This article is from the July issue of Total Politics
Quiet and beautiful places are the answer to relaxation and total detachment from the hot-house of Westminster and the treadmill of casework that dominates my constituency office.
And if it’s not that, it’s the arts for me, be it wandering through a gallery, listening to an orchestra and choir, or cheering local groups as they take part in the community carnival at Stockton International Riverside Festival, one of the best street arts festivals in Europe, which marks its 25th anniversary this year.
But it’s the quiet and beautiful places that recharge the batteries, which is why I value my touring caravan and remote camping sites well above luxury hotels, busy resorts and bustling cities.
After 10 years of touring all over Europe, but mostly in the UK, there’s still something rather special about driving onto a campsite, winding down the legs of the caravan – I believe I wind down at the same time – and looking forward to a few days’ relaxation and alfresco dining.
Being back in the homeland (I was brought south to England from Scotland as an 11-year-old in 1966, not a good year for a boy who was constantly reminded of England’s World Cup success) is really special.
We manage at least one trip ‘back home’ every year, and I never tire of the stunning beauty of Scotland, the purple-headed mountains, the wild moors and the mirror-images of the hills reflected in the lochs. There’s never any shortage of water there.
I also like the fact I’m never far from a whisky distillery, where I can buy another bottle of malt to add to my collection.
One recent trip to the Isle of Skye was among the best, and the weather was very good. I knew I had to visit the Talisker distillery, home of my favourite tipple, but wanted to know where else I might go. The advice from the young man in the Tourist Office was emphatic. In a broad, clear accent he said: “Sir, the weather in Skye is never as good as this for long – just go out there and look.” Great advice. And we did, picnicking, walking and looking at the most beautiful mountains, beaches and coast, a world away from politics.
The nights are good, too. There’s no TV, no newspapers, no signal for my BlackBerry, so it’s an opportunity to sit under the stars, malt in hand, staring into infinity. Ultimate relaxation.
But then there are the arts. World-class arts are a feature of my constituency, home to two major festivals, the Riverside Festival and the Billingham International Folklore Festival, both of which brings dancers and theatre groups from all over the world to north-east England.
I just love being on the streets or by the River Tees to experience the latest international productions. The scale is amazing, whether it’s lavish Bollywood dance productions, high-wire acts with motorbikes 30 feet above the High Street, dozens of actors in among the crowds and a spectacular firework finale.
You can understand why I won’t be dragged away from my constituency that weekend, caravan or not.
Alex Cunningham is the Labour MP for Stockton North