Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Stone Music Festival comes of age!

What a great weekend! Jan and I were in town for most of Saturday and Sunday enjoying a most amazing weekend of live music.

I have a very personal interest in Stone's Music Festival. Although I am far too busy to even contemplate offering to help (the Music Festival always takes place when I'm up to the neck in Food and Drink Festival preparation) I take great pride in watching the Music Festival go from strength to strength. Let me explain. As many of you know, Jan and I have family down in Dartmouth in South Devon and we've been going down to their Music Festival for years. Whenever I saw what Dartmouth were doing I kept thinking that Stone would be an ideal venue to do something similar. So when Steve Brookes and his wife Kate (briefly) became town councillors several years ago, I suggested a small party of us should visit Dartmouth's Festival in the hope that they'd be inspired to organise something in Stone. Well, a very good weekend was had by all! And out of that visit, Steve and Kate decided to form a committee and start a Music Festival up here in Stone.

Sensibly, they learnt to walk before they tried to run. So from small beginnings, the Festival has grown year on year to achieve a size and status that will now ensure that the Stone Music Festival will become another great community event in the Stone calendar. It truly came of age this weekend.

This year's innovation of a two stage arrangement worked a treat. Whilst one group of performers were on one stage, another was setting up and doing sound checks on the other. Great continuity. And Jan and I have learnt a lesson - next year we will buy tickets in advance  for ticketed events ! Both Friday night and Saturday night's concerts were total sell outs!

And what a bonus - the weather was kind! So we've sat outside the Lounge watching some great acts including  Supersets, Murphy's Marbles and who was the guitarist who was getting the most amazing sounds from his instrument as he sat down with it on his knees? Fantastic! I loved the Slade tribute band 'Slyde' but Jan's favourite was 'Re-Take That' on Sunday night. What a crowd!

Well done Steve, Kate and everyone else involved. The Stone Music Festival is well and truly on the map!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

An accident waiting to happen

Waist high this side -
no indication on other side -
no audible warning = accident?
Much has been said and written about the 'improvements' to the traffic system in Christchurch Way including the alterations at the junction with High Street. But as far a I know, no one has mentioned the new lights at the pedestrian crossing.

Pedestrians wanting to cross the road used to press the button and were then able to see the 'Red Man' lit up on the poles across the road. Then, when the lights changed and it was safe to cross, the Green Man was visible and a bleeping sound could be heard. But that's changed now.

The new system doesn't have any lights visible from across the road. The only visible indication is the red/green light at waist height on one pole. If that light is hidden behind another pedestrian, there's no other way of knowing which lights are on. And when it is safe to cross, there's no audible warning at all. How do visually impaired pedestrians cope?

I fear that this new system could confuse people. Or am I missing something?

A rare day of sunshine!

I couldn't believe my eyes when I woke up on Saturday! Sunshine streaming through the bedroom curtains! Yes, it was Farmers' Market day!

For a long time we always used to boast that it never rained on a Farmers Market Saturday but that proud claim bit the dust quite a while ago. And last week's forecast suggested that we'd all need wellies and sou'westers to keep dry. But no! We had superb weather all day and everyone had a great time.

We've now got signs on all roads into town and emblazoned with the 'This Saturday' stickers. And the new Farmers' Market website is now up and working. Just a few more ways in which Stone Food and Drink Festival promote the Farmers' Market.

And it's good to see how local groups and organisations are now using the Farmers' Market to promote themselves. Stone in Bloom have been very prominent over the last few months as have the Stone Music and Arts Festival. But next month their events will be over so it will be  time for Stone Food and Drink Festival to get out there to promote the October event!

Westbridge Park is still at risk

Westbridge Park is a very special place. Originally the site of the town rubbish tip and owned by Stone Urban District Council, it was handed over to Stafford Borough Council when local government reorganisation took place in the 1970's because the then Town Council didn't think they could afford to maintain it. It's been used ever since as a place of recreation, sport and leisure. A green open space linking the meadows to the north and south to form a unique linear green lung embracing the river and canal and separating  the town and Walton.

But being the only large level area of land in a central location it has been the constant target of rumours of redevelopment for years. And no more so than in recent times. We've all heard the rumours! Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsburys - according to a 'man in the pub' they've all got plans to build on it!

Sadly, I guess there  may be some truth in the rumours. It is obvious that Stafford Borough Council are strapped for cash and Westbridge Park must be worth a small fortune.

But surely, I've heard people say, they wouldn't be allowed to build on Westbridge Park, would they? Well ponder on this. Last year Stafford Borough Council published their draft 'Plan for Stafford Borough' If adopted this document will form the basis of future development plans in the borough. There's a whole section about Stone. And in a section called 'Core Policy 7' it states that the Borough Council will seek to strengthen the town centre's role as a Market Town by "encouraging the development and expansion of the town centre to provide a vibrant place where people can meet, shop, eat and spend leisure time in a safe and pleasant environment including provision of mixed use development at Westbridge Park". It can't be plainer than that, can it?

This draft document apparently went out to consultation in September and October last year but I have yet to meet any one who knew about it. Looking at the Council's website, it would appear that only one comment was made about this particular proposal - and that from an 'insider' who could be said to have an interest in the matter. I suppose the next thing that will happen is that the 'mixed use development' idea will appear in a glossy document which will state that there were no objections received after a full consultation!

So why have I gone into so much detail? Well, Cllr. Mike Heenan, leader of the Borough Council was quoted in last week's Newsletter as saying that "there were no plans to sell off the park" and that if the situation changed "no decision would be taken without a full consultation of the people of Stone". Well, at first sight, that may be reassuring. But if the Council are trying to adopt a policy of permitting  'mixed use development' on Westbridge Park, the people of Stone need to be aware of it.

It's high time the people of Stone were made aware of the Borough Council's proposals. And the idea of any type of development - mixed use or otherwise - needs to be scotched. Westbridge Park is very special to the people of Stone and should be retained in it's present state for future generations. I thought I'd retired from town politics but unless someone else takes up the cudgels, I feel another campaign coming on!

Once in eighty years!

The 'sump' where Scotch Brook
 goes under the canal about
to overflow into the canal!
What is happening to our weather? I've seen the man from the Met Office explain that the jet stream is the cause of all our problems - instead of crossing the Atlantic and whizzing past us to the north of Scotland, it is now rushing south of us and whooshing over France and Germany bringing low pressure systems to the British Isles. But no one has explained why! And as a result Britain has had weeks and weeks of torrential rain and floods.

