The big blogging day arrives…

I've been shortlisted for the UK Blog Awards 2016 Final.

THIS ledge has been a saviour of sorts. Eleven months it is now since I inched onto this strip of rock high above the unknown. Left work on the Friday and started writing on the Monday.

A cold wind blew on that first day and I guess it still blows now. Earning a living from words isn’t easy and this blog has no salary attached, but it does ensure the brain cells still collide into each other whenever I sit down to write, which is almost every morning.

Perhaps remarkably, at least it seems that way to me, I am now approaching 200,000 words, roughly the same number as to be found in two average paperbacks; or one literary stonker.

Anyway, this morning we shall be catching the train to London for the final of the UKBlog Awards 2016. I shall pack something old but stylish, the faithful Ted Baker suit, grey with an orange check; my wife has a cocktail dressed lined up. So long as there are no crossdressing accidents, her in the suit and me in that dress, we should brush up well enough.

The finals take place tonight from 7pm until midnight, at the Park Plaza Hotel on Westminster Bridge. By chucking out time, I will know whether or not Man On Ledge is among the winners.

It would be nice to win something. We don’t often win prizes in this house, although saying that last week we won an Aeropress coffee maker from the Attic coffeehouse in York. Very good and simple it is too, if you disregard the incident with the forgotten filter. Wet coffee grounds don’t half travel around the kitchen, I can tell you.

There are lots of good blogs up for an award and I haven’t a clue about my chances. Writing this blog remains a pleasure and a privilege nearly all of the time. Some days the ideas are scattered thin, but there is always something.

When I was on my postgraduate journalism course in ancient days gone by, I wrote a mini-thesis on gossip columns and interviewed Nigel Dempster, that noted purveyor of tittle-tattle to the Mail and the Express. I asked if it was hard to fill a column every day. He replied that with the whole world out there, you were a poor sort if you couldn’t find something to write about.

That’s my logic on this ledge. There is always something to write about; a political something; a personal something, or just something that pops into the mind at the required minute.

Some of the other nominees address serious personal issues. My starting point was no longer having a job, although various brambled byways have been explored away from that lonely track. I have no idea how you compare one blog to another, but that’s not my job. My job is just to sit there and await the announcements.

As to my actual job, that so far amounts mostly to writing features for the Yorkshire Post. I am proud of that work but the bills won’t be paid without more of it.

But today is not a day for worry; it is a day for fun and hope and meeting people.

We have had a guest this week who said something that struck me. She is Australian/Chinese and is taking a year out to travel for personal reasons. At the breakfast table we got round to discussing ages, and she said that at 36 she was older than many travellers (she clearly hasn’t bumped into my 84-year-old mother).

I told her I was 59 and she responded with the required display of flattery. This has happened before, so there must be a lucky gene in here somewhere.

Anyway our guest said that people who worried a lot showed their age more than those who spent less time worrying. You wear your worries on your face, in other words.

So there you go, perhaps I wear mine on my soul instead.

Anyway, wish me luck. And whatever happens, I shall report back.


Why the Sun never will shine in Liverpool…

I've been shortlisted for the UK Blog Awards 2016 Final.

HOW telling that The Times should apologise for not featuring the Hillsborough verdicts on its front page. And how interesting that one of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers should know where to look up ‘sorry’ in the dictionary.

The Sun never managed to find that word, infamously preferring to use two simple words that caused unimaginable hurt to the families of those who died. The tabloid is still hated in Liverpool for publishing an article headlined “The Truth” days after the tragedy in 1989, alleging fans were to blame.

That attack on people who had been killed by the errors of officialdom, and then put at fault posthumously, was a stain on the memory of those who died and on the character of a city.

Both The Sun and The Times are owned by Mr Murdoch’s News Corp group, a combative outfit which has done both good and bad in the name of journalism. Plenty of people will decry the idea that Murdoch has ever done a good deed in this world; but the man loves newspapers and has invested much in keeping his inky sheets afloat.

