Incidentally – while the weather is still cold and the snow is deep again – I should point out that, on this day in 1978, the weather was pretty much the same as it is today. “Country in grip of freeze” all over the papers, and that sort of thing.
The reason I know this is: my mother kept all the press cuttings about it, so she could stick them in her New Baby Book.
The other big thing in the news which she saved clippings of, oddly enough, was: Grimsby workers getting rather upset about foreigners taking their livelihoods away. Back then it was fishermen, who hadn’t quite given up their hopes of fishing in Icelandic territorial waters, even though the main Cod Wars had been over for a few years. Today, of course, it’s oil workers who are going back to work, presumably satisfied that their rather vague demands* have been catered for; the fish industry now sticks to breadcrumbing and battering other people’s fish. This is only a rough guess, based on anecdotal evidence, but I’d say that most of the people working in fish-related jobs in Grimsby are migrant workers – largely, as I said before, because they’re the people who apply for factory-line jobs nowadays.
* An awful lot of the strikers interviewed on TV didn’t seem awfully sure what their demands even were, or what it would take to get them back to work. “We’re sending a message to Gordon Brown, that someone will have to do something?” “What will they have to do?” “Um … well, I dunno, but someone is going to have to do something“
Nice to see the Grimsby area in the news for once, even if it isn’t very good news. I bet the Grimsby Telegraph‘s news staff have been so excited over the last week, to get some national-quality news to report on, they’ve probably been wetting themselves.*
I was rather wistful myself, what with formerly being local – so much so that in my teens I did work experience in the very refinery that’s been on the news. It’s bad luck, really, for the contractors who sparked the protests off: they would have to bring foreign workers in to one of the most reactionary and xenophobic parts of England. Grimsby’s the only place where I’ve heard someone (a retired nurse) say the immortal line: “I’m not a racist, but I do think all those coloureds should go back to their own country”. Without irony. And mean it.
I’m also well aware that the area’s an employment blackspot; on the other hand, though, I also know that it’s not as bad as you might think. There are great estates full of people who have been on benefits ever since they were old enough.** There aren’t many jobs other than in a few limited sectors. But, when I lived there, I had contacts at a local employment agency. Within a few sectors – mostly factory line work – there were once plenty of jobs. They go to immigrants; Poles and Lithuanians. That’s because Poles and Lithuanians were the ones who turned up to apply for these jobs, and were the most employable when they turned up. It’s easier, I guess, to sit in the pub and rant about how all these foreigners are taking the jobs of honest British workers, than it is to go out and get one yourself.
I said “there were once jobs” because I’ve not been around there for a while, and all I’ve heard since I left has been about factories closing. I don’t know what things are like there at the moment, but from what I’ve heard things aren’t going well. I’m not saying, either, that the work in question at the refinery shouldn’t have gone to a local company. The refinery and its suppliers, though, already in total make up a big chunk of the local workforce, and the small number of foreign contractors that have caused the protests make up a tiny proportion of the number of workers on the site, which after all it itself the size of a small town. They haven’t put that big crowd outside the refinery gates out of work, either. Grimsby has bigger problems than foreign workers, much bigger problems. The issue shouldn’t be whether the Prime Minster should live up to some sound-bite his speech writers came up with a while back; it should be one of getting more investment into the area. More foreigners, in fact – both Lindsey refinery and the neighbouring Humber refinery are foreign-owned plants. It’s also a problem of education; and a problem of ending the area’s isolationism. You can’t exactly pick Grimsby up and move it closer to civilisation, but maybe things would be better if that could be done with some of the locals’ minds.
* Although their managers won’t like it – it might be a bit of a budget-stretcher for the Grimsby Telegraph, sending reporters all the way from Grimsby to Immingham. God knows what might happen – one of them might even try to put a burger-van lunch on expenses! There aren’t many other refreshment options in the area, unless you can get into the refinery canteen.
** I would have said “ever since they left school”, but a lot of them didn’t go to school.
A few months back now, the famously low-quality Local Council decided to spend lots and lots of money on flood warning equipment. They picked the most advanced flood warning system they could find, and erected enormous, giant-scale towers around the town, with large banks of speakers on top. They published maps of the town, with circles spattered over them, looking rather like those 1980s maps of nuclear blast radius,* so everyone knew which areas would be able to hear the flood sirens.
And now, with the worst rainfall for years, and roads closed or barely passable all over town, what have the flood sirens done? Absolutely bugger all, of course. Because that’s not the sort of flood they’re designed for. They’re to warn us against floods from the river defences failing, or the New Haven** bursting its banks. Neither have happened, although the New Haven looked to be within a few inches of a breach yesterday. Instead, we have flooding here because the Council don’t bother cleaning the drains out, so all the rainwater puddles on the roads.
* Talking of nuclear blast radius, who was the “psychic” who “predicted” that Hull would be destroyed by a nuclear attack in 1981? I really must look him up some time.
** It’s the “New” bit of the sluggish stream running through town, because it was cut in the sixteenth century.
At the office, the main conversation-starter today was: “so, what did you do on New Year’s Eve?” I felt slightly sheepish having to say: “um, I was ill.” It might only have been a cold, but even so the headache and constant sneezing were enough to send me to bed well before midnight.
At least, staying in, I avoided being beaten up, glassed, stabbed, shot, etc. New Year’s Eve in our local town was so … well, active, that it made the national press. As I get scared at the slightest sign of any sort of violence, I’m rather glad that I was nowhere near any of it.
Today’s big news: the Audit Commission has published the latest Comprehensive Performance Assessment, which sounds like a new teenage exam but is actually about local government. More specifically, how well each council is doing at standard local government stuff like mending potholes and emptying your bins.*
Now, many councils didn’t do very well in the CPA. However, I felt a perverse pride in the fact that only one council in the country scored a nice round zero. My local council. Hurrah! If we can’t be good at something, we may as well be famous for being spectacularly bad at it.
The council themselves, of course, are saying that things are actually a lot better now than when the Auditors were doing the actual research, which is a handy thing for them to say because it’s almost entirely unprovable. If there’s one thing not many politicians will say, it’s: “well, yes, now you mention it, we are a bit rubbish at everything.”
* I might be simplifying a little here.