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