Friday, 21 May 2010

A Lenton day

Yesterday (Thursday) was the kind of Lenton day I enjoy. Nothing earth shattering, no rushing, life at a leisurely pace.
Into Lenton Recreation Ground to take some pre-arranged pics of the Nottingham Peace Garden being marked out, ready for work to begin. Along the way and in sight of home, I found Harry, our park apprentice, busy hoeing away. He and Dave start early, so by the time some of us bowlers arrive in the afternoon, the workers are slowing down and rightly so. The trouble is some of us old farts don't see this side of the job, so this pic is for them.
Dave came across and joined me with Ian Cooke, a Nottingham City Council horticulturalist, who is working closely with the Nottingham Peace Garden Group and is ordering most of the plants, as well as marking out where the Garden will go in the park. Dave and Harry will be looking after the Garden once it is finished and Dave has been attending meetings as well as the volunteers who are pushing the project forward.
This is Ian marking out the head of the dove shaped garden. He knows Lenton Recreation Ground well, having worked as Nottingham University's horticulturalist until he retired and has been involved in park planting schemes in the past.

Later in the morning I wandered off the Forum office to collect the keys to The Crocus Gallery, where I was doing a volunteering stint from 12–6pm. On the way I saw another gardener, Rexx, one of our American community activists, originally from Los Angeles, who lives on a narrow boat in Lenton's Castle Marina. She is enjoyable company at all times and is involved with the Gallery project and the Crocus Café as well.
When I arrived at The Crocus Gallery, which is beside the Crocus Café, I saw these two young ladies knitting. I have written a bit more about Natalie and Lizzy in the Gallery blog posting I have just done.
After I had opened up the gallery, Hannah came in and I took this pic of her beside her three exhibits and I paid her for the picture of the spoons which I bought for Susan, after she had said that she liked it. Again, there's more about Hannah in the latest Gallery blog posting.
When I closed the gallery at 6pm, I went across Church Square and bought some samosas from Khan in the Lenton Tandoori restaurant, which I took home for tea with a salad and some lovely mint yogurt, which Khan had made. I am in the process of taking pics in of the shops and people who work in them as part of a longer piece about the Square.
After tea with Susan and Judith I left them chatting whilst I went off to meet a friend, Richard, who has recently started his own blog called Richard's World, much of which has been devoted to one his passions — the River Leen — which is how we came to meet last year. He has also written about some of Nottingham's caves. Richard lives five minutes away, so we wandered off to Radford together to visit a stretch of the Leen which has just been made accessible by the building of some student accommodation and a new footpath. For centuries the Leen was the powerhouse of Lenton, Radford, Basford, Bulwell and the other historic settlements which grew up alongside or close by. King Coal helped to change the relationship, but the river still has an important place in the local psyche and, both Richard and I believe, matters far more to people than Nottingham City Council planners realise.
Somehow, in the midst of all the development going on around them, these three, gnarled, trees have managed to survive. Behind them you can catch a glimpse of the kind of steel shuttering which has been hammered into place to shore up some of the banking. In places, the Leen looks ugly and might be dismissed by many as little more than an eyesore. Of course they would be wrong. On Saturday 7 August, Richard and I are finally going to do a walk along part of the Leen. Richard will choose where we go and to encourage a few others to join us, another Richard, my next door neighbour and Crocus Café volunteer cook, is going to do a picnic for us, which he will bring to an agreed meeting point, with the small charge we make going Café funds. More about this later.

Senior judges have overturned a high court injunction this week halting industrial action, but urged British Airways and the Unite trade union to negotiate a peace deal instead of relying on the courts. Their judgment means that five days of strikes will now begin on Monday.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Another perfect day, another year older

Today I woke up aged 66. Yesterday I was 65. The good news is that Susan was still beside me and when I opened the blinds, Lenton Recreation Ground was still  there. In other words, the world is still perfect. Today is a quiet day. Cooking lunch, making bagels for the first time in thirty-three years of breadmaking using a recipe from my friend Paul's Bread website. If you read this Paul, there have turned out fine. Next time I will reduce your recipe by half. I went out and bought some French cream cheese and smoked salmon, so you can guess what we are having for tea. There will also be a Susan made egg custard tart using pastry I have just made. A perfect day.

