Theatre, Travel

Small is Beautiful, but not Little England

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Not Mrs. Blog’s cup of tea

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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Politics

Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln….

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Can’t you be trusted to do anything right? I mean, all you had to do while we were away on holiday was feed the goldfish, water the plants and DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING IMPORTANT! And what did you do? Oh yes, in case we need a reminder, you managed to crash the economy, play havoc with Mrs Blog’s pension pot, sacrifice the pound, further reduce the employment prospects of Blogdaughter and others of her generation and make GB the laughing stock of the rest of the world. As others have said before me, at least we voted for this recession. Not bad going for one careless Thursday, was it?

So, when friends and work colleagues ask how our holiday went (and of course we had voted postally before we went), it was ruined, thanks very much. I’ve certainly never returned from any holiday in such low, angry spirits. I could really use a holiday right now – if I could still afford it…

A dozen things we learned over this past week or two:

  1. That passionate conviction coupled with an absence of knowledge and understanding may have dire consequences.
  2. Information, facts and expert opinion are no longer to be a major consideration in our politics. As a substitute for these many are content to believe whatever the Mail, Express and Sun are keen for them to believe.
  3. Contrary to what this blog has previously claimed, you may actually find things in the Daily Mail that are true. Admittedly they have been appearing in very small font at the foot of an inside page, confessing that the previous day’s front page banner headlines were in fact untrue – but hey, a step in the right direction?
  4. Future funding of the NHS can at last be made secure, now that we’re all going to be worse off and the government’s going to have less money available. Oh no, sorry, that canard only lasted until the Friday.
  5. That half of our voting population is very keen to re-establish the 1950s as our Golden Era of choice, presumably complete with the widespread poverty, malnutrition and disease as we’ve become quite used to those again recently. Because beer cost 1d a gallon, Life with the Lyons was so hilarious, wasn’t it, and we used to beat everybody at “international sport” before others took up the game.
  6. Not to go to a sports bar while abroad on holiday to watch the England football team immediately after an EU referendum.
  7. That it’s not OK to vote Leave to see what happens then change your mind and “have another go” when it all turns out the way the Remain people told you. If you wanted to “send a message” to the politicians, why didn’t you write an email?
  8. It’s quite OK to be a racist provided you begin each sentence with the words, “Of course, I’m no racist but…”
  9. That keeping swarms of Bangladeshis (remind me, are they from the EU?) from taking over Wiltshire is worth making a huge financial sacrifice for a few decades. Or was it the Scots that were doing the swarming? Or Vikings, or Anglo-Saxons? Or keeping Syrians out of Iraq, or Turkey out of the EU? Or getting rid of young people from the UK, or banning the 21st century from reaching our shores? But above all, we don’t want any racists here. Because they’re awful people. And we’re not.
  10. That Scotland can come up with statesmanlike parliamentarians in the way that England can now only envy.
  11. That David Cameron, who after all was only trying to deliver what was best for the Tory party by holding the referendum, and whom this blog always believed to be at the toxic end of the “Rubbish Prime Ministers” spectrum, will surely be remembered as truly decent once we’ve experienced whoever is set to follow.
  12. We lost the right to laugh at politics in the USA. Until November?

 

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 Ah, if only we could return to those good old days…

 

But, to return to football terminology for a moment, it’s been a game of two halves. On landing at Gatwick on Saturday morning after an overnight flight, this blog set off jetlagged and unsuitably attired into London to meet up with Blogdaughter and some of her friends to take part in the big anti-Brexit march/demo. Not something I’m prone to but you have to do something – and it’s surely in the economic interests of Brexiteers as well as Remainers that a halt be called to the nonsense triggered by the vote.

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My long experience of taking part in the Lewes bonfire processions made me want to line up the walkers in smart lines of three with blazing torches but they weren’t having it. But what a lifting of the spirits. To be accompanied by tens of thousands of predominantly young people, with plenty of older folk thrown in, committed to ensuring that the nation retained some modicum of belief in toleration and a viable future – economically, socially and environmentally — despite all that society has dumped on them in recent years, was nothing short of inspirational. We have a better “younger generation” than we deserve.

