The appeal of Milton Keynes

There are so many places I want to see. I have a bucket list of foreign travel as long as my arm but there’s one place in Britain that I’ve always wanted to visit – Milton Keynes.

There aren’t many people, I guess that would aspire to this ambition. Milton Keynes has a reputation for being a soulless, plastic, artificial and depressing town, a product of mid century concrete cancer. The main reason I wanted to go there was to see the famous iconic concrete cows. The image of cows (three cows and three calves in fact) had been indelibly imprinted across my mind from early childhood, as we zoomed past junction 14 on the M1 to visit family in Leicester. It was the only thing I knew about the town. Sorry, I should say city. The locals refer to Milton Keynes as a city and not a town. (The population incidentally is around 255,000)

I also wanted to visit Milton Keynes to compare it to Crawley. I work in Crawley and have heard so many wonderful stories from families about the town’s history. Both are new towns built in the 1950s and 1960s to relocate populations in poor and bombed out areas following the second world war. The development corporations planned the towns very carefully and land was set aside for business. Back in those days there were factories in Crawley actually making things! Before they were eventually moved to the Far East.

My opportunity came. A friend lives in Milton Keynes. We’ve always met up in London but he’d recently had a triple bypass and can no longer travel far so I drove up to see him. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to get to Milton Keynes from Sussex. It took two hours. Okay, there were no road works and it wasn’t rush hour. I was just lucky. “The great thing about Milton Keynes” my friend said “is that it’s easy to get out of.” “Rather like Crawley” I replied. We laughed but he went on to tell me about all the positives of living in Milton Keynes. Being in the centre of the country it quickly became an ideal distribution centre. Amazon, for example have a massive distribution centre there. It’s Britain’s fastest growing city in terms of business. More than 10,000 companies have chosen to re locate there because of its location and excellent roads. It has the highest number of start ups.

With virtually full employment you would imagine that property prices are high. After all Milton Keynes is in Buckinghamshire, one of the Home Counties and it’s still commuter belt for those working in London.I was surprised therefore to look on Rightmove and see how much cheaper the houses are compared to the Crawley area. My 4 bed house in Haywards Heath is worth £460,00 but I could buy this in Milton Keynes and have plenty of money left over: http://www.rightmove.co.uk/property-for-sale/property-56406073.html

As we approached the city (which looked nothing like a city) from a country lane off the M1 I was amazed at how lovely the place is. It looks rather like an American town and my friend told me that American business men and women love it. I love America and Milton Keynes for me was America in Britain. It’s well planned. The road system forms a grid. The roads are wide and tree lined. There are pathways and undulating fields right in the city centre with sheep grazing. The Parks Trust manages the parks and they were landscaped to a high standard.

I asked my friend where the concrete cows are. He looked blank. He had no idea but many tales of how the cows have been vandalised due the BSE crisis, stolen, beheaded and painted pink and turned in skeletons for Halloween one year. Other than abusing concrete cows Milton Keynes has a low crime rate.

I was sorely disappointed. I’d come all this way to see the cows but they weren’t here. The cows, for your information were created in 1978 and were a leaving present from the MK Development Corporation, which oversaw the building of the new town in the 60s. My task for the day was to find out just where these cows were. I asked a waitress. She said they were at the football stadium. Another waitress said they used to be in the shopping centre but didn’t know where they went to from there. We asked several other people but nobody knew where the cows are. They are now on display at the Milton Keynes museum. I only found that out the next day when I researched it on the internet!

I was very impressed by the award winning shopping centre. It’s huge and spacious and there are real trees and plants and lock up mobile phone charging points. The sound of bird song and running water came from microphones high up. There is a central arena, a vast area which is used for French markets, ice rinks, shows and concerts.

Milton Keynes is a great place to visit for a few days. The shopping centre has an indoor ski slope with real snow. It reminded me of the one in Dubai! Find out more here: https://www.snozoneuk.com.

It also has indoor sky flying in a specially built wind tunnel. I didn’t try it but it looked amazing. Click this link to find out more. https://www.iflyworld.co.uk/locations/milton-keynes/

Milton Keynes has so much going for it. From the Open University to the great entertainment to its excellent provision for the disabled. Maybe I’ve found the place to move to! Or am I destined to remain in Haywards Heath forever?

My favourite books on American travel, culture, history

I love America. I studied American history at A level and to degree. I’ve been to America six times, covering nine states but my bucket list isn’t complete until I’ve covered every state!

