Saturday, 31 December 2011

What a Wonderful Year!

On New Year's Eve, it's customary to reflect upon the last twelve months - and what a tremendous twelve months I've had!

It started in January with us recruiting three new directors to the board of the Food and Drink Festival - and we've never looked back since!

Then I became a complete 'anorak' and had a long weekend on my own playing on steam trains in Somerset in March.

In early May I ended my involvement in local politics. I did not stand for re-election after eight years on the Town Council and four on the Borough. I did, however, take great pleasure in helping Philip Leason become one of the  very few independent candidates to get re-elected.

A fortnight in the sun on a Greek island with daughter, son-in-law and the three grandchildren followed in May.

And on our return we made good use of the caravan on several occasions over the summer.

June saw me starting this blog. And I've managed to keep it up to date! Nearly one hundred postings, several dozen comments and compliments and over two thousand page views. Very fulfilling!

In October we held the most successful Food and Drink Festival ever - very much helped by superb weather. And what a fantastic band of volunteers we've now got supporting us!

And in November, the 25th anniversary Bonfire and Fireworks achieved a record gate which enabled us to make another record distribution to the various groups and bodies who helped in the organisation!

In early December a very exciting project was agreed upon involving the Food and Drink Festival - but you will have to wait a little longer for us to publish the details!

Then Jan and I were presented with our sixth grandchild - just before we sailed off on our first cruise, a week in December on the North Sea!
And we've just enjoyed a fantastic Christmas - Christmas Day with friends and the next three days with family. And tonight we finish the year with a dinner party here at home with a group of neighbours
Life is so good! I hope 2012 is just as good!


Wednesday, 28 December 2011


On Christmas Eve I had to make a last minute, panic purchase trip into town. You'd have thought with 364 days notice we would have managed to get the shopping organised beforehand! And I wish I hadn't gone because what I saw has upset my Christmas. Outside Ethel Austin and the Carpet shop I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw this monstrosity.

I guess it is something to do with the new electricity supply for town events. I understand the previous supply had been declared inappropriate for it's new uses, e.g. Farmers' Markets and town events etc. So the unobtrusive old supply has been replaced by this eyesore.

Bearing in mind the stringent planning controls that apply to any development in the High Street due to it being a Conservation Area, I can't believe that this galvanised tin box has been allowed. And apart from it's size, shape and colour, I sincerely hope that the brick paving around it's base will be repaired to replace what I hope is only temporary tarmac.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

A very Happy Christmas to you all!

Well, it's 3 o'clock on Christmas Eve afternoon and we're almost there! What with the new grandchild and our cruise, Christmas has suddenly arrived! We're just so laid back about it this year I can't believe it!

I have a lovely feeling that we're going to end a wonderful year with a fantatsic Christmas!

I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Time for a parking policy rethink?

A few disconnected thoughts!

A couple of weeks ago I bought a copy of the Sentinel which carried a banner headline that Stoke City Council are considering reducing their parking charges next year! They've reached the conclusion that the increase in charges last year has had a detrimental impact on the city's economy. Fewer people are going up to the Potteries to do their shopping. Surprise! Surprise!

Then a few days ago I was in a well known shop in the town and was immediately engaged in conversation by the owner who thought I was still on the council. She was complaining bitterly that her takings this year are down on the same period last year due - in  her view - to the difficulties her customers are experiencing in parking in the Station Road to pop into her shop. Several of her customers had vowed never to come shopping in Stone again due to having received tickets for overstaying their time by a matter of a few minutes.

Then I saw a headline in the Newsletter about tickets being issued to church goers in Margaret Street. This came as no surprise to me, having watched Traffic Wardens 'hiding' around the corner of Station Road just waiting to pounce on motorists who were unaware of the new timings in Margaret Street.

And today I've just read the Mary Portas Report, commissioned by the Prime Minister, upon the future of High Streets. An extremely good report which should be compulsory reading for every councillor - particularly the section about parking!

So where am I going with this posting? Simple. It's high time that the provision of good and ample parking is recognised as being essential to the viability of any town centre. Local authorities should regard parking provision as a necessity and an incentive to attract people into towns and not, primarily, as a source of revenue.

In my view Stafford Borough Council need to look afresh at their attitude to parking provision in Stone. In order to better inform the debate, I have today sent a Freedom of Information request to the Borough Council to find exactly how many tickets have been issued by wardens to motorists on the streets of Stone in the last six months and how much the Borough has received in parking fines from them. I'll keep you informed!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Our new grandson - update

For the benefit of family and friends, here's a quick update on Alison and Richard's new baby! Within a few days of hearing the news, we packed an overnight case and dashed down to Dartmouth for a quick visit!

What a little stunner he is! A mass of dark hair and a thirst like his step-grandfather! And, oh, was grandma a happy bunny?!!!

A very proud Grandma with Thomas

We only had time for an overnight stop - we had to get back to pack for our week on the high seas and both Alison and Richard were rather tired in any event. However it was great to see them.

And we've since heard that they've chosen the names - Thomas Edward Sampson Bland. Ali was quick to explain that the name Samson was chosen after the name of an island in the Scillies that they both love and not because of his long black locks!

The diet's on hold!

I have to report that my diet has suffered a very serious set back! In fact, it has now been postponed until after Christmas! The reason? A weeks cruise on a luxury Fred Olson cruise ship, the Boudicca, around the Christmas markets of the Sweden, Denmark and Germany.

Janet has always believed herself to be a poor sailor. On the very few occasions we have crossed the Channel by sea, she has always stuffed herself full of Stugoron and found the nearest bar! And it's why we have spent a fortune taking the caravan abroad through the tunnel. So it was with great surprise that she instantly agreed to an invitation from friends to join them on Regent Travels 25th anniversary cruise last week! Yes - a week's cruising in the North Sea and the Baltic in December!

