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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Earning one’s corns and appreciating the shoddy

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The good news in May was that the local paper here in Sussex ran a nearly full page piece about my coast to coast walk and included a link to my BHF sponsorship site as well as a rather fine photo of my rugged Bear Grylls like visage. The slightly less heartwarming news was that the article opened with the words, “66 year old chiropodist patient Steve ….”

Now, how would you normally describe yourself to a stranger or in a lonely hearts advert? “First and foremost I have always seen myself as a motorist”, or “an out of work poet…” “Moderate drinker and mild dandruff sufferer Mr. Blog said today…”  “Madman Boris Johnson opened the debate…”   Sets the tone doesn’t it?

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“90 year old hat wearer faces difficult choice”

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“52 year old urinary tract infection patient Nigel ponders next racial slur”

My mood wasn’t helped by my heroic journey – from the Mersey to the Humber, remember – being headlined “East to west trek”.  (This may not mean much to a Satnav generation but it didn’t go down well here in Blog Towers.)

So, stage 3 of the trek began in Saddleworth on Whit Friday for the annual gathering of brass bands – nearly a hundred of them. Sometimes I think I’m turning into my father, who truly loved band music. Indeed, while some people’s dads whistled, mine used to wander round the house and garden making a kind of cornet sound which involved puffing out his cheeks. Like bagpipe music it may be better heard outdoors. The loss of old bandstands in the local park is to be regretted – I’m surprised that Brexit has not yet, as far as I’m aware, laid this decline at the door of the EU, along with the demise of the groat and the Jubbly and the spread of “simulation” (diving) in football.

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Two more British icons that Brexit says we could preserve by leaving the EU

Those who have seen the film Brassed Off starring Tara Fitzgerald, and probably featuring some other people – but mainly, as far as I’m concerned, Tara Fitzgerald – may recall a scene where Grimley Colliery Band, with the eponymous (that’s a word I’ve always fancied using so I hope it’s the right one) colliery about to be closed and its members put out of work, drink more than is strictly appropriate for an outfit competing at Saddleworth. SPOILER ALERT: the band recovers from this low point to achieve national fame at the Albert Hall, where band conductor Pete Postlethwaite gets to utter the immortal line, “I used to think that music mattered. But does it? Bollocks! Not compared to how people matter”. (A line borrowed, as fans of Chumbawamba will recognise, for the intro to their hit Tubthumping – “I get knocked down, But I get up again, You’re never gonna keep me down” — which you may wish to note down for quiz purposes.)  And, did I mention, Tara Fitzgerald is really good in the film…

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What a player…

With the sound of brass in my ears, and with a visit to the National Coalmining Museum near Huddersfield due a few days later, my research threw up a stage version of said Brassed Off which seemed to chime with the Zeitgeist (another word on the Brexit “to be abolished” list) of my trip. Unfortunately the timings of various performances of the play around the coalfields of the north didn’t fit well with my itinerary. However I was delighted to discover that the hotbed of industrial strife, social unrest and anti-Thatcherism that is East Grinstead in West Sussex was due to host a performance by local strolling players effecting indeterminate provincial accents on a day when this Blog was but a short clog’s stride away – and I wasn’t about to pass up on that. The evening proved highly enjoyable, especially when cast members passed among the arriving patrons in the bar before the performance and invited us to join in with the placard waving and slogan shouting – I think it fair to point out that this Blog made a better fist of that than most.

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End of the working day, East Grinstead High Street

Other highlights of this stage of the walk included a two hour trip along the Huddersfield Canal through the Standedge tunnel beneath the Pennines (the only bit of the entire coast to coast journey which won’t be undertaken on foot, though I did keep walking up and down the narrow boat for the sake of appearances); Huddersfield’s wonderful railway station; and the outside (sadly, it’s currently boarded up) of the Grade 2 listed George Hotel in Huddersfield where the sport of rugby league was invented – specifically, where 20 northern rugby clubs decided one day in 1895 to break from the posh southern clubs over the issue of professionalism, which in those days wasn’t necessarily viewed as a positive concept.

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“HP sauce fan and Gannex wearing former prime minister outside Huddersfield station”

Stage 3 of the walk ended in Dewsbury, famed, as per my school geography text book, for its manufacture of shoddy and mungo, comprising the recycling of woollen waste. Inferior to the original wool, it isn’t difficult to see how the word shoddy has come over the years to take on a wider meaning. And Dewsbury turned out to be yet one more northern industrial city whose surviving architecture so clearly reflects the civic pride that the Victorians felt and which is so rarely seen today when “keeping the rates down” appears to be almost the sole requirement of a local authority.

