Flags of Nations


Am I alone in developing an aversion to national flags, and especially the one with which we English are apparently currently expected to drape ourselves?

Do we really need anthems and flag waving in order to enjoy the game?  Are we claiming some kind of superior national character at, say, the Olympics as our heroes defeat the best that Lesotho or Belize has to offer in competition with our relatively limitless resources and skilled deployment of lottery funding in pursuit of medals?

No doubt every nation has and needs its mythologies and we’re well to the fore. Many nations seem to have come to terms with theirs and express surprise that we continue to polish ours. Other than the creepy tax exiles that we now know illegally funded their self-serving Leave campaign, was the devotion of some of the more deluded “Brexit” voters to the kind of “we stood alone” myth (ask the Russians) a key factor in their vote?

Serious decisions were being made at the time of the “referendum to save the Tory party” and there can surely be little doubt that the attraction of, say, returning to a non-existent past will have influenced many. It matters not if your past has just been invented provided it makes you feel good?

My own feeling is that, as a nation, our actual track record hasn’t been too awful, though light years away from what we are still inclined to teach in our schools.  Less so nowadays and the country isn’t what I believe I grew up in. Catastrophes like the EU vote make it clear that any underlying negative national characteristics lie not far from the surface, itching to have their day in the name of “our traditional values”. But, hey, wrap ourselves in a red and white flag (borrowed from Genoa, Swabia, Georgia and a few other cities and nations) and we’re true English, or Brits (bearing in mind that the concept of “Britain” has a shorter history than, say, Twinings Tea), and we can merrily celebrate our moral superiority over the Hun, the French or indeed anybody else. English values eh? Spare me.

The importance of resigning on a point of principle — the principle of saving one’s own career and political party. Wow! English values eh?


To change subject, I can report to those who kindly follow this blog that recent radiotherapy appears to have succeeded in its task of stabilising a large brain tumour which I am obliged to carry about with me, though sadly not preventing it from continuing to work its malice.



Looking back, I don’t believe I’ve talked much in my previous posts about what I have actually been doing for a living?

Well, after some 46 years or so in the fields of town and country planning, the implementation of environmental improvement schemes and campaigning on environmental issues in Greater Manchester and now East Sussex, I am calling ‘time’ with effect from the end of August!

Currently employed part time by the South Downs Society, the ‘Friends group’ for the South Downs National Park, a week or two ago I took the opportunity to address a meeting of the National Park Authority on behalf of both my own Society and the Campaign for National Parks (CNP) to demonstrate clear public support for their work, particularly in the face of some current ‘politically charged’ hostilities! It was important and timely to show our face. We wanted to stress that we and others had campaigned for many years for the creation of a South Downs National Park and a robust, well-resourced National Park Authority and we intended to maintain and support that role for a long time to come!!


On announcing my forthcoming retirement I was surprised and delighted to receive through the post as a retirement present a superbly glossy “coffee table” book, “22 Ideas that Saved the English Countryside” published by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, with whom I, and the South Downs Society have worked closely on issues affecting the National Park. I feel deeply honoured. And what a book! What campaigns!

Changing tack again, and for once I make no comment on any of these, but my reading material (books only) since I last posted on the blog (I think this is correct) comprises the following (some are very short!):

The Lido: Libby Page

All Points North: Simon Armitage

Pass Notes: The Guardian

A Shot in the Dark: Lynne Truss

Once Upon a Time in the West Country: Tony Hawks

Eleven Minutes Late: A Train Journey to the Soul of Britain: Matthew Engel

Every Day is a Holiday: George Mahood

Not Tonight Josephine: A Road Trip Through Small Town America: George Mahood

Mail Obsession: A Journey Round Britain by Postcode: Mark Mason

All Behind You Winston: Churchill’s Great Coalition 1940-45: Roger Hermiston

Trains and Buttered Toast: John Betjeman

A Kind of Vanishing: Lesley Thomson

Whistle in the Dark: Emma Healey

What’s in a Name: The Origins of the names of stations on the London Underground and DLR: Cyril Harris

Do Not Alight Here: Walking London’s Lost Underground and Railway Stations: Ben Pedroche

and plenty more awaiting my attention..

