Thursday, 26 December 2013

Once buses were rarer than unicorns...

... in Lenton on Boxing Day, but what makes 2013 special is that Nottingham City Transport are running buses, albeit a reduced network, for the first time in thirty years. Flushed out by their rivals, Trent-Barton and Your Bus, who operated Boxing Day and New Year' Day services last year.  My pre-Christmas column in the Nottingham Post was about Christmas holiday bus services, or rather the lack of them on the day itself.

A Trent-Barton Indigo full of passengers about to pass Lenton Recreation Ground as it heads for Long Eaton.

A YourBus Y36 waits at the Junction of Derby Road and Lenton Boulevard on its way to the Victoria Centre in Nottingham City Centre.

Another Trent-Barton Indigo, this time making its way to Derby via Beeston and Long Eaton. Had I  waited a further few minutes I could have photographed a Trent-Barton i4 also going to Derby. For some reason, the Derby buses on each service run within a few minutes of one another, each takes about an hour. Lentonians who know about buses catch any bus to the QMC Hospital, three stops away, and change onto a Trent-Barton Red Arrow or YourBus City-Link and do the journey non-stop in thirty minutes or less. 

And, finally, what I wanted to capture in a photograph. A working Nottingham City Transport bus on Boxing Day. A sight rarer than unicorns for the past thirty years. It's a 36 crossing Lenton Boulevard, as it heads along Derby Road towards Beeston and Chilwell.

Maybe next year they will even run on Christmas Day, but unfortunately NCT get 2014 off to a bad start with no buses whatsoever on New Year's day, whilst Trent-Barton and YourBus are both operating routes in and around Nottingham. Just how NCT can win national awards is beyond me.

What saddens me most is that NCT is owned by a Labour controlled Nottingham City Council, who should be mindful of the fact that ordinary people still have to get to work, whatever the day, especially New Year's Day, when city centre shops are open.

All the buses I saw were carrying plenty of passengers. On a personal note, Boxing Day afternoon saw two longstanding friends come from Chllwell for tea. They came on a 36 and went home on an Indigo, so I know how important urban buses are to non-car owners every day of the year!

Enjoy the rest of the holiday.

A last Christmas Eve Lenton wander

I had intended to post this on Christmas Eve, but life overtook me, as it so often does. It's a last personal record of sorts because this is, assuming we sell our house, our last Christmas in Lenton after thirty-four of them.  Over the years one thing has never changed. We write and post most of our cards in early-December, but always I keep the Lenton ones back, saying I will deliver them by hand to save the postage and I do, but never until Christmas Eve.

It is always quiet and, unfortunately, this year was not a good one for taking photographs of my meander around Lenton. The sky was cloud free and the Sun was low in the sky, blindingly so.

From our house on Devonshire Promenade towards the Derby Road. The only car on the Prom over Christmas belongs to our next door neighbours. Every other house is empty. The students have all gone.

A little hidden corner of Lenton, which you might catch a glimpse of walking up the Derby Road towards Canning Circus. It is the side entrance to the home of one my bowling companions. A few weeks from now, there will be snowdrops, then crocuses and, later, a few bluebells. A perfect side entrance by any measure. It always gives me pleasure just to see it as I walk to and from Graham's letter box.

11am and a view of a very quiet Derby Road, from Harrington Drive towards the Savoy Cinema at the bottom of the hill. Two buses are just pulling away from the Savoy and, at times on my walk along Derby Road, there were more buses than cars. A photograph of this view in two years time will be minus a glimpse of Lenton Flats.

Any photograph of a Lenton road like Harrington Drive (towards Derby Road) without cars is a rarity. Parking got so bad a few years ago across the whole of Lenton that the City Council introduced a residents' parking scheme.

Abbey Court Flats from Rolleston. I like the fact that the bare trees look as tall as the flats.

Abbey Court from Welby Avenue, The Flats look in pristine condition, as clean and gleaming as when erected in the mid-1960s. Seen like this, it is difficult to believe that they will be gone this time next year. They will be missed by many.

At a first glance, the partially demolished Digby Court looks as it has vines growing up the side. In a few weeks it be gone.

My Christmas Eve walk lasted barely thirty minutes, then it was off to Beeston, but I was keenly aware that, with my short meander delivering cards, our leaving Lenton is close to becoming real. My walk ended with a look across an empty Lenton Recreation Ground from the front of our home.

Not a good day for taking photographs, but what I have all offer views of New Lenton few others will otherwise see. We are so often blind to the world around us.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Heritage bus routes in and around Nottingham

Today I have just written my next column for the Nottingham Post about public transport in and around Nottingham, which should be published mid-January and this has prompted me to create a new page, which is listed in the narrow column to the right of this one.

When I was growing up in Wembley, days out to places such as Kew Gardens, Hampton Court or Hampstead Heath were always by bus. It is a habit I have never lost and Nottingham is a great place to explore and discover the past by bus.

