Wednesday, 30 January 2008

New park views and an embrace

The parish church in Lenton Recreation Ground.

The Devonshire Promenade terrace of eight houses.

Lenton Recreation Ground from the Derby Road city bound bus stop.

After yesterday's ruminations on parks and their vunerability to land grabs by councils in search of money, it's back to the magic of a local park or, in my case, Lenton Recreation Ground. I have been looking at it, walking around it and playing in it since 1979, yet I still see things I have never noticed before.

Today, it was three things. I realised I had never taken a photograph of the park from across the Derby Road. It's the view I see when I am standing at the bus stop waiting for a bus into the city centre. If it wasn't for the hill I could probably see the Council House. If you don't know Lenton or the Derby Road you won't know that Lenton Recreation Ground is at the bottom of a hill. If you're city bound it's a stready climb for the next ¾ mile, then it's a ¼ mile drop into the city centre. At the top of the hill is Canning Circus, where three main roads into/out of Nottingham meet: the Derby road, the Ilkeston road and the Alfreton road. So the view of the park in the above picture is the one which thousands see every day as they travel in and out of Nottingham, most will never notice our lovely park. When I tell people where I live they either know where it is immediately (and tell me it is somewhere they would love to live) or they have never noticed it. I have to admit I'm feeling pretty smug right now at having found Devonshire Promenade all those years ago.

Nor have I ever taken a picture of the eight houses which make up the terrace at the end of Devonshire Promenade. In fact, they were originally known as 'Devonshire Terrace'. I don't know when they became part of the promenade. They overlook one corner of the park and the staked tree in the foreground is one of the new elms planted a couple of years ago. Who would guess without being told that this is a scene in inner-city Nottingham?

Finally I am amazed that this view has never caught my attention before. I must have seen it thousands of times over the years: the tower of Holy Trinity Parish Church casting a long mid-morning shadow across the park, with the top corners clearly visible. There I was caught by its shadow, embraced by the Church of England whether I liked it or not. It would be nice if the church took a more active interest in the community. Unfortunately it comes across in Lenton as a kind of exclusive club for believers whereas I think the Anglican church, as the established church, has a duty to get involved with the rest of us. In fairness, there have been times in the past when the church has been more involved with the community and I am sure it will happen again. In the meantime I will enjoy what I can of Holy Trinity Church from the outside, especially when it embraces me with its shadow. Thank you church for a new experience.

Altogether a fruitful fifteen minutes in the park. What more can one want from life than to enjoy and share new experiences, however trivial they may seem.

Derek Conway, the Tory MP who has been criticised for giving his son a parliamentary salary he did not deserve, will stand down at the next election, he announced today.


Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Bristol parks watch

Bristol City Council, like Nottingham City Council, has recently adopted a new parks strategy document. There are similarities, but at the moment, the one big difference is Bristol City's plan to sell off parks and open space to raise money for spending on its parks and other services. The following account of what is happening was posted earlier today at the website of The Bristol Blogger
(http://thebristolblogger.wordpress.com).

'After a couple of weeks of pooh-poohing claims from the Bristol Parks Forum that the Labour administration tried to sneak through a hastily assembled report at their last cabinet meeting (pdf) to flog over £200m of land from Bristol’s Parks to developers, the council has been forced to reveal that, er … The Labour administration is trying to flog over £200m of land from Bristol’s Parks to developers!

Hidden away in the agenda for a Physical Environment Scrutiny Commission meeting on January 31 is a report - the Parks and Green Spaces Strategy - Financial Considerations (pdf).

And what’s this? Why it only says that the minimum cost of land that the council will be looking to sell off is £166m worth.

But the report also claims £25m in contributions will be made by the developers of this park land for funding improvements to our remaining parks. However the planning department says this contribution is only realistically likely to be £15m.

That’s a further £20m worth of land that might have to be sold off to make up this £10m deficit then. This is because under Labour’s hastily assembled funding formula half of all proceeds from these land sales have go to directly to the cabinet so they can fund their own pet projects with the money.

A further £11m towards future park improvements has been budgeted to come from “grants”; although at present none have been applied for - let alone agreed to. That’s another £22m of land that may need to be sold under Labour’s formula.

So the grand total of land at risk? £208m. Slightly over the Parks Forum estimate that’s been slated by politicians and council officers for the last two weeks.

