Politics

Two wrongs don’t make a summer

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Strong and stable, my nether regions. That’s two huge miscalculations by Tory Prime Ministers whose sole aim was to benefit the party and retain power. In Teresa May’s case, of course, the “worst manifesto in living memory” (and that from her friends in the party) and the idea of basing an election campaign on her personality when she clearly doesn’t possess one and had to be hidden from the press, the public and, basically, the world, was guaranteed to fail. But none of that compares with the folly and incompetence of David Cameron for adopting a core policy of blaming the EU for his government’s failings, calling a referendum on our membership and being taken by surprise when he found that many people had believed him.

With a year having passed since the referendum, no potential benefits having yet been identified and the huge costs – financial, social and environmental – becoming increasingly clear, it’s not surprising that those supporting Brexit are reducing by the day.  Nevertheless my social media space is regularly invaded by an ever diminishing band of hardcore Leave voters claiming victory, as if claiming the accolade of “chief lemming” were a great line for one’s CV.

And yet. Because our two biggest political parties fear a voter and tabloid backlash if they were to act in the interests of the nation and terminate the absurd Brexit process, we press on into the mire with our friends in Europe and across the world shaking their heads and wondering how a once moderately respected and influential country could shoot itself so determinedly in the foot.  At the time of writing the government’s plan appears to be to spend many billions of pounds, firstly on a divorce settlement and thereafter on a trade agreement with the EU on significantly worse terms than the present one while – of necessity — allowing for little change in immigration levels, and, as a non-member of the club, with no ability to influence any future EU policy. After two years of “negotiation” a “deal” will no doubt be presented to satisfy the Leave vote and pretend that something has been accomplished, as is the way with these things. To be in serious competition with the US as global laughing stock does us no favours.

At a recent public debate which I attended in my own town involving local politicians of the significant parties (I choose my words advisedly – UKIP weren’t there) the speakers were invited, having had at least a year to think about it, to indicate what, if any, benefits might flow from Brexit.  After musing on the opportunities which would now surely open up for us to work with China to improve their human rights record, the chief merit identified by our sitting MP – herself a self-confessed Leave voter and therefore at odds with her own constituency — was that the anomaly of French nurses having priority for jobs in our NHS over, say, Philippinos would be ended. Eh? Say again? At least that worrying problem seems to have been solved: in the light of the referendum result the NHS has seen a 96% fall in job applications from nurses overseas. Result! The fact that our MP is herself a nurse I throw into the pot to assist your understanding…

One hopes even at this stage that politicians might display statesmanship and either act directly against Brexit or at least ask the nation if this lunacy is what they actually want. The wellbeing of the UK matters far more than party unity and our younger citizens will not forgive us for treating their future with such disdain. Politicians who allow this absurdity to proceed will have it on their conscience for many years to come. The rest of us won’t forget. Never in my lifetime have the prospects of the nation seemed so bleak. And I’m someone who can remember Lynsey de Paul in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Two constructive themes did however emerge from the general election. The nauseating and preposterous garbage which has been the stock in trade of waste paper producers like the Express, Mail and Sun for so long appears to have had its day and seems to have influence on nobody below the age of 50.

At last, a respectable use for the Daily Mail

And, very sadly, it has taken the Grenfell Tower atrocity to highlight that there is nothing inherently beneficial about cutting taxes, local authority budgets and regulatory standards.

Also in a more positive vein – though not a jolly one – was the news last week that there will be criminal prosecutions arising from the 1989 Hillsborough stadium atrocity (apologies for reusing this word from the previous paragraph but words like “disaster” may suggest just an unfortunate accident or freak of nature).

Personally I’ve always felt more anger about the malicious, organised and sustained cover up by the police and others that followed Hillsborough than the fatal mistakes and incompetence of the authorities on the day. Justice has been too long in the coming but we seem to be getting there.

But in Brighton the sun has been shining, and not just because an excellent young man and good family friend has been elected as one of the city’s MPs. Go Lloyd!

