Monday, January 10, 2022

Goat superstars

Last year we donated two goats - Sooty and Sweep - to Birkheads Wild Community Interest Company (CIC) which works with children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The goats are brother and sister and were born two years ago. I hand raised them as their mum rejected them. I first encountered Birkheads Wild at a school fair in 2019. I had 2 other goats there (and a stall selling homemade jam) and the CIC were there as well. I got on chatting to Fiona, who runs the organisation, and I was invited to see their facilities.

Sooty and Sweep are now TV stars! They were featured on BBC Look North and Tyne Tees TV news last week. Journalists had picked up on the CIC's appeal for Christmas trees to feed to the goats. Camera teams went in and got some fab footage of Sooty and Sweep chomping their way through trees that would otherwise have ended up in the waste system.

I need to pay them a visit. I'll take my autograph book in the hope of getting some hoof prints!

You can see the BBC news story on this link.

Friday, December 17, 2021


 I decided not to stay up all night to await the result of the Shropshire North by-election but I waited until 1.30am to get an indication of how the count was going before heading to bed. That's when the Lib Dem prediction of a comfortable gain came through. Presumably, our people had finished crunching the numbers and were able to project the result. By then, a result much closer to home had come through: a council by-election in Hexham East in Northumberland saw a Lib Dem gain from the Conservatives. So off to bed I went and awoke this morning to news of a Lib Dem majority of over 5000.

My usual preference for 24 hour news coverage is Sky News over the BBC but the former was rather disappointing this morning. Much of their focus was on giving Labour lots of airtime while one of their shadow cabinet members waffled on for ages avoiding questions about why Labour failed to capitalise on their 2nd place in 2019. Meanwhile the BBC had a much more interesting angle - the danger to the Conservatives of a revived Lib Dems.

Those of us who were politically active in the 1980s and 1990s will remember the big swings in by-elections to the Lib Dems. A long running revival of the Lib Dems (and the predecessor Liberals and SDP) was underway which eventually led to the electoral breakthrough in 1997 and government in 2010. Obviously this did not last and we went back to a position similar to the Liberals in the early 1970s.

I've been in politics for so long that I've learnt not to get overly excited about an individual result. But are the BBC right to suggest there is a Lib Dem revival underway? Include the local elections from earlier this year, the Chesham by-election in the summer and local by-election results and there is more than a hint of a national Lib Dem revival.

Here in Gateshead in May this year, the higher than usual Conservative vote saved Labour's bacon in a number of wards. We had some near misses which would have been Lib Dem gains if the Conservative vote had not been so vibrant. Well, that vibrancy has now gone. And that means Labour council seats in Gateshead are up for grabs.

Interesting times ahead.

Sunday, December 05, 2021

The gifted champagne socialist


Gateshead Council's Labour leader, Martin Gannon, had an interesting Facebook post recently (see above). For once it wasn't a post that attacked me but rather it was a barbed assault on MPs who accept free gifts, such as trips to sports events, dinners, tickets to the Brit Awards and so on. In a 6 month period, MPs had clocked up a range of gifts with a total value of £197,000. Martin wrote, "The words noses, pigs and trough spring to mind."

Let's just hope Martin himself couldn't have the same words applied to him. Well, it was easy enough to check on Gateshead Council's website. There all gifts received in connection with a member's role as a councillor must be declared. I decided to take a look.

So how many free gifts has Martin enjoyed since he became leader in 2016? 5? 10?, 20?

No! The answer is 49.

A bottle of champagne, flowers, trips to the races, tickets to the theatre and lots and lots of dinners (including some abroad)! 

I added up the total value. It came to £3235.

If you would like to read all about Martin's gifts, click on the following link. Just be warned that it is a very long list and you may want to turn your nose up at it! But don't pig out on it!

