Thursday, 27 December 2012

AS THE OLD YEAR DIES, here is Pickwick's Almanac for 2013.
JANUARY: History is made as WOD Mod triumphs in FDC by-election. She reprises Thatcher's 1979 'St Francis of Assisi' speech on the steps of No 10 (Cafe)
FEBRUARY: Fenland newspaper editor ignores verified appearance of Jesus in Emneth, catastrophic earthquake in Walsoken, and 70+ virgin births in Leverington, for latest 'Supermarketgate' rumours.
MARCH: Latest version of scorching erotic best-seller is renamed 'Twenty Five Shades of Tholomas Drove' due to savage budget cuts.
APRIL: Jesus forgives local editor, and establishes office in Nene Parade. Wisbech Standard still leads with rumours about Whittlesey corner shop.
MAY: The civilised world applauds FDC's commitment to Libertarian thinking, as Wisbech Cat Refuge is awarded 24/7 booze license.
JUNE: Filming of 'Five Shades of Friday Bridge" moved from Dogging Park to New Bell Yard after FDC imposes 475% tax on all creative activity.
JULY: Evisons granted booze license by FDC. Crowds flock to buy bottles of 'Double Diamond' and pints of  Watney's 'Red Barrel'
AUGUST: Cambs County Council caves in to pressure from WIN activists, and, overnight, installs dual carriageway along Tinkers Drove, between Lynn Road and St Michael's Avenue.
SEPTEMBER: After £4 million grant, derelict shopfronts on High Street are repainted to resemble a Lithuanian market. " A triumph for our commitment to the EU", says Tory spokesperson.
OCTOBER: Wisbech 20/20 Vision applies for free eye-test at Specsavers. Gets free frames and milk-bottle lenses.
NOVEMBER: The sexual blockbuster, 'One Shade Of Ollard Avenue' is finally screened at Three Holes Village Hall. after a delay due to the search for an adaptor for a round-pin plug.
DECEMBER: After snap local elections, all local councillors returned safely to office with average 312% majorities, after record 17% turnout.  

Wednesday, 19 December 2012


Much has been written, on this blog and elsewhere, about the vexed question of immigration. Some of the comment has been informed and reasonable, some of it less so, but it is rarely less than impassioned. One cold hard fact is not up for discussion. Thinks are not going to change, certainly in the foreseeable future. There is a queue of countries from The Balkans and further afield waiting to join the EU, and unless Britain leaves the Community or radically renegotiates the clause that gives people from member states the right to settle, then there will continue to waves of migrants looking to settle here, attracted by tales of comfortable state benefits, free healthcare and education and good employment prospects.

Regular readers of these pages will have read much criticism and friendly lampooning of our various local authorities and their sometimes accident prone elected members, but they can do absolutely nothing about who comes to Wisbech looking for a new life and the crock of gold at the foot of the rainbow. The inability or reluctance of the police to tell us what percentage of recorded crime is committed by immigrants makes for frequent and lurid speculation. We no longer have a magistrates' court, and understandably local journalists do not cover court proceedings in Lynn and Peterborough, so the once weekly round-up of minor offences in the paper is no more. It wasn't scientific, but at least it used to give some idea of who was doing what to whom.

My perception - and it is just that, a personal view - is that in Wisbech it is easy to jump to false conclusions about what immigration has brought to the town. The biggest impact on how we feel about it is caused by;
(1) A very visible minority of adult males who are jobless, and living in multi-occupancy housing.
(2) They are usually tipped out onto the street in the morning, and do not return again until the evening.
(3) There is a strong street drinking culture which impacts heavily in the town.
(4) Alcohol is cheap and readily available.
(5) Police do their best to combat this, but struggle for time and resources.

There is a national political debate about integration and language skills, and this mines into very deeply felt views which are often expressed with anger. Public services pay out huge sums annually for interpreter services, and still provide multi-lingual signage. The sheer numbers of migrants in Wisbech means there is little incentive for many adults to learn English, as they can get along perfectly well in their own language. There are two rays of sunshine in what appears to be a bleak picture. Firstly, as children of migrant parents grow up and go to school, they quickly become good speakers of English. If we are looking at the very long term, then their generation, as they become adults, will become completely integrated. Secondly, there is a minority among the adult migrant community who are very keen to learn English, and it is my experience of this group which I want to describe in the rest of this blog.

Since finishing a lifetime's work in education, I have been lucky enough to become involved as a volunteer at The Rosmini Centre. The Centre works in many ways providing services to both the migrant community and English residents. At the extreme end, there try to feed the homeless, and provide free legal and translation services, along with advice about health and financial matters. I have been at the 'happy' end of things, running guitar classes for youngsters, and sharing the a two-hour English class on a Thursday night. After years of hard struggle in schools trying to persuade reluctant teenagers that learning is a good thing, it has been a breath of fresh air to work with adults who, despite daily lives of drudgery in local fields and factories, turn out for two hours on a Thursday night, sometimes walking long distances to get there. The range of nationalities has been amazing, including folk from Bulgaria, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Slovakia and Spain.

Last week we had our Christmas Party, and it was a memorable occasion. I had prepared English food, but was overwhelmed by the number of people who brought in food and drink from their own countries. Wearing my other hat, we had live music from two of my guitar pupils, a girl from Latvia, and one from Lithuania. They have been playing for less than a year, but are both extremely gifted musicians. They played and song solos, and then we finished off by tacking the class "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" - in English, of course! The class starts again on Thursday January 10th, 2013.

Inge organises some Lithuanian delicacies

Mike is persuaded to try some fiery Lithuanian spirit
Julija and Diana

We Wish You A Merry Christmas

The Class - July 2012


Tuesday, 13 November 2012

WIN (Wisbech Infrastructure Now) is a non-partisan community campaign group, which is arguing the case for Wisbech to have a fair share of development and regeneration funds from the District and County Councils.

The campaign is supported by local business people, serving councillors, concerned residents, and The Fenland Citizen.

At a recent forum and workshop session as part of Wisbech 2020, many people attending were dismayed by the apparent absence of concern from Fenland Council about the derelict state of important buildings in the town, and from the County Council regarding the poor transport infrastructure in the immediate area.

