current affairs

An A-Z Journey Around Britain

9 Chester


A clipboard makes a difference. 80% of married people, when approached by strangers, admit to having committed adultery. Hanky panky complicated lives. Now the mobile phone makes it impossible. Chester helped the hanky pankiers of Liverpool. Scouse women joked that if a man took you to Chester he was married.

Married couples not tempted by hanky panky, and married couples that are, take their kids to the Zoo. Chester Zoo had 1.7 million visitors last year. Although the zoo is enclosed by a perimeter fence, within the zoo moats and ditches are used instead of cages.

Chester is close to the Welsh border. Before Liverpool became fashionable some folk from Chester would claim to be Welsh. Famous Liverpool now provides an optional identity. Chester has 328,100 residents. Those not sniffy about extra marital sex enthusiasts can enjoy a walk beside the River Dee. The riverside café that had a rock and roll jukebox has disappeared. Rock and roll cafes perish as quickly as sideburns.

The City began as a Roman fort in AD 79. Four streets define Chester and they follow the compass, Northgate and so on. Bridge Street has tourist appeal but the Tudor buildings are fake Victorian restoration. The city walls of the original Roman fort were extended by the Saxons.

Chester produced the footballer Michael Owen. Much more entertaining was Chester born Basil Radford, the great British actor who impressed in the Hitchcock classic, The Lady Vanishes. Chester was also the last town to resist the Normans. Such resistance helped define the North of England.   Prior to that, in 616, the Northumbrian Army defeated Welsh Bishops in the Battle of Chester. It does not sound like a fair fight.

135 bikes were stolen last year in Chester. The same statistics indicate that you are four times more likely to be thumped. The Alexander pub offers jazz, blues and comedy, just the thing before extra marital sex or a fistfight.

Chester was a market town, its economic strength solidified by the Industrial Revolution. Chester has a busy rail station. The Shropshire Canal enters the city. A good urban walk combines the Canal and the city walls.

The suburb of Blacon was expanded as a response to the housing shortage of the 60s. More mixed than the stereotype suggests, many living in Blacon are ‘socially vulnerable’. Presumably to save on travel expenses, Cheshire Constabulary built its headquarters there. Today, Chester has a prosperous middle class managing a large retail market facilitated by industrial activity elsewhere. The City Plan notes that the city ‘has rested on it historic laurels’. The City Council is alarmed by the high number of poorly educated locals with low qualifications. Welcome to the neo-liberal future of the UK whose balance of trade deficit will have similar consequences. Gloom aside; unemployment in Cheshire is below 3%. In the North West it is 10.5% and in the UK 15%.

The Duke of Westminster owns land within Chester and receives substantial rent. Not especially articulate, and despite his protection racket, the family name, Grosvenor, appears across the City. The Grosvenor Shopping Centre is an exceptional arcade with a classy rococo terrace and ceiling that captures light.


Next week, UKIP horror story – Clacton


Howard Jackson has had three books published by Red Rattle Books. His 11,000 mile journey around Brazil is described in Innocent Mosquitoes. His next book is a compilation of horror stories and is called Nightmares Ahead. It will be available in Spring 2015.

If you want to read more about his travels click here.



New Blog Series 2015 – An A-Z Journey Around Britain.

4 Belfast


The Troubles will be left for a pub argument. There are plenty of pubs in Belfast, and some are crackers. Although cask ales can be found, Belfast ale is dominated by the overrated and oxymoronic keg beer, Draught Guinness. Boisterous club life exists but also bars that provide Jacobean style coffee house environments where patrons can drink and discuss serious issues like football and the inevitable politics. Belfast folk welcome visitors, even the English. Many years ago I was taken by a Belfast mate to the Shamrock Club in the Ardoyne. I am English and someone who thinks the narrative of conversation requires argument. I expected trouble but survived with fine memories intact.

Belfast has a gay quarter. It is ‘struggling to prosper’. William of Orange has been described as the most famous gay person to visit Belfast. The ‘struggle to prosper’ of gays has not been brief. William of Orange fought the Battle of Boyne in 1690. The battle is celebrated by the Orange Order. Some claim that the Orange Parade has influenced the New Orleans Mardi Gras. Fats Domino, the birth of rock and roll and the Orange Lodge, now, there is a thought.

Close to the gay quarter the Sunflower pub has the banner, ‘No topless bathing. Ulster has suffered enough.’ This joke was not cracked by anyone sober. But only 8% of the population of Northern Ireland admits to ‘drinking most days’. This is similar to the rest of the UK. Of course, in Britain we all lie about our drinking.

Edward Bruce invaded Ireland in 1315. In 1612, Elizabeth the First gave Belfast as a present to English noble and pirate, Lord Deputy Chichester, thinking of presents was difficult even then. Scottish settlers arrived in 1642.

On the City Sight Seeing Bus Tour, intelligence centres and observation posts are revealed. Like Elvis fans outside Graceland, tourists scrawl messages of loyalty on the Peace Walls that divide the segregated city. Sightseers visit Falls Road and Shankhill Road and from the bus look down on flags and banners. Residents wave friendly but defiant fists. Nobody should underestimate the scale of the conflict. But on those streets it feels like out of control football type rivalry.

Heritage investment dominates the city. £15.50 to attend the Titanic Visitor Attraction evokes a Hollywood budget. City Hall in stylish Donegall Square, though, is free and packed with history.

The Belfast Hills are extensive. After saying goodbye to the 1200 animals, Cave Hill can be climbed easily from the charming Belfast Zoo. Helen’s Bay is only eleven miles away. It captures British coastal chill in subtle sunlight. Nothing equals the Giants Causeway; weird precise geological symmetry produces thousands of identical rock sculptures all patiently resisting the sea waves.  If God exists, he is a mathematician.

Because of the sights, visitors can overlook the economic hardship. 25% of Belfast children live in poverty. The unemployment rate of 8.5% compares badly with the 6% average across the UK. Welcome to Britain and the sixth largest economy in the world.


Next week – Bognor Regis

Howard Jackson has had three books published by Red Rattle Books. His 11,000 mile journey around Brazil is described in Innocent Mosquitoes. His next book is a compilation of horror stories and is called Nightmares Ahead. It will be available in Spring 2015

If you want to read more about his travels click here.