HS2 seat-by-seat

North Warwickshire (Dan Byles, Conservative)
North West Leicestershire (Andew Bridgen, Conservative)
Rushcliffe (Ken Clarke, Conservative)
Erewash (Jessica Lee, Conservative)
Broxtowe (Anna Soubry, Conservative)

Nottingham North (Graham Allen, Labour)
Broxtowe (again)
Ashfield (Gloria de Piero, Labour)
Bolsover (Dennis Skinner, Labour)
Chesterfield (Toby Perkins, Labour)
North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel, Labour)
Sheffield South East (Clive Betts, Labour)
Rother Valley (Kevin Barron, Labour)
Rotherham (Sarah Champion, Labour)
Sheffield South East (again)

Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough (David Blunkett, Labour)
Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith, Labour)
Barnsley East (Michael Dugher, Labour)
Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis, Labour)
Barnsley East (again)
Hemsworth (Jon Trickett, Labour)
Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper, Labour)
Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls, Labour)

Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke, Conservative)
Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams, Conservative)

Leeds Central (Hilary Benn, Labour)

Lichfield (Michael Fabricant, Conservative)
Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy, Conservative)
Stone (Bill Cash, Conservative)
Crewe and Nantwich (Edward Timpson, Conservative)
Eddisbury (Stephen O’Briend, Conservative)
Tatton (George Osborne, Conservative)
Warrington South (David Mowat, Conservative)
Altrincham and Sale West (Graham Brady, Conservative)

Warrington North (Helen Jones, Labour)
Leigh (Andy Burnham, Labour)
Makerfield (Yvonne Forangue, Labour)

Tatton (George Osborne, Conservative)
Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins, Labour)
Manchester Withington (John Leech, Liberal Democrat)
Manchester Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufmann, Labour)
Manchester Central (Lucy Powell, Labour)

Advertisements

Walking West Lancs (part 2)

Venturing along the former West Lancashire Line from Preston to Southport was not going to be easy (or for that matter, particularly easy to explain to people who wondered what I was doing.)

Part 1 of my journey presented a mixed bag of remnants of history. The imposing stone columns spanning the Ribble, the steep embankment at Penwortham, the shattered fences at Hoole – there’s not a  lot remaining from decades of passenger and freight use. The line from Penwortham into Longton has essentially vanished, retaining its presence only through the distinctive cut which makes its way through the fields on a Google Maps aerial view.

Southport

Concrete transport hub not under threat
from its Council


Reportedly the influence for the Champs-Élysées, Southport is ‘posh Merseyside’, an outcrop of Lancashire cut off from the rest of the county by nothing more important than the swipe of an administrator’s pencil. Back in the mid-1970s, the long and protracted post-war reorganisation of local council administration was finally put into action taking the old model of bits-and-pieces Britain into a mix of one- and two-tier authorities, including massive metropolitan boroughs whose names live on today. “Greater Manchester”, “Merseyside”, even “Avon” (…maybe…) – they all remain in the national consciousness, long since after they were abolished.

Maps of the time show Southport has had plenty of changes to its rail map, partly in response to the popularity of the town as a tourist location for the well-heeled traveller. One of the most significant changes, of course, was the closure of the West Lancashire Line, which has left a noticeable (just) space between streets and avenues between the outer boundary and the town centre.  Southport’s main station is a concrete box facing the shopping arcades away from the fancy faces of Lord Street, with more brand names than boutiques (though Lord Street isn’t what it was, let’s be honest).

The concrete block has been spruced up somewhat, mind, with a Merseyrail “one stop shop” fitted, a kind of ticket office-meets-corner shop. It is the “end of the line” in the same way Liverpool Lime Street is at the other side of the ex-county of Merseyside, all ticket gates and Merseyrail’s distinctive yellow coaches. As with Lime Street, slightly different coaches from Northern Rail stop here too, though these days the destinations are Wigan and Manchester, not Preston or Blackburn.

What makes things difficult to ‘rediscover’ is just how convoluted the map used to be around here. In short, Southport has been the location of stations called:

Southport (Chapel Street)
Southport Central
Southport Windsor Road (aka Southport Ash Street)
(Southport) St Lukes

And for good measure Lord Street.

My first biro circle on a map is St Lukes, which seems to have been in two places at once. No wonder I was already set for a day of confusion. The walk takes me up Mornington Road and Kensington Road towards St Luke’s Road. There are pubs along the route, either shut for good or looking very much like they are, and women chatting in an Eastern European language walk towards me at regular intervals. It’s “very bay window” as a wise woman might once have said. When I get to St Luke’s Road there’s only one place I can think of where the station must have been,  and with one track bending off into overgrown greenery, I guess this must be it.

