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Ni! The most dreaded words in Ipswich

Connoisseurs of Monty Python will know the famous encounter in the Holy Grail with the Knights Who Say Ni. These knights are keepers of the sacred word ‘Ni’ which, when uttered, strikes fear into everyone around.

Like life imitating art, we have in Ipswich our very own Knights Who Say Ni. When you put an idea or a plan to them, they say “oh no, not here, that won’t happen, not Ipswich.” They are the Knights Who Say “Not Ipswich” – the people who strike fear into the hearts of anyone trying to do anything creative, exciting, ambitious or aspirational in our town.

We had a marvellous example of it this week – one that would have been funny were it not a symptom of the “Not Ipswich” brigade at its worst. I speak, of course, of the Great Christmas Tree Switch-on Affair.

It runs like this. The switch-on takes place on a Sunday night. Because of Sunday trading laws, the shops cannot open late. So when the Borough Council asked the retailers to pay, they rightly told IBC where to jump and suggested spending the money on cheaper parking.

In rides a Knight Who Says Ni from IBC’s fortress in Russell Road – a place so packed of Ni Knights that if you listen carefully, you can hear a constant hum of “ni ni ni ni ni ni” coming from inside.

Thus spake the Knight: “the set-piece countdown event has always attracted people, but over the last few years we’ve had to turn people away as there’s limited space”. Ah ha! Now, that’s a nice problem to have, you would have thought? Lots of people, more than you can accommodate? Obvious solution? Put on a bigger show, get loads of street stalls, make it a bigger family occasion, involve more of the town.

But not for this Knight and his fellows at IBC. No. Not Ipswich. The answer is simple for a Knight of Ni: just don’t do the switch-on at all. Well, not at night. Instead, do something that only the Knights could come up with – turn the lights on at 10 o’clock in the morning.

Pathetic. Happily, after the forces of Arthur rallied, the Knights were repelled and we have our switch-on back again.

They can be defeated these Knights, no matter how often they repeat “Not Ipswich, Not Ipswich, Not Ipswich”. Here’s how.

First, know your enemy. There are two kinds. There are the Known Knights Who Say Ni – and I’ll leave you to work out who they are. And then there are the Secret Knights Who Say Ni. You will find a whole load of them trolling articles on the Ipswich Star website – repeating “impossible!”, “it’ll never happen!”, “Not Ipswich!”. These Secret Knights are so secret that they never reveal their name. But they are almost as dangerous as the Known Knights Who Say Ni – because they spread depression and suck energy from the Forces of Good and Progress.

Second, to defeat the word Ni we must use our own sacred words: ambition, aspiration, effort, achievement. The Knights Who Say Ni hate these words, because they are the precise opposite of Ni.

Third, and conclusively, we will win by our actions. New schools, new flood defences, a new Heart Unit, new track, new bus stations, refurbished trains – over £200m of investment in four years: this shows the Knights Who Say Ni that we can achieve even more things – a Wet Dock Crossing, all schools Good or Outstanding, a faster, more reliable and better train service – and so much more. One day, these achievements will be so considerable that the Knights Who Say Ni will quietly slip away, and no one will ever again say “Not Ipswich”.

When that day comes, this warrior will be happy to give up his sword and declare the battle won. But until then, there are many battles with the Knights Who Say “Not Ipswich” ahead, battles that Ipswich cannot lose.

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