Quote of the week

Life isn't about finding yourself, it is about creating yourself'

George Bernard Shaw
If you cannot mould yourself entirely as you would wish, how can you expect other people to be entirely to your liking?
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/wish.html

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Art in Acton

It is really good to see the sun again! We walked down to Acton this afternoon to have a look at the 7th Annual Art Show in the Church, All Saints. The picture of the church seen from the fields to the south was taken on the way home.

As usual there is a very wide range of pictures on show, framed and unframed, with something to suit every taste.

It is a particularly good source for anyone wanting a local view, but there is a wide range of subjects in different media. I have purchased pictures at the show in the past, but our problem now is lack of wall space. I was however very tempted by a watercolour by Vernon Lever called ‘Old fashioned communications’ which features a post box and a telephone box, and also by a collection of pen and watercolour sketches of scenes in Acton and the Waldingfields by Dr. David Cook. There are also four attractive works by Gainsborough’s House printmaker (and master quizmaster) Trevor Sowden.

The exhibition is well worth a detour! It is open every day until Sunday 9th September between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. All profits will be used for the upkeep of All Saints Church, which incidentally is also worth visiting in its own right. It has a number of interesting features, including one of the finest mediaeval brasses in the country.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

How safe is it really? Risk and Babergh's Play Policy

We haven’t had much of a plum crop this year (although the apples look as if they will be fantastic). What fruit we have is lurking up in the highest branches. Unfortunately my husband Nick is away and at present I am wondering how safe I would be to climb up our little ladder to at least bring down a few before they fall. I expect in the end I shall risk it…

Risky activity is at the forefront of many people’s minds at present. Matthew Parris recently wrote an article about irrational fear in (what are in his case at least) quite extreme circumstances such as parachute jumping or exploration. ‘Stare hard enough at that bush’, he writes and you see the outlines of the lurking tiger. You might be paranoid, but then again there might be a tiger’.

As I am a bit of a wimp, much of the fear that Parris finds irrational I personally find perfectly rational. However, this rationality does not extend to other situations which are generally described as ‘health and safety gone mad’. The clown who is no longer allowed to make balloon animals at children’s parties in case one of them suffers from a latex allergy for example, or the old lady who was obliged to apply for a ‘licence to garden’ on a strip of her own garden that was close to a busy main road.

It is in part due to people’s perception of danger to children, real or imagined, that Babergh is putting in place a Play Policy, for which it hopes to receive lottery funding. Play (just in case you don’t know instinctively) is defined as ‘what children and young people do when they follow their own ideas and interests, in their own way and for their own reasons’ (Source: Getting Serious about Play, 2004 produced by the luminaries at the Department of Culture Media and Sport).

Is this policy really necessary? Sadly it seems that it is. Parents today are not keen to allow children to play freely outside, so places have to be created for play with which parents are happy. I would argue that some of the fears that parents have about the safety of their children are absolutely justified. Traffic is so heavy these days that I cannot imagine parents allowing their children to indulge in the lengthy solo bike rides that I indulged in from a very young age for example.

Other fears are however irrational. There is no evidence that child abduction or paedophilia is any more prevalent than it was in the past. We just know more about it. The sensationalist publicity given to sad, but truly exceptional, cases such as that of Madeleine McCann obviously stimulates parents’ worst imaginings..

Whatever one thinks about this sad state of affairs, the Play Policy, if it gets off the ground, will have some positive concrete results for Babergh’s children. A dedicated ‘play worker’ will be employed to work across the District, some ageing play equipment will be replaced and informal play areas will be created in rural parishes which currently have no play equipment.

Democracy under attack

At Thursday’s Strategy meeting I was confronted with two bits of paper which convinced me once again that this Government is hell bent on reducing local democracy in this country in order to consolidate more power in the centre.

Firstly, we were invited to comment on the huge and very complex Planning White Paper, that the Government has produced, in part to attempt to put right aspects of their 2004 Planning Bill which have not worked very well in practice.

It is known that the Government is concerned about the time that it takes to get large infrastructure projects completed (such as Terminal 5 at Heathrow). They are therefore proposing that, on the pretext of speeding things up, decisions on projects ‘of national importance’ are to be made by an ‘independent commission of experts’, after direct public consultation. No reference at all is to be made to locally elected representatives. I personally have little faith in relying on experts, or in public consultations given the way that they tend to be conducted, so I regard all of this with strong misgivings

Secondly, our attention was drawn to a report from Peter Jones, Babergh’s representative at the Annual General Meeting of the East of England Regional Assembly. Not surprisingly the hot topic under discussion had been the Government’s proposal to abolish this body. Although not directly elected, EERA is made up of elected representatives from Councils around the region and is therefore relatively democratic. The aim however is to transfer its powers to an unelected QUANGO plus a ‘Regional Government Minister’.

