Friday, 12 December 2014

Is Zero Hour Approaching for the Royal Mail?

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As an employee of the Royal Mail I would assume that I am under some kind of contractual obligation not to discuss the workings of the company, and I’m cool with that.

Not that I am privy in any way to its inner dealings or the strategies being followed by those whose job it is to set the direction of the business, of course. Indeed many of my colleagues would probably argue that they are usually the last to know anything that is going on, but upon that I couldn’t possibly comment. I am, presumably, entitled to express a view on those things that are in the public domain, and to have an opinion on where the mail service in the UK is likely to be headed over the next few years or so.


The Royal Mail, uniquely, is committed by the terms of its charter to honour what is known as a USO, or Universal Service Obligation. This compels it to undertake deliveries to every address in the United Kingdom six days a week, no matter how remote or difficult to access they may be. In doing this it must operate a common charge to all customers, whether a letter is being sent to one’s next door neighbour or to a hermit living on the top of a Scottish mountain or in a tent in the middle of Dartmoor. That is the deal, from which the service is not permitted to deviate.

It would seem the political establishment has decided, in its wisdom, to introduce the principle of competition into the world of mail delivery. On the surface of it this may not seem unreasonable; competition can be a healthy thing which challenges the complacency that comes with monopoly and offers the customer a choice. Competition can bring out the best in the provider of a service and ensure that it ups its game.

The problem with what is being offered in this particular instance is that that competition will not be operating on a level playing field. Unlike the Royal Mail, potential rivals such as TNT/Whistl are under no obligation to deliver to less profitable destinations, but rather will be able to pick and choose where they deliver, and when, and at what cost to each particular area. Whilst the Royal Mail must use at least some of the profit it generates from the service it provides in the more populated regions to subsidise the losses it will inevitably make in more remote parts of the country, competitors will have the freedom to operate in the more lucrative areas whilst leaving the rest to the Royal Mail. The outcome must inevitably be that the Royal Mail will lose income in the towns and the cities, making it more difficult to provide the necessary subsidies to rural destinations.


This case has been put, thus far unsuccessfully, by Royal Mail’s management to the government. In rejecting the case, the government is insisting that there remains scope for the Royal Mail to introduce more efficiencies into the service it currently provides.

There is always, of course, room for improvement in any organisation. I am sure there are ways yet to be discovered in which the current service can be redesigned and realigned to provide more bang for its buck. But to achieve the massive changes that will be needed to allow it to compete on anything approaching level terms with the newcomers who are being given every encouragement to enter the field the service will need to be completely transformed on an absolutely fundamental level. Thus far all concerned parties have steered very well clear of any mention at all of this particular elephant in the living room.

The Royal Mail is an industry which has developed organically over a period of almost 500 years, having first appeared in an admittedly primitive form under Henry VIII. Today it employs over 150,000 staff, is unionised and pays its workers a reasonable wage as well as offering holiday and sick pay. Inevitably there are grumbles from the shop floor from time to time about the treatment of employees - some justified, others less so - but anybody who has worked in the “hire 'em, fire 'em” environment much favoured by successive recent governments, as I have, will know just how reassuring it feels to enjoy some kind of protection in the workplace. Under the present conditions it is very likely that competitors will be minimum wage employers, possibly operating zero-hours contracts, and under terms which sidestep the requirement to provide even the most basic of employment protections and benefits. When the Royal Mail is being told it has room for further “efficiencies” which will enable it to compete with all comers, it doesn’t take a genius to work out where the powers that be are looking to take us.


My guess is that once competition opens up, possibly as early as next year, the Royal Mail will be forced into a position where it will need to try to compete on similar terms. The unions will not - cannot - accept the redeployment of their current members on vastly inferior terms so it is perhaps inevitable that a large-scale diminution of its current workforce will follow, initially and hopefully solely through the use of voluntary redundancy payments, accompanied coterminously by the redesignation of those who remain, and the simultaneous employment of new staff (possibly sub-contracted) with different job descriptions, different uniforms but essentially a replacement for the traditional postie.

For those who think I am being sensationalist, I have seen this happen before - indeed I have been part of the project. As a Duty Manager at Skycaps at London Heathrow Airport I was paid considerably less than the shop-floor former porters whose jobs the company had replaced, and who had been reassigned to other duties. It happens.

