Somewhere historic: Stoke Poges
A couple of miles up the road from Slough, and strung out along that road for another two, lies a village with a not especially lovely name. Originally simply Stoke, its extra name comes from 13th century knight Robert Pogeys who married the heiress to the local manor. That manor grew considerably in importance when it was upgraded in the 1790s by John Penn, grandson of the founder of Pennsylvania, using compensation from the confiscation of land after the American Revolution. The end result was a grand Palladian mansion set in landscaped grounds, with lakes by Capability Brown and renowned for its herds of deer. In subsequent years the estate passed to William Bryant (of "and May" matches fame), then to the founder of Corinthian Football Club (who added a golf course and tennis courts to create the UK's first Country Club), then to the founder of Slough Trading Estate and finally to the council, and they now lease it out. You won't be staying any time soon.
Stoke Park is now a luxurious Hotel, Spa and Country Club, one of only 50 in the UK to be awarded the AA's highest hospitality accolade. Overnight stays are expensive, but come with the option of tennis coaching, a splash in the indoor pool, "hot yoga" and a spin round some of the 27 top class golf holes. And it's this golf course you'll likely be familiar with, specifically the terraced holes in front of the mansion, because it's here that James Bond played Auric Goldfinger in their infamous 1964 needle match. Remember the switched golf balls and Oddjob's steel-brimmed hat? Ian Fleming set the action at Royal Sandwich, but the film crew came here instead, in part because the backdrop was more impressive, but mostly because the 007 franchise is based a few miles away at Pinewood Studios. Indeed I nearly ventured there as part of my grand day out, but public transport and muddy footpaths dictated against.
Stoke Park aren't keen to admit riffraff, indeed there's a page on their website which boasts that "there is no public footpaths, or right of way access anywhere over the 300 acres", but members of the public can get excellent views by visiting Stoke Poges Memorial Gardens. These are part of the mansion's original grounds, relandscaped in the 1930s to create a public garden of rest for the internment of ashes, and to fend off the threat of housing redevelopment. And they're quite gorgeous, even in November, with sweeping avenues leading to fountained colonnades, and with "no building, structures or monuments of any kind likely to remind one of a cemetery." Make your way to the Scattering Lawn, or down to the lakeside, for the best sightlines across to the mansion, the golf course and the luxury coaches shuttling up the main drive.
In previous centuries sightseers flocked to Stoke Poges for a completely different reason, to commemorate and revere a poet. The man in question was Thomas Gray whose poetic masterpiece, the Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, was written here in the summer of 1750. It's said to have been composed in the churchyard at St Giles, outside which Thomas's aunt Mary had been laid to rest the previous year, and in whose tomb Gray's remains were later interred. The 128-line poem went viral when shared with London society, its themes of landscape, life and loss resonating then, and to this day.
So loved was this work that in 1799 a memorial was erected very close by, in the corner of what's now Gray's Field, and it's this that drew generations of tourists. Gray's Monument is a lofty stone pedestal topped by a sarcophagus, with panels inscribed with selected quatrains from the Elegy. I stood and read a few out loud, there being nobody else within earshot apart for a pair of occasional joggers. The monument is impressive, strikingly located in the shadow of a single oak, though by no means the draw it used to be. This may change next year, the tercentenary of Gray's birth, and plans are afoot to commemorate the event in some way. In the meantime it's perhaps best seen as part of the Stoke Poges Heritage Walk, a leafleted trail which ensures visitors miss no point of interest in this elegiac corner of England. by bus: 335, 353
Somewhere famous: Bekonscot Model Village
The world's oldest model village is in Beaconsfield, behind the Town Hall, just to the north of the station. Bekonscot grew out of the private obsession of accountant Roland Callingham, later shared with the wider world, and is still thriving after over 80 years. And it's brilliant, so naturally I've been before, and you can read that particular report elsewhere.
What made me go back at the end of my South Bucks safari was their special Winter Opening, which sees the village specially illuminated after dark. Between the October and February half terms Bekonscot opens for only six weekends, of which there are two more to go, with cut price admission (just a fiver) for entry after 1pm. During the remainder of the winter maintenance and construction takes place instead, indeed on my visit I caught sight of Bekonscot's latest extension which is due to contain a sloping high street, a funicular railway and an Underground station. They're still to go in, although the concrete slabs are laid, and the Hoover Building (seriously!) is already complete.
I arrived before sunset and departed well after dark, allowing me to make three circuits of the model village in decreasing levels of illumination . The first circuit proved essential for appreciating the finer detail, not least the punning business names painted onto various shop fronts. By my second circuit light levels had dropped to create a particularly atmospheric experience, with I'd say about a quarter of the buildings lit from within. Some were evidently empty, and some obscured by condensation, but inside others various tableaux (including a jam-related talk to the Women's Institute) played out brighter than day.
Bekonscot attracts mostly families with small children, and they made up the majority of visitors in this twilight slot, with one particularly precocious boy intent on chasing his favourite locomotive around the model railway. Another girl stared wistfully through the windows of the full-size signal box, by now the brightest thing on site, wishing she could be inside pulling the levers. She wasn't alone.
By my third circuit the village had become properly dark. Where models weren't lit they were now barely possible to distinguish, but the main town in the corner shone out through dozens of tiny windows, and the racecourse grandstand positively blazed. But there was still action to see, for example inside the circus tent, or else to hear, for example as coal fell from the conveyor belt at the black-as-coal mine.
Most visitors had by now departed, but a sobbing child was placated with a solo trip on the ride-on railway by the entrance, while a large group of adults turned up almost at latest admission time and proceeded to walk around the entire village unnecessarily fast. A fourth circuit seemed unnecessary, and anyway the staff would be locking up and closing the gates all too soon. But it had been an enchanting visit, not quite as amazing as coming on a sunny day, but appealingly atmospheric all the same. [8 photos] by train: Beaconsfield
Next up, the district adjoining the western edge of London. It's also, possibly uniquely, an abbreviation. Formerly known as Beaconsfield, in 1980 councillors voted to rename the area South Bucks, presumably to be more geographically inclusive (but decided against the full South Buckinghamshire, presumably to be more chummy). Spread out between the A40 and the A4, this affluent district stretches from pristine commuter towns in the north to the immediate outskirts of Slough in the south, with a swathe of less populated woodland inbetween. Getting around by public transport wasn't always easy, but I found a way, and so can bring you tales from four contrasting locations. [20 photos]
Somewhere pretty: Burnham Beeches
Somewhat unexpectedly, this 500 acre oasis of woodland a few miles north of Slough belongs to the City of London. They bought it up in 1880, this "land suitable for the erection of superior residences", specifically to protect it as a public open space and wildlife reserve. Well done them, it's gorgeous. The plan was to give Londoners somewhere to escape the grime and misery of the capital, and for anybody else who happened to live nearby too. Day trippers arrived via Burnham station, originally called Burnham Beeches, then faced a further couple of miles to reach the forest edge. I suspect I was the only Londoner who made the effort yesterday. I took the bus.
