor outside, faintly reverberating until all that I could hear was the sound of silence.

Tim Burton

End of Chapter 9

Please donate – whatever you can – to the Tim Burton Legal Defence Fund

Help to overturn an unjust conviction and strike a blow for justice.

http://www.paypal.me/followthecat

Pigeon on the Wing – Chapter 8 – Assessment Time

     Assessment time

Foreword: All chapters of Pigeon on the Wing published on this website are in draft form only. The final version may include grammatical, syntax and content changes, as well as sidebars and illustrations to maintain a level of interest and to stop readers’ eyes from glazing over. All comments and / or criticisms of content or writing style would be most welcome. Masterpieces like this don’t just write themselves, you know.

Seriously, though – this is your book just as much as it is mine. I couldn’t have even begun to write it without all of your help and support. Thank you so much for everything you have done for me, and I hope you enjoy reading the book as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

Tim Burton

Pigeon on the Wing – Chapter 8 – Assessment Time

Friday 12th May 2017 – It was now fourteen days since I had been taken from the Inner London Crown Court and transported to HMP Thameside – aka the “Thameside Hilton.” During that time I had been introduced to the rules and regulations of Her Majesty’s Prisons, and I had got to know a considerable number of inmates on my prison wing. The fact that I was interested in chess certainly helped when it came to making friends – men don’t just get together and talk about each others’ feelings in the same way women do – an external mechanism for bonding is essential, and playing chess on a regular basis allows for bonding to take place without all the touchy-feely stuff that most men would run a mile from.

No doubt I will be inundated with letters of criticism from hundreds of men out there who are more in touch with their feminine side than I am – but please feel free to continue to write in, as I have been informed that cheap writing paper, when shredded, makes excellent cat litter for Damian (a very particular and discriminating feline of my acquaintance.) I will have more to say about Damian later as his political opinions are apparently even more forthright than mine. An’ that’s sayin’ summat, as they say in Yorkshire.

In my two weeks behind bars, I had become used to the quirks and vagaries of the prison system to the extent that I was now considered to be an “old lag” – able to dispense solemn advice to some of the new inmates who, surprisingly enough, seemed to materialise out of nowhere every day.

I was able to explain the intricacies of the menu system – whereby prisoners could order their food for the week through a computer system based on fingerprint recognition – and I could show them how to select TV programs through their in-cell entertainment centre.

(I should mention that I was determined to make a concerted effort to stay away from dispensing advice on how to obtain illegal and contraband items. One could get into serious trouble for that, and leaving aside my recently acquired criminal conviction, I was keen to cultivate my image among the other prisoners as an exceptionally law-abiding criminal. Well, perhaps not too law-abiding. In the Thameside Hilton, that could land you in just as much trouble. Suffice it to say that my recipes for extracting the methanol from popular brands of boot-polish via six slices of Warburton’s finest were now proving very popular.)

Eat your heart out, Nigella Lawson.

I use the phrase “entertainment-centre” loosely – the premise for the successful operation of the system was that you required a co-axial lead to connect to the back of the TV in your cell and for it to be set up in such a way that it was able to receive signals from the ether and display them on your TV. The first challenge was that the co-axial leads were in very short supply.

(When I say “in short supply” I mean somewhere on the HMP inmates’ spectrum between gold dust, hens’ teeth and the pubic hair of expectant unicorns.)

I was advised that if I were to acquire such a co-axial lead, then I should keep it secreted about my person, otherwise it would most likely disappear and be squirreled away by one of the other inmates at the first opportunity. Apparently – whisper it quietly! – there were some acquisitive, thieving and downright dishonest persons on our wing.

Shock-horror, I hear you say! Surely not! But yes, there were indeed some inmates who would steal anything that wasn’t nailed down, and that included TV co-axial leads from their fellow prisoners. As an aside, I was to find that it also included electric kettles. (More about that later.)

The second challenge was tuning the TV in. This required the services of an inmate who was in the possession of a remote control unit. In my case, I had to bet on the outcome of a chess game with the appropriate inmate in order to acquire a co-axial cable and to get him to tune my TV in to the available channels. This was relatively easy for me because I was quite good at chess.

I don’t know what sacrifices the other inmates might have had to make to acquire a co-axial lead and the use of a remote control unit, but I’m sure some of them ended up in transactions that might not be considered prim and proper (or even hygienic) by one’s maiden aunt. Anyway, I digress.

Having tuned in the TV, then next challenge was to select a channel to watch. In addition to the standard mainstream TV and satellite channels, there were two prison-operated DVD channels in operation 24 hours a day. You could say this was a mixed blessing. I use that phrase because the only DVDs available during my first two weeks were box sets of “Prison Break.”

Talk about adding insult to injury.

Believe it or not, the last thing you want when faced with a substantial period of incarceration is a DVD box set based on the premise that if you don’t break out of prison using the most violent means available to you then you are likely to die a horrible death at the hands of mobsters and psychopaths. Someone in charge of the DVD media administration at HMP Thameside obviously had a warped sense of humour.

During the first two weeks, there were numerous assessments carried out, mostly by nubile young women who seemed to have been selected for their sexual attractiveness in order to remind inmates of what they were missing. Now I may be mistaken on this last point, because when, as a man, you have been thrown against your will into an all-male environment for any length of time, then any female  who is possessed of a pulse and who does not display any outward signs of debilitating illnesses such as leprosy starts to look sexually attractive.

In fact I’m not sure that even leprosy would have put me off after two weeks of enforced celibacy. Although I think I would have to draw the line at the prospect of the object of my desire not having a pulse.

I do have some principles, after all. As the famous comedian Groucho Marx once remarked – “Those are my principles. If you don’t like them – well, I have others.”

I remember my first assessment well. A prison officer poked his head around my cell door one morning and announced that my presence was required outside. Could I possibly make myself respectable and meet my assessor at a table in the communal area outside my cell, if I would be so kind?

As I recall, his actual words were – “Oi, Burton, you’ve got a visitor. Get yer bleedin’ arse out here NOW.” They don’t mince words at HMP Thameside.

I duly obliged and sat down with a buxom brunette who looked as though she was on day release from the Cheltenham Academy for Exceedingly Demure Young Ladies. She had an cultured and refined accent, a face which was the very epitome of health and beauty, and a figure that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a Milan catwalk – or at the very least, sprawled lasciviously in a skimpy bikini across the bonnet of my Ferrari – perhaps after I had loaned it out to Jeremy Clarkson for an episode of Top Gear.

I’m joking, of course. I would never loan out my Ferrari to Jeremy Clarkson. Not after he punched that Irish chef for not cooking his steak correctly. I am most definitely not a fan of culinary-related violence.

“So how are they treating you?” she purred. “Can I ask you a few questions? Are you suffering from any ailments? Allergies? Are you addicted to drink, drugs or any form of narcotics? How is your food? Have you any complaints that are not being addressed?”

She ticked off various boxes on a sheet of paper on her clipboard as I gave her my answers. The question about having allergies, I was to find, formed an indispensable part of any questionnaire in the prison system.

Strangely enough, due to my medical history over the previous three or four years, I had found that it formed an indispensable part of any questionnaire within the National Health Service as well. Here is an example:

Doctor: “Well, Mr. Burton, if you could just stop bleeding for a moment, get your epilepsy and heart attack under control, and stop throwing up while we retrieve your severed limbs from the floor of the ambulance, I need to ask you if you have any allergies. Hay fever is particularly prevalent at this time of year, and we wouldn’t want you to suffer unnecessarily.”

Maybe I’m just being oversensitive.

“Now that you mention it, Doctor, it turns out that I’m allergic to complete strangers continually asking me whether I am allergic to anything. I would advise you to stop it now before I grab you round the throat and throttle the life out of you before feeding your twitching carcass to the pigs.”

I have found that such witticisms were generally lost on the Mohammedan members of the medical profession. I have no idea why that might be. The Mohammedan sense of humour is perhaps not exactly the same as mine – which of course could explain why I had landed up here in the first place.

Anyway, the questions from of the Exceedingly Demure Young Lady from the Cheltenham Academy finally came to an end. I was quite sorry to see her go, really. She left me with the promise that she would be back for a further Educational Assessment within the next few days. Great. I couldn’t wait.

Maybe I could inveigle her into smuggling a cake into the prison with a file in it? Or persuade her to take my place in the cell while I dressed up as a washerwoman and made my escape past the unsuspecting prison staff. Unfortunately the aforementioned prison staff seem to be alert to such ruses these days. Whoever would have thought that reading “The Wind in the Willows” was so essential for custodial effectiveness?

Sure enough, after a few days the Exceedingly Demure Young Lady was back, with another series of questions designed to establish my level of educational attainment. Now, having graduated from Wallington County Grammar School in a leafy Surrey suburb some forty-seven years previously – with a diploma for flicking ink-soaked paper pellets from a wooden ruler with a high degree of accuracy over a range of ten metres – I considered myself to be fairly high up on the educational spectrum, at least compared to some of the less fortunate members of the prison population.

“You’ll still have to go for an English Language, Mathematics and Computer Skills assessment next Saturday,” she said, “and it’s important that you do well. HMP Thameside prides itself on making sure that all inmates leave with the requisite skills to enable them to become productive members of society.”

Personally I would have thought that some courses in advanced computer hacking, crypto-currency fraud and loan-sharking techniques would have been more useful to me at my time of life, but I forbore from saying so just in case the powers-that-be had an opportunity to review my comments and to decide that my release in four or five weeks time would be inappropriate.

It’s a funny thing, but being in an environment with people who might well be eligible for Professorships in Advanced Criminality makes one unconscionably competitive, and I resolved to do as well as I could to achieve a respectable result in the forthcoming educational assessment.

The following Saturday I was directed to a classroom with another 15-20 old lags to undergo an English Language, Mathematics and Computer Skills assessment.  I took my place in front of a computer terminal. I noticed a sign above the screen that read “Anyone caught stealing a mouse will be punished with the loss of all inmate privileges.” Blimey, I thought, that’s a bit much. What was it about computer mice that would attract such a draconian punishment? I could envisage a possible scenario:

“OK Fingers, now remember we are going to steal 100,000 boxes of high-end computer mice from this warehouse. Ignore the substantial quantities of cocaine, heroin, high-powered military armaments and the squillions of forged 500-euro notes that are lying about unguarded. We might end up doing serious time in the nick if we get caught with that lot.”

“You’re joking, aren’t you boss? If they catch us with those computer mice they’ll throw away the key. Just let us keep the Class A drugs, the rocket-propelled grenades and the forged currency – and we can unload them onto Barry the Baptist at the Sutton Coldfield Sunday Market Stall without any risk and no questions asked.”

(Barry the Baptist was a familiar figure in the Sutton Coldfield underworld. Like his namesake in the film “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”, his specialist subject was half-drowning recalcitrant debtors by holding their heads underwater until they paid up.)

In the event, my fears were unfounded. The English Language, Mathematics and Computer Skills assessment proved to be a doddle. I suppose being an IT consultant for the previous thirty years might have helped matters, as would having English as my native language and the ability to total up an invoice in my head and calculate the result while subtracting a discount and adding VAT. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so smug about it. There were a lot of people on the wing who didn’t have the first idea about such matters.

“You’ve passed.” the assessment supervisor informed me. “Not only that, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen anyone in here scoring Level 3 (the highest level) in English Language, Mathematics and Computer Skills. You’re obviously destined for great things.”

I detected a certain amount of cynicism in his voice. Hardly surprising, I suppose, given that I was ostensibly in HMP Thameside as a serial pigeon killer. Opportunities for career advancement in that field were limited, to say the least.

“Great things” might just mean making it to the end of my sentence without being brutally murdered by any number of inmates who might secretly be lifelong members of the internationally feared assassination department of the notorious RSPB.

I needn’t have worried. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds doesn’t take any prisoners.

End of Chapter 8

Please donate – whatever you can – to the Tim Burton Legal Defence Fund

Help to overturn an unjust conviction and strike a blow for justice.

http://www.paypal.me/followthecat

Pigeon on the Wing – Chapter 7 – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

    Zen (and other stuff)

Foreword: All chapters of Pigeon on the Wing published on this website are in draft form only. The final version may include grammatical, syntax and content changes, as well as sidebars and illustrations to maintain a level of interest and to stop readers’ eyes from glazing over. All comments and / or criticisms of content or writing style would be most welcome. Masterpieces like this don’t just write themselves, you know.

Seriously, though – this is your book just as much as it is mine. I couldn’t have even begun to write it without all of your help and support. Thank you so much for everything you have done for me, and I hope you enjoy reading the book as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

Tim Burton

Pigeon on the Wing – Chapter 7 – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

It’s an odd thing, but the human mind is capable of adapting itself to drastically changing circumstances relatively quickly. Only a few days previously, I had been a free man, able to sample all the exotic delights of Birmingham on a whim, with no worries other than whether I would wake up with a moderate case of “Delhi Belly” after having consumed a dodgy Chicken Tikka Masala from the Balti House down the road on Churchill Parade.

Churchill Parade is an exotically named row of shops on our housing estate. It doesn’t include an insurance company with a nodding bulldog as its logo, but it does include an off licence, a newsagent, a pizza restaurant, chemist and the aforesaid Balti House, which passes for our local “haute cuisine” establishment. (There is also the Falcon Lodge Chippie, famous throughout the area for its doner kebabs and salmonella.)

As it was, I was now a convicted criminal, subject to Her Majesty’s Prisons’ rules and regulations, and severely constrained in what I could do over the next forty-two days in terms of just about everything, not just sampling the delights of the local takeaway, although that is still fairly high up my list of “Great Places To Visit in Sutton Coldfield.”

However, they do say that “stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage” and I was determined to make the most of my predicament and not to let it get me down too much. There are those who say that this is easier said than done, but there are techniques that one can employ to mitigate the circumstances in which one may find themselves embroiled from time to time.

The first thing to do is to accept the things over which you have no control. In my case, I had been sentenced to twelve weeks in prison, which meant that I would hopefully be released in six weeks with good behaviour. So, for the next forty-two days I would do my very best to stay out of trouble and to navigate my way through the unknown waters that lay ahead of me.

The second thing to do is to treat your situation as a positive learning experience, and this is what I endeavored to do over the next forty-two days. I won’t lie to you – there were times when I felt down, and it would be very easy to be crushed by the experience. The loss of control over one’s life and liberty can be very hard to deal with, and I could see that many of the other inmates exhibited signs of extreme stress during the time that I was there.

