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

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Don't miss the train to London.

A warning for those who go up to London on the first ‘off peak’ train of the day: the timetable has changed!

I was alerted to this fact by a reader of the blog who missed his train last week as a result. He was rescued by the kindness of a fellow traveller who decided to drive to London and gave him a lift as far as Stanstead.

The train that used to leave Sudbury at around 09.00 has been moved forward to 08.46.   This might be regarded as good news but the time taken by the re-scheduled train is a very long 1 hour and 28 minutes. A long wait at Marks Tey, combined with a painfully slow stopping train from there to London,  seems to be the reason for this.  Thus one actually arrives in London no earlier than before but has to get up earlier.  I expect that the cost is going up too.

Those who can arrive in London a little later would be better to wait for the 09.33, a reinstated service which is much to be welcomed.  This train only takes 1 hour and 11 minutes, a good 17 minutes faster than the 08.46.

I have not looked at the whole timetable, but I expect that there are other adjustments.  People travelling to and from London would be well advised to look on the internet before leaving for the station.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Scenes from the Christmas Eve demonstrations in Moscow

To view some heartwarming, funny and rather chilly looking scenes from Saturday's pro democracy demo click on this link.

I know that it looks as though it is in Russian, but there is some English translation along the way, and the pictures in any event speak for themselves.

The link comes courtesy of the Moscow Times, which is a useful source for all things Russian and which publishes in both Russian and English.

One of the most interesting things about these demonstrations is the variety and humour of the placards carried by the participants who seem to be of all ages and from many different social backgrounds.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I would like to wish all readers of the blog a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous and healthy 2012.

The photos come from our visit to Florence in February 2011.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Suggestions for days out in 2012

Norwich Castle Museum
We have all been rallying round at Gainsborough’s House since the departure of the Director earlier this year.

I have been helping to organise the lecture series for Spring 2012 and, so far, I am very pleased with the way the project has worked out.

The talks, Treasures and Secrets of East Anglia, will be held on selected Tuesday mornings between the end of February and early May.  A ticket (£6 per talk) will enable you to hear the talk and also have free entry to the House and any exhibition that might be showing.

The series was inspired by the notion that 'hard times' may discourage many of us from travelling too far afield next year. Perhaps the time has come to discover, or to rediscover, the many wonderful places worth seeing within an hour and a half’s drive of Sudbury.

Representatives from six outstanding galleries and museums in East Anglia have been invited to come to Gainsborough’s House to explain why their institution is worth a visit.  The attractions in question are The National Horseracing Museum, Norwich Castle, Colchester Castle, The Fry Art Gallery, Saffron Walden, the Fitzwilliam Museum and Melford Hall (plus some other less visited National Trust Properties.)

In addition to discussing the highlights and history of each venue, speakers will share some lesser known facts and secrets. Many of the museums on the list are currently undergoing change and development and we also anticipate some comment on special exhibitions and attractions planned in 2012.

We hope that this programme will be of interest, not only to Gainsborough House Friends, volunteers and regulars, but also a wider local audience.  Full details and tickets will be available after Christmas from Gainsborough’s House.

From the National Horseracing Museum Collection.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hard choices

There are only so many ways to fund a budget deficit of £350,000, and it is a matter of regret that the lady and gentleman of the press present at today’s Overview and Scrutiny Joint Meeting on the Budget at Babergh only waited to hear the deliberations on two out of the five options on offer.

Once the issue of car parking was firmly kicked into touch, and Members had expressed the opinion that we should refuse the Government’s zero council tax inducement and increase council tax by 3.5% (preserving a higher tax base and raking in an additional £90,000 or so), Members took a well deserved coffee break.

Of course today’s Committee was not actually making decisions on the budget. It was forming its recommendations to the Strategy Committee, who will look at everything once again before the measures go to full Council for a final decision in February.  Nonetheless it would be foolish to ignore their deliberations.

After the break there were no representatives of the press to be seen; a pity since they missed quite a lot.

