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