I took my teenage children to Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Yellowstone in 2015, came home and wrote a travel family adventure based on our experiences. In the story the trip hits a major snag before the family even board the plane. It’s called “Holiday” and here’s the link: UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Holiday-Can-sync-will-sink-ebook/dp/B01MXYJJ3V/ USA: https://www.amazon.com/Holiday-Can-sync-will-sink-ebook/dp/B01MXYJJ3V/

Here are my favourite books on America:

1. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
I was 16 and studying American History when I read this moving and inspirational book. Written in 1852 it’s a heartbreaking story about slavery in the USA. Stowe wanted slavery to be abolished. Her book caused such a stir that it changed forever how America viewed slavery in the lead up to the Civil War in 1861. It sold 300,000 copies in the first 3 months after publication and it’s still riding high in the Amazon charts today and is studied on American history courses.

2. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
I was 20 when I read this book while studying 50s and 60s US History at university. This book had a profound impact on me in ways that I find hard to explain. Written in 1963 it is widely credited with sparking the second wave of feminism in the US.It describes the unhappy plight of middle class housewives who were expected to give up their dreams in favour of marriage and children and a life of serving men and making their lives comfortable. Women were increasingly heading to the doctor for anti depressants and pick me ups but Friedan described the issues they faced as ‘the problem with no name.’ I found it a chilling read and it reminded me of the ‘Stepford Wives.’

3. J.D Salinger ‘The Catcher In The Rye.’
Written in 1951 it’s a controversial story about teenage rebellion and it contains sex, drugs and alcohol abuse. Underlying the story it’s about teenage isolation, alienation and depression and how teens in the post war years tried to find their identity in a world that was no longer focused on war but on materialism. Like Friedan Salinger was concerned about the mental health of the nation.

4. Bill Bryson ‘The Lost Continent’
Written in 2010 this is a classic in travel literature. I love Bryson’s sharp wit, fresh amusing prose. There’s always lots of learn about the culture of a place when you read any of Bryson’s travel books. It’s called Lost Continent’ because it’s about him returning to America and not recognising his own country because so much had changed in the intervening years.

5. Paul Theroux ‘Deep South’
In this travel book Theroux turns his attention to his own country and travels the South noting the contradictions of the Deep South – from faded grandeur to its close knit groups of people and modern cities.His descriptions and detail are wonderful.

The new Hater on line dating app

Happy in a long term relationship, having met somebody on Plenty Of Fish, it’s been a long while now since I did any on line dating. It’s a scary, daunting scene and really not the ideal way to meet a partner. Every date is like Groundhog day. It’s so repetitive and it’s damn hard work looking for somebody who ticks all the boxes. Probably the concept of Mr and Mrs Right don’t actually exist, only in our minds and in our dreams. It’s what you chose to make of the situations you find yourself in, the people you stumble across, putting aside the niggling things that aren’t quite right but going for the overall aura of the person, seeing the good in someone rather than the negatives.

A friend introduced me to on line dating in 2008. I joined the first generation of online daters, or maybe a lot of crusty people who had been tooling around the various sites since it all began with Match.com in 1995, hoping to find the love of their life or a bit on the side or just a companion to share a bottle of wine with from time to time. Back in 2008 people seemed to be more positive about finding a match. They made more effort. But today, six generations on, it seems that everybody wheeling around these sites has been reduced to tortuous wry cynicism of the highest order. Emails ping back and forward simply saying “Hi, how are you?” And it barely gets beyond these initial pleasantries because people can’t be bothered to invest time writing a full and imaginative email if it’s not going to be read. What a shame it’s come to this. Perhaps we should go back to hoping we meet somebody in the normal course of our day (heck does that actually happen?) or personal ads in newspapers; the first ones appeared as long ago as 1690 and the next development in this industry didn’t occur until 1975 when questionnaire based agencies sprung up.

There was an interesting discussion on Radio 4 this morning about a new dating site called “Hater.” Yes you read correctly. Well this will certainly appeal to the cynics out there, me included if it all goes tits up with my man. It’s a dating app’ that aims to match singles over what they don’t like rather than what they do, bonding over mutual hatred.

I actually would find this so much easier. We all like pubs, restaurants, visits to the beach. Dull, dull, dull. Ive heard it all before. But what people don’t know about me is that I hate big slobbery dogs, Jeremy Corbyn, New Age clothing, tattoos, body piercings, reed beds, working in an office, coffee in the afternoon, tea in the morning, carrot cake, the Toby Carvery (and the Harvester) leather sofas, floor boards in a lounge, tumble dryers (the launderette is a nice place to dry clothes – oh and meet single men come to that!) and wired bras.

