Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Four square yards of park

I took these two pictures yesterday morning. The last few days have been beautiful and, in my book, far preferable to a hot summer day. The air has a cool crisp edge and the sky a brilliant blue, as you can see in the bottom picture, taken underneath Lenton Recreation Ground's only Willow tree. Its branches hang down like chandeliers radiating light green light. In front, beside the bowling green, the tall ornamental grasses look silver as they gently sway to and fro in front a smaller Acer tree. Behind you can see the Willow. All this in an area of the park about 6'x6' in size — barely four square yards.

I never visit our little park without asking myself at least once 'Why haven't I noticed that before?'. So it was yesterday with the grasses and the Acer, glowing in their autumn finery against the Willow. For me, a perfect picture. Writing this it has just dawned on me that some of the people milling around outside the park pavilion, if they paid me any attention at all, must have, momentarily at least, wondered what that old fart was doing, just standing there looking at what?

After lunch today, I'm taking Susan with me and I'm going to have another good long stare at perfection. If you have the time and you live or work close by, come and have a look for yourself. You won't be disappointed.

The National Grid has posted an energy supply warning for the coming winter to its website as gas wholesale prices in the UK soar to 40% more than mainland Europe

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

A day of action

I'm not sure that a 'Day of Action' in Lenton really needed the Police and Ambulance services to park themselves at the gates to Lenton Recreation Ground. Perhaps they were expecting a different kind of action?

9am outside the park pavilion, the centre of operations for Lenton's 'Day of Action'. It's packed inside. It was great seeing so many people in one place with just one aim in mind — making Lenton a better place. Perhaps I can persuade some community and politically minded students to campaign for a Lenton Parish Council? It would be a great way for them to gain experience in running a council and local services before they head for Westminster and the big time!

Today, the University of Nottingham, the Students’ Union and Nottingham City Council have held a 'Lenton Day of Awareness and Action'. The aim of the day is 'to help ensure a safe, secure and pleasant environment for all residents of the Lenton community by encouraging good practices such as waste management and social responsibility'.

Students households have received information on topics such as recycling, social responsibility in the community, Houses in Multiple Occupation licensing and anti-burglary initiatives such as SmartWater. Representatives from the Fire and Rescue Service have been taking part and there is even a graffiti cleaning team out there somewhere.

This morning I did my bit by helping the Forum to carry out 'street audits'. I did a few of the avenues and roads around my part of Lenton. Even allowing for the fact that students have been doing litter patrols today, there were few wheelie bins left out and there was very little litter to be seen. New Lenton looked better today than it has for a long time. I keep my fingers crossed that today is not a flash in the pan.

I have decided to get some street audit forms from the Forum to do a weekly check for the next couple of months around my part of Lenton. I will keep you posted.

My congratulations to all involved for a job well done.

Ten people have been killed by stampeding cows in England and Wales during the past ten years.

Park windows

On Sunday the clocks went back and we woke up to daylight again, albeit for a few short weeks before the darkness overtakes us again. At this time of the year the sun cuts across the sky at a lower angle and catches everything in a different way. Shadows seem longer and the sun appears to be acting like an uplighter on some of the trees first thing in the morning.

I see the above two views every day. The top picture is taken from our bed, where we sit first thing in the morning drinking tea, eating our breakfast and reading The Guardian. Neither of us are early risers and I have to admit that has always been one of Susan's great attractions. Providing I get her tea, make her breakfast and give her the G2 section I can stay in bed as long as I like. Unfortunately, as I get older, I am finding that I can no longer sit in bed and read for hours like I used to.

But the joys of living with a woman who likes her bed is one of life's great pleasures and with Susan it has been ever thus from the second day I knew her. Yes, folks, it was love at first sight, but I'll save that story for another day.

The bottom picture is the view from our living room window, where we sit and view the park. It's getting close to my favourite time of the year when it comes to the living room. It's late-afternoon and it's dark. Cars and buses are backed up along the Derby Road as drivers and passengers make their way out of the city. It's also raining and I am curled up on the sofa in front of the fire reading with a cup of tea and a slice of home-made cake. The blinds are still up and as the traffic slowly edges towards the railway bridge, the traffic lights beyond and out of sight go through their never ending sequence of red-amber-green-amber-red-amber-green, which makes the tailback of traffic stop and as they do their red breaking lights catch the surface of the road and bounce back, thus doubling the amount of light I can see through the leafless trees as I look across the park towards the Derby Road. I'll try to take a picture and put it in the blog.

