Politics

Two wrongs don’t make a summer

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Strong and stable, my nether regions. That’s two huge miscalculations by Tory Prime Ministers whose sole aim was to benefit the party and retain power. In Teresa May’s case, of course, the “worst manifesto in living memory” (and that from her friends in the party) and the idea of basing an election campaign on her personality when she clearly doesn’t possess one and had to be hidden from the press, the public and, basically, the world, was guaranteed to fail. But none of that compares with the folly and incompetence of David Cameron for adopting a core policy of blaming the EU for his government’s failings, calling a referendum on our membership and being taken by surprise when he found that many people had believed him.

With a year having passed since the referendum, no potential benefits having yet been identified and the huge costs – financial, social and environmental – becoming increasingly clear, it’s not surprising that those supporting Brexit are reducing by the day.  Nevertheless my social media space is regularly invaded by an ever diminishing band of hardcore Leave voters claiming victory, as if claiming the accolade of “chief lemming” were a great line for one’s CV.

And yet. Because our two biggest political parties fear a voter and tabloid backlash if they were to act in the interests of the nation and terminate the absurd Brexit process, we press on into the mire with our friends in Europe and across the world shaking their heads and wondering how a once moderately respected and influential country could shoot itself so determinedly in the foot.  At the time of writing the government’s plan appears to be to spend many billions of pounds, firstly on a divorce settlement and thereafter on a trade agreement with the EU on significantly worse terms than the present one while – of necessity — allowing for little change in immigration levels, and, as a non-member of the club, with no ability to influence any future EU policy. After two years of “negotiation” a “deal” will no doubt be presented to satisfy the Leave vote and pretend that something has been accomplished, as is the way with these things. To be in serious competition with the US as global laughing stock does us no favours.

At a recent public debate which I attended in my own town involving local politicians of the significant parties (I choose my words advisedly – UKIP weren’t there) the speakers were invited, having had at least a year to think about it, to indicate what, if any, benefits might flow from Brexit.  After musing on the opportunities which would now surely open up for us to work with China to improve their human rights record, the chief merit identified by our sitting MP – herself a self-confessed Leave voter and therefore at odds with her own constituency — was that the anomaly of French nurses having priority for jobs in our NHS over, say, Philippinos would be ended. Eh? Say again? At least that worrying problem seems to have been solved: in the light of the referendum result the NHS has seen a 96% fall in job applications from nurses overseas. Result! The fact that our MP is herself a nurse I throw into the pot to assist your understanding…

One hopes even at this stage that politicians might display statesmanship and either act directly against Brexit or at least ask the nation if this lunacy is what they actually want. The wellbeing of the UK matters far more than party unity and our younger citizens will not forgive us for treating their future with such disdain. Politicians who allow this absurdity to proceed will have it on their conscience for many years to come. The rest of us won’t forget. Never in my lifetime have the prospects of the nation seemed so bleak. And I’m someone who can remember Lynsey de Paul in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Two constructive themes did however emerge from the general election. The nauseating and preposterous garbage which has been the stock in trade of waste paper producers like the Express, Mail and Sun for so long appears to have had its day and seems to have influence on nobody below the age of 50.

At last, a respectable use for the Daily Mail

And, very sadly, it has taken the Grenfell Tower atrocity to highlight that there is nothing inherently beneficial about cutting taxes, local authority budgets and regulatory standards.

Also in a more positive vein – though not a jolly one – was the news last week that there will be criminal prosecutions arising from the 1989 Hillsborough stadium atrocity (apologies for reusing this word from the previous paragraph but words like “disaster” may suggest just an unfortunate accident or freak of nature).

Personally I’ve always felt more anger about the malicious, organised and sustained cover up by the police and others that followed Hillsborough than the fatal mistakes and incompetence of the authorities on the day. Justice has been too long in the coming but we seem to be getting there.

But in Brighton the sun has been shining, and not just because an excellent young man and good family friend has been elected as one of the city’s MPs. Go Lloyd!

Mrs Blog and I, on our current (modest) exercise kick, took a five mile stroll along the city’s seafront at the weekend, taking in the ambitious programme of regeneration and renovation, an excellent bacon and egg roll and a mint’n’choc chip ice-cream. Mrs B also liberated from the beach, without the benefit of planning permission, several nicely rounded pebbles. These are key elements in the continuing struggle to defend her birdfeeders against the predations of squirrels. The pebbles, you should understand, are not intended to be launched at said grey rodents, either manually or through the mechanism of tripwire and crossbow, but are to be lowered into place on top of the seeds in the feeders to prevent the grey b*st*rds going headfirst down the tubes, from which one has already had to be rescued. The adorable little chaps are nothing if not determined and resourceful but Mrs B is their intellectual equal and they provoke her at their peril. Marguerite Patten is silent on squirrel recipes but hey….

The sun has also brought ‘em out a mile or two along the coast in Saltdean – to be precise, to the newly reopened Grade 2* listed, 1938 lido close to the seafront. Having closed and reopened more than once before, let us hope that the present incarnation will prosper. The specially constituted charitable body that acquired the lido on a lease from Brighton and Hove City Council has worked its socks off, secured millions of pounds from the National Lottery and other sources, reopened the two heated pools to great acclaim in June and is still pursuing grant applications to enable the full restoration of the gorgeous Art Deco buildings next year. Brilliant people, brilliant project.