The presence of illegal drugs such as “spice” was an ever present problem throughout the prison, and although there were numerous posters on the prison notice boards warning against the use of this pernicious drug, there were many prisoners who had fallen under its spell. It was easy to get hold of – consignments of the drug were regularly thrown over prison walls or brought in by corrupt officers, and in some case by remotely-controlled drones flown directly to the cell windows of well-connected prisoners.

You could always tell a prisoner who was under the influence of “spice” – just think of the zombies in the TV series “The Walking Dead” and you have a very good idea of the effect that this drug has on the average prisoner. A blank-eyed stare, shambling gait, and an inability to engage with the world are just three of the symptoms apparent.

In addition, the drug poses a challenge to all those who would help prisoners under the influence. It has been described as worse than heroin in that it not only can it render the user unconscious and in risk of death extremely quickly, but the toxic atmosphere literally surrounding such a user can be easily inhaled and may affect the person tasked with trying to help to a similarly dangerous degree.

However, assuming that one is able to steer clear of dangerous narcotics and other psychoactive substances, there is actually plenty to focus on in order to develop a positive experience.

As you may recall, I was asked earlier by the prison authorities whether I identified as Catholic, a Hindu, an Atheist, a Jain, a Buddhist or a Baptist or a Jew (to paraphrase Bob Dylan in his song Universal Soldier) and I thought it would be prudent to identify as Christian, seeing as how that was how I had been brought up. Not that I was actually a practicing Christian, in fact I saw myself then (and still see myself now) as an agnostic – one who admits to the possibility of a higher power but not necessarily within the confines of organised religion.

So on the first Sunday of my incarceration, 30 April 2017, I found myself making my way to the meeting room designated as the place of Christian worship within the prison. All those identifying as Christian were called from their cells by the prison officers, lined up at the exit of the prison block, and marched around the vast open space that doubled as a running track and a football field to a prison block on the other side, where we were patted down, identities checked – and checked again – one by one, in order to experience the solemn and profound word of the Lord.

Well, that was an eye-opener.

I had no sooner made my way into the meeting room than I became aware of a tumultuous hubbub emanating from a crowd of inmates at the front of the room. This was obviously a very popular event, and the reason why soon became apparent.

At the front of the room, on a slightly raised platform, were the members of the South East London Gospel Choir, and boy, were they dressed to impress. Modesty forbids me from describing the short mini-skirts and the tight blouses of the half-dozen or so well-endowed young ladies on the platform, but they seemed to be proving a big hit with those who had taken the trouble to ensure that they were right at the front and able to make the most of the sights and sounds presented to them.

The young ladies of the South East London Gospel Choir proceeded to belt out an enthusiastic range of songs that had the inmates literally dancing on their chairs and in the aisles. I couldn’t fault them – they certainly knew how to appeal to their audience, to the extent that I could see the five or six prison officers who were supervising the event glancing at each other in apprehension. Was something going to kick off?

In the event, things passed off without major incident. One young Afro-Caribbean inmate fell off his chair after some particularly animated dancing and had to be carried to the First Aid room with a dodgy ankle, but other than that, the South East London Gospel Choir exuded a certain magic that I felt was almost entirely beneficial. I could certainly see how they would attract inmates to their cause.

It was around then that an earnest lady of around seventy-five or eighty years of age approached me after the South East London Gospel Choir had completed their last number. “Did you enjoy that?” she asked. I tentatively replied in the affirmative. “Have you ever considered giving yourself to Christ?” she continued. Talk about trading on heightened emotions. “Let’s just say I’m open to all possibilities,” I said, “and I certainly wouldn’t rule anything out at this point.”

This was her cue to unload a ton of religious literature on me, including a copy of the Bible and a tract entitled “How to Counter the Double Curse of Booze.” Well, given that booze was quite hard to come by in prison, unless you included straining melted boot polish through six slices of Warburton’s finest, I would have thought that countering the Double Curse of Booze was not of the highest priority when it came to advising prison inmates.

However, I was not about to upset someone who obviously felt very strongly about all the good works she was doing, so I simply murmured “Thank you” as she departed to foist her attentions on another unsuspecting prisoner.

On the way back I was struck by the magnificence of the Prison Garden – a cultivated area by the side of the football pitch. Someone – I dare say maybe many people over the years – had clearly put a lot of effort into developing a truly inspiring oasis of horticulture in an otherwise barren landscape. There were numerous exotic plants – although as a complete ignoramus in horticultural matters, I would have great difficulty in naming even a few of them – interspersed with vivid green bushes and trailing vines circumventing their way up a series of trellises to simulate a tropical environment. I leaned against the fence surrounding this vision of beauty for several minutes, and almost completely forgot about my oppressive surroundings.

Then there was a shout from one of the prison staff – “Oi! Burton! Get a bloody move on!” and I was transported back to the reality of my situation.

The reality was that for the next forty-two days I would be subject to Her Majesty’s rules and regulations, which on one level was perfectly true, but on another level I was freer to explore the limits of the capabilities of my mind. When one is subject to the mind-numbing routines of everyday life, it is quite difficult to “think outside of the box” and to develop patterns and lines of thought which can lead one to a higher stage of enlightenment.

Having a lot of time to oneself, on the other hand, as in prison, allows one to cultivate a Zen-like environment where every thought can be analysed and expanded upon to reach conclusions that would never (or hardly ever) be attainable during normal everyday life. I was reminded of another book that I had read in my early twenties, entitled “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert M Pirsig.

When I first read this book I was overwhelmed by the complexity of the thoughts, concepts and emotions described therein, but having re-read it in recent years I am struck by the profound truths that it contains. Distilled into a nutshell, the message is that there is more than one reality, and it is not always what you think it is. Only by undergoing hardship and endurance, coupled with humility and introspection, is it possible to perceive the perpetual transition between realities and to realise that many (if not most) things that one has taken for granted during their lifetime are but an illusion.

Another Buddhist saying:-

“When the student is ready, then the teacher will appear.”

This refers to a state of preparedness on behalf of the student. The teacher may not be an actual person, but an event or a combination of circumstances that allows the student to realise a truth of which they have previously been unaware.

I arrived back at my cell in a state of euphoria. “What’s up with you then?” said John. “I have been overwhelmed by the complexity and the beauty of the Universe,” I said, suddenly afflicted with a bout of uncontrollable spluttering and coughing, “nothing whatsoever to do with the extremely  brief mini-skirts and tight blouses of the well-endowed young ladies of the South East London Gospel Choir.”

John cast me a glance of scepticism. “Don’t you start enjoying yourself in here,” he said, ” or the next thing you know you’ll be fighting to get back in when you’re out on the street, and then from there on in, it’s a slippery slope to institutionalisation.”

I laughed. “As if,” I said.

Tim Burton

End of Chapter 7

Please donate – whatever you can – to the Tim Burton Legal Defence Fund

Help to overturn an unjust conviction and strike a blow for justice.

http://www.paypal.me/followthecat

 

 

 

 

 

Pigeon on the Wing – Chapter 6 – The Birmingham Taqiyya Trial

    Birmingham Taqiyya Trial

Foreword: All chapters of Pigeon on the Wing published on this website are in draft form only. The final version may include grammatical, syntax and content changes, as well as sidebars and illustrations to maintain a level of interest and to stop readers’ eyes from glazing over. All comments and / or criticisms of content or writing style would be most welcome. Masterpieces like this don’t just write themselves, you know.

Seriously, though – this is your book just as much as it is mine. I couldn’t have even begun to write it without all of your help and support. Thank you so much for everything you have done for me, and I hope you enjoy reading the book as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

Tim Burton

Pigeon on the Wing – Chapter 6 – The Birmingham Taqiyya Trial

During the course of Chapter 2 in this book – Ground Zero – I endeavoured to provide the reader with an account of my journey towards understanding the true nature of Islam, and the threat that Islam poses to our Western democratic society. By 2013 I had researched the subject extensively for over ten years, and the picture that was emerging was a far cry from the notion that our political elites and our mainstream media were peddling – that Islam was somehow a “religion of peace.”

Nothing could be further from the truth – unless of course one redefines the terms “religion” and “peace” to mean something completely different from the normal understanding of the words in accordance with the Judaeo-Christian values that underpin our Western civilisation.

For example, “peace” to most of us means a state of harmony between individuals, between groups, or between countries whereby differences are tolerated and a positive effort is made to rub along together. “Peace” in Islam is an entirely different concept, as it is the happy state of affairs that will exist when all non-Muslims have been subjugated, slaughtered or converted to Islam. That’s it. There is no compromise or tolerance in Islam.

“Religion” has been defined for millennia by the Golden Rule – “do unto others as you would have done unto you” alternatively “don’t do anything to others that you would not like done to yourself.” Islam does not follow the Golden Rule – the world according to Islam is divided into Dar-Al-Islam (lands ruled by Islam) and Dar-Al-Harb (lands ruled by the Infidel.) As far as Islam is concerned, a permanent state of war exists between the two until such time as Islam rules the entire world, whether Infidels like it or not.

This means that Islam is not a religion at all. It is a totalitarian political cult, spread and maintained by fear, violence, intimidation and terror, and all non-Muslims should comprehensively understand the implications and take that message on board if Western civilisation is to survive.

Don’t take my word for it. Read the Islamic scriptures – the Qur’an, Hadith and Sira – for yourself. Everything you need to know is in there. You don’t need to consult so-called Muslim scholars. If it is in the Qur’an, Hadith or Sira, then it is Islam. If it is not in the Qur’an, Hadith or Sira, then it is not Islam. To paraphrase – it’s not rocket science. The Qur’an actually tells the reader that the message is clear and easy to understand – and it is.

During the course of 2013, several events occurred which were to change the course of my life. The first was the appalling murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby on the streets of Woolwich, in London, on 22 May. The murder shocked the nation with its sheer brutality – the soldier was run over with a car, and then stabbed and beheaded in broad daylight by two Muslims, one of whom was caught on video after the event, calmly giving an interview to a passer-by armed with a smart-phone camera.

One of the Muslim murderers, Michael Adebolajo, his hands covered in blood and holding a knife and machete, explained quite clearly why he and his accomplice had done what they had. They had done it in the name of Islam, and completely in accordance with the teachings of Allah and Mohammed. Theologically speaking, he was absolutely correct. He quoted extensively from Qur’an 9:29 and explained that attacking and killing the soldier was a justified response in Islam to perceived Muslim grievances.

Only a handful of us non-Muslims, of course, recognised the allusion to Qur’an 9:29 and what it meant for our peaceful democratic society. The Prime Minister at the time, David Cameron, stood up in Parliament the following day to announce that “Islam is a religion of peace” and that the killers were following a “warped and twisted version of Islam.” This was quite untrue, but his goal was to play down the significance of the event and to lull the British public into a sense of false security so that we would not recognise the enormity of the Islamic threat that was bearing down on us at an ever-increasing speed like an out-of-control steamroller.

Not everyone was fooled of course, and over the next couple of months there were demonstrations across the country. The English Defence League, for the most part comprised of patriotic citizens who were becoming increasingly alarmed at what they saw as the Islamisation of their country, and led by the charismatic Tommy Robinson, attempted to bring the truth to the British public. They were immediately smeared by the Establishment and the mainstream media as “racists”, “bigots”, “fascists”, “right-wing extremists”, and of course the now favourite catch-phrase of the left-wing media – “Islamophobes” – which implies that it is somehow “phobic” (that is to say, a mental illness) to criticise Islam or Muslims for any reason.

The next seismic event that influenced me was a revelation in the Sunday Telegraph in June 2013 to the effect that a prominent member of the British Establishment, Fiyaz Mughal OBE, had been instrumental in fraudulently manipulating the statistics of his organisation, Tell Mama UK, in order to swindle the British taxpayer out of hundreds of thousands of pounds in grant money. Tell Mama UK purported to catalogue the rise in so-called “anti-Muslim hate crimes”, which was a subjective concept at best.

The mood of the country following the Fusilier Lee Rigby’s murder the previous month had led Fiyaz Mughal to falsely claim that there was a spike in “Islamophobic” crimes. It transpired that these weren’t really hate crimes at all for the most part; they were simply unkind things that people had said about Islam and Muslims on social media.

Such opinions, offensive and upsetting as they may have been to those who are notoriously perpetually offended and thin-skinned, should have been protected by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which allows for freedom of expression, the right to hold opinions, and to receive and impart information and ideas subject only to certain restrictions that are “in accordance with law” and “necessary in a democratic society.”

Well, I was incensed. In fact, I was absolutely outraged. Here was a public figure, in receipt of hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money, who was alleged by a respected investigative journalist to be fraudulently manipulating the figures of his organisation to keep the money coming in.

It wasn’t just me saying this; the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) were evidently of the same opinion.

Fiyaz Mughal had been told by ACPO that his figures didn’t add up, at which he reportedly threw his toys out of the pram and stormed out of an ACPO meeting, and the DCLG took the unusual step of terminating the grant, worth hundreds of thousands of pounds each year, to his organisation.

I took to social media to denounce Fiyaz Mughal (OBE) in the strongest possible terms. I called him a mountebank, a weasel, an unmitigated fraud, a lying Muslim scumbag and a common criminal. Most memorably, I also called him a “Mendacious Grievance-Mongering Taqiyya-Artist.”

It was my opinion that if it had been you or I who had committed crimes on this enormous scale, the consequences would have been dire. Our feet would not have touched the ground as we would have been arrested, charged, prosecuted and whisked off to prison to contemplate a substantial jail term.

Of course, none of these dire consequences were applied to Fiyaz Mughal (OBE). He was a prominent, connected member of the Establishment; our political elites viewed him as a paragon of virtue, a so-called “moderate” Muslim who allegedly wanted nothing more than a chance to promote “community cohesion” and to speak out against all those so-called “Islamophobes” who were evidently doing their best to undermine it.

However, it turned out that Fiyaz Mughal (OBE) had two weaknesses; firstly, a very high opinion of himself (it was rumoured that apparently his OBE was not an Order of the British Empire at all, but an Order of the Bloated Ego, conferred upon him by Her Majesty the Queen in a fit of absent-mindedness while she was trying to attend to an errant corgi) and secondly, he was possessed of an extremely thin skin.

He had picked up the phone to the Metropolitan Police, and had expressed his displeasure that I had seen fit to repeatedly criticise him on social media. He was not only displeased; he was offended, and when a prominent Mohammedan tells a police officer that he is offended, then that police officer had jolly well better do something about it. As we will see, there is one law for Muslims and another for the rest of us in the “vibrant, multicultural and diverse” society that is Britain today.

