Trapped inside the wrong county

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The Independent Online
The legal world has been thrown into a turmoil by the victory of a Staffordshire man in the European Court of Justice. All his life, Staffordshire man Ken Bartable has fought against being regarded as a Staffordshire man and demanded to be treated as, and described as, a Shropshire man. Finally, his plea has been vindicated. The European Court of Justice has decreed that he can live as, and be described as, a Shropshire man if he wants to.

"I never wanted to be a Staffordshire man," says 51-year-old Ken. "All right, so I was born there, and I've lived there all my life, and I've got a Staffordshire accent, and all my relatives are Staffs people, but I've never felt one of them. Don't get me wrong. I like Staffs people, and I respect them, and in many ways they lead a decent ordinary life, even if they have mucky back gardens, but I've always felt myself to be a Shropshire person inside. Not for me the dark, smoky towns of Staffordshire, the dull, flat landscape. Give me the rolling hills of Shropshire, with the mysterious border country redolent of the old Marcher barons, and the Welsh fastnesses beyond! I have the body of a Staffordshire man but inside I have the soul and the yearnings of a Salopian, and my spirit answers to the soul of Shropshire!"

Well, but is there so very much difference between Staffs and Salop?

"There speaks a man who knows not the territory," says Ken. "Would AE Housman have written 'A Staffordshire Lad'? I think not. And if he had written 'A Staffordshire Lad', would it have been the exquisite saga of loss and longing that A Shropshire Lad was? Not so, I think."

But surely Housman's series of poems entitled A Shropshire Lad are in fact a gloomy, doomy series of hopeless looks back to an imagined past? His poetic world is all about soldiers being hanged and poachers being hanged and girls being jilted and love going sour and that sort of thing, isn't it? At least "A Staffordshire Lad" might have been a bit more cheerful. At least Arnold Bennett, who was a genuine Staffordshire lad, did write invigoratingly about the Five Towns even if he took the first opportunity to move to London and never come back?

"Ah, yes, the mysterious and redolent countryside of Shropshire!" says Ken Bartable, oblivious to anything else. "Shrewsbury, that half-Welsh, half-English fortress, where the Severn winds itself around the hilly town as if to protect it. A county of mysterious names like Wem and Ruyton- Eleven-Towns. A county dotted in the north with the lakes they call meres, and in the south with grand features like Wenlock Edge and the Long Mynd! There is my heart, not here in the stuffy suburbs of Stoke-on-Trent! And now at last I have won from the European Court of Justice the right to call myself a Shropshireman."

Yes, but have there ever really been times when he has been hurt or degraded, fired or made redundant, because he has been officially described as a Staffordshire man?

"Not as such," he admits, "but when I see myself described in the paper as a Staffordshire man, it hurts me. It distresses me. It sullies me. It makes me feel used. Take this headline here: 'Staffordshire man Ken Bartable in pub brawl knocks out two, puts three more in hospital'. Well, I find that demeaning. Why can't they just say, 'Would-be Shropshire man Ken Bartable Goes Berserk' or 'Ken "Call-me-Salopian" Bartable wrecks pub'? Is that too much to ask?"

Gosh. Did he, in fact, wreck a pub?



"Because some bastard called me a Staffordshire nerd. I demanded that he apologise and call me a Shropshire nerd, but he wouldn't."

Already other cases are lining up for the Court of Justice. There is a man who lives in Newcastle but feels he has the soul of a Manchester United supporter, and wants legally to be registered as one. There is a man who has the soul of an accountant even though he dances at Covent Garden Opera House, and wants to be reclassified as an accountant. And now, thanks to Ken Bartable, they may win their cases.

Any last thoughts from newly accredited Shropshire man Bartable?

"Yes. Thank God I'm not Welsh at least."