Only a few short days passed before I took Mrs. Blog for her summer holiday, in Liverpool. (She’s not always so easily palmed off but she does have Barbados to follow soon after.) It seemed only right to share with the head of the household some of the highlights of my coast to coast journey – and clearly, walking wasn’t going to be one of them.

There does seem to be a definite buzz about Liverpool these days and, with five days of continuous warm sunshine, the city was looking its best. We took the ferry journey across the Mersey and were not altogether surprised to be accompanied on our journey by the strains of Gerry and the Pacemakers’ second most famous hit. We met up with an old university chum of mine who, having worked for several years in a corner office of the Royal Liver Building overlooking the river, queried the delight of hearing on the hour, every hour, the immortal lyrics:

 

So ferry ‘cross the Mersey
’cause this land’s the place I love
and here I’ll stay
and here I’ll stay
Here I’ll stay

 

We visited both cathedrals – to be balanced, you understand. Here’s some more geographically informative lyrics for you to chew on:

 

In my Liverpool Home, In my Liverpool Home 
We speak with an accent exceedingly rare,
Meet under a statue exceedingly bare[1],
And if you want a Cathedral, we’ve got one to spare[2]
In my Liverpool Home

 

Now I don’t claim much knowledge of cathedral architecture, and I have had no religious belief since my fervent prayers relating to Elizabeth Shufflebotham and being picked to play for Liverpool FC went sadly unanswered, but I would say this – and Mrs. Blog is in agreement: Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral is awesomely huge; the interior of its RC cathedral is simply awesome.  If I had any plans to acquire a faith, which I don’t, I’d be more likely to see the light in, well, a light, airy, colourful modern building than a dark, austere one seemingly devised to intimidate. But that’s just me.

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The Anglican cathedral is really really big…

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                                                                                                                           Awesome interior

We also took in the magnificent, renovated Albert Dock complex, its Slavery exhibition and Beatles Story; the Titanic hotel in another vast converted rum warehouse (why is everything so big in this blog); Anthony Gormley’s hundred mega (there you go again) reproductions of the male form on Crosby beach; the gorgeous Philharmonic pub and to my embarrassment, as a pseudo native, an open top bus tour.  (Mrs. B felt she’d undertaken the latter under false pretenses once she discovered it had no free wi-fi.)

We also took the opportunity to return to the Florrie (Florence Institute) in Toxteth, one of the undoubted treasures of my journey so far and the birthplace inter alia of the musical career of the aforementioned Gerry (of “and the P” fame), without whom who knows what we would have been singing at Anfield for the past five decades – your suggestions are welcome. A great building (and yes, a huge one), a history of great philanthropy, committed and lovely people restoring it to life and making it work again today for the local community. Here’s their website:

http://www.theflorrie.org/

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No Florrie, no Gerry Marsden — Anfield’s Kop Choir tackle a Handel oratorio

Mrs. B, who has previously restricted her appearances in the city to the occasional football match, says she now “gets Liverpool”. And that’s fine by me. Wonderful what five days of sun can do….

While in the north west we also popped across to the Manchester area for repeat visits to the Lowry arts centre at the Salford Quays (another highly successful waterside regeneration project) and the Imperial War Museum North which faces the Lowry and the BBC studios across the Ship Canal. The latter is currently running an exhibition and programme of events called Fashion on the Ration which features inventive make-do-and mend from the 1940s, like how to make a nice jumper out of dried egg and old bits of shrapnel. I particularly enjoyed the matching bra and pants made from maps of Occupied Europe printed on parachute silk.

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Just a week earlier these outfits formed the gun turret of a Sherman tank

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The Lowry

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Imperial War Museum North

 

Next stage on the coast to coast walk will be back in Yorkshire, from Dewsbury to Goole. Can’t wait.

Thanks to people like you my sponsorship fund for the British Heart Foundation has reached £800!  Please help to keep it growing:

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Lewis’s department store (not to be confused with the posher John Lewis chain) is adorned with a very well-endowed nude male sculpture on its main street frontage. So well-endowed that “under the man at Lewis’s” has long been a traditional meeting place even on rainy days.

[2] Agnostic or atheist singers may prefer the use of “two to spare” at this point.

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Ghost Riders in Stalybridge

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Where were we?

