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.






Christmas comes but once a year


Blogdaughter is always prepared to hang out with her parents if there’s stuff on offer, and this Yuletide (if Trump claims to have relaunched the word Christmas, that seems enough reason to use another one) has been no different.

We headed for the Shuttle on 20 December, en route for Belgium (who needs the Caribbean in midwinter when there’s Flanders mud on your doorstep?) I’m always puzzled that emails can reach me overseas, or indeed under the sea – but, then, driving through the Mersey Tunnel when younger, I was unfailingly surprised that my music cassettes could still be heard even if the car wireless, and Sports Report, couldn’t.

We bought a “GB with EU stars” bumper sticker at the Folkestone Shuttle terminal to demonstrate in a post-Brexit future that it wasn’t our fault.

Alongside the minor drawbacks of Brexit  – national impoverishment, the falling pound, loss of export markets, acute labour shortages in the building and farming sectors, reduced ability to attract foreign students and funding to universities, reduced employment rights, social upheaval, more overt racism, reduced environmental and food hygiene protections, an NHS starved of staff and a sufficient taxpaying population of working age to support it — we can at least look forward, hallelujah, to the triumphant return of the good old blue passport.

A passport is of course the ultimate product of the sublimation of national aspirations in favour of co-operation. The basic requirement of a passport is that it should meet the demands of the nations to which one wishes to travel. The UK, and every other nation, can devise whatever passport it wants but if its contents and standards don’t meet the security and other requirements of, say, the USA or countries of mainland Europe, you ain’t going anywhere even if you can still afford to. But you will have a nice souvenir of Empire to look at on your mantelpiece alongside a bottle of Camp coffee and a copy of the Just So Stories.

That those intellectual giants of the Leave movement, Johnson, Farage, Rees-Mogg and IDS, have trumpeted the return of the blue passport as something to celebrate tells you all you need to know. Provided it still contains all the requirements laid down by the EU there may be little to worry about but that won’t stop many of us from buying an “EU coloured” cover for our passport to reduce the acute sense of embarrassment that we now belong to a nation that, while once regarded as reasonably grown up, is now viewed by our European friends and neighbours with a mixture of amusement, bemusement and pity.

What better way to celebrate man’s love for his fellow man at this festive time of year (sorry, person’s love for his/her fellow person) than attending, as we did, the daily Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres. Because nothing says Christmas quite like the half million casualties at Passchendaele.

Blogdaughter has never entirely forgiven me for the “Holiday of Death” in the north east of the USA which the family so enjoyed a few years back. Personally I thought it was really interesting as well as educational to visit the Arlington cemetery with the Kennedy memorials, Ford’s Theatre in Washington where Abraham Lincoln was shot, the Peterson house across the street where he died, the Iwo Jima monument, the Vietnam War memorial wall, the Washington monument, the Lincoln memorial… But I digress.

After one night in Ypres, to Bruges via a really, really big Commonwealth war cemetery at Tynecot. We visited Bruges last year at this time for the seasonal (another synonym for Christmas?) market and were very happy to repeat the experience, complete with horse-drawn carriage ride, canal boat trip, ice rink and way too much Gluhwein and street food. Nothing touristy about Family Blog.

One treat which I’d missed out on last year but was delighted to discover this time was Bruges’ Frietmuseum, “the first and only museum dedicated to potato fries”. What’s not to like?

The potato, we learn, was first domesticated near Lake Titicaca in Peru. Which leads one to assume that, until then, it had enjoyed the freedom to roam the Andes, no doubt searching for a welcoming salt pan or vinegar cascade (Sarson stones?)

The popular root vegetable’s progress from uninviting Peruvian tuber to global success story was not without its challenges. In 1597 a certain John Gerard denounced this economic migrant from the Americas as “provoking debauchery” – which, as anyone in a British city centre around Saturday midnight can confirm, isn’t a bad summation — a conclusion supported by Shakespeare, no less, in Merry Wives, who also refers to the humble spud’s aphrodisiac qualities.

