Thursday, 30 June 2011

The Doom and Gloom Post

Why does a certain newspaper, The Stone Post, believe that the way to increase advertising revenue is to fill the front page with stories foretelling the demise of the town as we know it? And why do town councillors, who should know better, continue to feed this frenzy of doom and gloom?

Last week we had two opposition town councillors being quoted on the front page of The Post  in a story that would lead those of a nervous disposition to the conclusion that Stone at night is a hot spot of anti-social behaviour and crime. Totally untrue and unsupported by any meaningful evidence. But it was a very damaging story for the many restaurants and pubs who depend upon the town's vibrant night-time economy.

And this week's revelation? Well,one shop has closed down and, by inference, the whole of the town's economy is under threat! What rubbish these people write! The author even had the temerity to call Stone a "village"! I wonder whether he has ever stepped foot in the town. Surely if he had, he would have seen that, compared to many similar sized town in the region, Stone's High Street is vibrant, busy and full of occupied premises all doing trade. Yes, I know we're in a recession and that money is tight but Stone seems to be holding it's head above water better than most and doesn't need 'knocking copy' like this.

The Post is of course a freebie and doesn't depend on selling copies to survive. But if I was a Stone business advertising in this paper I'd be thinking twice about spending my money with a paper that seems intent on dterring people from coming to town.

And my advice to councillors who are seeking to see their names in print? Remember the maxim of my dear friend, the late Brian Blundell -"Accentuate the positive. Eliminate to negative" I think he would turn in his grave if he had seen last week's Post.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Happy Birthday to Age Concern Stone!

Janet and I occasionally volunteer to help Age Concern and today we were invited to a birthday party to celebrate twenty years of Age Concern in Stone. A buffet lunch in Bromfield Court was the occasion for dozens of supporters old and new to meet up and celebrate the event.

Sadly, there is a great deal of doubt hanging over the organisation at the moment bearing in mind that Age Concern nationally has now merged with another charity to form Age UK. Stone's Age Concern is trying to resolve where it stands in the new set up bearing in mind that there seems to be a hint that any new group would operate out of Stafford. I'm  glad I'm not involved in trying to sort out that conundrum!

On a happier note, we were also able to celebrate another birthday! Jenny Losch, the Administrator became a grandmother this morning to twins, a boy and a girl. Congratulations Grandma!

Converted to the caravan mover!

Several years ago on a caravanning holiday I had the shock of my life. Looking out of the window I saw a runaway caravan! It was going along the road in front of our van with no car attached and no one pushing or pulling it! But then into view walked a chap holding a zapper in his hand! I was looking at one of the first caravan movers in action! A battery operated radio controlled gizmo that moves the caravan at minimum effort.

Well, ever since, I've decried them. Pure laziness! Waste of money! Can't they reverse a caravan into a pitch?

And then we decided to store our van on the drive. This involved reversing up from the road and down the narrow drive alongside the house. After doing it several times this year and on occasions getting into a right pickle, I finally had to concede that a caravan mover would solve all the problems!
So those lovely people at Stafford Caravan Repairs fitted one for me and this weekend was the first proper test. We spent a fantastic weekend at Cromer on a very full site. The pitch was a bit tight which would have put my reversing skills severely to the test. But the mover enabled me to unhitch and glide the van onto the pitch -  inch perfect! Hitching up to come home was a doddle - placing the hitch right over the towing ball. And once home, the van just slid up the drive to be parked up until our next trip out!

Brilliant things, caravan movers! If you haven't got one on your van - get one!

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Thumbs up to The Shoulder of Mutton!

I've been hearing some very complimentary accounts about the beer and food at the Shoulder of Mutton over at Fulford.So tonight, instead of heading towards our regular Thursday haunt in Milwich, we thought we'd put the Shoulder to the test. I also wanted to thank Steve personally for looking after our Real Ale Trail customers so well on Tuesday.

As Jan and I entered, I was greeted by some very familiar faces! Paul Reynolds, an old pal from his days in Stone, was the first to see me. Then I realised he was sitting next to Richard Nadin. Then I noticed Nick Perrin from Optic Leisure at the far end of the bar and, shortly after, Jane Walters and her husband walked in! Phew, what a warm welcome!

And it just got better!  A beautiful pint or two of Bass and a superb meal. I had the most tender of rump steaks with home cut chips and all the trimmings whilst Jan opted for a vegetarian pasta which she said was superb. The total bill? Under £25! Great food and fantastic value.

Now I'm always wary of recommending places to eat. But on the evidence of tonight's meals I have no hesitation in saying you won't be disappointed at The Shoulder.

I was told that Alan Cookman, feature writer at the Sentinel, was in for a meal earlier in the week so it will be interesting to read his column when it comes out tomorrow!

At long last!

(Image courtesy of A Little Bit of Stone)
Over the years I have been extremely active in campaigning to get trains back at Stone station. It has been a long long saga. Our stopping trains vanished in 2004 and for a long time we thought we'd never see a service again from Stone. However some very strong campaigning took place and I was privileged to be a member of the North Staffs Rail Promotion Group whose campaign undoubtedly won the argument. In December 2008, London Midland began a Crewe to Euston service stopping at Stone. And the rest, as they say, is history! It has been spectacularly successful proving the merits of the argument that there were hundreds of potential passengers in the area eager to use trains.

However, the one continuing niggle has been the fact that  there was no real time information available to passengers using the station. A Help Line telephone was installed on Platform 1 but never worked. We were promised electronic information boards from the outset but they never appeared. Numerous enquiries always received a standard response that they would be installed 'in a couple of months'.

Imagine my excitement then when I received a call from the Station caretaker, Greg, a couple of weeks ago to tell me that workmen were on the platform putting up the boards! I immediately went down and sure enough boards had appeared on both platforms. But they weren't working!

