A Positive Union

On Thursday 18th September 2014, just a day away, over 300 years of union could be brought to an end as Scotland votes on whether to leave the United Kingdom.

I can scarcely believe I wrote that sentence. The whole concept still feels unthinkable. And yet it is very real.

British, or Not?

I once lived in Scotland, if you can call staying less than a year ‘living’ there. I spent nine months living in Broughty Ferry, a little place on the edge of – but definitely not in – Dundee. As privileged as I am to hail from (and once again live now) the West Dorset and East Devon area let me tell you there’s not anything wrong with the views over the Tay.

Did I feel it was British? Well, it was different. It wasn’t quite like home and in many ways you felt it was a different country – and that’s because it is a different country. Not another region, another country within the bigger country. (The semantics of a union of four nations is difficult). The people there have different ways, different accents and dialects, even a different way of structuring sentences. The architecture was very different, much more sturdy and solid – it has to be, the winds up there are as strong as anything you’d find in Cornwall. But yes it did feel British to me, a different expression of Britishness perhaps, but a part of it all the same. Those same people had the same outlook on life, the same problems, the same interests, the same attitudes.

That’s because Britishness is shared among all four of the nations of the union and is not dictated by Westminster.

The worry I have is some of the ‘undecideds’ who might be persuaded to vote yes actually quite like being British. I wonder if they realise although they’ll still be British, their descendants may not be. Scots will be considered as Irish are now. I am sure in the transition years after Irish independence many were considered Brits still. But not now. Even though Ireland is in an archipelago called the British Isles nobody from the Republic is considered British. 50 years from now, Scotland will still be on an island called Britain but will its citizens be called British? I doubt it. I doubt the concept will exist outside the history e-books.

In the ‘young persons’ debate on Channel 4 last week a surprising number saw themselves as Scottish only and not British. Things like this always confused me. The idea of asking if you’re one or the other. It makes no sense to me.

I have always been British and English and European and from the Westcountry, the historic old Wessex, and from Dorset. All at the same time, with not a conflict between any of them. It is a multi-layered identity and everyone has their own combination. Right now most Scots are both Scottish and British (even if they’d rather not be) and European and I cannot get my head around why you’d want anything else. Why choose one or two of them? Why can’t someone be all of them at once? It isn’t a contradiction, quite the opposite we should celebrate it.

Westminster

Speaking of Westminster, the Yes campaign seems to be trying to portray this as a decision purely about politicians and MPs and little else. Just moving the centre of governance for Scotland into Scotland. And that’s a fine idea at first thought.

There are practical difficulties like Scotland not presently having a second chamber through which bills should pass before being made law. Needing to build up the civil service rather than share it with the rest of the UK in Whitehall or wherever. I’m sure this would be overcome though I’m not sure the electorate is fully aware of them. But put those to one side as things to work out later.

A No vote isn’t a vote for the status quo. The status quo is dead and buried. Westminster MPs haven’t been listening forever but that isn’t a problem unique to Scotland. They don’t listen to any of us.
But that poll the other day showing a Yes lead? That woke them up. It really woke them up. Now they’re listening. And they’re making changes.

Okay I agree with what you’re thinking – under normal circumstances there’d be a No vote and after the passage of time the change would slow or stop and we’d be back to business as usual.
These are not normal circumstances.

There is a UK-wide General Election in May. The parties reveal their manifestos, the tickets they’ll run on at that next election, at the annual Party Conferences. Well, the conference season is about to begin. The Labour Party conference is next week. The Conservative Party conference is the week after.

They aren’t going to forget this referendum after a week. Expect next week and the week after to be all about what more powers they want to offer Scotland, and potentially some changes for the rest of us.

The tight polls have already sent the message. And it isn’t just Scotland that thinks this way. The population of the rest of the UK does as well. You think this referendum won’t be the biggest topic in the conferences? Make no mistake, they will never want to repeat this referendum again and they’ll be willing to talk.

