Friday, 23 October 2020


I went to Norfolk Street this afternoon to buy something from one of our best town shops – Wisbech Music Centre. Carmen was, as ever, friendly, knowledgeable, and a joy to speak to. But the rest of the street? My goodness, what a horror show. I don’t have any ill-will towards the many Eastern European groceries, delis and cafés, and I hope they are doing well in these trying times, but it is clear that the owners of these shops have no concept of making their businesses look presentable and welcoming.

Groups of shabby looking men, mostly, standing in the road, all over the pavement staring at passers-by is not a good look. Were they breaking any laws? Not that I know of, despite there being not a mask to be seen and damn-all social distancing. It just looked utterly disreputable. If the casting director of the next film in the Liam Neeson ‘Taken’ franchise is looking for extras to play unshaven, chain-smoking and menacing Albanian gangsters, Norfolk Street would be a good place to start. Albanian? I don’t know the nationalities of the people making up Norfolk Street’s street furniture, but Albania – with its unhappy record of being a huge exporter of criminal gangsters, people-traffickers and drug barons – is as good a place as any to start.


I have no problem with immigrants from the Baltic states and south east Europe being in Wisbech. I still teach English to immigrants who want to improve their language skills, although the pandemic has limited the scope of these classes. I don’t prejudge a man or a woman by their nationality. It has been a pleasure to teach people from – in no particular order – Bulgaria, Venezuela, Portugal, Lithuania, Romania, Latvia, Armenia, Estonia, Belarus, Moldova, Poland and Guinea-Bissau. The only time a group lived-down to its reputation was when we were visited by a large family group of Slovak Roma, and their children managed to steal most of the sweets we were using as prizes for a Bingo session.


It is ironic that The Wisbech Standard is featuring local businesses in an effort to provide support at a time when most small shops are struggling. I wonder if they will be so keen to go down the line of shops on the south side of Norfolk street and write in-depth profiles of the staff, customers – and hangers-on?


On another matter, which may seem unrelated (but is not) I am depressed that it seems likely an elegant town house in Museum Square will be given permission to operate as an HMO. Homes of Multiple Occupancy are nothing new. The house where I grew up was, in the late 1940s, an HMO, although the term hadn’t been coined then. My mother and father had one room, another couple had a second room, and an elderly blind man (who owned the house) had a third room. There was a shared sitting room, toilet and scullery. This was a terraced cottage in Victoria Street, Leamington Spa. This arrangement must have been replicated thousands of times up and down the country. Pictured – the house, clad in scaffolding, with one of my sons looking on.

My point is this. HMOs probably work – as did 14 Victoria Street – when couples live there. When rooms are taken up by single men the problems start. The influx of single male immigrants to Wisbech has been the root cause of most of the crime – including several high profile murder cases – and pretty much every instance of street drunkenness and anti-social behaviour.

The owner of the house in Museum Square does not – what a surprise – live in Wisbech, or anywhere near. The house will just be an entry on his property portfolio. He (or his agent) will fill the house with single male immigrants. House letting to the transient or vulnerable is not a complex business, as I can explain. I have four sons, each of whom went to university. Each shared rented accommodation, almost exclusively with other males. The modus operandi for the letting agent is simple. Kit the house out with cheap furniture, carpets and fittings. Expect everything to to be either neglected or trashed. At the end of the rental, rip everything out, get your team of dodgy builders and decorators in, revamp the house – and start again. And it works! House owners can still do this, and turn a profit. This is what will happen with the house in Museum Square.

Sadly, the alternative to what could happen to the house is equally dire. No-one can afford to buy it and live in it as a family home. Result? A property standing empty with the seasons taking their toll on the roof, the gutters and the walls. Dereliction, and much hand-rubbing and frustration from those who love the town.

The moral? Maybe, just maybe, if the squalid opportunism which has created modern-day Norfolk Street could be ended, then lovely house like the one in Museum Square might be lived in once again by people who value a clean, prosperous and peaceful town.



Thursday, 22 October 2020

This post in not specifically about Wisbech, but we are told that the town has higher than average levels of poverty and deprivation, so perhaps it is relevant after all.