But last Friday I went to the Station for an evening function and, lo and behold, they were operating properly! The Help Line is still not working but at least the patient passengers will now be able to see, in real time, up to date information about their train.

It's taken a long time but well done London Midland!

Not quite true!

My previous post (trip to Morgan Car Co) suggested that I had the whole day off yesterday from working on Food and Drink Festival matters. Well, of course, that was not quite true! The moment the bus got back, I was off without any tea to a Marketing and Promotion meeting with my other directors at Granvilles. I was half an hour late so Charlotte from Squash PR was already well through the agenda when I arrived!

And this morning I was off early for a F&D meeting with Charlotte and a magazine editor in Stafford. I get the feeling that every publication I've ever heard of will be carrying articles about this year's Festival!

What a difference using an experienced marketing person has made this year!

I want one!

I indulged myself yesterday by 'taking a day off'! No emails, text mesages or phone calls. Not a whisper of Food and Drink Festival and definitely no politics! I went on a bus trip!
A couple of weeks ago Phil Harrison phoned me to see if I would like to go with Longton Probus Club to Malvern for a tour around the Morgan Car Co. so, at the crack of dawn, 8.30 am I was up bright eyed and bushy tailed for my big day out.
After stopping en route for a coffeee , we arrived at the factory in time for a buffet lunch and then spent the next two hours touring the factory. Visitors are shown every workshop and can see every stage of the process of the hand building of a Morgan car. And hand built they are too. From the most complicated shaped pieces of the wooden frames to the most beautiful curves of sheet aluminium body panels, we were able to watch real craftsmen at work. Fascinating!

A few facts. The factory produced 800 cars last year and hopes to achieve 1000 this year. The waiting time is now down from several years to eighteen months. 70% of the production is of left hand drive models - mostly to continental Europe but none to America. And only five women are employed on the production line - working in the trim department at sewing machines!
I was surprised at the complexity of the process and I didn't realise that Morgan had such a wide model range. And of course, every car is custom built to a specific customer's requirements so is unique. Good old British industry at it's best.

Sadly no free samples or special discounts! Pity 'cos I'd really love one!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

A Midsummer Success!

Last night's Midsummer Real Ale Trail was a great success and well worth all the worry and work involved in its organisation! Over sixty real ale aficionados left The Vine at 6.30 in four minibuses and spent the evening travelling around eight neighbouring pubs. And what a time they had!

From the moment one driver started his engine and called out "Captain to cabin staff. Doors to manual" to hours later when four minibuses returned to base, everyone agreed that it was probably one of the best trails yet.
Best pub for food? A close call, apparantly, between the Boar at Moddershall, the Green Man at Milwich and newcomer The Shoulder of Mutton at Fulford. And best beer? Impossible to say. A very personal choice though several commented on the quality of the Bass at the 'Romping Cat' aka the Red Lion at Dayhills.

And what did Yours Truly do all night? Well, I counted them out and counted them back. And I kept off the ale myself until late in the evening when it was obvious that all was under control - I shouldn't have worried!

Thanks to all the pubs involved who made it such a super night and a big vote of thanks to Dave Williams, Ben Greensides, Neil Farden and Dave Smithwick for driving.

Roll on Food and Drink Festival week! I am definitely going to pay for a ticket to take part myself - on Dave Smithwick's bus please!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Green Woodpecker on the back lawn

Yesterday Janet and I were eating lunch when I suddenly realised we'd got a visitor on the back lawn. A green woodpecker was furiously pushing has beak into the lawn only thirty feet from us. We always have the binoculars close to hand and for the best part of twenty minutes we watched him (her?) pecking away quite oblivious to the noise of the school kids on the playing field next door.
Eventually it flew up and landed on the trunk of the Scots pine tree in the school playing field where we were able to see the fantastic markings on it's back and tail.

We see green woodpeckers on occasions in the garden but never for such a long time. A later inspection revealed, as I suspected, that we have a colony of ants in the middle of the lawn. Let's hope he comes back for second helpings!

Almost ready for Midsummer Real Ale Trail

One of the most popular events during the Food and Drink Festival is always the Real Ale Trail. In the Festival week in late September we take four minibuses with sixteen passengers in each to eight nearby village pubs. And as you may guess it is always a total sell out!

So much so that we decided to run a Trail on one night during the summer and hence tonight's Midsummer Real Ale Trail. Organising the trail isn't too complicated. The pubs love it - who wouldn't?  Sixty-four thirsty punters brought to the pub in one night! The punters come back year after year.

But the big problem is finding suitably qualified drivers. Over 25 but under 65 years old. A full driving licence with no more than one endorsement and, crucially, a D1 entitlement to drive.
And even when you find volunteers there's always the problem of last minute 'cry offs'. So it was this weekend. Thinking I'd sorted out all four drivers, what happens? Two drop out! Panic! However after two days of email pleas, phone calls and unannounced knocks on doors, we've filled the gaps.

So all is now ready. At 6.30 tonight the minibuses will set off for an evening's fun and I'll be able to breathe a sigh of relief. Fingers crossed - nothing else can go wrong, can it?

Another attempt at regular blogging!

It seems that every couple of years I start a new blog, post assiduously for a couple of months and then 'blogging fatigue' sets in and the creative juices dry up! Well this time it's going to be different - oh yes it is!

I enjoy blogging for several reasons but principally because I just want to spread the word about Stone and the wonderful people who live here. We are so lucky to live in a small but vibrant market town and to have the opportunity to get involved in so many community events and projects.

And the other reason is that time can play tricks with one's memory - particularly at my age! So by committing my comments to a blog I can always look back to test the old grey matter!

Finally I have removed all of my previous postings so that I can make a clean start. Reading through the detritus of my previous 'political' activities made me quite queasy!