Our floating palace - moored at Bremarhaven before the gale!

Well, it tums out it was all in her mind. We have had a wonderful week! From Portsmouth we sailed up to Gothenberg, down to Copenhagen and then through the Kiel canal to Bremerhaven. All in total luxury! I don't know why but we were upgraded to a deluxe suite. The staff and crew were so friendly and efficient. And the meals were just superb! Full buffet breakfasts - healthy fruit followed by a full fry every day! Either an a la carte lunch or, again, a vast choice from the buffet! Afternoon tea with sandwiches, cakes and scones. Then a five course evening dinner with at least five choices of mains! And after a show each night, a midnight buffet (including fish and chips) was available but, by that stage, I was a beaten man!

The only slight disappointment was that we were unable to dock in Zeebrugge last Friday to visit the Christmas Market in Bruges due to us being in  a storm force 10 (yes - ten!) gale. The pilot was unable to get out to us so I sat and watched in amazement as Jan picked the meat out of a lobster at lunch as the mother of all storms raged outside the restaurant window! And the lobster was only for starters!

So we're now back on terra firma and the scales don't lie! With Christmas already under way I've had to accept the inevitable - I won't be losing any weight between now and Twelfth Night!

Friday, 9 December 2011

Nothing but trouble ahead.

I woke up early this morning and put the earpieces in to listen to 5Live and caught the breaking news of Cameron's defiance at the Brussels summit. So the rest of Europe will now go off and do their own thing and Britain's role in Europe will be further diminished. John Major's group of 'bastards' (his description of the eurosceptics in his midst) will feel empowered and the coalition's fault lines will suddenly widen.

I've always thought that it would be the European issue which would ultimately bring down Cameron and the coalition but never thought it would begin to happen so quickly. The likes of Bill Cash and his henchmen would have us out tomorrow and then we truly are finished.

But it's even more dangerous than that now. Because everything is now in the same melting pot - Britain's role in Europe, the future of the Eurozone and the euro - and  the global economy.

The Dad's Army catchphrase "We're all doomed" may become very apt in the weeks to come.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Another massive Bonfire payout!

Regular readers of my posts will know that this year's Bonfire and Firework display was a fantastic success. Last night we held our debriefing meeting and listened intently to a very happy Treasurer presenting his report. Record gate receipts and the biggest firework display ever set off in Stone!

Despite the increased cost of the fireworks - to celebrate our 25th anniversary - the record gate meant that we could again distribute a record amount of - wait for it! - £11,000.

The Stone Bonfire and Fireworks event is organised entirely by volunteers from local youth and community groups. Each year the excess over income is apportioned amongst the groups. So this year the Army Cadet Force, local Scout and Guide groups, a local PTA and several other community groups will all benefit from their labours.

This event is a true community event. Organised entirely by volunteers from groups in Stone for the benefit of the people of Stone and any profits going back into the community groups for the future work of those groups in the town - it doesn't get any better than that!

I was flattered when I was asked to take over the Chair a few years ago and I continue to feel honoured to be involved with such a fantastic group of people. A massive thanks to them all and to our several sponsors and supporters.

And another date for your diary - next years Bonfire and Fireworks will be on Saturday 3rd November!

Monday, 5 December 2011

A 'buzzing' Farmers' Market!

Stone's Farmers' Markets just get better and better! And by all accounts, from shoppers and traders alike, Saturday's market was the best yet!

A huge crowd turned out to enjoy the chilly but dry day under a beautiful blue sky. By mid morning the High Street was heaving and stall holders were doing a roaring trade. Stone Town Band played carols outside the Crown Hotel. You could avail yourself of the offer of a Free Hug (I declined!).  An accordion playing busker supplemented the live music on offer. And you could take in the aromas of smoking kippers and frying burgers. What a wonderful festive atmosphere!

By midday, several stalls were selling out fast! And come early afternoon, many stall holders were packing up to go home - all with smiles on their faces! And chatting to some of them it became obvious all had done well. As one said "it was just buzzing today"

And the good news is that there will be a Farmers' Market in January!. For several years past, the first Saturday in January has always fallen within days of New Year so we've never had a market in January. But this time there's almost a full week in between. So it has been decided to continue with 'the first Saturday in the month' format - so put Saturday 7th January in your new diaries now!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

You always remember where you were when......

It's a fact that if you are old enough you will always remember where you were when President Kennedy was assasinated (I was in my bedroom studying for my finals) or when Elvis Presley died (we were on holiday in Cornwall).  And most people remember when 9/11 occurred. Well, yesterday I was able to add another memorable event to the list - the moment we heard the news that Janet's daughter, Alison, had given birth to our sixth grandchild! We were in Cadbury World!

I think Jan had almost given up hope of either of her two daughters bestowing grandchildren upon us. Alison married a few years ago and seemed to be quite content to approach the ripe old age of forty rowing gigs on the River Dart and working in Richard's business. But then we received the fantastic news earlier in the year that she was 'with child'!

Well, yesterday, we took two of my daughter's children, Ellie and Will, out for the day because their school had closed due to the strike. We were halfway around the Cadbury World tour when Jan looked at a message on her phone and I immediately saw the most wonderful smile spread across her face! She passed the phone to me to show me the text message - Ali was in labour! Within the hour, another message that it was a baby boy! And Jan has never stopped smiling since!

A wonderful day with two of our grandchildren was made even more memorable by the wonders of text messaging announcing the birth of another! Truly, a day to remember!