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How do you think Corbyn has done so far?*

I think he’s doing ok. He didn’t expect to win and now has the massive task of becoming the leader he has a mandate to be.

The question we are being asked in polls is ‘does he look like a prime minister’? Well, no he doesn’t and that’s rather his appeal and why we want him to actually do the job.

We seem to have forgotten that democracy is about representation of the people. As a Socialist I’m sad to say that the last leaders before Jeremy who looked liked people I know were Major and Thatcher although I despised their policies.

I’ve talked to, and overheard, people whose natural home is the Conservative party who are saying that they ‘kind of like him’ or that ‘he’s growing on them’.

The truth is, he’s not that far left; not a ‘loony’; he’s pragmatic, open to debate, an ordinary, mild mannered, polite, non-adversarial bloke. As such far closer to the general public than the venal, morally corrupt, privileged elite and their wannabes that have dominated political life since 1997.

We are ready for change and Jeremy is the only one who can offer us the choice, although I know plenty in England who would have voted SNP in May given the chance. He was on south west TV tonight sticking up for small dairy farmers, this is entirely new ground, if he can get their vote and similar votes he’s on for a landslide in 2020.

What policies or arguments do you think Labour should be prioritising?*

They have to be rational, Jeremy’s been around for so long kicking against the pricks we know what his views on just about everything are. However in this bright new tomorrow he has to compromise and prioritise so don’t expect pulling out of NATO to be in the 2020 manifesto.

He has to remain anti-austerity, this is non-negotiable. Having seen the last three governments print money to support failed banks and maintain their employees bonuses, printing a little more to invest in projects that will benefit the masses will be very popular if presented properly.

Wealth inequality will also be popular as long as he can persuade the middle classes that they too will benefit from readjustment.

Housing and benefits will also be popular as will renationalisation of the railways, already supported by a large majority.

Do you think Labour can win in 2020?

Absolutely; this is a 1945 moment. We may not have had Jerry dropping high explosives us for the last 6 years but we have all suffered from an unrepresentative elite expecting us to pay for their mistakes for the last seven; bailing out their failed businesses and paying their obscene bonuses.

At heart the British are a nation who value fairness; sure we like an argument but we know there are limits. We have still, just about, shared values. The current media storm is trying to place Corbyn outside these limits but we don’t any of us really like to be told what to think. So when we look at the evidence we see a gentle mild mannered man asking us all to treat each other with respect and have an open discussion to which we’re all invited and as an alternative a privileged elite sneering at us from their ivory towers. I think it’s pretty obvious that given a free choice (which is by no means certain) the Labour Party should have a landslide victory in 2020.

Ok, so its ‘you must come round and see our holiday snaps, I’ll get a bottle Sherry in’ time. Except of course we’ve updated it. A blog seems so much less coarse than merely dumping them on Facebook for you to rummage through. Anyway, you have to opt into this and there’s no Sherry; and you get my commentary – it’s the Diector’s cut!  So here are the pictures, taken by all five of us, one French waitress and a really excited lady from Turkey,  I’ll leave you to decide who may have taken what. I’m really proud of my children’s eye for a picture; taught them it all meself mind.  My personal mission was to take pictures that would make great jigsaw puzzles; the reasons, my own.  I was really pleased with all of the pictures we took, some 300, but relax – I’ve whittled it down to a slim 36, just like an old fashioned Kodak film, but without the half blue 37th your Dad tried to squeeze out of the roll.

This was a family holiday; I think many of the shots are meant to capture this above all other. When I look at them I know I’m a lucky man.

So here we are, as Jake said “Soprano style’ day one, stil a lot of pointing and ‘pardon’  instead of ‘excuse moi’ .

that there’s really nice shot of me and Jake –

Chillin’

Time to give daddy back the camera because he wants to drop in an art reference, he’s driving to Giverney with romance in his heart ffs. leave him alone.

.. where this emerges.  Every clown who tries flash photography at a sporting event or a concert with their flash on should be shown thi; it kind of explains all those photos of the bloke in fronts bald head.

when the obvious jigsaw was

We’re at Giverney now and thinking impressionistically

The only rain in the week came in the five minutes we were at this pond – Claude smiled and made this a much better photograph

Over to me boy

Jigsaw alert

But .. family holiday remember

It’s a snap innit? Giverney was out of control as a garden (in my professional opinion). They’ve just appointed a young Geordie as their head gardener; hopefully he’ll sort them out – at it’s heart it’s beautiful.

