The Northern Weekly Salvo

Incorporating  Slaithwaite Review of Books, Weekly Notices, Sectional Appendices, Tunnel Gazers’ Gazette and Northern Umbrella. Descendant of Teddy Ashton’s Northern Weekly and Th’Bowtun Loominary.

Published from 109 Harpers Lane Bolton BL1 6HU email: paul.salveson@myphone.coop

No. 264  March 26th  2019

Salveson’s half-nakedly political digest of railwayness, tripe and secessionist nonsense from Up North. Sometimes weekly, usually not; but definitely Northern. Read by the highest (and lowest) officers of state, Whitmanites, steam punks, yes women, no men, gay Swedenborgians, cat-spotters, discerning sybarites, bi-guys, pie-eaters, tripe dressers, nail artists, self-managing VIMTO drinkers, truculent Northerners, grumpy Norwegians, absurd Marxists, members of the clergy and the toiling masses. All views expressed are my own and usually nobody else’s. Official journal of the Station Cat Improvement Network, Pacer Dining Club and Station Buffet Society. Full of creative ambiguity, possibly. Promoting moderate rebellion and sedition, within reason, obviously.

“we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” – Jo Cox, maiden speech in House of Commons, June 3rd 2015

General gossips

Apologies for the long gap in Salvoes. This has partly been down to finishing off some jobs and being ill with some mystery virus for nearly a month. More or less fully recovered now, and well enough to get down to London for the ‘People’s Vote’ march on Saturday. The trip to London included a pleasant journey down via Birmingham with CrossCountry, lunch in the Centenary cafe at Moor Street, then a run down to Marylebone propelled by one of Chiltern’s class 68s. Those Mk3s really are a superb ride. I was staying with friends in Forest Hill and on Saturday morning visited the excellent Horniman Museum and Gallery nearby. Each Saturday there’s a farmers’ market in the grounds (the poor farmers must travel a long way to get there) with some very tasty bread, cheese and various kinds of street food on offer. The museum features a remarkable collection of musical instruments, with interactive displays in which you can press a button for the sound of a particular type of instrument. Dead clever. The march itself was almost an anti-climax. We joined it at Trafalgar Square and headed down Whitehall, with the red rose of Lancashire flying alongside our Yorkshire sister’s, the saltire, union jack, Welsh dragon and Irish tricolour. The very best of the British Isles, united in a common cause.

Interesting times

What more is there to say about Brexit? Along with one or two others, I took part in the ‘People’s Vote’ march on Saturday. The last time I was on a demonstration in London was the march against war on Iraq, in 2003. I’d say this was bigger but it’s never easy quantifying these things. A lot of people said the Iraq march achieved nothing. I disagreed with that; it helped shift government policy – ultimately – away from foreign adventures. Whether last Saturday’s march will directly result in a ‘People’s Vote’ I don’t know, but it will have an impact. Similarly the on-line petition (currently creeping up towards five and a half million) may not lead to revoking Article 50, but it will concentrate people’s minds and hopefully push MPs towards a compromise solution.

The least two and a half years have been notably lacking in any spirit of compromise or an attempt to reach a solution which is in the UK’s best interests. Brexiteers talk a lot about the 52% who voted leave, as though the 48% can be ignored. A vote so close suggests that politicians need to reach a solution which commands support across the country, not one which further entrenches division. A second referendum (which is what it would be, however you dress it up) isn’t an ideal solution but given politicians’ inability to reach any sort of agreement, it makes a lot of sense. Again, Brexiteers whinge about it being another vote being an affront to democracy. But if it is the only way of actually resolving the issue, it has much to commend it. Leavers as well as Remainers would have a vote: it’s hardly undemocratic. Arguably the biggest affront to democracy was the shameless way the original referendum was manipulated by ‘big money’ and a litany of lies about the supposed benefits of leaving the EU, quite apart from the dog whistle anti-immigration stuff. So back to where we are now. By the time you’re reading this, the situation will have changed yet again.

To be honest, I could live with a compromise that sees us staying in a customs union, avoiding a hard border in Ireland and giving us continued free access to European markets. There are lots of ways to maintain and develop cultural, political and economic links with Europe. It could reasonably be said that we might as well stay in the EU if we’re remaining in a customs union, to which there is no reply other than saying a classic British compromise which sees us leaving the political union but remains economically part of what we used to call ‘the common market’ might command popular support.

