Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Fracking ugly.....

Fracking is in the news almost every day now. Opposition is growing, as the public become more aware of what is involved, although the scientific evidence is still not that strong either way.

It is an ugly process, involving ripping up the landscape, and damaging the ground beneath us.

One thing I note, however, is that the usual suspects who can normally be relied upon to attack wind turbines as being ugly - I happen to think they are rather majestic, harbingers of of a new, cleaner future - are strangely silent. Why might that be?

Might it be something to do with oil and gas industry largesse? The said sector is known for its generousity towards pseudo  'think-tanks', and 'useful idiot' politicians who delight in spreading doubt over scientific evidence of global warming, and the anthropogenic input therein.

One of these idiots told me once that there could not possibly be any such thing as global warming, because it snowed rather a lot in one of his fields the previous year. I explained, in words of as few syllables as possible, how increased temperature brings with it increased precipitation, and so his evidence undermined his own argument. He got a bit mad, telling me that as I don't keep livestock, I know nothing. Oh well, 2 years studying environmental policy was wasted then, I should have just bought a lamb or something.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

The World's Worst TV Game Show.

I have some bad habits, but watching TV is not one of them. I occasionally watch the BBC news in the morning whilst trying to work out how to drink a cup of coffee, but with the exception of Rugby and the Olympics, there is not much else that persuades me to switch the thing on.

Last night, however, was a real experience. Having twisted my knee - the one that I didn't manage to break yet -  I am not in the mood to move about too much, so I decided to dip into some prime-time Saturday night TV.

I turned on in time to see a game show called 'I Love My Country'. Sounds interesting, I thought, so I stayed tuned.

Whoever produced this must love his country in the same way that Lord Haw-Haw did, as the whole thing, including the guests, was a slur on the integrity and intelligence of the British people. I was initially reassured by the presence of Frank Skinner, who in terms of personality and professionalism is definitely 'A' list in my opinion. The other guests incuded a "singing legend" I had never heard of, a couple of thick girls, one of whom smiled a lot, and the other who was apparently asleep through the whole show, and some others I can't remember. There was a pretty black girl who could sing - the show's only nod towards the employment of talent - and Gaby Logan, who would probably make a good newsreader, but who is definitely not God's gift to light entertainment.

The first 'game' involved using a plastic pork pie to identify on a large map the location of Aberdeen. I don't think any further comment is necessary at this point.

I don't think that a second series will be necessary, and I suspect that in about 30 years time when the documentary 'Crap Games Shows Of The Early 21st Century' is made, this one will be greeted by the audience with total disbelief.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

London's Finest....

On the subject of emergency services, I learn that amongst the many strange reasons folk find to call out the Fire Brigade, there is included a chap who recently got his genitals caught in a toaster.

Now let us just stop and think about this.

I have often wondered, what makes a chap get up in the morning and think to himself "I know, I'm going to wear a cravate today!". Why would you do that?

But this person, at some point, thought to himself "I know, I'll stick the old todger into the toaster for a bit..." What was he doing? Was there bread in there? Was the toaster switched on? How exactly did he explain his situation when he made the 999 call? I would so love to hear the recording of that one.

But how wonderful for the Fireman who found him. Would you not have liked to have been a fly on the wall as that one unfolded?

Boris Johnson does not share the average Londoner's admiration and affection for the Fire Brigade, apparently, as he wants to make still further cuts. The London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) is fighting for additional funding in order to prevent more cuts in the service. Boris Johnson stated last week in a letter to London Fire Brigade commissioner Sir Ron Dobson  that  “I am not minded to provide additional funding to LFEPA for 2014/15.  My budget guidance for that year has recently been issued and sets out my current understanding of the level of financial resources available and how they are best to be deployed. I have done this against a backdrop of reductions in government grant."

Don't blame the government, mate, its your party that is in power. Well, sort of.

Does the government not have any idea of the importance of maintaining strategic services, and keeping them under public control? OK, that was a stupid question, I know. The Tories would sell the Brigade of Guards to the Taliban if they could get the right price.

Boris enjoys a certain popularity amongst Londoners for two reasons. Firstly because he is not Ken Livingstone, and secondly because he looks funny. Cuts to the Fire Brigade will affect Londoners very badly. I doubt if there will be too many appliances lost around Kensington and Chelsea of course, but proper Londoners will not take this too kindly.

You Can Never Find One When You Need One....

So, we reach the second anniversary of the London riots of August 2011.