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Politics

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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Politics

As I was saying….

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It has been brought to my attention that I’ve become a tad dilatory on the blogposting front lately. Nothing terminal, I can assure you – if I had indeed departed for the great Website in the sky, I’d be sure to let you know.

What, I hear you ask, is the explanation for such neglectful behaviour on my part? Well, for one thing, I have found absolutely nothing to laugh about emanating from our self-styled “government”, which cuts down a little on my scope. You won’t, I feel, wish to read of my despair each morning over your cornflakes when you have enough on your plate, or bowl, without me adding to it.

On a slightly brighter note, I read in the Sports section of my daily broadsheet that one David Pocock, playing for Australia in last weekend’s rugby union world cup final, uses his acquired status in the game and public profile to raise issues important to him, like fair trade food, rhino poaching, gay marriage and climate change. And, as he weighs in at over 18 stones, I’m definitely on his side.

Welsh singer and TV presenter Charlotte Church weighs, I understand, considerably less – though the Daily Mail is no doubt seeking counter-evidence plus damning photos of cellulite and “glisten stains” for its online subscribers as we speak. But I’m definitely a fan of her newfound campaigning role on the environment, the government’s austerity measures and sexism in the music industry. Doesn’t mean I’ll be buying her records anytime soon, though.

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In the other corner, let’s hear it for our very own Baron Lloyd-Webber who took the trouble last week to fly home from New York in order to help the government get its tax credit cuts for the poor through the House of Lords. He failed, but thanks any way for trying, Andy – it’s the principle that counts. Lloyd-Webber understands what it’s like to be poor better than anyone, because he became rich by writing a musical about Jesus. And if there’s one thing Jesus couldn’t stand, it was the poor whining on about being hungry. In response I shall stop going to Llloyd-Webber’s West End musicals – and if that doesn’t bring him to his senses, I don’t know what will.

If I need another excuse for my recent blog-gap, it may be found in a confession that, despite popular demand, I’m starting work on another book. I know, it’s what the world needs right now. I’ve just read Bill Bryson’s latest contribution, “The Road to Little Dribbling”, and, how can I put this, while Bill’s early travelogues set a standard for amusing raconteurship (is that a word?), other writers like Tim Moore and Michael Simkins now do this kind of thing so much better, leaving Bill to growl around the country complaining about the cost of sandwiches and the sheer stupidity and bloodymindedness of almost everyone he meets.

So, here’s where you come in. I’m embarking on my own travelogue, though I won’t ask Bill B to provide a celebrity endorsement. Have you heard of “crowdfunding”? You haven’t? That’s handy. In that case, it involves each of you out there sending me a cheque for £1,000 to fund my travel costs in exchange for a mention in the book. I promise it will be the last time you hear from me. Literally.

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Or, if you prefer…

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Meanwhile, Blogfamily does have one trip of its own sorted. Christmas will be spent on a cruise to the sunshine in the Canaries, with Christmas Eve spent in Madeira, the big day at sea, and Boxing Day in Lisbon. (Burglars, is that all the information you need right now?)  Blogdaughter is a little concerned about how Santa is expected to find us if we’re not in our proper place – oh, ok then, it’s actually me that’s worried. Blogdaughter believes this cruise will enable her to avoid the tyranny of the Christmas sprout – but I see no reason why we shouldn’t be able to arrange a special sprout-based surprise for her onboard.

