Politics

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

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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!

http://www.silverwoodbooks.co.uk/product/9781781327562/northern-soles

 

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Christmas

Christmas comes but once a year

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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!

 

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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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