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

Monday, October 29, 2007

Scam for Christmas!

I thought that I should share the message below with you. It came from an officer at Babergh and I have no reason to believe that it isn't true:-

'Can you circulate this around especially as Xmas is fast approaching - it has been confirmed by Royal Mail. The Trading Standards Office are
making people aware of the following scam:

A card is posted through your door from a company called PDS (Parcel Delivery Service) suggesting that they were unable to deliver a parcel and that you need to contact them on 0906 6611911 (a premium rate number). DO NOT call this number, as this is a mail scam originating from Belize.

If you call the number and you start to hear a recorded message you will already have been billed £15 for the phone call. If you do receive a card with these details, then please contact Royal Mail Fraud on 02072396655 or ICSTIS (the premium rate service regulator) at www.icstis.org.uk

You have been warned!!!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Canvassing in Hadleigh

There is to be a by-election in Hadleigh North on November 8th. The Liberal Democrat incumbent has apparently found that it is all too much work. As a result I have spent a few hours over the past week helping the Conservative candidate, Peter Burgoyne, by delivering some leaflets and doing a spot of canvassing.

I must admit that I had to overcome the feeling of revulsion for letter boxes and doorbells which I developed towards the end of the campaign in May. However, once I had persuaded myself that there were no large dogs, or worse, on every doormat, the door-knocking experience was as usual interesting and ultimately rewarding.

I was struck by a number of things.

Firstly, the hot topic of the swimming pool was mentioned by absolutely no-body I spoke to. As I am sure you have gleaned from the press, Hadleigh Pool is (probably) on its last legs. Inflation and contemporary safety and other standards being what they are it is going to cost around £7m to replace. Babergh simply does not have this sort of money. It was felt that around £3 to £4 million might be found, but this would have meant using capital receipts not only from asset sales in Hadleigh, but from everywhere else in the District. I was personally less than happy about this, since I believe that benefits from the sale of Council property should be spread more fairly, but Councillors from Hadleigh have been vocally demanding the lot (and Liberal Democrats have been trying to blame the Conservatives for not letting them have it, which is inaccurate and unfair.)

Secondly, whatever time of the day or week you call on people at least 50 percent are not at home. Where on earth do people go? I know that many people work, and of course Saturday morning is probably a shopping morning for many, but whole swathes of houses lie completely empty, as far as I can see, for hours at a time.

Thirdly, Labour supporters are getting a very raw deal in Babergh at present. Once again no Labour candidate is standing, which means that there is no chance of the end of Babergh as a ‘Socialist Free Zone’.

If Peter wins in Hadleigh the Conservative Group will still not have overall control of the Council, which is a great pity to my mind since 6 months as a Councillor have taught me that the lack of clear political direction at the Council has many drawbacks for almost all concerned.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Anyone for Autumn Arts?

What with higher costs for fuel and taxes, not to mention higher interest rates, I think that people are feeling a bit hard up at present. As a result a lot of arts organisations seem to be suffering from lower than usual attendance.

I have just received the leaflet for the Winter Concert Series of the Suffolk Villages Festival, which is directed by the internationally known early music expert Peter Holman. I note that their annual fundraising supper, which is usually a great success, has been cancelled due to lack of support. This rings a bell with me because we are currently taking bookings for the Autumn Arts season at Gainsborough’s House and although the events will not be an embarrassing disaster, tickets are not walking out of the door in the customary manner!

This is a bit depressing, since we think that we have lined up an outstanding range of performers and speakers, some of whom are coming quite a long way to do their stuff for us. There is always the feeling that perhaps we haven’t done enough to publicise these events, but in the past most of the tickets have been snapped up by Friends and Volunteers at the museum so there has been little need for extra advertising.

Anyway, what’s the point of a blog if one can’t use it for this sort of purpose? So! if there is anyone out there who would like tickets for one of the events detailed below just e mail me, or contact Reception at Gainsborough’s House.(tel: 372958 credit cards accepted) The price for all events is £8.50 which includes a drink which makes the whole deal pretty good value even in these belt tightening times! All start at 7 for 7.30, and all will last a little over an hour with the exception of the first event, which will last for two hours with an interval.