I was arrested, interviewed, charged and eventually prosecuted with Racially Aggravated Harassment, and duly appeared at Birmingham Magistrates Court on 08 April 2014 to answer the charges. What happened next is recounted in the following essay – Showdown in Birmingham – and as this essay forms the only detailed written testimony of the proceedings (the Clerk of the Court having mysteriously mislaid her extensive jottings, written contemporaneously in full view of the court on the back of a series of scruffy envelopes) I have reproduced the essay here in full.

Showdown in Birmingham

I took a last mouthful of cappuccino and glanced out of the window of the restaurant over the road from the Birmingham Magistrates’ Court. A small group of demonstrators had already arrived on the Court steps and were busy setting up placards and handing out leaflets to curious passers-by. It was time to go.

It was Tuesday 08 April, and the time was just after 09:00. I was scheduled to appear in Court 13 of Birmingham Magistrates’ Court later that morning to answer a charge of Racially Aggravated Harassment – a charge which had been brought by the Crown Prosecution Service following my interview with West Midlands Police some four months earlier. A gentleman by the name of Fiyaz Mughal had complained that I was harassing him on Twitter by referring to him as a “Mendacious Grievance-Mongering Taqiyya-Artist” and a “Lying Muslim Scumbag” – words which I had indeed used in relation to the gentleman in question – and he had seen a chance to exact revenge by using the forces of law and order to do his dirty work for him.

A link to the case from Liberty GB is included here.

I walked across the street and introduced myself. The demonstrators with the placards and the leaflets (whom I already knew by reputation) were from Liberty GB, a political party for whom I was the Radio Officer, and there were also one or two familiar faces from other publications and political organisations that I had come to know and respect. I also recognised (from photographs in his many articles and books) Professor Hans Jansen, our expert defence witness, chatting on the courtroom steps with one or two people. The case had generated a lot of interest over the preceding four months, with the phrase “Mendacious Grievance-Mongering Taqiyya-Artist” going around the world like wildfire – a phenomenon which had generated its own cottage industry with commemorative coffee mugs and T-shirts, each emblazoned not only with the “Mendacious Grievance-Mongering Taqiyya-Artist” slogan but also with the distinctive features of Fiyaz Mughal himself.

It was now 09:30 – time for me to present myself at the Court. I walked up the steps into the main building, an imposing edifice built in Victorian times and originally known as the Victoria Law Courts. As I walked through the door, past the security screening device, the two imposing gentlemen wielding metal detectors and the sign saying “No Knives Allowed”, I reflected on the many generations of people who had come here to answer similar charges and wondered if they had felt as I did – a feeling of awe at the magnificence of the surroundings combined with a certain trepidation at the prospect of facing serious jail time.

For make no mistake, the charge of Racially Aggravated Harassment is not one to be dismissed lightly. On conviction, the penalty may be up to £5000 and six months imprisonment. One might think that this is somewhat over-the-top for the heinous crime of calling a Mendacious Grievance-Mongering Taqiyya-Artist a – well, a Mendacious Grievance-Mongering Taqiyya-Artist – but apparently there is “A Lot Of This Going Around” according the Crown Prosecution Service, and they wanted to put a stop to it. Never mind that the right to free speech is one of our fundamental freedoms and the cornerstone of a free democracy – if it offends one of our protected minority species then it must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law – or so the current thinking goes today, influenced as it is by the twin evils of political correctness and multiculturalism.

Court 13 is on the second floor of the building, and I made my way up the step to meet the Court Usher at the door. The Court Usher checks (amongst other things) that the people coming in and going out of the Court have all mobile devices turned off, and ensures that they are seated in the right place – such as the press gallery for newspaper reporters, the public gallery for members of the public, and (of course) the dock for miscreants such as myself. The ban on all mobile devices is a bit of a nuisance – obviously the Court does not want people to be recording audio or video of the proceedings, or to be taking phone calls in the middle of a case – but some of the political activists were looking to see whether they could blog or tweet live from the public gallery, and that was unfortunately not allowed. Note-taking, however, was indeed allowed, and the lady representative from New English Review settled into her chair with her pencil at the ready, as did several of the representatives from Liberty GB, and we all waited for the proceedings to start.

The judge entered the courtroom just after 10:00 and the first thing that became apparent was that my case was not the only case scheduled for Court 13 that day. There was one more case involving a dispute between two local business people. However, the other case was beset by procedural delays concerning the appropriate documentation, and was quickly adjourned to a later date. Then it was time for my case to proceed. My name and address were confirmed, the charge was read out, and it was ascertained that I wished to plead Not Guilty.

The first problem was to get the video-link working. Two enormous TV screens on the wall of the Court were to facilitate the evidence to be given by Fiyaz Mughal from an undisclosed remote location, somewhere in London. Fiyaz Mughal had submitted a letter to the Court indicating that he was too frightened to come up to Birmingham because the threatening nature of my tweets had made him scared for the safety of himself and his family. (I had been quite surprised when I had first heard this. I know that they say that the pen is mightier than the sword, but one would have thought that having gone out of his way to make life difficult for me by pressing charges, Fiyaz Mughal would have at least had the courtesy to be present in person, in order to look me in the eye.) Nevertheless, it was his right to ask for his evidence to be given from a remote location, and even though I myself might have thought he was a complete wuss, the Court had granted his request.

I glanced around the court and surveyed my surroundings. The Crown Prosecution lawyer and my defence lawyer, standing at their desks in front of the dock, were exchanging pleasantries and poring over a copy of a law manual whilst waiting for the video-link connection to be made. The Crown Prosecution lawyer seemed somewhat harassed. Some of the papers he needed were missing, and the Birmingham Magistrates Court fax machine wasn’t working, so there was quite a lengthy delay while this was being sorted out. You could tell that the judge was unimpressed by all of this. He indicated to the Crown Prosecution lawyer that he was not minded to postpone the case, and that the Crown Prosecution lawyer had best get his act together, pronto. The Crown Prosecution lawyer scurried off to get his papers in order, and the case finally started at 11:45.

Fiyaz Mughal was the first to give evidence. The officers in the undisclosed remote location asked Fiyaz Mughal what religion he was – to which he replied “Islamic – I’m a Muslim” and so he was sworn in on the Qu’ran. I did think about jumping to my feet and shouting “Objection, Your Honour – this book gives the plaintiff divine permission to lie under oath in a British Court of Law if it furthers the cause of Islam!” but as I had been advised by my defence lawyer not to do any such thing, under threat of being charged with contempt of court, I simply gritted my teeth and remained seated.

The Crown Prosecution lawyer led Fiyaz Mughal through his testimony, during which he stated that he had felt threatened, harassed, distressed, alarmed, upset, insulted and offended by my tweets. In addition his very identity and who he was as a Muslim had been viciously attacked – he had felt scared for the safety of himself and his family – who knows what @catstrangler101 (my Twitter persona) might have done if he had turned up on his doorstep one day with a mad gleam in his eye and a blood-stained keyboard under his arm? I sighed inwardly. Oh, for heaven’s sake. Methinks the lady doth protest too much (to paraphrase Queen Gertrude in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.)

Fiyaz Mughal was also asked about taqiyya. He said that it was a historical concept, used by Shia Muslims a thousand years ago to defend themselves from persecution. (He didn’t say that the persecution was from other Muslims.) He said that the concept of taqiyya was mainly used today by extremist far-right groups seeking to defame Islam and Muslims. (He didn’t say that taqiyya was a generally accepted licence for Muslims to routinely lie to non-Muslims about the nature of Islam.)

But then it was the turn of my defence lawyer. He fixed Fiyaz Mughal with a steely glance (as far as it is possible to fix someone with a steely glance over a video-link connection.) “I put it to you, Mr. Mughal, that far from feeling threatened, harassed, distressed, alarmed, upset, insulted and offended by my client’s tweets, you felt a sense of quiet satisfaction, didn’t you? You wanted and needed those tweets to add to your online hate crime database, didn’t you? In fact if you didn’t get enough of such tweets, you would be hard pressed to justify your enormous public grant, wouldn’t you, Mr. Mughal? Isn’t that right?”

It wasn’t long before beads of sweat could be seen on Fiyaz Mughal’s brow – a phenomenon which was commented on by several people in the public gallery afterwards. It was generally agreed that my defence lawyer was doing a grand job of grilling Fiyaz Mughal, and I have to say that I concurred with that sentiment. My defence lawyer continued. “Do you know what the word – mendacious – actually means? Or the word – scumbag – do you know what that actually means?” “Of course I do, let’s move on to the next question!” “Well, Mr. Mughal, what does it mean?” “Next question!!”

At that point the judge intervened to explain to Fiyaz Mughal that he was obliged to answer the question. It subsequently transpired that Fiyaz Mughal had only a partial grasp of the subtle nuances of both words – to the extent that it made me wonder why he was offended in the first place.

Fiyaz Mughal was indeed losing his cool. “But what about all the other tweets?” he spluttered. “Your client called Muslims “inbred welfare parasites.” Your client said Muslims “had shit-for-brains.” Your client is associated with extremist far-right groups. Not to mention Robert Spencer. Not to mention Pamela Geller. Your client is a menace!”

Fiyaz Mughal was reminded that the Court was dealing only with the three tweets that formed the subject of the charge. Then it was time to break for lunch.

During the lunchtime period, I spoke to the Court Usher. He was one of those people who had been around the Court system for decades and had seen it all. He probably had enough experience to have been a judge or a magistrate himself. “You’re very lucky,” he said “to have a District Judge hearing the case. If it had been a panel of lay magistrates, they might well have had difficulty understanding all the concepts in what is turning out to be quite a complex case.” He seemed quite impressed that we had managed to secure the presence of Professor Hans Jansen in order to give evidence concerning the nature of taqiyya and its understanding and practice by Muslims today.

After lunch, Fiyaz Mughal concluded his evidence and was then released by the Judge from giving any further evidence. That was the last we saw of him. Then it was my turn to give evidence and I was sworn in on the Bible in the witness stand. It’s an odd thing, but having completed the swearing-in, a sense of calm descended on me. It was as if I knew that I couldn’t lose.

I had experienced the same feeling once before, when I was taking my Aikido black belt examination. Part of the examination includes a multiple attack scenario, when you are simultaneously attacked by six students on the command of a senior instructor. I remember standing in the circle of six students, who were slowly advancing towards me and waiting for the word to attack. I closed my eyes and the same sense of calmness descended on me as it did in the courtroom. The Japanese call it “No-Mind.” I knew I wasn’t going to lose.

The sense is conveyed well in the attempted assassination scene with Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai.

My defence lawyer started by taking me through the use of Twitter as a social medium and my use of it with respect to my tweets. I explained that because of the nature of Islam as a totalitarian political ideology rather than a religion, I saw it as my duty to raise awareness of the threat of Islam towards non-Muslims and that Twitter was a useful tool in that regard. I talked about taqiyya and how Fiyaz Mughal was using dissimulation when he avoided explaining how Muslims use it today to deceive non-Muslims about the true nature of Islam. I explained that in my view Islam posed a threat to our civilisation and that our political elites were ignoring a very real long-term danger in favour of short-term advantages. Then it was the turn of the Crown Prosecution lawyer.

Well, I have to say that the Crown prosecution lawyer tried his best. He was like a dog with a bone that he wouldn’t let go. “I put it to you, Mr. Burton, that your tweets were nothing more than a racist diatribe!” “I put it to you, sir, that they were not. Islam is not a race and Muslims are not a racial group.” “I put it to you, Mr. Burton, that your tweets were intended purely to threaten and harass Mr Mughal!” “I put it to you, sir, that they were not. My tweets were intended to scold, to criticise and to castigate Mr. Mughal. I felt very strongly that someone running an organisation like Tell Mama UK should not be fraudulently misrepresenting his statistics, as alleged by Andrew Gilligan in The Telegraph, in order to receive public money.” “I put it to you, Mr. Burton, that your tweets were racist in nature!” “I put it to you, sir, that they were not. As I have said, Islam is not a race and Muslims are not a racial group.”

I must have repeated that phrase half a dozen times before the prosecution gave up and tried a different tack. “You called Mr Mughal a lying Muslim scumbag. That is not only racist and offensive, but deeply unpleasant!” “The definition of scumbag in the Cambridge Online Dictionary is of an unpleasant person whose actions and behaviour are unacceptable. That seems reasonable to me under the circumstances. I did not mean to imply that Mr. Mughal was a scumbag because he was Muslim. However I did mean to imply that there was an association between lying and being Muslim, and that is because of the doctrine of taqiyya.”

Then the prosecution changed tack again. “Mr. Burton, you could have written a tweet in less offensive language, telling Mr Mughal that you disagreed with some or all of the things on his website, inviting Mr Mughal to have a meeting with you and to discuss differences of opinion face to face. Why didn’t you?” I explained that Twitter constrains one’s tweets to 140 characters, at which a muffled titter ran around the courtroom. I further explained that I wouldn’t expect Mr Mughal to respond to such a message, and that my primary audience was my thousands of Twitter followers, who I wished to invite to join me in condemnation of Fiyaz Mughal and his organisation.

The Crown Prosecution lawyer asked me whether I considered myself to be a journalist, and if so why my language differed so markedly from that of Andrew Gilligan in The Telegraph. I said although I might be considered a journalist in some respects, Andrew Gilligan was writing for a different audience and was probably more constrained by laws of libel than I felt myself to be. The Crown Prosecution lawyer laboured this point extensively until the judge stepped in and pointed out that it was accepted that I had used language not normally found in the Daily Telegraph, but that it might be considered fair political comment. I think that was where the Crown Prosecution lawyer realised he was starting to lose his grip on events. “But Mr Burton, your tweets taken as a whole were nothing more than gratuitous racial insults!” “No, they had a specific purpose, and anyway, as I have said before, Islam is not a race, nor are Muslims a racial group.”

Shortly after that I was released from the witness stand, and Professor Hans Jansen was called. I have to say he made an excellent witness, with his extensive qualifications over many years presented to the Court in detail, and he elaborated on the concept of taqiyya, basically confirming all the points I had made and also making the point that although Fiyaz Mughal might have been well-meaning (!) he was obviously not a student of Sharia Law and was inaccurate in his explanation of taqiyya to the court.

The prosecution and the defence were both allowed a final summary of their argument, with my defence lawyer arguing that Article 10 of the Human Rights Act allows for fair comment in the context of free speech, and although the state does have the right to restrict free speech, those limits should be very narrowly drawn. The Crown Prosecution lawyer wasn’t going to let go of the “gratuitous racial abuse” angle and again argued the point with the judge.

