Welcome to Peter Caton books

Green Party Candidate

I am pleased to report that I have been selected to represent the Green Party as General Election candidate in the Hornchurch & Upminster parliamentary constituency.

A lifelong Upminster resident, I am aged 56, married with two children. I belong to many environmental organisations, am a member of Upminster Methodist Church and a West Ham season ticket holder. I run a company manufacturing water-based adhesives in Purfleet and am a part-time author, having written six books, mainly about walking and travel, two of which describe walks on the Essex coast.

I am standing for the Green Party because I believe that protecting our planet, its people and wildlife is the most important issue that mankind faces, and because I believe that we need a society and economy that are fair to everyone.

I am a firm believer in all forms of equality, improving public transport, supporting local shops and small businesses, support for science & technology, dealing effectively with the increasing problems of homelessness and preventing cruelty to animals.

This election should be about far more than just Brexit, but I support allowing the people to have the final say on EU membership, with a ratification referendum based on the best deal which our government can negotiate.

Locally I would push for improved bus services, a more effective and less damaging alternative to Thames Crossing Option C, reduced business rates to help local shops, protection of our precious Green Belt and for more social housing.

I believe that no vote is wasted and that every vote the Green Party receives is important as a demonstration of concern for our environment and for social justice.

The Costs of Self-Publishing

I’m often asked how much it costs to publish a book, so thought a brief summary on my blog might be helpful.

All my books have been self-published through Matador, who in general terms offer the same services as a traditional publisher but with two crucial differences.

Firstly, it is the author’s book, so whilst Matador will make recommendations it is the author who largely has the final say in edit and design. Secondly, it is the author who takes the financial risk, paying upfront for all production, printing and marketing costs, plus 15% on each sale through the normal book distribution system.

Matador produce an excellent book and are lovely people to work with. Beware some other companies who may be cheaper but often don’t deliver the profitable sales they promise. Matador offer a range of marketing services and it is necessary to take the most basic of these in order to gain entry into the trade market. My experience is that whilst they can open certain doors, it is the author’s efforts in gaining publicity and persuading shops to stock the book which has a greater impact on sales. The hard work is not done once a book has been written!

There is no simple answer to “How much does it cost to publish a book?” It depends on the type of book, how much (if any) is in colour, what extra services are required and the number of copies printed.

Essex Coast Walk has only black & white photos, so was cheapest of my six books to print. The next four books have colour photo sections which add to the cost and 50 Walks on the Essex Coast is in full colour. After realising with Essex Coast Walk that no matter how many times the author, friends and family read a book, errors will slip through (but were corrected in the reprints), I now always pay for a proof read. I don’t pay for an edit and take only the basic marketing package. Judging the print run is difficult but costs come down considerably with quantity, however one doesn’t want to be left with mountain of unsold copies.

A summary of production costs for 50 Walks on the Essex Coast, my most recent book, is as follows:

Pre-Press Costs (typesetting etc.)                  700

Trade Marketing & Mailing                            460

Proof Read                                                      288

Maps (not Matador)                                      1500

Print 1500 copies                                            3219

Delivery                                                          90

Total                                                      £6257

Based on the print run of 1500 (it’s looking as if I should have gone for more) this works out at £4.17 / copy.

With a selling price of £9.99 at first glance this looks to give a handsome profit but the next lesson for the self-published author is that they have to share the profit. Shops expect a discount of 40 – 55%, Amazon take 60% and Matador 15% to service the sales. It comes as a bit of a shock to find that a book that sells for £9.99 on Amazon nets only £2.50 to the author, which may be less than the production cost. I try to encourage people to buy from book shops (I have an arrangement Swan Books with my local independent to offer free p&p for which I further discount their price) but many will use Amazon. Even if these sales make little profit they are contributing to the total sales and without them the print run would be lower and unit cost higher. An alternative would be to try to push sales through Matador’s website, for which the author gets 85% of the selling price.

Profit is greater on books sold by the author but they need somewhere to keep them. I’m fortunate that my company has a warehouse where pallets of books can be stored. Some authors choose to take the whole print run from Matador and sell the books themselves, rather than the publisher supplying the retail trade and Amazon. Sales are then likely to be lower but the margin higher. The best profit comes from books sold directly to the customer; to friends, family and at talks or book fairs.

I’ve estimated a sales breakdown for 50 Walks on the Essex Coast which shows how the income varies widely according to the sales route. Estimating this breakdown is crucial when considering the finances of a book – including the selling price.

                                                                         Income              Estimated % of sales

Author sales to Customer                               9.99                           10

Author sales to Retailer (average)                  5.00                           50

Matador Website                                             8.50                             0

Matador sales to Amazon etc.                         2.50                           30

Matador sales to Waterstones etc.                  3.00                           10

Matador sales to Independent Bookshop        4.00                           10


This breakdown gives an average income of £4.95 / copy. Based on these estimates 1264 copies will need to be sold to break even and selling all 1500 will give a profit of £1168 (which would most probably go towards a reprint). Note that for a local book it is much easier for the author to supply retailers than one which sells nationally.

