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!!

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Oh my head!

Jan and I have both woken up this morning with headaches! Not attributable in any way to the demon booze, though! No, due entirely to the volume of the sound at the most fantastic musical "We will rock you" staged at the Hippodrome in Birmingham last night!

We went down with friends and spent two and half hours completely spellbound by the whole production - the singing, the dancing and a most amazing set.

It's hard to believe the show has been running for over eight years. From the reaction from last night's audience it will be running for another eight at least!

It's also difficult to realise that Freddie Mercury has been dead for nearly twenty years.  What more would he have achieved had he not died so young? At least he has left us a legacy of some of the most amazing rock numbers of all times. We must make sure the Killer Queen doesn't make a comeback!

Friday, 8 July 2011

So Vince Cable was right!

Do you remember the battering that Vince Cable got a couple of months ago when he was caught by a sting operation mounted by a couple of undercover reporters posing as constituents? He was caught saying that Rupert Murdoch needed to be stopped from taking over BSkyB and that he would do all he could to make sure he was.

Result? Slagged off by the Tories and removed from his position in the Cabinet so that the BSkyB decision was taken away from him. Almost the end of his political career.

And now what?  Well, ever since Murdoch closed down the NoTW yesterday, every politician under the sun is now brave enough to say that Murdoch needs to be stopped from taking over BSkyB and that they will do all in their power to make sure he is!

Oh Vince! We need people like you - leaders not followers. Perhaps you'll be welcomed back now.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Words fail me

I haven't bought a copy of the News of the World (or its sister publication The Sun) since Hillsborough. I thought The Sun's reporting of that tragedy was as low as gutter journalism could go. But they've proved me wrong! It's been known for years that the News of the World were hacking the phones of politicians and TV celebrities. I don't quite understand why that was 'acceptable' in some peoples eyes.

But now it transpires that the hacker had details of the phone numbers of murder victims and their families and relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan - with the consequent risk that they've been hacked as well.

Clearly this is a newspaper that is out of control and has absolutely no moral standards. And I doubt it's the only one. Why is the Daily Mail not covering this issue as fully? And what is the Metropolitan Police involvement in all this?

Methinks that we've not heard the half of it yet.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

End of an era

It was another great night of jazz last night at The Vine - but tinged with great sadness. It was the last Jazz Club meeting in the pub which closes its doors finally on Thursday night.

Next Monday, the Jazz Club will meet for the first time at The Royal Exchange in Radford Street. I love the pub - it's my regular Friday 'early doors' venue and the beers are superb. But I do have doubts about its suitability as a live jazz venue. Long and narrow with a performance area right next to the only way to the loos? We'll give it go and see how it works
And as for Richard and Ged from the Vine, the good news last night was that they have found another pub to go to! It's a bit too far for us to pop in on a regular basis - it's just off the M6 at J9 - but I wouldn't be surprised if someone didn't organise occasional trips in a minibus! I know we all wish them both the very best in their new venture. And thanks to them both for all their hard work at the Vine.

And The Vine itself? Planning permission has not yet been granted to do anything on the site yet, so inevitably the place will be boarded  up and become an eyesore for months. What a tragedy.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Think of a number!

It was another great Farmers' Market in town yesterday. The sun shone all day and the High Street was packed from 9.00 am to mid afternoon. Everyone was in a good mood and the stall holders all went home with happy smiles on their faces - some of them having sold out before lunch time. This is why Stone's market has gained the undisputed title of the 'best Farmers' Market in Staffordshire'.

It was also the opportunity to carry out some reasonably scientific calculations as to footfall. For a long time we have had to make a calculated guess (i.e think of a number!) when asked how many people come to Stone on a Farmers' Market day. Well I think we are now in a better position to justify our 'guesstimate'.

Throughout the day Stone Food and Drink Festival volunteers handed out a total of 500 leaflets promoting the festival. Almost without exception these were handed to couples or families. So lets say, therefore, that we engaged directly with at least a thousand people. But we were only able to give away leaflets to, say, every fifth couple. This is because some, not many, refused the leaflet but, more often, because most people who were given a leaflet wanted to stop and ask questions or engage in conversation. And at the busiest times it was simply impossible to get to everyone. So I reckon it is fairly accurate to multiply the figure of one thousand by a factor of five. Therefore it is my assertion that yesterday there were at least five thousand visitors in town.  Not all at one time, of course, but spread across the morning and early afternoon.

Other facts tend to support this calculation. Firstly, the street was heaving with people for most of the morning. Most pubs and restaurants were doing very good business all day. Then I heard most of the car parks were full by mid morning and that, for a while, the one way system was chockablock with  traffic.

Yes. A very successful day indeed. And I can now say, with confidence, that we attracted five thousand people to town! Unless you can pick holes in my calculation and assumptions!

Friday, 1 July 2011

Where have all the flowers gone?

How sad to see so few hanging baskets in the High Street. Several years ago the street would have been festooned with colourful baskets down both sides. Today there's only the odd one here and there - probably no more than a dozen in total excluding the Square.

The baskets are supplied and watered by Stafford Borough's Streetscene department but paid for by the local shops and businesses. Over the years, the cost has increased to the point where most businesses have decided not to be involved.

And the method of enrolment has changed. Until a couple of years ago, a member of Stone in Bloom committee would make a follow up visit to shops which had not sent in the form.  This was very effective! The member concerned is a strong character and was very efficient at signing up the 'waverers'! Sadly this doesn't happen anymore. I understand that data protection law prevents Streetscene from releasing details of who has and who hasn't paid! The world's gone mad!

I suppose it raises the questions - is there an alternative method of providing hanging baskets? Does there need to be a radical rethink? Is there an alternative provider available who could supply baskets on a more competitive basis? I don't know the answers but it might be worth looking at?

In the meantime, I fear the Stone in Bloom judges are going to be somewhat disappointed when they come to judge the town in the next few days.

What's happening at Stone Post Office?

I've just popped into town and immediately came upon a throng of people outside the Post Office, all reading a notice in the door window. On closer inspection it is an announcement that the Post Office is closed 'until further notice'. No explanation given but fairly full details of alternative Post Offices who will deal with parcels, Excise Licences etc. The notice is printed on officially headed Post Office paper so this looks pretty serious.

Recently the Post Office has undergone a refurbishment and applied for an off licence to sell alcohol. I assumed that this was a new business plan to create another type of business inside the premises to run parallel with the Post Office.

It will be very sad and serious if the long term future of the Post Office is in jeopardy. Let's hope that the problem can be resolved without too much delay.