The judge then began his summing-up. He noted that although some of my language had been unpleasant, and that Fiyaz Mughal might well have found it to be upsetting, that was not the test. The test was whether my comments transcended the boundaries of fair political comment and strayed into the realms of criminality through harassment. Had Mr Burton crept up to his door one night and shouted these things through his letterbox, then it might have been perceived differently, but as it was, the use of the Twitter platform to convey the same messages was not the same thing at all, which was a point which I had elaborated upon in my essay in New English Review a couple of months earlier.

The judge also indicated that he understood that the juxtaposition of the words “Mendacious”, “Lying” and “Muslim” were acceptable in the context of the Islamic concept of taqiyya, and did not therefore constitute a racial slur. This was a highly significant observation, in my opinion.

The judge indicated that Mr Burton might wish to moderate his language in the future, but in a case involving free speech, the bar must necessarily be set very high, and that in his view, the prosecution had failed to meet that bar in trying to prove its case. He said “Mr Burton is hereby found Not Guilty and formally acquitted of the charge.”

At that point a round of applause reverberated around the courtroom from the public gallery. I was a free man. The Crown Prosecution lawyer, in one futile last-ditch attempt, did then try to have a restraining order applied to me in respect of Fiyaz Mughal, but the Judge was having none of it. I thought that was nice, because I did want to send a photographic memento of the day to Fiyaz Mughal (see below.)

    Outside the Court

I would like to thank my many supporters, both in the courtroom on the day and those from around the world, who have supported me in the ongoing fight against the insidious creep of Islamic supremacism and the consequent encroachment on, and erosion of, our freedoms. This was an historic decision, whereby the judge recognised that the Islamic concept of taqiyya was a valid reason for criticism of Islam in a political context. Although I am not a lawyer, and although I do not at this moment in time fully comprehend what constitutes a legal precedent, as opposed to what does not, I think I can safely say that this was a landmark case with enormous implications in favour of our fight, not only to expose the true nature of Islam, but also to specifically determine the relationship (concerning trust or more importantly the lack thereof) that must necessarily exist between non-Muslims and Muslims due to the Islamic doctrine of Taqiyya – which not only gives Muslims divine permission to lie to non-Muslims if it promotes the cause of Islam or prevents the denigration of Islam in the eyes of non-Muslims – but also makes lying obligatory if the goal (promoting the cause of Islam or preventing the denigration of Islam in the eyes of non-Muslims) cannot be achieved by telling the truth.

End of Chapter 6

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Pigeon on the Wing – Chapter 5 – Upstart Pigeon

      Upstart Pigeon

Foreword: All chapters of Pigeon on the Wing published on this website are in draft form only. The final version may include grammatical, syntax and content changes, as well as sidebars and illustrations to maintain a level of interest and to stop readers’ eyes from glazing over. All comments and / or criticisms of content or writing style would be most welcome. Masterpieces like this don’t just write themselves, you know.

Seriously, though – this is your book just as much as it is mine. I couldn’t have even begun to write it without all of your help and support. Thank you so much for everything you have done for me, and I hope you enjoy reading the book as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

Tim Burton

Pigeon on the Wing – Chapter 5 – Upstart Pigeon

I was woken by the soft yet persistent buzzing of the alarm on my digital wrist-watch. This was the one electronic item that had been returned to me from my initial registration into the prison system. It had presumably been designated as a harmless item, and not for the first time, I wished that I had paid more attention to the James Bond and Jason Bourne films of my youth, where wrist-watches could be magically transformed into elaborate killing devices with such accessories as cheese-wires for strangling prison guards, wire saws for cutting through prison bars, and (my favourite) a wrist-watch filled with explosives designed to demolish a prison door and facilitate my escape to freedom.

Knowing my luck, I would probably have just blown my arms and legs off.

It was 6:30 a.m. and for a moment I was disoriented by various unfamiliar sounds and sensations. I tried to reconcile the sounds and sensations with the environment I would normally awaken to – and then I realised where I was, and my heart plummeted into my boots.

Or at least, my anticipation was that it was where my heart would have plummeted, had I had not taken the precaution of removing my footwear the previous evening before retiring to the uppermost bunk in the cell. As it was, my heart plummeted to a spot just below my ankles, whereupon it rebounded like a bungee jumper on steroids and positioned itself just above my calves, from where it proceeded to hang on to my kneecaps for dear life.

This sensation was not entirely agreeable to me, and so I stretched out my body in an attempt to return my heart to its previous location, an activity that made me realise that my previous assessment of the hardness of the prison mattress the night before was pretty much as accurate as could be. The mattress had obviously been created by a sociopathic furniture designer with the intention of bringing home to the most recalcitrant old lag the fact that his previous life of luxury was destined to be but a distant memory.

Every bone that I could identify in my body ached as though I had just gone through ten rounds with Mike Tyson, perhaps on a day when he had been disrespected in the ring and was consequently feeling particularly well-disposed to the notion that his opponent would deserve to be beaten to a pulp. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that this sensation applied to bones that I hadn’t even been aware of during my previous sixty-four years. I made a mental note to adjust the Trip Advisor rating for my stay at HMP Thameside – downwards, at least for the time being.

Trip Advisor representative – “So, Mr Burton, how did you enjoy your first night at the five-star HMP Thameside establishment?”

Me – “Fine, thank you. It was very enjoyable. No problems at all.” (I am British, after all, and we British enjoy nothing more than displaying stoicism and understated irony in the face of adversity, a characteristic that is not always fully appreciated by those of lesser cultures.)

Sunshine streamed through the curtain-less window, and from my bunk I could see planes coming in to land at London City Airport, less than a mile away from where I was incarcerated. I thought of all those carefree passengers, returning from their holidays in Tenerife and Fuerteventura, clutching their straw donkeys and their bottles of duty-free tequila, never giving a thought to what it must be like to having their liberty taken away from them.

The soft sound of snoring emanated from the bottom bunk. John was evidently a sounder sleeper than I was, and I wasn’t about to disturb him if I could possibly help it. Nevertheless, I was determined to set up some kind of a routine for the duration of my stay at HMP Thameside, and I clambered down from the top bunk and made my way to the en-suite partition, armed with my bag of toiletries.

The en-suite consisted of a shower head set into the ceiling, with metal buttons set into the wall to switch it on and off. There was what looked like to be a cast-concrete toilet set into a corner of the cell, and an equally resilient sink with metal buttons in place of taps. (I was later to find out that prison cells did originally have standard taps with rotating handles, but that these could ingeniously be utilised as hand-cuff removing devices. The ingenuity of prisoners knows no bounds.)

I activated the shower and spent the next ten minutes luxuriating under a torrent of acceptably warm water (I dare say the appropriate Health and Safety professionals had determined what was to be considered too hot or too cold for the average prisoner, as there was no temperature adjustment device in sight) and then towelled myself off and dressed myself in my prison greens, which I was to wear for most of the next six weeks. I might not be the most sartorially dressed prisoner on the wing, but I hoped I would at least blend in with the others.

(After the first two weeks on the wing, prisoners are permitted to wear their own clothes, but as my only other set of clothes comprised my dark blue suit – with which I had been hoping to impress the judge – I thought that my set of prison greens would probably be a better choice. So prison greens it was, and prison greens it remained for the duration of my stay.)

John stirred on the lower bunk. “They’ll most likely be unlocking the cell at 08:00,” he said. “Or 7:45 for meds. Have you got any meds you ought to be taking?”

As it happened, I did have some medication to take, first thing in the morning, every morning, and last thing at night, every night. This was all part and parcel of having had a history of serious heart problems over the previous three years. Part of the induction process the previous day had involved removing and impounding my medication (I had brought several days’ supply with me) but I had been assured that it would be dispensed each day in line with my medical requirements, and so it proved to be the case.

I couldn’t fault the procedure. The cell was unlocked at 7:45 am precisely, and there was a stentorian shout from one of the prison officers – “Meds!” Those of us who were on medication wandered out of our cells like apathetic greyhounds released from their traps, on a day when the artificial rabbit on the rail had seized up due to lack of maintenance. We ambled our way up to the locked and barred door that led from the wing to the Wing Dispensary. From there we were required to queue up in a more or less orderly fashion to be admitted one by one by a prison officer to the “medication hatch” which was via a barred window to the dispensary.

The majority of the dispensary staff were female, and this, I subsequently discovered, allowed for some outrageous flirting on behalf of the prisoners – an activity which, if not actually encouraged, was far from being discouraged by the prison officers, presumably with the view in mind that a bit of harmless sexual harassment diminished the possibility of prison riots from disgruntled inmates. The #MeToo movement obviously hadn’t made its way as far as HMP Thameside.

“’Allo darlin’,” would be the standard greeting. “Wot ‘ave you got for me today? ‘Ow about you and me getting together when you knock off after work?” To be fair, the female dispensary staff were mostly made of stern stuff, and their responses would range from the placatory “Now, now,” to the standard “Behave yourself,” to the more eloquent “How would you like me to kick you in the nuts?”

Naturally, I was far above such uncouth behaviour, and I contented myself with giving my name, rank and number as I handed over my precious identity card – “Burton – Timothy M – Wing A, Cell No. A-17.” The pharmacist consulted a computer screen, gave the command to one of the other assistants to complete the order, and after a little while, a small paper cup containing one’s medication slid through the hatch, together with another small paper cup containing a couple of mouthfuls of water. One was expected to swallow the meds in front of the pharmacist. I suppose the last thing they would have wanted was for some prisoner to store up a couple of hundred Paracetamol tablets and then take them all at once. Just think of the paperwork that would entail.

After the early morning dispensation of meds, each prisoner was allowed back down onto the wing to collect their breakfast (and for this, one relied upon the goodwill of one’s cellmate, as by the time the dispensation of meds was concluded, the time for collecting one’s breakfast was usually long past.)

I was given a small packet of Rice Krispies and a carton of milk by John.

As we returned to our cell, I said “Is that it, then? Rice Krispies? I bloody hate Rice Krispies.”

“You should be able to get something more to your liking over the next few days,” said John. “Here’s some muesli and a couple of oranges to keep you going.” He reached into his cell cupboard and retrieved several items from what looked to be like a box filled with a suspiciously large stash of pre-packed breakfast paraphernalia.

I tucked in with relish. It might not have been breakfast at the Ritz, but it was most welcome. I resisted the temptation to enquire about the possibility of being allocated a couple of hot bacon sandwiches, perhaps on lightly toasted bread with brown sauce. No point pushing your luck at this early stage in the proceedings, I thought.

The cell remained unlocked for the next couple of hours, and I ventured out of the cell onto the prison wing in order to discover what pleasures might lay in store for me. I was more than a little nervous, not knowing how I might be treated by the other prisoners, but I was to find that the prevailing atmosphere was one of benign indifference, for which I was very grateful.

I was still concerned with whether I might be recognised as a notorious Islamophobe (the Independent newspaper and the Daily Mail had splashed photographs of me all over their pages during the previous month) and I had no desire to be fending off unwelcome questions at this stage.

This section of the wing was divided into two levels – “A-upper” and “A-lower”, and there were around thirty cells on each level. A flight of stairs connected the two levels, and several prisoners seemed to be engaged in constructive employment, some cleaning the communal areas with mops and buckets, and others armed with brooms nonchalantly sweeping out the cells.

There was also a wing laundry, where one could entrust one’s prison greens to one of two enormous washing machines, although I was to find out that this was not recommended unless absolutely necessary, due to the propensity for the machines to disgorge items that had been presented for washing approximately two sizes smaller than when they went in.

There were a couple of pool tables on each level, and these were in constant use whenever the cell doors were unlocked and prisoners were given “association time” which amounted to around six hours per day in total. The rest of the time, we were locked up in our respective cells and left to our own devices.

For me though, the main source of gratification lay in the half-dozen or so chess-boards that were distributed on the various tables in the association area on the wing. I have always loved chess from as far back as I remember. One of my earliest memories was of playing with an ivory chess-set that one of my great-uncles had brought back decades previously from the Far East – intricately carved, and polished with age, it seemed to speak of a long-dead civilisation, long-forgotten in the mists of time, imbued with knowledge and wisdom that we have now for the most part lost.

Memories of that ivory chess-set inspired me to join the chess club at my secondary school, and it became my hobby of choice when many of my contemporaries at that time looked down upon such intellectual pursuits, preferring instead to participate in football, rugby and cricket. They would endlessly discuss tactics, strategy and the achievements of prominent footballers, rugby players and cricketers, at a time where such people had not yet become the celebrities that they are today.

I didn’t have any sense of alienation or any negative feelings about this, as I very quickly found out that I was completely rubbish at anything that involved accurate hand-to-eye co-ordination. I was always the last person to be picked for a football, rugby or cricket game – “Oh, no, we’ve ended up with Burton again!” was a phrase I was soon to get used to – and I resigned myself to finding other areas where I might display my undoubted expertise. I knew I had some expertise tucked away somewhere, it was just a question of finding out where it was. At least, that is what I told myself.

Strangely enough, during my last ever game of rugby at my school, when I was about fifteen years old, I found myself among a bunch of other similarly weedy players who had very similar expertise (or lack of it) in the realms of hand-to-eye co-ordination. I don’t know whether it was their sheer ineptitude that spurred me on, but I found myself scoring all eight of the tries that occurred during the game, and this inexplicably included five successful conversions which resulted in a final score of 34-0. I remember feeling on top of the world about that, and I remember contemplating my future as a famous rugby player – “The Captain of the Weeds” as my younger daughter pithily observed when I regaled her years later with the story – unfortunately though, from that day to this I haven’t been able to kick a ball straight if my life were to depend on it.

This was because the day following this momentous game of rugby, I was involved in a serious road accident, caused by my recklessly cycling across a busy road junction. I had been hastily trying to make up time on my newspaper delivery round and neglected to observe the relevant road signs, thereby colliding with a yellow Mini in the process. I distinctly remember the colour and make of the car as I somersaulted over the roof and landed in a somewhat ungainly manner in the road behind the car. I don’t suppose the driver of the Mini remembered much about the colour of my bike. She was apparently too busy having a fit of the vapours, perhaps unsurprisingly under the circumstances.

I thought that maybe my guardian angel was having a day off. I know I shouldn’t be so cynical, as I was lucky not to have been killed. The incident did however leave me with several broken bones, some of which never healed correctly, and I never played rugby again. That’s what you get for being hubristic. They do say that Nemesis comes after Hubris. They also say that karma’s a bitch.

