Saturday, 31 December 2011

What a Wonderful Year!

On New Year's Eve, it's customary to reflect upon the last twelve months - and what a tremendous twelve months I've had!

It started in January with us recruiting three new directors to the board of the Food and Drink Festival - and we've never looked back since!

Then I became a complete 'anorak' and had a long weekend on my own playing on steam trains in Somerset in March.

In early May I ended my involvement in local politics. I did not stand for re-election after eight years on the Town Council and four on the Borough. I did, however, take great pleasure in helping Philip Leason become one of the  very few independent candidates to get re-elected.

A fortnight in the sun on a Greek island with daughter, son-in-law and the three grandchildren followed in May.

And on our return we made good use of the caravan on several occasions over the summer.

June saw me starting this blog. And I've managed to keep it up to date! Nearly one hundred postings, several dozen comments and compliments and over two thousand page views. Very fulfilling!

In October we held the most successful Food and Drink Festival ever - very much helped by superb weather. And what a fantastic band of volunteers we've now got supporting us!

And in November, the 25th anniversary Bonfire and Fireworks achieved a record gate which enabled us to make another record distribution to the various groups and bodies who helped in the organisation!

In early December a very exciting project was agreed upon involving the Food and Drink Festival - but you will have to wait a little longer for us to publish the details!

Then Jan and I were presented with our sixth grandchild - just before we sailed off on our first cruise, a week in December on the North Sea!
And we've just enjoyed a fantastic Christmas - Christmas Day with friends and the next three days with family. And tonight we finish the year with a dinner party here at home with a group of neighbours
Life is so good! I hope 2012 is just as good!


Wednesday, 28 December 2011


On Christmas Eve I had to make a last minute, panic purchase trip into town. You'd have thought with 364 days notice we would have managed to get the shopping organised beforehand! And I wish I hadn't gone because what I saw has upset my Christmas. Outside Ethel Austin and the Carpet shop I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw this monstrosity.

I guess it is something to do with the new electricity supply for town events. I understand the previous supply had been declared inappropriate for it's new uses, e.g. Farmers' Markets and town events etc. So the unobtrusive old supply has been replaced by this eyesore.

Bearing in mind the stringent planning controls that apply to any development in the High Street due to it being a Conservation Area, I can't believe that this galvanised tin box has been allowed. And apart from it's size, shape and colour, I sincerely hope that the brick paving around it's base will be repaired to replace what I hope is only temporary tarmac.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

A very Happy Christmas to you all!

Well, it's 3 o'clock on Christmas Eve afternoon and we're almost there! What with the new grandchild and our cruise, Christmas has suddenly arrived! We're just so laid back about it this year I can't believe it!

I have a lovely feeling that we're going to end a wonderful year with a fantatsic Christmas!

I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Time for a parking policy rethink?

A few disconnected thoughts!

A couple of weeks ago I bought a copy of the Sentinel which carried a banner headline that Stoke City Council are considering reducing their parking charges next year! They've reached the conclusion that the increase in charges last year has had a detrimental impact on the city's economy. Fewer people are going up to the Potteries to do their shopping. Surprise! Surprise!

Then a few days ago I was in a well known shop in the town and was immediately engaged in conversation by the owner who thought I was still on the council. She was complaining bitterly that her takings this year are down on the same period last year due - in  her view - to the difficulties her customers are experiencing in parking in the Station Road to pop into her shop. Several of her customers had vowed never to come shopping in Stone again due to having received tickets for overstaying their time by a matter of a few minutes.

Then I saw a headline in the Newsletter about tickets being issued to church goers in Margaret Street. This came as no surprise to me, having watched Traffic Wardens 'hiding' around the corner of Station Road just waiting to pounce on motorists who were unaware of the new timings in Margaret Street.

And today I've just read the Mary Portas Report, commissioned by the Prime Minister, upon the future of High Streets. An extremely good report which should be compulsory reading for every councillor - particularly the section about parking!

So where am I going with this posting? Simple. It's high time that the provision of good and ample parking is recognised as being essential to the viability of any town centre. Local authorities should regard parking provision as a necessity and an incentive to attract people into towns and not, primarily, as a source of revenue.

In my view Stafford Borough Council need to look afresh at their attitude to parking provision in Stone. In order to better inform the debate, I have today sent a Freedom of Information request to the Borough Council to find exactly how many tickets have been issued by wardens to motorists on the streets of Stone in the last six months and how much the Borough has received in parking fines from them. I'll keep you informed!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Our new grandson - update

For the benefit of family and friends, here's a quick update on Alison and Richard's new baby! Within a few days of hearing the news, we packed an overnight case and dashed down to Dartmouth for a quick visit!

What a little stunner he is! A mass of dark hair and a thirst like his step-grandfather! And, oh, was grandma a happy bunny?!!!

A very proud Grandma with Thomas

We only had time for an overnight stop - we had to get back to pack for our week on the high seas and both Alison and Richard were rather tired in any event. However it was great to see them.

And we've since heard that they've chosen the names - Thomas Edward Sampson Bland. Ali was quick to explain that the name Samson was chosen after the name of an island in the Scillies that they both love and not because of his long black locks!

The diet's on hold!

I have to report that my diet has suffered a very serious set back! In fact, it has now been postponed until after Christmas! The reason? A weeks cruise on a luxury Fred Olson cruise ship, the Boudicca, around the Christmas markets of the Sweden, Denmark and Germany.

Janet has always believed herself to be a poor sailor. On the very few occasions we have crossed the Channel by sea, she has always stuffed herself full of Stugoron and found the nearest bar! And it's why we have spent a fortune taking the caravan abroad through the tunnel. So it was with great surprise that she instantly agreed to an invitation from friends to join them on Regent Travels 25th anniversary cruise last week! Yes - a week's cruising in the North Sea and the Baltic in December!

Our floating palace - moored at Bremarhaven before the gale!

Well, it tums out it was all in her mind. We have had a wonderful week! From Portsmouth we sailed up to Gothenberg, down to Copenhagen and then through the Kiel canal to Bremerhaven. All in total luxury! I don't know why but we were upgraded to a deluxe suite. The staff and crew were so friendly and efficient. And the meals were just superb! Full buffet breakfasts - healthy fruit followed by a full fry every day! Either an a la carte lunch or, again, a vast choice from the buffet! Afternoon tea with sandwiches, cakes and scones. Then a five course evening dinner with at least five choices of mains! And after a show each night, a midnight buffet (including fish and chips) was available but, by that stage, I was a beaten man!

The only slight disappointment was that we were unable to dock in Zeebrugge last Friday to visit the Christmas Market in Bruges due to us being in  a storm force 10 (yes - ten!) gale. The pilot was unable to get out to us so I sat and watched in amazement as Jan picked the meat out of a lobster at lunch as the mother of all storms raged outside the restaurant window! And the lobster was only for starters!

So we're now back on terra firma and the scales don't lie! With Christmas already under way I've had to accept the inevitable - I won't be losing any weight between now and Twelfth Night!

Friday, 9 December 2011

Nothing but trouble ahead.

I woke up early this morning and put the earpieces in to listen to 5Live and caught the breaking news of Cameron's defiance at the Brussels summit. So the rest of Europe will now go off and do their own thing and Britain's role in Europe will be further diminished. John Major's group of 'bastards' (his description of the eurosceptics in his midst) will feel empowered and the coalition's fault lines will suddenly widen.

I've always thought that it would be the European issue which would ultimately bring down Cameron and the coalition but never thought it would begin to happen so quickly. The likes of Bill Cash and his henchmen would have us out tomorrow and then we truly are finished.

But it's even more dangerous than that now. Because everything is now in the same melting pot - Britain's role in Europe, the future of the Eurozone and the euro - and  the global economy.

The Dad's Army catchphrase "We're all doomed" may become very apt in the weeks to come.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Another massive Bonfire payout!

Regular readers of my posts will know that this year's Bonfire and Firework display was a fantastic success. Last night we held our debriefing meeting and listened intently to a very happy Treasurer presenting his report. Record gate receipts and the biggest firework display ever set off in Stone!

Despite the increased cost of the fireworks - to celebrate our 25th anniversary - the record gate meant that we could again distribute a record amount of - wait for it! - £11,000.

The Stone Bonfire and Fireworks event is organised entirely by volunteers from local youth and community groups. Each year the excess over income is apportioned amongst the groups. So this year the Army Cadet Force, local Scout and Guide groups, a local PTA and several other community groups will all benefit from their labours.

This event is a true community event. Organised entirely by volunteers from groups in Stone for the benefit of the people of Stone and any profits going back into the community groups for the future work of those groups in the town - it doesn't get any better than that!

I was flattered when I was asked to take over the Chair a few years ago and I continue to feel honoured to be involved with such a fantastic group of people. A massive thanks to them all and to our several sponsors and supporters.

And another date for your diary - next years Bonfire and Fireworks will be on Saturday 3rd November!

Monday, 5 December 2011

A 'buzzing' Farmers' Market!