So yes, vote No and then Scotland can lead the change within the UK for a fairer UK. Let’s talk about more powers for Holyrood – and Cardiff and Stormont if you like, why not? Let’s talk about an elected House of Lords, no, a House of Senators sounds better!

Change for good is entirely possible within the UK without walking away from it. The Scots have often led the change and are doing so again. Reform is the answer. Ironically it could be the harder road to travel.

Of course we have problems. Independence isn’t going to solve austerity. And, hard as we’re feeling the pinch, the UK is recovering faster than any other country in G7. There’s a lot still to fix and a long way to go but everybody across Europe is feeling pain, that won’t go away if you get rid of Westminster. I think it’ll make it last longer. I believe working together in a bigger nation helps us all recover faster.

The feeling in England now?

With such a vocal voice for Yes and a very real chance of it happening there’s a quiet resignation where I am in England. A feeling of inevitability. Sadness. Regret. Confusion.. Blaming the media.. Why didn’t we know this before September? Why didn’t we do something more? Was it us, did we throw it away, not the politicians but actually us?

A little anger but as much directed at ‘Yes’ as the official ‘No’ campaign which has not been run well. But this isn’t a vote on who had the best advertising campaign. There’s a hope the promises of Yes will be seen as false promises, as they mostly are.

There’s hope that a No might squeak through.. and more than that, that it sparks change all over these islands. Change that we all need.

Hopes

I hope Scotland votes No. There is a lot of disquiet throughout the UK and this referendum has provoked unprecedented debate and discussion. Let’s harness that and drive the change forward.

You want a positive case for the Union? Gordon Brown – wait, yes really, I’m just as surprised as you – makes the passionate, positive case.

London 2012: Part 5 – Paralympics at ExCel

So far in this series I had only been around the margins of London 2012’s Olympic Games. Things were about to be different. When September’s Paralympics came around, when almost the whole of Britain wanted to this great summer to roll on and on forever, I finally got into the midst of the action with real, actual tickets!

Over two days I would see live sport at the ExCel Exhibition Centre in the afternoon, the Olympic Stadium in the evening, and the second day would be spent at Brands Hatch. A busy two days!

September 6th, 2012 – Afternoon

As with the visit in the summer the morning was spent taking the train from Dorset to London Waterloo and making my way to the venue. I’d wanted to try the brand new cable car across the Thames but hadn’t yet found a reason to go all that way over there – I mean who would put it there and expect it to be used? Yet as luck would have it, it turns out the fastest way from Waterloo to the ExCel is to take the tube to the Millennium Dome (the ‘O2 Arena’ as I suppose we have to call it) and use the cable car, which plonks you down about half a mile from the ExCel.

 

This part of London is a mix of the exhibition hall, conference centres, restaurants and so forth. It used to be the famous sprawling docks of the city and some tributes remain as a legacy.

The first thing to do was negotiate the notoriously thorough London 2012 securit, which was as restrictive as airport security: can’t take in more than 100ml of fluid, can’t bring your own drinks, can only bring a small rucksack bag which needed to be emptied in front of them. Not particularly helpful to those who didn’t have time to check into their hotel beforehand (i.e. me) so I had to travel light. The staff, whether G4S or Armed Forces personnel (a lot of RAF) were immensely friendly though and everyone was passing through easily.

ExCel London

I had a day pass so I could go wherever I liked. The ExCel was hosting several sports although several coincided so I had to plot my moves. It was quite difficult as you never knew when something might end, and there were quite a lot of people around especially when there was a break between sessions. The worst part was when all sessions ended at once and everyone was queuing to get in to the next one.

Nearest the door: table tennis. Let’s do that first.

Table Tennis

Table tennis arena. 5 games in progress at the same time!

Within a few minutes I realised four things:

One, wow lots of games at once this is a bargain!

Two, watching from a distance the tables are quite small and so is the ball.

Three, I don’t know anything about any form of tennis except some basics. In fact this whole Paralympic experience was the first time I’d attended a sporting event without knowing anything about the sports or their competitors.

Four, as a motorsport fan when I’m trackside I am accustomed to having a radio in my ear with commentary provided by the circuit or the championship. At the Paralympics there was no commentary, although I’d not brought my radio anyway!

