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!