Wednesday, July 31, 2013

3 million YouTube viewings

I've just reached another YouTube milestone. My videos have now been viewed 3 million times. To be precise, 3,000,555 times. Most of the material I upload to the channel is about self-sufficiency and sustainable local food production. These, by far, generate for my the most advertising revenue. However, I also upload videos about local issues and about travel (I am in the middle of editing footage I filmed in June whilst in Germany and I have hours of material that still needs sorting from a visit I made to Portugal in December last year).

There is an interesting section on the analytics page of YouTube which shows that over the past month, the total time my videos were viewed was 79 days and 11 hours.

If you feel the need, you can view the channel at

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Labour MP on the wrong road to nowhere

There's nothing new about Blaydon Labour MP David Call-Me-Dave Anderson spitting venom at the Coalition Government. So let's take a look at Mr Anderson's latest attack. He lays into the Government for agreeing to upgrade the A14 in Cambridgeshire, claiming, " was noteworthy that the Government recently found £1.5bn to upgrade the A14 from Huntingdon to Cambridge and two years ahead of plan. Sadly, it's not the only example of how the North East is being let down by a metropolitan elite in London."

The purpose of Mr Anderson's statement seems to be an attempt to promote a them-and-us divide, this time between North and South. His whole article is an allegation that the Coalition backs the South, at the expense of the North, a claim which is drivel and rubbish. He lists various transport schemes that have been given the go-ahead in the South whilst the North is left "in the slow lane". He then highlights the congestion on the A1 that runs though his own patch. His only hint he makes that the Government has given the go ahead to the upgrade of the A1 in Gateshead is a passing reference to there being "no firm start date". (The work is actually due to start in 2014, two years before work starts on improving the A14.)

I noticed that, back in 2008, there was an EDM about the A14. It stated:

This House is alarmed by the 52 deaths on the A14 in Cambridgeshire in the last 10 years; notes with concern there have been 12 serious accidents on the trunk road this year causing two fatalities; is concerned at the delays and spiralling costs of long-proposed improvements to this lethal highway; congratulates the Cambridge News on its A14 - We Need Action Now campaign; and calls on the Government and Highways Agency urgently to commence the upgrading of the A14 to full dual carriageway and near motorway standard throughout Cambridgeshire to prevent more accidents, deaths and injuries.

And who signed this EDM? Yes, you guessed it! None other than Mr Anderson himself. Consistency is not his strongpoint.

After dinner speaker

This was a first for me - on Thursday I was the after dinner speaker at the Whickham Rotariams' gathering. In the upstairs function room of the Bay Horse pub (an establishment that brings back interesting memories of my 6th form days) I gave a talk about self-sufficiency, bee-keeping, hen-keeping, jam-making and so on. I spoke for about 40 minutes and the presentation seemed to go down well, given the range and scope of the questions I was asked at the end. I rather enjoyed it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Visiting Groundwork

The Central Nursery is just outside my ward, next to Watergate Park in Gateshead. Until recently, it produced the vast majority of the bedding plants for the borough. It is now closed and Labour are very keen for this greenbelt site to be used for house-building. There is an on-going battle to ensure this area remains greenbelt in the Local Plan. Whether or not it is used for housing, the site is secure as a horticultural centre for the next five year as the environmental charity Groundwork has been granted a lease until 2018.

The charity contacted me last week and invited me to visit the site and talk to them about ideas for promoting local food production, gardening and allotments. It was another event at which I was wearing more my allotment guru hat than that of local councillor.

It was a useful visit. We discussed a range of ideas and I suggested renting out parts of the greenhouses and polytunnels on the site in the way allotments are rented out to local residents. I also suggested they get someone to put beehives on the site, look at setting up craft and food markets and set up a herb garden.

Groundwork are keen to talk to anyone with ideas on how the Central Nursery could be used for horticultural activities. The person to talk to is Geoff Dawson and he can be contacted on

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Aladdin's cave

We dubbed it Aladdin's Cave but actually it was a lock up garage in the Team's area of Gateshead, packed full of equipment that had been used during the National Garden Festival, hosted by Gateshead in 1990. This treasure trove of equipment was being cleared out but what was on offer would be perfect for the community cafe I run at Marley Hill Community Centre. The cafe raises funds for the Community Centre, and this fundraising is now all the more important as the centre is undergoing a community asset transfer. The community association will have to stand on its own two feet and raise the funds needed to keep it going from its own activities.