I plan to add published walks to my list as and when I find them. I have some of my own, but this is for another day. In the meantime, be amazed by just how much heritage you can reach by bus.

The Sherwood Arrow goes to Rufford Abbey and the Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre at Edwinstowe, plus a few other places as well.

The Rainbow 1 goes to Eastwood and the D H Lawrence Birthplace Museum…

…and the 35 takes you to Wollaton Park with its historic Tudor house, Nottingham Industrial Museum and the Yard Gallery.

I am also working on a map to accompany the information on my new page, which I hope to complete for the New year, so watch this space.

Monday, 16 December 2013

A Nottingham Castle must see: Paul Waplington exhibition

On Saturday, Susan and I finally made it to Nottingham Castle Museum to see a temporary exhibition, Spotlight: Paul Waplington, which runs until 19 January 2014. It really is worth going to see. All his paintings in UK public collections are on display, plus a good few from private collections, together with a thirty minute ITV documentary about his work from the 1980s.

The painting below is entitled 'Footbridge' and in Sheffield City Museum, but it is actually of the footbridge beside the Old Basford level crossing in Nottingham. I first picked up on this painting and others at the end of 2012 when compiling a news story for The Nottingham Historian about the BBC Your Paintings website which, at the time, had just been launched.

His work is vibrant and graphic. It grabs your attention and draws you in. He appeals to me because his work was then set in Nottingham's inner city neighbourhoods and streets (Alfreton Road, Hyson Green, Sneinton). Some years ago he went to live in Portugal and he now paints people, landscapes and animals in the region where he now lives — a long way from work inspired by his days in the lace industry and as a left-wing activist in Nottingham.

If you live close enough, take this opportunity to see one of the best exhibitions I have seen in a while. You will not be disappointed. 

Click here to go to BBC Your Paintings Paul Waplington folder, where you can see images of all his paintings in UK collections.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

The tale of a gammy knee and preparing the house for sale

Since my last blog, life has hobbled by at an amazing speed. I have had a problem with my left knee for a few years now, but with regular visits to the osteopath I have used since 1999, I have managed to stay on top of things, but since falling over my shopping trolley in the snow outside Lenton Flats a couple of years ago, I have needed to see an NHS physio twice and every morning I do some exercises he gave me to keep my knees supple, but a couple of months ago, my left knee started to become very painful and prone to locking. After this happened to me in the middle of the Derby Road, I decided it was time to visit a doctor again.

I saw the doctor in a few days, had my knees x-rayed the following day and a letter from the Nottingham City Clinical Commissioning Group a few days later. Up to this point, it was pretty impressive. Then nothing. After four weeks I telephoned to enquire what was happening and was told that 'the Nottingham City Clinical Assessment Service… Specialist Team is assessing your referral' and that this would take 'up to six weeks'.

Since Susan and I were working our way through a long list of little jobs and giving our house a major clean in readiness to putting it up for sale, I waited… and waited… Nothing, so I telephoned again and was given a telephone number I could contact direct. They claimed to know nothing about me. The system had lost me. I was not a happy bunny and, in fairness, it took only one telephone call to the CCG to get a telephone call back offering me an appointment at the Mary Potter Health Centre in Hyson Green to see a senior physiotherapist a fortnight later. This happened on Friday and I got sixty minutes attention, including a lengthy examination plus explanations of my x-rays and what the options are. It was five star attention by any measure and I came away a lot happier.

So tomorrow I will be back at the community gym in The Lenton Centre, where I was going 2–3 times a week until my knee went a couple of months ago, with a couple of extra exercises to do. Going there has helped me lose nearly three stone, but in last two months I have put 10lb back on, so you can see why I am glad to be starting again. I report back to Mary Potter on 10 January 2014 to see how I am progressing.

I tell you all this because my knee problem (or should I say 'knee cap' problem) has become acute at a time when the media is full of stories about how the NHS is cutting back on knee operations as part of its efforts to save money.

The experience leaves me wondering how regularly patients are lost by the system? Then I wonder if everyone gets treated as promptly as I did? NHS employees are, I suspect, under a lot of pressure and they all cope with it differently.

I have recently taken part in a couple of Nottingham City CCG surveys and the questions have been badly framed, giving the option of only 'yes/no' answers, then if you answer 'no' asking if you thought this was to do with age/gender/sexual orientation/race/religion and little or no scope for other answers. I have made this point at the end of each survey, but since this is something I have complained about for a long time, I am of the view that NHS surveys are probably constructed to obscure, rather then enlighten.

I suspect that the NHS managers and number crunchers are so obsessed with outcomes that they fail to comprehend (or care) how seemingly trivial ailments and conditions impair the quality of lives, and that their failure to address them will ultimately add to the money the NHS has to find for that person in the long-term.