Autumn is possibly the best time to visit, so I just about got in with time to spare. Lovely scrunchy beech leaves underfoot, with a scattering of nuts (and mud) beneath, form a matted carpet of brown. So long as you've not come in your best trainers, it's a delight. The main access is from the east, a short walk from the long village of Farnham Common, where a large car park awaits more Bucks-style visitors. Most have brought a dog or two, it's that kind of place, but the city authorities are one step ahead. They've divided the Beeches in two, one allowing dogs to run free but the other only on a leash, which means one half is thick with exercising hounds and the other mercifully free.
Make sure you stop off at the Beeches cafe by the car park, if not for refreshment then for the extensive selection of maps and leaflets available in the attached information centre. The City of London's not short of money or influence, so there's an impressively extensive selection - I plumped for the Geology Trail, but you could instead pick up a guide to fungi, a historical trail or a full colour map. This led me off down a steep beechy valley carved through the clay by a narrow stream, amusingly named the Nile, then back up to the gravels above. The stream doesn't flow far before disappearing into a swallow hole, essentially a small pool with its own plughole formed by dissolved chalk, and therefore probably somewhere to keep your dog away from.
The longest track at Burnham Beeches, approximately medial, is Victoria Drive. Broad and beechy with wooded slopes to either side, it's also on the dog-leash side so I managed to walk all the way down without seeing a soul. I also got the nagging feeling I'd seen the place before, because I have, and so have you, because it's a popular filming location. The City allow cameras in for no more than 20 days a year, but that's included Time Bandits, The Princess Bride, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. TV companies have got in on the act too, from The Avengers to Merlin, whose nobles were always always riding chargers along this very trail.
The site has an intriguing history, ranging from the Iron Age (some earthworks from an Iron Age fort survive) to World War 2 (most of the vehicles used in the D-Day landings were stored here before use). Many of the trees are seriously old too, thanks to a tradition of pollarding (that's having their tops lopped off) which continues to this day. But most of all Burnham Beeches is simply a lovely place to walk, be that down by the lakes or up among the trees, crossing paths with squirrels and wood pigeons and golden retrievers. Blessed with considerably more depth than your average woodland, I loved the sweeping trails and scrunchy solitude. by bus: 74
I took the hourly bus from Slough, alighting in the cosy dormitory village of Farnham Common. Aren't buses in Buckinghamshire expensive - I paid £3.80 for 4 miles - but that's subsidyless travel for you. Meanwhile a very short distance from the woods on the opposite side of the Beeches is George Osborne's grace and favour mansion, Dorney Wood. The National Trust allow taxpayers inside only on a handful of days a year, generally in late July, so plan carefully. (Oh bugger, the NT's updated its website to a new mobile-friendly template, which means minimal info per screen, and general sighing from those of us with proper screens).
In 1996 supermarket giant Tesco sought a way to open a large store in the middle of Gerrards Cross. It's more a Waitrose/M&S kind of place, this wealthy commuter 'village', but Tesco turned up first, and residents were appalled by their proposed solution. A tunnel would be created over the Chiltern railway line immediately to the west of the station, creating a large flat platform to fill a gap in the high street, and Tesco would then place a supermarket (and extensive car park) on the top. Planning permission was controversially agreed, and the construction eventually began in 2003. A 320m-long arch was created using precast concrete sections, and the space above filled in with tons of soil to create a sturdy structure. Unfortunately it proved anything but.
On the evening of 30thJune2005, just after the rush hour was over, two dozen of the concrete segments collapsed onto the tracks below. A train driver leaving Gerrards Cross at the time noticed something was amiss and applied the emergency stop, his swift realisation allowing the next westbound express service to be stopped one station up the line. The consequences could have been considerably more unpleasant, but in the end were limited to two months of disruption for everyone on the line being forced onto rail replacement buses. An enquiry suggested that the cause of the accident was too much soil being laid on top of the arch and not enough down the sides, possibly coupled with heavy rainfall a few days before. Tesco apologised, and then proceeded to build again using a safer and more sturdy design, with the new store opening in November2010.
Walking down the high street in Gerrards Cross today, five Christmases on, Tesco stands out as the largest retail outlet by far. The other shops are mostly single frontage, targeted at a moneyed demographic in need of fashion, "fine furnishings and gifts", and a little pampering. The local bakery serves "artisanal breads", and I wasn't entirely surprised when the first three properties I saw in an estate agents' window were priced at two million and something. Tesco by contrast looks a very ordinary store with its multi-gabled roof and brick construction, although closer inspection reveals that the scarlet panels out front where the security guards go for a fag are in fact trickling waterfalls.
The interior looks airy and lightweight, which I guess is important given the location, with no attempt made to cover up pipes and vents across the ceiling. In total there are thirteen aisles, which may have been tempting fate somewhat, and an army of assistants generally rather younger than the clientèle they serve. Shelves of festive foliage are lined up by the doorway to act as impulse buys, and I was amused to find the children's book at the heart of Sainsbury's Yuletide TV campaign on sale amongst the magazines. And all was busy, from the meal deal counter to the freezer cabinets, just as you'd expect on a Saturday afternoon. The people of Gerrards Cross appear to have embraced the store they so repudiated, contentedly pushing their trolleys across the chasm that so unexpectedly opened up ten years ago, without even a thought for the railway tracks below. by train: Gerrards Cross
That's Bus Stop M, formerly Bus Stop G, now amalgamated with former Bus Stop E and former Bus Stop M. This is a transformation which began as long as four months ago, at the end of July, when workmen first moved in to realign the edge of the pavement. By the end of September a bus stop bypass had almost been constructed, then at the start of October TfL made a complete balls-up of transferring services from two old bus stops to the new one, and this month almost all of the surrounding barriers have been removed.
But not yet all. Four months on this bus stop still doesn't have a functional bus stop bypass. The new segregated bike lane remains blocked by four plastic barriers weighed down by sandbags, forcing cyclists into the traffic. And the traffic is more dangerous than before, having been narrowed from three lanes to two, and with one of those two lanes being generally filled with buses. For long term gain, cyclists are having to endure short-term (and now alas medium-term) pain.