I was confused for a while especially as the crowd on one side of the arena was getting really animated and were cheering one of the games near to them, which made me think I’d missed something in the game I was watching! I hadn’t, they were just watching a different thing.

I’d perhaps naively expected several screens perhaps with one for each table, and very clear modern scoreboard. What we had were a few fairly small screens all focussed on the same match and an old-fashioned single-colour scoreboard right outta the 70s with everything abbreviated so you didn’t know what it meant (unless you did). For the year 2012 at an event sponsored by a giant electronics company I was not impressed.

British competitor on the left hidden behind the marshal

It was fun though. Just because they are in wheelchairs doesn’t mean the game is any slower. I’d say it is a lot more impressive playing in a chair rather than leaping around trying to hit the ball, your reactions have to be very fast to hit the ball before it goes out of your more limited reach and that in turn makes for a very rapid game… or a lot of misses.

I was on the verge of moving but I started to get really into the game happening in front of me, what I think was Turkey vs Russia. It was a team event and these weren’t in chairs so I guess they were partially-sighted or something. There was a singles, then another singles between the other two, then they finished off playing doubles. I’ve been to Turkey and liked it so I was pulling for them.

Turkey vs Russia

Turkey vs Russia doubles

I could see the scores just next to the umpire there and on the screen at the back (just!). It was a close contest, which is why I didn’t move over to the other stand to watch the British athletes! My memory faded now but I think Turkey just about won. It was close all the way through.

Britain vs China (I saw more through the camera than through the eye)

And there was good support for the British team. When the game in front of me finished I decided not to stay, instead I went back out into the atrium and head to the fencing which was on at the same time.

The atrium.

Wheelchair Fencing

I really liked the idea of wheelchair fencing. I just couldn’t see how it would work, from what I’ve seen of fencing one of the key components of it is the ability to move back and forth to attack or defend, yet these guys were sat in chairs which were strapped to the ground and couldn’t move. How could they have a swordfight?

Wheelchair Fencing

As it turned out it was fantastic. Such a fun sport! Such a fast sport as well.

HIT HIM!!

I didn’t have an optimum position so it was hard to see, and again lots of contests to follow which again I found difficult. The nearest me happened to be two Frenchman which I didn’t think was fair on the French team!

I missed a lot though. I thought I was being clever in doing tennis first and fencing second but when I stayed longer at the tennis I’d forgotten that would mean less time at the fencing (even though there should’ve been a clear 1hr15min of fencing after the tennis ended which wasn’t the case). Just inexperience with the sports – had I known beforehand that I’d end up liking fencing I’d have allowed more time for it! The second session wasn’t to start until 5pm and I couldn’t stay that long.

After lunch and a lot of waiting around for the next set of sessions I gave up on Sitting Volleyball thanks to the sheer mass of people. It would’ve taken ages to get in. I wanted to watch that but so did everybody else! So I went to see boccia instead.

Boccia

Boccia turned out to be quite boring. It was basically a form of bowls with a shorter field of play and about as interesting as bowls, which is to say ‘not very’. If it had been a variant of skittles or ten pin bowling I’d have been more interested but I suppose they’re a bit harder to throw from a wheelchair.

Boccia

But again, some Brits were in there doing well with a lot of home support and the home crowds were cheering in the right places so they clearly knew their sport so good on ‘em. Probably says a lot that I was happier watching the synchronised sweepers.

Time To Go

And that was pretty much it. I was there for five hours and saw three sports, queued for lots of things, and after not knowing what to expect I actually came away wishing I’d got there earlier and had more time. I really did enjoy it. Not at all bad for what I’d previously thought was just a £10 ‘filler’ to waste the afternoon before the trip to Stratford!

I couldn’t stay any later though, I was off somewhere exciting: The Olympic Stadium!

Goodbye ExCel.

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This is part five of my series of posts on London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games. There are two later parts.

