Sunday, 26 June 2016

Decree Absolute

Yesterday was the twentieth anniversary of my divorce - the Decree Absolute that is - the final, formal decree that interred my marriage in its grave, and sent it into history.

As it happened, history that did not repeat itself. I learned from that experience. I was forever after reluctant to enter into any formal living-together arrangement.

My friendship with M---, although it eventually involved sharing her home from late 2005 to late 2008, was never fully like a marriage. Her home remained hers, never mine. Indeed it could only (as a formal matter) have the status to me of temporary accommodation, because otherwise her pension income would be in jeopardy. I was in some ways in the position of a privileged lodger. She was such a good friend, to let me share her living-space for so long. And because we got on so well, I was glad to stay with her. Although it couldn't go on indefinitely - the terms of her pension deed had to be taken seriously - I'm sure she was glad too. At first, anyway.

But as our friendship came under increasing strain, I had to move out. That doesn't happen with a marriage, at least not in theory. Marriage partners have extra glue to bind them. Friends - no matter how close, no matter how trusted, and no matter how long the relationship has existed - can be ripped apart quite easily. I was shocked to discover just how easily. We backed off from many, many years of amity. It hurt us both, but the Cottage fiasco and other matters made carrying on impossible. It hadn't been a marriage, but my goodness, it felt like a full-blown divorce!

Nevertheless it wasn't the legalistic ordeal of my earlier, proper divorce in 1996. And that didn't actually go to court - we achieved a binding settlement, one that the judge was able to accept without a hearing. I would have been scarred for life by the horror of a cold courtroom confrontation. It was a narrow escape. But I still count the breakdown of my 1983 marriage and the eventual 1996 divorce as one of those awful Life Experiences one might expect to go through. I sometimes list them in my mind:

# A failed marriage (W---).
# A failed major relationship not involving marriage (M---).
# Loss of both parents.
# Loss of my only sibling (Wayne).
# Loss of a colossal amount of money (£200,000 on the Cottage).
# Major unhappiness and contention at work.

I haven't yet had a major personal illness. And I haven't had to cope with the death of a child of mine (nor will I ever). But the list is formidable enough. And yet most people experience similar grief sooner or later. So I claim to have taken only routine knocks, and suffered only normal wear and tear. Nothing more.

That doesn't prevent the experiences in my list leaving their mark. That's why sharing my remaining life with anyone - even my physical space for more than a few hours - has become psychologically impossible. And no power on earth will ever now make me invest significant money in a 'safe' get-rich-quick scheme. I am locked-down where personal control and security is concerned. And I don't think I will ever relent. That's sad, because it rules out future intimacy and any circumstance in which I might surrender myself on terms of total trust. But that's what my experiences have done to me, and I have pulled up my drawbridge.

And now the nation, or 52% of it, has also pulled up the drawbridge. How ironic that the anniversary of my divorce should almost exactly coincide with the start of the nation's own divorce proceedings! But the love-affair is all over, anyone can see that, and a rapid severance is now best. Hopefully it can be done in a civilised fashion that keeps acrimony to a minimum, and nurtures the gradual re-flowering of friendship from a little distance. Because the parties must still live in the same town!

How natural it is to apply the same post-separation notions to the nation's divorce turmoils as to a personal sundering. But there do seem to be real parallels, psychologically at least, now that the Referendum has exposed the true extent of grass-roots discontent and made hard talking necessary.

I hear that an online petition, already three million strong, has called for a second Brexit Referendum. Presumably on the basis that the first result 'got it wrong'. It will have to be debated in Parliament, but I hope this idea is discarded. The electorate have already spoken. That 4% margin between the Leave-the-EU voters and the Remain voters, though not overwhelming, is still sufficiently decisive. It's a clear expression of what the greater number of people think. How can such a result be set aside, and still observe the basic principles of democracy?

The 48% who wanted to stay with the EU will have had reasons as various and compelling as the 52% who voted for divorce. Certainly, they can't be ignored, and it will be politically insane to proceed as if everyone voted Leave. It will be like divorcing without the approval of the kids. The kids may protest, but can't stop the dissolution of a bad marriage. And they can't insist that the parents try again. But if they are minors, then their welfare must be properly considered.

If there is, amazingly, a second chance to consider the issue of EU membership, then I intend to vote Leave again. I have not had a post-Referendum change of heart.

And the way some countries in Europe are muttering, I think our departure would actually ease tensions and smooth the road to further continental integration. They are sorry we don't want to stay and join in, but if we must go - and clearly a majority in Britain do want that - then could we please get on with it? There will surely be a great howl of protest from across the Channel if a second Referendum goes ahead, no matter how rapidly the preparations are put in hand.

Besides, the EU will surely not stand in the way of Scotland and Northern Ireland, its potential new recruits once the divorce takes full effect. One yellow star gone from the blue European flag. Two to replace it.

And I get an opportunity - sooner than I thought would be the case - to replace my EU passport with an England & Wales one. Thank goodness: that 2010 passport photo was so awful. A libel on the distinctive, characterful, classical and noble Melford visage.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Done in full knowledge of the consequences

I'm reading a lot of very negative stuff about the result of the Referendum, and hearing it when I strike up conversations with strangers. As if a Leave-the-UK vote was no more than a vague protest vote, not thought out at all; a vote based on dodgy statistics; and even a selfish, I'm-all-right-Jack vote in complete disregard of what today's school students will need when they start looking for work.

Well, surely not every single one of the 52% who voted Leave could have been consumed with self-interest. Any thinking person must have seen - as I certainly did - that everyday prices will rise, that taxes will rise, interest rates will rise, inflation may rise, and that the 'triple-lock' annual increase for State Pensions will be scrapped asap.

We won't have to pay the EU anything, but the EU grants and subsidies will vanish, and every future transaction with the EU will cost more.

Anyone who voted Leave should have worked out that Freedom will come only at a price. So a properly-considered Leave vote wasn't at all a vote to maintain a comfortable middle-income lifestyle, and fingers-crossed that it will turn out fine. Less comfort, and less affluence, was absolutely bound to be the outcome - and quickly.

I personally reckoned it would be like that, and yet still voted Leave. I would say many, many other people also took a view on the consequences, and did the same as I did. It wasn't 'falling on the knife'. It wasn't falling victim to politicians' dubious and lurid statistics. It was wanting something more than a life propped up by EU handouts and hedged in by EU rules. It was wanting a different vision of Britain, something much more inspiring, and being prepared to meet the cost.

Does a desire for affluence trump freedom and a defence of Britishness? In a consumer society, many will say yes. Personally, I think a lot of money is wasted, and the creation of a more thrifty, cannier, savings-minded Britain would be no bad thing. I do appreciate what I can personally afford of the Good Life, but I'm not dependent on it, nor do I believe that the essence of a worthwhile mode of living is to shop till one drops, or to beggar oneself paying a mortgage or school fees.

A Britain going it alone will have to become a more people-focussed place. Personal talent will matter much more. We will all have to be more caring, more obliging, much less 'me-me-me'. And if something of that 'let's pull together' Blitz spirit prevails, then I don't see why the vulnerable persons in our society should suffer unnoticed and without champions.