So, chess it was. I sat down at a table next to one of the chess-boards that was in use, and studied the tactics of the players, who were two young men who looked to be of Afro-Caribbean origin. After a few moments, I could see that they were both making elementary mistakes, and I felt emboldened enough to say – “Any chance I could play the winner?”

They both turned to look at me, and regarded me with cursory interest. “All right, grand-dad,” said one of them. He turned to his opponent. “This place is turning into an old people’s home, innit.”

“Old people’s home? Bleeding graveyard more like!” said the other, eyeing me up and down. “House of the living dead!” They both leaned back and chuckled at each other good-humouredly at their own combined quick wit and ready repartee.

“Right,” I thought. “Challenge. I’ll bloody well show you what the older generation can achieve when they put their minds to it.”

I won the first game, and the next. I played several games of chess that morning, and as I started to win game after game, more and more inmates came up to watch what was going on. There is nothing like successfully playing to win in a competitive sport for restoring morale, and by the time the call came from the prison officers around 11:30 – “Lunch!” I was starting to feel quite chipper.

I queued up at the wing canteen to receive a default lunchtime allocation of chilli con carne and rice, an apple and a carton of orange juice. I hadn’t yet worked out how the system operated – there was in fact a method for prisoners to select items from a menu on the in-cell computer, but the default meal allocation was to ensure that inmates didn’t die of starvation whilst trying to figure out how the system worked.

I was to find out that the computer terminal in each cell played an integral part in the routine that determined how a prisoner spent his time, what food he could eat, and what activities he could sign up for. The computer terminal could recognise one’s identity card via a card reader, combined with a fingerprint via a fingerprint reader, and from there one could access the prison intranet with its impressive range of services. I was to find that we couldn’t actually get onto the World Wide Web, either to send or receive emails, or watch video clips of cute little kittens. This made me realise that it was going to be a very tough stretch indeed, and that I had better prepare myself mentally for the inevitable withdrawal symptoms of technological cold turkey.

There were various menu options on the computer for registering with the prison library, the gym, religious services and other activities such as art classes, language classes and IT technology courses. I was interested to see that in order to sign up for religious services, one had to declare one’s religion, and that could not then be changed for the duration of one’s stay. I felt that this was unduly restrictive. What if I wanted to try out being a Buddhist for a week? Or perhaps a Hindu? Or better still; sign up during the week as a Muslim for the extra privileges of halal chicken meals, the Mecca-facing toilets and the Friday afternoons out of your cell for the Jumu’ah prayer, before switching back to Christianity for a Sunday morning sing-along with a happy-clappy Gospel choir?

As you may by now be able to determine, I take my religious duties and responsibilities somewhat less seriously than perhaps I ought. It could be argued that this played no small part in the situation in which I now found myself.

With lunchtime over, it was time for us all to be locked into our cells for the midday roll call, whereby each cell was inspected to make sure the requisite numbers of prisoners were contained therein. As each inspection hatch was opened, one officer would look in and call “One!” or “Two!” as a second officer wrote the details on a clipboard with a dilapidated, chewed-up Biro.

How twentieth century, I thought, living as we do in an era of electronic sensors and recording devices. I made a mental note to suggest to the prison administration (via the suggestion box on the landing) that bar-codes be tattooed onto prisoners’ foreheads for speed and convenience.

Then again, maybe not. The Howard League for Penal Reform might have something to say about that. The concept of the Mark of the Beast might be acceptable in the Book of Revelation, but HLPR would no doubt view it as a gross infringement of prisoners’ rights. Still, you can’t stop progress, and if such a thing were ever to come to pass, remember you read it here first.

I took the opportunity to read through a pamphlet which had been stuffed into my bag of toiletries the previous evening. This pamphlet had been written by the management of HMP Thameside as a guide for inmates towards what was considered acceptable behaviour, and what was not. I started to read through it.

My cell-mate, John, was engrossed in the paperback novel that I had seen when I had entered the cell for the first time during the previous evening. “What’s that you’re reading, John?” I asked. It looked like a well-thumbed and oft-read piece of writing, judging from the condition of the book. The front cover was missing, and I couldn’t make out the title.

“De Profundis,” he replied, “It’s by some geezer called Oscar Wilde. It was in the cell when I got here. It’s a bit depressing, but at least it’s better than that HMP Thameside instruction manual. That makes you want to slit your wrists. It’s like – do all this stuff and don’t do all that stuff.”

I had read “De Profundis” in my teens. “You find it depressing? I’m not surprised,” I said. It had been written by Oscar Wilde while he was imprisoned in Reading Gaol in 1897, and was an account of the anguish he felt at having been jailed as an unintended consequence of attempting to call out a prominent member of the British establishment. Just the thing you want to read when you’re coming to terms with a substantial period of unjust incarceration for something not too dissimilar.

“Look on the bright side,” I said. “At least the HMP Thameside instruction manual contains enough risible material to support any number of pedants specialising in grammatical inaccuracies as a basis for their stand-up comedy routine. Look at this, for example,” – and I pointed at a section on the first page of the pamphlet with the following enlightening instruction –

PRISONER’S MUST KEEP THEY’RE CELLS CLEAN AND TIDY.

“What’s wrong with that?” said John.

“What’s wrong with it?” I said. “What’s wrong with it? It’s a grammatical nightmare, that’s what. Whoever penned that deserves at least twelve month’s hard labour, preferably down a freezing cold Siberian salt mine with nothing to eat but starvation rations and supervised by a psychopathic prison guard armed with a sixty thousand volt cattle prod.”

John seemed amused at my apparent indignation. “Seems a little harsh to me,” he said. He turned back to his book and left me to study the in-cell computer system instructions in the pamphlet.

End of Chapter 5

Please donate – whatever you can – to the Tim Burton Legal Defence Fund

Help to overturn an unjust conviction and strike a blow for justice.

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Pigeon on the Wing – Chapter 4 – The Pigeon has Landed

     The Pigeon has Landed

Foreword: All chapters of Pigeon on the Wing published on this website are in draft form only. The final version may include grammatical, syntax and content changes, as well as sidebars and illustrations to maintain a level of interest and to stop readers’ eyes from glazing over. All comments and / or criticisms of content or writing style would be most welcome. Masterpieces like this don’t just write themselves, you know.

Seriously, though – this is your book just as much as it is mine. I couldn’t have even begun to write it without all of your help and support. Thank you so much for everything you have done for me, and I hope you enjoy reading the book as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

Tim Burton

Pigeon on the Wing – Chapter 4 – The Pigeon has Landed

As the door was locked behind me, I looked around. There was no other person in the cell at that moment, but there were all the tell-tale signs of current occupation. On one side of the cell were two hard plastic bunk beds, affixed to the cell wall. The lower of the two bunk beds contained a dark blue mattress, a sheet, a pillow and a duvet, although the bed appeared unmade, with a hard-cover book lying face-down on it.

There was a door-less cupboard affixed to the opposite side of the cell that contained several shelves with a handful of toiletries including shampoo and toothpaste scattered on one of the hard plastic surfaces. On the top shelf were some tea-bags and several small cartons of milk. A pile of clothes occupied one of the other shelves and a pencil and some scribbled notes lay on the desk next to the cupboard.

Also on the desk was a computer screen and keyboard, with some wires leading to a locked box secured to the wall underneath the desk. There was also a hard plastic chair and a free-standing plastic wastebasket underneath the desk. It wasn’t exactly top-of-the-range furniture from IKEA, but it was functional and presumably likely to survive with minimal damage any sustained and frenzied assault from residents who might become annoyed from time to time.

The cell also contained an “en-suite” facility. A concrete partition in one corner partially enclosed a space containing a shower, toilet and hand-basin. I was impressed. It could be said that I am easily impressed, but years of watching prison dramas and documentaries on TV had left me with the impression that the undignified practice of “slopping out” was still the preferred method for keeping one’s cell relatively uncontaminated, even in modern prisons, so this was a welcome surprise. Although any privacy one might have wished for was negated by the angle of the partition affording a clear view into the en-suite from the observation hatch set into the door. I could see that this might take some getting used to.

There was also a window, set into the far wall of the cell. It was barred (no surprises there) and the glass seemed to be at least half an inch thick. I looked out of the window into the early evening gloom and saw a heavy-duty mesh fence, topped with razor wire, security lights and cameras, running parallel with and about ten metres away from the outside wall of the cell. Beyond that was a tarmac strip wide enough for two lanes of traffic, another heavy-duty mesh fence, and then there was a perimeter wall some ten metres beyond that.

I could see that the Birdman of HMP Thameside was likely to have his work cut out in trying to get past that lot.

From what I could see, this was a two-person cell, and given that the bottom bunk was in use, it seemed to be a reasonable assumption that the top bunk would be allocated to me. Having only just arrived, I didn’t want to cause any offence. I had no idea about cell etiquette, apart from the stories I had heard and read about cellmates being violently set upon and beaten for minor infringements such as inadvertently taking the wrong bunk, or accidentally using someone else’s toothpaste or deodorant.

On that thought, I suddenly realised that I hadn’t been issued with any toiletries of my own, apart from my own comb and nail clippers, and I wondered if perhaps this was a devilish prank by the prison officers to get my cellmate and I to fight to the death over a tube of Colgate’s finest. No doubt they were taking bets on the outcome at that very moment.

I climbed gingerly up to the top bunk – via a steep set of hard plastic steps – and sat down on the dark blue plastic mattress. That way, I thought, if my cellmate should unexpectedly enter at this moment and instantly fly into a rage, perhaps because of an earlier intention to switch bunks that very evening, I would at least have the advantage of height from which to fight him off.

I unpacked my kitbag containing the sheets, pillows, pillowcases and duvet, and set about making at least some semblance of a bed. The first thing I noticed was that the mattress was very hard. In fact, it was extremely hard. On a scale of mattress-related hardness, I put it at somewhere between the level that starts to induce serious discomfort in those of a sensitive disposition, and the level that one might feel when faced with the prospect of bedding down on a set of cobblestones for the night after having been thrown out of the house for coming home drunk at three in the morning.

Still, there was nothing else for it, and I stretched out on the mattress with my head on the pillow, and began to study the ceiling over my bunk bed.

The ceiling was about eighteen inches above my bunk bed, and was covered in elaborate graffiti. It wasn’t exactly on a par with Michelangelo’s work at the Sistine Chapel, but after a few moments I could make out messages to the effect that “Jesus Saves”, “The Devil Finds Work for Idle Hands” and “Arsenal are a Bunch of Self-Abusing Onanists.” OK, I might have been paraphrasing with that last one, but the messages appeared to offer some insight into the mindset of previous residents. Religion and football featured strongly, and there were two or three anatomically correct drawings of the female form, complete with detailed explanatory wording which wouldn’t have looked out of place in a medical lecture or a student gynaecologist’s notebook.

As I reflected upon the extent of this wondrous variety of artwork inscribed on the ceiling, the observation hatch slid open briefly and the face of a prison officer appeared. He scanned the interior of the cell briefly, and then unlocked the door. A man dressed in prison greens walked in, carrying a plastic bag of what looked very much like toiletries. This turned out to be my new cell-mate. He proffered the bag up to me with a wide smile.

“Hello,” he said, with a thick Nigerian accent. “I think these might be for you. They should have given them to you earlier, but you know what they’re like.”

At this point of course, I didn’t actually know what “they” were like at all, or even who “they” were, but not wanting to appear ungrateful, I took the bag with my left hand, extended my right hand and said “Thanks. By the way, I’m Tim.”

“No worries,” he said, shaking my hand. “My name is” – and here he gave a name that to me was completely unpronounceable, but obviously sensing my consternation, he said “But you can call me John.”

The prison officer placed two cardboard cartons – similar in size and shape to McDonald’s food boxes – on the top of the cupboard. “You missed dinnertime,” he said to me, “but we didn’t want you to starve.” An aroma of roasted chicken and chips filled the cell. I hadn’t realised that I was so hungry. Throwing caution to the wind, and completely forgetting about my defensive tactics in the face of a possibly deranged cell-mate, I clambered down from the top bunk to investigate. The prison officer left, and once again the door was locked.

It was indeed roast chicken and chips, complimented by a sizeable portion of baked beans, together with an apple and a carton of fruit juice. There was a plastic knife and fork in my bag of toiletries – and once again it was impressed upon me that I had to take care of them, because no others would be forthcoming in the event of my losing them, even in the event of encountering a freak cutlery-annihilation-related accident. I ate standing up, using the top of the cupboard as a table, as John was by now seated at the desk on the only chair in the cell, and I didn’t want to inconvenience him. He was reading through the scribbles on the sheet of paper I had seen on the desk when I first walked in.

He glanced up at me. “We’ll have to find you another chair,” he said. “I am just trying to write this letter to my brother. He has no idea I am in here. I expect he thinks I have just gone down to the shop for some cigarettes. I didn’t tell him I was going to court. I thought I would be back home by now.”

You and me both, I thought.

It transpired that John had been sentenced earlier that day as well, but at a different court. He had been sentenced for stealing bicycles. Not just one or two, but dozens of them. And not just the type of bicycle that your maiden aunt would have ridden to church on a Sunday morning with a wicker basket on the front, but top-of-the-range titanium and carbon-fibre framed bicycles with Shimano hydraulic disc brakes and Vittoria Rubino Pro tyres, worth around £3000 each.

What John didn’t know about titanium and carbon-framed bicycles wasn’t worth knowing, as I was to find out over time. It turned out that yuppies in the areas around the City of London and Canary Wharf would flock to work on these state-of-the-art machines and leave them locked up with chains and padlocks that had a surprising array of weaknesses. A vast criminal network had grown up around the combination of irresistible goodies and inadequate security, and John had seen his opportunity.

Unfortunately the City of London Police were not stupid, and had set up a sting operation, leaving an unattended Boardman Elite SLR bicycle just where John might see it. He was caught red-handed cycling away from the scene by a team of undercover officers, and just as he thought he had got away from the hue and cry of the pursuit, a burly policeman about 7 feet tall and with biceps the size of Bournemouth stepped out in front of him, stopped him in his tracks by grabbing the handlebars in a vice-like grip, and uttered the immortal words – “You’re nicked, sunshine.”

John had refused to give up the names of anyone else involved in the network, and as it wasn’t his first offence, he had been sentenced to two years imprisonment.

“So,” said John, “what are you in for?”

I had known this question was coming, and so I had tried to prepare myself for it. I was a little reluctant to disclose the real reason behind my arriving at HMP Thameside, and whilst I knew that the prison staff would have access to my records, I had to trust that data protection laws applied and that details of my conviction would not be inappropriately divulged.