Just how much dedication and loyalty these dispensable, ten-a-penny, untrained (some untrainable), high turnover, completely unmotivated employees will have for the company I will leave to the imagination of the reader. But old King Henry must be turning in his grave.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

A Class War is Raging in Britain, But Only One Side is Taking Punches

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By John Wight

Go into any supermarket in the run up to Christmas and you will likely see a shopping trolley by the door designated for donations to your local foodbank. For many of us the idea of walking past it without donating jars, forcing us to wrestle with a conscience that is particularly sensitive to poverty and need at a time of year when excess and greed is encouraged in advertising campaigns which leave no stone unturned when it comes to manipulation and mawkish sentimentalism.

Foodbanks are an abomination, an insult to the very word progress and nothing if not a symptom of a society that is headed over a cliff. They constitute proof that Tory Britain in the winter of 2014 is the last bastion of cruelty and inhumanity, where to be poor is regarded as a badge of personal and moral collapse rather than an inevitable by-product of an economic system which breeds poverty and its attendant social maladies - crime, alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, mental illness, etc. Those unfortunate enough to fall through the increasingly widening cracks in this race to the bottom are not regarded as victims of blind economic forces, but authors of their own despair and as such undeserving of anything excepting punishment.


The free market isn't free. Its cost is measured in human despair and truncated lives. That we have a situation in one of the richest economies in the world where people, including children, do not have enough to eat, is nothing short of a crime. And only those who have had their humanity surgically removed would seek to justify this crime on the basis of cutting a deficit that has risen rather than fallen under the present government.

Not only our basic humanity but also economic stability and efficiency dictates that the overriding purpose of any economy must be to serve the needs of society. Yet we currently operate on the basis that society must serve the needs of the economy. This by definition means an economy set up to serve the needs of the rich and connected, its success bound up with ever larger and more obscene executive salaries, bonuses, shareholder dividends, and rising property and asset prices.

An economic crash caused by the inherent weaknesses of the current economic system should have resulted in it and the philosophical and ideological foundations upon which it rests being completely discredited and discarded as unfit for purpose. Instead, and by dint of a propaganda campaign unleashed by the right, society's guns have been turned on the poor - the low waged, the unemployed, benefit claimants, and migrants. Walk into any Jobcentre and you could be forgiven for thinking that you'd made a mistake and instead walked into a courtroom, where people are routinely punished by those hiding being the the mantra of just doing their job.

Being sanctioned for such grievous infractions as turning up for an interview 5 minutes late is as easy as pressing a button on a keyboard for the one doing the sanctioning, but for the human being sitting on the other side of that desk it triggers a downward spiral of mounting despair, not to mention degradation and humiliation.


The Trussell Trust, the largest provider of food banks across the country, has identified the spike in demand for their services as directly linked to an ever-tougher and brutal benefits regime, as has an All Parliamentary Inquiry Into Hunger across the UK. It leaves little doubt that what the victims of this benefits regime are living through is akin to a mass experiment in human despair.

This is bad enough, but with more and more incidents of suicide directly related to that despair, we have surely reached the point where enough is enough.

The economic logic behind austerity remains as flawed now as when first embarked on. Rather than understand the deficit as a consequence of a global recession decimating demand in the economy, with a sharp fall in tax revenues due to a sharp rise in unemployment, the government is intent on deepening the same cycle by introducing drastic cuts in spending in the forlorn hope that the private sector will invest and create new jobs to replace those lost. The jobs that have been created, trumpeted by the Coalition as proof that austerity is working, are largely low waged, part time, and/or temporary. A crap job is a crap job, no matter how you try and dress it up, with the fact that the majority of people claiming benefits in work a damning indictment of the yawning chasm between the haves and have nots in 2014.


As we approach Christmas we live in a country where 4 million people are at risk of going hungry, half a million children live in families that cannot afford to feed them, and 3.5 million adults can't afford to eat properly. We have been dragged back to the 1930s by a government whose conception of progress is to eradicate the poor rather than poverty and the hungry rather than hunger. If this is not a call to arms then what is?

The Tory response to this mounting despair came recently in the form of a Marie Antoinette-like declaration from Baroness Jenkin that, "Poor people don't know how to cook".

Yes, there is a class war raging in Britain all right. The only problem is that up to now only one side has been taking punches.

Reproduced with acknowledgements to the Huffington Post.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

What if the Machine Stops?

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I first became familiar with the Internet back in 1996, thanks to a forward-looking ICG supporter who took the trouble to treat me to an hour-long demonstration of its potential, and Caroline and I purchased our first fit-for-purpose computer (all 1.5 Gb of it) a year later.