Meanwhile details of the actual land that will be disposed off are still being blatantly withheld by Bristol City Council'.

Whilst this latest development is hot news today, I have been following this story about Bristol parks for some months. Originally, the plan was to sell off £57m of park and open space land, with 80% being kept got parks development. A few weeks ago it became £102m with 50% going to parks. This change was justified by saying that under this plan Bristol parks would get more money (ie. 80% of £57 = £45.6m, 50% of £102m = £51m).

If you type 'Bristol parks' into Google's blog search box you will find lots of entries by Bristol bloggers voicing their concerns about what this so-called 'Labour' council is doing. As a socialist and a Labour Party member I am appalled by what is happening and I think that park lovers everywhere need to be alerted to this story. If Bristol City Council gets away with its proposed parks sell-off then no park in the country will be safe. It was partly because of what I knew was happening in Bristol which made me float the idea of a 'Nottingham Parks Trust' in my article about Nottingham parks which was published in the Nottingham Civic Society Newsletter earlier this month (see my blog entry for 16 January 2008). Parks need to be put beyond the reach of politicians and council managers.

In situations like this it is very easy to paint oneself into a corner. I say this because I am not against a radical review of parks and open space in Nottingham and if this means selling some open space to provide new open spaces or to create a ring-fenced pool of capital to be used for future parks maintenance then I will consider it. What I won't consider is money from parks being used to fund non-park or open space developments. Councils of all political persuasions have been doing that with school playing fields for years — it happened in Lenton in 1994 when the Labour controlled Notts County Council sold off the the old Sandfield School playing fields within days of them being transferred to the new unitary Nottingham City Council.

We also need to remember that it is a Labour controlled Nottingham City Council which has systematically sold off or 'transferred' parts of Highfields Park to Nottingham University and allowed the Highfields Science Park and the business development currently under construction to be built on park land. Highfields Park, in terms of care and maintenance, does not appear to have benefitted in any way whatsoever from the sales and the transfers. Nottingham councils have a track record of selling park land and open space. It could happen again if we are not careful. We have to be alert, which is why this blog today is devoted to news from Bristol and a reminder that Nottingham's track record suggests that it would happily do the same as Bristol if it thought it could get away with it.

Parks have no statutory protection in law. They should have.

Teacher trainees in further education do not systematically identify or address the literacy, numeracy and language needs of their students, and some are constrained by their own weaknesses in these skills, the government's schools inspector warned today.




Sunday, 27 January 2008

A 'feel good' day

Basket ball players

Church House snowdrops

Boulevard psychic opens shop

I was up with the sun this morning so that I could go out delivering copies of News From the Forum to all the houses and shops on the park side of Lenton Boulevard and as is so often the case I found something new to look at. First there were the snowdrops in the garden of Church House, which is beside the park gates which open onto Church Street. I only saw them because I was pushing a copy of the News through the letterbox. It's the biggest cluster of flowers I have so far seen this year.

In the park there are snowdrops and crocuses beginning to appear everywhere: in the borders and even through the grass. There are even some daffodil heads showing. The park is beginning to bust out all over and I can hear music in my head as the orchestra begins to build momentum for a blowing of trumpets and the beating of drums accompanied by cymbals. It's all coming in a rush and far too fast and will be over before you know it unless to concentrate on the moment and catch it while you can, so before the week is out pay a visit to Lenton Recreation Ground and enjoy these 'feel good' moments. I promise you won't be disappointed and that you will be coming back for more. New life in the park certainly didn't come as fast last year. The joy of it is there to be captured by anyone open to the magic of a blooming park.

I also discovered this morning that Lenton now has its own 'Psychic Studio' on Lenton Boulevard. As the above photograph shows the name 'Monique' also appears on the sign, so I assume she is the psychic who is running this new business. I wonder why she has chosen this spot. Is it the cheapness of the accommodation, its location or the fact that 8 out of 10 residents are young people who may enjoy the services she has to offer? Whilst I wish the venture well and like the colour it adds to the Boulevard, I am concerned about the implication of allowing a house adjacent to shops being used so openly for business purposes. It is one thing for someone to work from home, but once you put large notices up you are changing the nature of the property and this does have planning implications. Before we know it all the housing along this stretch of the Boulvard between 'Blockbusters' and Trinity Avenue could be used by businesses and reclassified, by default, as business and retail units instead of houses.