This child poverty/hunger business intrigues me. I was born in 1947, and my earliest memories involve a living room lit by a gas lamp with a mantle and, although we had running water, we still had a pump in the scullery which drew water from a well beneath the house. I also have a hazy memory of the day they "put the electric in".

My dad was a manual worker and mum mostly brought us up, and did odd cleaning jobs. Dad used to work for the council during the day, come home for his tea, and then go out again for two/three hours doing private work as a painter and decorator.

Time is a great healer, and old age has a habit of erasing certain memories, but I genuinely don't recall being starving or malnourished. There was always food on the table. Perhaps nothing lavish, but we never went to bed hungry.

Now, here we are, six decades (and more) later, with the general standard of living way, way above what it was in the 1950s, and we have - apparently - thousands of children being starved to death by a savage and uncaring government. It revolves around the issue of school meals.

For forty years or so, I was a teacher, mostly in state schools, and I know that the prosperity of an area was judged on the basis of how many FSM (free school meals) pupils were on the books. Going back to my own story, I think I generally went home for lunch, and on occasions where that was difficult, I took sandwiches. My parents had what was then called Child Allowance. I could be wrong, but I have a feeling it was payable for the first child, but not the second.

So, here in 21st century England, what has happened? We either have a descent into Third World malnutrition, or some very wealthy people with socialist leanings are whipping up a storm about parents simply unable to find the money to put food into the mouths of their children. I know what I think, but your views are, as ever, welcome.

Friday, 4 September 2020


The old are much inclined to view contemporary society with a jaundiced eye, noting with a shake of the head how standards have slipped and that such-and-such a thing would never have happened 'back in the day.'

There are many fond memories of Wisbech shared on Facebook. People remember the taste of fish and chips, the fragrance of a bakery, and convivial nights spent in pubs long since demolished. I am old enough, however, to remember the darker side of Britain in the second half of the 20th century - polio, diptheria, insanitary slum housing, genuine poverty (as opposed to the relative poverty of today), overt and pernicious racism and and very little social mobility.

What genuinely saddens many people of my age is the decline in behaviour of certain sections of society, particularly some younger people. My teaching career lasted from 1969 to 2012, and so I can make a judgment of sorts about behaviour in the classroom. It's not that simple, though.By the time I retired I was an Assistant Head Teacher, with a certain amount of 'clout'. It also didn't hurt that I had taught the parents of many youngsters in my classes. Had behaviour worsened? I have to answer 'no', but again with a qualification. What had declined, without doubt, was the support teachers received from a vigorous minority of parents. They tended to have had a negative experience of schools themselves, and so they waged war on everything the school stood for, especially when it came to disciplining their children.

Were these, then, similar to the parents of youngsters who carried out a truly awful piece of vandalism in Wisbech this week? An example of serendipity attached to the Covid-19 pandemic was that a Russian horticulturist and artist, Natalya Shlyapina, had to extend her visit to the town due to lockdown. She didn't waste her time, and produced several stunning sculptural arrangements woven from willow. One such was a beautiful butterfly created for the community orchard in Wisbech Park.

Her enthusiasm and skill was certainly matched by the energy and malice of a group of people who took delight in destroying it. It is safe to assume that they were teenagers, and that they were male. Why make that assumption? Because a group of lads out on their bikes of an evening have been found vandalising other items created by decent people. This is the result of their efforts on this occasion.

Is there any point in blaming anyone apart from the perpetrators for this behaviour? Probably not. Blame won't get the sculpture rebuilt, nor will it remove the morons from the streets. Looking for culprits does, however, albeit in a negative way allow us to rant and rage like King Lear:

                      Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
                           You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
                   Till you have drench'd our steeples, drown'd the cocks!
                         You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
                         Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
                                       Singe my white head! 

The parents of the Wisbech vandals
will be neither the first nor the last to lose control over their children, but there will a sad similarity between them. There will be no shortage of consumer goods in the home. There will be smartphones, large TV sets and satellite dishes. What there will NOT be is a coherent family group, with a father and a mother taking equal responsibility for parenting.