Other parts:

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London 2012: Part 4 – Olympic Triathlon & Camden

I’m looking back at 2012’s summer of sport centred around the London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games. In this part my sister and I visit the Triathlon in Hyde Park with only a little success, before becoming tourists in Covent Garden and Camden. Click the links for extra photos and larger sizes.

Part 4 – London, Tuesday, 7th August 2012

A week and a half after my previous Olympic-related exploits, I returned to London with my sister Celine for a day at the triathlon. We wanted to do something together, she wanted to see the city decked out for the Games even if we couldn’t see a sport. I’d had no luck at all with Olympics tickets but there were free events. The Men’s Triathlon fell on a suitable day and didn’t even require a ticket so it was perfect.

Short of money unable to afford a hotel, we took a morning train up from Dorset (nearly a three hour run) and got to Green Park tube as quickly as we could, Hyde Park tube being closed. It was when we got to Hyde Park Corner that we discovered everybody else had decided to attend as well!

Hyde Park

Hyde Park Corner was very, very busy. The atmosphere was great, a party without the aggressiveness that alcohol can sometimes bring at sports events. Neither of the two of us are great with crowds but I didn’t mind it this time except for the one problem: they’d lined the fences everywhere to be seen, there wasn’t a gap to be found!

All along I had clear intentions. Certain parts of the cycling course would be re-used for the running part of the triathlon so we should just park ourselves along there before the swim finished and stay until the race was over. Alas we were too late, we could barely see anything over the heads of everyone already there.

Just as we got to where I wanted to be and we tried to find a spot the swimming leg of the race finished and the athletes were on their first cycling lap. This is the view from my camera held above my head and from eye level:

Crowds in Hyde Park for the Men’s Triathlon

Crowds cheering on the triathletes

The atmosphere was fantastic, such a good vibe with everyone being cheered on, not just the British athletes. Even though we couldn’t see anything much it was worth just being there.

Mind you it was quite frustrating going all that way.. We probably should’ve stayed there but I insisted on walking up and down looking for a space.. but this wasn’t going to work, we couldn’t see anything. Stay or try somewhere else? We headed across the park to the other side, the return side in the hope it was clearer. It was, only very slightly.

 

Thankfully here we did catch something of a glimpse… burst mode to the rescue!

  

And a cheer for the marshal following them!

Soon they were on the last lap of the cycle race. We’d moved away from the running course and I still wanted to see that part of the race and that meant moving again. On our way we encountered the big screens. Brits love free sport, especially free sport on a huge telly..

Free sport!

Wow.

Now that is a crowd!

It was very tempting to sit with them to watch the end especially with food vendors nearby and us hungry (it was lunchtime). But we didn’t:  frankly the prices being charged were just ridiculous – and I nearly paid it, were it not for the huge lines. There weren’t enough food outlets, I think the organisers under-estimated the potential crowd numbers!

After much walking, I have to say a lot more walking than I expected (it turns out Hyde Park is big) we reached the Princess Diana memorial from where we could see the start/transition/finish area across the water and just about catch a glimpse of the athletes running over the bridge and on this side of the water.

Main grandstand

More big crowds, and athletes now on the 3rd leg of the tri.

By now our stomachs were grumbling so as the race drew to a close we made our way out and stumbled upon an ice cream seller. Perfect for this hot day! We were tucking in to that when Alistair Brownlee crossed the line, his brother finishing not far back: Gold and Bronze for the brothers! A tremendous result.

The atmosphere in the park was really good, everyone relaxed and friendly. It was a shame we couldn’t get there any earlier and that we struggled to find a nice spot but these were just small downers and after all the negativity in the lead up to the Games nobody could’ve predicted such a massive turnout. It was great to have experienced an event this big in such a positive atmosphere.

Being A London Tourist (Again)

That was half the day done. After leaving the park we tried to find some lunch, again a surprisingly difficult task. We eventually got a bit lost and walked to South Kensington station. A long, tiring walk in the heat!

The rest of the day was spent being touristy in London. Instead of seeing the famous landmarks – we’d both done that before – we headed to Covent Garden and to Camden. Here are a few photos from our meanderings.