On 1st November actress Elizabeth Norman (of British Telecom fame) and Pat Brindley have devised an evening of readings based on the theme of the Ages of Man. There will be excerpts from a wide range of writers and poets from Shakespeare to Wilfred Owen. There will also be musical interludes from Classical Guitarist Christopher Northall who will play pieces by Bach and Dowland among others.

On 7th November there will be a lecture/entertainment about British women explorers of the 19th century presented by the actor/lecturer duo The Scholar and the Star. Those who have seen their presentations have told us that they are really excellent, full of interesting insights and ‘local colour’!

On 14th November Gordon Rushmere, an official War Artist who has worked in the Gulf and Afghanistan for the Ministry of Defence, will talk about his work. He is expected to bring some of his drawings and paintings with him so that people can see what he is talking about!

Any profit made from these events goes directly to help the work of Gainsborough’s House, which is increasingly broadening the scope of its endeavours to include not only its traditional audience and schools, but also the disabled and elderly in the community. New visitors to the House are always surprised at the friendly welcome they receive, and very often become regulars.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Tomorrow the World?

I am sure that you will all be interested to know that your District Councillor is an intuitive introvert !* On another parameter it seems that I am a ‘rationalist’ rather than an artist, a guardian or an idealist! The reason that I know these things is that I have just returned from the first two days of a course at the I&DeA Leadership Academy, where, along with fifteen other councillors from local authorities of all types, I have been put through some personality profiling exercises, and have been given all sorts of interesting tools with which to hone my leadership skills!

Although some of the material was familiar to me since I attended a similar course towards the end of my career in the City, the local authority rather than private sector context meant that I learned a lot.

Delegates had the opportunity to discuss personal challenges in small groups. It was fascinating to hear the variety of anxieties that were uppermost in councillors’ minds. A county councillor was fretting about the delivery of a huge PFI schools project for example. The potential leader of the opposition in a Borough Council was worried about having to form an administration if his group does well at the next elections. One of the people in our group was the Leader of a District Council who claimed to have so much difficulty trusting his cabinet that he found it impossible to stop himself adding his two-pennyworth to their speeches in the Council Chamber. I bet they really love him!

By the evening of the first day, as often happens, the course began to feel like a little world of its own. In the bar after dinner, hours of innocent fun were spent discussing the relative merits of plastic bags and wheely bins. It is incredible how strongly some elected representatives feel about the advantages and disadvantages of their various refuse collection systems. I had quite a good ding-dong with a gentleman who claimed that it was not just the right of everyone to have a roof over their head (with which of course I agree) but that it was their right to be an owner occupier (an idea with which I could not concur). Midnight found four survivors (or insomniacs) writing down what they meant by Conservatism on paper napkins to prove that the Party still has an ideology!

Happy days! We all reconvene again in November for more of the same. In the meantime it’s back to the real world.

*Being told that I am an introvert was a bit of a blow…Aren’t introverts gloomy brooding types? Is this really me? However I was very borderline only a few points away from the spot where the extraverts begin!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Branchlines; first plans take shape.

Branchlines, the Community Woodland Group in Great Waldingfield, held its 6th Annual General Meeting yesterday. Regular readers of the blog will know that after many frustrations, the Group is tantalisingly close to acquiring a 1.3 hectare (3.33 acres) piece of land close to the Church from Suffolk County Council. When purchased this will be laid out and planted up over a three year period as a woodland for the whole community.

After the formal part of the meeting, Grenville Clark from the Green Light Trust, which has been helping and supporting the Group, gave a presentation. Slides were shown to demonstrate what has been achieved elsewhere, and to enable people to envisage what might be possible in Great Waldingfield. Then we all walked the hundred yards or so down the road from the Church to view the virgin territory. Pictured above is Grenville, with David Taylor, Chairman of Branchlines, and others inspecting the site.

