Border Lines

Berwick, North Northumberland: Food-Travel-Culture-Community

Archive for the tag “Referendum”

Drama & demos, fun & festivals, laughter & aching legs: Another fab year in Berwick

Calendar Girls at the marvellous Maltings – you can still get copies of the fab cast & crew calendar at the Maltings or on line here

As we’re approaching Christmas I thought I’d partake in that age-old tradition of ‘looking back’. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, looking back –  whether with a sense of yearning, a frisson of shame, or a wry smile – is an inevitable pastime. So, in this festive season, bear with me as I glance back over my musings in this column during 2012.

In January my post-holiday glow, gave me cause to celebrate the plethora of events and functions in and around Berwick. Many still to come this year – from the Dickensian Market (9th December), to the Spittal torchlit parade (December 14th), complete with camels this time! I gave three cheers for the pioneering spirit that ensures that treasured traditions continue and new things are thrown into the ring; the lights on the Royal Border Bridge, now fully functioning and gorgeous; and the colours of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, which, come August 1st 2013, will hopefully be central to a thrill-a-minute civic week.

February was the month when Scottish independence and broody hens made curious nest fellows. With a referendum due in 2014, Berwick’s claim as the Monaco of the North needs to be shouted loud and proud. As for hens, I managed to pop fertilised eggs under our broody hen who, miraculously, hatched two gorgeously cute chicks. One is now the noisiest cockerel in Berwick.

The chicks. One is now the noisiest cockerel in Berwick

The chicks. One is now the noisiest cockerel in Berwick

The inescapable inability to keep New Year’s resolutions slapped me reproachfully in the face in March. But, happily, so did the beauty of the surrounding countryside as charity and exercise collided in the form of training for the Edinburgh MoonWalk.

Mary Portas fever hit in April as the first-round bid for funding gripped the town. As in so many things in life, success came second time around. Hopefully uniting behind a coherent vision for Berwick will follow seamlessly.

By May training fatigue plagued me as did fury at the amount of litter that people insist on dumping – particularly from cars. June brought a train timetabling rant after a five-hour journey twice took eight hours – I am fearful that East Coast Mainline’s habit of dropping Berwick from key routes to regain time might mark the whittling away of what has been a fantastic London and southeast-bound service.

Will Berwick's train service be whittled away as trains sail straight through on some routes to save precious minutes

Will Berwick’s train service be whittled away as trains sail straight through our station to save precious minutes?

In July, following on from June’s Jubilee and Olympic fervour, I celebrated Berwick’s ability to lay on a jolly good day out. I hoped – and still do – that we might become a renowned town of festivals.

August was a month off for me – but the people of Berwick continued to plan, party and campaign – notably in the march to keep Berwick’s Maternity Unit open.

September: two more festivals! The Food Festival and Film & Media Arts. Plus October’s all-new Frontier Music Festival. All fabulous. All attracting a wide variety of people to Berwick. All back in 2013.

Change and its challenges were hot topics in October – brought on by our own lengthy building works and the many positive plans being hatched for Berwick. Deep down I know we are doing the right thing in updating and modernising our home – but the process is not always easy or without conflict. This, I mused, is a bit like keeping up the momentum for change in Berwick.

I wafted (rather bravely I thought) into windpower in November. Another brave move for me was appearing at the marvellous Maltings in Calendar Girls. Having marched round Edinburgh in my bra for breast cancer, it seemed only fair to walk the boards in – well, not much really – for Leukaemia and Lymphoma research.

I have had a fabulous year in Beautiful Berwick – thank you for letting me share some of it with you. And, as the windmill might say to its sails: ‘What goes round, comes round.’ So, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

(A version of this article was published in the Berwick Advertiser on 6 December 2012)

Borders: more than just lines

Union Flag & SaltireIf Alex Salmond and the SNP are eventually successful in their ambition for an independent Scotland, which side of the line would you hop? And on what would you base your decision?

Personally I’ve always felt a huge affinity with Scotland. When I was six my family spent a fistful of years holidaying in a caravan perched on Uncle Jim’s croft. We were marched through heather and bracken (no knowledge of its carcinogenic properties then), and along the rocky coast or sandy bays at least twice a day, rain or shine; Mum would give our hair a weekly scrub in the icy water from the standpipe; we doused our bodies in the freezing waters of Little Loch Broom which nestled at the sloping foot of the croft.

Subsequently, no doubt trying to recapture the magic of those carefree days, I traipsed London Daughter around Skye, Mull and Iona and took ‘finding–myself’ trips to a friend’s dilapidated castle beyond Thurso. And, when The Husband and I got together, Tiree became our family’s blustery holiday destination of choice – which is how we stumbled upon Berwick as a place to live.

When we arrived here 18 months ago, Berwick’s historicity was one of its attractions. A border town that had boomeranged between Scotland and England until finally resting in England in 1482 – it still seemed to echo with the ancient struggles, without actually currently partaking in them. Or so we thought.

I’ve been startled and fascinated by the strength of feelings surrounding the referendum here in Berwick – and the rationale behind them. Part of this has been, I suppose, my own coming to terms with the fact that I will always be seen as a southerner no matter which side of the border I am on. And another part is the fact that my own rather wishy–washy, lackadaisical attitude to the on–the–ground, cultural and non–political relationships between the countries and peoples is far from average.

I’ve always assumed that there is a benevolent respect and warmth between Berwickers and our siblings the Borderers. After all, people from across the border come and work in Berwick, and many who live in Berwick work in Scotland. When the 10–Year–Old needed to see a consultant I was delighted to be able to choose between hospitals in Scotland and England. How marvellous, I thought, isn’t that the way it should be? After all the toing and froing Berwick has experienced through history it seems to me somehow just that we have special status – the best of both worlds. But it’s way more complicated than that.

Calm seas around Berwick but will an independent Scotland make unpleasant waves for us?

Some people I’ve spoken to are furious with Scotland for being ungrateful; others maintain it’s a case of good–riddance–to–bad–rubbish – the Scots, they say, have always hated the English and the time for them to go it alone can’t come quickly enough; some are anxious about the implications that Scottish independence might have on jobs and trade in Berwick – particularly if Mr Salmond takes Scotland into the Euro; others feel miffed about university fees and the fact that even though we’re a hop and a spit from the border we can’t benefit from fee–free Scottish universities; others believe that Alex Salmond’s strategy could be steering the Scots to a covertly preferred outcome of devo–max (roughly speaking more devolved powers for Holyrood but not full independence); and others see the breaking of the union that has held since 1707 as an abhorrent and retrograde step.

A recent poll suggests that Scottish support for independence is somewhere between 32–38% so the breaking up of the union maybe some way off. Nonetheless it’s pretty clear that things will change and, whatever the outcome of an independence vote, it will have a significant impact on Berwick and our relationship with our near neighbours.

A version of this article appeared in The Berwick Advertiser on February 2nd 2012

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