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The Blogfamily cabin, decorated as I have requested online…

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…and what happens if you insist on an outside cabin

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I’m worried that the cruise is advertised in the brochure as “family friendly”.  I mean, who wants kids swarming (sorry, that’s a David Cameron word, usually restricted to refugees) round them when you’re trying to have a nice time at Christmas?  The term brings to mind other words and phrases that send a shiver. When scanning the TV schedules for a box office movie (we know how to live the life) I’m quick to move on when spotting descriptions like:

  • Romcom
  • Teenage
  • Slash
  • Steven Seagal
  • Avant-garde
  • Critically acclaimed
  • Lighthearted
  • Family
  • Hilarious consequences
  • Action packed
  • FX
  • Lord of the bl**dy Rings
  • Madcap
  • And, probably worst of the lot, “Caper”

You may feel this doesn’t leave us with many, and you may be right. Mrs Blog wants me to add Jennifer Anniston and Cameron Diaz but this is my list. So, no. Let’s switch over and watch Doc Martin, some dark Scandinavian murdering or Michael Portillo seeking to reinvent himself as a decent human being by travelling first class on posh trains and trying his hand at making pasta. It’ll take more than that, Michael – some of us have long memories.

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The “Portillo moment” — a happy memory from May 1997…

In terms of film terminology, I understand that “snuff” has generally negative connotations. But I say this: it all depends on who’s appearing in it. Does Jeremy Clarkson make movies? Does Jose Mourinho?

What else do I have to report?

Well, Lewes will go all weird and fiery again on 5th November for our annual bonfire celebrations and Blogfamily will be marching as ever with our chums and neighbours in Commercial Square Bonfire Society. Don’t be put off by what you read: it’s ages, really, since we stopped throwing Catholics on the fire. Something to do with health and safety, I believe, or equalities. We’re allowed to burn effigies of the famous – my money’s on Baron Lloyd-Webber this year.

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The spirit of Arthur Brown is alive and well at Lewes bonfire

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On the following day Mrs Blog and I will be entertained to tea in the House of Lords (she still harbours an ambition to be ennobled for her services to retail). We will no doubt still be reeking of gunpowder and cordite from the previous evening. Wonder who we might take with us if someone were to light a match…

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Music

Useful men are we

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Ever since Mrs. Blog read somewhere (I know, when you look at the state of the garden, she should have better things to do) that verse 2 of our national anthem contained some distinctively iffy words on the subject of Scotland, she’s proved somewhat disinclined to go within striking distance, and I use the term warily, of anything that smacks of English jingoism:

“Lord, grant that Marshal Wade

May by thy mighty aid

Victory bring.

May he sedition hush and like a torrent rush,

Rebellious Scots to crush. God save the King.

So, probably not one of Nicola Sturgeon’s choices for Desert Island Discs.

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I mean, just what is Wade’s problem with these chaps?

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On the other hand…  Yup, let’s hush that sedition, and quick!

Nonetheless, Mrs. B was persuaded to carry the Blogfamily picnic basket and folding chairs to Lewes’s annual Proms in the Paddock on a warm August evening.

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Well, I say warm. Anyone with history of attending outdoor concerts, plays or whatever during the British summer knows that the temperatures that encouraged you to arrive in shorts and flip flops at 6 pm will drop below freezing by the time you get to the interval and you’ll want to experience the second half from inside your vehicle in the car park with the engine running. Blankets over the knees are clearly something for women and old men, and I’m clearly not ready for that. Far better to be admitted to hospital in hypothermic shock than admit to feeling a bit on the chilly side.

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This blog’s idea of a good time. How to get the best from the British summer.

Mrs. B and I also appear to have differing views on what constitutes a picnic: since when did a slab of Gala pie, a few chicken drumsticks, a packet of salt and vinegar crisps and frequent visits to the beer tent give way to bowls of something messy covered in clingfilm which you can’t eat with your fingers nor locate once it’s gone dark?

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Ok, so tell me again. Why is this better than a cheese sarny and a pickled onion?

The Lewes Proms is in something like its 15th year and is the main fundraiser for our own bonfire society, Commercial Square. Those starbursts and not-to-be-held-in-the-hand, ozone layer destroying, missile launchers on November the 5th don’t buy themselves, you know.

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Just light blue touch paper and keep on running

I usually have “issues” at outdoor concerts with people talking, not listening. To be fair, I have issues at most events, indoor or outdoor. (Mrs. Blog tells me I could reasonably end that sentence after the first six words.) In the case of our Proms, however, the level of sound from the bands – both brass and swing – that constitute the bulk of the entertainment is happily sufficient to carry the day.