I picked up Pat, one of the committee members this morning and drove her down to the garage where, with my ward colleague, Cllr John McClurey, we sorted through crockery, cutlery, cooking utensils and a range of cooking equipment which will be ideal for the kitchen in Marley Hill. Fortunately both John and I each brought our land rovers which we filled. This equipment, which has lain unused for 23 years, will now be put to good use.

The judges arrive tomorrow

lavendar bed Church Green Jul 13

Tomorrow the Northumbria in Bloom judges arrive in Whickham so tonight a group of us met to do a final tidy up of the centre of the village. I was given the job of watering all the flowerbeds planted last week. As a beekeeper I couldn't help but spot the huge number of bumble and honey bees on the big lavendar bed on the centre of Church Green. I have 4 hives in Whickham but there are at least two other beekeepers in the area, so I have no idea whose bees were foraging on the bed. Nevertheless, it was good to see a garden display that not only looked good, but was bee-freindly as well. That is not often the case with the flowers that now populate people's gardens. They may look good to humans, but they are often useless for the bees.

Alas, I will miss the judges tomorrow. Though last year I accompanied them on their tour of the area, tomorrow I have a meeting with Groundworks who have asked me to visit them to talk about allotments, gardening and food growing.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Planting in Whickham

Austerity has meant the end of council funding for flowerbeds in Whickham, Gateshead. So rather than seeing Church Green, at the heart of the Village, fully grassed over, residents, organised by Whickham North Councillor Peter Craig, raised the money (so far about £1800) to buy plants and then organised a group of volunteers to plant out the beds. I did some planting and watering (the rose from my watering can was lost on one of the beds!)

The display now looks great and has put the Village into great shape for the arrival of the Northumbria in Bloom judges later this week.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Angelika in Whickham

Angelika Schneider Jul 13 6

Lib Dem prospective Euro candidate for the North East of England, Angelika Schneider joined us on the campaign trail in Whickham this evening. We started with a meeting in Sunniside and then went down to Whickham. Fiona Hall MEP is retiring at the next election. Hopefully, Angelika will be taking her place in Brussels.

Pictured above: me, Angelika, Cllr John McClurey and Cllr Marilynn Ord

Bill Quay Community Farm BBQ

The recent handover of the lease of Bill Quay Community Farm to the BQ Farm Association was celebrated last night with a BBQ and a short presentation on the plans for the farm. I was invited as a councillor rather than as the farm's volunteer beekeeper (or purchaser of their Tamworth pigs). Indeed, most councillors who also attended opened conversations with me by referring to the last pig that I bought from the farm (I got it last month).

The farm is no longer to be funded by the Council but the Farm Association has a business plan in place to raise the cash needed. There are great ideas to expand commercial activities, become a bigger centre for education and create new space for people to hire for private functions.  The need to stand on their own feet and raise cash from their own activities has generated new ideas that will add more value to any visit to the farm. I'm looking forward to seeing them come to fruition.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Card carrying members of the "working class"

If you believed what some in the trade unions and the Labour party claim, there is an army of "working class" people with a uniform outlook on life, all wanting "working class" MPs representing them in Parliament. But just who are these "working class" people? Judging by what some in the Labour movement suggest, such a clearly defined class exists almost to the point of having its own constitution and membership cards. Principles of the organisation include propagating "class war" (whatever that is). The trouble is that the idea of a uniform "working class" is drivel, spouted by so-called "socialists" with no real political agenda worth considering. Indeed, it is precisely that absence of a sensible and realistic political agenda within the Labour party post 2010 that has opened the door for the first time since the early 90s to those pushing the "class war" agenda.

If Unite are the modern day militants, their tactics show an interesting arrogance. It is alleged that Unite members have been signed up to Labour, some possibly without their knowledge as voting fodder in candidate selections. Presumably Unite has operated on the basis that these members, as card carrying members of the "working class", would all vote uniformly for the anointed Unite candidate (sometimes a well paid union official whose job hardly defines them as "working class".)

