Sunday, 31 October 2010

Foodbank for Kent

The Foodbank for Kent website can be accessed here

Visit out blog:

ACT NOW Website

ACT NOW has a website. ACT stands for Autism Campaigners Together. A small group of people came together to form ACT NOW. The website is on my list of links to the right of my blog. It can be accessed also here

Please have a look at the site and support the cause.

There is a Facebook page also which can be found by clicking here

Civic Pride

Chesterfield has an imposing town hall and residents took pride in it, as well as the corporation's bus services, swimming pools, parks and other amenities. Queen's Park was (is) the jewel in the crown. Derbyshire County Cricket Club plays matches in the park and many a journalist has observed that the ground and its environs are amongst the most pleasant in England where county cricket is played.

Matches against Yorkshire and Lancashire were always very keenly contested affairs and I remember watching Clive Lloyd, Brian Statham, Brian Close, John Hampshire, and Fred Trueman playing and getting the 'bird' from Derbyshire followers. My earliest memory is watching the West Indies team which included Weekes, Walcott and Worrall.

In the 1960s the government moved the Accountant General's Department to Chesterfield and built new premises for it in the former goods yard of the Lancashire Derbyshire and East Coast Railway (which terminated at Chesterfield at one end and on just outside Lincoln at the other!) A new housing estate was built by the Council to house civil servants from the South-east and Harrogate. There was immense civic pride in Chesterfield over these developments.

Fast forward 40 years. Is civic pride what it was then? Did the insistence of the Thatcher governments that councils tender for services and privatise lead to a loss of civic pride? I believe it did and this is reflected in the nose-dive in the number of people voting at local elections. I read recently that Suffolk County Council plans to outsource virtually all its direct delivery functions .

I recognise that municipal ownership and operation of services is not always the most efficient or cost effective way of doing things. I do think though that too often we fail to distinguish between price and value and fail to recognise hidden costs and benefits.

I await with interest the development of the Big Society and Localism concepts of the current government. Will they lead to an increase in civic pride and participation in civic life, using the term 'civic' in its broadest sense? I hope so, but I have my doubts.

Nostalgia Corner (2)

Some pupils at the primary school I attended went to the Regal cinema on Saturday mornings. I went two or three times and decided it was not for me. I, along with a few friends, decided it was much more fun to explore the great outdoors.

We would head off towards the railways and canal which ran along the valley carved out by the Rother. Heading down Lockoford Lane we came upon the canal where its passed beneath the lane. On one side the derelict lock and lock-keepers cottage and the route to Chesterfield, the other side led into the country and Brimington. Which way to go?

In the Chesterfield direction we passed a breakers yard and saw the hulks of former London Underground carriages being dismantled and burned. A little further on we crossed a bridge over the canal and headed towards Tapton Park.

Tapton had within its grounds a school, Tapton Hall, which had been the residence of George Stephenson, the railway pioneer who surveyed the route for the Stockton and Darlington Railway and the North Midland Railway.

To reach the park from the canal we had passed over the North Midland Railway on a bridge known locally as the Skull and Crossbones. Why the name, I know not. I believed it had something to do with the ninety degree bend at one end of the bridge and the propensity of vehicles to leave the road. We left the park via a narrow footbridge over the railway. Here we would linger and watch the trains go by. We enjoyed standing over the track on which a train was approaching and being enveloped by a cloud of steam and smoke.

Then it was down the path to the railway footbridge over the Great Central line and in to Wharf Road. Here we passed derelict warehouses built alongside the basin of the Chesterfield canal. When constructed, the Great Central cut the basin off from the rest of the canal.

Nostalgia Corner (1)

I grew up in the industrial north. Collieries, iron and steel works, steam engines, stagnant canals and trams. All now swept away. Landscapes have changed beyond recognition. Collieries buildings have been demolished and spoil heaps flattened. Blast furnaces have been toppled and slag heaps removed. Steam engines have disappeared along with miles of railway track. Stagnant canals have been repaired and are part of the leisure industry. Trams and trolley buses have gone the way of all flesh.

The change has been remarkable and mostly for the better. I am not one to hark back and yearn for a 'golden age'. However good things have been destroyed in this change, inevitably so as they were part and parcel of what has been lost and not something distinct from it. What I mean by this will become clear as you read later posts.

