Friday, December 30, 2005

Cigarette butts

Butt it's no joke!

What a fine idea to impose a fifty quid penalty on those who litter our streets with cigarette ends, we'd like to reclaim our pavements and pathways, we'd like to walk in peace without dodging the detitus of humankind. I wonder how much money could be raised by this scheme? Who will police it? Will the the local constabulary be encouraged to make arrests for those who willfully litter our lanes?
I wonder where all of this collected money will go to?
Perhaps it may end up in the coffers of the Neighbourhood Services Department, it might help with the Blitz It campaign, better still it might enable them to purchase more state of the art pressure washers to attack the streets neighbouring our schools!

If there is one facet of bad mannered and slovenly looking behaviour that I detest more than the stubbing out of a cigarette on the ground, it is the site of a shirt tail waving, gum chewing gang of teenagers congregating outside of a shop at lunchtime! Most shopkeepers within walking distance of a school are obviously just as concerned as I at the lack of good behaviour from our students at lunchtime, the majority display signs prohibiting the entry of more than two schoolchildren at a time into their premises. They SHOUT, rather than talk, they crowd and bustle within small shops, and create an intimidating atmosphere for both the shopkeepers and their customers. Some pilfer, and most chew gum!
When they are done with chewing gum, do they deposit it's sticky residue in the bins provided just yards from the shop entrance? No, the vast majority of them spit it out onto the pavement, and create the most ugly patterns that attract even more dirt. Worst still, unlike cigarette butts it ends up on your shoes for you to wipe onto your carpet when you get home!

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Cigarette butts are easily dealt with by those who sweep our streets, but chewing gum is a whole new ball game, it's remains are there to be seen for months and years into the future. Just take a walk along Mortimer Road or Stanhope Road for good examples. Even using a high powered pressure washer and industrial scrapers, it is still a hard job to remove.

If there are to be powers to impose a financial penalty on those who drop litter, they should be equally applied to all, not just the errant smokers!


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Sunderland's Plight

Black, White, and Gray

Whilst stuck in the political doldrums that frequent the period between Christmas and mid January, I have enjoyed a few days away from the Corner Shop and even found time to take in a game at the Stadium of Light on Monday. My normal sojourn to the ground this season has been followed by a trudge back to the car with a blackened and heavy heart, having experienced another defeat at the hands of more experienced players with high quality pedigrees.

The season started with some promise, having won the Championship with a group of virtually unknown players, brought together by Mick McCarthy on a shoestring budget. His trading in the transfer market for last season had impressed, the great question was whether he might be able to strengthen for a campaign in the Premiership, a campaign with surely one aim - SURVIVAL.

However, I am afraid that I am now on the point of joining the ranks of those who wished to turn the ground into "The Stadium of White" on Monday, their dismal protest fizzled after a few moments and demonstrated the absolute despondancy of the majority of fans who cannot even find sufficient enthusiasm to wave a white handkerchief.
Despite McCarthy's heroics in achieving promotion at the end of the last campaign, his record as a Premiership manager is abysmal, this season's six points from a possible fifty-four speaks volumes (GP 18 | W 1 | D 3 | L 14), add that to the dismal run of defeats that we suffered when we were last relegated and you begin to see the whole picture. The team was weakened rather than strengthened, the releasing of two very good goalkeepers, Poom and Myrhe, and the loss of a proven goalscorer in Marcus Stewart has had a demoralising effect. The replacements Kelvin Davis and Jon Stead have been extremely disappointing and neither Tommy Miller nor Andy Grey have set the world alight since their arrival.

Unfortunately in Bob Murray, we have a Chairman who has demonstrated in the past that his loyalty to his manager is virtually total (we endured two most torrid seasons under Peter Reid's guidance before the Chairman acted-so don't expect Mick McCarthy to be looking for pastures new just yet!). Perhaps it is this over cautious approach to the whole business of running a football club, that has stifled all real ambition to make progress. Even the fact that we have almost GBP 30 million pounds of debt being steadily repaid can be called into question. Why has it not been restructured over the next twenty years? Why have the club failed to realise the potential of a "naming" sponsor for the Stadium of Light?
These questions are becoming all too common amongst those sat in the West Stand.

Meanwhile, tonight's trip to Ewood Park to face Blackburn Rovers takes on extra significance for two players. Jon Stead, because he may still have something to prove after a shambolic season for Rovers following his transfer from Huddersfield, and Michael Gray. The former Sunderland captain is back to his best and has impressed me in at least four games this year, he will be giving no favours to his hometown team and will be happier for the three points to go to Blackburn.

I was a fan of Gray during a seven year stint when he was converted from a winger to a full back for the Black Cats, but like so many of Peter Reid's players his application and stomach for a fight went missing during his final year in Sunderland. Similar traits are now recognisable amongst the 30,000 regulars who watch the team lose at home all too often, watch out this could be another record breaking season - for all the wrong reasons!


Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas meaning

Christmas - meaning and reality

There are now less than thirty hours before Christmas Day and I thought that I would try and express my thoughts about the meaning and the reality of this (still) religious festival.

We mark Christmas in this country by joining in with Christian communities around the world to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. It is a celebration engrained in our history and culture since before the time of the arrival of St. Augustine on British shores, and Christianity itself has been woven into the fabric of our society through our laws, politics, and monarchy. The occasion should be seen in it's religious and historical context as a time to think of rebirth, renewal, and reason for new hope. When we talk of things like "the joy of Christmas" or "peace and goodwill towards all men", then we should always think back to the biblical tale of the birth of Christ, that we learned at school or in church, and try and put those quotes into a modern context. The faithfull saw the birth of our Lord as an occasion bringing great joy to the world and offering a chance of peace in a region embroiled in political and military turmoil, toiling under the oppressive yolk of the Romans. Corruption was rife, the Jews (God's chosen people) were once again in the position of being persecuted and there seemed little hope of light at the end of the tunnel. Whether Christ was seen by his peers as a saviour, a political leader, a regional activist, or even the heir to David's throne is neither here nor there now. What we do know is that his life, death, and resurrection offered a new hope, a new beginning, and a change in the way that some people lived their lives. Before long Roman provincial governors were being converted to Christianity, shortly followed by tribal chieftans, monarchs, and heads of states. A new religion had been born which would alter social developments, family and social relationships, political, judicial, and legislative histories for many centuries to come. A religious movement, which in this country may have wained and weakened a little over the last few decades, that continues to dominate mainland Europe, North and South America, and Australasia.
Indeed leaders of both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church expect a substantial rise in the number of people attending Christmas Mass this year in th U.K.

This message of a religion offering new hope and a new life, is to me the real message of Christmas, a message which currently struggles to be heard above the noise of consumerism, and more recently the attacks of the secular "politically correct."

There is no shame in offering gifts at Christmas, there is no shame in displaying a Christmas Tree, there is no shame in sharing the joy of Christmas and offering peace and goodwill to all men of all religions.

However, there is shame in damning the occasion and all but banning it's celebration. I am totally in agreement with Trevor Philips, the Chairman of the Commission for racial Equality, in his assertion that we should all join together to celebrate Christmas, he says;

I am baffled after reading about the recent "bans on Christmas" by companies and local authorities across the country.
Whether it's the traditional Christmas tree getting the chop, the school Nativity, or the town centre's festive lights, these decisions are nonsense and do nothing to nurture good race relations and bring all Britain's communities together.

Celebrating each other's festivals and faiths is the best way to create better understanding between different groups of people.
The more we understand each other, the more we're likely to live together peacefully.
A ban on Christmas isn't just silly and offensive to those who profess to be Christians. Most people of other faiths are bemused that we should even question it.

Nor do we want to turn the holiday into a celebration of crass consumerism where the only thing being worshipped is the latest Playstation game. Christmas should be about families, friendship and communities."

This is the other shame of the reality of Christmas in western societies, consumerism has succeeded in breeding greed and materialism into the hearts of our young, it has succeeded in creating a mammoth spending frenzy which each year sees thousands of tonnes of food wasted in this country. We see the grotesque images of families filling two or three shopping trollies on Christmas Eve, buying enough food to last a month when it is patently not necessary. A third of this food will not get get consumed, some will rot and become unfit to eat, most of it will end in the dustbin. At a time when there are still many homeless and hungry in this country, this excess of selfish consumerism is beyond the pail. It is one of the great shames of "consumer Christmas", so many of us think only of ourselves and think nought of others.

There are others too that we fail to think of at this time of year, when too many of us enjoy an overlong break that damages British industry. Do we think of the shopworkers who don't enjoy the luxury of this long holiday? No - we expect them to be there for us whenever it pleases us. Do we think of the doctors, nurses, porters, ambulance crew, policemen, fire fighters, t.v. and radio crews or all of the others that work over the Christmas and New Year? No - we just expect them to be there for us whenever it pleases us. Do we think of the hard pressed members of our armed services working on our behalf and working for peace in foreign lands? No - we just expect them to be there for us whenever it pleases us.

In short, consumerism and materialism has made selfish beasts of us! Of course there are many that are and always will be like this - I will think of them this Christmas!

It is time for us all to begin to think about each other, Christmas is a good time to make a new start, to introduce new hope of a better way of living and a more tolerant society. However, like puppies, these things are for life, not just for Christmas.

It is unlikely that this blog will be updated in the next few days as I spend some very rewarding and quality time with my family and friends, this year the opportunity has to be taken, it may be the last for one in our midst. I wish all of my readers all of the joys of the season, and shamelessly I wish you all a very Happy Christmas.


