We Will Fight them on the Beaches, but not in Birmingham


The longer you’ve been away, the harder it is to come back. I originally quite liked the 4-weeks-on-2-weeks-off lark which I managed eek out of my new employers, but now I’m beginning to see the fault in my plan: I can’t remember a sodding thing. Couldn’t logon this morning, was typing the wrong password into the wrong system; forgot that we had a ten o’clock conference so no idea what we’re doing today; everything they’d taught me about the new system had vanished from my mind; and I addressed three different women colleagues by the right names, but not necessarily in the right order. They’re all very impressed with me.

Since we last met, France came and went, Birmingham just came. I can’t get it out of my head, but more of that later.

How the world changes in a couple of weeks. Before I left England were well in command of The Ashes Series, ham sandwiches didn’t give you cancer and the Tory Party loved the NHS. Yes really. What, you mean you don’t believe them? Shame on you. Don’t you know they’ve changed??? They’re all-for the Welfare State, comprehensive education, spot-the-ball and whippet racing. When they romp home next year they will ban BUPA, shut down Charterhouse and shoot all hounds and huntsmen.

Neil Warnock will become Sports Minister and Peter Tatchell Home Secretary. New Tory will be unrecogiseable. I know all this cos Dave told me, and I’m not the sort of bloke who disbelieves Dave. Why, didn’t you hear him crucify one of his foot soldiers who told Fox News that the NHS was a bag ‘o shite ? Said the Yanks would be mad to adopt a similar model! Dave’s rebuke was quite terrifying, and very, very believable. Honest. It was in The Mail.

Up the Ox and Bucks!!

Up the Ox and Bucks!!

Meanwhile, back in the real world (well as close to real life as I get) The Incumbent and I travelled to Normandy, sans enfants (did you see what I did then?). First stop Pegasus Bridge. In the early hours of D-Day, 1944, about a hundred British Tommies landed in gliders and stormed the tiny garrison defending this vital crossing over the Orne River. Immortalised by the aforementioned The Longest Day, the Tommies made swift work of dispatching the nasty Hun, secured the bridge for the Allied advance and liberated a small café to boot, so everyone could have a cup of tea afterwards.

These glider pilots really were something else. Under cloudy, moon-less skies, they navigated their heavily-laden craft over the coast of France to the target area with little more than a compass, a stopwatch and a huge moustache. 5 out of six gliders hit their target, with one landing a mere 47 yards from the end of the bridge.

On the other hand, The Incumbent and I were armed with an O.S. map, a Toyota 4×4 and the ubiquitous SatNav and managed to miss the turning three times. Not really Tommies, more TomTommies, and fucking useless ones at that. I’d have missed the whole of the Normandy coastline, and probably more if I was on HMS TallyHo as part of the invasion force armed with that TomTom. I’d have probably liberated Wales. Or perhaps I wouldn’t.

The problem is with these bloody things that we’ve (or rather I’ve) stopped looking at maps. A year ago I’d have never undertaken a journey past Sainsbury’s car park without consulting the old A-Z beforehand, but now I glibly set off on 300 mile journeys without a care in the world, trusting implicitly this little box stuck to the windscreen. Well it gets confused, I can tell you. New roads get built, diversions are enforced, roads blocked and it drives your poor little TomTom beserk. Yes yes yes, I know you’re supposed to update it every 17 minutes and download new maps, but who has the time to do that before you go away? I’m far too busy looking for my passport and the Arret.

How the hell did they get something that big across the Channel? Pic also shows a section of Mulberry harbour

How the hell did they get something that big across the Channel? Pic also shows a section of Mulberry harbour

Anyway, SatNav apart, and taking into account everything in France is tres cher (God I’m good!) it was a memorable trip. Pegasus Bridge, The Mulberry harbour at Arromanches, Omaha Beach, the US Cemetery (I know how to show a girl a good time) plus lashings of Kronenbourg (you need it after that lot). The streets of our little town were full of young an old, enjoying good food, dear beer, and great wine to the sound of the odd accordion and the even jazz combo. Lots of munching, quaffing and couples tangoing in the street. All v civilized indeed. I recommend it.

Fade to black with the strains of Edith Piaf in your head

Cut to Broad Street Birmingham, Saturday night. Cue the Housey Housey music.

The carnage.

We’d been to see the cricket at Edgbaston (just how lucky can one girl get on holiday?) and made the short 2-mile walk in good time and in better thirst and needed immediate refreshment. What confronted us was more terrifying than the Allies could have possibly faced on the beaches of France 65 years ago. Legions and legions of pissed, swearing, puking, fighting boys and girls (and I mean boys and girls) in various stages of undress, noticeably unmolested by Her Majesty’s Finest. Not a copper in sight (shock).

Literally hundreds of once-pretty 14 year-olds, now made-up like cheap hookers in barely more than their underwear screaming at each other in the middle of dual carriageways, 16 year old boys hanging on lampposts, gasper on bottom lip, WKD in hand, absolutely wankered, chanting the mantra “ get yer tits out” to all and sundry (yes, to me as well). Doormen, bouncers and stewards sharing looks of fear, boredom or total annoyance, winding up haymakers for the next gobby shite who abuses them. They had my sympathies. It was as close to Dodge City as I’m ever likely to see, and I wanted out. We made a dash for the Hotel bar where the coppers and the specials were sitting in the corner, away from the trouble. And who can blame them? Well I did, at the time, but in the cold light of day it was pretty understandable. Having worked on dozens of stories about Binge Britain, and poo-poo’d all of them as a load of hysterical bollox this was my first real-time, up-close sight of it and it was ‘orrible. My daughters will never go out after 6.30 at night, if I have anything to do with it (which I don’t).

Are all towns like this, or does that honour just fall to Birmingham? Don’t write to me and tell me, I don’t wanna know. I have seen, been involved with and started a few piss-ups in my time, (I will probably be close to one tonight) but the scale of this was mind-boggling. I can only imagine it’s like a chilly version of Tenerife and I’m so very glad I missed out on all of that rubbish. Grubby, ugly, young, fat kids (plus their parents with dreadful outfits and disasterous haircuts). Synchronised obnoxiousness. You can tell, I’m in shock. Shell-suit shock. What a complete and utter shit-hole. Trust my bleeding TomTom to be able to find that one.

And it’s all yours, Dave, whenever you wanna take over.

The Cemetery at Omaha Beach. Twinned with Broad Street, Birmingham

The Cemetery at Omaha Beach. Twinned with Broad Street, Birmingham

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