After having such an enjoyable night with my ex-colleagues last Friday night, I woke up on Saturday morning full of the joys of Spring. It was a lovely sunny morning; the kind of welcoming morning that somehow could only occur in early May. Not exactly summer-warm yet, but by no means cold; the kind of day that beckons you outside and happening at the time of year when that’s exactly what you should be doing. So I did.

In fact, I did what I often do on Saturday mornings; I jumped on a bus to the Town determined to enjoy once again my cheese-and-onion pasty on the steps of Grey’s Monument (as you do). But, yours truly being the way he is, I was wrongfooted a little.

I had forgotten that it was a Bank Holiday weekend. More particularly, I had forgotten what the Bank Holiday was intended to honour: May Day. Only the British, with the typical tangled logic which seems to be endemic in those whom we choose to govern us, would celebrate the First of May on the Fourth of May. Surely (I put it to you, members of the jury) the whole point of celebrating May Day is to do it on May Day itself and NOT on the first Monday afterwards, as we do here. It’s one of those holidays which is day-specific, like Christmas Day. There’d be absolutely no magic at all in opening your presents on the first Monday after December 25, would there?

Some people find the way we choose the dates of our Bank Holidays - and indeed the occasions we choose to mark as holidays at all - as ‘rather quaint’ and terribly English. Well I don’t. I think it’s clumsy, inconsistent and disrespectful (remember how, until recently, Remembrance Day, which should be marked on November 11, was moved to the nearest Sunday so as not to disrupt our daily lives of getting and spending).

I was reminded of all this shenanigans as I stood at the foot of Grey’s Monument with my victuals in my hand listening to a brass band. It was there as part of what used to be a regular event nationwide on May Day; a march by unions, student groups, protest organisations and other left-wing groups whose day this traditionally is.

Or rather whose day this traditionally was. Let me explain.

The sound that a slow-playing brass band makes has the proven ability to by-pass the head and go direct to the heart. I don’t know what the hymn was but it wasn’t long before I was a trembling nostalgic wreck, my face wet with tears, my pasty utterly soaked.

How do brass bands do that? I stopped going to the Miners’ Festival Service in Durham Cathedral on Big Meeting Day precisely because I invariably lost control of my tear ducts as the bands accompanied the banners as they made their graceful and stately way up the nave; the moment when the miner, coal-blackened and dressed in miners’ togs, reached the crossing and was greeted by the Bishop was even worse. My unseemly sobbing embarrassed me and everyone I was with.

Thus were my thoughts directed to the Durham Big Meeting. The oldest regular political meeting and demonstration on Earth, and for decades the best attended. It survives now by the skin of its teeth. That spirit of egalitarian community care - the only good by-product of a grotesquely dangerous and pernicious industry - seems to have died out completely.

Last Saturday, it was only when the band struck up a marching tune and began to march away from the Monument that I realised that this had, in fact, been Newcastle’s official May Day celebration. There were about 4 or 5 banners, of which only one, I think, was ‘official’. The others were placards. I guess the total number of people on the march was less than 100.

Where did it all go wrong? It’s my fault. Me and people like me. People of my generation, give or take a few years either side. Didn’t we think we could do it, eh? We were going to make the world a fairer, nicer, more peaceful, more secure place to live. We were going to make love not war. We were going to make sure everyone was OK.

So where did it all go wrong? Why is Durham Big Meeting only able to survive by turning itself into a tourist attraction? Why do so very, very few people care enough about injustice, inequality and poverty to join a May Day march?

As the assembled scribble of people moved away from the Monument and the policemen allowed the buses through again so we could all carry on as usual, I was left feeling drained and warsh (as my Nana would say). This had been a pathetic excuse for a May Day celebration. The old values of worker assertiveness, respect for labour, promotion of the values of co-operation, fairness and justice went almost completely unrepresented, as they do on a day-to-day basis.

The folk who did bother to turn up made the best of a bad job. But I guess you could say that, by doing so, they were being as old-fashioned as I am being now. We haven’t been able to stop the onslaught of greed, selfishness, avarice and thoughtlessness that are now public policy and private priority. This has become the age of The Big I Am; this is the age when people shamelessly Put Number One First.

The downfall of traditional left-field gatherings like the Big Meeting and last Saturday’s almost trivial May Day march in Newcastle is, to me at least, powerfully ironic. Because the need for them is much, much greater now than it was then. Close to home, our liberties and rights have never been at higher risk of erosion or even abolition. Too many people’s lives are broken by injustice, poverty, prejudice, disease and loneliness - and are then left unattended. And in the wider world...

In the wider world...Where do you start? So many of the world’s poorest countries are smothered even more by debts laid on them by the rich. There are too many people who have no clean water to drink. There are far too many people who have no roof over their heads tonight. There are far too many children who have no school to go to.

And much, much worse than all of these... Close to home and in the wider world, and to the eternal shame of us all, there are far too many people who do not have enough to eat.

Maybe this year I will go back to the Durham Big Meeting again. Even actions like that speak louder than words, after all.

...will take place from 1030 onwards on Sunday 24 May at the Tanfield Railway. The train leaves at 1100. Be there or be square.

Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com


Sid said...

Certainly plenty to think about there Ian. The world is a much smaller place than it was in my younger days, and it isn't any better off for it.
Mind you the current debacle over MP's expenses only goes to emphasize your point of Putting Number One First.

Hildie said...

That just reminded me of the beginning off 'The Nightshift' ...

having a bit of a rant, letting it all go! Oh, happy days!
Mind , it's true what he says ...
I did wonder myself why we were celebrating May Day on the 4th. May! I've been doing more than my usual amount of wondering over the last few days
* Why do we have Jedburgh, Middlesbrough, Peterborough?
* Why don't we see as many babies with curly hair nowadays?
* Where is Lawrence?
* Why don't we get free things in cereals any more?
* That train that leaves Tanfield at 11a.m. 24th. May .... where does it go to?
* Is rampageous a real word? (My nana was always saying, "Don't be rampageous." Was yours?)