Thursday, December 22, 2005

Letter to Councillors

Appeal to Councillors

I am determined to press this point to it's furthest adavntage, here is a copy of my message to South Tyneside Councillors who are either members of the Board of South Tyneside Healthcare Trust or members of our Council's Social Care and Health Scrutiny Committee;

I write to you either as a member of the Board of South Tyneside Healthcare Trust or as a member of South Tyneside MBC Social Care and Health Scrutiny Committee.
May I refer you to my two most recent posts in my weblog regarding the outbreak of a "mysterious virus" at South Tyneside District Hospital, and ask that you conduct further investigations on behalf of South Tyneside's patients. My own questioning of staff has failed to uncover the type of virus or microbe responsible for the outbreak, although there has been plenty talk of it revealing itself in blood tests. It seems that staff are understandably reticent in releasing this information.
Consideration also has to be given to the current cleaning regimes at the hospital, which seems to have a reliance on outsourcing in cases such as this, which contrasts starkly with the situation I recently experienced at Sunderland Eye Infirmary. Perhaps I may be old fashioned, but I find it alarming that the amount of money expended on our health services fails to produce some of the most basic requirements, a clean, safe, sanitary, environment for the care of the acutely ill.

I would also wish you to press the Healthcare Trust most strongly about it's financial position, which I understand is pretty dire, following the Awotona case. It is already apparent that patient care is being affected despite their assertions that this would not happen. I think we require a good dose of transparency and severe scrutiny of current spending plans with an
emphasis on reducing waste, inefficiency, administrative, and management costs, so that the bulk of the revenue is expended on direct patient care with stable medical and nursing staffing levels. A degree of overtime is almost inevitable in our hospitals, however the current arrangements are quite unacceptable and will only serve to undermine staff morale.


Dalek machine

Dalek deals death to microbes!

Following my post yesterday about the shocking findings on cleanlines in British hospitals, I came across this article in The Times describing trials of a dalek like machine which is inserted into a pre-emptied hospital ward. Having sealed all doors and windows the machine then emits a fine spray containing hydrogen peroxide, a powerful oxidising agent. When the mist passes the dew point, a near-invisible film is deposited on all surfaces. It kills bacteria without damaging materials. The agent degrades into water and oxygen, so requires no cleaning up. In a few hours the ward is clean and ready for patients to move back in.

Of 210 tests in four wards, 51 proved positive for either MRSA, C. difficile, or VRE (vancomycin-resistant enterococci). After treatment, 190 tests were done but none showed any trace of any of the three bacteria.

the National Health Service has ignored this British technique for eliminating dangerous infections such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile from hospital wards.

I have not been in direct contact with our Council representatives on South Tyneside Healthcare Trust or the members of the Social Care and Health Scrutiny Committee regarding this matter, I am hoping that they will read about it directly from here and take the appropriate action.


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Hospital Infection

District Hospital Infected.

Like many hospitals nationwide, South Tyneside District Hospital in Harton Lane, South Shields is suffering an outbreak of a "virulent bug". Staff are very wary of describing it's effects or giving much information about it's name, however, my source within the hospital confirms that dozens of patients and many visitors have contracted the virus over the past five days, which results in about 48 to 72 hours of painful stomach cramps, vomitting, and putrid diahorrea. Those who are aged and seriously ill are at particular risk of severe complications. Wards 1 and 20 have been closed to new admissions, and wards 10 and 11 have seen rooms systematically emptied whilst matresses, sheets, blankets, and curtains have been taken away for high temperature boil washing and the rooms given over to specialist cleaning teams. Even the hospital's chaplain is off work work suffering the effects of this bug.

My own personal experience as a regular visitor over the past month confirms the outbreak, my father, my brother, my mother, and myself have all suffered, and in the ward which I visited this evening to see my mother not a single one of the six women patients were not affected.

NHS trusts are not doing enough to stop patients contracting a potentially fatal infection, watchdogs say.

The virulent bug Clostridium difficile caused just under 1,000 deaths in 2003, figures for England show. The Health Protection Agency and the Healthcare Commission found a third of the English trusts surveyed do not routinely follow official guidelines.

Following the award of GBP 1.6 million to Dr. Fayi Awotona, the South Tyneside Healthcare Trust stated that patient services would not suffer; bearing in mind that she had her salary paid for three years whilst suspended before the final settlement at an Industrial Tribunal, and the awarding of legal costs against the Trust, the total cost to the Trust could have been closer to GBP 3 million. Medical and nursing staff are required to work overtime but it is unpaid, time off in lieu will be given as and when it can be managed. Employees who go sick are not replaced from the traditional nursing bank, instead wards have to cope as best they can, today for example, in the ward that I visited, the notice board announced that there was one staff nurse and one auxilliary on duty! It is understandable that cleaning routines are not necessarily complied with in these circumstances, but whilst patient services may not be suffering, other areas of the hospital are being hard hit.

