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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To Spurn: transitive verb: tread sharply or heavily upon

 

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Webster’s dictionary has it about right. By the time I reached Spurn Head at the end of my 200 mile plus coast to coast walk I guess I was treading pretty heavily. But I made it and have some arty pics to prove it.

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The final stage of my walk began in Hull – a place I had never visited before this summer but where I have now had three brief stays and am keen to revisit to sample the joys of the City of Culture programme next year. I took the view that my accommodation in Hull would be at the Royal Station Hotel on the basis that if it was good enough for Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and five royal children back in 1853, it’s likely to be quite old and worn now so probably affordable. And, although Hull megastar and beat poet Philip Larkin described “Friday Night at the Royal Station Hotel” as:

Hours pass,
And all the salesmen have gone back to Leeds,
Leaving full ashtrays in the Conference Room.

……even that’s ok as they’ve emptied the ashtrays now.

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Hull commemorates one of its most famous residents; Larkin in Paragon Station outside the Royal Hotel

Faced with a free evening on arrival in Hull I did the only thing a global traveller like myself could do and headed straight for the Mecca Bingo hall opposite the hotel for an intensive, eyes down session of housey-housey. I had prepared thoroughly for the occasion and made full use of the helpful Mecca website:

“Bingo is like theatre: it has a beginning, a middle and an end.”

“Shelley deserves to go higher in the bingo world.”

And I noted that Kirsty, with no less than 39% of the poll, had emerged as Online Chat Moderator of the Month.

I was particularly taken with a part of the website devoted to “Lost Bingo Halls”. These, it transpires, tended to have been cinemas before they became bingo halls in the 1960s but were sadly no longer viable and had been lost to “the beautiful game”. Memories and photographs of these treasured venues were invited. It’s funny, I always thought of them as much loved cinemas lost to bingo; not any more.

I now know that the period from 2005 to 2010 was “particularly savage” (Mecca website again) for club closures owing to the 2007 smoking ban and changes in the laws limiting prize payouts and number of gaming machines.

I can confirm that they no longer call “clickety click” or “two fat ladies”, if indeed they ever did. And, on the basis that I won not a brass farthing all night, I’m happy to convince myself that skill is not an essential criterion for success, an outcome which seems to correlate quite closely with waist size.

Four days of walking took me from Hull through Holderness to Spurn Head via 19th century Fort Paull, the faded seaside resort (is there another kind, and if there were, would I be going there?) of Withernsea and the attractive village of Patrington.

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Having, for lack of choice, booked a room (“shared facilities”) in a Withernsea pub, I have concluded that I’m getting too old for that kind of intimacy. Shared bathroom ok, shared towel less so. Fag end outside my door, no thanks. But excellent spam fritters for tea at the Golden Haddock nearby.

Withernsea’s Lighthouse Museum – probably the only museum in the UK (only the UK?) devoted to the memory of actress Kay Kendall, a native and former resident of the town – is a joy. (I feel confident that KK would have referred to herself as an actress rather than an actor, though I have nothing to back that up.) Known to many primarily as a star of light comedy films like Genevieve (reviewed by the Catholic Times as “unsavoury … smut”) and Doctor in the House, she was described as having “more allure in her eyes than Marilyn Monroe has from top to toe” (Picturegoer, 1954.) Kay Kendall died from leukaemia at the age of 32.

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In carrying out the vital background research for my walk, I acquired, and read, her biography. To prove this I will relate that the four stars of Genevieve — Kenneth More, John Gregson, Dinah Sheridan and KK — each earned two thousand pounds from the film. If you are riveted by this nugget of information, you must feel free to make me an offer for The Brief, Madcap Life of Kay Kendall without delay. Seriously, the sooner the better.

At Patrington’s Station Hotel I was generously treated to an excellent dinner on account of my tales of derring-do. While awaiting my meal I took the opportunity to catch up with the local headlines in the Holderness Gazette – visitor numbers at the Withernsea Lighthouse Museum, news of the 2017 City of Culture programme and a controversy over plans for a new visitor centre on Spurn Head. Nothing however rivalled the item headed:

“Council to replace bent post”

Now I was truly hooked. Referring to a damaged sign in Queen Street, Withernsea – good heavens, the very road where my zero rated accommodation had been the previous night –  the story ran, “mystery surrounds …. believed the pole was inadvertently bent by a van making a delivery to a shop”. So, at least terrorism had been ruled out. Happily it appeared that moves were afoot to restore order as an East Riding spokesperson had announced that the council was aware of the problem and would be removing the bent post in due course and replacing with a new post and sign. It wasn’t made clear whether the authorities were still seeking anyone in connection with the incident, or that anybody was receiving counselling.