Because as yet the two stretches of segregated cycle lane to either side of the new bus stop bypass have not been constructed. One side passes in front of a Met Police garage, before linking up with another completed-but-not-open segregated lane. The other crosses what used to be bus stop E, and is currently being used as a parking space for terminating buses. Fractionally further up Bow Road, workmen are out in force carving up a considerable length of carriageway and pavement into their new cycle-friendly form, and causing considerable disruption. But for now, cycle-unfriendly single-lane traffic jams are the order of the day, as part of a 15-month series of road works that still has five months to run.
For bus passengers, a few digital updates have taken place over the last fortnight.
a) Mismatch between name displayed at stop (Bow Church) and digital name (Bow Flyover)[FIXED Tuesday 17th November]
Bus Stop M is now definitely called 'Bow Church', in TfL's database as well as in real life. It also has a brand new web address as a result, formerly tfl.gov.uk/bus/stop/490004215M/bow-flyover, now tfl.gov.uk/bus/stop/490004215M/bow-church. b) Bus Stop G still appears on the TfL website, and various apps, even though it's been erased in real life[MOSTLY FIXED Thursday 26th November]
A fortnight ago, according to the TfL database, bus route 276 still stopped at non-existent Bus Stop G. And now it doesn't, But there's still a blob for non-existent Bus Stop G on the map, unhelpfully subtitled "This stop does not serve any TfL routes", as is also the case for non-existent Bus Stop E. c) On the TfL website, and various apps, the list of routes serving Bus Stop M now includes route 25[FIXED Thursday 26th November]
It's taken almost two months, but somebody in the digital team has finally managed to add Bow's most important bus to the other five that stop here. If only they'd left the stop as G rather than renaming it M, this would never have gone wrong. d) On the TfL website, the list of departures at Bus Stop M now includes route 25[FIXED Thursday 26th November]
At last we can all see every bus that's about to turn up, not just half of them. Slow handclap.
Meanwhile here's what passengers are still avidly waiting for at new Bus Stop M. Well, I am anyway.
a) New bus shelter lacks a bus map[NOT FIXED][FIXED - 2nd week of December]
It's got a night bus map, but not a proper daytime map. Instead the TfL website continues to host the old daytime spider map on which ex-stop E and ex-stop G still appear. b) Timetables displayed at stop don't match times at new location (and route diagrams incorrectly shaded)[NOT FIXED]
Nobody really minds about this one, but it still signals the underlying carelessness here. c) Replacement lamppost not functional, so it's unexpectedly dark here in the evening[STILL AWAITING ELECTRICIAN] d) New bus shelter not plugged into electricity supply, so this provides no light either[STILL AWAITING ELECTRICIAN] e) While I'm asking, hello, it'd be nice to have a Countdown display back, thanks.[NO SIGN]
And of course cyclists still don't have a functional bus stop bypass, nor it seems any hope of these few brief metres being completed any time soon. Which means, sorry, you can expect further updates to the inaction in the weeks and months ahead.
Oh, and in other news, earlier this month workmen descended on the westbound side of Bow Church and are busy adding a bus stop bypass there. Previously there were three bus stops, labelled J, K and L, and it looks like in the near future there'll be only one. Sounds familiar? I wonder what they'll call the new stop, and whether they'll manage to install it without making a complete pig's ear both online and in real life. Fingers crossed.
After a night at the football, a night on Radio 4.
Keep an eye on the BBC's tickets page and you too could attend the recording of a show. Most are in London, but quite a few are around the regions and nations, which is how come my Dad's attended a recording of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue and I never have. Just a Minute is booking right now for just before Christmas, via a random draw, but that'll be vastly oversubscribed so don't get your hopes up.
I ducked the Radio 4 A-List and applied for a ticket one rung lower down, for John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme. You may not have heard of Mr Finnemore, he's not on TV much, although has had a minor role as one of Miranda's lowlier sidekicks. Instead he mostly writes, and performs, as you might expect from a former Cambridge Footlight. His most celebrated creation is CabinPressure, the 26-part sitcom set set in the world of chartered planes, tickets for whose final episode were oversubscribed by a factor of a hundred. For a taste of Finnemore, if you're curious, his sextet of Double Acts finished only last week, so several episodes are currently available on iPlayer. Meanwhile the legendary Souvenir Programme, a half hour pot pourri of comedy sketches, is now on its fifth series and will be returning to your radios in January.
The first essential thing you need to know about BBC tickets is that they're always free. The second essential thing is a consequence of the first, namely that the BBC always give out too many. It would be ghastly if people applied with no genuine intention of turning up and there were loads of empty seats, so a significant number of extra tickets are issued just in case. But this has a further consequence which helps to make the start of the evening rather less fun, namely that if you don't turn up early enough you don't get in. And sometimes this means very early.
For a blue ticket recording like the News Quiz the queues can start ridiculously early. Admission may begin at T Minus An Hour And Fifteen Minutes but people'll turn up well before that, lined up stoically to ensure a seat. To counter the tedium, the crew start validating tickets even earlier, slapping a numbered sticker on your printout to match your position in the queue. With this obtained you can bugger off and have a life in the surrounding area for well over an hour, only needing to return just before the doors open. Be warned that you have to be actually physically present to get a sticker - it's no use turning up with a sheaf of four and claiming the rest of your party will be along later. But no pain, no gain.
I arrived at the Shaw Theatre straight after work, a full two hours before the recording was due to begin, and there were already more than a hundred people in front of me. A fair number of these clearly hadn't come from work, but dozens of later recruits from a younger demographic clearly had. The Radio 4 audience remains distinctly mixed, although a very different kind of crowd to that I'd found myself in earlier this week at the Emirates. More females than males for a start, and more people wearing glasses, and slightly more hipster beards than proper stubble. If my Tuesday night had been with spent with the sport lovers, Thursday saw me in the company of those more likely to have been left on the touchlines.
I could have spent my spare hour in the pub, or having dinner, but instead I made the most of my location on the Euston Road. The Wellcome Foundation have recently opened a new exhibition entitled Tibet's Secret Temple which tells the story of the Lukhang, for three centuries the Dalai Lama's private place of contemplation.
The setting established, the main focus of the display is an exposition of Tantric Buddhism, yoga and the spiritual physiology of chakras. Rest assured it's more enlightening than preachy, and a fascinating insight into a very mindful way of life. If you're a reflective kind of person, I think you'll learn lots. Open until the end of February - late opening Thursdays.