Stone's Farmers' Markets just get better and better! And by all accounts, from shoppers and traders alike, Saturday's market was the best yet!

A huge crowd turned out to enjoy the chilly but dry day under a beautiful blue sky. By mid morning the High Street was heaving and stall holders were doing a roaring trade. Stone Town Band played carols outside the Crown Hotel. You could avail yourself of the offer of a Free Hug (I declined!).  An accordion playing busker supplemented the live music on offer. And you could take in the aromas of smoking kippers and frying burgers. What a wonderful festive atmosphere!

By midday, several stalls were selling out fast! And come early afternoon, many stall holders were packing up to go home - all with smiles on their faces! And chatting to some of them it became obvious all had done well. As one said "it was just buzzing today"

And the good news is that there will be a Farmers' Market in January!. For several years past, the first Saturday in January has always fallen within days of New Year so we've never had a market in January. But this time there's almost a full week in between. So it has been decided to continue with 'the first Saturday in the month' format - so put Saturday 7th January in your new diaries now!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

You always remember where you were when......

It's a fact that if you are old enough you will always remember where you were when President Kennedy was assasinated (I was in my bedroom studying for my finals) or when Elvis Presley died (we were on holiday in Cornwall).  And most people remember when 9/11 occurred. Well, yesterday I was able to add another memorable event to the list - the moment we heard the news that Janet's daughter, Alison, had given birth to our sixth grandchild! We were in Cadbury World!

I think Jan had almost given up hope of either of her two daughters bestowing grandchildren upon us. Alison married a few years ago and seemed to be quite content to approach the ripe old age of forty rowing gigs on the River Dart and working in Richard's business. But then we received the fantastic news earlier in the year that she was 'with child'!

Well, yesterday, we took two of my daughter's children, Ellie and Will, out for the day because their school had closed due to the strike. We were halfway around the Cadbury World tour when Jan looked at a message on her phone and I immediately saw the most wonderful smile spread across her face! She passed the phone to me to show me the text message - Ali was in labour! Within the hour, another message that it was a baby boy! And Jan has never stopped smiling since!

A wonderful day with two of our grandchildren was made even more memorable by the wonders of text messaging announcing the birth of another! Truly, a day to remember!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

It's a mucky job but someone has to do it!

A lot of people think that putting on a food and drink festival is just a question of a few committee meetings during the year and a bit of rushing around in the weeks before hand. If only it were that easy!

For a start, there's so much research that needs to be done! Like attending similar events and picking up tips from other shows. New chefs, new products, new stall holders, new ideas etc. etc.

So last Thursday I had to go to the NEC and traipse around the BBC Good Food Show and on Saturday another long drive to the Ludlow Medieaval Fayre. And some people think this is fun!

Seriously, I spent two great days out. The Good Food Show is the biggest show of the year and I was able to pick up several good contacts. Not as big as last year's show - a sign of the times - but  some interesting new faces. And Ludlow was great fun as usual. It also gave me chance to meet  up with and share a couple of pints (from the Ludlow Brewing Compnay) with Dave and Phred, our electricians.

We are constantly trying to improve our festival to avoid it ever being said that it's always the same. That's why these trips are necessary. So it looks like I'll be on the road again a few more times before next October!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Monte Carlo - or bust!

What a treat we had on Sunday morning! A classic car rally called into town for their first stop on their way from Chester to Monte Carlo. Thirty wonderful classic cars! And I remembered every one! I really am getting old.

There were some absolute beauties. A 1939 Volvo in pristine condition. An ex works Austin 1800. Several Mercs and Porsches. And a couple of minis (why didn't I keep mine?) and a Harry Potter coloured Anglia. Plus a Sunbeam Tiger to remind me of how close to death I came when I spun one on Gailey roundabout in the early 70's. Oh, memories, memories!

If only I'd kept mine!

The cars were booked on the overnight ferry and expected to be in Monte Carlo by Thursday. From the sound of some of the engines, I have doubts whether they'll all make it!

And why wasn't it better advertised? I'm sure there were loads of Stone people who would have loved to have been there. If you missed it, there are several photos on the Little Bit of Stone website.

The Felons Dinner

Last Friday evening I joined  one hundred upstanding citizens of the town and sat down for dinner in the Crown Hotel on the occasion of the annual dinner of the Stone Association for the Prosecution of Felons. 'The Association for what?' I hear you ask! Well, let me explain.

In days of yore and long before a police force was ever invented, local businesses were often the targets of criminals who sought to burgle, steal and rob. So local businessmen formed themselves into associations to fund the arrest and prosecution of these felons. Then Robert Peel came up with the idea of police officers and the associations job was done. However, some associations continued to meet socially for dinner on an annual basis to perpetuate the memory of times gone by.

In Stoke-on-Trent I was once a member of the Burslem Association which, for years, proudly proclaimed itself as the oldest in Staffordshire. My father was a member of the Hanley Felons, regarded by Burslem as a young upstart! But then, a few years ago Philip Leason, Stone's best known historian, discovered an advertisement in a old newspaper of 1782 inserted by -  yes, you've guessed it - the Stone Association for the Prosecution of Felons! Several years earlier than Burslem's birth date!

So a small committee was formed and the annual dinner of the Stone Association now takes place every November in the Crown Hotel where we are treated to good food, good wine, good company and, hopefully, good speeches! This year we were not disappointed. Ian Dudson, former Lord Lieutenant of the County, gave a fascinating speech about his year in office, Ian Moxon responded in his inimitable fashion and the Deputy Chief Constable, standing in at late notice, gave us a few of the facts of life of modern day policing - such as, how to cope with £38 million pounds being cut from your budget of £200 million over the next two years? Apparantly, you freeze recruitment and retire your expensive top brass! It helps to balance the books but, I wonder, what problems will that create in future years? I don't envy them the job.

However, the Deputy Chief seemed in buoyant mood and everyone present had a great evening. Congratulations to all concerned - it's good to revive traditions, especially where it involves good food and drink!

The lights are on!

Last Thursday hundreds of people went down to town to see the Christmas lights switch on event. I was slightly disappointed. Yes, of course, there was a good turn out - there always is. And yes, the school children were great. The Town Band did their bit. The Town Mayor pressed the button and Santa  gave the kids a wave. And the kids loved the fair ground. All very predictable

But compared to some of the switch -on events we have staged in the past, it was a poor show. Hire in Signal Radio and Warwick's Fairground and let them get on with it seemed to be the plan. No buzz, no wow factor. Or am I just being a miserable former councillor?

Thursday, 17 November 2011

The diet begins now!

Those who know me well will be well aware that I begin a diet at least once a year! So far this year I've managed to ignore the obvious signs but on Tuesday I had to face reality!

On Friday I'm off to The Crown for a formal function so I thought it would be sensible just to check the old evening suit and shirt. First the shirt. Now that I'm retired I rarely have to wear a shirt and tie so the top buttons of my shirts never get buttoned up. I chose the 17 inch collar just to be on the safe side and much to my horror realised that I would strangle myself to do it up.

So then I tried the trousers. Bear in mind that I bought a new suit, for the same reason, two years ago! No chance. The waist band gaped a good inch at the tightest!

So, folks, it was off to the nearest retail outlet to flash the plastic. I didn't lash out on an expensive outfit because I won't be needing it long. I've started my final diet! I've set myself a target of losing three stones over the next twelve months. Of course I can do it. I'm a very experienced slimmer. I've done it loads of times!

So, in a couple of months, if you know anyone who wants a rather large size evening suit give me a call. I'll have one going really cheap!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The last Post

I saw on Twitter last night that this week's edition of the Stone Post will be the last. It's owners are closing it down. I have to say I am not surprised. Freebies rely entirely on advertising revenue to survive and, in this day and age, advertising budgets are amongst the first to be cut. Add to that the fact that competition is fierce in the town with three or four other very local publications fighting for the same advertising pound and it was obvious one would have to go.

I've criticised the Post in the past for its sloppy and lazy journalism and for its fixation with 'knocking copy'. But, having said that, it did make a good attempt to cover more local issues than its main, 'paid for' competitor. So I mourn the loss of The Post and have come to terms with the fact that we shall all become more reliant on websites, blogs and social media sources for our fix of local news and gossip in future.

A tale of two breweries

One of the few bonuses of being the chairman of Stone Food and Drink Festival is that I, necessarily, have to keep my finger on the pulse of the local scene regarding anything to do with food or drink!

So when, as happened a couple of years ago, I heard that a new brewery was about to open on the old Bents site on the Mount estate, I was round there in a flash. I quickly introduced myself to Brad and from then onwards we've been the very best of mates. At the time, he was worrying himself silly as to whether his very first brew as Lymestone Brewery would be ready for that year's Food and Drink Festival but he need not have worried! It was and the rest, as they say, is history. Lymestone has gone from strength to strength and Brad is now about to expand into the vacant unit next door. It has given me great pride and pleasure to have been able to watch the growth and success of Lymestone and to have kept in touch with Brad and Viv along the way.