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A post

 

Having reached the end of the known world, or at least Spurn Head, with nowhere else to go, I was picked up by Mrs. Blog – arriving just a brief three and a half hours after me – in a hire car. There followed several days’ enjoyable R&R in Hull (where else?), Beverley and York with Mrs. B plus her fellow clan member and two good chums and former colleagues intent on me celebrating in style and sampling the best fish supper in the East Riding, on condition that I didn’t show them my toenails.

I wasn’t entirely off duty while still on the Humber, fitting in a meeting with Goole Civic Society, a private tour of the splendidly Edwardian Beverley Road baths, a visit to William Wilberforce’s House (“There was always a great Yorkshire pie in his rooms”) and a failed meeting with the Hull City of Culture 2017 team. Unfortunately their Head of Communications hadn’t told anyone I was coming – which doesn’t augur well for next year.  (It’s ok, we’ve kissed and made up since.)

The meeting-that-wasn’t did mean there was time for a second visit to the Deep which is a truly ace (sorry, I must brush up on my travel writing technique) attraction. It’s an aquarium in the same way as the Shard is an office block and it’s full of excellent information panels:

Amphioxus “prefers to spend its time buried in the sand in tropical lagoons”.  That’s you and me both, Amphi baby…

“If attacked the Sea Cucumber can shoot out its stomach and leave it behind”.  Come on, what wouldn’t you give to have that as your superpower?

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 Denizens of the Deep?

From Hull via Beverley to York in case Hull were to prove too earthy for Mrs. B and some TLC  was needed in the form of Bettys tearooms (three times, and we were only there for two days). This brief stop also embraced a river trip, a wander round the walls, evensong at the Minster (religious beliefs not required), the Shambles (it is) and the National Railway Museum (Mrs. B thought Mallard was nice and shiny.)

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Thanks so much for all the moral support and generous sponsorship on behalf of the British Heart Foundation during this walk. Over £1300 raised so far – and there’s still time!

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

Now I just have about 60,000 words to write before I forget where I’ve been – a not uncommon problem, I find.

 

One separate, non-coast-walk visit to report amongst a handful of Heritage Open Day treats: a guided tour of Lewes prison. This sits almost next door to Blog Mansions in Sussex and our neighbours are always popping round to borrow things, like crowbars, and stuff to put in a cake.  We like to point it out to tourists and tell them it’s Lewes’s Norman castle.

The tour was a sobering experience, whatever view one takes of forms of punishment and standards of treatment. We were shown the bomb disposal pit outside the front gate. This is where, on discovering a suspect package, you should run and get rid – a role, I understand, generally delegated to new recruits.

We toured the library – just like any other library, we were told. But presumably without the same imminent closure.

We were informed that a new inmate was permitted to wear his own gear until sentenced, and I suddenly remembered that, personally, I’d always favoured black trousers, a white shirt, black tie and epaulettes, and the word “warder” in large letters.

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Recently arrived prisoner in “civvy” gear…

They showed us where the hangings used to take place, both public and private, and we heard about some of the more noted “guests” – Reggie Kray, Eamon de Valera, Sion Jenkins — and Mick Jagger (just a one night gig, we understand, for “possession”.) Sadly there are no blue plaques on the cells of the famous, no Loyd Grossman asking “Who lives here?” as the cameras pan round, no prospect of newly convicted prisoners putting in a special request for a celebrity pad.

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Mick, probably not what you want to be wearing inside, even if it is your own kit…

But perhaps, amongst all the other discouragements to a continuing life of crime, the most chilling became apparent towards the end of our tour: no wi-fi but unending repeats of Eastenders.

 

And a thought this week for Terry Jones. Python, Ripping Yarns, Labyrinth. Actor, comedian, film and opera director, poet, writer. Historian – his “Barbarians” is an excellent read. Recipient this month of a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Welsh Baftas. And approachable. I contacted Terry two or three years ago, having attended the same Oxford college, asking if he would be kind enough to take a look at a light hearted book I’d written on the joys of living with a vet with a view to a few words of endorsement for the cover. Terry obliged swiftly and generously, for which I remain extremely grateful.

He is now apparently suffering from an illness which will progressively impede his ability to communicate. It’s desperately sad that he won’t be finding new ways to entertain and inform us, but that’s one hell of a portfolio, Terry. Very best wishes.

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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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The Road to Hull is Paved with Good Intentions

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I’ve read most of the internet. And what I haven’t read, Mrs. Blog has read out to me when I was trying to watch television. It was ok but it needs a beginning, a middle and an end. Like a proper book. And more maps.

I’ve decided that I’m going to write my own. Book, that is, not my own worldwideweb. With a beginning, a middle and an end, and maps.

