A phantom ship and a barbed wire fence

Eighteen years old. Standing at the window of my room in college. Staring out towards a low brick wall supporting a fence topped with barbed wire. Beyond it, the healthy green of a sports field.

Above the barbed wire, the intense summer-blue of the sky. The sun out of sight, way up high, shining fit to bust.

There’s a narrow path between the building and the fence. One of the disadvantages of a ground floor room.

After midnight, if your light’s on, you’re liable to hear a knock on the window. A friend with a man who’s scaled the locked gates is begging you to open the window and let him climb in. Then they’ll scurry from your room as quickly as they can. After checking the corridor for spies.

But it’s far from midnight and the day is full of promise.

I’m listening to a record I borrowed from a friend, on a record player borrowed from the girl next door.

Beneath my bare feet the grey floor is smooth and hard but not cold. The door to the little cupboard hiding my washbasin is ajar. An orange chair sits by the bookshelves. A single bed stretches along the wall that I share with the kitchen.

That was long ago and far away, but there’s something that always transports me back there – always.

It’s Sibelius’ fifth symphony.

I’d never heard a Sibelius symphony before I met Janet, a friend I see to this day. I was so impressed when she said, ‘listen to the tympani’ that I did. Again and again.

So many friends with so much knowledge to share – as well as records. And dresses. And books. We shared almost everything.

Or did I just borrow?

Possibly.

Anyway. For years I’ve listened to that symphony. I have two different recordings – one my own copy of that same record I borrowed.

Every time I hear it I’m whisked straight back to that room. To that sunny day, that barbed wire fence. To the dreams and hopes of eighteen year-old me.

As the music reaches a crescendo I’m standing on the deck of an imaginary sailing ship, cresting billowing waves. Salt spray flying. Wind in my hair. A thick rope grasped in my hand, keeping me safe.

Imagination – isn’t it wonderful?

P1010930But last night I sat in a concert hall, hearing the symphony as if for the first time.
And something amazing happened. Something I have never experienced before.

At the point where I would usually be swept away by my phantom of a sailing ship, I lost my sense of time and place.

I was no longer anywhere.

I was swirling inside the music, conscious only of the movement and the sound. As if I was inside a ball of joyfulness – but also peace. Seeing nothing.

I can’t find adequate words to describe it. But it was – magical.

The conductor wore an unusual black jacket that, when he bent, as he often did, dipping and diving with the rise and fall of the orchestration, made him look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Not one of your cool calm and collected types, he threw himself into it, body and – I suspect – soul.

Now and again he clasped the rail around the back of his podium to steady himself, as if he was about to collapse, or teeter off the edge.

The interval came too soon and I wondered if we should leave – how could the rest live up to what had gone before?

But we stayed, for more Sibelius. For his sixth and seventh symphonies. I didn’t know these – but at times the strings took off like the musical equivalent of a murmuration of starlings, or a vast flutter of butterflies. Soft wings were everywhere – well, mostly inside my head.

As the orchestra prepared for the seventh symphony the stage crew came on and took away the harp – and then, the conductor’s music stand. He conducted the last piece from memory.

It’s possible the concert was made all the more exhilarating for me by the fact that I had walked to our local station, caught the train and walked up the hill to the concert hall. Not a crutch of mine in sight.

But I don’t think so.

Yes, it was a special evening.

A classic Liverpool pavement - gum, not art

A classic Liverpool pavement – gum, not art

Yes, Liverpool was abuzz – and even the middle aged woman, out of her mind, whom we swerved to avoid, couldn’t detract from its magnetism. Its energy.

Yes, the beggars and the rough sleepers were in evidence, too much evidence – but it was, at least, a warm night for desperation.

And we had plenty of change to dispense.

The bombed out church - a war memorial beloved of the city and much used

The bombed out church – a war memorial beloved of the city and much used

The other end of the bombed out church

The other end of the bombed out church

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, the bombed out church looked even more evocative of the spirit of survival than ever – and the two cathedrals soared.

The Metropolitan (Catholic) cathedral at one end of Hope Street

The Metropolitan (Catholic) cathedral at one end of Hope Street

The Anglican cathedral at the other end of Hope street but seen from a classic old cobbled city centre street

The Anglican cathedral at the other end of Hope Street but seen from a classic old cobbled city centre street

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But.

Life-affirming though the city was, it was the music that kept me awake all night.

Today I’m tired. But happy.

I recommend Sibelius’ fifth. If you don’t like it the first time try it again – and again. There will come a point at which you get it. And you’ll be hooked. Forever.

No need for a barbed wire fence – but a blue sky and a sunny day? An openness to hope and a willingness to dream?

Perhaps.

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There and back. A post-industrial journey, with cake

I used to love seeing labels that said ‘Empire Made’ – engraved on an old pair of scissors or a battered decorative tin.

Such a feeling of immensity in that one word, ‘empire’. But I was a little girl then and didn’t know what empire meant. It sounded like the stuff of fairy tales – the kind with happy endings.

Those days are long gone. Yes, a few tiny patches of empire-territories-pink remain on the world map – and there’s still the Commonwealth. But the sun has long since set on the British Empire.

And I think that’s a jolly good thing. Empires bring subjugation and unfairness. A Commonwealth, now – that sounds like an ideal world. The whole world should be one. But it isn’t.

Anyway, let’s not go there, I’m avoiding idealism for a few days.

The Ribble estuary and Blackpool in the distance on the marsh flats by the sea

The Ribble estuary and Blackpool in the distance on the marsh flats by the sea

By way of distraction I’ve been getting out and about. Breathing fresh air. Walking without conscious effort. Carrying a single crutch in case I go too far and begin limping, yes, but wandering the beach or the park or a stretch of fragrant salt marsh as if I’m all mended. And I am, almost.

I never was a joyful walker. It’s a bit like a car as far as I’m concerned, walking. Fine to take you from A to B but not to be mistaken for a fulfilling pastime in its own right.

I know, how un-British.

But I love this wonderful country.

P1010893Our natural world may seem tame contrasted with the striking wildlife of Africa, the frozen north and its glaciers, the great coral reefs, but in learning to know its subtlety is great satisfaction. And in its subtlety is beauty.

It’s not just nature, though. History’s left its mark all around us. Obvious things – romantic ruins on lonely hilltops, urban monuments to civic pride, solid old manor houses, grandiose stately homes.

But then there’s our industrial heritage.

Last weekend we woke up to a miserable day, the second after our general election. The new British citizen was, if anything, feeling more dejected than I was – having cast his first vote to no avail. But his misery-busting solution was brilliant.

