The good news in May was that the local paper here in Sussex ran a nearly full page piece about my coast to coast walk and included a link to my BHF sponsorship site as well as a rather fine photo of my rugged Bear Grylls like visage. The slightly less heartwarming news was that the article opened with the words, “66 year old chiropodist patient Steve ….”
Now, how would you normally describe yourself to a stranger or in a lonely hearts advert? “First and foremost I have always seen myself as a motorist”, or “an out of work poet…” “Moderate drinker and mild dandruff sufferer Mr. Blog said today…” “Madman Boris Johnson opened the debate…” Sets the tone doesn’t it?
“90 year old hat wearer faces difficult choice”
“52 year old urinary tract infection patient Nigel ponders next racial slur”
My mood wasn’t helped by my heroic journey – from the Mersey to the Humber, remember – being headlined “East to west trek”. (This may not mean much to a Satnav generation but it didn’t go down well here in Blog Towers.)
So, stage 3 of the trek began in Saddleworth on Whit Friday for the annual gathering of brass bands – nearly a hundred of them. Sometimes I think I’m turning into my father, who truly loved band music. Indeed, while some people’s dads whistled, mine used to wander round the house and garden making a kind of cornet sound which involved puffing out his cheeks. Like bagpipe music it may be better heard outdoors. The loss of old bandstands in the local park is to be regretted – I’m surprised that Brexit has not yet, as far as I’m aware, laid this decline at the door of the EU, along with the demise of the groat and the Jubbly and the spread of “simulation” (diving) in football.
Two more British icons that Brexit says we could preserve by leaving the EU
Those who have seen the film Brassed Off starring Tara Fitzgerald, and probably featuring some other people – but mainly, as far as I’m concerned, Tara Fitzgerald – may recall a scene where Grimley Colliery Band, with the eponymous (that’s a word I’ve always fancied using so I hope it’s the right one) colliery about to be closed and its members put out of work, drink more than is strictly appropriate for an outfit competing at Saddleworth. SPOILER ALERT: the band recovers from this low point to achieve national fame at the Albert Hall, where band conductor Pete Postlethwaite gets to utter the immortal line, “I used to think that music mattered. But does it? Bollocks! Not compared to how people matter”. (A line borrowed, as fans of Chumbawamba will recognise, for the intro to their hit Tubthumping – “I get knocked down, But I get up again, You’re never gonna keep me down” — which you may wish to note down for quiz purposes.) And, did I mention, Tara Fitzgerald is really good in the film…
What a player…
With the sound of brass in my ears, and with a visit to the National Coalmining Museum near Huddersfield due a few days later, my research threw up a stage version of said Brassed Off which seemed to chime with the Zeitgeist (another word on the Brexit “to be abolished” list) of my trip. Unfortunately the timings of various performances of the play around the coalfields of the north didn’t fit well with my itinerary. However I was delighted to discover that the hotbed of industrial strife, social unrest and anti-Thatcherism that is East Grinstead in West Sussex was due to host a performance by local strolling players effecting indeterminate provincial accents on a day when this Blog was but a short clog’s stride away – and I wasn’t about to pass up on that. The evening proved highly enjoyable, especially when cast members passed among the arriving patrons in the bar before the performance and invited us to join in with the placard waving and slogan shouting – I think it fair to point out that this Blog made a better fist of that than most.
End of the working day, East Grinstead High Street
Other highlights of this stage of the walk included a two hour trip along the Huddersfield Canal through the Standedge tunnel beneath the Pennines (the only bit of the entire coast to coast journey which won’t be undertaken on foot, though I did keep walking up and down the narrow boat for the sake of appearances); Huddersfield’s wonderful railway station; and the outside (sadly, it’s currently boarded up) of the Grade 2 listed George Hotel in Huddersfield where the sport of rugby league was invented – specifically, where 20 northern rugby clubs decided one day in 1895 to break from the posh southern clubs over the issue of professionalism, which in those days wasn’t necessarily viewed as a positive concept.
“HP sauce fan and Gannex wearing former prime minister outside Huddersfield station”
Stage 3 of the walk ended in Dewsbury, famed, as per my school geography text book, for its manufacture of shoddy and mungo, comprising the recycling of woollen waste. Inferior to the original wool, it isn’t difficult to see how the word shoddy has come over the years to take on a wider meaning. And Dewsbury turned out to be yet one more northern industrial city whose surviving architecture so clearly reflects the civic pride that the Victorians felt and which is so rarely seen today when “keeping the rates down” appears to be almost the sole requirement of a local authority.