My book ‘The Catholic Woman’s Dying Wish and ‘Holiday’ are about my dating conquests and challenges with very difficult obsessive, hard to live with men. There’s no perfect man out there so give up before on line dating reduces you to a nervous breakdown.

Love from Mrs Menopausal Cynic from Haywards Heath who rode topless at the local fun fair when I still had boobs to be proud of.

‘Holiday’ : UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Holiday-Can-sync-will-sink-ebook/dp/B01MXYJJ3V/ USA: https://www.amazon.com/Holiday-Can-sync-will-sink-ebook/dp/B01MXYJJ3V/

‘The Catholic Woman’s Dying Wish’ : UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Catholic-Womans-Dying-Wish-Things-ebook/dp/B014DP7HQW/ USA: https://www.amazon.com/Catholic-Womans-Dying-Wish-Things-ebook/dp/B014DP7HQW/

America, Donald Trump and fake news

The term fake news is a catch all term used to discredit all kinds of stories. Fake news is hoax  stories and misinformation that have been invented by news sites set up in places like Macedonia, Romania, Russia and sometimes even in the United States. Fake news sites exist to make money, pure and simple, to drive traffic and increase ad revenue but worryingly to try and influence a political election and it’s money made on the back of deceit, deception and plagiarism. Trump is complaining that the US election result was influenced by fake news swirling around social media which went crazy for more of these stories with their sensational headlines. They were blatant lies and it’s scary just how gullible people can be.

We can no longer tell the difference between real news and lies. In this environment political extremism can be whipped up and garnered into dangerous acts of violence and terrorism.

I live in the UK and my only source of news is the BBC and Channel 4. Both are trustworthy sources of news although stories can be biased but on the whole I am happy with the reporting of news in our country. The BBC covers a wide range of news coverage from across the world.

It’s a different story in America though and I think Americans shouldn’t be so worried about fake news but the news that’s pumped out on CNN and Fox. When I went to America in the Summer of 2015 to write my latest novel “Holiday” https://www.amazon.co.uk/Holiday-Can-sync-will-sink-ebook/dp/B01MXYJJ3V/ I was shocked at how America centred the news is. The summer of 2015 saw thousands of Syrians refugees flooding into Europe. There was an urgent humanitarian crisis and yet this was not reported on any news channel during this two week period, in August. There was a lot of news about the presidential campaign and yet it was still 15 months away from the election. There were trivial pieces of news about Donald Trump, even back then.

There is advertising over load on American TV and probably more adverts than news coverage. Adverts on everything from menopausal vaginal gel with a long list of possible side effects to acne drugs to diabetic medication. It’s all about making money in America whether this is through advertising or trivial stories that will appeal to the ordinary person in the street.

So Donald Trump stop complaining and look at how dumbed down the news has become in your country.

I have been to America 7 times and my book “Holiday” came about after a recent trip to Yellowstone, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and the Grand Tetons. It’s a family drama but also a travel book.

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Holiday-Can-sync-will-sink-ebook/dp/B01MXYJJ3V/

USA: https://www.amazon.com/Holiday-Can-sync-will-sink-ebook/dp/B01MXYJJ3V/

 

My love affair with America inspired by Alistair Cooke

My love affair with America began when I was a teenager, listening to Alistair Cooke, the British born American journalist, TV personality and broadcaster on radio 4, ‘Letter From America.’

‘Letter from America’ was a weekly talk broadcast on the BBC between 1946 and 2004. It ended when Cooke retired and a month before his death at the age of 95. It was the BBC’s longest running talk show. There were 2,869 ‘letters’. In his weekly talk Alistair Cooke talked about American life, history and politics; significant moments as they were happening. He was regarded as one of the greatest broadcasters ever and his range and depth of knowledge was extraordinary. Little was beyond his grasp from every social and cultural upheaval – he had it covered. He had a sharp eye, an elegant style and eloquent prose.

Cooke taught us to either love or loathe America. He frequently criticized the country by not in an arrogant, snobby or offensive way but more as an elder statesman would, through his depth of wisdom that seemed to trickle from every word he spoke. His voice seeping from my kitchen radio in Kent was a homely, warm, granddad figure. I loved him and still miss his wholesome comforting voice, which was as warm as the morning toast and butter on my table. For me he brought the country to life, he was so engaging and inspiring and led me to study American History at A level and to degree level.