Realising the inevitability of it becoming the primary means of mass communication within a matter of years, I was reminded at the time of a short story that I read at school called The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster, written as a nod to H.G. Wells, in which the whole of mankind became dependent upon a solitary machine into which everybody connected and through which all social interaction took place.

Recently I found myself revisiting the book through Wikipedia, which gives the following account of its plot, which I quote at length: "The story describes a world in which most of the human population has lost the ability to live on the surface of the Earth. Each individual now lives in isolation below ground in a standard 'cell', with all bodily and spiritual needs met by the omnipotent, global Machine. Travel is permitted but unpopular and rarely necessary. Communication is made via a kind of instant messaging/video conferencing machine called the speaking apparatus, with which people conduct their only activity, the sharing of ideas and what passes for knowledge. The two main characters, Vashti and her son Kuno, live on opposite sides of the world. Vashti is content with her life, which, like most inhabitants of the world, she spends producing and endlessly discussing secondhand 'ideas'.

"Kuno, however, is a sensualist and a rebel. He persuades a reluctant Vashti to endure the journey (and the resultant unwelcome personal interaction) to his cell. There, he tells her of his disenchantment with the sanitised, mechanical world. He confides to her that he has visited the surface of the Earth without permission and that he saw other humans living outside the world of the Machine. However, the Machine recaptured him, and he has been threatened with 'Homelessness', that is, expulsion from the underground environment and presumed death. Vashti, however, dismisses her son's concerns as dangerous madness and returns to her part of the world.

"As time passes, and Vashti continues the routine of her daily life, there are two important developments. First, the life support apparatus required to visit the outer world is abolished. Most welcome this development, as they are skeptical and fearful of first-hand experience and of those who desire it. Secondly, a kind of religion is re-established, in which the Machine is the object of worship. People forget that humans created the Machine, and treat it as a mystical entity whose needs supersede their own. Those who do not accept the deity of the Machine are viewed as 'unmechanical' and threatened with Homelessness. The Mending Apparatus – the system charged with repairing defects that appear in the Machine proper – has also failed by this time, but concerns about this are dismissed in the context of the supposed omnipotence of the Machine itself.

"During this time, Kuno is transferred to a cell near Vashti's. He comes to believe that the Machine is breaking down, and tells her cryptically, "The Machine stops." Vashti continues with her life, but eventually defects begin to appear in the Machine. At first, humans accept the deteriorations as the whim of the Machine, to which they are now wholly subservient. But the situation continues to deteriorate, as the knowledge of how to repair the Machine has been lost. Finally the Machine apocalyptically collapses, bringing 'civilisation' down with it. Kuno comes to Vashti's ruined cell, however, and before they perish they realise that Man and his connection to the natural world are what truly matter, and that it will fall to the surface-dwellers who still exist to rebuild the human race and to prevent the mistake of the Machine from being repeated."

Considering Forster wrote the story in 1909 it would appear to have been remarkably prophetic. We are not required to live under the ground (yet!), but apart from that the similarities with modern life and our dependence upon the World Wide Web are really quite staggering.

Just how would we cope if one day we were all to log into the Internet and nothing happened?

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Ballymore's "Anytown" Design for Brentford Waved Through by LBH's Planning Committee

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Despite the meeting having inexplicably drifted on for several hours when Ballymore's bland design for Brentford High Street was discussed, the application was waved through as expected by majority party councillors on the London Borough of Hounslow's Planning Committee acting dutifully upon officers' recommendations. Few if any meaningful concessions were made to the Community Vision which had been painstakingly drawn up by residents and councillors. Typically the assumption was that the officers and planners understood the complexities of the planning process, whilst members of the Brentford community didn't.

Of them, only Councillor Mel Collins (Brentford) had the courage to break ranks, expressing the view that more could be done towards making the application acceptable to local people and proposing deferral pending more work on the design. Sadly he received no backers and was destined to remain the lone abstention amongst the majority party (Labour) councillors.


Some 200 local people in the public gallery made their disappointment known, with comments such as "Shame on you!" being directed at the unrepentant Committee members.

Although this outcome is a setback for the people of Brentford, there is still much to play for. Only approximately 40% of the design was approved outright with the remainder being outline approval, with full approval still to be given. With a concerted effort residents and traders still have a chance to limit the damage.

