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BEER AND BALLOTS: KEITH TAYLOR

 

Cheers!”

 

I cannot be sure if these were the first words that Keith Taylor and I exchanged but it is likely – and, as I write this, I raise a glass, with further cheers, to a man who has left us too soon.

 

Various are the ways in which people find themselves brought into the public eye. Keith's life, which began in 1953, had taken several turns which led him from Essex to Brighton, where he imported good beer from Belgium in that warren of roads known as the North Laine which had survived Sixties attempts to demolish them to make way for a flyover.

 

As a savvy entrepreneur, Keith was attuned to dodgy developments – and even dodgier developers – in the area. No need to elaborate here the details of particular controversies. The upshot was that in the late-Nineties, this experience led Keith to be elected as another Green councillor. This brought the total to three of them (after the pioneering effort by Pete West).

 

That might sound, er, small beer, but he, Pete and Rik Child were an eco powerhouse, bringing to the fore issues which are now part of the political mainstream.

 

A pivotal moment came in 2001, when New Labour in the form of Lord Bassam and Simon Fanshawe thought that it could foist upon Hove and Brighton a directly-elected Mayor. That sounds all very well but in fact, as Keith asserted, it proves to be a means of centralising power, the very opposite of democracy.

 

He was able to form a cross-Party force – Allies for Democracy – which brought together the Greens, Conservatives and the “Labour rebels” to campaign against this. (The LibDems, nominally involved, were soon leant upon by New Labour to hold back.) And, of course, there was energy deployed by the many maverick groups which comprise the towns' residents.

 

Meetings, doorsteps, a newspaper (designed by future councillor Geoffrey Bowden), these became heady times for those involved in it all – not least a public who saw the point, so much so that, come the referendum, the result was 2 to 1 for knocking a directly-elected Mayor on the head

 

Keith was vindicated – and I was chuffed at the Count, when, as we watched the ballot slips lengthening along the trestle tables, he said to me, “several of those tables are down to you, Chris.”

 

I sometimes think I can still see on my fingers the ink from all those newspapers I delivered (impossible to forget the collage of Jeffrey Archer behind bars and a cartoon of power-crazed Bassam who holds strings above an image of Hove and Brighton).

 

Keith was not only able to speak so well at Council meetings and, afterwards, to inspire people over a pint or two but he was a close reader of documents. He found that the Local Government Act enabled Councils to have as their fallback position in place of a directly-elected Mayor a return to the Committee system.

 

This might sound more arcane than revolutionary, but revolutionary it has proved to be, for this brought back decision-making to all Councillors rather than those elevated to a Cabinet. I continue to boggle that more Councils have not availed themselves of this simple expedient. For one thing, it has kept libraries open.

 

Time moved on, the Greens gained more seats on the Council, and it was only natural that Keith should be chosen as the Party's MP candidate in the 2005 Election. At the Count he was chagrined not to have come higher but I pointed out to him that in fact the figures meant that he would win next time. He made this observation the thrust of his speech that early morning (which brought a surreally derisory and thigh-slapping routine by the LibDems).

 

If Keith was downcast that Caroline Lucas had also read these signs, he did not say anything and, indeed, he helped her to campaign for Election in 2010, where, aided by Gordon Brown's eternal dithering and by a crucial push in Patcham, she won.

 

In the electoral slipstream of this, Keith took her place as Euro MP. As such, he went from representing 11,000 residents in Brighton's North Laine to eleven million in the country's South East. He brought equal diligence to the numerous journeys this involved.

 

How many of the thousands of people whom Keith met ever realised that, around 2003, he underwent that major heart surgery which leaves patients with a vertical scar upon the chest which is redolent of belonging to a secret, life-saving society? His energies did not flag, he was forever turning up, in his bustling manner, with the latest cogent news which his researches had uncovered – not least when it came to fending off the threat of fracking.

 

He was a convivial fellow, and, as I write this, I recall his saying in the kitchen at one of my parties, “this is the sort of party I thought people no longer had.”

 

Health took its toll upon this ever-engaging and engaged man. Come 2019 and the tragic crumbling of our country's European involvement, he stood back from active politics, and looked forward to travelling with his partner Liz Petty in an eco wagon from the house to which they had moved along the coast in Shoreham.