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Part of the refurbished mill on the river bank

A trip to a mill.

Cake, as usual, came into it too, but the mill and its surroundings were the lure.

I find the places – and remains of places – where things were and are made fascinating. I enjoy seeing component parts becoming things, hearing the clattering machine making a woollen blanket – though I don’t have to hear it all day, or breathe in the airborne fibres, or risk life and limb with unguarded machinery.

But the mill we were heading to no long clatters and fluffs. There’s still a little weaving done, using some of the old machinery, by craft weavers, but not on the scale of the Welsh woollen mills I’ve written about before.

This mill’s in Yorkshire, on the western edge, nearing the lakes and peaks of Cumbria.
Here Yorkshire’s scenery treads a middle course between bleak and twee. Hills, not vast open moors. Not bleak, but not exactly cosy.

Cosy scenery isn’t really my thing. I love a bit of bleakness. But sometimes bleakness can be – well, too bleak. And on Saturday we weren’t in the mood for bleak.

The mill itself feels far from cosy, but nor is it entirely bleak. Partly restored, partly awaiting some TLC, it sits on the edge of a vigorous river, as most old mills did, for direct power or steam.P1010888

Stone built, it housed the new and dangerous technology that steadily drew the rural cottage weavers from their homes. That deprived them of their commanding positions as master craftsmen and made them wage slaves.

Not everyone succumbed to mechanisation straight away, there was still demand for the work of traditional weavers, but time and poverty wore most of them down in the end.

The textiles produced by northern British mill-workers – men, women and children – were shipped all over the empire from Liverpool. But imperial success was their downfall. The new textile factories of the Indian subcontinent soon undercut the Yorkshire and Lancashire weavers.

The mills and smoking chimneys of northern England were often identified with the territory, as if it grew that way. Some ill-informed folk still think it’s a land of mills and smoke. But today few red-brick, soot-blackened smoke stacks remain. Those that do stand proud, all the more noticeable for being rare. And rarity brings them value.

They’re heritage assets, not necessary evils.

This rural mill is stone built, not red-brick. It’s survived, first, through benign neglect and now by attracting craftspeople and visitors. Walkers and motor-tourists, roving around the dales in search of landscape, cake and heritage.

The café serves some damn fine cake. There is art, pottery, textiles. And there’s a Greek silversmith who works in the upstairs gallery. He lived in India and has a passion for stones.

That’s how I came away the richer for some fine silver jewellery.

Spoilt rotten, I know.

But I like to think we’ve helped, just a little, to keep the old mill working. Enabling craftspeople to make a living.

Turning one small wave back from the tide of industrial slavery to the freedom – albeit precarious – of self-employment. To valuing personal skill, creativity and uniqueness, in the face of cheap, mass-manufactured ‘perfection’.

Most of all, though, I like the flash of sterling silver, the bright purple stone with a core of rough crystal, flashing on my hand like some gaudy tropical butterfly.P1010929

What a great day out.

Beautiful landscapes.

Cake.

And a hand-made silver ring, with a stone of imperial purple, from a commonwealth of crafters in our post-industrial world.

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The yellow of austerity – and a purple fuzzy cushion (with a button in the middle)

Have you noticed anything about the grass verges and hedgerows?

It might depend on where in the UK you are – and whether your council has seen swingeing cuts under the government’s austerity programme or not – but there’s something different this year.

I noticed it first when we were out in the Lancashire countryside – the hedgerows were full of dandelions. Then I realised that even in town, the grass verges on most of our main roads are brightly blooming yellow.IMG_3501

Our council services have been cut back. It’s not just closing libraries and police stations or the sacking of park staff, but also, it seems, regular grass mowing.

I never thought I’d be pleased to see council cuts – but this one I relish. Spring has sprung yellow all over – and it’s almost enough to cheer me up about the world.

Almost.

I’ve been umming and ah-ing about this post. Everyone’s tired of political posturing as the election campaign here reaches its climax. The last thing anyone needs is a blog post from me on the subject.

Which is why, instead of ranting on about how much I care about who forms the next government, I’m going to tell you why a treasured purple cushion is a bit of a touchstone for me.

Scroll back the years.

I’m newly arrived at university. A knock comes on my door. Outside stand two nice people asking me to join the Conservative Association. I say yes and pay my dues.

I doubt it cost me very much – in those days I was living on an allowance that my dad misread as being ten pounds a month. It should have been ten pounds a week. There was much rejoicing at the Oxford branch of Laura Ashley when he realised his error.

Anyway, I joined the Conservative Association.

Why?

I don’t know.

My father was a Conservative – as headmaster of a boy’s grammar school he was vehemently against comprehensivisation – though I don’t know if that was his only reason. My mother, meanwhile, was Liberal by inclination – like her mandolin-playing, wholesale fruiterer father.

We lived on the edge of a big city. The green belt began behind us, with views over fields stretching as far as the eye could see.

Our road was middle class and the man next door was the managing director of a small steel importing business – and a member of the local Conservative and Unionist club. (He also had a leather-seated Rover 2000, much coveted by my mother.)

About twenty minutes’ walk down the main road was our parish church. The parish was largely made up of a big council estate, where several of my schoolfriends lived.

Our priest was a lovely, erudite Irishman whose accent I frequently found impenetrable – but one phrase he used so frequently there was no mistaking it.

‘Dear brethren.’

That was us. We were his brethren, all of us.

Father Hickey wore a beret in cold weather and drank whisky. He fried up daffodil bulbs by mistake when his housekeeper was away and was sick.

He was a frequent visitor to our house, as a member of the board of governors of my dad’s school and as parish priest.

During one election campaign he addressed the congregation from the pulpit and said it was their duty – because of the education policy – to vote Conservative.

I was too young at the time to make much of that – but now I wonder – did his largely poor, working class parishioners do his bidding?

At university I had no real political sense. Politics only impinged on me when Oxford Union elections were due and parties were given – then everyone wanted to be my friend.

One of the real friends I made there was a Labour activist. After university he joined a nationalised industry – the National Coal Board.

By the time of his early death he had been a banker, retired – filthy rich – in his thirties and gone over to what he once would have thought of as the dark side. The Conservatives.

I was still largely unaligned. I’d gone from being an accidental journalist, specialising in telecommunications, to a PR person.

Because of my telecoms background I ended up working for a de-nationalised (as we used to say) part of British Leyland. Not the cars bit. Old BL had a unique communications network and a nascent email system that relied on acoustic couplers (old fashioned phone handsets that fitted into modems on typewriter-style equipment on the desktop). And paper. No screens.