And the same can be said for our other local brewery, Titanic. A few years ago, we had a daft idea of having a beer tent on Westbridge Park during the Festival.  So, on the off chance they might be interested, I arranged to meet Dave Bott in the White Star in Stoke to discuss the idea. Well, I've never stopped admiring the bloke since then. Yes! He would be very keen to sponsor the beer tent! Yes ! He would be willing to sponsor the Real Ale Trail! Yes! What was the question? And then he dropped a quiet little question into the conversation. 'Can you keep a secret?', he asked. And that was when I first learnt that Titanic had just signed the papers for the Royal Exchange pub in Radford Street! The first Titanic pub outside the Potteries! Then, a year or so ago, I was invited to the opening of The Sun in Stafford where I've spent several happy hours since.

And then yesterday lunchtime I shared a seafood platter and a bowl of chips in the latest Titanic venture - The Roebuck in Leek. A super plateful in great surroundings. Dave has applied the Titanic treatment to a very old and quirky building and I'm in no doubt it will be a great success. Even on a damp Monday lunchtime almost every table was taken with diners choosing from a very appealing menu.

So I feel I have a very close and personal connection with the success of both Lymestone and Titanic breweries. Whilst, sadly, we see some pubs closing down, it's great to see our local real ale breweries bucking the trend. Long may they continue to do so - and I shall continue to do my bit to support them!

Remembrance Day in Stone

This town never ceases to surprise me. I knew that there would be a good turn out for the Remembrance Parade but the crowd was even bigger than I anticipated. It looked as if half the town was there.

At just turned half past ten, the parade arrived in Granville Square and there then followed the laying of over seventy wreaths, all from local bodies and organisations - all paying their respects to the fallen of Stone in two world wars and subsequent conflicts.

This ceremony engenders a real sense of community - young and old from so many groups and organisations in the town coming together in their thousands to remember the sacrifice made by previous residents of the town.

A truly moving service.

Friday, 11 November 2011

The two minute silence

This morning the War Memorial in Granville Square was the focus, as always, for the Armistice Day two minutes silence. And what a moving sight it was too.

Over the years, this short and simple ceremony has attracted more and more people and I'm sure that there were more there today than I've ever seen before.

The Remembrance Parade takes place on Sunday and I'm sure that will also be extremely well attended. It is obvious that the people of Stone appreciate these opportunities to pay their respects to those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

In passing,  how good the street looked with the fluttering Union Flags that the Three (anonymous) Musketeers have put up! I'm still waiting to see Dave Smithwick (oops!) go up the ladder!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

What a show!

No sooner I had put my head on the pillow after the Thank You party the night before, than it was time to get up again and start helping to build the bonfire for the 25th birthday celebrations of the Stone Bonfire and Firework display. No rest for the wicked!

Three vehicles with trailers and a total of eight volunteers spent all of the available daylight hours on the Friday collecting timber and taking it down to Westbridge Park. There, the timber joined the two artic trailer loads of pallets that the Army Cadets were using to build the most amazing bonfire. I've watched Dominic build bonfires before but it was obvious that this was going to something very special when he actually measured the size of the fire with a tape measure!

The following day the reason became obvious. The whole of the front of the bonfire was covered with pre-prepared pieces of cardboard painted to create the biggest birthday cake ever seen in Stone - complete with candles and the number '25'.

Charlie Purton and his crew also had an air of secrecy about them when asked about the fireworks!

The amazing thing about Stone Bonfire and Fireworks is the effortless way the show comes together. Fencing, lighting stands, toilets, marshals, concessions, etc  - everyone knows what is needed and quietly gets on with the job.

And then it all happened. The fire was lit at 7.30 and the fireworks half an hour later - and what a show we had! I am in no doubt that it was the best I've ever seen - and judging by the many comments I've seen and heard since, a lot of people agree with me.

The following day involved tidying up but by 10 o'clock football teams were playing on the pitch and you'd have been hard pressed to have even known over five thousand people had been there the night before!

Which brings me to the most satisfying part of the story! The Treasurer has now confirmed that the turnout was a record !  We thought we did well last year - but we even beaten those figures! So in a couple of weeks time, the profit will be distributed amongst the several groups and organisation who played a part in organising the event - after we have set aside a sum to cover the costs of next year's event. Oh yes, we'll be doing it all over again next November!!

The big 'Thank You' party

I've already mentioned in previous posts what a superb band of volunteers we have in the Food and Drink Festival. So it was only right and proper that we should hold a little 'get together' to say thank you to them for all their help they have given us this year.

Choosing a venue was easy! Brad and Viv at Lymestone Brewery didn't even have to be asked. Without any solicitation, they actually offered the brewery to us and also offered to provide the beer! You don't turn down offer like that! So last Thursday, we entertained fifty lovely people who thoroughly enjoyed the free beer, Staffordshire lobby and sandwiches. And we signed up a couple of new volunteers for next year as well!

A great night was had by all. Thanks to Brad and Viv. And when it was all over, my dear wife did admit that I had managed to organise a p****p in a brewery!

It's time to play 'catch up'.

Apologies to one and all! You may have been misled into thinking that nothing has happened in my life over the last few days due to the distinct lack of postings on this site - far from it! Life has been frantic and I've simply not had time (or I've been too knackered) to sit down in front of the computer.

So I am now going to try and bring the blog up to date with a few of the highlights in a rather frantic week or so!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

An amazing night of jazz!

There are times when I can't believe how lucky we are in Stone - and last night was one of those occasions! We'd bought tickets to go down to Granvilles to see 'Stars of British Jazz' in concert. We've seen many jazz bands in Granvilles over the years but last night's performance was truly the best.

I half expected to see a couple of old 'has beens' living on past glories teaming up with a few young aspirants who were learning the trade - bit not a bit of it. This was jazz at its best.

Just look at the names! Colin Wood on piano from Acker Bilks Paramount Jazz Band; John Benson, the larger then life double bass player from Kenny Ball's band and John Crocker on clarinet and sax from Chris Barber's band. I've seen them all in their original line ups and they've just improved with age. And then on drums - and what a solo - was Richie Burns who I've not seen before plus Simon Nelson on cornet and Graham Woodhouse on trombone, also new to me. And together - what a band! What a night!

I met a lady who I know has attended almost every jazz event at Granvilles over the last twenty five years. She expressed her view that she had just heard the best night of jazz in Granvilles ever! I had no hesitation in agreeing with her!

Another woodpecker!

Last weekend I went out and spent a small fortune on food for the birds this winter. I'm a member of the old school of thought. I have always taken the view that you should stop feeding birds in the Spring and Summer because nature provides them with a whole larder full of natural and nutricious goodies. I was also taught that chicks find seeds and peanuts hard to digest. The modern school of thought then declared this to be incorrect and urged us to put out bird food throughout the year.

Well, I still stick to my belief that birds should fend for themselves in times of plenty. I'm sure the insects and berries they find during the summer months are so much better for them. But when we changed the clocks last weekend I knew it was time to begin looking after my feathered friends again. So, after cleaning all the feeders and the bird tables, the garden is now a top class bird restaurant. Peanuts, seeds and fat balls are there to tempt the little beauties into my field of vision throughout the winter months.

And within a few days, my efforts were rewarded! Yesterday, at lunchtime, we were treated to the sight of a Great Spotted Woodpecker hanging onto a peanut feeder for over twenty minutes! Beautiful. What a striking bird - black, white, buff and red - and such an acrobat. And so different from his Green cousin, who also visits us occasionally, which stays on the ground for the majority of the time.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Wayfarer soon to re-open

I've just seen that the Wayfarer Inn is recruiting staff for the re-opening of the restaurant within the next few weeks. Up to sixty vacancies need to be filled. Whilst many of these jobs will be part-time, it is fantastic news for the local food and drink economy.

In my opinion, we have been proved right in proclaiming Stone as being the Food and Drink capital of Staffordshire. The late Brian Blundell, over eight years ago, first proposed a Food and Drink Festival in Stone in order to  promote the local economy by emphasising Stone's assets namely it's pubs and restaurants.. And look what's happened since!

We now have restaurants of almost every nationality and flavour to choose from. And new restaurants have opened eg Chicos in town and The Dog and Doublet a couple of miles down the road at Sandon.
And now the team from The Swan with Two Necks is about to open the Wayfarer!

The town now has it's own brewery, Lymestone, up on Meaford Road and last year we had four town pubs in the Good Beer Guide.

And as a direct consequence of the first Festival and as a direct result of the Food and Drink Festival committee continuously promoting it, we also have the best Farmers' Market in the region.

I think Brian would be well pleased with the progress that we have made -  thanks to his vision.

For the sake of clarity!

I've had cause to mention the sloppy standard of journalism in our local press before but last week's Newsletter has surpassed itself!

In one short article, it is stated that that the Bonfire and Fireworks takes place "next week" - accurate but not much help  to anyone wanting to know when to turn up!

In another article about events taking place in Stone Town, we are told that the Bonfire and Fireworks take place on "Sunday 5th November". Anyone who doesn't check the calendar and turns up on Sunday (6th November)  will be 24 hours too late!