I guess the good is only that if you believe newspapers are a beneficial part of life; as for the bad, so much of that is sewn into the opportunistic soul of the Sun.

That original hateful report days after the tragedy in which 96 people died so horribly and without need showed the worst sort of journalism: utter confidence in the ‘story’; arrogant belief in the rightness of what was being splashed all over the pages; and not a thought for the people involved, those who had died and those left to grieve.

So when a jury this week exonerated Liverpool supporters after the long decades, neither the Sun nor The Times printed anything on their front page. The Times was criticised for this oversight or lack of respect – even, reportedly, by journalists on its own sports desk.

By the second edition, a main picture of a man clearing snow was replaced by one showing relatives of the victims cheering at the result of the inquest.

The Times did not exactly grovel, instead pointing out that the digital editions led with the story all day, and that the verdict was also covered “with two spreads, the back page, the top leader and an interactive on the victims. We made a mistake on the front page of our first edition, and we fixed it for the second edition”.

But at least it was an apology. No such contrition from the Sun. It would have shown guts and sensitivity to report the verdict on the front page alongside an admission of past sins; to have owned up to being so hurtfully wrong in the past and to have at least attempted a stab at atonement.

Well, that would have been too much to expect: it is the Sun after all, so sure of itself, so good at what is does in many senses; and yet too wrapped up arrogance and swagger to swallow its pride.

Few in Liverpool start the day with the Sun, even all this time later. To have delivered such a big lie at such a time has never been forgiven, and the strength of feeling in the city was shown yesterday as thousands rallied outside St George’s Hall as they assembled to honour those who died and the long-delayed legal vindication for families who had fought for so long.

And what on Wednesday did the Sun choose to put on its front page instead? A bit of celebrity spittle about Rita Ora and a specious story about David Cameron’s aides sending group texts by WhatsApp to spin a line on the Europe vote.

In a sense that page, and those choices, betray the problem. If all those years ago the Sun could tell such lies about what happened to Liverpool fans at Hillsborough, why should we believe them on Cameron’s texting aides or anything else?

Sometimes a ‘good story’ in a newspaper is interesting and worth the read; sometimes it is only a scrap or two of rumour and speculation got together to support the headline; and sometimes, as with the Sun all those years ago, it wrong beyond measure.

Those, of course, were the years when Kelvin MacKenzie edited the paper with such cruel swagger and occasional brilliance. Surprisingly, this morning’s Independent website reports that MacKenzie has now apologised for accusing Liverpool fans of being drunk and abusive during the tragedy. And you wouldn’t have put money on that.

Mind you, his contrition comes with a footnote: “As I have said before, the headline I published was wrong and I am profoundly sorry for the hurt caused. Clearly, I was wrong to take the police’s version of events at face value and it is a mistake I deeply regret.”

So it was all the fault of the police. Sorry but still wriggling.

Going back to Brideshead…

I've been shortlisted for the UK Blog Awards 2016 Final.

“I had been there before; I knew all about it…”

THERE always was a chance that Brideshead Revisited would be as much about York Theatre Royal, newly swanky after its £6 million renovation, as about this adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s novel.

True, this collaboration with English Touring Theatre will tread across other stages, but for a York audience part of the thrill lies in seeing how well the revamped theatre works.

Very well indeed is the answer to that; if there are problems, and there are, they lie mostly with the story. In theatrical terms, and as a way of showing off the capabilities of the new stage, Brideshead is a triumph.

In a sense this adaptation by Bryony Lavery, as directed here by Damian Cruden, is notable for what you do not see. In a play about a great house, that house is never even glimpsed in a literal sense; in a scene in which Charles Ryder’s paintings go on show, not a brushstroke is seen, just frames left empty so that characters can fill the hung frames.

The adaptable new space is used in a number of thrilling ways, with a series of black sliding panels dividing the stage, and then moving across to reveal perhaps a staircase, or the chapel at Brideshead, as represented by only a cross.

Sometimes these panels suggest the closing lens of a camera, or perhaps a disappearing perspective; all of a part with a production that uses memory, and the tricks of memory, as a way into the book.