The recently privatised British Telecom plc – formerly part of the Post Office – was my next client.

By now I’d begun to think more seriously about politics and when the Social Democratic Party was formed it got my vote.

Then we moved out of London. I went from working as a consultant in telecoms and finance (a large bank was one of my clients) first to an insurance company, then to freelancing with glossy mags and a national newspaper.

We became very poor – but happy – on my erratic earnings.

Before going freelance, I’d been offered – and turned down – a major job in the pre-privatisation water industry. Poverty drove me to ask my contacts for freelance work – but instead they gave me the job. And what a job it was.

I enjoyed water and sewage – it’s down-to-earth, essential in the truest sense. But we were the most loathed businesses in the country.

Fat-cat bosses who once were local council employees were now running a vital service – and making loadsamoney.

Labour politicians poured vitriol on us.

Friends of the Earth ran a memorable campaign featuring taps running with poison. Ironic, that a campaigning environmental group was responsible for a boom in bottled water. All those plastic bottles.

I worked like stink with my in-house team and a bevy of outside agencies supporting us.

For the first time, I found myself working with men who got their hands dirty. I mean really dirty. Sewage treatment workers deserve medals.

Water and sewage workers know they do a vital job and tend to behave accordingly, with incredible commitment. I met some fantastic people and was delighted to find families working in our big, jolly, family industry – sons, fathers, mothers, brothers – and so on.

What great ambassadors for our company.

Then came my Damascene conversion.

We were forbidden to use any family stories in our endeavour to be seen as less loathsome.

The reason?

The ‘City’ – the money men – wouldn’t like it.

We were big businesses now and supposed to be rationalising.

Cutting costs.

‘Letting people go.’

Enhancing shareholder value.

I’ve always been a bit naïve. It took me quite a while to realise I was doing an impossible – for me – job.

My official duty (when I became a director) was to pursue shareholder value above all else.

We told ourselves the usual corporate fairy tales.

If we treated our staff and customers well, provided a good efficient service, blah blah, that would enhance shareholder value.

Except the usual corporate weasel words don’t work with a monopoly.

Bring in all the regulators you like – they don’t take the place of two shops selling different products, one cheaper, but poorer quality.

It was the most stressful job I’ve ever had. A twenty-four hours a day job for many of us, manual workers and office workers alike – and every single employee was at risk of being despised on admitting he or she worked for a water company.

We managed, like water dripping on stone, to change attitudes. Became the least unpopular of the corporate lepers.

But it was wearing.

I handed in my notice.

Waiting for my terms to be agreed, a stream of key directors began popping in to see me, asking me to stay.

How nice, I thought. They want me. They like me. They …

… needed me.

We were making a takeover bid.

A year later, when it failed, my voluntary redundancy terms were generous and I left with immense relief.

By then I’d seen how nasty politics could be, if not all politicians.

Our region was largely Conservative and I got on well with many of our Members of Parliament, MPs whose views were opposite to mine. But the underlying ethos, I now realised, was what mattered.

I had chances to get involved during those years – I met a group of key Labour strategists for dinner in the House of Commons one night, for example – but I had no idea how to react.

I always seem to work out how to use an opportunity after it’s gone.

Now, far too many years later, I’ve joined a political party. It’s not ideal, but has at its roots a belief that unfairness and inequality are things to fight, that capitalism – unfettered – is not the answer to all our human needs.

British politics, I know, can be confusing. One of my sisters-in-law once asked if Margaret Thatcher – the Conservative Iron Lady – was a communist. To an American that’s usually about as close to a devil on earth as you can be. So I understand her mistake.

And I understand those who feel that socialism is too close to communism for comfort.

But I’ve always felt quite comfortable with it because – wait for this – I’d be happy for everyone to have purple fuzzy cushions with a button in the middle.

You see, when I was little, I asked my father to tell me what a communist was.

I’d asked for and received a purple fuzzy cushion – with a button in the middle – for my birthday. It had pride of place on my bed. I wan’t one for lots of soft toys. And the luminous rosary was under my pillow.

I’m sure he gave a decent explanation. May have mentioned Stalin and the purges – though I don’t remember it. What stuck with me was, ‘if you can have a purple fuzzy cushion everyone has to have one’. Well, that’s how my little mind interpreted it.

And it shows you how important and misleading an analogy can be.

So, come the revolution, it’ll be purple fuzzy cushions all round, in my ideal world.

That, or perhaps more important, an end to a government that penalises the poorest for having one spare bedroom, whose fabulously wealthy chancellor claims child benefit from the supposedly impoverished state and gives tax breaks to the richest.

I think Father Hickey would have been with me on this one.

Brethren, vote for others, not for your own selfish interests.

What’s that? The economy?

Oh, don’t get me started. We’re a rich country folks, the deficit in GDP terms is not historically high – and Labour was overseeing a period of growth before the Conservatives stopped it in its tracks.

But never mind all that – we’ll cope.

As long as someone is caring for the weak.

And that surely shouldn’t be a Government that’s seen food banks spread like weeds in our rich, comfortable country.

I’ll take a risk, thanks.

And sorry for talking about politics after all.

And for going on so long.

I’m off out for some fresh air and life-affirming dandelion spotting now.

(The purple cushion, since you ask, is long, long gone.)IMG_3499

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Five foot two, eyes of blue, yellow bags – and a grand tea, too

‘Diddly diddly diddly doo’ – hard to imagine, if you’re not there, but that’s the audience participation bit – along with ‘ha! ha! ha! ha! ha!’ – to the song, Delilah.

It’s a strange song, Delilah. Creepy and jaunty – how can that be?

Anyway.

P1010830The song made famous by Tom Jones is being rendered here by the Wigan Ukulele Club.

It’s a sunny Sunday in Southport. We’ve parked pearly white Issy (our new car) in a field. And there’s steam up ahead.

The bowl's fora little black dog - it seems the bigger the engine the smaller the dog

The bowl’s for a little black dog – it seems the bigger the engine the smaller the dog

Yes, it’s that yellow-bags-of-steam-coal time of year.

There’s a wintry nip in the air despite the sunshine – but I’ve come prepared. Thermals, duffel coat and scarf.

All around, men from the Rotary club are doing their utmost, ensuring the day goes well, with a toot and a hoot and a hiss and a chug.

P1010795

So British – always time for tea

But despite the happy crowds and gleaming paintwork, the steam and tiny dogs, the men in dark blue overalls and the women brewing tea, there’s a touch of melancholy in the air.

The man who was a driving force behind the annual event, a big local farmer, has died of leukaemia since last year’s event.