And on the page which details bonfires in the area, it states that the admission price for an adult is £3 despite the fact that immediately below the article is an advert clearly stating that the price is £5!

So for all those who are now totally confused, let me confirm that the Stone Town Bonfire and Fireworks take place this SATURDAY 5th NOVEMBER at Westbridge Park. The Bonfire will be lit at 7.30 pm and the Fireworks will be set off at 8.00 pm. Admission is £5.00 per adult and £3.00 per child. A family ticket is £15 for 2 adults and up to 3 children.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Very sad news

It has been a very sad weekend following the news that Cheryl Poppitt died on Friday evening.

I've known Cheryl for years and still can't believe that she has gone so quickly. Cheryl used to work at Langtrys when Dave Smithwick was the licensee. Then, a couple of years ago, she became licensee of the Royal Exchange and put that pub on the map.

Always cheerful. Always smiling. Always bubbly. Always helpful.

We all enjoyed her success. She deserved it.

Then, after she went to America on holiday a few weeks ago, she developed  a headache and eye problems. A visit to the doctor diagnosed a brain tumor and now she is no longer with us. So quick. What a cruel cruel world we live in.

We shall all miss her.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

What a team!

On Wednesday evening almost thirty volunteers from the Food and Drink Festival turned up at Christchurch Annexe for a debrief meeting. A fantastic turn out bearing in mind that it was billed purely as a business meeting and was not held on licenced premises!

Without exception, every comment and proposal was positive and constructive. No cross words and no point scoring! What a fantastic meeting.

We all came away on a high. A lot of 'tweeks' to be made next year and loads of new ideas. But more importantly, it is obvious that the Food and Drink Festival now has a large, solid band of volunteers who are all  intent on working together to make next year's Festival an even greater success.

A big thank you to them all!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

The Anticipation, Frustration - and then the Joy!

No, don't worry! I'm not about to pen the next Mills and Boone epic piece of romantic fiction. I'm going to share the mixed emotions I've experienced over the last few days after purchasing an Apple iPad 2!

Firstly, the anticipation. I've been lusting over the iPad for months. Every time I've watched television or opened a magazine, a shiny black iPad has been beckoning me to buy one. Every time I went to PC World to buy printer toner, I was automatically drawn across the shop to the Apple counter to ogle the demonstration models. And then some weeks ago I attended a Social Media Surgery where I saw a couple of them in action. Oh, yes, I wanted one  - but could I justify it?

Well, last week I decided I was worth it! Why couldn't Christmas come a little early this year? So off I went to Hanley and came back with the object of my desires all wrapped up in it's beautiful little box. And that's when the frustration set in. No instructions - nothing. Now I've been using computers for years. I'm self taught and only know the basics - but could I get the damn thing to work on wifi? No. Assuming it was a fault on my home wifi network, I took it off to town and sat in Costa Coffee and Wetherspoons both of whom have free wifi networks. No, still no connection. So I then start to search the web to find out if I was alone. Wow, just type  'iPad wifi problems' into Google and see what you get! Thousands of people experiencing the same problem. And as far as I could see no-one with a solution.

In the end I gave up and packed the useless bit of kit in my bag when we set off for a week's holiday in Dartmouth. Jan's daughter is expecting her first baby in seven weeks so we took the opportunity to pop down for a few day's break. Alison's husband Richard is a bit of a whiz with all things technical so when I mentioned my problems, he asked if he could help. Well, five minutes later I had an all singing all dancing iPad in my hands! What joy! Oh what an amazing piece of kit! How could I possibly have cussed and blinded at it?

So there you have it. Don't let my problems put you off getting an iPad. I'm now delighted with mine and will be using it every day. But why can't Apple provide a simple booklet of instructions for idiots like me? After all, we've spent a bucket load of cash to buy the thing in the first place.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Last year's news today!

This week's Stone Post has just dropped through the letter box and I can't believe what I've read on page two! According to The Post, the crowd on Westbrige Park this weekend "were entertained by those popular TV chefs - the Hairy Bikers"! Perhaps someone should tell the 'reporter' that the Hairy Bikers were here last year - not this!

Words fail me!

Wow! What a Festival that was!

What a fantastic week! The sun shone, the crowds came out and Stone had the biggest party of all time! Without a shadow of doubt, this was the biggest and best Food and Drink Festival of all time.

The set up went without a hitch. A team of volunteers worked tirelessly to get the site ready for opening on Friday. Then over the weekend the Festival itself ran like a well oiled machine. And then on Monday and Tuesday this week everything came down smoothly and now Westbridge Park is back to being a playing field again.

But the memories of this Festival will live in the minds of thousands for a long time to come. Brilliant sunshine for the entire weekend and the happiest and friendliest atmosphere of all time. I said I would try to keep a photographic record but, as usual, was always doing other things! But if you want to see some superb photographs go to A Little Bit of Stone's website to get an idea of what happened last weekend!

Packed cookery demonstrations, a sell out by Saturday evening in the beer tent, foot-tapping music outside all day and everyone smiling and enjoying themselves. Oh yes! This was one to savour!

So to all who helped make this such a fantastic weekend I say a massive 'Thank You'. This was the easiest Festival yet to organise. No panics, arguments or dramas! Just a superb band of helpers who just calmly got on with the job. We have a team to be proud of. And now we're already talking about next year! Yes, put the dates in your diary now - October 5th to 7th. It might even be better than this year!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Lobby versus Scouse!

Antony Lucas and I tuck in!
It was only right and proper that the 'Lobby versus Scouse' night at The Pheasant should be officially scrutinised last night!

Image courtesy of the local website at which will also be posting pictures of the Festival on a daily basis.

Thanks Jamie.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Plastic roadway, fencing and marquee!

The poles go up

Note the plastic roadway
One marquee, a plastic roadway and fencing all on day one!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

A picture a day!

It's Sunday and I have a worrying sense of  'the calm before the storm'! I've still got several hours work to do sorting out last minute phone messages and emails but, unusually, I feel that everything is in order and ready to go for this week's Food and Drink Festival. Let's hope I don't have cause to regret having just said that!

Tomorrow we start putting the 'village' up on Westbridge Park. Temporary roadways, fencing, barriers, marquee contractors, electricians, toilets, tables, chairs, stages, demonstration kitchens plus the myriad of other things that need to slot into place the make the Festival work! Yes, it's going to be a busy week - and that's before we open the gates on Friday lunchtime! And I forgot to mention the Real Ale Trail minibuses to see off on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday plus the Manger a Trois roving feasts on Tuesday and Wednesday!

Which is really a long winded way of saying I may not have time to post many items here over the next ten days or so! We are, however, keeping a photographic record of the Festival so I will try to find time to post a picture or two each day just to show you what's been happening. Here's a couple to start with showing an empty Westbridge Park this morning. Come back to this page occasionally to see how the scene changes over the next few days!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

So much for a civilised society.

I don't know enough about the facts of the case to express any opinion as to whether the conviction of Troy Davis, the American who was put to death last night, was safe or not on the charge of murder. All I would say is that when the 'white jury convicts black defendant of killing white off duty policeman' scenario was raised, it was obvious that the case was going to generate a lot of heat.  John Grisham's latest work of fiction, The Confession, appears to have been played out in real life in this case.

However, my revulsion is directed at a country that still uses capital punishment and, much more importantly, allows a convicted man to be held on death row for the best part of twenty years. That is simply barbaric.

America needs to put it's own house in order before it attempts to export 'civilisation' to the rest of the world.

The hedgehogs are still here!

Great news! This morning the lawn is covered in a fairly heavy dew and meandering all over the place are the give away trails of the hedgehogs - I guess two.

We've always had hedgehogs in the garden but this year I was worried that they may have deserted us. No sightings and no droppings. Janet loves her garden and is forever waist deep in the herbaceous borders 'tidying up'.  And hedgehogs enjoy a bit of 'wild' habitat to hide in and to sleep. I was a liitle anxious that they may moved on to pastures new - but no! They're still here and obviously still snuffling around looking for worms and grubs last night. Janet grows a lot of hostas and a couple of hedgehogs are by far the most effective means of controlling the slug population near them!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Free drinks and nibbles work wonders!

Last night the Stone Food and Drink Festival extended an open invitation to anyone to go to Granvilles for free drinks and nibbles. Well, it wasn't quite that generous because the invitations did make it clear that the freebies were just a 'bribe' to encourage people to act as volunteers to help us before and during this year's Festival. And it worked!

For an hour and a half, dozens of enthusiastic supporters gulped and guzzled and we ended up with a long list of offers of help. The Festival is a  'not for profit' Community Interest Company run entirely by volunteers and it is so gratifying to see so many local people and groups wanting to get involved. Whilst there is a lot of hard work to be done, there is also a lot of fun to be had.