Talking of restoration (see what I did there?), Blogdaughter and I paid a visit in June to another Grade 2* listed treasure — Wilton’s, just east of the Tower of London, the world’s oldest surviving music hall, evolving over the years from Victorian sailors’ pub to music hall, from Methodist mission to rag warehouse. Reopening – and not for the first time – in 2015 as a multi-arts performance venue, Wilton’s is, like Saltdean lido, a jewel, saved and adapted by devoted volunteers.

This Blog waited to visit Wilton’s until it was scheduled to host an event of particular interest to him – in this case, a Tom Lehrer tribute act. For those unfamiliar with his oeuvre in the 1950s and 60s, Lehrer – a professor of Maths at Harvard – wrote and performed at the piano such evergreen gems as “Fight Fiercely, Harvard”, “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park”, “The Old Dope Peddler”, “We’ll all go together when we go”, “Masochism Tango” and the immortal listing of the periodic table to the tune of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “I am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” known as “The Elements”. Lehrer said of his musical career, “If, after hearing my songs, just one human being is inspired to say something nasty to a friend, or perhaps to strike a loved one, it will all have been worth the while.”

So, Blogdaughter and I arrived early to take in the ambience, appreciate the history, the beautifully conserved architectural features and a leisurely drink in the bar and eagerly await the “turn” in our front row seats in the gallery.

Shame about the acoustics that evening but, as most of us could have sung the words in our sleep, little matter – I think it was a one-off issue involving something technical with amplifiers and cooling fans. Don’t let it put you off the venue. You can, and indeed should, buy the Tom Lehrer CDs. In your car they let you sit right at the front and the only one singing along annoyingly will be you.

Tom Lehrer is, as they say in Private Eye, 89.

 

 

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Travel

The Road to Hull is Paved with Good Intentions

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“Where are you up to?” I hear you ask.

Coast to coast walk – New Brighton (like Brighton but without the refinement, and sun) to Spurn Head (a mobile, transient kind of shoreline for our times) via Liverpool, Manchester, Huddersfield and Hull – 200 miles duly walked. Booker Prize winning narrative, first and second drafts completed. J K Rowling style publishing contract still a work in progress. Filming rights under negotiation; George Clooney in frame to play the part of “me” but content of Oscar acceptance speech may prove stumbling block.

I travelled on the Mersey ferry, on a ghost train and by narrow boat through the Pennines. I attended a liquorice festival in Pontefract, a Super League game in Castleford, a gathering of brass bands in Saddleworth (sadly Tara Fitzgerald no longer plays solo flugelhorn with Grimley Colliery band)….

… a whole assortment of museums and theatres, Edwardian swimming baths and a wildflower centre (in Liverpool!) I was made welcome at the finest cat hotel in Dewsbury or anywhere else, at a bingo night in Hull and a pub quiz in Liverpool. I stayed in splendid old railway hotels, hostels, welcoming B&Bs and some distinctly ordinary pubs. I ate more curries, scouse, spam fritters, home-made ice cream, Hull potato patties and full English than you can shake a black pudding at. There was snow and torrential rain on Merseyside and heatstroke on the Humber. I hung out with the Pankhursts, Elizabeth Gaskell, William Wilberforce and Philip Larkin. And Kay Kendall.

Yorkshire folk, they’re not like other folk…

And I was privileged to visit some of the most exciting conservation schemes and heart-warming community and social projects you’ll encounter anywhere, meeting volunteers and staff making huge efforts to preserve and enhance the social and environmental soul of the country – with little reward beyond the knowledge that their contributions are greatly appreciated by those who benefit from them. While public services continue to be sacrificed to the false gods of austerity and tax cutting, the nation owes a huge debt of gratitude to those who unflinchingly put their fingers in the dyke and strive to stem the tide.

All I need now is the book.

I’m grateful for your suggested alternative titles.

“John”, sensing the value of wordplay, gave me “To Hull and Back”, adding the proviso that it would only work if I turned round on reaching the North Sea and did the whole walk in reverse. We haven’t spoken since…

“Keith”, seeking a musical link between my start and end points of Merseyside and Humberside, posited “Hull hath no Fury, but it does hath Ronnie Hilton and David Whitfield”. Mm.

I think I’ve got the dedication sorted, along these lines:

To the taxi drivers of Yorkshire for your unequivocal advice, thank you. I wouldn’t have grasped the subtleties of Brexit or Hull, City of Culture without your help.

Well, it’s a work in progress…

I am very pleased to have help from Jennifer Barclay, a real travel writer with a website and everything, in honing my magnum opus, accepting the excessive grumblings of a knackered cross country walker and reminding me that I don’t have permission to use song lyrics or quote extensively from eminently quotable sources.

As it happens, I have now been given permission by Alison McGovern MP to quote from the lyrics of her grandfather, Pete McGovern’s In My Liverpool Home:

 “We speak with an accent exceedingly rare,

   meet under a statue exceedingly bare,

   if you want a cathedral we’ve got one to spare

   in my Liverpool home….”

… which is cool.

I still need the nod from Gerry Marsden, Philip Larkin, Anthony Gormley and the authors of Crap Towns but it’s surely only a matter of time.

To create an illusion of narrative merit I’m also delighted to say that Polly Toynbee (nowadays mainly The Guardian), Dr Helen Pankhurst (very much a Pankhurst and as helpful as one could possibly imagine) and Fiona Reynolds (National Trust, CPRE, writer and much besides) have all kindly supplied words of endorsement for the cover. Which may give you a flavour of how it will read…

Even before it comes off the presses The Road to Hull has had the benefit of press coverage. Back in the spring of last year this blog was approached by a student journalist from Sussex University asking for an interview about the Great Trek for a piece to be offered to local papers. A meeting was arranged to fit in, for the sake of convenience, after an appointment I had made with the local foot doctor to examine some seriously walk-battered toenails. A quick examination revealed that these couldn’t all be saved and, after a swift toenailectomy while I bit down on my newspaper, I crossed the road to a café for our meeting.