We get the chance to sing along, which is fun, though probably not for anyone listening. I’ve discovered over the years that my vocal range has declined to a couple of notes so, in order to bellow out emotional words about countenances divine and arrows of desire, I’m obliged to wander up and down what I like to think of as octaves to see where my vocal chords will come to rest. We’re a tad light on dark satanic mills round these parts but what we lack in clouded hills we make up for with our own stirring and highly relevant, shire-based anthems:

“For we’re the men from Sussex,

Sussex by the sea.

We plough and sow and reap and mow

And useful men are we.”

Now, there’s a couple of things there that don’t quite strike a chord with Mrs. Blog. Happily, although we were supplied with a songsheet for the evening with the words written down for us, darkness had fallen by the time she reached that part of the programme.

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Men of Sussex doing that stirring thing they do — commuting to London.

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Women of Sussex, doing their girly thing while the menfolk are hard at it…

The failure of so many to warble along unaided with such patriotic ditties may well mean that we’d fail any government test of Britishness. In my own case, while I generally do know the words from all those coach journeys to school rugby matches long ago, I’m still trying to perfect a methodology for singing Land of Hope and Glory and waving a Union Jack in an ironic way.

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Last Night of the Proms crowd at the Albert Hall demonstrating its patriotism in a traditionally English, understated way…

Both regular readers of this blog will be aware of its propensity to scour the outer limits of the internet in search of ultimate truth once some half-formed memory drifts past. In this case its scratch and sniff approach to research took it first to Constance Shacklock whose contralto voice, belting out Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs, was such a memorable (and I say this not in a good way) element of the last night of the proms throughout this blog’s formative years.

It was just one small surf from there to Arthur Caiger, the Man in the White Suit, who led the community singing at FA cup finals and other fixtures at Wembley stadium in the middle of the last century. Time was when you could whip the average football fan into a frenzy of respectable, cap wearing, rattle brandishing merely by dint of getting him to sing She’s a Lassy from Lancashire, Blaydon Races or Ilkla Moor Baht ’at, depending on which teams were present. (Little call in those days for any softy southern songs of course.) After Arthur handed in his baton, the tradition struggled on under other conductors against a rising tide of club anthems and choruses of Who are Yer? and Who’s the B*st*rd in the White? Eventually the ritual was put out of its misery by the increasingly frequent visits to Wembley of Liverpool supporters keen to exercise their vocal chords on Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers hits and other, less salubrious numbers. Happy days.

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Arthur doing what he did best, with some other blokes in the background

Which reminds me. The new football season is upon us. So much to look forward to:

  • The timeless drama of will they, won’t they, shake hands before or after the game
  • Sky TV reporters lurking pointlessly outside grounds with idiots (sorry, devoted supporters) gurning over their shoulders, awaiting the non-arrival of some totally unknown Serbian on the last day of the summer transfer window
  • A succession of drab nil nil draws being massively hyped on TV’s Super Sunday
  • Any interview with Jose Mourinho as he works through some weird narrative, unrecognisable from the game we’ve all just watched, in the forlorn hope that it might divert attention from reality

Bring it on!!

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Another great British tradition, here performed by foreigners — the pre-match handshake

Postscript: The Association of Minnesota Hunter-Dentists has objected to my reference in blog 50 to Association member, Walter Palmer, the well-known international sportsman. I am happy to report that the practice adopted by Walter of having his team of highly trained hygienists and receptionists first anaesthetising his prey and popping them into a dentist’s chair for easy dispatch is more, rather than less, likely to ensure a clean kill. Glad to be able to clear that up.  Next week: TripAdviser’s Top Ten Places to Bludgeon Seal Cubs, rated on Location, Value, Cleanliness and especially Noise.

