Tuesday, 23 March 2010

A Dunkirk 'oldies' day

The Dunkirk and Lenton Partnership Forum organised an activities and information day for
older residents today at the Dunkirk and Old Lenton Community Centre. I went along for the day with my New Lenton 'Living History Display' and a couple of chocolate banana cakes.
There was a range of things to do, including the chance to have some reflexology from Christine. The feet in the pic belong to a friend who did not want her face to be seen.
Then it was onto a session with Elaine (left) from Nottingham City Museums Education Team, who came with a box of mystery objects. Dave (right) is having a feel. We all guessed what it was. Can you? The answer can be found at the bottom of this blog entry (but not yet).
After sitting around for thirty minutes, it was time for a workout and to get the hips swinging.

All the exercise made me hungry, so I wandered off to watch Rexx showing her audience how to prepare a quick lunch with a tin of chick peas, an onion, some couscous and a pitta bread, plus some cabbage and an orange. Luckily, the sight of all this food was followed by lunch, which was a choice between a vegetable lasagne or a ploughman's…
…but little did I realise that we would have to sing for our lunch, led by Richard, my next door neighbour, who was helped by Rexx. In fact the session turned out to be three songs from Richard separated by three cookery demonstrations by Rexx. They were very good and made a great team. Then we did finally get our lunch.
After lunch, there was the chance to do some painting, which is what I caught two of our neighbourhood community safety team at.
There was even some singing sessions — which I was 'bullied' into joining, but only after I saw this group having such a good time…
…and no wonder, with Hannah leading the singing and getting a group of novices to learn how to use their tongues, throats and tummies, she was a true marvel. By end of my half-hour session, I was taking part in singing 'I'm a Believer' by Neil Diamond, but made famous by The Monkees (see, it really was an oldies day!). There were eight of us, singing in pairs, two lines behind each other. If only my Susan could have seen me — she would never have believed it then. It was an amazing experience.  I should add that I am hooked on a current US TV series called 'Glee'. Perhaps Lenton needs one for us oldies?
The person who bullied me into singing was Ruth. Yes, this lovely looking lady. She didn't persuade me the first time, so she came back a couple of more times before I finally gave in. In truth, I took pity on her. It was 2.30pm and the day was coming to an end and she was worried that the day had not been the success she had hoped for. In fact, it was just a case of first time nerves — Ruth told me that she had never organised an event like this before. If you read this Ruth, you did a fantastic job and have every right to look as happy as you do in this pic I took of you during your second singing session.
Because I had my own display to look after and people to talk to, I didn't get around to take pics of the belly dancing, the indoor cyclists or the Nordic pole walkers in the car park and these are only the other activities I remember from earlier today. So I will end by revealing the mystery object which Dave was feeling — it was a ceramic bed warmer. The fact that we all knew what it was tells you that we were all children from the days before electric blankets or central heating.

Well, that's my account of what was an enjoyable day, when there was too much to do or to take in, with good food and lots of folk to talk with. If I had sound to go with this blog, it would reveal the endless chatter of happy souls. Thanks to Ruth and all her helpers for making it happen!

Alistair Darling spurned the chance of a pre-election giveaway budget when he put his personal stamp on a package designed to cement recovery from Britain's deepest postwar recession while placating a jittery City.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Tea in the Park: 'So English'

Yesterday I did a 'Tea in the Park' afternoon, which turned out to be a great success, with over sixty 'customers'. Many were students, whilst others were regulars from past teas and there were so many people to talk to, as well as setting up shop, cutting the cakes, making drinks and, most of all, taking the money, that I simply did not have time to take as many photographs as I would have liked to.

What was especially pleasing about the afternoon was that Lilian Greenwood, the Prospective Parliamentary candidate for Nottingham South ( the constituency that Lenton is in), came along and took advantage of the opportunity to meet local residents and to chat. Unfortunately, I got no pics (sorry, Lilian!). However, I got a few and here they are.
The only pic I got of folks enjoying 'Tea in the Park' was during one of the quieter periods. On a couple of occasions, the queue stretched to the door.