The NHS is a great organisation, but to work well it needs to be part of a social framework which includes decent housing and social services for all, as well as decent jobs and pay. Our society is fragmenting at an alarming pace and all this from one gammy knee!

They say house moving is one of the most stressful things you can do. How I agree!
At the top of the narrow column to the right is a link a blog I have put together about our house. Someone might find it. Our first estate agent, Frank Innes, lasted seven days. They were  truly awful. They could not spell 'Lenton' correctly, draw a house plan of our house correctly lor describe it correctly, despite having the errors pointed out to them on several occasions, verbally and by e-mail.

We have now gone to a local estate agent, who is already proving to be much more efficient, and I will add a link once we are on their website.

The plus side of all the housework we have done is that lots of little problems have been fixed and we have cleared out our basement after hiring a van for a day — it was that easy.

The only problem we have is that because of new Nottingham City Council planning controls our large Victorian house cannot be turned into student accommodation and this has knocked about £30,000 off its value. Of the 23 houses on Devonshire Promenade, 20 are student lets in multi-occupation owned by private landlords. These are controls we first argued for twenty-five years ago when houses in multiple occupation made up only 25% of the total in New Lenton. Now they make up over 80%. and 87% on Devonshire Promenade. No family will want to buy our house and no private landlord either.

The coming weeks and months will be interesting. In the meantime I have e-mailed the City Planners as follows:

My wife and I are putting our home at No.3 Devonshire Promenade up for sale after thirty-thee years because we want to downsize. We are aware of the new Article 4 Direction with regard to student housing, but we would like to know how it actually impacts on a road like ours, where there are only three owner-occupiers out of twenty-three houses?

Who can buy our house? If a landlord did, would he have to rent it out as a single tenancy, or can he sub-divide the house into flats, or rooms, up to a specific number? What about the relatives (ie. son/daughter, niece/nephew) of someone who buys the house. Can they live in the house with 'friends' as 'lodgers' and, of so, how many?

All the initial evidence suggests that no family is going to be interested, despite our prime location, because of the the fact that almost all the houses on Devonshire Promenade and surrounding streets are student houses. In the case of a street like ours, where 87% of the houses are student houses, is it City Council planning policy to impose the new Article 4 Direction strictly, or with the support of the other two resident owner-occupiers, can it be adjusted in some way? If and when they come to sell, they will face exactly the same problem as ourselves.

Three estate agents have told us that the value of house has been reduced considerably by the new Article 4 Direction and it will be 'hard to sell'. We have also been told by our councillors that there is a scheme where the City Council will buy hard to sell houses like our own, but we have seen no details of this policy or which City Council department manages it. Can you please provide a copy of the policy/procedure or tell us who to contact?

Please send us any information you have. Like so many pensioners and long-term residents, our house is our only asset, and we are sure it was not the intention of the City Council that we should suffer financially because of the new Article 4 Direction.

I will post their response when I receive it.

My next post will be back to lighter things I promise.

Friday, 22 November 2013

'I confirm the Order' : 20 November 2013

Photographs I took in 1999 and 2003 of the point where Lenton meets The Park Estate. I took these photographs from Park Road in Lenton. On the other side of the bollards and subsequent gate is Lenton Road and The Park Estate.

Rarely have four words sounded so sweet. As the messenger said, 'Enjoy the report Robert' and I did, as I read it yesterday afternoon. What am I referring to?

Well, it's the outcome of the public local inquiry held during July 2013 into an public footpath order made by Nottingham City Council in February 2009 that a footpath over land known as Park Road and Lenton Road between Lenton and Nottingham city centre via The Park Estate was a public right-of-way.

I have copied the Inspector's report to its own page in the right-hand column.

In 2003 The Park Estate put the gate in place, but only started to lock it in 2009, which brought matters to a head and the City Council finally issued its Order that it was a registered public footpath. This resulted in quite a few objections, so the Order was called in and became the subject of the Inquiry held earlier this year.

After 1999, the Forum got our city councillors and the City Council involved and The Park Estate then did nothing and the matter rested for a number of years, with Lenton residents, like myself, watching for signs of action — which is how I came to write the subsequent ‘In My Opinion’ column for News From The Forum No.44, published in January 2009. During the intervening years I stayed in contact with Nottingham City Council, my local ward councillors and Member of Parliament, who were all very supportive and shared the Lenton view that the disputed footpath was an historic right-of-way.

The making of the Order in 2009 had in origins back in 1999 when The Park Estate put up a notice saying that there was no right-of-way and that they intended to restrict public use of the route. In my then capacity as Chair of the Dunkirk and Lenton Partnership Forum, I objected and wrote the lead article published on the front page of News From The Forum No.7, published by the Dunkirk and Lenton Partnership Forum, in October 1999 headed ‘Berlin Wall for Lenton?’ My report drew attention to the ‘Proposed closure’ notice posted by The Park Estate in May 1999 and opposition from some Park Estate residents (although a good few also supported the Order).