The location of Southport St Luke’s, with the tell-tale
signs of a place long since lost to history (and nature)

Hesketh Park

I’ll be honest – this is where things started to go wrong, although I wouldn’t know until the end of the day that I’d ventured off course somewhat.

The location of Hesketh Park station, as the Google Maps approach only works as long as there’s trees alongside the gap where the line used to be, and in this case the line vanishes into a new-build rabbit warren called Preston Road. My rough working out had the station somewhere on/at/near Hesketh Drive, as Hibre Close seemed to be suspiciously rectangle shaped for my liking.

As it goes, this is probably quite accurate, and at least the bridge suggests its former life more than the back garden of a house does, so let’s call it a partial credit.

This part of Southport starts to get very leafy and house-pricey, by the way, and it’s only going to get more so as the town makes way for its two outermost suburbs; Crossens, and Southport.

Churchtown

Some places are more distinctive than others, even when subsumed into a larger conurbation, and Churchtown certainly is that. It’s got all the look of a place which has kept its distance from the larger town down the road, especially as everything and everywhere is marked “CHURCHTOWN”. I swear dogs had branded name-tags. What isn’t so different is the Merseytravel infrastructure, the blazing yellow bus-stops at every turn, regular buses from internal and regional travel tootling along at regular intervals.

At the main crossroads – marked at one point with kerbs branded “BOUNDARY” – there’s all the usual signs you’d expect, from a post office-cum-corner shop to a ladies who lunch style café. Alongside the row of shops is another suspiciously long, straight road, which has all the indications of a railway line to me.  Today it’s bounded by a Boots pharmacy and a GP surgery.

The line goes on, largely north-northeast, but I have to take a longer route around Balmoral Drive and deep into Crossens first, where things aren’t quite as bay window as only ten or so minutes before.

This road follows exactly the former line

 Crossens

Another point where I was uncertain about the exact location of the former line or platforms, though at least I was able to take a wander around a cul-de-sac without being stopped or arrested under terrorism charges, so maybe there’s hope for people who walk around taking photographs after all. On my trusty map, I’d circled the streets of Two Pools and The Crescent, thinking there’d be something approaching a clue to my accuracy. Well, as it turns out, if I had done anything wrong, I’d been looking the wrong way, facing out to the marshes and fields rather than the drives and front gardens, as this is where the station would actually have been.

As it turns out, not the location of the railway line,
which actually is at my feet.

The exact location is actually completely inaccessible, as it sits behind The Mallards. My photograph of the vast fields beyond almost misses the line completely; it was probably at my toes.

As I mentioned in passing last time, it’s perhaps not surprising that there’s little actual evidence around these days after forty years. There’s something else worth noting too – just how useful a train station would be round bout now. The population of these areas isn’t going down, nor are the roads becoming less busy. However slight the solution might be on congestion, a regular service along the line could make a dent.

Banks

Oops.

My logical brain circled “Station Road”, and took a photo of it, and then ventured onwards to the next stop. What I could have done was consider more maps a little more carefully, as the station was actually about ten strides away at the other side of Guinea Hall Lane.

Who is (was) Ralph? Or his wife?

As I couldn’t follow the line exactly, my walk had to take one heck of a detour, walking along the beautifully enigmatic “Ralph’s Wife’s Lane”. This is the first clue of true, rural Marsh Town Lancashire, with farms on either side, some occupied by sheep, some occupied by vegetables. The line carried on some distance from me, as I approached it from ‘the north’, walking down Hoole Lane towards my intended target. There didn’t seem to be much to do in Banks, with its social club boarded up and the pub apparently closed. (You can see my priorities, can’t you?)

And after walking for what seemed like hours to the next stop, guess what happened there?

Hundred End

Fracking is in the news a lot these days, and this is fracking country. The walk from Banks to Hundred End (named because it was the boundary point between the old Hundred of West Derby(shire) and Leyland(shire)) took me to within binocular-spying distance of the attempt by contractors to shake Blackpool to its core.

Before all that, however, let me rewind. Aveling Drive is unlike many streets you’d see if visiting Southport for a bit of shopping. Suddenly everything becomes uneven, without Tarmac and without street-lights. An industrial estate gives way to thick trees and yards full of geese and hens. This is your actual farming community, this be, and the deeper into it you go, the more and more remote things seem to become. I turn into Square House Lane, where there is a clear sign of where the railway line would have crossed, in this case in between a squat bungalow surrounded by well-tendered gardens, and a neat country-style home with large trees surrounding. The former railway line is an official public footpath, though my shoes and the weather conspired against me using it.

Now a footpath, this follows the old line exactly.

Hundred End is at the very end of a long, long walk, one without pavements, one without much safety for pedestrians at all, truth be told. The vast expanse of fields might not be Lincolnshire or Norfolk, but it has the same feel. There’s no surprise, I bet, that I miscalculated the exact location of the former station by the time I got there, though I did manage to capture a sunset, so another partial credit.