Scotch Brook breaks it's banks
 and The Star is flooded
Six or seven years ago we had a down pour that caused floods in the Stonefield area, Walton and Aston Lodge. There was uproar. Public meetings were held. We wee told by officials from the Council not to panic - "This is a once in eighty years phenomena" they said! Dare they say that now?

It's a serious question. If the strategic planning is based on the 'one in eighty years' theory, the planning needs to change. The world's weather patterns are not behaving themselves. And if the experiences of the last few months are anything to go by, we've all got to adopt a 'what if it floods' mindset. So Staffordshire County Council must ask themselves if their six monthly gulley emptying policy is adequate. What systems need to be implemented to get sandbags delivered to vulnerable properties? Locally, what steps need to be taken at Pingle Lane to deal with the brook in full spate. Why did the Scotch Brook break its banks in Stafford Road? Does the undergrowth on the banks need to be cleared? Why does the run off from the Common Plott miss the gulley in the corner by the flats and pour down Oulton Road. These are jut a few of the issues I've identified - but there will be dozens of others. Has the time come for someone somewhere in an office in Stafford to be given the job of reassessing the problem? It is obvious that the 'once in eighty years' principle is a load of baloney! 

Our feathered friends

Regular readers of these posts will know that I'm a bit of a keen 'bider' and that I'm rather proud of having attracted a whole variety of birds into our garden over the years. Well, this year we've really excelled ourselves.

For the last few weeks we have been mesmerised by the antics of many of our feathered friends. I've mentioned our Great Spotted Woodpecker here before but I have some great news to report  - we now have a small family of them! Yes, Mum, Dad and youngster! It's been fascinating watching the parents teaching the youngster how to take peanuts from the feeders and, after about three weeks, he's got the hang of it. They are in the garden every day for lengthy periods so I can only assume they've nested nearby. And other families have been popping in to feed as well. We counted seven jackdaws yesterday and we've got loads of blue tit and great tit chicks flitting around the garden.

I was worried that the torrential rain of the last month might have caused our garden birds some problems but it seems they've all survived and, indeed, prospered.

Photo not mine - sadly!
Courtesy of Google Images
And if  anyone has seen me recently walking around town staring up at the sky, it's been for a good reason. I've been looking to see if I can spot a Red Kite. Twitter has been buzzing with news of sightings over Stone during the last few weeks. I first saw a Red Kite in mid Wales in the mid 70's and in recent years in Buckinghamshire whenever I visit my son. And I know that they've been seen in Shropshire - so it wouldn't be impossible for them to have been seen in Staffordshire. The habitat around Stone would be ideal for them - wooded areas bounding onto farmland - so my fingers and toes are crossed that we may get some here soon. You'll know when you see one - their tails seem to twist the wrong way in flight and they tumble around in the sky. Let me know if you see one!

Festival wash out

Oh what a great shame. After so much work and effort by some very dedicated volunteers, Stone Festival was truly affected by the weather this year.

QEII struuting their stuff !
Jan and I went down to Westbridge Park on the Friday evening to watch the Queen tribute band, QEII. We went in wellies, waterproof jackets and with umbrellas - and we needed to! This was the first time the Festival Committee had organised an event on the Friday night and the  Party in the Park was a great idea. QEII were just superb. We saw them of course a couple of years ago when they stole the show at the Music Festival so we knew they'd be good. They were! A crowd of a few hundred braved the elements and was sufficient, I am told, for the event to break even. But what a night it would have been if it had been a warm dry summer's evening. Oh well, perhaps next year!

And sadly it got no better the following day. We were down on Westbridge Park early to set up the Food and Drink Festival display trailer and it was obvious that it had rained all night. The field was water logged and the various organisations and charities  setting up their stalls were all looking rather damp.

Antony Lucas holds
 the Olympic Torch
The Festival Parade made the best of a bad job but due to the condition of the field, the lorries carrying the floats could not get onto the park. What a shame after so much time and effort had been spent by so many. The Imps motor cycle display team had to cut their display short and, all in all, the weather spoilt the whole day.

But I'm sure that John Sayer and his team won't let any despondency set in! I'm in no doubt that they are already starting to organise next year's event - well done John et al!

An age old problem

A visit to St Michael's Hall a couple of weeks ago confirmed two things - we've got a fantastic group of very talented people in Stone and secondly, the provision and financing of community buildings in the town is becoming a very real issue.

Firstly, the talent. Jan and I spent an hilarious couple of hours at Maplins Holiday Camp splitting our sides with laughter and yelling "Hi di hi" at the appropriate moments! Yes, it was the Revellers' summer production of the same name - and it was amazing! Obviously based on the television series of a few years ago, the cast pulled off some superb performances. John Wright's grumpy old character telling everyone to "Sod off" will last long in the memory! Included in the admission price was a supper of fish, chips and mushy peas at the interval - now that's a proper night out! Well done, Revellers!

But as we left we were handed a piece of paper appealing for funds to maintain and renovate the hall. Work is required on the roof, the electrics and the plumbing and the target was £45,000. Which has made me think yet again about how community space in the town is financed. St. Michael's Hall is appealing for funds. St John's Church Hall closed a year or so ago when the ceiling became unsafe. The Town Council are considering giving the Frank Jordan Centre back to the Borough Council because it is, in the words of one councillor, a "white elephant". The Scouts Gang Shows have to be held in The Gatehouse at Stafford because there is no hall suitable in Stone but they cannot afford to rehearse there. Walton Community Centre has pulled itself out of the doldrums of a few years ago and Christchurch Annexe is operating very successfully. But these two venues on their own will never be able to cope with the demand.

So the old conumdrum still exists - how can we provide and finance a community building in Stone suitable for the many and varied requirements that exist and where could it be put? Answers on a postcard, please?

Monday, 9 July 2012

Who reads my blog?

I simply ask the question because, since I started blogging last June, this site has received 8,274 page views! I can't belive it!

The stats page (which only I can access!) is very interesting indeed - listing, amonst other things,  which pages had the most views. It seems that most visitors to the site are looking for local news or my 'take' on what's going on in town. There's nothing better than a bit of good gossip, is there?!

Blogging in Fits and Starts!

Oh dear, I'm sorry. Here comes another apology!

I've kept prompting myself to get on the computer and post a few blogs but didn't realise until I did so earlier today that it's been almost a month since my last post. I can only plead that I've been a very busy boy!

So I've just made a list of over half a dozen topics that I need to write about tomorrow to bring this blog up to date. And when I've done so I must make it a rule to do my blogging before I go to the pub for my relaxation!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Thick black smoke

On leaving the Pheasant last night, a huge pall of black smoke was rising from somewhere down town. The last time I saw a similar sight was a few years ago when the fire took place on the boatyard. Fearing something serious, Janet drove us down into town when it became obvious that the problem was not in the town itself but over towards the Stone Business Park.