Albert Memorial

How many stairs?? And a long queue for the lift. Not welcome after our long walk! I’d completely forgotten this aspect of Covent Garden tube station.

Covent Garden, Olympified

Camden

Camden

In the markets of Camden Lock you can find foods from all over the world. And a bronze lion.

  

  

There are also many clothes market stalls and shops and Celine happily wandered among them!

Unfortunately some of the uniqueness is being lost with the prevalence of shops selling identical tourist-trap tat, miniature red phone boxes and black taxis, hundreds of t-shirts with identical designs and identical slogans (‘Keep Calm’, ‘Mind The Gap’, etc.). I don’t mean similar, I mean literally the same stuff. Even one of my personal bugbears of a Union Flag shirt with the word ‘England’ on it – I’m English but No, No, No – that’s the UK flag not the English one!
Similar shops have taken over Picadilly and Leicester Square and they’re infesting other parts of the city as well. Just… stop it.

Somehow we didn’t get food at one of the amazing stalls (we shall have to go back to sample those!). We resisted because our sister Kerryn had recommended another place so we ended our day with dinner The Diner where Celine had a huge veggie taco salad, and I had probably the best caesar salad ever made. If you are in the area you are going to want to go to this place.

There’s More!

That’s it for today and for July, but don’t go away. The Olympics may have passed with me only seeing a bit of it in person, but Britain was not ready for this great summer to end. We wanted more. Just a month later it would be time for the Paralympic Games and I had tickets for those! As it turned out, these Paralympics were no side-show or afterthought..

For the full photo album from the football in Cardiff to the food in Camden please see Picasa or Google+.

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This is part 4 of my series of posts on London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games.

Other parts:

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London 2012: Part 3 – Torch Relay & London Atmosphere

 I’m looking back at last year’s summer of sport centred around the London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games. Click the links for extra photos.

Part 3 – London, Friday, 27th July 2012

Amy and I arrived in London from Cardiff’s football on Thursday night on a train that was standing-room-only for half the journey, and suffered extensive delays for the remainder. We were quite tired when we crashed at mutual friend’s place, yet were determined to see the Torch Relay on Friday. This was her first and only opportunity to see it, and I’d previously missed it because I went on holiday the day it passed through my town. We’d also convened in London for a get together for the Sidepodcast F1 website community. That wasn’t until the evening.

Peckham

Handily, the Torch was visiting Peckham, just a 10-15 minute train ride away from our borrowed lodgings. It was a gloriously sunny day, we found a reasonable spot and the crowds began to gather, thankfully most of them the other side of the road. You got the sense Peckham had tried to clean up, but there’s only so much you can do with such a crappy place (to me it’s forever surprising how nearby parts of London can be so different).

A guy from an Asian TV station turned up (as the pair of us turned our backs and tried to avoid eye contact with him so he wouldn’t interview us) and started talking to camera, saying how it was all very exciting and there was a real buzz, and how many people from Southern Asia were here. It wasn’t quite like that, he was talking while the road was still open to traffic so there wasn’t much buzz yet, and in any case from what I saw Peckham is more a part of the African or Afro-Caribbean communities.

The buzz began when the police outriders appeared to great cheers from the crowd. After all the protests and kettling of a couple of years ago, could you have imagined the Met being cheered? Remarkable. It stepped up again when the first parade vehicles arrived.

The official sponsors had their own floats with loud music and MCs pumping up the crowd, handing out little free Cokes, then the bus of torch bearers goes by, a fully-grown man holding a big plush Wenlock… then there he is! The torch bearer!

High Five the Police!

Olympic Flame in Peckham! (and again!)

And then all of a sudden it was over…for now.

The crowds took over the road briefly, we threaded our way back to the station. Once we were clear away from the parade route, to the pair of us non-London folk from the countryside (England and NZ), this didn’t seem the safest place in the world, so we buggered off to the station pretty quickly!