Yesterday saw the opening of Lenton's very own community-led arts project, called The Crocus Gallery and this morning I posted pics of the event onto the gallery blog I have been doing since a small group of us sat in the Crocus Café in February 2010 and discussed the idea. I hope you go and have a look. I bought a picture for Susan, which you can see on the gallery blog.

I left after an hour with Dave Trimble, Dunkirk and Lenton's Nottingham City councillor and Sarah Piper, who will be standing alongside Dave in next year's City Council election for our ward. We went off to visit the Lenton 'Community Garden Project', which was having an open day. As well as an opportunity to have a chat along the way about a wide range of local issues, it was a great chance to take some 'campaign' pics which can be used over the next year.
Dave and Sarah in close-up, taken at yesterday's Crocus Gallery opening. This will be invaluable library pic.
Dave and Sarah outside The Crocus Gallery is the kind of pic which reminds viewers that the Labour Party has close associations with the local community and is here, working alongside other local residents all the time.
Dave and Sarah both played a role in the Crocus Café next door coming to Church Square and making such a difference to the precinct.
When you leave Church Square via the south side the first thing you see is The Lenton Centre on Willoughby Street. I am currently gathering material together for a 'living history' project based around The Lenton Centre building and the land it was built on in the early-1930s. This part of Lenton was not developed until the 1820s and became known as 'New Lenton'. The building houses a swimming pool, a gym and a community centre. The City Council closed the pool and gym in 2004, but after a campaign by local residents led by Lenton Community Association, the building and land was sold to the community for £10 and the pool re-opened in 2008. It is a fantastic story and achievement and one in which local Labour Party members played an important and, at times, leading role…
…which is why I think the Labour Party can legitimately take and use in its City election a pic like this.
Next, I took this pic of Dave and Sarah outside the Dunkirk and Lenton Partnership Forum office on Lenton Boulevard. Again, Dave and local Labour Party members have played a leading role in the history of the Forum.
From the Forum office, we walked a hundred yards past the closed Lenton Primary School, along Sherwin Road and under the railway bridge, turned left beside the railway and found ourselves in the Sherwin Road Community Garden, complete with its old scout hut. This is a new project led by Parbinder from the city council, with the active support (and money) of our two Labour Party city councillors, Dave Trimble and Zahoor Mir.
Our visit was to see how the community garden project was going, but the opportunity to get a 'campaign' pic was too good to miss and local resident Bill Cauldwell happily agreed to have his pic taken knowing it could well appear in Dunkirk and Lenton Labour Party leaflets. Pics like this, taken on the spur of the moment, often seem better than pics I go out intending to take.

Over the coming weeks and months I will take lots more like this. Most will go into the Labour Party folder and stay there. Some will come out and be used. Some, in the end, have no value, except for the pleasure they provide me…

…Like this one of Bill planting potatoes. In the midst of all that happened yesterday, there were moments all too brief, which went unrecorded. Talking to Harry at The Crocus Gallery opening, who goes into the Crocus Café for mid-morning coffee and is someone I exchange nods with. In a few minutes he told me much and I have yet another lead to follow up. And so it is with Bill. I spent all too little time in his company. I saw him in an animated conversation with Dave. Had you been there you would understand why Dave has been one of our two Labour Party city councillors since 1992. He knows that life and politics is people. Nothing else.

Charles Kennedy, the former Liberal-Democratic Party leader says the he could not bring himself to supprt Clegg in the crucial, behind-closed-doors meeting of Lib Dem MPs last Tuesday night. He fears the move to a formal coalition with the Tories has wrecked for ever plans for a progressive centre-left alliance in British politics.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Did British politics really change a few hours ago?

A quick post a few hours after Gordon Brown gave way to David Cameron and followed up his announcement from Monday that he was intending to step down as Leader of The Labour Party by saying that it he was doing it immediately — which means that Harriet Harman has become the Party's interim leader. Susan and I both voted for her in the Deputy Leadership election a couple of years ago (or was three?). We wish her well and hope that she performs so well at the despatch box in the House of Commons that can become a serious candidate in the Labour Party leadership contest we will have shortly. Perhaps John Cruddas will tempted to run. Both names spring to mind, but neither appear to be on the national media's radar. We will watch developments with interest.

