Sunday, October 30, 2016

450 Focuses delivered in Whickham

Whickham South delivery Oct 16

I was in Whickham this morning to deliver 450 Focuses in my ward. I started in The Cedars and spent about two and a half hours putting them through doors. The resident whose house I parked opposite patiently waited for me to return so that he could hand over the library petition in the Focus he had signed. He was surprised at how long I had been out delivering. I admitted that I had 3 patches to deliver but decided I would do the whole lot in one go to avoid multiple journeys. It's easier that way. Meanwhile, my shoes are looking a bit worn.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Planting Up Whickham - video

On Sunday 23rd October Planting Up Whickham had a maintenance day on Church Green to prepare the flower beds for winter planting. I shot this short video on the day.

Back to Ryton

Focus delivery Ryton Oct 16

A bit of a mopping up operation this morning - Cllr Ian Patterson and I went down to Ryton to deliver a couple of patches with the latest edition of Focus. A couple of hours later, a slap up lunch at Cllr Christine McHatton's house and we were finished.

Sadly, my colleague Cllr John McClurey has dropped off 500 Focuses for me to deliver in my own ward.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Fog on the Tyne - at the Baltic

Fog on the Tyne Oct 16 2

I had a council visit to the Baltic Art Gallery on the Gateshead Quays on Wednesday. The area was blanketed in fog when we got there so the spectacular view from the viewing platform was missing. I don't regard myself as an art expert or critic but some of the exhibitions were quite interesting. I particularly liked the 3D films by Deimantas Narkevicius. They were filmed in eastern Europe and documented the removal of former Soviet statues. The countries former part of the USSR or under Soviet domination are getting rid of the symbols of the failed socialist past so turning that exercise into a work of art was quite an interesting idea. Worth a visit.

Baltic Art Gallery Oct 16 (16)

Monday, October 24, 2016

Looking after the Whickham flowerbeds

Church Green Maintenance Day Oct 16 (19)

Yesterday morning I headed down to Whickham to help with Planting Up Whickham's maintenance day on Church Green. My land rover was needed as the flowerbeds were being stripped of the summer flowers which needed to be moved to the compost heap in Chase Park. The work was completed quite early, thanks to the good turnout of volunteers. We will be back in two weeks' time to put in the spring flowering plants.

Church Green Maintenance Day Oct 16 (16)

Church Green Maintenance Day Oct 16 (7)

Church Green Maintenance Day Oct 16 (1)

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Congratulations Peter and Jol

Peter and Jol wedding Oct 16 (3)

Politics and self-sufficiency took back seats on Saturday afternoon when we headed to St Mary's Church in Whickham for the wedding of Cllr Peter Maughan and Jol Loughlin. Congratulations to both. Alas, I ended up on a table with all the other politicians!

Peter and Jol wedding Oct 16 (16)

Helping at the Whinnies CommunityGarden

Whinnies Community Garden Oct 16 (2)

Yesterday morning I gave 3 hours of my time to help out at the Whinnies Community Garden in Sunniside, a minute's walk from my house. Much of the work involved moving large quantities of branches chopped from the extensive hedges on the site. I took them to my goats (which are also kept on the site). It was the equivalent of fast food for them.  I also helped weed some beds and build a raised bed (see photo above). I left at 1.30pm as I had another event to attend.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Village community looks to take on local facilities

Marley Hill tennis courts Oct 16 1

I was contacted recently by a friend and constituent in Marley Hill to ask for advice on taking over the running of the tennis courts in the village. I went up last night, after finishing a meeting at Gateshead Civic Centre about appointing a new council chief exec.

The courts in question have largely been ignored by the council over the years, even when money was available for the council to look after such facilities. Kids have often painted their own lines on the ground and put up makeshift nets.

The proposal from my constituent is that he takes over the running of the courts and uses one for football for kids, the other for tennis. I said he is pushing at an open door but suggested he moved forward gradually, walk rather than run to start off. I advised that he does some low level maintenance such as sweeping up rubbish and clearing vegetation from around the edge of the site and on the courts themselves where it is growing through the tarmac.

So hopefully, a community group will be established which will turn a neglected facility into a community asset.

Marley Hill tennis courts Oct 16 3

"Cruelly" inflicting Focus deliveries

I awoke this morning to the voice of Labour’s Tom Watson MP explaining why falling to 3rd place and a reduction in the Labour share of the vote in the Witney by-election was a good result for Labour. He had a go at the Lib Dems for sending 100 peers to a constituency he claimed we knew we couldn’t win. He said it was “cruel”! I have lots of bundles of Focuses still to deliver so I’m happy to cruelly inflict them on anyone who wants a bit of exercise on local streets! The fact is however that we had a pretty good result on Thursday in Witney, caused by the resignation of David Cameron as he makes a quick getaway from politics. Rising from 4th to 2nd place and 7% to 30% was a healthy performance. Watching UKIP collapse into 5th place was especially enjoyable.