What about the police? The modern UK police force has NOT been stripped of numbers, despite what some people would have you believe. The graphic below is a screenshot of a Freedom Of Information request.

What the UK police force HAS been stripped of is a leadership determined to stick to time-honoured principles, those of solving crime and catching villains. Top police officers have been infected with the Common Purpose virus, which debilitates them and makes them more eager to dance to latest social justice tunes - gay rights and the pernicious BLM agenda - than to be bothered with criminal justice. The police in Wisbech will front up if there has been a murder or a serious RTA. Otherwise, they have little interest in a community under attack from anti social behaviour.

I have lived in Wisbech since the 1990s
and I have to be honest and say that I cannot remember a time when the local council was a shining example of public responsibility and enlightened civic leadership. It is currently dominated by individuals who have chosen to become professional politicians - a suitable and necessary requirement for MPs perhaps, but at a very local level? I would much prefer that our town was being led by people with proven professional qualifications in industry, commerce or public service. Men and women who could bring their experience of 'the real world' to the relatively small-scale operation of running a town council.

What do we actually have
, and how does this impinge on the original matter of vandalism? We have a town council led by people with no other visible means of support than an income from local government allowances and expenses. It is a matter of public record that they are indifferent to the effects of anti-social behaviour. They have actively opposed any attempts to diminish the scourge of public drinking and the consequent fouling of open spaces in the town. Why then, should they be bothered by a few teenagers with room-temperature IQ, smashing up something beautiful? No reason at all. No reason to demand better from the local police force. No reason to disturb the bizarre Status Quo in Wisbech, which results in them being re-elected time after time after time, despite their lack of interest in the town or its problems.

Just to end on a more positive note, here is a photo of Natalya Shlyapina, whose work was recently trashed by some of Wisbech's finest.



Monday, 1 June 2020

To say that these are strange times is the understatement of the decade. Here in Wisbech, as elsewhere, Caliban’s words from The Tempest are telling:

The isle is full of noises, sounds, and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not. Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices ….”

Never have there been so many experts
, never before (in my lifetime, anyway) have there been so many conflicting opinions (of which, like arseholes, each of us has at least one); the scientists compete with each other with conflicting data, and the political activists on social media echo opinions which come closest to supporting their own beliefs.

I voted Conservative in December 2019, and will most likely do the same next time round. I joined the party (in spite of the local association) and will be renewing my membership when it comes due in August. That said, I am not going to stand up and say the government has played a blinder throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. I am certain that history will take the view that the lock-down should have happened earlier, and that allowing tens of thousands of overseas passengers to pour into the country via airports was a colossal mistake. The belated action to impose quarantine on arrivals is an act of monumental folly, if only because it is completely unenforceable. Even if a newly arrived visitor provides an authentic address, who is going to mount a fourteen day covert operation to make sure that he or she doesn’t leave it?

The government has been faced with an almost impossible task. The demands have been – to use the word of the decade – unprecedented. I missed the Second World War by just a few years, but I think the comparisons between wartime Britain (mostly used by commentators even younger than me) are unhelpful. No-one is dropping high explosives on our towns and cities. No-one’s father, brother or son has been called to arms and sent to fight in some far off desert or other foreign field. Fresh fruit, butter, plentiful meat and vegetables have not become a distant memory, while the most preposterous shortage of the year has been the farcical run (if you’ll pardon the word) on toilet paper.

The demands I speak of are those made on Boris Johnson’s government by a variety of disparate interest groups. Travel companies and airlines are now telling him that the quarantine rules will shatter their industry. Teaching unions are shouting that even a phased return to some kind of normality in schools in “too soon”. Small firms and traders (those that have survived) are desperate to be allowed to open their shops and businesses again, while strident voices (mostly of retired folk on social media) insist that we are all doomed, that things would have been so much better if we’d only had a woman leader, and that the whole rotten thing is actually the fault of Donald Trump.