At this time of the year these are comforting thoughts which feel me with pleasure. I really need little else.

British government shrugs off criticisms of corruption and a lack of democracy in Saudi Arabia as the Saudi king arrives on state visit.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Those who care and those who don't

Michael has been caring for the grounds around Lenton's Holy Trinity Church, St Anthony's Church and the Lenton War Memorial since 1988. Today I bumped him outside Priory Park, which is next to St Anthony's Church, as he likes to see the park looking tidy as well. One of Lenton's unsung heroes who keeps the areas he is responsible for so tidy that you never notice them. Like Dave, our groundsman at Lenton Recreation Ground, if he wasn't there you would notice then!

At last most of the rubble in Priory Park has been cleared away, but whoever was responsible for overseeing the work for the Parks Department just couldn't bring themselves to finish tho job properly. No, they had to leave some bricks and rubbish for another day. If they carry on at this rate they might just have Priory Park tidied up in time for Christmas. Has anyone apart from me actually noticed that Priory Park has been locked for weeks?

Senior nurses will be allowed to veto the resuscitation of patients under new guidelines issued yesterday by the medical profession.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Lenton badgers

Should ministers decide to follow (the) advice (to cull the Badger population) they will unleash a countrywide campaign that would make the pro-hunting protesters seem half-hearted. Roy Hattersley, The Guardian, 24 October 2007.

This week, Sir David King, the government's chief scientific adviser, has proposed a cull of up to 80% of the country's badger population. Countless thousands of badgers will be gassed in their sets or whatever because they stand accused of spreading bovine TB. There are alternative solutions to the problem, but they are more expensive. No, the only solution is to exterminate the badgers. The fact that there are other senior scientists and government advisors who disagree with King will be of little comfort if they are ignored.

I will certainly join in any public protest against the mass extermination of badgers, even though Lenton's badgers will probably escape the cull. Yes, within ten minutes walk of our lovely little park we have a badger set. Residents in one of the houses overlooking their set feed them peanuts and watch them at night from their lounge window.

I'm sure you have noticed how the characteristics we associate with animals crop up in our everyday language? To say the animal's name is enough to conjure up a human trait in your mind: pusscat, beaver, weasel, foxy, squirrel plus countless others including badger. The human trait we associate with badgers is one many of us admire. It's their tenacity we like. They have been around for ever, they are social yet private creatures. On our doorstep, but still wild.

I am against the factory farming of animals of any kind. I believe all animals should be properly cared for and treated with respect, even if it means the price of meat and eggs becomes much more expensive. The fact that Lenton's badgers are probably safe from being killed and that I buy organic free-range eggs etc does not lessen my concern for badgers or other animals. It only increases my support for all those who devote their lives to the fight for justice for all animals. The law should protect animals — not rogue farmers and big business.

Forest fires in California cause over 500,000 people to flee their homes.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Talking to a man

This is the cover of an excellent promotional leaflet for Lenton Recreation Ground which has been produced by Nottingham City Council and part-paid for by Nottingham University. It contains information about opening and closing times for 2007, as well as a Good Users' Guide to Parks which I will include in the right-hand column in the next few days.

For the last week a neighbour and I have been locking up the park at sunset, which yesterday was 5.59pm, so I went into the park about fifteen minutes later and spoke to the few groups left in the park: two students having a swing on their way home, six Chinese lads playing basketball and a man with two boys dunking. As on the previous occasions everyone has been friendly, including a young French man who had pitched a tent in the park with a view to spending the night.

Some have looked up and said 'It isn't dark yet', but when I point to the moon in the sky and the fact that the sun has set and the official closing time is 5pm and we're not doing it until just after 6pm, they understand, say 'thanks' and leave. Once it starts getting dark, it happens in minutes. Something I haven't really noticed before.

Yesterday as I walked with the man and the two boys to the Church Street gate, he asked me 'Who owns the park?'.

I replied 'We do, the people of Nottingham, and the city council look after it for us'.

