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.”