Politics

Our history tells us who we are

Blog 82

Ok, there’s a debate to be had about the value and role of public statues but, personally, I’m way up for the one just unveiled in Parliament Square.

Women’s suffrage campaigner, Millicent Fawcett, has to be one of the great Britons of the 19th and 20 centuries. Why has it taken so long?

Millicent Fawcett, who, through her untiring efforts, helped to improve the lives and prospects of millions

… and therefore not to to be confused with

;

 

At least, in the positivity aroused by the unveiling, we have a counterpoint to the horror show circulating around what is being called Windrushgate, or whatever.

That the country should have allowed itself to sink to the point where politicians feel that developing a deliberately hostile environment to selected legal, invited, recruited immigrants and their descendants – those who not only fill vital jobs but, through their taxes as a “working age” population, subsidise the rest of us ageing “white folk” – will be a vote winner is nothing short of a national disgrace.

Promoted by our lowest political life forms like Farage – and there are plenty more – it brings shame to a once decent country and is clearly reflected in the ridiculous, self-destructive Brexit vote, the worst thing to happen to this country in my lifetime.

This is so far from being the country I grew up in and could take some pride in. Brexit will, if it happens, ensure we continue our shift towards economic, social, environmental and political marginalisation. What an achievement.

Meanwhile “in other news”:

While awaiting the start of radiotherapy (and many thanks for all the warm wishes), I have had to undergo a few, what are known as, MRI and CT scans. Essential of course – and I’m totally indebted to our largely immigrant staffed and funded NHS – but, to a lifelong claustrophobe, this is an additional hurdle to negotiate!  In my case by swallowing a couple of sedatives first in the hope that I might not notice that I was being inserted into something like a Chilean miner escape tube.

After one scan we had arranged to meet up with a friend and I was embarrassed to be told later that I’d twice fallen asleep at (on?) our table, due no doubt to my over-enthusiasm for sedation!

While off work I have been able to do a lot of reading and am grateful for the suggestions you have been giving me.  I have always read a lot of non-fiction and now find myself devouring more and more. This week, having last week finished off a biography of Clem Attlee and Helen Pankhurst’s Deeds Not Words,

I’ve read a full account of the disastrous Donner Party (a 19th century California bound wagon train complete with added cannibalism. What, as they say, is not to like?

My experience is that, while I start out thinking that I know something about the subject that I’m reading about, I )soon realise how little I do know and want to dig deeper. Life, it seems to me, is an ongoing learning experience!

But there is plenty of lighter stuff out there! I have a Miles Jupp book (!) on order and a locally based crime thriller, because you just can’t beat a bit of pre-Scandi noir, especially if you recognise the places and even the characters being worked over…

In a previous post I mentioned Stuart Maconie among my list of favourite authors. Very true. But with one reservation. After completing my own book, Northern Soles, about a 2016 coast to coast walk, I was hoping to come up with an idea for another long walk with some kind of social/political relevance and hit on the thought of doing my own re-enactment of the Jarrow march. A little later I discovered that Stuart M had beaten me to it and his book was already in the pipeline! Bummer! Swallowing my instinctive resentment, I simply ordered it and it’s a splendid read.

Very much enjoyed watching the Commonwealth Games on telly through the night (I have a lot of time on my hands just now) and, having a netball-bonkers (and top quality player) for a daughter, there was never a chance that I would miss a single second of the gold medal match against the Aussies! Brilliant stuff!

And my beloved Liverpool FC ain’t doing badly just now either!

Have also been using my “enforced leisure time” to carry out some long-overdue clearance of old papers and now unwanted books. Very therapeutic. And, as a treat, provided Mrs Blog is out of the house at the time, I’ve indulged myself by buying a cheap retro turntable to play a selection of my old 45s!

We had to cancel our June holiday in Barbados but insisted that blog daughter and her boyfriend should carry on without us.  They still need and deserve the break. Mrs Blog has asked them to send us pics of our favourite places on the island so we can share the experience.  I’m not sure about that!!

But we are still arranging to go, or at least be available for,  the odd local event on the basis that it will be better to focus on what I can, or may still be able to do, and not what I may not be able to do.  Indeed we have just booked to see our favourite, canal based Mikron Theatre near Oxford in the summer. I first saw them perform about 50 years ago and the company is, thankfully, still going strong. I have blogged enthusiastically about them before and they featured in my coast to coast walk.

