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

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Telephone boxes - national treasures or a blot on the landscape?

Pictured above is the telephone box at Newmans Green that is threatened with removal.

The story of the proposed extinction of around forty or so rural telephone boxes made the front page of the Suffolk Free Press last week, with worthies queuing up to pronounce that this was another nail in the coffin for rural life etc. etc. Well I am sorry but I have to beg to differ. I very much welcome the removal of little used, outdated, facilities such as these.

And they’re ugly too! There is nothing attractive about the more ‘modern’ style telephone boxes. In fact I think that they are a blot on the landscape, as the picture above attests.

The boxes that have been marked out for closure are by definition little used, and are in this day and age little needed. British Telecom has no statutory duty to maintain them when no one uses them and they clearly don’t. The neglected state of the Newmans Green box can be seen clearly in the second picture. There is grass growing INSIDE the box, and there is what can be politely called ‘dirt’ all over stainless steel cladding which still bears the dents from the most recent attack by vandals. Actually the only person that I feel a pang for is Mrs. Jane May who, when a Parish Councillor, went to so much trouble to get the box restored when it was torched by local incendiaries a few years ago.

I have asked a number of people in Waldingfield Ward for their opinions about this matter, and although some have the feeling that the loss of the boxes is a pity, almost all admitted that they themselves hadn’t used one for years!

It has been argued that the poor and needy use the boxes in case of emergency. Actually, I think that the vast majority of people these days have their own land line phones at home, or at the very least emergency bleepers. I hope that society does not still expect people to struggle out of their houses in all weathers to use one of these often vandalised and generally malodorous relicts of the past. Shame on society if it does!

It is also argued that they are useful for motorists who have accidents. However, it would be very lucky to have the accident close enough to the box for it to have any useful role in calling the emergency services! In any event, one of the main reasons that most women these days have mobiles is to enable them to make calls from cars at times of trouble.

In fact the only people I have ever seen using the box in recent years are clearly shady characters who for whatever reason do not wish their calls to be recorded on their itemised phone bills!

We would all be better employed saving our breath and fire power to fight for facilities that really matter, such as rural shops, post offices and transportation.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Early music in South Suffolk

Yesterday morning I went to Polstead’s very comfortable village hall to attend the Annual Meeting of the Friends of the Suffolk Villages Festival. Would that all annual meetings were as agreeable! We enjoyed a good half hour or so of music, in addition to hearing some interesting information about forthcoming events.

I am sure many of you are aware of the excellent concerts that are staged by the Festival, under the direction of early music expert, Peter Holman (pictured above right with harpsichord and violinist!). Most of the events are held in churches around south Suffolk within easy reach of Sudbury. The main event is the August Bank Holiday Festival, which stretches over four days. Other concerts are held on occasional Sunday evenings during the winter and spring generally at Boxford Church. I have to admit that I am not very good at turning out in the depths of winter for the Christmas event. There is however an excellent concert coming up shortly, featuring the music of William Boyce. This is on May 26th and we will definitely be attending.

This year the August Festival is entirely comprised of English Music. Among other exciting music, there is to be a semi-staged version of Dido and Aeneas, by Purcell. The world renowned harpsichordist, Gustav Leonhardt, will also be playing. I am very happy to say that on August Bank Holiday Monday Gainsborough’s House is to be the venue for a pre-concert talk by Gainsborough expert Susan Sloman. Following the talk there will be a ‘words and music’ event in Boxford church at noon, focussing on Gainsborough and his musician friends, notably the composer Carl Friedrich Abel (1723 to 1787).

It is not particularly well known that in addition to being a painter, Gainsborough was a keen player of the viol de gamba. As can be seen from the other picture above, Gainsborough painted Abel several times. This picture was painted in 1777

Leaflets about the August concerts will be available around the District later in the year, but if you want details of the May concert, and also to learn the many benefits (such as priority booking and special events) of becoming a Friend of the Festival you should contact

Suffolk Villages Festival.

119 Maldon Road, Colchester CO3 3AX
Telephone: Colchester (01206) 366603
E-mail: info@suffolkvillagesfestival.com

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Sudbury haven for people living with cancer

My mother died of cancer at the age of 53, when I was 21. I therefore have first hand experience of the difficulties people have coping with the feeling of helplessness and uncertainty that generally accompanies the disease. These days a lot more can be done for sufferers, and it is very possible that my mother would have enjoyed a longer period of remission after the cancer had been identified. She may even have been cured. In any event she would I am sure have very much benefited from the Eden Rose Coppice which is being created close to the Quay Theatre and the Water Meadows in Sudbury.

Babergh is supporting the project which involves the creation of a two and a half acre woodland site aimed at becoming a ‘sanctuary for people suffering from cancer or a terminal illness’. I went along to the official opening this morning to have a look and take some photographs. Despite the stir and fuss surrounding assembled dignitaries in full regalia, I was able to appreciate how lovely the woodland is. Light filters through the trees, traffic is barely audible, birds sing, and it is easy to imagine how someone feeling pretty low might have their spirits immeasurably raised by spending time here.

