RIP Maggie: She must have been doing something right

A lady not for turning: Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

A lady not for turning: Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

I was at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery a couple of years ago for the 25th anniversary debate on the Miners’ Strike.

Despite the best efforts of the organisers and the chairman of the panel on stage, it felt rather more like an ambush than a genuine debate.

Understandably, a good number of people in the room were from mining communities and the bile and vitriol reserved for a former Conservative Minister was there for all to see.

Suffice to say, Edwina Currie – a woman who doesn’t need me to defend her – deserved the utmost respect for turning up to be shot at here in a solid Labour, working class city.

My overwhelming thought as I left the lecture theatre was ‘thank goodness it wasn’t Margaret Thatcher’.

Thatcher ‘the milk snatcher’; Thatcher: Who came up with the Poll Tax; Thatcher: Whose government oversaw the closure of 150 coalmines which devastated communities across the UK; Thatcher: Who crushed the trade unions; Thatcher: Whose belief in the free-market economy and privatisation promoted greed and selfishness on a scale never seen before.

You’ll read all of the above and more in the coming days as the country comes to terms with the loss of a towering political figure.

In my opinion, this is a very selective and simplistic version of the Margaret Thatcher story – and a markedly biased one which panders to left-wing rhetoric.

Since the news of Baroness Thatcher’s death broke yesterday we have witnessed the unedifying spectacle of people actually celebrating her passing.

‘Bing bong’ posted people on Facebook and Twitter – quoting ‘the witch is dead’ line from The Wizard of Oz.

I’m not sure which is worse – the fact that people are dancing on someone’s grave or that they can’t find a decent thing to say about one of only two leaders of note this country has seen since Churchill.

It was Tony Benn no less, that most respected of Labour heavyweights, who often held Margaret Thatcher up as an example of how a great political party should be led.

She came to power in 1979 as Britain’s first woman Prime Minister and, in doing so, sent shockwaves through the old boys’ club that was the Houses of Parliament.

Surely that ticks a box with everyone? Go on, admit it.

Let’s also not forget that Mrs Thatcher inherited a country in turmoil, paralysed by industrial unrest and half as productive and prosperous as it could have been.

Trade unions were trotting in and out of Downing Street with their demands, rubbish littered the streets, the dead lay un-buried and the IMF was banging on Britain’s door because ‘the sick man of Europe’ was bankrupt.

She set about transforming Britain’s economy – something she did at questionable social cost – and was vilified for her crusade against the very unions who had held previous Labour administrations to ransom.

Mrs Thatcher will be forever remembered as the Prime Minister who destroyed the UK’s mining industry. Few, however, are brave enough to concede that large parts of the industry were loss-making and that coal mines were also closing all over Europe.

Maggie’s government introduced the Right To Buy scheme for council homes – one of the most important pieces of empowering social legislation this country has ever seen.

She was despised by the IRA for her hard-line stance on terrorism and almost paid for it with her life. Even that didn’t cow her.

It was Mrs Thatcher’s deep-held sense of belief in standing up to aggressors and defending Britain, forged during the dark days of the Second World War, which shaped her response to the Falklands Crisis.

The resulting improbable victory was spectacular and owed much to Maggie’s unshakeable belief in the importance of defending ‘her people’.

The woman dubbed ‘The Iron Lady’ by her enemies in Moscow needed no spin doctors – unlike those who have succeeded her at Number 10. She was talked-about, respected and, crucially, listened to on the world stage and was certainly the equal of any statesman across the globe.

I dare say George W. Bush wouldn’t have got away with talking to Maggie the way he did the political poodle that was Tony Blair.

The very fact that she was the first Prime Minister to win three elections in a row tells me that Margaret Thatcher must have being doing something right in the eyes of the majority of those who could be bothered to vote.

Mother Town miracle as local people shine for Christmas

Burslem's Christmas lights campaigners celebrate their success.

Burslem’s Christmas lights campaigners celebrate their success.

Campaigners determined to bring a little festive cheer to the Mother Town have smashed their fund-raising target to pay for Christmas lights.