All under control!
Turning left at Walton island, our first thoughts were that the new Aldi store was going up in flames but as we approached it was obvious that the fire was behind Aldi probably on the allotments. We retraced our steps and went down Tilling Drive and found three fire appliances near the old disused Bibby's Social Club. It turned out that the fire was in a storage shed at the rear of the club and the Fire Service had the blaze well under control.

I don't know the extent of the damage or loss but, thank goodness, it was not as serious as we first thought. Of course, the question that I'm sure will now be investigated is how did the fire start? Or, more accurately, who started it? Fires like this are rarely caused by self-combustion!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Two days at the County Show

You can bet your shirt on it, can't you? It will rain for two days whenever the County Show takes place! Pity I didn't put a bet on it earlier in the year! Yes, it rained - and it rained!

Thankfully, we had booked the stall for the Stone Food and Drink Festival  inside the Food Hall so we were sheltered from the elements. And the fact that it was so miserable outside ensured that people came indoors in their thousands. We were there to promote the Food and Drink Festival and handed out over two thousand leaflets. We received a great response and met dozens of people who enthused about our Festival. Scores of them also entered a free prize draw we were running to win a pair of weekend passes. A very worthwhile event even if I do need a week to recover!

Jack Taylor, our young chef prodigy, came down both days to help us and, lo and behold, on Thursday had somehow managed to get himself invited to go up on stage and do a joint cookery demonstration with Sarah Gayton from Taste of the Moorlands! What a double act! I think we've found our 'star' turn for the Festival in October!

And to finish the show on a high note - what better than Lymestone Brewery winning third place in the Best Stall in Show category? Well done, Viv!

What a Great Shame

I am only too well aware that, no matter how much planning goes into organising an event, there is one thing you cannot control and that is the weather! And last weekend proved the point across the country for the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. So many events were either washed off or severely affected by the rain.

Janet and I popped into town last weekend to support the street party but, sadly, very few others had done the same! And you can't blame them because it was chucking it down. Members of the public were outnumbered by some very cold and wet stewards - such a shame. But at least the Town Mayor, Cllr. Mike Shaw, managed to find some shelter and put on a brave face!

And then the following night we went down to Crown Meadow to watch the beacon being lit and to see the fireworks. Thankfully it was a dry night but very few people had turned out - probably three to four hundred at most. I have to say this climax to the weekend had been very poorly advertised. Even the single banner on Morrison's railings advertised the event as taking place in Westbridge Park! Which was a great pity because it was another great firework display - fired, of course, by Stone's very own team of fireworks supremos, Charles Purton et al! Good one, Charlie.

Let's play catch-up!

Apologies! It's over a week since I last posted and I have already had an enquiry from someone who was worried I may be ill! Rest assured I am alive and well - I've just been such a busy boy that I haven't had a moment to keep this blog up to date. So here goes - a quick catch up with a couple of postings.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Have you seen any bats this year?

I'm worried. The good weather of the last few days has enabled us to sit outside until way past dusk. In fact we've eaten out on the patio three or four times this week. We love our patio - it looks across the lawn and garden and is completely shielded from the prying bedroom windows of neighbouring houses. It's our little bit of heaven.

It's also a superb place to watch wildlife. Over the years we've been up close and personal to all manner of 'duskwatch' goodies. The songbirds singing their final chorus, the snuffling of our resident hedgehog as he starts his evening slug hunt, the swifts flitting across the sky indicating the height at which the midges and insects are flying. And, up until this year, the bats squeaking and dashing across between the trees. But, so far not one sighting.

So what's happening? Have we lost the bats or will we see them later in the year? Did they not survive the winter or did the wet spring cause them problems. Or - and this is my current theory - has the recent spate of housing development in the vicinity destroyed their roosts? Ten years ago the sky above our house would be alive with bats at dusk. Since then two properties and several outbuildings were demolished to build Harding Grove behind our garden. Building works are currently underway up the road at the large house opposite Alleynes School entrance with the old house being reroofed and, again, outbuildings being demolished. Now I know the developers always manage to find an 'expert' who reports that there are no bat roosts in the vicinity of the proposed development (why don't the planners commission their own surveys/) but I find it odd that we've apparently lost our bats after so much building work has recently taken place.

But perhaps I've got it all wrong. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled and if I am mistaken I'll let you know immediately.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Q - In which county is Stoke-on-Trent?

I'm puzzled! A brand new sign has gone up on the A34 southbound near the 'Monkey Island' just before Tittensor welcoming drivers to Staffordshire!

When I last walked the Staffordshire Way many years ago we started near the county's northerly boundary at Mow Cop. Now it seems the county has shrunk! What's going on?

I guess the answer is a political one - not geographic. Is it that Stoke-on-Trent is a unitary authority  and therefore not, politically or administratively, part of Staffordshire County Council? And has someone in the Highways Department at the County Council got some money left over in their budget which is burning a hole in their pocket?

Well, it's all very confusing! Stoke-on-Trent has always had a massive identity problem - chucking it out of the county ain't going to help! Seriously it's a marketing disaster. The county should be proud of Stoke-on-Trent's contribution  to selling the Staffordshire and the city needs to firmly identified with its location.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Now it's the turn of the chewing gum!

We were all delighted that the town was cleared of graffiti a couple of weeks ago - thanks to the efforts of Kieron McKnight who galvanised the young folk of the town and volunteers into action!

Today it was chewing gum that was under attack in the High Street. Stafford Borough Council operatives were out with a wonderful piece of kit. Similar to a pressure washer lance, it appeared to dissolve the trodden in chewing gum with ease. And following up behind it was a scrubbing machine that left the paving the cleanest it's ever been!

This year it is absolutely essential that our town is looking at it's best when we have two visits from the judges from the RHS In Bloom panel. This year Stone is being judged in both the Heart of England competition and, for the first time ever, the national Britain in Bloom competition. Best of luck to Stone in Bloom!

So our zero tolerance to graffiti and the removal of chewing gum today will all help to present our town in the best possible light.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

No cause for concern!

I have to admit it - I am very protective so far as the Stone Food and Drink Festival is concerned. So when I was told a few days ago that Newcastle Borough Council was organising a Food Festival this weekend I felt it my duty to check it out to see if we were under threat!

Demonstrating to a packed audience!
I hadn't read or seen anything about it so I carried out a Google search. Nothing on the Borough Council's website - just a fleeting reference on a third party site. No adverts or posters and I heard nothing on Radio Stoke. Perhaps my informant had made a mistake?