Postscript 2:  I’ve just spotted something on the BBC news website to the effect that a well-known yeast-based product is contributing to anti-social behaviour in remote parts of Australia. According to a government minister, “Vegemite (is) an increasingly common factor in domestic violence cases.”  See my next blog for more on these stories: “Traces of peanut butter present in majority of insider trading offences” and “Killer marmalade on rampage in Brisbane”.

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Hardened killers and W.I. members preparing their deadly potions

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Equally toxic in its own way…

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Animals, Politics

Well that’s alright then

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Once it became clear that the proposed amendment to the 2004 Hunting Act didn’t really mean a return to unfettered hunting of foxes with hounds, but was really all about the exemption in the legislation for hunting “undertaken for the purpose of or in connection with the observation or study of the wild animal”, it was obvious that it was in fact intended as an animal welfare measure. All that those Tory MPs had in mind was how best to carry out their observations and studies efficiently. “So, Mr Fox – purely in the interests of research, you understand – what will you miss most when you’ve lost a few body parts?”

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Just answer the damn question — if you wouldn’t mind helping us with our research…

Well, who could object to that? It’s a bit like the Japanese finding it necessary to slaughter a few thousand whales each year “for research purposes”. I can never remember — is it bits of tigers or rhinos that are so vital in reinforcing the sinews of chaps of a certain age, and is it the same in the UK with hunters and fox parts? Is it acceptable to cull dentists from Minnesota to see how — or if — their brains work when they’ve just run amok amongst the Zimbabwean lion population?Anyway, it was reassuring that our overworked politicians were prepared to make time in their schedules for animal wellbeing issues so early in the life of the new parliament. And such a shame that it all came unstuck. Whatever next? Parliamentary time devoted to something really important, like dismembering the BBC or the NHS?

Other than that, it’s generally been a good week or two.

Here in Sussex we’re pleased to claim Eric Ravilious as one of our own, knocking out his distinctive brand of watercolours of the South Downs and elsewhere up to and during WW2, sadly meeting his end in 1942 when his plane went missing off Iceland. He was 39 and a highly regarded war artist. Dulwich picture gallery has been hosting a major exhibition of his work. It’s been packing them in and Mrs. Blog and I used it as an opportunity to meet up with Blogdaughter who managed (almost) to find her way there from London unaided. It’s on until the end of August and well worth poking a stick at.

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http://www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/2015/april/ravilious/

Then to Scotland, travelling first class, courtesy of nice Richard Branson and his Virgin Trains. (Remember when we thought Branson and Virgin were quite, well, hip, as distinct from bloody irritating?) In fact, he wasn’t being over generous. My freebie came in compensation for a seven hour delay on a Virgin Train in soaring temperatures just outside Crewe last summer on the way back from the Commonwealth Games. I have nothing at all against Crewe, you understand – it would have been brilliant just to get there.

The highlights of my trip to SNP country? The world’s best cooked breakfast, in a small café in central Scotland — great food but I wasn’t to be tempted by their Saturday morning Football Special of “the full works plus pint of lager”.

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What’s not to like? Black pudding, square sausage, potato scone, double statin…

And a day trip to Falkirk to take in the world’s only rotating barge lift and the “Kelpies” via the tourist hop-on-hop-off bus. Definitely top attractions. I won’t try to describe – here are some nice pics.

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Back home to Lewes and its annual Speakers’ Festival. We’re fortunate in such a small town to have a good number of people who are prepared and able to take on the organisation of such events. I could be wrong but I think this festival may have had its origins in an earlier “Thomas Paine Festival”, which ran for a number of years from 4 July (you’ll have heard this date mentioned occasionally on Friends or The Simpsons?) to 14 July (an excellent day, I understand, for storming the Bastille) – no decent revolution being possible once upon a time without the active involvement of that former Lewes resident. To quote The Guardian’s coverage of the Thomas Paine celebrations:

“There’s something in the water in Lewes, and probably in the beer as well. The beautiful East Sussex town is stuffed with historic buildings and museums, dear little tea rooms and shops selling flowery dresses and posh chocolates. It looks true blue Tory to its flint foundations: in fact it’s been a hotbed of seething anarchy, rebellion, and downright stroppiness since records began.”

