I’m undergoing a kind of self-imposed emotional therapy at the moment, one that has nothing to do with my physical injury. I also have two ‘therapists’ in the wider sense of the word. The one looking after my lower left limb is located nearby in Kendal, the other is… rather more virtual.

As often happens with emotional therapy, the associated synchronicities are coming thick and fast… They are very helpful, these coincidences, for I’m seeking to shed a weighty and depressing load from the past two months, involving dilemmas of mass commercial suicide, the madness of power, and that understandable human compulsion to shoot the person who’s helping you the most.

I also have a plaguing ache from my left knee…

I don’t know my emotional therapist, but I’d like to. There’s not much he could do for my wounded knee, but he’s working wonders for my view of the collective lunacy that recently passed for the UK’s referendum, now known simply by the label of the victors: Brexit.


“We just wanted to teach ’em a lesson.”


I’m sitting in a place I love: my new ‘office’ in town – town being Kendal, on the edge of the English Lake District, and not in Indonesia, as Facebook insists; to which we retired after twenty-three years running a Manchester based software company. The Bristly Hog is a very special place, located in the main street of Kendal’s town centre. I’m waiting for my wife, Bernie, to join me, at the end of her shopping, for a late breakfast. I have Tess, our collie, lying peacefully next to me. The two of us have enjoyed frisbee throwing in the park and a walk up the footpath of the river Kent into town. It’s a tough life… and I’m hungry.

The Bristly Hog is a coffee bar with real food; an ‘indie’, to be exact. It’s one of the new generation of upmarket (but not expensive) startups that give you hope that the big boys can be taken on at their own game. The coffee is delightful; the food so good it actually makes your mouth water. Bernie arrives and our food arrives shortly after. I drizzle lemon juice on my tuna melt, knowing the delight to come with that first fork-full, and muse that there’s nothing mass-produced about anything in this wonderful place.


In local terms, the cluster of buildings in which the Bristly Hog sits is historically famous. Its name is Black Hall, which, in the manner of the best of synchronicities, describes both my mood and the name of my emotional therapist, who also happens to be called Hall.

Rich Hall

Rich Hall is an American and does not know me; but he is capable of reaching out to those of us surrounded by lunacy. His combination of acerbic wit and fiery intelligence, combined with a determination to speak up whenever he finds that ‘gloo’ has glooped into the collective brain of flatlining local mankind is wonderfully therapeutic. I’ve followed him for years, but now I’m coming to count on him more than ever.

He is a comedian and a musician. He has graced British television for several years now with his panel game presence and his ability to create inspiring and off-the-wall docu-comedies about the most insane bits of our “Western’ lives. His latest one re-aired on BBC Four is about the real history of the Native American Indian, whose story he has savagely and intelligently condensed into one of the BBC’s slots. You can still watch it on iPlayer.

It contains a section on the ‘battle’ of Wounded Knee, the hilltop massacre of three hundred Sioux in the last act of resistance of the so-called Indian Wars. Their crime was to paint their faces white, in order to honour their ancestors, and to enact a mystical dance called the ‘Ghost Dance’, which created unease in the surrounding ‘white’ population. Chiefs Sitting Bull and Big Foot were assassinated in the few days encompassing the event – which still stands as a landmark to what collective fear can do…

I do not point the finger at America, here. Britain has too many such skeletons in its closet; ranging from its earlier colonial policy to the dispossession (in partnership with the French government) of the Palestinians in 1948; an event that sowed the seeds for much of the chaos of today’s middle east.

With full synchronicities engaged, I reflect that I do, actually, have a wounded knee. My left leg has troubled me for months, following a nasty groin injury. Only the valiant efforts of a local physiotherapist have prised me out of the conviction that, at sixty-two, I am finally developing arthritis – something that plagued my maternal grandfather and therefore has me in its clock-is-ticking sights. I do my muscle-restorative exercises for the ‘atrophied’ parts of my left leg faithfully – well, most days.

In the newspaper before me, I see that Nissan are preparing us for the ‘possibility’ that continuing to invest in their premier European plant, at Sunderland, the ‘town that broke the pound‘ might not make sense in the future.