WIN does not seek special treatment, just a fair share for Wisbech. If you wish to sign up for this campaign, or find out more about WIN, you can go these internet sites:
on Twitter @wisbechnow
on Facebook at the WisbechNow page

Or you can pick up a leaflet from the following places in town:
The Oasis Centre
The Rosmini Centre
Any shops or businesses displaying this poster 


Monday, 12 November 2012

A SHORT AND SHAMELESS PLUG  for another excellent Wisbech shop 'discovered'. I must have walked past it hundreds of times, but have never had cause to go inside 'Fancy Fayre' on High Street. My watch having died on me last night, I thought I would go and see if it was a dead battery. A lovely lady served me, made me laugh and had a winning smile that would melt a polar ice-cap. Oh, yes, and she also fixed my watch. All this for the princely sum of £3.50. Some things are just too good to keep to yourself! SUPPORT QUALITY LOCAL SHOPS AND SERVICES!! 

Sunday, 11 November 2012


On a day when the nation remembers its dead, it is appropriate to think once more about Wisbech and what was to be 'the war to end wars' - The Great War. Earlier blog posts looked in particular detail at men from the Wisbech area who died in the war, such as Eric Gardiner and James Cole. We looked at the eventful war of March hero, Harry Betts, and reflected with sadness on the many young men from Barton School who lost their lives. Today's post is rather more random, but hopefully still relevant.

The War Memorial itself was officially dedicated  on July 24th 1921. Crowds lined the streets, and family members of the fallen grieved again, before trying to get on with their lives in the harsh economic climate of post-war England.

Crowds little smaller had turned out six years earlier to pay their respects to Wisbech's first war victim - young Daniel 'Dick' Walker, who had been wounded in Flanders, sent home, but died of his wounds on May 13th, 1915. He was interred with full civic honours in the town cemetery, where his grave can still be seen.

Another well-known local name was William Burall, a member of the Burall family who until recently were businessmen in the town. He was a despatch rider, and was killed near Arras in August 1918.

It is right and proper that Remembrance Sunday focuses on those who died, but it is important to remember that many men survived the war and came back to Wisbech to try to resume their lives.
The last known survivor of the wartime Cambridgeshire Regiment lived out his final years in a Wisbech nursing home. I had the pleasure of meeting George White on several occasions, and in March 2000 he was awarded the Legion d'Honneur by the French Government.
Another survivor was Bill Matthews. Years ago, his son lent me his father's diaries and a collection of photographs. Bill, like so many young men locally, joined the Cambridgeshire Regiment. He was a member of 14 Platoon, pictured here 'somewhere in France'. Bill (inset) is on the far left of the back row.
Bill's diaries are an insight into the day to day world of a Great War infantryman - described elsewhere as boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. He rarely waxes lyrical, but has a Fenman's wry views on those in authority. In one of his earlier entries he describes The Cambridgeshire's nastiest encounter of 1915 - at a place called Fosse Wood, near Ypres, on May 5th. Dick Walker, mentioned earlier, was a casualty of this attack, as was Percy Kitchen. Percy died at home, and was buried in the Leverington Road cemetery, but his grave is now lost. 
Bill was injured just before what many consider to be The Cambridgeshire's finest hour in the war - the attack on the formidable Schwaben Redoubt in October 1917. His diaries end in late December 1916, and his son believes that he may have returned to action in 1917, but may have been gassed at Passchendaele, and finally invalided home. Bill married his childhood sweetheart, Annie, and went on to have a successful career in horticulture.
My favourite photograph of the collection is of Bill taking his son, resplendent in Wisbech Grammar School uniform, on a trip to France to retrace his steps. 
What memories this trip must have re-awakened, one can only imagine, and I remember the beautiful lines from a poem written before the war, but so, so appropriate, by Geoffrey Winthrop Young.

"There will be voices whispering down these ways,
The while one wanderer is left to hear,
And the young life and laughter of old days,
Shall make undying echoes."

Some years ago I put Bill's diaries, along with the stories of Eric Gardiner and James Cole, into a book called 'Three Men Went To War' It was self published, and I no longer have copies for sale, but there are copies in local libraries.


Thursday, 8 November 2012

SORRY, BUT THIS JUST CAME THROUGH THE DOOR - It was too good to resist!  

Friday, 2 November 2012

BREAKING NEWS! I am able, under The Freedom of Information Act, to publish the full text of the replies I have received from Fenland District Council, and my FDC councillor, about the thorny issue of the derelict Constantine House. I posted the letters nearly two weeks ago. Fenland District Council were very forthright..

  My councillor was equally eloquent, and I fully respect his views. He replied ...

Now, either my first-class stamps were cunning forgeries, and the letters were undelivered, or....STOP IT....STOP IT ! 


Sunday, 28 October 2012

 A WEEK HAS PASSED since this blog tried to raise local awareness about the apparent helplessness of Fenland District Council in the matter of The Belfast Bombsite, a.k.a. Constantine House, Wisbech's foremost architectural gem. As the cold rain slants down through the shattered roof of this eyesore, I can report only limited success.

Over one hundred people have signed the online petition, and this will be printed off and sent to FDC soon. I expect it will elicit the same response as my letters have done. I wrote one to my ward Councillor, David Oliver, and another to the planning and buildings section at FDC. I have received neither reply nor acknowledgement. I posted a link to this campaign on the Shape Your Place website. A local lady endorsed it, and then her comment was met with a long, defensive and rambling reply from a local politician who is not on FDC, but no doubt knows all the right ears to 'bend'.

Another local politician, who is a Town and County councillor supported the petition, but cautioned against taking the campaign to a wider audience on the grounds that Wisbech didn't need any more bad publicity.

Rob Setchell, a local journalist, gave us a supportive report on his paper's web-page. Later in the week, that same paper made quite a splash of the fact that the enigmatic Councillor Simon King had asked several probing questions about the state of some of the town's derelict buildings.

Then, in one of my many idle moments (as my regular readers know, I spend my days in my luxury penthouse, supported in my old age by my disgracefully lavish public service pension) I wrote a semi-serious song about the problem, and put it together as a video, with images of the town. 