Saddened by the fact that Burslem was the only town in the Potteries with no public decorations, they set about trying to raise £3,200 to pay for three sets of tree lights and seven sets of street lights.

But in just nine days campaign organisers Louise Worthington, John and Jayne Flint, June Cartwright and their families and friends raised more than £5,000 to light up the streets.

Their remarkable success means the town will now have four lit Christmas trees and eleven sets of street lights.

What’s more, the group have pledged to do the same again for 2013 and are planning a meeting in the New Year to kick-start 12 months of fund-raising.

Jayne, aged 43, who lives in High Lane, Burslem, said: “We are so proud of everyone who has been involved. This is a genuine example of a community pulling together.

“The generosity of people really does bring a tear to you eye and, as a result, Burslem will shine this Christmas.”

The campaign was prompted by council cutbacks of £84,000 which meant that only Hanley received local authority funding for Christmas decorations.

Traders and local people in Stoke, Fenton, Longton and Tunstall organised their own trees and lights but it was looking like Burslem would be left in the shadows.

Then last week Burslem locals began their campaign by creating a page on social network Facebook which quickly attracted more than 1,300 supporters.

Various events and collections were organised – including a disco and raffle at Burslem’s oldest pub, Ye Olde Crown – and Port Vale fans donated more than £1,000 on away trip coaches and before Tuesday night’s home game against Bradford City.

The 67th Burslem Scout Group and Vale mascot Boomer were among those rattling collection buckets at Vale Park.

Businesses across the Mother Town also contributed including: Kelly Molyneux & Co. Accountants; New Image tattoo parlour; Chillz bar; the Bull’s Head pub; The Swan pub; The Leopard pub and Barewall art gallery.

Autonet Insurance, based in Nile Street, spent £550 to purchase an additional set of Christmas tree lights and its managing director Ian Donaldson said the firm, which employs 600 people, was looking forward to working with the campaigners next year.

Meanwhile, the owners of the Artbay gallery in Fenton also donated a special print which was auctioned off to raise £150.

Stoke-on-Trent Markets gave £300 but the largest single donation came from recycling firm Acumen, based on Hot Lane, which donated £1,500 to the cause.

Contracts manager Adrian Moore said: “I read about the campaign in Friday’s Sentinel and wondered if we could help out.

“We are a company which employs around 35 people from the local area and our owner John Hodges was very keen to contribute. It is terrific the way local people and businesses have worked together for the common good to make Christmas special in Burslem.”

*The lights will be switched on tomorrow when Santa Claus emerges from The George Hotel.

RAF’s returning Afghan heroes to lead Vale stars out on to pitch

Port Vale is rolling out the red carpet for two servicemen who recently returned from war-torn Afghanistan.

Corporal Steve Buffey and his pal Senior Aircraftman (SAC) Pete Blakeman will have the honour of leading out the teams before tomorrow night’s home game against Dagenham and Redbridge.

Together with their families, the two die-hard Vale supporters will then be treated to a VIP match experience.

The friends are part of the close-knit team in the RAF Tactical Supply Wing which is based at Stafford.

While in Afghanistan, the unit was stationed at Camp Bastion, and was responsible for refuelling battlefield helicopters and Harrier jump jets.

They kept their morale up with regular updates from home on the fortunes of their team and through banter with another member of the team – 22-year-old SAC Alex Haycock, from Sandyford, who is an ardent Stoke City fan.

Father-of-two Cpl Buffey, aged 36, grew up in Kidsgrove but now lives in Stafford.

He is a former Clough Hall High School pupil who joined the RAF 13 years ago after working in the pottery industry.

SAC Blakeman, aged 29, who lives in Cheadle, signed up four years and is due to marry his fiancée Natalie Holdcroft in May of next year.

The idea to treat the RAF personnel to a special night at Vale Park came from users of internet fans’ forum Onevalefan (OVF).

Founder and Editor Rob Fielding explained: “Steve and Pete are users of OVF who had been corresponding with me during their recent tour of Afghanistan.