It is worth noting that very recently a former Hounslow Conservative councillor who had been a party to approving the infamous 2009 Mogden planning application by Thames Water, which resulted in a predictable (to us) increase in odour rather than the claimed reduction, made an unsolicited intervention on a local community Internet forum to scoff about the fact that he and his family had now moved away from the area and therefore no longer had to live with the consequences of his decision. One wonders whether the Labour councillors who so nonchalantly imposed this appalling eyesore on the people of Brentford will in a few years be similarly in a position to taunt their victims from a faraway country retreat.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Ballymore's Bland Proposal: a Letter from Andrew Dakers - Chair, Brentford High Street Steering Group

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Dear friend,

As you will know, since 2006 I have chaired Brentford High Street Steering Group, the town centre regeneration charity.

Tomorrow night is without a doubt a milestone in our town's history. Fifteen years after the last plans were presented, Ballymore's proposals go to planning committee (7.30, Civic Centre, Hounslow). On one level I am glad to see a scheme with many of the elements needed to move forward. However, I am bitterly disappointed that so many of the ideas put forward by the community for less density and more beautiful buildings (respectful of the town's historic waterside location) have been ignored.

Brentford is a suburban market town, not Oxford Street!

You can watch a video produced by Cat Berry and Tom Keane here: (It's had over 1000 views in just 5 days!)

My personal view, and the steering group's, is that more work should be done on:

* the 'Design Code' and the aesthetics of the detailed scheme over the next six months;

* clear plans should be set out for how and when Watermans will move into the town centre; and

* independent traders should be supported through the transition.

Ballymore and the Council have time that can be used constructively to make these improvements: it will take at least a year to complete Compulsory Purchase Orders on some parts of the site, and raise the funds to move the scheme forward.

Local residents' concerns are well expressed on: Facebook: Twitter:

Whether or not you can make the meeting please email the members of Planning Committee in the last few hours to remind them of the importance of getting these details right. You can get their fifteen (!) email addresses from

If you can make it tomorrow night - we need all the support possible to make sure that the regeneration keeps moving forward, but with the attention to detail that our wonderful town deserves.

With best wishes,


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Delivering for the People

Somebody with a sense of humour sent me the above message - a job advert issued by the London Borough of Hounslow. It seems LBH are looking for two Community Engagement Officers, and are offering a salary starting at £31,296.

I wouldn't be so arrogant as to assume that I could walk into a job such as this under any circumstances. All the same I might not be considered unreasonable for thinking that with decades of commitment to community building behind me - including having been a founding and organising member of a large community group, a community councillor, LBH's Lead Member for Community Safety and initiator of multi-million pound community projects - I might under other conditions have been in with a shout. And it would certainly represent a substantial pay rise from the work I am currently doing.

Will I be applying? Will I heck. Because with the track record of Hounslow's ruling party when it comes to working in partnership with the community I can be confident that Hounslow's concept of community engagement and mine are no more similar than a stick of chalk and a mighty slab of Camembert.

Be in no doubt that these posts will be political appointments. Any engagement will be limited in its scope and strictly on the local authority's terms. You read it here first. As for me, if my destiny is to deliver for the people then my vehicle for doing so for the forseeable future is likely to be this one:

Can We Love the '70s and Still Outgrow its Attitudes?

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It broke my heart when certain now universally-known facts first emerged about the 1970s glam superstar Gary Glitter. To those of us of a certain age Glitter personified everything that was fun and sparkly about that unique period in our recent cultural history.

He was no musical giant, of course. But his songs were audacious and bursting with braggadocio. He gave us a laugh, and made young men like me feel mightily good about ourselves.

Needless to say it was less of a laugh for the victims of his sexual abuse. Less too for those of the astoundingly prolific pervert Jimmy Savile. And in the wake of the shocking revelations about the literally hundreds of inappropriate liaisons that Jim managed to fix came news of so many others in the world of seventies music and popular culture who, albeit on a thankfully smaller scale, also seemed to have groped and molested their way through the decade with impunity.


It seems a tad selfish then to remark that the discoveries of the erstwhile antics of Glitter, Savile et al were like daggers to the hearts of '70s-worshippers such as myself. For all the soul searching it has caused the likes of me, and for all the worry and heartache that accompanies the thought that we may for so long have been living a lie, the experience cannot begin to compare with that of those who suffered directly at their hands.

