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.

Monday, 3 February 2020

In Decline and Fall the acerbic Evelyn Waugh wrote of something common among 1920s undergraduates at Oxford and Cambridge, “the sound of English county families baying for broken glass.” I suspect modern university students don’t go in for this. They are much too busy no-platforming visiting academics, stamping out such cultural appropriation horrors as young men wearing sombreros at Mexican-themed entertainments, and tearing down statues of historical benefactors who don’t tick enough boxes on the ‘woke’ check list.

Here in Wisbech we have more than our fair share of broken glass – and wrecked public toilets, vandalised iron railings, broken-into castles and other nastiness. That our trail of destruction is caused by feral teenagers with ‘can’t be arsed’ parents and room-temperature IQ, rather than privileged young toffs, is neither here nor there. I believe that the Boys (and girls, or non-specific gendered individuals) In Blue have had “a strong word” with certain individuals. No doubt that “strong word”, whatever it was, will have been monitored by all manner of official agencies, including social workers, the Wisbech representative of Amnesty International and, for all I know, pensioned-off functionaries from South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. All present, to see fair play, of course, and to ensure that the youngsters on bikes were not having their human rights trampled on by the jackbooted members of Cambridgeshire Constabulary.

But I digress. Here in PE13 we have our own clamour, our very own cries in the night. Like King Lear, raging at fate on his desolate and wind-swept heath, voices are being raised against the proposal to build a waste incinerator on land situated within that verdant gem of architecture, wildlife and culture – the Algores Way industrial estate. Long-time observers of the Wisbech scene will know that we have two violently inimical factions in town. Imagine a face-off between Israel and Hamas or Sinn Fein and the DUP, and you will be getting close. Both parties have their own campaigns against the incinerator, and it’s every man for him or her self as they scrabble to take – and hold – the moral high ground.

But what of the issue itself, the chimney allegedly belching out carcinogenic particles, the relentless pounding of HGVs as they deliver the waste to the incinerator? First up, of course, it’s our waste, and that of thousands of other perfectly law-abiding families across this part of East Anglia. Most of us tinker around with recycling, and make the right noises about becoming greener-than-thou. Whose smartphone, tablet or desktop computer doesn’t, as its screensaver, use a picture of St Greta embracing St David Attenborough? I know mine does, but I use it alternate weeks with a touching collage of scorched koala bear images.

I vaguely remember a schooldays game called ‘No Haves’, where something (usually stolen from the butt of the joke) was passed around class at high speed because no-one wanted to be caught with it in their hands. This incinerator business is rather like that. We own the waste because we buy it, whether it’s food packaging or the intractable moulded plastic shells around almost any implement for workshop or kitchen. Of course we don’t want an incinerator in our backyard. We must fight tooth and nail to make sure that the project is foisted on some other unsuspecting community. Know your weapons, is the first rule of such protests. Schools nearby? Excellent – no one wants our Year 9 showered with tiny bits of God-knows-what. If the posionous miasma happens to descend on teenagers in, say, Spalding, Holbeach, or Downham Market, then it’s just bad luck – they should have invested in more banners, and had a more dynamic Facebook campaign.

Monday, 13 January 2020

A dear teacher friend, long since departed, used to sigh as he left the staff room, “I’m off once again, to cast artificial pearls before real swine.” We knew what he meant. Teenagers in the real world have always been genetically programmed to resist – at least initially – both learning and the advice of those older and perhaps wiser than themselves. In the 1950s and 1960s, especially in the selective schools like the one I attended, we still ‘played up’ weak or eccentric teachers. The threat of physical punishment, either officially with the cane, or more immediately via a clip round the ear or a glancing blow from a board duster, was ever present. More crushing, however, was some barbed comment from a sarcastic master who knew how to wound with words.

To move on to modern times, the process of turning teachers into entertainers has been a long and largely dishonorable one.Teachers as entertainers? Really? Sadly, by the time I left the profession in 2012, a successful lesson - at least in the eyes of those ultimate predators, the Great White Sharks of OFSTED – needed all the prerequisites of a successful stand-up comedian or Oscars host. There had to be pace, but not so fast as to baffle the handful of unfortunates wearing a ‘Special Needs’ placard round their neck. I exaggerate, of course. There was no Jewish yellow star, but they knew they were special because they had been told they were, and you knew they were special because you had to identify them in your lesson plans. So, pace was necessary. Tone of voice, eye contact, choreographed movement around the classroom – sorry, delete ‘classroom’, substitute ‘learning environment’ – were all boxes to be ticked. Subject knowledge? Well, perhaps, but not entirely essential, as engagement was everything. After all, pupils – whoops, students, oh shit, I meant learners – finding out things for themselves was the Green-Eyed Yellow Idol at whose feet all ambitious teachers worshipped.