In Blog 58 I had reached Sale in Greater Manchester on my coast to coast walk from New Brighton to Spurn Point. At the end of April I resumed my slog through Manchester to reach the Pennine foothills in Saddleworth and was regularly informed, “This is definitely the worse weather we’ve had all winter.”  Gee, thanks, I would never have guessed.

Being somewhere that I had lived and worked for 20 years, Manchester was clearly going to be as much a social event as a learning experience, so many thanks to all who kindly met up with me, put me in touch with excellent contacts and bought me pints when I claimed to be too stiff to reach the bar.

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The platform buffet, Stalybridge: what every station needs

A fair bit of my walk appears to be homing in on community projects, wonderful buildings and inspirational people. Even if this wasn’t all going to go into a brilliant travelogue at the end of the journey, I’d still be having a great year. Ok, you may prefer the Med, Caribbean or wherever, and I’m more likely to “brown” through rust than sunshine, but this has been my idea of a good time. Apart from all that walking, of course.

I have just completed the second stage of my journey — that’s not “journey” in the sense of emotional self-awareness or, preferably, abasement like contestants on talent shows undergo, just “journey” as in, well, “journey”. I have slept in various hostels, a restored narrow boat and a pub and all were excellent. I am a little concerned that the lack at Manchester’s city centre youth hostel of a proper shower gel may have left me with “residues” in my hair follicles — and, as Mrs. Blog is frequently at pains to stress, there is nothing worse.

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No shower gel but at least you don’t have to sweep the dorm in the morning before you get your card back: Castlefield youth hostel, Manchester city centre

And there were no secure lockers at the Luther King House.  But what I say is, if you can’t trust your iPad with people staying at a Foundation for Religious Enlightenment, it’s a poor do.

I travelled on the Friday morning from Stockport to Stalybridge on the parliamentary, or “ghost” train. DON’T SWITCH OFF!  It’s really interesting. When train companies (what we used to call British Rail until it became a good wheeze to put taxpayers’ money into shareholder dividends than into, say, trains) want to close a line, they are faced with legal procedures and costs. In some cases these companies may find it simpler and cheaper to maintain a minimum service to satisfy “parliamentary” requirements than go through the necessary processes for formal closure – hence “parliamentary trains”. STAY WITH ME!

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Minimum parliamentary service on a rural line in Wales

I turned up in good time for the 9.22 Stockport train to Stalybridge. You don’t want to risk turning up late – the next train along will be exactly a week later, at 9.22 on the following Friday. And did I say – it doesn’t come back. Ever. It runs one way only, and er, that’s it.

I looked round at the four other passengers who would be my travelling companions for the next 21 minutes. The young girl with the headphones and cell phone looked unlikely to be a “cult follower” of ghost trains but, a glance down at my own anorak, cardboard cup of coffee and grey beard seemed to provide me with a suitable uniform for engagement with the two chaps of similar age to myself wearing flat cap and woolly hat respectively. How those 21 minutes flew by as we bantered about ghost trains we had known (I made mine up). Of the three stations between Stockport and Stalybridge, two have just this one weekly train passing through – but the planters on Denton Station are nevertheless beautifully maintained by the Friends of Denton Station, which is the kind of organisation that makes you proud to be British.

The fifth passenger, a middle aged woman who just happened to be on that train en route to Leeds, indicated a degree of interest in what she was hearing. I suspect this was a fine balance for her between not wishing to upset three rather suspect old blokes and not wanting to invite more dialogue than was strictly necessary. On being informed that a single (it can only be a single after all) with senior railcard came to £2.65, she announced that this would make an excellent birthday treat for her husband….

Here for the curious (and you can take that any way you want) is a link to the website of the Friends of Denton Station:

http://dentonstation.co.uk/

And here is the website dedicated to all ghost trains and stations in the UK, run by my new friend in the woolly hat:

https://theghoststationhunters.smugmug.com/

 

On this leg I have visited or met with (warning: long sentence) the Manchester Modernist Society (fond inter alia of brutalist concrete architecture), the Wooden Narrow Boat Society, the People’s History Museum in Manchester, the Portland Basin Museum (not a collection of bathroom fittings but an excellent museum on the social history of Tameside in a fine canalside warehouse), the Mikron Theatre Company (essentially plays – more social history — performed from a touring narrow boat), a Moravian settlement in Droylsden, the founder of the Landlife charity (devoted to reclaiming derelict and under-valued sites through planting wildflowers, and spawning Liverpool’s National Wildflower Centre), open days at Manchester’s Victoria Baths and Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, and the Manchester May Day Festival taking place in Sackville Gardens, which meant Alan Turing’s statue was seen to be bearing a “Cameron Must Go” placard.