Friday, 24 June 2016


I'm sitting in the York Bar of The George Hotel in Stamford, sipping a self-indulgent and decidedly expensive £8 gin and tonic, still weighing up the consequences of the winning Leave vote in the Brexit Referendum.

I am not afraid to be unfashionable and unpopular about actually enjoying the collective decision of the nation. I am so glad I followed my gut feeling that Britain would do better if it disengaged from the EU while it still could. 'Do better?' I don't mean economically, although many opportunities will now become available. I do expect higher taxes in due course: just like the old days, in fact. There's a price to pay. But certainly, Britain can stay distinctively Britain, and move forward without EU interference, with all that means.

As a Leave voter I must however have been in a local minority, for 'my' voting area, Mid-Sussex, a tract of countryside full of city commuters, was in fact one of those areas clustered around London that firmly voted Remain. Clearly many city types feared a mass forced exodus of their work to Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt and Milan. They were looking after Number One, I suppose. A natural thing to do.

I expect things to settle down quite quickly now. At the moment the eyes of the world are on us. But soon the US elections will be the Big Story, and the troubles of Europe and its Problem Child will be eclipsed by something altogether more important.

Meanwhile it's completely comprehensible that many people in Britain, if they are not British Citizens, will suddenly feel insecure, with that sense of 'belonging' snatched away. They will probably get a right to carry on residing here, but of course may find themselves without some other rights. Others too: anyone belonging to a vulnerable minority, indigenous or alien, who was hoping for further priority legislation connected with their welfare and protection, must be feeling sick with apprehension - even though nobody has seriously suggested that they will be denied anything. How you view this depends on your present situation, and your plans for the next ten years. So I can see why some young people - maybe most of them - might feel downhearted.

One thing that irks me is that about 30% of the electorate did not vote at all. What a difference their votes might have made! Who were they? They were not very likely to have been older people, who are well-known for being keen voters. Younger people, then? It's impossible to say. But how awful it would be if the groups who feel most let down by the Referendum result were, by and large, the groups who failed to vote.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Voting in the Referendum

Well, here I am outside my local Polling Station at 6.46am this morning, waiting for the place to open for voting from 7.00am. I was second in the queue. In front of me was a young man who was going to vote by proxy for his parents, who were still on holiday. Then he was going to drive to Burgess Hill and vote for himself before going to work. A young couple soon joined us. By the time the signal to come inside was given, there was a queue of fourteen with more cars driving in. I should think that nearly everyone was on their way to work, and this 'rush' might not be typical one or two hours later. Nevertheless, it was an encouraging start, and showed that many young voters were taking an interest, not just old biddies like me. I also like to think that the staff on duty at the Polling Station prefer it if the voting is brisk. It must be very dispiriting - not to say boring - if only a few people turn up.

As you can see, I was very keen to get there early, and be among the first to cast my vote in this Referendum, which is intended to reveal the will of the British public on whether we should stay in the European Union or not. If I wasn't quite the first in the queue, I was certainly the first to announce myself at the table for my ward, 'manned' by a lady with the Full Voters List (on which I was 'Melford, Lucy'), another lady who also had a list (I suppose they were meant to be a check on each other, so that there could be no possibility of error where my identity was concerned), and a young man who presented me with a voting slip and directed me to the cluster of booths. It all went smoothly. At the booth, I took up the pencil and made a firm cross in the place for 'Leave the EU'. Then, with the young man watching that I did it properly, I popped the folded piece of paper into the big black tin box and trotted off.

My goodness, there were suddenly an awful lot of people coming in! And a sea of cars outside the Village Hall. I was tempted to take a shot, to capture the atmosphere, but thought better of it. It would have been perfectly legal, but the act might have been misinterpreted. I simply walked away up the road and back to my home.

One thing was oddly missing: there was no sign at all of any political campaigners. I hadn't expected Boris Johnson to be there, nor any of the other big Leave beasts and beasties, but I had expected some kind of local party or cross-party reception. But no. So in this respect it wasn't like a General Election.

Back home, I made myself a hearty breakfast and got on with my day. My holiday departure was next morning, and more stuff had to be loaded into the caravan. I needed a proper night's sleep, so I couldn't sit up most of the coming night watching TV as the results came in. That was a pity. It had always been a family sport, particularly something Dad and I would once have done together. I'd last sat up overnight in 2015, at the General Election, and had been rewarded by the unfolding surprise result. This time it was even more of a Grand National event, the outcome anybody's guess, although it would probably be a close thing. I noticed that the media - the BBC anyway - were now careful to explain that the result would only be 'advisory' for the sitting government, implying that they could choose to ignore it. I'd like to see them try!

Well, I would stay up till a bit past midnight, and probably until 1.00am, by which time a trend might have become clear. And if I felt a little yawny next morning, then there would most certainly be endless analyses on the car radio about the result and what it meant. That would keep me alert!

I do hope the entire electorate - 46 million people - makes an effort and votes. The result will then be completely representative of what people want, and nobody can argue that a sizeable part of the voting public couldn't be bothered, or didn't make it to the Polling Station, or (inexplicably) didn't want to take part in the British Democratic Process.

I have never been able to understand why some people shirk voting, or sneer at the Process, or think their opinion doesn't matter, or consider it all over their head. The right to vote is so precious, and is not to be wasted. Everyone's vote counts the same. And sometimes a single vote really can make a difference. And it's the only significant way that the ordinary person can (at least once every five years) radically influence the way the country is governed. Not everyone has the talent or driving ambition, or both, to be an MP. But any adult can vote. It's a voice, a warning bell, possibly even a damning censure, to those in authority.

Some persons feign a lack of interest in national questions. That's an empty pose, that does them no credit whatever. Others say they'd vote if the process were 'more perfect' or the protagonists or candidates were 'honest' or 'worthy' - but it's a most imperfect world, and politicians are very odd people. You cannot vote for a saint, because no saints will ever stand, either for personal election or in defence of some political principle.

Nor are referendum questions ever quite the questions one might actually wish to settle. I am sure there are people who won't vote today because it was a straight 'stay in/ get out' choice without any nuances, such as whether special terms or reforms might yet be negotiated. David Cameron tried that a while back, and got short shrift from the EU bosses. It seems abundantly clear that there is no further time or scope for special UK-only deals. Only comprehensive pan-European changes that all countries must agree to. For myself, the present simplistic 'in or out' question was acceptable, and I passionately wanted to express my personal opinion by voting.

I set aside the economic arguments. I was voting on a gut feeling about what felt right. I might even say - if pushed to formulate a more elevated version of this - that I voted for the Soul of Britain.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Sex on sofas, and other observations

A 'humorous postcard' from the mid-1970s.

Perhaps I should explain (for younger readers) that credit cards made their debut in the UK in the opening years of the 1970s. First came Barclaycard, which is still here. Next came Access, from a rival card company.