The Shaw Theatre's lobby isn't ideally suited to corralling an entire auditorium full of attendees. Two pillars obstruct the foot of the stairs, and more importantly the bar, and it only takes a handful of static chatters to place the entire space in lockdown. The great majority of ticket holders are always in pairs or groups, either from the same family or like-minded friends, a comedy recording being a good and rather different social evening out. This at least made it easier for a singleton like me to squeeze through some gaps in the wall of people to some spare carpet on the far side, awaiting the ever-so-polite 'rush' when the doors finally opened.
At some BBC venues they let you in by sticker number, with double digiters ahead of triple, so the sooner you arrive the better the seat you get. At the Shaw, however, it was every licence fee payer for themselves. Again my lone status worked in my favour as I was able to fill in a single seat in the middle near the front, while other linked souls were forced to wander rather further back or to the side. There were even a few spare seats at the back by the time everyone was in... whereas last time I attended a JFSP recording here I arrived just late enough to nab the very last seat in the entire auditorium.
Almost bang on time the show's producer appeared from the wings to do the warm-up in an appropriately self-deprecating way. And then we were off, with a greeting from the star of the show and the introduction of his four actorly sidekicks perched with scripts in hand on a row of chairs behind. John's a very likeable man who beams a lot - your mum would be chuffed if you brought him home - but also linguistically very sharp and with an eye for whimsy. And hurrah, we were due an hour of fresh sketches, which is double what you get on the radio, plus all the unintentional comedy of stumbles and slips.
A very typical Finnemore set-up is to take something well known and mine the situation for absurdity. What exactly happened when Good King Wenceslas arrived to give alms to that poor peasant, and what if there was an actual heritage site named Bouncy Castle? I particularly enjoyed what will come to be known as the Hunter Gatherer sketch, a lengthy tour de force, and also a meeting between two management consultants and a nursery rhyme character which seemed a shallow excuse to force the cast to (attempt to) talk in tongue twisters.
One particularly heartfelt song with a restaurant theme was familiar to those of us who'd attended John's recent (paid-for) show at the very same theatre. Comparing the amount I'd forked out for that, and for not a great deal longer in my seat, I have to say the Radio 4 recording was more enjoyable. I may smile a lot but it takes a heck of a lot to make me laugh out loud, and there will be a moment in January when you can hear me do just that. That's assuming of course that this particular take survives the cutting room floor - a second run-through with exactly the same material was scheduled immediately after ours. And you could so have gone to that.
Update: one further recording of JFSP has been announced, at the BBC Radio Theatre on 5th January. Apply now!
It is a very long way up to our seats. First a seventy-five step ascent inside a bleak concrete shell, because that's how the external interior of a modern football stadium looks. Then a short stride across the services ring, where queues for pies and burgers will erupt later. And then out into the arena itself, backs to the action, for a further sixty steps climbing steeply up the bowl. The top of the North Bank is not for the faint hearted.
Checking the small clock on the big screen, the game has now been underway for just over ten minutes. No goals have been scored. This is both good news because we didn't miss any, and bad news because Arsenal really need to win. A fair number of other seats scattered all around the stadium remain empty, I'd say about 10%. Initially I wonder if the occupants are still outside, delayed by security, but eventually it transpires they simply haven't bothered turning up. A midweek Champions League tie isn't the draw every season ticket holder craves.
Wow the view is good. It's not the best in the stadium, for sure - most are considerably closer to the pitch. But from way up here behind the goal the view is end-on, perpendicular to what's normally shown on the telly, and the vast green rectangle glows bright beneath the floodlights. Unfortunately Arsenal are attacking the far goal, and attacking well, so all the action is down the other end. The thrust of passing play is crystal clear, but the red and black players are tiny and hard to identify, particularly for those of us unable to translate shirt numbers into a face. No problem, in the second half they'll all be up our half, for sure.
The crowd is mostly male, and unexpectedly mixed. Some are here because they love the game and can afford to come, others rather more for love than for money. Their clobber suggests that attendance does not equate to dressing up. A few have red and white shirts under their jackets, or badges on their lapel, but if anyone's wearing a scarf it's more likely a response to the weather than a need to indicate allegiance.
The first goal comes fairly quickly, at least for those of us who turned up late. Ozil's header thrills the crowd, the icing on a set piece manoeuvre from one end to the other which might (or might not) have ended in glory. A roar erupts, and when the club's announcer chips in with the scorer's name I suddenly realise that's the first time he's had cause to speak. Meanwhile at each end of the pitch two official flagwavers stand up and wave giant official club flags behind the touchline, because who needs poncey cheerleaders?
A second goal follows soon after, to general delight, the desired result now almost in the bag. This cushion adjusts the atmosphere in the stadium, the tension released, at least until Arsenal maybe do that usual thing where they throw it all away. The subsequent restart is the cue for some amongst us to head to the urinals, there being little chance of missing something game-changing, and to be sure of splashing the porcelain before the half time rush.
Act II, Scene II: Interval
The half time rush is underway, and the lure of pie is strong. Rows of spectators flood slowly down the steps and inch through the portal at amenity level. Current in-house catering rates are £4.80 for a burger or hot dog, but only £3.70 for a pie, in a range of none too shabby flavours (including a Guinness-based option). Others plump for lager, but I have been warned off this by an experienced fan, partly because of the taste but mostly to avoid spiking one's bladder for the second half. When you're sitting an assault course away from the facilities, this is wise advice.
Looking around the arena during the break one particular ring has completely emptied out. Those in the premium and sponsors' seats have all scarpered to their private bars, almost to a man, as if the half time hospitality were the key feature of their attendance. For those of us still present a previous player has been brought back onto the pitch to be inducted into The 100 Club, the equivalent of the freedom of the Arsenal, but in a lacklustre way which ensures that absent spectators haven't missed much.
Act II, Scene I: Inside the Stadium (North Bank)
The second half begins with no fanfare, indeed no announcement whatsoever. This time Arsenal are attacking towards us, and yet somehow they appear to be no nearer than before. Players perform their passing game across the pitch, losing and gaining possession in ways that make us yell, and occasionally making a stab on goal. Some shots are clearly going wide, though other sections of the crowd seem more excited, while others appear really close, until the replay reveals our angle of sight was mere illusion.
Throughout the match the supporters' role is very much to support. They gasp when required, they cheer on cue and they offer copious amounts of inaudible advice to the players. And of course they sing to demonstrate their camaraderie, selecting from a songbook of a dozen or so firmly entrenched chants. Sometimes a player's actions set them off - a particular favourite of the guy to my left was praising Alexis Sanchez to the tune of Don't You Want Me Baby. But more often a single firestarter or small group kicks things off ("Red Army!"), with others joining in ("Red Army!!"), and suddenly another semi-tuneful mantra is echoing around the ground.