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Manchester’s “Water Palace”, Victoria Baths — the water was cold when I used them, but the Turkish bath part was something else…

While every one of these proved to be stimulating and highly enjoyable, perhaps the place making the biggest impression on me was the last one I visited before returning home. I had come across “the Florrie” in a book on former sports grounds and facilities (you wouldn’t believe the bibliography that’s building up for this walk) called Played in Liverpool.

The Florence Institute for Boys was built in 1889 by a local philanthropist, magistrate and Mayor of Liverpool, Bernard Hall, who wanted to create ‘an acceptable place of recreation and instruction for the poor and working boys of this district of the city’ and named the building in memory of his daughter, who died aged 22. This magnificent building became a hub for nurturing Liverpool’s sporting heritage, while music was also a big part of The Florrie’s appeal. A young Gerry (“The Pacemakers”) Marsden learnt to play the guitar here before becoming something of a legend in the pop world with Ferry Cross the Mersey and football anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone.

The Florrie continued to serve the community for almost a century before closing in the late 1980s and falling into disrepair. After several fires the future of the Florrie looked increasingly uncertain until – and this seems to be emerging as a theme of my walk – a group of local people gathered together to raise the funds for restoration. The Florrie reopened for business in 2012 and I couldn’t wait to visit.

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The Florrie, before and after

I had arranged to sit in on a course on the history of Liverpool alongside a dozen mature students from the local area and around the city. The Florrie lies in Toxteth whose name has, since rioting in 1981, carried a degree of baggage. Over 30 years have passed and the city is fast becoming not only unrecognisable but an exciting place to be. I felt honoured to be greeted at the Florrie like an old friend – that’s Liverpool for you, embraced by the history class, given my own conducted tour and urged to return. If people like Gerry Marsden, footballer John Barnes and actor Ricky Tomlinson can give up their time gratis for the Florrie, I’m sure I can make the time.

You get way too much time when walking solo to ponder the big existential questions.

  1. On entering the village of Greenfield, the roadside sign indicated that it formed part of Oldham – or, to be precise, “Oldham: working for a co-operative borough”. Any idea? Me neither.
  2. Will it stop raining before the nights start drawing in?
  3. Watching couples battling with canal locks all through the week, would my marriage to Mrs. Blog survive a narrow boat holiday?
  4. When I get home, will Mrs. B have already watched the final episode of Line of Duty and want to tell me how it ends?

 

Many thanks to all who have sponsored me on this walk for the British Heart Foundation. There’s still plenty of time!

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Football

Hillsborough: Truth, Lies and Justice

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BLOG 59

No jokes today from this blog. It’s taken 27 years, and the longest jury trial in British history, but it’s finally arrived – the truth which Liverpool fans knew back in 1989 but needed to share with the world. Their parents, siblings and children were not responsible for their own deaths. Whatever the media and politicians had said in the aftermath, they had not arrived drunk and forced their way into the ground for an FA Cup semi-final, they hadn’t obstructed the police and they hadn’t looted or urinated on the bodies of victims.

It had been quite wrong of the authorities to regard the 96 who died and the injured as suspects in a crime and to prevent anxious and grieving relatives from seeing their loved ones.

All this has been said repeatedly in Liverpool since 1989 but nobody in any position of authority seemed keen to listen. Those we now know to have been responsible for the disaster – the largest in British sporting history —  had their own reasons to cover up the truth and, in a distinctly unholy alliance between government, certain media and two police forces, they have until today succeeded.

But, through the untiring efforts of the families and their support group, and the implicit support of a whole city, they have reached a major milestone. Let’s set out some of the jury findings:

  • Police errors caused a dangerous situation at the turnstiles
  • Failures by commanding officers caused a crush on the terraces
  • Mistakes in the police control box over the order to open the Leppings Lane end exit gates
  • Defects at the stadium
  • An error in the safety certification
  • The police and the ambulance service delayed declaring a major incident, thereby delaying the emergency response
  • Inadequate signage at the ground and misleading information on match tickets
  • Kick off should have been delayed because of the large number of fans still outside when the game was due to start, owing largely to hold-ups on the motorway

… and that’s just a selection.

Why does this matter? Why, as friends of mine have occasionally said over the years, haven’t the families “moved on” and got on with their lives – as, no doubt you’re supposed to do after a child has died too young or been the subject of some atrocity?

Why? Because these football fans were not just killed in a tragic “accident” in May 1989; they were “unlawfully killed”, meaning that organisations and individuals were responsible and should be held to account, and because the victims themselves were held for so long to have been the guilty parties.