My interviewer asked why I was doing the walk, how many miles I hoped to do each day, how it had gone so far, what was still to come. It was gratifying to share my thoughts and experiences with someone who was interested. I gave it my best shot, threw in plenty of anecdotes and told him where I’d been immediately before our meeting.

I picked up a copy of the local paper later in the week to see if I was in there. There was a big article with a photo under a bold headline:

66 Year Old Chiropodist Patient Plans Coast to Coast Walk

To help me in my endeavours Mrs Blog has bought me a fine writer’s hat.

That at least is how she described it when persuading me to buy one at the Bruges Christmas market. It may have been what she thought I needed to keep my head warm and dry but I prefer to believe in its special creative qualities. Without his hat Isambard Kingdom Brunel would have been just a short fat bloke from Portsmouth stood in front of a pile of chains. Without his hat Indiana Jones would have been some supply teacher of archaeology with a frown and a bullwhip fixation. Without a writer’s hat this blog would be just some bloke with a cold; but don his new, size 7 literary headgear and he is transformed into a bloke with both a cold and a hat. And with those anything is possible.

…but, even with a hat, some people are beyond help

Mrs Blog and I will be taking a break in April with a cruise line owned and frequented by Americans. She has instructed me not to mention, or respond to, or think about, the T word. I promise nothing…

But before that this blog has an appointment in London on Saturday 25 March with tens of thousands of others, the ones who’ve looked into the chasm that is Brexit and are sore afraid. I attended a “What happens next?” panel event last week featuring our MP and spokespersons for the other parties. The MP’s position can reasonably be represented as:

  1. She voted Leave in the referendum
  2. She saw the chief benefits as being able to trade with the US to take advantage of their lower standards of food safety and environmental protection, and with China so we can improve their human rights record, and ensuring that Filipino nurses should have the same opportunities to seek work here as French nurses. (She’d had, presumably, nine months to come up with those.)
  3. While a 52/48% split for Leave was highly significant in the national vote, a 52/48 % split in favour of Remain in her own constituency on the other hand meant we were split down the middle.
  4. However obvious and appalling the economic and other implications of Brexit were now becoming, she would – now that parliament had, against the wishes of the government, been given a say — support “Article 50”.

And we used to think we had a sophisticated democracy…

Join me in London on the 25th!

 

 

 

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Politics

Is there a Point??

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Wiktionary: Remoaner: One who complains about or rejects the outcome of the 2016 EU referendum on the UK‘s membership of the European Union.

Sounds good to me. Where do I buy the t-shirt?

If “Leave” voters are to be believed (I know, why would you, but stay with me), we should give up. They won, we lost, get over it. Or, more likely from what I see on social media, “p*s off to yuropp, yoo w*nnk*”.

We all have lives to get on with (sort of) so perhaps we should focus on what we can actually do something about. Like my team’s football results…   Probably not a good example.  Like the price of — what is it that “Remain” voters eat, samphire?  Like the weather then – what do they say, “everyone complains about it but nobody does anything”?

I’ve reached an age when I ought to be gurning contentedly into my milky night-time drink and carefully monitoring Scandinavian police procedurals after the 9 pm watershed. If I stay up that late. But I find myself strangely moved to “action”, if that’s not too lively a term, politically.

I suspect, looking back (I know, I can sort of remember so I obviously wasn’t there) to my student days, that I was quite “straight”. More rugby and beer than forcing the Yanks out of Nam. And no free love. Though that was mainly because they wouldn’t have me.

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This blog: the babe magnet years

So I’ve been in no position to complain if more recent younger generations appear to have been too preoccupied with making money (or, more recently still, even getting an income at all) to care enough for the important things in life, like protesting or wearing kaftans. But one major plus – perhaps the only positive — from Brexit has been the awakening of interest, rage even, among those seeing their futures casually blighted by those who evidently feel that bringing back the florin, destroying the NHS and shouting abuse at foreigners will make us great again.

I didn’t really go in for marching or demos when young though I did break that rule for Margaret Thatcher’s decision to do away with my job, which seemed only fair. But I appear to be taking to it now. Joining my daughter and her friends on the big march in London immediately after the EU referendum was a joy and a privilege, and had therapeutic qualities for this person of mature years. Today’s youngsters have a whole new range of songs, chants and European food-based jokes that Joan Baez would surely have been impressed by.

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I’ve signed up for a “March on Parliament” taking place just before Teresa “I have no idea what will happen next” May is due to invoke the start of the process towards making the nation a poorer and more divided place. Happily Mrs Blog and I are of one mind on this. Mrs B supports the idea of me getting out of the house more, provided I wrap up warm, but has a mild distaste herself for the idea of being kettled. Particularly in the company of people to whom she hasn’t been properly introduced.

One of the more daunting weapons in Mrs Blog’s own armoury of protest is the prospective withdrawal of her purchasing powers. A minor twitch in her patterns of credit card patronage would make tyrants and unprincipled heads of business quail. She assures me that she will deploy this power selectively and that M&S are safe for now.

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It would be like losing her right arm but….