The hardcore up the North End are especially fond of "We're the North Bank", a rabble-rousing hymn sung alternately in battle with another section of the ground. This tends to go on a bit, stopping only when the action on the field requires alternative noises to be made, or when the massed choirs finally tire and the singing peters out. Meanwhile somebody nearby has brought a drum into the ground and is repeatedly striking it for up to a minute at a time. I thought the security tonight was supposed to be tight, but presumably the stewards overlooked the concealment of this oversized percussion.
A third goal for the Gunners brings the crowd to its feet, but it turns out there's a practical reason for this. Whenever it looks imminent that a goal might be scored somebody somewhere in front of you always stands to try to get a better look. Unless the person behind them stands almost immediately their line of sight of a potentially crucial event will be blocked, and so a reverse domino effect of rising fans ripples backwards through the stand.
Despite their drubbing, a small group of Dinamo Zagreb fans maintains a noisy presence from a triangle of seats located near the far post. Most of these will be Croatians living in London or nearby, rather than those who've travelled halfway across Europe to be here, but they're no less excitable in their response. Arsenal's army ignores them as if swatting away a fly, with the announcement of each away team substitution greeted by a mass (and slightly camp) exclamation of "Who?!"
With the clock ticking down, and the result no longer in doubt, a minor exodus begins. The first to leave are quietly tutted by more devoted fans, but the drip becomes a trickle becomes a stream, especially for those with long journeys home and/or a train to catch. Despite the price of a ticket, some it seems are more than happy to miss ten percent of the match if this avoids getting stuck in the post-match pile-up. Striding past the shuttered pie stalls and down the echoing concrete stairwell, it's possible to be out and through the hi-vis ring before the final whistle blows.
Act III, Scene I: The pub on the Holloway Road
A three-nil victory sealed, it's time for actual and armchair spectators to rendezvous once more over beer. The team's finest manoeuvres are reviewed, and the most likely candidates for Man of the Match debated. Thoughts turn to the final group match upon which Arsenal's European fortunes now hinge, and to domestic challenges closer ahead. Eyes turn upwards briefly when Sky Sports News reports from the game, then back to earnest argument and extended chatter. Even when I'm no longer here to see it, I'm sure this final scene will be played out over and over, season by season, in perpetuity.
Epilogue: The works canteen
After five minutes of silent chomping, the silence is broken.
Colleague: A good result last night, eh? It's entirely what I expected, of course, and at the Bayern game too, so the whole Europe thing's back in our own hands again. All we need is two clear goals, or to score three, and we're through. DG: Uh huh. Colleague: I particularly liked our first goal on the long corner run, I think half a dozen players were involved, and that's only the second time Ozil's scored from a header, it must have been amazing. DG (thinks): If only he knew I actually went to the match last night he'd be really jealous, but best I say nothing otherwise I'll never hear the last of it. Colleague: I see even Ramsey played...
After five minutes of silent chomping, the silence is broken.
Colleague: So, big match tonight eh? Arsenal have to win to go forwards in the Champions League but only if Bayern win and then we win by two clear goals in the last match, a draw isn't good enough, then Bayern and Olympiakos both go through and then it might be better if we lost tonight otherwise we might end up in the Europa League... DG: Uh huh. Colleague: But if we win tonight at home and then again next time we can still go through, we always go through it's been 15 years maybe 16, but it can't ultimately be a tie, in the end it all comes down to them beating us last time even if we get a really good goal difference, so tonight is crucial... DG (thinks): If only he knew I was actually going to the match tonight he'd be really jealous, but I shall say nothing otherwise I'll never hear the last of it. Colleague: I think Ramsey might even play...
Act I, Scene I: The pub on the Holloway Road
An hour and a half until kickoff. The pub's not busy, but isn't quiet, with groups of drinkers dotted around at the bar and tables elsewhere. A few are wearing obvious Arsenal attire, but most are merely drinking and/or talking about the evening's football. Sky Sports News is churning out a diet of pre-match updates and speculation in the corner, along with transfer news from Bishops Stortford and regular promos for a boxing match later in the week. Many eyes are intermittently glued.
There is much to discuss. Arsenal have to win to go forwards in the Champions League but only if Bayern win and then we win by two clear goals in the last match, a draw isn't good enough, as per. Several of those in attendance will be attending the match later - there are season tickets in attendance - while others are staying put. The pub doesn't have BT Sport, which is a pain these days, but the game's on RTE the landlady reassures, so there's no need to shift.
An informed air exists, based on shared collective experience and speculation, sometimes gabbled ten to the dozen, at other times more restrained, even slurred, depending on how many pints have been consumed since entering. Several genuine Highbury characters are in attendance, including devoted disciples who go to every match and have for years, be that Norwich away or a tour of the Far East, and with anecdotes from each. Friendly to a fault, even to an obvious newcomer, a shared footballing history keeps the discourse flowing.
Top of the specials board by the bar is the culinary classic "Steak done in the oven", and for less than a tenner, but thus far the kitchen is quiet. For most a tall chilled lager is the drink of choice, again very reasonably priced, and we're outside the exclusion zone so it's served in glass rather than nasty plastic. A young man from the Far East sits alone at a neighbouring table, pristine red and white scarf around his neck, tapping furiously into his phone and (very) occasionally sipping his Stella.
The team news, when it comes, is greeted with shrugs. Best Arsene could have done in the circumstances, what with all the injuries, is the general consensus. Intelligence beamed from contacts at the ground suggests that security has been ramped up, what with you know what recently, so there are police everywhere and more checks than is usual. We might need to leave early so as not to get stuck in a queue, but there are still beers to finish off, and best visit the Gents before walking to the stadium. Is he still in there, come on, the time's ticking by.
Act I, Scene II: Outside the Stadium
With kick off imminent, the streets outside the Emirates are still teeming with fans. The locals always delay arriving until the last minute, because getting in's usually easy, except not tonight. An extra ring of police surrounds the stadium, roughly where the bollards are, and the team's stewards are out in great number. Those with bags are checked, which surprises many, then surprises nobody when they stop to think.
There are long queues at the gates. I am reliably informed that there are never queues at the gates, but tonight there are. Strings of fans billow out from the rim of the stadium, while police stand around in static supervisory mode. There's no sense of danger, nor even of frustration, merely resignation as the matchtime whistle sounds from inside the sporting garrison.
As is always the way, we find ourselves in the most persistent line. When nobody's come to stand behind you for a good five minutes, you know you've played the queueing game wrong. The Gunners'd better not have scored already, although the crowd noise from within suggests as yet not. At least we're moving.