At 190 pages 50 Walks on the Essex Coast is shorter than my other books, but being in full colour and with a map for each walk, production costs are higher. A similar book but without maps would need to sell 961 copies to break even. A summary of costs and income on some of my other books gives further insight into the variability of self-publishing finance.


                                     Essex Coast Walk       No Boat Required       The Next Station Stop

Production Cost                      2.21                             2.83                             2.52

(Per Copy)

Copies Printed                         4000                            2000                            2000

Selling Price                             9.99                             12.99                           9.99


Average Income

Author Sold                            6.31                             7.94                             6.09

Matador Sold                          2.62                             3.66                             2.74


Sales breakdown

Author %                                34                                23                                21

Matador %                              66                                77                                79

Average Income                      3.87                             4.64                             3.44


Copies to Break Even             1574                            1220                            1465


Note that for Essex Coast Walk 1000 were printed, followed by another 2000 then another 1000 and that had these all been printed together the unit price would have been lower. It would have been more profitable to have printed 4000 in one go but of course only if they sold. I printed too few Essex Coast Walk, probably too many Stand Up Sit Down but think I’ve judged the others about right.

It should be born in mind that there will also be additional unforeseen costs such as storage and delivery. Matador charge £30 per month for storage of more than 300 books (of each title) so this can quickly eat into profits.

Finally, I should mention selling price. Other than No Boat Required, which is the longest of my books, I have priced all at £9.99. They seem to be considered good value at this price and whilst I could have charged more, my view has been that it is a threshold price above which buyers are less likely to make spur of the moment purchases. I would prefer more sales at lower margin, particularly as I now have six books published and readers of one very often go on to buy others.

So in summary the key factors are:

Production Costs – be aware of all the costs and for example that you may need to sell another 100 books to cover an extra £300 cost.

Print Run – It’s hard to judge but crucial to whether the book makes a profit or loss.

Selling Price – Find the balance between what will sell and what will make a profit.

Sales Route – Be aware of the percentage of cover price the author will get and where possible try to direct sales to the most profitable routes.

And my final advice, writing and self-publishing a book is very rewarding, but don’t expect to make any money!

Peter Caton

April 2017

My Next Book – Remote Stations

TB - Dent 013As anyone who has read my books will know, I enjoy finding remote places, travelling by train and walking. My next book combines the first two and includes some varied walks, as I travel around the UK seeking out our most remote railway stations.

Currently I’m about halfway through journeys which will cover 40 stations, a few closed but most where trains still call, if not always very often! I’ve travelled to the wilds of Scotland, including staying at a settlement that consists of just a railway station, two houses and a hotel where deer looked in the window as we ate breakfast, to lonely stations in the north of England amongst hills and beside the sea and have walked to long closed halts on Dartmoor and in East Anglia. Next on the list is the Heart of Wales Line, with its many remote stations to choose from.

I am including some of the remarkable stories and interesting history associated with the stations and the routes serving them, giving the book a strong railway theme but also appealing to those with a general travel interest.

Remote Stations will be published some time in 2018.

Talk 9th February – Walking the Essex Coast

20170125_124211I will be giving an illustrated talk describing some of my favourite walks on the Essex coast on Thursday 9th February in Frinton (McGrigor Hall. 6.30 for 7pm). Tickets are £5 from www.caxton-books.co.uk and include a glass of wine. All my books, including the recently published 50 Walks on the Essex Coast, will be on sale at 10% discount.

50 Walks on the Essex Coast

My latest book, a walking guide describing 50 walks along the Essex coast, the longest coastline of any English county, has now been published.


Peter Caton discovered the wonderful Essex coastline as he narrated his journey along its whole length, writing Essex Coast Walk (Matador, 2009). He now describes walks covering the entire publicly accessible coast, helping others to follow in his footsteps. Detailed route instructions are provided, along with high-quality maps, while background information and colour photos add context and interest.

Following rivers, creeks and open sea, on paths, tracks and promenades, often with circuits completed across countryside, the walking and views are varied. There is much history and wildlife to be seen as the walker discovers picturesque villages, smugglers’ haunts, nature reserves and little-known gems along the coast.

Walks range from 2 to 15 miles, with most having different length options, plus the possibility of linking adjoining routes. Produced in full colour, 50 Walks on the Essex Coast is an invitation for serious ramblers, or those looking for just an afternoon stroll, to discover the hidden magic of the Essex coast.

Copies are available now (post free) from Swan Books and will available from usual sources shortly.


The Boleyn Remembered


Upton Park, The Boleyn
Through good times and bad
So many memories
A stadium we owned
But sadly it’s gone
Now we’re renting in Stratford
A much bigger ground
But made for athletics, will that ever be home?