This is one of those places where a station in modern times would be considered highly dubious, even if every farmer in the area tried to send crops this way. There’s not enough people to justify a station, I’ll be honest, even if you take in Moss Lane between it and Hesketh Bank. Talking of which….

Becconsall

No, I didn’t get to photograph Cherry Vale, the street on top of the former station here, because despite leaving Southport at sometime after twelve, it was now pitch dark and raining. A Samsung phone-camera with no zoom and a glaring flash wouldn’t have  been much use, I suspect.

To go back to an earlier concern, let’s talk about pubs. Hesketh Bank and Becconsall, near neighbours to Tarleton, have just two pubs between them, and the population figures of both suggest something around 5,000 people.

Reclaimed from whatever land was considered suitable to build on, the villages of Hesketh Bank, Becconsall and Tarleton resemble comfortable commuter towns, especially from the air, as it’s clear where one main road has been used as the column on which cobwebs of mainly 60s and 70s avenues have been hung. There’s more recent new builds from the 90s housing boom in Tarleton, where a railway used to run around the same time as the West Lancs line, and most recently pre-2008 housing was erected in double-quick time off our old friend the A59. Strictly speaking, Hesketh Bank is the most northern of the three villages, a triangle of housing running off Shore Road (so called because there’s a shore……miles and miles and miles away….), then comes Becconsall where a new Booths has been built to resemble a Norwegian primary school. Finally there’s Tarleton, where there’s some very nice butter pies if you like that sort of thing.

(There’s two pubs in Tarleton – and for all three villages – The Village Inn looks like an airport waiting lounge and doesn’t always look after its ale, whilst the Cock and Bottle has a pub quiz I rarely win and does very good jacket potatoes.)

There’s still a railway here of sorts, I suppose. From near here the West Lancs line’s ghost carries itself over the River Douglas. The Google Eye shows two things to the weary traveller – where the bridge used to be and the distinctive shape of a ‘spur’ running towards the Tarleton branch. It’s now impossible to cross the Douglas by any means other than swimming or a vessel of some kind, so the only options are walking, driving or the good old number 2 bus.

Conclusions

“Sunset at Hundred End”


By 1892, the company which has constructed the West Lancashire Line had been swallowed up before it would have gone bankrupt. By 1897, the Fishergate Hill station in Preston had lost its passengers to goods traffic only. It took until Beeching in the 1960s for the line to be closed for good, but maybe it had been close to death a long time before then. Services to Hundred End, for example, were lost in 1962, with local newspaper reports at the time suggesting passenger numbers had fallen to no more than enough to generate one pound a day. Southport was to grow for passengers from other parts of the county, and become attractive to car and coach travellers who found brash Blackpool a little too rough and ready for their tastes. Whilst Blackpool attracted packed trains to the Golden Mile, Southport was preferring to attract more genteel travellers and the line from industrial Preston wasn’t going to give them much of that.

In the years since Beeching recommended the line to close, a lot has taken over where the line used to be. In Preston, Penwortham, Longton, Hesketh Bank, Banks and Southport, housing and roads cover most of the old path, cars moving in where trains used to run. Around Longton, New Longton and across the Marsh Towns, farms and light industry now sit where the line used to carve through the countryside, and indeed aerial photos show the line still cuts a swathe in places.

Overall, forty years is a long time in human nature, and nothing was going to preserve the line forever after closure. Platforms and bridges may occasionally poke out of hedges and the like, but it’s not surprising that the clues are far and few between (even if, on occasion, I was facing the wrong way….). I’m a huge fan of the railways, and especially promoting access to the rail network for places which sit achingly close to existing lines. This route is different, though, and obviously so. There’s no chance that trains could ever return here, leaving only photographs and hints poking through nature as the only remnants of what used to be. It’s unfortunate and wrong that access to the railways has been snatched from so many people, but realistically the line would have only attracted maybe 30,000 or 40,000 people at the absolute highest today, by far too few to justify keeping services running. Penwortham is now well served by dozens of buses every hour, and regular bus services run through the Marsh Towns at least every 30 minutes. Beeching went too far, too fast (to coin a phrase). Maybe he wasn’t always wrong, though.

On the register

The Electoral Commission tends and cares for the Register of Political Parties, letting us keep track of who wishes to enter the great political bunfights at local or national level.