Sadly my own social calendar doesn’t currently feature any awards ceremonies, in Hollywood or anywhere else, but I have drafted an acceptance speech for a neighbour’s daughter’s Brownie citizenship badge that I can guarantee will inflict lasting damage on Donald Trump.

Along with nearly two million others in the UK (or fewer than two dozen, according to the Spin and Alternative Facts Department of the White House), I have been concerned enough about Trump’s history, particularly with regard to women, to sign the online petition to prevent him getting anywhere near our Head of State if he sets foot here.

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And, if he is rash enough to invade, the Scots are ready….

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.…including Mrs B who is hard at work preparing in her own way

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These may all appear pinpricks of protest but we must each do what we can. It is not enough to assume that the very existence of Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway  in Washington render satire impossible. Ridicule is a powerful tool. Where is Spitting Image when you need it?

It is tempting to head for the underground bunkers and wait for four or more years to pass and to accept that one-third of the UK’s eligible voting population has the right to bugger up the nation’s economy, welfare state, environment and belief in decent values for a lifetime, but that temptation should be resisted.

Altogether now, where’s my beads? Where’s my hair? We shall not, we shall not be moved….

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Uncategorized

Reasons to be cheerful

2016

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I thought about heading this post “Reasons to be cheerful in 2017” and leaving it blank. Sort of making a point about 2016 and saving me some effort at the same time. A bit existentialist?  (Wikipedia: sense of disorientation, confusion, or dread in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world.)

There have been plenty of articles and books about the year 2016 along those lines and I subscribe to the sentiments behind them. Being forced to face the reality of other people’s voting habits, both here and in the US to name but two obvious ones, can only be deeply depressing. One can but hope that reason, integrity, truth and decency make at least a token reappearance on the political scene sometime soon.

It was also of course a year when we lost some famous names, seemingly more than usual. Inevitably some impact on you more than others. I don’t think there’s any obvious logic to this: I have nothing against Terry Wogan, Ronnie Corbett or David Bowie – fine fellows all – but somehow the premature loss of Jo Cox, Alan Rickman, Caroline Aherne, Johan Cruyff speaks to me (to borrow the jargon) in a different way. In the case of Jo Cox MP, of course, the reason for widespread deep sorrow and anger is clear; in others it may be down to a single performance, even a single phrase which burrowed into one’s memory banks and will never leave.

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And what to say about Victoria Wood? I don’t have the words; Victoria would have done. Long ago I selected the Ballad of Barry and Freda as one of my Desert Island Discs for when I was interviewed after winning the Nobel or a Brit Award and it’s retained its place through the years. Anyone who could come up with just one lyric like this deserves to die happy, and I hope she did.

I can’t do it, I can’t do it, my heavy-breathing days are gone.

I’m older, feel colder; It’s other things that turn me on.

I’m imploring- I’m boring- Let me read this catalogue on vinyl flooring! I can’t do it, I can’t do it tonight.

Let’s do it, let’s do it, I really want to rant and rave!

Let’s go, cos I know, Just how you want to behave:

Not bleakly, Not meekly- Beat me on the bottom with the Woman’s Weekly- Let’s do it, let’s do it tonight!

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But a glance back through trustworthy sources – I’m thinking in particular of this blog – reminds me that there has been, amongst the dross, the occasional beacon. The findings of the second Hillsborough inquest in April, for one, which confirmed unequivocally what more or less anyone connected to Liverpool had known for 27 years – that is, where blame lay for the tragedy and the nature and scale of the subsequent organised deception by the authorities. The authorities, that is, like the police and emergency services, whose priority should have been ensuring that they didn’t make the same grievous mistakes again, not working out how best to cover their tracks – and costing the public at large, as well as the bereaved, vast sums of money and immense heartache in the process. Everton Football Club described the jury findings as the greatest victory in the history of football. I’m not going to argue.

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In the last few days news has emerged that Professor Phil Scraton – Liverpudlian, criminologist, academic, author, member of the Hillsborough Independent Panel and responsible for its research – has turned down the award of an OBE in the New Year Honours List. This, because:

“I could not receive an honour on the recommendation of those who remained unresponsive to the determined efforts of bereaved families and survivors to secure truth and justice… I could not accept an honour tied in name to the ‘British Empire’. In my scholarship and teaching I remain a strong critic of the historical, cultural and political contexts of imperialism and their international legacy.”

What a player! When you think of gongs awarded to wealthy folk for funding political parties and other nefarious goings on ….   But I’ll start drafting my acceptance just in case.

If, at a political level, things have been essentially crap in 2016, decent people continue to make their own contributions. A double page spread in the Christmas edition of the Big Issue highlights just a handful of the many cafes, pubs, football clubs, churches and mosques adding their own kind of hospitality to the efforts of the better known charities, spending time over “the festive period” to prepare and serve hot meals and provide other comfort and support to those less fortunate, and not worrying which part of the world they were born in.

One such venue, hosting a dinner on Christmas Day organised by Liverpool Homeless FC, was the Florrie, or Florence Institute, named as her chosen charity by Radio 2 presenter and DJ Janice Long on this year’s Celebrity Mastermind and a place that provided one of my own 2016 highlights.

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The Florrie before rescue…

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….and after

I’ve been particularly fortunate during 2016 to meet inspiring people and visit some fascinating places. In my first dabble in what I will, when nobody’s checking, call “travel writing” I planned and executed my own coast to coast walk from the Mersey to the Humber, specifically New Brighton, of childhood memory, on the Irish Sea to Spurn Head as a random and slightly weird point on the North Sea worthy of new memories.