Mike and Amy were among the students who came along and enjoyed some tea and cake. In fact, Mike did come to help, but he did a better job mixing and chatting with residents young and old. Both posed to have their pic taken with Lilian, when we gathered together in the park for a 'photo opportunity'. Someone else was taking pics, so I am in one of them, but I did manage to take one of my own…

With Holy Trinity in the background, a group of local Labour Party members and supporters pose for an impromptu picture with Lilian (centre). The General Election is now only weeks away and, as it draws nearer, my 'tribal Labour' instincts take over and all my mutterings about Gordon Brown and co seem less important. All I know for sure is that, for all its shortcomings, a Labour Government is far better than the Tory/Liberal alternative (even their leaders look alike — at a quick glance can you tell Cameron and Clegg apart?).
Whilst we were having our group pic taken, Matthew Butcher, the Green Party's candidate in Nottingham South wandered over. He had been playing football in the park and was going home to do some gardening, so he couldn't stay around for tea in the park. I have a pic of him chatting with Lilian, but I couldn't resist Matthew with his boots. I explained to him that it would make a great publicity pic for a leaflet I am working on to explain to young men why they shouldn't play football in the park in studded boots and that is what I was going to say he was saying as well. He readily agreed, so thanks Matthew. When I've done the leaflet, I make sure you all see it.
Among my first customers of the day were Yana and Danelia, who are studying at Nottingham University and come from Bulgaria. Yana asked me when she came in if they could buy tea and cake and I said 'of course'. A face then lit up with a big smile and she said 'This is so English — I love it!'. It seems that back home, even community events are a bit exclusive and the idea that everybody and anybody can join in something isn't quite the same. They tried some of our homemade Lenton elderflower cordial, after I explained how and when it was made. They must have liked it, because they came back for 'seconds'.
The fact that I got any pics at all was because two of Lilian's three daughters came to my rescue and Elsie took over being my champion, tea server, cake cutter and money taker. Her elder sister Patsy took over the washing up and without them I would have been struggling. Alex, who Elsie is pouring a cup of tea, for came across from nearby Wollaton.
I also found time to chat with Anne and Adam, two local residents that I know and took a cake order for Susan, as Anne is having a party for her 50th birthday at the Crocus Café, and loved the coffee and walnut cake that Susan had made, so we will take it along as our birthday present to Anne.
At the end of the afternoon, as I was leaving the park I saw a near-neighbour, Amanda, who is an environmental biology student takes pics for her course work and we had a chat about wheelie bins and recycling. Lenton's students get a bad press in some quarters and, yes, at times, they can be annoying, but many of them, like Amanda, Amy and Mike (see previous pic), are mindful of the impact that students have on Lenton and recognise that it is an issue. My take is that when local residents blame the area's problems on students they are tackling the wrong people. Nottingham City Council is the main culprit when it comes to the demise of Lenton, ably assisted by the city's two universities, especially Nottingham University. All I know is that I am glad to have Mike and Amanda as neighbours on Devonshire Promenade.

Barack Obama last night forced his bitterly fought healthcare reform bill through Congress, bringing near-universal coverage to Americans and delivering the first major triumph of his presidency.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

'B' is for Beeston and books

Last Saturday found Susan and I going to Beeston after receiving an invitation to be reflexology guinea pigs, so we decided to turn it into a half-day out. On better days, we would have walked all the way to Beeston, breaking our walk at the Lakeside Art Centre in Highfields Park for coffee and  shared cake. In the end we were lazy, had coffee and cake at home, then caught the bus to the eastern end of Beeston High Road, from where we ambled towards our destination with plenty of time for browsing and looking in bookshops before having a light lunch in one of our favourite eateries.

Did you notice that I said 'bookshops'? Beeston has four, plus a WH Smith's and numerous charity shops, all of which sell books. Reading this from afar, you may wonder where Beeston is in relation to Lenton in inner-city Nottingham. Well, its about  2½ miles south-west of Lenton and there are several routes you can take. It's the same if you walk. My preferred walking route includes two parks and the main campus of Nottingham University. Along the way you pass two art galleries and coffee shops and is a walk I do frequently. By bus, it's 15–20 minutes and by car it can take 10–15 minutes. We no longer own a car, but gave up going to Beeston by car long ago. Good bus services, bus lanes and door-to-door travel, with no need to waste time parking a car, make the bus best, during the day at least.

