Dinner At Manuka Kitchen With Simon Jacobs, 15 August 2017

It seems that both Simon and I dodged a bullet when we moved the date of this meet up on by a week.

I explained my near miss in my 8 August write up of the Janie and Ian anniversary dinner at the Chelsea Physic Garden. Simon explained his by message:

on Tuesday 8th August, about half way through the evening, I went from ‘absolutely fine’ to ‘really not fine at all’ and I had to go to bed with no story. And today I’m properly better after the nastiest bout of ‘flu I’ve had in many a long year. This was proper delirious flu – unable to even think of getting out of bed… So there were many reasons why 8th August was not the right night for us to meet!

Having been brought up to think of others before myself in times of crisis, I responded with all the altruistic empathy my soul could muster:

OMG I might have caught the lurgy from you and then where would I have been?…I mean, poor old you, that must have been awful for you, my first and only thought is for your welfare.

Anyway, we settled on Fulham for the venue and I provided Simon with a shortlist of two possible venues; he chose Manuka Kitchen (a place neither of us had tried before), narrowly ahead of Claude’s Kitchen (where I had dined previously, as reported on this here link).

Good choice, Simon.

Despite his recent indisposition, Simon was completely better by the following Tuesday and in good form. He arrived a tad early and even I beat the 19:30 clock by about one minute – almost unheard of.

Here is a link to the Manuka Kitchen dinner menu…

…but of course that might have changed by the time you read this, so I have scraped the menu we enjoyed – click here.

Simon enjoyed the hand cured smoked salmon starter, while I tried the crispy squid. Simon went for the Bavette steak while I went for the Cod with fregula

…what do you mean, you don’t know what fregula is? Surely everyone knows what fregula is!

For desert, we were persuaded to try the signature peanut butter, chocolate and pretzel tart, which we cut in half to share, along with a plate of presumably also-signature bitter chocolate and manuka honey truffles. While these desserts sound especially yummy by description, they were, in fact, incredibly yummy.

We chatted about all sorts, not least the recent correspondence out of the blue, via Ogblog, with Jon Gorvett – Ogblog really does have its practical uses you know!

Always an enjoyable evening with Simon; let’s hope for both of our sakes that, next time, we get the date right first time.

My First General Election, A Student’s Eye View 34 Years On, 9 June 1983

Writing 34 years later, on the morning of another general election (today is 8 June 2017), a bit of me wonders “what has changed”?

It was not, in fact, the anniversarial relationship between the 2017 election and my first, in 1983, that triggered me into writing this short piece.

It was Jon Gorvett.

Jon got in touch out of the blue a few days ago, having spotted an Ogblog piece about a protest we orchestrated/attended in 1982 – click here. Jon sent me some wonderful clippings from that event, which you can find if you persevere with the preceding link.

Yesterday, Jon sent me an e-mail with some more scans that made me smile even wider, relating to some student union election shenanigans in February 1983. I wrote a brief note of those a few years ago for the Keele Oral History Project – click here – but now, thanks to Jon and his scanning machine, I can relate the story far more accurately and colourfully for Ogblog. I’ll write that up soon – something for Ogblog enthusiasts and lovers of student politics to look forward to.

So Jon’s documents sent me to my 1983 diary and that got me thinking about the 1983 general election, our very first one as voters.

There are many similarities between 1983 and 2017; an aging, unpopular Labour leader, splits in the Labour party, a Tory woman Prime Minister looking to increase her majority and power…

…there are also many differences. I’m not so fearful of the far right parties this time, whereas we were genuinely (but mistakenly) worried that the National Front and/or British National Party might make ground in 1983. Perhaps the Tories have simply moved onto much of that turf now, albeit with less visceral policies. I’m not so sure that Theresa May will achieve a 1983 Maggie style result – certainly the polls are less clear (or less trusted) in 2017. For sure all the main parties have put up dreadful campaigns in 2017 – I didn’t feel that way in 1983 – the Tories at least seemed like an unstoppable election machine back then.

Before I looked at the relevant page in my 1983 diary, I would have sworn that I remembered following election night in Liza O’Connor’s Rectory Road Shelton digs with a mixture of my Keele friends and Liza’s North Staffs Poly art & design flatmates.

But it wasn’t quite like that and now I do remember.

Thing was, I was bang slap in the middle of my Part One law degree finals.

As I now recall it, I had voted by post in my parent’s constituency (Streatham) where we felt that there was a chance that Labour might win, whereas John Golding (for whom even then I would have struggled to hold my nose and vote) had a safe as houses seat in Newcastle-Under-Lyme. My Streatham plan didn’t work in 1983 – by the time Streatham switched from Tory to Labour in 1992, I was voting in Kensington North.

Now, through boundary changes, my constituency is Kensington, with a Brexity Tory MP in a strongly non-Brexit but utterly safe seat. I’m finding it hard to hold my nose and vote for anyone today, but of course I shall and it won’t be for Lady Brexit-Borwick.

My 9 June 1983 diary note is quite pithy:

Did some work in day. Jon, Simon & Vince came to Rectory Road for tea – we came back to Keele in eve. Panicy.

“Jon” is Jon Gorvett, “Simon” is Simon Jacobs, “Vince” is Vince Beasley.

So my abiding memory of sitting around for hours debating politics with those people was correct – but it was during the day, not election night.

The reason I was “panicy”/panicky was because I had a couple of part one finals papers the very next day. I suspect that the others had finished their finals exams by then. Jon might remember his circumstances. Simon always claims to remember nothing at all.

So I think we held our 1983 election post mortem…pre mortem. I remember debating what next and all that sort of post mortem stuff.

So in 1983 we really knew (or thought we really knew) the result before polls closed – we just wondered exactly how bad it was going to be.