By comparison with what was going on in music the world of seventies comedy would appear to have been relatively untouched by the hand of scandal. However recent documentaries and television features have served to remind us that the sitcom and stand-up that passed for innocent entertainment in those days had an intrinsic shock value all of its own.

Jokes of a racial and homophobic nature were for a very long time at the root of much if not most of our comedy. Along with, of course, laughing at people with disabilities and generally adhering to negative stereotypes of all kinds of people. It is only fairly recently that this long prevalent culture has been successfully challenged.


Furthermore it wasn't only those sitcoms which had racial adversity at their core, such as Love They Neighbour and Till Death Do Us Part, that were guilty. Even one famous episode of Fawlty Towers, written by the impeccably liberal John Cleese, contained the words "w*g" and "n****r" - terms the use of which would rightly be unthinkable today.

Stand-up was probably more tainted still. Stupid Irishmen, tight-fisted Jews (or Scots), smelly Asians and criminal West Indians were the foundation stones of a goodly proportion of what was more or less universally accepted as good comedy in those days. And if we're being honest, how many of us could truly say we did not find Manning funny?

Thankfully our perceptions have changed. Much of what I used to laugh at now makes me squirm with embarrassment. I hate Political Correctness, but subconsciously have probably taken on board 90% of its fundamental premises.


So how can it be then that so many of us still so love the 1970s? What, precisely, is to celebrate about a decade of sexual abuse, racial stereotyping, industrial unrest, Cold Wars, impractical attire and vomit-inducing bubble gum?

The answer is, I think, that all our shortcomings were trumped with love. There was a magnetism, and an overriding self-deprecating humour, which if it did not make all the ignorance and the prejudice okay at least relegated it to something less serious, less integral to what made that society tick than might suggest itself to somebody looking back at the 1970s today. We fought on the football terraces wearing loon pants and butterfly collars, for goodness' sake. We said and did some very dumb things but nothing was meant too literally.

If you think that sounds like an excuse then probably you have a point. But nothing will take away from me the affection I had for that glorious, golden decade, from which my soul has held onto everything that was pure and conveniently rejected everything that was hateful. There's no going back to Love Thy Neighbour or Gary Glitter, but I still had my gang and it was mine.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Reunion (Part Two)


The long, and impatiently, awaited reunion of us former pupils of Worple Road Primary School took place on Saturday night at the Victoria Tavern in (appropriately) Worple Road.

In fact it was more than a reunion of Worple Road old boys and girls, as several notable locals and good friends who had had the misfortune not to have been among Worple's golden generation but instead attended the Blue School, Isleworth Town, St. Mary's or Chatsworth also joined the party, and a truly fantastic time was had by all.

I approached the venue with a certain sense of trepidation, fearing that I would immediately be descended upon by some long-lost friend whose name I could not remember and whose face I could not recall, but who would regale me with recollections of old adventures upon which I would be expected to add pointed reflections. How would I handle such a situation? Would I blag it, politician-style? Or would I come clean and deflate my old buddy by asking who he (or she) was?

Fortunately en route to the Vic I happened upon my friend and one-time classmate Sharon Rowles, who joined me on walking into the Vic so that we could at least be embarrassed together. Once we were in there though I knew I need not have worried. It felt instantly as though I had undergone some imperfect time transhipment to a grey, slaphead and wrinkles version of a school Assembly, although in place of Fanny Kingsnorth and her piano was another friend and one-time classmate Jerry Shillingford and his turntable, thankfully with tuneful '70s chart ditties issuing forth in place of Onward Christian Soldiers.

What had seemed a surprisingly modest gathering to begin with quickly filled out and before very long both bars were bustling and the diligent and hard-working staff at times had to go some to cope with the demand, whilst all the time remaining mindful of the expectations of the small group of pub locals who were also there.

Probably a majority of those who attended were from "higher" years than myself, although there was a good range of ex-pupils involved, probably aged from about 45 to a little over 60. It was a veritable convention of the Isleworth kids who refuse to grow old.
I could make a fairly audacious attempt at a roll call of all those who came along but I would inevitably forget a few and that would come across as disrespectful, and that would be the very last thing I would want. The whole evening exuded real magic and I am deeply indebted to those whose initiative the whole thing was - in particular to Rob Campin, Katrina Mortimer and Penny Waldheim Graham - as well as to all those who simply turned up and shared the experience.

Jerry's music was thoughtfully tailored to the occasion too. Seventies disco (natch), some glam, late '60s tunes which even I, and certainly some of the older ones, would associate with their time at Worple Road School. The sounds helped everyone to feel the occasion in every possible way. With the school just along the road, albeit now knocked down and rebuilt at an adjacent site, at times I could almost smell the old school hall.