Mrs Blog and I, on our current (modest) exercise kick, took a five mile stroll along the city’s seafront at the weekend, taking in the ambitious programme of regeneration and renovation, an excellent bacon and egg roll and a mint’n’choc chip ice-cream. Mrs B also liberated from the beach, without the benefit of planning permission, several nicely rounded pebbles. These are key elements in the continuing struggle to defend her birdfeeders against the predations of squirrels. The pebbles, you should understand, are not intended to be launched at said grey rodents, either manually or through the mechanism of tripwire and crossbow, but are to be lowered into place on top of the seeds in the feeders to prevent the grey b*st*rds going headfirst down the tubes, from which one has already had to be rescued. The adorable little chaps are nothing if not determined and resourceful but Mrs B is their intellectual equal and they provoke her at their peril. Marguerite Patten is silent on squirrel recipes but hey….

The sun has also brought ‘em out a mile or two along the coast in Saltdean – to be precise, to the newly reopened Grade 2* listed, 1938 lido close to the seafront. Having closed and reopened more than once before, let us hope that the present incarnation will prosper. The specially constituted charitable body that acquired the lido on a lease from Brighton and Hove City Council has worked its socks off, secured millions of pounds from the National Lottery and other sources, reopened the two heated pools to great acclaim in June and is still pursuing grant applications to enable the full restoration of the gorgeous Art Deco buildings next year. Brilliant people, brilliant project.

Talking of restoration (see what I did there?), Blogdaughter and I paid a visit in June to another Grade 2* listed treasure — Wilton’s, just east of the Tower of London, the world’s oldest surviving music hall, evolving over the years from Victorian sailors’ pub to music hall, from Methodist mission to rag warehouse. Reopening – and not for the first time – in 2015 as a multi-arts performance venue, Wilton’s is, like Saltdean lido, a jewel, saved and adapted by devoted volunteers.

This Blog waited to visit Wilton’s until it was scheduled to host an event of particular interest to him – in this case, a Tom Lehrer tribute act. For those unfamiliar with his oeuvre in the 1950s and 60s, Lehrer – a professor of Maths at Harvard – wrote and performed at the piano such evergreen gems as “Fight Fiercely, Harvard”, “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park”, “The Old Dope Peddler”, “We’ll all go together when we go”, “Masochism Tango” and the immortal listing of the periodic table to the tune of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “I am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” known as “The Elements”. Lehrer said of his musical career, “If, after hearing my songs, just one human being is inspired to say something nasty to a friend, or perhaps to strike a loved one, it will all have been worth the while.”

So, Blogdaughter and I arrived early to take in the ambience, appreciate the history, the beautifully conserved architectural features and a leisurely drink in the bar and eagerly await the “turn” in our front row seats in the gallery.

Shame about the acoustics that evening but, as most of us could have sung the words in our sleep, little matter – I think it was a one-off issue involving something technical with amplifiers and cooling fans. Don’t let it put you off the venue. You can, and indeed should, buy the Tom Lehrer CDs. In your car they let you sit right at the front and the only one singing along annoyingly will be you.

Tom Lehrer is, as they say in Private Eye, 89.

 

 

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Architecture

Liquid Assets

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Swimming is just one of many things I didn’t learn to do when young. The asymmetical bars, whistling through my fingers, and quantitative easing, were others. Living out in the Lancashire countryside there weren’t many pools around and our primary school had other things they wanted to spend time on, like rickets and smacking. (For a long time I was confused about the distinction between corporal and capital punishment, but I think I’ve got it straight now.)

By the time my parents got round to filling this gap (that’s the swimming, not the capital punishment), I was already too old and scared to mount a serious effort. My mother had never learned to swim herself and my father was of the “in the Navy we used to chuck ‘em in and see if they floated” school of self-improvement. So the years passed and I remained landlocked. In truth, it didn’t bother me that much, as even the kids who said they could swim never actually seemed to do so. Returning from exotic holidays (well, compared with mine in Middlesbrough, theirs in the Isle of Wight were deeply impressive), they complained of the sea being too cold and my sense of deprivation stayed within reasonable bounds.

