Friday, 30 November 2007

Hotch Potch days

The Christmas ice rink in Nottingham's Market Square.

Birthday flowers for Susan from Alicia and Steve.

When I was at work this would have been a holiday week because it was Susan's birthday week. I had six weeks holiday for much of my working life and four were always reserved for important weeks in our lives: our birthdays, the week we met and the week we married. Christmas usually accounted for another, so there was always a floating week which we sometimes bolted onto one of the other weeks. It was a system which worked well.

This week has been a little different. An elderly friend who lives alone has been in hospital with a broken shoulder and I have been visiting him daily, then 'phoning around his family and other friends with news. With luck he will go home next week and others will play a more active role in his care and support as we live too far away and don't have a car.

I also broke a filling and had to dash off to the dentist. I now have two appointments before Christmas so that I can have a crown made and fitted. I also had to go for a pre-op interview, as I am having a 'juvenile' bunion operated on in early-January and will be out of action for some time. Both these things happened on Susan's birthday, but we did manage to have a nice long lunch at the Loch Fyne seafood restaurant in town and saw the temporary ice rink in the Market Square. Our arrival home coincided with our friend Judith coming round with a very scrummy chocolate cake which just keeps on going (thank you Judith).

Yesterday I had my picture taken by the Evening Post for a news story they hope to run about my planned Lenton walking map for next spring. We will see if they do. By far the most depressing news this week has been about Labour's 'Donorgate' with high-ranking Party officials and government ministers claiming ignorance of the law or that they have done nothing wrong in accepting donations from one person via another. Coming so soon after the cash for honours scandal it makes one feel ashamed to be a member of the Labour Party, even though I know these idiots who bring the Party into disrepute are a very small minority. The trouble is they have top jobs.

So, what is to be done? I am in no doubt. They should be reprimanded by the Labour Party and barred from holding public or Party office for a suitable period of time. The public has to see that we do not treat this kind of behaviour lightly. There cannot be one law for ordinary mortals and another for the great and the good. These people have become detached from reality.

For years, Susan was the Financial Supervisor of our local credit union. Susan spent a good day every month going though the records and accounts, sometimes asking questions, sometimes highlighting concerns. She was expected to know the rules and regulations governing credit unions and had to take part in training days. If something had gone wrong, Susan would have been called to account and would not have been able to hide behind excuses. And so it should be with the Labour Party. I hope there is no cover up. I hope there are prosecutions and I hope people are forced to resign if they don't have the decency to do it voluntarily.

I voted for Harriet Harman in the Deputy Labour Party Leadership contest earlier this year and feel betrayed. Her excuses are feeble mumblings and her behaviour is that of someone without any sense of honour or responsibility. She cannot hide behind her 'campaign team'. If she has any sense of obligation to the Labour Party then she should resign. It is all so, so sad and she only has herself to blame. She is an experienced politician who has done a lot of good things over the years, but this only makes what she allowed to happen worse. She should have known better.

I decribe my blog as being about 'life in and around a small inner-city park' and so it is. This week my life has been touched by a national scandal, as well as more personal events which remind me of the importance of goodness and friends and family. These are the things which matter most, but we cannot escape from the fact that how we are able to live our lives as individuals and a community is shaped and influenced, to some degree, by events in other places — which is why we have to take an interest in them, even if we would rather being thinking about things closer to home.

Happy Birthday Susan and thank you Alicia and Steve for the lovely flowers and Judith for the chocolate cake. I love you all.

Harriet Harman, the Labour deputy leader, was forced to implicate Gordon Brown deeper into the donor scandal last night as Scotland Yard was called in to investigate the affair.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Caught in the act

A late autumn corner

The photographer photographed

To the best of my knowledge this only the second time I have been caught in the act. This picture was taken by my friend Rosie from Stoke when she and her husband, Paul, came to Nottingham for the day on Friday and we took them for lunch in our community cafe, the Crocus Cafe, followed by a perambulation around parts of New and Old Lenton, including Priory Park and Lenton Recreation Ground.

