A Series of Mild ‘Winter’ Days

The end of 2018 saw temperatures well above normal for this time of the year, confirming for me at least that global climate change is a reality. This is extremely concerning, and the scientists’ statement that we have only 12 years in which to get change in place is depressing. At the same time I am seeing signs of adaption. There are a number of fields in the flat, Fenland areas of Norfolk, Lincolnshire, and Cambridgeshire that are covered in solar panels. As we walk around the neighbourhood it is encouraging to see the growing number of houses with panels. Let us hope 2019 brings more change. I fear it will take some major political change in the USA for these messages to be taken seriously, but action is happening at the local level.

Beyond environmental change there are some major disruptions in the UK. The most obvious one is Brexit. We really are uncertain as to what is going to happen. The whole thing has been totally mismanaged, and is still not being properly communicated to the populace. The original referendum result was 52% wanting to leave the EU and 48% wanting to remain. I think, with hindsight, the problem was that we did not have a clear idea of what leaving would mean. At the moment there are some polls suggesting 17% of those who voted leave have changed their minds, but only 4% of the ‘remainers’ would vote differently. Clearly there has been a change of heart among the public. Sadly politicians are out of touch, unyielding and unwilling to revisit the issue. A new referendum would be best.

Theresa May’s government’s negotiating position with the EU seems incoherent, and the level of forward planning is abysmal. In the last week of 2018 the BBC broke a story of a new company, ‘Seaborne Freight’, being awarded a £13.8m contract to run a freight service between Ramsgate and Ostend. Apparently the company has no ferries; has never run a ferry service; does not have many assets; and could or would not give reporters names of boats they plan to use. The BBC report said: “A local councillor said it would be impossible to launch before Brexit”. Incompetence is bad, let us hope this is not evidence of corruption. There is not much citizens can do, but the project could still fall flat on its face!

Across the country there is also a discernible and worrying change in shopping patterns. It won’t come as a surprise to anyone who reads this blog to know that the amount of shopping online has grown in leaps and bounds over the past few years. The manifestation of this is the number of empty shops on the high streets and malls. Norwich has two malls. The Castle Mall shopping centre was opened in September 1993. At the time it seemed a sensible development; it replaced the old cattle market – which had become an ugly car park. It was appropriate, sensitive and complements the magnificent castle, that was built between 1050 and 1075 and dominates the city. The second mall was on the site of the Rowntree chocolate factory. When I first came to Norwich, if the wind was in the right direction, the smell of chocolate was (just) detectable across the city. Both malls have significant numbers of empty shops, and this has only happened in the last year or so.

Our Christmas was generally quiet, unfortunately like the city. My sister came from London, not an easy journey since the railways always undergo much needed maintenance and upgrading over this period. Fortunately there are two possible routes to Norwich: from King’s Cross via Cambridge or Ely; or the more direct one from Liverpool Street Station. She came on packed trains via Cambridge.

We went into the city on a few occasions for last minute shopping. One trip was to see the new Mary Poppins film. The cinema is housed in the Castle Mall. I find it very interesting that they have greatly reduced the cost of the tickets. This seems to have the desired effect of increasing the size of the audiences. The film itself was fun, but I am afraid I will always be a fan of the original with Dick van Dyke and Julie Andrews. The songs from the 1964 production were memorable and I can still sing parts of them. This probably won’t be the case with the new version.

At the house the cards and fairy lights were strung up and we needed a tree. In the past we have cut and decorated one of the lower branches from a conifer at the end of the garden. This year a reconnaissance showed that there were no suitable branches left. We came up with an ingenious solution: two triangular garden trellises lashed together and covered by greenery, decorations and lights. It looked good and, provided we keep the trellises, can be recreated in years to come.

It is always nice to attend some form of service at Christmas. So the question was which service to go to? In the past we have usually gone to the cathedral, but this is always packed and cold. We decided to go the Salvation Army service in their ‘Citadel’. The Salvation Army is militaristic in many ways. It is worth a look at their Wikipedia page. It was founded as a splinter from the Methodist church in 1865. The organisation is unique: they wear uniforms, and give the clergy military ranks. The Norwich husband and wife team are Majors.

I am extremely appreciative of the idea of the Salvation Army: they looked after some of my elderly relatives in North Walsham; have a great outreach programme; and Salvation Army brass bands are known the world over. I would not be in a hurry to go back to a service. The music was great, the singing was not. The only religious activity (apart from carols) was the benediction, I expected more.

After Gill left we went up to Goole to see family for a couple of days. This requires a drive of about four hours. As there was no one staying in Norwich the dog was included. She was generally not impressed by this journey. She will be 15 in April so is a venerable dowager of an animal, however she is still keen on walks and chasing tennis balls in the garden. On New Year’s Eve we went to the University and walked around the grounds and the lake for over an hour, this was good for all of us after the long car journeys. Unfortunately the path beside the river was incredibly swampy and this meant muddy shoes that will take some cleaning.

It is always good to see family. We saw all the relatives who live in this part of the world, and were able to get most out for a meal at one of the restaurants in Goole. In the past the food has been excellent, on this occasion it was not great. There was only our party in the dining room, and this may have contributed to the lacklustre food. The number of shuttered shops in Goole is quite phenomenal. Part of the problem is that cities and towns depend on rates to provide services, so the reaction to losing businesses is, in some cases, to put up the rates. This creates a cycle of decay. Central government will have to take a long look at the issue soon. Sadly Brexit has split the Conservative and Labour parties. It is dominating debate and other pressing issues are ignored.

I am not sure if people who read this blog are aware of my mild interest in Norwich City Football Club (NCFC). My father used to follow them avidly – to the point where he had the weekly football paper – ‘The Pink Un’ mailed to Kenya and then Swaziland. I believe it was sent by surface mail which meant that he was reading match reports two months or more after the game, but did not seem to mind. The NCFC problem is the ground is not very big – the capacity is just over 27,000. By contrast the new Arsenal stadium holds 60,000 and Manchester United’s ground’s capacity is nearly 75,000. This adds up to a great deal of gate money over a season. The result is that NCFC were recently demoted from the Premier League to the Championship. They have been playing extremely well and have been at the top the table. If they finish as one of the top two they are promoted automatically. On the 29th December they lost their first match in 12 games. This a nail biting season.

So let me end by wishing everyone a very happy new year. May your 2019 bring you what you want and have worked for! In her Christmas message in 1992 the Queen described that year as an ‘Annus Horribulus’. Parts of 2018 felt like that. I look forward to the next year and a chance to achieve some of the things I have been putting off. Keep watching this space.

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