I’m prepared to believe that, in most parts of the country, this has all become a bit tedious. Is there nothing more interesting on telly tonight? Liverpudlians, eh, what are they like? Get over it!

But, from where I sit – as a native of the city, lifetime supporter and long time season ticket holder at Anfield, and now an ex-pat, professional, grumbling northerner living in the south – I feel proud today of the city of my birth.  I’m not sure this story would have developed in the same way anywhere else. Perhaps in some “nicer” location with less “baggage” than Liverpool there would not have been such a swift assumption of fan misbehaviour, there would have been less inclination on the part of the authorities to organise such a cover-up of historic proportions, and lastly there might not have been the determination and community cohesion among the wronged to see it through.

This has not, as some have suggested, been simply a witch hunt against one or more individuals who “lost it” in a crisis and who themselves have no doubt suffered from the consequences. It has been partly a campaign to clear the names of the dead, partly a need to know the truth, and also a wish to hold organisations and their behaviour to account.

For me, however – not so personally involved as this was the first semi-final for many years that I had been unable to attend — an even bigger story is still working its way through. When we have finally heard, as we will, the detailed account of how South Yorkshire Police set out to cover their tracks and doctor their evidence, and how the investigation into their behaviour by the West Midlands force conspired largely to whitewash them, then we may have achieved something of lasting benefit in terms of accountability. With the passage of nearly 30 years it now seems so much more unacceptable that the police should have regarded their cover-up after Hillsborough as a feasible option. That it no doubt seemed a plausible option at the time says a huge amount about the politics in this country in the 1980s.

Everton Football Club has today described the jury findings as the greatest victory in the history of football.  And I’m not going to argue.

 

Normal service is likely to be restored in my next blog. I’ll be back in the north west this coming weekend to resume my coast to coast walk.

 

 

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And So It Begins

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“I’ve started, so I’ll finish” in the words of Magnus Magnusson.  Or, in my case, I’ve started and I have no idea what will happen. To be explicit, I launched myself just over a week ago on the first stage of my coast to coast peregrination (a much underused word) to the sounds of cannon fire from Fort Perch Rock, New Brighton and nostalgic banter from old university chums who could and should have done more to dissuade me from this foolishness.

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Funny how the memories of the pain of previous lengthy walks have faded over the years, permitting me to set off with an innocent sense of optimism, only to be dashed within a few hours. They say, don’t they, that this is what enables women to give birth more than once, or football supporters to turn up at the beginning of each season?

Arguably, if Jo Brand can manage the trip in one go into a headwind for charitable purposes, I ought to be able to make a fist of it — though she is a bit younger and had a team to carry her essential supplies, like phone charger and defibrillator. It would be handy if I could bring myself to rely on my phone for navigational purposes but I invariably saddle myself with good old maps which can double as a sail in high winds.

In brief, I made it during last week from the Wirral coast as far as Sale in Greater Manchester, arriving with two badly bruised big toes, both of which were mine. It felt like more than two but I’ll settle for two.

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The walk is clearly doing me good…

A volunteer podiatrist of my acquaintance nobly attacked said toenails with the scariest looking clippers and released (health warning: the next bit is not for the faint hearted) a barrel load of “exudate” while this Blog bit down on a sock and another friend talked incessantly in a vain effort to distract me.  I have now disposed of those walking shoes to a good cause and will need to invest in new footwear that’s more disposed to bat for Team Blog.

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I’m not always the best patient when it comes to toenails…

The rucksack, discovered in the loft and of no known parentage, has also been consigned to history (Blogdaughter thinks it may have been loaned by a former swain of hers – do they still have swains? — who has equally been archived). To be precise, the rucksack consigned itself to the great recycling skip in the sky by dint of coming apart at the seams even faster than me.

The weather wasn’t the best. Sorry, is this sounding like a moan? Well, you don’t want to hear that everything was hunky dory…

Ok, just room for one more grumble. Along a disused railway line that forms part of the Transpennine Trail they’ve constructed what I believe are called squeeze stiles designed to block motor bikes but permit access for walkers and cyclists, provided the latter dismount. But if you stand more than 5 foot six tall with a rucksack on your back, you’re obliged either to take it off and carry it past the constriction or lower yourself with back straight and rucksack in situ in a kind of limbo motion. Now, most of my moving parts have seen better days: admittedly there’s a left knee that has only nine years on the clock and a right hip that’s just 18 months old, but there are some distinctly dodgy elements upstream and downstream. I don’t know about you but the last time I had knees that coped with that kind of manoeuvre, kipper ties were in fashion and we still had a welfare state.

