What is Philip Schofield?

Living in Ireland most of my life, I seem to have missed out on the elevation of Philip Schofield to being a person of national importance in England.

My memories of him are him being with a glove puppet, called, I think, Gordon the Gopher in the 1980s, and more recently as someone who appeared on an advertisement for buying or selling cars, I don’t remember which.

Obviously, I have missed out on something significant, because the BBC homepage had an item about him having quit daytime television. It seems likely that more people saw the webpage than wathched the programme, the only place I ever encountered breakfast television was in visiting people in extremis in nursing homes. It seemed an experience grimmer than sitting in an armchair in a dayroom where some well-meaning person tried to encourage ‘community singing.’

It is not as though we weren’t warned that this would be the direction that the media woukd take.

I remember being at a broadcasting conference in 1991, where BBC media correspondent Nick Higham warned that public service broadcasting was under threat, that investigative programmes might be reduced to features on subjects such as ‘dangerous dogs’ (a matter that was then exercising the popular press).

Higham’s warning has been proven true in the three decades since, as television channels have raced to the bottom in a search for ratings; even the once weighty BBC news has been progressively dumbed down and domesticated and turned into little more than celebrity gossip.

The BBC has become uncritical in its reporting. The claims of Harry Windsor that he and Ms Markle were caught in a two hour high speed car chase around the streets of New York City were plainly silly, but there was no suggestion on the part of the BBC that they might not have been true

Nick Higham’s warning came in the early morning of satellite television, when the sudden multiplication of the number of channels gave people a range of choice they had previously not enjoyed. How many of those who sat through Panorama or World In Action in the 1970s if with the flick of a remote control, they could have found a soap, or a comedy or a game show? Wasn’t the fact that there were so few channels the reason why public service programming drew such large audiences?

The web offers infinite choice, endless options for viral postings, celebrity scandal and cuddly pets. How do you persuade cuddly kitten fans to read stories about Syria? Or those who watch videos of people’s mishaps to attempt to understand the issues raised by international banking? Even the BBC regards an ageing presenter as more newsworthy than dozens of real stories.

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Courtesy drivers and a grumpy old git

Friends had a wonderful Scalextrix layout. In an age when Fomula 1 racing drivers were household names, we would imagine ourselves as Jackie Stewart racing to a world title.

Of course, there would be moments when loose or faulty connections would mean that the car rolled very gently around the figure-8 course. ‘Courtesy driver,’ we would laugh.

‘Courtesy driver,’ was the description of those whom we perceived as driving steadily and carefully around our country roads. A courtesy driver would anticipate the need to make space for traffic to pass on narrow roads, a courtesy driver would seek to avoid causing unnecessary delays, a courtesy driver would have a keen awareness of road conditions.

A revival of the ways of courtesy drivers would make the experience of travelling by road much more pleasant.

The antithesis of the courtesy driver seems to be the self-obsessed driver, the self-obsessed driver shows little awareness of any driver rather than him or herself.

The self-obsessed driver is the one who insists on hanging back in a slow moving line of traffic, then accelerating to close the gap and get through the traffic lights just before they turn red, leaving all those who have had the misfortune to be behind him to wait for the next change in the lights.

The self-obsessed driver is the driver who regards lane markings as only applicable to others and instead of joining the lane to go left, continues in the lane going straight on, only to try to cut into the left lane at the last second, holding up everyone who has followed the markings.

The self-obsessed driver regards the middle lane of the motorway as a personal preserve, coming out of a slip road, disdaining the inside lane, and sitting in the middle of the carriageway forcing everyone moving more quickly to move into the outside lane.

The self-obsessed driver seems least aware when driving on country roads, finding themselves behind a tractor or similar agricultural vehicle, they will linger just behind, not allowing others to overtake them and then the slow moving vehicle, nor being prepared to overtake the slow moving vehicle themselves and so allow others the chance also to do so.

Perhaps the self-obsessed driver is a creation in the mind of a grumpy old git who drives forty miles each way, going to and from work. Perhaps the grumpy old git has a lack of empathy for his fellow road users. All the same, it would be nice to encounter a few more courtesy drivers.

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Club Days

Only today did I discover what it was all about:

The objects of the Society shall be:
The encouragement of Thrift, Self-help and Sobriety of Conduct in each individual member, and the promotion of a Spirit of True Comradeship, Friendliness and Brotherly Love towards all.
The Society shall provide charitable donations from its funds to local organisations which provide useful services to the community

Today was the day when the Langport Friendly Society held their annual walk, next Saturday, it will be Long Sutton. Long Sutton Parish Council describes the annual walk by their Friendly Society.

It used to hold its traditional Club walk on each Trinity Monday but changed from 1972 and is now held on the first Saturday in June and is one of a few of its kind still in existence.

The day starts with the church bells being rung at 6.00am and is followed by the annual roll call of Members at the Village Hall. The procession is headed by the Banner Bearer, Secretary, Chairman and President of the society followed by the band and then the members. Over the years the society has been supported by Kingsbury, Yeovil and in recent years Sherborne Town bands, one year though, in the 1990s, there was no band available and a Jazz band was asked to lead the members round.

