Dabbler Diary – Local Heroes

To Mossley, Greater Manchester, a tiny town atop a mountain at the crossroads of Lancashire, Cheshire and the West Ridings. Must we brave the M6, the M52, the M60, where a three hour drive always ends up as five? We must, for a tour of the in-laws.

Last week Gaw noted that he ‘doesn’t get’ the comedian Peter Kay. This might be because Gaw hasn’t spent enough time amongst Lancastrians. Peter Kay is the Laureate of contemporary Lancashire, with the observational powers of an Austen, the character-conjuring genius of a Dickens. And God, the Lancastrians love him. A couple of years ago he did 20 consecutive nights at the Manchester Arena – there can’t have been a single person living within the M60 that didn’t go along to hear their local hero lampoon them.

They are not like us, these North-Westerners. As Jonathan Meades frequently points out, you do not need to leave these shores for alien weirdness, you can go abroad in Britain. They claim to be rich in friendliness, but they spend it locally: expect suspicion verging on hostility if you have a southern accent. Mossley (pronounced Mozz-leh) huddles amidst Penine hills of unremittingly bleak and drizzly beauty. In the Co-Op they have gradually replaced all the checkouts with automated machines, except the ciggy counter. There is a brace of kebab-chippies and a lot of obsolete factory-worker’s pubs and a couple of tattoo parlours and an organic deli (this last is untypical). To access Mossley you can come by Ashton-under-Lyne, or by Oldham, or by Stalybridge, and here you will truly see the place: a sprawl of mourning mill towns, ferocious rivals that are, to the outsider, quite indistinguishable from one other, with their glory days long gone, ghost signs of textile firms on the redbrick chimneys, pubs, local trains, chippies, pies, mild, football, WKDs, rain, tanning salons, drugs, brews, X-Factor, bingo, obesity, curry sauce, rugby league, inescapable family bonds and unvarying, futureless weekly routine.

This is Peter Kay’s world. Where is it going and what is it for? It is fixated on its own past. The great hope – the only hope – for this place is the continued rise of Manchester, which is surely now Britain’s second city, ahead of the moribund Birmingham. The BBC’s move to Salford was important, since, as has been rightly pointed out, London is Britain’s financial, cultural and political capital, and therefore like New York, LA and Washington rolled into one, and therefore unhealthy for the country.

It was pathetic that Manchester, along with all the other cities except my own Bristol, rejected the chance to have a Mayor. A Mancunian Boris, or even Ken – bolshy, charismatic, always on the telly – would help no end in bolstering not-London’s profile. But it was typical of the North-West to reject the offer of a local hero if it came from the Tories. They’re stifled by their dreary tribalism and parochial mono-politics. They need to get it into their skulls that the mills have gone and ain’t never coming back, and start punching their pie-and-chips weight.

***

While the campaign to cull comedians gathers momentum, shall we also begin one to cull charities? There are certainly far, far too many self-perpetuating organisations out there doing either no good whatsoever, or else doing outright harm. Probably hundreds of thousands of them. Because they’re ‘charities’ they don’t get scrutinized for ethics in the way that private companies or government bodies do. This ‘report’ makes 4Children an early candidate for the chop. They’ve looked around at the world and identified the most urgent problem facing Britain’s children. And what have they come up with? Is it neighbourhoods with chronic welfare dependency? Is it absent fathers? Is it gang culture, or internet bullying? No, it’s middle-class parents drinking a glass of wine after they’ve put the kids to bed. Lawks a’mercy!

***

Which drivers are worst: BMW drivers, or Audi ones? I have a new theory. After the third one cut me up on London’s South Circular last week, I hypothesized that all the real dickheads drive BMWs in the city, then when they reach the outskirts they switch to Audis, all the better for dickheaded driving on the motorway.

***

An intemperate Diary this week, I must be tired from all the driving. And I find myself in the position of sympathising with two of the least sympathetic people in the country, namely John Terry and Ashley Cole. The criminal proceedings against Terry were an absurd waste of time and money. This was a ‘crime’ in which there were no witnesses and the supposed victim didn’t hear the alleged criminal abuse. The ‘evidence’ came from telly lipreaders, who could only suggest that Terry said what he openly admitted he said, and his explanation for why he said it was not (as the Twitterati claim) cooked up by a clever legal team but given by Terry himself immediately after the match. No court in the land could convict him. Except, of course, the FA’s kangaroo court. They found it safer to stitch up the former England captain than risk any accusation of being soft on racism. But, knowing that he didn’t really do anything racist, they gave him half the punishment they gave to Luis Suarez for the same transgression, thus cocking the whole thing up from every conceivable angle. Ashley Cole’s Tweet, which earned the ire of that pompous bunch of buffoons, was as neat a summary of football’s governing body as you could find. #BUNCHOFT***S.

***

Last week Jonathan Law contended that Local Hero is not just a lovely film, but a great one. I agree, and have been trying to pinpoint why. It is perfectly formed, of course, and funny, and truthful, and honest about human nature without being cynical. But I think what really elevates it is the ending, or rather, the lack thereof. The final shot is of the red telephone box, the phone ringing. This is presumably Mac calling from Texas, but, crucially, we don’t see the conventional happy ending with Mac renouncing Big Oil and settling permanently in Ferness. That’s as it should be. Mac experienced a few days, or perhaps hours, of carefree happiness in Scotland, but if he lived there then the petty annoyances and frustrations of real life would re-establish themselves. The human condition is a sad one and joy is fleeting and cannot be recaptured, only enjoyed bittersweetly in memory. Or else anticipated. Indeed, even in Furness Mac only experienced his moment of bliss during the big knees-up, sloshed on whisky with the Northern Lights dancing overhead – prior to that he was preoccupied with the deal to buy the place. And here I return once more to the great Doctor Johnson and his sorrowful words of truth, as relayed by Boswell:

He this day enlarged upon Pope’s melancholy remark, “Man never is, but always to be blest.”