'It's not private then?'

'No' I replied.

He then asked 'How did (the park) get here?', so I told him when it opened and pointed to the park sign by the gate.

He then pointed to the parish church and said 'How old is the church?', so I told him. He said 'You know a lot. Is it the church you go do?'

I replied 'No, I am a non-believer'. 'You don't believe in god?' 'No' I replied. 'Ah, but you must have an image of god in your head, otherwise you wouldn't know what you don't believe in'.

Here was I in a couple of minutes getting into a deep philosophical conversation with a very big man I had never met before, but I could tell he was a gentle soul.

He turned and looked across the park, bathed in amber light filtering through the trees from the Derby Road, and said. Do you believe all this got here by chance?' 'Surely, someone planned all this and made the world?'

'I believe the world is an amazing accident of nature. A bit like the lottery, one day long ago all the right numbers came up together and it happened'.

He then said 'I believe you are a good man' and I returned the compliment. We then shook hands, exchanged first names and I said that I hoped he would return to the park soon. He replied 'I hope so'.

I hope he does. I liked him. He was special. Perhaps if I see him again I will learn more. If I hadn't been locking the park I would never had met him.

The other good thing is that I now have a Park leaflet to hand to users when I close the park. It helps turn what could be a chore into an opportunity to promote Lenton Recreation Ground and that can only be a good thing.

The Guardian alleges that the government is about to do a u-turn and lower the 'green' targets it had set for 2020 in order to save money.

Monday, 22 October 2007

The first heavy frost

Seen at Nottingham Science Park on Saturday. Would you like to rent your own little cabin. It can seat two.

The first heavy frost on Saturday gave the park a magical look.

I have seen the playground empty on countless occasions, but this is the first time the lines and the angles have caught my attention. I kept expecting to see the Channel 4 logo appear before me.

The lake at the nearby Beeston Sidings Nature Reserve, a twenty minute gentle stroll from Lenton Recreation Ground, on Saturday (which is how I came to take the picture of the 'hut to let').

I love the park first thing in the morning, especially at this time of the year. I wander into the park at sunrise and have it to myself. I admit I am a little depressed at the moment by the damage being caused to the grass by young men playing football and rugby in studded boots. Today I am contacting the university and the Parks Department direct. Now that Dave, our groundsman, is on his own most of the time he is going to be hard put to stop the damage getting worse. He will need some help if we are not to see it reduced to a mudbath by Christmas.

Locking the park at dusk for the past week has made a difference. The students do leave when asked and only once have a few climbed over the fence to play in what little light filters through the trees from the street lamps.

I see the city council is looking for a new park sponsor, so I've added my own commercial. It's such a great location that some large company ought to see its potential and pay megabucks to advertise along the Derby Road railings and in the park. I just hope some of the income will find its way to helping Priory Park in Old Lenton and the little Dunkirk Playground. Perhaps we can persuade Virgin to become the sponsor. Then we could have the country's first 'Virgin Park' and our lovely little park would almost certainly have its very own fifteen minutes of fame. Now there's a thought!

The Labour Party spends £1m on the election that never was.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Friary Park: Spot the difference?

Old Lenton Friary Park, 27 September 2007.

Old Lenton Friary Park, 11 October 2007.

Old Lenton Friary Park, 18 October 2007.

'Lenton Priory Park is a Scheduled Ancient Monument' according to NET evidence to the public enquiry on the proposed Chilwell tram extension (see report NET.P8/A, p55, para 6.1).

Nottingham City Council never learns does it? It has a track record of not caring for the heritage it is responsible for (I will spare you and them the details unless challenged). I would like to think that things will get better, but at the moment they continue to go downhill!

Perhaps next week someone will take responsibility? I wonder if English Heritage know about what is happening to a SAM in Nottingham's care? I'll let you know on Tuesday.

Poll shows no change in social mobility after 10 years of Labour rule and a deep North-South divide as 89% say they are judged by class.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Sharing responsibility for the park

Autumn colour in site of proposed Nottingham Peace Garden

Dave and a colleague asking a group of footballers to move on.

Stud marks on Lenton Recreation Ground.