I had cause to visit Sunderland Eye Infirmary last month with my father and as soon as we walked through the doors it became immediately apparent that they operate very strict cleaning and disinfecting regimes there. Some readers may recall, from many years ago, that there was a memorable "hospital smell" in these places, the Ingham Infirmary sticks in my memory as one you could smell from the outside! It pervaded your clothing and seemed to hang around in your nostrils for some days afterwards, this was a clear sign of a clinic floor clean enough to eat your meals off. Nurses scrubbed and cleaned every floor and wall of a ward at the beginning of their shift, and also at the end, Matron patrolled regularly to supervise and regulate this routine. It's a shame that other regional hospitals are not as fastidious as Sunderland Eye Infirmary, then outbreaks of infections would be much reduced.

Elected local councillors have a duty to scrutinise local NHS services on behalf of local people. They do this through council "health scrutiny committees" which:

* Look into the daily operation and long-term planning of surgeries, hospitals and health centres
* Write reports and make recommendations to help things improve
* Have powers to call NHS managers to meetings to answer questions
* Must be consulted by the NHS before major changes to local health services

Health scrutiny committees are there to represent local concerns and welcome input from local people. Meetings are normally held in public and your input can help determine what health service issues they look at in detail.

I would be grateful if our appointed representatives to the South Tyneside Healthcare Trust would start asking some very serious questions about the ability of the service to provide a clean, infection free environment, and the true
financial impact of the Awotona case.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

EU Budget

Blair plays Santa for Europe

Tony Bliar, nearing the end of the current British Presidency of the EU, has gifted the notoriously inefficient farmers of France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Greece et al, an enormous sackful of money from the hard earned budget rebate won for Britain by Margaret Thatcher.

Mr Blair has been criticised in the UK for giving up part of the country's rebate without reform of agricultural spending.

Shadow foreign secretary William Hague said: "Tony Blair's presidency will be remembered as the time Britain gave up GBP7bn without securing anything in return."

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said:
"If only Tony Blair could close the gap between his rhetoric and his actions in Europe, he'd be in a much stronger position both in the EU and at home. He has mismanaged expectations."

European Commission chief Jose Manual Barroso has suggested setting an EU tax for citizens of member states.

When asked about this, Mr Blair said he already had "enough on my plate" without arguing for such a change. - Read more

The Scotsman said;

"TONY Blair last night gave away another £1.4 billion of the British rebate, trying to buy a European Union budget deal that carries no guarantee of any cuts in European farm subsidies.

Following the fresh British concessions, EU leaders meeting in Brussels yesterday were poised to agree a budget that was larger than the one the Prime Minister had vowed to fight for."

According to Stratfor;

"In the eyes of the typical British citizen, Prime Minister Tony Blair has backed down on the EU budget and given France a fat check signed by the British taxpayers. Governments -- or at least prime ministers -- do not tend to survive such perceptions."


Saturday, December 17, 2005


Council workers "stressed"

It seems that the problems of dealing with a multi-million pound overspend and a restructuring of the Council budget is, according to Unison's Merv Butler, leading to increasing stress levels and adding to the risk of rising sickness levels amongst Town Hall workers.
Mr. Butler seems to suggest that many cannot cope with an increased workload caused by a moratorium on Council recruitment, he ought to have tried representing staff in the private retail sector where wage costs have been hammered into the ground as retail prices have fallen. It is not unusual to find large outlets operating with only 50% of the staffing levels they had ten years ago. Multi-skilling is the new "buzz" word, and longer hours are the norm rather than the exception. Similarly the number of full time positions has been rapidly reduced to less than 40% of the workforce, the rest being part-time staff who have to learn quickly with the ever faithful "deep end" theory.

Stress of course can be useful and good for you! For some target achievers a certain level of stress is required to produce the adrenalin that will drive them on towards their goals. For some others, stress can be a killer, epecially if the individual is already a sufferer of heart disease. My motto has always been "control the stress, before the stress controls you."
So it would be helpful if Unison could remind it's members to seek help from others when the stress becomes too much to bear, or to provide informational services to help it's members learn relaxation techniques and other stress busting methods. It's no good complaining of (or subliminally encouraging) increased sickness levels, people should get to see a nurse, counsellor, or doctor before the stress even reaches those levels.

The Council cannot afford extra sickness at a time when there will be constraints on the budget, each and every man/woman must be seen to be doing their duty. Sickness makes your friends work harder!

If Unison, or any of the other unions, wish to be concerned at stress levels, then perhaps they ought to target their worries towards the poor Council Tax payers who will pick up the tab for the irresponsible, hapless, stressed out pen pushers who signed all of the blank cheques over the past couple of years. In fact, we as tax payers ought to STRESS that these individuals should be demoted or otherwise removed from their posts for failing in their duties to monitor and control the spending of OUR money!



The Best Dressed House Competition

Just a reminder, entries to the competition (see my post of 5th. Decmber) are piling up thick and fast, and interest has been boosted by the story in yesterday's Shields Gazette. You can access the competition through this link, or by navigating to the Curly's Cornershop Message Board in the side panel. There will be a lot more photographs added during next week before we select our five favourites to vote upon.



Alliance grabs headlines!