Alight here for West Ham1

Exit onto Green Street
Sights, sounds and smells cried – Football
The fans and the locals
I’ll buy any spares
The horse shit, fried onions
But never again2

The side entrance redundant
Now crowds are no more3

The Queens, with its dark bar
From whence on occasions
A special welcome awaited
For Spurs or Millwall4

Time for a burger
Thanks for the custom
Not wanted at Stratford
No room for the little man on the corporate Park
There big firms pay high rents
Burger prices to match5

Ken’s café where fans met
Talked over fry ups
Moaned of failed managers, hopeless players, bad owners and refs6

A pint in the Boleyn
Perhaps two, three or more
Strains of Bubbles float through the door
A home of West Ham7

Part of East End history
But will she survive?8

Wear your colours they once said
Now it’s scarves, half and half
Souvenier of the Boleyn
Or just laugh at Spurs
All consigned to the past
Just the club’s shop at Stratford
You won’t see me in there9

Jugs of beer on the tables
Sky TV in the corner
Still dominos played
All ages met here, but much to their shame, West Ham didn’t care
West Ham moved to Stratford
Supporters Club left behind10

A statute to heroes
T’was a place where we gathered
Focal point for the fans
What is there at Stratford?
M&S ain’t the same11

And so to the ground
Home of West Ham United12

The MDF towers
Naff, yes we agreed
But at least they were ours
And based on tradition, not corporate greed
The gates, they were famous
But now hidden away
No room in the Park for the West Ham way13
Ticket Office where we queued, with mounting frustration
But left clutching a ticket, relief or elation?

Priory Road, where as boys
We queued for the North Bank
Big games, would we get in?
The new stand, not the same, but still with a view
Built for football not just for Seb Coe15

Cheap tickets for Stratford
But Brady didn’t tell
That they were far from the pitch
Or that for a view
We’d pay just as much
As we had at the Boleyn
Before ‘history began’16

It wasn’t the South Bank
But no fights any more
Not the same as a terrace
But we still loved the Bobby17

No queue at the turnstiles
Fans still in the pubs
Roll out for the kick off
Just walk a few yards
Not a march to the stadium
No Stop Go boards here18

Fans met on the concourse
The beer wasn’t cheap
Songs sung at half time
The atmosphere warm
No cold winds like at Stratford
The bogs overflowed, but they were ours, so who cared?19

Not the same since the seats came
But good all the same
A ground built for football
Fans close to the pitch
The East Side a gap
Supposed to be temporary
A new stand to go there
But Gold, Sullivan & Brady
Saw more money elsewhere20

The Chicken Run
Ok not the real one
But the one most of us knew
Not the same with the seats in
Too far from the pitch
But much closer than Stratford
And with a spirit here too
Banter and laughter
We don’t hear any more21

The West Stand
The club named it by sponsors but nobody cared
To us it was The Rio, paid for by his sale
The transfer that signalled we’d never win leagues22

The Bobby Moore Lower
Here most of the fans
Were in 40s & 50s
Had stood on the North Bank, the South or the West
Or moved from the Chicken Run
We knew all the songs
The traditions, the history
We shouted at players, at refs and at ‘keepers
They heard us, reacted
Too far away now
If Brady had asked us, most here would have said stay
But these fans weren’t important
We don’t get a say23

Floodlights on the roof
Not iconic but worked
Except just that once versus Palace
When Frank Lampard had scored
Bets made in the Far East, were ready to win
Someone pulled the plug out
The match was abandoned
The crowd were sent home
Fat Frank’s goal erased
But we won next time round24

Fans stood at the Boleyn25

Or sat, if they preferred26

Choice for all
Sit or stand as you wish
We knew what was what
But those were the days
Before Brady decided
That fans who stand up
Don’t buy enough popcorn
So wanted us out27

A stand named after the master
There was only one
Trevor Brooking
Walks on water, or so we once sang.28

And in 2016, our club captain looked thoughtful
Mark Noble
He’s West Ham through and through
But did he really want to go?29

The flag’s dropped to half mast
It knows that we’re sad30

If only, if only31

And the saddest sight of all
Bulldozers are coming
Is it progress or not?
Teething problems at Stratford
Will it ever be right?
Perhaps for the new fans, with face paint and popcorn
Sad to leave our Boleyn
But the hurt would be lessened, for a real football ground32

If only they listened
We wanted a poll
Brady said that she’d hold one
But not if she might lose
And not ‘til the deal signed
Even then she rigged it
So we’ll never no
Did most want to stay, or did more want to go?


Peter Caton
November 2016

A Walk to Chapel Island – One of Morecambe Bay’s Gems

A short article can give just a flavour of the forty three very varied and often remote islands that I visited when writing No Boat Required, but Chapel Island in Cumbria epitomises the beauty, history and mystery of our tidal islands and the challenges faced to reach them.

Everyone to whom I mentioned my plan to walk across the sands to an island in Morecambe Bay expressed concern that I may not return to tell the tale. Such is the reputation of the sands since twenty three Chinese cockle pickers tragically drowned here in February 2004. Indeed it can be highly dangerous to venture into the bay and lives are lost almost every year. Today however I was to be in the safe hands of Ray Porter, a local fisherman and Duchy of Lancaster appointed official guide to the sands. I was joining a guided walk from Ulverston to Chapel Island.