He asserted that the present was never a happy state to any human being; but that, as every part of life, of which we are conscious, was at some point of time a period yet to come, in which felicity was expected, there was some happiness produced by hope. Being pressed upon this subject, and asked if he really was of opinion that though, in general, happiness was very rare in human life, a man was not sometimes happy in the moment that was present, he answered, “Never, but when he is drunk.”

Dabbler Diary is brought to you by Glengoyne single malt whisky – the Dabbler’s choice.

15 thoughts on “Dabbler Diary – Local Heroes

  1. I’ve posted about this before on here but I don’t understand the assertion that everybody is miserable unless drunk. Some of us are happy nearly all the time! And even happier when drunk.
    I suppose it depends whether you have pinned your happiness on an outcome, like money or fame, neither of which you can ever have enough of. Luckily for me I married a German, who balances out our relationship with flinty pessimism and thus stops me turning into an incredibly annoying copy of Timmy Mallet.

    Like Gaw, I remain grumpily unmoved by the witterings of Peter Kay, although I did LOVE his TV series Phoenix Nights

    • You’re really talking about cheerfulness there, not contentment, which involves obliterating the self and all tenses except the present.

      Optimism is itself sad because it’s about anticipating something better than now, and Hope, as Shalom Auslander proved in one of our Book Club choices, is a Tragedy.

  2. The M6 stuffed the English lakes, southerners poured in, complaining about, well, everything really. Once the preserve of Geordie and Mankie bikers and climbers it was now open to every Tom Dick and ‘Arry, shame on you, M6. It did however give the far northerners access to all areas, Birkenhead, Blackpool and the wide world beyond only a pedal-press away. It was noted however that once the southern edge of the lakes had been passed a strange, barren land appeared to the east of the tarmac ribbon, the tundra you describe, Brit. Folks quickly learned to fit the nearside of the motor with curtains, only drawn back when Birmingham had been passed, many took with them their own interpreters, allowing a modicum of communication once the south west was reached.
    Lovingly crafted Clarksonesque categorization of der fahrer by the way, owners of the products of both Munich and Ingolstadt ain’t wot they used to be. Here in the hinterlands the real bad mothers are farmers driving tractors, heavily subsidised road hogs.

    Peter Kay? not funny? I suppose some of you lot larf at Ben Elton.

  3. It’s not that I don’t think he’s funny, its just that personally I prefer comedians to tell jokes rather than just relay “int it funneh when” stories. See also M. Macintyre and B.Connolly

    Ben Elton? Pass the sickbag

  4. I bought an Audi A8 in 1998 and have never had cause to regret my choice. It has never let me down, and all the things that cars are supposed to do, it does well and with little fuss. It hasn’t the presence of a Merc, nor the flash of a BMW – I like to think of it (if I think of it at all) as understated. However my view of this car does not seem to be shared by other road-users as, for instance, when I am trying to join a main road from a side road, I practically have to get out of the car and put cones in the road in order to be ‘let out’. As they bombed my dad’s chip shop it should be me that has a problem with German engineering, but everybody (in London anyway) seems to have this ‘thing’ about Kraut metal. It is in a rather fetching shade of metallic olive, like a glazed cow-pat. Perhaps there is a clue here…..

    • The gent who was part of, some say the driving force behind, the major culture shift that has Audi where it is today is retiring shortly, a Sheffield lad he is off to his hillside in Provence. Currently based in Köln, his leaving do is rumoured to be the piss-up of the century. Invitees and potential gatecrashers alike have been warned, on no account mention the A2.
      Sound choice mahlerman, the A8, much underrated and in Germany, used, an absolute bargain.

  5. I too found it baffling when everyone voted against having elected mayors. Surely those who turn out to vote for this kind of thing would naturally be skewed towards the type who think that elections are a Good Thing.

    • Yes, I was very surprised by the rejection. Probably the problem was that there were no actual candidates, so apathy reigned, and those with vested interests in the status quo managed to mobilise enough support to win in a very low turnout.

  6. I heard Daniel Kitson, who I like a lot, slagging Kay off on the radio. He reckoned he was a nasty man, as well as totally unfunny. Kitson is 35 and from Yorkshire. I rest my case.

  7. Last week Jonathan Law contended that Local Hero is not just a lovely film, but a great one.

    Based upon that recommendation, we at Chez Skipper went to the great effort of obtaining Local Hero. To the extent that, in the post- post-industrial age, that clicking on “Watch Now” constitutes effort.

    The members of Team Estrogen pronounced it a complete failure. I was more charitable, thinking that it at least several times looked like getting onto a good run, and then several times quickly stumbling.

    Everything I have since read about the movie strongly suggests we are as thick as planks.

    Being pressed upon this subject, and asked if he really was of opinion that though, in general, happiness was very rare in human life, a man was not sometimes happy in the moment that was present, he answered, “Never, but when he is drunk.”

    While they are infrequent, I have enough black dog moments to realize I am happy, in any meaningful sense of the word, most of the time.

    And I’m never drunk. However, if Glengoyne were to go international, perhaps that might change.

    Is being a BMW driver sufficient cause for being shunted from the League of Dabblers?

    • As long as you’re driving the BMW in Alaska and not up and down the M4, you’re safe.

      Give Local Hero another go in a few years, perhaps without Team Oestrogen. It’s odd but men do seem to like it better than women (my wife called it ‘a man’s film’) – odd because there are no guns or explosions or gratuitous establishing shots in strip clubs.