All of this works fantastically well. Visual representations of Brideshead – a backdrop of Castle Howard, say – would have been a distraction. What we see here is much more intriguing and satisfying, leaving the story to come at us in a series of memory vignettes.

After the darkness of the opening scene, in which Charles Ryder (Brian Ferguson) is seen returning to Brideshead during the war, light flows in as he recalls his introduction to the eccentric, beguiling world of the Flyte family, and especially his Oxford chum Sebastian (Christopher Simpson), impossible, briefly dazzling, and heading along a path to self-destruction.

The sliding panels are used to brilliant effect in Sara Perks’ design at this point, backed up by Richard G Jones’ lighting design (the lighting effects often stand in for scenery). As Sebastian introduces Charles to his family, they are behind one of the screens, as if framed by a painting, and at the mention of each name, the panel expands and another family member pops into view.

This visual playfulness works a treat, with everything that is difficult to portray being filled by clever theatricality. So the stormy sea passage in which Charles and Julia Flyte (Rosie Hilal) are thrown together is summoned up by having them sit in two wheeled chairs, one facing forwards, the other backwards, as they are pulled across the stage from each side by ropes. This summons up both the violence of the sea and the high waves of their relationship.

And let’s not forget the music: Christopher Madin’s lovely compositions sweep many scenes along, and are strongly evocative of faded memories.

Brideshead is, I guess, about many things, from youthful hedonism, to religion, guilt, unhappiness, war and, well, just the impossibility of life. It is also, and herein lies some of the difficulty with this production, about a fairly unattractive set of posh people self-indulgently spinning out their pampered days. And that is not always an easy sell – and one reason, all those years ago, that the TV series Brass had such glee poking fun at the original Brideshead Revisited seen a few years earlier on ITV (both were Granada productions, incidentally).

Aside from that, the other difficulty lies in the pacing. The first half fair sweeps by in a haze of golden memory and the occasional dark shadow; the second half opens brightly with jazz in New York and the stormy sea-crossing. After that the momentum lags rather, and the protracted death of Lord Marchmain (Paul Shelley) seems to take an awfully long time, as do all the wearisome arguments about Catholicism.

As ever with this production, the setting at this point is very satisfying, with the grand four-poster bed being assembled before your eyes.

There isn’t a bad performance from the busy nine-strong cast, many of whom double up on roles, as well as moving the sparse pieces of set around. Shuna Snow plays three quite different roles – and at one point executes a swift costume change on stage.

It is hard to believe that this production of Brideshead Revisited would have worked at all as well on the old stage, and York is certainly blessed with a splendid new/old theatre.

Do go along: there is very much to savour here, and this theatre deserves our support.

The sharks go shopping…

I've been shortlisted for the UK Blog Awards 2016 Final.

THE demise of BHS will not trouble the fashion-conscious or those who like to ride the trends. But it should worry anyone alarmed by the rapacious ways of modern capitalism.

If we might for a moment shuffle two stereotypes into the same paragraph, old-style capitalism was stern but paternalistic, firm but fair; and new style-capitalism is the old boy’s flashy, immoral wide-boy cousin, in the game for what can be pocketed and having little or no care for the workers they employ or the institutions they briefly own while laughing all the way to the bank; and in Sir Philip Green’s case, all the way to another new yacht (that’ll be £100m, sir).

The collapse of BHS as a store is upsetting for that dwindling band of shoppers who still patronise the place; and also for the 11,000 workers – doubly so as the company’s pensions fund has been left with a huge deficit.

It is not often that the Guardian and the Daily Mail are in accord, but this morning the two papers take a similar line on BHS, previously owned by billionaire tycoon Sir Philip Green, who 13 months ago sold the company for £1 to Retail Acquisitions, owned by former racing driver Dominic Chappell, a man twice declared bankrupt.

The Guardian’s take on the story is: “Revealed: the £25m payout to BHS bosses”, while the Mail picks something from the gaudier end of the headline rail: “SHARKS WHO BLED BHS DRY.”