“The OVF community felt it would be really nice to honour them on their return to the UK and the club have been brilliant about it and really made an effort.

“Fingers crossed the lads can get three points for Steve and Pete.

“We are also going to use the match as an opportunity to raise funds for forces charity Help For Heroes.”

Club Secretary Bill Lodey said: “We were only too happy to help in these circumstances and pay our own special tribute to lads who are risking their lives out in the Middle East.

“We want to give them a night to remember and have other surprises planned too.

“Rob Fielding has volunteered to collect for Help For Heroes from fans in the away end and family members and friends of Cpl Buffey and SAC Blakeman will have collection tins around the other stands.

“It is a very worthy cause and we know that Vale fans will respond with their usual generosity.”

REVIEW: Slash at the Victoria Hall, Hanley (July 24, 2011)

They say the devil has all the best tunes. Not last night he didn’t.

Slash, AKA Saul Hudson, borrowed them for his long-awaited homecoming gig.

This was one of those rare musical ‘I was there’ moments.

Those lucky enough to get their greasy mits on a ticket were taken on an epic, three-hour rock odyssey.

I knew we were in for a treat because I spoke to Slash’s uncle Ian Hudson, from Tunstall, before the gig and he told me just how much the former Guns N’ Roses guitarist was looking forward to his return to the city where he spent the first six years of his life.

As the queue snaked around the Victoria Hall before the doors opened I sneaked in during the soundcheck and had the pleasure of watching Slash’s band warm up.

That’s when I came over all ‘We’re not worthy’ – à la Garth from Wayne’s World.

I stood up in the circle next to an amplifier, my ears bleeding and gazed down upon a rock legend not 30 feet away.

Now I’ve seen some decent guitarists in my time – Eddie van Halen in his pomp springs to mind, or Joe Perry from Aerosmith and, of course, my beloved Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi.

But I’ve experienced nothing which quite compares to the visceral thrill of watching Slash play his signature Gibson Les Paul to within an inch of its life in front of such a partisan crowd.

The audience came from all over: Paris; London, Bristol, Torquay, Portsmouth, Ayrshire and even Japan for a gig that sold out in two hours. But mostly they came from North Staffordshire to welcome home a bloke who left this city as wild child Saul Hudson and returned as rock royalty.

Slash doesn’t tend to say much. Not much that is printable, anyway.

However, he informed the crowd (to much whooping and hollering) that he had chosen Stoke-on-Trent to shoot the first tour DVD he’d made on his own.

He also said he’d been wanting to do this gig for ‘more years than he cared to remember’ and that it was special to be back, adding: “Needless to say it’s chuffin’ cool.”

OK. He didn’t say chuffin’.

When the bands you have been in have sold 120 million records and packed out stadiums across the globe, playing the Vicki Hall up Hanley on a Sunday night could be considered small beer.

However, Slash and his band worked their backsides off last night for the 1,500 people who turned this grand old venue into a cauldron. It’s hard to take your eyes off Slash and his jaw-dropping mastery of the strings.

But, in truth, one of the most memorable aspects of this intimate gig was the performance of frontman Myles Kennedy whose vocals were, dare I say, at least as good – if not better – than the deified Axl Rose.

Through it all Slash sweated, swaggered and strummed while his uncle Ian looked on proudly from the balcony above.

Highlights included Starlight – a single which is released today from Slash’s latest album and Slither from his days with Velvet Revolver.

But you could literally feel the building shaken to its foundations when the band played Guns N’ Roses tracks.

We were treated to Rocket Queen, Night Train, Mr Brownstone, Sweet Child O’ Mine and the epic Civil War before Paradise City brought the show to a shuddering climax.

Rock music simply doesn’t get any better than this.

Hitting the oatcake trail in Newcastle

Sentinel columnist Martin Tideswell puts his summer weight-loss plan on hold in his quest for the perfect oatcake…

Did I fancy going up ’Castle and trying out some oatcakes?