(I know, I should get out more!)

And, as ever, it would be remiss of me not to plug once more my own recent contribution to the great world of books, Northern Soles: A Coast to Coast Walk (apologies but hey!):

Many of you, I know, are not keen on Amazon so here is a link to Northern Soles on my publisher’s website, but I would stress that it isn’t easy to supply copies from Silverwood. Amazon does at least offer you the opportunity to post nice comments, if you find yourself so inclined, which is, at the end of the day, why one writes. In the alleged words of Jeremy Thorpe’s trial judge all those years ago, “It is entirely a matter for you.”

Happy reading!



Because It’s There…


Mum was (we’re going back a bit here) keen for me to read Swift comic and, when old enough, Eagle.  We were that kind of family, aspirational. I suppose we still are. Not for us as youngsters the simple delights of the Beano or Dandy. That came later in my post- ironic phase (roughly from university onwards…)

Anyway, while most Eagle readers of my generation may fondly recall Dan Dare and the Mekon, Storm Nelson or the tales of Scottish detective Harris Tweed, my strongest memory is of a one -off account of the “lost” Everest expedition of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine

I was old enough to know about the great 1953 “conquest of Everest” by Edmund Hillary and sherpa Tensing Norgay – it was a very big news item!  But I was gripped by the idea that a much earlier (1924 to be precise) expedition might have reached the ultimate goal, but that the fate of the “summit” pair was unknown, including the (possibly important) question of whether Mallory and Irvine actually made it to the top and came a cropper on the way down or perished while still heading upwards.  I say “possibly” important as some would no doubt feel that getting back alive formed an essential element of the project.

Andrew Irvine, back row left, and George Mallory, back row, next to Irvine

The story has continued to run intermittently ever since with carefully argued theories supporting both “yes, they probably made it” or “no, afraid not”. What isn’t disputed is that they didn’t make it back down, either live or dead, and neither the immediate search and rescue attempt nor the years that followed threw up any firm evidence one way or another. No pocket camera with a selfie pic of the two of them smiling at the summit, no T-shirt proclaiming “We summited in the Himalayas”.

Mallory was the best known and most accomplished climber of his generation. He it was who, when asked by an American journalist why he wanted to climb Everest, famously replied “Because it is there.”  Close friends apparently insisted that the response was meant to be off-putting from a man weary of answering questions that he found irrelevant and repetitive. Whatever, those few words seem to have taken on a life of their own…

While we are unlikely ever to discover just what befell the two climbers in 1924, what is certain is that nobody climbed as high again for another quarter of a century as the (well in excess of) 28,000 feet that they were observed to have reached by others in the expedition before they disappeared into the mists and into history. Indeed, none of the fourteen Himalayan peaks over 8,000 metres (26, 240 feet) would be climbed until the 1950 French ascent of Annapurna. Whether or not Mallory and Irvine reached the very summit of Everest, they deserve to be remembered for their achievements as well as the manner of their passing. And this with 1924 equipment and while wearing hobnail boots, cotton wind suits and as many other layers as they could comfortably wear under their tweed jackets.


My longstanding interest in the near-mythical “did they, didn’t they”” and “how did they die?” of the ill-fated 1924 Everest expedition was piqued a few years go by the publicity afforded to the “1999 Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition” led by my near namesake and accomplished American climber Conrad Anker.  Although they had a number of possible secondary objectives in mind (and Anker reached the summit for the first time), the clear purpose of the expedition was to follow up on previous rumours and suggestions emanating over the years that a corpse from the relevant period just might have been spotted in the “right area” if one were seeking the last resting place of George Mallory or Andrew Irvine and whatever clues that may furnish to their demise.

If, like me, you watched the TV documentary about the expedition or picked it up as a news item (I recall it was treated at the time as quite a big thing and not confined to the Nerd channels), you may be aware that they succeeded in finding the mortal remains of the great George Mallory, paid their appropriate respects, very carefully examined and in some cases removed small artefacts and, in accordance with usual practice, left him up there.

An excellent account of both the 1924 expedition and the 1999 Conor Anker 1999 one exists in the form of Anker’s book “The Lost Explorer: Finding Mallory on Mount Everest” which I’ve recently finished and, for anyone out there with a gleam of interest in the story, can thoroughly recommend.