The walk was run by Morecambe Bay Partnership, a charity who aim to improve the environment and quality of life around Morecambe Bay. Susannah Bleakley, a lovely lady who had organised the walk and enthused about the island and bay, was most interested that I was writing a book on tidal islands. She put me in touch with Jack Manning, a local fisherman, who in turn gave me the name of Jack Layfield, an authority on Chapel Island, who I arranged to meet before we set off.

After seeking directions from a handy policeman, I set out along the canal towpath that leads to the sea. With the sun shining brightly and a variety of birdlife on the water, it was a most pleasant walk down to Canal Foot and the shore of Morecambe Bay. I was soon distinctly warm and pleased to find the Bay Horse Hotel, once a staging post for coaches crossing the sands, which provided a most welcome drink.

1Stepping out of the pub, an elderly gentleman approached and said I must be Peter. This was Jack Layfield, but how he knew that I was the person to whom he’d spoken on the phone I had no idea. Whilst my teenage son had recently been stopped by the police in my parents’ home town of Ledbury for ‘walking with a swagger and not looking like a local’, I don’t think there was anything about my appearance to suggest my Essex roots (I’d left the Burberry baseball cap, hooded top and white stilettos at home).

Jack was clearly delighted to be able to tell me about Chapel Island, ‘his paradise’. He pointed out the channel of the River Leven, the river that drains from Lake Windermere and told me how porpoises used to chase salmon here. He told me about the railway viaduct to our left and how it had been strengthened in World War One to carry Welsh coal round the coastal line en-route to our fleet in Scapa Flow. Looking across the sands to Chapel Island, Jack said that 1871 census had showed it was inhabited, but that the only building now is a ruin. He wasn’t sure if I’d be able to climb up to this as it was surrounded by tall nettles.

As we talked the weather rapidly changed, the sunshine being replaced by heavy rain. Jack got on his bike to cycle home before he got too wet, while the forty or so walkers milled around waiting for the off. A couple of rumbles of thunder brought doubts as to whether we’d be allowed to go out onto the exposed sands, but then Susannah, having signed us all in, introduced our guide Ray. I’d expected a long safety talk but he gave just one warning:

‘If you start to feel you’re sinking don’t stop. Just keep going!’

Down the slope once used by stagecoaches and out onto the sands we went. A selection of cagoules and umbrellas, of hats and walking sticks, of young and not so young, plus the obligatory dog, heading off in pouring rain to wade through rivers and dodge quicksand, to find a tiny island and return before the rising tide would drown us all. Oh how very British.

Ray had already surveyed the safest route and taken his tractor to place flags at intervals on the sand. Hence we headed east from Canal Foot, soon crossing the first channel which was only about 15 yards across and knee deep. The water was surprisingly warm. The next channel, the main River Leven was wider, faster flowing and thigh deep. I lifted the bottoms of my shorts to keep them dry, but for the two young girls on the walk it was well over waist high. Even at low tide I could see how people could be swept away. I thought of Edwin Waugh’s account of his very nearly fatal trip to the island, which I’d read on the train from London (and which is described in dramatic detail in my book).

2As we got closer to Chapel Island I made my way to the front of the group to take a few photos. An oystercatcher greeted us, with its characteristic piping ‘kleep kleep’ call. Large numbers of these attractive wading birds, with their long bright orange-red beaks, live in Morecambe Bay, feeding on the abundant cockles and mussels. I already felt guilty that we were invading the birds’ island.

Jack Manning, who visits the island regularly to tend his nets, told me that until the 1990s there were about 100 gulls’ nests every summer, then in 1990 half a dozen eiders nested here. Their numbers increased year on year, but the gulls decreased, until in 2006 there were none at all. That week he had however seen one tiny gull chick with its mother squawking overhead. For the last three summers there had been 200 eider nests on the island and Jack Layfield had told me that this year some had laid a second batch of eggs. He was concerned that the visitors would disturb them, as he said that when startled the birds fly upwards, crushing the eggs beneath them. I saw one nest on the island, with four speckled eggs. I hope our short visit didn’t bring the birds harm.

3Chapel Island has rocky peninsulas at each end, with higher cliffs in the middle. We set foot on the eastern end and gingerly made our way across the slippery rocks. Footwear chosen for walking on sand and wading through water wasn’t ideal for clambering over rocks, and much care was needed. At the foot of the cliff was the skeleton of a sheep. The unfortunate creature must have drowned elsewhere and been washed up here, as there are no large mammals on the island.

There’s no path around the island, but we were able to climb onto the cliff and with much care walk half way around the perimeter. Centuries ago the island was larger, as much limestone was taken away for building on the mainland. The bore holes for explosives are said to be still visible. There’s a tradition in the villages along the Morecambe Bay shore that the stone was taken to Liverpool for use in construction of Mersey Docks.