So the Seine valley

and Coeur de Lyon’s gaff on the hill

we call this ‘freestylin” in my family, it’s what we do – all of us.

Three good jigsaws coming

Still awake? I’ll continue.

Everyone loves donkeys

I didn’t take this

Jigsaw – but it said France to me, we’re in Paris now.

It gets emotional now, no apologies.

and my current screensaver

That may end up as my favourite picture ever.. still these guys may have something to say

Jigsaw

And so to the gates of Pere Lachaise cemetery, my only indulgence, to see these close before me

So back to the beauty of Normandie – England really you know

+

I’ve played two albums tonight – Steppenwolf’s 1972 Rest in Peace and The Sex Pistol’s 1978 Never Mind the Bollocks. I’ve owned both since they were very new. One for the first time in maybe 30 years – the other being one of my top 5 of all time.

Steppenwolf arrived in a packet of three, all import albums, bought with Christmas money from distant relations at the age of 15. Trips to the big city on the 70 from Oxhill Road were exciting times, especially with the princely sum of £5 competing with the inevitable uninvited erection in my upper trouser region on the bus through darkest Handsworth. I think I bought Yes’s Tales From Topographical Oceans (curiously on the turntable as I write) and Lord of the Rings with £4.50 of the money and then roamed town, with 50p to spend. I ended up in in the basement of a department store called Greys – a real Grace Brothers affair where your money and change, space patrol style, departed and arrived in pneumatic tubes connected to some mysterious treasury in the sky. The record store in the basement was a curiosity – no place for the cool and where they had no idea what they were selling. So here it was I bought Steppenwolf, bundled with Hawkwind’s Hall of the Mountain Grill and Bloodrock 3 for 50p. The latter became the trendiest ashtray in Copthall Road shortly afterwards but the other two stayed, largely unplayed for many years, it has to be said. They traveled with me to Wales in 1976 in the hope that someone may recognise them and assume me cool. If any one did notice them, they probably thought I was just one of those people who may be found in Grey’s basement.

1976 was one of those years, of course, that if you were lucky, someone sat you down in front of their Dansette and introduced you to 1’56” of hard hitting rock and roll punk attitude that ripped your soul out, inviting you to kick the face of the world that you’d been given deserved. I suppose it was as much about being young as anything, but it damn sure embiggened me. In term time we all trotted round to the card shop that had a hidden record stall – they basically had a list of this week’s releases that you could order. We bought everything by any band beginning with ‘The ..’. A few of the musically competent boys got a band together, bless them, their CVs to this day inevitably proudly boast their involvement in the first punk band in Dyfed, ah to have had talent. They asked me and a chum, later to become a Police inspector, to be the official spitters at some talent show they weedled their way into. We spent they day trying to get some cow’s eyeballs for some reason; the accent barrier beat us & we ended up with a bucket of ice. The spitting didn’t go too well either, although in the front row, we were sitting behind the judges. The Simon Cowell of Lampeter chosen to sit in front of me was the kindly icon that is Mr Conti, after I’d gobbed on his head a couple of times, he decided to force feed me Player’s No 10 for the rest of the evening.

I digress.

Parallel to all this, I had connections in the only good record shop in West Bromwich. Yes. This gained me copies of stuff Y Pantri couldn’t touch, including,in 1978, one of the first 5000 copies of Never Mind the Bollocks (no track listings on the back cover). It was played to death in 1978, even tonight side two won’t play as someone appears to have projectile vomited over it in a manner I assume Jonny and Sid would have appreciated. I probably enjoyed it more tonight than I ever did before. In 78 you had to like it, although I don’t remember too many people playing more than the singles.

Steppenwolf, and Hawkwind, I started playing in the 80s. The latter was nicked by some scroat of a cat burglar who, who , grrrr – lets not go there. The former however is my surprise vote for finest album of all time, an American Free – if you will, but with humour and better songs.

For those of you still hoping for closure, I apologise.