Hildie said...

Dorset is attracting visitors from all over Britain ....I've read today about a house there that has wisteria blossoms, measuring 4 ft. long, growing all over it. The house is in the village of Uploaders, near Bridport .... wonder if Ian will get to see it.

Sid said...

Babies without curly hair Hildie...too many people not eating their crusts!

Hildie said...

That'll be it , Sid!!
Still on the subject of babies ....
Susan (the school secretary) (at Dipton) had a baby boy at 8:30 this morning.... by 10a.m. I had a photo of him sent to my phone. He was born in a hospital in Durham - but - suppose he had been born in Dorset, or Arkansas, or New Zealand - I still could have had that picture, thanks to my mobile phone ....isn't the world just a magical place sometimes?!
p.s. Dear Ian and Sue, hope you are having a jolly time down in deepest Dorset. Love from us Truckshunters.

Maureen said...

Rampageous: adjective meaning violent; unruly; boisterous. What did you get up to Hildie for your Nana to say that to you? The mind boggles, how often did you go on the rampage you little tinker? I can't say that I heard it in conversation when I was young, I was just told to settle down, how boring! free things in cereal, probably a health and safety issue now, boring again. Can you remember those plastic daffodils and roses given with soap powder? and I can remember my mother having a full set of table mats decorated with Redoute roses, you got one free with every packet of Daz. Can anyone remember any other freebies? You've got me thinking now ...
Congrats to the proud new parents Hildie, I have to say I hadn't noticed the shortage of curls, but I'll be watching out now. Why are there more bald men now? I have a theory that it's connected to the heavy use of hair gel and baseball caps. What do you reckon? You could be right about the crusts Sid, we're all eating wholemeal these days, it doesn't have a crust like on those big bloomers we used buy, if you'll pardon the expression!

Maureen said...

Now why wasn't the tick box showing before? It's just appeared after posting ...strange!

Vivienne said...

Hi folks,

Maureen, had you signed in before you posted? If not the ticky box would not appear. If you had already signed in, then it's a complete mystery why the box didn't appear. I think at times the blog has a mind of its own!

I can't remember the flowers in Daz, but that's because my Mother never used it, and I followed her recommendation to use Persil.

Now I loved the plastic Snap, Crackle & Pop figures in the Rice Krispies packets, but was most upset when they 'modernised' the characters. I think you're right about Health & Safety, Maureen. I heard that was the reason the free gifts stopped.

Jedburgh & Edinburgh are both Scottish, so I'm guessing the difference is an English/ Scottish spelling, Hildie.

Rampageous? I was never calld that, but then as a child I had to be seen and not heard, and not to speak unless I was spoken to! Well, in company maybe!

The Tanfield train goes to the end of the line, then returns to the station, stopping a couple of times on route, but I doubt that's what you meant?

As for Lawrence, maybe he's riding in circles, round and round the Berwick speedway track, and can't stop!

Sid said...

Remember the very small packets of Tide. They were 1/12th the size of a standard box. Then I think Oxydol did the same thing. How many of us remember the 'Donkeystone the doorstep' routine. Woe'betide anyone who stood on the step before it had dried....

Maureen said...

We must have been posh Sid. We had a red tiled step which was cleaned with Cardinal polish and a brass strip, 'Brassoed' every week. I don't think that I ever stood on it, you wouldn't have dared!

Sid said...

Maureen you'll be telling me next you didn't keep your bike in the passage.

Hildie said...

To Marion, Charles, Ellie, Audrey, Margaret, Gerry and any other truckshunters reading this blog .......
how are you fixed for joining us at the next AGM ....
at Tanfield Railway
10:30a.m. May 24th

Maureen said...

Sid, I could answer that question but I'm afraid we might be heading back down the hairy biker route!
Hope you get a good turn out next Monday. Is Ian back from his travels yet? I look forward to the next episode of 'Robinson's Rambles' (meant in the best possible way of course!)

Hildie said...

Hi Sid .... I'm looking for some 'Hanging Basket' advice .... I bought a little pot of Campanula yesterday when I was at Tesco ... would that be okay in my hanging basket? It's blue pansies I really want ... should have kept my mind on the job when we went to The Secret Gardens .... wel, it's an excuse to go back, as if we need one!

Sid said...

It's a garden center you need Hildie. Blue pansies shouldn't be a problem. Have you considered Busy Lizzies. Almost any plant can be used in a hanging basket, it is always up to you. Experimenting is great fun.
A pal of mine sold some plants to a woman for her hanging baskets. When she had gone he couldn't find his cabbage seedlings....what a basket she was going to have.

Hildie said...

What a basket indeed ... more than she bargained for!!
I think I'll hang on till I come across some blue pansies,Sid. That'll be the best plan.

Vivienne said...

Hi Folks!

I'm just catching up with Ian's new postings, but wanted to add a comment here in view of what I saw when I went shopping today - rather yesterday!

Your photo Sid of your box of Tide, and Maureen's comments about Daz came into my mind when I walked into a shopping mall and saw a couple leaving with a shopping trolly piled very high with boxes of Daz!

In true Truckshunter fashion, I'm wondering why anyone would need so many packets of Daz??? Why didn't they go to Macro and buy catering packs? They can't have wanted them for the free gifts inside, as I couldn't see any sign of gifts or offers on the boxes. Why did they only buy Daz? Didn't they need food, etc? Any ideas?

I'm still laughing about those cabbages Sid!