Here’s the most recent additions, which acts as a companion piece to those recorded as leaving the Register in the months after this year’s main elections.
Where a web-presence is available, I’ve linked to them. All links are followed at your own risk, I can’t vouch for their safety, and I don’t necessarily agree with the policies or contents of any/all. 
October 2012
*”Royalist Party“, registered to Mr Thomas Harrison.
*”Zero Tolerance Policing Ex Police Chief”, otherwise known as Kevin Hurley, Surrey’s first Police and Crime Commissioner
*”UK in Europe Party (UK EPP)”, registered to Mr John Stevens. It might be this which links to this
*”Nottinghamshire Independent Forum“, registered to Mr Barry Answer. 
*“UK Yorkshire Socialist Alliance Party”, registered to Mr Ian Wilson
*“Democracy2015” registered to Mr Andreas Whittam Smith. At the Corby by-election, candidate Adam Lotun stood for Democracy2015 and received 35 votes. By way of comment/comparison, David Bishop got 99 for “Elvis Loves Pets”.
*“Pro Liberty”, registered to Mr James Rigby
*“nine eleven was an inside job” registered to Mr Simon Lane. This (in)famous candidate stood at Croydon North, receiving 66 votes, three more than Robin Smith from the Young People’s Party. His Facebook profile is (largely) open and contains links to some of his other “inside job” conspiracies.
*“Bristol 1st”, registered to Chris Luffingham, the candidate from which is now the first directly elected Mayor of Bristol
*“PLC Party” registered to Andre John-Salakov.
November 2012
*”Patria”, registered to Mr Ian Johnson. I have tried numerous search terms and can find no web presence. 
*“Don’t Cook Party”, registered to Mr Richard Murfitt. A candidate aligned to this lot, Mr Mozzarella complete with comedy Italian accent, stood in the Corby by-election.
*”New Democracy”, registered to Mr Richard Laycock. There’s no website, yet.
*”The Community Party”, registered to Mr Arya Hussain. It might be this person or this one, but there’s no website that I can find.
 
December 2012
*”F.A.I.R”, registered to Mr Gordon Barker. It’s not the easiest search term to put into Google, and with a few attempts I’ve found nothing.
*”The Entertainment Party”, registered to Mr Gwinyayi Nyagowa. “Your search term Mr Gwinyayi Nyagowa did not match any documents”. Searching for “The Entertainment Party” and “TEP – The Entertainment Party” brings up nothing either. 
*“The Ethical Governance Party”, registered to Ms Sarah Goldsmith. 
*”Wigan Independent Network”, registered to Councillor Garry Wilkes. He doesn’t/didn’t like the PCC elections
 

Off the Register

As you might know if you’re an anorak of the highest order, to stand for election in Britain you need to register a political party with the Electoral Commission (at £150 a chuck, if I’m not mistaken). If you prefer “independent” you can just go for that, or like David Icke and Clint Bristow of the EDL you can choose to have no description at all, just a blank space in the ballot where voters could draw a smiley face.

The ‘churn’ of Registered Parties is administrative trivia which shows in some cases the deflated and defeated dreams of people who thought their political party would win the first elections to come their way.

Here is a summary from the election period onwards of parties whose names are no longer registered with the Commission, and with them pass the electoral dreams of so many….

*May 2012
“Anticapitalists – Workers Power”
“Beavers Cranford Party”
“Horbury Independent Political Party”
“Resurgence”
“Shepway Independents”
“Somali United Intellectuals Expatriates Democratic Party”
“Spiritual Unity Party”
“The Individual Reform Party”

*June 2012
“Convox”
“Downlands Residents Group”
“England First Party”
“Save King George Hospital”
“Socialist Studies Party (1904)”
“The Dover Alliance”

*July 2012
“Christian Party “Proclaiming Christ’s Lordship”
“Community Alliance”
“For Integrity and Trust in Government”
“Great Aycliffe Independents”
“Independent Republican Party”
“Romford Residents Association”
“Stone’s Independent Voice”

*August 2012
“Northumbria Party – The North East Party”
“Public Services Not Private Profit”
“Voice 4 Torbay”

*September 2012
“East Kilbride Alliance”
“Heart of Puriton”
“PLC Party”
“Protest Vote Party”
“United Unionist Coalition”

*October 2012
“East Dunbartonshire Independent Alliance”

*November 2012
“New Dawn”

all seeing pie in the sky

Point of information – I’m not a subscriber to most conspiracy theories. By this I mean, whilst cynical and suspicious, I maintain a “credibility radar” which helps filter if not entirely dismiss  the most excessive of the tin pot brigade, and in any case, drawing attention to some of the Internet’s more fringe elements (like supporters of the BNP or people who speak Esperanto) can never end well. For the avoidance of doubt, whilst believing that the death of Dr. David Kelly was somewhat convenient narrative-wise, my advancing years has diluted my initial youthful belief that an order to kill him came from somewhere around the corridors of power you hear so much about. There is suspicion and doubt, yes, though not perhaps conspiracy.