With trees and impenetrable brambles to the cliff edge on the eastern side, we climbed down onto surrounding rock. From here it would have been possible to walk uninterrupted across Cartmell Sands to Flookburgh. This however hasn’t always been the case, as the Leven channel sometimes moves its position in the bay. In fact locals say that it used to change from one side of the island to the other every decade, but hasn’t switched since 1976, staying between Chapel Island and Ulverston.

Although Jack Layfield had doubted that we’d be able to get to the island’s only building, the ruined chapel, one of the group managed to get up the steep path through the trees. Wearing shorts I was more susceptible to the nettle stings and thistle pricks, but succeeded in following him and peeping inside without too much damage to my bare legs. The building is not quite as it seems and has an interesting history.

Original known as Harlesdye Isle, the island lay on the ancient route across the bay and would have been a safe haven for travellers caught out by the tide on the Leven Sands, considered to be the most dangerous in Morecambe Bay. In the 14th century Cistercian monks built a small chapel here to serve the needs of travellers and fishermen. It is after this that the island was renamed. The chapel eventually fell into ruin, but was recorded by William Wordsworth in The Prelude, Book Tenth after he visited the island on one of his several journeys across the sands.

4Nothing remains of the original chapel although the building which I climbed up to is often mistaken for this. In fact this was built in the 19th century by Colonel Thomas Bradyll, the then owner of Conishead Priory, which after the Dissolution had become a private estate. It was constructed to resemble a ruin to enhance the view from the priory, so rather than being the remains of a holy place of worship, the building is actually a folly, although none the less atmospheric and intriguing.

Chapel Island nearly became a railway station! In 1837 George Stephenson was considering alternatives to the hilly route over Shap Fell, which the main West Coast line to Glasgow now takes. His idea was to take the railway from Lancaster to Morecambe, before proceeding across the sands to Humphrey Head on the Cartmell Peninsular and then cross the Leven Estuary to Furness. The line would have passed through Chapel Island, which he proposed as a station. Embankments would have been built on the sands, with the area inside of these reclaimed. The scheme was eventually dropped and a line built from Carnforth to Ulverston. How different would the bay have been and what a sad loss of an island if the plans had gone ahead.

Close to the island were Jack Manning’s fishing nets. These are ‘baulk nets’, which are stretched out across the sand to catch fish on the ebb tide. Today they were ‘hung up’ (not fishing), with the bottom cord of the net secured along with the top cord, so fish cannot get in. When set for fishing the bottom of the net lifts on the incoming tide, allowing fish to pass, but falls on the ebb forming a barrier, ‘baulking’ the fish by preventing them going out to sea. Jack officially retired in 1997, but in 2006 realised that this particular type of net may never be used again, as it’s a labour intensive job to set it up. So that the method could be recorded for posterity he set up a net to film it. This actually renewed his interest and now he goes out to catch fish when he feels like it.

I’d been first to arrive at Chapel Island and was last to leave. I had found it to be of much interest and by its location, atmosphere, bird life and history, to be a very special place.

As we walked Susannah showed me a patch of quicksand. Not the most deadly type, but enough to feel our feet sinking. I have since read of a man who spent hours stuck5 fast in Morecambe Bay quicksands, unable to move, even to turn and see the incoming tide. With great fortune he was rescued by the emergency services just as the waters reached him. Not so fortunate were a man and his young son, stranded on a sand bank. As the waters rose the father put his son on his shoulders so he could continue to talk on his mobile phone, but even though rescuers could hear their shouts, the pair couldn’t be found in thick fog. The voices got weaker until all that could be heard on the phone was water, their two bodies being found later.

The Leven was still flowing out to sea as we waded back, but was now a good six inches deeper. Rain in the last couple of days was causing it to swell and even below waist depth I could feel the strength of the current and wouldn’t have wanted to be here alone. It would be a foolish person who attempted the crossing without a guide.

Back at Canal Foot, farewells were said and the other walkers got into their cars, while I strolled back along the canal. My visit to Chapel Island had been a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Susannah had promised to let me know when there was a walk to Piel Island and I looked forward to once more venturing out onto these mysterious and strangely haunting sands.

In No Boat Required Peter Caton takes us to explore islands, some familiar but most which few of us know exist and even fewer have visited. He finds that our tidal islands are special places, many with fascinating and amusing stories and each one of them different. It adds up to a unique journey around Britain.

No Boat Required can be purchased from www.swanbooks.co.uk

A Fair Poll?


As West Ham United move into the Olympic Stadium it seems a good time to post this article which I wrote for the supporters’ website www.kumb.com in February 2015, but which may have far wider relevance in terms of our understanding of opinion polls and surveys.

Football fans are a conservative bunch. Most have their matchday routines – travel, drinking, eating and a favourite seat or spot on the terraces. It is understandable that talk of a new ground, however much it may promise future success for the team, will cause unease amongst some supporters. In West Ham’s case opinions may be even more polarised. Some fans look forward to the iconic stadium, the trophies it may bring, the larger capacity and promise of cheaper seats. Others wonder why the need to move when the Club often have to advertise to sell out the Boleyn Ground, worry about views in a partly converted athletics stadium and are concerned that the promised cheap seats will be far from the pitch. What we do know is that 85% of West Ham fans backed the Club’s move to the Olympic Stadium – or did they?