Political Posturings

Alongside the turmoil within the Conservative Party, Labour has been having quite a rough time as well. I must say that I thought Jeremy Corbyn had stooped as low as he could in his behaviour towards the biggest issue facing this country – but no, I was wrong. Instead of turning up in London to show solidarity with a huge expression  of popular anger over Brexit, he went to – Morecambe.

Cow Pie in Morecambe

I’ve nothing against Morecambe at all. The Midland Hotel is fabulous and the ‘Desperate Dan’ cow pies on the sea front are worth a trip for. And the nettle beer at Heysham is good for the digestion, after you’ve eaten an entire cow pie. But come on JC, get your priorities right. Increasingly I find Tom Watson to be one of the few voices of sanity on the Labour front bench (as well as Keir Starmer) with much of the running being left to back-benchers like Yvette Cooper and Peter Kyle. Meanwhile, the Conservative Party has imploded. Dominic Grieve should be the leader of a reformed centre-right party, let Johnson or Rees-Mogg lead a right-wing rump of nutcases. I suspect Labour will reform back to a (hopefully) radical centre-left party after it has lost a General Election.

I suppose some comment is required about The Independent Group. Their politics are not mine, but I respect them for having had the courage to leave their respective parties and follow their own instincts. Their departure is a judgement on both parties, Labour and Conservative. I wish Labour supporters would stop their childish narrative of ‘betrayal’ (which mirrors Leavers attacks on pro-Remain politicians) and recognise that they may have a point. Elsewhere in this Salvo, I offer some reflections on Corbyn and the cult which has grown up around him. Bound to lose me a few friends in ‘The People’s Party’ (if I’ve any left).

Vintage Trains reaches new heights

In a largely gloomy world, some light is being shone from Birmingham, or more precisely Tyseley, home of Vintage Trains. The community benefit society and its operating arm is one of the brightest spots in the UK rail scene. The recent overhaul of Great Western ‘Castle’ 7029 (Clun) has led to a series of runs to Birmingham and Worcester, where the ‘Castle’ performed brilliantly.

Clun Castle arrives at Birmingham Moor Street on one of its first runs since coming back onto the main line. Pic by Robin Coombes

The community benefit society has raised over a £1 million in a share offer and there is still time (just) to be a part of a socially enterprising train company operating main line steam. See http://www.vintagetrains.co.uk/offerinfo.aspx

HS2 and its Alternatives.

I’ve commented extensively in the past about HS2. I’m not a fan, despite being generally supportive of high-speed rail. I’ve been contributing to a study by the New Economic Foundation, commissioned by Friends of the Earth, which was published last week (A Rail Network For Everyone: Probing HS2 and its Alternatives). It has excited quite a lot of interest, including a reaction by Lilian Greenwood (whom I rate as a politician) effectively trashing it, suggesting we need HS2 and investment in the conventional network. I’d say even if there was a bottomless pit of money for rail, HS2 would still be a poor bet. Several northern city leaders wrote to The Guardian arguing for the scheme and it isn’t difficult to see why. Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham will get oodles of dosh to regenerate the areas around the HS2 stations. My response was published in Monday’s Guardian and reads thus:

As a contributor to the New Economics Foundation report (Guardian March 20) and having lived and worked all my life in the North, I think the response from some of the Northern city leaders to the report is misplaced. Leaders of cities such as Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham will get lots of free cash to redevelop inner-urban areas around the HS2 terminals, but that doesn’t mean HS2 will be good for the North as a whole. If the leaders of Oldham, Bolton, Wakefield, Blackburn, Kirklees and Wolverhampton were crying out for HS2 it would be more convincing. They stand to benefit very little from this scheme, which will suck life further out of the North and its larger towns, towards London. As someone who has spent a lifetime in the railway industry, it’s interesting to talk to colleagues in rail who are not able to speak publicly on HS2 but have strong views on it. There’s a small minority who are totally in favour, on the basis that any investment in rail is ‘a good thing’. There is an equally small minority against it completely. Then there’s a large group in the middle, and I count myself amongst them, who support high-speed rail but don’t believe HS2, as configured at present, is a good scheme and represents very poor value for money. The UK needs a properly planned high-speed network which is well connected to the conventional network, serving a much wider spread of towns and cities. And there needs to be ongoing, complementary investment in the local and regional network across the country with stronger support to the nascent UK rail manufacturing industry. Perhaps the city leaders should take time to read the NEF report; it’s on their side”.

