Those with a stake in the health and vigour of Newmarket High Street, which is pretty well everyone, must be pleased with the still slightly hazy scheme to use the town’s racing fame as a way to reinvigorate trade. Ok, £2 million seems a lot of money but it is chickenfeed compared with the commercial clout of the shopping centre and it would be almost suicidally stupid not to cash in on what the world already knows about Newmarket. There is a sizeable minority of Newmarket people who know little about racing and care less. They have no direct connection with the industry. As far as they are concerned they live in just another pleasant East Anglian market town. But they are very wrong. Whether they like it or not, racing is the key that winds up our clock, and makes the town tick. So let’s trade on the treasure of the Newmarket brand. It need not be tacky, like those awful kilts-and-haggis souvenir shops in Edinburgh. But it must be a bit brash to hit home. And, please, please, if we start dragging in a lot of costly consultants to tell us what to do, let local sensitivities and sense of style rule. Outside smart-Alecs are all very well but you have to really know Newmarket to know how to sell it or it will come out like just another tourist town.
Tectonic plates upon which the continents float move so slowly that any shift is almost imperceptible. It’s the same with our councils. So it is astonishing that within a week both Newmarket and Ely have managed to move forward n a sudden lurch that has taken decades to achieve. First, Newmarket Town Council have greeted Forest Heath’s proposed compulsory purchase of Queensbury Lodge, the former stables which have been an eyesore at the town’s most important entrance for longer than many of us remember. Something may now actually be done with the site. My cheers are grudging. Anyone interested in justice and fair play must feel profoundly uneasy at the sight of councils now contemplating spending public money on a solution they resolutely forbade the present owners, Bill Gredley in one of his several incarnations, to pursue. But at least those tectonic plates have shifted. I long ago gave up all hope of sense or justice. And those same immovable plates have moved at Ely. After only about half a century of ponderous pondering, the councillors have acted on the Southern Bypass proposal and the almighty, in the all-too-corporeal form of Eric Pickles has said “Let it be.” What the God in the Cathedral thinks of this I dare not speculate. But I cannot help wondering if He would not rather have us contemplating a view of His Cathedral from a bypass than from fume-laden traffic jams. We are cursed to live in interesting times.
There is something charmingly naive about a legal system which seeks to make thieves pay back what they stole. For example, three men described as professional burglars who raided 56 schools in and around this area stole more than 300 computers valued at about £160,000 have been forced to pay only £1 each because, surprise, surprise, they have no apparent realisable assets. Is it not in the very nature of professional burglars that they are not thrifty souls who save their loot or invest it in pension schemes? Beer and skittles, more like. This sort of brute does not live in our world of work and patient payment for little luxuries. They just smash and grab their way through life and it is sweet but silly to expect to wring a brass farthing out of them when they are caught. It is all gone. It always is.
Rachel Hood has been accused by a predecessor as Mayor, George Lambton, of behaving idiotically by daring to question the cost of horse walks in Newmarket. Tut, tut, Rachel. You have failed to learn the great lesson on how to get on in today’s public life. It has become almost a religion not to speak your mind, speak from the heart and tell the truth in case it upsets someone. We live a world where controversy, which once was the lifeblood of English public and private life, is now frowned on and in some cases is actually illegal. I can only hope you have learned your lesson, Rachel, and never again, either in or out of office, have the presumption to baldly say what you really think. It’s just not done, dear.
I never cease to marvel at the low prices set for many items in our For Sale small ads. A Hoover for £12, a shoe rack for £5, a pressure cooker for £15, a coffee table for £10 are just a sample of the items advertised last week. What interests me is not just the price but the fact that people bother to sell something when they think it is worth so little. They could possibly dump the whole lot with less effort. There must be a vast log-jam of stuff clogging up our lives that hovers on the brink between dump and a new life with someone else. I would love a serious economist to investigate and analyse this corner of the economy. If, for example, each of us owned £100 worth of stuff we could live without but never get round to dumping or selling that could add up to a gigantic total. In war time this did not happen. Everything was used: but years of peace and relative prosperity have led to an accumulation that could resemble an economic version of arteriosclerosis. Shall I, who have not smoked for 40 years, sell my pipe rack? If so, for how much and to whom?
Please don’t get me wrong. I love the Soham Pumpkin Fair. It’s crazy fun; an eccentric sort of non-religious harvest festival that delights bigger crowds and heavier pumpkins every year. But in the light of that festival, and other stunts like pie-eating contests and bathing in baked beans, let us hear far fewer whinging voices grudging aid to poor countries. Let us not hear that mean-spirited excuse: “Charity begins at home.” For a start, the habit of giving charitably does indeed begin at home but from that firm footing it naturally spreads out into the wider world. But my real reason for saying all this is that to grow a giant but almost inedible pumpkin occupies soil space that could have been used to grow real food: spuds, lettuces, whatever. So are those who resist feeding the world’s hungry masses happy to waste our own resources having a bit of fun at the fair? It is, of course, not as simple as that but how can we be mean and wasteful at the same time? Email your John Bone views to barry.peters@newmarket journal.co.uk