By the way, we sometimes talk about Britain being “overcrowded”.

I thought you might be interested to know (2011 landscape report by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology):

Grassland: 38%

Arable and horticulture: 25%

Mountains, heath and bogs: 16%

Woodland, coniferous and broadleaf: 12%

Urban areas: 6%

…leaving 3% for what? Decking, roundabouts and old mattresses??

Of the urban 6%, over half is defined as gardens, parks, verges etc, meaning that around 2.27% of England is actually built on.  Just thought you might want to know as being “overcrowded” seemed important to some people during the Brexit “debate” (debate??)

Again, many thanks for all the kind words of support during my illness and for the interest shown in Northern Soles!

Shameless plug: very much available through all usual channels!

http://www.silverwoodbooks.co.uk/product/9781781327562/northern-soles

 

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Health

You just can’t beat a book!

Blog 80

My most recent post on this blog highlighted two things:

  1. The publication last month of my “Northern Soles: a coast to coast walk”, an account of a 2016 200 mile walk from Mersey to Humber, sponsored for the British Heart Foundation. Kind followers of the blog, either direct or via social media, have been more than kind in their responses and comments, and I am most grateful. All support is very welcome! It is available through usual channels. This link to the publisher’s website may be helpful:

http://www.silverwoodbooks.co.uk/

2 . I had just been diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour, outcome unknown.

 

This initially presented itself just a few short weeks ago as an unexpected loss of grip in my left hand. A scan at Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton revealed the guilty party and an operation to remove the bulk of it was carried out swiftly, which has brought some benefits in “functionality”.  I have been discharged from hospital and am now based at my home in Lewes. Following further scans, investigations and detailed meetings with oncologists and other members of the team, I am now due to undergo a three week course of radiotherapy in Brighton in May, outcome to be monitored in due course.

The publication of Northern Soles has in some ways been timely. Not only in providing me with healthy contact with my “real” life and warm hearted responses, but also in creating a subject for chat with staff when in hospital. I love nothing more than chatting with people about their aspirations and backgrounds, and nurses seemed very happy to share with me, on seeing the book,  their tales of training in Hull or Warrington!

This is probably not the time to share with you any hospital based anecdotes but I will say this. While the techy limitations of a lack of a mobile signal or a wi-fi connection while incarcerated, drove me to distraction, I have continued to take comfort in the solidity of hard copy books, both in hospital and now at home. My own choices during this difficult time will make sense to nobody but me, but they work for me!

Helen Dunmore’s The Siege

Engel’s England: 39 counties, one capital and one man

Histories of Nations: edited by Peter Furtado

And, perhaps most surprisingly of all, a new 600 page biography of Clement Attlee titled Citizen Clem. (If there is another genuine contender for the unofficial title of greatest British politician of the 20th century, I can’t identify one…)  As I say, my blog, my choices! Plenty of scope for lighter reading material too.

Next down the line will be Helen Pankhurst’s new book Deeds not Words which Helen signed for Mrs Blog and me at the book launch in the Pankhurst Centre in Manchester just a few weeks ago. Those who have followed this blog or made contact with my own new book will be aware of Helen’s support for my own humble efforts and I will remain in her gratitude and in admiration for her continuing campaigning work. A lovely lady.

If all goes well I still hope that one of my own small book promo events might eventually take place at the Pankhurst Centre.

I will do my best to continue to communicate any progress. I can say unequivocally that the support  received from around the world as well of course as that from close family and friends, is invaluable in any recovery.

Many thanks and much love

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Travel

Northern Soles: a coast to coast walk

Nother Soles_FINAL Cover Proof (5)

Blog 79:

Northern Soles: a coast to coast walk

Regular followers of this blog will know that it undertook a 200 mile sponsored walk in 2016 from Mersey to Humber as the basis for a book, initially titled “The Road to Hull is Paved with Good Intentions!” but published last month as “Northern Soles”.

The dedication reads:

To the charity volunteers and staff striving to save the social and environmental soul of your communities. The nation owes you thanks. To all of you this book is dedicated.