Yesterday afternoon as I was on one of perambulations around Lenton recreation Ground and being dazzled by the autumn colours beginning to take hold in the trees — hence my first picture — when I saw a group of young men gathering in the park, presumably students, and saw one sitting at a picnic bench changing from trainers into studded boots. Dave, our park groundsman, and a colleague noticed them as well. Dave, being the diplomat that he is persuaded them to move on. I don't know what he said, but they left the park. Afterwards I took the picture showing studmarks and a torn strip of grass caused by a sliding boot. There were plenty of others to see and I photographed a few. Anyone who knows what happened to the park a few years ago will appreciate just how quickly the park can be damaged by too much football and rugby.

At the end of the day Dave went home and the park was left unattended. No one expects the staff to bring their beds with them. To make matters worse it was not being locked at night, as I have reported in this blog on previous occasions. Just before dark, the footballers and the studs were back and continued playing until they could only see what they were doing by the light from streetlamps.

Today, I'm pleased to report that the park was locked at dusk and will be every night from now on. Of course, it won't stop people climbing over the fence, but no one can do that anyway.

After a gap of a good few years, there are plans to resurrect the Neighbourhood Watch scheme on Devonshire Promenade. As a first step, I've just spent an hour knocking on every door along the Promenade handing out copies of our community newsletter, News From The Forum, together with other handouts. If you take out the three permanent households, I got answers from 14 out of 19 houses, which I'm very happy with. Several were quite chatty and that is all the encouragement one needs to go ahead with re-launching the Neighbourhood Watch scheme sometime next month.

Perhaps, in the new year, the new 'Street Reps Project', which is being piloted in another part of Lenton by the Dunkirk and Lenton Partnership Forum, the Students' Union, Nottingham University and the City Council's Area 8 Committee will be extended to this part of Lenton and we can get a few students involved in the Neighbourhood Watch and helping to keep an eye on Lenton Recreation Ground.

I make no secret of the fact that I would like to see local residents taking on more responsibility for the park. The council staff it during the day, so the least we could do would be to make sure the park is secure at night. I and other neighbours would be happy to help on a voluntary basis and if we had the help of student Street Reps during term time that would be great. The great beauty of this arrangement is that the park won't be lock early. Nothing annoys park users more than being asked to leave the park before the Sun has set.

Such an arrangement would not do any staff out of a job, because locking the park at dusk is a real logistical problem for Nottingham City Council. Politicians and the media talk about ordinary people having 'responsibilities' as well as 'rights', so when you get local residents willing to accept responsibility surely they should be encouraged and supported? So how about sharing responsibility for the park with us instead of restricting us to consultation meetings and PR exercises?

Lenton Recreation Ground is worth is weight in gold, as are all parks. They deserved to be cared for and cherished by everyone.

Northern Rock Chairman quits four days after being quizzed by MPs.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Inspiration from the web

Reclaim the Streets demo in Brooklyn, New York, September 2006.

You must go and have a look at: street-films/ (see link opposite, headed 'Street Parks USA').

A few minutes ago I found this website purely by chance. I think its inspirational and I want to do it in Lenton! The idea of 'street parks', the size of a car parking bay where folks can relax might not seem that different, but watch the short film and you will see how the idea can be made to work in Lenton.

The film about cycling in Davis City, California, is wow! I love the crossings without lights which give priority to cyclists and pedestrians. Let's have them in Lenton ASAP!

Britain to claim more than 1m sq km of Antartica so as to extend UK oil, gas and mineral rights in South Atlantic.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Recovery time in the park

The bowls season is over for another year and so, for Dave our groundsman, the cycle begins again. The bowling greens need most of the autumn and the winter to recover from the almost daily tramplings they had during the late-spring and summer. To help the greens recover Dave gives them a topcoat of sand and loam. Barrow loads of the stuff are dumped all over the greens then Dave has the back breaking task of spreading it all over the greens.

When Dave sees me get my camera out he stops and I take his picture. In these days of 'action shots' these pictures probably seem quite old fashioned, so I took one of Dave 'on the move' as well. It looks a simple enough job, but it isn't. It takes skill, concentration and patience to do well. Later the same day the bowling greens looked as if they had been covered in a fine layer of gray dust. 'Smooth as a baby's bum' as they say.