Access got into immediate trouble by sending cards through the post to all and sundry, without anyone asking for them. But it weathered that, and had catchy marketing on TV, showing a chirpy person-sized card coming to to the rescue of people who wanted things but hadn't got the cash. Access was 'Your Flexible Friend'. The name, Access, implied instant instant gratification of any desire. So the postcard above had real point to it. Suddenly it seemed that owning an Access card opened all doors. Or in this case, orifices.

Some forty years later, and the postcard is a museum piece, harking back to an era of snatched lovemaking on household sofas; rampant young men forever trying it on; and busty, leggy young women defending their virtue. For the question of whether it was 'right' to have sex before marriage was still something of an issue in certain quarters. 'Nice' girls could insist on saying 'no', without at least an engagement ring first, to make it 'all right'.

For men, this was an era of easy lays if the girl were willing, and many were willing enough. That doesn't excuse the casual assumption then made by most men that when a girl said 'no' she meant 'maybe' - or didn't really know what she wanted, and could be persuaded to the man's point of view with more chat and more drinks. It was not a good time to be a young woman, if she simply wanted to get on with her life unmolested by beery males with cigarette-breath.

It wasn't just young men, either. Middle-aged men felt that they too had a charm and sophistication denied to callow youths, and would press both onto any lass considered in any way fanciable. It seemed to be the national sport. The girl was in serious difficulties if the man happened to be her manager, or was the boss. How to refuse them?

Even older men joined in. Perhaps the worst difficulties arose with them, because often it might be your best friend's dad, and it was impossible to say anything. Or else a long-standing male friend of the family. Nothing much might occur. It was generally 'friendly touching', of the sort 'permitted' if you'd known them since childhood, or at least so well that it 'couldn't possibly mean anything'. As if one were their own daughter. So it might be the odd squeeze or hug; and later a careless hand on the knee, if they gave you a lift in their car. Things like that. Things that seemed wrong, and embarrassing, and destroyed trust, but not actually criminal.

I grew up in this atmosphere.

There were of course young women who were only too glad to be with men who were very frank about what they lusted after. Who scorned timidity or sexual incompetence in men.

And everyone, of course, poked fun at gay men. I remember hearing a laughing exchange between two office ladies, which went thus:

'What a gay day!'
'What a freak week!'
'What a queer year!'

It makes for shuddering reading now. Did people really say such things? Oh yes they did, in the 1970s. It was 'well known' that gay men minced around, had a camp voice, wore effeminate clothing, might speak a funny lingo called Polari, and (more darkly) 'did things'. So it wasn't hard to 'mimic' a gay man, and turn him into a TV stock character - and then into something less than a human being. It took the arrival of AIDS, and a dreadful series of tragic deaths, before the public grew up a bit, stopped sniggering, and faced up to what it might really mean to be born gay.

Curiously, everyday mention of lesbian women was taboo. They were mostly invisible, of course. I suspect that nobody knew enough about lesbians to find anything funny to say about them, so they escaped attention unless they made themselves particularly high-profile. Even today, the media tends to leave lesbian women alone, and focusses all the time on gay men. That may simply be because - even today - and the odd exception apart - women make second-best news. It's still men that get the top jobs; men who fall under the closest scrutiny; men whose downfall is the most salaciously examined.

It was ever thus. Let's hope it's not forever so.

Now, to end, who or what is being mocked in this second mid-1970s postcard?

The Mini is still with us, and despite its current sophistication, this small-car joke still has resonance. It's still impossible for a normal-sized man to roger his girlfriend in the back of a Mini.

But who would now bother? In the 1970s, if they couldn't afford the rent for a bedsit, cash-strapped young people had secretive, nervous sex in their parents' houses, or else in the back of little cars parked in secluded spots. Times have changed. Increasing affluence has put larger, flashier cars within reach. And probably also what used to be called a 'bachelor pad'. Who is going to wrestle on a tiny, uncomfortable back seat when said pad, central heating, soft music, and a king-sized bed are all begging to be used?

In any case, it's become difficult or impossible to have sex - or any form of it - in modern cars. They have gained heavily shaped seats; a mass of obstructive controls, and a raised central module between the front seats that makes it impossible for the driver to casually leap across onto his female passenger. Or vice versa.

I'd like to see how - in my Fiona - a male passenger could, without contorting himself like Houdini, sneak a hand onto my knee and keep it there! (As if anyone would, of course)

In any case I am confident that Volvo must have installed some computer systems in Fiona to manage any attempts on my snow-white virginity. Such as:

Over-sexed Passenger Alert

Wandering Hand Encroachment Sensor System

Knee And Thigh Monitoring System

Automatic Kiss Control

Instantaneous Passenger Seatbelt Tightening And Locking Control

Passenger Seat Electric Shock And Disabling Strobe Light System  

They'll all be there somewhere, ready to protect me.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Last days of the Ancien Régime

Just a few more days to the Brexit Referendum. It's feeling like the end of an era: a revolution approaches.

For the Conservative government is bound to be fatally destabilised. I still predict a narrow 'stay in' win, but the very narrowness of the victory will deny the winners a proper mandate to continue governing as if nothing much has happened. As if a pledge to consult the people - or satisfy the Euro-sceptics in the Conservative Party - has been honoured, and it's over now, and business can resume as usual.

Oh no, it won't be.

It can't be, when the 'minority' vote to get out of the EU will be so large. When seriously heavyweight politicians have nailed their flags to their masts and said things that can't be smoothed over. When the whole world has seen what the grass-roots feeling is in the land. My crystal ball tells me that the world will in fact be surprised if we turn out to be a nation of timorous sheep, easily frightened, and meekly following the 'stay in or perish' exhortations. I think the world expects a lot of people in this country to behave like lions waking from a drugged sleep, and realising that they can roar.

This is a referendum where the possibility of roaring is the thing that matters. Not at all the issue at stake.

Who isn't tired, dog tired, of the long series of lacklustre senior politicians we have endured for decades? Every one has postured a bit, looked good on TV, made promises, then lost their nerve. Every one has presided over ineffective or failed policies. One or two governments have had the chance to be bold and do something imaginative for the country's greater good. Nothing has come of it. Chances have been missed. Half-measures have sufficed. Targets introduced that nobody wanted and which could never be fulfilled, not while making Britain into Europe's offshore tax haven remained a priority.

We pay considerably less income tax than we did in 1970, and the financial organs of government now exercise more stringent economic control. But there is much less money in the public kitty for the things that the public wants to have.

'Low tax' inevitably means 'low-level public services'. It's no use 'creating wealth' if you don't tax it and build up a sufficient fund for the general good. Successive governments have sheered away from taking money from the income-generators. Instead, they have raided elsewhere. But the sport of the rich - excessive tax avoidance - has lately lost its aura of cleverness and respectability. Time for a decisive change. I expect however that this won't be palatable to the ruling clique.