The NEF report can be downloaded here: https://neweconomics.org/uploads/files/A_Rail_Network_for_Everyone_WEB.pdf

The Cult of Corbynism

Last month I circulated a short paper called The Cult of Corbynism which attracted a fairly equal measure of praise and criticism. It basically argues that Jeremy Corbyn has become a (possibly unwilling) centre of an unhealthy cult in the Labour Party, which is convinced of its own infallibility, damns anyone (outside or especially inside Labour) who has the temerity to criticise the Great Leader, and is completely blind to any sense that actually, outside the cult, a lot of people are moving away from Labour. Even with the complete meltdown of the Tory party, there is no encouragement in the polls that Labour might win a General Election. There’s a sense that winning an election doesn’t really matter anyway, now that we’ve got an ideologically pure Labour Party with the left ‘in charge’. The problem is, here in England (i.e., just to spell it out, not including Scotland and Wales) Labour is the only credible alternative to the Tories, thanks to our undemocratic voting system. Politically I’m closest to the Greens and not unsympathetic to the Lib Dems, but they don’t present a credible alternative to the Tories, at least not yet. Maybe my crazy dream of a centre-left Northern (or even Lancashire) party, might one day become a reality. But it’s not going to happen for some time. Here’s the full version of the piece anyway, comments welcome… http://www.paulsalveson.org.uk/2019/02/19/is-corbynism-a-cult/

Bolton broadens its base

Bolton Station Community Development Partnership (BSCDP) had a highly successful AGM last month, and elected a new management committee, with some new recruits including secretary (Amy Clare), treasurer (Richard Walker) and two new vice-chairs (Julie Levy and Brian Taylor). Gaynor has retired from her role as secretary due to work pressures and our former treasurer Ian is planning to move to Yorkshire. The AGM agreed to form a new community rail partnership for the Bolton area and we are currently looking at gaining accreditation as part of the new DfT sponsored process (assisted by ACoRP).

Work in progress…members of the partnership have a look at the works underway ‘upstairs’..Amy Clare, Sam Johnson, Julie Levy and Richard Thomas (University of Bolton)

The AGM took place as work was starting in bringing the currently empty spaces on platforms 4/5 back to use. This is funded by Network Rail and is being delivered by Northern and their contractors TMT. The total cost of the works at Bolton total about £1 million with the specifically ‘community’ elements amounting to about a third of that. The intention is for the University of Bolton to take a lease for the community spaces, developing a range of projects in conjunction with the partnership. This will be a mix of student-led projects, community initiatives and social enterprises.

A Grand Day Out

Members of the partnership management committee had a gradely day excursion to Carnforth recently (thanks to Northern for the group pass). Before setting off from Bolton we had the delight of being presented with a cheque for £10,000 by TransPennine Express to develop our community projects.  On arrival at Carnforth we were hosted by Andrew, proprietor of the Brief Encounter Cafe, and John, who manages the trust which has the lease for most of the station buildings.

Timothy West and Prunella Scales popped in for a brew last year

The cafe is a tenant of the trust, which in turn has a lease with Network Rail. John is the only paid member of staff at the trust, supported by a large team of volunteers who staff the visitor centre. The cafe uses paid staff, offering an excellent range of meals and snacks. The station booking office is staffed by Lancashire County Council, though this is facing an uncertain future owing to local government spending cuts. On the same side as the booking office there is an excellent model shop, pub and offices. Andrew’s chat with us about the economics of running the cafe were interesting. Most of his business doesn’t come by train – he is very dependent on the coach market, and is able to capitalise on the station’s ‘Brief Encounter’ connections. David Lean’s soppy romance was filmed at Carnforth (though purporting to be somewhere in the Home Counties just north of Watford).

Upcoming events and activities

The number one issue for us is to get the lease finalised and the work on the rooms completed, so we can start using the large amount of space that has been dormant for some years.

Helping us do much more…TransPennine Express has given us £10,000 to help our work

But in the meantime there are some good projects going ahead, including more planters being installed (with Prince’s Trust) and an ongoing programme of talks in the Community Room on Platform 5. On Tuesday April 2nd Richard Lysons will speak on ‘Amazing Women by Rail’, featuring women who helped transform the world, or at least the North of England bits. They include Elizabeth Gaskell, Ellen Wilkinson and Hannah Mitchell. The talk starts at 7.30 and everyone will get a copy of the excellent pamphlet promoting the project.

Welcome to the Heart of Wales Line Trail!