For some time now, this blog has had a summary of my evidence to the Inquiry on its own blog page (see right-hand column). There is something sweet about seeing your evidence quoted back at you by the Inquiry Inspector and knowing that you also played a role in the evidence of others. 

Of all the paragraphs in the Inspector's decision, it is paragraph 39 which gives me the greatest satisfaction: The Park Estate argued that if a public footpath existed, it was only on the south side of Lenton Road, whereas the City Council argued that further to a decision made in 1901 there was 'good authority for a presumption that following the laying out of lenton Road the full width became a public footpath'. The Inspector decision says 'It is clear that the whole of Lenton Road was laid out before 1861 and I see no reason to doubt that the Duke (of Newcastle) was capable of the presumed dedication when the road was set out'.

There has been talk that if The Park Estate lost they would apply for a 'gating order' on grounds of anti-social behaviour because the footpath increases the crime rate along Lenton Road. By saying the footpath is the full width of the road, this should make such an order impossible. It is one thing to gate an alley, but there must be a good few roads in Nottinghamshire with more problems than Lenton Road, so should all these roads be gated as well? Of course not, but for the record I will ask Paddy Tipping, Nottinghamshire's Police Commissioner, to tell me where Lenton Road ranks in terms of total recorded offences, prosecutions and convictions in total and in relation to property numbers. I suspect Lenton Road will not rank that high.

The word which comes to mind in all this is tenacity, especially on the part of the City Council's Footpath Officer, John Lee, who first visited the site of the above photographs with me in 1999, and Dunkirk and Lenton's city councillors, especially Dave Trimble, who had to put up with me bending his ear on a good few occasions. To sit through three days of the Inquiry in the company of other Lenton residents I have known for many years, and who also gave evidence in support of the Order, was probably the best thing about the three days and I suspect that the four words 'I confirm the Order' are as sweet for them as they have been for me.

Finally, a special word of thanks to John Lee and his colleagues for all their hard work and support.

Friday, 8 November 2013

A classic demise part II

After eighteen years, the Dunkirk and Lenton Partnership Forum will soon be no more, having sown the seeds of its own demise when it was at the height of its powers; publishing a regular community newspaper, holding community meetings attended by 60-80 local residents regularly, sometimes more and campaigning on a range of fronts, plus establishing an annual community festival and ensuring that a ward called 'Dunkirk and Lenton' was created in the face of fierce opposition from the City Council (although it needs to pointed out that local Labour Party councillors and our MP, Alan Simpson,  supported the Forum 100%).

The Forum managed to be democratic and inclusive without being restrictive or bureaucratic. All its meetings were open and it came up with a model approach which enabled it to embrace division whilst representing all views and loudly rejecting prejudice of any kind at the same time. Quite an achievement by any measure. Its model brought it into conflict with the Nottingham voluntary establishment, who could not comprehend the giving of corporate powers to Forum working groups and expected all decisions to be filtered through monthly management committe meetings. The Forum's response was to cite the City Council as its role model.

Personally, as one of the Forum's founders, I saw it as a first step on the road to the creation of a urban parish council, but it was not to be. I lost the argument to those who saw my view as confrontational or political - and I happily admitted that it was both.

The 'partnership' approach was preferred with charitable/Lottery funding and I, along with Helen Sudbury, who then worked in the City Council's Housing Department, were the architects of a successful £177,000 Lottery bid in 1998, which enabled the Forum to employ three workers and start its own community newspaper, 'News From The Forum' (the last issue published was no.49 and Susan and I helped with its production, as we did the first seven issues).

Charitable funding makes campaigning harder, if not impossible, and the Forum was built on campaigning, on making demands. Once it changed to being a voluntary 'response' and service organisation it was doomed. That is not what local residents wanted. NAG was born out of that frustration and others, like myself, dropped out of active involvement, even though I helped on the sidelines. I never signed up to the Forum becoming a charitable company limited by guarantee and voted against the proposal until the final vote, when I abstained (the only person to do so).

After the last city council elections the Forum's quarterly meetings ceased and our ward councillors adopted the title 'community forum' to describe their own open meetings with local residents. That was when the Forum ceased to be responsive to local views, although it was when the Forum refused to object to planning applications some years before that I knew, for certain, its future depended on funders and not the community which created it.

As happens to voluntary organisations all too often they reach a point where the organisation becomes more important than its aims and that happened to the Forum. It made what decisions it did with the best of intentions and Susan and I will continue supporting the Forum to the very end. The proposal that its assets, liabilities and activities be taken over by The Lenton Centre is not one we would argue with, as we have been actively involved with both and support them both with monthly donations.