Once every decade or so I would give it another go but it wasn’t until I reached my thirties that a combination of (a) my inability to continue playing contact and racquet sports due to knee injuries, and (b) a strong desire to impress the fairer sex, prompted me once more into the depths. That, and the practical application of the confidence building properties of alcohol. People talk about “cooking wine” to distinguish it from the better stuff: I discovered “swimming whisky”. Eventually, during the fifth of my weekly visits to Stretford leisure centre, I was persuaded to take my feet off the bottom of the pool and never looked back, or down. As this was in fact merely the bottom of the toddlers’ pool, my achievement did little to meet the second of my objectives – see (b) above.

Having at last taken to water like a duck to, er, putty, I was now able to enjoy taking blogdaughter to water parks on holiday, and even manage the odd bit of snorkelling, provided the sea was warm, no more than three feet deep and full of inflatable play equipment.

All this is in fact irrelevant to my subject, the fine architecture frequently associated with swimming pools.

Ten years ago I was aroused from a torpid evening’s surfing through the television channels when I spotted, in a programme called “Restoration”, and fronted by Griff Rhys Jones, a noble but crumbling edifice known as the Victoria Baths in Manchester. Regular visitors to this blog may recall (but, then why should you?) that Manchester was “home” to this blog for twenty years. Indeed, said Baths were but a short pub crawl from Chez Blog and the location for one of my failed attempts to swim. (Strictly speaking, I may have complied with the definition in my ancient Pocket Oxford Dictionary: “swim: progress at or below surface of water by working limbs or body”, but I think we’re being pedantic.) In the early days at the Victoria Baths the water was used first in the Males’ First Class pool, then reused in the Males’ Second Class pool – you can guess where this is heading – and finally in the Females’ pool.

For me the building’s real attraction was its suite of green-tiled Turkish baths, still functioning in a desultory fashion before rising costs and changing fashions eventually called “time” in 1993. My recollection is of being pummelled by eunuchs, but I suspect this may be one of many instances of false memory syndrome on my part.

The Baths is a truly magnificent building, described as Jacobean and Baroque, now Grade II* listed and fully deserving of its original, 1906 description as Manchester’s “water palace”. For the only time in my life I cast a vote in a TV phone poll and thus claim credit for winning the £3.4 million lottery funding for the restoration of the bath complex. Restoration work has now been underway for a decade and there remains much to be done. I had the opportunity last weekend to attend on an open day and the photos below (all courtesy of blogchum, Phil) will pay better testament than any words to the awesome quality of the building (imagine a council being able and willing to fund something like that now), the current state of repair and the huge, public spirited commitment of the Friends of Victoria Baths who have made it this far.

Wikipedia it by all means, but also please visit:

 www.victoriabaths.org.uk 

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This weekend it was the turn of Saltdean lido on the Sussex coast, just east of Brighton, to open its doors and seek our support. The 1930s brought a fashion for healthy outdoor activity, and swimming in particular, coinciding with the spread of reinforced concrete. For a heady decade or two, thousands would turn up just to watch a one-legged diver or a parade of young ladies in swimwear – though by today’s standards, you might be forgiven for thinking they were wearing overcoats. Saltdean lido is, I understand, an example of an architectural style called Streamline Moderne, a kind of evolution from Art Deco and with a look attributed to the ocean-going liners of the period.

So many of these wonderful structures have now gone but, happily, here – as in Manchester – a determined group of local people have been working hard, firstly to save the lido from demolition or conversion for other uses, and, thereafter, to restore it to former glories. The first lido in this country to be listed, Saltdean – like the Victoria Baths – merits our support. We are lucky in the UK that there are people with the enthusiasm, the knowledge and the bloodymindedness to keep working away to save these irreplaceable assets for the nation. Here’s the website for the lido:

 www.saltdeanlido.co.uk

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There are two excellent, well illustrated books published by English Heritage which feature the Victoria Baths and Saltdean Lido respectively:

“Great Lengths: The historic indoor swimming pools of Britain”

“Liquid Assets: The lidos and open air swimming pools of Britain”

 

And, by the way, I can now swim without the whisky. Snorkelling less so.

 

 

 

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