‘It’s sort of like a pub crawl but without the ale’ – was how it was sold to me.

Well, it was a tough ask, but I guess someone had to do it.

So the diet went out of the window for the morning as yours truly became chief taster on the Oatcake Trail.

Now, as anyone who knows me will attest to… I can eat.

However, I knew that even I wouldn’t manage portions at 10 of the 12 eateries offering a different take on North Staffordshire’s signature dish.

So I dragged along another accomplished Sentinel ‘foodie’ – Chief Photographer Neil Hulse.
Now before we start, let’s get something straight

Connoisseurs claim that the humble oatcake came about when soldiers returning to North Staffordshire from India tried to replicate the chapatis they had been eating.

Whatever the truth, I am a devout believer that our oatcakes are meant for savoury dishes.

They are not, and never will be, crêpes. Any attempt to put chocolate sauce, maple syrup, ice cream or fruit anywhere near our native dish should be outlawed. It’s against the natural order of things.

Secondly, buying oatcakes from a supermarket is just plain wrong.

Having been weaned on oatcakes cooked by a lovely bloke called Gordon on the hotplate at his terrace property opposite Hanley Central Forest Park, I have certain standards.

Thus I went into this exercise fairly skeptical of anyone attempting to fiddle around with culinary perfection.

That said, for two days only a dozen traditional oatcake shops, cafés, bistros and restaurants are having a go by cooking up their own unique version of the North Staffordshire delicacy as part of the first ever Oatcake Festival.

The event is part of the Shop Newcastle-under-Lyme campaign which is aimed at boosting the local economy.

I soon got talking to former newsagent turned oatcake entrepreneur Martyn Smith, of Foley’s Oatcakes.

Martyn, who owns a shop in Fenton, decided to branch out last November by selling oatcakes from a stall next to Newcastle’s Guildhall.

The venture is going really well. Interestingly, he told me he tried the same stunt in Sandbach, but sadly people there weren’t interested.

If you ask me, the Oatcake Trail is great idea and – if it adds to people’s enjoyment of a day out in Newcastle’s beautiful town centre – then I’m all for it.

Suffice to say that the staff at every single venue were as warm and welcoming as they oatcakes they served up. However, by the time Neil and I reached our tenth eaterie we were both flagging.

He was green at the gills and I was waddling like a lame duck.

So apologies to the Hippy Hippy Shake Company and Hector Garcia but, had we continued along the trail, then there was a very real possibility of one or both of us exploding in the style of Monty Python’s Mr Creosote.

As we headed back to our cars, we mulled over the brie, the roasted cherry tomatoes, the mint and lime chutney, the Yuletide flavours, Spanish spices and even the sea food.

But, in the end, Neil and I agreed that like Anthony and Cleopatra, Fred and Ginger or Hoddle and Waddle – oatcakes have already found their perfect partners.

Bacon and cheese… we salute you!

General Election sketch piece – 2010

Sentinel columnist Martin Tideswell was covering his fifth General Election – his first being as a cub reporter at the King’s Hall in Stoke back in 1992…

“Evening”, said one of half a dozen blokes holding anti-fascist placards standing outside the King’s Hall.

“Owrate youth,” I replied, and he stood down – realising I was far too scruffy to be representing the BNP.

By 10.50pm we hacks were huddled around a TV in the press room as the teacher’s pets of the Houghton and Sunderland South constituency broke the land speed record to declare the first result.

Stoke-on-Trent’s ballot boxes were still being carried in at this point and the counters hadn’t even taken their seats.

“What’s going on?” asked the incredulous city council chief executive, as he watched people sipping coffee and leaning against walls. “Why haven’t we started, yet?”

I just shrugged my shoulders.

Three quarters of an hour later the feeding frenzy began – 220 counters going at the ballot papers like so many battery hens.

As they worked, the footsoldiers of each party hovered around them, grim-faced and taking copious notes in the fashion of over-zealous GCSE exam invigilators.

“What are you doing?” I asked one of them.

