Sunday, December 07, 2014

Cutting the ribbon at the bar

Marley Hill Community Centre held its Christmas market today. It went well. Indeed, it got a bit too busy in the cafe where we were, at times, run ragged as we served up burgers, sausages, tea, coffee, cake and so on. As a member of the management committee, my job was to organise the event. I've also taken the lead in arranging for the community centre to have a new alcohol license so today, the Deputy Mayor of Gateshead, Cllr Alex Geddes, arrived to cut the ribbon to open officially the bar.

Whickham Wind were on stage at 2pm to play Christmas tunes. Sadly, we had no Christmas tree to light. Last year we planted one in front of the community centre. And then it died on us. This was quite an expensive loss. Meanwhile in January this year, Cllr John McClurey and I planted a Norwegian spruce at the community centre. I had been growing it in a pot in my garden in London for years. The garden there already has lots of mature trees in it so there's no room for new ones. So it made the journey up to the North East as a passenger on the back seat of my Polo after New Year. The tree is only about 1.5 metres high but it is doing well in its new location. Give it a few years and it will be taller than the building. Before it gets to that height we will use it as the new Christmas tree for Marley Hill.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Santa Claus came to town

The Whickham Christmas Market was held today and Santa dropped in for a visit. (See photo above of me, Santa and Cllr Peter Craig in a cunning disguise.) Santa's visit was not a brief one. He was there for 4 hours, with a collecting bucket, persuading people to part with their loose change for Planting Up Whickham, the group set up to provide the Christmas decorations for the village.

The market went ahead in a marquee on St Mary's Green but I gave up my table there to allow another person to use it. Instead, my table, supporting our drive to self-sufficiency, was outside the shop we were using as a base and as Santa's grotto.

I brought the tables from Marley Hill Community Centre to the market last night. It took three journeys to get everything back there this afternoon. It meant I was late for milking the goat which had to be done in torch light this evening.

Tomorrow, we have another Christmas market, at Marley Hill Community Centre itself. We have the Deputy Mayor coming at 1pm to cut the ribbon to reopen our newly relicensed bar. Whickham Wind will be playing at 2pm. Preparations are just about ready. I'm expecting to do another torchlight milking!

Friday, December 05, 2014

Getting ready for the Whickham Christmas market

The Whickham Christmas market, organised by Lighting Up Whickham, takes place tomorrow so today I have been immersed in preparations. My main job was to collect the tables from Marley Hill Community Centre. It seems my Land Rover Defender, normally used for moving bee hives, goats and animal fodder, was the only vehicle big enough to transport 17 tables each 2 metres long. They are now in the shop in St Mary's Green which we are using for Santa's grotto. The market itself will be held in a marquee on the Green.

We held the first Christmas market in Whickham last year and it was a great success so we are hoping tomorrow will go just as well. It will be open from 10am to 2pm.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

The Battle for Blaydon Day 6 - the constituency meeting

I've been Blaydon candidate now for a whopping 6 days but today I had my first constituency branch meeting. Lots of talk about the Autumn Statement and highlighting the successes of Lib Dems in government. There was also a discussion about ward campaigns. Obviously I can't go into detail though Lamesley ward cropped up a few times. The meeting was over at 9pm and I headed home to finish some self-sufficiency filming I started in the morning which had to be put on hold to milk the goat and deliver yet more Focus leaflets.

Coverage of the Autumn Statement on the news continued. I watched an interview with Labour MP John Mann in which he attacked the government for not getting the deficit down and moments later said that the government should build up more debt to avoid cuts in services. I guess I'm not the only person who thinks Labour's contradictory position is undermining what little economic credibility they have but John Mann really takes the biscuit.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

The Battle for Blaydon day 5 - a policy blast from the past

Attention today was focused on Westminster for the Autumn Statement. There wasn't much left for George Osborne to announce, as most of the contents had already been announced by the PM and DPM from the edge of Stonehenge in a kind of pre-winter solstice dash to build roads and give more money to the NHS. Nevertheless, the stamp duty announcement took on the role of the rabbit being extracted from the hat. It was an interesting surprise for most people and a rather pleasant one for me. When I was working as a policy office for the Lib Dems in the last decade, I was the one who wrote the housing policy paper. That was where reforming the stamp duty system on house purchases was first proposed and today's announcement was very similar to what we proposed back then.

