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coventry-250x189

As the announcement was made on Thursday evening that their city had been chosen as the United Kingdom’s next City of Culture - ahead of the other contenders, Paisley, Stoke-on-Trent, Sunderland and Swansea - the people of Coventry were understandably jubilant. We will now watch with interest as they plan their programme of events for 2021, with those who organised the bid hoping to “change the reputation of the city” and emulate the success of Hull, the current UK City of Culture, where it is estimated that the local economy has been boosted by tens of millions of pounds and attracted £1 billion of new investment. In the meantime, here are a few facts about the Midlands city.

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I’ve been harbouring my dark secret for…well, it must be several years now, but in line with the old saying that “confession is good for the soul”, and finding that the burden of keeping it hidden from the world has become too much to bear, I’ve decided that it’s time to own up and face the consequences. It isn’t easy revealing what I am about to reveal. I know that it flies in the face of public opinion and what has become accepted by most right-thinking people as a normal, unquestioned position. In fact as soon as I have finished writing this I will be putting on some old clothes and bracing myself in readiness for the inevitable opprobrium that will be heaped upon me. (I don’t know what opprobrium is - some sort of building material like sand or cement? - but whenever it is mentioned it always seems to be being heaped upon people) I can only hope that by “coming out” in such a public way I will encourage other like-minded men and women, realising that they are not alone, to pluck up courage and do the same.

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A week ago I heard the astonishing news that one of my cousins who lives in the North of England had won £1 million on the National Lottery. My Uncle Michael had telephoned my sister to give her the glad tidings. Congratulations were asked to be passed on and light-hearted comments exchanged about how it was “all right for some” and the inevitable enquiry made into how he intended to spend the money. I haven’t seen cousin Derek for many years but immediately joked to my friends that, funnily enough, I had been intending to look him up and see how he was getting on, and that, although I might not have shown it, he had always been my favourite cousin and someone who I admired immensely. I then found out the times of trains to the small town on the edge of the Lake District where he lives, and said that I didn’t think he would mind when I turned up on his doorstep, suitcase in hand, and greeted him like a long-lost friend: “Derek! Great to see you again! How are you?!”

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I am sure that everyone who witnessed this year’s Invictus Games, which took place in Toronto in September, will have marvelled at the courage, skill and steely determination of the competitors in all their different fields. Since the Games were launched in 2014, Prince Harry’s brilliant concept of creating a multi-sport event for injured Armed Services personnel to demonstrate, in the Prince’s own words, “the power of sport to inspire recovery, support rehabilitation and demonstrate life beyond disability”, has really captured the public’s imagination.

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Given the riches to be found in every corner of our country, whether places of natural beauty, great history or human invention and discovery, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to discover that, of the 1,073 UNESCO World Heritage Sites scattered across the globe, 31 can be found in the United Kingdom and British Overseas Territories. And of those 31 sites, selected for their cultural, historical, scientific or physical significance, an impressive 18 are located in England, with the Lake District (pictured) becoming the most recent addition in July 2017. An article in our forthcoming edition of Explore England 2018 will look at them in more detail (click here to order your copy), but here is the full list:

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motorway-services-250x189

In the years since the first ones opened at Newport Pagnell and Watford Gap in 1959, they have become, for many travellers, a necessary evil. Yet despite being the butt of criticism and jokes - about the high prices of the food and drink in their cafes, the poor standards of service by their staff and the dull décor inside buildings that are frequently uninspiring and little different from one another - a recent survey has revealed that some of our motorway service stations are actually very good.

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I have been travelling a lot by bus lately, and rather like a naturalist who leaves his Land Rover behind and heads off to explore the local countryside and its flora and fauna, or a war reporter who forsakes the safety of his armoured vehicle in order to get closer to the action on the ground, it has given me an opportunity to encounter life up close on the front line: England’s front line.

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sir-teddy-taylor-250x189

They have gone down in history as the Maastricht Rebels - the band of patriotic Conservative MPs who, in 1993, putting their country and the concerns of their constituents before their party and their own careers, voted against the government of Prime Minister John Major on the implementation of the Maastricht Treaty (Treaty on European Union). Although the Treaty was eventually incorporated into British law, passing even greater powers of national self-government to the EU and continuing the relentless drive towards a United States of Europe, having stuck their heads above the parapet and set an example that gave strength and encouragement to Eurosceptics across the land, the rebels continued their guerrilla war against further European integration. There were 26 Conservative MPs who voted against their own governing party in the House of Commons and a further 19 who withdrew their support from the government by abstaining in the vote. A year later, because of their opposition to the EC Finance Bill, eight of them had the Conservative whip withdrawn and were expelled from the parliamentary party.

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newspapers-250x189

…and here are a few items that caught my attention:

A survey by the Office for National Statistics revealed that the most popular boys’ names in the United Kingdom in 2016 were: 1. Oliver, 2. Harry, 3. George, 4. Jack, 5. Jacob, 6. Noah, 7. Charlie, 8 Muhammad, 9. Thomas, 10. Oscar. The most popular girls’ names were: 1. Olivia, 2. Amelia, 3. Emily, 4. Isla, 5. Ava, 6. Isabella, 7. Lily, 8. Jessica, 9. Ella, 10. Mia.

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te-annual-18-250x189

We have just received the first copies of our 2018 This England Annual, a 100-page treasure chest of articles, pictures and poems (with a quiz to test your knowledge of England and a page of jokes to test your English sense of humour!) that many readers of the magazine now regard as a welcome “fifth issue”. As Christmas approaches, a lot of people also find that the Annual makes an attractive, great-value stocking-filler for friends and relatives. At the centre of the Annual we have included an eight-page “Seasonal Journey Through England”, a selection of stunning colour photographs depicting the English countryside in spring, summer, autumn and winter. The rest of the Annual is packed with articles. Highlights include:

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