Rosie is a great blogger and was the person who suggested I did a blog about Lenton Recreation Ground in February. It seems as if I have been doing my blog a lot longer. Rosie was doing her blog for well over a year before she told me about it. She and Paul are great walkers and go out and about almost every weekend. They also have cats, so her blog is a wonderful mix of wonderful places in and around the English Midlands and life on the home front. Her latest blog is about their visit to Nottingham on Friday and includes some great photographs, as well as reminiscences of her early working life in the city centre. It makes you appreciate what a great place Nottingham is. You can reach her blog, Corners of my Mind, via my links section in the column opposite.

As December draws closer by the day, I know that autumn is about to give way to winter, so any late flurries of leaves need to be enjoyed to the full. On Wednesday last, I stood and watched the tree above shredding its leaves before me as I toured the park with Dave, our groundsman, and other members of the Park Consultative Group, so I went back and took this picture. Soon, all the leaves will be off the trees and even the carpets of leaves will be gone. It's a wonderful time of the year. This morning when I opened the park, the rising sun was catching the trunks of two silver birches by the playground area and created a wonderful image. I did not have my camera with me, so I simply stood for a view minutes watching the colours change as the sun's rays caught the trees and moved across their bark creating different shadows and hues of pale whites and creams speckled with black and brown from the natural slashes in the bark. A truly memorable few moments, all for free, in a little inner-city park right outside my front door. How lucky I am.

As Labor party leader Kevin Rudd swept to victory in Australia's elections yesterday, he told jubilant supporters he would 'write a new page in our nation's history'.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Priory Park re-opens

Visitors from Stoke-on-Trent spot an Old Lenton 'tree rat'.

Priory Park dressed for autumn.

The Boat Inn public house on Priory Street.

At long last Priory Park has re-opened and looks much better than it has for ages. The clearing away and cutting back of much of the shrubbery has given this little park a more open appearance and makes it easier for would-be visitors to view the park from Abbey Street and Gregory Street before they enter. Given that it had become a daytime hide-away for druggies and alcoholics these improvements are a good thing.

The area of the old pigeon loft has finally been cleared, but still needs some remedial work. Instead of rubble we now have a mix of dirt and the remains of a concrete floor, but no one is likely to break an ankle any longer. With a little planning and for a small amount of money, this area could make an attractive 'gateway' into the adjoining Priory 'churchyard park'. I'm also glad that the large pieces of dressed stone dotted around the park have been left in situ.

Hopefully, the next issue of News From The Forum (the quarterly newsletter published by the Dunkirk and Lenton Partnership Forum) can contain a news story about this modest makeover for Priory Park and appeal for local residents, who live nearby, to take an interest in its future wellbeing by forming a Priory Park Supporters Group. It would be great if a medium to long-term plan for its future could be put in place which takes advantage of the coming of the Tram (assuming it gets eventual planning permission) and links it in with the churchyard park so that Old Lenton has a new focal point across from the White Hart public house. Otherwise this corner of Old Lenton is in danger of becoming a urban wilderness devoid of reference points other than tram tracks and a much enlarged road junction.

I still think the problems with Priory Park have been badly managed and could have been sorted out much sooner. I don't know if Nottingham City Council used its own staff to do the work or whether it brought in contract labour. I intend to find out. Council officials say that contract labour is cheaper and often better, but are the costs of preparing briefs and tenders, together with management and admin time factored into these costs? I know from my work as head of a housing management team before I retired that internal overheads when added to outside maintenance contracts made them far less attractive. As they say, there are lies, damn lies and statistics.

Finally, the bottom picture captures some of the detail on the front of the Boat Inn public house on Priory Street. I must go there for a lunchtime sandwich soon to see if it is as pleasing on the inside as it is from the outside.