Spoiler alert: no sign yet of Andrew Irvine!

Changing subject, some of you are aware that I’m receiving radiotherapy treatment. I was warned at the outset that there might be side effects but they would be hard to predict. The rather comprehensive list of ‘possibles’ included ‘character change”, which sounded fun.

Does this suggest that I might no longer fancy my Friday night Indian takeaways? Not retain my recall of such essential nuggets of information as old Football League grounds, capital cities and the latest names of emerging nations, effectively b*gg*ring our decent record in pub or cruise quizzes?

What if I suddenly presented, heaven forfend, as ‘opinionated’?  A passionate Trump supporter?  Someone who found they could actually identify a fragment of point to Brexit?  Please, if this last, feel free to shoot me…

Another side effect of the overall treatment package seems to be an unavoidable rise in blood sugar levels, which is, I can see a ‘bad thing’. Happily, if I now indulge in my lifelong tendency to binge on chocolate or sweeties, Mrs Blog is swiftly on hand to sacrifice herself on my behalf and eat them before I can reach them.

I owe her so much.

The precision of the radiotherapy bombardment (you’d worry if it was otherwise) requires a very tightly made to measure mask, such that, on emerging to rejoin the outside world, you might on some days bear for a while an intriguing lattice across the cheeks, prompting the greeting, ‘Hi Waffle Face!’  But I guess I’ve been called worse things in my time…

It seems to be a mixed summer weatherwise but Mrs Blog and I certainly enjoyed some splendid bluebells earlier this year…

Mrs B taking a morning stroll through our small but invaluable patch of woodland…

…and now a wonderful display of water lilies at Sheffield Park.

On our most recent visit there we watched a striking family of Egyptian Geese and wondered if, as descendants of earlier exotic imports, they might be categorised as illegal immigrants, asylum seekers, or indeed victims of trafficking, and therefore how should they be treated. Perhaps I currently have too much time on my hands.

Mrs Blog has been hard at work over the last few weeks single-handedly renovating our shamefully neglected garden and pond using just a fork, spade and bucket as relaxation when she’s finished work for the day. While I focus on the household’s priorities like our response to emerging news items and the continuing shame of just about everything our government says and does, Mrs Blog concentrates on the digging, planting and maintenance. From my position on the patio I am able to contribute advice, for which she is of course most grateful.

Not quite the way she wants it yet but a work in progress, and a credit to her…

One of this Blog’s most passionate foci is its devotion to Liverpool Football Club, so it will be no surprise if I mention in passing that the outcome of the recent final of a major European tournament was ‘a tad disappointing’. That said, is it wide of the mark to suggest that the whole adventure of reaching the final appears to be making a sustainable contribution to a growing city pride and ‘community regeneration’?

The same thought arose in connection with the success a few weeks earlier of Birkenhead’s own Tranmere Rovers, many Merseysiders’ (including me) ‘second team’ in the play-off final at Wembley which secured their return to the grown-up Football League from the depths of the Fox’s Biscuit Conference or the Dave’s Scrapyard League or whatever its current nomenclature. I may (may??) have been a rarity in having watched the whole game live on TV, but the passion on display amongst the 10,000 or so Rovers fans present and the clear, unlimited joy and relief visible at the final whistle, suggested that the result might mean more to Tranmere than to their undoubtedly impressive opponents on the day, Boreham Wood, from Hertfordshire’s sylvan acres. But who knows?

Followers of this blog will also be aware of its enthusiasm and support for the incredible effort and achievement in the last century of the suffragettes, suffragists and others devoted to securing Votes for Women and other progressive measures. It was therefore what I understand we are obliged to call nowadays a ‘no-brainer’ that Mrs Blog and I would attend a recent appearance at the Charleston Literary Festival, just a few miles along the road, by Helen Pankhurst (great granddaughter of Emmeline, granddaughter of Sylvia, and a most helpful contributor to my own recent book)

Helen P signing my copy of her recent book Words Not Deeds: The Story of Women’s Rights Then and Now at Charleston provided me with the opportunity to deliver personally a copy of my own new book  for which Helen had kindly provided very supportive words for the front cover by way of endorsement

The presentation at the festival was a ‘two-hander’ by Helen and Jane Robinson, writer inter alia of Hearts and Minds – “The Untold Story of the Great Pilgrimage and How Women Won the Vote” – which I have just finished reading.