Usually I am very much more of a Guardian man, but the Mail nails this one, accusing “City fat cats” of “carving fortunes out of failed retailer BHS while leaving its workers in the lurch”.

The ownership of this 88-year-old company is a lot more colourful than any of the fashions they stock. And if nothing illegal has occurred here, a high degree of moral shabbiness has been involved.

It is not especially surprising or even shocking that a retail institution can eventually collapse; nothing lasts for ever, tastes change, shopping habits flow elsewhere – all that and more. What is shocking about BHS is the way the ailing company seems to have been taken on as little more than a cash-cow.

First up Sir Philip Green buys the company and owns it for 15 years, during which time he and his family are reported to have collected £586m in dividends, rental payments and interest on loans. And now the company has imploded leaving a pension deficit of £571m. You do not need a calculator to spot the similarity between those two figures.

There are high-street shops where you can buy anything for a pound. Dominic Chappell’s consortium bought a whole retail chain for a pound. Now this sort of deal happens, and sometimes it is the only way to ‘save’ a company. Yet little over a year later, nothing has been saved – and during its very brief ownership of an ailing company, Retail Acquisitions is said to have been paid £25m.

That’s not a bad bargain: buy something for a quid and then get 25 million back in return.

All this apparent dodgy dealing stirred up scorn from both sides of the House of Commons. Shadow business secretary Angela Eagle said of Green’s conduct: “In this situation is appears this owner extracted hundreds of millions of pounds form the business and walked away to his favourite tax haven”, while Tory MP Richard Fuller said that leaving the state-funded Pension Protection Fund to fill the pensions gap was the “unacceptable face of capitalism” and that Green faced “reputational questions”.

Not sure about that last part: Sir Philip Green is probably very pleased with his reputation as an obscenely rich man who sails his yachts in a sea of money.

As for the man who led the £1 buy-out, Chappell is said to have paid himself a salary of almost £540,000 while, according to the Guardian, “reportedly buying a new yacht and loaning his father £1.3m to pay off the mortgage on a home”.

All reports of this affair are at pains to point out that nothing illegal has taken place. That’s true, but perhaps the law needs to change so that these people can no longer bleed companies dry and wander off to buy new yachts with their ill-gotten gains.

And what exactly was Sir Philip Green knighted for? He should hand back the knighthood – or sell it to someone for one pound. And if he had a moral or two about his person, he could change his mind about taking delivery of that new £100m yacht and instead put the money in the BHS pension fund.

Liking and hiking…

I've been shortlisted for the UK Blog Awards 2016 Final.

MY mobile whistles on top of the ridge, so I have to look. And what do I discover? Only that somebody I don’t know has started following me on Twitter.

Now I like Twitter and I am easily distracted by Facebook, but it is good sometimes to step away.

The signal snaps as reception is poor round here. I put away my mobile and enjoy the moment. And what a moment it is. A walk with old friends across this inspirational landscape in the sunshine and sleet; flesh and blood friends, not social media friends (although the two do coincide, too). This is not to disparage social media, but sometimes actual life should take precedence.

This turns out to be one of the best walks we’ve been on, a nine-mile loop out of Rothbury in Northumberland, that soon rises to a ridge above the town, with fantastic views in all directions.

The Simonside Hills are well worth putting your boots on for. This dramatic sandstone escarpment provides mostly easy walking and the sort of panorama where you feel the earth curve.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have taken the phone on that walk; not sure why I did, other than habit and the opportunity to take mostly poor photographs. Those shaped by their habits, and it has been said that I am one, can be habitually absorbed by social media.

It’s a modern paradox, I guess: social media connects us in many positive ways, yet it can disconnect us too, taking us away from real life. Maybe real life is now a mixture of the two, friends and experiences you can see and touch; and those viewed through the digital kaleidoscope.

I like both – but sometimes you can’t beat real life. You can like it without having to ‘like’ it by clicking a raised thumb or a heart. You can, you know, just like it.