My patdown, when it comes, is a token gesture designed to look as if something is being done. Directed forwards I attempt to work out how my ticket works, waving it ineffectively across a panel beside the turnstile. The turnstile refuses to move so I try again, and still nothing, and again... and this time I push with such force that the gate spins round and thwacks me in the head. Welcome to the Arsenal. Game on.
1) Visit Alexandra Park
Though Northolt Park contains no eponymous greenspace, its recreational sensibilities are satisfied by the extensive amenity of Alexandra Park. Opened in 1928 on the site of the legendary Paddocks Pleasure Grounds, it was named after Queen Alexandra who frequently visited this delightful locale. Sinuous avenues of trees lead up the hill towards a verdant summit, where a notched sawtooth sculpture holds court and starlings roost. Bring a picnic from Mama's Kitchen or the Spicy Night Tandoori - the opening date for the organic independent cafe remains some time off - and spread out on the benches by the Millennium Garden. Some of London's finest breeds of dog can be found snuffling and squatting in the longer grass, while younger residents ride their bicycles from one gate to another enthralled by the possibilities created. Why slip up the road to South Harrow when everything a great day out needs is right here?
2) Join the Northolt Park Social Club
The beating heart of everyday nightlife in UB5 can be found in the midst of the Racecourse Estate. For eight pre-war years these fields were a national centre for pony racing, with crowds flocking to the grandstands from far and wide to bet on four-legged frolics, before the council ploughed the lot and built thousands of houses instead. But that early buzz and excitement lives on at the Northolt Park Social Centre, whose drab prefab exterior belies the warm welcome offered within. Conveniently located just up the road from the Harvester and Travelodge, a full range of activities from Zumba to Taekwondo are offered on a regular basis. Or come for the Bingo, renowned in the locality from Goodwood Drive to the flats, every Wednesday and Friday evening from eight. Annual membership is excellent value at £15, and much coveted, because where else in London can you watch every BT Sport live football match simulcasted as it happens? The spirit of Ascot is alive and well at the NPSC.
3) Dine out at Station Parade
When discerning visitors alight in Northolt, direct from the Aerodrome or elsewhere, Station Parade should be their natural destination. This run of exquisite eateries and boutiques serves the local neighbourhood with aplomb, from Hollywood Pizza to the House of Elliott salon. The cuisine of the subcontinent is a particular speciality, with an Indian hybrid flavour brought to life at the Golden Sip restaurant, and the Chautari takeaway offering the authentic taste of Nepal. If all this has tickled your tastebuds, pop into the Everest Supermarket where you can recreate all your favourite dishes at the drop of a shopping basket. Or venture differently east at the Gucio Polish delicatessen - of course it's an off licence too! And if any hipsters feel the need to opt out there's a quirky Asda immediately adjacent to the funeral directors, because that's the way Northolt Park parties.
4) Arrive in style at Northolt Park station
But how to get to this outer London hotspot? The powers that be haven't made it easy, indeed some would say deliberately difficult, by restricting travel options to minimal service levels. Chiltern Railways, holders of the Bicester Village franchise, run just one train an hour to this zone 5 outpost - miss that and miss out! The station that bears Northolt Park's name is a brief halt between two streets, crossed by a footbridge that affords a glorious panorama of the surrounding rooftops. As one of the dozen or so least used stations in the capital, the pop-up ticket office is regularly staffed and of an especially atmospheric vintage. A padlocked portakabin in scarlet and blue, the interior is laid out with low occasional tables and some leaflets, while faded colour prints on the exterior depict happier days when the Green Arrow steamed through. Alight here for The Top Shop newsagents, and adventure.
5) Walk to Northala Fields
If your visit to Northolt Park has taken its toll, take a brief stroll south to the banks of the A40. Here four huge conicalmounds have arisen, seemingly inspired by Madonna's brassiere, their summits looming above the traffic on the silver thread of dual carriageway below. These sylvan hills date back barely a decade, constructed from the spoil removed during the reconstruction of Wembley Stadium, whose elegant arch resembles an ivory rainbow on the northwest horizon. Various footpaths curve around this quartet of grassy peaks, but only one spirals sufficiently to rise to the highest crown. Follow the gabions anti-clockwise, or use the wooden benches aligned as stepping stones, and pray that bitter winds have cleansed the summit of local riffraff. The view is genuinely one of the finest in west London, from Horsenden and Harrow round to Heathrow Airport, interrupted only by the occasional hovering bird of prey. And in the distance espy the City and the Shard, their retail and cultural delights impossibly out of reach, but when you have all of Northolt at your beck and call, why rush to leave?
On Sunday afternoon I walked the Thames Path from Tower Bridge to North Greenwich, a fascinating eight mile stroll mostly alongside the river. I've walked it before, so this time I thought I'd do a little survey along the way to sharpen my senses. Every five minutes I took a look around me and rated my current location (out of 5) for Gentrification and for Busyness. My scoring was terribly subjective (I mean, what is gentrification anyway?), but what the hell, at least it was consistently subjective. You've read this blog before, you know I do peculiar things like this, just go with it. [map]
[0m] Tower Bridge (G0, B5) The famed Victorian bridge helps to set the ends of my two scales. Zero marks for Gentrification, because this is an original, but full marks for Busyness, oh stop taking photos and move out of my way.
[5m] Shad Thames (G5, B4) One of the original gentrification hotspots, but still tastefully done, and the cobbled canyon draws the crowds. [10m] New Concordia Wharf (G4, B2) Slipping across the creek, this old warehouse hasn't quite gone the way of its surroundings. Few tourists get this far, preferring to turn back at the Design Museum. [15m] Chambers Wharf (G3, B3) Now passing inland, one side of the street is utterly be-flatted, but the rest remains vacant (for supersewer work). [20m] Bermondsey Wall (G3, B3) I'll be using code G3 a lot along this stretch of the walk, there being loads of flats that are not too old and not too new. [25m] King Stairs (G3, B3) Rotherhithe didn't take long to get to, and the Angel pub is a refreshing survivor of the old days. And it's busier again too (OMG, that's the actual Matt Berry from Toast of London, walking past in dark glasses on his phone). [30m] Cumberland Wharf (G3, B1) One catch with only checking-in every five minutes is that you sometimes miss somewhere important, in this case the historic residential heart of Old Rotherhithe. That was charming, this is more apartmenty.