So the first volunteers will be turning up next Monday at Westbridge Park and the following few days helping us to put up fences, roadways, marquees, banners, bunting, drive minibuses, marshall roving feasts, do car park duties, 'man' the gate, act as kitchen maids in the Demonstration Kitchen and a host of other jobs - all to make this year's Festival the best ever.

So if you don't see any more postings here for a week or two, you'll know why! I look forward to seeing you at the Festival!

Friday, 16 September 2011

So that was "consultation", was it?

Last night I popped along to the Station to have a look at Network Rail's consultion exercise about the foot crossings across the lines near the Station. I wonder why I bothered.

A few pieces of paper stuck up on the walls, half a dozen Network Rail stooges and a questionnaire to be completed. Reassuringly, all the plans on the walls seemed to indicate the erection of footbridges over both sets of lines next to the Station but, on questioning one of the men in suits, it transpires that this is only one of several options being considered. I'm still not convinced that closing the footpath to Mount Road isn't top of their wish list.

Frankly, in my view, the whole thing was a waste of my time. I tried to find out what all the options were but it was worse than pulling teeth. And I got the distinct impression that the proposal to build a ramped footbridge over the line at Whitebridge Lane was back in the melting pot.

Interestingly, the whole lot was usurped by an objector’s poster which contained more facts, photographs and information than all of Network Rail’s put together!

I suspect we all know what the next instalment will be, don’t we? Network Rail will say that “after full public consultation we have decided to do….”  What a nonsense!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Congratulations to Stone in Bloom

Today, Stone in Bloom was awarded a Gold award (again) but, even more impressively, was the winner of the Large Town category. This was in competition with a host of  other large towns in the Midlands such as Evesham, Malvern, Leomington Spa and previous winners Biddulph. And the icing on the cake was that, as a result, they will be judged next year in the national competition.

A fantastic result and I applaud the hard work that has gone into this fantastic achievement.

Another distraction!

In these last few weeks before the Food and Drink Festival I always find my 'to-do' list gets longer and longer - no matter how many tasks I complete! So the very last thing I need is distractions! Yes, you've guessed it. Yesterday I had a distraction which wasted a lot of valuable time. And it all started with a phone call from BBC Radio Stoke the day before.

A local Sunday football team had been in touch with Radio Stone and wanted, in their words, to give the Food and Drink Festival 'a red card' to stop the Festival from taking place on Westbridge Park. The team were complaining that they had been unable to play on the football pitch since last October due to the damage caused during last year's Festival. Would I give Radio Stoke an interview. No. I explained that Stafford Borough Council, who own the Park,  had given us permission to hold the Festival again this year and that we were working closely with the council to reduce any risk of damage to the field. If the football team had any grievances they should direct them to the council.

I listened to the programme yesterday and heard a representative of the football team complain that they had paid a season's fees and extra fees for alternative pitches. He also alleged that damage could still be seen - caused by tent pegs and poles and vehicle tracks. An hour or so later Councillor Mike Smith, Cabinet mimber for Leisure, gave the council's response. He was fully supportive of the Festival pointing out that over ten thousand visitors attend the event and that it had a substantial impact on the town's economy. It was put to him that the Festival could be held in a different venue - Morrison's Car Park or Crown Meadow were mentioned! I nearly fell off my seat with laughter when I heard that! Whoever came up with those ideas clearly knows nothing about Stone or the Food and Drink Festival!

However a couple of points arose during the  broadcasts which perhaps now need a comment from me.

During the monsoon weather on two of three days of last years festival, it was necessary to bring in six large round bales of straw to cover the mud and protect the pitch. That was scraped off by volunteers after the festival but a couple of areas of the pitch were nevertheless damaged. Stafford Borough Council and the Festival reached an agreement in February whereby the Festival agreed to pay a four figure sum to the Borough which included a sum for soil and labour to carry out repairs; a figure for rolling the pitch; a repayment of the football team's seasonal charge and an additional fee in respect of further pitch fees plus a fee to reinstate the goal posts. And the council had a stack of photographs of the entire area  taken immediately after the festival - no vehicle tracks or holes as alleged by the football team (bear in mind that there have been several community events held on the pitch during the ensuing twelve months).

So a lot of time wasted for no particular purpose. The football team's proposals of alternative sites were laughable and Cllr. Smith explained that the Borough had pitches available for them to play on. But I do have a lot of sympathy for the footballers if they are out of pocket bearing in mind the basis of our settlement payment earlier this year. Mike Smith's response was very reassuring. He gave very valid, sensible and robust responses and it was good to hear him endorse the Food and Drink Festival as one of the biggest events of it's kind in the area.

So no more distractions, please. My 'to-do' is still staring me in the face!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Another boundary change

After months of speculation, we now know what the Boundary Commission is proposing in order to get rid of one parliamentary seat in Staffordshire - and I think it is good news for Stone. The government wants to reduce the number of MPs by fifty and to try and standardise the number of electors in each constituency. Stoke-on-Trent cannot justify three seats with its population and so the Commission proposes a reduction to two seats which, of course, impacts on all the surrounding constituencies, including us here in Stone.

The present constituency is enormous with absolutely no geographic logic to it whatsoever. Any improvement is to be welcomed. So what is being proposed? Well, straight away the shape of the seat becomes much more manageable. Stone town is in the south east corner. It then takes in the rural wards in Loggerheads, Swynnerton Barlaston and Fulford as now. But then we get the whole of Newcastle town and surrounding areas such as the traditional mining villages of Silverdale Knutton and Cross Heath. Now that's an interesting mix!

How does this change the political scene? Well, it's my view that there's potential for some interesting times ahead. The Newcastle bits are traditionally Labour although wards like Keele Thistleberry and Westlands have always been fertile ground for the Libdems. And Stone has lost some rich Conservative pickings such as Eccleshall and Gnosall to the proposed new Stafford seat. Add into the mix the fact that the Labour party and the Libdems are much better organised in Newcastle than Stone and you can see why I'm beginning to get excited! Is Stone set to become a marginal seat?

And the biggest question of all - will Bill Cash stay on to fight a trickier seat or will he be looking around for a safer one?

Saturday, 10 September 2011

I've just come up for air!

Apologies for lack of any new posts over the last few days. To say that I've sunk under the weight of Food and Drink Festival work would be an understatement! It's the same every year but this year it seems that we've generated so much interest from potential traders, exhibitors and members of the public that my answer machine and email inbox are groaning under the strain.

Add to that the fact that I've had to do a couple of days of non-Festival work plus the fact that I've had to fend for myself whilst Janet's been away and you can see why I'm creaking under the strain.

However my gorgeous wife returns today so I'm feeling a bit chirpier. And before I go to the airport to pick her up, I'll have to spend a couple of hours on the allotment doing the watering and picking. That should allow me to collect my thoughts.

So today I have a few opportunities to come for air before I immerse myself once more in phone calls and emails.  See you soon!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Another wonderful Show

I had to do a bit of multi-tasking yesterday and despite the fact that I'm a man, I succeeded!

It was of course the first Saturday in the month, therefore it was the Farmers' Market. This involved me in a bit of 'setting up' duty. Bollards to be lifted in Mill Street, cones and Road Closed signs put in place, cones and signs at the top of the High Street and A boards placed around the one-way system.

An early alarm call enabled me to deal with all of those items in plenty of time for me to get over to Eccleshall to meet Antony Lucas to set up our stall in the Food Hall at the annual Eccleshall Show. The Food and Drink Festival has taken a stall at several shows this year to promote the Festival and very successful it has been indeed. I left Antony, who was to be joined by Tim O'Malley later, promising to be back as soon as possible.

Back at home my dear wife Janet had just finished packing her suitcase ready for her one week holiday in Slovenia. This was booked about nine month ago so she's had time enough to be ready. But no! She's spent the last week writing lists for me and preparing meals which are sitting in the freezer ready to be heated up! She seems to be of the opinion that, left to my own devices, I'd spend the entire week in the pub eating nothing but crisps, nuts, pork scratchings or fish and chips! I ask you.!

Anyway eventually we managed to leave in time to go up to Manchester Airport picking up a friend on the way. We arrived in plenty of time. After they crossed over to the terminal building I sat in the car expecting her to turn and blow me a kiss as she went through the Departures door but no. The two of them were already nattering away to each other!

So back to Eccleshall Show where I spent the rest of the afternoon handing out programmes and leaflets. We received a very positive response. The programme had obviously been delivered to homes in Eccleshall last week so a lot of the locals were eager to chat. I did find a little time to have a quick look around the show and I was very impressed indeed. Another example, like the Canwell Show, of a very successful local one day show.

Rather wearily, we packed up at the end of the afternoon and I returned to Stone to deal with the A boards. I was so grateful that a very good friend of the town (I won't embarrass him by naming him) had already collected them up, so all I had to do was put them back into storage.

So I did manage to deal with Stone Farmers' Market, the Eccleshall Show and still get Janet to the airport in time!

And, because I deserved it, after a hot bath to ease the muscles, I went down to the pub for a few pints and a bag of crisps! You won't tell Janet, will you?

Thursday, 1 September 2011

What an embarrasment!