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This 4th generation family farming enterprise (now Huntapac) was founded in 1942 by one William Hunter and still operates with fleets of red lorries today.

A row of gleaming red vehicles bearing his name forms a fitting memorial. And his family’s honouring his name by keeping the tea rooms running – named ‘Aunt Nellie’s’ after his auntie Helen – inside the marquee.

All across one side of the tent, starting beside the customers queueing for tables, sit the ukulele strummers.

P1010835

The most excellent Wigan Ukulele Club

We walk past them to table 24, guided by a smart man with a bow tie.

The place is thronged with people of all ages. Waitresses in black clothes and frilly white aprons dodge from table to table with china pots of tea and jugs of milk.

It has the feel of a rather casual, very jolly, wedding reception – if you could imagine such a thing in this age of take-out-a -mortgage weddings.

But the tables aren’t those round things that ten people who barely know each other can sit around, failing to become better acquainted. They’re ordinary tables, laid with paper cloths topped with plastic lace.

The man with the microphone encourages young and old alike (how do we all learn these songs?) to singalong. Choruses ranging from the Kinks’ ‘dedicated follower of fashion’ to, ‘has anybody seen my girl’ (‘five foot two, eyes of blue’, it’s not me, that’s for sure).

Neon kazoos butt in now and then, sounding vaguely rude, like a raspberry blown by a ten year old.

Pink faces, fresh from the outside and warming up nicely, boast happy smiles – when they’re not eating. A baby at the front table, held up as if to glimpse the queen riding by, is loving it. Though it doesn’t seem to know the words – well, it’s not reached the speaking stage yet.

P1010832 P1010833Since all the proceeds go to charity and all the food’s donated, we use it as an excuse to opt for the full tea and (crikey, times have changed) a glass of prosecco with our china cups of Rosie Lea.

Sandwiches and vegetable crisps, scones with jam and cream, Victoria sponge and fruit cake – it’s all too much. We leave a little and waddle our way past the band, with regret.P1010841

But outside the big wheel is calling her siren call.

Last year I was a big wheel virgin, this time I’m prepared for the ‘ooh’ as we topple over the turning point. And this year there’s a brand new view – we’re facing the other direction. P1010807

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Austin’s Little Gems as explained on the sign

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All the way from the USA, 1949

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P1010814Wind-burnt and exhilarated, back on terra firma, it’s time for people watching.

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A bright yellow vehicle catches our eyes. Two men chat in broad northern accents about the engine. The owner lifts the bonnet. Within seconds a crowd has gathered, men hovering around the yellow engine, like fruit flies round a decaying banana.

P1010848

Water pump as ordered by the Royal Navy in 1944

There’s a chugging sound coming from something part wood, part brass, as it pumps water. One of several ordered in 1944 for the Royal Navy its job was to pump fresh water from tanks in ships to feed the boilers. The owner opens up the firebox for my picture – I’m embarrassed I can only point and click, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

Which is such a typical reaction.

It’s an odd event – one I both love and find confusing.

So many men – supported by many women and not a few small dogs – bring along their bit of engineering pride and joy, no matter how small or superficially uninspiring, and, in the chill of early spring – just sit.

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People stop to chat, sometimes. The big beauties, though, are what really draw the crowds – and the attention. A bit like life. But, also like life, what’s overlooked is often as interesting as the showy stuff.

As we wander round I feel the usual tug: I wish.

I wish I had a hobby this enthralling. Wish I were one of a crowd that met at steam fairs, entranced by steam and brass. By shiny paintwork and crank shafts, by moving parts needing constant love and attention.

Well, I think I wish.

Next year, there’s no guarantee the show will return. Not because of the sad demise of Mr Hunter, but because the caravan park’s expanding.

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A steam powered milk float – the cylinder on board looks very like the pump the Navy ordered in 1944 to me … well, it’s wood and brass!

It wouldn’t be just the loss of the spectacle, but the potential loss of tens of thousands of pounds for charity. And of a chance for men in boiler suits or tweeds, hats or flat caps, vintage Rolls Royces or milk floats, to get together.

For crowds of people to give the lie to the impression that the whole world is glued to mobile phones.

I didn’t see one head-bent-over-a-smartphone, totally-distracted social-media-addict.

A good enough reason for hoping the steam fair continues.

That, and the view from the big wheel.

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Posted in Going out - and having fun?, In Britain now - and then, Lancashire and the golf coast | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Miranda the intake nymph

“I’ll just set it back to zero.”

It’s not what you’d expect in the middle of England. But then, the middle of England’s probably not where you’d think it might be.

According to its inhabitants, the tiny village of Dunsop Bridge, Lancashire, is England’s middle. It has a Post Office-cum-café and a picturesque bridge. Under the bridge a shallow river burbles over rocks and stones, ducks quack – and on this sunny April Sunday we’re trying to buy ten pounds-worth of unleaded petrol.

It’s worth paying a little over the odds in return for the experience.

P1010732A man leaves his shop, stocked with excess household goods masquerading as curios. Takes the front off the petrol pump and, using his thumb, sets each counter back to zero. Pushes a lever, sets the fuel gurgling through the nozzle.

Quarter of a tank for now – and a glimpse of a long-lost world to last us until next time.

We’re heading back from an outing that’s been a spring clean for our spirits.

For six weeks (I can drive again now, hooray) my long-suffering chauffeur has also been doing the shopping and cooking and washing and cleaning for both of us. So I’ve been loath to make selfish suggestions for drives out into the countryside.

Today I suggested art. In Liverpool. Which went down well.

But …

As noon arrived, temporary chauffeur changed his mind.

‘I’d rather go to the Trough of Bowland’.

Yay!

It was like a piece of Swiss milk chocolate when I’d been promised a boiled sweet.

The sun of Sunday morning was already retreating behind a grey coastal blanket by the time we set off. As we neared the end of the worst bit of the journey – the motorway – a light rain even toyed with us. But I wasn’t fooled, there was enough blue sky up ahead to make a fine pair of sailor’s britches.P1010668

We took a new – for us – road into Lancashire’s semi-secret paradise. It wound its way past a swanky country inn we once stayed at for a birthday treat. Already swanky then – our room had an open fire, a large bathroom and overlooked the river – now, at £198 per night, it’s become swanky in the extreme, by northern English standards.

So we squeezed past the in-your-face, shiny black Range Rovers, the Jaguars, Mercedes and Porsches lining the narrow lane – and drove on by.

Our goal was a place that’s been special to me for as long as I’ve been a conscious being. A lay-by off the side of a road that’s so narrow, in places, with such a steep drop off the side, that it scares me witless.