The wrong people have had the top jobs, and have stood in the way. It feels as if a cross-party community of fellow-travellers has grown up, people (elected or not) who are allied to big business, and not only unwilling but unable to disturb cosy, low-tax arrangements that have pandered to those businesses, merely in order to produce good statistics that suggest the economy is doing well. It maintains international confidence in the country's performance, and keeps international money flowing in. That's essential in one kind of economic model; but it seems a visionless way to keep things going nicely, and forever. How about some genuine investment for the future?

Some people continue to get rich on the current policies. Most don't. Most find themselves having to pay for basic things like their schooling, and professional training, even if it's vocational and badly-needed by the country (it's to be training loans for nurses, next, for goodness sake). The ordinary citizen can't now buy a house, nor save for a pension.

In such a scenario, it hardly matters that Brexit might double the price of Dutch tomatoes or Spanish broccoli, or that a high-tech German car might become out of reach.

I sound rather socialist but I'm not. I'm naturally a Conservative supporter. My father was a Conservative voter with the outlook of a reasonable man prepared to study and work hard if he got a fair reward for his effort. His attitude is something I can't really live up to - I lack his energy and imagination - but I can't (and won't) overlook my father's inspiring example. I expect a Conservative government to produce effective policies that are fair and just - policies that improve the lives of everyone, and discourage only the socially harmful. The current front-bench Conservative Gang in the House or Commons have not delivered that. It's 'time up' for them, I'm afraid. I can't think of any big beast in that front-bench Gang that I would miss if they were swept away into oblivion.

And I think it all too likely that, post-Referendum, a fresh team will be put together, with a brand new leader. Either that, or a wholesale change - a General Election. There are many MPs in all the main parties who ought to be given a chance. I have no objection whatever to the formation of another coalition of like-minded politicians - presumably young - with a fresh 'can do' attitude. If you like, a War Coalition: for they may well have a crisis on their hands.

These are interesting times to live in, nicht wahr?  

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Burgess Hill shoppers threatened with arrest by the Police!

A couple of days ago I was driving into the car park for Waitrose in Burgess Hill, when I saw something new. A notice. Something about the Police. It seemed a bit terse.

Having parked, and bought a ticket - and having had a brief conversation with a lady who had also made sure that she'd bought a ticket too, in case the notice was a warning that a draconian parking crackdown was now in force - I walked back to the notice, and had a closer look.

For goodness sake. It was terse! It was absolutely intimidating! Surely not the work of Waitrose?

An even closer look revealed the logo of the shopping centre management company in the bottom right-hand corner. Hmm. There was some purpose or design behind this - but what? What ordinary person, myself included, would ever have heard of the Police Reform Act 2002, let alone specifically Section 59? Who was being targeted here? Presumably not innocent shoppers. But it seemed to be a blanket warning to all, shoppers along with everyone else. It was clearly a very blunt instrument. I wanted to find out more - and, yes, I would ask the management company in person if the normal parking regulations didn't give me the clue.

Well, this was the regular notice about parking. I'd never studied it before. Why indeed would anyone?

In fact I'd assumed that the car park either belonged to Waitrose, or to the local council. But I now saw that it belonged to the shopping centre management company, who had in turn passed on all their parking rights and responsibilities to a specialist Brighton-based car parking company. The terms of public use were perfectly clear, although set out at menacing length. They might well frighten any person who was prone to worrying, and not good at getting things into their proper perspective.

There was no mention of the Police Reform Act 2002 in these ordinary terms and conditions. I would definitely have to enquire - as a concerned and perplexed shopper.

So I found the shopping centre management company's office (or suite, rather, for it was a bit plush) on the first floor inside, walked in, and saw a middle-aged man working inside, in an inner room. He definitely looked like a man one could speak to without getting wrong-footed or rudely dismissed. And so it proved. I projected 'slightly worried shopping person' at him, and was very polite. He in turn treated me very kindly, with a distinct hint of apology. He seemed pleased that I'd asked, glad to explain, but sorry that he could do nothing to change the wording on that intimidating notice that was threatening Police action.

It was all about a group of young drivers from Crawley - lads in flash cars, who had recently taken to meeting in the Burgess Hill car park on certain evenings, after sending each other a 'let's get together' message on social media, and presumably racing down on the motorway-standard A23. They would drive in, line up, rev their very noisy engines, possibly do skilful but naughty things involving spins and skids and tyre marks, and generally behave like loud young men will when trying to impress each other. All this while Waitrose and other shops and food outlets were still open in mid-evening.

The management company wanted to nip it in the bud, and move them on, by giving them a no-nonsense legal notice at the car park entrance. They had taken advice on what the notice had to say in order to be legally effective, so that the Police (who had their local HQ close by) could pop over and intervene. Section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2002 gave them powers to seize offending vehicles. I'll be boring and set out the entire Section:

59 Vehicles used in manner causing alarm, distress or annoyance

(1) Where a constable in uniform has reasonable grounds for believing that a motor vehicle is being used on any occasion in a manner which—

(a) contravenes section 3 or 34 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) (careless and inconsiderate driving and prohibition of off-road driving), and

(b) is causing, or is likely to cause, alarm, distress or annoyance to members of the public,

he shall have the powers set out in subsection (3).

(2) A constable in uniform shall also have the powers set out in subsection (3) where he has reasonable grounds for believing that a motor vehicle has been used on any occasion in a manner falling within subsection (1).

(3) Those powers are—

(a) power, if the motor vehicle is moving, to order the person driving it to stop the vehicle;

(b) power to seize and remove the motor vehicle;

(c) power, for the purposes of exercising a power falling within paragraph (a) or (b), to enter any premises on which he has reasonable grounds for believing the motor vehicle to be;

(d) power to use reasonable force, if necessary, in the exercise of any power conferred by any of paragraphs to (a) to (c).

(4) A constable shall not seize a motor vehicle in the exercise of the powers conferred on him by this section unless—

(a) he has warned the person appearing to him to be the person whose use falls within subsection (1) that he will seize it, if that use continues or is repeated; and

(b) it appears to him that the use has continued or been repeated after the the warning.

(5) Subsection (4) does not require a warning to be given by a constable on any occasion on which he would otherwise have the power to seize a motor vehicle under this section if—

(a) the circumstances make it impracticable for him to give the warning;

(b) the constable has already on that occasion given a warning under that subsection in respect of any use of that motor vehicle or of another motor vehicle by that person or any other person;

(c) the constable has reasonable grounds for believing that such a warning has been given on that occasion otherwise than by him; or

(d) the constable has reasonable grounds for believing that the person whose use of that motor vehicle on that occasion would justify the seizure is a person to whom a warning under that subsection has been given (whether or not by that constable or in respect the same vehicle or the same or a similar use) on a previous occasion in the previous twelve months.

(6) A person who fails to comply with an order under subsection (3)(a) is guilty of an offence and shall be liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.

(7) Subsection (3)(c) does not authorise entry into a private dwelling house.

(8) The powers conferred on a constable by this section shall be exercisable only at a time when regulations under section 60 are in force.

(9) In this section—

“driving” has the same meaning as in the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52);
“motor vehicle” means any mechanically propelled vehicle, whether or not it is intended or adapted for use on roads; and
“private dwelling house” does not include any garage or other structure occupied with the dwelling house, or any land appurtenant to the dwelling house.