And I think many Lewesians would settle for that.

Anyway, I detect a similar strand running through the Speakers’ Festival. Last year this blog reported on contributions by Kate Adie (not at all stroppy) and Polly Toynbee (very stroppy), and this year this blog booked to see the Beast of Bolsover, aka Dennis Skinner MP. First elected to Parliament in 1970, I believe DS is now one of the longest serving, and probably one of the oldest, Members.

It seemed unlikely that many would turn up to such an event in order to challenge his take on modern politics or to seek to engage in detailed discussion about the public sector borrowing requirement. More of an opportunity to hear direct from one of a dying breed of working class Labour MPs (he was a miner) with little interest in claiming the political middle ground. He had no time, of course, for Tories, pairing, right wing press, time-serving Labour members, Lib Dems, Greens, SNP, Royalty, serving on Select Committees, All-Party Parliamentary groups, foreign junkets or claiming expenses. I suspect that Dennis’s constituents know what they’re getting when they vote him back in. A thoroughly enjoyable evening.

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I particularly relished his tale of “talking out” Enoch Powell’s bill to block stem cell research by moving a writ to hold a by-election in Brecon and Radnor. Places, I assume, he would have known little about but on which he succeeded in speaking for the three hours necessary to prevent debating time for Powell’s ill-conceived measure. He will, when his permanent seat in the Chamber — front bench, below the gangway — eventually becomes vacant, be missed.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dennis_Skinner

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There are, Mr Speaker, and I do not exaggerate, almost a thousand streets within the constituency of Brecon and Radnor, each with a distinctive street name. You will bear with me, I am sure, while I list them. The people of Brecon — and, I might add, the good folk of Radnor — deserve no less….  Good heavens, Mr Speaker, is that the time?

Readers may legitimately query Skinner’s use of a parliamentary device (the by-election writ) but, for all that, I have now read through the transcript of that debate in Hansard, and it’s a hoot:

http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1985/jun/07/new-writ-brecon-and-radnor#column_546

Overall, it’s been something of a politics week for this blog. It has just finished reading “Honourable Friends?” by Caroline Lucas, Britain’s only Green Party MP (Brighton Pavilion). Kept me awake at nights. If you never read another book on what’s wrong – and a little of what’s right – about politics in this country, do read this one and I doubt you’ll view the world in the same way again.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/mar/13/honourable-friends-parliament-fight-change-caroline-lucas

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Election 2015, Walking

Walking Back to Happiness Woopah, oh, yeah, yeah (or When Elections Go Bad)

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Election 2015: First time voters enjoyed the opportunity to make a difference

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The Blog household was not a happy place to be on Friday as the voters of the UK managed to get things so horribly wrong. Not enough damage over the last five years, eh, so you thought you’d give them another shot at it – the party of David Cameron, George Osborne, Michael Gove and “We’re all in it together”?

We’re particularly sad that, here in Lewes, we’ve lost an excellent constituency MP in Norman Baker, Lib Dem. Lewes tends to pride itself in standing aside from the Tory heartland of the southeast; it’s a cause for shame and embarrassment that we’ve lost that distinction overnight. The prospect of having a Conservative now claiming to represent me doesn’t bear thinking about. Examination of voting patterns in the Lewes District Council and Town Council polls reveals the reassuring information that the Conservatives continue to fill the bottom places behind the Greens, Lib Dems, Labour and Independents in all three of the town’s wards – so the defeat of the sitting MP reflects trends in the wider parliamentary constituency outside the town of Lewes, not any shift in allegiances within it. So don’t blame us.

Sharing my angst Mrs. Blog has suggested that I should, in her words, take up the cudgels on behalf of a party of opposition. I fear, in my present mood, I might take that thought too literally.

Mrs. Blog is not good with maps but is aware that things are done differently north of the border and intends to start a petition for our part of Sussex to secede from England to join her homeland.

