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, June 29, 2008

A trip to Sussex

We have just returned from our annual visit to Sussex, which as usual we enjoyed a great deal. The scenic variety of the UK never ceases to amaze me. It is only 120 miles to the cottage that we rent, and yet the landscape is so different one feels that one has been to a completely different country!

Last year I commented on the fact that in Sussex they seem to be suffering from even worse cases of fly tipping than here in Suffolk. Well things seem to have improved greatly this year, but I noticed a few discrete signs from the Council asking for members of the public to ‘shop’ offenders if they are seen. I wonder if this has made a difference? I also wonder whether it is really possible to get a criminal conviction on the say-so of a member of the public in this way? I was under the impression that photographic evidence is necessary, which opens up the whole question of how far it is appropriate for a council to spy on the populace!

Another area where Sussex can teach us a thing or two is the state of rural footpaths at this time of the year. Nick and I have come to accept that from about the middle of May, until the middle of July when Suffolk County Council finally cuts the paths (usually), the countryside around the house becomes something of a no-go area. I suppose it is because the South Downs are so much used by walkers that the paths that cross them are so pristine!

This year we got out and about a bit, and went to see both Arundel Castle (rather bleak, but interesting), and Parham House, a lovely Elizabethan home with marvellous gardens. Photos of both above.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Digging for victory in Great Waldingfield

Yesterday afternoon I spent a happy hour or so walking around the allotments in Great Waldingfield in my capacity as a Trustee of the Braithwaite Trust

The Trust was set up almost ninety years ago by the Braithwaite family. Established in memory of family members who had died in the Great War, it is principally concerned with the provision and upkeep of allotments in the village.

The Trustees are carefully specified in the Trust Deed. The Rector is the Chairman, and, presumably on the basis that he or she is likely to be the only literate person available, the local headmaster or headmistress of Great Waldingfield School is the secretary. A District Councillor also has to be a Trustee, and this is why I was present.

As can be seen from the pictures, the allotments at both sites in the village are currently thriving. Not surprisingly perhaps, after some years in which people were not very interested in growing their own, currently demand for plots outstrips supply. One of the aims of the walk was to see where new patches can be established, and to identify neglected plots that perhaps might find new owners.

After the ‘inspection’ the Trustees were supposed to continue their meeting in the village hall, but unfortunately the key holder didn’t show up. Accordingly business was concluded, in a rather chilly fashion, in the Car Park.

Well, at least it saved the hall fee, and also speeded up proceedings no end!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Blows for freedom or desperate causes?

What a week!

With the exception of a Conservative Group meeting there has been little happening at Babergh. The Group considered the prioritisation of capital projects in the light of anticipated Local Government Reorganisation, a question which is to be discussed at next week’s Strategy Meeting . There is a discussion paper for the Strategy Committee on the Babergh website for anyone who is interested. The link is clearly marked on the Home Page.

This paper, significantly, recommends that decisions about parking in Sudbury and Hadleigh, and on the sale of the council housing stock, are deferred until the new authority is in place. If this is agreed by the Committee the issue of car parking charges will be kicked into touch for the next two to three years at least, which can’t be bad for car drivers of Waldingfield Ward (Don’t forget you read it first on Jenny’s Blog!).

Interesting as all of this is, it has to be said that what has been interesting me has been taking place out in the real world this week, which, depending on what happens in the future, may go down in history as the ‘week of futile gestures’.

Firstly there was David Davis’s bid on behalf of civil liberties and freedom. My short experience of political life does mean that I can sympathise with his frustrations. Being unable to get one’s own ideas through the thickets of policy and politics, not to mention civil servants and council officers, eventually can lead to the build up of a head of steam that makes any action, however irrational, feel better than doing nothing. My own experience might suggest that this sort of action can ultimately become a futile gesture, and one ends up calling on St Jude (pictured above), who as I am sure you all know is the patron saint of lost or desperate causes.

Secondly there was yesterday’s vote by the Irish to say NO to the Lisbon Treaty. At the time of writing the cloth eared Governments of larger European States (including our own of course) are, disgracefully, stating their intentions of carrying on regardless of the vote. It is vital that Ireland’s clear vote should not become another futile gesture, and I hope that all those who believe in democracy in Europe will stand up and make sure that their voice is heard.

After all, it should be remembered that St. Jude is pretty big in Ireland!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Walking the MP's dog (just part of the job)

Oh dear, poor Caroline Spelman. Observant readers of this blog will know that I heard her speak at a conference earlier in the year and was impressed by her normality and directness!

Many years ago I was a constituency secretary for a MP who happened also to be a Cabinet Minister. (it was the Heath Government so a very long time ago!) Although I wasn’t asked to do any child care, I did do quite a lot of domestic chores including walking the dog ( a Bassett Hound), and making tea for the special branch detectives who always accompanied us after the bombing of Robert Carr’s flat by the IRA. I can’t judge in the case of Ms. Spelman’s nanny, but I have to say that any role in which one helps someone like an MP can be very ‘fluid’ due to the fact that one has to work around their busy schedule, and be prepared to generally help out in whatever way one can. No one in those days was concerned about the fact that my boss was drawing his secretarial allowance for someone who at times worked as a general factotum and dog minder.