 Babergh can save money by making some changes/adjustments to services.  This adds up to around £140,000.  Most measures are relatively uncontroversial, and the area that seems to be causing the most angst just now is the closure of various Public Conveniences around the District.  Officers noted that the time and energy expended on this matter is probably disproportionate to the £30,000 or so of anticipated savings, so expect a resolution soon.

Then the Committee came to Community Grants.  An impassioned, and to my mind sound, appeal from Mark Newman, Member for Cornard South,  urged Members to refrain from meddling with the status quo here, but this was not to be.  Officers were sent away to look for savings of £35,000 to £40,000 from this area. 

I am maintaining an open mind on the budget options until I have heard all the arguments. However, it does seem to me that, given the choice,  residents of Babergh might be prepared to stump up a pound or so a week for parking their cars in preference to seeing some of these worthwhile organisations go to the wall.

And then we came to the potential ‘Get out of Gaol Free Card’:  funds amounting this year to close to £400,000, given to us for a limited period by the Government as a reward for building houses in recent years.  The Housing Minister, Grant Schapps, has made it clear that it is acceptable for Councils to spend this money on anything they like:  keeping council tax down, investing to save, and even, YES!  reducing, and, by extrapolation, not imposing car park charges.

Whether or not these funds should be used to plug the gap in the budget is an interesting one. It is too complex to expand upon the issue here but it could well be the subject of a future post.   Clearly all Members at today’s meeting felt that at least a proportion of the deficit should be absorbed in this way. 

All in all however today’s meeting was a fascinating one in many ways, and it remains to be seen how many of the Committee’s recommendations finally shape the Budget that will be approved early in 2012.

Further details about some of the issues referred to above can be found if you look at today’s Committee Papers on the Babergh website:

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Russian revival

Just off North Street!

There have been two reasons this week for me to wrap a cold towel round my head and try to brush up some of my fast fading Russian language skills.

First of all there has been the excitement following last week’s Duma elections.  Although demonstrations have been confined largely to Moscow, the message from the much abused Russian ‘little people’  to President Putin is that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.  Of course it is the case that encouragement has been given by pro-democracy demonstrations in the Arab world.  However the current increase in political activism in Russia should not simply be seen as a copycat response.  Russians through history have, on the whole, been a docile bunch, rather preferring their leaders to be of the dictatorial, strong handed type.  It takes quite a lot to get them out on the streets. However it has become clear that the level of corruption, both political and economic, has reached such unprecedented levels that the conviction is growing that there can be no sort of future for the country while it persists. 

It is a startling fact that capital flight from Russia during 2011 was recently estimated at $80bn.

Coverage in the UK of the situation is understandably limited.  As the news has unfolded it has been great fun reading the Russian websites, although the arrest and imprisonment last week of one of the principal bloggers has shut down one useful source of information.  Unlike the broadcast media however the newspapers have at present at least a little more flexibility.  Most useful in fact has been the old communist rag ‘Pravda’, which, indeed these days appears to be reporting the truth implicit in its title.

The other reason for blowing the dust off the Russian dictionary can be found much closer to home.  On my way to W H Smith the other evening I was shocked to see the words ‘magazin’ written in Cyrillic script on a shop just off North Street.  Magazin in Russian means shop (a word of course imported from French in the eighteenth century).  On investigating further I find that another shop selling delicious Eastern European products has opened in Sudbury.  What is more the proprietor, Valya, comes from Lithuania where a good proportion of the population is Russian speaking.

Delicious and different products from Eastern Europe at a shop near you!
We were able to have a very nice conversation as I bought some delicious Polish sausage, some Russian preserved vegetables, and also some salmon roe from Siberia.  It is lucky that one of the first things you learn when starting a new language is how to go shopping.  Those words at least appear to have stuck!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Babergh officers keep their cool during international panic.