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The start of my walk: New Brighton tower, football club, ball room and its “unlucky” demise…

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… and the end: Spurn Head

Some of you reading this (and I have it on good authority that you are doing) have contributed to making this trip so enjoyable en route by providing good conversation, pints of bitter, accommodation, chips and the occasional toe nail surgery. Along with a rugby league game in Castleford, an evening at Mecca Bingo in Hull, a morning at the Pontefract liquorice festival, a (successful!) pub quiz in Liverpool, a visit to the Museum of the History of Policing in Cheshire and an afternoon at the nation’s most luxurious cat hotel near Dewsbury, there have been numerous, sometimes odd, theatrical productions, a ferry, a canal boat trip and a touring waterside theatre, brass bands, more museums, slavers and abolitionists, churches, statues, splendid old railway hotels, a ghost train, swimming baths, pubs, hostels, and more curries, scouse, spam fritters and “full English” than you could shake a black pudding at. There’s been snow and torrential rain on Merseyside, heatstroke on the Humber, Billy Fury, Anthony Gormley, Elizabeth Gaskell and Philip Larkin and an awful lot of walking. And Kay Kendall.

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But what made the whole venture such a joy was being welcomed at so many wonderful community and conservation projects and meeting volunteers and staff making huge efforts to preserve and enhance the social and environmental soul of the country – with little reward beyond the knowledge that their contributions are greatly appreciated by those who benefit from them. While core public services continue to be sacrificed to the false gods of austerity and tax cutting, the nation owes a huge debt of gratitude to those who unflinchingly put their fingers in the dyke and strive to stem the tide. People like Britt at Anfield’s Homebaked project, Anne and Janine at the Florrie in Liverpool, Barry at Victoria Baths, Judith at the Pankhurst Centre in Manchester, David at the Huddersfield Canal Society, Jenny at Nostell Priory, Paul at the Sobriety Project, Margaret at Goole Civic Society, Doug at Fort Perch Rock, Brian at Fort Paull.

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Many thanks to all of you for making 2016 a better place. I hope my scribbles can do justice to your efforts – I’ll be back in touch!

Thanks also for your generous contributions to the JustGiving page set up for the walk on behalf of the British Heart Foundation. Over £1300 raised so far and it’s still open so if you’re feeling Christmassy here’s the link:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Stephen-Ankers-the-Road-to-Hull-is-Paved-with-Good-Intentions

I hope the New Year brings you joy and so on and so forth and that you kept all the receipts.

Blogfamily made it to Bruges last week for the Christmas market before the barriers to European travel are erected. We plan to go back in 2017 and spend a few days – Mrs.Blog didn’t allow me time during this visit to take in the museum of chips. I see that its website has a tab for “reservations” so I’m looking forward to checking in for a few nights’ hard earned sleep handily placed amongst the potato peelers and vinegar bottles.

Father Christmas apparently decided that what this blog most wanted to open on Christmas morning was two coffee grinders and two bags of beans (coffee – no beanstalk in sight). His representatives in Sussex, Mrs. Blog and Blogdaughter, are currently occupied with the instructions. Mrs. B tells me that the coat and special writer’s hat she bought me a few weeks back were my main presents and that we’re economising this year in case Donald Trump gets his way and we all end up living underground burning old copies of The Guardian for warmth and buying slightly used spam on the black market.

Hoping that enough of us will still be around in 2017 to make up a four for bridge, I wish you all you would wish for yourself. Unless of course you support Manchester United, Brexit or UKIP, in which case I can’t help you.

 

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Politics

Five things I like about Britain

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Five things I like about Britain

  1. The countryside: maintained largely by farming, dependent primarily on European markets, supported by European funding and subject in environmental terms to EU directives.
  2. Eating out: catered for in my part of GB by underpaid, exploited, possibly illicit immigrants.
  3. Sport: watching and supporting GB teams comprising multi-ethnic athletes and players and a Premiership football side made up largely of foreigners whose skills and contributions make me happy.
  4. Being able to travel relatively cheaply and easily abroad and with free health cover over much of Europe.
  5. Accommodating both our colonial past and a unique position in Europe.

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Now that’s what I call a proper British meal…

 

Things I used to like about Britain but we don’t have any more

  1. The national health service
  2. Trains
  3. Industry
  4. Billy Fury
  5. Political leadership, except in Scotland
  6. Newspapers with integrity, with only one or two exceptions
  7. An informed electorate
  8. “British values”
  9. Social welfare and a sense of community
  10. Racial and religious tolerance
  11. Council houses
  12. Detached parts of Flintshire
  13. Fry’s Five Boys Chocolate

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Traditional British values coming to the fore again.

 

Five reasons we shouldn’t feel too bad in Britain in 2017

  1. We didn’t elect Donald Trump as President
  2. We didn’t elect Theresa May as Prime Minister
  3. Parliament can act in Britain’s interests and reject the self-inflicted economic, social and environmental horrors that the Daily Mail, Express and Farage seek to inflict on the nation beyond my lifetime.
  4. Young people.
  5. Jose Mourinho may be gone by the end of the season.

 

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The new leader of the western world in full statesman mode

 

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The British PM reminding us that Brexit means Brexit and she has absolutely no idea what to do about it

… but it’s good to know that we have men of stature and integrity to see it through

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Travel

Rubbish, Sobriety and Not-so-Crap-Towns

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Mrs. Blog is still suffering from existential post-Brexit shock.