I can’t help thinking that this is something of a storm in a teacup, and says more about the problems that working mothers have in organising their lives than about corruption in high places. It is also in the view of many commentators, a sign of how desperate the BBC is to find unsavoury stories about the Conservative Party.

The blogs are alive with the story, which has now slipped off the BBC’s radar screen (I wonder why). Alpha Mummy at the Times and Guido Fawkes (order-order.com) illustrate both ends of the spectrum of opinion. On the whole the ladies from the Times are much more supportive of Ms. Spelman than the ‘lads’ who tend to contribute to the latter blog. In fact the ‘scandal’ seems to be turning into something of a feminist issue.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Suffolk Dream Chickens. A Book Review!

After World War I David Johnson’s father left his suburban home in Leicester and a steady job on the railways to follow a dream of self-sufficiency on a smallholding in deepest rural Suffolk. His wife, somewhat reluctantly, accompanied him. In a fascinating book David has written about the very special childhood that resulted from his Father’s decision. Brook Farm was almost completely devoid of any of the comforts of modern life, without electricity or running water, and rearing chickens, far from being the dream envisaged, proved to be a constant struggle. Nonetheless, if his parents became downhearted, young David barely aware of it, and he vividly recalls the rural scenes, personalities and adventures of his youth.

Anyone who was a country child during the middle years of the last century will be reminded of their own experiences...unhindered play outside from dawn to dusk for example, the thrill of sliding down haystacks, and the complications of the wash day mangle. The book, which is written in a distinct, unsentimental voice, cannot be described as a rural idyll however, and David doesn’t shy away from the darker, more fundamental aspects of rural life.

David, who will be known to many people locally has lived in Acton for many years with his wife Christine. Copies of the book at £10.00 can be obtained directly from David (tel: 01787 377107). Money received from sales will go towards research into Parkinsons.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Plans at White Hall Farm.

Yesterday morning Colin and I attended a Development Committee site inspection in Great Waldingfield. This was in respect of an application for change of use of land with farm buildings at White Hall Farm from agricultural to B1 (Light industrial) use. The site in question is on the corner of Bantocks Road and Valley Road. The existing farm buildings mark the site of the expected industrial units, and so the look of the site will not be much altered; in fact it might well be improved. There will however be increased traffic generated by any new businesses; traffic which it is planned will exit from the site via a new entrance on the local race-strip otherwise known as Valley Road.

A very similar application was made in the past, but was refused by Babergh, and this refusal was upheld on appeal. The grounds for refusal were, firstly loss of amenity to neighbouring properties, secondly access issues and thirdly impact on adjacent open countryside. The Committee has asked for further information to satisfy itself as to whether these issues have been adequately addressed in the new application.

It is probable that the application will be decided by Babergh Development Committee on Wednesday 25 June, although the need for additional information might postpone this. The plans are available for inspection at Babergh, but the consultation period is now closed. 28 residents and the Parish Council have registered objections to the plans.

I feel that the site as it stands is pretty unattractive, but do question the need for employment land in this particular spot. The notion that the proposed businesses will be staffed by people from Great Waldingfield (who will presumably bike or walk to work) is contradicted somewhat by the provision on the plans of quite a lot of parking spaces! More traffic coming and going on already crowded roads is therefore likely. The alternative for the site I suppose would be housing, but given current density standards and the size of the site this would mean another significant rise in the number of homes in the village, with all the well known attendant problems. Not a straightforward situation in my view, but one in which the objections of a significant number of residents ought to be taken into account.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Flowers in the rain

Well I was hoping to get out into the garden this morning, but instead I have had to satisfy myself by taking photographs of my newly opened prize lipstick pink peonies in the rain.

Today’s sense of gloom has not however been stimulated by the terrible weather, but by my activities yesterday. It proved to be a day absorbed by back to back meetings, first at Babergh (the Human Resources Board), and later at Sudbury CAB (Business Plan Working Group).

Matters considered included the following: Before lunch: Panel Work Plan, the Organisational Development Plan, Corporate Staffing Indicators, the Stress at Work Policy and the Health and Safety Annual Report. After lunch: Budget Projections (potentially two scenarios), Audit requirements, Community Client Profiles, Staffing policy for 2009 to 2011, Community Needs Assessment, Bureau Risk Assessment and SWAT analysis, and Client Satisfaction Survey.

All of these requirements and reports, which somehow manage to transform what is actually quite interesting material into something mind bogglingly uninteresting, contribute towards fulfilling various demands from Government or from funders (usually, in the case of the CAB, also the Government). Time taken up by five Councillors and four Officers in the morning, and four trustees and one manager in the afternoon, amounted to roughly five hours in all.

I know that much of the ground covered by this work is necessary, but I can’t help feeling that the level of bureaucracy is now reaching a point at which progress towards any goal at a reasonable speed is nigh on impossible. The Business Development Plan at the CAB for example would have taken about a week in the commercial world. In the ‘public and third sector’ world it is likely to see the light of day sometime in 2009. If this is the situation in other organisations (and I have little doubt that it is) no wonder that the public purse in the UK is nigh on empty with very little to show for the expenditure.

I do hope that the return to Power of the Conservatives will mean less Government, less control, and yes more muddling through, and more room for inspiration and common sense.