We need to avoid reading too much into one by-election result. Nevertheless, it was progress but there is still a long way to go.

And if you want to deliver some Focuses, get in touch.......

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Delivering in Ryton

Ryton Focus Oct 16 (1)

My campaigning job today was to deliver 140 Focuses in Ryton. The newsletter led on the news that dumping at nearby Pathhead landfill site is to stop at the end of January. Also included was a bit about my selection as candidate for Blaydon. We also had a bit in about voting and how many people regret voting Labour since the local elections in May. We had slipped in a bit about the turmoil in UKIP as well but given the continuing UKIP car crash, it was a bit out of date!

Ryton Focus Oct 16 (2)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Dog's breakfast boundary review

Boundary review Oct 16

We had a meeting on Monday of a Gateshead Council advisory group to consider the review of Parliamentary constituencies. Under the electoral quota, Gateshead is entitled to 1.89 constituencies. We currently have 2 that are fully within Gateshead (Blaydon and Gateshead) and a couple of wards in Jarrow. Under the new proposals, we will not have a single constituency fully in Gateshead. Instead, we will have bits of 6. It is clearly a mess though clearing it up does not look easy.

What struck me was the expectation held by Labour that others, particularly the Conservatives, will pull the irons out of the fire for Labour. A belief that Conservative MPs will force the proposals to be abandoned was expressed by some Labour councillors. Others talked about public opinion needing to be won over to get the plans thrown out. One said she had already talked to "people" in her ward who expressed concern that the proposed constituency was so vast, it would take ages to get to "constituency meetings". And there lies a typical problem of the current Labour party: they talk to themselves, not the people outside the Labour party.

I warned the meeting that this was an issue that was barely on the radar screens of ordinary residents. Generating a public campaign of opposition to the boundaries was very unlikely to happen. I also pointed out that the system of single-member, first-past-the-post constituencies, supported by Labour, is always going to be a mess in terms of boundaries. To be fair to Labour, one of their members did say that winning over public opinion was going to be very difficult as people generally are favourable to reducing the number of politicians.

My own constituency of Blaydon is completely broken up. The biggest chunk, including my own ward, is joined up with a part of western Newcastle. Given the complexity that will need to be overcome when general and local elections are held on the same day, the last job in the world I would want to have is an electoral officer!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Lone Woolfe

So, Steven Woolfe, so committed to the UKIP cause he aspired to lead, has abandoned them to go it alone, citing the ungovernable mess and the "rotten" state of the party. A rather sorry state of affairs but sadly for UKIP, one of their unique selling points now seems to be under threat from the Conservatives. Previously, UKIP had been the home to all the swivel-eyed loonies, obsessive, anti-European fruitcakes and anyone who hated the modern world. Step forward Conservative Councillor Christian Holliday, who believes those who argue in favour of the EU should be regarded as engaging in treasonable activity and be sent to prison.

Presumably, under Cllr Holliday's system of justice, Boris Johnson would have been arrested 2 days before he joined the Leave campaign.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Speaking at the pro-Europe rally in Newcastle

I was invited to be one of the speakers at the pro-Europe rally at Grey's Monument in Newcastle yesterday. I was on at 2pm, just before John Shipley, former Lib Dem leader of Newcastle Council and now a Lib Dem peer. My speech concentrated on the dangers to foreign businesses and jobs of Brexit and on the dangers of the Right using the referendum vote as a sign to take the UK back to the social conformity of the 1950s, rolling back the decades of the growing acceptance of diversity. Overall the speech seemed to go well. You can see it on the video above.

Fugar- the video

Yesterday, the Sunniside History Society and the Mayor of Gateshead, Cllr Allison Thomspon, unveiled the information panel about Fugar House as part of the Hidden Heritage project we are running. The House has been largely forgotten and the project aims to draw out the history not just of the house but of the Washingwell/Watergate area.

My job was to provide the medieval catering for the day!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Unveiling the Fugar information panel

Fugar information panel unveiling Oct 16 (4)

I have been helping to run a project with the Sunniside History Society about the Fugar/Washingwell area in my ward in Gateshead. There are thee parts to the project: 1269 to modern day, the Roman period and the restoration of the derelict historic orchard at Fugar. We are still on part one of the project though it is nearing completion with the installation of an information panel about Fugar House which was demolished in the early 1950s. The unveiling of the panel took place this morning, Saturday 15th October, by the Mayor, Cllr Allison Thompson.