My name is Ian and I am a football supporter. West Bromwich Albion and England to be precise. I’ve also followed Arsenal since their double winning team of 70-71 came to the Hawthorns and beat us in the 4th round of the Cup. I follow the results of many other teams on behalf of old loyalties. I had a season ticket at the Albion for twenty years, still get there when I can but hate all seater stadiums and the smoking ban, both have reduced the number of supporters at games. In 48 years I have had three or four of the best times of my life in a football stadium; that represents an investment I have always been willing to pay. That is what being a supporter is.

Anybody who has ever physically, religiously followed a football team will tell you that the general experience is more often similar to that being felt in England at present than otherwise. Freezing cold afternoons in January huddled against the north wind in a lonely terraced group whilst nil-nil looked depressingly certain from the start. Orange Juice and Paracetamol to clear the hangover fog as outer clothes steam dry on a stinking coach full of despair after a pathetic semi final performance against lesser opposition. The sentence ‘England are out of ……’ .

All these things conspire to the misery, the misery that can only be relieved by the occasional ecstasy, the euphoria of some abstract victory. For me – England in 1966, The Baggies winning the FA Cup in 1968 (my first trip to Wembley), Promotion at Oldham in 1976 and many times around 1980; again on the ‘Great Escape’ day – When Gary Megson’s team got promoted to the Premiership, I followed the game in text sitting in front of my computer in Devon, sharing a chat room with four others in New Zealand, Canada, US and Ireland, we leapt around our respective workstations in between typing to each other that we were leaping around and that our neighbours/workmates/spouses were beginning to worry. The master on the subject of what football does to supporters is Adrian Chiles . The fact of an earlier promotion had been emailed to me in Alabama from the back of a football special returning to Rugely post game by someone I’ve never met, again much solitary leaping.

As a world cup approaches, the population of England divides itself into those who loudly care and those who loudly don’t. Those who care comprise football supporters of various strengths, and others, who ‘follow’, and whose numbers dominate the ranks of those with interest. Dads feign interest to be better dads; Beer emboldened men in pubs join conversations for the company when maybe they shouldn’t; Others attempt to sustain empty relationships by ‘joining in the fun’. There are a lot of lonely people out there.

Football is the new Christmas – Big, Sparkly, Gifts for all, All you have to do is ‘Believe’. Father Christmas will deliver to all.

Bollocks. It’s not meant to be fun. If you want fun go to fking Lapland!

It’s about a simple game and trying to play it well, even better beautifully. It doesn’t happen very often. Very often the team look stupid because something that looked simple in training didn’t happen or the opposition saw it coming or they were overreaching themselves. They’re human – their recent performances impact their self image and confidence. Sound familiar? I really hope it does,

Trouble is, this is the World Cup. As soon as it looks like Christmas may not happen because someone else’s imitation Father Christmas may be better than ours, all the toys come out of the pram. The tabloids smell blood, blood sells papers. The press hound the team – guess what happens.

There IS an intelligent debate to be had here; about football, the game, the formation, team selection, etc.. Underlying it should be a healthy, warm feeling of well meaning; supportive even? We verge on childish petulance because WE’RE not getting what WE want – tough – grow up. Supporters are supposed to be part of the team. If you take the long term view of a club, they’re all there are; only a few grounds last as long. It wasn’t football supporters making claims that we would win every game; most reckoned a semi final appearance would be a good performance. Attacking a team as a strategy for building that team spirit is necessarily the right one. It may have worked for a time in the Warsaw Ghetto but surely that does little to recommend it.

Every supporter knows that football really is ‘a funny old game’, things happen that shouldn’t. In many games in this competition they are. Switzerland may raise their game, get lucky and beat Spain once but they’re highly unlikely to be able to repeat this sufficient times to win the cup. Teams can get ‘something going for them’, something that in Switzerland’s case may take them a couple of stages beyond their expectations, quarter finals maybe? England gaining a similar habit could, just, win the thing. It is only the next game that matters; having one, and having a bit of luck when you get there.