Twenty-four Britons among 154 passengers rescued after cruise ship is holed in waters off South Shetland.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Lenton Recreation Ground Ltd

My picture shows Dave, our Park groundsman, with members of the Park Consultative Group after yesterday's Group meeting in the Pavilion when he led a tour of the Park. At this point on the tour of the park they were looking at the site of the planned Nottingham Peace Garden and whether this was the best location. This is the garden's third location within the park since the idea was first mooted. Any of the locations would have been OK by me. This site is by the Park's Derby Road entrance and whilst it will be a little noisier because of its proximity to the main road, it may well mean more visitors. Hopefully, by this time next year it will all be in place.

The Park Consultative Group meeting was well attended and most of time we were in agreement about things. The most worrying thing for me is the political culture which seems to exist within the Parks Department that says Nottingham's parks have to be run like a business and see nothing wrong with using low-paid contract workers instead of employing more grounds staff directly. They see it as a way of saving money. The permanent staff are more likely to be managers or admin, who have job security and a decent pension to look forward to.

The city council makes great play of its logo and slogan 'Nottingham Pride' or something like that. I like the logo and the idea behind it, but what disappoints is the lack of commitment to those who carry out what they perceive to be the more lowly tasks like street cleaning and looking after our parks. They can be on low pay and short-term contracts, probably paid by private contractors or agencies the city council pays to do what it couldn't get away with — ie. paying those who keep our city looking good less than they deserve!

The individuals from the council who come along to meetings and talk up the contract culture are misguided and probably don't even realise just how political they are. As I say, they have job security and pensions, but appear to have no concern for the lack of security or pensions for the contract workers they so enthusiastically claim are doing a better job than many of the grounds staff employed directly by the city council. The implication being that all grounds staff should be contract workers.

If you accept their arguments, then we will soon have Lenton Recreation Ground Ltd and turnstiles at the gates. Of course parks and bowling greens don't make money, so let's sell the Park and build houses on it. That way Lenton Recreation Ground will finally make a profit and provide those who advocate running local government like a business will have something to be happy about.

It's good practice in the transport business, so they say, to overbook what capacity you have because you will always have customers who don't turn up. If they all turn up, then you give a discounted ticket to a few gullible customers to wait for next flight or train. It was this kind of sharp business practice that saw 'customers' at Norwich Hospital being treated outside in ambulances by paramedics because all the hospital beds were full a couple of nights ago! When the NHS cocks its up like this it still tries to huff and puff its way out of trouble, although I suspect it won't be too long before they start offering the families of those who die in such circumstances discounted funerals! If you protest then you are portrayed as someone who doesn't understand what good management is!

This week also saw two large water companies get into trouble for falsifying their statistics. There are are plenty of other examples. Remember Yorkshire Water? Privatisation of public assets leads to fat profits for the managers and shareholders and a decline in services for the poor old customer. But, hey, our parks would be better if we got in more private contractors. These people have to be challenged if we are to improve the quality and standing of our parks in Nottingham. At some point soon I will write a few words about Nottingham City Council's Breathing Space policy statement about the city's parks and open spaces until 2017.

What people without any real knowledge of history seem to understand is that municipal socialism was invented by Tories and Liberals before the Labour Party even existed. How they must hate those of us who still believe in good old fashioned public service and I'm not just talking about old lefties and Socialists like me.

Benefits Agency told National Audit Office it was too expensive to remove personal details of 25m people from files that were later lost.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Did winter begin today?

It's 3.15pm on the wettest and most miserable looking Sunday I can remember this year. Has winter arrived? The park has been empty most of the day. I took this picture through the wind and rain when I opened the park at 7.45am. The street lamp on Devonshire Promenade is still on and all the trees are shredding leaves at different rates. Despite all this I feel all snug and warm and I'm off to make a pizza and an apple pie for tea, plus some lemon cordial for Christmas with Susan, so I'm going to be a busy bee.

PS. When I went to lock the park at 4.30pm it was still raining heavily and I thought the park was empty, then I saw four young lads with an older boy in the pagoda, huddled in a group and talking intently. They didn't see me approach so I startled them. I was too surprised to ask them if they had nowhere else to go. As I walked back from locking the Church Street gate I saw them running along Devonshire Promenade. They seemed a happy bunch, but it would be better if there was somewhere for them to go on a wet Sunday afternoon than the pagoda in Lenton Recreation Ground!