I’m sure that you can remember that in June last year local seed producer Thompson and Morgan was blamed by a French politician for the supply to the French market of sprouting seeds carrying the e coli bacteria.  In the end the company was found to be in no way to blame, the contaminated seeds having actually been produced in Egypt.  Sadly, despite this, related bad publicity cost the Ipswich firm a good deal of money in lost sales. 

The incident, which received wide press coverage, developed into an international panic as some 40 people in France and Germany died, and many others were hospitalised.

What has not been revealed until now was Babergh’s environmental officers’ key role in leading the investigation behind the scenes.  Yesterday, I received a fascinating briefing note from Malcolm Firth, Head of Natural and Built Environment, telling the whole story.

The ins and outs of the tale are too detailed to repeat here, but clearly Babergh Food and Safety officers played a key role in the investigation that followed the outbreak of e coli, and put in significant resources to identify food supply chains and to liaise with the various government agencies involved. This work has received considerable praise from the Food Standards Agency, and Thompson and Morgan has also commended the Babergh officers involved.

The full facts are only emerging now.  At the time Babergh did not want to attract media attention which could have compromised the investigation and also been time consuming and distracting at a time when they were more than fully occupied.
The adverse publicity suffered by Thompson and Morgan was very unfortunate, and it is important to know  not only that the investigation was greatly assisted by the company’s excellent record keeping, but also that no seed tested from the company was at the end of the day found to be contaminated.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Some good news on buses, for once!

Go Start, in partnership with the not for profit transport operator Go Ride CIC, has just proved that Bus Services can be re-instated!

A two mini bus hourly service between Colchester, Great Cornard, Sudbury, Long Melford, Lavenham and Bury St Edmunds  operated along the 753 weekday bus route on 4 December and will do so again on 11 December and 18 December.

Some 31 passengers took advantage of the service which is an excellent start and proves that demand certainly exists.

The buses serve regular bus stops, accept concessionary passes and charge regular fares.  I suspect that this meant that there was a certain amount of negotiation behind the scenes in order to overcome the inherent discrimination against community bus services that exist in the labyrinthine world of public transport provision.

For full details of the route etc. you need to go to www.goridebus.co.uk

While you are on the site it is worth taking a look at what this innovative not for profit organisation is all about.  In common with Go Start, their aim is to support the 25% of households without access to a car, and also to reduce carbon emissions.  Not bad aspirations!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Help for victims of domestic violence.

Yesterday morning I dropped into St Peter’s Church to attend an event marking the White Ribbon Campaign  which runs from November 25 to December 10 every year.  It was being run by a local organisation, Compassion, which addresses domestic abuse in Babergh and which is supported by the Babergh Community Safety Partnership of which the District Council is a member.

I was lucky to arrive early and so was able to photograph the wonderful cup cakes, complete with white ribbons, which had been baked specially to mark the event.  My cake was delicious and I expect that the display did not remain intact for very long.

The White Ribbon Campaign was started in 1990 in Canada out of respect for 14 women who were brutally murdered at the University of Montreal.  The founders at the time called on everyone ‘to neither commit, condone, nor stay silent about violence’.  Since that time the movement has grown internationally and is linked to 16 days of action to focus on raising awareness of domestic violence and abuse.  The campaign finishes on 10 December, which is the International Day of Human Rights.

The problem with domestic violence is of course that it is ‘domestic’.  It often remains hidden and people (not just women!) can suffer in silence for years.  It takes many forms and has a number of causes, but it is vitally important to expose and combat it, regardless of its level of intensity.  I first came across cases of abuse when I worked for a family law solicitor in my holidays as a law student, and I came then to understand how damaging and corrosive it is to victims’ lives and confidence.

Coincidentally, in today’s Times there is an article on a report about so called ‘honour attacks’, which are just one aspect of the problem.  These crimes, it appears, have grown exponentially in number in recent years.  In Suffolk alone in 2010 there have been 118 reported incidents which seems incredibly high to me.  According to the 12 police forces providing statistics to the report, such attacks appear to have grown in number by almost 50% year on year.  There may be some comfort to be derived from the increase.  Since these were ‘reported’ incidents, the willingness of victims to come forward may well have increased. 