The outcome is that Lenton has had no campaigning organisation for some years, with the exception of NAG. A pity by any measure. The end of the Forum, inevitable as it has been for a good few years, is still something I view with regret. My wish is that the Forum's manager, Fiona, still has a job, for she has served the Forum and people of Dunkirk and Lenton well. In the past, the Forum has been well served by its staff and many volunteers.

Since 1996, the area has changed out of all recognition, but that's another story...

Friday, 1 November 2013

A classic demise for a local voluntary organisation – Part l

News of an end foretold by events long ago arrived in the post a couple of days ago. The Dunkirk & Lenton Partnership Forum's Board of Directors has called an extraordinary general meeting for 28 November 2013, when members will be asked to vote for the Forum's 'dissolution and the transfer of its assets, liabilities and ongoing activities to The Lenton Centre'.

I won't be there, as I am not a member, although Susan and I have been donating £10 a month to the Forum because we believe that it has been endeavouring to help Dunkirk and Lenton as best it could. We were founder members of the Forum back in 1996 and I was its first Chair for three years, then later for a further two. At times it was a roller coaster of a ride and it was sustained for a good few years by the efforts of one woman, Lesley Fyffe.

What has happened to the Forum has been a favourite hobby horse of mine for years. I was not the first to articulate it — credit for that has to go to Peter Hain and Simon Hebditch in their pamphlet, Radicals and Socialism, published by the Institute for Workers Control, right here in Nottingham, in 1978.

In 1978 Susan and I lived in Mansfield and Susan was then Curator of Mansfield Museum. In 1975 she had started a free 'Saturday Club' for children and teenagers. It was a great success and attracted a good few talented volunteers and with success came rising expectations on the part of both users and volunteers. By 1977 the point had been reached where running the Saturday Club took a lot of time and all those involved agreed that what they needed was part-time paid help. 

In the 1970s there was no such thing as the National Lottery, so Mansfield District Council was approached in the hope that they would pay for a part-time worker. Their response was 'Surely, what you are doing is education and that is a county council function'. The County Council took the view that the Museum was a district council responsibility. Eventually, exhaustion saw the demise of the Saturday Club. It was not an easy decision to make, but the Club's eventual demise was inevitable once it had become so successful that it could no longer meet the expectations of its users and volunteers without additional resources.

Mansfield Museum's Saturday Club was a pioneering venture at a time when very few museums had their own education officers and the word 'outreach' had not been invented.

As a councillor in Birmingham during the 1970s I had seen the same thing happen to various community groups run by volunteers. What funding there was for voluntary organisations was directed, exclusively in my experience, at those organisations that were either pliant or were supporting local council objectives in some way. If a group was doing something radical, or serving needs not on the local council's agenda, then they were unlikely to get any serious funding.

In 1978, Radicals and Socialism explained the problem then facing radical (and innovative) voluntary groups. The problem is still with us, as the notice from the Forum well demonstrates. By coincidence, Russell Brand's interview with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight on 23 October 2013 addressed the same issue and has had, as at today's date, nearly 9million hits on YouTube.

If you haven't watched it, do. Russell Brand actually uses the 'S' word — socialism.

Part 2 of this blog will look at the Forum and why it's demise became inevitable once it embraced charitable status and incorporation, even though its radical agenda had been abandoned, and how the corporate voluntary sector conspires with the political elite to de-radicalise local community agendas.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Beeston pubs and cafés revisited (again!)

I have added Beeston pubs and bus route information to my map, which is now A4 landscape size. The map is aimed at visitors to Beeston and easily be downloaded and printed off  Comments welcome.

This version is named after the Beeston WEA Branch Writers' Group/Class which meets every Thursday and frequent various haunts in Beeston. Our new favourite for the whole group is the White Lion (see last week's blog), but the Local not global deli and Relish are also favourite haunts, where we gather as well.

To see the map full size, simply click on the map.

The map can also be used as a template for a range of maps relating to central Beeston and has been designed so that it can also be printed off on a mono printer. In other words, there is no loss of detail if not printed in colour because the Pubs and Café Line is 12 point, the bus routes line is 6 point and other roads are 2 point — which is why I have copyrighted the map — and I hope may help me raise funds to publish Foodie Heavens by Beeston Writers.  We shall see.

Now a stripped down version, free of bus information. Someone made the point that the bus information could go on another map. The orange lines (which print out a lighter grey are other Beeston shopping streets. In other words my map now includes all the central Beeston shopping area).

On Tuesday 5 November I am planning to re-walk the map (see my blog post dated 31 August about the first time I walked the route) just to confirm to myself that everything is where I say it is, and in the process, I plan to 'map' 'seasonal' shops and charity shops and to compile a second map later next week. My aim remains the production of a small A4 folding pocket map. We shall see.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Autumn leaves in unexpected streets

After thirty-four years in Lenton I tend to think that I know my way around. I can give directions to strangers when asked, know where the pubs are and a good few shops too, but some things change without me noticing. Others have always gone unnoticed — much to my shame — which is how I came to be see trees in streets where I thought there were none.