Until June, bless her, she had steadfastly believed in the innate sanity of the world and its capacity to accommodate and eventually overcome its rotten parts. This despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary – the absence of wi-fi in our ancient Renault Clio, the existence of wasps and Margaret Thatcher.

But the Brexit vote has required an altogether mightier suspension of disbelief, and, as a sensitive soul, I can tell that it’s taken its toll of her. I decided last weekend to give her a break from her routine, get her out of the house — to raise the spell, as it were. I took her with me to the Lewes household waste site. She had been led to believe by Blogneighbour that, among society’s droppings, there were untold nuggets in the form of haute couture outfits, Ming vases and Chippendales (the furniture, I presume rather than the pectoral displays, but who knows?) just waiting to be discovered and snapped up for a trifle.

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As this was to be her first visit she rightly took her time choosing her outfit, asked what others might be wearing (no embarrassing clashes, thank you!), checked the local weather forecast, did whatever it is she does with her hair, asked my opinion on an appropriate amount of make-up, selected from a range of footwear, rechecked her hair, and popped a second pair of shoes and gloves in the car, just in case.

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Mrs. Blog gears up for her day out…

Bubbly with anticipation en route, I think it would be fair to say that Mrs. B went rather quiet on arrival. If surprised – perhaps disappointed even – she tried to conceal the fact, knowing as she does just what a high point this is in my social calendar.  But it was when she realised that I’d been lying to her about there being a teashop that she turned what I can only describe as “chilly” and declined to get out of the car. It would be best to draw a veil over the journey home.

They say that you should strive to introduce new things to your relationship, to show that you’re in tune with their feelings. But women, eh, what are they like? I’ll never understand ’em.

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Last year’s wedding anniversary treat

 

I’m also not certain that I fully understand the Olympics.

I can easily be raised to excitement when “our” boys and girls beat “their” drug-fuelled cheats and bring home the medals, and I was an enthusiastic snapper up of tickets for the London games, as well as the Commonwealths in both Manchester and Glasgow. And, while we’re on that, if Liverpool does bid for those, as has been rumoured, I’ll book in for the duration.

But I’m not sure that I get all that stuff with the flags and anthems, and, as this blog has indicated before, I fear that some of our national symbols have been co-opted by the darker side of the community – and you don’t get much darker than “Leave EU” and its attempts to claim credit for Team GB’s medallists. Exactly what kind of superiority are we asserting here?  Mrs. Blog says I over-think these things.

Once I’d got over the fact that Jason Kenny and Laura Trott had upstaged Mrs. B and me as “Golden Couple” (I’ve never taken Posh and Becks as serious rivals for our crown), I could marvel at the synchronised, free-style bear-wrestling with the best of them and relish the fact that our equestrian dressage team had once more defeated the very best that Madagascar and Tuvalu could throw at us.

The Games highlight for me? The table that came up on the screen listing all-time top Olympic gold medal winners:

Michael Phelps: 13

Leonidas of Rhodes: 12

Mark Spitz, Carl Lewis, Usain Bolt, Paavo Nurmi and some Russian gymnast whom we won’t count for obvious reasons: 9

Leonidas the sprintmeister, as absolutely nobody called him, was unbeatable from 164 BC to 152 BC in the stadion, the diaulos and the hoplitodromos – the first of those in the nude (and no doubt while reciting a poem of his own creation and strumming on his lyre, which could have been dangerous), the last while wearing full armour for which I’m sure he would have had his own cult following. Try that, Usain, before claiming immortality!

Olympic runners depicted on an ancient Greek vase given as a prize in the Panathenaea, circa 525 BC. Original Publication : Picture Post - 5953 - Where the Olympic Games Started - pub. 1952 (Photo by Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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Presumably the marathon — you wouldn’t want to be caught short while running 26 miles…

So far as is known, Leonidas never uttered the words, when a microphone was pushed in front of him at the finishing line, “Clare, I just don’t believe it, I can’t believe it, I’m just so… I can’t believe it.” Admittedly, his achievements have to be considered against a backdrop of a ban on athletes from Sparta owing to a city-state sponsored retsina doping programme. That, and the fact that no other countries had yet been invented. It made playing the national anthem for the winners so much easier…

Mens Sana In Corpore Sano (Healthy Mind in an Healthy Body)

Excessive use of  anabolic steroids may have unexpected side effects…

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…especially in the equestrian events

 

Which takes me back to Goole.

I obviously can’t get enough of “England’s furthest inland port” (assuming you’ve not heard of London) and, having reached Goole at the end of stage 4 of my coast to coast walk, I was back there in mid-August to commence my penultimate, stage 5, to Hull.

I spent a highly rewarding afternoon at Goole’s Yorkshire Waterways Museum with the Director of the Sobriety Project, named after a canal boat (the project, not the Director, who was no doubt named after his parents.)

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Back in 1973 a local businessman bought and refurbished Sobriety, a “Humber Keel” built in 1910, in order to give young people a chance to learn life skills in an outdoor environment. By 1980 a charitable foundation had been established to carry on the work and more boats had been acquired. In 1990 the Waterways Museum where we met, within Goole’s docks, was built to provide a base and the project expanded, using its vessels, nature trail, community gardens, allotments and healthy eating café to provide opportunities for disadvantaged people in a deprived community – adults with learning difficulties, youngsters excluded from school, adults seeking new skills or deploying old ones while serving custodial sentences, and low income families.