 

The cover and content carry kind words of support from: Polly Toynbee, Journalist and writer on social affairs:

This delightful road trip from Liverpool to Hull takes us along the way through history and present day, from industrial revolution to good works, art works, environmental wonders and remarkable people. Exploring multitudes of unknown highways and byways, Steve Ankers’ journey bristles with insights into how we live now and how history shapes our present and our future

 

From Helen Pankhurst, international development and women’s rights activist:

“Travel writing with good humour and a welcome attention to issues of equality and social justice”

From Fiona Reynolds, Environmental campaigner and writer: I so enjoyed this witty, somewhat serendipitous adventure led by our guide from Liverpool to Hull; and enriched by memories, encounters with stalwarts of the voluntary sector that is the beating heart of England, and enlivened by the truth that walking in the countryside isn’t always the sublime experience it’s cracked up to be. Do read it.

 

From travel writer Mark Elliott:

“… a wisecracking travelogue, liberally peppered with British rain, bunions and endlessly curious factoids from the recipe of ‘blind scouse’ to how Adam Ant found his stage name in a Liverpool urinal.

 

 

 If all this sounds a bit too serious, then I’m misleading you. Pl see this flyer for a neater summary.

Northern Soles by Steve Ankers (1) (1).pdf

 

 And thank you to all those whose who supported me on the walk and in the writing. Many of you kindly sponsored me along the way for the British Heart Foundation. We made it!  If you enjoy what you see, pl feel free to give wider circulation!

 

Meanwhile, I have just embarked on a very different journey of which the outcome is less certain. Having been diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour in the last few weeks, I will have a battle on my hands and am very lucky to enjoy the total love and support of my family and a wide network of friends and colleagues. If fortune permits, I look forward to blogging successful progress! Fingers crossed!

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Uncategorized

When you walk through a storm

BLOG 72

As the pound continues to fall, food prices and the cost of holidays rise, businesses switch their investment to mainland Europe, the universities struggle to attract foreign students and the NHS, farming, construction and hospitality industries highlight their growing labour shortages, and the Leave EU voters mutter, “Nothing to do with us”, this Blog has sought diversion in harmless pleasures while awaiting the next Tory party inspired crisis known as the general election.

Owing plenty not only to the NHS but also the charities that keep it afloat, this Blog and Mrs Blog, and, in the past, both Blogdaughter and Blogdog, set out each May in the sponsored Brighton Heart Support Trust stroll along the seafront. I think this is aimed in part at showing bystanders that bionic “body parts scroungers” can still put one foot in front of another, and perhaps also at convincing us survivors of the same thing.

This Blog has made full use of the NHS over the years

The weather usually looks kindly on our walk, it provides more opportunity to enjoy the city than when you’re trying to park, and it offers unlimited prospects of bacon butties and donuts on the pier.

 

Displaying great self-discipline, we restrict ourselves to just one sandwich each….

….so we can afford to be a little more self-indulgent at the donut stall.

Mrs Blog and I, both being semi-retired, have taken to walking on the South Downs and  visiting National Trust properties, shops or tearooms during midweek with the result that the world seems full of old people. I suppose they have to be somewhere but they do seem to take a long time to choose a cake.

Midweek matinee fun

On the other hand, we find that children are also best avoided. The housing estate where we live (Mrs B doesn’t like me using that word — I think she has middle class aspirations) has organised a Street Party one Sunday in June. Now, we’re British and, despite recent security warnings, not easily frightened, at least not until the threat level hits “Replacement Bus Service” or “Street Party”. We have accordingly Googled, “HELP! Where else can we be on 11 June??” and will be attending the annual memorial service at the Chattri.

Our cul de sac always overdoes it with these things. This was to celebrate the completion of the draft neighbourhood plan

As it happens, this is a favourite walk destination for us and we have planned to make the service for a while. The Chattri is a fine, marble monument, a listed building, set high on the Downs outside Brighton with distant views of the sea. It marks the spot where Hindu and Sikh soldiers, injured in action in the WW1 trenches and brought to the temporary hospital in Brighton’s famous Pavilion, were cremated if they failed to recover. (Only if they died, as Mrs Blog rather pedantically insists that I point out.) Wiki tells me there were over 800,000 Indian soldiers fighting for the Empire at the time and that King George V felt that the exotic mock-Indian surroundings of the Pavilion might help them feel right at home.  That, and the pier, sticks of rock and Donald McGill postcards, no doubt.

