Saturday, 26 February 2011

Despite All, Our Community Is Stronger Than Ever

Despite having returned to rainy England some fourteen days ago, this is my first new post on this blog.

There have been two reasons for this.  The first was the simple imperative to prioritise the need to make a living.  Work that earns me money and enables the family to keep afloat must at most times take priority over what is in effect a labour of love.

The second is that what has been by far the most significant event since I returned was the hugely successful residents' march to Save Our Libraries and Public Hall which took place last Saturday.

 Christine Diwell of The Isleworth Society and ICG Chair Ian Speed celebrate the opening
of the new leisure centre and library with a symbolic cutting of a green ribbon.
  Despite millions having been spent on the refurbishment of the facility, Hounslow
Council was considering it for closure just a few weeks after its official opening.

In the build-up to the march I have to say that I wanted to post, but didn't have the courage.  Despite past experience teaching me that Isleworth people come out with a vengeance when called out onto the streets in support of a good local cause there was always a nagging fear that something would go wrong.  Inclement weather, a whispering campaign by the local Labour Old Guard spreading the false news that the libraries were safe, combined with some uncertainty as to whether the spirit of the active local community had been broken following last year's election to leave me wondering whether the whole thing would be a washout.  There is only so much humble pie that one can eat without being sick, and cowardice got the better of valour.  So I kept away from the blog.

In the event it seems I had nothing to fear.  The weather was lousy, absolutely rotten, and yet over 300 people (some suggested as many as 500) came out to demonstrate their opposition to the cuts.  Brentford and Isleworth MP Mary Macleod joined our demonstration, as did Isleworth ward councillors Mindu Bains, Ed Mayne and Sue Sampson.  The event received an excellent write-up in the Hounslow Chronicle as well as a mention in the London Evening Standard.  Nobody was left in any doubt whatsoever as to the opposition that will come from Isleworth should any suggestion of closing or curtailing our community facilities in Isleworth be revisited by this council administration or by any other.

ICG leader Ian Speed with Mary Macleod MP and the three Isleworth
ward councillors at the head of the column ______________________________________________________________

As I've said before I sympathise with the local authority in its current predicament.  I know from personal experience that its task of having to find £18 million in savings this year and next year, and £12 million in each of the subsequent two years, will be nigh on impossible without having to make some cuts to frontline services.  Especially in the light of the fact that the previous administration, of which I was a part, took out much of the fat from the bureaucracy which the current administration could have done itself as part of its savings programme had it still been there.

Nonetheless I believe that whatever pain we must take we must never, ever be prepared to attack the core of our community life.  Once libraries, public halls and community buildings close they will be closed forever. 

I also reiterate my belief that Labour administrations tend by nature to be less well disposed towards organised communities than to dependent communities.  All else being equal they would prefer to spend what little resources they have on those whom they believe need them rather than those whose aspirations for our community may diverge a little from their own.

But at least they are listening.  I was massively inspired and reassured by the fact that the councillors came along and spoke to concerned locals, and I believe they quite rightly earned a lot of respect for doing so.  The idea of the previous Labour councillors back in the 1990s and prior to 2002 attending any activity organised by the community, let alone one organised by the ICG itself, would have been simply unthinkable.

Things have changed.  And just possibly we have achieved at least some of our objectives in spite of our reverse last May.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Can You Hear Me Major Tom?

Major Tom, you may recall, was the astronaut who featured in David Bowie's classic Space Oddity.

Whether through accident or choice (it wasn't entirely clear in the song) he became disconnected from Planet Earth and drifted hopelessly away into space, never to be seen or heard again.

I felt a little bit like that earlier this week.  Having arrived in Portugal for my annual working holiday my mobile telephone, which Virgin had promised me had been set to roaming, hadn't been set to roaming.  True, my business 'phone did have roaming enabled, but as I only use it for incoming calls it had no credit.

The booster package that I'd purchased for £40 from T-Mobile to provide me with mobile broadband for 30 days with "normal usage" expired after two days, meaning that either T-Mobile or I have a strange idea of what constitutes normal usage.

It took an age before it occurred to me that I could use the telephone in my apartment to call home.  Psychologically I had for some odd reason convinced myself that it would cost millions of pounds to use, when in actual fact it is only a few pence dearer than using the mobile.

For the most part I have been communicating with my family through Facebook chat.  I have also been placing myself under far too much pressure than is healthy, having assumed that with a week to myself it would have been easy to get so much done, only to realise (for the second year running) that there is only so much one can do even in a week.

As it happens I spent the first few days looking and feeling busy but in actual fact doing very little of real value and then, having subsequently got most of the urgent stuff out of the way, decided to live a little.  As I am writing this I am by the pool, enjoying the last hour or two of sun on my penultimate whole day.  In a little over 48 hours I'll be stepping onto the transfer bus to take me back to Faro.

Contrary to what certain people would have others believe I do not own a "holiday home".  Indeed unlike most of those who like to peddle these stories I don't own any home at all.  What I have is a timeshare, for which I pay over £600 each year to enjoy a holiday that, due to the financial climate, non-owners can purchase for not much more than £100.

But as the saying goes, I'm not bitter.  I really do love it here at the Clube Praia da Oura, doing my thing during the day and wandering off to Amanda's Bar in the evening.  I feel terribly selfish with my family being at home (our timeshare week is not compatible with the school holiday timetable) but I'm hoping that in a few years, when the kids are grown, Caroline and I will be able to enjoy it. 

As for myself, whilst I enjoy my holidays very much and look forward to them with an impatience that is difficult to contain I do like the familiarity of returning to a place I know and seeing people I recognise, even I do not know them much at all.  It is quite difficult for me to describe the inner emotions I experience when I return to certain places that I have been away from for a while.

My next challenge upon returning is to make sure I have enough in the kitty to return with my family in December, when we are "owed" a week.  Boa noite.