This caused a few wry smiles, but clearly upset one very articulate critic who put his (I make a gender judgment) finger on the very nub of the problem. Read his comment, and you will see that it is NOT the absentee landlord, NOT the bafflingly incompetent District Council and NOT the complacent, majority-guaranteed local councillors who are responsible for the mess. No. no, no, a thousand times NO! It is me! I am part of the problem! Clearly, were I to stop complaining about things, they would magically right themselves overnight. 

I was about to launch a brilliantly satirical riposte, but I checked out this person's YouTube profile and video preferences. When I saw that he/she is worryingly fond of videos of glisteningly oiled, steroid-pumped bodybuilders, my fingers poised over the nosy keys. What if this malevolent monster should muscle their way round to my gated condominium and force their way past the security guards, and do me to death as I lay in my revolving airbed? Clearly, this is NOT someone to be trifled with. He (or she) is utterly and completely right. Argument won, debate decided. I retire from the field, warmed by the comforting knowledge that when I awake, and the ivory-skinned virgins (shipped in from Chatteris) have done my bidding, I will gaze out of the bay window of Nene Villas to see Constantine House restored, weatherproof and vibrantly part of Wisbech once more.

I end tonight's diatribe with proof (if any were needed) that our elected representatives take the town seriously, and will not rest until the town has been restored to its 12th century splendour.

Friday, 19 October 2012

LET'S MAKE IT LOCAL! Our next move to try to shake someone into life over the Belfast Bombsite is to contact our Wisbech FDC Councillors. Before anyone jumps in and compares this with today's story about BNP leader Nick Griffin Tweeting the address of the gay couple who won their discrimination claim against Christian B&B owners, this is different. All the names and contact details of FDC Councillors are on the FDC website, so they are very much in the public domain. Also, we are not suggesting any kind of protest - just polite letters asking them for their opinions and what, if anything, they are prepared to do to help.
FIRSTLY, FIND OUT WHO YOUR FDC Councillor is. You may already know, but but thanks to Sam Hoy, who pointed me at this excellent website. Simply put in your postcode, and it will give you the name of your Councillor. Link is here:

HERE ARE THE ADDRESSES: I have included one Councillor who lives in town, but actually represents a group of surrounding villages.

Clarkson Ward is Carol Cox 33 Bowthorpe Road, Wisbech, Cambs, PE13 2DX

Kirkgate Ward is David Patrick - 12 Limes Avenue, Elm, Wisbech, Cambs PE14 0BS

Medworth Ward is Jonathan Farmer 18 South Brink, Wisbech, Cambs, PE13 1JQ

Peckover Ward is David Oliver - 39 West Parade, Wisbech, Cambs, PE13 1QB

Waterlees Ward are Virginia Bucknor and Michael Bucknor 11 St Martins Road, Wisbech, Cambs, PE13 3EX and

Roman Bank Ward is Phil Hatton - The Paddocks, Barton Road, Wisbech, Cambs PE13 4TL

Staithe Ward is  David Hodgson - Whitehaven, 141 Elm Low Road, Wisbech, Cambs, PE14 0DF

Hill Ward is Simon King - 27 North Brink, Wisbech, Cambs, PE13 1JR

Hill Ward is Bruce Wegg - 34 Colvile Road, Wisbech, Cambs, PE13 2ET

MANY PEOPLE WILL WANT TO WRITE THEIR OWN LETTERS. However if you are pushed for time, then here is one that you can highlight, copy and paste. It will work equally well as snailmail or email.

xxxxxxx (your address)

Dear Councillor xxxxxxxxx,
As a Fenland District Councillor, and someone who lives in the town, you will be well aware that the former Belfast building has been empty and derelict since the fire over two years ago. I am writing as one of your constituents, but also as someone who sees the building nearly every day. I think it is a great shame that visitors to the town, as well as residents, have to live alongside this eyesore.

Some of us have got together to try to persuade the authorities to do something about the situation. I would be interested to hear your answers to these questions.
(1) We have an online petition, which can be found at Would you be prepared to sign this to show your support?
(2) What has been done already to move this matter forward, and what are the Council’s plans for the next six months?
(3) Compulsory Purchase powers are available to the Council when it is considered to be “in the public interest” What are your views on this?

I hope you will take this matter seriously. I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

 (signed and dated)

PLEASE KEEP THIS CAMPAIGN ON THE ROAD! I strongly suspect that at the moment, the advantage lies with the inertia of our Council. We need to change that. Copies of any replies you get would be appreciated. Contact me at

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

THERE IS GROWING LOCAL DISCONTENT about Wisbech becoming a poor relation in Fenland, with all the attention and positive activity being centred on March. A particular focus of people's anger is the continued inactivity over the wrecked former Belfast building. There is an online where you can sign up to register your complaint. The link is here:

Simply click the 'sign' tab. You will be asked to leave an email address, and a comment.

IF YOU HAVE EMAIL ACCESS then how about contacting Fenland District Council, and asking them just what they are doing about the building? The link is HERE

ALTERNATIVELY you can write a letter to FDC. Their address is below:
(Planning and Building)
Fenland Hall, 
County Road, 
Cambridgeshire PE15 8NQ 

Here are some simple letters which you can highlight, then copy and paste into a Word document on your computer

xxxxxxxxxx (your address)

Fenland District Council,
(Building and Planning)
Fenland Hall,
County Road,
March PE15 8NQ

Dear Sir/Madam, I am writing to ask what is being done about the derelict former Belfast building in Wisbech. This is one of the first things visitors see when they come to the town. I strongly feel that Wisbech is a poor cousin in Fenland when it comes to working on our heritage and keeping the town looking good. I would be grateful for a reply telling me what efforts have been made to contact the owner of the premises, and what pressure has been brought to bear on them to make good the damage, or to return the building to proper use.

With best wishes,

 xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx (signed and dated)

Or try this one 

Your address

Fenland District Council,
(Building and Planning)
Fenland Hall,
County Road,
March PE15 8NQ

 Dear Sir/Madam,

I am a resident of Wisbech, and am writing to ask for information about what is happening in regard to the derelict former Belfast building in town. It is an age since it was burned out, and it has become the most prominent eyesore in Wisbech. I have several questions for you. Firstly, what efforts have been made to locate the owner of the building? Secondly, if the owner has been located, what legal pressure is being brought bear on them to either repair or sell the building? Thirdly, if the owner has not been traced, how much longer does FDC intend to wait before it exercises its statutory powers?