David Cameron will put his party on a collision course with the teaching profession this week when he announces that virtually every child in the country will be expected to read by the age of six under a Conservative government.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

A 'barn' and a Panda

The 'barn' / park store in Lenton Recreation Ground

The 'barn' / park store railway end side view

The Panda has been on the loose in the park for over a week and I didn't notice him/her until yesterday. Dave, our groundsman, and my friend Judith had both seen the panda but not me — I seem to walk around with my eyes closed most of the time!

I can understand why an escaped furry animal would like to live in our park and it's given me an idea for a fundraising event which would involve local kids and students and could be done this time next year to coincide with the BBC's annual 'Children in Need' appeal. Groups of students would build 'homes' in the park and the kids could bring along their furry animals and place their animal in the home of their choice. The student built home with the most animals would be the winner and all the animals would go off to new homes to be loved by new young friends. Any one interested in taking on a good cause?

The other two pictures are of the 'barn' in the park. The building, allegedly, predates the coming of the park in 1888 and , if this is the case, it clearly wasn't built as a store or a place for park workers to use. So, what was it?

For a bog standard agricultural building it seems well made and quite ornate. Dave wonders if it was a 'smokey' where meat was cured by hanging it inside the building. This idea comes from the fact that inside their are some holes in the walls where bricks are missing, suggesting that something was placed in the holes. On closer inspection, the holes don't line up across the inside of the building.

I am going to try and find an architectural historian who can either look at the photoghraphs or come along and have a look. It would be interesting to know more about the building, so watch this space for further news. I'm also going to go and look at old Ordnance Survey maps in the Local Studies Library the next time I go to town.

'All sources of carbon pollution — from flights to inefficient light bulbs — must become more expensive if the world is to tackle global warning' say scientists at world conference in Valencia.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Never ending days

I haven't counted, but Dave our groundsman almost certainly crops up in more pictures than anyone else. He's always there or so it seems, doing something to keep the park looking tidy and clean. He's also the park's best ambassador. People respect him because they see him working and because he always has time to spend a few minutes chatting.

Yesterday Dave was leaf clearing. As I write this I can hear his blowing machine somewhere in the park. He blows the leaves into large piles, then he gathers them all into his barrow and takes them off to the area where he used to mulch them to make compost. Now, for health and safety reasons, they are collected and go off to a central depot which turns them into compost far quicker.

Life in the park for a groundsman must be like a series of never ending days, albeit enjoyable. It's November, so it's leaf clearing. I'm sure December is pretty predictable as well. One thing is certain. There is always something to do.

On Tuesday, Dave Trimble, our local Labour councillor and the City Council's Portfolio Holder for Culture and Tourism, which includes parks, told me that nearby Wollaton Park, which covers some 500 acres, has 2½ grounds staff to look after it. Lenton Recreation Ground is 7
½ acres. Even allowing for the fact that much of Wollaton Park is a deer park, it clearly needs more staff. It also tells you what happens when a community gets behind its local park and starts campaigning. Until now I have not fully appreciated what local residents and the Dunkirk and Lenton Partnership Forum have achieved with the help of our local councillors and our old Parks Development Officer, Stefan. Thanks to you all.

I'll be coming back to the future of Nottingham's parks after reading the latest strategy report. The Forum is also planning a meeting about the future of Dunkirk Park in next few weeks. I'll get the date for my next blog.

Finally, my top picture was taken at 7.30am yesterday morning when I went into the park to photograph the heavy frost, then saw the whispy vapour trails over our Gurdwara against the bright blue sky. The plane(s) had long gone. As I looked I imagined the passengers had arrived at their destination, perhaps somewhere in North America, and disembarked. Then, maybe, greeted by loved ones or were simply having coffee before continuing their journey, unaware that hundreds of miles away someone in Lenton had looked into the sky and wondered what stories were captured in their vapour trail?