The Heart of Wales Line Trail, paralleling the railway from Llanelli to Craven Arms, is now complete. A ceremony in Llandrindod Wels on Mmarch 28th will formally mark its completion. Congratulations to everyone who has played a part in its development, particulalry les, Mike and the volunteers all along the line. The trail was made by possible by the help of the previous franchisee, Arriva Trains Wales. I’m proud to have helped in the early stages of the project, which will be of significant benefit to communities along the line. https://www.heart-of-wales.co.uk/experiences

Arts and Culture

Bolton’s Octagon Theatre is currently closed for a major rebuild. However, the adjacent central libary has made its lecture theatre available for theatre performances. It’s a lovely space but you need to be careful which ro you sit on as it can be a bit tight (ask for rows A or D, I’m reliably informed). We went to see a brilliant production of Henry Miller’s ‘The Last Yankee’, produced by Dave Thacker with a lot of help from our station partnership vice-chair, Julie Levy. A very powerful performance of a play I hadn’t seen before.

Bolton will be flooded by a tide of Whitmania in the next few weeks. It’s the 200th anniversary of Whitman’s birthday, on May 31st. An international conference hosted by the University of Bolton, guided walks of Whitman shrines, and performance of a specially-written play by Stephen Hornby (‘The Adhesion of Love’) will take place.  On the actual anniversary of his birth, there is an event in the Library lecture Theatre on ‘Walking Around with Whitman’ (I think) with talks by myself and Don Lee. After we’ve done, there will be a walk around Bolton led by Jacqueline Dagnall looking at sites of Whitmanic interest. Starts at 13.00. On Saturday June 1st the annual Whitman Walk starts from Barrow Bridge bus terminus at 14.00, ending at Brian Hey ice cream cafe.  A commemorative service will take place on Sunday June 2nd at Rivington Unitarian chapel, starting at 14.00.

The Bolton News has been giving the Whitman connection a good plug, with several features on the poet’s link to the town. See for example the mildly salacious https://www.theboltonnews.co.uk/news/17429762.nude-sunbathing-and-beards-walt-whitmans-guide-to-being-manly-as-town-celebrates-poets-bicentenary/

Meanwhile, my enforced idleness has given me chance to do some reading. Top of the list stands Danny Dorling and Sally Tomlinson’s excellent Rule Britannia – Brexit and the End of Empire. It goes much more deeply into the cultural factors behind the ‘leave’ vote, locating it in a yearning for a lost empire and the (hopeless) desire to ‘make Britain great again’. Itis unusually sensitive to the differences within the UK – the very specific contexts within Ireland (north and south), Scotland and Wales, but also within England. They stress that the strongest body of ‘leave’ voting was amongst the middle classes of middle England, very much the Tory heartlands. The paperback costs £12.99 and is published by Biteback. Get it from your local bookshop!

Crank Quiz: Introducing the ‘Brexit’ class

There has been a bit of a gap since the last Crank Quiz (the Seasonal Special). This one has got to have a Brexit flavour, so how about this? Readers are invited to nominate suitable names for a ‘Brexit Class’ of locomotive and/or train. All entries will be forwarded to Northern and TransPennine Express as possible names for their new fleet of electric trains, which hopefully they will politely ignore.

Readers’ Rants, Ruminations and Reflections (mostly on our trip to The Harz)

Walter Rothschild writes: “I am glad you enjoyed the Harz. the line south from Blankenburg was electrified at 25kV AC by the DDR as a test stretch for possible export locos and therefore remained an ‘island’, hence its later dismantling. However you failed to experience the Nordhausen end where diesel trams run along the narrow gauge line and then diverge just before the terminus station and run to the tram stop in the station forecourt! The method you describe of local or regional authorities granting the franchise to a company for a period (Harz-Elbe express or HEX just lost out to Abellio this year) may be one method of combining private-enterprise get-up-and-go with the guarantees of public service required”.

Aidan Turner-Bishop comments: “Yes, air travel to the Continent can be joyless. The ferries from Hull to Rotterdam and Zeebrugge and from Newcastle to Ijmuiden (Amsterdam) are much more pleasant and relaxing. You can sleep overnight and enjoy good buffet meals (North Sea Ferries’ curries are good). Arriving at dawn, sailing into the busy Europoort estuary or workaday Ijmuiden, is a good way to start a Continental break. I like the rituals on the ferries. DFDS boats depart playing ‘Anchors away’ and a Danish mariners’ march. North Sea Ferries have multi-lingual announcements. The Dutch for breakfast, I have learned, is ‘ontbijt’. After Ijmuiden it’s onto a coach for Amsterdam Centraal station where Elvis, the white cockatoo, squawks from his perch on the cafe bar. You don’t get that in airports”.

