Sunday, 17 February 2008


I am not entirely convinced that if I fly to the Isle of Man bits of the English coastline will drop off the edge of the planet. Nor that Iceland will become a Land of Milk and Honey, and the desert will bloom with an abundance of orchids, if I so much as light a bonfire in the garden.

Climate change has dictated Earth’s history and will continue to do so. We are profligate with her bounty but governments which fly emissaries to the far corners of the world to junket and preen will never take the measures necessary to change our excess.

Any natural happening is pressed into evidence that warming is man caused. Global warming and wind change have even been blamed for the appearance of giant turtles on the Welsh coast. Turtles have been washed onto our Welsh coast with almost monotonous regularity for years. Wales is washed by the Gulf Stream which is their natural habitat. There is even a poem about it written by Robert Graves.

I am far more worried about the vast underwater island of plastic, the size of America, which broods off the coast of Hawaii poisoning marine life and feeding toxins to the minute organisms which are the first elements in the food chain. It is certainly responsible for the death of turtles and many other forms of marine life.

There is a hope. In a letter to the Independent, David Sevier, of Aqueous Logic Ltd, pointed out that nature has washed and sorted thousands of tons of a valuable resource and moved it near to several of the world’s markets.

Plastic, he says, is a good feedstock for many products including plastic wood. This, he claims, is an excellent building material since it does not rot or need painting. Apparently, the problem generally has been the cost of collecting and washing it. But the sea has done this for us. It has given us a truly huge business opportunity, a large, fairly concentrated raw material, near highly developed markets, which can be collected free, since it is in international waters. Naturally, since this important news is not doom-laden, it has not been taken up by the rest of the media,

Instead, I have been invited to "Earth Hour" on Saturday, March 29 at 8:00pm. "Lights off for only one hour, wherever you are in the WORLD!"

To see more details and RSVP, follow the link below:

In half the world, of course, it will be broad daylight. But I suppose it is the thought that counts.

On Tuesday we went to Cambridge to watch a student production of “The Pirates of Penzance”, which was by a country mile the finest I have seen; indeed it was one of the finest productions of any kind I have seen.

Hardened G and S watchers like me will be familiar with near geriatric chorus lines, three little maids with a combined displacement of an ocean liner and the other horrors we gladly undergo for the music and the wit of the lyrics. This chorus was made up of manly and athletic pirates and a bevy of Major General’s daughters who were pretty, young and talented.

The British reaction to G and S is one of the great puzzles of life. As a body of work, any other country would be proud of it. There would be festivals of G and S. They would be worshipped as the Strausses are worshipped, statues erected, G and S souvenirs in every shop. Here D’Oyly Carte were kicked out of their home, refused an Arts Council grant and patronised by our artistic establishment.

There is a similar, though less obvious, reaction to Elgar. Goodness knows what would have happened to his reputation had he not written the Enigma Variations and Jacqueline du Pre had not recorded the Cello Concerto.

On the way home from the theatre, across the treacherous Fens, fog made driving a hazard and brought back memories of the post-war years when fogs were so thick that the only way to get home was to tailgate a bolder spirit and hope. Several times this led me into Ladybarn Park (Manchester), across the road from my home, when the lead driver took a wrong turning.

On one occasion, the lead driver jumped from his car and ran past the convoy screaming. We caught him, and calmed him, and asked whatever was the matter.

“I nearly knocked over an elephant,” he sobbed.

He had.

I remembered, just in time to prevent a stampede, that Fossett’s circus, another greater English institution, was visiting and had hobbled its elephants in the park.

I used to earn an honest crust from Vernon’s Pools, going to winners who had marked the cross for no publicity and attempting to persuade them to change their mind. I had to give it up because it was turning me off the human race.

There was the man who earned his living scrubbing the inside of the tanks of railway engines and told me that, despite winning a fortune, he was not giving up his day job. Then there was the man who told me off for waking him up in the afternoon to tell him he had won £40,000. And the publican who told me to whisper how much he had won because he didn’t want his customers to know. The bar was empty at the time.

Only once was I offered a drink and that was by an elderly widow who had won £2,000 and gave me a sherry she said she had been saving in case she ever won the pools.

But the queen of them all was Nellie McGrail. She was a lady from Hyde, Cheshire, who was the first big winner of what was then riches beyond the dreams of avarice.

I was running the Mirror news desk in Manchester at the time, and I sent a reporter called Chris Reynolds to see her and take her to the amusement park at Belle Vue to get pictures of her and her children on one of the rides.

He rang several times to ask if he could come back to the office because he was running out of money. She made him pay for ice creams, lunch, candy floss and all the rides.

“Stick with her,” I said, “you’ll be bound to get a drink out of it when you take her home.”

So he took her home, paying for the taxi, and rang me again.

“That’s it,” he said. “You can sack me but I am coming back to the office. I have paid for everything all day. Carried whining kids and tried to cheer up Nellie. We’ve just got home and she said, ‘I expect you could do with a drink?’ I said I could. ‘Right,’ she said, ‘I’ll put the kettle on.’”

There was a sequel. When the news of Nellie’s great win broke, a taxi driver reading of it in his Daily Mirror said to his wife “I used to go out with her” and became very thoughtful.

Some months later I covered his wedding to the pools winner at the village hall in Heaton Moor. Happily on this occasion we drank champagne; indeed my abiding picture is of four policemen detailed to keep back the crowds drinking it from the bottle, long before that disgusting habit became fashionable. Though thankfully they did not shake it and spray it in the vulgar manner of racing drivers.

My Dangerous Cuttings Book

Seen in a Post Office window in Barmouth was this postcard:

“Dear Geoff, Audrey and Martin,
“Having a lovely time. The weather is good. The children are all enjoying themselves. See you soon,
Olive, Gwyn and the children.”

Written in the address section under a 9p stamp is:
“Forgot your address”


Asha Stephen said...

HAHAHAHAHA!!! Love the observation that in half the world it would be broad daylight. :-) However, they do mention that it is 8pm "local time". Collectively I suppose it will all add up. I am resolved to join in!

I'm waiting to finish the half-read books on my current reading list to begin "Island Fling". Looking forward to it enormously!

Ken said...

How wonderful to read Ian Skidmore again; as magic with words as ever. The 'old' media of radio and the newspapers do not know what they are missing,