I hardly make a reliable politics pundit, having expressed the view in last blog that 'with the rest of Parliament ranged against him, I don't see how Cameron can cut services immediately'. How little I know! I fell into the camp that thought we were probably going to end up with a Conservative minority government. I did not think the Liberals would go in coalition with the Tories, given the fact that on some issues they were to the left of Gordon Brown and the Labour Party. Yet, in truth, I am not surprised, nor do I see it as the end of the world.

As I write this, news is continuely leaking out, including a Tory/Lib agreement to have five year fixed term parliaments. Blair considered the same possibility, but for four years. As they say, hindsight is a wonderful thing. Well, at least we know what we have to look forward to, assuming there is not some small print 'get out' clause in the deal.

On balance, I am with the Labour MPs who spoke out against a Lib/Lab deal. The arthmetic simply did not add up. Another plus side to all this is the fact that political debates should be shorter, as the Tories and the Liberals will have to speak with one voice, so for the media to give them both equal space with Labour would be unfair. Hang on, I feel one of my 'how ittle I know' moments coming on.

Most of the day was spent being active in my world. Lenton. My Crocus Gallery blog is where you will find pics and happy news about local life. OK. One pic to tempt you there.
On the basis of the reports we've had so far, the new cabinet will include David Cameron (PM), Nick Clegg (deputy PM), George Osborne (Chancellor), Vince Cable (chief secretary to the Treasury), Andrew Lansley (health), Liam Fox (defence), David Laws (education), Danny Alexander (Scotland) and Philip Hammond (work and pensions). There must be some jobs going to women, but we haven't heard of them yet. The Guardian.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Results day, two great, one sad, but plenty of hope

I spent election day at The Lenton Centre polling station from just before 7am until 9pm, with a couple of breaks. I did two lots of delivery in the three days before the election, so I feel as if I did my bit for the Labour Party, our candidate Lilian Greenwood and democracy. And, of course, we won Nottingham South, albeit with a reduced majority. Susan and I saw Lilian at lunchtime as we left the Crocus Café and she was about to go in. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me, so you will have to make do with a pic I took of Lilian in good company at the March 'Tea in the Park' event in Lenton Recreation Ground.
The attention is on the younger of Lilian's three daughters (who helped me serving the tea and the cake and did all the washing up). In the centre is Dave Trimble, our long-time Labour city councillor for Dunkirk and Lenton ward, and to the right is Matthew Butcher, who is a local community activist and was the Green Party candidate for Nottingham South in the general election on Thursday.

I spent most of election day with Matthew, as he based himself at The Lenton Centre from 7am until just before 9am, apart from going to a mock general election at a local primary and junior school. In that debate, he came second to Lilian. In the one that mattered on Thursday, Matthew came last, behind UKIP and the BNP. By no measure did he deserve that and I really felt for him when I heard the result. My elation at Lilian's election and the fact that she is Nottingham's first ever woman MP was marred by Matthew's poor performance and the disregard shown for him by voters. As a convert to 'green' socialism in the early-1970s, I readily admit to agreeing with nearly all the Green Party's policies and would certainly like to see the Labour Party adopt a good few of their policies.

Whilst the national media has been going on about Labour's poor performance in the general election, it has chosen to ignore Labour's impressive performance in local elections around England. Labour gained over 400 council seats whilst the Tories and Liberals lost well over one hundred each. It was also a bad night for independents. Labour won back control of numerous councils, including Camden in London, Coventry, Hastings, Oxford and, most significantly, Liverpool. These results matter, because they cheer up local foot soldiers like me and provide a launch pad for Labour's comeback at the next general election.

This weekend is dominated by media speculation about the ongoing talks between the party leaders, Cameron, Clegg and Brown about who will be able to form the next government. If Cameron wants to be prime minister, then he will have accept a referendum before too long on proportional representation and he may have to delay his proposed cuts programme until 2011/2012, when Labour and the Liberals want the cuts to start. The MPs from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will also be against early cuts, as their countries benefit the most from public expenditure. In the circumstances, with the rest of Parliament ranged against him, I don't see how Cameron can cut services immediately.