I was apprehensive for a number of reasons – one reason was that I knew that certain offences are looked on as being more objectionable than others, such as offences against women and children – and while that wasn’t specifically the case with me, if it were to come out that I had been sentenced for Religiously Aggravated Harassment against someone of the Mohammedan persuasion, then word might reach any number of Moslem inmates with unpredictable and possibly violent consequences.

This concerned me because it was only a few months previously that a man called Kevin Crehan – who was sentenced to 12 months prison in Bristol for the heinous crime of tying bacon to a mosque door handle – was found dead in his cell under circumstances that at the time of writing (March 2018) are still unexplained.

Therefore I had decided to take the course of admitting to something less controversial. I could hardly admit to bicycle theft, as my lack of knowledge in bicycle technology and the various criminal networks involved would have led the other prisoners to smell a rat. However, it had to be something of sufficient gravity to warrant a custodial sentence, especially given that I was a 64-year-old man with a serious heart condition, and would under normal circumstances have had leniency shown to him by the court.

So I had to think of something else. But I should provide you with some relevant background information before I come to the point.

When I was a gangly 15-year-old teenager I used to own an air rifle, and I spent many happy hours perfecting my shooting skills in the back garden, firing pellet after pellet into a paper target pinned against a large slab of wood. I had reached the point where, with a carefully adjusted telescopic sight, I could continuously fire pellets at will into a two-centimetre diameter centre of a target over 30 metres distance. That may not sound like much of an achievement, but it is harder than it looks.

Fast forward nearly fifty years to January 2016, and I was faced with a dilemma. We had recently had solar panels installed on the roof of our house, courtesy of a Government energy-saving initiative, and the local pigeons had decided that these panels made the perfect spot for roosting. Day after day, especially in the early morning, we could hear the patter of pigeons’ feet on the roof, the smell of pigeon droppings permeated the loft space, and the incessant “coo, coo” of the pigeons was driving myself and June (my other half) insane.

So I said to June, “I’ll get an air rifle. Give me ten days staked out in the caravan on the front drive and I’ll give those pigeons a good old-fashioned seeing-to, pour decourager les autres. The pigeons will find somewhere else to roost and the problem will be solved.”

“You can’t do that!” she said. “It’s cruel. Not to mention somebody might see you.”

“It’s not cruel at all,” I said. “I’ll aim just close enough to frighten them off. I promise I won’t touch a hair on their little feathered chests. And I’ll wear my ex-military camouflage outfit and balaclava to render myself inconspicuous to the neighbours.” But she wouldn’t have it.

The next day I came home to find she had purchased an enormous, lifelike plastic owl from the Internet. It arrived complete with a nodding, swivelling head on a spring, and I had to admit it did look quite impressive. “I’ll put this owl on the bird table in the back garden,” she said, “and the pigeons will be so petrified at seeing such an intimidating predator, they will fly off and never come back.”

Dear reader, the owl was not quite the success we had hoped for. Quite apart from the fact that the regular visitors to our bird table, such as the little finches, sparrows and robins who frequented our back garden, decided that they did not want to share their bird-table with a one-metre high, lifelike plastic owl – day after day, the pigeons would swoop down from their vantage point on the roof of our house, settle on the bird-table, and try to engage the owl in conversation.

After a few days of this, June handed me a lump hammer and an old metal plate on a leather strap that had once served as a dinner gong. “Get up in the loft and make as much noise as you can to scare them off.” I dutifully complied, and spent the rest of the day giving myself a severe case of tinnitus as the sounds of the dinner gong rattled the tiles on the roof and dust started to drift down from the seams in the roofing felt. No luck. The pigeons continued to go about their business, as pigeons do, completely unruffled, which was more than could be said for me. I defy anyone to spend half-hour sessions knocking seven bells out of a dinner gong in a confined space and emerge without any hallucinatory side effects.

The following day, I came home to find that the owl had been strapped to the television aerial on the roof by the handyman we had been employing to install our kitchen. “Andy said he would do it for nothing as long as we promised to look after his wife and children if he fell off the ladder,” said June, whose negotiating skills have become legendary throughout our neighbourhood. “They’ll be too scared to land on our roof now.”

Still we had no success. The owl gazed balefully down at us from the TV aerial, gently nodding and swivelling its head as the wind changed, and the pigeons continued to roost as if nothing had happened.

A day or two later I found June downloading what I thought was music from the Internet. “How nice,” I said, “not another Beethoven sonata to add to your collection of classical music?” June scowled at me. “No,” she said, “this is a recording of a peregrine falcon screeching as it searches for prey. Just go and set up the hi-fi system in the loft, will you? You have to do it by nightfall as the pigeons know that the peregrine falcon is a nocturnal hunter.”

I assumed that the pigeons probably had a better Internet connection than I did, because I didn’t know anything about the predatory habits of peregrine falcons at all, and I consider myself to be fairly well-read. Still, I did as I had been instructed, and soon the screeches of a peregrine falcon were echoing around the loft. “We’ll have to leave it on all night,” said June, “but the pigeons will be gone by morning, just you see.”

After the worst night’s sleep of my entire life, with dreams of enormous owls rampaging around the garden and terrorising the neighbourhood, punctuated by the intermittent screeches of a predatory peregrine falcon, I awoke to the pitter-patter of pigeon feet still running up and down the roof as the pigeons continued to take off and land at regular intervals. By now there were broken egg casings dropping regularly from the roof into the front garden as the pigeons had obviously decided that this was the perfect place to raise a family, and the soft squeaks of baby pigeons could be heard from the loft.

We had several more nights of sleeplessness as June was determined to give the peregrine falcon recordings another chance, but after three days it was obvious that the pigeons weren’t going anywhere. “That’s it,” said June as she slammed another slice of bread into the toaster at breakfast-time, “this calls for drastic measures.”

“So I’ll get the air-rifle then?”

“Not on your life. I’m going to ask Andy to get up on the roof again and deploy anti-pigeon spikes around the solar panels. I’ve already ordered the spikes overnight from the Internet, so there’s no point arguing.”

The spikes arrived the next day, and I came home to see Andy securing the last few rows of spikes into place. The end result looked as though a giant square hedgehog had been first run over by a steam-roller, and then nailed to the roof as a warning message in order to discourage other low-flying giant square hedgehogs. I watched as Andy descended the ladder cautiously. I could tell that he wasn’t really comfortable with heights, possibly because there were not many people in our part of Birmingham who wanted a fitted kitchen installed on their roof.

The three of us stood on the front drive and looked up at the roof. “I’d like to see the pigeon that could get under the solar panels through those spikes,” asserted June, confidently. As the words left her mouth, a pigeon landed on the roof, regarded the spikes for a moment, flattened himself against the roof like an avian limbo-dancer, scuttled between the spikes and disappeared under the solar panels.

The next day I bought myself an air-rifle, complete with high-resolution telescopic sight. Suffice it to say that I was as good as my word, and after spending ten days staked out in the caravan on the front drive, the pigeons had obviously got together and decided that the houses in the surrounding streets presented better opportunities and one morning they vanished, never to be seen again.

“So,” said John, “what are you in for?”

I studied my fingernails nonchalantly. “Oh,” I said, “discharging a firearm and shooting pigeons within fifteen metres of the Queen’s Highway.”

John considered this for a few moments. “Pigeons?” he said, incredulously. “Is that actually a crime?”

“Oh yes,” I said, “and an extremely serious one as well. If it hadn’t been for my dodgy ticker they would likely have thrown away the key, and I would never have seen the smiling faces of my dear grandchildren ever again.”

John looked a bit dubious, but said no more, and soon afterwards the call “Lights out!” reverberated around the wing. The cell was plunged into darkness and I settled back on my mattress for my first night in captivity.

End of Chapter 4

Please donate – whatever you can – to the Tim Burton Legal Defence Fund

Help to overturn an unjust conviction and strike a blow for justice.

http://www.paypal.me/followthecat

Five Minutes to Midnight – The Counter Jihad Warrior Radio Show – 15 March 2018

      Be there or be square

The latest Counter Jihad Warrior Radio Show – Five Minutes to Midnight – from 15 March 2018 is available now to listen in archive. Don’t miss it.

It includes an audio reading from my new book – Pigeon on the Wing.

Pigeon on the Wing – Chapter 1 – Judgment Day.

Tim Burton (with acknowledgements to Kel Fritzi – the beautiful Red Fox from Red Fox RFB Radio and Infidels are Watching on Global Patriot Radio)

Pigeon on the Wing – Chapter 2 – Ground Zero

Chapter 2 – Ground Zero

Foreword: All chapters of Pigeon on the Wing published on this website are in draft form only. The final version may include grammatical, syntax and content changes, as well as sidebars and illustrations to maintain a level of interest and to stop readers’ eyes from glazing over. All comments and / or criticisms of content or writing style would be most welcome. Masterpieces like this don’t just write themselves, you know.

Seriously, though – this is your book just as much as it is mine. I couldn’t have even begun to write it without all of your help and support. Thank you so much for everything you have done for me, and I hope you enjoy reading the book as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

Tim Burton

Pigeon on the Wing – Chapter 2 – Ground Zero

I am often asked how it was that I first became interested in Islam, and what it was that led me to develop the views that I hold on the subject. At the time of writing in early 2018, the majority of non-Muslims living in the United Kingdom, and indeed in most Western countries, are still unaware of – and unawakened to – the true nature of Islam, and on the date of September 10, 2001, the day before 9/11, I was one of those unaware and unawakened.

The events of September 11, 2001 had a profound effect on me, as I am sure it did on many others. I was working as a service contractor at the time – as a computer consultant in a large office where the TV news channel was on in the background. It was around a quarter to two in the afternoon (UK time), and I heard a series of exclamations from several employees present in the office as the news of the attack on the first tower filtered through to the main news networks.

I glanced up at the screen, to be presented with the most horrific video footage, including graphic scenes of people jumping from the North Tower of the World Trade Centre as the upper stories were engulfed in flame. I saw the second attack on the South Tower happen live, with the plane slicing into the building and exploding in a huge ball of fire, as the media news team cameras were by then already focused on the unfolding events.

For the rest of the afternoon, we all watched the TV in stunned disbelief as people continued to jump from the upper floors of the Twin Towers, until the buildings themselves finally collapsed, falling down one after the other, imploding and disintegrating as if in slow motion, with enormous clouds of debris billowing out across Manhattan.

I remember that for days afterwards, it was the main topic of conversation wherever I went, but nobody I knew seemed to be making the connection between the attack and the ideology of Islam itself. The US President at the time, George W Bush, had made a point of emphasising that Islam was a “religion of peace”, and I remember wondering why he had gone to the trouble of saying that, given that most people I knew seemed to have no opinion of the matter one way or another on the subject of Islam, and most of us assumed that 9/11 (as it became known) was most likely the work of a bunch of fundamentalist nutters (Al-Qa’eda?) or possibly a shadowy character by the name of Osama Bin Laden. The ideology of Islam itself was not even on most people’s radar, and it certainly was not on my radar at all.

But something was niggling away at the back of my mind. This was such a terrible event, the lives of almost three thousand people snuffed out in an instant, a terrorist atrocity, if not the worst then one of the worst in modern times, and I found myself thinking that there must be some more profound meaning behind this catastrophic destruction, that three thousand people should not – must not – have died for nothing.

And so I started my research.

I started by trying to find out as much as I could about Osama Bin Laden – who was born to the family of a billionaire in Saudi Arabia. He studied at university in the country until 1979, when he joined Mujahideen forces in Pakistan fighting against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. He helped to fund the Mujahideen by funneling arms, money and fighters from the Arab world into Afghanistan, and gained popularity among many Arabs. In 1988, he formed Al-Qa’eda. He was banished from Saudi Arabia in 1992, and shifted his base to Sudan until U.S. pressure forced him to leave Sudan in 1996. After establishing a new base in Afghanistan, he declared a war against the United States, initiating a series of bombings and related attacks. He was on the American (FBI) lists of Ten Most Wanted Fugitives and Most Wanted Terrorists for his involvement in the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya.

One thing that jumped out at me was the emphasis that just about every media outlet in the world at that time was focused on – that these terrible atrocities were responsibility of one particular group – Al-Qa’eda – and the implication was that if only we in the West could destroy the leadership of that organisation, the problem of global terrorism would simply disappear.

However, this wasn’t what Osama Bin Laden himself was saying, as this excerpt from an October 2001 interview with Tayseer Allouni of the Al-Jazeera news channel shows:

… this matter isn’t about any specific person and… is not about the Al-Qa’eda Organization. We are the children of an Islamic Nation, with Prophet Muhammad as its leader, our Lord is one… and all the true believers are brothers. So the situation isn’t like the West portrays it, that there is an ‘organization’ with a specific name (such as ‘al-Qa’eda’) and so on. [One of our brothers] created a military base to train the young men to fight against the vicious, arrogant, brutal, terrorizing Soviet empire… this place was called ‘The Base’ [‘Al-Qa’eda’], as in a training base, so this name grew and became. We aren’t separated from this nation. We are the children of a nation, and we are an inseparable part of it, from the far east, from the Philippines, to Indonesia, to Malaysia, to India, to Pakistan, reaching Mauritania… 

So there were at least two narratives, each conflicting strongly with the other. Was it a “fundamentalist” entity? – the translation from the Arabic “Al-Qa’eda” translates not only to “The Base” but also “The Foundation” or “The Fundament.” Or was it that because all believers (Muslims) were brothers, that Al-Qa’eda was simply one manifestation of an Islamic Nation following the leadership of a long-dead seventh-century religious figure? Surely it couldn’t be that? The implications would be huge – and scary.

By this time I had expanded my research to include some of the basics of Islam, including the life of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. What I had found out was not terribly encouraging – far from being a spiritual leader in the footsteps of (say) Jesus and Buddha, he was a pirate, a warlord, a ruthless murderer, a paedophile and a terrorist. And this information came not from his enemies, but from the accounts of his own contemporaries and friends.

(You might say – with friends like that, who needs enemies?)

It was around 2003 – I had been researching the basics of Islam for about eighteen months, trying to glean as much as I could from different sources from books and on the Internet – when I was introduced to the work of Robert Spencer, who had recently founded Jihad Watch, and Bill Warner from the Centre for the Study of Political Islam. All of a sudden, things started to fall into place, and I realised that everything that we were being told about the nature of Islam by our church leaders, our politicians and our mainstream media- that it was a “religion of peace” for example – was completely and utterly false.

