Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Break in transmission

I'm off on a well-deserved holiday tomorrow - via a speaking event in Grasmere. I'm back in early May, when this blog will spring back to life again. Until then, there will be a short break in transmission.

There are a few things to watch out for in the meantime, though. This coming Friday, the 18th, I'll be appearing on You and Yours on BBC Radio 4, to talk about the privatisation of our public streets. I also have a feature in next week's New Statesman (also published Friday) about the need for a new, radical variant of English nationalism. And on Saturday, I have a St George's Day feature in the Daily Telegraph.

Next week, of course, is St George's Day itself - on Wednesday 23rd. I'll be popping up on a few radio programmes around the country on the day, though I'm not yet sure which ones. If you want to avoid me it's probably best to watch the TV instead.

Finally, if you want to amuse yourselves until I return you could always pop over to Amazon and write a review of the book. Though only if you like it, of course ...

Keep those local campaign stories coming in while I'm away. I'll post any new ones up here on my return in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Battle lines

Begun the Clone War has

Over the last few weeks, as extracts from the book appeared in the press, the book itself was published and I started giving talks around the country, I've been contacted by people from all over England with stories to tell. Many of the issues in the book, from the privatisation of city streets to the death of small farms, have touched people - and many of them, of course, are happening where they are too.

What I would really like this book to do is give people all over England a sense that they are not alone; that what they thought was an isolated local incident - a new superstore; the destruction of an old boatyard; the demolition of a pub - is actually part of a national trend. That there are reasons for it and ways to stop it.

Perhaps this is starting to happen already. Either way I would like this blog to encourage the process. So if something is happening in your area - good or bad - which relates to the themes of the book, do let me know. I'd like this blog to become something of a compendium of local and national campaigns and news, good and bad, which help define the battle against the bland.

Here are some cases I've been told about since publication:

Here in my home town of Oxford, people are mobilising in an attempt to fend off the arrival of a vast new shopping centre - three times the size of the current model - which threatens to finally convert this medieval city into a clone town par excellence. More about that here.

In Crystal Palace, London, the local Community Association is fighting Ken 'green' Livingstone's plans to flog off parts of Crystal Palace Park to private developers, who want to build - surprise, surprise - 176 luxury flats (quick thought: the looming credit crunch and ongoing collapse in house prices might turn out to be a rather good thing in two ways: it could make rural properties more affordable to local people, and it might stop the insane 'luxury apartments' boom in its tracks). More on their struggle here.

Also in London, artists and actors in Covent Garden are fighting plans to clone the ancient market. Covent Garden Market has got itself a new corporate 'branding director' who wants it to attract 'high level shoppers' rather than the sort of people who like little market stalls and chaotic buskers. You can sign a petition about that here.

In Lancaster, a Carnival of Culture was held last month both to celebrate the city's character and to protest about a coming cloning project. Our old friends Centros Miller (more about them in the book) are planning a huge corporate 'regeneration' scheme. There's a film of the carnival here. The campaign's website is here.

The rapacious Centros, meanwhile, are after the Somerset city of Wells too - here's what locals are doing about that. Maybe, like the noble knights of Bury St Edmunds, they should resort to extreme measures.

Finally an honourable mention to a non-English but nonetheless excellent and important local campaign to save a valuable community pub in Cardiff from redevelopment. Visit the community's website and lend your support to the fight to save the Pantmawr Inn.

Keep 'em coming...


For those who aren't already members, I should mention that Real England has its very own Facebook group, which you can join here.

You can also sign up to my mailing list by sending a blank email to, with the word 'subscribe' as the subject.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Decline is official

The front page of today's Telegraph highlights an Oxford University study which confirms in general - with facts attached - what Real England notes in the particular: the ongoing and precipitous decline of rural England.

At this stage the response is often to throw up hands and shriek 'but what can be done'? The answer is: plenty. Some of it is in the book so I won't repeat it here. The real question is: who is going to do it? Not New Labour, that's for sure. Anyone else prepared to step up to the plate? Before it's too late?

The word spreads

Even the New York Times can appreciate the value of a good English pub (and they quote from a piece I wrote in the Guardian three years ago!) All we need now is a bit more appreciation from the authorities in England.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

All the news is good

A whole clutch of reviews has come rolling in this weekend - and they're all good! Some of them, in fact, are great. The Guardian, for example, is fulsome, as is the Times. The FT is good too, even if it does gently chide me both for not being an economist (guilty: I got a D at A Level) and for failing to include a chapter on the 'financial services industry'. In London, Metro make it their book of the week, while in Glasgow the Sunday Herald enthusiastically draws parallels with the situation north of the border.

Best of all, though, has to the be the Independent review. According to this, Real England is 'a watershed study, a crucially important book; the most significant account of today's England I have read.' As a writer, I can tell you that during the dark, dark days of writing the damn thing, all alone but for your thoughts, and wondering if anyone will ever read it, this is the kind of reception you fantasise about. Thank you Nick Groom. And I didn't even pay you.

Finally, if anyone is interested, here is a film of me introducing my book/begging you to read it. It might be good, it might not. I hate watching myself, so I don't know.

I'll be back soon with that promised catalogue of local campaigns around the country, just so you're assured that it's not all about me.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Real America?

Apologies for the slight blogging lull. My book tour began last night with a very successful evening in Oxford and there's another event tomorrow in London. This, plus writing plenty of related articles, plus the fact that I'm going on holiday next week, is leaving little time for anything else.

In the next couple of days, though, I'll be reporting here on some of the new stories I've heard about since my extracts started appearing and the book started to sell. I've been contacted by people from all over the country with stories of their own local battles to save their own little slices of the real England. I plan to mention these up here as they come in, as well as add them to the permanent list of links on this site. With any luck it can become something of a directory of the many battles to save the local, the particular and the diverse all over England.

Speaking of which, I was today sent a link to this fascinating website, which charts and beautifully illustrates a process of spectacular decline in Detroit, in the US, where a decades-long economic collapse is razing the city's character on a heartbreaking scale. It puts what's happening to England in a wider context and is well worth a look just to marvel at some of the architecture.

Anyway - more very soon when I get some of my head back. In the meantime, I'm told that the Guardian and the Times will both be reviewing the book this Saturday. This is the one part of the creative process that the author really has no control over. Pray for me ...

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Roll up, roll up

I'm hungover this morning (oh, hang on - it's the afternoon already) after a very successful book launch last night. Now comes the start of the promotional tour!

For anyone in Oxford or London, I will be doing two events next week. First off, on Tuesday evening, I'll be speaking at the Corner Club in Oxford, at 8 o'clock. You can find more about that here. Then, on Thursday lunchtime, there's a session at the RSA in central London: more details here. That one's free, so you'd be a fool to miss out!

Come along, tell your friends ... and I hope to see you there.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

The time has come

Real England is officially launched today. You can celebrate with yet another Guardian article. You lucky things.

Wish me luck!