Political life doesn’t feel so certain to me now. Is that my age/experience showing or does that tell us more about the political age we now live in?

Thanks for triggering the memories, Jon Gorvett.

Comments on Ogblog pieces are always welcome but especially so on this piece.

January 1982 Keele/UGC Protest Did Make The Papers, Jon Gorvett Uncovers The Evidence

More than a year after publishing an Ogblog piece about our Keele students’ protest against UGC cuts – click here – I received a very pleasing e-mail out of the blue from Jon Gorvett, who had found the Ogblog piece by chance while having a quiet Google.

He had recently uncovered some old Keele scraps, including the following press clippings:

Page 11 of the Evening Sentinel – can we possibly do any better than this?
Yes we can! Page 3 of the Morning Star

So there we have it. Page 11 of the Evening Sentinel but, more importantly, Page 3 of the Morning Star.

Jon is the young man with the “numerate graduates” placard in the first photo above (naturally Jon has gone on to become a foreign correspondent journalist). Jon is also seen wielding a mallet on the far left of the Morning Star picture.

I can be seen in the first photo struggling to retain hold of both the campus model and my sartorial dignity (wearing THAT donkey jacket). I’m gutted that a photo with me in it didn’t make it to Page 3 of the Morning Star, despite the donkey jacket.

I did once make the front page of New India and the back page of the Bastar Sun for my exploits, but that is an entirely different story – click here.

Of course I am still part of the story in the Morning Star. But still, it’s not my image on Page 3. Close but no cigar.

The compensation for my Page 3 disappointment, though, is to be reconnected with Jon Gorvett. He and his treasure trove of clippings might prove very helpful for future Ogblog pieces about the Keele years. I also strongly suspect, based on our e-mail exchanges over the past couple of days, that I shall very much enjoy his company once our paths cross sufficiently for us to meet again in real life.

Protest Outside the UGC Offices Against Grant Cuts, University of Keele, 6 January 1982

I was reminded of this protest when chatting with some interesting MCC members about Rhodes Boyson in the writing room at Lord’s in April 2016 – click here for a link to the posting about that conversation.

I resolved to dig out my diaries and see if I could find out some more about it. Soon enough, I found this page:

Diary 6 January 1982

Actually the diary entry is not too revealing about this protest. Nor are the pages around it, which refer a lot to “meeting up with the usual friends…various people…some people…the crowd…” as if I would naturally remember all the details when I want them, 34 years later.

Indeed, the entries around the time of the protest have triggered many other memories about how I felt at that time and why I started to plot my escape from halls of residence into an on-campus flat in the early months of that year. Another story for another posting or two.

So I must rely almost entirely on memory for this story.

“The Cuts” (to university grants) was the biggest political issue on the higher education agenda at that time. There were marches and things, which I attended occasionally, but I’ve never been a great one for marches.

A few of us decided that we needed to do something a bit more eye-catching, yet unquestionably in the non-violent protest arena. We hatched a plan for a media/profile grabbing event; a dramatic protest outside the University Grants Committee (UGC) offices on one of their big committee days, when Rhodes Boyson would be attending; 6 January 1982.

In simple terms, we would make a crude replica of our Keele Campus and destroy it in front of the UGC building while the committee met, announcing “this is what you are doing to our University”. Naturally we would alert the media in advance to the fact that there would be “a happening” outside the building during the UGC meeting.

In order to implement our plot, several of us returned to Keele immediately after Christmas. I’m trying to remember who was involved. I’m pretty sure Jon Gorvett and Truda Smith were involved and they do get a name drop in my diary 2 January. I’m also pretty sure that Simon Jacobs was heavily involved, although something tells me that he did not return to Keele early, but joined us in London on the day. For some reason my mind is linking Diana Ball with this event, but I might be mistaken. Similarly I think Toby Bourgein had a leading hand in plotting the protest and possibly even drove the minibus down from Keele, but again I might be mistaken. Surely Pete Roberts was involved?

I love the fact that my diary entry says that I signed on before we set off for London to protest. In those days, the ridiculous student grant system meant that the grant only applied to the term-time weeks and that you had to sign on to the dole to get some money for the non-term weeks. What a palaver for the Social Security people to have to administer.

Of course, the social security system for students has been vastly simplified now; the poor students simply get “the square root of nada”.

I recall that we gathered in a pub on the Hampstead Road, near to Laurence Corner.  I’m pretty sure it was the Sols Arms, now defunct. I suppose it was possible to park without restriction on that north side of the Euston Road in those days. We enjoyed a drink in that pub and then all went to the cloakrooms to don dark jumpers and balaclava helmets. We then rescued the crude facsimile of the campus (mostly papier mâché and balsa wood, I think) and our mallets from the union minibus, toddled across the Euston Road to the Bloomsbury offices of the UGC and conducted our protest.

I don’t recall how much media attention we got – press I’m sure but I don’t think the TV people bothered with us. I report being very tired on return, so I guess there was enough buzz to keep us talking for a while. Perhaps we retreated to the Sols Arms for a few more jars before returning to Keele a little tired and emotional. What do I mean, “perhaps”?

These days, of course, I don’t think we’d get very far in those dark tops, balaclava helmets and mallets before the armed fuzz would intervene. You’d be lucky to survive such a stunt. They were simpler times in many ways.

Apologies to anyone named (or not named) for the failings of my memory. If anyone else remembers more about this extraordinary day, I really would love to hear some more memories of it in the comments. I’m sure that, with some help, my own memory of the event could improve.

June 2017 Update

More than a year after posting this and getting the wonderful speedy response shown in the comment below, I received an e-mail from Jon Gorvett with newspaper clippings – so we did make the papers. I have written an aside, with images of those clippings, click here.