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.