Winds of up to 150mph have battered the south-west coast of Bangladesh, forcing 650,000 villagers to be evacuated and leaving at least 240 people dead.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Dunkirk and the Tram – who hoodwinked who?

Even though this corner shop made history, it could be needlessly demolished with the coming of the Tram. In 1863 it was Nottingham's first co-op shop opened by the then Lenton Co-operative Society (called the Lenton Industrial & Provident Society Ltd), which went onto become the Nottingham Co-operative Society.

All these buildings on Abbey Street will will be demolished if the Tram goes ahead, even though it is the more expensive option. The line of Tram could go on the other side of the road and would mean demolishing only one house and taking a small part of Priory Park. As in Dunkirk, a more expensive option has been chosen.

This wall and much of the gardens behind it will go even though there is a cheaper route for the tram only metres away! I took this photograph on 3 November 2007. Seven days before there had been grass here, but the University has grubbed it all up during the week before the Public Inquiry into the Tram commenced.

Over the last couple of weeks my blog has suffered because, with Susan's help, I was preparing evidence for the Public Inquiry into the proposed two new tram lines from Nottingham Station to Clifton and Chilwell. It is the latter which has taken up all my time, as I sifted through Nottingham City Council's evidence to the Inquiry and, with Susan's help, made some last-minute discoveries which were sufficient to persuade our local MP, Alan Simpson, to do battle on behalf of the Greenfield Street residents in Dunkirk, who will lose large parts of their back gardens if the new Tram line to Chilwell follows the proposed route.

In fact, the evidence we found has so concerned Alan that he has sent it to the Ombudsman. Now, just in case you think I'm against the new Tram lines, I want to make it quite clear that I support the Tram 100% insomuch as I want the route around the Nottingham University Arts Centre changed and its route at the Gregory Street / Abbey Street junction in Old Lenton modified, but if the City Council and NET do not make any changes at the end of the day, I will still support the Tram. I just think that if the Council and NET had an ounce of decency and honour they would be announcing changes to the routes in Old Lenton and Dunkirk tomorrow.

When the Council and NET organised public consultations on the line of the Chilwell route around the University Arts Centre there were two options: One between the Arts Centre and Highfields Park; the other between the Arts Centre and the rear of the houses on Greenfield Street. The Council did not suggest that one route was preferable to the other and, given that a tram stop was proposed between the Arts Centre and Highfields Park, everyone I know and have spoken to expected the Tram to follow this route.

Then, earlier this year I found out that the other route had been chosen and people I know were to lose large chunks of their gardens and would have to live with the noise and vibration of the Tram for 363 days of the year. I couldn't understand at first how this had come about. Then one of the residents told me. The University had been allowed to build an extension to the Arts Centre which affected the line of the Tram route if it was to go between the Centre and Highfields Park.

How had this come about, especially since the new route was more expensive and meant the loss of over 60 parking spaces as well as buying parts of the back gardens of seventeen houses on Greenfield Street? Whatever way you looked at it, the chosen route did not make sense.

Ah, said the Council and NET, there is 'a tight curve' and we will have to take some of the Listed Highfields Park if we go between the Arts Centre and the park. These reasons did not exist during the 2003/4 consultation period. They only become public after the University has been allowed to build its extension to the Arts centre in 2006 with planning permission it received at the end of 2005.

How were the University given planning permission we asked at a Labour Party meeting in July 2007 which was attended by a senior person involved with planning the new Tram routes. He shrugged his shoulders and said it was 'an oversight'. In mid-October I was sent some technical drawings showing the Tram's route around the Arts Centre which contained a lot of other information too. It showed quite clearly that the 'tight curve' need be no tighter than the curves on the proposed route shown on the drawing and that a track could be put in which did not infringe on the park once constructed.

But the big discovery was made by Susan. She found the planning permission for the Arts Centre extension and it did have conditions attached to it, including one that said the new building had to built to a standard which mitigated the noise and vibration caused by the tram. Another document showed that there were no parking implications because all the parking was between the Arts Centre and the gardens on Greenfield Street. In other words, the Tram was going between the Arts Centre and the park!

