Thursday, March 31, 2011

kielder challenge again

We’ve now had a few training sessions (the Regional Heats take place in Bristol on 20 May) and it’s been really rewarding seeing how brilliantly the four pupils from our school work with the four from Fosse Way (a school catering for young people with physical disabilities and/or severe learning difficulties). They’re so natural with each other and communication is easy… and constantly amusing! I love being involved with the pupils and it’s been really good to see them all really enthused by the competition, determined to do well and growing in confidence and self-belief. It’s extremely humbling working with these pupils and VERY enjoyable.

Photo: Roxy, Megan, Alihan, Charlie, Becky, Chris, Polly and Andrew in action.

Monday, March 28, 2011

february/march books

Yet more books, I’m afraid: The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly (Jean-Dominique Bauby): This is a really beautiful and quite remarkable book. The author had suffered a massive stroke and “dictated” it using his left eyelid. He died within 16 months of the fateful day of his stroke, but this short book is a wonderful epitaph. AL Kennedy’s book review simply states: “A staggering piece of work. It represents an almost inconceivable act of generosity, the gift of the mind and spirit for which writing was designed”. A Spot of Bother (Mark Haddon): Enjoyable and very readable. Fast-moving, funny, family saga – which, fortunately, never quite reduced itself to farcical levels. At times, it almost felt like reading a Tom Sharpe novel. The Progressive Patriot (Billy Bragg): Bought this signed hardback for £2 (feeling smug)! Bragg is another hero of mine; I like his music and his passionate campaigning. This book (written after the BNP won 11 local council seats in Bragg’s beloved Borough of Barking in May 2006) is a mixture of family history, social history, music, politics and English history. It’s really a series of essays rather than a reasoned argument about what patriotism is or should be (he ends up arguing about the need for a “Declaration of Rights”), but very enjoyable and illuminating nonetheless. The Crossing (Cormac McCarthy): I know Cormac McCarthy isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (eg. “The Road”) but I find his books quite mesmerizing. This one (the second in the Border Trilogy) is bleak, unrelenting and brutal but, at the same time, reveals a surprising degree of kindness and generosity. Another powerful book. Italian Shoes (Henning Mankell): A few weeks ago, Moira remarked on FB that this was her “book of the year” thus far. Well, I’m in complete agreement. It’s an absolutely beautiful book. It’s about an ageing, former surgeon who lives in self-imposed exile on a deserted island. He’s visited by a woman whom he loved, but abandoned, 40 years ago who asks him to fulfill a promise. PS: without intending to do so, I seem to be reading an awful lot of books recently that deal with ageing!!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

march for the alternative

I didn’t make it to yesterday’s march. I feel bad about this and about how I’d pathetically left it to the middle of last week before trying to sort out transport. In the event, over 250,000 (500,000 if you believe the “Mail on Sunday”!) demonstrated in a powerful, peaceful and good-natured protest against the government’s cuts in public. Moira+I have just been drinking coffee by the harbourside and were saddened to see the right wing press’s “take” (well, “Mail on Sunday” and “The Sunday Telegraph” at least) on yesterday’s events – the two newspapers being read by a couple sitting at a neighbouring table. ALL they wanted to concentrate on were the activities of a violent minority of anarchists (perhaps 300 people?). These people had NOTHING to do with the march itself. Check out the “Mail on Sunday” online stuff and keep scrolling down to see if you can find ANY photographs (there are 16 in total!) of the march itself… no, you won’t be able to.

I thought the letter from Caroline Lucas, Green Party Leader, in yesterday’s “Guardian” letter got it right: “Today will see the largest march in London since the 2003 protest over Iraq. People will march to Hyde Park in support of an alternative to the coalition government’s savage cuts. These cuts are not inevitable – they are driven by ideology, not economic necessity. We can address the deficit by putting hundreds of thousands of people back to work in low-carbon jobs, implementing a Robin Hood tax, cutting spending like Trident, and seriously cracking down on tax evasion and avoidance”.