I have to say, it seems to me that the bobby on the beat has to carry an awful lot of legal stuff in his or her head! I wonder how these feats of memory are managed, because obviously if the officer puts a foot wrong - by forgetting a step in the procedure, or exceeding his or her legal powers - the defence in court can yawn at them, and probably demand compensation for wrongful intervention. A policeperson's lot has never been a happy one.

Still, the mere possibility that the Police could turn up and make an example of some cocky lad in a old Subaru WRX with a paint job and a booming exhaust, might do the trick and force these miscreants to move elsewhere.

I'm assuming he had this kind of thing chiefly in mind as he spoke to me:

Vroom, vroom! If you had one of these, and were young, you would certainly want to show it off, wouldn't you? A pity that it can't be done without disturbing quiet neighbourhoods.

He gave me plenty of time, and much more explanation than I expected. Maybe my casual mention of being a long-term Waitrose customer, of being a Volvo driver, and a caravanner to boot, might all have promoted the image of a 'middle-class woman, very reasonable; a solid local citizen.' If so, it got me a great reception, a polite hearing, a proper explanation, and a cordial parting.

He did tell me - off the record - that once the Top Gear wannabes had moved off, the notice was coming down. But meanwhile they wouldn't - couldn't - change the wording, in order to soften it and make it clear that ordinary shoppers were excluded from the implied threat of arrest and incarceration. So quite a number of people would be made unnecessarily uncomfortable.

And they might stay away.

It doesn't take much nowadays to make people switch to another shopping place. Whether frightened off - or just offended - they might think it was all Waitrose's doing, and boycott the store.

I hoped that wouldn't happen. But then not everyone likes to ask what really lies behind something they don't understand. Not many would like to seem fussy and pernickety at the Waitrose Customer Services counter. Even fewer would be brave enough to seek out and tackle the staff in a management company office, tucked away behind the scenes - people who might well turn out to be unsavoury bullet-headed thugs: very much a Daniel-in-the-lion's-den sort of thing!

No, the British Way is to hazard a guess and act on that. Just like voting in the Brexit Referendum, in fact.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Gun law

The still-resonating shooting at Orlando in Florida - an inland city, not a coastal one with beach bars and clubs, incidentally - once again emphasises how very easy it is to get gunned down in the USA. This is shocking for a country that is supposed to be the most tone-setting and sophisticated on earth, and a world leader where notions connected with individual freedom and maximum personal opportunity are concerned. And, moreover, a country with notoriously strict border controls. It can keep out people it doesn't like, though it seems extraordinary who does get in.

Unfortunately that 'individual freedom and maximum personal opportunity' thing has become a religion. A birthright. Not to be meddled with. Thus it remains casually easy in the USA to buy multiple guns and ammunition with no serious questions asked. 'Oh, it's for self defence against that armed foreign scum in my area,' would probably be as good an excuse as any - if one were needed at all. In this instance, a foreign-born man of questionable background and allegiance misused his 'right' to freely buy guns and ammunition, and then turned them on people who were giving no thought to self-defence, only pleasure and companionship. It was a class action against random, representative victims not personally known to the attacker: implacable, irrational; the restraints of human fellowship thrown aside; death as the expected end for both attacker and victims. Paradise for him - hell for the rest.

Apart from the tragedy (as I see it) of acting on a mere belief, it all seems very self-centred and selfish of the attacker. Why did he think it correct to be so grossly self-important? On what spurious authority could he self-select his own martyrdom? Wasn't it basically a very 'look at me' thing to do? 'I am the chosen one.' 'I decide who can live.' 'My standards are correct, and any deviations sicken me and merit death.' This is the thinking of the obsessive narcissist. And any society or dogma that encourages such dangerous delusions has flaws in it that urgently need to be addressed.

So whom do I blame? The attacker, first and last. He did it. He was full of prejudice. He didn't care about the ones he hated.

But there are secondary people to point the finger at.

Those who warped this man's mind, and instilled heartless intolerance, and inspired him to kill. Either by poisonous whispers in his naïve ear, or by presenting him with inflammatory words and images on the Internet that he swallowed whole.

Those who gave him the tools for this mission. The guns. The bullets. Retailers who must have known what automatic weapons are really for.

Those who have consistently and fiercely upheld the 'national right' to carry arms, when the existence of armed police everywhere - plenty of them - ought to have rendered such a right obsolete. Why have armed police officers at all, if the private citizen can shoot away at will?

Those who have preserved ideas that differentiate between people, and claim that some people are inferior, or perverted, or simply 'not like us'. When we are really all like each other.

I don't buy the idea that the gun is a just lump of metal and entirely innocent. That the attention should not be on owning a gun, but entirely on the mental attitude of the person who picks the gun up and pulls the trigger.

But if the gun weren't handy, the person intent on killing would have to find a different weapon, and might not be able to kill at all. Whipping out a gun is too easy, too likely to cause harm. What else can you do with a gun but fire it? It has no other purpose than to shoot a bullet into a body. Which will at least wound, and may cause death. A gun is an absolute sanction, an all-or-nothing device. It threatens death, even if unloaded or a fake. It's therefore a potent status symbol for people with power and control delusions.

'But it has legitimate uses for bird-scaring and hunting,' some may say. Well, clever sonic devices will scare birds. And I'd prefer to see amateur hunters banned completely. I want more wildlife. I am for guns being only in the hands of professionals: soldiers, policemen, marksmen. With strict guidelines enforced. The ordinary citizen doesn't 'need' a firearm. It's not a toy, nor a symbol of manhood, it's a horrible, dangerous killing device. It certainly shouldn't be available to the general public, any more than explosive, poisonous or radioactive materials should be.

It's odd how weapons - specifically guns - still have such a strong attraction. You'd think that the well-known results of gun-play would put all sensible people off. I'm guessing that for a man, a gun confers power and authority, adds to his sexual status, and consoles him with the thought that if 'they' offend him once too often, then he will blast away and be done with the whole problem. Well, I think that's the mindset of weak people. Of inadequates, who can't engage with whatever bothers them. Flawed human beings, in fact.

A pity there are so many of them around - and you never seem to know who they are. They sit carefully on their wobbly concerns. They are secret people, secret assassins.

And how often it is, after some outrage, that their family go into denial. 'He just wasn't like that.' 'He was so kind-hearted and considerate, so clever, everything to live for.' 'He was my son, I knew him so well.' You hear this over and over again. No parent ever admits that their children keep their thoughts hidden from them - for reasons that seem good to children - because that would be so shameful. So when the child commits murder, that cannot be borne. It didn't really happen.

It looks to me as if a lot of people in the USA - and most other parts of the world, in all fairness - are in denial about guns and the mental state of many of their citizens. Vulnerable minds and killing weapons seem to get together far too easily, and only an amendment to the Constitution will force a change.

Meanwhile, who is safe?