A trip to Newcastle was called for and so this morning Janet and I parked on the Midway car park and set off to investigate. Outside the Guildhall we could see a few stalls. In fact I counted nine! This turned out to be the "Bumper Farmers' Market" that was listed in a flyer I was handed! And Allan Jones and Ruby Rainey, our Taste of Staffordshire award winning chefs from Keele Hall, were giving a cookery demonstration to a crowd of at least a dozen!

So I don't think we need worry too much about competition from Newcastle! But to promote this as a Food Festival will give other food festivals a bad name.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Good news from the High Street!

Contrary to the views expressed by some of the 'doom and glomm' brigade who should know better, our High Street is very much alive and well. And a visit to town today confirms it.

First of all, the brilliant news is that we have a butchers shop in town again! I was a great supporter of Mark when he ran Russells the Butchers shop in Adies Alley and was bitterly disappointed when, for personal reasons, he had to close down. Sadly his successor was only open a few weeks and I was fearful that his departure marked the end an era of independent butchers in the town centre. But no! Stefan, Paul and Ben, who already operate a mail order business supplying high quality meats and local produce from their farm in Herefordshire, have taken over the shop and are now open for business. When I called in this morning the display cabinets were full of a great range of meats. So spread the word and let's give them our support.

And the other piece of good news is that the Stone branch of Clinton cards has survived the administrator's cull. The company went into liquidation a week ago and it was announced that over three hundred and fifty branches would be closed immediately with a loss of 2800 jobs. Thankfully, the Stone branch was not on the closure list and it remains open for business pending attempts by the liquidator to sell the company as a going concern. Let's hope this story has a happy ending.

So the old adage "use it or lose it" has acquired some real significance this week. If you are in town to buy some meat or a birthday card, why not consider supporting these two shops.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Taste of Staffordshire Awards night

What a great night we had last night! It was the awards night for the Master Chef and Young Chef competitions organised by Taste of Staffordshire at The Moat House at Action Trussell.

This prestigious event is the highlight of year for chefs around the county. The six finalists in each section  had been hard at work in the kitchens at Stafford College all day being judged. Then they had to wait until the cheese and coffee was being served before finding out how they had fared. That must have been nerve racking for them.

Three of us from the Food and Drink Festival were there -  Charlotte our marketing and PR guru, Collin Taylor our compere and myself - to introduce ourselves to the chefs and to invite them to appear at the Food and Drink Festival in October.

We were treated to an amazing meal from Mat Davies and his team at the Moathouse and then came the awards ceremony presented by our old friend and former Radio Stoke personality Janine Machin. We were delighted when it was announced that Rosanna Moseley from The Bistro at Aston Marina was the runner up in the Young Chef competition. A great result for the fabulous team down at the marina. And then the winner was declared - Ruby Rainey from The Terrace Restaurant at Keele Hall who was sitting with her mum at our table! A fantastic result.

Afterwards we had chance to speak to most of the contestants and they were all eager to demonstrate at Stone in October. So we're going to have an array of talent on display, I promise you!

If only we had a Castle!

It's grossly unfair. Ludlow and Stone are both market towns with long pedigrees. Both are about the same size and both have a great sense of community. But I'm jealous - Ludlow has a castle and we haven't!

So that's how butter's made!
(Castle walls in background)
I've been going down to Ludlow for many years to attend their various festivals which are all held within the castle walls. The castle provides a fantastic backdrop and atmosphere to all their events. And the walls are still tall and strong enough to provide a secure site - no metal security fencing there!

We can do events in Stone as well as anywhere but a castle really would add that missing magic ingredient! Oh well, we'll just have to make do with Westbridge Park!

These thoughts were prompted by our visit to the Ludlow Spring Festival on Sunday - another great event where I was able to sample the renowned Butty Bach from Wye Valley Brewery with Dave Hicks in the Real Ale Tent. A great show with over 60 local food producers (many of whom will be at the Stone Food and Drink Festival this year), over 140 real ales and a couple of hundred classic cars looking superb in the warm sunshine.

Of course, the visit was purely a fact finding research trip for the Food and Drink Festival! It's a hard job but someone has to do it!

Friday, 11 May 2012

I don't normally do 'Crack of Dawn"!

Would I be willing to be interviewed on BBC Radio Stoke to talk about the increase in passenger numbers at Stone Station?  "Yes, of course" I replied, always being eager to promote our wonderful rail service!

But then the bombshell - they wanted to do a live interview from the Station at 7.30 this morning!  You see, since I retired several years ago, I normally only ever see one 7.30 in a day and that is usually after tea when I'm in my local! So I had to have an early night last night and set the alarm for the crack of dawn.

Well, actually it wasn't too painful. Did you know it's light at that hour of the day? And, surprisingly, there are lots of people up and about! The interview went out live on the Pete Morgan Breakfast Show and from the early feedback I've received it seems I didn't make a complete fool of myself!

My only concern is that I might start flag a little later in the day. Best, perhaps, that I have a bit of a rest now to avoid falling asleep over my pint tonight!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

What was the point?

Against my better judgement, I agreed last night to go with a couple of pals to the Annual Meeting of Stone Town Council held in the Station. In the event, I wasted twenty minutes of valuable drinking time!

Apparently it is a legal requirement that such a meeting be held to enable the Council to report to the public and to afford members of the public an opportunity to question their elected representatives. Well that sounds all very commendable but in practice it's a farce!

So what happened? Well, Cllr. June Price, the Town Mayor recited from a list of events that had taken place in the town over the last twelve months - none of which, bar one, had been organised by the Town Council. Stone's County Councillor, Phillip Jones, gave a report which only briefly referred to Stone but managed to weave in words such as "austerity", "growth" and "coalition"!

Then the floor was handed over to the public. Antony Lucas, as Chairman of Stone in Bloom, took thirty seconds to thank the Council for it's support and I took a further thirty seconds to point out that, according to research carried by Taste of Staffordshire,  the Stone Food and Drink Festival generated almost £400,000 additional revenue for the town. And that was it! The Mayor then used her gavel to close the meeting and the only 'real' member of the public sitting next to me was totally bewildered!

He thought he was coming to see 'democracy in action' and that he might have heard something about the Christchurch Way controversy, the negative comments about our thriving High Street or the recent graffiti problems. But not so! As we bade him farewell, he was wondering how he was going to explain his swift return home to his wife - he'd warned her he might be out late!

When I retired from local politics last year, I vowed I would never attend another Council meeting. I am now wishing I'd stuck to my resolution!

Monday, 7 May 2012

Well done, Kieron!