Visiting any scene of “ultimate sacrifice” like the D-Day beaches, Flanders war graves or the Menin Gate is inevitably a most moving experience and to stand at the Chattri and think of those men a century ago, fighting and dying so very far from home, is right up there.

There must be something in the air because I met up with an old school friend a week ago at the Imperial War Museum. (Did I say I was seeking diversion in harmless pleasures?) He was over from where he now lives near San Francisco (it’s always sensible to retain friends in useful places) where they don’t have any history of course. This Blog isn’t really into weaponry and not obsessed about set piece battles, but the IWM is about so much more. It’s one of the best places I know for telling a story and engaging your interest. We spent a good three hours without even making the shop or café, which Mrs B found hard to believe – the shop and café bit. The more or less permanent, extensive exhibition on the holocaust would be hard to beat – and we did take in the equivalent in Jerusalem during a recent cruise – but our starting point was the temporary gallery on “Fighting for Peace”, the story of conscientious objectors, the Greenham Common women and protest marches against the Iraq war.

You put your whole self in….

The age old scenario: you finish your demo and there’s never enough buses

Adopting our “we’re approaching middle age” practice of buying tickets for midweek matinees, Mrs Blog and I went to see Richard Wilson as the headmaster in Alan Bennett’s Forty Years On at the Festival Theatre in Chichester. Having read the play several decades ago it was nostalgically comforting to hear Bennett’s familiar lines:

“wild horses on bended knees couldn’t have dragged me away”

“it was the kind of library he had only read about in books” and

“I have never understood this liking for war. It panders to instincts already catered for within the scope of any respectable domestic establishment”

That’s about as experimental and challenging as theatre needs to get for Mrs Blog and me.

Not exactly Alan Ayckbourn, though, is it?

Next week we take another adventurous step, this time musically, to the hip coastal resort of Eastbourne. Sorry, that should read, the hip replacement coastal resort.  It’s for a Gerry and the Pacemakers concert and there’ll be pacemakers everywhere. Along with all the other scouse ex-pats on the Sussex coast I’ll take me red and white scarf for the cardiac recoverers’ encore…..

“Walk on, walk on, with hope in your hearts….”

Gerry always gets a great encore at the Eastbourne Hippodrome

 

 

 

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The Road to Hull is Paved with Good Intentions

BLOG 70

“Where are you up to?” I hear you ask.

Coast to coast walk – New Brighton (like Brighton but without the refinement, and sun) to Spurn Head (a mobile, transient kind of shoreline for our times) via Liverpool, Manchester, Huddersfield and Hull – 200 miles duly walked. Booker Prize winning narrative, first and second drafts completed. J K Rowling style publishing contract still a work in progress. Filming rights under negotiation; George Clooney in frame to play the part of “me” but content of Oscar acceptance speech may prove stumbling block.

I travelled on the Mersey ferry, on a ghost train and by narrow boat through the Pennines. I attended a liquorice festival in Pontefract, a Super League game in Castleford, a gathering of brass bands in Saddleworth (sadly Tara Fitzgerald no longer plays solo flugelhorn with Grimley Colliery band)….

… a whole assortment of museums and theatres, Edwardian swimming baths and a wildflower centre (in Liverpool!) I was made welcome at the finest cat hotel in Dewsbury or anywhere else, at a bingo night in Hull and a pub quiz in Liverpool. I stayed in splendid old railway hotels, hostels, welcoming B&Bs and some distinctly ordinary pubs. I ate more curries, scouse, spam fritters, home-made ice cream, Hull potato patties and full English than you can shake a black pudding at. There was snow and torrential rain on Merseyside and heatstroke on the Humber. I hung out with the Pankhursts, Elizabeth Gaskell, William Wilberforce and Philip Larkin. And Kay Kendall.

Yorkshire folk, they’re not like other folk…

And I was privileged to visit some of the most exciting conservation schemes and heart-warming community and social projects you’ll encounter anywhere, meeting volunteers and staff making huge efforts to preserve and enhance the social and environmental soul of the country – with little reward beyond the knowledge that their contributions are greatly appreciated by those who benefit from them. While public services continue to be sacrificed to the false gods of austerity and tax cutting, the nation owes a huge debt of gratitude to those who unflinchingly put their fingers in the dyke and strive to stem the tide.

