I like to keep half an eye on places where I’ve lived purely for purposes of nostalgia (which, it has to be said, is not what it used to be). Inn the past this would have been quite difficult, but now, thanks to RSS feeds, Google News alerts and so on, it is quite easy.
The elections have thrown up two interesting and disturbing stories from my old Flintshire stomping ground. First, I read that one of my former neighbours has been elected as a Conservative councillor to the County Council. That in itself isn’t very interesting, but I remember when Alison Halford joined the Labour Party. Local activists were thrilled because of her notoriety, and she rose to prominence very quickly. She became a County Councillor and was then elected in 1999 as a Member of the Welsh Assembly for the Labour Party. That someone can make the switch between Labour and Conservative (or indeed vice versa) is hard for me, simple soul that I am, to get my head around.
I also read that the BNP’s national treasurer John Walker has taken a seat on Hawarden Community Council, though he failed in a bid for the Flintshire authority. Whatever they may say, the local elections were not (praise be!) a great success for the BNP, but any gains are a worry and especially in a community that I loved very much.
While I was a student at Queen’s I lived for a time in the Sparkbrook area of Birmingham. It was a very exciting place to live — largely populated by Muslim immigrants from Pakistan. It is Sparkbrook that is the original source of the Balti. I have happy memories of doing school assemblies with a college friend in a school where the pupils were almost entirely Muslim, and of getting caught up in some pretty intense theological conversations while out Eid visiting. (There are things about my time in Sparkbrook that I’d rather draw a veil over, but I needn’t bore you with those.) The Methodist Church in neighbouring Sparkhill was my spiritual home during my college years and what I learned there was at least as important as what they taught me in college.
Anyway, I was fascinated to read the other day of a row that’s been set off in the community by billboards advertising discount clothes retailer Matalan. The posters showed three smiling ladies modelling bikinis, causing offense to many residents.
I confess to having very mixed feelings about how this should be handled. On the one hand, it is important to respect the sensitivities of local communities. On the other, I don’t think that there was anything sexually provocative about the posters and the vast majority of the British people would probably barely notice them as they drove or walked by. (Mind you, my dad would certainly have had something to say and attitudes to this sort of thing have definitely relaxed over recent years.)
What do you think? How do we accommodate the mores of minority groups when these are at odds with wider society?
Lastly, I’m delighted that Swansea have ended the football season with a 1-0 victory and been confirmed as League One Champions. Good luck to the club and their ‘Jack Army’ for their next season in the Championship.