I’m going to continue with my optimism, I have to, I’m a supporter. One day my investment will pay off. It’s not a choice. I wish the players well for Wednesday, I hope they play the game they can. I hope they start to get a team feeling. I hope there are some supporters who can make themselves heard at the game, both in the ground and in the pub. It’s bad enough the team not playing well but have to suffer this vuvuzela of whining from people who don’t compulsively have to listen to Sports Report every other Saturday of the year grates. Shut the fk up! ; let those of us who truly appreciate suffering enjoy it amongst ourselves, it’s what we do best.

end of rant

Taking the risk of seeming to be becoming an obsessive blogger – nothing for 51 years and then two in a night ffs – London buses innit? – but I had to limit the edit on the last one to share a couple of episodes of Dexter on DVD with the missus. What a brilliant series. As much as I, and she, if I may speak for her, pick carefully through the outpourings from the country of her birth with somewhat trembling fingers, there have always been some diamonds amongst the dross. Now before we climb on to a passing high horse, those of us of a certain age should remember that the ‘golden age’ of children’s television that we enjoyed was largely produced by Americans in exile after the McCarthy witch hunts. The ’60s and ’70s were rich times for home grown British film and eventually television; in fact, as in music, you could say we’ve had a cultural conversation where each nation replies to what has happened in the other – example Elvis – Stones – Doors – Clash – er, er Pearl Jam? – ok I’m struggling here, but by now you’re either with me or not. It was not until I left England to live in America in 1992 that I realised that in terms of primetime TV, we had passed the baton and I would argue, still don’t have it back.

The money slot on American television is 10 -11 Eastern, which is 9 – 10 where I lived in Alabama and much of the eastern midwest, delayed until the same time on the west coast; after that it’s chat shows. There are, or where in the ’92-97 period, rather a long time ago now (scratches chin & sighs), still definite seasons for TV, the Autumn being the most profitable, which means that there will be major series on maybe 4 or 5 channels competing for advertising revenue; there will be casualties; series are dropped and there are others that have been made to fill the slot. This makes the genre quite open to innovation, with the result that there have been many exceptionally good shows, not all that were successful financially if not critically.

I’m not a great watcher of television; I’d generally prefer to live my own life rather that watch someone else live theirs. However, it’s like films, some you have, and want, to watch. I suppose the first series that pulled me in, at least initially, was Twin Peaks. My Heather arrived from the States after the last episode was shown there but before we’d seen it; she didn’t spoil it but I’d already decided it was going to be a let down – perhaps not a typical example but definitely creative . On arrival in America, I intended to do without a TV, but things happen and within months I was watching Picket Fences, a wonderful portrail of small town America as metaphor for the whole country, examining itself. It won loads of awards but was pulled after two series, a bit too ‘close to home’ perhaps. In its place came the similar but gentler Northern Exposure, after that The West Wing. At the same time, the manifesto that was Star Trek -The Next Generation was on almost every night, although I realise I may have lost a few of you with that one. There were many more I’ve forgotten.

It’s hard sitting in England trying to explain how bold these series were in the face of the Bush family and the dominant right wing agenda; but they were in their way Boys from the Black Stuff. The thing was not the politics that were expressed, but that these shows had an intellectual dimension in a regime where intellect was, and still is perceived as a threat. I have so many experiences that illustrate the distrust the right has spread across America, perhaps the most telling, the night that a carload of young Baptists broke down out side my house on a quiet country road just outside Tuscaloosa and asked to use our phone. In a room lined floor to ceiling with books, we’d made a space for the phone in the non-fiction/politics/philosophy section. It was an amalgamated library and there were two copies of many books, including right next to the phone, the Communist Manifesto; above this was the feminist section, below a continuation of the Marxist/Anarchist theme. I’ve never seen people in cheap suits run so fast, we still laugh about it now; it was probably the fact that we had books, rather than which particular books that scared the bejaysus out of them.

Things have changed now, in the same way that the British satire of the ’80s and the whole stand up thing has had to redefine itself – US primetime has given us The Sopranos, Deadwood and now Dexter, somewhat less communal series but superbly well made non the less. I rather think it’s coming around to our turn but frankly can’t see where it’s coming from, which is disappointing.

I find it hard not to feel like an anthropologist when I go anywhere these days; this, I know, probably says more about me than the state of the planet, but I can live with it. Journeys out, without the car, like postcards from abroad get fewer and fewer and consequently more interesting, at least to me. Hours of nicotine deprivation, faulty dongles give me adequate time to do what I’d really rather do anyway, stare out of the window and consider the state of our fair nation. The modern world doesn’t face the railway track as it did a century ago, we’re left with Iggy’s ripped backsides, if you’ll excuse the expression.