Finally a word about my top picture of the basket ball players. What a wonderful mix of people. There's as many out of view as in the picture. As I said before, the dunking area has been a real success. What I would like to see next is a similar area for cricketers because it is now played by kids in the park all year round. An area where they could play in 'the nets' would go down well and it is, after all, a home-grown game we should encourage as much as basket ball!

My next blog will be about Bristol and a Liverpool Labour Party councillor I have found on the web who has a passion for parks.

Henning Mankell's Swedish detective, Kurt Wallander, is to have three 90 minute thrillers made by the BBC at a cost of £6m, with Kenneth Branagh playing Wallander. I just hope they don't mess too much with the character and that they include all those he works with.


Thursday, 24 January 2008

Looking for flowers and chasing shadows

Little blue flowers beside the Derby Road path.

One lonely flower beside the bowling green.

Early crocuses in the churchyard.

My search for signs of life in Lenton Recreation Ground continues. After a few days of nothing after the small clump of snowdrops had died away, the above blue flowers have started to appear beside the path which runs parallel to the Derby Road railings and then I found one bedding plant in flower beside the bowling green. As far as the park was concerned that was it, so I paid a visit to Holy Trinity's churchyard across from the park and found crocuses about to burst into flower in the next day or two. All of them on graves surrounded by stone edging, which I assume affords them some protection from the worst of the weather including the frosts.

So, today, I found one, two, three flowers in the park or nearby. If the weather stays mild then by this time next week all the green shoots around the trees may well be in flower as well, giving us 50. 70, 90 flowers to enjoy. No doubt there are other parks and gardens with finer displays already, but these flowers and shoots are within a few steps of my home and to see them gives me an instant buzz. I wonder if other park visitors or those who regularly use its footpaths as a short cut between Old Lenton and the Derby Road look out for the first flowers of the year?

Someone told me yesterday that some parents don't like taking their children to the park because there are too many bushes which make it very easy for children to disappear from view. They see the park as a security risk, making it an unsafe place for children. We live in sad times when parents and others want to chase shadows rather than accept that the risk to children in the park is minimal and that if we really wanted to keep children safe we would take them from their parents because children are twelve times more likely to be abused or killed by a parent or a relative than they are by a stranger. It is a topic I will return again I am sure, but I couldn't let the conversation go unmentioned.

Peter Hain resigned as work and pensions secretary today following the announcement that the Metropolitan Police will investigate his failure to declare donations to his deputy leadership campaign worth more than £100,000.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Visitors

Visitors from Ilkeston, who are members of Hillside Bowling Club, talk to one of our Community Support Officers who visit Lenton Recreation Ground on a regular basis.

Another Lenton visitor, Markesa, who is staying with us until a new home can be found for her.

My walks around the park have yet to find any more flowers. The snowdrops I photographed a couple of weeks ago have gone and there are green shoots getting longer, but that is as far as it goes. Where will the next flowers appear?

On this morning's walk I saw the park doing what it does best, acting as a place where people can find the time to stop and talk. I don't know whether the visitors from Ilkeston expected to meet a CSO, given that they had come to see the damage caused a few weeks ago by the break-in to the Pavilion (or should I starting saying 'Club House' like the park signs?). I hope they were re-assured.

I wonder what it is that attracts bowlers to join clubs quite away from where they live? Is it some past association with the area or because there are no clubs close to where they live? Either way Lenton Recreation Ground is the winner. Its popularity with bowlers is something we should all take pride in. There are problems as well with lots of bowling clubs using the park, but it is far better that we have bowlers using the park than the greens going unused.

Universities with large numbers of Muslim students should consider rejecting demands for separate prayer and washing facilities to prevent their campuses segregating along religious lines and risking a climate where illegal extremist views can flourish, the government will suggest today (is this the same government which supports and funds faith schools? If 'yes' why are prayer and washing facilities a problem?).


Friday, 18 January 2008

A symbol of park neglect

The Paddling Pool, Highfields Park, has been like this for nearly twenty years.

Someone sent me a letter in the post on Wednesday. It was a cutting from the Letters' Page of the Nottingham Evening Post dated 29 December 2007. It was headed 'Just why are our parks neglected?' and went on to ask five questions. I don't know whether this has prompted any further letters from readers. I will have to find out. The person who sent me the cutting was also critical of the council. It included the following observation: 'If the Portfolio Holder (the councillor responsible for parks in Nottingham) is not told the true state affairs by senior officers, then how can problems be solved?'. Quite.