Its interesting to note that since then, Tower Hamlets has lost 66 police officers and 54 PCSOs. Bethnal Green and Bow were badly hit by the riots, of course.

Across the capital, some 2,500 police jobs have gone since the riots.

Now, here I will admit that I might not be the greatest admirer of London's serial killers, or the Met as they prefer to be called, but this can't be right, surely? Perhaps they have all retired sick after not deliberately killing a newspaper vendor or something, but 2,500 seems like rather a lot to me.

I note that crime figures for the Met area as a whole dropped 7% in the 6 months leading up to June 2013, as against the previous year. Possibly that might actually be a reflection of the fact that in most parts of London you can't report a bloody crime, because the nicks are all closed down!

But sadly, I note that despite this backdrop of falling crime figures - there are small drops in most categories - there is a bit of an anomaly. 'Islamophobic' crimes have risen by a startling 53.1%. This is a huge leap, and so what does it mean? It may mean an increase in the number of offences committed, it may mean an increase in the number of offences reported, or it may mean that the Met are prioritising the category.

However, I note that generally, hate crimes have fallen by percentages that reflect the overall trend.

I do not feel, as a Londoner who spends much of my time at home in the East End, including areas such as Bethnal Green and Whitechapel, any sense of tension. In fact, in those areas, and in parts of London that have traditionally had problems, and Streatham and Brixton come to mind, I feel that things are a lot more relaxed than they were maybe 10-15 years ago. An impressive drop in gun crime is testimony to how SE London has calmed down.

I really thought that as a society, and as a community, we had grown out of all of this nonsense, but this statistic of 53.1% might suggest otherwise. Perhaps we need more policemen on the beat.....

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Bermondsey Pubs Under Threat!

St James' Tavern
A bit distressed to learn today of the likely closure of two of my old locals - the Grange, and St James' Tavern, both in Bermondsey.

Apparently the current owners, Enterprise Inns, want to sell the pubs, and there is no restriction on future use of the land. So we are talking about more flats, I guess.

The Grange has been thrown a lifeline as it has been listed as a 'community asset', and so has a certain degree of protection. It is St James', which has been there since 1884, that is more of a worry. Too many pubs in the area have vanished in the last couple of decades.

St James' is a great pub, just outside South Bermondsey station, which is the point of arrival for many visitors to the Den, home of Millwall FC. It is a real breath of the old East End, complete with a seafood stall outside, and the food inside is pretty good as well.

These pubs should be protected - Bermondsey is one of the last strongholds of the traditional London community, a community with a long and proud history. 

So successful was the area in economic terms that at one time the City of London actually attempted to ban the sale of goods produced in Bermondsey within three miles of the City.

The docks and warehouses were a hub of Britain's maritime trade, and were bombed to buggery during the war. The first German bomb fell on Surrey Docks on September 7th 1940, and bombs continued to fall for 57 consecutive nights. (During that first bombing raid, the front was blown out of the Cock and Monkey in Neptune Street, which was turned into flats in 2003). There was a Neptune Pub, by the Rotherhithe roundabout, but that deserved to close when it did back in the 90s, it was a bit of a dump. Apparently you had to be a manic depressive with ME to get a job there. Guess what... they knocked it down and built flats on the land.

The Collen Bawn in Southwark Park Road, just opposite the Blue Market, was turned into solicitors offices in about 1995. My great aunt Doris loved it there, because they had a piano, and when the sirens sounded it only took a minute or so to get under the railway arches. Many nights they used to sleep there for safety, but that practice stopped after the Stainer Streeet arches, near London Bridge, took a direct hit on February 17th 1941. 68 people were killed, and 175 injured. Most were women and children, with some bodies never being recovered. They remain buried in the rubble beneath the surface to this day.

The area also has a surprising literary history. Chaucer began his pilgrimages to Canterbury nearby, and Shakespeare of course put on his plays at the Globe theatre just up the road in Southwark. Samuel Pepys admitted getting a tad merry from time to time by the Cherry Gardens, and Dickens is associated with the area. In fact, my own daughter attended primary school at St Josephs' in George Row, which once marked the eastern boundary of Jacob's Island, of oliver twist fame. (It really did exist, and was even worse than Dickens described). Tommy Steele was a previous pupil, and writes about the school in his autobiography, Bermondsey Boy.