So, where are these bookshops and where did we have our leisurely light lunch before going for  our reflexology session and a sleep?
But first, a marker of sorts. This pic of the mile long pedestrianised Beeston High Road shows one its fun sculptures, looking west to east. Just beyond the yellow A-board on the right of the pic is the Oxfam bookshop and almost directly opposite is the Beeston Bookshop.
Beeston Bookshop is a long established 'remaindered' bookshop selling discontinued books, which covers a first floor as well as a ground floor.

Across the way is a Oxfam Bookshop. Recently these Oxfam bookshops have come in for a lot of criticism in the media for their, seemingly, 'predatory' approach, allegedly driving some small, private, bookshops out of business. Compared to other second-hand bookshops in Beeston, they are the most expensive. Over recent months, I have been into finding and reading Penelope Lively novels. Elsewhere, they have been £1–£2 each. Here £3–4. When it comes to local history books, they are even more pricey. At the end of the day, Oxfam is a charity (albeit, a big business as well) and if their bookshops were run badly they would not last long. 
My favourite second-hand bookshop in Beeston is 'Bookwise' on the Chilwell Road, which is what Beeston High Road joins at its western end. The walk is in a straight line, with the pedestrianised section ending by Beeston's main post office. Just continue walking on the north side of the road for about 200 yards and you come to Bookwise. It is run by 'Music for Everyone', originally formed in 1983 as the Nottingham Choral Trust. The volunteers are lovely and very helpful and I rarely go in and come out without buying a book.
Another 200 hundred yards down on the same side of Chilwell Road and you come to the newest of the second-hand bookshops. 'Karl's Bookshop' opened just before Christmas and is privately owned. Its prices are very reasonable and I already bought several books here. The couple who run the bookshop  are very helpful and friendly.  Next to them is 'Silver Tree', a jewellery and trinket shop which is jam-packed with delightful goodies.
And across the road is the 'Flying Goose', one of our favourite eating places. It does light lunches and snacks, plus lovely cakes, throughout the day. It is just the place to end or start a walk, with a choice of buses to and from Lenton every few minutes. On the days when we are invited to be reflexology guinea pigs, we always go to the Flying Goose beforehand. The window ledge inside is used display lots of cultural and and left-of-centre handouts and leaflets. The local Labour MP is Nick Palmer and is newsletter is usually there, along with Green Party and Transition Beeston material, plus The Guardian and The Independent.  In Lenton, this would be akin to our community run Crocus Café.  On the walls inside there is always a temporary exhibition of works by local artists for sale and every couple of months there are poetry reading sessions, which usually cost £3 including a glass of wine.

So, there you have it, an enjoyable suburban stroll within minutes of Lenton and Nottingham, with four decent bookshops as well, not to mention  some nice craft and jewellery shops as well. 

The Liberal Democrats have distanced themselves from the Conservatives by warning they would not support plans to cut public spending too early in the next parliament.

Monday, 1 March 2010

A 'one thing' day in Lenton

This morning I had one thing to do, then home for an early lunch before going to a West End Bowls meeting in Lenton Recreation Ground. Most days start slowly for Susan and me, breakfast in bed and papers, so we tried to avoid any appointments before 11am, but today I wanted to go and see the old scout hut site off Sherwin Road, which Parbinder from our local City Council Area 8 Committee thinks might be used for a volunteer led community garden (an 'allotment' in old fashion speak). The use of the vacated scout hut is seen as separate. In fact, it's quite large and I suspect that finding a use will not be that easy. Access to the site is not easy. You have to walk along a narrow unmade path from Sherwin Road beside the railway line which has no lighting. There is easier access from Coleby Avenue, but that is across private property.
This view of the site is towards Sherwin Road, with Lenton flats just visible in the distance beyond the trees.
This view towards the backs of houses on Sherwin Road, plus the top pic, give some idea of just how large the site is. There were several local residents present who are interested in the community garden/allotment idea and you could argue that divided into three or four plots, they could each manage their own plot. Like so many community ideas, the devil is in the detail. I left the group to go and see someone who had knocked on our door at 9.30am (an ungodly hour as far as we are concerned!), so I don't know what is going to happen next. If you are interested in the proposed community garden project, contact the Forum office for more info.