Since its creation the EERA has done far more than I expected to defend the East of England against the excesses of the centre, not least in the area of refuting excessive demands for new housing. I fear that what will replace it will simply be an extension of the increasingly long arm of the central planners.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Morning coffee in the Garden of Good and Evil

To Little Waldingfield on Thursday to meet a new resident and to admire and record a number of recent improvements. As can be seen from the pictures, builder, Mr David Oakley from Long Melford, has built a really beautiful wall round the churchyard, and the Parish Rooms have been refurbished by a team of volunteers.

While photographing the wall I was spotted by a kind resident of the village who brought me a cup of coffee and told me about the cottage (pictured) that runs along one side of the churchyard. (Many thanks for both the information and the coffee Chris!) The cottage was originally a run of four almshouses. Apparently the small window (one of two) that can be seen behind the cross was used by generous parishioners to leave food for the folk who inhabited the cottages. By putting the gifts through the little window anonymously embarrassment was avoided on all sides! As charity boards in St. Laurence’s Church testify, an organisation still exists in the village for delivery of wood to the inhabitants of the cottages, although funds have now been diverted to other purposes.

Little Waldingfield church is an absolute gem. The village was an important one in the period when the Suffolk Wool Trade was at its most active and the church reflects this. There was a building here in the Domesday Survey, but this was replaced in the 14th century. Little remains of this decorated church however, apart from the font and bell openings in the tower and much of what is seen today comes from extensive remodelling that took place in the 15th and 16th centuries. The pulpit is a fine 17th century example, and experts believe that it was made by the same craftsman that created pulpits in Milden and Edwardstone. There are also some good mediaeval brasses. Bosses in the roof include a gridiron for the patron saint, and also a green man! Wonderfully light, it is a great place to spend a few moments of quiet contemplation. Remember to take your binoculars however to spot the green man.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Branchlines back on track!

I am really delighted to be able to report that I have just heard that Branchlines, the group that is hoping to create a community wood in Great Waldingfield, has made a great leap forward!

If you remember when I last wrote about this project it had reached an impasse due to the fact that the valuers at the County Council and District were unable to reach agreement about the price of a prospective piece of land. Well all now has been resolved, a price agreed, and fingers crossed the legal arrangements should be commenced shortly.

The field in question is 3.3 acres in size, and is described as the 'paddock north of the street' on Suffolk County Council's map. It apparently has no archaeological remains, no sewer runs under it, and there is no need to obtain planning permission.

On the day that I heard with a sense of irritation and sorrow that the Chinese have managed to wipe out the Yangtse River Dolphin due to poor fishing methods and environmental degradation of the river banks, this is a small step in the other direction!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Lorries through Sudbury.

Some of my best ideas come to me in the middle of the night, and recently at about 3 a.m. I thought that I had had a really good one! Why not simply prohibit large lorries from passing through the centre of Sudbury? It would not be impossible, if rather inconvenient for drivers to find an alternative route via the A12 or A14. If juggernauts were simply banned at least some of Sudbury’s traffic problems would be solved! No more mediaeval houses shaken to their foundations, or children in pushchairs endangered by lorries mounting the pavement.

Unfortunately like many ‘strokes of genius’ it turns out that this isn’t a particularly original notion. I spoke to fellow councillor, Martyn Booth, Councillor for Sudbury South, after the Council meeting on Tuesday. Martyn has been fighting for a by-pass for years, and so knows all the ins and outs of the problem.

It seems that the fatal flaw is that the route that comprises Cross Street and Ballingdon Street is designated as a strategic lorry route that means that in the pecking order of roads it is just short of a motorway in importance. This state of affairs can only be altered by central Government. When money was spent on Ballingdon Bridge some years ago the suggestion was made that the road be downgraded, and the bridge left un-strengthened, but this idea fell on stony ground.

Stepping back for a nanosecond, don’t you find it incredible that anyone could have thought that it was a good idea to designate these streets as a strategic lorry route? And even more incredible that this remains their designation given their width and the size and weight of lorries today? Just another example of the fact that central government is completely out of touch with what goes on in the real world.

(The picture above is actually of an incident in Derby, but something similar could happen in Sudbury. My friend, Tony Venison who lives in Cross Street had a car through his dining room wall last year!)