[35m] Pacific Wharf (G3, B2) Have you noticed how all the flats around here seem to be called Something Wharf? A poignant reminder of how much trading heritage has been lost. [40m] King and Queen Wharf (G3, B1) Few people walk this section of the waterfront behind Rotherhithe Street. Across the river on the Tower Hamlets shore, only a brief section of Narrow Street has any historic character. [45m] Sovereign Crescent (G3, B2) These Georgian-style terraces are so very much of the post-Thatcher era. Nobody would ever build something so lowrise overlooking the Thames today. [50m] Sovereign View (G3, B1) "This major riverside development was formally opened by Sir George Young Bt MP, Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction, 25th November 1993" [55m] Hilton Docklands (G3, B3) A posh hotel ought to score higher for gentrification, but it's so nondescript, and the neighbouring residential streets so ordinary, that I can only rate this spot as a G3. [1h] Durand's Wharf (G2, B3) They used to build mundane council-style blocks out here at the inaccessible tip of the Rotherhithe peninsula. Now Docklands glistens on the opposite shore. Coming up imminently, Surrey Docks Farm is a delightful urban/rural hybrid, and definitely more G1, B2.
[1h 5m] Barnards Wharf (G3, B2) Unbelievable as it sounds, a plaque confirms that this lowbrow residential development was opened by "Actor and Television Personality Fraser Hines" on Friday 10th July 1992. Thames-side walkers are low in number now, but not insignificant in number. [1h 10m] Greenland Dock (G3, B2) Again my five minute rule skips an area of contrasts (deluxe New Caledonian Wharf faces bog-standard flats on Odessa Street) to hit the very-1990s edge of a major marina/dock. [1h 15m] South Dock (G3, B2) You can catch a Thames Clipper from here to Westminster, but the nearest station's a considerable walk, so house prices have only been yanked up so far. [1h 20m] Aragon Tower (G2, B1) This council tower block was reclad to boost its desirability to incomers, but a close look at the upper floors reveals a thin veneer. The neighbouring Pepys Estate opened in 1966, in an era when London built for workers rather than investors. [1h 25m] Upper Pepys Park (G2, B2) I've just passed the first proper old riverside buildings for miles, the bricky remainders of Deptford Dockyard at Drake's Steps, but the modern playground in Pepys Park ups the gentrification quotient a notch. [1h 30m] Grove Street (G1, B2) Oh my word. Forced inland, the Thames Path hits working class Lewisham and streets utterly untainted by thoughts of cappuccinos. How terribly G1.
[1h 35m] Sayes Court Park (G2, B2) The Evening Standard's property supplement does not yet come here, but graffiti on the park fence reads "No More Homes For the Rich", because it will. [1h 40m] Convoys Wharf (G1, B2) What remains of Henry VIII's Royal Dockyard is huge, and fenced off, and awaiting transformation into 3500 new homes. Further graffiti suggests local residents are less than happy - security vans patrol the interior to keep protesters out. [1h 45m] Wharf Street (G4, B2) Look at that Gentrification score suddenly leap. The first street in Greenwich has been transformed into offices and apartments with water gardens, pretentious sculptures at ground level and a "pop-up eatery" serving "Truffled Tentacled Croquettes". Sheesh. [1h 50m] Millennium Quay (G4, B2) They've gone full whack towards apartment-building around the mouth of the Ravensbourne of late, including a new tidal footbridge to increase accessibility. I nearly awarded this G3, but the two local shops are a wellbeing centre and a cafe-cum-florists, so G4. [1h 55m] New Capital Quay (G4, B3) Another very modern blocky waterfront development, piling up the profits, with gyms and restaurants to save the residents having to mix too much with citizens elsewhere. The Thames Path is not signposted, this being a private 'public' place. [2h] Meridian Estate (G1, B3) Immediately adjacent to Maritime Greenwich proper, this very ordinary council estate holds its prime location in the face of commercial pressure.
[2h 5m] Old Royal Naval College (G0, B4) The one Greenwich location you're bound to know is the piazza around the Cutty Sark, now scarred by gold-coated Byron and Nando's restaurants (G4, B5), but my five minute timecheck has hit the untainted historical waterfront beyond. [2h 10m] Trinity Hospital (G1, B3) Again I've missed the newer stuff (past the Trafalgar Tavern), this time checking in outside a 17th century charitable foundation. [2h 15m] The River Gardens (G4, B2) Here we go again, with massive characterless flats recently crammed into a 'prime location' on the sanitised riverfront. Alas, as yet nobody seems to want to occupy the empty restaurant space beneath one of the blocks (if you're interested, ring Harry Cody-Owen). [2h 20m] Enderby Wharf (G1/G4, B1) Barratt Homes have high hopes for this 40 acre development beside a proposed cruise liner terminal, although the artist's impression painted on the hoardings looks unspeakable. Until the first block opens, this remains the back of nowhere. [2h 25m] Morden Wharf (G1, B1) This is even more desolate, a post-industrial walkway wiggling around crumbling premises, and the first double-1-coded location on the walk. Later, expect (slightly inaccessible) flats. [2h 30m] Victoria Deep Water Terminal (G0, B1) And this is about as wonderfully desolate as it gets. Sand is piled up on a waterfront still used as a cement works, in the shadow of a gasholder, with a footpath still inexplicably passing through. Long may it survive.
[2h 35m] Greenwich Peninsula Golf Range (G4, B1) Hang on, what?! A driving range has been laid out on land that's five years off being flats, its extensive astroturf splattered with thousands of white balls hit from 60 heated grandstand bays. The attached wine bar is called Vinothec Compass and looks beyond pretentious, but an upmarket clientèle evidently exists. [2h 40m] InterContinental London Hotel (G1/G4, B1) Due to open next month, this intrusive mega hotel has its eye on business travellers and wealthy conference stopovers. Until then, tumbleweed rolls down the western edge of the peninsula. [2h 45m] The O2 (G5, B5) And finally, almost three hours after leaving Tower Bridge, this teeming teflon tent is the ultimate in gentrification. Formerly a gasworks, yesterday it hosted tennis's ultimate world final, and served a lot of burgers. Thankfully not all of London's Thames-side has yet been devoured by money.
Most model villages are rural idylls. A row of cottages, a parish church, a duckpond, that sort of thing. But yesterday I visited a model village that's anything but, in a railway arch off Southwark Bridge Road. You might have seenit at Dismaland in Weston-Super-Mare over the summer, as part of Banksy's seaside bemusement park. And now it's come to London, rather closer to the environment it represents, and you have two months to take a peek. [10 photos]
The creator of this dystopian model village is Jimmy Cauty, one of the members of 90s pop collective the KLF. He's morphed from successful bandsman to artist with a social conscience, with a particular focus on the rule of law. In 2011 he placed model police and protesters inside glass to create A Riot In A Jam Jar, a concept which latergrew into an entire installation. Entitled The Aftermath Dislocation Principle it covers the equivalent of one square mile, but at 1:87 scale, from a cluster of tower blocks in one corner to a bleak country lane in the other. There are cars and buildings and houses like any other model village, but here represented in the aftermath of a riot so generally wrecked, empty or rolled over. And although there are no residents - they've either fled or been taken away - over 3000 police officers are standing around in hi-vis jackets and collectively wondering what to do next.
