17th January 2021

BOOK SHELF: Stuart Maconie's The Nanny State Made Me


In 2015 Telford Town Park was voted the winner of the inaugural Fields in Trust UK's Best Park award. In an extract from his latest book, "The Nanny State Made Me", writer, broadcaster and journalist Stuart Maconie celebrates the park and the value it delivers for its regular users.

Telford's Town Park won the Best Park in Britain in 2015. Frankly, I'm surprised it doesn't win every year. Only the fact that I spent a deal of time in a previous chapter eulogising the joys of the public park prevents me singing its praises at fulsome length here. Suffice to say it is the nonpareil and the ne plus ultra, the Beethoven's Ninth, the Sgt Pepper, the Pet Sounds, the Messi, the Shakespeare, the Bach of parks. It can hold its head up proudly with the Bois de Boulogne and Hyde Park, with Tokyo's Hibiya and Bangkok's Lumpini and Barcelona's Guell. Perhaps even higher, because Telford's has a massive water play area and a giant metal tube slide and a sand pit as vast as the Kalahari. Flowers and stuff too, if you're into that kind of thing. And who provided it? Not some beneficent rich guy or multinational conglomerate but the boring old council and the ordinary ratepayers of Telford, which makes it even better in my book. And this after all is my book, celebrating just such things. In elevated mood, I pass three kids screaming as they dash in and out of the water jets and get mildly soaked in the crossfire, then past two African guys with pushchairs earnestly discussing football and into the information booth.

There are four staff: a smiley and enthusiastic lady called Jackie who asks if she can help the second I'm through the door, flanked by three tough-looking but amiable middle-aged dudes in shades and council polo shirts. All have either Brummie twangs or Black Country accents as thick and warm as faggots and peas or balti and bhuna. All came to Telford from 'Wolves' or 'Brum' in the 70s or 80s. They unfold the maps and leaflets and gather round, like generals in a wartime campaign. 'Fifty years ago, when they decided to build Telford, all this was pit spoils and farmland. But then they built the town and all the houses all around this area here.'

"It can hold its head up proudly with the Bois de Boulogne and Hyde Park, with Tokyo's Hibiya and Bangkok's Lumpini and Barcelona's Guell. Perhaps even higher, because Telford's has a massive water play area and a giant metal tube slide and a sand pit as vast as the Kalahari."

Telford Town Park, here described in "The Nanny State Made Me", topped the public vote in Fields in Trust's inaugural UK's Best Park award in 2015.

Telford Town Park

Jackie points to the green splurge of the park on the map, 'around all the old pits and pools and slag heaps and they decided to do it up and leave it as a park.' Her colleague, an older man with a salt-and-pepper beard, chips in, 'Back then they thought all we needed was a shopping centre.' He grimaces. 'That was all we were going to do with our time. But thank God they decided we needed a park too. So here it is, all three hundred acres.'

Later, I sit in a stone chair in the park and write all of the above up. The table I sit at is actually an engraved stone chessboard. Next to me there's a stone ping­pong table too. Two young grandparents are teasing their tiny charge who is muttering sternly, 'I'm very, very angry,' over and over again at some unknown slight, which just makes Granny and Granddad tease him more. Sitting back, I take it all in. From the rear, Southwater reveals even more: a large, pretty lake ringed with picnickers, wobbling toddlers followed by nervous dads and exuberant youths.

So let me give my two penn'orth in praise of Telford. Lovely as those places might be, not everywhere is Bath or Rome or Venice. Not every building is a fading Dorset farmhand's cottage. Not everywhere should be either. In the right light and in the right frame of mind, Southwater Lake and Telford Town Park are beautiful because they do what they are here to do - make a happy, useful space for the people of this new town. While the pubs and pizzerias are doing OK, most Telfordians have made for this outdoor civic, public space, a place for toddling and snogging, football and play fighting, the lazy throwing of Frisbees, the unscrewing of flasks in October and the wafting out of blankets in July. So let's remember those words of John Updike about giving 'the mundane its beautiful due'. Well done Telford, and your ace town park. I'll come back with a toddler or two and bring a picnic.

 

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We are grateful to Ebury Penguin for permission to reproduce a section of Stuart Maconie's book, "The Nanny State Made Me", which explores the value of the UK's public services, including a chapter on parks, through his own experience of growing up as a northern working class lad.

You can order a copy of the book online and it is also available in an audio version read by the author.