Archive for May, 2012
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“A single error can have far-reaching consequences, both in political life and on the football pitch. In Sweden, the prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, of the centre-right Moderate party, recently got himself into the sort of hot water that will be only too familiar to many politicians in Britain. In a classic gaff, he carelessly used the term “ethnic Swedes”; this provoked widespread accusations of racial intolerance. Meanwhile, in Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city, Mayor Ilmar Reepalu is having problems of his own after making comments that were perceived to be anti-Semitic. This, commentators have suggested, has exacerbated racial unrest in the town.
Sweden has a population of approximately 9.4 million – in demographic terms, roughly the size of Greater London – and the influence of this smallness of scale can be seen everywhere. It is relatively easy, for instance, to get signed up by Sweden’s professional football teams, at least in the lower leagues (though you won’t get paid very much).
The political processes, too, are often less formal than in Britain. The prime minister, for example, can appoint whomever he likes into cabinet positions, whether they are members of parliament or not. Nevertheless, the media controversies of recent weeks have demonstrated that Swedish public figures are often scrutinised just as much as their British counterparts.
It was against this strife-ridden backdrop that a football match took place in Stockholm between the England Writers’ Football Team and the Swedish Writers’ Football Team. It is a little known fact that writers group themselves into national teams and play football against each other. Many end up injured, as writers are generally not used to strenuous physical activity. Invariably, there are comic moments. And notwithstanding occasional moments of acrimony, Writers’ Football games are, on the whole, perfect examples of diplomatic harmony and cultural exchange . . .”
Haslemere Educational Museum, winner of the 2012 Kids In Museums Award, was founded in 1888 by Sir Jonathan Hutchison, an eminent London surgeon and philanthropist. He had set up a country home in the town when the railway was extended there in 1859, and was inspired to establish a museum for the community, particularly the children.
His vision, as recorded by Ernest Swanton, the museum’s first curator, was not to create a “museum of Haslemere” but rather a “museum for Haslemere”. Rather than dwelling on matters of purely local concern, the museum offers a whistle-stop tour through natural history, geology and human history, from the Big Bang to the present. According to Kay Topping, the education officer, the result was – still is – “like a mini British Museum”.
By the end of the 19th century, the museum had become a thriving centre of learning. Hutchison instituted a “museum examination” on the arts and sciences, which Julia Tanner, the current curator, describes as a “local GCSE”. Passing the examination greatly increased a child’s life prospects, as it gave them a recognisable badge of achievement.
Hutchison’s ethos is very much still in evidence today. Matthew Arnold, the pre-eminent Victorian man of letters, saw the purpose of education as “to instruct and delight”. Hutchison clearly shared these beliefs, placing great emphasis on what these days we would call “interactive learning”.
Wonderfully, interactivity at the modern-day museum is not about pressing buttons, but actually handling the exhibits. An afternoon spent at Haslemere Museum means holding a real dinosaur bone – yes, that’s right, and it’s about two feet long – and cuddling a stuffed bear by the name of Arthur, who is more than 125 years old. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
A farmer guides a horse-drawn cart, laden with watercress, through the crowds. On the back of the cart, a boy and girl, dressed in emerald green, throw handfuls of watercress into the air. A procession of musicians, morris dancers, and children prance after them. This, the opening of the 2012 Watercress Festival in Alresford, Hampshire, is a quintessentially English scene: redolent with tradition on the one hand, and a little bit silly on the other.
Modern-day Britain is throbbing with festivals of this sort. Each brings out the very best in regional produce, traditions, and tomfoolery (the watercress speed-eating championships, for instance, of which more later).
The streets of Alresford are filled with stalls, jugglers, and outdoor cooks. Morris men drink ale on the kerbs, and bewildered-looking donkeys are manhandled by toddlers. But tucked away in the old mill beside the railway station, something serious is afoot. Welcome to the Cook Academy, Hampshire’s leading cookery school.
“It’s a big day for us,” says Kate Hughes, who founded the Cook Academy in 2005. “The Watercress Food Awards are the heart of the festival.”
Steve Brine, the local MP, is judging the traditional soup category. Looking slightly incongruous, as politicians in aprons always do, he surveys the 67 glasses of green liquid.
“Festivals like this are great for the local economy,” he says. “We have this natural resource of watercress, and people are making the most of it. Look at all these wonderful creations.” He tastes a soup and winces. “Though that one’s a bit foul.” Continue reading on the Telegraph website
“En garde!” says the shaven-headed fencing trainer, Denis Cranwell. Then: “Fence!” His two duellists spring into action, slashing and thrusting for all they’re worth. Beneath their masks and pads, one wears a tracksuit; the other, a Spider-Man costume. Both are about 3ft tall.
“On the whole, four-year-olds are surprisingly disciplined,” says Denis, as he keeps one eye on the warring children. “That said, at times it can be like herding cats. Cats with weapons.”
Spider-Man wins. The two children shake hands, happily jumping up and down as they do so. In the corner, another little boy is crying. “He’s upset because he didn’t win,” Denis explains. “He has a hunger for victory, which is great.” He gestures towards a teenager who is preparing for combat. “That guy used to cry all the time when he was young. Now he fences for England.”
This is the Newham Swords Fencing Club, a few miles from the Olympic Stadium in east London. The club was formed in 2005 to divert children on the borough’s council estates away from crime. These days, Newham is taking the sport by storm. At last week’s British Youth Championships, they won gold medals in the under-18 and under-14 boys categories, and silver in the under-12 girls. They also have the GB under-20 champion, under-17 gold and silver medallists, and 11 England internationals.
“Fencing is traditionally an elite, public school sport,” says former Olympic fencer Linda Strachan, who co-founded the club. “But because of where the Newham kids have come from, they understand the fighting mentality. They’re never given anything on a plate, and fight for everything. So they’re fearless, and have lots of heart. All we do is add the technique.” Continue reading on the Telegraph website
Since 2009, a former Londoner called Polly Robinson has been organising “food safaris” along the East Anglian coast. These are safaris in the loosest sense: clients are not seeking wildlife, but farmers and fishermen in their natural habitats.
“People have lost the connection with their food,” Polly tells me as we board our boat, a traditional wooden clinker, at Orford Quay. “Food has become heavily sanitised and packaged. I’m bringing people back in touch with proper food, made by artisan producers, the way it has been done for centuries.”
East Suffolk is particularly rich in independent producers and retailers. The 40-mile triangle that encompasses Lowestoft, Martlesham and Stowmarket has not a single big supermarket. This, according to Polly, has enabled small-scale operators to thrive in the area.
The engines groan into life and we strike out on to the waves. Under a vivid blue sky, a lobster fisherman grabs a succession of briny buoys and hauls them into the boat. On the end of each rope is a lobster pot. The first few contain nothing but crabs, which are tossed nonchalantly into a box. Finally, in the last one, there they are: two black, writhing lobsters with vivid cobalt markings.
The fisherman, Dave Rolfe, imparts some wisdom. “If you’re going to buy a live lobster like this,” he says, “make sure the shell is old-looking, covered in barnacles and crust. They grow to fill the shell, then shed it and develop a new one with room for growth. So the older the shell, the fuller it will be of meat.” Continue reading on the Telegraph website