The focus of this ‘hot off the press’ tome is the somewhat neglected six-week protest march undertaken in 1913 by thousands of non-militant supporters of votes for women, known as the Great Pilgrimage. Converging from places as scattered as Newcastle and Carlisle in the north, Cromer and Yarmouth in the east, Bangor in Wales, and Land’s End, Portsmouth, Brighton and Margate in the south, 50,000 ‘rallied’ in Hyde Park.

Jane Robinson also authored “Bluestockings: the remarkable story of the first women to fight for an education”, which, comprising elements both horrifying and risible, led to a brilliant play at Shakespeare’s Globe a couple of years back.

… and ‘A Force to be Reckoned With: a History of the Women’s Institute’ – which, again, I can wholeheartedly recommend.

My own recent endeavours in authorship – “Northern Soles: a Coast to Coast Walk” – have, I am pleased and grateful to say, been boosted recently by some very positive reviews on Amazon and in relevant periodicals, and a supportive “twitter push” by my own favourite travel writer, Tim Moore (Spanish Steps, The Cyclist who Went Out in the Cold, French Revolutions…)

Please feel free to see whether you agree!

Cheers and best wishes!



Our history tells us who we are

Blog 82

Ok, there’s a debate to be had about the value and role of public statues but, personally, I’m way up for the one just unveiled in Parliament Square.

Women’s suffrage campaigner, Millicent Fawcett, has to be one of the great Britons of the 19th and 20 centuries. Why has it taken so long?

Millicent Fawcett, who, through her untiring efforts, helped to improve the lives and prospects of millions

… and therefore not to to be confused with



At least, in the positivity aroused by the unveiling, we have a counterpoint to the horror show circulating around what is being called Windrushgate, or whatever.

That the country should have allowed itself to sink to the point where politicians feel that developing a deliberately hostile environment to selected legal, invited, recruited immigrants and their descendants – those who not only fill vital jobs but, through their taxes as a “working age” population, subsidise the rest of us ageing “white folk” – will be a vote winner is nothing short of a national disgrace.

Promoted by our lowest political life forms like Farage – and there are plenty more – it brings shame to a once decent country and is clearly reflected in the ridiculous, self-destructive Brexit vote, the worst thing to happen to this country in my lifetime.

This is so far from being the country I grew up in and could take some pride in. Brexit will, if it happens, ensure we continue our shift towards economic, social, environmental and political marginalisation. What an achievement.

Meanwhile “in other news”:

While awaiting the start of radiotherapy (and many thanks for all the warm wishes), I have had to undergo a few, what are known as, MRI and CT scans. Essential of course – and I’m totally indebted to our largely immigrant staffed and funded NHS – but, to a lifelong claustrophobe, this is an additional hurdle to negotiate!  In my case by swallowing a couple of sedatives first in the hope that I might not notice that I was being inserted into something like a Chilean miner escape tube.

After one scan we had arranged to meet up with a friend and I was embarrassed to be told later that I’d twice fallen asleep at (on?) our table, due no doubt to my over-enthusiasm for sedation!

While off work I have been able to do a lot of reading and am grateful for the suggestions you have been giving me.  I have always read a lot of non-fiction and now find myself devouring more and more. This week, having last week finished off a biography of Clem Attlee and Helen Pankhurst’s Deeds Not Words,

I’ve read a full account of the disastrous Donner Party (a 19th century California bound wagon train complete with added cannibalism. What, as they say, is not to like?

My experience is that, while I start out thinking that I know something about the subject that I’m reading about, I )soon realise how little I do know and want to dig deeper. Life, it seems to me, is an ongoing learning experience!