So this has precisely what to do with Wisbech? There has been a recent spate of petty crime carried out by a group of teenagers the press and social media referred to as a ‘biker gang’. Now, I don’t know about you, but a in my language, a biker gang is a ferocious pack of hairy and tattooed individuals, their bodies bristling with piercings and bearing the scars of initiation ceremonies. They hurtle round the place on Harley Davidsons, necking back quarts of Jack Daniels, and sharing their leather-clad women with each other. The pathetic bunch who were pictured throwing plants about in Museum Square – and may be responsible for other acts of  vandalism in the town – are far from fearsome, but let me tell you what would happen to any citizen who dared tackle them face to face.

The most immediate response would be a volley of obscenities screamed in their as-yet-unbroken voices. Next, and this would not take very long, given the knee-jerk immediacy of Facebook and Instagram, the unfortunate person who chastised the lads would be named, shamed, and visited by a posse of furious mothers, usually accompanied by their current boyfriends and assorted wider family members and their unpleasantly aggressive dogs. Fathers? Don’t be silly – Dad, even if he could be identified, is probably far away and well out of it.

Assuming our unwise Wisbechian survives this onslaught with teeth and limbs intact, there will soon be a knock on the door, and hitherto hidden members of the Cambridgeshire Constabulary will be there to inform our citizen friend that his righteous anger at the pimply vandals was a serious criminal offence, and the Crown Prosecution Service are going hell-for-leather to avenge the momentary discomfort of the lads on their bikes who were merely expressing themselves by throwing clods of earth and painstakingly nurtured plants at each other.

I wrote about schools earlier in this piece. Long ago, when I was still at the chalkface, there was an initiative, probably dreamed up by a socialist academic at a minor university. The thrust of it was that we were letting our youngsters down because we were neglecting their self esteem. Naturally, the Self-Esteem myth was gobbled up by educationalists across the land, along with other bizarre schemes such as Christ-free Christmases, teachers basically replacing parents, gender-neutral toilets, the banning of red ink used in marking books, children sitting on interview panels for new teachers and sports days where no-one was actually allowed to win races.


I suspect that the Acne Avengers who  wrecked floral displays, vandalised The Castle and made malicious 999 calls have all had their own self-esteem boosted continually since they were out of nappies. They have been told that they are special, and that doing whatever they want to do, irrespective of its effect on others, is their God-given right, and is part of their creative self expression. They – and their disfunctional families – will know their rights down to the last semi-colon; they will, however, be unable either to pronounce or understand the slightly more important word – responsibilities. The worst part of this sorry saga? Recently, voters in this country opted for a change; they wanted independence, the recognition of hard work, a country where energy, determination and integrity was rewarded, and a return to fair but vigorous treatment of people who were antisocial, destructive and self-obsessed. Faced with this, the entire criminal justice, social care and educational establishments are heading off at 90 mph – in the opposite direction. Spare a thought, however, for the devastated and heartbroken Wisbech families who suffered the full might of The Law, when they were given. "strong words of advice." Sometimes, you genuinely couldn't make it up.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

We are finally here! We have made it! The great day has arrived – it’s January 1st 2020 and at last the Great 2020 Vision is here. It’s real, and we can reach out and touch it! Remember how it started?
“The Wisbech 2020 Vision was announced in 2012. Its aim is to regenerate the town and its surrounding area - making it "a great place to work, live and visit."

There were lofty ambitions:

  • Agreeing a deal with a local developer to re-start the Nene Waterfront scheme (2013)
  • Becoming part of the national Healthy High Streets programme (2014)
  • Approval of £300million investment for A47 improvements, including the Guyhirn Roundabout (2014)
  • Constantine House being made wind and weather-proof (2015)
  • Receipt of a £2million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to improve buildings on Wisbech High Street
  • A successful devolution deal, resulting in the launch of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority
  • £6.5 million towards a feasibility study of a Wisbech Garden Town which could deliver 8,000-10,000 new homes, better transport links, jobs and improved educational facilities
  • £10.5 million towards Wisbech transport improvements.

What happened? The Nene Waterfront Scheme? A busy marina, bustling with energy, boating traffic, cafés, Wisbech open for business and saying a big “hello’ to the world? Not exactly. The Boathouse. Over-priced and under-used. That’s it, and that’s all.