Recent economic recession has hit the project hard, with user groups increasingly strapped for cash, but the staff and more than 100 volunteers (some of whom are former beneficiaries of the project) battle on. Not for the first time on this walk I find myself humbled by the commitment of individuals and organisations to mending the holes in the fabric of society.

http://www.sobrietyproject.org.uk/

 

Not having left myself sufficient time on this visit I arranged to meet up with the chair of the Goole Civic Society when I’m next in the area to continue the walk. Somehow it seems relatively straightforward to run a civic society if you live somewhere like York or Beverley, less so if your town carries less obvious kudos – I’m conscious that Hull, my next port of call, was voted number one in the 2003 compilation Crap Towns: the 50 Worst Places to Live in the UK.

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Me, I thoroughly enjoyed my few days in Hull (once I’d recovered from heatstroke brought on by a nine hour walk – and over 40,000 steps on my smart, new pedometer — on a hot day along a shade-free Humber estuary). The Luftwaffe did a huge amount of damage to the city and its rebuilding wasn’t an unmitigated success, but much of its lovely old town survives, and you can’t go far wrong when you have street names like Land of Green Ginger.

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The city is working hard at rebranding itself. Its magnificent “The Deep” super-aquarium, its novel swing bridge over the River Hull, the museum quarter and the William Wilberforce House are a must-see.

Having begun my coast to coast journey in Liverpool, former European Capital of Culture, I’ve been keen to see how Hull, UK City of Culture in 2017, is responding to the challenge and opportunity. As well as fixing to meet with the official organising team, I decided to try out the locals:

Me: So, is everybody in Hull looking forward to next year, with the City of Culture thing?

My taxi driver: No.

Me: I imagine there’s lots of publicity and planning going on?

Taxi driver: No idea.

Me: Well, I assume it’ll bring lots of visitors to the city, more custom for the taxis?

Taxi driver: Shouldn’t think so.

Me: Perhaps repeat visits even?

Taxi driver: Not once they’ve seen it.

Me: Ah, is that my hotel?

 

Anyway, I’ll be back in Goole and Hull later this month, raring to reach my finish line at Spurn Head, via Fort Paull and what I assume to be the nation’s only museum dedicated to the memory of Kay Kendall. Then all I have to do is write it up.

Please keep those generous sponsorship contributions coming in for the British Heart Foundation – you’ve passed £1,200!

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Stephen-Ankers-the-Road-to-Hull-is-Paved-with-Good-Intentions

 

 

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Theatre, Travel

Small is Beautiful, but not Little England

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Drive down the M40 past Beaconsfield approaching the junction with the M25 (apologies already to my readers in Kazakhstan) and you will pass a brown and white tourist sign to a “Model Village”. Neither a collective of photographers’ muses nor the kind of settlement where residents are contracted to live to the highest standards, complete with neighbourhood watch, sugar borrowing and shared garden fence repairs, this sign points to Bekonscot.

Last seen – in my case – on children’s TV nearly 60 years ago, Bekonscot has a fair claim to being the original and still the best miniature village in the world. It’s probably also the biggest, but that just seems confusing.

I like to show Mrs. Blog a good time, provided it doesn’t cost much and she can save it out of the housekeeping. (It’s ok, she won’t see that bit.) The last time I saw Bekonscot it was in black and white and two young princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, were enjoying a private viewing. Neither of those things applied when we went this week. I suppose, if that’s how QE2 has always seen the world – empty of other humans and made up of tiny, tiny houses – it must give her some strange perspectives on the issues facing her subjects.

Give or take one or two concessions to the changes taking place in Britain over the past decades in the form of a handful of non-white figures, Bekonscot is essentially England in the 1930s. Or UKIP land as it is sometimes known. Or, as I suppose we should now learn to say, Brexitland.  It’s certainly popular in the sense that attendances average around 600 a day through the year – or over 15 million since the village opened in 1929.

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Bekonscot is in fact in very good heart, which is where any similarity with Brexitland ends. Rather than trying to reflect the changing world, a decision was taken in 1992 to restore the village to the 1930s (feel free to add your own comment about the referendum). The airport (and what village in the 1930s didn’t possess its own airport?) has been reconstructed in art deco style and there is a zoo (precisely what village is this?) with a chimps’ tea party and exotic animals like lions kept in compounds which would be regarded nowadays as horribly small —  and not just because they’re in miniature. The travelling circus is heavily animal focused – how things have changed – with the “dancing elephants” a particular favourite, and not one acrobat supporting four others dangling from bolts through his tongue…

The village has proper shops bearing typical Anglo names like Chris P. Lettis, the greengrocer, and Ivan Acks, the timber merchant, and not a Lidl or Aldi in sight. The impressive model railway has trains every few minutes, stopping at even the smallest halts, with a refreshing absence of “wrong sort of leaves on the track” explanations through the P.A. system for interminable delays. If we can’t have our mainline railways renationalised, then at least the government could invite Bekonscot to submit a tender.

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The hundreds of little ones at Bekonscot were clearly enjoying the whole thing nearly as much as Mrs. Blog and me, and there is (just occasionally, though Mrs. B disagrees with me on this) something rather sweet about kids at this age before they switch to iPads, video games and rioting. But I do think there is something of a lost opportunity here, a chance to flag up some of the aspects of modern life which the wee ones will soon enough encounter. Things like a protest against a planning application for fracking below the village green, or a windfarm in the churchyard, or a parking offender being tasered.