But there is plenty of lighter stuff out there! I have a Miles Jupp book (!) on order and a locally based crime thriller, because you just can’t beat a bit of pre-Scandi noir, especially if you recognise the places and even the characters being worked over…

In a previous post I mentioned Stuart Maconie among my list of favourite authors. Very true. But with one reservation. After completing my own book, Northern Soles, about a 2016 coast to coast walk, I was hoping to come up with an idea for another long walk with some kind of social/political relevance and hit on the thought of doing my own re-enactment of the Jarrow march. A little later I discovered that Stuart M had beaten me to it and his book was already in the pipeline! Bummer! Swallowing my instinctive resentment, I simply ordered it and it’s a splendid read.

Very much enjoyed watching the Commonwealth Games on telly through the night (I have a lot of time on my hands just now) and, having a netball-bonkers (and top quality player) for a daughter, there was never a chance that I would miss a single second of the gold medal match against the Aussies! Brilliant stuff!

And my beloved Liverpool FC ain’t doing badly just now either!

Have also been using my “enforced leisure time” to carry out some long-overdue clearance of old papers and now unwanted books. Very therapeutic. And, as a treat, provided Mrs Blog is out of the house at the time, I’ve indulged myself by buying a cheap retro turntable to play a selection of my old 45s!

We had to cancel our June holiday in Barbados but insisted that blog daughter and her boyfriend should carry on without us.  They still need and deserve the break. Mrs Blog has asked them to send us pics of our favourite places on the island so we can share the experience.  I’m not sure about that!!

But we are still arranging to go, or at least be available for,  the odd local event on the basis that it will be better to focus on what I can, or may still be able to do, and not what I may not be able to do.  Indeed we have just booked to see our favourite, canal based Mikron Theatre near Oxford in the summer. I first saw them perform about 50 years ago and the company is, thankfully, still going strong. I have blogged enthusiastically about them before and they featured in my coast to coast walk.

By the way, we sometimes talk about Britain being “overcrowded”.

I thought you might be interested to know (2011 landscape report by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology):

Grassland: 38%

Arable and horticulture: 25%

Mountains, heath and bogs: 16%

Woodland, coniferous and broadleaf: 12%

Urban areas: 6%

…leaving 3% for what? Decking, roundabouts and old mattresses??

Of the urban 6%, over half is defined as gardens, parks, verges etc, meaning that around 2.27% of England is actually built on.  Just thought you might want to know as being “overcrowded” seemed important to some people during the Brexit “debate” (debate??)

Again, many thanks for all the kind words of support during my illness and for the interest shown in Northern Soles!

Shameless plug: very much available through all usual channels!




Both Deeds and Words


Followers of this blog will be aware of the huge admiration that it harbours for the eventually successful campaign of the suffragettes for Votes for Women. Indeed, contact with the Pankhurst Centre in Manchester, the onetime home of the family, features strongly in my book, “Northern Soles:  a coast to coast walk”, published in March and shamelessly promoted through the blog!

An extremely rewarding – for me — outcome has been the contact made with Dr Helen Pankhurst who readily gave her time and attention to checking what I had to say about her extraordinary family and their work. It was, as they say, a “no-brainer”, to deploy that horrible expression, that Mrs Blog and I would attend the launch in February, at the Centre, of Helen’s own new book, “Deeds Not Words: the Story of Women’s Rights, Then and Now”.

And what a book!  Currently being somewhat out of commission healthwise myself, I have the chance to do a lot of reading and Deeds Not Words” comprises a fascinating analysis of what kind of progress we may have experienced in “women’s issues” in the 100 years since the great landmark of “Votes” in 1918. Helen and others have scored “progress” as they see it in areas like politics, money, identity, violence, culture and power – and, safe to say,  winning the vote didn’t on its own guarantee solutions to a range of issues of equality, fairness and decency.  A great read, but be prepared to be angry…  A continuing need for Deeds as well as Words.

Helen is due to feature in May at the Charleston Literary Festival (think, Bloomsbury Set) near Lewes here in Sussex, and I very much hope to make the gig – radiotherapy treatment permitting!

I have also just read in one sitting Alison Macleod’s recently published and splendid collection of short stories, All the Beloved Ghosts. As someone who usually gives short stories a wide berth, this was a welcome reminder that I should be more open in my reading habits! It is, quite simply, a wonderful collection.

