Whatever you do, don’t allow your six-year-old to be caught short at Crewkerne station. With the rain pouring and the wind howling, my daughter needed the loo. But it was locked. And no staff anywhere to be seen. So I pressed the ‘Help’ button on one of those machines that have replaced stationmasters. ‘How can I assist you?’ responded a warm South Asian voice. ‘Er, we need someone to open the loo at Crewkerne.’ ‘Where exactly are you?’ she came back, sounding lost. ‘You know, in Dorset, after Yeovil. On the Exeter line. How far away is the help centre?’ I was thinking Bristol, maybe Swindon. ‘Oh, we are in Mumbai,’ she declared. I am left with two thoughts: first, the extraordinary reach of globalisation; and, secondly, the contempt South-West Trains has for its customers if they think they can safely operate platforms in Wessex from Maharashtra.
Svelte Rohan Silva, once a sorcerer’s apprentice in Steve Hilton’s Downing Street, now an east London tech-preneur, is worried about the decline in artists’ studio space in London. ‘A further 30 per cent of artist studios in the capital will have disappeared by 2020, leaving London’s critically endangered artists on the verge of extinction,’ Rohan writes. How tragic, how painful for a fashionable creative to consider living outside zone 1. But I have a solution for Rohan and his friends: move to Stoke-on-Trent. In March we complete the conversion of the old Spode factory — where Josiah Spode invented fine bone china — and there will be studios and ateliers galore, also low house prices and a culture of creativity stretching back 200 years. So pack up your beards, hipsters, turn your backs on overpriced Old Street and hotfoot it to The Potteries.
The divisiveness and futility of the shadow cabinet ‘revenge reshuffle’ continues to reverberate across the parliamentary Labour party. You will recall that Europe spokesman Pat McFadden was sacked for suggesting that terrorists should be held accountable for their crimes. Shadow defence secretary Maria Eagle was moved for supporting Labour party policy. And culture minister Michael Dugher got the axe for not living in Islington. All the while, media attention was deflected away from Tory incompetence over flooding, the Europe referendum, Letwin’s ugly memos, and the wretched Housing Bill (with its ambition to kill council housing forever). Kremlinologists suggest there is a power struggle going on in Jeremy Corbyn’s office between the Socialist Action Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks of the Labour Representation Committee. But all factions are united in their determination to make it to 2017, and the centenary of the Great October Socialist Revolution.
This year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. But I hope we also find time to reflect on Thomas More’s Utopia, published 500 years ago. One of the less welcome side effects of Hilary Mantel’s wonderful Wolf Hall is the sidelining of More. With it, we also lose any sense of More’s humanism or radicalism. ‘Suffer not these riche men to bie up al, to ingrosse and forstalle, and with their monopolie to kepe the market alone as please them,’ he warns us at the end of Utopia. Jeremy Corbyn take note.
Christopher Bailey, Burberry chief executive and serious Yorkshireman, is reviving textile production at John Marshall’s Temple Works mill in Leeds. I am a keen fan of industrial reshoring: the return of Airfix to Sussex, Pot Noodles to Leeds, cotton-spinning to Manchester. But the regeneration of Temple Mill is particularly special. This abandoned flax mill is a riot of classical and Egyptian designs, taken from the Temple of Horus at Edfu. It was testament to the kind of industrial confidence and civic bravado which mid-Victorian Leeds excelled in, and Bailey is bringing it back to life. Such inspired urban leadership is almost enough to make you forgive Burberry’s Romeo Beckham ad campaigns.
Thy choicest gifts in store / On her be pleased to pour.’ The prospect is upon Twickenham and Wembley regulars of the end of that second tricky verse. This week, Labour MPs packed into the Commons Chamber to support Toby Perkins’s English National Anthem Bill, which proposes replacing ‘God Save the Queen’ with an English anthem at English sporting events. Given that Wales has ‘Land of my Fathers’ and North Britain (sic) ‘Flower of Scotland’, then why not, say, Blake and Parry’s ‘Jerusalem’ for the English? The Express and the Mail say we shouldn’t be ‘rude’ to the Queen, but the modern elision of monarchy and nation is a relative novelty. Many of our monarchs could not speak English; some tried to marry us off to foreign sovereigns; others abdicated. Monarchies rise and fall, while England is eternal. Come on Speaker Bercow, fast-track the Bill, and let’s kick off the Six Nations at Murrayfield with the ‘countenance divine’.