Monday, 13 June 2016

Brutalism: the Tricorn Centre in Portsmouth

Recently I've been mining the vast Melford Photo Archive on the PC for pictures. And I've come across a set of photos, taken in the 1990s, of the Tricorn Centre in Portsmouth.

This Brutalist development from the 1960s became a Hampshire - and latterly a national - byword for gross ugliness. It was the worst possible advertisement for Portsmouth, that proud city associated with Royal Navy tradition; the base for many warships, including HMS Victory, Nelson's flagship at Trafalgar. The Tricorn was built in plain bulky concrete. It looked awful. Nobody ever liked it. Surely nobody ever really wanted it in the first place. You do wonder if there were background reasons, never divulged, as why the architects got the commission, or why the building contractor got the go-ahead. It was never a commercial success. It never had prestigious tenants. It did not age well. It became a very bad joke. It was in the end mainly an awkward-to-drive-into-and-out-of city centre car park. It was finally pulled down in 2004. Strangely, it had by then some eager champions, people who understood twentieth-century architecture and wanted it saved and brought back to life. They were thankfully ignored.

Don't take my word for it. Here are some links:

But you can trust my photographs. These were taken in 1999, five years from the end:

I think that's the differently-styled Cascades Shopping Centre, bottom left in the shot just above. It instantly became the nicer and much more successful shopping place to go to. In 1999 the contrast between the two, so close, was uncomfortable. Here are some more 1999 shots:

Nothing much at ground level: cheap shops mostly; by 1999 mostly boarded up. Who knows what kind of people lurked in there at night. Two years later in 2001, it was even nastier and tattier, except for the ever-useful car park:

I thought the spiral inclines for the rooftop car park were the best feature left, but even they were drab and dingy. And they were hardly easy to use from the driver's point of view. Spiral entrances are now definitely out of favour, and have been replaced in Crawley (at the County Mall) and - from memory - at Bexley. But they were once thought swish and trendy - and space-saving. Except what do you do with the unsweepable space below the lowermost spiral? Leave it to the tramps and the homeless?

I have of course no professional opinion to give on Brutalism. But I can photographically compare the Tricorn with somewhere like Poundbury, on the west side of Dorchester in Dorset. Poundbury is a longstanding housing development encouraged by the Prince of Wales himself. It continues to be built in the same consistent style. I went there in 2004, and then again in 2014, and found the 2014 version looking more 'mature' than ten years before, but very much a straightforward extension of what was originally there, as future builds will surely be too. Here are various views from 2004:

And below, 2014:

I think there is no question as to which is the more attractive. Age has not withered nor custom staled Poundbury's infinite variety. For one thing, it isn't really old. These were once green fields. It's designed to be an agreeable interpretation of what an Ideal Renaissance Town would be like in the modern era. Indeed, you must fully understand that concept, not only in order to make sense of Poundbury, but also in order to want to live there. This is no place for the uneducated or uncultured. It's a little Urbino in the countryside for professional persons - and not for ploughmen and shepherds. Nor do I think it's meant for young children or badly-behaved pets. I imply not the slightest criticism. I myself would consider living there, if ever I wanted to inhabit a townscape. It would be a pleasure to walk around in it.

Poundbury is obviously an architectural pastiche, with many recognisable idioms from those past eras when good proportion, solid-looking materials, and intriguing sight-lines were especially valued. I personally wish there were more trees, more grass, and less of a ghost-town atmosphere; but it undeniably offers upmarket, quiet, spacious, stress-free living for those with decent incomes. It has a slightly exclusive air: no riff-raff wanted here! And I dare say none come. There are surely no smelly corners where poor people shelter from Dorset winds.

The place has avoided the Marina Look. And the turreted Tesco Superstore Look, even though there certainly are 'bell-towers' here and there. It's still however very much an artificial contrivance. Some would say fake. And although I'd agree wholeheartedly that it's visually successful and impressive, and well thought-out, I'd hesitate to describe Poundbury as 'beautiful', even if some individual buildings (whether new, or not-quite-so-new) have beautiful lines. Nor is it 'exciting'.

But 'very attractive' suffices. There's no thatch; and concrete has been freely used where it can be disguised; but there is also plenty of brick, and some stone too. I can't see Poundbury getting dingy. It will acquire a patina, and will not be pulled down in disgust by a future generation.

Back to the Tricorn and the Brutalist approach. I will say this about such ugly concrete constructions, that they looked hard and strong and totally uncompromising. Surely the minds of their architects were exactly the same: visionaries whose eyes glinted through steel-rimmed spectacles, imagining a utilitarian world full of rectangular blocks, hard lines, heavy accents, rough textures. All the stark elements of superhuman Ancient Egyptian pyramids and temples, or Mesopotamian ziggurats. But Le Corbusier and his kind were the angry children of defeated parents, maimed and broken, but able to impose their revenge through sheer bad temper and fearsome reputation. They were not seen that way in their time, of course, as failed human beings. Le Corbusier was still greatly admired when I was engaged in A-level Art in the late 1960s, still an inspiration. I had a particular school friend then called by everyone 'Doc' White, who yearned to be an architect just like Le Corbusier, and was constantly sketching ideal 'machines for living'. Doc also introduced me to The Beatles' Abbey Road album, almost their last flowering as a functioning group. I do wonder what happened to him. I grabbed my A-levels and ran. He went on to university somewhere, as most everybody else did.

There is idealism, but nothing of the superhuman, about Poundbury. I imagine there have been a succession of architects working on it over the years, all happily able to design fresh buildings and neighbourhoods within quite stringent design constraints. The really big beasts of architecture have not made their mark there. Perhaps it is the wrong location. Dorchester is not a great city, and needs no huge stadium or high tower. And Poundbury itself is really just a posh village: built on a human scale for human beings to enjoy. It could perhaps swallow a big bronze statue from a well-known artist. Something on the lines of a Henry Moore or Barbara Hepworth would be fine, were one available. But not Damien Hirst's Verity, the big viscerally pregnant female figure at Ifracombe. It just wouldn't look right in Poundbury's Neo-Renaissance streets.

Although come to that, Verity wouldn't have seemed right next to the Tricorn. Nothing would.

The simplest thing, but...

MyCSP are now the government office in charge of all Civil Service Pension payments and entitlements, in succession to the private firm Capita Hartshead.

Capita had managed CS Pensions pretty well for years. At least they had from my own point of view, as a pensioner. But somehow they had put their foot in it, or were charging too much for their services, or there was some other compelling reason that occurred to our wise friends at the Treasury (who, no doubt, had been jocularly nudged by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr George Osborne - a merry man to be sure). Anyway, with no warning to us, the mere pensioners, responsibility was taken out of Capita's hands and given to MyCSP. Just like that. The Cabinet Office sent me a letter in September 2014 to let me know.

I regretted the departure of Capita - they had been as efficient as one could hope for, and had provided handy but secure online access to one's pension details. Whereas MyCSP offered no such online service. Their website was sparse, lightweight, and bereft of frills. But I was prepared to welcome MyCSP with an open mind.