 Wisbech has a reputation of being the poor relation in Fenland, and the continued inactivity over this building just reinforces the perception. I await your reply.

With best wishes,

xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx (signed and dated)

Or this one...

Your address

Fenland District Council, 
(Building and Planning)
Fenland Hall,
County Road,
March PE15 8NQ

Dear Sir/Madam,

I live near Wisbech and visit the town regularly. I also pay Council Tax to Fenland District Council. I am completely fed up with the current state of what used to be the Belfast building. This fire which destroyed much of the building happened in March 2010. Now, over two years later, residents are still none the wiser about what, if anything has been done. It is a complete eyesore which must create a bad impression to anyone who is visting the town.

I understand that local authorities have Compulsory Purchase Order powers which can be used ‘when it is in the public interest to do so’ Could you please tell me what measures FDC have taken to deal with this matter, and what future plans are?

With best wishes,

xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx (signed and dated)

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

BACK TO THE FEN - Conclusion
Helen was in hospital for weeks after the accident and her schooling was set back the best part of a year. She never got over an irrational sense of guilt regarding Susan’s death, and suffered nightmares and flashbacks for years afterwards. She became a much more subdued person, staying in nights working for her A-Levels with a view to studying medicine; her way out. She married a young doctor she met whilst at Durham University. She was the only one of our crowd who got away and stayed away; she never came back, except for her father’s funeral.

Andy never got over losing Helen; as so often, we take what we’ve got for granted, and only realise what we had once we’ve lost it for ever. He spent more and more time in the pub, between spells in and out of work in a rapid career descent from Barclay’s Bank in Peterborough to door-to-door insurance salesman in Lynn to garage mechanic in Denver to odd-job man back home in Christchurch. Andy was killed in a motor accident shortly after his 23rd birthday, when his car went off the Ramsey Forty-Foot road in the middle of the afternoon; no other vehicle was involved, but none of us was greatly surprised.

The Friday night dances were a cruel lesson in the realities of life and about where you stood in the pecking-order. Lads fought and competed over the lovely Helen Atkins, who wanted no-one but Andy, who in turn was inseparable from his drinking-mates down at the Seven Stars. Nice, plain-faced girls went home alone while the local lads drank themselves into a coma or got into fights with lads from neighbouring villages and towns. Nobody got what they wanted. As youngsters, we aimed high, stars in our eyes. Most of us learned to lower our sights and settled for the kind of life that was available to the likes of us, something on our level, somebody of our own class. We spent our salad days chasing rainbows, in pursuit of the lovely Helen, or others like her; but we mostly ended up marrying and settling down with one of those plump, plain-faced local girls, for better or worse. Some of us went away for a time, but we all came back sooner or later, because here is where we belong.

The back road between the Old and New Bedford rivers, my road home, is on a slightly lower level than the surrounding fields and water-meadows. Floodwater begins to spill off the fields and starts to trickle over the lowest section of the road ahead. Time to be getting back. This is what it will feel like when the world ends. This is what it will feel like for the last man left alive, as tidal waves cascade over the last remaining hillock of dry land.

Walking back in the near-darkness, I feel a sense of awe at the force and power of the huge expanse of water pressing up against the roadside; then sudden fear as it starts to pour through the grass verges on to the road in front of me. Each winter, the black water and the slimy fish-things try to reclaim the Fens; the really major floodings which used to occur every couple of decades now occur almost annually. There is a distant rhythmic swooshing noise as a skein of Brent geese come flying straight at me, returning to their favoured waterbank. I am invisible to them and they go slicing past, ten or so feet above me. I trudge along the grass verge as the road surface disappears beneath the water. I had thought the water to be static, but it is, in fact, flowing quite fast through the gaps in the verge and it is a real effort to splash through it. This is the worst part, the lowest dip in the road, midway between the two bridges. I should have come back earlier – ten or fifteen minutes would have made all the difference. I am having to make a conscious effort not to panic. The gaps in the verge are wider here and I have to leap over fast-running water. I am terrified that I might slip and fall into the swirling, inky blackness. I have an atavistic horror of the loathsome fish-things lying in wait down there, all pop-eyes and fins and teeth. I suddenly hear myself praying.

But the worst is behind me now. The road rises steeply to the bridge across the Old River and the lights of the Lamb & Flag. So good to see the road surface again, and to feel dry land under my boots. Safe on the bridge, I look back at the opaque watery blackness and shiver. I escaped, this time. But I know I will go back to the fen, and will keep going back, until such time as I escape no longer.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

BACK TO THE FEN (part two)

by Alex Mitchell

Funny how Dame Nature only seems to get it right about one time out of twenty. Most of us look like an experiment gone wrong. All we lads yearned hopelessly after the lovely Helen Atkins, the only daughter of Big Jack Atkins and way out of our class in looks, brains, social background, the lot; and ignored, at least until the end of the evening, the pairs of other girls dancing disconsolately around their handbags, there for the taking. The lovely Helen, for her part, had eyes only for my best mate, Andy Southwell. It’s strange how all the beautiful, talented people like Helen and Andy pick each other out of the crowd, as if by long distance radar, and how invisible the rest of us, we ordinary mortals, seem to be to them, as if we just didn’t exist. Funny how each up-and-coming generation thinks they’re the first to discover this particular game, that they’ve invented their own set of rules, when the game and the rules have always been much the same.

Andy liked his beer and the snooker table down at the Seven Stars even more than he liked spending time with Helen. For a time, Helen pretended to like the pub too, so that she and Andy could be together more of the time. After a while she got tired of being the only girl there, and would go and sit in the van by herself and wait for Andy to come out to her, which usually took until after closing time.