I’ve always fancied the idea of being a travel writer – all expenses paid trips to Mauritius or that place in the Caribbean where they make Death in Paradise. Nothing too cold or scary – I suppose that rules out the Death in Paradise island then, although the murders there seem quite civilized, rarely messy. But you have to start small as a travel writer, I guess, and local. Somewhere where you can get a decent pint and pop home if you don’t like the pillows.

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The author contemplates the next day’s walking on the South Downs Way

 

I’d read about people who did coast to coast walks and wrote about them – across the Lake District and the North York Moors or, once they had the hang of it, their boots were worn in and they could afford a bigger rucksack, across the U.S. or Australia or the Pacific.

All the obvious nice places had been taken but, so far as I could tell, there hadn’t been any books written about walking from the Irish Sea to the North Sea through post-industrial Britain. (As Mrs. Blog helpfully put it, “And there are very good reasons why not.”)  But I say this, “The beer will be cheap, I won’t need subtitles like in Denmark or Sweden, and it’s got to be less dangerous than that P&O cruise we went on with all the Zimmer frames.”

Mrs. Blog pointed out that I’ve done so little walking in the last few years that I get short of breath when changing TV channels, but she greatly underestimates my sense of purpose and my determination, being a man, not to admit to having made a poor decision. Mark Wallington said, somewhere near the beginning of his book 500 Mile Walkies, that he decided to walk the whole of the south west coast path “to impress a girl that he met at a party”. I suspect I’m beyond impressing more or less anyone these days, and I don’t stay up late enough to get to many parties, but there’s an orthopaedic surgeon in Brighton who will be deeply surprised if all of me makes it to Hull.

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The author tries out one or two gentle pilates exercises in advance of his coast to coast walk

The Great Trek, as absolutely nobody will call it, is due to get underway at the beginning of April from New Brighton on the coast of Wirral. It’s very much like the real Brighton here in Sussex, but newer, obviously. I have family photo albums with pictures of my brother and me in black and white, taken with a Box Brownie, rock pooling on the shore at New Brighton in the 1950s. I was so thin in those days that I used to hold onto the top of my shorts to prevent them falling down; this is not a problem for me anymore.  For reasons that escape me, I thought it would be nice to start my walk from a place with childhood memories. By lunchtime on that first day I plan to be in a grown up dockside pub in Liverpool and put all that nostalgia stuff behind me. I will keep you posted, whether you like it or not. And you will be expected to buy the book.

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Preparing to head north. Merseyside holds no fears…

 

Last weekend Mrs. Blog and I headed to the north west, primarily for the football at Anfield but also to check out some of Liverpool’s attractions for possible incorporation into the walk. With the state of Liverpool FC at the moment, the enjoyment usually peaks five minutes before the actual kick off with a full throated rendering of You’ll Never Walk Alone, which has me on Strepsils for the remainder of the week.

 

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LFC fans are renowned for their grace and generous humour

 

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…though Mrs. Blog rarely experiences the passion of the game as the author does

 

This match included its own highlight when between 10 and 15 thousand fans walked out in the 77th minute, protesting at increased ticket prices (£77 was to be the new top price ticket.)  Mrs. Blog and I used to “walk out together” but never from a football match — we’d paid good money to be there and travelled a long way. The price increases were rescinded by the club during the week that followed. The footy may be a bit rubbish at the moment (the team is “in transition”, where it has been since around 1992) but we do an inspirational walkout.

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“The 77th minute walkout” by LS Lowry.  Liverpool FC fans show their disapproval for the latest hike in ticket prices. 

 

The following day Mrs. Blog and I headed to the Lowry Centre at Salford Quays. I’d been a few times but it was a first for Mrs. B.  I prised her out of the “factory outlet” shopping mall opposite and we took in the permanent Lowry collection. I’m not good at describing paintings, and anyway you’re all familiar with them and you like them or you don’t – I don’t care. Mrs. B and I are both fans. I couldn’t help but notice that, almost without exception, the figures are walking. Or just leaning into the wind. You don’t see many driving about. Now, what’s that about? Can you not get those little figures into vehicles, or is Lowry saying something about pedestrianisation schemes in urban areas? Or the high cost of bus travel? Or – and I favour this – is he quietly saying “Look Blog, you can do this. Walk yourself thin….”

 

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Postscript

Blogdaughter invited us up to her flat in London for dinner a couple of weeks back. The journey, being Sunday, was something of a lottery – are there any more chilling words in the English language than “Replacement bus service in operation”?  But the dinner and the company were excellent. By my reckoning, that’s just another 15,000 or so hot meals and we’ll be quits.

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Southern Rail: Haywards Heath to Three Bridges replacement service Sunday 7 January

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