Anyway a group of us had a lovely time staying in a National Trust bunk house at Cragside, the astonishing Victorian pile built by Lord Armstrong, the pioneering industrialist. According to legend, Armstrong had not taken a holiday in years and, worn out after organising a conference of the British Association, he visited Rothbury. He had happy childhood memories of the area and decided to build a house there. And what an astonishing creation, all towers and turrets and other admirable archaeological trickery, and the setting is sensational and beautiful. The house is very large but still sits in the landscape rather than dominating it. We didn’t go inside, but did walk round the grounds.

Back home, we have something to eat and catch up with Masterchef. I have a doze – all that driving, you see – and only then do I hack through the email thicket to discover that a publisher has arranged for me to interview a crime writer later on today, at a time I can’t do. Ah, yes, checking emails.

After that I put some pictures of the weekend on Facebook, and then sit down at the laptop to write this blog. All of which suggests that real life and social media life have tangled roots.

Threesome tittle and threesome tattle…

I've been shortlisted for the UK Blog Awards 2016 Final.

I took part in a threesome once. It was when the cat jumped on the bed at a certain moment. Other than that, my knowledge of tripartite hanky-panky is limited.

You may or may not be aware that a married celebrity has been doing his best to stop our newspapers publishing details of his involvement in a three-way sexual encounter. You may or may not care. You may also think that who was doing what and to whom is of little consequence.

Yesterday the supreme court reserved its decision on whether or not to lift a temporary privacy injunction that prevents identification of the celebrity, known in court as PJS. The Sun on Sunday took the matter to appeal, while the Daily Mail has been fuming under its duvet for days now.

Let us for an unlikely moment feel sorry for the Sun and the Mail and the others. How can it make sense to ban newspapers from reporting something which is apparently known around the world thanks to the internet? I guess it doesn’t, although I did a furtive Google and returned none the wiser. Then the answer popped up on Facebook.

Oh, I see. Well here are a few observations. The highest court in the land is having to waste time and money presiding over an unseemly squabble between a celebrity and a tabloid newspaper. Doesn’t the supreme court have anything more supreme to occupy its time?

Freedom of the press is an important right, but some national newspapers only remember that when the salacious stuff sloshes into view. Any number of companies and individuals could be getting away with all sorts of disreputable behaviour – but these papers only talk freedom when sex and celebrity cuddle up together.

Unless, of course, that ‘celebrity’ happens to be John Whittingdale. When it was discovered that the culture minister had had a relationship with a sex worker who worked as a dominatrix, the newspapers were remarkably laissez faire (“Scandal? I see no scandal…” said various editors). Whether or not their lack of interest in reporting that story was connected to Mr Whittingdale’s role in curbing the poor behaviour of newspapers – while also conveniently bashing the BBC – remains open to debate.

Incidentally, Mr Whittingdale is reported to have dropped his girlfriend once he discovered she was a sex worker. Here are two further observations: one, that was rather ungallant of him; two, is it fair to wonder if plenty of MPs in his party would have been thrilled to discover a dominatrix on the side for free?

There is another irony here. The newspapers, in particular the Sun on Sunday, keep going to court to argue that they should be able to publish this celebrity’s name – and yet the longer such a right is denied, the greater the titillation, and the ‘better’ the story.

Without the names, this tale has kept on running. And in the end you can’t help thinking that in a world full of serious news, in a world shot through with sorrowful holes, this celebrity story really is a supreme irrelevancy, isn’t it?



The end of the Victoria line in northern wit…

I've been shortlisted for the UK Blog Awards 2016 Final.

YOU feel that Victoria would have something to say about this. Dead at 62 and there she is sharing the headlines with the Queen on her 90th birthday. Yet she isn’t here to supply a sharp quip, a reminder of how sad it is when someone funny dies.

Victoria is on nearly all the front pages, but only The New Day points out that she mattered because she made women laugh – “Goodbye to the woman who made women laugh.”