South Tyneside's new Alliance opposition group grabbed the headlines this week when they walked out of the Council chamber after being refused permission to move an amendment calling for the resignation of the Council Leader Paul Waggott.
Having seen the Council overspend it's budgets by nearly GBP 11 million over the last three years, Cllr. Jane Branley wished to propose that Waggott ought to resign, however the ruling Labour group refused to even hear or debate the amendment, sparking the mass walkout by the newly formed Alliance coalition.
Meanwhile Labour's ranks were bolstered by the decision of Independent John McCabe to join the party he fought against two and a half years ago. The Hebburn South Councillor decided to look after his own skin by attempting to ensure he has Labour's support behind him at the next election, rather than facing a fight against an official Labour Party candidate. Conservative and Lib-Dem members remained in their seats during the remainder of the debates.

Although the action of the Alliance grabbed the headlines in the local newspaper, I was left wondering how the decision was arrived at to stage this demonstration, and what they hoped to achieve by it. Certainly Labour was able to push through it's plans for the budgetry reconstruction for next year, which would have happened in any case, however the meeting was able to proceed with the minimum of scrutiny and questioning. An opportunity to give Lead Members an uncomfortable ride had been missed, and just as importantly the opposition group lost an opportunity to put forward alternative policies which we would all like to know about. The proposal to amend a committee report or decision will spark a debate which will inevitably be lost because of Labour's superior numbers, but the asking of questions can be far more effective at times. Question's can be nicely "strung out" to include ideas and statements of your own policy, and if clever and incisive enough will cause great embarrasment to Lead Members and will generate a tense atmosphere for them, as well as creating the opportunity for good press copy.
The innocuous question asking how plans are proceeding for next year's budget could be followed by the more barbed supplementary asking when a Lead Member or Council Leader was planning to step down in favour of someone more likely to achieve the aim of a zero tax increase next year. This type of approach would prove more acceptable than throwing the toys out of the pram and walking out. It is difficult to accuse Labour of being more spin than substance if you are happy to play the same game!


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Harton school

New Sports Hall

I read some excellent news in tonight's Shields Gazette about the opening of a new four court sports hall at my old school Harton Technology College (it was formerly South Shields Grammar and Technical School for Boys, then Harton Comprehensive School.) My old pal Mike Todd has an excellent piece on his site about the project, which is a month late in opening.

This new facility has been a long time coming, but help from the Big Lottery Fund, the school, and the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund has enabled the building to be completed. Along with the four court sport hall is also a fitness suite which will be available for public and community use at weekends and out of school hours. It's no surprise that the head teacher, Ken Gibson, is delighted, he has worked at the school for over twenty years and was probably getting fed up with the talk of a new facility.

It's great having these facilities and the equipment to go with them, however, any research of local newpapers rteveals that for competitive sports, young boys and girls are looking outside of school. Football teams, for example, appear to be organised and run by private individuals with a little sponsorship from local businesses, leagues are organised outside of school too. Rugby tends to be offered at the South Shields and Westoe Club, and youngsters interested in athletics drift off to the South Shields Harriers.

When I was a schoolboy there were many schoolboy leagues for soccer, rugby, hockey, cricket, etc. These league systems appear to be no longer in place. My son, who is only eight, does not get any periods of physical recreational activity at school, his school's football team is organised by a single teacher as an out of school activity, for those who wish to participate. It must be difficult for him to pick a decent team, because the whole school is not producing the mass of sporting youngsters that I witnessed in the sixties and seventies.

The old league systems produced a competitive spirit and a team building mentality, where children were happy to work together and share in achievements, very valuable qualities required in the real world of work that awaits them after higher education.
So, although this new sports hall at Harton is very welcome, it is hoped that a reawakening of competitive sports will ensue in the near future.

Cabinet Minister and South Shields MP David Miliband will open the facility on Friday assisted by members of the Newcastle Falcons rugby team, and former England foward Peter Beardsley.

Cllr. Jimmy Foreman - who was not pictured in tonight's Gazette - said
"These fantastic new facilities should make a huge difference".

That's right Jim, we can see!


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Colliery closed

Colliery closed by police!

Police in South Shields have closed the Colliery Hotel in Boldon Lane because of disorderly behaviour by customers. At a hearing yesterday South Tyneside magistrates ordered it must stay shut, the first such ruling since the new Licensing Act came into force last month.

The decision will now be reviewed within 28 days by a licensing committee at South Tyneside Council. - Read more

This illustrates just how well the new licensing arrangements will be working in the future, working in the best interests of the local community. The scaremongering that went on when the new licensing laws were introduced has beeen proven to be terribly wrong. After only a couple of weeks we have not experienced ANY large scale disturbances or widespread incidents of disorderly behaviour as a result of longer drinking hours. There has not been a wholesale move towards 24 hour licenses either (apart from a few supermarkets). Once the novelty has worn off the police will undoubtedly find that staggered closing times will have a beneficial effect within our town centres, and their jobs will become easier and shift patterns will not need to be altered.