Surprisingly there was no concerted campaign against the move to Stratford, perhaps partly as a result of the Club’s clever strategy in carefully controlling information. Instead a group of supporters, most but not all of whom opposed the move, set up WHU’S VIEW?, a campaign with the single aim of ensuring that an independent poll of fans took place before West Ham committed to moving to the Olympic Stadium, a procedure in line with the Football Supporters’ Federation policy. A poll was promised, but not run until after the deal had been signed.

WHU’S VIEW? suggested that the poll should be run by Electoral Reform Services, who carried out a poll determining the views of Everton supporters on their proposed stadium move. I personally proposed this at a Supporters Advisory Board meeting but it was not well received by Ms Brady. The Club chose to work with YouGov.

In May 2013 West Ham proudly announced that 85% of fans supported the Olympic Stadium move. The media duly reported that such a large majority of fans backed the move but there was still disquiet amongst supporters. Anecdotally many said they knew few in favour and questioned the poll result. A series of other polls had given very varied results, but none with such backing for the move. WHU’S VIEW?’s own poll, carried out in 2012 when it was unclear whether the Club would hold their one, showed that 88% of 2200 match-attending fans opposed the move. Perhaps the YouGov poll deserves closer investigation.

WHU’S VIEW? had asked for a simple Yes/No poll of season ticket holders and match attending members. YouGov’s poll covered the wider supporter data base and asked respondents to choose from six options:

  • I support the move to the Olympic Stadium because it will provide an overall better fan experience.
  • I support the move to the Olympic Stadium because it will provide the resources to improve the squad and build the Club.
  • I support the move to the Olympic Stadium because it will grow the Club to new levels of support.
  • I support the move because I trust the West Ham United Directors to make the right decision to take the Club forward.
  • I would consider supporting the move to the Olympic Stadium but need more information.
  • I am against moving to the Olympic Stadium under any circumstances.

Just one of these options opposed the move, however this wasn’t a simple no but indicated opposition ‘under any circumstances’. If tickets were a fiver, pies free and Lionel Messi guaranteed to be playing centre forward, who could vote no? It appeared to some observers that the questions had been selected with the aim to achieve the ‘right answer’.

It was though not just the questions that raised concerns. Supporters were not sent a simple ballot paper, or, has been suggested by WHU’S VIEW?, literature from those both for and against the move. Instead, West Ham prepared what could best be described as a marketing brochure, with many pages of information extolling the virtues of moving to the Olympic Stadium. The 85% who voted in favour did this after reading the Club’s ‘propaganda’. How many might have shown less enthusiasm for the move if the full unbiased facts or both sides of the argument had been presented?

In determining demand for a new product it is normal to seek the views of potential new customers, so arguably West Ham were right to poll the wider data base, although of course one would normally undertake such market research well in advance of a product change, not once a deal has been signed. It is however generally recognised that one’s existing long term customers are the most valuable and that it is easier to retain these than find new ones. Many therefore question whether both morally and commercially it was right to afford those who rarely attend matches the same say as loyal season ticket holders. Anecdotally it seems that a larger proportion of season ticket holders oppose the move but the Club chose not to publish such a breakdown of the poll results.

In 2013 West Ham announced a consultation with supporters on changing the Club crest. Leaving aside any discussion of the validity of this consultation and the selection of possible designs, the poll which followed deserves comment. Again West Ham turned to YouGov and again the Club’s views were presented with the poll, this time with a four minute video narrated by former player Tony Cottee, which had to be viewed before participants could vote. A narrow majority backed the change, which controversially incorporated ‘London’ onto the crest. How many were swayed by the Club’s video? Would the result have been different if other views or designs had also been presented with the poll?

Both polls were presented as ‘independent’. No one doubted that in YouGov they had been overseen by a respected independent organisation who had counted the votes, but some supporters expressed concern that the Club’s close involvement had compromised the polls’ independence. It was felt that West Ham’s choice of questions and presentation of one-sided marketing information may have influenced the outcome. In effect that West Ham had manipulated the polls to get the results they wanted and that YouGov had allowed this to happen. One KUMB poster referred to YouGov as ‘What result do you want Gov?’

I took up these concerns with YouGov, whose Managing Director Frank Saez had been quoted by West Ham when announcing the Olympic Stadium poll result as saying.

“The impressive response of nearly 12,000 completed surveys underlines the passion West Ham United fans feel about the historic move to the Olympic Stadium. The number of respondents is six times larger than typical survey sizes used for a robust research analysis.

“The immense turnout means the survey results provide a highly accurate reflection of the views of all core spectator groups including Season Ticket holders, Academy members and matchday attendees.”

