Party Nasties


I was enthralled at Theresa May’s Tory Conference speech. There’s something magnificent about the Conservative Party painting itself in the colours of the common people, rather like watching a hippopotamus pull up a tutu to convince us it’s a ballet dancer. If Jeremy Corbyn had been standing beside her holding an autocue she could not have been more on his message. Tim Farron sings himself to sleep with most of what she had to say. And unlike Mrs Thatcher’s cynical mouthing of St Francis’ prayer before taking up her bloody sword, you can tell that St Theresa really means it. But what would a nice girl be doing in a party like this?

Being a political animal she’s doing the obvious thing. Faced with an open goal it’s time to put the boot in, and so she spots the vacated centre ground and goes for it. But that wouldn’t account for the passionate rhetoric that blistered her followers’ ears in Birmingham. Here are some of the Tory anathemas she says she seeks:

Support for refugees

Government investment in our infrastructure

Crackdown not only on tax dodgers and avoiders, but on “accountants, financial advisers and middlemen who help them avoid paying what they owe”.

Supporting free markets but (gasp) stepping in to repair them if necessary.

Ensuring the powerful and privileged no longer ignore the interests of the people.

Providing affordable housing by building more houses

Putting the rich and powerful ‘on warning’ and telling those who abuse their power ‘we’re coming to get you.’ Battling unfairness, Righting wrongs. Challenging vested interests. She really said all this.

Occasionally the camera would pan around the conference hall. There they all were, the vested interests, the accountants, the tax avoiders, rich and privileged white men, clapping like mad at every blasphemy she uttered. They smiled to each other as if to say ‘Dear Theresa, let her have her day. We can deal with her tomorrow’.

There were some sops to them in the speech, yawning contradictions of which she didn’t seem aware. She wanted ‘Brexit to involve free trade’ but ‘not to give up control of immigration’. In case she hasn’t been listening, every European leader is pointing out that Brexit precludes that aspiration completely. It’s one or the other. We can’t flounce out of the door and start making rules through the window.

She got a tremendous roar when she concluded a section on equal opportunity in education by championing Grammar Schools. They loved that one. She lauded Jeremy Hunt as a ‘passionate advocate’ of the doctors whose future unpaid extra hours he is imposing by law. Like so many people who don’t understand the house market she thinks that private building firms, given the opportunity, will build so many houses that prices will fall to affordable levels – why ever would they? Above all she mocks those who find ‘patriotism distasteful’, while giving baseline xenophobia and borderline racism all the oxygen they’ve ever wanted, even putting their interests ahead of our future economy.

The speech was a true house of cards, sincere in intent, hollow in detail, and sad in its parade of the worthy ideals we’ll never see. Nice lip-service, though. Dance, hippo, dance…

St Artisan


It’s a long time since I caught up with well-known local entrepreneurs Tim and Sally Pondweed, so I called in at the shiny new offices of Pondweed Bespoke Holiday Synergy (Cornwall). I asked Sally what new and exciting enterprises they were involved in.

“You know us” said Sally, “We’ve always had a nose for a gap in the market, and this is no exception. We’ve found a class of visitor whose needs simply haven’t been met until now.” “Really?” I said, “Who would that be? Sports fans? People from Essex? The Chinese?”

“No, you silly thing,” gurgled Sally deliciously, “We’re talking about the filthy rich.”

“Do they come to West Cornwall for their holidays? I thought they all went to the Med, when they weren’t in their holiday homes up in Rock.”

“That’s just the point. They didn’t. But they do now.”

Just than Tim came through and chipped in jovially,  “Yeah, West Cornwall. One of the tourist destinations still worth buying a return ticket to, eh?”  Sally wagged a finger at Tim and said “Now now, let’s not even talk about why Cornwall’s now such an attractive choice. We’ll just be grateful that it is. But the result has been the awful overcrowding we’ve seen this summer, misery, jams, cheek-by-jowl on the beach …” “Can’t get a drink anywhere…” added Tim, “So we’ve done the radical thing.  We’ve bought St Artisan.”