It looks as if the graffiti saga is reaching a very satisfactory conclusion!

First of all, Staffordshire Police have confirmed that two 15 year olds have been arrested in relation to the spraying of graffiti. Let's hope that these arrests will bring this nonsense to an end. The course of justice will now take its course. I just worry that public opinion is demanding a more severe outcome than I fear may occur. (Someone was even suggesting a ducking stool over the canal or stocks on Westbridge Park!)

Kieron McKnight, organiser, finishes the job!
And secondly, there was another fantastic turn out for the community clean up which took place yesterday. Organised by Kieron McKnight, the Youth and Community worker at Christchurch, dozens turned up to help. The use of a brand new power washer had been organised by a very generous local person whose identity I don't know, the customers in the Pheasant pub donated £70 towards the cost of materials and Chritstchurch volunteers cooked bacon and sausages for lunch. By lunchtime all the graffiti had been removed. The community spirit amongst the volunteers was wonderful and, judging by the number of motorists who greeted us by beeping their horns, the efforts were appreciated by everyone who went passed!

Well done Kieron!

A messy business!

Last week's AGM of the Trustees of the Common Plott (yes- strictly speaking, it is spelt with a double 'T'!) went very much according to the usual format.

The Chairman's and Treasurer's reports recounted another very successful year. The finances are now robust - a very different story to a few years ago when Foot and Mouth disease played havoc with the grazing income.

Two related issues did, however, cause some debate - dog fouling and trespassing on the hay meadow. The problem of dogs fouling the fields has always been an issue but is even more of a problem now due to the increased numbers of people using the Plott. Irresponsible dog owners who fail to 'pick up' are a menace. The Chairman was able to report that a prosecution was being considered after a Dog Warden made a recent visit to the Plott. It was agreed that further steps need to be taken to deal with this problem and it will be discussed at the next meeting of the Trustees.

The other issue that was raised was the fact that walkers are not keeping to the footpath across the wild flower meadow. We have some rare plants growing in the meadow and people and dogs roaming all over the meadow cause considerable damage. It was agreed again that action needs to be taken and that the next Trustees meeting will consider what can be done to resolve the problem.

In the meantime, if you use the Plott, please remember to keep to the paths and if you walk your dog on the Plott, please 'pick up' afterwards.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Graffiti removal update.

I've just had a call from Kieron McKnight, the Youth and Community worker from Christchurch, with good news. On Monday, I put him onto a company which specialises in graffiti removal products including one which is not hazardous and can be used by untrained operatives. Five litres was ordered and Kieron phoned to say that it arrived this morning. He's tried it out and it works a treat!

And he's also heard from Network Rail who, no doubt, have seen this week's 'Newsletter'! The front page story told how, originally, Kieron was told by a Network Rail employee that any attempt to remove the graffiti would be regarded as an act of criminal damage and render the volunteer liable to arrest! Network Rail now have no objection to us removing the graffiti!!!!

So another community anti graffiti session will take place on Sunday morning at 11.00 meeting on Christchurch Car Park. And Kieron has arranged for lunch to be provided to volunteers at 1.00 pm.

Incidentally, the cleaning fluid and tools cost money so any donations to the church to cover the cost would be very much appreciated. There will  be collections in a few town centre pubs tonight.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

A gallant effort! But more work will be needed.

The graffiti issue moves on a pace! Immediately after I posted my last comments on Monday, Twitter was alive with tweeps as to whether we should publish pictures of the graffiti or not. A good debate and I hope I haven't upset Jamie at A Little Bit of Stone too much. I think he thought that I was having a go at him - I definitely was not! His site is superb and I would not say or do anything to diminish his efforts.

The volunteers in Newcastle Street
Indeed, thanks to A Little Bit of Stone's coverage of the issue, a community action team was organised by Christ Church youth and community worker Kieron  McKnight this morning to try and remove the graffiti. Requests for help from Stafford Borough Council and Network Rail (who are responsible for the bridge) apparently met with some rather unhelpful responses. So local residents turned up at 10 o'clock and set to work. Unfortunately, household bleach, oven cleaner and white spirits were only partially successful and more work will have to be done to completely remove it all.

But the great news is that enquiries have discovered a company that supplies a special solvent which can be safely used by volunteers. And the search is now on to find a mobile pressure washer. An anonymous donor has made a payment to cover the cost of the solvent! I understand that there will also be collections in some local pubs over the next few days to raise funds to ensure that these fantastic volunteers have the right tools to complete the job.

I understand that there may be another 'volunteers session' this weekend. (I'll post more details when I know them) In the meantime if you know someone with a portable jet washer please let the organisers know via A Little Bit of Stone. And if someone asks for a donation in your local pub, please put your hand in your pocket. And if you're doing nothing when the next cleanup is organised come along and give a hand.

Well done to all for today! Together we can solve this problem

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Anger and outrage

I have never experienced such an outburst of collective anger and outrage before. I went for a quiet drink but was greeted by a whole pub talking about one thing only. The topic was, of course, the daubing of more graffiti around the Stonefield area the night before. Normally placid people are very angry indeed.

Let's be clear, the culprits derive their satisfaction from having their 'tags' seen by as many people as possible. So publishing photographs of their work is playing straight into their hands. That is why I shall not be publishing any photographs here, on Facebook or on Twitter.  Local councillors should resist the opportunity of local newspaper photo shoots. And declaring, as one councillor did last week, that "we will find out who you are" has probably taunted the culprits to even more activity. This could develop into a game of 'cat and mouse'.

If our local councillors have any power or influence at all, let them use it to make sure that Stafford Borough Council immediately send out their 'graffitti busters' team to eradicate the mess without delay. These eyesores should be removed tomorrow.

And the rest of us must do everything we can to make sure that the police can trace, apprehend and prosecute the offenders immediately. Someone knows something. Someone may have seen something. This is probably not the work of a single person - almost certainly the culprits will have had look-outs close by. The 'tags' mean something to certain people. Someone bought the spray paint. Someone in a house somewhere in the town knows something that could put a stop to this. The sooner the culprits are arrested the better - for their sake. The level of people's feelings last night worried me.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

A Change of Heart

Some time ago, I harangued Stone Town Council for penny pinching when they were dealing with an application for a grant to Stone in Bloom. So I was pleased to hear that there had been a change of mind on the part of a majority of Town Councillors at a recent meeting and that the application for a £2000 grant from the Stone in Bloom committee has now been approved.

Common sense has prevailed, thank goodness! Stone in Bloom are up against some stiff competition this year because they have been entered in the national competition. What an accolade for the town. And they need every penny they can raise. So if you're in town on a Farmers Market day, make sure you buy one of their mugs,  get yourself a badge or sign up as a Friend of Stone in Bloom. A good result in the national competition will really put Stone on the map!

