Wednesday, 26 November 2014

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

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?

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?

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

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

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

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.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

People Fought and Died for the Right Not to Vote Too

I have never understood the case for compulsory voting. Except to say, that is, from those with a personal stake in the system who are entitled to feel threatened when that system is undermined, as inevitably it is when a significant number of people fail to take it sufficiently seriously.

People are becoming seriously disengaged from our political system, these people tell us. Turnouts at elections begin in the region of 60% or so when we are deciding who will be running our country for the next five years, and drop to 20% or less at local council by-elections and polls to determine the identity of the next police commissioner. How to tackle that disengagement? Simple - we just threaten people by telling them if they do not vote they will be fined or locked away. Suddenly 100% of the adult population is actively interested again. The disengagement problem is solved.

But no argument for compulsory voting would surely ever be complete without the old chestnut about people "fighting and dying for the right to vote" being dragged up?

Well I'm sorry, but freedom-loving people did not fight for the right to vote. They fought for the right to choose. And every bit as much as the right to choose from amongst the names of sundry talking heads on a ballot paper that must imply too the right to say NO if none of the options is what the voter really wants. That is the essence of democracy. The right to disagree.

An electoral contest which inspires 25% of voters to take an interest is relevant to just that many people - one in four. As somebody who always votes and who has actually participated in numerous elections as a candidate I wish it were not so. But absolutely nobody will be converted to system politics down the barrel of a gun. I'm afraid if you want them to be excited, you need to do something to excite them.

As much as I would hate to win an election with the support of one in ten people of voting age, I have far less desire to win one on the toss of a coin.

But of course, there will always be an option for voters to cast their votes for "none of the above", we are reassured. But only if "none of the above" is a meaningful option - that is if in the event of "none of the above" getting more votes that any of the named candidates none of them is elected - is the inclusion of this not a deliberate act of fraud against the voter who might be inclined to give of his or her time to express a view only for it not be listened to.

What it boils down to is that for many within the system compulsory voting has represented an attractive opportunity to force ordinary people to acquiesce. They may be allowed freedom of choice from amongst a finite range of permitted options, but by obligating them to vote for one of those options they are obligating the voter to recognise the validity of a system which he or she may not wish to recognise.


Which brings us neatly onto Russell Brand, the outspoken comedian, actor and radio host who has recently invoked a stir by declaring himself of the view that the current crop of establishment wannabes who infest our system are not worthy of our votes and that for as long as they are in the ascendancy we should boycott the system and seek revolutionary change.

Brand seems to have quite successfully polarised opinion amongst those who want to see some form of change. Interestingly in my experience it has been the "plastic radicals" - those who squeak loudly about the inequities of the ConDem government but who already have committed to the colours of the establishment-provided "opposition" party - who seem the most put out by Brand's stance. The notion that a little change is better than no change at all runs as a common theme throughout all the criticism that he has received, not least from John Lydon (formerly Johnny Rotten) who referred to him as "bum face".

But Brand points out that he is not anti-voting per se. He says he'll vote when there's a party which will take on the "financial economic elites and corporate entities", although he notes such a party would be difficult to create because of "global trade agreements which prevent that kind of thing happening at a national level".

"It’s a complicated issue," he adds, "and I can see why John Lydon might have trouble to get that in a tiny little interview space particularly when he’s got to promote a show about bugs."

For me Russell Brand is bang on the money. He may for all I know be a self-publicist, or an attention seeker, or a man with half an eye on the main chance to promote his book. But nobody else of note is saying these things at all, and until they do he deserves our undivided.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

The British Left is Janus-Faced on Remembering our War Dead

Having finished a stint of poppy selling at a local(ish) supermarket today I felt moved to approach a stall that had been set up by three young* lads (*it needs to be said that most people are young to me these days) in support of the Socialist Party. This of course is the socialist party which was once the Militant Tendency within the Labour Party, but is now a separate entity very much outside of same.

The trio were collecting a petition for a £10 minimum wage in London, as well as selling their newspaper "The Socialist".

Feeling cheerful after a fairly successful sale I signed the petition, bought a paper and made a small donation to the cause. One of the lads thanked me and engaged me in conversation, first about the petition he was collecting but then about the poppies he had watched me selling. Generally it was small talk, but he asked me how well I'd done and wished me luck. In a separate short conversation one of the others expressed his solidarity with those who had given their lives in the fight against fascism during the Second World War.

It struck me that probably not much more than half an hour earlier I had been finger-pointed and shouted at by another young chap of a roughly similar age who had seemed to assume from the fact that I was selling poppies that I was pro-war and ipso facto supportive of the military interventions instigated by recent Labour and ConDem governments. Something was said as he walked away to the effect that I was a murderer and a fascist.

The shouter had no connection to the Socialist Party activity but it occurred to me that he would probably have considered himself to occupy a roughly similar place on the political spectrum. And yet their respective views on the whole concept of remembrance could not have been more opposite. An interesting dilemma for the British left to try to resolve.

Incidentally, for the benefit of anybody who is interested my position is generally anti-war, although I am not a pacifist as I acknowledge the case for military action in self-defence. Only very tenuously can this card be played in respect of recent offensive actions in the various Middle Eastern theatres of war in which we've been engaged. My policy is to mourn the victims, respect the service personnel who risk and sometimes give their lives under orders and detest the financiers and politicians who send them to their deaths under sundry nefarious pretexts. Clearly not everybody shares my view.