Lenton Sands is a wedge of inner-city streets running, almost exclusively north—south, bordered by Lenton Boulevard in the west; Ilkeston Road in the north and Derby Road in the south, with both meeting at Canning Circus. The roads climb from east to west, Derby Road more steeply than Ilkeston and the further away you are from Lenton Boulevard, the more steeply they fall from Derby Road to Ilkeston Road.

If you had asked me on Tuesday morning I would have confidently told you the streets between Derby and Ilkeston were devoid of trees, except for the odd one or two at the bottom end. Walking to the vets for one last time I caught sight of what I thought was flickering gold and turning my head I saw this:

Douglas Road from the Derby Road end running down towards Ilkeston Road bathed in sunlight sparking golden brown autumnal colours. It was late-morning and every tree was lit up by the sun. Unfortunately when I went back with my camera yesterday morning it was only 9.30am and the sun was lower in the sky, but the trees were still there, in a street where I had never noticed them before, not once in thirty-four years!

There were also trees along Albert and Derby Groves (which is where I took this photograph).

Balfour Road in the same block of streets is how I have always thought of Lenton Sands — treeless. The contrast could not be more stark.

And as I walked up Derby Road I did so on a carpet of leaves, which rustled about my feet. Little moments like this occur every autumn and, as the years past, they become ever more enjoyable and precious to me. I feel a trip to Oxmoor Woods coming on.

My walk up Derby Road yesterday was a bit like the day after I met Susan for the first time. Would she there, was she real or had she just been a figment of my imagination? So it was with the Lenton Sands trees. Like Susan, I'm glad to say, they were very real.

There are those, mostly car owners, who hate trees in streets. Me, on the other hand, would plant trees in every street of the land and make a forest of every village, town and city. I love them. It is as simple as that.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Cake too good to leave

Today I had the best coffee and cake I have ever had in Beeston. Some claim I know, but my black Americano was like no other and in some ways quite unexpected. It came with a cinnamon stick as well as a spoon and had a hint of espresso about it — which I really liked. I didn't take a photograph, but next time I will.

I did, however get the man with the cake…

…Sergio, at the White Lion pub 'and kitchen' at the junction of Station Road and Middle Street in Beeston. Shortly after this photograph was taken, his Victoria sponge cake, with its jam and icing filling, had all gone. Someone in the group sighed 'scrummy' and that seemed to sum up nicely how all nine of us felt about the cake.

Members of the WEA Beeston Branch Writing Class have got into the habit of meeting during holiday periods and half-term week and were looking for somewhere to meet, where there was a bit more room, and one of Beeston's Labour councillors, Lynda Lally, told me about Sergio and the White Lion; of how he and his wife had really worked wonders with the pub, even catering for mums and toddlers. After just one visit I agree, and will be going back again before too long and I am sure that Writing Class members will be using it after classes from now on.

Now, if great coffee and wonderful cake and fish n' chip deals on Fridays are not enough to persuade you to visit to the White Lion, then Mermaid (above) should be enough to make you change your mind. She is absolutely adorable and friendly to boot. I tried to get a photograph of her holding her bushy tail aloft, but all she wanted to do for me was roll over and give me her impersonation of Marilyn Monroe.

Another thing some of my colleagues liked was that the White Lion has plenty of car parking spaces, whilst others, like myself, like the fact that it is within sight of Beeston Bus Station and The Tram will run right past its main entrance. If you are still in doubt as to its location, then here is an updated version of my Beeston Café Line map with the White Lion highlighted in yellow.

If I had the money, and lived in Beeston, I would be eating out most days. For now, I will have to be content with spreading my favours about as best I can. Until now it has been the Local not Global Deli run by Jo on Chilwell High Road if there is just the two of us, or Relish, nearly opposite Jo, if there are more of us. Or, if at the other end of town, Mason & Mason. Now we have Sergio and the White Lion too.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Markiza: in memoriam

This afternoon we said goodbye to Markiza, who came to live us just before Christmas 2007. We inherited her from a dear friend, who became ill and had to go into care.  In some ways, her passing was sudden. 

For months now Markza had been on a iodine free diet because of a thyroid problem and was last checked over in July 2013, but in recent weeks we noticed that she was losing weight. Otherwise she was lively enough, but coming back from London after five days I was suddenly aware of how much weight she had lost, so I took her to the vets on Tuesday morning. Later the same day the vet telephoned to say that the blood samples she had taken showed that Markiza had total kidney failure and had a few weeks, maybe less, to live and that, by all rights, she should not be alive.