She made men laugh too of course, made this man laugh very much sometimes. But she was a funny woman who legitimised female humour. Arriving when she did, Wood turned up in a stale comedy landscape over which the tattered ghosts of mother-in-law jokes and dolly-bird sexism still wandered. The girl from Bury, Lancashire also offered something more direct, something more properly funny, than the Oxbridge comedians of the time.

She turned mainstream comedy in a different direction – one that harked back to earlier ages in a way, not surprising as her heroine had been Joyce Grenfell, the comedian and knitter of monologues.

French and Saunders were around too, of course, but somehow they weren’t as funny; they tried too hard, wrapping themselves in knowing cleverness. Wood’s skill lay in using her cleverness to be very funny in a very northern way.

Wood was always aware of her role as a northerner invading foreign southern fields. Hence the line she gave Susie Blake’s fragrantly snooty TV announcer: “We’d like to apologise to our viewers in the north. It must be awful for you.”

The Daily Mirror doesn’t quite get it right, I’d say, calling Wood the “Gentle genius of comedy.” No doubt about the genius – as a stand-up, musician and TV dramatist. Yet I’m not sure about ‘gentle’. There was a grain of toughness in her comedy, and fools were exposed to the full sandblasting wither of her wit.

As for being the woman who made women laugh, she once did a longish routine about breast-feeding that almost finished my wife off. It wouldn’t have been a bad way to go, laughing at Victoria Wood. But now she is the one who has gone, leaving the world a sadder place.

As is so often the case, the critic and writer Clive James puts his finger on it when he said that Wood “changed the field for women and indeed for everybody, because very few of the men were trying hard enough as writers before she came on the scene and showed them what penetrating social humour should actually sound like”.

Ah, yes – her humour was penetrating, and that is not the gentle crown the Mirror would place on her head. Socially observant humour has to have something about it. And in Wood’s hands it was also just very funny.

Sally Wainwright’s TV drama Happy Valley is rightly praised for putting two middle-aged women at its battered heart – yet in a sense Wood got their first with Dinnerladies. Her canteen comedy was dominated by women – apologies to York actor Andrew Dunn – and they were mostly menopausal, giving rising to lines such as “And where has it got you, having a pelvic floor like a bulldog clip?”

During interviews, Wood often spoke about her childhood in a way that was very amusing while also summoning a sense of loneliness too. “I was brought up in one room with a television, a piano and a sandwich,” she told one interviewer. “I just lived on my own. My parents were in other rooms. My father and mother didn’t watch television at all.”

I do love that line – “a television, a piano and a sandwich”. So funny with her delivery, yet rather sad too. She went to Bury grammar school, where she wasn’t “completely unpopular”. “But I didn’t feel I was in the mainstream with people who were really having a wonderful time … I’d look at other girls and wish I could be like them, interested in boys, meeting in the Wimpy bar on Saturday mornings and going to discos.”

Very funny, a little sad perhaps, sharp as you like and yet capable of great warmth. And we were the ones having a wonderful time watching her.

What sort of an idiot bans a parkrun?

I've been shortlisted for the UK Blog Awards 2016 Final.

THIS isn’t the best day to write about running as I am suffering from that sporting complaint known as a bit of a sore knee. I have creaked before and will creak again. Most aches and pains can be run through, although some do sabotage you in the end.

Two stories about running come to mind as me and my potentially uncooperative knee sit down at the laptop, a sedentary occupation, if that’s what it is, and one that needs an occasional outdoors escape.

The first is the much-reported decision by Stoke Gifford parish council to ban its local parkrun. This has received widespread coverage and stirred up much anger.

Parkrun is a great idea, although I say that as someone who has never gone along. I am more of a solo pavement plodder, but I do like to put on my running shoes and get out once or twice a week.

This communal and volunteer-led event was established in 2004 in Teddington in south-west London. Parkrun is not a race but a free, timed 5k run, open to anyone who first logs onto its website.

What a tremendous movement – and moving is what it’s all about, getting people to take exercise in the company of others. It is not, as I understand it, competitive – your only opponent is yourself, or perhaps your desire to stay in bed at 9am on a Saturday rather than put on those shoes.