In addition to being of help to human beings, the wood will also be a haven for wildlife, forming a green buffer between Friars' Meadow and a new development of houses.

The area will be open to the public in 2009. It is being created by volunteers, who are doing a great deal of work to clear and plant the site with special shrubs and trees. Donations to the project can be made on www.withnature.org, and if you wish to volunteer information can be obtained by calling 01787 225524.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Daffodils at Chilton Church

Colin and I took a quick trip over to the church at Chilton to have a look at the results of the extensive planting of daffodil bulbs that took place in the autumn.

Colin was able to make a few hundred pounds available from his location budget to pay for these, and it was wonderful to see what an impact the planting has made!

Probably because of the rather chill weather, the daffodils are still looking fresh and beautiful. If you have time do go and take a look!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Secret ballots are best

Perhaps it is symptomatic of a lily-livered reluctance to ‘stand up and be counted’, but I have a real dislike of voting by ‘show of hands’ when electing people to fulfil important roles.

Having the right person in the right job is vital for the successful operation of any organisation, and a secret ballot, which gives people the chance to vote for the person they believe will do the job best without fear of present embarrassment or future pressure, should therefore to my mind be the rule rather than the exception.

Thus it was at yesterday’s Annual Meeting of the Council, at which such matters are decided, I found myself standing up as a lone Conservative among the Independents, to demand a ballot for the election of the Chairman of the important Development Committee. (According to Council procedure at least seven Members must stand up in the Chamber to request a ballot).

It was interesting to note that assuming the Independents all voted for their preferred candidate, (who one has to assume voted for himself) the votes of at least five Liberal Democrats or Conservatives were at variance with their political party’s stated preference, (two further Members abstained.) Would all these dissidents have expressed their real views in an open forum? Even in the relatively politically benign atmosphere at Babergh I very much doubt it!

I should add that my strong preference for what is clearly a more democratic process should not be read as an indication of my voting intentions. It would be dangerous for any reader of this web-log (or anyone else for that matter) to automatically assume that I was among the rebels!

(Interestingly when trying to find a suitable picture for this post I discovered that in the very democratic (!!!) Cuban assembly votes are generally taken by show of hands. What more need one say?)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A deficit in democracy?

Many of you will have seen press reports about the decision at a special Babergh Council Meeting last Tuesday to support the view that Suffolk should be split into two unitary councils, one serving the East and the other the West of the County. This is an idea in marked contrast to the view of the County Council, which would like to see a ‘One Suffolk’ solution. This would imply one large unitary council for the whole area.

(A unitary council by the way is one that carries out all of the public services currently handled by the County and District councils separately).

I spoke in the debate, taking a stance against the One Suffolk idea. I really do not think that the full implications have been thought through at the County level. In my opinion, although it might be the most cost effective scheme, one authority for the whole county would be far too large. It would serve a population that is already over 700,000 people and growing. Even if Waveney area is to be excluded, which is possible, the number would be close to 600,000.

I believe that it is instructive to look at the number of councillors per head of population that has been regarded in other areas as acceptable by the Electoral Commission. On average the number has been around 4500 people per councillor (compared with around 1500 per councillor in Suffolk at present!). This would imply a One Suffolk Council of at least 130 councillors, or possibly over 150 if Waveney is included. This would be approximately double the size of the current County Council. It is interesting to note that the largest unitary created so far has been Cornwall with 500,000 people, and the appropriate number of councillors for Cornwall is still in dispute.

Of course Suffolk councillors could be asked to look after even more people, and then the council could be smaller. In my view however this would lead to exacerbation of what is likely in any event to be a significant ‘democratic deficit’ as the number of county and district councillors in the county is dramatically reduced. To avoid this there will need to be significant strengthening of councils at the parish and town level, both from the point of view of resources and devolved power. Otherwise there will simply not be enough democratically elected people to be accountable for provision of the (hopefully) newly streamlined public services that a unitary council will provide. I am afraid there is little sign of reinforcement of councils at a local level coming from the Government at present.

I very much hope that the Boundary Committee, now looking at the options, will bear these factors in mind as it reaches its decision. By the end of July we should know what the preferred options are.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Russians in Great Waldingfield

By all accounts last Friday’s concert in Great Waldingfield church by the Hermitage Ensemble from St. Petersburg (pictured above) was a fantastic success. I was really disappointed that a prior engagement meant that I was unable to be there since I love to hear Russian singing. The religious pieces in Church Slavonic, are always particularly resonant for me, evoking the wonderfully mysterious and yet calm and relaxed atmosphere of Russian churches. I understand that the group also sang some Russian folk music in the second half of the concert.

The early Christian church in Russia viewed the use of organ or other musical instruments in the service as too theatrical and distracting. This resulted in the development of a very high standard of vocal presentation. I was therefore not surprised to hear that the singing on the night was excellent and that the evening concluded with a standing ovation!