I was recently asked to travel to Lancaster to make a presentation to the City Council; a quick up and down, stopping to say a few words, sign a document, have my photo taken with a few dignitaries and thence home again. Well, I thought, a day off work, bit of travel, which is always enjoyable, and a bit of cash from the mileage, so why not? Having multi-mapped the route; I realised I was committed to the M6 between Birmingham and Manchester on a Friday afternoon. I hate this bit of road at the best of times so the idea of going by train seemed to be getting more attractive. More than that the Baggies were at home to Bristol City on the Saturday afternoon and I was also looking for an opportunity to spend a night in Birmingham, hooking up with two old friends I hadn’t seen for nigh on 30 years. Flawless plan, I booked an open return – I could just do it – the 06:37 from Tiverton Parkway, change in Birmingham with a 20 minute wait and arrive in Lancaster with 22 minutes to get to Morecambe. I arranged for someone to pick me up at the station and whisk me, presidential stylie, the five miles – cutting it fine, but the alternative was to travel the night before and miss choir practice. Nah.

Obviously the biggest problem was going to be catching the first train, I don’t do mornings. I picked up the tickets from the machine the day before as it has consistently refused to give me any previously, usually as the train was pulling in. I set the alarm on my mobile as I never know where it is in the morning, thus killing two birds with one stone. I made the train, although the car park payment machine did it’s best to aid it’s defeated brother. I always reserve a window seat, at a table, facing the direction of travel – it’s the King seat, especially now there’s only two per carriage – I was at least at a table, one out of three is their usual ratio of success and they hit it.

These days I seldom travel by train, London is the only destination I regularly approach on the parallel lines, so I’m familiar with the shortcomings of First Great Western; this time however I was travelling with Cross Country Trains, not a scintilla of erzatz heritage there. I soon found out why. No buffet, but an airline style trolley; I’d only ever seen this before on the Aberystwyth – Wolverhampton line, which is so damn cute you can’t be offended by the lack of bacon. So no excuse to go for a walk, effecting the swagger of one who spent many years at sea, or many nights drunk. Until of course the watery coffee does it’s job. I discovered early and established on every single train on this trip, that the way to the toilets on these trains is to walk towards the smell. There is no incentive to linger, wash ones hands well, powder the nose as it were – you need to get out. There are a maze of sliding doors that need to be asked to open and always stop to consider your request until you come to the pinnacle of all sliding doors, that of the toilet itself. Never mind disabled access, a formation wheelchair team could get through one of these. I’ve lived in smaller flats that these monster rooms, nothing to hold on to during the performance and always the threat that the door will decide to open at random at any moment. I have good evidence that these were designed by a woman – the flush button is behind the seat – you have to put the seat down. Unless of course you’re so petty and bloody minded that you lift it again afterwards, which of course I am. I’ve never understood the female logic on this one – put the seat down and you’ve a 50% chance that the next occupant will be a bloke who pisses all over the seat – put it up and it’s clean and dry for the next person wishing to sit; which unless I’ve got this very wrong for many years is not an activity reserved for the fairer er, gender.

Anyway, the journey is working well – I’m on time; the only disappointment was the sight of the derelict Springfield Brewery in Wolverhampton; not that I’m one to ever say anything nice about Wolverhampton, but a derelict brewery for god’s sake!! We pulled into Preston ahead of schedule. As the dongle I’d borrowed had intermittently given me reports of the flooding in the Lakes, I was smugly thinking that some of my Caledonian fellow travellers were going to end up on a bus that day. However Cross County, or was it Aviva or some such by now, had decided that Preston was the border to ‘the wrong kind of water’ country, so we were told we had to wait for a driver who was capable of driving a wet train. We sat and sat, eyeing all arrivals in the other direction for someone with the steely glare and webbed feet of one to whom Noah would have trusted the Ark. He arrived eventually just in time for his statutory lunch break, contemplating the effect this would have had in Genesis and therefore all subsequent theological time, I decamped to a local train and arrived standing as if on a tube, head bent into my armpit, half an hour late.