Central London

For the rest of the day I went for a walk around London. A much longer walk than I’d intended for such a hot day! I didn’t work to any plan except to be at the pub on the Strand by 6pm, so I didn’t take the most direct route. I must’ve walked for three hours in quite a sticky heat. I’m glad I did though, because I got to see London at its’ finest: bright sunshine, as clean and tidy as a major old city can be, all decked out in Olympic trimmings. Here is just a small selection of photos from my journey….and keep scrolling for a surprise!

The Shard next to London Bridge station:

I didn’t expect this on the river. I’d never seen a cruise liner this far into London before, certainly never a ship so large at the Eastern (inland) side of Tower Bridge.

View from London Bridge L-R: Tower of London, MV Silver Cloud moored up with HMS Belfast, Tower Bridge with Olympic Rings on!

I walked along the South Bank to City Hall and Tower Bridge where in addition to the rings on the bridge there were these:

It was fun seeing all the Olympic ‘furniture’, the street signs, the special ‘Olympic lanes’ that Londoners complained so much about before the Games began but in reality didn’t seem to have that great an effect, and the fleet of BMWs being driven around by competing teams, and Games officials.

It was fun trying to spy the country name before the car disappeared again. This is Belarus!

Then you had the Brazilian TV crew riding around on open-topped Routemaster.

I walked around to the Monument and back to the riverside, the aim being to walk along the river to the Millennium Bridge and look for food. As I got to the banks of the Thames, I looked over at Tower Bridge again – the Olympic Rings had retracted and the bridge was being raised!

Rings retracted, bridge raised, tall mast allowed through

It felt like a long way trying to find a shop in this part of town, not wanting to pay quite high cafe/restaurant prices (especially when on my own – I wouldn’t mind when with people), until I grabbed something from a Pret and sat under the Millennium Bridge just to get out of the sun for a while! I could see the recreation of Shakespeare’s Globe.

From there I went to have a look at St Paul’s Cathedral and walked past the front, before thinking, “aha if I just go down Fleet Street I’ll be near the Strand for my pub visit”. I went past whatever this is, and the Royal Courts where the TV reporters always stand outside for the big name trials. I got to the Strand a couple of hours early. Trying to save money, I thought the best free thing to do was to carry on walking, even though I was already quite hot and a bit tired. I also wanted to find somewhere a bit more Olympic-themed, or at least somewhere with atmosphere.

I found the upmarket foodie side of the market selling very expensive things. I found the tacky corner selling a load of the obligatory ‘Keep Calm’ and slogan tat. I found a happy band! I found Batman! This was more like it.

If you go to the top of Covent Garden, past the tube station, you reach a long narrow street called Long Acre. If you wander along there you’ll eventually reach Leicester Square and on to Picadilly Circus.

Long Acre

Picadilly Circus

You could watch the torch relay right there!

On Regent Street, which makes a 90-degree turn through Picadilly Circus, they’d hung the flag of every single competing nation at the Olympic Games. They stretched from the bottom all the way up beyond Oxford Street – not a small distance.

And here’s one I got the next day from the Oxford Street end, I like this photo:

Regent Street flags


Surprise!!

As I was walking around Picadilly, watching the screen, I discovered the Torch Relay was coming this way – I had the chance to see it for a second time! This time in the heart of London! This time the buzz was much greater – I wasn’t going to pass this up.

I knew Picadilly was going to be rammed, so I moved up the street, to Shaftesbury Avenue (the heart of theatre land) to find a good spot.

And this time.. I took a video with my phone. Admittedly it is an old phone and the camera is not great, and the camerawork is dreadful, even so I really hope it gives you a sense of the moment. The long buildup as we waited, the booming music, and the torch going by!

Olympic Torch!

And then it was off to the pub for a well-earned beer after all that walking!

The atmosphere in London was far from flat. This being the day before the Games properly opened there was the definite sense of anticipation, the excitement building as you could tell from the video. Previously the torch relay was very understated and British, yet now people were gathering in big crowds and cheering! Not long now.

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This is part 3 of my delayed series of posts on London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games.

