Election 2015: First time voters enjoyed the opportunity to make a difference
The Blog household was not a happy place to be on Friday as the voters of the UK managed to get things so horribly wrong. Not enough damage over the last five years, eh, so you thought you’d give them another shot at it – the party of David Cameron, George Osborne, Michael Gove and “We’re all in it together”?
We’re particularly sad that, here in Lewes, we’ve lost an excellent constituency MP in Norman Baker, Lib Dem. Lewes tends to pride itself in standing aside from the Tory heartland of the southeast; it’s a cause for shame and embarrassment that we’ve lost that distinction overnight. The prospect of having a Conservative now claiming to represent me doesn’t bear thinking about. Examination of voting patterns in the Lewes District Council and Town Council polls reveals the reassuring information that the Conservatives continue to fill the bottom places behind the Greens, Lib Dems, Labour and Independents in all three of the town’s wards – so the defeat of the sitting MP reflects trends in the wider parliamentary constituency outside the town of Lewes, not any shift in allegiances within it. So don’t blame us.
Sharing my angst Mrs. Blog has suggested that I should, in her words, take up the cudgels on behalf of a party of opposition. I fear, in my present mood, I might take that thought too literally.
Mrs. Blog is not good with maps but is aware that things are done differently north of the border and intends to start a petition for our part of Sussex to secede from England to join her homeland.
SNP supporters celebrating a surprise “gain” in the Tonbridge Wells constituency
Mrs. Blog has been at pains to explain the election results to me:
“The Conservative party has polled 37% of votes cast, or nearly 25% of those eligible to vote, an increase in its share of 0.5% over the 2010 results. This is an overwhelming vote of confidence by the British people and a personal success story for David Cameron. The Labour party polled 30% of the votes cast, or 20% of those eligible to vote, an increase in its share of 1.5%. This is a landslide defeat of epic proportions and requires its leader to fall on his sword. This means the government will be able to complete its vital work of transferring funds from the poor people to the rich.
The fact that the Green Party got more than a million votes but just one MP, and UKIP no fewer than three million votes for a single MP has raised the odd eyebrow, but technically speaking of course a vote for UKIP counts as a spoiled ballot paper.”
4 a.m. on election night and news begins to filter through of a recount in Ed Balls’ constituency
Time was when this blog would have headed for the hills on such a gloomy day with Labrador Molly and drawn deeply from her well of stress relief measures – running pointlessly in figures of eight through the long grass, barking loudly with the wind in my ears and rolling in fox poo. Sadly, Molly is no more so we must make do.
Molly tries to come to terms with a sudden rise in the public sector borrowing requirement
Mrs. Blog has decided that we must get back into walking and regain a modicum of fitness. The demise of Molly, a series of operations on a battle scarred hip (mine) and a comfortable, sofa-based inertia (both of us), have meant that our self image of healthy, toned athletes has come a tad adrift from reality. Let’s face it, we get out of breath performing a walkthrough of a social foxtrot at our ballroom dance class and, if we are to be spared the sight of the Royal Caribbean’s emergency defibrillator being trotted out when we venture on the dance floor of their Baltic cruise ship later this month, well, we’d better shape up.
My father’s family did walking (for many miles along roads, in sensible shoes, not over countryside in hiking boots) as some sort of penance. You weren’t supposed to enjoy it, you did it because it cleansed the soul and involved a good deal of misery and discomfort for no conceivable purpose – he was a committed Conservative, you understand.
So I never had a chance. When young – unless you could produce a sick note — we invariably went for a family walk of a Sunday, often along the Thames towpath, when we could reasonably have been doing our homework or practising for our first ASBO. The only real point of interest centred around how many anglers’ lunches or kiddies’ ice creams our first Labrador could harvest as we progressed. There was no escape — even the hit parade, and I kid you not, featured the Obernkirchen Children’s Choir of war orphans singing The Happy Wanderer. Remember?
“I love to go a-wandering, Val-deri, Val-dera. My knapsack on my back.”
And that just shouldn’t be part of any child’s upbringing.
Although “normal” hiking played little part in my early adult years, I was rashly inclined to sign up for occasional “big ones”. There was a 30 mile charity walk at university — wearing Hush Puppies – and the 40 mile Lyke Wake Walk across the North York Moors on a stunning summer day, finishing with acute cramp and feeling my right foot attempting to curl itself into a ball. Having walked throughout the hot sunny day in an easterly direction in T shirt and shorts, I acquired very clear tanning tidemarks on my right side only.