I can speak with the authority of one who has carefully studied the display panels of the Frietmuseum in telling you that “French Fries” first appeared under that nomenclature during WW1 (which is never far from this narrative) when French speaking Belgian squaddies offered them to GIs – the Americans no doubt under the impression that, with the exception of the Germans who were something of a special case, one European nationality was much like another.

The Belgian Union of Potato Fryers (I wonder if I could have joined that one in the 1970s instead of NALGO) awards medals each year on National Belgian Fryers Day (should we have gained another bank holiday for this?) Deserving cases might be eligible for a Silver Cross after 15 years while, after 25 years, one might be designated Knight for “Outstanding service to the sector and the identity of the Belgian Fries Culture”. Even more elevated status is afforded to an Officer of the Union and – the ultimate recognition – Grand Officer (“For invaluable contribution to the defence of potato frying”).

Back home to Sussex in good time to prepare for Santa’s visit but, as ever, too excited to sleep for fear of waking to find that the bearded, white haired, overweight chap padding to the loo in the middle of the night wasn’t, in fact, me.

Mrs Blog and I, knowing one another’s interests too well, proved to have bought each other a copy of “You Can’t Spell America without ME”, Alec Baldwin’s tribute to Donald J Trump. But otherwise I think we did ok. Fortunately, most of the presents that I had bought for Mrs B – books, restaurant vouchers, designer chocolates – proved to be suitable for sharing with me. And the person who gave me the suffragette coasters and the tea towel carrying a likeness of Sylvia Pankhurst (daughter of Emmeline, sister of Christabel) and an extract from one of her speeches could clearly see into the future. Sylvia’s words “a society where there are no rich or poor” and “everyone will have enough” are clearly aimed at a world which still lies just out of sight around the corner.

So far so good.

Life took an unwarranted and unexpected turn just before New Year when this blog was delivered cold and unconscious and with a barely discernible heart beat to the main Brighton hospital. It seems that either I was whacked on the back of the head by a family member or neighbour after a more than usually competitive game of post-prandial Monopoly or experienced some dramatic form of “ticker” malfunction. (I missed all the excitement at the time and must rely on witness statements and bloodstain splatter analysis – a lifeskill acquired from years of watching subtitled crime drama on telly). But at least the nature of my injuries blended in well with the other Saturday night regulars in A&E.

How much we all owe to the NHS and its underresourced heroes and heroines, and how easy it is for politicians to damage it without even trying. If government were to shift its priority from seeking to create profits out of the NHS for shareholders to the provision of healthcare, there may still be hope.

Enough. I’m home now under the TLC of Mrs Blog and kitted out with a pacemaker which will add to my nuisance value at Gatwick’s security gates.

2018 will no doubt bring its own unique challenges and opportunities. Blog family are ready. I have a book to publish. Bring it on!



Up the Creek with a Paddle Steamer


Mrs Blog’s grandfather, with help from a lot of other people, built ships on the River Clyde. He was a riveter on the Queen Mary (the 1930s art deco version, currently doing time with no remission as a heritage experience in California). I know this because Blogfamily spent some hours a few years ago on board the beached liner searching for Grandad’s rivets.

When Mrs Blog informed me this year that her mum had, when young, worked on the Waverley, the last seagoing paddle steamer, I was naturally keen to hunt down her rivets in search of any inherited family “style”. This turned out to be a misunderstanding: Mrs Blogmum had indeed worked on the Waverley “doon the watter” but as a waitress.

That was good enough for me and this month, after a pleasant meal the previous evening with Blogdaughter at the Prospect of Whitby in Wapping, saw the two of us boarding the Waverley for a day’s excursion on the Thames estuary.

While Mrs Blog has, in what she refers to as early middle age, taken something of a shine to cruising, she likes to see her ships furnished with stabilisers or whatever it is that reduces her propensity to share her lunch with the sea and the gulls. Hence the Thames for our excursion rather than, say, the storm-tossed Outer Hebrides.