There are 850 parkruns around the world in 12 different countries, which is remarkable. So it will take more than a bunch of killjoy parish councillors in Bristol to spoil such a popular party. Parkrun does not charge those who take part and the organisers say that this free access encourages the least active members of society to start taking exercise, simply by logging on and turning up.

I don’t know what manner of idiot sits on Stoke Gifford parish council, but went looking anyway. Perhaps I was hoping to find someone who looked like they could do with a bit of exercise.

Sadly, I discovered no pictorial evidence of slackness, but instead learnt that the parish sits to the north of Bristol and covers 1717 acres, a good figure it must be said, and contains Stoke Gifford, Little Stoke, Harry Stoke, Stoke Park and other areas not called Stoke. There are 15,500 inhabitants, many of whom like a Saturday morning run.

There are twelve local councillors, who between themselves cooked up quite a bit of negative publicity with their daft decision. They banned the local parkrun because of damage to paths and so on, saying that it is unfair that non-runners should pay for the wear and tear, thereby misunderstanding the nature of local democracy: not everyone does everything, but everyone should support everything if they can.

I see that the run took place anyway, moving to Pomphrey Hill Park in Mangotsfield. That’s the thing with runners – you can’t stop them. Whether the local councillors of Mangotsfield intend be miserable too is not recorded, but hopefully they will see the sense in allowing people to exercise and become a little fitter.

The other running story is that England Athletics has joined with the charity Mind to recruit 128 volunteers to do a bit of running and talking in the name of good mental health. This links to Run And Talk, a campaign to improve mental health through running.

Solo running brings mental health benefits too, clearing the head as the body gets on with its stuff, but running and talking is good too, and that is the idea with Run And Talk. Running is therapeutic in itself; running and talking things through doubly so.

Mostly I run alone with my music, but in the past I have run with friends. I should be running with friends on Saturday morning during a stay in Northumberland, dodgy knee permitting. Mind you they are a lot fitter than me and I don’t have much left in the way of breath for talking.


Dear me, hearing the two Europe teams shouting at each other is very wearying…

I've been shortlisted for the UK Blog Awards 2016 Final.

NOW this probably won’t help, but never mind. Do you think we should have a referendum on whether we should stop going on about Europe all the time?

The news is stuck in an obsessive groove. This is understandable on the grounds that staying in Europe or leaving is a decision of great importance. But, dear me, hearing the two teams shout at each other is very wearying.

Each side is so sure they are right – each is possessed of utter certainty in an uncertain world.

The quitters have more fun with their arguments, partly because they drag out king-size fibs such as Britain sending £350 million a week to Brussels. Then then tell us that just about any problem we might have could be cured by leaving Europe, and no doubt skipping off down a rainbow-arched lane to a land of milk, honey and good strong tea. They conjure images of a Britain still great – a Britain still with its brogue-clad feet resting on the footstool of Empire.

The Stronger in Europe contingent, meanwhile, are fighting a fairly dreary campaign with fear at its bossy heart. Fair enough in a way – as the uncertainty of what would happen if we quit Europe is a big black hole the quitters traipse round every day, pretending it isn’t there.

George Osborne tells us that Brexit would lead to higher taxes, more expensive mortgages, the sun dropping out of the sky and plagues of frogs falling like rain upon our foolish heads (some of these may not be true).

Then there is David Cameron. Casting him the figurehead for the remain camp was never a good idea, and looks even less wise now after his reputation was tarnished by the Panama Papers revelations.

Hearing David Cameron say you have to do something is likely to make plenty of people feel they should do the exact opposite.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has now put his back into the efforts of the remain camp. Only it’s not so much his back as a big ‘on go on then’ shrug from a man who doesn’t seem all that keen on Europe. There is a theory that Labour votes are crucial to the remain campaign, so perhaps the Corbyn shrug will be enough to turn the issue round.

For what it’s worth I still think we should stay in Europe, and will probably vote that way. But trying to make up your mind isn’t easy. I still find myself bouncing off the opinions of those I’d rather not stand next to for too long.