You’ll all know St Artisan, that picturesque harbour village just down the hill from St Bleak. There were rumours that only one permanent resident remained there, but no-one revealed that the village was for sale. “What? All of it? “ I said.  “Every bit” said Sally. “What about the last resident, the old lady?” “We bought her a nice holiday villa in Southern Turkey” said Tim. “She was well chuffed. Or she was when we last heard from her.”

“So what’s going to happen to St Artisan?”

“Well first the big fence,” said Tim, “Trumpy’s got the right idea there. We’ve closed all the rights of way, hired Whiplash SAS-style Security Solutions, fitted the minestacks with CCTV, bought some of those anti-drone microbeam thingies. We’ve got the diggers in at the moment, flattening the ground for…” “The heliport!” broke in Sally with a winning smile. “Yes,” said Tim “Our people can hop over to Tresco whenever they like…” “And so help the local community!” finished Sally, “Something we’re really passionate about!”

“Are you sure they’ll come?” I said doubtfully. “Of course they will,” said Tim, “They don’t want to be staying in places anyone can afford. We’ll have the best hotels, cottages, all the best chefs, Ricky, Ben, Jamie,…” “Local culture,” added Sally, “We’ve booked the Patronisi Kernow Oo-Arr theatre company, the Padstow Rocking Horse, a hot little outfit from Penzance called The Golowan Band, as well as the top stars on their way to Eden…” “Locally sourced food…” said Tim, “Rock Lobster, wild saffron buns, Royal Pasties…” “What are they made of?”  “ Swan” whispered Sally, “But don’t tell Her.”

“And best of all” concluded Tim with a wolvish grin,” They need never go outside the village for anything. In fact – they’ll never see Cornwall at all!”


OLD MIKE Class Teachers



You couldn’t make it up. Not again.

I’ve noted so often that new administrations don’t jump in and start fiddling with, say, Defence, preferring to leave it to those who know what they’re doing. They don’t make instant changes to complicated portfolios like business, transport, environmental affairs. But by golly everyone knows how to run education better than a teacher. Every time new faces step through the ministry doors, teachers all over the country brace themselves for the last massive wodge of changes to be torn up and a sparkling new agenda wished upon them from above.

Not that there’s anything new about Grammar Schools. The earliest are about 1500 years old and they were for centuries the necessary passport for talented and privileged boys – only – to progress to our ancient universities. They taught Latin, Greek, Religious Studies and possibly Law. Students were selected on grounds of class or money.

Ideal material then for Theresa May’s crusade, as expounded in Downing Street, to pull back together the awful inequalities that are tearing our society apart.

Perhaps the new schools will initiate a new curriculum in counter-speaking, how to torture language until it says the opposite to itself. For example:  grammar schools are going to be good news for poor and underprivileged children. They aren’t. They’ll just provide those who need it with a legitimate excuse to send under-performing children off down the road. They say they’ll finally be able to offer all children ‘a good school’. Really? Putting aside the implication that there aren’t any good ones now, where are the good schools for those who don’t squeeze through the gilded gate? They’re not even built yet, and when they are it’ll be to the pre-destined reputation of second-class schools with second-class teachers for second-class kids.

“You’re among the top ten-per-cent!” one of my old Grammar School teachers used to wail at us, usually prior to a scolding. We were. I watched several of my friends – talented in the creative arts, or good with their hands, destined to do jobs the rest of us need, or just not really sure in their early teens who they were or what they wanted – hived off to Lescudjack and Mounts Bay, heads down, lowered in expectation, already tasting the humiliation of official rejection.

It didn’t work.

What about provision for talented kids, I hear you ask, who’s looking out for them?

Well actually, their parents. Or not. That’s the saddest unspoken strand in this debate. Parents can make a huge difference to how kids flourish. The great evils of our time are against them: the lack of permanent housing, the fragile and temporary state of adult relationships, the struggles of hidden poverty, the inequality of opportunity among the sexes – I could be quoting St Theresa here – often exacerbated by the lazy belief that teenagers are impossible to get through to anyway, and are best left to sort things out in the electronic wilderness of their bedrooms. No wonder so many of them are lost. It’s not just because of fashions of government, the idleness of teachers, or the distractions of the net. In every case kids with loving parents who take time to help and support them will always come out best. Kids are for life. It starts at home.