The Friday night in question, the four of us – Andy, me, Helen and her friend Susan, were at the dance in March. Susan and I had been sort of pushed in each other’s direction by Helen, and were still making up our minds about each other. She was nice enough, I suppose, but she was never going to be “the one”. Looking back, I wonder if I knocked about with Andy mainly so as to be near Helen. I liked neither the darts-and-snooker milieu of the Seven Stars, nor the fizzy keg beer of the period, but I thought it must be me who was out of step. Whatever the case, none of it did me any good at all. It wasn’t until much later that I finally gave up pretending to be one of the good ol’ boys.

Andy and I were up at the bar as usual, while Helen and Susan were in the dance hall itself. The worst thing about these dances was that, sooner or later, the lads from March would pick a fight with the lads from Guyhirn or wherever, usually on the pretext that somebody had tried it on with their girlfriend or sister or whatever. Lads were always trying to get off with Helen, and would then fall out on Andy or me in a fit of jealous resentment. I noticed two or three groups from previous encounters. The atmosphere was tense, threatening. It was time to exit the premises.

Andy has had a fair bit to drink, but he knows the road across the fen and home to Christchurch like the back of his hand, could do it blindfold. We’re cruising along, no problems, when a white Ford Escort pulls alongside and a lager can smashes against Andy’s side window. The Escort is crammed full of goons from the dance-hall, shouting and screaming foul abuse, mainly directed at Helen. They want us to chase them, want a race. Sober Andy wouldn’t have risen to the challenge, but drunk Andy does.

The back roads across the Fens are dead-straight, but narrow and undulating, being laid down right on top of the river-banks, where the alluvial silt provides a firmer base than would the peat-soil of the adjacent fields, most of which have shrunk and subsided down to a level well below that of the roadway, or even of the rivers themselves. It is easy to go off the road and plunge down into the river on the one side, or into the deep, steep-sided ditches draining the adjacent fields on the other side. Sections of the tarmac have subsided, or are crumbling at the edges, through lack of maintenance. I never understood why they wasted so much time at school warning us about unsafe sex and drugs when far and away the commonest cause of early death amongst our schoolmates was through motor accidents, cars going off the road and ending upside-down in a freezing-cold river or ditch.

As I say, the Fen roads are dead-straight for miles on end, until they take a sudden, often completely unpredictable, right-angled turn around the perimeter of some long-dead person’s land. Flying along at eighty-plus, the Escort in front of us suddenly clamps on the brakes to get around one such bend, losing the back end in the process. Andy doesn’t stand a chance, of course. Our van hits the spinning tail of the Escort and is tipped leftwards over on to its roof, then back on to four wheels again. I hear the girls screaming, as if in the far distance, but I’m unable to scream with them.

It takes me a while to come to, something warm trickling down my face. My right leg is at an unlikely angle and there are white shards of bone sticking out through my trouser-leg, below the knee, although I can’t feel anything yet. Andy is up against the steering-wheel, blood coming out of his mouth. Helen is between us, her head under the dashboard, not moving. Susan is lying on her front out on the bonnet; she must have gone straight through the windscreen, which is completely shattered. I can’t see her face, which is probably just as well.

A police car arrives, followed by an ambulance. I can only hear their voices, can’t see anything now.“Smells like a brewery in here – suppose they’re all pissed as usual. Cover that one’s face, for God’s sake, I can’t look at her like that. It’s worse when it’s a girl.”




Sunday, 7 October 2012

TONIGHT - a powerful and evocative short story about growing up in the Fens. This was written by Alex Mitchell, and is reproduced here with his permission.


I liked living out in the Fen, near Christchurch, well enough whilst I was still a kid – not that I had anything to compare it with – but I became bored with it in my teens, about that age when you start to find girls more interesting than tractors. The worst thing about being down our drove-road was the difficulty you had meeting other people your own age, what with the distances and there being no late bus service from Wisbech or March. There wasn’t much choice of mates, girlfriends or future partners, not if you didn’t want to end up as Joe and Doris Normal. We all kick against what we are, where we came from, what we are headed for. Some kids’ parents had moved to the Fens to protect them from the evil influences of the big city. The upshot was that we became absolute suckers for every evil influence we could get our hands on, probably more so than city kids themselves.

There didn’t seem to be a great deal to look forward to; no proper jobs, not for we lads, anyway; no real prospect of getting a place of your own unless you settled for being trailer-trash, stuck in a freezing cold caravan in some farmer’s cowfield. The Fen villages were just fading away. The smaller ones always had a kind of half-hearted or make-do appearance, like temporary staging posts in some dead-loss location in the Wild West of America. But now you could draw up a check-list and watch one thing disappear after another; High St. shops, family businesses from way back, the train service into town, the railway station itself, the late bus, then all the buses, the secondary school, the primary school, the cottage hospital, the doctor’s surgery, the public library, the banks, the police station, the vicar, then the church itself, the Post Office and then, the last thing of all to go, the pubs.

We all knew of local lads, older brothers, whatever, who had moved to the city, Peterborough or further away, to find a job and a place of their own. They had a hard time finding work as a country boy with no local contacts, nobody to pull strings or put in a word for them. You had to live in a bedsit or whatever for years before they’d even put you on the waiting list for a council place, and even then, the best you could hope for was a flat on the worst crime & drugs-infested high-density estate on the outer edge of the city. So there we all were, stuck, with no way out, or round, or through. Whether you moved or stayed, there wasn’t much to get enthusiastic about.

In mid-life, most of us have learned to settle for things; to make some kind of accomodation with life; we are less inclined to waste time and energy kicking against the pricks. We look for compensations, accentuate the positive, or try to. Visitors to this region tend to see the Fen during the oppressive heat and drought of the East Anglian summer, when the landscape is flat, boring and monotonous. In winter, the same territory, between and around the Old and New Bedford rivers, serves as a flood-plain and becomes hauntingly, if austerely, beautiful and mysterious. The view southwards from the bridge at Welney, just along the road from here, is of the dead-straight, man-made river stretching out far ahead to its eventual conjunction with the blurred, misty-watery horizon between land and sky and the great red-gold ball of the setting sun. Immense curtains of mist glide vertically off the rivers and come rolling in from the water-meadows and fields. 