A week of meetings

Phew! What a week it's been. I thought that life would get a bit slower and easier now that I had given up council work and  few of my other other commitments. But not a bit of it!

On Monday we held  a meeting of our Food and Drink Festival sponsorship working group. Tuesday - Friends of Stone Station. Then on Wednesday a fascinating meeting in Stoke (I can't say anything at the moment!) with another railway based meeting in the evening, this time the North Staffordshire Rail Promotion Group. An even busier Thursday - almost all day over at Uttoxeter to meet various people involved with the Food and Drink Festival there in June. And the week ended last evening with a get together with a major player in both Festivals - but this time we met in the Royal Exchange!

So I'm looking for a couple of days with nothing in the diary so that I can catch my breath and do everything I now have to do!

Did anyone do it?

I'm curious. Last Saturday a rather large crane appeared on the car park at Langtrys to offer bungee jumps to the brave (or stupid!) young folk of the town. It was setting up when we walked into town and I noticed that they were also offering trips up in the cage as well as the jumps themselves.

I rather fancied going up to get a bird's eye view of the town. But sadly, by the time we'd seen President, had lunch at La Dolce Vita and walked home with the shopping, they were packing the whole thing up. They could have only been open for business for a couple of hours at the most!

Then last night I was talking in the pub to a friend of ours whose house overlooks Langtrys. He had kept his eye on the crane for the whole time it was there and never saw a single customer!

So did anyone have a go? Perhaps our young folk are neither brave nor stupid!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Here's the good news I promised!

I posted a piece the other day announcing London Midland's plans to introduce three extra trains later in the day from London in the December timetable. And I teased you by saying that I hoped to have some good news about passenger figures at Stone Station.

Well, I've now got the email from London Midland stating that they have calculated that 76,500 passenger journeys were made from Stone Station in the twelve months to the end of March 2011. That's a fantastic figure and surely justifies the campaign we ran for several years to get the trains running again from Stone.

Informed estimates are suggesting that the figures for the following twelve months to March 2012 could well top 100,000. Another great success story!

Another visit from President

President arrives!
Stone may have missed out on the route of the Olympic torch but we made up for it yesterday when the unique steam powered narrow boat, President, stopped off in the town for a couple of hours!  President was  beginning its journey to London to take part in the Diamond Jubilee flotilla on the Thames on June 3rd when it will represent Staffordshire. This flotilla should be a sight to behold - boats of all shapes and sizes stretching for over twelve and a half miles!

And yesterday a very good crowd turned out to wish her 'bon voyage'. She moored alongside the towpath above Star Lock for a couple of hours and her crew and Inland Waterways volunteers were on hand to answer all questions. Built in 1909 , President was restored in the 1970's and is the only operational steam narrow boat on the canal network.

And two hours later, departs.
She has, of course, visited Stone on several previous occasions. Only last year did I see a video of her taken, I think, in 1991, when the then Mayor of Stone Stan Goodall and the then Mayor of Stafford Mike Heenan, were in Stone to see her off on the last leg of the journey which transported the statue of James Brindley up to Etruria where it now stands at the junction of the Trent and Mersey and the Caldon Canals.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Great Music Live!

That was the promise made by the organisers of the Stoke-on-Trent Festival 2011-12 when we ordered our season tickets again last summer. And wow, have they delivered! Last night we were in the Victoria Hall in Hanley for the season's finale - the BBC Philharmonic playing Schubert's 5th, soloist Martin Roscoe playing Beethoven 4th Piano Concerto and ending with Elgar's Enigma Variations! A new conductor to me, Juanjo Mena, brought out the very best from the players to create a really wonderful evening.

I've had a season ticket in the same seat for well over thirty years and I never cease to wonder at how lucky we are in this area in terms of classical music. The current Festival programme offered the BBC Philharmonic, the CBSO,the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, the Philharmonic and the Halle orchestras. And we have been treated to appearances by, amongst others,  Vladimir Ashkenazy, Lesley Garrett, Tasmin Little and, for my money the most awe inspiring of all, the blind Japanese pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii.

And all in a hall built over a hundred years ago! We don't need to spend millions on a hall like the Bridgewater Hall  in Manchester or the Symphony Hall in Birmingham. We've had the best hall for acoustics here in North Staffordshire all the time! Indeed, Sir Malcolm Sargeant went on record as saying that the Victoria Hall was his favourite for having the best acoustics of any hall he'd ever conducted in.

I've already put the dates for next season in my diary!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Hot off the press!

I've just received an email informing me that London Midland are about to annnounce that, from December, they will be running three extra trains out of Euston during the week at 1646, 1724 and 2013.
This is great news and is the culmination of a long campaign to get later departures back from London.

Coupled with the later train on Sundays in the current timetable, we now have a timetable which makes sense for a lot more travellers.

And I hope to be able to announce some very positive news soon about the increase in passenger numbers. I just love posting good news stories!

Let's support 'Free after Three' campaign

Some time ago, I urged local councillors to read the Mary Portas report on town centre regeneration and in particular to pay heed to her comments about a radical need for a rethink on car parking policies. Well, I'd like to think that Cllr. Philip Jones saw my posting and took my advice!

On reading today's Newsletter, I see that he has put forward a proposal that Stafford Borough Council should allow free car parking in Stone and Stafford after three o'clock. Now that's a very positive suggestion which needs to be fully supported. As he says, it would encourage shoppers to 'pop into town' for those last minute purchases and would be extremely convenient for mums who have picked up their children from school. And it would counter the lure of free parking at supermarkets.

But why not go one step further? Why not suspend on-street parking restrictions after three o'clock as well? Let's support any scheme that will attract people into our town. Well done, Philip!

Every drain blocked!

Junction with Princes Street
A few weeks ago, a neighbour mentioned to me that he'd seen several blocked grids in Oulton Road. A couple of days ago I noticed the one opposite our house was well and truly full of mud and silt and reported it to Staffordshire Highways through the FixMyStreet website.

So today, after a rather wet night, I thought I'd take a special interest in the grids down the road as I walked into town. I was amazed to find that every grid from our house down to Stonefield Square is full of silt and overflowing. I have taken a photograph of each one and reproduce a few here.
Opposite ABB entrance

The big worry here is that if we have any prolonged heavy rain the water in the gutters will rush straight down the road over the grids and end up flooding Stonefield Square or Cross Street again. We've had floods in both these areas in the last few years and the occupiers of the terraced houses in Cross Street will be in despair if their premises are flooded for a third time.