One of my abiding memories is travelling through Kirkby-in-Ashfield early on Monday mornings. The road into Kirkby ran by the side of the Mansfield to Nottingham railway line and a set of sidings used by coal trains. Approaching Kirby there was an engine shed. Locomotives were raising steam and dense smoke rising from numerous chimneys drifted across the road and towards rows of terraced houses. On days with little wind the smoke hung over Kirkby. It was most unpleasant, but people lived with it, after all the collieries and railway were major employers.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Ted Jolley RIP

I met Ted Jolley for the first time when I was elected to Tunbridge Wells Borough Council in 1996. He represented Park Ward as a Liberal Democrat. His loyalty was to ideas, not the machinations of two-bit local political leaders. It came as no surprise when he moved to the Conservative Party. Later he was to represent Sherwood Ward as a Conservative and he was well-respected as a person who put the interests of his electorate before anything else.

Ted was a character and it saddens me that he died aged sixty-six. The political scene locally is the poorer for his going. Too many councillors are faceless, spineless robots who toe the party line irrespective of the damage the party line is causing. Ted said what he thought and voted accordingly.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Interesting times: must renew my political activity!

I retired from active party politics when this country went to war in Iraq.

Since then I have surveyed the party political scene with disinterest. I quickly came to the conclusion that the Labour Party's remedy for dealing with an issue, namely throw money at it, centralise decision making and micro-manage didn't work. Engaged as I am with people who make up the poor end of the socio-economic spectrum it was clear to me that health, education, benefits, housing, community empowerment and a host of other topics were not being tackled to achieve long-term improvement in the lives of disadvantaged people.

Casting round, I came to the conclusion that a radical overhaul was needed in all these areas. I was drawn to the work of the Centre for Social Justice and its range of policies which offered hope for a break with the past and failed policies. My MP had published a pamphlet on the role of the voluntary sector which I thought was eminently sensible.

I have been opposed to the concept of a united Europe for many years and viewed the failure to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty as an appalling breach of an election pledge by the Labour government. A growing awareness of the intrinsic unfairness of devolution arrangements and failure to address the West Lothian Question has seen the growth of far right organisations like the English Defence League fuelled by the Labour Party's failure to recognise, until far too late, the problems caused by mass immigration and the policy of multi-culturism. Chickens are coming home to roost: with a vengeance.

Locally we have a junta in the Town Hall which seems intent on attracting the wrath and displeasure of the citizenry as it pursues deeply unpopular policies.

My problem is that I find it difficult to decide which political party to throw my lot in with if I am to be politically active.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Last day

Today is my final day as a director of the Bridge Trust. The AGM is this evening and I am standing down.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Another cricket tale

A local cricket league I umpired for was a hot-bed of intrigues, hostilities, vendettas and the black art of mind games - and that was off the field!

Some clubs had a mutual loathing going back decades and the paramount duty of their players was to win at all costs. The concept of something not being 'cricket' was alien.

The gamesmanship, indeed outright cheating, engaged in by clubs and players could make life very difficult for umpires. I was appointed to stand at a match between two clubs who were very hostile towards each other. The reason for this had something to do with an affair between the wife of the wicket-keeper of one club and the secretary of the other club. Matches had been known to end prematurely in fights. Bowling beamers, appealing for catches when the ball had gone to ground and tampering with the ball was to be expected.

On arrival my heart sank, my fellow umpire had failed to turn up. I would have to stand at both ends and the square leg umpire would have to be a person agreed by the two captains. Par for the course, the captains would not agree. My response was to ask each captain to nominate one person and I would toss a coin to determine who would undertake the square leg duty. The 'winner' was the secretary of the home club.

The captains tossed and the home side decided to field. After a few uneventful overs the home side brought on their spin bowler and the wicket-keeper stood up to the stumps. The bowler was spinning the ball prodigously and has the batsmen groping. However accuracy was not a strong point, so we had quite a few wides.
Then the bowler sent down a ball, it spun, went behind the batsman and the next thing that happened was the bails fell. Unfortunately I did not see the ball hit the wicket. I glanced to the square leg umpire who had his finger up. I must admit I had thought the ball had spun so much it would have gone between the batsman and the wicket and popped out on the leg side.

The same events happened for the next four wickets. The visiting team vented its fury. What was happening was that as the ball passed the stumps the wicket keeper flicked off the bails with his pads. This I could not see, but the stand in umpire at square leg could.

Coming off the field at the end of the visiting team's innings I was accosted. The visitors accepted that I had had to rely on the square leg umpire for the decisions. Tea was tense.

When the visitors fielded retribution was quick and effective. Five times the ball hit the pads of home team batsmen. Five times my finger was raised. Were they lbw? Of course, the umpire said so.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

NHS Shambles

My wife has a small cyst just to the right of her right eye. A visit to her GP resulted in her attending the Ophthalmology Department at Pembury Hospital on 30th June. On the 7th July the Department wrote to my wife's GP stating that the diagnosis was a retention cyst and the plan of action was excision and cautery under LA in minor ops clinic.