It is hoped that events such as the one yesterday in St Peter’s will encourage victims of all forms of domestic violence in the Babergh area to seek help.

Compassion can be reached by contacting Cathy Press on 07966 592632 or e mailing cathy@compassion.org . The organisation runs programmes to help any woman who is affected by the impact of an abusive relationship.  These are free and all enquiries are treated in strict confidence.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A special exhibition in Cambridge

The Lacemaker, 1670, Johannes Vermeer

I am sure that some people will be going to Cambridge to do some Christmas shopping this December.  The shops have improved so much there over the years, and the market always has some interesting things for sale.

We have found a very good, and relatively inexpensive, tapas bar just off the main square, and despite the fact that it is subterranean, and therefore a little dark and atmospheric for lunch time, we enjoyed our food there recently and found the service friendly and good.

If you do make the trip try to find time to visit the Fitzwilliam Museum to see the exhibition of Dutch interiors that is running until 15th January.  Although all the paintings are interesting, the stars of the show are three paintings by Vermeer. one from the Louvre, pictured above and another on loan from The Queen.

It is unusual to see so many Vermeers in one room at the same time.   An artist who painted pictures of extraordinary stillness and atmosphere, he only produced about 30 works and they are usually to be found widely scattered in different galleries across the world.

One example of his work, The Concert,  used to be on display at the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum in Boston.  Sadly it was stolen in 1990, and the Museum was so upset at the loss that it has never put anything up in its place.  It is thought to be the most valuable un-recovered picture in the world with an estimated value of $200m.
The Concert c. 1664, Johannes Vermeer

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Don't leave valuable items in your car!

Do be careful and don't leave things on view in your car!  It is a great temptation to thieves as can be seen from the message below from the police:

Between 6pm Tuesday 29th and 7.30am Wednesday 30th November on the High Street, Acton offenders have smashed the rear window on a silver Volkswagen van parked on a driveway. Three power drills, Bosch jigsaw and three extension leads were taken from within.


Between 11pm Tuesday 29th and 7am Wednesday 30th November on Old Post Office Row, Acton offenders have smashed windows on a grey Ford car parked on a driveway. A Tom Tom satellite navigation system and a Samsung laptop computer were taken from within.

Were you in the area at the time, did you see anything suspicious? Do you know the name of the offender or offenders? If you have any information please contact Suffolk Police on 101 quoting reference SU/11/2668 and SU/11/2667.

Anti social behaviour? What is Babergh doing?

It seems that few people know that District councils have statutory responsibility for community safety.  Unlike dustbin emptying and planning a lot of the work done in this area goes on quietly behind the scenes, and is moreover, done on something of a shoestring.

Having chaired the West Babergh Safer Neighbourhood meetings for some time, after the elections in May,  I became the Chairman of the Babergh Community Safety Partnership. This has been a mixed experience.  Being honest, sitting in meetings reading reports and looking at ‘incident statistics’, I have found it difficult to get to grips with what the relevant officers actually do on the ground.

Accordingly over the next few weeks I have decided to spend a little time meeting the (rather few) officers who are working in the area throughout the District. This morning I started my investigations with a trip to Sudbury Police Station to talk to Babergh’s Anti-Social Behaviour Network Officer, Sally Watson.

Sally’s job specification is very broad.  Working from the Police Station, she has a high level of autonomy with regard to how she chooses to tackle anti social behaviour reduction in the District. With other agencies, such as the police, housing, and social services, she works with problem families, and also with ‘problem places’ (remember the boy racers around Kentucky Fried Chicken a few years ago?)  She also works in and around schools, the main aim being to nip bad behaviour in the bud through education and communication; (What would you think if someone treated your gran like that?).  A success story is the progress made in discouraging underage drinking.  A very striking video has been produced which shows young people at risk the dangers of alcohol abuse, seen through the eyes of three local young people whose lives were almost ruined by the demon drink.