Naturally it's excellent.
The whole thing's quite dark, both in tone and in illumination. A roving spotlight moves above the town, but it's the combination of sodium lamps and blue flashing lights which provides most of the atmosphere. But keep looking carefully, because the attention to detail is spectacular. The billboards have twisted slogans for multinational brands, the Meat Rendering Plant is named Slaughterhouse 22, and there's even a proper scaled-down road sign showing the turnoff for the Model Village. Ah, the irony of a poster urging you to join the Bedfordshire Police, in a neighbourhood seemingly inhabited by nobody else. Poor old Bedfordshire has been selected for this fictional dystopia, I'd say more likely Luton than the county town itself, but the location is never further narrowed down.
At Weston-Super-Mare the village was so popular that visitors started walking off with the figures, so a fence was swiftly erected around it, and here in London that's been taken one step further. The entire board is surrounded by a hoarding drilled with holes, and visitors can only peer inside through one of these. Rather than scanning the whole thing far too quickly you find yourself forced to view each tableau in turn, taking in each set piece with a smile. A car stacked up in a pyre of branches. A lorry toppled from a traffic-free overpass. A Burger King restaurant entirely overrunwith police officers. And my personal favourite, a roadblock on a flyover where the media have pulled up in outside broadcast trucks to hear a speech from the Home Secretary, who's standing on a podium and has a big black cross on her back.
I'd not have realised it was the Home Secretary if I hadn't read the map provided on the way in, so make sure you check this out or you'll miss some visual treat. That stage erected in the midst of the tower blocks is for some X Factor-style competition, although the gallows alongside suggests elimination has been taken over-seriously. The helicopter hemmed in by an army escort supposedly contains the Duchess of Cambridge, her destiny never to evacuate. And the McDonalds drive-thru has suffered a particularly appropriate vehicular accident... actually yes, I spotted that one without the need for the map to point it out.
What's more, the model village still isn't finished. The main S-shaped board, yes, but an additional zone is under construction in the front half of the arch. The latest creation is New Bedford Rising, a gold-encrusted pyramid inside which the police force is building a fresh crime-free society. Officers can be seen ferrying supplies inside, either through a ground level portal or up steep external staircases, Egyptian style. Even better, you can watch the miniature construction project unfold at the workshop benches alongside, where a small team of model makers are busy cutting material and painting fresh policemen. All the materials are laid out, including boxes and boxes of not-yet-yellow human figures, with a full-size Bedfordshire Police caravan behind to act as store and bolthole.
You might even see Jimmy himself, as I did yesterday afternoon, continuing to treat his pet project with the seriousness its subject matter deserves. The model village is open between noon and six at weekends, and noon and seven from Wednesdays to Friday, and continuing until 28th January. Admission is £4, which is about right assuming you hang around and take a proper look. And it's not busy, at least not yet, the arch in America Street being far enough off the beaten track that you'll not walk past by accident. To find the entrance follow the railway line west from London Bridge station (or walk in from Borough, or catch the RV1), and look for the postered entrance beside the car valet. Excellent both in its construction and as an incisive satire on the way we live today, Jimmy's model village is well worth a look.
I've never seen the need for them myself. I never wear one, and I've never wanted to be a person who wears one.
Hats only get in the way. They perch on your head in a peculiar manner. They muck up your hair, which would still be pristine had no hat been applied. They potentially obscure your vision, which could be a danger to others including children. And they feel a bit funny, as I'm sure you'll agree if you've ever tried wearing one.
I wouldn't want to be a person with a hat. Covering my head in an artificial way. Having to carry it around everywhere in case of need. That awkward brushing sensation against the ear. Being judged by others for my choices. It must be so difficult.
To me, hats are unnecessary. I can live my life perfectly well without a hat, and so can everybody else. There is no situation in which a hat is essential, save for safety reasons, so I don't see why anyone else should wear one.
And yet people still wear hats. They place them on their head in public and sometimes even wear them indoors. If questioned they'll claim it's part of who they are, that it makes them feel good, that it goes along with their beliefs. I simply do not understand why this should be the case. I don't wear a hat, so surely there's no need for anybody else to.
Why is it so important to these people that they be allowed to wear hats? If you look around, it's not the normal state of affairs. The vast majority of people in this country today are not out there wearing a hat. But still this subgroup exists amongst us, encouraged by certain sections of the press, as if the wearing of a hat were somehow fashionable.
I often feel personally offended when other people choose to wear a hat. I never wear one, but they insist on parading in front of others with a hat on their head. Why should I be forced to look at people doing something I would never do, and without me having any say in the matter whatsoever? These people are from a different world to me.
There's something unnatural about hats. We're not born with them, neither are they something that we choose to wear unaided. Many people are introduced to wearing hats at an early age by fellow sympathisers. They start off with entry-level hats before progressing to stronger hats, and before long they've been sucked into the world of extremist hat wearing, while society does nothing.
When I see someone has started wearing a hat I always look at them in a new way. Why are they doing that? How are they different to me? What gives them the right to wear a hat in public? And if they can do all this, what else could they be capable of?
If a member of my family got involved with someone wearing a hat I'd be uncomfortable. What they do under their own roof is up to them, but I wouldn't want to have to invite them into my home. I don't want hat-wearing to take root in my family, it wouldn't be right. It's not the future I want to see.
Wearing a hat makes people think differently. There's a swagger, even a bravado, that comes from within once the hat is on their head. It's clearly dangerous to allow such thoughts to prosper. These people should be registered so that we know where they are at any time.
A lot of people overseas wear hats, and yet our borders are powerless to stop them passing through. Meanwhile more and more new converts to hat-wearing are recruited from within our own communities. Our liberty is increasingly threatened by weak and impressionable citizens.
I don't want you to think I'm anti-hat. Some of my best friends wear hats, and they're of perfectly reputable character. But we've all read the news and seen what people who wear hats are capable of. What I expect from others is respect. And if it takes new laws to impose that consensus, so be it.
We cannot tolerate people so fundamentally different to ourselves. We need to protect the rights of the majority. We must not lose our country to the hat-wearers.
(feel free to adapt today's post to your own ill-founded prejudices)