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When you walk through a storm

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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

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

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

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

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

Yorkshire folk, they’re not like other folk…

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

All I need now is the book.

I’m grateful for your suggested alternative titles.

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

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

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

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

Well, it’s a work in progress…

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

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

 “We speak with an accent exceedingly rare,

   meet under a statue exceedingly bare,

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

   in my Liverpool home….”

… which is cool.

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

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

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

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

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

66 Year Old Chiropodist Patient Plans Coast to Coast Walk

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we used to think we had a sophisticated democracy…

Join me in London on the 25th!

 

 

 

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To Spurn: transitive verb: tread sharply or heavily upon

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Council to replace bent post”

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

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A post

 

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

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

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

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

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

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 Denizens of the Deep?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Recently arrived prisoner in “civvy” gear…

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

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

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

 

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

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

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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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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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Sport

Keirin? Madison? Make mine a Derny!

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BLOG 57

Yes, I’ve finally lost it. Or, rather, found my true vocation.

This Blog previously contemplated a career in politics (too angry), travel writing (too much competition) and brain surgery (too paroxysmal), but now it has discovered that what it’s really wanted to do all along is be a Derny driver. Like being a blood splatter expert (Blog 31), a toboggan pusher in Madeira (Blog 54) or a minor royal, this was an avenue that our school careers adviser omitted to share with the class. Either that or I was absent, being interviewed for the job of oligarch or — being that kind of school – as Head of Really Irresponsible Risk Taking with an investment bank.

unidentified boys'school Date: circa 1905 Source: postcard

Boys, hands up if you’re interested in a job as Partnerships Liaison Management Consultant. Coalminer?  Flying Picket? Ballet dancer?

But now I’ve seen the man who drives the Derny at the Olympic velodrome and I’m smitten.

While watching the Tour de France pass by (unless you’re really in need of a free paper hat or your local traffic lights have failed so there’s nothing more interesting to watch) compares unfavourably with inter-county basket weaving[1] as a spectator sport, track cycling is just the opposite. Brilliant competition, fantastic spectacle, races actually decided in front of you rather than later that afternoon in some distant part of the country. Horribly expensive hot dogs too, mind, but you can’t have everything.

Mrs. Blog and I tried without success to get tickets for the velodrome at the London Olympics and again at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, but we struck gold at the World Track Cycling Championships last week at Stratford. Brilliant!

Not that we always followed what was happening, which probably accounts for some inappropriately timed whooping from Mrs. Blog[2]. Neither, to be fair, did the PA announcer, who regularly confused his Repechage with his Derailleur.

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With the Olympics fast approaching, the Russian men’s pursuit team get a clean bill of health from the drug testers but suspicions remain about the specification of their bicycles

We, along with the rest of the 6,000 crowd, sportingly cheered competitors from all nations, though not too much. Unless it was the Australians or the Americans of course, who seemed most likely to beat “us” – there are limits. Plucky New Zealand got a good cheer – incidentally, bearing in mind that one of that nation’s sporting greats, cricketer Martin Crowe, had died the previous day, what do All Blacks teams wear instead of black arm bands?

We only had one medal ceremony during our session, for the men’s Kilometre Time Trial, won by a German rider. I’m not sure what my Dad would have had to say about standing for that national anthem: I happily stand for all of them out of proper respect. Mind you, I haven’t sung “our” national anthem since I was at primary school, or cubs probably, and I don’t intend to start now. When did that become compulsory at football internationals and cup finals?

Naturally we reserved our greatest support for the Battling Brits, including no less a national hero than Sir Bradley Wiggins in the men’s team pursuit. Sadly, by the time the crowd had worked its way through “Give us an S, Give us an I, Give us an R, Give us a B……………and what have you got?” what we actually had was the start of the next race.

Anyway, I was forgetting about the Derny driver.