The checks and balances planned into the licensing arrangements give police and local authorities enormous latitude and flexibility in the decison making, therefore residents living near high density entertainment areas will be adequately protected. These reforms were well overdue.


Sunday, December 11, 2005

Dave Cameron

Candid Cameron's immediate impact!

The Conservative Party under the leadership of "Dave" has taken an immediate lead in the opinion polls this weekend, and broken through the 40 point barrier in one of them for the first time in years.

"Well, it's been a really tiring 48 hours," he said. "I don't know about you but I'm going down to the Smoking Room for a drink. Anyone want to join me?"

More used to set-piece speeches and then banging the tables at the weekly event, the 198 MPs looked at each other and shrugged. Then one by one, about 50 of them trooped after Mr Cameron as he made his way along Committee Corridor and down the stairs to the bar. - Read more

This breath of fresh air in our politics is well described in The Guardian's diary of "Daves" week - read more

I just can't wait to hear the first podcast from Dave and Boris, it won't be far away!



Why bother?
Because it's life!

I received a comment from a regular reader just the other day, and from the tone of his mail, it appears as if a political awakening is happening within him.

It was interesting to note your 'blog' comments on the current political situation.
Having been involved in 'residents group' politics for a few years now, and having a keen interest in getting rid of these 'so-called' Labour characters, I am quite interested in the forthcoming meetings.

I would truly favour ANY advice or comments from someone as experienced and erudite as yourself !

Would I be totally MAD, or could it be a worthwhile experience.... thinking about getting involved with the local politics ?

My advice to him is set out below and it would be a story that I would be willing to tell anybody, politics is nothing special, it is not set aside for a "special" group of people, it is not a "special" science or art, it is the humdrum of ordinary life, played out by ordinary people. It is something that we should all take an active interest in, it determines the future for ourselves and our children.

This was my reply -

Having been a member of two political groups in this town, I have to say that I achieved what I set out to do, more by sheer bloody mindedness than design, and that one of those groups was easier to influence than the other!

On the other hand, my time spent as a member of our local Council was extremely frustrating because, as an opposition member, your powers of influence are much restricted. I did have some successes, but not as many as I would have liked. I would have had much better success representing the Labour Party, and I have been asked! However, my childhood and teenage experiences coloured my views for the rest of my life (understandable, considering the depravations of living in John Williamson Street until 1972), so much so that I cannot trust any of the motives of our kith and kin who represent us on the present Council.
I was a member of the Conservative Party for some time, and believe it or not, they are made up of pretty ordinary folk in this town, let's face it there isn't much "blue blood" around here! There were no rich businessmen or millionaires just honest workaholics who wanted to look after their own affairs without too much interference. also a load of old ladies who liked to lunch in Binns and lick the back of envelopes at election time (you can't manage without these people!).
However, they had a set way of doing things and were very resistant to change! It didn't sit too well with me, and I found it difficult to move things in my direction.
I did manage. as an agent, to get a Conservative elected to the old Tyne and Wear County Council in the Rekendyke Ward, ousting Billy Malcolm who had represented it from the outset (both of his sons are Labour Councillors now, and are quite unlike their father), this was an incredible achievement! The streets around the riverside and Chichester and Laygate were full of ingrained, hereditary Labour supporters and it caused quite a shock when he lost his seat!

Thus, I was approached by the South Shields Progressive Association and agreed to fight a seat against Elizabeth Diamond in the old Brinkburn Ward, I lost by a nailbiting 51 votes, she fainted and required medical attention, and then went on to forecast my election the following year! She was a reasonably "good apple". I won in Beacon and Bents by a 101 votes against strong opposition from both Labour and the then new Social Democrats, four years later I lost the seat by 53 votes to the Liberal Democrats, hey ho!

The interesting thing was, that the Progressives were only interested in one thing; did you stand for the views of South Shields people? They weren't interested in my former history in the Tory Party, they were interested in taking a commonsense viewpoint to local finances and local needs, they wanted to provide services that people wanted at an affordable price.They also asked if I was intending to claim expense allowances if I was elected (the policy was to ALWAYS do without these expenses), hence I took my place at a time when Labour was hard pushed but only JUST formed a majority.

Party politics were not introduced to this town until 1945 following the ending of the Second World War, prior to then local dignitaries and businessmen offered themselves for election on a "free of charge" basis. the Labour Party decided to field candidates in 1945 and the businessmen formed the Rent and Ratepayers Association, this body eventually became the South Shields Progressive Association. The Progressives held power from 1950 until 1965 and from 1968 until 1978. They have always been a broad church encompassing many views, but with an ability to reach a consensus, this is what appealed to me.

Politics is the art of the possible, it's about people and engaging them, it's about reaching agreements and consensus, and also about speaking your mind, even when it's out of step with the majority! You stand or fall according to the popularity of your views.It's about networking, being able to listen to people effectively, and being able to articulate their wishes and demands, when perhaps they feel less able to do it themselves. It's an everyday thing about how you would like life to go on. It's the banter of the "barbour's chair", it can be rewarding, but if your character isn't strong enough it can feel like a continual uphill struggle.