Photo: the “real” demonstration.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

edna shorey RIP

My aunt Edna died yesterday. She was 90. My cousin David telephoned me with the news last night. She’d been taken into hospital only the day before, so her death was quite sudden. Last year, she’d been very ill and there seemed little likelihood of her making it to her 90th birthday – but, remarkably, she did.
Any family bereavement is obviously sad, but Edna’s death is particularly poignant. For BOTH Moira+me, it marks the end of that particular generation – WE are the oldies now!
A somewhat sobering thought.
Photo: David had only recently re-discovered this photograph of his parents’ wedding (February 1947, with thick snow on the ground) and had e-mailed me a copy just 10 days ago. It shows the bride+groom, Len+Edna, plus my father Ron (second from left); my grandmother Ada (seated right); my grandfather Frank (just behind her); and my mother Mary (extreme right).

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

the super marketplace

Following Bristol CC’s recent appalling decision to approve Sainsbury’s proposals for a new megastore at Ashton Gate, I’ve been reflecting just how much the big supermarkets appear to be taking over local communities (or perhaps the world?!).
In Bristol, according to BBC research, “at least 21 new supermarkets from the 'big four' chains were given the go-ahead” in and around the city in the past two years.
The relatively small market town of Thame in Oxfordshire, where we lived for over 20 years, is now facing the threat of another supermarket (Sainsbury’s) – it already has a Waitrose, Co-op and Sainsbury’s Express (plus ASDA and Tesco’s within 5 miles). A number of our friends have mounted a campaign to fight the proposals.
Yes, most of us use supermarkets for a proportion of our shopping but, worryingly in my opinion, they also have the financial muscle in both retail and town planning terms to transform communities for the worse (eg. they’re more than happy to throw big money at lawyers in the knowledge that Local Planning Authorities won’t be able to compete). It’s now all about market share – with one supermarket competing against another for prime (and not-so-prime) sites. It’s about profits for shareholders and the bigger you are, the more “successful” you will become.
To me, this just seems fundamentally wrong.
But the even more worrying thing is that people don’t seem to be “alive” to what is happening. It’s so easy for the big supermarkets to offer hard-pressed Local Authorities “town planning incentives”. Before we know it, supermarkets (both big+small) will become the ONLY source of food shopping for any of us.
I’m afraid today’s budget hasn’t done anything to help. According the BBC website:
“There will also be sweeping changes to the planning system - to make it more difficult for local people to block ‘sustainable development’” (note: it'll be very straightforward to tick such a sustainable box).

As a former architect, I am well aware of the frustrations of the town planning process but, even as the BBC’s Robert Peston acknowledged on tonight’s PM programme, some of the principal beneficiaries of this change will be… the supermarkets!
Unsurprisingly, a spokesman from Morrison's on tonight's Channel 4 News also welcomed the changes to the planning system and the 2% cut in Corporation Tax - acknowledging that it would "aid Company growth".
Oh good!

Monday, March 21, 2011

power to intervene?

Just a month ago, I was bemoaning Ofgen’s apparent inability to do anything to protect gas+electricity customers (remember “protecting customers is our first priority”!). Well, Ofgen has been analysing a wealth of complex figures and consulting experts and, do you know what, it’s come to the conclusion that there is evidence that the "big six" energy firms "have adjusted prices in response to rising costs more quickly than they reduced them when costs fell"!
Blimey. Simply amazing. What absolutely stunning news…. but isn’t that precisely what key journalists and members of the public have been saying for months and months?
Is it just me?
Photo: another Sand Bay photograph from yesterday (not really related to energy - except the yellow haze is probably all down to pollution?).

Sunday, March 20, 2011

sand bay (again)

I love Sand Bay. The sun was shining (we thought the weather forecast had indicated rain!), so Moira+I thought it would be good to revisit the bay and walk along the beach and headland. It proved to be a really lovely afternoon and, for me, there’s definitely something about a walk beside water (note: I was going to write “sea”, but Moira doesn’t count the Severn estuary as “sea”!). Beautiful views from the headland and wonderful volcanic rock geology (and slimy mud!). It’s a place we’ll revisit again and again.
Photo: beautiful Sand Bay.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

moira's birthday

I was feeling very guilty that I hadn’t laid on lots of special things for Moira’s birthday.
We’d bought her present together the previous weekend and, with a full-on week, I hadn’t found time to buy any extra small gifts. Pretty pathetic really! Fortunately, it turned out to be a good day.
Ruth+Stu had already arranged a birthday supper (and with Hannah+Fee along too)…. and that proved to be a lovely evening. In addition, we’d already decided to go down to Kingsbridge for the day to see the Stillpoint art exhibition - organised by the wonderful Ian Adams(!) – which was pretty impressive overall and a lovely venue. Knowing that we were going down to the exhibition, our very good friends Mags+Jez (who live just outside Kingsbridge – and Mags was also one of the exhibiting artists) contacted us on Friday evening and invited us down to breakfast. So, we got up early and drove down to Devon for a delicious cooked breakfast, then spent a couple of hours at the gallery before driving home (stopping for a light lunch in beautiful Totnes, as you do!).
All in all, a lovely day.
PS: it rather reminded me of us driving down to St Ives for breakfast the day after I’d retired from Brocklehurst Architects (and then driving home to Bristol!).
Photo: Stillpoint exhibition at Harbour House Gallery, Kingsbridge (listening to one of the “artist talks”).