Not only that, but it was a falsehood on such an enormous scale as to be worthy of the term “The Big Lie.” This was a term coined by Adolf Hitler in his book “Mein Kampf” in 1925, and expanded upon by Joseph Goebbles, Germany’s Minister of Propaganda, 16 years later in 1941.

Essentially, the concept of “The Big Lie” is that if you make the lie big enough, and tell it often enough, then people will come to believe it. The realisation that this was what was happening with Islam, that far from being a “religion of peace”, this was a global ideology, followed by one and a half billion people, that was implacably at war with the West, and that there was essentially nothing that we could say or do in relation to our domestic and foreign policy to appease it, shocked me to the core.

I realised that Islam propounded an unremitting, uncompromising doctrine of hatred towards us in the West, not for what we say or do, but for who we are. Non-Muslims, according to the Qur’an, are “the worst of created beings” and must be fought until Islam becomes the only religion on Earth.

I was reminded of the scene in the “Terminator” film, where Kyle Reese explains to Sarah Connor exactly what it is they are dealing with, and the parallel with Islam is chilling:

“Listen! And understand! That terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with! It can’t be reasoned with! It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead!”

Also around this time I came across an extremely well-researched work by Craig Winn called “Prophet of Doom.” I started to see that if one looked at the Islamic scriptures in context, the narrative that emerged was a world away from what we were being told by most Muslims whenever they appeared on TV or other mainstream media outlets.

Worse still, I discovered that there is an Islamic doctrine of deceit towards non-believers that requires every single devout Muslim to lie about Islam to non-Muslims – that is, if a good impression of Islam cannot be given to non-Muslims by telling the truth. And this is true even under oath in a court of law, as our secular laws are subservient to Sharia in the eyes of a devout Muslim. His obligation to Allah supersedes any loyalty to non-Muslims or their legal institutions. If he doesn’t believe this, then he is not a Muslim.

The most common word used by non-Muslims to describe this divinely-sanctioned deceit is “taqiyya” (saying something that is not true), but depending on the context, “tawriya” (giving a false impression), “kitman” (lying by omission), “muruna” (blending in by discarding some aspects of Islam in order to advance others), and “darura” (a state of necessity on account of which one may omit doing something required by law or may do something illegal), are all types of divinely-sanctioned lying and deceit.

It is what we would perhaps call anti-social behaviour if we were feeling particularly magnanimous – although it could be more accurately described as hateful, mean-spirited, and quite frankly, disgustingly offensive behaviour that should be unacceptable in any civilised society. The fact that it is used by Muslims on a daily basis to pull the wool over the eyes of non-Muslims without a second thought or any accompanying feelings of guilt, means that it represents an enormous problem for any open, trusting and tolerant Western society that is foolish enough to admit large numbers of Muslims and to treat them as equals.

This is not simply permission to lie. It was, and still is divinely commanded by Allah himself – an obligation, mandated as an eternal doctrine, valid for all times and all places up to the Day of Judgment. It has grave implications for the innocent trust that is so often given to Muslims by non-Muslims unaware of the true nature of Islam – the same trust that is so often abused by Muslims themselves to gain an unfair advantage at the expense of non-Muslims everywhere and at every opportunity.

I will have more to say on the subject of “taqiyya” and other reprehensible aspects of divinely-sanctioned Islamic behaviour later in this book.

Before I conclude this chapter, I would like to quote here from Craig Winn’s “Letter to the Reader” which succinctly summarises the contents of his book “Prophet of Doom”

Islam is a caustic blend of regurgitated paganism and twisted Bible stories.
Muhammad, its lone prophet, conceived his religion solely to satiate his lust
for power, sex, and money. He was a terrorist. If you think these conclusions
are shocking, wait until you see the evidence.

The critics of this work will claim that Prophet of Doom is offensive, racist,
hatemongering, intolerant, and unnecessarily violent. I agree—but I didn’t
write those parts. They came directly from Islam’s scriptures. If you don’t like
what Muhammad and Allah said, don’t blame me. I’m just the messenger.

Others will say that I cherry-picked the worst of Islam to render an unfair
verdict. They will charge that I took the Islamic scriptures out of context to
smear Muhammad and Allah. But none of that is true. Over the course of
these pages, I quote from almost every surah in the Qur’an—many are presented
in their entirety. But more than that, I put each verse in the context of
Muhammad’s life, quoting vociferously from the Sunnah as recorded by
Bukhari, Muslim, Ishaq, and Tabari—Islam’s earliest and more trusted sources.
I even arrange all of this material chronologically, from creation to terror.

Predicting what he called the “Day of Doom” was Muhammad’s most
often repeated prophecy. While it did not occur as he foretold in 1110 A.D., it
nonetheless came true. Muslims and infidels alike have been doomed by Islam.
To discover why, we shall delve into the oldest surviving written evidence.
These official works include the Sira, Ta’rikh, Hadith, and Qur’an. Ishaq’s
Sira, or biography, called Sirat Rasul Allah, provides the sole account of
Muhammad’s life and the formation of Islam written within 200 years of the
prophet’s death.

While the character, message, and deeds portrayed within its pages are the antithesis of Christ’s and his disciples, the Sira’s chronological
presentation is similar in style to the Christian Gospels. The Ta’rikh is the
oldest, most trusted, and comprehensive history of Islam’s formation and
Muhammad’s example, called Sunnah. It was written by Tabari. His History
of al-Tabari is formatted like the Bible. It begins with Islamic creation and
ends with the acts of Muhammad’s companions. Tabari is a compilation of
Hadith quotes and Qur’an passages. As such, it provides the best skeleton
upon which to flesh out the character of Muhammad and the nature of fundamental Islam.

A Hadith is an oral report from Muhammad or his companions. Muslims believe that Hadith were inspired by Allah, making them scripture. The most revered Collection was compiled in a topical arrangement by Bukhari. Allah’s Book, the Qur’an, lacks context and chronology, so to understand it, readers are dependent upon the Sira, Ta’rikh, and Hadith.

All that can be known about Muhammad’s deeds, means, motives, god,
and scripture is enshrined in these books. In their pages you will see them as
they saw themselves. My only point of departure from Ishaq and Tabari will
be the comprehensive review of the early Meccan surahs, a period in which
they had very little to say. Our paths will join again as we approach Islam’s
midlife crisis: the Quraysh Bargain, Satanic Verses, Night’s Journey, and
Pledge of Aqaba—a declaration of war against all mankind.

At this point, the Sira, Ta’rikh, and Hadith speak more clearly than the Qur’an.
So that there will be no confusion, I have set passages from Islam’s scriptures
in bold-faced type. When quoting from the Qur’an and Hadith, I have
elected to use a blended translation. No language transfers perfectly—one
word to another. Five of my twelve translations of the Qur’an were combined
to create the most accurate conveyance of the message possible.

However, the writing quality is so poor, the proofreaders of this manuscript suggested that I help Allah and Muhammad out by cleaning up their grammar, punctuation, and verbosity. So for clarity and readability, I have trimmed their unruly word patterns and meaningless repetitions, being careful not to alter the meaning or message of any passage. Insertions within parenthesis (like this) were added by the Arabic translators to fill in missing words or to clarify the text. Insertions within brackets [like this] represent my observations.

I have elected to present Islam’s original source material in juxtaposition
to my evaluation of its veracity. This format is similar to that used by the first
English translators of Mein Kampf as they attempted to warn America about
the dangers lurking in Hitler’s manifesto. They, as I, found it necessary to hold
the author accountable. A great deal was at stake then, as it is today. The last
time the world was ignorant of such a hateful and violent doctrine, 55 million
people died. If we don’t shed our ignorance of Islam, many more will perish.

My quest to understand Islam began on the morning of September 11th
2001. I wanted to know why Muslim militants were killing us. So I went to
Ground Zero for Islamic terror—Israel. The West Bank is home to more suicide
bombers per capita than anywhere else on earth. I arranged to meet with
the terrorists themselves. I asked members of al-Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, al-Aqsa
Martyrs’ Brigade, and Hamas why they were killing us. They said,
“Islam. We’re following Muhammad’s orders.” That adventure is recounted in
Tea With Terrorists. It covers a wide range of material and serves as a companion
volume, connecting fundamental Islam to terrorism.

Prophet of Doom focuses strictly on what the Islamic scriptures have to say.
So, could it be? Could a prophet and a religion be responsible for today’s
terrorist attacks? I invested 10,000 hours in pursuit of that answer. I wish
everyone had. But knowing that most are unable, I have distilled what I discovered into these pages.

Now for a word of caution: this journey of discovery is ordered chronologically.
It is not prioritized by relevance. Explaining the root cause of Islamic
terror is the biggest priority; yet it is not exposed until the last half of the book.
I want you to know Muhammad, Allah, and Islam before you judge their
legacy. While Prophet of Doom is meticulously researched, documented, and
accurate, it’s written as if you and I were old friends having a lively chat about
the most important and lethal issue of our day.

One last thought before you head down this perilous path. I pray that
when you have reached the journey’s end, you will share my heart for the
plight of Muslims. I want nothing more than to free them from Islam, and in
so doing, free us from the terror their doctrine inspires.

I was to spend the next ten years (between 2003-2013) developing my knowledge of Islam before my grandchildren came along. I decided at that time that it was my duty as a father and a grandfather to stand up and be counted. For the sake of future generations, I had to do whatever I could to make people aware of the true nature of Islam, no matter the cost.

This is because one has to understand the true nature of an enemy before one can hope to defeat him. In the words of the great Chinese general, Sun Tzu – from his book, “The Art of War“, written around 500 BC –

 …If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

And without a doubt – let’s be clear here – Islam is the enemy of freedom, democracy and everything that we hold dear in a civilised Western society. We have two choices – we can continue to do nothing, in which case Islam will steamroller over everything that our forefathers and ancestors have bequeathed to us, or we can fight back to defend our Judaeo-Christian values and traditions that have served us so well over the last two millenia and which are light years ahead – in virtually every physical, moral and philosophical measurement – of anything the Islamic world has to offer.

End of Chapter 2

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Pigeon on the Wing – Chapter 3 – The Lions’ Den

  Chapter 3 – The Lions’ Den

Foreword: All chapters of Pigeon on the Wing published on this website are in draft form only. The final version may include grammatical, syntax and content changes, as well as sidebars and illustrations to maintain a level of interest and to stop readers’ eyes from glazing over. All comments and / or criticisms of content or writing style would be most welcome. Masterpieces like this don’t just write themselves, you know.

Seriously, though – this is your book just as much as it is mine. I couldn’t have even begun to write it without all of your help and support. Thank you so much for everything you have done for me, and I hope you enjoy reading the book as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

Tim Burton

Pigeon on the Wing – Chapter 3 – The Lions’ Den

The two genial prison officers from the corridor entered the holding cell. They were almost apologetic. “Rules,” said the first officer. We have to cuff you. You don’t mind, do you? We’re going to be entering a double cuff area.”

I was about to leave the confines of the holding cells for the journey in a prison van from Inner London Crown Court to HMP Thameside. Words seemed superfluous, so I extended my wrists and submitted to the adorning of heavy metal in the manner of one who actually had a choice in the matter. A “Double Cuff” area meant that not only did you have to have your own wrists hand-cuffed; you had to have a wrist cuffed to the wrist of a prison officer as well.

I looked at the cuffs. They were not exactly the style I would have chosen had I been in the Sado-Masochistic section of the Ann Summers retail outlet, which would have been with a soft and furry covering of faux leopard skin (not to mention a separate set of keys that I could have used to unlock the cuffs if things got a bit too – intense – shall we say) but at least my blood supply was unrestricted and the officers seemed genuinely concerned for my well being. We exited the holding cell in a semi-dignified manner with me being concerned mostly with not tripping over my own feet after six hours of inactivity.

The second officer draped my jacket over my wrists, which I thought was a touching gesture in the unlikely event of us running into a sizable collection of paparazzi en route to the van destined to transport me to my new home at HMP Thameside. I would not have wanted the impression to be given that I was accompanying these genial souls for any other reason than of my own volition.

I was led through the labyrinthine corridors of the Inner London Crown Court and up several flights of concrete steps to a courtyard in which three or four white prison vans were standing. For those of you who are unfamiliar with prison vans – probably most of you – imagine a large horse-box with individual compartments for up to six prisoners, three on each side, each with just enough room to sit down, each securely locked with an armour-plated door and a heavily smoked, armour-plated glass window to the outside world. The driver and an auxiliary prison officer are in the front of the van, which is totally isolated from the rear of the van containing the prisoners, save for radio communication between them and a third prison officer supervising the human cargo.

There were five of us scheduled for HMP Thameside. I surveyed my fellow passengers. There were two gangly teenagers who seemed to immediately recognise each other – “Hey! Weren’t you at Chelmsford nick in 2014? Do you remember Old Smokey? And what he used to get up to with the screws? He really taught them a thing or two!” – and there was a down-trodden-looking white-haired gentleman, who must have been in his seventies, and who didn’t seem to inclined to communicate with the rest of us at all – and finally a dignified black gentleman who was about the same age as myself, who regarded me gravely as we boarded the van, and gave me a slight nod as if to say – “You and I, we are not so very different, we are on the same path together, and we had better make the most of it.” It was the unspoken bond between two fellow travellers whose lives happen to cross – as ships pass in the night.

(At this point I should say that if I refer to individuals during the course of this book as black or white, or indeed of any other colour or hue, it is not because of racism. It is not because I wish to make a point about some races having characteristics that are positive or negative in respect to other races. I subscribe to the notion that we are all equal in the sight of God, even if our idea of God may vary from person to person, and indeed, some of us might say that there is no God at all. However, when one is introduced to someone for the first time, one makes an instant assessment or judgment based on observations made at that time. Such observations may include body language, manner of speech and facial expression as well as the colour of their skin and complexion.

Such assessments and judgments are made during the course of a split second, and are usually entirely outside of one’s conscious control at that time. It is a fact that most people, including myself, make irrational judgments from time to time, and wherever possible I try to seek out the causes of irrationality and to address them in a logical and consistent manner.

I am sure that most people do this, which is why it annoys me so much that people like myself are frequently accused of racism when all we are trying to do is to acknowledge that there are differences, as well as similarities between individuals.

Sometimes the first thing that one notices in a person may be useful in terms of telling a story or outlining a narrative of some sort, and sometimes it may or may not be a characteristic based on their race or the colour of their skin, but in no way does it sum up their entire personality by any stretch of the imagination, nor should it, despite what those on the left of the political spectrum may tell you as they indulge in their truly racist narratives of identity politics.)