Personally, I like 'standing still' pictures where the subject of the photograph appears to engage with the viewer. I also like the autumn and the coming of the shorter days. I suspect we need it as much as nature. Time to recover and to think of the future and the coming of spring, which if recent years is anything to go by is only weeks away...

Ming Campbell resigns as Leader of the Liberal Democrats and the media is all of a frenzy choosing his successor even before the selection process begins.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Before and After in Priory Park - What's changed?

Priory Park, Old Lenton, 11 October 2007 = After

Priory Park, Old Lenton, 27 September 2007 = Before

'Work began clearing all the internal rubbish at (Priory Park, Old Lenton) on Thursday 4th October. The two walls in the park area were taken down on Friday 5th October. I have just completed an inspection of the site and found that the vast majority of the rubble has been cleared away. The steel top to the well has been replaced and welded shut to prevent further damage'. Part of an email dated 5 October 2007 from a Nottingham City Council officer to a city councillor.

My 27 September blog hinted at problems with the condition of the Priory (Pocket) Park in Old Lenton when I commented on its terrible condition, especially when compared to a similar sized park on Nottingham University's main campus about half-a-mile away. I said I wanted to write about the park after 'a happy ending'. Silly me.

Priory Park is less than a ten minute gentle stroll from Lenton Recreation Ground and it has been in a sorry state for some time. At the last Park Consultative Group meeting for Lenton Rec on 15 August, concern was expressed about two other parks in Dunkirk and Lenton ward, including Priory Park. Our local councillors saw it for themselves on 8 September 2007 and started the ball rolling soon after that. On 27 September I found the park locked, but easy to get into and no notices at the two entrances explaining why the park was closed. It was a high-level health and safety risk on a number of fronts and I sent photographs to my local city councillor and was later contacted by the Head of the Parks Department, who was about to go on holiday, but was putting things in hand. Knowing the people I spoke to I had every confidence that by now I would be writing a 'good news' story about Priory Park.

On my way to Beeston today, I decided to walk past Priory Park and see it after it had been made safe, the rubble removed and its 'winter maintenance' had been brought forward to this week. What did I find? I think the above pictures speak for themselves! If this is what it looks like after '
the vast majority of the rubble has been cleared away', then the before picture is not of a shed (a one-time pigeon loft), it is of a tardis (Dr Who fans will know what I mean). The gates are still locked and there are still no notices explaining why the park is closed. The large hole may have a welded lid, but it is still a health and safety hazard and there are other hazards which have had no attention.

Perhaps I would be more understanding if this was the only problem there is when it comes to 'service delivery' and the council, but there others, but I don't have the time now to go into them (I will return to this topic before too long). I tell my councillors and, apart from doing the job themselves, I don't know what else they can do. Time and again it comes back to service delivery and that is the responsibility of paid staff. Another complication is the fact that the Parks Department is one step removed from the action because, as I understand it, the actual work is carried out by the council's Neighbourhood Services department.

There is a saying about how 'life imitates art'. It's a bit like that with Nottingham City Council, except it tries to imitate big business. In this the council is no different to what happens in local and central government as a whole, such is the grip that Thatcherism and corporate capitalism has on the minds of those who govern and manage us. The trouble is public service and capitalism ain't the same thing. I have no doubt that there are many top managers in government who see the democratic element as an irritant in what they regard as a post-democratic age. They believe democracy hinders good government if capitalism is to be truly successful. The trouble is that many of those we elect to govern us are of the same mind. How else do you explain the speed with which some ex-ministers and even serving MPs get their noses in the corporate trough of greed and take on lucrative directorships and 'consultancies'?

There are alternatives to all this. Democratic Socialism and Co-operation for a start. Winston Churchill said something like 'Democracy is cumbersome and long winded but, compared to the alternatives, it's heaven'.

Local people know this, which is we why continue to elect the same Labour councillors election after election. Voters do have the commonsense to separate those who make the policies from those who are meant to implement them. I will keep you posted on what happens next at Priory Park in Old Lenton. It can't get any worse. Can it?