Labour's selection procedure is their own business, no matter how much we can stand back and enjoy the entertainment generated by their shenanigans over Falkirk. Yet, if those who shout loudly in the Labour Party about needing "working class" MPs examine the record of those Labour MPs with a union background and who refer to themselves as "working class", they may be rather disappointed by the record of some of them under Blair and Brown. Whilst many talked the talk of the "class war", they certainly didn't walk the walk. Snuggling up to the City, increasing taxes on the lowest paid workers and keeping tax on wealth at a low level isn't exactly what the so-called "class war" was meant to do.

Volunteering to be as busy as a bee

One of the other hats I wear (and literally I do wear a hat, or at least a hood and net) is that of beekeeper. I first started keeping bees two years ago as part of my drive towards self-sufficiency. With my partner David we are the volunteer beekeepers at Bill Quay Community Farm, a role we picked up more by accident than by design.

David and I started with three hives in 2011. At the start of June 2012 we were down to two, by the end of that month we went up to 8 as the mad, wet weather encouraged the bees to go onto swarm overdrive. All hives survived the winter and we now have 10 after capturing a couple of swarms last month.

I am one of Gateshead Council's representatives on the joint committee that runs the open air Beamish Museum. Last year the museum director reported that Beamish was setting up a beekeeping project. Last week at the committee meeting, the director made no mention of the bees during his report so I asked about the state of the project. It appears to be going well and I found myself volunteering my services to help out. So whilst the majority of the museums volunteers turn up to dress in Edwardian or Georgian costumes and drive steam trains and trams, I can see myself turning up in beekeeping smock and wellies!  Mind you, if I were offered the chance to drive a train or tram, I'd grab it faster than you can blink!

That was the year that was

Hitler had just occupied the Rhineland, the Brits were blissfully unaware of the affair of the new King. Edward VIII, with Wallis Simpson and Americans were gearing up to re-elect Franklin Roosevelt as President. That was the summer of 1936 but that year is so far back in time that most of us were born well after it. So well done to Andy Murray, the first British man to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in the summer of 1936. Events like this do tend to bring the historian out in me!

I saw the match in a pub in Crystal Palace. I am down in London as over the weekend I went to the Smallholder and Self-Sufficiency Show in Ardingly in Sussex. (My video of the show is at I don't normally follow tennis but this was set to be an historic occasion. The circumstances now are a bit better than the time I watched Virginia Wade win the women's title in 1977. Then I had just gone through a serious road accident and was recovering in the children's ward of Newcastle General Hospital. As I was stuck in bed, the entire ward and staff sat with as we watched the match. At least I had a legitimate reason for not being at school!

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Whickham Community Festival

Whickham Festival June 13 (19)

Saturday saw the second annual Whickham Community Festival. organised by a group called Light Up Whickham. The group aims to bring more people to Whickham Village centre to boost business vitality and to raise funds for the Village's Christmas lights. I am a member of the group and am pleased to say that my proposal for the theme for this year - a medieval fayre - was taken up. It was my job, with Cllr John McClurey last Thursday, to put up the bunting and on Saturday itself, I ran a stall to promote Marley Hill Community Centre and the produce I sell at the Allotment Cafe I run there once a month.

As we were having a medieval village duck pond (actually a pick a duck paddling pool for kids, sadly minus the ducking stool I suggested we could use!) I brought down to Whickham my ducklings, which are now a month old. They were the stars of the festival, in a cage next to the "pond". We nearly didn't get the cage there. It was bigger than we thought. We eventually found a way of squeezing it inside our Defender.

The festival was a success. Lots of people came along and lots of cash was raised for the Christmas lights. Everyone went away happy at the end of the day. Alas, my plans to dress as a medieval monk came to nothing as I simply ran out of time to make a costume.

Whickham Festival June 13 (6)

Councillors Marilynn Ord and Peter Maughan who ran the raffle.

Whickham Festival June 13 (12)

Councillor Sonya Hawkins in medieval dress.

Whickham Festival June 13 (18)

We reckon Cllr Peter Craig's outfit was Georgian, not medieval!

Whickham Festival June 13

Sales of my homemade jam paid for the Marley Hill Community Centre table!