The next few hours were OK – nice people with the same sort of zeal I have for my work, if you’re ever in Morecambe I’d recommend the cemetery, but I’ll leave that for another time.

Now for a quick hop back to the city of my birth and a curry with the boys. Maybe it was the nicotine of which I’d been starved until now, I don’t know, but I eventually arrived on platform one after reading the arrivals board by mistake and then tangling with the disabled access route just in time to see the last train south for two hours leave from platform four. It was empty. Facing seats at tables were gesticulating at me with two fingers. Dejected I headed back to platform 4 and decided to wing it by getting the next train to Manchester and taking my chances. By the time the train arrived, the entire university population had arrived, doubtless keen to ‘give it some large’ or whatever they do these days in the fleshpots of Manchester; on second thoughts looking at their baggage, they were probably just taking their washing home for the weekend. Plus ce’la change. Anyway I pulled the old guy trick and nabbed a seat and fought sleep for what seemed an age.

When it gets dark on a train and all you want to do is look out of the window, you eventually have to give in and watch your fellow passengers. Between Manchester and Birmingham I sat opposite a big girl with unavoidably tremendous breasts. I don’t know who she was off to spend the weekend with, but given the preening and finger sucking she was practising in the mirror of the window I bet he had a good weekend, or she of course. It passed the time.

I arrived, safe in the knowledge that my old friend Phil was waiting in the car park; the fact I hadn’t seen him for nearly 30 years and neither of us knew what the other looked like had not yet been considered. We danced in decreasing circles until there were left only one lanky white guy and one short Indian, both talking into their phones. Magic – back to his place, a few beers and off to meet Roy in Moseley. I should at this point explain; as a student I had a summer job in Bradford’s Bakery, right opposite The Hawthorns on the Birmingham, West Bromwich border. The only redeeming feature of these ten week periods were a punk Sikh who’d changed his middle name to Dylan and who loved Leonard Cohen and rambling conversations about the meaning of lif (sic); and a grinning Rasta with whom I’d on occasion disappear to the car park to offer sacrament or some such. He later revealed he was Peter Tosh’s nephew, a standard line of bullshit for any Rasta in those days; years later when Uncle Peter played Wolverhampton Civic Hall and Roy introduced me, the only white man and Phil the only Indian in the house, to the great man I had to apologise for doubting him. That night I could proudly empathise with Joe Strummer, although he had enough trouble fitting Hammersmith Palais to the metre – Wolverhampton Civic Hall would have required a major rewrite. I learned why the Wolves were so poor at the back in those days – their entire defence were there, offering sacrament – in a rub a dub style, of course. We went around together much after I finished college; an Englishman, an Indian and a Rasta; all we had to do was enter a pub for a thousand jokes to get their wings – happy days, we laughed a lot, perhaps a bit too much some times. If you have the original gatefold sleeve of Steel Pulse’s seminal Handsworth Revolution, on the inner cover is a picture of the band playing football in Handsworth Park – Roy’s the guy in the blue shirt flashing a grin in the middle background. At last here we were again, hugging and laughing and soon attracting familiar attention from security for being too loud. A good night was had with a promise not to wait thirty years again –

Phil had to work the next day and the weather was foul, I’d miswritten the number for the taxi company, couldn’t work out how his kettle worked; or the front door lock and eventually heaved myself up the hill to the bus. I found out that you should never travel on a Saturday – the trains don’t run and no one knows what is happening. After the false advice of ‘platform seven in an hour, but you’ll have to change’ and ‘ you need the bus to Cheltenham’ I eventually ended up on the bus to Gloucester. There’s no better company than an educated old lady anxious not to be a bore. As we chatted about rationing and the war, kids these days and the decline of a proper diet I came to the conclusion that this was far preferable to the great unwashed on the train from Lancaster the day before; solely because we could both remember a time when it was ok to have a conversation with a stranger on a journey. We avoided a tricky moment when she ventured the opinion that ‘these ethnics have brought it on themselves’, I decided not to go there as we were only just passing what remains of Longbridge and a good hour of M5 lay before us. On reflection, as we were leaving one of the largest Asian cities outside of the subcontinent, those few words were so pregnant, I should really have reflected that, as a woman, she was bound to have silly ideas if she dared assume the male role of ‘having a thought’; I declined and entertained her with tales of my grandad’s illegal wartime pig. She responded as we drew into Gloucester and shared with me that ‘my brother used to get his hair cut in that shop’, ‘he brought it on himself’ I thought.