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He’s brilliant – he (I don’t know if there are any “she”s but it would be nice to see it done sidesaddle) sits on a powered bike and trundles round the track, leading the competitors in the Keirin and one or two other events, controlling and gradually increasing the pace of the race before pulling off the track and leaving the cyclists to sprint to the finish. Apparently they used to have a petrol driven bike but the fumes didn’t really help the cyclists and I suppose the smog might have made them lose their way. What I assumed to be a pouch near the handlebars for his packed lunch turns out to be some sort of power pack. The driver — most are in their 60s and 70s and have been pacing for more than 40 years – sits upright and close to the back of the bike, providing an “envelope of low wind resistance” for the cyclists slipstreaming behind. (Apologies if you’re an experienced Keirin competitor yourself and know all this but, if so, you should be too busy to read this.) I gather there’s a small group of semi-pro pacers who travel around the various events during the “season”. I don’t know if they’d have me but, with the right amount of training, I think I could give it a shot. I could provide for the competitors behind me an “envelope of low wind resistance” second to none. It would have made my mother proud to see me on telly and she wouldn’t have had to worry so much about the traffic.

Blogfamily also notched up the Olympic Park’s Copper Box over the weekend (“The Box that Rocks”, for goodness’ sake) for a Netball Superleague (how easily I adopt the hype) encounter between Surrey Storm and the Hertfordshire Mavericks. Bearing in mind that the eight team league also includes the Manchester Thunder and Loughborough Lightning, what’s this thing they’ve got going with meteorological conditions? And, if they have to go down that route, what’s wrong with something a bit less aggressive, like, say, Home Counties South Sunny Spells? Or, for those of a more historical bent, the Soke of Peterborough Pleasant Warm Front?

Australia v New Zealand netball

 

Meanwhile, preparations continue for my Great Trek, or coast to coast walk, from Merseyside to Humberside. Just over three weeks to go now, and I’ve been getting cold feet. What if I don’t know anyone?

Mrs. Blog is keen to kit me out properly and has been Googling “What should an imbecile old enough to know better wear when he’s up north?”

I’ve invested in a pedometer – it counts your feet, apparently. As Mrs. B will be keen to tell you, I’m not great with gadgets but I reckon I should be OK using this to measure how I get on each day. According to the display, in the last three days alone I’ve clocked up nearly 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

How much to take? I remember when I first went abroad, hitchhiking round Europe back in the sixties, I was so worried about being away from home that I took a writing case with me – envelopes and everything. I was away nearly two weeks.

Less so nowadays. Now it’s more a case of whether a change of stuff is really necessary for a month’s walk if I avoid standing too close to people. I read one travel writer who ripped out and discarded each page of the book he was reading once he had read it – no point in carrying unnecessary weight, he said. Apart from the fact that I invariably forget everything I read by the next day and would undoubtedly need to check back, anyone who saw my blog about World Book Day will be aware that I’m as likely to put a coffee cup down on a new book as eat my own liver. Tear out the pages? I don’t think so.

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Mrs. Blog is keen that I take everything I need for my walk.  In case they don’t have shops up north.

Plenty of research is going into this walk, I can tell you. It’s not just a case of turning up and wandering off. I now know more than most of you will ever know about the Museum of the History of Policing in Cheshire, the annual Pontefract liquorice festival and the only – probably – museum devoted to the memory of Kay Kendall.

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Happy days! The nostalgia of policing…

 

'Chicks with Sticks' dressed as Liquorice Allsorts at the festival.

I really want to be at this year’s festival…

I have also become something of an expert (Mrs. B has been using a different word, which I won’t repeat) on sponsored naming rights at rugby league grounds in my search for a fixture that fits my itinerary. There will be a choice to be made between the Mend-a-Hose Jungle (Castleford), the Big Fellas (Pizza) Stadium (Featherstone – and also with naming rights to “Pontefract’s top night spot”), the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium (Batley) or Rapid Solicitors Stadium (Wakefield). Tough call but I’ll keep you posted.

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Does that really say “More Yum per Crumb”? I’m afraid it does.

 

PS I’ve just set up a sponsorship deal of my own on JustGiving. The deal is, I get to visit all these brilliant venues on my walk and you get to cough up money to the British Heart Foundation in the hope that I’ll then leave you in peace…    Deepest thanks in advance.

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

 

 

 

 

[1] Ref “Round the Horne” BBC Radio c. 1965

[2] In the spirit of evenhandedness Mrs.B would like it known that a school netball match attended by me, in which Blogdaughter was playing, was once halted so that the referee could reprimand me for “coaching” from the sidelines. And this a sport for which my knowledge of the rules was, and remains, non-existent.

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Travel

The Road to Hull is Paved with Good Intentions

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BLOG 56

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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