Labour and Brown might still do a deal with the Liberals and the other parties to keep Cameron out. It's still early days. I agree with Graham Allen, the Nottingham North Labour MP since 1987, that there should be a referendum on proportional representation sooner rather than later. The question asked will be crucial. I heard a senior Tory MP, Liam Fox, say that PR isn't an important issue and that not one voter mentioned the issue to him during the campaign. I wonder how many said to him that they weren't going to vote because their vote wouldn't count anyway? Many voters feel disenfranchised by the present 'first past the post' system. The one thing most voters will want to keep is a direct link with their MP and not to vote for a party list over which they have no control. Back in the 1990s, Roy Jenkins and others prepared a report for Tony Blair. Many of us thought that change was about to come. What better time than under a Labour government with a massive majority, but it was not to be. Scotland got its own parliament and Wales an assembly, both with PR. England got nothing, not even PR. I have made up my mind to follow Graham's lead and support him. He is in favour of pluralism in government and more local autonomy. Two things I have long supported.

As far as I am concerned, the general election was not a disaster for Labour. My focus will remain local and this why having a Labour controlled Nottingham City Council is very important to me.  In a recent blog I went on at length about the commercial waste bins outside the Bag O'Nails pub on Church Street. Good news on election day from the City Council. I received an email saying: 'The two receptacles from the Bag O’ Nails have now been removed from the highway (and) I have had discussions with the Pub Manger and he is in agreement that their bins will now be stored within a secured compound within their building.  On collection days, our crew will remove the bins from the compound and once emptied they will be returned thus keeping them off the highway'. A result after three years.

In the midst of it all, Thursday did have its lighter moments. Both involved animals.
Outside The Lenton Centre polling station, Matthew became a dog minder for a few minutes whilst a lady went in and voted. It was about 9am and the day was still young. Matthew has yet to learn how to work the votes. For a few brief minutes whilst Lilian was at the polling station, she shook hands with every voter and introduced herself. She said no more. She was not campaigning. Matthew has yet to learn the dark art of 'pressing the flesh' or kissing babies, but , as my pic shows, he has made a start.
As Susan was walking home from a turn on the polling station, she saw these ducks on Devonshire Promenade, a few doors from our house. Why two mallards and a duck decided to land so far from water is a mystery, but here they are having a nap. By the time I came home they had gone. I ended the day with a sausage sandwich, a bag of crisps and a chocolate ice cream lolly and we stayed up until 4am, when the Nottingham results were declared. We then collapsed into bed and surfaced at mid-day. For the moment we are still playing catch-up. Our bodies are not used to such high levels of frenetic activity these days.

Shirley Williams has become the first senior Liberal Democrat to break ranks and come out against the idea of her party striking a formal coalition deal with the Conservatives.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

If ever there was a straw, this is it for me!

I would like to be telling you something about the history of this fine building on Church Street in New Lenton (and I will when I do my Festival walk in June). For now, all you need to know is that it has been the Bag O'Nails public house for a good few years. It customers are almost exclusively students and, for the most part, it is only open during university term-times. My focus in this blog is the two commercial waste bins in the road to the right of the picture. They are a permanent feature and I have been compalining about them for two years at least.

I have just posted my latest entry to the Fix my street website and included the picture below…

 and the following text: 'There has been an ongoing problem with the pub leaving its bins in the road on Church Street at all times for some years now. I think I first posted an entry on this website in 2008! They have been out all over the bank holiday. There are always excuses being made, yet the private landlord next door has never left the same style bins in the street (my pic show the landlord's bins in the foreground and the Bag O'Nailss bins in the road to the back). Why is no action ever taken against the Bag O'Nails? The City Council have no plausible answer to this question, so one just has to wonder what is going on here?'.

Last month, my last 'complaint' about the problem via Dave Trimble, one of our city councillors, got the following reply:

'I thank you for your enquiry into the trade waste issue at the Bag O Nails 60 Lenton Boulevard, Nottingham.