The special place nestles at the bottom of a hill where it’s traditional to see a few gleaming motor bikes parked, along with some family cars.

There should be the sound of a very few, well-behaved children and dogs splashing in the stream.

P1010730But, most important of all, the tea wagon must be there, its flag waving hello as we coast down the hill.

And it was all just so.

Secure in the knowledge that a big mug of tea would reward us when we get back, we walked through the avenue of trees to the water intake.P1010677

P1010684

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a catchment area for a local water utility. Dating back to 1871, it channels clear water from the hills to a stone-built works. And the original engineer gave the place a very special guardian.

A nymph.

Miranda.

She’s elusive, Miranda. Even if you know she’s there (they’ve put up an ‘interpretation’ board since last we were here) she’s hard to spy.

P1010709But there she was, her naked back and bare bottom turned coyly on passing walkers and their dogs.

On we trod. Skylarks twittering high above, dippers dipping in the stream, a little way off the mellifluous warbling of – what? – a curlew?

The chortle of the water as it frolicked over the rocks was almost hypnotic. I stood on a big rock – one crutch clutched tightly for safety – transfixed.

P1010700Hills, sky, birds and the restless stream – almost too much to bear.

So beautiful.

So spring.

So England.

P1010706Back at the tea wagon was a small disappointment – no Chorley cakes. But there were scones.

A biker with a Dumbledore beard, skinny in leathers, stepped up to the counter.

‘’Ow you doin’, then?’ the cheery chap making our brew greeted the biker.

‘Not so bad, could do wi’ getting’ a bit younger.’

As we supped our mighty brew and wolfed down scones, a small dog fetched a large log from the stream – again – and again – and again.

Two girls, still in puppy fat, wobbled on jagged rocks mid-stream – but somehow stayed upright.

Back on the road, we puttered along past gambolling new-born lambs, in spring-green fields spattered with bright yellow celandines.

Returning to urban world.

To a leg of lamb (oh dear) slow-cooked in milk. Seasoned with bay leaves and clove-studded onion, with thyme, orange peel and garlic.

To mashed red potatoes and tasty chopped carrots. To pink local rhubarb, sweet with Welsh honey.

To gorse in bloom and to trees in bud.

To robins nesting – and wood pigeons mating.

Sunday in springtime.

What more could you want, even in urban world?

And paradise less than an hour away.P1010703

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Balls. Or, to be more specific, men with balls

Groan.

Not another feisty feminist-y thing, do I hear you sigh?

Well, no, it isn’t. Hold on a minute and all will become clear. Well, clearer. And, please, stick it out to the end, it’s really, really not all about men.

Or women.

Or balls.

OK. To start with, here’s part of a definition from the Oxford Concise Dictionary.

“Amusement. Diversion. Fun.”

I can see where men with balls – and wheels – and legs – might fit into that definition. But mostly balls. Some round, some a bit pointy, some dimply, some fuzzy. Some white, some brown, some yellow, some red. Yes, they play with balls of many colours, men.

Now here’s part two of that same definition.

“Pastime. Game. Outdoor pastime.”

Do you see where this is going?

The big clue in the definition follows that last ‘pastime’:

“hunting, fishing, racing, cricket, football”.

Men in Zambia watch football

Men in Zambia watch football

Two of those activities involve balls.

But the others are also part of the definition of, ‘sport’.

I’ve had time on my hands these last few weeks, such that I have occasionally, in desperation, looked at the ‘Sport’ section of our newspaper.

I suspect they’re all pretty much of a muchness in what they cover, sports sections.

And I find it very helpful that it comes as a separate section – I can set it aside without bothering to look – unless I want to work out when’s a good time to go to the shops (answer: when one or all of Liverpool/Everton/Man Utd are playing).

One Sunday recently, though, I must have had a funny turn. Because I not only looked at it, I counted the number of pages devoted to ball sports in a 20 page section.

The answer was 19.

Of those 19 pages about one third of a page was devoted to a black, female footballer, the rest to male balls – footie, rugby and cricket. (Footie meaning British football, ie, real football).

The remaining page was mostly horse racing fixtures.

It bugged me. And that annoyed me.

Me – being bugged by the sports section?????

I know it’s a time of year when there’s not much in the way of tennis or athletics or what have you, but even so. It was spherically-fixated. And almost totally male.

This last week it’s been like a nail sticking through the heel of my shoe. Irritating and unwanted.

In an attempt to get the shoe off, metaphorically speaking, I’ve been flicking through the sporty bits on an ad hoc basis. When I remember. Or when I am very, very bored, to be honest.

I can now claim, in an utterly unscientific manner, that if you were an alien who could read English and wanted to work out what ‘sport’ was by using the newspaper it would be:

football, rugby, cricket, golf, horse-racing – with the occasional spot of cycling.

And almost exclusively done by men.

Last weekend there was a small item on the female Oxbridge boat race winners. But other than that and the female footie player, it’s been men, men, men all the way.

Now, that’s fine – have a stand-alone, male, ball-oriented section by all means.

But why call it ‘sports’?

Even men do other things with their spare time. One of my nephews, for example, is a bit of a hockey nut. Some men play badminton, squash, or darts. Water polo,  bowls, or shove ha’penny. (Oh, pipe down! It could be a sport. Remember that definition? Pastime? I rest my case. And what a great way to pass time in a pub.).

Now that's a nice pastime - sheep dog trials in Wales

Now that’s a nice pastime – sheep dog trials in Wales

Swimming is the biggest sport in terms of regular adult participation in the UK.

And what about fishing?

Pigeon racing?

Tug-o-war?

Women also play football. Three boys of my acquaintance who live in a house backing onto a local football pitch climb the tree in their garden to watch – who do you think? Not the local team, but Everton Ladies. The best football they’ve seen. Worth risking life and limb? Ah, the daredevil young!

Women also play netball and lacrosse, they swim, run, hurdle, throw javelins, play badminton and squash and bowls and cycle – they tango…

What I’m trying to say is, why not make the sports section a sports section? A great long section with all sorts of interesting pastimes and games – not all competitive in a cut-throat way.

Then footie fans (football is second to athletics in the participation league) would have to thumb through other things and maybe, just maybe, find they’re hooked on bowls or ferreting or hill walking. Or marbles.

I said maybe.

Advertising would pay for it – pet food and fishing rods and running shoes and tennis rackets and sports bras and cameras – and elastic bandages.

When the streets are thronging with many heads, bowed over many mobile phones, when couches are no longer groaning under just potatoes but also slobs and blobs, why not encourage more activity, more diversity, more sports?