All I need now is the book.

I’m grateful for your suggested alternative titles.

“John”, sensing the value of wordplay, gave me “To Hull and Back”, adding the proviso that it would only work if I turned round on reaching the North Sea and did the whole walk in reverse. We haven’t spoken since…

“Keith”, seeking a musical link between my start and end points of Merseyside and Humberside, posited “Hull hath no Fury, but it does hath Ronnie Hilton and David Whitfield”. Mm.

I think I’ve got the dedication sorted, along these lines:

To the taxi drivers of Yorkshire for your unequivocal advice, thank you. I wouldn’t have grasped the subtleties of Brexit or Hull, City of Culture without your help.

Well, it’s a work in progress…

I am very pleased to have help from Jennifer Barclay, a real travel writer with a website and everything, in honing my magnum opus, accepting the excessive grumblings of a knackered cross country walker and reminding me that I don’t have permission to use song lyrics or quote extensively from eminently quotable sources.

As it happens, I have now been given permission by Alison McGovern MP to quote from the lyrics of her grandfather, Pete McGovern’s In My Liverpool Home:

 “We speak with an accent exceedingly rare,

   meet under a statue exceedingly bare,

   if you want a cathedral we’ve got one to spare

   in my Liverpool home….”

… which is cool.

I still need the nod from Gerry Marsden, Philip Larkin, Anthony Gormley and the authors of Crap Towns but it’s surely only a matter of time.

To create an illusion of narrative merit I’m also delighted to say that Polly Toynbee (nowadays mainly The Guardian), Dr Helen Pankhurst (very much a Pankhurst and as helpful as one could possibly imagine) and Fiona Reynolds (National Trust, CPRE, writer and much besides) have all kindly supplied words of endorsement for the cover. Which may give you a flavour of how it will read…

Even before it comes off the presses The Road to Hull has had the benefit of press coverage. Back in the spring of last year this blog was approached by a student journalist from Sussex University asking for an interview about the Great Trek for a piece to be offered to local papers. A meeting was arranged to fit in, for the sake of convenience, after an appointment I had made with the local foot doctor to examine some seriously walk-battered toenails. A quick examination revealed that these couldn’t all be saved and, after a swift toenailectomy while I bit down on my newspaper, I crossed the road to a café for our meeting.

My interviewer asked why I was doing the walk, how many miles I hoped to do each day, how it had gone so far, what was still to come. It was gratifying to share my thoughts and experiences with someone who was interested. I gave it my best shot, threw in plenty of anecdotes and told him where I’d been immediately before our meeting.

I picked up a copy of the local paper later in the week to see if I was in there. There was a big article with a photo under a bold headline:

66 Year Old Chiropodist Patient Plans Coast to Coast Walk

To help me in my endeavours Mrs Blog has bought me a fine writer’s hat.

That at least is how she described it when persuading me to buy one at the Bruges Christmas market. It may have been what she thought I needed to keep my head warm and dry but I prefer to believe in its special creative qualities. Without his hat Isambard Kingdom Brunel would have been just a short fat bloke from Portsmouth stood in front of a pile of chains. Without his hat Indiana Jones would have been some supply teacher of archaeology with a frown and a bullwhip fixation. Without a writer’s hat this blog would be just some bloke with a cold; but don his new, size 7 literary headgear and he is transformed into a bloke with both a cold and a hat. And with those anything is possible.

…but, even with a hat, some people are beyond help

Mrs Blog and I will be taking a break in April with a cruise line owned and frequented by Americans. She has instructed me not to mention, or respond to, or think about, the T word. I promise nothing…

But before that this blog has an appointment in London on Saturday 25 March with tens of thousands of others, the ones who’ve looked into the chasm that is Brexit and are sore afraid. I attended a “What happens next?” panel event last week featuring our MP and spokespersons for the other parties. The MP’s position can reasonably be represented as:

  1. She voted Leave in the referendum
  2. She saw the chief benefits as being able to trade with the US to take advantage of their lower standards of food safety and environmental protection, and with China so we can improve their human rights record, and ensuring that Filipino nurses should have the same opportunities to seek work here as French nurses. (She’d had, presumably, nine months to come up with those.)
  3. While a 52/48% split for Leave was highly significant in the national vote, a 52/48 % split in favour of Remain in her own constituency on the other hand meant we were split down the middle.
  4. However obvious and appalling the economic and other implications of Brexit were now becoming, she would – now that parliament had, against the wishes of the government, been given a say — support “Article 50”.