And Jim Trotman adds: “Excellent stuff about the Harz and the HSB. It’s about time UK railways operated to serve their markets including tourism, e.g. 90% of the market north of Preston.There is also a Clara Zetkin Strasse in Berlin. As a friend recently said, the Tories will keep asking for the impossible for Brexit and then blame the foreigners for the chaos and Labour will blame the Tories. At least the Lib.Dems are clear about staying in the EU as the best deal so far. We can certainly learn from “Johnny Foreigner”.

 

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The Salvo Publications List

The following are all available from The Salvo Publishing HQ, here at 109 Harpers Lane, Bolton BL1 6HU. Cheques should be made out to ‘Paul Salveson’ though you can send cash if you like but don’t expect any change. Bottles of whisky, old bound volumes of Railway Magazine, number-plates etc. by negotiation.

‘Lancashire’s Romantic Radical – the life and writings of Allen Clarke/Teddy Ashton‘ (2009). The story of Lancashire’s errant genius – cyclist, philosopher, unsuccessful politician, amazingly popular dialect writer. Normal Price £15  – can now offer it for £10 with free postage. There are a few hardback versions left – Normal price £25  – now at £15 with free postage. This book outlines the life and writings of one of Lancashire’s most prolific – and interesting – writers. Allen Clarke (1863-1935) was the son of mill workers and began work in the mill himself at the age of 11. He became a much-loved writer and an early pioneer of the socialist movement. He wrote in Lancashire dialect as ‘Teddy Ashton;’ and his sketches sold by the thousand. He was a keen cyclist and rambler; his books on the Lancashire countryside – ‘Windmill Land’ and ‘Moorlands and Memories’ are wonderful mixtures of history, landscape and philosophy.

‘With Walt Whitman in Bolton – Lancashire’s Links to Walt Whitman‘. This charts the remarkable story of Bolton’s long-lasting links to America’s great poet. Price £9.90 including post and packing. New edition published in May 2016. Bolton’s links with the great American poet Walt Whitman make up one of the most fascinating footnotes in literary history. From the 1880s a small group of Boltonians began a correspondence with Whitman and two (John Johnston and J W Wallace) visited the poet in America. Each year on Whitman’s birthday (May 31) the Bolton group threw a party to celebrate his memory, with poems, lectures and passing round a loving cup of spiced claret. Each wore a sprig of lilac in Whitman’s memory. The group were close to the founders of the ILP – Keir Hardie, Bruce and Katharine Bruce Glasier and Robert Blatchford. The links with Whitman lovers in the USA continue to this day.

‘Northern Rail Heritage’. A short introduction to the social history of the North’s railways. Price £6.00. The North ushered in the railway age  with the Stockton and Darlington in 1825 followed by the Liverpool and Manchester in 1830. But too often the story of the people who worked on the railways has been ignored. This booklet outlines the social history of railways in the North. It includes the growth of railways in the 19th century, railways in the two world wars, the general strike and the impact of Beeching.

Will Yo’ Come O’ Sunday Mornin? The Winter Hill Mass Trespass of 1896?. The story of Lancashire’s Winter Hill Trespass of 1896. 10,000 people marched over Winter Hill to reclaim a right of way. Price: £5.00 (not many left). The Kinder Scout Mass Trespass of 1932 was by no means the first attempt by working class people to reclaim the countryside. probably the biggest-ever rights of way struggle took place on the moors above Bolton in 1896, with three successive weekends of huge demonstrations to reclaim a blocked path. Over 12,000 took part in the biggest march. The demonstrations were led by a coalition of socialists and radical liberals and Allen Clarke (see above!) wrote a great song about the events – ‘Will Yo’ Come O’ Sunday Mornin’?’ Only a couple left.

 ‘Songs of a Northerner‘  by Jo Barnes. Photos by Paul Salveson. Price £3.50 inc postage  – please make cheques payable to ‘The Jo Barnes Fund’. A lovely collection of Jo’s poems written in the two years before she died; about landscape, emotions and day dreams.

You can probably get a better idea from going to my website: http://www.paulsalveson.org.uk/little-northern-books-2/