I had occasion to write annually to MyCSP after they took over. For there was an ongoing, recurrent problem with my not being sent P60s and payslips automatically, and not because of being a 'restricted records case' with them either - I wasn't. And the problem persists, unexplained and unresolved.

But now there's something else. It's developing into a saga.

You may be thinking, 'Why does she write - why does she send a paper letter in an envelope?' Well, I've discovered that it often pays nowadays to write a physical letter, rather than send an email, or make a voice call. A paper letter has become special. It needs special handling. It doesn't guarantee a rapid response of course, but it will get counted, will end up on someone's worklist, and it can't be deleted. Whereas emails are more vulnerable to getting 'lost' or overlooked. And of course phone calls are simply something to ignore after uttering platitudes - at least with some people you might ring up.

I do not wish to malign MyCSP's staff or work practices, however. So far they have been civil, and not evasive. But they haven't delivered - yet.

The present saga began on 24 February this year, when I wrote to MyCSP to say:

I have today cancelled my membership of Benenden Healthcare. They said however that I must contact you about stopping the deduction of the monthly subscription - hence this letter.

Please therefore amend your pension payment records so that no further monthly deduction for Benenden is made.

Short and sweet, and surely clear enough. And a chap duly phoned me on 4 March, to say that this had been actioned. He seemed helpful, and by Jove he was as good as his word. The CS Pension payment on 22 March was £8.45 higher. (That was the amount of the Benenden subscription no longer to be deducted) Hurrah!

But the CS Pension payment on 22 April was inexplicably less than expected. By some £9.

And the CS Pension payment on 20 May was equally less than expected. By £9 odd again. Something had gone wrong. And since the 2016/17 Benenden subscription rate was now £8.71 per month, it was not difficult to hazard a guess.

So I wrote to MyCSP again on 22 May, accusing them of nothing, but requesting that they explain why my pension payment was light by £9 or so. (I did in fact suggest - very politely - that the Benenden deduction had been erroneously reinstated by them, but my tone was tentative and not provocative).

Meanwhile Benenden had written, wondering why they were getting a monthly subscription again. Was I coming back? Could I clarify. They did offer repayment if MyCSP could confirm that the subscriptions really had ceased. This committed me to getting a letter out of MyCSP, to show to Benenden, before I could get my money back. What a palaver it already was.

Nothing from MyCSP. I rang them on 31 May. Another chap. He confessed that they had indeed erroneously restored the Benenden deductions. My letter had been received and passed to the 'Admin Team' for 'action within five working days'. I got the impression that they had scanned it, and the original was no more. I also got the impression that their 'five day' clock did not start ticking until the 'Action Team' actually saw the letter in their worklist. (Was it in fact reset every time the letter was referred to somebody else?)

Still, the fault was as expected, it was admitted to, and something ought now to happen. Well, I got the missing payslip and P60 - indeed two copies of each, four letters in all - all dated 31 May or 1 June.

Then a further letter from them - the fifth - dated 1 June, telling me that:

Your query has been forwarded to our pension experts who will aim to resolve it within 5 working days. If they require any further information they will contact you.

Pension experts? This was about the simplest thing: please, please, stop deducting £8.71 each month, and sending it to Benenden! No expert needed.

The days went by. I got a bit fed up waiting. On 9 June I phoned MyCSP again. A young lady this time. She was very polite and patient. She couldn't see any reason - none at all - why I hadn't been getting automatic payslips and P60s in recent years. But she didn't offer to set a thorough review in motion. So my having to write may become an annual chore. Sigh.

She also told me that my next payment was at the moment going to be £9 less than I wanted. The June payroll had not yet been amended. What? When those 'pension experts' in the 'Admin Team' had had my letter since 31 May or before? Ten days ago?

But there was hope! Her screen told her that a letter had been sent to me (by second-class post) only the day before, confirming that the Benenden deduction had been removed. Which was in time to get the pension payment right for 22 June. So (a) I should get a letter to show to Benenden (and claim a refund of £8.71 x 2 = £17.42), and (b) all would be fixed for 22 June onwards, and indeed forever.

Well, you will not be surprised to learn that I am still waiting for that letter supposedly sent to me on Wednesday 8 June. It's now Monday 13 June. Does it really take five days for second-class post to convey a letter from A to B?

Expect a sequel. Probably a tooth-grinding one.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

The Dinky Doo Diner

How would the British Scene be complete without those little cafés in every street in town? Many have moved with the times, and may nowadays have a 'Continental' air, with outside tables - as if they were the very hub of street life, just as they would be in France.

But an English Café is quite different. It's open at odd times, not all hours. And no Pernod served here! No French-style plat du jour, come to that.

The unmistakable signature of an English Café is its traditional and faithful emphasis on a fried meal built around the hearty Full English Breakfast. The menu is all some variation on that high-calorie dish - at its best tasty and succulent, full of colour and flavour and different textures. All washed down with a big mug or cup of proper English Breakfast Tea. [Lucy waves her Union Jack]

There may be umpteen variations on this one basic meal, larger or smaller, all the classic ingredients or just some, possibly with a quirky twist too. The less gargantuan permutations are presumably a nod in the direction of 'health', or as some pretence to gentility, catering for the sensibilities and smaller appetite of 'the missus', or the traditionally lean pocket of the old age pensioner. I dare say some of these establishments still dream of the Queen passing by, and suddenly fancying double fried egg, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, baked beans, tomato, hash browns and fried bread, all garnished with brown sauce. Or the Duke might. And is it so unbelievable? So often the general standard of cleanliness is good, the welcome cheerful, and a nice round of buttered bread all part of the package. Even Royalty could go for that. 

To be honest, the quality of local café cooking is not always sky-high. It's usually perfectly all right, and the results perfectly edible; but the bacon might be a bit too streaky, and the sausages a bit too tasteless - indicating corners cut here and there. But it's all still often better than what you might get in, say, a department store.

The cooking can be excellent, though. When my Volvo dealer was in Portslade, in Victoria Road, there was a café called Wheelies just a few steps away. The road was in fact the HQ for a number of motor dealers - all the usual big names - and Wheelies' clientele consisted of not just locals, sundry tradesmen, delivery drivers, mechanics, and showroom staff, but also hungry car-owners like myself who had got up early to drop their car off for its service or whatever, and felt like a cooked breakfast just for once. The all-female crew in Wheelies always served up a very good meal. And it wasn't expensive. Their meals were named on a motoring theme, such as 'the 4x4', and they were a reason to look forward to having the car serviced. Thus fortified, one could face the day (and the big servicing bill) with equanimity.

Alas, in 2015 the Volvo dealer moved to East Worthing, and although the new premises were very posh, very Scandinavian, the local café up the road was not up to Wheelies' very high standard. It was certainly friendly, but I used it only the once.

You mustn't think that I am constantly popping into these places for a fry-up. They are a treat for three or four times a year only - like seaside fish and chips when on holiday. But I do know a thing or two about what makes for a good corner caff, one that I would recommend for instance to Her Majesty. (God Bless Her - my goodness, ninety today!)

And just as there are pubs you'd like to try, there are cafés you'd like to visit.