Responding to my concerns, Mr Saez advised that the questions and responses had been discussed with West Ham and were in line with industry practices. He said that he was happy with the wording and did not agree that they were unfair or unbalanced. In response to the concern that providing marketing information with the polls which was very biased towards one point of view, could have affected the result of the poll, Mr Saez commented that YouGov cannot control this and that it is down to the client. He was however not concerned that the Club would not allow supporters to vote on the crest until they had viewed a marketing video and said that it is common for people to do this. He suggested that that I took up my concerns with the Club.

I put it to Mr Saez that some of the many polls that YouGov run could also be influenced by those commissioning them to get the results they want, with the suggestion that this is not what the public expect is happening when they see a poll published. Mr Saez expressed concern that misgivings about one survey should be used to draw conclusions about YouGov’s polls when they run a very large number each year. He said that YouGov claim to be the UK’s most accurate pollster, a claim which I would not seek to dispute.
Mr Saez made it clear that the West Ham polls were carried out according to industry guidelines and practice. I have no reason to doubt this and therefore wish to make it very clear that my concerns lie not with YouGov, but with the selection of questions and presentation of marketing information by West Ham United and the market research industry which permits such practice by the client in an ‘independent’ poll. I made several requests to Mr Saez to provide details of the relevant trade association(s) whose guidelines he was referring to, but received no response.
In August 2016 West Ham United will start playing at the Olympic Stadium. Whether the majority of fans wanted to move will never be known. It seems that the desire of the Club to ensure a positive result and a market research industry that appears to permit those commissioning polls to influence the result, have combined to undermine the truly independent poll that fans wanted.

An Evening of Coarse Golf

One evening every June or July my friend and I venture out onto a local course for our annual game of golf. We don’t have a handicap, don’t belong to a golf club and carry round a bag with a motley selection of clubs, most of which are more than thirty years old. We are part of that large group of golfers which the establishment pretend don’t exist but who hack our way along fairways up and down the country, the round considered a success if we don’t do anything too embarrassing – or if we do that not too many people notice. We are what Michael Green describe as ‘coarse golfers’ in his book, The Art of Coarse Golf, which makes highly amusing reading for those of us belonging to golf’s underclass.

So last Friday I met my friend for our annual round. To spare him from any embarrassment and me from a libel suit, it’s probably best that he remains anonymous, so let’s just call him Dave. It was however me who committed the first faux pas, the professional sending me out of his shop for entering whilst carrying a bag of clubs. At least our attire passed muster, unlike last year when my scraggiest shorts and t-shirt were deemed unacceptable and I was only allowed to play because the boss wasn’t there. I bought six of his cheapest balls, which he advised had been retrieved from lakes and would soon be back where they’d come from. How did he know?

The 1st hole passed without major incident but the 2nd provided ample evidence of our coarseness. Dave’s tee shot flew high but 45° left of the fairway, landing in trees out of bounds. Now even proper golfers play the odd poor shot but the difference is that they recover, firing the ball 200 yards towards the green. Dave on the other hand hit his next ball what seemed like 200 yards in the air but only about 30 yards forward – and once more at his favoured 45° angle. The thud of ball on wood and squawk of a couple of crows as they rose from the trees confirmed that he was once again out of bounds. Convention and good manners dictate that a golfer must not laugh at his opponent’s misfortune. Regrettably I adhered to neither. Still in order to win, a coarse golfer, lacking in his own abilities, has to rely on hoping that his opponent takes more shots than he does, even to the point of lending dodgy clubs. After many poor strokes that I like to blame on Dave’s clubs, I’ve learned to adapt my game to the odd selection in my own bag, despite possessing neither a six nor seven iron and the five iron being somewhat suspect after I bent it round a tree with the very first shot I ever used it for.

Barring several incursions into ponds and bunkers, the next few holes proceeded without undue incident, Dave even managing a par on the fifth. Despite needing ten shots on the 7th I was one hole ahead at the turn, and thanks to Dave’s excursions into the woods, six shots to the good. Remarkably, on the par three 11th we both hit the green but it was a mixed blessing. The three chaps in front assumed this was our normal golf and invited us to play through. Our attempts to decline were rebuffed so we were faced with every coarse golfer’s nightmare – an audience as we teed off. Inevitably Dave drove straight into a pond while I just cleared a ditch, the ball landing no further away than I could have thrown it. A remarkable turn of form (OK some disastrous shots from Dave, including two from bunkers that landed behind him) saw me win four holes in a row and looking good for a victory, but in course golf nothing is predicable. Before moving on however I shall take this opportunity to describe two of the most coarse golf shots it has been my pleasure to witness.

The first was played by my brother on the municipal course in Shrewsbury, where he achieved the remarkable feet of landing a ball on a railway line that was some way behind the tee. His drive was excellent in terms of power but poor on elevation, and slammed into the low concrete winter tee platform about ten yards ahead of us. From here it ricocheted at a great pace, passing just over our heads, clearing a hedge and landing on the Newport to Crewe railway line. A coarse golf shot to be proud of. The second was played at Risebridge in Romford, where to the right of the first tee is a putting green and behind that the clubhouse. It would take a shot of remarkable inaccuracy to trouble those on the putting green, but this one did. It flew at head height, requiring those practicing their putting to take immediate avoiding action, continued to the roof of the professional’s shop, where it bounced around a while, before coming to rest in a flower bed. Most golfers would hurriedly leave such a scene, but this one marched across the putting green, dropped his ball by the flower bed and hacked another shot in the vague direction of the fairway. I suppose at this point I should admit that the perpetrator of this fine coarse golf shot was my good self.