Some of those with whom I enjoyed a drink and deep and meaningful conversation were people who have never ventured far from home and whom I see on a fairly regular basis anyway. Others came up from the south coast, down from the north and across from some very exotic locations around the UK and beyond. For me having taken a ten-minute stroll from my Isleworth abode I felt strangely unworthy, although in another sense proud to have remained a custodian of the old town and of that which after all had brought us all together on this wonderful evening.

At the end of it all, needless to say, remained the dilemma of where it all goes from here. I think it was decided that we would do it again next year, and I can't see the numbers dwindling if the spirit that pervaded the Victoria Tavern on Saturday 22nd November 2014 was anything to go by. Those who for whatever reason were unable to make it along will, I am sure, welcome the opportunity to be a part of it next time around.

There is possibly no better way to conclude this story than with a short film which was actually recorded in 1965, before I began at Worple Road, but of the existence of which I had been unaware until very recently. By a pleasant coincidence the star of the film is one Sue Bowles, a good friend who was there on Saturday and with whom I was really pleased to have the opportunity to touch base.

This was Worple Road Primary School.  Enjoy.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Great Fixed Link Debate - Where Do You Stand?

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The Isle of Wight is currently engaged in one of its most potentially explosive debates for many years over the prospect of a Fixed Link connecting it to the mainland.

The trigger seems to have been the launch by two residents of an online petition, to be followed shortly by a formal survey, calling for a bridge across the Solent or a tunnel. Carl Feeney and Kevin Price are hoping the momentum created by the petition will lead to a referendum on the issue to replace "old fashioned ferries", and claim that £6 million of government funding would be available to support the initiative. The pair also claim to have the support of local MP Andrew Turner for a referendum, although this would appear to be disputed.

Opinion seemed to be divided when Isle of Wight Review sought out the views of local people. Maria Scovell said: "No, we shouldn't have a Fixed Link...makes it easier for thieves etc to come over here and get away".

Karen Webster countered: "The Link would open up so many opportunities for people and would improve the amount of people visiting the Island. I know I would be over visiting family and friends more if there was a Link, I can't afford to at the moment with Wightlink's and Hovertravel's prices".

Bev Allen told us: "If the ferry services weren't so greedy by exploiting the public by changing the costs to suit the seasons and gave a fairer priced service this debate wouldn't be needed, their greed will be their downfall".

Rosemary Grimaldi is completely opposed to the prospect of a Fixed Link. "No way, we have enough traffic now," she insisted. "The Island would lose its charm, it must not be joined to the mainland. If people don't like the boat journey they should live on the mainland".


Former resident Ann Hulme seemed to see both sides of the argument, telling us "I had to leave the Island to get my first proper job, not much choice even years ago. I feel the ferries were much better then but were expensive, nothing changed there! Plus everyone has friends and relatives on the North Island, it's hard to visit each other because of time and expense. I never wanted a bridge, I feel it would destroy the uniqueness of the island and make it too easy for the wrong kind of visitors, but maybe I am wrong? These same difficulties prevent me from returning again, it's a hard choice".

Rebecca Keenan is all in favour. She remarked: "Definitely need a bridge.. future generations are screwed. Worst schools in the South, no prospects, poor economy - something needs to be done!", sentiments which were echoed by Steven Staff: "I think the Island would benefit from a Fixed Link. I imagine it would be like the Wales bridge with a toll and security which would be great. The Welsh bridge is £6.20...I'd be on and off the Island constantly then. I think this would be a great decision for the Island to make and would boost a lot of things. It would also put Wightlink and Red Funnel out of business again due to their greed. Yes to a Fixed Link".

Louise was another who felt the prices charged by the ferries was prohibitive: "Cost me £98 to get to my dad in hospital - it was an emergency. We were told they would get us on come what may, there were eleven cars and a handful of trucks, exploitation I'd say. It's cheaper to get a day return from the mainland".

Kerry Constable is concerned about the security risks. "It would be a lot easier for the prisoners to escape," she told us.

Rival petitions for and against the suggestion each run into thousands of signatures. One of the most frequently recurring grumbles is clearly the cost of the Island's ferry and hovercraft services. The Solent is said to be mile for mile the most expensive water crossing in the world. Some opponents of the idea are nevertheless hopeful that the re-emergence of the debate will force some kind of positive action over fares.