“Brexit means Brexit” is the new mantra, even among those newly elevated politicians with the power to engineer a second run at public opinion now that “We’ve taught them a lesson” has been delivered.

It reminds me of an irascible maths teacher we once had who walked around, mocking our algebra tests by saying “one equals one”.  The whole thing brings to mind a Monty Python sketch from long ago where ten or so army officers around a dinner table rose solemnly, one by one, to go outside the room to shoot themselves because they did things like pass the after dinner Port in the wrong direction.

The regions that benefited most from the EU (for example, the North-West, Wales, the North East, Cornwall, and the Midlands) were the ones who regretted their ‘loss of sovereignty’ so much that they saw the light and ‘took back control’ in the same sort of gloopy way that must have made sense to those surrounding the Ghost Dance at Wounded Knee.

As the man from Sunderland said from the pub on the recent programme “Brexit – the battle for Britain” “we just wanted to teach them a lesson.”

I can understand the ‘teach them a lesson thing’. Along with many others, I’ve long objected to the centralisation of wealth in Britain within London and the South-East. But, like in other countries, it’s not a result of a policy, it’s the result of not having a policy… And it requires a different kind of politics to actually interfere with power and money – even if it’s only to get people to work on time and in enough comfort to make sure they can work all day.

Further into my newspaper I see that someone called Trump has, apparently, implied that the ‘Second Amendment people’ might just rid the world of Hilary by a well aimed bullet or six. Did she Ghost Dance, I wonder? It’s a dangerous business. I can feel my skin getting whiter.

My second coffee arrives. In our post-Brexit ‘English’ world, in which racist crimes are escalating – newly empowered by victorious Brexit’s focus on Immigration- the eclectic bunch of people serving us might feel threatened. But in Kendal they are probably safe.

One of these economic underlings serving us is a delightful Australian who we know well and has left behind the world of corporate coffee to bring her charm and warmth to the grateful customers of the Bristly Hog. Behind the counter is a tall ‘girl’ in colourful pigtails and a popsy set of dungarees. ‘She’ is a delight and very intelligent.  The manageress glides through, smiling at her varied, expressive and happy staff and nodding at the satisfaction of those partaking of food and drink.

I do not feel threatened by any of these people, Ghost Dancers or not. I hope they do not feel threatened by me.

I like aliens, I decide. I want to stay with them. I’m in good company, here in Kendal, which, as an old Quaker town, is remarkable tolerant. Alone in, I’m ashamed to say, a Northern sea of Brexiteers, victorious in their achievement of laying the foundations for the most vicious period of economic depression we have ever faced, South Lakes, as our little region is called, voted Remain (i.e. not Brexit). I’m rather proud of that…

My politics have always been complex. Raised in a socialist family, I later went into business and discovered the truth, good and bad, about the realities of living in an ‘aspiring’ society. I was one of the lucky ones. I took my chances and did okay. I wonder how many kids growing up now in Sunderland will be so lucky… and whether there will be any chances for them, at all.

I like to think I retained the ‘common touch’ at least from my Bolton roots. My philosophy, I’d answer, if I was pressed, is the kind use of intelligence; my religion; compassion. Simple, really, and not new at all.

“We just wanted to teach them a lesson…” It sticks in my mind like an itchy sore that the Monty Python doctor has said you can’t scratch…

We live in strange times, and, if you promise not to shoot me, I might just make regular posts from the alien world of the Bristly Hog… But I’m not ghost dancing… far too dangerous!

The Bristly Hog is a real place. Bring your open mind and have a lovely coffee!

©Copyright Stephen Tanham, 2016.

14 Comments on “The Bristly Hog: Ghost Dancer

  1. “Old ginger – 100 year old Chinese remedy. Boil large handful – chopped roughly – of old ginger in litre of water for 20 mins. Pour contents of pot into foot bath. Immerse feet when able. Remain till water is cold. Ancient Chinese remedy for gout – breaks down lactic acid deposits in feet and sweats them out. Incredible – must try.”- probably not much good for a Wounded Knee, Steve, but you could always have a couple of ginger nuts with your coffee…

    Liked by 1 person

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