The date for this was fixed for 6th October and I took a day's holiday leave to take my wife to the hospital. Half an hour after the appointment time my wife met me in the hospital grounds and informed me she was not having the minor operation.

At the hospital she was handed a letter which states:

Dear Patient

At your consultation today you have been assessed but the treatment recommended by the consultant does not meet the criteria required for NHS funded surgery. Information on these criteria, which are agreed across Kent and Medway' can be found by accessing 'Kent & Medway list of low priority procedures and other procedures with treatment criteria or thresholds (March 2010)' on your PCT's website.

Your consultant will inform your GP that the recommended procedure falls outside the agreed criteria and explain any further management from a clinical perspective.

You will also receive a copy of the letter from the consultant to your GP.

You are therefore being discharged back to your GP.

This course of events poses a number of questions and issues.

  • The date of the document referred to in the PCT letter is March 2010. Was this criteria in place when my wife visited the clinic on 30th June or the letter sent to her GP on 7th July? My suspicion is that it was not as the PCT site mentions that the review of the criteria is ongoing.
  • Assuming the criteria was agreed between 7th July and 6th October why was it applied retrospectively?
  • The appointment at the hospital was made on 30th June. Why was my wife not informed that the procedure would not take place? She and I have each lost a day's holiday.

Apart from being asked if her eyesight has worsened, my wife was not examined. Surely it is not beyond the wit of the NHS to write to a patient informing them that their appointment has been cancelled? Clearly in this case it was beyond the NHS's capacity.

Time to go Roy.

"You have sat here too long for any good you are doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!" Amery to Chamberlain.

Who is going to say the same to the Leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council? Send for the men in grey suits.

Monday, 4 October 2010


An activity I enjoy is browsing in shops selling second-hand books. Many a time I have visited Hall's in Tunbridge Wells and no holiday of mine is complete without a visit to the local second-hand book shop(s).

My particular interests are transport history - roads, canals, railways and industrial history.

My most recent acquisition is volume entitled Liverpool in the age of the tram. What is interesting is the photographs of street scenes in the 1950s: the clothes people wore, the very few cars on the roads, the advertisements and of course the trams.

Trams disappeared in the UK, apart from Blackpool in the 1960s. Now we are busy building new lines; Croydon, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham and Nottingham all have systems and other towns and cities wish to follow, although the economic climate will put many a scheme on the back-burner.

The Docklands Light Railway is really a tram system and was the chosen means of rejuvenating the economy in East London.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Lottie Betts-Priddy. Who?

I support The Lottie Betts-Priddy Educational Trust which seeks funds to help rebuild Sierra Leone through education. The Trust is supporting the work of two schools both of which have premises which are in a deplorable condition. The initial target is £27,000 which will be used to bring about a huge improvement to the facilities at each school. Please click on the link for more information. Any help or support you can give will be appreciated.

In recent weeks I have been assisting the Trust review its business plan: setting priorities and action points.


Even if you do not live with someone with Autism, please show your support for ACT NOW Autism Campaigners Together, and sign their online petition to help stop benefit cuts. Anyone who is a UK resident age 18 and over can sign. PLEASE ACT NOW! Thank you.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Bed of Nails

I have been active in the voluntary sector since 1996, as a volunteer, self-employed or in paid employment. Most of the organisations I have had an involvement with have not been working in areas which generate the 'aah factor' with the general public. Homelessness, mental health, debt and food poverty do not send the collective pulse racing. Now, had I engaged in activities relating to animals, lifeboats or hospices life would have been so much easier.

Tunbridge Wells Mental Health Resource

I joined Tunbridge Wells Mental Health Resource as a director a few years ago. It has been through some turbulent times: in recent years it has been a settled organisation. Fund raising for mental health is challenging! Most of our work attracts statutory funding but mental health is not a major priority and suffers more than other parts of the health service, both in the commitment of funds and in cutbacks.

Proposals to abolish primary care trusts and place funds into the hands of GPs (or more likely, consortia of GPs) does not augur well for mental health. A further uncertainty is how district councils will approach their involvement in health issues. The move towards tendering for services, in place of the making of grants, again will produce uncertainty.

Non statutory funding is difficult to secure, even in the 'good' times. Grant giving trusts have been hit by reduction in the value of their holdings, loss of income though reduced dividends and low interest rates. Individual giving has been hit also in the current economic climate.

So, difficult times ahead. For some reason society puts its head in the sand when mental health is discussed. The evidence is that one person in four will have a mental health problem at some stage in their lives. Why then the reluctance to fund organisations which help people overcome their problems?