Now back to the five questions, which I summarise as follows:

1) Why have the parks been allowed to deteriorate.
2) What has happened to the money for park maintenance?
3) Why do parks need volunteers and outside help when there are budgets?
4) Is Nottingham City Council planning to pass parks over to residents?
5) Where will the £35m for 'improvements' come from?

The writer also said that residents don't use parks because of their 'abysmal state (and) neglect (or) are scared to use them'. Given what one knows about the state of Nottingham parks in general, it was, by any measure, a reasonable letter. Lenton Recreation Ground is an exception for a number of reasons, which I have explained on a number of occasions, most recently in my last blog on Wednesday (16 Jan).

When it comes to Nottingham's parks and neglect, one place in the city sums it up — the Paddling Pool in Highfields Park. I pass it when I go to Beeston on the bus or if I walk. The water was drained and the grass began to grow in the late-1980s. My own kids had great fun paddling there, but never my grandchildren. When I once asked a councillor why the paddling pool was not maintained or returned to its former glory I was told 'If we do anything it will be Beeston kids that use it'. A reference to the fact that it is right on the boundary between Nottingham and Broxtowe councils. The fact that the Lenton Abbey council estate is yards away was ignored at best, at worst forgotten

In many ways what the city council plans to do with the paddling pool will be a test of its intent when it comes to the future of our parks. The past is something we can do little about when it comes to Nottingham's parks. We should do everything in our power to make sure things are better in the future and that local residents have the confidence to get involved and even to take charge. As for the £35m or £36m or whatever it is, which will be spent over next ten years or so, we should make sure it all does go to parks with more besides. The future, however bright it seems to the men in suitz, is still far from perfect and, as a true friend of Nottingham's parks, I will continue to argue for a parks strategy which empowers communities and ensures that parks are managed and staffed by one council department, with priority being given to employing local grounds staff. Parks need staff just like streets need police officers on the ground.

As for the five questions I think you know the answers already and so does the writer. If he got a few readers thinking then his letter was a success — which is how I view my blog.

The two engines on the British Airways plane that crash-landed at Heathrow yesterday "did not respond" to a demand for increased thrust around two miles from touchdown, an initial report said today.



Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Breathing new life into Nottingham’s parks

As I was leaving the park today I saw this bush with pale green flowers. I have no idea what it is.

Derry from The Meadows parks treating the bowling greens at Lenton Recreation Ground for moss this morning (16 January 2008).

Here we are in the middle of winter and the work of breathing new life into our bowling greens goes on. We're probably no more than ten weeks away from a new season and if March turns out to be a mild month, I suspect the lads will want to playing even sooner than the beginning of April (when the first games were played in 2007). By all accounts it's going to be another heavy season for our bowling greens, so they need to be well prepared. I don't know what the spray contained, but looking at the gear that Derry is wearing is may well be lethal to more than just moss!

Today's heading was not inspired by Derry and his machine, it actually comes from an article I wrote for the Nottingham Civic Society Newsletter, which arrived today. Three copies in fact. One we receive as members, one for review in The Nottinghamshire Historian and an extra one from the Newsletter's editor, Ken Brand. This has enabled me to give a copy to our groundsman Dave, who told me it was going to New Zealand with him next week, and to send one to Stefan Kruczkowski, who used to be our Parks Development Officer.

Now my article has been published I feel free to share it with my blog readers as well:

Parks in Nottingham are about to get topical and not before time. Open space accounts for about 20% of the area covered by Nottingham City Council. The chances are that you are already ahead of me and thinking about the Nottingham parks you know and like. Highfields Park, Wollaton Park, Woodthorpe Park, The Arboretum, Lenton Recreation Ground… Hang on, run that last one past me again.

All this heady talk of Nottingham parks and their future over the next ten years and I want to tell you more about Lenton Recreation Ground. Why? Because it’s a success story and a model of how a local community and the city council can work in partnership.

Robert Mellors in his book, The Gardens, Parks and Walks of Nottingham and District, published in 1926, describes it as ‘the nearest approach to a village green that we have, for the parish church tower looks down on it benignantly (sic), and the bells ring as the children play. There are two bowling greens largely used, and comfortable seating for resting’. And so it is today. He would find a scene little changed except for a pavilion which overlooks the bowling greens.

