Did the Tolpuddle Martyrs hold Dorset to ransom?

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The Independent Online
Trade unions, like the old woman who lives up the road, are one of those things I know I should feel well disposed towards. My neighbour can be a cantankerous dragon, but - as I'm frequently told - she spent her whole life doing marvellous work in Africa. Her ill-temper may be irksome, but she deserves a kindly smile - and most days I manage one.

And so it is with trade unions. I know I'm all in favour - it's just that I have such trouble remembering why. And nobody seems much inclined to remind me any more.

I can tell Winter of Discontent stories that would make your hair stand on end. There's nothing I haven't learned about union thugs holding the country to ransom. That I haven't the faintest recollection of that particular winter is really neither here nor there - show me a picket line, and I can show you the finest set of prejudices Norman Tebbit could ever hope for. Sometimes I even forget to feel guilty.

So it was extremely annoying when I had to get up a whole hour early on Thursday, to get out of tube strike-stricken London and down to Dorset in time for lunch. Lifeless queues of cars stretched deep into the Home Counties. Only the Royal Mail was absent from the road - it too was off on some Seventies revival day trip, and by Woking I was in quite some temper over the whereabouts of my grandfather's birthday card.

After Southampton, the M3 trickles out, and the winding road takes you on into Dorset. Cream tea villages dapple the route, and the sign fluttering across one could easily, in a thatched charm oblivion, be mistaken for somethingabout a summer fete. Instead, it announced that the annual rally to commemorate the Tolpuddle Martyrs would be taking place today.

It is 162 years since six farm workers gathered there on the green under the sycamore tree to form a trade union, for which crime they were deported to Australia and are forever remembered as the fathers of trade unionism. In the cool of the Tolpuddle Martyrs' museum, their faces stare out from the walls like a sepia reproach. Alongside hang pictures of latter-day TUC officials - these dangerous men and women hell-bent on bringing down the country; people whose attachment to words like "comrade" makes me, in more mindless moments, snigger.

Tolpuddle is a charming spot to visit. It seems a shame, however, to have to come all this way in order to be reminded why trade unions might not be a bad idea, or why the Winter of Discontent is not the only piece of labour history worth acquainting oneself with.

On the crawl back into London, we stopped off for a paper. The Labour leader, we learned, had had a change of heart. He doesn't think the tube drivers should be allowed to go on strike, after all.

The last time I allowed myself to be talked into some remote, late-night open-air party, I passed six unhappy hours wedged in the back of a van with a strange and garrulous South African girl, while the driver negotiated the inky mysteries of the Pennines Snake Pass. When the door finally opened, and we fell out, blinking and bruised, we were back where we had started in Manchester, the only obvious fruits of our adventure a flat tyre and a resolve, on my part, never to embark on anything so manifestly ill- advised again.

A British summer brings many untoward dangers, but few as grave as the possibility of finding yourself at one of these events. You cannot always hope to rely on the driver's ineptitude, and there's every risk, if you set off to enough of the things, that one night you might actually get there. This is nothing short of a catastrophe. Outdoor dance parties involve terrible music, gormless dancing, and mud. They are also very popular with stupid people who have lost their friends, and see no reason why you shouldn't step in as a substitute.

Sadly, I cannot imagine it was these sort of misgivings which inspired the Criminal Justice Act. (The legislation would be no less objectionable, had it been, but I might regard the Home Office in a rather different light.) As I understood it, the act was all about stopping ravers rampaging through the land, and neglecting to clean up after themselves. It was not, I thought, intended to outlaw anything more ambitious than a picnic.

Strictly speaking, I was right. But legal nicety will offer little solace to groups like the Big Chill, the latest in a depressing variety of festival organisers to learn that their impeccably laid plans - for a modest party in Norfolk next month - are not good enough. The local press decided they were planning A Rave, and that was the end of that.

I can think of few things worse than actually having to go to one of these events - but nothing worse than finding that I am no longer allowed to.

At 39, Gill Faldo really should know better. Running about after a man 12 years her junior! And, of all things, a smoothly tanned tennis coach! What was she thinking of?

These are difficult times for Gill. Not only did her golfing husband, Nick, replace her with a blonde half his (and her) age last year, now her new lover has dumped her too. Thankfully, lucky old Gill has some great advice to help her through.

Lynda Lee-Potter of the Daily Mail says she should stop chasing younger men and showering them with gifts, and use some of her multi-million divorce settlement to become thinner and more stylish. Lynda - you're a treasure. What would Gill do without you? The Express's celebrity psychic has an even better idea - why not take up a hobby? Brilliant! And, of course, good old Marje Proops has a caring word in the Mirror - there's nothing wrong with renting love for a while, is there, petal?

Poor old Nick didn't get any such counselling of the sort when he fell for his pretty young thing.

I imagine Gill's feeling much better already.