The Healthy High Streets programme? My goodness, that worked wonders, didn’t it? Along with the £2million grant that went straight into the pockets of consultants. The only thing that has changed is the window display in Evisons. No, I’m only joking – I love the shop, but it’s still 1957.

The A47? Wow what a difference that has made! And as for the refurbished roundabout at Guyhirn, how did we ever get by in the old days?

Constantine House?
A result of sorts, but not through any effort by the 2020 Vision luminaries. The building was eventually re-roofed and made watertight, largely as a result of pressure from Mike & Viginia Bucknor, with help from an active social media campaign. Other members of the Town Council did nothing other than rubbish the efforts to make the building less of an eyesore.

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority
. Now that really has made a difference. There can’t be a man woman or child in Wisbech who goes to sleep at night without whispering a silent prayer to Mayor James Palmer and his tireless work to make Wisbech a better, safer and more prosperous town.

The Garden Town? Again, another £6.5 million of taxpayers’ money diverted into the offshore bank account of Messrs Bluff, Spynne and De Ceeve – that well-known firm of consultants and creators of fatuous feasibility studies.

Wondering why Bluff, Spynne and De Ceeve have an offshore tax-free account? Simple – the further payment of £10.5 million to ‘improve Wisbech transport infrastructure’ pushed them into the top tax bracket, so what else could they do?

Let’s cut the satire and be plain. The High Street is the same mess it always was. Transport links are on a par with rural Albania. The town centre is fine if all you want is a cup of coffee, a new ‘phone or a scratch ‘n’ sniff fully immersive experience of street drinking, urination and defecation. In short, eight years of committees, pledges, consultations and visions have produced precisely this, expressed perfectly as a mathematical fraction:

What a bitter contrast there is between the national mood and the state of play here in The Fens! I am delighted that we now have a proper government that can actually govern, and a Prime Minister with energy and ideas. But in Wisbech? Not so much. At county, district and town level we have apathy, complacency and a parnem et circenses approach which seeks to bamboozle the public by pushing one or two expensive vanity projects at the expense of genuine dynamism and change. What we are being offered is elaborate icing - on a cake which is made of sawdust.

Friday, 20 December 2019

The dust settles in British politics after Boris Johnson’s triumph, and the opposition parties are left to lick their wounds. In Wisbech, however, it might as well never have happened. There was no dust kicked up, no furious debate, no hustings, and no change. Did the election even happen? Well it did for me as I waded through sludge and puddles to the tradesman’s entrance of the Cricket Pavilion and put my mark against Steve Barclay’s name. As a card carrying member of his party, I could hardly do anything else. I joined up because of my admiration for Johnson’s scoundrel persona, his ‘f**k you’ attitude and his promise to finally get us out of the EU.

My bemusement at Wisbech politics starts and ends with the complete indifference to opposition parties in this area. Much as Mike and Ginny Bucknor worked their hearts and souls out while they were councillors, in the teeth of quite appalling treatment from the local Politburo, it has become obvious since ill health forced them to stand down that they were dyed-in-the-wool socialists all along, and their ‘Independent’ status was  rather sensible – if slightly devious – playing with words.

Viewed from a distance, Wisbech would initially seem to be a natural Labour heartland. Social deprivation, barely adequate schools, non-existent transport links and a growing sense that the decaying town centre is a nothing but a magnet for feral teenagers, out of work migrants and other casualties of our ruinous association with the EU. What do we get as a Labour parliamentary candidate? A random lady barrister, probably with a social conscience, parachuted in to take one for the team. The fact that ‘The Team’ was the worst Labour Party in my memory (and I am 73 next year) only partly explains why the Labour candidate’s attempt to win the seat was so risible.

Yes, Corbyn was an elderly Marxist with a dreadful record of hatred for his country and a determination to stand alongside any rag-tag-and-bobtail terrorist group who would grant him a photo opportunity. Yes, his future Home Secretary was a rather sad woman promoted way, way above her ability on the grounds of race and gender. Yes, his Chancellor was an envy ridden, malicious and devious Communist determined to avenge himself on those he thought to be too, rich, too successful, too clever. But still, the ghosts of a long-gone Labour Party, who put ordinary people before rhetoric, must have been gazing down in bemusement from The Other Place.

If Labour supporters really want to grab Wisbech people by the throat and make them think, then I suggest a couple of tactics that might just work.