For its size, it is probably the busiest park in Nottingham and this led to a crisis in 2003 when the large grassed playing area had to be re-seeded and fenced off for the best part of a year. Instead of grass we had mud; instead of play areas we had broken fences and damaged swings and roundabouts. The park was a mess. Overuse and neglect made worse by years of underspending by the city council culminated in a meeting in the mud between local residents, the Dunkirk and Lenton Partnership Forum, local councillors, Parks Department managers and representatives from the University of Nottingham. That was the day things changed.

Lenton Recreation Ground got its own full-time groundsman, Dave, who is joined by a colleague, Simon, throughout the bowling season 1 April–30 September. They care for our park and are the best ambassadors it has. Visitors see them at work in the park and they respect them for what they do. It gives them a status and authority which enables them to manage any situation which arises. Dave also has a small budget to spend on planting and other items. There is an active Park Consultative Group which is part of the Dunkirk and Lenton Partnership Forum. Most of the time our quarterly meetings are attended by only 7–8 local residents but, when an issue arises, there can be as many as 20 residents and representatives from the seven bowls clubs who use the bowling greens. Local residents of all ages are encouraged to become involved in a number of a ways. The recreation ground hosts the annual Dunkirk and Lenton Community Festival and a city council ‘Parklife’ event each summer. This year some county level bowls matches were played in the park and local residents did ‘Tea in the Park’ one weekend a month to raise money for local causes.

Our first attempt to form a park support group attracted little support, but by the time we tried again the park was in a really bad way and a new Parks Development Officer, Stefan Kruczkowski, became involved. He was a breath of fresh air and once local residents realised he really meant what he said, things began to happen. Other members of the Parks Team were also very supportive. The meeting in the mud allowed everyone to see just how bad things were and an immediate plan of action was hammered out on the spot.

Local residents, including students, may have lost much of their park for a year or more, but the rewards were tangible. In 2005 the park was awarded its first Green Flag and again in 2006 and 2007. Young children got a new playground and the teenagers got a basketball ‘dunking’ area, which has been a fantastic success. Local residents and schoolchildren have planted thousands of bulbs over the last few years and the park is now a sea of colour every spring and early summer. There is a Nottingham Peace Garden on the way and other ideas about how we can make Lenton Recreation Ground better still without spending lots of money.

Other factors have helped. The recreation ground has an open prospect, with plenty of pedestrians walking by. It is also overlooked by a row of Victorian houses and is a short cut between the Derby Road and Old Lenton. Many other parks are more enclosed, surrounded by back gardens, and have an air of neglect about them. With no permanent staff during the day, they are less likely to be used even as a short cut. An occasional visit by a community warden, a support officer or a park ranger is no substitute for more permanent staff like Dave.

As a community, we are mindful that there are other parks nearby which need their ‘day in the sun’. The money available is finite, so it must be shared fairly. Whilst the City Council and the Civic Society should take the lead in the stewardship of our larger city parks, it is up to local communities to take on some kind of responsibility, in partnership with the city’s area committees, for neighbourhood and smaller parks and open spaces. Local communities need to be aware of their role and the contribution they can make to improving all of Nottingham parks’ and open spaces.

The City Council’s hefty report, Breathing Space: A Strategic Framework for the Management of Nottingham’s Open and Green Spaces 2007–2017, addresses all these issues and many more. As worthy as the report is, it contains no information about the location and size of individual parks and open spaces, staffing levels, the existing management structure and how this will change. It mentions an audit in 2005 of ‘118 Parks and Gardens and 73 Natural and Semi Natural Sites’. It doesn’t mention who owns or controls what within Nottingham. I suspect that some open space belongs to Highways and City Homes as well as Parks. The City Council estimates that the cost of implementing the report is £35,644,000. By the time 2017 comes along I suspect that much more than this will have been spent. From my experience of local government finances this sum seems like an under-estimate. In reality no one wants to admit to the true cost for fear of jeopardising this welcome plan to save our parks for future generations.