Above York Street junction

We've always had a problem with lack of gulley emptying in Oulton Road but the problem appears to have been exacerbated by silt and mud being brought onto the road by the building development going on up the road opposite the entrance to Alleynes School. Occasionally the builders have  employed a road sweeper machine to keep the road clean but inevitably rain has washed a lot of debris into the grids.
Opposite Cross Street junction

I just hope we don't have a downpour before something is done to rectify the problem. I've reported the problem again on FixMyStreet and highlighted the problem on Twitter and on Facebook. Let's hope we see some action soon!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

A Tale of Two Tills

I've been shopping twice this week and my experiences may explain why one store is expanding and the other has, over the past few years, had its problems!

On Monday, I was in the High Street and popped into a branch of a national chain and selected a newspaper and a paperback book. I then went to the only till open and stood behind a lady who was being served. After a few minutes I realised that this lady was having an involved discussion with the assistant regarding lottery tickets! She was obviously having some tickets checked to see if she had won anything. This involved some confusion! First of all they couldn't agree on how many tickets had been handed over - a recount was necessary! Then one of the winning tickets caused mayhem when the till refused to deal with it! So help was called for from another assistant. The three of them then tried all over again. By this time a rather long queue had formed - at least six other customers all wanting to pay for their purchases - including a man behind me who was threatening to leave because, by now he was going to be late for work! Eventually, the problem was sorted and the second assistant opened up the other till and I was able to pay for my goods and leave.

By contrast, yesterday I went down to a recently opened store on the A34. After selecting a few salad items for my diet (!) I went to the tills. The very pleasant young lady whizzed my purchases through her scanner and all was paid for within sixty seconds. On other occasions I have seen staff taken off shelf stacking duties to open extra tills whenever a queue develops at any of the checkouts.

So, as they used to say in my school exam papers - Compare and Contrast!

Another weekend away!

I felt a bit like royalty last weekend! Do you remember the Royal Wedding last year and the shots of the Queen and Prince Philip sitting on seats immediately alongside the happy couple during the service? Well we had a similar experience in Worcester Cathedral last Saturday!

A proud aunt in the pink!
Jan's nephew was getting married and the service took place near the alter close to the choir stalls. The ushers guided us to our seats and there were our names on reserved seats right on the front row! I sneaked a photo of the proud aunt before the service but photography during the service was banned.

And what a service! Majestic surroundings, beautiful flowers, astounding choir (all friends of the couple), a trumpet voluntary (played  by another nephew) and a beautiful and radiant bride. A wedding we'll never forget. And followed by a reception to match. A wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

All ready for some sunshine!

All ready for a new season
I popped up to the allotment this morning to sort out the water barrels before the forecasted rain arrives. Our water tap doesn't get turned on at the mains until May so we are totally dependent on captured rainwater. We have a water butt collecting rain water off the shed roof and the overflow then feeds four 50 gallons butts inside the polytunnel by underground pipe. This system usuallly enables us to be almost self sufficient on rain alone for most of the year.

Ooccasionally, however, the system stops working so I have to check downspouts, taps and pipework to make sure we don't miss a drop. It only took a few minutes to sort out the problem. And then I was able to do what you should always do on an alotment - sit down and think!

Today the allotment looked great. Jan does almost all the work - she loves it! She spends hours up there. The raised beds have all been prepared and are ready for the season ahead. The onions and garlic are in and the broad beans are up. The apple and plum trees are in blossom. We are almost self sufficient in the fruit and veg area. We are still using fresh cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and leeks. And we have three freezers at home which guarantee that we always have tomatoes, peas, beans and soft fruit.

Oh yes, life is good! Bring on the summer!

A set back!

I regret to report that my slimming campaign has suffered a slight set back! I blame the wife. It was she who smelt Cornish pasties in a cafe when we visited Derbyshire last week; then she took me shopping - no Low C beer but bottles of real ale on a '2 for £3' offer; then she wanted to eat out instead of cooking a meal in the van; and on our return we had to be sociable at a house warming party when pork pies were offered around! I don't suppose the fish and chips with friends at the end of the evening helped either. Oh, and I forgot the single malt!

Then of course, it's been Easter weekend with visits from several members of the family. Two cooked meals on Monday! And a few  pints of HPA in the Pheasant with the son-in-law to finish off the festivities!

So that's it! Back to the regime and I hope to have more positive news to report soon!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

That's it till after October!

It's great fun and really satisfying  being involved in helping to organise the Stone Food and Drink Festival. But it does have one major drawback. Most of the hard work has to be done between now and October. So the prospect of Jan and I getting any time away during the summer is virtually nil.

"Looks like Spring has arrived"
So that is why, over the last few months, we've hardly been at home. And I suspect that our caravan break at Chatsworth last week was probably the last time we'll take time out until the Festival is over.

"Oops! Spoke too soon!"
We had a lovely time in Derbyshire - made even more memorable by the snow that fell last Wednesday. On Tuesday we toured the house and gardens at Chatsworth House in Spring-like weather and then we woke up to snow on Wednesday morning! What's happening to our weather?

But we're back home now. The caravan has been cleaned and is back under its cover. And you'll probably see a bit more of me around town as we now start to put the show back on again.

Well said, Sir!

In common with thousands of Stone residents, I eagerly await the Stone Gazette dropping through my letter box each month.

There was a time when the Evening Sentinel had three editions each day and on a Friday you could get the Weekly Sentinel.  They sent reporters to funerals to record who attended. They had staff photographers to snap the happy couple on their wedding day. They reported the opening of a bank's new branch office or the installation of a new President of the local golf club.  There wasn't much they missed. Well, those days are well and truly over. Indeed, I ask myself each week why I bother to buy the local weekly paper for the amount of Stone news in it.

That's why we are so lucky to have the Gazette. All right, I know most of the articles are a 'cut and paste' job from press releases issued by the promoters of the stories. But there's alot of interesting stuff in there. And we do get some really good original articles from Christine Conlin plus some real gems in Philip Leason's history columns.

But the reason I most enjoy the Gazette is for the monthly editorial! Paul Mitchell's 'grumpy old man' approach to life reflects my feelings on most issues - and especially this month.

Everything he says about a career in journalism could apply with equal force to the legal profession. I must be asked at least once a week if I can help someones son, daughter, nephew etc to find a training contract with a firm of solicitors.  And, like Paul, I have to explain that they haven't got a cat in hells chance of getting one.