“We’re trying to get a sense of how it’s gone,” he answered, rather sheepishly, by way of explanation for his pointless scribbling.

Despite the mind-numbing inevitability of Labour winning all three city seats for the umpteenth time, the party faithful were still rather twitchy.

“We don’t take anything for granted,” said one veteran campaigner.

Certainly Stoke North’s long-serving MP Joan Walley wasn’t.

She had arrived at the count long before the ballot boxes, bless her – welcoming every vote home like a shepherd counting her flock.

The same couldn’t be said of her Labour party colleagues.

Curious, I went on a, er… Tristram Hunt.

“Bit of a poor show from your new bloke,” said a journalist colleague to a Labour party activist at 1.30am. “You’d have thought he’d have been here by now.”

“Actually, he is on his way,” said the man. “I’m Lord Hunt, Tristram’s father.”


He must have been confident of victory because Haringey’s finest didn’t arrive until after 2am – finally justifying the hordes of BBC staff who had descended on Stoke, doubtless using Multimap to find their way to the Potteries.

Now you know what Auntie spends your licence fee on.

Surprise, surprise – there were no surprises here in The Land That Time Forgot.

Which leaves our city very firmly in the red… in more ways than one.

Theatre star Christian Patterson’s review of my panto performance

Sentinel columnist Martin Tideswell is appearing in The Regent Theatre’s pantomime Dick Whittington. Here, pantomime dame Christian Patterson – a firm favourite with Potteries audiences – reviews Martin’s first night…

It’s not often that you have two first nights – but with this production of Dick Whittington the part of Alderman Fitzwarren has been divided between Pete Conway and Martin Tideswell.

Pete’s final performance was on Tuesday night and as I write this he is sitting beside a pool in Los Angeles leaving Martin to pick up the pieces in snowy Stoke-on-Trent.

From day one of rehearsals, nerves aside, Martin showed an abundance of enthusiasm towards the cast, the panto and his part.

As Fitzwarren he is quicker than his predecessor and delivers an all-round performance full of gusto.

He delivers the laugh lines beautifully and his presence on stage is warm, generous and giving – as is Martin himself.

His dancing, or rather his sense of rhythm, is quite another story. In fact I would go as far to say that Martin is to dance what King Herod is to babysitting.

However, he tries – I’ll give him that.

That aside he is as welcome a cast member as any other. And it gives me great pride that we will share the stage together until January 10.

Amy Diamond as Alice continues to sparkle, as her name suggests she would. Kayleigh McIntyre as Tommy the Cat is as cute as ever. Steve Serlin, who plays King Rat, and his evil ratlings continue to draw the boos and the hisses with great style and aplomb.

Shelia Ferguson as Fairy Oatcakes belts out her songs better than any diva that you’ll see this side of the Atlantic. Su Annagib is outstanding in her first stage performance; her natural singing and acting ability is nothing short of brilliant.

And so to Jonny Wilkes. In my opinion, Jonny is to The Regent panto what the ravens are to the Tower of London.

If he ever left I would fear the whole thing would collapse. Melodramatic? Not in my opinion. Jonny is a wonderful actor, has an incredible singing voice and is the glue that holds it all together.

But it is his passion for Stoke-on-Trent and its residents that is truly overwhelming.

For the three years that I have shared the stage with him, his mantra to me has always been “I want to make this the best one yet”.

This is Jonny’s fifth panto appearance at The Regent, and if he wasn’t here I fear they would be no choice but to ship in a foreign actor or soap star who had no affinity with the Potteries or its people.

It is in no small part due to Jonny, under the guidance of director Matt Salisbury, that the panto continues to draw wonderful audiences that leave the theatre having had a genuinely funny panto experience.

It is a joy to have had the last three years at The Regent. I‘d like to thank all the staff at the theatre, especially the its chief executive Richard Wingate, Jonny Wilkes and every member of the audience that has made my time here the happiest of my career.

This sounds like I’m leaving but there’s not a chance! All being well, I’ll be back on December 9, 2010. Meanwhile, in the words of Dick Whittington “Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year”.