At these times, the rivers, the fields and the great dome of sky, mist and cloud merge and coalesce, the one into the other; at first pink streaked with gold, then gold streaked with silver, then silver fading into misty mauve, blue, grey, brown and, finally, ink-black, all of it mirrored throughout in the great flat infinity of slow-moving, near-static water, such that the fields and riverbanks seem to be floating in suspension between water and sky in a shifting, evanescent mass of refracted sunlight, mist, colour, cloud, river and sea. Areas of higher land and clumps of trees are seen in the distance only as sinister black islands. As day fades to night, a solitary individual - perhaps myself - stands on the bridge, poised between water, mist and sky; no longer a creature of terra firma, more a throwback to those pre-historic times when our earliest ancestors, the first and most inquisitive of the amphibious fish-things, flopped and slithered its way out of the water, through the mud and up on to the land.

What is it that draws us back to the water, again and again? Why do we feel such a sense of peace and tranquility here, and nowhere else but here? Is this where the ancestral fish-thing in each of us feels most at home? Or are there still fishy things deep in there now, calling us home?

The Fen villages stand on what used to be islands of higher ground, surrounded until quite recently by marsh and fen. They were isolated communities, cut off from the outside world by the surrounding marshland and water. In the past, the Fens were a place of refuge for fugitives, outlaws and persecuted religious groups. The Fen people were nicknamed “yellow-bellies” on the basis of their aquatic way of life and because their ancestors were supposed to have interbred with the water-dwelling local wildlife of frogs, newts and toads. More to the point, the isolated character of the Fen villages, and the difficulty of travel
ling from one village to another, meant that the Fen communities were prone to in-breeding. This problem was eventually diminished by the draining of the Fens for purposes of agriculture and, as in other rural areas, by the advent of the bicycle, which allowed eager young lads access to girls in more distant communities and to distribute their genetic inheritance more widely in the process; but people still say that babies in the remoter villages are born with webbed feet.

We young lads all lived for the weekends. Come Friday night, the lads from the village and round about would get beered up at the Seven Stars, then piled into their Ford saloons and Morris vans and set off for the dance-halls in March or Wisbech, or perhaps Downham or Ely; wherever they had a late licence. Most nights, you knew who would be there. There might be one really lovely girl you and all the other lads dreamed about getting off with, and there would be the others, honest, plain-faced country girls built for endurance rather than style, broad of beam and sharp of tongue; too much like your best pal’s mother to be taken seriously as girlfriend material.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

PICKWICK  has made his views known on crime, immigration, local history, our lost railways, and forgotten heroes. Now, in an attempt to secure a big media deal alongside Jamie, Gordon and Delia, he brings you a series of recipes for wonderful meals, using mostly local products, or at the very least, stuff which can be bought locally for next to nothing.

WISBECH MUSSELS  has a very simple starting point. From late September onwards, go to Rout's fish stall on the market and buy a kilo of live mussels. Forget oysters and scallops - these beauties are a third of the price and twice as tasty. A big bag will cost you less than £3.00. If you are very lucky, your dosh will buy you a conversation with Mrs Finnis, the proprietor - she is wickedly funny and has a brilliant sense of humour.

Next, you will need a can of chopped tomatoes, some bitter beer and a bottle of cheap white plonk. If you can get to B&M Bargains, all this will cost you under a fiver.

Pop next door to Morrisons, and buy a few chunks of spicy Chorizo sausage, and a loaf of crusty French bread. If you can get to LIDL, buy some lovely Chinese 'single-bulb' garlic. It comes in a pretty little basket, and although it isn't quite as strong as the usual stuff, it has a sweet taste, and is fifty times easier to prepare. Grab some dried or fresh parsley, and we are ready to roll.

Chinese garlic
Chorizo sausage

Cube the chorizo, and simmer it gently in some olive oil. Keeping the lid off the pan, add the tomatoes and chopped garlic. When the liquid has reduced, chuck in the parsley and the plonk. You need to have cleaned the mussels in cold water, pulling off the little beards of seaweed, and ditching any open or broken shells. 

Tip the cleaned shellfish into the pan, put on the lid, and turn up the heat. In about four minutes, the mussels will be done. Put them into bowls, pour the juice over them, crack open the beer, slice the bread, and you are in Food Heaven, Wisbech style!


Sunday, 9 September 2012

In a quiet corner of the parish church, high up on a wall, is a forgotten memorial to a forgotten school. The Barton School had opened for business in the middle years of the nineteenth century, and had for many years been run by a family called Stanton. Many of the sons and brothers were clerics, and the school had a strange, almost symbiotic relationship with the Grammar School. At one point, one Stanton brother was Head of Barton School, while another was Head of the Grammar School. Debts and scandal forced the school to close in 1913.

Despite the air of shabby gentility which The Barton School must have had in its final years, many of its ex-pupils would have been seen, by the standards of the time, good officer material. Several of the men mentioned on the Roll of Honour appear to have no obvious connection with Wisbech, but it must be remembered that the school took boarders, and these might have come from far and near. Names with an asterisk also appear on the main town war memorial in The Crescent.

W.L. Blake - Probably William Lovewell Blake, 2nd Lieutenant in The Norfolk Regiment, who died on March 27th 1918. He is buried in Doullens Cemetery Extension, near Amiens, France. He was the son of George Lovewell Blake & Elizabeth Ellen Blake, of Great Yarmouth.

Wm Bodger* - Bill Bodger was a Sergeant in The Cambridgeshire Regiment. His relatives are the Bodgers who run the agricultural machinery business in Wisbech. He was a committed Christian, was involved with local scouting and youth groups, and had been awarded a Humane Society medal for saving a child from drowning in a local river.. He was killed on July 31st 1917, the first day of The Third Battle of Ypres, more commonly known as Passchendaele. His body was never found, and his name is inscribed on the Menin Gate in Ypres. He was the son of Grace Shepherd Bodger & late Richard Bodger. Lived 21 High Street, Wisbech.

Bill Bodger

Nigel Bruce* - his name also appears on the Wisbech Grammar School memorial. He lived on Harecroft Road, and was an airman. He was something of a daredevil, and the local paper reported that he once landed his aircraft on a field near his home. His luck ran out, and he was killed in a mid-air collision on September 19th, 1918. His body was never recovered, and his name is on the Arras Memorial To The Missing.

