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