 

This was not to be. He was laid low by his kidneys. He slipped from the world two days ago, and beside him were Liz nd his son Stefan – and I hope that, at the same time, as his eyes closed on this life, he had a glimpse of the many he helped along the way with a word here, a word there.

 

Not something I had wanted to bring to the top of the story, for Keith was not fame-hungry, but among these was David Bowie who was in the doldrums after “Space Oddity” - and glad to accept a booking by one Keith Taylor who was then all of seventeen.

 

Let's dance in memory of the great Keith Taylor who never swayed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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OF TIME AND THE FERRY

 

Not actually in Hove but across the border at the Brighthelm Centre the other evening, I interviewed William Boyd on stage for City Books a week after publication of his seventeenth novel: The Romantic.

 

A curious thing about appearing in public is that time goes by quickly. We had some forty-five minutes for our discussion, which was followed by his reading aloud what I think a key section of a novel which traverses much of the nineteenth century - and in many of its terrains.

 

This was followed by very good public questions which he answered in detail - subjects ranged from assuming a woman's point of view to the nature of Colonialism.

 

Another theme of the evening - and of his work - is the way in which fact and fiction overlap, so much so that one can sometimes take one for the other. How many people know, which is true, that Byron was born above a shop in Aberdeen and was displeased when people detected a Scottish accent? (I had never thought William Boyd to have a Scottish accent but he said that he thought he did so, though asserted he was an Afro-Scot, what with being brought up part of each year in Africa.) A novelist can know more about a character than a biographer.

 

Emerging technology is also a theme of the novel. How much does one need to know of this and of parts of the world to be able to depict them? Our talk elaborated on this, and I still kick myself, especially as we had enthused about footnotes, that I forgot to mention that one of my favourite footnotes appears in the first volume of Richard Holmes's wonderful biography of Coleridge. He points out that, at the time of writing The Ancient Mariner, the poet's only maritime experience was the Chepstow ferry.

 

Talk, though, cannot be programmed, questions cannot be written out. Headings, yes, but not all of which might find a place in the flow of an evening, And, say so myself, I was chuffed afterwards by the number of people who said that they had enjoyed it. As you can see, we had a bottle of wine supplied by the bookshop - sipped a little along the way, and relished afterwards.

 

 

AN EGRET IN HOVE

 

After walking a little way up this Hove road today, I saw a neighbour who was standing beside a small white bird whose claws grasped a piece of wood beside a garden wall. I asked, "is that a 'please take' item?" He replied, "no, it's a baby egret - I showed a picture to the fellow in the Post Office, and he identified it. Odd that it's here, as they like cliffs."

 

At that moment, the bird's head moved a little, and the neighbour told me that, wary of its fearsome beak, he had alerted a rescue service (as I had done a few years ago when a seagull could not fly from my pathway, owing to what proved to be botulism, caught by eating gone-off food somewhere).

 

I came back to get my camera, and the bird moved its head as I took this picture.

 

By now, I came to agree with the neighbour that the infant bird was alarmed, rooted to the spot, and wished him (and the egret) well with waiting for the rescue service to make sure that the egret was not taken by a predator. I was about to walk on, when the rescue service's driver arrived, so I stayed put (rather like the egret).

 

She looked at the bird, and opened up the back door of her car to get out a net while asking pedestrians to go past in the road. so that she could get closer to the egret with her net.

 

She took a step back. We were all surprised that the bird had not panicked.

 

The bird realised that help was at hand.

 

No, the rescuer moved towards the bird, held out a hand - and pulled off its head.

 

It had been held there by a long, thin nail; hence its moving now and then in the breeze.  This was, though, a real bird - or, at least had been. My neighbour was mightily embarrassed but the noble rescuer was in hoots and fits of laughter, rocking on her ankles and waving the net: this would be the stuff (or should I say stuffing) to dine out upon for ages. Not the bird, I mean, the incident; she advised putting the neighbour to put the hapless stuffed bird in a bin lest others make the same assumption and she is called back all day.

 

After this, I walked on, with other neighbours, one of whom mentioned Monty Python's sketch in which Michael Palin asserts, "the Norwegian Blue likes kipping on its back." I replied that I can see people saying, "the Hove Grey likes nodding its head."

 

As such, all this has a comic side but I also look at the photograph of the bird and feel sad at this spectacle.