The 8 hour rule applies for both domestic and business waste.  For example, if the regular collections are 9.00am then the bin can only be put out no earlier than 1am the day of the collection and has to be removed from the highway no later than 5pm the same day.

Therefore, with Bag O Nails collections being on Monday, Tuesday and Friday, bins are not permitted to be on the highway at any time over the weekends.

I am in the process of ascertaining approximate collection times for each day as these can vary from domestic collections.

I completely understand your frustrations and will continue to monitor these premises, and, as soon as the pub resumes trading I will be visiting the landlord again in order to rectify this situation'.

I suspect the council officer who replied is overworked, under-resourced and frustrated at their inability to resolve this problem. Here we are again with the Bag O'Nails leaving the bins in Church Street for the whole of the May Day bank holiday.

As I have pointed out in my latest Fix my street entry, and show in my pic, the property next door has four commercial bins and I have never seen them left in Church Street once, so why is such a problem for the Bag O'Nails?

My last complaint in early-April 2010 was prompted by this scene. The Bag O'Nails has its cellar shoot open, not a delivery vehicle in sight and no one in attendance. It was like this when I walked passed on my way to Church Square and still like it over an hour later when I walked back home. My next door neighbour mentioned it to me on another occasion and I have seen mothers with buggies forced in to the road on a few occasions over the years because the bins have actually been on the pavement (and have forwarded pics to councillors and officers on numerous occasions).

Why does this matter so much? The answer is simple. If a commercial business, with staff and resources, cannot keep its bins off the street, then it makes it difficult to ask students in shared houses to take their bins in. Things have got better in the last twelve months, but anyone walking around New Lenton like I was on Monday morning (I was delivering Labour Party leaflets) woould have seen how it can still look awful, with rubbish strewn across pavements in a number of places.

I do not know why the Bag O'Nails has such a charmed life, but I do know that if ever I desert the Labour Party after fifty years it will be because my Labour controlled city council talks big when it comes to keeping our streets clean and safe, whilst doing nothing about it in New lenton. All we get is talk, talk, talk.

Right now, I am, quite frankly, pissed off by their inability or, worse, decision to do nothing about the Bag O'Nails and its bins. They are a symbol of failure and I will be attending the next community meeting on Monday 10 May at Thomas Helwys Church wanting an answer about how and when the bins are going to removed once and for all, subject to the very lax regulations which exist. I also want to know whether the council change change the regulations?

Gordon Brown put in one of the most extraordinary performances of his tenure as prime minister when the three party leaders took part in an unofficial fourth debate – addressing London community groups in the largest live audience of the election campaign. As the Labour party battles to avoid coming third on Thursday, Brown appeared to find an emotional range and vocabulary previously unheard from him. Prompting repeated standing ovations, he told the audience: "As you fight for fairness, you will always find in me a friend, a partner and a brother." The speech, before 2,500 voters in a large church hall, may end up having been the most electrifying event of the campaign. Critics of the prime minister described it as one of the best speeches they have seen by a politician.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Can we afford to leave Lenton's future to chance?

This coming Thursday will see one of the most important general elections in my life time. Being born in 1944, I was just one when Labour was swept to power in the 1945 general election. That election and its consequences has defined my life in many ways and all for the better.
I am the little one in this pic, which was taken in 1946. Pop, on the left, is my maternal grandfather and I am being held by my mother, Betty. On the right is my Uncle Sid, Pop's brother, who was so damaged by his experiences of World War I that he spent the rest of his life in a mental hospital, except for occasional stays with family. My mother wasn't married and never spoke to me about my father. I never had the courage to question her, or other members of my family about who my father was. I found out at her funeral, from my Uncle Frank, that he was Irish, worked at the GEC factory in North Wembley during World War II with my mother and was a good footballer. His surname might have been O'Brian or O'Ryan.
My mother was often away working whilst I was little and married Jimmy in 1952. A lovely man, who I came to love more and more as we both became older and I remember his passing in 2008, eighteen months after my mother, with fonder memories and more sadness. It was my Nanna and Pop who nurtured me, who cared for me, and it was my uncles and aunts, especially my Uncle Dave and Auntie Nannie, who provided me with that extra love that all children need. My mother was there, somewhere, in the background. I think Nanna just took charge. She died when I was 15 and so Pop and I lived alone, apart from the ever-present lodgers, who occupied the big first-floor front bedroom, except for the few occasions when mother and Jimmy came to live with us for some reason. My mother's solutuon to any problem was to try and run away from it. When she couldn't, she became depressed and morose. By any measure, Jimmy was a saint.

