Hackgrass Reveal in Pub Circ, Keele, 10 June 1985

When signing out Hackgrass from Concourse in February 1985, I left my name hidden in a not very complex code of initials in the final sentence of that piece.

Most of my fellow committee members didn’t know that I was Hackgrass. Indeed the only person on the committee who did know was Pete Wild, as the only people still at Keele who did know my identity were my remaining former Barnes L54 flatmates (hence Pete), Petra Wilson and Annalisa de Mercur.

For the last day of our office as sabbaticals, I wrote a final Hackgrass one-pager and revealed myself to the lovely Pat Borsky in the print room. (As Hackgrass, I mean; please retain some decorum and concentrate, dear reader). Pat agreed to print the one-pager as a publicity circular (pub. circ.) special and the rest is history.

The one-pager caused more a bit of a stir that day in students’ union circles. I thought best to lie low in my office.

Soon enough, John White plonked himself in my office with pub. circ. and a copy of the February Concourse, saying that he wanted to break the code.

I said that I didn’t much care who Hackgrass was and that I wanted to finish off some work, as I was still very busy.

John laboured with the puzzle for some time in my office, concocting some highly convoluted theories such as:

a=1…z=26, reverse the number series and rework the letters

Once I got irritated enough, I suggested to John that whoever Hackgrass was, he or she probably wasn’t that sophisticated a cipher-wright, so John might be better off trying something really simple like the initial letters of the words in the sentence.

About 10 seconds later, I received an unrepeatable (indeed forgettable) stream of invective from John. I have forgiven him for the invective and I believe he has forgiven me for keeping my identity as Hackgrass a secret during our sabbatical year.

Post script – John White has left an extensive comment on the above few paragraphs, but for reasons known only to himself (perhaps cognitive dissonance between a need to vent his spleen in public while simultaneously hoping no-one will find and read the venting) has posted the comment on a different posting – click here to read both posting and comment.

In all the excitement, I don’t seem to have kept a copy of the printed pub. circ. itself, but I do have the original text, a scan of which follows.

Hackgrass Reveal Pub Circ June 1985

Keele Students’ Union, Concourse – the Juicy Bits, May 1985

I have extracted a few good pages from the May 1985 edition of Concourse. By that time, my Education and Welfare sabbatical year was coming to an end, so the paper was interested in ushering in the new and ushering out the old. Hold the front page…

Concourse May 1985 Page 1
Superb picture of John White on the front page, the main (nay only) reason I have uploaded this page

There had been some sort of hoo-ha about the FY exams that Easter, so it seems that I got busy and Margaret Gordon (a lovely lass, I wonder what became of her?) interviewed me about it:

Concourse May 1985 Page 4
FY stands for Foundation Year, the late lamented “try a bit of everything” course, sadly no longer taught at Keele. Gresham College is perhaps the closest thing to it.

I like the next two pages – a double page spread on the new sabbaticals. Nice to still have pictures of faces I remember. Hayward Burt’s comments on my style raised a smile with me.

Concourse May 1985 Page 12

Concourse May 1985 Page 13
I don’t think the term “stress head” had been invented back then, not least because, if it had existed, I think that is exactly the term Hayward would have used to describe me.

I love this little article about John White, Kate Fricker and the Students’ Union cleaners. John looks like a rabbit startled by headlights in the picture. Little did he know that he would subsequently become seasoned for photo shoots, such as his gig as the poster boy for Food Retailer Monthly magazine (or whatever it was called, why can’t I remember?)

Concourse May 1985 Page 14
Top tank top, John.

Finally the following review of the UGM. These days, the (anonymous) author of this piece would surely not get away with the ethno-physiognomy remark made about me, especially in that context. Where was editor Krista Cowman’s red pen when I needed it? Surely the UGM and Concourse should have been safe space from such comments for people like me? Is it too late for me to seek redress?

Strangely, I have no recollection whatsoever of reading that comment before, although I must have read it, so it must have seemed like water of a duck’s par for the course back then.

Concourse May 1985 Page 19

Ronnie Scott Review, Concourse Juicy Bits, February 1985 Part Eight

A final extract from that superb memory-jogging issue of Concourse from February 1985.

Ronnie Scott came to Keele several times while I was there. This would have been the last time I ever saw Ronnie himself perform, although I have been to “Ronnies” in Soho since.

My diary records little about the evening (Friday 25 January 1985), other than a statement that I went and a confession “got drunk”. So I am grateful for this review. My memory of at least one earlier Ronnie Scott evening at Keele (probably more than a year, perhaps two years earlier) is better and has a story to it, but I’ll save that story for my diary trawl later.

Janie loves Ronnie Scotts and I have often mentioned to her the wonderful evenings we had at Keele when Ronnie and his band visited. Here’s an independent report on one of those evenings.

Concourse Feb 85 Page 17

What A Relief, New Union Toilets, Concourse Juicy Bits, February 1985 Part Seven

The piece I want to blog about is preceded by a long rant by Robert Coyle about the use of the term “fascists” to describe Conservatives. Good on Krista Cowman for allowing a Wally that much space, while still failing to resist giving the piece a derogatory headline.