Only a few short days passed before I took Mrs. Blog for her summer holiday, in Liverpool. (She’s not always so easily palmed off but she does have Barbados to follow soon after.) It seemed only right to share with the head of the household some of the highlights of my coast to coast journey – and clearly, walking wasn’t going to be one of them.
There does seem to be a definite buzz about Liverpool these days and, with five days of continuous warm sunshine, the city was looking its best. We took the ferry journey across the Mersey and were not altogether surprised to be accompanied on our journey by the strains of Gerry and the Pacemakers’ second most famous hit. We met up with an old university chum of mine who, having worked for several years in a corner office of the Royal Liver Building overlooking the river, queried the delight of hearing on the hour, every hour, the immortal lyrics:
So ferry ‘cross the Mersey
’cause this land’s the place I love
and here I’ll stay
and here I’ll stay
Here I’ll stay
We visited both cathedrals – to be balanced, you understand. Here’s some more geographically informative lyrics for you to chew on:
In my Liverpool Home, In my Liverpool Home
We speak with an accent exceedingly rare,
Meet under a statue exceedingly bare,
And if you want a Cathedral, we’ve got one to spare
In my Liverpool Home
Now I don’t claim much knowledge of cathedral architecture, and I have had no religious belief since my fervent prayers relating to Elizabeth Shufflebotham and being picked to play for Liverpool FC went sadly unanswered, but I would say this – and Mrs. Blog is in agreement: Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral is awesomely huge; the interior of its RC cathedral is simply awesome. If I had any plans to acquire a faith, which I don’t, I’d be more likely to see the light in, well, a light, airy, colourful modern building than a dark, austere one seemingly devised to intimidate. But that’s just me.
The Anglican cathedral is really really big…
We also took in the magnificent, renovated Albert Dock complex, its Slavery exhibition and Beatles Story; the Titanic hotel in another vast converted rum warehouse (why is everything so big in this blog); Anthony Gormley’s hundred mega (there you go again) reproductions of the male form on Crosby beach; the gorgeous Philharmonic pub and to my embarrassment, as a pseudo native, an open top bus tour. (Mrs. B felt she’d undertaken the latter under false pretenses once she discovered it had no free wi-fi.)
We also took the opportunity to return to the Florrie (Florence Institute) in Toxteth, one of the undoubted treasures of my journey so far and the birthplace inter alia of the musical career of the aforementioned Gerry (of “and the P” fame), without whom who knows what we would have been singing at Anfield for the past five decades – your suggestions are welcome. A great building (and yes, a huge one), a history of great philanthropy, committed and lovely people restoring it to life and making it work again today for the local community. Here’s their website:
No Florrie, no Gerry Marsden — Anfield’s Kop Choir tackle a Handel oratorio
Mrs. B, who has previously restricted her appearances in the city to the occasional football match, says she now “gets Liverpool”. And that’s fine by me. Wonderful what five days of sun can do….
While in the north west we also popped across to the Manchester area for repeat visits to the Lowry arts centre at the Salford Quays (another highly successful waterside regeneration project) and the Imperial War Museum North which faces the Lowry and the BBC studios across the Ship Canal. The latter is currently running an exhibition and programme of events called Fashion on the Ration which features inventive make-do-and mend from the 1940s, like how to make a nice jumper out of dried egg and old bits of shrapnel. I particularly enjoyed the matching bra and pants made from maps of Occupied Europe printed on parachute silk.
Just a week earlier these outfits formed the gun turret of a Sherman tank
Imperial War Museum North
Next stage on the coast to coast walk will be back in Yorkshire, from Dewsbury to Goole. Can’t wait.
Thanks to people like you my sponsorship fund for the British Heart Foundation has reached £800! Please help to keep it growing:
 Lewis’s department store (not to be confused with the posher John Lewis chain) is adorned with a very well-endowed nude male sculpture on its main street frontage. So well-endowed that “under the man at Lewis’s” has long been a traditional meeting place even on rainy days.
 Agnostic or atheist singers may prefer the use of “two to spare” at this point.