Being something of an inveterate idiot in these matters, I twice attempted the Bogle Stroll, a 55 mile charity walk, leaving central Manchester on a Friday evening as the pubs closed, heading westwards to Wigan, then north to Chorley and back to Manchester. Having limped to a standstill 12 miles short the first time, I prepared professionally for my second attempt. I ensured a few hours of pre-walk sleep on the Friday afternoon by combining a beer filled lunch with a heavy dosage of Night Nurse (any medicinal product that warns against combining it with alcohol is just inviting misuse.) Anyway, this time I completed the 55 miles, chuntering insanely to myself, and once more suffering from acute cramp which only regular pleadings for salt from mobile burger vans could assuage. If I could only have exploited the potential of so much bloodymindedness towards something useful, who knows what I might have become…
More random idiocy was to follow. Hitchhiking around Scotland one year with another friend/victim, we arrived at Glen Nevis youth hostel in mid afternoon, too early to be permitted entry (I gather the YHA doesn’t dislike people quite so much now and you don’t have to re-tile the roof before they let you have your membership card back in the morning.) We agreed to wander up the neighbouring Ben Nevis – “just to see how far we get before, you know, we have to turn back to the hostel for dinner.”
You may be ahead of me here. We pressed on through the evening gloom and thickening mist, always believing that we had almost reached the summit. If you’re familiar with the Ben you’ll know that it rolls on and on without ever quite getting there. We told ourselves that we were bound to take less time on the descent and just kept going. Eventually we reached the old observatory and knew that we’d made it, briefly savoured the moment, then headed down. On reaching the foot of the mountain around half past ten we could see the lights of the hostel and hear sounds of merriment inside, just before all the lights were switched off for the night, leaving us in the middle of a large, unlit bog.
As I matured aged I gradually got the hang of setting off on walks which might be completed without the need for hospital admission. I found I had a penchant for walks with a name by them and, over a period of years, completed Offa’s Dyke, the South West Coast Path and Pembrokeshire Coast with a couple of work colleagues. (Mac, you deserve a mention here. Post a nice comment on the blog – if you don’t know how, ask me.)
Our arrival at one or two of the more remote youth hostels would cause something of a stir
I’m not sure that we actually enjoyed the walking; it was more about feeling good when you reached the cream tea stop or the evening’s beer intake, though one had to wonder whether we couldn’t just leave out the walking bit and enjoy ourselves even more. Certain words in the trail guide books became anathema to us:
- “Uphill” — never a good thing, for obvious reasons
- “Downhill” — equally unpleasant if you have dodgy body parts
- “Rewarding” (as in “a highly rewarding ascent”) – an ominous word in anyone’s lexicon
- “Exhilarating” – ditto
We would use the endless trudging hours to debate the great philosophical questions like, “Whose round will it be first tonight?” and, “Do you have to keep getting that yellow purse out in the bar?”
It would be difficult for me, as a 20 year Manchester resident, to talk about walking without the politics, and particularly the 1932 “mass trespass” on Kinder Scout in the Peak District.
The 1930s: a period of social unrest. Hikers from the northern industrial cities gathered to press their claim for the right to roam.
You may be familiar with Ewan MacColl’s “Manchester Rambler”? Written to celebrate the mass trespass in which he participated, pressing the case for open access to the hills and eventually leading to the creation of national parks, it contains the well-known lyrics:
“No man has the right to own mountains, any more than the deep ocean bed
Sooner than part from the mountains, I think I would rather be dead.”
And my own favourite:
“I once loved a maid, a spot welder by trade…”
Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger bringing the landowning establishment to its knees, the British way
One of the five men arrested and imprisoned in 1932 following the trespass was political activist, Benny Rothman, with whom I once shared a platform at a conference on access to the countryside. To me fell the task of chairing the day. Benny, who remained active in left wing politics and conservation, was nearly 80, spoke passionately without notes to a largely adoring audience and clearly had no interest in finishing his contribution any time soon. As the clock ticked on remorselessly through the lunch break, a colleague whispered in my ear, “So, how do you intend to tell him he’s overstayed his time?”
Where does that get us to? Ah yes, Mrs. Blog’s newly devised walking regime.
I believe I may have heard the words “power walking” come from Mrs. B’s mouth, which is worrying. I face this uncertain, self flagellating future with some apprehension. This weekend Mrs. Blog and I have signed up for a walk along the seafront for the Sussex Heart Charity – I guess this is how the Health Service will receive all of its funding from now on.
Benny Rothman, I’m sure, would have had something to say…
“Spread the news I’m on my way, woopah, oh, yeah, yeah
All my blues have blown away, woopah, oh, yea, yeah
Walking back to happiness I shared with you
(Yay, yay, yay, yay ba dum be do)”