[lit-ideas] 5 Short Stories

  • From: Stephen Straker <straker@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 13 May 2004 09:52:26 -0700

Dear Litters, 

Oh my, but this is wonderful! 

Lit-Ideas would not be compleat without regular dispatches
from The Guardian's weekly e-mail digest, "The Northerner".  

This week's example is typical. Disguised as "the best of
the northern press", it actually contains the equivalent of
Five Short Stories, rather as if there were a "Shouts &
Murmurs" section in a magazine called *The New Yorkshirer*.
(They read very like the Tales of David Ritchie. How odd.)

I recommend you take up their offer (at end) of a free
weekly subscription. In these dark times, these tales remind
us that life does go on, quite swimmingly even. 


The Northerner: Derailed in Macclesfield
David Ward (13 May 2004)

Welcome to the Northerner, Guardian Unlimited's weekly
digest of the best of the northern press.


This is an unashamed rant. Born out of teeth-crunching
frustration.  Hours spent on the web. Aeons spent pressing
phone buttons ("Press nine to go mad"). Stress. Anxiety.
Night sweats.

All we want to do is go by train from Macclesfield to London
on five consecutive Sundays and return on five consecutive

Easy. Get on the Virgin website, do a bit of mousing, pick
up a bargain and pack your bag.

But picking up 14-day or 7-day advance cheapies is
impossible. They are never available; perhaps they have not
been available since the days of the Rocket.

So we settle for fifty quid return and book three at one go.
The logical thing would be to send all three out at once.
But Virgin finds it much more fun to screw up the tension by
sending them out one by one, as close to the day of travel
as they can possibly make it. We maintain a vigil by the
front door to wait for the postman.

We ring to ask where the tickets are. Miraculously, they
have always just been sent out by first class post. We ask
why all three could not have been sent together. "We send
them individually to bring our sales in line with those of
other train companies."

We suggest that is not much of an answer but it is clearly
the only one we are going to get.

Next time we try the webmaster. Virgin have installed
stunningly efficient idiot programs on their mainframe to
ensure that no questions are ever answered with useful
information. "Where are my tickets?" we ask. "It is raining
in Barcelona," comes the reply. (Ok, I'm lying.)

The first set of tickets arrives for the 2pm Sunday train
but there is no reserved seat for the outward journey. We
ring to find out why.  "Because the 2pm is not a reservable
train," we are told. "Why?" "Because the seats are not
reservable." This circular conversation continues for some

The second set of tickets arrives (on the Friday before the
Sunday).  But this time there is a subtle change: we must go
to Macclesfield to pick up a bus to Wilmslow, whence the
train will depart. We go to Wilmslow by car instead. But,
because of work to upgrade the west coast main line, there
are, as we expected, no trains and have not been for some

Staff look in bafflement at the ticket. We rush back to
Macclesfield and find a train there. This is beginning to
resemble that scene in Three Men In A Boat in which
passengers and staff argue about the destination of a train
leaving Waterloo.

Faced with having to buy two more tickets, we abandon the
computer and the phone lines (where that nice Scottish woman
tells you that all lines are busy and will you please shove
off) and head for Macclesfield station's booking office.

Here we deal with a real person, a man who talks about his
approaching holiday in Italy, sorts out fares and
reservations and smiles. Oh the joy of it.

As for the trains: one of those 2pm Sunday trips took just
over two hours; another took three and a half.

Don't explain, Sir Richard. I haven't got the energy to


Players from Carlisle Cricket Club were sad when they
learned of the death of Leonard Brunton, who had served the
club for years as batsman, umpire and groundsman.

The flag at the club was lowered, the cricketers bowed their
heads and Mr Brunton's friend Dick Scott paid tribute. One
member slipped round to Mr Brunton's home to ask where
flowers should be sent and was a little taken aback when the
deceased opened the front door.

A member of the club had jumped to an understandable, if
wrong, conclusion when he saw a newspaper death notice for a
man called Bunt - the nickname Mr Brunton had been given
during his time at the club.

The far from late Mr Brunton, who lives in Carlisle, said it
had been a strange experience to hear an exaggerated report
of his demise.

"It was very weird but I'm glad to say I'm very much alive,"
he said.  "Now I'm going to go and have a drink with them to
prove I'm still here."


Barbara Dickson played the lead 21 years ago in the premiere
in Liverpool of Willy Russell's Blood Brothers, a tragic
musical about the fate of Scouse twin brothers separated at
birth. Now she is back in the city playing the same part.

In the Liverpool Daily Post, arts editor Philip Key welcomed
the return of the show and of Dickson. "[It] gives you
everything - laughs, tears, great songs, a fascinating story
and wonderful characters.

"It has matured over the years into a solid piece of theatre
with no dull moments and a story that fairly rockets along.
Maturing with it is Barbara Dickson... She now comes across
as we want all mothers to be, a well-proportioned loving
woman with heart and understanding.

"The voice, if anything, has improved. Songs like Easy Terms
and A Light Romance are given special poignancy with her
clear, soaring tones."

I first came across the show in 1989 when covering a (deeply
boring) north of England education conference on the Isle of
Man. I could not get out of being whisked off to one of the
island's secondary schools to see a production and could not
pretend I was looking forward to it.

But it was brilliantly acted and brilliantly sung, with the
young cast producing an almost dangerous intensity. I was
snivelling by the end.  And a couple of hundred local
council education administrators were up their feet roaring
their delight while wiping away tears with their sensible
ties. Unforgettable.


Eric Robson, the chairman of Gardeners' Question Time on
Radio 4, hit the headlines when he took a swipe at gardening
makeover programmes.

Now he has had a go at decking, the slippery fad that has
crept across estates throughout the land.

Robson was called in by the Westmorland Gazette when it
reported that councillors had ordered a couple in Kirkby
Londsale, Cumbria, to removed "offensive" decking from their

Robson, a bit of puritan in the herbaceous border, said the
fashion had got out of hand.

"Declaring he did not want to be see as a 'Stalinist
gardening tsar', he said: 'My own view of decking is that we
have gone too far. We are fashioning gardens with all sorts
of hardware and forgetting about the plants.

"'Things have just gone too far down the hard landscaping
route - we need to see gardens softened up a bit. We want
gardening to celebrate plantmanship, not something we buy at


Washing wars have erupted in Skipton. British Airways
steward David Painter is fed up because he cannot drive his
car down back streets close to his home, due to the amount
of zig-zagging washing hung out to dry in crisp Yorkshire

He has been complaining for five years, and the Yorkshire
Post reports that he now seems to have won over North
Yorkshire county council.

The opinion of a learned barrister appears to be that the
smalls, sheets and woollies hanging on the lines are
obstructing the highway and must be removed.

Skipton's formidable upholders of the Yorkshire washing line
tradition are defiant.

"You don't think we are going to stop now, do you?" asked
Margaret Hicks, 64. "I never thought it would come to this.
I didn't think the council would be so stupid to let it go
so far. I will not be stopped [from] putting my washing out
and we have a plan in progress to counteract it,

"What looks nicer than lines of clean washing?"

Marie Moorby, 72, added: "I can't understand a young man
like him getting so upset about some washing."

Mr Painter would be advised to watch his back: an outraged
Yorkshire woman charging down a back street with a prop is a
fearsome sight.

* * * * *

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Subject: The Northerner: Derailed in Macclesfield
Date: Thu, 13 May 2004 09:44:15 +0000 (UTC)
From: Guardian Unlimited
To: Guardian Unlimited


Stephen Straker 
Vancouver, B.C.   
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