I have another picture of me like the one above which was taken at the same time, but without the pointing finger. In both pictures I am standing on a tank in the back garden of the semi-detached house in Wembley that was my home for the first 22 years of my life. Pop and I got along well and I still dream about him regularly. I always have done. He was a man of his time and, by my standards, treated Nanna badly. I can only remember one really bad argument about what I have long forgotten everything, except for his blurting out in the middle of it all "You're just like your father — it's the bloody Irish in you — always fighting something — you can never leave well alone".

By then I was already a very active 'young socialist' in the Labour Party and my trade union. I knew what Attlee and his post-war Labour government had done for ordinary people. Their achievements shaped our nation for a generation or more and helped shape the hopes and ambitions of many.

After Attlee, we had to wait until 1964 and Harold Wilson before we had another Labour Government. It also lasted only six years, but it achieved much. I was 20 when Wilson came to power. I did not have a vote, but I was in a small way, party to reducing the voting age to 18. My life moved on and Labour managed a comeback in the 1970s, by which time I was a councillor in Birmingham. Labour was changing, responding to global markets, a Europe flexing its economic muscle. It all ended in tears and a big 'if only'. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

What followed was Thatcher and eighteen years of social and industrial destruction. Her culture and politics played to our baser instincts and, as a society, many of us were happy to embrace all that she offered. So much so that when Blair and Brown led Labour to that fantastic victory in 1997, they believed that they could only survive by dealing with the city monsters Thatcher had helped to create. Voters wanted different then, as now. For what progress we have had during the last thirteen years we have paid a heavy price and will have to endure much for the rest of my life and beyond.

My close  and long time friend Paul is, in many ways, the 'other' me. The one who is not political or active in the community. Who goes on long country walks, tends his large garden and has hobbies. We share a passion for breadmaking, cooking, and two women, who have been friends for longer than us. In his blog, Distant Thoughts, his last entry is about the forthcoming general election. I know that he articulates the views of most of the friends I have spoken to in recent weeks. I would do Paul a disservice if I was suggest otherwise. They all want a change in the voting system more radical than Brown's proposal. I find it impossible to argue against them when they say that Blair and Brown had the chance to change the voting system after the 1997 election and they didn't, so why trust Labour now? Paul makes the point that in choosing who to vote for, we have to accept things we don't like. We do not have 'pick and mix' politics.

I agree. Yet, yet, when we look at the choices before us this coming Thursday, only Labour offers some hope that all need not be lost and the price I will pay is billions being spent on a Trident replacement, ID cards and the continuing privatisation of public services. The cuts are already with us. Lenton, like the rest of England, will have to pay a heavy price for bailing out the bankers in London, but, but, they need to be managed and mindful of local needs and opinions. The cuts are not something to be imposed by a city council or a government without giving local communities the chance to offer their own practical and financially viable alternatives. What politicians and parties have done will count for little or nothing on Thursday. It is the future that matters and I am in no doubt that Labour is the party to vote for. Cuts and more cuts are inevitable, but they need to be phased and applied in a way which protects the poor, the weak and vulnerable. 

In Nottingham South, a vote for Lilian Greenwood will be a vote for someone with a track record of campaigning for the less well-off, the weakest in our society. That is the only thing from the past which will matter on Thursday — as for the future, we need to take stock of where we are now and where we want to be in ten, twenty… fifty years time, then work towards that future, steadily and with determination. I have my own thoughts about these things. They will matter little if, as a society, we get things wrong on Thursday.

Vote Labour, vote Lilian Greenwood…

Now I am off delivering and will spend Thursday number taking at The Lenton Centre. Then we will watch television until the Nottingham results come in and I can go to the bed knowing that Lilian is my MP.

Notts County win promotion from the Football League 2nd division as champions.