I’m also very much enjoying Simon Jenkins’ Britain’s 100 Best Railway Stations! I know! How nerdish am I??  Except that it provides a fascinating historical, geographical and social glimpse into some of the finest buildings the country has seen, beautifully photographed and described by a former chairman of the National Trust and founder of the Railway Heritage Trust. Wonderful book.  And, again, not just words but actions implemented (or, sadly in some cases, missed) to ensure the conservation of this vital element of what’s special about Britain.

Talking of the National Trust, it is great to see the new DG, Hilary McGrady, setting out her stall to make the Trust more relevant to a wider population. Not just saving the houses of the rich for the enjoyment of the not so rich but creating opportunities for urban, transient, cosmopolitan communities to share something of the nation’s heritage.  In a voluntary capacity I have been fortunate enough in the last few years to serve on a regional advisory board for the Trust and have very much supported this kind of approach. Again, it will need Deeds as well as Words!

I am currently somewhat incapacitated but hope to resume participation if and when. This question of the Trust’s relevance is something that I was keen to pick up on in “Northern Soles” – so, another shameless plug!!

I have been delighted with the responses I have seen from those kind enough to get hold of the book, and look forward to hearing from more of you! It is, to us the well-known phrase, available through the usual routes! Here, if you prefer, is a link to the relevant bit of my publisher’s website:


May I also say how grateful I have been for the kind expressions of support received during my illness, from readers of the blog and so many others around the world.  I am of course reliant on the skills, resources and Deeds of the NHS to do their best, but the Words of friends, contacts and blog followers provide a wonderful and complementary source of encouragement! It is very much appreciated.

I will endeavour to keep you posted.

Steve A

April 2018.


You just can’t beat a book!

Blog 80

My most recent post on this blog highlighted two things:

  1. The publication last month of my “Northern Soles: a coast to coast walk”, an account of a 2016 200 mile walk from Mersey to Humber, sponsored for the British Heart Foundation. Kind followers of the blog, either direct or via social media, have been more than kind in their responses and comments, and I am most grateful. All support is very welcome! It is available through usual channels. This link to the publisher’s website may be helpful:


2 . I had just been diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour, outcome unknown.


This initially presented itself just a few short weeks ago as an unexpected loss of grip in my left hand. A scan at Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton revealed the guilty party and an operation to remove the bulk of it was carried out swiftly, which has brought some benefits in “functionality”.  I have been discharged from hospital and am now based at my home in Lewes. Following further scans, investigations and detailed meetings with oncologists and other members of the team, I am now due to undergo a three week course of radiotherapy in Brighton in May, outcome to be monitored in due course.

The publication of Northern Soles has in some ways been timely. Not only in providing me with healthy contact with my “real” life and warm hearted responses, but also in creating a subject for chat with staff when in hospital. I love nothing more than chatting with people about their aspirations and backgrounds, and nurses seemed very happy to share with me, on seeing the book,  their tales of training in Hull or Warrington!

This is probably not the time to share with you any hospital based anecdotes but I will say this. While the techy limitations of a lack of a mobile signal or a wi-fi connection while incarcerated, drove me to distraction, I have continued to take comfort in the solidity of hard copy books, both in hospital and now at home. My own choices during this difficult time will make sense to nobody but me, but they work for me!

Helen Dunmore’s The Siege

Engel’s England: 39 counties, one capital and one man

Histories of Nations: edited by Peter Furtado

And, perhaps most surprisingly of all, a new 600 page biography of Clement Attlee titled Citizen Clem. (If there is another genuine contender for the unofficial title of greatest British politician of the 20th century, I can’t identify one…)  As I say, my blog, my choices! Plenty of scope for lighter reading material too.

Next down the line will be Helen Pankhurst’s new book Deeds not Words which Helen signed for Mrs Blog and me at the book launch in the Pankhurst Centre in Manchester just a few weeks ago. Those who have followed this blog or made contact with my own new book will be aware of Helen’s support for my own humble efforts and I will remain in her gratitude and in admiration for her continuing campaigning work. A lovely lady.

If all goes well I still hope that one of my own small book promo events might eventually take place at the Pankhurst Centre.