I owe a huge apology to several friends and acquaintences who I met at the New Vic last night! Six of us had gone to see "A Comedy of Eric's" - another cunning plot to weave 60's and 70's pop songs into a storyline involving William Shakespeare staying with Uncle Eric and Aunt Madge at the Talke Inn!

We have been regular devotees of this group of performers who over the years have packed the New Vic with ageing rockers like us who need no encouragement to clap, wave their arms about and rock in the asles. But not me last night! Why? Well it was rather like the case of the exploding trousers!

Well not quite. Just before the show stated I toddled off to the boy's room. Then, much to my horror my zip disintegrated - not simply jammed but actually fell apart. And there was no way of repairing it. A gaping trouser front! Thankfully, I'd taken a jacket with me so I left the gents with my jacket strategicaly held in front of me only to be greeted by Janet who asked "Why are you holding your jacket like that?" in a voice that carried to the entire queue. So I had to whisper to her what had happened whereupon she burst in fits of laughter and immediately told the friends we were with in a voice that carried..etc. etc..... And then they burst into fits of laughter.

At least, I thought, I'll be alright once I'm in the theatre sitting down and hidden amongst other members of the audience. But no! Because we only bought our tickets a couple of weeks ago and needed six in a row, our seats were in row D behind the band and in total isolation from the rest of the audience. (The New Vic is, of course, in the round) No one in front to hide me. And I'm convinced that absolutely everyone in the audience was more interested in staring at my nether regions than what was happening on stage.

And then the moment I was dreading. After the interval, the inevitable happened. The entire audience got to their feet and started dancing! Except me, of course. I had to remain seated and look animated by doing some rather enthusiastic clapping movements. Had I stood up I'm sure I would have been arrested.

So apologies to  Richard Nadin, David Heywood, Neil Arrowsmith, Mick Jones and a couple of other friends I saw there last night. They all must have thought I'd lost the plot. Instead of being my usual self, I was extremely abrupt in order to extricate myself from any lengthy conversation and hurry to a dark corner covering myself with my jacket. I'll have to apologise to them next time I see them - if they're still speaking to me after I've been so rude!

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Moving up a gear!

The tempo of preparations for the Food and Drink Festival really has moved up a gear this week!

Tickets for the Manger a Trois roving meals and for the minibus Real Ale Trails have just gone on sale and the response has been staggering. Friends of the Festival had priority booking during the past fortnight and sales are now open to the public. Tickets can be bought from Folwells Estate Agents in Station Road or online on the Festival website. I predict the Real Ale Trail will sell out within a week closely followed by the Manger a Trois!

Banners across the High Street will be put up tomorrow and the "A Team" assure me that the bunting will be fluttering in the breeze down the High Street for Saturday's Farmers' Market.

I am still getting enquiries from traders and requests from chefs.

Somehow I think this year's Festival is going to be good!

Monday, 29 August 2011

An outrageous waste of public money

'A Little Bit of Stone' website is carrying a very interesting story about the recent Christchurch Way alterations. In particular, the article quotes the County Council's response to a recent Freedom of Information request asking about costs and consultation. And very interesting reading it makes! Take a look to see what I mean.

Firstly, there is an admission that no consultation was carried out before the trial scheme was implemented. There's a 'fob off' that there was a 'discussion' with the local elected member. This is of course, Cllr. Philip Jones, who has crusaded for this scheme from day one. The reply also says that there was a discussion with Stone Town Council. Well, I was on the council until May and can vouch for the fact that no proposal was ever discussed. And having spoken to a current councillor, I am assured that no mention has since been made in Council.

Next the answer explains that, to date, a total of £20,000 has been spent on this trial.  Yes £20,000! When I was a councillor we often asked for Highways to carry out urgent works. What was the stock response?  "Sorry, we have no budget"

And then the response makes the most damaging admission of all. No Road Safety Audit was ever carried out before the existing crossing was replaced by the temporary one above Mill Street. On that admission alone the officer who authorised the scheme should be sacked immediately. Pedestrians are now herded by temporary barriers to cross the  unprotected Mill Street junction to use the temporary crossing. Never in a month of Sundays should this arrangement pass a Road Safety Audit. Pedestrians are crossing Mill Street around a blind corner at a point where cars are approaching on a down hill slope. And if the solution to that is the installation of another set of traffic lights to control the crossing across Mill Street, then the whole object of the exercise (i.e. to avoid queues of vehicles waiting to get out of Morrison's car park) is defeated.

Finally, what value can be placed on the 'trial? It is being held in summer weather. It is being held in the school holidays. It has been held with no consultation.It has been conducted with no Safety Audit. It is being held prior to Morrisons introducing a Pay and Display scheme on their car park. And nobody has yet raised the impact of this scheme on the High Street. Will people bother to cross the road into town if they have to negotiate all the obstacles the scheme places in their way?

Whoever submitted the FoI request deserves our thanks. The response has revealed what a shambles this scheme has been from the start. The sooner it is scrapped the better. Enough council tax money has been wasted already.

Friday, 26 August 2011

But I'm scared of needles!

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am liable to faint at the sight of a hypodermic needle. That's why I never watch Casualty! Sometimes even talking about needles makes me feel squeamish.

So when, last week,  the physio at Stafford General Hospital suggested a course of acupuncture to ease the pain in my left shoulder, I couldn't believe that I actually uttered the words "Yes, that's fine. Anything to relieve the pain".

I've always thought acupuncture was a bit of mumbo jumbo. I know the Chinese have been using it for centuries but they make soup out of birds' nests and chew on rhinoceros horns, don't they? And when I asked Jon, the physio, he gave me a complicated answer about blocking the nerve messages to the brain and likened my shoulder pain to a crashed computer!

So I was a little apprehensive when I went for my first session today. Well, let me tell you - it works! Oh I was so brave as he stuck a dozen small needles in my shoulder and then left me alone looking like a pin cushion for half an hour. But now, a couple of hours later, I have a slightly warm feeling in the shoulder but my range of pain free movement is greatly improved.

So don't decry mumbo jumbo. Next time I'm not feeling too good, I'm off to find a witch doctor.

What a sad state Hanley is in.

I started my working life in Hanley in the early 60's in an office in Cheapside and spent many happy years there. Then I moved to the southern end of the city and spent most of my career in Meir and Longton. Then I retired over ten years ago. As a result I haven't really been back into the centre of Hanley for a long time. Even attending the Victoria Hall for concerts only involves a drive up Lichfield Street and a hop across the road from the car park.

Well this morning I went up to Radio Stoke to take part in the Pete's People programme at 9.00 am. I actually got there a little early so, for the first time for years, I walked around the centre. What a change - for the worse. I'm sorry but it looks as if the heart has been ripped out of the place. Run down and tatty. Few shops of any  merit. Oh how sad.

I won't be going 'up Anley duck' again out of choice, that's for sure

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Well what a surprise!

When I retired from local politics I was so relieved to be making 'a clean break'. Despite several temptations, I have not had too much difficulty in resisting the temptation to throw in my 'three penneth' whenever an issue has arisen. Indeed I have, on occasions, had a somewhat smug feeling when I've been able to  announce that I'm not in the least interested in whatever the latest 'hot issue' is.

But after opening today's Newsletter, I really can't allow the opportunity to pass by without saying something about the article announcing that Stone Town Council has been ordered to pay the costs of a public inquiry held to determine a 'frivolous' objection they raised to a Stopping Up order.

It is a scandal that certain councillors ignored legal advice given by their clerk and pursued an objection which was wholly unsustainable. This all happened before the last election when I was still a councillor, so thank goodness that in the debates I dissociated myself from those who pursued this waste of council tax. A couple of them are even quoted in today's article as still trying to justify their position. The sadness is that it will be the council tax payers of Stone, not them, who will be paying for this ill conceived piece of nonsense.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

It's banners and bunting time again!

You always know that the Food and Drink Festival is just around the corner when you start to see bunting fluttering all the way down the High Street and banners stretched above the street. Well, keep your eyes open because it will all soon be going up.

Yesterday I popped over to Ami Creative at Longton who do all our printing and banners. We checked and altered all the banners and they should be ready by the end of the week. Dave Smithwick and I also recovered boxes of bunting from out of storage (and other hiding places!) and then took them all up to the Washtub launderette on Pirehill Lane. Last year, the bunting was just put back into boxes and not cleaned. So we were curious to see whether we could put it into a large washing machine without causing any damage to the bunting or the machine!

Well, as always happens in Stone, the delightful lady manager  took pity on us two helpless middle-aged men and told us to leave the bunting with her. She'd sort it out and, provided we took her a bacon and egg bap from Lee Walkers for her breakfast we could collect it this morning!
So, at the crack of dawn at 9.30 we went up with the bacon butty and, true to her word, all the bunting was there waiting for us! All beautifully cleaned and ready for action!

So all that needs doing now is to encourage the Bunting Team to find the ladders and cable ties and to get out and bring the town to life! Any volunteers?

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Two more of Stone's unsung heroes!