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Went to see the school production of Guys+Dolls on Thursday evening. Lovely to see pupils out of their normal school context and particularly good to see some individuals, who I know have been struggling with various aspects of their lives over the past couple of years, blossom and flourish in the show. I really enjoyed the evening and wonderful to see how theatre and music can boost self-confidence and help to transform lives.
Photo: some of the cast lining up for the closing song (there WERE boys in the show, honest!).

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

royal wedding

I’m pretty neutral as far as the Royal Family is concerned – although, obviously, I’m grateful to Will+Kate for the impending Bank Holiday! However, graphic artist Lydia Leith’s “royal wedding sick bag” did make me smile… I’m thinking of getting one for every time the BBC’s Nicholas Witchell appears on our screens to introduce yet more mind-numbingly boring royal wedding trivia.

Friday, March 04, 2011

book group

I’ve joined a book group (our first meeting is next Friday)!
I never thought I’d ever be brave enough to join one – not because I wouldn’t have anything to contribute, but because I feared I would never be able to read a book sufficiently quickly! Having said that, this consideration didn’t seem to stop certain members of Moira’s previous book group attending meetings (this is probably completely fallacious, but I seem to recall hearing that they’d sometimes failed to discuss “this month’s book” because X hadn’t finished it and the others didn’t want to give away the ending!).
Actually, this new group seems to be a revamped version of Moira’s old group – Gareth, Catherine, Mo and Lal are members – except that it now also includes blokes (Alan, Nigel and me for starters)!
Given my fears regarding finishing the set book in time, you can imagine my alarm when ‘What a Carve Up’, by Jonathan Coe, arrived in post (note: bought secondhand for 1p plus postage!) and I discovered it was 500 pages long! In the event, I actually finished it within a week (perhaps I’m no longer a member of the slow readers group?) – virtually three weeks before our inaugural meeting.
The book was published in the mid-1990s and is effectively a condemnation of Thatcher’s Britain. Whilst (as you might imagine) I found this easy to applaud and enjoy – it’s very funny at times - I was also irritated on occasions by its preposterous and, sometimes, predictably fantastic storyline. I ended up having very mixed feelings about the book. I enjoyed its humour, but found the bizarre linkages between many of the characters/situations and the far-fetched narrative just too much to take at times. Having said that, I thought it was a very clever book and it certainly reminded me of those sad Thatcher days and the sense of injustice and despair. At times, I felt I was reading a book written by David Nobbs or David Lodge or Sebastian Faulks (or, perversely, even Evelyn Waugh!).
I’ll probably get kicked off the group for expressing my initial thoughts in advance!
Photo: the image is from the "What a Carve Up" book cover.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

david versus goliath

Last night, despite a wealth of opposition from local residents and retailers, Bristol City Council approved Sainsbury’s plans to build a massive 100,000sq.ft superstore on Bristol City Football Club’s ground. It will be the largest supermarket in the South-West.
Sickening, devastating, depressing.
You might recall that the Council had previously rejected an earlier application. Sainsbury’s subsequently made some comparatively minor modifications to the original scheme but the principles, scale and hugely-detrimental environmental implications remained the same – not to mention the devastating impact on local retailers.
The Council’s own planners had recommended refusal.
The Council’s own commissioned detailed study had concluded that the negative retail impact of the store on Bedminster/Southville would outweigh any benefits.
But significantly and alarmingly, five new councillors helped decide on the plan after some regular members of the committee stood aside because of ABUSE they suffered after the previous hearing.
Victory through intimidation? That CANNOT be right.
Before a final decision can be made, the application has to be sent to central government to consider whether the Secretary of State should become involved…. one can only hope that justice prevails.
But I’m not holding my breath.
Big Business. Big Money. Big Influence. Big Mistake.