All then repaired to the Church for a spontaneous design session, where four groups had a go at thinking up a possible name for the wood, considering what features they would like to see there and, finally, having a go at making a preliminary design on a blank map of the field. (This process is to be repeated by children at Great Waldingfield Primary School on Monday).

Two things rapidly became clear: firstly the possibilities are enormous and secondly, a community woodland is not really the same as what one might call a ‘natural’ wood since by its very nature it will contain features for the use of, and dictated by, the community. Many suggestions were made; bird hides, ponds, a tree top walk (eventually), viewing mounds, rides, an amphitheatre (yes!), outdoor classrooms, paths suitable for wheelchairs, willow structures etc. etc. Potential activities on the site included picnics, entertainments, lessons for schools and dog walks, not to mention the learning of rural crafts, nature study, the coppicing and harvesting of wood plus the encouragement of biodiversity with water and wood piles.

Although the site is not particularly large it represents a start for the village. There may be the possibility of buying further land at a later stage with the aim of creating a green link-way of woodland for posterity. In my opinion community action of this type, which effectively seizes back the initiative from the developers and planners, is one of the best ways to try to resist the relentless encroachment of building in rural areas

It is now possible for people in the village to get formally involved in the project by joining a membership scheme which was inaugurated at the AGM. Contact Shirley Rose on 376499 for details.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The last post? Acton Post Office closure.

It has not come as a great surprise to me that Acton Post Office is among those earmarked for closure by the Government. Bob and Gill took up the challenge when the former Post Office was forced to close, and have been doing a great job during a very difficult period for them. Unfortunately however, for a number of reasons, their efforts, which were considerable, have not been sufficient to stave off what is effectively an assault on the rural post office system.

One problem is that Acton Post Office is simply too close to other outlets that can be reached by public transport from the village. Another is that having been open for a little less than a year, business had not built up sufficiently for financial viability to be proved. Of course you could argue (and I would) that there should be some concept of public service over and above financial considerations in the provision of rural postal services. Additionally, bearing in mind the need to save the world’s resources, walking to a local outlet must be better even than taking the bus. These are not arguments that weigh much in the minds of the Government however.

There is to be a period of so called public consultation. However, it was recently made clear to Councillors that it is to be the sort of ‘consultation’ that we are becoming increasingly used to (i.e. you say what you think and then we do what we like). There is to be a meeting at Babergh on Tuesday to which I will be going with a representative of Acton Parish Council, but I am not very hopeful of anything positive coming out of this for Acton.

If all goes accordingly to plan the Post Office is likely to close in December…just ahead of Christmas.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Goings on at Gainsborough's House

An exhausting morning for all concerned took place on Saturday morning at Gainsborough’s House. The event was the opening of a retrospective exhibition by local artist Richard Bawden, pictured here in front of one of his distinctive works. The enthusiasm of visitors was such that at one stage I volunteered to take over the task of ‘clicking people in’, so that the Reception desk could get on with the job of taking money for gift shop items and selling paintings.

Well over 200 people came into the House to see the paintings, prints and ceramics on display. I do recommend that people go in and take a look. If you want to buy a souvenir there are some great works still unsold and if you can’t stretch to an original there are some great tea towels in the shop decorated with Bawden woodcuts.

Richard Bawden was born in Braintree in 1936 and has spent his working life in East Anglia. Regularly shown at the Royal Academy Summer exhibition, his works can be found in the collections of the Tate and the Victoria and Albert Museum and also in the Government Art Collection. He has exhibited widely throughout East Anglia and also in Germany. The artist has had a long-standing relationship with Gainsborough’s House, being Chairman of the Print Workshop between 1984 and 1990, and participating in exhibitions in 1974 and 1996. He also created a mural and designed china for Ford’s Bistro, situated adjacent to Gainsborough’s House, in the 1980s.

The exhibition continues until just before Christmas, and entry to the Museum is free on Tuesdays (although donations, however small, are gratefully received!)