The debate looks set to run and run. What are your views?

Reproduced with acknowledgements to Isle of Wight Review.

Brentford High Street Steering Group Raises Awareness for Meeting

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The community-led Brentford High Street Steering Group has produced a leaflet reminding locals that the big meeting of the Planning Committee to decide the fate of the disappointing Ballymore application will take place at Hounslow Civic Centre this Thursday.

After years of discussion and input from the community it would appear the developer has determined to press ahead with an application which has been described by locals as "too high, too dense and too ugly". The plans include eighteen bland 6-11 storey blocks and 929 residential units crammed onto the land south of the Brentford High Street. The proposed development is clearly out of sync with the existing character of the local area and contains no clear plan for community facilities or small businesses.

Unfortunately there is a widespread belief amongst the community that Hounslow Council is determined to rush this through without the requirement for any meaningful concessions to local people.

BHSSG Chair Andrew Dakers commented: "For, against or wanting modifications to Ballymore's proposals for Brentford town centre, this is a community that cares. But does everyone know that the critical decision is about to be made?"

"If you want to help make sure that local residents - your neighbours - know that the key planning decision will be made next Thursday 27 November, 7.30pm at Hounslow Civic Centre".

The leaflet can be downloaded in PDF format by clicking this link. The meeting takes place this Thursday, 27th November 2014 at Hounslow Civic Centre from 7.30 pm.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Battle of the DJs - Fantastic Isleworth Event Raises £1500 for Macmillan and Princess Alice

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Battle of the DJs at Isleworth Working Men's Club (left to right) John, Steve Platt, Percy Fullicks, Benn Butcher and Kevin Green (acknowledgements to the Hounslow Chronicle)
Several local disc jockeys staged a mock "Battle of the DJs" at a packed event at Isleworth Working Men's Club last Friday to raise an incredible £1500 for Macmillan Cancer Support and the Princess Alice Hospice.

Many local commentators have reflected upon the way in which the local community came together to support this well-organised marathon of music. Community activist Paul Fisher commented on Facebook: "This is what makes Isleworth the best place to be".

The event was part-organised by local girl Jo Manwaring, whose partner Kevin Green was one of the DJs on the night. Jo has previously featured on this blog as the organiser of successful annual local coffee mornings, also in support of Macmillan.

One of those in attendance last Friday was popular Isleworth councillor Lynn Green, who donated £50 in cash as a raffle prize.

Following the enormous success of this community event talk is now rife of turning it into an annual bash. I say go for it.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Escape to the 70s Reviewed

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I promised author Rennie Hand a couple of weeks back, after he had posted comments on a '70s nostalgia Facebook site, that I would write a short review of his website Escape to the 70s. It's a pleasure to do so.

I first came to the site via an article about the Glam Rock band Mud. Experiencing as I am a period of melancholy yearning for the simplicities of my early adolescence, it first provided me with a sense of reassurance that I am not alone in remaining connected with the powerful spirit of a bygone age. Memories so powerful that neither adulthood nor life experience nor technology have ever been able to eradicate them.

What I had expected to be a page or so of cheesy hankerings for a lost youth was actually a veritable museum of glam culture, not just music but everything from toys and fashion to films, sweets and games. Everything, in fact, which combined during the 1970s to make the decade special and unique - a stand-alone moment in time which has never been surpassed in its honest innocence nor seriously rivalled for its imagination or for its cultural derring do.

Escape to the 70s is not a technically sophisticated website. No flashing lights or bells. It is honest and basic to the point that if a website could have a 1970s look, it would look something like this. But I challenge any '70s enthusiast to spend ten minutes at this site and not ask him or herself, as I did, "Why didn't I think of doing this?".

There are dedicated pages to Opal Fruits, Raleigh Choppers, Bolton Wanderers and the Austin Maxi 1750. There are libraries of hit singles and popular films, and a scrapbook of random photos and record middles, each of which tells a familiar story without any need for words. There are some retro experiences (not enough in my view), and an appeal for interactive participation which deserves a wider response.

Suddenly the 1970s is news again. It is as though all us forty-somethings and fifty-somethings, who have been forced to sit and be grey through an era of music and culture that we can see to be second-rate and trashy, have suddenly decided that enough is enough and have resolved to move the world a little, back to where it should rightfully be. Pay this website a visit and fill yourself with righteous anger that the seventies ever left us.