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Rewriting history

Full Council in Gateshead last week and, as usual, Labour were blaming the Lib Dems for everything that was bad. Labour's approach is to blame others and regard history as starting in 2010. Labour deputy leader Catherine Donovan blamed the Lib Dems for the bedroom tax, claiming that it was invented by the Lib Dems in the coalition government. What she forgot to mention was that the bedroom tax was invented by the last Labour government who introduced it for private sector tenants. The Coalition, rightly or wrongly, extended Labour's creation to cover social housing as well. And before 2010, I never heard a peep out of Catherine and her "socialist comrades" about the Labour bedroom tax. Labour's selective memory is in full flow.

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

11 billion

11 billion - that's the number of wet wipes used and thrown away in the UK in the past year, according to BBC News. They are one of the main causes of blocked sewers. 90% of wet wipes contain plastic. In other words, they are single-use plastic products and we use an unbelievable number of them. But do we really need to use them in our homes? I'm old enough to remember using a wet rag. Literally, it was an old bit of fabric dipped in water and applied to the tasks that are now done by wet wipes. Instead of throwing them in the bin or down the loo, we put them into the washing and used them again. Is it really too much to ask people to go back to doing that instead of using environmentally damaging wet wipes?

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Getting a soaking


I was in Whickham this morning to help volunteers plant up the flowerbeds on Church Green. My coat is still soaked through from the experience but all the beds were planted. There should be a colourful display next year.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Meeting Brodie


Before Richard passed away, he said he wanted to see his new great nephew Brodie. So the family came up from Wales and on 21st October, Richard got his wish and was able to hold the baby. This is the video I filmed on the day. Two days later Richard passed away.

eFocus no. 163

The latest edition of our email newsletter eFocus for the NE11 and NE16 area has just been published. Key issues covered include:

  • Woodland proposed for Whickham and Dunston Hill;
  • Can you help plant up Whickham;
  • Remembrance Day;
  • Peter awarded medal;
  • Tour of Britain in Sunniside;
  • Central Gateshead congestion;
  • Sunniside Post Office closes;
  • New houses;
  • Something completely different.

eFocus Low Fell edition 99

Only one more edition to go for the Low Fell Lib Dem Focus Team to reach 100! NO. 99 was published recently and includes:

  • Gateshead Council say Dryden Centre will close from September 2022
  • Dawn Welsh joins Focus Team
  • Update on Methadone in Low Fell
  • Kells Lane Park gets new ship!
  • Residents give their views to the Police
  • Low Fell's new Post Office opens.

Rest in peace Richard

Richard passed away on 23rd October. An infection of the heart which he could not fight off because of liver failure, he died peacefully in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. My thanks to the hundreds of people who have sent messages of condolence. 

Richard had been in hospital since 23rd September. It was only a few days before he passed away that the doctor treating him told us to "Hope for the best but prepare for the worst." He did however get to see his new great nephew Brodie who was born in September. We had planned a trip to Wales to see him but instead, Richard's family had to come to see him.

Richard had been part of my life for 26 years. When I bought the flat in London he moved in from Wales. He lived there for 17 years before illness took its toll on his health and he moved up to Gateshead so I could care for him here. He made lots of friends wherever he went and although he broke all the house rules about not campaigning for Labour in Gateshead, he made many friends across the Lib Dem/Labour political divide. Many have been in touch with me since learning the news of his passing and I thank them for doing so.

The funeral will be on Tuesday 16th November at 1.15pm at Mountsett Crematorium. At 12.45pm the funeral procession will start at the Whinnies Community Garden in Sunniside (Richard had volunteered there and we keep some of our goats there - including his favourite Ramesses). There will be a humanist service at Mountsett and I am planning a wake back in Sunniside. More details to follow.

I will be taking his ashes back home to Wales and we will be scattering them on his parents' graves in Penmaenmawr. I also hope to take some to London to scatter in Crystal Palace Park, a place Richard loved and only a few minutes' walk from our flat. Again, more details to follow.

So, Richard, thank you for so many things, but especially thank you for just being you. At 49, you were taken far too early from us. And we are all missing you.

Photo above - taken in 2004 on the London Eye. We were both younger then and my hair was a different colour to what it is now!