I have always argued that Stone is such a marvellous place because it is full of lovely generous modest people who get their sleeves rolled up and do things without any fanfares or publicity. We have an army of unsung heroes in the town - so much so that when a very hard working lady was awarded an MBE in the last Honours List for her work with the guiding movement in town, most people outside guiding had never heard of her. And I'm sure that is the way she would want it.

Well, I'm going to blow the gaffe on another couple of unsung heroes. About eight years ago the Stone Scout Band was struggling. Numbers had dwindled to a handful and the leader was packing up. Into the breach stepped John and Margaret Wright whose son played in the band. By hard work and determination, John and Margaret have managed to build up the numbers and the standards to the point where the band has now become an integral part of the image of the town. For several years now the band has played at civic parades, festivals, events and venues in and outside the town. (I'll never forget them playing in torrential rain at one civic function a couple of years ago when they all got soaked to the skin. I felt so guilty hiding under my large umberella!)

But it's been hard work for them. I've seen John and Margaret taking items of the band's uniform into their house for Margaret to spend hours washing and ironing it. I've watched and heard several of the many weekly rehearsals that take place in the Scout hut on Westbridge Park. I've also been conscious of the continuous struggle they've had to raise funds to keep the band going - instruments and uniforms don't come cheap. And I've also admired their patience when dealing with a dozen or more typically hyper active youngsters!

Well, sadly, they have now decided to, literally, 'hand over the baton' and take a well earned rest. They deserve it. I am sure that there are many youngsters whose involvement with the band has helped them to grow up and to accept discipline, team work and a sense of belonging. Well done John and Margaret. And a very big thank you.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

This makes it all worthwhile!

Helping to organise the Stone Food and Drink Festival is great fun but hard work. My email inbox has at least thirty emails in it when I log on each morning and the telephone answering machine now has sixteen messages I must listen to this afternoon. Then there's half a dozen letters that arrived this morning and I've a 'to do' list that never gets shorter despite the fact that I keep completing tasks on it!

And then something happens that makes it all worth while. I've just spoken to a lovely lady on the phone who was so full of praise for the Festival and Stone in general. She moved here a few years ago and simply can't believe how lucky she was to choose Stone to live in. She said she has never felt so much community spirit as exists here.

So this afternoon, as I plough through the phone messages, I shall do so knowing that the time spent is appreciated by someone out there! But before then I've just got to pop out to check some measurements on Westbridge Park with John Moss to make sure we've planned for the marquees in the right place. And I shall do so with a smile on my face and a spring in my step!

Friday, 19 August 2011

Farewell David

Yesterday was the last working day of David Turner's years as Clerk to Stone Town Council. Officially he retires at the end of the month but with outstanding holidays and leave due, yesterday was his last day at his desk. And I am very sad to see him go.

David became Town Clerk in 1997 and has been heavily involved in most of the good things that have occurred in Stone over the last 14 years. Very much a 'hands-on' projects man with vision he will be able to look back with satisfaction at the many improvements that have taken place during his stint at the helm. The most obvious example is the Stone Station Community Centre. Backed by a Town Council which had the vision and commitment, David project managed the scheme which saved a derelict Stone Station from falling into disrepair and has left the town with a facility to be proud of. And at no cost to the ratepayers! All done by way of grants!

And there are numerous other examples of his enthusiasm to progress new ideas. The fantastic 'Smile' initiative in the late nineties was one of the first and most succesful scheme of cooperation between local businesses and Town Councils to promote the town. Then there have been Christmas Lights and switch on events, street parties, cycle races, improved street markets and numerous other events that have put Stone on the map.

Interestingly, although most people regard Stone as a Tory stronghold, out of the fourteen years David has served the town, the Tories have only had control of the Council for two and a half years. Which perhaps explains why David has been able to achieve so much over the years!T he town will be a poorer place without David Turner. He was a great support to me during my three years as Chairman of the General Purposes Committee. Whoever takes his place has a hard act to follow.

And so it was that last night a group of us spent the night with David standing at the bar in The Pheasant and wishing David a happy retirement. A great get together spoilt only by the fact that I had to leave before midnight in case my wife turned me into a pumpkin!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Have you seen any bats this year?

We bought this house over sixteen years ago and for a long time one of the joys of sitting outside in the summer as it got dusk was to watch the bats skittering across the evening sky. But this year I can't recall seeing any bats at all. What's happened to them? Where have they gone? Well, I've got my own theory - the redevelopment of Oulton Cross in the last few years.

The most significant event has been the demolition of a detached house at the back of our house and the building of Harding Grove on the land. The house has gone and so have all the trees in the orchard plus two old brick pig sties and an old garden shed. OK - during the planning process, some so called expert turned up for an hour or so with a bat meter and declared the site had no resident bat roosts.
And several other large houses up the road have had extensions added to the sides of the building. Of course, the planners don't require bat surveys just for extensions. And then at the top of the road, again old garages and outhouses were demolished to erect a small estate of half a dozen new houses.

Now some may say it's just a coincidence that all of this development has taken place at the same time as the bat population vanishes. Sorry, I just don't buy that. Unless someone can come up with a better explanation I am convinced that we are killing off our bat populations by all the development that is taking place. It should be compulsory that a full and proper bat survey be carried out where any building work is proposed and that includes every proposal to add an extension or any interference with the existing external structure.

Am I on my own on this one? Have you seen any bats this year?

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

'Policing by Consent'

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, was interviewed on Radio 4 this morning about the riots that are taking place in London and elsewhere. In amongst the predictable politicians' claptrap, she came out with the classic response that in this country we are "policed by consent".

A grand sounding statement which actually means very little. Yes, provided the population agrees to accept the authority of the police, it works. But when a group of only a few hundred yobs who have never accepted authority from anyone - parents, schoolteachers, police, anyone - decide not to consent to being policed the outcome is anarchy.

Unless she and the government realise the enormity of the problem and tackle it head on the prospects for London and other cities are frightening.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Almost finished!

I think I've just ok'd the last piece of editorial for the Stone Food and Drink Festival Programme! Phew! The next job will be proof reading and then, with a little bit of luck, it'll go to the printers on Wednesday or Thursday. Then in about 10 days time, 32,000 copies will be dropping through letter boxes across the region. Then the fun really begins!

A very big thanks to Charlotte at Sqash PR and Marketing who has done an absolutely brilliant job and who has shown such patience with me! We couldn't have done it without her. (And she even moved house last week whilst eight months pregnant! What a star!)

Sunday, 7 August 2011

A wonderful traditional agricultural show!

With a handful of volunteers, I spent yesterday at Canwell Show promoting the Stone Food and Drink Festival. 'Where's Canwell?' I can hear you asking. Well, it's a little gem of a country house estate just a stone's throw from the Bassett's Pole roundabout on the A38 south of Lichfield. And what a cracking show it was too! Not as big as the County Show and not as commercial. But full of the old traditional features of a proper agricultaral show.

The sun shone and the crowds turned out. We were in the food tent and we must have handed out well over a thousand leaflets. The response was so positive, too. Most people had heard of our Festival -  although there were a few who had never heard of Stone and a couple who 'never travel that far north'! And we also met several traders who have already booked to come to Stone for the Festival and who encouraged a couple of others to take booking forms home with them.

So we had another good day promoting the Food and Drink Festival. I have a feeling in my bones that this year's could be a good one!

And if you want a good day out next August, keep an eye open for details of Canwell Show. I'm sure you'll see us there again!

Friday, 5 August 2011

An endangered species - and now we know why

A very sad news story today about a 17 years old English boy who was mauled to death in the Arctic in northern Norway by a polar bear. Very sad indeed  for the youth and his family but even sadder for the polar bear - it was killed by being shot by other members of the group.

And on Radio 4's PM programme this afternoon another 'young adventurer' told listeners about his close encounter in the same area when a polar bear started to attack his tent. The problem was solved by him shooting the bear. And the next person interviewed was a leader of these expeditions who explained that next week she was taking a party of six students to the same area but felt that they would be safe because they had undergone "intensive training in the use of guns".

So two dead polar bears, and the risk of more, just because youngsters want adventure by trespassing into the polar bears territory and are then surprised when the polar bears do what polar bears naturally do.

For God's sake, will nobody state the obvious? Polar bears live in the Arctic and are finding it difficult enough to survive without being killed by fun seeking young idiots who invade their territory. The Norwegian government should ban these 'expeditions' immediately before any more slaughter of these beautiful creatures takes place

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Where next?

I popped into Russells the butchers in Adies Alley this morning. I'd seen a collection of photos on the wall many times but never really studied them in detail until today - and what a collection!

Mark provides a very distinctive blue bag with the name of 'Russells the Butchers' clearly printed on them. Well, a couple of years ago, one customer took a bag on holiday and it appeared in one of his holiday snaps. So he gave Mark a print of it and he stuck it on the wall. Then other customers did the same and the wall is now full of photos of Russells bags all over the world!