This notwithstanding, Mrs B was clutching a double dose of Stugeron as we boarded at Tower Pier and I could only hope that she would be less than fully comatose for the day. Her four extra layers of clothing provided reassurance that – in the event of the captain inadvertently taking us into Arctic waters – she, for one, would survive any recourse to the life rafts.

Finding there was nobody to transfer our bags to our cabin – indeed, no cabin – we started to plan our day and looked forward to joining the captain at his table for a black-tie dinner, no doubt after an exhausting day at the onboard casino and art auction. Unlike our last shipboard experience, we received no drill to guide our response to attacks by Somali pirates. We could only assume that the captain’s laissez faire approach to security wouldn’t come back to bite us.

The day got off to a gorgeously sunny start with a full complement of passengers jostling for the best viewpoints as we passed under Tower Bridge, gazing up at the people who gazed down at us through the bridge’s glass bottomed walkway.

An excellent commentary as we passed downstream, taking in familiar parts of the city from an unfamiliar angle – Greenwich, the O2, the Emirates Airway —  was only marginally impacted by one group of passengers totally occupied in sharing their latest, fascinating office gossip at a full shout with no apparent interest in their surroundings.

Being obsessively and nerdishly geographical by birth and nurture I needed to follow our journey with the aid of a map – a real one, not a pretend one on a screen. This meant I had been faced with an awful dilemma. The best map I could find which would cover the whole journey was my national road atlas, cost £2.99 in 2008. For me to tear the two relevant pages from the atlas to take with me caused the kind of pain that only a fellow sufferer can understand.

We passed Tilbury docks on our left (I’m still learning to say “port”) side. It wasn’t possible to establish just where Queen Elizabeth 1 (not the ship) had made her “body of a weak and feeble woman” speech to the assembled troops in 1588 during one of our periodic tiffs with mainland Europe. One must assume that she perched on a stack of steel containers for maximum effect and to avoid any prankster handing her a P45.

We parked, if that’s the correct term, at the very end of Southend pier. This blog has long been a fan of piers – devised of course so that the English might feel they could safely put to sea without the unwelcome prospect of encountering the French. Piers are designed so they can be readily torched when the owner has brought the insurance up to date and is short of ready cash. Fires have occurred several times in Southend pier’s history but inconclusively, and it still stands today as the longest pleasure pier in the world.

The moving parts of the Waverley are clearly on display, both internal and external, and one doesn’t need to be into Meccano or car maintenance to appreciate the simple majesty and beauty of the wheels and pistons in motion.

It transpired that this jewel of Scottish engineering is the mark 2 version of the Waverley built in 1946, the original having been sunk by enemy action off Dunkirk in 1940 while evacuating troops.

While constantly and lovingly maintained in working order, unfortunately our Waverley experienced a minor boiler problem and suffered delay at Southend sufficient to mean that our intended hour ashore at Whitstable was cancelled.  Our planned “teacakes with strawberry jam and oysters” treat must await another day.

As our trip was to be almost the Waverley’s final journey of 2017, the crew were keen to urge our attendance at the onboard shop to seize the opportunity to buy overpriced wine gums, repackaged in a tiny Waverley plastic bag. We bought Waverley branded chocolate oranges “as Christmas presents for Scottish relatives”, then ate them.

The captain sounded Scottish and reassuring, the east European crew and catering staff were attentive and efficient, Sunday roast was excellent, Mrs Blog held hers down and a sluggish afternoon’s cruise back up the river was enlivened as night fell and the lights came up romantically on the Dartford crossing, the Thames barrage and Canary Wharf.

Mrs B felt that the toilets could usefully have been brought forward into the second half of the 20th century, especially with the sound of all that running water bringing its own issues. “Caite bheil an taigh beag?” as she put it so succinctly.


 The Waverley in her natural habitat