We were locked into our individual compartments, un-cuffed, and left to our own devices as the van started up and we began our journey across London, exiting through the gates of the Inner London Crown Court and travelling along the A2 to HMP Thameside, which was apparently located in West Thamesmead, just across the River Thames from London City Airport. I could hear the two teenagers in the back of the van still swapping war stories through the armour-plated glass from their time in Chelmsford prison in 2014. From the other two prisoners there was silence.

I looked out of the window to my left at the outside world and regarded the cars, buses, cycles and motorcycles keeping pace with us along the London roads. Every now and again I attempted to make eye contact with someone on the outside who was still free, only to realise that they couldn’t possibly see me behind the heavily smoked, armour-plated glass.

I imagined them going about their daily lives, having breakfast with their partners, going to work, having lunch, coming home to their families, having dinner, perhaps going out to the pictures, to the theatre, to a night-club, meeting friends with never a thought as to how they might react if they had their liberty taken away from them. As the prison van trundled along, we passed people sitting in small, friendly groups at tables in outside pavement cafes, sometimes friends chatting quietly on the street, sometimes lovers walking hand-in-hand without a care in the world.

And there was I, locked in a claustrophobic space in a converted horsebox without even the possibility of reaching out to another human being and exchanging conversation or pleasantries, let alone my innermost thoughts.

I could feel that this line of thought was not going to lead me to a “happy place”, and so I turned my attention away from the outside world and started to think about what it would be like to arrive at a prison like HMP Thameside. All I knew about it was that it was an “OK nick” according to the petite blonde I had met earlier that morning in the maze of corridors underneath the Inner London Crown Court. From that simple phrase I imagined that it could be anything between a Geoffrey Archer-style open prison where prisoners could come and go as they please, to an Evin-style prison in Tehran, where it would be touch-and-go as to whether you would come out alive with your testicles still attached to your body and all your fingernails still attached to your fingers, rather than being given to you at the end of your stay in a plastic bag marked “assorted testicles and fingernails – not for human consumption.”

Strangely enough, this line of thought was not leading me to a “happy place” either.

I looked through the other window leading to the inside of the van, where a lady prison officer whom I judged to be in her late thirties was listening to what seemed to be the afternoon play on Radio 4 while simultaneously working her way through what looked like to be – could it be? – Yes, a Sun crossword. I was intrigued. This was the second Sun crossword I had seen that day being filled in by a prison officer. Could this be significant? I imagined myself conducting a nationwide survey of prison officers to discern their reading and crossword habits.

Suppose that 80 per cent of prison officers confessed to completing at least one Sun crossword per week. What conclusions might one draw? Discarding the obvious conclusion that they would be mostly racist right-wing fascist throwbacks for reading the Sun newspaper in the first place, their propensity for crosswords could only be explained by the fact that the recruiting procedure for the UK Prison Service places great emphasis on the ability of prison officers to devise constructive means of whiling away the interminable hours of boredom that must ensue as a result of their employment.

Obviously they would need to maintain the appropriate degree of alertness in the event of an enterprising prisoner like myself attempting his escape from the confines of the converted horsebox that apparently passes for an acceptable means of human transportation for prisoners in the 21st century. Although I had already discarded the notion of bribing a prison officer and passing myself off as a washerwoman in the manner of Toad of Toad Hall, I was not above utilising the old grey matter in order to evaluate some alternative possibilities of escape.

I wondered how long it might take to tunnel through the wall of my cell with a teaspoon, like Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption. It might very well depend on the teaspoon, as I imagined that our all-pervasive Health and Safety regulations would have most likely decreed that a metal teaspoon posed an unacceptable risk to the well-being of vulnerable prisoners due its potential for being transformed into a weapon of mass destruction.

I can totally understand that viewpoint. My first wife used to use the same philosophical approach when making tea. Arguably the fact that she insisted upon employing a cauldron, rather than a teapot, couldn’t have helped matters very much.

(By now you will have determined that I was not above employing a certain amount of sarcasm when describing my current predicament. It could of course be argued that sarcasm was a contributory factor to my predicament in the first place. More on that later.)

After what must have been the best part of a two-hour drive, the prison van pulled up at the front of an extremely imposing structure which I was to later find out was HMP Thameside. The first impression of this “OK nick” was of dark-reddish sandy-coloured brick walls of at least 20 feet in height, topped with horizontal cylinders of at least ten feet in diameter, presumably to defeat enterprising inmates armed with grappling irons, or their accomplices on the outside armed with the same. This was obviously going to be more of a challenge than I anticipated. For the time being at least, I judged that it would be perhaps be prudent to shelve my plans for becoming the second “Birdman of Alcatraz”. Besides, “Birdman of HMP Thameside” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, and if one aspires to escape the confinement of a high security prison and to make it into the history books, then one does at least need a cool nickname if nothing else.

HMP Thameside is (according to its website) a Category B private prison for adult males in the West Thamesmead area of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, South-East London. It currently has the capacity to hold 1232 convicted and remand prisoners. So far so good, you might think. You can almost sense the unspoken presence of the five-star Trip Advisor rating as you peruse the glossy holiday-brochure-style website.

(Category B is one step down from Category A, which is reserved for terrorists, murderers and serial rapists. Just the place for a decrepit old geezer like me with a dodgy ticker convicted of sending half a dozen jocular and non-threatening emails to a mendacious grievance-mongering taqiyya artist, you might say.)

The website goes on to say – The regime at Thameside Prison combines work, education, vocational training, accredited offending behaviour programmes, and prisoner health and other appropriate interventions. It doesn’t have any reference in its website to hard labour or even to sewing mailbags, which I was to later discover is nowadays generally frowned upon by most of the  more enlightened prison directors and senior prison staff (although I’m sure there are a few unreconstructed dinosaurs who hanker after the good old days.)

What it also doesn’t say on its website is that it also has, or at least had, a very bad reputation for prison violence, according to a BBC report from 2013. As you can imagine, this is not what you want to hear as you pass through the gates with the anticipation of an extended stay.

On the plus side, I was to later find out; HMP Thameside is literally within a stone’s throw of Belmarsh prison. I surmised that on a good day, one might be able to throw a stone right into Andy Choudary’s Chicken Tikka Masala if only our al-fresco lunch breaks could be synchronised. (Andy Choudary, the so-called firebrand preacher of Brick Lane, had been convicted some time previously for supporting and glorifying terrorism, and was currently residing in Belmarsh prison, surrounded and presumably lionised by similarly-minded jihadis intent on spreading the good news about Islam.) A stone landing slap-bang into the middle of his Chicken Tikka Masala would probably ruin his day.

Although the logistical and trigonometrical problems associated with calculating the trajectory required for successful stone-throwing in the general direction of Belmarsh were to be among a number of idle thoughts occupying my mind over the next few weeks, for now I was intent on absorbing as much as possible about this new environment, the better to be able to deal with situations as they arose, as I had no doubt they would.

A large solid gate set into the wall of this imposing structure slid open with a low rumbling sound to allow the prison van to drive into a “quarantine” area. The gate slid shut again behind us, once the van was within the quarantine area and had come to a halt. Once all the paperwork had been checked out between the driver and a uniformed prison guard on the entry gate, at least as far as I could see from my vantage point inside the van, a second gate in front of the van opened and the van passed through into the main reception area from which we were required to disembark. The van stopped in front of a set of double doors and we were led out, one by one, to be processed by what appeared to be the “welcoming committee” of HMP Thameside.

My eye was caught by a large notice affixed to the outside of the reception area, informing all and sundry that it was a very serious matter to assist a prisoner in escaping from lawful custody, and not only that, but woe betide anyone who was caught smuggling a mobile phone or any other illegal substance or contraband into the prison. Wrongdoers who were caught could expect a sentence of anything up to ten years. Probably nearer twenty years, I thought, if in the process of committing such a crime, one inadvertently caused offence to some passing Muslim or other.

As you may be able to tell, I was still smarting from the perceived injustice done to me through the handing down of a custodial sentence. Although, given the severe sentences subsequently meted out in March 2018 to Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen, the leaders of Britain First, for what was a very similar offence – demonstrating “hostility to Muslims” and “hostility to the Muslim faith” – it could be argued that I had got off lightly. I have to say that it didn’t feel like that at the time.

I was led through the double doors to what appeared to be a reception desk in front of a very busy area full of prison staff moving purposefully around. There was a mat about six feet square in front of the reception desk with two foot-shaped prints on it. “Stand there”, growled an HMP Thameside prison officer. I regarded him with some trepidation. Gone was the geniality of the officers at the Inner London Crown Court, to be replaced by something altogether less encouraging, if not outright sinister and intimidating. He had a badge on his chest proclaiming himself to be a Senior Custody Officer. I suppose it sounded better than Assistant Receptionist or General Dogsbody.

Once again I was subjected to a series of questions concerning my life since I was around five years old – was I allergic to anything, did I have any diagnosed or undiagnosed medical conditions, did I have any religious affiliations – and did I have any identifying tattoos?

Tattoos? Now that an was interesting question.

Dear reader, I did in fact have tattoos (solely on my upper arms at the time of writing.) Nothing in the way of Ludo / Llandudno tattooed on the more sensitive parts of my anatomy (an old schoolboy joke, if you don’t get it then ask your Dad.) Nothing terribly exotic, certainly compared to the numerous multicoloured tattoos of snakes, spiders’ webs and death’s heads over crossed motorcycle pistons that one sees all over the bodies of Birmingham citizens every day (and that’s just the women.)

These tattoos were from my Aikido days – one was on my left bicep, spelling out the word Aikido in Japanese script. The other was on my right bicep, with a far more esoteric meaning – “Mas-akatsu-akatsu” in Japanese script which translates as either “you cannot defeat your opponent until you first defeat yourself” or “the only victory is self-victory” – the calligraphic symbols for victory and defeat being the same in Japanese (in the same way that the symbols for “danger” and “opportunity” are the same in the Chinese calligraphic script.) This phrase echoes far beyond the confines of Japanese martial arts and with a certain amount of introspection could be construed as a metaphor for life.

How many times have you been asked whether you can do something, and have answered “No, I can’t do that.” Have you ever thought that perhaps your answer was dictated by the limits that you yourself imposed on your imagination? That perhaps you could do the thing that was asked of you, if only you freed your imagination? Such a simple concept, and yet it is so difficult for the average human being in the West to achieve. Defeating yourself in order to accomplish victory may seem very counter-intuitive, but in fact can lead to a profound and life-changing liberation of one’s inner self.

My explanation for these tattoos fell on deaf ears. Pearls before swine, I thought. Although of course, it was entirely possible that they had heard it all before. A filled-in form was placed in front of me. “All right, sunshine, sign here.” I signed.

Following this interrogation, I was directed to a cubicle for the exchange of my clothes for prison-issue socks, boxer shorts, white trainers and an ensemble of tracksuit bottoms, T-shirts and jersey in a very tasteful shade of “prison green.” It was a bit like what used to be called British Racing Green but without the accompanying aura of Formula One celebrity and the bevy of luscious bikini-clad chicks on the starting grid. All the same, the quality of the materials wasn’t bad, and the trainers in particular were definitely an improvement from the footwear I had been wearing earlier that day.

Things were looking up.

I was then taken through an inventory of my belongings, including the plastic bag of items taken from me at the Inner London Crown Court, which had miraculously turned up at the same prison that I had. I was impressed – this was better service than one might have expected from Terminal 5 at Heathrow – where some might point out that it is not unknown for British Airways baggage handlers to send half of your luggage to Bucharest and the other half to Bangkok, while you yourself languish for four days out of a five-day holiday on the tarmac, waiting for a flight to Torremolinos.

Having signed off on the inventory of belongings, with a cheery assurance that I was almost certain to get them back at the end of my stay, I was then presented with my own wristwatch, comb and nail clippers, which I presumed had been designated as sufficiently non-threatening for use on the prison wing. I was then taken to a desk with a camera mounted on it, for the obligatory photo shoot which would form the basis for the mugshot on my prison identity card.

It was impressed upon me that I had better take very good care of this identity card, as most of the prison services (including a regular supply of food) were going to be available only on the production of the card together with my fingerprint, which would be read into a fingerprint scanner at various stages and at various exit and entry points within the prison. The identity card also contained a smart chip, similar to that found in a credit or debit card, which could be used in each cell to operate a basic computer and a telephone, and to control one’s access to TV channels (providing your behaviour remained good enough to allow the continued use of a computer, telephone and TV in your cell. If you were a bad boy, as I was to find out, then all privileges such as a computer, telephone and TV in your cell would be summarily withdrawn.)

I was then escorted to the laundry room, where I was presented with a kitbag containing clean sheets, pillowcases, pillows and a duvet. I have to say that the duvet looked a little insubstantial, and I considered asking if they had one with a higher TOG rating as I occasionally find it difficult to sleep if the ambient temperature is too low and my feet get too cold, but once again I thought it might be more prudent to keep my mouth firmly shut, at least until I had an inkling of how things worked around here.

The prison officer escorted me out of the reception area into a large courtyard and from there to a separate building with a forbidding-looking metal door, which was locked and marked with a large letter “A.”

I was to find out that all the doors in the prison were kept locked unless there was a specific reason for opening, and while I knew on one level that it was bound to be the default position for a prison, given the obvious consequences of employing the liberal alternative of keeping all the doors open, I still found it somewhat unnerving to be faced with the implications, one of which was that this really did mean the loss of my liberty.

Behind the door marked with the letter “A” was (perhaps unsurprisingly) “A” wing, where all new arrivals spent the first few days for assessment by the prison staff. I was led past a common mixing and socialising area – not unlike a Macdonald’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken eating area, currently devoid of customers, not to mention devoid of the usual plethora of discarded chicken bones and plastic containers one comes to associate with such establishments – but filled with serried ranks of tables and chairs securely fixed to the ground (presumably to prevent unnecessary injuries in the event of unpleasant events such as a prison riot or other such violent disagreements.)

The officer stopped in front of a locked door marked A-17.

“Welcome to your new home,” he said, with a wolfish smile. “You’ll be sharing with one other prisoner for the time being.” He inserted a key from the substantial keychain on his belt into the lock and slowly turned it anti-clockwise with an ominous series of accompanying clicks.

I entered the cell through the unlocked door. Mas-akatsu-akatsu. I was in the lions’ den, and I had a feeling that over the coming weeks I would have to call on my deepest reserves in order to survive.

End of Chapter 3

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