More FUN! :-)

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Hidden. Easter Sunday mirages at the beach

A skylark rises, invisible, like the gentle, irregular whistle of a barely boiling kettle, singing on the hob. A good day to be a skylark. The merlins and sparrowhawks will be flummoxed by the clammy sea-mist that’s swirling in the air, like steam from that same celestial kettle that’s powering the songster.

P1010615In the distance, shapes that could be human walk along the sea-line – it’s nearly high tide but the water’s still a long way out.

This is the beach of my childhood memories, the ridged sand underfoot, the sea a distant, unfulfilled promise.

We park on the hard sand and stand, taking in the mysterious world around us. Well, mysterious except for the football-kicking boys behind us – but they’re soon lost to view.

A seagull’s garish cry is the loudest noise around, the mist wrapping everything else in a muffling, moist blanket.

It’s as if the world has been roundly admonished, for staying out late on Saturday night. This Easter Sunday morning, for a while at least, everything is very subdued.

Even the dogs are on their best behaviour, no frenzied rushing around, just chasing their exercise balls and coming straight back.

P1010637A ribbon of seaweed marks a line where the last tide turned. Razor clams crunch beneath our feet as we – at last – catch sight of the sea. It’s still coming in, but sliding gently, not breaking. Like everything else, a shadow of its stormier self.

A few huge mussel shells lie empty, cleaned out by canny gulls, perhaps, and here and there lie the miniature remains of a rather less common marine creature – a masked crab, or a sea potato.P1010624P1010635

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Behind us the profile of the dunes rises, like so many dromedaries, behind a veil of a mist which curls and rolls but never clears.

P1010631The tea wagon sells lemon drizzle cake – it’d be rude not to, wouldn’t it?

We sit, English style, in our car, sipping hot tea-bag tea from polystyrene cups, nibbling half a slice of cake each, watching the stalwart kayakers unpack their rental van and head out to oblivion – let’s hope just temporary.

A dilapidated old horsebox, pale pastel blue, reminiscent of old-fashioned, town-council colours, of park gates and buses, disgorges a leggy chestnut creature. Skittish, but itching to trot.P1010638

The mist is still in charge. It’s cold and damp and it’s the longest walk I’ve done so far –and I feel it. Time to go.

One last long look at the view – or lack of it.

The sky and sea, humans and horses, dogs and seagulls all blended into one steam-coloured smudge of day.

As we leave I can still hear the skylark. But of course, it’s nowhere to be seen.

P1010625

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The rabble roused


[This is an extract from a work in progress, a crime fiction novel set in Liverpool. Father Gerry Carroll, unintentional amateur sleuth, is attending a lecture given by an old friend, a radical philosopher. The novel’s working title, ‘The Thirteenth Station,’ refers to the penultimate of the fourteen Stations of the Cross which depict Christ’s journey to death by crucifixion. In the thirteenth station, the cross stands empty after the body of Jesus has been removed. The Stations of the Cross are particularly important for Catholics during Lent, the season which culminates in the hopelessness of Good Friday and Easter Saturday but is followed by the joy of Easter Sunday. This lecture takes place in the fifth week of Lent, just before Palm Sunday, a commemoration of Jesus riding into Jerusalem and being acclaimed as a king.]


‘Gerard, you’re not going out like that?’

There was no point arguing, he’d tried and failed. ‘Male’ and ‘fashion’ were two words his mother believed should never go together. Especially if you were a priest. And he knew exactly what she’d say, heard it often enough.

‘It may be a black t-shirt to you but it’s still a vest to me. And no decent man goes out with his vest showing.’

He grinned, ignoring his absent mother.

Trotting down the stairs Gerry yelled a quick goodbye to Father Alex and hurried off, past the pub on the corner, down the cobbled street lined with Georgian houses and old-fashioned street lamps. In London they would be worth a fortune, here they were mostly cheap student flats, their sash windows pierced by ugly ventilation fans or obscured by dingy net curtains.

The lecture was in a large room with tiered seating. Gerry’s heart sank as he made his way to a row at the front. No escape. He had left it late and had no other choice.

The title was up in big letters on the screen:

‘Murder Most Democratic: Crowd-Sourcing the Ultimate Crime.’

No wonder it was packed.

A blast of music settled everyone down as Jimmie walked in wearing a top hat, a wing-collared shirt, red-lined tails and a red bow tie. Gerry had to bend his head over the desk in front to stop himself from cracking out laughing.

It was, with hindsight, a predictable choice of music – the Kaiser Chiefs and ‘I predict a riot’ – but it was new and strange to many in the crowd. Among the mass of students a sprinkling of silver hair rippled across the auditorium, like whitecaps on the sea, bobbing as they asked each other what this noise was all about.

The music died down and an air of expectation filled the room. Jimmie whipped off his top hat and flung it on a hat-stand in a gesture worthy of Fred Astaire.

‘Riots. Remember them? Well I predicted the bloody riots,’ he began, determined to shock from the start.

Or was he?

Gerry squirmed as he settled in his seat. No-one else seemed to be muttering or tutting, not even the silver-hairs. Maybe he was the one who was conservative in this crowd.

As Jimmie warmed to his theme Gerry’s misgivings fell away.

The audience was not just alert, it was spellbound.

Mulhearn was a shaman.

As he shouted his way through despair and disillusion, spat out anger and resentment, Gerry could feel the crowd fizzing, bubbling with energy.

He looked around. Everyone else was looking straight at Jimmie. Everyone except one person. Anne-Marie, the shy, postgraduate student whose thing was dead languages. She sat staring at the door, as if waiting for someone to burst through it.

The young woman must have felt Gerry’s eyes on her. She turned, saw him watching her, blushed and bent over an open notebook, hiding her face from view.

Gerry wondered. But not for long.

Jimmie was winding up. Really winding up. He was getting people to yell back at him.

‘Justice, Isn’t that what we want?’

‘Yes!’

‘Fairness?’

‘Yes!’

‘Equality?’

‘Yes!’

Boy, he had chosen his targets well. Students – so easily becoming a rabble. And Liverpudlians – whatever their age, or sex, or class. Always on the side of the underdog. Except when they weren’t.

Gerry realised he had missed something as he assessed his fellow humans. Jimmie had moved on.

The man was talking about Pilate.

About Jesus.

About Barrabas.

What was he up to?

Every muscle in Gerry was taut, so taut his teeth hurt from clenching his jaws.

‘Come on,’ bellowed Jimmie, ‘what did they say, the people in that crowd? Crucify him! That’s what they said. Come on, yell it out. Yell it like you mean it. Crucify him!’