So back to the matter of last week’s round. Four holes up with six to play, the game was almost mine. A short put on the 13th would have virtually sealed it, but I missed it – and the next one. Dave won the hole and the next three. Our golf wasn’t improving although it did help our bird spotting, a pair of woodpeckers flying indignantly across the fairway, disturbed by another of my shots into the trees.

Golf is a cruel game. It never allows even the coarsest of golfers to entirely give up hope, so ensures that every round there is a shot or two that the player can be proud of. Shots that they can convince themselves are their normal game, while the other hundred or so were aberrations caused by external influences. It happened to me on the 17th. Two good shots, straight and in the air and I was putting for a birdie, a rarity that a course golfer might just achieve every three or four rounds. Clearly it wasn’t my turn today but a par took me to the last one up. I couldn’t lose!

I suspect that the designer of the 18th hole went through an unpleasant childhood experience which gave him a pathological dislike for golfers. Why else would you build a small green on an island and slope it so balls roll off into the water? Even the bridge is placed to the side, so no use to the coarse golfer who might otherwise choose to put over it. Despite having sent balls splashing into a selection of ponds and lakes around the course, we agreed that it would be unsporting to play short of the water and attempt to cross it on our second shots. Anyway there was no guarantee of the safety shot going anywhere near where intended, or of the second clearing the water. I played first, taking the trusty eight iron but with that fateful error of trying to hit it a bit harder than usual. Plop, into the water it dropped. Dave’s shot was longer but too far right and his ball too dropped into the lake. Quite ridiculously this is a par three, the designer making no allowance for penalty shots or lost balls. An under-hit wedge just cleared the water and with three puts I was down in six. Dave needed a five to draw the round but continued his fine coarse form, sending his ball over the water, right across the green and into the pond the other side and eventually taking eight.

Inspection of the scorecard illustrated our inconsistency as not one of the eighteen holes had been halved. A coarse golfer aims to beat a hundred. I’d failed by seven shots and Dave by a whopping fifteen. Our clubs have now been returned to their respective lofts where they will rest for another twelve months, but one evening next summer they will be down again as Dave and I once more seek to rediscover our younger form when scores were sometimes in the nineties but more importantly to complete a round of golf with only limited public humiliation.

An Evening in Scotland

So what to do after a meeting in Glasgow? Drive to the airport and fly home, or take a train to Pitlochry, climb to a little loch beneath the summit of Ben Vrackie, then catch the sleeper at 22.50, arriving back into London just before 8.00 next morning?

Most business people chose the former. They are probably tired after that 4am start to get to an airport, the waiting, the security checks, the cramped seats and more queues once they got to Scotland. They’ll have seen nothing of the wonderful Scottish scenery and by the time they get home will be ready for bed. What a day!

Last Friday I chose the latter. Meetings finished in Glasgow, I caught a train to Stirling, popped into the city for a bite to eat then boarded The Highland Chieftain on its long journey from Kings Cross to Inverness. As usual the train was busy, carrying a wide range of passengers on journeys long and short. An hour’s ride passing mountains, woods and rivers took us to the wonderfully situated Perthshire town of Pitlochry.

At the town’s attractive station another alighting passenger called out a loud greeting to his friend on the platform, only to be prodded by his embarrassed wife and told that he was looking at a stranger and the chap meeting them was further down the platform. Such incidents add to the variety of rail travel.

Stopping only to buy an ice cream (raspberry ripple – a long lost flavour that seems to have just been rediscovered) I followed a lane past one of our most beautifully situated golf clubs and was soon at the foot of the mountain. Negotiating a steep path through woods alongside a fast flowing stream and pausing only to bruise my leg on a hidden fence post, in less than an hour I was on the open mountain.

This is the best of Scotland; mountain air, wonderful views and great walking. Another mile or so of stony footpath took me to one of my favourite places – Loch a Choire below the summit of Ben Vrackie. It was the fourth time I’d walked here and whether sun, rain, daytime or evening, the still water nestling beneath the mountain top has a special atmosphere. I was the only person here and probably the only one left on the mountain.

Descent was faster than ascent and I was back in Pitlochry by ten. Time for a quick takeaway and wander down to the station. Dusk was falling as half a dozen passengers waited for our overnight train to London. I chatted to a gentleman from France who was here to take photos. His interest is sleeper trains and he’d travelled on them all over Europe. Sadly many are being axed but our wonderful Caledonian Sleepers seem safe with their own franchise and new stock under construction. Asleep by Perth, I woke as we approached Euston and was home by nine. Why would I want to fly?