Jack V. Burks - probably Jack Victor Burks, Private 14647 of The Northamptonshire Regiment. He was killed at the Battle of Loos on September 25th 1915. His body was never recovered and his name is on the Loos Memorial To The Missing. He was the son of Charles Wells Burks, The Firs, Eastfield, Peterborough. Employed by Fox & Vergette, auctioneers, Peterborough.

Edward Burgis* - was Second Lieutenant in The Manchester Regiment, and was killed near Ypres on October 16th 1917. His body was never identified, and his name is on the Tyne Cot memorial To The Missing. He was Manager of English Brothers basket factory. Third son of Mr & Mrs Burgis, North Farm, Docking, Norfolk; husband of Mrs Burgis, 58 Lynn Road, Wisbech. Served on Western Front in 15th London (Civil Service Rifles) May 1916 to March 1917, & commissioned August 1917.

Leonard W. Brooks - probably 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps, but formerly of The Hampshire Regiment, killed in action on July 6th 1917, and buried in Bully-Grenay Communal Cemetery Extension. He was the elder son of John & Emma Brooks, Church St, Peterborough. He owned a bakery & corn business at Elm Bridge.

Fred Chapman* - was a 2nd Lieutenant in The Royal Fusiliers, and was killed on August 22nd 1918. He is buried in Bray Vale Military Cemetery. He was the Son of John & Elizabeth Chapman, of Wisbech; husband of Rose Mary Chapman. Lived 2 Barton Road, Wisbech.

J.G.Chivers - was probably Lance Corporal John Gibbs Chivers., of The Royal Engineers. He was born in Sawston, enlisted in Grantham, and died at sea on December 30th 1917, almost certainly on the merchant ship Aragon, sunk by an enemy submarine at the entrance to Alexandria harbour, Egypt. His name is on the Chatby Memorial, Alexandria.

Fred Clarke* - was Serjeant Frederick Clarke, 16568, of The Norfolk Regiment. He was killed on October 12th 1916 in the later stages of The Battle Of The Somme, and his name is commemorated on The Thiepval Memorial.

Bernard Cockett - Bernard Charles Cockett,  of the Northamptonshire Yeomanry was a Walsoken man  who died at home of spotted fever on 21st March, 1915 aged 21. Bernard was the son of Alfred and Gertrude Cockett of the Mount, Norwich Road, Walsoken and he is buried in Wisbech Borough Cemetery. His parents erected an elaborate memorial, which has now crumbled. An official GWGC headstone was put up at a later date.

L.B.D. Colls - maybe Corporal Lisle B. D. Colls, of The Australian Imperial Force, according to Cambridgeshire 'Roll of Honour'. Died on the first day of the Gallipoli landings, April 25th 1915. His body was never found and his name is listed on the Lone Pine Memorial. His parents lived in Harrogate, so his Wisbech connection is unverified.

Stanley Dann* - Trooper, 1/1st Norfolk Yeomanry. He was killed in action on December 12th 1915, just before the final withdrawal from Gallipoli.He was aged 17. Named on the Helles Memorial, Turkey. Son of Mr C W Dann, Wisbech.

A.E. Dorman - Bombadier Arthur Edward Dorman, 1st Bde Australian Field Artillery. Died November 14th 1916 age 28. Son of Edward Meadwell Dorman & Emila Jane Dorman. Native of Uppingham, Rutland. Buried Warlencourt British Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.

Edward Fletcher - No information

Eric Gardiner* - Private Ernest Frederick Gardiner, Honorable Artillery Company. Died of wounds on April 20th 1915, age 23. Son of Frederick J Gardiner, Editor and proprietor of Wisbech Advertiser newspaper, and Amelia Gardiner, of Trevordale, Alexandra Rd, Wisbech. An accountant in London & Paris. Originally buried in Elzenwalle Chateau, but later moved to Voormezeele Enclosure No 3, Belgium. Eric's name is on the kerbing of the Gardiner family memorial in Leverington Road cemetery.

Wm Halstead - Corporal John William Halstead, 1/1st Btn Cambridgeshire Regiment. Killed in action on September 4th 1916. Son of Mr & Mrs Joseph Halstead, Grassgate Farm, Walsoken. Knightsbridge Cemetery, Mesnil-Martinsart, France.
N.C. Hardwick - Lieutenant Nathaniel Charles Hardwick, 10th Btn Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry Died September 15th 1917, aged 42. Son of Charles Hardwick, of Sutton, Surrey; husband of Julia G Hardwick, Mount Pleasant, Bodmin, Cornwall. Buried Ramscapelle Road Military Cemetery, Nieuwpoort, Belgium.

Fred Heanes - Private Fred Heanes 4th Btn North Staffordshire Regiment. Died of wounds May 8th 1919, age 21. Buried in Sutton St James Churchyard, Lincs.
P.A. Clarke - No information

C.W.F. Hopkin* - Private Charles William Fisher Hopkin, 11th Btn Notts & Derby Rgt (Sherwood Foresters). Killed in action October 5th 1918, age 27, at Guisancourt Farm. Buried Guizancourt Farm Cemetery, Gouy, Aisne, France.

P.L. Hutchinson - No information

Sidney Lambert* - Private Sidney Theophilus Lambert, 1/1st Btn Cambridgeshire Regiment. Died of wounds August 29th 1918, age 21. Son of Ambrose Victor & Anna Sarah Lambert, of 1 Victoria Place, Wisbech. Buried Daours Communal Cemetery Extension, Somme, France.
Ernest Leake* - Rifleman Ernest Leake, 13th Btn London Rgt (Kensington Rifles). February 16th 1918, age 22. Buried in Wisbech Borough Cemetery. His parents put up a modest memorial at his graveside, but an official CWGC headstone was added later.

P.G. Miller - Able Seaman Percy George Miller, Drake Btn Royal Naval Division. Killed in action April 23rd 1917. Lived Elmville, Wisbech. He probably died in what was known as The Second Battle Of The Scarpe, part of The Battle Of Arras.