Fugar information panel unveiling Oct 16 (9)

My role was to be the medieval catering chef for the event. I made a big pan of medieval pottage. I tried to make it as close as possible to how pottage would have been made in the 13th century. It contained pigeon, rabbit, squirrel, pheasant, beans, cabbage, onions and half a nutmeg. I brought it to the event ready made in one of our large catering pans wrapped in a duvet in the back of our Defender. Attendees seemed to like it!

Fugar information panel unveiling Oct 16 (1)

Fugar information panel unveiling Oct 16 (2)

Beating the rations to win the Swalwell quiz

Swalwell Community Centre quiz Oct 16 1

Last night Swalwell Community Centre had their pie and pea supper and quiz. I decided to go but as I normally bomb out of quizzes, I wasn't expecting to win any prizes - sport, entertainment and mucis rounds are usually killers for me. I was on a team named the Goat Lovers (not my idea!) along with my David, my brother Andrew, his friend Matt and Whickham North Councillor Sonya Hawkins though she valiantly struggled through a recent bout of illness to get there.

Contrary to expectations, we won the first bonus prize for the question, what was the last food to come off rationing and in which year? (Meat, 1954 - June to be precise.) Prize was a box of chocolate brazil nuts. And we managed 5 out of six on one of the music rounds. We ended up coming first in the quiz. Top prize was a box of Celebrations and £20 (which we donated back). So a good evening out.

Swalwell Community Centre quiz Oct 16 3

Swalwell Community Centre quiz Oct 16 4

Swalwell Community Centre quiz Oct 16 2

Friday, October 14, 2016

Delivering Focus

Whickham Focus Oct 16

Our next ward Focus is now ready and is currently being delivered. I did 3 patches yesterday though today I am fully occupied on other matters so it is unlikely I can deliver the 2 patches I have left until Sunday. We are leading on the proposals to close Whickham Library - within minutes of finishing delivering yesterday, a completed petition slip had been put through my door. The petition opposing the closure of the library is included in the Focus.

Other issues covered include the completion of the A1 improvements (approved by Lib Dems when we were in government), Labour dithering on devolution, my selection as candidate for Blaydon, Lighting Up Whickham's race night and updates on Church Green and Kingsway Community Orchard.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Visiting Gateshead's energy-from-waste plant

Energy from Waste plant Stockton Oct 16 (4)

I had a site visit this morning to the Campground waste transfer site in Gateshead and then the energy-from-waste plant in Stockton which converts Gateshead's non-recyclable waste. The contents of the borough's general waste wheelie bins goes to Campground where it is prepared for shipment to Stockton. Once at the energy-from-waste plant, it is burnt in a furnace at 1100C and the heat is used to super heat water which powers the turbines. The electricity is then sold on to the National Grid.

This is an ultra modern plant, opened less that 2 years ago. The resulting ash is made into breeze blocks and construction materials. Any metals in the ash are extracted for recycling. It's quite an impressive system but a visit to the plant also highlights just how wasteful modern society is.

Energy from Waste plant Stockton Oct 16 (2)

Energy from Waste plant Stockton Oct 16 (3)

Campground Oct 16 (2)

The Great Exhibition of the North

Newcastle and Gateshead have jointly beaten off the competition to host the Great Exhibition of the North in 2018. It will be a showcase for art, design and exhibition. We defeated Sheffield, Bradford and Blackpool for the prize. For me, the most important point about the Exhibition is the boost to our tourism economy. This will be another attraction to draw in visitors to the North East who will then spend their money in local businesses. It is estimated that £180 million will be spent in the local economy by people coming to the Exhibition, many from outside the area.

BBC Radio Newcastle phoned me yesterday morning when I was feeding my animals for an interview about the Exhibition. Rather than doing the interview there and then, with hens clucking and goats bleating in the background, I returned home and did the interview live on the landline. I gather the programme had reported on some negative opinion about the Exhibition. I pressed the case that it will be a boost to the local economy and to jobs. I think I got my points across.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Chocoholic kebab-scoffing Sharon takes on public health role for Comrade Corbyn

It seems that some of the minor Labour MPs who resigned their front bench positions in protest against Comrade Corbyn's waste-of-space leadership in the summer have now unresigned. While our local MP here in Blaydon, David Anderson, at least had the decency to stand by his leader and fill, not just one but 2, seats in the Shadow Cabinet, near neighbour Comrade Sharon Hodgson walked off in a blaze of abuse about her leader's inability to lead.