The cost of cleaning up 20 of Britain's nuclear power stations now stands at £73billion according to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Greenpeace put the cost at nearer £100billion.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Dark park thoughts

7.30pm: A 36 bus on Derby Road going to the city

7.30pm: Cars line up on Derby Road

For reasons I won't go into now, our little park is currently not being locked up at night, so there are students playing football and rugger well after dark most nights. Tonight, there was even a couple playing with a frishby and a young man dunking in the dark. So I thought I'd go and photograph some of the action, but seeing me everyone, except the dunker, went out through the Church Street gate as I started walking across the grass from the Derby Road entrance.

It turned out to be far too dark to get a decent picture of the lone dunker, so I turned my attention to the bright lights of the Derby Road which, for some reason, was heavy with traffic going into the city centre and I got the above two pictures. My digital camera is five years old and more like a old-fashioned Kodak Brownie camera, so it's really a point and shoot job. This may well explain why my night time pictures from the park have the swirls of light emanating from the bus and cars. I suspect my shutter speed is too slow to capture an 'instant' image in the dark.

However, my first thought on seeing the pictures was that the streaks of light were the auras of the passengers and the drivers escaping into the night and all that was left in the bus and the cars were the husks of what were once people, who would not see daylight again if their spirits got lost in the ether. Where they were going or what they intended to do I had no idea. Perhaps my pictures explain an experience I used to have when I regularly drove a car. I know Susan used to have the same experience. I could drive somewhere or drive home and not remember a thing about the journey. In some ways it was scary and I used to wonder what would have happened had I had an accident? How would I explain it to myself, let alone others?

Perhaps these pictures are all the evidence I should need to convince me that our minds (or auras) wander whenever they get the chance. They leave us behind and go in search of who knows what, but of one thing I am certain as I look at the streaks of light in the pictures above. Every one of them has a story to tell and is on a journey far greater than the moment they have been caught on a dark Derby Road on an autumn Monday night in October 2007.

All this from a non-believer, who takes the view that no one has summed up the purpose of life better than Michael Foot, who said on the eve of the 1983 General Election: 'We are here to provide for all those who are weaker, hungrier and more battered and crippled than ourselves. That is our only certain good and great purpose on earth'.

Perhaps my hero Dag Hammerskjold is right: 'For him that hath faith, the last miracle will be greater than the first' (from Markings).

Gordon Brown says he won't call an early general election, but admits that he thought about it.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Kites and shadows

Whilst having tea this afternoon I saw a group of students wrestling with what looked like large pieces of plastic sheeting and curiosity got the better of me, so I wandered into the park to see what they were doing. As you can see, they were blowing up a very large kite. The middle picture shows a student with a hand-pump filling one side with air in order to make the kite frame rigid. Fully inflated it was quite a size, perhaps even big enough to lift a small person. The young man with the pump was the leader of the group and showed his colleagues how they should handle the inflated kite. When he offered one of them the chance to have a go, no one came forward. As it was, there was the lightest of breezes, so there was no way the kite was going to take off — which was pity. Having said that, I suspect you have to be pretty strong to handle a big kite like this.

I know very little about kites, having never graduated above having a home-made box kite as a child, made for me and my mates by my grandfather during one of those long school summer holidays we used to have. I do know that Buffalo Bill used kites during either the American Civil War or the First World War which were big enough to carry observers above the battlefield so they could see the position of the enemy and relay the information back to a colleague on the ground. I got that from a Buffalo Bill Annual when I was a child. Perhaps someone out there knows if such kites were really used? Whether true or false, it's a great story.

My top picture shows a tree casting a long shadow across the park at 4.30pm. A reminder that the days are shortening and before we know it it will be dark by late-afternoon. On the plus side it has been a beautiful mild day today, with a clear blue sky. At the end of October the clocks will go back one hour. I'm not sure what I think of British Summer Time or the suggestion that the clocks should go forward an additional hour. I prefer getting up in daylight to the dark, so where does that put me? In an age when fuel prices are escalating and we are all being told to conserve energy, logic says we should use a system which makes the best use of what daylight there is — which might mean me getting up in the dark more!

All this wondering from looking out of our living room window to Lenton Recreation Ground whilst having a cup of tea and a slice of homemade chocolate cake.

BBC-TV commissions new Wallace & Gromit film, Trouble At' Mill, about Wallace and local bread enthusiast Piella Bakewell, to be shown at Christmas 2008. Production will be accompanied by an online video blog.