And we used to think we had a sophisticated democracy…

Join me in London on the 25th!

 

 

 

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To Spurn: transitive verb: tread sharply or heavily upon

 

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BLOG 66

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Council to replace bent post”

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

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A post

 

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

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

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

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

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

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 Denizens of the Deep?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Recently arrived prisoner in “civvy” gear…

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Cats, bats, liquorice and early baths

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Back to Dewsbury for the next stage of my coast to coast walk and straight to the finest accommodation I have ever visited in Britain or elsewhere.

What a shame it’s for cats only. The Ings Luxury Cat Hotel is simply a knockout. Set up, owned and managed by a lovely Yorkshire couple who were reluctant to leave their own pets in catteries or kennels when they went on holiday, the Ings now provides 5 star (10 star if they go up that far) luxury. With 12 suites (yes, suites) in the spa building and 6 more in the lodge (for “activity holidays”) and 100% occupancy throughout the year, Jo and Phil have developed a very distinctive model which the Ritz can only dream about.

A welcome tray, with Pussy’s own name on it, bearing shrimp delights and other tasty nibbles – tick.

Large flat screen TVs showing alluring visions of denizens of the deep – tick.

Afternoon tea served in the comfort of your own suite – tick.

Bedtime stories and birthday celebrations – tick.

Weekly disco with disco lights and prizes – tick.

Personalised (felicised?) party bag on departure – tick.

Check out the website!  I promise it’s all true.

http://www.theingsluxurycathotel.co.uk/

 

for the ultimate felinennWESTLODGE BOARDING CATTERYnnluxury cat boarding cattery in cambridgeshirennWestlodge is a very special cattery with a relaxed, friendly and informal atmosphere where the care and welfare of our cat guests is of prime importance.nnWe are very proud to announce the opening of a brand new luxury cattery, consisting of 13 exclusive cat suites, includingnn3 exclusive luxury V.I.C Suites (Very Important Cat!)n3 exclusive Ocean Suitesn7 luxury Themed Suites including a large family suitenand Traditional pensnNot only are our cat suites filled with daylight, beautiful views and the most comfortable, luxury cat beds, they are naturally built with the highest welfare, hygiene and construction standards.nnAs you would expect, every cat is brushed and cared for individually throughout the day by a dedicated member of staff who, we promise, will cater to your cat's every whim.nnWe believe that all cats are truly amazing creatures, with personalities and characteristics as individual as distinctive as their beautiful coats.

 

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Did I mention, Phil is also a former winner of the World Coal Carrying Championships, held just along the road in Gawthorpe? It’s reassuring to know that the closure of the actual coalmines hasn’t prevented the Brits remaining competitive – I didn’t like to ask but I hope the coal hasn’t been imported…

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From Dewsbury the next day to Wakefield via field footpaths, disused railway lines and river bank. In a sidings I walked past by far the longest train I have ever seen (other than some Mauretanian iron ore train, I think it was, on a Michael Palin travel programme which was, I recall, visible from outer space, or from the Great Wall of China, or somewhere. That is, the iron ore train was visible….rather than the Michael Palin programme, for which you probably needed a dish.)  But I digress. “My” train was attractively liveried in blue and bearing the label “Drax: Powering Tomorrow: Carrying Sustainable Biomass for Cost Effective Renewable Power”. So that’s all good then.

As Wakefield town centre appears to have leaked away into a number of “retail parks” on the edge of town, I wandered off in search of fast “food” in lieu of an evening meal, then spent the evening at the Theatre Royal enjoying “Bat Boy the Musical” from a privileged position in my own box. All great fun. A musical about inter species intimate “relationships”, uxoricide, filicide, a lynch mob triggered by a Christian revivalist meeting – what’s not to enjoy? Certainly, all the children in the audience seemed to be having a good time. But the loudness of much of the music meant that singers were obliged to shout their words throughout the songs, with a variety of dubious American accents, so some of the subtlety may have passed me by.