The man looked like a hungry lion, pacing, staring.

‘Come on, try it. It’s an experiment. You don’t have to mean it, just yell as if you do.’

There was an uncomfortable silence.

‘No?’ He paused. Looked around.

‘Too scared of divine retribution? Is that it? I forgot how Catholic this place is. Don’t worry, we’ve got a priest here to forgive us, eh, Father Gerry?’

He turned his gaze on the front row.

‘Well, Father Carroll? Will God smite us for yelling this, just to see how it feels, so we can begin to understand what drives people to do things they don’t intend to do?’

Gerry stood and addressed Jimmie.

‘I’m sure God will understand.’ Then he turned to the crowd whose ranks rose behind him. ‘And anyone who’s going to be at Mass on Sunday will be doing it anyway, in the Palm Sunday readings.’

He turned back to Jimmie, before sitting back down, ‘I think it’s an interesting suggestion. Go ahead. Let’s see what happens’.

‘Come on then.’ Jimmie waved his arms about as if whipping up a storm.

‘Crucify him!’ He waved his arms again. ‘Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!’

A few of the students were laughing. Then, hesitant, the few joined in.

‘Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!’

Then a few more.

Then more.

Then louder.

Eventually the whole audience – or so it seemed to Gerry, was not just yelling, but on its feet and yelling, teeth bared, arms aloft and pumping with aggression.

‘Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!’

Gerry remained seated, bowed his head and tried, for a moment or two, to pray. It was no good. He turned to look at Anne-Marie. She was up on her feet and screaming with the others, waving her fist backwards and forwards.

Gerry looked up at Jimmie. The man was exultant, no other word for it. His eyes roved around the auditorium, like some mad dictator storming home to victory, against all the odds.

Jimmie glanced down at Gerry, grinned, then looking up to the back of the room, pulled a finger across his throat, the gesture the sound technicians needed to do their thing.

A mighty drum roll roared from the speakers and everyone fell silent. It was if their strings had been cut. People wobbled, sat, slumped into their seats.

Jimmie whirled around on his podium and clapped his hands. The music started again.

‘Thank you, everyone, thank you. You were fantastic. Now you understand. Now you know. You have been at the heart of the darkness, you have stood at the eye of the storm. Politicians know nothing. This is how revolutions happen. This is how riots happen. And that’s how I, Jimmie Mulhearn, could predict,’ he paused, took his top hat from the hat-stand and placed it on his head, ‘a riot.’

He removed his hat once more and bowed a deep bow, like an old fashioned magician. A few people started clapping, then more and more till it broke like a wave of approaching thunder across the room.

Gerry eased his way out of the hall. Outside, in the foyer, he was just in time to catch a glimpse of Anne-Marie as she ran into the night, as if the very devil was after her.

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Blame and shame – an unhealthy game

‘I’m sure it all started when I fell off that bus,’ said a friend who’d been diagnosed with a serious cancer of the digestive tract.

This was a long time ago. More than twenty five years since.

The friend, a middle-aged smoker, spent all day sitting in her flat, upstairs from mine, with her de-clawed cat. Watching television and eating unhealthy food.

She took no exercise except walking to catch the bus into town. And even then, the bus stop was right outside our front door.

You can see where this might go, can’t you?

Fast forward more than a decade and I’m sitting in a family home in Texas when the phone rings. When pa-in-law returns it’s with bad news. A relative – not one of the immediate family but still, only a couple of degrees removed – has cancer.

Being the empathetic person I am (and I’m not claiming that as a praiseworthy virtue, it’s just how I am, I can’t help it), I am instantly sympathetic, sad on her behalf and ready to console.

Imagine my discomfort when there was no, ‘Poor Evangeline’ (I made up the name) but instead an instant recitation of the many reasons why she had brought this on herself.

Pa-in-law was not, I should stress, a monster – and he was far from alone in this attitude. It is an all too common phenomenon.

We don’t want to think we’ll get X, Y or Z illness so we reach for reasons someone else has drawn the short straw.

Crisp, hot, hand cut chips with salt and vinegar - all in recyclable boxes

She ate too much – or just the wrong things. She was too thin – anorexia, that’s vanity for you. She smoked, drank alcohol, didn’t exercise enough. She was too stressed out, worked too hard, didn’t work at all. Spent too long watching daytime TV.

Something is always to blame.

I think this is one of the worst aspects of our western ‘civilisation’ today.

Nothing is an accident.

Nothing is beyond our control.

Nothing is down to the random throw of the dice, to sheer bad luck.

For many, many years (as the poor chap married to this serial hypochondriac will testify) I would say, ‘If I get a serious illness don’t tell your mum and dad.’

I knew all the things they could pull out of the blame bag. I’d got there first, had a list ready-made.

Yes, they’d also come up with the latest medical news, ideas for treatment, possibly even money to help – but I couldn’t stand the thought of my dearly beloved having to face, ‘Well, after all, she did…’.

It crops up too, this kind of attitude, in the media.

There’s a brash woman, fit as a flea at well over 60, who writes a column for a daily newspaper. People who drink alcohol or smoke or are obese or indulge in dangerous pursuits, she says, should have to pay our wonderful, free-at-the-point-of-delivery National Health Service for their medical treatment. Because they’re to blame.

Take that to its logical conclusion, please.

What would we do about, say, having babies?

Effective contraception is widely available. Having a baby, therefore, is arguably a choice.

So, being somewhat rational and allowing for straightforward reproduction, if you had more than two, you’d have to pay for all your medical treatment.

And if you were proved to be partial to bacon and fried egg sandwiches, you’d have to pay for treatment for any heart problems you might develop.

One of the side effects (trust me, there’s research) of these attitudes is defensiveness and evasion among those who have symptoms. Because it becomes yet another competition, with winners and losers.

I’m healthier than you. I’m stronger, fitter, better than you.

Or (jauntily) I’m older than you but I don’t need a hip replacement (that was a 70 year-old in-law on this side of the pond, just to be even-handed – and he’s not a monster either.)

When someone is sick, injured or suffering from depression, the last thing they need is to be blamed – they’re probably torturing themselves enough as it is.

And, let’s face it, bad diets and so on aside, sometimes people are just plain lucky with their health – but sometimes people aren’t.

DSCN0464

Start my blame list here

I parade down the road on my crutches, angry that I have a problem, but in the next breath, I’m ashamed that I dare think of it as unfair. My life so far has been remarkably pain and disability free. My bones will mend, are already mending.