In the event she lasted until today (Friday), but after speaking with the vet it became clear that because she was no longer eating, together with internal organ failure, she was close to the end, so after some soul-searching, we asked the vet to come and see us. The end was peaceful and stress free, she made no fuss and purred as she was sedated and some minutes later, she was put to sleep, with Susan and me stroking her. The vet and the nurse who came as well were truly wonderful. At the end of it all I cried. I will miss Markiza and remember her for the rest of my life — as I will the other cats I have known and loved.

Sometime in the near future, I will add a cat page by Susan to the blog. For now, some photographs of a lovely friend.

The last photograph I took of Markiza, when we were in the garden together this summer.

Always the office cat, on hand to offer a helping paw.

Markiza had a serious side too.

This was her favourite position. 

Markiza's one weakness was her urge to explore any opening she could find. On this occasion, she was nearly squashed as I started to close the filing cabinet drawer. Luckily, up popped her head just in time.

Rest in peace Markiza.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

A day beside the Thames (see Added Pages section)

The blog I posted here has received quite a few hits, so I have created a separate page for the Thames Path walk I did last week whilst staying with friends in Greenwich. On Tuesday we walked from Greenwich to the Hays Galleria by London Bridge railway station, about eight miles in total (because of all the twists and turns in the Thames).  Originally, I posted the text here, but it now has its own page (see opposite).

So all I have left here are four photographs from the walk and the two maps together.

I rather like this futuristic apartment block overlooking Deptford Creek on one side and across the Thames to the Isle of Dogs in the other direction. The cityscape in the distance is one which is probably now instantly recognised the world as London Docklands.

I loved this narrow passage called 'Randalls Rents', which links the Thames with Odessa Street. This photograph is looking back towards the Thames. As I walked down it, I heard a woman's voice say 'I did the shopping last week' and I could smell bacon. 

Once you are back besides the Thames, it is not long before you come to the entrance to the Surrey Docks City Farm (when the Farm is closed, you have to walk along Rotherhithe Street instead). I like the juxtaposition, albeit separated by the width of the Thames, of a rustic 'city farm' with a 21st century global business centre. They sit together rather well.

Outside the City Farm and on the Thames Path was a gate and steps leading down to a small foreshore, where I took this photograph. It felt so different to anywhere else on the walk.

This is my favourite photograph from the day. Not a person in sight, but it still seems busy to me. Notice all the bicycles on the barge to the right.  Tower Bridge was like a picture frame and caught many different vistas, a few of which I photographed, but we all know what Tower Bridge looks like, so this is the view of the Bridge I have included.

To see more photographs and descriptions of the Thames Path Walk, please visit the page I have created and listed in the column to the right of this posting.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Buses and stations the fish and chips of transport

 A bus at a bus stop on Station Street earlier today, by the temporary Nottingham Station ticket office. For six weeks during the summer the station was closed and buses operated instead of trains. Weeks after the trains started again, the bus stops remain in situ. I guess it was there to pick up a private party arriving by train. 

Growing up in Wembley on the edge of London I came to associate railway stations with buses in the sense that you rarely got one without the other. Most of the bus routes I knew and used as a child and as a grown-up terminated at a railway station. The 18 at Edgware Station every day and London Bridge on Sundays; the 46 at Alperton, Victoria and Waterloo stations; the 79 at Alperton and Colindale stations; the 79A at Alperton and Edgware stations, and the 83 at Ealing Broadway and Golders Green stations. Even when they didn't, their destinations displays mentioned them, like short-workings of the 79 in the evenings or 92Bs on Sunday, which bore the legend 'North Wembley near Preston Road Station'.

Look at any contemporary London bus map and you will see that railways stations are still where many bus routes begin or end, yet once outside London, stations lose their importance as a bus destination. Why is this? The answer is far too complex for me to address in a few paragraphs, so instead let me concentrate on Nottingham, where I have lived for thirty-three years. It has just two railway stations: Bulwell and Nottingham, with only another two, Carlton and Netherfield (in the neighbouring Borough of Gedling) served by Nottingham City Transport. All of them are passed by buses or they run close by, but no importance is attached to them.

Two bright red Nottingham trams wait at the Station Street terminus earlier today. I travelled on one to Market Square, where I changed to a bus home to Lenton. It was full of folk going to Goose Fair. Personally, I love the bright red colour of these two trams, but that's the London Transport boy in me I'm sure.

Hidden by hoardings, but I put my arm around the edge and snapped and this is what I got. A view of the new tram bridge across Nottingham Station from the existing Station Street tram terminus. Not a worker in sight. Even like this, it looks impressive. 

Why this failure to harmonise bus and railway links? The short answer is that public transport matters far less outside London and, even in a city like Nottingham, where the City Council is committed to improving public transport, trains and buses are still treated as separate entities. The Tram runs on a track, so there is synergy of sorts and the city's first modern tram line out to Hucknall could not have been developed without the railway (the same is true for the new tram line to Clifton now under construction). They all run beside existing railway lines or follow the course of an old railway line along part of their route.