And another thing – just one more grumble at this point, if I may. Plenty of time for others later. What I say is this: footpath signs (and road signs for that matter) should be put up for the benefit of people who don’t know the area, rather than just where the sign person feels very confident. So, if I’m walking along a very narrow coastal path with the sea to one side and a near vertical cliff on the other, I don’t really need to see repeater signs telling me that the route continues straight ahead. Chances are I’d have just guessed, the alternatives being unappetising. Where I do need them is when I reach a point where there’s a genuine choice to be made. It’s not enough that locals can inform you that “everyone knows you should ignore that sign, it doesn’t lead anywhere.”  With the coastal paths that I’ve slogged round in the past, like the Pembrokeshire Coast Path or the South West Coast Path, you could always chant “sea on right” when in doubt and usually not go too far wrong, but I’m not sure how that works when you’re going from Liverpool to Hull.

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My first few days were enriched by the company of former university friends and ex-colleagues. It would be unwise to alienate them at this stage, so I’ll avoid making reference to any similarity to Last of the Summer Wine and the need for a bathtub on wheels to complete the image.

The week’s high spots included a rain and windswept ferry crossing of the Mersey (altogether now, sing…)

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…followed by visits to the national wildflower centre, a community bakery and regeneration scheme in Anfield, a group tour of the 1930s Mersey road tunnel, the anti-slavery exhibition at Liverpool’s Albert Dock (we agreed that we were all opposed), the Everyman Theatre and the Manchester marathon to support a friend from Sussex (PB in 2 hours 29 mins 30 secs, since you ask, which counts as serious running in my book.)

I visited Warrington’s Museum of the History of Policing in Cheshire. Mrs. Blog helpfully texted me as I went round, querying whether my expectations of displays on the rich heritage of kettling, the fitting up of known villains with suitable “evidence” and the casualty rates associated with highspeed car chases were being fulfilled. As it happens, not. The whole thing was a joy, being shown round an informative and professionally presented exhibition by two enthusiastic and highly knowledgeable volunteers and taking the opportunity to dress up both as Sarah Lancashire in Happy Valley and in full armed response gear. Magic.

I had tickets for Liverpool’s game at Anfield against Stoke City with Mrs. Blog.  Nice to see that the “humour” of away fans is safely ensconced in the 1980s, based seemingly on one joke – that of Merseysiders being unemployed. (And this from Stoke supporters…)  Unable or unwilling to come up with a nice song to sing, away fans contented themselves with booing and offering what I believe is termed “a trembling wrist gesture” towards the home supporters. Once behind, they fell silent and most had left their seats well before the end of the game. ATMOSPHERE!!  You miss all this on telly.

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You just can’t beat friendly banter between rival supporters

We took in a good number of excellent Liverpool pubs, winning the quiz one night by knowing that James Dean died in 1955 and that Mumps station is in Oldham. (It helps when one of your team writes excellently researched non-fiction sports books as a pastime and another was once BBC Radio Brain of Britain.)

I ate scouse for the first time in a while – it’s a meat stew before it’s a language, and a childhood favourite of mine. (Unless it’s near the end of the month and the money’s run out, in which case it’s blind scouse and there’s no meat.)

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Blind scouse, nouvelle cuisine style

Also to my intense joy, I came across Linda’s burger van sited at the entrance to Warrington sewage works and waste recycling site which offered “Red Hot Spam on Toast”, plus ketchup and free read of The Sun, which this Blog was never going to pass by. Eat your heart out, Gwyneth Paltrow.

This Blog plans to convert all these inspirational bon mots into a book when (if?) he makes it to the North Sea but is currently short of a suitable title. Suggestions please, which will be enthusiastically featured in future blogs. So far, to demonstrate my current poverty of imagination, I have come up with the following, none of which quite does the trick, I think you’ll agree:

The Road to Hull is Paved with Good Intentions

Scouse, Slavery and Suffragettes  (which will feature later on the walk, but a tad serious?)

Getting my Twix en route; 66   (it’s kind of a pun, and I’m 66)

Hull hath no Fury  (Billy Fury’s from Liverpool, not Hull – ok?)

 

This Blog intends to be back in harness and rucksack shortly for stage 2 of the great trek through Greater Manchester. Many thanks to all who have sponsored me by donating to the British Heart Foundation. Please see the link below – plenty more time to contribute!

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

 

 

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Travel

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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