I will do my best to continue to communicate any progress. I can say unequivocally that the support  received from around the world as well of course as that from close family and friends, is invaluable in any recovery.

Many thanks and much love


Northern Soles: a coast to coast walk

Nother Soles_FINAL Cover Proof (5)

Blog 79:

Northern Soles: a coast to coast walk

Regular followers of this blog will know that it undertook a 200 mile sponsored walk in 2016 from Mersey to Humber as the basis for a book, initially titled “The Road to Hull is Paved with Good Intentions!” but published last month as “Northern Soles”.

The dedication reads:

To the charity volunteers and staff striving to save the social and environmental soul of your communities. The nation owes you thanks. To all of you this book is dedicated.


The cover and content carry kind words of support from: Polly Toynbee, Journalist and writer on social affairs:

This delightful road trip from Liverpool to Hull takes us along the way through history and present day, from industrial revolution to good works, art works, environmental wonders and remarkable people. Exploring multitudes of unknown highways and byways, Steve Ankers’ journey bristles with insights into how we live now and how history shapes our present and our future


From Helen Pankhurst, international development and women’s rights activist:

“Travel writing with good humour and a welcome attention to issues of equality and social justice”

From Fiona Reynolds, Environmental campaigner and writer: I so enjoyed this witty, somewhat serendipitous adventure led by our guide from Liverpool to Hull; and enriched by memories, encounters with stalwarts of the voluntary sector that is the beating heart of England, and enlivened by the truth that walking in the countryside isn’t always the sublime experience it’s cracked up to be. Do read it.


From travel writer Mark Elliott:

“… a wisecracking travelogue, liberally peppered with British rain, bunions and endlessly curious factoids from the recipe of ‘blind scouse’ to how Adam Ant found his stage name in a Liverpool urinal.



 If all this sounds a bit too serious, then I’m misleading you. Pl see this flyer for a neater summary.

Northern Soles by Steve Ankers (1) (1).pdf


 And thank you to all those whose who supported me on the walk and in the writing. Many of you kindly sponsored me along the way for the British Heart Foundation. We made it!  If you enjoy what you see, pl feel free to give wider circulation!


Meanwhile, I have just embarked on a very different journey of which the outcome is less certain. Having been diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour in the last few weeks, I will have a battle on my hands and am very lucky to enjoy the total love and support of my family and a wide network of friends and colleagues. If fortune permits, I look forward to blogging successful progress! Fingers crossed!


“No other persons, but many women”


That this year marks the centenary of (some) women’s suffrage will have escaped nobody’s notice. A feature film, books, TV documentaries and numerous articles online and in magazines and newspapers, have informed those who hadn’t been aware, and reminded those who were, of the  sickening lengths that the male establishment in this country went to in order to keep their own grip on the democratic process, and the physical measures, including torture, they were content to deploy to that end. For, what was force-feeding (as authorised by Home Secretary and future “Greatest Ever Briton” Winston Churchill) if not torture?

Great Britain, early last century…

If we are ever tempted to decry the (seemingly second class) status that some other cultures afford to women, let us remember how relatively recent is the period described in the suffragist narrative. And how many European and Empire countries were ahead of us in “granting” women the vote.

The key elements of the Votes for Women struggle have been well enough rehearsed and this blog can add nothing of value to that story.

But, within that narrative there are nevertheless nuggets which may deserve a wider audience.

A “No vote, no census” campaign was mounted around the 1911 national census: “If women don’t count, neither shall they be counted”.

Emmeline Pankhurst urged women who were at home on census night to refuse to complete the return (and risk a £5 fine or a month’s imprisonment), or they should avoid the census altogether by making sure they were out of the house. Many responded to the call by returning spoiled, witty or sarcastic census forms while others arranged to be away from home, often in social groups. Emily Wilding Davison, who was later to lose her life in the cause, famously hid in a broom cupboard in the Houses of Parliament for 46 hours so that she could record the Palace of Westminster as her place of residence.

Suffragists from Merseyside (this blog is always happy to celebrate the combative side of his native city) gathered in a house in Birkenhead. The organising secretary took charge of the census form, filled in the name of a manservant on the premises and then added, “No other persons, but many women.”

