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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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?
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!
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?
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!