Reading some articles on the subject on the internet I have discovered that many anti social behaviour practitioners are criticised for being reactive rather than proactive when addressing the problem.  I do not think that this is a criticism that can be levelled at Babergh!

Sally has won, and been nominated for, a number of awards for her work and I had a very interesting meeting with her.  I asked her if her life was a bit like painting the Forth Bridge; she might sort one group of young people out, but they would soon be replaced by the next generation.  There seems to be an element of truth in this, but the effective, work done with older troublemakers does have a knock on effect on their younger imitators it seems.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Babergh officers will strike on Wednesday.

 It is very likely that some Babergh officers will participate in the national strike due to be held on Wednesday 30th November.

Over its 30 years plus history Babergh has enjoyed very good labour relations and if, as now seems likely, the strike goes ahead, it will only be the second time that Corks  Lane has witnessed an industrial dispute. Of course the issues at stake on this occasion are not local ones, although many officers will be affected by proposed Government changes to public sector pensions.  There is however no reason to believe that the normal state of harmony that prevails at the council will be upset for long.

Everyone, of course, has the right to withdraw their labour without fear of reprisals, and this right must and will be respected.  Nonetheless at a time when jobs are actively under review it would be natural if some officers at Babergh, and across the public sector as a whole, felt some small hesitation when considering whether or not to strike.    It is also the case that those who wish to work should not be prevented from doing so, and I am sure that any persuasion or picketing that takes place will be reasonable and peaceful.

I understand that contingency plans are in place to deal with any emergencies that occur around the District on Wednesday.   On the whole I suspect, and also much hope, that only a small number of residents will be affected by the participation of Babergh’s officers in industrial action on this occasion.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Open late this evening

The Gainsborough's House shop is staying open late this evening in order to participate in the Christmas Shopping event in Sudbury.

Do go in and have a look at the very special range of cards and other beautiful items for sale!

Volunteering, a way into work?

There is good deal in the media today about Government programmes to help young people who cannot find work.

In the course of meetings this week I have been discussing how, in a small way, two of the organisations with which I work in Sudbury are doing their bit in this area.

Gainsborough’s House has applied for, and received funding from the European Community to run a six month volunteer development scheme for the economically inactive.  This will involve some younger people, in addition to older people seeking to get back into work such as young mothers with children, and even pensioners.  Participants will learn about how the museum works and get practical experience as room stewards in the office and in the shop.  I understand from the organiser, Nick Winch, that the level of interest has been high.

The CAB has for a long time tried to attract young people as volunteers.  Often we train them and then they move on to paid work, sometimes within the CAB service.  This can be rather frustrating, but they do make a contribution while they are at the Bureau and it is gratifying when, having gained some confidence, they can move onwards and upwards.

Some people are cynical about such schemes and see them as exploitation. Of course since we are talking about volunteers no payment is involved. However, the people involved do get something to add to their CV, and it could be that that makes all the difference to that crucial job application.

Weed in the Ward

Yesterday I received the following press release from the police:

Suffolk;  cannabis factory found in Acton ,Sudbury
Police in Sudbury  have seized around 50  cannabis plants following the discovery of a  cannabis factory  in Daniels Close Acton  on Thursday 24th November 2011.Officers entered the address at 3am this morning
Police picture taken at the site

A 32  year-old man  was arrested at the scene on suspicion of production of a controlled drug. He was taken to the Bury St Edmunds  Police Investigation Centre

Inspector Crick would like to  encourage anyone with information or concerns around possible cannabis factories or drugs in general to contact Suffolk Constabulary on 01473 613500.or speak to officers at Sudbury police station.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Another important article from local conservationist, George Millins

At the risk of being repetitious, here is a summary of things to do which will help our wildlife through the winter.
Rotting trees..a winter refuge for reptiles

Providing food and water for birds will be at the top of most people’s agenda but keeping feeders clean is equally important. In recent years large numbers of Greenfinches were lost to a disease which, at least in part, was passed on via dirty feeders and water containers.