The poet John Betjeman was associated with the area, and in fact is remembered for his work in saving St James' Chuch, one of the famous Waterloo Churches, built to commemerate that great victory. If you visit the church you will note that the gravestones have all been moved and propped up aginst the churchyard wall. This was done at the beginning of the last century at the behest of Dr Alfred Salter, who was desperate to create some space for children to play. Salter, who was to become an MP, is remembered as one of the greatest of health and social reformers. Bermondsey underground station (Jubilee line) sits on the site of Salter's surgery. There is a children's playground in St James' Church to this day.

Even Swift depicted his character Gulliver as being born at Redriff - an old name for Rotherhithe. I used to be a governor at Redriff Primary School, a splendid establishment.

Walk along the foreshore by the aforementioned Cherry Gardens when the tide is out and you will find the remains of some interesting wooden constructions, and you don't have to dig too deep to find heaps of rusty nails. This is where ships used to be broken up. In fact, Turner painted the classic Fighting Temeraire from the waterfront at Rotherhithe, on her way to Beatson's Yard to be broken up.

Now the sunset breezes shiver
Temeraire! Temeraire!
And she's fading down the river.
Temeraire! Temeraire!
Now the sunset Breezes shiver
And she's fading down the river,
But in England's song for ever
She's the Fighting Temeraire.

A lot happens in our neck of the woods, and so I reckon that we deserve the right to at least keep our old pubs.

Monday, 5 August 2013

The Silver Y - Loving The Sunshine!

My love of nature and environmentalism always baffles my close friends. I'm not a person who would automatically be associated with, for example, butterflies.

But I was delighted to learn of the resurgence of the Silver Y, here in Flanders.

The Silver Y is actually a moth, not a butterfly, but it is a wee bit unique in that it comes out during the day, unlike its moth cousins that prefer the nightime.

Its not actually a species indigenous to the UK, but we can find it at home all year round. Its not the most beautiful of critters, but it is an important part of our ecosystem, and even if you are not much into environmental issues, please trust me on this one: its growing numbers are good news indeed. It loves the sunlight, and the warm summer is contributing to this.

As Shaw Taylor (if you are old enough or British enough to remember him) used to say - "Keep em peeled..." and I bet you will spot one in your garden over the coming weeks.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Some moments from last Thursday.....

Many thanks to Randall Calvin, who took the time and trouble to document these last months, and to record Glynne's words for us.

Friday, 2 August 2013


Yesterday was the funeral of our dear friend Glynne Davies.

In my life I never before experienced such a thing as a 'happy' funeral, but yesterday was the exception.

When a loved one leaves us, we are apt to say such things as "I never knew how much I loved him", or "I never realised how much we would miss him..." With Glynne it was different, because we all knew how much we loved him, and how much we valued him, his humour, his advice, and his classical mind.

 We also knew, as it became apparent that the end was drawing closer - he was 99 years of age - how much poorer our lives would be without him. We were all aware that he would be irreplaceable in our lives.

When we entered the chapel we saw Glynne, with a lovely framed photograph taken in the 1940s, and his medals displayed by his coffin. Our eyes were drawn to his Normandy Star - Glynne was a D-Day veteran. Glynne could be melancholic at times, and he often spoke to me about his friends who were left behind on those beaches. It was an honour for me to hear those stories at first-hand.

There were around 30 family and friends  - aged 16 to 80+ - and I counted 7 different nationalities there present. The service, Anglican, was informal and very appropriate. There was much music, Welsh of course, and poetry. There was also a certain amount of discussion about Welsh rugby, which always aroused Glynne's passions!

Jean-Claude Hamel, a French Army officer from Normandy who is a former student of Glynne's, gave a poetry recital that was so right for the occasion. I was delighted to sit opposite him at tea, and to hear about his own experiences. It was a great privilege.

We also met members of Glynne's family who had travelled from the UK. It was nice to meet people we had only ever heard about before.

Glynne's good friend Norman Henry, an ex Royal Navy man from Belfast, who works in the European Parliament and who cared for Glynne so well, gave a brief but emotional speech. I myself was proud to be able to say a few words, but it was Glynne's love of literature that shone through. My daughter Odette read the final passage of Llewelyn's 'How Green Was My Valley', and Pat Robbins, who along with her sister Anne, cared for Glynne so tenderly in his final years, read a poem that she had found written by Glynne in his own notebook.

Glynne adored poetry. Somebody remarked yesterday that you only had to speak the first two words of any poem written in the English language, and he would be able to recite the whole thing from memory.

Glynne's ashes were scattered in the same place as those of his beloved wife. We will not really miss him, because he will always live in our hearts and our minds.
And we, his friends, will remember him and love him forever.