Of Comrade Leader Corbyn, Sharon had the following to say:

“Jeremy needs to lead his MPs as well as the membership. Sadly, Jeremy has failed to fulfil the parliamentary aspect of his role from day one.”


“Sadly, Jeremy has shown he isn't up to the job.”


Labour was “teetering on the edge of political irrelevance,” 


“Crucial swing voters will never vote for a Labour government led by Jeremy.”

Now, she's back! She is "honoured" to have been offered the role as Shadow Minister for Public Health. An interesting choice for Comrade Corbyn. Sharon is something of a chocolate-loving, kebab scoffing individual.

I prefer to set an example of healthy and sustainable living rather than lecture people on how they should be living their lives. Let's hope Sharon will do the same. We live in hope..........

Folding Focus

Whickham Focuses Oct 16

3 hours spent in the office today with my ward colleague folding 13,000 Focuses. They are currently going out to the deliverers. I will start delivering my patches tomorrow.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Don't write off the UKIP car crash yet

The world of politics has been in a state of flux since the general election last year but the past week must take the gold medal for the You-Couldn't-Make-This-Up competition. Ukippers losing a leader and then having a scrap in the corridors of power; Conservatives at their conference calling for Britain to be impoverished by shutting us off from our biggest market while bashing business, Comrade Corbyn backing his own calls for unity while sacking his unity chief whip and Donald Trump demonstrating why do one in their right mind should touch him with a barge pole.

And so, back to Tuesday last week. I got back late from a meeting of the Sunniside History Society to the news that the UKIP leader, Diane James, had resigned after only 18 days in the post. Though beating the short reign of Lady Jane Grey as Queen, the resignation of James revealed the malaise at the heart of UKIP. The party tends to attract people for negative reasons. The one issue that united them has now gone. Hating foreigners, gays, the BBC, the Guardian, metric measurements and modern life while believing climate change is a European conspiracy story hardly constitute the platform around which a party can unite with a coherent message. The unseemly scrap two days later simply highlighted again that UKIP are a party that are tearing themselves apart, just as other political parties on the far right tend to do.

But don't sign the death certificate of UKIP yet. Despite its dreadful internal state, it can still pull off a few surprises, where other parties are off their guard. On Thursday, while the fists were flying in Strasbourg, UKIP were busy winning a seat from Labour on a gigantic swing in Hartlepool. It is an area taken for granted by Labour, where no other opposition party has any significant local strength - we didn't even field a candidate - allowing UKIP to fill a void. Regardless of what they stand for, they were used as a vehicle to bash the local establishment, in this case the Labour party. Admittedly, the swing to UKIP was exaggerated by their absence from the ward, Headlands and Harbour, when it was last fought. Furthermore, there was previously a substantial vote for a party called Putting Hartlepool First but this collapsed in the by-election (though the Labour vote was down 17% as well).

So, even though UKIP is something of a car crash, they cannot yet be fully written off. They can still attract a few passengers despite the vehicle being without a driver, the engine smashed, the axles broken, the brakes faulty and the petrol tank leaking fuel.

I'll blog about the other political issues I mentioned in the opening paragraph on another day. I can't spend all today on the laptop! After all I've got a meeting with Gateshead's Chief Exec and one with Planting Up Whickham this afternoon. And I have a goat to milk and videos to edit!

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Show me a sign!

Whickham car park Oct 16 1

At the last meeting of Planting Up Whickham, I agreed to spend some time clearing back some of the shrubbery behind Whickham Library. I did the work today with the result that the sign for the service area car park can now be seen for the first time in a couple of years! I fed the branches to my goats rather than take them to the tip. The before and after photos are above and below respectively.

Whickham car park Oct 16 2

Monday, October 03, 2016

Fugar Project

Sunniside History Society Fugar Project Oct 16 (2)

Around 3 years ago, I proposed to the Sunniside History Society that a project be set up to explore the history of the Fugar/Washingwell area of Gateshead. The project has been up and running for over a year and we got a grant of £10,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to fund it. On Saturday, an event was held at Sunniside Social Club to gather people's memories of the Fugar area. I popped in for a few minutes but couldn't stay for the full four hours as I had other duties to carry out.

The next event is on Saturday 15th October when the Mayor will unveil the information board we will be placing on the site of the now demolished Fugar House. I will (subject to some experiments in historical cooking) be providing medieval refreshments on the day, probably pottage, from the back of my medieval land rover!

Sunniside History Society Fugar Project Oct 16 (1)

Sunniside History Society Fugar Project Oct 16 (3)