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Cleethorpes was (indeed, it still is) twinned with Konigswinter in what was then West Germany. The Cleethorpes Liberal Party participated in a number of exchanges with members of the Konigswinter FDP. I recall once writing a speech in English, getting a young member of the FDP to translate it, and then delivering it in German, thanking our hosts for their hospitality. The speech was well enough received though I have doubts about how intelligible my accent made it.
We sometimes discussed the suitability of the match between the two communities. Cleethorpes is a traditional seaside resort and, at the time, was quite run down. Konigswinter is close to Bonn, at that time the capital of West Germany, so full of diplomats, civil servants and lawyers. Our group, made up of teachers and self-employed small traders, had, on the face of it, very little in common with the medical doctors, lawyers and civil servants that made up the German group. Nevertheless we got on very well, thanks, I suppose, to our shared political beliefs and commitment to European “Freundschaft”.
On one occasion I organised a coach shared with members of other groups with Konigswinter “twins” – sports clubs, music societies, amateur theatricals. This must have been for the tenth anniversary of the twinning which was celebrated on both sides. Apart from the events organised by our hosts, I booked a boat trip on the Rhine and Moselle which ended in a village where wine was being dispensed free of charge from a fountain in the square. I don’t think any who went on that trip was disappointed.
Throughout 1984 the main preoccupation of politicians and the media, in the UK, was the miners’ strike and the stand-off between Margaret Thatcher’s government and the National Union of Mine Workers led by Arthur Scargill – a stand-off that frequently turned violent. At Courtaulds’ Grimsby site we had our own steam and power generating plant. There were 9 boilers, 4 coal fired and 5 oil fired. Thus, we were able to choose a fuel, or fuel combination, based around the fluctuations in price of these two. And, when the strike meant we were unable to obtain coal, we could run entirely on oil.
For the rest of the country there was increasing polarisation between those on the right who believed the government had a duty to stand up to what they saw as too much power in the hands of the Unions, and those on the left who saw the government’s action as an attack on the working classes. North East Lincolnshire did not experience this anger in quite the same way as those districts with a mining tradition. But it did impact us in two ways: coal was being imported through the port of Immingham, which was therefore picketed in an attempt to prevent this; and the police brought in from various parts of the country to “keep the peace” on picket lines throughout the Yorkshire coal field were provided with accommodation at a holiday camp on the outskirts of Cleethorpes.
None of this prevented us from campaigning to get Liberal Party candidates elected to Humberside County Council in May 1985. It just meant we had to face rather more abuse when canvassing in certain areas. Nor had some much older issues gone away, fox hunting being one and abortion another. David Steel had, as a very young MP, long before he became party leader, introduced into Parliament the private members’ bill that legalised abortion in England and Wales under certain very specific conditions. That was back in 1968. Sixteen years later it was still something we would occasionally come across when canvassing: “I could never vote Liberal after what David Steel did.” You just had to accept it and move on.
Some people still take a similar view of the Liberal Democrats after their participation in the coalition government from 2010 until 2015. In politics memories are often long when it comes to passionately held beliefs.
Throughout World War II gardening was a patriotic duty for UK citizens. Before the war the country had relied heavily on imported food. Now ships bringing essential supplies ran the gauntlet of German U-boats patrolling the principle routes. They did so in convoys, accompanied by British and, later, American war ships. Every patch of land capable of growing a food crop was cultivated. City parks and once ornamental gardens were turned into vegetable plots. Scrub land on hillsides was grubbed up and turned into farm land.
Encouraged by such slogans as ‘Dig for Victory’, ordinary folk grew as much of their own produce as possible. For my mother, a city girl stranded in the countryside, this brought a new interest. She cultivated the garden alongside our stone cottage, growing a range of vegetables. This continued in the years following the war and, as I grew old enough to wield spade, fork, hoe and rake, I joined in.
When we moved to the former Manse (which we renamed ‘Homelea’) our gardening activities continued. Mum’s new partner, Harry, was a keen gardener too. In addition to our own garden he maintained a garden belonging to an elderly lady. He was paid for this with a share of the crops produced. With ample supplies of vegetables, there was room for flowers too. The front garden of Homelea was steep and narrow but the borders were filled with rose bushes and an assortment of perennial flowering plants.
The first garden that I was able to call my own was at the modern terraced house we purchased from Hereford City Council in 1965. I grew vegetables the first two years. A toddler needs space in which to play, however, and the garden was small so I stopped growing vegetables and laid turf. The 1970s and ’80s were decades during which I had little time or inclination to devote to gardening. My mother, however, continued with her love of gardening and gardens. Even in her 80s, residing in a sheltered apartment block, she kept a collection of plants in containers outside her window.
In 1991 my wife and I purchased a new semi-detached house in a village in East Yorkshire and here I renewed my interest in gardening, attempting to follow Geoff Hamilton‘s theories, creating a traditional kitchen garden.
Unlike a work of fiction, a garden is never finished. The active gardener is constantly developing and reshaping his creation, all the time seeking to work with soil and climate to perfect a living work of art. In 2006 I passed on my East Yorkshire garden to the custody of another gardener and began creating the first of two Irish gardens. The first was much too small to satisfy my appetite for growing things. I am now into the fifth spring in my second Irish garden which is slowly developing into the kind of small piece of heaven I imagine a garden ought to be.
Use the comments below to tell me about your own gardening exploits.