It's the second big policy that I wrote that has now been put into operation by Lib Dems in government. The other was the privatisation of Royal Mail. In the case of the latter, the final shape of the policy had some differences to what was carried out but the fundamentals were the same - that the liberalisation of the mail sector by the Labour government in 2006 meant that Royal Mail needed to be in the private sector to compete against the other private providers or face a slow death in the public sector, starved of investment.

What struck me about today's debate in the Commons was the unconvincing uturn performed by Labour. 4 years ago they were attacking the Coalition for trying to go "too far, too fast" in cutting the deficit. When it was clear that the initial plan to eliminate the deficit by the end of this Parliament would result in too much damage to the economy, the Coalition response was to be flexible and put the date back towards the end of the next Parliament. You would have thought therefore that Labour would have been saying well done, this is what they had called for. Instead, we now have the opposite. They are now attacking the Coalition for not cutting the deficit fast enough. It's a remarkable uturn made all the more incredible by Ed Miliband's forgetful conference speech.

Anyway, not all my attention was grabbed by the Autumn Statement. I had more focuses to deliver today, made all the more challenging by a frost that made some drives into ice rinks. I managed to avoid landing on my rear end when sliding down paths but it was a close run thing at times.

The Battle for Blaydon Day 4 - the sun comes out

In a sign that winter is approaching, tonight we are experiencing our first frost since the start of the year. I could see it forming up on my greenhouse this evening. It was cold enough to put a coat on one of my goats. I bought it from an agricultural supplier for £30, which is only £8 less than the total I have spent on new clothes for myself this year! I'm not one of these people who feels the need to buy the latest fashion or to replace clothing at the end of a "fashion" season. Indeed, one of my favourite t-shirts is one I bought in 1991. It's still in good shape so it can still be worn.

Back to the cold snap. I'm not complaining about the weather. Quite the reverse. It's a good alternative to wet weather. When it rains I can't work on my land and I can't deliver Focus leaflets. Today was sunny and cool, perfect Focus delivery weather. And it seems Focus was noticed by those who received it. I was at the Sunniside History Society buffet tonight and a number of people mentioned to me that they had read it. And with eFocus being sent out last night, a number of people at the meeting were happy to talk about the contents of that too, particularly my selection as prospective candidate for Blaydon. The consensus view was that the general election had too many uncertainties to be able to predict an outcome. Personally, I think seats could go all over the place. One person said this could mean that the personality of candidates could therefore hold more sway than usual. The question therefore is, will people vote for an eccentric, bee-keeping, goat milking, poultry farming, food-swapping, webcasting historian!?

Anyway, I had a rather pleasant buffet at the History Society but I was thoroughly beaten in the name-the-historic-building quiz. Sadly, some of the buildings I got wrong had previously been photographed by me! Back home and I made a start on replying to the rather large number of replies to yesterday's eFocus. This may take some time.

Monday, December 01, 2014

eFocus on Whickham - number 91

The latest edition of eFocus for the Whickham area of Blaydon constituency has just been finished and published by me. Only 9 more editions to go to get to 100. You can read eFocus on this link.

The Battle for Blaydon Day 3 - ipadded and refocused

I got my super new ipad from the Council last Thursday. On Friday it all went horribly wrong. No sign of emails or access to council documents. I had to be in the council this morning for scrutiny committee so I took my new gizmo in to the ICT officers who were a whiz at sorting out the mess I had caused (by using the wrong password). It waits to be seen how long it will be before I mess up the ipad again but I'm connected again to Gateshead MBC.

Back home and time to start delivering those Focus leaflets and using what persuasive techniques I can to get others to deliver as well. This is the first leaflet announcing my selection for Blaydon, under the heading "From the Good Life in Sunniside to Parliament." The first messages from residents arrived before I got home!

I bumped into a Labour member whilst delivering. He made a comment about my shoe leather being worn out. Very perceptive!