I only agreed to do the Chester Literature Festival because it was on a Friday night and I reckoned there would be a good chance Burnley would be at home on the Saturday. A calculated guess rather banjaxed by the fixtures computer which put us at QPR today – the closest Championship ground to where I live.
Still, I had agreed to do it so off to the far North West I toddled, via Cleggland as I reported yesterday. I think the last time I was in Chester was during the 1997 election but life on the campaign bus means that frankly one place just melds into another. I have a vague memory of the bus pulling into the city centre, big crowds surrounding it, TB speaking from what we had ludicrously christened ‘the people’s platform’, back on the bus and onto the next marginal seat.
So yesterday was the first time I had the chance to look around, and I was blown away by the place. First by the crowds – it was heaving with a mix of shoppers, locals and tourists – second by the variety and beauty of the buildings, and third by the cleanliness.
The Festival event in the evening was a lot of fun, with the usual mix of light and serious, and a particularly enjoyable ‘rapid fire’ session at the end, when I take in one go up to 20 questions from those who have been unable to get in during the ‘one at a time’ bit. Owen Coyle, Adam Boulton and Malcolm Tucker seem to have joined George Bush, Princess Diana and the 2005 Lions tour on the list of subjects I now always get asked about.
Talking of Boulton, yesterday I was approached by a Channel 4 documentary team asking for an interview about my spat with the Sky journalist. The bad news for Adam is that the documentary is about ‘the year’s funniest moments’. Can’t decide whether to take part or not. Advice please … Anyway it was a really nice evening, in the wonderful setting of Chester racecourse.
I had hopped over to Wales during the day to help launch a new ‘Youth Mental Health First Aid’ scheme for the Welsh Assembly Government and Mind Cymru. It is based on a scheme that has been operating for some time in Australia. It is one of those ideas that leaves you thinking ‘why have we never done this before?’
When I am talking about mental illness, I always make the point that we have physical health and we have mental health and some days are good and other days less good, but we would do a better job breaking down stigma and taboo if we were as open about one as we are about the other.
First aid for physical health problems is an accepted and established part of the national life. I hope the idea of first aid for mental health takes off in the same way. It is about all of us developing an understanding of mental distress so that when we come across it in others, whether as friends, family, employer, colleague or total stranger, we have a basic idea of how to help.
So good luck to the Assembly and Mind teams pushing this in Wales. I don’t suppose with all the cuts coming down the track there is much chance of Health Secretary Andrew Lansley rolling it out for England. But he should.
Meanwhile I am now back home in time for the clash against table-topping QPR. When the fixture was first announced I groaned inwardly at the folly of having signed up to Chester in advance. But I’m glad I did, and to anyone who has never been, I strongly recommend a visit.