A rare political post from a usually apolitical, optimistic writer
As I type this post with a heavy heart, I’m bleary eyed after staying awake till 3.30am, repeatedly hitting “refresh” on the BBC News Referendum Results page in the hope that somehow if only I did it enough times, the split in votes would change to favour the “Remain” camp.
Everywhere we go in Belgium, there are roadworks: on the motorway, on the main roads, in pedestrian precincts. Highway diversions confuse the satnav; footpath blockades trip us up.
One of the first Belgian towns that we stop in on our motorhome journey to Luxembourg is Mons, known as Bergen to Flemish speakers. Mons has recently been designated the 2015 European City of Culture. The local council wants to ensure that when the time comes, this ancient city will live up to scuh honour. Disruption at every turn is a small price to pay. Cobblestones are being lifted and relaid, walls rebuilt, roads resurfaced. We teeter across roadworks on temporary planking between piles of sand and stone, only to find, to our disappointment, that Mons’ greatest tourist attraction is closed for repair.
Oh well, we console ourselves, we’ll be going to plenty of other places in Belgium, and we move swiftly on.
Yet beyond Mons, the madness continues. In Dinant, parked in a quiet spot by the river, we awake to the distinctive sound of jackhammers, before hop-step-jumping around noisy roadworks in the town for some sightseeing. In Arlon, we have to detour around impeccably rebuilt stone steps to the Church of St Donat. (We try picture Homer Simpson.)
What is it with these Belgians? Why the apparent national obsession with rebuilding?
And then it dawns on me. Until recently, Belgium has been without a government for an extraordinary length of time – 541 days, to be exact. During this interregnum, the daily life of the country apparently ran more smoothly. Presumably that included the granting of planning applications, the bane of any builder’s life in Britain.
No government? This could be just what we need to get our potholes mended: let’s overthrow ours today!
Well, at least it would give the political pundits something to talk about other than Margaret Thatcher’s funeral.
Other posts about our Easter 2103 motorhome trip to France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany:
Although it’s taken me a long time to label myself as a writer, writing has been at the core of all the jobs I have ever done – reporter, PR, marketeer. But what I most enjoy writing – and reading – are letters. Among my most precious possessions are airletters penned by my grandmother when, aged 8, I lived in America for a year. (Her not-so-subtle parting gift to me was a writing case, so that I might write to her too.) I cherish boxes of letters from old schoolfriends, received when I moved to Germany at the age of 14.
So I was terribly disappointed to discover last year that I’d missed by a few days the deadline to apply for a job writing letters for Steve Webb, our local MP, responding to his constituents’ enquiries and requests. For a long-term supporter of the Lib Dems, what a dream job that would have been: getting paid for writing about issues that really mattered to society and playing a small but significant part in changing our nation for the better.
My disappointment was short-lived. In the wake of the General Election, as the new coalition emerged, I decided I’d had a lucky escape. I would not have relished responding to the wrath of the disillusioned masses. I began to feel sorry for Steve Webb, even though he’d been elevated to Cabinet Minister. But I still couldn’t stop myself firing off a few letters to him expressing my dissatisfaction with some of the new government’s policies.
Then last week I had the chance to meet him. He visited the village school to plant a tree donated by Morrisons and I was invited to take photos for the school. My disenchantment quickly melted away. He came across as a sympathetic, dedicated representative of our community with a genuine interest in our children. Some of them will not be eligible to vote for another 14 years, so no cynical fishing for votes there. He may be a Cabinet Minister, but he gave himself no airs and graces. No formal silver spade for him – he got stuck in and muddy. And no cynical kissing of babies, either – instead he played “Rock, Paper, Scissors” with the Year 6 boys.
A little later, we spoke briefly and he asked me my name.
“Ah, yes, Debbie Young,” he smiled. “France Lane.”
My goodness! I thought. A Cabinet minister knows where I live! What stroppy message had I put in my letters to make my address stick in his mind? But really, that doesn’t matter now. Next time there’s an election, I know who’ll be getting my vote.
(This post was originally published in Hawkesbury Upton Parish Magazine, April 2011)
In the run up to last month’s general election, I felt it was my maternal duty to make my small daughter aware that she was living through a historic moment.
I have a few memories of national and international import from my own childhood. Kennedy’s assassination, chiefly because it was the only time our next door neighbour came in to our house unannounced and the only time I saw her cry. Winston Churchill’s funeral: I had no idea who he was, but I knew that he was A Great Man. The first footstep of mankind on the moon: unlike most British children, I experienced this in the afternoon, because at that point my family lived in California.
So I had not expected Laura to be especially interested in the election, especially considering her school, unlike her cousin’s, was not closed for the day to be used as a polling station. (What a great way to instil a love of democracy in young children.) To my surprise, she followed the election news avidly and quickly formed strong and independent political views.
Firstly, she favoured Gordon Brown as “president” because he shared a Christian name with her Daddy. She also clamoured for an orange diamond on a stick to be displayed in our front garden because her best friend had one in hers. She liked the local Lib Dem’s alliterative slogan: “Win With Webb” and was gratified when he did.
“Why don’t they make Win With Webb president?” she asked. “He sounds good.”
Well, there are worse reasons.
She certainly pipped me at the post for early political awareness. Despite growing up in Edward Heath’s constituency, my main perception of his importance was that he opened my brother’s grammar school fete. Otherwise, my main childhood recollection of politics was a playground skipping rhyme, each girl stepping into the turning rope as her name was called:
“Vote, vote, vote for little Debbie,
Calling Debbie at the door,
For Debbie is a lady
And she’s going to have a baby
So we won’t vote for Debbie any more.
CHUCK HER OUT!”
To our way of thinking, this dismissal seemed only fair. Astonishing, then, that the Prime Minister to emerge from first election in which my generation was old enough to vote was a lady by the name of Margaret. It seems like ancient history now.
(This post originally appeared in the Tetbury Advertiser, June 2010)