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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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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Let’s Not Hear it for the Silent Majority!

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During my years of what I like to call “public service”, on reading that the general public had been consulted on some vital issue or other and had expressed a range of unfathomable and almost certainly contradictory views, I was generally inclined to feel charitable. Some of my best friends were, after all, members of the general public and they couldn’t all be wrong all of the time.

But the Silent Majority?  Give over, as my father would have said. If ever there’s a reason not to bother to read on, it’s finding the words “I’m writing to you on behalf of the Silent Majority” at the head of a letter or email. Actually does the Silent Majority do email? Or does that belong in the same rather scary world as, say, asylum seekers, teenagers, eastern Europeans, or indeed anyone beyond the front door?

How shall we recognise the Silent Majority if we should pass in the street? What shall we talk about? Oh no, silly me.

C’mon Silent Majority, engage! What have you got to lose? What is there to be frightened of, other than having to think, read and perhaps even listen?

Ten things you should know about the Silent Majority:

  • They support Donald Trump

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….from my favourite publication, the Onion

Actually, that’s all you really need to know, but here are a few other helpful pointers:

  • The Silent Majority believe “we’re all in it together” and the UK has a government of “one nation Tories” devoted to the wellbeing of all
  • They know that foodbanks are just a conniving, political trick
  • They’re certain that global warming is (a) a good thing, (b) a myth or (c) something we shouldn’t be expected to do anything about in this country as the Chinese are still going hell for leather
  • They’re sure that immigrants are generally a bad thing, especially if they live in Lincolnshire or Northumberland and probably won’t meet any
  • They may well, for crying out loud, vote UKIP on the basis that at least that’s a party that can’t follow what’s going on either
  • They’re not on Facebook because you have to have friends to do that and be able to communicate, although not necessarily with joined-up writing
  • They’re confident that, unlike all other nations, at least our history of engagement with the rest of the globe has been an uninterrupted narrative of ethical intervention
  • The Silent Majority (US branch) knows that the way to reduce gun crime is to arm all of its citizens

 

  • And, most important of all, they’re absolutely NOT A MAJORITY OF ANY KIND! And thank heavens for that.

 

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Trump’s majority support gather in their tens of thousands…

 

 

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The Republican Party candidate for the Wild West constituency seeking out ethnic minority groups to canvas

 

Well, that’s that off my chest. Some other seasonal thoughts:

Mrs. Blog and I went to see our much lamented former MP Norman Baker last week promoting his political autobiography at the Lewes Speakers Festival, just one of the ways in which our little town regularly punches above its weight when it comes to (mainly left of centre or green) politics, the arts, fireworks, beer and bloodymindedness. When this blog posed the question to the speaker, “How should any Guardian reading pinko liberal in Lewes position him/herself tactically to achieve political success at the next general election?” Norman replied that all hope should be abandoned and that despair was the only reasonable response – or something to that effect, I recall.

Blog spoiler: I bought a copy of Norman’s book “Against the Grain” and asked him to sign it to Blogdaughter (that’s not her real name, by the way, but I think she might recognise herself) with the words “Sorry that I didn’t make your Save the Manatee fundraiser, Regards, Norman.” Children’s memories run deep, you understand, and I didn’t want her resentment from 1997 to continue to fester. Well, she’ll get to unwrap that on Christmas Day on our cruise ship off Madeira and Boy will she be surprised – she’s expecting a new winter coat.

Spot that seamless link to Christmas? It’s a gift.

Mrs. B is as usual stockpiling the holiday essentials – eyeliner, facial cleansers, that sort of thing, while I just deal with the trivial but “boy” stuff like tickets, passports, guide books, maps and euros. And unlimited supplies of Boots Muffles Earplugs — I’ve heard that the cruise is “family friendly”.  We’ve paid a decent amount of money for this trip so it goes without saying that we shall take a dim view if we hear that the weather here has been fine while we’ve been experiencing Hurricane Ethel.  Provided Santa is able to trace us out there on the foamy brine this blog will report back in due course on the huge array of presents which it expects to receive. But no more nasal and ear hair clippers this year, thanks: I haven’t really done justice to last year’s.

And, for the benefit of any would-be burglars, a warning: Clint Eastwood, no less, has offered to provide homeland security for us while we’re away, so, make my day, just try it…

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