Cameron and Osborne want us to stay, so shouldn’t I want to leave? But Boris Johnson with all his confected bumbling wants us to quit, so shouldn’t I want to stay just to spite that dreadful man?

Corbyn wants us to stay, so perhaps I’ll lend my shrug to his, and if enough remain shrugs gather together it might count for something.

Incidentally, I just saw a most frightening headline: “Chris Grayling shares platform with Nigel Farage to denounce EU.”

What an utter delight, a horrible Tory with an equally horrible Ukip man. Some meetings really are enough to bring on a bad case of the shudders.

A silly stunt by Amazing Spaces dredges up distant memories of Highcliffe

I've been shortlisted for the UK Blog Awards 2016 Final.

GEORGE Clarke and his Amazing Spaces TV programme led me down a long tunnel this weekend. Now I quite like George, especially when he is being Restoration Man, a sort of architectural super-hero who swoops in to help people salvage interesting old buildings. Or to watch them mess the job up for our entertainment on Channel 4.

But sometimes his programmes are too egotistical and a little silly. This side of George is less easy to love.

For his next series of Amazing Spaces, George is running a design-a-beach-hut competition in which twelve winners will be given £8,000 each by Christchurch borough council to build their huts at Highcliffe on fragile cliffs designated as a site of special scientific interest.

One outraged resident was reported as saying: “Just to get some publicity for a TV programme that is here today, gone tomorrow, we’re getting our clifftop ruined.”

Those cliffs have been fragile for a long time. I know this because my grandparents owned a holiday home there that eventually went over the edge.

Now this all happened a very long time ago, and at first I wasn’t even sure if this Highcliffe was the one from my childhood holidays. For a start the report said the town was in Dorset, whereas the one we used to visit was in Hampshire, not too far from my grandparents’ home in Southampton.

A little Google delving revealed that boundaries are fluid round there, and Highcliffe used to be in Hampshire but has now been claimed by Dorset. So that question was answered. Everything else here is a mixture of long-distant memory and things I have been told. As is the way, some of these memories may be unreliable and not consistent with what other family members recall.

My grandparents lived a modest life, so it might seem odd that they had a holiday bungalow. From what I can gather, that was down to Uncle Harry; he was the one with money, and he must have provided the place for them in some way or other.

By the time we used to visit in the 1960s, they had a different bungalow further from the doomed one on the cliff edge. My memories are clear in parts, patchy in others. The bungalow was raised off the ground, I remember that, and had a large central living area with bedrooms off to the side. My mother, who happened to be visiting at the weekend, recalls that there were three bedrooms.

I remember a few things for sure, including being woken by my mother, only to tell her it couldn’t be morning as I’d only just fallen asleep. How I look at that boy with envious eyes from the restless hillock of middle age.

I remember crawling under the bungalow, playing on the beach, and the boy next door who ran bare-chested into a rose bush and had to be untangled from its cruel whippy stems.

New bungalows were built on the space opposite, but when the footings first went in, adults from the existing bungalows stole out at night to pull up the posts, in the hope of deflecting the inevitable.

I remember fresh air and brothers and cousins, and being on the beach. When I was two I ran fully clothed into the sea at Highcliffe, although I don’t recall that.

Mostly what I have now, all these years later, is a drifting memory of holidays taken long ago. My grandmother’s face looms in and out of view. She was kindly as I recall, but she had a stern side. My mother tells me that before you left you had to tidy the place and clean the windows. And there were a lot of windows.

She recalls her mother-in-law saying that one visitor hadn’t cleaned the windows at all and she’d found a sweet wrapper under a bed after they’d gone. That guest was her own daughter and my auntie, now long gone, like a few players in this game of drifting memories.

My mother tells me that some of the holiday homes were made from old railway carriages, something I don’t recall.

I hadn’t thought of Highcliffe in years, until George Clarke blundered in with one of his gimmicks for the television. As for those friable cliffs, they have long been designated as a site of special sentimental interest for me. So I am happy to lend my outrage to the annoyed locals.