On a higher global level outside  my own life I think he helped to bring the two countries closer together. Who is there now, in these dark and dangerous times, as Trump takes power to act as the appeaser, the cheery sanguine, bipartisan observer? We simply don’t have one. There’s nobody who has stepped into the magnificent shoes that Cooke once wore. In 1973 Cooke received an honorary knighthood for his contribution to Anglo-American understanding. Our relationship with America for the first time in possibly 200 years is hitting fragile times. We’re on a cliff edge. Here in Britain there are protests because the new US President has been invited to visit. Such a state of affairs is unprecedented.

Cooke emigrated to the USA in 1937. He swore his allegiance to the USA in 1941, six days before Pearl Harbour. He journeyed across the States recording the lifestyle of ordinary Americans, throughout the war and their reactions to it. He’s somebody I admire and respect enormously. I would love to tour America and make notes like he did. I have however travelled through 8 states and my notes form the basis for my new novel “Holiday.” It’s set in Las Vegas, Yellowstone and Salt Lake City and you will get a glimpse into how we Brits see America. I cover everything from diners to hotel experiences, from wildlife to plant life – I have noted it all and combined my travelling through the States with a gripping, humorous family saga.

Here’s the link to “Holiday”: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Holiday-Can-sync-will-sink-ebook/dp/B01MXYJJ3V/

You can also find the archive of more than 900 of Cooke’s transcripts of his programmes here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00f6hbp

Cooke’s letter of April 1990 entitled ‘The End of the Eighties – Great or Greedy? Mentions Donald Trump.

“Throughout the ’80s, the non-fiction lists were headed by the autobiographies of self-made men, by titans like Lee Iacocca, the phoenix of the automobile, by Donald Trump, the young bouncy blond tycoon whose aspirations to take over hotels, casinos, airlines, resorts, cities – why not the country? – appear to be boundless.”

Cooke’s reporting on inaugurations were wonderfully rich in detail. They were wry, cynical, he offered a unique perspective which will be greatly missed. He made you smile, made a tear come to your eye because his words were so poignant. For example reporting about the events on January 20, 1961, the temperature was minus 22 degrees and the weather the worst for an inauguration in 52 years, when John Kennedy implored: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you . . .’ Cooke eerily noted America observing ‘Mrs Kennedy’s smooth throat twitch as ‘the unbearable office’ passed from the oldest president to the youngest.’

In discussing Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration in 1981, Cooke reflected back to Thomas Jefferson’s. “Scorning the dress uniforms and military outriders of George Washington’s day, Jefferson dispensed with all processions, rode his horse up to the Capitol, tied it to a post himself, went in and gave his inaugural address, came out, mounted his horse, rode back to his boarding house, and finding the other residents already in the best places, sat at the lower end of the table and ate his supper”.

Cooke thought Reagan’s first swearing-in was ‘the best produced, the most word perfect, the most elegant inaugural any of us can remember’. The presidential oath took place just as aircraft carrying American hostages took off from Tehran – ‘a dramatic coincidence beyond the most ingenious dreams of a Hollywood scriptwriter’. “Had the release occurred just 25 minutes earlier, it would have been announced by Reagan’s predecessor, Jimmy Carter, who so memorably four years earlier left his limousine and walked hand-in-hand with his wife down Pennsylvania Avenue to his inauguration.”

After Bush’s swearing-in, Bill Clinton went to the airport and ‘spent two hours with a crowd of friends and supporters, complete with microphones and television cameras. He flew to New York, in a White House plane for the last time, where it turned out he’d invited 10,000 people to see him land at Kennedy. The weather was atrocious, only about a thousand came to hear him, but mainly to hear the new New York senator Mrs Hillary Rodham Clinton – make a political speech . . . Well, not in the best of taste.’

Cooke reminded his listeners, inauguration day is about the new boy – “a glittering shindig and a tradition of civility and goodwill toward the newcomer, no matter who he is, from whatever party. Let the new hero be paraded and cheered through the fair city, before next week we set him up at the coconut shy and start to knock him down.” No sooner had Trump been sworn in the accusations began, the protests, the marches the cries for him to go. It’s interesting, what would Cooke have said to this dreadful calamity, the showman politics we now find ourselves witnessing?

Thank you for reading. My book “Holiday” set in America is only 99p/99c. Mormons, marijuana and mayhem await when an English family holiday to the American Southwest.

THE LINK FOR “HOLIDAY”

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Holiday-Can-sync-will-sink-ebook/dp/B01MXYJJ3V/ USA: https://www.amazon.com/Holiday-Can-sync-will-sink-ebook/dp/B01MXYJJ3V/