“No other persons, but many women”…

A less celebrated aspect of the suffrage campaign is the energy devoted – by women as well as men – to opposing any move towards women having the right to vote. The following words have been unequivocally attributed to Queen Victoria:

“I am most anxious to enlist everyone who can speak or write to join in checking this mad, wicked folly of ‘Women’s Rights’, with all its attendant horrors, on which her poor feeble sex is bent, forgetting every sense of womanly feelings and propriety. Feminists ought to get a good whipping. Were woman to ‘unsex’ themselves by claiming equality with men, they would become the most hateful, heathen and disgusting of beings and would surely perish without male protection.”

I guess if you’ve been promoted to the position of Queen with, as far as one can judge, very little effort on your part, you may feel there are other ways open to you to make a difference without having to borrow a stubby pencil and mark a cross on a sheet of paper in a draughty community centre.

Octavia Hill, co-founder of the National Trust and prominent social reformer who should have known better, wrote in a letter to The Times, “a serious loss to our country would arise if women entered… political life”. She worried that the vote would take women away from “the quiet paths of helpful, real work….”  Hmm.

This author has long been absorbed by this element of our nation’s story and, when living in Manchester, paid more than one visit to what is now known as the Pankhurst Centre – numbers 60 and 62 Nelson Street, one time home of Emmeline and her daughters, and the location for the first meeting of the Women’s Social and Political Union which became the militant, “suffragette”, branch of the wider “suffragist” movement.

When undertaking a sponsored coast to coast walk in 2016 from Liverpool to Hull, it was a given that, in walking through Manchester, I would opt to visit both the excellent People’s History Museum (sometimes referred to as the Museum of British Democracy) and the Pankhurst Centre, mission statement:


To ensure that the powerful story of the women who won the vote continues to inspire those who dare to challenge gender inequality and the violence and social injustice this fosters.


To work to ensure that people suffering, or at risk of, domestic abuse receive appropriate support.

In writing up my visit to the Centre for a forthcoming book I was indebted to Dr Helen Pankhurst (great granddaughter of Emmeline, granddaughter of Sylvia – possibly the most radical of the three Pankhurst daughters) who kindly and swiftly checked and improved my narrative and furnished some generous and most supportive words for the front cover. Mrs Blog and I were, naturally, delighted a week or two ago to attend Helen’s launch, at the Centre, of her own book Deeds Not Words: the Story of Women’s Rights, Then and Now.


Seldom, perhaps, has someone inheriting a name and an image so keenly lived up to the challenge of honouring it. In this of all years Dr Pankhurst will have her work cut out meeting the demands on her time to lead marches and rallies on women’s rights and issues and respond to media requests. And, through her own daughter, Laura, a fifth generation of this remarkable family has taken up the cudgels on behalf of women – though in the circumstances that may not be the best word.

On a lighter tack, I’m currently reading, and can thoroughly recommend, Swell: a Waterbiography, Jenny Landreth’s account of the “swimming suffragettes” who demanded equal rights with men to swim in the sea, rivers, pools and baths, took on the status quo and won. It’s a story of fantastic swimmers, amazing achievements and really silly costumes.

Changing subject altogether, Mrs Blog and I were on Teesside last weekend on family matters and I will mention just two highlights.

For this year’s Valentine’s treat I took Mrs B for a trip on Middlesbrough’s historic transporter bridge. You cross the Tees on what is referred to as a gondola and I guess it’s possible that Mrs Blog may have been misled about our destination. But it was well worth the £2.60 that cost me for the two way trip for car and passengers.

The bridge and gondola, Middlesbrough

Not Middlesbrough

I’m just an incurable romantic and would welcome your suggestions for how I might possibly better this next year.

And secondly, a very worthy addition to Middlesbrough’s culinary scene, The Fork in the Road not-for-profit restaurant, non-alcoholic bar and social enterprise which aims to generate training and employment opportunities for recovering addicts, ex-offenders and the long-term unemployed, while never losing sight of the need to provide paying customers with great food and superb service in a fine setting at extremely affordable prices. One might, I suppose, think of The Fork in the Road as a Big Issue of restaurants. Whatever, it’s brilliant and deserves every success.