Obviously several of Mark's customers are football supporters - so there are pictures of the bags outside numerous football grounds. Seaside resorts around Britain are well represented. And holidays abroad have also provided customers the opportunity to indulge in a bit of one-upmanship! Sidney Harbour Bridge, for a long time, held pride of place but it's now been beaten! What about a photo of a Russells bag taken 25 metres under the Red Sea! (It's about a third of the way down on the right hand side on the photo)
Now that will take some beating!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

How many feet in a metre?

I was pretty good at maths at school. I really enjoyed the subject mainly because we had a maths teacher who really brought maths to life! That may sound odd. A potentially dull and boring subject made interesting by a school master who inspired his pupils by sheer enthusiasm. As a result his classes always achieved the best O  and A level results for miles around.

But that was many years ago when we all did our calculations in 'old money'. Pounds, shillings and pence. Inches, feet and yards. Ounces and pounds. It was so much easier then! I've accepted decimal coinage but I still struggle with grams and millimetres!

And there was no better example than yesterday morning at Westbridge Park. The Food and Drink Festival takes place in a couple of months and we are now designing the layout of the marquees and stands. Stafford Borough Council are anxious that we should do everything possible to protect the football pitches from damage from vehicles so we are trying out a new layout this year. The problem arises because the marquees are all quoted in imperial measures. And the measuring wheel we use gives a reading in metres! So we spent an age trying to work out how many metres equalled two hundred feet length by forty feet width and then plotting it on the field.

I think we eventually got it right but I've now got to draw up the layout onto a plan to the scale of 1:50,000 (I think!). Now this is where I'm really struggling!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Sad news

I've just received a telephone call informing me that Mike Carey died last night. Mike was a Town and Borough Councillor for the Walton Ward and was quite a character in local politics. Whilst he and I had many differences when I was on the two councils and whilst his politics were very different from mine, I have always admired his tenacity and skill in arguing his case.

He has not been in good health for a long time but only yesterday I heard that he was out of hospital and awaiting an operation.

How sad. He will be missed.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

It's madness!

I've just had a tweet from 'A Little Bit of Stone' announcing that Staffordshire County Council are to start work today on a one month pilot scheme to move the pedestrian crossing in Christchurch Way from its existing position to a point above the junction! They are doing this in reaction to Cllr. Philip Jones complaints that cars are being delayed at busy times from getting off Morrison's car park. Oh dear, poor motorists! Since when has the convenience of motorists been more important than the safety of pedestrians?

Cllr. Jones has a short memory. When the supermarket was built, the pedestrian crossing was originally above the junction - where the new pilot is to take place. No one used it! Instead pedestrians coming from Morrisons to go into town braved Christchurch Way and crossed over where the existing crossing is. Who in their right mind would walk over the Mill Street junction to cross the road fifty yards away? So it took several years of campaigning to get the crossing moved and there have been no problems since.

This one month pilot is crazy. Human nature being what it is, pedestrians will still cross Christchurch Way where the existing crossing is - with all the dangers that involves. And very obviously, the disabled and elderly are going to be penalised. And if the council erect barriers to prevent people crossing below the junction, a lot of people will simply not bother coming into town.

This is mad, stupid, crazy - words fail me!

Monday, 18 July 2011

Where will it end?

A little over a week ago (July 7th) I posted an item headed ' Words fail me' just after it had been made public that the News of the World had hacked into the phone messages of Milley Dowler and members of the armed services and their families when serving in Afghanistan. I suggested that NOTW was out of control and questioned the role of the Metropoiltan Police. And I ventured that we hadn't heard 'the half of it'!

Well, no sooner had I posted that article than Murdoch announced that he was closing down NOTW! 200 people lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Then Cameron announces that he is to set up a judicial enquiry and accepts personal responsibility for employing former NOTW editor Andy Coulson as his spokesman. Then the bombshell - Murdoch withdraws his bid to buy remaining shares in BSkyB. Then senior police officers Yates and Hayman appear before a Parliamentary Committee and I doubt if anyone was impressed by their evidence. Then police start to arrest senior executives at the NOTW. But still Rebekah Brooks and her buddies the Murdochs brazen it out. Then the FBI announce an enquiry in the alleged hacking of 9/11 victims phones.  Then Rebekah resigns! Murdoch pays for full page adverts to say Sorry. And then over the weekend - Rebekah is arrested and the most senior police chief in the country, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson resigns after it was announced that he'd received free accommodation at Champney's courtesy of a friend - a heath spa that just happened to employ a discredited ex NOTW journalist!

Phew! What next? Where will it all end?

I've given up forecasting. If this was the plot of a novel we'd be saying it was too implausible!
But of one thing I'm sure. This is the end of the cozying up of politicians, media and police. Murdoch's influence has been dangerous - is it right for one man to have so much power that he can influence the result of the democratic process. Is it right that he can own several newspapers and television stations. Hopefully the events of the last two weeks will eventually be seen as a momentous moment in our post war history.

And there's a lot more to be revealed yet - I'm sure!

The Staffordshire Hoard - is there a Stone connection?

I spent a fascinating hour last Thursday looking at over forty items from The Staffordshire Hoard on display in the Shire Hall at Stafford - part of the 'Staffordshire Hoard on Tour' exhibition. What a revelation! For my history O level, we 'did' Elizabeth the first and the Civil War. I have to admit that I knew absolutely zilch about what happened after the Romans went home in about 400 AD and the arrival of the Normans in 1066. I suppose I assumed the natives went back into the woods and became 'hunter gatherers' all over again! Well, clearly not so!

The Hoard is spectacular. Consisting almost entirely a battle booty, it contains the most exquisite pieces of sword and shield decorations imaginable. Gold and silver work so fine it's difficult to imagine craftsmanship of that quality even today. And precious stones and inlays that are truly beautiful. But no jewellery, no costume pieces, no broaches or anything relating to women -  just military decorations. And all ripped off and scrunched up. So, sword bosses but no swords. Shield and helmet decorations but no shields or helmets. The hoard is very obviously the spoils of war - just the bits of value removed purely for their value.But no-one knows where they came from, why they were collected or why they were buried in a field near to Tamworth. The Hoard raises questions which will keep the historians busy for years!

And the Hoard was buried at the time of battles in what was then called Mercia. And of course, it was at this very time that Stone became established! King Penda of Mercia is mentioned several times in the Hoard literature and it was his offspring who ended up living at Bury Bank and who eventually started killing each other. Hence a pile of stones piled over the body of Wulfere and - as they say - the rest is history! Stone was established as a result including the building of a Christian Priory
Now I noticed that next year, the partner councils promoting the Hoard are establishing a Mercian Trail across the county linking the museums in Hanley and Birmingham and joining up with Lichfield and Tamworth which both have strong Mercian histories. Surely Stone has a strong enough Mercian connection to be included in the Trail?

 Perhaps the Tourism committee of the new Town Council could take up the cudgels to get us on the Mercian Trail map?

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

"The most beautiful boat ever built" launched

There was great excitement down at Stone Boatbuilders yard this morning when a very large crane launched "the most beautiful boat ever built" onto the canal.
Seven years ago Brian Artus started work building a canal narrow boat for a customer - a very patient customer! Brian is an amazing craftsman. Every part of the boat has been hand built - the hull, the windows and doors, the decking and the thousand and one bits and pieces that go into a boat. And, being a perfectionist, Brian wouldn't allow any part of the build to be signed off unless it was absolutely perfect. Hence a rather long project!
So was it worth the wait? You bet it was! Watching the launch this morning were several old canal hands, one of whom said that the boat was the most beautiful he'd ever seen. I agree with him.
So Brian now has an empty workshop and claims that he's now going to enjoy retirement - but I don't believe it! What's the betting he's already got another project in mind?

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

First jazz night at the Royal Exchange

I'm reserving judgment. Last night, Stone Jazz club met for the first time in the Royal Exchange following the closure of the Vine. As I suspected, the band was squeezed into the top corner leaving room for only about fifteen people in the remaining seats. Then the rest of us were relegated to standing around the bar areas or sitting in the front bay window not able to hear the music.

Perhaps I was a bit grumpy to start with (but that's another story) but I have serious doubts about the Exchange's suitability. It's a great pub with superb ale but it's not, in my opinion, a suitable venue for live music.

But I'll give it a good try and see if my initial impressions are valid.

Anyway despite the above, Archie Cotterill was in great form as usual!

It's the same every year!

Organising the Food and Drink Festival is a full time job - but great fun! Whilst the Festival is only an annual three day event, the planning and preparation takes almost a whole year. And it is at this time that the heat is really on!

The Festival takes place during the first weekend in October. So what's the panic? Well, the official programme goes to the printers in three weeks time so that the 32,000 copies can be delivered to homes throughout selected areas of Staffordshire and surrounding areas by the middle of September. No mean feat!

So I am now chasing and pestering licensees, restaurant owners, shop and business proprietors to tell me what they are doing during the Festival so that I can make sure that their Festival events and promotions are all included.

So if you see me in town during the next fortnight looking a little more flustered than normal, you now know why!!