I would encourage anyone who has an interest in life and their local community to take whatever active part that they can, local communities will always need someone to represent them and our democracy requires that ordinary people take an active interest in their affairs. Once you have formulated your viewpoints on life you can decide which organisation best mirrors those views, Go ahead and join it, meet new people, share your views, and begin to take a more deliberate part in how are ordinary lives are shaped and governed.

For many years, since 1984, politics took such a back seat in my life that I almost forgot that it existed. The beginnings of a new family unit, two young children and a wife, forced me to think again about our life and their future, it was this that reawakened my interest in local affairs, along with the ever increasing portion of my wage which goes directly to South Tyneside Council and gets frittered away and wasted every year. My involvement will probably increase in the not too distant future.

There is nothing "mad" about getting involved, if you feel it is the right thing to do, then it probably is the most "right" thing you ever decided upon, go ahead and do it! You are only participating in "real life" for everyone!

So, if you ever have one of those moments when you ponder a little involvement in your local political affairs, don't be afraid to follow your instincts. Your local political parties and independant groupings consist of nothing more than people like you or me, there is nothing to fear, so find out where they are, give them a ring, go along a meet them - it might change more than just YOUR life!


Thursday, December 08, 2005

Alliance politics

One with the binned! Possibly a turbulent love story.......

A dramatic tale of love in the turbulent politics of South Shields, hailed by the Shields Gazette as "The Rebel Alliance" this epic drama could well be a winner.
Eleven opposition Councillors from the South Shields Progressive Association have fallen in love with a small group of Independents (including former Labour members) to fight next year's local government elections as a unified force.
The long term aim of The Alliance is to become the Council's ruling group by 2007. Watch out for thrills, spills, and edge of your seat excitement as they fight every seat and every ward to prove their long term love and commitment to one another in what is likely to become a period of Civil War in South Tyneside over the next two years.

So far the Progressives and those binned by Labour in South Tyneside have worked effectively together as an opposition, and along with the Conservatives, produced a very reasonable budget proposal last year, which we all would have been pleased with, if they had the power to deliver it. the Conservatives have not joined The Alliance and are likely to continue fighting seats within the Jarrow Constituency part of South Tyneside, neither has Cllr. John McCabe joined, as he is a rampant supporter of Labour.

The villains of this story are the few Liberal Democrats, the "scarlet ladies" of the Council, still without a handsome suitor, they give their favours to Labour and jump into their bed at every available opportunity! They have failed to establish any independence of their own and cannot be classed as "opposition", they continue to dupe their constituents into believing they have voted for someone different to Labour, yet at each important divide these political harlots have sold their soul to the wolf with the red rose. These are those who should have been described as having "something of the night about them" - thank you Anne Widdicombe, because they are a little shady, they are not what they appear, they do not display liberal free thinking, and are as close to Labour as Cllr. McCabe. It is the Liberal Democrats who should be the first focus of The Alliance's attention, their suspiscious "appeal" to the electorate needs to be nullified and countered very swiftly, they need to be exposed as a group of non-thinking, aimless, deliverers of votes to the Labour Party. For the Alliance to have any great chance of success with it's marriage, it needs to take on Labour in a straight head to head meeting in as many wards as possible. It needs to formulate radically different policies which will be seen as reasonable, fresh, locally driven, and affordable. I wish them well.

I met with Cllr. Jim Capstick this afternoon and he certainly looked like a man who has found a new love, he had a spring in his step and a smile as wide as the Tyne! He came looking for my support and an approach meant to test the water about my future political intentions. I am sure he understands that if the offer had came last year or next year I would probably have accepted, but because of the nature of my current work in the Corner Shop, my young family, and the serious concerns over my mother's health, I am unable to give the required commitment. Thanks, but not just yet Jimmy, as you said "you probably have your plate full at the moment".

The new group will be holding a meeting in the Town Hall on Wednesday of next week at 7.00 p.m. to outline their plans for the next election, they are clearly looking to cement their position and are confident of increasing their share of the votes and their total of seats. It is unclear, and will probably remain so until after the next election, who will lead The Alliance as they prepare to overhaul Labour in 2007.
Anyone interested in joining the new Alliance would do well to go to next week's meeting, or if you cannot attend, then why not contact Cllr. Jane Branley on 0191 4560152 or email her


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Cameron victory

Major delivers "kiss of death" to Cameron

David Cameron has defeated David Davies in the election for the Conservative Party Leadership by a margin of more than 2 - 1. In keeping with today's blog theme of leaving the car at home, I thought it fitting to use this picture.
The Scotsman reports that John Major, the "grey man" of British politics has given the new boy his seal of approval. With Gordon Brown likely to be sitting in 10 Downing Street at the time of the next general election, I hope this vote of confidence from John Major doesn't turn into a "kiss of death".
It is interesting to note, however, the disparaging remarks about young David from some of those within the ranks of New Labour and their "mistress" the Liberal Democrats. Is this because the Tories have elected the man that they feared most?