Stop worshipping at the altar of unlimited immigration. In Wisbech, it has worked for factory bosses, unscrupulous landlords, employment agencies and criminal gangs. The downside, for the mythical Joe and Joanne Bloggs, has been the curse of street drinking and its insanitary by-products, huge pressure on public servicesand social housing blackspots.
Make a decision to stop fawning over the manufactured social outrage of a well paid coterie of London journalists, talking heads like Owen Jones, Jasmin Alibhai Brown, Paul Mason and their entourage of soy latte social justice warriors. They don’t care about Wisbech, so don’t link to them on your social media page and imagine that anyone here is going to be impressed or persuaded.

Every single one of us should take a long hard look at local politicians and how they operate. Ask questions. What do you do for your ward? Aside from bigging up your CV, what small and unglamorous fixes have you provided for  people who have sought your help? What do you intend to do about our poor schools, declining public safety, shabby town centre and broken transport links?

Will anything change? No, of course it won’t. Only some seismic event – maybe a huge public scandal, or a wayward meteor striking the council chamber during a meeting – will have any effect. My Christmas thought, for what it is worth, is that while Britain prospers under the boisterous but benevolent Boris, Wisbech will continue to sink inexorably back into the primeval slime whence it came. 

Happy Christmas!

Saturday, 30 November 2019

WHAT A STRANGE THING TECHNOLOGY IS - This blog has been dead for over three years, and when I tried to give it the kiss of life a few months ago, it rejected my reviving breath. Eventually, because I was previously using the wrong combination of log-in details and passwords, I have manged to get back in.

IMAGINE A COMATOSE HOSPITAL PATIENT waking up after three years. Does he find the world hugely different? The last time I wrote, David Cameron had resigned in the wake of the June 2016 referendum, and his party were scrabbling around for a new leader. More of that a little later, but had the Sleeping Blogger awoken in Wisbech, the first blinks of his eyes would reveal that little has changed, at least nothing for the better.

takes his first hesitant steps into the town. What does he find? A rejuvenated, bustling High Street, with its 'missing teeth' replaced with sparkling new buildings? Sadly not. The teeth are still missing, and many thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money has been trousered by consultants and facilitators with naught to show but a few implausible designs in an online brochure.

A RE-INVIGORATED MARKET PLACE, bustling with stalls, and lined with pleasant shops offering beautiful commercial opportunities? Woe, woe and thrice woe. The flagship retail experience of Wisbech remains firmly in the hands of pound shops. At this time of year, those with psychic powers can see the faint pahantoms of Christmas customers queuing outside Franks, formerly the best butcher's shop in the area. The Ghosts of Christmas Past wait in vain for their pork pies, haslet, ham, succulent sausages and other more esoteric (and acquired) porky tastes.

A WALK ALONG NORFOLK STREET is a depressing affair. Despite boasting three of the best shops in the town, Anglia Locksmiths - with the unrivaled expertise of its staff and great value, the Post Office - run by two of the friendliest folk in town, and Wisbech Music Centre - with the ever friendly and expert Carmine at your service, the street is shabby, litter strewn, home to fly-by-night hair-cutters, body-piercers and skin-inkers and poky European grocers. The progress of our former coma victim, as he inches his way along the pavement, is watched over by groups of smokers, huddled in shop doorways, making the thoroughfare as enticing as a slug crawling across a birthday cake.

AS LAZARUS REGAINS HIS STRENGTH he might be tempted to investigate Wisbech politics. That, above all other things, must have changed, surely? In tiny ways, perhaps. Those indefatigable campaigners for their constituents, Mike and Virginia Bucknor, have left the battlefield. Defeated perhaps by a combination of ill health and persistent animosity, they have called it a day. Virginia, though, has now revealed that she is a fearsome Socialist, despite her long held Independent banner.
, firmly in control, reputations undiminished by allegations, shining armour untarnished by the acid of criticism, relentlessly confident and charismatic are two people who ............ at this point I must stop. No names, no Pack Drill. Anonymity rules are not to be waived. Frustrated by the relentless assault on my decision (and that of millions of others) to leave the EU, and boosted by the arrival of Boris Johnson as Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister I joined that party. I have not regretted that decision for one second, and I hope that in the cold and frosty dawn of 13th December I will wake up to the news that Boris has won a working majority.

MY REQUEST TO BECOME A CONSERVATIVE PARTY MEMBER was challenged, inevitably, by the local hierarchy who, not without reason given my views on their antics, wondered why I wanted to be, as it were, shipmates. I replied that my request was in support of Johnson, and that I would not involve myself in any way with the local party, and that is that.