Pride and realism do not have to be mutually exclusive.

This week my home town, Stoke-on-Trent, had the rather dubious honour of sliding in at number 10 in  a poll of the countries ‘crap towns’ – as voted for, well it seems, as voted for by the whims of the misguided writers.

I say this because, I know that Stoke-on-Trent has its problems, like all the other locations mentioned, but it also has its positives, its aspirations, and what else? Oh yeah, it’s full of actual real, living people who rely on the image of the town to attract business investment, create jobs, and so enable them to earn a living. (over half a million people, swept aside in one picture of one part of Hanley, one small part of a bigger whole)

So when these writers talk about towns, I’m sure they purely mean the bricks & mortar, the traffic planning, the lack of services and the economic outlook. I’m sure they intend those of us who live there to pick up the book and laugh heartily to ourselves as we agree, “Oh yes! This is so true! I do live in a crap town! If only it wasn’t so crap, but look at just how crap it is! Thanks Mr Author living in Oxford for your portrayal of my home to the rest of the country – thus further entrenching the idea in people’s minds that where I live, where my family and friends live, work and love, is just crap! We must be idiots to live here, mustn’t we?”

Maybe I’m being over-sensitive, but then, I have a peer group of people who’ve not only carved out their livings from Stoke-on-Trent, but are actively trying to make the place better through their work. It’s not easy, the easy thing would be for us to all move away and forget where we come from, and never mention it again, but we don’t. Even those I know who have left the area, have strong roots here, return here, support each other and have love for the place. So this book just smacks of pissy negativity that really doesn’t help anyone (other than the authors to make a few coins).

It’s not even like we don’t know that elements of Stoke leave a little to be desired, but then, we live here, so I think it’s okay really for us to say that. I will happily discuss how I think the 6 towns (do the writers know that Stoke in actually six towns?) are not working as a connected whole, and how the City itself seems to be getting surrounded by business parks, resembling a small village of indomitable Stokies, surrounded by the forces of Tesco. I understand that we have been beset by council failings, corruption, starved funding from the South (which makes books like this from Oxford writers even more bitter), closed shops and over-grown brown spaces.  We have some bad areas and some bad people. But this is not it! This is, just like everywhere in the world, something we are trying to resolve, trying to overcome, against the odds of a central government who seeks to starve out opposition politics by slashing funding. Christ, at one point they even wanted to dump London’s poor on us!

So, I imagine the natural response from the writers of this book, this ‘poll’, would be that it is ‘just a bit of fun’, and we can’t deny them that in a world of free speech. It’s just a shame that some people, given the freedom afforded to us from thousands of years of human evolution, the rise and fall of civilizations, at the very pinnacle of human existence and understanding, choose to use that honour to go round slagging off other people’s towns for a quick profit. You’d just think they might have something better to do with their time, talent and obvious connections in the media.

Hark at me! Trying to appeal for positivity in the world. How very droll. I re-read this and I can almost feel the sniggers should the authors of the poll stumble upon this humble blog. My reaction will have justified their tease. But you know, if you don’t stick up for your own town, who will?!  Who knows, maybe the writers are actually really clever social scientists, using this publication as a rallying call for the areas represented to rise to the challenge – maybe I am falling into their devious, yet ultimately positive, trap? I don’t think so somehow, but then, if it has that affect, then who cares if they intended it?

It shouldn’t matter though, I hardly think “Top ten crap towns” will go down in history as one of the literary greats, rather something someone else buys you for Christmas and you half-read while having a shit, basically. Aim high guys. Aim high! Thanks for the publicity.

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Barnett’s Few

Image

Good morning.

I have had the privilege and pleasure this year of being involved in a community arts project in Stoke on Trent to commemorate the tragic destruction of the Czech town Lidice at the hands of the Nazi’s during the WWII. The small village was totally destroyed and most of the inhabitants brutally murdered. Following this atrocity, Stoke on Trent MP Sir Barnett Stross, declared that ‘Lidice Shall Live’, and roused the miners of Stoke to donate one days pay a week until the end of the war in order to rebuild a new town on the site and repatriate the few survivors.

It is a tragic story tempered by the inspirational response that the people of Stoke on Trent made. We can’t always stop terrible things happening, but we can choose how we respond in the most positive way possible. If anything ever demonstrated this principle, it is the story of Lidice.

So my colleagues, the design company ‘Dashy-Line’ have been commissioned to build a sculpture in Hanley (which is now the ‘main-town’ of Stoke on Trent), to commemorate this act of defiance in the face of hatred. They have designed a sculpture that will be clad in ‘miners tags’ showing the initials and day of birth of all the people who have promised to retell this story, and keep the memory alive.

This has involved engagement projects, to spread the story, and this is where I come in. I have written the script for a short animation that has been produced and presented to various groups and on-line, and also I wrote the score for a ‘Miners March Choir’ that was performed at a memorial service last Sunday.

It is the poem for the Miner’s choir that I wrote and used as the lyrics that I want to share with you today. Eventually I will have footage to show, but for now, the words I think, say it all about the choices the Miners made when asked the question, “Would you give up your hard earned pay?”.

After reading, I would urge you to visit http://www.unearthed2013.co.uk and make your pledge to share the story. It is totally free, and by doing so your initials will form part of the cladding on the new sculpture in Hanley that could, for all we know, be there for hundreds of years. Read the info, make your promise. It only takes a few minutes. Thank you.

Barnett’s Few.

by Garry Abbott

Would you give up your hard-earned pay

to keep a strangers memory

alive in lands so far away,

laid ruin by common enemy?

Would you give up your wage for hope

that light will pierce where darkness fell,

where ashes blanket field and slope,

where no-one gathers to the bells?

Would you head down the darkened pit

to pick at seams that lie so deep,

and profit less from toil and risk,

to keep forgotten dreams from sleep?

For Barnett’s few who chose to give,

the memory and Lidice lives.

Please visit http://www.unearthed2013.co.uk to make your promise. Thank you.