​The members’ parade from the hall to the church for their annual service, stopping outside the West Door for the National Anthem and then parading into Holy Trinity Church for the annual service, where music again is provided by the band. The banner with its motto ‘United we stand, divided we fall’ is draped across the altar during the service. The hymns selected are well known and, to hear a church full of men singing with a brass band, is quite an experience.

After the service the parade then reforms and the members set off on their walk calling at various houses and farms for refreshments of all kinds

I remember the excitement of club day arriving. The sun shone and there was a mood of happiness in the heart of a small boy. The club members, my uncle among them, wore dark suits and rosettes and were led by a silver band. The members of the club called for refreshments at various farms in the neighbourhood before gathering for lunch at the manor farm in the village.

Five years ago, a man in his nineties told me about  the bits that I had forgotten.

“Townsends would bring their fair up from Weymouth. They were not allowed to set up on the village green until after the evening service at the church on the Sunday evening. On Monday morning, the club members would all meet at the church for a service and would then be led by the Kingsbury Episcopi Silver Band. It was Whitmonday, but must of the men were farm workers, so didn’t get bank holidays off work, club day was accepted as a day they did get off. The walk would visit the farms where one or other of them worked and the farmer would provide them all with a glass of beer or cider. There would be a good lunch at the end – and then a whip round to pay for it. Then there would be the fair in the evening.”

Our friendly society in Long Sutton, a small Somerset village, was aptly named, it was the embodiment of friendliness. The paucity of financial rewards from farm work was counterbalanced by a rich sense of community; club day cemented the day in the thoughts of members throughout the year.



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Four and a half miles of separation

There is a fingerpost in the village of Shapwick that announces that High Ham is four and a half miles. The first time I noticed the sign, it seemed such an unlikely claim that I measured the distance from Shapwick to the village green in High Ham on the car odometer – it was correct.

Perhaps the doubt was unwarranted, the wrought iron fingerposts were erected in times when local councils were particular about things being correct; in some places distances are shown to the nearest quarter of a mile.

The thought arose because there seemed no connection between the villages, no reason for the distance to High Ham to be shown; lines of communication between the one place and another consisted of a narrow road down a hill and an undulating road across a peat moor. There might be reason for people to travel through High Ham on their way from Shapwick to somewhere else; there seemed little reason for anyone to travel to High Ham.

When the sign was erected, the two villages would have lain in the jurisdiction of different district councils. They remain within different parliamentary constituencies; their children attend different secondary schools; the two parishes are not even contiguous, the parish of Ashcott lying as a buffer between them.

One could set out across the moor toward High Ham and not be certain of ever arriving anywhere. If one were to ask the inhabitants of the respective villages whether they belonged to the same community, the answer would probably be a firm negative. There might only be four and a half miles distance, but there is little sense of connection.

Lines of communication and bonds of community seem inextricably bound together, the more communication exists, the greater the shared sense of community. Four and a half miles may be a close geographical proximity, but in the case of the two villages geography is not a factor that has the capacity to create a community.

It is communication that creates community. The various government initiatives to promote community life will not be successful unless the connections the government seeks to create are consonant with people’s own perceptions of which communities it is with which they identify, with which communities they feel they can communicate. Programmes not rooted in people’s own feelings of where they belong will no more bind them into communities than road signs saying the distance is only four and a half miles will bind together two disparate villages.


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It’s iris time

The iris in my mother’s garden is white. If it looks mauve, that’s because the picture was taken in the evening light. It is now forty-five years old and looks as it does at the moment for only a brief time each May.

It is white, but it and its companions might have been any colour. They were gathered from the rubbish heap, rhizomes discarded because they had been muddled with others, either after they had been cut, or in the dispatch shed where the irises were packed before being sent off to addresses around the country.

We were free to take rhizomes from the rubbish heap, they had no value and a handful of them might turn out to be a range of entirely different colours.

Two summers were spent at the nursery. Two months in 1978, and four months between completing A-Levels and starting university in 1979. A total of six months of work, and hardly any awareness of what an iris looked like.

By the time the summer came and the season for cutting and dispatching rhizomes arrived, all traces of the flowers had long since disappeared. That they were May-flowering was an easily learned fact, but there was no memory of how the fields of the nursery had looked during May.

Irises seemed half-dead, unattractive plants, it was a mystery why people went to occasions like the Chelsea Flower Show and placed orders for dozens to be sent to them by post.

The nursery’s specialisms were irises and peonies. The peonies were even less attractive than the irises. Peony roots were sent to the customers. Presumably these roots had once been the source of beautiful flowers, but the brown clumps that were dug and posted gave little clue of the potential they held.

On one occasion, being allowed an afternoon in the packing shed instead of out in the fields, it was odd to look at the peony roots and consider how much people would pay for them. The top price was £6.50 or so for the more expensive ones, that’s around £40 each in 2019 values. Who would spend £40 on a single peony that might not grow at all? (Some of them didn’t grow: irate customers would arrive at the nursery seeking out the foreman who would tell them calmly that he was afraid that the foreman was not around the yard that day).

Peonies never found their way onto the rubbish heap, presumably they were too valuable to muddle. Forty-five years on, the irises are staging their brief annual show.

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