But the piece “what a relief” made me laugh out loud and did bring back a very faint memory of the “official opening”. Don’t think it would have been Pomagne in my hand, though. I had eschewed cider-type beverages ever since my disastrous evening with cider at the Andorra after show party.

The running headline phrase “juicy bits” does not sit too happily with a story about new union toilets, but I think I should rapidly move on from that line of thought.

Concourse Feb 85 Page 18

Thorns Social Cock-Up, Concourse Juicy Bits, February 1985 Part Six

I remember Pady telling us about this “Thorns Cock-Up” last time she visited, a few years ago, so it made me smile coming across this article about it when going through this February 1985 issue of Concourse.

I had forgotten (or perhaps Pady even had forgotten) that the unfortunate band that got dicked around was none other than The Pogues.

All the more ironic, because Jem Finer of The Pogues was brought up at Keele, son of Professor Samuel Finer, the initial Keele (indeed University College of North Staffordshire) Professor of Politics.

With an additional irony from a personal point of view, because I have now met Jem Finer through his extraordinary Longplayer initiative. The central element of the initiative is a composition of his which is 1000 years long. Read about it and have a listen through this link.  Daisy finds the music very soothing.

But for now, back to the 1985 debacle, article top right of the page:

Concourse Feb 85 Page 14


Obiter Dicta, Concourse Juicy Bits, February 1985 Part Five

The Concourse team seemingly wanted its own gossip column to replace the now marginal/retiring Hackgrass, so came up with this Obiter Dicta column. Not sure who was behind it, but I’d guess that Krista Cowman (new editor) had a hand in it herself, possibly Quentin Rubens (the outgoing editor).

Something tells me that Ali Dabbs was involved. Partly the style, partly the strangely positive reference to his physique.

Obiter Dicta is a pale imitation of Hackgrass in my humble opinion. But whoever he/she/they was/were, I suppose the Obiter Dicta column might be described as the metaphorical Blücher or Goschen that Hackgrass forgot.  

Concourse Feb 85 Page 13

UGM Report: “Neil Baldwin Rules OK”, Concourse Juicy Bits, February 1985 Part Four

A two page spread on the Union General Meeting (UGM) – presumably the 28th January one), about which I am silent in my own diary other than confirming that I prepared for it. I get a bit of stick in the attached piece for being over-prepared, perhaps.

But the star of the show was clearly Neil Baldwin, latterly the subject of a wonderful award-winning BBC docudrama in 2014 starring Toby Jones and Neil himself. We voted that night to deem 1985 Neil’s silver jubilee year at Keele. Marvellous.

Concourse Feb 85 Page 11Concourse Feb 85 Page 12


Recreational Drugs, Industrial Tribunal Judgements and Me, Concourse Juicy Bits, February 1985, Part Three

My serious efforts get reported in one column on page 10, whereas adverts for various forms of hair removal get two columns. I suppose journalism was always thus.

Most of the column that covers my activities is about recreational drugs, mostly cannabis. My views on legalising cannabis haven’t really changed since the 1980’s, although I haven’t indulged personally for decades.

A letter criticising my stance (page 15) is also attached here, partly for balance and partly because I love the headline the new editor, Krista Cowman, gave the letter.

The reference to the Industrial Tribunal judgement in the same column should not pass unmentioned, although I shall have plenty to write about that formative but traumatising experience in the fullness of time. I have a copy of the entire judgement, which I’ll up in similar fullness, but attach here just that closing note. It was possibly Anthony Gordon’s closing note in every sense, as his obituary was in the papers the same day that the judgement came through in late January 1985. It might have been the very last thing he wrote.

Concourse Feb 85 Page 10Concourse Feb 85 Page 15Industrial Tribunal 31 December 1984 Last Page


Hackgrass Signs Out, Concourse The Juicy Bits, February 1985 Part Two

It soon dawned on me that it was both impractical and inappropriate to be H. Ackgrass while a sabbatical on the Union Committee. But I kept it going through that first term and I think even wrote one more column early in the second term, which was brutally butchered by the editor. I probably have both the original and butchered versions to post in the fullness of time.

Anyway, I decided enough was enough in the second term and wrote a short farewell piece, although I did set up a pay-off piece for the end of the summer term with a hidden puzzle at the end of the attached column. But the column was the last time my Hackgrass words were published in Concourse.

Hackgrass Signs Out Feb 1985


Bar Licence and Health Centre Fee Controversies – Concourse Juicy Bits Part One, February 1985

Lots of juicy bits from the February 1985 issue of Concourse. Here’s the first of them.

Annalisa de Mercur, bless her, was very concerned that the Student Union’s bar licence might get scuppered, which would indeed have been a near-existential problem for the union. The storm was very much of the teacup variety, I’d have thought, for the reasons described in the article.

How Pady Jalali and Hayward Burt ended up in an intra-article debate with the Vice-chancellor, Dr Harrison, is anybody’s guess. Methinks Annalisa might have been trying to big up her piece, as it were.

The health centre fee had been an ongoing issue, if the 1984 manifestos are anything to go by. John “Memory Man” White will hopefully chime in on the comments to describe in intricate detail the nature of the new-look campaign he planned. I don’t remember a thing about it, although welfare was my bailiwick.

Concourse Feb 85 Page 4