One of these is in Pier Road at Littlehampton, the smallish seaside resort on the River Arun with the big sandy beaches, west of Worthing. It's called the Dinky Doo Diner. I've known of its existence since 1993, when walking by with Mum. 'Oh, what an unusual name!' she cried. And so we had a good look. This would be during the afternoon, when it had done its morning trading and was now closed for the day. It seemed very smart, a bit out of the ordinary.

This is what we saw on that day in 1993:

The front part was indeed a bit small and intimate. We wondered what the 'Back Cabin' - with seating for twenty - was like. Hmm...'Top Class breakfast and grills' sounded a cut above the usual. But of course we had to leave it for another time. And that 'other time' never came. I passed by several times in the following years, when I came to Littlehampton with M---, or latterly on my own. But always in the afternoon, when it had closed for the day. It didn't seem to change. Some places grow old and tatty with their regulars, but the Dinky Doo Diner didn't. Here it is in 2007, and 2015:

Repainted, but with the same greenish colour scheme, the same style of menu - so I supposed it had remained in the same hands.

I was in Littlehampton a week ago, and decided to have a cup of tea and a bacon roll as my lunch. And I would have it (at last!) at the Dinky Doo Diner. But of course, as usual, I turned up after twelve noon, and was too late. I had a good look at the place though.

Well, this was a bit disappointing! I'd been anticipating a nice café experience, and couldn't have it. I'd wanted to get into a chat with the owners - surely not difficult, considering the close proximity of counter and tables - and find out more about the origins of this little business, and why that name, and so on. Of course, I still met the need for something hot to eat just up the road, at Osca's Fish & Chips - a child's portion of chips for 75p, which I ate on the quayside:

I will just have to return. I'll do this one morning soon, before I go away, and satisfy my curiosity! Yes...a nice morning out, even if it rains, ending up in Chichester or Bosham or West Wittering perhaps.

About that name. 'Dinky Doo' suggests something small, and that certainly fits. Ignoring the crass Urban Dictionary entries, I found this at - which suggested that 'dinky doo' meant little, good, or or was a term for hard work. And the 1993 photos have 'Little & Good' under the name on the wall-mounted board outside. You could even speculate that the owners were a couple called Mr Tom Little and Miss Phyllis Good, or some variation on that. Well, I would ask!

Friday, 10 June 2016

Where have all the billboards gone?

It's one of those random thoughts that might occur to anyone who is constantly aware of their surroundings. Who notices that some things that used to be ubiquitous have become rare - or are just not around any more.

It struck me just the other day that you don't see those big billboards or hoardings about like you used to - the sort that hid building sites from view, or thrust a giant message at you as you drove in or out of town. They were once a very common sight indeed.

I delved into the Melford Photo Archive to research the matter, on the basis that many of these billboards or hoardings carried prime examples of the advertiser's art, and were well worth photographing; that I must in fact have been taking pictures of them throughout the last few decades.

I would of course have shot only the ones that appealed strongly to me, and in circumstances where I could get close enough to frame the picture successfully - not always physically possible, if it meant standing in the middle of a busy road, or an impatient stream of commuters. And I'd be handicapped - until quite recently - by a certain shyness (yes, I was once shy!) that might have stopped me using my camera in a very public place. Nevertheless, I must surely have been constantly taking pictures of advertisement hoardings with eye-catching things pasted onto them: there must be many examples to dig out from every decade. That would prove that my current impression was mistaken.

But not so.

Most of my billboard pictures - whether commercial, political, or public-information - had ended up in a Windows folder on my PC called 'Posters'. This obviously included much smaller examples of artwork down to A4 size, the sort stuck on pub walls say, and not just the giant ones. It was the giant posters I wanted to look at. But there were not so many of these as I'd thought, and they did not feature so often after the 1990s.

I had some good examples, though! For instance, these two classic ones from 1975 and 1983 for Heineken lager:

Very droll, aren't they? I had this late cigarette ad from 1998:

And this one, showing the model Jerry Hall, recently separated from Mick Jagger, advertising a wash-time fabric softener. She was 'plastered all over town' - a line from Jagger's bitter 1999 song Don't Call Me Up:

And then nothing more. I don't remember any particular reason for that. So far as I was aware there wasn't, for instance, any new legislation that had banned big billboards and hoardings; and advertising didn't cease to be. There was pressure on advertisers to meet ever-more-stringent standards that has continued till today. Here's a link to the pdf file for the government's comprehensive 33-page booklet on what public advertisements can look like in various situations: The requirements certainly do not outlaw big hoardings.

To be sure, I continued to shoot any poster that caught my eye, but now they were smaller. The sort seen on bus shelters, perhaps, beginning with this one, also from 1999, about some chewy strawberry-flavoured sweet (hence the fruit on her knickers):

The only giant posters captured by the Melford Lens were foreign ones. Like this one in Hong Kong in 2007:

And this one, which was much smaller - but irresistible, as it demonstrates what in 2007 was regarded as The Desired Penthouse Lifestyle for all young Hong Kong couples to aspire to:

Hmm. It's understandable, when some Hong Kong high-rise blocks looked like these:

Or the ordinary 'best' was like this:

The big posters on hoardings that I saw in Portugal and Italy in 2009 were mostly political...

...with the odd commercial or cultural one:

But in this country, nothing at all caught my eye. The biggest pasted-up ads seemed to be those on the walls of underground stations, such as these from 2010 and 2012:

London commuters and tourists are perhaps a specialised market. I don't think you'd have ever found ads like these on the big outdoor boards of older days.

So what had happened? I'm guessing four things.

One: the big empty city building sites that were once hedged in and concealed by massive hoardings - and then left like that for years on end - have now mostly gone. City land is just too valuable to be left vacant. Buildings are demolished, and the site redeveloped, before one's very eyes; and once taken down, the displaced hoardings may have nowhere else to go.

Two: local councils have surely been more assiduous in imposing the quite pernickety planning controls. That would make it harder or impossible to erect hoardings in new places. Their owners would be sitting ducks for fines. I shouldn't think there's a council in the land, in these cash-strapped times, who isn't alert to money-making opportunities: they would certainly hound easy victims and extract cash in fines.

Three: it's a bit of a niche job, pasting immense floppy bits of paper up on huge billboards. A skilful one too: definitely a job for a specialist. Maybe these specialists got rarer, or priced themselves out of contracts. Maybe the special paper needed got too expensive. Or the printing costs too high.

Four: a lot of advertising has gone virtual. It always was part of commercial TV, but now it's on every phone and other mobile device. And it reaches millions, not just those who happen to pass by the old-style billboard. Billboards must still exist somewhere, even if I don't know where, but I'd say they simply now echo the rather more insistent and intrusive messaging that everyone sees on the small screens there in their hands.

I can't decide whether I'm pleased or not about the apparent demise of the giant flapping paper advertisement or message. Even if they were witty or humorous or genuinely clever, the old hoardings hid a view of some kind, and might even blot out the sun. But the pop-up, auto-play ads on phones are an aggravating time-wasting nuisance.