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SNP supporters celebrating a surprise “gain” in the Tonbridge Wells constituency

 

Mrs. Blog has been at pains to explain the election results to me:

“The Conservative party has polled 37% of votes cast, or nearly 25% of those eligible to vote, an increase in its share of 0.5% over the 2010 results. This is an overwhelming vote of confidence by the British people and a personal success story for David Cameron. The Labour party polled 30% of the votes cast, or 20% of those eligible to vote, an increase in its share of 1.5%. This is a landslide defeat of epic proportions and requires its leader to fall on his sword. This means the government will be able to complete its vital work of transferring funds from the poor people to the rich.

The fact that the Green Party got more than a million votes but just one MP, and UKIP no fewer than three million votes for a single MP has raised the odd eyebrow, but technically speaking of course a vote for UKIP counts as a spoiled ballot paper.”

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4 a.m. on election night and news begins to filter through of a recount in Ed Balls’ constituency

 

Time was when this blog would have headed for the hills on such a gloomy day with Labrador Molly and drawn deeply from her well of stress relief measures – running pointlessly in figures of eight through the long grass, barking loudly with the wind in my ears and rolling in fox poo. Sadly, Molly is no more so we must make do.

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Molly tries to come to terms with a sudden rise in the public sector borrowing requirement

 

Mrs. Blog has decided that we must get back into walking and regain a modicum of fitness. The demise of Molly, a series of operations on a battle scarred hip (mine) and a comfortable, sofa-based inertia (both of us), have meant that our self image of healthy, toned athletes has come a tad adrift from reality. Let’s face it, we get out of breath performing a walkthrough of a social foxtrot at our ballroom dance class and, if we are to be spared the sight of the Royal Caribbean’s emergency defibrillator being trotted out when we venture on the dance floor of their Baltic cruise ship later this month, well, we’d better shape up.

My father’s family did walking (for many miles along roads, in sensible shoes, not over countryside in hiking boots) as some sort of penance. You weren’t supposed to enjoy it, you did it because it cleansed the soul and involved a good deal of misery and discomfort for no conceivable purpose – he was a committed Conservative, you understand.

So I never had a chance. When young – unless you could produce a sick note — we invariably went for a family walk of a Sunday, often along the Thames towpath, when we could reasonably have been doing our homework or practising for our first ASBO. The only real point of interest centred around how many anglers’ lunches or kiddies’ ice creams our first Labrador could harvest as we progressed. There was no escape — even the hit parade, and I kid you not, featured the Obernkirchen Children’s Choir of war orphans singing The Happy Wanderer. Remember?

“I love to go a-wandering, Val-deri, Val-dera. My knapsack on my back.”

And that just shouldn’t be part of any child’s upbringing.

Although “normal” hiking played little part in my early adult years, I was rashly inclined to sign up for occasional “big ones”. There was a 30 mile charity walk at university — wearing Hush Puppies – and the 40 mile Lyke Wake Walk across the North York Moors on a stunning summer day, finishing with acute cramp and feeling my right foot attempting to curl itself into a ball. Having walked throughout the hot sunny day in an easterly direction in T shirt and shorts, I acquired very clear tanning tidemarks on my right side only.

Being something of an inveterate idiot in these matters, I twice attempted the Bogle Stroll, a 55 mile charity walk, leaving central Manchester on a Friday evening as the pubs closed, heading westwards to Wigan, then north to Chorley and back to Manchester. Having limped to a standstill 12 miles short the first time, I prepared professionally for my second attempt. I ensured a few hours of pre-walk sleep on the Friday afternoon by combining a beer filled lunch with a heavy dosage of Night Nurse (any medicinal product that warns against combining it with alcohol is just inviting misuse.) Anyway, this time I completed the 55 miles, chuntering insanely to myself, and once more suffering from acute cramp which only regular pleadings for salt from mobile burger vans could assuage. If I could only have exploited the potential of so much bloodymindedness towards something useful, who knows what I might have become…

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More random idiocy was to follow. Hitchhiking around Scotland one year with another friend/victim, we arrived at Glen Nevis youth hostel in mid afternoon, too early to be permitted entry (I gather the YHA doesn’t dislike people quite so much now and you don’t have to re-tile the roof before they let you have your membership card back in the morning.) We agreed to wander up the neighbouring Ben Nevis – “just to see how far we get before, you know, we have to turn back to the hostel for dinner.”