So what changed between late-2005 and February 2007 when the Council's Executive Board made its decision about the route of the Tram? One can only conclude that someone, somewhere, applied pressure to get the route changed or wanted to cover up an oversight. Were the councillors making the decision told about the new building and that there were planning conditions before they chose the more expensive route? If they were told, then why were they willing to cause distress and upset to local residents and choose the more expensive route? These are questions which need answering.

When Alan Simpson saw the evidence, he was so concerned that he raised the matter in his submission to the Tram Public Inquiry last Thursday and has since written to the Ombudsman asking for a full investigation into the planning permission and to establish if the conditions were met. We will have to wait and see what the outcome is.

The Inspector at the Public Inquiry referred to my own written submission and Alan's much more damning submission, saying that the Council would almost certainly want to challenge our submissions in detail. I look forward to their reply and just how they are going to justify changing what they said during the public consultation a few years ago and what they are now telling the Inspector.

Just who hoodwinked who remains an unanswered question. Perhaps the Ombudsman will find the answers we can't get.

The Church of England ordained more women than men during 2006 (244 women, 234 men).

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Managing Lenton's little parks

Priory Park in a better light

Priory Park gets opened up, but not to the public

A Lenton broadwalk

This is the blog I intended to post at the weekend just gone, but I have spent the best part of a week now, with the help of Susan, working on evidence for the Public Inquiry into the proposed extension of the existing Nottingham tram system to Chilwell and Clifton. I plan to tell you more about this in a few days time.

For now it's back to dear old Priory Park. Last Thursday it was still locked up and a layer of rubble remains in the corner of the park which once housed the pigeon loft. Last week, instead of finishing one job, the manager(s) responsible for putting the park into some kind of order decided to hack back much of the shrubbery as my middle picture shows. It seems like a sensible thing to do providing they don't end up turning the entire park into some kind of inner-city scrub land. But, why oh why, can't they do one job at a time?

From the evidence I have seen the Parks Department, or whoever it is who is paid to be incompetent on their behalf, has no plan for restoring Priory Park. It's more a case of 'What shall we do today?... I know, let's knock down a wall... How about making some ankle-breakers? That'll be fun!... Is there any petrol in the chain saw? Perhaps when I go and have a look at the weekend I will be delighted by what I see. I live in hope.

But it isn't all gloom and doom. My top picture shows the kind of Priory Park I want to see all the time and open to the public. It's still there, but just locked away. A small oasis of calm on the corner of a busy road junction, unnoticed by many who pass by and, sadly, unloved by those charged with its care. The park needs a Dave — someone like we have at Lenton Recreation Ground — to love and nurture it. Perhaps someone in Parks would like to be a kind of peripatetic outreach groundsperson caring a little group of parks and open space in Lenton?

The person could look after Priory Park, the little park at Dunkirk and what I call the Lenton 'Broadwalk' area. Taken together I suspect they cover an area much the same as Lenton Recreation Ground. When walking to Beeston, which I usually do at least once most weeks, I have several routes I use and what I call the Broadwalk is one of them. It's as good as any you'll find elsewhere. Assuming the tram comes to Gregory Street, then it will become a busy pedestrian thoroughfare between the tram and New Lenton.

Prince the popstar sues fans for using his image on unofficial websites claiming that he has copyright to his image.

Friday, 2 November 2007

For Laura

I saw three young men playing with a frisby in the park this afternoon, so I grabbed the camera and snapped this picture. Such is the speed of my camera that to get a good picture I would need to have pressed the shutter button before the frisby was actually thrown to catch it mid-picture, so this is the best I can do.

Laura, the lad you can't see is even better looking and, yes, they are members of the University's Frisby Club. Perhaps this will inspire you to found a RVC Frisby Club. With you as a member, I'm sure the male would-be vets will fall over themselves to join. In the meantime, just imagine the one you can't see.

Metropolitan Police found guilty of De Menezes' death in health & safety trial, but police chief says he won't resign.