Thos. Morton - Trooper Thomas Morton, Trooper, 1st Norfolk Yeomanry. Died of jaundice December 5th 1915. Son of Mr James Morton, The Hook. Buried in Ari Burnu Cemetery, Gallipoli. He is also named on the Wimblington war memorial.

A.H. Muirhead - 2nd Lieutenant Alexander Hugh Muirhead, 1/1st Btn Cambridgeshire Regiment. Killed in action July 31st 1917, age 35, by sniper. Only son of Alexander Muirhead, Glenvarloch, Lyndenwood Rd, Cambridge. Educated Perse School, Cambridge, & Barton School, Wisbech. Joined Suffolk Yeomanry as a Trooper. Sgt, served in Gallipoli campaign, 1915. Commissioned 1916, 3/1st Btn Cambs Rgt & drafted to 1/1st Btn 27-5-17. He died on the opening day of the Third battle of Ypres. His body was never identified, and his name is listed on The Menin Gate.

W.S. Nevill - 2nd Lieutenant William Sim Nevill, Royal Garrison Artillery. Died September 25th, age 26. Son of John & Flora Nevill, of Glasgow; husband of Janet McNeil Nevill, 3 Pangrove Terrace, Glasgow West. Buried in the Guards Cemetery, Lesboeufs, Somme, France.

L.J. Parker* - Private Leonard J. Parker, 38th Btn (Eastern Ontario Rgt) Canadians. Killed in action November 1st 1916, age 27. Only son of Mrs E F Parker & late Mr J T Parker, 101 Norfolk Street, Wisbech. Buried in Adanac Military Cemetery, Miraumont, Somme, France.
H.S. Pick - Corporal Harry Shelton Pick, 09th Battery, Royal Field Artillery. Died October 2nd 1915, age 29. Son of Thomas & Ellen Pick; husband of Gertrude Pick, of Rusthall, Tonbridge Wells. Buried in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.

G.W. Sanderson - Gunner George William Sanderson, A Bty, 50th Bde, Royal Field Artillery. Killed in action 21-3-18, age 19. Son of George R & M R Sanderson, of 54 St Chad's Rd, Derby. Born Holbeach, Lincs. Buried in Peronne Communal Cemetery Extension, Ste Radegonde.
H.S. Scorer - Captain Herbert Selwyn Scorer, C Company, 5th Btn Lincolnshire Regiment. Died October 13th 1915, age 29. Son of John Norton Scorer & Susan Scorer, of The Limes, Fletton Avenue, Peterborough. Listed on The Loos Memorial To The Missing.

C.F. Snow - 2nd Lieutenant Charles Foote Snow, Royal Field Artillery. Killed in action June 30th 1916, while acting as forward observation officer, age 28. Elder son of Mr & Mrs W H Snow, Westgate, Peterborough. Had served in German South-West Africa under Botha & re-enlisted on return to UK. Buried in London Rifle Brigade Cemetery, Ploegsteert, Belgium.

R.G.O. Stanton - Lieutenant Robert Greenlow Openshaw Stanton, 4th Btn Royal Marine Light Infantry. Died April 28th 1918, age 21. Son of William Edwin & Anne Openshaw Relph Stanton, of Market Deeping, Lincs. Buried in Market Deeping Cemetery, Lincolnshire.

R.W. Tunnard* - Sergeant Raymond William Tunnard, 12th (Yeomanry) Btn Norfolk Regiment. Killed in action August 18th 1918, age 24. Formerly C Squadron, Norfolk Yeomanry. Son of Charles and Annie Tunnard, of 12 Market Place, Wisbech. Buried in Le Grand Hasard Military Cemetery, Nord, France.

A.E. Thorpe* - 2nd Lieutenant Arthur Edward Thorpe, 11th (2nd Hull) Btn East Yorkshire Regiment. Died of paralysis on December 6th 1918, age 26. Son of George and Ellen Thorpe, of Wisbech. Husband of Dora Thorpe, 30 Milner Rd, Wisbech. Buried in Longuenesse (St Omer) Souvenir Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.

Harold Walsham* - Private Harold Walsham, 1st Btn King's Shropshire Light Infantry. Killed in action April 23rd 1918, age 27. Son of Annie Walsham, of 6 Upper Hill Street, Wisbech, and the late Jesse Walsham. Listed on the Pozieres Memorial, Somme, France.
Bryan Ward - No information

Arthur Wilson - No information
H. Saunders* - Lance Corporal Herbert Saunders, C Company, 1st Btn Rifle Brigade. Killed in action May 18th 1918. Lived Norfolk Street, Wisbech. Buried in Le Vertannoy British Cemetery, Hinges, Pas de Calais, France.

Stanley T. Aubin* - Rifleman Stanley Thomas Aubin, 2th Btn King's Royal Rifle Corps. Died of wounds December 2nd 1917, age 25. Son of Thomas Aubin, of 28 North Brink, Wisbech. Listed on the Cambrai Memorial, Louverval, Nord, France. Aubin died during The Battle Of Cambrai, and it is likely that he was buried in a makeshift grave which was later lost.

Leslie Parren* - Corporal Leslie Southwell Parren, 12th (Norfolk Yeomanry) Btn, Norfolk Regiment. Drowned at sea (HT Aragon) December 30th 1917, age 23. Son of John Robert and Rose Ellen Parren, of Lindon House, South Brink, Wisbech. Listed on The Chatby Memorial, Alexandria, Egypt. There is a macabre story attached to the death of Leslie Parren, which was related to me by a family member. Parren was on his way to the Far East when his troopship, Aragon, was hit by a mine. He was lucky enough to be picked up by a destroyer, HMS Attack, but that was promptly torpedoed. Meanwhile, back at their South Brink home, Parren's mother awoke with a start in the middle of the night to see, at the foot of the bed, a ghostly hand emerging from what appeared to be the surface of the sea. She cried out to her husband, "It's Leslie…!" He pacified her, and she went back to sleep. Several days later came the news that Parren had been lost at sea, presumed drowned.

HM Troopship Aragon
HMS Attack
Some of the information on this list is the result of my own researches into my book, 'Three Men Went To War', but much is due to the efforts of Cliff Brown, of March, for a page on the Cambridgeshire 'Roll of Honour' site. Many thanks to him for permission to use the information.