Schools and the career services have been doing their pupils a grave disservice for years by building expectations of a career in the law. Going to University to get a law degree is the easy bit. After all, with a pass rate of 98.5% at A levels and a target of 50% of school leavers going on to university, you'd have to be a bit dim not to be able to do it! But after you've got your law degree, getting a training contract with a solicitor or pupillage with a barristers' chambers is well nigh impossible. And without one or the other, the graduate will never qualify as a solicitor or a barrister. The legal profession has been shrinking for years. Legal aid has been slashed, divorce can be obtained by filling in forms, conveyancing vanished with the housing slump, wills can now be written by anyone and accident claims are now handled by 'no win - no fee' conglomerates. There are simply no jobs. So forget it.

Mrs. Worthington was exhorted not to put her daughter on the stage. These days a career 'on the boards' is probably the safer bet!

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Totally Locally

I've just come across this whilst checking a few friends Facebook sites. What fantastic sentiments and advice! We should all make a copy and read it every day!

I heard the other day that someone was trying to set up a Totally Locally meeting here in Stone but I can't remember who told me. And I haven't seen anything about it since.

Does anyone out there know any more? It sounds like a campaign we should all support. The future of towns like ours depends upon us all practicising the ethos behind the Totally Locally campaign.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Exciting times ahead!

I love meeting people with a passion for Staffordshire and who, like me, believe that small is beautiful! Today I met such a person - Emily Whitehead who is the inspiration behind an amazing website, Simply Staffordshire. Emily wants to get Simply Staffordshire members involved in the Uttoxeter Food and Drink Festival (and, I hope, the Stone Festival in October) so we met up at the Racecourse this morning to discuss various ideas with her.

Most of her members are small producers and businesses who have been handpicked by her to ensure high standards. As she spoke, I could almost hear echos of Brian Blundell in my ears! Like Brian, she believes that it will be the small local businesses that will do most for the local economy. She, too, believes that we should be proud of our food and drink heritage.

Emily clearly has some very useful PR and marketing skills and I have no doubt that Simply Staffordshire is going to become a business to watch. It's going to be good working with her.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

That's the way to do it!

On Monday evening, I chaired the AGM of the Bonfire and Firework committee and it was all done and dusted in under an hour!

All our hard work goes up in flames!
I've said it many times but I'll say it again - this is a great committee to be involved with. Everyone is there to make sure that we have a brilliant show and they all do their own specific jobs. No arguments or back stabbings. No personal agendas. Its a pleasure to work with them.

The bullet points from the meeting were that we approved the accounts for last year (another record payout of £11,00 to the local groups who organise the event - see below); confirmed the date of this years event (Saturday 3rd November); agreed to hold the entry prices at last year's level (no change for three years) and confirmed a similar budget as last year for the fireworks.

It was also decided that we must be more positive in explaining that the event is wholly organised by volunteers from various groups in the town including Scout and Guide groups, Army Cadets and a PTA. Many people are under the mistaken impression that the show is put on by 'the council'! Oh no it isn't!

And we shall be stressing that the profit is split amongst the local good causes who are either involved in organising the show or who are nominated by volunteers. Last year, we distributed £11,000 amongst Stone Outward Guides, Stone Army Cadet Force, 1st Stone Scout Group, Aston & Little Stoke Scout Group, St Michael's PTA, Stone District Scout Council, N. Staffs Basics Accident Doctors, 2nd Stone Scout Group, Stone Stroke Club, Katherine House Hospice, Stone Alzheimer's Drop-In Club, St Michael's Church Bell Fund, British Red Cross and Douglas Macmillan Hospice.

And that makes it all worth while.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Four thousand Page Views!

I've just checked the statistics page for this blog and received a very pleasant surprise! Whilst I was away over the weekend this site had it's 4,000 page view!

And the fascinating statistic is that the posting with the highest number of hits was the Joules clock story (not a great surprise) closely followed by my suggestion about using the police station site and car park to create a full one way system around the top end of town (very surprising!).

So a big thank you to everyone who comes to look at my blog.

My annual pilgrimage!

Call me an anorak if you wish but I just love steam trains! I'm old enough to have have used them regularly when I was a schoolboy. I used to catch the 8.35 from Barlaston Station to school at Newcastle. Yes, that was in the days when Newcastle had a railway station. No trace now of course - the D road obliterated the line completely and the station site opposite the Borough Arms Hotel now forms part of the walk through the gardens to Queen Street. And Barlaston station is no more, either.

The largest loco - 70000 Britannia
So whenever I have the chance I always try to get down to Minehead for the West Somerset Spring Steam Gala. And Janet takes advantage of my trip to go and see her girls in Dartmouth. So we were up at the crack of dawn on Friday and made good progress down the M5 to Taunton. There Jan dropped me off at the bus station and, using my bus pass (one of the advantages of age!) I enjoyed a delightful  bus journey through the beautiful countryside of North Somerset to Minehead. I saw so much more than if I had been driving a car.

And the smallest !
I then spent the rest of the weekend hopping on and off steams trains. Wonderful! The West Somerset Railway is a proper railway - over twenty miles long and eight stations. Apart from a handful of paid employees, the whole operation is run by volunteers - over 600 of them. I've been a member for several years and just wished I lived nearer. If I did, you'd never see me! I'd be there with my sleeves rolled up at every opportunity!

But the weekend brought home to me just how important leisure and tourism is to the local economy of towns like Minehead. Every hotel, guest house and B&B was full; restaurants and pubs were doing a roaring trade and, due to the brilliant weather, the ice cream stalls all had long queues. I had a conversation with a local who was of the opinion that without the visitors to the railway the town would have gone out of business years ago. We've no similar attraction in Stone but we must must make the most of what we've got to attract the tourist pound. Which make our Farmers' Market and our Festivals all the more important.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Great excitement!

Over the last few weeks, I've been heavily involved in helping to organise a new food and drink festival at Uttoxeter Racecourse in June. The events team at Uttoxeter contacted us a couple of months ago and asked if Stone Food and Drink Festival would be willing to work with them to put on a summer festival and we were only too pleased to help. Indeed we were honoured to think that they valued our input so highly.

Obviously we had to negotiate an appropriate financial arrangement with them and we were able to do so on the basis that Stone Food and Drink Festival would receive all the benefits accruing from our involvement. So it's been full tilt ever since!

This morning I popped over to Uttoxeter to have an updating meeting with Dan Whitehead and came away 'on a high'. Both Dan and I had been receiving exactly the same positive responses from traders and public alike. Bookings for stalls are well above expectations and a couple of hundred entrance tickets have already been sold online!

We're lining up several meetings for next week with more traders and a couple of potential sponsors. Busy times ahead! And the beauty of it is that all the work involved is being done in tandem with our own Stone festival. So we all benefit!