On a different perspective, the ‘truth movement’ set up around the 7/7 bombings is, almost to a man, complete rubbish, and in most cases essentially thinly veiled attempts to give racist ranting a fresh new angle. Even if you do find a 7/7 “truther” who doesn’t come across as a lonely old racist commenting on how expendable British Muslims are, you’re usually asked to subscribe to the fact that four out of work actors were paid to hang around Luton train station for a bit, before turning around to drive home whilst pre-laid bombs on tube trains and buses were detonated by…I never get up to that point. G4S, maybe. Though of course, maybe not G4S. They’re incompetent but this isn’t the right time in my life for a legal case to be brought against me. In any  case, you see my point. I happen to believe that it’s somewhat far fetched to subscribe to any theory which hangs on the central premise of Transport For London also dabbling in a bit of rep theatre.

Anyway, on with the main meat of the post. If there’s one tiny part of the Internet where my heart has most definitely been stolen, it’s the 0.05% of YouTube dedicated to Illuminati conspiracy theories. Maybe this says a lot about the kind of women to whom I’m attracted because I’ve not felt to alive in years.

Take the Private Eye cover on this page, published at the height of the London riots. For most people of sound mind reading the speech-bubble punchline, the satire is fairly clear. It’s London, the Olympics are coming, so why not join the two together with a bit of British musn’t grumble attitude (for which, see yesterday’s blog on whether we can/should just enjoy the Olympics). For the Illuminati truth seeker, however, the satire is completely lost, which is why there’s a number of videos in the cover is shown as evidence of a plot (presumably by well known state mole Ian Hislop) to cause/create/sponsor a terrorist attack during the Opening Ceremony. What satire might have been evident in the joke dissolves like so much kettle steam, and with as much mass in the resulting evidence.

Mandeville is another common ‘evidence’ given to prove that the secret lizard people/Freemason cult/whoever-it-is who rules the nation has infiltrated LOGOC. One video uploaded to YouTube which provides this evidence points to the obvious (the single eye being an obvious New World Order trope, the launch of the mascots being paraded on a check pattern floor, that sort of thing.) What makes my heart flutter is a caption written in Papyrus which informs the enthralled reader that “Mandeville” is French for “dead city”, another clue that London is the target for an Illuminati/terrorist attack combo meal.

I don’t speak French (though I do know what happens with iron fililings near a magnet, so that’s the Comprehensive system for you). A quick thumb through a dictionary/Google shows that  “mande” is not the French for “dead”, and even if it were, there’s no joined up dots to show why we suddenly need to be bilingual when pointing out ‘false flag’ terrorist plots on the Internet.

Not satisfied with misunderstanding satire or mistranslating basic conversational French (well, maybe “dead” has to come up in conversation in France, I don’t know, never been. “Are these snails dead, waiter?” perhaps, it’s not important right now), the determined crew at the HMS Cuckoo-Bananas sent me straight to the garage forecourt for roses and cards by way of a video with over 250,000 hits purporting to prove that the London Games have been a state-sponsored terrorist attack in the making for over 100 years.

A radio phone in guest drew the lines in front of me as clearly as though he were sketching a loveheart with our initials in them. The London 2012 logo, he explained, can be rearranged to spell the word “ZION”. Well, I did check this claim, and as you can see, if you squint a bit and use more imagination than you’ve ever used before, the theory is absolutely correct.

Well, he continued, the poem “Jerusalem” written by William Blake mentions “a new Jerusalem” being built in England, and that was back in the early 19th century. As it’s undisputed that our Illuminati/Jewish lizards/whoever-the-Heck rulers have put subtle design quirks in everything from Olympic coins to road signs to prove their worth in a Pinky and the Brain sort of way, clearly Blake was the start of terrorism’s longest, widest story arc? Of course he was. It’s conjecture, but that’s the kind of fact we like round here!

When I say “I’ve fallen in love” with this sort of thing, I genuinely mean it. Clearly, it holds up as much weight as the pastry around a butter pie, and by most peoples measurement, it’s no more credible than those people who claim to been warned off going into Central London/Manchester/Madrid/Bali by a friendly Imam who just happened to be passing by. It’s the worst kind of urban myth gone feral, picked up and perpetuated by the kind of Internet-based obsessive who would have a use sticking torches into filing cabinets were it easier to do so. As I said, my suspicion and cynical side knows no bounds, and as such I’d rather believe that something dodgy is going on rather than ever sign up to the notion that our elected elders know best. I certainly don’t believe that our unelected elders of bankers and World Bank chiefs know best, though by the same measure, I’m not about to agree with the YouTube nutjob consensus that Julia Gillard, the Pope and possibly Prince Harry are all shape-shifting lizards.