There is a good deal of activity at Gainsborough’s House at present. November 1st marks the beginning of Autumn Arts, a series of evening events including a Musical Evening, with actress Liz Norman and lectures on Victorian lady explorers and the experiences of a war artist. These are open to the public once Friends and volunteers have had the chance to book (which they now have!). Details from Reception in Weavers Lane, or on 01787 372958. Entry costs £8 per head per event.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Valuing our soldiers (and others)

I was pleased to see that the Government , after a lot of procrastination, is putting arrangements in hand to ensure that Iraqi interpreters, looking after our troops in Basra, are able to seek refuge in Great Britain at the end of their duties. I increasingly believe that we do not sufficiently recognise the efforts of our troops (and those who support and assist them).

This belief was reinforced on our recent trip to the US. On the last morning we visited Arlington Cemetery (pictured above).

Since the cemetery is so large and the weather was hot we opted to take the ‘tourmobile’, which drops one off at different spots and then comes round again 15 to 20 minutes later to take one on again. At the end of the tour the driver pointed out across a sea of white soldiers’ graves and told us that what we were looking at was the ‘price of freedom’. He then went on to invite a round of applause for anyone on the tourmobile who was either a veteran, in the military or related to a military family. Everyone responded enthusiastically.

Maybe you think this was a bit over the top, but can you imagine anything approximate happening here? Why only last week it was reported on the news that those trying to arrange events for Remembrance Sunday in November are finding official red tape increasingly difficult to negotiate, and the attitude of local authorities and other bodies obstructive. I find this very depressing, and am not surprised that the army is having difficultly attracting recruits.

( Travel notes! I have to say the main reason that I wanted to visit this area was to see Arlington House, the family home of the great Confederate General, Robert E Lee.

When Lee resigned from the Federal army at the beginning of the Civil War in order to fight on the Confederate side, the Yankees took their revenge by requisitioning his beautiful home and turning the garden into a military cemetery. Lee never saw his home in Arlington again. The military cemetery has greatly grown in size since the 1860’s and now incorporates thousands of graves, including those of the Kennedy brothers. Arlington House, which overlooks the Potomac River and Washington beyond, is currently being restored to its ante-bellum appearance)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Development in Queensway under the spotlight

Yesterday Mrs. Johnson, the Clerk of Acton Parish Council, and I went to the Development Committee at Babergh to argue against proposed building in Queensway in Acton (pictured above) I am happy to say that our efforts paid off and the application was rejected unanimously. We both felt that this was a victory for local democracy since, in addition to the opposition of the Parish Council, a number of people in the village had objected directly to Babergh.

There were a number of good reasons for resisting this particular application. Mrs. Johnson pointed out that access to the street is very restricted, the roadway being only 3.6 metres wide outside the proposed site (for cars to pass safely one needs 4.8 metres). I argued that infilling of this type would spoil the street scene, since what one has in Queensway is a planned estate of identical semi-detached homes, designed to stand harmoniously together with reasonable gaps between them. Filling in the gaps would destroy the street’s architectural integrity, and, frankly, result in something of a pig’s breakfast.

The officer from Babergh was rather dubious about arguing that the street scene would be damaged since the road is not of ‘historic interest’. Well, I would strongly argue that this is not the case! The estate was originally planned in 1948 apparently, was completed in time for the coronation of Her Majesty the Queen, and named accordingly. It has been almost untouched since the 1950’s, although what was originally a council estate is now a mixture of owner occupied and tenanted homes.

In rejecting this application the Committee was consciously taking something of a stand, since given current pressures there are bound to be other similar planned estates outside conservaton area that come under threat.

Building in gardens and filling in every gap in street frontages has become very popular, driven by Government housebuilding targets.

There has been some resistance at Westminster however. Caroline Spelman, the Conservative MP for Meriden has introduced a Private Members Bill to try to prevent what she describes as ‘garden grabbing’, and potential general election uncertainties aside, the second reading of this is due on 19th October.

To learn more about Mrs. Spelman’s Bill go to


Oh, by the way…a disclaimer just in case I ever find myself actually voting on a similar issue…The views expressed in this post relate exclusively to this development in Queensway. I would of course judge any similar application on its merits at the time!