I know that Councillor Dave Trimble, the Portfolio Holder for Culture, Community Services and Tourism, responsible for parks and open spaces has some radical thoughts of his own about the way forward. I hope his ideas are given serious consideration. Being able to see and enjoy open space has a vital role to play in the health and wellbeing of Nottingham wherever you live in the city. My personal ambition is see the city enveloped in a web of green threads linking open spaces and natural sites of all kinds, with a realistic annual budget beyond the reach of politicians and managers looking for easy targets when it comes to budget cuts. Perhaps we need some kind of ‘Nottingham Parks Trust’? Most of all, I want people like you to get involved in the debate to come about our parks and open spaces and to be inspired by my story of Lenton Recreation Ground to see what you can do to help your local park!

If you made it this far, I hope my piece has made you feel good about our little park. I have some other park issues I want to write about, but they will have to wait until Friday at the earliest. In the meantime go and have a look at www.derbyarboretum.co.uk.

St James' Park is preparing for a second coming after Newcastle this afternoon announced that Kevin Keegan is to become the club's new manager (he first managed Newcastle 1992–1997).





Sunday, 13 January 2008

Rats, arts and parks

A lone protestor on Abbey Street, Old Lenton.

Djanalogy Arts Centre 'tower', Highfields Park.

Ice lingers in Nottingham University Millennium Garden at 3pm.

Carved stone, Nottingham University Millennium Park.

Thursday and Friday were really awful wet and windy days when going out was a real chore. Had the students been back and the buses full, even with air conditioning, it would have been like travelling in a mobile smelly sauna. The windows and your glasses steam up and everyone is wet — if you use buses you will know exactly what I am talking about. I know quite a few people who will not use buses and I can understand why. Until buses are roomier and have good air conditioning then it will always be a problem. In fairness to our local bus operators they are trying. Ideally, we need a Bus 'Tsar' like Ken Livingstone in London to force down fares and push standards even higher.

Today (Sunday) is also overcast and the forecast says there is more bad weather to come, but yesterday (Saturday) it was dry with a bright blue sky. It was also cold. Had there been wind it would have been bitterly cold. It was the perfect day for a wander. The morning was spent in bed reading The Guardian and when Susan mentioned that there was a retrospective exhibition in the Djanology Arts Centre of paintings by Dod Proctor, I suggested we go and have a look and have a sandwich there as well.

It was gone mid-day by the time we left the house and walked through Lenton Recreation Ground (there were no more flowers, but lots of new green shoots, so any day now the park should be covered with little pockets of colour). As I have said on countless occasions Lenton is a fantastic place to live for easy access to the arts, heritage, museums, open space on foot, by bike or public transport. You really don't need a car to enjoy life if you live in Lenton.

Walking down Abbey Street in Old Lenton we saw a man protesting against experiments on rats by Nottingham University at the QMC. He kindly let me take a photograph of him. He was a quiet man who seemed more bemused by my interest than I was by his lone protest. I told him that I sympathised with what he had written on his placard and left it at that. When I left school in 1959 at the age of fifteen I trained as an animal technician at the Chester Beatty Research Institute in South Kensington, London, until I was eighteen and left because I wanted to earn more money. By then I also had doubts about experiments on live animals.

Everyone who worked with the animals in the laboratories were as compassionate and kind as it was possible to be in such circumstances and no one seemed to see any alternative. I do remember discussions about the rats in the smoking machines on the roof which were my responsibility. On the floor below I had a large room full of cages with 4–5 rats per cage. Every day I cleaned them, watered them and fed them. I took them to the roof and put them in the smoking machines which were set to different numbers of cigarettes per day Monday – Friday. There were 'control' groups of normal rats whilst others had implants of various kinds to see what happened when these were combined with smoking. The rats were also fed different diets on bread. I remember feeding them Marmite, butter, meat paste, Bovril and, for a while, caviar! Some developed tumours and I measured then. I also killed rats and dissected their lungs after weighing them. I would pin the lungs onto boards for inspection by my professor (a Professor Passey, then in his 70s, who had worked with Madame Curie). After seeing my first dissected rat lungs at fifteen it was obvious that smoking was for mugs (even though most of the staff at CBRI did smoke), so I never started, despite the temptation of free cigarettes.

I thought it was all in a good cause for a long time and I liked the people I worked with. When I left my job it was taken by someone called Ken Livingstone! It was a great place for arguments about politics and meeting girls, but the topic which never went away was sport! Fulham -v- Chelsea and Surrey -v- Middlesex provided banter day in day out. Perhaps these things kept our minds off what we were really doing to the animals in our care?