Other parts:

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Broadchurch – A Local Perspective

ITV’s latest murder mystery series ‘Broadchurch’ wrapped up last night. I’ve fallen a bit out of step with a lot of drama series that are around now, I seem to miss an awful lot of them. That’s good in a way because it means there are an awful lot of them! This is much better than a few years ago when it was wall-to-wall reality TV across all channels. Good too because I remember growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, ITV used to be the leader in British-made drama and it is great to see they are really putting in an effort to reclaim that crown.

Broadchurch

West Bay

A local perspective? I live and grew up in the town ‘Broadchurch’ was filmed – or more accurately, in the adjacent town to where the seaside parts were filmed. I live in Bridport, just two miles or so from West Bay, the site of the beach, cliffs, harbour and more. In other words the good bits! The town scenes, the hotel, newspaper, church and residential part too, weren’t filmed anywhere near here. I think they were done in Clevedon, near Bristol. I’ve no idea why. It was a shame really, there are plenty of places around here they could’ve used.

We do get film crews now and again, Lyme Regis probably has had more, really though we aren’t used to a lot of attention. We’re on the border between TV regions so we rarely get any local news on our ‘local’ news bulletins. We’re used to be being ignored. ‘Broadchurch’ was pretty accurate in that regard!

The last time the spotlight was on us was for Nick Berry’s ‘Harbour Lights‘ series in 1999/2000 (though it looks like the production values for that were firmly stuck in 1990!), his project after leaving ‘Heartbeat’, which promised much in ratings and tourism and vastly under delivered at both. It generated a brief buzz then we plunged into obscurity again, the only legacy is a fish and chip hut now called Harbour Lights Fish Bar (it had a brief appearance in ‘Broadchurch’ under that name too, directly opposite the police station!). After that debacle I was amazed anyone here let film crews back in. It provides an interesting historical comparison though, as between the two shows a lot of development work happened at the pier and opposite it at what is now the filming location for Broadchurch Police Station.

West Bay East Cliff (P.Wotton, December 2011) (click for large)

‘That doesn’t go there!’

Once you get over the weirdness of seeing David Tennant, Olivia Colman and Pauline Quirke walking around a place you know well, you start picking holes in the geography (remember this was the first episode, too soon to have any relationship with the characters). Locations didn’t really match reality. In the opening scenes of episode one, Beth runs from a dual-carriageway into town all the way to the beach – yet the nearest such road is something like 4 or 5 miles away, and didn’t look like ‘our’ road.. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it in Casualty! Obviously you can’t shut down the A35 to do some filming, it is a busy trunk road especially in summer, but still it seemed odd!
They’d also walk or run from a place in West Bay to a place in Clevedon within minutes. The magic of television! These are only little niggles a local would know about, and quite honestly once the real drama got going I completely forgot about the lay of the land, I just imagined it was a fictional location with a few familiar places! The show was so good you just forgot about it.

I liked the nod to Bridport & West Bay’s annual August torchlight procession, the writer is local so I assume that was deliberate. Every year the town comes together (well, those who can be bothered.. I’ve only done it once) to carry a lit torch – the firey kind not the flashlight kind – from Bridport to West Bay where it is thrown on a big bonfire by the beach literally yards from where it was in the show.

The local community really got behind ‘Broadchurch’, especially the local newspaper The Bridport News, lots of local hotels and restaurants, cafe’s and so forth. They’ve been holding screenings as the series has gone out and there have been Broadchurch Echo posters in the newsagents!

Visiting?

Maybe some tourists who saw the show might find it frustrating if they want to visit the sea then pop round the corner to visit the hotel or newspaper offices, and realise actually it is a little more difficult than that! So what is really here?

The harbour, cliffs, beach, newsagent and the scout hall (really the Methodist Church), all these really are in West Bay. So is the Police Station (Streetview) although you might be surprised to learn it is a block of posh flats, a cafe and a bicycle shop. Jack’s house is near the East Cliff.
Pauline Quirke’s character stayed in a caravan just a mile down the coast at Freshwater Caravan Park, Burton Bradstock. Be careful if you walk there, a lady died recently when the cliff subsided on to the beach. Anyway the clifftop walk between Burton and West Bay is nicer than the beach which is a bit too pebbly to walk on easily.
The yellow hut? That’s a mile in the other direction at Eype (Streetview) – again take the Coast Path unless you really like the sea. Even better: walk one way to get there, walk the other way to get back!