I then wandered off to The Lenton Centre, where there is a dispute simmering over land at the rear of the Centre which had been earmarked for a children's outdoor play project with funding already received. Now, it seems, some of the swimmers who come from outside Lenton want to use the area for secure parking for 'about seven cars'. The swimmers bring in much needed cash which can be used without restrictions, whilst the TLC youth project brings in money which has to be set aside for their activities. Being a community organisation cum social enterprise does not protect you from the same kind of hard choices that local councils and governments have to make, so it's a tough one for Carl, the TLC's Chief Executive. On the other side, I see why Nicki, TLC's youth officer, wants to protect her funding.

Some of those who know about the problem have got a petition going in support of the play area for presenting to the next Trustees' meeting in a few weeks time. This  morning I signed the petition because I think that local children who use the Centre have priority over would-be swimmers and their parents who come in their cars from other parts of the city. There is street parking outside and parking behind Church Square shops. In fact, the number of street parking spaces could easily be increased, but that will also cost money and take longer to bring about.

In happier days, summer 2008, the area at the back of The Lenton Centre being used for a family barbecue organised by Dunkirk and Lenton partnership Forum. This shows about one-third of the disputed area.

Then, of course, there is the fact that right next door to TLC is the main Edna G Olds School playground, surrounded by high security fences. For all the time I have been involved in the TLC site (from 1979–2006 it was Lenton Community Centre), there has been talk about getting joint use with the school. For years we used to 'trepass' during school holidays and use it without official permission, but all the fencing now makes that impossible. Long ago I came to the conclusion that schools are rarely part of the community in which they are located. They are distinct and separate and Edna G Olds in no different and never has been. Many of the teachers and the pupils arrive and leave by car. Lenton and The Lenton Centre mean nothing to them.  In saying this I may offend some, but the proof is in the pudding. This spat we are having between TLC users would not be happening had Edna G Olds been willing to share its main playground with the various childrens' and youth groups which have been based in the Centre over the past thirty years.

I hope that the TLC's trustees can come up with a solution to the problem which protects the longstanding commitment to local children. They need to se that are valued as part of our community. As for the swimmers, the trustees will have to work with them to find a solution to their problems. I am sure this can be done.

After my TLC visit, I went to Thomas Helwys Church to get some pics of an artists' group run by Claire, who is involved in the Crocus Gallery community arts project, but everyone was having lunch and I got into conversations with several other people before leaving and heading for the Crocus Café, where I had a couple of other people to see, then it was home for lunch. On the way I bumped into three other local residents and had a chat with them about this and that, as one does. Then, as I approached Devonshire Promenade I saw a white van and I couldn't resist taking this pic:

As you can see it is full of 'to let' signs. For a brief moment I toyed with the idea of jumping in and driving off, with the aim of sinking it in the River Trent.  Last week, I posted a pic of some torn down 'to let' boards. Just what would those 'vandals' have done had they come across this van?

After a quick lunch, it was into the park for a West End Bowls Club meeting and on the way I met Dave (left) showing Harry (right), his new apprentice around the park. Harry is one of twenty-four new two-year apprentices just being taken on by Nottingham City Council. I wished Harry well and told him that he could not have a better teacher. I took some other pics, which from tomorrow you can see on my parkviews.org website.

My 'one thing' days rarely stay that way — as this blog shows. Lenton is, in many ways, a kind of  'Ambridge', of the world and yet apart. There really is enough to keep me happy most days, with occasional outings to friends, family and the seaside. If you know how to live it, community life is far from boring!

Lord Ashcroft, the multimillionaire deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, today confirmed for the first time that he is a "non-dom" and does not pay tax on his earnings abroad in the UK. His confirmation puts to rest a decade of speculation about his tax status and raises serious questions for the Conservative party, which has been part of cross-party moves to ban non-doms from parliament.