You may be ahead of me here. We pressed on through the evening gloom and thickening mist, always believing that we had almost reached the summit. If you’re familiar with the Ben you’ll know that it rolls on and on without ever quite getting there. We told ourselves that we were bound to take less time on the descent and just kept going. Eventually we reached the old observatory and knew that we’d made it, briefly savoured the moment, then headed down. On reaching the foot of the mountain around half past ten we could see the lights of the hostel and hear sounds of merriment inside, just before all the lights were switched off for the night, leaving us in the middle of a large, unlit bog.

As I matured aged I gradually got the hang of setting off on walks which might be completed without the need for hospital admission. I found I had a penchant for walks with a name by them and, over a period of years, completed Offa’s Dyke, the South West Coast Path and Pembrokeshire Coast with a couple of work colleagues. (Mac, you deserve a mention here. Post a nice comment on the blog – if you don’t know how, ask me.)

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Our arrival at one or two of the more remote youth hostels would cause something of a stir

I’m not sure that we actually enjoyed the walking; it was more about feeling good when you reached the cream tea stop or the evening’s beer intake, though one had to wonder whether we couldn’t just leave out the walking bit and enjoy ourselves even more. Certain words in the trail guide books became anathema to us:

  • “Uphill” — never a good thing, for obvious reasons
  • “Downhill” — equally unpleasant if you have dodgy body parts
  • “Rewarding” (as in “a highly rewarding ascent”) – an ominous word in anyone’s lexicon
  • “Exhilarating” – ditto

We would use the endless trudging hours to debate the great philosophical questions like, “Whose round will it be first tonight?” and, “Do you have to keep getting that yellow purse out in the bar?”

It would be difficult for me, as a 20 year Manchester resident, to talk about walking without the politics, and particularly the 1932 “mass trespass” on Kinder Scout in the Peak District.

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The 1930s: a period of social unrest. Hikers from the northern industrial cities gathered to press their claim for the right to roam.

You may be familiar with Ewan MacColl’s “Manchester Rambler”?  Written to celebrate the mass trespass in which he participated, pressing the case for open access to the hills and eventually leading to the creation of national parks, it contains the well-known lyrics:

 “No man has the right to own mountains, any more than the deep ocean bed

Sooner than part from the mountains, I think I would rather be dead.”

And my own favourite:

“I once loved a maid, a spot welder by trade…”

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Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger bringing the landowning establishment to its knees, the British way

One of the five men arrested and imprisoned in 1932 following the trespass was political activist, Benny Rothman, with whom I once shared a platform at a conference on access to the countryside. To me fell the task of chairing the day.  Benny, who remained active in left wing politics and conservation, was nearly 80, spoke passionately without notes to a largely adoring audience and clearly had no interest in finishing his contribution any time soon. As the clock ticked on remorselessly through the lunch break, a colleague whispered in my ear, “So, how do you intend to tell him he’s overstayed his time?”

Where does that get us to? Ah yes, Mrs. Blog’s newly devised walking regime.

I believe I may have heard the words “power walking” come from Mrs. B’s mouth, which is worrying. I face this uncertain, self flagellating future with some apprehension. This weekend Mrs. Blog and I have signed up for a walk along the seafront for the Sussex Heart Charity – I guess this is how the Health Service will receive all of its funding from now on.

Benny Rothman, I’m sure, would have had something to say…

 

“Spread the news I’m on my way, woopah, oh, yeah, yeah
All my blues have blown away, woopah, oh, yea, yeah

Walking back to happiness I shared with you
(Yay, yay, yay, yay ba dum be do)”

 

 

 

 

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