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From Wakefield to the National Trust’s fine property at Nostell Priory and a tour of the house led by devoted Trust volunteers (I am one myself, though happily not in a way that might lead to serious damage either to me or the property). Having gazed at a score of family portraits in the house, I asked why people in general, and children in particular, seem to have been so strangely unattractive back in the day. Our guide offered the suggestion that poor lighting and the lack of a local branch of Specsavers may have led to more breeding than was strictly wise, but it was just a thought.

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From Wakefield to Castleford and a Sunday morning contentedly spent at the annual Pontefract liquorice festival, taking in a talk from a retired liquorice maker (yes, I did) and sampling the “Big L” (as nobody calls it) in ice cream, beer, cakes, jams and – my own favourite – pork pies (I ate three). If you have never danced in the street with a lady dressed as one of those round blue jobs from Bassetts with little bits of something on the outside, well then, you haven’t.

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But all good things must come to an end and I made my apologies and set off for the Super League (13 a side rugby league) fixture at Castleford to watch the Tigers playing at home to the Catalan Dragons from Perpignan – which wouldn’t have happened in Eddie Waring’s day. As my room at the very welcoming Wheldale Hotel faced the Tigers’ stadium across the road, it was hard to miss – and at £14 with my bus pass, excellent value. Unlike football, scoring points is a regular occurrence in rugby league but you do miss the theatrical diving and rolling that plays such a key part of the former. If he were on the receiving end of a tackle from a rugby league forward, Ronaldo wouldn’t stop crying for a week.

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The Wheldale Hotel, Castleford — ideally placed for the rugby league ground

Sadly, a good number of Castleford’s pubs are now closed and boarded up, including one just down the road from the Wheldale. Named the Early Bath, as in “you’re red carded, take an early bath”, it was until recently the home of one of the local amateur rugby league clubs.

The Tigers’ stadium currently goes by the name of the Mend a Hose Jungle (the Jungle being the home of tigers, of course, while Mend a Hose, in the words of its website:

“…services, stocks and markets the widest range of fluid connector products available such as pneumatic and hydraulic fittings, quick couplings, rubber and thermoplastic hoses, and all associated requirements”

… which, sadly, can’t quite be accommodated on the rugby shirt.

Local rivals Wakefield (now, I believe, thankfully restored to “the Trinity” rather than the Trinity Wildcats) play at Rapid Solicitors Stadium, Featherstone Rovers are based at Bigfellas Stadium (the eponymous pizza firm also having naming rights to “Pontefract’s Leading Nightclub” so they’ve got the social life of this part of West Yorkshire pretty well sorted) and Batley play hosts at Fox’s Biscuits Stadium. But, in sponsorship terms, this season’s big news has been the arrival on the rugby league scene of food giant Batchelors Peas. To quote the press launch:

Star players from each team went head-to-head at the Super League launch earlier this week in the ‘Leaning Tower of Peas-a’ challenge… As well as building towers of cans, the players enjoyed a portion of fish, chips and mushy peas, and took a trip down memory lane to relive their childhood experiences of eating one of the country’s best loved meals. The great and good of the sport will be working with Batchelors Peas on a host of exciting activities over the course of the season.  

We’ve started as we mean to go on! The season launch was a huge success and it was great to see the players getting involved and sampling Batchelors peas – the perfect matchday must-have to accompany fish and chips. We’re looking forward to involving players and fans in more mushy pea fun as the season progresses.” 

 

From Castleford along the Aire and Calder Navigation and the River Aire to Snaith and thence to Goole, and the end of stage four of my walk. I plan to be back in Goole in August for stage five.

 

Many thanks again for your sponsorship in aid of the British Heart Foundation, now approaching £1200. Here’s the link:

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

 

Just in case you thought I was going soft this week on those who voted “Leave” in the EU referendum – what with them already coping with the awful realisation that everything that the Remain camp said turned out to be true (and then some), while leaders of the Leave faction queued up to claim that they hadn’t intended to give the impression that immigration was actually likely to reduce…   If we’re all going to have to live in our freshly created, homemade economic, social and environmental mess, you’re not going to get off that lightly.

How about this for the fourteen most chilling words in the English language spoken since the referendum, from Nigel Lawson, former Chancellor of the Exchequer and paid climate change denier:

Leaving the EU is an ‘historic opportunity’ to finish the job Margaret Thatcher started”

Now, if we’d only known that the day before the vote…

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