It suddenly occurs to me just why Bekonscot looks familiar. When a would-be house builder submits a “visual impact assessment” to accompany a planning application for a new housing estate, this is how they manage to give the impression that their new development would be largely invisible from local vantage points and public footpaths – it’s Bekonscot that they photograph…

http://www.bekonscot.co.uk/

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Bekonscot was also handily located en route to our second destination of the day, a performance by Mikron Theatre Company at a marina and waterside café just south of Oxford.

Mikron have received deserved plaudits from this blog before. Based in the former Mechanics Institute in Marsden, West Yorkshire, where I was able to visit them on my coast to coast walk when I was more or less passing the door, they tour bright new plays every year, full of songs, humour and slightly (?) lefty sentiments, round the waterways of England with a gorgeous 80 year old narrow boat. My first experience of Mikron dates back to the 1970s when I hugely enjoyed a performance in a pub beer garden (what other sort of beer garden is there?) and it’s brilliant that they’re still prospering and bringing their own particular flavour to the English summer.

I suppose, over the intervening four decades, they may be running low on canal based themes but newly penned plays are commissioned each year. To give a flavour, we saw “Pure”, all about chocolate and, you know, how its story of course encapsulates love, death (or pretend death), a melodeon, alcoholism and the evils as well as opportunities of capitalism. I complained in my last blog post about a musical I had just seen on my trek where the mini-orchestra played so loudly that the singers had to shout throughout and you still couldn’t hear the words. Well, Mikron’s four excellent young performers are presumably conditioned to compete with the background hubbub of food and drink orders being placed and consumed, and every single word, spoken or sung, was clear as a bell. Now, call me old-fashioned but I do like to hear what’s going on, and losing those great lyrics would have been a crime. Authenticity, or mumbling as I prefer to think of it, may have its place but that place is preferably somewhere that I’m not.

Catch Mikron when you can – one of the true joys of summer.

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http://www.mikron.org.uk/

 

Entertainment of a different kind two days later in the form of Lewes’s “Proms in the Paddock”, our annual mini-Glastonbury. Only without the mud, wellies, disposable tents and Kate Moss, and we finish at ten o’clock so as not to disturb the neighbours and so we can all be home and in bed with our cocoa at a reasonable hour. Held each year by Commercial Square Bonfire Society, to which Mrs. Blog, Blogdaughter and I all belong, this year’s event, blessed with glorious sunshine, featured the Evacuettes (“a 1940s close harmony trio”), the Lewes, Glynde and Beddingham Band, and Die Dorf Fest Kapelle Oompah Band who did what it says on the tin. The fact that the Evacuettes and a German band can perform together shows we’ve come a long way…

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Not Mrs. Blog’s cup of tea

 

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Festival, Sussex style. Rio, eat your heart out…

I love the occasion, the music, the fireworks, the craic, but I worry nowadays about the flagwaving while we’re singing about our spears, chariots and setting our bounds wider. In recent years it seems to me that the Union Jack, and particularly the St George’s one, have been largely taken over by people and organisations that I suspect I wouldn’t like very much. Seeing them draped out of car windows during the run-up to the EU referendum certainly didn’t fill me with pride. I suspect there may have been fewer flags than usual being waved at our Proms in the Paddock this year, a fair number of which were upside down. With the town of Lewes producing one of the larger Remain votes in the country you could probably have sold plenty of EU flags on the way into the Paddock to be waved — perhaps with a Union Jack in the other hand. When did life get so complicated?

Mrs. Blog has never been a member of the W.I. and doesn’t know the words to Jerusalem. Being unwaveringly Scottish she’s never been enthusiastic about the verse in God Save the Queen about rebellious Scots being crushed and their sedition hushed. In fact, Mrs. B is not above a spot of sedition herself when circumstances are propitious. But, if there’s one anthem she’s happy to give voice to (I hesitate to use the term “sing”) it would be Sussex by the Sea. Her opportunities during the year to give forth are limited by noise abatement legislation and good taste. (She found the recent film about Florence Foster Jenkins truly inspirational,) She had set her heart on giving it a bash during the closing stages of Proms in the Paddock, the words were set down in fuzzy black and white in the programme — and the band didn’t play it.

Perhaps the programme was overrunning. Perhaps the band got wind of the fact that Mrs. B was present and decided not to risk it. Whatever, she was a broken woman. Words were said. Worryingly she is now practising hard for when it comes up on bonfire night.

Here, for Mrs. B to practise, and so that those far away will learn a little about what Sussex folk are made of, are the words. I just hope there isn’t a flag to go with them.

 

 Now is the time for marching,
        Now let your hearts be gay,
    Hark to the merry bugles
        Sounding along our way.
    So let your voices ring, my boys,
        And take the time from me,
    And I’ll sing you a song as we march along,
        Of Sussex by the Sea!

Chorus
            For we’re the men from Sussex, Sussex by the Sea.
            We plough and sow and reap and mow,
            And useful men are we;
            And when you go to Sussex, whoever you may be,
            You may tell them all that we stand or fall
            For Sussex by the Sea!

Refrain
    Oh Sussex, Sussex by the Sea!
    Good old Sussex by the Sea!
    You may tell them all we stand or fall,
    For Sussex by the Sea.

 

 

I’m heading back to Goole later this week to start the next stage of my coast to coast journey.

And, in case you’ve not spotted it before, here’s a link to my sponsorship site on behalf of British Heart Foundation. We’ve reached nearly £1200!

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Stephen-Ankers-the-Road-to-Hull-is-Paved-with-Good-Intentions

 

 

 

 

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