I walked through Wisbech on Saturday last, for the frst time since early March. Food traders were there on the Market Place, and so were significant groups of people. Social distancing? Not a bit of it. Why they think it doesn’t apply to them, I have no idea. Herd immunity? I’d go with the “herd” bit, and I can only hope that none of them comes to any harm. On my reluctant daily walk, I saw groups of teenagers on the cricket field happily immersed in each other’s company. Statistically, they are probably safe enough, as Covid-19 has largely carried away the elderly and the otherwise physically infirm.

I can stay in lock-down for ever and a day, if needs be. I have a pension, access to support, and a fairly sedentary lifestyle. The people who simply cannot afford for this to go on for much longer are those who have to work for a living, those who have to feed and clothe children, and anxious couples wondering how to keep up mortgage and rent payments. I will be happy enough if the Angel of Death spares this particular septuagenarian, but if there is no life left in Wisbech and elsewhere for younger people to return to then, really, what is the point?

To close on a lighter note
, like many families and organisations, we have used Zoom to stay in touch with our children – in North Carolina, Hampshire, London and Wisbech and, quite rightly, those meetings were entirely private. A shining (if that is the right word) example of how ghastly such meetings can appear when made public was the unfortunate ‘Zooming’ of the Wisbech Town Council meeting called to celebrate the anointing of the new Mayor. It’s probably still up there on YouTube, and if you are a fan of what is known as “embarrassment comedy”, then you should seek it out. The link is here. Me, I watched in horror as it unfolded, but I have no need to return to it. As they say, some things once seen can never be unseen.

Saturday, 25 April 2020

My dire predictions about Covid-19 and its effect on Wisbech seem, touch wood, to have been overly pessimistic. As far as I can tell (from my limited view of the Harecroft Road playing fields as seen from my isolation unit window) the virus does not seem to have made its presence felt. I sincerely hope that, on this occasion at least, Wisbech's penchant for being at least ten years behind the rest of the UK is working in its favour.

The daily routine here is safe, predictable and undemanding. Eat, rest, play music, stroll in the garden, read books, order extravagant stuff over the internet - the days all pass by seamlessly, with one indistinguishable from the other. Further afield, though, we are clearly on the brink of becoming a very changed country. Just how the world we live in will look if and when we emerge from the bomb shelters is anyone's guess. Pubs, shops, restaurants, specialist suppliers - those that haven't been able to adapt to the lockdown - will all struggle to survive. The potential numbers of unemployed are simply horrific, and it looks as if the government are very soon going to have to make a 'rock-and-a-hard-place' decision about restoring some kind of normal life by actually putting lives at risk.

There cannot be anyone with an IQ above room temperature who doesn't recognise that China - or more specifically the Chinese Communist Party government - bears a grievous responsibility for the current crisis. Let's be charitable and take the view that this virus escaped from Wuhan province accidentally. There can be no charity, however, when we consider the fact that the government quickly realised that there was a problem, sealed off Wuhan from the rest of China, but kept the doors open between the province and the rest of the world, while keeping very quiet about what was happening.

Not that we have any reason to believe a word of what China says, but it seems that they have ruthlessly managed to heal themselves, while the rest of the world suffers. China - and I mean its dictatorship as opposed to inoffensive ordinary people - have for years had an ever-tightening grip on the West. You, me, the people next door, businesses, retailers - everyone - have engineered our own fate. We have made China obscenely rich by opting to buy cheaply made poor quality consumer goods. We have closed our own factories, abandoned any pretense at investing in our own industries - and bought Chinese.

And what does China do with this massive income? In a supreme act of irony, it doubles down on our weakness by buying us out - with what was once our own money. There is no aspect of our society - commercial, cultural, industrial and educational - that China has not bought its way into. If you think that this is a conspiracy too far, look no further than Wisbech itself. Get your petrol from the BP garage? China has a huge stake in that. Bank at Barclays? China has a £3bn investment. Like a bowl of Weetabix for breakfast? Thank its Chinese owners.

No-one has been immune to the lure of Chinese cash. In a poorly timed (given subsequent events) announcement, Wisbech Grammar School proudly boasted that it now enjoyed substantial investment from Chinese backers, and that this heralded a new golden dawn for the school. With parents having to pay fees for currently non-existent education, how will this pan out, I wonder? Two of my sons went to the school, and I have much affection for the place, but I can't help thinking that they may well live to rue the day that they took the thirty pieces of Chinese silver.