Please be aware of hibernating amphibians, reptiles, bats and hedgehogs.  Reptiles are less likely to be found in gardens and will usually hibernate safely below ground in old mammal holes, beneath rotting tree stumps and established rubble piles. Amphibians are often in far less secure hibernacula, some choosing to over-winter at the bottom of ponds. Bats will use lofts, barns and other roof space, and where available, holes in trees. Hedgehogs have declined dramatically over the last decade or so and are very vulnerable indeed, they may be spending the winter months in a pile of leaves under a hedge, in a bush, under low garden shrubs or under an old outbuilding - all these locations may ultimately be where they will create a nest and produce young next season. If any hibernating animals are accidentally disturbed please call one of the numbers below or the County Wildlife Trust for help and advice.

There are three major factors involved in the continued rapid decline of wildlife. Modern intensive farming methods have had a great impact on all groups of wildlife including amphibians. A vast number of ponds on arable land have been back filled and lost to the plough, and where they remain, are usually surrounded by trees and scrub, shading out aquatic plants, consuming large amounts of water and causing the pond to progress to just a damp hollow. Even if the pond remains open to sunlight, in an arable field it lacks the terrestrial habitat required to support amphibians, this should be about ten times the area of the pond and consist of rough grazing meadows, hedges, marshland, scrub or woodland - the clue is in the name amphibian, when not engaged in breeding activities most of the population will be terrestrial.
The Silver Studded Blue...sacrificed to Sainsbury's
The second factor which has been even more destructive over the last decade is of course the urban sprawl which includes many new road structures dissecting and isolating habitats. New developments have destroyed vast amounts of habitat, those rough Brownfield sites were excellent habitat for a whole range of mammals, birds, invertebrates, amphibians and reptiles - the impact on the latter three groups has been very severe as they have nowhere else to go. True, reptiles and some amphibians are protected and efforts are made to remove them to chosen receptor sites such as Cornard Country Park and Old School Wood at Gt. Waldingfield, but no new sites have been allocated  and any maintenance of such sites depends largely on unpaid volunteers - they are a bit thin on the ground! The laws created to protect our wildlife are very weak indeed enabling those who should implement them to easily find a loophole. The reptile populations in the Sudbury, Haverhill and Ipswich areas have been decimated in recent years along with other attendant species - a good example being the Silver Studded blue butterfly. This is a heathland species which has been eradicated from a section of heathland in Ipswich occupied by Sainsbury's, This store carries a large image of the butterfly on the front of the shop, but efforts to translocate this rare and beautiful insect failed so the image is now tragically, just a memorial.

The third reason for excessive losses to our wildlife, in particular bees, butterflies and other invertebrates, reptiles and small mammals, all of which are food sources for other creatures such as the Barn Owl and most other bird species. This reason is actually quite unnecessary and adds to our council tax bill, it is of course the creation of green deserts by repeatedly mowing every bit of amenity grass-land. Given the serious declines in all grass-land species, given the cost, and the fact that grass-land removes more carbon from the atmosphere than woodland, this is absolute MADNESS! Man continues to display a total lack of wisdom; yes we are innovative, can journey to the moon and beyond but lack the simple common sense to preserve our own planet and the treasures it contains, which incidentally, are essential to our ultimate survival, and all in the name of tidiness, a human perception only.

Can we do less of this?
 If anyone has the slightest inclination to help wildlife in and around your garden, or help with habitat work on local sites please contact me. A small group are currently working on Shawlands Wood and Bank with the aim of improving the habitat for existing species and attracting a wider variety of wildlife. There are a variety of tasks, something for everyone, this work party is scheduled for the second Sunday in each month starting at 10-00 and finishing 12-30 to 13-00. Our aim is to achieve Local Nature Reserve status so we need to record species present, in particular, birds and invertebrates. We are currently creating a butterfly area which requires careful management and the planting of native butterfly food and nectar plants. If interested just turn up on the day or call one of the numbers below.

George Millins  01787 374874 mobile 07534 263629