Living in Lenton, less than a mile from Nottingham City Centre, I cannot get a bus direct to the railway station. I could get one to Beeston Station, on the south-west side of the city, direct (a Trent-Barton 18), but they do not run frequently and very few trains actually stop at Beeston anyway. My neighbours either go in their car or by taxi. I don't own a car and can't afford taxi fares, so I have to use a bus and walk the last half-kilometre. If I was on the existing Tram route or one of the bus routes coming into Nottingham from the south side, then I could get to Nottingham Station direct.

The taxis are always here on Station Street, as they have been for decades. Once they queued here to gain access to the station forecourt, now they are waiting for fares. The Trent-Barton bus, on the other hand, is an non-stopping interloper because of road closures elsewhere. The bus stop, no longer in use, is just one of many (complete with shelters) put up for train passengers to use whilst waiting for one of the replacement bus services which operated whilst Nottingham Station was closed for six weeks during the summer.

I tell you this because great play is made of how important public transport is, but look beyond the spin and most of us are poorly served in some way. Assuming it is published, my next personal comment column in the Nottingham Post will look at one claim in particular and a simple and relatively cheap solution I have to the problem of how we can reach the point where everyone living in the city can get to Nottingham Station by public transport.

Buses and stations are like fish and chips. They belong together.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Down days uplifted

Since Friday I have been nursing, first, a raging sore throat, then a barking cough and today it has arrived on my chest. I have a nasty suspicion that I picked up the bug on Thursday morning in a room crowded with would-be writers like myself. On top of this I have a gammy left knee which is stopping me exercise, even if I felt well enough. I also missed seeing the new Tram bridge slid into place over the Nottingham Ring Road in Lenton (see Nottingham Daily Photograph by Christopher Frost for really good views dated 29 September 2013).

But on the bright side of things, I have prepared lunch for the first time in days, so I must be feeling a bit better and as I did, I had this view to look at...

... our little back garden. This photograph will almost certainly be given to the estate agent trying to sell our house in a few weeks time. Suddenly, this view, like life itself has become more precious. I can hear the clock ticking. Tick tock, tick tock. 

To the side and out of view are the runner bean tubs, five in all containing four bean plants each and it's been a bumper year — two to three meals a week since mid-July and just about finished. We've even had enough to share with our neighbours on a few occasions. The plants cost me all of £3 in Nottingham Market at the beginning of May, plus a bag of potting compost. Growing runner beans is something I have lived with since I was a child and as proof of this fact I include this photograph of me aged about two from the back garden of 36 Swinderby Road, Wembley, where I grew up.

There, behind me, are my Grandfather's runner beans. 1946. I associate growing runner beans with so many good things.

And finally, I found this little person in our basement a couple of weeks ago. How he got there we can only guess. The best theory we have is that the newt got caught up in the long fur of our very short-legged cat, Markiza, when she was drinking water from the pond in our back garden.

When we made the pond in 1999, Chris, our next door neighbour brought a large container of wild pond life from his parent's then home in New Malden, Surrey (officially, part of Greater London since 1965), which included a few newts. It is good to know they are still with us, as we rarely glimpse one.

I came to the conclusion a good few years ago that you don't fight being unwell. You stop, curl up, sleep and get better by accepting that it may take longer than you would like. In 1977 I was diagnosed with whooping cough after months of coughing and going to work. When I finally succumbed, I was off work for months. Even so, five days into this little bout and I feel it still pulling me down. I got up this morning hoping I would be doing things tomorrow. It's now mid-afternoon and doing this blog has exhausted me. Now my hope is Thursday. I have things to do, I have a writing class to attend and a stay in London to finalise. 

I have also a photograph of a Y5 to take for my next blog, which I hope to post at the weekend. Right now though I'm going to make a cup of tea for Susan and me.

Monday, 30 September 2013

'Art' in the toilet at Djanolgy

Billed as 'artwork' and currently 'at work' in the male toilets at the Djanology Arts Centre by Highfields Park in Nottingham is this head made of soap.

There is also a soapy statue in the female toilets. You are encouraged to use them, although I suspect that in this day and age some folk won't touch it for fear of what they might catch from a previous user.

As amusing and fun as the soap head is, it is a bit of an overstatement to claim it is a work of art. When I was growing up in the late-forties and fifties, Walt Disney was selling soaps based on his cartoon creations. I also remember 'Noddy' soap. Type in 'novelty soaps' on e-bay and you can find pages of such soaps as per the example below:

I don't know how much Djanology paid the 'artist' Meekyoung Shin for the soapy heads, but there are times when you have to come clean and be honest and admit that something is not art. The head was fun to use and ten out of ten for that, but as for it being art, no way.