I was fortunate to be invited to join the ensemble and their manager, Natalia, for lunch on the Friday of the concert at the home of Chris and Ann Francis. We were treated to excellent typically English cuisine! I had to dig my rather rusty spoken Russian up from the depths of my memory, and was actually surprised that I could remember quite a lot. Inevitably I was unable to dredge up a really simple construction at a crucial point in the conversation however. I hope that the Group will return to Great Waldingfield in the future so that I have a chance to hear them perform.

Thanks to Chris Francis for information about the group and the event.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Make logs not waste!

We recently took delivery of a very interesting contraption with which it is possible to make 'logs' out of old newspapers.

Since we read a lot of newspapers in this house, and our blue bin is consequently groaning on a Tuesday morning when Babergh comes to collect it, we thought this could be a good idea.

Well, here are the results of Nick my husband's efforts sitting on the top of our little stove in the sitting room. If look closely you can see that the logs are a pretty combination of black white and pink, reflecting the fact that Nick has still not kicked the habit of buying the Financial Times on a daily basis despite the exorbitant cost!

I hope that this approach to waste is suitably 'green', although I'm not entirely sure. When I worked on Scandinavian forestry companies as an investment analyst years ago I was told that newsprint could only be recycled once or twice due to the fact that the length of the wood fibres in the paper shorten and weaken every time it is processed. How the recyclers know whether the paper has already been processed or not I have no idea.

Anyway, the logs burn very well and last for about an hour, helping to eke out more expensive fuel, and we are quite satisfied with them. Nick says that there isn't much work or strength involved, although you need to work somewhere where you can get the floor wet!

If you want to buy a log making machine you can get one on the web from Natural Collection (Green and gorgeous since 1999). Just Google the name and you will find the site. Details of how the device works are given on the page.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

A day on Development

From time to time we councillors substitute for others on different committees. On Wednesday, for the first time, I was asked to act as a substitute on the Development Committee, which as I am sure you are all aware is the place where planning applications are decided.

The atmosphere at Development is rather different from that at some of the other committees at Babergh. For one thing the Chamber is always full of members of the public, all waiting, often in a state of some anxiety, for the application in which they are interested. Members of the public have the right to speak for three minutes in support or to object to planning applications, as do representatives from Parish and Town Councils.

Another difference is the sense that actual decisions are being made NOW which impact on people’s everyday lives. This is rather different from the more leisurely and reflective pace of other Council proceedings. I’m not saying that this immediacy alters the general sense of responsibility that one feels as a councillor, but it certainly concentrates the mind and makes one keen to do the right thing. There are officers on hand to guide proceedings, but at the end of the day the councillors have the last word and it is not unusual for them to ignore the officers’ recommendations. Of course, by definition the applications that find their way to the Committee are the ones that are more complex or controversial.

It is particularly difficult when a case engages your sympathies, but you know to give permission would be contrary to previous decisions and would set an unfortunate precedent.

It is sometimes the case for example that a farming family owning land in the countryside would like to build a house so that a son or daughter can come to live nearby to keep an eye on ageing relatives. A case like this was on the agenda on Wednesday and it was with a great sense of regret that I was obliged to vote to refuse permission. The problem is that there are strict restrictions on building on ‘greenfield’ sites that lie outside the boundary of villages. This, on the whole, seems right if we are to protect our lovely Suffolk countryside. Moreover, unlike affordable housing schemes for local people that can in certain circumstances be on greenfield land, there is no official mechanism for ensuring that one off small houses are not subsequently developed and/or sold on to third parties, effectively negating the reason that they were given planning permission in the first place. Nonetheless one cannot escape the fact that refusing permission in these circumstances leads to hardship in individual cases.

Despite being confronted by a number of difficult choices, I enjoyed my day on Development, and am happy to say that I will be continuing to act as a substitute on the Committee in the coming year at Babergh.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Woodland BATS, the first newsletter

Woodland BATS, the local environmental group that has featured on this blog in the past has produced its first newsletter. It is a very well produced document which rather puts to shame my own efforts for Gainsborough’s House where colour pics remain an aspiration rather than a reality.

It is possible to support this excellent group, which promises to make a real difference to the environment around Sudbury, by becoming a member. Membership will entitle you to receive news of all group activities which include occasional excursions and talks in addition to regular (optional!) working parties. To explain the Group's aims I think I can do no better than to reproduce the ‘who are we? section of their recent newsletter. Membership costs £12 per annum, and if you would like further details please contact Debbie Thomas, the Membership Secretary on 01284 827470 or e mail Debbie-su90me@notschool.net.

‘Woodland - B.A.T.S. is a new, non-profit making environmental group founded in June 2006 by local tree wardens, environmentalists and others interested in conservation work. Its members are drawn both from Sudbury and all the villages immediately surrounding it. Our aims are 1. To create new woodlands of native trees and other new habitats for wildlife for future generations to enjoy. 2. To increase and protect biodiversity. 3. To involve the community in owning and managing these areas. 4. To undertake a schools programme so that young people can learn at an early age the importance of planting and growing trees and the value of species biodiversity. 5. And to link as many of these new areas together through footpaths and rights of way both to encourage public appreciation and the rapid spread of diverse species. Membership is open to everyone of any age who would like to make a positive contribution to the world by making it a better and greener place.’