So, as you can see, meeting the man with a placard, stirred up a great many thoughts, especially now that Laura, my eldest grand-daughter, is studying to become a vet and doing dissections and the like. Reading her blog I take comfort from the fact that she and her fellow students (or some at least) even give chicken embryos names. I am against needless animal dissection and experiments, but how is a student to learn in the absence of a dead animal to dissect? Humans can give their consent for their body to be used when they are dead, but animals have no such choice. On balance, I have to go with the man I met on Abbey Street because my heart always rules my head!

As for the Dod Proctor exhibition at the Djanology it is well worth catching if you can. It's on until February. I loved an early morning view of Newlyn, Cornwall, over the rooftops and into the harbour. I also loved a kitchen table with a child, perhaps waiting for tea to be served, and I liked a picture of Eileen. I also bought a resin brooch for my winter hat.

We then walked around the north side of the lake in Highfields Park and across the university campus into the Millennium Garden where, even at 3pm, there was ice still to be seen on the grass and a good indication of how cold it was, given that the grass was in full view of the sun. Like so many places one goes to, it never ceases to amaze me that it doesn't matter how many visits you make, there is always something to be discovered or appreciated for the first time. On this occasion it was the carved stone which caught my eye. The Garden looked bare and everywhere there were signs asking visitors not to walk on the grass, even barriers in places. Unfortunately, most of the other people we saw simply ignored the signs.

From the Garden we made our way down to Cut Through Lane and up past 'China House' to an unmade footpath we had not used before which took us along the edge of the campus beside the Lenton Abbey council estate to Woodside Road and a No.36 bus to Devonshire Promenade. We then went to see a neighbour for a chinwag and tea. She also gave us organic ginger and dark chocolate biscuits, which at our age is nearly as good as making love and was the perfect end to an afternoon out and we never left Lenton — what more could one want?

A revolution in the way organs are donated for transplant has been called for by the government's chief medical officer as concern grows over the acute shortage of donors and the rise in unnecessary deaths.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

And so we begin again


In my last blog six days ago I told you how I 'on New Year's Day I plodded round the park looking for the first signs of early flowers, perhaps some snowdrops? Well, today I found them! Just these in the picture above. I only saw them as I was leaving Lenton Recreation Ground after doing one slow perambuation just before lunch. I saw four places where green shoots were showing just above the soil and was thinking to myself that I might see some snowdrops tomorrow, but there they were, alone, at the base of a large tree beside the Derby Road entrance. I wonder how many other visitors have noticed them?

Seeing my first snowdrops of the year made my day until I got a telephone call from an old work colleague who has just followed me down the early retirement route. Wendy will be 60 in May, one day after my birthday, so she was close to retiring anyway. We always got on well and she was a real pleasure to work with, so after a chat about what's happening with our lives today and a little about work, we agreed to meet in Newark in 2-3 weeks time with a couple of other former colleagues. With Wendy in charge I can be sure it will happen. I am looking forward to it already.

Susan is on the sofa in the living room reading a book and nursing a nasty cold and cough. It's that time of the year when many people get hit by a bug or a cold of some kind. Compared to some friends in Stoke, Susan is getting off lightly at the moment. I just hope she can resist the urge to do anything. I think colds have to well fed and nursed — if you can't beat them with syrups and tablets, then kill them with kindness and food is my approach.

I also heard today that Susan has successfully registered the website name (or should it be 'url'?) of 'www.parkviews.org.uk' for me, so I will at sometime in the future being moving my blog to its own website, which I hope will also carry information and pictures of lots of other parks as well, so watch this space for details. I've also been working on the news for the next issue of The Nottinghamshire Historian which Susan will be putting together in the next few days, assuming she's able to feed her cold to death.

Looking back at today before I go down and do tea, it seems to have been about another year and beginnings not much different to last year. I'm one year older and nearly 64 (once I would have written 63 and not mentioned being older). I'm not bored by the repetitiveness of it all at one level because things are never quite the same, but there are things I want to complete so that I can move on. Unfinished business. I had expected to be ensconced in our bedroom today after having a bunion removed yesterday, but the operation was cancelled the Friday before last because, the NHS clinic says, there are problems with the theatre where the op was to be carried out. I am now waiting for another date. Once upon a time I would have believed them. Now I wonder if the problem with the theatre has been created to delay operations so that savings can be made on their 2007/8 budget?