West Bay looked fantastic on TV, especially the golden cliffs and the inner harbour. Hopefully it’ll bring some grockles to fleece tourists to welcome.

What isn’t here? The characters’ houses, the main street with the newspaper offices and the hotel – though the inside of the hotel isn’t a set, it is the real Bull Hotel in the centre of Bridport. I can’t quite see why they didn’t use the outside of it but there you are.

If you squint you can see the yellow cabin over at Eype (P.Wotton, December 2011) (click for large)

Accents

A lot of the locals seemed to speak in Bristolian accents rather than Dorset. Obviously the town areas are filmed near Bristol, but writer is from here, the show mentions the town is in Dorset, I would’ve expected Dorset accents!

What About The Actual Show?

Truthfully, I had low expectations and wasn’t expecting to like it! I expected another Harbour Lights. I’m so pleased to be wrong, I really got caught up in this one and it kept you guessing. It was so well filmed and acted, properly good telly.

The guessing came up perhaps half an episode too short – I wasn’t the only one to figure out who did it before the final episode even began. The writer made a bit of a fuss about the number of clues in the dialogue and the music. Perhaps if he hadn’t said that I might not have twigged. I think maybe there were a few too many clues. On the other hand, it was so well shot and acted that it almost didn’t matter, and since it kept turning on you, you weren’t really sure until the reveal – what if it was a set up to make us think it was him? You still wanted to let it play out. That’s the mark of a good drama.

I enjoyed the examination of each character. Their flaws and histories. ‘Could it be them?’ Oh they have an alibi.. or so they say.

It was a standout cast as well. I really thought this was going to be a vehicle for David Tennant, and yes he did feature prominently and did a great job with a twist on the well-trodden clichéd detective, but by no means was he the only star of the show. Jodie Whitaker (Beth) especially in the earlier episodes dealing with the grief – the whole family was good but she was excellent. Joe Sims (Nige) was very good. The standout throughout was Olivia Colman (DI Miller) who was on top form as her character took from happy local police, hardening to a murder detective, and especially in the finale – she’s not just an award-winning comedy actress but great at properly serious drama too.

I didn’t really like Will Mellor’s character – no slight on him, it was refreshing to see him play something completely different after he seemed to get typecast as the ‘lad’-type – it was just that character didn’t seem to fit into place as well as the others.

The pacing was very good and the shooting, they shot the landscapes beautifully.

I liked how the two main cops didn’t like each other and for once in a TV show they never made up to become best buddies!

The last episode.. wow. You might’ve guessed whodunnit but that reaction.. that was so raw, so real.

Etc.

The soundtrack seemed more like one of the recent Nordic Noir crime dramas than a British show and it was all the better for it, perhaps you wouldn’t be surprised to learn it was composed by the Icelandic musician Ólafur Arnalds.

Second series? The last frame said, ‘Broadchurch Will Return’. How will that work? This isn’t like Wallander where they somehow got away with multiple murders in a small place, the focus there was on how it affected the detective. In Broadchurch the focus is on how it affected Broadchurch, the characters, the community, the town as a whole. You’d lose that effect if there was another murder so maybe it is a different kind of story? Or is it going to become a murder-per-series show? I wouldn’t be against that. I’d love to see a second series but I don’t see how they can do it justice.

If you missed any of the last few episodes they should still be on ITV Player. The whole series is available on iTunes right now, and so is the soundtrack. US viewers will see it appear on BBC America some time this year.

Well done ITV, well done to the writers and the cast, and everyone really!

Your Thoughts

I hope I haven’t spoiled things too much. If you’ve seen it tell me what you thought about it, and if you haven’t seen it, why not? Forget preconceptions and find it and watch it.