Friday, 27 March 2020

So far, in this national nightmare, Wisbech and the Fens seem to have benefited from something that is a hindrance in normal times. We are an insular and untrustworthy lot, and the outside world largely leaves us to our own devices (and vice-versa). The result is that we are on the lower end of the Covid-19 statistics, but I suggest that this is all about to change.

I write this sitting in my comfortable home, albeit going stir-crazy with the isolation from my family, but with access to television, radio and – for better or for worse – the endless stream of misinformation, rumour and daft theories carried by the internet. I can understand what I an hearing and seeing, even if I do not believe all of it. What, though, would it be like if I were living in, say, Sofia, with hardly a word of Bulgarian or Russian, and sharing a house with ten other people? Would I have the first idea what is going on? How would ‘social distancing’ work?

Yesterday, a delightful young chap, let’s call him Dimitri, sent me a text. He comes from Bratislava, and was a regular at my weekly English lessons at the Rosmini Centre. He asked me if the class was running that evening. Two weeks earlier, I had explained to the class, with the help of some Russian speakers, that we would have to stop the lessons for the time being, for the sake of everyone’s health. Now Dimitri, who is otherwise perfectly intelligent and capable, clearly had no idea of what is going on, due entirely to the language problem.

How many more Dimitris are out there, baffled by what is going on, still meeting up with their mates, still shaking hands and going about their normal business? I know the Rosmini Centre has done its best to spread the word, with staff sitting on the their phones, hoping to explain – in Lithuanian, Russian, Polish, Bulgarian or whatever – that these are serious times.

Social media tells me
that the town is still full of groups of immigrants, happily socialising and carrying on as if nothing untoward were happening. Who is taking responsibility for this? Are there any “community leaders” working to get the message out, in whatever language is needed, that the sky is about to fall in?

For years Wisbech landlords have crammed people into unsuitable accommodation while the £ signs whirr endlessly behind their eyelids, counting only the monthly rent receipts and not the cost in human misery. 'Chickens coming home to roost' is a bland expression. Chickens are silly, harmless creatures, but what is about to happen in Wisbech over the next couple of months is neither silly nor harmless. Pray to whichever God you believe in that I am wrong.

Friday, 20 March 2020

We are witnessing, here in Wisbech
, as elsewhere in the country, the worst outbreak of mass selfishness that I have seen in my lifetime. I voted enthusiastically for this government in December 2019, and it pains me to say that their laissez-faire attitude over the food supply crisis is a deplorable miscalculation. Supermarket shelves stripped bare, on-line ordering sites suspended, or mostly out of stock, and a crisis that is turning into a disaster.

The cynicism of the supermarkets and smaller retailers is astonishing. Their sales figures must be going through the roof and their profits reaching levels never previously dreamt of. They have simply sat on their hands, for the most part, and let customers buy whatever they want. Where they have tried to impose limits, they have been unable to control the disgusting individuals who have sent separate family members - sometimes children - into the shops with separate trolleys or baskets.

As for the generous offer from the supermarkets to have special 'Happy Hours' for the elderly and vulnerable - what a complete and utter sham! The elderly and vulnerable are self-isolating, or so we should hope, so how on God's earth are they to trot down to TESCO for an hour rubbing shoulders with other potential victims.

I sincerely hope that the government's lack of action is ignorance of how the real world operates, and not some horrific scheme to boost company profits and woo supermarket shareholders. There are isolated instances of individuals doing their best to help others, but the only possible conclusion to draw from the last ten days or so, is a stark one. It is, sadly this, that our society has become corrupt and is rotting from within, due to horrifying levels of selfishness, greed and malice.

What do I want to see? I want nothing less than some kind of martial law imposed by the government, and to hell with civil liberties and human rights. The supermarkets should be compelled to operate a rationing system, and if that involves some kind of massive registration of customers, then so be it. I want to see police and soldiers at checkouts, and I want the vermin who are causing this crisis to be under no illusion that they will be forced to comply, and if that means arrests and criminal charges, then bring it on.