Yesterday, even by the extremely high standards of Semilong, was a strange day in Northampton.
It began with the news that Northampton had failed in its bid to become one of our beloved majesty’s Platinum Jubilee cities.
This is about the zillionth time we have grovelled before the monarch and higher authorities of the land – chosen wisely by God, as God chooses the head of all powerful families – in supplication for this honour.
We have swallowed our pride over the years as the title has been awarded to seemingly less deserving boroughs: a suburb of Birmingham, a stack of beach huts near Manchester, a roundabout in Hertfordshire.
Places with apparently more history than the ancient crossroads between the Danegeld and Saxon England, where our patron Saint Thomas A Beckett was tried for treason, the location of two game changing medieval battles, where English parliaments were first held in the castle Charles II eventually ordered slighted into ruins.
Places with more sport, music, theatre and with better food allegedly… maybe they don’t have this website bookmarked at the palace. Or any for that matter.
Can I be frank? They are taking the piss. How can I be so certain of this? Look at what got city status this time… Milton Keynes.
I could accept that Her Majesty and the gang might not be fully up to speed on what kind of place Northampton really is under the split and subsiding asphalt carparks of our generic shopping and leisure zones.
Charles would probably pipe up that he gets his shoes from here. Honestly would the Queen still be paying attention after she heard we got rid of our racecourse? They might be politely surprised at our size or bemused by pictures of our skyline.
“What’s that thing sticking up out of Northampton?”
“It’s the National Lift Tower your Majesty. It’s like a lift shaft with no building around it Ma’am. An elevator to nowhere if you will. Terry Wogan used to mention it a lot Ma’am. He called it the Northampton Lighthouse, the joke being that Northampton is about as far away from the sea you can be in our great seafaring nation Ma’m. “
“I do the jokes. It’s not funny to be funnier than the world’s most famous semi-divine branding mascot for genetic privilege in a weird hat.”
Indifference to whatever lies under our mountainous shoe history I could live with but choosing Milton Keynes instead is so well played, such a wincingly on target towel flick to the buttocks of our preposterously great town, such a studied and well-informed insult to the descendants of the humble cobblers that shod Cromwell’s rebel army, that it can only be deliberate.
Do they not realise that Formula One for the past ten years has basically been a battle between the motor engineers of Northampton and the motor engineers of Milton Keynes? Do they not know that Milton Keynes is ONE junction on the M1 transport jugular but Northampton has THREE? It’s like comparing a swollen appendix to the lungs.
Northampton is proper place with its own cantankerous mind. Milton Keynes is mall things to mall people, an endless carpet of intended landscape, designed prudently within the confines of a reality defined by commercial parameters. It’s got less history than some motorway service stations. It’s more like a machine than a place. It’s a big farm for growing and milking money out of meat bags. If anyone stoops so low as to be a commercial success in Northampton they tend to have the wit to keep quiet about it.
I didn’t want to admit I wanted City Status for the ridiculously massive town of Northampton. I didn’t want to go on about it in front of the kids too much. My eldest sons have returned from uni and are now working in public service in two of the town’s big institutions. They graft away, a new generation doing their bit to keep the system working. It was too cruel to see the hope smashed out of their eyes by our very own Queen yesterday.
“Does this mean we don’t get to be Northampton City dad?”
I am choking back a sob as I write this, as though one of them had actually asked me that.
Later in the day in that way that plugholes blackholes churn a lot of unlikely material together, Northampton Film Festival got underway with a screening of Alan Moore’s The Show at Northampton Filmhouse.
(Has there even been a Milton Keynes Film Festival by the way? Would they understand what one was? Would they understand an event put together to celebrate the art, craft and wonder of a medium? Would they understand that a lot of films being shown together wasn’t just another way of saying multiplex? They probably get all their content streamed directly onto the backs of their eyeballs via a council subsidised scheme).
The Show is a love letter to Northampton in the guise of a surreal and noirish private eye flick: Moore and director Mitch Jenkins painting with light to create something dense and dark and dreamy. It’s full of faces you’ll recognise from around town and from on telly. If you keep your eyes peeled you’ll catch the silhouette of Slowthai.
I would have liked to have had a big pause button on the seat next to me so I could absorb all the witty little ‘Easter eggs’ tucked away in the various scenes – posters with strange slogans, newspaper front pages with weird stories. The camera does not linger over these things in an obvious way but they are there to be enjoyed nonetheless. The soundtrack plays the same trick – Platinum FM churns out apparently generic easy listening but each song is an original composition for the film.
It’s a proper big glossy feature film, like a real one that could have merchandise that people could go to Milton Keynes to buy, and it even has a twist at the end about the main character in a kind of Angel Heart way but to really truly get it in all it’s glory you have to know Northampton. It’s ours. It belongs to us. It was crafted by Northamptonians, from the author to the cast of extras, volunteers and assistants provided by Film Northants. If it wasn’t for Covid it would have toured the world at the big cinema festivals and that in itself is so Northampton.
So all right then, Milton Keynes City, congratulations… but never in a million years will you ever have something that belongs to you like The Show belongs to Northampton. And if you do get a film made about you, it won’t be weird and startling and cool, it would be like Gregory’s Girl with roundabouts. You don’t have the filth and the grit, and you don’t have what grows out of the filth and grit.
Next time there is a city status thing we should campaign for Kettering to get it.