In some ways it's inconvenient. In others it is an opportunity to delay would-be 2008 plans until 2009 and use the operation as my excuse. We shall see.

One thing which is different is that this time last year I didn't walk around Lenton Recreation Ground with my camera looking for snowdrops. It's a new pleasure which will be with me for the rest of my life and in a way I have Judith, Rosie and Susan to thank (my very first blog explains why). Tomorrow I will again go around the park looking for green shoots and snowdrops — a simple pleasure which can begin again and again as far as I am concerned.

A mother of two from Ghana terminally ill with cancer was taken from an NHS hospital today and deported to Ghana where she is unlikely receive medical care because she cannot afford it. Her visa ran out last year after she had been diagnosed with cancer, but she stayed on to continue receiving medical treatment.




Thursday, 3 January 2008

Blossom comes early

Part of the Jubilee Campus under development beside Triumph Road.

Cherry blossom to greet the new year in Lenton Recreation Ground.

Leaves on the path waiting to be gathered by Dave.

Dave starts the new year pruning the trees along the footpaths.

Nottingham University Jubilee Campus from the south end of its artificial lake on 1 January 2008 — a grey day with the sky full of low cloud and rain in the wind.


On New Year's Day I plodded round the park looking for the first signs of early flowers, perhaps some snowdrops? I didn't know what to expect or if I would find anything. I saw not a thing. Later, after lunch, Susan and I decided to walk up to the Jubilee Campus, then back down Triumph Road to see what building work was going on on the campus, as the university has recently submitted a few interesting planning applications, including one for a '180m sculpture' (I hope to have more on this quite soon).

We walked along the Derby Road as far as Lenton Lodge (see mention and picture in my blog for 28 December 2007), then we took the footpath to right-hand side of the Lodge to the end of Charnock Avenue and onto the open space behind Orston Drive. We then followed the path up to the Jubilee Campus, where I took the above picture. Along the way, the path runs close to some of the back gardens on Orston Drive where we came across Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. We then walked along the path between the campus buildings and the lake before turning onto Triumph Road, where we saw that the university is constructing what look like high-tech buildings on boths of the road. In fact one building actually straddles the existing Triumph Road and one of the planning applications I have already mentioned shows the road diverted between two points to create a curve. The line of the new road could already be seen. No doubt all will be revealed soon enough. Much of the site under development used be the old Raleigh bicycle factory which once stretched from Lenton Boulevard to Triumph Road. Now their bikes are made somewhere in the Far East. Today it's educuation, education, education, with banners flapping on poles all around the University proclaiming how easy it is to do post-graduate studies and Phds'. Not a bad thing in itself, but the commercialisation of higher-education begs the question 'How can you fail students who don't make the grade after they have paid for the course in the first place?'.

Even though I left school at 15 and was written off by the system, I have always supported free university education. It seems the very least a forward thinking society can do for both the students and itself. If you make students pay for their higher-education what obligation are they are likely to feel towards society at the end of it all? Like so much else in this world it comes down to class. When students were mainly middle and upper class the political establishment was willing to pay for their education or, at the very least, give them a large subsidy. Once ordinary kids from working class families started to going to university, charges were introduced, with the result that they leave university thousands of pounds in debt, so what time do they have to think of others anyway?

All these thoughts from a walk and seeing some buildings under construction. Who says walking frees the mind? Sometimes maybe, but you can also come home ready to take on the world! From Triumph Road it was a few hundred yards home. I had walked 3,850 steps or about 1.8 miles. There was one last twist to our walk as we came past Lenton Recreation Ground and looked into the park and across to the playground. There before us was a tree in full blossom! I had missed earlier in the day because I had been concentrating on the ground in my search for the first flower.

On Wednesday when I saw Dave, our groundsman, I asked what the tree was and he told me it was a cherry tree and that it had blossomed about this time last year, then again in April. Like so much else in life, my experience with the flowers and the tree was a gentle reminder that we can all be come so fixated on looking in one direction that we miss what is right before our eyes. On New Year's Day a friend in Spain sent us a email greetings for 2008 and attached a list of '39 thoughts for the year'. No.21 read 'Experience is a wonderful thing. It enables you to recognise a mistake when you make it again'. How true!

Unions and Government want low-paid women carers to settle for much less back-pay than they are legally entitled to after discovering it will cost local councils in England £2.8 billion. Scotland has found a way to pay the money in full.