Yes, there’s a thrill about the most extreme kind of conspiracy theory, something subversive even. I prefer to look at the funny side too. “Love” is the emotion which carries with it the freedom from remorse, boredom or frustration in a life not necessarily led to the full, which I guess is why the light and blessed relief which comes from watching this tripe has lifted me so highly. Don’t ever stop being suspicious about the people who claim to rule over us – though if you start telling me that the chess-board floor design which happens to be in two of my favourite pubs mean that my pints of Oxford Gold are tainted by New World Order mind serum, I may have to punch you in the nose.  

it’s all going to be just fine

I could rant about (or, more accurately, against) G4S for their strident ability to make checking tickets at train stations into a frustrating, arrogant and self-satisfied assault on the freedom of walking from a ticket office to the 0922 to Blackburn. For reasons I can’t fathom, the rail industry has concluded that private security firms offer better value for money when standing near automatic ticket gates than members of private rail operating companies, resulting in some railway stations now looking how old Bond films used to imagine private nuclear basis, swarming with police officers and security guards. It’s not as though G4S do much of a job while standing around on platforms, for that matter, as they can’t sell tickets (and I know this after a toe-to-toe rant against one of their number whilst waving my bank card in the air asking what on earth he thought I was going to do with it.)

The Internet is full of G4S Olympic farrago stories, making Google searches for the long forgotten prisoner transfer stories from my youth a little difficult. But I remember hearing the jokes on plenty a Radio 4 panel show about the sudden difficulty hitherto unexpected in taking a criminal from point A to point B. “Group 4 Security” became as much of a punchline as, well, “British Rail”, I suppose, in tabloid shorthand for rants against the Government giving up responsibility for things it used to do. (Which is a bit different to the times when tabloids rant against the Government not being able to get a handle on things like Heathrow security desks and school building.)

But even without the colossal cock-up by G4S and its Olympic security mess-up, the mood music around at the moment is what rankles with me more. I appreciate that training and supplying people as security bods around the Olympic park is rather important and they’ve carried out their task with all the professionalism as a packet of instant noodles, but there’s something else about the coverage of the Games in the remaining week to go which has started to bother me. And outside the Opening Ceremony and watching the tinier nations do badly in the early heats of the swimming, I’m not even that much of an Olympics fan.

What bothers me – and I’m the same with politicians who choose to highlight the very worst elements of economic statistics even when the general direction is “up” or “more” or “better” – is the growing negativity and cynicism from the press. Yesterday, on Radio 4’s “PM”, the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt found himself up against an onslaught of sly, wry and sarcastic questioning. When he noted that tickets sales for an obscure sport were never expected to sell out, the presenter made a point of apologising to fans of those teams, as though any chance of the same programme ever running a jokey featurette on minority sports and their followers had never crossed the producer’s mind. It dawned on me that the narrative of the interview, and much of the coverage in the press recently, has switched deliberately from “The Games are coming to London, WOW!”, to “The Games are on their way to go TERRIBLY WRONG BECAUSE WE’RE BRITISH AND FAILURE IS THE ONLY OPTION! BOO!”

Now I’m not a flag waving little Englander or UKIP supporter or one of those football hooligans who stomp around provincial towns every Saturday complaining about the burqa whilst covering my own face with a scarf/hat combination. But all the same, I’d rather like the good natured and well meaning jest about Britain not being very good at stuff to be balanced by the good natured and well meaning truth that we can, and do, produce events rather well at times, and by extending this, that sometimes Britain is quite a decent country doing its thing despite its limitations. “Oh God, the Olympics are coming and we’re all going to SUCK” is a narrative I’ve learned to live with over the years, especially during the Winter Olympics, when the tabloids might have a point about Team GB spending/wasting money on teenagers from West Sussex to spend four months of the year living in Norway smoking weed and pretending to ski on one leg or whatever they do. I can even accept that the Beijing-to-London handover was a messy shambles, given as it featured an exploding Routemaster and the worst body-pop/urban dance thing since Hit Man & Her on late night ITV.

All that aside, though, there’s being British (and therefore cynical and supportive all at the same time), and there’s just being prissy for the sake of it (or, “French”). I’m sure the BBC and its august presenting army have their moments of doubt when the minority sports few people like need to be covered (the silly ones, like “horse riding to music” or badminton). That doesn’t mean the entire package should be dismissed as silliness or wasteful. When Michael Platini proposed changing the format of UEFA 2020 into a continental-wide tour, he was rightly sneered off stage. We like big events, and prefer them to take place in one site. Through nostalgia and genuine pride, we herald Olympic memories from Bolero to Eric the Eel with warmth. Maybe it’s just easier to be negative because it’s happening in our backyard, though I don’t remember well enough if either Euro 1996 or Manchester’s Commonwealth Games were treated with similar sneering. Yes, okay, the Olympics of 2012 is an event stuffed with corporate logos and daft rules on chips. And horse riding to music. Though why does this mean that the narrative has to switch from anticipation to antagonism in the week before the opening events?

Maybe I’m being typically liberal in wanting a nice, middle-grown fence sitting position. Let’s celebrate the 204 countries coming here, the opportunity for commentary classics and opportunities to enjoy the handball or the archery or whatever the Hell, and continue to explore what went wrong with G4S, whilst doing so without one unbalancing the other. I’m the first in the queue to criticise that which we’re told to celebrate. It’s just too much cynicism can kill you. G4S deserve to be called out for their shambles – and that’s just for their behaviour around Preston railway station. I’m not sure the Olympics deserve the same vitriol.

Oh, it dawns on me that the tags under this blog technically break the law on using specific words and terms related to the Games. Pity, that, really.

QRazy

I understand social media, to a lesser or greater degree, enjoying the expansion/development of the Internet into a jamboree of tagging, poking, checking in and checking out.

All the same, there’s a block, a black mark across the mind, bubbled and scratched and defaced by white blobs, like a popcorn’d barcode. This is the QR Code, not “the humble” or “the dear old”, just the straight down the line, aren’t we all fans, let’s celebrate our cleverness QR Code.  It cannot be my age or lack of a decent scanner, it has to be plain old common sense, because I just do not understand the appeal. It’s the worst kind of technological clever-clever, not too dissimilar to using an in-joke at an interview, or eating English food with chopsticks.

The latest company to grind my particularly well oiled gears on this is Heineken. I don’t drink Heineken, preferring beer/ale which tastes of something, rather than fizzy water with a hint of battery acid, so their “Concert goers are all QR crazy” shtick weakens my disposition.

The transformation of a humble logistic company’s tracking device into a gig-goer’s name badge should, by all records of such things, be exactly the kind of development I would welcome with giddy abandon. “It’s the future!” as a wise man once said of garlic bread. But no, alas, I am not convinced. Not even curious – less so when faced with Heineken and their corporate video of doom. I’ve not been to any music festival, ever, so maybe I am wrong in cynically dismissing a QR Tent full of shoulder slapping, wide-grinned strangers as being contrived. Drugs can’t have that much of an impact on people. (“Wow, this stuff is amazing, I’m totally baked and I’ve just unlocked the Munchie Badge on 4squre”).

This is the future

QR codes on the sides of buses (no, really), shop windows, even pub menus (though to be honest, that was spotted whilst drinking a few doors down from Angel tube station so it’s probably considered normal there) – all combine to form a language marginally less useful than Esparanto. Or Canadian French. There’s an implied barrier of snobbery with companies who use them – more so when the box is not accompanied with any explanation to its meaning. Unfortunately I fear the ship has sailed around the world picking up passengers and hosting all day orgies because the dreaded box is not going away; film distributors offer extra long trailers for people who scan in the right code. It’s worth remembering the rule about long trailers mean terrible films.

I want to like the QR code in its new guise as hip and happening password to the future, it’s just impossible to do so. It’s an impersonal and impractical image of style which abandons pretence of function. The “concert friend hook up” wheeze is a desperate act akin to putting casters on a dead horse and pushing it around Ascot.

pies, chips, and anoraks

One regular column inside the Non-League weekly newspaper is called “Diary of a Groundhopper”. Written by different fans every week, its tales and regales follow the national football scene which exists beneath the 92 League teams, beneath even the Conference and its feeder divisions. From the website 50 Yards Wide, this one description of a groundhop should give you the idea of what is meant…

With our original plans thrown into disarray by the lack of a referee at Talysarn, it was a case of any port in a storm at 1-30pm on Saturday. Luckily, Llanllyfni is no more than a couple of miles from Talysarn and arriving at 1-40 it was good to see both teams out warming up for the 2pm KO.Ths is one of those grounds that you’d struggle to find if it wan’t a match day. The goals, pitch perimeter fence, dugouts & advertising boards (banners to be precise) all disappear once the game is over, leaving an open field behind the village hall. However, with everything set up, it feels very much like a proper venue, the only thing it lacks is cover.

Another site, now moved, called “Extreme Groundhopping” lists the grounds visited by the author so far – Arsenal’s Emirates and Bolton’s Reebok joined by Brantham Athletic (they play at a Social Club of the same name, and I’ve never heard of them), and Norwich United (played within the Ridgeons League Premier Division).

Everything in life collects its obsessives. Ale festivals are great for this, one table always reserved for the men of a certain vintage exchanging tour anecdotes like society-ball veterans transported from another age in anoraks and t-shirts. “Selbeh 92, ‘member that, eh? Nowt like that any more, Grimsby last year being an exception, of course!”

Train spotting, it almost goes without saying, has the same effect upon men (though, and this is absolutely true, on the train from Wigan one afternoon I spotted a man and woman sat around a picnic-table at the side of Platform 4. Romance, right there).

The groundhopper is distinctly, absolutely, completely British. It’s the very best of the eccentric and the obsessive, the man who makes lists, the woman who always puts clothes in order of colour. We’ve all heard of “doing the 92”, a creditable trophy to chase for any football fan, which requires the committed individuals involved to watch a full game at every one for the ninety-two League stadia. (There is a very good dedicated website, soon to be updated for the coming season). As it happens, there may be purists who are shaking their head at this slap-dash explanation. Just watch the game? What about having to buy a programme? What about doing it in alphabetical order? Of postcodes?

Despite being a hobby, ostensibly, the ”rules” pervade the whole groundhopping community. Ever heard of stamp collectors who tend not to accept British definitives or anything from WH Smith starterpacks? Then we’re in the same arena here.

The question on rules was asked on the Non League Matters forum. It’s worth only enjoying this reply in all its glory;

To watch a game, you should be there from start to end, including extra time if played. (Note, Should, not Must).

For example, different people have different ideas of what to do if they miss the start, maybe due to circumstances beyond their control. This is always a potential problem on long trips.

Some will not go without a programme, or without a pasty crimp or whatever.

Some make detailed accounts of players, goal scorers, even perhaps numbers of corners – others would not be able to tell you the score if you ask 7 days after the game.

I think everyone keeps some sort of record, although I know some that are trying to create records from memory, having not kept them from the start of their football watching. [I am lucky in that from the first time I watched a match and decided this was for me, I actually kept a list of the games seen – although some friendlies were not on the list, and a match at Barking which my grandfather had taken me to some years previously was not recorded]

So talk to other hoppers at games, exchange views on here – make up your own mind and then be true to yourself, (no one else is counting for you

Yes, that’s right, an earlier poster was concerned by the sale of pies or burgers for a groundhop to “count”. We’re in dangerous territory, folks.

(You would be, in very enjoyable territory as I understand it, if you watch a game at Devon where burgers are of such massive consistency that the use of excessive tomato ketchup is recommended as otherwise the mouth would almost run out of saliva).

Accusations of ‘not being proper fans’ are thrown at groundhops as though some of the mud will stick. It’s bizarre to think such finger-pointing could have any validity; there’s enough struggle to deal with the hypnotised SKY brigade, for whom football exists for glitz, glamour and the top 10 Premier League places. Groundhoppers may not have a single team of their own to follow, though why should this be considered a handicap? Hobbies breed snobs, true, and it’s true on both sides. It can lead to awkward conversations with potential future fathers-in-law. (“Don’t have a team, eh? Poofter, hmm? One of those give votes to black disabled lesbians, I suppose?”)

I have experienced two different extremes of the groundhop within the British Isles, from the extreme of walking 30 minutes down the road to Irongate (home of Bamber Bridge, which is not called the QED stadium for God’s sake…), right to the train-bus-Metro-unintended-overnight-stay-in-Newcastle weekend to watch the FA Cup Qualifier between Burscough and Howden. All fans should have at least one nightmare away trip story, after all.

The groundhop status taps into an argument right at the core of the non-league game. Notwithstanding notable exceptions – most Blue Square Premier sides, AFC Halifax, FC United of Manchester – crowd sizes can be very small, and rather quiet. Messageboards and forums hum to the sound of perennial questions – does non league football even count? How low down the pyramid is acceptable? What’s the widely held distinction between teams playing Sunday kickabouts on the park and Suffolk County games?

My opinion has always been open minded, perhaps over-romantacisesd. There is a moment of the Saturday afternoon, in my way of thinking, when hundreds of referees across the country blow whistles in unison, momentarily and fleetingly uniting all the levels of football as one, before the differences blossom again and all games return to their rightful place in the strata. At one broadbrush level, there’s little difference between the very highest and most low of games, though only somebody so deep in denial that they hold an Egyptian passport would argue that the playing fields genuinely are level. Sadly the anorak tendency within non league has allowed the inverse snobbery to build within otherwise genial fanbases. Yes, the ‘culture’ amongst some lower league sides is at the opposite side of the Premier League glitz and glamour. That perhaps is the whole point, and should not be the measure by which some fans decide validity of support amongst others.

For groundhopping, my rules are fairly straight forward. Enjoy yourself. It’s a game of football, the significance of which should not override the more important specifics, such as roundly criticising the rightback with the acceleration of a mobility scooter and suggesting the liner closest to you enjoys extra-curricular activities with someone other than his wife. Taking a month out of supporting your team – I don’t recommend this often – to take in five or six complete unknowns in new stadia could be just the break you need (that is, if you’re an Aston Villa fan not otherwise in need of education). If there’s any judgemental element to this, it’s unfortunate and it’s human nature. Different strengths can be found all over the stands and terraces, it’s unfortunate that the mud sticks strongest below the League line.

So let’s just shake off all the complexities here. There’s only a month before the season starts, and that means it’s time enough to plan fantasy football teams, train journeys to far-flung away games, and ensure everyone knows not to purchase pies from Altrincham….