Tackling local cultural density – Mechanics Institute Review, Issue 12

Dave WakelyAccording to the Royal Society of Arts’ Heritage Index, my adopted home town – Milton Keynes – ranks 322nd out of 325 in the UK for culture. In a town (it’s not officially a city, and it’s a sore point) where anything less than glowing PR is taken as a slap to the bran… er, face, I’m surprised that more outrage hasn’t yet been evident. Concrete cows have, of course, been mentioned in despatches in a few lazy pieces of journalism, along with our theatre and art gallery, The Stables – and a frankly rather odd list on the oneMK website that includes co-hosting the Rugby World Cup and being home to a F1 racing team (misspelt too – it’s Infiniti, chaps) as cultural accolades. Surely they belong under your Sport menu?

It’s the kind of ‘accolade’ that it’s hard to see much of a way to tackle single-handedly: teamwork is definitely called for. A shoutout, therefore, to Arts Gateway MK (AGMK) amongst others, and heaty thumbs up to them and all the others who strive to “Support the creative development and promotion of the arts in Milton Keynes”.

But everyone can do their bit, I guess. The Index weights heritage and cultural assets and activities (warming its hands first, presumably) against the size of the area – something that the deliberately sprawling, low-rise nature of MK will have to work hard to counter. My most recent, modest attempt to boost the town’s cultural standing was, admittedly, significantly helped by Birkbeck, University of London, in whose 12th issue of The Mechanics’ Institute Review my story, Sisters, has just appeared. It possibly doesn’t help MK’s cultural profile that the story is set in Torquay. And I’m not as slim as I used to be, so the area factor is increasing, but what’s a few inches between friends? Apart from the part of an unprintable story?

Here are the opening paragraphs of Sisters, as a teaser. To read more, order yourself a copy from Amazon or your local independent bookseller.

Since I lifted it out of its fancy satin box a month ago and hung it delicately on the offi ce coat rack in its protective plastic sleeve, the emerald-green ball gown hasn’t attracted a single raised eyebrow. I’d explained who it was for – although they must have been able to see it wasn’t my size, even before the alterations. And God knows, green would never work with my complexion.

The girls have spoken admiringly of the colour, and cooed about the way the peacock-feather designs had been so dexterously picked out on each sleeve in tiny sapphire and aquamarine sequins and rhinestones. Fussy to the last, Brenda got out her reading glasses and inspected its cuffs and hem. “Brussels lace?” she asked, approvingly.

“Limerick,” I corrected her. “It’s for Betty. For his curtain call. It’d be wrong if it wasn’t Irish.”

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