Cornwall’s traffic madness

Do you remember the roads in the 1970s? Oh, the misery, the queues into Penzance stretching back to Crowlas and Marazion, the dreary circuit of rammed car-parks, the laughable idea of even trying to get to St Ives. The authorities tackled the problem at their usual snail’s pace. They built the Penzance by-pass, opened two or three new car-parks with more stringent time allowances and higher charges, installed the St Ives Park-and-ride to make better use of its fabulous railway line, etc etc.  And for a while things got better.

However all I hear this summer, on the street, in shops and everywhere else that people stop for a good moan, is people exchanging awful stories of traffic.

Of course it’s a hardy perennial, as the summer builds towards August, the crowds close in and the weather denies them the beach conditions they long for. We suffer their rudeness, their inexperience of our scary country roads, and their addiction to the 4 x 4 style – presumably they fell in love with the TV image of a deserted moorland track rather than the reality of the enervating crawl down to Hayle’s eastern roundabout in the drizzle with a carful of fractious kids. We can’t really blame them, and it gives us something to grumble about.

But this year there are signs of a real crisis. The crazy decision to re-route the access to Lelant was a classic case of a Planner In The Works, an ill thought-out attempt to fix one problem by creating a bigger one. Cornwall Council, in its Hate Penzance period, proposed something even more ridiculous at St Erth, a massive Park and Ride from which – yes, they really said this – people would distribute themselves all over Cornwall (except Penzance) by train, even back to Truro and St Austell, i.e. they’d drive dozens of miles past a place so they could get on a train back to it.  Some watered-down version of this is back on the agenda and we can only wait and dread.

An even bigger disgrace lurks in the dark vaults of Cornwall Council’s hard-drive: the Sainsbury money. You may remember (or never have known) that Cornwall Council kept back a million plus pounds of the sweetener Sainsbury’s offered Penzance for the privilege of knocking out its heliport and enticing more of its shoppers out of town. This was put aside for a new park-and-ride facility, cunningly placed right beside Sainsbury’s store. The idea that motorists, having crawled down the A30, would abandon their cars within sight of the town was clearly ludicrous, especially as there was to be no actual provision for the ‘Ride’ aspect, no fleet of minibuses but merely directions to the bus stop where they could stand in the rain and wait for the regular bus services. The money still languishes in Cornwall Council’s account and could be so much better used.

What’s to be done? The Lelant-to-Penzance dual carriageway would help. Proper king-sized seasonal park and rides outside Penzance and St Ives would be cheap and work like a dream. Notices of queues ahead, as on motorways, wouldn’t be too difficult to do. But we can’t go on like this. We need some urgent action before our roads are marked on maps: “For Winter Use Only”.

Old Mike – No Way, Cornishman 25/8/16



My play “The Rise and Fall of Magbeth” was performed at the Minack Theatre last week to large and it seems very happy audiences. It was dogged with bad luck before the show – the lead actress dropped out with a week to go and one of the crucial members of the cast had a heart attack at the dress rehearsal!

Despite all that stress the cast made a wonderful job of it. Tamsyn Kelly took over as Magbeth and did far more than fill in the role – she was absolutely brilliant and knocked the socks off the cast as well as the audience. What talent – it’s not easy for an audience to do a standing ovation at the Minack but that’s what she got on the last night, and well deserved. Jess Layton joined the company with four days to go, taking over Tamsyn’s part, and was flawless too. When I was forced to go on stage as well Tim Williams took over the stage management as well as his own part and made sure everything went smoothly. All my family took part too in different ways and even the weather joined in with a moonlit Minack at its most beautiful.

I’m thrilled and humbled with everyone’s hard work and dedication – thank you all so much.

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