David Cameron was reported in the Guardian as saying
"I tried to start this morning by cycling to work. That was a carbon neutral journey - until the BBC sent a helicopter to follow me!"

Unfortunately for us the picture editor cut away from showing his Jumping Jimmy wellies!


School wellies

Council splashes out!

I see our good friend Cllr. Foreman is keeping up his track record as the most photographed "personality" in South Shields, with two entries in tonight's newspaper. One story featuring Cllr. Foreman which really caught my eye was the initiative announced by Biddick Hall Infants School to encourage more youngsters to walk to school, irrespective of the weather. This is a laudable idea! When I was a youngster, travelling to Barnes Road School by any other means was unthinkable, indeed it was probably impossible.
Yes, our parents were probably a bit more trusting in the early 1960's, and certainly there was much less traffic to contend with, and most of us lived within a stone's throw of the local school. Even at weekends we used to walk for miles with our parents, it was not unheard of for families to walk down to the town centre from Simonside or Whiteleas to do the shopping, and then walk all the way back again.

Congratulations to Myra Edwards for dreaming up this revolutionary idea and kitting out the children at Biddick Hall Infants with yellow plastic macs, colourful umbrellas, and wellies decorated with fun characters!. How nobody ever thought of it before is astounding. The reduction in exhaust gases, the improvements in children's health and fitness, the savings in fuel costs will all be beneficial to the community as a whole.

However, at a time when some services are to suffer under budgetary cuts, needy charities are to lose Council grants, the Council itself will not benefit greatly from Gordon Brown's handouts, we must question the ethics of giving GBP 400.00 to this scheme. I know this is hardly an astronomical amount of cash, but it sets a precedent for others to follow, and gives an impression that public money is available at the drop of a hat, when plainly it is not. We are making an unkind and untrue message by funding schemes such as this.

Where in the school - parent partnership do the parents' responsibilities lie? Should not the parents be reasonably expected to clothe their children in appropriate rainwear?
The proof of the pudding will be whether or not additional car parking spaces miraculously appear at the school the next time their is a downpour.

Floppy hats, factor 20 suncream, and Beckhamesque shades will be made available after Easter! Jumping Jimmy wellies will be made available to all Town Hall staff who wish to vacate their official car parks, leave the gas guzzling car at home, and walk to work! it's all yours, we don't mind paying at all!


Monday, December 05, 2005


Light up for Christmas and win a prize!

As Christmas approaches, residents in South Shields have shown that they have no fear of the politically correct brigades and illuminations on houses are becoming more adventurous, more colourful, and more abundant as each day goes by.

The author of this blog has teamed up with the South Shields-Sandancer's website to promote a small competition to find the best dressed house in South Shields. Just navigate to the Curly's Cornershop Message Board in the sidebar to find out details of how you could win!
The local branch of diy retailer B&Q are putting GBP 25.00 worth of gift vouchers for the winner, and Shields Snooker Centre in Chichester Road, is offering a one year FREE family subscription for the runner up.
So what are you all waiting for? Get logged in, fill out the quick, easy, free registration and get those photos posted in. YOU could be a winner!


Sunday, December 04, 2005

Community Centres

Community Centres Chopped?

As part of a range of options being considered by senior officers of the Council to redress the massive overspend of last year's budget, a proposal has been forwarded to reduce the number of community centres maintained by the Borough.
This is almost like taking the "sacred cow" to slaughter, we were, a few years ago, in danger of ending up with a communty centre on almost every street corner! Yet, a quick visit to almost any of them confirms that they are under used and overstaffed.
Amongst those earmarked for closure are Jarrow Civic Hall, an ugly facility at the best of times, and Hill Park Community Centre, both deemed as "unfit" for further use. Also threatened with closure are Wilfred Street Day Care Centre for Older People in Boldon Colliery, and the West Park Play Hut in South Shields.
Let me tell a little story about the West Park Play Hut, which will serve as a useful illustration of the popularity and usefullness of these centres. During the summer months when the schools are closed a number of activities are arranged in places like this for children to fill in their time creatively and purposefully. I took my two children, Junior Curly (aged 8) and Missy Curly (aged 4) to the West Park Play Hut on a glorious summer afternoon, in the hope that they would interact with other children of the same age groups, and pass away a few hours whilst burning off some energy! On arrival we found four members of the play activity scheme but no other children at all, despite the planned events having been well publicised in the Shields Gazette. It should not surprise anyone to hear that after ten minutes my offspring were very bored and the adult members of staff were likewise, having run out of ideas on how to amuse two children!
From conversations that I have had with relatives, friends, and neighbours, it is apparent that a lot of community schemes in these centres are also grossly underused, yet well funded.

At the end of the day, these centres will not be missed, and those few groups that do make use of them will easily find accomodation in one of the other centres that remain, WITHOUT upsetting the schedules of planned activities! It's a wonder that this decision hadn't been taken years ago!!


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