And so home, although the sheer beauty of the tracks and sidings around Bristol has to be worth appearing a bit Asberger’s about – I have to confess I traced the route on Google Earth today – with some enthusiastic kids and a big room, we could reproduce greater Temple Meads in OO – heaven. Temple Meads also has one of the last classic station bars that even I am not old enough to remember properly – now there’s a station to have to wait for a delayed connection or a hungry webfooted driver – sadly I could only watch as it slowly retreated, barely visible under corporate sponsorship.

And so home, and the events of last night – they’ll be in the paper tomorrow, so I’ll let the nice journo that interviewed me this afternoon do his job and link him on facebook tomorrow night. The Baggies cruised home without me – in what passes for ‘monsoon’ conditions in the Black Country. I’d had enough, content to worship at home, with a working internet, Albion Radio and sacrament instead of Balti pies.

Managing a cemetery … does not lend itself to easy explanation.  It does however, continually put you in thought provoking situations.

Yesterday I spent about an hour with a family, choosing somewhere to bury Dad & husband; the widow knowing that wherever she chose would be her grave too one day.  They were thoroughly nice people.  What’s more they completely appreciated everything I was trying to achieve.  They asked all of the ‘technical’ questions about what happens ‘down below’ that the bereaved usually avoid.   This came up because, to put it bluntly, if you want to be buried in my largest cemetery, you’re going on top of someone else.  The upside is that the grave will be in a part of the cemetery the Victorians used, leaving behind stately memorials and mature trees buzzing with life.  The truth is I hate modern cemeteries; the decline in income that occurred as cremation became the norm resulted in cost cutting, both in labour and investment.  It also saw regulation preventing individual expression and a landscape reminiscent of a ’60s council estate.  These bleak landscapes furthered the rush to incineration.  Having inherited a cemetery with no new ground I was expected to demand funds to recreate this horror out in the urban fringe, probably on a piece of ground so waterlogged that even Bovis wouldn’t build on it.  Instead I decided to use the letter of the law to exploit the acres of grassland created by another ’70s phenomena, using old memorials as ballast for the M5, thus further facilitating easier maintenance.  I now have thousands of relatively shallow graves in sections of the cemetery brimming with sculpture, culture, history, wildlife and stillness – a positive alternative to ending up in the smoke scrubbers of the local furnace.

Less than 24 hours later and a few hundred yards away, I attended the Remembrance Day ceremony; an event I always find moving.  Veterans from WW2 onwards were there in their berets with their medals.  It seems hard to match the medals with the faces now, so many years having passed.  Several hundred of us clustered around the graves of local lads, mostly killed in training; polish airmen and even a handful of Luftwaffe pilots, shot down in the Baedeker raids that destroyed much of the old centre of Exeter; their average age being around 20.  As the Padre, a young commando, related his recent experiences in Afghanistan, colleagues dying in his arms and so on; I started to see the image of my Grandfather, Billy.  I have this photo of him taken at a recovery camp somewhere in Blighty in 1916/7, getting over an injury sustained at some hell hole full of mud.  He didn’t live long enough to tell me about it.  A piece of shrapnel he carried with him for 50 years moved in his leg and killed him at the age of 71 when I was 8; the Kaiser’s last laugh.  In the photo he is a very young man, but his eyes have a look in them I saw again today as the Padre implored us not to forget the lessons of the past.

I’ll lift a pint to you tonight Billy and all the other faces on that picture,  wishing I could put my arm around your shoulder for five minutes.  Not to tell you you were a hero, although your medals are safe in my drawer; nor to crassly thank you for defending my freedom; sadly, obscenely your war was pointless and my freedom is these days more under threat from people closer to home;  just to break it to you gently that we’ve learned nothing.

Billy is front row, second from right.

Ha – so I’ve a blog – watch out world!

I love a rant so watch out for upcoming themes such as: Association Football; Music; Photography; People; Cemetery Management; the English Language; Young people these days and – Peace, Love and Understanding.

Getting this far has exhausted me, I’m going to have to have a sit down.