As I struggle to use a contraption for putting my socks on – there’s no way someone with weak arms could do it – and as I grow increasingly impatient with the fact I can’t drive for another two weeks and 3 days – I think of the lonely and the neglected.

Blame may make you (or me) feel good – in a ‘phew, I’m all right’ kind of way – but it makes someone else feel like a failure.

People with cancer, people with arthritis, people with HIV Aids or manic depression are not failures.

Apportioning blame is not just superfluous, it’s cruel.

And, no matter whether they’ve done something that contributed to their problems, shame won’t help.

Pain, misery and curtailing of ability is bad enough.

So, why not just be nice?

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The ruder world. Some random thoughts on spring, joy and harsh reality

Come, luscious spring, come with thy mossy roots,
Thy weed-strown banks, young grass, and tender shoots
Of woods newly-plashed, sweet smells of opening blooms,
Sweet sunny mornings, and right glorious dooms
Of happiness, to seek and harbour in,
Far from the ruder world’s inglorious din.

From ‘The Robin’s Nest’

by John Clare* [1793-1864]

Friday morning. The moon slides between us and our sun, an eclipse eclipsed by clouds. And our world turns cold.

As the mis-timed dusk takes hold the birds fly hither and thither – not up, not down, but side to side, as if looking for an emergency exit. It’s odd.

Saturday dawns beautiful and bright, as if the moon’s wiped clean an unseen, misted window on the sun. The perfect day for our outing. A drive across town to a special place.

Churchtown Botanic Gardens aren’t what you might expect from the name – yes, some of the trees are labelled, but it’s more like an old-fashioned park, the kind I grew up with as a child.

Taking the scenic route, along the coast, I’m treated to a sight I’ve never seen before. The sea is in. Right in.

As a child, a trip to Southport was always a mixed pleasure. The seaside, yes. But the sea? My little legs never once carried me all the way to the sea, it was so far out.

But the moon, it seems, has filled our local bucket, as well as wiping our solar windows.

My chauffeur drops me by the Gardens’ gate and goes to park. I ply my way on crutches, gingerly, looking out for omens.

P1010528‘Museum’ the first sign proclaims. But it’s closed, its treasures all dispersed.

Some flowers, mostly daffodils, nod hello in the nearer reaches of the park. People sit on benches. Chatting, waiting – or simply passing time.

A band strikes up – the oompah of the brass like a great big grin on the air.

Plodding my way round to the greenhouses, the peacocks in their (soon to be closed) aviary squawk their whiney, ‘waah, waaah.’

Plants for sale sit in ranks of spring-fresh colour, but there aren’t quite as many as usual. Inside the greenhouse, potted plants too tender for our still-wintry nights keep warm beneath the glass.P1010541  I spy two members of staff. Two of the three who may soon be the last, of many, to go.

P1010542Beyond the ‘Staff only’ gate stand rows of empty glasshouses. There, council staff once grew bedding plants – and not just for the Gardens’ own famed flowerbeds.

P1010538

Victorian fernery in background

Back outside, steps that should lead to a stunning horticultural display instead open onto grass disfigured with gashes of bare brown earth. People sit, as usual, in the wooden benches around the edge, but their joy is gone.

The Victorian fernery – with its refurbished glass roof – looks blind and closed.

The ‘train’ that children could ride is gone.

P1010554

No boats, now

The boats for hire on the water are gone.

The wild birds remain.

The trees remain.

Three members of staff remain. For now.P1010546

P1010545Fifty pence lets us into to the Chrysanthemum Society Show. The campaign to save the gardens has colonised one corner, I pay my dues and offer help with words.P1010547

P1010550

Outside, the oompah’s been replaced with a chorus of men in black. Their rendition of Alexander’s Ragtime Band is fun, but a new little pain tells me it’s time to go.

P1010561

On the way home we talk about our world and how it’s being diminished.

Is it better that flowers, three gardeners and a museum are lost than something else?

What use, after all are flowers?

The morning’s lead editorial in that renowned publication, The Times (of London), tells us we have not really noticed the cuts to local government spending.

We beg to differ.

Our local council’s funding has been curtailed quite harshly. According to one measure** it’s down by 7.8%. It’s a lot, but Liverpool (10.7%) and Manchester (10.5%) fare much worse – and the worst of all, poor, disadvantaged Knowsley, bottoms the table at -10.9%.

This in a world where Tewkesbury (of the famous Abbey) has a budget up 3.2%, Cambridge (of the famed university) is up 2.3% and Winchester (with its cathedral in genteel Hampshire) is up at 1%.

P1010578We live in the north of England, on the boundary between two communities, each of around 12,000 inhabitants. We’re just about equidistant between two buildings that, until a couple of years ago, were libraries. Both are now shut, the books all gone.

A couple of doors along from one of the libraries was a neighbourhood police station. Its doors are locked to local people.P1010580

Our borough now has two police stations officially open to the public. One in the north opens 7 days a week, one in the south six days a week.

There are many more – and arguably more serious – things, like the cuts to social services.

But I want to stay with flowers.

With gardens.

We don’t all have trees. Or gardens, or flowers, or boats to row or toy trains to ride.

P1010559

The aviary

We don’t all have acres of crocuses to carpet the floor around our feet, or peacocks to nag us, or love birds to coo for us.

So many people use that park.

People invisibly wounded, whose eyes say it all.

People finding a rare patch of peace for lunch in a stressful day.

People teaching their children how birds sing and swans swim.

People falling in love.

Should we lose all this for budget cuts?

I suppose the answer would be yes, if I felt the cuts were either fair or necessary. But it’s not just my instinct that tells me we don’t need to cut our public spending as if we were Greece. Several respected economists tell us our economy was already recovering in 2010, that swingeing cuts set it back.

And common sense tells me that if interest rates are close to zero it makes no sense to go to extremes to pay off debt.

But I’m not a politician, nor an economist. Just a citizen.

I want police and teachers, clean streets and libraries.

I want lonely people who are stuck in their homes to get more than 15 rushed minutes of a  carer’s abysmally paid time each day.

I want flowers to bring joy to a miserable day.

I want a world that knows the value of everything and the price of ending up with nothing.

P1010555

*John Clare died in a lumatic asylum. I saw a television programme about him when I was a teenager and could not believe such a tragic life could be the lot of the poet who wrote such delightful verses about the wonders of nature. My copy of his bird poems (a Folio Society edition) is illustrated by Thoas Bewick. Two masters in one volume. Sigh.

**Figures from Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy

Posted in Going out - and having fun?, Lancashire and the golf coast, Thinking, or ranting, or both | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments