Tuesday, 23 August 2011


  I thought I’d resist until now the temptation of writing about the English riots. Enough has been said by the chattering classes and TV worthies. But I don’t think the recent week of mindless mayhem can pass without a little reflection.
 Have you noted that today no-one will take responsibility as  the result of such actions? Like the mother of a so-called feral-rat nabbed for looting and wholesale damage. She said what he and his hooded mates had done was not their fault but that of the police…!  Wonder what she will say when the council knock on the door with an eviction order. She will be screeching between puffs of fag smoke about her human rights, I can guess. Then we had the case of the two Cheshire fellows who thought it was a joke to call on the street mob in Northwich and Warrington to join the violence via the social media. They got terribly upset to find themselves in the slammer for four years. They said what they did was a joke. But you have to ask what would have happened had their call been heeded?
 Now the blame game is a modern human disease not confined to the low life. It has spread like cancer from across the Atlantic, powered by websites and email. Have a car accident, however small, and you can guarantee that within weeks, nay days, you will be contacted by some seedy individual wanting to front up a claim for “your injuries”. Even if it was your fault and you were not really hurt. The result is that some rat-bag of a commission junky in an anonymous office will get richer by the day if you fall for the spiel. And soaring insurance rates for us poor motorists is the consequence.  
 Such commission chasing even impacts on charities. Some years ago I changed my will on discovery that should I go to that great newsroom-in-the-sky the sum I’d left to a charity would be grabbed from my nearest and dearest almost before I could ask my maker for a pint of bitter ! I am afraid (no happy to say) that charity must begin at home!
 Returning to the riots, common among the complaints of those desperately seeking to lay the blame for the trouble elsewhere was the gangs had nothing to do between collecting their benefit cheques via us working taxpayers. Just wreck the streets instead, then? Most will have noticed that those battering down windows, setting fires and nicking as much as they could to carry off, were not what you would call poor, dressed in their designer gear for the most part! It was bizarre during the same nights of rage that TV managed to squeeze between its endless coverage of the streets the real poverty of Africa and its starving peoples. I didn’t hear many protests about those images.
 However, I think that by and large today’s youngsters are among the best. Too often they are knocked but recent experience has shown me another side of a much criticised generation. Twice during a rail trip to London I was helped by a young man and then a woman as I climbed platform staircases struggling with a heavy suitcase. What more can I say.

Thursday, 4 August 2011


The internet is a wonderful invention and possibly the finest contribution to the human race in communication since Caxton’s first printed pages were taken from the press. I would disagree it will entirely replace the pleasure of dipping into the hard-copy pages of a newspaper, book or magazine. But then who can foretell what the future will bring. Let us pray it will not destroy the written record, otherwise much of day to day life as we know it now will be lost. Every home has a clutch of treasured photographs of family, friends, events, holidays and the like. Yet (answer honestly) how many have printed off the dozens, probably hundreds, if not thousands, of photos from “snapping” on digital cameras and increasingly highly sophisticated phones.  Even in a household of media professionals, I doubt if I can find more than several dozen pictures from recent times kept for the record. I still remember with horror the day I pitched a cup of tea over a laptop and wiped out an entire archive of photos!
 The happy note is that I’m long enough in the tooth to remember when the age of the paperless office was declared. Yes, it still doesn’t exist,   if my experience of the corporate world is anything to judge. Fortunately for future historians there is still within us something of a distrust of anything hi-tech coupled with the squirrel effect on our brain.
Where the internet poses the greatest threat is in the High Street. Even among those ranks of multiple giants that dominate centres, often in the smallest of country towns, some may depart as rapidly as they came to a website domain. God forbid towns will become the sole territory of the coffee society and swanky restaurants, but the most endangered species, the pub, might yet be saved for our continued pleasure and community spirit.
Ironically, individual shopkeepers brushed aside by a tide of must-look-alike-Britain may have their day again because of the internet. The trend is already out there as the wheel turns full circle. Without exception serious outlets have online services and now local shops have a chance to compete given a presence on the web. Something that came home this week when goods ordered online arrived the next day from a trader with a shop in a small town. And they cost less than the identical items from a major supplier with nationwide outlets and a massive website.
 I guess supermarkets will continue unabated. But even there who knows, in an era of  more leisure, food shopping for pleasure – if you can call it that – may fall to growing popularity for  door-to-door deliveries and higher fuel costs to reach fringe town sites.  In that there is nothing new – the railway and combustion engine brought the decline of the horse-drawn carrier leisurely travelling between towns and villages taking goods and passengers. Now the age of the carrier is back – simply at the touch of a mouse!

Monday, 1 August 2011


Updated version

I almost choked over my toast and marmalade this morning when I heard an item on Today about gooseberries – pronounced said the BBC 4 programme  like Dewsbury!
A lad from Egton Bridge sounded real downcast about the plight of the luscious berry.  Egton might have produced the biggest in the world by a whisker compared with our contestants a couple of years ago. But the real fruit of the crop is grown in the heart of the Cheshire plain where the world record has been taken several times, in recent years by Kelvin Archer at the Marton show, near Macclesfield.
I don't know if it has anything to do or not with the fact that  Goostrey and villages surrounding are within sight of the massive Jodrell Bank radio telescope. But just this past week-end and several weeks still to go they are pulling some of the biggest whoppers on the planet from their bushes.
You could say when it comes to producing this monster fruit the growers around these parts are no fools!
Mid-Cheshire’s eight active shows and Egton Bridge in Yorshire – plus a competition at the Bakewell Show in Derbyshire – are survivors of a  quaint custom that has been part of the horticultural sporting scene for several centuries at least.
At its peak during the 19th and early 20th century shows were held all over the country. They were not just confined to rural backwaters but big cities staged competitions. Even London  and Manchester apparently provided some of the best of the golf-ball sized berries from urban gardens.
Now real competition when the goosegogs are weighed in pennyweights every year is largely confined to this rural enclave of Cheshire. It is claimed a north facing wall is the most succesful spot to heel in new seedlings.
And among some of the highest value homes in the land it is an entirely classless pursuit. Griselda Garner, wife of Alan Garner, the internationally famous children’s author, who lives near Goostrey, is championing the cause of the Gooseberry.
The couple’s home is now part of the Blackden Trust and Griselda says she hopes to establish a centre for every variety of Goosberry before they are lost. I am grateful to a fellow blogger who tells me that a full collection already exists in the arboretum at the nearby telescope complex but I guess it doesn't contain some of the more recent varieties.
Since 2009. the trust has presented a pottery plate embossed with name of the  top winner in memory of arguably Goostrey's greatest grower, Frank Carter, who was aborist and head gardener at JB for many years.
Veteran villagers from families of rustic stock of generations pit their growing skill against well-heeled competitors ranging from judges and doctors and other professional types to pensioners.
 There was  a wild  rumour, I guess spurious, that footballer Wayne Rooney might have been persuaded to pitch in from his posh mansion in nearby Prestbury to enter the fray at one of the local shows.
At Goostrey’s show on Saturday some of the veterans regained the championship trophies after last year’s fright when a relatively new grower and a woman to boot (you will know who if you read my previous blog) took  the title for the first time and a lot of the silver.
It was a male-dominated domain until some years ago Julie Lockett, a noted biologist, took members into the 20th century and became Goostrey's first  woman grower in her own right and then secretary.
Julie now lives  with her family in Grand Island, New York State, where she has attempted with some success to grow the fruit.
No-one will say (or can) what  the secret  recipe is for growing such large gooseberries but one thing is certain the puny types sold in supermarkets are no match for the Men of Cheshire – or even Egton Bridge for that matter ! 
I don't want to rob the Sandbach and Congleton Chronicles (with whom I began my reporting days)  or the Knutsford Guardian of their circulation so I am  providing no results or pictures. Except to say that in Goostrey, David Heath a grower of some 40 years, won the first place for the premier berry with a weight of 31 pennyweights 15 grains (variety Newton Wonder) and Tom McCartney, another grower of many years standing, had the best set of twins in the show in the Crown Inn at 54 pennyweights 08grains. The rest of the  latest episode of the Battle of the Bushes you will have to read on Wednesday and Thursday !